“It is done, Commander,” the villip tender said with bowed head. His voice was solemn. “As you have instructed.
Triak Kraal smiled, his shredded lips pulled tight over his sharpened teeth. “Excellent.” He turned to his tactician. “Ret Kraal, your advice is invaluable to me.”
Ret inclined his head. “It is by the gods’ will,” he intoned. “They even now open the path for Domain Kraal’s salvation.
The tender spoke again with bowed head. “Commander, the representatives from the Peace Brigade await a meeting with you.”
Triak snorted in disdain. “Send them in,” he said. Useful idiots. Traitors to their own galaxy. They are worms—but even worms have use. The gods provide us with all things we need to conduct this war.
Three representatives from the Peace Brigade, the traitorous organization supporting the Yuuzhan Vong attempt to conquer the galaxy, were escorted into the room by two flanking warriors. The first Triak had met briefly before—a too-thin human who called himself “Slim”, likely to keep his true identity from being distributed to the broader galaxy. Beside him was a Twi’lek, her flesh a pleasing blue tone, who identified herself as “Slip.” She, too, had met with Triak briefly before.
The third member, though, was someone new—a female Zabrak, a member of the race that even now Domain Kraal was destroying. Dark, intricate tattoos swirled around her face in a way that Triak found more than moderately appealing. Of all the species in this infidel galaxy, the Zabrak seem to be most like us. Strong warriors, who understand the need for pain and for scarring and tattoos…but they are infidel toolmakers like all the rest.
“We came as soon as we heard about the Zabrak Council,” Slim said. “We’re ready to make an attempt on this new Zabrak leader. We’ve got a couple ships ready to go, and we can hit him when he’s in his shuttle…”
“Why,” Triak said calmly, “do you believe we should destroy the leader we just installed? The gods have put a weak leader on the throne to ensure our victory. Why would we topple him now?”
All three Peace Brigadiers stared with dropped jaws.
“Like all of your governments,” Ret sniffed haughtily, “the Zabrak Council was easy to manipulate. The Zabrak infidels have united behind a leader we chose—a leader who is weak, who is not a warrior. With him as their head, they will fall swiftly before our fleets.”
Slip opened her mouth to speak, but the Zabrak woman was first. “You kriffing fools. Do you have any idea who Halyn Sanshir is?!”
“The brother of a warrior,” Triak said flatly. “One who inherited his position, rather than earning it by blood and trial. One too weak to seize control by force.”
The Zabrak woman laughed harshly. “You really don’t know.” She laughed again as Slim and Slip turned to her with puzzlement on their features. “Of course you two don’t know,” she said harshly. “You’re bottom-feeder scum with no sense of history.” Her eyes flicked back to the Yuuzhan Vong warriors. “You, though…I thought you would know who your enemy truly was.”
Triak resisted the urge to impale her with his amphistaff. “Who, then, do you believe we fight?”
“His clan name is Sanshir, but he made a name for himself as Halyn Lance. He was a Rebel Alliance General during the Galactic Civil War, fought hundreds of engagements and was a thorn in the side of the Empire. A lot of his superiors hated his guts but couldn’t argue with his results, so they could never remove him from command. It was him and his brother, Argus Sanshir, working together that threw the Empire clear out of Zabrak space.” She snorted incredulously. “He’s a damned hero to a lot of people in the galaxy, and a villain to a lot more. He slaughtered Imp troops wherever he went, to the point that the Imps formed a special task force for the sole purpose of neutralizing him. And they failed. And now you put him in command of all the Zabrak forces in the region.”
Triak stared at her, anger welling up. How did the readers miss such obvious information? How could we not have been informed?! He spared a glance for Ret, his tactician, and found his face tight with anger and, perhaps, a shade of fear. Fools! Blood will be spilt for this! “How do you know so much about this Halyn Sanshir?” he asked, keeping the anger out of his voice.
“I’m a member of his inner circle,” she replied with a smug grin that Triak wanted to rip from her face. “I have been for a lot of years. Knew him back before he was a war hero and leader.”
Triak’s eyes narrowed. “And what do you call yourself?”
The Zabrak’s smile was infuriating. “Call me Nylah.”
“Out,” Triak spat. “Warriors, escort them back to their vessel. Provide Nylah with a villip, that we may communicate with her.” He glanced at the other two Peace Brigadiers. “And them with one as well,” he added as an afterthought. I won’t destroy you…yet. You may be of use yet, infidel though you are.
When the chamber emptied, Triak stared at Ret. “Summon the priests,” he said aloud, his eyes never leaving Ret. When the runner had departed to bring the priests, Triak spoke to Ret. “Are we undone?”
“Not yet,” Ret said cautiously. “If he is a war hero, there will be much we can learn of his tactics and techniques. Likely the trap with the derelict was something we could have foreseen, had we known his true identity. This may be a blessing in disguise.”
“Or the gods mocking us,” Triak replied.
“Perhaps,” Ret said as the priests began to filter in, “or perhaps this is our ultimate trial—a true test of warrior skill and courage, of our devotion. If we defeat a race united behind a strong leader, then even Supreme Overload Shimmra would not dare call us shamed!”
The return to the Cathleen was uneventful, but Halyn found his private quarters crowded when he opened the door. Most of the members of his war council were waiting solemnly for him.
“So what does this new title mean?” Ryian asked without preamble. “The news has been bouncing all over the comm channels, but without an explanation.”
Halyn was a bit taken aback. “You mean the fleet already knows?”
“Spill,” Sandarie said.
The General sighed. “Before I was the Visht’akhoi, which translates literally into Basic as ‘War Champion.’ The title was created by the Council for the supreme commander of the defensive forces for Zabrak space. Argus was Visht’akhoi before he disappeared, and after Reecee the Council chose me to succeed him. “
“So what’s Ul’akhoi mean, then?” Kryi Rinnet asked. She shot him a smirk. “Of course, I already know, but I figured you needed a shill in the audience.”
“Thanks,” Halyn said dryly. “In the old language, Ul’Zabrak, the prefix ‘Ul’ would translate as something like ‘greater’ or ‘supreme.’ And thus ends the language lesson for today,” he added.
“So…supreme champion…” Sandarie’s eyes narrowed. “Halyn Lance, did the Council just make you president of Zabrak space?”
Halyn coughed. “Actually, given the powers that go with the title, the Basic word ‘dictator’ would be closest.”
Halyn threw his hands up in feigned helplessness. “This was not my idea!” he protested. “I don’t even like politics.”
“But it’s what was needed,” Ceikeh spoke up. “The Council can’t fight the war. A democracy really can’t—just look at the wreck the New Republic Senate made of managing the war. We need a single voice to make the decisions and issue the orders right now, and frankly, Halyn Sanshir here is better than any alternative we have.”
“Thanks,” Halyn grumbled.
“So what powers do you exactly…” Ryian’s question was interrupted by the blare of klaxons throughout the Cathleen. “Never mind. Back to the Dauntless. That’s the scramble alert.”
Halyn nodded and shouted above the sirens, “Everyone to your stations! Let’s go!”
The corridors of the Cathleen were bedlam as the war council scattered, with some members heading to the bridge of the warship and others heading for the docking bays to strap into fighters or transit back to their vessels via shuttle.
The deck of the Cathleen vibrated with a comforting hum as Halyn entered the bridge, trailed by Kryi Rinnet. The Mon Calamari cruiser’s powerful ion drives were maneuvering the ship into its position in the defensive web. “Report,” Halyn called as he marched to the tactical display.
“The Vong are making another major push,” the ship’s XO stated flatly. His tone matched someone who had ordered a meal he was not looking forward to. “They’re making a concentrated push with the smaller cruisers. Lots of coralskipper squadrons. Their bigger cruisers are hanging back, but they’re already lighting up our light stuff with long-range weapons. The grand is heading towards the derelict.”
Halyn nodded to himself. “Not unexpected. Contact the Dauntless and let them know their captain is en route. Ask them to slave their weapon targeting to ours; with the Cathleen and the Dauntless together, we’re going to need to anchor the defensive line. Nothing else in the fleet except the Cyclone can stand up to the beating we’re about to receive.” He turned slightly. “Rinnet, starfighter status?”
“The fleet’s squadrons are already away,” she called tensely. “Reinforcing squadrons are launching from Iridonia right now.”
Halyn turned further and saw Anishor standing at the back of the bridge. “Get ready to call your people in,” the Zabrak ordered. “We’ll need to time their arrival carefully.”
<And where will they be arriving?> Anishor asked.
“Trust me, it’ll be obvious when the time comes.” Halyn turned back to his tactical display. “All warships are clear to break up into their hunting packs,” he instructed. “Capital ships carrying fighters are free to keep their squadrons with them as defense screens; we’ll use the ground squadrons as our strike force.” He glanced over at the ensign at the communications station. “Patch me through to Black Leader.”
Space was alive all around them, with groups of corvettes and frigates—lightly armed by the standards of the Cathleen or Dauntless, but powerful in their own rights—gathering together and making attack runs on Yuuzhan Vong vessels. Starfighter squadrons flashed through the darkness, trading laser bolts for plasma bursts from coralskippers, with starfighters hunting coralskippers and skips preying on starfighters.
In the center of it all, the Cathleen and the Dauntless thundered, sending multicolored streaks of hard light into the Yuuzhan Vong attackers. Turbolasers flashed and coral hulls were reduced to pebbles; powerful defensive shields shrugged off return fire. Proton torpedoes and concussion missiles flashed through space with brilliant propellant trails, often swallowed up by the Yuuzhan Vong’s gravitic defenses, but sometimes impacting against yorik coral with devastating results.
“Black Leader, this is Cathleen actual,” Halyn said. “Do you copy?”
“I copy, Cathleen. What are our orders?” Lenn Kaman’s voice spoke in Halyn’s ear.
“Just like we talked about. Take Black Squadron and get out to that Destroyer and draw some attention. We want the Vong thinking we’re holding something back out there.”
“Roger that. We’ll moon ‘em.”
A mixed squadron of X-wings and E-wings flashed around the engagement zone, taking potshots at coralskippers that tried to intercept, but largely contenting themselves with running. Halyn allowed himself a small smirk. “Good hunting, Black Leader.”
“Sir!” the lieutenant at sensors called. “Sir, we’ve got starfighters exiting hyperspace at the edge of the system. They’re not any of ours.”
“Peace Brigade?” Halyn asked, forcing himself not to grit his teeth.
“No, sir. Wait…” he paused. “They’re hailing us, sir. Asking for you.”
“Put them through,” the General said with a frown.
“Got room in this party for an old friend?” a familiar voice asked in his ear.
“Or two friends?” a feminine voice asked.
It took a moment for recognition to click. “Li Coden and Abi Ocopaqui,” he said in disbelief. “What is this, a veterans’ reunion?”
“We escaped from the Old Folks Home on Coruscant,” Li said, and Halyn could almost see his smirk. “We’ve got two squadrons of volunteers here flying New Republic colors. Where could you use us?”
Two squadrons, given the scope of the battle, won’t make much difference. But…
“I’ve got a starfighter squadron that’s going to play decoy at that Destroyer derelict,” Halyn said. “Rendezvous with them there, and try to keep each other alive. When we’re done turning the Vong back, I’d like to see you both aboard the Cathleen.”
“You’re the boss, Boss,” Li said. “See you then. And we’ve got important information for you as soon as you’re able.”
“After the battle.”
“Immediately after,” Abi replied. “It can’t wait.”
Triak Kraal leaned forward, studying the blaze bugs intently. “Do you think the information Nylah has given us is accurate?” he asked idly.
The tactician Ret took a long moment before answering, watching the battle unfold. “It follows logic, in a way,” he said slowly. “The defenders at Kashyyyk would not commit their own forces here for a long-term commitment; not when our forces threaten them openly.”
“You have reservations.” Triak’s words were a statement, not a question.
“We can certainly commit to an all-out attack,” Ret pointed out. “With the forces at our disposal, we could certainly break through the defending fleet—though the two heavy warships at the center of their line must be neutralized for us to hold any gains. Yet, what if this Nylah is playing us for fools? The infidels could have their reinforcements waiting outside the system, waiting for us to spread thinly so they can strike again as effectively as the first time.” He shook his head. “While the risk is posed, it is best for us to remain cautious.”
Triak nodded. “Then our forces shall continue to stay posed for the infidel trap.”
<The Yuuzhan Vong remain wary of my battle cruisers,> Anishor rumbled in a low voice.
Halyn nodded slightly, then murmured, “It looks like we don’t have a traitor, then. They’re sticking with conservative tactics, rather than overwhelming us. They’ll take heavier losses this way, but inevitably they’ll push through by attrition.”
<Where do you want my forces to deploy?> Anishor asked.
“Nothing’s changed.” Halyn’s smile was predatory. “I layer my traps.” He pointed to the squadrons of starfighters now converging on the derelict Star Destroyer. “Now we see if the Vong take the bait.”
“I am concerned,” Ret Kraal said abruptly.
Triak turned slightly. “Our forces are poised for victory. Our warriors are pushing the infidels back, and they are prepared for the inevitable ambush. What concerns you?”
Ret pointed at the representation of the derelict Star Destroyer, a massive hulk of steel. The infidels had earlier sprung am ambush from it, using unpiloted starfighters to launch a diversionary attack. Since then, coralskipper skirmishes had reduced the number of droid starfighters. Now, though, the blaze bugs showed squadrons of defending starfighters converging on it, taking up a defensive pattern. “The infidels commit defenses to a trap already employed. Could they have something else amidst the debris?”
Triak frowned as he considered the possibility. “We shall move the Kor Chokk into position and release grutchin,” he said at last. “The grutchin will destroy anything left that could threaten us.”
“Shall I summon coralskippers to engage the fighter screen?”
Triak shook his head. “They are neither numerous nor powerful enough to threaten us. Keep the coralskippers where they are, engaged with the infidel defenders.”
The Cathleen shuddered as plasma fire splashed from her shields. Halyn ignored it, focusing on the tactical hologram. The engagement had unfolded virtually as he’d predicted, with the “hunt” groups of light capital ships engaging and hurting the Yuuzhan Vong’s cruisers. The Cathleen and Dauntless were firmly anchoring the defensive fleet, their heavy guns wreaking havoc on yorik coral hulls. The starfighter squadrons whirled in and out of engagements, leaving debris and coral in their wakes.
Without a yammosk to coordinate, Halyn observed, our tactics are breaking their formation up. They’re losing their cohesion, and the more we can isolate individual Vong ships, the better we can take them to pieces.
The Zabrak were taking losses, though. The Cyclone was still fighting, but fires burned visibly across several decks, consuming oxygen from the life support systems. A dozen lighter warships were crippled, adrift in space with few weapons still firing on automatic cycles. Pilot rescue beacons glittered throughout the tactical hologram, marking the locations of ejected personnel.
<That grand cruiser,> Anishor said suddenly. <It’s…what is it doing?>
“Taking the bait,” Halyn said.
Li Coden led his squadron on another pass around the crippled Destroyer. Barely visible, he could see the engine glows of the squadron Halyn had sent, maintaining a position opposite Li’s volunteers.
And now, his sensors were warning him about the approach of a large vessel—the Yuuzhan Vong grand cruiser which had been hanging back from the battle, not committing to engagement. “Look sharp,” Li clicked across the comm. “Looks like something big and ugly is coming this way.”
He barely registered the clicks and cries of acknowledgements, studying his displays. “Arthree,” he asked, “do you have any coralskipper traces yet?”
The R3 unit slotted behind his cockpit whistled a negative. Li frowned. Ship that big, and no fighter screen? He glanced up and around at the thirty starfighters with him. Not that we’re going to be able to do much against that.
Abruptly, the astromech warbled a warning. “Heads up, looks like the grand fired something our direction,” he warned. “S-foils to attack position. Abi, take your squad out and see what we’ve got.”
“Yes, sir,” the Twi’lek pilot shot back with more than a bit of sarcasm. Her Y-wing peeled away, trailed by eight more mixed starfighters. “I’ll get right on that, sir.”
Li snorted in amusement.
Silence trailed for nearly a minute while the recon unit blasted across open space to get a look at it. As they did, the grand cruiser turned away from its approach, apparently content to stand off at a distance well out of range of conventional weapons.
“It’s some sort of…shell,” Abi said at last. “Doesn’t have any weapon emplacements, and just a single dovin basal.” There was a moment of silence before Abi ordered, “Let’s light it up!”
Li drummed his fingers against the cockpit, watching his status displays. In the distance, barely visible by eye, he could see flashes of light as the New Republic starfighters hurled fire into the yorik coral construction. He wished them well, but his stomach began to sink. There’s no way the Vong aren’t taking this seriously. That can’t just be a transport.
“Sithspawn!” Abi abruptly shouted. “Evasive! That thing’s full of grutchins!”
Halyn watched the engagement around the derelict Star Destroyer with half his attention. Bits and pieces of the comm chatter filtered through to his headset. The grutchins reported were not visible in the hologram; very small and mostly organic, they were difficult to accurately pick up with sensors at a range. The starfighters twisting around in space between the Vong’s grand cruiser and the derelict were evidence enough that the New Republic and Zabrak pilots were fighting something, tactical hologram or not.
The General’s eyes narrowed. You’re doing your job too well, he chided silently.
And then Kryi was at his shoulder. “What is it, Rinnet?” he asked.
“General, two starfighters with New Republic IFF codes have exited hyperspace.”
Halyn frowned. “Stragglers?”
“Sir, they both claim to be Jedi.”
Kelta Rose twisted the unfamiliar E-wing through a double helix, magma missiles from a coralskipper burning lines through her exhaust but not quite catching up to the fighter. A touch of thrust, a hard turn, and the feather of her thumb…and triple laserfire caught the pursuing coralskipper in a full burst, shredding the craft in fire. A small, feral smile crossed the Jedi’s lips. Okay, occasionally this can be fun.
The momentary lapse cost her. A plasma ball burst against her dorsal shields, and the failed in a bright flash. The R7 astromech slotted behind her cockpit squealed in terror, and abruptly went silent.
Kelta was too disciplined to swear. Instead, she firewalled the E-wing’s throttle, and the slender craft leaped away from its attacker. A glance back saw molten metal where the astromech’s domed head had previously been, and she shrugged. Never liked the thing anyways.
Her sensors told her now that a squadron of coralskippers was converging on her single starfighter. Her feral grin faded slowly. Jedi or not, a single E-wing against a squadron of coralskippers was poor odds. The fighter itself was among the best the New Republic could field against the invaders: designed by the same team who had developed the X-wing, it featured a slender fuselage flanked by large engines, with a pair of fixed stabilizers instead of the swing-wings of the X-wing. Carrying sixteen proton torpedoes and three hard-hitting laser cannons, it was every ounce as effective as its older brother.
But even the best the New Republic could field couldn’t beat impossible odds, Jedi or not.
Then the odds became half of impossible as an older-model X-wing raked fire across the incoming skips. Half of them broke to intercept, and then a familiar voice was in her ear:
“This is Kativie Lusp,” the voice said with just a shade of tension. “Unidentified E-wing, you’d better run for cover. I won’t be able to hold them for long.”
“Negative,” Kelta said, her feral smile returning. “This is Kelta Rose. I’m your wing.” She stretched out with the Force, as if offering her hand, and her smile broadened when she felt the Zabrak woman return the touch. She gasped slightly as they linked, and she could almost hear Kativie’s voice in her head.
And she knew with absolute certainty which moment Kativie would fire, which skip she was targeting. The X-wing drew the skip’s defensive voids, allowing Kelta’s heavier guns to punch straight into yorik coral. What a way to start a fact-finding mission.
“Anishor?” Halyn asked tightly as he watched the tactical display. The two Jedi craft were engaged with a full squadron of coralskippers, and even as they watched more skips were dropping from the grand cruiser to attack. Jedi or not, they’ll be overwhelmed soon.
<This wasn’t the ambush you had in mind, was it?> Anishor asked.
Halyn shook his head. “No. This I didn’t have planned.”
<I’m sending the orders now.>
Li Coden’s engines screamed as he ripped through the cloud of grutchins, lasers firing continuously. “What’s the count?” he asked.
Abi’s voice was almost bored. “Six hundred still active, give or take a dozen. Thirty or so eliminated.”
The veteran pilot shook his head as he looped around, two more starfighters falling into formation with him. “We’re not going to be able to keep them off,” he grumbled. “Lance didn’t give us enough fighters to mount a proper defense.”
“The General has to have something in mind,” Kaman’s voice carried across the channel with the tone of absolute confidence. “Before you came, he was going to send just my squadron out here—we now have three times the number of fighters he had intended to defend the Destroyer. I’m sure he has something planned.”
“If he does,” Abi said, “he’d better spring it soon.”
Li flashed by her crippled Y-wing. The old starfighter had taken several grutchins, which had chewed through the defenses and forces the Twi’lek to shut down an engine or risk it blowing out. A precision pass by one of the mixed group’s A-wings had blown off the two Vong critters that had attached themselves, but until the Y-wing put down in a hangar, Abi didn’t dare try re-entering combat.
“The first grutchin are attaching now,” Abi said with just a hint of frustration.
The E-wing shuddered as it took another hit. Kelta spared a glance at her displays, but the information was flashing too quickly for her to comprehend, and she no longer had an astromech to translate for her. Maybe the damn things really are good for something.
Kativie’s X-wing slid in front of her nose close enough for her thruster wash to make Kelta’s E-wing shake. Through the bright glow of the X-wing’s fusial thrust engines, she saw Kat’s front shields light up as several magma missiles hit them. “Kat,” she called aloud through the comm, “there’s too many out here. If you can, run to hyperspace and get out of here.”
Through the Force, she could feel Kativie’s stubborn refusal to leave. The Zabrak was staying with her until they were clear or dead. Dammit, Kelta gritted her teeth. Dammit, Kat, get out of here!
Li’s X-wing raced a mere meter above the shattered Star Destroyer’s hull. The two laser cannons mounted on the lower s-foils fired repeatedly as he tried to dislodge the grutchin already attached to the old warship. More grutchin descended around him, attaching anew and continuing to gnaw away at the Destroyer’s armor.
Grutchin were a weapon unique to even the Yuuzhan Vong; they were untrained, unthinking creatures that were not controllable. The Yuuzhan Vong would release them on enemy formations, and ultimately destroy the survivors after a battle was over.
The grutchin themselves were designed purely for destruction. The insect-based weapons were hardened creatures with a carapace allowing them to survive the vacuum of space and shrug off hand-held weaponry. More powerful weapons, like a starfighter’s laser cannon or a lightsaber, could hurt or kill the creature, but in return the grutchin were equipped with mandibles that made starfighter armor look like flimsiplast, and could secrete acids that would eat through even the heavy armor of an old Imperial-class Star Destroyer.
Li’s cannons thundered again, sending another pair of grutchin spiraling away from the Destroyer, but dozens more were taking their place. Above him he could see the flashes of lasers; his squadrons, and the squadron Lenn Kaman was leading, were leading a valiant effort, but they were simply too few to hold off the horde of creatures determined to destroy the derelict.
The X-wing pulled away from the hull as Li looped around to start another pass. What does Halyn have in mind?
“ETA?” Halyn asked in a low tone.
<Sixty seconds,> Anishor rumbled in return. <The Jedi will hold that long.>
“You think,” Halyn muttered. “Wonder who decided it was social hour at Iridonia?”
<The recall of the Zabrak forces raised some eyebrows,> Anishor pointed out. <The Jedi were likely asked to investigate.>
The Zabrak nodded absently and changed his comlink’s frequency. “Deuce, execute ‘Pest Control.’ Repeat, execute ‘Pest Control.’”
Thousands of kilometers away, the red-and-grey R2 astromech known as Deuce whistled a simple affirmative, then engaged the communications satellite he had already used once, during the first engagement.
Starship combat in the galaxy had evolved with changing weaponry, tactics, and defensive equipment. Early engagements between opposing factions among the stars had relied on kinetic weaponry—essentially hurling projectiles at one another. Launching systems had been as simple or complicated as needed, with some relying on explosives with others using magnetic to accelerate projectiles. Even early repulsorlifts had been used to provide propulsion.
The advent of the laser cannon as a practical, ship-mounted weapon had changed everything. With the discovery of tibanna gas as a reactive agent, it became possible to mount laser cannons on ships that ranged from scout vessels all the way up to dreadnoughts because of the vastly lower power consumption that the new technology required.
Electrical shielding lagged behind. Massive cruisers could spare the hull space needed for both the reactors and the generators themselves, but smaller vessels—starfighters, scouts, corvettes—simply could not. As laser cannons proliferated, many of those small vessels instead were armored with highly conductive plating. A blast from an energy projectile, spread across thirty square meters of hull plating, could be absorbed, whereas it would melt straight through the older, traditional armor used to protect against projectiles.
Armoring starships, then, became a balancing act. Armor useful against kinetic attacks was vulnerable to laserfire, while the conductive plating was brittle and could be shattered apart by even a few projectiles. Producers of warships learned over the centuries learned to balance the two components to prevent a ship from sporting a glass jaw.
The Clone Wars had seen massive broadsides of turbolasers between opposing warships, with starfighter squadrons acting as support but primarily engaging other starfighters. As a result, the generation of warships designed late in and in the wake of the Clone Wars tended back towards conductive armor to absorb stray fire that made it past the heavy deflector shields now common on everything from the starfighter on up.
The Rebel Alliance had devised tactics around that knowledge, using proton torpedoes to shatter apart the conductive armor plating with physical blasts. Fighters like the X-wing and B-wing had developed an almost undeserved reputation for punching far out of their weight class, because they carried weapons that exploited the weaknesses in the Kuat Drive Yards-designed capital ships: the Victory and Imperial-class Star Destroyers.
What the Zabraks defending Iridonia had realized—what had virtually never been relevant before the arrival of the Yuuzhan Vong and their swarms of grutchin—was that those conductive hulls did more than just distribute incoming energy across a broad area. They could carry an electrical charge, too.
And with a Star Destroyer’s auxiliary reactor hooked directly into the hull plating? In a word: zap.
Li had just completed another pass over the Destroyer and was looping around when his sensors blanked out with static. What the hell? Why… As his turn carried him back around and the Destroyer filled his forward viewport, he understood.
Electricity danced across the hull of the Destroyer, arcing across vacuum to reach Yuuzhan Vong grutchin. Whereas the hull had previously seemed to crawl with the marauding insects, there was a sudden stillness that the veteran pilot found almost disturbing.
Straggling grutchin, unable to understand what awaited them, still descended onto the Star Destroyer’s hull. Whenever one reached it, Li could see a brilliant flash of blue light, and then the insect, its dark carapace now even darker, would drift motionlessly away from the abandoned warship.
Lenn Kaman’s chuckle filled the comm waves, though the tone was dark. “Looks like the General thought ahead. That has to be the galaxy’s biggest insect trap.”
Li shook his head wordlessly. Halyn, you magnificent bastard. “Form up,” he said, shaking himself out of his revere. “All remaining fighters, form up.” He glanced at his scopes. “Looks like there’s a couple Jedi out on the other side of that grand cruiser that could use some help.”
A new voice crackled in his ear. “Negative on that.” Halyn Lance sounded surprisingly calm. “We’re already taking care of it.”