Bykkora Kraal was not happy.
“No,” the warmaster of the Yuuzhan Vong, the great Tsavong Lah, stated flatly. “Domain Kraal will not return to the infidel world of Borleias.”
“We must,” Bykkora returned harshly, “or all of Domain Kraal will be shamed!”
“Domain Kraal is already shamed,” the warmaster spat. “Amongst all our warriors, only Domain Kraal has seen fit to allow a world to be taken back by the infidels! We have marched from the edge of this galaxy all the way to its core, taken worlds as we saw fit, and even destroyed their pitiful attempts to defend their capital world. And now, Domain Kraal is the only domain to lose a world to the infidel fleets! No!”
Bykkora felt rage boil through her veins. Word had reached the Yuuzhan Vong armada at Coruscant only hours earlier: a New Republic task force had fallen on Borleias as a swarm of gnats, wiping away the few defenders left there and taking the world back under their control. Now, instead of moving on and contenting themselves with destroying a thousand Yuuzhan Vong warriors, they were digging in and preparing to defend the world.
The world Domain Kraal had been given stewardship; the world that Bykkora’s domain was intended to protect.
Hours after the news had arrived, Tsavong Lah had summoned Bykkora Kraal, the highest-ranked warrior of Domain Kraal, to a war room. Bykkora had expected to be reprimanded, perhaps sacrificed for her domain’s failure, but the ongoing humiliation by the warmaster was too much for any Yuuzhan Vong warrior to bear.
“Domain Cha has been tasked with purging the infidels from Borleias,” Tsavong Lah continued harshly. “Domain Kraal must prove themselves elsewhere if they intend to be greater than Shamed Ones. Perhaps they will sacrifice themselves to the gods; surely Domain Kraal must have fallen out of favor with the gods if the infidels so easily wrested a world away from them.”
Bykkora ground her teeth together at the unveiled barbs. “Domain Kraal will do whatever the gods and the warmaster see fit to regain our place of honor,” Bykkora managed.
For the first time, Tsavong Lah smiled through shredded lips. “Domain Kraal will either succeed in this task, or be utterly annihilated,” the warmaster warned. “Already great shame is upon you, and because of you, on the Yuuzhan Vong. Success will cast off the shame, but in failure the only redemption will be through sacrifice.”
Bykkora heard the warning, and could hardly believe it when her mind untwisted the truth beneath the warmaster’s words. Either Domain Kraal succeeds in this task, or we will all be sacrificed to the gods to atone for our failure. There will be no survivors.
“What task would the warmaster ask of Domain Kraal?” Bykkora asked with bowed head.
“When we first entered this galaxy,” the warmaster droned, “on the advice of our seers, our tacticians, and the priests, we avoided many of the small pockets of infidels. The gods demanded we begin cleansing this unholy galaxy by striking the head from the infidels—by making our way to the center of the galaxy and claiming Coruscant as our own.
“Now, if we are ever to inhabit this galaxy safely, we must cleanse all manner of heretics from it. Just as the Yuuzhan Vong spent lifetimes preserving our worldships in the great voyage, now we must clean pockets of infection from the galaxy before they can poison our people.”
“Where would you send us?” Bykkora repeated.
“There is a race in this galaxy called the Zabrak,” the warmaster said, his mouth twisting around the unusual name. “They call themselves warriors of a great warrior tradition, and hold sway over dozens of star systems. Their ways are like all the infidels—they are toolmakers and disdain the gods. Domain Kraal must enter their stronghold and crush them entirely.”
The warmaster flicked his hands, and blaze bugs—tiny insects with glowing abdomens used as the infidels would use a holoprojector—swarmed forward to approximate a star system. “Iridonia,” Tsavong Lah said carelessly, “will be the place where Domain Kraal either regains the favor of the gods…or is sacrificed to appease them. There are no other options.”
Bykkora Kraal studied the blaze bugs in interest. “What sort of world is this Iridonia?”
“Harsh,” the warmaster said with satisfaction. “One fitting of true warriors. If Domain Kraal succeeds in destroying these Zabrak, it will enter into your stewardship. But like all harsh worlds, Bykkora Kraal, if your domain is unprepared, it will destroy them.”
Bykkora Kraal, for all her years of experience, her faith in the gods, her unending confidence in her abilities as a warrior—and those of her domain—felt the briefest sense of dread as she studied the blaze bugs. “Who is the leader of these infidels?” she asked, remembering the lessons of her youth.
The warmaster chuckled, a hoarse sound. “He is called Halyn of the clan Sanshir.”
“What sort of warrior is he?”
“None of consequence,” the warmaster said. As he spoke, the blaze bugs scattered and re-formed in the shape of the Zabrak leader: smaller than a Yuuzhan Vong warrior, with dark tattoos and a head filled with jagged horns instead of hair. “The readers have found only that he inherited his position as warmaster of the Zabrak. His elder brother was a true warrior who won many victories, only to be slain at Reecee by our warriors. This younger brother has no proud history of war, no stories of great victory or defeat. If Domain Kraal cannot defeat him, they will be Yuuzhan Vong no more.”
The Cathleen’s hangar bay was a hive of activity as maintenance crews refueled and rearmed starfighters. Dozens of starfighters stood at the ready, prepared to launch into battle at a moment’s notice should the Yuuzhan Vong arrive in-system. More spacecraft—fighters needing more extensive maintenance, pilot retrieval shuttles, tugs, and other utility craft stood further back in the hangar. Several of the fighters had mechanical crews swarming over them, attempting to ensure every craft would be ready for battle.
The corner of the hangar where the YT-2400 light freighter was settling on its struts, however, was relatively quiet. So busy were the maintenance crews that none of them saw the slender, blue-skinned Twi’lek decend the boarding ramp to the hangar deck. Only a single Zabrak, out of uniform, was there to greet the newcomer.
“Sandarie!” Halyn said with a smile on his face.
The Twi’lek nodded in return with a smile, then threw her arms around him in a hug. “Halyn!”
The old friends stood that way for a long moment. “It’s been a long time,” Halyn said gravely.
“Where have you been?” Sandarie demanded. “Kat was feeding me some information on your movements until, what, six or seven years ago? Then even she couldn’t find you until after Obroa-skai fell.”
Halyn nodded, his smile not faltering. “It’s a long, boring story,” he returned. “I take it you got my message?”
Sandi mock-glared at him. “If you’re not going to give me any information, why should I be helping you?” she teased. Halyn smiled indulgently, and she relented. “Of course. I found a few of them…in fact, a couple of them hitched a ride with me.”
Halyn arched an eyebrow at that and turned back to the YT-2400 to see several more people descend the ramp.
The first down the ramp was a Zabrak woman, past her prime but still a vital figure. “Nisia,” he greeted her. “It’s been a long time.”
“Jess, Jess, Jess,” she replied. “You only ever call me when you need something. You’re such a tease.”
Halyn grinned at the woman. Her sapphire eyes sparkled under the dark, delicate tattoos lining her pale face. Nisia Eisweep was one of the few friends he’d had longer than Sandarie, and one he saw less often than most. Back before he’d joined the Rebel Alliance, she had been one of his trusted lieutenants during his time running a pirate band. “You know I’m not a commitment kind of guy.”
“Suuuure,” she replied, then gestured broadly at the hangar bay. “This isn’t commitment?”
“No,” he shot back, “it’s something I got stuck with. I’m trying to unload it as quick as I can. Say, you looking for a job?”
Nisia laughed. “Do I look dumb enough to take this job?”
“No, but you were dumb enough to come here,” a distinctly male voice replied from the light freighter’s boarding ramp. “First rule of survival is to be somewhere else when the shooting starts. And according to the General here, the shooting will be starting soon.”
Halyn turned back to see the second passenger from the freighter walking towards him. “Lenn,” he said with a comfortable smile.
The other man stuck out his hand, and Halyn shook it firmly. “General,” he drawled.
The Zabrak general shook his head. “I’m never going to break you of that habit, will I?” he asked.
Lenn smiled faintly. “Never, General. The academy just drilled it way too far into my head.”
“Not my academy, clearly,” Halyn said with a smile. Lenn Kaman was a former Imperial TIE pilot. He had fought during some of the worst battles in the Galactic Civil War and survived, but after the disaster at Endor he had retired. He and Halyn had met in a bar several years later and, after spending a night in adjoining cells, had become long friends.
“Any other passengers?” Halyn asked the Twi’lek captain.
Sandi shook her head. “No, but there’s more coming when they can. Everything’s a mess out there.”
Halyn nodded grimly. “Any word from Ryian?”
The Twi’lek hesitated before answering. “The Dauntless was part of Bel Iblis’s fleet at Coruscant. There’s been no word since the fleet groups retreated. I’ve been trying to reach him by all the old channels, but everything’s in upheaval. For all I know, the Yuuzhan Vong have intercepted all the messages I’ve tried to send to him. I did let him know I was coming here, so if he had any chance, you’d probably see the Dauntless in orbit here looking for me.”
“Were you at…?”
“No,” Sandi said with a shake of her head. “I was on my way back from a purchasing trip. For you, I might add. When I dropped out of hyperspace, Coruscant was already under siege.”
“Speaking of purchasing…”
Sandi nodded. “I confirmed with Deuce that your purchases are all successfully in place. Which is good, because the hyperspace route from here to Skako is interdicted now by Yuuzhan Vong mines.” The Twi’lek suppressed a shudder, but a shiver ran through both of her lekku anyway. “They were mining the route when I came through. I barely made it past the coralskippers.”
Halyn nodded grimly. “It just keeps getting worse out there. And here,” he added as an afterthought. He shook it off and looked at the three newcomers. “With your help, and the help of others I’ve asked, I hope we can turn the Yuuzhan Vong aside here. I intend to make Iridonia a fortress that the Yuuzhan Vong can never breach.”
I hate being right, Halyn thought as he watched the contacts blizzard in across the system-wide tactical display. I really, really wish I would have been wrong.
Aboard the Cathleen in geosynchronous orbit, the general stood with arms crossed as he watched the Yuuzhan Vong fleet transit from hyperspace. It took the Vong long moments to maneuver into a battle formation, but starfighter squadrons positioned by Halyn’s starfighter coordinator, Kryi Rinnet, was not giving them time or peace to do so. Coralskippers launched haphazardly to try to neutralize the Zabrak defenders, but they were quickly chewed apart by the well-coordinated squadrons.
But it won’t last long, Halyn thought grimly. “Rinnet, start pulling your squadrons back. It won’t take the Vong long…”
“Already on it, sir,” the woman said. Halyn spared her a glance and saw her hunched over her own displays, her thin blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail that left most of her head bare and her horns clearly visible.
The squadrons—X-wings and B-wings—were already pulling back. The lone squadron of Z-95 Headhunters, slower than the rest, were caught by a coralskipper squadron now displaying the brutal precision Halyn recognized as the trademark of a yammosk. Their war coordinator is already in the game, the Zabrak thought grimly. We’re going to need to remove it as soon as possible.
Bykkora Kraal studied the blaze bugs intensely. “The infidels are cautious,” she said aloud, watching the remaining fighter squadrons retreat towards the defensive fleet orbiting Iridonia. She pointed towards a warship hanging in space much further away from the planet than any of the other defenders. The vessel was already nearly as far out from the planet as the Yuuzhan Vong fleet. “What is that vessel doing?”
A tactician spoke in hushed whispers with one of the bridge officers joined to the mighty warship, the Ponlick. “It shows no signs of movements, its hull is dark and its weapons do not fire. The yammosk can sense no power or activity from the ship. It appears to be derelict, a leftover from wars fought here previously.”
“Very well,” Bykkora said. “Keep the mataloks in close to us as we advance. Send all of our coralskippers except a small reserve forward. With the yammosk’s coordination, they can outfight our enemies and clear the way for our heavy ships. With their fighter screen neutralized, we can take their capital ships to pieces.”
Coralskippers, represented by blaze bugs, flashed away in large numbers towards the Zabrak fleet. The enemy’s fighter squadrons turned to engage them—more squadrons than the seers had estimated the infidels could field here. Bykkora could only watch as the infidel forces fought with valor against the Yuuzhan Vong warriors, holding up far better than she initially estimated was possible.
“All vessels, move in,” Bykkora finally ordered. “Keep the yammosk carrier, the Ritwynd, in the rear of the formation.”
The Yuuzhan Vong fleet began to accelerate in to crush the defenders. Bykkora allowed herself a small smile. “Target their largest vessel, before their starfighter can react,” she ordered. “We will burn it from the sky, and the rest will scatter in terror.”
“They’re beginning their move,” Allanna Saret’s voice carried from the bridge of the Cyclone. “What’s our plan?”
“Patience,” Halyn said, keeping any hint of disapproval. “Rinnet, how are our fighters holding up?”
“They’re not going to be able to break away to engage the Yuuzhan Vong fleet before they get here,” Kryi replied without hesitation. “You should have let me bring in more of the ground-based squadrons. It’s not too late—we can still salvage this.”
Halyn shook his head. “We need the ground-based squadrons where they are,” he replied.
“Sir,” Kryi said tightly, “five of those Vong cruisers are as heavily-armed as the Cathleen. Even with one of them playing shy, the other four will cut us to pieces. Without us here to anchor the line, the rest of the fleet won’t have enough firepower to keep the Vong off Iridonia. Even with us here, unless we get enough fighters in place, we can’t hold. And that’s not to mention the light cruisers and the skip carrier at the back of the formation.”
The Zabrak general smiled slightly, his eyes showing a hint of a sparkle under his dark jato. “You see, but you don’t see,” he said calmly. The Yuuzhan Vong were coming in faster now, he saw—they were already taking ranging shots at the Cathleen. He unclipped his comlink from his pocket and lifted it to his lips. “Deuce,” he said without a hint of urgency. “Spring the trap.”
The comm transmission bounced from the general’s comlink to a specifically designated relay in the Cathleen’s communications array. The transmission then transmitted to a relay satellite, which in turn redirected it to the surface of Iridonia to a small office in the capital city.
There, a red-and-grey R2 unit showing years of scuffs and dings beeped a simple reply, then changed the transmitter to a different channel and issued a much longer set of instructions in droid language. The transmission flashed back out to space at the speed of light, was captured by a relay satellite that did not officially exist, and was redirected to the hulk of a Star Destroyer in a slow orbit around the system’s star.
As her vessel began pouring more fire into the infidel defenses, Bykkora Kraal allowed herself a small triumphant smile. They are like all infidels, without inspiration or courage. They will break quickly, or they will die. They cannot stand before us long.
The Yuuzhan Vong commander stood close the blaze bugs representing the battle, and fought down the reflex to duck as more of the bioluminescent insects broke off from the battle and flashed past her face. She frowned, studying the combat more c loosely. What ship was destroyed? she asked herself.
And then the bugs hummed behind her. She turned to look, and saw tiny stars of light detaching from the infidel derelict, now well behind her fleet.
Halyn’s comlink chirped, and the Zabrak recognized the signal. “Systems-go,” he translated to himself. With a slight smile creasing his lips, he leaned forward to watch the display.
Hundreds of droid starfighters poured from the wreckage of the Star Destroyer.
The trap was one years in the making. More than once, the Iridonian government had discussed removing the wreckage of the Star Destroyer from space. Though the vessel was stripped of critical components—weapons, engines, life support, computer cores—the project of moving the hull itself just never seemed to happen. Argus and Halyn had quietly manipulated the situation for years, using misplaced credits to purchase, program, and store every old droid starfighter they could get their hands on. The old derelict was one of the biggest traps in the galaxy, just loaded with droids waiting for an activation signal.
Halyn had to give the Yuuzhan Vong credit—they were quick on the uptake. He had hoped the old Vulture droids get a crack at the yammosk carrier—most likely the vessel at the back of the formation—but many of the smaller vessels in the fleet were turning to screen it and engage the droids. The few coralskippers the Yuuzhan Vong had not thrown directly against the Zabrak defense fleet joined them, determined to keep the droid starfighters away.
He studied his tactical display acutely, biding his time.
Bykkora Kraal allowed a small triumphant smile to tug at her lips. The infidel trap—loading up the derelict vessel with hundreds of starfighters—had failed. It bothered her, a bit, that the infidel commander had accurately guessed that the yammosk vessel would be at the back of the formation. According to the seers, the Zabraks’ warmaster had inherited his position, not earned it through blood and valor. It appeared that, in spite of it, he had some small degree of tactical skill.
But it had been for naught. Her rear guard of coralskippers and mataloks was holding the infidel fighters—a type they’d never seen before—at bay. Coralskipper pilots reported they were faster and more agile than almost anything else the natives of the galaxy had thrown at them, but far more predictable.
The Yuuzhan Vong commander allowed herself a small moment of triumph. The ambush had slowed her advance, certainly, but it only delayed the inevitable.
Halyn allowed himself a small smile of triumph as he thumbed his comlink on again to bounce a message to his droid. “Begin phase two, Deuce.” The astromech tweetled in response, and Halyn ended the transmission. And now we really spring the trap.
“More ships reverting from darkspace!” one of the officers called in alarm to Bykkora.
The Kraal commander spun to the blaze bugs again. New contacts were flashing in golden light as they decanted from hyperspace, positioned directly between the fierce fighting between the Iridonian fleet and the Domain Kraal advance force, and the skirmish between the infidel starfighter trap and the Yuuzhan Vong rearguard.
The Wookiee berserker Anishor bared his teeth in a wordless growl of triumph. The coatrack timed our entry perfectly.
Standing aboard the bridge of the battle cruiser Kerarthorr, Anishor heard a familiar voice over his comlink: “Relaying your primary target now, furball,” Halyn’s voice came in Basic. “Eliminate it and it’ll make the Vong think twice.” As the Zabrak spoke to him, Anishor saw the new tactical data relayed to the Kerarthorr from the Iridonian fleet. One of the Vong cruisers, the one closest to the Wookiee fleet, was highlighted in red. “Judging from their fleet movements,” Halyn continued, “that’s their yammosk carrier. Nail it to the wall.”
<Brothers!> Anishor called as he relayed the data to the other two Wookiee battle cruisers, and t he squadrons of Agr starfighters. <Strike at this vessel!>
The Yuuzhan Vong tried to turn against the new arrivals, but the droid starfighters held the rearguard at bay, while the Cathleen‘s heavy guns prevented the advance group from disengaging quickly. The three Wookiee battle cruisers opened fire on the Yuuzhan Vong’s advance group, trapping them in a devastating crossfire, leaving the yammosk carrier to the starfighters.
The Agr starfighters were unique to Kashyyyk. The starfighters were a dozen meters long. Consisting of a primary hull with a pair of broad stabilizers with the pilot sitting on a secondary, offset hull, powered by three engines, and mounting a turbolaser in the primary hull, they were fast and heavily armed and armored. While not as agile as an X-wing or A-wing, the firepower they brought to bear made them flexible and deadly, particularly against an opponent that had not anticipated their arrival.
Proton torpedoes flashed from the starfighters to the yammosk carrier. Voids intercepted most of the damage, allowing the fighters’ turbolasers—weapons usually reserved for capital ships—to burn holes through the yorik coral hull.
Stunned by the ferocity of the assault, the yammosk tried to turn away from the fighters and fleet, abandoning any pretense at attack. But there was no try, nor was there do. There was only die.
And the Wookiees were happy to oblige.
Bykkora Kraal was choked by the smoke boiling through the Ponlick. The greasy scent of burnt flesh assaulted her nose, and she snarled in displeasure. The blaze bugs painted a stark picture of the situation: her primary fleet caught in crossfire between the Iridonian defenders and the new infidel assault group, her rearguard still tied up by the infidel starfighter trap.
And now the yammosk was dead. With the coralskippers no longer joined, the Yuuzhan Vong fleet was rapidly losing ground to the Iridonian defenders. “Pull back,” she called, choking on the words. “Order all survivors to pull back.”
The villip tender turned to her in shock. “Commander, we cannot…”
“Relay the order!” Bykkora shouted him down. “All vessels but the Ponlick must fall back to the edge of the system and regroup, rather than waste their lives on an assault we can no longer win.”
“What of us, Commander?” one of her officers asked.
“Rrush’hok ichnar vinim’hoks!” she called. Die well, brave warriors! “Target the infidels’ flagship, and we will fight until we join the gods!”
Halyn leaned back as he watched the Yuuzhan Vong warships begin their retreat. His expression was somewhere between triumph and depression. We’ve driven the Yuuzhan Vong off…but there’s no doubt anymore that Iridonia is a target. It’s time to start calling in favors.
“Keep the pressure up on that cruiser,” he called, tapping one of the Vong warships on the display. “Rinnet, keep the E-wings on it. Maybe they can crack the hull open. It’s too far out of position for the other cruisers to cover it.”
He heard the starfighter coordinator’s shout of acknowledgement but didn’t bother looking away from the tactical. The cruiser fell further out of formation, and abruptly, Halyn realized he misunderstood. They’re coming for us! “Rinnet!” he shouted again. “Throw more fighters at that thing, it’s coming for the Cathleen! Saret, I need the Cyclone on it, too! All turbolasers, fire fire fire!”
The Yuuzhan Vong cruiser was accelerating now, into the Zabrak defense. Turbolasers lanced into it from all angles, and its dovin basals had no chance of defending from it all. Yorik coral sloughed from its hull in great chunks as turbolaser fire lanced into it.
Coralskippers took parting shots with Zabrak starfighters, attempting to keep the squadrons too occupied to prevent the cruiser from reaching the Cathleen. Now, though, the Wookiee Agr starfighters entered the fray, concentrating on the aft of the Yuuzhan Vong cruiser. E-wings and X-wings volleyed proton torpedoes at the warship and, less than a kilometer from the Cathleen, the vessel cracked in two.
The turbolaser fire reduced the stricken vessel to molten slag. Halyn sagged in relief as he watched the rest of the Yuuzhan Vong vessels pulling back, even from the droid starfighter ambush. Fifteen minutes later, the engagement was over, and Iridonia stood untouched by the Yuuzhan Vong.
The bridge of the Cathleen was nearly as busy in the aftermath of the battle as it was during the engagement. Officers bustled in out, couriers delivered messages, coordinators locked down battle damage and began repairs, starfighters were brought in for repair and replenishment, and rescue shuttles were dispatched to pickup extravehicular pilots. Through it all, Halyn stood watching out the bridge windows, listening with half an ear to the bridge crew with the rest of his attention on the comm chatter.
“Sir,” the ensign at the communications post called up to him. “General, the commander of the Wookiee battle group is requesting permission to come aboard.”
“Give him clearance for the auxiliary hangar,” Halyn instructed. “The primary hangar is going to be a bit busy.” Of course Anishor would want to come see me in the flesh, the Zabrak thought to himself. “Tell him I’ll meet him there.”
“Also, issue the recall order.”
The words, spoken softly, brought the entire bridge to a halt. Zabraks turned from their posts to look at their commander, expressions ranging from surprise to shock to suspicion. “Sir,” the ensign choked, “I thought only the Council could issue a recall.”
“You have your orders, Ensign,” Halyn said, turning on his heel and heading towards the turbolift. He ignored the stares following him. “I’ll be meeting the Wookiee commander in the auxiliary hangar if I’m needed.”
The turbolift doors wooshed open for him. He stepped inside and turned just in time to see another Zabrak, broad-chested but close to his height, slip in before the doors could seal shut again. “Going to try to talk me out of it?” he asked the other.
Senator Ceikeh Alari shook his head. “The Council may not be happy about you issuing the order without consulting them, but no one is going to try to stop it. I just wanted to say thank you for getting me off Coruscant—I didn’t have a chance to say it before in person.”
Halyn allowed a small smile to stretch his lips. “Does that mean you’ll back me up before the Council?”
Iridonia had led the coalition of Zabrak worlds and colonies in joining the New Republic decades earlier. As with nearly all worlds joining during those early days, there wasn’t a set procedure or process in place, which resulted in a variety of obscure treaties and clauses unique to each world or government’s entry into the New Republic.
Because of the devastation the Empire had wrought on the Zabraks, both at Iridonia and among the colony worlds, the Zabraks had been cautious to the point of paranoia about the defense of their worlds. Iridonia’s military history was legendary, and as such, the New Republic had expected the Zabraks to contribute a large number of pilots and soldiers to the New Republic Defense Force. In return, the Zabrak negotiators—including the first Senator, Kaysil Verwood, had insisted on a clause to allow Zabraks serving in the New Republic Defense Force to be recalled from New Republic service should Zabrak space be imperiled by an outside force.
Internally, the ability to invoke the recall was reserved for the Council—the government body consisting of a voting representative from each of the self-sustaining colonies, and a non-voting representative from colonies that had not yet reached self-sufficiency, with the president of the council—and the veto-holder—always being the representative from Iridonia. As far as the New Republic was concerned, the recall would be legitimate…but internally, if Halyn had enemies among the Council, he may have just written his own prison sentence.
Halyn turned to study the Senator. Ceikeh Alari had been a colonial Zabrak and mercenary during the Galactic Civil War, and had been among the many who had responded when then-Rebel Alliance General Halyn Lance had sent out the call for volunteers to liberate Iridonia. Alari’s tattoos resembled claw marks, much lighter than Halyn’s own designs. Combined with his broad-chested and muscular stature, he looked like a man not to be trifled with.
Ceikeh turned and caught Halyn’s eye. “Without the recall, I doubt we can stand against the Yuuzhan Vong. Even with everyone who will return, I think our chances are not good.”
“It depends,” Halyn said slowly, “on how willing the Council is to defend our worlds. Most members of the Council saw the devastation that happened under the Empire, and won’t want to see it happen again. I have no doubt they’ll be willing to fight, but I don’t know if they’ll be willing to continue fighting when Iridonia’s rivers are filled with blood.”
“The only alternative is genocide,” Ceikeh pointed out. “Ours.”
Halyn could only nod grimly as the turbolift hissed to a halt. The doors slid open, and he walked out into the Cathleen’s auxiliary hangar bay, with the New Republic senator flanking him.
The Wookiee leader’s shuttle wasn’t a shuttle at all. Anishor was visible to the two Zabraks through the battle-scarred canopy of a B-wing starfighter, which itself showed years of scrapes, dings, and scars. Halyn couldn’t help but smile at that, knowing the starfighter dated back to before the battle of Endor. Anishor never changes. Probably the only B-wing left from the initial prototypes the Verpine sent out for field testing.
The B-wing’s canopy raised silently, and the largest Wookiee either Zabrak had ever encountered pulled himself up and over, landing on the hangar’s deck with surprising agility and grace. Halyn always swore the Wookiee cheated the laws of physics to fit into the damn thing.
Anishor strode toward them, kilos of muscle rippling under his hair. War bandoleers criss-crossed his chest, and an oversized blaster hung from his hip. The bandoleers each showed empty hooks for massive Wookiee rykk blades, and though they were missing, Halyn knew his old friend and honor brother normally would carry a pair.
The big Wookiee smiled toothily. <I see you haven’t lost your touch, Coatrack. Your timing was impeccable.>
“So was yours,” Halyn said with a grin. “If you hadn’t gotten here on time, we’d be in a whole lot more trouble right now.”
Anishor chuckled, a deep booming sound that Halyn could feel in his chest. <Yes, because you’re not in any trouble at all.>
“Naw,” Halyn deadpanned. “It’s all going according to plan.”
<What is the plan?> Anishor asked. <Even with what I’ve brought from Kashyyyk’s defenses, the Yuuzhan Vong will break through.>
“I’ve already ordered the recall,” Halyn said. “In two days, we’ll have close to another thousand starfighters here, plus platoons of soldiers and a few smaller capital ships.”
<It won’t be enough.>
“It will be,” Halyn said with confidence. He caught himself, then turned slightly. “Sorry, Senator—I forget sometimes that not everyone has my connections. This is the Wookiee berserker Anishor, a warrior among the warriors of Kashyyyk. I’ve known him since the Civil War. He’s one of the few berserkers that survived the purge the Empire executed among his kind.”
Anishor accepted the billing with a nod of his head.
“Anishor, this is Senator Ceikeh Alari. He was on Coruscant during the Yuuzhan Vong invasion and barely made it off with his skin intact. Alari fought during the liberation of Iridonia after Endor, and was a mercenary before that.” Halyn smiled slightly. “He’s a bit more capable than the average politician of being helpful when the shooting war starts.”
<I think it’s already started, Coatrack,> Anishor said, then bowed before the Zabrak senator. <A pleasure, Senator Alari.>
“Likewise,” Ceikeh said in return with a bow.
“How many Wookiees did you bring me?” Halyn asked.
<The three battlecruisers plus six squadrons of Agrs,> Anishor replied. <And forty Wookiee berserkers who have been training to fight the Yuuzhan Vong.>
“But they haven’t been blooded yet?”
<Not yet. This will be their first battleground.>
Halyn accepted this with a nod. “And what about you?”
Anishor smiled. <You are honor family. I will be here until the Yuuzhan Vong are driven from your world.>
The general led them back into the Cathleen’s turbolift, setting it for the officers’ quarters. “How are the preparations at Kashyyyk?”
The Wookiee shrugged. <We have wings of Agrs ready to fly. Thirty battlecruisers are fully ready for combat. The New Republic fears what the Yuuzhan Vong shapers could do with our wildlife, how they could be turned against us all. And I have spent the last several years training every berserker I can in preparation for any attempt the Yuuzhan Vong may make to invade. But I do not believe they will move on Kashyyyk.>
“Why?” Ceikeh asked. “I’d think Kashyyyk would be a prime target for the Yuuzhan Vong. After all, they struck hard against Ithor and burned it to the ground.”
<The Yuuzhan Vong are obsessed with honor and glory of personal combat,> the Wookiee replied as dryly as Shryiiwook could convey. <They will avoid fighting warriors capable of ripping them limb from limb. And those are the normal Wookiees on Kashyyyk. My berserkers have spent two years in training with rykk blades against amphistaffs; they are more capable than any battalion of Yuuzhan Vong warriors.>
“Sounds like Kashyyyk is where we should setup the capital,” Ceikeh commented. “With Coruscant gone and the Senate in disarray, we’ll need to pick somewhere well-defended as the New Republic’s capital.”
Halyn led the way to his private, oversized quarters. The door slid open to admit the three, although Anishor had to duck to squeeze his massive frame through the portal. The tactical hologram of Iridonia space stretches throughout the room from end to end, updated with constant tactical feeds from the Cathleen, the Cyclone, and various surveillance satellites and reconnaissance craft spread throughout the system.
The glow of red showed the Yuuzhan Vong fleet huddled at the edge of the system, recovering from the brutal ambush that had eliminated a third of their force. <We’re evenly matched now,> Anishor noted. <Or we will be, when your starfighters return.>
“Not for long, though,” Halyn said. “The Yuuzhan Vong will be reinforced shortly, I’m sure.”
“And then what?” Ceikeh asked. “How long can the fleet hold?”
“It will hold as long as it can,” Halyn replied, not really answering the question. “Though if you tell anyone outside the room I’ve said this, we can’t allow the fleet to be destroyed—it would be better if Iridonia fell. The New Republic can’t afford to lose the Zabrak fleet here if they want to eventually win the war.”
<Then you will evacuate Iridonia?> Anishor asked dubiously.
“No.” Halyn’s voice was cold. “Iridonia will not capitulate to the Yuuzhan Vong. We’re going to drive the bastards out of our system.”