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Quote of the Week: "Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened." - Winston Churchill, British statesman (1874-1965)


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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2006-06-12 07:10am
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Part XL


It was long past sunsdown, and even inside there was a chill. From outside came the cries of Tusken Raiders as they looked for travelers foolish enough to venture out at night. They were drowned out by the infant's sobs.

Luke turned the lights up a bit in the child's room, then took the baby into his arms. "Shh," he said soothingly, "stop crying; it'll be all right." He sat down wearily into the chair and rocked the child gently. Outside another war cry, and the child's crying grew louder. "Don't worry," Luke reassured him, "you're safe here. I'll protect you." He stroked the tear-stained cheeks, and the baby began to quiet down. "I'll be here with you whenever you need me."

The sobs stopped and the baby looked up into Luke's face. He was smiling at the child, happy and reassuring. And in his arms, the baby felt warm, safe, at peace. Luke's voice was devoid of the controlled, passionless tones that the child would know throughout his training to come; for right now, those concerns were far enough off that a few stolen moments of joy could be secretly savored. It wouldn't last, but for tonight they could pretend it could.

Luke put the child up on his shoulder, patting him gently on the back. "When destiny calls you, you must be strong," he said quietly. "I may not be with you, but you'll have to hold on." The room was quiet now, the sand people having moved on; Luke's voice was a whisper. "You'll show them," he said as he carried the sleeping child back to his crib. "We both will."
--------------------------------------------------------------

Jorri watched as hyperspace turned back to star lines, and then the familiar spotted black universe returned. They spun as the old Dreadnaught came about, bringing the star destroyer into view. She shook Sebastian awake. "We're here," she said, trying to keep the nervous edge out of her voice. She watched the ship grow larger through the window as Sebastian stretched and pulled himself up. "You okay?"

"Perfect," he said, pulling on his boots.

Jorri bit her lip. "It's not too late to change your mind," she finally said.

He checked his lightsaber for the hundredth time. "Yes, it is." He seemed different, but Jorri couldn't put her finger on it. Not worried or frightened, more like he knew something bad was going to happen, but couldn't do anything about it.

"Are you sure you're okay?" she asked as they left the room and headed for the transport pad. "You don't seem yourself."

"Just a rough night," he said stepping onto the pad. "Nothing to worry about."

"No," Jorri agreed as the transport activated, "we have enough to worry us in the real world.
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The Executor-II had been serving as the center of operations since the Imperial fleet had moved into position after the Vong attack. In the wake of the Eclipse's demise it and its escort had withdrawn to a fall back position. Admiral Sunhaf, one of the few high-ranking officers left from the time when Thrawn had rebuilt the empire, had been assigned command of the overall defense of the fleet. The room was filled with holograms, charts, and picture feeds of the various positions throughout all the sectors. Soon, an attack could occur in any of them, or all of them.

"Admiral," said Capt. Slyton, one of the dozens of strategists present to help cope with the chaos that would arrive if the Vong launched an assault, "the Visage is requesting clearance to launch their probes."

Sunhaf remained as stone-faced as he ever was. Whatever his personal feelings might be, nothing short of a telepath would be able to tell. "Permission granted," he said. "Fleet-wide alert, defense condition bravo," he said to his aide.

Across the fleet, Imperial crews rushed to their battle stations. Gunners took their positions, TIE's were prepped for immediate launch, and every captain and admiral was on the bridge to oversee whatever might come. If the Vong did come, they wouldn't find the Empire unprepared.
--------------------------------------------------------------

Ben Skywalker finished the glass, then tossed it onto the floor with contempt. The synthehol stuff is just like everything else in this universe, he grumbled inwardly, a crippled reflection of the original. Things were so tame, the people grumbling but complacent, no one with the will to seize power. Give him his old fleet back and in ten minutes he'd be running this galaxy.

Sithspawn, but he hated this place!

The commlink beeped; it was one of Calrissian's flunkies. "There's a squad of stormtroopers heading for the prison. I think they're getting ready to move her."

Ben thumbed it on. "Got it," he said, then tossed the comlink onto the shattered remnants of the glass. So this was what he was reduced to, he thought as he half-heartedly got up. He gave his weapons one last cursory examination, then left Quark's. As he moved, though, his spirit brightened slightly. At least he was going to have the chance to cut lose on real adversaries for a change. Stormies may not be a challenge, but at least they'd try to be one.
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Lando Calrissian finished placing the charges as he checked the time. The Imperials should know they'd lost control by now, which meant they could expect guests any moment. He activated the test switch on his remote; the detonator on the charge flashed in response. Good; at least they could count on that. "Are we set?" he asked to Carson.

"They're in position," Carson replied, completing the diagnostic. "They just better work, Calrissian."

"Don't worry," he answered as he attached the remote to his wrist, "I only hire the best." Harry and B’Ellanna had built these improved pattern enhancers based on old Federation designs. They'd worked well enough on the sleeping engineers that Quark had beamed to an evacuation point. Even this close to the reactor, the transporter should be able to get a lock on anyone inside the triangle.

Lando took another look around. He'd been on this station for nearly as long as it had been operational. He'd gotten rather attached to it over the years... had gotten rather set in his ways here, too. But there was one rule that had kept him alive: always be ready to walk away. If you get attached to something, some place, you'd wind up dead. He'd done it on Cloud City, and he'd do it here, even if it wound up costing his business.

"Calrissian!" Bryant shouted, and Lando ran over. The mercenary was pointing down the corridor towards the turbolift. The door was glowing pink and sparking.

"All right, people," Calrissian said as he pulled his helmet back on, "this is what I pay you for." He got down on one knee, pushed the butt of his blaster rifle into his shoulder, and waited.
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Capt. Naomi Wildman looked over Harry Kim's shoulder as he followed the probes' trajectories into the suspected systems. "How much longer?"

"Minutes," he said, not looking up. "The trick is going to be to scan through them fast enough to find the right one before the Vong blow it up. I'd like to be able to take a look at some specifics once we've isolated the system."

Capt. Wildman turned as she heard the two approaching. The woman with Skywalker was dressed in full uniform; she ripped off a salute, which Naomi returned. "We should have the planet any time now, Mr. Skywalker." He nodded but said nothing. Her XO took the lieutenant aside and introduced her to the Visage’s fighter commander. "Do you have a moment?" she asked Skywalker. The two stepped off to the side. "I know you requested this pilot," she said as diplomatically as possible, "but she's a bit green for a mission of this importance."

"She's up to the task," he said simply.

"I don't doubt it. I'm just saying that, with all that hangs on this, you might reconsider-"

"I don't get on that ship unless she's at the controls," Skywalker said.

The silence was broken only by the sound of the instruments. No one interrupted the captain on her own bridge. "I could order her not to fly," she said.

"You want to go down and fight that thing," he answered, "please feel free."

"Your father was a bit more respectful of command when he was on my ship," she said darkly.

"Yeah,” Sebastian said with a humorless grin, “I wish he was here instead of me too."
--------------------------------------------------------------

"The Mirage is a small ship," Maj. Jhuin said as he led Jorri to it, "but it should get the job done for you."

"What kind of weapons?" she asked, giving it the once-over.

"A token set of laser cannons," the major said. "I wouldn't even bother with 'em. But from the few times I've taken her out, I can tell you that she's got more than enough maneuverability to keep you alive if you use it."

"How responsive?"

"Like a dream," he said smoothly. "And you've got a one person transporter and a low-grade cloak."

"Sensor inhibiting?"

"Naw, one of those Milky Way designs. It's good enough, although I wouldn't use it until you've passed through the Vong's energy grid, otherwise you'll tip 'em off."

"I hope the Vong let's us get that far," she said as she looked at the weapons emplacement. She'd seen shuttles with better weaponry.

"Don't worry, I've got my best squadrons covering you. They'll take the shrapnel and you can have the glory," he said with a grin. Jorri gave a respectful chuckle and peered underneath. Jhuin got down with her. "Just between us fighter jocks," he said in a low voice, "how'd you get this job? I've got ten year veterans who are envious of you; how'd you do it?"

Jorri looked around. "The Jedi," she whispered, "I'm sleeping with him." It took all her willpower not to laugh when he hit his head on the underside of the ship. "You okay?" she asked as she helped him out.

"Fine," he said. "I was... just remembering that there were some female grads requesting assignment here that I've been meaning to sign."
--------------------------------------------------------------

Across the ship, the crew waited in silence as the echoing voice of Harry Kim charted their progress.

"Horital System... Negative signs of life." There was a pause. "Korriban System... Negative signs of life..."

Sebastian found he was breathing heavy and could feel the tension throughout his body. He had been so intent on steeling himself for the moment that it never occurred to him that they might not find the Vong. Part of him hoped they wouldn't, but he couldn't shake the feeling of disappointment at that thought. This needed to be done, and he was prepared to see it through.

"Firrerre," Harry continued. "Life signs detected." He stopped, focusing more intently on the readings. "Vong, without a doubt. Coralships, skippers-"

"Firrerre is uninhabitable," Capt. Wildman said with disbelief. "Bioweapons have rendered it completely-"

"Completely devoid of the possibility of life," Harry finished. "Just like Helska, their last base."

"I never would have thought to look there," she admitted. "Why did you?"

"I was given a bit of insight into how they think," Harry said. "Yes, this is it all right. I've picked up a massive cephalopod under the surface, in- damn! They destroyed the probe." He turned around. "I'd say that's your target."

"Firrerre System," Wildman ordered. "All hands, prepare to engage." Sebastian was already heading for the turbolift with she called to him. "Good luck, Mr. Skywalker," she said offering to shake his hand. He took it. "Our lives may depend on you."

"I won't let you down," he said, “and neither will she.” Wildman nodded, and Sebastian left for the hangar.
--------------------------------------------------------------

"Sir, the Visage is in route to the primary Vong base."

Admiral Sunhaf nodded, continuing to inspect the various feeds from across their front lines. There was an air of nervous anticipation in the war room, a sense that the silence of the moment was only a precursor to the frenzy that was to come. "Have all points report in," he said.

As the minutes passed, the status of over ten thousand war ships was reported to command. Fourteen had suffered damage during recent drills and ordered to withdraw to the fall back fleet, which consisted of over a thousand war ships including the Twilight, now serving as Adm. Kormain's flagship. Sunhaf had divided his front line into thirty-two ship groups to each safeguard three sectors. He'd have preferred to make them larger, but that would risk leaving gaps the Vong could exploit.

"Sir," came an urgent voice, "Vong activity detected by Fleet Echo-3."

"Number of ships?" Sunhaf asked.

"Too distant to tell, sir." Before any more could be said a second report came in, then a third. Sunhaf withdrew and watched their representation on the holo-projector.

"Inform the fleet we are at defense condition alpha," he ordered, then turned to his aide. "And tell the Emperor that the Vong are coming."
--------------------------------------------------------------

The Visage dropped out of lightspeed outside the Firrerre System in the hopes of avoiding attracting the Vong's attention. Almost immediately after she entered real space squadrons of interceptors and bombers launched from her hangar. Among the last group was the Mirage, flying in tight formation with her escort.

Jorri couldn't help but notice how stiffly Sebastian was sitting, almost as though someone had welded his joints in place. "Would you feel more comfortable flying?" she asked. He shook his head but said nothing. "In that case, better hold on," she said, dialing down the inertial damper slightly, "because I'm betting the Vong won't make this easy."

"Mirage, this is Grey Leader. Course correction 010 mark 2."

"Aye, sir," she said, bringing her ship around with the rest of the squadron. Their long-range scanner started beeping.

"They're launching," Sebastian observed.

"Hopefully they'll concentrate on the fighters and leave the Visage alone," Jorri said, taking a glance at the screen. "If she goes up, we'll have a long trip home."
--------------------------------------------------------------

Over one hundred coral ships dropped out of hyperspace into the Noert System where the Imperial fleet waited. The Defiance, an Inferno-class Star Destroyer, served as the flagship for this sector under Admiral Heger. Heger, like most of the Imperial soldiers along the front lines, had been growing restless, but somehow the image of all the Vong ships wasn't what he'd been hoping for. "How long until reinforcements arrive?" he asked.

"Seventeen minutes, sir," said the comm officer.

Longer than he would have liked, but about all he could have expected under the circumstances. "Give the word," he ordered. "All ships engage."

Capt. Orus, commander of the Defiance, stepped forward. "Launch all TIE's; all gunners, fire when ready."
--------------------------------------------------------------

Commander Ro’gal surveyed the resistance and couldn't help but laugh with contempt. This is what they had been waiting to confront? he thought derisively. After all the time wasted he had hoped for a glorious battle, not a crushing extermination. Still, the war coordinator must know what it was doing, although that didn't mean Ro’gal's pride wasn't slightly chapped at the situation.

"Open fire," he ordered. "Contain and destroy them.
--------------------------------------------------------------

The turbolift door exploded, showering the room with duranium fragments. Immediately blaster fire tore from the shaft as the group of stormtroopers tried to score quick hits in the confusion. Lando glanced over at Bryant, who was operating the controls of the mini-E-Web they'd set up. It wasn't precise, the gun was controlled via a remote that Bryant was holding, but as it continued its rapid-fire assault it was obvious it didn't need to be. Lando saw two troopers go down instantly, and another who tried charging out of the elevator followed.

The remaining stormtroopers had taken advantage of their numbers to slip out of the elevator into some cover. They would pop out and take snap shots at the E-web, trying to disable it so the reinforcements could arrive safely. Bryant nodded to Lando, who laid down suppressing fire while their main gun stopped. Bryant slowly lined up the shot with gentle taps of his controls, watching the miniature crosshairs on his HUD. At a flash of white he hit the button, and the E-web chewed threw the plastoid helmet like it was so much foam.

Lando pulled back behind the wall as a bolt struck centimeters from his head. He shook his head, but he felt all right. The modified Breen armor was everything he'd been promised: provided protection from near misses, filtered out toxins, and, most important of all, kept his face hidden from anyone who might escape the station alive. With the station gone, along with detailed records of the sabotage, it would be next to impossible for anyone to point the finger at him. If he could pull this off and keep his business running, well, so much the better.
--------------------------------------------------------------

"Fighters coming in," Sebastian observed as they passed the ring of debris that had been Firrerre's moon before some ancient catastrophe. The skippers blended in easily with the rocky debris, making it that much more difficult to tell dangerous obstacle from dangerous obstacle that might shoot you.

Jorri pushed up the throttle as all but two of the members of Grey Squadron broke off and engaged the skippers. The remaining wingmen flanked the Mirage as they accelerated towards the planet. The sky ahead of them was already alight with weapons fire as the advanced attack squadrons tried clearing a path for the bombers.

Jorri's right wingman went up in flames. She veered down as a skipper swooped overhead, her remaining wingman veering off to pursue. "Hang on," she remarked, pushing the ship to full throttle. What had been mere specks had suddenly become a maelstrom of ships veering about in random patterns as each side sought that one instant when their enemy was at the disadvantage. "Blue Leader," she called, "this is Mirage. We're ready for your attack run."

"Copy Mirage," came the response. A squadron of TIE Bombers appeared off starboard, and Jorri slowed and moved into formation with them. "Keep it tight," he told his squadron as a group of skippers approached. "Stay on tar-" He was interrupted as his ship disintegrated under a skipper's fire, but the squadron didn't deviate as they raced for Firrerre itself.
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Things were tense on the bridge of the Visage as the sound of fighter engagements came over the communicator. Harry continued monitoring the long-range sensors; the space around the planet was like an overturned anthill. The Vong had their ships hopelessly outnumbered; already most of the bombers had been destroyed by their skippers. This was going to be a slaughter, and what amazed Harry was that those pilots probably knew that going in. But nobody broke off, nobody ignored orders. As long as they kept fighting, the Vong would be focused on them, not on the breach in their security. They were buying time with their lives... something Harry hadn't thought that Imperials would ever do.

As he watched, however, a new concern presented itself. "Captain," he called, not taking his eyes of the controls. Capt. Wildman came to his side. "It looks like three coral ships are headed our way."

"How much time do we have?"

"Twenty minutes," Harry said, "roughly. I don't know how well they can microjump; but it could be enough time to get some reinforcements."

"Out of the question."

Harry was shocked. "Captain, three coral ships are more than a match for us-"

"Exactly," Capt. Wildman said, "and that means that they'll fight us with coral ships. We bring in a fleet, they'll turn the Yun-Yammka on us, and we'll definitely lose. At least we can try to hold out long enough for the mission to succeed... it's the best out of a lot of bad choices." Harry couldn't think of anything to say; he'd never imagined that Naomi could become so casual about something like this. "There's time for you to take a shuttle out of here," she pointed out. "You've more than done your share."

"You mean I got you into this," Harry said. "If you're all staying, then so am I."

"Glad to still have you on board, Harry," she said with a grin. "Okay," she said to the crew, "I want evasive courses plotted. We're going to try to stay ahead of them for as long as possible. We're playing for time, people, so let's grab what we can."
--------------------------------------------------------------

The star destroyer Stalker advanced slowly on the coral ship, its heavy guns filling the space between them with a relentless stream of green energy blasts. Across its surface, return fire struck and splayed across the shields, leaving a brief, bouncing starburst before disappearing from view. Across the surface of the coral ship, a group of TIE’s ran interference for a trio of bombers, who swooped in and dropped chronaton torpedoes on weapons emplacements. A group of skippers chased them, picking them off one by one as they flew from target to target. With the sheer force of numbers, no TIE’s were available to reinforce them, and within minutes the few surviving fighters were forced to break off their attacks and regroup.

Immoveable object yielded to irresistible force as the Stalker's shields fell before the coral ship. In response a dozen skippers moved in and fired their capsules. The capsules split open, releasing swarms of the giant insect creatures onto the ship's hull. They skipped nimbly across the surface until they found a weak spot, and tore into the ship. Two crewmen were blown into space; the third soon wished he had been as the insects jumped on him and began ripping him to shreds.

The guns of the Stalker continued their assault as stormtroopers moved into position. The first arrivals laid down suppressive fire with repeating blaster rifles and plasma grenades. They fell back on signal, allowing the heavy weaponry brought in to annihilate the bugs that remained. The time they spent on drills had paid off as squads were sent in to mop up the few survivors.

Unfortunately, the success of the troopers did little to prevent the assault on the ship as a whole. A second coral ship had ganged up on the Stalker and together they had taken out half of her heavy guns and caused multiple breaches in her hull. Nearby, one of the Victory-class ships supporting her went up in a fiery explosion, pocking the ships lower hull with debris.

A moment of relief passed through the crew, however, as over seventy ships dropped out of hyperspace and moved to engage the Vong. Two Imperators began firing on the battered coral ship, each hit driving deep cracks into its thick armored shell. The other ship, however, did not break off its attack, and soon the Stalker's bridge tower went up in an enormous multi-colored fireball. Nevertheless, her guns still fired, and moments later the scales were balanced as the coral ship exploded under the Imperial assault.
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Ro’gal watched the recent development with a smile on his face. "Good," he said, his voice oozing with pleasure, "a worthy challenge." He turned to the sub-commander nearby. "Shore up our right flank and order our coralskippers to annihilate their fighters-" He trailed off as he saw that the soldier had stopped looking at him, and was prepared to kill him for it. However, he noticed the expressions of the other Yuuzhan Vong and turned to look as well. As he watched, a swell of pride filled his breast.

Truly he was a worthy leader, he thought, if the god of war itself would deign to aid him in battle.
--------------------------------------------------------------



Chuck

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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2006-06-12 07:11am
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(cont'd)



The Mirage and its escort slowed as they hit the atmosphere. Jorri made a few adjustments to better maneuver with the drag. She glanced at Sebastian, who looked like he would permanently leave his fingerprints in the armrests of his chair. "Blue 3," she said, "coming about 025."

The bombers turned and began their run, raining small blue blobs on the landscape that tore into the bare rock face. Jorri switched on the cloak, then settled into one of the freshly formed craters. She powered down the engines and unstrapped herself from the chair. "Well, looks like the hard part is done," she said as she stooped over to get to the transport controls. Sebastian pulled himself out of his seat and followed. He stopped and stared at the pad. "Cozy, isn't it," she remarked, trying to think of this as just another assignment. She wasn't fooling herself.

"I thought regulations required all transporter pads to be 2.2 meters tall," Sebastian said.

"Yes," Jorri said. "It looks like whoever built this thing wasn't interested in regs, but in fitting things onto the ship."

Sebastian shook his head and sat cross-legged on the pad, leaving only a ten-centimeter gap between the ceiling and his head. "Warn me before you transport me out of there," he said.

"Don't worry," she replied. She opened a panel and pulled out a pin. "Put this on," she said, handing it to him. "It'll help me keep track of you and your surroundings for when I need to beam you out." As he took it, she leaned forward and gave him a quick kiss. "Remember, I'm not leaving without you, so you better not get yourself killed."

"Roger," he said, then settled back into position. "Okay, I'm ready."

“I’ll get you as close as I can,” Jorri said, “but the yammosk gives off a strong energy field. Odds are I won’t be able to beam you out until it’s dead, or you’re far enough away from it.” Jorri activated the controls and Sebastian vanished. She switched her view over to the sensors and noted that he was in one of the Vong caverns, and already on the move.
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Garak had more plans in place then Lando ever wanted to know, but the one he'd never expected to use was this one. Through his connections he'd found assorted back doors into the station's secure computer areas. It was kind of ironic that if Molly had only come to him instead slicing in on her own, he wouldn't need to be blowing up the station using the information he'd seized himself.

Lando never knew exactly how Garak came up with these ideas, whether it was his own innate craftiness or if he had a team of expert saboteurs, but whatever the case, it seemed to have worked. They'd studied the station for weaknesses in the systems and the security. They'd analyzed planned Imperial responses and devised ways to thwart them. Garak had even included important details about the engagement, like how the Imperials wouldn't employ explosives or heavy weaponry, how their blasters would be set at a lower power setting, and the most important fact of all: that there was a running clock. Eventually the stormtroopers would get in, slaughter the lot of them, and restore things to normal. The trick was just in holding things long enough so that that would become moot.

From behind Lando came the sound of repeated blaster fire. Just like the plans had said, a second force would try one of the Jeffries tubes. The blaster booby trap they'd set had taken out the lead trooper and was pinning them down for the moment. Hao and K'tral were already moving into position to hold them off once the charge ran out on the trap. A smoke grenade dropped from the tube as expected, but the HUD in their helmets cleared things up well enough to take out the next trooper who tried dropping into the room. A second hit the deck, only to be blasted in the chest a second later. The third, however, must have realized something was up; he hung inverted out of the tube and opened fire. Hao went down without time to even scream, and K'tral scrambled for cover as bolts tore into the duranium plates near his position.

Lando was about to move in for support when the trap at the other tube activated. Kriff, he thought, how many troopers were they sending? "Carson!" he shouted. "Hold them off! Torin, give him cover!"

"What about K'tral?"

"Don't worry," the burly voice replied, "today is a good day to die."

"Try to hold them off first," Lando said. He knew a Klingon merc was a mistake; killing for money twinged their senses of honor, made them a little too willing to throw themselves into harms way. "Quark," he said into the comm, "any sign of them?"

There was a click of static as the scrambler processed the response. "No sign of him yet."

"We need more time," Lando said, moving towards K'tral's position. "Just stall them."

He heard Bryant give a yell and froze in his tracks. The hall was suddenly filled with blaster fire; within seconds the E-web exploded. "There's more of them!" Bryant yelled, dropping his remote and shouldering his blaster.

Lando looked between him and K'tral's position. With a sound of frustration he started heading back. "K'tral," he said, "you drop your blaster for a blade and I will find you in the afterlife and kick your ass!" A series of explosions came from the hallway as the advancing troopers triggered more booby traps. But before Lando could reach his position a bolt caught Bryant in the neck. The sickening sucking sound of Bryant's collapsing throat was fortunately very short through their comm units.

Lando peered around the corner and saw the stormtroopers sweep past the still Breen suit. He tossed a very-low yield frag grenade; not enough to do more than surprise them, but that's what he needed. He managed to take two out before he felt intense heat on his right shoulder. He ducked back and took a look; he'd taken a glancing hit, but with the suit and the low-powered weapons it had only torn off the armor plate. "K'tral," he said, "fall back to the reactor room." What's taking that Sith so long? he thought as he ran. Did he stop off in the holo-suite?
--------------------------------------------------------------

"On your feet," the corporal said, emphasizing it with his blaster rifle. Molly complied; if this was Paul Jellico's doing, there was a chance she could survive this. One of the stormtroopers deactivated the force field, then stepped forward and snapped binders over her wrists. He grabbed her arm and half-dragged her out of the cellblock.

When they arrived at the prisoner antechamber she was shocked; there were twenty stormtroopers waiting for her. "Transport scrambler," the sergeant ordered as she was pulled into the center of the crowd of white-clad soldiers. There was a faint whine as they powered the device up, presumably to prevent someone from snatching her out of the corridor once they were away from the prison. "Docking port 2; watch for trouble."

Almost as one, the stormtroopers marched down the corridor, the guard assigned to her gripping like a vise. She could see little besides the plastoid armor on all sides, but occasionally she could catch a glimpse of people running past, containers near-bursting with whatever goods they could pack in a hurry. As they passed the promenade, she saw another stormtrooper squad delivering swift justice to a group of looters. Above it all was the continued call for evacuation as sirens sounded.

The group drew to a halt, causing Molly to bump into the trooper in front of her. As she did a slight gap opened, and she saw what had caused them to stop. A man in black and crimson robes had stepped around the corner, seemingly intent on blocking the path by himself. If he was one of Jellico's, she didn't recognize him.

If it was a rescue, she didn't like the looks of him. He held no blasters or phasers, but rather alien devices. He wore the most frightening smile, and Molly took a step back as she saw him approach the squad.
--------------------------------------------------------------

Activity on the bridge of the Defiance froze as the image of the Yun-Yammka coalesced before them. It floated through space towards them with a malevolent air, a few wild turbolaser shots passing harmlessly through its form. Adm. Heger swallowed; he'd really hoped to avoid this. "Captain," he said, unable to take his eyes of the rolling, coiling monstrosity, "remind your crew not to waste their efforts firing on that thing."

Capt. Orus nodded, the same expression on his own face. "All gunners; you are instructed to ignore the Yun-Yammka. Continue to fire on your..." He trailed off as the creature held up a clawed hand on the end of one its tentacles. Slowly, like the fall of twilight, it descended. Talons one hundred meters long struck the shields, causing the ship to shudder. It struck a second time, then a third. Finally, the claws pierced the shield and ripped through the armor. Then they pulled, tearing open the hull. As they moved, specks could be seen flying from the rips, and Heger soon realized those were crewmen reduced to the size of dust next to the thing.

"I repeat," the captain said, "ignore the Yun-Yammka and continue firing on your target. Do not under any circumstances deviate from your target."
--------------------------------------------------------------

"They're splitting up," Harry observed. They'd spent the past twenty minutes doing their best to stay ahead of the three Vong ships; it must have sunk in that the Visage wasn't going to stand and fight by choice.

Capt. Wildman stepped over and looked at the data. "I'd have expected us to have a little more time," she said, "but crying about it won't change things. Unless we leave altogether, one of those ships is going to catch up to us. We're going to have to fight."

"I'm not sure how much time you'll have," Harry said. "This formation looks perfect; I'm betting the yammosk is guiding them, and they already have the numerical advantage."

"We didn't volunteer for this mission because it would be easy," she answered. "All hands, prepare to engage."
--------------------------------------------------------------

The mind of the yammosk was more than just a beacon, it was a transmitter of emotions, and Sebastian didn't care much for what he was receiving. Old instincts he tried to ignore clawed towards the surface, feelings of duty and loyalty to the service of the Yuuzhan Vong and death in the name of purification. It triggered memories he had wished he could bury, like the way the smell of burnt flesh will remind an old soldier of the horrors of trench warfare and the scorched bodies of comrades. It was a mind that, despite everything Sebastian had done, had hacked his consciousness to pieces and reduced him to a puppet.

He was here to kill it now. That was a danger to him in more ways than one.

Sebastian slowly crept down the dark passage. As he walked, he reminded himself of peace and purpose. He was here to end a threat to a force that had already killed millions, a being that would not waver in its devotion to its task of wiping out all resistance in the Empire without any thought to those who would fall.

But you didn't give any thought to the DMZ when you handed them over to the Empire, his conscience reminded him.

No, he hadn't. But then again, he realized his mistake, had agonized over it, would have done any to make up for it. The yammosk was only getting warmed up for the real slaughter. There was no chance, he knew with certainty, to find mercy in that cold mind. There was only one way to defend themselves from it, and this was it.

Sebastian drew to a halt as he approached an intersection. He spotted two Vong soldiers, and quickly ducked back. His Borg mindset took over.

There's a battle overhead, but these two are standing in this hall, which seems to lead to the yammosk. They're armed, but not combat ready. They wouldn't be here when there was a battle going on unless ordered to. There were two reasons they would be here: either they were elite soldiers assigned to protect the yammosk, or not spectacular examples that had been assigned here where they were less likely to engage an enemy. If the former, they would be tough, but probably the last obstacle. If the latter, things would probably only get tougher from here. He thought back to the brief glimpse he'd had of them... one was a highly decorated warrior, the other a relative novice. Supposition: All Vong are expected to fight when it is demanded of them; therefore, if this was an instructor and student, they might have been assigned to guard this hall in any event of attack. If so, this would make the decorated warrior a very formidable opponent... If he could strike him down first, the other would be easy pickings, but it was a hell of a gamble, and if he failed, he would be outnumbered.

Sebastian didn't make a sound as he leapt through the air, but both Vong turned as he approached. He spun his saber and, with all his strength, shoved it through the student's armored chest. He immediately extinguished the blade and dropped and rolled forward, come out of it onto his feet while he spun, igniting the blade as he came back around in time to catch the instructor's attack. He'd made the right move; with those reflexes even Sebastian's surprise attack wouldn't have taken him down.

Sebastian gave ground as the hardened amphistaff pressed against his single ignited blade. They had clashed in the narrowest part of the cave, where there was little room for maneuver, which would mean that a Jedi would lose the advantage of agility. It would be a contest of strength, which is precisely what the Vong would make it because, after all, they're stronger than humans. He continued pressing down, pushing Sebastian backwards, the pressure of his weapon ensuring that Sebastian would have no chance to withdraw his weapon without being cleaved in two.

"You become so focused on the goal," his father had said, "that you don't notice the threats." If the Vong had learned that as well as Sebastian, perhaps he would have noticed the quiet crunching sound, or the spikes that emerged from Sebastian's fingertips. They would have tipped the Vong off to the fact that his strategy was perfectly reasonable except for one flaw: this creature wasn't exactly human.

In yet another example of the universe's love affair with irony, Vong strength was countered by cybernetic muscle. Sebastian shoved back, pushing the amphistaff aside with his blade and rendering the Vong slightly off balance. He stepped forward and drove the spokes through the neck seam of the Vong's armor, ripping its throat open. It wasn't exactly sporting, but when the galaxy faces annihilation, you can't afford to give a mulligan. Sebastian shut down his lightsaber and re-absorbed his spikes before running down the hall towards the yammosk's chamber.
--------------------------------------------------------------

The Stalker's crew had staffed the auxiliary bridge, but by then it seemed that the effort was for nothing. Morale had dropped even further at the arrival of the Yun-Yammka, but despite this they contacted the command ship for orders. They limped back into battle, their two remaining heavy turbolaser batteries spraying furiously at the nearest Vong ship, which was already weakening under the assault of two Dreadnaughts and a Victory. As the Vong ship finally split open like the galaxy's largest geode, a sound of celebration was heard amongst the crew. Unfortunately, the sight of the Defiance caused the excitement to die quickly.

"Admiral," Orus said, "I respectfully suggest you move your command to another ship."

"Noted," Heger said. As he watched the Yun-Yammka tear off one of the Defiance’s larger guns he was tempted to take him up on the offer. "Send a fleet-wide message that if the Defiance is lost, command will fall to Capt. Yurell and the Tyrannus."

"Aye, sir," said the officer at comm.
--------------------------------------------------------------

"Admiral," Capt. Slyton said, "Fleet Alpha-3 has sighted the Yun-Yammka."

Sunhaf looked at the indication on the holo-projection of the overall engagement. Colored spots marked the previous places where the Yun-Yammka had appeared; this marked its fourth appearance. "Nowhere near where it engaged the Eclipse," he remarked. "Show me Firrerre." The system glowed green. "Four thousand lightyears, at least," he said to himself. "With all these separate appearances over such great distances, it looks like the theory is holding up. If not, we may have stepped into a big trap.”
--------------------------------------------------------------

"Bring us about to their flagship," Ro’gal ordered. With reverence he watched the systematic destruction of the ship at the hands of the war god. "Praise to the Yun-Yammka that it has delivered our enemies into our hands."
--------------------------------------------------------------

Screams filled the room as the Yun-Yammka's talon tore into the Defiance’s bridge. Orus tumbled through the air and vanished through the breach, but Heger clung to a nearby railing with a grip borne only from sheer terror. This only escalated as the claw gripped the ceiling and tore the top off the bridge, letting cold, unforgiving vacuum embrace them.

In the chaos that followed, the Yuuzhan Vong command ship closed in and began bombarding the exposed bridge. The explosions chewed through the decks with ease, severing power lines, cutting off communication, and causing widespread havoc with controls. Eventually a power surge caused a breach in the reactor, and the Defiance was torn in half. Her guns fell silent as the remains drifted helplessly in space while the Yun-Yammka sought out new targets.
--------------------------------------------------------------

Ben Skywalker held up the weapon in his left hand, another of his own design. The thin X-shape of the weapon widened into four saber heads. He thumbed the center switch, causing each to ignite in half-meter long red blades. He held it out in front of him and spun it in his nimble fingers, forming an effective shield as the stormtroopers opened fire. He gestured subtly with his right hand, causing one blaster rifle after another to fly from their hands.

With surprise and confusion as his allies, he closed in towards them. When the front row had been disarmed he drew the x-blade clear and reached out, knocking them off their feet. Still spinning his x-blade, he twisted around in a circle, tilting it up so that the blades whirled over his head. As he came back around he let it go, causing it to fly through the air like a discus. It tore through the stormtroopers' left ranks, never slowing or altering its path until it broke free of the other side.

No sooner had the blade left his hand than Ben had activated the one in his right. He leaped forward, blocking two shots before slicing a rifle in half. He tossed the weapon's owner backwards into his comrades, then cut down the remaining two that were still armed. Their ranks effectively broken, it meant all he had to do now was mop up.

O'Brien's guard must have been killed because Ben noticed her running out of the corner of his eye. A small gesture caused her to trip and land face-first on the deck with a few choice Terran curses. With her arms bound behind her back, she wouldn't be getting far.

One of the stormtroopers had taken advantage of the distraction to recover his weapon. Ben dropped flat onto the floor under the blaster bolt, extinguishing his blade as he fell. He pushed the second button, causing the tip to separate and dangle on a chain. He pushed off the floor, hopping back onto his feet even as he brought the weapon around, triggering the blade just as it reached the stormtrooper's neck. Before the head even hit the deck he'd moved on to the next one.
--------------------------------------------------------------

Molly turned herself over as best she could, watching in shock as she saw the stranger finish off the stormtroopers with a kind of grace that belied the fact that this was a massacre. She jumped as the x-saber jumped off the floor and flew towards him. The blades turned off as he reached out, and in one fluid motion he caught it and hooked it to his belt. Icy fingers traced her spine as he looked at her, and she tried to squirm away from him.

"Are you hurt?" he asked, sounding concerned.

"Who are you?" she demanded.

"I'm Ben," he said, running over to her. His touch was gentle, but he seemed to effortless pull her back to her feet. "We've got to go before more soldiers arrive."

"Who sent you?"

"We don't have time for this," he said, looking around. "I have a ship-"

"I don't want to sound unappreciative," Molly said, "but unless you answer my questions I'm not going anywhere with you."

Anger seemed to cross his face, but just for a moment. "I'm here to rescue you," he said, making a strange gesture with one hand. "You trust me."

"Yes," she had to admit, "I do trust you." Why had she ever doubted his intent?

"My ship is this way," he said, taking her arm, "come on." Together they ran through the station, alarms still sounding for the station's evacuation.
--------------------------------------------------------------

A shiver passed down the spine of Ma’Shraid, a familiar sensation. She turned to the yammosk, which bobbed in the underground pool constructed for its comfort. It spoke to her, warned her of the disturbance... of the intruder. "I will not fail you," she said, taking her amphistaff into her hands. Following its guidance, she exited the cavern.
--------------------------------------------------------------

"The nearest coral ship will intercept us in thirty seconds," Harry said. He looked up and saw the curve of one of the Firrerre System's gas giants dominating most of the window. The Vong ship was nearly around the curve of the planet. Based on their position, if they tried running again they'd be cut off by one of the other Vong ships. As it was now, they were going to get surrounded soon enough.

"As soon as it's within sight," Capt. Wildman said, "I want all weapons brought to bear, down to the last cannon. Maintain our course and speed, no matter what it takes."

"That won't be easy," Harry observed.

"Let's be realistic," she replied, "the yammosk may be the ultimate war coordinator, but it's not infallible, not when it's trying to coordinate an assault of this magnitude. If we try something unexpected, that might be enough to buy us extra time."

"For what?"

"For our side to win," she answered. "That's all we need."

As the bulk of the coral ship rose over the planet's horizon, the Visage's turbolaser opened fire. It took several seconds for the Vong's reply, but the energy blasts and projectiles that battered her shields made it plain they hadn't appreciated it. Skippers slid across her surface, performing pinpoint strikes unopposed as the Visage's fighter compliment was engaged at the Vong base.

"Have anti-fighter guns take out the coral skippers," Capt. Wildman ordered. The coral ship was still growing in the window. "Full speed ahead."

The coral armor began crumbling under the heavy turbolasers of the Visage, but the star destroyer was taking a pounding. Her shields were flickering across the ship under heavy bombardment; stormtrooper crews stood at the ready, should the Vong's insect creatures arrive and try to destroy the ship from within.

"Adjust course to 003," Wildman ordered.

"Captain," her XO said, "that won't be enough."

"It's enough," she replied. "Adjust pitch twenty-two degrees starboard."

The coral ship dominated the twisted view beyond the window. "We're going to hit it," Harry said under his voice.

"All hands, brace for impact," the XO shouted, clinging to the rail, as was the captain.

The collision was slow and elegant, which only belied the devastating energies that were being brought to play at that moment. The forward port side of the Visage connected solidly with the Vong's shell exterior. Within the ship, a horrible sound echoed as if their ship had been placed on the universe's largest whetstone for sharpening. The ships pushed slowly, agonizingly, past each other, the Visage's guns falling silent only for the briefest of moments. Debris billowed away from the impact point on both ships, and alarms sounded throughout the ship. "Maintain course and speed!" Capt. Wildman yelled.

Finally, the two ships parted, leaving a trail of shredded rock and metal in their wake. Micro-explosions were visible on the coral ship's surface; it was weakening. "Bring us about," she ordered. "Target the breach." As raw energy poured into the gap in the ship's defenses, the ship became erratic. Finally, the ship's systems collapsed, and the power center turned the ship into so much shrapnel.

"Harry," Wildman said, turning to him as if the last couple minutes had never happened, "assuming the Vong send more ships to aid in our pursuit, what's our safest course?"

Harry started tapping the controls as he input the data. "That was quite a gamble, captain," he remarked with respect.

"I'll bet on neutronium alloy over rock any day," she replied. "Do you have a heading?"

"I'm forwarding it to helm now," he said.

"Captain," the XO said, "damage control teams are already at work, but the damage was substantial."

"We'll just have to hope that bought us enough time," she answered.
--------------------------------------------------------------



Chuck

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(cont'd)



Prefect Ma’Shraid was waiting for Sebastian in a small cavern between him and the yammosk. He dove to the ground as she tossed the thud bugs, feeling them detonate over him as he rolled off to one side. He pushed off the floor as the staff's tip stabbed towards his back, igniting his saber over his head and bringing it down, crashing against Ma’Shraid's block. There was room to maneuver, so instead of trying the failed brute force method she withdrew, spinning her amphistaff while assessing her opponent. Sebastian activated his saber's second blade in response and held the weapon in front of him horizontally at shoulder height.

Ma’Shraid charged him. He brought his right blade up, blocking the first blow, reversing motion and catching the second with the left blade, shoving upwards as he did so. He advanced and swung inward with the right blade, catching her on the side, but her armor stopped the blow. He barely brought his other blade up in time to stop her from catching him on the left side of his neck. He spun, striking her other side, but even then he did little more than scatter sparks across the cave. She's got a high-grade armor like Kro Thrassis, he realized as he sidestepped a thrust at his abdomen. She flicked her blade, cutting into his side just above his floating ribs. Sebastian somersaulted backwards and got into a defensive posture, willing nanoprobes to construct a makeshift metallic bandage before the bleeding got serious.

Ma’Shraid swung almost madly at him, but Sebastian's close call had put him on the defensive. His saber was always ready to catch any strike she made, and she made an audible sound of frustration at the stalemate. She stepped back, growled at him, then swung again. Again he brought his blade up to block the swing-

Only the staff was no longer heading in that direction.

While the Vong continued with her upward swing, the amphistaff bent downward, sinking its fangs into the hilt of the lightsaber. Caught off guard, Sebastian didn't have time to stop it from pulling the blade from his hand. The safety switch flipped it off as it spiraled across the cave away from him, leaving Sebastian defenseless.
--------------------------------------------------------------

Jorri tried locking onto the Vong warrior with the transporter, hoping to beam her out of the way. It was useless; she could see what was going on, but the energy field was overwhelming the transporter’s ability to target. Unless the Vong started giving off a serious energy field of her own that Jorri could lock onto, there was nothing she could do. She cursed as she hit the transporter in frustration, hoping Bastian could handle it himself.
--------------------------------------------------------------

Bastian rolled, stepped, and jumped clear as the amphistaff snapped at him like a whip, only a whip with dagger-like fangs filled with venom. He grew a metal plate on the back of his hand and slapped it away, desperately looking for his saber to call it back. Instead he got a Vong elbow to the face. He grabbed onto her, grappling in a strength versus strength match that was surprisingly even. Finally she shoved him off, turned and let fly with the whip, its reptilian mouth open wide as it reached toward him.

Sebastian grinned and held up the thud-bug he'd pulled from her belt. With Force-guided precision he tossed it into the serpentine mouth, where it exploded.

The amphistaff went limp and lifeless in Ma’Shraid's grip. She grabbed the last of her thud-bugs and tossed them at Sebastian, but he held up his hand and they bounced back, literally blowing up in her face. She recovered her sight just in time to see Sebastian grab her helmet and yank it off her head. The heavy crab armor struck her head several times, finally causing her to collapse into unconsciousness.

Sebastian dropped the helmet, then called the saber to himself. She was alive, possibly, concussed, but that wouldn't stop a Vong from trying to fight. She was a threat to his mission; like the yammosk, she had to die.
--------------------------------------------------------------

Jorri frowned as she watched the monitor. "Bastian?" she said as she peered closer. "What are you doing?"
--------------------------------------------------------------

Sebastian finished pulling the crab armor off her calf. With the utmost care he slid the lightsaber four centimeters into the flesh. She'd heal, but she wouldn't be interfering in his fight.

There was no other way of dealing with the yammosk, but Ma’Shraid, she was only an obstacle. Killing her wouldn't have ensured success, only made it quicker and easier....
--------------------------------------------------------------

Ro’gal knew that his entire life had been leading up to this day. Before his eyes the forces under his command were decimating the local resistance, under the protective gaze of the Yun-Yammka no less.

At the moment the great creature had wrapped its tentacles around a Dreadnaught. With impossible strength it heaved; along the center of the old warship came a series of rips and minor explosions. Finally, the ship was completely torn in half. For good measure, the Yun-Yammka drew back and tossed one of the halves through space. It tumbled gently until it struck the bridge tower of a star destroyer, both going up in a yellow-streaked fireball.

Then, for no reason any could see, the creature faded away into the aether. Ro’gal took it as a sign of approval of his work, and ordered his ships to continue pressing the attack until every last Imperial ship was wiped out.
--------------------------------------------------------------

Ben kept one grip on Molly's arm the entire trip through the station, pulling her into doorways and crevices to avoid patrols running past. They managed to avoid running into anyone until...

"Kriff," Ben muttered as he saw the guards flanking the door. "They must have found out my markings were faked." He looked around, and pushed her against a nearby wall. "Stay here," he said, pulling a weapon from his belt.

Molly peered around the corner as he trotted towards them, his lightsaber deflecting the blasts away harmlessly as he closed the distance. He decapitated one, then stabbed the second through the chest. Molly looked around, then started around the corner while he looked over the controls. "What kind of weird security system is this?" he mumbled.

There was a strange wheezing sound that caused Molly to draw to a stop. Her mouth fell opened as she saw the dead trooper pull itself back onto its feet. Ben whipped around, but appeared to be just as surprised as she was. It backhanded him, sending him flying across the hall into the opposite wall. A dozen or so small tentacles prodded at the hole in the stormtrooper’s armored chest, then cracked it open like a peanut shell. Inside, the trooper had transformed into some twisted mutation, with tentacles and teeth and malformed flesh. Molly took a misstep trying to back away and fell over, unable to take her eyes off the horror.

Ben, on the other hand, was looking at it with fury in his eyes. He picked up his saber from where it had fallen and got back on his feet, his eyes never leaving the thing. He reached towards it then gestured, causing it to fly across the hall into the opposite wall, then back again. It reached out a clawed hand for him as he approached, but he sliced through it without missing a step. He gestured, and it hit the wall face first. With a look of hatred he stabbed it through the back, causing a hideous scream.

Molly looked on in awe and horror as Ben held the blade there. It seemed to be glowing brighter now as he gripped it with both hands. The creature's flesh was bubbling around it from the heat, yet Ben didn't seem to even notice it. The foul burning stench soon hit her, causing her to cough in disgust. Slowly the creature seemed to melt around the saber and collapse onto the floor. Molly jumped as he finally turned the weapon off. He strode over, helped pull her up, and led her to the door. "Any idea how to override this?" he asked as if nothing had happened.

Molly told him and he deactivated the security lock-out, causing the door to open. He led her inside and onto a small freighter, depositing her into a seat. "The reactor's going to go any minute," he said as he powered up the engines, "and take us with it if we don't move."

Molly was almost knocked out of her seat as the ship lifted off and twisted around in the hangar. The outer doors opened as he kicked the throttle up and sent them flying out of the station. Without a second thought he pulled back on the lever and they slipped into hyperspace.

Ben spent some time still looking over the controls, so Molly cleared her throat. He looked over at her. "Who do you work for?" she asked. "I've never seen anybody fight like that."

"My allegiances are a bit complicated," he said.

"You kind of remind me of the Jedi," she said. "Are you one of them?"

"You could say that." He turned back to the controls.

"Where are you taking me?"

"Somewhere safe," he said. "You have nothing to worry about."

"I have nothing to worry about," she admitted. It was obvious he could keep her safe, given what she'd seen him do so far. Sure, she may know nothing about him, but that didn't mean she shouldn't trust someone who risked that much to save her life. "Would you mind helping me get these binders off?"

Ben finished what he was doing, then came over, gently pulling her up. He reached around her with both hands. "There's easier ways to do this," she pointed out.

She could feel his hands grab the binders as he bent closer, his face inches from her own. "What's wrong?"

"You could take advantage of the situation," she pointed out.

"Is that a concern or suggestion?" he asked.

Molly was starting to feel uncomfortable. "Please, just-"

"Trust me," he said with a smile, then kissed her. She felt the binders slip off. Slowly, she reached up and wrapped her arms around him, pulling him up to her. She felt his hands rubbing up and down her back; she liked it.

The kiss broke, far sooner than what she would have preferred. "Is it going to take a while to get where we're going?"

"Yes."

Molly returned his grin. "Good."
--------------------------------------------------------------

Stupid Garak and his stupid plan! Lando thought as he fired randomly from out of cover at the advancing troopers. Why he'd put his trust in someone that devious he'd never know. He took a moment to think, then turned off the dead man switch on the detonator. The purpose behind blowing the reactor was to provide a distraction and cover their tracks, but if they killed Lando and it went off now it wouldn't do anyone any good.

K'tral had fallen, probably to his great delight, Lando thought, while they had fallen back to where they had placed the charges. There wasn't much for cover in here, but then again, the Imperials would have to be extra careful to avoid hitting the charges.

"Carson is hurt," Torin said. "Should I leave him?"

"Romulan bitch!" Carson answered.

"Try to pull him this way," Lando said.

"We won't make it," Torin said, "They're too strong."

"As long as he's alive we-" A blaster bolt sounded in his comm. "Guess you solved that moral dilemma," he said bitterly.

"I'm falling back," she said, ignoring him.

"Lando," came Quark's distorted voice, "they've left. We can go."

"Head to the exit," Lando said, firing a few shots before getting up and running. Torin was already waiting for him as he rounded the corner and practically jumped inside the zone. "Get us out of here!" He continued firing madly at the entrances, hoping to buy the few seconds...

With relief he found himself on his ship's transport pad. "Let me know when we're clear," he said, pulling off his helmet and tossing it away as he headed for the cockpit. He took his seat while the pilot pushed the ship to its limits. Around them was a host of ships filled with people escaping the doomed station.

"Whenever you're ready," Quark said.

Lando activated the detonator. On the screen he saw the small flash on the lowest portion of the station, and then an explosion ripped up through the decks, tearing the rings apart like balsa wood. The light whited-out the monitor and the ship was buffeted by debris as the pilot sent them into hyperspace.
--------------------------------------------------------------

The only sound at first was the lapping of water and Sebastian’s own footsteps. The Force impression of the yammosk was an overwhelming presence, its power and influence as impossible to ignore as a scream on a quiet night. Sebastian kept in mind the reason he was here, the people whose lives were depending on him, on Jorri waiting in the ship, but as he caught sight of the looming mass of tentacles he froze in his tracks. Its eye was fixed on him, pinning him in place. It couldn’t reach him from where it lay, but that didn’t matter; its mind could go where its body could not.

Sebastian closed his eyes, his teeth clenched. Fear is an emotion, he told himself, and emotions can be controlled.

An alien thought entered his mind. It wasn’t telepathy, or pictures, or even words. It was an impression, a slight one, that the yammosk would like to see him try.

He took a deep, steadying breath. Peace is my ally, he thought. Serenity is my strength. The feelings are my own, and if so, then I can control them, turn fear to confidence, confidence to courage, and courage to will. Sebastian felt a calm come over him, starting in his chest and spreading slowly throughout his limbs. Good...

The yammosk opened his memory to the endless days he’d spent in its care. Sebastian found his breath quickening at the memories. The cold... the abandonment... the utter terror...

Sebastian grit his teeth. I am Borg, he told himself. Emotion is irrelevant. Fear is not logical. Fear is an expression of instinctive self-preservation. The self exists for the good of the whole, and is irrelevant; thus fear is irrelevant. Conduct yourself with maximum efficiency-

The yammosk’s mind intruded on his own, reminding him that whatever his genetic background was, he was not Borg. He wasn’t worthy of being a Borg.... his fear was proof enough.

Sebastian’s eyes shot open and in a panic he scrambled away from the entranceway. Four Vong warriors had arrived, no doubt at the yammosk’s instruction. What happened to him next would be up to them, the alien thoughts told him. Perhaps they would break him again, or maybe just kill him for the sport of it, or just feed him to the yammosk. The point was, it was over; Sebastian had already lost.
--------------------------------------------------------------

"Come on, Bastian," Jorri said under her breath as she watched helplessly. "Finish it."
--------------------------------------------------------------

Terror held Sebastian’s heart in its icy hands. His breathing was heavy, his eyes wide as he looked between the approaching Vong warriors. He raised his lightsaber, but it slipped from his trembling fingers. There was a snap as the amphistaff shot out, snatching the saber in its mouth and pulling it out of reach. He backed away slowly, jerkily looking between the warriors, wishing he were anywhere else in the universe but here. He turned and ran, but there was no other way out, and he found himself against a bare stone wall, his fingers scrambling futilely for a surface.

The chuckling sound behind him pierced the cloud of fear like a knife, but it was only an awareness that things were even worse than he could have imagined. He turned and saw the coalescing form of Yun-Yammka. The god of war filled Sebastian's vision, its head nearly scraping the roof of the cave, its mouth open in a pitiless grin, tentacles waving in anticipation. Sebastian pressed his back against the wall, looking desperately for escape even as the Vong warriors pulled back out of respect to the apparition. It began undulating towards him slowly, drawing out the moment. His legs lost their strength, and he collapsed to the floor, too frightened to get up, never mind fight.

And then, from nowhere, a voice found him. "Resist it, Sebastian."

He watched the twisting mass approach, the form that had annihilated a fleet... an Eclipse.... "It's too strong," he said hopelessly.

"You can still overcome it," it repeated. It had the tone Sebastian had heard countless times during his years of training.

"I ca-can't..." Sebastian couldn't keep his eyes open any more, the image was too horrifying.
--------------------------------------------------------------

"Please, Bastian," Jorri intoned, transfixed on the image of the monster.
--------------------------------------------------------------

"You can do this," the voice said. "You have conquered greater fears than this. There is nothing you can't overcome."

Sebastian slowly pried his eyes opened, and looked at the creature. It loomed over him; he could practically taste its enjoyment of the moment. "I can't do this alone, father," he said with tears in his eyes. It scooped him up in a deformed hand, its hideous face growing closer and closer.

When the voice spoke, it brought back the memory of the dream. It was the sound of the loving protector that Sebastian had missed for so long.

"You don't have to."
--------------------------------------------------------------

Jorri's cry of despair was cut off as she saw Sebastian drop from Yun-Yammka's grip. Her eyes went wide as she watched, and when she spoke it was full of stunned disbelief. "What the kriff..."
--------------------------------------------------------------

Sebastian lay back in shock from where he landed, his ears filled with the roars of protest from the creature. The Vong, who had been enjoying the show, showed visible confusion as their god thrashed about in rage. On the edges of his vision, Sebastian could just barely make out... something. An empty cloak, but nevertheless a presence within. The Yun-Yammka charged towards Sebastian, but the cloak held up its arm, holding it back. It came at them again; with the tiniest gesture, the cloak sent the Yun-Yammka tumbling into the wall, shaking the cave. It pulled itself back up, roared and tried again, only to hit the opposite wall. Rocks and stalactites dropped from the ceiling, crushing one of the Vong warriors. Unconcerned, the Yun-Yammka stood up and screamed incoherently at the cloak. “You should not have presumed to usurp the power of the Force,” Luke Skywalker said. “Your clumsy efforts may impress others, but your impotence is transparent to me.” Lightning crackled across the cavern. “Leave, or face oblivion.”

The Yun-Yammka eventually faded into nothingness without another sound. The Vong soldiers were gone; the sight of their god being defeated managed to frighten even them. Sebastian slowly walked forward and picked up his lightsaber. He stared at it for a while as it lay in his hand, trying to make sense of it all.

“You came to save them,” his father’s voice said. “I can protect you from the shade, but you have to defeat this beast. Finish this, son, and go home.”

With a deep breath he switched the saber on. With a slow, steady posture swung the blade around with his right arm, feeling the familiar, comforting weight again. He took it in both hands, looking beyond the blade to the writhing mass of the yammosk. He nodded, stone-faced, in control. “Let’s go.”
--------------------------------------------------------------

"Still no sign of the Yun-Yammka?" Adm. Sunhaf asked.

"No, sir," Capt. Slyton said. "It's been twenty minutes since it disappeared."

"Has it returned to Firrerre?"

"Visage has seen no sign of it."

Sunhaf looked carefully at the information coming through. "Minan is weakening," he observed, mostly to himself. "Noret is in trouble. How is Rumihal holding out?"

"The Vong have broken through, sir," said one of the aides. "Close to three hundred ships."

"They've routed our forces at Poran and Hydon as well," Slyton added. "That's sixty sectors we can't defend."

Sunhaf looked up at some of the video feeds from the fleets. Each showed a different variation on the same theme: the Vong were tearing them apart. Even when they had more ships, the Vong knew just how to hit them, just the ways to coordinate, what losses to take to overwhelm their targets. They were moving under one will.

"Give me Admiral Kormain," he said. The room quieted down while the connection was made. "Twilight this is Executor II. Send sixty percent of your fleet to Gall. Take the Twilight and the rest to Firrerre."

The Twilight sent their acknowledgment, and the noise in the room quickly returned to normal. "Are you sure that's wise, sir?" Slyton asked. "This may be a Vong ruse to lure in the Twilight."

"There's no other options left," he answered. "One shot from maximum range could end this."

"And the Jedi?"

"Millions have already died today," Sunhaf said. "If he dies to save millions more, I can live with that."
--------------------------------------------------------------

Sebastian sprinted across the rock and jumped in a high arc through the cave. The yammosk swung at him with a tentacle, trying to swat him into a wall, but a deft dip of his lightsaber cut the limb off short. He landed on the monstrous beast, his blade already swinging. It writhed madly beneath him, and the tentacles swung wildly at him; with so many it was impossible to stop them all, and he was sent tumbling. He barely had time to switch off his saber before hitting the icy water.

Sebastian looked up and saw the maw of the yammosk, and a very unpleasant bit of déjà vu passed through him. A tentacle wrapped around him and pulled him towards the mouth; Sebastian desperately grew spikes on his fingertips, then shoved them into the tentacle. It’s grip slackened enough for him to twist free, and he kicked madly for the edge of the pool. As he pulled himself up he was caught on his foot, but he switched on the blade and stabbed the tentacle, causing it to withdraw.

It was angry now; Sebastian didn’t need the Force to tell him that. He’d need to speed this up before it called in reinforcements. The yammosk wrapped a tendril around a boulder, and Sebastian wondered if it was going to leave the water to face him on land. Instead it hoisted the rock up and tossed it, almost crushing Sebastian when it shattered against the floor where he’d been standing. More boulders fell, and Sebastian found himself running to stay ahead of them. He hit the opposite wall and stopped for a moment, turning back and staring at the yammosk. Okay, he thought, two can play at this game. He held out his hand at the nearest boulder, and...

It didn’t move.

He grit his teeth and tried again. It started to tremble, then slowly rise off the floor. Sebastian dropped it as a flicker of premonition saved him from being squashed by the yammosk’s latest swipe. No good, he thought, it’s too heavy; it’ll take too much time to use it as a weapon. He ran to the fallen Vong; it’s amphistaff hissed at him as he tried picking it up. He stabbed it in the throat as it tried to bite him. Pity, he thought, I could’ve used that. He picked up the thud-bugs and ran back towards the yammosk, hoping that inspiration would strike.
--------------------------------------------------------------

Skippers swarmed around the Visage as she tried to evade the larger ships that had been sent in to finish her off.

"Captain!" Harry called, distracting Capt. Wildman away from the battle. "More Vong ships have just entered the system."

"How many more?" she asked quickly.

Harry was stunned. "Over two hundred."

The ship rocked under a hit, bringing focus back to the task at hand. "Inform command," she ordered, then resumed the battle.

"Captain," the comm officer said, "we've received new orders." Wildman quickly stepped over and looked them over. Harry could detect just a glimmer of disappointment.

"Order all TIE’s to prepare for withdrawal," she ordered. "Plot a course back to Base 14921."

"What?" Harry said in shock.

"The Vong ships are here to stop the Twilight and her escort," she replied. "It's out of our hands now."

"The Twilight? You mean they're going to destroy the planet?"

"With the war coordinator out of the way, we'll have a better chance of routing the Vong."

"But what about the Yun-Yammka?" Harry demanded.

"There's been no sign of it. It's possible Skywalker's distraction is preventing it from interfering."

"Then let him finish the job."

"We can't take that chance, Harry."
--------------------------------------------------------------

Jorri read the message in disbelief. Destroy the planet? Now?! She scrambled over to the transporter, then hit the wall in frustration. The field was far too intense that close to the yammosk to latch onto Sebastian, even with the enhancer. "Bastian," she said out loud, "so help me if we get out of this, we are never pulling this kind of shit again."
--------------------------------------------------------------



Chuck

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(cont'd)



Over six hundred star destroyers dropped out of hyperspace over Zhar, the gas giant orbited by Gall. A force of over three hundred Vong ships met them. The empty skies above the lifeless world were immediately set alight as the worldships and star destroyers exchanged fire. Coralskippers and TIE’s swarmed between and around them like flies buzzing about fighting elephants. Despite the numerical advantage, however, the battle was not going the way of the Empire. The Vong worked in harmony, combating every strategy, adapting to every tactic. Imperial numbers continued to steadily dwindle while the Vong remained as determined as ever.

Adm. Kormain listened grimly to the reports from the battle as his ship exited hyperspace outside the Firrerre System. They needed to remove the yammosk from the equation now, while the Empire at least had the numbers to resist. He returned to the center of the bridge where the captain was just completing the authorization code check. “Code confirmed,” he informed Kormain.

“Prepare a firing solution,” Kormain ordered. “Engineering, commence primary ignition. Captain, have... the...” He stopped, his mouth hanging open as he looked into space. He’d seen the creature in the recordings, of course, but never had imagined what it looked like this close.

The Yun-Yammka drew back its claw and swatted the Twilight aside like a bad canine. Kormain heard the distant sound of alarms as he was knocked off his feet by the impact, barely pulling himself into a kneeling position before another blow rocked the ship.
--------------------------------------------------------------

Sebastian liked to think he was a smart guy; his mother had schooled him in all types of sciences, arts, astrography, cultures. He was no slouch when it came to problem solving, strategic games, or deduction. But facing a creature that he knew was fighting him with half its brain tied behind its back, despite what he knew about the layouts of its nervous system, did nothing to sooth his bruised ego.

It was just like what he’d been doing, really. You’re not playing many games, you’re just playing one game with differing rules depending on location. You just think of it in those terms, and it didn’t overwhelm you. That’s what it must be doing, he thought; it’s got to. The Vong war effort depends solely on this... on doing what it was created to do. Sebastian paused, surprised at the realization. It’s the only one here, isn’t it. Unique... it never asked for this.

How twisted, he thought. The one thing I’ve met in the universe most like myself is this monster.

Then, he thought, what does that make me?

Sebastian held up his arms, his lightsaber unlit in his hand. “Stop!” he shouted to the yammosk. “Let me talk to you.” A rock nearly turned him into a stain, but he continued. “No tricks! Just listen to me!”

Its thoughts were still difficult to understand, but Sebastian tried. “You tried to kill us,” he thought he heard.

“Yes,” he admitted. “And you tried to destroy my mind. I think that makes us even.”

“What do you want with us?”

“I just want to talk,” Sebastian said, trying to remain calm. The presence of the alien thoughts made him very uncomfortable. “We don’t have to do this.”

“You are here to weaken the holy war campaign of the Yuuzhan Vong.”

“I was sent here because the Yuuzhan Vong threaten my people. But this doesn’t have to be war...”

“For the Yuuzhan Vong, war exists for its own sake.”

“But you are not Yuuzhan Vong,” Sebastian pointed out.

“We exist to serve the Yuuzhan Vong. It is our only purpose. Without such purpose, we would have no duty.”

“I have been told the same things,” Sebastian said. “And here we are, ready to kill each other because others tell us we have to in the name of this war.”

“This holy campaign-“

“Holy war is the greatest contradiction of terms that exists,” Sebastian snapped. “War is the resort of those who have failed.”

“War is as natural as evolution itself. It culls the weak.”

Sebastian felt a flash of anger at the remark. “Yes,” he growled. “It does.” He closed his eyes, and in his mind’s eye appeared the mental image of the moment on Sanctuary. Millions screamed in tortured death, calling for mercy and receiving none. Every desperate cry, every futile gasp welled up into his being. He shared it all with the yammosk.

“This is what you seek to prevent?”

Sebastian nodded, teary-eyed at the memory of the experience. “Yes,” he said hoarsely.

“Then you are a fool.”

Sebastian switched on his lightsaber blades. “Then there is no room for peace?”

“None.”

Sebastian nodded slowly, his jaw set. “Then I guess we don’t have anything in common after all. He disabled the safety switch, spun, and tossed the lightsaber through the air. The yammosk tossed the rock at it, sending it spiraling out of control.

The problem with playing the game on so many levels is, every once in a while, you miss a detail. That’s why, as the yammosk carefully neutralized Sebastian’s primary weapon, it was caught unprepared when a dozen thud bugs struck its eye. The explosive shrapnel pierced the oversized organ, causing rivers of black blood to run down it as it flailed about in agony. But, although blind, the creature could still sense where he was, and it pulled itself out of the water after him. Sebastian, now unarmed, ran in the opposite direction to buy himself time, but once there he didn’t seem to spot any more options. He turned as the yammosk pulled itself over the debris with bottomless malevolence. It wrapped two boulders in its powerful limbs and swung like they were great clubs. Sebastian was running purely on instinct as he leaped, dove and rolled to avoid the mad strikes. He stopped, looked up from where he was lying, and saw the yammosk above him. It hopped off the rise above Sebastian as he held up his hands.

The yammosk stopped in the air perhaps a meter above Sebastian. Sebastian kept his eyes screwed shut with concentration, trying not to think about how big it was. Okay, a distant part of his mind thought, it’s got no room to smash you with a rock, and it can’t reach you while you’re holding it up. So, what now?

“Father,” he said, “I could use a little more help...”

There was a shimmering sound, and then a low hum. Sebastian glanced off to his right, and was so surprised he almost lost his concentration.
--------------------------------------------------------------

Jorri took her hands off the transporter controls. “High-energy power sources,” she said with a relaxing sigh. “Now get this over with, Bastian.”
--------------------------------------------------------------

Sebastian’s hand closed around the lightsaber’s handle, then flicked it over into single blade mode. With a scream he pushed the yammosk upwards and rolled, letting it’s massive bulk drop to the floor. He sprung to his feet and charged at it, the blade a blur as it hacked through tentacle after tentacle. He brought it back and overhead with all his strength, slicing through the great beak. The yammosk swung with its rock, but he sidestepped it as he swung, severing the limb. It was helpless now, and Sebastian stood before it, panting. “It doesn’t have to end like this,” Sebastian said.

“We will carry out our duty until we are destroyed.”

Sebastian sighed. “Then I’ll have to kill you.”

“We know. Kill us.... we are.... unworthy.”

Sebastian steadied himself, then plunged his saber through the yammosk’s central nerve cluster. He repeated the gesture, trying as quickly and humanely as possible to finish the grisly business. With each swing, dead beetles dropped from thin burrows in the yammosk’s flesh. Finally, there was no flicker of life at all within the creature.

He’d thought it would give him some satisfaction. In the end, he just felt a little deader inside.
--------------------------------------------------------------

The coralskippers stopped.

Not literally, of course; they still followed various Newtonian rules about motion, but they stopped firing, stopped maneuvering, stopped being anything more than a flying a rock. It was the work of a few minutes for the TIE fleet to wipe them out. Without skippers running interference, the TIE’s resumed their pinpoint bombing and striking missions on the coralships, which found the tiny vessels difficult to deal with.

But that wasn’t all of it. The coordination was gone. The Imperials were finally able to strike back against the Vong with force. Two Vong ships actually collided in the confusion as the remains of the reserve fleet fought with renewed vigor. It became clear that it was about to be as one-sided as it had been until that moment, merely reversed.
--------------------------------------------------------------

Adm. Kormain pulled himself back to his feet and grabbed the railing to prepare for the next blow. It never came. He started to relax slightly. "Where is it?" he asked.

"It's... just gone, sir," said the captain.

Kormain spent a moment thinking about this, then decided. "Is the superlaser still working?"

The gunner looked over his instruments. "Yes sir."

He nodded. "Bring us around. As soon as you have a firing solution, you may verify target and fire."
--------------------------------------------------------------

Sebastian materialized on the pad in a sitting position. Jorri was on him the moment he appeared, but after the all too brief embrace she was pushing her way to the cockpit. “Strap in; we’ve got to take off.”

Sebastian didn’t protest; he could sense she was very anxious, and it wasn’t just about the Vong. “What’s going on?” he asked as he pulled himself into his seat.

“The Twilight’s here; Firrerre’s going the way of Cardassia any minute now.” Jorri rushed through the launch sequence and jerked them into the air, twisting about and pushing for space at a rather unhealthy clip.

“They’re not going to wait for us to get off?” Sebastian said in shock.

“They need to kill the yammosk, no matter what,” Jorri said, cutting the cloak to save power.

“But the yammosk is dead! Tell ‘em-“

“I tried, they have their orders.”

“But,” Sebastian floundered in confusion. “They’re on our side!”

“That’s why it’s called ‘friendly fire,’” Jorri said. “Hang on.” With a lurch they cleared the atmosphere at full throttle. Sebastian decided to keep his mouth shut and concentrate on coping with his injuries; he wasn’t going to tell Jorri anything she didn’t already know.

The Mirage was accelerating, but not fast enough. Swarms of pilot-less coralskippers drifted about with no concern for survival, and Jorri was forced to keep their speed down so she could avoid a collision. They banked particularly hard, narrowly escaping a skipper that had come out of nowhere. Jorri pushed it back to full throttle and left the lifeless fleet behind. “Piece of cake,” she said even as she took a slight gasp for breath. “Now-“ She was cut off by the beep from the sensors. “Uh-oh.”

“Uh-oh?” Sebastian replied with the pessimism he’d come to associate with life.

“They’ve fired,” Jorri said. “We don’t have much time before the superlaser reaches the planet and closes the chapter on Firrerre for good.”

“Then punch it,” he said.

“I can’t; the moon cloud,” Jorri said. “We can’t micro-jump past it.” She grit her teeth, dialing the inertial damper back up to 100. “We’ll lose time if we go around it, but we’ll get sliced to bits if we go through.” Even with the damper on full force, Sebastian could still feet himself pressed into his seat as the sky tilted, causing the sparkling image of rock fragments to come into view and streak beneath them. Jorri continued pushing the ship, the fragments growing into visible asteroids as they raced along. She glanced at the long-range sensors, saw the superlaser blast, and offered a few of her choicer curses on the subject.

“How far do we have to get away from the planet?” Sebastian asked.

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?”

“Believe it or not, precise yield ranges on the Empire’s ultimate weapon are not passed around to every academy graduate,” Jorri said with a note of frustration. “It blows up planets; that’s all I’m told.” She scowled again at the display. “Aw kriff...” She yanked on the controls and dove straight into the field. Boulders the size of major cities drifted past as Jorri jerked on the controls. The speed was faster than the mind could react; Jorri flew half on instruments, half on instinct.

The ship jerked madly as a mini-asteroid glanced off their right wing, sending them spinning. With a grunt of disapproval Jorri stopped accelerating, but the speed was already tremendous, and...

And they were through! Open space lay before them, and it was never a more beautiful sight. Jorri pushed the throttle back to maximum while Sebastian started the calculations for the micro-jump.

There was a disturbance in the Force. A hundred billion billion tons of planet reached escape velocity in a fraction of a second. Planetary debris launched towards the heavens, consuming the Vong ships that remained in orbit and pressing onward with little sign of slowing. The moon cloud was buffeted about like a handful of dust in a strong wind. Sebastian’s senses perked and, without bothering to finish, hit the hyperdrive button blind even as a particulate struck the ship. The last thing he saw was the floor rushing up to meet his face.
--------------------------------------------------------------

Ro’gal looked with scorn at the projected face of his superior. "You cannot be serious," he said, risking death for his defiance.

"The tide has turned against us," his superior said. "The war coordinator has fallen, and the Yun-Yammka appears too shamed by our failure to make itself seen. We must withdraw and revise our strategy."

"The enemy has nearly fallen!" Ro’gal protested. In his heart, however, he knew it was a lie. In the past five minutes he'd lost ten ships to the Imperials' four; but better to face defeat than to retreat.

His superior's scarred visage was grim. "It would appear that we are not worthy of victory today."

Ro’gal hung his head in shame. He didn't even look up at his subordinate. "Order the withdrawal," he said. He left the command center, choosing to vent his disgrace in silence.
--------------------------------------------------------------

The survivors on the battered remnants of the Stalker watched in shock as the Vong fleet broke off the attack. A whoop of joy was heard on the auxiliary bridge as the Vong ships turned and vanish into hyperspace. This quieted down as a message came through from Capt. Yurell to stand by for orders.
--------------------------------------------------------------

Adm. Sunhaf looked from screen to screen with quiet intensity as the command center echoed with the sounds of jubilant reports of Vong withdrawal. Capt. Slyton appeared at his side. “How do you wish to proceed, sir?”

Sunhaf continued to look between the reports and battle views, seemingly in his own world. Slyton shuffled uncomfortably, not wanting to disturb his superior although time was a critical factor. “How does Firrerre stand?” he said finally.

“Adm. Kormain’s forces are engaged with those Vong forces that survived the planetary destruction, but it’s only mopping up sir. He has them heavily outnumbered.”

Sunhaf nodded slowly. “Have our forces stand down.”

Slyton was shocked. “But, sir, the Vong are in disarray. If we pursue them-“

“We have taken heavy losses today,” Sunhaf said, “as have they. We have the resources of the Empire to rebuild.... no, order the stand down.”

Slyton nodded tight-lipped and turned to pass the order down the chain of command. With heavy steps, Adm. Sunhaf turned and left the shouts of the command center for his quarters.”
--------------------------------------------------------------

The Emperor was sitting quietly in the darkness, watching the activity in the night sky over the capital as Leia entered. She’d restored his mind for the moment, that they might have every advantage during the conflict. She stopped and waited for him to turn around; he didn’t. “You have news?”

“The Vong forces have been driven off, your highness,” she answered. “Their headquarters has been destroyed, their fleet is in disarray.”

He nodded slowly, as if unaffected by the weight of the news. “Then we have won the day.” Leia noticed he was fiddling with some Terran object, but she couldn’t see what it was.

“My lord,” Leia continued. “Adm. Sunhaf has chosen not to pursue.” She offered no comment on the issue.

“Sunhaf is a very cautious man,” the Emperor observed. “But very competent.”

“It does offer the opportunity for a diplomatic solution with the Vong,” Leia pointed out.

“Victory at the lowest price,” he said quietly.

“Should I convey anything to the fleet, your highness?”

“Just my thanks.” Leia bowed slightly, turned, and walked out. The Emperor sighed wearily and pinched the bridge of his nose. It wasn’t over... there would be no diplomacy, no peaceful solution. There was more than just Vong involved, more than just an army that threatened Unity. This was but a taste of the true test... and how many more would be lost to that test? His grip slackened slightly, and the baseball fell from his grip and rolled off into the shadows.
--------------------------------------------------------------

Molly slowly returned to consciousness, but once she finished she practically dove out of bed. How'd she come to be here, and where exactly was here, and what exactly did Ben have in mind for her now that she was here? Now that she'd had some sleep she wondered what had possessed her to trust him....

She looked around for something to use as a weapon, but then thought the better of it. If the Imps couldn't stand up to him, one lone person with a makeshift club wouldn't stand a chance. With a nervous sigh she opened the door.

"Welcome, Molly O'Brien," came a gravelly female voice. Molly looked around and saw an older woman hunched over some machinery. "I'm afraid Ben had to rush off before you awoke."

"Where am I?" Molly asked.

The woman was quiet. "I never got around to naming this place," she finally answered. "It never seemed necessary; it is simply 'here.'"

This situation was making Molly more uncomfortable by the minute. "Who are you, and what do you know about Ben?"

"I'm called the Oracle," the odd woman said. "My purpose is to serve Ben in his mission of toppling the Empire. That's why I sent him to rescue you."

"Wait," Molly said, "if you serve him, then why would you send him?"

"My service is in seeing what others can't see." She turned around, and Molly felt a wave of fear as she looked into her eyes. "I see in you the righteous anger and strength of will to stand with us in the days ahead."

"You rescued me so I'd join with you?" Molly shook her head. "I'm with Section 31-"

"Can you deny the thrill you felt when you saw Ben battle that entire patrol?" the Oracle asked. "How easy he made it look?"

"It was impressive," Molly admitted.

"You wish you had that kind of power," the Oracle said. "And you can."

"How?" Molly asked with skepticism.

"Ben is a master without an apprentice," the Oracle said. "It's time he found one."
--------------------------------------------------------------

For the first time in years, the Visage was in hyperspace heading in the direction of the core. Its three years of vigilance had finally paid off, and every deck radiated with excitement at the part they had played in the day's victory. Capt. Wildman joined Harry in the turbolift down to sickbay.

"What will you do now?" she asked after the doors had closed.

"I was just starting to wonder about that myself," he admitted. "I'd been hoping that, once we'd succeeded, I could have gotten a hold of some information to start working on a cure for the fungal condition, but, obviously that's not going to happen."

Wildman was quiet. "It's unlikely we would have found samples anyway," she finally said.

"We'll never know," he said.

"You still don't approve of the Empire, do you?" she said.

Now it was Harry's turn to think. "I'm not sure," he admitted. "On the one hand, things seem so short-sighted and corrupt. But on the other, I see so many people willing to do the right thing no matter what the personal cost. I guess the Empire is simply too big to put into such a small box like that. The only real question for me is, do I fit in that box?"

The doors opened and the two walked together into sickbay, where Jorielle Sunspring was just coming around. "The heroes of the hour," Harry said with a grin.

Jorri groaned where she lay. "What happened?"

"The edge of the blast caught up with you," Wildman said. "If you hadn't gotten as far away as you had when the planet went up, there wouldn't have been anything left for us to bring on board."

"How's Bastian?"

"No worse for the wear," the doctor said as he continued examining Jorri's vitals. "He's still resting."

"That was some impressive flying, lieutenant," Wildman said. "When you finish your assignment, let me know; I'd love to have a pilot like you on my ship."

"Thank you sir." She returned the captain's salute.

Harry sat on the edge of her bed after the captain and doctor had left. "So, he did it?"

Jorri nodded slowly with a smile. "With a little help," she added. "But when it came down to it, he held up. He wasn't the boy they'd taken any more." She looked over to his sleeping form and beamed with joy. "I think he's found what he'd lost."
--------------------------------------------------------------

Twenty light-years outside of Bajor, Lando and his party had transported over to a second ship. Lando waited around long enough to see their escape vessel fly into the star, ensuring that that link to their escape would be completely severed.

"Set a course for Wormhole Station," Lando said to the pilot as he took a seat, amazed at how many parts of his body could ache all at once. Still, they'd pulled it off, and there was a good chance they'd never be found out. Granted, there was some risk, but that after all, is what made him a gambler.
--------------------------------------------------------------

Sebastian stood still despite the blowing sands of Tatooine. It was early dawn, the chill still in the air for those few brief moments of morning twilight before the suns’ rays would raise it to the familiar scorching temperatures. He reached down and brushed some of the grains away that had started piling around the gravestone. He wanted to say something, but he couldn’t think of anything.

“Miss him, you do.”

Sebastian turned and watched the diminutive master cross the sand to him. He turned back to his father’s tombstone. “More than I would have ever imagined.”

Yoda nodded. “Always be with you, he will be.”

Sebastian nodded, wiping the tear from his cheek. “I spent so much time living in his shadow, and yet, when the moment came, all I wanted was for him to be there.” He laughed a little. “Not exactly the way I pictured fulfilling my destiny.”

“This is not the end,” Yoda said. “Of this war, or of your trials. Long and difficult is your path. Tasted the dangers that lie before you, you have.” He put a comforting claw on Sebastian’s back. “But you are ready for them now. Resisted fear, you have.”

Sebastian scooped up some of the sand, letting it slowly slide through his fingers. “He had to die,” he finally said. “Not even a Jedi master could have stopped that thing. He knew, didn’t he?”

“Your father learned to follow the path of wisdom,” Yoda agreed. “Perhaps, in some way, knew he did.” He faded away. “Rest awhile, young Skywalker. Let the spirit heal, that in time, endure the coming trials you can.”

Sebastian slowly stood up as he watched Jorri approach. She wore the most beautiful smile in the galaxy, and he happily took her into his arms for a fleeting kiss. “So,” she asked when it ended, “what now?” He wrapped his arms around her and looked at the rising suns.
--------------------------------------------------------------
“The world was all before them, where to choose their place of rest, and providence their guide: They hand in hand with wandering steps and slow through Eden took their solitaire way.”



Chuck

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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2006-06-12 08:13am
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Well ended.

I have to wonder, though, if you're planning on making Jorielle Sebastian's apprentice. ;)

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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2006-06-12 08:40am
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rhoenix wrote:
Well ended.

Thank you very much. :)

rhoenix wrote:
I have to wonder, though, if you're planning on making Jorielle Sebastian's apprentice. ;)


No way; Jorri has absolutely no Force abilities. Jorri is the Padme to Sebastian's Anakin, the childhood companion who was always on his mind. Plus, I like portraying relationships where the two are different but still somewhat equals as far as talents go. As we see, even with the Force Sebastian isn't as good in the pilot seat as Jorri is, that in those instances he has to rely on her. Of course there are plenty of things Sebastian can do that Jorri can't, but in her area of expertise, she can surpass him. That's something I feel is important, in that it shows Jorri's a worthy companion for him (from a reader point of view) because she helps shore up his weaknesses. Making Sebastian weak compared to his father was a conscious choice from chapter one, because it's so easy to turn someone who's half-Jedi, half-Borg with a great destiny into Captain Wank Squarejaw, super-warrior. There's really only two things Sebastian is really exceptionally good at, killing Vong (because of his unique training as a Vong warrior), and something else we'll see early on in Blood of Heroes.

Blood of Heroes will be coming up tonight, and be a similar rapid run through the series. Years have passed, Sebastian is taking a very active role in the war effort (along with his new partner, and I don't mean Jorri), the Sith menace grows, and as you can guess by the title, a few people die. Oh, and the return of a Star Trek character who had a cameo way back in Worlds Without End that I bet most people missed the connection on, but is going to play a continuous role throughout the rest of the series.



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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2006-06-12 09:09am
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lol...I have to admit how you've done this piece you can honestly see why Sebastion becomes who he is.

The start here he goes through many journey and trials, loses his father, is brutally tortured and his mother is still infected as such...etc. BUT he at the end becomes a great hero and looks to be settling with as you point very well...his Padme ie his dream girl.

Also of note is the Ben and Janeway dynamic. That I enjoyed even more so because of how it starts off and you to go through the entire thing, until it's end. Truly making that two faced wench, into....a good and visceral villain. She definitly comes into her own.

Last is your bit of Sebastion, and honestly it is very easy to see how anyone could've made him into a Marty Stu of unbelievable heights, which does say enormously of your skill. You have the son of Luke and Seven, could've literally made him a Jedi ten times Luke, with every wanktastic Borg ability there was and more...yet he isn't.

As always a great read, and like I said I do want to see the end of these two, especially in light on how you made Luke's.



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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2006-06-12 11:20am
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nice and I especially like:


"Once Han saw she was on him he returned to his drink, still shaking his head. “Next they’ll say I waited until Greedo shot at me before I blasted him.”


CERC



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And thus, the Padawan and the Master are dispatched, and it falls to the champion of the Force, Yoda to save them; whom in his near infinate power, displays little intelligence, by stopping the piller with the force instead of jerking his underlings out of the way so that his fight with Dooku can continue.....

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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2006-06-12 02:13pm
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Interesting I'd never read the end of Paradise Lost before. Stange though How you never really introduce Ben's name. You just start using it in his fight with Luke.



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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2006-06-12 06:19pm
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CERC wrote:
nice and I especially like:


"Once Han saw she was on him he returned to his drink, still shaking his head. “Next they’ll say I waited until Greedo shot at me before I blasted him.”


You have absolutely no idea how tempted I was for the Vader-Sebastian discussion to have Sebastian asking if there were three million clones, and Vader coming back with, "What are you, some kind of idiot?" :)



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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2006-06-12 06:19pm
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Crazedwraith wrote:
Interesting I'd never read the end of Paradise Lost before. Stange though How you never really introduce Ben's name. You just start using it in his fight with Luke.


Actually, he's mentioned at the very end of part 18... it was the dramatic reveal. :)



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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2006-06-12 06:29pm
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Ghost Rider wrote:
lol...I have to admit how you've done this piece you can honestly see why Sebastion becomes who he is.

The start here he goes through many journey and trials, loses his father, is brutally tortured and his mother is still infected as such...etc. BUT he at the end becomes a great hero and looks to be settling with as you point very well...his Padme ie his dream girl.


Yeah, this is basically Sebastian life's in summary, really. As he says in BOH, "It's not going to get any easier, is it."

Oh, if anyone's wondering, we've settled on Jorri's look: she looks like Liv Tyler. :)
And that is so frickin' hot. :D

Ghost Rider wrote:
Also of note is the Ben and Janeway dynamic. That I enjoyed even more so because of how it starts off and you to go through the entire thing, until it's end. Truly making that two faced wench, into....a good and visceral villain. She definitly comes into her own.

Thank you, it was a hoot revisiting those early days, especially in light of how those two continue in the future. I'm very happy that everyone approves of how she's handled here... it just goes to show that if you take a chance, sometimes it can really pay off.

Ghost Rider wrote:
Last is your bit of Sebastion, and honestly it is very easy to see how anyone could've made him into a Marty Stu of unbelievable heights, which does say enormously of your skill. You have the son of Luke and Seven, could've literally made him a Jedi ten times Luke, with every wanktastic Borg ability there was and more...yet he isn't.

Thanks. Yeah, when I look at that "bounty hunting smuggling Jedi 80's rocker guy" from the Legacy comic, I just cringe and think "I could have done that if I had screwed up."

Ghost Rider wrote:
As always a great read, and like I said I do want to see the end of these two, especially in light on how you made Luke's.

I've finished the second draft, and I think it will be satisfying overall. Just a few more days... :)



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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2006-06-12 07:55pm
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Sonnenburg wrote:
CERC wrote:
nice and I especially like:


"Once Han saw she was on him he returned to his drink, still shaking his head. “Next they’ll say I waited until Greedo shot at me before I blasted him.”


You have absolutely no idea how tempted I was for the Vader-Sebastian discussion to have Sebastian asking if there were three million clones, and Vader coming back with, "What are you, some kind of idiot?" :)



That, my friend, would have been beautiful...... but I'm sure the intended target would never read this anyhow, so it would be lost......


CERC



Sum Senatus

And thus, the Padawan and the Master are dispatched, and it falls to the champion of the Force, Yoda to save them; whom in his near infinate power, displays little intelligence, by stopping the piller with the force instead of jerking his underlings out of the way so that his fight with Dooku can continue.....

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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2006-06-13 09:28pm
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Great job, just finished (once again, a good choice on week to do this). This really was the story I remembered the least, and it was great to hear ita again. I'd forgotten a lot of the details, and was able to check more of the references to the future. Thanks.

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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2006-06-14 12:08pm
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Excellent as always Chuck. And damn was the middle depressing!



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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2006-06-14 11:08pm
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Star Empire wrote:
Great job, just finished (once again, a good choice on week to do this). This really was the story I remembered the least, and it was great to hear ita again. I'd forgotten a lot of the details, and was able to check more of the references to the future. Thanks.


Thank you. Interestingly (as far as I'm concerned, which admitedly is rather biased) the original story outline held up for the most part, and very few of the future references required any additional tweaks or corrections. I'm just kind of happy about it, because this was the time that I had to work 90+ hours a week at my real job, hence why PL took about two years to complete, and why it tended to be somewhat uneven originally. This has given me the chance to smooth it out a little.



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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2006-06-14 11:09pm
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Arrow wrote:
Excellent as always Chuck. And damn was the middle depressing!


Thanks! Blood Of Heroes has some darkness to it, but overall there's a lot of fun in it, so if you've liked the series so far it'll definitely be at least as satisfying as this was. :)



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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2006-06-14 11:13pm
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Hope to see all these revised verions on your unity site, these such good reading.



"a single death is a tragedy, a million deaths are a statistic"-Joseph Stalin

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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2006-06-15 12:38am
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starfury wrote:
Hope to see all these revised verions on your unity site, these such good reading.


Thanks, and yup, they're all up on the website as of today.



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