De Imperatoribus Galacticis
"On the Galactic Emperors"
Chapter the Twenty-First.
(As continued from Chapter the Twentieth.)
Approximately twenty-nine thousand Imperial starships of 150 meters length or greater appeared in vast waves within the Dantooine system. Ordered rank after ordered rank they came on, the greatest of their number being Star Destroyers, at the least of the Victory-class, and many more of the Imperator-class. With the newest arrivals from the Kuat Drive Yards rushed directly into the fleet, it now numbered among heavy ships at twelve Executors, four Superiour-class, twenty Shockwave-class, and three hundred and fourty-six Allegiance-class Star Cruisers, supported by fifty Communications Cruisers of the 6km type, and backed by the thousands of ISDs and thousands more VSDs that made of the bulk of the fleet, and then after them, countless lighter craft of every type, manned by every nation of the galaxy.
They were facing more than fourty-two thousand Vong ships. The numbers were larger than predicted, and they brought up the Imperial commanders short for a moment, especially since they had received intelligence from Imperial-aligned forces scouting through Vong territory on the outer rim that there were still more Vong forces in transit to the battlefield. This put real pressure on the Imperial Starfleet to win the battle as quickly as possibly, a pressure that both Elise and Pellaeon darkly felt. It just provided the motivation, however, as the Vong fleet quickly began to deploy against them, indeed, with an admirable professionalism that showed that they had been expected, to say the least.
Looks were deceiving, despite this apparent great numerical superiourity on the part of the Vong. For though their fleet was great in numbers it was, however, made up in the great majority by ships of the lightest types which could still be called capital vessels, in the 200 meter range. The great striking core of the Vong fleet had been annihilated at Talfaglio, and it was not going to be restored, not in time for this battle. Worse, yet, all of the Vong commanders who had experience fighting the Imperial Starfleet were dead, and this battle would also be the first in which laser heads for the Empire's missiles and torpedoes would be available, intended to guarantee that despite the dovin basals at least some of the firepower of a missile warhead would always get through. Many War Coordinators had also been destroyed, and this gave the light Vong ships a further disadvantage against the FTL torpedoes of the Strike-class frigates.
The Vong did what Vong do best. They attacked immediately, using their greater numbers to sweep huge numbers of ships to each side of the Imperial formation which was still coming together, a vast double-envelopment in space. Their remaining heavy ships anchored the centre, and the coral skippers which were disgorged—more than two million five hundred thousand—furthered the reach of the great grasping claws of each Vong flank. With dovin basals at full power even the lightest ship could keep the enemy from escaping, and so the Vong planned to create a vast globe around the Imperial Grand Fleet, keeping it from escaping to hyperspace and then pummeling it to death with ranged fire and continuous fighter strikes.
It was an excellent, even admirable strategy. As the Vong moved forward they even sowed a gargantuan minefield around the Imperial Starfleet to reinforce their firepower. They came on fast, at maximum acceleration, sweeping through space at distances of light minutes apart, but in perfect coordination. The Imperial Grand Fleet, scrunched together in tight order in the centre, was almost irrevocably surrounded and it was still moving at a glacial pace, having yet to engage the enemy, still forming ranks, still preparing for the combat while the Vong were already about to achieve their conditions of victory. Supreme Overlord Shimmra had ordered them to attack vigorously, and they were doing just that, pressing home a vast envelopment strategy without being challenged, taking the Imperials off balance with their fearless intensity.
Marvelous. There was no other word to describe it. These Vong commanders were not skilled in fighting the Galactic Empire, but they were the best warriors the Vong had to offer. Their coordination was lovely, their drill and deployment excellent, their tactics flawless. One could almost hear the war-drums beat as the Vong ships closed in on their goal. The Imperials continued, however, to calmly order their ranks. They did nothing to stop the Vong evolutions. Their blood up by such a flawless performance in the battle so far, no great consideration was given by the Vong to the possibilities of what this stood for.
Elise watched the development of the Vong tactics and smiled. It was a cold thing, devoid of the emotion that had been lost to her by the constant trials, the death of loved ones and the death of innocence by betrayal. But she was indeed pleased, in a most genuine sense, with what she saw. It reminded her of a hobby of her's, and a single word left her lips as she watched the details of the Vong fleet distribution spread out upon her holoproject. “Arbela.”
Without one more thought she proceeded to bring up her nominal superiour, Grand Admiral Pellaeon, via holographic projection. “Sir, displace the light ships to either flank and order them to guard those flanks down to the last ship. Let the Strike-class frigates split to either flank as well and use their torpedoes to weaken the enemy flanks and disorder them for the lights in their defensive efforts.”
Pellaeon nodded curtly. “That makes sense, though they will be very badly pressed; we cannot afford a long fight if they must hold against that sort of huge numerical disparity on their own. What do you propose for our main force in concurrence with that?”
“Hit them right in the centre. Straight ahead, full acceleration, ram our battle-line right down their throat. I know you were Grand Admiral Thrawn's Flag Captain for a long time, Sir, but neither of us is the esteemed old Grand Admiral. Let's do what we do best. Hit them on the head with a hammer and then crush them. If we succeed in clearly away their remaining heavies than we can split our own heavies in two and encirclement each flank of the Vong formation. Instead of one Vong encirclement, we'll create two Imperial encirclements—with the firepower to totally annihilate those light ships.”
“It's a simple plan, Elise, but it's also very bold. If we get caught up on their heavies..”
“But you know we won't, Sir, they simply don't have enough firepower for a sustained encounter with our concentrated Main Battle Line. But we've got to do it now, before they've closed the sphere down to the point where their flanks can be mutually supporting with their centre. They're to spread out yet for that, but the moment they complete the encirclement they're start to tighten it. We've got to go forward now, and with everything we have right at their centre.”
Pellaeon thought for a moment. A short moment. She's right. Not even the two of us put together are as subtle and brilliant as Grand Admiral Thrawn. We'll just have to crush their centre, and if that works out alright, we can finish off the rest of the fleet; it will give me more than enough time to decide whether or not to risk a division of the main body to encircle the enemy flanks, after all. That was that, then, and it was time to begin—Elise was right, time was of the essence.
“Alright. We'll do it. Preparing your Task Forces of light ships at once, Elise, and we'll make a coordinated effort of the centre as soon as they've been deployed. I'll be dispatching all the fighters and the heavy strike craft to the flanks as well to reinforce them; as long as the flanks hold we don't need them here, so order your Starfighter commanders to report to overall central Starfighter control for further instructions.”
“At once, Sir.” Elise turned away and began to issue orders, bringing the vast squadrons of the Imperial Starfleet into line, drawing the Star Destroyers tighter together whilst the light craft were flung out in vast hordes toward to the left flank and the fighters and assault transports and even armed shuttles were sent to follow them. At the same time that she was doing this Pellaeon was doing the exact same thing for the right flank. His orders to the Admiral in Command of the Light Squadrons was simple, and grim: “Hold, Admiral. You're detached now from direct orders to the main body; just deploy on the flank—and Hold. We will be coming back to your relief in good time.”
“Understood, Sir.” The Old Imperials who had come from the Milky Way did not hesitate at that kind of order. They were not the desperate survivors of many years of retreat; they were confident, and they did not fear that such an outnumbered engagement would lead only to their own deaths, where it might have in the years after Endor. The main strength of the fleet would return and crush the enemy. It always had, and it always would. Their tradition was Victory. But they were not idiots, either; not the men who had gone out from a fleet with Lord Vader to ride herd upon them: With great care were the light forces positioned for what would be a very desperate fight, a fight to the claw it might be said, which would try them most greatly. The odds against the Imperial light forces would be very long; at least six-to-one. But they would have to hold at those odds for some time while the centre made its crushing move, there was simply no way around that. And the Old Imperials would do it confidently, and in so doing, infused their confidence into the rest of the motley Light.
The Vong were, on the other hand, rather relieved that their enemy was finally responding to them, and with such a conventional tactic as deploying the screening forces to meet the light forces ot the enemy. It would do nothing to keep the Imperial Starfleet from being encircled, nothing at all, and so the Vong ships were orderd to hold their distance, coming just in at extreme range where they would have the advantage. At the same time, the lack of movement from the main body was troubling, but the Vong commanders now assumed that it was being held back for a great thrust against one of the flanks to break out, and planned to bring up their own main body forces to drive home a flanking attack against the Imperial battleships in turn when that move was made.
Elise's image flickered back to life on the bridge of the Hand of Thrawn. “The left flank is ready, Sir. I await your orders.”
Pellaeon double-checked his own holoprojector and nodded once. “The centre advances. Full power—all shields forward, maximum energy to weapons. Hit them hard, and keep on hitting them, Elise.”
“That we shall most assuredly do. Over and out, Admiral.”
The transmission cut off again and Pellaeon looked forward at the mass of the enemy centre, pathetic compared to their own. “All squadrons—full acceleration. Attack!”
What followed was the most marvelous of military engagements possible. The whole of the Imperial centre seemed to rush forward, accelerating at more than four hundred gravities. The distance was closed with great rapidity, indeed. Steadily the strength of the Empire bore down upon its enemies, the light forces on either side shifting to provide maximum flank coverage, even as the frontal attack posture of the Imperial main body meant that it would devote the very extreme maximum of its firepower directly upon the enemy centre, made up of ships not so well designed, not able to retaliate with such a great intensity of fire.
Battle was joined on the flanks first. The Strike-class frigates let loose with their salvoes of FTL torpedoes at great range. Without War Coordinators, without the great number of dovin basals and anti-missile batteries of the heavy ships, the lights were particularly vulnerable to this sort of attack, and the frigates, which could scarcely be retaliated against, did a horrific execute despite their weakened numbers from the aftermath of the end of Third Coruscant. The Vong light closed in splendid formation, but as they entered the range of more conventional missiles, they no longer had it. The Strike-class ships had broken them right up, into more disparate and disorganized elements that were slowing, now at the extreme of their own range but quite vulnerable to both those torpedoes and even the rest of the Imperial weapons, which were in truth just as good for ranged fire as those of the Vong.
It was just as great a battle as those that had come before it, or perhaps greater, but it had an entirely different character. It was a rapidly moving battle. Fleets shifted and clashed and shifted and clashed again. The maneouvring on the flanks was very great, a confusing morass of small engagements, for the light forces of the Empire would charge the Vong ships, and the Vong, per their orders, would fall back, bombarding the Imperial light with everything they had at long range while the Imperial ships aggressively tried to close the distance, sometimes succeeding and sometimes failing. Already the laser warheads were doing good execution among the Vong light, but their true effectiveness would not be firmly told until the main battle was joined.
Indeed, already were the light forces beginning to be savaged by the greater Vong numbers racing in and around them, able to fire at them from multiple directions and to control the scale of the engagement. Due to their sheer numbers the Vong were soon tempted to close the range despite their orders, and though they paid for it in blood they were still able to quickly gain an advantage over the Imperial light forces which could not be easily counterbalanced. The situation for the lights would be very severe for the whole battle and it could only be a matter of time until the Vong forces totally overwhelmed them, but the longer that this time lasted the better, for that was the time in which the main body would either win the battle or see the whole thing crashing down. The Vong had engineered an all or nothing situation; total victory or total defeat, and both sides were now playing that game to the hilt.
With the main bulk of the Imperial Starfleet rushing forward at maximum acceleration, all heavy guns dialed in forward, barreling down upon the corresponding Vong force, there was not much time to be had until their true effectiveness was discovered. The range was counted down inexorably; the Vong stood their ground, and at the maximum range, the great volleys of missiles and torpedoes were salvoed from the heavy ships, pounded out every half-second, filling the sky by the hundreds and hundreds of thousands in each and every volley, racing in again the Vong fleet as the Imperial heavies rode their trail down toward their foe. In a minute at most energy range would be gained.
“Fleet signals,” Pellaeon began. “Stand by for emergency flank deacceleration, I repeat, all fleet commands prepare for emergency flank deacceleration in fifty seconds.” The order was rapidly relayed as he watched the range steadily decrease. The Vong were firing back, of course, the massed defensive batteries of the fleet—and the main batteries firing flak bursts, since they were not in range of the enemy yet—taking out hosts of the incoming missiles. Some got through, and some damage was done, but none of the ships were slowed, their inexorable progress maintained. Conversely, the enemy was having great difficult with the missiles which shot out countless beams of energized light. The dovin basals could scarcely bend them in time, and when they did, they usually just succeeded in guaranteeing that more of the beams hit a particular Vong vessel or another—sometimes the beams from one warhead hit several, after all—causing further damage, not preventing it.
Only now did the Vong begin to realize that they were in trouble, and by now it was far to late. Their comprehension was limited by the fact that their forces on either flank were having very good success in pounding the Imperial flanks in turn to pieces. Two segments of the Imperial fleet were well on the way to being annihilated, as so many fleets before them had been annihilated by the unstoppable progress of the Vong's warriors throughout the galaxy. These were well-drilled guardships and patrol craft, but they were scarcely prepared for the fist which was coming down upon them. Here, in the centre, the last reserves of heavy ships. And striking toward them was the spearhead of the Imperial fleet, an inexorable race against time which must lead to collision. And so it did.
Elise on the Conquérant had already ordered weapons free; Pellaeon did the same moments later. All the fleet gunnery officers had their targets dialed in and were simply waiting for the range to be achieved. The range was achieved, and from tens of thousands of very heavy turbolaser batteries the main body of the Imperial Starfleet engaged their enemy with the maximum vigor. The recoil of the vast numbers of heavy guns on the Conquérant shuddered through her hull with a great thrum, and great green sheets of energy could be seen racing out toward the Vong fleet as plasma welled back at them in far lesser numbers. Every half-second the batteries fired, far faster for the small guns, the biggest of them boasting salvoes in the tens of gigatons, the whole energy release on an absolutely stupendous scale. With their flanks for the moment protected the Imperial ships had fully concentrated their shields all-forward for the upcoming clash.
They were vulnerable to fighter attack, but on the flanks the Vong fighters were hung up by the hundreds of thousands of their Imperial counterparts, and the blastboats and assault transports and other such armed craft which had been flung into those flanks most desperately. Their missile capacity, at least, was used to very good effect, for all of them were now equiped with laser warheads and at close range the salvoes from the blastboats and assault transports and other such armed craft, though scarcely comparable to the effect they'd have on less manoeuvreable heavies, were still doing very great damage to the clustered Vong light, and even sometimes their attack craft which got caught up in the mix of the melée. It was not enough. The Imperial lights were being encircled, crushed. But none of that would decide the battle.
“Fleet signals: 'Commence emergency deacceleration!'” Grand Admiral Pellaeon ordered crisply, a bark of surety upon his flagbridge on the Hand of Thrawn.
“Transmitting: 'Commence emergency deacceleration',” the comms officer reported dutifully, signalling it as a general fleet signals. Laser comms were used to deal with the enemy jamming, which was intense even if their fire was not.
Abruptly the Imperial Starfleet's main body began to slow noticeably. They were pushing hard, the maximum output from their engines vented by the energy control vanes to slow rapidly without reversing direction. With their main guns concentrated foreward, an intense fire began to tell against the Vong ships, and it was a very deadly one indeed. The hammering of the guns, through the hulls, the tremendous light and radiation show of the engagement, the shuddering of impacts upon the shields. But very little damage was done to the Imperial main body yet.
The same was not true of the Vong. Due to the design of their ships, not optimized for a head-on engagement, due to the weakness of their heavy units in firepower against the great concentrations of it on the main Imperial ships, and thanks to the increased effectiveness of the Imperial missile weapons, a wave of cumulative advantages favoured Sule's Navy. These came together, and magnified each other, such that the firepower of the Imperial Starfleet being directed against Vong fleet was on such a scale that the Vong were outgunned at least four-to-one, and closer to five-to-one. It was like every Vong ship had a Battle Division of counterparts matched against it. The qualitative advantage of the Great Ships of the Imperial main body, and Sule's decision to build them in such numbers, showed through splendidly.
Solid Pellaeon! There was really nothing more to it. The Imperial Main Body was deaccelerating quite rapidly now, the seconds seeming long but in truth short, as the speed of the two foes was matched, as the Imperials showed their intent to bear very close in. There would be nothing elegant about this battle, to be sure, but the damage to the Vong ships was already showing. Dovin basals overwhelmed, laser energy stabbing past them to cut deep into the armour, heavy turbolaser bolts pounding down into the hulls in places as the defences of some Vong ships were overwhelmed and then they were hammered into dust and radiation, great bursts already flaring up from the Vong ships which were lost.
Solid Pellaeon! Forever loyal to his fading cause, since the great Imperial defeat at Endor which saw the death of the First Emperor. He was redoubtable, and this was all that mattered. Elise's advice was the last given; he did not need anymore, nor was anymore possible. It was now for the Admirals to deal with the particular issues of their own forces in close combat; to send ships back which had suffered damage and then cycle them back forward as they recovered their shields. But even this was not necessary, yet, with the shields doubled forward. The Imperial forces in the centre had suffered scarcely a scratch even as their flanks were being chewed to pieces by the Vong, but this condition was not due to inaction but rather the great preponderence in fighting power over their particular foe that they now possessed.
What had been going through Pellaeon's mind, what he had conceived of as they closed with the enemy and as the energy weapons began to fire with such great intensity, was a simple issue of physics, that a dovin basal takes time to work; it relies on gravity, and gravity is limited to the speed of light, and must counteract the existing energy in an object which is already driving it forward toward another destination. The dovin basals, quite simply, had to work by drawing the enemy's fire into them through a terminal orbit around the gravity field, to create a cocoon of gravity which encapsuled the Vong ship, at just the right distance to protect its own hull from danger. But at a certain point the dovin basal has a grave limitation inherent in its design; this the Imperials had been drawing closer to fully understanding, and here they did.
Pellaeon, after all, was the man who had fought the Rebel fleet at Endor at point-blank range. He recalled how at that distance the Rebels had gained an advantage, and now he intended to do the same, here. At exceptionally close ranges, our weapons firing with the greatest speed may not be pulled into the dovin basals before they impact with the enemy hulls, and we can target very precisely, at specific points of their ships where the gravity defences will be at their weakest. It was the work of a blacksmith. Hammering, hammering out a bloody forge. Put the ships alongside each other and let the individual guns, not the battery directors, go to work with their fine sensors, to aim at specific points upon the enemy ships, to avoid their defences with waves of precision fire that would strike home and gore the hearts out of the Vong ships.
Thus it was that the necessary orders would be given.
Pellaeon looked over the plot, at the two sides so close, at the doubled-up shields still holding redoubtably, at the pounding that the Vong were already taking. They were launching additional fighters now, ones which hadn't been available at the start of the battle—those on patrol, which needed to be brought in and refueled and rearmed, or which needed minor repairs—these would be able to attack their unprotected flanks soon enough. The advantage of doubling the shields up was gone, so they might as well close to a range at which the fire would come from everywhere at once, anyway. More and more of the Vong ships ahead were exploding, torn to shreds by the awesome strength of the Imperial force; several ships would concentrate on one Vong vessel, rip it to pieces with their intense fire, and then move on to another, rolling them up.
The Vong, of course, were closing, trying to bring their side batteries to bear as well as the coral skippers and assault craft bore in on the Imperial heavies. The only course was forward, and redoubtable Pellaeon was more than audaciousness enough to take it, in that stern and steady way which had mastered the Imperial fleet through countless retreats and heartbreaks and losses and never, ever, let it break and shatter and crumple entirely; Warlords defected and pretenders came and went, but there was always his solid core, and now he would call on the steel of that steadiness one more time.
Pellaeon took one last look at the holoprojector and the tactical plot upon it, filled with thousands and thousands of indicators clustered into larger formation groups, trying to get a feel for a battle almost to large to be managed by mortal man, save in the most careful of ways. The lights on the flanks were in an intense, desperate fight, as desperate as Mystrela's sacrificial battle at Talfaglio. They were unable to worry about the centre, just trying to hold, to fight for their lives, buying time inadvertantly, for it was war to the tooth and the fist at that point, as much as it could ever be in space. Thousands died a second, and the hellish meat-grinder of heat and radiation and sheets of missiles blotting out the stars continued unabated, wreaking a terrible slaughter upon every side, but steadily telling more upon the weaker Imperials, compressing their forces and crushing them.
The time was right; it could only get worse from here. Pellaeon turned away, and spoke firmly: “Fleet Signals: 'Shields to general coverage. Engage the enemy most closely.'”
The comms officer on the flagbridge looked back to Pellaeon. “Engage the enemy most closely?” He repeated.
“You heard me, Commander, now send it, man!”
“At once, Sir!” He turned away flustered, and also a bit surprised, and immediately the message was flung out to every one of the heavy ships in the centre.
Commander Hallsburg received the orders grimly. They appeared at first to be quite deadly sounding to him, surely not in a line appropriate to how well the Imperial Starfleet had turned out so far. But he was penitent with his past transgressions to the Dignity of Imperial Folly—and so he dutifully relayed them, and in haste. “Admiral, Grand Admiral Pellaeon has signalled. It's a very simple general fleet signal.”
“Read it off to me, Commander,” Elise replied immediately, legs crossed, fists gloved, as she stared at the developing tactical plot on the flagbridge of the Conquérant all the more closely for that she was waiting to hear Pellaeon's order.
“'Shields to general coverage. Engage the enemy most closely,'” Hallsburg read off calmly.
“Now isn't that a nice play on words,” Elise chuckled to herself, unperturbed by it, though her eyes narrowed in her gaze toward the plot. “Very well, then. Commander Hallsburg, standby to dispatch general orders to all Task Forces under my command.”
“Standing by, Admiral.”
“General Orders, all fleet-force units: 'All ships to bring their shields to general coverage. All ships should strive to engage their enemy counterparts most closely, and all Admirals should take measures to insure that this is done; only the threat of collision should be the judgement on nearness to the enemy. I want all Star Destroyers, if possible, to close within one kilometer, I repeat, one kilometer of the enemy.'”
“Understand, Admiral.” Hallsburg translated and transferred the orders into the fleet signal system and sent them off personally, wondering at them but at the same time a man contend that he still lived, and that he had indeed influenced the course of battle before. Here, he trusted; for what was madness in one place might be genius in another, and the instincts of every crewer of the great ships, if worried, also realized the steely, blooded logic of the movement. It was in their sinews, and with the shifting of energy to cover the whole of their hulls, the fleet responded, moving forward at a glacial pace across the last few thousand kilometers to come right in against the Vong, obliging them to close combat, broadside to broadside in a general melée, as the combat was already upon the flanks, but under so very different circumstances.
Coral skippers and assault craft raced in to attack the Imperial heavies, so far still nearly undamaged. With the shields now essentially weakened all over, they stood a better chance of doing some real execution upon the Imperial Starfleet's main body. But they were met with a most intense of fires, the great artillery of the warships pounding out to surround them in flak, to impale them on light bolts and sweep away the small craft in the flash of whole ships being vapourized by the vast energy output of the main guns which could bear upon, and were dutifully directed against, them. The fire of the Vong heavies began to tell, now, but they were still very badly outgunned, even with their broadside batteries able to engage.
For a few minutes the battle seemed much more odds-even, and the Vong fought on with renewed confidence, pounding away at the Imperial fleet, suffering the greatest of blows and dealing them back in turn. The hulls of the great ships, birthed at Kuat by doomed Mystrela's indefatigable efforts, were burned and scarred and pitted as heavy plasma bolts struck through weakened shields, but even as they suffered this damage, the ships of the Vong fleet were still being blasted apart at every turn. They fought on, not giving an inch, inflicting the maximum damage, all of their energies and effort put into reversing the tide of battle on this sector of the front, to make it the rout of the other sectors. And for those four minutes, it might have seemed like they were succeeding.
Ominously, though, through it all the Imperial ships did not accept merely close combat. No, they closed in closer and closer still. They kept coming beyond all sanity, beyond what seemed to be all logic, adhering to the logic of a bloodier and grimmer time. And thus they were rewarded for their dogged persistance, for their resolute character. Crews calmly worked to repair the damage; gunners calmly laid their guns upon their targets and brought down the heaviest fire they could manage; the officers remained calm and collected, directly all the efforts with unflappable persistance. Closer, and closer, did the ships draw, until one after the other the squadron commanders gave the necessary orders, they seperated, weaved their way into the Vong fleet, and each Captain in turn made his own decision, and put his ship alongside that of the enemy.
Quite often two Imperial ships were put up against only one of the enemy, for the Vong heavies had been outnumbered coming in to the fight, and they were further outnumbered now that some of their number had been already lost. Worse yet were that the greatest ships of the Imperial fleet were scarcely matched by the Vong. Even the heaviest of their own cruisers did not compare to the firepower of an Executor, and might scarcely match a Superiour in strength. And now, from the intensity of the fire of those ships and all the others came a new and still more ominous development. Independent fire was ordered. Firing instructions were distributed to the individual gun crews. They aimed for the weakest points in the gravity fields and began to fire.
Now it was no longer necessary to overwhelm the dovin basals. It happened crazily. Many bolts still got sucked into them; some went straight ahead and impacted with the unprotected hull. Many more were carried by the dovin basals at crazy and bizarre angles, the gravity wells fighting their moment, so that they struck and splattered across the hulls of the Vong ships at wild angles, scoring them badly with heat damage but their kinetic energy at least partially negated. Others were turn apart by the gravitic forces as they fought, splashing energized particles across the hulls or seeing them sucked willy-nilly into several off the dovin basals. It was an insane mess of refracted light and released radiation through which still came on the missiles of both sides, the countervailing fire of the Vong.
An insane mess, but one which was suddenly doing a great and horrific execution amongst the Vong ships. For every one of those bolts which got through touched an armour unprotected by shields, which was decent enough against thermal energy and radiation but not at all against kinetic energy, and it was thus the bolts that got through entirely unaffected which did the most of the damage, those which scattered madly just scorching the armour, but still preparing the way for direct penetrating hits which did the utmost in damage. The Imperials were laying their guns on now by visual sensors, due to the intensity of the jamming, but at this range it did not matter, and even helped, for the skilled gunners picked out the points where their bolts had already done the most damage and hammered them again and again, driving their fire deep into the hulls of the enemy through those shattered, unprotected areas, every shot laid on against them, chewing apart the Vong ships almost from the inside out.
Oh, yes, did the Imperial fleet suffer to. Ships were now being lost amongst it, and others gravely damaged, but they coolly fought on, and as they did, the officers and men steadily began aware of flare after flare around them. The flares of intense bursts of radiation, of light and heat and crazed energy from the neutrino surges of the dying dovin basals. In a drumbeat of death the Vong heavies were going up everywhere, exploding faster than their deaths could be counted and recorded. The centre of the Vong fleet was dying, and with its death the whole tenor of the battle changed, even if those Imperials in the desperate actions on the flanks did not yet reap the rewards of it. Dantooine had been arranged by the Vong to be a massacre, one way or the other, and that steady drumbeat of explosions in their centre was the warning of who's massacre it was to be.
Vong-occupied Outer Rim,
On the Worldship of
Supreme Overlord Shimmra.
Jaina and Miat breathed heavily of the peculiar and dank air of the worldship. They had cut through the tower quite easily, praise be to Han, and got into a room—depressurized of course—and the forced the entrance in another; now it was closed and they were removing their restrictive spacesuits, stripping down to very no-nonsense black jumpsuits, for sake of ease of movement, far removed from the Jedi robes to which Jaina was used to. But of course, at least in the case of Miat, her hair was long enough these days to seem almost as a cape for her; she loosened it and let it fall down in drapes upon her back and cast a dangerous smile to her compatriot.
“Let's go. We've got a lot of walking to do, and a lot of fighting.”
“Of course,” Jaina answered, and then paused and asked Miat directly: “Can you feel him now? How close he is? He seems very close.”
Miat reached out for Jaina's mind. They met, and in the closeness that had already developed their connection became all the more strong, and all the more swift. They reached out together, then, in the fullness of the union of what was at once together, and individual. In power that union flared, flared up gloriously. Together, their minds, forever and a second; time had no meaning as they lanced out together, minds seeking, souls seeking, even as their bodies were still against each other, almost as dead.
There he is! Jaina thought with delight, and it was delight that Miat shared.
Rather less than six kilometers walking distance.. Miat countered, getting a firm mental feeling for the path. The opposition was impossible to divine, but it was not necessary to, and indeed, Miat had a bright and airy sense about her for the first time, in that mental presence, in the happiness of her whole being. It was supine, and cosmic, at once, a combination of the highest airs of the being and a relaxed, carefree determination, and it suffused Jaina.
Then let's go! We can be there in thirty minutes. It was almost heady, dangerously so.
Longer, Jaina, for we will have to fight—and when we fight, we will fight together.
Their vision refocused on the world around them. The link faded, a bit, and spread out; it was less intense, and Jaina was herself again, though she still felt Miat's presence so close, their minds together to offer warning or succor in what would come ahead. Jaina did not even notice that she had neglected to try and speak to her brother in captivity. There was just Miat, the Goal, and between them... Something else. Nothingness. They advanced on into the next room, walking airy, gently about the rock of the old worldship's hull, not as though they were going to battle at all, but as two lovers on a stroll.
Into another room after that, and then a corridor, and then down, did they walk. They covered the distance at a jog, lightsabres deactivated but held ready. And then they had their first encounter with the Vong. A repair party and some guards, nothing more, going to check the hull breach. It was over in a heartbeat. They stared in shock at what they saw, and then the warriors rushed forward. Miat reacted first; she raced up into them, dodging under the thrusts of their poisonous staffs, her lightsabre not even activated...
And then it was, a blaze of violet-white light cutting out as the top of one of the warrior's heads spun off dizzily across the room, scorched brain-matter revealed as he toppled forward. In a twisting motion Miat was already driving the blade into the waist of another of the warriors, gutting him right through and severing his spinal cord. They both toppled dead before they had even touched Miat, and she even had enough time, as her hair flew out wildly behind her, to make the laziest of gestures toward the workers. When she did, a great wall welled up, formed out of the air being compressed in front of them, and slammed into them with a force that crushed bone and jellied their internal organs. They collapsed, dying like swimmers who had been depth-charged, their insides shattered without a mark upon them.
Jaina did not see it, for she was already moving into action herself. One of the warriors was coming up behind Miat swiftly, ready to stab into the thin material covering her back with a surely lethal force and inject a lethal poison besides. She brought her lightsabre against his staff with such force as to batter aside the blow, and then dropped down and thrust the blade up, driving it into the joint between his thigh and his groin, the energy blade penetrating and then forcing its way, burning aside a tunnel of vapourized flesh up through his whole body cavity, mortally wounded in a vicious heartbeat. She flicked off the blade. The fourth and last of the warriors now came down over her to strike her while she was low, her lightsabre turned off to free it from the man she'd just slain. She leaped up, propelled by the force, so fast that his downward flung blow to did not connect with her and all, and hanging for a long moment, braced against the ceiling of the corridor, she activated her lightsabre and brought it right down through the warrior's head as she returned to the ground behind him.
Miat was standing there, her blade already shut off, smiling. Jaina straightened and smiled back—then glanced to the workers and gestured slightly. “They resisted?”
“They're Vong, they always resist,” Miat replied simply, and then turned and continued to walk on forward on the path down which they were striding, as though the battle had not taken place. Jaina shrugged, acknowledging that Miat's words were hardly anything except the honest truth about the people they were fighting, and followed.
Alarms were sounded. Miat did not care, and Jaina found herself with the woman, also uncaring. It was just an irrelevancy. They were like a force possessed, beyond the worries of stealth or even speed, walking in haste but scarcely running through the ship, guided by the sensation of where Jacen was, nothing more, but needing nothing more. Several times they had to backtrack as, through the corridors, the sensation got farther away, not closer, and then Miat ran back to from whence they came, but otherwise there was no haste, just confidence. The Vong closed in, and it had not been much longer, ten minutes at most, when they confronted a dense mass of warriors ahead of them, and more closing in from behind and the sides.
Miat stopped, and held up her hand, indicating to Jaina in thought and gesture that she should stop also. One Vong advanced from each direction. “Jeedai!” The elder of them called. “We would fight you!”
Miat gave no response, and instead whispered: “They seek to delay us with the strategy of 'many champions', so that even if we slay them all we shall lose many hours in the many contests. We must use the strategy of 'masses aide individuals', and get inside of them, where their blows will strike each other.”
Suddenly Miat launched herself into the air, forward with incredible speed, her body actually spinning several times, a complete blur in the air, as she flew over the Vong warrior who had challenged her, feet still in the heavy vacuum boots as they collided with his face with an incredible force, knocking him right off, nose grusomely crushed and spurting blood as she landed beyond him and turned at once, thrusting her lightsabre down even as she activated it, drive the blade outright through his brainpan. It surprised even Jaina, how fast it happened, but she recovered before the Vong and was off after Miat in a heartbeat.
The man who had tried to challenge Jaina chased after her, but it was a sprint that the Vong warrior could not win. Ahead, Miat Temm was crashing into the Vong—literally. She threw out a wave of compressed air ahead of her, which bowled through them, crushing bone to gristle and bursting organs. The Vong formation was split into a V by that use of the force, and she was in their midst in but a mere moment, the energy blade of her lightsabre singing with its electric crackle through the air, singing as it cut down Vong after Vong. Jaina followed Miat into the mass of the warriors before it closed up around her, blade skittering off armour and seeming to find, almost as if guided by a higher hand, the places where it could fit through, the chinks that they were so ruthlessly exploiting.
They fought back-to-back. The Vong were all around them, but none of them could prevail within the sweep of those blades. Wounds instantly cauterized by the heat were still viciously fatal: the explosion of gas inside the body from the vapourized flesh wreaked havoc on the internal organs, and it seemed that the two Force users, unlike those before them, were guided each and every time to the exact spots by which they dealt their swift and fatal blows. Soon a great pile of bodies lay in a circle around them, forming a wall for their defense that just made the task of the remaining Vong harder, trying to somehow deal home a fatal blow at close quarters. It was to close; to close to use their bugs which normally served as ranged weapons in those sort of fight, and to close to avail of their staffs all that much.
It was close enough only to die under those flicking, waving blades. At last they had killed so many that they could scarcely continue to kill, from the piles of the freshly dead around them, the stench of the organs oozing out of wounds and of the peculiar smell of burnt flesh overpowering all around. There was the most brief of cessation in the fighting. The two, sweating, looked to each other, and Miat brushed aside a lock of hair from Jaina's face, and they smiled to each other for a brief moment, as though it had been a grand dance, and turned back to the mangled wreckage of the lives of the Vong which rotted out before them. At a gesture from Miat it exploded outward with great force, bodies and parts of bodies propelled with great speed into the rest of the Vong warriors who still lived around them, striking, killing, ripping through armour and impaling with the great energy that had been put into that gesture of death through the force.
They burst out of the hail of the dead and struck with their sabres. The grizzled, scarred face of the old warrior, the brilliant readiness of the youth fresh to his armour and equipped with a newly minted staff, neither of them could stand against them; not the wisdom of the old nor the strength of youth. Like heroes of old, they struck down everyone who entered the path of their blades. These were no unequipped primitives, no simple soldiers. They were Vong warriors, who had stood their own ground against countless Jedi before. But Jaina and Miat fought as possessed, and perhaps they were. Every detail before their eyes was perfect, nothing which they could see could they misinterpret; they found the place to strike fatal blows, and struck them, each and every time.
At last the commander of the forces was reached, and he for a moment stood against Miat's sabre, blocking the blows with a proficiency that surprised even himself, that he had survived for a heartbeat where his men had not. But then Jaina finished killing the last of the lesser warriors, and turned together with Miat against the man. He knew his doom was upon him, and he struck hard while he lived. His living staff struck out and ripped with its fangs along the length of Miat's cheek and up to her ear, nearly ripping it off, even as Jaina struck a solid blow that relieved the man of his head, a look of triumph frozen forever on his face, that he had drawn blood and given poison where, in the end, he could not secure triumph from his Gods.
Jaina deactivated her lightsabre and looked to the bloody wreckage of the left side of Miat's face. The woman smiled at her, charitably and also ghoulishly.
“Cauterize it before the poison spreads,” Miat said simply, forcing the words through her mouth and seeming to ignore the pain. She steeled herself, as Jaina looked wide-eyed, and then, understanding that it was true, that there was nothing that could be done except this rough healing upon the field of battle, she reactivated the blade of her lightsabre and brought it to Miat's cheek. There the flesh sizzled and burnt, and with it burned the poison of the Vong, until there was a line of a burnt, cauterized scar across the whole of the left side of Miat's face, and her smile was the grimace of death.
“You will be alright?” Jaina asked, half-tentatively. “I mean..”
“I will be fine. Let's go, before we have to cleave our way through another battalion.”
“A battalion!?” Jaina turned back and looked in shock at what she saw. The whole of the broad transport corridor was filled with bodies as far as she could see, stacked three high or higher in places. Blood pooled throughout the corridor and oozed its way down it toward them, and body parts seperated from bodies were stacked and nestled amongst the bodies at crazy angles, wound up in streamers of entrails.
“By the force..”
“They cannot stand against two who fight together with the surety of Purpose in their heart. Legions of dead march at our back, Jaina, and no Vong warrior can withstand us when we march with that power of righteous vengeance into their vengeance.”
“Righteous vengeance.” Jaina looked back to Miat, a dangerous tone in her voice, and then stopped short as she looked at that horrible burnt scar, her heart quailing at the sight of it. “You are close to the Dark Side.”
“No! Not at all; I am not a Dark Jedi, not one of those pretenders. You know me better than that, you have looked into my heart, and the lust for power is not there. I only want myself to be alone; and to do that I must cleanse the dead of Coruscant from my back. And this is how I shall do it.” Furious eyes, now: “Are you not with me, Jaina? Do not fear this thing—the vengeance is soon to be completed. Even as we save your brother we come closer to its execution.”
“To Shimmra.” Jaina swallowed. “I'm not going to let you die.”
“Don't worry about that. We're going for your brother now.” With that she spun and started forward, the flash of that scar erasing in her regret every feeling left in her that might hold Jaina back from following. She rushed headlong to catch up with Miat Temm, who walked resolutely forward into her own destiny, not yielding from the course she had chosen, and sure in the philosophy which guided it, in the tangled weaves of the Force, which were now revealed by turns of the blade.
They strode on. Death seemed to swirl around them, and those who approached them entered their doom. Several times patrols closed in on them, which had been going to reinforce the battle they just left, only to be hacked to pieces in seconds. Miat and Jaina now fought and struck purely as one, and the Vong feared the cross of their blades before them, the whipping of guided energy about to stab them in every place that they could not defend themselves. None of these warriors were good enough to stand against them, and they paid the price for their lack of skill—and yes it was only epic skill that could hold its own against them for even a moment—with their life's blood.
They strode on. They looks to each other were gentle, and Jaina's held a trace of worry, as each time she saw that grieviously scarred face, and she feared that what she had done was not sufficient to keep the poison from spreading within Miat. But Miat showed no ill effects, none whatsoever, and simply continued, onward, their pace a comfortable jog through the corridors, to seize lifts and override them, guide them to other levels, and then proceed onward in turn. At one point an ambush was attempted at a hatch. Here Miat simply sliced through the hull as Jaina fended off the attacks, and struck them from behind, slaughtering them all outright before Jaina could even get a hand in the battle from above. She dropped down, standing amidst the bodies, smiled and dipped her head.
It was incongruous, even mad, and yet she scarcely cared. They were on a different level here, in a universe of their own, a universe guided by death. So did they carry on, closer and closer to Jacen, his presence burning painfully bright in her heart, and yet sundered from him, somehow, in a way she did not understand. But each time that this troubled her, she looked to Miat, and the scarred but yet pleasant expression on her face, reassuring, calmed and comforted Jaina and gave her the will to carry on without doubt and without fear.
Another group was assembled before them. It was as numerous as the one before, and had more veteran warriors in it beside. There were many, many of Shimmra's top aides behind this group of warriors, men who necessarily had to be powerful and skilled at hand-to-hand combat themselves. They were accompanied by the second in command of Shimmra's bodyguard, who looked on with clear admiration at the Jedi whom they now faced. There was a moment of silence. There was no effort at a challenge, and after a long minute the staff of the Second of the Guard was produced, and with him, all the other veteran warriors behind him, though his, he tucked under an arm, and instead for the moment held his hands up, ready to slap them together, to give the signal to attack.
He expected to have to fight, on his own—to do personal battle with these firebrand enemies--and doubted that the men converging from every side would do more than perhaps, just perhaps, tire the two. Here, surely, where the greatest champions of the heretics, the technologists, and if they were defeated.. Well, it would be a hard fight, but perhaps that wouuld finally end the reversals of the Vong, and win back the favour of the Gods. Thus did he steel himself for the bloodshed of his warriors which would soon spill out as an offering to their ultimate victory, many fine warriors who, it seemed, would becoming a burnt offering to the fate of the Vong conquest. There could be no other way of things, could there?
The Vong warriors waited for the signal from behind them. This time they would attack—and Miat seemed content to let them. She didn't even bother standing at the ready; she rested slightly against Jaina, leaned up against her, holding her lightsabre at the ready but not yet activated. Jaina did the same, and they seemed to enjoy this strange and bloody moment, in bloodstained jumpsuits and with blood-flecked hair and skin, together in the midst of death, and thus oh so very alive. Jaina, even a day before, could not have imagined herself like this, so carefree in the midst of slaughter, even the slaughter of the Vong. Yet things had changed, and her Will overpowered these petty concerns, and waxed with Miat's. The Second of the Guard clapped his hands together twice.
At once the Vong rushed in from every direction seeking to attack and cut down Miat and Jaina, a great mass of them charging forward, loosing their poisonous bugs to fly out and strike ahead of them. Miat, despite the horrible scaring upon her face, managed a sly wink to Jaina, and that was that. They spun out from each other, lightsabres flicked on in a half-second's effort, the blades growing up to their full length and already being used to cut down the bugs. In a few seconds of spinning, dancing effort that was, the Second of the Guard admitted to himself, absolutely beautiful, they had slaughtered dozens of the things, and then the Vong loosed no more, for their warriors were upon those two angels of death, and the killing again began with a breathless earnest. Uncertain Gods ruled over this field, but they were surely thirsty on this night.
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.