Abi Ocopaqui frowned as she descended the Muurian transport’s boarding ramp. The six Wookiees were in tow, one of them carrying the dark Jedi over his shoulder like a sack of rocks, with no indication or concern that she would be awaking anytime soon.
What concerned her, though, was the officer running the Cathleen’s comm board. He had indicated that Halyn had been unavailable, and was in fact in the ship’s medical bay.
The Twi’lek turned at the whine of repulsorlifts, saw Li Coden float an X-wing into the hangar. Might not support starfighter operations, but there’s sure enough space to set one fighter down. She glanced around the crowded hangar. Of course, the fact that all the Muurians are currently parked here makes it a bit more cramped.
The New Republic pilot found a clear patch of decking to set the fighter down, then vaulted from the cockpit and jogged over to Abi. “What’s going on?” he asked breathlessly.
Abi shook her head. “I don’t know. We found the traitor, and I tried to comm Anishor and Halyn to report it, but neither of them would answer. The comm officer reported that they’re both in the medbay.”
“Med bay?” Li frowned. “Did he go and do something and get himself stabbed or beaten?”
“Wouldn’t surprise me, and it’s not like he doesn’t occasionally deserve it.”
Li nodded agreeably and walked behind the Wookiee carrying the unconscious traitor. “That’s her. Where did you find her?”
“She walked straight into a firefight between us and the Vong, swinging a lightsaber around.”
“Lightsaber?” Li asked, raising both eyebrows.
“Dark Jedi,” Abi said grimly.
“How’d you put her down?”
Abi hesitated. “I…didn’t. We were fighting on the Muurian’s boarding ramp and she just collapsed.”
“That doesn’t sound very Jedi-like.”
“Not so much, no. Ran a medical scan with the Muurian’s on-board gear, and she looks like she got the crap kicked out of her by someone or something—broken bones, bruised ribs, a mild concussion. Nothing to explain the collapse, though.”
“Just be grateful,” Li advised.
“I would be, if I wasn’t worried she’d wake up and go after us with a lightsaber again.”
“Then make sure she doesn’t have the lightsaber,” Li advised.
“Already took care of that,” Abi said. “You think I’d risk keeping a lightsaber on the same ship as a knocked-out dark Jedi? Hardly.” She shook her head. “We’d better get moving, find out why the boss is in the medbay.”
The two of them fell into step, the Wookiees clustering in behind with the captive dark Jedi held in the middle. “Li, I have a question,” Abi asked quietly. “Does it feel to you like we’re losing this war?”
“You mean here on Iridonia, or the wider war?”
Li hesitated, waited until the turbolift doors were closed before he answered. “Halyn and the Zabraks have held out longer than anyone else so far with Vong occupation forces actually on-planet, but they’re slowly losing ground. The fighter defenses are being whittled away by the constant combat. If the Vong sent another fleet here, the planet would fall within a week.”
Abi nodded. “I’m seeing a lot of the same things. The ground forces have been pushed through a ringer, and there’s not much left of them. I mean, there’s not enough food and medical supplies to go around, and the battalion leaders are starting to combine squads to keep fighting forces capable of engaging the Vong. Hell, half of Rak’Edalin’s been reduced to rubble, and if the Vong keep pushing it’ll be three-quarters before we know it.”
“Why are you asking?” Li asked.
The Twi’lek was silent until the turbolift’s doors slid open again. “I’m trying to figure out if there’s a way to turn it around, or at the very least, escape from the trap this planet’s become.”
“You don’t think Halyn can do it?”
“Li, I was at Ithor, Ord Mantell, Fondor, Duro, and Coruscant. I don’t know if anyone can do it anymore.”
The two walked without further comment until they reached the medbay. Whatever Abi was expecting to see, it wasn’t the scene in front of her.
Three beds bore sheet-covered bodies. Small bodies, Abi observed. Children.
Other beds in the medbay were mostly empty, save one holding up a blue-skinned Twi’lek woman whose skin was ashen. Abi Number Two!
Around the Twi’lek were three people: Halyn, standing upright but with his eyes lowered and head bowed. Anishor and the Jedi Knight Kelta Rose both knelt, their hands outstretched and resting on the fallen Twi’leks arms. Neither of them looked up, and Abi had the sense of profound concentration from both of them.
“Halyn,” Abi said softly. “Halyn, we nailed the traitor.”
“Hal,” the dark Jedi whispered.
Abi turned and had her scatter pistol leveled at the traitor in a heartbeat. Her finger was tight against the trigger, ready to squeeze should she do so much as murmur another word or wave a hand or do anything that suggested she was about to accomplish more than lay limply over a Wookiee’s shoulder.
To her not-so-mild annoyance, Halyn’s hand twisted her wrist, forcing the scatter pistol away. “No,” Halyn snarled.
“She’s the traitor,” Abi hissed. “Li and I both identified her. I don’t care who she is, but she has to die. She’s a dark Jedi, Hal, and if you let her wake up she’ll kill us all.”
<No, she won’t,> Anishor rumbled. He was rising from the floor, a troubled look in his eyes. <Halyn, what’s going on?>
“Set her down on a bed,” Halyn instructed, ignoring his old friends and allies. The berserker gave Anishor a questioning look first, then set the dark Jedi down with his leader’s approving nod.
“Halyn,” she whispered.
Abi watched tensely as Halyn leaned over the dark Jedi. Her eyes slowly opened, and she whispered, “The children?”
Halyn struggled to speak, and a tear rolled down his cheek. “Nop and Sash,” he whispered. “I’m so sorry, Katie. It was my fault.”
Her hand came up and slapped him, but he didn’t pull away. “I’m so sorry. It’s my fault,” he repeated.
The dark Jedi screamed then, a sound so mournful and savage that Abi leveled her scatter pistol at the traitor in spite of Halyn’s proximity. “Get back,” she barked at Halyn. “She’ll kill us all!”
This time it was Anishor who pushed the scatter pistol down. I am getting sick of that, Abi grumbled silently. Next time someone tries it, I’m going to shoot him.
<This is Halyn’s sister, Kativie> Anishor rumbled quietly.
“That’s what one of the berserkers said,” Abi said tightly. “Doesn’t make any difference to me.”
<She is a Jedi Knight and no traitor to Iridonia,> Anishor insisted.
“Well, she sold out the Iridonians to the Vong,” Abi snarled. “Li and I were there and watched it!”
<The Vong have killed two of her children,> the Wookiee replied, his voice even quieter.
Abi glanced over at the shrouded beds again. “Oh,” was all she could manage. The sound of a slap brought her attention back to the bed where Kativie was lying flat on her back. Halyn’s face was turned away, a red imprint already spreading across his cheek.
Halyn slowly straightened. With his back still turned, he said, “Abi, I know you believe Kativie is a traitor to Iridonia and to the Republic. She’s not.”
“I’m going to require more convincing than that,” Abi said shortly. “And what happened to Abi Number Two?”
“Sandarie was poisoned,” Halyn said hoarsely. “The scarheads sent a team to assassinate me, here on the Cathleen. She was supposed to be with the clan children, several decks and a dozen locked bulkheads away. Instead, they came to surprise me and walked straight into a Vong ambush.”
Abi grimaced. She had been a bounty hunter, a soldier, a warrior, a New Republic agent. There were certain lines even she hadn’t crossed, and slaughtering defenseless kids was one of them. “What happened?” Abi asked slowly.
“The Vong were locked in a room with them for ten, maybe fifteen seconds. Three of the kids were killed by the Vong, and an amphistaff bit Sandarie, before we could intervene.”
“They were supposed…be safe,” Kativie mumbled from her bed. Abi glanced over, saw the traitor trying to sit up.
“I know,” Halyn said, his voice even hoarser. “They should have been safe. It’s my fault, Katie. It’s all my fault.”
“How is it your fault?” Li asked, his voice low and tight. “She’s the traitor.”
“She was working for me,” Halyn hissed. “Don’t you get it? She’s been feeding the Vong information so we can predict their actions. As long as she was feeding them knowledge that was accurate, they wouldn’t try to infiltrate another spy into our ranks. It was supposed to be my role, but after Argus died…” Halyn’s voice died, and it was nearly a full minute later before he could speak again. “After Argus died, I had to put someone I trusted in that role. Someone I trusted absolutely, that I knew could never, ever betray Iridonia.”
The Zabrak sighed. “From the fall of Ithor, Argus and I planned for this. We knew that, sooner or later, the Yuuzhan Vong would come here to Iridonia. We spent months preparing our defenses. We planned every detail. We wargamed every scenario. The two of us concluded that we would have to put our own infiltrator among the Vong’s ranks, a traitor that would allow us to feed the Vong the information we wanted them to have.”
He shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “Argus was supposed to be the great hero, the leader who would command Iridonia’s forces. Neither of us expected the Council to appoint an Ul’akhoi, but it would’ve—should have—been him, not me. I was going to take the risk of being the traitor, of working with the Vong and giving them information. When Argus died, everything changed—I was suddenly in the commandership, because there was no one else to do it. I needed a traitor, someone I could trust absolutely to do what was necessary for Iridonia. That traitor was Kativie—a Jedi Knight, my own sister, the one person no one would suspect as the turncoat who betrayed Iridonia.”
“Why didn’t you tell us?” Abi asked sharply. “Why let us chase our tails around trying to find a traitor that wasn’t?”
“How could I know that you hadn’t defected?” Halyn rasped. “How could I know if you were still loyal? There’s a lot of old-timers who have gone over to the Peace Brigade, to the Vong. Especially now that Coruscant’s fallen and the galaxy is getting worse and worse. I couldn’t trust anyone, except her.”
<Not even me?> Anishor’s question sounded very displeased to Abi’s ear.
“I trusted you, Anishor, but not with everything. You didn’t need to know everything. Only Katie did, because she was my second—if something happens to me, she’s the only one who has the knowledge of our plans and defenses to still keep Iridonia free.”
<So you didn’t trust any of us?>
Halyn shook his head. “Not completely, no. Most of you I hadn’t seen since Endor, and people change.” He locked eyes with Anishor. “Even Wookiees.”
The answering growl was wordless but clearly unhappy.
“I won’t pretend any of you like the decision I made,” Halyn said quietly. “And I’m sorry for not trusting you. But I’ve done what I’ve done for the sake of Iridonia, not myself.” He looked up at Anishor. “Can you save Sandarie?”
The Wookiee’s answer was slow. <The venom is not of this galaxy, not in the Force. Were it a Sith creation, she would already be healed. But this poison—I cannot touch it with the Force. With my strength, I can hold it at bay, but only for so long.>
“Kelta?” the Ul’akhoi asked.
The red-headed woman reluctantly removed her hands from the Twi’lek. “No,” she said quietly. “I’m not a healer, and Anishor’s skills surpass mine. There’s nothing I can do for her, except perhaps ease her pain.”
“Uh, didn’t the New Republic develop antitoxin for Twi’leks after Ithor?” Li asked cautiously.
“Yes,” Kelta spoke up. “Jedi Knight Daeshara’cor died from amphistaff venom on one of the herd ships. Shortly after, Master Cilghal and the New Republic’s medical corps researched the venom and developed antitoxins for a wide range of species, including Twi’lek.”
“So what are we waiting for?” Li asked.
“This is Iridonia,” Halyn said softly. “Keeping up to date on Twi’lek medical research isn’t really a priority here. Our Holonet relay was cut at the same time the Vong assassins hit my quarters, so we have no way of getting the information short of a courier.”
“So send a courier,” Abi said tightly. “Not to be selfish, but I’d like to know I’m going to live if one of those snakes bites me.”
“There’s nothing on Iridonia that can break the blockade,” Halyn said. “Even the few smugglers who enlisted wouldn’t be able to fly their way out.”
“So we just let her die?” Kelta asked tiredly.
“No.” Halyn’s voice was almost inaudible. “If she’s going to survive, the only thing we can do is freeze her in carbonite. Put her in hibernation, slow her system down until we can get her offworld. It would buy her weeks, maybe months, to get her an antitoxin.”
<If it doesn’t kill her.> Anishor was not a pessimist, but he was not confident in Halyn’s plan. <Freezing someone in carbonite is stressful—not everyone survives the experience.>
“That’s why I need you and Kelta both doing whatever you can to keep her alive during the freezing process.” Halyn’s voice grew stronger. “And we need to do it now, before more time passes and the venom further damages her. The longer we wait, the less the odds of her survival.”
Nods were exchanged around the room. Halyn took a deep breath. “I need you all to leave,” he said softly. “So I can talk to Kativie alone.”
Abi bit down the urge to argue with him. What if she really is a traitor? she asked herself. Just because Halyn thinks she’s working for him doesn’t mean she couldn’t have been playing him, too. But when the Twi’lek looked at the Ul’akhoi, then the Jedi, she decided it wasn’t likely. No, she wasn’t. Not if they’re siblings. Family ties run deep on Iridonia.
Instead, she waited until Anishor had picked up Sandarie, then fell into step with Li and Kelta behind him, following him out of the medbay and to a carbon-freezing chamber.
Halyn waited until the others had left the medbay, then dropped to his knees. “I’m so sorry, Katie,” he whispered. “It was all my fault. I thought I was so smart, but I made horrible mistakes. My arrogance got two of your kids killed.”
“Why?” Kativie rasped. “Why was it me who paid for it? Why wasn’t it you?”
“Because you had so much more to lose,” Halyn replied, his eyes closed because he couldn’t bear to meet her gaze. “So when I made the mistake, it was you who suffered. It’s all my fault, Katie.”
“I killed my own children,” she whispered, her voice hollow. “They might as well have died by my lightsaber. I betrayed them.”
“No.” Halyn’s voice was firm. “Dammit, Katie, it wasn’t your fault. You followed my orders and expected me to uphold my end of the deal. It’s my fault, not yours. It’s all my fault.”
“There was a third, wasn’t there?” Katie whispered after several minutes of silence. “Three bodies. And Sandi.”
“Triv,” Halyn said, leaving it at that.
“I just want the killing to stop,” Kativie said, a tinge of desperation in her voice. “Before we’re all gone and there’s none of us left. Before the Sanshirs and the Lusps all die in this miserable war. Why did it have to be us, Hal? Why are we the ones leading this fight and taking these losses?”
“Because we were the ones who could,” Halyn said. “It’s the same reason we’ve been in it since the fall of the Old Republic. We’ve always chosen to fight because we can, and because we can make a difference.”
“Is that our legacy?” Kativie asked, sobbing. “When all our children have died in our wars, is that what we leave behind? A maybe-better galaxy that we sacrificed our kin for?”
“I know. This isn’t what you wanted for any of us.” Her tone was sardonic. “Who would want this for his family? It wasn’t what you wanted, I know. But it’s what you chose for us.”
“We chose,” Halyn reminded her. “We three. Argus, me, and you. We chose to take up this fight because there was no one else we could trust to fight it as well.”
“And it’s cost us everything.”
“Not everything.” Halyn’s tone was resolute.
“Not ever.” Halyn shook his head. “Most of your children still live, as do half of Allanna’s.”
“Edlin?” Kativie asked abruptly.
“He was beaten by the Vong, but he still lives.” Halyn did his best to keep his voice even. “His mother would have been proud, if she had been here.”
There was silence in the medbay, and the siblings simply sat together, sharing each other’s grief as only family can. At last, Halyn slowly rose to his feet. “Are you able to fight?” he asked quietly.
Kativie sat up with agonizing slowness. “I will be, once the doctors patch me up.” She smiled faintly. “I’d be able to now, if someone hadn’t dropped a building on me.”
“Katie, I’m so, so…”
“Shaddup,” she said with the most teasing tone she could muster. It wasn’t much, but it was enough.
“Things are getting worse,” he said grimly.
“We knew it would,” she replied. “We knew this wouldn’t be short or bloodless. The children…” her breath came in ragged gasps for several long moments. “We didn’t expect our kids to be in danger, but we should have known. We both know what has to be done.”
“We fight,” Halyn said softly.
“Until there’s no one left to fight, or no one left to fight,” Kativie finished, her eyes closed.
Untl there’s no enemies left, or no Zabraks able to pick up a zhaboka, Halyn translated in his mind over the redundant words. “I need you,” Halyn said. “I can’t do this without you. And we’re running out of time.”
“How long?” Kativie asked, her voice strengthening. Halyn guessed she was drawing on the Force for strength and wisdom.
“Not long. A week, give or take a few days.” Halyn forced himself to swallow.
Katie closed her eyes. “Alright. We fight together until the end, one way or the other.”
“To the end.”