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BLCKCLONE

Nar Shaddaa

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The hours mounted. In hyperspace, it was impossible to communicate with the rest of the fleet and confirm which ships in the squadron had survived and what casualties had been suffered. Slaughter knew that the cost was high--perhaps even higher than he was prepared to pay, even for the single most powerful head in the galaxy. There was no taking that back, the Admiral told himself while mulling over what he was going to say when he finally met the Head of State. Could only go forward--to the next battle, to the next maneuver, to the next shot.

 

Immediately upon re-entry to realspace, Slaughter issued a few prefunctory orders for the fleet to form an antistarfighter screen around the Fidelity and Misericordia. He then boarded his shuttle to transfer to Justice's Mandate, the Jedi Star Destroyer to which Zinthos had been recovered. Exhausted and still trying to decide what he was going to say to the Imperial Head of State, he ignored the chatter from the cockpit--they were apparently in the orbit of a miserable planet named Nal Hutta, but the significance of the name failed to penetrate the haze of purpose and exhaustion that filled his mind.

 

Guided through the corridors of the unfamiliar ship by a Mon Calamari aide, Slaughter was eventually deposited at the entrance to the ship's medical wards. His stomach dropped at the sight of the familiar ensign above the portal--Zinthos must have been badly wounded. His stomach also dropped when the Admiral saw who was standing guard just outside. He rubbed his hand blearily against his eyes.

 

It was Draygo--or Darkfire, it was impossible to tell what she was calling herself. Her left arm was bound by a sling around her neck and her right hand was clutched around a ceramic mug. The veteran Jedi gave him a dismissive glance.

 

"What happened to you?"

 

"Dislocated shoulder. My fault." That was all the veteran Jedi had to say. In an unnerving manner not entirely unlike an overgrown bird-of-prey, Draygo just stared into the doorway. Her only motion was the occasional rise and fall of the steaming mug of synthcaf. Bruce sighed and just moved forward into the Medical Ward, guided to a back room where the Imperial Head of State was being treated. Slaughter's first inclination was shock--not simply at how visually spectacular the Head of State's injuries were, but how young she was. Both her and Alluyen. But Zinthos had taken control of the Empire on numerous occasions when inaction invited ruin--at the Death Star, and then driving the Sith off of Carida and inviting their reprisals. Physically, she might have appeared wounded, but within that tiny frame was a stern commander that Slaughter would have hesitated to confront.

 

"Grandmaster. Head of State. I've heard Jedi healing can sometimes be as good as bacta." He gave a small nod to the Jedi Grandmaster before plowing on with the subtlety of a provoked bull-nerf. "There is a war to continue. We've taken terrible losses, but I intend to make the lives of the Sith as miserable as possible."

 

Somewhere behind him, the smell of that synth-caf followed in and with it Armiena Draygo.

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It was the briefest of instants, but Armiena Draygo’s feelings betrayed her and she shot Tobias Vos a glance of pure venom. She resisted the urge to clench her fists; she couldn’t indulge in her fantasy of teaching the aspiring war-criminal a remedial lesson in rules of engagement through blunt-force trauma. Dark Sun Station had been rendered useless as a business asset the moment the Galactic Alliance and Jedi fleets arrived--business required predictability and security--and there was no need to sabotage the station. The only objective he had succeeded in was muddying the morality of the Jedi Order--and in fighting a popular resistance, perception of morality counted for so much.

 

She turned away and whispered into the ear of one of the passing medtechs. A few seconds later, the Twi’lek returned with a medical chart and she began to study the medical scans of one of the Black Sun prisoners of war.

 

Admiral Slaughter hadn’t missed the glare across the room. He couldn’t allow this meeting to descend into ego-driven infighting or Jedi platitudes--what mattered right now was guns, men, and steel. Let the Jedi worry about ideology. Taking a deep breath, he felt a peculiar edge sidle somewhere behind his left ear. The Admiral let it in and felt some of the weight of the last forty-eight hours retreat. But it was not a wholesome energy. It was a sense of cold purpose, ready to release itself like a mountain’s worth of fresh powder on the brink of an avalanche.

 

He seized Zinthos’ eyes. “The Sith may have a significant advantage in the Core, but we have the resources to wage a very potent resistance. Bilbringi is still in operation. Borleias holds. Anaxes holds. We have numerous training facilities across the galaxy that have been inactive since the last war. And there are dozens of species that remember full well what life under the Sith Empire was like. Zinthos, the Sith whipped us hard, but this ain’t over and not by a long shot.”

 

“I agree--full partnership. Merge it all--our fleets, armies, everything, unified command. Let necessity determine who commands what. No turf wars, no bull over unit cohesion. Leave it to the engineers to figure out how to rack TIEs in a Mon Cal or X-Wings in a Star Destroyer. Stormtroopers? My people will learn to see them as their comrades. We’ll set up headquarters on Nar Shaddaa--there’s bound to be a dozen suitable structures we can fortify for our needs.

 

“And as for where to strike next… we currently have ten thousand Black Sun prisoners of war under our guns, stuffed to the ribs with cybernetics and Force knows what. They don’t all want to be there--some of ‘em are gonna be slaves, or coerced, or forced into contracts. That’s a huge intelligence coup. Fact is that Black Sun is vulnerable right now and we can inflict some serious damage if we move quickly.”

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Pleasantries, well-wishes, salutes--at least between the men-at-arms--and then departure to the Fidelity. The meeting could have been more productive--most likely would have been, if Draygo hadn’t derailed the proceedings with her personal crusade against collateral damage. By the time that Slaughter had returned to the Galactic Alliance’s surviving MC90 Cruiser, his second wind had worn away and the weariness of weeks of constant action had begun to seep in. He began to doze intermittently on the shuttle.

 

“Slap me,” he murmured when the forward jolt of the gunship’s landing had roused him from sleep.

 

“Sir?”

 

“I mean it, soldier. Put some shoulder into it.”

 

The marine happened to have been wearing plastoid gauntlets, but nonetheless obeyed the command. The slap spun Slaughter around and the stout Admiral was pitched to the deck of the shuttle. Pressing a hand to his stinging cheek as he picked himself up from the deck, the Admiral saw blood on the tips of his fingers and knew that the blow would leave a mark for some hours. That was fine; the pain would keep him awake for at least a few more hours and the rush of adrenaline would make that precious time more useful.

 

“Thank you, soldier. I’ll be in my office.”

 

___

 

When Admiral Slaughter arrived at his office--more accurately, the office of the captain of the Fidelity--some anonymous yeoman had already fetched a pair of canteens of insta-caf. Slaughter nodded in approval--that was two liters of liquid energy. Slaughter summoned his staff and settled down for a long night of analyzing engineers reports--or a long morning, he wasn’t entirely sure what time it was.

 

All over Nar Shaddaa, hundreds of Alliance surveyors were scouring the moon for potentially suitable sites for the nerve center of the joint Imperial-Alliance coalition. Even as he scanned reports of potential sites with regards to their infrastructure, security status, modernity, proximity to potential military resources, cultural value, (not least important) cost, and a hundred other critical variables, yeomans and junior officers filed into the room with armfuls of dataslates. The little grey tablets piled up and the miniature columns began to spread to fill the room. Eventually, the tiny office began to resemble the hideout of a crazed librarian with a hoarding problem, and they had to carefully step around the room to avoid toppling over one of the piles.

 

The abridged transcript of their committee could be summarized as follows:

 

“No. No. No. Its in the middle of a residential block--if that gets hit… No. What the stang are you thinking? No. Damn. Out of caf. Ensign, could you--thanks. No. No. That area is a warzone, look at the murders per cap. At least it would be training for our men. Eh, put it in the maybes. No. No. Too expensive. No. Where is that Ensign? Nah, its on the opposite side of the moon from the shipyards. No. No. There’s a tribe of Jawas fifty klicks away--are you serious? No. No. No. No… give me that dataslate again.”

 

It was another hour of carefully reading, re-reading, shouting at his similarly exhausted staff officers about the merits and downsides of the site in question--mostly downsides, he would later acknowledge in hindsight. It was an abandoned Hutt casino, rendered defunct by the collapse of the more legitimate enterprises of the repulsive invertebrates at the height of the Empire. Decades of being picked over by scavengers had stripped it of virtually anything useful and reduced the structure into a husk of republican glory, but that was ironically useful to the Galactic Alliance--their engineers would have needed to remove all of that obsolete and substandard wiring. Besides, the structure was remarkably inexpensive, as it had been condemned and slated to be demolished by construction droids.

 

He sent the terse message to the Captain leading the survey.

 

Yes. Exactly what we need. It’s perfect. Do whatever it takes to purchase it. And the surrounding neighborhoods. 


The Admiral then sent communiques to several officers to further investigate The Red and Black and secure it, lest his engineers were about to stumble upon a nest of rakghouls or something even worse. Ten minutes later, he collapsed, his short-shaven head buried under a pile of forgotten data slates. The snoring could be heard from outside the office.

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The next few weeks were not kind to Admiral Slaughter. On multiple occasions, senators of the Galactic Alliance begged that he divert forces to the defense of their home sectors. Slaughter’s response to these requests/demands were to glance at a plaque that a junior officer had recently affixed to the wall of his office, grind his teeth, and quietly growl in the back of his throat while resisting the urge to hang up on those self-important bureaucrats and return to the work that mattered: getting his battered fleet into drydock so it could be repaired in preparation for the next campaign.

 

That plaque was a slab of plain durasteel engraved with two words: “Be nice.”

 

Repairs completed, next step was to seize control of the Black Sun’s captured vessels that had remained in orbit under the guns of a twitchy Rebel fleet. Commandeering a Victory II-class Star Destroyer was a daunting task; each vessel was home to upwards of six thousand sapients and a brigade of shock troopers. The operation of seizing the bridge and engineering compartments of the heavy cruisers was likely to cost the lives of scores of Alliance soldiers if the Black Sun was determined to resist.

 

Admiral Slaughter took up his station on the bridge. Fidelity rested at point-blank range to Red Hussar, her broadside aimed squarely at the primary hangar of the Victory II-class Star Destroyer. In a moment, he could give the order to unleash a volley of turbolaser fire that would detonate the smaller vessel’s ammunition reserves, cracking Red Hussar in two--killing most of the crew in an instant and leaving the Rebel Alliance with nothing more than a hulk that would take months to salvage.

 

A Twi’lek yeoman approached with a dataslate and a mug of caf--extra-hot and slightly-viscous, just like all good navy caf. “Remember, Admiral, be nice.”

 

Slaughter’s jaw worked in annoyance for a moment, then he took a sip of caf and hailed Red Hussar.

 

Red Hussar, this is Fidelity Actual. We are taking possession of your vessel. Direct your marine complement to remain in their barracks and prepare to receive a command crew.  ”

 

“Acknowledged, Fidelity. Ah… I can’t guarantee that my men will comply with that order. They’re a bit nervous about what will happen to them after they surrender.”

 

That yeoman glanced across the tactical pit and mouthed the words Be nice. A strangled growling sound began to issue from the back of Slaughter’s throat.

 

“Captain, Dark Sun got ugly, but it was an honest fight. That’s war.” Slaughter forced a deep breath. The Rebel Alliance was in no position to house thousands of prisoners of war in its current state; he obviously couldn’t hand that information to an opposing officer, but conducting dozens of courts martial was a waste of time and resources. “Tell your men that they’ll be debriefed, then they will be free to go wherever they like as long as they swear to never take up arms against the G--Rebel Alliance. And if any of them are willing to listen, we can always use talented soldiers.”

 

Minutes passed. Slaughter considered the prospect of having a squad of marines cut into the command superstructure.

 

The response finally came. “My men will stand down. Don’t let them down.”

 

Once Red Hussar began lumbering towards Nar Shaddaa’s overworked shipyards, Silent Spring surrendered control to the Rebel Alliance with fewer dramatics. Over the next weeks, the two Victory II-class Star Destroyers completed a transformation into heavily-armed missile cruisers that bristled with racks of assault concussion missile tubes and concussion missile emplacements. They would sacrifice the bulk of their turbolaser complement, but what they sacrificed in their broadside they would gain in a massive first-strike capability.

 

____

 

Two days later, Slaughter checked on the progress of a project that he had directed Fidelity’s engineers to immediately after Dark Sun. Time and time again, he had encountered fleets whose fire control and starfighter coordination capabilities outmatched his own--whether through some esoteric Force technique, or the combined calculations of billions of droid brains. If the Rebel Alliance was going to function as an effective resistance, it would need command and coordination capabilities to match those of the Sith in order to launch coordinated hit-and-run attacks. That would require the assistance of the Jedi Order.

 

No one in the Rebel Alliance actually knew what kind of facilities a Jedi required to deploy Battle Meditation; there were only a few Padawans and junior Knights in its ranks, and none of the Rebellion’s engineers were Force-Sensitive. Still, they vowed to give the project their best efforts.

 

Admiral Slaughter stepped into what had previously been one of Fidelity’s smaller conference rooms and was astonished at its transformation. The moment the stocky man set foot within the meditation chamber, as the engineers were calling it, the sounds of the ship became muted. The silence left Slaughter uneasy; he was accustomed to the ever-present hums and unidentifiable creaks of an operational warship. The ceiling of the room had been lifted by two meters and an enormous tactical holoprojector had been situated in the center of the chamber.

 

The fact that his engineers knew nothing about the Force, however, soon became apparent. Masses of multicolored crystals--almost certainly synthetic, grown in the last month--were situated around the room in patterns that he supposed conformed to the dictates of some foreign philosophy of spatial arrangement and energy flow. Those ancient ideas of architecture were obviously outmoded, but it was all they had to operate on without access to the Jedi archives. Bruce stopped before a pillar of synthetic amethyst and stared.

 

“This is supposed to be… helpful?”

 

“Ah… amethyst is supposed to help concentrate energy? And the jade helps soothe extreme emotion and helps with balance?” The explanations from his chief engineer came out as questions.

 

Slaughter sniffed and caught the scent of something burning. Something… woody. Not unpleasant. Almost like a perfume that his late wife used to wear…

 

“Is that incense?”

 

“Yes! It helps to cleanse the air and…. remove--”

 

“--Remove impurities?” The two Rebel officers finished at the same time. “Chief, you really don’t have any idea what you’re doing, do you?” A helpless shrug was his response. “I’m going to ask the Jedi for help on this one.”

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