The New Jedi Order: Siege – Reprieve

The bridge of the Cathleen wasn’t really a bridge anymore.

Most of the flat panel displays had been shattered by the crash. Chairs, built into the floor plating, had been similarly damaged and now were scattered around the area. Whole panels of the wall had fallen away to reveal naked wiring and circuitry underneath. The smoke had mostly been dissipated by the Cathleen’s still-functioning life support systems, but the stink of burned wiring and plastics remained.

Halyn Sanshir was grateful that there were no bodies on his bridge.

“Another report from the lower decks,” Kryi Rinnet said. She looked as exhausted as Halyn felt. Her normally bright blonde hair was dirty with soot, and though she had no tattoos, her face was striped with streaks of ash that made her look more Iridonian than Halyn could ever recall. “Casualty totals…we’re at one thousand and seventeen,” she finished wearily.

Halyn closed his eyes. It could have been worse, he repeated to himself. If we’d hit Rak’Edalin in free fall…well, we wouldn’t be having this conversation, that’s for sure. And there wouldn’t be a city left.

Not that the city’s in that good of shape after this, anyways. “Any report from the scout team?”

Kryi nodded, and Halyn was appreciative of what she was doing. The regular comm officer was now in an intact medical bay with a concussion. “Between the impact of theCathleen and the activation of the gravity well generator, well, there’s no intact building for a half kilometer in any direction. What we didn’t land on was generally knocked over or at least damaged. There’s a lot of damage within a klick of us, but beyond that the damage seems to be fairly isolated. No worse than what a lot of those buildings would weather in an earthquake.”

“That’s something,” Halyn said wearily. “What about the Vong?”

“They didn’t immediately follow up with a full-scale landing force,” Kryi said after a moment of checking her datapad. “Last report from our recon fighters was that they were taking up full blockade positions to make sure the fleet couldn’t help us.”

“Make sure we’re ready to go when they do start the invasion,” Halyn said slowly. “The less of those transports that hit the ground, the better.” He looked around the wreck of the bridge. “Any word on the hangar?”

“Not much left of it,” Kryi said. “Structure around the hangar is never as tough because of the open space it requires. It was pretty much crushed like a tin can when we hit the ground.”

Halyn winced. Abi’s Y-wing was still in there. She’s never going to let me forget it, either. “Engineering crews reported lately?”

“Last report was twenty minutes ago. The reactor is stable and contained,” Kryi said. “They were preparing to shut it down.”

Halyn shook his head. “Inform them immediately that I want at least twenty percent power from the power system at all times. If we’re going to finish the recovery efforts and get every living crew member off the Cathleen, we can’t have the lights going out. Once they’ve confirmed that, I want them to head aft and check what’s left of the engines. Last thing we need is hyperdrive coolant leaking all over the place.”

Kryi didn’t even bother questioning it, just throwing a salute before starting to tap on her comm board.

Halyn leaned down wearily and rested his forehead on the back of his own broken command chair. This is what I get for thinking I had the Yuuzhan Vong figured out. There’s always another trick, another creature, something I hadn’t thought of or planned for.

A knock sounded from the bridge door. The few Zabraks left on the bridge all turned to look. Halyn waved them back to their tasks and stepped over to it himself. Getting his fingertips into a depression, he heaved hard and forced the door to slide open. With all the damage the Cathleen had taken, many of the simple systems like automated doors were offline.

He was nearly barreled over by a smaller Zabrak, who wrapped her arms tightly around his neck. “Halyn,” Kativie hissed in his ear, “don’t you ever do something stupid like this again!”

“Well, I was planning on a repeat performance, but if you say no…” Halyn smiled a little in spite of the disaster.

His little sister pulled back and smiled up at him, her emerald eyes gleaming even in the dim light of the wrecked bridge. “And here I thought you were smarter than that.” She shook her head. “Whatever will Iridonia do with you in charge of the defense?”

Halyn reached down and unsnapped something from Kativie’s belt. “That’s what you Jedi are for,” he deadpanned. “Cleaning up the messes people like me make.” He ignited the lightsaber, and green-white light flooded the bridge.

Flooded the bridge, and the hallway Kativie had just come through. Halyn saw the second figure standing there and nearly dropped the lightsaber in spite of himself. It had been years—Kativie’s wedding, in fact—but Halyn could no more forget the individual standing there than he could his own face, or his older brother Argus, or his longtime friend Anishor.

They had been friends, allies, lovers. She had been one of the few people he had trusted completely in the galaxy. She had been utterly reliable, completely committed, and had saved his life on several occasions. He had joked about her lack of skill as a starfighter pilot, but he’d far more valued her skill in deception, her ability to read emotions and thoughts, and her loyalty. And her love.

“Kelta Rose,” he breathed.


Kelta stared at the Zabrak. Years had passed since the last time she had seen him outside a spaceport on some dingy little world, and even more years since she had last spoken to him, shortly after the battle of Endor. She knew him, though, even after all the intervening years, after her marriage, after the birth of her child, after turning her back on the Force and then eventually training as a Jedi Knight. After everything, two decades fell away and she knew him.

His face was still strong-jawed. His dark tattoos were as familiar to her as her own hands, even half-masked by trickles of blood still dripping from some small wound atop his head. His brilliant green eyes she sometimes saw in her dreams, or even when she closed her own eyes.

He was more muscular than she remembered—the definition of his chest, his arms, was visible even under the general’s uniform he wore. Scars she didn’t remember nicked his face, his neck, his hands—anywhere his flesh was visible. Vaguely she wondered what he had been doing in the intervening years, what conflicts he’d seen and what battles he’d fought.

And in the Force…

She opened herself to its flow, and she could sense him—so very familiar. If she didn’t know better, she would’ve sworn he was a Force-user. His presence glowed, filled with life and vibrancy and strength. Weariness tugged at his spirit, a dark shadow, but still he brimmed with the sort of energy she only felt from children, like her daughter Adreia in her younger years.

“Halyn Lance,” she murmured.

“Great,” the Zabrak general muttered. “Now my life can take on all the aspects of a personal hell.”

Even Jedi discipline cannot match the fury of a woman scorned.

“Where the hell did you run off to?” Kelta half-shouted, stepping forward towards Halyn.

Halyn released the hilt of Kativie’s lightsaber; the emerald blade vanished, plunging them both into darkness. Kelta continued to stalk forward, not waiting for her eyes to adjust to the dim emergency lighting. “I did what I needed to do, for both of us,” the Zabrak said coolly. “Just like I knew you couldn’t face that truth.”

“Truth? Truth? What, that you abandoned me after Endor, that you decided to just gallivant off into the galaxy?” Kelta didn’t bother trying to restrain the anger welling up; it was an old, familiar hurt. “Tell me, how was it better for you to leave all of us behind? Not just me, but all your friends and officers and pilots who were looking to you for leadership and direction! And Kativie, too!” She reached through the darkness with her hands, trying to reach the Zabrak who was backpedalling. “You left all of us when we needed you the most!”

Halyn’s hands met hers in the darkness, fending off her attempts to grab him. “You knew it wouldn’t work! You wanted a life of peace, and that’s not me. It’s never been me.” She tried to grab him again, but he deflected her again, and she was too incensed to use the Force to her advantage, even as he kept talking. “Everything I’ve heard says you’ve had a damned good life without me, so I don’t know what…”

Kelta finally got a good grip on his uniform and jerked him forward. “You could’ve at least talked to me,” she snarled. Then she slapped him, hard, and reveled in how good it felt.

<Am I interrupting?> a very familiar Wookiee rumbled.

Kelta released Halyn then, let him pull back from her. The Force flooded into her then, the sensations rushing over her, through her, as she turned to the luminous presence she’d felt. “Anishor!” In a heartbeat, she launched herself at the Wookiee, squeezing him in a tight hug. “What are you doing here?”

<I came here to help the coatracks,> the berserker said, embracing Kelta tightly so her feet dangled a half-meter above the dark decking of the Cathleen’s bridge.

For a moment, Kelta pondered that hugging a Wookiee while being suspended a half a meter off the ground was probably not a very Jedi-esque thing to do, but decided she didn’t care and buried her face in his fur for long moments. “It’s been way too long, Anishor.”

Anishor rumbled an assent and then returned her to the deck. <How are you? How is Adreia?>

The elation Kelta had felt collapsed in on itself. “Adreia went missing after Coruscant,” she said softly. “She was acting as an advisor during the battle, and disappeared. I’m sure she’s not dead, but beyond that…” Her shrug was helpless.

<The Great Tree will take care of her,> the Wookiee said with bedrock confidence.

“Anishor,” Halyn said from behind her, “what’s the status on your berserkers?”

<They stand ready now,> the Wookiee said.

“Berserkers?” Kelta asked.

<Forty of my warriors,> Anishor said. <They have trained and prepared for battle against the Yuuzhan Vong; this will be their proving ground.>

“Why are you here, Kelta?” Halyn asked after a long, silent pause.

Words fell from her lips automatically. “I came here to find out why the Zabraks have disappeared from all over the New Republic. When Kativie vanished as well, Master Skywalker wanted to know if something was happening here.” She hesitated. “He also wanted to know if Iridonia was still Jedi-friendly space.

“Well, you have your answer, then.” Halyn’s voice wasn’t precisely cold, but it was detached. “If there’s nothing else, than the Jedi probably have use of you somewhere else.”

Kelta’s conversation with Luke Skywalker flooded back to her, and with utter certainty borne of conviction and the guidance of the Force, she replied. “No. I’m staying here to fight.”


Ret Kraal found the Commander of Domain Kraal in a private chamber, with only the hum of blaze bugs to keep him company.

“Honored One,” he greeted the other, arms snapping in a salute across his chest.

Triak Kraal did not look up; his eyes were intent on the blaze bugs. “Tell me, tactician, what you have learned of the enemy’s commander.”

“He is honored among his kind,” Ret spoke slowly. “He is a native of this world, Iridonia. He rose to become a general among the armed forces of the Rebel Alliance, and it was the efforts of both him and his brother, Argus Sanshir, which overthrew the Empire’s hold on this world. He vanished for many years after the downfall of the Empire, only returning after our invasion of this galaxy.”

“Where is this brother?”

Ret frowned. “He was among the forces at the place called Reecee which were crushed during the warmaster’s drive toward Coruscant, and is believed dead.”

Triak’s eyes never left the blaze bugs. “Tell me, tactician: how skilled is this Halyn Sanshir?”

Ret considered his words carefully. “Perhaps as much so as those in higher authority in the New Republic. Studies of what information I could find of his previous commands indicated he prefers tricks and traps, finding ways to outmaneuver an enemy to defeat him. He shows little taste for the combat of warriors, of strength against strength. He fears to be blooded, and strikes hard against those he opposes in efforts to shorten conflicts.”

“The seers told me as much,” Triak said dismissively. “And yet it does not match what we see before us.”


Triak finally turned to look at his subordinate. “Tell me, tactician: when the infidels lose the position of strength, what do they do?”

“They retreat,” Ret answered without need for thought. “They do not stand and fight; they chose instead to preserve their forces, as we have seen at countless battles from Ithor to Coruscant.”

“And yet,” Triak said, “the infidels do not retreat from here.”

Ret frowned. “Honored One, when the infidel defenders lost their largest capital ship, their fleet scattered to the darkspace paths and vanished. Even now, we hold their world in a taloned grip because they chose to leave instead of fighting us to the death, as is the custom of warriors.”

“Their defensive fleet, yes,” Triak said. “But the civilian population does not. We created a weapon of attrition against the enemy; our advances generated fleets of refugees stumbling from world to world, weakening the infidels as they attempt to protect their noncombatants. But here, and only here, do they refuse to leave.”

Ret’s frown deepened. “Perhaps they await rescue; perhaps they believe they cannot escape the fleet now orbiting them.”

The Yuuzhan Vong commander shook his head. “If they believed that, their ships would be prepared for departure. Even now, our spies indicate there are no preparations to leave, only to stand and fight.” He met the tactician’s eyes. “Does this Sanshir know something we do not?”

“This is why you have not ordered the attack,” Ret stated in understanding. “Why our warriors wait, rather than descend in yorik-trema to crush the defenders.”

Triak nodded once. “At all stages in this invasion, when the ships in orbit have failed, the infidels retreat. Their fleets scatter, their civilians flee, and the remainder are crushed beneath our heels. Here, their fleet has scattered, but they prepare to fight instead of flee.”

“They act as warriors should,” Ret risked.

“Indeed.” Triak turned back to study the blaze bugs. “For the first time since we entered this galaxy, an enemy opposes us without faltering.”

“If they intended to fight us to the death, why would their fleet retreat?” Ret asked.

“You tell me, tactician.”

Ret hesitated as he spent a moment ensuring his reasoning was sound. “To bring more forces, perhaps,” he said slowly, “or to prepare another ambush.” His head came up. “With this Halyn Sanshir as their commander, an ambush seems likely. They are the foe who waits for us to be fully committed to the battle here, stretched out to envelop the world, and then stage a treacherous attack.”

“How do we defend against such an enemy, then?” Triak asked.

“By attacking swiftly and subduing this world, ensuring their reinforcements do not have time to arrive. We obtain victory before their ambush is prepared.” Ret thought for a moment about the battle. “With the damage their fleet received in our engagements here, it will take time—weeks, most likely—before they would be ready for such a venture.”

“Which leaves,” Triak stated, “the only question of target.” He gestured at the world represented by blaze bugs. “Our shapers tell me that worldshaping will not be effective; the planet is too rugged, too varied, for their techniques to work swiftly. Their methods would take months to see any difference.”

“Then it is up to our warriors,” Ret said.

“Where, then, do we make our amphistaff’s venom first felt?”

“The head and the heart, Honored One,” Ret said with a small smile stretching his flayed lips over his teeth. “Their capital.” He pointed at the blaze bug representation of the world. “Just as their fleets lost courage and fled with the destruction of its head, so too shall the world capitulate with the fall of its capital. Rak’Edalin should be our target, Commander.”


The bridge of the Cathleen was brighter now. Power had been restored in some sections of the ship, as per Halyn’s orders. Shattered displays had been either removed or replaced now, and continual status updates on the defenses of Rak’Edalin and on the disposition of the Yuuzhan Vong fleet continued to stream over the monitors.

Comlinks were in use again. Dozens of Zabraks moved in and out of the bridge, sometimes checking displays, sometimes reporting, and nearly always with a comlink to ears or lips.

In the center of it all was the Ul’Akhoi: Halyn Sanshir, the defender of Iridonia, and the man on whom all the defenses of Zabrak space depended. It was a heavy burden, but he refused to bend beneath the pressure of it all.

Kelta watched it all, somewhere between amused and irritated and frightened. In many ways, he’s not the Halyn I knew, she concluded. Halyn hated command, hated war itself in some ways…even though he was so good at it. All those years that have passed. Now he’s comfortable with it, at least.

Halyn had summoned a meeting of high-ranked advisors and commanding officers. Kelta wasn’t sure yet whether she was actually supposed to be here—Halyn had never invited her, but he hadn’t protested her entry, either. Through the Force, Kelta could sense the moods of the gathering officers: determined, tired, some edging on despair with the loss of the orbital battle. Those who had been fighting in space, Kelta could sense, were all nearing exhaustion after days of constant fighting. Of those, only Halyn himself seemed energetic and rested. She could sense no pain or physical weariness from him at all.

“Final tally of the Cathleen’s crew?” he asked.

One of the bridge crew swallowed hard before answering. “Twelve hundred and ninety-seven dead,” he said grimly. “Another fourteen hundred and thirty-three wounded or injured. Most of them have been treated and released.”

Kelta could feel Halyn’s emotional pain through the Force.

“Over half the crew,” the General said grimly. “And what about the ship itself? How did she fare in the impact?”

“She won’t ever fly again,” another crewman answered. “A quarter of the hull is completely crushed. There’s more structural problems than we can count running through the hull from bow to stern. The armor and outer hull has been shattered in places—at last count, there was something like seventy different places where someone can walk from inside the ship to the dirt outside.”

“The ship systems?”

“Reactor’s holding steady at eighteen percent output. Chief Dalek doesn’t want to push any more power out of it yet—the crew’s still ensuring the whole damn thing is stable. No one’s bothered with the engines. Eighteen of the turbolasers have been brought back online. Life support systems are restored for light and ventilation through forty percent of the hull.”

Halyn nodded, but his thoughts were spinning too fast for Kelta to get more than a distant impression of his planning. “The Rak’Edalin squadrons?”

“Twenty-two squadrons are combat ready,” Kryi Rinnet spoke up. “The other six will be combat operational within two days.”

“The rest of the Iridonia squadrons?”

“Eighty percent combat ready,” Kryi reported dutifully. “We also have several wings of extra fighters we weren’t prepared for—the Fleet left us a number of fighters behind. Maintenance crews are a bit swamped trying to service them, and there’s hangars all over Iridonia that are overfull.”

“Rak’Edalin’s defenses?” was the General’s next question.

“Shield generators are operational. The ground units are at full readiness and are ready to attack.” The officer making the report winced. “The Cathleen destroyed most of the power grid and targeting systems for the city-based turbolasers when she came down. There’s no realistic estimate on repairs available, because the crews will have to basically build a whole new network for power and data.”

The Zabrak turned to face one of the few non-Zabraks in the meetings. “The berserkers?”

Anishor rumbled in a low throaty growl, a sharp contrast to Kelta’s sense of him in the Force as a brilliant beacon of light. <We will be ready to fight when we are needed,> he said. <While our fleet has returned to Kashyyyk, those Wookiees remaining here are eager to do battle on behalf of Iridonia against the Yuuzhan Vong.>

Halyn stroked his chin. “Any word from the Council?”

“They’ve demanded to speak to you,” Kativie spoke up. “Pretty sure they wanted to speak to you immediately after the Cathleen came down, but we’ve been busy and comm was disrupted by, well, everything.”

“They can wait,” Halyn grunted. “The Vong?”

“Still holding their orbital positions,” Lenn Kaman said. “We’ve done some recon on them, and they appear to have landing craft all prepped and ready to go, but they’ve made no effort to launch. We’re not sure what they’re waiting for.”

“How tight is the blockade?”

Lenn considered for a moment before answering. “We can slip light freighters and a few fighters here and there through it—they don’t have the number of ships they’d need to really lock us down. Anything bigger, though, like troop reinforcements or major supplies would get shot to pieces, even with a good fighter escort.”

Halyn turned to a quarter-sized hologram that was laced with static. “Status of the fleet?”

Allanna Saret’s image was broken with static, and her voice was a bit hard to hear. “Successfully withdrawn and disengaged from Iridonia. We’re going to attempt to make contact with Bel Iblis and bring part of the New Republic fleet back here to break the blockade. We’ve left a relay satellite on the very edge of the system, so we should be able to get HoloNet transmissions to and from Iridonia, at least until the Vong find it.”

“Very good.” Halyn’s voice held a note of approval. “Everyone with a combat role, ensure your troops are ready to fly or fight within the hour. The Vong will be coming very shortly.”

“How do you know that?” Kelta spoke up, fingering both lightsabers she wore at her belt. Her sense of Halyn in the Force was of utter confidence and certainty. In a way, his attitude scared her.

“I have a way with people.” Halyn’s smile was pure pirate. “Dismissed!”


Halyn Sanshir strode down the hangar, taking in the seemingly endless rows of starfighters. The time was short before the Yuuzhan Vong would strike, and he wanted to review the state of at least one of Rak’Edalin’s hangars before the fighting broke out.

This was his legacy—the consequences of the liberation of Iridonia. Alliance forces, coupled with the Iridonian resistance, had smashed the Imperial blockade using starfighter forces. After driving away the Star Destroyers overhead, the squadrons of Rebel starfighters had provided aerial support for the Resistance’s operations. It was only after the orbital tracks were clear that friendly capital ships—stolen, Clone Wars-era Venator-class Star Destroyers, had made an appearance.

Iridonia had learned its lessons from its liberation. Instead of investing in a defenses balanced across capital ships and starfighters, it had invested in a minimal number of warships while buying and maintaining one of the largest starfighter forces in the galaxy. Only four major capital ships, plus a handful of smaller ones, protected all of Zabrak space. Tens of thousands of starfighters littered the same area.

The ever-reliable X-wing starfighter comprised the first squadron Halyn walked past. Personally, it was one of Halyn’s favorite craft he had ever flown; it was a dogfighter and a killer in purest form. There was a reason it comprised the backbone of New Republic starfighter operations all across the galaxy.

The next squadron in line was filled with B-wing assault starfighters. The heaviest-armed fighter in any military in the galaxy, B-wings gave Zabrak fighter wings the punch necessary to knock out capital ships without a mighty fleet of their own. Halyn’s wing during the Galactic Civil War had received some of the first of the deployed B-wings, and had put them to good use. They were still surprisingly agile for their size and firepower.

A dozen T-wing interceptors rested easily on the permacrete next. The fighters had not been popular when they were designed and developed. Hoerch-Kessel had sold the craft to the Alliance as the successor to the A-wing, and the resource-strapped Rebellion had hoped to retired the maintenance-intensive A-wings. Performance of the early models had been lackluster, so the finished units were shunted off to “unimportant” starfighter wings. During the Galactic Civil War, in the months leading up to Endor, Halyn’s wing had made good use of them. When Iridonia began acquiring starfighters, he had personally negotiated a contract with Hoersch-Kessel on the Zabraks’ behalf.

Xg-1 assault gunboats hung from racks overhead. Halyn shook his head at those. Developed by Cygnus for the Empire, the single-pilot, heavily-armed starfighters had been underutilized in the Imperial Navy. Hyperspace-capable and equipped with shields, they were outside normal Imperial starfighter doctrine. As a result, many of the Imperial starfighter commanders didn’t know how to utilize them and effectively chose to leave them in the racks. They were cheap to acquire on the secondhand and black markets because of an undeserved poor reputation.

Only four A-wings rested beneath the Xg-1s. Halyn suppressed a shudder as he walked by. He’d always hated the things, and they seemed to return the favor. Still, the value of a high-speed interceptor and reconnaissance craft was undeniable. The old Rebel had grudgingly approved his older brother’s proposal to purchase and equip the craft.

An old Incom X4 gunship filled the entire berthing space for a squadron’s hangar. Relics of the Galactic Civil War, the vessels were a rare sight in the spaceways. The gunship was still armed to the teeth, refitted in the last few months with weapons designed to combat the Yuuzhan Vong. Equally capable of both atmospheric and deep space operations, it was usually used to support a starfighter screen, acting as a mobile anti-starfighter flak platform.

A trio of TIE Defenders hung in launching racks in the next hangar; nine TIE Hunters filled out the squadron. The TIE Defender was infamous for its prowess in combat—fast, maneuverable, well-shielded, and armed to the teeth. Though, to Halyn’s knowledge, no new Defender had been produced in decades, they were still ridiculously expensive…and still in demand.

The TIE Hunters were a design Seinar had experimented with and deemed a failure; subsequently, Seinar claimed the craft were only testbed for new technology and never intended for full-scale production. Halyn was fairly certain the craft had been an early attempt to integrate technology from Incom’s X-wing—shield generators, class 1 hyperdrives, s-foils—into a TIE Interceptor design. The resulting starfighter was more akin to an X-wing in speed and a TIE Interceptor in protection, though Iridonian ingenuity and refits had turned the craft into something more frontline-worthy.

Halyn stopped and stared into the next hangar. “No…it can’t be…”

But it was. He’d recognize the curves of the Gallofree light freighter anywhere. There hadn’t been many of them produced—Gallofree had gone bankrupt and out of business before more than a few thousand had been manufactured. But this particular YKL-37R Nova Courier had the slightly expanded, more blocky forward hull. No new coat of paint could hide that from the man who had flown the Starwind for four years of bloody warfare.

“That’s my ship,” he said aloud, somewhere between confusion, surprise, and anger.

Closer examination revealed the truth of the freighter’s state. While she gleamed with fresh paint, wiring hung from open panels in clumps. The lower quad turret was missing a barrel, and the gunner’s canopy was cracked. As Halyn continued to circle the vessel, he spotted creases in the armor, an out-of-alignment sublight engine, unrepaired damage to the sensor pod. Stepping up the boarding ramp revealed a shattered interior: almost all of the access panels were open, or the covers missing entirely; he could see outside light visible in several places in the forward hold; coolant lines were ruptured and completely drained; the navicomputer was missing circuit boards.

“How in the hell did you get to Iridonia?” Halyn muttered. “Doesn’t make any sense.”

But it’s a puzzle that’s going to have to wait, he knew. The Yuuzhan Vong will be coming, and it’s time to do my part in making sure they dance to our tune.

A small smile crossed his face. Seems fitting to do the deed from here. He pulled his comlink from his pocket and held it up to his lips. “Cathleen, this is General Sanshir. Patch me through to the widecast.”


The New Jedi Order: Siege – Enemy at the Gates

Kelta Rose and Kativie Lusp walked side-by-side through one of the many corridors running the length of the wreckage of the Cathleen. Lights flickered off and on in the deeper sections of the ship, the systems not fully restored. The air was stale, too; many fans and ventilation systems were still offline or, at best, not working well.

“I don’t understand him,” Kelta murmured. “What’s happened to him since…well, since Endor?”

Kativie offered a slight shrug. “War.”

“Which one?” Kelta asked honestly.

Kativie offered a small, pained smile. “As near as I can tell, pretty much every one.”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” Kelta said, shaking her head. “He left the Alliance after Endor to find some peace.”

“Yes, he did,” Kativie agreed. “As near as I can tell, he failed to find it.”

That brought Kelta to a stop. “What do you mean?”

The Zabrak Jedi studied Kelta for a long moment. “I only know what I can put together. There are so many things he won’t talk about, won’t tell anyone—not even me.”

Kelta waited patiently.

The youngest of the three Sanshir siblings was contemplative when she spoke. “I know he left the Alliance and tried to give up on fighting, on war. He spent a year or two as an honest trader, and then as a smuggler. Then he got dragged into the fight against the Empire on some backwater worlds, did some soldiering. He got himself out again after helping kick the Empire out of the Rim, and was down on his luck for a few years.” She blew out a sigh. “Then Thrawn came in.”

Kelta listened patiently, not interrupting.

“Halyn was struggling to get by when he was dragooned into service for the New Republic, with a group that called itself Zealot. He did some flying and shooting, and when Thrawn was killed at Bilbringi, he got himself out again.” Kativie smiled a little. “During the reborn Emperor crisis, and the warlords that followed that, he did some honest work as a freelance captain. He’d actually captain ships for rich tourists and the like who had bought a ship but knew nothing about flying.” Her smile spread. “He told me about it once, after a lot of drinking. He’d use these rich tourists—usually Imperial loyalists—to smuggle rebel operatives and resistance members onto Imperial-held worlds.”

Kelta tried to reconcile Halyn in such a role with the general she knew. To her surprise, it wasn’t that hard. It’s just like him, in many ways. Use the enemy’s strength against him. Rely on wile and wit and guile instead of force of arms. It’s like all the strategies and tactics he used back during the Civil War, except scaled down instead of up.

“He did all sorts of stupid things during that,” Kativie continued. “Until the war really started to wind down with the Empire. With fewer worlds crying out for oppression, and most of the remaining worlds in the Empire actually wanting to be there, well…” she hesitated. “I think he got bored.”

“Bored? Halyn Lance got bored?” Kelta couldn’t contain her surprise at that statement.

Kativie nodded. “He spent a year or two here on Iridonia, helping Argus defend the military budget. See, a lot of people saw the peace and thought it was time to disarm. Both my brothers were convinced that allowing our guard to drop would end poorly.” Her face twisted, her expression unreadable. “Whether they succeeded or not, well, I think that’s yet to be decided. If it wasn’t for them, Iridonia would probably already have fallen. As it is, we’re on the brink.”

“So where was he after the peace treaty was signed?” Kelta prompted.

Kativie shook her head. “There’s six years of Halyn’s life that he won’t tell me about. He’ll always deflect me, no matter how hard I pry. There’s a year gap starting six months or so after the battle of Endor, and there’s no information at all from a few months after the signing of the peace treaty between Bastion and Coruscant, and three months before the Vong invaded the Outer Rim.”

The red-maned Jedi Knight considered Kativie’s information. “Any idea where he was either time?”

“No,” Kativie said with a shake of her head. “He’s given me absolutely no clues about it. All I know is that he was really grim after the first year, and he seemed a lot more…I don’t know, jumpy after the second time.”

“Jumpy?” Kelta asked.

“I don’t know how else to describe it. He was just on edge for months after he showed up here, and it only got worse as the invasion progressed.” She shuddered. “I think Argus knew something about it, but he wouldn’t speak about it, either.”

“You couldn’t sense anything?”

Kativie shook his head. “I’m not like you, Kelta—I’m not good at feeling other people’s emotions. I can pull some surface stuff from most people, but sometimes I think it’s easier to read a Vong warrior than it is to figure out what Halyn’s thinking.”

“What about…” Kelta was interrupted as both their comlinks chimed simultaneously. The Jedi dropped their hands to their comlinks, freeing them together and twisting them on. They were both surprised to hear Halyn’s voice from the tiny speaker.


Triak Kraal and Ret Kraal were in deep discussion about the overall strategy for conquering Iridonia when the villip keeper interrupted.

“Commander,” she said, “my life in forfeit, but the infidel leader is transmitting.”

“Bring me the villip,” Triak ordered.

It took only moments for the visage of their enemy, the Zabrak leader called Halyn Sanshir, to be staring out from the villip at Triak. The villip tender confirmed that Sanshir was transmitting on a broadcast, and could not see Triak in return.

“Look at these Yuuzhan Vong cowards,” the general was saying as Triak took the villip in his hands. “They sit in orbit after using a dishonorable tactic to break our defensive fleet. It is not the conduct of warriors, but of sniveling creatures who know not the honor of battle, of the shedding of blood.

“So I offer a challenge!” Triak growled at the villip as his hated enemy spoke. “Let the Yuuzhan Vong come, here to Rak’Edalin! Let them show themselves to be honorable, as they claim to be, or cowards who hide behind false honor, as all of Iridonia can see them to be!”

Ret Kraal was silent, staring at the villip in utter disbelief. “A toolmaker calls us honorless?” he half-whispered.

“Let the Yuuzhan Vong come and embrace life or death as warriors! Let them prove they are capable of even lifting a weapon against the Zabrak! I call on you, Vong scum,” the villip relayed, “to quit hiding behind your false gods and fight us as warriors, not with the conduct of vermin!”

Triak tensed at the insult of his enemy calling him “Vong”—such a being was childless, without the favor of the gods—and the tone of his enemy left him little doubt that this Halyn Sanshir understood well the insult he was offering. He studied the villip intensely, memorizing every feature, every scar, every tattoo of his enemy. “I will crush your skull and grind your bones into dust,” Triak swore. “Your death will be without a scrap of honor, and your entire clan will be cursed by your own people!”

Sanshir continued. “Fight us, Vong scum! Fight us here, at Rak’Edalin!”

Triak stabbed the villip with his coufee. He looked down at the weapon in his hand as the villip writhed and died, not remembering drawing the short bladed weapon. “Launch the yorik trema,” he said in a trembling snarl. “We shall purge this world of this infidel scum who dares insult the chosen children of the gods.”

“You need merely point the target, Commander,” Ret  said with a deep bow, “and our warriors shall destroy it. Where shall we strike?”

“Rak’Edalin,” Triak snarled. “Where we can find our enemy and utterly destroy him.”

Ret was slow in speaking. “It is where the enemy expects us to strike,” he said cautiously.

“Yes,” Triak agreed, “which is why we know we can find the enemy there. Land our forces—every warriors, every slave, every living being who can hold an amphistaff or coufee.”

“To the north, then,” Ret speculated. “Where the fall of their warship has weakened their defenses.”

“No,” came the contradiction. “To the south, where the enemy does not expect us. We shall smash through their walls, their gates, and in the confusion we shall run them out of their own city.”

“Sir,” an officer said tightly. “We’re seeing coralskipper traces at the edge of the atmosphere.”

Halyn nodded. “As expected.” He glanced over his shoulder at Kryi Rinnet. “Ready for your part?”

Kryi returned the nod. “As always, General.” She smiled. “Ul’Akhoi.”

Yorik trema, often called “crates” by the natives of the galaxy, were lightly-defended, unarmed vessels designed to move large numbers of soldiers quickly from space to ground. Like almost all Yuuzhan Vong vessels, their hulls were comprised of yorik coral and they relied on dovin basals, using gravitic manipulation, for propulsion.

Because of their unarmed nature, they were escorted in combat by coralskippers, known to the Yuuzhan Vong at yorik-et. While the coralskippers engaged enemy defenses, the sturdy yorik trema would rely on their defenses to insert successfully into atmosphere and deploy troops on the ground. Once the warriors had departed, it wasn’t uncommon for yorik trema to hurl themselves at enemy defenses to weaken shields or structures, particularly if the vessel had taken damage and wasn’t capable of returning to orbit.

However, yorik trema relied first and foremost on air superiority having been achieved before entry into the battlefield.

As hundreds of the Yuuzhan Vong transports descended into atmosphere, they were beset upon by Zabrak fighter squadrons. The coralskippers, an even match for the defenders in space, found their un-aerodynamic designs severely disadvantaged in combat where drag, altitude, and gravity became factors. Still, they battled the Zabrak pilots to a standstill, sacrificing Yuuzhan Vong lives to keep the marauding starfighters from reaching the yorik trema.

But here at Iridonia, the coralskippers found themselves in a battle situation unlike any the Yuuzhan Vong had encountered during their long march from Helska to Coruscant. No veteran invader was prepared for the nature of this fight, for the New Republic had never forced it upon their foe.

The Yuuzhan Vong were outnumbered.

This had been a critical element of the defense, devised and revised by Argus and Halyn. The defense of Iridonia, they had both agreed, would not rely on establishing superiority in orbit; the Zabrak simply had too few capital ships to manage that. Instead, they would play to their strengths, and establish aerial superiority, using their starfighters to intercept and destroy the Yuuzhan Vong between orbit and the ground.

Squadron after squadron of Zabrak craft joined the battle. Battered coralskippers found themselves overwhelmed by the sheer number of lasers and proton torpedoes and concussion missiles, found a foe so numerous that despite their best efforts, they couldn’t keep the Zabrak fighters away.

Coralskippers fell away from the fight in droves as dovin basals were stunned or killed; yorik coral hulls splintered and fell to the ground in a coral hail; yorik trema hid behind gravitic void defenses, trying desperately to survive until they could deploy their precious cargo of warriors, of slaves, of weapons. Formations crumbled, and transports began to burn as the defenders reached them. More and more surviving Yuuzhan Vong found themselves descending towards the planet without a ship when hulls erupted like overripe fruit, with no hope but a short death as they met their end kilometers below.

It was impossible, of course, for the Zabrak defenders to destroy the entirety of the drop force. Ordinance was expended, fuel exhausted, and fighters had to return to base before the job was complete. Any other landing force, having lost nearly a third of their supplies, troops, warriors, and weapons in the opening minutes of a battle, would likely have turned away from the fight.

But these were the Yuuzhan Vong; they would fight their enemy to the death, for their glory, and for their gods.

Two-thirds of the force made landfall to the south of Rak’Edalin, with surviving coralskippers setting up a combat air patrol over the battered invasion army. Unharmed yorik trema returned whence they came, clawing away from the mad world with impossible defenses. The wounded yorik trema chose instead to hurl themselves at the defenses of Rak’Edalin, to weaken them for the assault to come.

“General,” an officer said tensely, “the shields can’t take much more pounding. They’re throwing entire ships at the city’s defenses, and the power grid is on the edge of failing.”

Halyn nodded. “As expected. Order all forward units to stand ready, and then pull the coverage back on the shield dome. Only shields overhead—pull back forty degrees of coverage.”

Nisia glanced over at him, shock riding freely on her face. “Jess, you’re opening the door for them?”

“Well, they did knock,” Halyn said dryly. “Do it. All forward units are to hold their position—don’t advance out from under the shields.”

“Yes, sir.”

Halyn watched the tactical hologram grimly. It wasn’t the detailed model compiled from sensors of dozens of warships that he would have had in orbit, nor was in the strategic data he’d used from the orbiting satellites and ground-based sensor stations. This was crude by comparison, updated with reports flowing in from the city’s edge, from the limited data the crippled Cathleen could provide, and from the city’s sensors and alert system.

As the shields fell back, the Yuuzhan Vong charged into the city. Based on the tactical hologram, Halyn guessed there were perhaps a single Yuuzhan Vong warrior for every twenty slaves in the attacking force. “This is going to get brutal,” he muttered. “Down in the mud and wrestling for control.”

“Not your style of fight, sir,” Kryi Rinnet spoke up. With the Zabrak squadrons regrouping and the surviving coralskippers withdrawn to orbital positions, she had idle moments now to watch and speculate.

“No,” Halyn agreed. “But it’s not the Vong’s, either.”

“What do you mean?” Nisia asked with a frown.

Halyn shook his head. “Doesn’t matter yet.”

“Sir, our squadrons are starting to come ready again,” Kryi announced. “Your orders?”

“Keep them on alert, standing by,” Halyn instructed. “Watch for any more reinforcements from orbit. If the Vong try to send any ships down the well, dispatch squadrons to intercept and destroy. For now, though, hold them in reserve.”

“Yes, sir,” Kryi said quietly.

Another figure entered the bridge, and Halyn turned by reflex. His eyebrows rose when he recognized the newcomer. “Sandarie? Sandi? What are you doing here?”

The blue-skinned Twi’lek looked a little worse for wear. Her dark jumpsuit was dusty and torn. Blood trickled from a variety of scrapes and minor cuts, and purpling flesh revealed bruising over her right eye. Her walk was slow and limping, favoring her right hip. She looked tired, battered. “Hi, Halyn,” she said slowly. “You dropped a building on me.”

“Sir,” another voice said. “Sir, we just received a signal from the Council. They are demanding to meet with you immediately.”

“That can wait,” Halyn said, waving off the call. “Sandi, what happened? Why aren’t you on the Dauntless and clear of this mess?”

“Well,” the Twi’lek said slowly, “Ryian and I had a fight, and I decided to come down here to Rak’Edalin to meet with Kativie. I parked my ship in a hangar half a klick from here, and when the Cathleen came down, it collapsed.”

Halyn grimaced. “You look like the Vong got ahold of you.”

Sandi shook her head. “No, I don’t. My ship does, though.” Her expression twisted. “Ryian won’t be happy.” She glanced around the battered remains of the command center. “What happened?”

“Vong came up with a new toy,” Halyn said grimly. “The fleet’s been pushed out of orbit, and we’re under blockade. The Vong are at the edge of the city now, fighting with our forward elements.”

“And what are we going to do?” another voice asked from behind Sandarie.

A moment later, Kativie and Kelta both stepped into light. Halyn flinched at that, and Kelta refused to meet his eyes. “We’re going to fight them,” Halyn said. “Unless you think surrendering would be a better idea?”

Kativie shook her head and tried to form a joke, but the wisecrack died on her lips. “No, we’re not going to give up.”

Halyn glanced at the tactical hologram, then sighed. “The Council’s braying for my blood,” he said. “Orders before I go to meet with them.” Around the bridge, Zabraks straightened to listen and receive orders. The Cathleen might have fallen, but it hasn’t broken us. The Vong are at our gates, but they’re willing and able to fight.

“The Vong are going to concentrate their push on the south.” He gestured at the tactical hologram. “I want every Zabrak who hasn’t received a jato to be pulled back here to the Cathleen. We’ll protect them here, if they haven’t already evacuated out of the city. Everyone who can hold a blaster or zhaboka will need to prepare to fight.” He glanced at the hologram again. “We’ll need to setup strongholds at major intersections and open areas throughout the city,” he continued. “Volunteers from the city’s citizens are preferable.”

“What about evacuation?” Kelta asked.

“No evacuation,” Halyn said firmly. “We need every single body we have to fight. Anything less than our full effort, and Rak’Edalin will fall. The Vong are going to be stopped here.”

“But what about…”

“No evacuation,” Halyn repeated. “Kativie, Sandarie, Nisia…” he looked around the bridge, “…and Ceikeh, with me.” He looked down self-consciously at his uniform and was acutely aware he hadn’t changed, hadn’t bathed, hadn’t eaten since the Cathleen’s spectacular entry into the city. “We’re going to meet the Council.”

The New Jedi Order: Siege – Backstab

Kelta watched Halyn depart with several of his trusted members in tow. That would have been me, once, she reflected. So much has changed between us.

She allowed the Force to seep into her perceptions, carrying her information from near and far. Distantly, but not too distantly, she could sense the fear and pain and adrenaline she associated with combat. The Zabrak defenders were putting up a terrific fight against the Yuuzhan Vong, and she could sense collective resolve to hold their ground.

Around the bridge, the emotions were clearer and less unified. Resolve was the undertone to everything—commitment to the defense of Iridonia, commitment to victory, determination to ensure the Yuuzhan Vong’s invasion failed. From individuals, she sensed chagrin over mistakes, regret over some past actions, fear—a different flavor than exuded by the combatants, with less immediacy and more dread, and…

She paused and turned. Impatience? She stretched out with her senses in that direction, feeling through the Force for the figure. “Anishor?” she asked aloud.

The Wookiee berserker growled a greeting from the shadows. <Hello, Kelta.>

Kelta smiled. “I can sense your impatience.”

<The coatrack has asked that I restrain the berserkers.> The low rumble in Anishor’s tone was, to Kelta’s ear, unhappy. <My brothers wait while the Zabraks fight.>

“You’d rather be out there fighting right now,” Kelta stated, not asked.


As Kelta’s eyes adjusted, she could see her old friend, the biggest Wookiee she’d ever encountered in her travels. The hilts of his massive rykk blades were visible over his furry shoulders, and he still moved with the power and grace she remembered. Of everyone, he seems to be the one who hasn’t changed, she told herself.

<I am glad to see you have embraced your power,> Anishor said after a pause. <I feared you never would.>

Kelta looked down at the two lightsabers hanging from her belt and blushed. “I tried to give it up, but it seems the Force has other plans for me.” She fingered one of the blades. “Both my daughter and I have been swept up in the war. It’s not something I wanted for myself, and definitely not for her.” She looked up and met Anishor’s eyes. “I’d hoped after fighting one war, there wouldn’t be another, and she would get to know peace and safety.”

<We fight so others can know that peace and safety,> Anishor pointed out. <We are warriors so others do not have to fight. Your daughter chose this for herself, didn’t she?>

“Yes,” Kelta admitted. “Though I think she was too young to make the decision.”

<She made it nonetheless,> Anishor said.

Kelta thought about it for a moment, and about what she knew of the big Wookiee. He was long since a warrior and a veteran of battles across the galaxy when she had met him.  He was a scion of the Force—a powerful Force-user of a Wookiee battle tradition, far different than the Jedi and, in many ways, more limited. While the Wookiees embraced battle in a way the Jedi did not, the underlying theme was not dissimilar. We fight to keep the peace and protect others. Anishor and his berserkers fight so others can know lives of peace. Both of us sacrifice ourselves…normalcy, maybe…so others don’t have to know war.

<You worry for your daughter,> Anishor stated, rather than asked.

Kelta hesitated before answering. “Yes,” she admitted. “Yes, I do. None of the Jedi have heard from her since the fall of Coruscant. She just seemed to disappear from the galaxy. When I was at Borleias with Wedge Antilles, there had been no reports of her anywhere.”

<Can you sense her?>

“Faintly. She’s still alive, but I don’t know where.” Kelta shook her head. “I can’t tell if she’s in danger, if she’s safe, if she’s in pain…”

<The Force embraces her. If she trusts it, it will bring her through her trials safely.>

For a moment, Kelta hated the Wookiee. He’s always so damned serene. So confident. It melted away, though, and she blew out the last residue of it with a sigh. He’s trying to comfort me, and I resent him for it. Adreia will be safe…I know it.

“Where are Kalla and the cubs?” Kelta asked.

<Safe, on Kashyyyk,> Anishor rumbled. <Out of the way of the fighting for now. Kallabeccani wanted to join us here, but she chose to stay with the cubs.> Anishor smiled. <Of course, if the Yuuzhan Vong decide to attack Kashyyyk, she will no doubt be in the thick of the battle.>

Kelta caressed one of her lightsabers idly. “How is she? And you?”

It was Anishor’s turn to hesitate. <She wishes I would not embrace battle so eagerly,> he finally said. <That I would spend more time in peace at home than I do out here, waging war. She does not always understand the ways of the berserkers.>

The red-headed Jedi found echoes of Anishor’s statement in what Halyn had said before. You knew it wouldn’t work! You wanted a life of peace, and that’s not me. In that moment, she felt a sympathetic ache for Kallabeccani. Yes, I understand why she wants you to be home rather than fighting a war.

Maybe when this war is over, we can all go home and know some peace. At least for a little while, before the next threat to the galaxy comes rolling along.

Anishor growled, his eyes on the tactical display. <I don’t understand,> he said with a shake of his head. <Halyn asked me to come here to fight, and now he holds us in reserve. The longer the fighting goes on, the better the chance the Yuuzhan Vong will break through. He should allow me and my berserkers to attack now, before they have a chance to secure their beach head!>

Kelta cocked her head. “Maybe…”

Anishor turned and eyed her inquisitively.

She shook her head. “Never mind.” Her thoughts were spinning, though. Could Halyn want the Yuuzhan Vong to get a secure grip on Iridonia? Could he be selling out his own people? By the Force, what am I thinking?! Halyn would never sell out his own people!

Kelta shuddered, trying to shake off the sick feeling that overcame her at the thought.


Halyn couldn’t help but pace outside the entry to the council chamber. The structure seemed to have come through the crash of the Cathleen relatively intact, though it stood less than two kilometers from where the Star Cruiser’s wreckage still smoldered. Maybe it’s the shape—it just shrugged off the shockwave. Hard to tell, though.

Not that it matters. I should be fighting right now, not meeting with the politicians. Halyn stared at the closed door, pausing his movement for a moment. I have better things to do right now than assuage the fears of now-irrelevant politicians.

“Patience,” Kativie murmured.

Halyn glared at her. “Space your Jedi calm,” he spat. A moment later the venom bled away and he sighed. “Sorry. We need to be fighting right now, not playing politics.”

“Then why did you come?” Sandarie asked. The Twi’lek had plenty of scrapes and bruises, but she was no less a vital figure for her injuries. “Why not send someone else to meet them?”

Halyn snorted. “Because something else is at play here.” He shook his head. “And I can’t risk the Council stripping me of power right now—we’re too deep into this, and I don’t trust anyone else to pick up where I’d leave off.”

“You’re the Ul’akhoi,” Nisia pointed out, yawning. “By the rules of the Council, they can’t just strip you of power—they gave it to you with conditions. Until those conditions are met—in this case, the Vong are gone—you have pretty much unlimited power.”

The counterpoint came, to Halyn’s surprise, from the Zabrak representative to the New Republic. “Rules only matter,” he said slowly, “while people are willing to abide by them. The Yuuzhan Vong have set foot on Iridonia—the Council is likely in a panic right now. Their big objective right now is to ensure that we survive this, and it’s possible Halyn has somehow lost their trust.”

“Or,” Halyn said shortly, “there are Council members working actively against us.”

Nisia, Ceikeh, and Sandarie all gave him surprised looks. He ignored them to study Kativie. “What do you sense, Katie?”

The youngest of the Sanshir siblings closed her eyes, her face scrunched in concentration. “It’s…difficult to sense,” she said at last. “There’s a good amount of fear—almost overwhelming. I don’t think any of the councilors thought the Yuuzhan Vong would ever actually make landfall on Iridonia, and they’re panicking because they don’t know what to do.” She paused as she sorted out sensations. “There’s anger, too, aimed at you, Halyn. And…” she frowned. “Something else. I’m not sure what exactly it is.”

Halyn studied his little sister for a moment. “No idea at all?” he prompted.

“Almost…hunger.” She shook her head and opened her eyes, an emerald green just a slightly paler shade than Halyn’s. “I don’t know how to describe it. It’s almost need, almost physical hunger, with a little…I don’t know, greed maybe. But it’s hard to pick out with all the other emotions coming from the Council.”

“We’ll puzzle it out when we get in there, then,” Halyn said, his voice low. “I have some idea what we’ll be facing in there.”

“What, then?” Sandi asked. As the only non-Zabrak in the group, she felt—and looked—more than a bit out of place.

Halyn shook his head. “None of you are in danger,” he said. “This will be aimed at me.” He glanced over his shoulder. “Oh. I need a zhaboka.”

Nisia wordlessly handed him the weapon she carried. It was a traditional Zabrak weapon—a meter-and-a-half long quarterstaff with bladed ends. Halyn almost smiled at it.It’s a tradition that may save us yet. Almost no one in the New Republic except the Jedi and the Wookiees respect or know hand-to-hand combat like this. Iridonia’s stubborn refusal to let go of millennia-old traditions may save us all from the Yuuzhan Vong and their obsession with the honor of personal combat.

“What’s taking so long?” Sandarie asked after a long silent moment. “I thought they wanted to meet you right away.”

“Indecision,” Halyn and Kativie said together. The Jedi raised an eyebrow at Halyn; he nodded at her to explain.

“The Council didn’t expect the Yuuzhan Vong to make it past the defense fleet,” Kativie explained. “Which you already know. They can sense as well as anyone that this is a critical point in the Yuuzhan Vong’s campaign. They’re in disagreement about what route to pursue to ensure that we win, and they’re trying to figure it out before they allow Halyn to appear before them.”

“Then why call him before they’re ready?” Nisia asked.

“To keep him under control,” Ceikeh spoke up. “There’s a danger in making someone Ul’akhoi—just like there’s danger in giving anyone too much power, be it military, political, or religious. The Zabrak race was nearly enslaved by the Empire because a single person acquired massive amounts of power in the Galactic Senate, and no one wants to see one dictator traded for another.”

“Jess? A dictator?” Nisia raised an eyebrow. “You’re moving up in the galaxy.”

Halyn snorted.

“So what’s likely to happen in there when we go in?” Sandarie asked.

“They’re going to ask for a report on the defense of Iridonia,” Ceikeh said. “Most of the Councilors have their own private sources of information, but with everything that’s happened in the past twelve hours, it’s hard to get a clear picture. So they’ll ask the head of the military for a concise image of what the situation is, both in space and here on the ground.”

“After that?”

Ceikeh hesitated. “Either they’ll affirm Halyn’s position as Ul’akhoi, or try to strip him from power.”

The door to the Council building swung open, and a young Zabrak male that Halyn did not recognize stepped out. “Ul’akhoi?” he asked tentatively.

Halyn nodded at him. “I am here.”

“The Council will see you now.”


Kativie trailed her brother into the Council chambers, her eyes barely registering the darkened room and she concentrated wholly on the sensations the Force carried to her. Eyes can be blinded and deceived, her Master had taught her. The Force allows you to see the truth. No deception can blind you.

And the Force carried her so many sensations now. The trick for Kativie, though, was to interpret what she was feeling. I wish Halyn would have brought Kelta along. She is so much better than I am at this. She sighed. She’s a natural at sensing and interpreting emotions. My talents run more towards destroying things. She resisted the urge to grip the lightsaber hanging from her belt. Though I wonder if that’s what will be needed here.

“Welcome,” Elibet Dav said flatly from the center of the Council.

From her, Kativie could immediately sense frustration and weariness. Weariness is hardly unique, Kativie reflected. We’re all feeling it, except maybe Halyn. From her brother, she was acutely aware that she could only sense life and determination, an energy that seemed to be endless. Frustration because of the Council’s deliberations, maybe?

Halyn inclined his head slightly. “Why has the Council summoned the Ul’akhoi? The enemy is at the gates, and my time would be better spent fighting the enemy than standing here.”

“The Council…” Elibet started.

“No longer requires your services,” a cool voice interrupted.

Kativie could feel the tension in the room mount, reflected in the Force. The person who spoke, though…she could sense darkness and deception. And something else. He feels familiar somehow… She rose on her tiptoes to see over the nearer councilors, and nearly fell when she recognized the speaker.

“Achick Lusp,” she whispered. My own father-in-law. Frak me, what is he doing?

“You have not been recognized to speak,” Elibet rebuked him.

Achick’s return look was harsh. “The Council can hardly waste time with niceties,” he returned, his voice as cold as vacuum and hard as durasteel. “As the Sanshir has noted, the enemy is at our gates. When we can afford the time for protocol and tradition, we will do so. Now, time is too precious to waste.”

Elibet’s stance never faltered, but Kativie could feel her wilt through the Force. She must be on the losing side of this—they had already decided before they let us in. She’s trying to fight it to the end, but there’s only so much she can do.

Halyn spoke. “You are correct. That is why the Council appointed an Ul’akhoi.” She could feel his wariness, almost hear his thoughts. “I am responsible for the defense of Iridonia, not this Council. Until this war is over, I do not answer to the Council.”

“But you do,” Achick said, turning his venom on Halyn. “The Council granted you power—the Council can revoke it.”

The younger Zabrak shook his head. “The law is very clear on this point—I hold the office of Ul’akhoi until the crisis has passed. There is nothing you can do about it.”

“No?” Achick asked, his smile broad. “I believe there is.”

Kativie shook her head. What trump card is he holding?

“And thus it ends,” a voice murmured.

The Jedi turned to the Zabrak woman standing beside her. “Hello, Alyce,” she said quietly to her mother-in-law.

“A pity, really,” the elder woman said. “We would have preferred not to be forced into this route. The death of your brother will be a pity, but the safety of Iridonia is far more important than Clan Sanshir.”

Kativie found her lightsaber in her hand. “What?” she hissed. “You do know there’s no appeasing the Yuuzhan Vong, don’t you? They will destroy us all if you try.”

Alyce waved to the assembly. “Hardly. Listen and learn, child.”

“I propose,” Achick was saying, “that we elect a new Ul’akhoi. One who has not let the Yuuzhan Vong profane our soil with their feet. One who can beat back these invaders, not allow them to proceed unchecked into our space.”

Kativie’s jaw dropped open. Another Ul’akhoi?

“What’s going on?” Sandarie whispered in her ear.

The Zabrak Jedi resisted the urge to take her lightsaber after Alyce and turned to the Twi’lek. “It’s a power struggle,” she said. “Technically, once an Ul’akhoi is appointed, they are supreme leader until the conditions of their selection has been met—in this case, until the Yuuzhan Vong have been driven out of Iridonia space. But…”

“But,” Ceikeh picked up smoothly, “there’s nothing in the law that says the Council can’t appoint another Ul’akhoi.”

The beautiful Twi’lek frowned. “So what would happen?”

“A blood challenge,” Kativie said. “It’s a deliberate insult, for one. And there’s  no other way in the law to resolve a conflict like this.”

“So, Halyn is going to have to fight the guy speaking?” Sandi asked doubtfully.

“No, he’ll have to fight whoever is the appointed Ul’akhoi.” Ceikeh’s voice was low and tense.

Achick was still speaking. “I humbly submit, then, that the Council appoint as Ul’akhoi, Jram of Clan Lusp.”

Kativie stared. They’re making a power play, she thought numbly. We’re about a half-meter away from a coup. She could only continue to stare as her brother-in-law, a Zabrak ten years Halyn’s junior, confidently strode into the center of the Council. He wore only breeches, and his relative youth made him look powerful compared to the older, somewhat raggedly-dressed Halyn. A zhaboka was slung over his back, its blades polished and gleaming in the dim light.

Alyce’s voice whispered in her ear. “Now, Kativie Sanshir, you see what Clan Lusp is. It’s why you’ve never truly been one of us, why you’ll always be a Sanshir. You do not have the heart to do what is necessary, either for your clan or your world.”

The Council’s vote was tense, but Kativie no longer dared feel out the emotions of the councilors through the Force. Anger and betrayal fought for her heart, and she knew that to draw on the Force now would likely mean she’d throttle Alyce or slam Achick against a wall.

The vote was close, but Jram Lusp won an affirmation by a bare two-vote majority.

Through it all, Halyn was stone-faced. When the vote was finished, his voice was quiet, but ice cold and deliberate. “I do not recognize this Council’s authority to replace me,” he said evenly. “And I will not be insulted like this.” He turned to face Jram. “You have a choice to step away from this.”

When the younger Zabrak shook his head, Halyn’s next words froze Kativie’s heart. “Then I’ll have to kill you.”


Halyn spent a moment focusing his thoughts. Already, Jram was limbering up, swinging the zhaboka through a few familiar katas. The older Zabrak ignored him, ignored everything as he slowly narrowed his focus.

He shed the command jacket he had worn, giving it to Sandarie to hold. His eyes closed, he concentrated.

This is for everything, Halyn. This is too important to make a mistake. The fate of Iridonia, of all Zabraks, may very well rest in the outcome of this fight. Your brother already died for this cause, and a lot more people, maybe even you, will also give their lives for it. This is too important to risk letting some clan who is trying to acquire power make a move on you. You’re the Ul’akhoi—and for a good reason. You’re the Ul’akhoi that Iridonia needs right now. You can’t lose.

Then Kativie’s whisper was in his ear. “You can do this, Halyn. You may not be a Jedi, but everything’s riding on you.”

“I know,” he murmured. “Thank you, Katie.”

He could hear the smile in her voice. “Kick his ass, Halyn.”

He opened his eyes and took the zhaboka his little sister offered. He flicked it around once to check the balance and weight; nodding with satisfaction, he held the traditional weapon in a two-handed grip.

Jram was whirling his zhaboka through fantastic patterns, all fluid grace and movement. Above the din in the Council room—more than a few side conversations had started—Halyn could not hear what Achick or Alyce were saying to their second-born son. No doubt offering him some last-second advice on how to beat a Sanshir, Halyn thought grimly.

“Elibet!” Halyn shouted. The room began to quiet. “Begin this fight!”

The head of the Council inclined her head and moved to the center of the open space. Jram Lusp stepped away from his parents and moved into the center of the room, standing before Elibet. Halyn matched him step for step, coming to a stop opposite the younger Zabrak.

“Show your respect,” Elibet said quietly, for only the two combatants to hear, “and then the fight is on. It ends when one has yielded or died.” Her tone held no hint as to which she thought was the better outcome, nor whom she’d prefer to see the victor.

Halyn expected no less. He was fairly certain she wanted him to win, just as he was certain she was prepared to live with the consequences. He and Jram both bowed deeply before Elibet, rose, and turned to each other.

“I’m sorry it had to be this way,” Jram offered. “My brother Hakk has nothing but the deepest respect for you, Halyn Sanshir, but you’ve already failed. It’s time for you to step aside and allow someone else to lead us to victory—you’ve tasted nothing but defeat.”

“I’d rather not kill my sister’s brother-in-law,” Halyn replied evenly, “but you have no idea what warfare is.”

Jram’s dark blue eyes glittered with ice, and then he and Halyn bowed to each other.

As Halyn began to straighten, Jram lashed out with his zhaboka. On pure instinct, Halyn ducked aside and saw the steel of a blade flash by his head, then retract.

Cheers and shouts of disapproval competed for volume as Halyn withdrew a half-step, bringing his zhaboka up defensively. Jram’s expression showed no regret at the treacherous attack. Halyn suppressed a smile. Bending the rules. I should’ve thought of it.

Jram stepped in aggressively, the zhaboka flurrying with blows left and right as the younger Zabrak took advantage of his speed to try to force Halyn back onto his heels.

He was completely unprepared for Halyn’s response. Instead of moving to block, Halyn dropped his own zhaboka and sprang forward, his hands wrapping around the zhaboka’s length and moving chest-to-chest with Jram. With the two combatants so close, the zhaboka’s blades were out of play—Jram would need to withdraw in order to use them, and Halyn wasn’t giving him the space to do so.

The younger Zabrak started to wrestle for control of the weapon, but Halyn brought his knee into up into the other’s groin. Jram lost all his breath and started to tumble backward, but Halyn wouldn’t let him. A headbutt opened gashes on Jram’s forehead and face, and Halyn released the zhaboka with one hand to smash it into the other’s nose. Then he allowed the other to fall back, kicking Jram’s wrist and forcing him to release the zhaboka.

Jram sprawled across the floor, stunned. Halyn tossed the Lusp’s zhaboka aside and, with a flick of his foot, recovered his own. Before Jram could rise, the Ul’akhoi rested the zhaboka’s blade against the other’s throat.

“Now,” Halyn said coldly, his voice echoing oddly in the stunned silence of the Council room, “you have two options. You can yield, pick up your zhaboka, and join the Zabrak warriors who are even now fighting to keep the Yuuzhan Vong out of Rak’Edalin. Or I can empty your blood onto the Council floor.”

Jram stared up at him with hatred. “Are you too cowardly to finish me?” he taunted.

Halyn snorted. “Either your death will mean something to the defense of our people, or it won’t. I’m beyond caring right now.” His voice dropped in tone, limiting its range so only the nearest could hear it. “The only reason I give you this much choice is the respect I have for your brother Hakk, and how well he’s treated Kativie. If it were only you and your parents, and your attempt to undermine me, you’d already be dead.”

Something softened in Jram’s eyes. “I’ll fight,” he said softly. “I’ll fight the Yuuzhan Vong.”

Halyn turned away from him without another word. He lifted the zhaboka until its blade aimed at Achick, as though it were a blaster and Halyn could eliminate him with a pull of the trigger. “You, on the other hand,” he said coldly, “are living on borrowed time.”

Something ran into his left eye and blinded him. He turned away from the Lusps and tossed the zhaboka back to Kativie, and took back his jacket which Sandarie was offering. He wiped his face on the uniform, then looked down to realize it was spotted red. He frowned and reached up, feeling. When he brought his fingers before his eyes, they were red and sticky. “Huh,” he murmured.

“He got a piece of you with that first shot,” Nisia provided helpfully.

Halyn nodded, then shrugged his jacket on and turned back towards the Lusps and the Council. “You’re fools,” he said disdainfully. “You’ve wasted time and energy that should’ve been spent on the defense of Iridonia.”

“If you had defended our world competently,” Achick managed, his tone subdued by the unexpected reversal, “we wouldn’t have needed to challenge you.”

Halyn snorted. “Most fools know when they’re beaten.”

“The Yuuzhan Vong are even now at our gates!” Achick snarled. “Your defense has failed, Sanshir. You’re going to be the death of all of us!”

“You should leave the fighting to warriors,” Halyn returned coldly. “They would understand what’s going on.”

“What’s going on? The Yuuzhan Vong have setup a blockade! Our fleet has fled, and now the Yuuzhan Vong have begun to march across Iridonia!”

“A warrior,” Halyn shouted, “would’ve understood that our fleet could never defend Iridonia!”

Shocked silence followed his pronouncement. He plunged on heedlessly. “The Yuuzhan Vong smashed their way through half of the New Republic’s fleet to take Coruscant! Even with every turbolaser and proton torpedo we could bring to bear, we would never have held the Vong at bay.”

“Because you Sanshirs sacrificed our two most powerful ships,” Achick countered.

“The Maria and the Yali would’ve been insignificant next to the fleet the Vong brought to bear,” Halyn pointed out. “We always knew we could never keep the Yuuzhan Vong off Iridonia. Short of the New Republic giving us one of their fleets, we never had the firepower we’d need to keep them away. Ever.”

More silence filled the space after his statement. Finally, he continued. “The defense of Iridonia would always come down to this. We knew it from the day the Yuuzhan Vong razed Ithor. Even then, the wisest minds who were brought in to arrange our defenses admitted it—there was no way we could keep these invaders from forming a blockade and landing on our soil.”

“So our defense is all for naught?” Achick spat. “Our warriors fight and die for nothing?”

“No,” Halyn said. “Because we don’t have to beat them.”

Achick laughed as the rest of the Council continued to watch in disbelieving silence. “What, are you going to make peace with them?”

Halyn ignored the question. “We don’t have to win. We have to not lose. Every day our warriors hold out, every day our starfighter squadrons can maintain air cover, every day the Yuuzhan Vong fail to beat us into submission, brings the galaxy a chance for victory.”

The head of the Lusps sneered. “What, you think by us fighting here, the New Republic will somehow miraculously come in and save the day? That the same New Republic that’s been on the back foot since the very beginning will somehow rally and beat the Vong?”

“You’d better hope so,” Halyn said coldly. “Because if the New Republic falls, the Yuuzhan Vong will bring their full might to bear on us, on the Imperial Remnant, on Hapes—and without the New Republic, we will fall.” He looked around the room. “Understand this. Iridonia will hold the line here against the Yuuzhan Vong, but the New Republic must win the war if we are to survive here. It’s why I sent our fleet away: they could accomplish nothing more here, but the addition of their firepower to the New Republic’s surviving battle groups could be critical in turning the tide of the war.”

He turned away from the Council and marched towards the door, his friends and sister falling in behind him.

“You’ll be the death of us all,” Achick screamed.

The Ul’akhoi didn’t stop. “I’m the best chance the Zabraks have left of surviving this invasion,” he said. “I’m done with this Council. I have a war to fight.”


The New Jedi Order: Siege – Breach

Lenn Kaman never felt more alive than those precious hours he was strapped in the cockpit of a starfighter.

His career had begun long ago, and most would call him too old for starfighter combat. He had trained in the Imperial Navy and flown TIE fighters during the Galactic Civil War. Exhausted by years of fighting the Rebellion, he had retired shortly after the disastrous defeat at Endor with dozens of kills to his name and a certification for the TIE Avenger—an advanced TIE model that had suffered from its status as the in-between model of the widely-deployed TIE Interceptor and the legendary TIE Defender.

A little over a year after his retirement, he had been recruited by a Zabrak who he would have once considered his enemy—an ex-Rebel general named Halyn Lance, himself a starfighter pilot and a master tactician. After spending some time training in the slower, but heavier-armed and defended starfighters the Alliance preferred, he had participated in dozens of operations staged by Halyn.

He shook his head at the remembrance. Only Halyn Lance would recruit retired Imperial officers for attacks on the Empire. And only Halyn Lance would pull it off.

Lenn was now strapped in the cockpit of a TIE-series craft, an offshoot model that had never achieved widespread use. How Halyn managed to get ahold of these TIE Hunters, I’ll never know. The fighter was better than most Seinar designs in atmosphere: the vessel was streamlined, with Seinar’s own adaptation of the s-foil system made famous by the X-wing. The folding radiator panels were even now locked open, causing more drag but maximizing agility. A glance at his system boards showed the fighter’s twin laser cannons were ready to fire.

“Hunter Leader, we have another wave dropping,” Kryi Rinnet’s voice echoed in his ear. “Sending you vectors now.”

“Roger,” Lenn confirmed as data streamed over his screens. “Vectors confirmed, we are moving to intercept.”

“Affirmative. Red and Blue groups will be providing air support for the ground forces.”

Lenn pulled back on the TIE’s yoke. The vessel responded with the agility familiar to all pilots who’d trained on a TIE. A moment later he fed more power to the engines, and all he could see was blue sky.

Around and behind him, the few other TIE Hunters deployed by the Iridonian military followed his maneuver. Not far behind them, the more heavily-armed B-wings and X-wings spread out. We’re the spearhead, Lenn thought to himself. We break up the defenses so the heavy-hitters can take down the real danger.

Above him, he could see the faint contrails of descending Yuuzhan Vong coralskippers. He gritted his teeth. “Hunter group, break and engage,” he called. “TIEs and pointers on the skips, crosses on the transports. Let’s not let anything through, people.”

His actions suited his words as he opened fire at maximum range. He knew it was unlikely he’d do any real damage at this range, but forcing the skips to deploy voids defensively could tire them out more quickly.

Plasma burned down through the atmosphere towards him. In response, he sent the TIE into a spiral. The sky was filled with fire, but he refused to relent. His TIE screamed upward toward his foes and, a moment later, he was past.

Other fighters in his unit were not as lucky. One of the TIE Hunters was targeted by several of the coralskippers, and dissolved into a fireball. Another was struck by a precise shot through the viewport and sent tumbling uncontrolled towards the ground. The remainder continued evasive actions as the slower X-wings, now reaching their own maximum firing range, began filling the air with reddish laser fire. Coralskippers that turned to engage the TIE Hunters were now caught off-guard by the X-wings’ attack. Proton torpedoes began to detonate across the invasion zone, as much a danger to the faster Zabrak starfighters as they were to the Yuuzhan Vong.

“Hunter Lead, be advised,” Kryi’s voice crackled again, “we are reading a larger contact with the transports.”

Lenn had thought the skies had been filled with plasma before, but the coralskippers’ attack was like a light rain compared to the thunderstorm of fire now. “All units, evade!” he shouted as plasma poured down. He jammed the throttle forward and nosed the craft over, using gravity to increase his acceleration. “Get clear!”

A glance at his rear scopes showed the threat: a Yuuzhan Vong light cruiser analog, a matalok, was now screening the wave of troop transports. He gritted his teeth as below he saw the rising B-wings catch the brunt of the attack, shattering their formation and sending pilots into uncontrolled descents. Not to their deaths—they’re likely already dead.

The X-wings had scattered in time and, even now, were regrouping in trios. Coralskippers continued to harry them, but to Lenn’s surprise, there were far less than he’d been fighting moments earlier. That cruiser…they destroyed their own fighters to get a shot at our bombers. Of course, with the X-wings scattered and the B-wings destroyed, we don’t have the firepower to stop the transports before they hit the ground.

“Rinnet, we need more firepower up here,” he said tersely.

“Status, Hunter Lead?”

“The Vong are dropping transports down the well,” he said bluntly. “We don’t have the firepower to stop them. Three quarters of our bombers are gone, and our fighters are scattered. If you don’t get me more firepower right now, we’re going to have a whole bunch more Vong on the ground.”

Rinnet was silent for long moments. Lenn used the time to gather his TIE Hunters together and begin harassing the transports now in the matalok’s wake. A few coralskippers tried to intercept them and were promptly blown to coral dust.

It’s too late now, Lenn thought grimly as he watched his altimeter tick down. Even if we had a wing of B-wings come in, we’d never stop them all in time.

Ahead, the matalok shuddered in its descent, and then began to fall faster. Lenn frowned, and then raised his eyebrows in surprise as the craft slowly rolled over. Proton torpedoes had ripped open its belly. As its fall quickened, he realized they’d likely killed the dovin basals as well.

“Yes,” he hissed. “Hunters, stay on them. We can do this!” Friendly fighters joined them in the sky now, needling the descending transports with laserfire or ripping them open with missiles. Transports began to fall uncontrolled, streaming fluids into atmosphere that no pilot wanted to contemplate.

Then the already-dead matalok hit Rak’Edalin’s shields.


Halyn found the Cathleen’s command center in chaos.

Kryi Rinnet was the first to see his entrance and ripped her headset off. “General,” she said breathlessly, “a Vong cruiser hit the city’s shields. The entire shield grid is offline.”

The general blinked in disbelief. “What?” he asked, dumbfounded.

“Vong transports are landing troops inside Rak’Edalin,” she continued. “Crews are already out trying to get the shields back up, but the early reports are that all the relays fried from the overload. It could take hours before the shields are back up.”

Halyn shook his head. “Get every squadron within a thousand klicks in the air and covering us,” he ordered. “As much air support as you can muster—I don’t want anything else getting through.”

“Already done,” Kryi said. “Some transports are still managing to penetrate—they’re throwing a lot of skips at us.”

Halyn growled and looked around. “What’s the status of the battle at the edge of the city?”

Anishor answered from a station he’d taken over. <The Yuuzhan Vong continue to engage the ground defenses,> he rumbled. <They are being held at bay, but their attack does not seem very intensive, either. They are likely moving the newly-landed warriors…>

“…into flanking positions,” Halyn finished. “Right. Issue the order to fall back from the walls there, and scatter into squads. Begin falling back towards the city center. I want every one of our people out there fighting a delaying action.” He glanced at Kryi. “Do we have an estimate on how many troops they’ve managed to land?”

“Maybe three hundred of the slave troops, and a few dozen warriors?” Kryi speculated. “Just a guess by the number of transports we’ve confirmed got through our fighter screen.”

“Right.” Halyn paused for a moment to compose himself. “Alright. Kativie, you’re in charge here—I need you to coordinate the withdrawal to maximize its effectiveness. Anishor, Kelta, Nisia, you’re with me.”

“And me,” Ceikeh interjected from near the door.

Halyn turned. “No offense, but I don’t think politics are going to do us much good against the Vong.”

“You’re getting forgetful in your old age, General,” the Zabrak Senator said. “What was I when we first met?”

“Right.” Halyn shook his head. “If you get killed, your wife is going to kill me. Alright, let’s suit up and get moving.”

“Where are we going?” Kelta asked. Her expression was surprised, and tinged with suspicion.

She’s wondering why I chose her to come and leave Kativie here, Halyn guessed. She doesn’t need to know the reasons yet. “Hunting,” he said aloud.

Halyn had, from long habit, maintained his own armory aboard the Cathleen. A small officer’s cabin was registered to a lieutenant who did not actually exist. Fortunately, the quarters had survived the Star Cruiser’s fall from orbit, though the door lacked power to open itself automatically. As was common on starships, the lack of power meant the door was sealed tightly—vacuum proof in case of a hull breach in battle.

Even a star cruiser’s door couldn’t stand up to a Wookiee berserker’s strength.

Kelta and Anishor stood dumbfounded as Halyn rummaged through the racks and cabinets lining the quarters. Ceikeh was utterly unsurprised, taking the opportunity to choose a set of light armor with ballistic shock inserts, strapping on the dark red armor over his clothing.

Halyn, on the other hand, ignored the armor in favor of a dark, floor-length duster of black leather. He stripped out of his uniform jacket and shirt, replacing them with a simple, tight-fitting sleeveless tunic. He wasn’t quick enough for his old friends to miss the striped scars running up and down his back.

“Halyn,” Kelta breathed as he shrugged the duster on. “Oh, Halyn, what happened?”

The Zabrak ignored the question as he tightened a gunbelt beneath the duster. A blaster pistol rode his right thigh in a tie-down holster, and a trio of thermal detonators bounced over his left hip. He selected a short-barreled blaster rifle from the rack of energy weapons covering four meters of wall, then crossed to the rack opposite filled with melee weapons.

Instead of choosing a zhaboka—and there were a dozen of them, varying in lengths and weights—he chose a meter-long sword with a curved blade. Wordlessly he hefted it, flicked it back and forth twice, and clipped its sheath to his duster before sliding the weapon in.

Ceikeh, on the other hand, had forgone both the blaster pistols and rifles for a slender flamethrower. He carried the weapon in his hands, with its support sling over his shoulder and several cartridges of gas already clipped to his belt. Over his shoulder he had slung the traditional Iridonian zhaboka. All trace of weakness or cowardice were gone from his expression as he clicked open the feed valve on the flamethrower. “I’m ready,” he said.

Halyn finished tying a dark blue headwrap in place around his horns. “Let’s do this.”

“What, exactly,” Kelta said when she had found her voice, “are we going to do?”

“The Yuuzhan Vong are trying to spring an ambush on our squads holding the initial landing party at bay,” Halyn explained grimly. “We’re going to ambush the ambushers.”

“Just four of us?” Kelta asked, dumbfounded.

“You have any ally,” Halyn said dryly. “It’s really big. So does Anishor.”

The Jedi Knight snapped both lightsabers from her belt and ignited the blades, filling the room with a purple glow. “The Force isn’t very useful against the Yuuzhan Vong,” Kelta said at least.

“So Kativie keeps telling me,” Halyn replied. “We’re still going to do what needs to be done.”

The hum of a blaster powering up was familiar to every one of the combatants. Kelta turned, her blades rising defensively. Their glow revealed the source: Nisia Eisweep.

“I don’t have anything else to do,” the Zabrak woman said with a shrug. She was already armed with a pair of blaster pistols and the rifle in her hands. “So we’ll make it a party of five.”

“See?” Halyn said to Kelta. “There’s five of us. We’ll be fine.” His expression lost any trace of amusement, leaving cold fire burning in his eyes. “Let’s kill some Vong.”


<Are you planning on walking?> Anishor asked as the five defenders exited the Cathleen’s wreckage via a still-intact airlock.

Halyn shook his head and pointed. “Kativie called for a transport.”

A light freighter was settling to the ground on its struts even as he spoke, its boarding ramp dropping to the broken pavement. A full-fledged turbolaser worthy of a warship was mounted above, while a pair of lighter turrets covered the belly. Proton torpedo launcher alleys were clearly visible under the vessel’s central cockpit. The vaguely wedge-shaped craft boasted two oversized sublight engines and triple hulls, with lighter connecting segments between.

“I’ve never seen a freighter like that before,” Kelta commented dubiously.

“They’re not as common as the Corellian junk that everyone likes,” Halyn said dryly. “These are Muurian transports. They’re not as flashy as a YT-series craft, but they’re heavily armed from the factory, easy to maintain, and better in a fight. Smugglers love Corellian freighters because they’re great at running away; militaries like Muurians because they’re great at fighting.”

Kelta hid her smile. Halyn hasn’t changed. Twenty years later, and he still hates Corellian freighters. It’s almost pathological. She recalled how, years ago, he’d told her—privately—how much he disliked Corellian vessels. A number of his pilots and officers swore by them, though, including Ryian Coron—now commander of the Dauntless—who had spent several years of the war engaging Imperials in his Spinning Cloud. Halyn had bit his lip through it all to keep the peace.

Of course, given he’s in charge here now, I shouldn’t be surprised that the Zabraks aren’t using YT freighters.

The five members of the party walked up the loading ramp but not much further in. The ramp had not fully retracted before the pilot was lifting, sending dust and debris swirling away as the light freighter took to the skies. This will only take a few minutes, Kelta thought.

“So, Jess,” Nisia said conversationally. “Why are we fighting this war if we can’t win?”

Kelta turned and raised both eyebrows. “What?”

Halyn shrugged loosely. “Because the Vong need to be fought.”

“Don’t feed me bullshit, Jess,” Nisia warned. “I know you better than that.”

Through the Force, Kelta could feel Halyn’s reluctance to answer. All these years later, even with his closest friends and allies, and he still keeps his cards close to his chest.

“We don’t have to win,” Halyn said at last. “We just have to not lose.”

“Explain the difference,” Nisia shot back at him.

There was a long delay before Halyn spoke. “The Vong have been virtually unstoppable since they entered our galaxy,” he said slowly. “They crushed the New Republic’s defenders everywhere. Even at Ithor where they lost the engagement, they still managed to destroy the planet. They’ve been willing to throw away ships, lives, materiel as if it were nothing. You can’t beat an enemy like that conventionally—you’re never going to win a war with them the way the Rebellion did with the Empire, or the Republic with the Confederation forty years ago.”

Kelta heard echoes of Jedi debates over the war with the Yuuzhan Vong. How do you defeat an evil like the Vong without becoming evil yourself?

“Even with our fleet and our starfighter squadrons, I knew we could never keep the Vong from landing on Iridonia.” Halyn’s voice was calm and certain. “Argus and I knew that after the debacle at Ithor, and we were proved right up and down the invasion corridor. We simply didn’t have the firepower, and there was no way to acquire it in time to make a difference. Every shipyard in the galaxy is turning out warships for the effort; there’s not exactly a bunch of ships that are purchasable. Hell, the New Republic has been pulling out old Star Cruisers from the days of the Rebellion and refurbishing them for the effort. I don’t doubt that if we hadn’t have bought our three MC80s before the war broke out, they’d have wound up serving in the New Republic fleet.”

Nisia’s eyes narrowed. “So how do you intend to win?”

Halyn shook his head. “You don’t understand. I meant it when I said we can’t win.”

Nisia’s sigh was exasperated. “So how, Jess, do you intend to not lose?”

“By maintaining a viable resistance,” Halyn answered promptly. “We knew that we couldn’t keep the Vong out of orbit because we had too few capital ships and too many starfighters. On the other hand, if we conserved our strength—and Argus and I wargamed this a thousand ways before he died—we could use our starfighters to ensure the Vong couldn’t establish air superiority. The most vulnerable time for any invading force is when it transitions from space to ground. The weakest point for an invading army is its supply lines, which require transit from space to ground. Our starfighter squadrons can and will ensure that the Vong can’t get their reinforcements through to the ground that they need. Their supplies will be similarly crippled.”

“So, it all comes down to starfighters anyway?” Nisia asked with confusion.

Halyn shook his head. “Wars are won by boots on the ground. If we lose air superiority, the Vong can land troops and supplies with impunity, and they’ll eventually overwhelm us by sheer numbers. With our squadrons keeping their supply chains cut, though, we have a chance of going toe-to-toe with their ground forces and beating them back.”

“And by beating them back you mean…?” Kelta asked.

Halyn’s voice was even, and he looked Kelta straight in the eyes. “We’ll kill every Yuuzhan Vong who is walking on Iridonia right now,” he said.

A voice spoke over the internal comm for the ship. “We’re approaching the drop zone. The Vong have a couple of skips here harassing us, so this will be a touch-and-go. Once we’re pulled out, you’re on your own.”

Halyn slapped the comm switch. “Roger that, and thanks. Status on the other two drop ships?”

“They’re right behind us,” the pilot said. “And from the sounds of it, they’re ready for a fight.”

“Good, because they’re about to get one.” He flicked the switch off and turned to face the boarding ramp.

The ship bounced once, twice as plasma blasts and magma missiles ate away at its shields, but the pilot held it steady. There was a sickening sense of vertigo as the ship abruptly dropped, one that even the inertial compensators and the artificial gravity couldn’t fully dissipate. Then the ramp fell open to the dust, and Halyn led the way, charging out with the short-barreled blaster rifle in hand.

Kelta shook her head, freed both lightsabers from her belt, and followed him down the ramp and into a swarm of thud bugs.


Sandarie clung tightly to the blaster rifle she’d appropriated from the Cathleen’s armory. In spite of the black armor clinging to her from the neck down—there was no helmet on Iridonia that would accommodate a Twi’lek’s head-tails—she felt oddly vulnerable. I was never the warrior, she reminded herself. That was always all the others—Ryian, Halyn, Jascen, Airek, even Allanna. I was the one who gathered information, ran supplies, helped make plans.

She also knew she’d been in her share of battles during the tumultuous years of the Galactic Civil War. She had always preferred to avoid fighting, but when called upon, she had picked up a blaster or vibroblade like everyone else. I might not have been a member of the Rebel Alliance’s military, but I’ve not backed down from a fight when I’m needed.

The Twi’lek did take comfort from the warriors around her. They were mostly silent, some even peaceful, as they prepared themselves for the battle to come. It wasn’t a matter of if for these brave warriors, either—it was only when. Each of them, as near as she could tell, was content with that fact. They’re willing to fight and kill and die so others don’t have to. It’s their purpose for living. She found the only way she could honor their choice was to respect their silence; she spoke only when spoken to.

The drop ship rocked from a blow to its shields, nearly throwing Sandarie from her feet. Coralskippers aren’t giving up, she thought.

“Drop point in fifteen seconds,” the pilot’s voice called. “Evac immediately; it’s too hot for me to stick around.”

There were roars of acknowledgement and approval. Sandi felt nothing but slightly nauseated, both at the rocking of the ship—now continuous as the Yuuzhan Vong fighters apparently strengthened their attacks—and at anticipation for the battle to come. She glanced down, checked the charge on her rifle, ensured her vibroblade was still in its sheath, and closed her eyes. Goddess protect me.

There was a final sickening feeling of falling, and the engines fell silent. The boarding ramp fell to the ground with a thud, and Sandarie followed twenty armed and battle-ready Wookiee berserkers from the Muurian transport’s hold.

Smoke and dust filled the air outside the transport. The drop ship’s engines whined to life and it lifted away, but the Twi’lek could barely hear it over the battle roars of the Wookiees. Through the wall of fur in front of her, she could see glimpses of Yuuzhan Vong warriors screaming their own battle cries as they charged the berserkers.

To her left, she could see a third transport disgorge more Wookiee berserkers. The transport was still under assault by coralskippers. Late-arriving X-wings swooped down to engage the skips, but the Yuuzhan Vong continued their intensive attack on the transport. The last of the Wookiees had barely stepped foot on the ground when the landing ramp retracted and the transport began to lift.

The shields were aglow as plasma balls and magma missiles bounced off them, denied their destructive potential. One coralskipper, either intentionally or by vice of too-slow reflexives, smashed into the transport on a pass. The shields failed, and the coralskipper crushed itself against the transport’s hull. Crippled, the vessel began to list, until another salvo of plasma consumed the vessel.

The shockwave of the explosion hurled the nearest Wookiees from their feet, and the flash of fire blinded Sandarie for a moment. She felt the shockwave pass over her, hurl her to the ground. When she could see again, she could see blood and hair.

Half-deafened, she staggered to her feet and picked up her blaster rifle again. To her right, she could see a smaller group engaged with the Yuuzhan Vong—the friends that had brought her to this world. Halyn Lance was fighting a warrior a head taller than himself, the sword in his hand madly parrying the attacker’s amphistaff. Mighty Anishor—I’ve still never met a Wookiee bigger than him—had a giant rykk blade longer than Sandi’s legs in either hand, moving so fast her eyes couldn’t follow his attacks and blocks. Violet-eyed Kelta Rose held twin flames of purple, her lightsabers keeping three Yuuzhan Vong at bay as she fought defensively.

Sandi finally became aware of someone talking to her. She turned, found the Zabrak woman there she had brought to Iridonia—Nisia Eisweep. Sandi squinted and read the other woman’s lips.

“Yes, I’m alright,” Sandi shouted. “Can hardly hear.”

Nisia pointed with her blaster pistol, then started firing. Sandi turned back, saw one of the reptoid slave troops take several bolts to the head and fall. The Twi’lek blushed at her moment’s distraction, then raised her blaster rifle and sighted on one of the Yuuzhan Vong warriors trying to penetrate Kelta’s defenses.

At forty meters distant, it wasn’t a difficult shot with a rifle, but the warrior’s vonduun crab armor turned it aside. He turned towards Sandi and Nisia as fire from Nisia’s less-powerful blaster pistol bounced off him in quick succession. The moment’s distraction cost him dearly; Kelta’s off-hand lightsaber cut his legs out from under him, and he went down thrashing.

Sandi nodded grimly and kept firing. Nisia’s blaster pistols whined behind her, joining the chaos. My hearing’s coming back, Sandi noted distantly. That’s a good sign.

Kelta’s violet blades flashed in a faster pattern yet, and first one, then the other of her opponents fell. She was breathing heavily as she turned towards Halyn and Anishor. Sandi swung her rifle over and, in spite of the years of warfare, was shocked at what she saw.

Halyn’s sword took his opponent’s head off at the neck even as she watched. The Vong warrior toppled impossibly slowly, a striking contrast to the one who replaced him, leaping forward with his amphistaff raised high to smash down on the smaller Zabrak. Halyn rushed forward into the attack, plunging the blade deep into his belly before the Vong could strike.

Anishor had dropped one of his rykk blades. With the remaining blade he was parrying away strikes from four Yuuzhan Vong who were trying to outflank him. Sandi’s heart caught in her throat. He’s lost one of his weapons already!

Then the massive Wookiee snaked out with his free hand, impossibly fast, and caught an attacking warrior’s wrist. The Yuuzhan Vong dropped his amphistaff, perhaps as a result of a Wookiee paw’s squeeze. Anishor twisted, his muscles bulging under his fur, and swung the warriors into all three of his fellows. All four went down in a heap, and abruptly Nisia’s blasterfire was burning into the mound of fallen Yuuzhan Vong. Sandi was surprised to find herself shooting as well.

I hate war.


The New Jedi Order: Siege – Wounded

When the last Yuuzhan Vong warrior fell to Anishor’s rykk blades, Halyn paused for a moment to draw himself up. Around him he could see his allies—Kelta, her burning lightsabers held high and ready; Anishor, his fur matted with blood and grime, the twin rykk blades shining with their own light; Ceikeh, his arm slashed open and still bleeding freely, but on his feet with zhaboka in hand; Nisia, blaster pistol in hand and still firing; Sandarie in a crouch, her blaster rifle firing.

Wait, Sandi?

With the Yuuzhan Vong down, the reptoid slave troops broke and fled. The Wookiee berserkers made parting blows, killing yet more of them. Some of the Wookiees were down, either badly wounded or dead; those still on their feet were splattered with blood and gore, though it was impossible to tell if its origins were Yuuzhan Vong or Wookiee. A few of the berserkers began an impromptu pursuit, but Anishor’s commanding roar brought them to a stop.

Halyn was still looking at the Twi’lek. I didn’t tell Sandi to come. Did I?

For a moment, the hasty plans he’d improvised aboard the Cathleen seemed a lifetime ago.

<The Yuuzhan Vong retreat,> Anishor observed, interrupting the Zabrak’s thoughts.

The Ul’akhoi turned. “For now. Without the Vong warriors, their slaves aren’t exactly brave. We’ve blunted this attack, but we’re losing ground to do so.”

<How much?> Anishor asked.

Halyn flicked his comlink on and brought it to his lips. “Katie, what’s the status of the major battle?”

The younger Sanshir answered a moment later. “The Yuuzhan Vong are inside the defenses now; there’s no holding them back. We took a fair number of casualties, but the Vong paid for every meter of territory they hold with their blood. We’re at a stalemate for now; they’re not making any harder pushes yet.”

“They’ll consolidate their hold inside our defenses before they try anything else,” Halyn grunted. “What’s the status of our shield generators?”

Kativie’s voice was grim. “The matalok overloaded everything. The on-site technicians said that there’s no quick fix for this one; the generators will need to be completely stripped down to the cores and rebuilt. The surge that hit the system cooked so many circuits that diagnostics can’t make sense of what’s left.”

Halyn clicked his comlink off. “It’s going to get worse before it gets better,” he muttered.

“It always seems to,” Kelta offered. Halyn turned, saw her lightsabers were clipped to her belt now. Her Jedi robes were torn and cut in a half-dozen places, though she seemed relatively unharmed.

“The coldest hour is the one before the dawn,” he murmured. “But I don’t think we’re there yet.”

Anishor nodded. <It is time to evacuate the remaining civilians.>

Halyn shook his head. “There are no civilians here,” he said firmly. “The children are protected aboard the Cathleen; anyone else on Iridonia can and will fight.”

<Coatrack, not everyone is like us. That is why we exist—to fight, so others don’t have to.>

It was a familiar argument stemming from the Wookiee berserker tradition. Anishor was born of a tradition of Wookiee warriors, berserkers who committed their entire lives, their full beings, to warfare. Every one of the Wookiee’s skills revolved around some aspect of war—flying and gunning aboard starships, using bowcasters as ranged weapons, training with melee weapons that had traditionally been used against slavers and the vicious creatures of Kashyyyk, even forging new weapons for himself. Halyn suspected that even what little recreation the Wookiee indulged in was based around war.

The berserker philosophy boiled down succinctly. We become slaves to war, so others can have freedom.

Halyn understood the philosophy well, and believed it effective. On the other hand, Iridonia is at risk. This battle affects us all. The Yuuzhan Vong aren’t interested in traditional conquering, and merely controlling territories. They want to destroy our very civilization, our traditions that trace back millennia, and remake our species, our worlds, our galaxy in their image. No one should be forced to fight, but we can’t afford anything less.

“Check on your berserkers,” Halyn said aloud. “Let’s regroup, because we’ll likely need them again soon.” Deliberately he turned away from the Wookiee, ending the discussion. Instead, he looked at Kelta squarely. “You and I,” he said calmly, “need to talk.”

Halyn stepped away and Kelta fell in beside him. He knew without looking that Anishor was frustrated with him, his willingness to sacrifice civilians to slow the Yuuzhan Vong advance. But I don’t view it as sacrifice. This war is for all of us—if they don’t fight, we’ll all fail.

“What do you need, General?” Kelta asked.

Halyn was hit by a thousand memories when Kelta said General. He pushed them away with an effort. “How long will you stay?” he asked instead.

“As long as you’ll have me,” Kelta said hesitantly. “I wasn’t sure how welcome I was.”

“Your daughter was adopted into our clan,” Halyn pointed out. “You participated in Kativie’s wedding. You made a passable Zabrak, by the way.”

“You were there,” Kelta said incredulously. “I thought…but I wasn’t sure.”

Halyn nodded. “That was then, this is now,” he said quietly. “Kelta, I’m looking for every advantage I can get against the Vong. We’re holding our own—barely—but I know that won’t last. So, I need to know if the Jedi Academy trained your battle meditation.” More old memories flickered through his mind as he said it. He ignored them as well.

The Jedi hesitated. “I’m capable of it,” she said slowly. “But I don’t use it.”

“Why not?”

“Feedback.” Halyn waited patiently for explanation, and Kelta finally relented. “Halyn, you remember how sensitive I was to the Force. I could feel my friends’ pain. I could feel when someone died nearby, even when I had no connection to them. I sense everything so clearly it’s distracting.”

“Which is why you were capable of the battle meditation,” Halyn pointed out.

“Yes, and no. I only used it once, when we fought the Imperial blockade here, at Iridonia. And the feedback from it was enough to make me numb. Halyn, I can feel every injury, every death around me. In battle I can shield myself from it to some degree—the concern for my own survival, drawing on the Force to defend myself, all insulate me from the sensations. But if I’m attempting battle meditation, I can’t cut myself off—I have to feel it in order for the meditation to work.” The look on her face was frustration and shame. “In an actual battle, I can’t take in all that feedback and still make the meditation work.”

“Ah,” was all Halyn could say.

“In a way,” she continued, “fighting the Yuuzhan Vong is better than fighting the Empire. I can’t feel them in the Force, so I can’t feel their pain or death, either. I still feel my allies…but it’s half the sensation I used to feel.” She shook her head. “I’m sorry, but I can’t help you that way.”

So much for that weapon, Halyn thought glumly. It was still worth asking, though.

“Halyn,” Kelta said quietly, “what are you going to do? The war is going to destroy this world. If the New Republic couldn’t defend Coruscant, how are you going to save Iridonia?”

The Zabrak found he had nothing to say.


Kelta frowned at Halyn, realizing for the first time that the dark leather of his duster was tinted crimson. “Halyn, you’ve been hurt.”

The Zabrak shook his head. “It’s nothing—just a few scratches.”

“No, it’s not.” Kelta reached out with the Force and started to probe his injuries. “You haven’t been poisoned, but you’ve been cut in a half-dozen places. We need to get you cleaned up or you’ll get infected.”

“I’m fine, Kelta. That’s what bleeding is for—it’s the body’s natural way of flushing out debris from wounds.”

One of the Iridonian military’s Muurian transports settled onto its landing struts, and Halyn marched aboard it without pause. Kelta followed closely. “You’re just as stubborn as always, aren’t you?” Kelta asked in frustration.

Halyn whirled abruptly to face her. “And you’re still getting worked up over nothing,” he snapped. “Always pushing when you could just let things be.”

During the Galactic Civil War, she would likely have wilted when his temper rose. Years as a parent and as a Jedi Knight, though, had added a layer of durasteel that she’d never had. Or maybe, she pondered to herself, it forged and tempered the steel that was already there. “I’m pushing,” she said, her voice low, “because I didn’t come here to watch you die. I chose to stay here to defend Iridonia and, whether I like it or not, you’re the best chance the Zabraks have at holding out against the Vong.” She pointed to the small medical alcove—not even a separate room in the light freighter. “Sit.”

Halyn stared at her, and Kelta could feel defiance in his gaze. Unexpectedly, it cut off. “Alright,” he said agreeably.

Kelta stripped off the leather duster, and was more than a little surprised to see it relatively intact. Amphistaffs were razor-sharp and capable of filleting most armor; only the Yuuzhan Vong’s own vonduun crab armor and a Jedi’s lightsaber could reliably stop the living weapons in combat. However, Halyn’s leather duster had apparently turned aside more than a few of the attacks. “What kind of leather is this?” she asked disbelievingly.

“Trade secret,” was all Halyn would say.

She stripped off his shirt, revealing the striped scars running down his back. Fresh cuts crisscrossed them in places, as well on his chest, but they were relatively shallow. Kelta shook her head and found an antibacterial cloth, and started to wipe away the blood and dirt that clung to his torso.

Halyn was silent while she worked. At last, she asked, “What happened to you, Halyn? You didn’t used to have scars like this.”

A faint smile touched the Zabrak’s lips. “I led an interesting life after Endor,” he commented.

“Is it going to be like this until I leave?” the Jedi asked in exasperation. “You just refusing to give a straight answer? You used to trust me, you know.”

Halyn was silent for long heartbeats—long enough for Kelta to regret the words. She could feel the faint sting of pain and regret that had nothing to do with the shallow cuts the amphistaffs had inflicted on him.

“The Hutts caught up to me,” he said at last. “After the peace treaty between the Remnant and the New Republic.”

Kelta raised an eyebrow. “And what, they just beat you and let you go?” She winced at the glib remark. “Sorry.”

The transport—now loaded with Wookiee berserkers—whined as the repulsorlifts lifted it clear of the ground. Whether it was the noise of the engines or the vividness of the memories Kelta could feel bubbling up in Halyn’s mind, it seemed like he hadn’t heard her. “They decided executing me was too swift for what I’d done, and freezing me in carbonite wouldn’t cause enough suffering. They wanted to make a proper example out of me, and get some entertainment in the process.”

“What did you do?” Kelta asked.

Halyn again didn’t seem to hear the question. “There’s a lot of Rim worlds beyond the reach of the New Republic—just like they were beyond the Empire, and the Old Republic before it. On one of them, the Hutts had built, or taken over, a gladiatorial arena. They were using it in the traditional way—after all, battles between gladiators are great betting material.”

“They made you fight?” Kelta asked quietly.

Halyn finally turned and looked her in the eyes, then nodded. “They were using slaves, smugglers who’d dropped cargoes, bounty hunters who had failed to take marks, political enemies—whoever they could get. And they pitted every fighter against each other. There were no allies or friends in there.”

“How long were you in there?”

“About two years,” Halyn said distantly.  “In a way, it was the best thing that could have happened to me.”

Kelta stared at him in shock. “What?” she managed.

“There were no blasters, no laser cannons, no starfighters,” he said, his voice as distant as before. “I had to fall back on the training of my youth. I re-learned the zhaboka, melee fighting, reading an opponent’s stance and grappling. I had forgotten so much that I needed to know.” His eyes returned to Kelta. “It was everything I needed to know to fight the Yuuzhan Vong. Without that knowledge, I’d already be dead.” He glanced down. “Are you done yet?”

Kelta looked down and blushed. “Oh. Yes,” she said awkwardly, pulling away the blood-soaked cloth. The shallow cuts were already sealing themselves; small amounts of blood still seeped through, but he was clearly in no danger. “How did you get out?” she asked.

“Argus,” was the Ul’akhoi’s response. “One of the spectators at the gladiatorial games recognized me and got word to Argus. He and Kativie came and pulled me out.” His smile was faint. “I’m pretty sure if the Hutts ever catch up to me again, they’ll go straight to execution. Of course, they’ve got other things to worry about right now, with the war between the Vong and the Hutts.”

Halyn shrugged his leather duster back into place sans a shirt. He turned away from Kelta then, withdrawing his sword from its sheath and frowning at it. “You took a beating,” he said aloud at the notched blade. “Need to get you fixed up before I need you again.”

Kelta shook her head. He told me, but I have more questions than answers. Halyn, what’s happened to you?


The Cathleen’s bridge was just as loud and busy as when Halyn had departed it. Orders and information flowed freely; tactical holograms, now properly adjusted for the scope of a city-wide battle instead of the depths of space, filled the open air; repaired data screens were filled with casualty reports, supply information, reconnaissance data on the Yuuzhan Vong’s movements. Zabrak officers moved from station to station, sometimes at a run.

Kativie sat in the big command chair in the center of the battered bridge. Halyn had to smile at that. “Getting used to command, Katie? I’m sure we could arrange something.”

She snorted at him. “You know exactly how military I am. I’m better off as a Jedi than a general…or Vysht’akhoi. Or Ul’akhoi.” She smirked at her older brother.

Halyn snorted. “Keep the seat. What’s the status?”

The Zabrak woman’s expression lost its mirth. “The Vong are well inside the city now. Their advance, and the retreat you ordered, means they control about ten percent of the city. It’s by no means a large amount, but they have a beachhead we’re going to lose a lot of people dislodging. They’re taking full advantage of it to get supplies moved inside, according to our recon pilots. More troops, supply transports, and some of their war beasts.

“Last report from our on-site technicians says the shields aren’t going to be repairable with what they have on-hand. They said there’s nothing bigger than freighter shield components on planet, and those won’t handle the power needed to generate a city-wide shield.”

“What about components from the Cathleen?” Halyn asked.

Kativie’s face darkened. “Hadn’t even thought of that. I’ll get a comm line open between them and whoever is left of the Cathleen’s engineering crew.” She glanced at the tactical hologram. “Your counterattack scattered the scarhead ambush force, but we’re getting sporadic reports of Yuuzhan Vong and their reptoid troops in places of the city that should be secure. They’re going to do some damage before we can hunt them down.”

“You can’t hunt them down,” Halyn said with a shake of his head. “To do that, we’d need to pull troops off the line between the city and the Vong. Any weakness and we’ll lose ground quickly, and we can’t afford that right now.”

“City supplies are in place now,” Kativie continued with a touch of impatience. “We’ve got enough food and medical supplies to hold out for three months, give or take—calculating for expected casualties. If we do better than expected, we’ll run out of supplies more quickly.”

“Good reason to lose,” Halyn said dryly.

“The Vong in orbit haven’t done anything interesting since they sent that cruiser down the well that hit the shields. They’re still trying to get transports down with heavy coralskipper escorts, of course, but Rinnet’s squadrons are only letting a handful through.” She shrugged slightly. “Nothing unexpected, I think.”

Halyn nodded. “The Vong are taking a moment to catch their breath and prepare for the next phase. With their beachhead in place, they’re going to start pressing into the city much harder. This is going to get ugly.”

“How so?” Nisia asked, breaking into the conversation between the two siblings.
<This is the worst kind of fighting,> Anishor spoke up. <It is brutal, disheartening, and destructive for all involved. The campaign will move to house-to-house fighting, in the streets, in the air. There will be extreme casualties on both sides, and even if we win, there may be nothing left of Rak’Edalin by the time we have beaten the Yuuzhan Vong back.>

“Correct,” Halyn said. “This works to our advantage.”

Every person in earshot turned to give him an incredulous look, including several of the Cathleen’s officers going about their duties.

“The Yuuzhan Vong have never fought this type of battle,” he clarified. “Look at what’s happened since the invasion. At Belkaden they took the world without a fight. At Dubrilion, they dislodged the naval defenders and promptly took the planet. Ithor was almost entirely a naval engagement; the ground battle was nothing but a distraction. Obroa-skai, Fondor, Duro—after removing the space-based defenses, the worlds fell quickly. There was resistance, sure, but nothing organized, no difficult ground campaign.

“Here at Iridonia, they’ve driven off our fleet. They expect our ground forces to fall away. Instead, we’re going to engage them in the most brutal fighting they’ve ever experienced since they entered our galaxy, bar none. We’re not going to break—we’re going to stand firm.”

“You have a plan, then?” Kelta Rose asked.

Halyn turned and smiled at the violet-eyed Jedi. “Of course.” He turned back to the tactical hologram. “Give me the entire city, please.”

Rak’Edalin shimmered in the air, ethereal in the blue-white holographic light. Halyn stepped into the hologram. “The Yuuzhan Vong,” he said, “hold a fraction of the city. If they maintain true to form, they will first spread out in waves and attempt to overwhelm our forces in all directions. They’ll be using reptoids to soak up blasterfire, of course.” He gestured expansively around the Yuuzhan Vong beachhead. “Our forces are going to be drawing back, using every bit of cover. They’re going to intentionally draw the Vong into building-to-building, room-to-room combat.”

<Your losses will be heavy,> Anishor said grimly.

“So will the Vong’s.” Halyn turned back to the hologram. “Their commander isn’t an idiot—he’ll adjust appropriately as the pain from his lost forces hit him. So he’ll adjust.”

“What sort of adjustment?” Nisia asked.

Halyn smiled faintly. “Not yet, Nisia.”

“You’re a tease, Jess.”

“One stage at a time. If we’re going to beat the Vong, we need to get them dancing to our tune, and this is the first step in manipulating them.” He closed his eyes. “Make no mistake about it. A lot of people are going to die, probably including some of us.” When his eyes opened, they were green ice. “I won’t think any less of you if you leave, or choose the safety of the Cathleen over close-in combat with the Vong. I’m going to be on the front lines with those who are fighting.”

“Who will take command if you fall while fighting on the front lines?” Ceikeh Alari asked. “There’s a reason Generals aren’t strapped in a starfighter cockpit or firing a blaster.”

Halyn smiled faintly. “Keep me alive, so you don’t have to find out.”


The New Jedi Order: Siege – Nightfall

Kelta was deep in meditation, feeling the currents of the Force flow around her, through her, when someone approached.

She ignored the not-unexpected interruption. The Jedi Knight knew that solitude was far too much to ask for right now, with the Yuuzhan Vong on the ground and inside Rak’Edalin. Halyn’s words had been abundantly clear: the Zabrak were going to fight to the last Iridonian, and as a Jedi Knight, she would no doubt be expected to fight.

Before she opened her eyes, though, she felt the currents of the Force. Waves of fear crashed over her—not unthinking terror, but the heartfelt tension as each Zabrak within fifty kilometers worried for parents, spouses, children, friends. There was no doubt Iridonia was in mortal danger, and there was a very real possibility that no Zabrak would leave the besieged world alive.

There was hatred. As a Jedi, she shunned such emotions as a path to the dark side, but she had spent too many years of her life outside of the Jedi Order for her not to understand it and, to a slight degree, indulge in it herself. The Yuuzhan Vong had invaded their galaxy, burned worlds, enslaved entire races, and now threatened another species whom dared to defy them. The Vong had specifically targeted the Jedi, and because of them, Kelta had no idea where her daughter was in the galaxy.

And there was death. Even with the Zabrak defenders at a stalemate with the Yuuzhan Vong landing force, a continual skirmish continued. It wasn’t a lot of death, really, compared to the devastating losses in the fleet engagement, or the casualties both sides had paid when the Vong had established their beachhead. In some ways, this was far worse—she could feel each one individually, a life ended too soon by a thud bug or slash of an amphistaff.

When she opened her eyes, she was surprised to see Anishor kneeling in front of her, settling into his own meditation.

She watched the Wookiee through half-lidded violet eyes. “Hello, Anishor.”

<I am surprised,> the berserker said after a few moments of silence. <You have not progressed in the Force as I expected.>

Kelta frowned. Wookiees never were ones for small talk, and Anishor was never an exception. “I spent some time away from the Jedi,” she said slowly.

<I misspoke,> Anishor rumbled. <Your path is not the one I expected from you.>

The Jedi’s frown deepened. “I’m not sure I understand,” she replied.

The Wookiee was silent for a period. Kelta could feel him in the Force, resting in its strength in his own unique way. I never understood that, how he or any of his berserkers can do that. They don’t use the Force like any Jedi I’ve ever met, and certainly not like the Theran Listeners.

<You chose the path of a warrior,> the Wookiee finally explained. <While it was necessary during the war against the Empire, I thought you would choose another when the Jedi Order was resurrected by Master Skywalker.>

Kelta’s hand instinctively found her lightsaber. She squeezed the hilt for a moment, memories of a thousand battles flashing through her mind. “Why? I know I wasn’t an ace starfighter pilot like Halyn or Lenn, and I was no master of combat like you or Master Sprint, but I was capable enough.”

<Capable, yes, but your heart was never within it,> Anishor countered. <Your deny your very talents with the path you’ve chosen.>

“I’m using my ability with the Force to fight so others don’t have to.”

<A slave to war,> Anishor echoed. <But your talents within the Force aren’t about fighting. Korris recognized it but trained you this way anyways, because it was what was needed at that time. And perhaps even now, it is what the galaxy needs you to be. But you know well, young one, that your real natural abilities with the Force have nothing to do with the lightsaber.>

Kelta said nothing.

<I do not sense your thoughts in the Force like a Jedi may, but I can see things in your stance, your posture, your face, your scent. I can see the death of every Zabrak who fights right now in your eyes, from moment to moment. You still feel it all, don’t you?>

The Jedi’s eyes closed, but a single tear slid down her cheek.

<The nagbecca do not sense deaths the way you do. Most Jedi do not, either. The best warriors I’ve ever known do not, either. Halyn does not love war, but when he wages it, he does so without remorse for the death of his enemies. While he mourns the loss of his friends and allies, he delays it until the battle is over, the fighting complete. You do not—you cannot, with your talent.>

“What would you have expected from me, then?” Kelta asked quietly.

<I believed you would become a great healer, perhaps, or a councilor. Someone who binds up hurts and soothes pains, not inflicts them upon others.> Anishor’s blue eyes studied her intensely. <I fear that the pains you feel from others, those you take upon yourself, will destroy you.>

“I’m no healer,” Kelta said shortly.

<Did you study those arts?> Anishor asked.

“Yes,” came the flat answer. “I studied under Cilghal for a time. Master Skywalker thought my skills would lie naturally along healing, too, because of my sensitivity. I just couldn’t get the hang of it.” She shrugged slightly. “I’m doing what needs to be done.”

<For who?> Anishor asked.

Silence hung between the two, seconds that stretched into minutes. Finally, the Wookiee asked, <Are you going to stay?>

Kelta hesitated. Master Skywalker’s words came back to her in a rush: 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.

“Yes,” she said aloud. “Yes, I’m going to stay. Until this is over, one way or the other.”


Kativie fingered the lightsaber on her belt as she approached the well-lit hangar bay. A part of her ached at the thought of the combat that had already happened, and was continuing even now. That’s not very Jedi-like of me, she chided herself. Master Katarn would be ashamed of you, Kativie Lusp. How many times did he scold you for being too eager to draw your blade?

The Force itself was dark and tense to her senses. I’m not as sensitive as Kelta, but even I can feel it. None of us may survive it. She swallowed hard at that thought, still pacing towards the bright hangar. Not even my own…

She refused to let that thought finish. No. We will win this battle. For all our sakes. No matter what happens, Halyn won’t let the Yuuzhan Vong conquer us. Not while he lives. She finally reached the open hangar doors and strode inside, looking at the single ship resting on its landing struts inside. Of course, the past could kill him before the Yuuzhan Vong even have a chance.

The ship was a battered old Gallofree light transport, a YKL-37R. Only a few of them had been built before the starship manufacturer had declared bankruptcy, way back before the battle of Yavin. This particular “Nova Courier” wasn’t even the production design—its bow was blockier and larger than the final model, with an extra ten percent cargo capacity.

“Halyn?” she called. “Halyn, are you here?”

She heard a banging inside. Shaking her head, she marched up the boarding ramp and into the interior of the vessel.

The two narrow corridors, running from port to the starboard landing ramp, and from the aft engineering section to the forward hold, were nearly what she remembered, though cables and bare wires hung from overhead compartments, and she had to step over debris cluttering the walkway. Back during the Civil War, Halyn would never have let his ship get this way. She crossed all the way to the port side to check the offset cockpit module, but her brother wasn’t there. She moved back to the central corridor and then headed forward towards the cargo hold.

Halyn was dressed in trousers and boots but was bare-chested, his leather duster hanging from the corner of a loose panel just inside the cargo hold. He was clearing away fallen equipment and components, but he had apparently stopped and was studying something in his hands.

“I never thought I’d see this again,” Halyn said softly without turning. “Thought I’d lost it. Certainly lost the right to wield it, Katie.”

Kativie stepped into the cargo hold to see what he was holding. He turned slightly, and it took her a moment to recognize the object in his hands. She’d only seen it a few times, and then only in the months leading up to the battle of Endor. “That’s…”

“Yes.” Halyn extracted the straight-edged sword from its sheath. It seemed to shine with reflected light from angles which should’ve provided no illumination. “The blade Anishor forged for me.”

In spite of the years it had laid neglected in the hold of the derelict freighter, it bore no rust and still seemed as polished as ever. Even in the dim illumination provided by several worklamps, an inscription was easily readable. Kativie read it silently, then repeated it aloud. “’For the hope of Iridonia,’” she said. “Seems fitting.”

Halyn shook his head. “The hope of Iridonia isn’t with me, it’s with every Zabrak fighting on the front lines right now,” he said flatly. “You know, twenty years puts perspective on what we did back then. We thought we were heroes back then—the masters of fate. What amazes me now is that we succeeded. We fought the Empire across the galaxy, helped defeat the Empire at Endor, liberated Iridonia. We were a few fools with delusions of grandeur.”

Kativie shook her head. “Not delusions—you succeeded because you were one of the few people with vision.”

“Vision? What vision? Vision of an Iridonia too weak to defend itself?” Halyn’s knuckles were white as his grip tightened on the blade’s hilt.

“Listen to me, Halyn,” Kativie said sharply. “You told me something once that you need to hear now.” She paused, waiting until he turned to meet her gaze. “You used to tell me—all of us—that the galaxy had become too dependent on the Jedi. That was the real reason the Emperor was able to take over was because the common people were unable to act. They all expected the Jedi to act for them.” She met his uncertain gaze steadily. “Right now, you’re afraid that Iridonia is going to fall. Halyn, I firmly believe that the fate of all of us here, now, depends on what you do. The Force provided you that blade again, here and now, because the inscription is true: you are the hope of Iridonia.”

The Ul’akhoi studied the blade in his hands wordlessly for long moments. “It’s why I left her all those years ago,” he said softly at last. “The responsibility of being the warrior, the guardian, the leader. I don’t want a life of death.”

“No,” she said. “But it doesn’t have to be a life of death. Yes, that’s a part of what you’re doing here—but it’s to preserve life. You may not be a Jedi, and you never will be, but the principal remains. You’re doing what you have to do to preserve everything.”

Halyn was silent now, just studying the forged weapon.

“It’s hard seeing her again, isn’t it?”

The older Zabrak sighed. “Really, Katie? You’re going to ask me that question?”

She ignored the attempt to deflect. “She still loves you.”

Halyn snorted. “Ironic.”

“How so?”

“I left her all those years ago because she needed a life that wasn’t filled with constant war and death and fighting. It was slowly eating away at her. She never had the heart for it. Me, I thrived in the constant battles. I left to see if there was anything to me besides a warrior. Now, I’ve taken up that role again, and here she is, and I’m just as wrong for her now as I was then.”

“Halyn Sanshir,” Kativie said flatly, her voice low. “Listen to me, big brother. You may be the Ul’akhoi, and the Hope of Iridonia, and whatever other title you want to adopt, but sometimes you’re such a big idiot I want to smack you.”

“Oh?” His tone belied his one-word question, sounding completely unsurprised.

“You need to let her choose for herself,” Kativie said. “And besides, I somehow doubt she’ll just go running off after this is over. You’ll have time to figure this out.”

Halyn stepped past Kativie and pulled his duster from the wall, shrugging it on sans shirt. “First, we have to win this war.”

In spite of her confident words, as Kativie stretched out to the Force, she could sense nothing of what the future held for herself, her family, her brother, or her world. Master Skywalker told us about Master Yoda, and his inability to see the future clearly…just before Master Skywalker lost his duel to Darth Vader on Bespin. Are we really going to win this battle? Who are we going to lose along the way?


Sandarie had decided to go for a walk to clear her head after returning from the skirmish. Her hearing was mostly normal again, the Twi’lek found, but she still occasionally felt dizzy. Maybe this wasn’t the smartest place to go for a walk, she decided as she studied the curve of the Cathleen’s hull. Of course, we shouldn’t be vulnerable to the Vong up here. They like being up close.

As she walked along the length of the kilometer-long warship’s hull, she was surprised to see light several hundred meters ahead, just beyond one of the cruiser’s bulges. It only took a few minutes to cross the distance at her leisurely pace, and the scene surprised her.

About a dozen Zabraks were sitting in a circle with a glowstick in the center, illuminating the group. She didn’t recognize most of them, but Nisia Eisweep and Lenn Kaman were both present—Lenn being the only non-Zabrak in the group. Sandarie frowned from outside the circle of light thrown by the glowstick. What are they doing?

Another moment’s observation answered her question as she saw a pipe pass from hand to hand. The quiet night breeze shifted, and the distinct scent of Giggledust smoke assaulted her nose. The Twi’lek couldn’t help but sneeze as the odor of the spice infiltrated her sinuses.

Almost immediately, most of the circle turned in her direction. Sandarie grimaced. So much for quiet observation. A moment later, she was surprised to see several of the Zabraks wave her forward. She frowned, then walked forward into the lit circle. Be careful, she told herself. Just because you only smell Giggledust doesn’t mean they’re not using something stronger, too.

“’Ello, Sandi,” Lenn drawled easily. “Enjoyin’ the evening?”

“Yes,” the Twi’lek said, suppressing a shudder. “Nice, quiet night. Seems like even the Vong are quiet at this time of night.”

Nisia shook her head. “Nope, this is when they’re trying to infiltrate our perimeter. They’re a long ways from here, though.”

One of the other Zabraks, whom Sandi now recognized as the Cathleen’s navigator—Not that the ship needs a navigator anymore—offered her a pipe, Giggledust smoke still rising from it. The smoke stung Sandi’s eyes. “No, thanks,” she declined with a shake of her head. “What are you all doing up here?”

“Relaxin’ before we all die,” Nisia said dryly.

“Die?” Sandarie asked, taken aback.

“Yeah,” one of the Zabraks Sandi couldn’t identify spoke up. “Doubt any of us is going to make it off this rock.”

“Wouldn’t have it any other way,” another drawled. “Iridonia is the birthplace of the Zabrak nation. If the Vong are going to kill us all, no better place to die than right here where it all started.”

Sandarie was immediately struck by two thoughts. Every one of them is spiced, including two of Halyn’s own inner circle. And every one of them thinks they’re going to die here. She couldn’t help but shudder this time. And maybe we all are. Without the fleet…

Her thoughts fled to Ryian Coron aboard the Dauntless, somewhere far away. Even now, was her husband engaged in battle with the Yuuzhan Vong? Was he going to return to Iridonia before the Yuuzhan Vong overwhelmed the Rak’Edalin defenders? If I die here, will he even know what became of me? That thought niggled at her. I don’t want him to live a life not knowing, if I fall here.

Perhaps it was her own exhaustion or uncertainty, but she slipped into the circle and sat down. Again she declined the spice pipe when it was offered. “Don’t any of you think we’ll win this?”

“General Sanshir is a fine officer,” the navigator said slowly. “But it doesn’t matter. The Vong have beaten everyone who has been fighting them for the last two years. We can kill them ten to one, and they’ll still just overwhelm us with numbers until we don’t have anyone else who can fight.”

“Halyn beat the Empire here,” Sandi reminded him.

“Jess didn’t do that,” Nisia contradicted. “He broke the blockade, but Argus beat the Empire. He was the one who had everything ready to go when the blockade fell, and it was the Resistance—which Argus coordinated—that did the work.”

“’Sides,” the navigator said, “General Sanshir’s already losing the fight. We lost the fleet, we lost the city’s shields, we lost the city’s turbolasers. The Vong are knockin’ at our door already.”

Murmurs of assent rose from the entire circle. Sandarie felt a twinge of doubt. Maybe they’re right. Maybe Halyn can’t win. He’s always been able to bluff…was everything he told us a bluff to ensure we’d fight until the end? All his battles, he won by outthinking, outmaneuvering his enemy. Here he’s trapped on the ground, defending a static target. Maybe he really is out of his realm. Despair threatened to take hold. I’m sorry, Ryian, for leaving the Dauntless. I’m so sorry if the last words we ever exchange were in anger.

“So,” Nisia said with surprising cheerfulness, “in fine Zabrak tradition, we prepare to fight. We’re all warriors—every one of us. And if we all die, the Vong are going to be climbing over their dead to do it.  And there’s no shame in relaxing every night in any way we can—whether it’s whiskey or spice or food or sex. We’re going to fight to the end, and if we’re all going to die, there’s no sense in not enjoying ourselves to the end.”

Shouts of agreement met Nisia’s proclamation.

Sandi closed her eyes. I should stop this—I should turn them in. Halyn doesn’t need his officers spicing up at night and fighting during the day, and if word of this spreads, it’ll be bad for morale.

                Of course, most of Rak’Edalin probably thinks they’re going to die in this war and they’re doing the same thing. She swallowed, resisted the urge to take a hit of the spice for herself. I can let them go. Halyn doesn’t need to know. If these Zabraks are going to die fighting, I can honor their courage with my silence.



The old warship Dauntless orbited in sync with the Cyclone, the latter clearly visible through the former’s bridge viewports. Allanna Saret, now commanding officer for the Zabrak navy, wished her flagship didn’t look so blasted small.

Ryian Coron’s voice was heavy. “I’m sorry, Admiral,” he said quietly. “Apparently this location wasn’t secure.”

Fires were clearly visible on the planet surface below. The wreckage of warships and the shipyards they were protecting were intermixed, a screen of durasteel between the Dauntless and the planet below. Occasionally the hull of a crippled starfighter would float by near enough for Allanna to identify it by sight, but more often it was only components—a laser cannon, an s-foil, an ion engine.

“How long ago was the battle fought here?” Allanna asked distantly.

“Sixty hours is the best estimate,” Ryian said with a shrug. “The Vong apparently didn’t stick around to hold the place.

“No,” the Zabrak woman agreed. “They just struck to try to cripple the Fleet.” She sighed. “Deploy three fighter wings for search-and-rescue,” she said at last. “Two to cover the ground facilities, one to fly whatever’s left of the shipyards. We’re looking for any survivors, any information on where the Fleet is.”

Bridge crew on the Dauntless began shouting orders, and the comm channels lit up with relayed communications. Allanna closed her eyes. Where are you hiding, Bel Iblis?

It had been Ryian Coron’s idea after the fallback. To break the blockade, he had argued, they would need serious firepower—Star Destroyer-heavy. The Dauntless was roughly at that level, but the Iridonians would need half a dozen warships like her to drive the Yuuzhan Vong from orbit. Corellian-to-Corellian, Ryian believed he had a good chance of talking Bel Iblis out of the warships they would need—as a loan—to retake Iridonia’s orbit.

Long enough to evacuate, anyways, Allanna thought bitterly. If we ever find Bel Iblis, that is. Instead, all we do is chase shadows and arrive several days too late to link up with any elements of his fleet. Dammit, we should’ve gone to Borleias, with Antilles under siege or not.

Ryian had willingly put the Dauntless under Allanna’s command for now, and while the Cyclone was the largest surviving vessel in the Zabrak navy, she had reluctantly transferred her flag to the heavier-armed Dauntless. “Of course,” she muttered to herself, “all the additional firepower doesn’t do us any good if we never run into the enemy, either.”

“Admiral?” Ryian asked.

Allanna shook her head. “Nothing.”

Her frown deepened. It’s odd, though. We never find any real traces of the Yuuzhan Vong, either. There’s plenty of coral dust in orbit, but it’s not like the Vong are getting some decisive victories here, either. This is the third stronghold for the New Republic Fleet in this area of space that we’ve visited, and the other two look just like this—shattered, but no Vong occupiers, either.

                The Fleet must be giving them a pounding just as hard as the one they’re taking, then.

More wreckage floated within view—the hull of a Nebulon-B Escort Frigate, drifting in two separate pieces. Even as she watched, half an X-wing starfighter crashed into it, then richocheted away. She shook her head. Back when I was a starfighter pilot, I only did that once, and there was more left of my X-wing than that. Bright was furious with me, too.

Something clicked in her head. “Captain,” she said aloud.

Ryian was standing beside her a heartbeat later. “Yes?”

“Order the wing sweeping the shipyard to look for any astromechs,” she said slowly.

“Astromechs?” Ryian asked with a frown. A moment later, Allanna could see his eyes light up. “Right. Astromechs.” He turned and walked to the comm officer to relay the order.

Astromech droids were the backbone of some models of starfighters. They were designed to operate in hard vacuum—repairs in deep space, sometimes under emergency conditions, as well as system coordination, target assistance, additional computer power…and navigation.

There was a chance, however slim, that a study R2 or R5 unit had survived the destruction of its starfighter and even now might hold the coordinates of Bel Iblis’s fleet. We have to find them soon, Allanna thought wearily. Or it won’t matter anymore.

“Open the Holonet relay,” she said aloud. “See if you can raise Rak’Edalin.”

Long-range communication was less than assured—each passing month had made hypercomm relays less and less reliable as the Yuuzhan Vong invasion of the galaxy advanced. With Iridonia under blockade, there was a reasonable chance the Yuuzhan Vong had found the relay station outside the edge of the system and destroyed it.

Several minutes of patience demonstrated the relay was still intact, however, as a grainy blue-green hologram of Halyn Lance finally emerged from the holopad. “Admiral Saret,” he said in greeting.

“Ul’akhoi,” Allanna replied formally. She paused and studied the hologram closer. “Did I wake you?”

“No,” Halyn said with a shake of his head. “Just busy. We’re expecting the Vong to make another push at daybreak. Status of our fleet?”

“Intact, sir,” Allanna said. “We’ve been unable to link up with other elements of the Republic Navy thus far.” She hesitated. “Sir, if you recall us, we’ll be on your doorstep within two days.”

Halyn shook his head. “You have your orders, Admiral,” he said sharply.

“Yes, sir. Sir, what’s the status of Iridonia?” She bit back the questions she really wanted to ask: Is the family safe? Are my children protected?

“The Yuuzhan Vong have landed an army outside Rak’Edalin, and we’re currently under siege,” he said grimly. “I’m sending you a current tactical update, under your personal encryption. If nothing else, we should be able to learn some new things about how the Vong fight that may be helpful elsewhere.”

“Yes, sir,” she said automatically. “Any new orders, sir?”

Halyn shook his head. “You already have them.” He glanced away from the holo for a moment. “We’ll need to end this transmission quickly so the Vong don’t find our relay, but I want you to know…your children are still safe on the Cathleen, along with Katie’s kids. Iridonia out.”

“Admiral Saret out,” Allanna said quietly as the hologram vanished into static.



Triak Kraal stared at the blaze bug images of the infidel city below. Rak’Edalin stood defiant to the Yuuzhan Vong army in the darkness, light blazing across the city. The Yuuzhan Vong army had managed to establish a foothold in the city, but only barely.

A minor tactician stood off to the side, prattling endlessly about casualties, attrition, supplies. Triak ignored his subordinate. He knew well how dearly his forces had paid for their tenuous position threatening the Zabrak capital. Over a third of his landing force had died in the air, intercepted by a massive wing of infidel starfighters. Less than half of the coralskipper escort had returned to the orbital positions, and a matalok cruiser had been utterly destroyed stripping the city’s shields away.

Ret Kraal finally entered the chamber. He genuflected, both hands snapping to the opposing shoulders in salute. “Command me, Supreme one.”

Triak waved away the formalities. “Tell me, Tactician…what other surprises does the enemy hold in store for us?”

“Honored one?” Ret asked.

“It is clear to me now that their fleet was never beaten.” He waved a hand at the blaze bug display of the besieged city. “Our forces were savaged by their starfighters, far more than what they should have had with their fleet in retreat.” He frowned. “Tell me, have the infidels prepared a trap for us? Do they prepare another ambush?”

Ret Kraal frowned and studied the city display. “No,” he said at last. “I believe, Commander, that they have prepared defenses in depth.”

“Layered defenses, you mean.”

“In a way.” Ret’s eyes did not move from the city. “I suspect now that they knew from the beginning that their fleet could not stand against us. They lacked the heavy firepower necessary to destroy our fleet in orbit. They offered such a defense because they could use it to damage us and draw us in.”

“For their starfighter trap,” Triak concluded.

“I do not believe so.” Ret’s eyes narrowed. “The starfighter trap was only another layer of their defenses. They had also expected to turn the fixed implacements in their city against us as well—their turbolasers, hidden behind their shields.” He finally met Triak’s piercing gaze. “Another layer to their defense.”

“But it failed.”

“Yes, but it was only another layer.” Ret’s gaze was unflinching. “They have prepared for a siege, Commander. I now believe it was their warmaster’s intention from the beginning.”

“Why?” Triak asked with a frown. “Surely the infidels know that a protracted engagement will still end in their destruction.”

“Yes,” Ret conceded. “If all they do is stand and fight. However, the infidel warmaster has shown multiple layers to his defense—the battle in orbit involved multiple tricks and strategems alone. The defense of his city has likewise shown multiple layers. What other strategies does he have in store for us inside the city?”

“Do you believe he is prepared for us even on the ground?” Triak asked doubtfully. “No infidels have shown the desire for such a campaign; even at their capital world, when their orbital defenses broke, they fled or surrendered.”

The tactician was silent for several long minutes. “I do not believe this Sanshir would invite chaos and destruction into his own city,” he said reluctantly. “He made the same mistake of many infidels—underestimating our resolve. If his city’s defenses were still in place and their turbolasers still working, it is likely over half the drop force would have been destroyed. Any infidel army would have retreated long before that.”

“Your recommendation, Tactician?” Triak asked.

“Our forces on the ground hang on by their talons. Prepare another landing,” Ret suggested. “With our forces doubled, we can begin to push these infidels back into their city.”

“And the starfighter attacks?” was the Commander’s question.

“Send down the coralskippers all across the world,” Ret advised. “Striking as many settlements as possible. Their major cities, every village or settlement we can find. Draw their defending starfighters out and scatter them, and only when they are fully engaged, land your armies.”

Triak weighed the advice in his mind and found it sound. “Prepare the yorik trema and the coralskippers,” he announced. “We will bathe these infidels in blood.”

“A moment, Tactician,” he said quietly as the chamber bustled with activity.

Ret Kraal inclined his head and stepped forward so only the Commander and himself could hear.

“Tell me, will these Zabrak fight to the death?” he asked. “Will they fight as true warriors?”

“They are a stubborn race. The Galactic Empire attempted to enslave them over the span of two decades, and they refused to break. Instead, when outside assistance came, they were ready to rise up and destroy the occupiers.” Ret’s expression was troubled. “Commander, I worry that we will never truly break them, even should we conquer their cities. Were our worldshaping tools effective against this Iridonia, I would recommend it.”

Triak’s expression bore no trace of worry, but instead was confident. “The gods have given us a worthy challenge, then,” he said at last. “When we have finished here, Domain Kraal will be shamed no longer. No one will dare question our worthiness before the gods if we have vanquished one of the few worthy races in this galaxy.”

“They are still infidels, and are nothing before us,” Ret reminded.

Triak waved the admonishment away. “Still, it is good the gods have lain worthy challenges before us,” he murmured. “Our redemption is at hand, Ret Kraal.”

“Yes, Commander,” Ret said head bowed in acquiesce.

Triak could hear the trace of doubt in his subordinate’s voice. He believes we may lose this battle, the Commander thought distantly. He believes we could all be left shamed. Our enemy may fight with some degree of skill and bravery, but they lay below us, waiting only to be beaten. They are the enemy already hamstrung and bound—they may fight viciously, like a cornered beast, but have no real hope for victory.

The New Jedi Order: Siege – Counterpoint

The bridge of the Cathleen was quiet in the predawn hour. The fighting was already heating up, with skirmishes between the Yuuzhan Vong’s scouts and the entrenched Iridonian defenders. The usual bridge crew was largely absent, getting a few desperate hours of sleep before full-scale combat erupted again.

Halyn stood at the tactical hologram, watching blotches of red appear as reports of contact with Yuuzhan Vong forces filtered in. The comm officer was present and handling the tactical updates, but he was the only one of the regular crew present. The few others in the battered command center were those he trusted most: the Wookiee berserker Anishor; the Jedi Kelta Rose and his own sister, Kativie Lusp; Kryi Rinnet, now acting as the planetary starfighter coordinator; Ceikeh Alari, the Senator; and Lenn Kaman, who now headed up one of Halyn’s special operations squadrons.

“What will the Yuuzhan Vong do now?” Halyn asked aloud to the room. “What will their strategy be now that we’ve devastated their landing forces?”

“The force they landed at Rak’Edalin is going to have a tough time taking the city,” Kativie spoke up. She was dressed in light combat armor with a cloak thrown over it. Her lightsaber hung prominently at her belt, advertising exactly who and what she was. “They landed a lot less forces than they expected. Assuming they don’t try to pull their army back out—and they won’t, because the Vong don’t retreat—they have to be thinking there’s a chance they will fail to take the city.”

<So they have to change the equation,> Anishor confirmed. <Either by bolstering their own forces, or reducing ours in some way.>

Halyn nodded. “So what are our likely scenarios?”

“Another landing attempt,” Ceikeh offered. The Senator was dressed in dark clothes, military-cut but without rank or adornment. “Perhaps by bringing more of their heavy ships down into atmosphere this time; after all, they traded a large part of Rak’Edalin’s defenses for the destruction of one capital ship. Given the Vong’s willingness to self-sacrifice, that wouldn’t be out of the question. It’d definitely get more boots on the ground.”

“Not that the Vong wear boots,” Lenn muttered.

“I think it’s more likely the Yuuzhan Vong will attempt to reduce our defenses,” Kelta spoke up. She had forgone armor for a simple brown cloak over loose clothing, both her lightsabers clipped on her belt and mostly-concealed. “They are stubborn and prideful, but not stupid. They wouldn’t attempt another landing if they haven’t been able to reduce the effectiveness of the aerial squadrons.”

Halyn swung around to focus solely on Kelta. “How would they do that?” he asked, his bright green eyes unreadable.

The Jedi shrugged uncomfortably. “The Vong prefer a straight-up fight, but they’re not above deception in warfare. They’ve done it in at dozens of places—feint somewhere, land the real blow somewhere else.”

“What’s the feint and what’s the blow?” Halyn asked.

“Am I saying what you already know?” Kelta asked suspiciously.

The Ul’akhoi snorted. “I’ve long since learned that I don’t know all the answers. I have a pretty good idea of what the Vong will do, but I need to hear other viewpoints. And you don’t need to hear mine until I know yours.”

Kelta sighed wearily. “Our strongest defense right now, judging from yesterday’s action, are the starfighter squadron reserves. You’ve kept a lot more firepower in reserve than the Vong would have guessed—enough so that you severely weakened their landing force before it ever set down. They need to land troops, but not only that—they need to get supplies down, too. And the only way to get supplies is via aerial support.”

“And…?” Halyn prompted.

“I’d guess they’ll try to divide the squadrons,” she stated flatly. “Send in a lot of forces, maybe even using some empty or old ships to make their assault forces look larger than they are. Send drop groups in all over Iridonia, force us to divide the defense squadrons, and once they’re all committed…” She trailed off with a poignant shrug. “Then they either overwhelm one of our defense groups, land more forces, or do something else.”

Halyn nodded. “And what do you suggest doing, then?”

“Don’t fall into the trap,” Sandarie spoke up from the bridge’s hatchway. “Do something else.”

Halyn smiled faintly at the Twi’lek. “Naturally I was interested in a little more detail than that.”

“Naturally,” Sandi repeated.

<Keep forces in reserve,> Anishor rumbled. <A reserve strong enough to react to whatever the Vong choose to do.>

“Logistics problem,” Lenn pointed out. “Let’s say we keep six squadrons in reserve as a reactionary force. What if the Vong choose to strike a city halfway around Iridonia, rather than land more forces here at Rak’Edalin? We’d have seventy-two fighters sitting somewhere where they can’t do any good.”

Halyn watched the tactical hologram as the front between Zabrak defenders and Yuuzhan Vong aggressors continued to grow red, still silent. Kativie finally spoke up again. “The Vong are most likely to strike here, at Rak’Edalin,” she said. “They’ve already got a large army in place, and I doubt they’re willing to sacrifice it in its entirety, no matter how committed they are to their cause.”

“I think Kelta’s right,” he said at last. “They’re going to try to divide the squadrons while they achieve their objective. But we’re not going to play their game,” he said.

<What’s your plan, then?> Anishor asked.

“We strike first,” Halyn said firmly. “We send four wings to launch a preemptive strike on the Yuuzhan Vong fleet, before they can dispatch another attack group.”

“Four wings against a Vong fleet?” Lenn asked in disbelief. “That’s suicide.”

“It’s not a committed battle,” Halyn assured him. “Harassment—a strike to disrupt whatever they’re planning, throw them off-balance, and attrite their forces. We definitely don’t want to commit to a full-scale battle at this point.”

“And the ground forces?” Kryi Rinnet asked. “Four wings will deplete most of our fighter defense around Rak’Edalin, which means our troops will be fighting on even footing against the Vong without the benefit of air support.”

“Here I thought you didn’t care about the troops,” Ceikeh said dryly. “Being the starfighter coordinator, after all.”

Kryi snorted. “I just don’t want to hear the whining afterwards when the forward units take heavier losses than they’re expecting right now.”

Halyn raised a forestalling hand. “Neither the fighter defense nor the troops on the ground can win this without the other,” he said calmly. “No different than the Fleet’s inability to keep the Vong off. We can’t pin our hopes on any single force.” He lowered his hand. “Remember, our ground forces have only to hold the Vong at bay, not push them back. I don’t doubt they’ll launch a renewed, full-scale attack to try to distract us, but our forces can hold without air cover for a little while.”

“When do you want our fighters to launch?” Lenn asked.

“As soon as you and Kryi can assemble the force,” Halyn said. “Nothing slow—tap our TIE squadrons, our A-wings, our X-wings. The assault fighters should stay here.”

<Do you have assignments for us?> Anishor asked.

Halyn nodded. “Anishor, I need you and your berserkers standing by—we’re going to need you as a reactionary group if the Vong manage to break our lines somewhere.”

The Wookiee nodded and bared his teeth, unsheathing both of the rykk blades hanging from his back.  <Understood, General.>

“Lenn, you’ll be leading the starfighter attack. Kryi, you’ll be coordinating from here. You’ll also want to have squadrons on standby all over Iridonia in case the Vong manage to get coralskippers through.” Both pilots nodded in acknowledgement at the orders.

“Kativie, I want you out on the front lines with our defenses. It’ll be good for them to see a Zabrak Jedi leading the way.”

The woman nodded, pulling her hood down to reveal her horns. She bared her teeth, not unlike Anishor, as she lifted her unlit lightsaber even with her face. “Of course, Ul’akhoi.”

“Ceikeh, Kelta, I want both of you here for now. You’re part of our reserve if it comes to that. Ceikeh, I need you helping me coordinate our ground units. Kelta, any insight you can provide would be invaluable.” The senator and the human Jedi both nodded in silence—they were content with being off the frontlines for now.

Halyn turned at last to look at Sandarie. “I have a special assignment for you,” he said to the Twi’lek woman.

Sandarie raised an eyebrow. “Oh? What’s that? I’m not a pilot or a soldier.”

“No, but when I leave you alone, you tend to get yourself in trouble,” he said dryly.

“So what do you have in mind, General?” she asked.

Halyn smiled.


Kativie was at the foot of a Muurian transport when she heard running steps, followed by a voice calling, “Kat! Wait a second!”

The Zabrak Jedi sighed and turned. “What is it?” she asked.

Ceikeh Alari skidded to a stop before her. “Kat, what’s Halyn doing?” he asked between gasps for air.

“What are you talking about?” the Jedi asked impatiently. I don’t have time for this, she thought. There’s open skirmishes going right now, and I’m still standing outside the Cathleen instead of fighting.

Ceikeh’s voice dropped in pitch and volume. “Anishor told me about the traitor.”

Kat felt as though she was struck by lightning. “Traitor? What?”

“Two New Republic agents told your brother that there’s a traitor in the ranks,” Ceikeh said in a hushed whisper. “One of his inner council. Anishor said it was one of the Zabraks.”

Kat’s eyes narrowed. “I hadn’t heard anything about this.”

Ceikeh shook his head. “The big Wookiee said it was Allanna, Kryi, or Nisia.” His voice was barely audible. “Nisia wasn’t present this morning. Do you know where she was?”

The Jedi shook her head, her dark braid swinging back and forth across her back. “No. I just thought she hadn’t gotten out of bed yet.”

“You’re closer to him than anyone,” Ceikeh continued. “What’s he doing about this traitor?”

“I don’t know,” Kat said quietly in return. “This is the first I’ve heard of it. He hasn’t said anything about a traitor being reported.”

“If Nisia is a Vong agent, she could be sabotaging us right now,” Ceikeh said urgently. “She could be relaying…” he paused, his expression dark. “She could be telling the Vong everything.”

“Maybe,” Kat allowed tightly. “But she wasn’t on the bridge, so she couldn’t be telling the Vong what we’re doing. She wouldn’t know.”

The former Senator slumped. “Of course.”

“Why did Anishor tell you about the traitor?” Kat asked.

“He said he was concerned that Halyn wasn’t taking that seriously, so he asked me to make some inquiries to see if he had anyone working on it.”

“If he does, I don’t know who it is,” the Jedi replied. “It’s certainly not me, and apparently it’s not Anishor or you. Sandarie, maybe? The assignment he gave her would give her the freedom to root out anyone who’s not on the level—not a lot of accountability with that job.”

“Maybe,” Ceikeh acknowledged. “I didn’t think that’d really be her specialty.”

“According to Hal, she spent a lot of the Civil War gathering intelligence,” Kat said slowly. “Not working for Intelligence the organization, but gathering info for use by the Alliance. She’s probably better at rooting out the truth than what you’re thinking.”

“Maybe,” Ceikeh repeated, not sounding convinced.

“I’m sure my brother has someone working on it, even if it’s not Sandi,” Kativie reassured him. “He’s got people specializing in certain parts of the battle. I doubt he’d completely neglect Intelligence—wars have been won or lost on less.”

Ceikeh shrugged. “Maybe I’m chasing shadows here. But…”

He was cut off by a chirp of his comlink. He frowned and brought the device up between himself and the Jedi and flipped it on. “Alari here,” he identified himself.

“Senator, this is Elibet Dav,” the speaker identified herself. “Do you have contact with the Ul’akhoi?”

“Yes,” Ceikeh answered with a puzzled frown. “Why?”

“He’s refusing to answer calls from the Council,” the other said, clearly irritated. “We’ve been trying to meet with him again, but my calls keep routing to automated answering systems. He never seems to reply.”

The senator shrugged helplessly at Kativie. “I doubt I can change that, Councilor,” he said slowly. “He asserted after the last meeting that he no longer answers to the Council, given his title and powers as Ul’akhoi.”

“That may or may not be true, Senator,” Dav said irritably. “But that doesn’t mean the Council can just be ignored, especially with what happened with the Lusps.”

“Councilor, I think the Lusps are the reason the Ul’akhoi is ignoring you.”

“Possibly, but we have to persuade him from this course of action. He refuses to evacuate Rak’Edalin; hundreds of thousands are in danger even now from this Yuuzhan Vong invasion,” she insisted. “He may be Ul’akhoi, but that does not absolve us of our responsibility to the people here. He risks all their lives in our battle against the Yuuzhan Vong.”

“I’m afraid there’s nothing I’ll be able to do about that,” Ceikeh said helplessly. “He refuses to allow any evacuation of civilians beyond the noncombatants he’s had brought aboard the Cathleen.

“Does he intend to use it as an escape craft?” Dav asked dubiously. “I was under the impression it was not flyable.”

“It’s not,” Ceikeh confirmed. “The entire internal support structure was shattered in the crash. It’d be like a Zabrak with every bone in his body broken attempting to get up and walk.”

A long-suffering sigh emerged from the comlink’s tinny speaker. “Then why bother housing them there?” she asked at last.

“Defensibility,” Kativie offered. “It’s easier to protect children and non-combatants inside the armor of the Cathleen.”

“Jedi Lusp, is that you?” Dav asked.

“It is,” Kat said with a bow of her head, even though the Councilor couldn’t see it. “I’m just preparing to head to the front lines.”

“I suppose you, too, cannot talk sense into your brother?”

“I suspect what makes sense to my brother has its own logic,” she said dryly. “I understand what he’s doing, though, and I won’t support any attempts to evacuate, either.”

There was stunned silence from both Ceikeh and Dav. “Jedi Lusp, I thought the Jedi fight to preserve life,” Dav said after a few moments. “By refusing to evacuate, we are responsible for the blood of all those Zabraks who will die in the bloodbath we’re set for.”

“Councilor, if we retreat, those same Zabrak will die—in vaporized ships, in starvation, or gasping for air. The Vong have proven over and over they’ll chase down anyone who flees. If we stand and fight, united, we have a chance of beating them.”

“A chance,” Dav repeated. “Jedi Lusp, you truly are cut from the same cloth as the Ul’akhoi, aren’t you?” She didn’t wait for Kativie to answer. “I understand your reasoning, and the Ul’akhoi’s. However, I can’t keep the Council at bay forever. The failure of the Lusps’ challenge has polarized the Council between those who support the Sanshirs, and those who believe your brother may destroy us all. I don’t know how long I can keep them under control.”

“You support the Sanshirs, then?” Ceikeh asked with a smile.

“I think we don’t have anyone else qualified to lead the defense,” Dav said coolly. “Thank you for your time, Senator.”

“And you, Councilor,” Ceikeh acknowledged before the comlink channel went dead. He looked up at Kativie. “I’m going to trust you and Halyn for now,” he said shortly. “But if he doesn’t flush the traitor out soon, well…” he left the threat unspoken.

“Trust,” Kativie advised as she turend and marched up into the waiting transport. “My brother’s got a plan. He wouldn’t let a traitor just float around, sending our most valuable secrets to the Vong. He’s got it under control.”

“I hope so,” Ceikeh muttered as the landing ramp retracted.


Lenn Kaman strode confidently across the hangar deck towards his starfighter for this operation: a rebuilt Hoersch-Kessel T-wing interceptor.

During his time as an Imperial pilot, he had fought pirates flying the craft in the Outer Rim, and had nothing but disdain for the starfighters at the time. The design had been an Alliance castoff, deemed inferior to the fragile but faster A-wing. He had three kills on T-wings from two separate engagements, and had spent years believing the craft were one more inferior craft in a galaxy littered with them.

It wasn’t until the General had recruited him that he’d actually flown one of the craft. Granted, the T-wings filling Iridonia’s hangars were a far cry from the early, cobbled-together versions he had destroyed years prior. Hoersch-Kessel had refined the design under their exclusivity contract with the Iridonian military, making the craft faster, more hardy, and better-armed.

The fuselage was not dissimilar to an X-wing’s hull, but it was a mere two-thirds of the length. Three engines provided the craft with propulsion, each mounted on a stub s-foil. An astromech droid barely managed to slot itself between the cockpit and the top engine, providing an extra edge in combat flexibility.

It still wouldn’t hurt if it were a bit sleeker, Lenn thought as he approached the fighter. Even with all the improvements, it doesn’t have the sleek lines of an X-wing or TIE Interceptor. Still, it’s faster than the X-wing and can take a lot more beating than the Interceptor. And for the kind of disruption mission we’re launching, the classic hit-and-fade, this will work better than almost anything else Iridonia can field in numbers.

He let his hand trail across the smooth underside of the hull as he ducked under to reach the ladder leading up to the cockpit. His hand slid through the grooves of the missile alleys, carbon-scored black from successful launches. The maintenance crew has better things to do than worry about a little discoloration.

Lenn was surprised to note another figure seated on the cockpit ladder. “Hello, Nisia,” he said.

The Zabrak woman smiled sweetly. “Off on another mission?”

“Of course,” Lenn said firmly. “General’s orders. We’re going up topside to disrupt whatever it is the Vong are planning.”

“Just leaving without saying goodbye?” Nisia asked coyly.

Lenn raised an eyebrow. “You were tired.”

She laughed aloud. “Of course I was. I’m surprised you weren’t, too.”

The ex-Imperial pilot finally smiled. “I wasn’t spiced up, too. That takes a lot more out of you.”

“Makes it more enjoyable,” Nisia winked. “You really should try it, Kaman. Makes the sensations far more…intense.”

“I thought they were plenty intense the way it was,” Lenn said dryly. He hesitated for a moment before asking, “Last night…I didn’t…”

“Take advantage?” Nisia asked. She laughed again. “Not at all. I thought I’d made that abundantly clear last night.”

“You did, yes,” Lenn admitted. “Just wanted to make sure you still thought so after your head had cleared.”

Nisia watched as Lenn zipped his black flightsuit up tightly to his throat, then picked up the battered flight helmet sitting a step above her on the ladder. “So does the General have a plan to win the war today?”

“If he does, he’s not letting the rest of us in on it,” Lenn grunted. “Feels like we’re just buying time, not winning the war.”

Nisia shrugged, then turned the motion into a back-arch that drew Lenn’s eyes. “Does Jess have any orders for me, or am I free to find…other ways to make myself useful?”

Lenn laughed. “If he had orders for you, he didn’t give them to me. Of course, I doubt he thought I’d be seeing you before I left.”

Throughout the hangar, and the hangars adjascent, shrill whines began to fill the air. Starfighter engines roared to life, repulsorlifts shrieked, and hangar doors began to slowly rumble open. Nisia smiled. “And here I thought he would be, after his spy saw us on top of the Cathleen.”

“His spy?” Lenn cocked his head for a moment. “Never thought of her that way. Maybe that’s why the General asked her to come here.” He shook his head, then raised his flight helmet up to pull it on. “Besides, it wasn’t like it was just the two of us up there.”

“Nope.” Nisia leaned in and stole a quick kiss before Lenn could pull his flight helmet on. “But Jess isn’t dumb. If he doesn’t know already, he will soon enough.”

Lenn smiled and pulled his flight helmet down. “You’d better get clear,” he said as she moved to allow him to ascend the ladder. “I’ll see you when we get back from turning some coral into pebbles.”

“You fighter pilots are always so romantic,” Nisia said with a snort. She softened it with another smile. “See you soon, flyboy.”

Lenn tossed her a salute as the canopy descended around him. The T-wing’s astromech, an R3 astromech painted in greens, had already managed most of the preflight checklist, but the pilot turned his full attention to the task anyways. No time for distractions, he told himself. Good way to get yourself killed.

The T-wing’s engines screamed to life, adding their distinct howl to the shrieks filling the hangar. He watched as Nisia ran for safety, then flicked his comlink on. “This is Red Leader,” he said into the command channel, identifying himself with his designation for this operation. “Squadron leaders report in by readiness.”

A veteran of a hundred battles, he barely listened to the reports—he already knew what they would say. Iridonia had been blooded, with the enemy at the gates and pressing hard. The Zabrak squadrons would be raring for battle and eager to shed some blood in return. They may be distracted, but it won’t be for long. Once we’re in the air and moving, their heads will be where they need to be.

“Red Leader, this is Control.” Kryi Rinnet’s voice betrayed no emotion.

Lenn pondered that for a moment. She was, by all accounts, an incredible fighter pilot. The General told me once she was even better than he was, but she didn’t have the discipline for command. Wonder what happened between then and now?

“You are cleared to launch,” the starfighter coordinator finished smoothly, interrupting Lenn’s brief musing. “Good hunting out there.”

“Thanks, Control. Launch by squadrons. We’ll assemble over Rak’Edalin, and then head up to the black.”

The New Jedi Order: Siege – Waves Upon the Shore

Jram Lusp tightened his grip on his zhaboka as the battered cityscape began to brighten. I should be in charge of all this, not fighting on the front line. Impatiently, he twirled the bladed staff through a familiar sequence, stretching and warming his muscles for the combat to come. I was born to lead, not follow. If not for the Sanshirs, I’d be at the head of our forces even now, and the Yuuzhan Vong would never have made it this far.

“We’re getting word now,” his sergeant spoke quietly to the twenty Zabrak warriors. “The Vong are starting a serious push again.”

“Orders, sir?” Jram asked, restraining the urge to comment. When my turn to lead finally arrives, it will be easier if I have the loyalty of the common soldiers, like this sergeant. Treat him with respect now, so power is easier to maintain later. Thank you, Father, for your lessons.

“We hold as long as we can,” the sergeant said grimly. “We’ll be going toe-to-toe with the Vong and holding them while our air support and the long-range fire teams take advantage of it to kill as many of them as they can.” He lifted an eyebrow at the young Lusp. “Any questions?”

“No, sir,” Jram gritted. “We all have our role to play.”

“That we do,” the sergeant said philosophically. “Squad, present arms!” he shouted.

The squad snapped into straight lines, zhabokas perfectly parallel at their sides.

A war cry split the air as Yuuzhan Vong warriors, flanked by three times their number in slave troops, charged through the rubble of  several destroyed repulsor tanks and the remains of a Yuuzhan Vong war beast. “Do-ro’ik vong pratte!” the leader of the half-dozen warriors screamed, the serpentine amphistaff hissing in his hand as they raced towards the Zabrak defenders.

A wordless battle cry rose up from the Zabrak as they rushed forward to meet the attackers.

Jram was only a half-step behind the sergeant when the two lines met with the clash amphistaffs and zhabokas. The sergeant leapt hard against the Yuuzhan Vong’s leader, tying his opponent’s amphistaff up in a bind. Jram took advantage of the conflict to stab the end of his own weapon straight at the Vong’s eyes.

The leader managed to duck back from Jram’s blow, pulling his amphistaff with him. The sergeant spun his own weapon low, sweeping the Vong’s feet out from under him. Before either the leader or Jram could react, the sergeant flawlessly spun the other end of his zhaboka into the Yuuzhan Vong’s throat.

Blood rained down on the warriors. Blinded by the spray, Jram twisted his staff through a defensive whirl, feeling a coufee slash deflect from the desperate move. He stepped back, trying to clear his eyes, still spinning the zhaboka. Barely able to see, he felt more blows strike his defenses, could barely make out the figures of three reptoid slave troops pressing the attack against him.

He grimaced and lashed out. The reptoids, believing their opponent on the backfoot, were caught off-guard by the attack. One of them fell back with a wordless screech, clawing at its now-missing eye. A moment later, a second fell from a stab through the chest. The third withdrew a half-step to reevaluate, and was struck down by one of the remaining Yuuzhan Vong warriors for cowardice.

Jram managed to wipe the blood from his eyes before the Vong warrior was all over him, raining blows left and right with his amphistaff. Jram swore under his breath, barely keeping up. “Vong scum,” he hissed as he parried madly, “you’ll never kill me. You can’t kill me. You’re not worthy of killing me.”

The amphistaff hissed and spat a stream of poison, but Jram had been training to fight the Yuuzhan Vong for the last year, and had been expecting it since the Yuuzhan Vong had initially charged. The poison disappeared over his shoulder and he countered with a precisely aimed slash at the amphistaff’s head.

The Yuuzhan Vong warrior hissed in disbelief and hurled his dying weapon at Jram. The Lusp warrior batted it away, but it bought the Vong enough time to draw a coufee and close the necessary range to strike at the Zabrak with the short-bladed weapon. “Die, infidel!” the Vong snarled as he rained blows down at Jram.

Jram caught a descending blow, straining against the strength of the alien warrior, a good twenty kilos larger than himself. “You first!” he spat back. A heartbeat later, the Yuuzhan Vong warrior’s head fell from his shoulders as the sergeant’s zhaboka removed it. Jram stumbled and fell to his knees as his balance was thrown.

The sergeant offered him a hand. Jram took it, pulled himself to his feet. “Thank you, sir.”

“You seem to be a good fighter,” the sergeant said off-hand. “Need every warrior we can get.”

As one, the two Zabraks turned back to the fight. Seven of the twenty-man squad were on the ground, wounded or dead; many of the remaining were wounded. Four of the six Yuuzhan Vong were bleeding out or already dead, as were half the reptoids. The remaining Vong withdrew a half-dozen steps to regroup and glare hatred at their enemies.

Jram grimaced as he brought his zhaboka back up to ready position. The survivors of the Zabrak squad clustered closer together, preparing for a rush. “Steady, boys,” the sergeant said grimly. “We can take them.”

The two remaining Vong stepped forward together. One of them barked a harsh order in his guttural tongue to the reptoids, and they reluctantly followed suit. When the Vong took a second step, however, they both took a half-dozen blaster bolts to the head and chest and fell back.

The reptoids screeched in anger or fear—Jram couldn’t decide which. Some of them began to run forward, and the blasterfire shifted to the reptoids and began to cut them down. A moment later, the remaining reptoids began to pull back in terrors, and they, too, were cut down by repeated strikes from energy weapons.

The sergeant turned and offered a salute to the fire support team—five sharpshooters with old T-21 blaster rifles, and a single tripod-mounted E-web heavy repeating blaster. I forgot about them in the confusion, Jram noted in dismay. They hadn’t had a chance to fire because the Vong were too close almost from the beginning of the fight.

Cheers rose up from the tattered Zabrak squad as the last of the reptoids fell to the fire team. Jram joined in the wordless cheer of exaltation. We beat them! We can beat them! We will beat them!


Triak Kraal watched the blaze bug representation of the infidel capital below. Yuuzhan Vong forward elements probed at the enemy’s defenses, seeking a weak point to exploit. Casualties were slowly accumulating on each side as Yuuzhan Vong warriors tested the resolve of their hated foes. The Zabrak line refused to break, though attacks by the Yuuzhan Vong were stretching their defensive lines.

“Victory will require sacrifice, Honored One,” one of the lesser tacticians noted. “These infidels do not break from their lines.”

“Indeed,” Triak murmured. “Their determination remains, in spite of the hopelessness of their cause. They cannot win, yet they fight on.”

“They fight as the wounded beast, trapped in a snare,” another tactician said aloud. “They are indeed trapped in their own den, unable to leave, unable to break the net that surrounds them; yet they lash out and refuse to submit.”

“How much harder will they fight,” Triak pondered, “when they see their efforts are in vain?” He glanced around. “Where is Ret Kraal?”

“Here, Commander,” another voice said. Triak glanced over his shoulder, saw his favored tactician on his knees with bowed head.

“Rise, Tactician,” Triak intoned. “And tell me what you see.”

Ret Kraal took long moments to study the tactical situation presented by the blaze bugs. “The enemy is fully engaged,” he said slowly. “Now is the time to deploy our coralskippers. Then, as the enemy responds, we will land our forces before they can deploy a screen of their fighters.”

Triak nodded. “Send the coralskippers,” he ordered.


All around Iridonia, coralskippers began to descend from space. The pitted hulls of the organic fighters were not well-suited to atmospheric flight or combat, but still they descended. Air bounced the craft around, and the friction from atmosphere heated the yorik coral to the burning point. Fire began to appear as, to the naked eye, hundreds of meteors flashed down all across the besieged world.

Starfighters rose to meet them, in wing pairs and shield trios and half-squads. The suddenness of the assault meant there was little time for squadrons or wings to form up; instead, the intrepid defenders rose in ad hoc groups, meeting the descending enemies with rising attacks. Coralskipper formations were broken by the detonations of proton torpedoes, by slashing assaults of A-wing interceptors, of the overwhelming fire of heavily-armed B-wings, by the lethal precision of TIE pilots.

Here, a trio of X-wings meets fifteen coralskippers in a turning, twisting battle which disrupts the momentum of the attack, allowing slower starfighters to enter the fray. There, coralskippers refuse to break from their attacks and are blown to dust by a few Preybirds. A hundred kilometers south, light freighters rise in a suicide mission to close a hole in Iridonia’s aerial defenses, trading lives in the air for lives on the ground, Zabraks willingly going to their deaths in combat they cannot win to hold the enemy in place long enough for the counterattack to come.

All across Iridonia, fire rages across the skies. Attackers and defenders alike fall away from combat in uncontrolled plunges, in screaming dives, in shattered debris and vaporized coral, all ending in death on the planet below.

And from Rak’Edalin, the battered capital, nearly three hundred starfighters rip through the few Yuuzhan Vong attackers descending toward them, and continue towards the enemy fleet above, determined to strike back at their enemies and disrupt their invasion plans.



“Red Leader to all fighters,” Lenn called tightly, “Follow the battle plan. Remember, no one get caught up in individual combat up here—stay in formation, stay with your leader, and prey on targets of opportunity. If we stop to fight, we die.”

Squadron leaders chorused acknowledgements, and Lenn knew they’d be relaying personal instructions to their squadrons. The squadron he was temporarily heading was clustered in tightly behind him, disciplined quiet filling their comm channel. They’ll follow my lead, he knew. There’s no rookies in this squadron—they’re all veterans from earlier engagements with the Vong.

He grimaced as reports from all over Iridonia scrolled over a secondary monitor in his cockpit. After today, I don’t know if there’ll be a rookie on Iridonia. Anyone who survives this assault is a veteran, as far as I’m concerned.

The General wanted us to strike to disrupt the Vong’s plans, but I think we’re too late for that. They’ve struck everywhere. We’ve got from first strike to counterpunch—and maybe we’re a counterpunch they won’t be ready for.

“Red Leader, Blue Six,” a voice interrupted his thoughts. “I’m reading multiple fighter contacts ahead. It looks like the Vong have already deployed a screen.”

“How many?” Lenn asked.

“Gold Nine here,” another voice chimed in. “I’m picking up at least twenty squadrons of coralskippers ahead, and a whole bunch of bigger contacts—bombers, maybe?”

Lenn grimaced. They’ve already got as many fighters deployed as I brought with me. With the capital ship support, this is going to get ugly. He considered scrubbing the mission for a moment, then shook his head. No, there’s too many people depending on us. If we pull back, the Vong will be free to do whatever they’re planning.

“Lock s-foils in attack position,” Lenn said as the starfighters closed rapidly on the Yuuzhan Vong fleet. “You are weapons free,” he added as they neared maximum firing range. “Watch your proton torpedoes; we don’t want any friendly-fire accidents up here. Save ‘em for the enemy.”

Then his lasers were firing, as if by their own volition. All around him, red and green laserfire, as well as blue ion fire, joined his attack. Waves of deadly energy swarmed towards the oncoming coralskippers, which responded with their own volleys of plasma and magma missiles.


“Tactical data coming in now from the fighter wings,” Kryi announced tersely. “Feeding it to the primary tactical displays now.”

Halyn nodded and flipped the hologram from the grim view of the combat between the Yuuzhan Vong army and the Rak’Edalin defenders to the even grimmer view of space kilometers overhead. This is like a good news-bad news joke, without the good news, Halyn reflected.

Lenn’s fighter wings had broken up into squadrons, with each group of fighters picking out individual targets and hammering them with lasers and missiles. Lenn himself was out in front of the wings with his own squadron, keeping the Iridonian fighters moving at high speed in the same direction. “Tactical analysis, Rinnet.”

“They were ready for us, sir,” she said tightly. “Their fighters were already deployed by the time ours were there. They must have anticipated the strike.”

<They did not,> Anishor interjected. Halyn turned and gave the Wookiee berserker a slight smile, but gestured for him to continue. Anishor pointed at elements of the Yuuzhan Vong fleet with a claw. <See there, and there? They were preparing another drop attempt. Their coralskippers were launched to escort a convoy down the gravity well, not screen the fleet.>

“Which is why they hadn’t built up the speed they’d need to keep up with our fighters in the initial attack,” Halyn finished. “Skips can outrun just about everything we can put in space if they start on even footing, but Lenn had our squadrons accelerating from the very beginning.”

Kryi nodded with a touch of chagrin.

“Does that mean you’ve succeeded in your objective of disrupting the enemy?” Ceikeh asked.

Halyn shook his head. “That remains to be seen. If the Vong realize our fighters don’t have the punch to do real damage to their fleet, they’ll send their elements down the well, and then we’re in trouble.” He studied the tactical hologram, then began pointing out targets. “Pass on these targets to Lenn. His wings should be able to take them to pieces and get him back in position to bounce anything the Vong start to drop into atmosphere.”

“Yes, sir.”

Halyn studied the holo for another few seconds before switching it back to the tactical feed for Rak’Edalin. “And tell him to hurry. We can’t afford any more Vong on the ground here.”



Lenn grunted as the new orders flashed across his primary monitor. “Copy, Command,” he muttered into the headset. “The General needs to quit changing his mind.”

“Affirmative,” Kryi Rinnet’s distant voice answered. “I’ll continue to monitor your situation from here.”

Lenn clicked an acknowledgement and swapped back to the command frequency. “Squadron leaders, form up,” he called. “We’re going to punch our way back through the Yuuzhan Vong fleet. Stand by for target designations.”

Acknowledgements echoed in his ears, but he ignored them as he studied his own tactical displays and reluctantly admitted the General was right. The Vong were a half-step ahead of us—it’s enough that they’ll break through if I lead the fighters too far out of position.

He had led four fighter wings—twenty-four squadrons of twelve fighters each, numbering 288 in all—up from the Rak’Edalin defenses. The airspace over the capital was even now being patrolled by squadrons from further out in Iridonia, but it was a much weaker screen than what had previously devastated the Yuuzhan Vong landing attempt.

The Rak’Edalin wings had punched through a weak, slow-moving screen of coralskippers and destroyed a double handful of light Yuuzhan Vong warships—rough corvette and frigate analogs. The skips had struggled to threaten the wing on its first pass through the blockade, but now had built up the speed necessary to pounce on the defenders on the return pass.

“Pike and Blade Wings,” he called, “you’ll be moving into screening positions to keep the skips off us. Everyone else will be concentrating fire on designated targets on our way back through. Don’t break off to dogfight, or you’re dead—we’re not coming back for you. Understood?”

As the acknowledgements again poured in, Lenn glared at his tactical display, as though enough venom directed as it would change the disposition of the Yuuzhan Vong fleet. Unfortunately, the display refused to cooperate with his wishes. On the far side of the coral fleet, the Yuuzhan Vong’s drop fleet began to move away from the cover of the blockading forces and descend towards atmosphere.

We’re out of time.

He took a deep breath as he pulled the nose of his T-wing around onto the appropriate vector. “All wings, press the attack.”



Jram’s face stung as he killed the last of the reptoids pressing him with a clearing swing of his zhaboka. He blinked blood out of his eyes again—his own blood now. He knew his face was caked in it now, Yuuzhan Vong and his own, from the death he’d wrought and from the shallow cuts he’d received in return from the Vong slave troops.

Two Yuuzhan Vong warriors were standing in the center of the remains of the twenty-man squad, exchanging lightning blows with the sergeant and a two other survivors. Jram and the other three still on their feet were holding the reptoids and their shorter coufees at bay, though they continued to press in.

The fire support team on the roof was more reluctant with their shots now, knowing friendly fire would make long odds impossible with even a single stray bolt. The big E-Web repeater was silent; Yuuzhan Vong blast bugs had shattered the weapon and killed two of the fire team. The T-21s continued precision fire, though, dropping reptoid after reptoid with holes burned through heads and chests, spinning them around with less-careful fire to the shoulders or thighs.

Another wave of reptoids pressed in. Jram snarled and thrust hard immediately, spearing the first one through the stomach. Withdrawing the blade was harder than it should’ve been as the Yuuzhan Vong slave folded around the weapon; he barely had it up and around in time to block a pair of coufee slashes.

A second reptoid went down when Jram’s zhaboka opened his chest, but the three remaining pressed in harder than ever, forcing him back into a purely defensive posture. A pair of T-21 shots dropped two of the reptoids in a heartbeat and a moment later he stabbed the final one through the neck, yet more blood spraying up at him.

He spat some of the coppery taste out of his mouth, hoping none of it was his own. When he looked back up, shock and fear gave him the speed necessary to get his staff up in time to block, and the strength he needed to deflect the blow.

A Yuuzhan Vong warrior, fresh and unharmed, hissed something at the Lusp in his guttural tongue. “You know,” Jram said grimly, “I don’t appreciate your tone.”

Apparently, the Vong didn’t care. His overhand chop was lightning-fast and hit like a freighter. Jram went down to one knee from the shock, still fighting to keep the hissing, living weapon away from him. Two of the snipers took advantage of the opportunity to put a half-dozen blaster bolts into the warrior, but whether his living armor was superior to what he’d seen before, or the snipers were merely running low on charge, it only staggered the warrior back a few steps. Jram used the moment to pull himself to his feet, and then leapt forward to press his advantage.

Advantage turned to disadvantage mid-leap. The Vong pirouetted and planted his foot straight in Jram’s chest. The blow threw Jram back a handful of meters and he crashed to the ground amid rock and rubble and bodies.

“Retreat!” Jram heard the sergeant yell. “We can’t hold!”

He looked over and saw the sergeant was now alone on his feet, being pressed back by a Yuuzhan Vong warrior fighting with the speed and ferocity of a madman. Looking back to his own plight, the warrior who’d kicked him was now stalking forward even as more T-21 bolts rained down and glanced off his armor.

“Retreat!” the sergeant hollered again as a shadow passed overhead. The roar of engines rocked the world, and Jram could no longer hear the order over the screech of sublight engines.

A pair of booted feet appeared in front of him, and then the owner of those feet was charging towards the Yuuzhan Vong warrior, emerald fire sprouting from her hand. As the engines faded, he heard her shout: “Hold the line! Hold the line!


“Fire!” Lenn roared into the comm.

Blue-white trails of proton torpedoes filled space around him. A handful of them multiplied again, then again, as the warheads deployed decoys to help fool the dovin basal defenses of the targeted warship. Only a handful of the Iridonian fighters were equipped with the latest generation of proton torpedoes, but even the small number could tip the balance in favor of the attacking fighters.

I hope. Lenn watched as the missiles flashed across space. They were joined by laserfire, spraying randomly over the cruiser. The yorik coral vessel deployed void defenses to soak up the incoming damage, but laser blasts slipped through to boil bits of coral off the rocky hull. The warship counterattacked, sending plumes of plasma and magma missiles at the attacking starfighter wing.

Lenn glanced over for a moment and saw the other fighter wing in similar position, attacking and being fired upon in return. He turned his attention forward as several starfighters around him vaporized in the firestorm. He grimaced but held course, maneuvering evasively but never so much that his weapons couldn’t fire on the cruiser, waiting for the proton torpedoes to strike.

More fire; more friendlies vanished from his status boards. There were no outcries on the comm as wingpairs were separated, as leaders and wingmates and friends were destroyed. The Rak’Edalin wings were among the best Zabrak space had to offer, and they were too focused on survival, too intent on the kill, to let their attention stray now. We’ll all mourn later, Lenn thought as the warheads breached the Yuuzhan Vong cruiser’s defenses.

Fire filled space, then massive slabs of yorik coral were tossed in all directions. Lenn barely jerked his T-wing aside as a rock the size of a freighter flashed at him. Then he was through, the survivors following him into the cloud of yorik coral pebbles.

Another glance to port saw the other wing in similar position now as their targeted vessel came apart under repeated strikes. Lenn adjusted his course slightly. We’re through. They can’t stop us now.

His astromech whistled at him and overlaid the drop group’s current trajectory and speed, including a time to intercept. The ex-Imperial found his heart in his throat. Dammit, we’re too late. “All fighters, full throttle!” he shouted. “We’re almost out of time to intercept the drop ships!” But it was a reflexive order at best. The Yuuzhan Vong drop ships and their escorts were moving too fast and too far ahead for the Rak’Edalin wings to catch them now.

“Red Leader, Blue Six,” a voice chimed in his ear. “I have multiple Croneau radiation events,” the pilot said.

Lenn almost shrugged the statement away, but the incongruity of it drew his attention. “Come again, Blue Six?” What would be coming out of hyperspace now? Our ships are all committed, the fleet is far from here, and the Vong wouldn’t be bringing in reinforcements now, would they?

“Contacts are small, sir,” Blue Six reported. “My astromech is still screening the sensor data for type.”

“Send me the…” Lenn began.

“’Scuse us,” a new voice chimed on the channel.

“Coming through!” a female added.

Lenn flinched as starfighters whipped past his own accelerating interceptor, still moving at a substantial fraction of lightspeed. “Belay that,” he said, shaking his head in disbelief as he grasped the situation. That’s insane.

“Sir?” Blue Six asked.

Lenn didn’t answer as he watched the new arrivals on his sensor board with an open mouth. They used a hyperspace jump to ensure they’d have the speed to break through. Not a bad idea when you’re out in open space, but they’re diving towards Iridonia going way too fast. Our fighters have shields, which give us an edge in atmospheric re-entry, but they’re still going to burn up if they don’t slow down.

And finally he could see traces on his sensor board as counterjets fired. His astromech whistled as it finally tagged the contacts with known sensor profiles for New Republic craft. The group was a double-squadron of mixed fighters—A-wings, X-wings, Y-wings. He blinked for a moment as those facts clicked over like tumblers in a lock, until suddenly it all fell into position. “Li Coden?”

“And Abi Ocopaqui,” the female voice said irritably as the newcomers caught up with the rearguard of the drop group and opened fire. “What’s with the second billing?”

The New Jedi Order: Siege – Incision

Kativie’s lightsaber was a shining green blur, moving faster than her own eyes could follow as she parried blows and struck in return, hard, fast attacks that left limbs and corpses in her wake as she cut down Yuuzhan Vong attackers. The humming blade sang a symphony matched by her heart, by the flow of the Force through her, as she fought and killed and fought.

The Yuuzhan Vong didn’t break; they never broke. When the last warrior fell in a heap with his own arms and legs, barely bleeding through the cauterized stumps, the reptoids shrieked and broke for cover. Kativie let them go. Without the Vong to drive them onward, they’re no threat. She felt a moment of conflict. As a Jedi, I let them go…but Halyn would tell me not to let up, because they’ll be back and fighting again soon. If I strike them down now, they can’t kill any of us later.

The choice was robbed of her as the survivors of the fire support team opened up with their T-21 blaster rifles, mowing down the retreating slave troops. There were too many for the handful of snipers to get them all, but the problem was resolved by the reappearance of the Muurian transport that had dropped her into the combat zone. Its heavy ship cannons poured fire into the crowd. The streets below overheated and exploded upward, sending flesh and blood into the air in clouds.

Kativie grimaced. War is not for the Jedi. She shook her head at the slaughter as she turned back to ensure the Vong warriors she’d struck down were dead. Halyn was a pilot during the Civil War, but it was nothing like this. Pilots cloak themselves in the nobility of starfighter combat, because it’s clean and quick. This war isn’t clean nor quick, and a lot more people are going to die.

Satisfied that the Vong had all been cleanly dispatched, she shut down her lightsaber. Even if we survive this, what will this do to the Jedi? The Clone Wars wiped out the entire Order, and there were few Jedi left to fight in the Galactic Civil War. Master Skywalker has trained barely a hundred of us; will any of us still truly be Jedi when this is over?

The survivors of the Zabrak squad were clustered together, some leaning heavily on zhabokas while others stood straight with blasters in hand. One of them looked squarely at Kativie, his eyes blazing. “Should’ve known it’d be you,” he spat. “The Ul’akhoi send you to kill me? I know he sent me out here to die, and since I won’t oblige him or the Vong, it…”

“Jram,” Kativie said coldly. “If you didn’t notice, there’s plenty of Vong here to kill. I’ve got bigger things to worry about than you. Besides,” she added as an afterthought, “if I wanted to kill you, I only would’ve had to wait another thirty seconds.”

The Lusp stared daggers at his sister-in-law. Kativie shrugged. “Jram, I’m out here to win the war. Can’t do that if our front squads get massacred.” She deliberately looked away from him. “Sergeant, pull your men back a few blocks and regroup. We’ve got more volunteers coming up to reinforce you.”

“What about you?” the sergeant asked.

Kativie allowed herself a predator’s smile. “I’m going to delay the Vong. Just get your troops to safety, Sergeant.”


Halyn’s voice was raised in mild alarm. “Do we have identification on the new contacts?” he asked again, his voice carrying over the din in the Cathleen’s bridge. The Yuuzhan Vong had begun a major push into the city, and bridge officers were coordinating ground units in the defense, their voices and orders occasionally overlapping.

“Sir,” Kryi said, “Red Leader is identifying the newcomers as Li Coden and Abi Ocopaqui’s squadron.”

“Can you confirm that?” Halyn asked sharply as he watched the tactical hologram.

“Negative; comm chatter’s been too heavy on the open combat channel to confirm by countercalls or voiceprint recognition.” The starfighter coordinator’s voice was taut with stress. “I have multiple confirmations that the newcomers have scored coralskipper kills and are trading fire with the landing vessels.”

“Are Kaman’s wings going to catch up in time to do any good?”

Kryi shook her head. “Negative. They were too far out of intercept position before we realized what we were facing up there. The Vong transports will be over the city before they can catch up.”

“Do we have anything left in reserve?”

“Not much,” Kryi said flatly. “The few squadrons we have left here are running air support for our troops on the ground, and everything else is spread all over Iridonia trying to turn back coralskipper strikes all across the planet.”

Halyn lowered his head. They suckered us, and I fell for it. If we wouldn’t have tried to launch our preemptive strike, we would’ve had enough fighters here to blunt this landing force. One mistake, and I may have lost us Rak’Edalin. He looked up. “Pull our air cover off the troops. Get everything you can up to intercept the landing force—all our reserve fighters, any armed transports, hell, civilian ships with blasters if you can find them. Anything that can put down a Vong transport or buy enough time for something bigger to catch it.”

“Putting out the call now, sir.”

Anishor put a huge paw on Halyn’s shoulder. <If you pull the air cover off the ground troops, they’re going to lose ground,> he warned. <The Vong will take advantage of it to push hard.>

“I don’t doubt it,” Halyn said tightly. “But if all those Vong transports make it to the ground, we might as well write off the city. I’m not ready to do that yet.”

<But you will be soon?> Anishor asked with a trace of wariness.

“No.” Halyn shook his head as he watched the tactical hologram, gripping the edge of the display tightly. His voice was low and even, hard for anyone further than the Wookiee to hear even if the bridge wasn’t a cacophony of voices and orders. “We have an entire population here that have been raised from birth ready to fight. There are only a handful of worlds aside from Iridonia willing and capable of fielding an entire population of warriors. We can stop the Vong here.”

<You’re sure?> Anishor’s rumble was uncertain. <How many Iridonians will die here to stop them?>

“This isn’t the time to argue about this,” the Ul’akhoi said, his voice rising slightly.

<Halyn, you and I have been friends for many years,> Anishor said calmly. <I’ve never seen you willing to throw lives away.>

“The Vong aren’t the Empire,” Halyn said distantly. “There’s more at stake here than ever. If those crates set down in Rak’Edalin intact, we’ll lose Rak’Edalin and quite possibly Iridonia. With Iridonia goes Zabrak space. I won’t let that happen.”

<All those warriors that are fighting now…>

“Anishor, I don’t have time to do this now. There’s a battle to win or lose.” He spared a look for the big Wookiee. “I know the Cathleen’s crew won’t be able to force you off the bridge, so don’t make me ask you to leave.”

The Wookiee sighed. <Halyn, I…>

The Zabrak shook his head and turned away, raising his voice. “Kryi, where are my fighters?”


Abi Ocopaqui was in her element. The Twi’lek had been many things in her lifetime: bounty hunter, Alliance agent, New Republic officer, Intelligence infiltrator. Many of her professions during her long career with the Republic had nothing to do with flying, but she still found pure joy in the release of starfighter combat.

Her career as a pilot had not been long—several years between Yavin and Endor, flying as wingmate to Halyn Lance in Sabre Squadron. After Halyn’s elevation to General and commander of the Vanguard Wing, later reformed as the 118th Starfighter Wing as part of the fleet’s reorganization under Admiral Ackbar, she had been drawn further and further away from the cockpit to instead work for Alliance special operations. During those months pulling starfighter combat missions, she had felt the most alive she ever recalled—death-defying missions, bravery, skill.

Of course, at the time, she’d also been Halyn’s lover. In hindsight, they had been a supernova—they created a lot of heat and light, but it eventually collapsed under the stress of their separated lives. Halyn had gone on to become a heroic commanding officer up until the battle of Endor had devastated his fighter wing; Abi had become a distinguished special operations agent, specializing in extraction and deception missions. Halyn had racked up an amazing kill count in the fighter cockpit, while Abi had totaled nearly a hundred lives saved from Imperial Intelligence’s operations.

She’d nearly forgotten how much she enjoyed starfighter combat.

The B-wing starfighter she had borrowed from the Cathleen’s hangar before it had been destroyed was more agile and faster than her Y-wing, though it wasn’t near as tough. Still, she had to allow that the amazing array of weapons at her fingertips was useful.

The coralskipper in her sights was concentrating its dovin basals directly aft, soaking up firepower. Abi continued to hammer at it with laser cannons, then thumbed the controls over to ion weapons and squeezed off a burst.

Ion cannons were designed to disable starships without outright destroying them. Light versions, like those mounted by her B-wing or her old Y-wing, were capable of neutralizing circuitry without major damage. Other starfighters were vulnerable to such fire, but larger vessels often had multiple-redundant systems which would prevent a starfighter from knocking out major systems. Heavy ion cannons, like those sported by Star Destroyers, could outright fry and fuse circuitry, knocking out redundancies and causing major—but repairable—damage.

Yuuzhan Vong vessels lacked reactors, ion engines, computers, or even a single circuit. However, ion attacks weren’t much more pleasant to living nervous systems; not unlike a stun bolt from a blaster rifle, they tended to fire multiple nerves simultaneously, overloading sensory systems and potentially knocking a living being unconscious.

Few pilots would turn an ion cannon onto a living being; it was a gross waste of power when a single shot from a blaster rifle would effectively accomplish the same thing.

That is, before the Yuuzhan Vong arrived with a mighty armada of living ships.

The coralskipper was stunned by the blast and its defenses failed. It began to fall into a trajectory that, to Abi’s eye, would end a few kilometers north of Rak’Edalin not-too-far below. The Twi’lek’s index finger tightened on her trigger, sending a trio of high-powered bolts into the coralskipper. There was always a chance it would recover before it hit the ground, she justified as the skip came to pieces, throwing yorik coral chunks in all directions.

She pushed the nose of the fighter down again, picking up more speed. A kilometer below, she could see the Vong transports continuing their drop towards Rak’Edalin unabated. We’re not going to stop them in time, she thought distantly. There’s just not enough of us.

The B-wing’s dive was faster than the Vong transports. She squeezed off long distance attacks with both lasers and ion cannons, but the Vong transports picked off the bolts with ease. She smiled—her hunting smirk, Halyn had called it once—and swapped to proton torpedoes. The B-wing’s targeting computer gave her a solid tone, and she fired.

“One,” Li’s voice interrupted her thoughts as she watched the proton torpedoes close. “Watch your fire. Rak’Edalin is scrambling everything they’ve got into the air.”

“Wonderful,” Abi answered automatically. Far below, the proton torpedoes were caught by a Yuuzhan Vong gravitic void and detonated. She fired torpedoes again, watching and waiting.

“So watch your fire,” Li warned. “No stray fire over the city where we might take out a friendly.”

The Vong transports had been thrown by the shockwave of the detonating proton torpedoes, and a little disoriented. They were apparently still trying to regroup when the second set of torpedoes hit one of the coral vessels. The vessel shattered in a bloody fireball, and shrapnel from the blast hammered three more transports so hard that their descents turned into uncontrolled falls.

“I’ll watch my fire,” Abi repeated.

Far below, laser fire began to spray up through the Vong formation. Then two coralskippers were closing on her, and she had to pull up from the dive.



Kelta was standing quietly near the bridge’s entrance, staying out of the way and carefully maintaining her mental defenses. I can still feel them all, she thought distantly as death crashed against her mind through the Force. There’s just so much of it.

Part of it, she knew, was because she was just sitting still and not fighting. She’d found that actively fighting helped her keep her mental defenses in place—the activity distracted her from many of the sensations the Force brought to her. Now, though, she was merely trying to not feel. She remembered as a child on Nam Chorios an old mental game: to not think of a pink cu-pa. Of course, once that instruction was given, it was impossible to think of anything else.

So intent was she on the distant feelings in the Force that she nearly missed the frustration of a very large Wookiee as he stalked past her and out the bridge door. Of course, Anishor was more capable than most of harnessing or suppressing emotion; it was part of his nature as a berserker and as a Force-user.

She fell into step behind him; it took several heartbeats for her to catch up with his long, rangy strides. “Is something wrong?” she asked.

The frustration slowly bubbled up from the Wookiee. <The General is risking everything,> Anishor said at last. <And I do not understand why.>

“What do you mean?” Kelta asked.

<You fought with him during the Civil War, though not as long as myself. Tell me, how often did he commit everything to a battle without having a reserve or a back-up plan?>

The Jedi thought for several moments before she responded. “He didn’t. The only time he gambled everything was at Endor, and that was under direct orders from High Command. The One Eighteenth took heavy losses there and he blamed himself for it. Other than that, he wouldn’t commit everything to a fight; if it was all-or-nothing, he would refuse to engage it.”

<Avoiding a potentially decisive battle for the enemy,> Anishor agreed. <So tell me, what has changed?>

Kelta frowned. “Changed?”

<He gambles everything here on Iridonia. The Yuuzhan Vong slowly whittle away his forces with superior numbers, in spite of hideous casualties, and he stands and meets them toe-to-toe. He would never have done this before.>

“Perhaps,” she allowed. “But it’s different now. He’s fighting to defend Iridonia from the Yuuzhan Vong—back then, we could pick up and move if we were found. We fought a guerilla war, not a traditional one.”

<He could have drawn all of Iridonia’s forces out of the cities, abandoned them to the Yuuzhan Vong,> Anishor pointed out. <The Zabraks could have easily withdrawn into the jungles and fought warfare from there. The Yuuzhan Vong would never defeat them in such an engagement; it would be impossible to root them out with so little civilization on the world, just as they fought the Empire for twenty years. Just as my own people fought the Empire.> He shook his furry head. <Each time I’ve asked him about his battle plans, he deflects me.>

Kelta slowly shook her head. “I don’t know what his overall plan is.”

<You used to be among his most trusted confidants,> Anishor recalled.

“That was a long time ago,” Kelta said bluntly, ignoring the painful stirring the Wookiee had evoked. “A lifetime ago. If someone else knows his plans for the war, I don’t know who it is.”

<Nor I.> Anishor reached the end of a corridor and looked around. <I do not know if I can stay. Perhaps my leaving will persuade him away from this path; he risks all of Iridonia, all of his people by this course.>

“No,” Kelta protested. “You can’t leave, Anishor.”

<No?> The Wookiee looked at her uncertainly

“No.” She shook her head. “Anishor, I know you haven’t seen Halyn much since the end of the Civil War, but he’s going to need you. There’s not a warrior on Iridonia that can match you for strength or wisdom. I might be a Jedi, but even I’m no match for you.”

<He keeps me and my warriors from fighting.> Anishor looked tired. <There are many theaters where our strength could be used.>

“And you’re needed here,” Kelta reminded him. “Halyn has to have something in mind for you and your berserkers. He has needed you several times already to prevent disaster, and he’ll need you again.”

Anishor was silent for long moments. <Then I, too, will stay,> he said at last. <Even if I don’t understand.>

Kelta smiled. “That’s the nature of the Force, isn’t it?” she asked. “To trust what we don’t understand?”

The Wookiee rumbled a wordless assent.

“Let me ask you something, Anishor,” she asked, changing subject. “What is your take on the Yuuzhan Vong and the Force?”

The Wookiee was clearly hesitant to answer. <The Jedi have not drawn a conclusion?> he asked.

It was Kelta’s turn to hesitate. “Master Skywalker concluded that we need to fight the Yuuzhan Vong, regardless of whether they exist in the Force or not,” she said at last. “That’s been answer enough for me. They’ve slaughtered so many people—they may not be part of the dark side, but that doesn’t mean their actions aren’t dark.”

<I’ve known many evil individuals,> Anishor said slowly. <The Sith cult Dusk, the Emperor’s Inquisitors, fallen Jedi, the Imperial agent Suuzanne, even a handful among the berserkers who have followed the dark path. Even among the worst of them, however, there is a spark of light, a chance of redemption. It often does not succeed, for redemption requires forgiveness of self—a forgiveness not possible without acknowledgement of one’s guilt.>

The Wookiee grew even less certain. <Yet even the worst of them was merely a fallen individual—consumed by their own anger, or desire for power, or greed. They manipulate, they lie, they kill, yet all of them still exist in the most fundamental way: the Force. That is why there is always the possibility of redemption.>

Anishor bowed his head. <The Yuuzhan Vong are an abomination, Kelta Rose. The Jedi state that there is no life without the Force. The actions of the Yuuzhan Vong are without a doubt evil. But how can there be redemption without the Force?> He shook his head. <I sometimes wonder if they were created by the Sith to destroy the galaxy, but I know that such things are beyond the power of the dark side. After all, those who follow the dark side destroy; those of us who follow the true Force heal and grow.>

“Then what do we do with them, even if we win this war?” Kelta asked.

The Wookiee reflected before answering. <That answer must come from the Jedi and the New Republic,> he said at last. <I follow the Living Force, but the question you pose must be answered by the Unifying Force.>

The New Jedi Order: Siege – Bunt

“General, the Yuuzhan Vong drop vessels are approaching their safe zone.” Kryi’s voice was still tight with concern. “The rogue squadrons have done a fair amount of damage, but the Vong haven’t taken anywhere near the losses we need.”

Halyn switched the grim tactical display of the city fighting for Rak’Edalin over to an even grimmer picture of the aerial battle. “What’s the status of Iridonian squadrons planet-wide?” he asked.

“Reports are scattered so far, but generally they’ve repulsed the Vong incursions,” Kryi said. “Heavy casualties in some areas, though—they came in such a wide net we couldn’t get proper coverage in the air in places. Some of our cities and settlements were defended by freighters and last-generation fighters.”

“Sacrificing themselves to buy time,” Halyn murmured. “Time for the regular squadrons to pounce and destroy the invaders.”

“Yes, sir.”

Halyn watched the Yuuzhan Vong drop fleet fall like meteors towards the perimeter their ground forces had established days earlier. Lenn Kaman’s wings were in hot pursuit and now nipping at their heels, but pursuit wouldn’t be enough to destroy the Vong. The squadrons belonging to Li and Abi were in the thick of the formation, but were too few to make a difference.

The Ul’akhoi considered his options for a moment. Allowing the Vong to land unhindered would cost them Rak’Edalin. Continuing to press the attack would potentially lead to heavy casualties among the fighter wings—casualties that might cost them dearly in the struggle ahead, whether it be short or long. The third option…

Halyn immediately flinched away from that thought. No, I’m not that desperate yet. Save that for the moment we’ve lost.

“Order Lenn’s wings to press the attack,” Halyn instructed. “Every Vong they kill in the air gives us that much better a chance on the ground.”

“Yes, sir,” Kryi responded, already passing the order along.



Kativie Lusp studied the advancing lines of Yuuzhan Vong and reptoid slave troops. She kept her lightsaber concealed for the moment. The moment I draw it and light it, the Vong are going to come after me. I don’t need that yet.

Blasterfire rained down on the advancing troops, only to be answered by flurries of thud and razor bugs. Blast bugs thundered, echoing the boom of fragmentation grenades and thermal detonators. Kat could see that more than a few of the outlying Rak’Edalin buildings were in flames or collapsed, whether by the design of the defenders, by the attacks of the aggressors, or victims of crossfire she couldn’t tell.

The fighting was growing more vicious, not less, as combatants began to meet on the narrower streets of the city proper. The Vong continued to press forward through the mounting blaster fire, often stepping over their own dead to continue to advance.

Kativie continued to watch the troops, though, her hand straying to the hilt of her lightsaber. I’ve fought dark Jedi and I’ve fought Imperials, her master’s words hummed in her ears. And when I was younger, I always took the fight to the enemy. As I became older and more receptive to the Force, I often found I could make a larger difference in a battle with a smaller effort, if I spent the time to study the enemy and could find a weakness.

The Zabrak Jedi continued to study the advancing troops and asked herself, How can I stop their advance?

More words from her master whispered to her from a memory, this one vivid. She remembered holding her shining green lightsaber blade in an overhead block, taking a blow that bent her elbows and knees and nearly sent her tumbling to the ground. Her master had shook his head at her. When you’re overmatched in strength, Kativie, don’t block. To block is to take the full strength of the blow upon your own blade, your strength against his. It is easier, and a more efficient use of your strength, to parry the attack instead. Turn the blow aside.

So how can I turn the blow aside? she asked herself. How do I turn the enemy aside?

Slowly, she smiled a predator’s grin as she removed her hand from the lightsaber’s hilt and instead reached for one of the grenades clipped to her belt.



Lenn Kaman was in his element now. Coralskippers nipped at his nose, at his heels, but they couldn’t match the speed the Iridonian squadrons had built in their dive. It’s good to be in one of these T-wings, he thought with a smile. A TIE would never have pulled this off.

Very early on in the invasion, New Republic starfighter pilots and tacticians had developed a series of tactics to establish parity with the invaders’ coralskippers. Some had been technological, like using inertial compensator fields to deflect dovin basal attempts to rip away starfighter shields, or using stutterfire to confuse a Yuuzhan Vong craft’s defenses into allowing heavier fire through. Others had been in combat strategies, such as developing the shield trio of overlapping defenses and offensive firepower in place of the wingpair paradigm that had dominated the Galactic Civil War.

Such parity was established because, at the core of it, the coralskippers of the Yuuzhan Vong and the starfighters of the New Republic had similar characteristics, even though they accomplished those characteristics in completely different methods. The New Republic’s starfighters used energy weapons and highly sophisticated missiles to provide offensive capability; the Yuuzhan Vong used organic plasma launchers and magma missile spitters. The galaxy’s natives equipped their craft with ion engines for propulsion and maneuvering; the Yuuzhan Vong grew dovin basals to fling their ships across the stars.

Starfighter designers had created energy shields to fend off attacks; the Yuuzhan Vong relied on gravitic voids generated by dovin basals to absorb enemy attacks. Energy shields had a bonus characteristic: they dissipated heat generated from re-entry into atmosphere, whereas the dovin basal had no similar benefit.

The shielded starfighter wings had built up an amazing amount of speed in the descent, and now were among the Yuuzhan Vong drop fleet. Coralskippers turned to try to engage them, to defend the transports, but were—for the moment—outmatched by the far faster starfighters.

It won’t last, though, Lenn reminded himself as he took potshots at Yuuzhan Vong transports. We have to shed speed or we’ll burn right through here and have nothing left to shoot at. Besides, he added to himself with a glance at his altimeter, we don’t have much time before they start landing.

Rak’Edalin loomed large as he rolled his T-wing to look down at the ground. ”All squadrons,” he said gruffly. “Break and engage by shield trios. Concentrate on the Vong transports, but take down skips if you’re threatened.”

He heard the acknowledgements and washed them from his mind. To his left and right, two T-wings shadowed him closely. It occurred to him that he hadn’t even asked their names. “Red Two, Red Three, stay with me,” he ordered as he kept his throttle to the firewall. “We’re going to try to cut off the head.”



Kativie let out a deep breath as she marched into the largest street leading into Rak’Edalin. The Yuuzhan Vong line continued inexorably inward, pressing back against the Zabrak defenders. Iridonians armed with zhabokas were still charging forward to engage them, but they were fewer and further between, lacking time to group up into effective squadrons. Kativie grimaced as she watched several of her own race cut down by the front of the Vong formation.

Blaster fire continued to rain down on the Vong formation from behind her, mostly from overhead positions. It was answered now not just by flying Vong bugs, but plasma blasts from Yuuzhan Vong artillery beasts. If we could get our starfighters in here, they’d cut those things to pieces, she thought distantly. But they’re tied up.

The air itself seemed to vibrate with the shriek of starfighter engines, punctuated by explosions and the rain of debris as starfighters and coralskippers dueled, with Vong landing craft caught in the crossfire and sent crashing down into the city. Kativie could only see a fragment of the combat above, but by her best guess, the Rak’Edalin wings her brother had sent on the offensive were now fighting the battle above. And losing, she thought as she watched an X-wing fall uncontrolled a half-kilometer away until it was eclipsed by the line of buildings, detonating a moment later. I hope he took some Vong with him. Even if that’s not very Jedi-like.

Speaking of Jedi… She was in position now. Kativie closed her eyes, took a deep, clearing breath, and lowered the hood from her horns. She reached under her cloak and unhooked her lightsaber, extending it in front of her. Then she reached out to the Force, felt it respond and flow.

Your actions determine if the abilities you use are light or dark, her master had taught her. Too many sentients, Jedi or scholars, try to classify the abilities we wield as one or the other. To do so is to miss something important—our powers flow from our actions, not the other way around. As a Jedi Knight who acts as a Jedi should, you won’t call on those dark abilities. You can’t. Just as followers of the dark side struggle with mastering even the most basic of healing abilities, so you’ll struggle with Sith arts. That is, as long as you choose to follow the path of the Jedi.

She could feel it now. She could feel everything. The Force was as vast as space itself, as powerful as a hundred thousand million billion stars, and permeated existence itself. Kativie Lusp didn’t consider herself a particularly powerful Jedi—she didn’t consider herself a Luke Skywalker, or a Kyp Durron—but the Force was with her. Warmth, comfort, strength, and courage flowed into her very bones as the Force flowed through her.

She smiled.

The Yuuzhan Vong were, as always, absent from the Force. Not just absent, she corrected herself. They are like the cloud of mud in the crystal clear pond. That doesn’t mean the water can’t wash them away, however.

She ignited her lightsaber now, the brilliant green-white blade flaring to life with the familiar snap-hiss-hum.

Kativie heard the familiar cries; she had heard them herself on a dozen worlds, had heard of them from other Jedi on a hundred more. “Jeedai!” went up the cry from the Yuuzhan Vong line. Warriors, towering over the much smaller reptoid shock troops, broke from formations, broke their own lines to charge forward at the sight of such a foe.

The Zabrak Jedi stood alone in the street with only her lightsaber to meet the coming wave. She flourished her blade—a salute her master had taught her, which ended with her in her ready stance, lightsaber angled forward to catch the first attack.

Kativie slipped deeper into the Force as she watched. She stretched her feelings further and further out, sensing murky fear and anger and hatred from her fellow Iridonians. Blast fire tracked to follow the charging Yuuzhan Vong warriors, and a few of them went down, but most of the attacks were turned aside by magnificent vonduun crab armor.

The Jedi held her ground, counting the meters as they closed. Four hundred seventy-five. Four hundred fifty. Four hundred twenty-five. Four hundred.



Lenn’s forward shields flared as a burst of plasma splashed over it. He adjusted his throttle minutely, allowing Red Two’s shields to take the forward position for the moment it would take his astromech to reinforce his own defenses. Red Three took the point position a second later, and then Lenn was back in front as his shields came back up to full.

Then the T-wings were over the Yuuzhan Vong lines. More plasma streaked up from land-bound creatures, but they couldn’t track the fast-moving interceptors. And now we strike, Lenn thought.

“Arm torpedoes,” he said sharply. “When we start firing, keep firing—no sense going back to the hangars with a full rack.”

“Yes, sir!” Red Three replied crisply.

“As ordered,” the dour Red Two acknowledged.

Smoke filled the skies now. Lenn forced himself not to think about it, sparing only a moment for the thought, Rak’Edalin is burning, before he was back on the task at hand.

Six transports were ahead of him: the vanguard of the Yuuzhan Vong landing force. A dozen skips covered them. “Target the transports and fire!” Lenn shouted, his thumb covering the launch button.

Blue streaks filled the sky ahead as the warheads launched. He held the button down; more warheads launched as the starfighter’s systems dropped more torpedoes from the rack into the tube, allowing them to fire a half-second later.

He squeezed with his index finger now, too, and orange streaks of laserfire joined the missiles. The two T-wings flanking him similarly opened up with their weapons, the attacks lashing out at the Vong transports now slowing to set down.

Voids sprang into existence to intercept the attacks. Lasers were sucked into nothingness by the intense micro-gravitic anomalies. Lenn hoped for a heartbeat that the distraction would allow the proton torpedoes to slip by. Even a pair of the missiles, detonated in atmosphere among the tight formation, could take down all the transports before they could disgorge their deadly cargoes.

Defending skips accelerated towards the T-wings, and it was only when one of them stopped a proton torpedo by ramming it with its nose—and shattering in the ensuing fireball—that he realized the danger. “Break, break, break!” he shouted.

The triple-engine craft peeled apart, though not in time; Red Three took a coralskipper nose-to-nose, with both fighters lost in the explosion. Lenn glanced back, saw coralskippers closing on Red Two’s tail and turned to cover him. As coralskippers closed on his tail and a glance at the too-close ground showed nothing but Yuuzhan Vong warriors, he allowed himself a thought: Maybe we got a little too deep this time.



Kativie continued to count down meters. One hundred seventy-five. One hundred fifty. One hundred twenty-five.

She forced her grip to relax just a bit on her lightsaber. Not too tightly, nor too loosely, she reminded herself. One hundred. Seventy-five.

At sixty meters, she finally acted. Her mind was so deeply entwined in the Force that she was not sure if it was truly her, or the prodding of the Force like an overconcerned parent. C’mon, child, do you really think that’s a good idea?

She touched the four detonators she’d carefully placed a few minutes earlier with a faint brush of Force energy—just enough to free the restraining pin.

Fifty. Forty-five. She hadn’t quite reached forty when the detonators exploded.

Buildings on both sides of the street swayed as their supporting walls facing the street were savaged by detonations. The groan of overstressed durasteel was music in her ears, and the buildings surrendering to gravity was as gorgeous as any flower her husband, Hakk, had ever given her.

The leading Yuuzhan Vong warriors never saw the unexpected attack as the buildings bowed over them. A few of the warriors further back saw the danger, shouted a warning to their fellows; but it was for naught as gravity exerted her dominance and brought the buildings smashing down.

A hundred Yuuzhan Vong warriors were crushed under the falling duracrete. Kativie never moved as debris fell, the Force protecting her in a bubble as dust and smoke billowed around her. Debris was turned aside without conscious thought, never coming closer than a meter to the small Zabrak woman.

The dust threatened to overwhelm the brilliance of her blade, but it shone through. Kativie felt her lips peel back from her teeth, somewhere between a smile and a snarl.

Then she charged.

The handful of Yuuzhan Vong warriors who had survived the unexpected attack were equally unprepared for the Zabrak Jedi; she cut them down without a hint of danger to herself, but they weren’t truly her target. She continued to charge through the billowing dust and smoke and debris, towards her true target: the reptoid shock troops.

The Yuuzhan Vong had, early on, used organic controllers of sorts to force slave troops to fight on their behalf. The reptoid proxy troops that had first appeared on Dubrillion, however, normally required no such prodding to fight, and the Vong had subsequently neglected to deploy such slave controllers in subsequent engagements.

Now, however, the appearance of an insane Zabrak Jedi with lightsaber blazing through the wreckage that had felled a hundred Yuuzhan Vong warriors was too much for the reptoids to take. Shouts and screams of fear began to rise up, and entire squads began to turn and flee.



Lenn snap-rolled, forcing the coralskipper trailing him to overshoot. Firing as much by instinct and reflex as intent, he stitched it with laserfire. It began to fall away, and his thumb pressed down hard to fire a proton torpedo. He was surprised when no blue trail of fire materialized, no projectile streaked through the air to annihilate the coralskipper.

It took a moment for Lenn to remember why: he had already expended all his missiles against the Vong transports. He hammered the skip again with laser fire, then broke hard to port to avoid another salvo of plasma.

“Red Two,” he said, finally locating his surviving wingmate, “come to two-seventy and push your engines to the firewall. I’ve got your back.”

“Roger, Lead,” the pilot grunted in concentration.

The T-wing turned but didn’t accelerate. Lenn frowned, rolled his craft to avoid another salvo of fire, and adjusted his own course to compensate as he pushed his throttle forward. He opened up immediately with long-range fire, trying to spook the trio of pursuing skips from Red Two’s tail.

They deployed voids to counter his attack instead, continuing to fire on Red Two. Lenn finally realized why: the other pilot’s port engine was trailing fire and listing heavily, barely able to juke out of the way of enemy attacks. “Hang on, Two,” he said through gritted teeth.

One of the plasma balls finally connected, and Red Two’s T-wing turned into a fireball. Lenn would have closed his eyes for a moment in mourning for his failure, but he had no time; the trio of skips that had been pursuing Red Two now turned to attack him instead.

He swore, jerked back on the stick, hammered his rudder pedals. The T-wing slewed wildly, sending plasma fire wide. His astromech whistled at him, chattering about targets and enemies and friendlies, but Lenn had no time for translating. Bloody T-wings and astromech droids. Give me a TIE any day!

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the Vong transports now setting down. They were barely a hundred meters off the ground and descending slowly. Red Two and Three died for nothing, he thought as he jerked his craft around. That is, if I let those transports land intact.

He pushed the fighter’s nose into a dive and sprayed more laserfire at the ground. Smoke and dust billowed up in turn, and he held the throttle to the stops. Behind him, the coralskippers were all falling in on his tail. In kill position.

Kill this, you sons of bitches. The smoke cloud obscured his view of the transports, but that was just fine by him. As he juked and jinked, plasma balls flashed past him and into the smoke cloud ahead. And, if this works, into those transports.

His heart was in his throat as his fighter flashed into the smoke; deprived of his vision, he had no idea where the transports would be on the other side. It took less than a second to clear the obstruction, and then he was flashing by a bare dozen meters below the landing transports.

The coralskippers following him weren’t so lucky.

Yorik coral met yorik coral in bloody crashes, spinning transports around and obliterating transports. Lenn’s smile was grim as he pulled back on the stick and started to climb, watching as enemy contacts winked out on his rear scope. Better luck in the next life, Vong scum.

Then a loud bang threw him forward into his controls. The world spun insanely outside his cockpit viewport, and he couldn’t make sense of it. Sharp, jabbing pain filled his face and chest and hands, and he had only a moment to realize it was the shattered remains of the starfighter’s instrumentation before the T-wing smashed into the ground.