De Imperatoribus Galacticis

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De Imperatoribus Galacticis

Post by The Duchess of Zeon » 2003-02-08 03:35pm


The Author most humbly states and declares that in her work, she writes purely for the promotion of the merchandise and fandoms of Paramount Pictures and Lucasfilm Ltd., and also for the pleasure of the fandoms thereof, had undertaken this work purely of her own accord, and writes without pay or other recompense, and intends no infringement upon the copyrights and legal holdings thereof, etc.

De Imperatoribus Galacticis
"On the Galactic Emperors"


It is not my intention to detain the reader by expatiating on the variety, or the importance of the subject, which I have undertaken to treat; since the merit of the choice would serve to render the weakness of the execution still more apparent, and still less excusable. However, I have come to the belief that the memorable periods where the Galaxy was ruled by a single autocrat, and those periods which are raised to a height of common memory by their likewise numbering into the Imperial regnal calendar, may be chronicled by focusing on the men who guided the Empire themselves.

It has often been contended that history is a great force of impersonal actions and reactions, of things being directed by mass causes. In this, however, we discount those rare individuals who have the power and celerity to use power, and so for brief moments may influence disproportionately those events and turn against the tide of history. Likewise, in presuming such a role for sentients we also must allow for such individuals who have no such virtues, but are placed in positions intended for the possessors of such, and overwhelmed by the burden, either arouse the pity or the scorn of civilization.

With these considerations, it has therefore become my intent to chronicle the history of the Galactic Empire, by recording the greatness, or the meanness, of the men who ruled it. I shall, by necessity, also record the intrigues and operations of the Imperial Court, and therein unveil such close mechanisms as influenced and guided those who either claimed the title, or exercised the power, during this period. From those illuminations in turn, we shall hope to comprehend the actions of those further distant, the consequences upon the Empire as a whole, and the interactions with foreign polities, so that gradually the history of the Galactic Empire becomes visible from this central point, in a way the first Emperor would no doubt find not displeasing.

Table of Contents
Chapter the First
Chapter the Second
Chapter the Third
Chapter the Fourth
Chapter the Fifth
Chapter the Sixth
Chapter the Seventh
Chapter the Eighth
Chapter the Ninth
Chapter the Tenth
Chapter the Eleventh
Chapter the Twelfth
Chapter the Thirteenth
Chapter the Fourteenth
Chapter the Fifteenth
Chapter the Sixteenth
Chapter the Seventeenth
Chapter the Eighteenth
Chapter the Nineteenth
Chapter the Twentieth
Chapter the Twenty-First
Chapter the Twenty-Second
Chapter the Twenty-Third
The Apotheosis of Miat Temm
Chapter the Twenty-Fourth
Chapter the Twenty-Fifth
Chapter the Twenty-Sixth
Chapter the Twenty-Seventh
Last edited by phongn on 2003-02-08 03:56pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by The Duchess of Zeon » 2003-02-08 03:39pm



Time ended and began within these ancient stones; Tens of thousands of roaring people, echoed thousands upon thousands of times over, drifted as distant shades of memory within their confines. This was a place that had sometimes made the fate of nations, however obscure that may have sounded, however repulsive, to 'civilized' ears. Of course, the ears that heard the goings-on here were far from 'civilized', now.

"Old friend, greetings."

"Welcome, my friend. Please, sit."

Surface Marshal Sule Tienyz, Imperial Army CINCMW, settled down on the worn old stone beside a woman who had been his friend, ally, and confidante for twenty-two years. "Well, this is certainly the most interesting place yet for a meeting," he commented when he'd sat down, gazing around that ancient ruin.

"Not really; The Golden Palace was that. And it's even better for sex. I'll have to arrange for you and Martina to stay there during your next anniversary; A suitable gift, I think." Elise Kalar-Leben, Fleet Admiral and Imperial Navy CINCAQ had neither been raised nobility nor with much of a sense of shame.

That said, Sule's friend had an excellent, if ec, centric, sense of taste; and her restoration projects had been one of the things that had truly been praised on Earth. Of course, Elise wasn't like a Starfleet officer in the sense that she had a liberal education; She'd simply applied the wealth of the conquest to a hobby. Maybe it would be worth it, if a bit bizarre... Well, he'd have to ask Martina.

"Your sense of propriety, Elise, does not exist. But I doubt you connived me into coming here simply to discuss your musty palaces."

"You're correct; We have a meeting shortly in the capital?" Elise asked; She already knew the answer. At the same time, her demeanor changed; not the long time friend, but the experienced commander who was a Fleet Admiral in the Imperial Navy.

Sule nodded, confirming he had been ordered to attend as well. "Grand Moff Davion apparently has made up his mind about something, since he is recalling all the fleet and army commanders from the Gamma and Quadrant for this as well."

Elise sighed. "Hamner Davion should have made up his mind about this subject - if it is what I think it is - twelve years ago, Sule. We don't know what is happening there because of the Imperial orders, and that could be bad, very bad. Consider the rising warlordism, and the daring of the rebels - despite the loss of their command facilities no less! - in apparently massing their fleet. The situation was getting worse, not better, when we left. That's why we were given so few resources, forced to play Hernan Cortez, defeating thousands upon thousands with a few hundred. I was on the front lines then.. Just a Commander.. And I know!" Her statement was the frustration of a decade, punctuated with short interjections the reiterated facts Sule had heard countless times before, and agreed with. But that was typical Elise.

Sule shook his head slightly. "Elise, you know how much an Imperial order gives them fear, even relayed through Thrawn; Thrawn, well.. We all know the legends in the service of how he defied Imperial orders. And you're right, if we'd gone back through earlier and there is nothing wrong, Thrawn would have surely run interference for us, especially with our success, even then. But Hamner just wanted to make sure that the Dominion was utterly conquered, secured, and pacified before daring to defy the secrecy order to find out why contact with the Empire has been broken."

"Would you have done the same thing, though? I doubt it; We've marched in triumph through the capitals of the Romulans, the Klingons, the Cardassians, the Breen, the Ferengi, the Son'aa, the Orions, the Bajorans, the Tholians, the Gorn, a dozen-dozen other minor races, and of course the Federation. Sometimes with environmental suits," a grin, "but always a success. And then, after regrouping and building shipyards and a supply network, through the wormhole to conquer the Dominion. And now we've defended it all against the occasional Borg intrusion. I just think, though, that the first line of conquest would have been enough, even if Thrawn were dead. His Imperial Majesty cannot have a rival; So he cannot fear one. Victory, therefore, brings only reward." Leaving out, of course, Lord Vader.

"And the resupply, if we could have gotten it, might have allowed further expansion, and fewer casualties against the Dominion and the Borg, I know, I know. I am not saying that you are wrong, for you know I agree with you. Rather, Elise, I merely think that those who were of high rank in the home galaxy learned to fear too much. Perhaps we will, too, when contact is restored.. For our own good. I would rather stay here, for that reason," Sule finished quietly. "I may not be a stranger to politics, after all, but conflict suits me as well."

"Indeed it does, my friend. With luck, I think we will stay here; Your talents are suited to it, and COMPNOR won't like a high-ranking female officer in the home galaxy. It might have been for necessity out of recruiting from the local populations for our fleet expansion, but I doubt creating a private fiefdom of equal rights in the Command Line of fleet officers will be popular. But it shall be an exile I will not greatly mind if it comes to pass."

"Well, don't start preparing for any changes yet, Elise," Sule replied with a slight, dangerous grin. "For all we know, Hamner just wants our opinions on how a tax increase will be taken by the general population."

Elise groaned and shook her head. "If that's all he wants our opinions on... Well, nevermind, it isn't. All the signs are there that he's finally bloody well made up his mind. You'd think that with a daughter like Martina the man would have to have some ability to do things with efficiency."

"He just lives up to the classic reputation of an in-law, Elise. You should try having them someday. That said, I do agree with you. I just don't think that the Empire is having as much trouble as you have postulated; Your calculations always run on the pessimistic side."

"Well, I just like preparing for the worst so as to have a nice, safe margin in things. As for in-laws; never, never. I learn from my friends, after all." Grinning once more: "And we'd better be going if we want to make the meeting on time. The shuttle traffic over the Atlantic is rotten this time of day, no matter what kind of clearance you have."

"Agreed on that! I'll see you there, Elise."

Sule stood, walking carefully away on the old stone; Elise stood after a moment of looking downwards, and then followed. A few crackling sounds over the coms, the voices of the guard detail commanders, and they to began leave their positions. Following the old entrances and tunnels, the two officers and their guards filed out of the Flavian Amphitheater, leaving the memories of Empire behind for the realities of it.

San Francisco, Terra:
Provisional Capital,
Milky Way Imperial Oversector Government.

The meeting had been convened and now had been going on for several hours; three Admirals of high rank, a Marshal and two Generals, and, of course, Grand Moff Hamner Davion presiding. The Sector Moff who now effectively ruled the old United Federation of Planets was also there, as were the commanders of the ISB and Ubiqtorate agencies in the galaxy, and Admiral Jorsh Rarila, the highest ranking JAG officer in the Milky Way.

The meeting had gone rather as Elise and Sule had expected; Hamner had indeed finally decided that the Imperial directives regarding the maintenance of secrecy on this mission now had to be ignored so that they could learn why they had been left on their own. Naturally, some of them were still opposed to even that, though Admiral Rarila had supplied the necessary jurisprudence to support the decision. High Admiral Welde, Elise's immediately superiour, was too conservative or paranoid even for that, though.

What it had come down to, ultimately, was the matter of who and what to send through. There were some seven hundred and twenty-six Imperators of all three marks in the Milky Way, along with twenty-five Allegiances and nine Executors, the later being most of the result of the recent construction programmes, needed to fight the Borg. There were also one hundred and fourteen old Victories of the mark one and two hundred and twenty-eight of the mark two. In addition to this force, the original modified Strike Cruisers, a force now heavily augmented, and the full compliments of three Sector Fleets, along with a variety of surrendered or captured native warships in Imperial service.

One simple problem was that construction was strained; Massed Borg attacks required heavy ships to destroy with ease. The three Executors and five Allegiances under construction principally consisted of all their current warship construction except for very light escorts and patrol ships. They could build more, but then the ships the private sector desperately needed to rebuild the civilian economy and expand it could not be built. Without the civilian economy to support their conquests, they would be worthless, and the military efforts could not be supported. Worse yet, even with the Bajoran wormhole, the warp-freighters that did exist were horribly slow and limited in their ability to supply Imperial forces. There was simply no other option.

Of course, to add to the troubles being faced economically and strategically, the starlanes here were not well mapped, slowing hyperdrive as well. Not to mention that piracy was naturally flourishing. Policing this Colonial Empire was considerably harder than conquering it: this the Spanish would have understood very well.

"Governor Davion," Sule offered, with the typical form of address for a Moff that was respectful but not formal. "I think the situation should be approached cautiously. Obviously, we have nothing to hide, but neither do need to announce our presence. In case the orders are still in effect, to take into account the concerns that High Admiral Welde has raised, and considering the possibility of civil discord, we should, if possible, send a delegation to an Imperial facility that could handle our arrival quietly, if necessary."

Fearful of Imperial authority, yes. Stupid? Never. This man had organized the conquest of a notable portion of a galaxy, after all. "An Ubiqtorate facility, then?" Hamner Davion stated; More that then a real question.

"Yes, Governor."

"Vice Director Quarn, would you agree with the Surface Marshal's proposal?" The Grand Moff turned intense eyes on the Ubiqtorate Vice Director; His colleague in the ISB was silent, and probably a typical, if hidden, furious. Over the past years Sule and Elise had worked to undercut the ISB in favour of the Ubiqtorate here, and in the Grand Moff's eyes.

"I would, Governor, as long as I can accompany the force to provide the necessary access codes so as to prove to the defenses of such an installation our good intent and genuine identity. Also, I believe I have an installation in mind, near the homeward exit of the spatial anomaly," Quarn replied.

"Then it's decided. If we're going to send a Task Force, with an Allegiance, Imperators, and escorts, we'll need a Rear Admiral in command. Who shall we send?" This time a genuine inquiry.

"Mystrela Estorav di Kuat," Elise got in first. "She is one of our best officers.. Certainly the best of that rank, very cool-headed in combat. Also, her family connections and wealth in the home galaxy make her priceless in diplomacy should the situation be.. Confused."

That was more polite than calling her the Ice Queen, and the wealthiest person in this galaxy even after the spoils of conquest had been divvied up. Also more appropriate for a meeting like this! Though it was hard to call Mystrela a close friend, she had always been.. There, it was best to say, and always supporting Elise, despite the incredible difference in their backgrounds. And Elise trusted her completely for a mission like this; So would Sule. Perhaps, yes, Elise had cultivated Mystrela's career here, maybe it was favoritism in a sense. But she had proven worthy of it.

Others didn't think so.

"Governor, I would hesitate on giving Rear Admiral Estorav di Kuat that command; Her capabilities I will admit to. But this operation is one I already oppose, and I want an officer with a less aggressive attitude assigned to command it. She may be quite professional about her duties, but she has also demonstrated occasion to unnecessary violence in the execution of those duties. If the situation is... confused... As now appears to be the contention, I would submit than an officer with more tact and reserve be given command of that force." High Admiral Welde outranked Elise, but the Grand Moff had the final say here.

Vice Director Quarn spoke abruptly, perhaps confirming the old adage of a man who knew where the bread was buttered. "Governor, I would submit that Rear Admiral Estorav di Kuat, by my own observations, is quite suited for the mission. If it goes as planned any commander can fill the post; If it does not, I would prefer her abilities."

"So noted, Vice Director, Fleet Admiral. My apologies to your objections, High Admiral, but in the case of this mission I must say that my concerns want me to be as well prepared as possible, in every aspect." Grand Moff Davion paused for a moment, composing himself. Then he finished.

"For nearly twenty-two years there has been absolute silence through the anomaly. We have no idea of the situation; Now that all space on both sides of the Bajoran wormhole is firmly in our hands, I think it is time we find out just what is going on. I hope I am merely letting paranoia turn to fear in my mind... But this silence is abnormal. The Task Force shall be assembled, the Vice Director shall accompany it, and Rear Admiral Estorav di Kuat shall have command. I want it traveling through the spatial anomaly in a week's time. We must discover what is happening in the Empire."
The threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth. -- Wikipedia's No Original Research policy page.

In 1966 the Soviets find something on the dark side of the Moon. In 2104 they come back. -- Red Banner / White Star, a nBSG continuation story. Updated to Chapter 4.0 -- 14 January 2013.

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Post by The Duchess of Zeon » 2003-02-08 03:47pm

Chapter the First

TF-223 Flagship,
Allegiance-class Light Cruiser Cuirass,
Location of Ubiqtorate Base Eragon.

"Director Quarn, I do not believe there is any Ubiqtorate base remaining here," Mystrela Estorav di Kuat observed calmly, as the first of the scanner data came back. They had arrived; The Ubiqtorate base was only nineteen hours through hyperspace, even in these twisted routes, from the far side of the spatial anomaly. They had been followed through by other warships, and freighters, to guard the far side and prepare to construct fortresses if necessary.

"It would appear so, Admiral.. At least now." Quarn's voice was quiet, ominous, and ignoring the veiled humour of the remark. Indeed, perhaps his voice held a note of venom. He understood her humour, to relieve the tension... And Mystrela's humour, rarely offered and generally, black, was simply part of the package, anyway. He just wanted to find the bastards; one did not move a massive intelligence installation. He expected what came next.

"Admiral, we've detected traces of what was likely the facility, and several other ships. Some debris may be of Imperial design, some of what may similar to rebel design.. Though unfamiliar classes. All destroyed, of course," an officer reported.

"Can you date the destruction?" Mystrela asked. Her expression had not yet changed.

"Not precisely, ma'am, but it can be estimated to within about a year." The officer saw the look on Mystrela's face. "That estimate, Admiral, dates it at about twelve years ago."

"Kriff." That was all she said, swearing softly. Mystrela did not swear often, nor lightly. It was very bad news, indeed. A secret Ubiqtorate facility, discovered by the rebels and destroyed twelve years ago. A heavily defended facility, apparently, for Quarn's expression told enough in that regard.

Quarn looked over to Mystrela again. "Can your people bring in some debris for forensic evaluations by my teams, Admiral? We'll try to figure out the composition of the defending force, the attacking force, and anything else we can, of course."

"Surely, Director. As soon as you do, however, we're moving out," Mystrela replied calmly.

"Alright; You do have discretion on our next destination. What is it going to be?" He queried, while bringing up his comlink; Then he began to give orders to the leader of the Ubiqtorate teams onboard, while also listening for Mystrela's reply.

Her voice was quiet. "A place right at the heart of the matter: The Bilbringi shipyards. They're vital and certain to be intact; Whoever controls them currently will have answers for us."

That could also be quite dangerous. Then again, this Task Force was not exactly a minor collection of ships, and Quarn did not presume to question a naval officer in front of their underofficers.

"TF Astrogation," Mystrela ordered, "plot a course for Bilbringi and feed it to all ships when computed. Communications, signals to Second Cruiser squadron: Begin debris sweep... Commodore's discretion, through heaviest field areas."

Mystrela settled back to wait. It would not be long before they entered hyperspace, and the jump to Bilbringi was getting into actually traveled space. It would take a mere four days to reach. In the worst case scenario, the shipyards would be gone. That level of destruction seemed impossible. If they were gone, though, the route from Bilbringi to Coruscant was better plotted and cleared for hyperdrive use. That would only take a bit longer than two days with her drive speed.

Bilbringi Drive Yards,
Central Control Facilities.

General Muun was living on borrowed time, and he knew it. Coruscant had fallen, the Corellian Sector had been ravaged and planets there taken. Though most Core Worlds were not in Vong hands, the losses in those critical regions, the conquest of that great coruscating gem, had scattered the Republic into dissolute resistance. Some of it was here, but he could not expect reinforcement.. He could hope for it; Maybe it would come.

They needed Bilbringi Drive Yards, Kuat Drive Yards, and the Mon Calamari Drive Yards. Those were the last great Drive Yards left; The fall of Fondor had been a horrific blow to the ability of the Republic to build heavy ships, the trade interdicted in the Corellian Sector by the Vong sitting a few short lightyears away making their progress, for now, sporadic as well. And the fall of Coruscant, well.. That seemed like the end of civilization, for some; It had happened but days before, and already central authority was in chaos, and the Vong were recovering from their own losses to push ahead.

"Sir! We've detected multiple hyperdrive signatures outside the defensive perimeter; a large body of ships has arrived." The sensor officer on duty reported, just a trace of haste in her voice as she focused the sensors for a scan of the arrivals.

"Signal all ships and defensive platforms to General Quarters," General Muun ordered. "Identity and composition?" He then queried. It was almost certainly Yuuzhan Vong, though.

"Fifty-five ships.. The majority of which are corvettes or frigates," the sensor officer replied. And then she was dead silent for a moment, for she'd never seen one of the ships on that screen in her entire military career. The IFFs they were transmitting, likewise, were clear. "The force also includes an Allegiance-class Star Cruiser, six ISDs and two VSDs, sir. They are all broadcasting Imperial IFFs."

General Muun was absolutely silent for a moment. Somebody in CIC let out a war-whoop, probably on the assumption that if these guys stayed around to help, they might have a fighting chance. "The Imperial Remnant doesn't have an Allegiance left. Whoever they are... Well, hail them immediately. We'll find out soon enough."

"Yessir," a voice from across CIC.

General Muun turned and walked over into the holo-projector feed.

"Sir, they identify themselves as an Imperial Fleet Task Force and agree to holo communications," The com officer reported back in a moment.

"Put it through, then, Ensign," General Muun answered. He might have command of the facilities as part of the Engineering Corps, but the crewers were all navy.

Slowly, in front of his eyes, the shape of the holo formed. One quarter size, it showed a human woman; She looked young for her rank.. Or maybe more of an indeterminate age; It was hard to tell with humans, and with holograms, for that matter. Black hair, longer than Imperial regs would allow, though for an Admiral it was less relevant, and blue eyes. Pallid, as well, and her features spoke of nobility to those who watched and studied those things; rather less so, of course, to a Sullustan like General Muun.

The uniform was strictly Imperial, none of the fancy Warlord-style ostentation about it, and the rank badges showed a Rear Admiral, ominously, in Regional Oversector forces: Two red squares and four gold all in one row, and three rank cylinders.

"This is General Muun, commanding the New Republic's Bilbringi Fleet Drive Yards. Imperial Task Force, your presence is welcome, but I would like full identification."

"This is Rear Admiral Mystrela Estorav di Kuat, commanding TF-223 of His Imperial Majesty's Navy. I came to Bilbringi for information, General Muun. Instead it appears I found traitors; Or worse yet, a proper belligerent in a Galactic Civil War. Please explain your occupation of an Imperial installation." Admiral di Kuat paused for a moment; There was no real change in her demeanor, though. It wasn't belligerent. It just.. Wasn't. "I don't presume to have Bilbringi under my guns with a Star Cruiser and eight Destroyers.. Not with the force you have collected to defend it. So I ask for it as a courtesy. Your introduction left me a bit confused."

General Muun was beginning to realize something, seeing that Allegiance, the perfect Oversector uniform of the Admiral before him, the stiff precision of that fleet's arrival. That was the steady, dawning, and rather startling fact that the woman he was talking to had no idea, none at all, that the Empire had fallen. Or at least of any details of that fall; She hadn't appeared completely surprised to see him here. "Admiral di Kuat, I'm afraid that would be a very long story. I will be glad to tell it to you, though, if we can arrange to meet in person."

"Very well. I'll bring the Cuirass within firing range of your platforms, and then you can board her as my guest for dinner, and for your explanation."

Well, that was certainly a situation meant to satisfy mutual paranoia; At least it would keep the Task Force in the area for a while. Maybe permanently.. And if Bilbringi could be held, that was all that counted to General Muun. He just wondered how the Imperials out there would take everything. Not just the death of Palpatine, though, but most of all the Yuuzhan Vong. He nodded as assent. "Alright, Admiral di Kuat. That is agreeable. I assume you're keeping Coruscant time?" A nod. "Four standard hours and fifteen minutes, then."

"Until then, General Muun." The hologram of the woman blinked out, and General Muun turned immediately to his intelligence officer, who had been quietly observing the exchange. "Find out everything for me that you can on Mystrela Estorav di Kuat. There has to be a file on someone in the Kuat family, assuming she's genuine." He also hoped that the dinner would be acceptable to his tastes.

TF-223 Flagship,
Allegiance-class Light Cruiser Cuirass,
Bilbringi Drive Yards.

The meal had been delicious, the fare, foreign.. Though well-suited even to Sullustan tastes. Trust a Kuat to serve an excellent table, though, even with unfamiliar dishes. Of course, Mystrela had over two decades to get used to them, wherever she had been. Before arriving aboard the Cuirass General Muun had confirmed that the woman not only was real but had been missing from Imperial fleet records for a good twenty-two years; since before the battle of Endor.

Mystrela had once been nothing more than a young fire control officer, a lieutenant, then, on the FSC-956, a Strike Cruiser. And it was hard for female line officers to win promotion; though her commanding officer, Elise Kalar-Leben, had been one of note, as well. Her reputation with the old Rebel Alliance had been as an excellent Imperial commander out on the fringe, one who had been head-and-shoulders above most of her male counterparts, and probably deserved an ImpStar. General Muun had idly wondered, on hearing that, just where he might find Commander Kalar-Leben, and what rank she would have when he did.

He might have the opportunity to find out soon enough. The meeting on the Cuirass had so far gone as well as one could expect. Mystrela and an Ubiqtorate agent of unidentified rank listened, along with the ship's captain, a few officers from the stormtrooper compliment, and some of the ship's officers. The only composed ones had been the stormtrooper officers and Mystrela, who apparently had the emotional disposition of carbonite. She had spoken largely only to control her officers who either could not believe Muun or who did not want to believe him calmly. Nobody had seemed to have the traditional problem with racism in the Empire, or, more precisely, it had been skillfully hidden, no doubt. Perhaps lacking in some.

General Muun had recounted Endor, and all the woes that had followed, then Grand Admiral Thrawn's offensives, then his death. Then the Civil War, and the Emperor's mad clones, and the horrible destruction it had wrought, and the massive losses in the Imperial fleet that had resulted, along with Mon Mothma's ban on heavy ships that had resulted from the massive planetary destruction during those conflicts. On to the warlordism, the final death of the Empire after that, touching on the conflict in the Koornacht Cluster briefly. Finally, the apparent 'resurrection' of Thrawn, and the near war over the Bothan perfidy at Caamas, then the final peace with the Imperial Remnant.

Finally, he had forced himself to calmly recount the horrors of the Vong War, the beginning, the full-scale invasion, the collapse of support for a response. The steady march of their arms into the galaxy as the Republic bickered and crumbled. Then the final rally as the Core was threatened... But to merely falter. The Corellian sector ravaged; Coruscant falling in just the last weeks and days despite desperate resistance. Fortunately his own homeworld had not yet fallen; Small favour, and perhaps merely a matter of location.

Now he had finished. He doubted half the people at the table believed him. Mystrela did, though, and even the Ubiqtorate man. Mystrela just sipped her drink.. Champagne.... And nodded. "Thank you for explaining the situation, General Muun. It appears that the Emperor was correct; The galaxy needed strong central authority and control to survive."

"Yes," Muun said, bitterly. "You are vindicated in the ashes of worlds, and billions of slain. Perhaps if the Emperor had bothered to consult the people in his rule, or, for that matter, to enfranchise other species.."

Mystrela waved a hand, sighing softly. "Please, spare me, General. I do not mean to imply the Emperor divine or otherwise infallible. I am simply saying that the system he created was ideal for defending against this threat."

"I'll concede that; At this point, Admiral, I am quite willing to."

"Good, General Muun. I prefer to share some opinions with people whom I operate with; And in your case I shall assuredly be committing to the defense of the Drive Yards, at least for the time-being. And, of course, I'll need to detach a ship to send word back to my superiours, but one corvette will do."

"Admiral di Kuat, I know I've pressed you before, and perhaps your operational security is simply to tight, but I must ask, directly, where are you from?"

"I can't say; Security is much to tight. All I can assure you of is that we don't have weapons of mass destruction, and therefore we are not in violation of the peace treaty you signed with the Imperial Remnant. That is something I pity now. Fortunately I can promise likely reinforcement in more conventional forces; beyond that I simply cannot say."

General Muun had expected that by now. It left the entire mystery... More confusing. The Imperial forces in the Unknown Regions allied with the Chiss were an open secret; they couldn't be from there, surely not. Other than one fighter wing under questionable circumstances, they had also shown little sign of helping. "Well, Admiral, I understand such matters. Not polite for an exchange, but quite military, and we both understand the needs of the military."

Mystrela smiled faintly; Her first real expression. "Indeed, General Muun."

"Regarding the defense, then?"

A nod. "Surely, General Muun." She turned her head slightly. "Captain Veris?"

"Admiral?" A slightly quizzical look; The Flagcaptain, at least, had kept himself under control at the very idea that had been expoused... But certainly not calm, though the bar was very high thanks to his commander.

"You've had some time to think about it.. We're both originally weapons officers. What's the first limitation of those 'Dovin Basals', the artificial black holes General Muun mentioned?" Mystrela simply spoke with the casual interest of a professional on the job.

Captain Veris only had to think about it for a moment. "You couldn't intercept something traveling at FTL velocities; gravity is limited to the speed of light, and a dovin basal would rely on sucking in the incoming fire or missiles.." A nod from General Muun. "That means that any weapon which could exceed the speed of light would be virtually unaffected by the dovin basals, at least outside of them and potentially inside of them. Even if they're only not affected by the gravity, the nature of such a defence prevents it from providing total coverage around the hull."

Another nod from General Muun in affirmation. "You're correct. And, I must ask: Do you have such a weapon?"

"Yes," Mystrela replied. "I've committed myself to defend the Drive Yards; you need to know the abilities of my fleet. The Corvettes are standard Imperial escort models, two multipurpose warhead launchers, eight double TLs; everything else is baseline, the Imperators being in three different Marks, though. The exception is the Strike Cruisers. They're outfitted as missileers. Each has the modular sections and fighter bays stripped out, along with troop capacity, to fit in eight torpedo tubes, with seventy-two torpedoes each. They're special torpedoes with high-yield warheads and drives capable of FTL velocities in realspace.

"The ships are also fitted with effective cloaking systems that allow them to target and fire while cloaked, and to maneuver, though it is possible for the enemy to detect them in some ways; Just very hard. Finally, the torpedoes have similar, though even less effective, cloaks. Those Strike Cruisers are perhaps the most valuable ships in my Task Force against the Vong, it appears."

General Muun and his aides were silent for a long minute as they considered the implications of that; It was perhaps a weapon that could finally turn the tide against the Yuuzhan Vong if used in numbers, for otherwise fighting the Vong demanded large numbers of capital ships, with their enemy's technological superiourity clear.

"A most fortunate thing indeed, Admiral; it's just what we need, if they work as advertised. I presume you'll want to have them engage with missiles at range in support of your ImpStars, then? I know the Old Imperial reputation for fleet manoeuvring, Admiral; you probably have our defending capships beat, even if our fighters are better."

"I would if they carried standard Ties; Your pilots are definitely better than mine regardless.. But we have compliments of Defenders and Missile Boats onboard these days, in addition to Gunboats and Blastboats. I would hence prefer using our fighters and missiles for a long range engagement to soften them up, and then closing with our capital ships."

"Actually, based on our strategic situation, Admiral, General, we may have an opportunity to defeat two forces in detail," Captain Veris added. "It's not improbable that they would try to coordinate attacks from Vortex and Coruscant. If so.. Your platforms do have limited maneuverability under thrusters, correct, General Muun?"

"Yes, Captain Veris, all the defensive platforms do."

"Well, then, we could concentrate the defensive platforms to one side of the shipyards when the Vong approach and let them hold off that wave; with long-range fire from our capital ships providing backing if necessary. The defensive platforms, some of them are larger than even the Cuirass and better armed and armoured; we can expect them to hold their own for a while. The fighters could concentrate on softening up the other attacking force, with full missile support from the Strikes, as you suggested, Admiral."

"And with our fighters and missiles fully concentrated on half of their force.. Quite nice. Then the capital ships finish off that force as far as its capability against the yards go, and we swing around at speed and relieve the defensive platforms. Probably with enough time to rearm the fighters for another strike," Mystrela finished.

"And if they send in one force, we simply maul it; Though the temptation to catch the Drive Yards between a Hammer and an Anvil, I think, will be too much for them, it fits their kind of thinking; Excellent!" General Muun added, continuing: "I do think we can hold the yards against at least one full Vong effort, then. If your reinforcements come.."

"Then this ship yard can continue to serve in the defence of the galaxy indefinitely; But do not thank me yet, General Muun. We still must win the fight." Mystrela replied, as she sipped the last of the champagne and stood. "I'll arrange for that corvette to be dispatched with reports, and then I'll conduct myself and my staff to your command platform; you no doubt have better planning facilities."

"All right Admiral di Kuat," General Muun replied, standing. "I'll see you there."

After General Muun's party had been escorted out by Captain Veris, Mystrela stood alone with Vice Director Quarn. Now, of course, came the real test of the matter.

"You told him a great deal about our weaponry, even if you were appropriately circumspect about the.. Our Galaxy," Quarn began, hesitating even as he did.

"It was necessary if we're going to hold Bilbringi, Vice Director... Director of Imperial Intelligence Quarn. You probably outrank whoever is in the Remnant. Hell, Davion received his rank by Palpatine's order; he outranks Pellaeon, who's current title isn't even in the old Imperial rank structure!"

"A council of Moffs.. Oligarchy. Davion would hate listening to those paper-pushers tell him what to do. He's paranoid as hell and a bit slow on the uptake, maybe even cautious, but intelligent and capable." Quarn replied, thinking now, distracted. "And you're right. I probably do outrank anyone left in the remnant... I can't believe Director Isard went off Empire-building like that."

"It was the right thing to do," Mystrela replied. "Her mistake was not going far enough," she added, cryptically.

Quarn was silent for a moment as he looked at Mystrela, and then his eyes widened. "It's just what I'd expect from you and your clique, too! Under the circumstances I can't blame you, though... Or your mentors. I can also compliment your counter-intelligence, if this is more than blatant opportunism."

"Good; I just hope Grand Moff Davion will do what's right. As for the security matters with those weapons.. They would have found out when we engage to defend Bilbringi. And I will defend Bilbringi; it's vital for this galaxy's survival. I can trust for your support in that matter?" Mystrela looked into intensely to Quarn; she was silent to the last remark.

The man dipped his head, and smiled. "You have it, Admiral. I won't presume to press further into military affairs; I merely am doing my duty."

"That I can well understand. These times will require us to do rather more than only our duty, though. Much more."

San Francisco, Terra:
Provisional Capital,
Milky Way Imperial Oversector Government.

"What this means, Gentlemen, Madame, is that the Oversector government in the Milky Way is one of two effective Imperial remnants; and the stronger of those two. With my legitimate title as Grand Moff, I am also the ranking officer of the Empire, bureaucratic and military." Grand Moff Hamner Davion finished and sat down at the head of the table, a resounding silence filling the room.

"And our circumstances, to put it mildly, are unenviable. The rest of the Empire is facing an invasion force which has effectively toppled a galactic government," High Admiral Welde added. "Albeit a weak and incompetent one, I grant you."

"We cannot abandon the Bastion Oversector," Sule began. "It is the last remnant of Imperial power within our home galaxy; furthermore, there are quintillions of people that we would be abandoning to slavery throughout the galaxy if we do not make some effort to fight the Yuuzhan Vong. They are absolute barbarians, Governor, and now the fate of our civilization may rely on our actions."

"I cannot disagree with Surface Marshal Tienyz," Fleet Admiral Inaras added. "There is no known way of sealing the anomaly; for all we know, others exist between the two galaxies, especially in the unknown regions. And for all that they are said to possess star nations of considerable military strength, they'll fall to the Vong if the Vong have the resources of the galaxy proper behind them."

"That may be so, Fleet Admiral," High Admiral Welde replied. "But the Anomaly will be more easily defended. And if others are found by the Vong, we'll likely be able to discover them and drive them back; we do have a good recon net here. They would serve as effective choke points.. Ones that we could hold indefinitely."

"High Admiral," Grand Moff Davion looked to him, his mind considering the possibilities. "Do you think we could defend territory in the home galaxy against the Vong, perhaps? Namely, an area around the anomaly, and the sectors between it and the Bastion Oversector, along with, of course, the Bastion Oversector."

"Well, even biologics are limited by how much they can grow; they can't throw unlimited numbers of ships at us. If we extend that zone to include the Bilbringi Drive Yards, which would be worth it by what they can produce in numbers of ships, at least until they can be disassembled and moved into a more defendable location, or possibly permanently.. Yes, I don't think it's impossible."

"No! We cannot merely stand on the defensive, sir, Governor," Elise finally cried out, a gloved fist making a muffled impact on the table. "The report makes it clear, respectfully, Governor, that the Republic's own attempts in that regard were doomed to failure. They truly have no idea of the capabilities of the Vong in ship construction, and hence neither do we. That is not something to be guessed on.

"We must not be content with the defensive.. While we have the concentrated fleet assets to do so, we must strike and regain the momentum against them, and liberate the populace of the Core Worlds that have fallen under their sway. We cannot let them gain control of the Core; we speak of innumerable beings, rightfully citizens, who will suffer and die to unspeakable depravity!"

"Citizens?" The ISB director shot back. "They're traitors, every one of them; I'll support defending the remnant, but let the Vong take the core worlds. They'll get precisely what they've.."

"Shut up!" Sule thundered. "There is no more New Order for you to preserve; we're talking about civilization now, damn you! Every sin forgiven, every crime forgotten; and even if not, the Core Worlds merely changed sides out of convenience, and you know it. They care only for stable government! Those are worlds that have not felt war, with the exception of Coruscant, in thousands of years. They're ripe for the picking and filled with riches to plunder for a barbarian conquest; and even if the Vong don't care about those things, they've more than enough slaves to satisfy their appetites."

He turned his gaze to the man at the head of the table, his father-in-law, and stood. "If we don't defend the Core, then we lose our honour as Imperial officers, Governor Davion. The galaxy needs strong leadership now, and it needs unity. You have the rank and the right to take it, sir. Do not, I beg of you, let the galaxy down! We need an Emperor, sir, and if you claim the title and the honours, I shall hail you! Let all the people of both galaxies rally to the standard of the rightful successor of Palpatine, and we shall surely repel the Vong from the Empire yet!"

Silence abruptly reigned. For the oldest officers there, the very idea was inconceivable. It was a combination of terror and respect; it was something that had prevented any potential contender from declaring himself Imperator during all those long years of Civil War. Nobody dared replace Palpatine, and even now Davion was nearly trembling at the thought of it.

Palpatine had, after all, indeed come back to life and punished those who had usurped him, those who had done so even without declaring the title. But that was just a clone, or clones, and those chambers were long destroyed. Sule had understood that, and Hamner Davion could see that in his subordinate's eyes. The man wanted to take action, in the name of more than just the Empire, but in the name of Civilization, and so did his subordinates, and Fleet Admiral Kalar-Leben, for that matter.

But... To replace Palpatine seemed impossible. And the Vong, to fight them on those terms. Even with their missiles it would be very long odds. He looked back into his son-in-law's eyes in those brief moments, as the room exploded into chaos around him, Generals and Admirals and Directors and Moffs and their Chiefs of Staff yelling and shaking their fists at each other and shouting at him and at Sule.

The Empire was built around Palpatine and it seemed inconceivable that it could change. Would it? Could he make himself claim that title? What would happen if he didn't? Hamner Davion groaned, drew his blaster pistol, and banged it against the table for order.

Rome, Terra:
Nero's Domus Aurea.

Martina Tienyz-Davion sighed. The hall with the gilded vault was impressive. It also currently was more than a bit cold by her standards, and she hadn't bothered to come dressed in something warm. Rome could get quite cold in December. However, she could certainly understand the choice of a meeting place; another one of Elise's eccentric archaeology projects was rather less likely to be bugged, and the walls were much easier to scan for them.

"Love, she is going to show up, yes? It might be nice to stand around in this place looking at ancient artwork another time, but it needs central heating."

Sule sighed, putting an arm around his wife's shoulders. "Well, unless something happened to her.. And so far the only person the TLA hates less than Elise is me. And it wouldn't be like Hamner to start arresting his own officers for voicing opinions." Good PR had actually worked for the Army; the government got most of the bombings that still took place. Everyone hated bureaucracy, and the Army was a harder target, anyway. It was natural that the Federation would spawn cowards who went after civilian targets.

"True, Dad isn't the type to go for paranoia.. About anything except Palpatine, of course. I suppose we're just a collection of Young Turks, plotting against tradition like this." Martina turned to look her husband in the eyes; Her own were a light blue-gray, set in an aristocratic face framed with hair that was light blonde. There was an inner strength in the woman that Sule Tienyz had married, and it had proven useful before. Martina ran his private intelligence nets, for instance. There was also a cunning which stretched beyond comprehension, and that was useful for the same and more.

"Young Turks?"

"A reference that Elise would understand, love. Native history."

"Very well, dear." Sule checked his chrono again. He'd never seen Elise eight and a half minutes late for a meeting before; Navy officers were generally quite punctual.

There was the steady sound of boots of ancient tile, and then Elise arrived, hurrying in down one of the corridors with two guards. She was dressed in black: Silken trousers and shirt, with a vest of black leather, and a long, rather thin coat over that which hung down to her ankles. Not to mention the gloves. In other words, very much the usual Elise.

Elise had shaped up into an officer which deserved the name, instead of into a highly-competent-patrol-dreg, shoved aside because of COMPNOR prejudices. That final proof of more than ability, but eventual discipline, was what had earned her promotions, instead of a permanent commander's rank, here in this galaxy. It was probably because war had finally caught up with her, as more than just a matter of running skirmishes with convoys; she had risen to the challenge. Lots of people had not, and had been weeded out of the officer corps here, though. But what her past all boiled down to was that her taste in clothing off-duty remained from the bizarre to the Obscene.

"Sule, Martina, greetings! My apologies that I'm late." Elise's breath was steamed in the air of the Domus Aurea. "I was just talking with Fleet Admiral Inaras." The guards had silently moved to positions by the corridor entrance; they were all handpicked.

"Hello, Elise. It's good to see you again.. Even in one of your little projects," Martina offered, smiling. "You should try to get temperature control installed, you know." She wondered how Elise could stand it in a thin coat and silk; of course, the other woman was in admittedly better shape, and had a metabolism which the metaphasic treatments from the Briar Patch facilities had only helped.

"Well, I am working on that; All in good time, though! This is an artwork, restoration, especially if you're trying to actually make sections livable again. I'd give you a tour if I thought we had time..."

"Unfourtunately, we don't, though I do think it would be worth it at another date," Sule interrupted.

"Yes, well then.. The situation in the Home Galaxy, I suppose?" Elise inquired, to be answered with nods.

"My father is being a fool," Martina began, quietly. "Fear of the dead; Emperor Palpatine, Lord Vader, push at his paranoia. He won't claim the throne and the diadem of office, won't offer his rule to the acclamation of the Legions. We all know the plan he'll endorse in the end."

"He'll try to stand on the defensive, with the Remnant, and Bilbringi, and the territories between them; minimal offensives at best, then. Wasting resources in a war of attrition. One that we do not know if we can win or not," Elise murmured, as she led her friends to the long benches, waiting until they had sat, to then sit beside them.

"And we must do something about it," Sule replied. "I am sorry, my dearest wife, but as long as your father maintains this course, all of civilization is threatened."

"I know what's at stake, my love; you have my support, you always have."

"My thanks." Sule turned to look to his longtime friend. "Elise, I suppose you called me here to propose an alternate course of action?"

"No, Sule," Elise looked back evenly. "I called you here to offer my full support, and the full support of all the ships under my command. Martina understands; Hamner will have to be removed from power, and High Admiral Welde as well, and the ISB likely purged, if we're to accomplish anything against the Vong. But that is ultimately up to you. I was delayed gaining Inaras' support for you - It took longer than I expected - If you have your own men loyal to your cause, than your cause is complete."

Rome, the Eternal City, stood around him, the Seven Hills. Beyond, Coruscant beckoned, shuddering under the yoke of horrific, barbarian occupation. Sule Tienyz sat, silently, thinking. The future lay before him. He had manoeuvred for power, in the halls of diplomacy, and on the field of war. He had become a Surface Marshal, and he had conquered Empires and thousands of systems in the name of the One Empire.

Now the ultimate power beckoned; he was an ambitious man, and a man who would not forget the quintillions who lay threatened by the advance of a sadistic and foreign barbarism. The Two Galaxies needed unity, and if Hamner Davion would not take the throne, it would fall upon himself to do so. Only one person could hold him back; he looked to Martina.

Martina simply smiled to him. "As I said, my love. You always have my support."

Sule looked back to Elise and nodded curtly, once.

His old friend smiled, and from her voice, an ancient and hoary proclamation:

"Ave, Imperator!"

Grinning: "He'll have to call a meeting with all the Admirals and Generals of the Oversector that can be spared, to discuss tactics for his operations; quite soon, too. There?"

"That will do nicely, Elise," Sule agreed. "Martina and I will arrange the details, with my own staff, and men. It will be up to you to secure the loyalty of the Admirals and other naval officers involved."

Elise was all business again; that brief burst of excitement, which could not really be faulted, having faded. Indeed, the very idea.. Well, they'd find out soon enough. "Alright. You can be assured; they will all support you, every one."

The very idea, of a new Emperor. The very idea, that it would be himself, Sule Tienyz, a man who had been a Brigadier the last time he had been on Coruscant. But it must be done, and it would be done. And if he succeeded in repelling the Vong, well... He might very well deserve all that came with the honours of the throne!

TF-223 Flagship,
Allegiance-class Light Cruiser Cuirass,
Bilbringi Drive Yards.

"Not what you'd expect as Vong ships; they must be using the Peace Brigade to scout for them," Captain Veris observed as he studied the sensor data on the command plots.

"Well, Captain, the Strike Cruisers are under cloak, and I shall ignore the temptation to take the enemy out at range; the worst the Vong could do is call off the attack and reinforce. They still won't know about our Missiles, and that gives more time for the Oversector to reinforce," Mystrela replied.

"Sir, sensors report additional ships exiting hyperspace.. Six transports and a Victory-class Star Destroyer," the sensor officer reported, naturally addressed to Captain Veris on his bridge.

"The Peace Brigade with a Victory-class? Or Republican reinforcements?" Captain Veris mused.

"We'll find out soon enough; but I fear I can expect what will happen next," Mystrela replied, her voice abruptly quite low.

"Central Control is getting a communication from the Victory," reported the comm officer. "It's not scrambled."

"Drag it up for us, then."

Mystrela waited, and then watched.. For only a split second. For she well-recognized Viqi Shesh, separating the woman from the awkward teenager of the Shesh family, but there could be no mistaking them. Any doubt left a moment later..

"This is Viqi Shesh, Senator for Kuat. Again, I warn you.. The refusal to surrender the Drive Yards peaceably will be met with a hundred and eighty-thousand civilian deaths. I expect your response immediately." She spoke with such childish arrogance that Mystrela was saddened; she wondered what the great merchant families had come to.

Then again, the Sheshes had always felt a bit guilty about their wealth, and pandered that to the liberals and the progressives to make themselves feel better again. Perhaps going one step further and embracing the ultimate expression of the violent fringe of the green party was just natural.

"Full holographic communications with that Victory; General Muun won't mind, and we do have joint command here." Her officers obeyed. All the more for the fact that for the first time ever, they had to obey a Mystrela Estorav di Kuat who was giving orders while trying to draw her breath and laugh with near maniacal intensity, simultaneously. The picture...!

"Viqi, dearest, you remember me?" The figure asked, struggling to keep composure, resting in her command chair on the bridge of an all-to-Imperial ship.

Her Yuuzhan Vong handlers waiting silently, outside of the pickup, Viqi Shesh froze, as old memories gripped her, and the woman in the hologram in front of her, resplendant in her Rear Admiral's uniform, smiled dangerously. Mystrela Estorav di Kuat looked surprisingly young, and in good health; there was no mistaking her.

"Mystrela. I do."

"Good. Then remember that what I say is absolute; the same for all of my family. I can only imagine what sort of 'war crimes' you threatened my dearest uncles or father with to keep them shut up while you mangled our politics. The fleet was always the prosperity of Kuat.. The Drive Yards, Damnit! And you'd have them torn down by those barbarians in exchange for mere survival!

"So listen to me carefully, little one, traitor: Take your ships and retire beyond the defensive perimeter, for my squadron protects Bilbringi, and you shall not pass. Kill all the hostages you want; better that than slaves of barbarians. The blood is on your hands, not mine, and my sleep will only be troubled by the fact that you have not died by my hands!"

Viqi stood silent, looking back to Mystrela, arrogant, Imperial, and confident in her command chair, which was in those moments a throne for her, and then nodded curtly and tossed a hand across her neck. One of the Peace Brigadiers on the bridge cut the channel, and she turned to her Yuuzhan Vong handlers.

"Those Imperials out there won't let the New Republican forces retire and leave the shipyards to us in exchange for the hostages, even assuming they would have otherwise."

The leader of the Yuuzhan Vong aboard simply nodded. "Then their civilians will pay the price for their obstinance. Destroy the transports."

At the Vong's order, the Peace Brigadiers manning the weapons of the VSD began to salvo the concussion missile tubes at the unshielded transports, which had been run on slave-rig into the system.

Mystrela watched in utter silence as the transports were finished off, and the small Peace Brigade squadron retired back into hyperspace. The Imperials on the bridge were stone-faced; for those had been citizens of what was rightfully the Empire, and they were sworn to protect them at least in theory, and even the basest of the lot would be drawn to hatred by the sight of humans serving aliens and slaughtering humans.

Then Mystrela's voice broke in, harshly. "Well, those are just the allies of the barbs, and so now we've seen for ourselves what the barbs will do! Now... Let us see just how long it takes these barbs to organize an attack; and when they do, we'll drive it right back again, because we're the Empire, and we'll not be yielding to any barbarians, nor to any traitors!"
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In 1966 the Soviets find something on the dark side of the Moon. In 2104 they come back. -- Red Banner / White Star, a nBSG continuation story. Updated to Chapter 4.0 -- 14 January 2013.

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The Duchess of Zeon
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Post by The Duchess of Zeon » 2003-02-08 04:01pm

Chapter the Second.

TF-223 Flagship,
Allegiance-class Light Cruiser Cuirass,
Bilbringi Drive Yards.

"Fighters report ready on all ships; all squadrons, all wings. Average of ninety-three percent readiness rate among fighters and gunboats, Admiral," Mystrela's chief of staff reported. "Each Missile Boat has a magnum loadout of fourty concussion missiles and ten heavy space bombs. Do you want the readiness rundown by squadron, Admiral?"

"No, Jobert.. The total numbers will be sufficient," Rear Admiral di Kuat replied. She was perfectly calm, icily collected, even now; even now in the face of what the Vong had finally begun their attack with, in two groups, as expected.

"Sixty-two Assault Gunboats, two hundred and twenty-three Missile Boats, and two hundred and thirty-five TIE Defenders are operational and prepped for this sortie, Admiral, from all ships in the Task Force."

"Very well; and the numbers of our allies' fighters that are operational and launched?"

"Three hundred and six E-wings, two hundred and fourty X-wings, two hundred and eighty A-wings, two hundred and sixty-seven B-wings, and one hundred and ninety K-wings. They also report they've gotten twenty-two old recon Y-wings prepped as a last-ditch. The strike force has been launched and is now closing on our position."

"There is no need for such preparations yet.." A soft comment, really, and then she moved into action, standing, and striding across the bridge of the Cuirass.

"Comm, Fleet Signal: 'General Quarters, all ships.'" They'd been at Condition Two since the Vong had arrived; now the red lights, the grim warnings, and the klaxons of Condition One, General Quarters, would sound and the fleet would make the final preparation for battle.

Of course, some of the ships were already at General Quarters, but Mystrela was taking no chances with her communications when the Peace Brigade's vessels were lurking around with compatible coms. All orders to the Strikes had been spoken in verbal code in messages to the fleet, in addition to general scrambling. Mystrela had no idea if there were Imperials among that group of defectors, and in her mind the only real reason for traitors was not to fight, but to gather information.

The minefields and outer defensive platforms, along with the layout of Bilbringi, made the Vong come in cautious, even more cautious than one might have expected. They wanted their own fighters to weaken the defenses anyway: The fixed defenses at Bilbringi were very impressive; it had included no less than twenty-four defensive fortresses alone. Combined with that, the immediate confines of the shipyard were now protected by interdiction fields, both from interdictors and mounted on the fortresses. That meant that this action was going to begin at range, and that was precisely what Mystrela wanted.

Mystrela spoke again to her com officer, "Fleet Signal: 'Operations shall adhere to Engagement Option Bravo, I repeat, Operations shall adhere to Engagement Option Bravo. All ships with fighter squadrons shall now commence launching according to EO Bravo.'"

"Both signals have been transmitted, Admiral," the Lieutenant replied a moment later.

Mystrela nodded, and walked over to where Captain Veris stood, by the holo-tank, with her staff intelligence officer. "Coffee and sandwiches, Captain? It will be a while, and I don't want you or the bridge crew.. Or myself, for that matter, to go into our part of this on empty stomachs."

"Certainly, Admiral. I'll have them sent up to the bridge."

Mystrela nodded, and contemplated the holo-tank. The situation involved two forces steadily closing on energy range with the vital shipyards from opposing directions with absolutely no subtlety; they maneuvered only to avoid the minefields. The problem was that the Peace Brigade squadron was independent of both forces. It was holding steady now, but would constitute a threat if it also began to close, and then she'd have to find some way to deal with it.

For the moment, the Vong's, in her opinion rather wise, lack of trust in their allies had allowed her to deal with the situation as she had originally planned. The problem was the sheer scale of the forces; each one was led by a ship roughly comparable to an Executor-class, and with a fair number of smaller 2km and 1km cruiser and destroyer analogues in support.

Mystrela was not necessarily concerned: The Vong had proven vulnerable to concentrated attacks before, when one such flagship had been heavily damaged by an Imperator and a new Mon Cal Star Cruiser of heavier type, and then destroyed by an Interdictor using its grav wells like tractor beams and shearing it to pieces. Not exactly a brilliant piece of structural integrity, those monsters. Of course, for all she knew, the equivalent to its keel might have been broken by then. On the other hand, the fact that two relatively light ships had done the breaking was a good thing.

Their fighters were now deployed ahead of each force in attack waves, intent on overwhelming the fleet, positioned against one force, and the platforms, positioned against the other. But the fighters would also have to deal with mines when attacking the platforms; and Mystrela was holding some of her fighters in reserve. The Vong also were underestimating the scale of the defenses here, either that or her jamming had been successful and they didn't realize the fortresses had been fully repositioned to deal with the second attack force.

Interlinked fire from the fortresses might defend them from the fighters, and then their main batteries might engage the attacking ships on equal terms, in the number of one force, when their own numbers were concentrated. And she had the early-mark X-wings and the K-wings, in her opinion, too old and too slow, respectively, for her planned fight, along with those Y-wings, if necessary, as her reserve force.

The remaining Republican fighters, though, were now overtaking the Imperial Task Force. As they did, the Imperial squadrons were launched, and jamming spread from the ships, and the fighters, with increasing strength. Once the Imperial fighters were launched, they would fall back on the Republic's warships, and the fighters would proceed against their enemy in three groups, as organized for the task ahead.

On the Strikes, firing solutions were carefully being prepared, though the range would not be had for a while yet, and then the necessary conditions for them to engage, likewise, would not be met for a while longer. Concealed under cloak they simply waited, fraught with tension, yes, but also with the confidence of a force that had seen only glorious victory over more than two decades.

Bilbringi Drive Yards,
And space surrounding.

The Imperial techno-daemons and wizards of the sensors weaved their spells; the professionals and mavericks alike, working in a bizarre world of ECM. Even the Vong's sensors relied on radiation to detect things; that meant that could be clouded by it, as well. Working against dozens of different and incredibly alien systems of the races that they had fought and conquered, and even sometimes in defense against the Borg, these guys had gotten good, and they proceeded to prove it.

The Imperial and Republican fighters vanished in the impregnable static of jamming; the Vong's own attack force closed to seek them at visual scanning ranges. They would deal with the enemy fighters and then move on against the capital ships. The commander of the Vong task force had no doubts about the superiourity of his Coral Skippers, as the infidels might presume to call them.

A staggered wall of fighters, limited by the acceleration of the Assault Gunboats and B-wings, consisted of the principal body which raced to meet the Vong head-on; following them and well back were the massed squadrons of the Missile Boats, escorted by the numbers of the main body of fighters. To the right, and slightly 'above' this formation, according to the orientation of Bilbringi, however, were the TIE Defenders, likewise hanging back from the main formation.

The jamming got especially bad here, with the TIE Defenders running their engines at relatively low power to avoid accelerating past the main body. The Vong could hazily detected the presence of the main body of the strike force, now, but the others were lost in the haze of jamming. Of course, what the Vong could project at that range, the massive fixed ECCM systems of the Bilbringi shipyards had the sheer power to cut right through.

And because of that, the Cuirass was feeding tracking and targeting data in an endless stream to the strike leader and the wing commanders, indeed, to all of the fighters, as Rear Admiral Mystrela Estorav di Kuat calmly sipped her coffee and ate a sandwich, waiting. It was in their hands now, and she could do nothing, except try to hide her worry. She was fortunately blessed in that regard; It was bad for an Admiral to look worried.

So far, General Muun was not yet engaged as the second Vong force worked through the far minefields and the outer platforms they covered, quite cautiously. The Vong 'Skippers wouldn't hit him until nearly when she had hit the Vong force she was taking; maybe not even then, it depended on how careful their approach was. And, of course, their heavies wouldn't be in range until around the time she'd brought her own capital ships to engage those facing her as well. Time enough to defeat both forces in detail; only if this one was weakened first, however.

The waiting continued, as the two fighter forces steadily closed, the distance ticking off in the holo-tank, the time seeming to be forever. It was in reality just a few minutes, though, of course.

"Another sandwich, Admiral?" Captain Veris added. He'd taken to handing out food to the bridge crew instead of letting his stewards do it on this last past, reassuring them all while he did; if any of the Vong got past they would not have any fighter cover, just their own guns, and then things would get interesting.

"No thank you, San." Mystrela replied calmly. She felt like adding 'though right now I'm bloody nervous enough to eat a horse, thank you,' but Admirals didn't do that, did they? "Coffee, however, will be fine, thank you."

"Certainly, Admiral," San Veris replied as he poured another mug of coffee; an improvement over the Kaff of old by all standards. At least the good stuff. Or so some people claimed. The single-minded intensity of Mystrela Estorav di Kuat seemed oddly at ease at this moment; perhaps because she was content with her preparations. To the Admiral's credit she did not appear to worry over them, and..

Here, however, as he handed the pot of coffee off to one of the mess techs and stepped back over to the holo-tank by the Admiral's chair, he had to consider that single-minded intensity as being a carefully built persona; his commander was quite human, whatever pains she took to look otherwise, and this mission had worn considerably on them all. Maybe even enough to reveal what was inside that persona: A genuine individual, who reacted with swift intelligence to the problem at hand, and the practices to which she had been trained, but flexible within them. Certainly no maverick like Elise Kalar-Leben; Mystrela was much more a classical fleet commander. But the mind inside was perhaps even more agile, and regulations did exist for a reason.

"Lead element of strike force at One-point-four minutes to missile range," a plotter reported.

Mystrela sipped her coffee, feeling muscles tense. Not very long now... Not very long at all.

On those fighters, racing through the dark of the stars, men prepared to fight and die; and on one side, some of them were quite eager for the opportunity. But they faced professionals, one and all, Republican and Imperial, and men who were doing their doing for a cause they understood the importance of. In a way, that was even more brutally effective than fanaticism and religion and warrior spirit.... Far more effective. Moreover, they now had hope.

Fifteen seconds from firing range on the Vong coral skippers, Rena Wesi, Republican fighter commander, and No.2 to the Imperial strike commander, grinned as the tone began to sound in her helmet. Her E-wing carried sixteen Proton torpedoes, dual-linked they carried the names of eight coral skippers, for she was from Coruscant, and the fall of that world had put a particular fire back in the hearts of the people who had lived there and escaped.

"All wings, all squadrons, maintain course and acceleration; Missile engagement authorized. Engage when lock is achieved," the strike commander ordered. Rena wasn't terribly upset to be upstaged; it gave her more room to concentrate on fighting, and the fact was that the Imperial Missile Boats were what made this attack worth it.

The Imperial tracking data continued to come in and firm up the lock from range; the Vong were still trying to get their grutchins' 'sensors' to chew through the radiation. If they couldn't, well, then they would radiation-home.. Against the capital ships and the Bilbringi Drive Yards, wasted against the fighters.

The unique homing animals their coral skippers carried could be quite lethal in seeking out sources of energy and draining them, but the massive sources of energy that were the capital ships' and the Drive Yard's jammers simply blotted out the fighters as sources of 'food' for them. The Imperial pilots had also promptly nicknamed them 'bugs'.

Tone-lock. The fighters of the leading element engaged with proton torpedoes and concussion missiles as they continued to accelerate at close; both sides, at this moment, at the appearance of trying to smash their way through each other, not dogfight. The Vong retaliated with salvoes of their grutchins anyway, hoping that they'd pick up the fighters enpassant through the formation on the way to the capships.

As additional salvoes were flung from the launches of the closing Republican and Imperial fighters, the localized jamming increased immensely. It drew some of the bugs towards it; it further disabled the abilities of the Vong sensors. Some of the missiles carried pure ECM components.

Acting on the direction of the sensors of the Cuirass, the TIE Defenders leapt into action as the jamming increased, immediately pouring on the power to their triple ion engines and going to max acceleration. They raced ahead, quickly accelerating to meet and overtake the leading main element at nearly twice their acceleration, at the same time angling down and closing with the Vong, still undetected.

Immediately, in a chaotic sea of radiation and the debris of combat, the leading element began to decelerate. The G-forces were sufficient to have destroyed anything less than that built with the incredible technology of the Empire and the Republic, or the incredible biology the Vong displayed; and the deceleration that resulted was indeed quite rapid.

Waves of thousands of missiles and torpedoes battered at coral skippers, but the dovin basals absorbed many; still, coral skippers were killed when they did not. Some of the bugs were diverted and got a few of the fighters. Not enough to take note; and the planning of the attack had put the Missile Boats clear of that likely flight path. They were unmolested as the bugs continued on mindlessly to attack the capital ships, where those defences, and the energy levels, would give them... Indigestion.

So far the loss rate had been in favour of the allies; but when the affair reached energy range it was sure to change, for it always had when engaging the Vong. Energy range was mere moments away; and then it was reached, and plasma was exchanged for plasma in a superheated frenzy of combat as the fighters spun against the coral skippers and met them.

The Vong fighter leaders finally noticed it out of the horrific jamming in their sensors as the energy combat was met. By then it was too late, as the full strength of the Imperial Task Force's TIE Defender's had been led around them, slashing in from the right and behind, tearing into the flank of their formation with concussion missiles and with lasers and with ion cannons. Over two hundred TIE Defenders, the best dogfighters ever built, and as the Vong formation collapsed under the surprise slashing attack, the fighter combat had instantly become a vast dogfight.

"Missile Wings, Independent Squadrons, this is Bomber One. I repeat, this is Bomber One. Full throttle on the SLAMs, boys - We're going in!" A voice abruptly cut across the com channels, and then the Missile Boat formations, which had then been approaching the trailing edges of the furball, began to hit their SLAMs, and boost to their temporary duration maximum thrust power. It was like hitting the afterburners on a 20th century jet; nothing could compare to it in terms of acceleration and speed, and instantly the Missile Boats were the fastest craft in the stars, with two hundred and twenty-three of them roaring their way through the dogfight towards the Yuuzhan Vong fleet beyond, which was equally as naked of fighter cover as the allied fleet.

Not a single one of the coral skippers managed to pursue; some managed shots on them as they passed, and at horrible angles; deflection shots. The coral skippers managed to get precisely two kills on them before the Missile Boats were out of range, burning their TL cannon power to send them to incredible accelerations and heading straight into the teeth of that Vong fleet with all the calm determination of torpedo bomber pilots throughout history as they prepared for their runs.

Of course, the Vong capships were protected by many light corvettes, gunships and frigates loaded with anti-fighter weapons, and so even as their own anti-shipping strike collapsed into chaos, the Vong fleet commander was not overly concerned. But Mystrela was not planning on wasting the initial salvoes of her cloaked Strikes against the heavies when they could go to a better purpose.

Every single manoeuvre of the first part of the battle had been planned and calculated for the sole purpose of getting as many possible Missile Boats in range to deliver their heavy space bombs into those Vong capships, and even as the Missile Boats recharged their SLAMs for the final run in and continued to approach the body of that fleet, those twelve Strike-class cruisers were completing their firing solutions on the light, anti-fighter ships of the Vong fleet.

On the bridge of the Cuirass Mystrela was watching as the subspace sensor plots abruptly flicked from a dozen locations in the system, and eight dots were proffered from each of those locations. At supralight velocities, ninety-six ASMs raced in against the Vong light ships. Their dovin basals could not intercept targets traveling at FTL velocities except by a direct interposition between the dovin basal and the missile, and that was a matter of luck.

There was no violence, no action on the display. There were just the indicators for four corvette and gunship analogues vanishing from the displays as they were destroyed by the supralight ASMs when those high-penetration warheads detonated against effectively unshielded hulls. Mystrela smiled slightly; it looked like it was going to work. The Strikes fired another salvo.

Coruscant Force,
Yuuzhan Vong Flagship.

"There's no way for us to defend against those missiles, Commander, except to interpose all of our dovin basals and hope for the best!" One of the disgusted specialists on the flag bridge finally replied after the tactical coordinator, or 'warmaster's brain' had spit back the reply; neither of the flagships in this force had a Yammosk Coordinator yet, and that was just wonderful considering the situation they'd found themselves in!

"What about point defense?" Vul Ripaasha asked, as he watched his screen of light escorts get systematically blasted out of the stars as he could do nothing, and simply fumed at the waste and lurking danger.

"We can try blind firing on the estimated vectors that those missiles are coming in on, Commander. Those ships - cloaked, I would assume - are only maneuvering at sublight, its their missiles that are somehow supralight within realspace, and we have a decent chance of hits if we lay down patterns in the designated fire cones."

"Have the tactical coordinator work out cones for the entire fleet, then, specialist! And hurry; I want them transmitted to those light ships immediately, while we still have some left. Those fighters will be within range in minutes!"

"At once, Commander!" The specialist replied, and went back to his harried task.

Cloaked ships somehow firing with accurate targeting data, and decent jamming and tactics coming while facing him with the fighters.. With new fighter types, at that. Whoever the defenders were, Vul Ripaasha decided, they were not the average Infidel. Neither arrogant nor incompetent, but rather the entire attack had been carried out with smooth efficiency. Those missiles had sealed the opinion; but even those were damnably hard to detect, like they had their own cloaks as well, though it was not impossible, like with the ships.

Of course, something with a cloak should be impossible to detect entirely. But the sheer energy of that supralight drive was apparently overriding that advantage of the infidels' cloaking fields. That was one matter for the shapers to ponder over. Assuming he survived he would make sure they pondered over it a great deal!

Honestly, though, the missiles were a greater threat to his ships, striking the hulls and not being pulled in by his dovin basals, than the heavy fighters closing with him were, which struck him as odd. The infidel Imperials were never fighter-oriented like the Republic, but they seemed to have a fighter obsession in this defence where their hand was heavy, despite the effectiveness of those new weapons.

Vul Ripaasha wondered why, and it bothered him. The fighters surely couldn't be carrying their own supralight missiles, and that left whatever they did carry vulnerable to his dovin basals. However, whatever threat they did pose, for the moment, he could only meet it in the way he was doing now.

Again, he wished for a Yammosk War-Coordinator; it would have made the defence against these incredible new weapons of the infidel much easier. He also wondered how Commander Kav was doing; however, the awesome jamming being pumped out of the Bilbringi Drive Yards and the defending fleet rendered communications between the two squadrons impossible, though he could get a message to the Peace Brigade forces if he needed.

Vul did not trust Viqi Shesh; however, he had sufficient numbers of his warriors on her flagship that he thought he might insure her loyalty by other means, and that was enough if it turned out he needed the reinforcements. The main question was how long those missile ships could keep firing for and by how much they could reduce their effectiveness, though the Commander would much prefer to be able to locate and counterattack against them. Of course, he was the commander of a fleet; just negating them as a threat would do for now.

"Commander, we've got the firing cones down; transmitting with your permission."


But he could already see that the manoeuvring and firing cloaked vessels, confounding the efforts of the lesser brains of the light ships, had punched a hole through the outer screen of the fleet; and even as the anti-missile fire picked up and began to have some effect against the incoming, the fighters were also coming in.

Bilbringi Drive Yards,
And space surrounding.

"Patch me through to the strike bombers," Joseph Alexander, aka 'Bomber One', ordered to his GIB.

The Missile Boat had been heavily modified as a spacecraft over its history of service in the Milky Way Empire. The main addition was lengthening the cockpit to fit in the second crewer, or guy in back as he was instantly called thanks to a rather long tradition in that regard. This let him handle the ECM and ECCM along with, for the strike commander or wing/squadron commander posts, the communications associated with those jobs.

"Got it; You're clear to all the 'Boats," the GIB, or perhaps more properly, gizmo, replied. The infusion of nicknames was new enough that they were in flux.

"All Missile Wings and Independent Squadrons, this is Bomber One, I repeat, this is Bomber One. Final approach now. SLAMs authorized per Wing and I-Squadron commander's discretion. Choose your targets and don't double up except on that big 'ole fatso on the middle. Sigma Leader, the two of us can take her. The rest of you guys, just remember: We want the big ones, get the big ones first!"

"Roger that, Bomber One, we're following you on the heavy," came a female voice over another frequency; Sigma Leader, and commander of a full wing of Gunboats, like Bomber One doubled as, for Nu. Thirty-six, when at full strength; less, of course, with craft destroyed or down for repairs, but more than enough for a strike.

"Hammer and anvil attack, Sigma Leader; take her starboard."

"Okay, we'll set for a run on the starboard side of that 'mother. Preparing run, now.. Over and out."

And then the SLAMs of one wing, and then two wings engaged, and sixty-eight Missile Boats were racing in towards the main body of the Yuuzhan Vong fleet and through the remaining fire arcs of the corvette, gunship and frigate analogues that had been cleared from their path and mostly from their sides; the FTL missiles still flew against those and most of their fire was in their own defence.

The other Missile Boats of the two hundred and twenty-one committed flew in on their own courses against their own targets, some ahead and some behind the force led by the strike commander. The fire that was given to them was at range, and confounded by jamming, and light, from only the side guns that could not bear for the self-defense of those light ships.

Then they were through the outer screen, and the great ships of the Vong fleet swelled before them, 1km long, 2km long, and the massive 15km+ long monster at the center. The pilots calmly lined up for their runs, still on SLAMs, as the defensive fire intensified from the point-defense cannon of the heavy ships, and the dovin basals were interposed to defend against their runs. Hammer and Anvil split them up, but would of course split the fire of the attackers equally.

The final course corrections were made, and then the last group of active jammers came on, as the gizmos sought with their specialized jamming equipment to disable completely the targeting systems of the Vong weaponry and leave them with their eyeballs to shoot with. Each Missile Boat was equipped with a system that could do that to a number of weapon mounts' sensors, and it was up to the GIB to operate it.

Between them all, if they worked, they could knock out many of the light guns of even the monster that was being attacked by the strike commander. The problem was the unfamiliarity of the attackers with the Vong weaponry and the biological systems. But they still operated on radiation, and so they could still be affected with some success, and every operator did his or her utmost.

As tone-lock was achieved, they started firing the bombs, dual-linked pairs, five such pairs per Missile Boat. Each bomb had a warhead which was armed with hypermatter, and the damage it could do was tremendous. The bombs were powered by strap-on rocket motors which derived their power from chemical fuels which released energy that man, in earlier times, could only have gotten from nuclear sources, and were of course fully and independently guided, including a small terminal-guidance laser.

They raced in, but there was one problem: In their path were the dovin basals. There might be an awesome number of over six hundred of those incredibly powerful bombs, one of which could easily destroy a corvette, racing in towards the Vong flagship, for instance. But as long as the dovin basals were up, most of them would be sucked in under the slow drives, and the ship would be saved.

"Dovin basals targeted," came a voice on one Missile Boat. It was repeated on many others.

Shortly thereafter, from a GIB; One of many: "TIME!"

Calmly: "Going to rapid-fire on concussion missile launchers."

From each Missile Boat, fourty concussion missiles spat directly at the dovin basals of the Vong capship it had targeted in an incredible rapid-fire sequence, and then, "Pullup!pullup!pullup!pullup!pullup!" As the evasive maneuvers began to clear the Missile Boats from the blast areas or the defending fire.

The missiles sped past the much slower space bombs and raced directly into the Dovin Basals at high speed and in buffeting waves lashed at them; Set to detonate right on the edge of the Dovin Basals, the miniature, artificial black holes could not contain the energy of so many thousands of detonations being absorbed by them in the span of seconds.

Timed perfectly, and the defensive weaponry still confounded by the jamming of the Missile Boats, the heavy space bombs slid past the dovin basals unmolested to their target.. The unshielded rocklike hull of the massive flagship of the Vong force from Coruscant. The ship vanished in the pure fury of the moment, consumed in hundreds of hypermatter detonations.

It reappeared as a blackened and pitted ruined with massive and heavy damage, most of its dovin basals and weapons disabled or destroyed. And over forty more Missile Boats were lining up on it for another pass. Vul Ripaasha prepared to meet his gods, knowing he'd done the best he could - And failed. Three of the 2km cruisers had already been destroyed.

When the massive flagship went up in a cataclysmic detonation, it left one cruiser and eight destroyers which continued to close with a defending fleet that now outnumbered it in heavy ships, and they were escorted by light ships that were still being mauled by those cloaked cruisers as they protected the retreat of the Missile Boats from the Vong fleet.

The surviving Vong commander in the Coruscant force ground his teeth in shame and called for Viqi Shesh to bring up the Peace Brigade ships. His opponent across a few million kilometers of space waited calmly for the right moment to commit her own reserves, remembering a maxim there about the last.

TF-223 Flagship,
Allegiance-class Light Cruiser Cuirass,
Bilbringi Drive Yards.

"All hands, All hands, this is the Captain speaking. We are now entering missile range with the Yuuzhan Vong fleet. Stand by to engage the enemy. I've already reported to you what our fighters and Strikes did; so all I can say now is that this might sound like mopping up, but considering what we have to face them with, let's not get cocky. Attend to your duties and the battle record of the Cuirass shall be honoured by your actions. That is all," Captain Veris finished.

A rough line of nine starships led by the Allegiance, with Imperators and Victories trailing, moved steadily through the invisible barrier in the stars that was energy range; directly below them, a line of Mon-Cal cruisers, two MC-90s, two MC-80s dragged from reserve, four Republic-class Star Destroyers, for a total of eight ships. The lights in the screen made a cordon around them; the Republican carriers and other slower ships formed a body behind them, jamming intense, where the reserve of the X-wings and K-wings waited.

Ahead, the dogfight continued where the main balance of the fighters was still engaged against the coral skippers; They were now trying to pull away, the attrition having been quite heavy for both sides. Mystrela was recalling her fighting birds, the Missile Boats already tucked in their bays. And, of course, the nine remaining enemy heavies bore down, now in range.

The Peace Brigade ships, mostly Dreadnoughts and smaller, but led by that single Victory-class Star Destroyer, were decelerating now to join the battle; It would still be a while, and they were coming in to merely reinforce the Vong fleet, it appeared.

Viqi Shesh, Mystrela observed to herself, was no tactician, and apparently the Vong didn't bother to provide her with one, either that or someone with the authority to really make decisions over there. So much the better; it would let her use her own reserves to do more than simply counter the Vong reserve.

The first fire blossomed from the Vong ships, the so-called 'magma missiles' accelerating through the darkness towards her fleet. Mystrela nodded towards the com section. "Fleet signals, com: 'Two-for-one on designated targets with missiles, as ordered. We shall close to energy range immediately and continue to engage; Cuirass shall engage the enemy flagship independently. All ships in the wall may commence engagement."

Then she turned to her Flag Captain. "You may fire at your pleasure, Captain Veris."

Back to the com: "Signals to Fighter Reserve: 'Switch to attack option Delta, and initiate immediately.'"

Voices echoed across the bridge as ordered were obeyed, and then the tubes of the Cuirass were flushed, the sound of the missiles accelerating out the tubes audible through the hull, and hundreds of proton torpedoes accelerated towards their targets with incredible speed.

The Cuirass concentrated fire even now, despite the fact that not all of the ships in the squadron, by far, had a missile armament. However, the missile armament of the Vic-Is and Imp-IIIs, along with the Cuirass, when counted with the tubes of the escorts, which were also firing, made a hefty counterweight to the uniform but lighter missile armament of the Vong capships.

That was not all, however, and the Vong missiles, primitive biological devices which were more like rockets at best, and had a main feature of their own excellent acceleration, encountered the withering fire of not less than ten Lancer-class frigates arrayed in the defensive screen before they even reached the point-defense of the capital ships.

The range was closed swiftly; then the missile duel became an energy duel. On the bridge of the Cuirass, Captain Veris gave the order, and then a great thrumming sound shook the hull of the massive cruiser as the turbolaser batteries engaged her enemy counterpart, and three times the firepower of an Imperator-class was used against the enemy cruiser. And though her foe was not a dedicated fleet combatant, it was still nearly capable of equaling this deadly engagement.

The battle was properly joined, and action was general.

Peace Brigade Squadron Flagship,
Victory-class Star Destroyer Far Treader,
Bilbringi Drive Yards.

Well, she was a senator, and Mystrela was a navy officer whom the Empire had seen fit to promote to Rear Admiral despite the Empire's traditional bias against women. What the hell was Viqi supposed to expect other than this apparent complete disaster!?

Of course, the Vong commanders were much more competent than that; toughened warriors to the bone, each and every one, and they had proven it by smashing through the mere soldiers of the Republic consistently. This time, however, they seemed to have hit a brick wall, and yet as far as Viqi and the Vong knew there wasn't a single one of the Jedi here.

That made Viqi mildly nervous by its self, because she had not seen an Allegiance in a long time, and she had not seen Mystrela in a long time, either. She wondered if there might be a Sith here coordinating the forces of the Empire, and that thought chilled her to the bone. She'd heard rumours about how they did that. Viqi quietly decided that, for the moment, she'd keep that thought strictly to herself; it might be useful with the Vong later on if this operation went completely down the tube.

The Peace Brigadiers on the bridge were almost in awe of the massive engagement being fought between the capital ships of the two forces. Though Coruscant, Talfaglio, and Corellia had seen vastly larger fleet actions, along with Fondor, before Centerpoint Station had been used against the Vong there, none of these men had been at those actions, and the sight of over twenty major ships pounding at each other at range had not been oft-seen before the Yuuzhan Vong invaded.

The fact that they were about to join in that fray as one of the smallest ships involved no doubt made them considerably more nervous; but they had no choice in the matter, and Viqi knew that deciding it in favour of the Yuuzhan Vong would vitally repair her standing. She also wanted a piece of Mystrela, bad! Still, that maelstrom of plasma, debris, fighters, fighter debris, missiles, and the lumbering bulk of the ships, defended by their dovin basals or shields; it was something that made her mouth uncomfortably dry, that she was now leading a fleet into that brutal hell which was made all too clear on the plots, screens, and holo-tank of her bridge.

At least she had a veteran mercenary captain and a Vong warrior to actually run the battle; one which her force would hit missile range for in another six minutes and twenty-three seconds. She didn't know what the hell she would have done otherwise, but they made her feel considerably more comfortable. Conflicting emotion had been the name of the day; that and pure shock, when the super-weapons the Imperials had happily demonstrated had been revealed. At least they were silent now. But gone, too, were almost all of the escorts of the Coruscant squadron.

Well, at least all they had to do was keep the Republican-Imperial Capships occupied long enough for the Vortex Squadron to level the shipyard, and they didn't have to close the range and make it a knifefight for that. No matter how the engagement looked brutal out there, nobody was actually disabled or destroyed yet on either side, and that did bode well for her survival.

"Senator, sensors are detecting a large force of fighters, over four hundred, believed to be X-wings and K-wings, approaching and overtaking the forward edge of the Imperial and Republican fleet at high velocity; they're on an attack vector against the Yuuzhan Vong Coruscant Squadron's leading ships," one of the sensor plotters reported, as the data began to appear in the holo-tank steadily.

"Shit," The mercenary captain swore and pounded his foot into the deck. "That tears it; if that force has K-wings, the Coruscant squadron is screwed. Under that kind of fire they can't direct enough basals against both the plasma bombs and the turbolasers - Pick one or the other. It'll be the same effect as that trick those bombers pulled earlier."

Viqi looked to the leader of the Vong warriors on the ship; he looked reluctant to agree, but finally he nodded. "Yes... Senator. The Captain is correct. And our fighters are not placed to intercept; some are also recalled for repair or rearming since the enemy was doing the same. We will have to break off the action.. I am surprised the Commander has not done so already."

"He can't see them," The mercenary Captain said, rather simply. "The jamming those Imps have been putting out is excellent, but it is also directed against your brand of sensors; we've picked them up first despite the jamming."

"Then alert him, you fool!!" roared the Vong warrior.

"Okay, okay.." The Captain turned with a disgusted sigh. "We'll try to punch through the jamming with that comm-thingy you've got on the bridge here. Yimm! Give it a try, to Commander Lavhi on the War God's Eye, and be quick about it."

Then he turned back to the Vong warrior on his bridge with an abruptly harsh expression. "It's pointless; from the moment we detected them, the approach vector, even with K-wings, prevented their escape. You can confirm the data yourself." That, and the unsaid fact that the Captain probably didn't give a damn who won, in this case, as long as he came out of it with his flesh and his ship intact and properly paid.

In this case, however, Viqi suspected he was being honest, even as ever so abruptly the Vong line in the holo-tank started to lurch away in an escape maneuver which was likely to be too little, too late. Then the X-wings and K-wings rushed in to attack, and the Imperial and Republican capital ships continued to pound them with their heavy guns, disaster completed.

"Don't you think we should retire, as well, in case they turn against us afterwards?" She asked quietly.

The two looked at her; the captain nodded immediately, and, after a bit, her warrior handler nodded grimly as well.

TF-223 Flagship,
Allegiance-class Light Cruiser Cuirass,
Bilbringi Drive Yards.

The fleet had left the ruins of the Coruscant force behind them; caught between two fires, the bombs of the K-wings and the guns of the fleet, it had been annihilated totally as far as heavy ships went, only the light craft escaping. Their own fleet had been pounded, yes, but it was damage that was worth it, and considerably less than they dished out. Every one of the seventeen ships was able to fight yet.

Now they were swinging in a wide arc around the Bilbringi Drive Yards, each and every ship stuffed to the brim with fighters, refueling and rearming them with desperate intensity. They had also engaged to the port side in the last battle; In the next, they would engage to the starboard, presenting fresh, undamaged broadsides to the second enemy force.

They had left behind the fighters which would have had to refuel and rearm on the Bilbringi platforms themselves, of course, the ones that they simply had no room for. Those, low on fuel and out of missiles, but still able to fight if absolutely necessary, and reinforced by the twenty-two Y-wings, provided a support for the twelve Strike-class cruisers, which had decloaked, and now provided a barrier between the Peace Brigade ships and the undefended side of the Drive Yards.

Mystrela hadn't liked revealing what kind of ships carried her supralight missiles, but she didn't have a choice, and protecting the Drive Yards was the paramount duty here; the existence of the Peace Brigade force had not left her with any other option.

Racing around the Drive Yards at a steady acceleration, the situation of the platforms did not look to be good; but some still existed, enough to hold the full Vong force. They had not tried penetrating past them to attack the Drive Yards, yet, and so there was still time. Once the Vong saw them coming full-on with an intact force and screen and launching armed and ready fighters, they'd start to flee, most likely.

But her course had not been shaped to engage the Vong closely; It had been shaped to catch them if they fled. If they stayed and fought, the Missile Boats and K-wings and other torpedo armed craft would take them and maul them until they died, along with the remaining platforms and the long-range fire of her Task Force and the Republican squadron.

If they ran, well.. They'd test her guns. She might lose ships, indeed, she almost surely would, against a force that could close, had more intact heavy ships, and where her bombers could not make more organized runs, where she had no FTL missiles left. But she would render unto the Vong the most decisive defeat they had ever encountered.

Quietly, Mystrela stood, making a round of the bridge stations. This combat should indeed be won if everyone did their duty, and it might indeed be a very great and decisive victory, but it also wouldn't come without a great cost; the first half had been the easy the part.

"Doing alright there, Lieutenant?" Mystrela asked quietly, to the young woman who was currently the astrogator for the Cuirass as the ship headed into battle; not a necessarily vital function at the moment, and being a hapless spectator was sometimes the worst part of a battle.

"Yes, Admiral.. Thank you. I just.. Got family on Talfaglio. Uncle, and an Aunt I've never seen, and cousins, maybe some I don't even know about. Back there felt good, but it was easy; Doesn't seem possible that those barbs took our core worlds."

"Disorganization in the government, Lieutenant, leads to many things, and most unpleasant - Remember that. As for it being easy, it was, I'll grant you, but only because we were hitting them with weaponry they'd never seen before, and because our discipline came through for us. Against this force.. They'll have more of their ships intact, and we'll have to press it home hard, but we can do it again. Remember that. And then High Command will see about liberating those Core Worlds. The Republic is our ally, now."

For now, Mystrela amended silently, as the Lieutenant nodded and Mystrela moved on. It wouldn't be much longer now until they swung out behind the bulk of the shipyard facilities and into direct line-of-sight with elements of the Yuuzhan Vong force from Vortex; then things would get interesting again. She wanted another mug of coffee first.

The minutes past, and the fleet did swing around the Bilbringi Drive Yards and out of the jamming, and then the Vong Commander of the Vortex force realized that somehow Commander Vul Ripaasha had been defeated. He immediately ordered his fleet to retire from engaging the platforms and prepare for fleet combat. Then squadron after squadron, nearly full strength, for the Republican ships had been reinforced with fighters from the Drive Yard squadrons, issued from the bays of the fleet racing to meet him.

The Vong Commander's mind reluctantly turned to a prudent though dishonourable retreat in the face of a foe that had somehow accomplished the impossible. The course was shaped, but the allied fleet was already traveling at sufficient velocity, and had the acceleration to match it, and the two fleets steadily converged, the range ticking down, the allied fighters racing in meet the Vong coral skippers, while the bombers headed against the Vong fleet, already battered by the platforms, in a series of deadly waves.

Mystrela nodded grimly, and as the fighters dueled, and the bombers attacked, the Missile Boats overwhelming the dovin basals and pounding into the hulls of the Vong fleet, the K-wings lumbering in after them with decisive blows from their plasma bombs, she had a sufficient acceleration and speed advantage to allow her to dictate the range: It would be decisive range.

"Com, fleet signals: 'Engage the enemy more closely.'"

They lost six capital ships out of seventeen, and eight defensive platforms had also been destroyed, when somewhat more than two hours later, the day was done and the last of the Vong light ships and the Peace Brigade squadron had both fled into hyperspace.

However, Mystrela Estorav di Kuat could know that every single Yuuzhan Vong capital ship, a total of twenty-six, had been destroyed, including two of their largest ships, eight of their cruisers, and sixteen of their destroyers, along with numerous light ships and a huge number of coral skippers.

The Admiral from Kuat's mercantile nobility could report her signal victory over the barbarians to her superiours with well-deserved pride, but the matter of her superiours, like so many things in the Empire of those times, remained in doubt. However, whatever happened in the affairs of the Milky Way, Task Force-223, at least, felt like, in their 'cold' Admiral that they had a real leader, one that they would follow to hell, every damned circle, and back!

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The Duchess of Zeon
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Post by The Duchess of Zeon » 2003-02-08 04:12pm

Chapter the Third.

Monterey Bay, Terra:
Tienyz-Davion Family.

"It does seem rather odd, doesn't it? A thousand years of history in this place, nearly, and that's just a whisper of time; and tomorrow..." Elise trailed off, looking to where Sule and Martina were holding hands on the portico and staring at her. "I have rather fallen in love with this planet, haven't I?" She asked.

"It's turbulent, and young. Even the cultures they think of as old and slow are pretty malleable by our standards," Martina replied, with a slight smile. "So it does have that effect, when you look at it; a wild, enchanting place. This entire galaxy does."

"Dangerous, you mean." Sule muttered.

"Less dangerous than our own these days, I daresay, my love... Though we're about to make it rather interesting," Martina replied, smiling wryly.

Sule was silent for a moment, thinking. "I'm not sure that we should refer to it as different from our own galaxy. I mean... We've made it our own by right of conquest. This isn't the 'other galaxy' anymore; It's simply another part of the Empire."

Martina punched his shoulder. "Philosopher! You know what I meant."

"I'm sorry, dear."

Grinning: "That's better."

Elise had been watching them in a slightly horrified puzzlement; mainly from the idea that Sule was going to become the Emperor. That had slowly sunk in over a period of days. Now, she had wholeheartedly supported the idea from the start, but there was a difference between the conceptualization and the reality of the matter. Of course, what was seen by his wife and close friends was utterly different from what he could display in situations of command and in public, and Elise fully understood that. Indeed, though Sule was a bit of a philosopher, and a caring and devoted husband to Martina, he was also more than capable as a tactical and a strategic commander; he could organize efficiently, and deal with the supplies, of a major campaign.

He was everything they needed in a military Emperor; he had even sat on a few court-martials in his day and therefore had an ideal of far justice. Still, what remained of the Empire beyond the anomaly was small, and if they did win, she had wondered silently what Sule the Lawmaker, Sule the Administrator, Sule the Governor, would be like.

Better than Hamner Davion, Elise had decided, with few regrets as to the course she had chosen. Still, that would be tried; and soon. The chaos was going to try them all. Assuming they were even successful the next day...

"What are you thinking about, Elise?" Sule asked abruptly.

She glanced back to him from looking over the bay, a bit startled. "Tomorrow, mostly, and worrying."

"Try not to, though it is probably impossible for the likes of us," Sule replied with a slight smile. "We have the support of everyone relevant... To the seventh circle!, everyone who is to be there, except the Moffs and their aides, Welde, and Jarre and his subordinates at the ISB."

"Are you sure this place isn't bugged?" Elise countered.

"Yes," Martina answered, and she was somewhat annoyed. She wasn't much of a homemaker, but the idea of letting someone else plant spying apparati in her home was an offensive, inconceivable travesty, and she was to good to let it happen. "And I've confirmed that everyone we have offering support for Sule actually means it, or at least has not informed Hamner, and all indications expect their support to be active tomorrow."

A careful, thoughtful pause. "As for the most critical element? My father's guards? They have my assurance.. And we have their loyalty."

Elise sighed. "I apologize. I talked you two into it.. And now you're the confident ones. I shouldn't be constantly second-guessing myself like this."

"It isn't that, Elise," Sule replied. "It's more like you just run everything through your head constantly until you focus on hopelessly improbable scenarios that could be very bad things. Of course, they're just that; hopelessly improbable. Fortunately you don't do it so much in your own field, but.. I think it's a tendency to worry about areas where you don't have specific expertise."

"Yeah, I know. And since when did you become a psychologist, anyway?"

Sule chuckled. "Actually, I read some books on the subject after meeting Grand Admiral Thrawn once, though they didn't help me much. I wouldn't be surprised if he had at least a Ph.D. in the field in addition to his other accomplishments, though I'll never quite figure out how he did what he did."

"And neither will I," Elise replied. "But I'll have to make do with myself.. Which is disgustingly philosophical, and must mean I'm getting tired."

"Stay the night here? The guest room should be sufficient for even a hedonist like yourself; currently Spanish-colonial style," Martina offered.

"Taken.. And I am used to great hardships in the fleet, thank you," Elise sniffed contemptuously, and grinned.

"Yes," Sule replied with a mock sneer. "The fleet as opposed to the field. The entire navy is made up of hedonists."

Elise did not deign to reply to that comment.

San Francisco, Terra:
Provisional Capital,
Milky Way Imperial Oversector Government.

In the streets of San Francisco, the arms of private soldiers and naval ratings from the Empire proper who were on leave there or going about their business moved like windmills, saluting every officer in sight, who were strolling about the streets or walking purposefully to the Capitol buildings.

The recruits from the Milky Way did not bother saluting when they were off duty and in the streets of a civilian city; quite discourteous, perhaps, and lazy. But they were very good fighters, it turned out, once trained, and nobody was really complaining unless extremely stuck up. They treated their own officers the same way, after all.

The entire city had the atmosphere of a fair, albeit a very military one, as people hawked goods and the companies of dozens, no, hundreds of ships were assembled. There was to be a considerable army review in addition to everything else, and the naval escorts of all the officials and officers that had arrived meant that there were a hell of a lot of men on leave here. The saloons, gambling dens and brothels were making even better business than usual.

Troops assembling and marching in review, even mounted paramilitary police on the terran horses, colonial aliens in native dress with their Imperial weaponry and drill, Stormtroopers in their full white armour, and the rest of the mass of colours and styles of troops of the Empire beyond the starless dark, fully supported by the mass of artillery and tanks and scouts and personnel carriers. Now it was the only Empire, though.

Hamner had once thought of presenting these troops; from Romulans and Klingons and Cardassians in their bizarre and alien costume, to the humans of Terra in the new Legions, every single one of them, in a grand parade on Coruscant, every one of them loyal to the Emperor, and his personal gift to the Imperial Majesty of two galaxies. That would never happen, now, and his only hope was a long and uncertain war against a dangerous foe.

Well, he'd do his best to hold what he could. He simply disagreed with the evaluations that Sule and Elise had made; they were both hotheads, and Elise was eccentric besides. Not to mention the idea of Hamner proclaiming himself Emperor. He shuddered as he walked in from the podium where he had delivered his orations to the troops and reviewed them; those to the civilians had been first at another.

Inside the main auditorium he would confer with the admirals, generals, and governors of virtually all rank and status within the Empire of the Milky Way, and announce his plans for the operations to contact the Imperial Remnant, and defend it and the Bilbringi Drive Yards. Terra, unlike Coruscant, had none of the monumental architecture that would have let him conduct all of this indoors; and it wouldn't need it for centuries, with this small of a population.

Hamner arrived in the auditorium to observe the officers of the army and the navy, and the various bureaucrats of import, and the intelligence officers, filing in through the entrances with their aides and staffs, his guards along the walls. There were chairs in the usual seating arrangement, along with a table for the highest ranking officers, and then his own chair just about that; intentionally modest to avoid being called a throne. Along with that, of course, the holo-tank was set up to provide everyone with at least a decent view.

He noted that the atmosphere here seemed rather.. Subdued, and tense, in comparison to the gaudy pomp and slight ostentation of the review and the festivities of the city, which had somewhat helped relieve the tensions people had been feeling since the news of the Empire's fate had been reluctantly released, heavily censored. Of course, his general officers knew the real situation.

As he settled into his chair, he noted that, atypical to the seating arrangement, Elise and Sule were sitting together. Probably to signify their mutual protest of his plans, Hamner decided. However, it was odd for an Admiral and a Field Marshal... They should have been sitting at opposite sides of the table. Everything else seemed normal this day, if this damned machiavellian web could ever be called that! Niccolo was indeed the perfect representative of what he had to face on the Prince's homeworld, and Sule had a point about the benefits of an authority figure with the power of the Emperor.

But enough time for that; he had to begin the meeting now. Hamner pressed a button on his chair and it played a canned signal for attention, which at least brought the room to order. Then he stood up. "Gentlebeings, at ease, and please, take your seats." He waited until they'd done so to continue. "Thank you for arriving here, all on time, I see, and I'm glad nobody minded that brief drizzle we had during the review."

"I know that the information that has been passed to use by Vice Director Quarn and Rear Admiral di Kuat has been disturbing, to say the least. We have, however, been working on how to respond to it, and we have finally determined a plan of action on how to respond to the fall of the Empire, the existence of the so-called 'New Republic', and the recent Vong invasion.

"It has been the determination of my General Staff that we should, using my superiour rank and seniority to that of the current leader of the Imperial Remnant, Pellaeon, work to assume a mutual defensive stance under our overall authority. Encompassing the Bilbringi Drive Yards in our defensive perimeter, we will allow refugees into the defensive perimeter and our own galaxy, and as the price of that, attempt to coerce Republican units into joining us in that more defendable region of space.

"I will now leave it to High Admiral Welde, and Vice Director Jarre, along with my chief of staff, General Ravi, to outline the details of the initial operations." Grand Moff Davion concluded, and then sat back down.

Before any of the three named could stand at the long table, however, another man did, all-to-familiar to the Grand Moff. Sule Tienyz stood, proud and intense and accusing, and violating all sense and fact of protocol as he pointed an accusing finger at the Grand Moff.

"Governor! How do you again propose to leave quadrillions of citizens, of innocent civilized beings at the mercy of these barbarians!? We must go on the offensive against the Vong; we cannot leave the Core to their violent and brutal ways; nor worlds that rely on technology to survive, when they desire to destroy all technology! They will enslave everything they do not allow to starve to death, or sacrifice to their gods, and you propose to save only those who can escape on their ships? Governor, I plead to you: Attack while we have the momentum!"

Grand Moff Hamner Davion shot to his feet, outraged at that breach of decor and order. "Silence, Field Marshal Tienyz! You're disrupting the order of the conference! Sit back down and wait for the questions! Hell, if you're going to talk like that, damn well don't bring it up at all!! You know what has been planned, and we are NOT changing it, for the last bloody time!!"

There was a nagging warning in the back of his mind, however implausible that the husband of his daughter might plot against him; even so, what happened next took him by surprise. He had never truly considered that Sule might plot against him, as he had not thought that Martina was capable of consenting to his death. However, he did not know the alternative to that she had devised.

Sule ignored him, and turned to the audience, and spoke. "Fellow-officers! You have heard the proof with your own ears; you have seen it with your own eyes! The Governor will do nothing for our fellow-citizens! Yet they must be defended from the Vong.. And we have the arms to do it with! If the Governor will not take up the cause of the Empire, will you instead follow me?"

Elise was already standing, and then dropping to one knee in front of Sule, with that vibro-blade of her's drawn and pointed to him in offering, and she shouted. "Hail Imperator! Hail, Sule Imperator! Thou Conquerest! Thou Conquerest!"

Hamner was looking to his guards; they should have already done something without orders. The sickening realization as he turned to look was that their guns were pointing to him and to a very few of his officers, the ones who truly hated Sule and might oppose this.

Then the words that were being shouted truly registered:






The amplified voices of the guards, and the enthusiastic aides, made up for the older, more dignified Generals and Admirals. And many here were younger, battlefield promotions. One didn't lose lungpower as fast, courtesy of the Briar Patch, anyway, or youth.

They've hailed him as Emperor, Hamner realized, numbly, as he listened to the acclamations. That could never be taken back. It was triumph or die for Sule and the men who hailed him, now. Of course, there was no Emperor left, was there? No men loyal to the old order? If that was true.. And none came out of nowhere to smite him down, as Hamner had half-expected.. Then it's all his, to win or lose, when he puts it to the touch.

Elise stood at Sule's gesture; just as Martina entered, cautiously, with an escort of Sule's private guards, and Sule finally got a word in, pitching his voice to carry.

"The Empress Martina!" He shouted, pointing to his wife.

"HAIL THE EMPRESS MARTINA!" Thundered back the assembled group in the auditorium. Martina was popular among the Army, at least, as Sule's wife; just as popular as he was.

She flushed, and broke free of the guards, dashing up to her husband and embracing him, the result being a general and totally incoherent shout of approval, as her father, Hamner Davion, simply looked on in stunned, disbelieving amazement.

Finally, she let go of her husband and turned to her father with a sad smile, as the auditorium quieted down slowly. "What must be done, father."

"And for me, my daughter? Just shot, or disintegrated, or perhaps hung?" He asked, quietly, and unable to muster bitterness or hate. Either just unable, or still too surprised.

"No," she answered, truthfully and with a wry, sad sort of smile. "Exile to a Buddhist monastery in Tibet, to be perfectly honest."

Hamner Davion slumped back down into his chair, though it was probably no longer his, and took a deep breath, staring at his daughter. Then he laughed, shaking his head. "Not as one of the monks, I hope?"

"No, we won't make you take vows, Dad. It'd be sort of hopeless in your case," Martina replied, still with that sad smile.

Still shaking his head, Hamner nodded, the shock of the moment still quite evident. "Just as long as you keep the Vong from coming through... Empress Davion. Don't let the family down."

"I won't. And I'm going to visit often. And watch you like a hawk." Still that sad smile, as she watched some of the guards approach, and Hamner nod to them as he stood again, and let them escort him out of the auditorium, Sule watching the entire episode quietly, from a distance. There would be time for the rage in him later, she knew.

Then Martina turned and stepped back to her husband, where Elise also waited. "It's time to introduce us to the troops, isn't it, Elise?"

"Yep! A bunch of officers and their aides can call Sule Emperor all day long, and you Empress, for that matter, but it won't matter until we introduce you to a large body of grunts and see what they think. Fortunately we have managed to keep them assembled and gather together more off-duty types and guys from the crews in orbit for that purpose.. So let's go, Your Majesties."

Elise looked like she was going to explode with excitement at this moment; Sule really couldn't blame her. She was at the top of the world, playing Emperor-maker, or at least as close to an Emperor-maker as Sule was going to let anyone be for him, and with Welde out of the way, she was also the supreme commander of the Imperial Navy. She absolutely looked like she was going to burst on sheer adrenaline as she led them out and it was rather amusing sight to behold.

Sule was glad he was feeling just relief at the moment, that it had gone off without a hitch. For him the euphoria at his new job would come later, no doubt. He had no doubt it would come. But the fact that it wasn't there immediately was no doubt a good sign about his personality and general stability.

And then they were out in the sunlight, and he and Martina, surrounded by a cordon of guards and officers, were approaching the podium, and before him were the troops. Thousands and thousands of guard units and other formations, and beyond that, more men having been gathered up and brought in, army and navy, on the massive parade ground.

His voice, here, would be amplified, and there were holo-projectors to swell the size of anyone at the podium for the audience. Sule tensed, for here was the true moment of truth; the officers might be the barometer, but the troops were the true measure of if he could carry this through. These men now held the fate of two galaxies in their hands.

Elise stepped before him, and began to speak. "Soldiers of the Empire! I am Fleet Admiral Elise Kalar-Leben; But today I come before you as the humble messenger of a great event! Palpatine is dead; we all know this. The Empire is without leadership, and the Galaxy of the Empire is in chaos, invaded by barbarians and beset with weak, Republican government!"

"Grand Moff Davion refused to proclaim himself Emperor, and you refused to invest him with the title! He refused to defend the helpless quadrillions of the Core, at peril by these barbarians, and he was not worthy of the title of Emperor! But there is a man who has defended the Core in his words, and has proven himself in battle at the head of the Legions, and now desires only to lead you into action in defence of the Core, if you give him the opportunity, as Imperator and Emperor!

"Field Marshal Sule Tienyz is who I speak of! He desires only to restore Imperial power, to save the Empire from the threat of barbarians, and to uphold the honour of the Legions and the Fleet in this contest! To this end, your commanders have hailed him as Imperator, Military Emperor! Do you so take him!? Do you so Hail him!?

"Shall the Empire be his, by your vote!? By the vote of your bayonets, and the Legions of which you compose, honourable soldiers of the Empire? Let him hear your proclamation, soldiers!" Elise finished, and stepped aside.

Sule stepped up to the Podium, and he did not need to say a word. The cheer he was greeted with, cried out from thousands of voices on the parade ground, answered the expectation, as the popular and victorious general was hailed and acclaimed by the Legions as Emperor.







The voices thundered and rolled across that ground, a den of furious cheering, as the solidarity of the Empire returned in one man, Emperor Sule I Tienyz. It was an endless madness that swept those thousands of men, a wild happiness and furor that was indescribable, like a primal force, as they elected their sovereign by popular acclamation, and the power of their bayonets.

The popular acclamation soon turned into a general tumult of cheering and roaring soldiers, which spread down into San Francisco, where more soldiers took up the cry, and even the common citizens, and before long the entire city was in an atmosphere of not quite festive, not quite party.. And it could not be called a riot, either, as there was no violence, but instead the cheering of the Emperor's name spread, slowly, across the planet, and to the fleet, and the day degenerated gradually to a true celebration, that of the ascension of Sule I Tienyz to the throne of the Galactic Empire.

Imperial Fleet Flagship,
Executor-class Battlecruiser Despot,
Utopia Planita Drive Yards.

"You're late, Ben," Admiral Caled Felliet commented, as the other man, looking faintly annoyed and with a trace of sweat on his forehead, hurried into the lift on the on the Despot while toting a briefcase, and Caled keyed it for the VIP sections.

"Oh hell, Cal, you know how the traffic is in Tokyo; Even worse than the Atlantic run, and it's just local, gods curse it, and then I'm a bit out of shape, and this bloody ship of yours is nearly eighteen kilometers long. Can give a man a heart attack," General Gamir Ben Likassam, Imperial Starfighter Corps, shot back, though good-naturedly.

"Is that the excuse you're planning on using with the Emperor?"

"It's true, and I trust the Emperor will understand that. The traffic in Tokyo really is hell. They should have designed that city better. Natural of the feddie bastards to let it rot. It's a giant, spread-out, bloated carcass much too big for its population.."

"Just like any other city on Terra; they don't have any decent towers on this planet, Ben," Caled replied patiently. Gamir was his friend; he was also, like any typical fighter pilot, a complete prima-donna, and a fair number type-A personalities thought he was an asshole. Of course, he was retired now and in charge of R&D for the Starfighter Corps, but.. Some things never changed.

"Yeah, yeah. Oh well; at least the Markets are recovering from the initial panic when the reports over what was happening in the home galaxy went public. Thank the gods Davion was at least smart enough to prevent speculation on companies with assets there.. Though of course the established divisions over here sure took hits. It looked for a while like we were going to have a crash; but now that Sule is the Emperor, we do seem to be having a rally of sorts. For instance, the Nikkei average ended up 83.45 points today or.."

"Ben?" Caled knew the man was right of course; the markets had even been closed for a few days to prevent a selloff and a stock market crash, with all the disastrous consequences that would lead to. Even Caled up on his flagship had caught that much. But this blasé recital was a bit much.

"Yes, Cal?"

"How in the seven hells do you keep up with the market while you're running a design bureau? Managing a squadron, you know, I don't exactly have the time," Cal asked, very, very patiently.

"Well, it is my nest-egg for Haria and the kids, Cal. I know you're still active in front-line duty and never married, but I have to consider the future. Anyway, it's not that complicated."

The 'lift door opened as the two men stepped out, Caled shaking his head in bemused wonderment, as they walked over to the security post guarding the Emperor's deck, and stepped through the scanners operated by the guard.. Currently part of the house security force that had been handpicked by the Empress Martina.

The thing about Gamir Ben Likassam was that he was just a natural at playing the market, among numerous other abilities he had. Of course, the Federation had prided its self on a cashless economy; the Empire had anything but, and most Federation intellectuals had been horrified when the Empire had naturally implemented a fully capitalist system in their occupied territories.

But it had been to the benefit of many; the Orions and the Ferengi had recovered the fastest and thrived in the new market where the barriers of trade had been removed and commerce eased, and the other capitalist states had likewise adapted easily. It had been harder for the Federation, but the results were truly incredible.

The Federation had been powerful as a nation, equal to the Klingons or the Romulans, as a socialist state. The resources that it could produce as a capitalist state were considerably more, and of better quality, as competition and a functional economic system improved the economies of those sectors that had once been the UFP. The failed social experiment was cast aside, and people embraced their newfound prosperity with glee.

That was no more apparent than in the islands of Japan, or what had once been called 'Japan Inc.' Always an economic powerhouse, the idea of calling that nation one giant company had gained more reason when it was no longer a nation but rather part of a one-world government, and then an interstellar government.

The boom days of that corporation-like group of islands had been under the Federation of the 22nd and 23rd centuries, when Japan had been the economic center of Earth, and perhaps the entire Federation, along with a major area of technological innovation for the entirety of the UFP. Of course, after the economy had been socialized at the press of the Vulcans and the liberals, the result had been the steady decay of Japan, and the huge megapolis of Tokyo.

In the past years, now nearly two decades of Imperial rule, 'Japan Inc.' had been undergoing a revival under Imperial rule (And there was serious talk of actually incorporating the islands as a company with holdings), both economic and scientific, and many Imperial research facilities were located there. It had also, indeed, did have legendary traffic problems, as huge city-centers were rebuilt and millions of people commuted everywhere.

Gamir and Caled were finally led into the room where Emperor Sule I Tienyz waited to see them; it was not an audience chamber, though it was fabulously appointed. It was a smoking room, and the Emperor was enjoying a tabacc with a tankard of corellian whiskey on the table beside his chair, along with a shot glass.

As far as the ship and the Emperor's schedule was concerned, it was evening, but Gamir and Caled had managed to fit this meeting in, barely. The Emperor had proven willing to get business done regardless; Especially with old friends. Both of the men bowed.

"Lord and Imperator," two voices echoed. "Hail!"

Sule's face was suitably grave long enough to receive them, then he smiled and motioned to the other chairs in the room. "Sit, Ben, Cal. I know, Cal, you've managed to get me to listen to our poor old lunatic's presentation here.. So I will hear it out."

Elise and Martina had been conspiring to reduce the pomp associated with the Imperial throne. It had been fine for an old bureaucrat and reclusive Sith Lord. It was not fine for a relatively young man, especially with metaphasic particle treatments, who preferred to lead from the front, and knew and trusted all of the commanders now left in his forces.

It was the reign of a Military Emperor, now, and so the pomp, circumstance, and outright ostentation of Palpatine's court - an almost Papal glamour - had been stripped down to the lean formality of military life, elevated to that suitable for the Imperial dignities, and that suited Sule Tienyz just fine.

"Thank you, Lord and Imperator," Gamir replied. Technically, the titles were.. Unusual. The full title of 'Emperor of the Republic', could not legally be simply taken; It had to be granted by the Senate... In theory. Of course, Palpatine had dissolved the senate and ruled simply as 'Emperor' of an Empire, so in theory Sule was within his rights to declare himself Emperor by decree.

But, cautiously, he had merely taken the title of Lord and Imperator Sule I Tienyz, Emperor of the Two Galaxies, which despite the presumption of power over two separate galaxies, in the eyes of a citizen of the Republic, actually presumed less than Palpatine's title did. The only question was if Sule genuinely expected the Senate to acclaim him as Emperor of the Republic in addition.

The briefcase was opened, and Gamir took out a few old hardcopy notes, a couple datachips, and a padd, successively handing them over onto the table between himself and the Emperor. Sule watched with interest; the guards in the room were of course effectively unnoticed.

"Lord and Imperator, one of the main problems in fighter engagements against the Vong, according to the data we have, is the continued ineffectiveness of missile weaponry; it can be used to great effect only in massed salvoes from many squadrons or after dovin basals have been overloaded by rapid-fire of the fighter-mounted energy weapons. What we have here is a potential solution to that."

Sule picked up the padd, and began scrolling through the data on it. "Do continue, General," He replied, now both curious, and serious as to the matter at hand, the tabacc placed aside in an ashtray. Martina was ripping out his guts, slowly, for resuming that habit, but even after only a few days, the job was getting to him.

"The design is for a bomb-pumped laser warhead for the advanced proton torpedo, Lord and Imperator. It's actually quite old in concept. You just take an unfocused fusion bomb, and detonate it, funneling the energy of the detonation into a spherical series of X-ray lasers. The result is just that.. A sphere from which X-ray laser beams emanate. Brief ones, but very powerful, and with full coverage.

"The result, essentially, is a weapon where a near-miss can cause serious damage to the enemy, and it allows such a variant of the standard advanced Protorp to have a standoff attack capability - Detonating outside of the gravity wells of the dovin basals, and from vectors where they have not been positioned to defend an enemy fighter."

"And you think that your teams can design these warheads, and then develop them into an effective weapons system?" Sule asked.

"The preliminary design work is already done, Lord and Imperator, though of course the detailed work will be more complex, along with the homing and internal command systems for the advanced protorp to get it to detonate where we want it to. Then building the warhead as a production model shouldn't be impossible; fusion bombs in the size we're needing are common enough. The real challenge is engineering the X-ray laser assembly, figuring out the details on that.

"If we can crack it, get the tolerances to where they'll handle the detonation for just long enough.. Then we have it made, and we can start mass-producing these things, Lord and Imperator. As for a time estimate, well, I don't have one yet, but I can only guess that it will be at least a couple of months."

"Well, do your best to speed it along, Ben. And, yes, that means the project is approved. You'll get complete funding.. Hell, I'll draw on the privy purse if I have to. This could be the final, permanent edge to make fighter combat even again that we've been looking for," Sule replied. "I would like to keep this material to look at... And Cal, keep him honest. Otherwise, you two, good work, and good luck with this."

"Certainly, Lord and Imperator.. I brought it up for that. And thank you," Gamir replied, very, very pleased. It looked like that was the big break he was looking for; his design teams, of course, would go private in a few years, and their discoveries would go private with them, typical Imperial deal with R&D personnel. If he could organize a company for them with a solid military product, and himself as CEO.. Of course, that all depended on what happened back in the home galaxy.

And it was even better that they might be doing something to be helping his comrades who were still fighting and dying.. Now against those damned barbs who'd seen fit to invade the very Core. Damned shame that his injuries against the Dominion had sidelined him from the cockpit, but those were the breaks.

Ravenna, Terra:
The Palace of the Exarchs.

It was not the real thing, of course, but rather a grand building in the architecture of ancient style and merely named 'The Palace of the Exarchs', fully suited, however, to modern living. It was also Elise Kalar-Leben's home. She had finally reached the pinnacle of power in the Imperial Navy, and from the ancient city that had once been the Capital of the West she wielded her influence.

Decades had passed, and Elise had surrounded herself in the trappings of nobility to hide what was her heritage: Illegitimate daughter of a senator and a prostitute, she was now a Fleet Admiral, and by the Emperor's whim commander of all his navies; his promotions might see her to higher rank yet. Certainly to Welde's. The idea of making her a Grand Admiral was not impossible, though some would argue against it.

In those corridors, she had not been alone, though. The Empress Martina had been busy over the past days, a week now, working to firm up the new government, establishing her husband in the place of Grand Moff Davion, and establishing the Imperial eminence in place of that of an Oversector governor. Staying at the Residencia had not been advised; the Imperator and his wife would be prime targets for the terrorist groups, so Martina was residing for the moment in Ravenna with Elise, while Sule was on the Despot.

"Martina, have you made any progress on the guard situation?" Elise asked, as the Empress Martina Tienyz-Davion entered the.. Parlor, for lack of a better term. Elise was reclining on a couch, and the Empress approached with a small train of servants and guards that were dispatched at the light motion of a hand; with Elise, Martina would never presume rank.

The sight of Martina now might also stun any average citizen of the Imperial Sectors. The governments they had conquered were generally in periods of incredibly droll clothing; the featureless jumpsuits of the Federation the worst of all. The military decor of the arriving Imperials had lent better taste, but still functionality.

Martina, however, now presumed to dress in a stunning black gown with a velvet vest to it, bejeweled with nova rubies, which were not replicatable, and priceless beyond compare. Everything about her appearance was calculated to impress; and yet it was subtle in some ways. No great majesty as she received people that day; merely the calculating intelligence of the woman who now ran the organs of the Imperial spy nets.

Sule might take on the aspect of the Military Emperor, not rising above his troops, and sharing with them the hardships of the campaign and their active-duty quarters, high above Terra on the Despot, as he prepared for that very campaign.. But Martina added an undeniably regal air to the Imperial throne, a clear respectability.

"We're still considering possibilities for a permanent Imperial Guard, Elise," Martina replied as she sat.. Actually sat; for all that she tolerated and was amused by her friend, Elise's eccentricities, which had grown progressively more erratic (She had been almost normal.. Obsessive and a bit of a gutter creature, but normal) over the years, she did not share them.

Martina also suspected that the recent ones, being mainly social, were largely a ploy. Elise Kalar-Leben had cultivated an air of respectable wealth and the oddities to go with it. The Admiral hence gained from the notoriety of her tastes what she might have lost from the notoriety of her birth and earlier career, at least in the brutal and important, if utterly inane, world of the social circles of the Milky Way Sectors. The problem was that something cultivated so utterly eventually got a life of its own.

"That said.. I'm not entirely happy with the idea of using any of our human recruiting sources. Being Emperor is a dangerous business - I think the fact that Lord Vader killed Palpatine proves that readily - And even Palpatine had the security of an Imperial Guard that, by all accounts, had force abilities and was tied to him in loyalty through those," Martina continued.

"And we certainly can't afford to try to cultivate those; we don't have a single force-sensitive here for all we know. Even if we do, well, it just isn't wise. That mysticism can rarely be trusted, Jedi or Sith. Perhaps one of the older cults rumoured to have existed once, but they're all gone. Even then, in a blunt evaluation of power, it is dangerous to have people in your government with powers like that when you don't," Elise stated.. With perhaps a certain looming tone.

"No, Elise, the Jedi are almost certain to oppose us as it is. Our only policy can be live and let live in that regard. We don't want a complete mess of a pogrom on our hands. They cancel each other out, anyway, and can be useful if properly managed."

Elise shook her head faintly. "I really wasn't proposing that we try another purge, Martina. It would be never-ending, considering that they are apparently self-propagating. And that is bad for publicity. I was just worried about Sule's security. The Jedi are quite obstinate, and if his plan holds together.. Well, when we reach Coruscant, all hell is going to break loose."

"That's not definite. There are ways of splitting the Jedi opposition to Sule's rule of the Two Galaxies, Elise, and we have been discussing them. Mystrela was also able to provide further information after her recent victory at Bilbringi, and indications are that the Jedi are already badly split.. They may have so much mysticism these days that they're nearly pacifists. Furthermore, they're in hiding from the Peace Brigade, which is steadily gaining power; especially after Coruscant fell."

"Well, I am not inclined to trust much to reports of discord among the Jedi. I trust you, Martina, and the people you may choose to do your spying, but not the reports you receive or the people you get it from. As for Mystrela's victory: She did exactly what I expected of her. Now we have to act fast to capitalize on it, and the bleeding thing of it is that it's going to take on the order of a month to prepare for an expedition to Coruscant, even using Bilbringi as a jumping-off point. Not counting travel time."

Martina nodded. "I understand your pessimism in regard to the Coruscant Op, Elise.. Especially since we may be abandoning surprise to get those forces into position at Bilbringi with the necessary fleet support and planetary assault elements. But if you can get Sule and I to the surface with a sufficient number of troops to liberate the planet.. We can deal with Jedi and liberal Senators alike. Believe me."

"Oh, surprise or no, once we get the forces in position, I can beat them away from the planet, alright. Not much of a fun show.. But it will be a decent, standup fleet engagement, and one that we can win, at that, Martina. The Vong have incredible production capacity, but they also don't have enough planets for it to count yet against my line," the other woman grinned, with the tired assurance of to many battles against to many foes.

"And that is one professional area I would not presume to contest you in, my friend," Martina replied with a smile. "Now, as for the Imperial Guard.. I have no further ideas of my own. Perhaps you have a suggestion?"

Elise looked to Martina intently, then closed her eyes. She had them closed for half a minute, then opened them again and the grin was still on her lips; Just brighter, and with a bit of a wild look to her expression. "You're going to think me mad, but it does make sense. And Sule will love it when he hears the idea. Maybe enough that you can make him stop smoking those tabaccs again."

"What is it?" Martina's eyes narrowed at that.


"Klingons!?" Martina choked out, staring at Elise like she truly had finally gone mad. "You want Klingons to guard my husband!?"

"Why not, Mar?" Still that look. It was sort of annoying right now. "They're loyal to a fault, more or less feudal, very good fighters, especially when you install some discipline and give them proper equipment, and they keep their oaths.. They always keep their oaths. They're also annoyed at the fact we've been recruiting so few of them for our native legions, and it would be nice to keep them happy; We don't want to divert troops to putting down rebellions in Klingon space."

"But guarding the Emperor, who happens to be my husband?"

"Well, Just get them to swear direct, personal oaths of lifelong loyalty to him as their liege-lord, blood oaths. It will not be impossible. You just need to get the support of one of the remaining Klingon nobles for the idea, from the old Council. If you do, he can surely influence ten thousand or so youth in good, fighting shape and condition.

"The other guard units can provide additional training to them; They probably already have basic Imperial combat training, knowing the Klingons these days you can certainly find ten thousand of them with it, and then you have a totally incorruptible Guard with the size, arms, and equipment of a light infantry Legion, who can double as your security personnel and bodyguards. You know how Sule will manage to get himself mixed up in front-line combat from time to time; admit it. You'd feel safer if he had protection like that."

Martina had a thoughtful look by now, and then shook her head, laughing softly. "I really don't want to know where you got that idea. But I will consider it, and propose it to Sule."

Elise smiled. "Glad to help, Martina. And it would be a long story, anyway.. You know me!"

The Planet Hapes,
Capital of the Hapan Star Cluster.

Leia activated the message on the screen of the small computer that had been delivered to her; by messenger from the Royal Palace, courtesy of Jaina. The green letters on the black screen seemed oddly unreal; and yet the secure communications channel, the long and circuous route the message had taken, and the simple, distilled style all argued flatly for it to be true.

No, with that coding, it had to be true, Jaina and the Hapans were certain of that. And no matter the game being played here, there was no reason for the Hapans to want to change the outcome of this or lie about it to her. It was perhaps one of the few things truly irrelevant to the political situation on Hapes; only a major Vong defeat could affect that. As for the Vong, the Vong didn't even try to cut through their codes, and the Peace Brigade was horrible at it. But, the contents were almost too good to be true.

'It is my satisfaction to report the Bilbringi Drive Yards have been held with the assistance of an Imperial Task Force under the command of Rear Admiral Mystrela di Kuat, HIMN.

Three capital ships and eight platforms lost in the engagement; Imperial forces suffered loss of three capital ships.

Both Vong attack forces defeated completely with destruction of all capital ships; Peace Brigade squadron retired without engaging.

Losses moderate among my own and Imperial fighters.

Rear Admiral di Kuat expects reinforcement from unspecified location soon.

If Imperial reinforcements arrive, expect to hold Bilbringi Drive Yards and continue starship production as long as raw materials continue to arrive; Imperials may also have a conduit in that regard.

Expect probability of Imperial reinforcements high from same source.

Send further reinforcements if possible; Chance of local counteroffensives against Vong by combined forces if received, repeat, chance of local counteroffensives.

Full data on the engagement and Imperial allied forces appended.

Sincerely Yours,
General Muun, Bilbringi Drive Yards Commandant.'

And then she took a deep breath, and waited for a moment, calming herself as she smiled faintly. Well, they had needed some good news in regard to the war, though of course it was addressed to the Senate and government in general, not just her, and had ended up getting to the Hapes courtesy of the embassy there, and more or less by accident.

But where had she seen that name before, of the Imperial Task Force commander? Mystrela di Kuat... It drifted on her memory out of a time decades ago, when the Republic was the Rebellion, and the Empire was supreme in serene confidence.

Mystrela Estorav di Kuat, her memories supplied for her, and she remembered a composed girl, from the days of the Senate, when the di Kuat family, enormously powerful and building the Imperial fleet up to unparalleled heights, had held the Senatorship of the Kuat system, and those staunchly conservative and ruthlessly capitalist mercantile nobles had calmly supported the Imperial regime as billions poured into their coffers; it was good for business.

She remembered Mystrela, then, from one of the grand and gala balls of Coruscant, the girl there, but reserved, daughter of the brother of the then Senator di Kuat, another uncle the infamous Kuat di Kuat, and with a look of keen intelligence behind her eyes. Yes... Leia could remember other details beyond that, from conversations with members of the Kuat family and their retainers; She had wanted to go into the navy. But she could not remember anything about the career of Mystrela, which was odd. Even as a woman, someone with that kind of family influence could offset her gender, despite a navy ridden by COMPNOR's influence.

Well, this was getting a bit interesting, especially as she scanned General Muun's report and saw that the Imperial Task Force included an Allegiance-class. Jagged Fel was here, and he would tell her if his father had sent a task force to Bilbringi. The problem was getting in touch with him; but that would not take forever.

When she finally received the answer, in the negative, it merely deepened the mystery, and somewhat dampened enthusiasm of that reversal, because it meant they simply had no idea where those ships had come from. Leia sighed, and tried not to think of her son, dead at the hands of the Vong, but that, of course, was impossible.

Well, there was work to be done, and that was the only way to avoid the pain. The refugee camp stretched on for eternity and there was the pain of her son Anakin's death. A pain that would never end.. And with it, the tenuous belief in Jacen's continued life, one that only her and her husband shared.

TF-223 Flagship,
Allegiance-class Light Cruiser Cuirass,
Bilbringi Drive Yards.

It was with a flicker of pseudomotion that the squadron exited hyperspace. Five gleaming Imperator-class Star Destroyers, two VSD Mk.IIs, six Dreadnoughts, and a host of light escorts, which also protected a group of fast fleet colliers to reload the Strikes with missiles, not to mention two Escort Carriers equipped as 'Starfighter Ferries'.

It seemed that Grand Moff Davion had acted faster than she had expected, Mystrela admitted to herself, as she watched the readouts stabilize. That force had been assembled with dispatch to deal with her needs after the successful defense of Bilbringi, and arriving so soon, the prompt action was only encouraging as to the future of any efforts in the home galaxy, and their direction.

"Admiral," the com officer reported, his voice sounding odd. "We're receiving a message from the commander of the squadron out there.. Rear Admiral Hallais. He reports that he as an Eyes-only Dispatch for you, Ma'am."

"I'll receive it in my briefing room," Mystrela replied, standing. She'd been fortunate enough to have been on the bridge, viewing the results of the latest drill, courteously against the NR forces, when the squadron had arrived.

It was curious, indeed, though not entirely unexpected, Mystrela thought as she walked into her briefing room and sat down at the chair in front of the com panel. She brought up the message after it had been received by the Cuirass, and then submitted for both retina and DNA scans with the nonchalance of someone long used to the rigorous security procedures.

Then the message played for her. A message with a very familiar face. Sule looked down on her, and though he still wore something vaguely resembling a Field Marshal's uniform, the mix of gold braid and cape, not to mention the ancient, republican-style rank insignia on the uniform, detonated something very odd going on. The rank insignia also seemed a bit familiar.

"Mystrela, greetings. I hope the reinforcements assist you in holding Bilbringi, and I hope that the remains of the Republic can further reinforce you; though I doubt the Vong will try another big push for a while. By now you must be curious of what I'm doing in this uniform, and I can explain.

"I know you've always been a supporter, and so I'll just tell you right out: I've declared myself Emperor. There's a message from me to your Task Force which you can distribute, signed by 'Lord and Imperator Sule I Tienyz, Emperor of the Two Galaxies.' Do so as soon as you have rounded up and arrested all ISB agents in the Task Force. We've had to purge the ISB back here; assume they will be the same risk there.

"As for Vice Director Quarn, he will be Vice Director of the entire Ubiqtorate now, not just Vice Director, Milky Way Ops, and he will be under the Empress Martina's direct command, as we're linking all Imperial Intelligence Agencies into one loose agency under my wife's overall control.

"When it comes to the officers of the Oversector.. Grand Moff Davion is confined to a monastery in Central Asia, and several other of the Moffs and commanders who resisted were imprisoned or, if necessary, killed, though it was principally bloodless, and I must say that I am generally popular with the people. We'll see how that holds up when I move back home, so to speak.

"As far as an offensive goes, it is my intention, Mystrela, to take Coruscant immediately. This will establish legitimacy for my reign and provide a central guiding force for resistance against the Vong in the galaxy, in addition to reestablishing Imperial preeminence. I am assembling all forces necessary to liberate Coruscant, but it will take time.

"Therefore, my orders are simple. Hold Bilbringi. I will have my invasion force organized in, ideally, three weeks to a month - though I cannot exclude the possibility of delays - and we can move to Bilbringi after that, and use it as a staging ground for the effort to liberate Coruscant. But I must have Bilbringi as a staging ground, or else the supply effort will be considerably complicated, let alone the loss of construction potential for the war effort of the Two Galaxies.

"Well, that seems to be it, Rear Admiral.." Sule trailed off, and grinned. "Oh, my apologies. I just remembered that I was going to promote you to brevet Vice Admiral for that victory of yours. Keep it up and the rank will stick, too. Good luck, Vice Admiral di Kuat, and may the Force be with you."

Mystrela watched the screen go blank, and she was grinning, and then chuckling softly. When she finished, she rose, leaving the briefing room, to get the message for the Task Force, and coordinate with Quarn on how to round up the ISB agents before announcing it. So much to be done.. And such an interesting Emperor, indeed! It was good to have a military man in charge; and better yet one who was at least comfortable with his senior officers. That could only do wonders for the army and the navy!

As for Coruscant.. Well, that was in sight to, if they thrust swiftly enough. The Vong were overextended in taking it, by far. It would be bold to counterattack so soon, from the supplies of the Republic, yes, but it could indeed be done. The next weeks would tell how Sule I Tienyz would be remembered.
The threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth. -- Wikipedia's No Original Research policy page.

In 1966 the Soviets find something on the dark side of the Moon. In 2104 they come back. -- Red Banner / White Star, a nBSG continuation story. Updated to Chapter 4.0 -- 14 January 2013.

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Post by The Duchess of Zeon » 2003-02-08 04:20pm

Chapter the Fourth.

Imperial Strike Cruiser FSC-903,
Vortex System.

The crew of FSC-903 were sailing and fighting under the name of an Emperor once again; it pleased Commander Tillier, the Captain of the Strike-class in question, and likewise his crew. Better yet, a man who, even if he was a ground pounder, had fought alongside them in their campaigns in the Milky Way. That was someone they could trust.

Now they crept into one of the more recent conquests of their enemies, undetected and once again fully armed. They had participated in the devastation of the Vong fleet at Bilbringi, that incredible moment when the Vong had been overwhelmed by technology they were unprepared for, and an aggression and unity, and perhaps the brilliance of leadership, that had been rarely equaled in the foes they had faced.

Tillier and his crew now had a more dangerous mission than simple battle. Under the orders that Fleet Admiral Elise Kalar-Leben, CIC Grand Fleet, had drawn up for TF-223, the Strikes of the fleet were to conduct scouting missions against both Vortex and Coruscant. Tallier did not envy the men reccing Coruscant, that was certain - Even with the losses from the assault on Bilbringi, Vortex had an impressive Yuuzhan Vong garrison, as the spearpoint of one of their more important offensives.

Coruscant, though, had an entire fleet guarding it, a huge fleet of a size that had not be seen massed before these days in one place in millenia. Not even the Imperial Civil Wars had seen fleets of that sheer size; they had to many sides for one side to concentrate that much force against a lone rival. And Tillier did not want to discover what the commanders of those ships might discover on the surface of Coruscant, anyway. That was not the stuff of envy, even for the daring of the deed, but rather the bottle, and silent nightmares, or so Tillier feared.

However, accurate intelligence was necessary if the Grand Fleet, an organization only now forming in the Milky Way, and which scuttlebutt said would have every single Star Destroyer in the Starfleet, was to drive the Vong out of these galactic locales and, literally, save the Empire. And that intelligence could not be gotten by probes; the cloaking devices that could be fitted to torpedoes were nothing more than glorified stealth systems which protected them from visual detection only. The same applied to probes.

That meant that Strike Cruisers had to be used to gather intelligence; so it was that the fully cloaked FSC-903, sensor pod extended above the confines of the double-blind cloak's field perimeter and inside the perimeters of the other two - those gifts of Romulan science and Ferengi greed and perfidy - crept steadily closer to the Vong installations at conquered Vortex, navigating and receiving data on passive sensors alone.

The FSC-903 could transmit that data in a burst transmission to another Strike-class waiting outside the system if detected, likewise cloaked. That, of course, was because it was highly unlikely that the single patrol cruiser could shoot her way out if she was detected; that concentration of firepower could kill before she went to warp, and possibly after, with the right vectors. Her life depended purely on stealth.

But Commander Tillier and his crew had been trained for that; over nearly twenty-three years of deep space warfare, an arrogant, professional cadre of crewers - Officers and enlisted alike -- had come together to form the cloaked combatant service. The CCS expected to never make that fatal error, and when the time came to loose their missiles, to make every round count in a fashion that would rake home the kills. They were the first capital ship service, after all, to actually count them, and that had caught on. And they'd counted a great many.

It was silent on the ship by convention, though sound nor silence could not be transmitted in space. The crewers drank coffee and went about their duties with a trained and veteran professionalism, for the FSC-903 was one of the original Strikes in the fleet and it had a reputation for excellence to uphold. Some boats were just the braggarts of even the CCS.

"Ma'am, we've just got an arrival in system," one of the operators along the sensor bank reported quietly. The banks of receivers and displays revealed the flicker of cronau radiation, and the sensor tech, along with a chief petty officer, who had reported the arrival focused in on the area with the passives and both 'listened', as it were, and watched the tech's readouts.

Lieutenant Girard approached; the chief petty officer in question, seniormost of the FSC-903's noncommissioned sensor operators, thought well of the Lieutenant despite her Terran origins, and just as he had worked his way up in the crew of the Strike Cruiser from the bottom, well, she'd had to work her way up in a new society. Fair was fair.

"What've you two got, Chief?" Rochelle Girard asked as she stopped behind the man's chair, looking down at the readouts.

"Five contacts, ma'am, and that's definite. One heavy and four lights probable.. Someone important getting escorted in, I'd wager."

"Alright, Chief. Log it and get me a copy of the data for the Captain. Keep tracking them all the way in.. Let's see just where they dock."

"Yes ma'am," Though of course the Chief had to be a bit offended at the suggestion he might do anything else!

Lieutenant Girard turned and walked back out of the pit, up to the main bridge. "Captain, we've got some new arrivals, five of them. Chief Retarin thinks one heavy with four escorts. They're heading in-system now. We'll have a data package for you in a minute."

"Very well Lieutenant," Captain Tillier replied. "Carry on."

Fourteen hours later the five ships left the system again, and the FSC-903 could only track and record the occurrence, as it had their arrival. Sixteen hours after that, the FSC-903 began to withdraw from the system as well, undetected, the mission a complete success.

Grand Fleet Flagship,
Executor-class Battlecruiser Conquérant,
Utopia Planita Drive Yards.

The professor had not been on the deck of the warship in a long time. This one brought back memories.. Of friends and fellow officers, dead and gone in a lost war. And of more distant memories; the deposed Grand Moff Davion had an affinity with the names of old terran Imperial power, and a division of Executor-class battlecruisers were nicknamed the 'French' line.

The Conquérant bore the flag of the Fleet Admiral, Elise Kalar-Leben, in her guise as commander of the Grand Fleet. The Indomptable and the Téméraire likewise formed her First Battle Division; the ship that the new Emperor had decided to go ahead and christen the Tonnant after all was now working up in the outer system, no doubt.

The professor might note this gesture of honour to French martial pride with a faint smile; after all, there had been an Indomptable at Trafalgar, for instance. Rather more ill-fated than the Pluton that a Lieutenant Picard had served aboard, though. Professor Jean-Luc Picard hoped that the naming of these ships would not lead to bad omens, for he was aboard this vessel for a singular purpose. He was visiting his son.

The sinews of the Empire around him were stretched and prepared for a massive offensive, and the reason was not hidden. The calm, grim litany was repeated, and Jean-Luc Picard knew that Yuuzhan Vong were a threat that, though perhaps the utter opposite, were just as evil, just the same danger as the Borg. He had preferred negotiation to combat. The Borg, of course, gave no choice, and here was another.

Picard could only be thankful that the Imperial officers were such that they would let a defeated enemy, perhaps one they might suspect of being a plotter against their regime, onto their flagship merely to meet with his son, now a second lieutenant in the Imperial Navy. But then, for all their ruthless dispatch and efficiency, there was occasionally an air of almost chivalric intention and design around the new Emperor in particular. And Elise, well, who was not better given to such a gesture than her!?

But though Picard was not terribly familiar with the layout of an Executor-class battlecruiser, he knew enough to divine that his destination was not any place that he might normally expect to meet his son; quite the contrary, in fact. "Ensign, if I may ask where we are going?"

The ensign glanced back to him with a somewhat surprised look. "Professor, the Admiral requested to see you before you met with your son."

Picard frowned. He had been quite content in his home, with his wife, Beverly, and the vineyards of his ancestors, the trips around the lecture circuit and the writing of his books and papers. Now it appeared like halls of power greater than those of academia might still have some use of him, though he rather wished he would not find out what. Perhaps, though, that overstated the matter.

When he entered Admiral Kalar-Leben's briefing room, she awaited him in a straight-backed leather chair at the end of the briefing table, the center set in holographic projectors. She had a desk to one side in the relatively spacious room, as well, crammed with flimsies and padds and even old-fashioned paper. On the table, a cup of coffee and one of Earl Grey. Handleless mugs, proper navy-fashion.

"Greetings, Captain Picard.. If you would please sit down." Elise gestured to the chair at her right. "I apologize for not informing you of this meeting earlier. But security is rather important in these times, and we have an important matter to discuss before you meet with your son."

"Of course, Admiral Kalar-Leben. Your security arrangements are of course paramount, and not exactly my business.. As a civilian. Which I must point out does not any longer entitle me to that rank.. Especially in a now defunct organization," Picard added as he sat in the chair.. And with a bit of pain in the last statement.

The Earl Grey seemed just about right in warmth as he placed his hand on the mug, though, and he'd learned to cherish small things. Considering he hadn't been arrested when he'd stepped into the room, Jean-Luc assumed that this conversation was going to be interesting, and he was now intent upon it.

"Please, call me Elise.. Professor Picard. And as for security, well, I can only agree: It was paramount in removing Hamner Davion so that we go to the aide of the Empire proper. It will be paramount, no doubt, in the future. Despite the fact that I prefer to stick to naval matters, I have an annoying habit of finding myself deep in these cloak-and-dagger affairs also. Governor Davion was better at them, and his daughter, fortunately, better still."

The mention of Hamner Davion in the context of his competency brought back old and brutal memories for Picard, however briefly, courtesy of his mind melds and the personal horror he had felt at the time. Hamner Davion might have been blindsided by treachery involving his daughter, and in that his paranoia was less (And that might fairly be side in a complimentary way) than such a man as Ivan Grozny, Iosef Stalin, or an Ottoman Sultan, but he had been a brilliant administrator and strategist; his ability with logistics unmatched.

He also had a particularly nasty ability to deal with revolts, and that had been proven during the Vulcan passive resistance after the Imperial conquest. The Vulcans had simply refused to do anything. They had refused to obey, they had refused to work, they had refused to fight back: Their ability to passively resist would have turned Ghandi green with envy (Had he possessed an envious bone in his body). Some had even gone beyond that and dramatically burned themselves alive or more simply starved themselves to death.

Hamner Davion had no desire to be remembered for the unjustified genocide of a race of pacifists; he had to ship in food as the local command economy collapsed like a house of cards and a new capitalist one could not be built. Vulcan and her colonies were costing the Empire in the Milky Way a huge amount of treasure, and the example was inspiring similar movements on other captured worlds in the former UFP.

Davion acted decisively to end the situation before it turned into a quagmire. He nominally gave Romulus and Remus independence under a puppet government, while keeping the rest of the Romulan Star Empire under Imperial control - The part with the most resources.

The puppet government, led by a ruthless, psychopathic and totally amoral Romulan senator, was then authorized to recruit an army from the colonies and rearm for police actions under the condition of the 'renegotiated' peace treaty. The Senator in question had been perfect for the job; A virtual lunatic who could not have been removed from his position in the Romulan Senate because of family ties, and his megalomania and indulgent obsessions had made him an embarassment before the Empire.

Immediately after that, in a move that had come fast enough to shock all but the fastest analysts and his closest confidants, and perhaps even them, Hamner Davion had ceded Vulcan and every single vulcan colony, all under Imperial control, to the Romulan puppet government, which was then effectively told that its own continued existence depended on economic production from Vulcan and the vulcan colonies.

The Romulan dictator, it had been rumoured, had bragged to Hamner that his soldiers would 'reunify the Romulan and Vulcan peoples with their virility alone!'. Certainly, however, rapine was not the only war crime committed by the Romulan occupying armies, but Hamner looked the other way, the atrocities piled up, and eventually even Vulcan passive resistance was taxed beyond the breaking point.

That had been perhaps the only true brutality of the Imperial conquest in the Alpha and Beta quadrants. No Base Delta Zero operations, no mass murder, no labour camps. The Empire had proven generous in conquest and that had won over the vanquished faster than one might expect. Of course, the Gamma Quadrant had been another matter, but the Dominion had been another kind of foe entirely.

And, quite naturally, the Romulan puppet government's dictator had suffered a speeder accident and was duly replaced by someone rather more suited for long-term administration once Vulcan and the vulcan colonies were fully subdued. Brutal and horrific, but one could perhaps be thankful it was the only example.

"Certainly, Elise. And you're welcome to call me Jean-Luc," he replied after that pause.. Too long, really, but she had waited without comment or change in her expression. The memories of an old man, humoured, or respect for someone who had been through a great deal?

Either way, he understood that the Admiral before him was a naval officer, and only of the ally of the petty, hollow Romulan regime that had taken out the shame of its defeat upon the Vulcan people, even if her civilian commander had arranged for it to happen. And in the end, she had been one of the conspirators who had brought down Davion. The part of him that was Spock, and therefore was willing to condone revenge, could thank her for that.

Enough. "If you would be so kind, then, Elise, to explain precisely what your intent is with this meeting, though? You leave me curious; it has been to long since I've applied my mind to affairs of statecraft or war."

Elise sipped her coffee and laughed lightly. "Certainly, Jean-Luc. It would be impolite of me otherwise, and I don't want to be impolite to someone who's going to be spending a great deal of time on my flagship. The Conquérant, after all, should have a few people aboard who respect the flag of the golden bees when she goes into battle, and we do want them to get along. No matter how big a spaceship is, they tend to seem cramped."

Jean-Luc paused as he sipped his Earl Gray, looking to Elise, and then sat the cup down slowly. He could scarcely imagine what he had heard; and certainly the eccentric Fleet Admiral's turning on the charm, so to speak, had not really helped matters. A laughing and rather jaunty imperial at the moment made the entire concept all the more bizarre.

"Excuse me, Elise? I'm afraid I don't quite understand what you mean. You want me to travel aboard the Conquérant to some destination?"

"That would be correct, Jean-Luc. The destination is Coruscant. You see, the Emperor and the Empress Martina realize that there are a great many resistance groups remaining in our space. Terrorist groups, freedom fighters, underground spy and resistance organizations of every stripe, size, and level of sophistication. None will trust us, or our information about the Yuuzhan Vong."

"However, you are a respected former officer of the Federation, Jean-Luc. Your principles are uncompromised, you never turned traitor, you never took up a post with us. The only possible fault you might have in their eyes is that your son serves in our navy; but that is a fault that many of their sons and daughters may indeed share. And finally, your record during the war was of course perhaps one of the best of the Federation's commanders.

"Combined, this means that you would a respected voice to talk some sense into those groups, to get them to cooperate. Indeed, I wouldn't be surprised if you maintain contact with some people who are members of those groups, friends of one stripe or another, whom you may or may not know are in such resistance organizations.." Elise raised her hand and smiled. "Such doesn't matter now, Jean-Luc."

"Essentially, we want you to tour the front. In particular, the Emperor, and the Empress Martina especially, in role as the chief of our combined intelligence services, wants you to be there when we liberate Coruscant, as we have every intention of doing, to see first hand the devastation and horrors, the atrocities wrought by the Yuuzhan Vong. Then we want you to come back here and report them to the people here at large, and the resistance groups in particular, and gain their support for the duration of the conflict against the Vong.

"You'll of course have a full support crew.. I was thinking Oxford Instructional Media might be an acceptable independent broadcast support team for you, without any commercial or political overtones?"

Picard sighed heavily. "Yes, it would. Though I suppose I don't have much choice in this matter. Can I invite Data along if Oxford is going to be involved in this?" Data, along with Beverly and Picard himself, comprised the principle senior-ranking survivors of the Enterprise-E's crew.

"I suppose I can work it," Elise replied with a grimly cheerful expression and tone. "Though I'm not sure. But don't be so worried. You'll have a chance to witness what may be the largest naval battle since Xim the Despot was alive from one of the two sides commanders' flagbridges."

"That doesn't endear as much enthusiasm as you might have hoped it had, Fleet Admiral... Or it might have in my youth, for that matter."

"Alas! That's true; we're both getting older. But this is an opportunity for me to serve the Empire and my Emperor once again, Captain Picard, and this is a chance for you to watch the history that your file says you dearly love, not to mention your degree, in the making." Elise was grinning as she finished.

"I would escort you to meet with your son personally, but it would be rather embarrassing for the good Lieutenant Picard, so I'll leave it for that ensign, whom I shall call back now. After that, we'll see about getting you quarters and having messages quietly sent to your wife and daughter."

"My thanks, Fleet Admiral. And I will do my best to get the resistance to cooperate with you against the Yuuzhan Vong. I mean it.. I understand the kind of threat they are. I've... Battled with threats like them before."

TF-223 Flagship,
Allegiance-class Light Cruiser Cuirass,
Bilbringi Drive Yards.

"Just exactly where did you get the habit of making rounds of the bridge before battle handing out coffee and sandwiches, San? Not to offend, but that is the stewards' jobs," Mystrela asked, as she reviewed the contents of a padd in her briefing room with her flag captain beside her; the latest results of joint exercises with the New Republic's ships and stations at Bilbringi, and they were waiting for the return of the Strike Cruisers as well.

"Interesting that you should ask, Admiral. I actually picked up the idea from one of my former captains.. Captain Farlen. An interesting sort of chap, but with a very good heart for his crews and a good sense for their morale. Back here during Palpatine's reign things were repressive in the navy to put it mildly, and Captain Farlen commanded an Imperator; one tasked to putting down Zaarin's rebellion."

"That made the atmosphere onboard rotten, and ISB liked to pounce on any sort of camaraderie shown between a captain and his senior officers, or crew in general. So Captain Farlen started taking the sandwiches and kaff from the stewards before a battle and putter around like a waiter at a six-nova restaurant, serving the bridge crew if there was time." Captain Veris was grinning fondly now, at a two-decade old memory.

"And that was the way he was able to show the bridge crew, at least, that he still respected and cared for them, despite the atmosphere that ISB had stuffed down our throats. And, of course, they just wrote it off as a truly bizzare eccentricity but harmless. So, when I gained my own command, and considering how confused the atmosphere in the Milky Way usually was, and with ISB still around.." A shrug. "It just seemed natural to continue what Captain Farlen had done. I wonder if he's still alive; I was transferred off his Imperator to another that was sent in the second wave."

"I fear we've lost far to many good officers like that already, San. Between the excesses of COMPNOR and the Inquisitors the military was doomed to fail, it appears. We can only be thankful that we have a military man as The Emperor now. And perhaps hold out some hope for those we'll still find here.."

San Veris raised his eyebrows. "Speaking for that.. How exactly do you think this plan of The Emperor's is going to work, Admiral? He has to have a plan of some sort." The flag captain gestured to one of the padds, and that one containing classified data that only Mystrela, San, and Vice Director Quarn knew out of the entire Task Force.

"That isn't for us to know, San. That just isn't for us to know. We're just here to hold down the fort until they all show up. And, of course, perhaps do a bit of aggressive scouting in addition to the passive operations of which I still await the return." At that comment Mystrela's look changed from schooled neutrality to a flash of an eager smile. She wanted badly to take the offensive against these bastards, and the penny-packet reinforcements that Sule had managed to send her would at least allow her to engage in raiding under the dubious guise of scouting.

And then the intercom buzzed, and Mystrela leaned over and tapped it sharply. "Admiral di Kuat here."

"Admiral, this is the Bridge, Lieutenant Commander Hewin reporting. The Vortex scouting elements have returned; all of them, Ma'am."

"Very good, Commander. I'll be up to the bridge shortly," Mystrela replied, and then keyed off the com, looking to Captain Veris.

"Well, we expected the Coruscant mission to be harder, Admiral," he replied to the unspoken question.

Still, that was where the real waiting game was being played, where the real data counted, and the raw nerves of not knowing the outcome was not something that it was fun to drag on forever!

A Klingon Noble's Great Hall,
Klingon Homeworld of Qo'noS.

"There are many who would accept the offer of the Emperor, father," Ratok began, cautiously perhaps. Lord Kahaq, even now, was not someone lightly crossed or annoyed. "More would do so, enough to fill his request, if you weighed in for it; and many would decline, enough to ruin the aspiration, if you weighed in against it."

"I know," Lord Kahaq rumbled, and then was silent. That was potentially ominous. Lord Kahaq was not only by rights a member of the High Council, had it still existed, but he was descended from a line and house that had once borne several men who had attained the rank of Thought Admiral. And one of only four women in the very long history of the Klingon Empire to do so.

Considering the centuries upon centuries of space combat the Klingon Empire had seen, and the size of their navy, the total rarity of Thought Admirals made that an extreme compliment to his genes. Of course, they were also his son's genes, but Kahaq did not believe in letting any pride get into the head of one so young!

The Imperials had broken the back of Klingon religious fanaticism, and it had done them good; for that had restricted women unnecessarily from high rank, when there had once even been female Chancellors, and that had likewise foolishly wasted the resources of the state on constant dueling and death struggles, on mystical cults. Of course, the state no longer existed; but perhaps someday that would change.

Kahaq understood what this foreign Emperor, this new overlord and master, perhaps the only true foreign Emperor the Klingon Empire had yet had, requested. Ten thousand strong and noble warriors for his bodyguard, oath-sworn to his service to protect him and his mate from harm and fight to the death at his command. Those experienced in combat were welcome if they would take the oath, likewise.

He also realized what this Emperor faced, and what he intended to surmount; it was a noble challenge, and a worthy one. By all accounts, these Vong were a vicious and a dishonourable foe.. And yet, ultimately, a Klingon would consider anything honourable if it brought victory. Kahaq smiled slightly. But then nothing compared with the horrors the vid stations trumpeted the Vong had committed.

Still, such warriors! That was the sort of test the youth of the Klingon Empire desired, for they had not yet had war to bloody their blades upon, to practice the skills of war, to gain honour and fame, to thin their ranks to the afterlife in combat - Gone might religious fanaticism, but Lord Kahaq could not shake that part of his beliefs. As for old warriors? Well, many of them knew nothing else than war, and would welcome the chance. Ten thousand or so would be a start.

Sometimes enemies of civilization overrode all else, and if a chance for liberation did come, Kahaq did not think it would come while those ten thousand were oath-sworn to the Emperor Sule. Kahaq had met the man when he was a Field Marshal, and he expected that all the Klingon courage in the universe might break against him. It would be better to win what glories might be had under his standard; and for victory or defeat they were like to be great under his, indeed!

Kahaq's smile grew into a bright, toothy grin. "I shall support the Emperor's request, my son."

"Then, by your leave, father, I shall request to join the Emperor's bodyguard," Ratok replied.

"You have it, Ratok. Just know that what you go to fight is something worse than even the Borg."

Ratok's look showed confusion. "But, father, the Vong warrior offers single combat and prefers the melee."

And Lord Kahaq proved the wisdom of his age, and his ancestors both: "Exactly, my son. Exactly."

Imperial Fleet Flagship,
Executor-class Battlecruiser Despot,
Utopia Planita Drive Yards.

The Despot, Flagship of the Imperial Fleet by virtue of holding Lord and Imperator Sule I Tienyz, Emperor of the Two Galaxies, sat in the middle of a massing fleet. It was a fleet the like of which had never been seen in the Milky Way. The great formations of Borg Cubes could match them for numbers but not for the grace, nor for the organization, of the fleet which gained the appellation of Grand; and that hoary title was one that infused the members with pride.

The Despot was far from the only Executor-class Battlecruiser in the fleet. Among the rest of the main combatants of the Executor-class might be counted the Terrible, the Formidable, the Invincible, the Indefetigable, the Implacable, the Indomptable, the Téméraire, and the flagship of the Grand Fleet, the Conquérant.

This powerful line of battle was supported by twenty-four Allegiance-class light cruisers, with another that was completing her working up and would join the fleet in a matter of days. And, of course, the Cuirass could join the Grand Fleet before any expected action against Coruscant, for a total of twenty-six ships of that class.

Around these divisions and squadrons were steadily gathered hundreds of Imperator-class and Victory-class Star Destroyers with many lesser escorts, a fleet numbering in the thousands of warships, and, by the appellation of Capital ship upon the vessels which rated the designation of Star Cruiser under the Old Republic's system of rating, some 1,081 such ships of the Imperial fleet might be massed at Bilbringi from the strength of the Milky Way alone, and combined with the Task Force of Vice Admiral di Kuat.

And so, as this fleet was prepared for action - A concentration of ships rarely equaled in the annals of history, but one might ominously remember, equaled in the futile defense of Coruscant - On the Flagship of the Imperial Fleet, the council of the Imperator, and the directors of the expedition, awaited the August presence of their sovereign; but he was a troubled man.

The table that his advisors sat at was relatively wide, and made of a wood native to the home galaxy; it had room for an unostentatious throne at the head of the table, and a comfortable chair to the right side, and still at the head, at which might sit the Empress Martina. Down the impressive length of the construct was hence assembled the officers of the Fleet and the Army, the Moffs of the sectors, the directors of the yards, and the officers overseeing the logistical effort.

Likewise, closest to the head of the table were the Empress Martina's aides for the combined intelligence services she now ran; and the entire scene was given an air of drama by the great curving transparisteel windows on the right which arched high up and over to likewise form the ceiling. Naturally, nobody sat at the opposite end of the table from the Imperator.

And though the Imperator's entire council, in full dress uniform, had been assembled in those chambers of martial severity and spatial beauty for some time, and even his wife, he himself was not yet there for the simple reason that he was making a decision in the privacy and solitude of the lower decks of the ship.

The reports had come in from the Strikes they had sent to Coruscant. One had gotten close enough, her captain daring enough, to orbit the planet four times and complete a detailed orbital survey. The slaughter of the civilians it revealed was obscene. Perhaps an unknown number of trillions, a few, had escaped. But the fact remained that out of 640 trillion people on Coruscant, that number was now down, easily, to 520 trillion.

The Yuuzhan Vong had landed great fortress-ships, blowing apart swathes of buildings with casual disregard for the humanity in them, and they had brought down their troop ships in the same fashion, clearing 'free-fire' zones around them kilometers in radius, until there only sections of buildings, admittedly some areas the size of small continents, still standing with rubble all around.

Now they apparently fought the survivors in these great remaining regions, while in other areas they herded the captives or the surrendered and simply left them with a pittance of food, until they could be hauled off for slavery or sacrifice. The Vong had no desire to rule Coruscant's trillions, and certainly no desire to provide them with environmentally acceptable housing. They were simply a resource, and no doubt that resource alone was what prevented them from destroying the planet outright, unless they thought they could reclaim it from its city-wasteland state. Once that resource was expended...

And so in that Sule saw trillions of people he had sworn to defend and to protect, to lead and to save, to guide and to rule with wisdom, with a firm and benevolent hand, slaughtered while he was helpless to do anything about it. He had taken up the title of Emperor to save the Empire and the citizens of the home galaxy. He would do nothing less. Strategic calculations paled in comparison to the incomparable slaughter.

Sule Tienyz was no Stalin, certainly no Green or Palpatine. He could not sacrifice people on the altar of expediency. He could be merciless, oh yes!, merciless to his enemies, merciless to the enemies of the people and the Empire and to personal threats. But ultimately he was a soldier. An excellent strategist and an excellent tactician both, but still a soldier who had ultimately been trained in a school of military thought that taught him that defending, protecting, saving civilians was his first and foremost duty, one of a military tradition far older than the recent and brief brutality of Palpatine's unwelcome, if precedent setting, reign.

And the slaughter on Coruscant was not something that he could tolerate, even if the risk was terrible to every plan they had made. They had run into snags in their preparations, in their planning for the fleet train, for resupply for an extended campaign, and they still of course had to convince Pellaeon and the Moffs of the Imperial Remnant. Sule no longer cared; they had to act now, and they had to save Coruscant and her trillions.

And as he strode into the council chambers, likewise in dress uniform, that ancient dress uniform of a Republican Imperator of the age immediately following Xim the Despot, with the dull-gray cuirass he wore seeming to boldly proclaim his frame of mind and contrasting severely the finery of his uniform, the red cape an almost arrogant proclamation. In silence he strode to his throne and sat; every officer in the room could see, perhaps, the decision in that stride and those eyes, and his wife noticed the difference likewise.

"Officers of the Empire, Governors, Facility Directors... And my dearest Martina, last but of all not least," even then a faint smile allowed, "this meeting was originally called to discuss the timetable for the operation against Coruscant and the planning for the establishment of the supply train. To an extent it still exists for that reason."

"However, I have come to the conclusion that we can no longer wait to establish an efficient supply train for the assault on Coruscant, nor can we cautiously make diplomatic contact with the Imperial Remnant. The data received from Coruscant makes the situation clear. It is obvious that Over a hundred trillion innocent civilians have been killed by the Yuuzhan Vong."

Sule looked over the faces of his council, his most trusted advisors, conspirators, and friends; some shocked, some understanding, some expectant. Then he continued. "With that fact in mind, I want to know how quickly the Grand Fleet can be in the Coruscant system, with Tibanna gas tanks topped off, magazines loaded, fighter squadrons at full strength, and klaxons sounding Condition One. We do not have a moment to lose!"

He was silent for a moment. "Forgive me. I should not be so harsh; It is not your fault. But this is now the circumstance that we operate under. Elise?"

The woman, the eccentric Admiral who had impossibly clawed her way to the top, first by sheer determination, then by reforming her utter maverick's image and reality into a competent and halfway formal officer, and then who had succeeded to supreme command of the Imperial Starfleet by supporting and encouraging her friend to revolt and the Imperial Dignities, the virtual founder and icon of the Cloaked Combatant Service who now commanded the most conventional, and powerful, line of warships in the two galaxies.. The execution of the perhaps impossible demand fell to her.

Elise closed her eyes, sighed, opened them, and spoke to one of her aides in a hushed whisper normally reserved for funerals. After a moment of fumbling through padds he handed one to her, and she began to scroll through the figures and tap in commands. Sule waited, eternally patient of minutes even as he hated every hour.

"Eleven days, Lord and Imperator," she replied formally. "Three more days to finish massing the fleet here at Mars, seven and a half days of total travel time to Coruscant, and half a day to reorganize the fleet at Bilbringi first and pick up TF-223. Give me eleven days and I can put one thousand and eighty-one capital ships with their escorts in the Coruscant system, klaxons sounding Condition One, ready for battle in all respects."

Then she looked directly at the Emperor, and her gaze spared him nothing, unflinching. "They will be entering an engagement never even conceived of by the designers of said ships, short of perhaps the Executor-class, and they simply because they had the space to give them such magazine capacity. Those ships were built for police work, essentially.

"Stations for resupply of Tibanna gas, of missiles, of replacement fighter squadrons, of even fuel are supposed to be frequently found - With the speed of our drives there is no reason to expect otherwise. Protection, firepower, speed, all of these things are gained at the sacrifice of sustained duration combat ability.

"I have a fleet made up of monsters with short legs, Lord and Imperator. And therefore, if you order me to Coruscant without a proper fleet train, I can promise you one good battle, and nothing more. Bilbringi, even Bilbringi, does not have the resources to resupply our Line of Battle and the Capital Ships and the thousands of escorts accompanying them. Kuat Drive Yards; once devastated Fondor. Nothing else."

"Not to mention," The Empress Martina added softly, "my husband, eleven days is far to short a time to bring in the forces of the Imperial Remnant on our side. Over two hundred more capital ships would tilt the number decisively in our favour. The Yuuzhan Vong have that many in the Coruscant system only if we count their carriers.. Which we do not of our ships. We could only send a messenger to Bastion by fast courier, and how could that possibly convince Pellaeon that we even exist?"

"Lord and Imperator," Fleet Admiral Inaras spoke, "The Empress Martina speaks the truth; even if we must attack Coruscant before we have our fleet train and a system of supply bases ready to support the fleet for extended engagement, at least give us the time to bring the Imperial Remnant's fleets in with us, so that we will have the advantage of numbers."

"No," Sule replied. "I fear you do not understand.. This is not a moment for delay, nor to consider the balance of numbers. This is a moment where we must act. The original plan gave us time to at least meet the commanders of the Imperial Remnant's fleets, to integrate our fleet codes and signals - Six weeks, in all liklihood. If we are in this much of a hurry, we could not do so.. We would have little coordination, nearly as bad as including Republican ships in our main body.

"Think of how the Republic must have been hampered by their national contingents at First Coruscant, Fleet Admiral. That much I know of space combat, and training in general; better that we are a single, well trained mass!" And as he finished, Sule stood on the step up to his throne, and looked out over the table, raising a single hand in an orator's posture.

His dark eyes, like a hawk's, sought out Elise, and he grinned. And that fanatic's look was a dangerous thing, for it showed a furious emotion in their Emperor, the horrid responsibility and the weight of those deaths cored down into action. "Fancy that you don't have the quote for this moment, for it is a terran quote, and that you play devil's advocate to me at this of all times! There is only one response: We act!"

Elise looked back to him. "Which quote, Lord and Imperator?" Her voice a whisper, intense.

Sule smiled and drew the ceremonial sabre that was part of his chosen, ancient Imperator's uniform, as he spoke in a deep and glorious bass voice:

"He either fears his fate too much,
Or his deserts are small,
Who dares not put it to the touch,
To win or lose it all!!"

And as his finished the hoary old declaration, the sword was flung down into the wood of the table, thunking into it with a heavy sound and staying steadily upright, and Sule stood there triumphantly, looking over the faces of the council... All silent.

And then Elise leapt to her feet and the room followed.






They might still hold reservations, they might think the audacious order reckless, for it risked a galaxy to save those hundreds of trillions on Coruscant. But the officers among them had been trained and raised up in their profession to protect those people as well; and the bureaucrats were taken in by the whirlwind. They could not resist the declaration, they could deny the intensity, the bold purpose of the Emperor. They would die or conquer.

All of them were at their feet, hence, except Martina, who simply sat and smiled in brilliant approval at her husband, who stood, flushed at the very intensity of the moment and the resolution. These people might be his friends, true. But now they would, perhaps, follow him all the way to the circles of hell.

The next words quieted the shouts of acclamation down quickly enough.

"As for reinforcements, I don't intend to abandon the idea entirely. As you know, we have recovered a great many of the Grand Moff's secret codes, orders, and instructions. We also have our own of lesser classification; this project was of great importance. Many of these are of course known only to me and a select group of individuals," Sule calmly cut through it all.

"Therefore I shall travel to Bastion personally, with my new Klingon Guard, for I can afford to wait a half-day for their arrival, aboard a squadron of fast pickets, and do my utmost to convince Pellaeon and the Moffs. With any luck I should be able to bring a sizable contingent of reinforcements as a separate fleet formation into the battle for Coruscant. If I don't arrive in time, I can either cover your retreat or perhaps even exploit a weakness in their defenses your attack caused.

"If I don't get any help, well, I'll try to avoid getting arrested as a madman or a plotter against the Empire. But I don't expect that to happen. Elise, lead the fleet in; that's your job. Mine is by nature of my position to attempt something like this."

There was silence around the room for a very long minute.

"I'm going too, my love," Martina said softly.

Sule looked to his wife, opened his mouth, paused, shut it, and simply nodded.

Elise turned towards the Imperial throne and bowed slightly, then. "Lord and Imperator, as you will it. We have a great deal of preparing to do, then. And.. When the day is done, and we've put it to the touch, let us meet again on Coruscant."

Sule smiled, grimly now. "When the day is done, and we've put it to the touch, let us indeed meet again on Coruscant, Fleet Admiral."
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In 1966 the Soviets find something on the dark side of the Moon. In 2104 they come back. -- Red Banner / White Star, a nBSG continuation story. Updated to Chapter 4.0 -- 14 January 2013.

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The Duchess of Zeon
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Post by The Duchess of Zeon » 2003-02-08 04:29pm

Chapter the Fifth.

Ruins of the Imperial Palace,
Vong-Occupied Coruscant.

Tsavong Lah had established his residence here, in one of the wings of the massive residence, the huge ruin of the palace, devastated by the fusion device which had ended the life of the President of the Republic and killed tens of thousands of Yuuzhan Vong. Built out of quarried rock, it was not quite heresy, and neither was it permanent; he intended to remove the edifice entirely and establish a proper place of governance in its place as soon as the crater in the center had been decontaminated. Of course, the process of that decontamination would simply be part of a far more vast artifice that would be worked upon the world of Coruscant.

However, his subordinates murmured about his real intent in temporarily establishing his residence here, in letting the biologics of the Yuuzhan Vong grow over the chiseled stone, just as they did about how slow his implants healed. Here, the Warmaster of the Yuuzhan Vong, it was thought, might desire just a bit to much power. And perhaps even to imitate the infidels he despised. Though that would never even be murmured.

And so it was here that Tsavong Lah both recovered from his injuries and directed the efforts of the Yuuzhan Vong forces throughout the galaxy, among his other designs. And, naturally, it was here that he received the news about the effort against the planet Hapes, the latest effort of the Vong to conquer in this galaxy after the failed attempt on Bilbringi.

After Coruscant, absolutely no gains had been made so far; to much of the fleet had been massed for that effort. Hapes would change that - Somewhat; the effort was not being made against the planet persay, but rather as a lure against the pitiful remnants of the Hapan fleet, the Republican forces that had taken refuge there, and the Jeedai there most especially.

And above all else, the Jeedai twin Jaina Solo, infidel and blasphemer. She would be lured out and destroyed with her compatriots, and that would be enough. Then the planet could be taken at will, and the refugees sacrificed to the Gods as was proper, saving the population of Coruscant for slave labour instead.

"Warmaster, a message from the Priest Harrar," one of his subordinates reported; as his recently transplanted limb was being worked on once again by a shaper.

Tsavong Lah straightened slightly in interest. The Priest Harrar, by the convoluted command structure of the Yuuzhan Vong, nominally commanded the effort against the planet Hapes' defense forces, because of the Jeedai twin's involvement in the affair and because the military commander for the attack was his guards' commander.

That interest was already personal, for the Jeedai had access to a private communications villip directly to him and had insulted him and blasphemed at him on numerous occasions. He intended to oversee her sacrifice personally. With his own two hands.

He looked down to the shaper. "Leave your work for the moment; I have a more urgent matter to attend to." The shaper nodded curtly as Tsavong Lah removed his new arm from the tentacled manipulator without a wince - naturally. Then he headed for the communications chamber.

He should have let the shaper at least close it up before starting off, but the Yuuzhan Vong were far from unfamiliar to pain, and it would not do any harm. It would certainly not reduce the current functionality of the arm anymore at the moment! Tsavong Lah snorted in wry disgust at that as he stopped before one of the larger villips, already activated.

On the viewing section of the opened villip was the image of the Priest Harrar. "Warmaster, I have news to report, and I think I should report it immediately. It is.. Unfortunate," the priest began, bringing Tsavong Lah up short.

"Unfortunate?" The Warmaster's eyes narrowed in suspicion. "How have you failed?"

Harrar's eyes narrowed and he scowled, for he was outside Tsavong Lah's chain of command, and the tone and question did not bear well with him. But neither did the failure, and it was the truth. Grimly, he began to recite the litany.

"We were able to draw the forces defending the planet Hapes away from the planet as planned, Warmaster, and englobe them. The captured frigate Ksstarr was detected among these vessels, the vessel that the Jeedai Jaina Solo is confirmed to pilot. Our attempts to recapture the Ksstarr were unsuccessful due to devices fitted to a large number of the infidels' ships and fighters."

"These blasphemous devices used gravity to distort our sensors and replicate the signature of the Ksstarr upon numerous ships; even project the signature onto some of our own ships at close range, though this was possibly another electronic warfare device. The end result was an inability to capture the Jeedai and numerous friendly fire losses for our small ships.

"When we were fully engaged and still attempted to capture the Jeedai, we had an excellent chance of victory over the enemy fleet. Indeed, it was certain. However, Warmaster.." Harrar paused, almost as if he could not believe his own words. Finally he continued:

"Five large command ships with numerous hangar bays, definitely of Hapan design, emerged from the local nebula called the Transitory Mists with escorts. These ships were estimated to be around twenty-two kilometers in length, though sensor data was limited based on heavy jamming, including a second use of the tactic of jamming our Yammosk War Coordinators as was used over Coruscant."

Tsavong Lah was absolutely silent for a long moment. Perhaps a minute or longer. Finally he focused on Harrar again with a look that was still incredulous. "Send me the logs of the battle."

"As you wish, Warmaster," Harrar replied, a strain of tiredness in his voice. "If I may continue.."

Tsavong Lah waved his good arm. "Yes." The look was still on his face.

"The fleet was badly mauled while trying to escape, and sustained fifty-four percent losses destroyed for relatively minor losses to the enemy. Fortunately, of course, our numbers were not large enough for that to be serious, but it is still a major setback, and of course all the Jeedai escaped." Harrar stopped again, waiting a moment.

"I must also report, Warmaster, that your kinsman Khalee Lah was killed in battle through the trickery of the Jeedai, sacrificed by his own men due to the confusion caused by the blasphemous devices the infidels utilized.

"Jaina Solo proved to be a far more worthy foe than anticipated," he concluded, "and it may be some time before the twin sacrifice can go forward."

Tsavong Lah took a deep breath and focused his anger at the news of Khalee Lah's death. "The Gods willed it so," he replied. "Continue pursuit, and we will speak of this matter again." With that, he abruptly inverted his villip and terminated the conversation with the Priest Harrar and strode back to the shaper waiting down the hall in complete silence.

As the shaper began to work on his arm again, Tsavong Lah began to consider the reversal at Hapes, ignoring the other news that weighed on his mind. It was clear that the Hapans had rebuilt their fleet. Certainly not to the numbers of their former fleet, but in absolute firepower those five monstrous ships made up for that.

It would take a considerable detachment of the fleet massed around Coruscant to punch through that line of battle and conquer the capital of the Hapan Star Cluster, and until Tsavong Lah was sure that the Republican fleets were not regrouping for an assault to retake Coruscant, he was not prepared to detach that many ships from Coruscant - Certainly not to operations outside the Core!

It had seemed an infernally short time when yet another aide arrived, bowing to him. Tsavong Lah could not ignore his duty even when his implants were being worked on; the time of which he might actually want to, for if the blasted arm ever functioned properly again, he might be able to return to them fully!

"What now?" the Warmaster snapped.

"Warmaster, forgive the intrusion," the aide began. "However, we have completed an evaluation of the failed assault on Bilbringi. In particular the new devices employed by the infidels. I was instructed to deliver the report to you."

"Very well. Deliver the evaluation.. Orally." Tsavong Lah added, letting the shaper continue to work on his implanted arm.

The aide dipped his head in acknowledgment. "As you command, Warmaster."

"The forces that reinforced Bilbringi, it can be confirmed at this time, were fully Imperial. The former Republican Senator Viqi Shesh and her Peace Brigade squadron confirms that they had Imperial IFFs. We can also confirm the complete composition of the Imperial Task Force by class and subtype if you desire. It has been confirmed that the Task Force was led by an Allegiance-class Star Cruiser.

"We also know the name of the commander of the force, Warmaster, from when Viqi Shesh spoke with the Rear Admiral in command. In this case, Viqi Shesh personally knew the commander. Her name is Mystrela Estorav di Kuat; A noble of the line of Kuat that owns the infidels' Drive Yards in that system.

"That branch of the family traditionally supported the Empire and previously held the senatorial position before Viqi Shesh, though once political control in the system returned to the infidel's concept of democracy when the Republic gained the system during their wars of succession, they steadily lost favour to other branches of the family."

"It is therefore unlikely that these ships were Kuati built and manned, disguised by their IFFs to lay blame upon the Empire?" Tsavong Lah queried.

"Those reasons alone would make it unlikely, Warmaster. But the fact that makes it certain is that Viqi Shesh can confirm that Rear Admiral di Kuat was an Imperial officer nearly a quarter of one of the Infidels' centuries ago, though of course at much lower rank. She has also been missing for nearly that long."

"It appears the Empire has gained reinforcement, then. The infidels' technology?"

"Of course, Warmaster." The aide reviewed the next section of data. "It is confirmed that the infidel ships that engaged our fleet exclusively with missiles were cloaked. Evaluation of that data indicates they could maneuver while cloaked, and must have been receiving passive sensor data. Our gravitic sensors did not have the strength to detect them, though it is theorized that at very close range they could. Also, we may be able to detect their plasma trails when they maneuver at high speed."

"In regard to the missiles they fired, it is also confirmed that these missiles did indeed close at supralight velocities. Naturally they caused no kinetic energy damage when they impacted, but they contained high-megatonne range fusion devices; shaped charge. These are of course even more efficient than the HEAT warheads of our magma missiles, and these warheads were considerably more powerful than those used on proton torpedoes.

"Fortunately, their directed nature does make them limited against large warships; the damage is easily contained. But in this engagement they directed them exclusively against escorts and hence inflicted disproportionate casualties among the escorts of the attacking force. We were able to engage these missiles with limited success with flak-barrages of plasma. However, traveling at FTL velocities, the missiles ignored the pull of the gravity of the dovin basals and only direct interposition between a dovin basal and missile could stop them.

"The ships did decloak, Warmaster, but stayed at such range that their exact type could not be discerned. They appeared, however, to be frigate-type vessels, and also bearing Imperial IFFs." Tsavong Lah's aide looked rather apologetic at that moment. "But it remains possible without positive identification that they were of another nation's forces."

Of course, the Empire had been staying out of the conflict pretty much since the Ithor debacle until Bilbringi, and combined with the news of the defeat at Hapes, the idea of yet another species of infidels was unpleasant. Not to mention the Chiss infidels scouting seemingly everything and actively assisting at Hapes, if in a minor role. So hopefully they were indeed as-advertised, Imperials. But the implication of that was not good, either.

Tsavong Lah nodded again, and glanced down to the shaper, suppressing the urge to glare at her as the pain coursed through his body. In this moment the pain was not a glory that it should be, but rather a reminder of a damnable disability! This had seemingly gone on far to long and he just wanted the arm to work! Still, he endured it with what would have been utter stoicism had the Yuuzhan Vong taught control of their emotions to go along with their masochistic beliefs.

"And the fighters?"

"A simple explanation, Warmaster. One class rapid-fired concussion missiles at the dovin basals of the capital ships. They then fired very heavy but short-ranged hypermatter bombs into the vessels. The large number of concussion missiles overloaded the dovin basals of the capital ships in the same way rapid laser fire would a fighter's. Their great speed was only for short duration bursts, and it is uncertain if they were ever observed using lasers or not.

"We therefore suspect this class is an Imperial equivalent to the Republic's K-wing, a dedicated bomber. We do not know if they are hyperdrive capable or not, and it is not inconceivable that the class was designed and deployed by the Empire in the past two plus of the infidels' years after the Praetorite's abortive invasion specifically to counter a dovin basal defended ship, though we think it unlikely.

"In regard to the other Imperial fighter design, it appears to be an improvement over the Tie Interceptor, with a third engine, additional weapons, greater speed, maneuverability, and general other design improvements; also stronger shields. The Assault Gunboats and Blastboats we have encountered before, and these types even seemed to be earlier variants.

"That is all we have as a summary at the moment, Warmaster, unless you desire a full account of the engagement with the infidels' defending forces?"

"No, that's quite all right," Tsavong Lah replied, placated for the moment and now engrossed in thought. "Dismissed."

The Warmaster continued to think, letting the pain and irritation of the shaper's near-tinkering on his arm focus his thoughts, ignoring his aide's departure as he contemplated Bilbringi. The new technology was a serious threat to the Yuuzhan Vong conquest, and the new fighter classes a grave increase in Imperial capabilities.

If he was going to deal with the Hapans, he could not afford to have Bilbringi sitting, churning out ships, directly between Vortex and Coruscant on an important hyperspace travel route. On the other hand, squadrons of Republican starships had fled to virtually every major system in the Core after their defeat, and he had to maintain a strong presence at Coruscant and simultaneously press them hard enough to keep them from regrouping.. Assuming that the chaos of losing their capital didn't do it for them.

Considering all the demands on Yuuzhan Vong ships at the moment and the fact that he did not yet feel desperate enough to order the Peace Brigade to rally all in one place (There were enough of them that they might get ideas if they concentrated), Tsavong Lah really could only do one thing at the moment, and it seemed infernally inadequate, passive, and even ridiculously unnecessary, though he didn't like taking chances.

"Summon Commander Vidang Tahng," the Warmaster ordered to one of his lesser aides; little more than servants, really, who hovered about in silence while the shaper still worked. He was determined to get it over with this time, though, and wouldn't even pause to walk into the communications chamber.

It took to long for the Commander to arrive. But finally he did; and by then Vidang Tahng was a welcome sight. A competent warrior, though neither a glory-hound nor particularly renowned. That was rare in the Yuuzhan Vong fleet, and the ranks of the warriors entire. It also meant that Vidang Tahng had ended up commanding mining operations for, literally, the entire galaxy, and proven worthy of the task.

"Warmaster. You have instructions for me?"

"Commander Tahng. I want to mine the hyperspace routes to Bilbringi."

"Our supplies of Dovin Basal Mines are running low, Warmaster, and we do not have any immediately available," Commander Tahng replied promptly. He had warned numerous commanders that the over-expenditure of these mines in the vastness of space would accomplish little; better to use them in very particular areas in very large numbers.

"When can get enough to block the hyperspace routes to Bilbringi, at least at one point, supported by regular mines and early warning beacons?" Tsavong Lah asked, keeping the exasperation from his voice. He was exasperated with everything except the Gods today, and he was trying not to think of Khalee Lah.

"At least another ten days before we can begin emplacing them, Warmaster."

"Very well, Commander Tahng. Make preparations to do so as soon as possible. That is all; You're dismissed," Tsavong Lah finished. And he wondered again when the shaper would be finished!

TF-223 Flagship,
Allegiance-class Light Cruiser Cuirass,
Bilbringi Drive Yards.

The Republic, it appeared, was not unequal to the task of reinforcing Bilbringi after all. The fleets had rallied to the public defence when called, the officers and the men had been exhorted to their duties by the oration of Leia Organa-Solo, and the stand at Coruscant had proven them worthy of comparison to their ancestors who had worn the uniform of the Republic, and fought against the Hutts, the Sith, and the Trade Alliance.

But that fleet had still been defeated, and the forces of the Republic had scattered, and it had been a mild surprise to see the Task Force which showed up at the Bilbringi Drive Yards, with four Mediator-class battlecruisers (By the New Republic's rating; Star Cruisers by the Old Republic's and Heavy Cruisers by the Empire's), fourteen Republic-class Star Destroyers, six older MC-90 type Star Cruisers, twelve Defender-class Star Destroyers, eight Endurance-class fleet carriers, and numerous escorts. Many of them straight out of mothballs, but all quite servicable.

And now Mystrela was outranked, and the further defense of Bilbringi was rightfully the domain of the Admiral that had arrived with the far more powerful Task Force before her. However, she had already received the stunning orders from the Emperor. And those had been followed on their heels by a courier from Elise explaining her own plans for the attack on Coruscant.

And so Vice Admiral di Kuat faced in herself the interesting challenge of gaining the help of the New Republic for the task without alienating them to the cause of the Galactic Empire's Second Reigning Monarch. For even if Sule desired to be seen differently and popularly supported in the Republic as the Empire, Mystrela knew that here these officers had never met Sule, and they would think only of the dissolution of the Senate and Palpatine.

There was a final, exhausted sigh as she set aside another padd she'd been staring at while contemplating that, and then she began to change into her dress uniform. The austerity of the New Order had gone to the point of not even Admirals having servants, nevermind one for a captain; Mystrela hoped that someone would change that, because taking care of her own quarters and running the Task Force at the same time was ridiculous, and droid production in the Milky Way had been hard to establish, making it impossible to requisition them for matters of convenience like that.

"Hangar Bay three, this is the Admiral," Mystrela commed as she'd finished dressing and was on the way out of her quarters. "I want you to prep my shuttle for immediate departure..."

It was time to see if she could get the New Republic, or at least a fraction of its military, to support the Emperor Sule. Of course, she had a stop on the way; Vice Director Quarn's quarters. She'd need the help and the backing of Imperial Intelligence to accomplish this, most likely. But it simply had to be done; even if Bilbringi was not prepared to support a fleet as vast as the one Elise was bringing up, it had to welcome it with open arms for the assault on Coruscant to take place.

And Fleet Admiral Elise Kalar-Leben's Operation was going to be implemented in another six days, three hours, twenty-two minutes and seventeen seconds, not barring further delays, which were of course inevitable. It was called, based on her flair for the historical, Operation Port Arthur.

The Grand Fleet was already underway.

Grand Fleet Flagship,
Executor-class Battlecruiser Conquérant,
Bilbringi Drive Yards.

Massed the ranks of the Empire! Great the strength of the ordered fleet! The sinews of the oversector had been stretched, the blood called up. And forth had come the ordered ranks of a fleet perfect in every motion, of over a thousand Imperator and Victory-class capital ships, of some eight thousand six hundred and more escorts, the support of over a hundred Dominator-class Interdictor SDs, and three hundred Interdictor frigates, perhaps some five hundred and eighty dedicated carriers, and at the heart, nine massive Executor-class Battlecruisers.

But the part of the force that counted, ton-for-ton, as the most expensive and most useful, consisted of 486 Strike-class Cruisers, small patrol cruisers, really. Modular ships only 450 meters long, but in this design heavily modified and fitted for a certain kind of war. This was nearly all of the massed strength of the Cloaked Combatant Service, with few exceptions. And they had a special task ahead of them.

There were enough Admirals and Commodores in the Grand Fleet to make briefings a terrible pain; one needed an auditorium if it was to be done all in person, and all at once. So Elise was simply briefing the force commanders, who could in turn brief their squadron and division commanders. As many holograms as would have been necessary for all the flag officers would have been nearly as awkward, anyway.

"Officers of the Empire.. My comrades, welcome. It appears we're all settled, so I'll begin." Elise surveyed the room, at men who had risen through the ranks by brilliance and skill and victory, or maintained their position or climbed the ladder slowly by competency. Either would do on this day. It would be a fleet engagement outdoing even First Coruscant, and such battles had not been fought in millenia; the peace of the Republic had seen to it.

There, when the chaos was all around and communications were down to nearly nothing, sensors obscured in a sea of radiation, Elise would need to count on them to execute complicated maneuvers as an organized body of over ten thousand ships, none of which were smaller than 150 meters in length, maintaining good order for mutual support, and all the time avoiding collision and engaging the enemy while being pounded by returning fire. However, the matter was far from without hope. Her personnel were well-drilled and with fighting experience that even those in this galaxy, now long war-torn, might envy. They were experienced to victory and morale was good. Most of all, she knew from General Muun through Mystrela that there was a way to jam the psychic signals of a Yammosk War Coordinator. They just had the persuade the Republicans to give it to them.

"The Grand Fleet is now assembled and at full strength. This is not something that we have had a long time to train for short of in simulation, but then I doubt that any could suspect what we embarked on today would ever happen. It has, and Operation Port Arthur is the answer. It will succeed."

"I am confident of your abilities to execute on a larger scale what we certainly have drilled for a great deal on a smaller scale, and to guide your respective forces against the Vong. I have detailed the original plan for the operation. Based on Vice Admiral di Kuat's latest information on the Vong fleet dispositions in the Coruscant system, I can now flesh out the final details.

"Operation Port Arthur, gentlebeings, is named after a port city on the Chinese coast.. Lüshun, it is called today, on the Liaotung Peninsula. In the year nineteen hundred and four of the Common Era of Terra's history, that city and that peninsula were possessions of the Russian Empire, and the Russian Pacific Squadron of their wet-navy was moored there.

"On the night of February eight, nineteen hundred and four, after a Russian refusal to an agreement regarding a division of colonial interests in the Manchuria-Korea region, Japan launched a surprise attack on Russia. This surprise attack consisted of destroyers and torpedo boats of the Imperial Japanese Navy, stealing into Port Arthur under cover of darkness to attack the anchored Russian fleet with torpedoes.

"The current disposition of the Yuuzhan Vong fleet provides an excellent opportunity for us to imitate the example of the Imperial Japanese Navy and send in the Strikes of the CCS to soften up the enemy for us before the fleet arrives. It was in that hope that Operation Port Arthur was so named.

"I'll hand it over to Rear Admiral Pitras now, for the details on the initial operation to be carried out by the CCS, and how we are to coordinate. Rear Admiral?" Elise stepped to the side for the ranking officer of the CCS that was on hand. It wasn't really effective to have more than a Rear Admiral actually commanding formations in the CCS, and even that was stretching it at times.

Rear Admiral Pitras began to talk, and as he did, Elise waited patiently, but worried. Her friends were off on a doubtful mission, and she needed the ability to jam the Yammosk War Coordinators; that was up to Vice Director Quarn now, though, not her. That didn't keep her from worrying about it. If she couldn't jam the Yammosks her chance of victory was not very good unless Sule arrived with reinforcements from the Imperial Remnant, and fighting on two uncertainties was not preferable. Especially under these circumstances.

Vice Director Quarn sat across from Admiral Temrseh. The Mon Calamari had no doubt been rather surprised when the Grand Fleet first came out of hyperspace. For all that Mystrela had gained their support with her revelations, Quarn doubted that Temrseh and Muun had thought Mystrela was quite sane at the time. It was one of those fantastical stories that you couldn't really believe until you saw proof.

The Grand Fleet was proof if there ever was such a thing. And so now Vice Director Quarn of the Imperial Combined Intelligence Arms now had to convince the Mon Calamari Admiral before him to turn over the data on the Yammosk War Coordinator jamming. To an Empire with that was neither militarily weak nor had a crumbling economy, and which would clearly have the first hand in liberating the capital of his nation.

"It would be ideal, Vice Director, if my Task Force could simply accompany the Grand Fleet, and thereby provide the jamming without compromising the information until I have consulted with my superiours on the matter of cooperation," Admiral Temrseh continued with an accent that Quarn had to admit, with a bit of lingering bias, was distinctly.. Fishlike.

"Ideal for your security concerns, perhaps, and most flexible of you to think of them, Admiral, but as I understand these naval matters, it would be to a great disadvantage to attempt to combine two forces that have not drilled together and have differing systems," Quarn replied.

Temrseh gave a rumbling chuckle of such common to his species. "I shall concede that, Vice Director. However, the original defence forces of Bilbringi have drilled with TF-223 of your fleet, and I could easily transfer the information to them. Detached to your fleet, they could provide the jamming element you need."

"It would, Admiral, but there is still the matter of general incompatibility.. And such a force of your ships might attract the attention of the Vong, protected by our ships and our formation, and of such a small number. Especially since they know by now that you have a way to jam Yammosk War Coordinators."

Temrseh looked like he was about to reply in the negative again, and so Quarn continued, for he had thought through the next offer, and considering Sule's plan it did appear out of step. Certainly not contrary to any instruction; and here they were on their own, and victory counted for the most.

"Admiral Temrseh, I would note that perhaps you are also concerned about the matter of the capital. I can offer, if the secret of jamming the Yammosk War Coordinator is turned over the Empire, a promise, in the name of the Imperator, that when we have our victory secured at Coruscant that a holonet message shall be transmitted to Bilbringi, and you may bring your fleet forward and support the liberation of the planet with your shipboard troops.

"To facilitate the deal, and knowing that mistrust is between us, as peace was never concluded with the Empire of my galaxy, I would offer that a contingent of your officers travel aboard the Conquérant, for the duration of the engagement and to oversee the sending of the message.. And that I stay aboard your flagship, likewise, so that you may be assured the deal is completed and that Republican troops march on the surface of Coruscant again."

The Admiral was silent for a long moment, then that chuckle again. "You have yourself a deal, Vice Director. I'll have the details of the jamming protocols and the plans for the necessary system modifications transmitted to the Conquérant. They should be easily completed from onboard supplies before the fleet arrives at Coruscant."

In her flag briefing room, Elise was wrapping up the briefing to the force commanders. She had the opportunity to look over the faces of the men and women and their aides who would lately have the chance to die for Emperor and nation under her command, and lead millions more to their deaths. But she remembered the cause, and so the thought of those deaths filled her not with despair. There was only a desperate hope, that they might be enough to save the civilians on the planet.

Those were the deaths who tore at her, in a way quieter than the one that affected Sule. Just as the threat of death and the slaughter of those under her command would not trouble her until long after it had happened, until quiet times. But of course that was only right; no one could command without being willing to see those they led die, no matter how much they did to prevent it. It was not something that left you, no matter the time that passed. War changed you.

But on this day it held a very special and very certain meaning. Here what hung in the balance was the fate, not of campaigns, yes, they did, but perhaps irrelevant. Not of Empires, yes, they did, but perhaps irrelevant. They were trillions of innocent civilians on Coruscant - her homeworld. The Emperor had ordered Elise to save them. Her friend had commanded her to take the fleet in and save those people.

And despite all the strategic arguments against it, Elise thought that if she had to make the decision, the same decision would have been made if she had held the balance of fate in her hand and had the choice between condemning those people to death or striving to save them. In the future others might condemn Sule, if there was to be a future. But they did not have the immediacy of the now, nor the weight of trillions upon their shoulders.

Every officer in the Imperial Starfleet did, and so every officer in the Imperial Starfleet who had been mustered into that great assembly of ships, that Grand Fleet, would so fight. Here was their redemption; of their honour as officers and as a service, from the days under Palpatine. They would seize their duty, and the path was clear.

"Gentlebeings, let me conclude the briefing with these words," Elise finished. Green eyes swept the assembly, and a hidden flame burned behind them with quiet, smoldering rage at what had been done. Contained, but there. And was it not matched by every officer in the room? They had seen their civilization defiled and nearly destroyed, their capital conquered by barbarians; it was there.

"Nearly every one of us had living relatives here when we left for the Milky Way. That is likely not the case now. Age, when we had the advantage of the metaphasic particles, and anti-aging treatments are so expensive here.. And constant civil war, between the Republic and the Empire, and the factions of the Empire. Many civilians have died. And with the chaos the galaxy is in now, many of us will never know how our relatives expired.

"I had an aunt, and an uncle, on Coruscant, they were like parents to me. And some cousins and other relatives as well, for that matter. I'm not sure if they've moved or if they were killed years ago or died of natural causes. It doesn't matter now. If they are dead, I know who killed them." Elise paused, taking a deep breath.

"Modern war is no place for personal grudges, vendettas, and hatreds. We cannot let our hate and our fury overcome our professionalism. But if no one among us can be overcome with a desire for revenge, let every one of us be filled with that desire and purpose. As one cannot be, together we are the avenging sword of the dead of this galaxy."

Elise's voice was very, very soft. "I will give one more order as a general signal to the fleet when we arrive. You need not prepare for it. That is all."

On the way out of the meeting, Elise's first stop was to find Vice Director Quarn. She was nearly bursting with tension when she tracked the man down in a pilot's lounge he'd (somehow) contrived to get empty, drinking Corellian ale!

"Did you get it!?" Elise nearly exploded.

Quarn grinned, knocking back his ale. "Fleet Admiral, you have your Yammosk War Coordinator jammers. Oh, and a few divisions of ground troops if you need them, but let's not worry about that. And I smell like a goddamned fish. At least I think so, anyway. So I should probably wrangle a hot water shower."

He observed Elise having jumped up off her feet and clapping her hands together, barely restrained from a shout, and chuckled. "You're not going to get dignified in your old age, are you?" It wasn't like a spook and a naval officer in the Empire were exactly friends; but they could insult each other safely.

"Shut up and pour me an ale, Quarn. That's well and truly worth celebrating over and you know it!"

Imperial Strike Cruiser FSC-903,
Part of Operation Port Arthur,
The Coruscant System.

There were around eleven thousand Yuuzhan Vong warships in the Coruscant system, several hundred more than the Grand Fleet had in total numbers. In the absolute numbers of the capital ships they were about even, but the Yuuzhan Vong had more heavier ships. Fortunately, those heavier ships were generally inferior. Still, it was sobering to approach them and know that you were about to face them.

Even with every technological aid in the universe to help you in and out, and the fleet barreling in just hours out, the odds were still impossibly long. But then again, those technological aids were what made it possible, and the CCS was simply the best. They now converged on various portions of the Vong fleet at careful speeds, going for the heavies that would be able to react first.

Lieutenant Girard began reporting tracking data on a very juicy target, a Vong Battleship-analog essentially feeding on asteroids and many major systems powered down, at a range of four light seconds. They were still rather far out for ideal accuracy, however. The warp missiles could hit targets at that range but the sensors that guided them were another matter... They wanted certain hits.

Captain Tillier watched as the time ticked down steadily towards the mark when every single Strike in the system would be free to open fire. The FSC-903 continued to close with the Battleship-analog and the fire control plot was refined steadily.

"Time, sir."

"Weapons free," Captain Tillier ordered. "Engage targeted ship with full FTL missile batteries."

"Weapons free, aye sir!" The weapons officer calmly activated a series of controls that had been readied from the sensor plots for a while, now. "Tubes one-through-eight flushed on the target!"

"Weaps, you are free to target individual systems on the enemy vessel. Sensors, feed appropriate data to Weaps," Captain Tillier ordered. The first salvo was generally just put into the hull to be sure; sometimes when one was plinking away at stuff on a ship or engines and such one was more inclined to miss.

"Helm, stand by for first course and acceleration change," came the next order.

And in the meantime, in the space all around the planet which had once glittered like a coruscing gem, ships were pockmarked with craters in their coral hulls, and plasma outgassed from detonations in brilliant fury upon those hulls as the cloaked raiders struck in deadly fury and steady accuracy upon their targets.

The quiet slaughter in the depths of space continued like that. The most vulnerable Yuuzhan Vong ships had been chosen and were now being systematically punched to pieces... Though not entirely to pieces. The Strikes left damaged ships, even crippled ships behind, moving on to new targets as quickly as possible. They were not here to kill, just to soften up, and they only had so many missiles.

The defenders of the maintenance facilities were the lightest targets attacked; they were destroyed outright. The Yuuzhan Vong ships took time to spin up their dovin basals into full black holes, and the CCS ships took advantage of this. The forces attacking the maintenance facilities decloaked and attacked the shipyards with turbolasers in addition to missiles.

This diverted the defence forces towards attacking the obvious targets, as well, giving the still-cloaked ships more time to attack the heavies that were still bringing their point defense and dovin basals up, and as a net of thousands of warships was formed, it took long minutes, minutes the Vong didn't have.. And even thousands of warships made one with many holes.

The Strikes ripping through the maintenance facilities, leaving the ships in them pounded, damaged and deformed and splintered by the turbolaser fire, certainly so that none could make them combat ready in time for the impending arrival of the fleet; and the facilities themselves rendered useless in the wake of the pass of the strike cruisers.

And the people on Coruscant below might see the flare of deep space combat again and know hope. And then the cruisers were accelerating away from the planet, cloaking, and their remaining missiles were already under the guidance of sensors now searching for firing solutions on the heaviest ships in the forces seeking to block their escape.

The arena of deep space was soon afflicted by the ugly gout of the Yuuzhan Vong's plasma fire and magma missiles, as they sought out targets they could not detect, or perhaps barely detect at all, if they caught the plasma trail or gravity signature at close range. And worse, the silent eruption of Yuuzhan Vong ships as they were struck by invisible missiles streaking across space, and their desperate defense against those missiles they could barely detect and had less time to defend against.

But surprise was over and the Strikes now needed to escape. And escape they attempted, as they raced between those ships and away from the planet. But the Yuuzhan Vong had interdictors, and dovin basal mines, and that would make escape perilous and long, and the pursuit was vigorous and by numerous ships eager to defeat this invisible foe. And by superiours quite willing to commit heresy and explore one of those ships if only they could copy the technology!

However, for all the efforts of the Yuuzhan Vong to entrap them, the escape of the pride of the Cloaked Combatant Service was a success. Largely. Out of the four hundred and eighty-six Strikes that went in, thirty-eight did not come out of the surprise attack on Coruscant. But the first phase of Operation Port Arthur was an overwhelming success, and the crew of FSC-903 could count themselves survivors, and victors, of their stage of the battle, and the battle of survival.

The strike cruisers cleared their pursuit and the obstacles of the inner system, not to mention to the dangers of the dovin basal minefields, which could threaten with a direct interposition, and either escaped to warp or if they had gotten well clear, leisurely maneuvered clear at sublight and made the jump into hyperspace.

The Yuuzhan Vong would be rearming their fighters when the Grand Fleet arrived with their own prepped and ready for launch.

Tsavong Lah's Flagship,
The Coruscant System.

Tsavong Lah was finally onboard his flagship, and the situation around Coruscant was one in which it was naturally to late for him to intervene in. The fleet was now formed up and maneuvering in the outer system, which of course left them unable to directly control Coruscant orbital space, but far better able to respond to attackers, who without accurate plotting information would have trouble bringing a fleet in close to the planet through the dovin basal minefields.

The Commander who had tactical control of the fleet during the raid obviously hadn't considered the possibly that those cloaked ships could have been scouting them ever since they had taken Coruscant! Tsavong Lah's rage was contained at that; manoeuvring to the outer system had been only logical, and it was not an easy thing to consider all of that. It was the job of a Warmaster. Him.

The fleet was formed up, yes, but there were still many stragglers rushing, struggling to join that formation, which had powered up slowly or were dealing with various damages from the attack. Not to mention ships that would simply not be joining it. Still, Tsavong Lah knew that by all intelligence reports, the fleet the Yuuzhan Vong had massed at Coruscant still overpowered anything that the Republic could possibly again concentrate. It was hence the matter of the Empire that concerned him.

"Order the fleet to proceed back into the inner system, maintaining current formation, and at best possible speed. Have the navigators shape a course that will allow the most stragglers to form with us in the least time; and reduce overall fleet acceleration as necessary to bring those ships in which suffer from battle damage," he ordered.

"As you command, Warmaster."

Tsavong Lah directed the organization of the Yuuzhan Vong fleet back into a fighting force after the surprise attack, and was glad that at least his implants were functioning again.

Then the impossible happened.

It did not start out as the impossible; because at the start, it was merely six hundred Nebulon-B Mk.II frigates arriving in roughly three groups. Then hundreds of corvettes. Then the Lancer frigates and Dreadnought heavy cruisers. Then around this formation, Vor'cha-class Attack Cruisers, 308 of them, a version modified or built outright with Imperial technology and designed as outriders and scouts for large fleets in areas of extremely heavy jamming, and fitted with cloak and a few warp missile launchers.

Then conventional Strike cruisers. And Escort Carriers; And Interdictor Frigates and Interdictor Destroyers, and older standard Nebulon-Bs, and 600-meter Enforcer-class Frigates, on the same hull as an interdictor but all for fighting and not interdiction, and then a variety of dagger-hulled corvettes and frigates of other classes.. Thousands upon thousands of ships. And beyond that, some light fleet carriers arrived in the protective cordon, and then the Victories.

But the Victories were not the all of it, Mk.I and Mk.II. For thence came three Marks of Imperator-class Star Destroyer as well, and they kept coming and coming. Hundreds of them, in ordered divisions of five ships and ordered squadrons of ten. They hypered in, this massive fleet, arranged to defend the heavies while they exited hyperspace, and too large of a force to do a simultaneous exit.

But they had not all arrived yet. The climax of the arrival was not the last part. Instead, it was as three divisions arrived. In neat, precise order, drilled and drilled, and carried out twice on the journey here, looking like they were on manoeuvres instead of arriving to contest control of their capital with a barbarian enemy, first one, then another, then a third division of three Executor-class Battlecruisers, 17.6 km of armoured hull, massive engines and studded with the heaviest turbolaser turrets of the conventional imperial arsenal, eased their way out of hyperspace, and took up a wall formation, one division on top of the other.

The Yuuzhan Vong commanders did not even really notice the remaining ships of the Imperial fleet that came in behind them to fill out the force. They seemed trite in comparison, a nothing, even the twenty-five Allegiances, only one left at Bilbringi with maintenance problems, a Herculean task of the technicians, seemed nothing in comparison to the massive main strength of the force that loomed before them.

Even the five Hapan capital ships, despite being noticeably longer, did not have a mass greatly exceeding that of an Executor, and they were far more heavily devoted to fighters and light attack craft support, and four fewer in number. Set in the middle of this vastly larger fleet, the Executors, which in terms of their mass were devoted virtually entirely to guns, armour, and speed, with a pittance of tonnage for fighters, their large bays principally for repairing lesser starships docked to them, they were a grim promise of a hot action.

Tsavong Lah needed not to look any longer. He turned from the holographic displays of tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of fighters spilling from the hangar bays of the Imperial Fleet, and turned to one of his stunned aides. He was the Warmaster, and a Yuuzhan Vong warrior, and if this was the greatest challenge he had ever faced, then it was simply to be the greatest victory in his career, and the final test on his path to glory. The Gods had Willed It.

"How long until our fighters are rearmed and have consumed sufficient nutrients for sustained action?" He asked, his voice unnervingly soft now.

That jerked his entire staff into action.

"Four minutes, Warmaster, as a fleet average!"

"Begin launching each squadron as soon as they are prepped," Tsavong Lah replied, and then turned back to studying his enemy. He was already heading for Coruscant, and he had to protect the planet. He also sought action, and it would soon be apparent if the infidels did or not. For the moment there was nothing to do except get the fighters in space and maintain course; the more stragglers they picked up, the better.

Another might be aggressive here, but Tsavong Lah wanted to see how the enemy would proceed. Often the infidels had been relatively cautious in attacking the Yuuzhan Vong, especially when trying a counteroffensive, and principally pressed action with fighters and light ships, their capital ships standing off. However, the enemy had a distinct advantage in the Executors in the quality of their ships; perhaps this would be one of the times the enemy sought close action.

If so - So much the better! Despite the quality of their heavy ships, he still had weight of numbers in that regard, and in this engagement it would eventually tell, sooner or later.

Grand Fleet Flagship,
Executor-class Battlecruiser Conquérant,
The Coruscant System.

Fleet Admiral Elise Kalar-Leben was back home. But on the bridge of the Conquérant, there was no time for the memories, both painful and joyful, of Coruscant, Imperial Center, the devastated planet where the lights no longer were visible. Several D'Kazanak class Warbirds, heavily modified and fitted with a holonet transmitter along with some of the best sensors in the Empire, had transmitted the evidence of the Strikes' success to her from the positions where they lurked, cloaked.

She had not gone in blind, and the Vong were ignorant of such, and the Peace Brigade in ships either unmindful, or none fitted with holonet scanning capabilities themselves - A calculated risk, with the Yuuzhan Vong fleet already formed, and in the current condition.

In addition to the Vor'Chas in the fleet as outriders, she had Defiant-class ships, 182 of them. They served the same role signal repeaters in the Age of Sail. During the exceptionally heavy jamming common during battles of this size or even somewhat smaller, it was not unheard of for communications using anything except laser signalers to be almost impossible.

For that reason, modified Defiants attached to capital ship squadron flagships and to force flagships, along with her flagship and a few other necessary ships in the fleet, and a few as reserves, were to be used to relay laser signals between the flagship and the squadron flagships and other vessels as necessary, and they could stay cloaked at all times, at least a standard Second-Gen Romulan cloak.

When needed, of course, as they could even receive light, they would simply be signaled for, or even a flashing light signal on the flagship could be activated in case they had been forced into evasive maneuvers. The Cloaked Combatant Service hence had many more functions than just hunter-killer, but they were all specialized and elite, and traveling around in fragile, modified Alpha Quadrant designs earned them as much respect as their hunter-killer compatriots, in a different sort of way.

The fleet was assembled, and the holographic imagery revealed the massive Yuuzhan Vong fleet that opposed them, various Peace Brigade squadrons in orbit around the planet or the other planets in the system, and far out in the outer system.. And assorted stragglers and other Yuuzhan Vong ships close to the planet that they had cut off.

They were between the Yuuzhan Vong fleet and the planet, and the Yuuzhan Vong still had no orbital fortresses at Coruscant; even if they didn't have billions of their own people on the planet, they would still be unable to destroy Coruscant if they had wanted to.

Unless they had a mind to punch through her fleet first; which they undoubtedly would. She had no intention of letting them, though. And considering how nicely the fleet had been manoeuvred she could back up that intention. Elise thought with a tinge of a smile that was only in her mind.. It appeared the worthless tramp, the bastard whore's daughter, knew her backyard as well as only she had a right to.

Elise's thoughts turned from that moment of deathly grim levity, and then were truly dark and dangerous. Her homeworld was dying, and it was time to save it, and all the hundreds of trillions who still lived. She stepped over to the com section of the flag bridge.

"Do you have a microphone for me, Lieutenant Walthers?" She asked.

"Of course, Admiral. You're keyed and set for a broadcast on every single open channel in the system, maximum power; we're gonna blow their socks off, if I may be so bold, ma'am, with this transmission. The fleet, and whoever else is listening.. Civvies, and those Peace Brigadier bastards," the Lieutenant replied. He was curious; he didn't know what she was going to say. Nobody did.

Jean-Luc Picard and Captain Yeline Harima, the ranking officer of the New Republic's observers and a Twi'lek, watched in silence. They had become friends of sorts on the two day journey over, but Picard had restrained of speaking to heavily of the Empire; that was decent of him, or perhaps he was mellowing in his old age. Or he had a plan of some sort.

They didn't matter now. Nothing mattered now but the fleet; and the civilians who might still have transmitters and might still be listening. Elise raised the microphone. "Start the transmission, Lieutenant."

"Aye aye, Ma'am."

She heard it activate, took a breath, and spoke.

"This is Fleet Admiral Elise Kalar-Leben of the Imperial Starfleet. Civilians of Coruscant: You don't need to know where I came from, but we have ten thousand ships. Maintain your resistance! A new Emperor has been elected, and he commanded me to come to your succor; to that end do I fight!" She paused, and took another breath.

"And to the officers and men of my fleet, I have One Order, One Message, and One Battlecry to give to you before we meet the enemy in battle:"

Elise shouted it with all of her lungs, a hail, a cheer, and a grim declaration, in the name of all those trillions who had died, that this conflict was now to the death.

The threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth. -- Wikipedia's No Original Research policy page.

In 1966 the Soviets find something on the dark side of the Moon. In 2104 they come back. -- Red Banner / White Star, a nBSG continuation story. Updated to Chapter 4.0 -- 14 January 2013.

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The Duchess of Zeon
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Post by The Duchess of Zeon » 2003-02-08 04:46pm

Chapter the Sixth.

Imperial Remnant Flagship,
Imperator-class Star Destroyer Chimaera,
Bastion System.

"You must remember that political considerations cannot be ignored, Commander Kulen." Pellaeon finished and bit back a sigh. The creeping corruption of the Moffs seemed rather everywhere; political considerations and political appointees, never mind them turning sectors and their militaries into private feudal demesnes. And he of course was a part of it now. How can he not after allowing them to run the Empire? But there was no time for that.

He turned. "Signals to fleet, prepare to begin stage two of manoeuvres, Fleet Plan Epsilon."

The fruits of the military expansion were beginning to show; but if Pellaeon could not combine the effort of the Empire's arms with those of the Republic, then the cause was well nigh doomed. There wasn't time to reflect upon that, however, and certainly not today. On this day at least they could celebrate the greatest example of Imperial engineering in a very long time.

The Empire had been unable to build even Imperators for a while, but it was more a matter of funds than proficiency. Now it had the necessary resources - gathered in peace. Even with the war industries failing, the peace had brought certain advantages. Of course, for a project like this there were clear disadvantages. But the applied effort of terror - that is, the Vong invasion - had done it. Pellaeon had commissioned an Executor-class Battlecruiser.

Now he oversaw that ship in fleet manoeuvres with a certain pride, though a melancholy sadness was also about him; for tomorrow he would transfer his flag to the ISS Hand of Thrawn and in doing so leave behind his mentor's last flagship and board the vessel he had named in that greatest of commanders' memory. After all, if nobody remembered the past, there was one less thing to make the future worth fighting for.

Chimaera detected it first, due to her position in the fleet. Pellaeon and the officers and crew under him could not have known of what had happened; the desperate run with hyperdrive safeties overridden, the loss of three ships to the depths of the hyperspatial nothingness, the single-minded haste of the man who had charged to reach them, knowing that he could come only in silence, and that his journey might yet be in vain.

Fleet Admiral Pellaeon could only know that seventy-five ships had dropped out of hyperspace in the Bastion system, unannounced, some of them of unidentified make. Eleven Strike-class cruisers, fourty-six Carrack-class cruisers, and eighteen vessels of an unknown design. Nothing to challenge the force currently in system, in numbers or in strength, but it was impressive enough against the weakened fleets of the Empire.

Pellaeon gave the necessary order: "All ships to stations, condition one." If nothing else, they would get the practice. Those winged, looming raptors of the unknowns in some ways harken to organic designs, though not of the kind of the Vong would have styled, but he was sufficiently cautious or paranoid to order the fleet straight to condition one instead of two.

"Sir, that taskgroup is broadcasting Imperial IFFs," his com officer reported in a slightly confused tone.

At that word, the mystery for Gilad Pellaeon deepened, and he paused for a moment in thought. But there was of course only one thing to do. "Hail them, and a standard fleet interrogative, then. We'll give them the benefit of the doubt about their claimed identity."

"Aye sir."

"Admiral," Pellaeon's flag officer stepped over to him. "Sensor scans indicate that those unknowns have very unusual power signatures; rather weak, in fact, but quite unlike anything we've ever seen before. Rather curious, if I may say so…"

"That is an understatement, Captain. Let us hope this matter clears itself up," Pellaeon replied. For a change, his mind added.

"Sir, we're receiving a message back in reply," the com officer began, and both Pellaeon and his flag captain looked to him with suppressed eagerness, in hopes of gaining contact with the unidentified fleet with those unknown ships and Imperial IFFs, and settling the matter. However, what he said started the slide into the realm of pure insanity. "They're broadcasting in code; it’s one I've never seen before, but the computer insists it's Imperial, Admiral!"

It has to be the Chiss and Fel's men, Pellaeon thought as he stepped over to the com banks. But the Chiss wouldn't have low powered ships; quite the reverse. And the implication that they remained unknown was also that they were just that. In the long years after the peace, there had been some contact, after all. "Let me see that," the Fleet Admiral said softly.

The com officer stood up and stepped aside, and as Pellaeon leaned over that com bank and studied the readout, he froze in recognition of the ancient code. It was intended for one purpose and one only: Scrambling private communications between Grand Moffs and the Emperor himself. Pellaeon should not know it, but had learned it when he had taken over, effectively, at Bastion.

Every other person who knew that combination and was known to be alive was on Bastion. The impossible had happened, and for the first time in a while, the melancholy of leadership was lifted from his shoulders, replaced by the focus of this purpose. His mouth dry, Pellaeon sat down into the chair and began to enter the combination that would unlock the incoming transmission, and reveal whoever it was who had come back from the dead.

He finished, and then activated the holoprojectors with a barely remembered word, rising from the chair and stepping out towards them. Already the quarter-scale image was forming. It was clear enough at this range that the man in the far emitter was not one of the Grand Moffs.

The man the image revealed stood perhaps six feet tall, with dark eyes and light brown, closely cropped hair. He seemed mature yet youthful, and his face possessed a look of wisdom; overall he was gifted with manly beauty and countenance of the noblest kind, an energetic sort who by the tone of his flesh was not unfamiliar to the hardship of campaigns.

His uniform was of an archaic cut, though the rank badges were modern and Imperial; to complete the image he wore a red cape, and even on the one-fourth size view of the holo-projector the figure was an imposing one.

This was the man who might be gazed upon on the bridge of the Chimaera; he represented something just dawning in this galaxy, not yet known to the Remnant. Something that might yet be snuffed out. An Empire harsh, yet at last just, and offering the chance of stability and hope for a galaxy descended into turmoil.

"To your question, Grand Admiral Pellaeon, we shall present ourselves. Forgive our sudden arrival; but I think we come with sufficient proof for our allegiance. Strange and foreign ships now in the Imperial Starfleet, and codes which it appears are indeed still known to the capital of the Imperial Remnant," the man spoke.

"You have my rank mistaken," Pellaeon replied. "I am Supreme Commander of all forces of the Empire, but only a Fleet Admiral. And properly, Bastion is the capital of the Empire - for the Remnant is all that remains. But do continue; I wish to know who you are."

Sule smiled at this. "I do not have your rank mistaken, Grand Admiral, you may take my word; for I am Lord and Imperator Sule Tienyz, Emperor of the Two Galaxies. I have promoted you for the service you have rendered. You have kept the faith, and it shall be rewarded!"

The bridge of the Chimaera fell into an eerie silence; Pellaeon felt eyes quietly upon him. Who was this man? What could he possibly mean? He chose his words carefully. "Your code, Sule, is one by rights you should not have, even as I do not: How then should I accept the legitimacy of your claim, or any of this?"

"In your records, the ones saved from Coruscant and at the appropriate level, there will be records of a Moff Hamner Davion. You will find his secret promotion to Grand Moff and assignment to the 'Unknown Region Project' under Grand Admiral Thrawn. He never went to the colonies in the Unknown Regions, Fleet Admiral; He went to another galaxy, through a spatial anomaly that was discovered at the height of the Galactic Empire.

"And now we're back, Admiral Pellaeon. Hamner Davion refused to commit forces to aid this galaxy against the Vong, so at the instigation of various parties he was deposed, and I was elected and hailed by the commanders and troops of the Imperial territories of the Milky Way Galaxy as Lord and Imperator. The Empire has an Emperor again, and you speak to him."

Those eyes drilled back at Pellaeon's with the force of his mission and the burning sincerity of his claim; He must have belief, and he would have it! There was something in that will, not the Force but a simple, powerful will, that was stunning, and Pellaeon was almost taken aback by it. But Pellaeon was not going to simply believe it; assuredly not.

"There are two further proofs: You may of course confirm who I am; I was merely a Brigadier when I was assigned to the Milky Way project. I should appear much older than I am now, but healing technology discovered in the Milky Way delays aging considerably, and I will submit myself to tests to confirm my identity. For the second... You have some of the collections of Grand Admiral Thrawn. Amongst them you will find several books. Section GR-11879, I believe. I'm fluent in the language, but it will be unknown to anyone and anything you ask."

Sule had received that hint on the Grand Admiral's private works before he had departed; He was glad for it now, when he saw the surprise in Pellaeon's eyes. The man had browsed through Thrawn's collections before, trying to understand the dead legend, and knew of what Sule spoke. "We have other proofs, of course, but we will have to arrange a meeting to input those codes into your computers, if you would permit us. We can also prepare a data dump, if you wish it."

Pellaeon was silent, considering the proffered information and the revelation of knowledge about the inner layout of Thrawn's sanctum, or more precisely, how he organized his eclectic assortment of art treasures. That shook him to the core, and for the first time he began to truly believe what Sule was saying.

"Lord," he chose to answer, respectfully but without acknowledging the most supreme of titles. "I will recover the books, and then we may arrange a live meeting where you can have such access, and where tests to ascertain your identity can be conducted to my satisfaction," he finished, his voice almost hoarse. It seemed incredible, and impossible, and yet something was happening; soon the truth would be known, and perhaps he could dare to hope, a little.

"Do not tarry, Admiral Pellaeon, for time runs short. There is a reason I did not initiate contact carefully and slowly. Even as we speak my fleet sails for Coruscant, bound to battle where they must triumph over the Vong or be scattered. It numbers more than a thousand ships of the line, with nine Executors in its ranks, yet it will be doubtful combat. I came for the sole reason, to muster every ship you can spare and fly to their succor." Sule looked across to Pellaeon and awaited his response.

Pellaeon froze, the impossibilities of the proposal flashing through his mind; then he forced himself not to worry of it. This might be a trap to lure and destroy the Imperial fleet at Coruscant, or perhaps a Republican attempt to bring the Empire in to aide in retaking Coruscant.

However, both seemed farfetched in comparison with the simple, compelling, and fiercely determined plea, the real chance that Sule spoke the truth, and that an Imperial Fleet sailed through hyperspace in strength against the enemy. Could it be that for the first time since the death of the clone Emperor that Imperial Starfleets moved enmasse, that the strength of the Empire had been rallied by this man who presumed to call himself Emperor and heir to Palpatine? That was his dream every night, it seemed, at times... But one that had proven unattainable.

There was only one thing to do, then. Confirm or deny the truth of Sule's story, and then decide what to do next.

"Yes, my Lord. The one thing I can promise you is that this will be expedited."

Bastion Orbital Defense Command,
G.A.C.C. Golan-III NovaGun Space Defence Station,
Bastion System, Imperial Remnant Capital.

The tension in the room would not have been cut with a knife, vibro or otherwise. A lightsabre might have served... Might. Sule Tienyz, Lord and Imperator of the Galactic Empire, sat in an average chair at a conference table and munched on a bantha kabob. He was currently wondering why he was relaxed enough to do that, and trying to keep himself from taking out a tabac and lighting it up.

Eighteen of the Klingon Guard were with him in the room; another two hundred and ninety in the Defence Platform. Beyond that he did not have a further defensive presence. Enough, perhaps, to escort him to the docking tube that connected the platform to one of the Carracks of his squadron were an attempt to be made upon his life and fail. However, Sule did not think it likely.

If Pellaeon did make an attempt on him, it would likely be done by his fleet, which at the moment seriously outmatched what Sule had brought into the system... And that, of course, would put Martina in danger. The theoretical ruler of two galaxies finished the kabob and washed it down with a drink of cool water, nothing more. At the moment he had nothing to do but worry, and that bothered him, for he was a man of action and he preferred to be doing something.

He had so far endured a variety of medical tests to confirm that he was who he had said he was; those, combined with the other proofs he had furnished, were now no doubt undergoing evaluation, and the only question was waiting while Pellaeon decided on the authenticity, the direction the weight of evidence pointed to, and the action to take.

"Ratok," Sule spoke in a rather soft tone, ignoring the droids in the room - some were probably espionage, and it was odd to see a fair number again after so long in the Milky Way. "I apologize for their insistence of testing some of your squad as well to confirm your race; it should not have had to be done, but here paranoia and mistrust reigns supreme."

"It was nothing, My Emperor," the Klingon rumbled. "Better that it be endured so that victory might be gained in the end. We have all sworn an oath - a few tests will not bother the oath-bounded! They may insult us by them, but it is one we can tolerate, and dispel in battle."

Sule chuckled grimly. "You shall no doubt have the opportunity quite soon, Ratok, if my identity is confirmed... And sooner yet if it is not."

The Klingon laughed in reply; a few of the others chuckled as well. It was an odd mood, indeed, but then Sule had been in riskier situations before in his military career. It was merely odd because this situation was happening in his political career.

Silence reigned for perhaps a few minutes after that outburst of grim merriment, but then after those hours of waiting, the repetitious events of that conference room were finally broken, for someone had arrived. The doors opened, and Pellaeon himself, with several senior officers and a guard, entered. The expression on the face of the Supreme Commander of the Imperial Remnant was tight and pensive as he looked down the table towards Sule, and Sule met his gaze.

No words were exchanged in that moment, but Pellaeon dropped to one knee before Sule, as did his officers, and his guards saluted. "Your Majesty, forgive my most grave impertinence, I beg of you…" a pause of pregnant silence. "And let it be said I am most glad that what I have preserved might be passed on to one ready for the challenge, and beloved by his troops."

Sule was smiling and on his feet in a moment. "Rise, Supreme Commander, and your officers. I would not presume to have an Imperial Citizen kneel before me; and the mode of address for the Emperor shall now be Lord and Imperator. And let me also say that you, Gilad Pellaeon, are one who is most worthy of the post, and most esteemed in the Empire. I only wish I was ready for the task now at hand."

Pellaeon and his officers rose, and he looked back to Sule, regarding the man. "Yes; those words are the truth, Lord and Imperator. This is a task that would stress any one man to the very limit, no matter how well prepared... And none of us were prepared for the invasion, and certainly not for the disaster it would bring. It is a very dark time."

"Indeed it is, yet our situation is not one to despair over; if the fleet and Admiral Kalar-Leben succeed, we will have regained the initiative, and that might be all we need." Sule stared at Pellaeon levelly. "We must see that their chance becomes a reality... Grand Admiral."

"I have thought about the matter, Lord and Imperator, and let me answer you candidly," Pellaeon answered.

"We can assemble the Star Destroyers and many escorts for such an effort, despite the terrible risk that would mean to the Remnant, for we have not been troubled by the Vong; Only Peace Brigaders and the like, minor nuisances, and the usual pirates and riff-raff of chaotic times. A surprise attack on the Remnant while they are gone would mean that it falls, but with that risk considered I could give you nearly the full strength of the Remnant's fleet.

"The problem, Lord and Imperator, is the Moff Council. They have veto power over any such operation, and they of course do not even yet know of your existence, though they are assembled for a meeting on the surface of Bastion this very moment. Indeed, I was to proceed to it after the exercises were complete. I may have recognized you, Lord and Imperator, but I am only half the government of the Imperial Remnant.

"I would suggest that we find a way to deal with them quickly, not just for the sake of the assault on Coruscant, but the simple fact that though my allies on the Council may be willing to accept your title, Lord and Imperator, but majority of the Moff Council will not, and if we give them time to organize their supporters in the government and the military.."

Sule nodded his head once. "If you will allow me to contact the Empress Martina? I will need to discuss the matter with her, and then we should repair to the surface as quickly as possible, Grand Admiral Pellaeon. I do indeed intend to deal with the Moffs quickly. If what you say is correct we can't organize the expedition without hindrance from them, and at the moment hours tick away into days. Anyway... I'd rather not leave an enemy at our backs. Especially a lot like that... I've had my fill of bloody intrigue these bureaucrats can spin up already."

Council of the Moffs,
Bastion, Capital of the Imperial Remnant.

Their eyes were on the entering party in a nervous silence, one that was filled with malice and tension, and straining only to be broken in a fury towards an unknown purpose. The Moffs of the Galactic Empire's Remnant guarded their rights and dignities like feudal lords; and being summoned abruptly from their reposes on this evening offended all, even those whom Pellaeon count as friends. Clearly what was happening, however, was more than simply the Supreme Commander flexing his impotent muscles.

The guards of the Moffs observed the usual guards of Pellaeon's with typical distrust; they were trained for it. But following them was not the Supreme Commander himself. No, rather three men, two army hornsmen of the Imperial Army's band and a liveried servant. The ancient call of the horns that sounded was a piercing, brilliant note, and then the servant delivered his address as it faded away. One of the Moffs was already out of his seat in annoyance; it did not matter.

"I present Sule Tienyz, Lord and Imperator of the Armies and the Fleets of the Empire, Grand Moff of the Milky Way territories, Emperor of the Two Galaxies. His consort, the Empress Martina Tienyz-Davion, Director of Intelligence for the Empire, Empress of the Two Galaxies. And Grand Admiral Gilad Pellaeon, Lord of the Imperial Home Territories. Rise at the entrance of the Imperator. Salute his rank!"

The Klingon Guard cordon filed in, some monitoring the room with explosive-detection devices and other security measures; behind their number, over twenty strong for this occasion, came the Emperor, the Empress and Grand Admiral Pellaeon, unaccompanied further except for a few attendant droids. In a moment the room became quite crowded indeed, with the contending parties and their guards... Never mind how tensed it was.

None hailed the Lord and Imperator, and only those already standing were thus properly positioned when he entered the room; and a resounding silence filled that place at the declaration. Incredulity on some faces; on the others there was nothing but the outward expression of their silence.

"Admiral Pellaeon, what has occurred here?" Moff Saretti asked, and first. He was perhaps Pellaeon's closest ally, and perhaps concern for a friend and confidante drove him more than that of his own safety as he looked on, barely composed, at the martial splendour of the Klingon Guard and the introduction of the unknown man who proclaimed himself Imperator by declaration and the ensigns of his dress.

"Nothing to worry yourself over, at least for my sake, Moff Saretti," Pellaeon replied, and he smiled to his old friend. All around the room tension might run quite high and half the Moffs looked about to explode in shouts at what might be a coup against the power they'd carved for themselves, what Pellaeon had allowed them to carve, honestly, through he had believed his own inability to govern as an absolute ruler.

"As presented," Pellaeon continued, "Lord and Imperator Sule Tienyz has arrived here from... other Imperial Territories. I have recognized the legitimacy of his rule of the Imperial Remnant; conversely, he has seen fit to promote me to the rank of Grand Admiral. Really, your questions should be directed to him."

"Other... Imperial… territories?" Moff Crowal rose slowly, staring at the three. Martina observed her studiously, and almost with a slight look of amusement, but one that was carefully masked in expressions only Sule here knew. For the moment, his wife was simply observing.

"There are no other Imperial Territories that recognize us, nor hold regular contact with us, Supreme Command Pellaeon," Crowal continued. "Unless some drastic change has occurred among the Imperial-Chiss colonial regions.."

"None has," Sule broke in. "Moff Crowal, the principle territories of my domain are extra-galactic, and were indeed added under the command and during the life of Emperor Palpatine. The late Emperor commanded Grand Admiral Thrawn to prepare the conquest of an extensive region of another galaxy; that was successfully done.

"Considering the events discovered lately and various other circumstances in that galaxy, I have been hailed as Lord and Imperator. There is no relevant discussion beyond that fact - the troops of the so-called 'Milky Way' Galaxy fully support my rule, and I am fully confident that the declaration that has already been made to the troops of the Imperial Remnant will gain me their support as well."

There was a considerably more intense silence at that, until Moff Flennic's voice boomed through the room. "You will not have support for your reign, Emperor Sule, without us - not even among the troops! There are those in the ranks who will not respond to the appeal without our command, the proper channels. There will be conditions to be met."

There was a long silence, and Sule looked to Flennic intently. "Perhaps so, Moff Flennic. Perhaps not. Regardless, I am in the middle of a vital military operation. There is an attack on Coruscant underway by my fleet. I have come here to gain reinforcements for it."

"Reinforcements for it!?" Moff Crowal nearly exploded. "We do not even have enough to defend ourselves, even with the latest massive military increases. Emperor Sule, I suggest you consider the position of your subjects before demanding their resources, or you shall lose all that you claim!" Both words being said with rather heavy sarcasm, perhaps unsurprisingly.

"Even assuming you do in fact have that kind of concentration of firepower," Moff Flennic added, "I fail to see how we can add materially to it in such an engagement. However, the fact remains that if your claim is correct and it can be proven, you will need our aide. Especially for an expedition like that. Will you work with us, instead of attempting to be a Supreme Autocrat? That was precisely what doomed Palpatine."

Crowal glared at Flennic with an expression that ought to have been captured and saved somewhere for the pure malice in it that he might moderate and acknowledge Sule; but he patiently ignored it. He was a man who knew an opportunity when he saw one. And this... This was an opportunity.

"I have no desire to claim all the titles or perogatives of Palpatine identically. Principally the titles of Lord and Imperator, as stated," Sule replied. "Those are sufficient for my role and my command. I do think we can work together, Moff Flennic, and the rest of the Moff Council. Perhaps we should arrange a schedule of meetings, and some events to introduce the new state of affairs to the public on Bastion?"

Flennic hid his grin under a careful, slight smile, a polite one. "Certainly, Lord and Imperator. And my apologies for my rudeness. I have built up a private Empire I am reluctant to part with; Furthermore, your arrival was most unusual."

"It is forgiven, Moff Flennic," Sule replied. And with that, he seemed to forgive the other Moffs as well.

The Avenue of Heroes,
Bastion, Capital of the Imperial Remnant.

An Emperor sat in the Imperial Box on that grand mesa, positioned at a great plaza upon it, and the capital of the Remnant was filled with the splendour of the moment, the triumphant celebration of the people. They had feared; now they felt hope. Not because knew any particular facts of Sule or his fleets or territories, but rather because of the mythic promise of an Emperor, that the highest office of the Galactic Empire was again filled.

For this the people of Bastion rejoiced, and they viewed in awe the august presence of Sule and the Empress Martina, the Moffs of the Remnant, and Pellaeon, occupying positions around the Lord and Imperator of the Fleets and the Legions as units of the Remnant's military marched in martial view before the Imperial Box.

But these positions beside the presence of the Imperator were not equal; Flennic, Crowal, and three other Moffs of the council in particular, most vocal in their opposition to Pellaeon, occupied the highest and closest positions to Sule, positions of honour.

Their support was necessary were he to succor Coruscant, and they knew it. But they might yet gain positions of import and delay a mission they thought as folly, which would only further waste ships beyond those that Sule had sent to be lost. Already there were schemes forming; This Marshal had shown the way, and the Milky Way promised conquest and yet civilization, if the Remnant should fall.

The three other Moffs, and Pellaeon, were on a lower level, along with the officials of the planet, and the city. The only guards were the Klingon Guard, for propriety demanded this, that the Moffs acknowledge the Imperator's absolute supremacy at least in public. But they did not fear, for it was in public.... And the troops marching below were theirs, from the sector forces, not Pellaeon's. That made them quite safe.

The troops marched in excellent order, putting on their best show in a long time. The armour was already past; now it was the infantry. Suits of armour polished, stormtroopers marched in lockstep down the Avenue of Heroes to a steady drumroll of their boots; standard infantry followed with sober but proud faces, fixed vibro-bayonets on their blaster rifles gleaming as a brilliant halo in the noon day sun.

But then something was wrong. Moff Flennic saw it first, but he didn't quite understand it. One of the Battalions of the Tenth Inera Legion, from his own sector, was breaking ranks. The phenomenon was quickly spreading, and the sounds could then be heard. Their destination... was clear. Moff Flennic felt himself tense at the prospect of the revolt.

Moff Crowal gave voice to what was happening: "The soldiers! They're rioting!" It was inexact, but it would do.

Sule rose, and watched as the tumult tossed aside the barriers, those weapons suddenly quite real and lethal, approaching and then surrounding the three sides of the base of the Imperial Box with a flurry of shots that brought down the local police with minimal casualties. The Klingon Guard was ready; but they were few.

"No, not a riot, Moff Crowal," Sule replied abruptly, as the soldiers of what were now several Legions reached the base of the Imperial Box and Sule boldly stepped towards the edge.

Martina leaped to her feet. "LOVE! You fool!" The look of worry on her face... So intense, indeed.

Sule turned back to his wife and smiled reassuring. "Not a riot, my wife - A deposition!" And then he turned, stepping to the edge of the Imperial Box, and leaning over. The attention of the Moffs was utterly focused on this drama.

From the voices of the soldiers, the cries could easily be made out:







"Soldiers of the Empire!!" Sule cried out, leaping up on the wide railing and exposing himself to their view - Or fire. "Soldiers of the Empire!! I hear your cries! The Lord and Imperator is with you; Send forth representatives that I might know your demands!!"

There was an ominous pause as the matter was debated in the front ranks, and then a veteran sergeant stepped forward to return Sule's stare with his own, and he did not falter from it. "Lord and Imperator!" The sergeant shouted.

"We all hail you, but know that our own Moffs have lost our faith! We desire to fight the Vong, to defeat the barbarians, to aid the capital of our nation - Give us only the chance, Lord and Imperator! Do not let forked tongues and oiled words deceive you, sire!

"We have seen comrades die in combat against the barbarians, only to have our full measure held back. We demand the blood of those who have sacrificed the blood of our comrades! Give us the Moffs, give them over to our justice for their crimes!!"

A great and approving howl went up from the assembled soldiers, roaring and undulating over the city like a massive wave.

"SOLDIERS!! SOLDIERS!! Lend me your ears!" Sule replied as that great roar died down, and then waited until an unearthly silence had settled down the avenue, and the plaza. "Yes, there are Moffs who have done these things against you, and send your comrades to die without the full measure of the Fleets and the Legions behind them, and connive to deny the succor of Coruscant, but not all do this. Let me spare those who have supported you, and your Commander, and our cause! Do this thing and I shall turn over the others to your justice!"

There was a start from Flennic as he paled and looked to Sule, and then to the three Moffs below in a sort of blind, utter terror. Why were his troops revolting? Why was he being demanded? Why were all the Moffs being demanded? Could Sule perhaps instead plan to kill Pellaeon's supporters to gain their support for the succor of Coruscant? He barely saw Crowal lurch towards Sule, stopped by the ominously lowered blasters of the Klingon Guard. - His mind instead a jumble of desperate, conflicting thoughts.

Sule's appeal was considered by the sergeant, and transferred to the soldiers. Murmuring, minutes passed, and then finally there was a great cry of approval, repeated:


Sule nodded, mainly intended for the sergeant below. "As the loyal soldiers of the Empire request, so their Lord and Imperator grants them!!"

He turned back towards the Imperial Box, and the five Moffs who had been seated closest to him. His eyes met Ratok's. "Cast them to the soldiers, Ratok."

"At once, Lord and Imperator!" Ratok replied, and then barked the order in Klingon to the Guard. The five Moffs were bodily seized by members of the Klingon Guard, and despite their struggles and desperate protestations, and even screams of terror from some, hurled to the soldiers below.

It was not a long drop; They all survived it, and conscious. They fell in among the soldiers, and with a great and terrible roar, the soldiers surged forward, and dozens of vibro-bayonets were at each of the Moffs simultaneously, prodding and thrusting until each of the Moffs had been laid open at least more than five-dozen times and the uniforms of the soldiers, and the pavement below the Imperial Box, were stained red from the deed.

Sule, standing on the rail of the Imperial Box, shouted his triumph, supreme and unchallenged Emperor in two galaxies: "Soldiers of the Empire!! Your request has been granted! Now my command: Coruscant, and triumph!!"

The soldiers hailed him, and when the martial exhortations of what had been a parade, and turned into a bloody ceremony to direct the Remnant to battle, were finished, Sule turned from the plaza at last and walked towards the back of the Imperial Box.

He felt exhausted, but there was a moment for a quiet comment to his wife as they retired into the treasury building behind the Imperial Box. "You acted your part very well, dear."

"Thank you, love. You certainly had the harder part." In a somewhat miffed tone, however, she continued: "Did we really have to pay those legions that much, though?"

"It's considerably less than some of the bonuses handed out here by warlords - And we were getting them to kill their commanders no less. We're going to have to work to curb corruption in the Remnant's military, no doubt. But for the moment I just want to get to Coruscant."

"And so we shall," Martina replied.

Sule chuckled softly. "Touché."

Tsavong Lah's Flagship,
Battleship-analogue Red Talon,
Coruscant System.

Tsavong Lah grappled with a horrible problem inside. His casual dismissal of the death of his 'kinsman' had been one thing. But he still, rightfully, needed to avenge Khalee Lah. The Infidels were before him; they were not the ones that had killed his kinsman, his son, but they would do. Oh yes, they would do. He could close, grapple, rend, tear, annihilate, and avenge his kinsman and his loss and assuage his pain.

But if he did that he might very well die in the process, a cold, vicious, uncaring voice that was reason told him. The commander of the Imperial forces at Bilbringi had been more than just competent. The infidel of the Kuat family named Mystrela had executed a brilliantly simple plan - and most of the Infidels' plans that worked were of that nature - and annihilated a greatly superior force for minor loss.

He was aware of those weapons and technologies that had been used, and so were his subordinates. They would not be surprised again, certainly not after the raid they'd just suffered, and even jammed, as it was now apparent the War Coordinator was, it was not without uses in the defence against FTL missiles and fighter raids alike.

No - His fleet held a great advantage in the defence, in truth, and even as the fighters of the Infidels raced towards him and he realized that he would suffer losses from their attack, his mind had been made up before then. Indeed, it had been made up with a certitude that allowed him to focus on other things, like dealing with the incoming fighters.

He turned to his subordinates. "Regardless of the result of the incoming fighter strike the infidels have send against us, we will stand on the defensive and avoid close action, working to wear them down and work our way in-system. I will only accept an energy-range engagement on a reciprocal heading or if there is a certainty it would allow is to gain the inner position relative to Coruscant of the infidels' fleet - or, of course, if we wear them down enough that I judge the margin sufficient for an attempt at decisive victory."

One of his staff began to protest; Tsavong Lah silenced the man with a slight gesture and a look that could melt the hull of his flagship. "It may be our custom to seek close action and decisive victory from the first onset. But it is not militarily advisable; and at this point we are in a position where possession of the entire Core is at stake."

"If the infidels win, they will have time to regroup under competent leadership. They have not shown it so far, but we cannot take the chance. You have my orders; reinforcements will eventually arrive. We have only to get around them and then defend our ground once more, and the battle is as good as won!

Grand Fleet Flagship,
Executor-class Battlecruiser Conquérant, Coruscant System.

Elise watched the readouts on the flagbridge. From over ten thousand ships fighters had been launched; some of them carried no fighters, but the majority had at least four to six, and most a full squadron... or two or three squadrons. And then there were the ships with six squadrons, several hundred of those, or twelve, or even more than that. In total in meant that over one hundred thousand starfighters had been launched in the first wave, and Elise was keeping some in reserve.

The sheer scale of this battle demanded that detail be ignored by the commanding Admiral - there were more people in her fleet than on some planets, and when it came to that there were things that simply had to be trusted to one's subordinates… many more than one dealt with oneself. Combined with the levels of jamming both forces sought to direct on each other, it was generally a recipe for unwieldy chaos.

Not uncontrollable, however. The fighters were already going in, and here Elise had gained another advantage courtesy of the raid, it appeared. It appeared, since for all she knew the evidence of slow and irregular starfighter launches by the enemy was faked, because even the most powerful and best-placed sensors of the fleet were not going to accurately probe through that cloud of jamming at that range for targets that left their motherships at low power.

Both sides, though, could still manoeuvre in formation, as incredible as the concept sounded. They were still outside of their mutual missile ranges even for the outriders of the two fleets, and manoeuvre might be extensive before they sought action. That however depended on the Vong commander, Elise thought. She was between him and the planet. He would either attack her directly or try to outmanoeuvre her to return to the planet.

Either way she would have her first strike before the range was closed, and if that weakened the Vong fleet, if they were indeed caught prepping their fighters, she would seek to close to energy range, regardless of the Vong's intent. Reinforcements for either side were, in a perfectly brutal evaluation of Sule's chances as well as the status of Vong fleet detachments, an unknown quantity, and she would have to win this battle with the strength of the Grand Fleet as it had arrived, the sooner the better.

"Professor Picard, do you observe the principle question of the matter?" Elise asked.

Jean-Luc stepped up to the Admiral, staring at the vast holographic display in the tank for a moment before he replied. "The central focus is the planet, of course. Both of you want it, and the enemy commander cannot abandon it and the troops he has there. His fleet is the stronger in numbers; you command quality in your heaviest ships. He must either work his way around you, or defeat you."

"And the question is which will he attempt. Of course, it is in the Vong temperament to press an engagement, and I would expect him to do nothing less than uphold the qualities of his race; But depending on the success of this strike we may well make them reconsider." Elise smiled faintly. "I think we shall be very busy the in the coming hours. Professor Picard, Captain Harima, if you will forgive me for being a bad host from this point on."

And with that she turned to a lieutenant who had approached with a flimsy, leaving the two observers to their own thoughts and, of course, observations. The flagbridge of the Conquérant was a bustle of activity, as the jamming from the Vong ships increased and focused on the Imperial sensors and the Fleet likewise went on in retaliation; the strike closed steadily with the enemy, and even from the simple duty of keeping station for ten thousand ships and the tens of thousands of fighters retained for their escort.

The Grand Fleet,
Lead elements of the Imperial Fighter strike,
Coruscant System.

There were in excess of eighty thousand fighters closing with the Yuuzhan Vong fleet; they were now inside of Yuuzhan Vong capital missile range, though as yet the swarm was unengaged. The jamming had increased to the point that they were more or less manoeuvring towards it as a whole as opposed to any particular target; it would be impossible to isolate one through it at this range with their sensors.

The very number of the fighters closing to attack the Yuuzhan Vong beggared description; It was as if every fighter were a lone footman in a ground battle, and those stunning numbers and that singular comparison, even in fighters, for the two contesting fleets, might truly bring home the scope of the engagement being fought over Coruscant.

The capital of Empire was not unfamiliar to such actions in the distant past; but again space was fraught with action and the energies of many galaxies had been assembled in destructive works to, by the bidding of their masters, challenge each other for supremacy over this world of renown and history.

But to these matters there was not time for reflection on any of those fighters; they were the best of the Empire, most of them from the Milky Way, but some veterans who had once seen these stars and returned now to fight and to die. Their minds were on the task, and its challenge was one that had proven insurmountable to starfighter pilots that most would rate better than they on numerous occasions before.

Tsavong Lah, however though he might know of their technological improvements from the defence of Bilbringi, could not implement against them any form of effective defence for his own ships. And so in this the forces of the Empire had their primary chance - technological superiority and the unique systems of the Missile Boats gave them an edge to strike - but knowledge was also the first defence.

Now the leading elements were closing to the point where energy range would soon be entered. The squadrons were jamming, as well, and the Grand Fleet attempted to cover them to a certain degree. But now they were being tracked, the power of the biological ships before them cutting through and trying, perhaps succeeding, to search.

From those ships they were continuing to launch their fighters, organize their squadrons and coordinate a hurried defence. However, the range at which combat would be met was soon approaching and the preparations were far from adequate. The one advantage the Yuuzhan Vong had to compensate was that all of their 'coral skippers' were multipurpose - As soon as a squadron was ready it could be launched to defend the fleet, unlike the Imperial fleet, where the loadouts would be divided between fighters and bombers.

At relativistic velocities the fighters closed with the enemy, and then they reached the moment of onset. On the Yuuzhan Vong ships, organic versions of targeting sensors probed for their foes; but radiation was radiation no matter what produced it, and the same for gravity; it was recognized by the attackers. Magpulse torpedoes lanced out from the Blastboat squadrons as their EM outfits, the most powerful in the attacking forces, tore specifically at the targets provided, and skill was pitted against sheer power, while the Assault Gunboats contributed in numbers to the arsenal of Magpulse torpedoes for the suppression of the defence.

The grutchins that were the principle retaliatory fire at this range came from the escort ring of corvettes - the location of the defending fighters within the intense fields of jamming around the enemy fleet not yet revealed - But the Magpulse torpedoes were primarily homing in on the corvettes as well, having the best locks and chance for a hit and success, not to mention the simple fact that few others in the Vong fleet yet had their targeting sensors painting the Imperial strike.

At this range the small bugs could be decently evaded... But they were homing on a formation of tens of thousands of fighters, not singular craft or a squadron. Even with the Grand Fleet attempting Mystrela's success at largely suckering the grutchins off against her capships at Bilbringi, the grutchins would in passing through that formation of fighters have many targets close at hand and appealing.

Losses were heavy, and at the same time almost trite, and the grutchins sapped the power of fighters and destroyed systems on them. In a sick way the losses that were sustained were barely noticed in the multitude; around one out of a hundred, or somewhat more. Of course, that was just a single defensive layer, and by no means the primary one.

The Magpulse torpedoes, in homing on the corvettes, were drawn into the dovin basals as usual and few got through to the hulls of their targets. But they had been fired in such huge numbers that some invariably did, falling like waves upon those organic ships, homing against their targeting sensors.

When they did, the results for the corvettes were disastrous, for the torpedoes inflicted a charge upon the ships which, though originally designed to disable the weapons of a technological ship, acted more like an oversized taser to a Vong vessel - in some case having the same effect, though not necessarily weapons-specific. The strike continued to fight their way through the grutchins, though with the Magpulse torpedoes largely expended, it was mainly a matter of evasion against the superior magazine capacity of the still-operational Vong corvettes.

The strike was now beginning to pick up the Vong fleet proper through the jamming, and the data was daunting. Perhaps nine hundred capital ships of 1km, 1.6km, and 2km in length roughly, in three classes, and no less than twenty-two leviathans of 8km and 12km in length comprised of the bulk of the force - one would be very hard pressed to adjudge either fleet the greater, though the Imperial ships were generally tougher and their largest of considerably greater length and mass if lesser in number.

But then they were within energy range of the corvettes, and the second layer of the defence was met; As squadrons were detailed to pick off the corvettes which had been disabled outright or had their function impaired by the magpulse torpedoes, the strike - by no means a particularly concentrated body to begin with - began to further break up as individual sections started to pursue targets assigned by the Assault Transports serving as mobile command platforms and EW craft for the strike.

The enemy should have had some response with their fighters by now, and the lack of it was beginning to become disturbing. But the job of this attack was to destroy capital ships and carriers, and they pursued their orders. Certain people in the strike were supposed to worry about what the enemy fighters were doing, and they did, of course.

"Sir, there's an anomalous reading on plot fourteen... Sector Z-eight." There was a pause in the rather quiet, but assured, voice of FCS Wilhelma Carlson. Her commander, Lieutenant Juon Sanara, turned towards her with his full attention as she continued. "It appears to be a diffused energy signature, sir," the young woman concluded.

"Plot fourteen, Sector Z-eight?" Lieutenant Sanara asked with a frown as he turned back to his own readout and brought it up. The belly of the Assault Transport they were on was packed with personnel in addition to sensors and jamming equipment. They were a rather unique part of the Starfighter Corps, technicians and professionals who worked as a team, and in their fourty-six meter long command bird they were looked on quite disparagingly; But they did their job and that was what counted.

What the plot and sector resolved into was a picture of typical Vong jamming; but through it FCS Carlson had seen something and quickly Lieutenant Sanara focused upon it. The possibility was clear and unpleasant, and in a moment another thought occurred to him. "Hancock, scan Plot Two for me, and be quick about it!" And then he tapped on his intercom to General Yavers.

Tsavong Lah had decided that his capital ships could withstand one attack unsupported in exchange for a golden opportunity to wear down the fighters of the Imperial fleet that opposed him in one great slash. Now, as the Imperial starfighters closed under the massed defensive fire of a fleet arrayed to support each other against precisely this sort of attack, and their concussion missiles prepared for lock, space bombs seeming heavy in their tubes, he had completed an elegantly simple trap.

The jamming was incredible at this point, and this close to the Yuuzhan Vong fleet especially so. It was literally possible to - nearly completely - hide tens of thousands of fighters at a goodly distance within that hideous wash of radiation. And so Tsavong Lah had let his fighter commanders take their time, assemble all the coral skippers they could into two groups, and swing them around the fore and aft of his fleet.

Now they were essentially converging to interpose themselves between the Imperial strike and the Imperial fleet, and so they could attack the rear of the Imperial strike, rolling it up as it were as they closed back towards their own fleet. Only a single young sensor tech, born after the Empire's heel had landed on Terra and raised to that life from that world, had ultimately made the difference.

The strike commander chose to press the assault, which was already showing results in capital ships destroyed or damaged; now he could divert fighters to counter the force moving to block him, and he sent an urgent appeal to Fleet Admiral Kalar-Leben for additional fighters, necessary if he was to extricate himself from the situation without heavy losses now that he had chosen not to break off.

Elise considered the appeal in silence, and detached something in the order of ten thousand fighters to aide in extricating the strike, leaving her own fleet hideously thin of fighting screen. But then, her enemy was currently in no position to attack, and decisive aide might preserve more of her fighters for the defence… or the attack.

The battle within the defensive perimeter of the Vong fleet was as brutal as it was massive; but it was primarily a swift affair. The space bombs were launched, and then the concussion missiles were salvoed rapid-fire to take down the dovin basals of the targeted capital ships or carriers, overtaking them and overloading the dovin basals to clear their path, with every artifice of jamming employed in the meantime to overload targeting sensors.

Primarily only Missile Boats were used in these attacks, with the Defenders tasked against fighters - The Assault Gunboats and Blastboats providing countermeasures, and with some daring, strafing - Though this was not wholly the case. One might have a sense of awe at the battle were one to see it from above, but within it suffering reigned and was inflicted upon each other gladly by both parties, no quarter given nor taken, a sign of things to come.

As soon as the great majority of the Missile Boat squadrons and wings had pressed their attacks, the strike began to retire with their missiles almost entirely expended. However, Tsavong Lah's fighters waited for them; the perfection of the trap might have been foiled and they might already be engaged, but the strike would still have to fight its way out.

Those Missile Boats which had not successfully engaged accelerated to the fore under SLAMs with the Tie Defenders to use their heavy concussion missile loads against the coral skippers; and under the cover of the massive seas of radiation that reigned over each fleet, their reinforcement of ten thousand fighters closed to assist.

The battle was however fully joined before their succor could arrive, due to the desire of leaving the massed fire of the fleet as quickly as possible, and despite the lead Missile Boats' magazines of concussion missiles, that contest was brutally in favour of the Vong.

When the fighters from the Grand Fleet's escort arrived to that whirling dogfight of tens of thousands, that massive canvass of death strewed across hundreds of thousands of kilometres of space, the matter was decided in favour of the Empire, but the engagement, such a brief thing considering the vastness of the affair, had cost them heavily in men and starfighters.

Among the losses, totally inconsequential were it not for the ranking officer who had been aboard coordinating the strike, was an Assault Transport that had contained aside from that General, FCS Wilhelma Carlson, FCS David Hancock, and Lieutenant Juon Sanara.

Grand Fleet Flagship,
Executor-class Battlecruiser Conquérant,
Coruscant System.

Over three hundred enemy light ships, around one hundred and eighty enemy medium ships, thirty to thirty-five carriers, and fifty-five to sixty enemy capital ships had been destroyed or disabled to the point of permanent inaction according to the reports. At first consideration it sounded like a very great deal, and something to be proud of. However, Elise took it as a bitter pill.

Though enemy coral skipper losses might be estimated at nearly six thousand, the reports in turn suggested - by no means a firm number - that the Grand Fleet had lost around 16,000 starfighters. That was very nearly one-seventh of her starfighter strength. Against that the enemy had lost considerably less of his starfighters; and only one-eighteenth, perhaps somewhat more, of his capital ships. As for his carrier losses, though likely heavier than the other fields, they were unlikely to have held as many fighters as he had lost, though they would help with disorganization.

Still, that one-eighteenth might be a decisive edge if she closed the range, for her capital ships and escorts were totally untouched, and damage to the Vong fleet was a less certain matter. Because of that she would not chastise herself; Merely remind herself that the opponent she faced was far from merely an aggressive and instinctual barbarian. No… a very sophisticated and cunning one.

With both sides recovering the majority of their fighters to re-arm and refuel them, it was her opportunity to test her capital ships. The Imperial point-defences, certainly the superior of the two, would be free to engage the enemy's missiles entirely while she closed, and it was merely a question of if the enemy could be brought to battle... Assuming they did not accept it. Although in absolute numbers the Vong still held the advantage - Elise suspected she now had a discernable edge in firepower.

"Commander Hallsburg, the fleet will prepare to execute turn by squadron. Lead squadron shall be Seventeenth Cruiser." Elise paused as she ran the calculations through her head; then she stepped over towards the banks along the holo-tank and set the massive computers to the task, projecting an arbitrary point in front of the fleet. "Turn shall be to... Green-eighteen, no pitch. To be executed on my order."

"Transmitting to Seventeenth Cruiser first, Admiral. Turn Green-eighteen, no pitch," Commander Hallsburg repeated, the communications officer interpreting the order to send it among some ten thousand ships. "Execution on signal from Flag."

Elise nodded in affirmation. "That's it, Commander. Transmit it immediately."

"At once, Admiral."

Elise turned back to the Holotank, and was working on another projection for another a moment; a point just before the one she'd projected. Then she turned her attention to the Vong fleet, as it was roughly displayed now in the holotank. It was constantly being updated, and generally for the worse, as new data came in, projections about where ships were and where they might be, the cloud of jamming around the fleet a dimly represented haze.

"Admiral," her flag lieutenant reported. - An interruption, but important. "Starfighter command has completed recovery of our starfighters that need repairs, rearming or refuelling."

"Very well, Lieutenant. Carry my regards to General Hasaem and order him to expedite preparations for the launching of all wings."

"Aye, Admiral."

Seconds ticked away, and Elise could see her two observers in the back of the bridge, watching the moments that might be decisive. Time was not wasted, though. The enemy was now directing an extreme effort to jam them, and combined with the sheer scale of the fleet, confirming and securing communications for the manoeuvre took several minutes, even with computers to help process the replies.

And then Commander Hallsburg was back. "Ma'am, Admiral Levanti, Seventeenth Cruiser, acknowledges orders and precedence. All squadrons and flotillas report readiness for turn."

"Very well, Commander," Elise acknowledged, her eyes then fixed on the readouts, until they reached the second, and closer projection point. Perfect. "Signals for Admiral Levanti and the Seventeenth Cruiser: 'Execute'."

"Aye, Admiral."

The comm lag accounted for, the leading squadron of Allegiance-class Light Cruisers began to turn towards the enemy. Elise was closing the gap. Thirteen minutes later and turn completed, the fleet went to formation flank acceleration.

The distance for missile range was steadily and very rapidly being eaten away; beyond that energy range was just a matter of time. The question was the Vong's response, and that would be answered soon enough.

On every ship of the Grand Fleet, status was brought up from Condition Two: Starfighter Defence to Condition One, General Quarters, and they were prepared for the exchange of missiles with the chance of close action ahead. So the fleets closed.
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Post by The Duchess of Zeon » 2003-02-08 05:15pm

Twelfth Cruiser Squadron Flagship,
Allegiance-class Light Cruiser Cuirass,
Coruscant System.

The Twelfth had been the third of the cruiser squadrons into the turn and they were now seventeen minutes past it; the entire fleet had completed acceleration to formation flank several minutes ago, general quarters had been sounded and stations fully manned, and range was steadily decreasing to the Vong fleet.

As one of five five-ship squadrons of Allegiance-class cruisers in the fleet, it also represented a respectable concentration of firepower within a comparatively small number of hulls - the principle advantage over the larger number of Imperators was that the Allegiances, in addition to boasting three times the firepower, also featured massive banks of multipurpose missile launchers.

Though little more than 600 meters greater in length than an Imperator, the Allegiance-class crammed it all in by sacrificing some speed, all troop capacity (And the prefab base that went with it), and virtually all fighter capacity in favour of armour, shield generators, and weaponry. They still retained easily the same acceleration of the Executor-class Battlecruisers, more than sufficient for their role.

It had been joked by one Imperial of the Milky Way that the Imperator-class was the Galaxy-class of a real navy; If true, the Allegiances were that navy's real liners, from a galaxy where ships like the Executors were generally too scarce to get the title. Bracing the Executors and filling in the van and the trailing elements of the 'Wall' of the Grand Fleet, the Allegiances filled out a formation that would otherwise be made entirely of giants and minnows.

And so it was from the bridge of the Cuirass, that familiar bridge, that Mystrela di Kuat observed the displays and readouts, the increasingly uncertain aspect of all communications and sensors from the powerful enemy jamming. At a certain range they could burn through with sheer brute force, but they hadn't reached it yet.

There was just a horrid tension of waiting as the fleets rushed closer on a steadily converging vector and the officers aboard the ships of the Grand Fleet waited for details to emerge. And then, with surprising abruptness, they did.

"Targets! We have confirmation of targets through jamming, Captain," the sensor officer of the Cuirass reported with a particular gleam in his eyes. "The sensors have punched through the jamming, and we've got hundreds of hits back. Certainty on type and exact bearing is not good, but improving for the latter."

"Constant update of data to weaps," Captain Varis ordered.

"Transfer data to squadron, and forward to the flagship," Mystrela ordered.

As the orders were being carried out: "Data updates coming in from squadron, Admiral."

"Very well; Constant update of plot and command tank. Forward all data to weaps."

"Now three minutes, nineteen seconds from missile range," the navigator rattled off, finally able to say it for sure with the sensor data in hand. "Flank and lead flotillas two minutes thirty-eight seconds from missile range."

"Missiles stand by to engage targets of opportunity as jamming allows," Captain Veris said, his voice directed through the intercom system up to a fire control higher in the conning tower that held the weapons officer and his subordinates. "I want a report on magazine inventory every fifteen minutes once we commence firing."

"Aye, Captain."

The com officer turned to Mystrela. "Admiral, signals from flag; General signal to fleet."

"Go ahead with it," Mystrela replied.

"'All ships engage as range is reached. Targets are capital ships only.'" The com officer finished, then: "A second signal, Admiral, Wall-specific."

Mystrela simply nodded that time.

"'Missile-armed squadrons to attempt to concentrate fire. Engage at discretion to best concentrate fire on enemy wall.'" The com officer finished again. "That's it, Admiral."

"Very well." Vice Admiral di Kuat shifted to look to Captain Veris. "Captain, stand by to engage against capital-targets only. We'll be linking the squadron to our firing data; use laser signallers."

"Understood, Admiral." Captain Veris turned back to the intercom. "Weaps, stand by engage with missiles against capital ships only, repeat capital ships only. Prepare to feed targeting data to the rest of the squadron - laser signaller."

Mystrela remained calm and composed, at least to all who saw her, and utterly collected, waiting now. At least if this worked they could coordinate despite the jamming. If not, well... She'd be missing for five ships instead of just one.

And then the report: "Weapons range."

Mystrela strained in her chair, let her muscles loosen a bit. "Captain Veris, does your weaponry officer have a target?"

"He does, Admiral."

"Then Cuirass will engage the enemy, Captain." A slight turn of her head. "Com, squadron signals: 'Hold fire until Cuirass has successfully scored on enemy; Engagement will proceed with full squadron at that time.'"

In all of the Grand Fleet, missiles were lancing out towards their distant target, and across the void, the enemy's were already coming back.
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In 1966 the Soviets find something on the dark side of the Moon. In 2104 they come back. -- Red Banner / White Star, a nBSG continuation story. Updated to Chapter 4.0 -- 14 January 2013.

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Post by The Duchess of Zeon » 2003-02-08 05:23pm

Chapter the Seventh.

The Grand Fleet,
The Wall of Battle of the Main Body.

With the two fleets converging and exchanging missile fire a rapidly evolving situation had come about where the two Commanders were tested to the utmost limits of their ability to handle monstrous fleets in deadly combat. Waves of missile fire were launched from both fleets, squadrons and flotillas interlinking their salvos and point-defense to try and concentrate on single enemy ships, or protect single enemy ships that were targeted, and the two Commanders directing squadrons in the formation to relieve and support each other as some were particularly hard pressed by the mechanics of chance.

The point-defense of the two fleets resulted in an awesome concentration of energy against the incoming massed salvoes, and for the Wall of Battle of Sule's Empire, which ultimately resolved its self to a neat line at the very heart of the Grand Fleet of three ships long and three high, all Executors, awesome torrents of rapid-fire energy had to be cleared before any missiles reached them. Unfortunately none had so far; Elise would have desired it, for her ships could soak them casually with their point-defense to thin them down first and thereby protect the rest of the Grand Fleet.

Indeed, though those three formations might be at the heart, but Tsavong Lah's ships had a clear path of fire if they had been instructed to take it - though of course one that would channel the defensive fire of supporting squadrons against missiles down a corridor of Hell a few thousand kilometres wide all told -- And likewise to engage with their own hundreds of launchers each, which sent out a salvo of heavy missiles, regular as droid, every fifteen seconds, to conserve ammunition.

Many missiles were spoofed by ECM - even with so many targets, the amount of jamming was simply incredible - and many more destroyed outright. But enough got through that as minutes of the steady engagement past attrition began to tell on the shields of Imperial ships, and occasionally one where the bombardment had been concentrated enough to overwhelm them and caused actual damage, forcing them to retire out of the engaged elements of the fleet - which was quite large enough to cover damaged ships in a distant section of the formation.

Likewise the Vong. Some ships took damage, and some were forced out of formation when their dovin basals were overwhelmed by massed salvoes of Imperial missiles, torpedoes and rockets and their living hulls burnt by the concentrated energy packed within them. However, the literal millions of warheads now exchanged had resulted in what amounted to a piff-poff, a trifling amount of damage done to both sides.

A piff-poff, though, that was still quite lethal for those involved, soldier of the Empire and 'barbarian' alike. The brilliant torches of energy or molten heat lancing through shields and into hulls would cause the most horrific of damage to the flesh of the creatures ill-suited for this task. Armour rent, metal or living rock alike, and live-sustaining compartments opened to space, those who were not mercifully killed in the brief horror of the intensity of that contact would suffer from the vacuum, and suffocate or freeze in a realm of no pressure; one of the worst of fates.

For those spared to live, the casualties would often be a panoply of hell: burns and severed limbs, internal concussion and shattered and crushed frames that offered little hope of survival even with the most advanced medical technology ever known. Or perhaps vacuum damage, resulting in loss of function to the brain, a challenge to stabilize and repair in combat conditions for damaged ships where triage overwhelmed their wards and left the doctors to grimly choose whom to save, whom to leave, and whom to die.

For the Vong, their shapers could in fact often do more for genuine wounds suffered in combat - though they retained scars and cared not for inherited diseases or simple injuries, the wounded in an honourable engagement were another matter - but constraints of time and personnel were equally upon them, and perhaps only their Gods could truly enjoy the suffering that such a brutal combat in the depths of a hostile environment brought about. And energy range was not yet met.

It was now twenty-eight minutes and fourty-one seconds into missile combat between the two tremendous fleets and less than twenty-two ships on both sides had been destroyed, though the number of damaged ships was rather higher. As their respective jamming and point-defense adjusted to each other however, their missile signatures and attack patterns, their missile fire was actually going to get less effective.

Grand Fleet Flagship,
Executor-class Battlecruiser Conquérant,
Coruscant System.

Fleet Admiral Elise Kalar-Leben watched the holo-plot as the data streamed in from the missile combat and was constantly updated; then she turned her head slightly to observe the data readouts on missile expenditure from the squadrons and flotillas, which were being reported on a second and smaller holo-projector over to the side of the flag bridge in a scrolling display, updated as soon as new data came in, for her staff. They were within projected limits.

She stepped over to the data consoles surrounding the main holo-plot and brought up the data which she didn't need. Essentially, this engagement was monstrously ineffective - no surprise, as missiles had basically been useless in a large ship-to-ship engagement like this in the home galaxy for millennia. It was also the reason why she had feared going ahead with the rushed plan to attack Coruscant from Bilbringi without proper advanced preparations.

Currently both the Vong and the Imperial fleet were pounding each other equally. But the Vong could sustain this sort of engagement longer, especially with missiles, and their ships had more 'tubes. If the Imperial fleet ran out of missiles it would have to break off, or else the Vong could stay out of range and gradually whittle them down. Elise could reply with fighter strikes - oh yes, she could have - at first! But her fighter numbers had likewise been worn down sufficiently to make that tactic questionable against the Vong's own fighter strength.

So now the matter came down to forcing decisive action at energy range, or of course reinforcements arriving, which she could not count on. They were on a converging course at the moment for energy range, but Elise was now quite certain the enemy would break off; she had no intent of letting him through to Coruscant and he would not be able to make an end-run, not with a fleet that ponderous.

Elise stepped back, her thoughts to herself. When the Vong fleet began to disengage from the converging course, either to open the range entirely or to maintain the missile contest and deplete the Grand Fleet's missile reserves, she would have an opportunity...

"Commander Hallsburg, the fleet is to stand by to execute maneuver Battle-Skid, general fleet turn. Green Seventy, pitch not to exceed negative-six degrees. When complete all squadron and flotillas commanders must have their commands ready for maximum acceleration. I will signal when to initiate. Transmit those instructions, please."

The exchange on the flagbridge was not interrupted, for it was the business of War, but Elise knew that what she had just ordered was no casual thing and her staff and the crew on the flagbridge knew it. The maneuver was incredibly complex even by squadron, and to pull it off in a general fleet turn would require an elegant dance of ship handling and coordination. But Admiral Kalar-Leben was confident of her professionals; she was confident that they could bring her a decisive engagement.

"Aye, Admiral," Commander Hallsburg replied. "I've got it down. Transmitting immediately." He started to repeat the message, but Elise simply stepped towards him to glance briefly at it and smiled slightly. "Just go ahead. I've gotten to trust you in taking down my words, no matter the import or the regs."

She left her communications officer slightly flustered as she stepped back, to find one of the mess-techs waiting with a handleless mug of coffee, a ridiculous bit of civility in the middle of war. If navy coffee - decidedly an improvement over kaff - could be called civil.

She was briefly engrossed between that and studying again the plot, the range between her fleet and that of the Vong, along with a request from one of the Squadron commanders, and the detailing of several squadrons to different places in the formation , both of the missile-defense and in careful and quiet preparation, before she noticed Professor Picard silently standing close and observing, and the New Republic's observer a bit further back.

"You're probably a bit curious at this moment. Fair enough. I brought you along, after all," Elise began. At that moment the massive Executor-class ship actually shuddered for the first time under a double-impact, which despite this did not penetrate the shields. She ignored it and continued; there would be many more if she brought her goal to pass.

Picard inclined his head slightly. "I was just trying to get a better view of the holo-plot, Admiral.."

"Nonsense!" Elise laughed lightly to break the tension of the moment. "We have little to worry about besides; and..." She looked to the plot again. "I think I have a moment. Nelson, you know, at the battle where your ancestor gained his honour in defeat, merely strolled around and spun a yarn with his flag captain after his ships were committed to battle. I am busier than that, but not by much..." She smiled.

"You see, the manoeuvre is quite a delicate one, and there my crews will get to awe you, Captain. We shall cut our power for the minimum possible time - and timing is everything - Swing our ships onto the desired bow-heading, and then re-engage the engines to maximum thrust. This must be done with perfect coordination despite the heavy jamming, and in a massive fleet where the possibility of collision exists.

"If we pull it off within the minimum amount of time and without harming our own formation, we can bring the enemy to battle by abruptly changing the heading of the entire fleet from wall-ahead to wall-abreast… And clearing our forward arcs, which are very good on KDY-designs for maximum energy weapons fire. That shall give the Vong something to think about when we sweep across to them in mere moments; the main risk is that they outpace us. But if we catch them at the right moment - such as when they are breaking off from engaging us at missile range - an abrupt course reversal to capitalise on that possibility will be hard for them accomplish."

Elise turned back to the holo-plot. "It's quite simple really; it just relies on the skill of my crews, and I have the utmost faith in that."

Professor Picard simply nodded once and stepped back. He did not presume to say a word when the decision of the battle might hang on what happened there; it seemed too... trite… to do so, no matter what he said.

Elise's eyes were now intent on the plot, and her order for the next redistribution of squadrons was clipped. It had to be coming soon. That Vong Admiral out there didn't seriously think he could get around her, or have the upper hand against her in an energy engagement, did he? He'd suffered too many losses to his heavy ships in the initial raid and fighter attack for that.

Steadily the seconds ticked down as the fleets closed, and then the data came back in.

"They're breaking off, Admiral. The lead elements of the Vong fleet are definitely turning - And it is radical enough that I can't imagine it anything else. Probably at least fourty degrees." The plot data was already updating.

"Commander Hallsburg," Elise said, her eyes not moving from the plot. "Fleet Signals: Initiate Battle-Skid Seventy."

"Aye, Admiral. Fleet Signals: Battle-Skid Seventy. Transmitting immediately."

The Grand Fleet,
The Wall of Battle of the Main Body.

How was it coordinated? How could it be done? The manoeuvre was an incredible thing, over ten thousand ships shutting down their main engines and swinging to face the enemy. And it caused problems, because indeed it was not fully coordinated in that hell of jamming. The formation became ragged, but it was loose enough in the first place that, stunningly, there had only been seven collisions when the total was tallied, and though ragged the formation did not disintegrate.

Elise could do such a thing with the Grand Fleet precisely because her Admirals and Captains were such veterans, and that she could rely on them, even with an order going out across the waves of jamming and being initiated at different times in different parts of the fleet, to use their initiative to maintain order, avoid collision and dress 'ranks', if one would. To look at a plot of the Grand Fleet after it had completed the manoeuvre was to see the Grand Fleet holding formation and ready to light the massed engine banks of ten thousand ships and close with the enemy.

The order came through in an instant, and the Imperial Starfleet leapt to action, ion engines igniting in steady and rapid maximum acceleration to thrust those great hulls towards their targets. The Vong were still in the process of turning away from the Grand Fleet when it began to accelerate towards them, squadrons and flotillas taking the time to reorganize further and prepare for the head-on engagement, as the bad angle for the missile fire caused it to slack off now.

The Vong were perhaps in a predicament; but they still had an asset recently unused and now again ready, and it had been waiting for a moment like this to be employed once more. They started rapidly launching their fighters. Elise ordered the mass launch of the Grand Fleet's in reply, and small crafts once again filled the void around the two contending forces, innumerable hordes set upon each other’s destruction.

Then the Grand Fleet, accelerating at thousands of Gs and overtaking the Vong, who were in the process of laboriously turning away, a manoeuvre which limited their gravitic acceleration and was naturally complicated by the size of their fleet, finally reached energy range. It had been fifty-one minutes and seventeen seconds since the first missiles had been fired.

The fleets had manoeuvred and avoided this moment, tagging each other and pounding each other with missiles rather than close, the Imperials wanting the Vong fleet within the range of their heavy guns, and the Vong strangely denying the offer of what had long been in turn avoided by their enemies in this invasion. So the deadly courtship had continued on the airless void over Coruscant.

Téméraire had the honour of consummating it with the first volley of multi-gigaton turbolaser shots, a massive salvo that was followed by others, countless others, as their full forward arcs engaged on the enemy that was in the process of turning away from them. As the recoil was absorbed into the hulls of the pursuing ships, the turbolasers recharged and fired again.

It was maximum range against a series of targets pumping out a huge amount of jamming; so most of these hundreds of thousands of heavy turbolaser shots were flak bursts at first, exploding around ships in awesome solar detonations of plasma that literally engulfed the Vong ships in energy when sufficient bursts had caught them, portions seeping between their dovin basals, even if it was not of sufficient concentrations to be heavily damaging.

But the very rapidity of fire and the number of shots in salvo after salvo, never mind the lighter long-range guns now weighing in, added to the furor of the bombardment. And against this the Vong were positioned to reply in an aft-starboard arc that was quite poor! The Grand Fleet could never ask for a better chance, and the energy that leapt between the two contesting enemies could not even be measured in teratons.

However, the Vong fighters were now coming in, and they had a clear advantage. Tsavong Lah, for that matter, was not one to put his trust in reinforcements either...

Twelfth Cruiser Squadron Flagship,
Allegiance-class Light Cruiser Cuirass,
Coruscant System.

Within around two minutes of the initial fighter clash, thousands of starfighters on both sides had been destroyed. The casualties were sickening, but the Vong were trying to break through the Imperial starfighter screen with unusual intensity, and were sacrificing themselves in incredibly numbers to bat it aside, or simply chew a hole through it.

They had succeeded. Now the coral skippers were hurtling themselves into the point defence of the Grand Fleet by the literal tens of thousands, as tens of thousands of more continued to engage and hold the fighters they had swept aside. Imperial starfighters held in reserve engaged those now through in close battle inside the fleet, but they were badly outnumbered. Of course, they had the fleet point-defence to help them.

Mystrela was not terribly worried about fighters. Her main goal was in pounding a lagging 1.6km Vong cruiser that it looked fairly like her squadron was tearing to shreds. They had finally gotten a fix on it - it looked like the ship had taken missile damage earlier - and now in less than a minute the combined fire of the Twelfth Cruiser had reduced their target virtually to a hulk. Unsurprising; it was remarkably unsporting for a squadron of Allegiances to gang up on a single damaged ship the same size as an ISD, but it had been the largest ship their targeting sensors had discerned enough for firm locks so far.

Then their target abruptly blew up, and the computer obediently switched that - computerised - display off.

"Squadron to resume blanket salvoes on flak settings until we can find another capital target we can engage," Mystrela ordered. It would not be much longer, however, until they did find such a target.

In truth they were at a closer range than that at which they had discovered targets before - but that was for sufficient accuracy to engage with missiles that had their own onboard tracking sensors for terminal homing. And the Vong jamming - like their own - had improved as it got a read on their sensors. Conversely, ECCM would probably allow them to burn through a bit more easily if the battle continued for that long, and eventually equilibrium would be reached.

The Vong fighters closing were just like all the rest; coral skippers like a few the squadron had blasted apart moments before. Some of these, however, got through. Nobody on the bridge of the Cuirass noticed them, as they raced in against their target, except the coordinators for squadron defence. Certainly those on the Jodheitu -- named after a great Chandrilian sea-monster of lore -- saw them.

Several were destroyed, but the rest got closer and closer. Too close. In a concussive series of impacts, seven coral skippers slammed into the shields of the Jodheitu. The ship vanished in the brilliance of the explosions, the sudden surprise of the rest of the squadron, and for a tense moment was gone, and then reappeared unharmed and casting away the energetic debris of the impacts, but her shield strength noticeably depleted. The coral skippers had been equipped for precisely such a mission with the munitions to make it felt.

Mystrela was all ice. "Report to Fleet Flag that the enemy appears to be using suicide tactics as a conventional part of the engagement as opposed to the last resort. And get me some data on the Jodheitu's shield strength, then forward it to Fleet Flag. They might be able to figure out the strength of what those 'skippers are carrying.

"Continue to engage; Our first target are the enemy capital ships. Maintain extra vigilance against those coral skippers, however."

"Admiral, there's another formation of them coming in, and for the Cuirass!"

It was going to be a long battle.

Grand Fleet Flagship,
Executor-class Battlecruiser Conquérant,
Coruscant System.

"We will continue to press the assault with vigour, Admiral Felliet," Elise stated with the steel virtually drawn and hissing in the air through her voice. "The projected losses from the kamikazes are affordable if we can crack his fleet - even much worse than that, to bring us victory. We must close; we have them at the best of disadvantages now and I will not abandon it."

"And if we continue to engage with the enemy suicide attacks distracting us and the enemy fleet on its current, he will be able to outmanoeuvre us in-system, Admiral. Respectfully, if we do not break off now and manoeuvre to take up a blocking position, he will gain the inner system, and Coruscant," Caled Felliet, commander of the First Battlecruiser Division and flying his flag from the Despot, replied, quite unbowed.

"I will not allow my fleet to take any sort of losses without inflicting them upon the enemy in reply," Elise replied in cold and determined fury. "And we are quite able to prevent their gaining the inner system. You have your orders, Admiral. Extreme vigour!"

"Understood, Admiral," Felliet replied, saluting on the hologram and cutting the transmitting at her nod as his ship trembled slightly with a kamikaze hit, irrelevant against her shields. She could understand his private fury, for the decision was mad. What she wanted to do to make it reasonable was even pure lunacy.

Because of their vectors, the Vong fleet was now pulling away from them to starboard, even as the Grand Fleet overtook them in such a fashion as to - if Elise allowed her ships to spread their roughly wall-abreast formation - rake them very well from astern, perhaps one of the most desired forms of attack an Admiral could ever dream of.

But the Vong Admiral was clearly going to allow just that to happen, that he could begin to complete a wide arc to starboard and thereby gain the inner system from Elise. Thus the contest would be turned into a simple matter of his defending Coruscant from her attacks with his superior number of missile tubes and magazine capacity, along with reinforcements from the ships that were currently separated from him and trapped in system, in sufficiently small numbers as to prevent a coordinated attack by them while the main body was engaged with the Grand Fleet.

Combined with the casualties, and more particularly damage, the kamikaze attacks were beginning to inflict on her fleet when combined with the Vong energy weaponry, she would never punch through that reinforced defence -- and perhaps not even if Sule arrived with reinforcements - if the Vong Admiral succeeded in gaining the Inner System. That damage was at the moment one-sided, though with the range now closed to the point the Imperials could target individual ships it was starting to change. Unfortunately they would - it appeared - not be there for long enough to make up the difference.

There was however one possibility that would allow her both to cut the Vong off from the inner system and close for continued engagement at energy range. If the Grand Fleet maintained wall-abreast and held it until roughly in-line with the stern quarter of the Vong fleet, it would then be possible to pull another Battle-Skid, this time by not less than ninety-five degrees.

If they did that, they would be firing straight down the tails of the Vong as they turned, and easily able to interdict them as they completed that turn and keep inside of them. However, the Grand Fleet had suffered damage and losses since the first Battle-Skid, and this one would be even more radical, and under enemy energy, as opposed to missile, fire.

Well, it would just have to be done, because the alternative was the enemy gaining yet another advantage over her. Even if she broke off it could likely be a decisive one, at least if Sule did not show up. Despite her best efforts, they had turned the first strike to their advantage, allowing him to use his 'excess' of multipurpose fighters as kamikazes without compromising his fleet defense. Only a Vong could think like that! But it was working.

They were nearly to the point where she would have to order the fleet to break off if she chose a safe route. There were a great many variables in the successful execution of the manoeuvre; but the matter would have to be put to chance. Battles of this magnitude, even in age where a hand computer could hold the knowledge of a galaxy, still came down to the instinct of a commander and the motivation of the troops under her command. Thus the human factor had never and never would leave war; Clausewitz's friction was embraced at that moment and the Grand Fleet passed the point of no return without a word from its commander.

Tsavong Lah's Flagship,
Battleship-analogue Red Talon,
Coruscant System.

"That's rather risky of them," Warmaster Tsavong Lah observed. "But I have to admire the courage to undertake it in an infidel." Certainly, however, his own efforts had not gone unrewarded. His fleet had suffered losses and was still suffering losses, more severe in fact, but his suicide attacks by the massed fighters of the fleet were reducing enemy numbers with… sufficient dispatch.

And now, unless the infidels managed to tear a rather large chunk out of his force - unlikely at best - the fact that they had just given up the advantage of the inner system to try had pretty much doomed their effort to failure. But 'unlikely' was an uncertainty that loomed large, as it only should in War.

As the two forces now began to pull away, the Imperial fleet behind him was going to still have their best shot yet at the trailing elements of his fleet - at their sterns to be precise - for their full broadsides. The question was how it would manoeuvre to take advantage of that; he couldn't ignore the possibility of their trying to actually cut through part of the Yuuzhan Vong formation.

Then his eyes narrowed slightly. The infidels were not redeploying as would be appropriate to take maximum advantage of their position to rake his trailing elements. Only an idiot would not; the commander of that fleet was not an idiot. There was another reason, then.

He found it in a moment of considering the plots, a sharp and honed mind for these manoeuvres fathoming exactly what was intended. There was also a moment of pure and unadulterated envy when he realized even his own fleet, with more manoeuvrable ships, could not accomplish the same manoeuvre under the same conditions.

He had remembered seeing it the first time - how neatly accomplished, with minimal collisions, in such short order, to bring about this current engagement! The infidels were always good starfighter pilots; these ones, however, turned the actions of a capital ship into their own victory dance, almost beautiful to watch on the plots. What they were so incredibly arrogant as to think to accomplish now almost stunned him with its audacity, but Tsavong Lah was not inattentive to his duties, nor did he despair the matter.

The Vong fleet under his command could not do that; not a mass formation of this size at any rate. It could, however, do something sufficient for his purposes, and that was all he needed, even if it lacked beauty, wasn't it?

"General Fleet Orders: Commence engine shutdown and re-orientation by squadron, reverse order. The new bow orientation should be a core-heading with Coruscant's gravitation field. Stand by for maximum accel as soon as the manoeuvre is complete."

Tsavong Lah smiled as he observed the plots on his bridge. Oh yes; Vengeance would still be his, and the coldest kind possible. Simply by denying the enemy their chance and prolonging the game.


The Grand Fleet,
The Wall of Battle of the Main Body.

The Grand Fleet re-oriented by an awesome ninety-five degrees, and incredibly the number of collisions increased only by four to eleven in the second evolution of the Battle-Skid. Most of the ships that collided were not heavily damaged; some with badly battered shields were, however, and one destroyed outright, a Victory-class Destroyer. But the formation was still intact; the fleet had pulled off that incredible evolution again, and those ten thousand odd Imperial warships faced their enemy, and faced slightly to starboard to begin their run interpose themselves themselves between Coruscant and the Vong.

But the Vong were no longer completing their turn, tight or leisurely. They were instead initiating their own form of Battle Skid. By the squadron it was far slower, but they had in fact started first, and there was barely even foreknowledge of it for Elise with the massive amount of jamming the sensors had to process data through.

The forward arcs of the Grand Fleet were again cleared for action against the Yuuzhan Vong, but they faced the firm broadsides of their enemy, and now the full fury of an energy-range engagement with both sides close enough to accurately target each other was obtained.

What had until then been an indecisive and relatively light exchange in terms of lives lost, all things said, quickly turned into a most bloody affair. At the center of the two fleets, nine Executors exchanged fire with the Battleship-analogues of the Vong fleet, supported by the Allegiances. As soon as they had the range they poured on the aimed fire as fast as they could, like god-killing thunderbolts that ripped across the night's sky. Compared to that awesome torrent, the rest of the battle from destroyers downwards - nevermind mere fighters, even kamikazes - appeared to be a mere trifle in the void.

Teratons upon teratons of energy were exchanged every second in a crescendo of salvoes that seemed to rend open the heavens just as it rent open the hulls of warships caught by the massed fire of multiple squadrons, or ships unfortunate enough to be caught in the waves of energy being exchanged by the titans at the centre of each fleet as the amounts of energy being released only added to the problems caused by the jamming that filled the field of battle.

In the centre, serenely, the two Walls closed, one heading inward and the other rushing towards it, their shields still holding up under the strain as minutes of the incredible pounding passed. This sort of combat had not recently been equaled; at First Coruscant the New Republic had preferred their capital ships as support to their starfighters and avoided the heavies of the Yuuzhan Vong. But then they had known they were going to lose. Even if their Admirals were uncertain, the crews of the Imperial ships that went into that torrent simply knew they were going to win.

Against that kind of certitude and utter faith and loyalty in their leaders - for they had brought them victory and conquest before, that was the ultimate test, and now they marched for a noble cause and purpose, an almost holy crusade - was matched the pure and brutal fanaticism of the Vong. That distilled spirit to the two sides was perhaps not entirely different; the Vong warrior essence had been matched, and millions upon millions of sailors of the Imperial Starfleet flung themselves into the torrent without hesitation, determined to do anything, even the impossible, because they thought it wasn't impossible for them.

But that warrior essence had not been overwhelmed; and the fanatic slaughter between those two sides was going to have to end at some point. Elise was gaining the upper hand by the weight of Imperial fire, as her gunners tore into the enemy with determined skill, even as dozens of her own ships were pounded out of existence, but she was closing rapidly with the enemy and did not want to turn this into a melee.

She never would, anyway, because Tsavong Lah was rapidly once again leaving her fleet behind, heading towards Coruscant. She was going to have to catch up, or be outmaneuvered. And so the Grand Fleet started to turn to starboard, and the worst and most furious of the engagement was over for now, leaving hundreds of plasma clouds and hulks behind to mark a ship or the passing of one - but it was still ongoing!

Now the two fleets were parallel, with the Grand Fleet once again trailing, and the exchange of fire was a classic broadside-to-broadside duel at energy range; but that did not last for long. Before Elise could use her greater fleet speed to make up the gap, Tsavong Lah used his superior manoeuvrability to turn to starboard and ordered emergency speed coaxed from his ships, which would essentially bring his fleet about onto a reciprocal bearing to the one that the entire engagement had begun on, and trying to cut the Grand Fleet off and decisively gain the inner system.

Grand Fleet Flagship,
Executor-class Battlecruiser Conquérant,
Coruscant System.

Most of the fleet had suffered an assortment of damage by now, and stores were badly depleted by the incredible combat. The main exception was the - except for shield strength - the virtually untouched Executors, which could go on fighting for a lot longer yet. Of course, the rest of the fleet was far from out of it, but a chance to rest and refit might be nice.

The Vong, quite the contrary from providing that, were once again going for the inner system. And with the fleet in that condition Elise could not interpose in time. Well, she could not interpose the fleet; though she hated to break order, they had savaged each other so much already that things were getting to ragged as it was for another of those marvellous turns.

Elise brought the commanders of the three Executor-class divisions up on holograph personally; multiple communications in realtime with her commanders in a fleet this size was rather rare.

"We're going to interpose against them," she said simply. "You all know why, I should think. We can keep them to the outside long enough for the rest of the fleet to come up and drive them off. Other than that.. Inflict maximum damage upon the enemy. Now let's get to it."

Caled nodded respectfully; since the last engagement that opinion, at least, had changed. "We'll keep them out, Admiral. You just worry about bringing up the rest of the fleet to support us, If I may, Admiral" he said, speaking for the Executor Admirals as their seniormost, and saluted in an extra gesture, his expression almost light.

Elise smiled and dipped her head slightly. "Caled, I would remind you that my flagship is one of the vessels we speak of. There's a time to command and one to lead. So, we'd better hurry, gentlemen."

The nine Executor-class Battlecruisers surged ahead of the Grand Fleet at Elise Kalar-Leben's command, their drives intact and churning out enough ions to fry the atmosphere off a planet, as they raced ahead in good order, nine ships against a fleet that based on its beginning numbers still had around ten thousand in it, even when the Grand Fleet was being steadily cut down towards nine thousand. But of course the Vong had started with rather more ships..

The Vong had managed a sufficiently wide lead to make their turn ahead of the Grand Fleet; Now at Elise's order the Grand Fleet was turning inwards of them, in a manoeuvre that would have conceded to them the inner system, were it not for her nine Executors racing forwards to interpose and hold the line. Adequate fighter cover was detailed to defend against kamikazes, of course. That was it for escorts, however.

It seemed only moments before the plot swelled with enemy targets as the friendlies receded. But these were the nine most powerful warships in the galaxy, and there was almost a sensuous pleasure in the supine arrogance of daring a fleet of ten thousand with a squadron of less than ten. Elise smiled - Well, inside at any rate. She shouldn't let such things get to her. What they really had to do was hold out for a few brief minutes, and the full strength of the Vong was not going to be able to deploy against them.

"Ma'am, Admiral Grise reports that the squadron's broadside can bear upon the lead elements of the enemy."

Commander of the Second Division and in theory in the chain of command between her and her flag captain; if they weren't in the same tight formation with laser-signallers for when the jamming got heavy it would make things a bit awkward. His message informed her of what was likewise informed to her in the most dramatic fashion. Enemy fire which had been slacking to a pittance was increasing noticeably and rapidly, the deck again beginning to rock faintly, but steadily, under her feet.

"Executor Division Signals: Commence upon the enemy."

The main broadside batteries of the Conquérant and her eight sisters started to pound and pound at the incoming ships with a fury that had been unequalled even minutes before. The safeties and computer controls on the guns were carelessly ignored. The only thing that mattered was rate of fire. The massed salvoes of the nine ships devastated the light vessels of the lead Vong formations; but they were already evading, though some yet fell to Elise's fighters, for Tsavong Lah did not have enough coral skippers in position to sufficiently harry the Executors.

The nine great warships and the little specks that aided them settled into their final positions and then swung bows-on to the enemy to bring their full forward batteries to bear, the rate of fire not slacking for a moment. The heavy warships of the Vong were coming to engage them bows-on as well, and it was now clear that the enemy planned to simply swarm over them and accept the casualties in so doing.

But behind them the fleet was now manoeuvring to block the Yuuzhan Vong, and everything that counted was speed. They had but to slow down the enemy, and nine Executors made a roadblock of impressive size. The Executors were quickly swarmed over, true - and in so doing Elise was reduced to the commander of nine ships as the jamming overwhelmed the Conquérant's coms - but in a moment they simply had targets all around them, and the first close-range action of the battle took place as the Yuuzhan Vong tried to swarm the block of nine Executors holding close formation and slowly manoeuvring to maximum effect inside the enemy fleet.

It was ridiculous; but then despite hours of vicious fighting less than one tenth of the fleets on either side had been destroyed or crippled. As long as fleets held formation they generally did not rout nor suffer heavy casualties, even at energy range, and that block of Executors made a frightfully effective weapon inside a fleet where the Vong had to take care not to damage their own ships... though Tsavong Lah soon indicated a disinterest in that; and those nine ships were having their shields depleted badly.

All the while, Elise stood on her flagbridge, virtually silent and watching the plot as they slowed down the Vong by their manoeuvres. No; they couldn't ignore that kind of presence first in their path, and now in their midst. It had indeed been faster than simply going around the squadron, but not by much. Now however the Executors were having their shields sufficiently depleted that they were having to transfer weapons energy to shields, and Battleship-analogues had manoeuvred back around to engage the Executors on the walls of the formation one - or two - on one at a range of but a few dozen kilometres.

There was little chance of more than a long stalemate; and the casualties to the Vong in fact were low. But as the massive exchange of energy - now reduced for protection by one side - continued without abating, all eyes were on the evolutions of the main body: It had indeed completed effectively crossing the T of the Yuuzhan Vong formation; unfortunately the range was too great to capitalize on that with energy weapons, and the Executors were lacking. Now it could make the turn and complete gaining the inner system once more from the Vong.

And it did, but in the wrong direction. Elise was almost stunned though she did not show her shock. Though the jamming had prevented her outside contact, she had assumed the logical manoeuvre by the highest ranking officer in the fleet currently in contact, a Vice Admiral Treici on one of the Allegiances; instead he had turned not to starboard but rather port, which was going to slam the two fleets into a melee.

A faint smile this time truly graced her lips. Of course; out of contact with her, and looking in Treici could only presume the squadron in serious trouble. In truth, she had to admit, he was not far from wrong. Well, they'd shortly see if a truly general action would resolve the matter.

The Conquérant shuddered massively under her feet, like a stricken beast, and she had to grab the holo-plot's ring of data consoles to avoid being thrown to the deck.

"Admiral! It's the Terrible! Her shields have collapsed and her port engine ruptured - It looks like the mine rails detonated as well! We were hit by the debris from the detonation!"

Elise turned to the side-view where a holo could show the detailed damage of the Terrible. Then she simply ignored it to look out when of the starboard forward windows of the flagbridge and the expanding cloud of plasma there that wreathed the kilometres-distant object, the stricken sister of the Conquérant.

Conquérant was at the very heart of the nine-ship formation, surrounded by the other eight and her broadsides protected, and had her shields still at nearly 30%; none of the other ships had shields higher than 10%, and now Terrible was being pounded by three Battleship-analogues and her shields were down.

"The formation can hold if Conquérant alone leaves position; Signal Grise that we shall do so at my authority. Tell Captain Dao that we shall be going to aide the Terrible at close quarters, as his judgement permits."

"Admiral, shouldn't we be attempting a breakout now...?" Her Chief of Staff began.

"Terrible no longer has the speed," Elise replied. "We shall have to trust in the Fleet, which if the plots are correct, has already met the enemy at melee range."

Elise started down to the bridge proper of the Conquérant, motioning for her two observers to follow; for at the moment she truly was useless. "Let us go see, Professor Picard, if we can bring all nine out intact - for I think we can, and I'd rather have a more personal vantage point to see it happen."

"My pleasure, Admiral Kalar-Leben; I should like to see Conquérant's bridge again," Picard replied. He had, after all, led a full life; and his ancestors had been far easier with death, perhaps, than even that in such circumstances than this. As for the battle: It was an interesting thing to see develop, but more so the emotions of those he could watch, an old man sadly at peace with the death being watched around him for a holy cause, but mustering an inner strength that came with seeing to much of it for the light and polite conversation of the business that dealt it.

Conquérant manoeuvred towards Terrible and engaged one of the Battleship-analogues at point blank range, briefly cutting her shields nearly to nothing to bring her energy batteries to full power and adding to them salvoes of missiles, driving the enemy away in an intense and vicious barrage that actually burned out seven heavy turbolaser barrels on the Conquérant before she settled down just hundreds of metres away from the scarred and crippled terrible and re-established her shields to maximum strength, angled and redistributed around the other ship.

Tsavong Lah's Flagship,
Battleship-analogue Red Talon,
Coruscant System.

Tsavong Lah considered the matter carefully as the Imperials slammed into the port of his fleet on a reciprocal bearing and closing. His formation would start to disintegrate in a matter of seconds, considering the Executors still holding out inside of it, so he was considering swiftly.

No, a melee was not desirable. It would put everything to chance, and he still wanted the chance to gain the enter system by stratagem. Destroying the Executors would be a shallow price if it resulted in his entire fleet being annihilated in a melee - The form of combat where such a decisive action was most likely. He offered a silent salute to his enemies, and ordered his fleet to disengage and retire outside of missile range.

The Grand Fleet,
The Wall of Battle of the Main Body.

The Grand Fleet was reformed, and comfortably between Coruscant and the Yuuzhan Vong once more. After hours of heavy combat, both sides were resting, regrouping, and repairing for an inevitable second round; though the intensity of that after the proof of a lack of decisiveness here would be open for question.

The Vong had finally retired, and left the Grand Fleet in command of the field, and the Executors intact to rejoin the main body, if the majority of them with their shields battered down in most places and hull damage of some variety. Then again, the Vong were not going to find much food for their ships in the long-ago-mined outer system of for the repairs of their ships, either.

On the hand, the sides had been word down to about even numbers. The losses for the Vong, crippled or destroyed, were estimated at 1,450 vis-a-vis around 800 for the Imperials (Vong losses counting those in the first starfighter engagement), and starfighters were now estimated to be about even, though the starfighters had taken so many losses - though moderate in terms of total numbers - that the number of survivors for even the Grand Fleet was probably still an estimate.

However, with both Walls slowed, but the Imperials having suffered additional damages - in one case quite severe - to their best ships, the real question of the superior force was in question. The only thing to do for the Imperials was work like dogs to make repairs and await the Vong's next move. Once he was worn down enough Elise would counterattack, surely...

But in truth Elise was now pinning that hope of victory for an exhausted and battered force on the arrival of reinforcements. Until then she would keep the Vong away from the planet, though. That she could certainly do, for it was all still simply a matter of manoeuvre, and now they were both likely wise enough to avoid close action considering their respective conditions. And of course, that hope was by necessity faint.

And thus the battle continued without an end in the sight of either commander.

Imperial Remnant Flagship,
Imperator-class Star Destroyer Chimaera,
Travelling in Hyperspace.

There was a woman who sat in a padded swivel chair in the center of a massive holo-projection of the Coruscant system in the private chambers that had once been claimed by Grand Admiral Thrawn. Another Grand Admiral stood by her side in silence, letting her study the myriad of details that the last intelligence data had given them. They still had time to take, and this work was not something he suspected easy, despite the ease of the effect it could apparently have - as he knew with experience.

Miat Temm was trying to turn that image into a vision in her mind of how the system looked now, and in particular certain parts. Of how it felt, and thus of where every particular things within it were. Sule I Tienyz may not like the reign of the force sensitives that had generally prevailed; but he could not deny their usefulness, and to a certain degree his Grand Admiral could trust the woman he had arranged not to have just trained... but cloned, and then raised at a safely slow pace in the home of a retired naval officer and his family as their daughter.

Now Pellaeon's capital investment in a living individual might be paying off spectacularly in the lives of others. Or it could at any rate. The use of sensors in hyperspace was limited in what they could detect that was outside of hyperspace. Namely, mass-shadows. And twenty thousand ships would create one that was only so large; quite diffuse in fact. Combined with the amount of time to detect it and the fact that there was no guarantee that the two fleets would be anywhere near Pellaeon's own force... Well, it was not accurate enough for what he desired to do.

However, a force-sensitive could feel the locations of the two fleets, and in that fashion Pellaeon could, arriving outside the system as Thrawn usually did - too far for detection - plot a course inwards for maximum effect. They were going to arrive late; very late. But a battle of this magnitude had few comparisons and there was no real guarantee that it would be finished decisively already. The only other incident to compare it was First Coruscant itself; far from a typical example, Pellaeon suspected.

If they were lucky, they could catch the Vong between two fires. And for this reason, the young woman strained to part the misty veil of reality that was nearly beyond her competence, to see onto another plane of existence, to probe and to utilize that bond of all things, and thus to identify the lifeforms of two fleets: The ones she could sense... And the area of nothingness that would, simple logic would demand, indicate the Yuuzhan Vong.

Pellaeon hoped the first of those was still there. He didn't want to think about the catastrophe for his nation that would result otherwise. If the second was also, well.. That was why he was coming, wasn't it? But to place his ships against the enemy; for that relied on the woman who had become more than just a tool to him but indeed an individual, a trusted aide. And whom now he pressed in hopes of determining and gaining his chance of victory.

Miat Temm did not search for a thing, but rather for the lack of a thing, and in the hallowed halls of a realm beyond the competence of normal human sense - and rightly perhaps mortal sense - she strained this nothing, this stain upon life that others might live from her effort. There was nothing but the focus of her effort, and even her mentor and commander, even the serene room that had once been graced by the presence of Grand Admiral Thrawn, fell away into the moment, into the search.

There was a cloud of life visible yet at their destination; and this heartened her and drove her on to her task, for they were not too late for the people of Coruscant. But in her intense focus, the agony of those same people, dying in great numbers even by the second, staggered at her as the survivors gave her hope, and so the task became a living agony: The flaying of death at her nerves, calling to her and prying at her mind, and darker powers lurking there and offering her the strength to end the brutality that quenched the lives of countless innocents upon the surface of Coruscant even as she searched.

But traveling outwards from that swirling miasma of life and death, agony and hope, she had to focus on the life in the outer system, on the oppressive despair of those millions stuffed into transports bound for short and harsh lives on firmly held Vong worlds - and now left to rot in their holds while the outcome of the battle was awaited, with little food nor water and in a sea of their own filth - and to the greed and avarice and fear of the small-minded beings she could sense inhabiting the Peace Brigade ships trapped in orbit with them.

That, most of all, drove her towards the inner darkness, her spite and contempt and, yes, even hatred for such vermin of her own nation and culture hinting her towards temptation, that she might snuff them out of her own will! But she could not, for the Mission loomed above all, the goal, the prize, that she must seek, for her friends and comrades and for a family that was, in truth, her own - The fact that she was a clone mattered not.

And so she dove onward into the search, and wished that in the midst of the unity of the force she might find nothing. A strain, a terrible strain upon spirit and mind and body, but the focus held and there she found it: First there was a beacon, the millions of souls that shone in all their human folly and meanness as a beacon that was nonetheless resolute in its opposition to the barbarity and unspeakable cruelty of the foe they opposed.

Thus, from this beacon of the fleet, the fleet that yet stood against the common foe of all civilization, of all things good, no matter their own faults and wrongs or - lo, yes! Their own evils, she searched closely, and in the shadow of the souls of its crewers, she found that nothingness, that great and evil splotch upon what she had been commanded to protect - and what, once and long before, her template had given her life to protect.

Pellaeon took a single rushed step to the side of the chair as Miat Temm lurched forward and gasped out, the woman wheezing in her breath as she tried to tap in the coordinates on the console provided in the chair's armrest. He lightly took her free arm in reassurance, but the fact of what she was doing revealed what he needed to know: The coordinates had indeed been obtained. "Thank you, Miat. Rest now; the fleet can do the rest of it."

Finally drawing in a steady breath, Miat Temm sank back into the chair as Pellaeon called for the medical orderlies waiting outside. Her last thought before slipping into a troubled state of unconsciousness was that she did not envy the work of the fleet; no, she did not envy that work at all.

Grand Fleet Flagship,
Executor-class Battlecruiser Conquérant,
Coruscant System.

The losses for the Imperials were now at around 940 ships with those for the Vong being estimated as 1,575 - conservatively. Attrition had in the days since the great engagement of the First had favoured the Vong but only slightly, and it was not remotely enough to be telling.

Once more the fleets closed now; Elise was thankful for the small things, like the chance for a fresh uniform - a shower meant time, and that was an impossible luxury. Any of it she spent off the flagbridge she spent sleeping; and she was perhaps fortunate than most, for she was only needed in an emergency.

No less than seventeen times the Yuuzhan Vong had tried to manoeuvre around her fleet, and she had needed to be here for every attempt to interpose the Imperial Wall between them and Coruscant.

Sometimes fire had not even been exchanged, the Vong retiring when it was clear that they were well and fairly blocked. Sometimes they had closed sufficiently to engage in a murderous cannonade with the Imperial fleet, and dozens of ships had been crippled or destroyed. Fortunately the nature of the battle prevented pursuit, and allowed for the repair, at least minimal, for cripples; unfortunately the same was true for the Yuuzhan Vong.

Thus Elise drank coffee on her bridge, standing silently and watching the plots as she observed the Vong course evolve before her, waiting for the right moment to resolve itself and trying to keep herself alert in the meantime to respond best to it. The sickly anticipation - which was not really the right word for it; was there a word for it? (Could there be, in any language?) - was once again in the air; and all along those over nine-thousand ships that still had survived some four days of combat against a skilled and deadly enemy, veteran crews prepared their weapons.

Lt. Jeffrey M. Fairmont was typical of the humans recruited in the Milky Way; he had never known another life, really, except the Empire. He had been too young to really remember clearly what came before. And now his duty on the Conquérant was that of gunnery officer for a section of turbolaser turrets. Main director control had been knocked out for section fourteen in the first engagement, when the Executor squadron had forced its way into the enemy fleet and endured a mass barrage; so he now fought from Turret 14-1, which was fitted with director apparatus as a secondary.

The two massive barrels of turret 14-1 glinted dimly in the lights of the ship; from his vantage point in the turret conn he could see 14-3, shattered by a penetrating plasma impact at close range, one of the barrels melted at the other flung up and blackened, pointing to the sky like an arrogant and rather rude gesture of defiance - It might have been amusing and heartening in a way if they weren't still removing the bodies; or one should properly say remnants.

Jeffrey swallowed at the memory of the sight and the smell of that, and focused on his work as the computer informed him that the capacitors that powered section fourteen's turbolasers had all reached full power. Then he activated the computer aiming systems and began to track for targets. The computers provided him with a list of targets for the sections on his quadrant of the ship; the voice of the gunnery officer crackled over his com and began to assign them to each section; the Conquérant was going into battle.

Outside the twenty metres thick planar armour was scarred and pitted from the impacts of enemy weapons, but still had an awesome capability to absorb damage before being punched through; and beyond that the shields of the massive battlecruiser were faintly visible. It reassured the young gunnery officer before the visual also matched to the sensor displays.

Around his section, a myriad of heavy multipurpose warhead launchers flushed massive anti-ship homing rockets at the enemy; missile range had been reached. He ignored it, however, laying the guns of his section on target as the battered fleets slowly closed. The terror of the moment that had existed earlier seemed gone in the simple mind-numbing repetition of this; there was only the lurking despair that might never end and the quiet fear that it bred, a hideous exhaustion of over four days of pushing the human body to the limits of tolerance, and seeing and enduring to much. This was truly war, and this was the fate of the fleet.

The two fleets were engaging with missiles at range now, and the Vong commander was, at least at this point, appearing willing to make close action again - but he had appeared willing to do so before, and had disengaged before the battle was fully met - so the matter might be decided, but the likelihood was rather that he hoped for an advantage in manoeuvring, or perhaps obscenely simply to attrite a few more ships than he lost to his foe.

"Admiral! Cronau radiation; many signatures."

Elise snapped her head about to look to the sensor officer who had reported it, having to physically fight the urge to let her eyes go wide with disbelief; for the past four days had put a strain on her hope in reinforcement. Conversely, though, she did not want to think of the other possibility...

"Identify." Managed crispness, despite everything, despite the emotions at this.

The excitement in the man's voice continued to be quite palatable; and in a way that was heartening: "Estimate in excess of two hundred Imperator- and Victory-class Star Destroyers arriving, Admiral... And one Executor-class Battlecruiser, along with many escorts; no firm numbers available through jamming, it's hard to pick up even IFFs. They have arrived at..." The officer trailed off; a moment later the position appeared on the plot and Elise saw why.

They were perfectly positioned. She couldn't even comprehend how it had been done! But it had been done; for the reinforcement fleet of Pellaeon's and the Emperor Sule had dropped out of hyperspace within energy range of the Yuuzhan Vong fleet to the port; she was to the starboard and already engaging the Vong with missile weaponry. They had been caught between two fires.

Elise gazed at the plot for a moment longer, than turned to the officer at communications; Commander Hallsburg was off-duty - pity for him to miss this moment, but the man had worn himself ragged. "Fleet Signals: Turn by squadron; Green Eighteen. As soon as we've completed the turn, fleet flank acceleration." Elise turned back to the plot, her eyes level. "I want this finished."

"Aye aye, Admiral!" The goal was in sight; a final reserve was drawn by everyone who fought on those ships.

Picard looked to Elise silently as she stared at the plot and the lead elements of the fleet began to turn, the fresh ships of Pellaeon's fleet already heavily involved, exchanging vicious missile fire with the Yuuzhan Vong and turning to close to energy range, everything coming together, the enemy with no choice, it seemed, but to flee.

Elise turned back to meet his gaze, as if she had felt the gaze on herself then, and nodded silently, a gentle understanding passing between them in that moment, and then turned back to the plot, and her attention to the battle.

Jean-Luc Picard prayed for his son's life to a church and a God he had never thought would matter to him; perhaps they still did not, but another shield in this case could not hurt... For them, and for Conquérant.

The range was attained; the heavy batteries of the Conquérant and her eight sisters in that squadron opened fire in an overwhelming cannonade that was promptly met with an awesome counterbattery by the starboard guns of the Yuuzhan Vong fleet; and across that vast distance, the Hand of Thrawn added a tenth measure to the inferno.

The rest of the fleets were firing with them, and from two directions fire converged on the Yuuzhan Vong, and from two directions it reached out in reply, and space was ripped asunder once more by the silent brilliance of that terrible spectacle as the three fleets merged into one in a brutal climax to the slaughter for which they had sailed to.
The threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth. -- Wikipedia's No Original Research policy page.

In 1966 the Soviets find something on the dark side of the Moon. In 2104 they come back. -- Red Banner / White Star, a nBSG continuation story. Updated to Chapter 4.0 -- 14 January 2013.

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The Duchess of Zeon
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Post by The Duchess of Zeon » 2003-02-08 05:36pm

Chapter the Eighth.

The Planet Coruscant,
And Space Surrounding.

Centered in a swirling malaestrom of hundreds of thousands of small craft desperately attriting each other and their capital targets, approximately twenty-thousand warships clashed. The sight was one of miserable glory, salvation won at the cost of tens of thousands of lives per minute. The carnage of the scene could work the most pitiless of minds at least to awe if horror was now beyond it; but there was no time to muse on this thing, merely the repetition of one's training, the execution of duty, the subordination of spirit or will to the cause, Victory or Salvation.

For the Vong the alternative was clear; for the Imperial fleet the price was incredible for the Victory to be carried home: But this thing they did not flinch from. Now they came on boldly, and in good order, and the awesome cannonade was commenced from port and starboard. Everywhere, death! Everywhere, courage!

The Vong fleet held its ranks as the Imperials met them from both sides at energy range, returning fire with their batteries that could bear to either enemy force, and now the exchange of energy and missiles alike reached a crescendo unimaginable, where every moment a ship might be destroyed, or in an instance a section rended to scrap or rubble, and those within it instantly reduced to their components.

Truly the glory here was that sentient beings could bravely face what they had created. It was never a moment for the conquerer, but for the sailor who stayed at his post in the worst conditions, and by that common determination, that inestimable piece of the soul that determined one's inner strength, likewise then carried a battle to victory, or upheld the honour of one's nation in defeat.

Imperial Remnant Flagship,
Imperator-class Star Destroyer Chimaera,
Coruscant System.

The Chimaera was returning as flagship of the Imperial Fleet and a Grand Admiral to Coruscant, Imperial Center. Even now she fought for her life in the centre of the greatest battle that Pellaeon had ever managed. The impressively outfitted and further modified Imperator-III was in the thick of the action against the Vong fleet now, for Miat Temm's last coordinates had offered precious little room for correction, or for error.

And the Vong seemed for some reason to be massing their fire upon his flagship. Perhaps they had indeed detected it was his flagship in some fashion, for the Chimaera was well known. Or perhaps, in a more sinister light, they had some way to detect Miat Temm. But the certainty of either knowledge would be no comfort. Pellaeon had pressed ahead with a few squadrons of Imperators and engaged their equals at close quarters, and having managed to lure off their fighter cover, then hit the lead elements of a reinforcement squadron with a torpedo attack by blastboats.

That in turn had allowed the Hand of Thrawn, leading several more squadrons of ISDs and VSDs, to punch through a briefly created gap and repeat to the Vong forces he was engaging essentially what was happening to the Vong fleet at large. With several dozen Vong ships now being pounded to rubble on their port flank, their cohesion that had held for the first fifteen minutes of the energy-range engagement by both fleets was beginning to disintegrate.

The real question now, that Pellaeon and every Admiral in the Imperial Fleet - and in the Vong fleet for that matter - who really bothered to think at all, would be wondering, was when the Vong's fleet commander would decide to attempt to extricate himself from the situation he was in, and in what fashion. If he did not, the end was becoming obvious, if one of attrition.

Ahead, the Chimaera's proton torpedoes raced into the battered and cratered hull armour of a Vong 2km cruiser-analogue that was under heavy fire by the guns of the Chimaera and an ISD-I from one side, and partially engaged by the energy batteries of four VSD-Is on the other. This salvo tore deep enough into the hull to let loose great flares of debris, and several of the dovin basals flickered and died.

As the energy shots got through and blasted more of its hull away, yet another massed salvo of proton torpedoes tore into it, and then another, coming in as more of the great turbolaser bolts slammed into the now crippled ship. Finally, the Chimaera ceased fire, leaving a dead hulk it was rapidly passing by; previously damaged in the earlier actions and then overwhelmed by the concentrated fire of many ships.

But the Chimaera's new targets were her own tormentors: Two nearly identical cruiser-analogues being engaged by the Hand of Thrawn, and their own unengaged batteries pouring fire into the Chimaera. The battle continued, but even as the shields of the Chimaera dipped exceedingly low, the combat for Pellaeon's fleet was all going his way, and Elise's battle-weary ships were holding their own -- all they truly needed to do if Pellaeon was gaining.

However, as the battle proceeded they were doing more than that: Elise's Grand Fleet was steadily gaining the upper hand, as Pellaeon sliced through the port of the Vong fleet, and by the simple effect of the awesome firepower concentrated in the nine Executors at the centre of that fleet. No Vong formation could possibly match them, despite numbers and maneuverability. Now that the Grand Fleet and the Vong fleet had worn each other down in speed and endurance, it was a simple matter that if the Executors could bring their energy batteries to range, the damage would be awesome.

And Pellaeon had provided the way for Elise to do that. Thus, on both flanks the Vong were hard pressed, and with one near collapse and ships on it completely cut-off and surrounded, and the fire from the other just as intense as on the first day, Tsavong Lah had few options, and the great arbiter of battle, Time, was quickly reducing them...

Tsavong Lah's Flagship,
Battleship-analogue Red Talon,
Coruscant System.

"Warmaster, the Yammosk confirms that fleet cohesion cannot last beyond another thirteen time units with a ninety-two percent probability of that or a lesser time. If we are to withdrawl we must commence the evolution now or the fleet will cease to exist." Trasang Fau - One of Tsavong Lah's staff officers and one of the few Vong who also had the moral courage to also, even now consider withdraw, reported, and then continued with an ominous statement that left the fate of a withdrawl in the Warmaster's hands:

"The War Coordinator cannot effectively predict with any favour of probability which flank a collapse of the fleet would begin on."

Tsavong Lah nodded near-imperceptibly and turned to the display that brought forth the defeat of their effort in all of its terrible splendour. The arriving forces of the Imperial Remnant, now clearly identified as such, had torn into the unengaged flank of the fleet and prevented any attempt to avoid energy range with the lumbering battle line of unknown Imperial forces to the starboard; they now pounded away at the Vong to that side as well.

The view encompassed defeat to every side, and it was a bitter taste for the Warmaster. His prize of Coruscant was gone from his hands for sure at this conjunction of the Imperial fleets; one that had been masterfully executed, beyond any skill of the universe. "Jeedai..." he hissed softly, the word lost in the noise of the bridge. He would find the one who had lost him this battle -- Even if this defeat cost him everything else. For himself, and for the memory of his son.

"Prepare for the following fleet evolution: I want.."

"Warmaster!" the ship's captain interrupted him with an almost desperate look. "Before the Gods I beg you - Before the word is given, do not let us withdraw from this system, this capital of the Infidels that we have gained by conquest! Let the fleet instead be formed into a sphere, with the most damaged ships in the center, and the carriers, where they might be protected for repairs - We might stand fast and hold our ground until reinforcements arrive!" He sounded equally desperate; a man grasping at the narrow straws that came into an empty head.

There were an astonishing number of warriors in the universe with great courage and yet utterly lacking in any sort of intelligence; that was not part of the selection criteria for the most part. "Do not presume to interrupt me - This is my bridge while I command from your ship, Commander, and I will strike you down for another such presumption. As it is, you have proven your idiocy. Trasang Fau, command the Red Talon while we retire. I would kill you, Commander, but the Gods have been appeased with enough of our blood for our errors on this day!"

In truth the infraction was minor in such a command structure as the Vong had; but if it was not dealt with decisively, Tsavong Lah knew that disobedience to the order to retreat would be the end result, and that could result in heavy losses among largely operational ships.

The Vong fleet could be pursued, and could not go to hyper until it escaped the gravwells of the Imperial fleet; and many of the ships in the fleet were so damaged that against the fresh interdictors of the Imperial Remnant, intentionally kept out of action, they would never escape those grav wells. Some ships would simply have to be left behind as a rearguard unto death.

"Prepare fighter strikes against the following interdictors," Tsavong Lah began, "And all ships capable of following thrust ratios to commence acceleration and reform - The ones not capable of those thrust ratios will transfer power to defence and weaponry and establish mutually supporting positions. Also, the orbital contigent shall stand by for orders, as follows...."

Galactic Empire Flagship,
Executor-class Battlecruiser Hand of Thrawn,
Coruscant System.

Lord and Imperator Sule I Tienyz, Emperor of the Two Galaxies, Commander of the Legions and the Fleets of the Empire, Supreme Warlord of countless souls and worlds alike, watched from the bridge of his most powerful flagship, named after the enigmatic symbol of an enigmatic man, a man who had been his path to greatness, as his enemies fled.

It was not by far something he was unfamiliar with; he had defeated countless forces in the field, from regimental command to command of entire fronts and invasions of planets, and he had seen men and vehicles flee. To see starships flee was not entirely different, though the grim and fanatical sacrifice of the Vong ships too slow to escape, turning to engage in hopeless combat, was something he had only rarely seen on the ground among troops of the enemy.

A calculating fanaticism was a frightening, chilling thing to a rational mind - To the rational mind that was able to truly comprehend its existence at all. Sule, of course, was quite capable of doing so, and thus he understood the task ahead. He was indeed waging a war of extermination, and he had no intent to shirk from it.

His naval liason officer approached, along with the commander of the Varangians and Martina, his wife looking starkly severe in black trousers, crimson tunic and black vest, with hair pulled back simply, as she walked with him from the communications pit where she had been listening to the com reports coming in from the combatants as they were received.

Martina greatly preferred her dresses; but they would be rather awkward if a vacsuit became necessary -- a very, very real possibility in space combat. Hand of Thrawn was not serving as a flagship, but she was right in the line on the port flank and had been in the thick of the action with the Remnant's heavies -- But it had not lasted long enough for her, at least, to incur more than minor damage.

"We're now manoeuvring to try and cut off the Vong and Peace Brigade forces in orbit, love. With that force to pound to rubble behind us, Grand Admiral Pellaeon does not want to bother to pursue; Elise's ships are overly battered to make the speed necessary to catch up to the fleeing Vong force, and we don't have the strength on our own, anyway. So we're going to see if we can get the orbital force before they can join up," Martina supplied to Sule before the liason officer could say a word; if he was annoyed, it didn't show.

"It's the Grand Admiral's job, dear," Sule replied lightly. "I'm here because I didn't want to get to Coruscant late - And, of course, it would be a bit unfair to thrust these men into this murder without their Imperator sharing the matter. And you're here because I can't get you to stay anywhere safe."

Martina smiled. "Just so. Do you think I could let you wander off on your own? Now, since we are spectators until the surface, let us watch the Grand Admiral at his work."

Sule nodded and chuckled lightly. Inside, he of course knew what it was all about. The Grand Performance; though the danger was quite real, the fact was that ruling an Empire had a stage art to it, even when you were putting yourself as Emperor right into the line of fire. Sule wondered if that made the man volunteering himself to get shot at for said purpose brave or completely insane, no matter the gains.

Oh well; at least on the surface he could consider himself to be earning his rather increased salary. The Imperator would command the troops of the Empire in Person and in Fact when they fought on the ground, and by what he knew and had seen so far of the Vong, that was going to be a thoroughly unpleasant experience. But then, the planet's population was already suffering a thoroughly unpleasant existence.

The Imperator's right fist silently clenched as he watched the display of the fleeing Vong ships. The offense against the citizenry of the galaxy and against his civilization would not go unpunished. For now, the triumph and the conquest was his, and it would be followed through to the last possible extremity!!

Grand Fleet Flagship,
Executor-class Battlecruiser Conquérant,
Coruscant System.

Elise Kalar-Leben watched as the last of the battered Vong fleet fled into hyperspace. The Vong commander had managed to link up with the orbital forces before Pellaeon could bring them to battle; but now the two Imperial Fleets sat in orbit of Coruscant, in total command of Imperial Center. A ravaged and battered wreck of a once great world, with Vong facilities like cancers on its surface.

It barely mattered to the crews that had fought that beaten enemy for days; there was a weary pleasure in the victory, a sense of supine satisfaction at the victory over the enemy, over the barbarian. The job was not done yet, of course, but the rest of it was largely for the ground-pounders; they'd sent the enemy's navy fleeing with his tail between his legs in a straight-up fight, and in this moment even as Elise saw the world of her birth as a ruined horror beset by the tumors of that monstrous race of the Vong, she was also uplifted by the knowledge that her Grand Fleet had held the line, and in the end pounded its way to triumph over those same monsters.

Out of nearly eleven thousand Vong ships and additional Peace Brigade vessels, pushing a total of over eleven thousand vessels in-system when the engagement began, only six thousand five-hundred had fled, plus the Peace Brigaders. Four thousand two hundred and fifty Yuuzhan Vong starships had been destroyed for the loss of roughly one thousand five hundred Imperial starships. The battle was totally decisive, at least in regard to the control of Coruscant.

Beyond that, however, there were an estimated seven thousand five-hundred Yuuzhan Vong ships in the near vicinity that were massing; once the force they had defeated had been repaired and replenished, another offensive was inevitable. Hopefully the Republic would be able to bring up their fleet strength before that attempt to regain Coruscant occured. If not.. Well, it would all depend on resupply.

And to an extent on control of the surface. Though so far the Vong had not attacked them, they might have batteries there, and more importantly, it would be a massive symbol for rallying support. Elise looked out the windows of her flagbridge, and her gut clenched once more at the sight she observed with her own eyes; the euphoria of victory could not last long in her heart.

She was home, at last. What she saw made her wish that she had never returned, and she could only pray that her family had been evacuated from that nightmare, that monstrous inferno of misery that seemed to well up from the surface to consume you, simply from gazing at the twisted, uneven ruins of destroyed areas, intact areas, and the horrid constructs of the Vong in others.

But already the dropships were racing down under heavy air cover to land the stormtrooper Legions that would secure the landing-points for the main force. The transports had been ordered forward, and the New Republican force at Bilbringi requested.

Elise turned back to Picard and swallowed, thinking of the real-time reports of the retaliatory actions the Vong warriors were already undertaking for the defeat of their fleet, even as they prepared to exact maximum casualties and buy as much time as possible. The savagery was almost beyond human conceptualization; it was not execution, it was not punishment, it was not torture. It was something else, primal and sinister and which even the word evil did not hold within its measure. Even an evil man could claim to be repulsed by what went on below and be believed.

"Now we get to see, Professor, the Lord and Imperator in action." She turned back to the window just as she had said it, her voice simply stating it - Not implying anything, simply stating, that in the next days, the matter would be Sule's and not her's, nor Pellaeon's; before she continued with another fact: "I do not envy my friend's role in the liberation of Coruscant at all; I had the easy task in comparison to what the Vong will create for him down there."

"I envy none of you, Admiral," Picard replied. "I am simply thankful my son survived."

"It is a good outlook to have, Professor. It is the sort which gets someone through a conflict like this."

Picard nodded his head slightly, looking down to the surface himself. "May we send a camera crew - Or several - Down there?" His voice was very quiet. "I.. No.. My people.. Forgot what this was, and what this meant, and the price to be paid for..."

"You want them to see it all," Elise replied after a long minute of silence. "I understand perfectly, Professor. It is up to the Lord and Imperator, of course. But I will provide the historical reference in your favour." She smiled with a grim trace of her former humour. "Do not I always?"

35304th Stormtrooper Legion
Capitol Sector, LZ-3,
The Planet Coruscant.

The seismic charges detonating somewhat less than fifty klicks away left slight but oh-so-detectable tremors in the ground beneath the command centre. The command post for the 35304th was in fact a camoflauged tent; 70% of their command unit's vehicles had either never made it groundside or had been knocked out within the first ten minutes. The Vong had gotten good at targeting those, even if it cost them resources.

In this rubble-strewn field where the Vong had already reduced the city-scape of Coruscant to the ultimate junkyard, four corps-level formations - eight battle groups - had been sent in to secure each of the six landing zones around the old Imperial Palace and create secure areas into which the regular army units on the transports could begin to land and deploy.

They had been on the planet for eighteen hours and twenty-seven minutes now, and the 35304th had already suffered 35% casualties in a vicious battle to beat out of the initial landing zones against an incredible and tenacious foe that fought for every inch of ground on a world that was perfectly prepared to be the ultimate grinder of armies and men. According to Imperial Army standards on combat losses, the legion was no longer combat capable and should have been pulled off the line hours ago; instead it was being used for another push to expand the LZ.

Brigadier Paul Danilov was now in command of the 35304th; the Legion's commander had been killed by an infiltration squad of Vong warriors four and a half hours ago. At the rate things were going he would soon be commanding only an augmented decachilliarchy anyway, though - But, incredibly, they were making progress.

Brigadier Danilov had ordered the men of the Legion out time and time again, advancing under the air support provided by the fleet and under their own artillery, and grimly and silently those stormtroopers had advanced -- camoflauged grey for the surroundings, an innovation of the guerilla warfare of the Milky Way -- To fight the Vong at close quarters in the twisted rubble and around the standing ruins.

And slowly the frequency of the bombardments of the medical and supply positions in the center of the LZ had slowed; they had grown largely ineffective, and the airstrikes by the Vong had been spoiled by AA batteries brought further and further forward to establish defensive belts, even as the lines advanced. The total air supremacy of the Imperial fleet was keeping the pockets alive and suppressing the reinforcements that might have crushed them, and slowly and bloodily they advanced, sustaining casualties that would have halted any other units, or collapsed them, and even they, were they fighting on any other world.

This was Imperial Center, Coruscant, the Coruscing Gem of all the Universe, of all Civilization, and every barbarian who had dared trod on it would die. That was the determination of the more than one and three-quarters millions who had landed near the blasted ruin of the Imperial Palace, and that was still the determination of those who lived. And the same one was shared by every other man in each of the other sectors and LZs:

So that, bred by a firey and brutal conflict in which they had endured more than seemed conceivable within less than a single day's action, they shared the absolute determination to hold true to the determination of Admiral Kalar-Leben for her fleet, the battle-cry that was now also a watchword: Emperor Sule and No Quarter!!

Brigadier Danilov sidestepped the headless body of one of the Vong infiltrators - They had not had the time to do more then check the corpses for traps, though some passing men had done the work of maiming them for souveniers or out of rage when they'd gotten the chance - On his return from the sole remaining command track back to the tents which now held the Legion's HQ. The only surface-to-space com gear, of course, was still in the command track.

"Colonel Ristoan, Army Central confirms that we must advance on a front of one-point-three kilometers in bredth and extend the depth of the pocket in that area by four hundred and eighty meters down the axis of the Tranis-Wessa Speedway in our area to take care of our end of opening the LZ for the main deployment."

"And we currently have the equivlant of a regiment in reserve, sir, and that's a scratch force." Danilov's chief of staff replied with disgust. "We're going to have to form the walking wounded as a reserve in case the attack collapses, and that's stretching things. Isn't there any way they can reinforce us with light infantry aboard dropships?"

"Apparently, they're already doing that for other LZs which are in far more grave situations, Colonel, and considering the losses we took in the initial drops they just don't have enough dropships to cover everything - Or light infantry immediately available to send down on them. Army Central thinks we can do it without any help, and so does General Traas. I don't care what General Traas thinks; but we aren't going to let the Marshal down now, are we?"

For the ground-pounders of the Empire, the Stormtroopers and the Regulars alike, Sule I Tienyz was yet and affectionately the Marshal, their Marshal. Danilov smiled at the response inside the command tents alone. Leaning over the map display he brought up the axis of advance they desired, down the massive construct of the Tranis-Wessa Speedway, an ancient combination maglev/motor roadway on multiple levels that had been abandoned for millenia in the lower levels and had now collapsed in the fighting - But the ruins were quite conspicious and comparatively flat.

"Get me the Brigade commanders, Colonel Ristoan." All they had to do was keep pushing.

Galactic Empire Flagship,
Executor-class Battlecruiser Hand of Thrawn,
Coruscant System.

"We now have clear LZs established in Sectors Capitol, North-West One, North-West Five, North-East Four, South-East Two, South-East Three, South-West One. A total of seventeen clear LZs have been established and the Landing Barges are already unloading in fourteen."

Sule drank from his coffee mug and listened to a summary of the situation that read like a miracle to someone familiar with the situation on the planet just hours before. Over a day into the Coruscant Landings events were decisively turning towards the Empire.

It had looked for a while like their LZs might be overwhelmed, the Vong on the surface defending their conquest successfully. Certainly it had happened before; the initial attacking forces were massively outnumbered by the defenders, and only extreme concentrations of firepower and airpower and a steely determination to ram the shock of the attack home had let them cling to those LZs and expand them.

Of course, the populace of Coruscant was now fighting back hard as well. They were paying for it, of course, and the slaughter was proceeding at a rate per second which was grusome in comprehension. But the Vong were massively outnumbered by the populace, and that made the equation different; the world they were on was far from friendly, and with their resources diverted, the sky above dominated by the enemy, and the stormtroopers calmly throwing themselves into the inferno irregardless of casualties - though not with the same deathwish as the Vong, none could match that - so that the warriors who had taken the galactic capital were being pushed back, slowly and certainly.

And now the regular infantry was arriving in real numbers, with full support - to the extent that it would be useful in the rubble and skyscrapers of Coruscant - And corps after corps of Imperial troops were landing to regain the tattered symbol of Imperial dignity, to fling themselves against the barbarian under the eye and command of their Emperor.

But the resistance was still something that was fought to the very last measure and beyond; the Vong had nothing to lose and everything to gain by hopelessly fighting until Coruscant was awash in a sea of blood... And with the general battle that was now commencing it could only promise to get worse; there were billions of Vong still on the planet, and in this situation Sule had no doubt that every one of them, nevermind their servitors, would be accounted a soldier.

"A new LZ is designated clear in the Capitol sector, Lord and Imperator - The Third."

"Designate the two hundred and fifth and two hundred and eighty-first Army Groups to prepare to land there as soon as transportation assets can be provided.." Sule checked his readouts and caught the tag warning of the situation in that particular LZ. "Designate the two hundred and fifth as second priority overall currently."

There was a pause of thought; for third LZ was the closest in the Capitol Sector to the Imperial Palace to have been designated clear, and he had made up his mind about this a while ago, but it had been a matter of when. Sule brought up a detailed report on the situation in the LZ; they had made their gains to clear it, but the situation was particularly tenuous, and...

"Prepare the Klingon Guard for transport to the surface immediately - Capitol Sector, Third LZ. We'll reinforce them prior to the arrival of the initial elements of the two-oh-five AG." The Guard was, with the transfer of several all-Klingon Imperial units which had volunteered enmasse to its oath, now a nearly fourteen thousand man unit, though still understrength for a Legion... But Sule expected it to admirably serve his purposes.

"Lord and Imperator!?" Sule's Chief of Staff exclaimed, a man with less on his mind than the strength of the Guard. "But.. To command the battle..?" The sentence was barely coherent, and with good reason. Lifespans were short on the surface, especially among officers, and Sule's Chief of Staff had valid worry expressed on his face at the idea.

"It's quite possible to lead from the front with the technology we have these days," Sule replied. "And I have done it before. Regardless of that debate, I want to see the precise situation on the ground. Only so much can be gained from holos and reports."

"Yes, sir!"

Ratok was grinning behind Sule, brightly. "A worthy decision, Lord and Imperator," he rumbled. "The Guard advances before you!"

Sule could always trust on support for such decisions from one sector; Elise had not really chosen a good bodyguard for keeping him out of trouble, just getting him out of it. He chuckled inside of himself only, relieving briefly the tension of calculation and consideration, and then returned to both that and the preparation for the surface - A dark promise, but one that had to be kept.

Regardless of any other factor, he simply had to see with his own eyes what they had done. No matter, and indeed precisely because, how real a holograph could be, he had to go down there and understand what had happened to Imperial Center. And so he would. He finished the coffee and set the mug aside, the old tug of action and the surface again beckoning.

The Klingon Guard's Front,
Capitol Sector, LZ-3,
The Planet Coruscant.

"IDENT-PB-334. We're taking a heavy bug fire from the north tower ruins in grid oh-fourteen - Unable to advance from position," the voice crackled over the com to the Sixth Guard Regiment's HQ. "Request mortar suppression, over."

"Colonel Kratha, Second Battalion's fifth company is pinned down by bugs from the north tower in fourteen grid. They want the regimental mortars to engage in suppression fire."

"Detail one mortar section only, captain, and get Second Battalion's CO on the line - Tell him I want his fifth company reinforced. We need to advance sooner into that complex or else First Battalion's flank will be unsupported!"

Ahead the sky blew up in a display of light; erupting in a mass of colour as fusion devices were employed by the starfighter corps somewhere ahead against Vong reinforcements trying to reach the steadily expanding LZ-3.

They were to far away for more than a distant rumble to be heard a while later; and as the light vanished, again in the night's sky the gentle drizzle came down, the clouds of a planet in turmoil, of climatic weather unleashed for a climatic battle - But here and for now, simply a drizzle, a drizzle of rain that was perhaps rather toxic but for now a trivial detail amongst the horrors - And that drizzle, and the clouds, served to muffle the sound of blaster fire, of plasma fire, and explosions, which echoed all around at the level of the regimental HQ.

Colonel Kratha looked out for a brief moment to where those fusion explosions faded and turned away. He had seen enough already; the Guard was seeing action, and how they were holding up was a matter to be decided here, at the level of these units which were clawing it out, shot-to-shot, blade-to-blade, hand-to-hand, with the Yuuzhan Vong who escaped the overwhelming air superiourity of the Imperial fleet to stoically reform tattered units and try and swamp the Imperial LZs in sheer numbers.

All along the line the Klingon Guard Legion, more than ten thousand combatants plus the personal bodyguard of the Imperator, pressing out the boundaries of the landing zone and fighting a numerically superiour force that could not hold it back. Little more than twenty kilometers behind their line the Special Guard and the Imperator stood; and from there Sule I Tienyz directed the entire Imperial effort.

These were perhaps the most motivated and ferocious troops of the Imperial war machine; but they were also not veterans, unless they had previously fought against the Empire, and other foes of the old Klingon Empire -- though Sule had been quite willing to accept such individuals for the sake of their experience and on account of the great loyalty of the Klingons, so the balance of the Klingon Guard were veterans, after a fashion.

Still, this force had been expected to face in its first trial a foe totally alien to what the Empire and the Klingons alike had experience and one might daresay comfort fighting: A monster in humanoid form, a swirling bloody soul of depravity that was the nature of a race; the horrific reality behind the culture that drove its members to battle and slaughter in the name of their religion.

And so they had gone down to the surface of Imperial Center, aware both of their traditions, and of the weaponry and tactics and discipline of the Legions of the Empire in which they had been trained; and between these two things their courage had rested, and they had been ordered to advance in the face of these warriors, these warriors who had become like an elemental force of terror - And they had done just that.

But over thirty hours had now past; and the numbers of the Guard dwindled. It had been acclaimed a unit of ten thousand at its raising; soon it would boast fewer, at least fighting.

Corporal Kragg hunkered down deeper in the rubble-trench as the massive plasma bolts thumped into the debris that had been piled to the left by a combat tractor-dozer, melting plastisteel with a hideous sound. It was against the Klingon instinct to stay low when the enemy fired at you - but that was more culture than biology, and somewhat less than two days on Coruscant had convinced Kragg of the absolute insanity of a great number of his race - among many other, far grimmer things.

The Twelfth Regiment of the Klingon Guard - And the Klingon Guard was actually somewhat understrength for an Imperial Legion, so the Twelfth was the last Regiment of the Guard - Had advanced with its four battalions to a position in the Estrani Heights; An area of small hills, the highest was four thousand feet, and they were all quite gentle slopes which had once been covered with massive condominium complexes which were now ruins.

The Third and Fourth Regiments of the Guard were supporting the Twelfth's left flank, and so-on down the line; on the right flank a greater strength of several Imperial Army line infantry Legions were pushing up the Estrani Heights to capture the highest and main sections of the ridgelines; the Twelfth had the job of capturing several lower-lying hills on the flanks of the main double-ridge.

If the Estrani Heights could be taken, Imperial artillery would command the roughly one hundred and thirty klick wide and three hundred and eighty-five klick long Ytar Plain - Which led directly for the Imperial Palace, and after being hit by Vong orbital bombardment to support their own extensive landings in the capitol region, had its population essentially exterminated - Which had allowed the Imperials to deploy strategic-level seismic charges to turn the rubble in the Ytar Plain virtually into powder with few pangs of conscience.

All the capital LZs, likewise, had been planned so that they could converge on the plain; and so if the Imperial forces in the third broke through here and brought up artillery which could support their efforts to do so, in a heartbeat it would become a tank battle, one where the Imperials were fully supported from the air. That veritably guaranteed the joining of the capitol LZs.

Of course that meant the Twelfth Guards Regiment had to launch an infantry assault uphill against an opposition that fully knew the results of losing control of the Estrani Heights, nevermind weather that had grown into what was now a fully raging storm - And Corporal Kragg's fortune was naturally to be in the Twelfth Guards Regiment, First Battalion.

On the flank of the Twelfth Guards' position the third and fourth battalions had already begun their advance, now just to be pinned down in heavy combat with Vong forces along the length of Estrani Central Aquaduct #3, one of the five main water conduits to the now demolished apartments in the heights. It had been miraculously standing the last time the light left it visible; nobody was looking in that direction now.

Before the heights could be assaulted to the fore of the first and second battalions, though, they had to stand against Vong defensive lines burrowed into the rubble directly below the heights, complete with a few of their few surviving vehicles - The weapons mounted on one of those were what Kragg and his company took cover from - And to call the situation apparently bleak in the task demanded of them was a minor understatement. But they had advance; not only to take the heights but simply to support the rest of the regiment.

"Servitor mass-charge!" A voice crackled in Corporal Kragg's com. The somewhat dizzied mentality of what were now fourty hours of endless bombardment and fighting was replaced by the demands of training working on that tough Klingon frame which had still been pushed to the limits, but not to breaking.

Lt. Colonel Ble'ytar watched as the data came in from the forward sensor feeds her scouts and the regimental scouts had placed before the line they'd dug on advancing to this position. Her coffee - brewed to such hideous strength that even a Klingon would like it, and taken black - was forgotten and left to cool as the situation started to clear in her command vehicle. The adrenaline would keep her awake nicely now, thank you.

There were at least twenty thousand servitors of various races - some even the coral-controlled humans, and armed with technological weapons at the point where the Vong did not care; where the only thing that mattered was every infidel in the grave with them, so let their servitors charge with unclean devices! - And her battalion had eight hundred and fifty-one combat effectives.

The charge was directed entirely at the First Battalion's thinly held frontage, and the fire from the Vong's supporting vehicles did its suppressive work well.

"We need the legionary artillery. All of it, on that Vong armour, or they can forget about the Heights!" Ble'ytar snapped.

"Yes sir, Colonel! They're trying to jam our coms again but we've got an audible signal through," the regimental communications officer replied. Everything inside the command vehicle seemed so peaceful; the internal realization, comments like that of her officer's, the image on the screen, these things brought together though a picture of the brutality outside; and the data assembled into a picture of the situation swiftly:

The situation was clear in moments, indeed. There was only so much rifles outnumbered fourty-to-one could do, even with support intermixed; and even counting that the weather and the brutal terrain of the rubble would hamper such a charge far more than their defence. But the worst thing to remember about these mass charges was that the Vong warriors had always, always used them as a distraction for some purpose or another.

And of course the Vong warriors themselves hardly needed those kinds of numbers to achieve an effect. There was a Brigade - No less than the First Brigade of the 239th line infantry Legion - Being detailed to augment the Twelfth Guard Regiment's push; the Vong had obviously seen it and decided a spoiling attack was the best bet. Naturally they would.

Ble'ytar started giving the necessary orders for her own mortar batteries and infantry - But there was a sick sensation in her stomach, the one that a commander got when the survival of the people under their command was now in somebody else's hands, no matter what they did. Especially central HQ's; though one could hope the Imperator would take a personal interest in his Guard.

Imperial Command HQ,
Capitol Sector, LZ-3,
The Planet Coruscant.

Ratok, commander of the Special Guard, approached his Emperor and saluted. "Lord and Imperator, the Twelfth Regiment of the Guard is in trouble."

Sule turned from a map of the Ytar Plain - A region near CS-LZ-5 was highlighted where forces from that landing zone were now little more than fifteen klicks from the plain, but held up by a massive river which had been created when the Vong had breached assorted underground water tunnels in their bombardments - nevermind the sewage tunnels which added to the flow; that would be an unpleasant place to fight.

"What's the exact situation at the Heights, Ratok?"

"The Vong just launched a spoiling attack concentrated against one battalion of the Twelfth Regiment. Mass infantry waves and armour support, Lord - Only with ranged fire, however. No word on infiltration squads. They've already got the entire Guard artillery hitting the Vong positions below the heights. But they may break through."

Sule was silent only a moment, then looked to his staff. "What do we have available in the way of reinforcements for the Heights, right here?"

"Well Lord and Imperator.." Colonel Eduardo Santusey began, "The Ninth and the Tenth Terran Legions are landing." He paused for a moment as he consulted his pocket netlink. "We've got the first Brigades of both Legions and two regiments of the Tenth, and three of the Ninth, fully on the ground right now."

"We probably overestimated by how much they'd get diverted to the push along the Tranis-Wessa Speedway - Even though we can use tanks effectively there, it's narrow, constricted, and ambush hell. They know if we get out into the Ytar Plain it's over for them on this region of Coruscant," Sule stated flatly.

"We won't delay the offensive, however. I'm taking the available units of the Ninth and Tenth Terran Legions and the Special Guard Regiment to the Estrani Heights." There was a brief silence; but most of these men had fought with Sule before, and so had seen him willing to take such risks as a Surface Marshal.

"Marshal Quinra, you are now in overall command while I am at General Uloi's headquarters. My staff of course shall remain to conduct operations and assist you." There was perhaps a bit of relief in the air that he only intended to advance personally as far as the 239th Legion's HQ - Or so he had indicated.

"Of course, Lord and Imperator. I am honoured to have the command in your absence!"

"Indeed, Marshal - But your record is the honour which I have been bestowed with. Communications! Get the commanders of the Ninth and Tenth Terran Legions to detail their units which have been fully landed to the Estrani staging point posthaste - If they can get more regiments assembled in time, so much the better. Ratok, prepare the Special Guard to move out."

The Klingon Guard's Front,
Capitol Sector, LZ-3,
The Planet Coruscant.

At least now they could fight back. The massive artillery barrage that had rained down in the lines ahead of them had brought gaps in the murderous plasma fire, and between them the units of the First Battalion, Twelfth Guards Regiment, had wrought havoc with the mass of servitors clambering and then rushing forward towards them over the rubble strewn wasteland that seperated the two forces.

The mortars were firing the entire time; company level, battalion level, regimental, and the regiment's directional artillery. But the huge railguns and blasters, the massive vehicle-mounted mortars and rapid fire MLMS of the legionary artillery; that had done the work which had let the rifles and support weaponry of the battalion go to work.

And that was what really was killing the servitors who were now oh-so-close to them. Even though the enemy's armour had not been fully suppressed, and sometimes those shots tore holes in the line, the Guard still fired, and that rapid aimed fire of the rifles, the searing repeating fire of the E-Webs and automatic grenade launchers; that was taking down the enemy in numbers that counted.

Corporal Kragg continued to grimly fire, his gunsight bringing alive each and every target with a simple perfection through the night. The range was still over two hundred meters, but that might as well have been point-blank as the aimed fire continued and the servitors fell to the overpowered bolts of the heavy blaster rifles the Guard carried -- Those shots often hitting the unarmoured spots on these slave warriors of the Vong and killing them outright; and otherwise having the sheer power against that less sophisticated armour to leave them in hideous and burned agony on the field.

Then there was a blur of light and a rush of heat; by an instinct older than culture he threw himself into the trench as the detonation of the plasma erupted near enough to sear at his hair. In the noise and heat of the moment, the Vong armour had had a chance under the fire of the legionary artillery to re-engage them. There were screams, oh yes, from there and even among the mightiest warriors, there certainly were.

He picked himself up, leaning against the wall of the trench as the fire continued; and then there was a sound overhead, faintly audible, barely registered. He paid it little heed, but several minutes later the barrage of the divisional artillery intensified once more and a series of secondary explosions, instead of just a few, could be heard -- And the armour did not trouble the regiment again.

Corporal Kragg was back on the firing parapet, though. His scope was out of action, but he still had the iron battle-peep sights, the effort of using them at night aided by the iridium inlaid into them, the faintly glowing green and red highlighting the distantly onrushing figures at which he fired again, and again, pausing only to replacing magazines.

The explosions distantly behind him, when they came, were not even registered. He was too busy keeping up his rate of fire.

A rush of pain and noise and darkness, and then Lt. Colonel Ble'ytar realized that her command vehicle had been hit and was now on its side. Odd, that! They had been in a hollow of sorts in the rubble... Shit. Well, that's where the Yuuzhan Vong proper were, her fuzzy mind decided as she forced herself upright and drew her blaster pistol.

The inherently suspicious mind of a Klingon decided to get out of there, now. The sound of gunfire that came outside, close by, shouts and the clanging of metal, only made her initial decision swiftly reinforced. "Who's still with me!?" she shouted, and getting only five ayes conscious. Well, that had been some hard blow, then.

"Good! Get the medpacks and check on who's alive and can be moved. I'm going forward to the cockpit." She started to the cockpit hesitantly with the vehicle on its side as it was; clambering into the cockpit was also a rather interesting exertion. But the three man crew there was alright, if all un- or semi-conscious. Outside the cockpit windows, though..

Lt. Colonel Ble'ytar almost reared back in surprise to see the two Yuuzhan Vong warriors there, covering on the 'side' of the vehicle that had originally been the roof. They did not apparently notice her, instead unleashing their bugs against a squad of guardsmen who had them pinned down, sizing up a route out of the situation. She wondered if they were the only ones responsible for the chaos in the rear areas or not.

But it didn't matter; there was a way to deal with them. She clambered forward and pulled open a cover. Just then one of the Vong turned to her, almost in equal surprise -- And then she flicked the switch which in these circumstances would blow the bolts and send the transparisteel cockpit canopy flying clear of the vehicle. She didn't have what would have been the ludicrous fortune to hit either of the Vong with one of the flying bolts; but the canopy hit them, and that was quite heavy indeed.

Ble'ytar was rushing forward to where the two Vong were pinned by the weight of the canopy, then, shouting for the squad to advance to the overturned command vehicle; for any of her armed aides or crewers inside who were able to aide her. But she would handle them herself if she had to. The DL-44 in her hand went to the face of the first pinned under the canopy, and at point-blank range she fired, killing him instantly and flash-frying his brain inside of his skull.

She was leveling the DL-44 with the face of the other Vong, trapped by both legs, when the swiftly perfect organic blade he wielded cracked through her armour and into her stomach.

The Vong might have taken a moment to enjoy to continue inflicting damage until he saw absolute agony on the face of the infidel before him; but he didn't have the time. He flung the still-living woman aside with his staff and started to lift the canopy. He nearly had it off of his legs when a flurry of blaster bolts struck home; the stabs of the vibro-bayonets that came after were totally unnecessary. But even the Colonel's action had not halted the effect of friction upon her unit.

"Contact with battalion HQ is lost! Does anyone know what's going on back there?" the voice crackling in open over the line was identified; slightly panicked.

"Negative, negative. We're trying to ascertain it. We can't reach regimental HQ either! Can someone tell me if we should investigate? This is second company XO - I think I have the entire left flank!"

Even for Klingons panic in battle was possible; they were after all mortals. And the strategy of the Yuuzhan Vong all along had been to expend their servitors while using their more precious warriors to either outflank or infiltrate, to destroy the command centers of the Imperial army, to destroy its cohesion and thus bring about victory - As they had tried now with, indeed, the entire Twelfth Guards Regiment, and it particular its First Battalion.

"Steady there! All of you steady, you damned curs!" A voice snapped over the comlines, and bellowed likewise over the roar of battle in the trenches. A sargeant, a veteran of many campaigns in the military of the Klingon Empire - He spoke with such authority that some new recruits would later swear it had been a general officer coming forward to rally the unit, or so it was said at any rate:

"Hold to your posts and don't worry about the rear! Keep the line steady and nobody leave it, for nothing -- We'll win by keeping our backs to the back and our fronts to the front and shooting at the enemy!! There's nothing else we've got to do, nothing else we've ever had to do, so just hold steady, damn you all, and we'll have this one for the Emperor yet!"

His words came at the right moment; enough of his spirit bellowed over the com to some, enough shame was inflicted upon others. The line held, resolve was given to the surviving commanders, or those who had inheirited their posts, as, after all, all they had to do was hold their ground.

Regimental command was a ruin; but in the Second Battalion, largely untouched except for some suppression fire which had now been dealt with by the artillery, Major Witark saw an opportunity even as the situation was at its lowest for the First Battalion. He had survived the attack of the Vong infiltrators sent against him; the guards around his HQ had fought them off.

And ahead of him the intelligence provided by the spotters - who earlier had flown in daringly low and suffered bad casualties for it in their speeders to get the pinpoint data to take out the Vong armour - And by his own scouts on the ground had shown that the Vong were exceptionally thin on the front before him; perhaps fifty or somewhat more warriors, and six or seven thousand servitors.

It was apparent that the Vong were conserving most of their warriors here for an actual defense of the heights, or they were engaged against the third and fourth battalions; but the fact that they were down to one warrior for every one hundred and twenty servitors in the trenches in front of him - even with the warriors being used for the infiltration missions - Was a clear indication of weakness to the left.

Well, unless it was a trap. But the risk was a decent one; tens of thousands of the Vong's slaves had already been committed to the slaughterhouse on the extreme left flank of the Twelfth Guards Regiment. Now it was time to counterattack and take the pressure off, no matter how much mincemeat had been made of the Twelfth Guards' command structure.

He had five companies under his command and the Regimental scout company had been attached to his battalion before the start of the assault. All six would advance, and then at the right moment the units on the left would pivot. The execution would be a different matter; but that was up to the bravery of the troops. If it worked right he'd even be taking advantage of the pressure of the third and fourth battalions further to the right flank. As for his rear - Well, legionary HQ said that several detached companies of stormtroopers mounted on speeder bikes were arriving to engage the infiltration squads and should in fact be there already.

He'd have to trust that HQ wasn't to far off in their time estimate. The final piece had come together when he had gotten close air support for the assault, which had been sorely lacking throughout the entire battle except for the spotters.

Witark smiled grimly and brought up his com. "Captains! You have your orders - Commence the advance!"

Four and a half hours later, as the sun beamed down over the bloody charnel house below the Estrani Heights, the Twelfth Regiment of the Klingon Guard, attrited by 37% in absolute casualties, had held its position and advanced, completely dislodging the enemy from their own defences below the heights - Advancing with a combat force of roughly 4,020 in the face of the onslaught of some 65,000 of the enemy; though admittedly only on average one out of every fifty of those had been an actual Vong warrior.

Among the casualties was the Colonel of the Regiment and three of the regiment's four battalion commanders. Casualties among NCOs and officers were 62%; nearly double that of the proportion of total casualties for the Cohort on average. The Twelfth Regiment of the Guard had indeed done everything that Sule had expected of that force, and as the sun rose over that shattered world, the Lord and Imperator of the Galactic Empire planned the attack which - if it carried the Heights - Would also carry him to his predecessor's palace.

Vong Central Military Facility,
Capitol Sector Locality,
The Planet Coruscant.

She whimpered. The hell would not go away; it would not go away! They were everywhere, countless in number, overwhelming the soul with an oppressive force, a destroying force.. The souls of the slain were a tidal wave of terror and sadness and longing, a murky and indistinct horror that still threatened to oppress and annihilate that which could feel their trace remnants -- Those who could feel the force.

The miasma which likewise hung around Alderaan was here a stench so incredible that to Miat Temm it sought to crush her by its existence; for Alderaan had sought to be less populous, a glorious world in its beauty with many colonies for the excess population. Coruscant was the capital, stuffed to the brim to serve the needs of State and the desires of the whole galaxy, and those who had come to the world, ignoring the devastation it had suffered before, and served to repopulate it -- They had died while the world yet lived, in numbers greater than Alderaan had ever boasted.

And now all their hopes and aspirations and loves and desires, all their hates and longings and envies, all their fears and the sickening knowledge of their last terrors - A knowledge had without actually knowing it, in a way beyond the comprehension of one who did not feel it striving against their mind, as a blanketing, engulfing force of nature - These things sought to overwhelm Miat Temm without truly seeking it; and with that very nature they slowly did, driving her ever down into the despair of the sense of the cloud of evil and death, and the unique touch of its every aspect, that hung around this world that had been forever accursed by the atrocities committed upon its surface.

Even as the Imperial troops above fought with an utter determination to save Coruscant, Miat Temm herself had realized in her quiet and lonely struggle that after a fashion the Yuuzhan Vong had already destroyed the planet. They had given it an air of evil, an air of horror, a memory of death beyond that of any other in its history, one that it would be hard for the people of the world to indeed ever forget -- And even if they did, would still linger on. The Force had been altered here, by the sheer number of souls torn from their bodies and twisted back into its overarching embrace even as their mortal husks still screamed in agony.

And it would be so tempting to join them... Or otherwise to avenge them! She had gone down to the surface to do that, after all; and this mission, into the depths of one of the Vong's organic bases - not yet destroyed for the sheer number of slaves within it, tens of millions, hostages to force the Imperials to fight to clear it - had tested every skill. Like an old Imperial Hand she had relied on her Force cunning and only the very best equipment of the Ubiqtorate; but the one thing she could not hold back was the horror of the planet its self.

That had gotten to her from the moment she had set foot on it - even from orbit! - and so simultaneously as it had worked upon her it had forced her onwards, for though those shades could never have a voice, could never have form, like the souls of powerful force sensitives who lingered on after death, for they were just presences, emotions, concepts, remembrances; but they could press a sense, an emotion, upon her -- A demand, that shrieking howl for vengeance!

And so she had gone, straight on with the mission, until the other senses had overwhelmed her; and so it might very well be that the dead could claim another victim, a soul to rest in bitter torment with their own. But as that omnipressive call lashed and rolled over her essence of being, pounding all of what she was into a thousand petit-morts of despair and horror and murderous rage; an insatiable conflict with in her..

So it was then that she still had the strength of will to resist being torn in either direction, the power of a single living being overcoming the half-remembered desires of the countless half-formed shades. But it seemed that those were the only directions open; that she must either act in vengeance or that she must succomb, and her will was not infinite.

She reached out, then, to try something that might hold back the tide, searching desperately, and in the mass of despair and souls, and where the force had been twisted by the perversity of the deeds committed here; where the black and the evil had been committed beyond any rival by those who did not even understand its nature -- In this place, she found something. She understood.

Miat whimpered. In a moment the threat of the dissolution of her essence was gone. She slowly forced herself up, and then proceeded on her mission. She understood; and so the action took on a purpose, a certain one for which the focus was still coming together. The unfocus did not matter now; time need not to be hurried in any actions. She understood.
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In 1966 the Soviets find something on the dark side of the Moon. In 2104 they come back. -- Red Banner / White Star, a nBSG continuation story. Updated to Chapter 4.0 -- 14 January 2013.

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Post by The Duchess of Zeon » 2003-02-08 05:38pm

43rd Army HQ,
Capitol Sector, LZ-3,
The Planet Coruscant.

Sule I Tienyz reviewed the last preparations. Five line Legions and one Remnant Stormtrooper Legion against the main double-ridge, along with the balance of the strength of the Ninth and Tenth Terran Legions and the 239th line Legion, and five Regiments of the Ninth Terran as the reserve. The detached First Brigade of the 239th and three Regiments of the Tenth Terran against the hills to the left flank; the battered Twelfth Guard Regiment and the Special Guard Regiment were the reserve there. The general reserve consisted of a sixth line infantry Legion, the Fifteenth Terran Legion, and a Fourth Regiment of the Tenth Terran.

The incredible performance of the Twelfth Guard Regiment was what would allow the offensive to go through, of course. But there were many, many Vong warriors in fortified positions up on those hills; they had spent their servitors so they could bring in more genuine Yuuzhan Vong, and strengthen their positions against air attack and artillery alike, nevermind the men who would have to advance uphill.

However, the showing of the Guard had confirmed Sule's faith in his men. As long as they controlled the skies they would conquer; he could feel it, now, gazing up at the heights with a trusty old pair of macrobinoculars.

"The 2345th Legion reports that their fourth, fifth, eighth and eleventh regiments are now in position, Lord and Imperator. All units are positioned at the jump-off points."

"Only seven minutes late. We're doing rather well for this kind of push, Eduardo," Sule replied, lowering the macrobinoculars. He had now only a light guard of fourty men around him; otherwise he trusted his soldiers to provide his protection.

"Do we commence, Lord and Imperator?"

"A three minute delay to let them rest," Sule answered. "No more."

"Understood, sir."

The macrobinoculars returned to Sule's eyes, as he gazed at that long and low-slung ridge; once merrily covered with countless buildings, each reaching for the stars and holding the residences of countless thousands. Now it was covered in masses of rubble which it seemed impossible that anyone could attack up; yet he was asking his men to do just that.

Then: "T plus Ten, Lord and Imperator."

"Order the infiltration units forward; adjusted to delay."

"Yes, sir!"

Now there were men clambering forward, up through that rubble from the Imperial positions, units chosen to go in first. It was not, of course, the sort of wholesale slaughter it might have been, when combat was joined; the broken nature of the field, with all the rubble, worked both ways. But trying to advance in that hell presented a different challenge. They needed to break out; the number of troops now being stuffed into the LZs was getting ludicrous, and the defensive terrain provided the Vong with every advantage against the Imperial air power.

And soon combat would be joined here, for the sake of that hope. Sule checked his chronometer, and then brought up his wrist com and activated it. The channel he had chosen, on his unit, went out automatically - albeit through a relay - to every single com receiver in the entire force.

"Soldiers of the Empire! Today your Emperor asks of you a certain hard task" - And so for the first time he claimed the title, here on Coruscant with the Imperial Palace in his grasp, if his men could carry those heights; if from the modesty of his lesser appelation than Palpatine's - "We must now advance against the barbarians, and show them the courage and ferocity of an individual who is civilized, and fights for his comrades and for his home and family; and not for blood and the pleasure of slaughter.

"Up there they disdain us; up there they disdain your Emperor! Well, your Emperor says this to you: Advance and throw them off those heights, and toss their disdain down with them. You perform under my gaze, and I promise you that not a meritous deed shall go unrewarded - But also, should the victory ever be in doubt, you might be assured that I shall advance to the foremost rank and share with you the trial of the hour!"

"T plus twenty-five sir."

"Commence the barrage."

The artillery opened fire; the guns pounding down upon the heights with an awesome and terrible ferocity. But moreover, over the uppermost reaches of the heights, streaming down from the heavens, the green lances of turbolaser bolts; these detonated into flak bursts high in the air over the Heights, churning the air with ozone, burning it a brilliant green and setting it into an horrific roar, a terrible carnage of concussive sound over and behind the defences even if they did not deign to melt the ruins and ground and Vong to glass and clay.

"T plus twenty-eighty-point-eighty-five, sir."

"The Sixth Army shall advance." Infantry and combat vehicles, going up the slope, timed to get to where the Vong had been pounded just as the artillery ceased to fire; then it would be providing pinpoint support instead of that massed suppression fire. They went up, and they went in, straight up the inferno into hell.

Sule did not need to be called, to make good his promise and leave his command post for the front; for the heights were carried and then secured in six days. The victory had not been in doubt.

Four days later the 1230th Armoured Legion met up with the 981st Armoured Legion on the plain of Ytar; they were from the 3rd and 5th LZs respectively. The heart of Coruscant, the heart of the Empire, beckoned.
The threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth. -- Wikipedia's No Original Research policy page.

In 1966 the Soviets find something on the dark side of the Moon. In 2104 they come back. -- Red Banner / White Star, a nBSG continuation story. Updated to Chapter 4.0 -- 14 January 2013.

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Post by The Duchess of Zeon » 2003-02-08 05:53pm

Chapter the Ninth.

The Imperial Palace,
Capitol Sector,
The Planet Coruscant.

The ruined core of the Imperial Palace was totally destroyed; the fusion device had done a good job of that. But the sheer size and impressive construction of the monstrous habitation had insured that the Palace could withstand even a fusion detonation, at least in part. The wings were actually still habitable, at least after they had cleared away the Vong growths.

It was in the bare stone of one of these rooms that simple portable camp chairs and a multi-length table had been used to assemble a meeting room for the various commanders of the Imperial forces, and the Republican delegates.

The fighting continued on Coruscant; oh it brutally continued! But now fifteen days had past since the fall of the Imperial Palace to the Klingon Guard, and before that precisely twenty days since the first joining of two LZs on the plain of Ytar.

The reason, in theory, for the meeting was to mark the occasion of more than fifty percent - fifty-three percent to be precise - of the planet's surface being declared secure. Of course, other important issues were to be discussed: For now in orbit of Coruscant there were numerous Republican squadrons, survivors of First Coruscant and others, and Republican troops on the surface.

But the balance, of course, remained Imperial in both areas... And the people regarded Sule as their saviour. Out of nearly 640 trillion citizens on Coruscant before the evacuations and devastations had begun, it was estimated that 390 trillion would still be alive when they were finished securing the planet; the level of ferocity of the conflict was in part demonstrated by the fact that there were currently estimated to be some 410 trillion still alive - Though that estimated included mass slaughters by the remaining Vong defenders.

For the survivors in the cleared areas who had endured something no civilian, no individual whatsoever, ought rightly be subjected to, it was however more than enough that it had simply been ended and would be ended entire -- The outcome was inevitable now. And as Elise had promised, to the military and to the people of her homeworld, there would be no mercy whatsoever:

In the ruins of various amphitheatres, the public executions of the Vong and servitors who had been captured - regardless of caste or rank, they were all treated the same; and in the simple chaos of such a massive engagement, it was inevitable that even full Vong warriors would sometimes be captured against their will - Continued in more and differently impressive and creative fashions; in the same way, every transport not needed for military supplies was now impressed to bring in the basic necessities for the survivors, distributed in public locations in the name of the Emperor.

The celebration even by the starvlings had reached lunatic proportions in some cases; for to be delivered from the depths of hades into a poor and savage mediocrity was to be saved unto heaven for those who had suffered through the very worst and unimaginable of that savage conception and occupation.

For the victorious Empire, it was the completion of the most holy crusade a deistic society could muster; but at the same time it was a deadly warning, for there would be battles like this again, and the 'mopping-up' of this one was not over yet, and promised to kill millions before it was. The campaigns, the wars -- Who knew how they would be. But for the moment the flag of Empire waved over Coruscant, the Lord and Imperator stood triumphant in the ruins of the palace, and The Victory March of Coruscant was already composed.

For Sule I Tienyz, however, nothing had been completed whatsoever, nor even by a half measure. This was most evident by the emissary who was coming to meet him, nominally on behalf of the Republic and most likely on behalf of a collection of assorted admirals and generals who had personal loyalty to the Jedi and this one individual.

He had sent back to a research facility on Luna for several of the creatures which Thrawn had provided for the expedition; in case the Milky Way should have a native force-using population. Then and only then had the Supreme Warlord of Coruscant, the Imperator of the Fleets and the Legions, Emperor of the Two Galaxies, consented to meet with a rather innocuous, dark-haired and middle-aged woman of noble features.

Sule had a healthy sense of paranoia when it came to the Jedi, and Luke Skywalker's sister would be a particular concern. He could only imagine the possible designs of that order against a man who had claimed the Imperial throne -- But he was here to treat with a proclaimed representative of the Republic, and she was the woman who had come forth.

And so Leia Organa-Solo, heir of fallen Alderaan, would treat with a man who claimed himself the heir of the Emperor and Empire who had killed her homeworld; a man who claimed to hold total dominion over two galaxies, and held it in fact over at least part.

The Planet Terra,
Region of Tibet within Administrative
District of China.

"This way please, sir. He is in here."

The monk led the Imperial officer, attired in a Captain's uniform, the first visitor that their exiled prisoner had been sent by the Lord and Imperator, it appeared, short of the regular checks of the guards. Of course the monks had consented to the company of this man; it was manifestly better than his execution, after all, and so far he had really made decent company for someone who was by all accounts utterly amoral.

Hamner Davion looked up as the door to his quarters - as equally spartan as the rest of the Buddhist monastery - opened, and a single man entered. He was unfamiliar, but Hamner recognized a uniform that he had not seen in roughly two months: That of a captain of the Imperial Starfleet.

The former Grand Moff of the Imperial Milky Way territories sighed. Sule had finally deigned to recognize that he still lived, but had done so by no-doubt sending one of Elise's partisans to further torment him. Well, he had tormented himself enough as it was, but if the man was going to give him any precise information he would endure such as was given him for that alone.

"Greetings, Captain. It is a pleasure to have what I hope is an informal visit." Hamner's voice was that of studied calm; those two months confinement had worked on him... In certain ways. He had no desire to continue them, but the monastery was of course not the only containment here.

"Greetings, Mister Davion. I am indeed an informal visitor." The captain replied, not giving his name, as he sat and folded his legs, seeming quite comfortable on the floor as he looked across at Hamner. "I see the historical records of this region, at least, have kept you from boredom," he noted after a moment, surveying some of the ancient books in the room.

"Indeed they have, Captain. I take a solace in the fact that I had learnt the largest ethnic language of my conquered subjects before this came to pass - Without the ability to read Chinese characters the exile my daughter preserved me for would pass much more harshly. I think that in her wisdom she perhaps chose the location with that in mind. Or perhaps that is simply the wish of a father betrayed," Davion continued, unleashing a tinge of bitterness at that moment.

"Her Ladyship the Empress is not someone to slight these days," the captain noted. "But I suppose that all things considered, Mister Davion, your position is not likely to get worse, though for the sake of my own I will not further comment on the matter."

Davion smiled slightly and chuckled, shaking his head. "You do yourself a credit, Captain. I'll accept that as a fair peace offering between us. What, exactly then, did you come for?"

The captain smiled pleasantly. "To inform you of news from beyond the Milky Way. It is good news altogether, though.. I do not know if you will like to hear it."

Davion was silent for a moment, before he replied: "I think that I would like to hear that the Emperor is back, the true Emperor, Palpatine, and is ordering me freed and restored to my post, and Sule thrown down. But I would rather simply see Sule overthrown by another fashion, to be blunt -- For I fear for my daughter."

Another moment of silence. "Now I suppose you are going to tell me that the Emperor is surely and truly dead and my fears were the fears of his shadow, groundless terrors of an old man who had seen his visage. And I suppose you are also going to tell me that Sule and that lunatic Kalar-Leben have checked the Vong. I would not be surprised with either thing now; for I've had time to consider my errors."

"And you would be correct, Mister Davion. In alliance with the Imperial Remnant, the Lord and Imperator has directed the Imperial fleet; which in a multi-day naval engagement over Coruscant defeated the Vong; the victory goes to the joint glory of Pellaeon and Kalar-Leben. Then the Lord and Imperator himself directed the efforts to clear Coruscant on the ground, which still continue, though the remnants of the Imperial Palace are now occupied."

Davion laughed, now, ruefully, and his voice traced with a deeply shown bitter regret. "Imagine that. The young and bold general striding in the Imperial Palace as the colossus of the entire universe! I imagine my daughter's subtle flattery and the allusions of the madwoman have fairly stuffed his head -- At least Palpatine had the power of the force to back up his claims."

The captain was studiously silent, merely listening to the fallen.

"Now, Captain, I suppose this is all very poor ground for me to tread on; but let it be said that I admire his venture even so. It will take incredible courage and skill, tenacity and determination, to hold what he has grabbed up by the skin of his teeth. He will have to dig in his spurs and then hold on! I am an older man; but the briar patch's treatments make me feel young enough, and so I rather must live in regret here that I never had the chance to try what he tried, because of the shadow of that wizened old sorcerer hanging in the recesses of my mind!" Davion finished his rant and looked the captain across from him, almost with an accusatory glare; the captain returned a slight smile.

"Grand Moff Davion, it is a pleasure to know that you feel that way. Do you really think the entire Empire, though, is pleased with Sule Tienyz? Or for that matter our subject races and 'allies'? That has never been the case -- Things were organized against you, for that matter, which can now be of a great service to you, because you are now at the very bottom of your hopes, and those powers and individuals think that you might thus be amiable to an agreement."

The room was silence as minutes passed; but then they were just minutes, and it was a monastery. Nothing would be overheard, nothing would be repeated, even if it was. Hamner Davion stared at the captain across from him, suddenly uncertain of who he was, indeed, uncertain entire as he considered the branch of salvation being dangled before him.

"What do you want from me?"

"Certain protections and guarantees for certain nations... And a promise that you will accept the Imperial title. We do not expect the nations in this galaxy to be restored in full by your victory; and my allies are realists enough to know that even 'free' once more they shall be Imperial vassals -- But at least vassals, not provinces."

"As for your acceptance of the Imperial title... We want that, Grand Moff Davion, because it gives you equivlancy with Sule. He is Emperor now, no doubt about it. You have to challenge the Imperial title -- Winner take all. You cannot simply be a Grand Moff: If you are, you're a Rebel. If you take the Imperial title, you're a Contender.

"Furthermore, you were the legitimate Grand Moff; so if you claim the Imperial title you may hold more sway than Sule does, at least with some groups and peoples. But that is a discussion for another time. I want to know; would you agree?" The Captain looked intensely at Davion.

Davion considered the matter; he wondered briefly if he was being led into a trap to confess his desire for the Imperial dignities in full, and thus justify his execution. He certainly wouldn't put it above Elise at least.

On the other hand, he didn't want to spend his entire remaining - and probably rather lengthy - life in a monstery. And he could read Chinese texts elsewhere. "Speaking hypothetically, of course, I would need the assurance of the confirmation of my being hailed in the first place, and the assurance of the integrity of the powers inherent in the Imperial Office."

"You would have both; we're working on the first and the second is guaranteed, as long as you uphold anything agreed to before the assumption of the Imperial Dignities," the captain replied.

Well, that seemed to preclude entrapment. "I agree, then. I would accept the Imperial Dignities for your cause, and my own." He was back in the game.

"Thank you, Grand Moff Davion. I believe this arrangement will indeed satisfy our mutual desires -- And we will speak again soon, perhaps under different circumstances." The captain rose, and Davion rose as well, and shook his hand.

"Until we meet again, then," Hamner replied.

The man nodded once. "Until we meet again. Enjoy your reading, then, and the peace while it lasts... Though I would not disturb the peace of this monastery at all. One of the few places in the universe that still has it." The captain smiled, rather sadly it seemed, and left the room, pausing to speak to one of the monks outside - An idle conversation from what Davion could tell, or perhaps an assurance of the peace of the monastery - And then left.

Hamner Davion did indeed return to his reading; for he figured he'd likely go mad if he pondered everything the visit had left him to think about. The Romance of the Three Kingdoms was most enjoyable in its own right, besides.

Outside, Line Captain Harlann Estan Quir of the Imperial Starfleet gave his ID - patently false, but of course the most excellent of forgeries - To the guards who now served as gaolers of former Grand Moff Hamner Davion.

It was necessary, obviously, because of what he planned to do, and the fact that it needed to be concealed. It was also necessary because all official records listed him as being killed along with all hands of his ship the H.I.M.S.S. Xanithar in an engagement with the Sheliak twelve and a half years ago. As Harlann got in his aircar, which the driver who had no idea of whom he really was promptly started off on the decently long trip to Nanjing, he smiled slightly. The thoughts in his head were his alone.

The Imperial Palace, Capitol Sector,
Palace Landing Platform KI-17,
The Planet Coruscant.

The Victory March of Coruscant played for only the second time in public from a full band, a march who's inaugeral performance had been but the day before yesterday. The strains did not have the haunting air of the Imperial March -- It was a song of clearly, brilliantly calling trumpets, ratting drums, and crashing cymbals, a solemn and slow march but a haughty and proudly bold one, too, that flatly declared in its tune what its name said: That Coruscant was gained by the Empire in war.

Leia Organa Solo felt a twinge of wryness at that as the music finished; like many things of the Galactic Empire, it was a half-truth, for the planet, though declared 'secure' for her arrival, was still a warzone, and a desperately fought one at that, if the contest was one inevitable now.

But she had no desire, even considering the Republic's position or the fact that until a few weeks ago she had been living in a refugee camp, to allow anything to the Empire. No. Not even the fact that they alone now might have the power to rescue her son unless she dared to risk her family again for it. An inner core of discipline locked down the grief and the fear and kept it where it ought to be, for she had a duty to the Republic that transcended her family's safety and her own suffering; the same thing that had allowed her to survive watching Alderaan's casual annihilation without going mad.

And so when they sent a mere corporal out to receive her, not a diplomat, not a high ranking military officer, but a mere corporal of their army, it raised her hackles already. She tried to probe for the motive in it -- And so would have Jaina, who stood at her right side. But she understood one part of this agreement very well. The force was not something Sule Tienyz wanted near him.

That appeared to be a trait among more competent Imperial commanders who did not possess force abilities themselves; Thrawn, after all, had not gone anywhere without his Ysalamiri, and apparently Sule had them as well. And the moment the shuttle had landed it had become quite clear that the landing platform was in the area of effect for some.

"I really don't like this, honey." Han muttered from her left side. "Calculated insult or two hundred percent paranoia? Either way it ain't good for us. He's not even a member of.. Sule's.. Guard." Han had spent much of the trip inventing less than endearing nicknames for the new Emperor of the Galactic Empire, and apparently now had to remind himself not to use them.

Leia simply ignored her husband; the corporal was getting too close for a running commentary. The last thing they needed was to get this off to a potentially worse start -- As if it wasn't bad enough already. Someone had proclaimed himself Emperor and held Coruscant, the Republic was in shambles, and, oh, trillions of people were dead. The last was so chilling, such a brutality in the force, that she had been quietly thankful of the Ysalamiri in a sense. The feeling while descending towards the surface had not been pleasant.

"Her Royal Highness Princess Leia Organa-Solo, Heir of Alderaan, Senator, Envoy." The corporal came to attention and saluted. "The Lord and Imperator Sule I Tienyz, Emperor of the Two Galaxies, acclaimed Warlord of Coruscant, holder of various other titles and protector of many nations and peoples, greets you and your party and invites you to enter the Imperial Palace that you may discuss all the affairs of State that are extant between His Person and the government which was recognized by various nations and peoples to be legitimate in areas of this galaxy."

The corporal looked and sounded like he had carefully rehearsed that mouthful of diplomatic nicety and would have greatly preferred to say 'Rebels'.

Han muttered something under his breath which Jaina and Leia both figured was along the lines of "Well, that's ambiguous ", though there was probably something else in the sentence. Thankfully the corporal ignored it; he was at least twenty years younger than Han and that would have been diplomatically rather bad.

"Corporal, I am no longer a Senator, and that title is an inappropriate address for me," Leia replied, deciding to firmly grasp the situation; a situation that seemed designed to entirely break up diplomatic protocol. "Furthermore, that considered, were I to be treated as a senator or even as an envoy from a government that the Imperator and acclaimed Warlord considers legitimate, it would be appropriate to send a diplomat of equal rank to meet me."

The Corporal looked with disdain into Leia's eyes and she knew she had been had, though for what purpose was not clear yet, as he spoke with equal disdain in his voice. "Madame, I am a veteran of Coruscant, a common soldier, and when this duty is done I shall go back to the front. Any man who has fought to save the souls of this planet as I have, and done the things I have for the sake of civilization, may treat with anyone like an equal, envoy or aristocrat."

"Now, if that is not good enough for you, Madame, then just say so and I shall go tell my Emperor that, and if he still deigns to treat with you for the sake of the Empire then he'll no doubt send some bureaucrat out here to suit your tastes."

Leia had a hand on Han's should to gently keep from doing anything to the corporal; and she knew Jaina was seething, too -- Very angry in fact, though she was not entirely sure why. They'd been had, alright... Oh. She caught sight of the vid cameras, then - not just Imperial media, but daring lunatics who'd arrived with the Republican forces in the past month, and intentionally positioned by the Imps to be least visible to them but still get a great shot - and of course great audio - of their shuttle. Great. Round one, Empire.

"That will not be necessary, Corporal. What you have said is certainly true; and I was concerned only for the forms of diplomacy. But here where we have common cause against the Vong they are of no matter and I should have acted to that principle sooner."

"Then I shall take you to the Lord and Imperator, Your Royal Highness."

The Imperial Palace, Capitol Sector,
Diplomatic Conference Room (Former Library),
The Planet Coruscant.

The man had it, alright. The charisma - The aura. The same thing that had surrounded Palpatine and had nothing at all to do with the Force. It was the thing that brought tyrants and demagouges to power, from times imemorial to Xim the Despot to the Republican era. No wonder Sule's troops had suffered such hideous casualties fighting the Vong on Coruscant and seemed to love him even more for it.

There were several other people of note in the room; two men, two women. And though it was spartanly furnished, the old and ruined library stripped of its books, a few new ones had been placed upon its shelves even as the stuff of a diplomatic conference had been brought in -- And another curious relic had been hung over one wall, right behind Sule.

It was a picture of a man astride some riding beast she could not recognize. The man wore a heavy grey, fur coat and an oddly shaped hat; he was finely dressed, and similiar men rode around him. Packed formations of marching troops were in the background, and things were distantly burning.

In the foreground, hauntingly real, dead bodies covered with snow lay in heaps. A man knelt in supplication before the principle figure, to kiss a golden sigil, upon which was engraved a stylized bird of prey. And in the eyes and the face of that principle figure was the same aura, just barely, imperfectly yet still just so, captured upon the canvas, as it showed upon Sule's face.

Leia looked from the artwork to those at the table, not allowing herself the time to be obviously pondering it, and what precisely it meant to have it so blatantly in a position of note behind Sule.

"Princess Organa-Solo," Sule I Tienyz stated from his position at the head of the table. "I greet you. Please, come in and sit. I am a military man; and I think we ought to get to business, since we both know who we are. Though first I must apologize."

"Apologize?" Leia inquired.

"For the incident with Corporal Treis. I awarded certain special duties to those who had performed so well in the battle, as otherwise they might be awarded the same medal twice, or so on - Such honours are more important than medals to the Imperial mind, anyway. But at the same time, in a sense, he wasn't a corporal but an envoy - And he thought of himself like an envoy and spoke his mind bluntly."

"But what I need to apologize for," Sule continued, "Is not informing you, and thus setting it up so that you thought it was all a breach in diplomatic protocol. Purely my fault; and I wish to offer you a formal apology now."

After we're in a sealed meeting, while the incident has already gone out on the holonet. Quite kind of you, Your Majesty. "My thanks, Lord and Imperator, and the apology is most graciously accepted. Such misunderstandings happen in the course of affairs."

Leia's party had of course included guards, Jaina, Han, and a droid for recording. She noted that in either a ludicrously lavish or rather simply primitive style, there had been no droids at all brought down with the Imperials. Of course those on Coruscant were virtually all destroyed -- But the Imperials themselves seemed to have very few, and their position was instead taken by two live note-takers sitting in silence away from the table with recorders in their laps.

Now, though, she just had the droid with her, and it stood to her left as she sat at the opposite end of the table from Sule. And with this arrangement in place, the man who - as he had claimed at least - had been proclaimed Emperor by popular will, regarded the representative of an elected government across a relatively short span of modular table.

"Do you like the painting?" the woman to his left asked almost innocuous, a sort of droll voice that was incredibly weary but held a charm of its own. She looked rather weary, as well, but had a sort of ageless figure with a solid core that was built up around hardship. She was not at least your average Imperial; and she wore a Grand Admiral's uniform that matched that of the distinctly uncomfortable Pellaeon.

"I find it an interesting choice. Where is it from?" Leia asked. The Imperials had been slight on details beyond 'awesome victory' - certainly no tri-vids - but the woman was almost certainly Elise Kalar-Leben, the commander of the Imperial Grand Fleet at Second Coruscant. She already promised to be another interesting Grand Admiral.

"Terra. Our capital world in the Milky Way. It's called Napoleon at Eylau. I thought it would be appropriate; the painter was Antoine Jean-Gros. Sule cannot decorate anything and Martina no longer has the time; though of course she thinks what I do is hideous."

"Beware Elise's humour, Princess," Sule said with a polite and slightly wry smile. "It comes at the oddest of times; I cannot blame her now, though. She was born and raised on Coruscant, and her family is missing -- One can imagine the crush of that when duty is not pressing, indeed? Death is all around, and we can accept that, and even the death of civilians, as simply a fact of war, as we are trained to do it. But to imagine one's family subjected to horrible tortures is another thing."

Leia looked back to those intent and odd green eyes; Perhaps so. But she had also met some quite mad Imperials in her time. The other woman, though, then must be the Empress Martina. Those eyes -- Those were the eyes of a predator. One who, if Leia judged it right - and without the force, even the small element she used, it made things so annoyingly uncertain, even if it didn't remove the skills she had learned - had precisely what she wanted and was now protecting it.

"Now, for the first order of business," Sule continued after a moment. "I believe that ought be simply coordination between the Imperial and Republican forces against the Vong; both here on the planet's surface, and in naval affairs."

"The Republic is certainly not adverse to this. General Antilles will remain in orbit with the Lusankya, in fact, and as units reorganize that are not committed to specific defence they shall be dispatched to Coruscant. As for the operations on the surface we recognize your overall command at this time due to simple preponderence of troops," Leia replied.

"Then the question of coordination between our naval forces is the principle one. Grand Admiral Pellaeon is my seniormost naval officer; and holds higher rank than any of the Republic's naval officers. I would presume to have him take command of combined fleet operations."

"I would note that Admiral Ackbar, however, held a higher rank and had been in a senior position for a longer period of time before his retirement; Grand Admiral Pellaeon's promotion is also the result of several interesting political matters that still have to be resolved. Admiral Ackbar would certainly be willing to assume overall command, despite coming from his retirement."

"Of that we have no doubt, though precise matters of seniority and difference in rank between our systems are debatable." Vice Director Quarn broke in. "But Princess Organa-Solo, I would point out in particular that in particular that the legitimacy of Admiral Ackbar's rank during those times in which he would be senior to Grand Admiral Pellaeon is entirely contestable. So the fact that Grand Admiral Pellaeon holds a higher rank, and you have no structure in place for promoting Admiral Ackbar or creating such a position, suggests by simple dictate of necessity that it is proper to give the Empire the current combined commands; both on Coruscant and overall naval."

"To compensate," Sule added graciously. "We are quite prepared to cede command of ground forces on all other planets that we endeavour to jointly recapture from the Vong to one of your commanders as-is appropriate."

"That would be acceptable -- But not so the naval situation. We still have considerable forces extant; and as Grand Admiral Pellaeon can certainly inform you, the coordination is a matter in which an overall commander may have trouble with integrating them, especially our national contigents," Leia replied, equally pleasant. "We have more experience in that area."

"Might I suggest a commission, then?" She continued. "Your Grand Admirals, here, and Admiral Ackbar, agreeing on matters for the overall command. That would be acceptable, as we would have a say in the highest level, as would your section of the Empire, and the Imperial Remnant."

It would be her hope, then, that Sule would reject a commission... And at least from there they could further negotiate. A commission, after all, would likely lead in general to indecision and inferiority in the command structure.

"The Empire is now a unified body, Princess. You would be conceding the balance of power to two of my Grand Admirals, then." Sule answered -- Interestingly, and unfortunately, not rejecting the commission out of hand.

"Perhaps. But it is a more equitable compromise than having an overall commander." She was surprised that Sule seemed willing to accept it when it would likely reduce naval efficiency, as she could see him nod at her reply. It probably didn't bode well for future cooperation, but she wasn't in a position to demand much more than that considering the state of the Republic.

"That is agreeable, then. We shall work out the details on its powers and authority after this meeting is concluded, and with our appropriate subordinates included in the discussions?"

"Certainly, Lord and Imperator."

Sule shuffled through a few padds; perhaps an idle prop, perhaps he really was reviewing something. "Political matters, then, Princess?"

Leia smiled - An expression all diplomacy, of course. "You are indeed refreshingly direct, Lord and Imperator. Though I fear the next issue might be rather more thorny, considering our current locality, and situation. Some would argue the peace between the Republic and Empire, even, no longer should apply - Were it not for the extremity of the situation."

"I would have to agree, Princess, that you are - unfortunately - entirely correct: This issue is a thorny one. I feel that considering the current state of the galaxy we need some unified government to guide the defence of civilization against the barbarity of the Yuuzhan Vong. However, no such government exists; so I think the alternative is to come up with an equitable arrangement in direct discussion between my person and what formal government remains of the New Republic."

"And how do you intend to do this, Lord and Imperator? The current state of affairs is.. Confused, to say the least."

Martina spoke for her husband, then: "We shall call the Republic's Senate to convene within this building, where it always has. Using his right as Lord and Imperator and heir of the Imperial throne and dignities, my husband shall preside over the meeting of the Republic's Senate, as there is currently no President, but my Husband's dignities include those identical in powers to the position of Supreme Chancellor in the Old Republic; and thus he might convoke the Senate and preside over its meetings -- Responsible, of course, to the Senators."

"I think that it is an equitable arrangement," Sule added. "I shall preside over the Senate -- But its decrees in the session I convoke shall be binding over the Republic and Empire alike, even though I will be the only Imperial representative present."

Leia didn't need the force now. It was all just a game; a pretty, elegant little game. Just like Palpatine, Sule intended to have every one of his powers confirmed in solemn ceremony by a Republican government. He had the sheer temerity to think that he could make the Senate of the Restored Republic into his Imperial Senate...

And Leia Organa Solo realized that under the current circumstances he was very likely right, if he gathered them all in this shell of an edifice and presided over them with his millions of troops fighting a brutal enemy just outside, and trillions of starving and destitute citizens of the most glorious planet of the galaxy veritably worshipping his name for the Senators to view as they arrived.

She wondered now what the purpose of the meeting had been -- To entrap her to public opinion, has had been done outside already, and at the same time record her consent for military cooperation, so it could not be easily withdrawn until this entire farce had played out?

If so they had succeeded masterfully, and Leia in turn wondered why; perhaps because she had been preoccupied with her sons, perhaps because she wanted desperately to believe that with Pellaeon's influence even an Emperor on the throne of the Empire would turn away from this. But it was not to be.

And so now all she could do was disengage gracefully, and proceed to plan the best way to foil Sule's 'joint-session' of Empire and Republic. For it could only have one result: A single unified state spanning two galaxies, and that most assuredly the Galactic Empire. And so she did, managing the rest of the meeting politely and the naval cooperation talks afterwards, and then collecting her party and returning to her shuttle, the looming despair of failure and the hopelessness of impending defeat rushing up over her.

The Imperial Palace,
Capitol Sector,
The Planet Coruscant.

Her mother was in a diplomatic conference; and so here Jaina wandered through the ruined Imperial Palace, once her home. Alone: For her father had struck up an uneasy conversation with the Imperial officers hanging around the conference room. And so Jaina walked, unhindered by the guards, into the deepest areas of the Palace that were still intact.

She was trying to escape the range of the Ysalamiri, feeling called, needing to do it, and finally she did. The wave hit her, for she had grown unaccustomed to it, and she staggered down to her knees in pain at the sudden sense of death that permeated the air, an unseen miasma on Coruscant -- The Gem of the Galaxy that was now the Black Gem, the hideous thing.

Sule had saved it from destruction, but to a Jedi it would always be a place of pure horror. In that moment, with no time for preparation, in the halls of the palace that had once been home, the full realization of that came to Jaina, rolling in upon her in brutal agony, unadultered terror -- The last moments of trillions annihilated in nuclear fire, and millions tortured to death. Their shades haunted this world, and by the scale of the destruction, always would.

After a fashion, it was worse than Alderaan; but different. It made her want to seek out the perpetrators. And certainly there were enough alive, that if she had the power - and she did, if she gave in to that desire brought on by the agony - she could reach out and extinguish them in a moment, perhaps all of them. She could be the justice of every one of those shades... She had to be the justice of those shades.... Or they would consume her...

"It's not something you get used to, is it?" a voice asked softly. "I don't even know myself how I can find my voice. A breath, friend, and remember that the dead shall get their vengeance even if you do not act."

Jaina looked up into the friendly eyes of Miat Temm, and took a breath. She abruptly then realized she had indeed not been breathing; and gasping for air, she fought to drive those fragments of the dead, and their last screams of vengeance, back from her psyche. In doing so she did not realize that she had help.

"I... I.." She just gasped in air, now, her thoughts clear of the oppressive weight of death that hung over Coruscant, and the shock of its sudden onslaught as she stepped out into it from the protection of the Ysalamiri without warning.

"I know. Things have been done here, on the surface of this world, which strain the fabric of life. I sit out here and avoid the blanket of the Emperor's protection because I don't want to end up like you -- Avoiding the reality of it long enough to get thrust back into it, unprepared. Of course, you still look quite sane.. Jaina Solo, it is?"

A nod, as Jaina settled into a sitting position, and now managed to wonder of her strange benefactor; who appeared casually Imperial and yet, as she might again focus her senses, not to detectably bear the trace of the dark side. But then again Sith had hid it before.

Miat sat beside her on the scarred and pitted floor, burned in this section by flame, without comment -- Her legs comfortably folded. "I am a friend of Pellaeon's, you might say. My name is Miat Temm." She said by way of explanation to the probe she had felt.

Jaina felt rather annoyed that she'd been so obvious; but then she also still felt like the Lusankya had impaled her brain. Which was perhaps excessively humorous of a way to look at such a horror, but she didn't really know if there was any other way besides. Probably not.

"Oh." It was at least coherent.

"We think everything can be decided by philosophers and their philosophy..." Miat's eyes looked away, her voice trailed off. "Until philosophy becomes a reality unto its self.... And we forget that there is a philosophy to reality. To do what is right, and condemn what is wrong is all well and good -- But there is also a philosophy to survival, and that one triumphs over all others."

Jaina tried to follow the abrupt conversation; it was like Miat was continuing a conversation she had begun a long time ago. With someone else. "A philosophy of survival?" she simply asked.

The woman's eyes then abruptly seemed to drill deeply into Jaina's. Eyes no longer friendly, but rather gripped by a focus and a terrible certainty. "Ask Kyp Durron why the Force forgave him so easily -- And wonder why if the Force is Life, that Life is everything, rather than just Right and Wrong, Jaina. Wonder why a Jedi lets the Force go through her to act in violence; do these things." Something passed between them in that moment; something that Jaina, who had come along as a glorified bodyguard, could vaguely feel and barely understand.

It had been fate, then. She did not understand, but she would, either to truth or deception. Their eyes stayed together for a moment longer, a moment of an eternity.

"We will meet again." Jaina said, and she felt like she had spoken the words without really saying them; and did not know if the woman in front of her was a friend or an enemy, if she would help Jaina in some purpose - Perhaps against the Vong, or to recover her brother, she did not know; or if she would oppose the Jedi Order in some fashion for the Imperial cause - but that the meeting would indeed take place, sometime in the future.

"Foresight is a twisted thing. Beware that path even as my memories warn me of it," Miat replied, and then leapt to her feet, offering Jaina a hand. The younger woman took it, and Miat helped her up. "Regardless, keep what has been said in mind. This world has become the forge of Hell. One does not enter it nor leave it unchanged."

The words were a jumble of questions and directives, one after the other. But they stuck and reverberated. In the background of her mind, the dead seemed to loom up closer once more. Forge of Hell, Indeed! Jaina turned and fled, from Miat and from the shadows of the dread world of Coruscant.

The Imperial Palace, Capitol Sector,
Diplomatic Conference Room (Former Library),
The Planet Coruscant.

"Well, I quite understand that we have them off balance now, but did we have to do it at the cost of making me out to be a complete psychopath?" Elise asked with a rather heavy - and sculpted - look on her face. They were dining here as well; accomadations in the remnants of the Imperial Palace were quite spartan, of course.

"Yes," Martina replied. "Largely because it's true."

"Can I still tell her to shut up when she deserves it, Lord and Imperator?"

"I am a man without peace," Sule declared, holding a hand over his chest, then laughed. "It was elegant, I think, Elise. And everyone knows you're.. Eccentric. Let them go a bit further with that; the entire purpose of that play at the beginning, anyway, was just that. To get them thinking that we're essentially cunning but erratic, or at least that I'm surrounded by political flunkies - No offense intended, Grand Admiral Pellaeon, Vice Director Quarn - And lunatics, and so the advice I'm getting is seriously constrained."

"Consider it the art of acting subterfuge in high diplomacy. Of course, now the Princess will be working against us - But we have the entire population of Coruscant as leverage, and popular opinion is most likely going to end up firmly on the side of the Galactic Empire for the first time since Palpatine dismissed the Imperial Senate.

"Essentially, in a situation like this - everyone loves a winner - And we've proven our ability to win. I'm actually hoping Leia gets a bit too active now before we make any active effort of our own at.. union.. with the Republic; it might serve to simply totally discredit her faction when the time comes."

"In principle I won't disagree, Lord and Imperator," Pellaeon replied. "Though I confess it wasn't impossibly hard for me to fake acting awkward in that.. Conference.. Here. To call it unusual is mild."

Sule laughed again. "Mild is an understatement. But it's all due to Elise's taste in art, of course."

His friend was glaring at him as the serving droids - from Pellaeon's fleet - brought in the food. And unnoticed at the same time, someone else entered.

"Gilad. It is done."

Gilad Pellaeon looked up and saw Miat; and he swallowed slightly. For ever since she had gone down to the surface of Coruscant, determined once more to help - for she had been trained specifically for infiltration - she had changed. She had seen things and done things that even the men who had fought the Vong here likely could not understand nor would want to. And other things had happened she would not speak about.

The faint and horrid air of this world that was held at bay by the banter of friends for those who could not feel the Force could never be held at bay for Miat Temm. And it had changed her. That saddened Gilad Pellaeon; but war had changed him, too, and every raw recruit who had been fed into the furnace of Coruscant had been changed in some fashion. He recognized, though, that it was quite possibly rather more fundamental in Miat's case. To put it mildly.

"What is done?" he asked in reply, as the attention of the room focused on the sole force-sensitive of the Empire.

"The Beginning.... Of... Of what matters."

Then she turned and left again, leaving Pellaeon and Sule to look at each other.

"And what is that the beginning of?" Sule asked in a very soft voice.

"I fear I do not want to know," Pellaeon replied, as he worried for his friend.

Republican Navy Ship,
Executor-class Battlecruiser Lusankya,
Coruscant System.

"Do you really want me to hold position here, Your Highness? Or, for that matter, to continue supplying their fleet?" Wedge Antilles asked earnestly. "If that's the political situation it might be better to try and rally the fleet at one of the core worlds..."

"And fight with the Imperials?" Leia shook her head tiredly. "Definitely not; we cannot afford it, not now."

"Exactly," Han added. "For all this thing is a rotten mess and Sule and his gang a collection of real.. Ahem.. Schemers.. the fact is they're the only thing between the Vong and the most pitiful bunch of survivors you've ever seen, Wedge. I hate to say it, but we need the Imperial fleet right now, and we'll need the Imperial fleet even if we're successful in foiling Sule's plots."

"I just hope he has enough sense left to realize what trying a more direct method for control would mean to the galaxy," Leia commented softly..

"His officers certainly don't, at least at the higher levels -- Pellaeon excepted. He seems to like surrounding himself in people who've paid for their intelligence in sanity; we'd better hope he trusts Pellaeon," Han concluded.

"I'm not sure," his wife countered. "The extent to which the entire thing was... Odd.. Bothers me. I worry that this entire meeting could have been intended not only to throw bad publicity on us, but to make us misjudge them -- It's not like we have experience with, or for that matter, much knowledge of, any of them except Pellaeon, and so to an extent they can control our perceptions of them if they're careful."

"And we might double-think ourselves into inaction, too," Wedge broke in. "What we do know is that they're certainly out for supreme power, not simply saving the galaxy from the Vong. Which should not be a surprise; these guys are old school Imps who didn't see the defeats the post-Endor Empire did. The opposite, apparently."

"So we're going to have to stop them from getting a hold of what they want while convincing them to keep fighting with us against the Vong, before, during, and after that. Just another impossible mission for us -- But a rather different playing field. It's nice to know we have your skills available, Your Highness." A smile, and then a serious question:

"You are holding up all right, Leia?"

"It will not get better; and I can be thankful that things are not worse," Leia replied, as Han gently put an arm around her shoulders.

"You have my sympathies. But now I must bring it up, as it troubled me when I noticed it -- Jaina seemed rather disturbed when she returned to the ship. Very disturbed. Did something happen to her down there?"

"The planet did," Leia said simply. "It's somewhat uncomfortable even being in orbit."

"Oh.. Oh. That bad, huh?"

"Yes, and I was protected the entire time by the Ysalamiri that Sule had out for his protection; Jaina wandered out beyond them while I was in the conference. That's why she's troubled like that. One moment nothing, the next, the full brunt of it."

Wedge was silent, trying to understand something he would never feel: That aura of death, of countless trillions around the site where they had perished, some in the most hideous of fashions possible.

Han looked to his wife and then to him and shook his head slightly. "I don't know. I feel lucky not to have to endure that -- But it's.. It's not a very good thing to know your kids are suffering and you don't even really know.. Know what's causing it is there."

Leia looked down to the planet, to where the dying still continued in those apocalyptic numbers, and she spoke very softly as she leaned closely against him. "Believe me, Han, love. You're thankful. You're thankful." Her tone as she repeated it convinced him he was.
The threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth. -- Wikipedia's No Original Research policy page.

In 1966 the Soviets find something on the dark side of the Moon. In 2104 they come back. -- Red Banner / White Star, a nBSG continuation story. Updated to Chapter 4.0 -- 14 January 2013.

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The Duchess of Zeon
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Post by The Duchess of Zeon » 2003-02-08 06:02pm

Chapter the Tenth.

Kuat Stardrive Yards,
The Kuat System.

Home for Vice Admiral Mystrela Estorav di Kuat was a sight of beauty - A sight that had blessedly not changed, compared to the cancerous surface of Imperial Centre. The shipyards, blasted to rubble by her uncle at the dark end of the Empire's former glory, were fully restored, and the habitat modules were the same. Ten billion souls in fact now resided here, counting some refugees.

Kuat di Kuat had ultimately failed in his purpose, except to serve that the glorious Kuat Stardrive Yards might take a second rank to those of other corporations and houses; and that the houses of Kuat might be sown with dissension in the wake of his death. But restoration had come and the firm of Kuat Drive Yards had risen to prominence again - Even if politically the New Republic had given over power to the proles on the yards, and the industrial worlds.

She had entered, thus, a nest of politics like that for which she had been schooled and for which she utterly loathed, when she had led her squadron to this world to organize its defence and secure the yards and a supply of materiale for the insatiable appetite of the Grand Fleet.

Because Mystrela Estorav di Kuat was, after all, Kuat di Kuat's closest surviving relative, now that she had bothered to return from the grave. She was younger of course, even now - At least biologically. And the metaphasic particles had perhaps retained within that soul of cold calculation a bit of youthful impetuosity.

But none could deny that the outer surface was at least well-managed; and her intelligent had brought about Bilbringi, which had been the most one-sided defeat the Yuuzhan Vong had perhaps ever suffered in their invasion of the galaxy. And so many would see her leading K.D.Y.; this carefully bred specimen of Kuati nobility returning in their time of crisis to restore the proper order.

However, the greatest evidence of her calm genius was also the clear point that it had been turned from what they wanted to another pursuit. Mystrela hated the traditions of her people and her class, and she had turned from this domestic diplomacy, and the careful pursuit of wealth and financial matters, to another pursuit - Both art and science, that of War, even in her youth.

And it was one in which she admired the eccentric and unpredictable genius of Elise, the genius that had been willing at Second Coruscant to risk the manoeuvres that had clawed them into range for a decisive swing at the Yuuzhan Vong and then brought them back to the defence; she had trusted her crews and her ships and Mystrela knew her mentor - Even if she was willing to take risks and see those under her command die - could never be called a 'bean counter'.

Which precisely what everyone in the Kuat system apparently thought she was; or some variation on the theme at any rate. It galled her in every measure, for she certainly hadn't been at Bilbringi if they'd had a modicum of sense on military affairs. However decisive that battle was it could have been decisive in the other direction - Had the Vong gotten proper intelligence, had they better coordinated their elements, or a thousand other things no doubt and most of which she'd never think of - And so it had been a chance.

Mystrela doubted the merchant princes of Kuat wanted a risk taker, an overthrower of tradition, to be their autocrat - For she would be, coming from the military in which she had now served for so long! - And direct them into ventures and cut through their disputes and offend their sensibilities. Unfortunately, a people who had seen the end of everything and then the salvation of everything rarely then saw details.

There were two factions here; one had opposed her uncle and thus opposed her virulently even though she did not desire the post. The other would desire to hand her the key to the driveyards in a heartbeat, nevermind the practical realities of her duties, nevermind that she lacked a desire for them. And of course there were also the proles who would have once welcomed Viqi Shesh in; with the realities of Coruscant, no more, but the fanatics among them were still a danger.

And so she sat in the middle of the driveyards, in these finely appointed VIP quarters of a habitation module on the vast construct, where she had a view of the Cuirass repairing her battle damage nearby - And balanced the factions in a way that she so hated to do - That the Emperor and the Fleet might receive what they needed.

Mystrela chuckled inside, the thought touching her lips as a grin; a slight expression the caught the attention of the maidservant assigned to her - She had decided to be stubborn and demand live servants and not droids, as she had gotten used to the Milky Way - through the reflection of the glass. The young woman turned her way, curious.

"I am amused, Kyline, at my own state." She said simply. And then the message bank had the gall to chime; so she continued smoothly: "And so if you would be so kind, do find out for me who that is."

"Of course, ma'am."

As Kyline left the room, Mystrela sank back into her chair and sighed, where only the stars and the small and distant visage of her ship could see. This sort of thing weared on her.

And in a moment Kyline returned, the expression on a pleasant face framed by dark hair one that was only serious - That of a studious servant of the upper classes, who knew their moods and wants well, and also what would trouble them. "It is an interstellar message, ma'am. Of... Imperial Dignities."

"I see." And indeed she did; it could mean only one thing. Mystrela rose slowly and walked to the message bank; the security measures were passed with that same weary familiarity. Weary, indeed! She would like to get down to the surface and relax. But of course it was impossible for the Grand Fleet to relax, and certainly impossible for the Army to relax, and she would not have the chance for a while either - Even if her duty now was a more complex one.

And now she feared a more permanent one at that; And then in a moment her fears were confirmed.

'Vice Admiral di Kuat, who is Mystrela Estorav di Kuat, a deputation from the factions who have the majority in the traditional power structure of Kuat have come to me; and they have requested to be placed under Imperial protection and rule and for me to resolve a dispute among the factions.

Now among the disputing parties the situation is that the previous ruler of Kuat, and administrator of the Kuat Drive Yards is Kuat di Kuat, who is of your house and who was your uncle. But as the fall of his house from power also coincided with the rise of the New Republic to power, the entire influence of the traditional structure of the houses was replaced with an assembly of the People, which of late has supported the mechinations of one Viqi Shesh, a Senator from your world who has consorted with and plotted with the enemy.

Of course because of the treason of Viqi Shesh her world is shamed, and she is wanted throughout the whole of two galaxies for her infamy. Since I have convoked the Senate, I cannot have a world without a Senator - And then these leading citizens of your world came to me and made appeals to set their world in order, and avoid the anarchy of the government that allowed the traitor Shesh to come to power.

In particular they asked that I would settle a dispute among them, that some supported the canidacy of a member of the House of Kuat who is your person, while others came forth with various grievances against your House; and in this dispute I settled in your favour, and so I hereby inform and command of you to accept all posts offered you by the assembly of the Houses of Kuat and carry them out to your utmost, and while doing so your position in the fleet is maintained in the reserve.

I also command you in particular to appoint a Senator, as the treason of Viqi Shesh precludes her from carrying out her duties in the Senate; and though these various things have been done with the idea of restraining a people who have extended their passions into the support of treason, I would be particular in my command to you as a vassal of my person - For that would be the best way to describe the arrangement of things until such time as the government can be regularized and the situation is less confused - to alleviate their burden and institute laws and certain limited assemblies so that their voice is not entirely silenced, but simply moderated to within reason.

So is the command of Sule Tienyz, Lord and Imperator of the Fleets and the Legions of the Empire, Emperor of the Two Galaxies, acclaimed Warlord of Coruscant, holder of various other titles and protector of many nations and peoples and etc.'

"By the command of the Emperor..." Mystrela trailed off softly. The addendum to this message suggested that it likely arrived before the return of the suppliants, which was almost certainly correct. Well, Mystrela was not surprised that in her weeks here she'd ended up annoying both sides like that.

"Kyline. My third cousin, Inethre. I want you to contact her in person and bring her here; I have some terms for her. Though don't tell her that. Just get her here, please." Until Sule's note had actually been seen - And she honestly had no intent of every letting someone see it at all - She at least had some bargaining room on the conditions of what lay ahead.

Bargaining. It appeared to be the future. She wondered how much trouble that would get herself into. Mystrela surprised Kyline, though, by laughing aloud. Her uncle had gotten himself into a great deal more by playing around with Kuat's battlefleet; perhaps she could as well. After all, Viqi Shesh was still out there, and the Peace Brigade might be a periphery for the Empire, but for Kuat's resources it might indeed make the perfect target.

This fate might not entirely be that of a bean counter, after all.

CINCMW Flagship,
Torpedo Sphere Ulaumai,
Martian Orbit, Sol System.

High Admiral Rano Inaras felt the pleasure of the forbidden moment even now, yet, in Nurai's arms. He could relax... Supreme in a private little empire that was unlikely to be troubled for a long time to come, now, fortunately.

He had supported the winning side; and for no surprise. After all, he had thought that they could push the Vong back. And Elise had. Elise had, of course, and he had stayed back in a barbarian galaxy with the sop of his former commander's rank to appease him. Grand Admiral Elise Kalar-Leben won the accolades; shared perhaps, but she still did.

And it was really for a mechanistic plodding that even his worst accuser's slander admitted he could accomplish. She hadn't beaten the Vong; Pellaeon had. And Inaras could have been the anvil as easily as Elise could have been. Well, he hadn't been, and he commanded a fleet of glorified siege platforms and pickets that was massively understrength at the moment.

The envy probably wasn't healthy, and the illicit affair certainly wasn't, but he was the command of the entire navy in the Milky Way now, and said illicit affair was the main thing keeping the envy in check - And thus the warm body of Nurai Darvan snuggling against him in his suite's bed on the Ulaumai was considered a reasonable vice.

It wasn't his will, after all, that he had been promoted to command the entire Milky Way - including the quadrant she was assigned to - including just his own. So the relationship had been perfectly acceptable when it had started, which was the comfortable rationalization in his head. Of course having Nurai reassigned to the Ulaumai after he had been promoted certainly wasn't keeping in that spirit; but c'est la vie.

"Love, you're thinking about something, aren't you? And a deep matter, at that," Nurai asked softly, murmured with her eyes opening slightly; but she only shifted closer. She was genuinely in love, or at any rate that was how Rano fancied the relationship. His own emotions were ambiguous. It was certainly a sophisticated one; too sophisticated for simple lust and certainly enough to ignore the potential and rather vulgar double ententre of that comment.

"About us. And about things in the home galaxy. And about everything, really, love. There is too much on my mind these trying days - Which only you can alleviate." Home galaxy, always. Even if Nurai had been born here. Everything that counted had seen it's foundation back at Imperial Centre in Inaras' opinion, ruined Imperial Centre, Elise's obsessesion with Terran culture notwithstanding.

Nurai laughed softly in reply to what he voiced. "Perhaps so, and I will not doubt your concerns are worse than minding a single squadron of starfighters. But only if you will speak of something can I perhaps ease the burden, Rano."

"A fair request," Rano replied, smiling and tossing some of his lover's honeyed-blonde hair across her face playfully. She mock-growled at it and leaped up to pin him down, straddling his chest. "Tell, I said!"

First he had to get himself to stop laughing. "Alright; surrender freely given. Though that sort of oppress..."

"Do. Not. Say. It."

"As the mistress commands." Rano was smirking faintly. "Are you sure you want to hear about my problems now?"

Nurai let her face turn serious again and nodded. "Yes, Rano love, I do. You've always let things consume you just a bit too much. Air them out where you can; even now there's not much else of a safe place."

"Well, then, it is primarily about how things are being handled in the Home Galaxy - That is what worries me the most, with the news from Coruscant. I think Sule is being too confrontationalist with the Republic - And to that end, instead of concentrating just on the Vong, he's risking not just Home, but our territo.."

For the second time Rano was cut off but not by Nurai's voice. Instead it was by the gentle chime of the intercom interforming him of a message directly from the Torpedo Sphere's Flagbridge. Nurai had already slid off of him as he keyed on the message - Which was, of course, audio only, for a similiar if naturally not precisely identical reason.

"Rano here.." a mental scan through the duty roster.. "Commander Wessiv, what's happening?" Nobody else would be comming him from the flagbridge - effectively fleet operations for the whole Milky Way, several Torpedo Spheres had been modified for that purpose - in the middle of the ship's 'night cycle' except for the watch officer.

"High Admiral, our outer sensor platforms have detected subspace distortions consistant with a considerable use of transwarp conduits. The platforms in the region focused in after that and confirmed one thousand, I repeat, one thousand even warp signatures consistant with Borg Cube-level vessels, and around a hundred of their scout-type vessels."

That was offered up with as the brutal and cold recitation of facts it was. The Borg; they had lost tens of thousands of ships to the Galactic Empire in more than two decades of on-and-off fighting, but pacification or destruction of them had failed miserably, and they continued to try and adapt and send efforts against the Empire again. Generally with failures that were just as miserable as results.

"Did we get a track on their destination before they left the range of the perimeter sensors, Commander?" Rano's voice was flat, now.

"Yes, Admiral. They're going after the Briar Patch."

A grunt. It had to be that. The Borg had attacked precisely six Imperial targets in the history of the Galactic Empire's invasion of the Milky Way - Well, seven, if you count each end of the Bajoran wormhole as a seperate target - And the one they had attacked the fewest times and had always been assigned the least probability, for its deep location in Imperial space, was the Briar Patch.

Most people figured the Borg wanted the metaphysic particles to enhance drone efficiency or something, though there were always a few conspiracy theorists who predicted it was a time travel plot. Either way, it was something that had to be protected as much as any of the other Borg-threatened installations, anomalies and planets - Moreso, if the latter is true, Inaras thought with a dark humour - and it was, but his deployment plan by necessity would take more time in concentrating ships at the Briar Patch.

"Ten minutes, Commander, and I'll be up there. Wake everyone on my staff and get them up to the flagbridge, please. Inform Captain Fenilev of the situation immediately as well."

"Understood, Admiral. We're on it." The captain signed off promptly to attend to his instructions; the Borg threat was a constant one that had worn its way into the psyche of the Imperial Milky Way and speed had counted for the protection of civilians almost entirely from casualties during those invasions. Almost wasn't good enough, though, it never was - They had to get better, so even a single tramp freighter wasn't missed, even if it was impossible - But now Rano Inaras had to do that with a seriously reduced force.

He looked to Nurai and saw she had already dressed. A nod was exchanged; and a look in their eyes. "I know the way, love," she said softly. "I rather suspect we won't be seeing action for a while yet, but..."

"Quite right. Until later.. Love." He leaned over and kissed her, and as she left his Admiral's suite, began to dress as well.

CINCMW Flagship,
Torpedo Sphere Ulaumai,
The Briar Patch.

Nurai Darvan trotted out into the hanger where her squadron - one among five on the heavily modified Torpedo Sphere - was now ready being readied for launch, the Missile Boats - older model single seaters -bearing an armament of all-proton torps against the Cubes. The preflight briefing was finished; the events of some six odd hours ago were a fading memory. Now it was time to fight an enemy just as inhuman and monstrous as the Yuuzhan Vong, and one she was quite familiar with.


As she climbed up into her starfighter, she paused and looked to the voice shouted just below her; it was Veli Kuisa, her best friend on the Ulaumai and only confidante - unless you counted her lover as both. Veli knew about her High Admiral Inaras. But then Nurai trusted her completely; Veli, after all, supervised the maintainence techs for the entire squadron.

The other woman reached up, smiling, and clasped her hand tightly for a brief moment. "Forgot to tell me you'd be back, Nurai! Good luck out there!"

"Thanks, Veli - And I'll be back!" A laugh, and she was off and into the cockpit.

On the flagbridge - fleet ops - of the Ulaumai, the worry was banished from High Admiral Inaras' mind, as it been in the past. Other people had that same worry and held it openly, who were fortunate or unfortunate enough to have a spouse on another ship or the like in an engagement. His was simply secret, after all, and otherwise the same.

He had a battle to run, but a nagging voice reminded him irritatingly that this was his triumph to be had; minimize casualties and don't just protect the metaphasic particle harvesting equipment, but annihilate the Borg force totally, and he'd see how the Lord and Imperator's estimation of himself was raised. And against the Borg hive mind such lofty goals were not impossible by far!

Even with his limited resources there were things that could be done; and the Torpedo Spheres had certain advantages in fighting the Borg, which is why they had been retained and modified just for that purpose. Nobody needed speed or manoeuvrability for such an engagement, after all. And so he had the following forces on hand, and he intended to use them like so:

The Torpedo Spheres of the Galactic Empire's Milky Way possessions had been modified with the addition of a twin very-heavy Ion Cannon turret at the dorsal and ventral poles, and ninety-six quad anti-starfighter laser cannon. Furthermore the space for the vehicles and dropships and landing barges was removed; that was where the fighter bays went. The troop bunks however were retained, giving the Torpedo Spheres large onboard Stormtrooper complements to deal with Borg infiltration.

Finally the gravshock bombard was removed and replaced by additional shield generators, and the power core was replaced by a new and higher-rate model. That completed the modifications - Quite extensive refits that involved gutting the vessels but noticably cheaper than building new ships, and much better than wasting precious yard space; even ripping out their reactor cores could be done almost anywhere with some imperial repair equipment.

These had turned the siege platforms into very slow warships, with the majority of their main armament fixed forwards - Which was more than sufficient for killing the Borg. And High Admiral Inaras had one hundred and ninety-three of them at the Briar Patch today. Supporting the Torpedo Spheres were eighty-six Dreadnought-class Heavy Cruisers and one hundred and three escort carriers, along with sixty-two Carrack-class Light Cruisers, one hundred and thirty-seven Nebulon-B type Frigates, and two hundred and twenty-nine assorted corvettes, along with eighty-three assorted old Milky Way vessels in supporting roles.

It was not the best of odds, actually - The Borg had reached the limit of their adaption in the series of conflicts, and now it was a matter of sheer firepower, and the Empire did win that - But those were one thousand of the Borg's largest cubes supported by at least a hundred scouts out there; and a Torpedo Sphere was one of the few things in the universe that manoeuvred as poorly as a Borg Cube.

But High Admiral Inaras was defending the Briar Patch; and that meant of course that the Borg had to come to him through it. And that give him every single advantage he needed. The area was precisely charted by the Galactic Empire, and he knew roughly the capabilities of the Borg sensors. Likewise the Borg had attacked the Briar Patch before, and gone straight down the main safe shipping lane through it when they had.

And so at one point of particularly dense gas clouds within the Briar Patch, it had been simple enough - They had laid a minefield, a box with one end open and the far side the thickest, and behind that Inaras had positioned all of the lighter ships and thirty-three of the Torpedo Spheres, supported by all the fighters; if the Borg calculated a discrepency in numbers the highest probability would be that they were from the planetary installations after all, and some in fact were.

On either flank of the formation and to either side of the main shipping channel, however, were positioned eighty torpedo spheres, hovering respectively in two very dense gas clouds that utterly obscured them as long as they maintained their position. They were kept in touch with the main fleet by a relay chain of cloaked MW designed vessels, Defiants, Vor'chas and D'Deridexes, while the remainder not needed for the laser-signaller relay lines reinforced the central squadron - along with the escort carriers, albeit both to the aft - to give the appearence of desperation, if the Borg could calculate that.

Inaras then just dismissed the noncombatant minelayers maintained at the Briar Patch - it was a perfect place for mining - and told their captains to flee. And then he waited for the Borg to show up; because, inevitably, they would... And they did, exactly where he had expected them. After all, this one hadn't been tried before.

But as simple as the planning had been, that in truth was the case about many military strategies, and tactics. There was still the execution; and as the relay reported the central force's contact with the first Borg cubes, scouts, Inaras knew that for all the presumption that had gone into one of these combats with the Borg it was most assuredly not over before it had commenced.

"Signals from the Ralanys, sir. Admiral Tular reports that the Borg scouts are now approaching the minefield. Accurate sensor data gives a total number of one hundred and ten; Borg Cube force still coming into effective sensor range."

"Inform him that he may engage with energy fire only, as soon as he has the range, Commander."

"At once, sir."

Inaras looked to the massive holoplot as Commander Fasir turned away; one that was designed to aide in controlling an entire galaxy's forces; right now however it was set to let him control a battle, and also right now all it showed was the misty and concealing clouds, and the torpedo spheres in his own force close enough to be revealed.

The Borg scouts approached the minefield, scanning it and the ships beyond, and Admiral Tular obeyed his orders. From each of thirty-three torpedo spheres ten of the heaviest turbolasers in the Imperial inventory opened up; and likewise from the Dreadnoughts, their lighter batteries adding into the murderous fire, all set to flak bursts that detonated in the clouds and sent the raw, uncontained energy against the defences of the Borg ships while it excited the mists around them into a tumult.

The first cannonade lasted two minutes and fourty-two seconds. At the end of it sixty-three Borg scouts had been destroyed and in return they had destroyed less than a quarter of a percent of the minefield. But the Collective did not care; the Collective could not care. The losses were totally irrelevant, even for this attack - none of their major Cubes dedicated for this effort had been lost, and they now had precise information about the Imperial defences for the Briar Patch, which could be used to defeat those defences. That was relevant.

Imperial concentrations were weaker in this area than predicted, but fleet deployments for the extragalactic invaders suggested a very large-scale recall of their forces to their home galaxy. The Borg Collective did not have sufficient information to predict probabilities on the reasons for that, but it could conclude that there was now an excellent chance to overwhelm the Empire's pocket in the Milky Way and assimilate their technological distinctiveness with a relevant chance from shipyards and other major infrastructure facilities of then having the base to replicate it.

However, due to unacceptably heavy attrition even for the Collective in direct assaults against the major Imperial centers in the Milky Way, the Collective had first chosen to test the Empire's exact weakness or strength by launching an assault on a particular region of temporal interest and biological usefulness to the Collective. If the assault failed, the forces committed to it would be acceptable losses; if it succeeded, it would be an indicator that a general assault and assimilation effort against the Galactic Empire's Milky Way holdings would be of acceptable risk.

Either way, the force committed to attack what other beings called the Briar Patch was, of course, fully expendable. And indeed the loss of sixty-three scouts from it had been virtually expected; they had fulfilled their purpose, and now the main force deployed according to the information they had gained.

One thousand Borg Cubes each launched a single sphere, and combined with the scouts this would provide a light mobile force. It was directed to swing to the right and outflank the defending force, cutting through the minefield there. The pattern was precise and geometric and of course the enemy would know they were coming; but the Collective determined that dividing the enemy's defending force would maximize the efficiency of the assimilation effort, and so however awkwardly, the Borg actually did attempt a flanking manoeuvre.

The word got to High Admiral Inaras soon enough.

"This is interesting," He commented in the same tone. "We're going to have to up our estimation of them - In general. Fortunately not in the Briar Patch however. Tell Admiral Tular to engage at his discretion; we'll deal with the flanking force."

The Borg Cubes advanced straight ahead towards the minefield, encountering heavy turbolaser fire concentrated against the lead elements. Quickly however the Cubes began to draw up along the minefield and with wide-beam energy weaponry started to clear away the mines, vapourizing them in a continuing series of heavy detonations.

As they did, however, the torpedo spheres engaged; and through both the lanes in the minefield the Borg were creating, and ones prepared for the occasion, the starfighters accelerated in to engage. Thirty-three ships; each firing five hundred proton torpedoes of the latest type. Sixteen thousand five hundred torpedoes were launched in a series of salvoes, one every four seconds.

The Borg analyzed the threat; they shifted their wide-beam weaponry to anti-missile defence and began clearing the minefield with pulse disruptors, a much slower process. And the torpedoes and turbolasers were taking a toll - Several Borg Cubes had already been destroyed outright in the lead, and they could not yet engage the defending force, not until they had cleared the minefield.

But those losses were acceptable. They were, after all, clearing the minefield; and once it was done there were still nearly a thousand Borg Cubes left. The collective calculated the predicted losses, noted the enemy ignoring the flanking efforts, and found the predicted margin for victory to be, indeed, satisfactory.

However, the flanking force, which was now along the minefield, had discovered something unusual about the surrounding stellar gasses to the minefield on the right flank as it approached, scanning. Its local decision-making nodes requested instruction from the central process of the Collective directing the operation.

"Command-detonate the 'field," High Admiral Inaras ordered, glancing one last time at the plot where the range between the flanking force and the minefield was displayed, based on data from the cloaked relay ships closest to it.

"Command detonating the minefield, sir."

"Fleet sensors active on mark!"

"Fleet sensors active on mark, sir."

The minefield on the Imperial fleet's left flank blew up; the one on the right flank followed seven seconds later. Both detonated massive quantities of the unusual and rare gasses that were found in the Briar Patch along with their explosive yields. The Borg scouts and spheres on their right flank simply vanished into the massive, blinding white detonation that rippled through millions of kilometers of space, and did not appear out of it.


The active targeting sensors for eighty torpedo sensors illuminated the Borg Cubes. Moments later, the targeting sensors for another eighty from the opposite direction did likewise.

"All ships report torpedo solutions good, sir."

"The fleet shall engage with missiles, then. Energy fire at division commander's discretion."

Out of the malaestrom of receeding energy rushed fourty-thousand proton torpedoes from each direction, homing in on the Borg fleet; and the streaks of heavy tubolaser and ion cannon fire followed. They certainly did not lack targets.

Following orders, two torpedo spheres concentrated fire each on a single Borg Cube. This of course left many, many of the Borg Cubes unengaged; but that was inevitable and indeed preferable. The goal was to overwhelm this ships with massed volleys, and as the fat streaks of green and reddish-purple of the turbolasers and ion cannons streaked out as fast as the guns could fire, the torpedo tubes began steadily flushing a shot every four seconds, each salvo five hundred torpedoes, every Cube targeted being sent a thousand torpedoes within that span.

The blocking force in the centre continued fired with turbolasers, keeping up the maximum rate on the cannons as those thirty-three torpedo spheres maintained their own salvoes; and so from three sides the Borg fleet was oppressed by an awesome fire, and now in its midst raced the hordes of fighters of the Imperial Starfleet, salvoing torpedoes and strafing with their light guns against the great and lightly protected bulk of the Cubes.

The execution wrought upon the Borg fleet was swift and decisive from that surprise assault; before an effective reaction by the Borg could be made, trapped as they were in that corridor of fire, no less than a grand total of ninety-three cubes had been destroyed altogether, along with all the scouts and spheres. That was the tally after only two minutes of firing by the torpedo spheres on either flank. The Imperial capital ships had not yet among them been touched.

However, the Collective was already reacting; and mere moments after that mark had been past it sent directly forward into the minefield ten cubes. Sacrificial victims, they collided with the mines, compiling damage from both their detonations and the massed close-range fire of the blocking force, until one after another they had all been destroyed: But they fulfilled their purpose, they cleared a sufficient gap in the minefield with their weaponry and their passage, and so their loss was... Irrelevant.

One hundred and ninety-seven Cubes were then dispatched through the corridor cleared by that effort to engage closely the blocking force; while against either of the forces of torpedo spheres the Collective methodically assigned three hundred ships that were already moving to engage their assigned targets; with a reserve of one hundred ships being held back in their current position, and also to, or so the Collective desired, keep the fighters engaging and attriting them instead of the other forces.

"Detail the fighters to fall back on the blocking force - They're to aide them with those advancing cubes, and then together advance on the Borg reserve. The wings can fall back slowly and keep the Borg at range and under torpedo fire for as long as possible," Rano ordered as the plot developed.

"Understood, Admiral. Though we only have so much clearance behind us before we'll regions - And the same goes for the right wing - That we'll suffer targeting sensor degregation even on active."

"Then at that point we'll have to engage the Borg at close range."

"Aye aye, sir."

The torpedo spheres elegantly fell back as ordered; drifting through the mists, firing and firing as the Borg tried to close with them, close in the waves of death that battered them. With each passing minute, fewer Borg cubes advanced towards the respective walls of torpedo spheres. But they were firing back now; their shield draining weaponry focusing on every ship it could, while their destructive weaponry systematically concentrated on as few vessels as possible, trying to destroy some of their tormentors or land assimilation parties.

In the centre the Borg had gotten their desired melee; but with the fighters also involved it was hardly going their way. They did not have the weaponry to split between the masses of small, agile craft and the torpedo spheres, dreadnoughts, and lighter warships that engaged them at point-blank, and at this range the huge ion cannons of the torpedo spheres in the center did particularly good work against the vulnerable Borg electronics systems.

Among the masses of combatants locked in a struggle deadly and desperate to one side, impersonal and uncaring to another, however, a single fighter led a squadron of old-type missile boats against the Borg. In the heat of the engagement, it would not be initially noticed when it lost power, skimming along the surface of a Cube; and before anything could be done, or even a scream uttered by its pilot, the inevitable and fatal collision occured.

Veli Kuisa had done her work perfectly. It was not an undiscoverable crime; but the essential evidence destroyed in battle, and if all went well then, in a while, nobody would have the motivation to discover it, anyway.

Steadily the number of Cubes attacking the centre force was eroded by the efforts of the fighters and the heavy ships; the murderous fire tore into the huge vessels, the torpedoes exploited the holes within them to rip deep into their structure, and the light weaponry prevented them from regenerating until massed salvoes reduced them to rubble.

The Imperial forces took losses; ships boarded and destroyed by the Imperial torpedo spheres to prevent their assimilation, or ships destroyed outright, and the losses among the fighters were unpleasantly high. But the Cube force in the centre was decisively ground up, the fight a brutal and short affair between one side that was incapable of mercy, and another that knew it was a luxury that could not exist.

On either flank the Borg had finally come into close quarters as the Imperial walls came to a halt, the spheres drawn up against the deeper gas clouds where their sensors could not function, their enemies attrited by the steady pursuit, and well out of range of any effective reinforcement from the remaining unengaged Borg Cubes.

Inaras had lost three Torpedo Spheres - Two boarded and overwhelmed, then destroyed by his own forces, and one destroyed outright - While the right wing had lost four. The Borg, though, had suffered in excess of 60% losses; Inaras was only directly facing 114 Cubes. But the shields of much of his force were badly depleted; and he knew what the Borg might now do.

"Instruct the Force to go to emergency-rapid cycle on the torpedo tubes, and signal Admiral Tular to do the same," he ordered.

The firing cycle increased to a full salvo every two seconds instead of four; a rate that could not be sustained for very long, and would rapidly deplete the magazines besides. But those Borg Cubes weren't slowing down.

A moment later: "Admiral, our analysis indicates the Borg are probably going to..."


Then: "Order all ships to be prepared for suicide-ramming attempts by Borg Cubes; evasive manoeuvres may be undertaken at all captains' descretion."

The Cubes raced in, the salvoes pelting them, 15,000 torpedoes from each sphere every minute now. But the torpedo spheres didn't have a minute. Well, Nurai my love, I certainly hope you are doing better out there than I am here, Rano thought idly and tensely as he watched the massive image of a cube swell towards his flagship on the plot. But to his quiet and internal relief the image was removed; the cube destroyed by the rapid-fire salvos and hammering turbolasers, electronics disrupted into vulnerability by the ion cannon fire.

So we shall yet see each other again, he thought with inward relief still extant; for there was nothing to instill nervousness in even a veteran of the most intense naval combats as to observe a spacecraft far larger than your own closing at high velocity to you on a ramming course and to within a few thousand klicks.

And all around the scene was repeated, as the Borg Cubes attempted to close and were blown apart. Or connected with their targets in a sickening display of energy - Something that happened several times, enough to remind Inaras that his fleet was suffering as the Borg methodically executed their ruthless and simple form of attack. Sometimes even a few of the torpedo spheres evaded; the affair looking like two beached whales rolling about, but sometimes that was all it took in space, where an inch might become a thousand miles.

Finally, finally, the lunge of the Borg was over. Eight Torpedo Spheres destroyed each from it in both his and Admiral Tular's forces. And the attacking Borg forces had been entirely wiped out. Well; the Borg had been less successful than they might have liked, but the loss of even that number - a total of twenty-six torpedo spheres - of the remaining heavy ships in the Milky Way was worrying. And now the Borg would use the tactic again. And refine it.

The remaining hundred Borg cubes of the attacking force simply fled; the Collective determined that committing them would now be a waste of resources, even to a suicide attack, without properly studying the effects and methods of the one it had decided to attack here. In the rubble were nine hundred Borg Cubes, one thousand Borg Spheres, and one hundred and ten Borg Scouts. Inaras had defeated them for the cost of little more than eighty ships altogether; but deeper seeds were sown on that day.

It wasn't until hours, hours later that he found out what truly mattered about the battle, though. He hadn't thought much about Nurai not contacting him after she got back to the ship. The Ulaumai's fighter compliment had returned thin; but of course High Admiral Rano Inaras had never thought of the one possibility that turned out to be the truth. He just assumed he was doing what she was doing - Reading the casualty lists.

Then he saw her name on them. And it wasn't a while until he believed it.

CINCMW Flagship,
Torpedo Sphere Ulaumai,
Martian Orbit, Sol System.

Well, he had his victory. More costly than he would have liked, but then the Borg had used tactics he had never expected; and he had still fought them off in what could have been a much more bloody affair. But it was hollow. It was all hollow, and he felt a rage for that; a diffused thing, without focus or substance, but a rage. There wasn't even a body to bury! And, of course, it would be something he could never share. With anyone, anyone at all. Not now; no scandal over the dead.

Which is when he remembered Nurai's closest friend on the Ulaumai, Veli Kuisa. She was only in support; but she was a warrant officer and women tended to talk about their relationships to each other; or at least that's what everyone said. Rano wondered if Nurai might have confided in her about her relationship with him; and if so if she'd hear him out. It was better than stewing to death.

And that's why he found himself down in the fighter bays, on the third watch, the night watch - When he knew Veli had the watch, trying to inconspiciously look for her and probably doing a very bad job. But it was his fleet; and he should bloody well be able to sneak around it if he wanted to.

"High Admiral, sir! Is there anything I can do for you?"

Rano whirled around, stunned by the voice directly behind him. Polite, soft, feminine sounding; and altogether appealing. From a very sneaky person at that, he realized, slightly annoyed. And that person was also Veli Kuisa, who had found him.

"Well, yes, actually..." He replied, managing to avoid stuttering or coughing out of the surprise he still felt at just having her show up there. "Chief Warrant Officer Kuisa, if I might inquire - You knew Commander Darvan?"

Softly: "Nurai? Yes, I did.. We were close friends, High Admiral. Is there anything I can help you about in regard to her? Anything at all, sir?"

"I knew her as well - Through her parents actually.." Inaras began cautiously. "It was such a pity, her death, and I just thought that considering you were closest friend onboard you might want to talk about her. Maybe not strictly under the spirit of regulations for an Admiral to be fraternizing like this with a Warrant Officer, but..."

Veli smiled faintly. "And my duty shift does end in three more minutes. Fair enough, Admiral, and thank you. I think it would help me, really - So thank you again. What happened was so depressing, indeed.. I do not make friends well and to lose her was a burden, if I may say so......" She trailed off into silence, the unshed tears evident within her expression, a faint shudder running through her body. "More than a burden, truly."

Rano was silent for a moment, looking to the Chief Warrant Officer. It was not appropriate, but he saw the sadness evident upon her face, and despite her uniform, that peculiar sort of shudder left an air of innocence to her body. He had been raised in the New Order; his social mores had never really thought it quite, well, not right, but normal, for women in the service, though he'd adapted, of course. But still... There was just something in his person that screamed out then. It was Nurai's friend, he couldn't let her down, nor to suffer in silence.

"Ah.. Chief Kuisa.." He lapsed to silence again for a moment, trying to think of what to say in such an awkward situation. "I.. We've both find ourselves in a similiar situation, then, I suppose. They speak of a loneliness of command, and it is a rare fortune when it can be broken down. It's a sadness that we both had to lose what seems to be a rare friend, and..."

"Please, don't worry, Admiral," Veli answered softly. "I do understand. It can get very lonely at the top, to say the least. For me, well... I suppose I am just a natural introvert." There was a faint, wry smile, almost self-depreciating in that light.

"Yes, it can, and..." Rano looked to Veli. "Well, I needed someone to confide in, you understand, and if I must confess, I suppose I do all the more now. We were both her friends.." He added in a silent defence of broken custom.

"Please, call me Veli, Admiral..." Chief Kuisa added. And then the smile was gentle.

"And me, Rano. Thank you, Veli. It.. It's quite hard, after a battle, when you have to review the casualty lists and write those letters - not like a commander at my level can write them, just sign off on them...."

"And imaginably worse to see your lover's name among them?" Veli asked, not truly a question. Rano looked at her, caught like a caged tiger, woven into the trap, though he had hoped for her very knowledge of that fact; he could but nod dumbly to the question, hapless at the memory recalled in his mind.

Veli took a step closer, her expression gentle. "She always said you truly loved her... I see I am a fool to have doubted her for even an instant. How can you stand having your heart shattered like that?"

"I.. I'm not sure, Veli. You just sort of live, and go through the routine, and hope nobody notices. That's what you always must do, is it not?" He finally replied. "But.. I did need someone to talk to. Or else I'd have surely gone mad with it."

"Surely you would have," Veli agreed. "To try and live with that... You can only take so much..." She shook her head, smiling softly, sadly, and stepped closer to Rano.

He always claimed it just sort of happened, they fell into each other's arms... She was there, when he needed her... A beautiful woman to comfort a man who had lost a beautiful woman he had loved, who said the right things and understood his loss, for they had lost the same person, if not in the same way. And so the trap was laid...

For Veli Kuisa had been very well trained in her job, and she knew exactly what sort of man Rano Inaras was. He would certainly be her's by the time her handlers needed anything from him; he was baited; hook, line and sinker as the Terrans would say. A pity about Nurai, but then, that was all part of the game, and Veli prided herself on first being a player, and only second to all other things.

Tsavong Lah's Flagship,
Battleship-analogue Red Talon,
Corellian Sector.

The Yuuzhan Vong had been defeated and disgraced; and Tsavong Lah had been responsible for it. Their plans to turn the capital of the infidels into a bloody and brilliant pyre to celebrate the destruction of their horrific and blasphemous civilization had been undone; and Tsavong Lah had been responsibile for it. He had been defeated in battle by the Infidel.

The Gods had willed it, however. They had used one of the Jeedai as their arbiters, and the conquest that had once been pathetically easy, the stripping of the rotten fruit of the infidel's civilization from the dying tree of this galaxy, had been made immeasurably harder. But it would be done. And Tsavong Lah retained his command; his steadfastness in the retreat had assured that, silencing the opposition ruthlessly, though his position now hung by a thread.

But a thread was all he needed; thick enough to strangle those who would see him gone, and the infidel alike. He would avenge his son and defeat the blasphemers of the Gods simultaneously - And he would eliminate the Jeedai most especially, those who had been the principle author of his defeat and the death of so many Vong warriors. The Gods had indicated their desire for the destruction of the Jeedai, surely and most evidently, in their use so blatantly in such a defeat as Second Coruscant, to place the Imperial relief force so perfectly alongside them.

Now, at conquered Talfaglio the Vong fleet regrouped, gathering in the detachments it had sent out into the other areas of the Core, concentrating the full available strength of the Yuuzhan Vong within the Corellian Sector to thrust forward once more. The contest for the Core would be decided now at Coruscant and only at Coruscant, and Tsavong Lah would muster the full strength of his people and put it into that decision.

At the same time, he would use other methods, subtle and direct alike, to insure that the Jeedai did not threaten him as he battled for Coruscant. Those efforts had already been put into motion; and their success or failure was now the skill of those directing and executing them and overall the will of the Divine. And so Tsavong Lah mustered and supplied his fleet and prepared it, studying the possibilities and the options he would have the next time a Yuuzhan Vong warship flickered into reality within the heliopause of Coruscant. It was only a matter of time, after all, the Gods willing. And they would be - For this was their divine mandate to the Yuuzhan Vong; To conquer, and to winnow the weak from the strong, to take from infidels and blasphemers what their own needs dictated. It had been the history of their people, and it would not change now.
The threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth. -- Wikipedia's No Original Research policy page.

In 1966 the Soviets find something on the dark side of the Moon. In 2104 they come back. -- Red Banner / White Star, a nBSG continuation story. Updated to Chapter 4.0 -- 14 January 2013.

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The Duchess of Zeon
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Post by The Duchess of Zeon » 2003-02-08 06:12pm

Chapter the Eleventh.

La Teatro alla Scala
Milan, Italia, Terra.

Ravenna was mostly new construction; Venice was gone to memories. Rome in her glory remained, and Iron Milan to the north. The city that guarded the passes to Germany in times when such an accounting had mattered now entertained German culture. O heilige Götter, hehre Geschlecter! Götterdämmerung had arrived in Milan, or more precisely Der Ring des Nibelungen's third opera. The Imperial officers in their dress uniforms and government officials in their evening finery, along with wives, in some cases lovers, and an assortment of important industrial functionaries, filled the theatre. It was a short trip from Ravenna - the seat of the European district's administrative government - to Milan, and the cultural scene in Milan was far more developed at the moment.

The production was quite traditional; that is, not traditional Terran, but traditional Wagnerian. The Opera of the Imperial Age would have made a classicist's heart flutter: To the staid and traditionalist culture which been the backbone of the Empire, with twenty-five millenia of continuous civilization behind it, an opera or a play was a set-piece, the author's interpetation of an event, a fable, or a moral story. One did not interpet an interpetation, and so Wagner's instructions for the production of Der Ring des Nibelungen were followed to exacting detail.

Watching that production with the rest of the audience, unsurprisingly, was the Romulan Consul General to the European District. She was not wholly taken up in the Epic; she had seen it before, thrice, and in varying interpetations - for she was an experienced Terran hand, even in the UFP days - and would have preferred the likes of Boris Godunov from among Terran playwrights. But it was impossible to get near to boredom with a Wagnerian Opera while attending it... Especially in the traditional format.

On the virtues of a traditional format, though, she would have preferred still more the epic tragedy Ulanna, Marquessa of the Trajh. That opera, by the famous Alsakanian composer Islandart, told the story of the Marquessa Ulanna of the Trajh, a minor state in the era before Xim the Despot. Her rise to power over her brothers by the favour of her father, and scheming to maintain it, ultimately led to her fall from grace and her position -- Which was in turn taken by the man who's bastard son was known by the name Xim, and the appelation of Despot.

A faint smile touched her lips; a pity she could not continue the comparative exercise. Her enjoyment of the opera presently before her eyes was sufficiently genuine, and moreover, required. There was an incidently bonus to being here; it had been planned in advance, and was not for herself, but for her nation. For the moment, simply, it indeed required her to but 'enjoy the show.'

The Lord and Imperator Sule I Tienyz, was, according to the latest dispatches, in the process of summoning the Republican Senators to a Diet who's importance would be crucial in establishing a semblence of control in the Empire's home galaxy. By the latest reports, little better than the media admittedly - For the Romulan sources beyond the anomaly were still nearly worthless - that Diet would be likely have already commenced, or at least be close to it.

Coruscant had been a horrid spectacle to the people of the Milky Way, the images of slaughter, and of vicious acts of depravity, which had been shown... Those things perhaps bringing home to them their enemy for the first time. Combined with the victory it had created a sort of resolve; a determined if frightened one. But they knew the Vong could be beaten, and the images had been chosen, to keep fear from paranoia and panic. The Consul General approved of it: The results of Second Coruscant here had been minor ones, though. Its true results were, naturally, concentrated around the planet its self. That fabled world, which even in its ruined state called out to the Romulan's soul as a place where a fulcrum might move the universe, had naturally become the focus of the struggle for the spoils.

In a massive spectacle the senators of the Republic had been steadily arriving; they desired to influence the decision of the galactic body in one direction or another. The staunchly pro-republican factions had arrived with their own naval contigents in an effort to avoid being intimidated by the Imperial Starfleet, and reciprocally the others had done the same. The process was still ongoing according to the latest returns, but obviously nobody wanted to be left out. Fleets which races and nations would not commit to the war against the Vong had been sent to Coruscant to reinforce the presence of their senators or representatives. The command of the Lord and Imperator and his signal victory had brought them forth; but it was no guarantee of his success... Unless he could gain on his nominal allies to intimidate the Republic's allies into submission. Perhaps the looming threat of the Vong would do that for him, sealing the matter. Perhaps not.

Even if he succeeded there, events within the Teatro alla Scala that evening, and elsewhere within the Milky Way, were being planned to deny him the pleasure of the victory. The Romulan Consul General knew of some of these, enough, with her particular intelligence, to roughly and faintly grasp the whole.. For she ran the Romulan spy net on Terra. The remnant Republic of Romulus and Remus was not without its power; in information and in things less than territory and mobilized strength.

What gave them little pleasure was that even in triumph the glory of Romulus would rely on the sufferance of others: And it was to the whims of one of that enigmatic clique that the Romulan Consul General now waited. In the darkness of her seat and with her consort to her side, the pure and uncontained emotion of a grim smirk, the eyes betraying their envy at his knowledge of the whole, and his comfort, was released. Götterdämmerung, indeed! He was the master of it; and she and her whole nation a slave to his whim. And he had the temerity to enjoy the play wholeheartedly, no less.

But it was their last chance, and so it was not something they would grasp lightly.

The Planet Coruscant,
Old Senate Chambers.

The first day of the Senate's meeting had been purely introductory. From every quarter of the galaxy delegates arrived, their starships escorted and filling the space around Coruscant. Very few nations nor peoples desired to be left out, and everyone who could be represented wanted some form of representation. Even those who were not Senators, but lacking such representation or thinking it poor, and having the means and thinking the influence, to make themselves powerful, arrived. And so the national fleets of the galaxy filled the stars of Coruscant with contigents from their numbers in ostentatious display and mutual paranoia, and the delegates and their guards overstrained the ruined facilities of the mighty Imperial Centre, so that once more an ever-increasing stream of resources arrived to supply them, as well as the starving masses on the ruined planet to which they attended the conference that would decide the fate of the vast polity which, in its two forms, had endured for countless generations, and myriad strife.

On the surface, bands had played, and tattered units from the liberation of Coruscant, had proudly marched in display of their colours and their battle honours, to impress the delegates and to welcome them in a formal regalia. The Senate Chambers having been completely destroyed, and the plans for their rebuilding not even considered at this time, the Old Senate Chambers, those from thousands of years prior in the Republic, the age of the first Sith Wars, and built in a fashion of less comfortable stadium seating, but still able to accomadate the debate of a thousand or more individuals, was chosen as the center for these new debates to be held. Though long since reduced to the status of a museum, and having only been briefly revived during the formative period of the New Republic, when there was some brief debate over the question of if the Senate should inhabit the chambers used by the Imperial Senate, they were still quite functional from that renovation, and mostly untouched by the fighting.

So it was here that the delegates had been painfully gathered up on the first day. Merely the order of entrance had been contentious, and the ability of the Imperial authority to cleave these debates down to short formalities had been a great benefit, and an addition to the stance and standing of Sule. More serious was the problem of who to admit. But most everyone who had arrived with armed ships to their names, with planets and people and diplomats, had been admitted, in addition to the senators. This had stripped the number of aides down to the minimum, and still packed the chamber to beyond capacity.

Thus it was that the formalities and procedures of the opening ceremonies had carried long through the first day, and into the beginning of the second. But they had established the protocol, or more precisely reestablished what had been shattered by the Vong. Once again the Senators were comfortable in a familiar setting, and the other delegates eager to air grievances, or make their demands on what was to be discussed, with reminders of their power to back it up; and the firmly Republican Senators and delegates had coalesced, that they might oppose any effort by Sule, to consolidate the Imperial power in Law over those who had been assembled by the ever-lurking menace of common threat, and the sudden authority granted by his signal victory.

Now the debates of the Senate, or perhaps, considering the more widened nature of the body assembled before Sule, what could be called a Galactic Diet would begin in earnest. And as he stood upon the Chancellor's rostrum, the man who had forged the impossible already knew that the real test of his ability to forge a State would be met here. It was not something, though, that shook his belief in the outcome. He had grasped the nettle, and he would see it through.

"Gentlebeings of the Galaxy, now that we have concluded the opening ceremonies for the restoration of the Senatorial authority, I would speak first, noting the unusual nature of this assembly. Firstly, we have an unusual situation in which delegates, due to a situation of extreme danger, have been brought forth by their nations and races, to speak for the interests of those groups to the Galactic Senate, and to protect those interests where they might otherwise be overlooked. This is not outside of Law; though we bend the procedure of the Chamber in how we allow them their voice. Considering the situaiton, however, we have by consensus judged this necessary."

"I know also that questions have been raised by chairing this session of the Galactic Senate. However, my position in the Galactic Empire gives me the right to chair a meeting of the Senate; this is quite clear under the law of the Empire." There were some murmurs, by sufficient voices as to be audible, but Sule continued on with his speech. "As the Empire and the Republic contest for the same authority, with have rights over the same things, at least in theory. If we wish to effect a mutual defence, it is my contention that we must remedy our own losses. The Republic was deprived of its head; the Galactic Empire has already lost its body. It is merely my desire to provide a union under the law and procedure which has governed the concourse of nations and races for twenty-five millenia, of the two competing polities therein, which will allow us to effect a defence of our civilization against our barbarian foe.

"For us to refuse such a union, and I speak of union in the sense as to allow us to direct our full resources against the barbarian, would mean our own destruction with absolute certainty. We must decide here, as equals under the law and fellows in the chamber of the Senate, how to effect such a union and under what terms shall it exist, so that all we hold dear shall not be swept aside by ignorance, brutality, and depravity. That is what I lay before you, Senators of the Galactic Republic, Delegates. I hold my own position in this merely to propose concepts, and moderate the debate. I hope that in this we may complete a union that shall be effective in this effort that we must undertake; but beyond this I have no desire, other than to rule the territories under my control fairly, as an individual ought."

There was a very brief pause. Then Sule hid a wince at the inevitable response, and noted who had tried to talk first according to the computerized response system. Likewise he had several aides filtering through them as the procedure warranted. "The Chair recognizes the Senator from Chandrila for the period of five minutes." That had seemed almost inevitable.

The Chandrilan being a hardcore Republican who had been fit to succeed Mon Mothma - no easy task - Sule braced for the tirade. Fortunately a reply to a speech, with so many delegates and during a special session, had to be short.

"Chancellor," she began, consciously choosing the title which, in theory at least, could be used at the moment but was hardly of the highest dignity, "It is naturally of the greatest interest to my constituents as to the nature of any union with the Galactic Empire as it now stands. Though of course I am not opposed to such an idea in principle, you must understand that our planet has made great sacrifices to the cause of freedom and liberty, and great sacrifices against tyranny, in an area where it must be bluntly say, the Empire has a poor record. I could hardly support the resumption of Imperial rule over Chandrila, considering its history, and the word union strikes great fear as an indication of such a desire -- Especially considering your own resumption of the Imperial dignities."

"How can the galaxy tolerate a non-elected Head of State when the result of Palpatine's gaining such a position was repression and brutality which, if it does not equal the Vong, remains reprehensible? I would ask you out-front: Do you desire such a position as the result of this proposed 'union'? Is this to be the tenor of the debate?"

At least it had been short, and so Sule began to reply: "I desire what Senators of the Republic desire for me, Honourable Senator, if they believe it shall serve our need of a swift and vigorous defence against the barbarian threat. If I am offered the Imperial title I shall not reject it, but nor do I come here asking you all to make me Emperor of the Republic, and Lord and Master over yourselves. We may all have our opinions on the facts of the reign of the Emperor Palpatine, but they ought be cast aside in the present danger. Now, I do not mean by this that the real needs of peoples and nations should be ignored, but rather that they should not be influenced by prejudice against certain groups."

Sule paused for a moment, then continued. "It is my belief that we need sufficient organization to marshal the resources of the galaxy against the threat of which I bespeak, and the results of their ravages you have viewed upon your arrival, and that this manifests its self in some form of government which can unite the varied and diverse groups whom you represent, in a fashion which nonetheless allows us to proceed in our goal of common defence. So clearly we are speaking of a reorganization of the Galactic Republic to include the Empire, and to remedy its prior ineffectiveness in the face of the barbarian.

"It is your duty, however, to choose the sort of government that is to be, and the role of the Galactic Empire therein. I understand the concerns which the Imperial presence, and my own, no-doubt generate; but this question must be resolved in a short and decisive fashion if we are to protect our peoples and our entire civilization. We face a choice between survival, in triumph, and extermination, in defeat. No doubt the Honourable Senator from Chandrila has legitimate concerns; but I can only trust that this assembly can apply its self to the task of alleviating them within a compromise that will still allow us to maintain the defence!"

There was silence for a moment, and then the questions began again. Sorting through them and the advantages or disadvantages - and the rules in regard to accepting or delaying - was a trial even for the experts in procedure that Martina had somehow managed to drag up.

"You speak of prejudice, Imperator - Well, the Empire's Prejudice is well known against aliens!" One shrillish voice exclaimed, though in still quite good basic. "How can assurances be ever made against past wrongs on such a scale, as to consider admitting the Empire as a coherent body into the Republic, even at a time as this? The current threat is an invasion; we would be giving legitimacy to an organization that - though I mean not to impunge yourself nor any of its other current leadership - was founded for the purpose of repression. How can we protect ourselves against such a reoccurance, when we make such light of its existence as to incorporate that nation again, into our government structure? I do not deny the pressing threat before us; but such a thing as that which you ask of us is not light!"

Sule appeared to be in thoughtful repose before he replied. "I do not presume to make further apology than has been made by others before me, for those acts which did great injury to some of the races which are represented here today. It would superfluous and indeed trite to reduce such matters to words to be repeated, over and over."

"The question of the repetition of such events, however, is indeed a valid one. And that is the point which I think you ought to now put before your minds: How, indeed, how, do you safeguard yourselves from the excessive authority of the government, engaging in acts which are unquestionably tyranny? As it stands now, I could not impose a tyranny over you, and I have no desire to, regardless of ability. But you need assurance - it is your fair right - and if you chose to have me, or some other, as your sovereign or your governor, how would you reconcile the assurance with the need for a decisive effort to repel the Vong?"

"I do not think that problem is insolvable, and under that belief I have called you here. We all the know the schedule for the proceedings, and I ask you to keep that in mind as they move forward."

And so the questions came on. But Sule indeed did keep the schedule in mind; this segment would not last forever, and there were proposals already prepared by his and Martina's staff. This preparatory work, however both at once boring and grueling, was vital for what was to come. Thus the assembly continued throughout the day. One in particular, a sentient of reptilianoid origin, watched the proceedings, and the flow of the debate, patiently and calmly, unhurried, for his species did not hurry. He had prepared well and organized the resources of his sector for an opportunity; he'd act when he saw it.

R.N.S. Lusankya, Coruscant Orbit,
Ship's Habitation Sectors.

"Do you really want to go back down there?" Jagged Fel asked to Jaina quietly, gesturing towards the port bulkhead even though there was no window outward to the horrid spectacle. "You told me about what happened last time. Sule will surely be maintaining her, Miat Temm, in residence on the surface..."

"Miat Temm wasn't the problem with the surface and you know it!" Jaina snapped from the terminal, though the reply held little sting beyond the swiftness. "The very nature of things has been twisted there. The Force seems.... Bent out of shape." She frowned for a moment, as if trying to express it, or muse over a concept in the mind which perhaps ought not be there. Then the navigating of the system continued.

"Because of the dead," Jag agreed grimly. "Which is of course just as bad, or worse..."


"Alright, it's worse," Jag found himself agreeing once more. "However, I still have to wonder at the motivations of Temm. And irregardless of them do you really want to go back down to the surface?"

"No, I don't. But everyone is focused on this Diet at the moment, and there's probably only one person in the galaxy who has the resources to help us currently and for the forseeable future. If we want to find Jacen, we're just going to have to ask. No matter what we think of him -- Not like that's a problem in your case." Jaina glanced back with a smirk on her lips at Jag, who squirmed faintly.

"But why would the Emperor Sule have any interest in the rescue of a lone Jedi, captured and in an uncertain location behind enemy lines? Especially at this juncture where his allegiance - and that of those who go to rescue him - would be uncertain?" The voice was that of Shawnkyr Nuruodo, sitting with her right leg crossed over her left and in a conservative jumpsuit, hands pursed lightly, as she observed the conversation of the two humans, mostly in silence and sometimes in observation, perhaps amused. She had, though, learned not to question the matter of Jacen's survival.

"He seems to be the type who wouldn't leave someone behind," Jaina answered with a determined stubbornness.

"One of his own men, perhaps yes," Shawnkyr countered. "But the situation above Imperial Centre at this moment is one tense for conflict and he could hardly spare the resources for a military expedition to help a potential enemy, when even if the Republic maintains an allied stance, or some other form of collusion, a single Jedi will not materially affect the balance of power against the Yuuzhan Vong."

"I'm not going to disagree," Jag broke in cautiously, "But are we included for some reason in the category of 'uncertain allegiance'?"

"Yes sir, I would contend that we are," Shawnkyr looked to her commander as if to express surprise that he'd come to another conclusion himself without really doing so.


"The Baron General Fel in particular, nor the Chiss Nation for that matter, have committed themselves to recognizing the cause and the legitimacy of Marshal Sule's title. Until then he is simply a warlord of unusual power to our chain of command, sir."

"It would seem the opportune time to do so," Jag answered.

"To us, sir, to us."

Jaina was getting rather annoyed with the two of them carrying on about Imperial legitimacy while a much more important task was at hand, that of finding her brother, and she couldn't get a word in edge-wise. It didn't matter to her if Sule was legitimately the Emperor of the Galactic Empire or just a Warlord; now, in terms of his overall power that was another story entirely and one she was concerned with, but for the moment the man simply had access to the resources she needed and that was that. "Does any of that change what we're trying to do?" She finally broke in, pausing in her operations and swingining her chair around.

"Most likely not," Shawnkyr confessed. "Other than of course the fact that Colonel Fel and myself should not have our presences advertised, so as to avoid any unpleasant situations, or unnecessary information being gained about the Imperial Territories in the Unknown Regions by Sule before an appropriate time. But all of that has already been discussed." To Shawnkyr's mind it appeared fine to reiterate such important data.

"Indeed it has," Jag added. "And I know we're not necessarily in an easy situation; but we'll have detailed information on the Congress to report to General Fel." Even now it would always remain somewhat odd to refer to his father as such.

"I worry as to if we should facilitate that," Jaina decided to answer. "But the presence of two technically Imperial officers onboard the Lusankya secretly right now is bizzare, anyway, at the moment."

Jag chuckled. "I assure you we won't be biased."

"I'm almost worried about that at the moment," Jaina replied, swinging her chair back to the computer. Then: "A moment."

"Of course."

"Speaking of our reporting, sir," Shawnkyr began as Jaina worked furiously at the console. "When shall we have an opportunity at this rate? If we are to attempt an extraction of Jacen Solo, any data from the Congress may be outdated by then."

"I'm thinking about that," Jag replied honestly.

Shawnkyr shifted slightly as if to straighten her posture and in so doing express either amusement or a faint disdain for the 'wing it' philosophy of the humans. There was no harmony in them; but one had to confess their discord had turned to genius more often than not. That's why she was here, after all, instead of still within the realms of the Chiss... Or even the Imperial colonies of that distant and forgotten void. It was perhaps in truth bemusement, and behind the half-facade she waited for her part in whatever whirlwind her commander would stir up.

Jaina stopped abruptly and slumped back in the chair, but a slight, if tired, grin was in evidence upon her face. "I just succeeded in doing something.... Something that Anakin taught me to do," she finished after a moment's pause.

"What was that?" Jag queried softly.

"I convinced the Lusankya's mainframe to hack into one of the Old Chamber computers. It isn't really designed for it, but it has the raw power for the job."

"And of course you have access to the Lusankya like that..."

"Enough," Jaina countered. "Simply put, though, I now have an appointment to meet with the Galactic Emperor."

"Well, there's melodrama for you." His tone softened as she swung her chair around to smirk dangerously. "And, do be careful on the surface, Jaina."

"I will be. The Ysalamari will be a help in that, a great help. Not a hindrance at all."

"Only against the planet its self. And I doubt the Emperor will be pleased to find out you didn't get that appointment through normal channels."

"That's not who you're really worrying about."

Jag stared at Jaina for a moment and then shook his head. "I give up; I suppose Solos simply have to naively stumble into danger in the first place so they can shoot and hack through it."

Jaina stood. "I'm remembering you said that, Jag."

"Torturing the innocent is not a Jedi virtue.... And you're leaving so soon?"

"I'll think of something that is. Yes, now. You don't think I was going to wait to schedule a later appointment do you?" Jaina grinned. "I'll contact you from the surface."

"Alright then. May the Force be with you."

Jaina casually saluted the two, her lighthearted attitude masking a genuine fear of the possibility of returning to the surface of Coruscant, Ysalamari or not, and the magnitude of what she was doing: Meet Sule and plan the rescue of her brother. She'd only occasionally done as much and it was never easy. Certainly not in light of what Coruscant had become, and how it had affected her. And Jag was right. Miat Temm was there. Jaina could sense her, apparently doing fine, somehow, beyond the defence of the Ysalamari.

One way or another it would be interesting, to say the least. She brought up her comlink to haggle for a place on the next shuttle to the surface as she walked out, the doors to her quarters closing and leaving her two friends behind in them.

"That scheme strikes me as somewhat crazy," Fel muttered as the doors shut. "Sule wouldn't do anything against her - not with the Diet in session, and he doesn't seem capricious - But just waltzing in with a falsified audience, and asking for help?"

"I've learned not to underestimate humans, sir," Shawnkyr replied.

Fel wondered if he should ask if her context referred to Jaina or to Sule. He decided not to ask. "Well, we ought not stay in Jaina's quarters while she's on the surface."

"Of course, sir," she replied, rising immediately and in concurrence on the matter of decorum.

Now they could just but wait. However, many people were doing that on Coruscant at the moment.

The Planet Coruscant,
Old Senate Hall,
Chancellorial Offices.

Sule regarded the young woman who stood before the ornate desk, flanked by two guardsmen, and recognized her instantly. Even if he did not recall her face from the arrival of the Princess Organa-Solo, the familial lineage would have been at least partially apparent. Her air was surely not regal, however, but none could doubt her Jedi origins. The Lord and Imperator did not address her directly:

"Ratok, why was this Jedi allowed within my presence without my foreknowledge?"

"She came unarmed, Lord and Imperator, without even the traditional weapon of her order. Though officially listed for an appointment with your person, I had reason to doubt the listings; but showing such audacity and desireous to speak with you, Lord and Imperator, I felt her worthy of admittance," the commander of the Special Guard replied with a toothy grin.

"The Ysalamari save your reputation as a bodyguard, Ratok," Sule answered, giving allowance to the whim of Klingon nature and focusing in on Jaina Solo. "You wish to speak with me, Jedi Solo?"

"I do, Lord and Imperator. I come with an appeal I would lay before you," she replied.

"An appeal?" Sule's eyebrows raised. "I will hear it, but I hope it is not in regard to the negotiations. We are at a stage that, though not delegate, would still be disrupted by attempts to circumvent the established channels."

"It is of a personal nature, Lord and Imperator."

"Then please go ahead with it."

Jaina bowed her head in acknowledgement and began. "Lord and Imperator, my request is for aide in an expedition. My brother, the Jedi Knight Jacen Solo, was kidnapped by the Vong and is held by them. It is my desire to seek him out and rescue him from their grasp. I need assistance in doing it, however, and the Republic does not have the resources at this time, distracted by this very Congress. You, however, do... And further you'd gain any intelligence and the opportunity to cause damage behind the enemy's lines."

So she needs our help for a personal reason, Sule thought. That could be useful, but the resources under his authority were getting overestimated again; and he dare not detach anything from Coruscant orbit either. Conversely of course, there were certainly gains to be had in such an operation. The problem was that he didn't have any forces designed for one; the Empire of the Milky Way had used relatively small numbers of conventional forces to defeat her enemies, and then had built up on their bones. Most of his infantry was still garritroopers, and the closest thing he had to genuine special forces as opposed to elite conventional shocktroops were counterterrorism forces, hardly suited for behind-the-lines raiding.

The Imperial Remnant was somewhat better suited in that regard, but he was already having to redeploy forces he could use in the Core back to the Imperial Remnant, which had been under-garrisoned to begin with. His drawing off of ships from it had left it nearly completely uncovered and in terms of infantry the Battle of Coruscant had already consumed what Pellaeon felt could be spared.

In absolute terms, he probably could detail a line squadron and a few Ubiqtorate operations vessels and teams to aide some Jedi operation - and perhaps gain political goodwill from it in addition to the advantages Jaina had already pointed out - But again, the spectre of the Diet and the grandstanding which had become a part of it restrained him. Besides, with the recent Borg attack in the Milky Way and their rather extreme tactics, he was rather concerned about calling for more reinforcements, of which there simply weren't that many of anyway short of new construction.

"I can understand the desire to rescue a member of one's family from the barbarian. To be bluntly honest, perhaps it even takes on National importance when the individual in question is a Jedi Knight. However, the Empire's resources are more severely strained than you may realize. Furthermore, I do not want to risk men on a mission which is not planned and does not, it appears, have a certain objective. Do you have any idea where he is?"

Jaina was silent for a moment. "Not.. Not with any certainty, no."

"Then I would be detailing forces needed in a struggle for galactic civilization, for an uncertain objective, and an uncertain length of time. Vessels and men that need regular support having to operate without it, in regions of chaos; and perhaps involved in a manhunt without during hurt to the enemy when they might otherwise be doing so," Sule concluded.

Jaina's eyes flamed at that, her temper threatening to well up at the rejection. "And enforcing your will on the Diet, Lord and Imperator?"

"The Diet is what it is meant to be; a place to resolve the joint defence of this galaxy. As for my military? That is what it is meant to be, too. An instrument of Imperial policy," Sule answered in a level tone, eyes gazing back in a way that seemed to deflate the response. What he said next indeed did. "I can at least offer you an alternative?"

Jaina held his gaze for a moment and then nodded, if perhaps reluctantly. Getting her brother back, now, was most important. "Certainly, Lord and Imperator. I'd be pleased to learn of one."

"Excellent. You see... I do not have the resources available, but I believe that the Kuati Government does. Furthermore I am to understand that they have some interests in pursuit of individuals in Vong service already, which may coincide with your own goals." Sule allowed himself a slight smile. "And from them, I can certainly assure for you a fair... And previously arranged.. hearing."

Jaina smiled slightly in return, but for a different reason and tinged with wryness. Indeed Sule could, from one of his Admirals whom he had elevated to a national ruler! But I'll take what I can get, won't I? And she would. "Thank you for the offer, Lord and Imperator. I would appreciate the appropriate references, then."

"You shall have them," he answered, and began to prepare a letter for Mystrela on his terminal, transferring it to an encryptable message card when it was finished. It was withdrawn from the system and offered to Jaina simply, Sule's hand not quite touching her's as she stepped forward to take it; the awareness of the guards raised as the interaction was completed.

"If she can help you, I suspect she will."

"Thank you, then. May I..."

"Of course. It does not surprise me that you are ready to go already," Sule chuckled, but then for a moment his face was quite deadly serious. "Sting them, Jedi, if you have the chance."

"I've found that to be a considerable pleasure," Jaina answered as she turned and strode out, the guards having to move swiftly to keep up with her, and the words nearly lost in the sound of her leaving.

Sule leaned back and watched her go. He spoke in the hearing of only Ratok when he murmured: "I would wonder about the humanity of those who do not."

R.N.S. Lusankya, Coruscant Orbit,
Ship's Hangar facilities.

The preparations for their departure were now accomplished, only some hours after Jaina's return from the surface of Coruscant. Jaina, Jag, and Shawnkyr had readied their respective crafts, and in Jaina's case acquired one. Packed and readied in every aspect, and their departure cleared and reluctantly blessed by General Antilles. His response had been initially noncommittal to the idea, but when lightly pressed on the issue he'd agreed to give Jaina Rogue Squadron's support shuttle, which was hardly needed while they were operating off of the Lusankya, with her massive attached compliment of support craft.

In the end he'd probably been glad to see his Imperial guests go as well, for that matter. Now, of course, there was the matter of actually accomplishing that depature. In the bulk of the fleets massed around Coruscant, however, being unobserved would not be impossible, at least by the desired eyes, and in the more mundane, with little room aboard the two Chiss fighters there was little for Jag and Shawnkyr to bring with them.

Most of the supplies, indeed, Jaina was now observing a droid handle on a hovercart towards the supply shuttle. Jag and Shawnkyr were readying their fighters and she'd already flight-checked the shuttle. It was just a few more minutes and they could get out of there and be off to Kuat, and hopefully thence start on the road towards Jacen, wherever he was in the space held by the Yuuzhan Vong. Where only who knew what was happening to him, or what already had. But you can't think about that. He's alive, and so you can only work towards finding him. Jaina reminded herself grimly.

The droid had reached the shuttle when she felt someone approach her, a familiar someone. Indeed, it was only her distraction...

"Jaina," a voice said, one that almost didn't seem real at first. "Just what made you change your mind about Jacen?"

Jaina turned to see her father standing there, dressed in familiar old red pinstriped trousers, and leather vest over his shirt, blaster on his hip. He seemed reinvigorated; as though he had been even before Chewbacca's death, a certain glint of determination in his eyes.

"I can feel that he's alive," she replied, almost embarassed and rather quietly, her face expressing curiousity at her father's determined inquiry. "So I know."

"But you didn't before, kiddo."

"It was Miat Temm," she said, after a moment's pause. "And... The planet. After what I felt on the surface... When I got back here to the Lusankya... I just knew he was alive."

Han simply nodded once. "Alright, I guess that makes about as much sense as everything else. You're going to go get him back, then?" Phrased as a question, it really wasn't, and Jaina simply nodded in reply.

Her father was silent for a moment, gazing at her, as the droid in the background loaded the supply shuttle. "You're sure you can find him, Jaina?"

Jaina swallowed slowly and silently, but her eyes met her father's and the look was one of honesty. "Absolutely, Dad."

"Your mother doesn't know about this," he observed in reply, "but if you think you can do it than I believe you. I trusted her when she said Jacen was alive, after all," Han smiled slowly. "And now I've got a second opinion."

"I can do it, Dad... And, in fact, I need to get going." Jaina gestured towards the shuttle where the 'droid had finished loading the cargo aboard. "Jag and Shawnkyr are waiting for me."

"You need to get going," Han Solo agreed with his daughter, "But not in that hunk 'a junk. We're taking the Millenium Falcon."

The Planet Coruscant,
Old Senate Chambers.

"The Republic has stood as the guardian of basic rights and principles for twenty-five millenia, a concept of unbroken unity and peace in this galaxy which had maintained that order with only a half-dozen major incidents of War during its course. The greatest of these was the rise of the Galactic Empire, an intentional political manipulation of galactic economics and relations between states within the Republic to create conditions by which a single man might throw down those institutions upon which all had relied for the maintainence of Pax."

Leia Organa Solo spoke with the oratory skill and rhetoric of her long and brilliant career, and the chamber was captivated by the subtle note of strength that had somehow been found within her, she who had suffered so much in such a short span, and now called upon her last reserves, to defend the ideal for which she would have given even more. "This man, whom we all recognize as the Emperor Palpatine, engaged in pogroms and genocides of a scale not rivaled since the formation of the Republic. He had the power to do it because of the cessation of the rule of Law; because the Senatorial body had been reduced to an irrelevancy, and then swept aside entirely, by his centralization of power within his person.

"You now are given a chance to reconstitute the government of the Republic against a grave peril. We faced the effort of restoring it when none existed, and what was created proved unequal to the task. That failure is not one I will easily forget; but it does not absolve you of your duty to the people of this galaxy: to establish a rightful government for the citizens of the nations you represent, and to not allow the seeds of tyranny to be sown once more over this whole Republic!

"One cannot presume that the Galactic Empire can be a safe arbiter, or a safe balance, in any truly democratic system. The concentration of such power within a single man would be a danger we cannot afford; our ideals, our laws, our institutions, were entirely overthrown by this very same process. To undertake it again would be hand ourselves up to fate!"

The chamber seemed to shudder slightly at the declaration, as the eyes of the frail but greatly intense woman looked out and over upon them, the dignitas of her saving role in preserving the body to which they still clung, lending air to words which brought up a certain doubt, against the comparatively imposing Majesty of the Emperor Sule and his record of conquest.

"Honoured Senators, fellow Delegates," she offered modestly. "What we must consider is if such a risk is our only hope to save our civilization. We know what is implied. Well, I shall say that there is another, and that is a swift and mutual action by our combined strength. Let us make the appropriate agreements, while we are all here in unprecedented gathering; let us take concerted action to set aside our quarrels - as we have already done by presenting ourselves in this chamber in this fashion - and present our squadrons that now orbit to the enemy as a single fleet. The only question would be of a commander, and if we can not solve that, in these halls, how do you expect victory, even under the Imperial flail?

"I do not think we could! Our unity will be our strength, and now we have a chance to achieve it! The republic can we recreated, and in a form desireable to all - And we can do it now; those assembled have the power, and you have shown your nations to have the will! - so that we shall have our structure under which to wage War.

"But do not tear down what has provided the galaxy such peace for so many generations. Security is our necessity, but we face the loss of our principles as its price. That is your choice, if you choose to pay it. But remember when you make it, Honoured Senators, my fellows, that the wrong decision shall not merely condemn yourselves, but all the silent faces and forgotten peoples who succomb to tyranny."

Some of the delegates even applauded, from the factions sure to support her remarks no matter what, and on the benches where they'd swayed enough of their colleagues to make the sound appear impressive. The reception did not, certainly, appear negative at all; but the vast majority was skeptical, and partisans were a fact of both sides. Regardless, though, the sheer ability of the oratory had influenced some, and even the skeptics were for a moment not responding by normal channels, nor Sule's own partisans.

"The special alottment to the Princess Organa has expired," the calm and studiously formal voice of the Chamber Recorder announced some twenty seconds after she had fallen silent, though silence had not yet come over the Chamber. The voice, enhanced, still cut through what was left, and silenced the Chamber somewhat more.

"I shall speak as Chancellor in response to the Princess Organa's special alottment at this time," Sule declared immediately thereafter. "And let the Senate resolve to obey its proper decorum!" he added in a strong voice, both cutting through the chamber from his podium, and finding a purchase in the minds of those assembled, that brought down the commotion. Of course, with all the representatives, and the late decline in Senatorial dignity, it was hardly unexpected.

"Parliamentary procedure allows you twelve minutes under these circumstances, Lord and Imperator," the Chamber Recorder noted after that. "The time shall commence as you begin your response."

"Of course," he replied, beginning a response that by necessity was without notes.

"Honourable Senators; Delegates. The points that the Princess Organa puts forward are based around a presumption that I desire to invest within my person the ultimate power, that I intend to gather about myself the strength to crush your nations, and dictate my will upon them. I further realize that any assurance I make in this matter would be by its nature, suspected. Therefore I shall not make such assurances; I will not demean your status with their light and vain nature.

"My proposal is simply that you review the facts of this dangerous situation. The Yuuzhan Vong have conquered a percentage of the galaxy which is hardly inestimable, and their unique biological technology in liklihood gives them an industrial production advantage over us; if not absolutely, then in terms of relative capacity. We have seen the ruin of this world, and we know the cost in blood, military and civilian, that was paid to drive them back from it. Great and noble Coruscant, the shining jewel of the galaxy, is indeed now a gem of garnet with the sacrifice that kept her in civilization's hands." He raised his arms up, spread wide and fists clenched, before lowering them as he spoke the last sentence, with an almost incredible and carrying softness, his look strong, and yet having in it an inestimable pleading: a combination possible in a strong man who had seen the horrors he had seen.

The Chamber was in a muffled and uncomfortable silence as he continued, the evidence of the intensity of that passion damping what might have been disagreement from some. Sule dragged up the part of him that could never be seen in battle, and directed it to use in oratory for the needs of his cause. Human compassion could never be killed, but oft manipulated, both within and without.

"Unspeakable ravages, my Fellows, unspeakable ravages against all that is held dear, and sacred. No ideal, no virtuous thing, and certainly no person nor mere object, is left from the limits of the barbarians' defilement and destruction. No imagination of a terror, no depraved brutality is beyond their limit. Not all the horrors of War in all her full and bloody glory can compare to the Vong. We fight not against a military organization, but a species that has become as a force of nature, a destroying force. If you mistrust me, as I have made the offer, you can go in amongst the survivors and ask them, and look at them. You will not have any doubts. My words are proven by the living evidence carried unto death within the minds of sentient beings who huddle for survival in the ruins of this world, even less than a kilometer away."

The silence of the great chamber was almost an incredible thing in its self. One might wonder how so many beings could be driven to unwilling participation in that stoic drama, but the words bit with their truth and the sheer passion of their delivery as Sule had again raised his fists aloft, speaking with his full body but without raising his voice. He lowered them, his gesture almost contemptful and his look faintly scornful, against those who would harbour a doubt: it was not a dismissive, but a challenge, to go now if they dared, and have the uncomprehending reality of this charnel house forced upon them.

"Princess Organa is correct, in that your purpose in being sent here is to forge an alliance to defeat the Vong. Her proposal might do that," Sule acknowledged as he continued. "Indeed, I would support it if I thought that it were the most expedient. I do not, however, think it is. I am inclined to believe that such a proposal will break against the rock of the many disagreements of past years. You may even agree in principle, and many of you shall desire to put that principle into action!" Sule emphasized with a sweep of his right arm, and then stepped forward, to the limit of the high podium. "But of these innumerable multitudes? The compromise would be worthless when it came to handling a military.

"The Vong shall flow down upon us and hit us like a tidal surge, and we will be powerless to resist, like primitives standing incomprehending in the surf. That is our fate if we allow ourselves to disorganize the highest levels of a mutual command for the sake of political expediency." Sule settled his hands on the sides of the podium and looked down over the massed ranks of the assembled, Senators and Delegates. "Gentlebeings, the threat is there, and it shall not wait for political deliberations. That is why I called you here, and that is the point I try to impress.

"Do as you wish with the Galactic institutions of government, but we must establish a fixed and ordered system allowing the immediate massing and singular command of all military resources of all the polities represented here, today, in this Chamber. Establish the protections you desire to prevent the concentration of power; as long as it allows that goal to be fulfilled I shall still support it. Name whomever you desire as the leader. As long as it still fulfills that goal I shall yet support it. But if you cripple its ability to fight the Vong, then I shall challenge them alone with the resources of my Empire, as the hindrance such a process would prove, I should not think worth a hundred thousand ships.

"Gentlebeings, your squadrons are here and the fate is also your's; you are hardly under my guns. The decision is your's to make according to the procedure of this body, which has indeed kept the peace for twenty-five millenia, and if we repel the Vong, may perhaps do so for another twenty-five. But that shall require the most firm and decisive action imaginable! May your deliberations thus consider."

Sule stepped back and silence greeted him, the purest silence that magnificent old facility, faded in its glories, had ever known. It was, however, a Senate Chamber, and filled with additional delegates no less. Eroded in dignity, the silence did not last long, and simply made the response all the more abrupt and rather thundering as factions bickered and pressed at each other in words.

Slowly, as the deliberations on the response calmed, as orations were fixed down according to the complex parliamentary rules that governed the massive Chamber, and filtered through, a consensus was beginning to develop, and it was swiftly seized and driven by one of the ambitious.

"The Chair recognizes the Honourable Senator Tranjak-sar from the Durrano Sector for the period of five minutes."

The thin and dessicated looking reptilianoid alien rose distantly and began to speak. "Emperor Sule," he began, respectfully if informally. "We are a gathering of nations, and parties of equal strength to nations, or influence, which deserve certain sovereign rights. It may very well be that a barbarian enemy approaches; none can deny this. However, each nation, each race, each great corporation or self-governing colony, or every sector which has of late gained a proper government on the removal of its Moff and so unified disparate factions, sees its self as being more important than the central government by a very great measure."

The whiplike snout of Tranjak-sar, and he was one of simply a myriad of races in the chamber, angled slightly to the side as faceted royal blue eyes regarded the image of Sule and the distant and nearly invisible figure alike. "Your predecessor crushed this and tried to centralize the government, but the opposition to it defeated him. The overreaction has allowed the Vong to penetrate so far into the heart of our civilization. These are the sad historical facts.

"You ask us to put the strength of our militaries under one organization, but are fleets and our armies are precisely what guarantee our freedom from another such attempt. We must reconcile the two; we must keep command and yet have a single organization, or else none will commit to the effort. I see this is the clear thrust of the matter. Tell me, Emperor, what we have to work with? You may think you do yourself a service by remaining aloof from proposing suggestions, but now is the time. It will not change your image to propose how you think a system acceptable to the Galactic Empire should be formed, instead of merely threatening veto. I give you the rest of my time for a response."

Sule stepped forward to his podium, nodding once to the Chamber Recorder. "Honourable Senator Tranjak-sar, Honourable Senators, Delegates, I will attempt to elaborate then." And that did indeed get their attention, the Chamber quieting to a low murmur of rumbles as the mass of sentients awaited his words. "My fellows, what the Galactic Empire desires is for an arrangement that compels the full military strength of this galaxy to be under the command of the Galactic Sovereign, under circumstances determined by a legal parliamentary process.

"This has never and will never necessitate the national contigents being organized in the same fashions or subjected to peacetime or bureaucratic control from a singular military body. Rather, it is my idea to have them specifically under the fighting command of the Galactic Sovereign, with the Galactic Sovereign having the highest rank, and being able to appoint officers over the commanders of the national contigents, but the national contigents having equal commanders for purpose of such an organizational call-up, and interference with the chain of command below the national contigent commanders, being strictly and utterly prohibited.

"With the rest of the government built in such a fashion as to largely retain the national rights - and the rights of those other bodies organized in similiar fashion naturally - and the constitutional mechanism counterbalancing these two needs, we would expect to create a new government organization, flexible enough to handle the current crisis. Those are the fundaments of our proposal."

The Planet Coruscant,
Old Senate Hall,
Chancellorial Offices.

Tranjak-sar was led into the Chancellorial Offices by a single member of the Special Guard. Sule was standing already as he waited for him, and Tranjak-sar's eyes whirled and brightened at the gesture of respect. The reptilianoid bowed stiffly to Sule as he passed the last threshold. "Lord and Imperator," he offered, formally this time.

"It was quite daring of you, Honourable Senator, it address me directly as Emperor within the Senate Chamber the day before yesterday," Sule replied. "Some already murmur of the presumption," he added after a moment, regarding the being before him carefully.

"Perhaps it was, but it was in reference to your lesser and presumed title, not the highest dignities of Palpatine, which in your favour you have indeed not claimed," Tranjak-sar noted. "How is the military situation, if I may presume to ask in that regard?"

"The Yuuzhan Vong are massing at Talfaglio," Sule replied, walking around his desk and gesturing to a seat in front of it as he moved to sit. He didn't presume to add any more to that statement, even for a Senator. That knowledge was not uncommon; the details - well, accurate ones - however, were.

"How many ships?"

"Why would you want to know, Senator?" Sule countered, and perhaps a bit sharply. But then, he was always like that with military matters.

Tranjak-sar did not take offense. In these times it was good to have a leader who could put the necessary aspects over War over those of Politics. To a degree: if he had been vain, that might have been damaging. Unless Sule knew far more about him than he desired to think, of course. "I want to know if the massed ships in orbit can repulse them, with certain exceptions," he replied after a moment.

"Certain exceptions? I will be honest with you, Honourable Senator. Our contigency plans rely on none of the national contigents, not merely the absence of some."

"That is a good thing, I should think."

"It is. But you have information for me to change it, do you not?"

Tranjak-sar grinned; a fangy and vicious looking thing, if very mild compared to what some reptilianoid races in the galaxy were capable of mustering for their displays. "I do, Lord and Imperator. It appears I played the sophistry up a bit much, so I will say it out right now: How many Senators and Delegates can be counted on to vote Imperial even if it were some mad Palpatine clone instead of your person? If you have more than seventy-one die-hards who will support whatever you endorse, than I have enough people supporting the current text, that if we can agree to it..."

"Well, that was prompt action on your part. I assume it is a very rough agreement for such a short period of time?" Sule replied, his calm look deflating Tranjak-sar's pleasure somewhat. Perhaps he had suspected.

"Actually, I had some assistants on my staff who were quite adept at swift preparation of such documents, though it is still the basic form," Tranjak-sar replied. He did not elaborate on their nature; but his sector was distant to the Vong's advance and had repeated certain rewards which could now be cultivated. And so with a flourish of a hand no longer bearing much in semblence of talons, he proffered first the chip that contained the necessary data.

Sule took it and inserted it into the display terminal in his desk. "Thank you." The readout was prompt, thought Sule studied it for a long while, perhaps even leisurely, before replying, his face tensing a few times, but no other outward display of emotion offered.

The Emperor of the Republic looked back up to Tranjak-sar and nodded his agreement. "I find the document acceptable," he said, "and I have enough votes that together we can easily get it passed."

"Then we will have to see about avoiding the New Republicans leaving, considering the lack of human rights provisions, or simple paranoia," the Agreement's author noted.

"It may be impossible. But public pressure could keep them long enough to count against the Vong buildup. For now, let us discuss the exact strategy of this, Chancellor," Sule spoke to the man had placed himself exactly where someone should have, and would become the second most powerful in the new Republic for it.

Tranjak-sar, though, had some others to thank for it; and though he was quite eager to get to the prospects ahead, he realized that a debt would be called in soon. Saving them from destruction had hardly been enough in exchange for giving him this kind of unexpected power. He tempered his enthusiasm further: the vote was not yet taken, and even if it succeeded, then the New Republicans would also hate him. Power brought the envy of many daggers with it.
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Post by The Duchess of Zeon » 2003-02-08 06:19pm

Talfaglio Orbit,
The Red Talon.

"With the arrival of Javal Tsan's reinforcements," Tsavong Lah nodded to the massive, coiled-looking commander in his armour at the far end of the table -- A projection of the floor surface which was quite comfortable to all but would have made most others queasy, "we have not only considerably improved our fleet strength above the levels originally concentrated in the Core Regions, but definitively exceeded that which the Infidel has in orbit of Coruscant.

"Furthermore, five thousand additional light ships - new vessels mostly, and those scraped off of patrol runs - have been mustered and are being sent this way to increase our screen. They're under the commander of Tirlin Vasong. I fear I was only informed about them this morning due to communications problems, but we'll have them in four days." Tsavong Lah sounded less than pleased, and hardly just with the scarcity of communications.

"That will be over twenty-seven thousand five hundred thousand ships, counting the Peace Brigade contigents," Vidang Tahng murmured, slowly and thoughtfully, stroking a biological attachment to left forearm, with his right, which was vaguely disturbing in colour even to his commander, a sickly sort of blue-yellow that melded with avoiding turning to green. The stoically intelligent support services officer - now promoted to the line in the aftermath of Second Coruscant - found it useful, though, and that was that.

"We're not going to be able to supply all of them, Warmaster," he concluded after a moment of running the rather awesome calculations in his head, or perhaps elsewhere.

"I know. Which is why..." A projection vilip behind them activated at his cue. "We're going to divert Tirlin Vasong to face off against the Hapans. He doesn't have the heavy ships to engage them seriously, but he can stand on the defensive near their space, and that's good enough. I have all the screen I need here already. If they'd have sent me heavy ships... But they didn't."

"It might, though, be possible to stage them out of another position for an assault on Corellia as opposed to Coruscant, Warmaster. Then we could finish reducing this sector before going against the capital."

"Your idea has merit," Tsavong Lah allowed to his subordinate, "but we must defeat their fleet before we can think of reducing anything in the Core. We have an excellent chance now: they are divided politically and the considerable numbers of ships in Coruscant orbit will merely be disorganized targets." Still, even as he said that, he looked down the table to a certain figure, rather suspicious.

"Furthermore," Ghanong To, the screen commander, interjected, "Delay merely angers the whole fleet and devastates moral. We have our force rebuilt, and the enemy is, as the Warmaster stated, at his weakest point. We can strike then and at least disperse him, or, even if we don't retake Coruscant, inflict far greater casualties than he can afford to suffer compared to the rate we can handle. The whole bulk of the fleet must be committed for a decisive blow while the chance exists!" He was not the warrior Tsavong Lah had looked to. Indeed, the creature Tsavong Lah had looked to wasn't a warrior. But his opinion was expressed quite succinctly, and indeed was with the force of the fleet.

Vidang Tahng ignored both and focused on the Warmaster. "You know my expertise. I shall use it now, Warmaster. We must secure this sector totally and then proceed against Coruscant without the danger of Corellia and the armed contigents and shipyards there threatening our line of supplies. Thracken Sal-Solo has built up the defences of the system to a considerable height in a surprisingly short period of time during his latest tenure as Dictator. That position could be used to cut our supply with ready ease, and then even the reconquest of Coruscant would be utterly hollow, for with a fleet this size a single day without a steady supply chain could be quite fatal."

"Then let us deal with the problem Corellia poses while we also deal with the fleet over Coruscant," Nom Amor offered with a smooth, sensuous politeness. The warriors all looked to him disdainfully, but the Warmaster could not ignore his voice.

"Explain," Tsavong Lah said, his tolerance for the man's failures alleviated only by the necessity to know the inner workings of the Imperial government, something that Nom Amor certainly knew a great deal about.

"Warmaster, the combined fleets around Coruscant do not number, currently, in excess of twenty-one thousand. That is an upper end estimate; we both know it may be as low as seventeen thousand, considering the exact definition of 'warship' is rather nebulous with that collection of oft-coverted or modified ships now assembled, and the large number of ships that Sule and the Republicans and the other assorted nations there have had to dispatch back and forth for various tasks, or garrisoning, or repairs.

"It would be entirely possible for us to send twenty thousand ships against that force - and, considering its total lack of cohesion and the drawback of the Republican and Imperial units in it over the recent days - easily claim victory over it. The Peace Brigaders and some light ships of roughly equal number, could then be dispatched against Corellia simultaneous to that assault, while Tirlin Vasong is ordered to detail ships from his covering force to likewise assault Corellia. It is not like the Hapans have made any moves with him not there; with part of his force there, they are even less likely, and it was not supposed to be there in the first place.

"We would have a light covering force left here at Talfaglio, which could spoil any raids, and reinforce the Corellia assault if the situation was doubtful. Altogether, even if all twelve Executors we face are in Coruscant orbit when we arrive - and that's doubtful, as at least one needed full drydock repairs and probably more - we can match them with our own concentration of heavy ships from our two strongest fleets, while the inflation of numbers of our enemies is primarily that of system defence vessels and pirate-hunters. You can confirm all my data, Warmaster.

"Such an assault can be planned and can be executed; it will cover all contigencies and shall allow for the valid concerns of our commanders to be duly met," he concluded. "Further, it may be possible for me to further weaken those forces, and not just temporarily. Would you allow me to infiltrate the Empire as part of this operation?"

"Just how long do you think it would take to prepare and execute it?" Tsavong Lah countered.

"We were already largely prepared for 'an assault'," Vidang Tahng answered, sounding resigned. "In excess of three weeks on the supply and coordination side, if you can have the plans ready by then, Warmaster."

Tsavong Lah frowned at his subordinate. "Of course they can be prepared by then."

"Warmaster," Vidang Tahng pressed ahead, "I must warn you that I do not think that we should divide our forces whatsoever if we are going to commit to this assault. Better to risk it all."

"There will be no risk at all, as long as the commander of each element does his duty to our people," Nom Amor countered, almost finishing what Tahng had said with that ability of his.

Vidang Tahng looked back sharply to Nom Amor, his face bared to a sneer. "No risk at all? You have fought before; you know that statement is off the Deceiver's tongue. You know why the Imperials fought so hard at Second Coruscant? It was really quite simple, though despite your time among them I doubt you caught it. They had concentrated that force and sent it out so it couldn't be resupplied! They had to stay in good order and fight and win, or fight and die. They were in a win-or-die situation. And because of your ridiculous plan, all of our forces will be in win-or-die situations, but now dependent on each other instead of just a single one."

Nom Amor boiled with fury, but Tsavong Lah cut him off first to avoid a duel between a man the Vong couldn't afford to lose, and one he couldn't afford to lose. "Well, Commander Tahng, if you feel so strongly about the matter, then you shall command one of the win-or-die situations. If the Gods Will It, you shall take Corellia for me."

Vidang Tahng stiffened, and then saluted and bowed. "As the Warmaster commands!"

Kuat Stardrive Yards,
The Kuat System

The Millenium Falcon leapt down from hyperspace with a flicker of pseudomotion, flanked by two Chiss starfighters, and with the massive panorama of the Kuat Drive Yards laid out before her. There was something else directly in front of her, too - in fact, it rather obscured the view of the Yards - and Han Solo rocked back slightly in surprise at the massive bulk of the Allegiance-class Light Cruiser filling the cockpit. "I thought we came out a bit soon," he muttered wryly.

"They're broadcasting an Imperial IFF, Dad. It's the Cuirass. They're demanding we identify ourselves and reason for entering the system." Jaina smirked. "I guess they don't like the look of their own fighters."

"Just like the good old days. Always get chased by giant cheese blocks at Kuat; but now we have the right radio frequencies back." Han flipped on a clear channel for the reply. Let everyone in a few thousand klicks hear it.. "Imperial Star Cruiser Cuirass, Imperial Star Cruiser Cuirass, this is the diplomatic courier Millenium Falcon and escorts, I repeat, this is the Millenium Falcon with escorts, carrying urgent briefs from Coruscant for Director Kuat. Over."

Jaina was looking at her dad, and it was actually a rather respectful gaze. They'd be in Kuati space for less than two minutes and he was already exagerrating to get a faster appointment with Mystrela. The Old Han was definitely back; or at least he was a man where the mission that had energized him gave him little desire for delay.

"General Solo?" came back a voice after a slightly longer than usual delay. "This is Captain San Veris, Imperial Cruiser Cuirass commanding. A pleasure to speak with you in person after all this time."

"It's just Han, now, Captain Veris," he replied promptly. "Did I catch you heading back to Coruscant after completing repairs?"

The silence was somewhat longer this time. "Our orders are sealed, I'm afraid. But you've taken basic astronavigation, I hope...." the chuckle could be faintly heard on the distant end.

"And nobody bothered to have you mix your course up," Han chuckled as well, leaning back and perusing the ship ahead of him as the Millenium Falcon and her flankers drew slowly closer towards it. "Well, good luck back there, Captain. You're going to need it in that pit."

"From you that means rather a lot, no matter what side you were on back in the day," Veris answered. "I'll let Mystrela know you're coming. One moment, please."

Han looked to his daughter and grinned to her now befuddled look, briefly muffling the speaker. "I recalled that one Rear Admiral Mystrela of Kuat's flagship at Bilbringi was the Cuirass. Winning like that I'd expect her to get along with her flagcaptain."

"We could have just waved around a certain note," Jaina reminded her father.

"This just seems rather less rude," Han Solo shot back, somehow making the entire thing dignified. Well, after a fashion.

"The Director - Mystrela - is waiting for you. Indeed, she's told me she's expecting you," San's voice interrupted them.

Han reactivated the speaker. "Thank you, Captain Veris. We'll be heading in, then."

"You're welcome... And good luck out there, yourself, General Solo."

As the conversation was cut off, Han wondered how much Mystrela had told her ex-flag captain. But with the Millenium Falcon and her two escorts sweeping below the bulk of the Cuirass and the shipyards ahead, there were other things to worry about.

"Alright, folks, we're now going to be approaching one of the greatest industrial structures in the universe -- and for the past few decades they've had this serious security fetish thanks to some sabotage problems," Han started in on his 'helpless audience', namely, his two fighter escorts. "So just follow us right inside and if our friendly Star Cruiser captain just did as advertised, they won't complain with the fact that we're bringing three heavily armed fighters...."

Han frowned as the datapacket from KDY came in and was brought up. It seemed that Mystrela's residence was board one of KDY's Heavy Cruisers.

"One of their security vessels." Oh well.

"I assume we're not going to disobey those coordinates immediately, General Solo?" Jag Fel queried back, the tone just right.

"You're in a dangerous position as it is, Colonel, if I didn't know already who's been corrupting you."

His gruffness could not hold back the laughter, nor did it ultimately hide the amusement which threatened against his own pain and the burning desire inside, to find his son. Perhaps this would be his last mission, his last run, and he'd curse himself in his last moments for leaving Leia behind on Coruscant. But for now the hope of finding Jacen alive let him live, if just a little bit.

Behind the three vessels a stealthed ship waited for the Cuirass to enter hyper for Coruscant and then swung on a long, arcing course towards the yards. It was not detected by system security.
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In 1966 the Soviets find something on the dark side of the Moon. In 2104 they come back. -- Red Banner / White Star, a nBSG continuation story. Updated to Chapter 4.0 -- 14 January 2013.

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Post by The Duchess of Zeon » 2003-03-22 03:41am

De Imperatoribus Galacticis

"On the Galactic Emperors"

Chapter the Twelfth.

(As continued from Chapter the Eleventh.)

Coruscant, Old Senate Hall
The Chancellorial Offices

"....And the Koornacht Cluster is certainly being threatened by these developments, Lord and Imperator. It's apparent now that the Yevethans began rearming almost immediately after the peace treaty and in the chaos of the Vong invasion they've accelerated their preparations. The government has been disinterested in dealing with this problem and now, of course, unable. We are prepared to give you the support the Senator from the Durrano Sector outlined for the League, but only in the context of an assurance of Imperial forces being committed to the Koornacht Cluster as soon as the core has been secured from the Vong."

"You realize, Senator Bellinor, that our forces are already stretched to the limit? We must keep a certain concentration of ships in the core to fend off Vong assaults, and the demand on the local fleets will only grow as we commence offensive operations." Sule regarded the woman across from him with a steady gaze that now had only uncertainty to back it. Tranjak-sar had created a proposal for an Imperial Confederation and had gotten enough votes to support it. But the first frayed end, it appeared, was already showing up.

What had likely happened was that the situation in the Koornacht Cluster had been underestimated by both Bellinor and Tranjak-sar, and a communiqué had since arrived from her government demanding more concessions to provide security. A communiqué ironically that had probably been transmitted with the aide of an Imperial command ship. Numerous holotrans-capable vessels had been dispersed to vital sectors to facilitate the smooth flow of the Diet negotiations convocation since the Vong and their collaborators had brought about large-scale collapses in the galactic communications network. It would be honestly rather unsurprising if Senator Bellinor had indeed been unaware of what had been going on back home.

What remained from those events, though, was that the affair threatened a defection from the decisive bloc he could produce. The measure could still be passed by the Diet, but it would be a closer affair and give less of an air of popular support. On the other side, naturally one could question if a public relations matter ought dictate military policy to any degree? Well, it was starting to appear like they easily could. Sule reclined in his chair, hands pursed together. The senator was dressed in an appropriately somber fashion: to be gaudy on Coruscant these days would be.. Insensitive, to put it mildly. She had enough of the appropriate oratorical skill, if largely otherwise average in all respects. Then, the good politicians usually were, albeit not the exceptional ones.

"We might need to detail a full Task Force to coordinate efforts by the local fleets in subduing the Yevethans, Honorable Senator, and at this moment in time I feel I would be remiss in my duties to offer such a commitment when I might need those star cruisers for the Grand Fleet, and thus be unable to follow through with it. I can at least propose an agreement that the local League forces will not be called in the musters, and as soon as the Vong threat allows, all Imperial forces as are required shall be detailed to the Koornacht Cluster to suppress the Yevethans - decisively."

Bellinor regarded him across the short span of the desk. Her eyes seemed considerate; there was not an immediate rejection, at least, from what Sule could read. Of course, he was not good at this game yet, but he expected that the situation was noticeably exaggerated. Even so there was no doubting the Republic's ability to let the problem go again.

"It is a small commitment we are proposing, Lord and Imperator, and without it our forces will not achieve the same sort of unity and cohesiveness we could otherwise hope for. There are too many petty rivalries, as you must realize is simply a common fact in all areas of the galaxy." She leaned forward, eyes narrowing slightly. "Surely you realize that the longer the problem is left alone, it will only require a greater commitment in the future," and that, being stated as fact, for it was.

"I understand this," Sule replied. "However, Honorable Senator, I simply do not have the forces to spare at this moment for a commitment greater than what I just proposed. It might appear to be leaving you alone, but I suspect your military staffs can honestly evaluate the capabilities of the Imperial military - and those of the other forces which might intervene, for that matter - and realize that for the moment, the situation cannot be affected to change. Perhaps a further offer could be made of some economic assistance to improve the maintenance of your fleets in a defensive posture against the Yevethan rearmament? This is within the power of the Empire, and my assured allies."

Bellinor leaned back, her face studiously neutral. She was silent for good minute before replying. "Considering your offer, and the chance of economic aide in improving our defensive forces, I may be able to present those initiatives to the League and await return dialogue for an exact posture. There is some latitude in our stance."

Sule was surprised by the answer. He had expected either acceptance or rejection. The blatant honesty of the response and the fact that Bellinor admitted she'd be conferring with the League... Of course, that means a reply might not be gotten back before we vote on the charter for the Confederation. So that was the game they were playing, but Sule would have to take a risk on it. "I understand the necessity of delay, and shall await your reply as the League dictates, Honorable Senator."

Bellinor was silent for a moment again, then nodded. "Certainly, Lord and Imperator. It shall be my pleasure to report the League's answer to you in person. For now, however, I beg leave to make the appropriate communications."

"Of course, Honorable Senator." Sule rose politely before she could. "It was a pleasure to have your company."

"As it was yours, Lord and Imperator." She replied as she rose. "May you remain in good health," she offered in a traditional parting of her homeworld, and then turned to leave, one of the Klingon Guards escorting her out.

Sule sat back down after Senator Bellinor had been escorted out and checked his appointment list. His eyebrows quirked upwards as his lips assumed a slightly grim expression when he saw who was next. It was Director Quarn of the Ubiqtorate Division of Imperial Combined Security, and the appointment had bumped out another in the past twenty minutes with an urgent tag. Sule looked up to Ratok. "Please have the Guard show in Director Quarn."

"As you command, Lord and Imperator," the Klingon answered with a deep chuckle. The Director, despite the usual oddities of an intelligence agent, was always punctual for his appointments.

A half-minute later Quarn stepped into Sule's office, carrying an attaché case and escorted by the same guard who'd escorted Bellinor out. He made a small, polite bow from the waist to Sule; superfluous according to protocol but still a show of respect. "Lord and Imperator, thank you for seeing me on such short notice."

"Greetings, Director - And you said you had urgent news," Sule answered; his look, despite this, appearing almost rather jaunty. Perhaps he was the only man on the planet with reason for pleasure.

"So I do," Quarn answered. "May I sit?"

"Of course."

Quarn settled into his chair and looked straight across at his supreme commander and overlord, meeting his gaze. "It's about the Honorable Senator Tranjak-sar. We've managed to come up with some information about him that I thought you should hear immediately, Lord and Imperator."

Sule regarded the Ubiqtorate Director for a moment, eyes narrowing as he did. The we had a certain tone that leeched the relaxation of meeting a comrade from this moment. "Martina told you to go to me immediately with this?"

Heavily, and with eyes shorn down to honesty: "She did, My Lord."

"Then spare me the wait at least, Director," Sule answered, feeling himself faintly tense. Martina was busy in the most intensive of diplomatic functions, trying to maintain and increase the support amongst the more Imperial-leaning of the delegates, and get them to support the Confederation. If she had made the time to find something out, and felt it this necessary to have Quarn make an urgent report, it would not be light indeed.

"Tranjak-sar is a middling politician of an unusual ambition, My Lord. He never had the sort of influence to do what he has done, until recently. Indeed, he is a relatively junior Senator, appointed only after the Vong began their offensive," Quarn began, his tone steady but the report more menacing as the trail was laid out. "The connection appears to be casual. The Durrano Sector is very far from the Vong front, nearly as far as you can get and find something important."

Sule nodded. "And it is not, then?"

"It is not. There is a clear connection.." Quarn's face tightened neigh-imperceptibly. "We have proof of this." The attaché case was brought up on the desk and opened. He carefully brought out a series of sealed folders. They were of a type that held paper documents: if touched in the right way the contents would be incinerated. Opening them, he handed over the files one by one. "Here, Lord and Imperator, is a summary of our intelligence on Tranjak-sar and his interactions with certain refugees from the Vong front."

Sule took the first and began to read, his eyes half-glancing to Quarn, expecting him to continue, even as the succinct summary that in turn began the summary, forced an imitation on his features of Quarn's, and more intense. The Director saw the expression, and did.

"These people had a great deal to lose. They are cyborgs, or those otherwise similarly enhanced in ways.. Not easily reversed. We think there are others, based on some intelligence we've exchanged with the security services in the Imperial Remnant, but we don't know who they are. The principal actors, however, clearly knew that they were in serious danger on a Vong occupied world long before the true terror of such an occupation was apparent, considering their anti-technological philosophy.

"The Durrano Sector was just the right place, at the right time. It has lax banking laws, and Tranjak-sar was a pro-mercantile politician in the lower house of the Sectorial Assembly at the time. When these people started showing up, they worked together out of a mutual interest in survival, I am guessing - We cannot be certain. Regardless, contacts appeared to have been made with Tranjak-sar, and a bargain struck. Then we do know, now, that money changed hands, and he was appointed to the Senate.

"His, ah, backers.. Seem to have thought that the cause of the galaxy proper was largely hopeless, or at least that of the Republic was, perhaps more properly. Imperial Intelligence in the Remnant was better at finding these things than the Republic's; internal laws are always harder on security agencies than even the difficulties of external spying. So we also have a good idea that he arranged for the diverting of funds to fortify and militarize the Durrano Sector. When we showed up, his backers must have decided that an offensive was possible, and turned their mutual funding towards influence peddling at the Diet."

"Which only works to a degree..." Sule murmured softly, thinking of Senator Bellinor. "At least it explains why the Durrano contingent is so modern and impressively organized," he added with a chuckle. Even as he did, though, a nasty look crept across his face. "I won't have a bought man in my government, you know. It goes against every precept of the New Order."

"So it does, Lord and Imperator. The alternatives at this point are weak, however, and we need the galactic unity that Tranjak-sar's offer presented."

"Is it really his offer? It was remarkably clean and complete for such a short period of time in which to prepare it. Now, of course, I think I understand why."

"You're most likely right, Lord and Imperator, though that does raise another question about it."

"Indeed. His backers would have made it not only appealing to me, but to themselves." Silence for a moment prevailed, as Sule considered the matter, but there was only one course open now. "Unfortunately, we have already been working to firm up support for that agreement and even to pitch it to our own side. There's no way we can turn back on it now."

Sule turned from the summary and tapped on the console for his computer, bringing up a report that he knew with a certain and grim familiarity already. "No, definitely not now. We will just have to deal with whatever sorts of favorable provisions that may present dangers to our position."

"I understand, My Lord. What of Tranjak-sar, then?"

"Obviously the situation with influence in the government would become excessively severe if he were allowed to... Remain.. Imperial Chancellor. He may in fact get the position." Sule was staring at the screen, even if he already knew the words. There was a solution. "The Emperor shall lead his forces into battle; it is only proper the Imperial Chancellor shall also lead his contingent."

"Of course, My Lord."

Coruscant, Pilasi City
Vong Facility

Parts of the thing were starting to rot now, and the stench was atrocious. The technicians, doctors, and bio-chemists were working around the clock trying to keep it from dying, but they're probably fail. It had been one of the last facilities taken; here, at least, the Vong had not had the time to engage their rigged self-destruct devices. The first forensic scientists inside had seen several of the torture victims clearly killed by blaster wounds, to the head at point-blank. Those people had been skinned alive and partially eviscerated. Certain implants had kept them living. There was no investigation; the cause of death when identified was already to be attributed to the Vong. The first coroner through knew that their vocal cords had still been intact. Privately he guessed that he couldn't have resisted the plea of a person in such a state to be put out of their misery, but his only comfort in the entire situation was that it had not been his choice, the most horrible of balances to be weighed upon an individual.

The macabre musings continued to wonder if somewhere on the planet or the ships above a colleague was now investigating a suicide because of that discovery. Perhaps not: the entire experience had dehumanized them all. Desire was entirely gone, and the work continued as a sickening progression of horrors, a depraved plunge into the world of the unholy. The work was continued so that some comfort might be given to the relatives of the dead. They would have had to dispose of the bodies anyway, so someone would have to suffer this horror. He was thankful that more and more of the work was being done by droids again, but they were still far too few on Coruscant to ease the particularly human burden of this agony.

When they had reached the lower levels of the facility, the work had become more intensive. People here no longer existed as such. The Vong had tortured them to such an extent that the bodies in some cases no longer even existed. Extracting DNA traces out of render\ed fertilizer was not impossible at this stage for the science of the Galactic Empire. The coroner did have to admit that the Vong... Were very efficient. The sheer indifference of it all, now overwhelmed the senses and plunged one into a world of such lunacy, such callous and sadistic hatred, that perhaps by this time even the humans working on the site had become no different than the droids.

Around these areas were the last stand of the casteless. They had begged for mercy, these low-born and despised noncombatants of the Vong. None of them had received it, not in one of these facilities. Not, as the news had spread, anywhere. A few high-rankers, of course, had been captured and send to the pleasure of the people and public execution. That had been after the news had spread, too, and nobody would call Sule a barbarian for it in comparison to what had been found on the surface of Imperial Center. Of the casteless, there was no pity, and no restraint of the troops. The slaughter had been commenced with great pleasure, and this was perhaps the first time that the coroner could recall having heard of stormtroopers mutilating the bodies of their enemies without specific orders to do so.

The upper ranks might make a pretense of this war being rational, but among the men who'd fought on the ground at least, and the civilians of this world, this world which had suffered so much and then been liberated? The coroner suspected the slaughter could not sate them no matter how long it went on. His mind was too numbed to feel such sentiment, but what was left of his senses knew in which way it leaned.

He looked on, now, to someone who stood alone in this room. He had led her here, and now she wanted him to leave her here. In the bowels of this horrid and rotting carcass of death, and among the components of so many whom the Vong had seen fit to test unto destruction in the name of their gods. Most, he thought, could not handle the reality of this. She perhaps could: but some part of him that still contained that gem of his humanity, that core that drove him onward in his profession, was terrified of that ability. He looked for a moment longer, and then left as he had promised.

Elise Kalar-Leben heard him go, and was alone with the dead.... The dead of Pilasi; the dead of her family. The oppressive humidity of decay informed her of what she was breathing in. The certainty of the testing left no question. She had succeeded in her endeavors, merely for them to prove no aid to those who had given her every one of her chances. What would her mother say to fortune and glory bought at the price of her sister and her kin? Fate had inflicted its terrible price upon her for exceeding the meanness of her low station.

It was all irrational, and it was all thought nonetheless. For here was the final death of her family. Every forgotten and crushed emotion of two decades time battered her over that distance, and perhaps that distance indeed was all that saved her sanity, a thing already a fragile construct of the healing around her mother's murder. Elise stood in silence, her head lowered and her eyes lidded, and knew the dead were about, from a visceral feeling of the certain and awful nature of this tomb. The dead she had failed in her every duty to, leaving the most horrific deaths for in turn.

Simple grief built into rage over the minutes of silence. Temptation, first, to direct it at herself... But she had gone so far, and to slip into listless acknowledgment of her deed of inaction, or forgetful indulgence... These things had been crushed from her character by an iron process that had given her the same position she now had. Years of bigotry against her gender and class, all overcome, had ingrained something too deep.

"Mother," Elise whispered, quite softly. And now, only now, did the tears start to run from her eyes, as she addressed the woman who had died more than two decades before, and not those interred in this under-chamber of the Vong horror facility... "Mother.. I'll..." She trailed off, the pain and the sheer hate and the enormity rising up and crushing the words before she could find them, not the same, but good enough, perhaps, to dare to utter here, once more. "They'll have only the halls of their blood-drenched gods as a refuge when we are done with them, I swear it. For us." Her head bowed into her tears, she was uncaring as to if she had spoken of her own family, or numbered herself among the dead of her homeworld.

Kuat Stardrive Yards,
The Kuat System

It was late on the second day after their arrival when they were finally invited in to see Mystrela. She met them in the great shipyards after all, though they had all been shuttled there themselves, and she was apparently leaving a meeting of some sort. There was a tired look in her eyes as she stepped out and onto the long, windowed corridor that gave a great vision of the endless depths beyond, and the little and distant globules of plasma that illuminated the length in such a small fashion. The lights were dimmed, and the Kuati guards astride her seemed to regard the presence of the suppliants as a great interference in the life of their ruler at this moment.

"Han Solo, Jaina Solo.. My comrades." Mystrela greeted both Colonel Fel and Shawnkyr with a perhaps very intentional informality, and Fel was not unaware of the fact, though he offered his hand in reply and Mystrela took it, her grip firm and the eyes seeming to strengthen from the occasion.

"Director," Han replied with relative informality of his own. Though he did not offer his hand at first, Mystrela did hers, and Han took it and shook it readily.

"I have always wanted to meet a Chiss," Mystrela commented as she shook Shawnkyr's hand next. "Your species might be supremely complimented for producing the genius of Thrawn. He also...had a particular poise in death - to sound so macabre - that one may find some comfort in."

"He is regarded as the greatest above all others even by those who despise his actions, Director." Shawnkyr answered, her voice betraying nothing as she observed the unusual greeting of the Director.

"All great men are despised for something," Mystrela noted. Next, and last, Jaina. To her, Mystrela simply bowed her head slightly. "Welcome, Jedi, and greetings."

Jaina was getting rather impatient with this, but before she could answer, Mystrela had already started to walk down the corridor. "If you would please," offered as she walked, "follow me, and I shall entertain your offer while we wander this construct." She halted, turning towards them. "Forgive the delay already imposed, and the further imposition of such an effort: I received bad news in regard to my oldest and dearest of friends, and I should like to exercise lest I fall to regret over some distant things. It is one of the luxuries of this position, and I would use it."

The Jedi dared to touch at the senses of the Kuati director across the short span of corridor from her, and the sentiment found was an honest one. She did not probe further. "All right. We can talk while we walk."

"Thank you," Mystrela turned and started down the corridor, her guards moving to catch up and the party falling into her wake. "I am aware of your desire already, at least in part. But explain it to me fully and perhaps we can come to an agreement on the issue."

"I am seeking my brother, Director. He is held by the Vong, and I want to rescue him. Sule said you might help me." Jaina looked at the walking form of the Kuat scion and the mask of her face and continued. "Is there much more to be said? He is my brother, and I won't stand for him to remain in those circumstances. It would be..."

"Inhuman to do otherwise," Mystrela finished for her. "I understand perfectly, Jedi Solo. You at least have not dehumanized yourself into vacillation... Or let fear grip you, so that you never discovered the magnitude of what we're fighting. That sort of compassion speaks well of the future that the Jedi Order has before it. Unfortunately..."

"I've heard a lot of 'unfortunately' already, Director, and they all turn out to be the sorts of dodges you've just railed against," Jaina countered.

"Director," Fel began in a rather more gentle voice. "You do not have the same responsibilities as the Emperor. You are effectively your own Sovereign..."

"Colonel, I am well aware of the responsibilities of my position. They are indeed those of a ruler, and they do indeed entail looking at life-and-death judgments... Quite callously." Mystrela stopped ahead of the party and turned back. "The lack of that callousness has doomed nations - the Restored Republic included."

Jaina tensed in an effort against a flair of anger as her eyes tried to bore into the endless coolness of the gaze that regarded her, as the statement passed into her mind and the implications and the judgments were considered. "How do we even deserve to win if we are to be such people as you would have us to be!?" she shouted, a hand waved as though restrained halfway through an effort to swing it at the Director, Mystrela's guards tensing imperceptibly in response.

Mystrela turned away, looking towards the windows. "I am aware that to think purely in those terms... Would be inhuman, and immoral. I know it with a certain surety provided by personal experience. It's something entirely unavoidable to those who desire to remain.. People, as opposed to creatures of their own ambitions or their own positions."

"Then how would you save yourself from it?" Han asked, quietly, before his daughter could reply.

"Nations, planets, peoples, social constructs - These things have souls, too, in a sense. The essence of the aspirations of their members, of the beliefs of those who live within them, drawn up inside of them and giving them life. Kuat has been gravely offended by one of her daughters, the honor and the dignity of our people tarnished by concourse with the barbarian. I'll help you find Jacen Solo," Mystrela turned to the party, her eyes betraying a faint but unknowable emotion, perhaps detectable only within the choice of her words, "if you will help me to make her suffer what she deserves."

"You want to kill Viqi Shesh," Jaina spoke lower than a murmur, as her choice confronted her.

"No," Mystrela's gaze narrowed. "I would bring her back her, and then let her fate be decided. Don't trouble yourself with one like her - You have my word, at least, that the law will be followed." A twisted and mutable thing in these times, but at least the word was given.

Her three compatriots looked to the Jedi, and Jaina looked to Mystrela. "Just how much help can you give us?"

"For Viqi?" Mystrela was almost amused, as fire met ice in those two gazes. "Everything I can scrape up without uncovering the Drive Yards. Our only problem will be stealth."

"Let's hope he's not being held on a World Ship," Jaina muttered.

Out in the darkness of space distantly glittered the factories of War that ringed Kuat, and from them, the productions that would fuel the ambitions of princes. Countless ships offering forth fleets capable of delivering energy beyond measure. "That might not be a problem, either."

Jaina heard the soft words and grinned. "I think we have a deal, Director."

"So we do, Jedi Solo, so we do."

The Corellia System,
Defence Force Squadrons

"Atten-hut!" The great thunder of two thousands of boot heels crashing down to the deck of the hangar sounded in unison. The piper brought up the electronic device, and from it issued forth a sound as clear as of old, piping aboard their distinguished guest. As he strode down from the shuttle ramp the band struck up a valiant and brassy march, the drums a martial remnant of a time here which would have been recognised by the man whose likeness now graced the Imperial residence a mere few hundreds of light-years away.

"Commander and Chief, Arriving!"

Thracken Sal-Solo was inspecting his fleet. This was one of the heavier ships, a cruiser from the local yards which served as the flagship of the second squadron. In all likelihood it would seen be needed in action, and perhaps even these marines would see some of the combat they were best suited for; he would surely need every resource to hold what he now claimed. He walked along the corridor created by those ordered ranks, accompanied by his staff, with the ship's officers and the flag staff waiting for him at attention down at the other end.

"Your Excellency," Captain Indovir greeted Thracken as salutes were exchanged by the parties. "Welcome aboard the Unurandi. May I introduce Admiral Candrak?"

"It's a pleasure to be aboard a ship with such a storied name, Captain, and it's good to see you again, Admiral," Thracken answered, stepping forward to shake hands with the Second Squadron commander. The Unurandi was named after a pirate vessel captured by CorSec and re-commissioned to the defence forces; storied was a mild understatement into the name's past.

"A pleasure to see you as well, Your Excellency. I believe you'll find every ship of the Second Squadron you visit as ready as the Unurandi for a visit - And Captain Indovir is quite capable of making me not regret those words," Candrak added with a chuckle.

"I've heard only good things - Though I'd not expect anything else from you," Thracken answered, a look of suspicion briefly appearing.

"My reputation getting that well known?" Candrak answered with a shake of his head. "Maybe I should consider that cushy job at CorEng after all."

Thracken laughed. "You just keep thinking it's that easy. Unfortunately... We need every man with a little fighting experience. Lead on, gentlemen."

"Of course, Your Excellency." A moment later: "That serious, sir?"

"The Vong fleet is well under way with its preparations, and early indications are they may hit us first. Don't know if they'll sweep up the worlds that are looking to us for protection or go straight for the Corellia System. Either way, though, we can't mount a realistic defence if they use their full strength. Maybe, though, we can hold out against a portion. We can certainly buy time if we use a bit of brainpower."

"Any new government may be less than desirous of helping us, Your Excellency," Candrak pointed out quietly. Corellia was one of the worlds which had not sent a delegate to the Diet.

"If anything, Admiral, anyone who manages to consolidate power out of that mess will need to bring on all the non-aligned worlds to show their general appeal. We'll be in a strong bargaining position, then. There is the matter of holding out, but you can be assured that wouldn't have been materially changed. We are simply in an unfortunate position, and that is why it is the duty of us all to exert the utmost effort with what we have."

"Of course, Your Excellency."

"Are your ships prepared for extended deployment or long-duration combat?" Thracken asked after a moment.

"As instructed we have extra stores, in particular combat supplies, aboard. Things are a bit cramped, but quartermaster division can confirm we're all up to the fleet requirements, Your Excellency."

"I'll want to check those records."

"Captain Yanthesi?" Candrak asked, the supply officer stepping forward and handing a flimsy to Sal-Solo.

"Very good. Tell me, Admiral, when was the last time your Squadron Marines deployed to Centrepoint Station?"

There was a pause of silence. "I'm not sure myself. Sometime at least, and probably different for each ship's units. Will such a deployment be necessary, Your Excellency?"

"I expected as much, and hopefully not. Some training time there will be arranged for them if possible."

"Of course, Your Excellency," Candrak answered. He didn't probe further. The dictator of Corellia surely had something in mind - But what could Centrepoint do in a defensive role? - Besides, the station wasn't even operational since the Fondor debacle...

"We'll be starting with the flag facilities?"

"That was my intent."

"Carry on, then."

Coruscant, Old Senate Hall
Central Transit Hub

She couldn't blame Han. He had to go; it was that or be overtaken by despair. In her, that was only kept at bay by the work she was throwing herself into now, coalition-building and outright intrigue, striving to save the Republic from the man who now occupied the parodied role of Supreme Chancellor. And here, in a largely closed transport hub that was still busy enough to largely obscure those among it - aided by devices carried upon them in some cases - she strolled from the line of eateries, again mostly closed, towards the main concourse. Her companion was the man on whom the fate of the Republic, and the course of the galaxy, might rest.

Cal Omas was a fellow Alderaanian and it might appear that his support against the Empire was ironclad. Leia had found she could not be certain of it, however, and his reasoning had perhaps put the smallest doubt in her own. The Senator from Alderaan saw himself guided by the necessity of the moment. He judged that if the coalescence of the Empire were to be inevitable, it must be stride upon for the sake of the common defence, and the cause of the democratic institutes preserved in its internal mechanisms.

"Your position, Leia, is going to be the more popular one," Cal spoke as he walked, the life bustling around them, compression within the active areas of the Senate Hall making it seem as active as it once had been. "Among our people that is. But in general, I do not think the Republican position shall bring much acclaim - Or notice. We've both seen hints, at least, of the Confederation that Sule is going to propose. Under that, the citizens of the galaxy will desire only the security it offers and the jobs of a wartime economy. However valid your concerns, the time is not right for them."

"Then the time will never be right for them. The secrecy surrounding this veiled attempt at Empire shows it. We'll have freedom gradually strangled, and regional autonomy crushed. The stand is either made now, or it isn't made at all," Leia answered softly.

"There may nothing to make a stand over if it's made now. You know that's not a hollow statement. This world is evidence enough of it... Coruscant, devastated as it is. Even if your worst fears prove justified there might again form a Rebel Alliance to oppose such a tyranny as may arise." Cal looked rather grim as he stopped under the faux shade of one of the ornamental trees. "It's a risk that at least offers a faint hope, no matter the course."

"And our proposals do not?" Leia countered, gazing at the senator with a wearied intensity. "Do you really think all people care for is to submit in uncaring exhaustion to a tyrant? Or nations, even? That all the varied races and peoples of this galaxy, every polity of the Republic, would simply march under Sule's banner, or if this is so, refuse in turn to follow that of anyone else who might have a decisive and firm position as an alternative?"

"I am afraid it seems a rather common trait in history. It's why Palpatine came to power in the first place, Your Highness;" formal now.

"And you don't think a memory that fresh has made anyone learn?"

"A few. Hopefully Sule himself. Not enough for what you desire, though, Your Highness."

"The only man in the Imperial counsels I can trust now is Pellaeon, and one among many cannot bring sense... Especially not when he is commanded by a supreme ruler raised on the glories of the New Order." Her tone was softer, as she looked away, down the long concourse and into old memories. Perhaps they were of this building, or perhaps they were of many things done in the ages past brought to mind now. Things which had killed all she had known and remade who she was. "I cannot allow an Imperial restoration to come to pass."

"Even at the price of this whole galaxy, to the Vong?"

The voice was not sharp, but perhaps the maintenance of the tone made it cut more. She turned her head back, then, in a quite sharp gesture. "It won't be that!" Barely more than a whisper, but the intensity cut. A few heads nearby, turned briefly - But then those who had looked seemed to hasten away as if disturbing something uncertain and dangerous.

"The Republic has lost the cohesion and the order to defeat the Vong. The Empire offers it." Cal answered calmly, and flatly. "The polities of the Republic will rally to the Imperial offer for that reason alone. Perhaps an alternative could have been forged... But fast enough to save quadrillions more from death, many more sectors from occupation? To leave any chance of victory? I am not sure - And even if you were to make such an effort now, the obvious and extant offering of the Empire will make it weak and pale in comparison.

"No, Leia.. It cannot be done. The most you can do is split the galaxy in two, and that will be the worst result possible. That will be the chance the Vong desire, to exploit such a gap as thoroughly as they may to make up for their weakness in forces."

"So you say," Leia answered, her body language still calm, and the tone even more reserved, perhaps, from the momentary outburst with one from her lost world. "But if this offer of the Empire's is broken, and throughout it all we offer a single, united front... And when that image of Sule, as Emperor, and a figure to rally around - When that is broken - I believe the unity we can project, and the ties forged in opposition to his desires, will give us the strength necessary to present our own measure and see it pass.

"We can learn from his proposals, and make the necessary adaptations to create a Republic which will preserve the unity of the galaxy, and focus its forces, without risking the loss of our freedom. All we need to do is be resolute and unified in our opposition, and prepared and coherent when our own chance comes. There is no need for an Emperor, and no need to surrender to the unity he offers. We can yet forge our own without having to resort to such a destruction of what we stand for."

Cal was silent for a moment, lowering his head, not really a nod but rather more of a gesture in collecting his thoughts on an issue of painful disagreement with another soul from his distant and lost planet. Then his eyes raised and he looked up and met Leia's. "I understand the drive of your points, and the strength of the conviction behind them. I also have no doubt that the conviction merely adds weight to rational calculation, not to any mere beliefs.

"The people of the galaxy, however, see one hope. They will grasp it, Your Highness, and not turn back. We must accept that reality. Even were we to succeed in crushing that hope... I think the recent memory of our own failures, would make such internecine feuds look very poor indeed, and only lower the common morale, giving little chance of success for any sort of measure whatsoever. I fear I must go with what is offered and what will occur and do my best to see that it is just.

"But I also know that you are guided by your conscience, and cannot follow the command of an Emperor. I shall respect that, and the decision of those who follow you. For me, at least, I will throw my lot in with the Confederation, short of provisions that are intolerable to the integrity of Alderaan. It is therefore my intent to abstain from voting on this measure, and if it passes, to support the new government. I will not vote against it, nor will I advise Alderaan to withdraw - Though, of course, my decision may be unpopular enough that such will occur anyway. If that does, I shall have at least have provided the example of my conscience to support the new government."

"Your conscience? To abstain, and then perhaps support an Empire, even against the wishes of our people? Well, if you wish to call it that." Leia shook her head, a slight motion that expressed a wry sadness. "I will even recognise where such an equal strength of conviction comes from, though I think you've abandoned yourself to a sort of fatalism, that lends its self to grabbing onto a tainted and unnecessary offering like the Empire's."

"Perhaps, but it is an offering of life, and the one of the greatest surety in these times. For that matter, I may not even be known for more conscience than the average politician..." he chuckled grimly. "But I would like to have a place to practice my trade in. The Vong seem rather less than inclined towards it, like many other things."

"Let us hope your Emperor is also conductive to the trade," Leia murmured. "A good day to you, Senator."

Cal inclined his head in a show of the respect he'd always feel for Leia Organa Solo. "Your Highness."

Talfaglio Orbit,
The Red Talon

A holo drifted over its organic projector, showing this galactic region, with certain planets highlighted and their systems expanded. At each one force estimates were available for review at the desire of any one of the commanders. The Fleet Commanders of the Yuuzhan Vong forces at Talfaglio were indeed meeting here once more. They were diverted by something else for the moment, however, a message that Tsavong Lah was summarising to them.

"My fellows," he said, stepping away from a subordinate and turning towards the commanders assembled around the projector, "We have just received a communiqué from Supreme Overlord Shimrra." The room tensed, as these assembled commanders, the leaders of the assembled fleets of the Yuuzhan Vong, awaited the words of the leader in turn of their race. "I may inform you that the Supreme Overlord wishes 'that the blessings of the Gods might favour victory on your illustrious campaign.' The eyes of our Gods and our Overlord are upon us; we shall make ourselves only worthy of the attention in the days to come.

"Our timetable, shall proceed as planned. The other units required are in full concourse and readiness. The plan may now be enacted," Tsavong Lah concluded.

"And Nom Anor on the surface of Coruscant?" Vidang Tahng dared to speak up, on the subject which had caused so much strife in the command structure in the days past.

"He will either succeed or fail, Commander - Hopefully succeed for his own sake, but either way we can win by main force."

Vidang Tahng nodded once. Tsavong Lah stared at him for a moment longer, than looked over the others and saw only readiness.

"Our final dispositions indicate that for the maximum surety, several transfers of squadrons to boost fleet concentration on the Coruscant attack will have to take place. We have sufficient intelligence from Corellia to be certain of Sal-Solo's fleet, and I believe you are all now aware of the commitment from Tirlin Vasong and the Hapan frontier."

"Thracken Sal-Solo also has a far more concentrated and ordered fleet," Vidang Tahng found himself forced to note once more, daring his opinion against that of the Warmaster who had once thought him a more preferred subordinate.

"So it is, Commander, but all calculations have considered that factor.. Along with the fact that his fleet is in fact augmented considerably by paramilitary forces consisting of volunteer smugglers and pirates, converted civilian vessels and so on, which even if uniformly Corellian, are not conducive to the good order of his fleet."

"I trust to the wisdom of the fleet calculations, then, Warmaster," Vidang Tahng answered, bowing his head slightly.

"That trust shall not be misplaced," Tsavong Lah noted. "To continue, the squadrons to be transferred shall be picked with an aim towards minimising fleet disruption; ones already familiar with manoeuvring alongside the units they're being integrated into. Combined with the final preparations to order the fleet and arrange the fleet train, we should be capable of projection operations against Coruscant within another four days."

"Will Tirlin Vasong be ready on the same timetable?" Ghanong To looked to Tsavong Lah with a gaze in his eye that might have beaten out Vidang Tahng's for untrustworthiness. "Two bases? Against two targets? With multiple vectors? There is a limit to how much one should dare Yun-Harla in a single offensive."

"It is a worthy concern, but one that has been negated through planning. Tirlin Vasong is capable of meeting the demands placed upon him. Corellia will be hit in a pincer, and hit first no less," Tsavong Lah answered firmly. "The time delay between that attack and the one on Coruscant, shall be within acceptable margins. There is a possibility for error in both cases, but those eventualities do not threaten our chances of success. You can ask the Red Talon's War Co-ordinator for the models if you wish."

Ghanong To nodded firmly in assent, and with the gesture the tenuous hold over the commanders that Tsavong Lah was confirmed and increased. They would obey, and the attack would proceed. May the Gods grant us victory, and me revenge, the Warmaster thought, with a confidence that this time the fleet would not be driven from Coruscant.

The Planet Coruscant,
Old Senate Chambers

The measure had been presented to the Diet, every detail fleshed out before the assembled. No doubt it had garnered some surprise, perhaps a lot - In some circles. Enough of the details had been leaked that the majority of the assorted Senators and delegates knew enough, and critical ones already had full copies. The proposal had endured a single round of modifications after this, and then was brought to a final vote on the fourth day of its standing on the floor.

Speeches for and against had lashed out from between Sule and Leia, and from one the argument had appealed to the common defence; the other, a common morality. The draft had been very good, and the revisions had allowed to make it seem better, and to those crucial supporters whom Sule had allowed to be so wooed, more accommodating. It was hard to really disparage the Agreement - On structural grounds.

Perhaps that was part of the vigour of the remaining opposition against it, then, that someone might make an effort to gently upstage Republic. And perhaps it was also the hesitancy of the swing votes. The margin might be narrow by abstention alone, those waiting for the result of the decisive and then committing by choosing to remain within the structure of what had been established, or deal with the lack thereof.

So it was that the final vote on the agreement had been put before the chamber, and now Sule could only wait as the results were tallied, and steadily tallied. This vote was a sort of battle, a quiet and disinterested and heartless one, that he knew to be more vital than any other. Its consequence would be both immediate and drastic, though of the first perhaps only a very few knew.

Sule could only wait, sitting back from the vision of the assembled and watching the tally come in. His vote was already cast, and the tenseness of the issue clouded his perception of time. Even in the vastness of the Senate Hall, the votes could be compiled with relative swiftness, checked and triple-checked on their accuracy, and displayed. The magnitude of such a decision, though, made it seem an eternity to linger upon the course of action. He besides wished that Martina might be with him, but he had to observe proper decorum, and so only his appropriate Chancellorial staff were in attendance.

One of the screens blinked, and the final tally flashed up with the certainty of the Hall's computers, designed and maintained for so long for this purpose. They were at droid-level intelligence, and prided themselves in the accuracy of their vote-counting and systematic precision in checking for even the most remote of possible errors.

"Supreme Chancellor," the computer bank said politely. "the vote is confirmed within the mandated margins of error. Accuracy has been confirmed to within the capabilities of this unit. An operations log is available for review."

"Thank you. Make the log available to the Senators and Delegates if they request it." Sule answered the computer. It would be atrociously large, but if anyone was obsessed at the possibility of vote fraud to the point of checking it, he wasn't going to try and stop them. Then he looked towards the tally on the screen.

Names, blocs, regions, everything could be broken down into precise and extreme detail. But the percentile tally, the summary of the numbers of the Senators and Delegates. That was what counted. 53.4% in favour; 32.5% against, and 14.1% abstentions. He slumped with the tension that had been ever-present in his body but he in turn had only been vaguely personally aware of until now.

It was a majority, if not as clear as he had hoped. Likely, some normally heavily republican planets close to Vong space had outright voted in favour. What was a done deal in law would demand many favours and even more light treading to cement. But it was done, and the fleet in orbit would obey his command. The sound in the hall rose, and one of his aides stepped beside him.

The man bowed to the Sovereign of Republic. "Your Majesty, should you not now present your speech to the Diet?"

The Emperor rose, nodding. "Of course." Sule moved to the podium and ascended it. A hushed silence, a quiet so appropriate for a place of tombs, fell over the Senate Hall. Sule gazed over the massed ranks of the assembled.

"The Galactic Diet has reached a course of action. It has been your vote by legitimate and established democratic process of the Republic, that the Republic shall be have new Institutes, based on a Confederated model with the Imperial person serving as Head of State of both his own holdings, and the Republic. A Supreme Chancellor shall serve as Head of Government over the Republic, controlling the day-to-day functions of the bureaucracy. I shall appoint this individual from the membership of the Senate at my whim. The Senate shall select a President to preside over its meeting from its own membership by Parliamentary process.

"So we have ordered our government, and so the people of the galaxy now hear. It shall be the duty of this new government, operating through established traditions and procedures of the Republic, to insure the rights and sanctity of each polity within its writ, and through the meeting of the Senate, pass the appropriate laws to ease or in turn regulate the passage of commerce and the travel of persons between those polities. We shall furthermore work to police those regions between our varied borders, where lawlessness reigns, on those issues where the laws of all sentient nations of our civilisation agree something to be odious, and suppress those nefarious deeds which have brought harm to spacefaring civilisation for so long."

Sule was silent for a moment, and when he began again his voice was very nearly strident, a clarion call penetrating through the room, rich in timbre and demanding the attention of the whole of his peoples. "A pity that were not all we could amuse ourselves with! The calling of government, though, is also the calling of defence! My first and foremost duty in these times is to serve to establish a central defensive organisation through which each fleet and each army of every polity in the Republic can be organised.

"This shall be done, and it shall be the duty of every nation within our Confederation to submit to the callup of its forces. We recognise, in declaring this union binding, one general and guiding principle: That defence is the supreme duty of government, and government must be capable of defending its people. So I set out to do, and so our government shall do. The dead of Coruscant shall be avenged, and the horror will never be repeated! From now on we will present a unified front to our barbarian and savage foe, many states fighting under one guiding purpose. That purpose shall always be the protection and defence of our civilisation, a cause to which all of us may rally about and be focused into a single army, no matter how many components, which cannot be defeated."

The applause rolled about the Chamber like waves, like the churning of the sea in a cataclysmic conflux of the tides. The cheering that soon arouse, or the exotic calls of some of the most intensely alien of the species, completely drowned out the not-unsizeable portion of the room that remained silent, so that it was as though they did not exist. For the moment, they might as well not, but it was a warning of things to come. The unity was only among those who desired it.

The Planet Terra,
Region of Tibet within Administrative
District of China

"I appreciate the company, but is it a risk for you to come back here?" Hamner Davion asked of the Captain who settled into a sitting position across from him on the floor of his 'cell.'

"Not particularly great. My cover is sufficient, and my excuse in this case decent. I would be more concerned if greater attention was being paid on this galaxy. It is not; attention is diverted, and this of course is part of everything, and quite natural besides."

The sentence was obscure, but Hamner simply moved on from it. The obscurity was something to be filed away for the future... Or perhaps revealed now. "Well then, captain, what can I do for you?"

"Listen to the latest reports, for the moment," the captain answered. "Some very interesting things have been happening."

"I'll be pleased to hear some more news from the outside," answered with a quirk of his face towards a faint expression of wry amusement.

"So you should be. The Empire is reformed... After a fashion."

"The Empire - reformed?" Davion jerked more fully upright in a convulsive motion that was nearly involuntary. "After a fashion? How do you mean that, captain?"

"Sule has succeeded in gaining the necessary votes to form a Confederation, a new Constitution for the Republic which mandates him as its Imperial head, and gives him vast latitude within his own territories -- Though, of course, vast privileges for all the varied constituent polities as well. The majority of the delegations to the Diet are signing on. He'll probably have the firm and immediate support of three quarters of the unoccupied Republic, plus all Imperial territories of course.

"The constitution mandates that these polities provide their full war-making potential to the efforts of the Emperor against foreign States automatically in defensive conflict, or as agreed by the Senate through regular parliamentary vote in offensive conflict. This means that Sule now has sufficient resources to wage an extended campaign to repel the Yuuzhan Vong from the galaxy, if he can avoid any effort they would attempt to disperse his marshalling forces."

Hamner closed his eyes and breathed out heavily. "That's a significant power base, if not at all consolidated. To defeat the Vong will be to give him the prestige and the strength to work on a real government, though." A soft chuckle. "Surely my daughter's hand is in such political elegance and thoughtful planning."

"Perhaps so, Governor. It does not, however, leave us without an opportunity to act," the Captain answered.

"You see one in this? At what point, without damning ourselves by letting the Vong overwhelm more planets while we plunge galactic civilisation into internecine war?"

"Precisely after any success by Sule's government in defeating a Vong effort to defeat the formation of their combined fleets. At that point the Vong will have hit their nadir and been flung down from it. We can make a challenge then -- And you are the legitimate Emperor, Governor, by right of your position, and there are those who can be made to follow you, and others who will not like Sule's Confederacy." The Captain looked earnestly across to the humbled governor.

The gaze was returned, then, and after a moment a nod. "I can see the possibility. But I cannot be here when you start executing your plans to exploit it, captain."

"No, you cannot, and that is being arranged. Elements even as we speak."

"Can you give me any details?"

"No. I can just tell you to be ready, Governor. It will not be long."

"Then I shall await the moment."

"That is enough," the captain answered, looking to the old books that Hamner had been reading, his mood falling from the succinct certitude of his prior words to a reflective pause, and then a rather quiet and thoughtful tone. "There's a lesson in them, is there not?"

Hamner inclined his head, waiting for the captain to continue.

"Empires wax and wane, States cleave asunder and coalesce. We are in times of flux, Governor, and men of both rank and vision can go as into history as their desires take them. Ambitions ought only be limited by what good they do to the State."

"I don't intend to forget that now," Hamner said, the ancient phrase unfolding in the context of a line of harmony undone in short decades of chaos, and the bitter sting of his own first failure. Indeed he would not.

"Then we understand each other perfectly, Governor - And the next time we shall meet will be in different circumstances." With that, the captain rose.

"Until that fortuitous day, captain."

Coruscant, Capitol Sector
Planetary Transport Hub

He was a bit early, but he liked to be early if it was possible. Though the Confederation was a done deal, he could weaken it as much as possible. Today would be the final day that was possible, and this meeting one of the few chances before the final chance in turn. The celebratory ball would be a subdued event, and black was going to be back in style for formal dancing wear, but it would still be held. Government, after all, went on, and the formation of a new one was - officially at least - an event to be celebrated in some fashion.

Generally moderated and intended to be respectful, but enough time had passed now, the deaths from starvation and disease had ended, and it seemed that the beginnings of normal life had to return. The totality never would. Beyond that, it was a chance for the varied functionaries of the new regime to meet as it began to form, and every such chance was a vital one for contacts to be made, or the myriad of webs thickened.

For the moment, though, he might have another chance to weaken that same government, and in the same token the fleet which now orbited Coruscant - Which was already weakened by the defection of the hard-line republicans under Leia. Nom Anor was rather pleased with himself. He had been able to score enough victories already that, combined with the assassination attempt in the works on Sule, he might escape the general displeasure of his superiors that the formation had happened at all. He'd had little chance of stopping that, after all.

Even if the assassination attempt failed, he'd make it messy enough to get several other important people, and that would be sufficient. So it was he waited, content and expectant - And, of course, someone entirely different than Nom Anor - In the darkened sectors of an area damaged in the blast, and not yet fully repaired - there was a lot of traffic to and from the surface with the packed chambers, but not much around the surface of the planet - for the one he was supposed to meet with. Their meeting would not be recorded or observed; certain devices he carried with him, some biological and some heretical, assured that.

When she came, he was surprised by her appearance. For one of the delegates she seemed rather youthful, and certainly the utter exemplar of the human ideal of beauty, blue-eyed and blonde-haired. Every portion of her body, perfectly sculpted, and without a blemish to mar it. To the Yuuzhan Vong eye, hideous, but Nom Anor had been long among galactic civilization and found the form of the woman he was, it appeared, to negotiate with... More than delectable.

Her look, though, froze attraction from the mind. It was cold formality, the formality of the gaze and the chill set of the blue gaze enforced by the certitude in that face and in the manner of walking, such that offered no hope of warmth. Oh well, it was little loss; there was no hope of anything but business in the such time he had left before he must leave Coruscant. Nom Anor opened his mouth to offer a polite greeting...

...And found himself against the wall with an incredible force that took the air from his lungs. The woman had covered the gap between them in a flash, and drove home a blow against him with impossible fury and strength. His response was that of a Yuuzhan Vong, pain directed into fury, a growl of defiance his only word - perhaps the only one possible as he struggled to regain his breath - and one hand went for his concealed amphistaff, while the other, sought out her throat with a vicious certitude.

He delivered a coiled and compacted blow, direct and certain into the flesh of the cold and beautiful thing before him; it should have impacted the larynx of any human. The blow shook her, but instead of that form failing for a lack of air, the assault intensified. One of her hands grasped his neck in return, and Nom Anor found the light protection of the cloaker little guard against the strength it could bring.

He had gotten hold of the amphistaff, though, his free hand stroking the right places and bringing the concealed weapon out from the cloaker, until the snakelike organism formed to its length - lesser than one of its full cousins - and he prepared to strike.... His left hand pushing back at the woman, trying to use his greater leverage to rip her from him, a constant of strength he was manifestly losing.

This was not the sort of battle he liked to fight! But he had the staff ready... And then there was an exceptional pain in groin, and again, even through the defense of his cloaker and armor. It was followed a moment later by the feeling of his arm locked against the woman under pressure, and then the audible snap. The lack of oxygen was getting even to him. Still, the pain was nothing. He struck with the amphistaff, a blow that ought have been fatal, deep and sure into her side, poison ready to rush into the wound.

As he slipped into blackness he felt only puzzlement at why it was only then that she showed a facial expression, and why it was bemusement, of all things.

Guri was quite satisfied. They'd removed their primary threat to their own interests, and the damage to her person was quite easy to conceal for the ball. It would probably be wise to let the assassination attempt go through, within limits of surety that it wouldn't get Sule - But that wouldn't be entirely up to her. Tranjak-sar was certainly proving an expensive investment to protect, though, but rather worth it in the long run to put it mildly... And, of course, perhaps some more use could be gotten out of this incident. She was hardly in favor even among those she had fallen in with, and her personal security was now her foremost interest.

De Imperatoribus Galacticis will be continued in Chapter the Thirteenth.
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In 1966 the Soviets find something on the dark side of the Moon. In 2104 they come back. -- Red Banner / White Star, a nBSG continuation story. Updated to Chapter 4.0 -- 14 January 2013.

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Re: De Imperatoribus Galacticis v.1 [Revised]

Post by The Duchess of Zeon » 2009-10-30 10:47am

De Imperatoribus Galacticis

"On the Galactic Emperors"

Chapter the Thirteenth.

(As continued from Chapter the Twelfth.)

Corellian System,
Outer Fringes

The Vong scouts drifted forward among the light deritus that had formed here in the distant darkness far beyond the many and bountiful habitable planets that orbited that welcoming star of Corellia. They led the fleet commanded by Vidang Tahng; those first light elements which would direct its deployment, determine where it might be thrust, and probe out the enemy's mass. Here, in these cometary fragments, native to a star which had its bounty increased by the artful and deadly abomination of Centrepoint, there was almost surely nothing alive but those very ships. Thoroughness demanded the region be checked regardless.

On the lead number of those light ships, a metallic object was detected nearly simultaneous to a power spike. The spike was minor, but it was sufficient to flush the onboard missile tubes that the fighter carried. The Vong scout reacted instantly, dovin basals handling the two incoming concussion missiles and counterfire taking out the ancient Z-95 Headhunter before it could get off more than another fire-linked shot, which was again absorbed. The remnants were hardly worth mentioning, scrap and particles amongst the even more lightly spread hydrogen and deritus of space, left to drift until it might collide with the dense debris of the region, where at least such a probability existed.

From the cover of those debris, and their dangerous--though advantageous--position of being powered down, a half-wing of Z-95s commenced a repetition of the attempt. There were a total of ten Vong scouts in the force, widely spread as they swept through this area of the Corellia system; the formation had thousands of klicks seperation between each scout, at least. The Corellian attack was still suicidal. The Vong rapidly formed up, returning fire and rending ice to petty chunks or vapour in moments, plasma erupting from larger targets or smaller alike. Even the light weaponry of the Vong equipped on their scout ships was easily capable of this action, and considering the very lopsided nature of the fight, it perhaps came as little surprise that even those Z-95s which began evasive action were quickly annihilated.

In closing with them and forming up, however, the scout element commander had gone deeper in than he had intended. They had also forced him to rather blatantly reveal his position. He commenced a turn to withdraw from the field and disperse the scouts, while at the same time ordering emissions reduced to minimal levels. With luck they could resume probing activities after being lost to the inevitable enemy observation that had begun from that contact.

The backstop of the fighter picket was going to have something to say about that. What the Vong commander had presumed as only a light screen on the region was revealed as rather more, when the passive sensors of the trailing scouts detected the leading edge of a formation of X-wings coming in. They manoeuvred to avoid contact, but as further half-wings of Z-95s were vectored to contact on the flanks, the rear of the intentionally splintered Vong formation had no choice but to power up their targeting sensors and engage once more.

When the scout commander received word of the X-wings, he brought the leading ships of his element back around to assist the trailers. It now appeared that he might have been wrong: he could be in touch with the main body of the Corellian Tyrant's fleet, for seventy-two X-wings slashed down upon the trailers of his formation, and the hundred-meter gunships, stripped for this task, did not have the defences to repel that sort of concentration. Still, his leading ships plunged back into the fray, scattering the Z-95s and doing great execution amongst the onrushing X-wings.

A momentary reprieve given by the additional weight of firepower, the remaining seven Vong scouts formed up, some now with noticeable damage, and raced among the harrying X-wings and darting old Headhunters. As the telling blows of salvoed torpedoes and missiles wore against them, the numbers of their enemy were reduced by an even greater measure. Even as their number was brought down to six in another crack and painful rending of biomatter into plasma and debris by the unleashed energies of the proton fire, they might have defeated their reduced enemies, the eggshells that fought against their far stronger hulls.

Ahead, through the cometary debris and clouds, those probing sensors of the Vong scouts sought something, though, and they would not be stinted. Through the primal mist those probes of energy unveiled an unsteady image. A classic scout line of twenty Corellian Corvettes advanced steadily on thrusters through the debris towards the engagement, their hulls so new that even this distant from the glorious star of the Corellian system, they still glinted faintly of metallic, the coats of paint never applied--except for a single blood red pinstripe along their flanks that identified them as much as anyone could ever ask. From beyond and above them, the sensors detailed an image into visual clarity, a second line, these of Gunships to support those first scouts, the massed industry of the Corellian yards in evidence.

Beyond them, looming heavily with their age and their heavy old construction, a squadron of dreadnoughts drifted ever-stately, assigned to support, their hulls battered by a good century of hard service in the hands of many masters. They were supported in turn by an escort carrier, it's maw opened to the stars and spilling out a horde of A-wings even as the sensors caught it. The X-wings might be supposed to have been the fighters of the dreadnoughts themselves, but any such illusion could be dispelled as they began to launch more, doubling the original numbers:

Indeed, the sensors could almost discern the energy of ships distantly beyond that first force, but could not identify it. The power emissions of countless ships, arrayed over hundreds of thousands of kilometers of frontage, the fleet which had been thrown together by the sheer will and half-mad genius of Thracken Sal-Solo to defend Corellia, and manned by the relentlessness of the same font.

"Transmit! Transmit!" The Vong element commander ordered as the data picture became clear. The ships he was firm on could just be a detachment, but it was clear, he knew it, that this was the enemy fleet, stationed at the very fringe of the Corellian system. Vidang Tahng had to know about it, and he would. "Dump all the sensor records, now - general broadcast." The transmission was begun, cycling through as the scouts relentlessly plunged ahead, the data being updated even as the closed the range with the enemy scout line suicidally. But that was their job, and they'd do it right up until they met the Gods.

The transmission had cycled through twice, being updated constantly, and was beginning a third as the line of Corellian gunships began to fire, the X-wings and remaining Z-95s elegantly scattering to avoid the hailstorm. The Vong scouts commenced evasive action, but the gunships were locked in on them and there were four for each of the surviving scouts, some of which had noticeable damage. Missiles and plasma flew, and those Vong who could even returned fire, but before a third transmission could be completed the last of the scouts had been destroyed, vapourized rock mixing with less palpatable carbon matter in a cloud which drifted about the site of the brief engagement.

Coruscant System,
The Hand of Thrawn

Grand Admiral Pellaeon looked at the staff that he would command over Coruscant, at their countenances and their forms, assembled in the main briefing room of the Hand of Thrawn. The Emperor was not here, allowing Gilad to review the final details without a presence that could overawe, or perhaps intimidate. Within hours the home system of the Empire would be under attack. The preparations had been made to the best of Pellaeon's ability, and the resources that had been mustered: the space around Coruscant was sewn with minefields and gun platforms and numerous defensive stations had been brought in with every hyperspace transporter that could be pressed into service.

The concentrated labour of days with the resources of the galaxy, unhindered of bureaucracy, had accomplished fortifications worthy of the name. In every area the system presented an imposing aspect to an attacker, and the defence no longer needed to rely on a single massed fleet. Inside, the Executor squadron was posted in orbit of Coruscant proper with a strong escort to serve as a backstop, and forces and taskforces, fleets and detachments, had been detailed to reinforce the fixed defences and mutually support each other throughout the system. Thousands of ships and hundreds of thousands of fighters rested on the pivot of the fortifications, ready to do battle.

It was a sphere of steel, ready to enmesh the jewel of the galaxy in a web of plasma. That tarnished jewel itself, though, carried the greatest of the weaknesses within that intricate protective layout. Coruscant's planetary shields had been destroyed by the Vong. The Imperial engineers had been able to reestablish some defences, but they were nothing like the famed layers of energy which had once englobed Coruscant. So despite the massive industrial exertion of construction and transport which had flung up these defensive works within mere days, the most critical portion was the weakest, and the entire construct of the defences ultimately was configured around the need to defend what could be destroyed by the merest brush, a single salvo of a great fleet.

So the men who were to protect that world had countless other smaller rooms, exchanging information or getting away with small talk before the battle, the navy personnel, army personnel, and starfighter corps personnel all clustering assembled, and along that great table they were arrayed. Admirals and Generals, commanders of fleets and elements, of stations and planetary defences and Stormtrooper detachments. The coteries of their staffs clustered in seperately, and those of the stormtrooper legion commanders maintaining a laconic aloofness. Here, though, their commanders all mingled at the same table, and they were all under Gilad's direction.

He had outlined the plans, and now he would detail the final preparations and deployments. Sectors and strong detachments to be commanded by the best of his Admirals, arranged by those who had brought the strongest fleets with them to the assembly. The greatest weakness, perhaps, was that many of these assembled were not more than Imperials in name only: the leaders of the armed forces of confederated states. They might accept the orders of his officers, but there would still be reluctance, and the coordination of the fleet was in question.

That was why this defensive posture had been chosen. Each independent force would have its own sector, the Imperials having some more critical ones, and the Executor force and some detached elements able to react to enemy assaults on the strongpoints, or attempts to evade their fire in the space that, even around a massively fortified and mined planet, could not be covered fully. It was hoped that the Vong, then, would break themselves on the outer ring, where their main assault could be identified and the point suitably reinforced. Everything came down to judgement about where to commit forces, and how much, to respond to assaults on those lines .

Except, of course, for Gilad's other problem. He had orders from the Emperor to betray one of his own forces, after all. The Imperial Chancellor, despite having helped Sule to power--or perhaps precisely because of it--was deemed untrustworthy, and the most quietly suitable way for him to die was in battle. Sule would risk himself as a symbol, and that provided the excuse to make the Chancellor do the same. It was up to Pellaeon to make sure, then, that the Chancellor and the squadrons he provided to the defence were overwhelmed... And still successfully keep the defensive perimeter from breaking.

Grand Admiral Pellaeon began the last conference before the battle knowing he was in truth going to be fighting two at the same time.

The Kuat System,
The Hawk of Trinadora.

"Director, we're detecting a small stealth ship. It just appeared on our scanners outside of the Drive Yards' defensive perimeter," the officer of the watch addressed the Director of KDY.

Mystrela looked to the com speaker from her cabin, where she enjoyed the comforts of a ship served by a full droid compliment, and personal servants befitting the Director of KDY, but would still never escape the bureaucratic work associated with running a naval force. Naturally, it was increased proportionally when you were preparing it for combat, and there was little wonder that she'd been advised to hand it back over to the fleet's technical commander--but this force was a great deal of why she'd been willing to take this job, the Emperor's desire or not.

All things said, a distraction from the mundanities was still quite welcome. "Has she identified herself?"

"Yes, Director--well, the commander has, I should clarify."

Interesting, though not unusual for a small craft. "Who would that be, Commander?"

"Miat Temm, Director. A personal advisor of Grand Admiral Pellaeon. Her documents are in order... And she wishes to speak with you in person, Director."

Mystrela settled back, taking a deep breath, and gazing into the mirror in her cabin for a long moment. Sometimes situations were rather ironic, indeed.

"Give her permission to dock with the Hawk, Commander."

"Understood, Director."

As soon as the connection was terminated, Mystrela brought up another one with her chief of staff. "Marcus? Please contact Jaina Solo and ask that she visit me in my quarters. I would like to discuss something with her that has just occured."

She was a sight to behold, hidden power rippling around her. Jaina was frightened, somewhat, though she withstood the temptation to fall into intimidation at it. Miat Temm had increased considerably in power since they had last met, and Jaina could not quite understand how the woman was doing it. More suspiciously, of course, she not did understand why Miat Temm was here. The other had promised they would meet again, but this seemed a bizzare and incongruous time for it, Jaina on the right side of the Director of KDY as this one who'd been so affected by the charnel house of Coruscant approached.

Long wild hair flowing down carelessly behind her; kept, but in the most abrupt of ways, more thought given to cleanliness than beauty, though it gave her some in a primal fashion, in those robes she wore. The unyielding robes an aesthetic, subtly different from those of the Jedi order. There was no lightsabre in evidence; perhaps she had handed it over to one of the guards in the boat bay, for Jaina felt that Miat Temm was quite capable of constructing one now.

It was almost something to feel sorry for, what the horrors of that planet's slaughter had done to the untrained and unprepared. But Jaina couldn't; nobody could, for Miat Temm was clearly in control and had some idea of her destiny, perhaps frightfully more than the whole Jedi Order at this moment. She stood there, in the entrance to the conference room, and regarded both Mystrela and Jaina equally, before bowing in Jaina's direction.

"Forgive me, Jaina Solo, that we meet in these circumstances. However, the events of the universe are ultimately the final expression of the Will of Fate: and I can only respond to them. Still.." A slight, whimsied smile crept onto that face. "My promise is kept, and it will not change things overmuch."

"I hope my hospitality is not that bad," Mystrela commented dryly in response, observing the mysterious force-adept without much concern, though that was especially with Jaina at her side.

The comment provoked amusement from the whimsy of Miat. "No! But it was unintended--and only in that do I mean to disparage the location. Unintended... But perhaps not without use." Her gaze shifted again to Jaina and focused to seriousness abruptly.

"Could you use another Jedi in the search for your brother?"

Jaina thought back to her experience on Coruscant and what Miat had done--and how she, really, had motivated this entire search in the first place; she looked at the woman and she felt her strength through the Force. There was really only one answer... "Dare I say no?"

Miat just smiled. "Very good; I will, however, ask for a short delay first of all. You see, we need to go rescue Corellia."

"Rescue Corellia?" Mystrela interjected abruptly. They'd known about the danger of an attack for some time, but nothing had come through in regard to one occuring yet.

"They're under attack right now," Miat answered, her voice becoming rather distant. "The message hasn't reached Kuat yet because of damage to the commo net, I'd presume. Don't worry about your brother, Jaina; he'll be just fine even with the delay... We can take care of both tasks without trouble."

Jaina stared at her, but the gaze was met levelly, by someone unconcerned at the level of projection and interpetation through the veil of the force they'd just displayed.

"Come on, we've got some Vong we need to stop." She added, glancing to Mystrela.

The Director observed the two for a moment, her gaze fixing on Jaina's expression. Then she nodded to Miat. "Alright, Miat Temm. To the relief of Corellia, first."

"Excellent. Can you give me a blastboat for the combat operations? My stealth ship is not suited for them."

"That can be arranged; if you will wait here, my Chief of Staff can assign you quarters aboard?"

"Certainly." The word was uttered politely, but Miat already seemed distracted, looking towards the viewports. A moment later she turned and strode out, leaving Mystrela and Jaina alone.

"I'm very worried about her," Jaina said after a moment's silence.

"You have reason to be concerned--And is the mission to Corellia one of value, then?"

"Yes, and yes. I owe her a great deal, and what she's seen, I can sense nothing to make me think she's lying. However.. Her powers come from a source I'm not even sure of yet, and I worry for what they do to her... To who she is. They're changing her." Jaina shook her head slightly, reminding herself who she was talking to, and just the magnitude of what she was talking about.

"Seeing as I have only met her on this day, I will not presume to dispute the judgement, Jedi Solo. However, if she can lead us to Corellia in time to save the system, she can likely lead us to your brother: and even a flawed blade can sometimes give one or two good strokes. If you will forgive me, I must get the fleet underway for Corellia."

Jaina was silent, thinking about Miat, and the cold wisdom of Mystrela, which meshed with the cold times in which the galaxy found itself but yielded little comfort for the soul. She was bonded in a way to Miat, now, and could not easily abandon her; whatever was happening to her, she would have to find out what it was and the extent of it, and that was simply that.

Corellian System,
Outer Fringes

The Vong had come out of hyperspace on a trajectory adjusted by the information from their scouts. Vidang Tahng arrived first, leading in his flagship the Eye of Yun-Haarla, with the rest of the fleet arriving, following the example of their commander as any good leader should offer. The Corellian defensive forces were right in front of them as he had expected, retiring from their concealed position in the outer system that his scouts had uncovered. Tirlin Vasong was not there yet, but then Vidang Tahng had not expected the coordination to be as perfect as the Warmaster had promised, so his plans had centered around fighting the Corellians alone all along.

"Commander, they're deploying fighters and forming into attack order," his sensor bank commander reported. Vidang Tahng turned to where the villips were manipulated into a vast holo of the system, and a smaller tactical holo, both of which consumed much of the centre of his flagbridge. The data was being updated, showing the outnumbered Corellian fleet turning in to press the assault with an audacity completely worthy of his own race. They were going to take casualties.

Vidang Tahng began to issue orders, tightening his formation and hastening the launching of the reserve squadrons of 'skippers that would counter the onrush of the Corellian starfighter corps. The Corellians were approaching missile range, and continuing to accelerate. His subordinates were now engrossed in the details of the operations. Vidang Tahng, aloof, tall and silent on his bridge, gazed into the holo-projector, like it might yield the mysteries of the gods. The Corellians were in a tight formation, accelerating at the maximum their fleet speed would allow, and coming straight for him.

If they didn't start to deaccelerate soon... Yes, they would do that, wouldn't they? Perhaps not other infidels, but these ones retain an element of boldness and would think us to forget that--and we probably would. The Corellians would punch into his formation at a relativistic velocity, then, a point-blank engagement lasting seconds. Or so, at least, they would attempt, going for those moments of letting their computers rip into his ships with massed fire from within.

The problem with long-range engagements, even energy engagements, was that the combination of the range involved, and speed of propgation--when combined with the prodiguous jamming both sides inevitably engaged in--led to very few hits at long range during naval battles: on the order of a mere two or three percent of all shots fired hit their targets during distance fighting, but considering the power of the weapons involved, this was enough to do considerable hurt to any enemy, especially when a squadron might select a single enemy ship and mass fire against it.

Naturally, decisive results in combat were desired, and this is what had led Admiral Ackbar to bring his ships to within mere kilometers of the enemy at Endor: only jamming was a factor then, and the percentage of hits shot upwards with dizzying and frightful rapidity. An extended engagement at point-blank range required both sides to maintain similiar velocities, or to have trajectories that intersected for an extended length. Most of the time, then, such engagements were fought when both sides desired the victory to be absolute and thought they could win, and the results had atrocious casualties.

The Corellians now hoped to inflict disproportionate damage by minimizing the length of the engagement. A short and intense exchange between two forces moving at highly different velocites, and the Corellians were insane enough to aim for interposition of the forces. Or, at least, they thought they were good enough to avoid collisions in the process. It was entirely possible that they were.

Missile range. The Corellians opened fire with their tubes spitting out long-range anti-capship weaponry, and the magma missiles of the Vong fleet retaliating. The confalgration tearing between the two fleets was immediate and intense, plasma energy crossing through both formations as webs of anti-missile fire appeared and the heated particles lashed into the incoming formations warheads, matched by more subtle forms of distraction: radiation of every sort that saught to throw them off. The Corellians had the better defence against missiles, and the Vong, the greater number, along with the larger fleet to provide more defensive fire: both came off evenly as the first salvoes pressed home, the damage negligible.

It would still be negligible as Vidang Tahng ordered what he had decided upon to meet the Corellian strategy. Energy range would be to late, but he couldn't give the Corellians enough time to manoeuvre against a single element of his fleet. "Stand by for the fleet to split into two elements; course deviation minor. The evolution shall be as..."

And the Corellians closed, missiles exchanged across the void and radiation permeating its cruel darkness: from jammers and from the awesome dovin basals and engines of the fleets themselves, leaving a vicious malaestrom that glared across the fabric of reality, the invisible and blatant image of two fleets in combat. Both sides strained to see through the image, and they did not see everything.

Corellian Defence Force,
Trailing Elements.

"Force commander, new orders. Break to starboard when you clear and attack."

Travina Hounder tensed immeasurably. The message was short and harried, though it clearly came from command. 'Force Commander' - the nominal leader of a group of volunteer irregulars, the free-traders and smugglers and even pirates who now fought to defend Corellia. She just pointed them in the right direction for them to do their own thing in; and her's, for that matter, considering she'd just been stupid enough not to leave the room fast enough when Sal-Solo was trying to get someone to tell them all what to do.

Of course the plan hadn't worked, or something else was going wrong equally pernicious. But who hadn't expected that among them? "When do we break?" was all she asked.

"Now!" the voice answered, like she'd cut him off, and she probably had. Travina shrugged her shoulders slightly and flicked the comm to an open broadcast. The Vong could detect that, considering the transmitting power they'd need to get it through the static of where they were: but it wouldn't matter now.

"All ships, all ships, this is your Force Commander speaking. Follow me." With the orders gone to the pit, there was no point in anything else.

"Rastin! Break to starboard and bring her to maximum thrust."

"Aye aye, Force Commander," the last uttered with the usual sarcasm the title had brought and would even on the face of battle.

The modified transport swung up, buffeting badly as it went against the massive streams of the huge ion engines of the dreadnought squadron in front of it, still accelerating at maximum military thrust, having been brought as close as it could before the shields would start to fail under the awesome force of the energized particles being deflected. There it was. Half the Vong fleet spread out before them, exchanging missile fire with the Corellian main forces that were concentrating their full fire upon that segment, even while they suffered from the missile fire of the other segment and merely defended, letting it go untouched in reply for those warheads that got through.

Behind Travina the rest of the irregulars had gotten the message, and the horde of light craft had raced up and out from their dangerous concealment, rolling over to face the Vong and the range dropping with hideous rapidity. The irregulars deaccelerated: they wanted a real fight, one where they could use their manoeuvrability to good affect against the Vong. The Corellian main body wouldn't be able to directly engage, now, but it was angling around to join in the press, and together they'd be able to tear hard at half of the Vong force before the other could come about to relieve it.

"Nip 'em hard, boys--don't let the bastards forget today!"

It was the closest thing to an attack order the irregulars needed.

Corellian System,
Eye of Yun-Haarla

His subordinates had been displeased with his decision to split the fleet, but Vidang Tahng had overriden them. He had some capital in standing up to the defeated Warmaster, even if the man had originally appointed them. Now, though, he would also again infuriate them. They all hoped that they would turn back and aide their comrades--no, not hoped, they expected it, for how could the Vong do anything else, but turn to the spectacle of energy exchanged across the stars and rush for it and join in the fest of the reaping of blood and souls?

"It will take to long to turn and deaccelerate to rejoin the battle," Vidang Tahng noted calmly. "We can use the acceleration we have now to move against the inner system. I trust that Commander Estang can handle himself, even against that concentration; the Corellians were so badly outgunned at the beginning of the contest that even against half our force the outcome is in doubt for them, and if Estang is bested, they will be in such straits that we can finish them at our leisure.

"This considered, we will use our velocity to shape a course for the inner system and commence attacks on the defences and industrial infrastructure." Vidang Tahng waited a moment for the murmurs, real and over the villips, to grow, and then harshly killed them: "Consider that it may very will be that the commander of the Corellian force fighting Estang will break off to pursue us out of humanitarian concerns and be trapped between two fires; even if not, I think our overall victory can only be assured if we swiftly destroy the technology in the system. After all, the Gods can only look favourably on a force that keeps in mind that all-sacred duty. The target of this element is now the shipyards. That is all."

Moral duty cloaked valuable strategic aims. They had to get control of this system to protect the rear of the offensive against Coruscant, and so Vidang Tahng would do--despite the clear fact that Tirlin Vasong was clearly indefinitely delayed. The opposition was silenced and the fleet moved to its commander's will without further protest.

Coruscant System,
The Hand of Thrawn

Despot held the honour position in the Executor force., lead of the dorsal line. It made her the most exposed, but the Emperor had insisted, of course. Sule and Martina had the flagbridge mostly to themselves, and a less conspicious Hand of Thrawn offered the position of the overall fleet command from which Pellaeon would direct the defence. Elise, oddly stoic in grief, had the first of the flying squadrons and as ever flew her flag on Conquérant. Admiral Felliet, maintaining the classical disposition of the Imperial Starfleet officer despite the laurels still offered those of descending radiance at Second Coruscant, commanded the second, now flying his flag aboard the Tonnant. Final preparations were being made now; tasks running late would have to be completed as the combat was met.

The Vong fleet had begun to arrive. The strategic surprise they had attempted was lost upon the cloak-frigates they had yet to counter; so Pellaeon knew, in the end, almost exactly when to expect them. Sule had been mostly a spectator to the preparations: just arranging the defensive deployment of garrisons upon stations, ships, and however futile, the surface--but now that measure of his relegation was but increased. The displays showed the approach brilliantly, of thousands of ships arriving, the repaired survivors of Second Coruscant matched with the reinforcements the Vong had mustered. Altogether, twelve thousand ships or more might be fielded against Imperial Centre.

Of course, that had been expected, and the defences had more now. They were hardly fighting against the odds, but they were also defending a static target. The Barbarian had used that to good effect at First Coruscant with their merciless suicide tactics against the planetary shields. Twenty-two thousand ships had broken the Republican Navy, then--for a stiff price, but one the Vong had been willing to pay. It was those two fleets, attrited by combat losses and the Corellian detachment, that had now been concentrated again against Coruscant. The forces gathered against them, though, were no longer the unified navy of a single nation, locked to fight in desperate cause:

The remnants of that force, and the two remnants of Empire, and countless nations, all gathered under a single banner. They had numbers, but lacked in every sense unity, but that of a single document which now proclaimed that they fought and strove for a nation ruled by a single Sovereign--that, to repulse the foe before them. Thus that Sule calmly watched as the Vong deployed to assault the defences, Martina busying herself in the intelligence that could be gleaned from the moment. She would have preferred the surface, but these metal cocoons were its only line of defence, and it offered no better hope than they, and perhaps less! Then; unseen to the naked eye, but the displays below the vast holo spiked with energy from the screen: Onset!

An awesome and mighty tapestry of War was spread out before Coruscant. Vong ships advanced in elegant manoeuvre against the defences, supported by innumerable masses of fighters and gunboats. Minefields were eliminated by sheer concentrations of energy or the uncaring willingness of the Vong to send support craft through them to speed the process. Defensive strongpoints, the mustered resources of the nearby systems and of the Imperial and Republican engineers who had built up stations and platforms and armed satellites and fortified countless asteroids in the available time, with all of that mustered strength of a galaxy finally, painfully united, faced the close assault of hundreds of Vong warships. Sometimes multiple assaults occured at once, the attempt being made to test the strength of the defensive perimeter around Coruscant.

So far they had all been probing attacks. Probing attacks on a huge scale, by the most determined and profilgate of enemies. No doubt the Vong had indeed found out by now an excellent picture of the defences that the Empire had erected around the Galaxy's tarnished Gem, but they had inspired the courage of the defenders in doing so. The Executor force near Coruscant sat ready, not yet engaged in battle, dark-hewn strength contrasted against the burnished brightness of the ruined planet. From it, Pellaeon had directed the response to each probing thrust, their interior lines of communication allowing him to give the orders without the intensity of the jamming to block him.

He held within him knowledge of an order, however, that left him planning two defences. The Imperial fleet that was mustered around Coruscant fought under countless banners, if only one Sovereign, and to one of those banners the action of State Treachery was being demanded. Pellaeon had been a soldier all of his life, and ultimately power had come to his hands because everyone who had saught it had died or been killed in the process. The Empire had consumed itself in the process of falling, and the petty Moffs who had been left were those that even Pellaeon could largely manage.

Men like Sule were the ones who held within them the desire for power. Pellaeon knew it could be matched with military prowess, and it certainly was in his case as in countless others in the bloody history of every sentient species. But there was a point when power came first, and orders were given that could have disastrous consequences. It had been reached, and Pellaeon could only hope that the Vong did not find to press against Tranjak-sar's detachment, the Imperial Chancellor with his fleet, having no choice but to follow the example of Sule, who now risked his own life aboard the Despot, just as he had done at Second Coruscant.

The Vong, however, had been to thorough, and the fates were never that kind. The probing attacks continued, attriting the strength of the defenders and the attackers alike, searching for the weakest point to drive home an attack, until the Warmaster who must inevitably command the force across from them should decide to send it into their formations. And the Imperial forces responded, reaction forces moving to shore up attacked strongpoints or intercept detachments moving to cut through blind-spots in the defences. The game could continue, of course, for as long as the Vong wanted it to, but they were aggressive and Pellaeon knew of his own weakness imposed upon him: a real hotly-contested engagement over the defences would surely be fought. So he conserved his strength as best he was able, and waited.

Corellian System,
Eye of Yun-Haarla

"Only marginal damage is reported from all elements after the attack of that last wave, Commander, and we're now cleared for an optimal firing angle on the central platforms," Vidang Tahng's aide, Erslah Savain, reported steadily. The action between the Corellian fleet and Estang was being mentally ignored for the good of their honour. Estang was holding his own, of course, and might even have the upper hand, but the Corellians fought with a mad dash and audacity throughout, and might pull off the distant engagement.

It didn't matter now. They had, granted, cleverly placed all of their short-range craft that couldn't participate in the ambush, in a static defence around the Corellian Engineering yards. When the fleet had approached, these ships had fought off the first wave of coral skippers, and then counterattacked, supported by the massive anti-ship missile emplacements on the defensive platforms of the Drive Yards. It had been a gallant failure, the reckless courage of those light ships breaking thoroughly upon the heavy guns and superiour numbers of the detachment. The missiles had done some harm, however, but they were ultimately in static platforms--without support, the fleet had silenced them in a half-hour's heavy bombardment.

The Corellians had thrown their last gamble, then, flinging some uncompleted ships at the Vong as a cover for a fighter attack. Now that was gone, and it was just a matter of making a breach in the energy web of the defensive platforms and exploiting it. A weak spot had already been chosen, perhaps accidental, or perhaps the fortune of the early bombardment against the missile platforms, and the coverage of those artillery stations was nothing against the concentrated fire of the naval detachment.

Of course, the platforms had several options of their own. They had thrusters, and the defensive command could reorient them all to meet a serious attack. They had excellent point-defence, and so standing off and engaging at range would take an obscene amount of time, time that from the situation in the distant outer system, or from the possibility of reinforcements, he did not have. The Corellians had fallen back steadily throughout their fleet engagement, and now fought around one of the outer planets, where they used the local spatial terrain to make it quite hard for Estang to come to grips--and inflict an equal measure upon him when he did.

Without Tirlin Vasong's arrival, there remained the danger for Vidang Tahng that he might be forced to withdraw. So far the Corellians had show no interest in the shipyards, and if they were to be destroyed, the approach must be methodical. He'd been in-system for hours, now, and the indication seemed that Vasong was severely delayed. The alternative course of action that presented its self, then, would be to strip the defences entirely before engaging in a reduction of the Drive Yards, leaving them totally vulnerable for a later assault.

He decided against it. Once he had a clear engagement path he could interdict the platforms as they manoeuvred; if he had to withdraw, they could not fully reestablish a cordon around the yards and a second assault would be that much easier. Better to level the infrastructure now, while the outcome was certain: for very few things were.

"Commence the operation; Cruiser elements seven and fifteen advance as ordered," Vidang Tahng ordered, his voice level as he surveyed the maze of worked metal before him, hideous to his faith, a perversion of the natural, cosmic order of creation. It could not come in the way of duty, whatever some prattling fools might allow themselves to be overcome with: but truly, it was pleasant when the two interspersed.

Coruscant System,
Great of the Darshkarbat Dynasty,
Durrano Sector Forces Flagship.

The Imperial Chancellor's flagship and sectorial forces had an advantage over many of the other volunteer units in the fleet. It was being commanded by one of the most talented, and most trained, of the military minds which now defended Coruscants. The reptilianoids on the bridge had given way to a humanoid woman, who, though she had never commanded a fleet in more than a minor skirmish of light craft--albeit she'd see more than a few of those--had a mind packed full of the knowledge of space warfare, and the capability to exploit it. Combined with experience on a smaller level, it was more than enough, at least to lift her quite above the average quality of the other officers who fought in the sectorial and national units.

Of course, the official commander of Tranjak-sar's fleet was now fuming quietly, a figurehead from what had been beforehand mostly a figurehead navy, as Guri ran his forces. She found the challenge of it something that had eluded her for some time: a new experience, and moreover, one better than the confusion and torment of the past that had reigned until the Vong had given her purpose. A challenge, and one that so far she had been able to meet, but then so far the Durrano Sector Forces had not been heavily pressed--probably with good fortune, for even if the Great of the Darshkarbat Dynasty herself was the size of an Imperial Heavy Cruiser, most of the vessels had either been designed to civilian standards, outright converted, or were very old.

"Admiral, the 'skipper strike on Republican 19th Battlecruiser is diverting towards us," Guri's chief of staff reported; it was in their native tongue, but she spoke it. A slight insult, perhaps, but the respect of the rank was rendered her as per the Chancellor's command, even if the real fleet's Admiral could likely not help the urge to react.

"Full, or just the second wave?" Guri answered, simply--a clipped question.

"The second wave. The first is already engaged and is covering their shift." He didn't bother to include more information; Guri clearly already knew the time to interception and locality.

"Detail seventh, ninth, and twelfth fighter groups into an intercept position, with fourteenth for reserve. Launch third to reinforce reserve," Guri answered, assured now and more fluidly in a language meant for such. "No changes to screen disposition."

Tranjak-sar looked from his seat to Guri's right, a curious gaze. "No changes to the screen disposition? It's currently almost entirely frontally deployed, with respect, Admiral."

An amateur civilian--Guri, perhaps, was one too, but not where it counted like Tranjak-sar was--with legal command was surely the worst part of it, but she tolerated that just like she'd tolerated him for her other purposes. "Your Eminence," she replied politely, "I fully expect that the entire strike which is now engaged in that pivot had its sole intent to hit us, and perhaps, indeed, to get us to redeploy our screen. We have yet to be heavily engaged, and the Vong have been thoroughly probing the line. I expect a frontal probing effort of some sort shortly: the Vong are notorious for complexity in their evolutions, and this has held out so far in the engagement."

Tranjak-sar nodded once, turning away in a motion that might hide whatever emotion he felt then, either the eagerness of one who did not know full combat, or, likewise, the fear. That was quite enough for Guri, who observed the engagement of the fighters on her left flank with an idle but also intense interest, timing it and waiting for when the Vong command she faced might tire of pressing forward their bait. The fighters clashed eagerly on both sides, but those of the Vong were far superiour. Even the second wave of their original strike made good execution against what were soon a total of five groups--fifteen wings--involved, but the numbers of the Durrano fighters were enough that they couldn't fight past them into the screen proper. Guri expected them to get through eventually, of course, but the light screen there would be enough to deal with them--and she would need everything else to deal with what she expected to come.

Pseudomotion flickered and flared up from a micro-jump ahead. An attack wave of Vong heavy detachments loomed up close to the leading elements of the Durrano forces, but still at a grave distance, forced out by the wide spread of the massive interdiction fields which criss-crossed space around Coruscant. In each case the minutes that gave the Imperial defenders had allowed them to respond to the attack efficiently and in strength, but here the force being concentrated against the Durrano was heavy enough that they would need reinforcement.

"Send Admiral Commanding, Conquérant -- 'Durrano Forces have engaged heavy Vong elements estimated at three hundred ships plus gunboat screen, request reserve to hold position at platforms.'" Guri had no problem with understanding her situation and immediately reacting to it.

There was, of course, the more pressing problem. She had to place her own ships to engage the Vong until the reinforcements arrived, which might be delayed, considering the possibility of other attacks coordinated along this sector. Most of the attacks so far, even the heavy ones, had been purely of a probing nature, and Guri remembered that the clear and overriding goal was to defend Coruscant.

So she needed to hold the line until the line in this area could be reinforced by additional ships, or else she could render the attacking force irrelevant, and trust in reinforcements to close the gap if the fleet she led was badly mauled in so doing. The later option, of pressing to meet the ever-aggressive Vong on equal terms, was always admirable from the morale standpoint, but held dangers to her conspiracy. Still, she was but one of many conspirators--and one who held no doubt of her ability to bring the Great of the Darshkarbat Dynasty through a hot fight.

"We will advance to support the screen," Guri ordered, her inflection managing the same in a tongue foreign as it might basic--or, as level as always.

Coruscant System,
Imperial Starfleet Forces.

Commander Hallsburg approached the Grand Admiral swiftly from the communications bank of the flagbridge, saluting as he approached where she sat, in a heavy bridge chair studded with readouts. "Admiral, we've received a signal from the Durrano Flagship. They're requesting we support them with the reserves," he summarized, as he handed the message over.

Elise studied it for a moment, her blood running cold. The Admiral's gaze shifted slowly, so that she could see the trailing edge of darkened Coruscant from the bridge, and her hand tightened against the padd, lest she break it under gloved fingers that wished to turn to claws. The reaction was not unnoticed, nor was the response.

"There will be no response, Commander Hallsburg."

Her voice remained calm, it did not change, the years of experience had given her that much. But Hallsburg saw the subtle movements. "Of course, Admiral," he answered, taking Elise's look of distraction towards the readouts as a dismissal, and retiring, troubled.

The line could very easily break, and Elise's communications officer knew that all was not right with the Grand Admiral, whatever might almost entirely be hidden. He was very unsettled, indeed, as he returned to his duty station and observed the static-filled reports of the battle that filtered in through heavy jamming. Attacks were coming with greater frequency, now, the Vong seeming more to try and create a weak spot at which to direct the heaviest of their attacks than to find one. And while this was going on, a vital point was not being reinforced.

While Hallsburg performed his duties, and read each message on the situation, that situation for the Durrano fleet only grew worse. They had moved forward boldly to attack, and they were now paying the price. Several more requests for reinforcements came in, and as per the orders he had no choice but to obey, were ignored. Finally, the situation had reached a point of desperation for the Durrano, and the Vong, sensing blood, detailed their own reinforcements to the attack. The line in that sector was now critical; the Durrano forces had fallen back onto the platforms, but even then could not hold for much longer at all.

Others were noticing, at that, despite the back communications that prevailed through the intensity of the electronic warfare in the engagement. A request came through to the Conquérant from the commander of the reserve cruiser division attached to Elise's defensive region, Vice Admiral Corvalis, asking to lead the forces under his immediate command to go and drive off the Vong attack against the Durrano defensive sector. Commander Hallsburg read it, and considered it, and the brooding Grand Admiral on his flagbridge.

She was performing her duties, nobody could deny that. And it was hardly his job to psychoanalyze his superiours. Hallsburg, indeed, had been raised in an enviroment of strict obedience on Imperial Earth. It had also, however, been a society which had taught him to cherish duty above every other thing. He knew he had a duty to the Imperial Citizens on Coruscant below him, and that the line had to hold. COMPNOR might have been purged, and the worst excesses of its terror had never reached the Milky Way sectors. But there was a key idea there--that the greater good of humanity, that overall duty might sometimes outweigh the immediate strictures, which had remained.

The message Hallsburg composed was very minor. In fact, it was a simple confirmation message, without anything to necessarily indicate that it had come from the Grand Admiral--except, of course, that it had been sent by her communications division. If he was right, he might be rewarded for sending; he did not care to think of what would happen if he was wrong, and worse still if Corvalis did not interpet it as Hallsburg thought he would. Hallsburg sent the message, and buried himself in his duties as he waited for the outcome.

Vice Admiral Corvalis studied the message for the third time. It was a standard confirmation signal, and it could mean many things. Most of them did not include what he had hoped for... But it might, might just be intended to be a 'confirmation' of his request to attack. Opposing that, the origin was a rather obscure. But it was obviously from the Grand Admiral's flagship, despite the confusion of the communications in the rear areas, and there were many ways to account for the failure to include a direct ident signature. All things considered it was... Ambiguous.

"Captain Louvis, how is the Durrano Force holding out?" he asked, almost quietly now, for the situation had been growing progressively more grave for them over the past minutes, the Vong piling on forces where they clearly saw a breach was developing.

"They've concentrated their defence around three platforms that are still surviving, sir," Corvalis' chief of staff reported flatly. "The Vong haven't penetrated past them yet, sir, but the situation is extreme--and it looks like the Republican 19th Battlecruiser is being outflanked, as well. The Vong are splitting the perimeter."

"Very well, Captain. We have been authorized to advance in relief of the Durrano," Corvalis continued, feeling a determination that arose from a certitude above the ambiguous orders, "and we shall proceed to do so by closing the gap between their defence and the 19th Battlecruiser."

"Understood, sir.. The plots for that evolution are worked out already," Louvis answered promptly, an answer which surprised nobody--they'd been waiting a small eternity for this.

"Then all elements shall prepare to advance."

The Corellia System,
The Hawk of Trinadora.

Aboard the Hawk of Trinadora, everything was at readiness. Still, an underlying current of tension remained, perhaps higher than usual, even for impending combat. Rumours spread, after all, and they knew that they were going into combat on the word of a Jedi Sorceress. Some said a Sith, and of course there were all the usual extravagant spacers' stories of C'baoth and the reborn Palpatine to make that a very bad thing. In truth, they were going into combat on her word, and moreover, she was providing their astrogation coordinates, ones that Miat Temm had promised to Mystrela would 'bring them in at a decisive position'. Considering it was her word that sent them rushing on, there was little reason not to go on her word for a tactical advantage: there, at least, she was proven, having brought Pellaeon's fleet into position to catch the Vong between two fires at Second Coruscant.

And so the Director of KDY waited on the bridge of her flagship, as the seconds ticked down, the five minute klaxon having just faded into a past already distant, and increasing the tension of those preparing for the clash of the heavy ships in their unforgiving enviroment even higher. Miat Temm stood at Mystrela's side, unconcerned and unworried, calm, even. This bothered Mystrela immensely. She had heard from Elise, that the woman had very nearly killed herself directing the final jump of Pellaeon's fleet into position, and certainly she had not provided the coordinates for a jump at range.

This was rather like she'd known where the battle would be taking place ahead of time.

Mystrela considered the implications of that, the thoughts balanced against considerations in turn for the battle that would surely be before them, and then the time ran out...

Hyperspace streaked into realspace, and the visage of war spread out with terrible immediacy on the viewers of the Hawk. Spread around the planetoids that lazily orbited the planet in the central viewscreen on the bridge, a wild tangle of manoeuvring ships desperately fought: they killed, and they died, meeting the enemy in intricate flight across a broad plane of space. Energy spun out through the depths of space and cleared through the greater debris of the planetary system, striking home little reduced, to tear into ships battered by long combat. One side simply fought to survive--the other, though, those gallant Corellians, fought now with a most urgent desperation, for behind them the shipyards were dying, and when they were cleared from the stars, their worlds would follow.

The plot stabilized and Mystrela saw the situation at the shipyards, how critical it was, the damage being inflicted upon them every moment. She stiffened, and turned to fix her gaze at Miat Temm, stern, and perhaps almost shocked that the woman could ignore such a threat. They were in close to this Vong detachment, too close to disengage, while the Corellian Yards were being destroyed..! Miat had promised to lead them in to...

Miat regarded her back, levelly, and then gestured forward, where the Millenium Falcon could be seen charging ahead of the Kuati fleet to join the action, those two ungainly but powerful Chiss fighters taking either wing. "Director, Han Solo knows where the victory is to be had; I suggest you support him."

"The Yards, Temm!" Mystrela answered, intensity carrying in her voice even as emotion did not, imagining the fleets that would never be built at Corellia to fight the Vong in the future, all for the inscrutable intent of this sorceress before her!

"Are gone. Had you tried to save them you would have been defeated in detail," Miat Temm answered, her head swinging back to gaze rather uncaringly toward the forward viewers, where the fighter wings were forming up according to the pre-arranged plan. "Order the fleet forward and you will win a great victory and save Coruscant."

Silence, for a moment. But there was really no choice. Miat Temm had plotted their arrival exquisitely, and even now, on momentum, they were closing to missile range with the Vong fleet rapidly--inside their grav projector range already, even--and could cut it to energy range before the Vong had re-deployed to face them. And General Solo cut the maddeningly brave figure out there, going to the relief of his countrymen with a light ship and two escorts, not bothering to care at her own hesitation. "Fleet signals: 'Flank ahead and stand by to engage the enemy. All fighter wings follow General Solo's lead--press the attack!'"

De Imperatoribus Galacticis will be continued in Chapter the Fourteenth.

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Re: De Imperatoribus Galacticis v.1 [Revised]

Post by The Duchess of Zeon » 2009-10-30 10:48am

De Imperatoribus Galacticis

"On the Galactic Emperors"

Chapter the Fourteenth.

(As continued from Chapter the Thirteenth.)

The Corellia System,
The Hawk of Trinadora.

The Vong were caught, surprised, by the arrival of the Kuati fleet, and now vicious hoardes of missiles fell against them, racing the distance as a ten-thousand salvo of projectiles that would shatter the enemy's cohesion, locked as they already were in deadly and equal contest. Concentrated, the volleys came on against flanks lightly, or entirely unguarded by dovin basals, as they concentrated their defence toward the Corellians. The effect was very bad for the Vong. With comparatively weak hulls, each salvo could and did tear through those rocky caraprices in a mounting number, shattering hulks and unleashing their motive energies, that detonations rended down ruined mass into molten remnant--gone from it, the trace of warriors who had once strove to conquer, and now found their flank instead mastered.

Millennium Falcon led the charge, straight into the re-deploying squadrons of Vong 'skippers. For a moment the famed Corellian ship was alone, save her two Chiss wingmen, amongst hundreds of the Vong fighters. Han Solo picked a wing of them to attack and charged right in, salvoing missiles as the old quads spat bolts in a torrid mass of energy. The sheer audacity of the attack left its mark, and Jaina, fighting with her father in the famed old Falcon, left a lane of bloody chaos amongst the 'skippers that to the watching fleet could only bring to mind that ill-fated but hard challenged First Coruscant. Hardly any of the fighters in this situation could bring their guns against those bold cavaliers, and they burst through the Vong ranks, leaving the strewn wreckage of a squadron abaft.

Before more of their enemies could turn to come against them, and let the advantage of numbers start to tell, the squadrons of the Kuati fleet were upon the Vong. They tore into the disordered ranks of the enemy, energy and missiles engaged in the moment of contact, hulls of metal and rock shorn with plasma and nuclear fire all across a ten-thousand klick front of void that was constantly being interspersed by the heavy exchange of missile fire from the great capital ships. Sometimes a missile might find its path abruptly caught by one of the weaving little snub-fighters, the explosion capturing several of its fellows, and in this one's side did not matter: there was very little sense to the brief intensity of the action, except where the plots of the commandships rendered it down into cool and mechanical lists of trajectories and losses by squadron.

Range for energy weapons was reached even as the Vong fighter perimetered collapsed, dying in the same haste with which it had been thrown up to cover that flank. Teratons of energy eclipsed the stars as the Kuati salvoes tore from every forward-bearing gun, recoil thrumming into the great hulls as they commenced to fire full batteries, concentrating on the Vong heavy ships, pounding them as fast as the guns could take it. They were in excellent condition, these ships built in the finest yards of the galaxy, and their commanders knew the exact tolerances to which the huge energy capacitors could be pressed. The speed with which the salvoes were got off was thus high, even by Imperial standards, and the volume of fire quite intense.

The Vong ships reeled, punch-drunk between two fleets, as the victorious Kuati fighters pressed on to attack their outer picket screen. A massive exchange of energy was taking place, but the Vong were being hit on their flank as well as forward and were taking the brunt of it by far. As overburdened dovin basals began to fail, heavy ships started to explode under the concentrated salvoes of Kuati cruisers, and a great execution was done amongst the centre of the Vong squadron. The fire of the Corellian ships added to the intensity, and with the Vong unable to concentrate their dovin basals, the collapse and destruction only occured all the faster. The rate at which ships were beginning to be destroyed now was really quite amazing for the gallant Corellians and the stalwart Kuati alike, who were emboldened to press in; but Mystrela had seen it before, fighting the Borg.

On the flag-bridge of the Hawk of Trinadora, Mystrela was indeed observing as her fleet bore in close to the Vong, those ships revealing their principle weakness--the same one demonstrated against the warp-missiles--that they really had very weak structures. Over-pressed from multiple angles of attack, as when Pellaeon had brought in the Remnant forces and now as she outflanked them here, they didn't have enough dovin basals to cover against the energy output of the Kuati ships--and vessels which could survive days of pounding in a broadside-to-broadside struggle suffered progressive hull failure in minutes, torn apart when the full strength of the Kuati salvoes was directed against hulls instead of the overstretched dovin basals.

Captain Idan di Syminar, her Chief of Staff, stepped around the plot and brought up a display of the fleet trajectory as the violence raged ahead of them and drew steadily closer. "Director, if we begin to deaccelerate now we can place ourselves at their rear and maintain the energy combat during the entire evolution. That fleet will be completely annihilated, even with the counter-manoeuvre they're beginning."

"Noted, Captain; what sort of firing times do we have, however, for a zero-thrust engagement through the enemy force?" Mystrela asked by way of reply, her mind on the uncovered planets of the inner system.

"We would be engaged for a cumulative seventeen standard minutes from now; four at point-blank range. May I ask your intention, Director?" The expression on the man's face was quizzical, and deservedly so. They had in their grasp the chance for the total annihilation of a Vong fleet--something which, prior, only Mystrela herself had indeed accomplished, though this gave her a particular status in the realm of naval officers, even if the popular imagination had been eclipsed by the relief of Coruscant.

"I intend to pass through them and break their formation, Captain, and then proceed to the defence of the inner system. If they cede the inner system, then we've done our job here." The plot shifted, the calculations and projections complete, and Mystrela's glance overtook it for a moment, before she nodded in affirmation. "Very good. The fleet signal is for zero-zero thrust; Eight and Ninteen squadrons of pickets are to be detached to support the fighters. Squadron commanders engage at targets of opportunity.

"We take them enpassant."

"Understood, Director."

Behind them, Miat Temm smiled and watched her fiery handiwork expand.

The Corellia System,
The Kuati allied fleet.

Jaina sent another burst into 'skipper rendered vulnerable by her abilities, and then stripped open of defences by the first. The quads, still those best and most powerful weapons for the packed old Falcon, did their job well, shredding the rock-hewn craft before them. That certain feeling, the dangerous and the pulsingly eager intensity of battle, was forward and high, that game of the Jedi. She fought the ventral turret, the dorsal quad covered in part by automatics, and the rest by the actions of Fel and his wingman. Ahead, the forward armament of the Millennium Falcon blazed, Han Solo not stinting in giving a single one of the devastators of his family the warrior's death they so desired.

Jaina could feel, even from here, the bleed of emotions from her father, the black passion of a man who had been forced to bury both his friend, and his son; and had found, both in heart and soul, the belief that he might save another by the call of the war before him--and perhaps, distantly, the old Corellian solidarity fueled the last of it, besides. It was a very bleak outlet, indeed, and one that threatened to well up over a Jedi who had never had the most sanguine of spirits. She could, however, only avoid it in her own combat, which grew all the more desperate as her father led them deeper and deeper into the Vong formation. There could be no condemnation for feelings which she had known, and indeed might envy; and the ease with which a soul without knowledge of the force could express them against her own desperate and ever-more fraught composure.

Another contact, and she fired again, the force guiding her in the detection, and guiding her in the combat. Nothingness, black-holes in her perception all around, sticking out and becoming as shadows laid out by a search beam. And each must be fought down. This was of the clearest intensity, a simple logic that was simply known in her mind. So she fought, until even what seemed as frayed temptation faded. The battlefield, a dimly discerned thing which became her realm of targets.

The smile on Miat Temm's face was faintly disturbing for the middle of a battle. It was nearly beautific, not really at all showing the seriouness of the action. She was, indeed, quite aware of the action, but her perceptions were somewhat distracted. Good, then, it's begun. Abruptly the look of her face tightened, but she was not displeased in any way by what had occured; though surely misinterpetation would not bother her. Ahead, now, the first ranks of the fleet's capital ships were at point-blank range.

Much further ahead, the fighters, led by gallant General Solo, completed the work that Sal-Solo had started. Miat resigned herself to being a spectator for the rest of the action, no matter the annoyance in it. Let them be annoyed, and that was enough for her--and enough for the future's surety that taunted her in her endless dreams. And enough for them.

Coruscant System,
Imperial Starfleet Forces.

"What's going on, Elise?" The voice of a very calm Emperor was a frightening thing to hear, crackling in over the relay channel with a steady certitude. That commander's tone was made to strip one down without really anything, and made her remember she might as well again be a commander being addressed by Grand Admiral Thrawn, not a Grand Admiral herself.

But you don't know a single damned thing about space combat, and even on the ground what you did is bloody foolish; here, with our extended firing boxes, it's insane, and Corvalis has just done a lot more than ruin your political game. Her determination was laced with the bitter memory of the dead. A gloved hand calmly activated the return relay. "I'm not certain, Your Majesty. It appears that Corvalis believes he received orders to relieve that sector of the line; or he never received the orders not to. As you can undoubtably hear from the quality of this communication, our frequencies are being heavily jammed and I cannot discount the possibility of a fragmentary receipt."

"Can a recall be successfully transmitted at this point, or is he already engaged?" Sule's force punched through the static, emotion nearly unreadable from it, if not yet resigned.

"Your Majesty, I believe it impossible to recall him. I am not yet sure due to the sensor conditions if he has met the enemy with his force, but even if he has not, should he turn back, he may still be exposed to fire from a disadvantageous direction; besides, he was our forward reserve, and if he manouevres away from the line now we have absolutely no hope of blocking that gap whatsoever." Elise took a breath and decided to gamble it all on her defiance. Sule had given her in his last message a bit of hope to work him out of the scheme; now she would play it for all she could.

"Indeed, it appears that the Vong are concentrating their principle resources against this sector of the line. With your permission, Your Majesty, I would like to advance my own squadron and all available regional reserves there. I believe that we can force a decision at that point. I would also like the missile cruisers moved into position there for the prepared supporting attacks should the Vong also concentrate."

Silence, then: "Let me consult with Grand Admiral Pellaeon."

Elise clenched a fist and bit her lip silently, gazing at the plot as she wondered why she was playing politics in the middle of this massive engagement. Sule had to know what Pellaeon would say. He had even been less of a proponent of the idea than Elise, and to that, Elise was already ashamed of herself. Sule, of all people, she should not have let roll her over. Around, the crew of the flagbridge studiously went about their duties, not daring approach closely enough to their Admiral to hear the conversation crackling from the earpiece, or Elise's uttered replies, or even to catch her line of sight. Among them, Commander Hallsburg was especially inconspicious; but in the tenseness of the moment that was completely ignored.

She focused in on a particular section of the plot was it was updated, and then toggled the selector to talk again. "Your Majesty, Corvalis is now confirmed engaged. I must move my ships in to support him immediately. With respect, Your Majesty, you already know what Grand Admiral Pellaeon will say on this matter." A breath, forcing herself to relax, a measure purely false. "Begging Your Majesty's pardon, but this is quite simply the moment of decision. If we do not counterattack now, we will not have the resources to attempt it again. The commitment must be made."

"Go forward, Elise, then. If I trust Martina to Intelligence then I surely must trust you in the navy. The eastern reserves are wholly your's." The voice scratched through in both frustration and relief, but for Elise it was all relief. She settled back and sighed, then, but as the connection ended what she had bought herself--time--had to be immediately utilized.

"Fleet signals: Advance to support positions of Twenty-second Cruiser; battle flank," she ordered. "Signals; TF-7; TF-9; TF-11; provide general reserve to Durrano Sector Forces."

Commander Hallsburg, for that matter, had never been more relieved in his life, though there was the dark suspection that it would only last for a while. "Preparing signals for transmission, Admiral," he answered fervently.

Elise watched the plot, hands pursed together, and hoped that she would indeed get the missile support. It appeared more and more as though the Vong were committing their own decisive force to this sector, and her arguments to Sule might have been very much optimistic. Two minutes later a gentle shudder ran through the ship as the engines engaged, steadily running up to maximum power, her flag captain guiding the force to contact, where the massive strength of the radiation bombardment steadily reduced the sensors to a worthless mess of confusion, and even more titantic energies would await.

Vice Admiral Corvalis' Twenty-second Cruiser was now in the midst of a very hot combat in the centre of the gap between the Durrano Sector Forces and the Nineteenth Battlecruiser. Captain Eduardo, his flagcaptain, had put the Firebird directly between two of the Vong two-klick cruisers, and the exchange between them was maintained with an incredible furor. The shields glowed with bleeding energy from the plasma bombardment, completely obscuring the Allegiance-class ship beneath them, and giving her perhaps the appearence of her namesake. The counterfire of the turbolasers was a steady and deep thrumming of salvoes from every gun, directed energy vanishing in clouds at the clustered dovin basals of the foe.

The gun crews sighted and laid their guns nearly by hand, now, with the jamming in the sector so intense that not much more than visual sensors offered a great effect. Enough of the powerful energies, however, got through, to sweep out their targets, and the range was close enough, that a steady and horrifically accurate fire could be maintained. On both sides, yet, the ships had been built for such a stiff fight, and there was no sign of any serious degregation to this point. But it was the Firebird that was outnumbered two to one, and slowly that was beginning to tell.

All around the action was maintained, the big cruisers of the Twenty-second and their dwarfed escorts serving to stoutly hold the line where the Vong had dared make a gap. To Corvalis' starboard flank, however, the battered Durrano Sector forces were hardly to be said to still be in the fight, and the sheer number of Vong ships meant that some would get around the fire boxes of the Imperial craft without infringing on other portions of the line; they would simply have to be ignored. Corvalis now began to wonder about the condition or liklihood of his own reinforcements, advancing as he had on such slim justification.

Jamming in the sector was very intense, but at last, an explosion of radiation erupted that clarified the situation for the embattled blocking force. Captain Louvis hastily adjusted the plot, a faint grin expressed on his face. Crackling remnants of a scout line of Vong corvettes, bracketed by multiple salvoes of the heavy warhead launchers of an Executor-class Battlecruiser, flared up behind them, and the sensor picture became clearer; nor could anyone miss it when one thousand heavy turbolasers engaged in unison, painting the stars awash with energy, a dagger burning with the green fire of its guns.

As usual, the engines of the massive battlecruiser, so overpowered even for her size, had given it such an edge over the rest of her force, that she arrived before them, and had the battle had any real spectators beyond Sule and Martina, their view obscured by distance and jamming, then that sight of the advance might have been seen, the brazen display of the single powerful ship moving ahead and scattering whole squadrons of light craft with massed salvoes. Each salvo, indeed, was casually set to detonate as flak, and the scattering of the light was done with such energy as washed from the heavy guns and simply completely overwhelmed the ships, utterly surrounding them in a massive sea of unleashed power, leaving charred hulks or limping, disabled ruins.

Despite the awesome arrival of Conquérant, who had solely by her own artillery closed the gap, Corvalis realized the contest for this sector of the line was still in doubt. The plot was constantly being updated, and not merely from the rear: more ships, indeed, were arriving from ahead than from behind. Besides this, the Durrano forces were in total disarray by this point, though before they had held very well. The enemy was exploiting this, and would have even more time to do so as it appeared that Elise's reinforcements for that sector had not yet arrived. The Twenty-second would have a long fight on the front.

Conquérant cruised through the remnants of the forces that she had ruined, obsidian against the dark, and which had threatened to outflank the twenty-second Cruiser. Now she was approaching closely to the frontal sector, her missile tubes already tracking and engaging several destroyers as she moved to close the gap between the Twenty-second Cruiser and the Nineteenth Battlecruiser. Other ships from the reserve were moving into additional supporting positions, either around the flagship or around the Twenty-second.

Elise, however, now had the information necessary to realize that her orders had been based on a decayed perception of the situation. The Durrano force had finally cracked, and in fact it might very well be that Sule had got his wish after all: Great of the Darshkarbat Dynasty was no longer in evidence, nor indeed several of the heavy ships of the force. But from the way the chaos in the survivors was folding out, she suspected she had a better answer for it. Tranjak-sar had finally accepted the conclusion which must have been inevitable--far later than Elise would have expected him too, thankfully, or else the whole line would have caved--and had fled.

Or perhaps he feared we would destroy him in the process of securing the line to make sure the job was done. Of course, Sule wasn't silly enough to suggest such a thing; there was a difference between 'inadvertantly' exposing a flank and attacking an ally in coalition warfare, and it was very large. Regardless, she had to deal with the aftermath. "Signals, attempt to establish a direct link into the Durrano force." It was quite unlikely to work, but issuing direct orders to the force might carry enough authority to get the remaining squadron commanders to order.

The rest of the time, as usual, would have to be bought with Imperial blood: "Sixteen and Thirty Destroyer squadrons are to angle starboard on forming starboard flank; reserve to advance into flank position." The TFs would arrive soon enough from their own positions along the line and that would deal with the gap, but ahead the stars were dense with ships and there was little that Elise could do except to hold.

The Corellia System,
The Millennium Falcon.

Behind the Falcon, silent blooms of radiation tossed their mighty flare into the visual spectrum. The thermal detonations of missile warheads mingled in brilliant radiance with the terrible energy release of destroyed ships; with the harsh blue-white of the glaring, flaming drive tails. The flicker of massive charged turbolaser blasts completed that scene: The triumph of a radioactive god. It made one feel safe in the midst of a still hot action of the lights, for when the guns of great ships thundered, all else paled.

The Kuati battlesquadrons drifted out of the rubble in their gleaming white majesty, one moment obscured and the next clear and white and bright, their hulls lit by the play upon them of the radioactive sea they had left. They came through in fighting trim and the scene of their leaving behind the blasted rubble of the Vong force gave one the urge to stand and cheer. Mystrela of Kuat had destroyed a second Vong fleet by main force. For a moment the ships seemed slow and graceful, manoeuvring like squadrons on review. But they were in fact traveling very fast, and the moment was gone and replaced by the dazzle of their drives as they quickly receded.

They had seen from afar, and from afar the ships were still gleaming; they were still ordered, serene and victorious in the void. Their resolution did provide to show the burned out marks on the ships that still held their place, marring the proud white but not marring the grim pride of their crews. There were dead in those spaces and there was damage to the force. A few ships had not made it out, as the steady order of the Kuati starfleet insured that there would not be a hint of the losses. But the fleet was there, and now it was thrusting past them on course for Corellia, the second Vong force suddenly seeing an angry and victorious force coming down upon them.

Jaina had caught just one glimpse of that brilliant sight as she worked the guns. It was there and then it was gone, a hazy memory of that heavy force plowing their way clear, a seared afterimage of combat that would tease the future. Her focus never even left the enemies around them, the coral skippers that were still fighting hard. The Falcon was wrenched and twisted about in a dizzying cycle of gyration; her experienced pilot demanded everything of her again, and the old hunk responded to every affectionate demand. Jaina could only manage to keep the gunsights level by the certitude of the force.

It was in certitude that the guns of the Falcon blazed, two 'skippers bunched into the furious path of the quads by deft manoeuvre and hypernatural sense. Jaina felt the gun, and she felt the hideous voids flash into space. In a moment she had iluminated them, killed the deathly silence and opened up her vision in the hidden world once more. It was a cycle that had not ended for the past twenty minutes and abruptly she realized how exhausted she was; her body drenched in sweat despite the cool atmosphere of the Falcon, muscles left to ache.

As soon as she tried to press herself into the exertion once more, a voice sounded over the 'com that seemed far more exhausted than she even imagined herself to be, but offered in it a quiet sort of satisfaction. "We're in the clear, Jaina." Familiarity and relief flooded over her at once, and she slumped in the gun harness, with a distressing sense of weakness but one that she could not care about now. Both that the ferocity of the action was over, and that her father was himself. The black, cruel determination of before had passed and she could sense a sort of serenity as one could only have when one defended their hearth and family.

"Roger that, dad." She could feel the Falcon accelerating as she spoke. The affair wasn't done yet, then, and dutifully the requirements of the human body pressed in on her. "I'm going for the ration packs. I'll bring something up to you."

"I'll be waiting," her father answered, his own voice that of someone who, having given their full energy to a cause, could not even force out more than the crisp words of necessity. But the words themselves spoke welcome volumes, reassuring. Her spirit brightened, Jaina unstrapped and crawled down, carefully negotiating the access tube for the turret. First the 'fresher, then the ration packs..

It was only as Jaina had downed one of the high-energy, comfortably bland spacers' rations that her mind really began to work again, that she realized something about the situation. Her father had been consumed by a hatred that would veer any Jedi off the right path; yet in the end it had left him with a comfortable soothed spirit, perhaps for the first time since tragedy had wrought its course on her family. Is it because he cannot sense the force, or.. Her mind asked herself, and without a ready answer.

The idea of the responsibilities of a Jedi stemming from natural imperative seemed suddenly a dangerous, a lurking, tempting offer of absolution for capricious use of one's abilities. But then where did they come from? Why was that cleansing anger of father's denied to her? It seemed that an answer, then, drifted to her; one comfortable and reassuring and disturbing all at once. It was with that philosophical challenge on her mind that she headed toward the bridge of the old and gallant freighter.

Coruscant System,
Imperial Starfleet Forces.

The remnants of the Durrano Sector forces had pulled back, battered and ravaged by the Vong fire but still in some sort of order: that only to the orders of the Grand Admiral in their sector. They had kept their order long enough and now nothing more could realistically be expected of them, their flagship gone, massive losses in their ranks, and every ship damaged, save one lucky frigate that passed Conquérant in her solitary splendour, a gleaming beacon to the random whim that guided the gods of War.

Imperator-class ships held the line to the starboard, and more were pushing in to fill the lingering gap. The Vong were fully committed here and they were dying here. Their ships could not get through, the gap was saved. Corvalis' Cruisers of the twenty-second were holding firm with Elise's defensive reserve. They had terrible damage upon them but the testament to the Admiral's decision was in the wreckage of their enemies ahead, and the space closed to them behind. At the heaviest moment of the battle the Imperial starfleet held firm, and wave after wave of Vong attacks was driven back under their steady fire.

It was a moment given as a gift to Elise. The Vong lapped at the formations of the defenders, and their efforts to probe out for gaps met coordinated fire beyond. Their main efforts were ground into rubble under the heavy guns. The critical seconds had passed and they left the Imperial starfleet holding its ground against the maximum directed Vong assault. They had been drawn in by the error of the Imperial commanders; but the stalwart action of the lower ranks carried the engagement. It truly was a different military that fought there, from that of Palpatine's whimsy. The ghost of the old walked with the new, but whatever else one could speak for Sule, he taken initiative by the reins and in doing it he had given it back to the rest of them, for good or ill, and here, for victory.

With the full strength of the Vong coming in on them, a fixation developed in their enemy, the serious diversion of resources that had been hoped for, there now came a possibility. Elise sent her status report to Pellaeon and with it was the advice that came of the situation: "Let the torpedoes loose."

Pellaeon did not wait long, not now. The heavy transmitters of the flagship sent a single but steady signal, lost in the morass of battle. But an old Romulan Warbird caught it and relayed it on. It was one of several resting at cloak beyond the main field of battle. Beyond it were the Strike-class frigates of the fleet, the ones modified with heavy torpedoes and with cloak, that had blasted apart the Vong squadrons twice before.

Their formations engaged warp drive on order, and flashed out behind the Vong fleet. It had been shorn of pickets in the probing and in the hurtling of reinforcements into the battle around the Durrano fleet, and now it looked ripely vulnerable. The frigates began to fire massed salvoes and again a Vong fleet had been caught between two fires, with nothing it seemed to prevent it.

Coruscant System,
The Red Talon.

They had barely had enough warning. But the sensors operators and the masterminds who had worked behind them had not been fruitless in their search for a counter against the weapon that once again was unveiled behind them. They had done their very best, and it availed to save them now. A moment's warning had been given by the flare of the warp drives, barely detected.

It did not save the rear-echelon ships. They had not directly planned for this by modifying their fleet deployments to directly deal with it. There had not been enough time and Vong attack patterns were very much locked in a doctrinal tradition. So the support ships of the fleet, shorn of their pickets in the haphazard reinforcement of the battle's stages, were the worst hit. Three score vessels were destroyed or crippled with the first massed salvo, and more damaged.

But now Tsavong Lah could watch from his flagship as the preparations to defend against the new missile attack went into place. Massed salvoes were timed into the path of the previous, riding down toward the cruisers and focusing in on the flare-points of their drives. When the counter-fire of the second salvo appeared, masses of fire set to flak burst exploded along predicted channels. The War Coordinators were hard at work today. Through the massed fire missiles got through, of course, far to many of them did.

There was a last recourse, if the drive wave of the warp system could be detected in time a targeted ship might now know which bearing to aim its point-defence on and let loose with a broad spread. But it was hard to detect from the much smaller missiles, and the response hard to enact in time, even fully directed by the coordinators of the individual ships. The result was still severe for the Vong fleet, but now it was tolerable, another risk of battle.

And the Vong ships hit back. Several of the fragile frigates behind them were ripped apart by a lucky pattern, or by the success of the Vong's dispersal of fire. The missiles were far less effective, when fire continued from those batteries while the plasma cannon were used for flak. They could not get locks on the cloaked Strikes, and only scored a few blind hits at best. But they were actually fighting back, now! It was a tremendous reinforcement in comparison to the grim helplessness of the prior engagements against the torpedo frigates.

Coruscant's defenders were held on the defensive by that partial-success of the Vong. The squadrons stayed in their interlocked ranks, and the Vong held up enough firepower against the committed battlecruiser to keep even that strongpoint, where once they had tried to break through, firmly back in place. There was no desperation, and soon the firepower of the Vong fleet began to eat away at the torpedo frigates.

The torpedo frigates were to valuable to waste in a protracted engagement like that. They were inflicting highly disproportionate damage, but even the loss of a limited number saw complex engineering and vast expenses annihilated in a heartbeat. They broke off, that manoeuvre quite successful, and left the Vong to lick their wounds, still forming a dangerous harassing force that Tsavong Lah was well aware of.

What those frigates had also left in their wake, however, was the effective crippling of Tsavong Lah's supply train. His ships were in extended combat and a stalemate had been achieved by the defenders, at least. Though it did not occur to him at once, with his ships fighting on their stored ammunition, it soon became obvious that additional supplies from Talfaglio would be required to continue the battle. After a few more hours of desultory fighting, the Vong fleet retired to the outer system and messages began to fly through hypersace.

Corellian System,
Eye of Yun-Haarla

Vidang Tahng had watched the destruction of Estang's force quite hapless to affect the outcome. Now the fleet which was definitely identified as Kuati was coming after him, and it was backed by the operation units of the Corellian defence force, finally caught up to the hard-charging Kuatis. They would be damaged, of course; but his own force had also been in extended combat, and his men had just seen an entire major Vong force demolished, while these enemies had been the demolishers. His people were arrogant and expected victory, and even they had limits.

He could not, however, retire from the system. That would leave Tirlin Vasong's force, of primarily light ships, to be defeated as Estang had been defeated. The danger to Talfaglio would have to be mitigated by the maintainence of his fleet in the outer system, where he could effect a combination with Tirlin Vasong and again offer battle.

Vidang Tahng did not need to hesitate. "We will shape a course for the outer system and manoeuvre in the area of Tirlin Vasong's expected arrival, that we may keep the enemy from preventing our combination with him. Then the offensive may be resumed."

By this point there was no protest. The order was obeyed and the Vong fleet manoeuvred to evade the oncoming Kuati and Corellians. The planets of the system lived, and their salvation seemed to parody the Vong's obsessions with the biological. But Tirlin Vasong was still coming and the mission of Vidang Tahng's fleet was still in play.

The Corellia System,
The Hawk of Trinadora.

"He was expecting reinforcements," Mystrela commented as the display of the enemy's fleet slowly ground to a relative stop, the Vong ships now positioned on the outer system after their evolution of some hours. But they did not stay stopped for long, accelerating again in another direction and using their gravitic systems to start a gradual evolution through the area. An area of space on the edge of the Corellia system that Mystrela's force was rapidly approaching as well.

Miat Temm smiled in a slight and amused gesture, as though she were glad to discover that the cognitive abilities of the force-blind might occasionally match her own. It was disquieting to observe. But Miat Temm was well aware of the abilities of the woman beside her, and it faded quickly. There was, besides, work to be done.

"You have been keeping up on the dispatches we have managed to receive from Coruscant, I assume, Director?" Miat asked, her eyes however still gazing toward the holodisplay.

"I'm aware of the situation of the fleet."

"It would be very fortuitous if we could strike Talfaglio now," Miat spoke softly, but the implication in her statement carried the weight.

"I agree completely," Mystrela replied, dancing against that certain tone that Miat had used. "But we don't have enough strength to go after the blocking forces they must have left and still defend Corellia."

Miat Temm turned and looked to Mystrela, then. "Are you sure about that?" Her eyes were quite unfathomable.

The question made her think, not as if she hadn't been doing it during their entire following of the retiring Vong force. But now a specific context was laid to the problem. "Yes; however..."

Their eyes met and for a moment Mystrela understood the madwoman she was harbouring. "We just need an interdiction squadron to halt the convoys to Coruscant. The local commander at Talfaglio is sure not to uncover the staging facilities until he's certain that we have been defeated. It would just be a matter of getting part of our force clear without giving"--she gestured toward the holoproject--"our friends there an idea of what we had done, and he's a smart fellow at that. ....However, I do believe it can be done. I do believe so indeed."

Mystrela stepped toward her fleet astrogator.

Some thirty minutes later, the Kuati and Corellian fleets jumped in hyperlight. The Vong were immediately at alert, thinking the evolution was intended to bring them into range. However, Vidang Tahng knew that the angle was bad for such a jump. Thus it did not surprise him when the ships appeared--even though the end-point of their was in the Oort cloud, hardly an ideal place to be leaving hyperspace--and swung around toward him and toward battle. That gave him time. He used it, and thus as Mystrela's force bore down to give battle, he denied her the opportunity for a close engagement and instead just a few desultory broadsides were exchanged.

After the exchange of honours the Kuati force began another wide manoeuvre to keep close once more, a long and delicate dance in the outer portion of the Corellian system. But in the mass of jamming, and due to the confusion around the Oort Cloud and the following engagement besides, the Vong had not detected the detachment of several ships from the Kuati force. It was not to be faulted, considering the strength of the fleets involved and their strength of jamming; it was, however, critical. The results would simply take some time to become apparent.

The Planet Terra,
Region of Tibet within
Administrative District China.

A planetwide alert was blaring across Terra, the various police districts coordinating with their military counterparts and becoming progressively more worried at the scale and nature of the emergency. It was not, however, something they could do anything about. The exact nature of the alert, even, had been kept a secret from all but certain response teams in the early minutes of the crisis. When it finally became apparent, there were many men who, fearing their lives, overreacted.

The overreaction to the escape of Grand Moff Davion had been duly predicted, and it factored in to the escape plans. Bureaucrats and desk officers who had decided for Sule were understandably concerned; it was a typical aspect of their behaviour to respond with the heaviest hand they could to a danger to their privilige, let alone lives--and all of them knew they'd be far to exposed if the Grand Moff reasserted his authority. So did they react, and with a meticulous calculation, that insured the escape of Grand Moff Hamner Davion. Captain H.E. Quir, Imperial Starfleet, had his prize.

Now he had to balance between two cunning men and the interests of his nominal allies, all for a purpose that only he really knew. But that, also, had already been decided, an irrevocable demand of the moment his opposition had been fixed in his mind.

De Imperatoribus Galacticis will be continued in Chapter the Fifteenth.
The threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth. -- Wikipedia's No Original Research policy page.

In 1966 the Soviets find something on the dark side of the Moon. In 2104 they come back. -- Red Banner / White Star, a nBSG continuation story. Updated to Chapter 4.0 -- 14 January 2013.

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Re: De Imperatoribus Galacticis v.1 [Revised]

Post by The Duchess of Zeon » 2009-10-30 10:48am

De Imperatoribus Galacticis

"On the Galactic Emperors"

Chapter the Fifteenth.

Hapan Star Cluster,
RHS Dragon's Field

Admiral Lady Leyane d'Sevila, Seventh Duchess of Sevila, was a career naval officer who had inherited her elder sister's Duchy three years prior after she was assassinated in the sometimes unstable Hapan political climate. The Admiral had never once considered retiring to administer the place; there were professionals who could do that better than her and it just put excessive risk into her life, anyway. Her skills were better needed here, in the Royal Hapan Starfleet. Her promotion to command of the main fleet operational force had come after the debacle at Fondor when the Hapan fleet was nearly decimated and its officer corps certainly was, in an engagement that had least also annihilated the Vong fleet and halted their advance for precious weeks.

The fleet had been rebuilt in record time, though. In fact, the Hapans had outdone themselves. With a fully intact and centralized industrial base (which, though nobody wanted to admit it, had been improved significantly during the reign of the Imperial-inspired puppet government at the heyday of the Galactic Empire) the Hapans had laid down and constructed five massive assault carriers as a replacement for the heavy capital ships losses they had taken. The ships countered their lack of armour with tremendous shielding banks and massive numbers of staggered reactors. The lack of modern heavy turbolasers was dealt with by simply arming the ships with the hoardes of high-quality fighters available to the Hapan government. They were carriers, albeit only of necessity; double-saucer hulls filled to capacity with countless thousands of attack craft.

These ships were supported by the few remaining survivors of the Hapan Battle Dragon-class of destroyers and the remaining Imperator and Victory-class destroyers from the Imperial occupation days--which had suffered less heavily because many had been mothballed from a lack of parts (though that had its own problems). The assault carriers themselves dwarfed even Executor-class battlecruisers. There was, though, one of those here, but not their's. The RNS Lusankya had arrived along with the Republican contingents that had refused to bow to Sule's Imperial aspirations.

Leia Organa-Solo had been in consultations with Her Majesty regularly for several days after that, and the Hapan fleet had been ordered to deploy to the frontier of what was now Vong space, through the astrographic anomalies that had made this region such a pirate haven in the first place, and had ultimately led to the foundation of the reclusive Hapan matriarchal government. The Republican vessels had joined them, and they had even established a joint command. The heaviest contribution was Hapan, for even among the small forces the loyalist Republicans had retired with, many had headed to other locales to raise local resistance, leaving their contribution decidedly smaller than the Hapan main fleet.

It had left Leyane decidedly uncomfortable to be in the position of giving orders to officers who had considerably more experience and indeed seniority than her own, even in a rival service. However, in the end the organisation had been reshuffled thanks to the fortuitous arrival of Admiral Ackbar from Mon Cal with a cruiser force. He had been placed in overall command with General Antilles--thanks to the odd system of the Restored Republic and its military heritage rooted in a rebel force, Starfighter Corps officers could command fleets--as third overall on the Lusankya. But just as soon as everything had been settled down, the force proceeded to sit and do absolutely nothing. Her Majesty, it was rumoured, had directly and personally refused to commit forces yet.

During all the waiting they had done, however, becoming steadily more worried about their possible discovery, the situation had changed. It was found out that, in fact, they had less to be concerned about than had been believed. The Vong were drawing off forces by the hundreds of ships for their main thrust on Coruscant or perhaps some ancilliary operation. They had stripped the conquered territories bare and in doing so had opened a tremendous possibility for the Hapan Starfleet. Fondor could indeed be revenged. It would but take the Royal order to fling them into action now. It had not come yet, but as precise news filtered back to Hapes--the complete dearth of Vong scouts in the area, the confirmation of the defensive lines being stripped--the pressure on the government could only grow.

The pressure also grew on the fleet, waiting there in silence for a message from an arriving courier to advance. Most of them realized that they would not get a better chance. Perhaps they would never get another chance at all. But their Monarch had her reasons for delay, and there remained nothing to do but wait and wonder, silently ready to lunge out of the tangled masses of suns and matter as their ancestors had done before them.

The Sol System,
RRS Bloodwing.

Harlann E. Quir held the bearing of an Imperial officer despite his long disassociation from the service. Despite, indeed, his reported death. Missing in Action, presumed killed, and the universe had gotten on with itself. He was not a bitter man; the conquistadors of the Milky Way had become like all such conquerors and it was just in the nature of the successful. His fate had gone somewhat differently, but in the end it was they who had changed. Corrupted by the far-flung extent of their conquest and the awesome riches that had built up under it. Eccentrics playing with their rebuilt ancient villas and their ostentatious displays of power.

There was a time when the Empire had raised up the banner of revolutionary ideology proudly. Captain Quir had then been a stalwart believer in it. In some ways, he still was. But the Empire and its purpose had died. What was replacing it was a collection of those who sought power for their own sake. Perhaps they would even be just; but they were also arbitrary autocrats. The dangers of both Republic and Empire had now been demonstrated. There was not much else to choose from. Still, the perspective of being 'dead' had provided some distance: what he was attempting had little chance of succeeding, especially with his old autocratic friends now having rallied support against the Vong threat.

An interesting fact of the galaxy had long left him curious. Harlann was, perhaps, a racist. He believed at any rate in the superiourity of his own species and felt it odd that this could be questioned. But his distinctions were not arbitrary--they were based on the decently grounded belief that there could be noticeable and meaningful differences between genetically distinct species. The problem with the old Empire's system was that it ignored the fact that many of the species it discriminated against were in fact humans. They were capable of reproducing with humans; thus they were genetically, for all intents and purposes, human.

Science, in the pathetic age of the Jedi, had become half-mystical. Real research and development had fallen mute against the ironclad length of tradition, the awesome duration of the Republic. Society had ossified and the mystical had been held in its lording place by the Jedi, those preservers of the Republic, of custom, and ultimately of ignorance. The New Order had swept that all away. The age of rational government was supposed to arise from it, of efficiency and technological Genius over the wallowing mysticism of the dead Republic. And in some ways it had. Technological development had progressed more in the past fifty years than the past thousand.

Ultimately, however, the New Order had simply been the facade for another of the mystical madmen--a different flavour, surely, but nothing else--to gain power over the galaxy. The war between those two variants of the same corrupt and superstitious ideology had in the end destroyed them both, however, and left not one but two galaxies open for the advance of enlightened government. In some ways the Federation provided a model. They had been, of course, communist fanatics, with a totalitarian control over society. That was all nonsense. The government that Harlann envisioned was a guiding hand of Reason--not a corrupt every to control every aspect of a nation's society.

The New Order would blossom again, pure and true to aims, which transcended any leader. The Revolution that would restore society, the New Age of science and Reason, was not a coming that could be any longer halted. It would be imposed by force of arms and the human blood shed for it would be justified in the prosperity that it would bring to the generations to come. There would be no limit to human advance, to human ingenuity. That was the true goal of the New Order, to enable that age of human achievement to arise throughout the universe, and it would be achieved.

There was a chance he would fail. Indeed, it was a high probability. That would not stop the eventual realization of the goal, however, simply delay it; so he had begun these plans with a certain degree both of fatalism and also of certitude. His old life, at any rate, was quite dead. It had burned in time and in the fires of a galaxy torn apart by barbarian invasion. To Harlann the Vong were an anathema and he would more than defeat them, he would exterminate them. That brought up the first problem of his effort: His opponents for the government of two galaxies were right now locked in mortal combat with a very legitimate threat. Though the situation was not entirely clear to him--despite the number of supporters he had already gained among similiar adherents to the New Order who remained in the home galaxy--it was certain enough that human civilization's fate probably rested on the competence of his former commander in the days to come.

The RNS Bloodwing had left Terran orbit after snatching up Davion in a way that the Imperial authorities would have never considered--transporters. To Harlann the moral questions of their use had become irrelevant, and Hamner had never at any rate been bothered by morality (as if he had much of a choice in the matter) when power was at stake. Officially the Rihannsu vessels were supposed to have had such contrivances removed, but of course once they had their little puppet state back at Hamner's contrivance, that rule had been violated for several ships. The Bloodwing could not even engage a corvette by Imperial standards, but she would serve as a fast transport.

Harlann could have moved immediately when in Terran orbit, but he did not. It would be easier to create confusion, to prepare for Hamner's declaration, and to arrange matters with the Starfleet--which was, of course, now his. Some competent men had their weaknesses in the flesh, and those would serve his goals no matter how contemptible they might be. Another twelve hours and they would in a position for Hamner to make his declaration in a secure and legitimately Imperial locality. Sule would still be fighting the Vong then, and there would be no way for his loyalists to react in time.

The Corellia System,
Allied system defence forces.

"Well, it was obvious that he was waiting for something," Mystrela remarked quietly as the squadrons of Vong ships flashed into existence in the outer system, serried rank after serried rank, dozens and then hundreds of them. In numbers they were overwhelming, but individually none of the ships were impressive. They were all light patrol types made dangerous only by their numbers, but they would be serious trouble when operating in conjunction with the remaining Vong heavies, and the enemy commander had made sure to position his surviving force to cover them--without coordination equipment and alone the Kuatis could have chopped them up. Because of their need to defend the inner planets, however, doing so was simply impossible.

"Even with the support of the heavies they're not enough to give the enemy a decisive advantage, Director," di Syminar reported after a moment at the holoprojector. "They don't have sufficient numbers for swarming tactics against our concentrated force and their firepower is a miniscule addition considering lack of weapons with overload capacity against the shields of our line."

"They can't stay ignorant about their supply lines to Imperial Centre being blocked, and he'll engage then no matter what. He can't have us in our rear when he goes to relieve Talfaglio," Mystrela replied, standing slowly and moving to pace along the side of the holoprojector, her expression carefully masked as her eyes seemed to study it; her mind, however, was focused inward on the complexity of the intermingled problems she faced.

Time was not on her side in her deliberations as the two Vong fleets effected their linkup. But a calm voice absolved her of the need to make any decision. "Director," Miat Temm approached unnoticed and spoke as to make Mystrela start slightly, eyes flashing to her. "It is time for you to abandon the system and move to Talfaglio. There is no need for the presence of your fleet--or Sal-Solo's--here any longer."

The words sounded insane. They were insane. And, yet.... "What do you mean by that? The population of Coruscant must be protected, abandoning them would be a base treachery after we have established this defence and held it. The situation is by no means in doubt, we still have enough firepower to repel them."

"An understandable opinion," Miat agreed politely. "We know, after all, that the Vong are irrational actors and likely to press home the attack on the planets regardless of cost. But so far that has not been done. Among Vong commanders, the one we are facing is of a distinctly rational bent. He will not attack the planets--not when he has already destroyed the shipyards--at an unacceptable cost. They are simply people, simply objects, and they can be dealt with later, especially since he has succeeded in the industrial reduction of the system already."

"That may well be so, but removing the fleet guarantees that no significant opposition will be faced in an effort to reduce the planets," Mystrela answered, trying to keep down her annoyance with this most bizzare of interruptions in the midst of battle. "Not all of the planets in the system are shielded, and it is unlikely that the Imperial Starfleet can arrive in time to drive them off before they breach Corellia's shielding with sustained fire."

"He will not attack." The reply held in it a tone of perfect finality from an expressionless face. "I am going to take Jaina Solo with me and we are going to go to Centrepoint Station."

"You're insane. The Station was severely damaged following the Fondor operation, by all the accounts I've heard. It's worthless now, and even then it would destroy our own ships alongside their's..." Mystrela's eyes widened, albeit fractionally. The temptation of the event seemed to strike her, then, and oddly, for her objections were sound.

"And he does not know that it has been--at least, sure enough to risk himself, that is." Smiling, she was, an amused and secretive look to say the least. "You are correct, Vong operatives hit the station later; but the success of that mission was never confirmed, and even if it had been, a sane man would not trust the confirmation in front of contrary evidence presented to his eyes. When your fleet leaves the system and Centrepoint Station begins to build in power, a rational actor will be able to make only one decision about what is upcoming. His own intelligence will get the better of him: He will have to conclude that you left to clear the way for a shot by the Station. Any other way, yes, and it would be madness--but in this fashion we will leave him no choice."

"How can you begin a power build with the principal systems disabled?" Mystrela highly doubted that any Vong would be that cautious, and the premise that Miat Temm offered seemed somehow hollow... But in her mind, she seemed equally sure of its success, and could not quite place the reason for her doing so, when it seemed so contrary...

"The reactor still functions, providing energy for the habitation levels inside. Most of the systems inside the station remain operative. All internally radiated power can be directed into external radiation. The massive buildup in energy radiation can be directed through the same heat vanes that keep the firing system stable. A massive buildup in radiated energy will be detected by passive sensors in the area of the firing mechanism. There are sufficient jamming mechanisms on the station to guarantee that active sensors from any distance will be unable to differentiate this buildup from the real thing, which the Vong have only had the opportunity to theorize about and never actually witness from a distance of less than several thousand lightyears before, at any rate."

"And what will happen to the station's population when you transfer all internal energy into the heat vanes?"

"We will begin broadcasting an evacuation order from the moment we arrive. Those who listen to it and get to vacuum suites or escape pods will suvive. Those who do not will freeze to death."

There were several tens of thousands of people living on Centrepoint in the habitable sectors, which offered the imitation of a habitable planet except in the reverse horizon. Most would survive, but a fair percentage would not. Weighed against the danger, the choice was obvious. "Are you sure you can operate the controls to the necessary level of proficiency?" Somehow or another, she had been convinced of the feasability of the idea, or more precisely had convinced herself.


"Then do it." Mystrela turned away from Miat Temm, to whom she had for some reason entrusted hundreds of billions of lives, and started to head for the astrogation bank on her flagbridge. Then she paused, and turned back. Temm was already starting to leave. "Miat Temm?"

The woman stopped in mid-stride and turned back towards Mystrela quite fluidly, her eyes betraying no emotion. "Yes?"

"Can you pre-plot a microjump?"

"I can," Miat Temm answered, and for the first time, her voice seemed to falter slightly as she looked to Mystrela. An unpleasant sensation crossed over the Kuati scion's flesh, then, and looking into Miat Temm's eyes she saw a sort of haunted, horrible knowledge that struck with the tang of death.

"Then please do it before you leave, for the point I give to fleet astrogation," Mystrela managed in an unaffected tone, somehow.

"Are you sure?"

"Do you think it unwise?"

"Any answer to that question, Mystrela, would be a lie."

Her own voice caught, then, feeling what her mind could not quite discern, or settle upon, and the words came almost unbidden to her lips: "I do believe I understand."

"I think you do as well."

She walked in an uneasy silence with Temm to the astrogation banks. "Set up some plots for a fleet jump to Talfaglio, approximately four lightyears spinward; let Lady Temm log the computations for a microjump in-system from her preferred exact point," Mystrela ordered to fleet astrogation, not even realizing that she'd used the same sort of title of respect with which she might have addressed Lord Vader, once, long ago. She then stepped on to the comms bank, trying to push aside the uneasiness and knowing that her biggest problem was how to convince Sal-Solo.... Thus she composed herself for the communications with Thracken Sal-Solo's flagship, knowing that there was one way to do it, of course, and she hardly had any compunctions about it now, with that sense of finality hanging over her and pressing down on the burden already held.

"Establish a direct holo-link with President Sal-Solo's flagship, priority communication."

Twenty seconds ticked away and Sal-Solo, still sitting in the central chair of his flagbridge, looked rather annoyed as he responed to Mystrela's communication. The two, however, were equals by any measure; both heads of state but with questionable bases of support. Thus he did not suppose to ignore her as such, and she had the naval experience besides.

"We must retire from the system immediately, President."

"Director. The correlation of forces is not that bad, and even if it was, do we have a choice but to hold?" He seemed genuinely surprised by the idea of retreat, which was certainly a point in his favour considering his prior reputation. Pitted against the Vong, however, many heroes had become cowards, and perhaps some cowards had in turn gained a bit of spine.

"Centrepoint Station is going to engage the enemy, President. If any ships remain in the system they will almost certainly be destroyed. The only thing protecting the planets in this sector of the Corellian system will be the strength of their planetary shields." Betraying no emotion she spoke as though discussing agricultural output statistics; there was no trace of even interest in her voice. It was simply going to happen.

The effect on Thracken Sal-Solo was immediate. "That's impossible; I was there, Director; I remember the aftermath as well. I assure you that Centrepoint Station was to heavily damaged to be useful in any sort of operation whatsoever."

"That is not quite correct, President, though I grant it is the common perception. It seems rather odd that, considering your presence at the action, you deny the truth. The station is still capable of functioning under the appropriate operator."

"You do not know that; the Vong took measures against the station." A pause, then: "Besides, he is dead," Sal-Solo's voice cut quite coldly.

"Khon danest khon, President. Blood knows blood. The surviving Solo child is here and she will operate the weapon."

Eyes met across a distance linked by holograph, the transmission clear enough here for Sal-Solo's expression to be seen, the realization, and the possibility to held. "Will she really use it?"

The words tore into her; she said them anyway. "You have my word--not as Director of Kuat, but as an Imperial Officer--that the operation of the station's weaponry against the fleet is her intent."

"Then what is our destination, Admiral?"

"Talfaglio, President Sal-Solo," she replied, ignoring the use of her old rank. "Where all the glory in the universe is waiting for us." It was an easy lie, and true, even, from a certain perspective.

Five against the universe. Miat Temm strode into the secondary command centre of the Centrepoint station, control panels flickering on in her wake, an ominous poltergist of her power that seemed almost done without conscious thought. The people of the station rarely ventured to this haunted rooms of indiscernable alien glyphs. Centrepoint simply worked, as it always had, and provided life. They did not trust themselves to meddle in those ancient inner workings. Jaina followed in her footsteps, as though caught between her father and Fel behind her and Miat Temm ahead. Then the woman paused and turned back, expansively, her eyes taking in the four who trailed her. Softening, that look, as it settled onto Jaina. "I will need your help for this, you know." There seemed to be something heavy in the expression suggesting that the others leave, even if the words were unspoken.

Han Solo did not like that look. There was something undefinable in it... He traded a significant look with Jag Fel. The young man was equally worried about Jaina. Shawnkyr held back, studiously composed and silent. They would have to begin soon with the proposed ruse; the combined Kuati-Corellian fleet had already left and it would only take tens of minutes at most for the Vong commander to make up his mind on how to advance into the inner system, or to eliminate the possibility of any trap having been set.

"General Solo," Miat spoke in a soft voice which seemed, perhaps, to echo a bit more than the command chamber allowed. "Your daughter will be fine, I swear it."

His words were cut off before they could form. That wild, haunted expression threatened him; it seemed to hearken of horrors that could not be spoken, or perhaps evils. He could not be sure, and ultimately there was a crushing realization of his own need to trust Jaina. Here, here in the place where his sons had quarreled, one now dead and the other off there in the grip of the Vong. Here, where the power to destroy worlds seemed to lurk under the surf, as indeed once it had. He looked to his daugher and Jaina gazed back.

"Dad, she showed us that Jacen is still alive. We've chosen to trust her... And now Corellia is on the line. I can't stop here, and I don't think you can either." The soft words carried as Miat waited patiently.

"I'm not trading one of my children for the other," Han replied in a gruffly strained voice. He felt old, again, the euphoria of battle faded, Miat Temm's presence always sinister, never quite sane--and, yet, never having done anything untrustworthy, either. Indeed, she had offered hope for the life of his son where there had been none. "I don't want you to destroy yourself, Jaina."

"Dad... I can't change what I've seen, what I've done, what's going on. Neither can you; I know what you felt like during the battle. I... Do you really think that was wrong?"

A heady silence, packed with a miasma of feeling. Han Solo looked to his daughter and thought back to those desperate hours before. His mind and his heart raised the objections that long association with Luke and Jedi philosophy had provided, but they could not conquer the basic understanding of the humanness of those emotions, the feelings that had driven him despite his profession to fight slavers, and, ultimately, turn back towards the Death Star all those long decades ago. He had to let go; he had to recognize that his daughter by her nature knew the dangers ahead better than he, and it must be accepted if Jacen was to be saved.

"No. No, kiddo, it isn't." His expression turned a ghost of a smile to Miat Temm. "Good luck." Then he turned and headed out.

Fel and Shawnkyr followed, but at the last moment, Temm spoke up. "Shawnkyr, I'd appreciate it if you stayed. We shall need a third pair of hands."

"Of course," she replied, turning back. Just before the door to the alcove closed, Han Solo realized that the only one of them who had stayed with the two force sensitives was the one who did not care about Jaina in some form or another. But there was nothing he could do about it now.

The doors shut, and Temm turned her head fractionally to Shawnkyr. "I would appreciate it if you took the targeting control station." There was a gesture to the chair behind her and then she walked towards Jaina. "Long ago, the Jedi Order realized that rigid discipline was required for the average force adept to avoid succombing to the temptations of the world. Of power and sociopathy, lust, avarice, greed; of pleasure in torture and massacre and of things unspoken."

"The dark side is a cruel and seductive thing," Jaina answered, almost by rote. "There are reasons for that discipline--you admit it yourself. But I feel you slipping..."

"Do you!?" Miat Temm snapped, a vicious gesture punctuating the question as she moved to stand, eyes focusing in with intensity upon Jaina as her look froze in something that was almost contempt, or perhaps wonder. "You do not know what is within me, but we both know what is within you. You said it yourself to your father: The cold rage of the wounded heart, recoiled by atrocity and loss. The Jedi Order forgot that there can be reason in evil, and passion in good. It is to the later feelings that I speak. The same emotion that drives someone to give their last drop of water to a dying enemy on the field of battle is also that which compels one to end the life of a suffering relative when all that lies ahead is pain. Perhaps most are far to weak to indulge in one part of this thing without succombing to the rest, and need the sort of rigid constraints of the Jedi Order.

"I, however, am driven by the souls of the dead. My only desire is to avenge those who can no longer speak for themselves, and they will not rest until I have done so. I am left with no choice, nor would I want any sort of choice, for my heart tells me what is righteous regardless. But it is the purpose that has been imbued within me--the madness, perhaps--that resides within me and gives me the power to resist what others might not. You experienced but a foretaste of that on Coruscant."

"Revenge, also is a path to the Dark Side." But it is so tempting, so tempting.. Her mind wavered uncomfortably as she met Miat Temm's steady, unwavering gaze, filled with a fullness of power and intensity. "You tread..."

"Close to nothing. Do you sense me as being any worse off than I was when you first encountered me?"

"...No, I do not."

Miat moved in suddenness, a swift stride bringing her against Jaina and her hands grasping the young woman's, dragging her in up against herself, the intensity seeming inhuman as their eyes were abruptly mere inches apart. It seemed as though energy crackled around them where it did not, and Jaina could not muster herself to resist.

"It is justice, Jaina, justice--and if justice is in revenge, then let us take our revenge! That is the feeling, the passion that all sentient beings share. An instinctive understanding of evil that transcends culture and forms our true inner morality. The Vong have turned themselves away from it and they are damned. It is the one thing that we share and it underwrites our laws; legal justice but dimly reflects what we know in our hearts. In fear of evil the Jedi Order tried to banish from themselves the true sense that drives one to oppose evil, and in that was their downfall--twice, now, and so it shall be again if you do not take this lesson into your hearts.

"Jaina," her voice became so terribly soft, then, but with an undercurrent that slowly rose: "The Emperor was powerful and untutored in the force knowledge, missed by the Jedi Order and raised up without their restraint. He came to the Sith and to terrible evil. But it began with the best of intentions. He knew, Jaina! That was the reason for the Empire! It was changed and perverted over time, but the idea that was conceived was to defend the people of this galaxy, and others beyond us, from the Vong. Now we must struggle on as best as we can to fulfill that noble goal, even if the one who conceived of it has fallen into the horrors that he so richly deserves."

"And if we cannot control ourselves, as the Emperor could not?" Jaina asked in a whisper. "What becomes of us then?"

"Then our fate is to be damned," Miat replied simply. "But... If that is so, then at least there will be a gem of hope that someday, from some place, someone will rise up to destroy us. The Vong will not even leave that. I would abandon myself to eternity in the agonies of my own sin before I let the hope go out of the universe." She stepped back, releasing Jaina, her expression faltering, her voice just a husky, whispering remnant of itself. Jaina realized that Miat was nearly crying with the intensity of feeling which she had as she continued: "I have seen the end of all, Jaina, and I need you that we might be saved from the shadow's fall."

"What do you ask of me?" Jaina answered, taking up the uncertain fate offered to her.

"We will try our ruse first. If it fails..." She paused, then, and turned to the now-operating projector. "Well, let us cross that bridge when we come to it."

Corellian System,
Eye of Yun-Haarla

"Commander, forgive me the interruption," Vidang Tahng's chief of staff approached, saluting stiffly and bowing. Erslah Savain's look held an unusual amount of anxiety that brought the interruption with particularly intensity to Vidang Tahng's attention.

"Then tell me what it is for," He answered crisply, one eye staying on the holoprojector vilip that continued to show a shockingly empty star system, the retreat of the Corellian-Kuati fleet still having not made any sense, and his wariness such that he did not presume to doubt there was some sort of trap behind the entire retreat of the force. The issue would have been in doubt fighting them, and he assumed that was enough of a chance for them to stand and fight with so much on the line...

"Scans have detected unusual increases in energy radiation from the abomination called by the Infidels 'Centrepoint Station', which as you may recall was responsible for the destruction of the Fondor attack force..." By the time Erslah Savain had trailed off he had seen something he had never expected from the stoical Vidang Tahng. His face, already the typical colourless gray of the Vong peoples, had seemed to if anything drain even more thoroughly of colour.

"Is it confirmed?" He whispered harshly.

"It is confirmed, Commander." Erslah Savain replied, trying to contain a feeling which, from that expression, was becoming temptingly contagious.

"General Signals: Fleet reverse course, immediately!" Vidang Tahng bellowed into the flag bridge. "All ships, reverse thrust, emergency flank power!" The crew, which had at last had their truculence intimidated out of them those grim hours ago, at last obeyed with the promptness that Vidang Tahng needed. The time he needed, to evaluate what might be just moments from becoming a very fatal situation to his entire command.

The signals went out with their desperate haste; dovin basals were re-attuned and the direction of gravitic force shifted. With the slowness of a fleet of thousands of ships and craft, no matter the level of communications sophistication, they began to reduce speed steadily, engines applying maximal reverse thrust and everyone needing to watch to avoid collisions between ships stacked in the formations that were of different thrust ratios. But despite the difficulties, despite the hash it would make of the attacks on the outer planets and the deployment around Corellia, it seemed to be working in some way. Centrepoint Station had, after all, not yet engaged them with the expected fatal results.

Their continued survival was, in fact, the odd thing about it at that. The station's range, after all, had been demonstrated at Fondor to be in the thousands of lightyears, and yet they had not been attacked so far, when they could have been easily and safely annihilated at any time after the last of the Corellian and Kuati ships left the system. It didn't smell right to Vidang Tahng, but the risk was so great that he did not regret his orders. Something, however, would have to be gambled to confirm the status of Centrepoint Station.

"Get me Tirlin Vasong," he ordered as the brief chaos on the flag bridge died down. The order was obeyed with the same promptness--perhaps because they wanted to see what the second ranking officer in the fleet would have to say about the whole thing.

A moment later he flashed into existance before Vidang Tahng, and as expected, was quite upset. He was nominally from a different command, anyway, and wasn't likely to think much of Vidang Tahng considering his prior post in charge of mine warfare with the Warmaster's fleets. But he had, at least, obeyed orders--though his command had been reduced anyway to make up losses in Vidang Tahng's screen, and that reduced component was now functioning as an attached scouting force. Which was just what Vidang Tahng needed at the moment, anyway, a fortuitous circumstance indeed.

"Take your force towards Centrepoint Station immediately, prepared for action," Vidang Tahng ordered before any protests to the prior orders could be raised. "We have detected an unusual power surge from the station and I fear it could be charging for an attack against the fleet." A wave of his hand. "Yes, I know about our sabotage mission. The fact that it is has not fired yet lends me to believe it is some sort of ruse. But I cannot risk the whole fleet to that assumption when its being incorrect would assure our destruction, and prevent us from carrying out our mission. To you, thus, I give the honour of advancing on the station and determining if it is operational or not. Regardless of its status, as soon as you enter weapons range you are to open fire and destroy it. It is, after all, an abomination, and regardless of the circumstances of this power surge we may as well take this opportunity to see it destroyed."

"Of course, Commander. I hear and obey." He saluted stiffly and the com channel cut off immediately as he went to carry out his orders, his annoying superiour now safe to ignore in the context of his instructions.

"Should we make any adjustments to course, Commander?" Erslah Savain asked carefully.

"No. Maintain maximum reverse thrust. If something happens to Tirlin Vasong then we will, hopefully, be clear of the area of effects. Just to be sure, though, I want an emergency hyperjump plotted out for the fleet--immediately!"

"I obey, Commander!"

Vidang Tahng had already turned back to the plot, and was watching it in a stiff anticipation which was now shared by the entire fleet as Tirlin Vasong began to shift his scounting force away from the other squadrons and align towards Centrepoint Station.

The Corellia System,
Centrepoint Station.

"Well, that didn't work as well as we'd hoped it would," Jaina muttered. "Three hundred odd scout ships are more than enough to take out Centrepoint Station, and then they'll be free to advance into the system. At least we've bought a few hours, I suppose."

"There are a few fighters and gunships on the Station that the inhabitants can surely be convinced to launch in defence of their home, and we have enough time for them to get their crafts prepared even as we are still bringing back heat and enviromental systems. Combined with our own efforts, we can certainly add time to that delay, do damage to the enemy, and trust that relief will come, at least before the planetary shields have been overwhelmed." At the cost of our lives, and with no hope for the outer planets, was unspoken but obvious from the Chiss woman, who had remained stoically calm through it all.

Miat Temm listened to them both and then smiled gently to Jaina. "There is something we can do--if you are willing, for I do not have the power nor innate ability to accomplish it on my own."

"Time to cross the bridge?" Jaina flipped back, but smiled tightly. "What is it?"

Instead of answering, Temm looked towards Shawnkyr and her expression grew with deadly ernest. "You had best leave, now. Warn the others to retreat down several decks. I cannot guarantee their safety in close proximity to us, though you may assure General Solo that nothing shall actually, physically, happen to us."

"Should any launch orders be communicated to the station populace?" Shawnkyr answered, though she already headed towards the exit to the control centre.

"No. In fact, they should expressly remain where they are, since those areas should be radiation shielded. I am not sure of the consequences of what I intend to attempt, except for its potential against the enemy force." A pause, then: "Make sure they both go below with you, Shawnkyr. I am quite serious about the potential effects being uncertain."

"Of course, Lady Temm." Shawnkyr strode out, and as the door shut, Miat looked back to Jaina.

"Do you have faith in the righteousness of our cause?" Her voice challenged as though the dead, indeed, spoke through her; perhaps in that moment they did, demanding, testing to the last and the utmost.

"I gave you my commitment, I'm not wavering from it," Jaina answered firmly, almost annoyed despite that unearthly tone.

"Then open your mind to me. Let me guide you in what we must do together. Trust me, Jaina, and our shared purpose will be the bond by which we shall defend Corellia. It is all we need."

It was a paramount act of faith, but it was accomplished. The shields a Jedi naturally builds up, the shields they are trained to raise, the shields of pain and grief and the resistance of the normal mind, all of these things had to be stripped away. What was being proposed was a form of intimacy usually only found among Jedi who were lovers. But it was enacted between those who had only known each other tenuously, for a few months, for what was inside of them could not be denied. They had a shared purpose and they did not shirk from it, they did not any longer deny it. They had committed themselves to the same tasks and now they would bear the toil required of them.

Jaina felt the pain and the horror that dwelt in Miat Temm's mind. The insanity that had been brought to her by the dead of Coruscant, that she had somehow survived despite all the crushing weight of the demands of the dead that had been imposed upon her. She saw the moment they overwhelmed Miat Temm and she felt the changes that had been wrought in her mind and, indeed, in her own, by that terrible perception of the surface of Coruscant. They were both on their knees, then, but they did not even know it. They were of each other and of their cause in those moments where time stood still.

Miat Temm was a clone. Jaina understood that instantly, somehow, in a way that had been masked before by the power of the forces that now drove her. They traded horrors, fears, shames, great and small, epic and personal, and indeed they would never be quite the same again from it. United in purpose, they acted, even as Jaina realized what Miat intended. But it was to late to go back, and in herself Jaina no longer felt the well to resist. Submerged, twinned representations of a common act. The objections were swept aside as they became part of a purpose greater than the wholes of those who had brought it to fruition.

The instincts of a fighter pilot provided the initiation point in the middle of the approaching scout force, and the foreknowledge and past-knowledge of Temm's madness reached out there with their dual strength, and broke through the fabric that separated the True from the Illusion. There became a place in the universe where a power that was beyond interaction was exposed to, and thus tried to interact with, the dimly reflected shades of that universe. The greater hidden power overcame that which was before it as though it did not exist, because exposed to it, an event beyond the possibilities or understanding of any sort of physical knowledge, that which was of the universe indeed did not exist. The imperfect mirror was exposed to Reality, and the Reality banished it.

Miat Temm and Jaina Solo had unleashed a Force Storm on the Vong squadron, and it spread rapidly, guided by their dual will, threatening to consume the whole Vong fleet within the system, and more. For one terrible and seductive moment, they felt the power to destroy the whole Vong race in their hands, and they nearly did. But just as the intensity and size was growing geometrically, expansion compounding on expansion, intensity upon intensity, at a rate that seemed speeding in those moments that, themselves, seemed as if they were not happening--through that power which they channeled, the madness into which they dove, Jaina remembered her brother. Or perhaps it is only right to say that they remembered their brother; for in that moment they were as one.

A perfect and awful certitude came, of his death if the course was followed and countless of other deaths of innocents, of those who might yet be saved from within the night. It came, and it saved them, somehow. What had almost gained a life of its own, what they had almost become, halted. Their wills overcame it and then it ended, banished from the moment that their own power triumphed over what they had, indeed, themselves created. That which they had drawn forth they had turned back, in the same application of the force of will which had driven them to it.

The Force Storm vanished. Jaina and Miat were on the floor of the secondary control centre, comatose. But their bodies were untouched and did not even sweat; the room was as-if nothing at all had taken place. It seemed as if no time at all had passed for all except those two, who had just experienced two eternities at once to their own minds, which was where the deed had been confined. Or so it seemed, until the scans of desperate people on the station and the planet suddenly were able to again penetrate areas which for a brief time had seemed to cease to exist. Areas which contained the Vong fleet.

There was not a single Vong starship or craft left in the Corellia system. Every single one of them was gone. Centrepoint sat silent, unchanged. It had emitted no excess energies. What had happened, had come from somewhere else entirely. It was not understood by any except those that had unleashed it--however, it was felt by others. Across a vast span of the galaxy, linked to the event only by that shared inner power, Luke Skywalker bowed his head and wept.
The threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth. -- Wikipedia's No Original Research policy page.

In 1966 the Soviets find something on the dark side of the Moon. In 2104 they come back. -- Red Banner / White Star, a nBSG continuation story. Updated to Chapter 4.0 -- 14 January 2013.

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Re: De Imperatoribus Galacticis v.1 [Revised]

Post by The Duchess of Zeon » 2009-10-30 10:49am

De Imperatoribus Galacticis

"On the Galactic Emperors"

Chapter the Sixteenth.

Hapan Star Cluster
RHS Dragon's Field

Admiral d'Sevila bowed low in front of the holographic image that had formed, looming on the bridge, of her monarch's bust. “Your Majesty.”

Tenel Ka was not a well woman. Her condition had been improving but seemed, now, somewhat worse. Perhaps the news had not been good. Certainly the fractuous nobility of Hapes remained torn over continued intervention due to the massive losses previously suffered. But the successful defeat of the Vong forces pressing in on the Cluster had largely brought that to an end.

Something else, then, was troubling the Lady d'Sevila's Sovereign, and that was a matter only for speculation. But it was not her job to indulge in speculation. The military, at least, was professional enough.

“The situation has resolved itself. I have already given Admiral Ackbar permission to commence the attack. I am now formally ordering you to obey him as if he was in our own chain of command. All strategic and tactical operational orders will be from the Admiral to our fleet forces committed for this operation,” which were about all of them, short the sixty or so ships of the Royal Guard forces.

“I understand, You Majesty, and obey. All preparations have been made for coordination with the Republican forces and it now awaits but for Admiral Ackbar to issue the necessary orders.”

“All instructions shall be received through him, then,” Ka answered, somewhat distantly, and clearly indicating that they had already been given. “My thoughts are with the fleet, its safety and success.”

Admiral d'Sevila bowed again. “Your words will be conveyed throughout the Hapan forces gathered here, Your Majesty.”

“Very good. Carry on, Admiral.” The holograph disappeared, leaving Leyane to stuff her musings over the cause of the delay, and now the orders, to herself.

“Fleet signals coming in from the Republican flag,” her fleet comms officer reported a moment later, and, relieved at the distraction, she prepared to receive her orders, at last, for the offensive.

Imperial Centre,
The Despot.

A debate was raging in the conference room off the Despot's flagbridge. It was between Sule's civilian advisors and his military officers and it was because of a message they had just received from the Milky Way. An absolutely devastating one, to be precise. They had lost power in their home base to Hamner Davion. Somehow the man had gotten out of confinement and attracted the following of one of Elise's main fleet commanders—the later, of course, left her infuriated and she had to restrain herself from joining in the argument on Martina's side. She was unsurprisingly arguing to her husband quite passionately about the need to turn back and intervene at once.

Pellaeon, on the other hand, was appealing to Hamner Davion's sense of duty and the need to pursue the Vong fleet. The Vong had, indeed, retired—at the long end of a severed supply line (somehow) they could not remain for long and realized the precariousness of their situation. They had pulled back and left the Imperial Starfleet in command of the space over Coruscant, or, as the documents on the Imperial ships still called it, Imperial Centre.

Elise was really the only one other than Sule himself who remained silent. In her case, utterly silent, mulling the options as the command council was torn between the very real revolt behind them and the equally real and still quite viable threat ahead of them. Either situation seemed equally bad, and there was a certain demand to maintain Imperial legitimacy that seemed to insist they turn back and deal with Hamner Davion.

He had, after all, done more than just place himself in revolt. One could not place one's self in revolt against the Emperor, after all, and expect to live. Several powerful Admirals had tried that before Endor, and failed with predictable results. No, something more substantial was required against someone who had apparently claimed the Imperial title with repercussion. Hamner declared himself Emperor as well, resting it on his title of Grand Moff that had been legitimized by the Emperor's writ of conquest for the Milky Way, and thus placing himself as the legitimately ranking civilian leader of the Galactic Empire.

The problem to that was that he was exactly correct. In terms of civilian leadership and indeed the ability to command troops, the Grand Moff was the highest ranking individual, and in this case his title could at least be related in a shadowy fashion to Imperial authority due to the fact that, yes, the Emperor had approved the conquest, and yes, it included multiple sectors. It was not perfectly firm ground, though, and besides that, Sule held Imperial Centre and the support of most of the home galaxy.

With an extended conflict facing the Empire, however, those manufacturing resources back in the Milky Way, the manpower resources, the remaining fleets—all of it would be needed. It was now not available, but in fact represented the resources of a completely new enemy. That created an intolerable situation, and one that the prevailing wisdom, despite Pellaeon's best efforts, was seeming to lean in favour of dealing with first. The Vong, it was thought, would not be coming back any time soon. They were already on a shoe-string.

Then a junior officer gained access, with a message for Elise. It was handed to her, and she activated the padd, reading it slowly. The whole thing was completely ignored by the rest of the room as the arguments went on. Elise finished reading it in due time, and then read it again. Sule, at last, noticed her distraction.

“Elise, what is that report?”

“Your Majesty,” she said, feeling oddly calm despite what it portended. “Mystrela has placed her fleet at Talfaglio and is going to engage the main Vong force. She has indicated to me that she intends to 'hold until relieved'.”

Pounding silence overtook the room, slowly, but progressively and certainly, and it hurt more than the prior steadily rising noise. Sule continued looking right ahead at Elise, silent for a moment, and then he spoke again:

“What is your evaluation of this situation? Do you agree with Martina that we must turn back and defeat Hamner swiftly to guarantee Imperial legitimacy? Or must we pursue the Vong? I fear, Elise, that I cannot let Mystrela's action force my hand in this regard.”

Elise tensed for a moment, but then gripping her gloved hands together, and eyes hardening, spoke in the softest tone, nearly lost and yet discerned by the Emperor. “Sulla, also, dealt with the enemies of the State first rather than internal rebellion, and he died in his sleep after resigning the supreme post at the time of his choosing.”

Martina reacted as if stung; not in anger but in recognition of what she had ignored in the passion of the moment, and perhaps the desire to prove her own loyalty to her husband against her father. Sule did not precisely know what the two did about the event referenced, only some hazy story Elise had gotten halfway through after a dinner party a half-decade ago, at best: But it didn't matter. Their reactions told him all he needed to know.

“The fleet will prepare for immediate departure against Talfaglio, best possible speed. Grand Admiral Pellaeon, you have overall command. Grand Admiral Kalar-Leben, you have the First Battle Squadron and the second position.”

Kuati Forces,
Talfaglio System.

With a flicker of pseudomotion the Kuati-Corellian combined fleet was torn out of hyperspace by the gravity of Talfaglio. The big Kuati cruisers in the lead opened fire immediately as they appeared, firing along pre-planned trajectories. Green turbolaser fire swept down on the planet in vast sheets from naval artillery firing at teraton strength. By the time the Vong fleet coming in to the planet to resupply had even realized that they were under attack, Talfaglio had already been destroyed.

The waves of turbolaser fire slammed down through the atmosphere, burning it off in a superheated eruption of steam within three point four seconds. By that time the bolts had already struck the surface. The surface instantly ceased to exist. The slave farms, the production centres, defensive installations, equipment stockpiles—all of it vanished in a storm of energy before anyone on that side of the planet even realized what had happened. Fourty-five percent of the surface of Talfaglio down a depth of eighty-five kilometers was vapourized instantly by the flak bursts that erupted there. Below that a layer of liquified rock, instantly turned into molten lava, extended down for another twenty-seven kilometers.

A superheated wall of matter, essentially a vast plasma wave, swept around the planet destroying even the most hardened of the Vong centres that had been established there. Everyone on the surface was already dead from the shockwave and intense thermal energies that had raced through the atmosphere even as it was being blown off the planet, and indeed aided in that process. Within three-point-two seconds eight billion sentients were dead. The few thousands of survivors in deep shelters were dead in four. A vast eruption of superheated matter spewed up from the planet, glancing in a perverse light show over the shields of the trailing ships of the fleet with minimal effect.

By this time the ships of the combined fleet were already firing for effect into the vast array of Vong ships that stood before them, now trapped against the dead planet. With their dovin basals disengaged and taking on supplies, many of the ships close to the planet had in fact been damaged by the plasma eruptions from the surface as it was destroyed. Certainly, at least, the Yuuzhan Vong would never again use Talfaglio as a supply base. Ships, also, began to explode. The Kuati-Corellian combined fleet was outnumbered ten to one, but they had caught the Vong completely by surprise. Only Miat Temm of late had proven capable of such coordination, and as the Republic had not learned from C'baoth in time, nor had the Vong learned from Second Coruscant.

Mystrela had to stop herself from holding her breath as she sat in a state of utter tension watching the holoprojector. It was like, indeed, breathing might break wide open the fantasy that spread out before them. Complete tactical surprise against a damaged and victualating fleet. Fire was concentrated by the squadron or flotilla and ships were destroyed, then more ships were destroyed, on and on in a progressive orgy of killing as massed fires chewed a vast, methodical swathe through the Vong fleet. Hundreds of Vong ships had already vanished into eruptions of full-spectrum radiation. In a dreamy dark silence, the grand assault fleet which had fought at First, Second, and Third Coruscant, the two thousand capital ships and twenty thousand escorts of the main concentrated Vong force—they were being destroyed.

The fighters swept down into the midst of the Vong and hit them hard whilst the Vong could not launch a single fighter in response. All of their ready fighters had been those in the recently-established defensive installations on the surface, and they had all been destroyed before an alert had even sounded. The fighters were a spearhead straight into the heart of the Vong fleet carrying on ahead and killing, striking as hard as they could as they swept through the arrayed mass of ships. Those which had been wounded at Third Coruscant died and those that had survived it were damaged. Then the fleet came, right into the heart of its foe, ships drawing inexorably closer.

Mystrela Estorav di Kuat had given the order, and now she sat in silence and watched its execution. It had been very simple, after all. “Close with the enemy and engage by squadrons.” This time there was to be no manoeuvring, and there were certainly no orders for breaking off. Attacking an unprepared fleet ten times their size, they simply deaccelerated into orbit with the enemy, and closed to point-blank range. Squadrons focused on single ships, pounded them to rubble, and moved on to the next. The flagships simply served to coordinate fire to prevent excessive concentration on a single target.

Of course it could not last. There was a strange sense of relief in what came next, as the Vong began to return fire, as the dovin basals started to form up their protective black holes. It meant that the damage done, also, was not some desperate fantasy. Those hundreds of ships turned to microscopic rubble and bursts of radiation were never coming back. They had been destroyed, at that, without the loss of a single Kuati or Corellian life. Indeed, the only innocents were those upon Talfaglio; and those slaves, the bio-control mechanisms of the Vong grown into their body, were beyond salvation anyway.

Second Talfaglio—for the New Republic had also tried to hold here, and failed as at Coruscant—had already become a bloodbath in terms of both lives and materiale and it had lasted so far rather less than five minutes. Now as the ships coasted to within dozens of kilometers of each other the heavy artillery began to have a terrible effect on both sides. It seemed impossible that any ship could survive in that malestrom, but somehow they held, shields layered and durasteel hulls riding through it confidently.

It did not last. The two fleets were now locked together in a mortal dance, the funeral games of Talfaglio. The damage began to tell, even as more grevious wounds were inflicted on the enemy fleet. Gradually the preponderance of fire came down against them. Gradually the energies built towards overload levels on countless layers of shields around the fleet. Finally one unlucky ship faced a mass of fire that overwhelmed its shields, and as they collapsed a hundred plasma bursts converged, detonating it in what was but the first flare that spelled doom to the Kuati-Corellian combined fleet.

She could not remain sitting, no matter how long the battle lasted. Mystrela got up and paced over to the holoprojector. The glorious and deadly spectacle was played out for her there, even as the flares of energy hitting the shields of the Hawk gave off their luminescent warning. Everything had been done in advance. The jump had been planned out before they had even arrived in the system; certainly the attack coordinates had been laid in hours before the microjump. The fleet had arrived and it had been perfectly placed, as expected. It was, indeed, a preternatural level of success.

The fleet had been positioned to prevent the escape of a foe ten times its strength. The ships closing were engaging only elements of the Vong force, which was stacked in against the planet to receive replenishment from the biological factory that Talfaglio had become. But now Talfaglio had been destroyed—annihilated by a fleet under the command of an Imperial officer, made up mostly of Imperial designs, and acting under the code phrase 'Base Delta Zero' as the relevant ships prepared for, and then engaged in, the lethal bombardment--and the effect of a fleet positioning desired for hasty replenishment meant to prevent the proper deployment of the Vong ships. They were moving in against the combined fleet haphazardly, and at very close range.

All of this preparation, therefore, could but conceal the terrible fact of the deployment. With the combined fleet so spread out, and enemies so numerous, an orderly retreat was impossible. They would either hold until they were relieved, or they would not leave Talfaglio. Mystrela had gone into the battle with doom upon her. The combined fleet was ultimately her responsibility—she was an Imperial officer, and Thracken Sal-Solo knew little of the manoeuvring of vast fleets. She had gotten the necessary plots from Miat Temm to insure that the fleet arrived in the proper position. The fleet gunnery officers had worked out the firing plot against the planet—to insure that the Vong fleet was not resupplied even if everything went disastrously wrong—to be launched blindly, upon fixed coordinates the instant the ships were pulled out of hyperspace by the grav well of Talfaglio. And carefully, ever so carefully, the deployment of the squadrons had been planned to achieve this, to block a fleet with nearly ten times their numbers. But that was all they could do.

It was something valiant, the act that Mystrela had put her fleet up to. The Corellians, excellent men, excellent officers, willingly fighting alongside the Kuatis, both engaged over worlds not their own for causes greater than their own. They had not questioned, despite what they all must know. They had faith in that cause that had overcome their private lives and aspirations and they acted upon that faith. It was a splendid thing, terrible to behold in its magnitude. They had drawn a line, drawn it in their ragged force of ships, and coloured it with the brilliance of their energy fire. The striking fist of the Yuuzhan Vong could only escape from the pyre of Talfaglio by destroying them all, and that was precisely what it was doing—but each and every life would come with an incomparable cost to their black foes.

The Kuati fleet was staffed by professionals. They were not even, in many cases, Kuatis. Those who were had no reason of their own, in this case, to risk their lives. No personal thing motivated them. Kuat was not in danger, nor were the other homeworlds of many of these men, except in a vague and vast strategic sense that is rarely recognized nor felt deeply by the individual. The grand advances of the Vong had come to an end, replaced by intricate and bloody stalemates in which the fate of the civilised universe hung on the brink of oblivion at every manoeuvring order given to a fleet. Now that period had also ended. In the sweep of the turbolaser fire that had destroyed Talfaglio, a war of annihilation had begun, and Mystrela had shown herself willing to write the declaration in her own blood.

There was no personal reason for her to do this. She had grown up the pampered daughter of the most powerful family of one of the most powerful nations of the galaxy. Her serve was exemplary and from the moment of the Milky Way expedition her promotion, through the years and by the battles, was guaranteed to a high office. Her best friend and personal mentor was at that moment one of the two Grand Admirals of a revitalized Galactic Empire. In all liklihood, Mystrela had the genius and the skill to replace her there in due time, or even surpass her, as demonstrated by her recent accession to the Directorate. Her ambition and the liklihood of its success demanded prudence.

Her private life, beyond that of her public service and family connections, was something unfulfilled but at the same time filled with possibility. She was still young in appearance, promoted rapidly by the exigencies of circumstance in the Milky Way and preserved, as might be expected, by the briar patch treatments. Despite disdaining the impersonal tradition of the nobility of her nation to take what was in effect a trained concubine, as her own mother had been, there was no reason for her not to choose from among the wealthiest and best men of the Two Galaxies at the whimsy of her heart. Sule's position and patronage guaranteed that she could violate any custom of the Kuati people that she desired and remain in power. She had every reason to live, but she chose death.

This choice could not be ascribed to any sort of personal aim or suicidal impulse, then. It was instead motivated by the highest ideals of the human spirit. Mystrela had led her fleet forward and positioned it to hold because she faced the darkest and most inhuman of sentient races, those who had completely abandoned any pretence of morality, of that primal and natural force which had guided all sentient races for all time. The Vong, despite their physical similiarity to humanity had surpassed in inhumanity even the most inhuman of races; the Horta, or the Hutts, both had emotions and instincts in a range that could be instinctively grasped by all. The Vong had none of these; they had been rejected and perverted and it was proven for all to see in the swathe of madness, horror, terror and death which they had strewn across the galaxy.

Faced with such a monstrous thing as the Vong, confronted with their behaviour and their intents, some spirits are twisted by then and fall into the depths of depravity themselves, into delusion and self-loathing, terrorized by the prospect of what they see, of the lowest lows of sentient beings which have been attained by those who stand before them, ready to destroy all that they might comprehend. Others, however, rise to heights which are themselves not human. They transcend the desires and needs of mortal flesh so that those who are unworthy and incapable of such sacrifice may live. There is nothing scientific about this process, this winnowing. It is not replicated, in either direction, in the behaviour of animals. It cannot be rationally understood. This quality of sentient nature is what truly distinguishes ourselves from animals.

Neither can it be explained by any particular instinctual motivation. There was no personal reason, save revenge among a few, for the crewers of the fleet to obey their orders, for the officers of the ships not to order a retreat. The majority had no explainable reason which might cause them to stand and fight at this place, over dead Talfaglio. There was no distinguishing characteristic which could be identified as a qualifying reason, as something which made them stay where others would have fled. They came from all nations and species. They came as mercenaries and as civic volunteers. From every walk of life and from every level of economic status; no group would be unable to claim their representative at Second Talfaglio. There it was that they fought, and there it was that they died.

Such courage, such purposeful sacrifice, lay dormant within them all. It was brought forth by a few, a necessary few. The ranking officers of the fleet were of a quality of character which was required for the sacrifice. That had demanded it of those they commanded, they had placed the deaths of tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands of those who relied upon them upon their consciences. They had done it ready to lead the way and die, themselves. They had placed those demands before the myriad personnel of the fleet, and within them, within that nameless mass, to great, so lost amongst mass death, to eulogize properly—the character, the strength of Will had been found to rise up and meet them. They rose above the human condition and gained a sort of collective immortality through the memory of their sacrifice, a sacrifice made to the ideals of common civilisation, bodies flung forward to hold the line in the name of a moral code that runs through us all, intangible but iron-clad.

There were war criminals and murderers among them, racists, tyrants, and savage butchers. Sinners great and petty mingled with the innocent. In that moment it did not matter; the past was gone for them and they lived in an eternal present, a place where even the worst of crimes did not exist. Those trivialities would be washed away, expunged in that moment of perfect self-sacrifice, the spilling of their own life's blood washing away in one immortal instant the accumulated evils of mortal lives. Saints and sinners, it did not matter: They would stand as equals among those who had gone before and those who would come after, the ones who had found it inside of themselves to stand up and be counted on their day of judgement.

The battle had now lasted for more than six hours. The surviving ships of the Kuati-Corellian combined fleet were struggling to contain their Vong opponents. Two-thirds of the combined fleet had already been destroyed, and all of the surviving ships except for the interdictors stationed well back to delay the escape of the Vong, had suffered damage. Almost all of the fighters were gone, but the enemy themselves had few left to harass the remaining ships of the combined fleet. The world below churned in its tumultuous death throes, as above the sky was lit by the vast fires that arced in the vacuum, lances of energetic death. They killed and maimed indiscriminately and in mass; bodies vanished in moments or were left frozen in the fastness through explosive decompression. Great chunks were torn from the hulls of the heavy ships, but they doggedly fought on.

Inside a strange sort of act prevailed. On every ship the efforts to save the wounded, to make repairs, to lay on their shots in the same old way, all of these things were made. There were no deviations because they were doomed, there was no abandoning the effort for life. They fought on as hard as they could and they struggled for life as hard as they could, even where it was fruitless. They did not die waiting for their deaths, but frozen in the height of the utmost human activity, struggling for their lives even as they laid them down. There would be heroes on this day, but they would receive no enervating adulation, no supine flattery. The exact details of their last moments, of their deeds and their valour as their doom approached—none of these things would ever be known. Instead, the glory of their sacrifice would be recorded in the shattered hulks of the enemy, that they would drift for eternity in the vacuum, over a pyre of a world, a pyre that would stand in monument to them for all time and who's magnitude was only suited for the scale of deed and the greatness of humanity that it represented, more terribly splendid than any grandiloquent remembrance.

“We've got it as confirmed as it will ever be, Admiral,” Captain di Syminar reported quietly on a darkened flagbridge, a position now in grave jeopardy and from which the great rents in the hull armour could be clearly discerned forward. As he spoke he brought up and highlighted a sector on the miraculously still-active holoprojector, and in turn highlighted one ship in that area, damaged in the heat of the action but not as greatly as the ships that covered around it protectively. “The enemy flagship.”

“Not at the heart of the action, I see,” Mystrela murmured. “But not unaccessable, either. Inform the bridge to close and engage—and have comms signal President Sal-Solo. We should share the honour of dealing with the enemy flag.”

“Of course, Admiral,” di Syminar replied—the title 'Director' had been dropped now, and things would end with that more honourable appellation--and began to turn away. But then Mystrela raised up her hand, scuffing a boot lightly on the floor such that he turned back to her quizzically.

“It has been a pleasure to have you on my staff, Captain.”

“Thank you, Admiral. I have been honoured to serve under your command.” He brought his hand up and saluted, heels clicking as Mystrela returned the salute, and then he turned away and went to deliver the last orders.

The Hawk of Trinadora accelerated into the centre of the enemy fleet, her exhaust trails gleaming like the fine plumage of a bird of prey diving in for one more kill, and thus she did.

CSS Unurandi,
Talfaglio System.

“I want full thrust in thirty seconds!” Thracken Sal-Solo shouted as the last of the shields on his flagship failed, the hull already blasted and pitted all along the port side. “Stand by to reorient one-eighty degrees with starboard thrusts and begin an immediate full power burn!”

The orders—countermanding Captain Indovir just below him—brought the bridge up short. The message with the coordinates of the enemy flag and the invitation from Admiral di Kuat to proceed with the attack against it had been received just seconds earlier. Captain Indovir had already ordered that the course be plotted and prepared for implementation, and had just then been approaching Sal-Solo to announce it to him and request permission to proceed forward.

There was little Corellian fleet left. The Unurandi had lost her flagbridge—which Admiral Candrak had wisely ordered Sal-Solo off hours before to prevent him from interfering in the fighting of the fleet—and the massive damage she had suffered was yet lighter than that of many of the Corellian ships, which were generally older or simply not built for heavy combat when compared to their counterparts in the Kuati fleet. Candrak was dead, but it didn't matter. This had been a squadron fight for a long time now and that wasn't changing. Squadrons, or flotillas, or divisions, or single ships. They fought on until overwhelmed and destroyed, until their engines were blown out, their guns all knocked out, shields gone, pounded into rubble or blown apart with the detonation of their reactors. It was the same through the whole fleet, and the survivors were succombing all the faster now.

Despite all that, they were still inflicting better than they got. Hundreds of ships of the combined fleet had been destroyed—the figure was thousands for the Vong. The price that was paid for that utter reversal in the ratio from earlier engagements was in their utter commitment to fight to the death at point-blank range. Now that perfect commitment—broken, surely, in the lower ranks at times, but never enmasse nor by the critical officers of the fleet—was put to the test.

Sal-Solo had been tried and found wanting. Captain Indovir stepped up to him, glancing to the red pinstripe that ran on his uniform trousers, and reminding himself mentally what that really meant. “Your Excellency, we cannot abandon the Hawk of Trinadora when they are proceeding to attack the enemy flag. They shall need our support to succeed in breaking through.”

“That is a suicide mission they are on, Captain! Don't you understand—this whole fleet is on one! None of us shall survive if we do not break off immediately.” Cowards have one deadly and truly twisted virtue: They speak the truth that everyone understands but which by mutual consent, no others shall voice. All around the bridge there was a further, half-imperceptible tensing.

“I understand perfectly,” Captain Indovir replied. “And I know, also, that I cannot abandon Admiral di Kuat for that reason. I will not let her fail, Your Excellency.” His hands fell to his sides, then, almost nonchalantly.

Sal-Solo nearly looked as if he were to rage at his flag captain. But instead he took on a reasonable voice. “Captain, unless we retire, there is little chance that anyone shall ever know the story of this battle. Our hyperdrive is intact. For the dead here to justly be recognized as the heroes that they are, we must retire and bring word of this engagement out for the universe to hear and praise.”

“Dead heroes don't need that kind of fame, Your Excellency. They have another sort of it that they might claim.” As he spoke, Captain Indovir, commanding officer of the Corellian Security Starship Unurandi, drew his service blaster pistol and fired twice into the chest of Thracken Sal-Solo. Then he turned back to the stone silent bridge below, and gave his final orders:

“Full thrust, right ahead. I want to overtake the Hawk and blast a path through for them!”

Talfaglio System

In another hour and a half it was over. The battered Vong fleet had been utterly victorious. Every single enemy ship had been cleared from the Talfaglio system. The interdictors had been destroyed and the path for the fleet to escape was now open. But it was a savaged fleet, further depleted from the height of its strength, with many more ships beyond those destroyed, suffering from a variety of damage. Its fighter strength was almost totally gone. But most of all, it was not leaving quickly, for the efforts to organize the fleet were completely themselves disorganized.

Tsavong Lah was dead, and in his place a collection of equally-ranked commanders were bickering over who had the proper authority and seniority and the efforts to get the fleet in order for the escape were failing accordingly. Headless, the mass of more than ten thousand ships flailed about over the corpse of Talfaglio, until it had no more time in which to flail.

In the outer system there was a wave of simultaneous instances of pseudomotion. Five hundred frigates led the vanguard of the Imperial Grand Fleet, and five seconds out the great and solid wall of ten Executor-class battlecruisers followed them in, serried ranks gleaming in the reflected light of a distant star; behind them came countless formations of cruisers, carriers, destroyers, frigates, and corvettes. Line after line, stacked rank on stacked rank. The host of a galaxy arrayed itself between the battered Vong fleet and safety as the interdictors powered their grav wells and the route was sealed off.

First Battle Squadron Flag,
Executor-class Battlecruiser Conquerant,
Talfaglio System

With ten Executors formed under command, Elise had by far the most powerful segment of the Grand Fleet, reconstituted for the pursuit, besides her position as second in command should anything befall Grand Admiral Pellaeon. That mailed fist of the Imperial Starfleet stood highlighted in glorious repose by the minnows of starships that surrounded its ordered and elegant mass.

Elise sat on the flagbridge of the Conquerant in a rigid silence that would have done her student proud. The reports from the system were very clear. The annihilated planet, the rubble of the Vong fleet, and the equal destruction, no, the total annihilation, of the Vong's enemy—the Kuati-Corellian combined fleet that had opposed it, under Mystrela's command. A weight forced her silent stiffness that was deeper than one could bear.

It had been Mystrela whom she had taught everything she had known; the illegitimate daughter of a whore guiding the patrician di Kuat as she herself had learned and matured, in that equalizing and open land beyond the stars. The Milky Way had given them both their opportunity, Conquistadoras grown powerful off the spoils of a thousand nations. They had both taken their opportunities, and had attained their respective seats of power as two galaxies were torn apart by civil war and invasion.

Mystrela had grown up. The reserved weapons officer she had known more than two decades ago had found her own calling, had burst forth from the shadow of her mentor. It was in a way that Elise found deadened her heart, as if it could be further destroyed. Her family was gone to the mad fury of the Vong, and now she had lost the woman who might have been for most purposes her daughter, despite their rather slight difference in age: Elise had raised her in the ways that counted, and in turn Mystrela had put her back together—saner, and wiser--after the disastrous battle of the Dark Belt when Harlann and most of the old guard from the FSC-956 had been killed in action.

Mystrela had chosen a sacrifice which in its astounding commitment, audacious fortitude, and, ultimately, noble doom, had placed fourteen thousand battered ships, without fighter cover and low on fuel and plasma charges, directly into the face a replenished Grand Fleet. It was something that Elise could never outshine and she was glad of it, so very glad, for that one comfort in the knowledge that Mystrela's name would far outlive her own.

A holo-com from the Fleet Flag, the Hand of Thrawn under Admiral Pellaeon, came through and Elise involuntarily tightened her gloved fists even more. One finger worked itself free, at least, in an ingrained commitment to duty, and keyed the holo-com on. The face of Pellaeon that appeared had in it a look of understanding, however, as complete as her own: An understanding forged in years of hard and bloody battles and countless defeats. He began to speak, but Elise held up one of those gloved hands, just in time.

“Words are hideous to their memory,” she said softly, turning and looking out to the view-screens of the bridge.

A moment of silence, then: “The fleet is being deployed to keep them trapped against Talfaglio. I want your squadron to go in and flush them before they can organise themselves in some fashion approaching coherent.”

A faint trace of a smile could be seen for a moment upon the side profile of Elise's face before it vanished again as swiftly as it had appeared, seeming as if it were, indeed, an apparition of the mind. “With pleasure, Sir.” Mystrela's sacrifice had transcended the personal—Elise's revenge would be the epitome of it, carried out in the cool and methodical fashion that circumstance demanded.

As the image of Pellaeon flashed away, Elisa rose and stared out once more to the flagbridge's view-screens. The words were hideous, ripped off, and butchered by her weak tone, and she hated doing it, speaking such imperfection, even as she felt compelled to do it. But they could not, at least, be called cliched—not even in the height of the enervation of Terra's society could someone manage to call them that. They were said under her breath; not, certainly, in the way of someone being flippant or annoyed. Not a mutter. Rather, words barely echoed because the one who said them could not muster the energy to speak louder. For in that simple declaration was loaded millennia of meaning, a pithy utterance that somehow still captured a sacrifice of that awesome and horrible magnitude:

“Thermopylae had her messenger of defeat, but Talfaglio had none.”

The Executors advanced towards the Vong fleet. They broke through the sporadic jamming and commenced firing at maximum range with massed salvoes of missiles. As this concentrated fire blasted a path through the lighter ships milling about the edges of the still-reorganizing fleet, the force gunnery officers carefully selected and planned coordinated fire against their initial targets with their professional detachment and precision.

A green wave swept out from the ten massive battlecruisers, and then another, and then another. Every two seconds a salvo of thousands of the heaviest turbolasers in existence thrummed clear of those ten ships and swept at unfathomable velocity into the concentrated body of the surviving Vong capital ships. All ten vessels concentrated their entire batteries on a single vessel at one time. Not even the dovin basals of the Vong heavy ships could mitigate that in any meaningful way, and one after the other the surviving command ships were battered into pieces by torrents of teraton-level energy, annihilating what control and efforts at coordination remained in the enemy force.

With the coordinated jamming emanating from the Imperial Starfleet, the Vong did not succeed in targeting and engaging the First Battle Squadron until they were very close in. By that time most of the heavy batteries in the Vong fleet capable of threatening the battlecruisers in any measurable way had been destroyed or knocked out of action, and the light ships were to uncoordinated for a swarm attack. But stubbornly the Vong did not yet flee. They stood their ground and fought, and those great batteries ripped through light ships with sufficient intensity to vapourize some and tear asunder others.

Steadily, all around, the whole fleet was closing up in a noose to counter the refusal of the Vong to flee. The battlecruisers then pulled back—still firing constantly the whole while, straining the limits of their guns and accepting the percentage that overheated, sometimes with deadly consequences, to keep up the maximum rate of fire. The firing continued, and continued, a hailstorm of death that never once ceased and indeed seemed, however falsely, to simply grow more intense.

The Vong fleet was now in a killing ground. Surrounded, it had no hope of escape, and when finally isolated ships attempted to do so they were shredded under massed fire. A few that somehow got clear were picked off by the missileers hanging back from the main fleet. Compressed into a smaller and smaller area the surviving ships were sometimes indistinguishable from rubble. After thousands had been destroyed someone managed, incredibly, to start to organise the survivors yet again, but it was far to late for that; the effort failed in short order.

At last all of the remaining ships were badly damaged. Some still tried to break out and died like the others. Some more stood their ground as best they could and traded blows up until the bitter end. A few Imperial warships were lost, then; more were lost when a couple of the remaining vessels with engines fully intact accelerated on suicide courses, but not, altogether, that many by far. The majority of even those ships were simply annihilated by the sheer mass of firepower.

Then the end came. A whole fleet of more than twenty thousand ships had in five battles been worn down and then annihilated. It was a scale of combat perhaps only matched since the Clone Wars by the the Imperial Civil War, and perhaps not then, either. Triumphantly the Imperial Starfleet paid homage to the fallen of Talfaglio in the carcasses of their killers, and thus the tide was turned. Sule had fought to preserve his nation rather than his power, and he would be rewarded for it.
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In 1966 the Soviets find something on the dark side of the Moon. In 2104 they come back. -- Red Banner / White Star, a nBSG continuation story. Updated to Chapter 4.0 -- 14 January 2013.

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Re: De Imperatoribus Galacticis v.1 [Revised]

Post by The Duchess of Zeon » 2009-10-30 10:50am

De Imperatoribus Galacticis

"On the Galactic Emperors"

Chapter the Seventeenth.

Centrepoint Station,
The Corellia System

Jaina helped Miat Temm up. It seemed like she had been more drained by the exercise, her body pale and skin almost grayish, shaken. A small voice in the back of Jaina's head warned her that her better condition after that exercise did not bode well for her. It was ignored in the press of the moment. But something had happened then. Like born sisters they felt; a comfortably familiar closeness that could not be easily described, but if anything more intense and closer. A more spiritual relationship than not.

Jaina also knew where her brother was. The understanding of that was more than recompense for the intensity of their struggle. It was also a dangerous thing, an almost-insanity. But she had gone this far and such a challenge was not going to deter her. “Did you intend for us to have to board a Worldship the entire time?” The look challenging, but they were to close, now, for it to hold much substance.

“Of course,” Miat Temm answered. “There is no other choice... Besides; I do believe you know what ship it is to be that we must board. Which both increases the risk, and the reward. We shall have a chance to kill Shimmra.”

“This is a suicide mission....” Jaina whispered.

“Not for the rest of you. It is for me, however, dear. And now you know why,” Miat replied very mildly. “I do not want to live with this burden, which I have just increased.”

“Just increased?” Jaina's look reflected the shock, and horror, of Miat Temm's words, for to know someone that well and hear them admit to their intention to die was painful, indeed.

“Mystrela Estorav di Kuat is dead, you felt as much. There is no way we could avert it now, anyway—and I knew it when I helped her plot those attack patterns. I have added to an already impossible burden. But, at least, they died very well as they deserved to do.” A wane smile: “I have no regrets, Jaina. I am beyond them. I did not force Mystrela to do it; but I enabled it. They died of their own free will but at the same time they could not have done it without me. I..” She paused, reaching something that could not quite be said through words. But Jaina felt it, understood implicitly what Mystrela herself felt, now.

She was not fully herself. She was the article of vengeance, the weapon, of the dead of Coruscant. Her powers had been magnified beyond those of almost every Jedi or Sith in history by the willingly given energies of the dead: But the price of that awesome power came in the compulsion to carry out their Will. To restore a balance necessary to release them from the concentration of malevolence and horror, the intensity of black energy, that trapped them in the miasma of Coruscant, that living Hell that it had become. She had become the weapon of the dead trillions who had been slaughtered in cold blood, the unfathomable catastrophe of that planet. A weapon that would be driven forth until expended.

“You don't deserve that fate, you know,” Jaina spoke barely above a whisper. “Nobody deserves to be bound to the dead like that. You're damning yourself.”

“Somebody must!” Miat snapped. “I was shown their sufferings—how could I deny their cry? At least.. At least that gave me the energy to protect you from it, Jaina—from everything.” Her voice choked, then, and it could not be said that the union of minds was at all one-sided.

Jaina breathed heavily, looking to Miat, and when she spoke it was with a certain stiffness in her tone: “I am not going to abandon you to a certain fate. The Emperor foresaw things, too, and it did not make them real.”

“We make them real,” Miat Temm agreed. “And in this case that is precisely what shall happen, Jaina. There is no other way.”

“You can absolve yourself of your burden without paying that price. I will not let you—a way can, no, will be found. Do not give yourself up to death when victory alone could suffice.”

“I was brought into this world to fight. I am already dead and have been for a long time. This does not hold any fear for me.”

“Just because you're a clone doesn't mean you're not also a person!!” Jaina shouted, and then paused at the outburst, speaking flatly. “It's as simple as I've said. I will no let you die.”

“I will kill Shimmra. The rest is up to fate.”

“Then I will determine that fate,” Jaina replied with a determined stubbornness, and gestured to the door. “Come on. We are going together, and let us leave it at that.”

A faint and ghostly smile, almost a secretive grin, brushed Temm's lips. “True enough. Let us not waste any time, then. We have a long journey to make.”

“That we do,” Jaina said, the faint look a bit contagious, and promptly walking for the entrance to the command centre, Miat following silently behind her. Even with the threat of solemn sacrifice hanging over them, there was something intangibly enticing about it all...

“We have to go into the Unknown Regions, Dad. Jacen is there.” Jaina said as they reached the antechamber, seeming for the moment as if nothing at all had happened and all was alright. Miat remained silent behind her, and Jaina felt as though she were confronting the three.

That deep into Vong territory?” He replied sharply, as if there were something else that needed to be discussed and he didn't appreciate the current subject one bit.

“He got moved,” Jaina answered, realizing that...

“Well, I guess we'll just have to head there ourselves then. After you explain what just happened. That was not in the programme, kiddo.”

“We destroyed the Vong fleet,” Jaina answered, even as she did it, realizing how precisely, well, lame that answer was.

For all that the circumstances might be extreme, the look on Han's face was one that had been shared by bedeviled parents throughout much of history. “You know what I meant.” A suspicious glare was directed at Miat Temm that immediately brought a sort of—surprising—defensive anger to Jaina.

Miat, though, stepped forward, brushing gently passed Jaina in a way more oddly calmly than angering, and spoke flatly but yet calmly to Han: “I did it. Don't worry about your daughter.” Then she started walking for the lift.

Han stared for a moment and, ignoring Miat with words, gestured to her as she walked away and spoke to his daughter. “You still think we can trust her?”

“Yes, I do, Dad.” Jaina replied, feeling all the more sure about it despite what had, indeed, happened. Shawnkyr, for her part, had said nothing.

“Then where precisely is she leading us to?” Jag Fel spoke up. “Jaina, I'm going to trust you, but..”

“Shimmra's worldship,” Jaina replied simply.

“That's suicide,” Jag shot back. “She is leading you on.”

Jaina just smiled, and looked to her father instead. “Dad, I seem to recall a few stories you've told..”

“Me. I volunteered. I didn't have my kids do it,” Han shot back.

It was cruel, but it had been said: “Jacen is there. It's already happened.”
“I know that! It doesn't change the fact that risking both of you is crazy..” A faint shrug of his shoulders. “But you're right. I don't trust Miat Temm but I'm going anyway. And if she ain't trusthworthy then I need someone around who can deal with her if we're going to get Jacen back. Just.. Watch out for yourself, kiddo.”

“I will,” Jaina promised, even as her mind was more worried at the necessity of watching out for Miat Temm herself. “Jag, how good is the stealth on your ships?”

“Best we can build,” the Baron Fel's son answered firmly.

“Then I hope you will go. We could use you.” Jaina looked to her father: “We'll have to leave the Falcon here and take Temm's stealth ship.”

A look of protest crossed his face briefly and was then dismissed. “Fine, but I'm piloting.”

“Deal. Let's go, then.”

Talfaglio System,
The Conquerant.

Not all of the Vong were dead. Some of them lasted long enough in the remains of the fleet that the regular fighting and skipboat patrols were still picking them up on bio-scanners, and killing them. A fleet of that size made an impressive debris field and in its midst the survivors could last undiscovered for some time. But the Imperial Starfleet orbited Talfaglio in resplendant triumph and they were not going to allow any of their foes to escape to tell any stories of the engagement, even those of their victory.

In the centre of that debris field drifted ten Executor-class battlecruisers, the conquering fist of the Galactic Empire. Much of the destruction around them had been caused by the some fifty thousand heavy turbolaser batteries that combined totalled the strength of their artillery in numbers. Their aggregate strength alone approximated that of the Kuati fleet that had been lost here what was now two days prior, and the number of enlisted naval ratings aboard them exceeded the number of personnel on active duty in the pre-conquest Federation Starfleet.

The number of ships around Talfaglio had gone down some as covering forces were dispatched to Kuat, but there were still some seventeen thousand five hundred ships massed there, being readied for further offensive operations. There was no comparison in the history of naval combat to the scale of the fleets now massed, nor in the history of any organisations except the great powers of the home galaxy. The closest thing in history to it that Jean-Luc Picard could think of was the concentration of tanks on one side in an entire operational theatre during the Second World War. And each of these 'tanks' had a crew on average of around fifteen thousands, plus Marines and Starfighter Corps.

Furthermore, the entire force had been mustered without uncovering local defensive requirements in any area of two galaxies fraught with other strife and tension even between the members of this odd Imperial Confederation, let alone those who had chosen to seperate themselves from it. There were at least seven major independent or nonaligned areas in the galaxy—this not counting Hamner's insurrection in the next. Swift action was demanded as Sule consolidated the power base he still held against both apparent and potential enemies. But he had two assets that the other powers could not hope to match.

This dinner had been oddly macabre. Elise was unfailingly polite, but there was an air of death in her mannerism. Withdrawn in a way that was bleak but not quite depressed, it was as if all emotional attachments she had ever felt had been stripped away and had left behind them only a stoic devotion to cruel duty. It had started on Coruscant and ended here, where Mystrela died—or perhaps it had started long ago when they were still enemies. Picard was not sure. The conversation had, of course, politely steered away from all that.

Picard's position was, besides, rather precarious. Hamner's speech had been bordering on revolutionary in terms that the resistance the remnants of the Federation forces still maintained would simply love to hear. An odd change from the man who just months before had been their hated enemy, and a suspicious one. But for the moment they had worked themselves up into liking it better than the alternative, and so they were following along, which made an ex-Starfleet officer who had never taken a loyalty oath to the new regime a prime target for suspicion.

Elise, though, did not seem to mind, and Sule was enough of a friend that, considering all that had happened to her of late, he was simply turning a blind eye to whatever latest quirk, eccentricity, or downright insanity she engaged in as long as it didn't affect the performance of her duty, which so far none of them had. They had talked about everything that night except for the war, and except for what had happened. But they couldn't stay away from the topic forever.

Elise seemed rather polite about it—or, more precisely, providing a friendly warning. Once the topic had been broached she started rolling off a list of production figures from the shipyards under Sule's control that Jean-Luc strongly suspected he should not be hearing, but were being given to him as a courtesy to encourage him not to attempt to support Hamner Davion. Assuming, of course, such stunning statements were true. But that would not have mattered either way; Jean-Luc Picard remembered what Hamner had let the Romulans do to Vulcan, and unlike others his character, and his history, were not going to let him easily forget that.

The details were easy to summarise: Kuat and Rendili Drive Yard Corporations were in the Emperor's hands and they were fully operational. When he had first gained power, he had gone to them and asked for a miracle. With the shipping lanes in the Core now clear and supplies flowing in, they were answering that call. It was not one based on budgets nor on government control. He had simply ordered that they build ships, and they had obeyed. There was no demand for sophistication. The Republic had paid for improving the capability of individual ships nearly in blood, and had not gotten many of them. Sule had wanted quantity and gotten it.

The Kuat and Gyndine facilities of KDY were now producing Imperator-class Star Destroyers Mk.I at the rate of ten a week each. The Bilbringi Drive Yards were building five a week. Rendili Drive Yards' facilities were managing fifteen Victory-class Star Destroyers Mk.II a week. Thirty-five billion sentients were at work at any one time in yards around the space Sule controlled, producing the average of a division of destroyers a day.The Vong had used their biological technology to challenge the production ability of the galaxy, and Sule had stood up and ordered the industrial power centres of the galaxy to meet that challenge—and exceed it. They were doing just that, and this after decades of destructive civil war. It was a feat, and an underlying capability, that would have given pause to any lesser foe.

Despite the massive scale of the genocidal slaughter and destruction that the Vong had wreaked on the galaxy, production of war materiale had been continuously increasing during the entire period of the invasion. Even after the loss of the Fondor and now Corellian Drive Yards, the limits of production in the areas controlled by Sule had not yet been reached. Countless smaller yards were adding to the totals and medium-range yards were also gearing up. Sienar Fleet Systems was now producing six of the modular Strike-class frigates a day and production of Tie Defenders was expected to reach five hundred a day by the end of the month. Things only got better (or worse, depending on one's point of view) from there.

Elise made certain to emphasize what Mystrela had done. She had started a massive effort in the Kuat Drive Yards corporation to mobilise industrial production before her death. In addition to the all-out construction of Imperator-class Star Destroyers, three Allegiance-class light cruisers were being finished a week, two at Kuat and one at Gyndine. On top of that the keels of three Executor-class battlecruisers had been laid down and all were expected to complete in less than six months. With all the fighter production in the pipeline, ships were needed to carry those fighters into action. The solution were the KDY-designed escort carriers that had been employed in limited numbers in the Imperial Starfleet and were intended specifically for mass-production in wartime conditions. Mystrela had ordered twenty a week each at Kuat and Gyndine and those production figures were now being met.

With the loss of Corellia's production of excellent small ships, Sule had further authorized mass-production of Nebulon-B Mk.II frigates, a chopped version 250m long with a beefed up forward section intended for heavy combat. Production figures were to match those for Escort Carriers at Kuat by the end of the month and Gyndine two weeks later. In two months an estimated twenty ships of a length greater than one hundred meters would be joining the Imperial Starfleet daily. Mass production of multidirection laser warheads for missiles had commenced at armaments factories around the galaxy and large stocks were beginning to reach the fleet. The Yuuzhan Vong had, quite simply, run out of time.

The question was if even that scale of production could keep up with demands of attrition against the multiple opponents that Sule now faced and, more importantly, if the mobilisation of reservists and veterans plus the training of new recruits could keep pace with the rate of new construction. Even with the tremendous numbers of volunteers that were being received (and a spike was being reported as news of Second Talfaglio spread throughout the galaxy) into recruiting centres everywhere, conscription was still necessary and then there was the problem of training both recruits and conscripts in a matter of weeks to be proficient in combat. It was not surprising that on the question of those capabilities Elise was rather more reticient. Or, to be generous, the fact that they had nothing to do with the efforts of her late friend might explain the difference in focus.

“The facts behind why we are immediately diverting new call-ups and a sizeable detachment of this fleet itself to the defence of the remaining Drive Yards is of course obvious in terms of reasoning, I should think, Professor. As long as the yards can be effectively defended we can now afford to build up strength at a rate the Vong cannot—especially since some of the new production areas they were preparing to bring on line, in their own fashion I should say, are now being threatened by the Republican-Hapan offensive.”

“That is a question I must ask, Admiral,” Picard replied. “With Sule's utter—and, I might add, admirable—commitment to the pursuit of the Vong, why is more active coordination not being sought with the Republican-Hapan forces now that they have initiated their own offensive actions?”

“Politics,” Elise replied, in the process of treating an Italian red vintage in a way that made the vinier in Jean-Luc wince. But then, quite frankly, Elise was incredibly gaudy and inclined to overdo things in everything she had apparently ever attempted out of the line of duty. “Princess Organa-Solo made it a point to be very clear about how she does not approve of our efforts to restore order, and has made a point to gather every Republican diehard she can around herself. That does not, of course, make her foolish. She was willing to support the offensive because it was an obvious and necessary measure to maintain the credibility of the Republic when fighting such an obvious enemy.

“Ironically it's turned out even better for them than they could have hoped. With the complete annihilation of the Warmaster's forces by the Empire they're having a free ride over a couple thousand light patrol ships at worst.” Elise grimaced slightly. “For better or worst, they're going to liberate large swathes of territory, some of which actually still has people in it who might yet be able to appreciate their liberation. Talfaglio, fortunately, was a special case—because it was a vital supply depot the Vong couldn't be tardy about enslaving the population like they sometimes are elsewhere in less critical sectors.”

That ghastly aspect of Second Talfaglio—the incineration of an entire planet and its slave population, still bothered Picard in more ways than he'd like to admit, before this company at least. Especially in how the Imperials seemed to dismiss it out of hand. “Have efforts been made to find ways to successfully free Vong slaves who are at a very pronounced stage of infestation?”

“Yes.” Elise replied, not mincing words on the subject. There was a silence of her own, and unprompted, she continued: “Occasionally there have been successes by methods not practical on a large scale. We are trying to change this, and our scientists who had to encounter the totally different life forms and disease threats of the Milky Way in addition to those here are some of the better ones at it. But right now we're collaborating with just about everyone on that issue—and, indeed, have offered to continue such collaboration with Hamner's regime, though we haven't received a reply yet. Hopefully just due to the lag in communications and the decision cycle.

“We've never had the concept of a Red Cross here, or at least not in a very long time—no international borders to speak of, just insurrections, for that whole period—but we caught on soon enough in the Milky Way thanks to your more developed international system. Hamner is not a fool, whatsoever, and he understands the situation well enough, even if this revolt came at a ridiculously inopportune time. He'll agree.”

A gentle smile touched her lips. “I refuse to believe, besides, that Martina's father is completely without redeeming characteristics. Impossible, that, considering the daughter he raised.”

Picard chuckled politely, and did not disagree. Martina, he gathered, was the last very close friend of Elise's left—the two, viewed from his privileged position, even seemed to conspire like sisters around the Emperor at times—and her loyalty to Sule was born in a great deal out of his relationship with Martina, though certainly it would be impossible to deny that Elise herself was the Emperor's friend likewise, and as such wielded enormous power.

He was reflecting on how one could compare that odd triangle of powerful eccentrics to a sort of perfect inverse of the relationship between Queen Anne and the Marlboroughs when one of Elise's adjunctants entered carrying a message padd. The woman stiffened in her chair immediately, and Picard felt himself tensing a bit as well. Interrupting her while she was entertaining meant the message was of the greatest import.

“Admiral, Sir, a dispatch from the ship's Ubiqtorate liason,” he reported, handing the message over to Elise, who took it and read it in slowly. At one point she paused and muttered something intelligible to Picard and the adjunctant alike, and then continued to the end.

The padd was handed back to the young ensign. “Thank you,” she said, her voice returning to that state of grim and preternatural quiet. “You are dismissed.”

The ensign saluted and turned to go, boots tapping out that steady militant rhythm they were wont to upon steel as he left the presence of the Grand Admiral. For all the Conquerant's fine amenities, she was still very much a ship of war, and little things like that sufficed to remind one even when her guns had fallen silent.

In the silence that reigned after the adjunctant had left, Elise's expression seemed dangerous cold. Then, slowly, ever so slowly, she pushed back her chair and in turn pushed herself to her feet. Her hands seemed so delicate when they were not gloved, but a few scars might be faintly discerned, and in that it seemed almost like the constant wearing of the gloves was more an effort to protect them from further harm than a statement of fashion. Elise walked to the small table where she had left them and pulled them on, in a quiet fashion that seemed tired in and of itself.

As she did, she spoke: “You will forgive, I hope, Professor Picard. But I am called away. It is to my duty—after a matter of speaking.”

“I understand perfectly, but--after a manner of speaking, Admiral?”
She turned back to him, then, with very dull eyes, as he got up himself to leave—he would not think of staying in a lady's apartments when she had left, and so he followed her as she moved silently down the short corridor to the exit. There she keyed open her coat closet and pulled on one of her dress uniform coats, buttoning it with a relative ease through the thin leather gloves.

“The fates have granted me a very precious gift, Doctor Picard,” she continued as though there had not been a long delay in their conversation, while remaining with her back to him, pulling a small case of an upper shelf of the closet and bracing it against the wall. It opened easily by the pressing of two latches, and Elise grabbed something from it and let it drop to the floor with a sound of impact that shook Jean-Luc somewhat.

Elise took the battered old DH-44 and shoved a clip into it, pressing into the empty holster on her uniform belt. Then she turned back to Picard and offered him a ghost of a smile, almost but not quite reassuring. “I have been given the chance to do one last thing for Mystrela.”

The prisoners that were being taken were the Peace Brigadiers. They were, after all, much easier to crack than the Vong, the important ones could be recognized and separated from the rest more easily, as well, and most of all, they were traitors and traitors did not deserve a mere battlefield execution by the guns of a skipboat.

Some of them, however, were important but militarily useless. The largest portion of this batch of them that had been brought aboard the Conquerant were either worthless or of the sort that were important but militarily useless. Moral cowards of the highest order they had tried to appease the heart of darkness, and now they would pay for that treachery to the human conscience and human society.

There were about two hundred in this batch, picked up either drifting in vacsuits or escape pods, or small craft that had either lost manoeuvring power or weren't using it in hopes of not being detected. In all of these cases, certainly, their attempts to escape capture had failed. Perhaps in one or two cases, of course, some would succeed. But the majority of the Peace Brigadiers still alive at that moment from those who had accompanied the Vong fleet soon no longer would be, one way or the other.

Their treatment had been suitably humiliating. Beaten by the guards at random intervals and with random severity, they had at last been taken into an empty room—a secured cargo holding area off the main bay. It was small and meant for high value equipment, such as encryption gear, to be held in until it was emplaced or transshipped to another vessel in a fleet that an Executor-class battlecruiser might command. Thus, there was barely, just barely, enough room for them to be stacked in ten deep and twenty abrest. They had all been strip-searched first, and after that had not been provided with any new clothes. They had been forced to kneel in close proximity, nude, and shackled at the wrists and ankles in such a way that they could not move, unless they wished to make themselves fall painfully upon their sides. Most did not.

They had been given no food nor any water, and they had been here for several hours already. The place had just recently be hosed down to get rid of the blood, vomit, excrement and urine that had already begun to build up, and they were universally cold and wet. Their number did not discriminate either: From among the best classes of society to the lowest, and numerous alien races, had humanity been proven to exist in a form at best hopelessly depraved and at worst nonexistant. That these people lived and their true conquerors lay in a grave crowned by the stars, was the most succinct proof of the totality of their cowardness.

Viqi Shesh had once been a Senator of the New Republic, and now she had to have her own filth washed off her body like a farm animal. The horror and shame at this humiliation did not come with any regret. Her self-righteousness survived where every other aspect of her spirit had been degraded. A course that had led her to attempt the kidnapping a child—but to hand him over to the Vong—was not one that her arrogance allowed her to deviate from, even in what seemed like her final moments. The fact that the Imperials had recognized her despite her best efforts to hide herself just made that terrible fear a more complete complement to the shame of her degregation.

Every second was an eternity locked in her own private Hell, a self-perpetuating thing, a representation of her depraved character that would now follow her down into the grave. The moans, whimpers, and cries of her compatriots in madness did not affect her, neither to stiffen her resolve nor destroy it in that totality of the annihilation of their shared and insane cause. That store-room had become like the antechamber of Hades, and then, to confirm it, the harpy arrived.

The big cargo door opened with a gust of air at a temperature unpleasant to their shivering bodies, and into the chamber marched a squad of stormtroopers. Their blaster rifles, vibro-bayonets fixed, gleamed and hinted of deadliness despite their utilitarian simplicity. But they did not open fire, nor even swing those murderous blades into the midst of the prisoners. They were there to guard, not to carry out the terms of justice. Elise Kalar-Leben almost crept inside, her expression flat and green eyes dull with the look of death.

She walked along the ranks of prisoners, two of the stormtroopers following her, rifles held across their chests, the others maintaining their rigid positions, ready to slaughter the prisoners should any sort of paranoiac harm befall the Grand Admiral. But none, of course, did. At last she came to one woman, locked in her own inner miasma, head bowed in terror, a last futile effort to escape the outside world that now closed in with its divine retribution.

“Viqi Shesh.”

It was a statement, not an answer, and that certitude was what broke her. She slumped painfully against her restraints and began to babble out pleas for mercy. They passed by Elise and were literally not heard. She just nodded slightly to the stormtroopers with her and jerked her left hand slightly towards the doors. Shouldering their rifles on their slings, they reached down and hauled up the sobbing mess of inhumanity by her shoulders.

Elise walked out of the kneeling ranks of the condemned, Viqi Shesh hauled behind her to the front of the storeroom, to the place in front of the open door where she was tossed down like any sack of worthless goods. Elise nearly walked out, but paced back in, ever so slowly, behind her. Her boots tapped on the metal with ominous step, until there was silence from behind Viqi's bent head.

“I thought about subjecting you to The Burning. I thought about killing everyone in this room. One at a time. You would be the last, and I thought about your pathetic mind snapping under the strain as the sound of each blaster shot told you that one less of the worthless bodies of your followers stood between you and your own doom. But I am really to tired to be anything right now, let alone a sadist. So I shall just see to it that the ranks of Mystrela's nation no longer hold any traitors. That is all she wanted, and so that is all I shall do.”

Saying nothing more, Elise raised the old heavy blaster pistol to the neck of that sobbing, snivveling, pleading, crying creature. She held it there for a moment as she flicked off the safety, still utterly dead to the sounds, and then she fired a single shot. Viqi Shesh's head was burned clear of her body and fell down to the deck with a sound audible in the sudden and abrupt silence. Elise watched, upholding that silence, as the creature's mouth continued to move without any sound for a while. Then she flicked the safety back on, holstered the pistol, and walked out, her guards following, and only the methodical click of those boots against a metal floor to be heard by the condemned. Then the door shut and they were alone again, except for a headless corpse, their own fates yet to come.

High Council Chamber,
Klingon Homeworld of Qo'noS.

“We face a grave decision,” Martok—to whom the sad duty of leading the reduced and occupied Klingon Empire had been left. There would be no victory paeans in his history, but someone had to do the job. And even then, there still might be a very odd chance, yet. “The Empire is gripped in civil war. Do not deceive yourselves with the prospect that things will improve under Hamner Davion being Emperor. We know him enough from when he merely had pretensions over our land, and we are not Romulans, who think we can backstab such a man, nor Humans, thinking that there is still some good in him. But Sule promises no improvements in our condition.”

“We must support the Emperor Sule,” Lord Kahaq insisted. “He has been already shown willing to allow our youth to fight once more, as he personal bodyguard no less. Are we going to betray that faith? This is a question of if we value our honour more or less than the mere promise of freedom, a promise made by a shiftless man eager to regain his power, and more!”

This fight had been waging for some time in the High Council chamber. There did not appear to be any resolution coming soon; the Counciliors were rather evenly split—or so it seemed. For there was a very real sentiment behind what Lord Kahaq was saying that was making the rest of the Counciliors uncomfortable. Many of them had relatives serving in the Emperor's bodyguard, sons or nephews or nieces.

Overhead, no less, were the few ships that had maintained their loyalty, independently or in small groups, to Emperor Sule. They had various reasons for doing so, but they had done it and they expected support from the Klingon nation and the small patrol forces they had, which however small could augment what would surely be a desperate defence—a very glorious one, at that, if filled with incredible danger.

Martok had not stated a firm opinion yet, but now he spoke: “Counciliors, I would remind you that those ships in orbit are only our allies by desperation. We need them if we choose to fight—but we cannot trust them, likewise, to honour a request that they leave our space. They would not leave an enemy at their back if they could.”

“Then why should we trust them at all?” Sounded a voice from down the chamber.

“Because we must,” Martok answered. Kahaq looked about ready to break into an angry defence of the Imperials but Martok waved him off. “I think we have heard enough. The simple fact is that either Imperial force could end our homeworld. Hamner's might, but Sule's supporters overhead surely well if we do not in turn support them.

“Furthermore, a communication from Picard has gotten through,” the executor of the council being mentioned brought up an immediate surge in interest. “And he is going to maintain his support for Sule citing conditions in the distant galaxy, the homeworld of the Empire. These conditions do not concern me, but his opinion does. And besides, we must be logical; Hamner's men do not yet hold the gate, even on this side, and have little chance of long-term victory. To support them is to but delay our own doom. Better to fight here.”

One side-effect of the Empire's conquest of the KSE was that it strengthened the Chancellor's rather nominally-existing position of authority. With the outbreak of civil war that strengthening paid off. When Martok, at last, had spoken, he had all but guaranteed that an equally-divided Council would side with him. The consensus of earlier days was no longer needed, and with that the Klingons committed to their stand.

The Despot,
Talfaglio Orbit.

“The last remaining major concentration of Vong naval forces is currently building near the Imperial Remnant sectors,” Pellaeon calmly reported on the danger to his home for what had been so long, the planets he had defended from countless attacks, Republican and now Vong. “This force is sizeable, and is in the process of being reinforced with the major Vong strategic reserves. They appear to have come to the conclusion that they cannot stop the Hapan-Republican offensive and instead have decided to counterattack against us, and in doing so, shore up the flank of their defendable territory to maximise the duration they can hold out, and thus entrust their production potential to allow them to counterattack.”

“It is a sound strategy, at that,” Sule noted. “Not what you would expect the Vong to take, whatsoever—even though they are making an attack that is probably unsound instead of keeping that force in reserve.”

“Definitely unsound, I'd submit, Your Majesty,” Elise replied. “They are expecting us to stay back to cover our production centres. I don't think they've accepted just how completely the Hapan-Republican force is succeeding and the fact that they are now effectively forming a cover, a shield for the core that frees up most of this fleed for offensive operations, or defensive operations in the IR.”

“Well, as long as we control the Gate, we can contain Hamner at our leisure,” Sule answered. Elise was looking better, the past day or two. He was not sure why, but would would perhaps get the answer out of Martina tonight. It was a good thing to see, certainly. Elise had been entirely to morose for his comfort for some time now, understandably, but still rather disconcerting. Especially when he felt there was nothing he could do about it, and even may have aided in it. “At any rate, that all adds up to our ability, and need, to redeploy to the Imperial Remnant.”

“Some of the coreward contigents will not be pleased,” Martina interjected then.

“Let them be displeased. We can still make them come with us, now. The popular enthusiasm for counterattack has grown to be overwhelming,” Elise commented, a faint smirk touching her face. “After the annihilation of the Vong fleet here—and, particularly, the vast majority of the Peace Brigade contigents—even the demagoges are silent, though they out of fear rather than some newfound courage. The masses have finally been pointed in the right direction.”

At tremendous cost, Sule added mentally to Elise's resurgent expression, in which the memory and pain was now an undercurrent, if still definitely there.

“If that is the case, than I can state authoritatively that we have the strength to not just defend, but rather pursue an attack against those Vong forces massing against the Remnant, with excellent chances of victory,” Pellaeon concluded and looked to Sule.

“Then we attack.” Sule said simply, and with those three words put the Imperial Starfleet back on to the offensive.
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In 1966 the Soviets find something on the dark side of the Moon. In 2104 they come back. -- Red Banner / White Star, a nBSG continuation story. Updated to Chapter 4.0 -- 14 January 2013.

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Re: De Imperatoribus Galacticis v.1 [Revised]

Post by The Duchess of Zeon » 2009-10-30 10:51am

De Imperatoribus Galacticis

"On the Galactic Emperors"

Chapter the Eighteenth.

Klingon National Territory Border,
Alpha Quadrant, Galactic Empire.

“Can you identify the gravity wells which pulled us out of hyperspace?” Harlann asked quietly from his position on the flagbridge of the Allegiance-class Battle of Bajor. The suppression fleet had been dragged out of hyperspace in what had been a century before the Neutral Zone between the Klingon Empire and the United Federation of Planets. Now drawn through its middle was the ethnic boundary between human and klingon space; as a practical matter it served as the rebel border. Here he was stuck, his fleet drawn up, waiting for the ambush that was surely coming in this bad space.

“No Sir. The origin of the gravity wells is indistinct at best, and we don't have the sensor capacity for a deep-scan in this sort of stellar topography.”

“Understood.” Harlann turned to the Romulan representative on his flagship. “Centurion, please inform Legate t'Khalya that I desire for her to bring the scouting squadron forward—flush the prey, so to speak. If they encounter the enemy they should retire without concern. Our Imperial ships shall bring overwhelming firepower to bear against them.”

“Of course, Admiral. I'll contact her at once,” the man replied, turning away from Harlann. It was an awkward command system, but the realities of the alliance demanded it.

Harlann watched on the holoprojector as the Romulan ships began to push on forward. “All fighters, launch. I want a full-deck strike from every ship up ASAP! They are to hunt for the enemy gravity well generators and main body and attack it on contact with everything they have.”

“Aye Aye, Sir! Orders being transmitted to fighter command at once.”

The bridge was never silent, the murmur of voices, of orders being given, the electronical sounds of all the devices lent it an air of constant activity. Officers walked calmly back and forth, investigating the efforts of the various members of the flagbridge staff, issuing instructions, monitoring critical operations. They were under red battle lights, and they have everyone a rather inhuman tint to their skin. Composed, Harlann could yet not quite bring himself to sit. He stood, instead, hands clasped behind his back and watching the holoprojector carefully, expectantly. His gamble of denuding the ships of any fighter cover was a risky one, considering what he expected the Klingons to do, but if the strike found the enemy it would pay off big. Time, however, was going to be the master of all these affairs—and thirty minutes passed without a single thing happening.

Routine drowned anxiety. There was no indication of concern as Harlann's Chief of Staff received a communication from the forward units at the comms section and then walked back crisply to the fleet commander. “Admiral,” he said softly, “Legate t'Khalya is reporting that her ships are picking up emissions consistent with cloaked vessels ahead, but cannot localize them yet.”

“Very well.” A moment of silence as he considered the plot laid out on the holoprojector and then looked back to his Chief of Staff. “Valus,” he said softly, turning back to his chief of staff. “I expect that this is going to be unusually bloody. The Klingons know that they don't have a chance in a frontal confrontation. I want all the squadrons to have their CGT data fed directly into the targeting mechanisms. Gas cartridges should be provided in the ready-lockers of all guns sufficient for sustained rapid fire.”

Commander Valus turned away immediately headed for the comms section, giving the orders crisply before he turned back. “All ships stand by for cloaked attack and take special care to provide sufficient gas cartridges for sustained rapid-fire in the ready lockers.” Then he turned back to Harlann, walking once more to his side and looking out through the holoprojector's display to the Romulan scouting squadrons nosing on ahead of the main fleet. In a much quieter voice he asked: “Suicide tactics, Sir?”

Before Harlann could answer, the lead squadron of three Warbirds flared out of existence in one vast explosion, moderated kindly by the computers handling the display to prevent injury to the eyes of the men who watched it. The words he had on his tongue were silenced for a moment as he watched with betraying emotion. Then another squadron simply vanished. The Romulans reacted quickly, breaking up their squadrons and throwing the Warbirds into evasive manoeuvres, but more of them were caught in this process in a series of vast explosions, including the flagship of the squadron.

“A pity about t'Khalya, she was a solid commander,” Harlann stonily spoke, almost spate, and then looked back to Valus from the holoprojector, his tone softer.

“Suicide ships, Commander, packed with anti-matter and ramming under cloak. The Klingons know their only chance is to repeat the tactics of the Jem Hadar in the late war which savaged us so badly, and we may stop for a moment to admire the courage of men who do so out of conviction rather than a lack of free will.” A pause, and Harlann indulged in a grim reflection to a bloody battle. “But only for a moment. Valus,” he continued, his tone taking on that clearing presaging an order: “The fleet shall advance and cover the Romulans. I do not abandon my covering force for tactical convenience.” Elise of course had, and that was why this battle was being fought now.

Victory-class Star Destroyers and Dreadnoughts nosed forward, surrounded by a protective screen of Strike-class frigates and gunboats. In the centre of the formation were a few squadrons of Imperators and, of course, at the very center, the Battle of Bajor and four companion Star Cruisers. The formation blossomed open to receive the fleeing Romulan advanced squadrons, and the Star Cruisers surged forward into the very front, the Imperators shifting to cover the lighter ships. Here the screen was of the heavies, which could best take the impact of kamikazis upon their shields.

The blast shields on the bridge windows closed as the Battle of Bajor moved forward. They were under redlighting, the harshness of the combat lights mingling with the equally harsh, rough-hewn nature of the blue and green light from the holoprojectors and flagbridge console displays. Abruptly through the hull one could hear the deep thrum of the main batteries firing salvoes of flak. Every two seconds a salvo shook the ship, while Harlann watched and the cloaked Klingon vessels closed in, resolving themselves on the CGTs as they raced to drive home their kamikaze strikes. Dozens vanished. Then one of the ghostly representations seemed to merge with one of the Imperators. For a moment that portion of the holoprojector turned into a pixelated morass of uncertainty.

The sight of relief on the flag bridge was almost palable as the ISD reappeared, getting clear of the hail of jamming created by the intense radiation release of the massive explosion. “Her shields are all but down,” Harlann noted from the information that scrolled across one of the consoles below the holoprojector. “Get her back into the main formation before she can be hit again.”

“Signalling fall-back orders to the Eleuthria now, Sir.”

“Very good.” The deck thrummed beneath him once more.

Outside the battle was a mass of chaos. Klingon ships bravely pressed forward. There were 150 in the first wave; about half had already been destroyed. The rest were getting dangerously close, however, including the big old—no, ancient--D-6s and D-7s which were much more vulnerable, but also packed with more antimatter than the whole mass of a fully loaded Bird of Prey. On the decks of the Imperial fleet the gunners calmly maintained their vigorous cannonade, the barbettes turned into a veritable sea of rolling gas canisters that were manhandled away as fast as possible. The dangers of conduits and large reservoirs of plasma which might be turned into vast bombs if energized by an enemy hit was not lost on the designers of Imperial Starships:

So the gas was stored in countless tiny canisters, each enough for one shot, that were fed into the guns to provide them with the necessary matter to be energized as they were fired. This emphasis on damage control contrasted greatly with Federation practice, which had actually allowed such conduits to be used for common power transfer. Combined with the separate power supply provided for each cannon, this further allowed the guns to maintain firing no matter how heavily damaged the ship was, until their ready-lockers of canisters had been expended. With the guns under central fire control the crews manning them, and the targeting stations afixed to the barbettes, had very little to do. But they were there as a guarantee that as long as the ship lived, she could be fought.

It was these guns that maintained the defence against the incoming kamikazes, the massive batteries of cannon on the ISD Mk.IIs—sixty-four heavy turbolasers, preferred for dealing with smaller, weaker opponents than the great very heavy TLs of the Mk.I (and thus excellent for employment in the Milky Way)--throwing up a hail of flak which carpeted the sky in energized plasma. Every time such a burst caught a Klingon suicide ship it exploded in such a fireball as had been scarcely seen in this quadrant, save perhaps a supernova. And yet the Klingons forced their way through it and struck home, possessing nothing but the desire to die for their freedom. Chanting grimly, perhaps, they guided their ships in against opponents who maintained a different sort of bravery, stoic professionalism that carried on regardless of the danger.

So far the Klingons had not done well. They had destroyed close to eighteen of the Romulan Warbirds and perhaps four of the small Imperial scouting ships on the outer edge of the formation, and brought the shields of the Eleuthria down. In exchange for that almost every single kamikaze in the first wave had been destroyed. Then it happened. One of the last groups of old D-7 Klondikes came in nearly intact, angling for one of the Imperators. They were detected and an awesome fire poured down upon them, but two made it through intact. The squadron was spaced widely enough that the explosion of one could not set off the other, and the detonation of the central ship sent out such an intensity of radiation as to blind the sensors of the Imperator for a crucial moment. By the time that moment passed, the ISD was gone. The Klondikes struck as hammer-blows, one plowing into the bow of the ISD and the second detonating just a few tens of meters aft as she was ripped apart by the ion trail of the ISD's main drives.

As the ISD's drives were detonated in the fireball one of the engineering lieutenants forward in the heavily armoured reactor spaces had the presence of mine to SCRAM the reactor in a split second. She saved the survivors of the crew: the bow had simply ceased to exist, everything forward of the main hangar bay a black and twisted ruin, or simply gone. The whole aft ventral surface had been blown out, killing everyone in the rear of the hull and leaving only those in the superstructure and conning tower alive, along with those in the area of the ship around the main bay and the reactor spaces themselves. There was no time to find the wounded survivors in the twisted compartments, to treat the severe radiation burns from those unprotected by heavy bulkheads. Some of the crew did it anyway, risking their lives to drag out a few more survivors or die in the process, as everyone calmly made their way to the escape pods under the dreadf