The Sanshir clan gathered in Halyn’s quarters aboard the Cathleen a week and a half after the conclusion of the war on Iridonia.
Kativie Lusp smiled as arms wrapped around her. She leaned back into her husband Hakk’s embrace, allowing him to take her weight. It was a small comfort for the Jedi Knight—resting in the strength of another, rather than always being the warrior, the pillar, the rock for everyone around her. Even Jedi Knights can’t be strong all the time, she told herself. I bet even Master Skywalker has moments where he allows Mara Jade to offer him strength. She was grateful Hakk had arrived mere hours after the orbital battle had concluded; he had told her that he had been waiting outside the system in a freighter, watching for a moment he could slip through.
The surviving children were playful but somber. It tugged at her heartstrings to see them so subdued, but she knew they were mourning the losses of their own. The pain opened her wounds afresh, threatening to overwhelm her. Instead of fighting it, she leaned even harder into her husband and allowed the familiar, deep pain to wash over her. Her eyes closed as she reached out to the Force and leaned heavily on it, too, for strength.
Argus and Allanna were sitting hand-in-hand at a small table, conversing deeply with their eldest son. Kativie had been delighted to learn that her second-oldest nephew, stationed on the Maria, had survived alongside his father in the disastrous Reecee battle.
Halyn sat alone in a corner. Kativie stretched out toward him with the Force, trying to gauge his feelings in the Force. She was not as sensitive as others, like Kelta, and in spite of their familial bond, she could sense only the dark cloud that had seemed to hang over Halyn since the siege on Iridonia had lifted. Why has he been so distant since the Vong were destroyed? she wondered, not for the first time. He should be celebrating the danger passing and the weight being lifted from his shoulders.
“Are your parents going to make it?” Hakk whispered in Kativie’s ear.
She started for a moment, then settled back into his embrace. “No,” she said aloud. “They’re still out on the Zabrak colony on Talus.”
“I’m sorry about what happened with my family while I was gone,” Hakk murmured. “If I would have been here, I could have at least smacked my father around for you and Halyn.”
Kativie shook her head. “It’s not your fault, and your father was just being himself.”
“So, I’ve been thinking about that pretty much since you told me what happened,” Hakk continued. “And I was wondering if you wanted to change your last name back to Sanshir.”
“Back to Sanshir?” Kativie repeated in confusion. “What are you talking about?” Her hearts twisted in her chest. “You’re not talking about leaving me, are you?”
Hakk chuckled. “Never. Not for all the wealth in the galaxy, Kat.”
Hakk breathed in her ear, a warm feeling that sent shivers down her spine. “I want to disown the Lusp clan. If the Sanshirs will have me, I would like to be a part of your family’s clan, not mine.”
Kativie was so shocked it took her a few moments to gather her thoughts. “How much thought have you put into this?” she asked.
“Some,” Hakk replied quietly. “I can’t stand to stay with my clan after what they did. Their arrogance nearly destroyed Iridonia—there’s no way Jram would have been ready to lead, and my father does not have the experience in warfare that your clan accumulated in the Civil War.”
“And what does joining the Sanshirs accomplish?” Kativie asked quietly.
“It will show the surviving Lusps that their actions weren’t acceptable,” Hakk said. “If I leave them, it will be unprecedented—no son born in the Lusp clan has left for the last thousand years. It would be a huge event that would force them to reconsider.”
Kativie didn’t reply immediately; instead, she reached out to the Force for guidance. Her thoughts settled calmly into place, and when she spoke her words came with the absolute certainty she almost never felt. When the words emerged, they were the Force’s, not her own. “You should not leave the Lusps, Hakk. If it’s what you want, yes, we can formally leave the Lusps and join the Sanshirs, but it will not affect the Lusp’s course.”
“What?” Hakk whispered, a little taken aback. “How can you know?”
“Think about it,” Kat said. “The Lusps and the Sanshirs alike have gone through the most severe warfare in our space since the Civil War. If you leave now, it will be written off as a consequence of the war—in open conflict, even Zabraks respond in odd ways to the stress.”
She could feel Hakk’s disagreeing frown, but she pressed on. “Now, clan Lusp’s leader is gone, dead in a conflict that ravaged Rak’Edalin. If you stay, there’s a chance you can press for some real change. You may not end up as the head of your clan, but you don’t need to if you want to make things better and prevent this from ever happening again. Imagine, you might even be the first Zabrak to finally settle this feud between the Lusps and the Sanshirs in millennia!”
“I hate it when you make sense,” Hakk muttered. “I come up with some grand gesture, and you tell me I’m being stupid. And then you explain why I’m being stupid. And you’re right.”
“After being married to me this long, I thought you’d be used to it,” Kativie teased as she wiggled against him.
He chuckled and squeezed her tighter for a moment. Kativie smiled and closed her eyes, reveling in the feelings. She hadn’t realized just how much she’d missed it while fighting the Yuuzhan Vong.
In the Force, she felt Halyn’s dark mood lighten a little. At the same time, she felt another presence—one far calmer and more powerful than she had felt before.
Kat opened her eyes and spotted Kelta Rose slipping into the room. The other Jedi Knight unobtrusively walked along the wall, heading over to the corner where Halyn was sitting. He was watching her, his brilliant green eyes nearly glowing with delight.
She reached out again and marveled in Kelta’s presence in the Force. The red-maned Jedi Knight felt completely at peace for the first time she could recall—ever. It wasn’t just her serenity, but Kat could feel a new wellspring of power in her friend. She feels like a master, Kat observed. The power and the peace. Only Jedi Masters have both, and she has them in abundance. She didn’t just heal Halyn; I think she healed herself, too, of whatever was haunting her.
There was a faint tink-tink-tink-tink sound that drew Kat’s attention. She turned her head and saw Argus was on his feet, a glass in one hand and a small vibroblade in the other, tapping the inert blade against the glass to draw the attention of everyone in the room. He continued to tap persistently, waiting until even the children had quieted and turned to look.
“Thank you,” Argus said with a small smile on his lips. “I’m glad we could all be together tonight, for the first time since the siege ended.”
Kativie wondered briefly what her eldest brother was going to say.
“More than thirty years ago, none of us had any idea what we would become. I was a security force member for the Iridonian government, my younger bratty brother ran off to see the galaxy, and my baby sister was just a child. Ten years after that, we three had led the efforts to liberate Iridonia from the Empire—me with the Zabrak resistance, Halyn as a Rebel General, and Kativie as a renegade who forced both of us to work together,” he added with a smile.
“I think we’ve made Iridonia a better place. We’ve done our best to protect it from threats both outside and inside our space. We’ve sacrificed time and again to ensure our world survives. “ He swallowed. “We’ve lost cousins, sons, and daughters as we’ve tried to safeguard everything that means anything to our race. As warriors, we’ve bled and died on the battlefield; as supporters, we’ve sacrificed our time and energy to rebuild what has been lost and destroyed; as leaders, we’ve made the hard calls to ensure the wars are won.”
Kativie felt something through the Force at the last statement. There’s more than he’s letting on, she thought to herself. But now was not the time to speak up, not in front of the children.
“And now we’ve won yet another war, this time against a race desiring to utterly destroy us and every bit of our history and culture. Halyn was the key to that,” he said, nodding at his younger brother, “but each of us has fought and sacrificed and, yes, lost much in this war. And while we won the war here, I don’t doubt we’ll need to sacrifice more to ensure the galaxy at large is safe from the Yuuzhan Vong.”
Argus raised his glass. “So, this is a celebration of Clan Sanshir and what we have accomplished. To all of us, whether you are born as a Sanshir,” he said, locking gazes with Halyn and Kativie in turn, then smiling at the children, “or whether you joined us afterward,” he continued, smiling down at Allanna, then up at Hakk, and finally to the only human in the room, Kelta Rose, “I raise a glass in salute. You are my family, and you are the reasons I continue to fight. With all of you as Sanshirs, our clan has grown greatly, and we may yet continue to guide Iridonia on a path of freedom from tyranny.”
Kativie picked up her glass with her fingertips and raised it into the air. “To Clan Sanshir, and Iridonia!” she called.
Others repeated the toast, and drank. Kativie sipped at her drink, hid her grimace as the alcohol burned all the way down. Drinking is not for the Jedi, she thought wryly.
For the first time in months, her family felt at ease—the tension of months had drained away, taking with it the toxins and pain of loss. They were comfortable, relaxed, reveling in the bonds of family.
With the exception of Halyn. She could still feel something dark eating at his peace. If we beat the Yuuzhan Vong, we can beat whatever is still troubling him, Kativie thought. He won the war for Iridonia—that’s not too much to ask.
Abi Ocopaqui was upright for the first time in two weeks. She still felt as though a part of herself was gone, and in some ways it was—her severed head-tail was home to deep-seated memories, cultural memories passed down to her even though she hadn’t ever lived on Ryloth.
“Are you okay?” Li Coden asked her for the umpteenth time.
“I’m fine,” the Twi’lek snarled reflexively.
Her head seemed to be pulled just a bit to one side, putting perpetual pressure on her neck. She knew it was a result of the now oddly-weighted lekku. Either I’m going to get used to this or I’m going to need a neck brace, she thought to herself. Dammit, dammit, dammit.
In spite of the discomfort and the sense of loss, she knew she had been very, very lucky. The Yuuzhan Vong amphistaff strike had only nicked the very edge of her brain—enough to cause some damage, but not enough to lose her identity. It may take me years to figure out just what exactly I’ve lost, she told herself. And maybe it’s not anything I’ll ever miss.
“I’m going to need to get a prosthetic,” she muttered as she rolled her head back and forth, cracking her neck. “This is going to kill me if I don’t figure something out.”
The door to the medcenter hissed open, and Halyn Lance slipped through, trailed by the red-maned Kelta Rose.
Halyn was silent as he approached. Abi stroked her severed lekku unconsciously. This really is going to bother me, she told herself as she waited for Halyn to speak.
The Zabrak settled onto a medical cot across from Abi before he finally spoke. “How are you feeling, Abi?”
“How do you think?” the Twi’lek growled. “A big part of me was destroyed. Thanks to you.”
Halyn accepted the blame without protest. “I’m sorry I brought you into this,” he said.
The Twi’lek raised an eyebrow. That’s not what I was expecting. “Oh?”
“Yes,” Halyn said. “This war was between the Zabraks and the Yuuzhan Vong. I shouldn’t have asked you to fight, and I put you in the position where you were wounded. Kativie may have sent you after the scarhead commander, but I placed you on the battlefield with the opportunity to do so.”
“So, I heard we won?” Abi half-asked.
The Zabrak nodded. “We did. We wiped out the Vong to the last man and blew up every ship in orbit.”
“With what fleet?” the Twi’lek asked sardonically.
“Garm Bel Iblis sent some warships with our fleet on the way back,” Halyn said shortly. “Few extra big warships made the difference in wiping out their blockade.”
“So, what now?” Abi asked.
Halyn shrugged. “We beat the Vong off, and I don’t think they’ll be sending another invasion force anytime soon. Now that we’ve got our HoloNet relay back up and running, I’m hearing rumors that the New Republic has setup a government-in-exile on Mon Calamari, so we’ll need to get a representative there to ensure Iridonia has a say in what happens next.” He smiled just a bit. “After all, we’ve proved the Vong can be beaten.”
“That’s all well and good,” Abi said, waving her hand, “but I’m still waiting to hear how you’re going to replace my Y-wing.”
Halyn froze, and Abi chuckled silently to herself. You weren’t expecting that, were you? Everyone thinks you’re so damned good, but I can always prove that you don’t anticipate everything.
“Oh, that’s all?” Halyn asked casually. He dug in his pocket and produced a datacard, showing it to the Twi’lek before tossing it across to her.
Abi caught it. “What’s this?”
“Well, I did some checking, and it turns out Bel Iblis had a few recon Y-wings on the Harbinger. He was more than happy to sign one over to the Maria in return for all the tactical data we acquired during the siege.”
“A recon Y-wing?” Abi asked skeptically. “You’re going to toss me some unarmed piece of junk and call it square? I don’t think so.”
“I said it was signed over to the Maria, not you. That was three days ago, which means the mechanics have had time to arm it with the latest laser and ion cannons we had in-stock from New Horizon Designs before their skyscraper was reduced to a pile of ash. In fact, there’s even a full load of proton torpedoes in the racks—or there should be, if they followed my orders.”
“I guess we’ll call that even, then,” Abi agreed grudgingly. Dammit. He did anticipate me this time.
“Anything else?” Halyn asked.
“Guess not,” the Twi’lek said.
“So where are you going, then?” the Zabrak asked.
“Check up on my daughter, then head off to link up with New Republic Intelligence,” she said after a moment of hesitation. “What about you? Just going to rest on your laurels as the Hero of Iridonia?”
Halyn snorted. “Hardly.” He shrugged, then added, “I don’t really know what I’m going to do yet. Not sure if I…just not sure,” he amended. He looked past Abi. “What about you, Li?”
The too-thin man smiled. “Well, I’m going to have a long report to write up for my superiors,” Li said. “They’ll want a full analysis of what happened here, especially in light of the fact that you won. After that, well, I’d forgotten how much I enjoy flying. Maybe I can persuade someone to put me in a cockpit again—after all, all those rookies will need a real squadron leader to show them the ropes if we don’t want to see them all get killed.”
“I’m glad you were both here,” Halyn said with a small smile. “Thank you both for everything. I appreciate it. What you two did, well,” he took a deep breath, “it went well beyond the bonds of friendship. So thank you.” He shook both their hands, then walked out without looking back.
Abi watched him go. I don’t think I’ll ever understand that Zabrak.
Halyn smiled at Kelta as they walked down one of the abandoned corridors of the Cathleen. Since the conclusion of the siege, the upper decks of the destroyed warship, which had primarily been occupied by officers and warriors, were now largely emptied of life. “I just can’t get rid of you, can I?” Halyn asked.
“Not as long as I’ve got this,” Kelta teased him, holding up the silver band.
“See, that’s why I tried to avoid that for two decades,” Halyn smirked. “Soon as I give you any trace of commitment, I just can’t shake you off. You hang on tighter than a piranha beetle on a dead carcass.”
Kelta made a face. “That’s really an image I wanted. You always did know how to flatter a woman, coatrack.”
“Everyone knows how damned charming I am,” Halyn said with a smirk. “It’s all the silver tongue.”
“Where are we going?” Kelta asked, changing the subject.
“My personal armory,” the other explained. “Eventually someone will tear this ship down or clean it out and turn it into a museum or memorial. I’d rather not leave all my personal gear there for someone to poke their nose into.”
“Okay, that sounds like you,” Kelta teased him.
Halyn stopped before the correct door, tapping in his key code. Kelta just stood back and watched. He’s probably got the equivalent of a proton torpedo in there and doesn’t want anyone to know, she told herself while she tried to hide a grin. There’s just no way he can’t play things close to his chest. It’s in his blood or something.
When the door slid open, Kelta was surprised to see the room was occupied.
The big Wookiee growled a greeting. <Hello, coatrack,> he said. <And you, Kelta.>
“Good to see you, too,” Halyn said. “Now what are you doing in my armory?”
<I thought I would ensure nothing important is left behind,> Anishor said. <I saw some of your weaponry in here previously and decided discretion was called for.>
“Yeah, the baradium is a bit illegal for private ownership here and, uh, everywhere,” Halyn said with a straight face.
“Not just baradium,” Kelta said with a smile. “Aren’t those antimatter charges?”
“Shush, you,” Halyn said as he picked up several of the palm-sided explosives and slipped them in his pocket. “Besides, I’d hate for people to find out what’s in my duster.”
<What kind of leather is that?> Anishor asked.
Halyn smiled with secret knowledge. “You’ll never know,” he said as he unhooked the floor-length duster from its place and slipped it on.
<So what are your plans now?> the berserker inquired.
“I don’t know,” Halyn shrugged. “A few people have asked, but I’m playing it by ear for now.”
Kelta felt the grimness radiate from both of them and knew she reflected it as well. It’s not fair, she told herself. Not after all this.
“What about you?” Halyn asked the Wookiee. “Are you going back to Kashyyyk to have another bunch of whelps?”
Anishor chuckled. <I think my skills will be needed elsewhere. My berserkers proved themselves very capable in fighting your war here. While I would rather be fighting, I will likely be training more Wookiees in the art of the rykk blade. We will need far more warriors than my few berserkers if we ever hope to take back Coruscant or any other heavily-occupied world.>
“So, nursemaiding young Wookiees for you,” Halyn teased.
<I thought I would train my berserkers the way you trained your bomber pilots during the Civil War,> Anishor replied. <By throwing them into combat and seeing who comes back alive.>
“I didn’t do that,” Halyn denied. “Much.”
Anishor chuffed with laughter. <Well, if you need somewhere to go, you will always be welcome on Kashyyyk,> the Wookiee said at last. <We could use a commander who has fought the Yuuzhan Vong, as well as a pilot who has trained combat pilots.>
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Halyn said. “It’s better than a lot of alternatives.”
Anishor stepped over in one giant stride and picked up both Halyn and Kelta, squeezing them in a massive Wookiee hug. <I am happy for both of you, you know. It took you two furless far too long to come to this.>
Kelta smiled and wrapped her free arm around the Wookiee’s back. “We don’t all mate by clubbing someone over the head and dragging her off to our tree,” she joked.
<You have clearly spent too much time with the coatrack,> Anishor declared. <You’re starting to adopt his views of Wookiees, as wrong as they are.>
“Yeah, he doesn’t have a club,” Halyn grunted. “He has to use the flat side of a rykk blade.”
Anishor squeezed Halyn a bit tighter, and Kelta felt as much as heard the breath go out of him. “I know he has that effect on people, but you have to let him breathe,” the Jedi said, hiding her smirk.
<I know, but it’s good for him to remember on occasion that he’s not always on the top of the food chain,> the Wookiee said as he set them both down.
Halyn and Anishor both turned back to picking up the more illegal bits of the Zabrak’s personal arsenal. Kelta watched them both in amusement. You would think they’re smugglers, not officers and warriors, let alone heroes.
<Do you have regrets?> Anishor asked after a long but not uncomfortable silence.
“Regrets? Of course I do,” Halyn said with a small, sad smile. “A lot of Zabraks died following my orders. We held Iridonia by sacrificing lives. I ordered Rak’Edalin razed and burned it to the ground. It may have been the only way to win this war, but it still doesn’t feel good. I ordered friends to their deaths, and there wasn’t anything else I could do.”
<I have heard speculation that those are the reasons the Jedi were destroyed by the Clone Wars,> Anishor said.
“I thought the Jedi were destroyed by Palpatine after the Clone Wars,” Halyn commented.
“Yes, and no,” Kelta said. “The Clone Wars rotted away the strength of the Jedi Order and left it vulnerable. Years of warfare left the Jedi unprepared for the actions of the Sith.”
<The Jedi were appointed commanders and generals of the army of the Republic,> Anishor continued. <They were forced into positions where people—both troops and civilians—died regardless of the decisions they made. It undermined their certainty and eroded their connection to the Force. When the Sith acted, they were utterly destroyed.>
“What does that have to do with me?” Halyn asked dryly. “Last I checked, I’m no Jedi.”
<It’s not just Jedi,> Anishor pointed out. <You have sacrificed much of yourself in this war. If you’re going to continue to fight, you will need time to recover.>
Halyn shrugged. “Maybe.” He lifted the last of his weapons from the rack, a small disruptor pistol, and holstered it inside his duster. He turned back to the Wookiee and hugged his old friend. “Thank you, Anishor, for coming to Iridonia and fighting. We couldn’t have done it without you.”
<I know, coatrack,> he joked. <I know.>