The New Jedi Order: Siege – The War Thus Far


They came from beyond the Outer Rim of the galaxy, merciless invaders intent on destroying and conquering everything in their path.

At Sernpidal, Dubrillion, Agamar, Obroa-skai, Duro, they defeated and destroyed all comers. Armed with strange, biological weaponry and ships, these conquerors swept aside the forces of the New Republic like chaff in the wind. The Yuuzhan Vong seemed to be unstoppable.

Only the Jedi stood firm against them. Jedi fought and won repeatedly, but lost many of their number along the way; Miko Reglia was the first, but certainly not the last. Even Anakin Solo, the strongest of his generation of Jedi Knights, fell in combat against the Yuuzhan Vong.

The Jedi fractured under the stress: some elements became passive; others chose only to escape, to survive; still others treaded the line of the dark side by taking the fight to the invaders. Only the Jedi Master Luke Skywalker could reunite them into a single Order, and so he has—at Talfaglio, the Jedi struck a mighty blow against the Yuuzhan Vong and rescued thousands of hostages.

Even the Jedi have proven to be insufficient in the face of this menace, however. Even now, a mighty war fleet under the command of Yuuzhan Vong warmaster Tsavong Lah bears down on the galactic capital of Coruscant, with the fleets of the New Republic and the might of the Jedi insufficient to stop them…

The New Jedi Order: Siege – The Fall of Coruscant

Another world falls, the Zabrak thought bitterly. Out the bridge windows of the mighty Mon Calamari Star Cruiser, the debacle was clear for anyone with the slightest grasp of military tactics. Or anyone with eyes.

The New Republic had assembled three fleets to defend Coruscant, under the command of three of its greatest tacticians—Garm Bel Iblis and Traest Kre’fey as an anvil, Wedge Antilles as a hammer. The plan had been for Wedge’s fleet to drive the Yuuzhan Vong forward into the mighty defensive fleets under Bel Iblis and Kre’fey, trapping them in a pincer and destroying the enemy entirely.

The Yuuzhan Vong had countered with a screen of refugee ships, dividing the New Republic’s fleet between those willing to fire on their own people to save Coruscant, and those who thought such a Republic not worth saving. The choice had been denied to the General now looking out at the devastation, at the vast fleets and the stream of refugees trying to escape the fall of the galaxy’s capital world. Not that it would’ve been a choice. I would’ve ordered our people to open fire.

When the New Republic had asked for volunteers, Zabrak space had responded. The capital on Iridonia had sent most of its remaining capital ships to join Wedge Antilles’s Fleet Group Three, along with thousands of starfighters. It imperiled the Zabrak nation, certainly, but the General had argued forcefully in favor of sending reinforcements. The fall of the New Republic may very well mean the fall of the galaxy as a whole. The last war proved the Zabraks cannot hold all its enemies at bay by themselves. Only as part of the Republic do we stand a chance.

His emerald eyes were hard as he studied the battlefield. Not that there’s much of a Republic left now. Or much of a defense for Iridonia.

When the Yuuzhan Vong had invaded the galaxy two years previously, Zabrak space had possessed a hardened, if small, military. Three Mon Calamari Star Cruisers had formed the backbone of its fleet, aided by dozens of smaller vessels—frigates, light cruisers, corvettes. Starfighters comprised a much greater part of the Zabrak military; hard-learned lessons from the Galactic Civil War had proved their effectiveness and, just as importantly, their concealability. Should the worst happen, fighters could be hidden, stored away, and launched quickly from hidden hangars across a hundred worlds when called upon.

Unfortunately, the Yuuzhan Vong war had proven to be much more about heavy firepower and mighty warships than the effectiveness of starfighter combat. Even with every fighter from Zabrak space, I don’t think we could’ve held here, the General reluctantly concluded.

“General Sanshir,” the ensign at the comm board called. “Communications from the Fleet Group commander.”

“Put it through.”

A quarter-sized hologram of General Wedge Antilles shimmered to life on the holoprojector on the Star Cruiser’s bridge. “We’re going to hold as long as we can,” Antilles said evenly. “We can’t keep the Vong off Coruscant, but we’re going to buy our people as much time as we can.”

“Understood,” Halyn Sanshir said in a calm reply. “Iridonia will stand with you until you withdraw.” And even after, he added to himself.

“Glad to hear it,” Antilles replied grimly.

Halyn turned his head away from the holo of the fleet commander. “Tactical, please.”

A much larger hologram shimmered to life around them, with the warships of both sides oversized on the scale of the map of the system. “Antilles, where’s the Jedi wing?” Halyn asked as he studied the hologram.

“There,” a feminine voice said quietly behind him.

The general caught himself before he could start. He turned his head to see where the young redhead was pointing at the tactical display.

“Thank you,” he murmured, a bit unsettled. The human girl—he could hardly think of her as a woman, given her youth—had offered to join him aboard the warship. The brown robes and the lightsaber hanging from her belt left Halyn little doubt about what she was, and her advice had twice saved the Zabrak task force from ambushed by Yuuzhan Vong counter-strikes. I’d forgotten they can sense each other, Halyn thought.

The hologram of Antilles flickered for a moment as the man turned to face someone else, then turned back. “We’ve received word from Bel Iblis and Kre’fey that they’ve completed evacuating the ships they could. The Jedi wing will be joining us shortly; they’re retrieving one of their own. Then we’ll be jumping out-system.”

“The refugees?” Halyn asked. Even as the words spilled from his lips, he could see the cold logic Antilles’ decision. As the Yuuzhan Vong armada moved deeper into Coruscant’s orbit, the refugee traffic was strangling from a torrent to a trickle.

Antilles was silent.

The ensign at the comm board spoke up again. “General Sanshir, we have a transmission coming from a ship coming off the planet. Voice-only, no holo.”

“Put it through,” Halyn ordered.

There was immediately a crackle of static for a full second before a voice carried across the comm waves. “Senator Alari to any Zabrak forces left in the system, I need extraction. Repeat, I need extraction.”

Halyn closed his eyes. Dammit. “Senator Alari, this is General Sanshir. We’re still out here. I’ll be sending you a fighter escort now,” he called. “Sensors, do you have a lock on his location?”

“Yes, sir!”

“Redirect Scythe and Blade Squadrons to escort-and-intercept.” He kept his eyes closed. A squadron of X-wings and a squadron of B-wings, he decided, should be enough to get the Senator through whatever the Vong threw in his path. “Order the Cyclone into backup position to give them some heavy punch if the Vong decide to use something bigger than skips.” That would put the only other Mon Calamari cruiser in the Zabrak forces, a smaller MC40a-class, in backup position. “Let’s get our Senator home.”

There were cheers from the bridge as the two fighter squadrons rushed headlong towards the coralskipper swarms between the friendly forces and the fleeing Zabrak senator. The Cyclone, barely maneuvered past her larger sister, opened fire with its heavy turbolasers before the starfighter squadrons could clash. The mighty fire ripped holes in the coralskipper formation, the fighters unable to deal with the damage of cruiser-grade hits. Almost unopposed, the two Zabrak starfighter squadrons took advantage of the opening to rush past without slowing to engage.

Halyn felt his guts churn. All of war’s a gamble, he decided. Saving an old friend is worth one more. Then we get out of here ourselves.

He glanced over his shoulder at the young Jedi girl. “You’ll probably want to head to the hangar,” Halyn informed her. A glance at the tactical display indicated friendly Zabrak starfighter squadrons had formed up with the Senator’s ships, and were keeping the coralskippers successfully at bay. “We’ll be leaving shortly, miss…Varo, was it?”

“Adreia,” the girl offered with a smile. “Thank you, General.”

Halyn turned back to the battle as the Jedi departed his bridge. He felt a cold hand squeeze his heart as he saw the Yuuzhan Vong matalok closing on the squadrons. “Antilles?” he hissed. But a quick look at the tactical display showed that the fleet commander’s mighty Star Destroyer, the Mon Mothma, was engaged by several Yuuzhan Vong warships itself and could spare no attention.

His eyes narrowed. “Order both squadrons to arm proton torpedoes and lock on that Vong cruiser,” he said coolly.

“Sir, only a third of our fighters have ordinance left,” protested the starfighter coordinator, a Zabrak woman named Kryi Rinnet who’d fought under him during the Galactic Civil War. “And we didn’t have time to equip them with the new decoys.”

“Don’t question,” Halyn said, his voice cooling further. “The Vong are going to have something else to worry about in a moment.” He turned his eyes to the auxiliary boards installed at the back of the bridge. “Bring the generator to full power, and throw the cone straight over our friendly and the Vong.”

Recognition lit up in the eyes of several bridge members. Halyn ignored it all. “Time till ready?”

“Twenty seconds.”

“Starboard guns,” Halyn ordered, “light up that Vong cruiser.”

At the distance separating them, the Star Cruiser’s weaponry couldn’t be able to penetrate the matalok’s void defenses. Generated by organic technology called dovin basals, the “voids” were miniaturized black holes that had proved effective at soaking up damage from the turbolasers and proton torpedoes alike.

As expected, the matalok’s defenses sprung to life in plenty of time to intercept the incoming fire, drinking it up greedily. That, too, was as the Zabrak General expected. But they’re not going to see this coming.

Halyn was fairly certain the mighty old Cathleen, veteran of the early Galactic Civil War, was the only ship of its kind retrofitted with gravity well projectors.

As the gravity well projector swept its cone across the matalok cruiser, Rinnet didn’t bother waiting for orders. “Fire, fire, fire,” she shouted into her own comm to the friendly starfighters.

Blue streaks of proton torpedoes flashed between the starfighters and the matalok. Its dovin basals, stunned by the abrupt appearance of a gravity well from a direction where the ship’s brain was certain no gravity well should be, couldn’t swing its defenses back into place before the warheads struck.

A heartbeat later, the squadrons of Zabrak starfighters and the Senator’s ship were all through the gap. “Shut down the generator,” Halyn ordered. He glanced at his tactical displays, saw the Republic fleets slowly withdrawing from the system. “Signal all our ships,” he said. “As soon as the Senator is aboard, we’re departing for Iridonia.”



Kelta Rose kept her throttle to the firewall, her X-wing tearing through space. Around her she could sense dozens of minds, coldly focused on their targets and their objectives. Far below, the Millennium Falcon raced upwards towards the friendly forces. Coralskippers were already descending towards the light freighter, and the Jedi wing was coming it an angle. Whether the Jedi would catch up in time would depend on Danni Quee.

The young woman’s voice was taut over the Jedi comm channel. “We’re ready to bring the jammer online,” she said, from an old Corellian Corvette, the Scarlet Sunrise. “Waiting for your orders, Hisser.”

Kelta gripped the fighter’s stick in one hand, her other poised over the switches for the X-wing’s s-foil actuators. Her displays showed two shadow bombs remaining from their re-arming, an hour previously, aboard the Mon Mothma. Her proton torpedo tubes were completely empty, but her lasers still had plenty of tibanna gas and her astromech was in good shape.

“On your mark, Control,” Saba Sebatyne spoke over the comm from the blastboat leading the Wild Knights.

“Do it, Sunrise,” Corran Horn immediately ordered from Jolly Man, the Jedi wing’s command and control ship.

Kelta squinted her eyes as she stared at the distant specks that were a lethal Yuuzhan Vong fighter squadron. For a long moment, nothing happened, and the Jedi Knight thought the jammer had failed. Almost anticlimactically, the coralskipper squadron lost its unity and dissolved into a confused mass.

“Lock S-foils and open fire,” Saba ordered over the comm.

The X-wing’s stabilizers were splitting open on Kelta’s ship before the first syllable had crossed the comm; Kelta had sensed the Barabel’s order before she had given it. Around her, the other X-wings of the Sabers and Wild Knights similarly locked in firing position. A half-second later, Kelta’s targeting computer lit up with the distant profile of a coralskipper still diving towards the Millennium Falcon. With the pure tone of a good lock in her ears, Kelta squeezed the trigger.

The starfighter’s cannons roared with energy, sending reddish-orange darts spearing towards the coralskipper. The targeting system, designed by Corran Horn, alternated the timing and precise angle of the shots. The first bolt drew a gravitic void to absorb it, while the other three bolts, firing a fraction of a second later, bent inward around the void to converge on the coralskipper and blast it into dust.

Kelta didn’t have time to target another skip; the rest flashed out of existence and were gone just as quickly as her own target. She smiled tightly as she saw the rising YT-1300 blaze through the now-open space, towards a distant Star Destroyer, the Jedi-friendly Errant Venture.

“Eclipse Wing,” Saba’s voice crackled, “return to the Errant Venture. It is time we take our hunt elzewere.”

Kelta dialed back to the comm channel for her personal shield trio—a surviving pilot from Kyp’s Dozen, which had been knocked out of the fight early on in the battle for Coruscant, and a fellow survivor from Shocker Squadron after the horrendous attack on the third yammosk. “Any word from Eclipse?” she asked her wingmates.

The pilot from the Dozen replied, “I just heard from Master Durron. The Vong tracked him and a half-dozen survivors back to Eclipse and found the base. The backup starfighters were enough to take down the frigate that followed them, but the Vong likely know the location of the base. Master Cilghal ordered the evacuation, and the base is pretty much abandoned now.”

The redheaded woman grimaced. Eclipse had been the Jedi stronghold, a place where the Jedi could strike from and research their enemies. Now it, like Coruscant itself, was fallen. There’s no safe haven for any of us, she thought with a touch of bitterness. Unless we can defeat the Vong—and today certainly wasn’t progress towards that—they’ll chase us and hunt us until there’s nowhere for us to escape to.

“Any idea where we’ll go from here?” the other Shocker pilot asked.

“No,” Kelta said quietly. “But I’d bet Master Skywalker will want to find someplace safe for the Jedi before we re-enter this fight.”

Across the fleet channel, a new voice spoke up. “General Antilles to the Jedi wing. Is Skywalker with you?”

The Millennium Falcon came back in reply a moment later. “Skywalker here.”

“The Third Fleet will be leaving the system shortly. Bel Iblis and Kre’fey are withdrawing  right now. Would the Jedi care to join us?”

“Do you have a destination in mind?” Skywalker’s voice asked cautiously.

“A rendezvous, and we’ll make a decision from there about our destination and objectives.”

“Then yes, the Jedi wing will join you. Hisser, please escort the Sunrise out-system; I’m heading to the Mon Mothma now. We’ll meet you at the rendezvous point.”

“Of course, Master Farmboy,” Saba replied. “Wild Knights on point, Sabers on flank.” The remaining X-wings and blastboats of the Jedi wing spread out into an escort formation around Danni Quee’s battered old vessel, prepared to fight to keep any Yuuzhan Vong aggressors at bay.

“Red,” a voice said in Kelta’s ear. She started, then saw from her comm board that it was an incoming transmission routed through her astromech.

“Go ahead,” she said in reply, recognizing the voice of the Shockers’ leader, Rigard Matl.

“You have any shadow bombs left?”

“Yes, why?” Kelta frowned. Why is this over the private channel, and not the squad?

“Seems a shame to carry that ordinance to the rendezvous. Waste of fuel and the crew’s time if they loaded up weaponry that you didn’t bother using.”

“What are you getting at, Lead?” What is he talking about? It’s not like we never bring back our unused weapons or fuel. No sense using it just to use it.

“Rotate your X-wing so your starboard s-foils are towards Coruscant, and then check your four o’clock high.”

Kelta rolled the X-wing in space and then followed Rigard’s instructions. It took a moment to spot what had grabbed Rigard’s attention.

Six freighters were trying to make a break for safety, a handful of New Republic starfighters doggedly trying to keep the Yuuzhan Vong coralskippers at bay. The fast and well-armed E-wings were holding their own against twice the number of coralskippers, but they were too tied up to see, let alone intercept, the Yuuzhan Vong corvette analog cutting across the freighters’ path.

The New Republic fleets were withdrawing, as were the Jedi. We can’t save everyone, Kelta told herself. But that doesn’t mean we can’t save them. “I see it,” she said tightly to Rigard. “Do you have a plan?”

“The Rep pilots can keep the skips off, but they’re going to need help with that bigger ship,” Rigard said quickly. “The wing is about to jump. Let them go, and we’ll swing back around to help the convoy get out. Once that’s done, we’ll rejoin the wing at the rendezvous point.”

Kelta bit her lip. Disobey orders and good sense and possibly get myself, one of a very small number of Jedi, and Rigard Matl, one of the best non-Jedi pilots I know, killed in a fight that won’t make any difference to the outcome of Coruscant…or let several hundred people die. Even as she watched, the corvette opened fire on the leading freighter, which was substantially faster than the rest and was trying to break for freedom. The scent of death wafted to her in the Force as the freighter was shattered to pieces by the Vong’s plasma weapons.

It was really no choice at all.

“Coordinates have been relayed to your astromechs,” Saba’s voice called across the channel. “Jumping in five, four, three…”

Kelta ignored the rest of the countdown. A heartbeat later, her friends and allies vanished into hyperspace, leaving herself and the X-wing of Rigard Matl still in Coruscant space. Rigard immediately swung around and accelerated back towards the freighters; Kelta fell into the pursuit position.

“Bucket, Red, what are you doing?” the voice of Corran Horn rang across the should-have-been-empty Jedi comm channel.

Kelta uncharacteristically swore. Of course. With all the battle damage our X-wings have taken, Saba would’ve ordered the least-damaged ship to stay behind to make sure everyone made the transition. And that would be Jolly Man, which we’ve kept out of combat as our coordinator.

Rigard Matl replied calmly before Kelta could speak. “Red’s having problem with her hyperdrive, Control.”

The only reply from Corran was a long-suffering sigh. “Roger, Bucket.”

Kelta swung into position behind Rigard as they closed rapidly on the five remaining freighters. The E-wings were putting up a ferocious fight, but the coralskippers were far more interested in tying up the New Republic pilots than killing them. With the E-wings unable to break way, the Vong’s corvette analog had clear and unobstructed access to destroy the freighters.

Rigard kept his s-foils locked in cruise position as they closed. Kelta followed suit, slipping directly into his aft and then nosing up just enough to see over the other pilot’s astromech. With her signature obscured in Rigard’s exhaust, she dumped her remaining shadow bombs into space. “Break,” she called.

Rigard responded immediately, swinging off to intercept the coralskippers. Kelta stayed directly behind him, her piloting on pure reflex as she concentrated on the shadow bombs closing with the corvette. With all the strength she could muster, she reached out with the Force and shoved the baradium-loaded weaponry straight into the corvette.

The Yuuzhan Vong vessel had not seen the X-wings as a threat; they had not assumed aggressive posturing, or fired a single laser or torpedo at it. As they had vectored off, the Vong had naturally believed they were attempting to aid the overmatched E-wings. And without the brilliant propellant trail of a proton torpedo, the warheads were very hard to see in the heat of battle.

The bombs detonated directly against the yorik coral hull of the corvette. In an eyeblink the vessel was reduced to so many pebbles, and the freighters were pouring on every iota of speed they could manage to escape.

The coralskippers turned their attention to destroying the freighters, but the arrival of two well-armed X-wings flown by veteran pilots had turned the battle in the E-wings’ favor. Two minutes later, it was over and the convoy was clear of the Yuuzhan Vong war fleet.

“Bucket, Red, are you ready to make your jump out?” Corran asked in a long-suffering voice.

“Roger, Control, it looks like my astromech finished patching up my hyperdrive,” Kelta replied with the tiny, undeniable smirk on her lips. “Thanks for watching my back, Bucket.”

She could imagine Rigard Matl’s return smirk in her mind’s eye. The former TIE pilot—hence his callsign—was not a man of many words, but he had disobeyed plenty of orders from superior officers in his time. Among the Jedi, Kelta figured, he didn’t even have to worry about court-martial for it. He also wouldn’t be sacrificing a promotion.

“Following you out,” came the comment from Jolly Man. Moments later, the last three Jedi ships in Coruscant space left a dying world behind them.

The New Jedi Order: Siege – Fallout

The Cathleen glided through hyperspace like a shark in the oceans of Mon Calamari. The ship was far too large to ever be silent, but it was relatively calm after the horrific, days-long battle at Coruscant.

Halyn’s quarters aboard the Cathleen were the largest available. It still bothered him, after all these years; he’d rather have been down crammed in a bunk, surrounded by dozens of pilots in the same condition. Looking back, his time as a fighter pilot for the Rebel Alliance had been relatively short, but it left indelible marks on him.

The Zabrak stood in the center of his quarters, surrounded by a massive hologram of the galaxy. It stretched in detail from one end of the open space to the other, filling it entirely. The stars were not their natural colors; instead of the brilliant white light, each of them carried their own tones and shades.

The New Republic stood in brilliant blue. The stars and even the space between them glimmered with the friendly color, stretching from the Outer Rim to the Core worlds. Many of these worlds, the Zabrak knew, he’d never visit, couldn’t name, had no connection for him whatsoever; yet he counted them as friends and allies.

The north-western quadrant of the galaxy gleamed golden. They were former enemies of Iridonia. The Imperial Remnant was a fraction of the power that the Galactic Empire had once represented, and politically was nothing similar to the Empire that had stood twenty years before. Even now, though, Halyn did not trust them. Too many deaths, too many battles, too much treachery would ever allow him to count them as friends and allies.

The Hapes cluster, allies of the New Republic and fellow warriors against the Yuuzhan Vong, stood as violet specks. Sixty-three worlds comprised Hapes, but far more star systems stretched between—uninhabited, but claimed and exploited by the Hapans for their wealth and resources. They, too, Halyn counted among those he trusted.

Zabrak space was represented in silver. Iridonia had spread its reach early and quickly. The harsh homeworld had inspired many a Zabrak to look to the stars, and colonies had spread quickly, to the limitations of the early hyperdrives and navigational systems. Officially, Zabrak space consisted of the home world and capital, Iridonia, with another twenty fully-established colonies. Twice that number, perhaps, were not yet self-sustaining colonies, and thus not individually counted.

But through the map cut deep streaks of crimson. The Yuuzhan Vong had entered at the northern quadrant of the galaxy, spreading along the Outer Rim. Hutt-controlled space, once a burning yellow on the galactic map, now was entirely eclipsed by the sea of red.

Then the Yuuzhan Vong had struck towards the Core systems, quickly crossing the Mid and Inner Rim, and striking through the Colonies almost unopposed. They had chosen their routes well, taking advantage of political divisions to chart their invasion corridors, always adhering to the seams of government entities.

The Yuuzhan Vong advance along the Imperial Remnant, just inside the border on the side of the New Republic, had left Zabrak space untouched. Advances from the eastern edge of the galaxy had similarly left the Zabrak nation unmolested. The Yuuzhan Vong had similarly avoided Hapan space, even though a Hapan armada had participated in the battle at Fondor.

The map finally updated, and the crimson of the Yuuzhan Vong invasion stretched all the way to Coruscant, cutting across hyperlanes and strangling trade between the stars.

In a flash of insight, Halyn understood. They left Zabrak space, the Hapans, and dozens of other small bodies alone all for the same reason. We could defend ourselves against an invasion. Sure, if they threw overwhelming forces at Iridonia, at Hapes, at the Corporate Sector, at the Remnant, they could overcome…but it would take time. Time enough for the New Republic to respond in force and fight a pitched battle that meant a conquest wasn’t certain.

                Now the galaxy is torn apart and in pieces. Their invasion corridors have bisected our hyperlanes, and with Coruscant fallen the New Republic government is in disarray. The fleets are scattered. They’ll take advantage, now, to strike everywhere against those of us who were strong enough to stand with the New Republic’s backing.

                With the New Republic is in disarray, the Vong will take advantage of it to wipe out these small pockets of independent resistance. With the Fleet scattered, a concerted effort could destroy any of us. It’ll take weeks, or months, before the New Republic government is firm enough to take up the reins of power again and direct the fleets.

                Iridonia will be attacked, and soon.

The lights rose in the room and hologram shimmered and vanished. “Maybe I’m wrong,” he pondered aloud. But I’m not. I just can’t prove it until the Yuuzhan Vong are knocking at our door.

But that doesn’t mean I just stand by and wait for that to happen.

He moved to the spacious desk that occupied a corner of the room. The terminal there flickered to life when he touched the power controls, and Halyn keyed in a request for hypercomm access. He pondered his options for a few moments. There are lots of old allies I can count on, he considered. Plenty of people who could help me secure Iridonia against an initial invasion attempt without calling on the Zabrak units reinforcing the New Republic Defense Fleet.

A small smile tugged at Halyn’s lips as he made the decision, then entered the hypercomm destination.



Kelta Rose had found a quiet spot in the shadows of the Mon Mothma’s secondary hangar to meditate. She badly needed the moments to focus and find her mental shields. The remaining Jedi X-wings and blastboats occupied the berthing space; Antilles had given the entire area over to the Jedi for now.

The Force strengthened her, and slowly the roar of the emotions of the Star Destroyer’s crew began to fade from her mind. As minutes passed, the Jedi Knight found her mind was completely her own again. She breathed deeply, in and out, carefully maintaining her mental defenses.

It had been years since Kelta had begun her training in the Force. This was the second major war she had fought in, and still she was so…sensitive. It was her gift and her curse. The native of Nam Chorios had always, always been able to feel the emotions of those around her. She had learned to block those unwanted emotions out, locking them away; in times of stress, particularly battle, she couldn’t always maintain the concentration necessary to keep them away and still fight.

Now, even with her shields in place, she could feel the emotions of the crew battering away at her defenses. Raw pain was prevalent in the medical bays of the mighty warship; fighting the Yuuzhan Vong had left crew and pilots injured and maimed. The cloying scent of fatigue permeated the entire vessel, from General Antilles on the Mon Mothma’s bridge to the lowest crewman scrubbing carbon scoring off the deck of the primary hangar.

There was anger among many of the crewmembers. Anger towards the Yuuzhan Vong was understandable, though Kelta did not indulge in it. What surprised her, though, was the anger she felt directed towards the New Republic’s government. Many a member of the crew felt the government had failed them. The three fleets had fought and bled and died, not just at Coruscant but from the Rim all the way to the Core. Mismanagement of the war from the very beginning had cost them the capital of the galaxy.

Sorrow was an undercurrent to everything she sensed. Virtually everyone aboard the Destroyer had lost friends or family in the hours previously. Kelta could sense that many of the other emotions she felt sprung from that sense of loss. She suspected it would strengthen as the enormity of the disaster finally sunk in among the fleet.

And from a handful of people, she felt pure determination. It shone like a beacon among the dark and depressed emotions of the crew. She focused on that, allowing it past her defenses to strengthen her, just as she would allow the Force in for the same purpose. Her mind sharpened and cleared, and she felt a measure of resolve herself.

Finally feeling balanced, the Jedi woman opened her eyes and rose to her feet. Her knees cracked as she did so, and she winced for a moment. Kelta was no longer a young woman; years had passed since she fought against the Galactic Empire, and her daughter was now a woman and Jedi Knight in her own stead.

Kelta shied away from that line of thought. She had a mother’s worry for her daughter, Adreia. Pride, yes—few could become Jedi Knights, and it was a difficult life. Fear tried to edge into her thoughts right beside it. Adreia had been in Coruscant space as well during the fall, acting as an advisor for one of the task force commanders.

And I still haven’t heard from Adreia since the retreat. With that thought, Kelta knew she couldn’t avoid the fear she was feeling; it would eat away at her defenses far more effectively than the overwhelming noise of the crew’s emotion. It was personal, and her own defenses were no match for it.

She released the worry to the Force and closed her eyes again. The Force will bring her back to me. There’s nothing I can do about it now.

When she opened her eyes again, she saw Rigard Matl striding towards her across the Mon Mothma’s hangar deck. His sense of purpose was a beacon in the Force that Kelta grasped for a moment to maintain her focus.

The leader of the Shockers waved the various pilots and Jedi in the hangar together. Kelta was among the first to step forward to form the circle around the heavily scarred man. Rigard Matl had flown for the Empire for years before defecting to the Rebel Alliance. He had survived dozens of battles, though not without personal cost. Kelta idly wondered how many of his limbs and organs were original, and how many were mechanical replacements.

As the circle filled, Rigard started to speak. “I’ve spoken with Master Skywalker and General Antilles. We’re currently on our way to Borleias.”

There were more than a few murmurs at that. The Yuuzhan Vong invasion of Coruscant had launched from Borleias, which was itself an important navigation point for traffic to and from Coruscant. Decades prior, the Rebel Alliance had conquered it for the very same purpose.

“I don’t know what our overall strategic goals will be,” Rigard continued, “but when we arrive in-system, we’re going to crush whatever defenses the Vong have setup. General Antilles wants Borleias held firm while High Command regroups and lays out new strategic objectives. No one expected us to lose Coruscant; now that we have, all the previous strategic plans are out the window.”

“We’re hardly at fighting strength,” someone commented. Kelta couldn’t see who had made the remark.

“We’re going to reorganize. Master Skywalker will have the details, but apparently General Antilles is taking his orders to cooperate with the Jedi very seriously. If any of you who are ex-military want to join one of the regular fighter squadrons, General Antilles will accept the request immediately. His fighter coordinator, Colonel Celchu, is reorganizing most of the squadrons in the Fleet until we can get enough replacement pilots to swell the ranks out to support more squadrons.”

There were fewer murmurs this time, but the concern was greater. Kelta felt it herself. How many people did we lose at Coruscant in our attempt to keep the Yuuzhan Vong off? And…how many people did we leave behind?

                And her fear again dredged up the image of Adreia in her mind’s eye. Kelta shut her eyes, then tried to release the fear again. Adreia…oh, Adreia…


The Star Cruiser Cathleen reverted from hyperspace precisely as expected, smartly executing a turn to port that put it into geosynchronous orbit around Iridonia. Smaller vessels made the same reversion and maneuver—corvettes, frigates, converted freighters, and the light cruiser Cyclone. Starfighter squadrons poured from the hangars of many of the ships, and shuttles departed almost immediately for the planetary surface.

Halyn Sanshir stood on the bridge of the Cathleen, overlooking the defenses arrayed around his homeworld. It’s not enough, he told himself. It would never be enough…but it could be more. Better.

The wreckage of an old Imperial II-class Star Destroyer still hung in orbit, further out from Iridonia than the positions the Zabrak fleet had taken up. The vessel had been crippled and abandoned during the a strike by Rebel forces under Halyn’s command twenty-some years prior, a strike that had broken the Imperial blockade around the world and provided an opportunity for Iridonia’s covert resistance to rise up and throw off the Imperial shackles.

He smiled faintly at that. It’s too bad we couldn’t afford to refit it, bring it into service. It would’ve been more powerful than anything else we managed to acquire. His smile vanished. Particularly now.

The defenses of Zabrak space had been built largely by his brother, Argus. While Halyn had become an Alliance officer, Argus Sanshir had chosen to work on Iridonia, building up and leading one of the planet’s greatest resistance groups. When the Alliance starfighter wing commanded by Halyn had broken the blockade, it was Argus who had led the Iridonian Resistance to victory on the planet. It was Argus who had ensured the Imperials would never again hold power.

And when Halyn had left the armed services, it was Argus who had rebuilt the Zabrak military. Not just the defenses of Iridonia; Argus had chosen to defend all of Zabrak space.

Towards that end, the elder Sanshir brother had salvaged capital ships, purchased starfighters, arranged for flight and officer academies, refurbished orbital stations to support the fledgling Zabrak navy. When the New Republic began decommissioning old warships from the Rebellion in favor of new ships of the line, Argus had successfully acquired three Mon Calamari Star Cruisers—luxury liners retrofitted with multiple-redundancy shields and turbolasers. The Cathleen, Maria, and Yali had not begun their existence as warships, but they served the role well.

Zabrak technicians had refitted the ships yet again when they entered their new service. Turbolasers and shields were refitted, hyperdrives and sublight engines were upgraded, life support systems and entire control consoles were tuned for Zabrak standards, and the Cathleen was refitted with gravity well projectors. The curves of a Mon Calamari cruiser were well-suited to hide the tell-tale domes of the projectors, and a pocket interdictor would certainly give the Zabrak navy more options.

Halyn pressed his lips together in a firm line. The Yali had been destroyed early on in the invasion; Obroa-skai had begged for defenses, and Iridonia had responded. In the wake of the disaster, the civilians governing the Zabrak territories had become far more cautious about lending any outsiders military firepower.

As the Yuuzhan Vong began pressing into the Core worlds, Argus—the commander-in-chief of the entire Zabrak military—had led a task force consisting of nearly half the capital ships in Zabrak space to reinforce the Republic at the military base at Reecee. Aboard the Maria, Argus was confident that the Yuuzhan Vong would be stalled there long enough for the New Republic to reinforce against any incursions.

Reecee had fallen in the weeks before Coruscant. Using new organic jammers of some sort—Halyn didn’t pretend to understand the Yuuzhan Vong’s biotechnology—the defenders had never been able to call for help. Only the Errant Venture had escaped from Reecee, to the secret Jedi stronghold, to carry word of the fall of one of the routes to Coruscant.

Now Halyn stood aboard the last remaining Star Cruiser in all of Zabrak space, in Argus’s position as commander of the Zabrak navy. Perhaps a third of Iridonia’s naval strength remained from the outbreak of war several years previously. And now, if I’m right, every world, every colony in the Zabrak territory is depending on me to stop the thrust of the Yuuzhan Vong.

He turned his gaze from the drifting wreck of a Star Destroyer to the vessels sharing the Cathleen’s orbit. “Open a channel to the fleet,” he said quietly.

While he waited, Halyn wished silently. I wish Argus were here. This is his fleet, his battle. He died and left his duties to me, to the person he could trust to pick them up and fight. And this is a fight I don’t think we can win. Of our three cruisers, the weakest remains. Our best and most experienced pilots have died fighting the Yuuzhan Vong from the Rim to the Core. Our navy isn’t shattered, but it’s been reduced. Coruscant is fallen, and help is not coming from the New Republic.

                The only thing standing between the Zabrak nation and oblivion are these few people.

The Zabrak woman manning the comm station looked up at him and nodded a go-ahead.

“This is General Sanshir aboard the Cathleen,” Halyn said evenly. “And the Yuuzhan Vong are coming.

“Several years ago, these invaders entered our galaxy as warriors and conquerors. The New Republic was caught off-guard, unprepared for an invasion in force from beyond their borders. In the years since the peace treaty with the Imperial Remnant, the Republic had lost its military edge. It had become complacent.

“Zabrak blood has been spilled across a thousand worlds, from one of our squadrons aboard the Rejuvenator, to the frigate Mireth at Ithor, to the Yali and the Maria, and even defending the capital of Coruscant. Our race has fought and been blooded in trying to turn these invaders aside.

“Now, they will come here, to Iridonia! The New Republic has failed, the Jedi have proven too few, and they will come to destroy us here. Because we are a threat to them! And we are a threat to them because we are warriors! We will not let our worlds fall without a fight. We will not concede our homes, our lives, our children’s lives to satisfy their blood lust. We will fight them to the last Zabrak, be it with broken zhabokas or bare-hands.

“Prepare yourselves for what is to come. It may take hours, or days, or weeks, but they are coming. And we will not allow our world to fall.”



Kelta fed power to her X-wing’s four fusial thrust engines, following her shield trio leader out of the main hangar of the Mon Mothma. She was already deeply in tune with the Force, feeling its ebb and flow, carrying the emotions and instincts of her wingmates to her. Neither of them were sensitive to the Force, but she could feel enough for all three of them.

Ahead of her trio, Luke Skywalker blazed like a beacon in the Force. Tucked in on either side of him, dimmer presences but nonetheless powerful, were Mara Jade Skywalker and Corran Horn, Jedi as well. Kelta forced herself to focus only her wingmates, afraid that the sharper, clearer presences of her fellow Jedi would distract her.

Far ahead of them, hanging in space like a brilliant jewel, was Borleias: one of the keys to Coruscant, occupied by the Yuuzhan Vong. And we’re going to take it back.

On instinct she tucked in close to Rigard Matl, leading the trio. The third X-wing, piloted by Cheriss ke Hanadi, slid in neatly, all three starfighters overlapping defenses. Kelta hadn’t flown with Cheriss before today; while Kelta and Rigard had flown with the Shockers, Cheriss had flown with the Jedi’s Saber Squadron before the battle of Coruscant.

Now the shattered squadrons had been melded together into a new unit, Twin Suns Squadron. The formation of X-wings was looser than Kelta was used to after the intense drilling the Jedi had undergone before the battle at Talfaglio; it would take time for the pilots to become acquainted with new wingmates.

Kelta felt her wingmates’ alertness and checked her own scopes. Two coralskippers were maneuvering to intercept the X-wing squadron. “S-foils to attack position,” Master Skywalker said from the front of the formation. “First and third trios, take the leader, the rest on the wingmate. Fire at will.” Kelta’s hands functioning without conscious thought, the fighter’s stabilizers locking open as her craft slipped out just far enough around Rigard to fire without hitting him.

“They’re not engaging,” Twin Suns Eleven called. “Turning to pursue.”

Rigard led his two wingmates around to chase the trailing coralskipper down. All three X-wings opened fire, but the skip positioned a void to start drinking in the incoming damage.

“Negative, break off,” Skywalker ordered. “Do not engage. Twin Suns, turn to original course and form up on Record Time. Mon Mothma, these skips are yours.”

Rigard led the trio around. “Wish he’d make up his mind,” the former TIE pilot grumbled. The trio of X-wings moved into position over the Record Time, a medium freighter loaded with troops for the ground assault. The shield trio took the high station over the Record Time as the Skywalker’s trio took point, and the other two trios moved low to port and to starboard.

Kelta remained as quiet as Cheriss, watching her sensors as coralskipper squadrons rose from the surface of the planet to meet the attacking New Republic forces. Further out, other starfighter squadrons—X-wings, A-wings, E-wings, A-9s, even TIE fighters—formed up to cover other transports and the smaller warships in Antilles’ fleet.

Only seconds remained before they would be fully embroiled in starfighter combat. Skywalker’s voice came over the comm again: “Break and engage, cover the transport.”

“Looks ugly,” Cheriss commented from Twin Suns Six.

“At least I’ve got the best-looking wingmates in the Fleet,” Rigard joked. “You two can burn down any ugly we run into.”

Then the coralskippers were on them, and Kelta found herself hanging tightly with Rigard. Molten projectiles slammed into the combined defenses of the three X-wings but failed to penetrate, and the return laserfire was similarly swallowed by the skip’s defenses.

The starfighter combat of the war was an entirely different exercise than the X-wing vs TIE fighter battles of the Galactic Civil War. Those fights had pitted the durability and firepower of Alliance starfighters against the nimbleness and speed of Imperial TIEs.

Coralskippers could be as swift and agile as the old twin ion engine fighters, but their defenses—based around projecting miniaturized black holes, which pilots derided as “voids”—far surpassed anything the New Republic starfighters could manage. The coralskipper’s dovin basal, which was responsible for both propulsion and defense, tired out like any creature. Protracted battles tended to favor the New Republic’s X-wings, though the Yuuzhan Vong had learned in turn to force New Republic pilots to squander fuel, energy, and munitions on ineffective attacks.

“Break,” Rigard said evenly.

Kelta’s hands were again on automatic as both she and Cheriss kicked out port and starboard from Rigard, sacrificing their shared defenses to gain better firing angles. The skip managed to absorb Kelta and Rigard’s shots, but Cheriss’s fire burned clean through the coralskipper.

With the skip tumbling to pieces, Kelta slid back in to overlap her defenses with Rigard. Cheriss was slower in doing so, juking to avoid a stream of plasma fire from a Yuuzhan Vong pilot attempted to avenge his wingmate. Kelta shook her head as Cheriss fired. As the skip brought a void into place to protect itself, the Jedi fired a proton torpedo.

The blue-white projectile flashed across space. As expected, the coralskipper broke out of Cheriss’s line of fire to bring its void into place to intercept the torpedo. Kelta narrowed her eyes and reached out in the Force. In a moment she had them both in her senses—the coralskipper’s void defense, and the proton torpedo she’d fired.

She’d heard that Luke Skywalker had once used his full power in the Force to take such a void and turn it back onto the dovin basal that had projected it—using the enemy’s strength against it. Rumor had it that the technique had wearied him to the point of collapse…and she had nothing like Luke Skywalker’s strength.

Fortunately, that wasn’t her tactic.

A moment before the void could capture the torpedo, she tapped it hard with the Force, an exertion of telekinesis that took all her concentration for a moment. The torpedo, in an instant, skipped right over the projected void and smashed into the coralskipper, detonating in an argent explosion. The pair of skips following it were caught in the detonation and reduced to coral pebbles.

“You and your Jedi tricks,” Rigard Matl commented.

“It worked. Don’t knock it,” Kelta croaked in return, shaking her head as she tried to bring her concentration back to the battle.

The Record Time was far below, well inside the planet’s atmosphere. “You let us fall behind, Bucket,” Kelta commented.

“I was just making sure you could keep up with me, Red. Let’s go.”

The trio of X-wings dropped towards the planet like meteorites. Around them, New Republic starfighters clashed with Yuuzhan Vong coralskippers. Starfighters killed coralskippers, and coralskippers vaporized starfighters. The Yuuzhan Vong were clearly outmatched by the overwhelming fleet Antilles had brought to bear, and part of Kelta rebelled at the slaughter. But to another part of her, it wasn’t real. The Force carried to her clearly the pain and death and fear and triumph of the New Republic pilots, but there was absolutely nothing from the Yuuzhan Vong. In the Force, it seemed to her to be nothing but some insane simulation.

She shook her head as their fighters shook, again bringing her focus down to herself and her two wingmates. Atmosphere buffeted the X-wings as their descended rapidly towards the combat zone on the ground.

Her sensors told her the full story: the Record Time had already unloaded its troops. The freighter was still on the ground, under fire from a giant Yuuzhan Vong war-creature she’d heard nicknamed “ranges.” The shield trio led by Master Skywalker was enough now pouring fire into the giant creature, which sported its own dovin basal defenses which were soaking up everything the trio of X-wings could throw at it.

The trio, but maybe not what a half-squadron could do. Rigard slid them in neatly into formation behind Skywalker’s fighters.

“Good to see you,” Skywalker’s voice rang across the comm. “Split off and approach the base from the far side so that you reach the edge of the canopy half a second after we do. They’re only expecting three of us. Ready, break.”

Kelta hung in tightly behind Rigard as the jungle canopy flashed below them. She could feel holes in the Force, places where she knew she should be sensing life. Those holes were the Yuuzhan Vong, she knew.

It only took the X-wings a few seconds to reach position. Skywalker’s X-wings took the first pass, all three of them pouring fire into the war-beast’s flank. Voids sprung up to defend it from the attack, but it was far too slow to defend itself against the second attack. Rigard led the three X-wings full-speed past the creature, reddish laserfire burning into the creature’s flesh as the fighters screamed past.

“Break for north-south,” came Skywalker’s order. Rigard merely clicked his comm to acknowledge, and then the X-wings were strafing the rakamut again. This time the creature was prepared for the one-two punch and opened fire on both groups of X-wings with the plasma cannons it carried on its back.

Plasma fire licked Kelta’s X-wing, and her rear shields failed. “Bucket, I’m hit,” she said tensely.

“Get to ground,” Rigard advised.

“Negative, I can hold it,” the Jedi said as she followed him through a loop to setup for another pass. Her R5 astromech started bleating at her, but she ignored it. No sense listening to some piece of machinery that will only tell me what I can’t do.

“Get to ground,” Rigard ordered again. “No sense risking…”

Ahead of them, an explosion rose above the jungle canopy. Pieces of rakamut were hurled into the air, and Rigard was shouting “Break, break, break!”

Kelta broke away from Rigard, the trio of X-wings scattering. And in her senses, she could feel the other trio—Masters Skywalker, and Jedi Knight Corran Horn—doing the same thing. Her boards lit up red as systems failed, the plasma burrowing further into her fuselage.

Then an X-wing was in front of her, having broken around the explosion just like her flight. And for Kelta, there was no choice at all as she instinctively pushed her stick down.

And her X-wing hit the jungle canopy.

The New Jedi Order: Siege – Opening Plays

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.”

“Yes, sir.”

“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.”

The New Jedi Order: Siege – Old Friends, New Enemies

The incessant ding of a transmission alert cut through the haze of sleep, in spite of Kativie Lusp’s best efforts to dismiss it. Half-blind, the small Zabrak woman rolled out of her bunk and crashed to the floor before finally shaking herself off and rising to her feet. She heard some of the other crew of the Skipray blastboat start to awaken and finally reached the comm unit, slapping off the alert. The green-eyed woman pondered what she probably looked like with her hair in a mess, tangled around her horns, for just a moment before connecting the transmission.

The blue-tinted holo that swam into appearance was neither her husband and children, nor any of the Jedi Knights.

It was Halyn Sanshir, her brother.

“Confirm security of this transmission, Katie,” Halyn said immediately.

The instruction was enough to shake the last vestiges of sleep away. She glanced over at the status lights on the comm board. “Transmission secure, encryption Aleph-Aleph-Seven-Echo-Four.”

“Confirmed.” Halyn said. “ What’s your status?”

“En route to Shelter with a crew,” she replied. “Survivors from Coruscant until we can regroup.” She squinted her eyes, trying to read her brother’s expression in the fuzzy quarter-sized hologram. “Is something wrong?”

“We are Case Black,” the other replied, his face a mask.

Kativie’s heart caught in her throat. The Yuuzhan Vong have attacked Iridonia. They’re under siege. I have to get back there now. Where are the children? Where’s my husband? “Status?” she asked, barely keeping her voice under control.

“We’ve deflected the first attack, with help from the furballs,” Halyn replied.

Wookiees, Kativie translated to herself.

“I’ve issued the recall order,” her brother continued. “We’ve been receiving confirmations from Fleet and Army units, and we’ll have a sizable force here soon. I need you to execute Operation Orange.” Halyn glanced away from the holocam for a moment. “I’m sending you all the information I have for your use, including the current tactical and strategic situation, and the information you’ll need for Orange.”

Kativie nodded grimly, half-watching the incoming data flow across a secondary flat display.

“How long until you can be here?” Halyn asked.

“I’ll need to drop this crew off at Shelter, which we’re four hours out from,” she replied. “Sixteen hours from Shelter to Iridonia with the back routes. Add in time I’ll need to refuel this blastboat, and it’ll be about a day.”

“Sooner if possible,” Halyn said shortly. “We need you here as quick as we can. It’ll do everyone here good if they see a Jedi on the front lines fighting with us here.”

Kativie couldn’t help but smile at that, stretching her arms. The Force carried the hilt of her lightsaber from its resting place under her bunk to her outstretched hand. Its weight arrived with a reassuring thump, and she brought it around to be visible in front of the holocam. “As soon as I can,” she promised. She hesitated for a long moment. “The kids and…”

Halyn nodded slightly as her words trailed off. “They’ll be safe enough until you arrive. I don’t think the Vong will make a push again before you’re here—we bloodied their noses, and Anishor thinks we nailed their commander. They’re not overly aggressive yet, but they will be soon enough.”

“Is the New Republic sending forces?”

“Doubful,” Halyn said. “After the disaster at Coruscant, they’re scattered…”

Coruscant?!” Kativie  exclaimed. “You mean the Vong…?”

“You didn’t know?”

The Zabrak woman shut her eyes tightly for a moment. “I was retrieving a couple of Jedi who were under threat from the voxyn,” she said slowly. “I’ve been out of touch for nearly two weeks. I didn’t know.” She hesitated. “How bad?”

“The Vong killed a couple million refugees doing it,” Halyn said grimly. “Half the New Republic fleet was there, and they couldn’t hold the Vong off. The Jedi had a full wing of starfighters there and managed to kill several yammosks, but it didn’t make much of a difference. The Zabrak Defense Force fought with Wedge Antilles in Fleet Group Three, but we were largely a harassing action the entire time and lost none of our capital ships. The starfighter groups that deployed with us took a beating, but they’ve been rotated out for fresh squadrons.”

Coruscant…they took Coruscant. The idea just couldn’t quite seem to coalesce into reality in Kativie’s mind. How could they have possibly taken Coruscant? What will the New Republic do now? What about the Jedi?

“The Vong struck here less than sixty hours after taking the capital,” Halyn continued. “I think they were expecting to get a cheap shot in and take our systems without much of a fight. The ambushes we’ve discussed previously worked perfectly, but they won’t work a second time.”

Kativie nodded. “Any friends showing up?”

“A few already,” her brother replied. “More on the way, I think. Especially now that the recall is out.” He frowned thoughtfully. “I wonder if I can legally recall you from service to the Jedi Order. Do the treaties between Iridonia and Coruscant include the Jedi?”

Kativie snorted. “Like it really matters. You know I’m coming regardless, even if Master Skywalker himself told me not to come.”

“Oh, I know. Just wondering.” Halyn shook his head. “I’ll be meeting with the Council soon,” he said with just a bit of tension in his voice. “I may have overstepped a bit already.”

“Wait…” Kativie said as she put the pieces together. “You issued the recall before you talked to the Council?”

Halyn shrugged. “Only doing what I needed to do, little sister,” he said in reply. “Easier to ask forgiveness than permission.”

“And what will we do if they pull you out of the Commander-in-Chief spot?” Kat retorted. “That was a big risk, and you’re gambling all of Zabrak space on it.”

“It’d be as big a gamble to wait until the Council can get their asses together,” Halyn spat back. “Without those forces, we won’t turn aside another Yuuzhan Vong attack.”

Kat’s guts twisted. “You think you can—“

“No,” Halyn said immediately. “But some things have to be said for appearances. If I get into sloppy habits talking to you, it’ll come out at the wrong time.” He glanced aside from the holocam, then back. “I’ll see you in twenty-four hours. Don’t be late.”

“I won’t be,” Kativie promised. The transmission faded and died, and she slumped back in her chair. So much for sleep, she thought glumly.



“You wanted to see me, Master Skywalker?” Kelta Rose asked hesitantly from the door. She was cleanly-showered after her dip in the bacta tank, though she still couldn’t get the sour taste out of her mouth.

Luke Skywalker turned his head as the group he was sitting with scattered. Another meeting, Kelta had already decided. He’s probably grateful.

The blonde Jedi Master smiled at her, though weariness was in his eyes. “Yes, Kelta. Please, come sit down.”

The red-haired Jedi seated herself across the table from Skywalker. “What is it?”

Luke studied her for a moment. “What do you know about the political situation in Zabrak space?” he asked.

Kelta hesitated before answering. “Not as much as I should, I expect. I know Zabrak space has been Jedi-friendly, but not much beyond that.”

“I thought you’d know more,” the Jedi Master said offhandedly, “given your connections to some of the clans on Iridonia.”

Kelta’s poker face held. I’ll never let anything happen to my daughter…even if I have to fight you, Master Skywalker.

“When the Yuuzhan Vong declared war on the Jedi at Duro,” Luke continued, “it divided a number of worlds into pro-Jedi and anti-Jedi camps. The Zabrak worlds, as a whole, came down on the side of the Jedi and have been firm supporters. In fact, one of Iridonia’s shipping companies has been crucial in setting up elements of the Great River. Of course, it helps that the Shooting Star Shipping Company is owned by the husband of a Jedi, Kativie Lusp.

“Further, up until the battle of Reecee, Iridonia’s military was headed by a firmly pro-Jedi Zabrak, Argus Sanshir, who made a name for himself during the Galactic Civil War by heading up one of the largest and most successful underground resistance cells. When a Rebel Alliance starfighter wing broke the blockade around Iridonia, Argus’s people were on-hand to take advantage of it.”

Kelta nodded. “So how do I factor into this?”

“Aside from the fact that your daughter was inducted into the Sanshir clan?” Luke’s smile held no threat. “The problem is that Argus disappeared during the battle at Reecee—he was commanding elements of Zabrak space’s defenses there as part of the New Republic task force.”

It was all Kelta could do to keep from staring. She locked down on her emotions hard, but she had no doubt the Jedi Master could sense her turmoil. Argus…oh Argus. When Kativie finds out, it will rip her hearts apart.

“And with his disappearance, his younger brother stepped out of nowhere and has assumed the reins of power. His name is Halyn Sanshir,” Luke continued, his blue eyes studying her. “And we have no idea if his stance is pro or anti-Jedi. He led a Zabrak task force as part of Wedge Antilles’s Fleet Group  Three during the battle of Coruscant, but he returned to Iridonia with his fleet instead of joining us in taking Borleias. And in the last twenty-four hours, every Zabrak fighter squadron in the New Republic Defense Force has disappeared.”

The last statement brought surprise bubbling to the surface. “I’m not sure I understand,” Kelta said. Her mind raced as her mouth had replied automatically. Halyn…is alive? After all this time, he’s still alive?

“When the Zabrak nation joined the New Republic, it contributed all-Zabrak fighter squadrons to the Fleet. Nearly a full percent of our starfighter forces are comprised of Zabrak pilots and crew. Those forces are rotated regularly with the Zabrak home defense forces, meaning they all take their turn serving. But now, as near as Wedge and I can determine, they’re all gone.”

Kelta frowned. “How many squadrons are we talking about?”

“The fleet here had a larger percentage of Zabrak squadrons than most—two units off the Mon Mothma, and another from the Elegos A’Kla.”

“So what do you want me to do?”

Luke’s blue eyes were unreadable. “I want you to go to Iridonia, find out if this Halyn Sanshir is for or against the Jedi, and find out why the Zabrak recalled their fighter squadrons from the Fleet. If Iridonia has chosen to sign a pact with the Yuuzhan Vong, we need to know as soon as possible.”

Kelta shook her head. “Why not send Kativie?” Please, not me. I can’t deal with him again. I can’t. Kativie is the one to send—he’s her damned brother. This should be her mission, not mine. She can deal with him. She knows everything about Iridonia that I don’t.

“She disappeared the same time the fighter squadrons did,” Luke replied calmly. “That leaves you, with a connection to the Sanshir clan, as the best possible choice.”

The woman hesitated, and Luke spoke more softly. “Kelta, you’ve been with the Jedi for a long time now. You have secrets that you don’t share, and I understand that. But…” the Jedi Master uncharacteristically hesitated. “Something limits you. Your potential lies untapped because something in your past still shackles you. And the Force has indicated that you are the one who needs to do this. I believe this, Kelta Rose, is what is needed not just for the Jedi or for the New Republic, but for you personally. I have no evidence…only what the Force has led me to believe.”

Kelta stared at the Jedi Master. How does he know? Am I really that transparent? Am I weak in the Force?

“Whatever happens on Iridonia,” Luke said quietly, “is your trial to face. The Force hides your fate from me—I don’t know if you’ll become a Master, or fall to the dark side, or die there. But it is the path you need to walk.”

“There’s no one else to send?” Kelta whispered.

“You need to do this,” Luke replied.

The woman closed her eyes. May the Force be with me. Oh, fierfek, I don’t want to do this. Me, a Master? Will I fall? Will I die? I can’t leave my daughter alone in the universe.  “Will you have a transport for me?’

“The ground crews prepped a Series-4 E-wing for your use,” Luke replied, his tone more normal now. “It should take you to Iridonia and back easily, and should provide you the firepower you need should you stumble across something unexpected.”

Kelta nodded oh-so-slowly. “I understand, Master Skywalker, and I accept the assignment.”

“May the Force be with you, Kelta Rose.”

“And with you, Master Skywalker.”



The death of Commander Bykkora Kraal left Domain Kraal in disarray.

Three Yuuzhan Vong warriors had stepped up to exert supremacy. Now, the Yuuzhan Vong tactician Ret Kraal watched with disinterest as those three fought to take command of a losing battle. A crowd had gathered around the fighting circle to watch, but Ret did not believe the outcome would truly matter.

If Commander Bykkora Kraal had listened to my advice, Domain Kraal would now be in orbit over this accursed world, preparing to take it as our own. Instead, three fools battle to the death to see who will be the next to fail. Ret frowned as the three warriors exchanged rapid-fire blows from amphistaffs, each taking opportunity of another’s strikes to try to slip a decisive strike into another’s defenses. They fight each other, when their focus should be on the destruction of the infidels.

He frowned as the largest of the three was thrown off-balance by a strike to the ankle. The big warrior suffered more blows as his defenses slipped. He stumbled, but it bought him the half-breath of space he needed to lash out at his enemies. Perhaps we are the larger warrior, Ret mused. These infidels, these Zabraks, have less resources. They are not as mighty a race. Their forces are inferior to our own, but they strike precisely and off-balanced our forces. Their follow-up strike was aimed true, and it removed our head and best chance.

The big warrior lunged and his amphistaff curled around the ankle of one of his opponents. He heaved back, and the Yuuzhan Vong warrior was jerked from his feet. The third warrior, instead of striking his fallen opponent, lunged in return at the big warrior, his amphistaff straight as a spear. The blow glanced off the big warrior’s armor, but it was enough to give the downed warrior a chance to survive. These Zabraks fight with ferocity and skill, and their strategies appear more subtle than first meets the eye. Bykkora Kraal believed the infidel ambush was easily-beaten and wasn’t ready when the true strike arrived. The readers must be wrong; the Zabrak commander is not a fool, nor is he inexperienced in warfare. There is no doubt of that.

The fallen warrior did not rise to his feet—instead, he in turn lashed out with his amphistaff, the weapon becoming soft and whiplike as its serpentine head flashed at the smaller of his opponents. Its fangs found flesh, and though in an instant the victim had kicked it away, it was too late. The infidel forces arrayed against us are smaller but potent. It would be wise for us to poison them, weaken them before they can do us true harm.

The poisoned warrior staggered back from the fighting; even if he won, he had already lost. Still, he rotated his amphistaff overhead with a war cry and charged forward.

The big warrior ignored him as he recovered his own amphistaff, then sliced it down at the warrior on the floor with an overhead chop. The downed warrior, instead of avoiding it, took the blow on his vonduun crab armor unflinchingly, then seized the big warrior’s staff just below its hissing head and pulled hard.

The big warrior released the weapon rather than be thrown off-guard again. Before he act further, the poisoned warrior was all over him, raining blows down with his amphistaff. To Ret’s eye, the blows were already slowing, the strikes no longer as strong or sure. The venom works quickly. And now…

The warrior still didn’t rise from the ground. In an instant the amphistaff he’d pulled from the largest warrior hardened into a spear at an unspoken command, and he hurled it the big warrior’s armpit. The vonduun crab was pierced and the big warrior shrieked once, but he could do nothing but battle the poisoned warrior as he bled out.

The warrior who’d fallen rolled back from the fighting and climbed to his feet, his amphistaff curling around his forearm and a triumphant smile on his face. Ret paused. He allows his enemies to battle each other, dooming both. He, perhaps, has potential. Perhaps Domain Kraal is not yet Shamed.

The warrior watched as both his opponents slowly sank to their knees, still fighting with their dying breaths. He turned away before they could gasp their last. “I am the warrior Triak of Domain Kraal!” he intoned. “I will led us to victory over these infidels, by the will of the gods!”

Some of the members of the surrounding crowed cheered for the victorious warrior. Ret was surprised, however, when Triak turned and looked directly to him. “Tactician Ret of Domain Kraal, the gods have need of your services. It is time to crush these infidels and redeem our domain. We are warriors, and we will not stand by to be Shamed!”

Ret bowed his head in response. “I live to serve the gods,” he rasped. “And by their will, we shall be victorious…or die in glorious battle.”

“Indeed,” Triak said gravely. “Domain Kraal did not cross the starless voids to die shamed, as Vong, orphaned children of the gods! We are Yuuzhan Vong, the chosen people. The gods have not abandoned us here—they are testing our mettle, our skill, our devotion.

“Bring forth the priests!” he called. “Let us sacrifice to the gods, that they give us victory!”

As the crowd began to disperse, Triak stepped within earshot of Ret. “Bykkora Kraal,” he said so low that Ret strained to hear, “was a fool who believed in her own destiny, blinded by faith. The gods demand the best of us—our greatest skill and greatest strength. I need a second, one who is wiser than myself…one who can tell me what the seers miss. Is that you, Ret of Domain Kraal?”

Ret surpressed a smile. I may yet command Domain Kraal. The strength of a warrior is not the strength of a tactician, and in Triak’s fall may be my own ascension. “I live to serve,” he repeated. “I will be your second, and for the glory of the gods we will crush these infidels and redeem the name of Domain Kraal!”


The bridge of the Cathleen, flagship of Iridonia, was a continual hive of activity. To Halyn’s mild amusement, or occasional irritation, he found he was able to filter out almost all of it. In spite of the crewmen running to and fro, the constant updates from Kryi Rinnet, the starfighter coordinator, the incoming transmissions from other ships of the fleet, very little could penetrate the calm that seemed to surround him.

The tactical display, as always, showed the Yuuzhan Vong fleet at the edge of the system. Reinforcements had trickled in to their formation in the past forty-eight hours, but not the overwhelming forces Halyn had expected. The destroyed capital ships had both been replaced, and fresh coralskippers had replenished their ranks, but the heavy firepower Halyn expected had not materialized. Something’s different here, he concluded. I’m not sure what, but the Vong aren’t throwing the kind of forces at us I expected.

The strategic display glowed green with friendly reinforcements. Starfighter squadrons from all over the fragmented New Republic had poured in, far more than replacing Zabrak losses from the first engagement. Smaller capital ships—armed freighters, corvette, frigates, and a couple of light cruisers—had swelled the Zabrak Defense Fleet. Units from the Army were already on the ground on Iridonia, integrating seamlessly into the existing defenses.

And it won’t be enough. The forces the Zabrak had brought to bear were too fighter-heavy, with not nearly enough capital ships. Starfighters are important, even essential to modern warfare, but you don’t build your military forces around it…unless you were the Rebel Alliance, of course. Even then, without the Star Cruisers from Mon Calamari, the Alliance wouldn’t have had the forces necessary for the engagement at Endor.

Starfighter pilots had coined the phrase “Trench Run Disease” after Yavin, referring to the use of well-armed starfighters to punch way out of their weight class. Coordinated snubfighter assaults had destroyed more than a few Imperial capital ships, but it was the exception, not the norm.

Iridonia now housed thousands of starfighters with the return of the New Republic squadrons…and they wouldn’t be enough. That’s an advantage to these Vong cruisers—they don’t have a reactor to destroy. It won’t ever go supercritical and destroy the ship. There’s no power cells to neutralize. Halyn knew that it didn’t mean the Yuuzhan Vong’s capital ships didn’t have weaknesses—they certainly did—but those weaknesses were far different than the conventional starship.

And many starfighter tactics were designed around a conventional starship’s weaknesses.

Halyn was pondering the possibility of new tactics when something unusual enough happened to penetrate the peace surrounding him. He frowned, turning to locate the offending communication or officer or report.

“Unidentified cruiser, stand by,” the ensign at the communication station was saying. “Repeat, stand by.” The ensign looked around frantically, until his eyes were caught by Halyn’s.

“What is it?”

“A cruiser with no IFF codes has dropped out of hyperspace and is attempting to take up orbit around Iridonia.” The ensign looked nervous. “Sir, should we scramble fighters to intercept?”

Halyn looked at Kryi, caught her attention, and nodded. She immediately turned back to her console to dispatch starfighter squadrons.

“No IFF at all?” Halyn asked the ensign. When she shook her head, his voice dropped to a growl. “Peace Brigade.” The Brigade was an organization of traitors to the galaxy, mercenaries, pirates, and scoundrels who’d sold out secrets and intelligence to the Yuuzhan Vong. They’d been encountered in more than a few systems, acting as support for the Yuuzhan Vong. Bastards deserve nothing but death.

He looked around the bridge. “I want turbolaser solutions for that unidentified warship,” he called. “Don’t light him up yet, but paint him with lock so he’s aware we’re watching him.”

The chaos on the bridge increased as officers became aware of the unfolding conflict and began maneuvering their charges out of the hot zone.

“Give me a visual on the cruiser,” Halyn called. It took a moment before a blue-white hologram of the warship swam into view, with potential weapons emplacements highlighted in red, shield generators in green, engines in blue, and other systems labeled and highlighted in white. The vessel was twelve hundred meters long and, from first glance, at least as heavily-armed as the Cathleen. Closer inspection of the vessel’s armament revealed ion cannons and proton torpedoes, and the Zabrak realized very quickly that even the Cathleen was outgunned by the intruder.

“Frak,” he muttered. He cocked his head and realized that there was a familiar chiming, barely audible over the din of a warship preparing for combat. Abruptly his hand fell to his personal comlink. He closed his eyes, removed the comlink from his belt, and snapped it into place on his command chair to relay the signal to his headset. “Sanshir,” he said quietly, ensuring that no eavesdropped would hear it.

“There some reason you’re lighting up my ship?” a familiar voice asked in his ear. “Seriously, Lance, if this is the best greeting you can give an old friend, I’m leaving.”

That voice, the Corellian accent, my private comlink frequency… Halyn’s mouth fell open. “Ryian Coron?!”

The other man laughed. “Didn’t take you as long as I thought it’d take.”

Halyn eyed the holo of the warship with understanding. The cruiser was the Dauntless, a passenger liner from the Galactic Civil War that had been converted to a warship. The Mon Calamari Star Cruisers that had formed the backbone of the Alliance fleet had been converted from liners as well, but the Dauntless was built at Sullust. The Imperial-friendly nature of SoroSuub had prevented more of the warships from entering service, making them a rare sight in the spacelanes.

“Last I heard, you were part of the fleet defending Bilbringi,” he said cautiously. Peace Brigaders could still be trying to spring a trap on us, he warned himself.

“That was before Coruscant. We were part of Bel Iblis’s fleet there, until the retreat was ordered.”

“Where’s your IFF?”

“We took a beating at Coruscant,” Coron said grimly. “We barely made it out and missed the rendezvous with Bel Iblis’s Fleet. We’ve been trying to find a safe place to regroup and put the pieces back together. We didn’t know our IFF wasn’t transmitting.”

Halyn nodded. It made sense, but he wouldn’t be absolutely certain until…and then the idea struck him. “Stand by a second, Coron, and I’ll get you an orbital slot.” Not waiting for a confirmation, he swapped channels and sent a hail.

It took several seconds before Sandarie answered. “What is it, General?”

“Need you to confirm the ID of a ship’s captain for me,” he said. “I’m conferencing you into the signal.” A twist of the base of his comlink accomplished the task.

“Who am I identifying?” Sandarie’s puzzled voice floated across the comm.

“Sandi?” Coron asked.

“Ryian? Ryian! Where the hell have you been?”

Halyn smiled. “Stand down the turbolasers,” he called. “Rinnet, inform your squadrons that they’re on escort duty, not interception.”

His smile only widened as he listened to Sandarie and Ryian argue over his comlink. Ah, married bliss.

The New Jedi Order: Siege – Councils of War

The war council, as Sandarie had dubbed it, seemed to have a shortage of Zabraks considering it was their home world at stake.

Halyn Sanshir sat at the head of the table—the commander in chief of the Zabrak naval forces. To his right sat Anishor, the big Wookiee berserker and master of war. There was no one Halyn trusted more than the Wookiee.

To the General’s left was Zabrak space’s last Senator to the New Republic, Ceikeh Alari. Next to him sat the Zabrak woman Nisia Eisweep, who to everyone’s confusion insisted on calling Halyn “Jess.” She had not been assigned a role, but was included in the planning nonetheless. Beside her was Lenn Kaman, the former Imperial TIE pilot who Halyn had put in charge of a small group of special operation pilots. Beside Anishor was Ryian Coron, the Corellian captain of the Dauntless, and his wife Sandarie—a blue-skinned Twi’lek and freighter pilot. Halyn’s starfighter coordinator, Kryi Rinnet, sat next to Sandarie, and Allanna Saret, captain of the Cyclone, which was Iridonia’s second heaviest-armed capital ship remaining, finished out the circle.

Halyn tapped a button on his datapad, bringing a hologram of Iridonia flickering to life. Clearly out-of-scale, the hologram showed the disposition of the Iridonian defenses—a net of small capital ships anchored by the Star Cruiser Cathleen and the newly-arrived Dauntless, with the Cyclone between them on point.

The Yuuzhan Vong forces had reformed themselves for battle on the far edge of the system. Heavier reinforcements had finally arrived, leaving them with six cruisers capable of matching the Dauntless or Cathleen, eighteen of the light mataloks which, individually, nearly matched the Cyclone in firepower, and a host of smaller frigates and corvettes. The task force was anchored by a massive yorik coral vessel, bigger than anything any of the war council had seen in action.

“Reminds me of the grand cruiser they used at Ithor,” Ryian commented, pointing at the yorik coral abomination. “Nothing like it in shape, but the sheer size and firepower it represents…not to mention the number of coralskippers it’s likely carrying.”

“Coralskippers aren’t our worry,” Kryi interjected. “We have the starfighter squadrons we need to hold them at bay.”

“That depends on what we’re willing to commit,” Halyn said quietly.

Heads turned towards the general. “What happens if we throw everything we have at the Vong, and still lose?” he continued. “There’ll be nothing left to stop the Vong from taking every world in Zabrak space and destroying it, enslaving the survivors, and using what’s left to grow even more of these things.”

“But if you don’t use all the forces you have available now,” Sandarie said slowly, “how would a smaller force fare better later on?”

Halyn shook his head. “I plan to ensure no Vong escape this system alive. But that also means we need to make the best use of our available forces, and I intend to do that.”

“Are you going to use the starfighter trap again?” Allanna Saret asked.

“It wouldn’t work a second time. Besides, the Vong have been sending a number of coralskippers at it to keep poking the nest. There’s virtually nothing left of the droid starfighters that were out there, though they took down more skips than they lost.” Halyn studied the tactical hologram. “That old Star Destroyer hulk isn’t going to do us any good at this stage in the game.”

“What’s our plan, then?” Lenn asked.

Halyn advanced the holo. “We’ve been doing a lot of simulations,” he explained slowly as the Yuuzhan Vong warships began moving in. “Simming likely responses, tactics, and the outcome of different stratagems. All of it boils down to this: given the forces allocated to both fleets, we cannot indefinitely keep the Yuuzhan Vong off Iridonia.”

Silence reigned in the room. Most of the participants in the war council struggled to even breathe.

“Even before the arrival of that big ship, which we’re tagging “grand” for now, we couldn’t keep the Vong off Iridonia. Hurt them, yes, and kill a lot of them, yes, but we simply don’t have the heavy firepower we’d need to go toe-to-toe with their cruisers and win.”

Nisia Eisweep frowned. “Jess, somehow I doubt you asked all of us to come here just to watch Iridonia burn.”

“I have no intention of seeing Iridonia burn,” Halyn said grimly. “But I want each and every one of you to know what our likely outcomes are.”

No one spoke for long minutes as the hologram showed the Yuuzhan Vong fleet approaching Iridonia. “The Wookiees’ war cruisers are missing from the hologram,” Kryi abruptly noted.

Halyn nodded. “They were recalled to Kashyyyk. What we have left are Anishor and his berserkers,” he continued. “So we’re down to largely standard tactics at this point. The Cathleen and the Dauntless will anchor our defensive line. Our smaller vessels are operating in groups—frigates in trios, corvettes in quads. Their objectives will be to isolate mataloks and take them down with the help of their starfighter escorts. Each of them will have a fair amount of autonomy during the engagement.” As he spoke, the defensive network around Iridonia came to life, holographic ships swarming their opponents. “Half the starfighters we have here will be deployed for this operation. A third of them will be participating in the ‘hunt groups’, while the rest are directly supporting the Cathleen and the Dauntless. The Cyclone is fast enough to keep up with virtually anything on the battlefield, and will be in a swing position to support the larger warships and the hunters alike.”

<And what is the goal of this defense?> Anishor asked.

Halyn smiled. The Wookiee already knew the answer—they had discussed it before the war council. “Always good to have a shill,” he murmured before raising his voice. “Our goal is to cost the Vong ships and force them to rethink a direct approach. They can muscle their way through, but they’re going to suffer hideous losses doing so—losses that should make them rethink it.”

“And if they don’t pull back?”

Halyn’s smile was grim to Sandarie’s question. “Then we trap them against the planet and pound them into a bloody pulp.”



As the group began to disperse, Halyn and Anishor stood together at the head of the table and waited. When the individuals had spread out far enough that Halyn was sure that conversation was safe, he glanced over at the Wookiee. “What’s the status of your task force?” he asked in a whisper.

The Wookiee’s reply was so low as to be barely intelligible. <They stand ready a few hundredths of a light-year away.>

The Zabrak general nodded. It was a calculated risk they’d discussed and decided upon. Peace Brigade infiltrators were everywhere, and it wasn’t unknown for even close friends and allies to betray each other in this war. Halyn knew every member of the war council intimately, but he had to know for certain that each member was reliable.

If the Yuuzhan Vong kept forces back to safeguard against a rear-assault from the Wookiee battlecruisers and fighters, the chances of one of his members being a turncoat was slim; if the Vong committed fully to the assault, with no rear-guard, then the two of them would have to root out the traitor among them before it caused the downfall of Iridonia.

Assuming we can root out the traitor in time, Halyn thought. Everything’s balanced on a knife-edge right now; the slightest bump could send it either way.

“Keep them ready to go at a moment’s notice,” Halyn murmured. “Even if the Vong are ready for them, we may need them to beat the Vong back off.”

<Of course,> the Wookiee berserker rumbled. <With the New Republic Fleet garrisoning Kashyyyk, their absence will not be noticed for now.>

The Zabrak nodded again. “Thank you, old friend,” he said quietly. “I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

<Make more friends,> Anishor replied dryly.

Halyn studied the hologram, which was replaying their best-guess at the Vong fleet’s assault tactics. “Do you think we’ve got it right?”

<Near enough,> Anishor said. <Their warmaster has some grasp on tactics beyond a straightforward assault, but few of their commanders do. They certainly showed nothing but animal brutality in the first push, and we can parry it aside easily.>

“And if one of them grows a brain?”

<Then General Coatrack will have a challenge instead of a slaughter,> the Wookiee growled softly. <You can defeat them, old friend.> There was a long pause before he added, <I have known many Zabraks in my years. Your kind is stubborn to a fault and almost as warlike as the Yuuzhan Vong when they need to be. They are some of the most capable warriors in the galaxy…off Kashyyyk, of course.> The Wookiee’s lips stretched to reveal fangs. <But you have proven, time and again, that you are more than a warrior—you are a tactician, a master of strategy. You are the best chance for victory.>

Halyn shook his head. “No. The best chance was Argus.”

<You are wrong.> The Wookiee’s voice booked no dissent. <You are a greater leader than he. He chose to stay here and fight a war at home, while you saw the war on the broader scope—you understand that as the galaxy goes, so goes Iridonia.> Both of them knew that Anishor was not speaking about the current war, but a war of two decades prior, when Iridonia was crushed under the weight of the Empire. <Your sister is a Jedi Knight and a boon to your family and world, but all of this depends on you.>

The Zabrak closed his eyes. “Then I’d best not screw this up.”

<You won’t.>

Halyn opened his eyes and glanced around the room. Kryi Rinnet was speaking to Ryian Coron, while two meters away Sandarie and Allanna Saret were in close conversation. Lenn and Nisia were also engaged in animated discussion, while the Zabrak Senator Alari was merely listening to their conversation.

<How long until you meet with the Council?> Anishor asked.

“They’re pushing to meet with me soon. I’ve been deflecting them with the preparations for the next Vong advance, but I don’t know how long that will work.” Halyn hesitated. “I overstepped my bounds with the recall, and there’s enough politicians on the Council that don’t like the Sanshir clan. If I can hang onto command through the next attack, and we can turn the Vong aside again, I think I’ll have a chance of keeping it. If we meet before then, though, they might very well strip me of command and make someone else the Commander in Chief.”

<That would be a disaster.> Anishor’s voice was grim.

“Maybe,” Halyn allowed. “There are other commanders who could do this competently.”

<Yes. Competently watch the fall of Iridonia.>

“Did it ever occur to you that you may be biased?” Halyn snapped at the Wookiee.

Anishor’s voice was even. <Yes. That does not change the truth. If you’re not leading this war, it will end in disaster.>

Halyn paused at that. Anishor was more than just an average Wookiee berserker. “Have you…seen something?”

The Wookiee shook his head. <No. My talents don’t work that way. I live in the moment, not on visions of the future. It’s just an instinct…and years of experience.>


Halyn Sanshir had no use for the Force. He was not Force-sensitive, and those who didn’t know him well suspected he hated the Jedi Order. The truth was far more nuanced than that, of course—as truth tended to be. But the Zabrak was not above looking for guidance or advice from all quarters, even from those whom he normally disliked and had no use for.

He shook himself out of that state and looked around the room. “How many,” he asked quietly, “will still be alive at the end of this war?”

<That is not for us to know.> Anishor laid a massive Wookiee paw on Halyn’s shoulder. <This is what we are, Coatrack—warriors who fight to protect others from the burden. We are fighters, killers, warriors so that others can stand in our shadows and live in peace. And with that burden also comes losses. You know this—you always have.>

“Doesn’t make it easier, Furball,” Halyn said heavily.

<Nor should it.>



Halyn stepped away from the Wookiee when he saw Sandarie turn to converse with Ryian. His motion carried him beside Allanna Saret, the captain of the Cyclone.

“Captain,” he said quietly.

The Zabrak woman turned toward him. Light tattoos decorated her face, with her blonde hair pulled into a topknot surrounded by her stud of horns. Her light blue eyes were clear, but to Halyn he could see the shades of pain in them. “General,” she said quietly.

“I’m sorry I didn’t come to the wake,” he whispered.

“You were fighting the Yuuzhan Vong,” Allanna said quietly, choking on the words. “I know.”

“I wanted to be there.” Halyn shut his eyes tightly to hide the shame he felt. “Nothing should’ve kept me away from the wake for my own brother.”

“Argus was a hero for everyone,” she said quietly. “The funeral was horrible. Even on Iridonia, there were too many politicians there trying to make themselves look better.” He could feel her eyes on him, even with his own still closed. “Is that what we’re fighting for, Halyn? Is that why our children are growing up without a father?”

“I know he wouldn’t have wanted it that way,” Halyn managed. “Frak, I miss him. I’d give anything for him to be here right now leading this mess.”

“Me, too,” the captain of the Cyclone said with a broken voice that jabbed deep into Halyn’s hearts. “I miss him so much.”

Knowing it was inappropriate, Halyn pulled Allanna into a tight embrace. Several members of the war council who didn’t understand gave them covert glances, but said nothing.

Allanna and Argus had been married years previously, not long after the battle of Endor. They had met when Allanna was a civilian chef, working with Sandarie to build a business that would make them both wealthy. Argus had been making occasional runs to the Alliance’s Zephyr Base on Rori, commanded by his younger brother Halyn, to pick up relief supplies for Iridonia. There had been sparks between them even then, but Argus had been fully committed to the Iridonian Resistance and been unwilling to act on anything else. Allanna, in turn, had discovered a passion and skill for starfighter combat that had seen her transferred to the Alliance Fleet and becoming a consistent high scorer on the killboards for the Independence’s starfighter squadrons.

After Endor, with the Empire in retreat and Iridonia liberated from the Empire, the two of them had found each other and pursued what they had forgone previously. They’d been married within a year, though their first child wasn’t born until the reborn Emperor was struggling to reassert control over the galaxy. Six years had passed before more children were born: children coming of age on Iridonia even now.

And now the war was coming to them.

“Halyn,” Allanna whispered. “If something happens to me during the fighting…” her voice broke for a moment. “Will you see to them?”

“Of course.” The words fell from his mouth without need for thought. “We’re family, Allanna, even if you didn’t take the Sanshir name. Family looks out for family.”

“Thank you.”

Halyn felt the slightest pang of regret as he glanced around. So many of my friends and allies from the war have kids, families of their own. Me, I never married, never had kids, never settled down. Even Anishor, who is utterly committed to warfare, found time for a mate and cubs. Argus and Allanna fell in love and had three kids. Kativie married Hakk and managed five little ones, even with her life as a Jedi Knight in Skywalker’s Order.

                And after all these years, I’m alone. A few memories flitted through his mind. It wasn’t like he’d spent the years during the Galactic Civil War, or even the years between then and now, all alone. There’d been more than a few women through his life. A’Lerris, Abi, Kelta… his mouth twisted into a small smile. And that’s not to mention the ones that I don’t remember the names for.

It wasn’t a line of thought he usually allowed himself to follow. He had, by and large, made peace with his decisions in life. Halyn Sanshir’s life had never been dull. Years of life had been spent in the thick of warfare; many of the remainder had been spend as the life of a smuggler and pirate, usually running some of the most dangerous and high-paying cargo anyone needed shipped.

Nowhere in any of those lines of work had been time or space for a spouse, a permanent home, a family. It wasn’t until his return to Iridonia at the outbreak of the Yuuzhan Vong war that he had begun anything near a normal life, and even that was in preparation for the war he knew would eventually broach the safety of Zabrak space.

No peace for the wicked. Halyn held no illusions about himself, after all these years.

“Allanna,” he said quietly, “if I don’t make it through this…” he shrugged, his shoulders rolling. “Don’t let them use my memory. I’m doing this for you and your kids, for Katie and her family, for Iridonia. Not for the politicians. Just…remember me. Flaws and all. I’m no hero.”

“I will,” she said quietly. Her face was wet now, though Halyn didn’t remember when that happened. “I won’t allow anyone to forget you.”

“Flaws and all,” Halyn added solemnly.

“Flaws and all,” she said, wiping the odd moisture from her face.

If I don’t have kids to carry on my name, then at least I’ll be remembered. “Good. Now, I just need to make sure Iridonia survives this war so that there’s someone left to remember me.” He smiled a bit. “Including Clan Sanshir.”

Allanna nodded. “My oldest was on Maria,” she said quietly. “It was how he’d want to go.” She finally smiled at Halyn. “In the finest Sanshir tradition.”

“No,” Halyn deadpanned. “I think he took after his mother.”

Ceikeh Alari stepped forward, interrupting before Allanna could reply. “Sir,” he said, looking at Halyn. “Sir, you’ll want to see this right away.” He thrust a handful of flimsiplast at Halyn.

Halyn looked at it but didn’t take it. “What is this?”

“Sir, you’ve been summoned to meet the Council. Immediately.”


Treacherous wind shear rocked the shuttle as it descended into Iridonia’s atmosphere.

Halyn felt a bit nauseated. I wouldn’t be this way if I were flying, he decided. I hate being a passenger. It was something about control. As a pilot, or as the commanding officer of Iridonia’s military defenses, he was in control of his own destiny. He’d never, ever liked being a passenger.

Trying to force away the nausea, he stared out the transparisteel viewport at the rugged landscape below.

Iridonia was one of the harshest inhabited worlds in the galaxy. Planets like Tatooine or Hoth were inhospitable, true—they suffered extremes in temperatures and precipitation, leaving Tatooine a dustball and Hoth an ice cube. Other worlds, like Duro, had been polluted to the point of deadliness, while worlds like Ithor were so wild and untamed that it became dangerous to set foot on the surface.

Iridonia, though, seemed to have an ecology designed to kill the unwary. Or, for that matter, the inattentive.

The homeworld of the Zabrak race ran on the hot side, though not quite so much as Tatooine or Ryloth. It boasted vast oceans, though they were nearly all naturally-occurring acids. Halyn had heard theories when attending school as a child that some of the early creatures to evolve on the world had naturally processed water into acid, which had destroyed a large part of the ecology and the creatures themselves.

Free-standing water still existed, of course; it tended to be highly valued, as it only was found during precipitation. It would eventually drain into the acidic oceans again, where it would become unusable until evaporation pulled it out again.

Much of the landscape was barren. Harsh jungle exists in swaths, with very little grasslands-like conditions anywhere on the planet. The early Iridonians had lived in nomadic clans, hunting much moreso than controlled agriculture. Eventually, a handful of cities were built on the planet. The capital, Rak’Edalin, was one of the half-dozen places on the entire world to boast a starport capable of servicing and refueling ships. Only two other cities were as large as Rak’Edalin, though all the major cities combined accounted for less than ten percent of Iridonia’s population.

Amazing how hard we fight for this world, Halyn thought to himself with amusement. Our ancestors were so eager to find something better that they were among the first travelers.

As the shuttle continued to drop, buffeted by winds, he imagined for a moment what it must’ve been like: the early Zabraks, with one of the first hyperdrives, choosing to leave behind a world that must’ve seemed designed to kill them—between the terrain, the oceans, the weather, the predators—for the unknown promise of the stars. They were likely trying to provide a better future for themselves and their children. It’s really not any different than what we’re doing now. If we don’t turn the Yuuzhan Vong away here, our children will lose everything—there will be no future except slavery.

                The same future the Empire wanted for them. Halyn shuddered a moment before he controlled himself. We averted that once; we can do it again.

The shuttle finally dropped below the high winds and the ride smoothened. Halyn could see the capital city, Rak’Edalin, stretched out before him. He closed his eyes, seeing the buildings in his mind’s eye as well—the towers stretching up like arms reaching for the stars, the squat starports, the smaller two and three-story structures housing Zabraks who had chosen a city life instead of wanderings, the patrols of starfighters even now, and the precious clear-water lake and cannels that cut across the city. Permacrete streets and sidewalks, landspeeders, airspeeders: all the trappings of a modern city.

The shuttle settled on its struts with a sigh, and Halyn opened his eyes. The door to the shuttle’s cockpit slid open, and Senator Ceikeh Alari stepped through it. Halyn caught just a glimpse of the pilot, a pale-skinned Twi’lek that Halyn had met on occasion—Ceikeh’s wife. What was her name again?

“Are you ready, General?” Ceikeh asked. “The Council is waiting.”

“Then we’d best be going,” Halyn said, unstrapping from the shuttle couch and rising to his feet. He straightened his uniform and checked the blaster on his hip, then accepted the traditional zhaboka that Ceikeh offered him.

He examined the weapon for a moment: the weapon of an Iridonian warrior. The shaft was a meter and a long half, with thirty-centimeter blades bound on either end. He smiled faintly and slung the weapon over his shoulder. The weapon of a warrior, for the warrior who leads the Zabrak nation into its greatest trial since the Galactic Civil War.

He stopped and closed his eyes for a moment, steadying his breathing. When he opened them again, he was the General, the last best hope for Iridonia. “Let’s meet the Council, Senator.”



                “The Council isn’t like the New Republic Senate,” Ceikeh Alari warned. “The Senate is about politics—re-election, posturing, and image control. The Zabrak Council cares about results.”

Halyn shook his head. “Didn’t I teach you anything, Ceikeh? All government bodies are about politics, whether they’re here on Iridonia or on Coruscant or even on Kashyyyk. Politicians are the same, regardless of where you are.”

The two walked down the shuttle ramp. Ceikeh’s wife—Arraya, that’s her name—had set the shuttle down a few hundred meters from the small round, domed structure that was built and used exclusively for the Zabrak Council.

“You can believe me or not, General,” the Senator said. “It doesn’t change reality. I’ve dealt with both bodies. I was representing them to the New Republic, so I know what both ends look like. That’s a major reason for the poor state of the war throughout the galaxy: the Senate has chosen to supervise each step of the war, rather than letting the military fight.”

“A military without oversight is a step away from dictatorship,” Halyn replied evenly. “There’s a reason most civilian governments have direct control over the military. A general can very easily lose his way and believe that his path is the best, and to hell with all the citizens who try to say otherwise.” He smiled slightly. “When the military operates without direct oversight and control, every problem faced by a nation looks like it needs a blaster bolt to the face.”

“Are you suggesting we find something else to do with the Yuuzhan Vong?” Ceikeh asked.

Halyn snorted. “Some problems need that solution. Just not every problem.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Ceikeh said dryly. “At any rate, the Council is far more interested in results than politics. Re-election doesn’t matter to most of them, because they’re like all of us. They lived under the Empire, and they don’t want to see a return to it.”

“Everyone covers their own ass,” Halyn pointed out as they neared the door—a rather small, wooden affair rather than some grand entrance. “Politicians just do it in different ways.”

Without hesitation and waiting for invitation, Halyn pushed the door open and stepped into the dim chamber inside. Ceikeh followed him in, but stopped inside the door. Halyn slowed for a moment while he waited for his eyes to adjust.

The Council’s chamber was small and sparse. There seemed to be no conference rooms or other amenities; the floor was bare stone, interrupted by rugs embroidered with names and crests of Zabrak colonies. The center of the room was open, with a double-ring of wooden benches and chairs circling the open space but broken at regular intervals. Torches lined the walls, rather than modern lighting, providing a gentle orange glow that seemed out of place in a modern city.

The benches were largely filled, and it took Halyn a moment to recognize the layout. The representatives with voting privileges sat on the inner ring; those from the non-voting colonies sat on the outer ring. The chair of the Council, who by law was the representative for Iridonia, stood waiting for him in the center of the Council chamber.

Halyn glanced up and saw very little decoration. A few tapestries hung with clan and colony  motifs, but there was no elaborate artwork. As he crossed the ring of benches and approached the Council chair, he noted wryly that the center of the room was painted with the crest of the Rebellion, and later the New Republic.

“Vysht’akhoi, it is good for you to come,” the chair said.

Halyn frowned for a moment before he realized who it was: Elibet Dav, one of the earliest Zabrak representatives to the Rebel Alliance. As he stepped closer, he was startled to note she looked far older than he remembered: her features were weathered and wrinkled, and her horns were dull even by the standards of the torchlight. Like many Zabraks, she had no hair, though Halyn thought he remembered her with dark braids during the Galactic Civil War.

“I always have time for the Council,” Halyn lied.

“I’m sure you do, Vysht’akhoi.”

Halyn frowned. It was Council tradition to use Ul’Zabrak—the ancient language of Iridonia, rather than the more modern Zabraki or Basic. As usual, they used it for titles and solemnity, but not fully conducting the meeting. Too many colonial Zabraks did not understand the tongue for business to be conducted efficiently that way.

Why does she keep using my title and not my name? Loosely it translated into basic as “war champion.” It was given to the commander of the Zabrak armed forces.

“I’m sure you wonder, Visht’akhoi, why we drag you here when you are preparing for war. The Council understands well that your full attention is needed on fending off the approaches of these extragalactic invaders, these ‘Yuuzhan Vong.’  We do not want to deflect your attention from our defenses; the consequences of failure could be disastrous for us all.”

“The thought occurred to me,” Halyn said before he could still his own tongue. Dammit, I don’t need to be lipping off right now.

“Vysht’akhoi, you know as well as anyone how dangerous and critical the business of warfare can be. The Old Republic suffered loss after loss against the Confederacy of Independent Systems, in part because of its incompetent governance. Indeed, the war only began to turn when the Old Republic Senate delegated much of its power and authority to the Supreme Chancellor, Palpatine.”

Halyn nodded now, not trusting himself to speak.

“The folly of a representative body governing a war had been demonstrated yet again with the incompetence of the New Republic in defending itself. With its forces hamstrung by the Senate, it has repeatedly lost ground, to the point now that it has given up the capital of Coruscant to these invaders.” Elibet’s voice rose in passion. “The failures of the New Republic Senate haunt us all and may be the end of our civilization, though,” she shot at a glance at the door, “we do not lay fault upon our own Senator for the rampant corruption that has brought the New Republic to its knees.”

Is there a point to this? Halyn wondered.

“After careful consideration these past weeks,” Elibet continued, “and with the events of the past week in particular, with the Yuuzhan Vong assault here, on Iridonia, we the Council have chosen to make you Ul’akhoi.”

Halyn’s jaw dropped. “Ul’akhoi?” he repeated, not sure he believed himself.

“As per the rules of this Council, we have the ability to choose and appoint an Ul’akhoi during time of extreme peril. The powers granted to you are yours to use as you see fit until the Yuuzhan Vong threat against Zabrak space has been ultimately turned aside, be that tomorrow or a year from now.” Elibet’s eyes hardened even in the dim torch light. “We are aware of the danger an Ul’akhoi represents,” she continued, “as shown by the fall of the Old Republic and the rise of the Empire that followed it. Beware, General, for the Council has ceded you power, but will continue to watch you closely.”

The New Jedi Order: Siege – Treachery and Blood

“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.”

Everyone stared.

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.”

The New Jedi Order: Siege – Cleanup

Kativie grimaced as she clung to the controls of her X-wing, cannons blazing away seemingly of their own volition. In the Force, she could sense only herself and Kelta Rose; her eyes and the snubfighter’s sensors were her warning of the dozens of Yuuzhan Vong coralskippers swarming all around them.

Her astromech whistled wildly at her, but she ignored it. Her lasers flashed and the Force suggested she launch a proton torpedo; she did, her mind no longer an obstacle between what the Force told her and her own reflexes. The torpedo rode across space on a brilliant blue propellant trail, and a void sprang up to intercept it. As almost all warheads were now programmed to do, it detonated when it detected the void, spilling its energy across open space and producing far more than what the void could consume.

Her lasers flashed through the explosion, and a moment later she saw the result—two coralskippers, unable to see or sense her attack, had been shattered by the unseen laserfire.

Normally, Kativie found a sense of peace, even enjoyment in combat. It was a form of pure release, whether it was with a lightsaber in hand or behind the controls of a starship. Now, though, she felt only sick dread. Kelta, I can’t let you die out here. You’re my blood sister. Can’t let you die.

A snap-roll and a blaze of fire sent another coralskipper cometing away on a flat trajectory—either its dovin basal or its pilot was dead, and either way it was out of the fight. Even now, though, Kativie could see the coralskippers lining up to engage Kelta in her crippled E-wing, rather than the fully-capable, if aging, X-wing.

No, no, no! she screamed silently. NO!

From Kelta, she felt a reassuring wave of peace. Kativie shoved it away from herself. I won’t allow her to comfort me in the moment she dies.

The Zabrak Jedi snarled through gritted teeth, hauling back hard on the stick to get a shot on one of the skips lining up on Kelta’s E-wing. Before she could squeeze the trigger, though, she saw.

Turbolasers filled space around her with bloodred fire. Yelping in surprise, she rolled the X-wing out, away from the coralskippers. A glance at her monitor told her just what her astromech had been trying to tell her moments earlier, when she’d elected to ignore it.

Wookiee battlecruisers had arrived.

Starfighters, a design Kativie had never seen, swooped through space, closing on the Yuuzhan Vong coralskippers. Turbolasers thundered from the Wookiee’s capital ships, filling space with fire and forcing the skips to either break off their vectors on the two Jedi starfighters or be overwhelmed and destroyed. Even as she glanced at her scopes, she saw a number of Vong pilots refuse to break, and be reduced to their component atoms by overwhelming firepower.

She slumped in the seat of the X-wing, and only then realized her hands were shaking. “Arthree,” she said quietly, “open a comm channel with General Sanshir.”

A green light lit up on her communication board. “General Sanshir to unidentified Jedi X-wing,” her brother’s voice called firmly.

“It’s me, big brother.”

Kativie could hear pure relief in his tone. “You’re okay? How badly did you get shot up?”

“Not bad,” she said. “I didn’t know I’d be arriving in the middle of a battle.”

“Which I need to get back to,” the distant Halyn said. Kativie realized with a start that her sensors still showed a conflict raging around Iridonia, though she couldn’t see it with the naked eye at the distance. Of course, space near her was still hot, with the Wookiee battlecruisers exchanging fire with the Yuuzhan Vong grand cruiser, though they were already pulling back.

“Halyn,” she said, “you’re not going to believe who the other Jedi is here.”

“It can wait,” Halyn said quickly. “Just take him to my office at the capital. I’ll meet you there as soon as the battle’s over.”

“But…” Kativie protested, but the light on her board went out. Fierfek. Wonder how he’s going to react when he finds out it’s Kelta?

She brought her X-wing around slowly as she searched for Kelta on her scopes. Finally locating the E-wing, she scooted in beside it and noticed to her surprise and chagrin that a half-dozen Wookiee Agr starfighters fell into a protective formation around them.

“Kelta?” Kativie asked over the open channel. “I talked to Halyn, and he asked me to take you to the capital. He’ll meet us there.”

“Alright,” Kelta said, sounding even wearier than Kativie felt from the brief battle. After a pause, she asked, “Is Anishor here, too?”

Kativie paused for a moment, considering. “That would be my guess. I don’t know how else Halyn would’ve gotten us Wookiee battlecruisers and starfighters to defend Iridonia.”

The two New Republic starfighters accelerated towards Iridonia, circling around the battle between the warring fleets. The Wookiee starfighters broke off once the Jedi were well clear of any potential for interception by coralskippers, returning to the battle cruisers. Even as Kativie watched, the Wookiee crafted turned away from the engagement with the Vong grand cruiser and leaped to hyperspace. They weren’t going to fight a battle they couldn’t win, she observed.

Iridonia grew in her canopy, and she could see the specks of light that were explosions now—proton torpedoes detonating, small craft from both the Iridonian defenders and the Yuuzhan Vong exploding, laserfire exchanged with plasma balls. It’s almost beautiful from a distance, she thought. It would be beautiful if every one of those wasn’t a life lost, a death, and a step closer to the Yuuzhan Vong invading Iridonia.

The very thought gripped her throat and squeezed so hard she struggled to breathe. After all the millennia, can we keep them off our world? Or will Iridonia be nothing compared to the loss of Coruscant and the bloodbath the galaxy’s already seen?


Triak Kraal was losing the battle, and he hated it.

The Zabrak defenders had exhibited brilliant tactics. Triak’s opposite, the General Sanshir, had broken his fleet into small task forces which were refusing to stand and fight. Instead, they would isolate a single Yuuzhan Vong craft and overwhelm it with fire, then flee before other warships could pin them in place. The defenders’ starfighters were wielded in numbers Triak had never even heard of during the war with the infidels—whenever he thought their reserves were depleted, more would arrive or launch and tip the battle back in their favor.

The coralskippers were even now overwhelmed. With the yammosk too distant from the fight to coordinate properly, the numbers and tactics of the infidels were slowly eating his force away.

His fist smacked hard against the command throne in frustration. And the infidel’s trap is still potent. The craft had bristled with unliving fighters—droid fighters, the shapers had informed him—which had sprung the first ambush. It seemed to have unique defenses against the grutchin; in spite of its lack of shields and operational weapons, it had blunted that attack as well. The remaining fighters, both piloted and unpiloted, had turned away the few coralskippers he had sent to harass them.

And now, his Kor Chokk was too distant from the battlefield to arrive in time to make a difference. He shook his head as he studied the blaze bugs.

“Your recommendation, tactician?”

Ret Kraal was quick in answering. “The infidels have blunted our attack,” he said without preamble. “Should we continue to fight, we can overwhelm the defenders…but we will be too few to occupy the planet.” He shook his head. “The fleet should be pulled back, and we need to regroup.” He hesitated before adding, “And we must re-evaluate the information this Nylah has given us.”

Triak smiled now, his shredded lips stretching over his teeth. “This battle has made her more valuable to us, not less…if she’s trustworthy.”

The tactician offered a frown in return. “I do not understand, Commander.”

“Immerse yourself in the infidel’s thoughts for a moment,” Triak said casually. “Their kind is not loyal. Treachery is common among them. You need look no further than the efforts of Nom Anor in stirring up trouble, or the treachery of the infidel Senator Viqi Shesh, or the Peace Brigade. Our opponent, the General Halyn Sanshir, is not foolish—a fool could not have blunted our attack.”

Ret nodded now in understanding. “The information he provided Nylah could have been a ruse to test the loyalty of his own officers.”

“Precisely. But now she has proven herself loyal, in his eyes—we defended our flank against the attack by their allies.” Triak smiled. “Now, she must prove her loyalty to us. If she does, we will have a turncoat in the ranks of our enemy that we can use to slaughter them from within.”

He turned to the villip tender. “Bring the fleet back. Our feint is done.” No one but the gods need know that this was not a feint. The warriors may hate it, but they understand its value—and by calling it a feint, they will believe they accomplished their goal. They will not accept defeat by these Zabraks.

“And what,” Ret asked quietly, “shall we do once we’ve regrouped?”

Triak shrugged languidly. “You are the tactician. Tell me what their greatest strength is, so that we may undermine it.”

Ret turned back to study the blaze bugs, watching the Yuuzhan Vong fleet disengage from the infidels and slowly pull back. “Their defense,” he said slowly, “is anchored by their two largest ships. The Zabrak general has broken his fleet into packs to hunt down and destroy our weakest ships. Yet the two largest vessels, and the one smaller,” he explained, pointing to the two largest warships in orbit, “do not leave their orbit. With their overlapping fire, they can destroy any vessel the size of a matalok or smaller before it can threaten them.”

Triak leaned forward in interest.

“We could overwhelm them,” Ret continued, “but that would allow their hunting packs to decimate our smallest vessels.”

“But they must be destroyed for the defenses to be broken,” Triak mused. “Tell me, without those ships, could their defensive fleet hold?”

“Doubtful,” Ret replied. “Even the removal of one of those two vessels would open a hole in their line that they could not fill easily.”

The Yuuzhan Vong commander watched as his vessels traded final parting shots with the Zabrak defenders. Coralskippers and starfighters disengaged, racing to their respective lines, and the two fleets parted again, leaving the Zabrak defenses intact, if not badly battered by this second engagement.

“Bring me the master shaper,” he said at least. “I have need of his skills.”


Halyn watched as the Yuuzhan Vong withdrew, and allowed himself a small smile. If the Vong weren’t fanatical to the point of stupidity, they’d probably go looking for a softer target. His smile faded. Of course, we knew that going into this. The Vong will keep pushing until they either have conquered our space, or they’re dead.

<My ships have withdrawn successfully,> Anishor rumbled. <They inflicted minor damage on the Yuuzhan Vong grand cruiser, and the Jedi have escaped.>

The Zabrak general nodded as he watched the tactical hologram. “Once the fleet’s secured, I’ll need to head down to the capital to meet with them.”

<And what after?> Anishor asked. <The Council will be asking you shortly, I’m sure. They appointed you Ul’akhoi; they’ll want to know what plans you have in place to cover the contingencies.>

“The less people know exactly what I have planned, the better,” Halyn replied distractedly. “The Zabrak Defense Force is flexible enough to respond to whatever I need them to do.”

<What about non-combatants? If we have to evacuate Iridonia, the Defense Force doesn’t have enough ships alone to…>

“There won’t be an evacuation,” Halyn interrupted, turning his attention on the big Wookiee.

<If the Yuuzhan Vong break the defense fleet?> Anishor asked cautiously.

“There won’t be an evacuation.” The statement was bedrock firm.

<If they attempt to use worldshaping materials?>

“There won’t be an evacuation.”

<If they land troops and take the capital?> Anishor persisted.

“Listen to me, Anishor,” Halyn said, his voice colder than it ever was when addressing his friends. “There. Will. Be. No. Evacuation.” He paused between each word, ensuring the meaning was crystal-clear, even for a warrior who did not speak Basic.

<What if…>

“There won’t be an evacuation,” Halyn hissed. “So stop thinking about it.” He turned back towards the tactical hologram. “Besides,” he added, his voice returning to even tones, “the battle’s going better than I expected right now.” He shrugged. “Of course, that’s because I didn’t expect to have the Dauntless here to bolster our defenses. She’s the only ship we have here that outguns the Cathleen, and until the Vong are willing to commit everything to knocking us out of the sky, we can hold them off.”

<And when the Yuuzhan Vong decide to destroy the defenses by climbing over their own dead?>

Halyn’s expression was grim. “We’ll deal with that when the time comes.”

Kryi Rinnet appeared as if by magic in front of the general. “Sir, the leader of the New Republic squadrons that showed up is demanding to speak to you immediately.”

“Patch him through,” Halyn ordered. “Wait. In my quarters in just a minute, please.” He headed aft towards the bridge turbolift without further ado. “C’mon, Anishor.”

As the turbolift descended deeper into the ship, Halyn smiled again. “At least we can be fairly certain no one on the war council is a traitor. The Yuuzhan Vong suspected a trap from your forces the entire time, even though all our high-ups believed they’d been recalled to Kashyyyk.” He left out the possibility of a traitor among the Wookiee armed forces; honor was rated above all, and no Wookiee would dare sell out to intergalactic invaders who’d shown no honor time and again.

Anishor was pensive. <Are you certain, Coatrack? If I were the Vong commander, I’d suspect any traitor’s information until it was proven right.>

Halyn snorted as the turbolift’s doors hissed open. “And if I were the Vong commander, I’d take every opportunity I had to crush the Zabrak Defense Force. Instead he held a lot of his forces in reserve and his forward units took a beating for it. No, I’m certain of my war council.”

Halyn’s quarters were darkened when they stepped through, but the computer automatically brought the lights up. A moment later, the comm built into the desk chirped. Halyn stepped to it and tapped the button, setting it to speaker. “This is General Sanshir, go ahead.”

“Hal, it’s Li Coden,” the veteran pilot said, his voice filled with static but still recognizable. “I called to tell you that you have a traitor in your ranks.”

Triak Kraal snarled at the villip. “You lied,” he spat. “The infidel forces were lying in wait, not pulled back to defend as you told us.”

Nylah’s face twisted unreadably. “That was what General Sanshir told us,” she began.

“Enough lies!” Triak interrupted. “Either provide me with useful information, or I shall have your head removed from your neck.”

The Zabrak traitor snorted disdainfully. “Difficult to do through a villip, Commander,” she sneered. “Besides, I do have useful information.”

“Which is?”

“Two Jedi Knights have arrived on Iridonia. I can’t imagine they won’t be meeting with the General soon.”

Triak wished for a moment he could interpret the Zabrak’s facial movements. Her dark tattoos and the limitations of the villip made interpretation impossible. “What do they want? Are the jeedai coming here in force?”

“I don’t know their purpose yet,” Nylah stated. “But I’m endeavoring to find out. No doubt Sanshir will call a meeting of his war council once he knows.”

“Contact me only when you know the purpose of these jeedai.” Triak inverted the villip, breaking the connection. Only then did he look at his tactician.

Ret was still staring at the now inactive villip. “if the jeedai are coming here, it could change the balance of power in favor of the infidels,” he said slowly. “With their allies from Kashyyyk and a contingent of jeedai, conquering the world could be beyond our grasp. Domain Kraal was devastated at Borleias, and our casualties here are mounting.”

“Your recommendation?”

“We must destroy the defenders here before more forces can arrive.” Ret’s voice was certain. “We must move quickly to remove the infidel fleet and land our forces. Once we control the planet, even the jeedai will not be able to remove us.”

Triak frowned. “If we move too hastily, we shall lose many warriors; too many, and we will be unable to take the world.” He was silent for long moments, which Ret chose not to fill with any further discussion, as was fitting. “When the master shaper has finished, we will attack, and we will sweep these metal toys from the skies.”


Halyn shook his head as he and Anishor strode across the flight deck of the Cathleen. Away from the Zabrak fighter suadrons, two snubfighters bearing New Republic colors and insignia rested wearily on the deck. One of the fighters was a first-generation XJ X-wing, which had since been supplanted by the new XJ3 model. The other was far older, an old Koensayr BTL-A4 Y-wing starfighter.

“Haven’t seen one of those,” Halyn commented, “since the Thrawn crisis. Hell, we don’t even have any here on Iridonia.”

<You know who has to be flying it, then.>

“Of course.” As the two approached the fighters, both cockpits slid open. The X-wing pilot slid himself out of his cockpit, holding onto the edge of it with both hands to lower himself as far as he could, dropping freely only for the last meter of the fall. Even in New Republic orange and with a concealing flight helmet, the figure was clearly male.

The Y-wing pilot, however, vaulted from the cockpit, using a roll to absorb the shock of falling that far, lekku flashing. A heartbeat later she was before Halyn and Anishor, and the Zabrak general found himself staring down the very intimidating barrel of a scatter pistol from a distance of three centimeters.

“Hello, Abi,” Halyn deadpanned. “You still haven’t gotten over it?”

“Biggest bounty I ever gave up,” the Twi’lek complained, and abruptly the pistol disappeared from Halyn’s face.

The X-wing pilot joined them, pulling off his helmet to reveal a face creeping into middle age but still handsome in its way. “Generals,” he greeted.

Instead of saluting, Halyn offered a handshake. “Li Coden. I haven’t seen you in years. Where have you been?”

Li shook his hand, but his expression was grim. “That’s what we’re here to talk to you about.”

Halyn reflected wryly that his quarters were seeing far more use now than they ever had before. The tactical holograms he had continually relayed there made it nearly as useful as the bridge for plotting tactics and strategies during the battle thus far, and he wasn’t expecting that to change. Of course, right now their discussion wasn’t about the battle raging in the system; it was about treachery in the ranks.

“We’ve been working for New Republic Intelligence since right after the disaster at Fondor,” Li said. “The Peace Brigade’s profile was getting higher all the time, and they were doing some real damage.”

“Enter a couple of old Rebels who were disillusioned with the current state of the government,” Abi added, “and it wasn’t that hard to infiltrate the Brigade.”

<What have you been doing inside the Peace Brigade, then?> Anishor asked.

“Gathering intelligence, mostly,” Li said. “NRI figured we were more useful as long-term assets than we would be if we blew our cover to stop any of the Brigade’s individual plots.”

Halyn frowned. “If you’re neck-deep in an infiltration, what are you doing aboard the Cathleen? Isn’t that sort of blowing your cover?”

The Twi’lek, Abi Ocopaqui, shrugged easily. “The Peace Brigade isn’t exactly a military organization. They’re loose enough we can occasionally slip away like this for rendezvous with New Republic agents to relay information and the like.”

“Except I’m not a New Republic agent.”

“I noticed,” Abi said dryly.

“So,” the general repeated patiently, “why are you here?”

Li cleared his throat. “When the Vong started their push on Iridonia, the Peace Brigade started looking for any members who could be useful for taking apart the defenses here. Someone inside your circle contacted the Brigade and volunteered to relay highly critical information for the war effort to the Vong. Abi and I here were assigned to, uh,escort the traitor to a meeting with the Vong leadership. After all, we’re trusted, long-time members of the Peace Brigade,” he finished with a straight face.

Halyn glanced at Abi. “How many Peace Brigade members have you killed to still be trusted?”

“Four,” the blue-skinned Twi’lek deadpanned.

<Who is this traitor?> Anishor rumbled.

“We weren’t able to grab a holo,” Li admitted. “And we only met her at the edge of the system and brought her into the meeting.”

“What did she look like, then?” Halyn asked impatiently.

“Light-skinned, dark tattoos,” Abi spoke up. “They were almost delicate. She had her head covered in a headwrap, though, like you used to wear back when we were all fighting the Empire. Couldn’t tell you her hair color or horn pattern.”

“Good looking, too,” Li added. “She was wearing lenses over her eyes, though—don’t know what her natural eye color was, but they looked purple with the lenses. She called herself ‘Nylah,’ too.”

“Cute,” Halyn growled. “Really cute.” He shook his head. “So what you’re telling me right now is that we have a traitor in our midst, but we don’t have any real information on her other than dark tattoos and she’s a female Zabrak.”

<If she was wearing a headwrap,> Anishor pointed out, <she might have been a human masquerading as a Zabrak. Unless we have a full bio scan of her, it wouldn’t be possible for Li or Abi to tell the difference.>

“You could do better?” Abi asked with a raised eyebrow.

Anishor smiled toothily and tapped his nose. <Humans and Zabraks smell differently.>

“We do know,” Halyn said, dragging the conversation back on task, “that we potentially have a traitor in our midst. If this Nylah really is one of my inner circle, that limits it down quite a ways.” He shook his head. “In fact, there’s only two female Zabraks on my war council that it could be—Nisia Eisweep or Kryi Rinnet.”

<Or Allanna Saret,> Anishor added.

“It’s not Allanna,” Halyn stated reflexively.

The big Wookiee studied the Zabrak leader intently. <You seem rather certain of that.>

Halyn shook his head, avoiding his old friend’s too-perceptive gaze. “Three potentials, then,” he said. “Assuming it’s someone who really is in my inner circle, and it isn’t someone doing something cute or clever.”

“So, which one do I shoot first?” was Abi’s question.

“None of them.” Halyn’s expression hardened. “Kryi Rinnet is my starfighter operations coordinator, and I can’t just yank her out and replace her with one of you—there’s enough grumbling as it is about the number of non-Zabraks who are participating as officers and commanders in the defense. Nisia Eisweep is only acting as an advisor right now, but I’m going to need her within the week, I’d guess, for some, um, unusual operations. Allanna Saret is commanding the second-largest warship in the Zabrak Defense Force.”

“So, we get some evidence, and then I shoot just one,” Abi suggested.

“So, you never did tell me,” Halyn said, changing subjects, “why exactly you broke cover to give me this information. Couldn’t you have relayed it through New Republic intelligence?”

Li and Abi exchanged glances, and it was Li who spoke up to explain. “With the fall of Coruscant, our chain of command has sort of evaporated,” the veteran said uneasily. “Hal, there’s no one left out there for us to report to. Near as I can tell, our controller died during the battle there, and all our backup contacts haven’t responded. New Republic Intel’s headquarters on Coruscant is now likely buried under tons of yorik coral, and frankly, this was too important to sit on.”

“So now what?” Halyn asked. “You’ve got me the information, and now you’re heading back to the Brigade?”

Li shook his head. “We, uh, sort of had to shoot a few people to get access to ships. And we weren’t able to keep it quiet.” He cast a significant glance at Abi.

“Not my fault the second one started screaming,” was all the Twi’lek would say.

“Where’d you pick up the squadron, if you were in deep cover?”

“A couple of them are Peace Brigaders who grew a brainstem,” Li said. “Most of them were strays we picked up when we tried to make it to Coruscant and found the disaster there. We pulled them together, swung out to a smuggling hole Abi knew about to refuel and regroup, and decided on a course of action. They’ve actually been hanging out on the extreme fringe of the system while Abi and I were in deep cover meeting this Nylah, just waiting for our signal.”

“So you’re with us for the duration?”

Both the old veterans nodded. “Until we get orders from someone in our chain of command, we’re all yours.”

Halyn nodded. “I can use you. Do you have a name for your squadron?” When both shook their heads, the Zabrak smiled. “You’re now Grey Squadron, and I’ll be tapping you as a backup for special operations. My other unit in that role is Skifter Squadron, under Lenn Kaman. I know I had you flying together, but I’ll introduce you in person.”

“What will you have us doing?” Abi asked.

“Whatever’s necessary, just like the old Grey.”

Both Li and Abi nodded in understanding. Halyn’s original Grey had been a unit during the Galactic Civil War and had never officially existed. Unofficially, the members of the Grey were a diverse group who had tested new starfighter tactics and modifications, raided Imperial outposts that Alliance High Command had deemed off-limits for one reason or another, and generally acted as much like pirates as they did like Alliance officers. The Grey had definitely made a difference in the war however, overthrowing several Imperial governors and stabilizing several Alliance-friendly planetary governments under the thumb of the Empire.

“So what’s the plan for the defense?” Li asked, switching to the most important military matters at hand.

“We’re going to defend Iridonia.” Halyn’s tone was flat.

“I’m not a military genius,” Abi commented dryly, “but even I had figured that out. I think the question was more along the lines of how.”

Halyn gestured at the tactical displays. “We’ll continue to rely on our basic strategy. The Cathleen and the Dauntless will continue to anchor our defensive line. Until the Vong commit their grand cruiser, they can’t dislodge us from orbit…unless they’re willing to sacrifice most of their light cruisers. And doing that will mean we’ll wind up with a substantial edge in firepower, which means their ability to maintain a secure orbit around Iridonia will be tenuous at best.”

<And when they commit the grand cruiser?> Anishor asked. <Even the cruisers I brought from Kashyyyk can’t go to guns with it and win.>

“Then we kill it, too.” Halyn’s expression held a trace of a smirk, and the gleam in his eye was pure pirate.


The Rutian Twi’lek named Sandarie had suffered hardship in her lifetime. From her youth as a slave, to an agent for the Rebellion—watching the deaths of many of her friends—to the relative peacetime of the New Republic, and now the two years of warfare against the extragalactic Yuuzhan Vong, she had watched many friends pass out of her life. Beings she had known had been killed or enslaved. She had seen more violence than any sentient should be allowed. She had, on occasion, taken lives as well, though she had never really found peace with it, like her surviving friends had.

Which, of course, was why she was furious with her husband.

“No, Ryian, I’m not going to leave,” she said, her tone sharp.

The Corellian captain of the Dauntless let out a long-suffering sigh. “Sandi, you know how badly the war has gone up to this point. You’ve seen how many people have been killed. I don’t want you to be one of them.”

“I’m not going to run away and hide,” the Twi’lek insisted. “Some of my oldest friends are here—I’ve known Halyn and Anishor longer than I’ve known you. They’re in the thick of it, and so are you. I’m not leaving.”

Ryian Coron threw up his hands. “What are you going to do here, then? Are you going to take command of a ship, or fly a starfighter? Do you want someone to get killed looking after you, when you’re not fighting yourself?”

It was the wrong thing to say. The Twi’lek’s voice dropped in tone and pitch, becoming very cold and deliberate. “I’ll get off the Dauntless, then, since you don’t want me here. But I’m not leaving.”


“Don’t Sandi me,” she said, her voice still low and deliberate. “I’ll take my freighter and head down to Rak’Edalin, so I’m conveniently out of the way.”

“Sandi…” Ryian tried again, but it was to no avail. The doors to his quarters hissed shut as the Twi’lek, still beautiful twenty years after they’d married, stomped away. For a brief moment, Ryian considered calling the hangar bay to deny her freighter clearance to launch. No, that wouldn’t end well, he decided. She won’t leave the system. At least in Rak’Edalin, she’ll be out of the way. There’s no way the General will let the Yuuzhan Vong anywhere near the capital of Zabrak space.

Far below in one of the military hangars skirting Rak’Edalin, two starfighters with New Republic insignia rested on their skids. Zabrak repair crews swarmed over both fighters, repairing heavy damage to both, refueling the craft, and topping off the tibanna gas essential to the weapon systems. The E-wing had taken the worst of the damage, though the X-wing had definitely been battered by combat against Yuuzhan Vong coralskippers.

All of that went unnoticed by the pilots of both craft.

Kelta Rose and Kativie Lusp clung tightly to each other. “It’s been far too long,” Kelta said at last, and their hug loosened.

The Zabrak woman, substantially shorter than Kelta, nodded and smiled. “With the war on, well, there hasn’t been a lot of time for socializing.”

Kelta shook her head, her long red braids falling over her shoulders freely, having been loosened from the confinement of her flight helmet. “No…and with the way the war has gone, I didn’t know if I’d ever get to see you again.”

Kativie smiled. “I didn’t doubt that,” she said. “How is Adreia?”

The older Jedi couldn’t hide her reaction as the blood drained from her face. “I haven’t heard from her since Coruscant fell,” Kelta managed at last.

“I’m sorry,” Kativie said in equally hushed tones. “I didn’t…”

“No, it’s okay.” Kelta forced her fears down. I don’t have time to worry about Adreia. She’s a Jedi Knight in her own right; she can take care of herself. I made sure of that. “How long have the Yuuzhan Vong been here?” she asked.

Kativie’s face was grim. “They arrived here on the heels of our fleet. Halyn had led a Zabrak task force to help defend Coruscant, and he barely had time to return here and get positioned before the Vong arrived. So far, he’s been holding them off, but I don’t know how long he can manage.”

“So he was responsible for the Zabrak military forces disappearing from the New Republic all over the galaxy?”

Kativie nodded. “I’m surprised the Council let him get away with it—the authority to do that is reserved for them. Of course, they also made him the Ul’akhoi.”

“Ul’akhoi? What does that mean?”

The youngest of the three Sanshir siblings paused for a moment to consider her words. “The closest concept in Basic would be ‘Emperor’ or ‘dictator.’ Right now, his word is law in Zabrak space.”

The sheer ridiculousness of it made Kelta raise an eyebrow. “You’re joking, right?”

Kativie shook her head, her long hair whipping back and forth, concealing some of her delicate pink tattoos. “It’s something the Council can do in an emergency situation. As long as the Vong are a threat to Zabrak space, Halyn has pretty much unfettered authority.”

“Isn’t that…dangerous?” Kelta asked cautiously.

Kativie snorted. “Um, do you remember how much Halyn likes command?”

“People change. It’s been twenty years,” Kelta said quietly.

The Zabrak Jedi studied her old friend for a long moment. “You still love him, don’t you?”

“No,” Kelta answered reflexively, not allowing herself to think about it. “It’s been twenty years, Kat. I’m over it.”


“I’m here to meet with Halyn,” Kelta said, switching topics. “Master Skywalker sent me to find out what’s going on; the Zabrak squadrons are really badly needed elsewhere right now. How soon do you think I can meet with him?”

Kativie shrugged. “I’m sure he’ll be down the gravity well as soon as he can. It’ll probably take some time for him to get the fleet situated and prepared for the next Vong push on the planet. He did tell me he’d talk to the ‘Jedi representative’ as soon as he could manage it, though.” She smiled faintly. “He still has a lot of respect for the Jedi, Kelta. Master Skywalker’s Great River project was something both he and Argus agreed on whole-heartedly.”

Kelta sighed. “I’m sure having a Jedi Knight for a little sister made no impact on that opinion.”

“None whatsoever,” Kativie deadpanned. “C’mon, we’ll let the maintenance crews get our fighters patched up. Halyn will probably want to meet us at his office in Rak’Edalin. We can catch a speeder into town and wait for him there.”

The New Jedi Order: Siege – Coda

Nisia Eisweep had hoped she would get a chance to speak with the General before combat broke out again, but when she attempted to reach him, he had refused to answer his comlink. A message to the bridge of the Cathleen had been just as fruitless; the starfighter coordinator, Kryi Rinnet, had informed her that the General was in a meeting with representatives from the New Republic and could not be disturbed.

Frustrated, she was pacing the hangars near the battle-damaged New Republic X-wing and Y-wing when Lenn Kaman found her.

“I don’t even know why Jess asked me to come,” she complained.

The ex-Imperial pilot was slow in answering, as was his style; he always thought before he spoke. “The General must have had reasons.”

“Naval combat? I’m no capital ship captain, and I’m not a starfighter pilot.” The Zabrak shook her head. Her dyed pink hair, pulled into a topknot, was just long enough to brush her shoulders. “I’m not even a military officer; never have been, never will be.”

“Then he must want you here for reasons other than military,” Lenn reasoned.

Nisia snorted. “We haven’t done that since before he joined the Rebel Alliance.”

Lenn uncharacteristically blushed. “That wasn’t what I intended.”

The Zabrak woman just shook her head again.

“Why do you call the General ‘Jess’ instead of Halyn, or Lance, or Sanshir?” Lenn asked.

“He’s always been Jess to me,” Nisia answered. “Short for Jessik.”

That brought Lenn up short. “Wait…you’re telling me the General was the pirate Jessik? The founder of the Zynt’aia Pirates?”

Nisia’s smile showed teeth. “He wasn’t always a good and noble defender of democracy, the Republic, and the Zabrak,” she answered. “He was a hell of a pirate lord. After he joined the Alliance, the Zynt’aia just sort of fell apart. No one could manage it like he did.”

Lenn shook his head. “Even after all these years,” he murmured. “The General likes to keep his cards close to his chest, doesn’t he?”

“Always has,” Nisia agreed. “Jess never shows his hand until he’s already won.”

Klaxons blared throughout the hangar. Nisia grimaced and covered her ears reflexively, then allowed them to fall away. “Another push?” she asked.

Lenn already has his comlink to his ear, listening. He nodded. “The Yuuzhan Vong aren’t going to give us much time to breathe,” he replied, his voice raised to make himself heard.

All around them, maintenance crews scrambled to disconnect fuel lines. Zabrak pilots sprinted to their starfighters. Here and there, droids finished reloading missiles and torpedoes, bolted down open hatches, or simply moved for cover. The shriek of repulsorlifts quickly raised in pitch to equal and then exceed the warning klaxons as pilots ran power to their engines. Hangar doors slid open, sending rumbling vibrations through the hangar decking that were felt more than heard.

The pilot had to shout to make himself heard over the ever-increasing din. “You do any gunning before?”

Nisia nodded.

“I need someone to run the weapons systems on my B-wing,” Lenn shouted. “C’mon, let’s move!”

Kryi Rinnet listened with half an ear to her comm as the deck controller reported successful launches. Her eyes were firm on the tactical display as she watched squadrons of starfighters launch from the Cathleen, and then from dozens of frigates around the fleet. More squadrons were already scrambling up from Iridonia proper, clawing for altitude and speed to join the defensive fleet.

The sight of the Yuuzhan Vong fleet took her breath away. This time, they weren’t holding back. A wedge of cruiser analogs led the way, aimed straight for the Cathleen and the Dauntless. The Yuuzhan Vong grand cruiser was even now vectoring in on the Star Destroyer derelict. Its intent was clear: destroy the wreck of a vessel that had cost the Vong so many resources, and do it quickly.

As she waited for General Lance to arrive, she concentrated on her proper role: coordinating the starfighter squadrons.

“Talon Wing,” she breathed into her comm, “go ahead and break out in front of the fleet. The skips will be coming, and I need you to break up their momentum before they arrive. Claw and Fang Wings, vector thirty degrees; that should keep you in the sensor shadow of the Cathleen until you’re up to combat speed. When the Talons break up the skips, you’re going to pounce at full throttle.”

She heard acknowledgements from the wing commanders, but her mind was already moving onto the next zone of the defense. Never thought, all those years ago, that I’d be standing here, the veteran pilot thought. Hell, back in those days, I didn’t think I’d live to see the end of the war.

Blonde-haired with a face unadorned by tattoos, Kryi was acutely aware that non-Zabraks often found her attractive. She also had never really cared; her life had been about combat and warfare. Her early years had been filled with the adrenaline of starfighter combat, of going to guns with an enemy intent on killing, and proving she was better. It was only when she had survived, even the battle of Endor, that she had been forced to think ahead. She’d accepted a post aboard Home One for a time, and the formation of a proper Zabrak government, including the formation of the Zabrak Defense Force, had found her leaving the service of the Alliance to protect her people.

Part of her ached for a return to the cockpit. I should be over that. I’m not a kid anymore getting adrenaline highs. But her hearts told her she still belonged in combat.

“Razor Wing,” she called abruptly, “vector to two-eighty and stay in formation. Blade Wing is drawing a group of skips, and you should be able to fall into…there you go,” she amended as the wing of A-wing interceptors slid into kill position behind thirty-odd coralskippers. “Move fast, though, you’ve got another group of skips trying to get into cover position.”

Starfighters swirled and danced across the tactical display. “Mace Wing,” she called now, “you’re clear for a run on the leading Vong capital ship. Once you’ve made your pass, vector past the battle to intercept that grand. Knucklers, run cover for them and keep the skips off.”

“Negative that last,” the voice of Halyn Lance came from behind her as the General finally arrived on the bridge, trailed as was usual lately by the massive Wookiee Anishor. “Leave the grand alone.”

“Sir?” Kryi asked in confusion.

“Grey and Skifter will intercept the grand,” the Zabrak Ul’akhoi said calmly. “Concentrate on the battle lines here. I’ll let you know if I need anything moved out to pick on the big target.”


Halyn studied the tactical displays with grim certainty. “They’ve learned from their mistakes,” he murmured to Anishor.

The Wookiee berserker nodded his assent.

On the tactical overview of the system, Halyn could see the Yuuzhan Vong warships clustered together. Not unlike the duo of the Cathleen and the Dauntless, they were overlapping defenses and firepower to devastate individual Zabrak warships. Whereas previously the “hunter groups” had been able to tease out individual Vong warships and hammer them with overwhelming firepower, now the yorik coral vessels maintained tight formations in spite of the slashing attacks by corvettes and frigates.

Not good. He pondered a moment on why the Yuuzhan Vong formations looked so familiar, until abruptly it struck him. They’re using shielding trios. Just like we’ve put our starfighter into trios to overlap defenses to keep the Vong’s firepower off, and to combine firepower to overcome coralskipper defenses, they’ve just taken it up to the next level.

Of course, there’s weaknesses to that, too. Halyn looked away from the hologram to a touch-sensitive flat display, and then tapped one of the coral warships. “Transmit this target to the Dauntless and the Cyclone,” he shouted above the din. “Coordinate our fire with theirs to hammer this target. Then,” he added, tapping another one of the coral vessels on the opposite side of the formation, “transmit this target to all free hunting parties.” He glanced to the starfighter coordinator station. “Kryi, target the central vessel with a couple of starfighter wings when we have the other two tied up.”

He heard shouts of acknowledgement across the bridge. Overlapping defenses makes them far more formidable; it’s harder to break through and destroy the target. But for capital ships to do that, they sacrifice maneuverability and give us far fewer targets to concentrate on.

Dauntless and Cyclone have acknowledged targets, sir. They’re waiting on your order.”


Triak Kraal was nearly shaken from his command throne by the fire raking his warship. Off to his port, the blaze bugs showed the Shared Sacrifice slowly being overwhelmed by fire from the largest of the enemy’s warships. To starboard, the Final Death was hammered over and over by groups of the enemy’s smaller warships. Even in pairs and trios, the small infidel warships were not a real threat, but the enemy’s commander continued to rotate the vessels in and out, and even with the overlapping defenses, theFinal Death was being taken to pieces.

And now, the vessel he’d chosen as his flagship for this push, the Harla’s Steed, was being steadily assaulted by squadrons of infidel bombers. Every nearby detonation of proton torpedoes shook the vessel, and coral dust filled the air.

“My warriors, continue the push!” he shouted. “This battle is the redemption of Domain Kraal. When we have utterly destroyed these infidel defenders, no one will doubt we are true Yuuzhan Vong. We are not Shamed; we are the chosen people of the gods!”

Cries of agreement bounced from the coral walls. He glanced over his shoulder to his tactician. “Your analysis.”

Ret Kraal stepped forward to study the blaze bugs. “The infidels are fully occupied with our attack,” he said. “And now the Kor Chokk closes the distance with the infidel trap, and will immolate it within moments.” He nodded slowly. “Now is the time.”

Triak stroked a villip to life. When the image of another Yuuzhan Vong appeared in the living communicator, it almost immediately spoke: “Belek tiu,” the other said.

The Commander gave his order. “Deploy the yorik-akaga,” he said sharply. “Do-ro’ik vong pratte!”

“Woe to our enemies,” the other said, and the villip dipped as the distant warrior bowed. “As you command!”

<Halyn,> Anishor said slowly, <I think we are missing something.>

The Zabrak general raised an eyebrow as he studied the tactical hologram. “What do you mean?”

<Look.> The Wookiee pointed with a claw. <The Yuuzhan Vong are huddling together, overlapping their defenses to prevent their own destruction. Your hunting parties are slashing in and out as you expected, taking little damage but not able to penetrate their defenses. Only here,> he continued, pointing at a trio of ships at the front of the formation, <are your ships having any effect at all. My battle cruisers and starfighters are engaged heavily, but are seeing similar effect. >

Halyn’s eyes narrowed. “Which means they’re stalling.”

Anishor nodded. <The Yuuzhan Vong do not fight in this way. They commit themselves fully to each battle, heedless of pain or death. It is how they have won many battles. Whereas we care about our losses, and attempt to preserve lives, they care only for destruction and fear not their own to accomplish their goals.>

“So what are they waiting for?” Halyn asked, studying the tactical hologram as he looked for new clues.

<The arrival of their grand cruiser, perhaps?> the Wookiee suggested as he pointed at the distant vessel. <Even now it moves to destroy your Star Destroyer, such as it is.>

“Such as it is,” Halyn repeated in Basic. “Maybe that’s what they’re waiting for, but why would they commit the rest of their fleet before it was ready to join the party?”

Anishor shook his head. <There must be something else. Their own trap, perhaps, with vessels coming from hyperspace as we have already done twice to them?>

“This close into the gravity well? I won’t pretend I completely understand what their warships are capable of, but I’ve yet to see them do something our own warships can’t. No, I don’t think they can jump in this close.”

<Could they be attempting to keep us pinned here, while they assault another world in Zabrak space to force you to split your defenses?>

Halyn started to answer, then paused to consider. “No,” he said at last. “That’s never been the Vong’s style. They hate feints; when they commit to a fight, they’re committed completely. If they had any sense at all they’d have left to find a softer target already, but with this big a fleet here engaging us? They’re committed to beating us at Iridonia.”

As they spoke, damage was creeping through the defenses on both sides of the battle lines. Smaller Yuuzhan Vong warships were starting to fall away from the tight formation as proton torpedoes and concussion missiles slipped through weakened and tired defenses, opening bloody craters in the sides of the living warships.

Several Zabrak corvettes, caught unready, were shattered as flaming molten projectiles penetrated shields and melted through metal. One of the vessels exploded, sending its partners in uncontrolled tumbles away from the protection of the rest of the fleet.

All around them, starfighters preyed on coralskippers and coralskippers preyed on starfighters. Explosions littered the battlefield, tiny punctuations for a fight that was growing bloody in spite of the defensive stance of both fleets.

What are the Yuuzhan Vong waiting on? Halyn asked himself as he watched the tactical holograms.


Triak Kraal turned in anticipation as he watched the mighty Kor Chokk close to firing range on the infidel derelict that had caused the Yuuzhan Vong so much grief since their arrival. “Now, you die,” he murmured.

Lenn Kaman coaxed every bit of acceleration he could out of the B-wing, cursing under his breath the entire time. I should’ve signed out an E-wing. He glanced over his shoulder, past Nisia Eisweep strapped in behind him with her hands and concentration filled with the task of operating the B-wing’s impressive arsenal of firepower. Behind him was a mixed group of fighters—X-wings, E-wings, other B-wings, and several refitted Xg-1 Assault Gunboats.

Ahead, not yet visible to the eye but clearly laid out on his sensors, swarms of coralskippers were busy destroying the few remaining droid fighters. He gritted his teeth. “We’re not going to make it in time,” he muttered. In a few moments, the Vong’s grand cruiser would open fire on the Star Destroyer and reduce it to smaller bits of wreckage.

Halyn tapped the controls for the tactical display. The immediate zone of combat, with both sides fighting defensively, vanished. The image of the derelict Star Destroyer and the closing Yuuzhan Vong grand cruiser, much larger now, occupied the entire tactical hologram.

<It has been a good distraction,> Anishor noted. <Your use of it has definitely made the battle here easier.>

Halyn smiled faintly as he keyed his comlink for the line to his astromech, far below on Iridonia. “I’ve got one last trick to play,” he said. Into the comlink, he quietly gave the order: “Execute Bacta Salvo.”

The Yuuzhan Vong had fought against the New Republic for several years, from the early engagements near Helska all the way to Coruscant. The New Republic Defense Force had fought in what was considered a “hard” style, measured in terms of control of star systems. Warships advanced or defended, inflicted damage upon each other, with the side taking the worst of it retreating. Starfighters typically engaged starfighters; capital ships engaged capital ships; tactics were not necessarily straightforward, but based around a common set of principles.

Early engagements with the Yuuzhan Vong and subsequent analysis of the results had turned space combat into a game of bait-and-switch. New Republic forces had worked to trick dovin basals into expending their strength against decoy attacks, reserving the heavy firepower for when the defending creatures had exhausted themselves. In return, the Yuuzhan Vong were careful to reserve their strength for when it was needed, and often played the role of counter-puncher.

In each engagement, from the Rim to the Core, combat was conducted around those basic principles. After the first year of combat, Argus and Halyn had analyzed every scrap of information they could glean from New Republic after action reports, from battle holos shot from starfighters, from interviewing any Zabrak pilot or officer who had fought in the battles.

They had concluded, after several months of work, that the Yuuzhan Vong simply had never had to fight against a “soft” style—the hit-and-fade, the weapons and tactics not revolving around establishing or maintaining control, or simply what wasn’t useful in a fleet engagement.

Argus had been a key leader for Iridonia’s resistance, which had spent years inflicting damage on Imperial occupiers. Halyn had been a pirate and later an Alliance starfighter commander, neither of which were concerned with controlling star systems and engaging in straight-up fights, particularly against a superior force.

In preparation for the invasion both were certain would come, Halyn and Argus had both looked back to battles fought before and after Endor for inspiration, and prepared unorthodox tactics accordingly.

The Yuuzhan Vong grand cruiser, crewed by thousands of Yuuzhan Vong warriors, bore down on the last remnants of the Imperial occupation of Iridonia from decades before. Halyn found the irony of it more than a bit satisfying as he watched the automated systems—the final trap he and Argus had laid within its hull—execute itself perfectly.

Heavy tractor beams came to life first, locking onto the grand cruiser. As Halyn expected, the massive vessel tried to pull itself away, but succeeded only in dragging the remains of the Star Destroyer along with it. When it became obvious that the tractor beams were strong enough to hold the two vessels together, actually bringing them closer like magnets, the Yuuzhan Vong opened fire on the derelict.

Halyn smiled as the second stage of the trap executed.

Lenn Kaman clung tightly to the controls, still trying to make it to the derelict in time to do anything about it. Coralskippers vectored towards his squadron, and he let out a breath in defeat. “Lock s-foils in attack position,” he ordered. “Break by shield trios and engage the skips.” We won’t make it in time, he thought.

And then brilliant blue and pink pinpricks of flame erupted from the Star Destroyer’s hull.

The Yuuzhan Vong crew never really had a chance. Dozens—no, hundreds—of proton torpedoes and concussion missiles blasted away from the hull of the Star Destroyer. They flashed in all directions for the first half-second, and then began to curve around to aim squarely at the heart of the grand cruiser. Equipped with the same void-sensing systems that were now the norm among the native armed forces of the galaxy, the first forty or fifty torpedoes detonated at the edge of the Vong’s defensive screen. The voids were rapidly overwhelmed by the energy, allowing the rest of the torpedoes to swarm through the gaps to detonate against the hull.

And that was only the first salvo.

As fire and blood flared from the wounded, living warship, another wave of torpedoes and missiles launched. This time void defenses could intercept only a fraction of the incoming attack, stunned by the fury of the first salvo and blinded by the fire and debris now filling space. More warheads detonated, leaving smoking and burning craters up and down the side of the grand cruiser.

The vessel’s commander understood, in some small way, how he’d been trapped, and responded in the only way a Yuuzhan Vong warrior: “Krel os’a hmi va ta!”

One of the many battles Halyn and Argus had discussed when laying out the defense of Iridonia had been the engagement between renegade forces and the Imperial defenses of Thyferra under Ysanne Isard. Wedge Antilles and Rogue Squadron, then operating outside the normal umbrella of the New Republic, had known that removing Isard’s capital ships, most notably the Super Star Destroyer Lusankya, had to be achieved to remove the former director of Imperial Intelligence from power. Lacking naval firepower, they had recruited and conscripted dozens of freighter crews, loading the vessels with proton torpedo and concussion missile launching assemblies, along with the warheads themselves. Using the targeting data from the X-wings, the freighters had proven capable of inflicting serious harm even on the mighty Super Star Destroyer.

The Zabraks were in the opposite position. They lacked the naval firepower they would need to keep the Vong away, but the Zabraks were playing defense instead of offense. Halyn and Argus had spent a large portion of their budget equipping the warship with completely automated missile launching systems. While such a system would be extremely limiting in a normal engagement—after firing its salvos, it would have no offensive capability for critical minutes or hours until the launchers could be reloaded—it made the perfect trap.

Halyn watched in satisfaction as the grand cruiser turned and accelerated towards the Star Destroyer. “Kryi,” he called above the noise, “bring back Skifter. Detail a wing to help them clean out those coralskippers, and then bring them back.” He heard the acknowledgement and watched the grand cruiser detonate as the third salvo of proton torpedoes savaged its hull.

And he allowed himself a satisfied smile as what remained of the grand cruiser crashed into the derelict Star Destroyer. It served its purpose, he told himself. Now, I’d bet, the Yuuzhan Vong will retreat to lick their wounds yet again.


Triak Kraal stared in disbelief as the blaze bugs showed, in brutal detail, the death of the mighty Kor Chokk, the largest vessel that remained in Domain Kraal. He turned to look at his tactician, but found he, too, was staring at the blaze bugs, his attention fully focused there.

“How…?” Triak rasped.

Ret Kraal shook his head mutely.

Triak tore himself away from the vision of disaster. “The yorik-akaga?” he shouted.

“They execute your plan now, Commander!”

The New Jedi Order: Siege – Shattered

The Cathleen rocked with fire as another squadron of coralskippers raked plasma across her bow. A trio of X-wings rocketed past the bridge in hot pursuit, the lead fighter spraying stutterfire at the skips while the other two members of the shield trio fired full-power blasts, decimating the Yuuzhan Vong fighters.

“General,” a voice spoke directly in Halyn’s ear. “I’ve got something…strange.”

Halyn turned his full attention to the voice. “Go ahead, Saret.”

Allanna Saret’s voice was calm from her station aboard the Cyclone. “I’ve got three small Vong transports that have cut around the battle and have inserted themselves into an orbit between the Cathleen and Iridonia.”

Halyn frowned, more at the splash of plasma across the bridge’s transparisteel viewport than at Allanna’s statement. “We’re a bit busy here and I can’t spare any of our screen. Can you detach a squadron from your escort to intercept before they make planet fall?”

“That’s just it. They’re not trying to make planet fall. They’re staying directly between the Cathleen and Iridonia.” Allanna’s voice had a shade of strain in it. “I’ve already dispatched my Black Squad to investigate, but the Vong are throwing a lot of skips at them to keep them away.”

“Thanks for the information. Pull your squad back, Saret.” Halyn closed his eyes. “Keep your eyes peeled for anything else out of place. Sanshir out.” Without waiting for acknowledgement, Halyn glanced down at the control board on his command chair and switched channels. “Sanshir to Grey Leader. You there?”

The familiar voice of Li Coden filled his ear. “Grey Leader here, go ahead Sanshir.”

“Li, we’ve got a couple of Vong transports sitting between us and the planet, and the Vong really don’t want us near them. I need you to investigate.”

“It’s pretty hot right now, boss. Do you want us to pull off?”

“Affirmative, find out what’s going on. This is top priority.”

On the tactical hologram filling a large portion of the Cathleen’s bridge, he spotted the small triangle shaded grey break off and head back towards the Cathleen at approximately the full speed of an E-wing starfighter. C’mon, Li. If anyone can break through that screen, it’s you.

The Greys never had a chance to try.

The Cathleen shuddered heavily, in spite of the massive inertial compensators protecting the crew. Several officers who were standing were sent flying to the deck or splayed across consoles at the mighty Star Cruiser’s buffeting. “Report!” Halyn shouted.

The young Zabrak girl operating the sensors station looked up with fear in her eyes. “Sir, there’s a massive gravity well nearby, and it’s drawing us in!”

“Again, Ensign.”

There was a long moment of silence as the officer rechecked her sensors. “Sir, it looks like the Vong are generating voids between us and Iridonia. We’re being pulled towards the planet!”

Halyn’s eyes narrowed. Those transports. “Find me those dovin basals, Ensign. The Vong must’ve dropped them from those transports that circled the combat zone.”

“Sir, I have them now. Feeding them to the weapons crews.”

“Thank you. Helm, bring us to port…” he glanced at the tactical display, “eighty degrees. All starboard weapons, continue concentrating on the Yuuzhan Vong warship formation. Port weapons lock onto the dovin basals and fire when ready.”

The mighty Star Cruiser rotated in space, turbolasers blazing in both directions. The sensor officer shook her head. “No change, sir. We’re still being drawn in. We have less than a minute until we’re too deep into Iridonia’s gravity well to get back out.”

“Grey Leader,” Halyn said into his comm headset. “You still there?”

“We had to orbit when those voids started popping,” Li’s voice came tensely. “What do you need us to do, boss?”

“See if you can get in there and light up those dovin basals. I’d guess they’ve got multiple stuck in some coral pods—they’ve got enough power to take our shots and still pull us down. If you can get around the other side, maybe we can take them down with a crossfire.”

“Vectoring now.”

The indicator for Grey Squadron, which Halyn had lost in the scramble, now was accelerating at an oblique angle towards the dovin basals’ location. Just as quickly, the coralskippers that had previously been escorting the transport turned and threw themselves at the Iridonian starfighters. “Port turbolasers!” Halyn bellowed above the din of the bridge, “lay down suppressing fire on those skips! If the Greys don’t get through, we’re all dead!”

The weapons officer shouted acknowledgement, and a moment later the turbolasers opened up with a withering barrage against the Vong starfighters. Still the coralskippers came, even as their numbers dwindled, determined to delay Coden’s starfighters.

A quarter of the skips still remained as they reached engagement range, forcing the turbolasers to break off or risk a friendly fire accident. “Li,” Halyn said tensely, “youhave to get through, or we’re dead up here.”

“Roger,” was the only reply. On the tactical display, the skirmish was too tightly-packed to get a clear reading, but abruptly a trio of E-wings broke away from the fight at a full sprint, vectoring towards the dovin basals again. The coralskippers were caught flat-footed by the escapees, unable to disengage from the rest of the veteran pilots as they fought for local supremacy, and for their lives.

“Turbolasers, target the dovin basals and fire,” Halyn snarled. “Sensors, what’s our status?”
“The dovin basals are falling into the atmosphere now, sir,” came the ensign’s fear-stricken voice. “We’re almost at the point of no return.”

The shield trio reached the dovin basals and opened fire from an oblique angle. “Keep up the fire,” Halyn said through gritted teeth. “Greys, pelt those things with torpedoes, lasers, your astromechs if that’s what it takes!”

Anticlimatically, one of the Cathleen’s heavy turbolasers punched through the void defenses around the Vong’s trap, and the Star Cruiser was free of its grip. “Get us out of here!” Halyn shouted as the warship rocked again, free of its restraint.

“We’re too late,” came the quiet reply from the helmsman. “We’re too deep into the well, sir.”

Halyn swore. “Grey Squadron, get out of here, now!” He switched channels. “Saret, are you there?”

Allanna’s voice answered a moment later. “I’m here, Cathleen.”

“You have command of the fleet,” Halyn said. “The Cathleen is out of action. Take all the forces you can muster and move them out to the edge of the system. If things on Iridonia go badly, take our surviving forces and link up with either Garm Bel Iblis or Wedge Antilles. Do you hear me, Admiral Saret?”

The bridge was deadly silent now. “I copy, sir,” came the half-strangled reply.

Fire began to lick at the bridge viewports as the Star Cruiser reached the edge of Iridonia’s atmosphere. “Give me a channel to the fleet,” Halyn ordered his comm officer.  A moment later the officer nodded, and Halyn spoke again into his headset. “All Zabrak forces, this is General Sanshir.

“You’ve fought well against the Yuuzhan Vong. Every one of you is a damned hero for your role in this. Against the might of another empire-in-wanting, you’ve fought these intergalactic bastards to a standstill. Every crewman, every gunner, every pilot, every officer in our fleet, I say to you: thank you. Iridonia owes you a debt that it can never repay.

“But now it’s time for you to step aside. Other Zabraks are about to step up and take up your part in this task, in the defense of our world and our very race. You have not lost, nor have you failed—you have delayed the Yuuzhan Vong, hurt them badly, and made a victory on Iridonia possible.

“Thank you. Each and every one of you, thank you. General Sanshir out.”

The fleet-wide channel was silent in response. Halyn expected no less; a good number of the Zabrak ships were still fighting for their survival as Allanna Saret relayed orders to begin pulling back to the edge of the system. Fighter squadrons began to disengage, ships traded parting shots, as the Cathleen, the heart of the Zabrak defenses, fell into Iridonia’s atmosphere.

The Dauntless remained firm for the moment, but as more and more Yuuzhan Vong vessels began to converge on it, Ryian Coron would be forced to pull back as well or risk the destruction of his own warship.

Though Halyn wasn’t and never would be Force-sensitive, he could feel Anishor’s gaze on him. Time to get back to work, he told himself. “Time until impact?”

“Six minutes, sir.”

“Particle shields to maximum,” Halyn ordered. “Shut down all nonessentials. I want all weapons systems off-line, with every joule you can find in the ship’s particle shields and inertial compensator. What’s the status of the escape pods?”

“Sir,” the ship’s captain said quietly, “the escape pods won’t launch under these conditions. The turbulence will take them to pieces if they jettison now.”

Halyn slammed a hand down on his command chair. “Do we have any ships left in the hangars? They can handle the turbulence better.”

“Only a few starfighters that aren’t operable,” his starfighter coordinator, Kryi Rinnet, replied. “The shuttles are all gone.”

Halyn closed his eyes, mentally ticking off the seconds until an entire crew of good people—thousands of Zabrak—would die in a ball of fire. “Where are we coming down?”

“The Vong vectored us towards the capital,” the helmsman said. “We don’t have the thrust to get us far enough away to avoid the city, sir…not in atmosphere. These Star Cruisers just weren’t built for this.”

The bridge viewport was nothing but fire now; it was impossible to see. The inevitable pull of gravity would bring them crashing down, and there was no way to fight it. It wasn’t like Star Cruisers were fit with repulsorlifts like a starfighter or shuttle. Even with all of the Cathleen’s special equipment, there was nothing aboard her to prevent the crash.

Wait…the refits. That’s…it might work. Halyn opened his eyes again and started shouting orders. His bridge crew stared at him blank-faced and open-mouthed as his impromptu plan came out.

“That’s…sir, that’ll burn out half the systems on the ship, if it doesn’t break the Cathleen in two just in the attempt!”

“What’s going to be left of the Cathleen if we hit the planet in freefall?” Halyn replied mildly.

There was a long pause. “I hadn’t thought of that, sir.”

“Now do it!” Halyn snarled. “Shut down everything but the particle shields and the inertial compensators. Even life support! Evacuate from the areas of the ship near the outer hull, because it’s going to get hot out there!”


“Evacuate everyone,” Kativie was saying into her comm. “There’s no time for indecision on this! Get everyone out now! That Star Cruiser is going to hit the city. Evacuate everyone before it does, or we’re going to have millions of dead!”

Kelta Rose listened as Kativie finally won the argument with her comlink. Klaxxons began to blare all across the city, and comlinks all over the capital building starting chirping as evacuation orders blanketed communications channels city-wide. She was still pondering this twist of events when she felt a hand on her arm. She turned to look and found Kativie gripping her upper arm. “That’s for us, too,” she said.

“Isn’t there something we can do?” Kelta asked hoarsely. “We’re Jedi Knights.”

Kativie laughter was tinged with desperation. “I know, ‘Size matters not.’ But I don’t think Master Skywalker himself could just stop a falling Star Cruiser.”

“Does that mean we shouldn’t try?” Kelta asked. At some level she was aware now of the fear  bleeding into the Force. It was suffocating, choking; the stench of it nearly made her retch. She also knew she was no longer quite stable, as the emotions the Force carried to her was affecting her judgement.

“It means we should spend our time doing something more useful,” Kativie said bluntly. “Like…”

She stopped. “Actually, you may be right.”

The two Jedi hurried to the top of the capital building. The falling Cathleen was visible now, though the datapad Kativie carried, which was linked to the capital’s computers and showed a hologram of the vessel, was far more detailed. The image, Kelta idly speculated, was probably relayed from a starfighter or shuttle following the doomed Cruiser down.

All around them, airspeeders took to the sky like flocks of startled birds. Landspeeders cruised the thoroughfares, all aiming to exit the city as quickly as possible. Only minutes remain.

Kativie frowned at the datapad. “The cruiser…she’s rotated, holding her belly down. And Halyn still has the shields up, judging by the fire. Doesn’t he know that’ll cause more damage when the ship hits, then if the shields were down? And shouldn’t he be nose-down to minimize the impact area?”

Kelta stretched out through the Force, focusing her perceptions high above them. Fear washed over her in waves, but she could sense a presence, brilliant in the Force, focused as tightly as possible. Halyn. After all this time, he feels even more…more…alive then when we were fighting the Empire. With the extraordinary clarity her particular gifts granted her, she nudged at his intentions, trying to divine his plan.

Laughter at the insanity of it erupted from her unbidden and uncontrolled. Kativie turned to stare at the red-maned Jedi, but Kelta’s tears of laughter made the Zabrak blurry. “He’s…he’s…”

“What?” Kativie asked.

“He’s going to land it.”

<Halyn, this is more harebrained then that stunt you pulled on Naboo,> Anishor said with a shake of his head.

“If you have a better idea, I’m still open to suggestion,” Halyn said dryly.

<If there was a better idea, you’d be using it already.>

“Damn straight. Give me a comm to the ship,” Halyn called. When the comm officer nodded, Halyn clicked the mic open on his headset. “All hands, this is General Sanshir. We’re about to crash into the capital. If this works, you really can say Any one you walk away from is a good landing. If it doesn’t, you’ve been an excellent crew. Brace yourselves for impact!”

He clicked the comlink off and looked around his bridge crew. “Ready?”

Shouts of assent answered him, and Halyn allowed himself a small smile. Even if we survive this, no one who wasn’t here will believe it. And I’ll have to personally talk to the shipyard crews on Mon Calamari to thank them for the excellence of their work.

“Twenty seconds to impact,” one of the bridge officers called.

“Execute.” Halyn sat down and strapped himself into the command chair. They don’t need me to do their work. They know what’s at stake, and what they need to do.

There were stories about the epic abilities of Jedi Knights under extreme duress. Half the galaxy had heard of the powerful Jedi Anakin Skywalker, during the twilight of the Clone Wars, successfully landing a Separatist cruiser on the surface of Coruscant without the benefit of engines or repulsorlifts. Fewer had heard the exploits of Luke Skywalker, romanticized in a holodrama, successfully taking the shattered remains of a Mon Calamari Star Cruiser into atmosphere at Mindor and successfully landing most of it.

Halyn was no Jedi. A Skywalker relied on the Force; Halyn relied on his crew and the insanity of the plan they’d concocted and were now executing. He hoped it would work, anyways; it was all based around an after-action report he’d read from a battle during General Han Solo’s pursuit of the Warlord Zsinj.

Maybe it will work. The fundamentals are sound.

Ten seconds until impact, the lights on the ship’s bridge dimmed as the massive gravity well generators—the Cathleen’s special refits, concealed by the typical curves and bumps of a Mon Calamari craft—began to draw power.

Halyn had heard of the technique once, and he’d been told the idea was sound. Gravity well generators produced a mass shadow to prevent ships from jumping to hyperspace. The well generally had a focal point of the originating ship, causing space-borne objects to slowly move in the direction of the craft. The New Republic fleet at Ithor had used an Interdictor for that purpose to trap a Yuuzhan Vong fleet at Ithor.

Theoretically, though, it was possible to reverse the direction of the artificially-generated gravity, so it would push instead of pull.

The Star Cruiser had been buffeted through its entire fall, but now the vibrations and rocking took on a new life of its own as the gravity well generators began to attempt to push against Iridonia. It’s the galaxy’s biggest, least efficient repulsorlift, Halyn thought.

And then the warship hit the planet.


Allanna Saret had never felt as helpless as she did watching smoke and dust rise from Rak’Edalin. It would be long hours before the atmosphere would be clear enough, she knew, for even the powerful sensors mounted on the Cyclone could pierce the murk to reveal the fate of the Cathleen.

And in the meantime, she had the orders the General had given her to execute.

Corvettes and frigates traded their last blows with their opponents as the Zabrak fleet gave ground. Yuuzhan Vong warships wasted no time penetrating through the gaps. The Yuuzhan Vong commander, Allanna figured, was going to take no chances. After all the damage we inflicted on his fleet, he wouldn’t risk giving us the opportunity to recompose our defenses.

The Dauntless rode drag on the retreating Zabrak fleet, keeping battle-damaged vessels in front of it and using its heavy firepower to discourage pursuit. Under other circumstances, the Yuuzhan Vong would be quick to pounce on wounded prey, doing their best to utterly destroy any enemy. With the old Sullustan-built battleship at the rear, though, the more numerous but smaller Yuuzhan Vong craft were choosing to concentrate their efforts on securing their foothold

The Wookiee battle cruisers had already recovered their fighters and, at Allanna’s urging, had jumped to hyperspace. They can’t do any more good here, Allanna thought to herself. Neither can we.

That jabbed at the broken remains of her hearts. We’ve been beaten, she railed silently. And unless we can convince the New Republic to release one of their major fleets, there’s nothing we can do to turn the Yuuzhan Vong back now.

“Cap…Admiral,” one of her bridge officers called. “Incoming transmission from Dauntless actual.”

Allanna donned her headset and nodded to the officer. “Patch him through.”

Ryian Coron’s voice crackled in her ear. She frowned at the static—it was far worse than usual. The Dauntless must’ve taken some damage in the last battle. The Vong must’ve chewed up her comm array. “What are your plans from here, Saret?”

Allanna hesitated. “I’m not sure,” she hedged. As she studied the tactical display, she realized far too late that the fleet’s starfighter coordinator, Kryi Rinnet, had been aboard the Cathleen. Without Rinnet’s guidance, a large number of the fleet’s starfighter squadrons were now vectoring down to land on Iridonia, rather than return to their capital ships. A third of our squadrons have gone dirtside, she realized in dismay. I’m going to need to appoint a new starfighter coordinator for the fleet as soon as we’ve regrouped.

“Can I suggest a course of action, then?”

Saret nodded. “Go ahead.”

“There’s no way we can crack the Yuuzhan Vong fleet with what we have left here at Iridonia, even if you hadn’t sent the Wookiees home.” Coron’s voice held no trace of criticism for the decision, just a simple statement of fact. “We’re going to need a lot more firepower if we’re going to break through, which means a New Republic fleet.”

“It occurred to me, too,” Allanna agreed.

“The Fleet is still scattered after the debacle at Coruscant. You’re now the closest thing Zabrak space has to an ambassador or representative. I think we should try to reach one of the New Republic fleets and ask to borrow some warships.”

That raised Allanna’s eyebrow, even though there was no way for Ryian to see it. “I didn’t think the New Republic was in the habit of borrowing out task forces.”

“They’re not, but are options are pretty limited.” Ryian’s voice was grim. “Last I heard, Wedge Antilles was holding the fort down at Borleias with a good chunk of the Third Fleet. I doubt he’ll have anything to spare. Our best shot would be approaching Garm Bel Iblis; his fleet took the heaviest losses, but I don’t think he’s under assault right now.”

“You don’t think approaching Kre’fey or Sovv would be the best approach?”

Ryian snorted. “Would you ask a Bothan for help?”

Allanna studied the tactical displays for long moments. The Yuuzhan Vong were clustered around Iridonia now, like mynocks drawn to a live power cable. Sensor traces indicated the launch of Yuuzhan Vong transports, no doubt headed down into atmosphere to begin the occupation attempts.

Towards Rak’Edalin, if Halyn’s earlier predictions were right. Allanna’s eyes closed as familiar pain and dread washed over her in waves. First Argus and my oldest…now likely my brother-in-law…and very soon the rest of my children are in the line of fire.

“Where is Bel Iblis headquartered?” Allanna asked.

“I’m sending you coordinates now,” the other said. “It’s the last best information I have on his fleet.”

“As soon as we’ve recovered the starfighters,” Allanna said, “we’ll make the jump to lightspeed.” The Zabrak rubbed at her face, her dark crimson tattoo pattern that Argus had loved, had described as delicate yet strong. She felt so very alone in a galaxy that had grown darker and harsher with each passing day.

And as she watched the starfighters return to the capital ships, as she organized the fleet for travel, as she ordered the jump to lightspeed, she felt guilt gnaw at her hearts. I’m so sorry.