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  1. This was a moment that Armiena had been thinking about for months; really, every since the veteran Jedi had slipped the clutches of CreoVive and returned to the Order. It should have arrived sooner, but the collapse of the Galactic Alliance and the crises that wracked the Jedi Order continually demanded her attention. Perhaps she should have slipped her obligations to the Order and pursued this reunion earlier, because Armiena had just stepped out of a meeting with an Admiral she despised. The tension was written on her face as vividly as the crust of dried blood that had issued from a miniature cut on her forehead. “If we can keep it that way.” Her expression was not exactly accustomed to softness and sentimentality; the frustration of the last few weeks competed with the relief of seeing her son alive and unharmed. “One thing that gods and generals all have in common is that they have the most staggering egos, cannot admit a mistake or backtrack.” Draygo forced a deep breath. This was in danger of turning into a rant, and one that smacked of hypocrisy and a profound lack of self-awareness. “It seems to be that way. I… how have you been? When the Scarab came out of hyperspace on top of the fleet, I thought that—” Armiena let the sentence trail off. Both of them knew perfectly well what the Sith flagship had done: it had pulverized significant portions of the Jedi and Imperial fleets. The only reason why she was still alive was that Justice’s Mandate had been hundreds of kilometers away; how Aidan had come through unharmed was unknown but was a rare mercy from the Force.
  2. There was another one of those pregnant pauses in the conversation. Draygo considered whether she had made yet another false step. For more than a decade, either she or one of her closest friends had been Grandmaster and the Admiral of the Republic fleet was… simple enough to manipulate. Armiena now had a distinct impression that her views were unneeded or unwanted--that her role in Alluyen’s Order was to serve and occasionally advise, but not to lead. The veteran Jedi held out her prosthetic hand and the dataslate went skipping across the rpom and into her palm. Armiena briefly locked eyes with a masked Shistavenan, then she left. ______ The deckplan of a Nebula-class Star Destroyer was fundamentally similar to that of an Imperial-II, albeit significantly condensed. Nonetheless, Armiena wandered aimlessly through the corridors of its keel, so much that she had to wave off an Ensign who offered to guide her to a destination that she herself hadn’t formulated yet. Tapping clumsily on the dataslate, Draygo sent a message to her Padawan to meet with her. Genesis had been withdrawn ever since the battle of Dark Sun Station. That wasn’t unexpected--Armiena distinctly remembered feeling nauseous for two days after the first time that she had taken a life, and the poor boy had been forced to experience the state-sanctioned mass murder of a pitched battle with half-developed Force powers--with all the hypersensitivity of an astonishingly adept healer with none of the defenses of an older Jedi. Hopefully he would at least be willing to discuss the ordeal--or that a day of reflection and perhaps even a proper night’s sleep would help him. The dataslate in Armiena’s hand vibrated twice. She frowned as she read message on its screen. Master Draygo, Misal is alive. She has gone to ground for the moment. She is better off being thought dead after the events of the last month. Your ship will be delivered to you on Nar Shaddaa. Your son is occupied in Cargo Hold Dorn-3. You may enjoy the opportunity to interrupt a moment. Only seconds after Armiena skimmed the message, it disappeared from the screen of the dataslate to return to the half-read after action report of Lead Engineer Nel’Pi. The veteran glanced behind her--amongst the rush of a hundred staff officers, engineers, and teamsters was the hulking frame of a black-furred Togorian. The uniform of the Galactic Alliance may have fit the feline sapient’s massive bulk and she wore a belt of engineer’s tools with comfort, but she was nearly a meter taller than the other personnel around her and she failed completely in her attempt to look inconspicuous. Draygo tapped in another message to update her Padawan of her destination. ____ Ten minutes later, Armiena made out the unmistakable whine of blaster fire and the distinct odor of ozone emanating from Cargo Hold Dorn-3. Her practiced ear studied the report as she approached the cargo bay more closely--a short-barreled carbine, probably a standard-issue model like the E-11. Firing exercises. The veteran Jedi paused at the mouth of the cargo hold, feeling conscious of her disarray after Dark Sun Station. She knew that she stank of sweat and oil; her oversized robe was folded untidily over a left arm that was imprisoned in a sling. She paused and listened to the persistent staccato of blaster fire; the slower rhythm was that of an inexperienced operator familiarizing themselves with a new weapon. She took a few steps into the cargo hold to see her son teaching one of the younger Jedi Knights--Sarna, the girl from Felucia--basic blaster techniques. Her son. It had been far too long since Armiena had seen him. Her own mother had occasionally sent holos as he grew up--and even a few clandestine images when Aidan had thought he had completely slipped her monitoring, but… it had been far too long. She found herself transfixed, an uncharacteristically soft expression on her war-hardened face, not quite sure what to do next.
  3. “There are arguments for and against the militarization of the Jedi Order. Consider me firmly on the side of maintaining command of our own fleet. It’s my observation that a single integrated Jedi can augment a unit of conventional soldiers far beyond their capabilities, defeat fortifications that would require unnecessary casualties, or prevent an all-out rout if a Sith is present. “I suspect that my vision for the Jedi Order is not the same as yours, however. With your permission, I’ll see to the officers responsible for Dark Sun. And I would like to see my son.” Draygo finally glanced at the dataslate that Vos had passed towards her. Her eyes hunted for names… with slow deliberation from working one-handed, she tapped in summons to the officers and soldiers who had sabotaged Dark Sun Station. The summons directed them not to one of the Star Destroyer’s myriad briefing rooms or interrogation suites, but to a medevac shuttle. Armiena had decided that she wanted complete privacy for the necessary lesson that she was going to teach these delinquent officers. Only several cubic kilometers of empty void would suffice. She would let them stew in their own guilt for a few hours, though. Finally sensing an opportunity to speak up, Admiral Slaughter cleared his throat. “All this said about the capabilities of Jedi support… my people will find a way to integrate your forces into our fleet. We’re used to working with… difficult logistics. My engineers will establish a headquarters for joint command on the moon’s surface. While the Sith have the initiative, we can expect attacks at multiple facilities and integration of our forces is critical."
  4. ((Bruce Slaughter and Armiena Draygo)) “We’ll find a way to make it work. They might be volunteers, but we’ll find a way to integrate them into our forces, secure the logist… ics…” Admiral Slaughter began, only to find his nerve fading as he became aware of the fact that Draygo had just fixed him with a knowing stare. The veteran Jedi took a sip of caf. At this point, the steam had faded and her lip curled almost imperceptibly. “Grandmaster, I respectfully disagree. Our order has occasionally made terrible mistakes. I should know--I’ve committed some of them. That doesn’t change the fact that to many people in the galaxy, the Jedi Order is the foremost champion for the rights of sapients and democracy--and that a vessel under our command would be one of the most welcome sights imaginable in a time of crisis. Our leading a force of like-minded individuals--not professional soldiers, not clones, but of idealists who are willing to fight and suffer and kill for our values would be a source of comfort for many in the galaxy. To relinquish this force could be seen as an--an abdication of our responsibilities.” “It’s your call, but this is a critical moment.”
  5. “Grandmaster, if I may…” Armiena didn’t even look at the data slate that she had been passed by the Kiffar. “This isn’t the moment. I mean… I’ll do it; I’ll give these soldiers a lesson that they will never forget. I… I'll make sure that they continue to be useful, but in the future...” The veteran Jedi swallowed hard and dropped the medical records that had previously absorbed her full attention. Draygo was in danger of making a speech. She found herself wishing for a retreat from this overcrowded medical ward--the room was only intended for a patient, a few medtechs and perhaps a pair of visitors, but it had now been stuffed to the point of claustrophobia with an informal Jedi Council, the high command of the Galactic Alliance and the Imperial Remnant or whatever they were calling themselves now, and even a few line soldiers and Jedi Knights who had somehow learned of this secret meeting. Perhaps it was necessary at this moment; perhaps Alluyen and the Jedi needed a stark warning of the dread forces that they were about to unleash upon the galaxy; perhaps they needed a reminder that one of the surviving veterans of the previous war was among them, one who had witnessed and inflicted the same magnitude of destruction on the galaxy. The miniature motors and gears began to whirr in the exposed mechanisms of her prosthetic hand and her face had flushed red. She plowed forward in a stream of consciousness, not daring to look at her fellow Jedi or the career soldiers. “We must be more disciplined with our use of violence. Everyone in this room has done terrible things and justified it to themselves afterwards. We aren’t simply responsible for our own actions, but those of every soldier under our command. There must be clear contrast between our actions and those of the Sith, or we are lost. I don't just mean that we will lose this war--it will inflict such a toll on ourselves that we won't be able to justify or forgive ourselves for what we’ve done. That is, if we haven't warped ourselves to such a degree that we no longer see any need for it." She looked down into the insta-caf in her hands. “I apologize. I didn’t mean to preach. This meeting was supposed to form an agreement of cooperation between our forces and I’ve derailed it.”
  6. A shiver ran down Draygo’s back. A reflexive twitch from her hand dipped the B-Wing just below an emerald salvo from the Totenkopf II, then the exhilarating rush repeated itself. Armiena cut the throttle and sent the starfighter juking along the keel of the picket ship. In a maneuver that threatened to drive the blood from her head and the consciousness from her mind, the veteran Jedi stood the B-Wing on its S-Foil and sent it in a loop around the bulge of its gravwell projector, pumping ion and laser fire into the picket ship in an attempt to disable it. She held the loop until the Force whispered a warning of her imminent demise, then she broke into the engine wake of the fleeing corvette just as a TIE Defender shrieked past spewing laser fire. Temporarily masked from sensors by the engine wake of the Totenkopf II, Armiena risked a moment to glance down at a blinking damage report and blanched. The fighter’s hyperdrive had been damaged by the missile hit--disabled fuel intake--and the B-Wing wouldn’t be able to make a jump into hyperspace. She diverted the fighter’s entire power output into its engines and the craft surged forward, masked by a hail of fire from the survivors of the Galactic Alliance fleet and its remaining starfighter screen. “Clear a lane--hyperdrive’s shot--clear a lane, clear a lane,” the veteran Jedi repeated those words like a mantra as she raced towards the hangars of Justice’s Mandate. Racing towards the Star Destroyer’s starboard, Armiena watched starfighter crews dart out of the way as the B-Wing approached at well beyond safe landing speeds. She cut the throttle only seconds before the starfighter cleared the magcon field--just in time to avoid roasting the deck crew with her sublight exhaust and turning a fatal crash into the back of the hangar into a disconcerting bump. But something was wrong. The entire hangar appeared to be sideways--and with the artificial gravity from the Mandate, both Genesis and Armiena were being pulled uncomfortably towards their left side, held in place only by their restraints. Armiena glanced to her left and saw the deckplates of the hangar a meter away. Amongst the systems that had been disabled by the missile hit was the gyroscopic collar that held the cockpit stable during combat--it had locked into place during evasive maneuvers and now their perspective was approximately eighty degrees off the vertical. Draygo shrugged. There was still work to do, and it was going to be several minutes before the hangar crews could extract the two Jedi from their cockpit. Armiena popped the canopy and hit the quick-release on her restraints. Painfully, with a heavy crash as she landed, she fell in a heap to the deckplates.
  7. “Cut the chatter--” The response came quickly in seven voices and five accents: a Borleian, a Chandrilan, an Agamarian, a Corellian, and even the received pronunciation of Imperial Coruscanti all intoned from rote. Draygo’s excitable outbursts were a familiarity to some of the veterans of the Galactic Alliance, A shiver ran down the veteran Jedi’s spine when she became aware of a consciousness that had just targeted her for destruction--not the impersonal duty of a battery gunner that was trying to repel enemy starfighters, but that of an aspiring murderer who wanted desperately to eliminate her. In her peripheral vision, under the bursts of light from the flak reflecting off the edges of her shields, she could see that the sensor boards were lighting up with warnings that the B-Wing had just been targeted by enemy starfighters--multiple TIE Defenders--and a dull humming that indicated that her assailants were going for a missile lock. Several Black Sun and Sith pilots had just targeted her for destruction--six? No, eight pilots, from two directions, two flights from separate squadrons, from nearly opposite directions. That murderous intent crystallized like a dagger when the humming transformed into a urgent shriek, alerting her that missiles had just been launched. She just sighed and took a deep breath. Her consciousness withdrew from the spectacular but crude world of sapients and machines, and focused instead on a world of energy exchanges and clockwork mechanisms, of nanoscale fibers that pulsed with electricity and plasma; intermingled with the frenetic purpose and fears of sentient beings. Amidst the deliberate functions of the machines of war were the whispered and screamed emotions of those who drove them: the cold satisfaction of gunners destroying the starships of their enemies, the terror of pilots attempting to shake off targeting locks, shaky affirmations of survival and a few individuals who had simply gone blank, their minds simply unable to process the carnage at hold. Into that madness was injected a wisp of an uncharacteristic emotion: joy. It was the visceral satisfaction of a caged predator who had at last been allowed to slip from her confinement and prowl her territory. Manipulating the mechanical felt as natural to Armiena Draygo as her own body, and diving into the electric soul of her starfighter was as invigorating as a warm-up stretch. She hauled the control stick upwards and to the right; ion and laser blasts spewed from her B-Wing across the black, alternatively disabling and detonating the missiles launched towards her. Her fingers danced over the control surfaces and the heavy starfighter juked and weaved through an exchange of emerald fire, a few blasts reflecting off the edges of its shields and the rest slipping by harmlessly into the void. One of the TIE Defenders was silenced permanently, a laser blast melting one of its engines and crumpling the eyeball canopy with a fusion detonation. As for the remainder, a three shrieks of fright and frustration issued into the vacuum as their starfighters were struck dumb by ion fire or damaged by her return fire. A fifth missile streaked by; Armiena pushed the heavy starfighter back to its original course and the exhaust jet passed within meters of the B-Wing's cockpit. But they weren't out of danger yet; the missile, its tracking sensors determining that the projectile had missed its quarry and that it lacked fuel to make another pass, detonated shortly after it rocketed into their exhaust wake. The shockwave of the detonation was sufficient to crumple their rear shields and send the starfighter into a nauseating, seemingly-uncontrolled spin. As Armiena held that spin and allowed the Black Sun pilots to believe that she had lost control of the starfighter, something broke within the canopy--the cockpit, no longer held stable by the B-Wing's gyroscopic mount, began to tumble as madly as the rest of the fighter and up and down traded places with hyperactive glee. Even with the inertial compensators dialed up to their maximum power, the veteran Jedi felt her stomach begin to rebel at the corkscrewing spiral and her vision began to grow dim from the horrible g-forces. No matter; Armiena broke out of that spin just in time to haul the starfighter upwards to streak along the ventral surface of the Agave-class Corvette. The B-Wing rained ion and laser fire over its surface, trading fire with its point defense batteries. She heard herself shouting "Dumbfire! Dumbfire!" towards her apprentice--the interdictor corvette simply needed to get hurt and there was no time for precision in its moment. Half a second after the fighter cleared the hull of the corvette, Armiena executed a tight loop and brought the guns of the heavy starfighter to bear on the bridge of the pocket interdictor. There was a settling of emotion just in front of them: a cold prickling of dread that shivered down the spines of some twenty-odd bridge officers who had just realized that the were living the last few seconds of their lives. Her brass-like hand tightened around the control stick of the fighter, but Armiena hesitated. Summary: Armiena breaks through a starfighter screen and strafes the Totenkopf II. Already having an alias in this fight, this is largely for flavor.
  8. ((Armiena Draygo.)) Draygo couldn’t stop looking at the shape beyond Dark Sun Station. Even as stray rounds of flak detonated nearby and rattled the cockpit, slamming her head into the durasteel girders and cutting a miniscule gash into her unhelmeted forehead, the veteran Jedi couldn’t take her eyes off the malevolent shadow that the Scarab seemed to cast into the black. “S-foils ‘tack positions, shields forward. Um, Genesis? I am about to do something very stupid.” A series of metallic clacks and electronic beeps could be heard from her station as she worked at the control surfaces of the B-Wing. “My son’s under the guns of that monster. If I can peel away some of their forces, grab the attention of some of their fighters so our shuttles can make it to Dark Sun… I’m very sorry if I get us both killed.” During this time, while the B-Wing’s alarms were humming warnings of enemy batteries attempting to track their juking fighter, Armiena had been making an unorthodox and illegal alteration to their Identify Friend/Foe transponder. At the very end of her apology, their transponder code had been altered to reflect that of a neutrally-aligned vessel and the ship had been given a new name. She thumbed the ship’s comlink to transmit without encryption, so that anyone within range could listen. Armiena had found from decades at war that the mention of her name tended to provoke three types of responses: a sort of trusting devotion, murderous rage and blaster fire, or utter indifference. There were few exceptions to this rule: people generally would follow her into battle and trust her to get them through alive, or they would attempt to kill her, or simply try to forget that she had ever lived. At this moment, Armiena was counting on those highly polarized responses to peel away as many forces from the Black Sun fleet as possible. Her hands pulled back hard on the controls, sending the B-Wing into a steep climb. She dumb-fired a proton torpedo into a flight of approaching TIE Defenders, a blind shot guided only by the Force that she immediately forgot about--even when the warhead pierced cleanly through the canopy of one of the fighters thirty seconds later and painted the interior of the fighter with the viscera of its pilot. But that was a half-minute into the future, and Armiena was focused on grabbing the attention of every single Black Sun squadron that she could and surviving the next few minutes. She cleared her throat and screamed into the comlink: “Say my name!” Any sensor that targeted her would find that she had changed the name of her B-Wing starfighter to I Am Armiena Darkfire. The starfighter plowed into the fray heedless of numbers or escort, corkscrewing through the enemy fighters towards the Totenkopf II. In a moment, that ship could lock down the entire engagement and prevent the Jedi from withdrawing, dooming the entire fleet and her son to its guns. It needed to die, whether under her guns or under her lightsaber.
  9. ((I only just realized that I accidentally posted under this account for Bruce Slaughter. Apologies for the error. I’ll post the character that I’m writing for in every future exchange. Armiena Draygo)) “I sympathize. This will be a learning experience for both of us.” Draygo forced a smile and she punched at a compartment below her control surfaces. It fell open with a hollow clank, revealing a kilometer of optical fibre, a stack of circuit boards… and a single datapad. “Really,” she arched an eyebrow. “Only one operations manual for a two-seater?” She tossed it back towards her apprentice and laid her hands on the controls. “All these gadgets that built into starfighters are handy, but nothing beats instinct. I’ve yet to encounter a targeting computer that beats the Force.” Armiena closed her eyes and pushed her back into the firm cushioning of the ejection seat. The dull thrumming of its sublight engines pressed lightly against her right side, and the idling repulsorlifts vibrated lightly under her feet. Around her a surprising amount of energy pulsed through the fighter--the snubfighter clearly boasted an impressive weapons suite and a powerful shield array. An unfamiliar coiling ringed the cockpit, just slightly behind the back of her head. The veteran Jedi had no idea what function this mechanism played, but she would surely find out momentarily. She breathed in. The engines exhaled for her. “Yes. I can do this,” Armiena intoned, her voice having taken on a dreamy quality. Her hands played over the controls in a practiced motion, smoothly retracting the ship’s landing gear, triggering repulsorlifts, and the sublights to propel them from the hangar with an ease that more closely resembled a hardened pilot with many hours of experience. And then they were out in space, the hull of the Nebula-class Star Destroyer rapidly diminishing behind them. They formed up with the remainder of the fighters from the Mandate, approaching the Black Sun fleet. That was when the Star Dreadnought reverted from hyperspace. A tremor ran through the B-Wing’s hull as Armiena’s hand involuntarily twitched and deployed the fighter-bomber’s S-foils into attack position. “Oh.” That was all she had to say in response to the arrival of the Sith fleet. A flick of her left hand reinforced the B-Wing’s forward shields in preparation for the first cataclysmic exchange of fire with the Black Sun. ____ Many kilometers behind her, Master Sergeant Liliu Kamakaeha gawped at the mess of daggers, blaster power cells, and what appeared to be two low-yield thermal detonators that were left on the formerly pristine deck of her hangar. The curses that escaped her lips could not be recorded on this website, but they were primarily aimed at Armiena Draygo specifically, and the Jedi in general for not adhering to military discipline and leaving divots and explosives on the deck of her hangar.
  10. There was no need to give the order or to divert A-Wings; anti-missile drills were a familiar routine to every naval officer who served with Admiral Slaughter. The Incisor, a swift Warrior-class Frigate that crossed along the arc of the flagship’s bow, began blasting away at the incoming siege torpedos with her laser cannons and antimissile octets. Unless the torpedoes were composed of the hideously expensive diamond-boron alloy, very little would remain of them save for a magnificent explosion and jagged shard of steel housing flying at a respectable fraction of lightspeed. His attention, at that moment, was divided between the movements of the Jedi on their flank and the probing attack by the two DP20 Corvettes. Small, light, and maneuverable, the sister ships twisted their way through a hail of turbolaser fire with an agility that some starfighter pilots would have admired. Just like the flotilla behind them, they shifted their fire from the frantically weaving starfighters towards the incoming missiles, spattering the black with spots of red-orange fire and granting several of their starfighter escorts a reprieve from their evasive maneuvers. To their dismay, however, their missile launchers were unable to find targeting solutions on the incoming fighters. But they were dying. The ships were never intended for a prolonged engagement of capital ships, and each hit of a turbolaser on their shields was devastating. The port shields on the Audacity buckled and fell after being caught by a long-range hit, and though the agile little corvette immediately rolled to present an undamaged flank, it was only a matter of time before that other flank fell or the fighters strafed its unshielded port. Slaughter considered calling recalling the corvettes, but his line of thought was interrupted by another message from the crew pits. “Sir, another entry from hyperspace.” The Admiral felt a bead of cold sweat trickle down his back. “It’s the Scarab.” Had Slaughter looked off to starboard, he would have seen a vast, seemingly malevolent triangular craft rush out of hyperspace akin to the spearhead of an ancient polearm. But there was no need, as that dominating presence filled the holographic tactical pit dwarfed even the stylized, geometric symbols that indicated the presence of the allied and Sith ships. Few events focused the mind quite like the reversion of a Star Dreadnought from hyperspace within firing range. “Right, never mind the maneuvers,” Slaughter heard himself saying. “Just go straight at ‘em, flank speed. Don’t stop for anything. Even shields, all firepower to front. Whatever the Jedi shoot at, we blast ‘em.” The overmatched corvettes would not have to fall back, as reinforcements were coming to them. The sublight engines of the main line of the Galactic Alliance bloomed blue-white as they accelerated towards Dark Sun Station, followed by a wave of crimson rain that focused on the Sariel’s Judgement. That sheet of light was answered by the hundreds of pinpricks of fighters that had been allowed to slip from their hangars--first, naturally, the A-Wing interceptors, whose pilots floored their throttles with stereotypical aplomb and sent their craft racing above and below the dogfight in an attempt to catch the ARC fighter-bombers outside of the protective arc of their jamming projectors. The remainder of the fleet plowed into the fray with all the subtlety of an irritated reek charging into a tourist’s landspeeder. The Phalanx, an obsolete Dreadnaught, finally met a task suitable for its hull as a stable, heavily-armored platform as her myriad laser batteries blasted away at the squadrons of starfighters. The Kalidor added to the antistarfighter barrage and swatted missile after missile out of the void. Steadfast and Fidelity, true to Admiral Slaughter’s orders, stopped for nothing. The Misericordia, at the rear of the allied formation, was left behind. But the crew of Imperial II-class Star Destroyer had no intention of being left out of the glory. The black dagger turned towards the Adi-wan and her engines lit up to join her, both flanks alight in turbolaser fire. On her port, the barrage was focused on the Sariel’s Judgement; her vengeance was directed towards the Warspite on her starboard. Summary: Audacity and Surprise take significant damage due to being singled out by the Black Sun fleet, but are joined by the remainder of the fleet. A-Wings focus on ARCs responsible for sensor jamming. Lighter ships in the GA formation blast away missiles before returning to antistarfighter duty. GA capital ships focus turbolaser fire on the VSD Sariel’s Judgement and charge forward. ISD-II Misericordia turns to join the Jedi flagship Adi-wan and fires upon the Warspite in the Sith fleet. ((1))
  11. ((Armiena Draygo)) Armiena reached to her side and shut down the holorecorder, causing the azure ghost of her form to waver and fade. For a few seconds, she just placed her chin on the peak of her fingers and stared into the unfamiliar controls of the B-Wing. Sensor data, fed to the heavy starfighter by the arrays of the Justice’s Mandate, continued to waver as the ships of the formation danced their ballet of brinksmanship. Finally, she reached under her leg and withdrew a comlink. The device had been recording all throughout the meeting, beginning with the moment that the corpulent body of Bruce Slaughter had appeared. “We need to get on that station,” the veteran Jedi eventually declared. She climbed onto the wing of the fighter-bomber and shoved away the excess weapons she had gathered (“What the pfask!” shouted one of the deck hands at seeing her domain being littered.) “Minimal killing, might need to actually talk to someone there--oh, good, ion cannons. They’re going to vape the station the moment that Zinthos is clear. Can’t let that happen,” she continued, clambering back into the two-seater cockpit and checking the straps on the portable life-support vest. “Too much intel, too much creditflow, too much… people.” “Genesis,” she turned around, facing her apprentice with a grin. “You have any time in an A/SF-01? Sims or the real deal?” ____ ((Bruce Slaughter)) Bruce stepped away from the holocomm, the image of the Jedi Grandmaster and the ad hoc council winking out of existence along the wall. Behind him, a junior officer was waiting with apprehension written on the face of the Durosian, a comlink in his hands. That would have been the Black Sun commander, the dilettante who had answered when Slaughter had allowed his temper to get the better of him and idiotically mouthed off to the entire star system. “Yeoman. Standing order to the bridge crew.” Slaughter’s face twisted into a half-hearted attempt at a grim smile. “I am not to be allowed to transmit on a comlink over an open frequency. Ever. Wrestle it out of my hands if you have to.” The Admiral plodded towards the center of the bridge and leaned heavily on the tactical pit. Somewhere in the background, a comlink was still buzzing with the Black Sunner’s attempt to contact the Galactic Alliance flagship. It was time to give the commander their response. “Commence the attack.” At that moment, the starboard batteries of the Steadfast rained crimson fire along the flight path of the Audacity and Surprise, gently encouraging any starfighters and corvettes in their sector to take evasive maneuvers as the twin DP20 Gunships plowed into the breach with a wing of X-Wings. Steadfast and Fidelity then took a hard turn to starboard, bringing their portside batteries to bear upon the Holofernes. Seconds later, the twin capital ships of the Galactic Alliance opened fire with matching boardsides upon the Star Destroyer, their barrage accompanied by the lighter broadsides of the heavy cruisers within their formation.
  12. ((Bruce Slaughter)) Bruce Slaughter couldn’t have possibly missed the flash of recognition that briefly crossed the face of the former Jedi Grandmaster, despite the fact that the two had almost certainly never met. There was no mistaking the twinge of her lips as anything but utter disgust. But the Admiral couldn’t spare a moment to reflect on what might have inspired that glance of disgust; billions of lives were depending on the outcome of this battle. Thoughts of what the Black Sunners might do flit through his mind: yes, they might execute the Imperial Head of State, they might attempt a break-out, they might even scuttle the entire station out of spite. All of those were possibilities; what the Admiral knew was that to retrieve Zinthos, they would have to assault the station directly. The casualties would be enormous and they might not even reach their quarry in time. Unless… “No time for a siege or anything subtle, just take the station head on and try to reach Zinthos before they execute her. We’ll take our forces along the starboard and catch the Star Destroyers in a crossfire. Suggest that your Jedi spearhead assault and my marines will hold the door open. You can move more quickly than us--and if she is wounded, she may need a healer.” ____ ((Armiena Draygo)) For a few seconds, Draygo just looked at Alluyen, her stony expression affording her an appearance not entirely unlike that of an overgrown bird-of-prey. Then she glanced towards her side at a speaker not within the holoprojector’s field of view and a muscle in her cheek twitched. It was true, Black Sun was one of the most prolific purveyors of the most repulsive trade in the galaxy--few beings would regret any casualties required to bring them low and even fewer would mourn the destruction of the criminal syndicate. But she had seen this scenario before. Armiena hadn’t been present, but she had watched the sensor data, over and over and over until she wanted to tear her hair out. All she said was: “And the station?”
  13. Only a few seconds later, the holograph of Armiena Draygo appeared next to that of Sandy Sarna. Her face slightly distorted from speaking into a portable holocomm within the confines of a snubfighter cockpit, the veteran Jedi glanced about the room for a moment. She matched eye contact with Admiral Slaughter, and then she immediately looked at anyone other than the corpulent war criminal directly across from her. “I just listened to the transmission. Grandmaster, there isn’t much I can say. If our objective is to retrieve Zinthos, then we’ll take the offer and have an Osk-Dorn team standing by when she arrives. If we’re here to hurt the Black Sun, then…” Her eyes flickered towards Slaughter and her lips thinned. ((Osk-Dorn: OD, Ordinance Disposal.))
  14. “I don’t get it. They’re just sitting there,” murmured a pair of mechanics somewhere below Draygo and Genesis, the two loaders having a rare moment of quiet after the launch of the Mandate’s fighters. The older Jedi ignored them. In any moment the hangar would be rushing with activity to secure excess munitions and fuel ports--and the deck crews would be grousing at the two Jedi who still hadn’t taken that great hulking snubfighter out of the hangar and allow them to do their jobs. “Yes, he’s somewhere… out… there with the Imperial Knights. I never would have expected a child of mine would side with the blasted Empire,” that last word came out with a touch more venom than Armiena liked. Her eyes closed for a second and her chest rose and fell in a long, deep breath. “Not after what they did to our family, I mean. But I wasn’t much of a mother to him. I put out messages and feelers, but no luck. But if he was at Kashyyyk and Kuat, maybe…” What possibility the veteran Jedi was considering was never voiced. Taking careful grip of her second thermal detonator, Draygo pried the grenade apart and plucked out the priming charge. “Indistinguishable from the real thing, save for a gram of high-ex and lack of, um, boom. Sometimes all you need is a few seconds of the other side keeping their heads down.” Draygo picked up a tunic of black armorweave and made an examining tug at the stitching. The garment, though not quite as protective as a plastoid carapace, offered much more range of motion and could be worn in a snubfighter cockpit.
  15. Much to her surprise, while in transit, Draygo was guided not to the bridge of the Star Destroyer for a personal meeting with the commander of the flotilla , but to one of the numerous briefing rooms on the Justice's Mandate. Nonplussed by the announcement that the commander was simply too busy to meet with a single individual, the former Grandmaster had stammered incoherently for a few seconds before following the Ensign to their destination. "I... sorry... I didn't realize... beg pardon? Oh, yes, of course." Had been her discombobulated response to being shepherded into a briefing with the line troops of the Jedi fleet. There had been a time Draygo wouldn't have bothered asking--the former Grandmaster would have simply marched into Starlisk's office and bullied him into a personal briefing. With the rank came significant privileges, she mused while standing in the back of a crowded amphitheater, sandwiched between a Mon Calamarian marine and a Quarren medic. Then again, Draygo probably would have been at the bottom of the pit, briefing the fleet on the upcoming battle and trying not to wonder how many of the sapients looking down towards her would be dead within a few days. Lack of rank had its benefits. _____ The next day, Draygo shivered in the chill of one of the hangars aboard the Justice’s Mandate, a new Nebula-class Star Destroyer. She sat cross-legged on the wing of an unfamiliar B-Wing fighter--really, the entire fighter-bomber appeared to be a long wing--with an array of weapons and armor laid out around her. Armiena surveyed a thermal detonator, observing the munition in a manner not entirely unlike a massive bird-of-prey. Extending her senses into the weapon, she pried apart its seams with the Force, eventually removing the grenade’s priming charge from its cylindrical baradium core. What to do with the weapon? she asked herself. Without that priming charge, the grenade was little more than a baradium paperweight and a few blinking diodes. The powder within the priming charge was nontoxic and even used in some backwater planets as medicine against hypertension. She shrugged, plucked the pouch from its housing, and ate it. The cellulose pouch was flavorless and tough, but otherwise not unpleasant. She passed a blaster pistol to her apprentice, taking a few minutes to familiarize him with the vital functions of the weapon--safety, power and stun settings, and the magazine ejector and charging switch. “Stun settings mean that you get to say that you’re sorry afterwards. Direct hit’ll incap a hostile for at least five minutes, probably closer to ten. That’s a long time in a battle. Even a graze will numb them for a little while.” The blue-white streaks of hyperspace receded to the blackness of hyperspace, and the hangar immediately filled with frenzied activity. Dozens of pilots raced to their ships and the air above their heads was soon occupied by snubfighters racing towards the void. Draygo waited and extended her senses out into the void. There were innumerable pinpricks of awareness out there, along with the iridescent flares of presence of Jedi and other Force-Sensitives. One, in particular, was hauntingly familiar--for a moment, the Jedi veteran could have sworn that she had perceived a ghost. She started to probe into its general direction, only to withdraw when she realized the reason for its familiarity. Armiena couldn’t afford to distract her son in the middle of a battle. She continued on her lecture. “Remember, we’re Jedi, not soldiers. Our job isn’t to kill people or destroy materiel, it’s to complete our objective and rescue the Imp Head of State. When we have an opening, we’ll move in fast, hit as hard as we can, and get her out of harm’s way.” Armiena couldn’t push away the mixture of apprehension and excitement that welled within her. She needed to voice her concerns; Genesis deserved to know the cause of her distraction. “My son is out there.”
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