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"Fading Glory" - by Joshua Ausley - Completed!

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Offline J.A.


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PostPosted: Fri May 23, 2008 4:50 am   Post subject: "Fading Glory" - by Joshua Ausley - Completed!   

Note: These are rough, relatively unedited scenes being uploaded. The final version may be different. At any rate, hope you enjoy reading along as the new story takes shape!


Conference Room
Titan-class Battleship Nexus
Varnus System, 0900 Hours

Fleet Admiral Jann Percy looked around at his colleagues. “Gentlemen, we’re down to the wire here. Are we going to do this or not?”

Assembled around the conference table were the members of the NI War Cabinet not currently occupied elsewhere: CEO ‘Silverfox’ K’bail, Field Marshall Rodin Kaler, Fleet Admiral Arden Vonture, Admiral Aaron Melvar, and Sector Admiral Gaius Adonai. At the head of the table were Nexus Commodore Awel Kylar, Grand Master Xar Kerensky, and Zalaria. Funny how Xar seemed to identify more with the Altarin’Dakor present rather than the NI’s own command staff. But then, the man himself often acted as though he was above the rules.

Percy glanced at the other members gathered, wondering how much longer they were going to debate putting Operation Spear into action. War Coordinator Dogar had already given the go-ahead; all that was left had been making necessary preparations to the NI’s stock of World Devastators, the cloaking devices, and the Altarin’Dakor support craft. Now everything was ready, and Percy was getting a little impatient at waiting for CEO/Admiral Walt Amason, who was in charge of the project, to show up.

Across the table from him, Field Marshal Kaler folded his hands over his belly and shook his head. “I still can’t say I’m comfortable with using all our WD’s this way. It’s taken us a couple of years to spawn this many. Think of the production capacity they’re capable of. We need every factory we can get our hands on, now.”

A few officers nodded their agreement. Percy knew it was true; with the loss of Moro and now Sigma, the two highest-production worlds in the entire New Imperium had fallen to the enemy. Without them, there weren’t likely to be any new capital ships added to the NI Order of Battle anytime soon. In short, they weren’t getting any stronger, and more ships were being lost in every engagement. Meanwhile, the AD fleet still seemed to be at near full strength according to Intelligence estimates.

Sector Admiral Gaius still had a haunted look on his face. After losing Sigma, homeworld of the NI’s staunch Kaav’Klan allies and one of the most highly populated worlds in NI space, the commander of the First Fleet must be feeling a tremendous burden of responsibility on his shoulders. Percy felt sorry for him, and had no desire to vacate his spot as Logistics Officer and take the man’s place.

His thoughts were brought back to the present as Fleet Admiral Arden Vonture spoke up. “We are stretching our resources thin, for sure. But if Operation Spear is successful then it will be more than worth the cost. CEO Amason has assured us that…”

He was interrupted as the main doors to the conference room slid open and the man in question appeared. CEO/Admiral Walt Amason, only a couple of years Percy’s junior, strode into the room, looking crisp and ready.

“Ah, just the man we hoped to see,” Kaler spoke up, motioning for the man to sit in the one empty seat remaining.

Amason, instead, opted to stand, and quickly spoke up as he stopped beside the table. “My apologies for the delay, but there were some complications linking up the ships through the tow-cable systems. That issue has now been resolved.”

“Good news,” Percy spoke up, looking up at the CEO. “So we’re ready to go?”

“As ready as we’ll ever be,” came the man’s reply.

“And have you found a suitable target for Operation Spear?” asked Admiral Aaron Melvar, seated near Percy at the end of the table opposite the AD delegates.

Amason turned to look at him, then included everyone in a sweeping gaze. “We have found the perfect location and target for the strike,” he said. “However, for security reasons, I can’t reveal the location at this time. Suffice it to say that it’s close enough, and we’ll find out within a couple of days whether or not this thing will work.”

“Very good, Walt,” Xar Kerensky spoke up from the table’s head. “I think I speak for all of us when we say ‘may the Force be with you’.”

“Thank you,” Amason nodded. “I…”

He was interrupted as the doors swooshed open again, this time admitting a dark-haired, dark-robed individual who came purposefully right up to the conference table. Several sets of eyes widened as they saw him, and Percy was surprised as well. It was Alyx Misnera, the Jedi Division’s other Grand Master and the head of NI Special Operations. They hadn’t heard much from him since he’d lost several Jedi in the Pax System on a special mission. He had looked really torn up about it, and that had been before the attack on Sigma, so no one had been able to spare any ships for rescue. Percy wondered what the man wanted to propose, now.

“Excuse me, everyone,” Misnera said as he came to a halt next to Amason. “I regret missing the full briefing, but I have been working on an operation I strongly believe we should consider running concurrently with Operation Spear.”

That elicited several raised eyebrows, and Percy watched the man with growing surprise. Another mission, at this short notice? He might be Head of Operations, but this was quite irregular.

“Please, allow me to speak before you render judgment,” Misnera said. He met the gaze of everyone in turn, lingering a moment longer on that of Master Xar Kerensky.

“As you know,” he continued, “the key to stopping the advance of Nimrod, and to ensure our survival here on Varnus, is the elimination or neutralization of his Titan battleships. While Operation Spear is taking place, I want to propose a mission to take out another Titan, at the same time. Only this one we don’t destroy – we’re going to capture it and turn it against the enemy.”

“That would be quite difficult,” the room’s only female occupant cut in. Percy glanced at Zalaria, feeling that somehow her words weighed more heavily in the air than anyone else who had spoken. He guessed everyone else felt the same way.

“A Titan is very self-sufficient and has many redundant systems,” she continued. “Even if the bridge were taken – which is next to impossible considering the security – the ship’s command could simply be rerouted to another location.” She shook her head, much to Misnera’s obvious chagrin. “Much wiser to try capturing a cruiser or destroyer, not a Titan. These ships have hundreds if not thousands of generations in service. That does not simply occur by happenstance.”

Nevertheless, Misnera was not to be dissuaded so easily. He held up a hand. "Please hear me out. I have a crack team of Jedi standing by and ready to go. This could be our only chance to eliminate two Titans at the same time," he said adamantly. "Imagine depleting Nimrod's fleet by not just one Titan, but two!"

"How exactly do you propose infiltrating one of the Altarin'Dakor's most technologically advanced and heavily protected battleships?" asked Vonture.

Misnera turned to look at him, and Percy could see the determination and fervor in his eyes. “I have a plan that will get us in. All we have to do is to commandeer an enemy shuttle or corvette. Then we can convince them that we’re one of them.”

Commodore Awel Kylar shook his head slowly. "The transponder codes would be nearly impossible to forge."

"It wouldn't be as easy as when the Rebellion sneaked an Imperial shuttle onto Endor," Kerensky added.

"Then perhaps if the ship came in damaged..." Misnera offered.

Zalaria spoke up before he could finish. "If the proper codes were not transmitted, they would never let the ship onboard. Titan commanders, especially, are very distrustful. They are trained to be quite paranoid in regards to potential enemy tactics. They would blow your ship out of the sky."

"Well there has to be some way," Misnera countered. "I believe this will work!"

"What makes you so sure?" Kerensky asked, brow furrowed in a quizzical expression. "Something in the Force?"

"There is... a glimmer of something yes," Misnera answered.

Percy didn't know what the man might mean. Whenever the Force came into the conversation, or the Jedi started 'sensing' whatever it was they sensed, he naturally distanced himself emotionally. He wasn't interested in using any data that couldn't actually be substantiated. And right now, he had to have hard facts, some real chance of success, before he could warrant such a mission.

"I think this idea has some merit," Walt Amason put in then, and all eyes turned to him. "Perhaps we could come up with some alternative ways to get you onboard..."

"Like what?" Kerensky asked.

"For instance..." Amason paused, obviously straining mentally to find a way. Percy figured if anyone could make something up, it would be Walt. If not for he and Donitz, Operation Spear would never have been conceived. Of course, it was still yet to be seen if it would succeed or fail.

"What if we forget the shuttle idea?" Misnera offered. "Get a team in another way. Maybe we could hide away in something the AD would want to capture. "

"That idea was dropped when we discussed sending in a Devastator, K'bail spoke up. "We said the AD would destroy something unknown before actually capturing it." A low growl emanated from his throat.

"We could disguise you as a piece of flotsam, floating around," Amason said, though he didn't seem convinced himself as he glanced at the others around the table.

"That's too dangerous," Kerensky said flatly.

"Besides... What will you do once you're onboard?" Vonture spoke up, then. "Assuming you make it in, that is."

"We'll hide our presence in the Force," Misnera answered. "Or perhaps we won't even have to. There will be Jedicon everywhere, after all. Our team will break into two groups, one going for the bridge, the other for the engine room. That way we'll have control of both elements."

"Alyx, I don't think this is the time," Kerensky cut in suddenly. All eyes turned toward Xar, who had a serious expression on his face. "Taking a Titan isn't like assaulting a Star Destroyer or something. Once they know something's amiss, they will come after you relentlessly. And don't forget, a Titan is much more compartmentalized. There will be ways to bypass you and take control of the ship again."

"Nevertheless, Xar," Misnera countered, "I think we should still find a way..."

"It's too much of a long shot," Kerensky interrupted him, his voice gaining a stern edge. "It's too dangerous to risk losing you and some of our best Jedi. You're the Grand Master."

"Xar," Misnera shot back, "As many crazy missions you've sent us on that you've led personally..."

"We have to defend Varnus!" Kerensky practically shouted at him. Percy winced, and the room suddenly felt much smaller, and a lot more dangerous. He definitely didn't want to find himself stuck in a shouting match between two Jedi Masters. Who knew how much control they had over their arcane powers, anyway?

After staring intensely for another moment , Kerensky finally seemed to relax, and his voice took a softer edge. "Alyx, I know you feel responsible for the loss of Macreed, Narsh, and the team, and I know you want to rescue them... if they're still alive." He shook his head slowly. "But that's just it: we don't know if they're alive, much less what ship they may have been taken prisoner on. I can't justify sending more Jedi out on a mission with such a low chance of success."

Misnera seemed ready to argue further, obviously convinced of his plan.

"Please," Kerensky said, firmly.

Amason, standing next to Misnera, moved closer and laid a hand on his arm. "We'll figure out a way to save your men," he offered. "Let's get Operation Spear out there and hit them hard for what they've done to us."

Finally, Misnera nodded compliance.

"Very well," Percy said, deciding the conversation had pretty much run its course. It was time to get things moving. "Walt, are you ready to leave?"

"Ready and waiting," he replied.

"Then let's do it. We'll adjourn for now and the rest of the command staff will meet again this evening to discuss the defense plans for Varnus."

With that, everyone stood up, and Percy followed Amason as he headed towards the exit and the hangar deck.

* * *

Alyx was one of the last to exit the conference room. He gathered his datapad and notes, then strode out the door and made his way down the hall towards the turbolift. Mentally he was reviewing the conversation, and the sense of frustration was building inside of him.

Xar's lost it, he realized. The man was focusing so much on building his power level and combating the Altarin'Dakor, he had completely lost his ability to sense the will of the Force and its flow. All he cared about now was protecting Varnus, so focused on the forest he couldn't see the trees. Alyx's plan was to help stop the AD before they even attacked the planet, but all Xar saw was wasted resources, not worth spending on a gamble, even one that might have a tremendous payoff. Not to mention abandoning Roger and the team. Alyx had lost men in combat before, but somehow this felt different. This time it has been a personal assignment, and they had close comrades. He couldn't help but feel an extra pang of losing them. But to Xar, their main value was in being Jedi, people so necessary to the war effort. Alyx didn't want to think of them like that. Xar was becoming more distant now. taking more control now that things were revolving around his own home world. Well, Alyx was a Varnusian, too. He loved his home, and he would do whatever was necessary to defend it.

But Xar had pulled rank, making the final decision for him despite their both holding the title and position of Grand Master. If the man didn't trust him, why had he given Alyx his job in the first place?

He rounded the corner, coming to the turbolift entrance... and there she was. Zalaria, standing there in all her glory and dread beauty. Her olive skin, dark, almond-shaped eyes, and her locks of hair. And she was looking right at him as he ground to a halt in front of her.

"Tell me," she said, staring straight into - or maybe through - him. "Are you serious about infiltrating one of my brother's Titans?"

Alyx was immediately taken aback. It was the last thing he expected to hear from Xar's own wife. What should he say? He tried to recall why so many in the Division and the NI resented her and her forces. They had, after all, come in uninvited and were tromping around the palace – and the NI – as if they owned the place. And because of her, Xar wasn’t the same man he once knew. "Did I look like I was kidding?" he asked her testily.

Her eyes narrowed. "I have... resources. Contacts within my brother's military."

"Spies?" he asked. Was she seriously offering him...?

"We all have agents in one another's territory," she explained with a condescending look. "I can get you onboard one of my brother's ships. My agents there will contact you and guide you through security and into the essential parts of the ship. The rest will be up to you. It doesn't guarantee success, but it does help. Are you interested?"

He had been listening to her words with a growing sense of disbelief. Zalaria, herself an Altarin'Dakor Warlord, was actually offering him her assistance to infiltrate Nimrod's forces. But why was she doing it like this, in private instead of at the meeting? Why had she kept silent about it before?

“Are you serious?” he asked in spite of himself. When she didn’t respond, he decided to pursue a different question. “Why… Why should I trust you to help me like this?”

She gave a smirk then, and her expression showed that she didn’t really care whether he trusted her or not. “I am offering you a choice, plain and simple. If I have given you any reason to doubt my motives since I have been here, then go ahead and refuse if you like.”

“But what about Xar?” he added, pushing further. The man had been adamantly against Alyx’s plan. There was no way she had his approval in this. “When he finds out…”

“Leave that to me,” she said. “He is my husband. I will convince him of this plan.”

He still didn’t know if he believed her. But… did it matter? Whatever her reasons were, could he refuse, now? This was the only chance he might have. Before he realized it, his lips were already moving. "Okay," he said, "I am interested." After all, she could make this job a whole lot easier.

"Very well," she replied. "Assemble your team. I will contact you again soon."

With that, she turned and stepped inside a turbolift door that was just opening. As the doors closed, Alyx was left alone, wondering just what this indicated between Xar and the NI Command and Zalaria's own, mysterious forces.

But what else could he do?

* * *

Hangar Bay 4-B
Titan-class Battleship Nexus
Varnus System, 0925 Hours

Jann Percy stood in the Titan’s massive hangar bay and took stock of his friend in front of him. “Be careful out there, Walt,” he said.

“I’ll be back before you know it,” Amason replied curtly, standing before the entrance ramp of the hundred-meter long Altarin’Dakor corvette resting on the deck behind him. “It should be a quick in and out, and if we’re lucky, the payoff is going to be more than worth the risk.”

“Never been much of a gambling man,” Percy admitted, “but I’m with you on this one. If I was a Jedi, I suppose I might say ‘may the Force be with you’.”

The other man just grinned. “I get enough of that from the Jedi in the Division. Anyway, I’m looking forward to doing something proactive in this war.”

Percy understood well; they had been fighting a reactionary war for long enough. Unless they took the offensive, they wouldn’t have a chance. And this plan was audacious enough that it just might put a dent in the enemy’s seemingly unshakable morale.

“By the way,” he added, curious about one question still on his mind. “I know you didn’t want to say it in front of everyone – security and all – but where exactly are going on this mission?”

It took less than a second of hesitation before the man answered. “I figure we’ve got to stay on top of the invasion. The Titans will be where the new systems fall. Yesterday we received a distress call from the Eridani System.”

Percy nodded, mentally filling in the blanks that Walt didn’t say. Poor Eridanians. The system was only lightly defended, and everyone had been ordered to evacuate some time ago. If there were any left, he sure didn’t want to think about what they were going through. “Stick ‘em where it hurts,” he told Walt. “This one’s for all of us.”

“I’ll see you on the other side of this,” Amason replied. Then, with that, he turned and started up the entrance ramp to the AD ship awaiting his command. Percy watched until he disappeared inside and the ramp retracted, then the ship slowly rose on its repulsorlifts and pulled clear of the Nexus’ main hangar bay.

* * *

Last edited by J.A. on Tue Jul 22, 2008 3:38 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Offline J.A.


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PostPosted: Mon Jun 02, 2008 6:34 am   Post subject: Re: "Fading Glory" - by Joshua Ausley   

Varnusian Productions Presents:


Royal Palace
Vectur, Varnus
1130 Hours

Maarek Stele piloted his TIE Avatar into the hangar, his canopy reflecting the sharp contrast of light as he passed out of the bright sun into the tan stonework and marble interior of the palace bay. Gliding in gently on his repulsorlifts, he edged the sleek machine into the rear of the chamber, swiveled right, then came forward to a halt as the grapples took hold and secured him into the dock. The other two wingmen in his flight pulled their craft alongside his and guided their craft into the berths at either side.

Another escort mission completed. And just about a thousand more to go, he thought dourly. It was one of those mundane, ordinary missions that comprised ninety-five percent of a pilot’s flying time, in which nothing out of the ordinary occurred. The other five percent, the utter chaos of battle with death and explosions all around, might fill one’s imagination of a fighter pilot’s life, one full of heroism and romance. But that wasn’t today. This was just another round baby-sitting some large freighters to the system jump-out point and swinging back in.

Maarek adjusted his seat back and popped the access hatch so he could climb out vertically, rather than open the canopy and try to climb down the five-meter drop to the floor below. He disconnected his suit from the craft’s life support systems, popped off his TIE Figher-style helmet, and squeezed himself out of the hatch and onto the hanging walkway above. The hatches of the other Avatars popped open and Rann Wosper and Tanya Vinikoro climbed out in their flight suits, as well.

“Things are getting busier up in the air, aren’t they boss?” said Rann as he stepped into stride behind Maarek and Tanya. From somewhere in his suit he produced his ubiquitous grooming comb and began brushing his blond hair back over his head, seemingly unconscious about what he was doing. “The defense preparations are on double time and the space around the Nexus is crazy.”

“Yeah, I noticed,” Maarek replied, remembering seeing several shuttles launch out of the Titan’s hangar and pass his Avatar like it was sitting still on their way to the jump point.

“The AD ships seem to come and go without regard to NI aerospace authorization, nor traffic patterns,” Tanya added. She shook her head, sending her black hair, cut at half-neck length, swinging. “They are disrupting our operations with near impunity.”

“That’s a nice way of saying they don’t give a stang about us,” Maarek added, guiding them through an opening in the wall and into the hangar’s upper level corridors. They turned toward the changing rooms, where Tanya went through the women’s portal while Maarek and Rann entered the men’s side. Once there, they quickly found their respective lockers and, after a quick shower, started changing into their off-duty clothing. Inferno Squadron was off for the rest of the day, and the other two flights had already finished their runs.

“Hey boss, got any plans tonight?” Rann asked sometime later as he pulled a fresh shirt over his head.

Maarek shook his head as he slid on a comfortable pair of lightweight walking boots. He really didn’t have much planned; this was the first actual downtime he’d had in what seemed like weeks. He was probably getting behind on checking his personal mail, but that was about it. With all the preparations for defense and refugee ships coming and going, he’d been flying extra time, partly to take his mind off the battle at Sigma and all that had happened there. “I… might catch a holo or something,” he replied.

“Aw, come on. I’ll give you something better to do. Me and the rest of the squad are meeting up in the palace for dinner. You know, that restaurant up in the tower there? Why don’t you join us?”

Maarek arched an eyebrow quizzically. That was fairly odd; usually the squadron spent so much time together they all entertained their various hobbies while on leave. “What’s the matter, Rann?” he eyed the other man. “No date lined up tonight? This must be the first time in what, a year?”

The blond-haired man grinned widely back at him as he pulled on a dark vest, then reached up to brush his hair back again. “You don’t believe I’d put our beloved commander before one of the lovely ladies, do you? Boss, I’m hurt.”

Maarek grinned in spite of himself. It seemed wrong to do so when there was so much loss around, but he had to get over it, he reminded himself. He’d been through scrapes just as bad, before.

“Okay, I’ll be there,” he said finally. “What time?”


Freshly showered and changed, Maarek made his way towards the personal quarters that had been appropriated for him in the Royal Palace, bustling and shouldering his way through the crowds that filled the main civilian-access corridors. This is crazy, he thought, sliding around a massive Kitonak standing in the crossway looking lost, then turning right into a lesser-trafficked zone. There were just too many beings in the palace, now. Refugees were pouring into Varnus from all over the Quadrant, driven from their homes by the relentless wave of AD attacks. First they had filled up virtually every empty living space in Vectur, and now finally even the palace had been opened up, giving quarters to thousands of beings that had been driven homeless, turning the place into one gigantic melting pot. But what if Varnus were attacked, too, like Command seemed to think? How could they defend this place when it was crawling with bodies of every shape, size and color?

A small group of Sigmans stood in an alcove, swaying their antennae and chattering sadly to one another. Maarek swallowed hard and stepped by them quickly. Guilt over their loss at Sigma kept trying to well up in him from time to time, and he knew it was especially hard for Kikitik, in Flight Two. He tried to console him whenever he could.

He checked his datapad, which gave him a running update of the situation on-planet and in orbit, and saw that he had new messages waiting for him. That was fine, he’d take them in his quarters, he decided. The readout also showed him that Inferno’s TIEs would be undergoing scheduled maintanence until 0800 the following morning. It looked like he’d be free to join the squadron’s get-together after all.

Following the curve of the hallway, he reached a security checkpoint on the left and entered a wing set aside for military personnel.

Moments later he had arrived, and the door to his personal quarters slid closed behind him, offering blessed peace and quiet from the outside. His rooms were small but more than enough for one man, and furnished well enough for an admiral. Cool bluish lighting shone throughout the inlaid shelves and in the refresher, helping him to relax as soon as he entered. He dropped his bag onto the plush sofa against the wall and sat down beside it, grabbing the remote and activating the holoscreen on the low table across from him.

He quickly bypassed the news feed, which was showing all the refugees trying to pile their way into the city, and the weather forecast, which showed a clear, early autumn week ahead, and accessed his personal mailbox. There was little of the junk-mail that occasionally plagued the military servers; they seemed to be on top of things lately. He perused through several messages left from contacts in the navy, mostly fleet and squadron status updates and logistical refinements made. No luck on the off-hand hope of messages from his family, either. Then his gaze fell on one item and he froze as a chill ran down his spine – it was a reply from the family of Petur Kien.

His heart immediately started thumping, and he reached up with a shaky hand and opened the message. It was a reply to the personal message Maarek had sent upon Petur’s death. Inside were the words of the parents of the youngest and most potential-filled pilot that Maarek had ever trained during his years. In the message, short and respectful, they offered their sincere thanks to him for training their son, and for leading him into combat where he could give his life in service to Varnus and in protecting the innocent. There was no outcry at the senselessness of his death, no call for revenge, no angry or anguished epitaph for the fallen pilot. There was only pride and honor at their son’s sacrifice. But their sense of composure for some reason did not parallel the flood of grief and despair that tried to grip his heart. And there was something else there, too, and Maarek could barely admit to himself – fear.

For the first time in a very long time, he had met someone in battle who was a better pilot than himself. And if not for Rann’s last-instant save, Kamren Thansil would have killed Maarek, too. The Altarin’Dakor wing commander had him dead in his sights and would have blown him out of the sky. Hard as it was, Maarek had to be true enough to himself to admit that.

Now he faced the prospect of flying against Thansil once again, and this time the curse of self-doubt had added itself to the equation. Would Maarek, even learning from his mistakes, be able to overcome his fear and take on the enemy commander? Fear could cripple him and give the enemy an even greater edge. Any hesitation, anything but total confidence and composure, was a certain death warrant should the two face off once again. Secretly a part of him wished they wouldn’t meet again at all.

But then, with almost relief, he realized that another part of him wanted to settle the score and avenge Petur’s death. And, he realized, he did want to find out who was truly the better pilot. It was the endless struggle of humanity, to compare oneself against another and try to come out the superior man. Part of him had to know, and that meant that he had not given in completely to despair. There was hope.

Forcing himself to move on, he scanned quickly through the rest of the mail he’d received, and then spotted another name that immediately caught his attention – a message from Jac Railler. He remembered Jac fondly, having met the man from Haven after the AD attack there and helping him to rescue some of the victims still left on the surface. The last he’d heard, Jac had been recruited by Xar to help train the palace defense platoon, and he was apparently staying somewhere in the palace. He scanned the mail. It read:

Stele, how are things? I’m back in the palace, helping get the troops ready. Looks like something big is going down here, soon. Would like to meet up if it is convenient for you. Give me a call.

Maarek jotted down the number and saved it into his datapad. He’s call Railler a bit later to set up a meeting, maybe a lunch or dinner or something.

He almost closed out the mailbox, but before he hit the button another mail popped into being at the top of the list, flashing an urgent priority message from Navy Command. He opened it and quickly read its contents.

Fleet Communique from Sector Admiral Arfann Dogar

Officers of the New Imperium Military:

Command has received intelligence reports that indicate further Altarin’Dakor attacks are occurring outside of New Imperium sovereign space. In addition to attacking systems across the border into the New Republic, a series of distress signals has been received from systems located within Delta Sector. One of the signals was sent from a fleet belonging to rogue former Admiral Emil Beli, who had settled several systems in Delta Sector. It appears that those forces have been completely nullified.

However, an even more disturbing report has come out of Ssi-Ruuvi space. There have been reports of widespread devastation among the Ssi-Ruuk Empire, loss of fleet assets as well as numerous member worlds. These reports have been passed down from escaped members of Ssi-Ruuvi slave races, however the reports appear to have a measure of truth in them. If this is true, it indicates that the Altarin’Dakor are striking on multiple fronts and may have a much larger force than we originally anticipated. It is imperative that we make all efforts to defend core New Imperium worlds and turn the battle against the enemy on our front. Please be aware this may involve additional patrols for our fighter squadrons in order to remain on full alert in case of new enemy incursions. Further updates will be made when more intelligence is received.

Stay alert for further updates.

The message ended there, and Maarek closed out the mailbox and leaned back into the couch, feeling a new weight settle itself onto his shoulders. The news about Beli’s fleet was understandable; as far as he was aware the admiral had settled just outside of NI space, only one or two quadrants over. But to hear that the Ssi-Ruuk had been crushed, too… Maarek had no idea how powerful their empire was, but surely in the years since Bakura they would’ve been able to grow quite powerful again. To think that the AD had advanced that far – or rather, that they were attacking across such a wide front – the news was astounding. How powerful were the AD, really? Who was leading them? How were they able to coordinate attacks across such a massive area of space?

Of course, this put the dilemma in Varnus Quadrant in a whole new light. Did it even matter if the NI stopped the AD here? Apparently they could just keep pushing along a different front, further out in the Unknown Regions, and still make it into the rest of the galaxy. Then they could literally surround the entire NI, and it would only be a matter of time. Were the Altarin’Dakor really unstoppable, like some were whispering behind Command’s back? Was everything they were doing even making a difference at all?

He shook his head to clear it. Down that line of thought lay only one thing: hopelessness. If people gave into despair, the NI was finished. Soldiers would abandon their posts, the civilians would flee, and anarchy would reign. No, he couldn’t dwell on such thoughts. He had enough emotional turmoil to handle already. He had to get it dealt with before the next battle came, wherever it would be.

The screen returned to the live news feed, which hadn’t yet reported the new findings. That was all right; pretty soon it would be out all over the Holonews. Not enough to incite a panic – after all, it didn’t really affect the NI – but it would get people thinking. Suddenly feeling the need to do something, Maarek turned off the screen and got up, heading for the door and towards the chaotic jumble of bodies once more.

* * *
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Offline J.A.


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PostPosted: Tue Jun 03, 2008 5:31 am   Post subject: Re: "Fading Glory" - by Joshua Ausley   

Office of the Diktat
NI Senate Complex
1030 Hours

Gene Rytor sat behind his opulent desk in the massive, circular office of the Diktat. Beneath him a plush, round blue carpet emblazoned with the symbol of the New Imperium covered most of the floor. His visitor, pacing back and forth on it in front of him, looked on the surface like a regular human, but inside a far more powerful and ancient conscious lurked. Rytor was still unsure what exactly it was that had taken over the body in front of him. But he knew without at doubt that it was, indeed, an Altarin'Dakor Shok'Thola, and because of that, it commanded his obedience.

“This is disturbing news,” Queklain said, still pacing as a holographic starchart of Epsilon and Delta Sectors floated above him. “I do not believe that Nimrod would stretch his resources so thin and attack so many fronts at once. It’s too audacious, even for him.”

Rytor just watched him. He was, of course, referring to the recent news of attacks in Delta Sector, and especially the damage incurred by the Ssi-Ruuk. The map showed the current areas that were confirmed taken by Nimrod: large swaths of NI space had been cut out, and Varnus was now completely surrounded with the loss of Eridani. But now, also, there was a large wave of color that had moved into the territory ‘east’ of NI space, deep into Delta Sector, as well. A question mark over there the Ssi-Ruuk Empire was thought to be was currently shaded in Altarin’Dakor colors.

Queklain stopped in front of the desk once more and turned to match gazes with the Diktat. “The others are moving, as well.”

“The others?” Rytor asked. “You mean the other Shok’Thola?”

Queklain just continued to glare at him for a moment, as if the answer were obvious.

Rytor raised his eyebrows in response. “What makes you so sure?”

Instead of replying, Queklain strode over to the desk and tapped a few buttons on Rytor’s terminal. A new holographic window opened in place of the map, showing a dark, somewhat grainy video – an eyewitness view of AD activity in Ssi-Ruuvi space not made available to the public.

Queklain pointed to a large shape moving slowly in the image. It was definitely a Titan; it was long and black, and only the front of the ship was visible, although several scythe-looking projections extended for what must be kilometers out from the bow of the vessel. “I have seen this ship before,” Queklain said, pointing at the image. “It has existed since the original Great War, and unless Nimrod has expanded further than I think and has taken over her empire, this Titan is the Nightlord, and belongs to the Shok’Thola Asellus.”

Rytor silently mouthed the name – he hadn’t heard of that particular Warlord before. But then, he didn’t know how many Shok’Thola there were, in total. “Still,” he surmised, “this activity is hardly close to New Imperium space. Our main focus right now is how to stop Nimrod from destroying us.”

“If the other Shok’Thola are moving, then Nimrod is only one enemy we must face,” Queklain warned.

Rytor shook his head, daring to disagree with the Warlord in front of him. After all he was the Diktat. “Defending the New Imperium is our top priority. If the rest of the galaxy burns, I will still have this be a stronghold of peace and justice.”

“Don’t think too highly of yourself,” Queklain snapped. “You are but one man. People will still follow no matter what face is there to lead them.”

Rytor had become more confident, lately, and thus was becoming more immune to the Warlord’s small threats. He knew that Queklain could kill him easily, true – but if he did, how would he maintain his control over the NI Government? There were no other agents as highly placed as Rytor, and he couldn’t just place an unknown in Rytor’s position instead. Even if the Warlord used the Force to mask his own physical appearance as Rytor’s, he would eventually be found out. The personality and subtle habits would not be so easily duplicated.

And anyway, that brought them to the heart of the matter, the reason Rytor had asked him to this meeting. “Speaking of removing those in office,” he said, letting a dark tone into his voice. “Did you kill my secretary?”

A flash of something came into the Warlord’s eyes, and Rytor knew it was true. Sudden anger flared up in him then, and he slammed a fist down onto the desk with a thunk.

“I didn’t want him dead!” Rytor nearly shouted at him.

“He found out about you,” Queklain said flatly. “He was trying to send a message to someone when I found him and took care of him.”

Anger quickly subsided into a pang of fear. “Was he successful?”

“I could not tell. I do not have the access codes to the network in the command room.”

Rytor digested that news, thinking silently for a moment. It was unlikely that Brucmack had gotten out a successful message, because he’d heard nothing since the man’s reported suicide. There was no public outcry, no media scoop, no politicians or military officers demanding his arrest. It seemed his position was still safe.

“Calm down,” Queklain said, probably reading his thoughts with the Force. “No one would believe such an accusation, anyway.”

Rytor continued to consider that in silence for a moment.

“The man was unimportant,” Queklain continued, taking on a more authoritative voice. “Don’t get distracted by such petty details.”

Rytor dismissed his words with a wave of his hand. He wasn’t going to be lectured like some schoolboy. “Speaking of details, I do have some things to take care of,” he told the Warlord.

“Do not forget to contact the one named Nico,” Queklain reminded him. “He has returned to Varnus to be with the other so-called Jedi.”

“I am aware of that,” Rytor replied.

“You should not have let him out of your sight. He isn’t like you. His mind is still… volatile. He could be dangerous.”

“I am keeping a close eye on him,” Rytor countered tersely. “I…”

Just then his desk commlink beeped, and Rytor held up a hand to forestall any further comment. He touched the button to receive, and his remaining aide Quat’s face appeared on the screen.

“Diktat, Emperor Virzixl has arrived to see you,” the thin man spoke softly.

“Ah, good,” Rytor replied. “I have been looking forward to receiving him. Send him in.”

No sooner had he closed the connection than Queklain spoke up again in his lecturing tone.

“Why concern yourself with a defeated race, Rytor? They are insignificant, now.”

“Don’t underestimate them,” Rytor retorted.

“You’re wasting your time.”

Abruptly standing, Rytor touched a button that shut off the holographic images floating above their heads, then gestured a hand towards the main doorway out of the office. “If you please,” he intoned to the Warlord. “I do have a few things to take care of.”

“Very well. Just remember my words.” With that Queklain turned and strode quickly from the room.

Barely a moment later the doors parted open again, and a small troupe of Sigmans ambled in, led by one in the center with a more leathered, crimson-colored carapace. The Sigman emperor wore a black robe, which Rytor knew symbolized the mourning he was going through over his people. It was still unknown how many Sigmans were still trapped on their homeworld, and whether the Altarin’Dakor had taken them hostage, or simply wiped them out like they had the Krri’Graq.

“Dear emperor,” Rytor greeting him solemnly, feeling a true burden of sadness for what the Sigmans had lost. “My deepest condolences. I’m afraid words just don’t suffice at this moment.”

Virzixl raised an arm, and the rest of his retinue held back while he strode closer to the Diktat’s desk. He spoke then, his vocal translator speaking in a melancholy tone.

“Greetings to you, Diktat. We Sigmans wanted to thank you personally for doing everything you could to save our people.”

“I just wish we could have done more,” Rytor said sincerely. “I assure you, as soon as possible we will mount a counteroffensive and retake your home.”

“We look forward to that day. But first we must protect our other worlds, so that our brothers and sisters in the New Imperium do not share in the fate that has come to our people.” Virzixl swayed his antennae back and forth, slowly. “I only regret being unable to save more of my people as we fled the battle. It is unfair for me to survive while so many have suffered.”

“Nonsense. You are the leader of your people.” Rytor knew that while the Sigmans shared a sense of the hive-mind that most insectile races in the galaxy seemed to have, it was much weaker than in races like the Krri’Graq or the Verpine. The Sigmans still retained a strong sense of individuality, which meant that if their leader fell, there was no one else who could quite fill his role in exactly the same way.

“Please,” he told the Sigman leader, “Make full use of the accommodations we’ve set aside for you and your staff here in the Senate Complex. I hope you can take some comfort here and allow us to serve whatever needs you may have.”

Virzixl bowed his head and was silent for a moment before replying. “We… are most appreciative,” he said. “You continue to prove your friendship and trust to our people each and every day.”

“As do your people,” Rytor replied. “Please make yourselves at home here.”

“Thank you again, Diktat.” With a final bow, Virzixl turned and led his group out through the doors. Rytor sat back down in his chair, silently contemplating the emperor’s last comments for several moments.

Then, the day’s previous concerns coming back once more, he leaned forward and activated his terminal to call Senator and Jedi Master Nico Flygras. Despite his confidence in their secrecy, his still meant what he’d said to Queklain. The man did have to be kept up with. Otherwise, the Force only knew what he would be getting himself into before long…

* * *
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Offline J.A.


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PostPosted: Thu Jun 05, 2008 5:34 am   Post subject: Re: "Fading Glory" - by Joshua Ausley   

Titan-class Battleship Nexus
In Orbit, Varnus
1900 Hours

Alyx stood in the Nexus' massive hangar bay and took stock of the team he had hastily gathered for the mission. Paladin Vykk Olyronn, Crusaders Colin Moore and Jontaar Domi, and Knights Mrax Satai and Rilke Darcunter had all volunteered for this mission; he hadn't forced anyone to come along. They all stood in front of the sleek Altarin'Dakor corvette that had been appropriated for them by Zalaria.

The Warlord had been cryptic and brief during their meeting less than an hour before. Zalaria had given him this corvette and crew, which would be transmitting Nimrod’s fleet’s codes, and told that when they boarded the Titan Desolation, they would be met by a Arlan Lanx, one of her agents onboard who was also an assistant engineering chief. He would get them into a secure location onboard the Titan where they could proceed with the mission. However, aside from getting them initial access to the bridge and engine rooms, there was little else Zalaria’s spies would be able to do to help. The rest was up to Alyx and the team, but he wasn’t panicked. He’d faced sticky situations before, and he knew that if you didn’t play the odds, you’d never win big.

He nodded at the four Jedi with him, each knowing they risked not only their lives on this mission, but also their reputation in the Order – and in Xar’s eyes. Alyx had the feeling that Zalaria hadn’t told Xar about it yet; she was probably waiting until after they left. But as he’d taken the time to meditate on the Force, Alyx had received a level of certainty he’d rarely had before. This mission had to succeed, or when the AD attacked Varnus there would be nothing but carnage and death. They could win or lose based on this.

“Thank you all for coming,” he spoke to the gathered members. “Last chance: anyone want to stay onboard?”

All he got in reply were four silent grins, and he nodded. “All right then. This way.”

He turned and led the way up the gangway and into the AD vessel. Only a skeleton crew was onboard, as the ship was supposed to have been damaged in an NI attack. Real damage had been inflicted onto the vessel’s hull, even affecting some of her internal systems – no simple cosmetic job was going to fool the best scanners in the Altarin’Dakor military.

One AD officer closed the hatch behind them, and they passed only a couple more on the way to the ship’s small bridge. They all kept carefully reserved faces, and Alyx sensed a sense of… distance… which they projected between themselves and the Jedi. It wasn’t outright hostility, but then again, at least some sense of amiability would’ve been nice. This mission would be complicated enough without having to worry about his own crew. If this was the most NI-friendly crew the woman had to offer, then the NI was in trouble.

They reached the bridge without incident, only to find a single pilot starting the preflight sequence. Alyx decided to give him the benefit of the doubt; maybe one person could fly the whole ship. After all, it was an AD craft.

“Are you ready to leave?” the pilot asked in passable Basic.

Alyx slid into the copilot’s seat beside him, nodding for the rest of the team to sit down at the other stations around the cabin. “As ready as we’ll ever be,” he said, turning back to the pilot.

Within a moment the craft lifted off the deck and pushed out into space. Alyx watched the hull of the Nexus scroll by, with the blue/green orb of Varnus floating somewhere off to starboard.

“Here we go,” Vykk said from somewhere behind him. “Um... Can I rethink this?”

“I… think I forgot my shaver,” Domi’s voice chimed in. “Can we go back?”

Alyx swiveled around in the plush seat he was in and flashed the others a mock-cruel smile. “It’s the Desolation or bust, now, guys.”

“Let’s hope for not bust, then,” Mrax Satai added from the other side.

“We have reached the jump point,” the pilot reported mechanically.

The stars stretched into starlines, and the assault team was on their way.

* * *

MC-120 Darkstar
Rilke System
1700 Hours

Another system lost.

Sector Admiral and War Coordinator Arfann Dogar stood looking out the viewport of his command ship, towards a distant star, a system that a day before had been free, but was now under the control of the Altarin'Dakor. Degrabo and Genotia had been mostly evacuated in time before they fell; this time, however, the NI colonists on Rilke hadn't had enough time to get out. And neither was the Second Fleet without casualties, this time.

In the span of the last few hours, four Titan-class Battleships had exited hyperspace virtually on top of their position. In desperation Arfann and Stan had launched everything they had in an attempt to buy the evacuees some time. Instead, all it had earned them was a bloodbath. The four Titans had launched five thousand fighters against them, plus dozens of other capital ships, and after losing three ISDs, five VSDs and nearly half their smaller capital ships, Dogar had ordered a hasty, disorganized retreat. It was estimated over 80% of the evacuees had either been captured or destroyed trying to escape. Now, again Dogar felt responsible for the thousands that had lost their lives.

Intelligence had pinned the Titans as belonging to the Warlord Nimrod: the Fall of Light, the Right of Conquest, the Subjugation, and the Havoc. Each were over thirty kilometers in length, and they were traveling together, subjugating system after system while their support forces came in to occupy each world behind them. The Second Fleet simply could not stand against such a powerful assault. Once again they were being forced back, and there was nothing they could do about it.

Stoically he turned away from the scene, restraining the emotions roiling inside of him from showing on his face. “Damage report,” he called out. “Have they sealed off those decks yet?”

The Darkstar herself hadn’t escaped the battle unscathed. A huge hole had been blown into the side mid-ships by one of the Titan’s beam cannons, and dozen decks had been exposed to hard vacuum. Thousands were dead. Furthermore, they had been stuck here, unable to risk sending the ship into a long-distance hyperspace jump without making sure the areas had been secured. The other task forces, led by Fleet Admirals Caramon Majere and S’cill Shokfer, had already made the jump to Lorn out-system ahead of them. Task Force Darkstar had to catch up, and hopefully before the AD noticed they were still in the fringes of the system.

Sector Admiral Stan Sanders and Fleet Admiral Tam Eulicid had been standing just behind him, and Eulicid stepped over and consulted the station officer’s screen and slowly nodded. “Force fields are in place and atmospheric pressure has been restored,” he reported. “The marine barracks is gone, and hangar two will have to stay closed until we can effect repairs at a star dock. Structural integrity is at eighty-one percent.” He looked back up at the Dogar. “Stable enough to make the jump.”

“Get us out of here, then,” Dogar said immediately. He shivered slightly in spite of trying not to, thinking of how deep and large a hole had been eaten into the side of the ship. That beam could have easily hit the bridge, and there would be nothing left of them. They would’ve ended up just like Admiral Varrel. Why did fate keep sparing him? Was there some strange twisted irony in it all?

“Where to, sir?” Eulicid’s question interrupted his thoughts.

“Take us to Lorn,” Dogar snapped. “We have to start the evacuations there next.”

“That’s likely the AD’s next target,” Stan pointed out, looking askance at him. “What do we do then?”

“Then we’ll move on to Gracchus, and Vol, and all the way to Kolath or Tralaria if we have to,” Doger replied tersely. “We can’t stop an attack on the scale they hit Rilke with. We weren’t ready at all.”

“Still, we can’t evacuate everyone on those worlds,” Stan countered. “You know we do eventually have to make our stand somewhere…”

“We don’t have a chance of stopping them, Stan,” Dogar shot back, shaking his head. “Not while they’re all together like that. The only chance is to hope they separate and pick them off one by one.” He wouldn’t – couldn’t – send the whole fleet to their deaths like that. Not again.

“Whatever you say, sir,” Stan replied. He was clearly uncomfortable with how the War Coordinator was acting, taking such a direct command of things. But what could he expect? Dogar was in the task force. Success – or especially failure – would be pinned on him. I should have stayed on Tralaria, he realized. Or just retired, like I’d intended to.

He looked past them, at Commodore/Admiral Jingo Yatai the rest of the bridge crew. They looked ready. Dogar knew they had been through a lot, and he was proud of them. They knew they might not survive this, and yet they performed their duty efficiently and without complaint. It was all he could ask for in a crew.

“Make the jump,” Yatai ordered, speaking loud enough for the whole bridge to hear. “Lorn System.”

“Aye, sir,” the Navigations Officer came back.

Dogar exchanged glances with Stan and Eulicid again as the starfield began to shift outside the viewports. “We may need to contact the Diktat,” he suggested, knowing that Rytor wouldn’t be happy to hear how powerful the AD on the ‘western’ front were. It would take both fleets together to stop either threat, and the fleet attacking Varnus Quadrant even now was even closer to Tralaria than this one. NI space was shrinking, fast.

He knew that if they didn’t do something about it soon, not only would NI space cease to exist, but the rest of the galaxy, as well.

* * *
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PostPosted: Sat Jun 07, 2008 6:46 pm   Post subject: Re: "Fading Glory" - by Joshua Ausley   

Observation Lounge
Royal Palace, Vectur
Planet Varnus
1925 Hours

The sun was just starting its trek toward the horizon, bathing the sky in hues of purple fading to orange, when Maarek entered the revolving restaurant in the observation lounge of the Royal Palace. It was only his second time in the in the tower, which offered a 360-degree glass-windowed view of the capital city of Vectur.. It was a great vantage point, since the palace was virtually in the center of the city, but at only 100 meters above the palace proper, it wasn't nearly as tall as most of the surrounding skyscrapers to the south and east.

Maarek quickly found the table where most of the squadron was gathered and joined them at a round table near the windows. Almost everyone was there: Rann Wosper and Tanya Vinikoro, of Flight One; Bast Vlagen, Gren Pabos and Kikitik, of Flight Two; and Salle Darl and Narm Greyrunner of Flight Three. Each was nursing a drink and talking quietly, but no one was eating just yet. "Sorry I'm late," he said.

"Glad you could make it, boss," Rann spoke up jovially as Maarek took a seat reserved for him.

Sitting, Maarek quickly took in each member present. It was a group he'd gotten close to over the last couple of years. Rann Wosper, from Varnus, slim and blond-haired, still enjoyed making pranks and dating women, although he tended to be far better at the first than the second. Tanya, with her short-cut black hair and pale Coruscanti features, had opened up a little more since they'd started the squadron, though her staunch Imperial background and service on Byss had kept her hard-edged and business-at-hand. Maarek still hadn't gotten to know her too deeply, as she had never opened up about her past. Her attitude was naturally more Imperialistic than some of the others, especially Salle Darl, who had been with the Rebel Alliance before signing onto the NI. She never let her opinions get in the way of others, though, nor did she ever let things get personal.

Bast Vlagen still held the mentor-like persona among the group, as its oldest member. Also a Varnusian and a former Imperial pilot, he had retired after the war to continue civilian life with his wife and two children. Fate, however, had seen different, and when the NI came to Varnus, Bast had naturally signed on to help protect his home. He looked out for the other pilots, especially Gren Pabos, who sat beside him. Gren had been going through a series of tough times lately, first after the loss of fellow squad member Kei Nomos, with whom he had developed a romantic interest, and now since his people, the Renastatians, had been driven from their refuge on Ravick in the Moro System and were now temporarily stationed here on Varnus. Maarek had done his part to console him, as well, though he was somewhat concerned about his emotional state affecting his piloting skills. But still, he wasn't as worried about him as he was about Kikitik, the Sigman pilot in Flight Two, who had lost his own homeworld just a few days before to the Altarin'Dakor attack. He'd also lost his relative, Kaviq, who had been the Sigman ambassador to the NI, and Maarek knew he felt even more responsible since he'd been viewed as a hero among his own people. Kikitik hadn't spoken much since witnessing the attack, and it was sad to see how his antennae drooped and how his normally jocular attitude was simply gone.

Finishing up the table were Salle Darl and Narm Greyrunner of Flight Three. Salle had consistently gotten better and better as a pilot, and had integrated herself as a member of the team much more tightly in the last year or so. A native of nearby Kolath, she was good-natured and friendly, with dark hair and dark, almond-shaped eyes. Formerly a crack pilot with the Rebel Alliance – turned New Republic, she had joined the NI much as others had: to make a new start and a life of peace out here near the Unknown Regions. Their ideals, after all, weren’t that different. Her history had not held her down in the squadron, rather they had fully embraced her and the diversity that her presence represented in the New Imperium. Salle’s ideals differed a lot from Tanya’s but the two never let things get personal or affect their performance. Beside her Narm Greyrunner, the most recent addition to the squadron from Majere’s fleet, was a longtime pilot from Abregado-rae. Though he seemed to have had quite a few tragedies hit in his lifetime, he was still amiable and had proven himself as a capable member of the squadron, so Maarek was pleased to have him along.

“We were waiting for you to get started,” Narm nodded toward him with a grin. “Lead on, Commander. Shall we order?”

Within moments the whole squadron was wolfing down a delectable selection of native Varnusian cuisine, a five-course meal complete with side dishes and a generous portion from each food group. Braised meats, steamed vegetables, and piping hot bread and rice were all consumed with a fervor; the squadron rarely ate this extravagantly, and there were few words exchanged until everyone was finished. It was delicious, exemplary of a high-class restaurant such as the one rising above the Royal Palace. Maarek thoroughly enjoyed it.

After about an hour, everyone was stuffed. Then caf was brought in, and they each began sipping their drinks contentedly as the sun dipped below the horizon. The lights of Vectur’s skyscrapers offered a superb night view as the restaurant slowly made its circular journey.

“Actually,” Rann spoke up, finally breaking the silence, “There is a reason that we’ve come to a place like this.”

Maarek looked at him curiously, wondering what he meant, when he felt the presence of someone else just behind him. All the other members were staring at him expectantly.

He turned, and saw a waiter standing there with an extravagantly-decorated white cake, complete with burning candles sticking out of the top.

“Happy birthday!” Rann exclaimed.

Maarek turned back to them, staring in shock as the whole squadron applauded him. He shook his head, bewildered. “What do you mean, guys? My birthday isn’t for almost two weeks. You’re early.”
“We know that,” Bast replied as the waiter placed the cake down in front of them and began to cut slices out of it. “But we wanted to do it now, just in case we didn’t have a chance later, on the day itself.”

Maarek understood what he meant; it seemed likely the AD would attack at any time. Still, he was touched that the whole squadron had come together like this for him. “I don’t know what to say,” he admitted. “I’m flattered.”

“We just wanted to show you our gratitude for all you’ve done for us,” Salle spoke up, eliciting nods from the others. “You’re the best squadron commander we could ever have hoped for, and we’re honored to be able to fly with you, sir.”

Rann reached over and slapped the commander on the shoulder. “Congratulations! You’re an honorary Varnusian, now!”

Maarek was truly moved at their display of kindness, and he felt himself blushing. To cover it up, he leaned forward and blew the candles out. Then the server began placing large squared of cake on each person’s plate, to be accompanied by fresh refills of caf.

The table erupted in conversation from that point, as the cake was consumed along with warm drink, and quite a few stories were exchanged, including fond and funny memories about their beloved squadron commander. Maarek laughed along with them, although he wished Petur and the others had been here, and part of him silently mourned the fact that they were gone. Maarek knew he had gotten emotionally attached to his squadron, something that hadn’t been allowed during his Imperial days. This was something different, a new way of thinking, and he liked it, although he knew that there was always the chance he would pay the price for it later. Like with Petur. But these pilots were good, and they had beaten the odds for the most part. They had killed more AD pilots than they’d lost, and that said a lot.

But he couldn’t think of such things for long, as the conversation was lively and he was too busy recounting stories with the others. One popular topic, as always, were Rann’s various love interests.

“So Rann, I guess you didn’t have a date tonight?” Narm asked with a wink. “We just can’t imagine you missing out on a night on the town, even on our dear leader’s birthday.”

“My dear Narm, I’m hurt,” Rann said mock-seriously. He made a grand display of pulling out his comb and running it through his slick hair. “You know this is a special case, and I keep our commander close to heart.” He grinned widely. “I had to push tonight’s back and do a double date tomorrow.”

That elicited chuckles from all around, though Tanya rolled her eyes dramatically. Maarek shook his head.

“Watch it,” Salle put in, “Wasn’t the last time you tried that, the dates actually met, and they were two races that had a blood feud going on at the time?”

“It wasn’t like that at all,” Rann waved her off. “Things get embellished over time.” He glanced at Maarek, who was still working his way through his piece of cake. “Speaking of romantic interests, by the way… Hey boss, how about yourself? When are you going to find somebody to settle down with?”

Suddenly put on the spot, Maarek took a sip of caf while he thought of a response. “I don’t know,” he said finally. “There’s no time for that now, I suppose.” Truth be told, there was someone he’d been thinking about when the chaos of the war wasn’t taking his undivided attention. There was a slim, red-haired Jedi named Rynn Mariel he’d met soon after coming here. Rynn had come to Varnus shortly after Maarek himself had joined up, and she had risen through the ranks quickly. Their first meeting hadn’t quite gone as smooth as he’d hoped, however. Since then they hadn’t spoken much. Maybe I’ll give her a call, he thought. If he did, he’d better do it before things really got crazy around here.

Soon after that, the conversation shifted courses, and Maarek continued to sip his caf as the talk, inevitably, made its way back around to the topic that was always lurking around somewhere – the war.

“So they say that the AD might make their move anytime,” Gren Pabos said, breaking a short silence. “I wonder what they’re waiting for.”

“I don’t know, but it’s giving us more time to prepare,” Rann put in. “I’ve never seen fleet traffic so heavy in orbit.”

“Why are we just holding up here, anyway,” Salle asked, gaining everyone’s attention. “Why aren’t we trying to evacuate people, like we’ve been doing on all the other worlds? Instead, more and more people are coming here.”

“Because this is Varnus,” Bast pointed out, answering for all of them. “This is one of the core NI worlds, much more populated than any other world until now. We have to make our stand somewhere. This is where we draw the line.”

“Besides,” Rann added, “Varnusians aren’t going anywhere. We’ve been through hell many times before, and we will again if we have to. But we’re not leaving.”

Maarek nodded. He’d begun to understand the Varnusian resilience the more he’d lived here. The whole planet had been devastated years before, but a new, stronger society had risen from the ashes of the old one. So it had done for millennia, it was said.

“This will be all or nothing,” Kikitik chimed in, swiveling his head to take in each of them. “But the enemy have us surrounded now. Everything is riding on the next battle.”

“It really is a brilliant strategy they are following,” Tanya mused aloud. “Flawless, even.”

Across from her, Salle gave her an incredulous look as soon as Tanya had made the comment. “How can you say that?” she asked accusingly. “They’ve killed countless innocent civilians. They’ve herded countless more here, where they’ve trapped us in and are just waiting to wipe us all out. Do you admire that?”

“I admire their expertise,” the other woman answered. “So far they had defeated us with superior strategy rather than simply by strength.

“They’re merciless killers,” Salle countered. “They have no sense of right or wrong.”

“I was not commenting on the moral character of their methods, only the logic of their actions themselves.”

“Still, I can’t believe you would admire what they’ve done. They’ve forced all the populations here so they can wipe us all out with one blow. It will demoralize the entire rest of the NI.”

“A very effective strategy. Isn’t that what you would do if you were them?”

Salle glared back at the cool dark-haired woman. “No, I wouldn’t. And we’re not them. We should act better than them, or we’re no better than they are.”

Maarek was worried that Salle might get up in disgust, so he held up his hands to forestall any further argument. “That’s enough, pilots,” he ordered. “Just relax. I’m sure Tanya doesn’t approve of their methods, like she said.” He looked at her, and she quickly nodded.

“I was just speaking from a strategic viewpoint, trying to understand how they think,” Tanya replied. “I’m sorry if I offended.”

“You have a valid point,” Bast put in. “We should try to think like our enemy, sometimes. As long as we remember who we are.”

“I understand,” Salle said, glancing between him and Tanya. “I’m sorry too. It’s your birthday, Commander.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Maarek said dismissively. He pushed his chair back, signaling it was about time to go down and call it a night. “Thank you all for such a wonderful night.”

“Our pleasure,” Rann said, rising with Maarek. “Don’t worry; we’ve got the bill.”

Maarek and several others chuckled at that.

“I don’t know about you all,” Narm said with a sly expression, “But I think I’ll head downstairs and hit the sabacc tables for a while. Anyone with me?”

“I’m in,” Gren replied. “Don’t have anything else to do.”

“Hmm. I wouldn’t mind a bit of that, myself,” Bast put in. That was somewhat rare; Bast was usually the more mature leader of the group, but he did enjoy himself, sometimes.

“Commander?” Rann arched an eyebrow at him.

“No thanks. It’s getting close to my bedtime,” Maarek said jovially.

“All right, suit yourself. See you in the morning.” Rann turned and nodded to the other two men. “What say we go try and win back this meal, shall we?”

* * *
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 10, 2008 4:48 am   Post subject: Re: "Fading Glory" - by Joshua Ausley   

Royal Palace
Vectur, Varnus
2355 Hours

Mathis Organa entered his quarters and heaved a sigh of relief as privacy returned once more. Things were just too busy outside, now, with so many people about. He preferred peace and quiet, and it was hardly worth going out into all that hassle to do any errands. Besides, it wasn’t like there was much he had to do, anyway.

Moving over to the couch, he spent a few moments watching the day’s news on the holoscreen. He had only a few messages, most of them inconsequential. Nobody paid much attention to him these days, and he had little in the way of duties. Most of the time he just felt like one big burden on everyone’s shoulders. Especially Xar’s.

Xar had paid him little attention since getting married to that Altarin’Dakor woman. He was stricken with her, and it had to be more than just infatuation. He had changed, and he couldn’t help but wonder if it was him making the decisions, or her doing it through him.

Truth be told, though, Xar had grown distant long before then. Mathis hadn’t been able to take the stress of taking care of the man. Now he was removed to a figurehead ‘Chancellor’ position, where he was theoretically supposed to take care of the palace, but with Xar here running everything personally, there was little for Mathis to do.

What had happened to their friendship? Was there anything Mathis could do to reestablish the connection they’d once had?

Stang, it was calling him again, now. What should he do? He knew he should just ignore it and go to sleep. He’d manage to do it for what, now, a week? But there it was, like an itch demanding to be scratched, and it just wouldn’t go away. Bloody, kriffing stang…

He quickly sat up and turned around, pulling up one of the seat cushions. Underneath was a small compartment area which held a small wooden box. Mathis pulled it out, replaced the cushion, and stared at the box for a moment. Surely just looking wouldn’t hurt, right? He hadn’t given in yet.

The box sat on his lap for a long moment, while he stared at it. The itch was getting stronger. Stang it all, he’d just take a look, maybe study it for a little while. He picked up the box and took it to his small desk in his sleeping area, then sat down in front of it and carefully opened the small box.

Inside were a number of small compartments suitable for storing anything from jewelry to credits or datachips. Instead, out of one he procured a smaller, shiny metal box, and out of that he drew a plastic bag that held a fine powder, colored a deep, rich brown.

Exquisite. Even from here he could smell its pleasant fragrance. It was Ryll.

Mathis was no connoisseur, but it had cost him a lot to obtain it at this quality. His thoughts raced, salivating in anticipation of consuming such a delicacy. It was just a relaxing way to end the day, he reminded himself. The truth was, sometimes it was his sole companion.

Stang. It was there again, the need. The need! Not satiated with mere imagining. Very well, a little more, then. Pulling out a waxy sheet of flimsy from the box, he laid it on the table and ticked out a line of rich brown powder onto it, a couple of centimeters long perhaps. Too much? Not enough? Why stop now? It was calling him.

Also out of the box he produced a thin plastic tube. How to take it? There were many ways that the spice could be enjoyed. Some let it enter the bloodstream faster than others. Tonight he was feeling a bit worse than normal. He needed a salve, a balm for his worries. The spice would allay all his fears.

A taste, then, just a drop on the tongue. Oh, it was magnificent! The spice! It flavored his palette with joyous harmony. But it was only a foreshadowing of the real thing. Again, no satisfaction. It was incomplete.

Well, no flaming use in waiting any longer, was it? Just get it over with; it wouldn’t hurt anyone after all, would it? Stang, but the itch was strong. Just fulfill it this one more time. Maybe this would be the last time.

He leaned down, placing the tube carefully up into one nostril. Then, touching the other to the end of the line of brown loveliness, he drew it in, slowly.

It hit immediately. The spice worked its way through the conduit and became one with him in a flurry of chemical absorption. His eyes began to water. Just a little more! He couldn’t stop it! Desperately he drew the rest in, working his way all the way until the end. He felt lightheaded. It was gone! All within him, now. Stang, but it burned!

A final sniff, the tube discarded, and he raised his head as the fire spread out, behind his eyes, down his throat. It felt like his sinuses were being eaten away! Bloody frak, the pain! It burned!

What an idiot! What had he done? So stupid… After all that trouble of avoiding it… He hadn’t wanted to! It was too late, now… Hadn’t he tried to stop, before? How much longer would he succumb? Oh stang, he wanted to stop, he had to stop, he wanted to stop, he had to stop, he…

The thought was gone. A sense of peace was suddenly there, the anxiety forgotten in an instant. Somewhere inside, a rational thought remained. It was taking, he knew. He stumbled to his feet, the world whirling around him. Somehow he found his bed.

He fell down upon it, his eyes staring towards the ceiling above. Or beneath. Or whatever it was in front of him.

Oh, never flaming mind. He relaxed and gave into it as the floodwaters of ecstasy broke and washed over him…

* * *
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Offline J.A.


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PostPosted: Tue Jun 10, 2008 4:56 am   Post subject: Re: "Fading Glory" - by Joshua Ausley   

Royal Palace
Vectur, Varnus
0945 Hours

The sun was well up in the morning sky as Rynn Mariel made it to the tapcafe on the eastern side. It was a bustling place, with well-lit tables as being gathered for breakfast and to read or watch the morning news. The smell of fresh caf wafted throughout the café. Rynn had herself a cup and was sitting near the window, finishing a morning pastry. She’d gotten a message last night from Maarek Stele, and though it had been a long time since they’d last spoken, she respected him enough to give him some time and see what he wanted. He’d said he wanted to meet and discuss a few things, and because of her busy schedule, this happened to be one of the only free moments she had this week.

She checked her wrist chrono and noted the time. Later in the morning she had another session scheduled with Bren. They were still working to perfect their Battle Meditation techniques – with only Bren’s foggy memories and old texts to guide them, and not very many volunteers willing to try the technique, it was slower going than she’d hoped. Still, it gave them something to do that was progressing at least somewhat, and it was a nonviolent way to deal with the Altarin’Dakor threat, which she welcomed readily. In her opinion, there had been enough blood shed, and some of it by her own hands.

Rynn didn’t have to wait long. Commander Stele showed up in his off-duty uniform and took a seat across from her.

“Good morning, Commander,” she spoke up first, giving him a nod.

“Morning.” He sat down across from her.

“Anything to eat?”

“No thanks,” he replied. “I don’t usually have much except a protein bar or something.”

“I see. Must be how you keep your figure,” she replied with a smile.

They chatted for a few moments, making mainly small talk, as she finished her caf.

Then, after tossing a few credits onto the table for the caf, she walked with him out into the corridors. They continued through the crowded sections until they exited the interior and found a quieter spot along the wall lining one of the courtyards below. He didn’t say much until then. Rynn could feel a sense of unease about him, or perhaps nervousness, radiating towards her through the Force.

“Thanks for meeting with me,” he said finally, as they came to a stop near a bench.

He paused for a moment, staring out towards the city. Finally he spoke again.

"Did you hear the news? Rilke has been captured."

"Yeah. I heard,” she said.

"They say the Second Fleet suffered heavy casualties in the battle."

“You okay?” she asked him.

Maarek shook his head slowly. “Yeah. I… lost another one of my pilots the other day.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Why’d it have to be Petur?” he asked, voicing his thoughts aloud. “He was so young... He had so much potential.”

Rynn sighed. “It seems illogical, arbitrary. War takes our best and brightest, oftentimes.”

“That’s a mature thing to say. But it’s still hard to go through it.” Maarek gave her a funny look, then. “Doing your Jedi thing again, I guess. Reading my mind, right? It’s what you all do, isn’t it?”

“It doesn’t work quite like that,” Rynn explained. “We can pick up people’s emotions, how they’re feeling, that sort of thing. It helps tell whether or not someone’s being truthful. But we can’t read minds, not just like that.”

“I see.”

He looked down for a second, then back up at her. “Anyway,” he continued, “I know that we got off to something of a rocky start. I wanted you to know that I’m not always like that.”

“Hey, it’s okay,” she assured him, curious as to why he was bringing this up now. “We already discussed that.” She smiled and put her hand on his shoulder. “I respect you a lot, Commander. You’re a hero to the people of the New Imperium, a title I know you deserve.”

“Thanks,” he continued as she removed her hand. “Look… I’ve thought a lot about you, and I was wondering… Once this next thing is over, I’d like to get to know you better. If you’re interested, that is.”

Rynn blinked and stared at him in surprise. So that was what he was nervous about? She had had no idea; she realized that she still had more training to do in actually deciphering the feelings that people gave off. This was unexpected – and a bit awkward, indeed.

“I’m honored,” she admitted candidly. “But Commander, I think it’d be best if we pursue a more… ah... friendly... approach right now.”

She felt a twinge of disappointment in him, and his face fell slightly, despite his obvious attempt not to let it show. “I… see. I guess you’re seeing someone right now?”

“I… I think so,” she said, her mind wandering to the jumble of emotions and thoughts that were associated with Jacob “Jinx” Skipper. Were they really seeing each other? She certainly felt an attraction to him; he was an amazing person, had a great personality and was a natural leader. But there were still a lot of things that needed to be worked out. She wasn’t completely sure how Jinx felt, either. Anyway, she felt bad for disappointing Maarek. “It’s complicated,” she admitted.

“Hey, it’s okay,” Maarek replied, a more formal note entering his voice. “I understand, Crusader Mariel. I would be honored to call you a friend.

“Maarek, I’m sorry…”

“No, no need.” He shook his head and waved her off. “There’s a lot going on, and there’s a lot I have to do, anyway.”

He made as if to leave, but she reached out and took him by the arm, then looked him in the eye as he glanced at her.


He arched an eyebrow at her, and she smiled and shook her head as a sudden insight came to her.
“Maarek, you need to be as confident on the ground as you are… up there.” She glanced upward, and his gaze followed hers. Then he nodded.

“Thanks for the advice.” He considered for a second, and she still felt the residue left by his disappointment. Perhaps he was disappointed in himself, as well. But she meant what she’d said. Maarek was totally in control when he was flying; it was his life. But he needed a life down here, too. She hoped he would be able to find it, and in doing so, find a fuller measure of happiness in his life.

He made as if to speak again, but just as his mouth opened, a sudden sense of overwhelming dread came over her, so strongly she nearly collapsed. It was back! The feeling she’d felt when the Altarin’Dakor had massed at Mizar, a sudden sense of something building up in the Force, hit her totally by surprise. It was stronger this time, a sense of something she’d rarely felt before and hadn’t had time to familiarize herself with. Nevertheless, it felt like the whole sky was about to fall down on top of her.

“What is it?” Maarek asked, his face instantly concerned. “Are you okay?”

He tried to reach for her, as if worried she was going to fall down, but Rynn had gained her legs again, and while the sensation remained, she had adjusted to it. She waved him off, shaking her head a negative. “No, I’m fine,” she explained, “But something’s happening. I have to go.”

Maarek stood up straight again, though he still looked worried about her. “If you say so. What is it?”
“I… don’t know yet,” she admitted. “But I have to see someone. Something big is about to happen. I’ll talk to you later!”

At that she turned away, unable to wait and make a proper goodbye. She felt sorry for him, but this was too urgent to waste time with. She had to see the Grand Master, immediately. Though there was no specific sense of what exactly was taking place, she was sure that it meant one thing: the Altarin’Dakor were amassing their strength for a tremendous strike. The only question was when and where the hammer would fall next.

* * *

Royal Palace
Vectur, Varnus
1030 Hours

"I don't believe it, Icis," Xar said, staring down at the screen on his desk.

"Believe what?"

"Ken Brucmack would never have committed suicide."

Icis, standing behind one of the other chairs, frowned slightly. "Wasn't he having trouble with his wife?"

"No, they were getting back together, last I heard. He was a good man; he had a lot to look forward to."

Xar sighed. The news of Bruc's death had been a shock, and Xar felt a pang of loss and outrage at hearing about it. After all, when Xar had been Diktat, Brucmack had once been his secretary, too. Unfortunately the news had been overshadowed by other events in the war, especially the recent fall of the Rilke System. It had barely been covered in the news; everyone assumed there were personal issues, or perhaps the impending threat of capture or death by the AD. But he knew, he felt in his gut, that this was important.

"First an assassination attempt on the Diktat outside his own quarters, and now his secretary is dead." He shook his head. "This should be a murder investigation. We need to find out who's behind this." He fixed Icis with a stare. "Who would want to kill the Senate Secretary? What's their motive?"

"Well, we could start with the Diktat himself, perhaps."

Xar arched an eyebrow. "I doubt it. It was his own secretary. Besides, I know Rytor. I worked with him when I was Diktat and he ran his intelligence network."

"A network that is still in place, I'm sure," Icis added in. "Just because he changed titles doesn't mean he lost his resources.”

"Granted. But I've never found anything to suggest that Rytor could be a traitor," Xar added honestly.

"Maybe Brucmack knew too much about something?"

"That's his job. He's supposed to know everything."

"Very well," Icis conceded. "What about other possibilities?"

"How about the failed assassins outside the Diktat's chambers?"

"Weren't they killed?"

"No evidence was ever uncovered," Xar explained. "I suppose first we must answer this question: is this someone inside the NI, or is it the AD?"

"Almost certainly Altarin'Dakor," Icis mused. "Or at least an agent working within the Senate Complex."

"We've rooted out every spy we could find, and tightened security about as high as it can go. I don't know how they keep infiltrating us like they did at Moro."

“They’ve got a lot of years of practice on you, for one thing,” Icis pointed out.

“I can’t believe my people could have missed so many. Something else is going on here, and we’ve got to find out what it is. Something the AD are doing that we haven’t anticipated.”

“Nimrod’s strategic abilities aren’t legendary for nothing, Xar.”

Xar shook his head. “No one is unbeatable.”

"Just because you cannot see something, it does not mean that it isn't there. Remember, I used to be invisible."

"A habit I'm glad to see you've dropped," Xar said. "You're too paranoid. Why do you always have to be so suspicious of people?"

The other man shrugged. "It's what's kept me alive for five thousand years," he said simply. "I never trusted anybody, even in my own circle."

"Little wonder why it's now defunct," Xar replied.

"Just downsized. And I'm still alive, so that speaks for itself."

"Do you trust me?" Xar asked on a whim.

"That depends on what you mean by trust."

Xar's stared at the man in surprise, but before he could respond, his office commlink beeped.

He strode around back behind the desk and tapped the receive button on the desk. "What is it, Nadia?"

Nadia Ispen's face appeared on the screen. She was watching the entrance to Xar's office today - each member of his so-called 'cadre' took turns as bodyguard, rotating once a day. Nadia was one of his most loyal comrades. Born to a rich Coruscanti family, she'd had to hide her latent Force abilities until after the Emperor's death, after which she had joined the rogue Force users called the Jensaari. After 8 years with them and rising to a respected position, she had discovered the NI and, upon meeting with Xar, he had convinced her to join the Division. She’d served fiercely, helping him hunt down Altarin'Dakor spies within the NI. She was good-looking, and striking with her close-cut hair dyed pure white that shone in the light, and brown eyes.

At the moment, however, Nadia didn't seem too pleased, judging by her expression. Xar soon found out why.

"Master, Crusader Mariel is here to see you," she said, her voice betraying no emotion. She didn't get along with Rynn very well. The two women were too diametrically opposed in their thinking: Nadia with a strict Imperial background, Rynn having had her whole family killed by the Empire and living as a refugee on the run.

"Send her in," he ordered.

Rynn didn't come to see him often, so he figured it must be something important. Icis remained where he was standing. When the doors to his office parted and Rynn strode in, she was dressed in comfortable-looking tan trousers and brown jacket, her long auburn hair tied back in a ponytail that swayed behind her. Few Jedi in the Division wore robes anymore. Mariel wasn't even wearing her lightsaber, which Xar had given her himself, the one he'd taken from Dasok Krun. He surmised it was related to her non-violent philosophy of using the Force. It was too bad; she had shown so much potential as a fighter. But he was willing to indulge her simply due to the amount of talent she had.

Still, he could instantly tell something was bothering her this time. She felt... disheveled. There was definite anxiety radiating from her through the Force. "Grand Master..." She glanced at Icis standing there in his dark clothing, then turned back to Xar.

"I'm sorry to barge in on you," she said. "I tried to find Grand Master Misnera, but I couldn't find him."

"I have no idea where he is," Xar said frankly. "Probably thinking up some crazy new mission."

She hesitated a moment, but if she were perturbed by his words, she continued on in a rush anyway. "Sir, the AD are up to something. Something big. I felt their energy spike shortly ago and it hasn't dropped since."

"You felt?" he repeated. She must be referring to the latent power that had manifested itself in her after the Battle of Mizar. It was a mystery, even to him - and he'd studied just about every piece of Force lore there was out there to read. But she had definitely felt the AD move when they hit Moro the first time. Since then her senses had been seemingly sporadic; they didn't happen every time the AD attacked in this or that location. But when they did come, Xar trusted that they accurately meant something was happening. The only problem was that he didn't know where.

"Is it just like before?" he asked her. "Any sense of where or when? Any detail at all?"

"No sir. Only this time, the feeling is still there. Maybe even increasing."

Xar glanced at Icis. "Do you think this is it?" he asked. This could be the cusp of what they'd been dreading - the full-on strike against Varnus itself. Xar didn't feel they were ready yet; but of course, they could never prepare completely enough. He stared at Icis for a moment, until the other man just shrugged.

Rynn was still watching him somewhat warily. Xar thought for a moment, then realized what must be troubling her. She hadn't told anyone about her power, and as far as he knew, he and Alyx, Jinx, and perhaps Bren were the only ones who knew about it. "Relax," he told her. "I trust Icis with all my secrets. I'm sure he can handle yours, too." Icis’ presence shouldn’t have phased her – she was used to him enough by now, anyway.

She flushed, and he knew he'd guessed right. Then she gave a nervous smile and looked at Icis. "Sorry, I'm, just... you know. No offense meant."

"None taken. I never tell anyone my secrets," Icis said with a wink.

Xar grinned. He knew Rynn - along with everyone else in the Division - had no idea about Icis' identity as one of the ancient Travelers. He shook his head ruefully. At least, it didn't seem the AD were pouncing on their heads at this exact moment. He gestured to the other empty seat in front of the desk. "Have a seat," he told her. "Let's see if we can analyze exactly how this power of yours works..."

Just then his commlink beeped again. Exasperated, Xar went around to the other side of the desk again, then realized that it was his belt commlink that was beeping. Then suddenly, Icis' commlink went off, too. Exchanging wary looks with the other man, Xar reached down and brought his comm in front of him. "Go ahead."

The face of Vynd Archaron appeared on the small screen in his hand. "Xar! Get on the NI HoloNet right away! Erebria has fallen!"

"What?!" Glancing at Rynn as she gasped in surprise beside him, he tossed the comm onto the desk and hit the button to activate the holoscreen on the wall.

The NI's Tralarian News Network was already on the screen. A reporter was speaking, and beside her were the words 'Erebria taken by surprise Altarin'Dakor attack'.

"This isn't good,” Icis whispered.

The news report quickly recapped what had just happened: A fleet of AD ships had pounced right out of the nebula, where they’d been impossible to detect, and quickly overwhelmed the planetary defense forces on Erebria itself. With Task Force Darkstar now formed up with the Second Fleet and seeing action in Naroon Quadrant, the defense forces at Erebria hadn’t stood a chance. So far though, it seemed no Titans had been involved. What was disturbing, however, was that just as the AD attacked the planet, all of Erebria’s planetary shield generators had simultaneously failed.

“Sabotage,” Xar said immediately, eliciting a nod from Icis. He turned to look at the Traveler. “How can they keep doing this to us? How in the galaxy did they not just get agents on Erebria, but sabotage all the shields, too?”

Icis arched an eyebrow at him. “You were saying something about rooting out spies?”

“They popped right out of the nebula. We knew there was AD activity in there, but we didn’t think they would coordinate to hit us right in the heart, so close to Tralaria…”

Xar shook his head in disbelief. “This is insane.” He reached over to switch off the display. “Varnus will be next if we don’t do something about this. We’ve got to get all our people outside, double security on our shield generators and everywhere else.”

Xar grabbed a jacket from the couch nearby and motioned the two of them to follow. As they started out the door, Icis was shaking his head, voicing what Xar already feared was true in his heart.

“It’s probably already too late, Xar,” Icis said.

* * *

Last edited by J.A. on Thu Jun 19, 2008 7:51 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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PostPosted: Mon Jun 16, 2008 4:36 am   Post subject: Re: "Fading Glory" - by Joshua Ausley   

Diktat’s Office
Senate Complex
1320 Hours

Sector Admiral Arfann Dogar’s face appeared on the screen, and Gene Rytor gave him a crisp nod before getting straight to the point. On a second holoscreen was Fleet Admiral Jann Percy and Sector Admiral Gaius Adonai, heading the First Fleet and the forces guarding Varnus. All of them were interconnected in a three-way holo-conference.

“I’ve decided to call the Second Fleet away from the battle theater in Naroon Quadrant, primarily to support the First Fleet and to safeguard Tralaria,” Rytor told them.

“So we’re simply abandoning those worlds in Naroon Quadrant to the AD?” Percy asked.

Rytor shook his head. “At this point, I hate to say, it’s simple mathematics. Our most populous worlds by far are here in Galbagos B and Varnus Quadrants. If we fall here, the New Imperium is finished.”

“But what about all the populations in Naroon Quadrant? Lorn, Gracchus, and Vol?”

Dogar’s reply was almost frantic. “Erebria has fallen, Jann. Tralaria could be next, and Varnus certainly will be! We have to make our stand now or there will be no one left standing at all. The colonists are in the process of evacuating, but frankly we all know it’s Tralaria and Varnus they want most of all. Once they have them, it’s all over.”

Rytor nodded sadly. He knew Dogar must be hit hard by the news – as were they all. But Dogar had based his Intruder Wing out of Erebria, and had lived there for years. It was like losing home. At the same time, Tralaria was just a proverbial stone’s throw from Erebria – or Eridani, for that matter. Both systems had fallen within the last couple of days. Nimrod’s forces were advancing faster, and they were nearly to the point where they had to make a last stand – even though the odds against them favored almost certain destruction. Rytor had no idea what hope they had of winning; even Queklain’s aura of confidence seemed inadequate in the face of this. They had to choose: fight, and try to somehow stop the near-invincible might of Nimrod, or abandon the NI altogether and get out as fast and as far away as they could go.

“Recall the fleet, and get here as fast as you can,” Rytor said finally, and Dogar nodded his acceptance of the order. Then, as the War Coordinator closed the connection, Rytor turned to Percy.

“This is the end, isn’t it?” Percy asked, an ashen look on his face. “It’s our last chance. I mean, I have to admit: the thought of retreating does seem like a viable alternative to all of us dying out here.”

Rytor immediately fixed Percy’s image with a glare. “We’re not just abandoning the NI,” he said sternly. “Not while there’s still fight left in us. If we don’t protect those we swore to protect, then everything we’ve built, everything we’ve lived for, is a sham.”

“But what chance do we have of defeating them?” The other man shook his head. “There are too many Titans!”

“You tell me,” Rytor retorted. “At this point, we have two hopes: Zalaria and her forces pulling off something amazing, and our special operations. Perhaps we’ll stand a better chance if they don’t have as many of those Titans. What news of Operation Spear?”

At that, the Logistics Officer perked back to attention, assuming the calm, professional military demeanor that Rytor knew him for. “Amason should be arriving any time,” he said. “Before long, we should find out what happened.”

“Then let us hope it is good news,” Rytor said. “Because this may be our only chance.”

* * *

Eridani System
1700 Hours

Space was silent and seemingly empty as the Titan Annihilator sat in orbit over Epsilon Eridani, the fourth planet in the system of the same name. Walt Amason watched it as his task force approached, a fleet of ten cloaked Altarin’Dakor light cruisers towing five Imperial-cloaked World Devastators. The AD medium corvette he commanded – also cloaked, of course – led the way in. So far so good, he thought. They hadn’t been detected entering the system, which was to be expected this, far out.

The Titan sat in orbit of the dust-colored world, the pale yellow star Eridani illuminating only half the surface from this angle. With its image-magnification turned way up, he could make out the ship and its numerous escorts hovering over the planet.

The Annihilator was over thirty kilometers long, and shaped like a wicked, double-edged dagger, thick at the rear and drawing down to twin points at the end. Her hull was silver and shiny, with a crimson-red section carved like a blood groove straight down the center amidships.

“What’s the status of the planet?” he asked aloud.

One of the mixed NI/AD crew members onboard answered him. “”The battle is long over, sir. There’s a lot of wreckage in the general vicinity of the Altarin’Dakor vessels.” The image zoomed in and painted boxes over the debris of a frigate and other, less identifiable craft. “As for Epsilon Eridani, there are signs of orbital bombardment in the major cities, and there is no activity on the ground that I can pick up.”

“Wiped out,” Walt said, suppressing a sigh. The forces here had put up only a token defense; they hadn’t had a chance. Thankfully, most of the inhabitants on the ground had been evacuated before it happened, and most were either on Varnus, Tralaria or Kolath, or else on their way to the Core. He didn’t know what may have happened to those who’d stayed, but he didn’t hold out much hope for them.

“What about the Titan?” he asked.

“Still in geostationary orbit over the largest city, sir,” replied the officer.

For a moment Walt just stood there staring at the Annihilator, feeling a thrill, a rush of adrenaline run through him. This was it. The knowledge that they were actually staring at part of the Altarin’Dakor fleet was somehow surreal. Here they were, just watching, and the AD weren’t trying to blow them out of the sky. Amason shook his head in awe.

The Titan was gigantic. It was probably more massive than all the ships in the NI Navy combined. The thought that they were going up against that, with only several vessels only a few hundred meters long! It was unthinkable, the stuff of legend.

But he couldn’t stand here gawking forever. This was exactly what they’d hoped for, finding the Titan still sitting there quietly. It was the perfect opportunity, one they couldn’t gamble on having again. He turned to the ship’s commodore, Vox’Donn Surim Uvras. “The Titan is stationary,” he said.

Uvras, a tall, nearly black-skinned human, nodded. “The planet was attacked recently,” he replied in passable Basic. “They are coordinating their ground operation.”

“Sounds like this is the perfect opportunity,” Walt offered.

The other man nodded. “Yes. We should attack now.”

“Very well, then. Begin the operation,” he ordered, turning to the rest of the bridge crew.

And began it did. All around them, the AD light cruisers moved forward, their close range and tight-beam link enabling Walt to pick them out on the advanced ship’s tactical screens. Behind them trailed sets of near-invisible tow cables, and at the other end of each was a seemingly empty spot in space, actually a medium-sized World Devastator wrapped in an Imperial-era cloaking device.

Walt’s main concern was whether they could get the calculations right. With the Titan following the planet’s orbit, they had to drag the Devastators in and then set them adrift while still hundreds of kilometers away, then hope they’d been on target enough to actually strike the Titan. If they were lucky they might even hit one of the ship’s side hangar bays, though he knew the odds of that were next to impossible.

The ships were pulling far ahead into the distance now, and still they had not been detected. So far, so good, Amason thought. He felt a chill run up his spine, knowing that if they were caught, they wouldn’t have a choice but to flee for their lives.

“Status report?” he asked eagerly, impatient to hear some news. The ships were keeping complete radio silence except for the slightest of transmissions through the tight-beam link.

“Approaching drop point,” an officer reported. “Calculations seem good.”

Amason nodded and watched ahead once more. The Titan still rested ahead, with about a dozen escorts around it, mostly cruisers and destroyers. Those could pose a problem, he realized. Infiltrating and neutralizing the Titan was the main goal, but even if successful, Amason’s fleet couldn’t match the Titan’s escorts. Still, hopefully they wouldn’t be able to disrupt the operation, and they wouldn’t matter as long as the Titan was destroyed. They didn’t have to worry about messages getting out; in fact, hopefully this would spread all through the AD fleet and affect their morale as well as their strength. At least, it should make them angry, and angry officers could make mistakes.

Finally, after what seemed like forever, the officer spoke up again.

“Tow cables have been released,” the report came. “The World Devastators are on their way. Escorts are turning back now.”

Amason let out a long-drawn breath, his vision glued to the tactical display. This was it; there was no going back, now. The WD’s would drift along like asteroids toward their target. Of course, they hadn’t all been aimed at the same spot. To increase the chances of hitting it with at least one Devastator, they had been set on courses that would take one ship each just above and below the Titan’s vertical axis, with another at the stern and bow to cover forward and backwards motion in case the Titan moved. The final Devastator had been aimed dead-center. Now it was only a matter of waiting.

The Devastators were beyond his control, now. Unless they dropped their cloaks, Amason didn’t even know how far away from the Titan they were. So he just waited, along with everyone else, as the timer estimate continued to drop lower and lower.

Then, just as he hoped that this mission would go off exactly as they’d planned, an urgent beeping suddenly sounded from the operations and navigation station. Amason turned to look at the officer there, his stomach sinking.

“Sir!” the officer reported. “The Annihilator is moving!”

Amason swore, using a curse he’d picked up in another part of the galaxy. He knew it was too good to be true. “What’s it doing?” he demanded.

“Beginning to roll to port, sir,” came the reply.

“It looks like they’re turning to jump out-system,” Uvras spoke up nearby. “Their mission must have been accomplished.”

“Are they still within the area covered by our Devastators?” Amason asked anxiously.

“Hard to say, sir,” the operations officer replied. “The more she turns, the smaller the profile will be. The odds are getting smaller by the second.”

“What do we do now?” Walt asked, dismayed that the whole plan was unraveling right before their eyes. The Titan was moving in exactly the one way they hadn’t anticipated – orienting itself in a new direction. Amason cursed himself a fool for such an oversight. All it took was one, simple miscalculation and the whole mission was rendered hopeless. What grated on him the most was the fact that it was completely unintentional. The AD didn't even know they were there; it was just a one huge spat of bad timing.

“We’ll have to wait until the Titan leaves, then go back and collect the Devastators later,” he said, sighing in disgust.

“Perhaps one of the Devastators will still hit,” Uvras replied, his voice sounding optimistic. “It will take them time to move.”

Walt continued to study the screen, hoping to see word of an impact at any time. But despite his best hopes, a moment later they got even worse news.

“Sir, the Annihilator has raised her shields,” the officer reported. “They are now at full strength.”

Amason clenched his teeth in frustration. That was it; the Titan would raise its shields before making a jump. “It’s too late,” he hissed. “We’ll never penetrate their shields, now.” The Devastators didn’t have the mass or energy to push through.

The Commodore turned and fixed him with a stare. “We won’t get another chance like this,” he said flatly. “When they discover our tactic, they will increase their defense to match it. That is the way that Altarin’Dakor work.”

“But there’s nothing we can do, now,” Walt countered, his hopes dying. “I…”

Suddenly there was another beep at the comm.. Then the officer at that station spoke up, as well.

“Sir, a message from the cruiser commanded by Vox’Donn Treyan Numos, via tight-beam transmission.”

“Put it on the viewport,” Amason said.

The view of the Titan was replaced by the head and uniformed torso of an Altarin’Dakor commodore, tall and tan-skinned with close-cropped hair and determined eyes. Amason faced him on the screen and nodded, feeling Uvras’ presence beside him as they waited to see what the man had to say.

“Glaciek Altarin’Dakor,” the man began, raising a hand palm-up to them.

Uvras returned the gesture, echoing the words. “Glaciek Altarin’Dakor, Vox’Donn Numos.”

Walt had no idea what they were saying; he only caught the words ‘Altarin’Dakor’ and the commodore’s name. At any rate, after that the man on the screen addressed him in Basic.

“Sir, we are sorry. We did not anticipate the Annihilator would turn as she is.”

Amason quickly shook his head. “No, no, the fault is mine. I made the miscalculation.”

“Sir, if we do not act now, the mission will be lost,” the man said, his voice urgent.

“It’s lost already. You did your best, but I’m afraid there is nothing we can do.”

“There is something,” Numos countered. “My ships will jump to the Annihilator and hold her in place until the strike is successful.”

“It will take a strong assault to convince them to change course,” Uvras replied.

“We will be able to do it,” Numos assured him.

The truth of what they were discussing hit Walt like a hammer. He stared at the man in shock, realizing his jaw had dropped open. “That’s crazy! You won’t stand a chance against the Titan.”

“That is true, but we can divert its attention. It will have to face us, and we can try to maneuver it on target.”

“This is a good plan,” Uvras spoke up beside him. “You will earn much honor from this, Vox’Donn.”

“You’ll earn death, that’s all you’ll earn!” Amason countered, staring at Uvras in disbelief. “You want them to go through with this? This is a suicide mission!”

“They know that, Admiral!” Uvras snapped back at him, and Amason took an involuntary step back. There was an intensity, something nearly primal, behind his gaze. Like all Altarin’Dakor have, he realized.

“Time is running out. We have to go now,” Numos spoke up, cutting the disagreement short.

Amason turned to look back up at him, trying to burn the man’s face into his memory. He knew that Numos would not be coming back. But still, Numas knew he was going to his death, and he stood there unflinching, almost as if he was looking forward to it.

“Good luck out there, Vox’Donn,” he said, cutting the man his best salute. It seemed a painfully inadequate thing to do or say in the face of the sacrifice they were about to make. Their whole escort was going out to commit suicide just to try and buy the mission a better chance of success.

Then Uvras stepped forward, staring at the screen. “Fly well, and may your enemies all fall at your feet until the Return is complete.”

Numos raised his hand again as he made one final, intense outburst. “We fly with honor, Vox’Donn. Undia Zalaria!”

“Undia Zalaria!” shouted Uvras and every other Altarin’Dakor in the room. Amason looked around and noticed everyone was standing, facing the man on the screen with faces full of respect and admiration. Amason suddenly felt very much a foreigner aboard this ship.

Then the image disappeared, returning to a view of the Titan, which was still turning towards them. Walt could see on the tactical display that their escorts were pulling away from them.

Amason couldn't believe this was happening. Some part of him, thinking logically, at the hypothetical level, understood and agreed with the concept: the sacrifice of a handful in order to save many. A few warriors lost sounded well worth the gain of an enemy command ship with maybe a million foes onboard. After all, the needs to the many outweighed those of the few, or so the saying went. But at a deeper, guttural level, his stomach churned into almost panic at the idea. Wasn't there any other way? They were all going to die! How could he stand here and let that happen? How could he deal with the knowledge that they had perished for the sake of his mission?

Beside him, Ulvas must have noticed his internal distress, for he stepped closer, almost touching Amason's shoulder. "This is the Altarin'Dakor way," he said in a low voice. "It is a great honor for them. Now we must ensure their deaths are not in vain."

Those words brought Walt out of his reflection. There was work to do. He had to make sure at least one Devastator hit, otherwise they would all die in vain. He turned and quickly strode over to the operations command console, watching over the shoulder of the officer there.

“Numos and the other cruisers are preparing to jump,” another officer reported.

This is it, Amason thought. Then the ships disappeared from the screen, and they were gone.

* * *
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Offline J.A.


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PostPosted: Tue Jun 17, 2008 5:34 am   Post subject: Re: "Fading Glory" - by Joshua Ausley   

The Annihilator continued its lazy turn, moving in a general heading away from Epsilon Eridani’s gravity well. It was just starting forward when the attack came, swiftly and out of nowhere.

Along both sides of the Titan, spears of energy appeared out of the blackness, raining down to impact against the ship's shields. The shields lit up all across the ship, painting the hull in a wash of blue light, rippling as they withstood the impact. The light cruisers, still cloaked, continued to fire, always moving so that the enemy couldn't pinpoint their location.

Almost instantly, the Titan responded. At first, thousands of small pulse lasersfilled the air, attempting to gain a lucky hit and reveal the ships' locations. Then, giant beams of energy swept out, scanning space for a chance strike. The Titan's escorts opened up as well, firing randomly into the space around the Titan. The whole area had gone from a serene starscape to a firezone in the space of a few seconds.

More fire poured in from the light cruisers, groups of missiles supplemented by more energy beams. The warheads sent rippling effects across the shields and the beams struck down, trying to penetrate, but the Titan's shields soaked up the near-continuous barrage.

Still, it looked like the attack was working. The Annihilator turned from its initial heading, swinging further to port, as if concerned what else could be waiting out there, cloaked. Amason bit his lip in anticipation. Was it enough?

Then a lucky shot from the Titan found its mark. A giant yellow beam swept through the sky where a blast had come before, and suddenly an explosion blossomed in the sky. The cruiser immediately became visible again, and the beam continued its work, cutting the elegant-looking craft nearly in half before the explosion blew the ship apart.

Where are those Devastators? Amason wondered frantically. The Annihilator continued its turn, firing out wildly in all directions, as the remaining nine cruisers' firepower continued to light up her shields. Still, it looked like the cruisers were giving her a run for her credits, as they continued to evade most of the fire.

Then finally, it looked like the Titan had had enough. Suddenly, the shields seemed to expand outwards, first slowly, then finally in a flash. Amason blinked. What had happened? The Titan's shields were down!

But the wave of expanding energy had caused another effect; All around the Titan, the light cruisers’ cloaking fields dropped amid sprays of lightning bolts. The Annihilator’s crew had purposefully overloaded the shields, disrupting any energy field within the general vicinity. The cruisers were visible, now.

Now the Titan’s weapons struck out with a vengeance, finding their targets at last. The cruisers continued firing though, their missiles and beams impacting on the bare hull of the Annihilator, now. Unfortunately, their effect was minimal compared to the sweeping destruction caused by the Titan’s beam weapons. The cruisers took major hits, beams cutting deeply into them and ripping ships apart in a collection of expanding fireballs.

Amason watched the scene in utter dismay. The surviving light cruisers had gone evasive, now, though at their close range the Titan was still scoring hits. The other escorts, cruisers and destroyers, were firing on the ships, as well. As he’d feared, the attack had been no more than a diversion. Everyone out there was dying, and unless the plan worked, their deaths would all be in vain.
He had to find those Devastators. Leaning over to the command board, he desperately searched for the command override to drop the cloaks on the World Devastators.

Just then, something hit one of the Altarin’Dakor destroyers. A fireball blew into it amidships, and the craft that had hit it, now visible, bored its way through, sending both ships up in an expanding ball of flame. Of all the chances, one of the Devastatators had collided with an enemy ship, only it was the wrong one. Stang it all!

That was it; he could wait no longer. He hit the command override button, and suddenly, close around the Titans, four more ships became visible. There they were! The remaining Devastators were just making their passes, but they were all going to miss!

Two of them had already passed over the Titan’s hull, while another went by underneath. But another one was just starting to pass by the ship’s port side. This could be it!

Throwing himself at the controls, he activated the remote control for that particular Devastator. Camera views from the ship appeared on the screen, and as he found the ship’s orientation to the Titan, he punched in commands to cause it to make a hard turn to port.

There! Just on the side of the ship was a hangar, its outline in bright lights. He hit the reverse thrusters on the Devastator and pulled it in left and low, hoping against hope that he could make it. The Titan’s beam weapons opened up, but the ship was already too close; they swept behind it harmlessly. Its pulse lasers peppered the front of the World Devastator, but weren’t enough to get through. The hangar’s external defenses themselves fired also, but it was too late.

The Devastator barreled into the hangar mouth with plenty of room to spare, though a slight miscalculation caused it to graze the top of the opening on the way in. The defense cannons were obliterated as the ship flew in, reverse thrusters on full. It hit the deck hard and chewed up the metal like a grinding machine, wiping out fighters that were lined up along the hangar floor. Fire blossomed wherever it touched, and only external cameras showed Walt what was happening as the ship slid all the way to the back of the hangar and came to a halt at the back wall.

Smoke and fire filled the whole expanse, as Altarin’Dakor pilots, techs, and soldiers found their footing and took in the large vessel that had just invaded their hangar. Now that it was inside, the ship’s AI took over, operating on its mission protocols.

The Devastator’s shields came online in a flash, easily repelling the small-arms fire coming from AD soldiers in the hangar around it. Its own blaster cannons popped out of their hidden slots, returning fire. Then the internal bays opened up, and a score of battle droids and droidekas, procured from the Corporate Sector, fell out and started blasting away at AD shocktroopers. The AD troops used smaller hand-held beam cannons and mass drivers to blow droids to pieces. Their return blasts were not so effective alone, but concentrated together burned through even AD armor and sent the soldiers scattering.

Then another wave of energy expanded from somewhere within the Titan’s hangar. All around the Devastator, AD workers and soldiers fell to the deck, dead instantly. The NI’s droids, however, were still standing, and the Devastator was still operating as normal. Amason looked on in confusion for a moment before it hit him. The AD had used some kind of anti-biological weapon, intending to kill all the crew of the ship and stop its internal assault. However, they didn’t’ realize that the ships had been rigged to operate with droid pilots and an upgraded central computer system. They’d have to use ion cannons to disable it, and with the Devastator’s shields up, that would be impossible.

As if seeming to realize this, fighters launched out of the Annihilator’s other hangars and began to swing around the diameter of the ship. Amason realized they would try to destroy the ship inside the hangar and accept whatever losses within the Titan that might occur. The sheer ruthlessness of it chilled him to the bone.

By now, the last of the light cruisers had been blown from the sky, becoming little more than debris pulled into orbit over Epsilon Eridani. Seeing that some distraction might be needed, Amason punched in commands to the other three World Devastators, which had passed now a couple of hundred kilometers on the other side of the Titan. He turned those ships around, hoping they would be able to distract the enemy a bit more. And besides, if he could penetrate the Titan with another one, all the better.

It worked, at least to a point. In response, most of the Titan’s escorts turned and began an intercept course, while the fighters swung around to make their attack runs on the hangar.

Fortunately, they had been prepared for this, as well. In response, dozens of TIE Droid fighters burst out of the Devastator’s storage bays, screaming out into the hangar and towards the opening, moving to engage the AD fighters.

Then the Devastator’s mighty internal factories finally came online. The ship rose slightly on its repulsorlifts and began aiming its tractor beams at different objects around the hangar, including the floor, walls, and ceiling. Under their tremendous force, bulkheads and large sheets of metal were ripped free and drawn into the Devastator’s hungry, yawning furnaces. Even the hangar floor itself was peeled back and drawn up to act as a shield between the Devastator and the outside, where the fighters were just beginning to meet.

The exchange was quick and violent. The AD fighters attacked with precision, blasting the weaker TIE Droids out of the sky as they exited the hanger. However, the sheer numbers and combination of firepower made the TIEs deadly, as well. Green energy blasts flew out by the hundreds and concentrated on groups of AD craft, overwhelming their shields and destroying them one by one. The droids acted under a hive-mind controller, while the AD pilots were more apt to act independently and for personal glory. As a result, the attackers were kept clear of the hangar.

And as everything – bodies, supplies, broken fighters, and bulkheads – made its way into the Devastator’s gaping maw, those factories worked overtime, producing whatever materials the ship needed to use in its assault next. Right now that meant fighters, and soon a steady stream of more were pouring out of the ship, moving to join their brothers. For every TIE Droid shot down, two more filled its place. The AD fighters were soon overwhelmed.

Amason watched with a growing sense of elation. It was working! They had successfully fended off the attack, and now it was just a matter of time until they ate that Titan from the inside out. Reaching over, he reactivated the cloaking devices on the other Devastators to protect them from the advancing AD capital ships. One by one they vanished again, drifting on whatever course they had been heading on. The AD ships, however, probably didn’t know that, and so it would also help to confuse them a bit more as to their intentions. At last, he thought wearily. It felt good to finally gain the upper hand in this conflict.

Naguis’Vox’Donn Xantar Gornen watched the conflict unfold on the bridge of the Annihilator, the atmosphere of the room becoming more confused by the minute. What was this new weapon the NI had used against them? The ship seemed to be running all by itself, and it was employing some unknown technology to actually eat its way through his ship. His ship! This beautiful yet ancient relic was being gutted from the inside out by these barbarians! He could not let this be!

He turned to his command officers and began snapping out orders, and questions. To his knowledge, no other commodore had faced ships such as these before, which probably meant they’d been holding them back in secret until just such a time as this. They had to find out what these ships were, and devise a strategy to eliminate them.

“Where is it now?” he demanded, glancing around the command room. All officers were anxiously staring at their control displays, and he knew they were as baffled as he. They were trying diligently, he knew. Everyone knew that the price of failure at a time like this would be a swift end to their careers, as well as their lives.

“The enemy ship has penetrated the hangar wall and is starting to move aft,” someone reported.

“How is it moving through this ship?!” Gornen demanded angrily. “Quickly, summon one of our escorts. Tell them to blast the hangar and destroy it before it gets out of range!”

Reacting obediently, the officer sent out the message, and Gornen turned to the main screen and watched in anticipation.

Amason watched as one of the AD destroyers maneuvered around, lining itself up with the hangar. He could hardly believe what he was seeing. First they had sent a pulse that killed every biological organism within the hangar – an attack that had killed only their own men – and now they were going to attack their own ship and try to surgically remove the Devastator like a doctor cutting away a parasite inside a patient’s body.

Would the Devastator get out of the way in time? He considered taking their own corvette closer and making an attack run on the destroyer. He glanced at Ulvas, who was watching the battle intently. They had already moved much closer to the Titan in order to get a better view. Still, he realized that they had little chance of doing more than annoying the destroyer, and would likely only get themselves killed in the process. He would have to watch and wait, and hope things turned out all right.

Then suddenly the destroyer’s forward beam weapons opened up, stabbing straight into the hangar. They hit the layer of raised deck plates and burned through, reaching into the rear of the opening. Then flame burst out of the hangar mouth, obscuring the view of the inside completely.

Amason checked his screens; the Devastator was still alive! Well, proverbially speaking, at least. It had made its way deeper into the ship, eating its way through the interior levels of the Titan. Now it would be virtually impossible to dislodge, unless they were willing to destroy half their own ship in the process.

Unbelievably, it seemed that was exactly what they were willing to do. Slowly, the rest of the Titan’s escorts formed back up, moving over the Titan’s surface, as if trying to find the right place to fire and cut out the Devastator. To that end, Amason knew the ship would be digging as deeply as it could. They would have to blast through kilometers of hull if they wanted to reach it.

Now the waiting began, he knew. It would take a long time for the Devastator to destroy the Titan, even unopposed now as it was. The massive ships were superbly built, and very redundant; it could take hours until it finally reached the engine sections and rendered the ship completely helpless. At that point, the NI fleet could jump in and finish it at their leisure, or even better, capture the craft and use it to their advantage.

Breathing a sigh of relief at last, he settled back to wait.

Naguis’Vox’Donn Xantar Gornen watched as his escorts fired into the hull again and again, burning through countless levels in an attempt to destroy the invader. They weren’t moving fast enough. The enemy was chewing its way through the Titan’s guts like a rabid piranha beetle. He was still waiting for his analysts to come up with some new tactic for removing this pest.

Titan-class battleships were built extremely tough, but unfortunately that toughness was meant to repel invaders from the outside. It was unthinkable that an enemy could actually penetrate inside and gain the upper hand. To that end, there were no internal defenses capable of stopping the enemy, and his own ships were taking far too long to penetrate the Annihilator’s tough hull to be effective.

Then the lights went out.

Emergency lighting came on immediately, and Gornen turned to his officers in annoyance and, even more so, disbelief. “What happened?” he asked.

“The main power conduit has been severed,” the report came back. “Auxiliary power will be restored momentarily.”

True enough, a few seconds later the bridge returned to full power, as alternate systems that bypassed the main conduit rerouted power from the engines. Titans were very resilient, with many backup systems, enough to keep her alive and fighting long after other ships would have gone dead and silent.

Still, it was only a matter of time, now. Their power would continue to be disrupted, eaten away until the ship could not travel under its own power or even defend herself. Gornen looked at the ship’s scanners, searching the space around them. He knew there was another enemy ship out there, controlling all this. It was the only explanation; there were no more living beings on the invading ship, so how was it operating? All by remote control? Or was it the machines that these barbarians loved to employ so much, as the rumors stated? Gornen couldn’t understand why one would use a machine when there were so many viable slaves around.

Still, he didn’t know if the enemy ship out there was a small corvette, or the Nexus, the enemy’s most powerful ship. Reports said she was at Varnus, but if it was her out there, then the Annihilator, in her crippled state, would not be able to defeat her. Neither Gornen nor his men had the expertise to defeat this enemy within them. There was only one thing left he could do. He hated it – the very thought of it sent a stab of fear into his heart – but he had no choice, now.

Striding from the bridge, he entered his private command chambers adjacent to the bridge itself. Walking to his desk control panel, he carefully sealed the room off from outsiders and eavesdropping devices, then activated the communications system. He was one of only a few on the ship, or even in the fleet, who knew exactly who it was they ultimately served. Their society was structured on a need-to-know basis, and the lower ranks operated just fine under the assumption that there were powerful admirals and even emperors in charge. That was all well and good, but as Naguis’Vox’Donn, Gornen had to know the truth.

He activated the device.

* * *

Titan-class Battleship Grand Crusader
Mizar System
1910 Hours

The Warlord sat in near-darkness, his command chamber around him providing all the information on all the ships and worlds of his vast multi-empire. The battlefront along New Imperium space was proceeding well; in a few days they would be completely destroyed. Then he could move on to more enticing targets. Indeed, he already had bypassed the small government’s territory, striking into the space of the government currently dominant in this galaxy, known as the New Republic.

The ultimate plan of conquest was already laid out; the whole galaxy would be his within a year. Only a few minor adjustments, here and there, were necessary, and took only a small part of his attention.

But right now, a small matter to attend to. One of his commanding officers had made a grave error, underestimating the cunning of the New Imperium’s forces, now that they had Zalaria to guide them. Now the holographic projection of Gornen appeared before him as a hand-sized image, bowing near-prostrated in front of him. On the other end, the man would see the Warlord as a huge image that filled the whole room and made him seem like the insignificant mortal that he was.

“What has happened?” Nimrod demanded, his voice betraying no emotion, only a ruthless demand for the truth – one that could not be denied.

“Great Lord,” the man said, not daring to look up at the deity that filled the air in front of him. “I must report a problem onboard the Annihilator. The enemy has used an unknown technology to penetrate the ship. It is consuming us from the inside, and using those resources to build new ships and weapons against us.”

Nimrod did not reply. For a moment, he contemplated the Vox’Donn’s fate, and that of his ship. It was a valuable part of his fleet – every Titan was. But it took only an instant to assess the situation. Meanwhile, the bowed man continued.

“We have attempted to destroy the ship using our escorts, but our efforts have been unsuccessful,” the man reported. “We do not know this enemy technology, and have been unable to see a way to remove the ship without causing great damage to our own.”

Nimrod still did not answer; he thought about this new ‘technology’ that the man spoke of. Most likely one that Nimrod himself had seen, or developed himself eons ago, and had rejected due to its limitations. Still, it was interesting that the enemy has used it so cunningly. Almost surprising, even. They had outsmarted his forces, and he had taken a loss. It angered him. Now there would have to be retribution.

“What should we do now, Great Lord?” the Vox’Donn asked, daring to look up, panic drawn across his face as he realized the hopelessness of their situation.

“You die,” he said, and closed the connection.

Slowly, he turned to the great artifact that was spread out before him, extending down into the bowels of his flagship, the Grand Crusader. A low murmur escaped from his lips as he reached deep within the Power, channeling it through the massive focusing crystals deep within the ship.

The loss of the Annihilator was infuriating, but it was that fury that fueled his power, now. His stroke of revenge would begin here, and it would end with complete dominion over his enemy’s capital worlds in just a few days. No one who toyed with him survived!

As the Power built to a crescendo within him, he focused it, channeling it through the artifact built into the ship beneath him. Only a few like it existed; there were stories of a few that had survived here in this galaxy, in weaker form. However, he was certain that the power to destroy a star was his alone, now.

Finally he unleashed the full fury of his pent-up energies, reaching silently across space, ripping into the star called Eridani and causing its core to collapse in on itself. It was done.

Releasing the Power with a sigh, he turned his attention elsewhere once more. He needed a replacement for his lost Titan, and here in the Mizar System, conveniently lying in waiting ever since he’d arrived, was the perfect supplement to his fleet.

Reaching through his command module once more, he reached out with the Power, calling out to the command center of the Titan in orbit of Arcadia. The dark ship flared to life once more, her command crew receiving new orders, ones that would form them up with his fleet for the key assault to come.

The Cataclysm began to move, turning away from orbit to form up with his own command ship, poised to strike at the enemy’s core and finish them in one decisive blow.

* * *

Amason watched as the Devastator worked its way through the Annihilator, heading ever aft. A couple of hours had passed, and surely by now the AD knew they had no hope. They hadn’t given up, however. The escorts continued to burn holes in the Titan’s hull, effectively doing the NI’s job for them. But pretty soon they would reach the engine section, and that would be it. The escorts would have to either leave, or remain and try to defend the ship against a final assault.

Walt was pleased; the attack had been successful. The losses hurt, though. But at least those men hadn’t died in vain.

Suddenly a warning blared up from one of the consoles, and the officer there turned to them, his expression going wide-eyed.

“Sir! Vox’Donn!” he shouted, addressing both of them.

“What is it?” Amason asked, moving closer. Ulvas was right behind him.

“Strange readings from the star Eridani!” the man said. He looked back at his screens, and his voice went from alarmed to panicked. “The star has gone nova, sir!”

“What?!” Amason blurted.

Ulvas reacted instantly. “Set a course out of here at once!” he barked, addressing the navigations console. “I don’t care where, jump as soon as you get clearance!”

Amason stared at him, wide-eyed, then looked back at the other console where the report had come from and swallowed hard. Not just nova, he realized in horror. Supernova. A diagram showed an expanding shockwave rushing out from the star itself. Though the light from the sun still looked like nothing was wrong, their sensors told the ugly truth; the Eridani system was finished.

The star brightened abruptly, and the ship’s viewports faded as the starfield swam in front of them. The ship was facing away from it, now. They had to jump now, or it was all over.

“The other Devastators!” He blurted, in shock. They were out there somewhere! But no, there was no time! “It’s too late! Get us out of here, now!” he shouted.

The stars became starlines.

The shockwave followed the flash of light by mere seconds. Impossibly huge and bright, it reached out and swatted everything in its path out of the way like specks of dust. All the remaining Devastators and escorts, followed by the thirty-kilometer Titan, were blown to their constituent atoms in an instant. Then the wave hit Epsilon Eridani itself. The surface of the world was churned up like a wave splashing into a pool, wiping out every city, every standing structure, and every remaining life form in the blink of an eye.

Then Epsilon Eridani itself exploded, blown along by the unstoppable stellar wave, reduced to the dust from which it was made.

The wave continued on unabated, heading for the outer planets. Eridani was no more.

* * *
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Offline J.A.


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Joined: Tue May 20, 2008 8:29 pm

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PostPosted: Fri Jun 20, 2008 5:05 am   Post subject: Re: "Fading Glory" - by Joshua Ausley   

Pax System
Approaching Titan-class Battleship Desolation
1749 Hours Ship’s Time

"There she is," Alyx said, staring at the Titan growing closer and closer out the front viewport. It was a massive ship, a floating city over thirty kilometers long, and colored gunmetal gray. Two broad wings swept out along the Desolation's sides, and smaller projections covered the central body of the ship, revealing countless windows that shone in the night. Though he couldn't see it at this angle, Alyx knew that the ship's nose was blackened and cracked and that most of its forward weapons were gone, the results of heavy assaults by the NI First Fleet. Still, though the Desolation had probably suffered the most damage of any of the invading Titans so far, she was still a powerful force to be reckoned with. The rest of the ship was still fully functional, giving it more than enough firepower to lay waste to whole fleets just by itself.

The ship grew to the point that nothing else could be seen, just a wall of metal rushing towards them. Alyx took a deep breath. Beside him, the Altarin'Dakor pilot was conversing with someone onboard the Desolation, trying to get them clearance to land. They had been waiting for several tense moments, now. They all knew that if something went wrong, they were in too close to make it back out alive.

Finally he heard a voice speak into the pilot's headset, and the silver-haired man turned to Alyx and nodded. They were clear to land.

"All right, here we go," Alyx told the other team members gathered in the forward cockpit. So far, so good. Now they were going to actually set foot inside an enemy Titan-class battleship. As much as he tried to steel his nerves, the thought of doing this was almost paralyzing. He couldn't afford to draw on the Force for calming techniques; until they got onboard, they couldn't risk the chance of someone knowing there were Jedi coming. Instead, he practiced a breathing exercise, focusing his mind on the sheer necessity of this mission - and of the Force vision that had driven him this far. Xar might think him mad, but he knew that if they didn't do something to take out some of Nimrod's Titan's, not only would the New Imperium fall, but the rest of the galaxy as well.

The pilot steered them towards one of the yawning hangar bays in the Titan's side, and the bright opening continued to grow larger and larger. Their escorts peeled off, making flybys over and under their corvette as they approached. Then the tractor beams had them, and they were heading in.

At first the interior seemed blindingly bright, but his eyes quickly adjusted. The hangar, especially the ebony-colored floor was highly polished, and surprisingly held quite an artistic design value more than other command ships Alyx had been on before. But it didn’t matter; he had to remind himself that this was the enemy they were dealing with.

The corvette, now powering itself down, was pulled into the rear of the hangar and finally set down onto the deck without so much as a bump. Alyx looked around to the rest of his team: Vykk Olyronn, Colin Moore, Jontaar Domi, Mrax Satai, and Rilke Darcunter. He nodded, then they started aft while the pilot shut the ship down completely.

The Jedi team emerged from the craft and walked down the gangway to the deck, trying not to appear as nervous as they all felt. Very few crewmembers had come with them onboard the corvette; now only one guide, dressed as a technician, guided them out of the vessel. Alyx and the others were dressed in jumpsuit uniforms like those commonly used by AD scouts. Their story, that they had been in the advance scouting platoon and had suffered damage to their ship – actually intentional, of course – seemed to be paying off. Maybe too well, though; there was no one else around them in this part of the hangar.

“Something doesn’t feel right,” Vykk spoke up, voicing Alyx’s own thoughts.

“At least there’s no one here trying to blast us,” Colin Moore said more amiably.

Alyx turned to their guide, who was walking beside them. “What did you tell them?”.

“We said a reactor leak makes the area around the ship dangerous,” the man replied.

“That’s a great one. Don’t all invading parties use that line?” Domi asked, rolling his eyes.

“Someone is coming to meet us,” the guide retorted, then gestured at the far wall.

Alyx turned that way, seeing another pair of men walking towards them. They were dressed in what looked like decontamination suits. Alyx held himself still, ready for anything. After all, these newcomers had come from inside the Titan. As they got close though, the guide stepped forward and made introductions.

“Your contacts,” he explained. “They will escort you through the ship.”

The foremost newcomer reached up and removed his helmet, revealing a fair-skinned, middle-aged face that had seen quite its share of scars. “I am Myrkos Rothran,” he said nodding to Alyx and the team. “Don’t worry; the security cameras have been disabled.”

“That’s good to know,” Vykk spoke up skeptically beside Alyx.

Rothran looked from one Jedi to the other, made as if to lead them deeper into the ship. “I will take you to a safe room, where we can change and rest,” he said. “After that I will guide you to whichever section you want to go.”

“Thank you,” Alyx said, falling into step behind the man. Curiously enough, the other agent stayed behind, and the pilot, as well. Perhaps they had some kind of message to deliver. Alyx wondered at it, but kept quiet. This wasn’t exactly the sneaking-around type of mission he’d had in mind, and he began to wonder just how far Zalaria’s forces had penetrated Nimrod’s own. Still, fortune had decided to shine on them so far. Now, if they could get to the safe room successfully, they would be able to start the real mission objectives: capturing or disabling the Desolation completely.

He still had his fears, but so far Zalaria had been as good as her word. Now the real test would begin. He had no idea whether or not they could pose as normal crew onboard such a massive and advanced ship. But it was too late to worry, now. They had to try, or otherwise none of them would be making it back out anytime soon…

* * *

Royal Palace
Vectur, Varnus
1646 Hours

They were all gathered in the lounge, which Rynn took as a rather different place to be holding a meeting. The room was in the interior section of the VIP area, meaning they were away from the bustle of the lower levels, but there were no windows. There was also no table, but instead several plush couches lined the walls, along with several tall species of potted plants.

Even more unusual were the people Xar had gathered here. She sat on one of the couches along one wall, to the left of Paladins Amleth Uiara, Quaestor of House Vortigern, and Draken Ar’Kell, Aedile of Ar’Kell. Sitting across from them were white-haired Crusader Nadia Ispen and dark-skinned Adept Atridd Xoan, her former mentor. The first she tolerated uncomfortably – she just didn’t have to feel friendly, that was all. The second was a friend and counselor to her, but in the present company she needed to stay as professionally distant as possible.

On another couch beside them were Dathomiri Templar Melia Tai and, surprisingly, Paladin Ken ‘Nova’ Nandos, Aedile of Castellan. The latter, tanned, well-muscled and stone-faced, sat there staring down at his hands, rubbing them occasionally and generally giving off an air of impatience.

Sitting on the floor between them all was Togorian Adept Ralagos Akala, one of Xar’s closest companions, who sat there breathing slowly with his eyes half-closed. Running back and forth between the massive, furred alien and Rynn was eleven-year-old Derek. He had grown a lot in the three years since he’d been brought to Varnus. He’d lost some of that childlike innocence and wonder, though with Derek it seemed impossible to do away with completely. He was taller and a bit thinner, but his still had his dark hair that always tended to sweep down in front of his eyes. She needed to give him a haircut again, soon. Derek walked around seemingly oblivious to the political atmosphere in the room, though in reality he most likely was aware of everything that happened. With such a group gathered, including most of the Jedi he liked to hang around with, the boy had been impossible to leave behind. He was also very close to Xar, which was why Rynn suspected he was here, anyway.

Finally, standing on the other side of Amleth and leaning against the wall was Adept Jacob “Jinx” Skipper, former Quaestor of Vortigern, former Magistrate of Moro and the leader of the Renastatian refugees, who were currently on Varnus. He stood there nonchalantly, pointedly ignoring Nova on the other side. His brown hair divided by one solid white lock and his good looks made him a striking figure, though Rynn didn’t glance at him for long at any one time. They had chosen not to sit together, obviously to avoid sending the wrong message to everyone else here. Besides, he was officially in Xar’s ‘cadre’, while she was with those who eschewed to use the Force for violent combat.

It was a volatile group, to say the least. Glancing around at everyone, she wondered why Xar had assembled them all here. This was virtually all the leaders of the different factions among the Jedi Division. Why Xar had summoned them all here in this one room was the question she knew was on everyone’s mind. Each had not been told of the others’ invitation until they arrived, which had created quite a few awkward moments regarding where each was to sit. Finally they had reached an agreement of sorts, though that certainly hadn’t stopped the debate of words from filling the time until Xar got here. The chief players – Atridd and the ‘cadre’, Nova and his ‘renegades’, Amleth and the Houses, and Rynn and her so-called ‘pacifists’ – were still locked in their perpetual argument, although of late it had seemed to take a more anxious turn. With the threat of invasion hanging over all their heads, the issues between them seemed more… immediate.

“Grand Master Misnera says that training only to increase your Force power level to the maximum is ultimately crippling,” Amleth was saying, responding to Nova’s comments that Rynn and the others were wasting their time studying ‘pacifist’ methods. “If you only try to get stronger,” he continued, “Your focusing on the strength aspect decreases your ability to sense the will of the Force.”

“Do I look like I care about the ‘will of the Force’?” Ken retorted. “How’s that going to help me with a Jedicon breathing down my back?”

“It is more practical, when you consider the circumstances we’re in,” Nadia cut in, apparently agreeing with Nova, which didn’t surprise Rynn much. “This is a war, and our first priority is survival.”

“Survival, but not at the expense of an ends-justifies-the-means attitude,” Jinx cut in.

“The Jedicon train constantly for power, and they’re ruthless,” she argued. “I’m just saying we should fight fire with fire.”

“I’d rather fight it with water,” Jinx shot back.

“You two have been training with Zalaria’s Jedicon,” Atridd spoke up beside Nova, looking him and Nadia. “You saw how superior technique can defeat raw strength. Power isn’t everything, Ken.”

The younger man shook his dark-haired head, saying nothing for a moment. Then his eyes narrowed.

“Power is something you have to take in your own hands,” Nova said, staring down at his palm. Slowly, he clenched his fingers into a fist.

Rynn watched him with a growing sense of worry, and she noticed Atridd and Jinx doing the same.

Abruptly the doors at the far end of the lounge swooshed open, and Grand Master Xar Kerensky walked in, followed on his heels as always by Icis Novitaar.

“Greetings, everyone,” Xar said, taking them all in with his gaze. “I’ve called you all here for an important meeting, but first I have some news. I just received a call from Walt Amason. The news is both good and bad. First, Operation Spear is a success; the enemy Titan Annihilator has been destroyed. Unfortunately, so has the whole Eridani star system.”

The general elation over the first news gave way to utter shock and dismay over the second. Voices spoke up excitedly, clamoring for attention. “What happened?” Jinx asked over the din, staring wide-eyed at the Grand Master.

Xar shook his head, as if uncertain, himself. “There’s only one possibility – Nimrod did it.”

“That’s crazy! No one is that powerful!” blurted Nova.

Xar started pacing on the ornate rug covering the floor in front of Rynn and the others, ignoring their further outcries of disbelief. Rynn herself was in shock; it felt like an icy hand had gripped her heart. What about all those people in the Eridani system? Were the AD that powerful? That evil? It was as bad as the what Empire had done! But no – in her heart of hearts, she knew that the Altarin’Dakor were more ruthless than the Empire ever could be. She sat there in disbelief, feeling the same emotion radiating from Amleth beside her.

“How could he destroy a star?” Xar whispered finally.

Standing near the couch against the opposite wall, Icis Novitaar spoke up, addressing all of them thoughtfully.

“We know that in the old days, even during the Sith War, dark Jedi used machines that augmented Force abilities and could generate enough power to collapse a star,” he explained. “Dark Lord Naga Sadow had one such device, according to legend.”

“I can’t believe Nimrod is capable of that!” Amleth whispered fiercely.

Rynn nodded, unable to comprehend it, herself. How could anyone be that powerful? And if it were true, how could they possibly stop such a monster?

“How do we know he won’t destroy Varnus next?” Atridd spoke up frankly from the other couch.

Xar shook his head, still pacing back and forth. “I don’t think he’ll use it on us.”

“Why not?” asked Nova. Atridd glanced at him, as if surprised they both agreed in their concern.

Icis answered instead. “Varnus would be a great symbolic victory to the Altarin’Dakor, because it was the site of a huge loss for them back during the Great War. They would rather take it intact than completely destroy it.

“On the other hand,” he added solemnly, “He very well might use such a power on Tralaria.”

Before everyone could voice their obvious concern, Xar waved them off. “I don’t think so,” he said. “I am fairly confident Nimrod will try to defeat us conventionally. Zalaria has assured me of that, as well.”

And you trust her? Rynn wondered. But it was obvious he did, regardless of what the rest of them thought about it.

“Besides,” Icis added, “Nimrod doesn’t need to use his power to defeat us. His fleet is more than capable of that.”

“Then what are you saying? That he’s just toying with us?” Jinx spoke up. Rynn could sense his frustration mounting; the man didn’t like to fight when in his heart he already knew he’d lost.

Xar shook his head. “It’s his pride. Nimrod could’ve sent his whole fleet against us all at once, and we wouldn’t have stood a chance. But he’s kept things relatively equal, or at least not completely one-sided. That way it seems more fair; it’s conceivable we could come up with something like Operation Spear to defeat him.”

He nodded, looking deep in thought. “I think he enjoys a challenge. He’s lived for so long without one that he actually wants to make this interesting.”

“It doesn’t look like that’s helping us very much,” Amleth added sullenly.

“I just hope you’re right,” Atridd said. “The stakes are awfully high to be betting on this one.”

Rynn nodded her agreement. There were billions on Varnus, now. The sudden thought that they could all die at any moment, with virtually no warning, was enough to put anyone on serious edge.

“Anyway, we have other things to worry about,” Xar cut in. “By the way, has anyone seen Alyx lately?”

As he glanced at each in turn, all he got were quick negatives and Jedi shaking their heads. Rynn hadn’t heard anything from the other Grand Master in a few days. Everyone just assumed that he was on another mission, or else had left for Tralaria. But Xar’s question had just revealed that he didn’t know where Misnera was, either. Rynn didn’t like the sound of that. If Xar didn’t know, then maybe no one did.

Xar let out a deep breath, obviously frustrated. He glanced around the room before speaking again. “Where’s Bren?” he asked, facing Rynn this time. His eyes narrowed, and he looked upset at the absence. “I asked him to be here.”

“I last saw him in the library,” she spoke up, hoping to cover for him. It was true; Bren spent most of his time down there. He said it gave him peace and helped him think more clearly.

“I’ll have to pay him a visit,” Xar replied darkly. He didn’t seem in the mood for disappointments today, though it looked like that was all he was getting. He could be quite ornery when things didn’t go quite like he’d planned. Rynn wondered what he had to say to all of them.

She didn’t have to wait much longer. Finally Xar spoke again, addressing them all.

“I called you here because you are all in leadership positions, like it or not,” he began. “We all have our differences, but the time to worry about those things is over, now. We have to pull together, and I’m going to need all your help to get Varnus ready for an Altarin’Dakor attack.”

He started pacing again before continuing. "We can't afford to bicker any more,” he said sharply. “An attack could come here at any time. I can feel it brewing, like a storm is about to pour down on all of us." He looked around, meeting each of them eye to eye. "I need all of you. This may be our biggest battle yet."

"What do you want us to do, Master?" Nadia Ispen asked, looking up at Xar expectantly. Her expression was transfixed; Rynn knew she was completely devoted to her Grand Master. It made Rynn want to shudder; the woman looked like a docile pet eager to please its owner. Sometimes she wondered if Ispen ever actually thought for herself, or just accepted whatever he said without question. But then again, her ideals matched with his philosophy so well, there probably wasn't a time when she did disagree.

Xar looked back and forth between the two sides, finally resting his gaze on Akala. "First of all, I want you to tell everyone to have unity. Inform all your subordinates, House members, comrades - whomever. Tell them what we're talking about here. I need all of you in this."

Rynn glanced at each person's face, wondering how they took his words. She could see the sense in them, although Xar seemed to be missing the point that was he who had caused a lot of the dissent in the first place. He had so polarized the Division that different groups had originated based upon how far they took his ideals. But anyway, at the moment everyone seemed in agreement that they needed unity, at least, although it was clearly going to be a tough road to get there. But then, no one wanted to go into battle without the assurance that your teammate would guard your back if you were attacked.

"Secondly," Xar continued, "I want you to start herding people into the shelters. We don't need thousands of people flooding the hallways when mass panic strikes. We have to get them into safe zones right now. The palace is too crowded. Spread the word to the other members that they need to start moving."

"Food," Xoan spoke up, playing the pragmatist. "If those people stay in the shelters for long, they're going to get really hungry."

"We should have enough to last a couple of weeks," Xar replied.

"They're not going to like being cooped up like that," Jinx pointed out.

"They'll live."

Does he think an attack will really come that soon? Rynn wondered. She again watched the guarded expressions of everyone gathered. It was hard to tell who agreed and who didn't; they were too accustomed to just taking orders, and then later – some of them, at least – interpreting those orders as they saw necessary.

"With all due respect, Master," Nova spoke up, saying the title with more deign than respect. "This should have been done long ago. My men and I can't afford to spend our time baby sitting civilians, not now."

"Your men?" Xar's voice took on a hard edge as he speared the man with his gaze. The upstart Paladin was being even more insolent than usual, today. Rynn knew that Nova had attracted quite a following among the younger members. But he had taken Xar's sometimes cavalier attitude and turned it into full-blown brazenness.

"You will do it, Nova, Xar glared. "In fact, I'm putting you in charge of the operation."

The younger man's eyes went wide, and he looked about to protect adamantly against the order. Then he apparently thought for a moment and shook his head. "Fine. I'll give it to Railler and the Palace guard, then."

"Do it however you want, as long as it gets done,” Xar said flatly.

And that was how it always was, Rynn knew.

Xar had already moved on, and was pacing around in front of each of them, now. "All right, now for the rest of you," he continued. "Atridd, Nadia, Ralagos, I want you with me. Jinx, I want you to get your Renastatians ready. Same thing as the rest of the civilians.”

“My men can fight,” Jinx pointed out. “We don’t mind earning our keep, here.”

“Fine. Give them someplace to guard,” Xar said, still pacing back and forth. “Just make sure you get back to the palace soon. I’ll want you here if anything happens.”

Rynn watched Jinx’s expression, but if he felt any chagrin, he hid it too well. She wondered what it was like to be responsible for a whole race of people like that. Of course, Xar saw himself that way, too. It must be what was driving him on like this so relentlessly.

“House leaders, get your members ready to fight,” Xar ordered, glancing at Amleth and Draken. “Also have them clear our all our training facilities; we don’t want all that equipment getting in the way. Have them empty by tomorrow.”

“What about our training?” Amleth asked.

“It’s over,” Xar told him. “What little more we can do won’t do much good, now.”

Finally he looked around, his gaze settling on the only unassigned person in the room so far. “Melia, I want you to take a few other stealthy members and set up camp near the city’s shield generator. I want you to look for and root out any AD spies you can. I’m not going to let them take Varnus like they took Erebria.”

“I understand, Master,” the woman replied fervently.

“Recruit whomever you need to make sure the generator has adequate defense,” he added. “I’ve already tripled the guard there with troops from our garrison.”

He took one final look around, meeting everyone’s eyes again, settling on Rynn before nodding and ending the meeting.

"All right, then. That will be all," Xar concluded. "Make sure those refugees start moving right away, Nova; I'm stepping up defense preparations for the palace, as well as the downtown area. Move fast.”

The man didn’t reply; he just tapped something into his datapad and rose quickly from the couch.

"Oh, and somebody find Alyx," Xar added, as people started getting up to leave. Nova himself was the first one out, as Rynn might have expected. Then the others followed suit, breaking into smaller conversations based on affiliation as they walked out. Rynn started to rise and follow; she wanted to talk to Jinx before he got dragged off into something. They still had a dinner planned for the night, after all.

“Rynn, stay,” Xar said, holding up a hand as she was getting up. Then he turned back to Icis, who had remained, and continued their whispered conversation.

She sat back obediently. Derek stood in front of her, watching everyone leave, then turned to her and took hold of one of her hands in his.

“Miss Mariel, can I stay too?” he asked, looking at her hopefully.

She knew that she was one of the people that Derek loved saying around – aside from Xar and Ralagos Akala – but her instincts told her that Xar wanted to talk to her privately this time. Although he was as close to the boy as a father, she had a hunch that this conversation would involve Derek, somehow, and it would be better if the boy didn’t hear directly what Xar wanted to say.

“Well, I think the Grand Master needs a little privacy this time,” she told him. She looked around as the last few members exited the doorway. Then Xar stopped as he saw Derek standing there, staring up at him expectantly.

"Master, isn't there something I can do to help?" Derek asked, his voice insistent and desperate.

Xar looked down at him intently. "Derek, the best thing you can do for me is take care of yourself and the other kids and the civilians with you. You're too important."

"But you're always telling me that," the boy retorted. "If I'm important, then I should be able to do something!"

"You do have an important role," Xar said, kneeling down to meet the boy at eye-level and placing his hands on his shoulders. "I know you can fight. But I need you to take care of the others. And remember," he said with a knowing grin, "You have to watch after our treasures. We have a lot of artifacts we can't let the enemy get their hands on."

"Okay. I will," Derek replied faithfully.

"In the future, you're going to be far more powerful and influential than I could ever be. I have to prepare you for that time."

"I... I understand."

"Good man," Xar said, patting him on the shoulder. “I knew I could count on you.”

Rynn knew that if there was one person in the galaxy who could melt Xar’s heart, it was the young boy. He loved him as though he was his own son, and she’d never known a time when Xar was too busy to give Derek some of his time. In all that, she had to ruefully admit, that he wasn’t all bad. Deep inside there was still a tenderhearted, loving person in there. He just didn’t come out all that often.

Then Derek turned back to her, and she leaned down as he threw his arms around her neck and hugged her. She held on to him, reminding herself that these were the ones they were fighting for; it was innocents like Derek that she had become a Jedi to protect. She swore that she would do whatever it took to keep him safe.

She leaned back then, and out of habit rustled his thick hair with one hand. “Go on, Jinx will take you back. I’ll see you later,” she told him softly.

The boy looked disappointed, but even at his age he was mature enough to obey without complaint. He went to Jinx, who offered him a hand, but the boy just darted ahead of him and ran out the door. “Mister Novitaar!” he shouted, calling to the tall man, who had just left a few seconds before.

Jinx, before leaving, turned back and raised his eyebrows. “Everything okay?”

“I’m sure it’s fine,” she said, nodding her head.

“Umm… If you can’t make it this evening…” he began.

“No, I’ll be there,” she assured him. “Don’t worry; I wouldn’t think of missing it.”

At that he smiled, and she realized again just how handsome he looked when he did that.

“Come on, Mister Jinx!” Derek yelled from the door, interrupting them.

“Okay, I’m coming!” With a last rueful grin, Jinx turned and followed the ever-energetic Derek out.

Rynn watched them go, unable to contain a smile as she shook her head. Boys, she thought.

Once everyone had left, Xar sat down on the couch opposite her and looked at her thoughtfully. “A couple of things, then I won’t hold you any longer,” he said.

She nodded.

“First, how is the Battle Meditation coming? Can I rely on it in battle?”

“We haven’t tested it in actual combat yet,” she admitted. “But we are getting more coordinated. There are times – like when I can sense ours and the enemy’s energy levels, for instance – in those times it’s like I can really reach out and connect to them. It becomes much easier, then.”

Xar nodded. “I suspect you have a natural affinity for the Battle Meditation that is still dormant within you, that comes out at certain times. When it happens, you become super-attuned to it, enabling you to do far more than a normal Jedi ever could.” He seemed to consider that for a moment, then shook his head. “No matter, then.”

Suddenly the doors parted open again, and a new visitor entered. He was wearing robes that looked just worn enough to have been slept in, and his shoulder-length hair was curly and unkempt. Rynn watched him enter in surprise; it wasn’t often that she saw Master Mathis Organa walking around, these days.

“Xar!” Mathis said, glancing around the room and locking eyes with Rynn for a second as he entered. “I needed to see you.”

“Mathis.” Xar came to his feet and pinned the man with a skeptical stare. “I don’t really have time to talk about your problem right now.”

Undaunted, Organa strode right up to him. “Xar, I need to go somewhere. A change of scenery… just something different.”

“We can’t run from our problems.” Xar seemed completely fed up with the long-haired man. She had heard rumors about Organa, but wasn’t the type to spread them. She preferred to assume the best about people until there was irrefutable evidence to the contrary.

Anyway, Mathis didn’t take the bait; rather he just stood there for a moment, looking desperate. Finally Xar sighed and threw up his hands.

“What do you want me to do?” he demanded.

“I need something to do, Xar. An assignment. Something to keep me busy. I can still do some bloody good! Don’t just let me sit here while the AD breathe down our necks.”

Xar didn’t reply; he just looked down at the floor. He didn’t look very convinced.

“I won’t get in the way,” Mathis nearly pleaded. “Just give me a chance to make myself useful. I need this! I can’t just keep sitting here doing bloody nothing!”

Suddenly something changed in Xar’s expression, and as he looked up at Mathis again, Rynn thought she saw genuine pity in his eyes. “Okay,” he agreed. “What do you want to do?”

“Let me berth on the Stormwatch,” Mathis offered. “Isn’t she doing scouting around the system right now? That would give us something to do, and maybe I could sense any danger coming our way.”
Xar considered that, and Rynn felt the tension in the air as Organa waited expectantly. She remained seated, trying to make herself as unobtrusive as possible.

Finally Xar spoke again. “I… suppose there’s nothing to be lost by your going there. Very well.” He looked Mathis in the eye, then. “Mathis, you have to deal with this. I still think you should see counseling, but… I hope this will help, anyway. For both our sakes.”

“I know. It will,” Mathis said.

“Trust me on this.”

“Thanks, Xar. I need this.”

Then Mathis turned and left without further word. Xar stood there, watching him for a moment, a thoughtful expression on his face. He seemed focused on something far away.

He finally turned back to Rynn, but hesitated, as if searching for the right words to say. “Listen, Rynn. If… If we are attacked, I want you, Bren, and the other women – Lorien Kal and the others – to take Derek and the other children to the safe zones. Your top priority is to protect them. Do you hear me?”

She could feel the intensity in his gaze. “Yes, sir,” she said.

“I know that you probably won’t fight, and that’s fine with me,” he continued, as if thinking aloud. “Just protect our kids. They’re our future. Especially Derek. Remember what I told you about him.”

Rynn nodded. She remembered Xar telling her of his suspicions about Derek – that he might have no limit to the amount of Force power he could use someday. If that were true, then it would mean Derek was something more than a normal Jedi – perhaps something different entirely.

“Take care of them, protect them at all costs,” Xar ordered. “Then, secondarily, if a battle is going on here and you have a chance to help us with your Battle Meditation, do what you can. We’re going to need all the help we can get, and I don’t want to lose any more men.”

“I understand, sir,” she answered. At that, he nodded and seemed to relax, and she stood up slowly.

“Do you think it will come to that?” she asked.

“Rynn, we’re surrounded. We have to prepare for the worst,” he said. “Come on.”

He started for the door, and she had no choice but to follow him out.

* * *
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