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"Destiny" - by Joshua Ausley - Completed!

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Offline J.A.

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 17, 2009 3:01 am   Post subject: Re: "Destiny" - by Joshua Ausley   

Balconies
Royal Palace, Varnus
1125 Hours



Jinx sprinted across the front balcony, coming up to face the latest enemy Jedicon. His opponent, heading towards a group of guards stationed on the wall, saw Jinx and abruptly started towards him, instead. Jinx brandished his lightsaber, yelling as he came in.

They clashed blades in a burst of light, Jinx's momentum driving his opponent temporarily backwards. The Jedicon stepped to the rear, then quickly jumped and pulled a backwards somersault as Jinx stepped in and swung, his blade passing centimeters underneath his opponent.

The Jedicon landed on his feet and drew his blade in a complex spiral, weaving a pattern of light that left streaks in Jinx's vision. His opponent smiled. Jinx stepped in with a roar.

They clashed blades again and again, the Jedicon matching him stroke for stroke. Jinx stepped back, riposted and came back in, striking high twice in rapid succession. The Jedicon parried and blocked, then in a show of strength locked blades and drew Jinx's down until they were face to face.

The dark-skinned Jedicon extended his tongue, growling in thirst for blood, and with a roar pushed Jinx back, disengaged, then rushed forward with a powerful overhead strike. Catching his footing, Jinx brought his blade up and met the blow straight on. Then, drawing deeply on the Force for strength, he forced the enemy's blade around to the right and down to the wall's edge beside them. Their blades dug into the stone, and before the enemy could extract his weapon Jinx reversed, swinging his blade to the left and cleaving through the Jedicon's torso in one powerful stroke.

He quickly jumped back, avoiding the enemy's blade as the man fell dead, blood vapor setting on the wall and stone floor below.

I can't believe I'm fighting in the palace, he thought. Just days ago it had been a place of safety, a fortress of security for refugees throughout the Quadrant. Now he wondered if those refugees had come to their deaths, here.

He turned to survey the rest of the scene. The battle was raging out here on the balconies as well as inside the palace itself. Dozens of Jedicon had infiltrated, but so far the combined force of the whole Jedi Division seemed to match them nearly evenly in strength. Members had fallen on both sides. But the Division, of course, didn't have as many to spare.

So far, the more adept Jedi had done the best they could to keep the less-experienced Jedi from facing their opponents alone, but they had not been entirely successful. Eric Donos lay in a pool of blood on the stone floor at Quaestor Neres Warjan's feet. As Jinx watched though, Neres finished off the opponent, batting aside the blue-skinned Jedicon's blade and sending a blast of energy from his hand, taking alien in the chest.

Nearer to Jinx, a Jedicon penetrated Knight Jaren Dunt's guard and thrust his blade through the young man's midsection. Jaren fell, but before the Jedicon could fully extract his blade Kiz Thrakus was upon him. Thrakus swung twice, and his enemy fell in several pieces on the ground.

Finding a momentary lapse in the fighting, the Jedi outside took a moment to regroup. About a dozen of them were there, and Jinx jogged up beside Thrakus, who was leaning out over the wall and looking towards the city.

Jinx followed his gaze and saw that the AD were finally landing transports in the city. Meanwhile, a fierce dogfight was raging in the air. Fighters dodged in and out of the clouds as sonic booms reverberated throughout the city.

"This is bad," Neres panted, coming up beside them. He was covered in dirt and sweat, but otherwise appeared unharmed. Jinx nodded agreement - he felt like Neres looked - but before he could speak Thrakus broke in.

“Look there!" Kiz shouted, gesturing to the right with his glowing blade. Transport coming in towards us!”

Everyone else turned to look, and Jinx saw something approaching them from the west. A flight of fighters seemed to be flying directly in front of the approaching transport, taking the brunt of the defensive turbolaser fire from the city.

As they watched, one of the fighters was shot down, followed by another, blasting into a thousand pieces. The rest continued to approach rapidlly, and split away just before they reached the palace. Turbolaser strikes hit another one and sent it crashing towards the ground in flames. Then the transport itself was visible. As it soared overhead, it abruptly slowed, passing directly overhead the palace and the Jedi position. Jinx let the Force enhance his vision, and what he saw immediately mortified him.

“What are they doing?” someone blurted.

Figures were pouring out of the open hatch on the transport’s underside. Dozens of beings dropped down into the air, simply freefalling straight down towards the palace itself. It was crazy; they had no chance of surviving, and if they deployed some type of parachute, they would be easy targets for the troops on the ground.

But the falling figures used no such equipment. As they fell, they moved closer to one another, clustering in groups, and their momentum suddenly began to slow. As they neared the surface, they were no longer falling, but merely descending. Shots rang out into the air as soldiers on the ground took aim and fired, but just as quickly blades of light snapped to life and batted them back down towards their attackers.

Jedicon reinforcements were arriving.

"Get ready to regroup!" Kiz shouted, his voice wavering as he stepped away from the wall's edge and began moving towards the enemy's likely landing spot. As he went, he spared a glance back at Jinx. "We'd better warn the Command Center."

"I'm on it," Jinx said, then turned and ran towards the nearest wall comm.


* * *


Main Courtyard
Royal Palace, Varnus
1150 Hours


Dropships were landing in the distance, coming to within a few meters above the streets and dropping large, hovering platforms bristling with weapons. Others touched down and extended their boarding ramps, disgorging hundreds of shock-troops onto the city streets.

The man known as Jac Railler stood with his men, hunkered down behind one of the massive durasteel and ferrocrete barricades they had erected in front of the Royal Palace's main entrance. They wore white armor plating reminiscent of Imperial stormtroopers, but not as extensive in coverage. Rather than the deaths-head helmets of their predecessors, they sported simpler helmets with clear faceplates, allowing much higher visibility. It didn't make him feel very safe, but then again, no amount of personal armor could likely stand up to what the AD would throw at them.

Star Way sat directly ahead of them, cleared of traffic, abandoned. He could see several kilometers, all the way down to Star Park at the other end. That street wouldn't be empty for long, he knew. This was the front line of defense.

Railler had been in situations like this before. He had worn many types of armor before, also - everything from a stormtrooper's to an Imperial Sovereign Protector's. For what the troops didn't know was actually his real name, one that he'd tried to leave behind for good.

Kir Kanos.

This was a war he hadn't counted on. Before this, he had always been the instigator, exacting revenge in the name of a leader he no longer believed in. That had all changed a few years ago. It was almost unreal, how meeting one's adversary and understanding him for the first time could completely shatter everything. Kanos had given up on his quest for revenge, only to find an emptiness remaining. It was as though all the hate and vengeance had grown to fill everything inside, and once that were gone, he found in himself only that nothing else was there. Leaving only one burning question: what else did he have to live for?

He hadn't found that reason - it had found him, instead. Seeing those Haveners slaughered and rounded up like cattle to be slaves... He couldn't believe humans could do that sort of thing to each other.

Now the day of reckoning had arrived.

He looked up at the sky, saw hundreds of shiny objects twisting and looping in a dance of death, each one trying to blast the other out of the sky. The city's cannons spat fire heavenwards, and as he watched, an enemy fighter came down in flames, disappearing behind a building where it crashed to the streets below.

Soldiers surrounded him, watching and waiting. Some of the men with him were ones he had trained himself. Others he barely knew, or didn't know at all. But soon they would all be close comrades.

They heard the enemy before seeing them. Transports had disappeared within the city moments before, and they'd heard booming crashes and muffled explosions. Screams pierced the air occasionally.

Then, coming out of a side street, a massive battle platform turned the corner, coming into view. It was wide, covering over half the street, and bristled with weapons. Kanos heard muffled curses from the soldiers around him, heard their drawn-in breaths.

It was too late to run away, now.

Armored tanks and AT-ATs were the first to open up, pouring fire down the street towards the enemy. In response, blasts of plasma, beam weapons and hypersonic projectiles flew towards the NI vehicles. Stray blasts hit the ground and struck buildings, sending debris flying through the air between the combatant forces.

Durasteel armor was just simply not strong enough to withstand the advanced weaponry of the Altarin'Dakor. The front-line AT-AT was holed by mass driver rounds, the projectiles slicing through the armor as though it were hardly there. A pair of beam blasts hit the vehicle's head then, sending an explosion up from the cockpit and melting the rest into slag. The massive beast tottered, then fell to the right and crashed deafeningly, sending up a cloud of dust.

Combined fire from several NI tanks flashed out and struck the lead AD platform dead in the center, blasting into the armor. But the front of the craft was too well-protected. They couldn't penetrate.

The platform fired again, sending a thick beam of energy into the lower section of one tank. Flames burst out beneath and the craft dropped, then the beam swept upwards, slicing inside and sending up an explosion as its ammunition detonated, destroying the vehicle. Seconds later, a well-placed mass driver sent a projectile into a second tank, stopping it in its tracks and sending it crashing to the ground, disabled.

Kanos started to wonder if this would be over before it even began, when out of the sky a pair of warheads flew straight down and connected on the top of the AD battle platform. A gout of fire and smoke erupted upwards and pieces of the platform were blown high into the air. The craft sank, then hit the streets below, carving up chunks of ferrocrete as it slid forward for another fifty meters, then stopped.

"They got it!" someone shouted, sending up a cheer among the gathered soldiers.

A round of secondary explosions burst out of the vehicle as it continued to burn. It had effectively blocked off the street, making it difficult if any other craft tried to pass. NI reinforcements began to file in from the streets adjacent to the palace's front gate, moving to the corner to guard this position. Perhaps they would be able to hold out longer than he'd thought.

"Wait, do you hear that?" someone called out. He looked around wide-eyed, then stood up to look over the wall.

Kanos felt a sick feeling in his gut; he heard it, all right. He moved to the wall again, peering over the top of the barricade with the rest of the troops.

The NI troops looked out, seeing the momentary lapse in armored vehicle and artillery fire. As the dust settled in the streets, they could see that Star Way was filled from one side to the other with a mass of hundreds armored bodies, all charging forward, filling the air with as near-deafening battle cry.

Here they come, thought Kanos. "Weapons up!" he shouted. Blasters were raised. Men took position.

Then all hell broke loose.

The scene exploded in enemy fire, blasts filing the air, chewing into the barricades, ripping up the streets beneath them. AD shock-troops ran forward, screaming, the forward line pouring out shots with animalistic fury. Large, double handed mass drivers sent bolts blasting into the barricades, while handheld beam cannons sliced into them and through armored bodies as well. Pulse-laser fire sent hundreds and thousands of green bursts into the air, while smaller, automatic rail guns sent out rapid-fire projectiles that pulverized whatever they hit.

Men fell screaming on all sides, even as a torrent of blaster fire opened up on the approaching invaders. Kanos ducked just as a blast hit the barricade beside him, blowing off chunks, then stepped over to one of the openings and lined up his sniper rifle onto the enemy line.

Through his scope he could see the shocktroopers taking dozens of hits, with some soldiers taking multiple hits in a row. Astonishingly though, few were falling, and some that did were rising to their feet again. Their tough armor was taking blaster bolts quite well, far more efficient than what the NI had to offer. Enemy troops were going down, but it was taking far too many hits. Whereas a single blast could fell an NI soldier, it seemed to take five or six before AD armor was penetrated fully.

They'd have to aim carefully to make their shots effective. Kanos drew a bead and fired. His first bolt hit an enemy in the waist, sending him to the ground. As the first man was trampled by those behind, he took aim at another. This time his shot blew through an enemy's faceplate, collapsing him instantly.

Then he had to turn away as the firefight intensified, and mass driver pellets flew though the opening with the sound of miniature sonic booms after they passed. Explosions hit the street from mortars, and one cluster of NI soldiers was blown off their feet from a near-miss.

Facing away from the storm, Kanos saw that they weren't the only ones taking the heat. Flashes lit up different areas of the palace, and every few moments a pair of dueling figures would come into view, lightsabers visible over the external walls as they clashed together again and again. Other troops were stationed along the walls, pouring out fire at the approaching enemy. In other areas, troops were engaged with enemy Jedicon, although those men weren't faring too well.

He saw a Jedi and Jedicon lock blades and slam against a railing, then both figures toppled over, falling out of view into a courtyard below. Shaking his head, Kanos turned back to the front, as a barrage of fire tore though his troops. A beam shot overhead, slicing through one man’s body and severing half the head of another peering over the edge, while another soldier took several rounds of mass driver fire, blasting holes out of his back and sending blood all over Kanos and the others. Roaring in defiance, Kanos stood and leaned up against the barricade once more.

"Hold the line!" he shouted at the top of his lungs, as an enemy missile struck the turbolaser atop a building overhead, blasting the emplacement apart an explosion sending debris raining down towards them.

NI troop fire redoubled. Soldiers lobbed thermal detonators. Another mortar hit at the corner of the nearest building, scattering a cluster of soldiers in a blast of fire and blood. Someone behind Kanos fired a grenade launcher that hit the AD front line, blowing a score of enemy troops and their constituent body parts into the air.

It was truly a war zone. And from here on things are only going to get worse, he thought.


* * *
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Offline J.A.

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 23, 2009 5:18 am   Post subject: Re: "Destiny" - by Joshua Ausley   


Royal Palace Command Center
Vectur, Varnus
1155 Hours



“Jedicon reinforcements have landed!” Jinx’s voice came over the comm. The words caused an immediate stir in the control room, the dozen or so officers present turning from their stations to stare worriedly at the main display.

“Copy that, Jinx,” Xar replied from his seat at the main console. He turned to look at his wife, standing beside him. Her expression, as was often the case, was absent any telling emotion.

Xar shook his head. The battle was full-on, now, encompassing the palace, the city streets, the skies above, and in orbit. So far the NI had given nearly as good as they got, but the tide was turning in the enemy’s favor. The fleet was starting to accumulate damage, fighters numbers were dwindling, and every fallen Jedi was a precious resource lost. Soon the momentum would build, and things would be very bad for the New Imperium. The situation was dire. “We’re in the thick of it, now,” he told her grimly.

"We could really use some help out here," came Jinx's concerned voice.

Zalaria said nothing. Xar turned back to the comm. “We’ll be there soon,” he promised Jinx, then closed the connection. The room was quiet, full of an air of expectation.

“We’ve got to get out there again,” he told Zalaria. “I need your help. Forget about what your brother might do,” he said, repeating his former argument.

She looked away, and he didn’t know quite what to think. Their relationship had become strained by recent events. In fact, the truth was they were having problems. Zalaria did things without asking Xar, things that he didn’t approve of at all. Like putting his friend and Deputy Grand Master into a coma.

He was angry at her, and she knew it. Maybe she was angry at him, too. But for some reason she had clammed up, refusing to share her feelings or move toward some kind of resolution. The rift between them was growing wider, and the truth was they didn’t have enough time to mend it, for now. What have I gotten myself into, he wondered. He’d married an Altarin’Dakor Warlord over a thousand generations old. They weren’t just from different worlds, they were from different times. How could they possibly hope to understand each other?

“Sir, there’s a communiqué from the Diktat’s office on Tralaria,” the Comm officer spoke up.

The words pulled Xar out of his thoughts, reminding him that there were more important things to worry about than his wife, right now. Like the enemy inside his own palace and assaulting his homeworld. “Put it onscreen,” Xar said immediately.

After a second, Gene Rytor’s face appeared on the holoscreen. He looked tired, and the gray in his hair seemed to outnumber the rest, these days. The Diktat was fully dressed, however, despite the fact that it was the middle of the night on Tralaria. Xar didn’t think the man would have waited to dress before calling in.

“Sorry for the delay,” Rytor said, staring into the screen. “I only just heard of the attack on Varnus. What’s the situation there?”

“Not good,” Xar replied. “We’re overrun, and we could use some reinforcements from the Second Fleet as soon as possible.”

“I wish I could,” Rytor said, turning apologetic. “I’m afraid we’re under attack, as well. Seven Titans have entered the system and are approaching Tralaria, fast. We’re vastly outnumbered and will be under attack within a couple of hours.”

“Seven!” Xar exclaimed. He turned to stare at his wife. “I can’t believe Nimrod would have so many Titans here in the sector!”

Zalaria had a curious look in her eyes. “They’re probably experiencing the same effect that we are. What are the names of those Titans?” she asked, stepping beside Xar in front of the screen.

“I’ll get them for you. Hold on.” Rytor glanced off-screen, presumably at another data screen. “They are the Fall of Light, Subjugation, Right of Conquest, Havoc, Ascendancy, Hegemony, and the Desolation.”

“That’s impossible,” Gui Sun Paan blurted from the other console.

“Your scanners are fooling you,” Zalaria told the Diktat. “Some of those Titans are not really there.”

“How do you know that?”

“Because those are the same Titans attacking us,” Xar answered. Nimrod is using Force Illusions to trick us both. I can’t believe he can do it in both places at once.”

“That’s astonishing,” Rytor agreed. “So, how do we know which ones aren’t real?”

Xar glanced back up at his wife. “We’ve got to do something about this, now,” he said. “You helped negate the effects of Nimrod’s emotional attacks. Can’t you do the same thing with these Illusions?”

Zalaria shook her head sharply. “This is not simply his powers. His flagship, the Grand Crusader, is built around a powerful Force artifact.”

“There must be something we can do,” Xar countered. He looked back up at the screen. “Gene, can you give us a video display of those incoming Titans?”

“Just a minute,” Rytor replied, then gestured somewhere offscreen. A moment later the palace’s display showed each Titan for several seconds. Each was an identical match to the ones orbiting Varnus right then.

“Even the previous damage is the same,” Paan noted beside them. “It’s perfect.”

“Not quite,” Xar said, eyes narrowing. Yes, the ships looked identical, but it was their names, not their appearance, that caught his attention. As well as which Titans weren’t supposedly there.

“What are you thinking?” Zalaria asked him.

Xar stared down, his mind racing. It was a big gamble, he knew, because Nimrod could have very well outthought them at every turn. But they had to do something, now, and they couldn’t second-guess themselves forever. Xar was sick and tired of being outsmarted and at the Warlord’s mercy.

“The Grand Crusader and the Cataclysm, are only here,” he said. “Those are definitely real. What Titans have been most active in this Quadrant?” he asked, already thinking he knew the answer.

“The Ascendancy, Hegemony, and Desolation, sir,” someone in the room reported.

Xar paused, nodding in agreement for a moment. “Then those are here, as well. Nimrod could call in reinforcements from Mizar, and bring in his own ship. That’s enough Titans to defeat us. The others are at Tralaria. They’re the ones Dogar has been engaged with, are they not?”

On the screen, Rytor nodded. “Dogar and Sanders are in orbit organizing our defense now. He confirmed that those other ships are the ones that have been driving them back all the way to here.”

Xar looked back up as his wife. She hesitated, then nodded once.

“You’ve got five Titans bearing down on you,” Xar said to Rytor. “Five Titans for each target.” It was still a lot. Too many. They would both still lose these battles.

“Thanks for the information,” Rytor replied. “It helps, at least a little. Hang in there, Xar. We’ll get through this somehow.”

Xar nodded, then reached up and closed the channel. “Paan, signal Gaius and tell him he can ignore those other five Titans.”

“Will do, sir.”

He turned to look at Zalaria. “It’s time to turn this thing around. I’ll flush them out of the palace; I know the halls better than anyone else. I need you to help stop the army outside.”

Xar knew it was a risk, ignoring those other Titans – as was going into the fray of battle, anyway – but he was willing to do whatever it took to drive the Altarin’Dakor off his world. He would fight until every last one of them was dead, even if he had to kill them all himself. They would pay.

He locked eyes with his wife for a moment, and he wondered as he often did what she was thinking inside. She might be able to read his mind quite easily, but to him she was as closed as a book he could never open. Finally she spoke.

“It is pointless to go out there now,” she said.

Xar felt as though she had just slapped him. “What do you mean? This is our last chance to save Vectur!”

“Nimrod has still not committed fully to the battle,” she explained calmly.

Receiving no further explanation, Xar just stared at her incredulously. She just sat there watching the screen, as though everything were proceeding according to plan. Xar shook his head. Men were dying out there. His men.

“You don’t care, do you?” he asked suddenly.

She met his gaze, and Xar felt something dark pass over him. Suddenly his anger flared, surprising even himself. “You really did kill your own people, didn’t you? And now you’re going to let everyone here die, too.”

Shock seemed to cross her face for an instant, but Xar dismissed it; how could he believe her when he couldn’t even read her emotions? She was a master of subterfuge and manipulation.

“You don’t understand…” she began, her voice softening.

“I understand enough,” he countered. “What are you waiting for? For Nimrod’s troops to march right in?” He pushed himself out of his chair, rising to his feet as he kept his eyes trained on her. “Whose side are you really on, anyway?” he felt himself say.

“Xar!” she said, reaching out for him. “Listen…”

“Stay away from me,” he said darkly, pulling away from her. He turned to Paan. “Take care of things here,” he ordered. Then he turned and made his way towards the exit, the fire inside of him burning to find a way out.


* * *


Balconies
Royal Palace, Varnus
1200 Hours



Jinx ran forward into the jaws of hell, knowing he was about to die.

Facing them now was a fresh sampling of Nimrod's finest Jedicon, all in a frenzied state of bloodlust. The group of Jedicon had blocked off the Division's Jedi down a narrow balcony ledge, with a short wall on one side and large windows leading to an interior hallway on the other.

Flanking them were Kiz Thrakus, Neres Warjan and the leaders of the other Jedi Houses, including Draken Ar’Kell and Amleth Uiara, plus Atridd Xoan, Ralagos Akala, and more. The best Jedi fighters the Division had to offer, this was the day their fate had arrived.

Duels were raging all across the palace balconies and walls, and Jedi and Jedicon were falling in rapid succession on each side. The Jedi were outnumbered now, though. Untold numbers of Jedicon were wandering around the interior by now. The whole palace was in dire danger of being overrun.

Jinx had been fighting for two hours straight, now, and he was tired. He had successfully killed five Jedicon so far, more than he’d managed in his whole career to date. It seemed a miracle that he was still alive, yet now even that feat seemed painfully insignificant. And while they fought on the tops of the walls, dogfighting starfighters streaked overhead, while the sounds of artillery and infantry fire filled the air around them.

The fighting was brutal and quick. Jedicon crowded forward, even shoving at each other to try and get to the Division’s Jedi first. The two sides met, and only death and destruction ensued. Blasts of energy shot back and forth between the two groups, felling warriors on both sides. But the close-quarters combat at the wall was the bloodiest.

Templar Sian Rocanon surged forward and engaged a black-skinned Jedicon with pale tattoos, a notable change. Both warriors screamed and swung their blades, their attacks meant for killing, not dueling. Rocanon’s saber took the man’s head off, at the same time the Jedicon’s blade cleaved the Mirialan Jedi’s arm away at the shoulder. Rocanon passed out and collapsed, but the next Jedicon in line ran him through before he could hit the ground.

Atridd Xoan struck blades with an enemy, then caught the opponent’s wrist, wrenching it up, and slid his blade across the Jedicon’s stomach. Beside him, Ralagos Akala blocked an attack, grabbed his opponent with his clawed hands and tossed him over the wall. On a nearby ledge, Ken "Nova" Nandos was clashing blades over and over with a large, muscular Jedicon, while Draken Ar’Kell was being driven quickly backwards by another opponent. Everywhere around them, a rainbow of multicolored energy blades clashed, sending their light reflecting off the walls and windows.

Then Jinx hit the line, with Thrakus right beside him. The one had that killed Rocanon struck at Jinx next, and their blades locked in a flash of light and whining energy. At the side, Thrakus’ swing met his opponent’s blade, pressing it down into the wall beside them. The Jedicon dropped his blade and pulled out another, igniting it right in Kiz’s face. Thrakus dodged back just in time with his Force-enhanced speed, but the blade still caught him on the arm, cutting shallowly but enough that the Jedi gasped and fell back.

Still locked in with his opponent, Jinx quickly reversed his blade’s momentum and forced his enemy’s to the side, then spun his wrists and came down, cleaving the Jedicon’s arm off at the elbow.

Beside him, Kiz dropped his own lightsaber and thrust his good hand out towards his opponent and unleashed a blast of energy. It hit the enemy square on in the chest, and the Jedicon was blown backwards into two of his comrades, one of who speared him by accident from behind.

The loss of his arm barely phased Jinx’s opponent. The Jedicon lunged forward inside Jinx’s grip, closed his other hand around his neck and squeezed. Jinx choked and fell back, the enraged Jedicon opening his mouth wide as if to bite him in the face. Then a shaft of green light passed through the side of the man’s head, making his eyes glow before he collapsed at Jinx’s feet, dead. Neres stepped into view and reached out to steady Jinx, who nodded his thanks.

Thrakus stepped back from the front, nursing his injured left arm, and Amleth Uiara slid past him to fill in the gap. In front of him, Ian Durran struck at an opponent but missed, the Jedicon spinning away from the blow and back around to slice Durran’s head clean off. Yelling, Amleth jumped forward and batted the Jedicon’s blade aside, then split the enemy from shoulder to hip in one huge swipe.

Jinx saw a massive saurian Jedicon in the thick of it, towering head and shoulders over even the largest Jedicon, waving a massive lightsaber back and forth and driving the rest of the Jedicon forward. Beside him was a shorter man with wildly spiked hair rising over his head, and several small tattoos on his face.

Jinx had faced this particular Jedicon before.

Nobien’s eyes widened in recognition as he saw Jinx, then it was full-on. Moving as fast as he could, Jinx backed away from one Jedicvon, extended a hand and released a blast of Force Destruction at the wild-haired man. The Jedicon dodged to the side, his body a blur as he moved, and the blast ripped through another man behind him. In response, Nobien put his hands together and fired a slightly larger blast in return, even as Jinx rushed forward, his blade singing overhead.

Jinx dove to the ground and rolled, the blast passing above his body and singing his robes. He came up and swung his blade at his unarmed opponent – but Nobien’s weapons were his bare hands. The Jedicon leapt over the first blow, and even as Jinx brought his blade around and down diagonally as fast as he could, Nobien was faster still, pivoting sideways to miss the attack by centimeters. Then the Jedicon leapt backwards out of Jinx’s reach.

Before he could react, Templar Vern Mavrik jumped forward to fill Jinx’s place. Jinx shouted for Mavrik to stop, that he was out of his league, but it was too late. The Jedi swung hard at Nobien, but the Jedicon ducked under the blow and surged forward, bringing his arm back and, in a blur almost too fast to see, sending his fist straight through the Templar’s heart.

As Mavrik fell, Jinx jumped over his body, yelling, bringing his blade straight down at his enemy’s head. Nobien lunged forward as well, his bloody hand now surging forward and catching Jinx’s wrist and arresting his momentum before he could connect the blow. Jinx grunted as he struggled against the Jedicon’s grip, then Nobien reached out with his left hand, gripped Jinx’s robe by the belt, and with a cry of effort lifted him up into the air and threw him straight at the window on Jinx’s left.

Jinx cried out as he crashed through the transparisteel, the window giving way to his Force-strengthened body. Pieces of the glass cut him all over his body, and he hit the floor of the corridor on the other side and rolled away as Nobien dove through the opening after him.

The fight on the balcony, however, was far from over. More bodies rushed to fill the space left by the dueling warriors.

Kiz Thrakus, having retrieved his blade, ducked under a quick blow and with his good arm cut off one Jedicon’s leg just above the knee, moving past and leaving him for his comrades. Another one came in screaming, locking blades with Kiz and forcing his lightsaber to the side. The enemy’s foot snapped out and caught him in the chest, and Kiz flew backwards several paces to the floor.

The saurian Jedicon towering over all the others sauntered forward, hefting a massive lightsaber twice as large as anyone else’s. It came up behind where Huan Knor'lian stood locked in a duel with one long-haired Jedicon. Brushing the Jedicon aside, he stepped forward to fill his place, bringing his huge blade around in a huge, horizontal swipe at the Jedi. Knor’lian’s brought his blade up and blocked, but the Bothan Aedile had sorely underestimated his opponent’s strength. The attack wasn’t particularly fast, but Knor’lian’s blade offered little resistance the Jedicon’s saber swept it right along and sliced the Bothan in half at the chest.

Then Val Ricaud was there, striking fiercely at the Jedicon to avenge his fallen Aedile. He moved fast, his blue-tinted blade a blur as he came in high, low, diagonally, catching the reptilian’s blade with a flash each and every time.

The Jedicon defended, stepping back as he parried a blow, and pivoted – Kiz thought he was going to run. That was when he saw the lizard’s long tail lash out. At least two meters in length, the leathery appendage swept out like a whip and cracked the Duro across the head with a loud snap. Ricaud stumbled back, dazed, and the Jedicon pressed the advantage. Striking out, he caught the Jedi’s guard high, then lashed out with his tail again, this time catching the Jedi across the ankles. The Duro’s feet were swept out from under him, and as he fell, the saurian brought his blade down vertically. Ricaud fell in two pieces.

“Fall back!” Kiz shouted. “Regroup!” He knew they weren’t going to last much longer out here. He suited actions to words, moving back down the balcony and allowing some NI troops to distract the Jedicon for a moment by taking potshots at them.

Out towards Star Way, the street was filled with enemies, running the gauntlet leading up to the front of the Royal Palace. By now, the streets parallel on either side were full of enemy troops and tanks also. The defenders were taking extremely heavy fire down there. Stray shots flew through the air, and Jedi had to bat away blasts fired at them from the distance below.

A slim woman with long blonde air was striding out on one of the forward walls with an air of near impunity. She wore tight-fitting clothes that left her skin exposed in various places – between her breasts, over her biceps, thigh and calf, as well as other spots, and underneath Kiz could see vivid red tattoos that appeared to mark her entire body. Her attention seemed to be on the troops below.

The woman raised her hands, and red lightning shot from them, tearing into the New Imperium troops from behind. They never knew what hit them. Those bolts didn’t electrocute – they seared, and cut, slicing through armor and sending men down screaming. In response, the woman laughed, a rich, evil sound that overlay the sounds of war around her.

“Thrakus!” a voice shouted from nearby, jolting Kiz’s attention elsewhere. He turned and found himself face to face with Atridd Xoan, the large, dark-skinned man an imposing figure staring down on him.

“Get to Medbay,” the man ordered. “We’ll hold out here as long as we can.”

Kiz stared at him incredulously. “I’m not abandoning my men!”

“At least take the time to heal yourself – this isn’t over by a long shot. We need reinforcements!” Behind him, Ralagos Akala was fiercely engaged with two Jedicon at once, and holding his own. Some of the other Jedicon were no longer visible – probably they’d penetrated the palace, now. Kiz shook his head – how powerful were the people in Xar’s cadre? The Division was fast running out of Jedi to defend with; could Xar’s person few make up the difference? Why had they gotten special treatment? It was too late to worry about it, now.

“Go!” Atridd shouted. “Find Xar!” Then he turned, joining with Amleth and Neres and moving away to assist Akala.


* * *
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Offline J.A.

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Joined: Tue May 20, 2008 8:29 pm

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 02, 2009 4:16 am   Post subject: Re: "Destiny" - by Joshua Ausley   

Royal Palace Command Center
Vectur, Varnus
1215 Hours



We are all going to die, Gui Sun Paan realized grimly as he watched the viewscreen.

On all fronts, the NI was losing fast, while the enemy was gaining momentum. The fleet in orbit was being battered. Air forces weren’t enough to prevent enemy landings. The Palace grounds, the central target of the enemy shocktroops, was about to be overrun. And with the Jedicon reinforcements, it was only a matter of time before they overwhelmed the Division’s Jedi and killed every one of them, Paan included.

The entire First Fleet in orbit hadn’t been able to even slow them down. The second force attacking Tralaria was more than strong enough to take the NI capital. They were simply facing an enemy far, far beyond anything they had ever known, and they had no chance of stopping them.

The New Imperium was about to be destroyed. It was over.

“Please, help us,” he said to Zalaria, looking at the woman as she stood quietly in front of the other console.

She barely spared him a glance, instead staring forward at her own viewscreen. Paan watched her for several seconds, then finally looked away, afraid she might know he was looking.

What was she doing? She seemed to be keeping track of the fleet battle in orbit, and making instructions for her own forces. But was that all she was doing? How hard was she really trying to help them defend Varnus?

“I have been too lenient with him,” he heard her whisper.

Startled, Paan found his eyes on her again. As he often did, he found himself intrigued by her presence. She was, undoubtedly, the most physically beautiful woman he’d ever seen. Her skin was flawless, her body perfectly proportioned, her eyes holding immense intelligence and wildness at the same time.

He realized that he really had no idea how old she really looked. Her poise and regal bearing often made her seem far older and more mature than he, yet physically he wouldn’t have placed her a day over thirty. No – in fact, the longer he looked, the younger she seemed. Maybe twenty-five? That was impossible. Did her appearance actually change?

Suddenly apprehensive, he looked away again. Her words hung in his head, generating a thousand different questions in his mind. What did she mean? Hearing her and Xar arguing had been disconcerting, to say the least. They should have been the closest now, in the face of danger. Instead, the whole room had been full of tension as long as the two of them were together. The anger had been palpable; it felt like the whole room was going to burst into flames. This would not help the morale of the troops at all.

In fact, it created a truly frightening question in Paan’s heart: If even Xar didn’t trust her anymore, how could anyone?

He felt like the hairs on the back of his neck were standing up, and he glanced back towards the Warlord. Her eyes were boring straight through him. Paan shifted uncomfortably in his seat. The truth was, he was scared to death of her. Paan swallowed hard – could she really read his mind? Did she know everything he was thinking?

“What do you want?” she asked abruptly, almost confirming his fears.

“We…” Paan stammered. “We can’t survive this without you. Please, help us,” he pleaded.

She stared at him a moment longer, then turned her head, staring distantly away. “Quit whining,” she said.

Paan opened his mouth to respond, but a sudden chill shot through him, along with a feeling of dread. It felt like he was in grave danger, and he had no idea if the source was the enemy outside, or the woman beside him. He kept his mouth shut.

He spared a quick glance around the room, where the staff were all busying themselves in their consoles and displays, pointedly avoiding looking in his direction. Zalaria’s two burly Jedicon bodyguards stood at the room’s flanks, keeping a watchful eye over everything. Paan suddenly realized that he was the only Jedi in the room. And not only was he outnumbered, he knew he was outmatched beyond all hope should something untoward happen.

Trying to ignore them all, Paan turned his attention back to the displays. The situation was continuing to deteriorate.

“Sir, we have a problem,” one of the officers spoke up suddenly. “Our cameras are showing more and more Jedicon inside the palace, now.”

“What areas?” he asked.

“They’re spreading out to wherever they can go. They’re just – destroying everything they come across,” the woman reported. “They go into the rooms, and if they don’t find anyone there, they just trash the whole place before moving on.”

“What if they do find someone?” Paan asked, feeling panic set in.

The officer just looked at him sadly. Rising to his feet, Paan ran over to her station. One look at her console screen told him all he needed to know.

“There are civilians still loose in the palace!” he exclaimed. On several of the cameras he could even see figures running around. On others, Jedicon ran though the corridors in a crazed frenzy. “They’re trapped! We have to help them!” Paan looked over at Zalaria. The woman stared back at him, but didn’t say anything.

What was she doing? Was she even on their side, or did she simply deem them unimportant? Maybe Xar was right after all.

“I’m going,” he announced. “If we don’t stop them, the Jedicon will slaughter every last one of them.”

“If you go, you will die,” Zalaria said, her soft voice undercutting the hubbub in the room. She watched him, and Paan felt her gaze like a weight on his shoulders. He shook his head, realizing one thing – unlike her, he was a Jedi. Sworn to protect and defend.

“Take command,” he told the woman officer sitting next to him. Then, to Zalaria, he forced a grim smile to his lips. “Join me later if you want. I’m a Jedi, and I have a job to do.”


* * *
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Offline J.A.

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Joined: Tue May 20, 2008 8:29 pm

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PostPosted: Tue Apr 14, 2009 3:08 am   Post subject: Re: "Destiny" - by Joshua Ausley   


In Orbit
Varnus
1240 Hours



Donitz was hot on the tail of an enemy fighter, pulling tight with his opponent and about to pull the trigger, when his quarry abruptly disappeared.

Sithspawn's carcass! Again! How was he supposed to fight when half of his enemies didn't really exist?

Hissing in frustration, he pulled his fighter around in a loop, heading back towards the main battle. The NI fleet was in dire shape. At first they had held up well, fighting back hard, but as the enemy numbers continued to swell, the damage was beginning to take its toll. Huge chunks of debris floated among the fleet's formation, pieces of ships that had already been obliterated.

"This is Gaius to all fleet ships," the Fleet Commander's voice came over the comm. "Be advised that some of the enemy Titans are also phantoms. We have conclusive evidence to indicate that the Titans labeled Fall of Light, Subjugation, Munificence, Right of Conquest, and Havoc on your transponders are illusions. They are not actually there.” A pause. “Yes, you heard correctly – it sounds impossible, but they are indeed fakes. All ships are instructed to disregard those vessels as targets. Fire from those ships will not cause damage to our ships. Out."

Donitz glanced at his commlink, knowing his eyes were narrowed in skepticism. Fighters and transports were one thing, but five entire Titans? How powerful were these Jedicon that the Altarin’Dakor had? Nothing, even myths and legends he had heard growing up, compared with what he had been seeing here, right now with his very eyes.

Nevertheless, the NI forces were following orders. No more fire was headed towards the Titans in question. Attacks were focusing on the remaining five Titans. Meanwhile, AD fire continued to pour into the NI ships, most of which had lost shields by this point.

Donitz’s engines sang as he crossed back into the main field of battle. As he grew closer, he saw the final death throes of the ISD Phantom as thick beams of energy carved through her hull broadsides, turning whole areas into slag and cutting deep into her decks. The whole ship appeared to be aflame, and as beams from one of the nearby Titans - the Cataclysm, he noted - tore into the ship, they hit the Star Destroyer's solar ionization reactor. An explosion blossomed within the ship, blowing out through the breaches in her hull, then a chain reaction devoured the ship in a massive explosion that lit space up like a small star. A shockwave wiped out dozens of fighters around the vicinity, and a ring of blazing hot gases filled the star-studded view in front of Donitz.

It wasn't the only casualty of war. A dozen other NI vessels were heavily damaged, on fire and leaking atmosphere and smoke, leaving a thick cloud that partially obscured the fleet. The Defiant was taking heavy fire, her shields down now, her entire port side a blackened char with fire and gas pouring out of her. Meanwhile, the enemy line remained constant. Though numerous smaller capital ships had been destroyed, the Titans stood resolute, mercilessly wiping out the NI fleet ship by ship.

Then, as he glanced at the enemy lined, five of the Titans – all those that Gaius had mentioned – suddenly wavered like ripples in a pond. Then they disappeared, too.

Donitz blinked for a minute in near disbelief. Gaius was right, he realized. That meant the attacking AD force was only half as strong as they’d thought. Unfortunately, they were still more than enough to defeat the NI defenders. And perhaps even more telling, Donitz realized they had been outwitted. The fake Titans, in a position to cover the transports as they landed, had stopped the NI from preventing ground landings on Varnus. Now Vectur was under attack and in bad shape.

The remaining Titans were pouring on the assault, almost as if dropping the illusions freed them up to attack even more aggressively. The two largest Titans, the Grand Crusader and the Cataclysm, continued to hang back, firing with impunity into the NI formation. Two others, the Ascendancy and the Hegemony, were moving closer to the fleet, picking the NI ships apart. The Desolation was the only ship not unleashing one devastating beam weapon blast after another. All the forward batteries on the ship’s nose had been neutralized, some from a previous engagement, the rest more recently from precision fire from the Majestic-class cruisers.

“Sir, two bogeys incoming at ten o’clock high!” Gastron shouted.

Donitz looked up and to port, spotting two sleek craft diving towards them. Losing Nibiuri earlier to the transport attack had left the two of them flying alone for the time being. Pulling back on the stick, he moved to engage. “On me,” he told Gastron. “Take the one on the right.”

They pulled up, beams of energy flashing past underneath as they angled in. Gastron began firing at the starboard bogey, and Donitz let his crosshairs drift over that way, as well. As they came together, he fired several blasts at the same enemy, causing the craft to pull off. At the last second Donitz pulled his Defender back up towards the second enemy, but he was too far inside to draw a bead. The enemy Stiletto flew past behind him, and Donitz rolled to starboard and dove after him.

The enemy was looping to port, thinking that Donitz was tailing him the other way around. Instead, they were turning in the same direction, and the Defender got lead on the AD craft much earlier. Donitz squeezed the trigger, sending bursts of fire from his ship’s six laser cannons. The Stiletto’s shields lit up under multiple hits, and suddenly the enemy pilot veered his craft in the other direction, heading away as if trying to escape.

“Sir, he’s gotten around on my tail!” came Gastron’s voice.

Donitz noted his wingman’s position, saw that he would need help soon but knew he could finish this opponent off first. Switching to missiles, he got lock almost immediately and sent an advanced torpedo after the enemy fighter. In a couple of seconds the warhead crossed the distance between them, then struck the Stiletto in its tailpipe, blowing the fighter out of the sky.

He turned back and pushed his throttle to full, heading after the other enemy Stiletto on Gastron’s tail. He spotted them quickly, two bright dots reflecting the light of Varnus’ sun. The enemy fighter was matching the Defender’s evasive maneuvers expertly. Centering his crosshairs on the enemy blip, Donitz heard his tone go solid, indicating a lock, and launched his last torpedo out after the enemy.

The Stiletto went evasive, pulling off of Gastron’s tail, but he couldn’t avoid the warhead traveling much faster than he was. The torpedo hit, flaring his shields and sending the fighter into a wobble. Soaring in with twin ion engines screaming, Donitz drew aim and fired, knowing that at this speed he would only get one quick pass.

His blasts hit, tearing away the rest of the shields and hitting the fighter’s portside wing. The whole left side of the fighter exploded, sending the rest of it into an uncontrolled spin towards the planet below.

“Thanks for the save, Sir,” Gastron said, his craft pulling back into formation.

“Copy. Set heading one-oh-four,” Donitz replied, bringing them closer to the NI fleet again. He could see AD fighters swarming around the fleet, many of them actually still ramming themselves into the NI capital ships. The tactic was beginning to take its toll. The SSD Independence herself was on fire from countless impact points on her hull, and other ships were either out of commission or in the process of going up, one detonation after another. One of the frigates was hit by several suicide impacts, some of which must have been carrying warheads, because the ensuing explosions tore the ship apart and sent debris raining down out of orbit.

New Imperium and Altarin’Dakor fighters were still swarming around in a cloud out between and amongst the capital ships. Donitz estimated that the NI had lost fifty percent of their fighters already. Though they had perhaps taken out as many AD fighters as they had lost, it put the NI forces in an even more hopeless situation. With casualties continuing to rise, he wondered how much longer the NI could hold out.

Suddenly he noticed a large group of AD fighters descending from an engagement in a coordinated swarm. It didn’t take long to realize that these were the enemy’s Jedicon fighters, the victors of the exclusive little furball they had been having with Zalaria’s Jedicon. In amazement, Donitz noted that not one of Zalaria’s forces had survived. They had all been wiped out to a man. Having won the engagement, the remaining AD fighters were now descending upon the rest of the NI fleet, which would be helpless to defend against their Force techniques. As he watched, a cluster of the fighters began buzzing around some of the NI capital ships, blowing away any fighters that dared to approach them, cutting through the hulls of the larger ships while managing to avoid return fire. The MC-90 Courageous fell to a swarm of Jedicon fighters, hitting weak points, destroying shield generators, communications hardpoints, and weapons emplacements with expert aim. The cruiser was quickly incapacitated, and still the enemy continued to cut up the doomed ship like a surgeon’s knife. Other fighters went after the SSD Independence, their pilots amazingly able to dodge the turret gunners virtually every time.

Still other Jedicon fighters were headed down into the atmosphere, to help finish off the NI defenders and help the ground assault. They passed the NI formation and quickly began entry, still holding their uncannily perfect formations.

Donitz knew better than to engage with any of them. The only thing they could do was take on what fighters they could, protect the NI ships from further suicide attacks and follow orders as they came down, whether that included covering a retreat or fighting here to the death.

His scanners showed another squadron of enemy fighters set on a collision course with the ISD Vindicator. Signaling to the other craft around him, he pulled around to intercept them, wondering how much longer his luck was going to hold out. He was out of missiles, and NI losses continued to mount. He might be able to outfly any enemy pilot, but as the numbers began to mount against him, statistically his chances of survival were growing slim. Still, if that were the case, he would continue to do what he could, for as long as he could. Fate would take care of the rest.


* * *


Bridge
Titan-class Battleship
Desolation
1255 Hours


Naguis’Vox’Donn Gerim Chothas stood on the bridge of the Desolation and watched as the other Titans continued to destroy the enemy fleet, ship after ship.

The Desolation deserved to join in the honor, to take her share of the glory. She should not have to sit here like this, her forward guns destroyed, unable to exact revenge upon the Outlanders for their defeat on Varnus millennia ago. Every Altarin’Dakor child grew up hearing stories about the great battle on Varnus. Now countless warriors were out there taking part in the honor, many destroying themselves in glorious form as they rammed their ships into the enemy line, sacrificing themselves. This was history being rewritten before their very eyes, and one inconsequential formation should not prevent this grand command ship’s crew from partaking in this glorious event.

Chothas turned his graying head – a testament of his years of service – towards the navigation officer. “Turn us to port,” he ordered. “Prepare a broadside barrage against the enemy command ship. No, not the Nexus – the other one.”

The words had barely left his mouth before the communications officer spoke up. “Sir, a priority communiqué from the Grand Crusader,” the officer reported. “We are ordered to stand fast and not face our side towards the enemy.”

“What?” Chothas barked out. “How could they?” He blinked at the display holos in shock and outrage, mixed with more than a little awe. The order had come as soon as he considered turning; they must have known what he was going to say before he’d even said it! The Great Lord was truly in full control, this day. And yet why prevent them from joining in the battle? Was it punishment for the damage they’d received at the Moro System? The order seemed senseless, but the Great Lord always had his reasons.

The holo showed the other four Titans were pouring fire into the enemy fleet. Return fire was becoming weaker by the moment. There was virtually nothing the enemy could do, no obvious danger that needed to be avoided. Chothas seethed with the desire to kill, to unleash a barrage of fire that would destroy these Outlanders once and for all. With the Desolation’s help, the battle would be won all the faster.

He stood there for a moment, brimming with excitement, torn between sense of duty and the desire for glory. So what if disobedience cost him his life? The glory earned from so many kills would surely serve his eternally in the afterlife. What did it matter, if they turned broadside? The enemy didn’t have enough firepower to destroy the Desolation. Seeing how much more devastating their assault would be, the Great Lord might even be pleased, might even reward him.

“Turn to port,” he commanded. “Track all starboard batteries on the Independence and open fire.”

“Sir…” the communications officer started.

“Silence!” Chothas snapped. “Tell them our receivers are damaged. Turn this ship and open fire!”

“Yes, sir!” the navigation officer answered.

Slowly, the starfield around them began to shift, and the massive Titan began to turn.


* * *
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Offline J.A.

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PostPosted: Wed Apr 22, 2009 3:50 am   Post subject: Re: "Destiny" - by Joshua Ausley   

Titan-class Battleship Nexus
1300 Hours


The Nexus took another hit from the Grand Crusader’s powerful forward cannons, and the deck shook slightly beneath Sector Admiral Gaius’ feet. A chime sounded from somewhere else on the bridge.

“Our shields are down to thirty percent,” Commodore Awel Kylar reported crisply. “Attacks are beginning to penetrate and damage the hull.”

Gaius stood resolutely, staring at the battle unfolding all around them thanks to the Nexus' holographic walls. He watched as the ISD Fang went up in a series of explosions, ripping out of her engines, up through the bridge superstructure, and chewing through the ship’s body, ripping her hangar apart and sending the rest of the vessel pitching forward, a drifting hulk on fire.

"We've taken over fifty percent fighter casualties," Fleet Admiral Jann Percy spoke up from the tactical station, his voice tense.

Standing next to Percy, Field Marshall Kaler shook his head. “This battle is over. It’s only a matter of time, now.”

The Fleet Commander ignored him. There was no need to state the obvious. The NI couldn’t win this battle; only a miracle could save them, now. The question that Gaius knew was on his shoulders, however, was whether to sacrifice everything in defense of Varnus. There were millions of lives down there at stake; at the same time, Tralaria was under attack, as well. If the combined NI fleets had amassed all in one place, they might have saved one of the two targets. Yet those kinds of decisions were impossible to make – besides, even if one of Nimrod’s fleets was defeated, the other would surely come and exact revenge later.

The decision had been reached long ago. They would fight here until they could fight no longer. Whoever survived would then flee NI space and try to warn the rest of the galaxy of the impending invasion. For once the NI was defeated, the AD would march on an unsuspecting galaxy ripe for the taking.

“Gaius, what’s that Titan doing?” Walt Amason’s voice came from across the bridge.

Turning to follow the man's outstretched arm – it was good having extra sets of eyes when on a near 360 degree view of the battle – Gaius saw the Desolation beginning a sweeping turn to port, bringing it out of line with the other Titans. The Desolation, her massive bow a blackened, ruined char, had been unable to fire at the NI fleet in any significant capacity. But if she brought her side batteries to bear... They could have as many as a score of new fusion beams emplacements to worry about, he realized.

"They're going to broadside us," Gaius realized.

They all watched as the Titan continued to turn slowly, thousands of viewport lights becoming visible along the ship's spine.

"Admiral," Awel Kylar spoke up from the tactical display nearby. "The Desolation has lost her forward shields. Those on the starboard side are still intact. However, in approximately thirty seconds we will have an opening through the forward shields to strike anywhere along the ship's starboard side."

Gaius immediately caught the meaning of his words: they would have an unprotected target for a matter of a few seconds, but they would only get one chance at it. Though they might not have a chance of winning this battle, they could certainly take as many of the enemy with them as possible.

“Order to all ships: train all batteries on the opening in the Desolation’s shields. Target all vital systems that you can, especially the bridge. We might be going down, but by the Force we’re taking her with us!”

He watched as the tactical holo counted down the seconds to the Titan’s opening. As they dropped to within five seconds, Gaius raised his voice, trusting that the whole fleet could hear his orders.

“Fire on my mark,” he said. “Three… Two… One… Fire!”

The NI Fleet opened up just as the Titan's turn reached the perfect angle, and at that moment all the fleet's batteries turned towards that one, single target. Thousands of green and red turbolaser blasts shot out, passing through the opening in her shields and impacting against the Desolation's hull, melting armor into slag and blowing huge chunks into the ship's interior. The Nexus' beam weapons joined them, cutting into the ship's vital areas.

The four Majestic-class cruisers, having hovered safely within the Nexus' protective shield, opened up with their transport-sized mass driver rounds. Each fired her rounds even as a beam from the Hegemony penetrated the Nexus' weakened shield and sliced into the Repulse. The beam cut through her just aft of the cannon's barrel, tearing through the ship's body and causing an explosion to rip out in its wake, blowing the ship apart and sending the barrel drifting forward away from the ensuing fireball.

Nevertheless, the four blasts hit, easily penetrating the shields to strike around the presumed bridge area. The mass driver rounds punched through the Desolation's hull before detonating their armor-piercing, explosive rounds. The shots hit at an angle, blasting massive craters into the Titan's side in a series of huge explosions. The Desolation seemed to shudder under the impact.

Then the turbolaser blasts began to light up the Titan's shields once more. "The opening in the Desolation's shields is now closed," Awel Kylar reported. "We can no longer penetrate her defenses."

Gaius nodded, masking the frustration he felt inside. They'd brought all their firepower to bear, inflicting incredible damage on the enemy ship, and yet she was still standing. What did it take to destroy a Titan? They had eliminated a dozen more beam turret emplacements, but the ship still had more remaining. Had they damaged the bridge?

"Keep up the attack," he ordered finally. "She's the weakest target out there. We're not going to hold back until that ship is space dust."

He hoped their attack had been effective enough. If not, then they would find out soon enough. Whatever happened, they would keep firing until either their guns overloaded, or there was no one left alive to fire them at all.


* * *


Titan-class Battleship Desolation
In Orbit, Varnus
1300 Hours



It seemed as though they had been in darkness forever.

In reality, though, it had probably been only two or three weeks, and only about a week since the newcomers had arrived. Meals had been sparse, only once a day and consisting of bland, grueling porridge that probably had no nutritional value. Water had been precious, too. They were probably all dehydrated and malnourished at this point, and their unwashed bodies doubtless smelled rank and intolerable by this point.

Still, the thing they missed most was the light.

Only when meals were passed in and brought out, along with their bodily wastes, would some light spill into the pitch-black room. It seemed blinding every time the small slot would slide open, yet it was welcomed like water in the hottest desert. Without light, humankind would probably dissolve into insanity and dementia. Only the company of their comrades had kept them going this far. They were all tired, hungry and weak. Without the Force, they had no way to pass the time through meditation, no ability to boost their physical condition, no method of contact with the outside world.

And that darkness, the absence of that sense of life generated by all living things in the universe - that made the darkness even more complete, and final.

Suddenly, unexpectedly the ship lurched and shuddered violently, sending the captives scrambling to keep their positions on the floor. It the first time they'd felt anything like it on the Titan, anything more than small vibrations and muffled whoomps. Those telltale signs had alerted them to the continuing battle, but they had no more information about it than that. This time, though, the movement was so violent, Roger Macreed knew that if anyone had been standing, they probably would've been thrown off their feet.

"We just took a big hit!" someone exclaimed, and Macreed recognized Domi's voice.

Then suddenly, Macreed could feel the Force around him again. Even though they were all still in pitch-black darkness, it was as though a light suddenly came on in his mind and soul. The room went silent in an instant, and he knew that everyone felt it, as well. It was like stumbling upon an oasis in that desert. It was like waking up from a nightmare.

Whatever had been keeping them from touching the Force was gone, now.

The Grand Master wasted no time. Macreed felt a surge in the Force, and suddenly the cell door was blown outwards off its hinges. Light flooded into the room, blinding them temporarily. Macreed drew in the Force, feeling it flood him with light, and his eyes started to adjust and send him information.

For one thing, the hallway outside was lit by emergency lighting strips at the ceiling. Power loss, he realized. The ship must have taken a major hit to lose vital systems. What could damage a Titan so badly?

"Come on," Misnera urged them, stepping into the doorway and waving them forward. "We've got to get out of here while there's still time."

Macreed pushed himself to his feet, swaying unsteadily. He had no idea how long it would take for the AD to notice their escape, but he knew that the Grand Master was right; this was their only chance at escape, and they had to move fast.

The room's other occupants followed the Grand Master into the corridor, and one by one they emerged from the cell. Macreed was second out, behind Misnera.With each step he found himself getting steadier and stronger, thanks to the Force. Following him were Vykk Olyronn, Colin Moore, Jontaar Domi, Mrax Satai, and Rilke Darcunter, and finally Brajo, who had been in just as long as Macreed himself. Brajo's eyes were wide, and he looked as though he were seeing things for the first time in his life.

The corridor was empty except for them. Turning right, Grand Master Misnera led them at a trot down the hallway. They had a fifty-fifty chance that the control room would be this way. It turned out that they chose correctly.

They came upon a guard station lightly guarded by several unsuspecting troops. The Altarin'Dakor, concerned with the power outage, had apparently not noticed that the Jedi prisoners had escaped. They looked up just as the whole group barged into the room, Grand Master Misnera leading them.

Misnera moved swiftly and decisively. The guards were behind their control stations, trying to get their systems back online. As they saw the Jedi approach, several went for their guns, but Misnera ran forward and threw out a hand, and the whole group of them were blown out of their chairs. They slammed against bulkheads and consoles, cracking helmets open and crushing bones with sickening crunching sounds.

Out of a side corridor, two more guards appeared, hefting pulse blasters and aiming right for the group of Jedi. Macreed turned towards them, together with Vykk and Domi, and all three sent out a Force Push as strongly as they could. The two soldiers flew backwards, their guns misfiring into the floor as they flew into the wall and fell to the floor, unmoving.

Then suddenly a Jedicon leapt into the room, lightsaber igniting with an unmistakable snap-hiss. He leapt over a retaining wall and across the control room, flying straight for Misnera. The Grand Master, however, made no move to avoid the attack. Instead he leaned back, drawing his hands together, and Macreed felt a rush of the Force flowing within him. Then Misnera threw his hands out, still together, and a blast of energy leapt from them and connected with the enemy. The warrior took the hit straight in the chest blowing his chest armor to bits and sending him in a complete backflip before landing face-first on the floor, sliding up against the Grand Master's feet.

The whole ordeal had taken only seconds. With no one left visibly alive in the vicinity, the Jedi moved into the guard station. They checked the consoles, which were just coming back to life on auxilliary power, but as all the readouts were in Altarin'Dakor, Macreed could make no sense out of them at all.

"Where to now?" Vykk asked, glancing at a skematic map overlay of the detention area. A red light was now flashing over one of the cell bays, presumably the one from which the Jedi had escaped.

"Out," Misnera replied, coming up beside him. He apparently could read some Altarin'Dakor - perhaps from studying after some had joined with the NI - because he glanced down at the controls intentely, as though looking for something. "Where... There it is. Security doors. Closed, it says." He glanced up at the other Jedi. "Let's try 'open', shall we?" He tapped something on the screen. A second later, a reverberating hissing noise echoed from down the hallways, sounding oddly as though a whole lot of doors were opening at the same time.

Misnera grunted in satisfaction. "That should keep security occupied. Now, let's see... This area of the map says its a storage unit. We need our gear back - or if we can't get our own, we at least need some weapons. Come on."

They found the storage locker down a side corridor, unoccupied. Breaking into the crates and units with the Force, they were able to locate their personal items, which had been locked down, and they were able to procure at least six pulse blasters that Misnera spread out among them. Rilke Darcunter even located a cache of what appeared to be stun grenades.

Macreed brandished his newly-acquired pulse blaster and experimentally switched his lightsaber on and off. It seemed good as new. Beside him, Vykk, similarly equipped, gave him a grin. "Now we can do some real damage," he said.

They made it back to the guard station and found utter chaos. Prisoners were running everywhere, flowing out of the detention cell area through the security room and into the hallways beyond. The dead guards' blasters were gone; Misnera guided others back into the storage unit so they could acquire even more supplies and weapons.

The prisoners were a mixed sort: many humans and humanoids, some other mainstay races such as Bothans and Duros, and a few Sigmans, but most were of species Macreed couldn't recall ever seeing before. Many were gaunt and emaciated, but they moved with desperation and purpose. All wanted to escape. Misnera shouted as loud as he could for them to flee, that the ship was under attack and taking damage, and that this was their best chance to escape.

Then as they were watching the escapees file past, Colin Moore started and pointed at one human running along the far wall. “Hey! That’s the pilot of our ship!” he exclaimed.

The heads of several other Jedi snapped to follow, and instantly Vykk, Satai and Darcunter were leaping over the consoles after him. Within seconds they had the man cornered, and Satai and Darcunter grabbed him by the shoulders and pressed him against the wall while Vykk stood before him accusingly, shouting at the man amidst the din.

"What's going on here?" Misnera yelled, coming up beside Vykk. Macreed and Brajo, unsure what was going on, followed close behind.

"This was our pilot, Master!" Satai said, giving the man a shake. The Altarin'Dakor, human man was staring at them wide-eyed, but he looked just as malnourished as the rest of the prisoners.

Misnera put a hand on Vykk's arm and moved him aside. "This man was a prisoner, too. Why is that?"

"Maybe it's to trick us again," Darcunter offered, glaring at the man.

Misnera arched an eyebrow. "I hardly believe that, considering they didn't know we would escape."

“He betrayed us, sir!” Vykk's face was flushed with anger.

“How can you be so sure?” Misnera asked him. "We only know that our AD guide betrayed us, and he isn't here. Our pilot left us as soon as we got off the transport. He may have had nothing to do with it."

"I..." the man spoke up for this first time, his Basic broken and Altarin'Dakor-accented. "I did not betray you. They... captured me."

Macreed sensed truth in the man's words. Misnera nodded, then motioned for the others to let him go. "Well, we're free now. So tell me, are you on our side or not?"

"I serve the Shok'Thola, Zalaria."

Something dark came over Misnera's face. Macreed had heard the story of their capture, and knew that they were close to blaming Zalaria for the whole thing - as a setup. There was still not enough evidence, though. Yet.

"Let me phrase it another way," Misnera said. "Will you help us? We have a mission here, and we need a guide who understands fluent Altarin'Dakor. Will you help us destroy or disable this ship?"

The man blinked, taking a second to comprehend the Grand Master's words. Then nodded. "I will help you."

Meanwhile, all eyes had turned to Misnera. "Sir," Domi spoke up. "How are we going to stop this Titan when they're going to be looking everywhere for us?"

Misnera kept his gaze on the AD pilot. "Do you know how to get to the bridge?" he asked.

The man nodded slowly. "The ship, it is damaged, I think. We can go to the bridge, maybe take another way. You can take control of the ship there. But the bridge is heavily guarded." He thought for a moment. "Or you can to go the engine room and try to destroy it."

"Which one is easier to get into?" Misnera asked.

"Maybe the engine room. But I think engine room is very difficult to attack."

"Why?" Vykk asked.

"It is very large. Maybe larger than one of your Star Destroyers."

"Well, scratch that," Satai snorted. "We'd never be able to take out something that size, there aren't enough of us."

"Okay, that settles it," Misnera nodded, backing away and motioning for the others to give him space. "Take us to the bridge, then. We'll fight our way through or die trying."

"Most Titan ships have a cargo transport system," the man said. "Not many people riding."

"Good. Lead the way."


* * *
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Offline J.A.

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Joined: Tue May 20, 2008 8:29 pm

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 30, 2009 4:45 am   Post subject: Re: "Destiny" - by Joshua Ausley   

Skies above Vectur
Varnus
1315 Hours



Fighters swarmed in the sky over Vectur, dogfighting in a swirling mix of metal and fire. Every few seconds another one would fall flaming from the clouds down to the surface, adding to the fires already burning both in the outskirts as well as the downtown district.

Maarek pushed his throttles forward, skimming across the top edge of a cloud, then rose and turned sharply to port on the tail of an enemy fighter that was pursuing a friendly TIE Avatar. The gravitational forces whipped him back into his seat, sending a surge of adrenaline through his body. His HUD painted green brackets around the AD Stiletto as it tried to attain a lock.

“He’s on me tight, sir!” the Avatar pilot called out over the commlink. Maarek didn’t know him personally, but he was in the defense force, he was an NI pilot and that meant he was Maarek’s man.

“I’m on him,” he replied, keeping his voice as steady as possible. “Give me fifteen seconds.”

The enemy fighter jinked and turned tightly, hot on the tail of the other Avatar, firing blue and yellow beams of destruction that kept missing by mere meters. So focused on its target, the Stiletto didn't seem to notice Maarek, who gained speed and pulled a bit closer to his opponent. His crosshairs came over the target and he squeezed the trigger, firing a burst from his quad-lasers.

The advantage of energy weapons was that virtually no lead was needed on a target. Maarek's lasers crossed near-instantaneously to the enemy fighter, hammering at its shields. If the AD pilot noticed the attack, he didn't show it, for he kept on doggedly pursuing the Avatar in front of him. Pulling back a bit, Maarek switched to missiles and acquired a lock. He hit the trigger, sending out an advanced concussion missile that streaked across the sky.

“He’s got lock! I’m ejecting!”

Just before the warhead connected, the AD pilot's persistence paid off. Turning tight on the Avatar's tail, it fired its beams again, this time connecting, shearing through the TIE diagonally from port wing to starboard engine. The fighter's aft end exploded, engulfing the whole ship in flames. Maarek felt his heart skip just before he saw the pilot rocket out of the canopy on a trail of flame, and he gave a sigh of relief.

Then Maarek's missile hit the Stiletto in the left side, and the fighter exploded. Pieces rained down towards the ground below, following the Avatar's remains in their wake.
 "Scratch one more," Maarek announced, pulling a loop around the smoke and debris. He saw the ejected pilot floating downwards, heading towards the towering spires of the city's business district. "Need a pickup in Sector Three."

Maarek cursed under his breath at failing to save the other Avatar. That left one fewer ship on the NI's side to fight, and more AD ships were constantly entering the atmosphere. They had lost well over half the planetary defense forces and were outnumbered, now. But despite the odds, the Vectur Defense Force had performed admirably. Maarek had trained most of them himself during his tenure here, meaning that he knew a lot of them, some close enough to call comrades. That made it that much harder every time he saw another one shot down.

AD fighters were picking NI ships out of the sky, proving their superiority in both equipment and, often, in piloting. Now not only were more ships coming down, but the ships entering the theater of battle seemed to be growing more and more powerful and heavily armed. New ship designs, ones that he'd never seen before, had arrived and were destroying NI ships far more efficiently than those they'd engaged with previously. That fact put a sinking feeling in Maarek's gut, making him wonder what might come down next. There was one kind of fighter that he never wanted to see again, and every passing minute gave him more cause for worry that the next fighter he faced might have a Jedicon inside.

Maarek had done everything in his power to keep his pilots in Inferno Squadron together and alive. They were fighting off fatigue as best he could after hours of flying. Sweat covered him inside his flight suit, and he drank constantly from his built-in water canister, thankful that it kept him from passing out from dehydration. He’d already rearmed his craft with missiles once, and was getting low again, already.

He spotted a flight of three enemy fighters diving down from above, going not after him but head-on against a flight of TIE Avengers from the VDF. "One Flight, form up," he called, pulling back on the stick and trusting Rann and Tanya to join formation in time to help out. The other Inferno pilots were out there engaged, but not too far away.

He watched as the enemy fighters grew closer. One big difference fighting in atmosphere versus space was the speeds at which things happened. In space there was no resistance, but down here in the atmosphere, there was the constant friction of air to worry about, limiting the speeds at which you could turn and testing the integrity of each fighter's construction. For Maarek, things seemed to be happening much slower than he was used to. His fighter reacted just a little less responsively than normal, frustrating him sometimes with the bulky solar panels on the sides of his wings. Plus, shifting winds and pressure variations made him constantly have to adjust his pitch and aim. It was a trade-off he had to deal with down here.

Inferno’s Flight One pulled onto the enemies’ tails just as they made a head-to-head against the Avengers.

Both sides fired; the TIE Avenger in the center was hit and blown to pieces, and the other two scattered to either side. One of the AD fighters turned to starboard, while the others to port in pursuit. Inferno's flight followed those two, Maarek taking one while Rann and Tanya dogged after the other.

Both pilots seemed to notice their pursuit and broke off their attacks. Maarek stayed on his target, the wind buffeting his craft as he kept it in his sights - then he attained lock and fired a missile. The warhead burned across the sky on a trail of smoke and hit the craft in the underside, flipping it halfway over. The enemy pilot, reacting quickly, turned the move into an inversion and dove toward the ground. Maarek inverted also and followed, switching over to lasers. The enemy ship had slowed, and Maarek realized at this angle he was going to overshoot. Pulling in tightly, he slammed on the reverse thrusters, giving him a split second for his crosshairs to pass over the other fighter's fuselage, and he fired.

"Lock attained!" Tanya Vinikoro's voice dimly registered in his ears.

"Firing!" he heard Rann Wosper say.

The hail of green lasers crossed over the enemy fighter, knocking down its remaining shields and ripping into the fighter's armor. Then they hit a critical component and an explosion ripped out, blowing the fighter in half as Maarek passed by overhead.

"Scratch another one," he announced, righting his craft and looping back around. He watched the stricken fighter's front section - cockpit and all - flipping over and over as it fell downwards. Then out of the corner of his eye, he caught another flash of light and looked over to see another expanding fireball.

"Boss, this is Two. Make that both of us," he heard Rann say. "Three and I double-teamed him."

"Good work." Maarek joined back into formation with them and took a second to take stock of the battle. What looked like hundreds of fighters were crisscrossing the sky both above them and below, with all of Vectur as the backdrop, the battle below raging just as heavily as that above.

As he watched, a group of three NI fighters made a run on another descending AD troop transport. The ships came in, guns blazing, the transport returning powerful pulse laser fire back out at them. One Avatar got hit dead on and exploded in mid-air; the other two flew past the fireball and continued in. Another Avatar and an X-Wing, they launched torpedoes and pulled out and their warheads flew true in to the target. Explosions ripped across the spine and aft of the transport and the large craft began to sink, plunging down between the buildings towards the street below.

"Kriff it all! Vectur's getting wasted!" Rann shouted.

"Lead, this is Four," Bast Vlagen's calm, professional voice broke in. "We've got more incoming at my twelve o'clock high. Looks like they want to engage us."

Maarek saw the other five Avatars in Inferno closing up with them from below and to starboard; Bast's flight included Kikitik and Gren Pabos, while off their six in Flight Three were Salle Darl and Narm Greyrunner. Maarek pulled into line with them, turning in the same direction, and looked up. A cluster of black dots were growing larger now, directly in front of them. He checked his scanners; they included Aggressors and another class of fighter that Maarek hadn't seen before, sporting hook-shaped wings.

"Those new craft look like heavies, Boss," Rann spoke up.

"Flight Two assuming Star Pattern Delta," Bast said.

"Inferno Squadron," Maarek ordered. "Choose your targets and engage at will."
 Within seconds the two groups met. A few blasts lit the air from the oncoming enemies, but Inferno had scattered into its respective flights, making them too hard a target to hit. Then they blew past each other in a blur, sleek AD fighters streaking between the formation of the TIE Avatars.

"This is Seven," said Salle Darl. "I'm turning left - coming around to engage."

"I'm on your wing, Seven," Narm exclaimed.

Maarek brought his fighter around, blue sky changing in a blur back to clouds and ground, seeing beams crisscrossing the sky against the backdrop of the city. He picked one target trailing right and opened up with his lasers. In response, the ship dove, pulling a split-S and heading back the other way a thousand meters lower.

"Lead, two incoming to port," Tanya spoke up.

Maarek glanced left and saw the bogeys in question. "Roger, engage." He pitched the fighter on its side and turned into the approaching enemies. He pushed the throttles up, pressing him back into his seat. "Split up, Delta," he ordered.

The three fighters of Flight One spread out from one another into a loose triangle. The pair of AD fighters flashed by between them, barely visible at these speeds, and began banking upwards. In response, Maarek twisted to the right and pulled back on the stick hard, bringing his fighter in a tight loop. He knew that Rann and Tanya were doing the same, bearing back towards the pair of bogeys.

One of the enemy Stilettos appeared in his sights, curving back towards him for another head-to-head. Maarek attained lock first and squeezed the trigger, sending another advanced concussion missile streaking out. The missile had barely left before a flash came out of nowhere, missing him to port by mere meters.

Immediately Maarek snap-rolled to starboard, then dove. The enemy fighter that had attacked him flashed by overhead, and Maarek felt his heart skip a beat. If that blast had been just a little closer…

“Target down,” Bast Vlagen’s voice reported.

He pulled back on the stick, making a quick loop and heading back the other way. Halfway there he could see another Stiletto target, missing a wing from a missile hit, spinning slowly downwards.

“Watch it, Lead! One on your tail!” Rann shouted.

Maarek rolled and dove, going evasive. A second later his missile alert went off. He glanced overhead and saw another Stiletto, along with a glowing missile heading straight towards him.

He turned tighter, heading straight downwards and releasing countermeasures. The maneuver worked; the missile flashed past, leaving a trail though the air ahead. Maarek brought his craft back up, still working to evade the enemy craft still on his tail. “Little help!” he shouted into the comm.

“Almost there!” Rann came back. “I’m still about ten seconds out; can’t make lock!”

“Lead, break hard right!” Tanya’s voice came.

Maarek reacted instinctively; trusting his wingman without question, he rolled out to starboard as hard as possible. His enemy turned to follow, right into the path of Tanya’s lasers. The AD fighter’s shields lit up under the impact, and the pilot turned away, going evasive.

“Thanks, Three,” Maarek said.

“Anytime, Lead.”

“Lead, request for help. We’ve got a problem over here.”

Maarek turned his craft to find out what Bast was talking about. There he saw them, a cluster of craft intermingling directly in the airspace over downtown Vectur. Bast’s flight was being pursued by several of the hook-winged fighters and a couple of Aggressors. The heavy fighters were firing multiple beam weapons at once. As he watched, another Avatar from outside Inferno was hit and exploded brilliantly.

Bast snap-rolled his fighter, a maneuver matched by his wingmen. Behind and all around them, enemy fighters copied the maneuver, keeping behind.

“We are completely evasive now.”


Bast’s always-calm voice held an edge of strain that Maarek could detect. “On my way, Bast,” he replied, pushing the throttles forward and leading his flight closer.

He realized he wasn’t going to make it in time, however. As he watched, one of the heavy fighters homed in on Inferno Five, firing a barrage from its beam weapons. Kikitik dove, missing the attack, and descended quickly towards the surface, where streams of turbolaser fire were still streaking up though the atmosphere.

The AD fighter dove in pursuit, hot on the Sigman pilot’s tail. The Avatar slowed, jinking back and forth, keeping the enemy from attaining a solid shot. If he could get closer to one of the ground batteries, they might be able to take the heavy out.

Then, to his surprise, the heavy fighter opened up with a different weapon. Maarek’s cockpit speakers gave a sharp buzzing sound, and streams of air shot out from the heavy fighter’s wings as it fired supersonic mass driver rounds down towards the NI craft. The projectiles passed straight through the TIE’s shields and chewed into the craft. The port solar panel was hit first, shearing into a thousand pieces, then more rounds hit the fuselage, punching straight through to continue down to the ground and leaving huge holes in their wake.

Finally something vital was hit, and an explosion ripped out of Kikitik’s fighter, and it began to dive in a trail of smoke.

“Five! Bail out!” Maarek yelled out in alarm, fearing that the hero of Sigma would soon follow the fate of his people. But Kikitik had proved himself an excellent pilot on countless occasions. Inverting his craft, he managed to bank out and put his ship on a course that would take it away from the city. Then his cockpit canopy flew off and he blasted out on a jet of flame. The fighter continued to plunge downwards, heading towards a series of grassy hillocks that surrounded the capital city of Varnus.

Then Maarek’s flight caught up with Bast and the rest of Inferno. They opened up with missiles and lasers, impacting on half a dozen of the pursuing craft, then buzzed the formation, forcing several to break off. Maarek took his Avatar straight through the group of enemy fighters and was past in an instant. He glimpsed one of the heavies up close, seeing the craft practically bristling with weapons mounts.

“We’ve got to take those heavies out!” he shouted as he pulled a sharp turn, then saw a friendly X-Wing blown out of the sky by an enemy missile hit.

Maarek blinked in surprise; the AD pilots were getting more skilled, too. The first ones had seemed haphazard, even suicidal. They'd come in hot and fast, making wild maneuvers and often firing until their guns overheated, almost as though they wanted to die. As if the glory of fighting and dying in battle was all they had to live for. Matched against that, even the desperate defense mounted by the NI forces seemed to be lacking the zeal to win.

“This is Seven,” Salle Darl’s voice broke in. “I’ve got him. Engaging now.”

Looming into view were Salle and Narm’s Avatars, pursuing another heavy fighter that was itself on the tail of Gren Pabos. Maarek checked his range and realized it would take several moments to get into position.

Two missiles streaked out and hit the heavy fighter in rapid succession, lighting up its shields. The fighter broke off its attack and dove, and Maarek heard a muffled curse from Narm Greyrunner at seeing the enemy fighter survive.

“Got good tone. Firing!” Salle yelled.

Two more advanced concussion missiles shot out from her craft. They soared through the intervening air between her and the bogey, angled in for the kill, and impacted simultaneously on the enemy target. This time they penetrated the shields, and the Altarin’Dakor fighter detonated in a huge ball of flame, sending tendrils of fire and smoke streaking out and down towards the ground.

“Good shooting, you two,” Maarek complimented. He turned, automatically seeking out another target. Despite their efforts, the enemy numbers continued to swell.

“Thanks, Lead,” Salle’s voice came back. “Looks like they’re not invincible after all.” Another heavy fighter flashed by to starboard, and the two of them pulled around to follow.

“Lead, I’ve got a pick-up ordered on Five,” Bast reported. His Avatar came into view ahead and above of Maarek, and he pulled up into a better formation with his flight leader.

Maarek opened his mouth to respond to Bast, then stopped as he saw another cluster of enemy fighters descending from orbit and entering the field of battle. “Hang tight,” he said. “We’ve got more incoming. Let’s see if they’re more of the same…”

He broke off then, his breath catching in his throat. The sensor profiles on these new incoming showed sleek, small fighters with round cockpits and four protruding wingtip structures jutting out all around it. It was a type of fighter that he’d encountered only once before. And that time, half of Inferno Squadron had been shot out of the sky.

“It can’t be…” he whispered. There were too many of them – dozens, at least. Any one of them would have been enough to take out an entire squadron. Maarek felt his blood go cold, his limbs go suddenly numb. Sweat broke out all over his body. He opened his mouth to comm Inferno to form back up, to get ready, but the words just wouldn’t come. There wasn’t anything they could really do.

All was lost, now. The enemy’s Jedicon fighters were finally entering the fray.


* * *


Corridors
Royal Palace, Varnus
1321 Hours



Paan paced through the corridors, searching frantically for sign of any more refugees or survivors. So far, he’d found three clusters of hiding civilians in rooms still untouched by Jedicon activity. He’d guided them out and into safer areas, rooms that had heavy, lock-equipped doors that could withstand a lightsaber better than most. He hoped that if the Jedicon had trouble getting into one room, they’d simply give up and move on to the next one.

He’d encountered a variety of inhabitants in the palace; Weequay, Chadra-Fans, Sigmans, and humanoids of various races. There were families, women and children that had been taking refuge here in the palace, and simply hadn’t had enough warning to make it to shelter in time. The attack had come too suddenly, too brutally.

So far he’d helped those, and had avoided contact with any enemy Jedicon. But his good luck, he realized, was about to run out.

He was down in the Palace’s lower areas now, around ground level. The corridors here were wide, well-lit and decorated. Ahead was a large intersection that seemed empty at first. Then he heard a whimper carrying faintly through the air, and Paan put on a burst of speed to find out what it was.

In the corridor was a young woman and a child. And to Paan’s horror, standing over them was a long-haired Jedicon, lightsaber ignited in his hand. He hadn’t sensed the opponent – the AD were still using their Force Masks, which made it impossible to detect them if you couldn’t see them. There could be any number of them inside the palace by now, preying on the innocent victims of this conflict – just like these two, here.

Paan reacted instinctively, both adrenaline and the Force taking over. He pushed his Force Speed to the max, practically flying down the last few meters of the corridor. The Jedicon noticed the commotion, turned back towards him, hair flying over his shoulder…

Time seemed to slow. Paan brought his blade up and down in a powerful stroke. The Jedicon’s own blade was suddenly there, parrying the blow and sending Paan past his body. He planted his feet, arresting his momentum, and struck again, catching the Jedicon’s blade once more. The Altarin’Dakor warrior was ready for him, instinctively ready for battle, and strong in the Force as well. Though everything else around was slowed, the two trained Force users spun in a deadly dance that was all too fast.

Paan struck hard with all his skill, driving the Jedicon back for a second. Then his opponent turned the tide and drove Paan back with lightning fast swings that he barely managed to block. The enemy warrior moved with catlike grace, his blade an extension of his body. He had trained for this since birth.

Desperation kept Paan from panicking. He summoned up all his strength in the Force, using it to enhance his speed, strength and cognitive abilities. Somehow he managed to stop the enemy’s advance and begin matching him, stroke for stroke. The enemy made no mistakes, and it took everything Paan had to stand head-to-head, the very fact that this was happening here in the Palace an surreal moment of destiny stirring within him.

Clashing blades with the Jedicon for a final time, Paan ducked under the enemy’s next swing and swung his blade laterally, stretching out as far as he could. His blade sliced through the Jedicon’s midsection, and as Paan sidestepped and disengaged his opponent doubled over and fell face-first to the floor, dead.

Time returned to normal, and Paan gasped for breath. The entire fight had lasted but seconds, yet he had won. Switching off his blade, he looked down at the woman and child, who were still crouched on the floor, staring up at him wide-eyed.

“Are you okay?” Paan said once he caught his breath. He extended a hand down.

The woman nodded briskly, still shaking uncontrollably from fear. Her child clutched her arm intensely. She reached up her other hand to grasp Paan’s. “Th… Thanks…” she stammered.

Then her eyes went wide as a shaft of red light erupted from Paan’s stomach.

At first, there was no pain; Paan stared down in disbelief, not sure what he was seeing was real. Then he felt a hand on his shoulder, and the blade was removed, passing back out his back. Leaving a blackened hole straight through Paan’s middle.

The numbness started in his legs and moved up, quickly. When it reached his middle, there was fire. Paan collapsed, dropping his lightsaber. As he fell to his knees, he managed to turn halfway back and look upwards.

Overhead was a bald Jedicon with scrawling black tattoos, bringing his blade back around for the final kill.

“Paan!”

Suddenly someone else was there. A blur of robes and glowing blade drove the Jedicon back. The sizzling crack of blade on blade sounded in Paan’s ears again and again. Squinting through the blurriness caused by the pain, Paan recognized who it was.

Kiz Thrakus, fighting one-handed, was fighting the Jedicon at an incredible speed. His blows were quick and deft – not powerful, but fast enough to drive the enemy back on the defensive. Their feet scuffled across the floor, the only other sound besides the crashing blades was the men’s heavy breaths.

Then the Jedicon lashed out in a counterattack. Shunting the enemy’s blade to the side, Thrakus brought his blade under and upwards, slicing the Jedicon’s arm off at the elbow. The enemy’s lightsaber fell with it, and his momentum continued to carry him forward. Thrakus shifted his stance, brought his blade around, and his return stroke took the man’s head off.

Then he was right there over Paan, staring down at him in shock and concern. Paan felt his strength draining from his body; he fell backwards from where he sat, but came to rest against something soft. The woman sat behind him, holding him, crying softly.

“Hold on, buddy. We’ll get you to medbay.” Thrakus said, putting one hand on Paan’s shoulder and another over the wound in his stomach. Paan felt a gentle tingling of the Force through him, and Thrakus’ face took on a new level of worry.

Paan reached over and put a hand on his Thrakus’. “I don’t think so, Kiz.” He gave a soft smile as he looked up at his friend. “Tell Oriana and the kids I love them. Take care of them for me…”

“Paan, no…”

Shaking his head again, he squeezed the man’s hand with the rest of his fleeting strength. “It’s okay. She’s a strong woman,” he managed. “There’s a bright future ahead for her.”

His vision began to dim, but from somewhere within, a warm feeling began to spread throughout his body. Paan smiled again; this was what the Force had shown him, what it had guided him towards all these years. It was time to join with it, to pass that threshold and begin a new journey, now. This was the destiny he had been waiting for, and he was unafraid.

Paan’s eyes closed for the last time, and he breathed a final sigh out, his spirit leaving and becoming one with the Force.

Kiz stared down at the man’s peaceful face for a long moment, his friend’s hand still clenched tightly in his own. “Goodbye, Gui Sun,” he said finally.

Then, stooping down, he slid his good arm around the man’s chest from behind and gingerly lifted the man’s body as best he could. The young woman moved to help, grabbing his feet and hefting his lower half a bit awkwardly. Little by little they carried him to one of the doorways set along the length of the corridor. It opened as they approached, and inside Kiz found what appeared to be a study of some sort, untouched by the enemy. Leading them across the room, he nodded to the sofa in the center, and together they lay Paan’s body there.

Retrieving the man’s lightsaber, Kiz turned back to the woman and her child, who had watched the whole ordeal in wide-eyed bewilderment. “Follow me to medbay,” he told them. “If you want to live, that’s the safest place now, I’d bet. As long as they haven’t destroyed it, too.”

Kiz turned and led them down the corridor in the proper direction.


* * *
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Offline J.A.

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Joined: Tue May 20, 2008 8:29 pm

Posts: 88

PostPosted: Tue May 05, 2009 4:30 am   Post subject: Re: "Destiny" - by Joshua Ausley   

Courtyards
Royal Palace, Varnus
1322 Hours



“Another wave coming in!” shouted one of the sergeants behind the barricade.

"Get down!" Kir Kanos yelled.

Suiting words to action, Kanos joined the rest of his squad as they ducked down beneath the barrier, another hail of fire passing by overhead. Mass driver pellets blasted craters into the duracrete, while beam weapons melted parts of the barricade into slag. They'd already had to abandon the first line of defense, and were now behind the second tier of barriers. The bodies of hundreds of NI troops littered the ground behind the first tier, as well as the main courtyard facing the Royal Palace's entryway. Bright sunlight poured down from above, illuminating the blood that had stained the streets red all the way out to the enemy line.

Altarin'Dakor shock troopers filled the street, continuing to pour fire at the NI defenders behind their barricades.

We can't take much more of this, Kanos realized starkly. Pretty soon they, or one of the other garrisons of defenders at the palace's east and west front corners, were going to be overrun. Then it would be hand-to-hand with the enemy.

He peeked back out of one of the sight-holes in the barricade, seeing the enemy grow another dozen meters closer.

Snipers, hidden in the windows of the tall buildings to either side, had taken out one soldier out of another, targeting the higher-ranking officers with precision shots. In response, instead of hunkering down for cover, the AD troops continued to march on, letting loose with their weapons almost randomly on the buildings themselves. Handheld beam weapons shot beams that cut through windows and floors, and rocket launchers blasted holes into buildings that sent debris raining down on their own men. Despite their haphazardness, the attacks proved effective enough; there were fewer and fewer snipers left up there to take out the enemy.

Kanos raised his own scope to his eyes again and fired, blasting another shock trooper through the faceplate. The soldier fell, but another moved quickly to fill the space.

Then one of the NI's stormtroopers fired a portable rocket launcher that sent a missile streaking out towards the enemy forces. It hit the street in front of them, blowing men everywhere, blasting another crater into the street. A second later, two enemy rockets answered in return, and Kanos ducked back behind the barrier, for all the good it would do.

The first warhead hit the barricade across from him and exploded, blasting away most of the duracrete structure and sending a dozen men flying backwards. The second shot passed between them, cruising through the air to impact against the wide steps leading up towards the palace entrance, blasting a hole into the steps and sending stone chips flying into the air in all directions.

Up on the balconies beyond, he could still see Jedi fighting against Jedicon, dueling with their lightsabers and other arcane Force powers that Kanos had never tried to grasp for himself. They leapt and rolled, clashing blades, then separating and releasing blasts of energy from their hands that seemed as powerful as the rockets that had just hit the NI line. Every few moments a duel would end with one side felling the other. Sometimes the Jedi would win. More often it was the Jedicon.

Though the years, he had experienced certain things, done feats that seemed just quite beyond a normal man's abilities, things he couldn't quite understand.

Could he ever have been like those warriors above, moving almost too fast for the eye to follow? Skywalker had told him that he was Force Sensitive. That had laid a piece of the puzzle in Kanos' mind, but it was something he had never desired for himself. It was not the life he was meant for. It was far too late for that.

Still, with the entire planet locked in the fight of its life, he felt an affinity for the Force-users as he never had before. Perhaps it was because of their sheer numbers here on this world. Maybe it was just the NI's Jedi Division, who seemed more balanced, more focused than any Jedi or Sith Kanos had ever knew. Or maybe the sheer destiny of the moment was beginning to put on him a new mantle of understanding about things.

For an instant, two dueling figures appeared along the top of a wall, jumping there and clashing their blades violently against each other. He thought he recognized this particular Jedi before from somewhere. But from the looks of it they would never have a chance to meet formally. The Jedicon came at a rush, throwing the Jedi down to his back. He was about to be defeated.

Swinging his rifle up to his shoulder, Kanos sighted the Jedicon, raised his aim to cover the man's back, and fired. It was a long shot; much further than the approaching enemy line. But Kanos had years of sniper experience.

His bolt flew true, straight for the enemy’s back. But if Kanos had wondered if the Jedicon had some kind of danger sense like that the Jedi used to protect themselves, his questions were answered. The Jedicon spun even as Kanos fired, his blade a blur of light as it came around and batted the energy bolt away into the distance.

Then the Jedi lunged forward and swung, and a line of light passed through the man’s waist from one side to the other.

Dropping his blade, the Jedicon toppled from the edge, splitting into two pieces as he disappeared from view. The Jedi looked around, but not knowing where the saving shot had come from, he rolled back off the wall and fell out of sight.

Then his sergeant’s yelling brought Kanos’ attention back to the front.

“They’ve broken through on the east side!” the man roared, fighting the sound of blasts firing and explosions all around them. “Here they come!”

Kanos’ eyes went wide as he saw a full squad of shock troops come running down the street and begin vaunting over the barricades. Dropping his sniper rifle, he reached behind him to his pack, pulling the double-bladed shaft weapon that hung collapsed back there. He pulled it around and activated it, its length extending to full, over a meter and a half long, and he charged.

White-armored stormtroopers and Royal Palace guards clashed with black-clad Altarin’Dakor shock troops at close range in front of the palace steps. Guns blazed, blasting armor to pieces, while AD beam weapons sliced men completely through. Then both sides ran up to each other, swinging blades, rifles, and fists in a fury.

Kanos ran to engage two shock troopers coming directly at him. Feinting right, he shot to the left, avoiding a flurry of pulse blaster fire from that direction. The other troops brought up some kind of vibroblade at him, but Kanos rolled forward beneath the attack and swept out his spear, slicing off the man’s leg at the knee.

As the first one fell, he was up and at the second even as the man turned around. A swipe with one side cleaved the enemy’s gun hand clean away, then he reversed directions and spun the blade back up in a one-two slash, cutting through the man’s armor like flimsy and sending a gout of blood out of his torso into the air. The man fell backwards, dead.

He turned back, stabbing downwards to put the first man out of his misery, then ran forward to save the sergeant from an enemy wielding a vibrosword overhead, coming in with a wild scream. Kanos lunged forward, approaching at a ninety degree angle, and swung hard with his blade’s length advantage, taking off the attacker’s head before he even realized Kanos was there.

The headless trooper fell at the sergeant’s feet. Not bothering to say thanks, the officer raised his blaster and fired straight over Kanos’ shoulder. Kanos spun back and saw the faceplate of the shock troop that had been approaching from behind shatter, flame and smoke pouring out of the hole as he collapsed.

“I think that’s got ‘em!” shouted the sergeant. “But there’s more making a run straight down the main way!”

Kanos glanced around briefly, saw that the whole squad had been dispatched – with almost an equal number of NI dead – and then turned back to look down Star Way. Taking a deep breath, he planted his staff on the ground, that end’s blood-soaked blade biting into the stone at his feet.

A hundred more soldiers were rushing down the street at full speed, roaring as they came in. This time they were going to be outnumbered, and badly.

This would be the perfect time for some great hero or squadron of friendly fighters to zoom in, dispatch the enemy and save the day. But Kanos had been fighting far too many years to believe such stories happened in the real galaxy. What was coming was going to be bad – and this might be the end.

Raising his double-bladed staff again, he prepared for the onslaught.


* * *


Skies Above Vectur
Royal Palace, Varnus
1326 Hours



Fighters exploded overhead in a continuous rain of fire, speared by beam weapons with more accuracy and cunning than Maarek had ever seen.

Inferno Squadron had scattered to escape the entry vector of the approaching Jedicon spacecraft, breaking off from their engagement with the other AD squadron and diving towards the deck. Overhead, Maarek could see countless fighters swirling overhead, the dogfights continuing heatedly. But whenever a Jedicon fighter entered the fray, it dispatched even the finest NI pilots with ease.

In fact, whenever a Jedicon was in pursuit, the NI craft simply began flying straight on, as if completely conceding the fight, giving up. Then the beams would spear his craft, turning it into an incandescent fireball.

Maarek held no illusions that the Jedicon weren’t using the Force. It was completely unfair – and a completely unstoppable battle tactic. Every NI pilot who wasn’t a Jedi would be indefensible against them.

The ground spun below him as he corkscrewed downwards, evading another one of the AD heavy fighters following close behind, lining up for a shot. Though he couldn’t do his signature trick in the atmosphere, he still knew his Avatar could outfly his opponent’s craft. Jinking right, he slammed on the reverse thrusters, and the enemy pilot couldn’t react fast enough. He shot out ahead of Maarek, Rann and Tanya.

“Fire!” he shouted.

All three Avatars opened up with their lasers, pelting the enemy craft with dozens of hits in a second. The shields were overwhelmed, then the blasts chewed through the armor and the fighter was blown apart.

“Boss, what do we do?” Rann spoke up. “Those Jedicon are getting closer.”

“We’re losing more pilots every second,” Salle Darl added.

“Keep evasive!” Maarek said, hearing the desperation in his own voice. There was no more use in hiding it; he was terrified, flying on pure instinct. This was his worst nightmare; being thrust into combat with another pilot, and being stripped completely defenseless before them. It was in the air and space that he lived and breathed – where he came alive. Now his most prized place, that most familiar friend had been taken from him.

Glancing downwards, he saw Vectur itself, the shining crown jewel of Varnus, now bruised and battered, a hundred different plumes of smoke rising through the air, huge fires raging in a dozen different locations. Enemy forces filled the streets, engaging NI ground forces in intense firefights, or one-on-one combat. The palace itself was shrouded in smoke, off in the distance.

But the spires of the downtown district still stood, and from some of the rooftop turrets, turbolasers still fired up into the sky.

“Head for the skyscrapers!” Maarek shouted. “We’ll hide out there and try to ambush them when they come in!”

“Lead, Eight,” Narm Greyrunner chimed in. “All due respect sir, but that sounds nuts. We won’t be able to maneuver down there!”

“Neither will they,” Maarek said, bleeding more altitude. “Dive, now!” He saw Seven and Eight already a klick or so beneath them. “Take us in, Salle! Stay out of visual contact and wait for them to pass. If they come in, we’ll take them out!”
“We can’t just run, sir!” Salle countered, her voice pained. “Our people are all dying out here! If we don’t stop them, they’ll overrun the city!”

“Just do it, Salle!” Maarek shouted, feeling guilt wash over him. This was it; the moment of truth had arrived. He could avoid the truth no longer.

Maarek realized he wanted his squadron to survive, no matter the cost.

He didn’t want anyone else’s death on his hands.

“Lead, this is Four,” Bast Vlagen’s voice came in. It held an analytical air as always, but this time his words were far from calming. “We’re not going to make it to the buildings.”

“What?!”

“We’ve got two Widowmakers at nine o’clock high. Coming in fast,” Bast added.

Maarek spotted them, two very small fighters diving straight down towards them from above.

“Lead, I’m on your wing,” he heard Tanya’s voice in his ears.

“We’re with you all the way, Boss,” Rann said.

Maarek took a deep breath, fighting the panic. This wasn’t what he was trained for; he was a soldier! He would not be ruled by fear!

“I’m going in,” Bast reported. “Get low as fast as you can!”

“Bast!” Gren Pabos shouted.

“Lead!” Salle shouted. “Let’s go!”

Maarek watched Bast Vlagen’s fighter angle upwards in horror. “NO!” he yelled.

“Sir!”

“Get the squadron down, Salle! That’s an order!” Maarek shouted. Then he pulled back on the stick, climbing.

“We’re on your wing!” Rann yelled.

Bast’s fighter was a good klick ahead of them. Rising, he released two advanced concussion missiles skyward, straight towards one of the small, heavily-armed Widowmakers.

A quartet of beam weapons flashed downwards, hitting first one warhead, then tracing across to touch the other one. Two explosions lit up the sky, the missiles exploding prematurely.

“Get out of here, Lead!” he heard Bast shout, as the man’s Avatar opened up with lasers, flashing up into the sky.

It was the last thing he ever heard him say. Another set of beams opened up from the other Widowmaker. Bast sent his fighter into a wild evasive upwards corkscrew.

He might as well have not bothered. The beams were tracing through the air before he even got there, anticipating the maneuver exactly. The Avatar flew straight through those four bright blue beams – and exploded.

“BAST!” Maarek screamed.

Shoving the stick forwards, he pulled away, clenching his eyes shut.

“Sir!” Tanya’s voice echoed in his ears.

Then, suddenly, a strange sense of peace settled over Maarek then. He opened his eyes – and blinked in surprise.

He was home.

He was sitting at the kitchen table at his family’s private residence on Kuan. His mother Marina had her back to him, preparing something on the kitchen stove. Delicious smells wafted through the air, and Maarek felt – and heard – his stomach growling. It seemed like days since he’d last eaten.

“Hey there, Son,” a new voice spoke up. Maarek turned, and saw his father Kerek standing in the doorway, a gleam in his eye. “Come help me with something while your mother finishes up.”

“Okay,” Maarek said, rising. He ducked through the doorway and followed his father into his small private laboratory they had set up in the house. Looking at the displays on the screens there, and seeing the jumble of equipment on his father’s work desk, Maarek knew that his dad was working on some new, hair-brained idea. If the Imperials ever came into this sector and realized just how valuable Kerek’s research really could be… Well, they would either be rich, or else they might just disappear under a veil of government secrecy.

“What’s all this, dad?” Maarek asked, stepping down into the room. On the wall to the left he saw a standing model of an aerodynamic-looking racing swoop – just like the one Maarek had saved up so much to buy in real life. It was sitting down in the hangar, now, waiting for a new round of repairs so he could fly it again in the races next week.

“Over here, lad,” his father said, grabbing his attention once more. Maarek traversed the room and came to stand next to his father, looking down at what Kerek held in his hands.

“I want you to take as look at this,” his father said. “This could be something big, here. Something that could change our little system forever. Maybe even end the whole war between our peoples.”

Maarek blinked. Those words – they sounded strange. Did he mean the war against the Bordali? That had ended years ago – when the Empire had shown up.

Right after Kerek had been kidnapped by the Bordali, so they could use him against his own people.

As Maarek stared down at what lay in his father’s hands, he couldn’t quite focus on it. The object was blurry – he couldn’t make it out. In fact, the blurriness grew, covering his whole vision, until Maarek couldn’t see anything clearly anymore. In fact, he couldn’t think very clearly, either. How was his father here? How were they back on Kuan? How could he be reliving these events again, when they’d happened years ago?

This wasn’t real.

He brought his hands up, rubbing at his eyes, hoping to clear the blurriness that still filled his vision and had started to completely disorient him.

He removed his hands.

And saw the streets of Vectur looming upwards to meet him.

Yelling, he pulled back on the stick as hard as he could, slamming on the reverse thrusters. His fighter plunged beneath the level of the building tops around him, the Avatar shaking violently as it struggled to bleed off speed. Maarek activated the repulsorlifts and threw them on full, still pulling back desperately on the stick.

The fighter angled out of it slowly. His angle drew up until he saw buildings ahead of him, then the repulsorlifts slammed him into his seat. He skimmed meters above the surface of the street as the Avatar barely leveled off. He kept pulling back, and the craft shot skyward again, blasting a row of parked hovercars off the street and crashing them into the surrounding buildings.

He gained altitude and looked around, gasping for breath, still in shock. So that was it: his mind had been taken over! Another second and he would have been dead. It had been like before, simulating against Xar – but this time it had been real.

Then his terror and sense of dread suddenly came full circle. What about his wingmen?

His eyes searched the skies desperately for them. Then he saw them – two sleek Avatars, plunging straight downwards out of the sky, already passing below the city’s tallest buildings, just as he had seconds before.

“Rann! Tanya! Eject!” he yelled into the comm.

There was no answer. The two fighters continued to plunge downwards. There was no sign that they had heard, or were even awake at all. It was like watching an unreal dream unfolding before his eyes.

Can you hear me!?” Maarek screamed.

The fighters impacted, Rann’s first on the roof of a high-rise apartment complex, then Tanya’s directly onto the street below. Twin fireballs blossomed out, reaching for the sky.

Maarek’s own scream was the only sound he could hear on the comm, mixed with a burst of static from the vanished starfighters.

And with a sob he dove again, sending his craft down among the cluster of skyscrapers that held his own chance of protection – and solace.

* * *
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Offline J.A.

Kodonn'Dakor


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Joined: Tue May 20, 2008 8:29 pm

Posts: 88

PostPosted: Fri May 22, 2009 4:22 am   Post subject: Re: "Destiny" - by Joshua Ausley   


Corridors
Royal Palace, Varnus
1330 Hours



The blast of energy hit the floor and exploded, blowing chunks of stone and tile into the air. Jinx dove forward and rolled, missing the attack by a meter or so, then came back up to his feet.

Nobien was on him in an instant, grabbing him by the shirt with both hands and driving Jinx backwards through the hallway.

Jinx fought, gripping the man’s arms and struggling with all his Force-enhanced might. Face to face, they snarled as they spun round and round, tugging and pushing, locked in a match of wits and strength.

Jinx hit the wall behind, crushing fabricrete behind him. He grunted in pain, his Force power high enough to avoid serious damage, and got his footing under him again. Countering, he launched forward, driving Nobien back across the hallway on the other side. He slammed the Jedicon’s back into the wall, creating an indention in the wall in the shape of the man’s body.

“I am… enjoying this!” Nobien roared, his Basic broken but understandable enough. Jinx grunted as he was thrown backwards once more. A wave of Force threw him away from the Jedicon and he slammed into the wall again, much harder this time. Chips and dust rained down on him.

He looked up just in time to see the Jedicon’s fist flying towards him at a blur, so fast a corona of air surrounded it. Only his Force speed let him move in time. He ducked as the man’s fist hit the wall, burying his arm in the wall nearly to the shoulder.

Spinning, Jinx threw a sidekick into the man’s stomach, then followed it up with a powerful hook punch across the man’s jaw. Nobien grunted and fell back, his movement extracting his arm from the wall.

Jinx struck as fast as he possibly could, his own motions a Force-enhanced blur as he threw kicks and punches at his opponent. He landed two more fists across the man’s face, sending a tooth flying off into the distance, but Nobien quickly caught up, and soon Jinx found every strike being blocked with an arm or leg as tough as durasteel.

Catching Jinx’s leg as he threw another kick, the Jedicon spun and threw a backfist across Jinx’s face. Stars exploded in front of his eyes, and Jinx dove away to gain distance again. He ran forward, hearing his enemy’s footsteps rushing behind him.

A doorway loomed ahead. Sending a blast of Force ahead of him, Jinx blew the door off its hinges and dove inside just as a booted foot hit him in the back.

He flew threw the air and landed on a sofa, flipping the furniture over and spilling him onto the floor on the other side. Jinx pushed himself back up to his feet, noticing with a glance that they’d stumbled into someone’s apartment.

Then Nobien was coming through the doorway. Launching forward, Jinx threw another punch at the man’s face, but his opponent was too fast, dodging his head just in time. Catching Jinx’s arm, he stepped forward and swept Jinx clean off his feet. Jinx felt himself being hurled through the air and then straight down.

He slammed through the low glass table that sat at the sofa’s foot, shattering the table and slamming into the floor. Another fist rose to meet him, but Jinx snapped his foot out, catching the man under the chin and sending him stumbling back.

He rose and cast about desperately for something to use as a weapon. Nobien recovered and came in again, his right fist flashing out again. Jinx caught sight of a metal bust of someone’s head resting on a columed stand, grabbed it and brought it around to intercept the man’s blow.

Nobien’s fist hit the iron trophy with a ring that sounded throughout the room, and he screamed, clutching that hand. Jinx snapped out a kick that hit the man in the chest and sent him back into the overturned sofa, then threw the trophy at his opponent as hard as he could before turning away again.

The Jedicon came in again, roaring in a frenzied battle rage. This time Jinx brought up a ceramic-looking vase as the man’s other hand came in, but this time he wasn’t as lucky. The man’s left hand crashed through the vase and caught Jinx right across the face. The blow hit so hard he was flying across the room before he even felt pain from the impact. He blew through a dining room table and chairs, sending them twisting away, splintered and broken.

Lunging left, Jinx found himself in a narrow kitchen. The Jedicon launched himself over the divider between the living room and where Jinx was, laying his hands on the Jedi once more. Jinx pushed him off, grabbed a random object, and crashed it across the Jedicon’s face. The small appliance shattered as it hit, ripping the man’s face and sending blood splattering into a nearby refrigeration unit. Hardly phased by the blow, Nobien sent a left hook into Jinx’s stomach, doubling him over, and crashed his broken right hand across his face again.

Jinx fell over the unit’s sink and spit out blood into the drain. Then he pushed away just as the Jedicon’s elbow came down where his head had just been, shattering the tiled structure into pieces. Jinx punched again, striking the man in the back, then grabbed his ridiculously long, spiky hair and slammed his face down into the counter.

Somehow the Jedicon spun under his grip. Jinx felt another blow explode into his stomach, sending the air out of him, then Nobien leaned back on the counter and snapped out a kick into Jinx’s chest.

Jinx flew through the air, out of the kitchen and straight for the glass door that opened onto the veranda. He burst through the transparisteel, shattering it into hundreds of pieces, and hit the balcony on the other side, hard.

Struggling to catch his breath, he pushed away to the side to get out of the way, just as a blast of energy shot through the air where he’d just been. Nobien appeared through the doorway, and Jinx took a potted plant that had been sitting nearby and slammed the vase end straight into the man’s face.

Nobien stumbled back, dirt raining down over his shoulders and down his front, and he roared as he lunged forward again, grabbing Jinx in a deathgrip. Jinx’s eyes widened as he felt the man’s Force power, spiking over and over. He had to be drawing in every tiny drop that he could, and yet still the fight raged on.

They struggled on the balcony, oblivious to the sound of the explosions coming from the city beyond, and the air above. They leaned against the balcony, pressing their Force-enhanced strength and body mass against it, and suddenly the balcony gave way and the two men fell away into the air.

As they fell, Jinx caught a glimpse of the pavement rushing at them from about ten floors below. Then he pushed Nobien away and drew the Force beneath him, hoping to cushion his fall as best he could.

He landed softly enough, crouching down, then stood up again and cast about for his opponent. They were in an alleyway somewhere between the main palace building and one of its courtyards, and behind him was an electrical panel box of some sort. Stone walls rose over their heads above.

Nobien was to his right. The Jedicon had recovered quickly as well, and came in without a second’s hesitation. Jinx dodged the man’s wild swing, and shoved away from the wall as just what he’d expected happened – the man’s fist slammed into the electrical box.

The Jedicon’s hair stood even more on end, if that were possible, and he shook for a second as the high voltage electricity coursed through his body. But that wouldn’t be enough to kill a powered-up Jedicon like him.

Without hesitating, Jinx drew up all his power and thrust both hands forward, sending a blast of energy straight into the man’s torso. The blast took the man in the chest and exploded, blowing the Jedicon off his feet and away from the panel. His clothes caught fire, and he screamed as he flew backwards through the air, propelled by all the Force pushing power Jinx could muster.

There was a crash as Nobien crashed through the stone wall at the far end and disappeared on the other side. Jinx let out a sigh as he released the Force, and he sank down to his knees in sudden exhaustion. He’d never fought anywhere near as intensely as he had been for the last half hour or so. He and Nobien were close enough in strength that it took all their strength to damage each other. He just hoped that last attack had been enough.

His hopes were dashed as he saw a silhouetted figure rise through the hole in the wall. Shaking his head in exasperation, Jinx watched his opponent stumble back through the opening and stand up once again.

It wasn’t over yet.


* * *



Titan-class Battleship Desolation
In Orbit, Varnus
1405 Hours




"So what's your name?" Alyx asked the Altarin'Dakor pilot.

"Nerif," was all the man said. Every few seconds light flashed across his face as the transit car sped them down the service corridor.

Alyx nodded, then settled back to wait some more. Reaching up again, he readjusted the coat of his Altarin'Dakor officer's uniform, which was a bit too large for his frame. The guard station they'd raided hadn't had a lot to choose from.

Situated around him in their cramped vehicle were the other seven escaped Jedi: Roger Macreed, Brajo, Vykk Olyronn, Colin Moore, Jontaar Domi, Mrax Satai, and Rilke Darcunter. At least each had managed to acquire a uniform as Alyx had, though none really looked the part. Alyx doubted the deception would last long if they ran into a real guard patrol.

For the last hour they had traveled through the ship as stealthily as they could. The whole ship seemed to be in a state of near-chaos, both from the recent damage as well as the hundreds of escaped prisoners roaming around freely. Their guide, Nerif, was unfamiliar with this particular ship, but with his experience as an Altarin'Dakor pilot he had enough general knowledge to get them around. They'd seen countless officers and crew running around throughout the ship, but so far they'd managed to avoid any guards.

Nerif had wanted to avoid taking one of the main transit systems through the ship to the bridge, so after some searching they'd eventually found a service tunnel meant for transporting supplies and tech crews. They'd made their way to the nearest station and caught the on-duty crew and guards by surprise, quickly dispatching them with the Force and then stealing some extra uniforms from the storage locker.

At first, Alyx had felt bad at killing some of the ship's unarmed crew members. But he reminded himself that they were the enemy, and in this battle, every Altarin'Dakor would try and kill them if they had the chance.

Besides, anytime you destroyed an enemy capital ship - with a torpedo or otherwise - the crew members onboard died, whether they were mechanics, doctors, gunners, or just civilians. Nobody mourned that fact - so it shouldn't matter when they had to do it up close and personal.

"We are arriving," Narif's voice broke through Alyx's thoughts.

Checking his lightsaber on his right hip and the stolen pulse blaster at his left, Alyx nodded.

"Get ready, everyone."

Their ten kilometer ride towards the Desolation's bridge finally complete, the car came to a halt at the last stop and the doors opened. The crew looked up with expressions of surprise as eight Jedi launched themselves out of the vehicle. With the Force they quickly choked off any outcries of alarm, yanking them to the floor and finishing them off as quickly and silently as possible. Visions of dark-side Jedi Force-choking their victims flashed through Alyx's head, but he shunted them aside. They were not murderers, killing in a mindless rage; they were soldiers, dispatching the enemy as efficiently and humanely as possible. This wasn’t personal – it was war.

They quickly stuffed the bodies into that station's storage locker, then proceeded down the next corridor and into a service lift, which they took back up to the main deck levels. From here on it was going to be tricky, Alyx knew.

"Form up," he said just as the doors were opening. "Let's try and at least look like real guards. And no talking."

At the next corridor Narif studied a map inlaid into the wall for a moment before starting off again. Alyx and the others had no choice but to follow, hoping he knew where he was going. They weaved through several more wide corridors,

The lack of any security checkpoints confirmed something Alyx had been considering for a while: as militaristic as the Altarin'Dakor were, their social order seemed to be highly structured. Officers knew their rank and position and tended to be united in mind and purpose towards their goals. Titans were such powerful fortresses that an enemy was never expected to make it inside in the first place. And Alyx had heard that although duels and coups were commonplace, whole mutinies were rare. Thus as Alyx and the team marched briskly along in double-file, all the other crew, officers and guards barely spared them a glance as they passed.

They weaved their way through the mazelike interior, their boots ringing off the polished metal floors. They took two more lifts up, then turned down a wide corridor and up a broad staircase before they reached the entrance to the bridge. It was there that Alyx knew they could hide no longer.

There, standing in front of the bridge's massive, sealed doors, were two Jedicon in full heavy body armor, including helmets.

"Attack!" Alyx yelled. Rushing forward, he headed straight at the one on the right. Virtually everyone else took the one on the left, only Narif staying behind to watch the fight.

The two Jedicon noticed the intrusion and responded immediately, igniting their lightsabers. Throwing a hand forward, Alyx hit his target with a wave of Force, launching him backwards off his feet to slam against the gleaming metal doors to the bridge. Then, with his other hand, he sent a powerful blast of Force energy straight at his opponent. The Jedicon took the attack with both hands forward, and the blast dissipated against an invisible Force shield right in front of them. Then, dropping to the deck, he sent a blinding return blast straight back at Alyx.

Batting the blast aside with a shielded palm of his own, Alyx rushed forward and ignited his lightsaber, bringing it down to crash against his opponent's with all his might.

The sounds of saber combat filled the chamber as the combatants clashed. Alyx struck fast and expertly, and though his opponent matched his every move, he stayed on the defensive before the Jedi Master's attacks. Then, feigning right, Alyx reversed direction and slammed the enemy's blade aside, then sidestepped and swept his blade across the man's midsection.

Nothing happened. The blade scraped off the surface and passed without even leaving a mark on the opponent's armor. Realizing he'd underestimated his foe and his beskar-equivalent armor, Alyx ducked just in time to avoid a decapitating strike from the Jedicon, then stepped back just as his opponent sent a powerful Push slamming into him.

Alyx flew back and rebounded off the doors, then ducked out of the way as his opponent's blade crashed against the spot where he'd just stood.

Elsewhere in the chamber, a pained yell sounded, and Alyx turned to see Brajo fall down to the deck. The younger Jedi had been too weakened from his longer captivity, and the Jedicon had capitalized on it. Somehow, the other Jedicon was managing to take on all seven other Jedi at once. As Alyx watched, he received hits from several lightsabers in a row, striking his arms, legs, body, and neck, but to no avail. The armor’s coverage was just too great; it even had neck guard that extended up to join with the helmet. Only their faces were exposed.

Taking another hit on a gauntleted forearm, the Jedicon pushed Domi’s blade aside and struck down again with his own, cutting through the dark-haired man’s midsection. Domi collapsed to the deck.

Catching his opponent’s eye again, Alyx saw a smile form on the enemy’s face. They thought they were going to win.

That was enough for Alyx. It was time to show them what a Jedi Master was capable of.

Crouching and clenching his blade in his hands, Alyx opened himself up to the Force completely, drawing it in as hard as he could, letting a growl emanate from his throat. The Force surged within him, quickly bringing him to full power, and the air around him seemed to swirl like a wind surging up.

Sensing Alyx’s power, the Jedicon’s smile vanished, and he began powering up, as well. But Alyx gave him no time. Dashing forward at a blur, he launched himself at the Jedicon and crashed his blade against his opponent’s in a flash of light. He struck again and again quickly, overwhelming the enemy’s ability to concentrate and counterattack.

Drawing on the Force in a burst of strength, Alyx knocked his opponent’s blade out of the way. Then, disengaging the blade, he jumped forward and grabbed his opponent by the shoulder, jammed his handle’s emitter nozzle straight into the man’s face, and ignited the blade again.

The glowing blade shot out the back of the enemy’s helmet. Letting the body fall, Alyx removed his blade and turned to face the other enemy.

The others were still holding their own. Switching his blade off once again, Alyx extended his free hand and summoned up the Force. Then, when the way was clear between him and his opponent, a blast of energy leapt from his hand.

An explosion blew the enemy off his feet as Alyx’s blast hit the Jedicon in the back, destroying his armor. His lightsaber flew away through the air. The opponent hit the deck front-first, and a second later the remaining Jedi pounced on him as a group, finishing the job with their lightsabers.

Clipping his lightsaber to his belt, Alyx nodded as the rest of his team turned to face him. Roger Macreed dropped down to check on Brajo, then shook his head sadly. Domi was still alive, but barely. Satai and Darcunter both crouched down and helped him up to a seated position.

“Did… we make it?” asked Domi.

“We got them,” Satai nodded. “We made the bridge.”

“Good…” the man replied, his voice but a whisper. “Get everyone out of…” he began, but his voice broke off. His eyelids
fluttered quickly, then closed, and he let out a long breath.

“He’s gone,” Darcunter said.

Alyx turned away and looked forward. The bridge doors stood before them, and so far no alarms had sounded. Narif joined the group from his safe spot, and walked over to the controls next to the entrance.

"Open the doors!" Alyx ordered, hefting his pulse blaster. Inside, a cold fire had settled. The Force still raged with him.

The bridge doors opened, and they walked into a room that already felt full of confusion and tension. Bridge officers were standing at their stations, furiously typing in or speaking out orders and relaying communications. In the center of the room, where the commodore's seat appeared to be, lay the body of an older, balding man wearing an obvious uniform of rank. There were no marks on the body; he simply lay there, eyes staring lifelessly at the ceiling, an expression of horror on his face.

The officers all looked up from their stations at the team's intrusion, and the noise level died down to silence. Alyx didn't need to understand the situation in order to act.

The team opened fire. Green blasts filled the air.

In moments it was over. With a combination of the Force and pulse blaster fire, everyone on the bridge was dead, either lying on the floor or sprawled over their consoles. Behind them, Nerif closed the doors and tapped a few buttons on the side console. "It's sealed," he reported.

"Let's make sure," Vykk spoke up, then walked over and fired a bolt straight into the controls.

Narif ran over beside Alyx at the main command console. Looking down at the controls, Alyx shook his head. "We really need you now, Narif. I can read a little of this, but don't have a clue how to operate this thing."

The pilot began running back and forth, checking displays and consoles, some of which had been damaged by the blaster fire. “First,” he began, “I can tell you that we are sitting still. We are not firing. Defensive shields are good, but the ship is damaged on many levels.” He looked up at Alyx. “Maybe the New Imperium found an opening in the shields… I think that is what helped us escape.”

“Show me a display of the battle,” Alyx said.

The man ran over to another console and typed in a command. A moment later the holograms forward of the bridge zoomed into the battle taking place before them. Alyx heard muffled curses and cries of alarm at what they saw, and he felt a jolt in his gut, as well. There were four other Titans out there in addition to the Desolation. Furthermore, the entire NI First Fleet was sitting between them an the planet, and they were getting ripped to shreds. The Nexus was there, and below her sat the Independence, though Alyx could see the ship wasn’t going to last. Smoke billowed from half a hundred hits, some of them big ones, obscuring much of her bulk from view. Surrounding her were debris from other destroyed ships, including several huge chunks of what had to have been the Defiant, her pieces still glowing hot out in the void. She must have been destroyed mere moments ago.

What good did it do to come here and take over this Titan? Alyx wondered to himself. There were four Titan-class Battleships more out there. Given these odds, Alyx knew there was no way the First Fleet could stop the enemy. Varnus was going to fall.

“This is crazy,” Colin Moore broke the silence. “There’s no way we can win this.”

Alyx looked back over at Narif and this time saw on the screen a layout of the Titan, zooming in towards the bridge area. After a moment, Narif opened his mouth again. “There are Altarin’Dakor reinforcements coming here, to the bridge.”

“Great,” Macreed spoke up from behind Alyx. “How long?”

“Not long.”

“Are we safe here? Can they get in?” Macreed asked.

“The bridge is sealed,” Narif replied, his voice tense. “But they can eventually get in, I think.”

“Then we need to act fast,” Alyx put in, thinking about their options. Every few seconds, he noticed that the floor seemed to shake slightly under his feet. “What’s happening? Are the NI ships still attacking us?”

“Yes,” the man replied. “But only with something big, making explosions. Something is penetrating the shields.”

“The Majestic-class cruisers,” Alyx explained. “Well, we need to get them to stop if we can. No, wait a second – what about our weapons? Can we fire on the other Titans? That’ll let them know something’s wrong.”

Narif looked down at the controls, then frowned. “The bridge has control over the weapons systems, but it is limited. We can fire, but it can be stopped from other stations.”

“So it can be overridden manually by the gunners?”

“Correct.”

“Fine,” Alyx said. “What about self-destruct? Can we blow the ship up?”

Narif shook his head immediately this time. “I do not know how to do that. I need the commander’s access codes. Perhaps the ship does not even have a self-destruct. Titans are controlled by very advanced computer systems. Very smart.”

“Like artificial intellgence?”

“I think so, yes.”

“Sounds like we’re pretty helpless up here,” Vykk supplied, coming to stand next to Alyx. “What good is it to take over the bridge, then?”

“Stow it, and think for a minute,” Alyx chided him. He considered the situation. They couldn’t destroy the ship, and their ability to attack was limited…

“Okay,” he said finally, his plan of action springing to mind. “You’re a pilot. Can you fly this thing?”

Narif walked over to yet another station, this one a good ten meters away. Alyx assumed it was where navigation was controlled.

“I can move the ship,” he admitted after a moment. “But not as good as a full crew.”

“I understand that,” Alyx said, walking over to join him. He stared down at the controls, a maze of foreign symbols he hadn’t yet learned, then turned his gaze down to the Altarin’Dakor pilot. “I want you to aim this ship at the nearest Titan and ram into her as hard as you can.”

Another startled cry sounded behind him from the others, and Narif looked up at him with an expression of obvious shock.

“You heard me,” Alyx said firmly. “Can you do it?”

“I…” the man began, looking skeptical. But he broke off when he saw Alyx’s face, and realized that the Jedi Master wasn’t bluffing. He looked out at the forward bridge holograms. “Which… Which one?”

“Whichever’s nearest,” Alyx repeated. He caught sight one on long, dark-colored shape nearby, a ship with a ring that surrounded the ship at the spine. Though it was not connected to the ship by any means Alyx could see, it remained in place, spinning along its center at a moderate pace. From that ring a near-continuous beam of fire was streaming out towards the First Fleet, cutting through the New Imperium’s remaining starships. “That one,” Alyx pointed, feeling a tugging through the Force as he said the words.

Narif typed into the controls for a moment. “The ship’s autopilot will not allow a collision with another large ship,” he said finally. He looked up at Alyx. “But we can fly it in manually.”

Alyx knew what he meant; they would have to stay onboard right up until the two ships collided. “Do it,” he ordered. “If we have to, we’ll take her all the way in. We can’t lose this chance to destroy or incapacitate two enemy Titans.”

He looked back at the others, who had all gathered around the commodore’s seat and were watching the exchange. All held serious faces, but no one protested. Domi’s body lay behind them on the floor near the entrance.

“Take us in,” Alyx said. “Full power.”

Narif's hands moved over the controls once more.

Slowly, the Titan began to move. Engines flaring brightly, the ship began turning to starboard, bringing its nose back towards the remnants of the NI starfleet. Their commander - probably Gaius - must have noticed, because the fire coming into the Desolation suddenly intensified. Turbolasers by the hundreds came at them, somehow finding a way through an opening in the shields and tearing across the Titan's armored surface, turning plates into slag, ripping breaches in the hull and destroying more weapons emplacements. Huge mass driver rounds slammed into the ship, blasting gaping holes that now penetrated deep within the ship.

The bridge had gone from rumbling occasionally to a near-continuous shaking, and Alyx gripped the handrail in front of him as he watched the torrent of fire pouring in at them. He was pretty sure the massive ship could take it, but still he longed to signal the fleet and call them off. They were wasting precious seconds on the Desolation when they could be assaulting the rest of the enemy fleet. Still, he knew he couldn't. If they tipped their hand, they might never make it to that other Titan.

Nearby, an incessant whining chime began sounding from one of the other consoles. "What's that?" Alyx demanded.

"Looks like the communications console," Roger Macreed answered, hoping over the dead officer's body that lay in front of the station. "I can't read it."

Narif spared a moment's concentration from navigation to look at the holographic image displayed over the console in question. "It's the command ship," he said.

Dimly Alyx realized again how helpless they would have been without a native Altarin'Dakor's help. This mission never would have had a chance otherwise.

"Doesn't sound like they're very happy about what we're doing," Vykk added.

"Keep her steady," Alyx called, watching as the elongated hull of the Titan Hegemony loomed into view. "How long to impact?"

The Altarin'Dakor pilot studied his screen for a moment. "We are gaining speed," he said finally. "Maybe two minutes."

The bridge had stopped shaking once more, the NI's attacks now hitting harmlessly on the port shields. But smoke poured from the bow of the Desolation, drifting over the main body as the ship picked up momentum. Alyx watched the Hegemony growing larger and swallowed.

"Go to the Naguis'Vox'Donn's ready room," Narif broke into Alyx's darkened thoughts. "He should have an escape vehicle."

Looking up in surprise, Alyx exchanged glances with the rest of the team. "Check it out," he ordered.

Macreed and Vykk took off towards the doorway across from them, and disappeared inside when the doors whooshed open. Alyx was about to join them when Narif suddenly called out.

"Something is trying to engage the autopilot!" he exclaimed. "It's trying to steer the ship away!"

"What?" Alyx ran quickly over, coming to stand beside the man. If they turned away, then the mission would be a complete failure. "Is it the ship's computer?"

"No. It's - I think it is someone on the command ship!"

"Controlling the ship remotely?"

"Yes! I must change to manual," Narif exclaimed, his hands moving on the controls.

"Can you fly this thing on complete manual?" Alyx asked incredulously.

"I do not know! But we are only going straight ahead..."

He broke off as a holographic image materialized over the communications console, at least two meters in height. It depicted the waist-up visage of an armor-clad figure, night-black in color, with a winged helmet and mask from which glowed a pair of piercing red eyes. It was terrifying, right down to the core of Alyx’s very being.

Narif shrieked and dove for the floor immediately. Alyx stood transfixed; he had seen this image before. It had been during the briefing about Nimrod's empire and the forces he commanded. But this was not a recorded still-image. The figure turned slightly, as if scanning the bridge, seeking out those who were still alive.

The eyes came to rest on Alyx. It looked as though he were staring straight at him. Instantly he knew that this was the Warlord, and this was no recording. It was real-time.

Yelling, he stood and threw out his hand, sending a blast of Force energy directly at the console underneath the hologram. The blast hit and exploded, blowing the console into a thousand pieces.

The image abruptly vanished.

"Get up, Narif!" Alyx said, gasping as he realized he'd been holding his breath for too long. He pulled the man to his feet, looking back to where the console had been, where flames licked the shattered remnants of the console.

A warning klaxon began sounding throughout the bridge. In front of them, the view of the Hegemony filled all visible space to either side.

“How long?!” Alyx asked.

Narif seemed to come back to his senses and looked down at the screen. “Less than one minute! You must go!”

“We’re both going! Come on!” Alyx shouted.

“No!” Narif shook his head, putting his hands on the controls firmly. “I must pilot the ship! Go now! Goodbye!”

With a last, futile glance at the man, Alyx turned and ran towards the commodore’s room in a Force-enhanced sprint. He burst through the room, barely noticing the opulent office with its luxurious wooden furniture. At the other end stood an open doorway, and Roger Macreed waving him forward. Alyx joined him, running down a short airlock and into a waiting transport. The others were already there, and as soon as they were in the doors sealed behind them.

He could already hear the engines’ whine rising in pitch throughout the ship. In the cockpit, Vykk sat in the pilot’s seat and turned back to give them a thumbs up. “Prepare for takeoff!” he shouted.

Alyx took a seat, watching Macreed slide into the copilot’s seat. There was a click as the docking clamps were released, and suddenly the transport shot forward through the small personal hangar. The doorways loomed ahead though, still closed, and as they launched Vykk hit a button and a pair of beams flashed out, striking the doors. The entire assembly blasted apart in an instant, bursting outwards from the pressure of space’s vacuum. Then the transport shot from the hangar and into open space, burning away at maximum acceleration.


The Desolation plowed straight into the side of the Hegemony, one thirty-kilometer vessel slamming into another with unimaginable force. The Desolation’s nose first hit the rotating ring around the other Titan, ripping it apart and sending its pieces flying off in all directions due to its centrifugal motion.

Then the two Titans touched. The nose of the Desolation collapsed under the impact, but the inertial force of the whole Titan behind it sent a shockwave blasting through the Hegemony. That Titan began to crack beneath the impact, and as the Desolation pushed itself inside the other vessel, the Hegemony broke in half, both pieces bending back towards the assailing ship. Fire ripped out of the vessel, washing over the Desolation, sending up thousands of secondary explosions in both ships.

The rear half of the Hegemony exploded first, the detonations working their way back to the engines and causing a chain reaction that blew the ship apart in an explosion that rivaled Varnus’ own sun. The shockwave and expanding blast tore through the Desolation as well, and a host of explosions blossomed all over the ship, building and combining with one another until the entire vessel was consumed in one massive fireball.

The explosion dominated everything else in the field of battle, wiping out an entire side of the Altarin’Dakor offensive line. And for a moment – even for a brief, fleeting moment – the New Imperial forces were able to revel that they’d dealt the enemy a hard blow, a blow that could not be ignored.

The New Imperium wasn’t quite finished, yet.


* * *
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Offline J.A.

Kodonn'Dakor


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Joined: Tue May 20, 2008 8:29 pm

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PostPosted: Fri May 22, 2009 6:47 pm   Post subject: Re: "Destiny" - by Joshua Ausley   


Treasury
Royal Palace, Varnus
1430 Hours


Bren sat across from Rynn Mariel, watching as she focused intently on the Battle Meditation. “Keep at it,” he encouraged. “You’re getting close. I know you can do this, Rynn.”

Young Derek sat next to them, his gaze passing from Rynn’s face to Bren’s, his desire to learn more never completely satisfied. In the corner stood Cozeeke, the curious droid that had been given to Grand Master Xar and had been recording everything that happened around him ever since.

The rest of the room was packed full of civilians and refugees, as well as those members of the Division who were too young or inexperienced to fight. Also present were the wives and children of quite a few Jedi members. This room was the last line of defense, its treasures not only the Force artifacts inside, but the also precious lives that were at stake. It had to be protected at all costs. If only he and Rynn could help out everyone above, somehow.

“I can’t,” Rynn finally said, shaking her head and breaking their connection through the Force. “I can’t concentrate enough on the other Division members. All I can feel, sense – see – are the Altarin’Dakor. They’re everywhere; above us, beneath us, all around us. It’s just too strong… I’m sorry.” She blew out a sigh of frustration and looked away.

Bren hung his head, feeling failure finally set in. It wasn’t Rynn’s fault; she just hadn’t had enough time or training in Battle Meditation. Bren himself knew the technique, but he wasn’t strong enough to bolster the entire Jedi Division at once. He needed help, and Rynn was the only other person who had considered it important enough to devote significant time in study.

“I wish I could do something,” Derek said beside her.

She spared him a glance that held genuine gratitude in her eyes. “It’s all right,” she said. Bren knew the offer wasn’t just empty words – Derek had more Force Potential than anyone they’d ever known, but he was just eleven years old – they didn’t want to push him too hard, too fast. He still had a lot of growing to do, though most of it physically.

Something that Rynn had said had struck a familiar chord in Bren’s memory somewhere – he just couldn’t place what it was. There was something that he was forgetting, something that he would have known in his past life, but something that just wouldn’t come to the surface where he could grab it. There were still many holes in his memory, lots of gaps. And a lot of what he did remember, he wished he never had, in the first place.

One of the room’s other occupants walked over to them and sat down cross-legged next to Derek. He was tall, and dressed in simple, dark clothing – an imposing figure, but Bren wasn’t afraid of Icis Novitaar. He was another refugee in here, now, simply waiting for the battle overhead to play out, however that might be.

“Mister Novitaar,” Derek greeted the man with a smile. “Maybe you can help us.”

“I’d like to, Derek,” Icis said, tousling the boy’s hair in a playful gesture, “but I’m afraid there’s not much I can do anymore without my Force Powers.”

“I can tell that,” the boy replied, his tone implying more maturity than any eleven-year-old should normally have. “What happened? Why did you lose your Force Powers?”

Bren watched Icis, the boy having iterated a question Bren had often wondered, himself. People didn’t just go around losing their Force Sensitivity by accident.

Icis smiled, but it looked a little sad to Bren. “That’s a pretty long story, actually,” he said. “I don’t know if this is the best time for it.”

“We don’t have much else to do right now,” Rynn told him, spreading her hands out to indicate their current location.

“The short of it is, my own people branded me a traitor for helping the New Imperium out,” Icis said, glancing from her to Derek.

“Why would they do that?” the boy asked.

“They don’t take very kindly to interfering in others’ business,” the man explained.

Bren listened thoughtfully. He’d heard Xar mention that Icis was part of a group calling themselves the Travelers, who recorded events but never interfered with the affairs of those they observed. He was fairly confident that what Icis had done for the NI would classify as interference.

“Anyway,” Icis continued, speaking to Derek. “I think you might be able to help them much more than I can.”

“Derek’s not getting involved in the fighting,” Rynn spoke up before anyone else could. “He’s too young, and I won’t let anything happen to him. The Grand Master and I have already been through this.”

“Hear me out, I’m not suggesting he fight.” Icis raised his hands in front of him in a placating gesture. “I agree, he’s too important to risk right now. But he is very powerful in the Force. If he can lend his strength to you two, it might make your efforts more effective.”

“You know Battle Meditation?” Bren asked him.

“Yes,” Icis nodded. “Well, at least I did when I had Force Powers. Which brings me to Rynn. What’s keeping you from successfully concentrating on the flows of the Force around our Jedi?”

“It’s just that special ability everyone keeps telling me I have,” she admitted. “I can’t really feel anything but the AD, right now. I’m afraid it’s handicapped my ability to sense the Force. It’s just gotten stronger and stronger, and now I feel so useless. Have you heard of anything like this before?”

Icis made a thoughtful hum, but shook his head. “Can’t say that I have.”

“This is so frustrating,” Rynn sighed.

“While we’re on the subject, how did you come to learn the technique?” Bren asked Icis.

The man seemed to consider the question a moment before responding. “I’ve been around a lot longer than some might think.”

“Sounds like you have quite an interesting story to tell,” Bren offered, his interest piqued. Novitaar was very secretive, and had never revealed much about himself that Bren had overheard. He always seemed to have a way to escape awkward questions, and leave answers that were just cryptic enough to leave you wanting more.

“You’re very old, isn’t that right?” Derek said, looking at Icis strangely.

The man’s eyes widened slightly as he looked down at the boy. “You’re very perceptive as always, Derek,” he said, putting on a smile. “But I’m not the only one here with an interesting history to be told. Isn’t that right?” He glanced up at Bren.

Bren nodded and leaned back, putting his hands on the floor behind him. “As you all know, of course. I was an Altarin’Dakor general. In fact, I fought a battle right here on Varnus, probably not close from where present-day Vectur stands. It was a lot like this one, actually…”

He broke off as suddenly that missing memory in his head fell into place. Everyone else was staring at him, waiting for him expectantly to continue, but Bren locked his eyes on Rynn and couldn’t look away.

"That's it!" he exclaimed. "I just realized it!"

"Realized what?"

"Your gift in the Force. You're a Cognizant!"

"A what?" she said, her face covered in confusion.

"A Cognizant," he explained, leaning forward. "That's what we call people who can… who can do what you do," he said in a rush.

"What's a Cogni-whatever?" Derek spoke up concernedly. "Is something wrong with Miss Rynn?"

"Quite the contrary, Derek," Bren told him, feeling his excitement rising. "Rynn has a special ability that almost no other Jedi have, that I know of. In fact, she may be the only one living today with the talent."

Icis made another thoughtful noise. Bren looked over at Rynn again.

"So, are you going to tell me what it means?" she asked.

“It’s a form of Battle Meditation,” he explained, “only this works in reverse. Think about it this way; Battle Meditation allows you to focus on a situation and perceive what is going to happen in the future, then subliminally guide your allies to take action appropriately, to help them in battle.” He glanced back between her and Icis. “Cognizance allows you to do the same thing, only in a much more specific application: you can perceive your opponents, to such an extent that you know exactly where they are and what they’re going to do, all the time. It also allows you to sense your enemies even if they are hiding their presence in the Force using a Mask.”

“So what good is it? The part about knowing what they enemy will do, I mean?” Derek asked. “If two Jedi are fighting, how can you warn one of them before the bad guy does something?”

“Cognizance is intended to be used as part of a Jedi Battle Meld,” Bren explained. “One, the Coordinator, uses Battle Meditation to perceive the battle at large, and to direct his or her own men. The Cognizant links with the Coordinator, feeding him everything she sees, which is then passed on to our own Jedi. It’s like Battle Meditation, improved exponentially. It can make an army virtually unstoppable.”

“And you’re saying that’s what I can do?” Rynn asked, her tone one of disbelief.

“Is that true, Mister Novitaar?” Derek asked, looking to Icis.

The tall man shook his head. “There are many powers out there that were forgotten long before even I was born. Some fell into disuse because they just weren’t practical, but others proved very useful – like this one, I think.”

“Wow,” Derek exclaimed. “You have an amazing special ability, Miss Rynn!”

“I… I don’t think I want the enemy running around inside my head,” Rynn replied uncertainly, staring at Bren.

“Link with me again,” Bren told her excitedly. “This time, don’t fight the sense of the enemy around you; embrace it. Focus solely on them. It won’t be pleasant, especially considering what’s going on up there. But I want you to focus completely on the Altarin’Dakor, to make yourself one with them if you can. Then, when you’re linked with me, I’ll be able to coordinate our forces and help them survive.” He glanced down at Derek, also. “Derek, if you join the link too, and lend me your power, we may be able to help all the Jedi in the palace at once.”

“I’ll do my best,” the boy promised. He looked focused, intense.

“I’m not sure about this, Bren,” Rynn said. “I don’t… I don’t want to focus on the AD. I can feel their aggression, their thirst for blood. Their evil. I feel that if I let them in my mind – I won’t be myself anymore. That they’ll consume me!”

“I know this won’t be easy for you, Rynn. But please, for the sake of our men, and for everyone in the New Imperium, this is something we have to do.”

“Don’t make me do this, Bren.”

He looked at her pleadingly, understanding finally that this was their only chance to come out of this alive. It was suddenly crystal clear; it wasn’t about power, or about the ends justifying the means. This was the will of the Force. “You were born to do this, Rynn,” he told her as gently as he could. “The Force has chosen you for this. I need you. I can’t do this without you.”

“I’ll help,” Derek said, looking at Rynn intently. He slid over beside her and took one of her hands in his. Bren felt the Force flowing through him subtly, and within seconds Rynn relaxed visibly.

She blinked, then finally took a deep breath. “Okay,” she said uncertainly. “I’ll try. Oh, Jinx… Hang on.” She closed her eyes again and began to concentrate.


* * *


Medlab
Royal Palace, Varnus
1430 Hours



“Get him stabilized!” shouted Vannik, running over to the struggling patient lying on the operating table. Pulling out a hypospray, he practically dove over the man and grabbed his head, pinning it down to the mat, then pressed the device to the side of his neck and injected it.

Within seconds, the patient relaxed, and his vital signs fell back into the normal range. Vannik breathed a sigh of relief, then glanced at the assistant doctor next to him and nodded, relinquishing the patient to further care.

Medbay was filled to capacity with wounded already. Though he wouldn’t turn anyone away if more arrived, Vannik knew that there would be serious trouble caring for them all, should the numbers continue to rise.

And right now, all the evidence pointed that they would rise, indeed.

Though most of his patients were troops from outside that had been wounded by enemy fire or shrapnel, they were beginning to see civilians come in, injured with stories that made Vannik’s blood run cold. They said Jedicon were in the palace, and that they were killing everyone they came across. Whenever they came across someone, civilian or not, there would be no survivors. It was as if they were going from level to level, trying to flush everyone out, to find as many victims as they possibly could.

What was their purpose here? If they wanted to cripple Vectur’s Command and Control, then they should have focused all their resources on taking the command center. If they wanted to win this battle quickly and decisively, that should have been their strategy. Taking control of the palace would mean taking control of Vectur, and Varnus with it, winning the battle. Why go about on a seemingly random slaughter? If it was only the Jedi they wanted, Vannik could understand their hunting about. But killing innocent civilians – such an act reeked of animosity, of pure hatred towards their foe. What could cause them to hate the people of this galaxy so much?

Suddenly the main entrance doors parted, and Vannik looked up, his breath catching for what must have been the twentieth time this hour alone. He knew that anytime now, it might be Jedicon coming through that door, and that would be it. 


     Instead, he saw Kiz Thrakus jog into the room, holding his left arm as though it were in a sling. One quick glance told Vannik the man was injured. He had a lightsaber wound just below his shoulder, but it appeared to have cauterized properly; the man was in no immediate danger.


     “You need to pack everyone up and get out of here,” Thrakus said, coming to a halt a few meters away. “AD Jedicon could show up at any moment.”

Vannik blinked in mild surprise at the man’s gruff tone. “We’re not exactly in any position to leave,” replied the doctor. “Look around you. I’ve got people in critical condition here.” He gestured around the room, which was full of other doctors and nurses, attending to dozens of wounded, with everything from lightsaber gashes to blaster burns.

“If you don’t leave soon, you won’t have to worry because you’ll all be dead,” Thrakus countered. “Don’t think they’ll spare you because you’ve got doctors and injured in here.”

“I’ve no illusions about that. But still, we’re staying. There’s nowhere to go now if we wanted to, anyway.” Vannik shook his head. He turned, and took a few steps towards the quarantine room. “We’ll see this through to the end, just as you.”

Thrakus also walked over to the quarantine window and put his good hand up on the glass, peering inside. The room’s sole occupant still lay stretched out on the large table inside, covered mostly with a white sheet and surrounded by various medical devices that monitored his condition.

“Nico,” the man whispered. “I’m sorry we couldn’t save you.”

The man in the room didn’t stir, didn’t budge one bit. He was totally oblivious to the battle raging around him. He was probably the luckiest of them all, in that regard.

“You can still do something,” Vannik told Thrakus. “We may not be able to leave, but we can still save lives while we’re here. You can help your friend by helping us. We are defenseless here.”

Thrakus turned back to look at Vannik, seemed to consider a moment, then nodded. “Fine. I’ll stay with you.”

Walking back over to the entrance, he tapped several buttons on the door controls there, and the set of inner blast doors slid closed in front of the transparent normal doors, locking in place with an audible click.

“Seal this place off,” he ordered. “It’s too late to let anyone else in here by now. I’ll do my best to make sure you can work in safety for as long as possible. Do what you can.”

“Thank you,” Vannik said.

Turning, he strode back to his working table and the sedated patient lying there, continuing the endless work of repairing the damage this war had wrought, of saving those he could. His task might never be completed, not as long as the conflict continued, but his oath compelled him to act. He would serve until it was over, until his job was no longer necessary. Or, he would keep going until there was no one left to save, at all.


* * *
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Offline J.A.

Kodonn'Dakor


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Joined: Tue May 20, 2008 8:29 pm

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PostPosted: Sat May 23, 2009 5:31 am   Post subject: Re: "Destiny" - by Joshua Ausley   


Courtyards
Royal Palace, Varnus
1450 Hours



Jinx struggled to his feet, forcing his muscles to work, drawing on the Force as much as he could to keep himself upright. He was exhausted; he couldn’t remember being this tired in his whole life. And still it wasn’t over.

Before him stood his opponent, burned, bruised and bloodied, and madder than ever.

“I… hate… you!” Nobien snarled, his eyes white with rage, with pure, all-consuming hostility towards the Jedi standing before him.

Jinx didn’t know if he could stand up to another round. The two of them were virtually matched in Force power, true. But Nobien was a Jedicon, and he’d trained his entire life for the sole purpose of Force-powered combat. Jinx was a fighter – one of the best – but even his own training experience paled in comparison to that of his opponent.

Now he was just too tired to summon up the strength necessary to win.

Perhaps sensing or seeing his opponent’s fatigue, Nobien began marching towards Jinx, his fists clenched at his sides. His clothes were a tattered char, and even his hair was half burned off. Yet his exuded power through the Force. His steady strides picked up pace, becoming a trot, then a full run – then a Force-enhanced blur.

This is it. Jinx saw his opponent streaking in, one fist raised high, pushing the very air away from it with its sheer speed. The blow might very well take Jinx’s head off.

Then somehow, to Jinx’s eye, Nobien’s motion slowed. He no longer soared through the air, but rather floated, his fist raised out straight for Jinx’s face. But instead of seeing where that fist was now, he suddenly saw another fist, a shadow fist, stretching out in front of the real one and touching his face.

And in a burst of insight, Jinx knew that was where the attack would be.

As time returned to normal, Jinx side-stepped out of the way of the coming blow and let the attack pass by harmlessly on his left. As Nobien’s eyes widened in sudden shock, Jinx brought his left elbow up and cracked it across the Jedicon’s jaw as he passed.

The blow cracked loud as a thunderbolt, twisting the Jedicon around in mid-air. He bounced off the alley’s wall and crashed to the ground, sliding several meters before coming to a halt. Blood spattered the wall and floor, a trail leading to the Jedicon’s body.

Nobien had looked as surprised as Jinx felt. How had he just done that? For a moment, he’d known exactly what the Jedicon was about to do, predicting the movements as though he were far more powerful in the Force than his opponent. Only, he wasn’t.

Or was he?

A new feeling of power was surging in his chest, and Jinx felt rested and more powerful than he’d ever felt before. And not only that; he felt a presence with him, a familiar one. Distinctively feminine – calm, and soothing. He knew exactly who it was. He had absolutely no idea how she was doing this, but there was no question that Rynn was with him now, lending him her power, her assistance.

Nobien drew himself to his feet again, somehow still alive. Looking over at Jinx with insane, hate-filled eyes, he screamed and launched himself into the air again, his hands claws that reached out at Jinx.

Again, Jinx saw what the Jedicon would do. He would act as though moving to grapple with him, but at the last second would release the power powerful blast of Force energy that he could, straight into Jinx’s torso.

Along with that knowledge came a thought, almost a memory. A memory of centuries ago, before Jinx’s long sleep in a stasis pod, on a battlefield where he’d faced an enemy far more powerful than this Jedicon. Then, he’d immolated a Warlord using a power he didn’t even know he had, must less understood. Throughout his life, Jinx had never been able to duplicate that feat, no matter how strong he became or how much he learned.

But now he knew.

As the Jedicon descended towards him, Jinx raised both hands in front of him, the Force blazing within, and concentrated all his power through his hands and into the air in front of them.

From him hands sprung a blast of flame that poured through the air, soaring upwards to connect with the Jedicon, instantly consuming him with fire. Nobien’s body ignited like a torch as he fell, and he screamed in agony. The fire coursed over him, burning his body to a cinder, consuming him armor, flesh, and finally bone, until nothing was left remaining there at all.

The fire faded from his hands, and Jinx stared at the superheated air rising overhead, shock and wonder pouring over him. The sense of power slowly faded, and he let out a sigh as it left, slowly replaced by the tiredness once more. But not everything faded; there was still a reassuring presence in the back of his mind, that same familiar presence that he’d come to know and love over the last couple of years. I’m still with you, that presence said in his mind. And I won’t leave you again. I promise.

Jinx smiled, and sank to his knees once more.


* * *


In Orbit
Varnus
1510 Hours



The fireball from the Titans' destruction had barely faded away, and Gaius stood on the bridge in open and total shock. Time seemed to have frozen, everyone around him staring open-mouthed at what had just taken place. Two of the enemy Titans were gone, their remains drifting hulks floating out in the void. The one, the target of much of the NI's assault, had abruptly turned, but instead of attacking them it had continued turning and slammed full-force into the Titan next to it.

What in the galaxy had just happened?

Slowly, murmurs of amazement and wonder drifted across the bridge. Whatever had happened, there were now only three Titans facing them. Though none had suffered serious damage - they hadn't even penetrated those Titans' shields yet, to Gaius' distress - still the NI had dealt the enemy a most serious blow. Their Warlord must certainly be furious at this sudden change of events.

"New orders," Gaius spoke up, watching the enemy forces swirl about for a moment in seeming confusion. "Target the next Titan - the Ascendancy. Maybe now they realize they're not invincible."

At his command, the NI ships all opened up on that ship, their attacks impacting against her forward shields and lighting them a transparent blue haze. The ship herself appeared to have suffered at least some damage from the shockwave produced by the other Titans' destruction. Now, fire from the NI vessels poured in, and though they didn’t penetrate her shields, the fire from the Majestic-class cruisers made it through, all right, blasting gaping holes in the ship’s bow and shattering its reflective hull plates. For a brief moment, Gaius felt a glimmer of hope, though he tried not to let it take full hold. Though they seemed to have gained some momentum for the moment, he was sure it wasn't to last very long given the current situation.

Sure enough, his thoughts were confirmed a mere moment later. The New Imperium's sense of accomplishment was to be short-lived. Their blow had struck near the enemy's heart, stoking their anger like a hive of deadly predators.

Now it was time for vengeance.

Suddenly every forward weapon emplacement on the Grand Crusader, the Cataclysm, and the Ascendancy opened up on the NI First Fleet. As though they had been holding back before somehow, they now attacked with a ferocity that Gaius had never seen before. And this time it was simply beyond the NI's ability to bear.

Two dozen shining beams swept below the Nexus and into the Independence, sweeping across her decks and ripping immense gouges through her hull. Explosions ripped out of her hull, the shields long since demolished, and plumes of fire erupted like geysers from the top of the ship. The beams raked across her hull, slicing deeper and deeper, even passing through to the other side in spots.

The comm crackled to life nearby, and a holographic window showed the Independence's command officers in the deeper auxiliary bridge. Fleet Admiral Vonture was there, and behind him Gaius could see chaos taking over, officers running to put out fires, embers flying through the air in all directions. The man's image vibrated constantly from the pounding they were taking.

"Vonture!" Gaius shouted over the din, hoping they could hear him.. "Get out of there!"

The Fleet Admiral was still barking out orders, his eyes elsewhere on the bridge. “Reroute power to auxiliaries and seal off Section D!” Vonture shouted. “All hands, abandon ship! Everyone get to the escape pods as quickly as you can! And get those fires out if you can!”

Then he turned to look towards Gaius and the rest of the bridge officers. “We’re taking a pounding, Admiral!” he said, the image shaking again as more explosions ripped throughout the ship. “Weapons and defense systems are offline! We’re going down, Admiral! I’m sorry!”

“There’s still time! Get yourself to the escape pods!” Gaius ordered.

“I need two minutes!” Vonture shouted back. “We’ve lost power to the main turbolifts and we’ll have to evacuate manually… Aaagh!”

Vonture turned away from the screen, and the whole image was filled with blinding light… and was gone.

More beams blasted into the Independence’s interior, and a massive eruption blasted out of the ship’s core. Gaius knew that the auxiliary bridge had been in that area.The explosion blew fire and huge pieces of debris upwards to slam against the bottom of the Nexus.

Then the whole ship was obscured by fire.

A series of explosions consumed the Independence from the inside out, spreading back towards the engines and detonating them; then the ship vanished within an enormous conflageration, an inferno that swept out and enveloped everything else around it. When the blast faded, there was only debris, floating slowly down towards the surface of the planet below.

Gaius kept his voice steady, quashing the rush of emotion that welled up inside, unable to get out. He would not break. “Dispatch rescue ships and assign all remaining fighters to cover---” he began.

Then the Titans fired again. Massively thick beams of energy cut through the Nexus' shields and bore into her thin, fragile-looking hull, and explosions ripped out of the Titan.

The deck dropped out from beneath Gaius' feet, and control panels all around them blew out in showers of sparks. He struggled to regain his footing as other officers collapsed to the deck.

“We’re hit!” Amason yelled from somewhere. “Massive damage! Our shields are down and we can’t take many more of these---“

Another explosion blew Gaius off his feet, sending him onto his back this time. Drawing the Force inside him instinctively, he shook it off and pushed himself up, watching the holoscreens showing the deadly beams streaking in, bringing the destruction of the Nexus right before his eyes.

This was the enemy's final push, their last volley. And with it, Gaius knew this battle was over.


* * *


In Orbit
Varnus
1515 Hours



Donitz watched the Titans open up full-bore onto the tattered remnants of the NI Fleet, and this time it was clear the fleet was in its death throes.

“Pull back to defensive point Alpha!” he shouted into the comm, wondering how many other pilots were out there to even hear him. He pulled back on the stick, at least a dozen different enemy fighters on his tail. At this point, he knew, there weren’t enough NI targets left, and these must be several AD ships for every New Imperial pilot.

“Keep it tight!” he shouted, turning his fighter so hard that he nearly blacked out even with inertial dampeners at maximum. He saw Gastron pulling up in front of him, pursued by at least six enemy fighters, then a blast from one of them blew Gastron’s fighter out of the sky.

Well, I’m totally alone now, Donitz realized. His whole squadron – his whole wing – had been shot down, and as far as he knew he might be the only NI pilot left alive. Pushing the throttles forward, he dove back down, completely evasive, trying to shake at least some of the fighters on his tail. It was only a matter of time, he knew, before Colonel Rivian Donitz joined the rest of his comrades this day.

Then, looming ahead on his radar, he spotted an Altarin’Dakor transport barreling down towards the planet below. For all Donitz knew it could be ferrying some high-ranking official down to declare victory and assume control of the city. And so, despite all his pursuers, he knew that ship needed to be taken out. He designated it as his target.

He was over halfway there when his commlink suddenly burst to life.

“This is Jedi Grand Master Alyx Misnera to approaching TIE Defender: we are in the transport you are engaging! Do not fire!”

Momentary confusion quickly gave way to curiosity. “High Admiral Misnera. Didn’t expect to see you flying through the battle in an AD ship,” he said, keeping his voice guarded.

“We were prisoners onboard the Desolation and managed to escape. We also were able to ram her into Hegemony and take them both out.”

“I see that,” Donitz replied. “I can tell you the gesture was greatly appreciated.”

“We’re making for the surface,” Misnera said. “Do we have a clear path?”

“Yes, except for the score of enemy fighters on my tail,” Donitz shot back, jinking to avoid a beam blast that shot through where he’d just been. “A little help would be appreciated, if possible.”

“So even the great Donitz can admit when the odds are too high,” Misnera’s voice came back, with just enough sarcasm to avoid insult. “Stand by.”

Then, as the two ships closed, a cluster of missiles suddenly shot from the transport’s banks, flashing past Donitz’s Defender and streaking towards his pursuers. A dozen craft took hits and exploded, completely unsuspecting of the AD craft, not even knowing what hit them. The rest broke off, at least momentarily, and Donitz soared past the transport and gave them a mock salute as they shot on down towards the surface.

“Appreciated,” Donitz spoke into the comm, turning back onto the transport’s tail to provide cover to the atmosphere if needed. The fleet came back into view…

The Independence was gone, consumed by a massive fireball that expanded for dozens of kilometers in every direction. It faded, and he could only see chunks where the ship had once lay.

Misnera’s voice came over the sudden comm silence. “What in the name of---“

Then a stream of countless beams flashed out to strike the Nexus, and explosions ripped out along the ship’s long spine. Donitz watched as the blasts concentrated in one spot, right in the ship’s center, voraciously burning their way through the ship’s central axis. Finally an explosion blossomed out, and just like that the Nexus had been sheared in half, a widening gap separating the bow of the ship from her stern. It was simply… incredible.

The comm crackled to life once more. This time, Donitz heard the calm yet heavy-hearted sound of the Sector Admiral’s voice. His words conveyed no emotion, nothing except for total discipline and dignity. Donitz admired him for his control at a time like this.

“This is Fleet Commander Gaius Adonai to all surviving New Imperium forces. I am ordering a full retreat from Varnus effective immediately. All capable ships are to set course for Tralaria and make for hyperspace. When you arrive, you are to assist in the defense of the NI Capital. We are abandoning the Nexus now and will join you at the earliest possibility.”

And with that, the escape pods began to launch. Donitz knew that the Altarin’Dakor would probably not let any of them survive. Even now, the beam weapons continued to chew through the ship. Two of them blasted clean through one of her massive fin-like sails, slicing them apart as they swept downwards leaving a trail of fire.

Beneath the Titan, no longer in the protective bubble of her shields, the other NI craft were faring badly. The Majestic-class cruisers were hit next, the enemy exacting revenge for all the damage they had inflicted. The Scimitar was hit straight on and detonated just as she launched one final blast towards the Ascendancy, which blasted apart more of that shiny armor over her hull. The remaining two cruisers abruptly turned and started heading out, but not quite fast enough. Another beam came down on the Iovius and split the ship in half, and a second later the aft section of the ship exploded, blowing it into a million pieces.

The final cruiser, the Majestic herself, dove down between the bulks of the ISDs Stormwatch and Vindicator, and with a jolt of shock Donitz realized they were they only two Star Destroyers left in the field of battle. The Trident, Fang, Tsunami, Phantom and Red Horizon had all been destroyed, along with the majority of other capital ships within the NI Fleet.

Then more beams continued to sweep across the two halves of the Nexus, even as escape pods and craft of all sizes poured of the doomed ship, some heading for open space while others dove towards the planet below.

And with that, Donitz realized it was time for him to go, too.

There was nothing more that being here could accomplish. His death would mean nothing, simply another statistic amongst the thousands – perhaps millions – that were perishing this day. This battle was over, and there was no point in sacrificing one’s self in a vain burst of glory that would do nothing to stop the enemy, which by now had firmly solidified their victory.

Donitz was, after all, nothing if not practical.

Setting a course out of the Varnus System, he turned away from the planet and engaged the hyperdrive.


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