This story won the large story poll between my two SW crossovers despite an abysmal showing here on fanfic of only 43. It had a total of 2,695 votes. Magic of the Force did much better here, with 157 votes, but its total was 2,555.
Next month, in case anyone is wondering, the large story poll will be between Magic of the Force and FILFy Teacher. I have decided that FILFy needs to return to the Large Story Poll next month given what is going to happen in it, and ATP can be broken up into two smaller chapters, thus joining the small story poll next month.
This is not going to be a very Ranma-centric chapter. I wanted to show in this chapter many of the ripples that the conquest of Wayland has created, for good or ill. I also wanted to show that for all his ability, there are very few ways Ranma can influence a war as massive as the Clone War becomes. There were two points that the comics and Clone Wars pointed out and one area where they just missed the forest for the trees I also wanted to show here.
This has been edited by Hiryo and by me with Grammarly. There will no doubt be mistakes, but hopefully not enough to harm your enjoyment of the chapter. I will be interested to see what people think of it's effectiveness over the past several chapters. I want to know if it's worth it.
WARNING: THERE IS A PROBLEM WITH VIEWING NEW REVIEWS. I have seen that Fate Touched has gotten several reviews since I posted it but have not been able to view them. If you point out mistakes or have specific questions you want answered, then you will have to wait until the site has this problem fixed… again LOL. This has happened several times before over the years. It never ceases to be annoying though.
Chapter 24: Limitations and Reverberations
Although the battle in space had finished, the troops on the ground were still fighting, and the size of the various landing forces was just too much for the locals to deal with. Of course, that would change soon once the starfighters stopped chasing the retreating Confederacy forces. But before that, the attacking droids could do a lot of damage.
As the Wild Blade dove into Corellia's atmosphere, Shaak Ti could see that another landing area was being handily dealt with by Bo-Katan and the Mandos. She and Kit Fisto were in the thick of things there, the Mandalorians having performed one of their patented orbital drops straight down onto the army, scattered across it in squad-based assault teams backed up by others who had landed at specific, planned points with the AT-PT walkers of the Katana fleet. It was a classic Mando action, emphasizing mobility, personal skill and teamwork against a droid army that, while well-programmed and possessing a decent amount of firepower, were no match for the Reborn's tactics.
Currently, the Corellians under General Bel Iblis was holding a fourth landing zone from breaking out, paying an exorbitant price against the droids as they dug in. The local army just wasn't nearly as well-trained or armed as their opponents. Worse, Garm had been forced to split off large amounts of his infantry to bolster Coronet's defenses against the last two landing forces. They had joined up and were in the process of pushing into the capital.
City-fighting was insanely dangerous even for droids, though, and they were not moving very quickly, the Corellian planetary defense force being led now by Jedi down to the company level. All the combat-capable Jedi in the Green Temple and more than a few who weren't were involved in that. But those twelve regiments of infantry type droids and a battalion of tanks were now within the city's environs, meaning air support would not be as much help and the Jedi did not have it all their own way.
This was the battlefield that Ranma and Shaak Ti were preparing to dive into feet first. Soon the Wild Blade was in a holding pattern over Coronet and Shaak, HK and Ranma prepared to leave the ship behind, leaving Tune and Ahsoka in charge. Ranma was about to make a quip about the droid being the one in charge, but Shaak paused at the hatch, looking at her padawan as she took her position at the controls eagerly at first, then frowning. "What is it, Ahsoka?"
"Master?" the younger Togrutan asked in confusion, the seriousness of what they were diving into momentarily forgotten.
"I felt your concern and chagrin there padawan, despite your acceptable level of control. There is such a thing as a Padawan-Master bond, you know," Shaak teased gently. "What caused them?"
Ahsoka chuckled wryly, then gestured to the controls. "It's just, well, we all get impressions from this ship sometimes, even without the synaptic hoods on, right? I just got one that well it's kind of obvious that this ship is yours and Ranma's. It doesn't like me at the controls."
Ranma laughed. "Meh, once we're down, you can go a find a good asteroid or piece of debris to feed it and it'll probably like you well enough. For now, find us the biggest concentration of droids."
"You're going to want to do an aerial drop, then?" Ahsoka guessed as she once more reached for the controls.
"Indeed. We need to act quickly to stop this now pointless battle from claiming more lives. They're already killing Jedi down there. I've felt at least a dozen passing since the start of this battle. From up here, it's difficult to make them unless they are strong in the Force, but so many dying, one on top of another, enhances the impact." The red-skinned Togrutan shrugged sadly. "It is a great pity, if we were facing living troops, we could anticipate that left behind by their space force, they would start to surrender or at least be open the idea. But droids, droids will fight until the bitter end."
HK too heaved to his feet. "Amused drawl: Yes, Mistress, we do tend to be more tenacious than most meatbags. Can we get on now? Only as fun as destroying ships and slaughtering their crews is, it is not as viscerally pleasant as tearing my foes asunder in person."
Ranma nodded, then smiled thinly, sending her something on her datapad. "I think that's their command group or whatever the proper name is. HK?"
The droid looked over his shoulder and nodded its massive head. "Eager tone: Affirmative Master. Is that where we're going to be attacking?"
"We're taking fire, in case anyone's interested," Ahsoka interjected, wincing as she pushed the Wild Blade's controls to one side, then twisting around to fire off some quad laser fire at a specific point. Shields flared under her fire. They were designed to face normal land-based weaponry and starfighter-size weapons. Not magma cannons or capital-ship grade ion cannons. The shields flared, ion bolts smashed in and then the shields began to fail, revealing a whole battery of anti-air guns set up on one of the tallest streets, which connected the various massive spires that made up the capital.
Ahsoka gleefully stitched the line of droid-controlled weapon platforms with the quad lasers and magma cannons, destroying all of them in one pass. Again, the sheer amount of firepower that the Wild Blade had, made it far more dangerous than its size indicated. "Never mind. That was kind of exhilarating."
"Take us deeper into the city Ahsoka. South by southwest, then down," Ranma instructed.
Gulping Ahsoka shook her head, her enthusiasm doing a one eighty. "Er, there's a lot of these roads around. And I 'm not nearly as good at flying as I am shooting."
Like most high-tech cities in this universe, Coronet was built upwards as much as it was sideways. The smallest building within it was a mere two-hundred stories, the largest in the thousands. Many of those spires were interconnected by streets, some designed for hover-cars, others for walkers. Unlike most such though, Coronet had been kept relatively clean and hadn't spread out into the surrounding territory without careful planning, unlike Coruscant or the few other cities Ranma had seen, and quite unlike the sprawling nature of Corellia's orbital shipyards. It was clear that the Corellians had decided their capital should be a jewel of a city instead of purely functional from the start.
That didn't mean though that it was any less of a warren. Like a 3D anthill almost, with the roads in place of the tunnels. Even an expert pilot might not have been up to that challenge, although that didn't matter as much to Shaak as feeling Ahsoka's emotional control had wavered that once more.
"Never mind, my young Padawan. You won't have to dive deeper, merely get close to the upper levels of the spires in question," Shaak answered, her tone mildly soothing and yet reproving at the same time.
Hearing that, Ahsoka got her sudden spike of apprehension under control and felt her balance within the Force. Just in time too, as more, far more scattered fire started to come at them from various directions. "Tune, keep me updated on threat assessment, highlight anyone with a concussion missile launcher or tanks," Ahsoka ordered calmly, then shot out a neat two-punch from the ion cannons into a tank which had been firing at them from another road.
"Affirmative, Junior Mistress."
"Wha?" Ahsoka let out, surprised at her new label, but Shaak was pleased to note the girl didn't let the odd name impact her calm. Indeed, she got better over the next few seconds at dodging incoming fire while lashing out with small, controlled bursts of their own weapons. Bar the quad lasers, of course. But they were made to be used liberally, as she was doing now. Alone Ahsoka could never hope to match the well-oiled team of HK, Shaak and Ranma, but she and Tune were holding their own against the scattered anti-air defenses.
Below them, most of the droid army was still on the move pushing into the city. But this, and the defender's hit and run tactics, had diffused their anti-air element too much to halt the Wild Blade.
It did take fire periodically from heavy antiair guns, but mostly from tanks that could elevate their guns like the first one Ahsoka stomped, or single droids turning their guns up into the air. Not enough to get through the shields now that they'd been able to recharge. And thankfully, none of the droids they saw were armed with concussion missile launchers or heavier weapons.
Soon enough, Shaak felt they were closing with the optimum point for their assault. The Force singing in her veins in a way she was still getting used to the feeling with the Veil ripped asunder, she nodded over to Ranma, who stood across from her at the ship's main hatch. "We're here. Ready?"
Ranma smirked, hefting up one of the Mandalorian style drop-shields, nodding eagerly. They weren't high enough to really need the shield, but it would do as a defense against enemy fire just as much as it would from the heat of reentry. "Let's do this!"
"Tune open the hatch, then close it after five seconds!" Shaak ordered into the intercom. A second later, the main hatch opened, and Ranma was out, leading the way with the shield, using it like a surfboard, completing the image by standing on it as he started to fall. Shaak joined him, followed by HK, who used his jets to follow them down, activating a personal shield that was part of his new body.
At first, the fire coming their way was sporadic, most of the droids that were this high up being scattered all over the place. But after they fell past four of the bridge-like roads, which crisscrossed the city, which almost reminded Ranma of Coruscant, so tall were the buildings, they began to take more concentrated fire.
Most of it came from infantry droids, the ubiquitous B1 type. There were larger, better-armed droids among them though, towering above their fellows, their armor darker grey than the light tan the larger droids used. They were armed with rapid-fire dual laser cannons built into their arms, looked more articulated,and their reaction time was better too.
Yet there was only a handful of them in sight, as the trio fell down towards where Ranma felt the command group for the army was situated. The shield sustained most of this fire easily, only buffeted to one side when a droid armed with a concussion missile hit their shield dead on. The explosion pushed them sideways and nearly upended the shield, but Ranma rode through it and the drop continued.
About three hundred feet later, the fire intensified dramatically. Two of the same anti-air units were situated there, with a full company of droids, six of whom were the larger type. Those anti-air units each had six quad laser and could put out an appreciable amount of firepower for their size.
Slowly, the shield began to come apart under the pounding, the metal running and nearly scored through from the plasma. But with the Force open to her more than ever before, Shaak could sense something from the enemy now despite the enemy being droids. Not thoughts or emotions that would have been impossible. But she could sense the center of the attacking army's organization now that they were close enough. "Now, HK!"
HK activated his thrusters as he rained down destructive firepower but chaff and smoke grenades, interfering with the droids' ability to see their targets. The attack blossomed out from them, smoke and little tiny slivers of metal blossoming like flowers in the air all around them, spreading quickly.
Then Ranma and Shaak leaped out and away from the now useless shield.
Shaak was the first to land, bouncing off a tank moving down the road, firing at their former position. Landing on its cupola Shaak stabbed through with her lightsaber blade, cutting into its gun from top to bottom as she rolled down the side of the tank. As she crouched next to the tank, she laid one hand on its side.
A second later, a Force Push lifted the tank, hurling it backward into a second one, crushing several droids between them. The Second tank was unable to recover its momentum, half of its repulsors suddenly off the side of the road. Even as she used her lightsaber to defend from droids to either side of her, another, much gentler, Force Push sent it over the edge.
With the tanks dealt with, Shaak turned her attention entirely on the droids all around her. She charged forward closing with one group of droids centered around two of the larger type. Their heavier bolts were slightly more dangerous. Leaping and dodging, she closed the distance in a flash, her lightsaber creating a wide arc of green energy as she slicing several other droids. "Remember," she said into her communicator, a helmet that covered her montrals, "We need to find the leader of this army. To the left of us just slightly and further down is our real target. But I sense they are moving away. We can't afford to get bogged down here."
"Disgusted Growl: Teach your ancestor to suck eggs, female!" HK shouted as his feet landed on another tank. They dug into the cupola of the tank, while he used it as a solid gun platform, gunning down more of the surrounding droids.
A second later the hatch opened. A droid, one of the stupid B1 types, poked its upper body up armed with one of their blaster rifles.
A disruptor bolt from HK's arm was followed by a grenade dropped into the open hatch before he used his thrusters once more to land beside the tank Shaak had taken out previously. "Professional observation: We may need to go after them in the most expedient manner possible. That is, in a straight line."
Ranma, not surprisingly, was the last to land simply because he had tried to go furthest through the air and was now currently bouncing around one droid head to another, growling angrily under his breath. One of the larger droid types had ruined his initial landing by firing blindly into the smoke and chaff right where Ranma's head would have been had he not altered course. Though he was confident in his durability, getting hit in the head would still have not been fun. Now he flipped finally to his own feet, his light pike flaring out from his ki space in a wide circle around him, disemboweling and cutting droids in half, sending them scattering everywhere.
"I would estimate about three blocks over and ten floors down at present to our left. That is where the center of this army is. Or at least that is as much is the Force can tell us. It is not nearly as precise even now since we are still dealing with electronic rather than natural brains," Shaak admitted, moving in the opposite direction for a moment,
"That's enough for me!" Ranma leaped forward even as he spoke landing on another thoroughfare just below their own, his weight smashing down into one of the larger droids, which he kicked up into the muzzle of a tank's cannon just before it could fire on him.
The plasma from the tank round hit the droid before it could exit the muzzle, and the cannon burst in actinic fire. Then Ranma was in among a group of other droids, who were not coordinating their fire as well as they should, thanks to the amount of chaff and smoke that HK had hurled around during their descent. Ranma then tore his weight through several more droids, before cocking his head to look back up at where Shaak and HK were still fighting above him. "You coming or what?"
Shaak instantly followed. Reversing direction flipping herself up and backward over the heads of the attacking droids to fall through the air on the side of the road nearest their target. She landed neatly next to a smirking Ranma, with HK moving after.
As the large assassin droid did so, a new threat appeared. Racing from one of the buildings this new bridge was connected to came three of the vibrostaff-wielding droids Ranma and the others had faced on Wayland. They moved as one, coordinating easily with a pair of seven of the larger type, laying down covering fire. "Eliminate the anomaly. Eliminate the Jedi!"
"Roger, Roger!" the larger droids chorused, their voices deeper and more dangerous sounding than most.
"Shit!" Grunting, Ranma turned in their direction, using his light pike to bat aside the plasma bolts coming towards him, closing with the three charging figures. "It looks as if this army came specifically loaded for Jedi, no wonder you were feeling so many of your brethren passing on Shaak."
One of them found themselves suddenly grabbed and hurled off into space to one side of the bridge courtesy of Shaak, who then moved to join Ranma.
At the same time HK shouted, "Ecstatic Glee: Eat hot plasma fired upon you from an advantage aerial position, you poor excuses for toaster ovens!" while laying down fire on the larger droids in the background.
Ranma allowed a slice from one of the close-combat droids, to land on his shoulder, the vibrating end unable to cut his skin. In the next second, his fist flashed up to smash the droid's forearm before it could pull back, allowing another blow to land on its chin, destroying the droid's head. Whatever training these close combat droids had, they didn't know about Ranma's brute strength. With a flick of his foot, Ranma tossed the vibrostaff towards the last of the trio, allowing Shaak to slice it in half a second later as the droid tried to defend itself from two directions.
"Into that building they came out of, then down and over another three blocks," Shaak said, frowning in consternation at the sight of the droids they had learned were called Magnaguard on Wayland.
While these three had not been particularly well-programmed examples of the breed, they were still a sign that this army had been organized specifically to kill Jedi. Against normal opponents, the close-combat droids would be unnecessary, and she and Anakin had spoken about how much he thought one of these droids could cost. A Magnaguard cost as much as fourteen of the B2s, which in turn were much more expensive than B1s.
"We need to move faster," she went on a second later as they got in under cover inside the building. The walkway, which had been a pedestrian thoroughfare rather than one of the main roads, lead into what must have been a foyer for this level of the building. "I sense more Jedi dying even now, and…" she paused, nearly blocking HK from entering the small break room that she had been leading them into. Her eyes narrowed frowning as she read the eddies of the Force. "I sense growing desperation among the defenders. They are losing ground, badly."
"Down and three blocks over, you said?" Seeing a bare nod to his question, Ranma gestured HK forward.
HK instantly used his claws to tear through the next doorway, and in the next room, a lavatory of some kind, Shaak began to cut through the roof floor, letting them down easily. Ranma was last moved and saw the still more droids coming through the rubble of the building's entrance towards them.
"Two more floors then collapsed the ceiling after us!" he ordered, landing next to the others. "We need to break contact completely for a bit."
This worked for but a moment, alas. When the trio had to traverse from one building to another, they were spotted almost instantly.
Or rather, HK was. With her Force Cloak, Shaak could fool even droid sensors for short amounts of time, and Ranma had his Umi-Sen-Ken, which allowed him to hide from detection too.
HK had no such ability, and the ground erupted around him as he raced along behind the other two.
"Enemies in sight, fire!"
"Roger, roger!" Shouted more than a company's worth of droids from all around them. In various places, through windows, open doors, and scattered across the various roads at different heights all around them could be seen bodies of Corellians, evidence that a small battle had just concluded here.
"Mocking Tone: Roger roger! Roger, roger this, roger, roger that. It makes me ashamed, ashamed, I tell you to share the same designation of combat droid."
"Ah, but you are an assassin droid, a far superior breed. And with age some wisdom as well as ability," Shaak quipped, racing ahead of the others before skidding to a halt, her lightsaber flashing out in a pure Shien defense. Seven droids fell from blows to the chest cavities caused by their own bolts reflected back to them.
Behind her, Ranma shouted out, "Move! Get across as fast as you can!"
Unbeknownst to Shaak, there were more enemies directly above them on a larger road designed for hovercar traffic. Several more companies worth of droids were up there, along with a few tanks.
"Ranma, what are you doing?" Shaak asked even as she broke her stance and raced forward. Her lightsaber still whirling around her in a display that almost looked artistic as she deflected more and more bolts back and away. On the move like this, her ability to bounce bolts directly back at her attackers as Shien normally would allow was less successful, but she was still able to protect herself.
"Well, the droids are already doing their part to completely destroy the city, what's a little more added to that?" Ranma replied with a feral grin. Then he leaped upwards, landing on the side of the building they had just vacated. From there, he leaped out and towards the main road above the road he and the others had been planning to use to get across to the next building on their route to the big brain.
With a roar, he brought down his fist on the side of the road, "Bakusai Tenketsu revised, Earthquake!"
There was a booming crack, as the ki technique flared into the ferrocrete of the road, shattering it, the breaking point technique's energy cascading out from the point he had struck instead of just the area around it. Within a second, the whole road was coming down. As the debris from the initial impact pelted him, Ranma turned, leaping down towards the others, bouncing off several bits of falling debris to catch up to them. A lot of the debris crashed down onto the lower road, shattering it in turn and causing something of a small cascade event. And, not incidentally, dumping most of their attackers and the column Ranma had just attacked in turn, down into the depths of the city.
Ranma landed next to Shaak in the opening to the building, another one made for pedestrians rather than transport, smiling at her resigned, yet somewhat amused look. "So where to now?"
Astonishingly enough, once they found it, destroying the command group of the droid army was ludicrously simple. The moment that they had broken contact with the droid troopers, they changed tactics, with Ranma and Shaak moving ahead of HK and scouting out a route that the droid could follow without being spotted. With only one more road between them and the building the target was in, this was somewhat simpler than the preceding battles. They did have to wait occasionally while heading down, but that only slowed their progress.
Despite the amount of carnage the trio had already caused, the commander group of droids was not aware of their presence enough to kept back enough defenders to protect their leader from every threat. So it was that Ranma was able to use his ki – less powerful cutting edge but much less noise than a lightsaber - to cut a tiny hole directly over their target, letting them look down into the room where their target was currently hiding.
The room in question turned out to be some kind of repair garage. Lots of equipment and tools lay scattered around, along with the parts of what looked like two hovercars being taken apart for parts to repair a third. Scattered around in the room were five droidekas, the circular droids bouncing quietly in place. Their weapons remained trained on the three entrances into the room, the large doors leading out into the sky beyond, an office set side-along with the rest of the garage and a door leading deeper into the building.
Four B1 droids were there, relaying orders from the boss. Their backs bulged with special communication equipment, allowing the droids to keep communications open despite the amount of metal and ferrocrete the city was built of.
And in the center of the room hovered the droid general. He was as tall as the B2 type combat droids and seemed built on the lower chassis of one, but the upper body was different, wider almost in the chest, like an overweight man, while it had three eyes.
Later, General Bel Iblis and his officers would sift through the remains of the droid armies and find each drop zone commander was of a different make. It was obvious from this, and a more in-depth examination of their programming and how they fought, that the Confederacy was still experimenting on what kind of carapace and even programming to give their droid commanders.
They would not have the one in charge of the dual landing zones, which had attacked Coronet to examine. There wouldn't be enough left to bother with, not after Ranma and the others were finished with it.
Above the droid, Ranma gently pulled out more of the ceiling, then nodded over at HK, non-verbally telling the droid he was up.
With that order, HK reigned down hell into the room. He first started with two concussion grenades, followed by several dozen of his gyroscopic missiles gleefully roaring out, "Orgasmic Ecstasy: Die you, cretins!"
As the command droid died under HK's ambuscade, the effect was immediately felt throughout the city, although it was not immediately felt by Ranma, his droid and his lady. But that impact was a very obvious one, as recently created if deeply buried emergency subroutines went into activation throughout the droid army. One small clash occurring just as Ranma was working on the hole in the ceiling of the garage in question was easily the most obvious example of that impact.
Deep in the bowels of a segment of a spire devoted to one of the local news networks, Master Nejaa Halcyon blocked a blow from one of the close combat droids grimacing in sadness as he felt the death of Murcal, his partner in this fight. The two of them had gotten separated when the droids had suddenly flanked their previous position, with Nejaa getting cut off from Murcal, a Selonian Jedi, and the CorSec forces they had been leading.
Another Jedi becoming one with the Force. How many of us will this battle claim before it is over? We thought we were ready for this. We thought the toughness training and our retraining many of our member's lightsaber skills prepared us for this. We were wrong. Even the largest battle I have ever been in before pales in comparison to this, this grinding, constant violence.
Like nearly every Jedi in the galaxy, Nejaa and the Green Jedi on Corellia had felt the Veil of the Dark Side shredding a few days ago. With it, the Force, both the present and the immediate future, had opened to them, although the waters of the Force had become so chaotic that only the best swimmers, as it were, could truly plumb its depths beyond the immediate moment. With it, the Jedi of Corellia had thought they would see a marked uptick in their combat abilities, their Force Precognition able to predict the future better.
But none of them had reckoned on two things when it came to this battle: the nature of the opponent and the size of the battle. While with the Force once more opened to them, most Jedi could predict their enemies' movements better even when those enemies were droids, it was still difficult. And the larger the battle, the more difficult it became. Yes, the Jedi were dealing with it better than an equivalent number of non-Force sensitives could, but even so, they were still dying more often than they should have.
Yet Nejaa could not allow his mind to dwell on this as much as he wished to. Ducking under one blow, he used his knee to block another, his lightsaber twirling above where he had previously been bisecting the first droid's arms before it could pull back from its hasty strike. He then rolled to the side, barely dodging another stab from the original droid he had been engaging as still a fourth made itself known to his Force senses.
A Force Push caught the new droid before it could come within arm's reach, tossing it back into a wall. But he barely held it there for a second before having to divert his attention to blocking several blaster bolts from the side. Even so, he missed one bolt which crashed into his helmet, a bit of armor all the Jedi were wearing to aid in communication. It saved his life now, allowing Nejaa to shake off the impact. Another droid's vibrostaff came down on the shoulder, but Nejaa, like many of the Green Jedi, had been put through the toughness training. The vibrating edge cut through his robes but stopped, unable to cut more into his body, and Nejaa's lightsaber slashed around, bisecting the droid even as the others attempted to stab him.
They recovered quickly, pulling back, and dodging his next assault as he moved into the attack, his stile a mix of Ataru and Soresu, there not being enough room in here to use Ataru to its fullest. But several B1 droids began to fire past them, pushing him back on the defensive, and Nejaa could feel his death rising in front of him through the Force like a wall he could not see past.
"But if I am going down, I will still take all of you with me," he growled, determined to do what he could for Corellia and, more personally, those he loved within this city.
Then abruptly, that future shifted once more with a suddenness that left Nejaa gasping, nearly collapsing to his knees as in front of him, all the droids paused in their movement for just a millisecond, their eyes flickering with inner lights as if all of them had just blinked at once. Then one of them, a B1 with a shoulder slash of red demarking some rank, intoned, "Local Mission parameters no longer active. Subroutine 'Locus' has been activated. Find and eliminate the anomaly."
"Affirmative," the Jedi killer droids replied, as the other B1s responded with their ubiquitous 'roger, rogers'. As one, the droids turned and made their way out of the room, hastening away through the shattered interior of the building.
Now Nejaa allowed himself to slump against a wall, staring in something approaching shock on his face, almost completely flummoxed despite his Jedi calm. The only thing he could think of to say or think at the moment was, "Was it something I said?"
HK's attack shredded nearly everything in the room save for the droidekas droids, each of which had their own personal shields. As HK's assault began, they were out of position, but they quickly corrected rolling around and aiming upwards with their two laser arms.
Their fire started to widen the hole Ranma had made, and as Ranma and Shaak backed away rapidly, HK began to take damage of his own. "Furious Promise: I'm going to crush you like me meatbag semen containers you little kriffs!"
"Ouch," Ranma muttered, as he turned to the side, and the door to the room they were currently in burst into pieces and more droids rushed in. There had been a defensive cordon around this area, including on this floor, but it hadn't been close enough to protect their target given the ravaged nature of this room. It had evidently been the sight of another hard fight, one with two Jedi, which Shaak had made a note of before they got into position.
Now many of those droids closed in on them with startling rapidity, firing at them from the doorway. Others, the B2 type, smashed their way through the walls to either side, their dual lasers blatting out fire at the trio. Six more droidekas moved behind them, their progress hinders slightly by the uneven debris.
"It's time we left, I think, I want some room to maneuver!" Ranma shouted, flipping himself backward to land next to a previously unopened and a miraculously intact window. There was a sound of shattering glass, and Ranma was out into the air beyond, uncaring of what would be on the other side. It turned out to be a very long way down, but Ranma used a kick to the side of the building just below the window, tossing himself through the air to one side, where he grabbed onto another road, flipping himself up and over it to land on his feet.
Unable to match the distance Ranma could get by such a move, Shaak's exit was a bit more theatric. While using her lightsaber, she retreated to the same window, then used a Force Grab to pick up and toss out a portion of a door. Tossing one of the few smoke grenades she carried in her ki space on the ground, Shaak bought enough time to turn and leap out the window, her back seared only in a few places by blaster shots. Outside, Shaak landed on the door, then used it as a springboard, flipping herself through the air to land next to Ranma, smiling sardonically at him.
Ranma mock-pouted. "Showoff."
"Expedient, and that is one phrase you of all people have absolutely no right to say to anyone. Especially, after that last bit with the condensed earthquake you caused," Shaak replied tartly.
Anymore repartee ended as HK came out after them, still blasting away behind him, his head fully articulated head turning around entirely at a 180° angle to face back into the room, along with his weapons blisters, sending out more gyroscopic missiles. Even with his immense firepower, HK might well have been on the losing end of the number of droids firing at him, but HK's shots were now trying to take out the floor underneath them.
As the droid was in midair protected by the shield that folded out of his arms, this tactic succeeded in dumping all the droids down into the depths onto the ones below. Not even the droidekas would survive that. No matter how strong their shields were, the physical impact of the floor below them against the energy field would short out the shields before the droids could do anything about it.
A second later, HK landed next to his Master and mistress, an appellation HK found far easier to allow to the Jedi Master during combat operations like this when Shaak showed she was not just another worthless force-using meatbag. "Joyful tone: Well, that was fun. It would have been better if our enemies were squishy type, but even so, proving my superiority over every other droid in creation is never going to get old."
"I'm happy for ya dude, and let it never be said that you don't know the proper application of overwhelming firepower," Ranma quipped, smiling faintly as he cracked his neck and back. "Is it just me or was that…" he paused, going over the sentence he was about to give voice to before shaking his head. "No, not going to do it. Not going to…"
In that instant long-range, rather poorly aimed, blaster fire began to rain down around them as droids boiled out of two more nearby buildings, firing as they made their way towards them. Other droids appeared from more distant buildings connected to the thoroughfare the three of them were standing on, charging forward. Almost out of sight between the buildings, more tanks also made their presence known, turning their guns on Ranma and the others.
That was a lot of firepower that came towards them all of a sudden, from every direction too, Ranma realized. And as the closer droids charged forward, their new war cry was audible, the droids speaking aloud rather than on vox for some reason. "Destroy the anomaly. Destroy the anomaly. Strategic and logistical objectives overridden, 'Locus' subroutine is active. Destroy the anomaly."
As the droids charged towards them, Shaak stared at this for a few moments. At the same time, she could sense through the Force the gestalt mind of the attacking droid army dissipate, but the purpose of the army shift with an abruptness that was startling to feel through the Force, like a switch had just been flipped it was that sudden.
As more tanks began to lumber into view on a road below them firing up at their current perch, she turned to Ranma. "I blame you for this," she stated firmly.
Ranma was hangdog even as he leaped upwards and away from where tank the last of plasma slammed into the pedestrian walkway where he had been then. "Yeah, I've got nothing." Then he perked up. "On the other hand, if they created a subroutine to deal with me, that means the Sith, and the Confederacy, are acknowledging how much of a pain in the ass I've been. I like that."
"You would," Shaak retorted though there was as much resigned affection in her voice as annoyance. The next instant, her lightsaber was in her hand and activated once more, its hum feeling the air quickly accompanied by the fizzing noises of redirected blaster bolts.
"Arrogant drawl: But this way is better Master, Mistress. Our prey comes to us. Much more efficient this way," HK said, homing in on the tanks below them, his gyroscopic missile launcher activating.
"Heh, true. Now to make them pay for it." With that, Ranma leaped down towards the tanks below them as well, with Shaak following, her sigh audible in the wind of their descent.
As even the droids must have known it would, the battle on the ground came to a quick conclusion when the defending starfighters broke away from pursuing the Confederacy fleet and returned. Although the automated starfighters from Zonama Sekot weren't much good at precision targeting missions like this, there were still more than enough pilots alive to make two starfighter wings.
Anakin and Master Tiin lead those starfighters down in strafing runs. Anakin's portion of the assault quickly ended the fight around the position where General Bel Iblis had been leading the local planetary defense force in keeping one force from spreading out past its landing area. At the same time, Master Tiin turned his attention to the battlefield where the Mandalorian had been fighting, although there, he didn't really find much to do.
The Mandos had taken apart that army and hadn't paid much in the doing. In comparison to the space battle: ten dead across the entire battlefield. Whatever the droid's abilities, they had completely lacked any type of tactics or strategy that could offset the squad-based tactics and greater skill that the Mandalorians brought to bear with hit and run and bite and hold tactics being prominent, along with aerial drops as was the case in the first wave which Bo had used to decapitate the enemy army before the battle could even begin. The Mandos caused and thrived on the chaos of the battle, the droids were simple droids, it was that uncomplicated.
Then, with some trepidation, the two starfighter wings came together, flashing across Coronet's airspace, attacking what targets they could find. A lot of those targets, oddly enough, were well away from what had been the front lines mere hour ago, but given the nature of the city, air assaults couldn't root out the majority of this army.
So the Mandos and the planetary defense force joined together, using the planet's public transportation to cross the intervening distances from the other battlefields within a bare few hours. Once close by, the two battle groups entered the city from the southeast, well away from the area of the city where the droids appeared to have fallen back to.
From there, they moved forward slowly, wary of traps, at least at first. But then Ahsoka finally got through to Bo-Katan and told her what Ranma and her Master had planned, Bo-Katan threw caution to the winds. "Night Owls, take to the skies, the rest of you spread out and wait for orders. Let's move ladies, I have a feeling the battle here is almost over, and that would annoy me a bit."
She left behind her Bes'uliik and Kit Fisto, who looked at her sharply as she rose to the air on her backpack, flashing forward and away. The two of them had formed a pretty decent team, and he had come to respect her combat skills and tactical understanding. Now, pairing that with what he was feeling in the Force, he chuckled, turning aside to head for the Green Temple. I rather doubt she or Ranma and the others will need me at this point. Time to start the cleanup, I think.
Nearby, Garm had also come to the conclusion that this battle was over as well. Curiosity filling him, the middle-aged man commandeered a hoverbike and moved to intercept the Mandalore and her coterie of followers.
Soon, or as soon as possible at any rate considering the distance involved and the nature of the terrain, Bo-Katan and the others came within sight of the concentration of droid troops. Or what had once been the concentration of droid troops. Most of them were slagged by this point, and Bo-Katan and her Night Owls tore into a few that were still trying to move forward raining down fire from above with the use of their jetpacks then closing rapidly, Bo-Katan's Black Saber slashing out deadly and destructive as she cut down the last few droids between them and their target.
The next second, the Night Owls and Mandalore were near the center of the battlefield, and sure enough, as they came towards where the last of the droids had seemingly congregated, they found still more destroyed droids, smoking tanks and rubble. A whole lot of rubble, as in entire spires had been smashed down, the rubble scattered everywhere. This part of the city looked as if it had been the sight of a heavy, sustained artillery bombardment.
Garm pulled his hoverbike to a halt next to Bo, causing the Mandalore to turn her ancient looking, pockmarked helmet in his direction for a split second before turning back to look around them as the Corellian general asked, "What happened here?"
"Just wait for it," Bo chuckled. "Somewhere in this rubble there will be…"
She fell silent as there was a crunch of ruined ferrocrete to one side. As she watched HK tore his way out of the rubble and leaped out to stand on the same road, the two humans were on, stood, his weapons twisting in their direction. Bel Iblis tried to raise a gun, but Bo-Katan grabbed his arm.
"Hold on General, that droid's not one you want to point a weapon to at the best of times. And it looks as if it scratched its paint job again," she mocked, her voice a coo of condescending concern as she took in the exceedingly battered, pock-marked appearance of the deadly assassin droid. While all around her, Janice and the other Night Owls and high-ranking Mandos that had followed her began to chuckle.
"Annoyed mutter: Arrogant meatbag female, if killing you would not create a diplomatic incident that even my own Master and mistress would not approve of, I would end you for that joke. Semi-depressed complaint: Eventually, I am going to find the body type that will take the punishment of the battles I find my mistress and Master in. I swear it."
"Alas, today was not that day," Shaak interjected, pushing herself out of a bit of rubble nearby where the side of a building had been caved in. Despite her disheveled appearance, her Jedi robes being more tatters than actual robes at this point, she smiled equably at the duo. "Hello. I don't suppose that you tow have had any better a day than we have? Or know what my Padawan has been up to? I have to admit some concern there."
Ranma came next. Like Shaak, most of his clothing had been seared away by blaster bolts, he was nicked and torn in various sections, and he was ringing out one arm at the elbow, staring at the limb with some annoyance. "With all of my freaking endurance training, you would think that the funny-bone wouldn't still be a sore point. But apparently, a freaking tank falling on it was enough." He looked up at Bo-Katan, grinning at her and Janice. "Hey, you two, what've you been up to today?"
The General joined in the near-hysterical laughter this caused, shaking his head and wondering where the heck the Order had gotten Jedi like these two. And where he could get more of them. The Republic was no doubt going to need them.
Despite that moment of levity, the aftermath of the battle of Corellia was grim. Eighty-seven Jedi had died on the ground, with the bodies of forty yet to be found, buried in the rubble of the battles across its surface or aboard the orbital defense stations they had commanded. Seven more dying in space among the starfighter pilots Master Tiin had brought with him. Two more, Drall Jedi Knights, had been involved in the attack that had forced the Confederacy's fleet away from Tralus and Talus one where they blew up the cargo ship dying with the ship.
And the Jedi dead, for all that their dead represent a grievous loss for the small Green Temple, was but a pittance in terms of the total. CorSec and the planet's small planetary defense force had been gutted on Corellia. The system's mobile space assets were still somewhat intact, since most of them had been away until the last act of the battle, although their mothballed ships had taken atrocious losses. And their defense stations had also been hammered horribly.
Those were losses in material, however. People mattered much more. And in that, Corellia had taken a horrendous mangling. Thanks to the tactics of the defenders, the majority of the dead were Corellian Security Forces rather than citizens. Even in the capital city, most of the inhabitants had been evacuated during the battle. Yet the dead among the defenders numbered more than five million sentients across the whole system.
Tralus, Talus, the twin planets who revolved around the ancient monolith Centerpoint Station, a remnant of Pre-history that was the home of a large town of mixed colonists, yet whose purpose was even now not fully understood by the Republic. Selonia, the home of the species of the same name. Drall, Likewise. Corellia the planet, the so-called Elder Brother. Every planet within the Corellia system, the Five Brothers as they were called, was throwing mass funerals for those that had died in defense of the system.
On Drall, the Drall, a small, furry mammalian species, held their species equivalent of funerals for the dead. In Keeping with the Drall's own penchant for intellectual pursuits and their staid clan-based society, these were somber, serious affairs, with the ashes of the dead symbolically returned to the earth. Most of their dead had been lost in space, so the ashes were fake, but the feelings involved in the funerals were most decidedly not.
On Selonia, the dead were lauded. The survivors of the battle from that matriarchal race told grand details of how the dead had fallen in battle against this new oppressor. The dead had mostly been infertile women, who made up the majority of the Selonians allowed to leave their clan tunnels to interact with the galaxy at large. Their losses were personal things to many friends and close relatives, but the threat to Selonia being beaten off was much more important on a cultural level, as was the fact it had been in danger at all.
And on the primarily human planet of Corellia, and the Twins, where the three species and many more lived, mass wakes were held. These were much like Selonia only without the warrior-society overtones. Corellians as a whole were not given in to mass displays of grief, preferring to enjoy life to the fullest and then some.
Lamenting the dead, while praising their sacrifice. A celebration of victory and the dead in equal measure. A commemoration of life, while remembering the dead. The methods with which the Corellians mourned were all different, but underneath there were two overriding emotions: grief and a burning, growing desire for blood.
Corellia had once been willing to go its own way, with Garm Bel Iblis not trusting the Chancellor and the Dictat disdaining the Senate. This attack had been supposed to knock them out of the war and turn the sector into a Confederacy holding before the Republic could gather its military assets enough to hold against the Confederacy's overwhelming material advantage. It hadn't worked and now Corellia would be taking part in this war with blood in its collective eye.
Of course, the Corellians had not been alone in dying to defend the system. But some of their allies dealt with mourning their losses in much the same way as the local human population.
The night after the party, in the capital right near the temple of their ancestral enemies, the Reborn threw a massive party. They, too, had many to mourn, more than three and a half thousand dead. While the Mandalorian's fleet had lost only one ship, it had gone down with all hands. Ten of their other capital ships had been pounded into uselessness, their crews taking numerous casualties. Bo had then lost a further eleven men on the ground.
But, the Reborn as a whole were happy. This was war, violence, chaos and victory. That was what the Mandos lived for. Furthermore, the way they had taken apart the land forces they fought had been immensely satisfying.
Only one thing marred Bo-Katan's personal pride in their success. The army group she and the Reborn had decimated had been led by someone wielding a red lightsaber when it landed. That individual was nowhere to be found, having apparently abandoned his or her – the one sighting was only good enough to make out the red lightsaber, nothing more – duties almost immediately after the droids had begun to deploy.
Not that Bo could blame the Dark Jedi. After all, he or she must have known they had been sent on a sacrificial gambit. But the fact they had disappeared so cleanly was a worry. Not her problem, though, unless the kriffers attacked in person. In which case, she would enjoy making the problem go away.
Ranma and Shaak had been invited to this massive party, but only Ranma had agreed to come. For one thing, this really wasn't Shaak's scene. For another, she, like the other Jedi, would be sitting silent vigil over the dead that evening. Shaak also wanted to check in with Coruscant and the High Council.
"Ranma! You came, and without your minder too. Does she know you're out on your own?" Bo-Katan quipped as she looked up from where she was sitting on a sofa and drinking something local in her helmet on her backpack, which was set near to hand. The bottle and the sofa wasn't loot per se, but it certainly had come from the wreckage left after the battle.
"Shaak trusts me to look after myself thanks," Ranma grinned, kicking her feet off the other end of the sofa and sitting down.
Most of the Mandos were spread out over this portion of the city's rooftops and highest roads. They had pulled out various pieces of furniture from the rubble, brought down their own, or put up canvas slings for chairs everywhere, creating a makeshift camp for themselves. There was a bit of music in the background, the drink and food was plentiful, again taken from the rubble, but Ranma doubted the locals would complain.
Still, he had to ask, "So are you and your Mandalorians going to pay for all this?" looking down at the drink in her hand. He didn't know much about drinking, obviously, but the bottle in her hand looked expensive.
"Probably, if the owners complain. And if the complaint ever gets back to us. Until then, it's battlefield spoil," she quipped. Then she became serious, pointing a finger at him from the same hand that was holding her drink. "We didn't choose to fight here, hell, we didn't even start this war. But now that the battles over, I doubt that the locals are going to care overmuch."
Janice came over from where she had been cooking something with a few locals on a portable stove of some kind, flopping on a giant pillow at the foot of the sofa, leaning back against it. "Heh, she's lying. General Garm Bel Iblis gave us a blank check for twenty-four hours to booze, snooze or… he used the word schmooze, which I've never heard before."
Knowing her joke had fallen kind of flat, Bo-Katan's smile fell away as she looked around at the small portion of the party that was visible from where the three of them were on one of the tallest flat top spires. "This is a party for a single battle, but every Mando you see here knows that was just the beginning. Twenty-four hours," she repeated firmly. "Then we get back to work. To what we Mandalorians do best."
Looking around himself, Ranma noticed a lot more than just Mandalorians were out partying here. There are at least seventy-odd Corellians, mostly humans, but some Selonians and a few other races who had made their home here scattered among the Mandos in sight. Idly, he wondered if the Mandos were proselytizing a little. After all, the Mandalorian's Creed wasn't one you had to be born into, they eagerly accepted people who wanted to join them from any race whatsoever, so long as they were willing to learn and keep to the tenants of the Resol'nare.
Then again, it's not my business if they do, he thought. And besides with this war and the sheer size of it, which I am still having trouble getting my head around, we need as many fighters as we can get. And the Mandos are about as tough as warriors can get in this universe.
And Ranma couldn't deny that a lot of the tenants of the rewritten Resol'nare appealed to him. Of course they ought to, considering that they were rewritten after Bo-Katan had taken his own input and words into account. Because of that, Bo had been able to look at the history of her people with clearer eyes than most would've been able to, see where they had gone wrong, and try to rewrite the tenants so they wouldn't go down that road again.
Elsewhere near the edge of the throng, Kit and Anakin had also arrived. Kit had gotten an invitation from Bo as well and had eventually decided to show Anakin around. The Padawan had not been to many funerals, and certainly none like this. Kit also wanted to show Anakin the material cost of the battle, having felt he was taking the non-Jedi deaths too lightly.
The Mando's party was the last such they were going to do. Like Shaak was at that moment, they had stood silent vigil over the Jedi dead before leaving to head out to see the other funerals going on.
"Eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we might die is not a new concept Anakin. It is one that the Mandos know all too well, and are you going to say they have not earned it?" Kit queried, smirking slightly at the younger man's wide-eyed look as he took in the massive party, which seemed to have taken over at least a fifth of the capital.
"I, it's just a little jarring, that's all, to come from the local Drall's ceremony to this," Anakin muttered, his eyes still wide.
"Oh, I completely agree," Kit chuckled, bowing his head politely towards a Mandalorian who had just handed him a drink. He downed half of it, seeming to think for a moment, before nodding his head and handing back the two-hundred percent proof rotgut that someone had found. "Quite bland for me, but I suppose that it will do for Mandalorians."
That earned him a whoop of laughter, and the woman who had handed it to him saluted him, one eyebrow rising in interest as her smile turned suggestive.
Kit was no fool and had seen such looks in women before, but he shook his head slightly at the woman, and turned back to address his Padawan, who was staring at a few of the Mando women. Most of the Mandos had removed their helmets once the battle was done. And Anakin was beginning to realize that Janice and Dralshy'a's level of beauty wasn't abnormal in their society.
Moving forward into the party, Kit pulled Anakin closer, shouting in his ear to be heard due to the noise around them. "One thing we as Jedi need to understand, which you have not, is the Mandalorians are not just a warrior society. They are a full culture. And thanks to Ranma and Shaak, they are our allies. We must show that we understand and are thankful for their sacrifice. That means more of us must be part of this giant wake, just as Jedi are observing the ceremonies across the planet and elsewhere in Corellia."
"I understand Master, it's just well…" Anakin hesitated, then seeing Kit's knowing look sighed and admitted, "A part of me thinks this way of celebrating victory and the lives of the dead is more appropriate than the Jedi way."
Kit nodded slowly, but his large black eyes were twinkling with good humor still. "Do you take pleasure in the deaths that we caused on the other side?" Anakin shook his head violently, looking appalled at the idea and Kit nodded once more. "Do you then take pleasure in your own performance?"
That one caused Anakin frowned, and look away sheepishly.
"That would be arrogance talking. A little bit of arrogance in a Force user is acceptable, so long as you do not believe your own hype, as I have heard Ranma put it or allow that arrogance to color your thoughts and feelings. Yes, take some joy in the battle won, but only as a win, not your own part of the battle, no matter how important. And never forget that even a battle won comes at a cost."
For a moment, Anakin stared back at his master, bowing his head. But the heavy feeling between them just could not stand against the party-like atmosphere around them, and he smirked. "That is a very thin line, Master Fisto. And I think Ranma is the last person to mention anything at all related to arrogance."
"Doubly true," Kit laughed.
His new Master laughed often, Anakin had come to realize. He seemed to take great joy in life whatever it threw at him, which was something Anakin could only admire, seeing in that a shadow of Master Giiett's attitude as well.
"Yet it is one that I think you were going to be able to make, or else I wouldn't have invited you along. Now, drink in moderation, flirt if you can, have fun. But, remember that this is all but a momentary pleasure. Tomorrow is another day and we will have work to do."
Anakin nodded firmly at that, and the two Jedi moved deeper into the wake.
Kit kept one eye on his new Padawan, watching him closely even as he enjoyed himself. He was pleased to note that Anakin noticed something most wouldn't have: that the Mandos, for all they had removed their helmets, were still armed. And about a hundred or so scattered around the area were not taking part in the party, instead acting as security. This might be allied territory, but even amid their fun, the Mandos did not neglect security.
Despite that wariness, Kit hoped Anakin would find friends. There was a strain of anger in him ever since they had found the Sith had created him, and Kit hoped that this party would help in diffusing the last of it.
If Kit had questioned Ranma or Shaak, both of them could've told him that, while the Mandos might have appreciated seeing a Jedi willingly come out and party with them rather than stay up in their Temple aloof and cold to the world, it wasn't necessary at this point. The Reborn were committed now, not just to the war but to Ranma as a person.
That evening, that commitment was going to get a bit of a shine added to it.
"Ranma!" shouted more than one of the Mandos as they saw who was sitting with their leader.
"Ranma, sing us a song!" sounded one, a man, but one that Ranma recognized with his helmet off as having been among those who had fought on the moon of Yavin. "Like you did back before the last battle against Pre Vizsla and his kriffers!"
This cry was soon taken up by others around the impromptu party, but Ranma rolled his eyes and shook his head. "No way would any of you hear me anyway," he shouted, his voice almost lost in the tumult. "And I don't have my helmet on me."
"Hah, I actually thought of that!" Bo-Katan smirked, holding out a 'spare' helmet towards Ranma from where she had put it behind the sofa. At the same time, Janice hopped to her feet, grinning as she began to broadcast something over her own helmet. "Sing into that, and you'll be heard."
Mock-grumbling, Ranma placed the helmet over his head. After a few minutes of using eye gestures and facial twitches, he was able to open up the helmet's local communications network, at which point he began to talk. "Mandalorians, this is Ranma. A lot of you know about me, some of you even know me personally. And a lot of you have probably heard that I sing a bit. Mostly in my female form, admittedly I can barely hold a tune in my male form. And I was brought up to think that singing was for weak girls anyway."
"Oy!" both Janice and Bo-Katan growled, smacking him on either shoulder.
Ranma pushed at them both playfully, nearly sending Bo-Katan off the side of her semi-purloined sofa. "Anyway, I was asked to sing, but this song, I think this song only really fits a male voice. Now, like some of my others, this one is from my own planet, and it will use terms that can translate, but probably won't mean anything to everyone here. Still, I'll wager that the feeling of the song comes through."
With that, Ranma began to belt out the song in question, and by halfway through the first chorus, every Mando there had their helmets back on and were listening, thumping their feet on the ground, while others were setting up external helmets so that the locals, who didn't have helmets, could listen in. the song was one Ranma had heard while learning knife-fighting from a marine stationed in Japan once, and he felt it encapsulated the Mandos at war. "…I am a Soldier, and I'm marching on. I am a Warrior, and this is my SONG!"
At the end of the song, Kit shook his head from where he had been roaming through the party. Nearby, Anakin found himself pulled into a dance from a few girls his own age as the music started to blare out from a few repurposed speakers nearby. The fierce emotion and martial ardor that song evoked washed over both Jedi and Anakin could not keep himself from getting into it.
Well, I think the last of Anakin's anger about his creation by the Sith is gone now. The rest of the Order, however, is probably not going to look kindly at how emotional he still is at this point in his training. But if the Order cannot be Anakin's home, the Reborn might well be a good alternative. Still, that's a problem for later. For now, I will let the youngster have his fun.
Elsewhere in the city, hidden in an abandoned hover-limo whose front seats and engine had been crushed by debris, another Force user was currently reacting to the surge of emotions, waking up with a gasp that was almost a cry, her back arcing as the emotions hammered into her Force Stealth, nearly causing the technique, which kept her hidden from other nearby Force users and was automatic as breathing to most Dark Side users, to fail.
Her name was Sev'rance Tann, and she, like her lover, was a member of Tyranus' Dark Acolytes, a group of former Jedi and Force users that Bulq had found in the years leading up to the war. She was a blue-skinned woman, a representative of a species that was almost entirely unknown in the Republic, the Chiss, as her lover was too. Her eyes, a naturally red color were now wide and unseeing as she stared at the crumpled ceiling of her impromptu bedroom, her body was closed in a somewhat tight bodysuit under a heavy cloak she was currently using as a blanket, her mind only slowly coming back online.
Sev'rance had been seconded to the assault on Corellia to help hunt down any Jedi once the system had been conquered. But when it became clear that the landing forces were not going to be enough, Sev'rance had decided to follow the batter part of valor. Her loyalty was to Darth Tyrannus, but that didn't mean she was willing to die for nothing.
Especially not in the past few days. The tearing of the Veil had shaken her faith in the power of the Dark Side, in its might and thus right to rule. So she was in hiding like this, unwilling to act just yet. Not until her own safety could be secured. After that would be time for her to act if she could.
As a Sith Acolyte, Sev'rance was open to her emotions, using the Dark Side emotions all the time to connect to the Force, not quite enough to become a berserker, but she and the Acolytes allowed their emotions far freer reign than the true Sith did, especially under Sidious's influence.
This was deliberate on Tyranus' part. It made the Acolytes able to wield greater strength via the Force but made them weaker mentally.
Yet it had some unintended consequences, such as making them more open to broadcasted emotions through the Force, especially ones that had a Dark Side tinge to them. They could, like true Sith, take power from these emotions, but also would take pleasure in them.
It turned out that emotions of a desire for violence and pride in ability with violence fell under that category.
The emotions from the Mandalorian's festivities, the sheer martial ardor, battle lust and pride woke Sev'rance and gave her a rush like someone had just exchanged half of her blood in her body with kaff, causing her back to arch and her eyes to snap wide as they struck.
That was intense! She thought, shuddering, her heart pounding. And not Dark Side energies either, just powerful emotions. And the martial fervor of it, the Mandalorians? Their coming in on the Jedi side of this war is bizarre. Hmm…Perhaps instead of striking at the Green Temple, I should investigate that connection, how the Jedi have convinced the Mandalorians to fight with them?
With that thought, she pushed her way out of the wrecked hover-limo, beginning to make her way in the direction of the huge, powerful mass of warlike emotions. And if doing so allows me to feel that kind of a rush again all the better…
The aftermath of the battle was far more somber in the Jedi Temple. With so many Green Jedi dead across the system, many of the Jedi were sitting in silent vigil over the dead. The riotous emotions blaring from so close did make many of them somewhat uncomfortable, but the Green Jedi were more in tune with the Light-sided emotions of love and loss than the regular Order and it was thus ignored.
Shaak had joined them for a time, sitting with a few of the Jedi, she and Ranma had met during their first visit to Corellia along with Ahsoka. Of the Green Jedi Temple's high command, only three had survived the battle. The others had been leading their people from the front and paid for it despite their toughness training and various combat skills.
Master Halcyon joined Shaak later that evening to contact the temple on Coruscant and tell them of the battle. They had already heard rumors that Corellia had been attacked and repelled the attackers, but first-hand reports were always better than hearsay or even the news reports as filtered through the Hypercom.
Of course, Shaak and Master Halcyon didn't talk to just the Jedi Council, but the newly created Republic high command. Yet one person was missing from that group who should have been involved. Not because he was a military man. No, the Chancellor should have been there because he was the leader of the Republic and this battle was the largest successful defense thus far in the war.
Shaak waited until they were done with her own report and the Jedi and Admirals on the other end had finished questioning her before bringing it up. "Masters, I noticed that the Chancellor is not taking part in this conference. Has something happened?"
"Indeed," answered Master Bilaba with a sigh. "The Chancellor is recovering from a poisoning attempt. It occurred several days ago, but his body is dealing with the aftershocks even now, making him unable to take part in anything at present. His people have taken over more of his role, yet it has to be admitted many in the Senate and beyond are missing his leadership at this moment. He should recover fully soon, however."
She then frowned at Shaak. "Although, I'll note that there is one on your end missing as well. Where is Ranma?
"With our Mandalorian allies at present, doing what he can to make certain that they are not only tied to our goals but happy to be so allied with us. Given the ancient issues between the Jedi and the Mandalorians, this is no small consideration despite his and my friendship with the current Mandalore," Shaak replied calmly. Her and Bo's near-rivalry for Ranma had died quickly, and since then, Shaak had found much to admire and even like in the human woman.
Agen Kolar shook his head. "I still feel as if we are giving the Reborn too much credit. A societal change as Bo-Katan Kryze is attempting must be built up over the course of decades, whole generations. The changes she has written into the Resol'nare are good, but they are still too new, a gloss on the old Mandalorian penchant for expansion and conquest."
"Matters at present, that does not," Master Yoda intoned, speaking up before Shaak could reply in his old, cracked voice. "Talked about the Reborn, many times we have. Bo-Katan Kryze an ally of the present she is. The Force, silent it is on whether the Mandalorians will become a threat in the future. That problem, leave it to the future, we will." He looked at the images of the Admirals, in particular, the Chief of Staff for the Newly created Republic Strategic Command, Admiral Yularen. "Speak, we must about Jedi matters, if you please. The dead, accounted for, they must be. In contact, we will be with you soon."
The human admiral and other military personnel frowned but after a moment nodded, saying that there would be a formal diplomatic package sent out to the Corellian Dictat soon to welcome Corellia back into the Republic after the Contemplanys Hermi was remitted and to add CorSec's space assets into the Republic armed forces. Beyond that, they gave their own condolences to the Jedi for their losses and logged off.
Despite his words to the various admirals, Yoda looked through the pickup to the Togrutan Jedi Master, ignoring Master Halcyon, who was the only representative of the Green Temple in the conference. And when he spoke, the language he used was Japanese as he pointed his gimmer stick into the pickup towards Shaak.
Japanese, which several Jedi had learned from Ranma, had become their secret language when they discussed things, they wanted to be hidden from the Sith beyond anything else. Unless someone was using the Force to translate it in person, even a Force user would not understand the language. Yet even with that, most of the time, the Jedi didn't communicate anything about the Sith via Hypercom if they could help it.
That Yoda chose to do so now, even when speaking Japanese, was telling. "Scene into the future, I have. Created a cleft point you have. The planet you attacked, hold it the Order must. In this language, tell us the coordinates of it, you will."
Shaak did so, and Yoda nodded as he copied them down in his personal datapad. "The next mission, reinforce Wayland once more, you will."
"We've already sent word to the Nova Guard Master Yoda, they will be sending troops as well. Beyond that, I wish to meditate myself on if that is the right course for Ranma and I. Given our abilities and that of our ship, we might be better served elsewhere rather than getting bogged down there in what might amount to a siege if the Sith realize why the Veil has been destroyed."
Yoda nodded equably, knowing Shaak would indeed want to meditate on her path but also knowing what she would find. Wayland was the key, the center around, which everything in the Force past and future revolved. If they could keep Wayland and mine its computers, the Sith threat would not be ended, Yoda sensed there would still be darkness, still be danger. But the threat to the Republic and to the Order would be dramatically reduced.
"Agreed. If the Force, guides you elsewhere, gainsay it, we will not. Yet Wayland, defended it must be further. Find we must, the hidden Master. Tyranus, Bulq, a mere apprentice he is. The greater darkness, hiding still he is. Talk to we have with others, teams of slicers brought in from Alderaan there will be, along with Naboo. Aid, they will, in taking apart the computer."
Then Yoda switched back to Common as he went on. "Remain in place, we request you do until reinforcements arrive in Corellia they will. Done enough, for now, you have. More we will ask of you soon. But this war, too large it is for you and your Wild Blade to be a part of every battle."
"For my part, I would rather not be a part of every battle Master Yoda," Shaak replied tartly, shaking her head. "There was a time when I was thinking about becoming a Consular after all. That part of me is far in the past at the moment, buried by my association with Ranma, yet even he would admit that with the war now begun, there are few ways that the two of us could make a difference on such a grand strategic scale." She then smiled somewhat more toothily than usual. "Unless that is, we know where Master Bulq is?"
"Know his current location, we do not. But attempted to remove him we already have. Master Windu, returning here with the broken remnants of that attempt. Aided they were by Master Dooku, but only able to survive they were. Master Bulq, escaped he did. Taken the new name of Darth Tyrannus, he has."
Shaak nodded slowly at that. "And the rest of the war? How is it going?"
Yoda sighed sadly, looking away. That would've been enough of an answer in and of itself, but Koth replied for the few present Councilmembers. The rest of them had been dispatched throughout the Republic to hold the line against the Confederacy war machine as much as they could. Which alas, was scant little, and for the Order, painful decisions had been made, forcing the Order to make sacrifices. "Poorly."
The planet's name was Salliche. In many ways, it was an idyllic world, perfect for farmlands, and the growth of a kind of wheat that, when baked properly, could be stored for months on end before use and still retained its taste and flavor. While normally that ability would've made this planet a prize, the Jedi Order had been able to take it over because the planet was also home to a series of gases that could eat at most metals, a temperature that routinely rose into the hundreds, and weather that, while not nearly as continual as Jabiim's, was almost as wet in the winter season. All of this conspired into making any kind of large-scale technological colony practically impossible.
But the Jedi were more than happy to go back to the soil here. They had imported a large space station over the single city that they had made out of the local would, brick and daub. Otherwise, the Jedi of the Agri-Corp ran the majority of the planet's farms with the Jedi settling down into small communal hamlets.
Despite being a Core World system, these various habitations, bar the spaceport, looked more like something that could be found on a poor Outer Rim world. Above the planet, a single large space station rotated in locked orbit over the spaceport below.
That space station was now debris, its place taken by an equally large man-made structure, but this one was mobile: a Lucrehulk. Nearby a force of twenty gunboats patrolled, while Vulture fighters dove into the atmosphere, guarding the troopships which were dropped onto the surface of the planet. Tyrannus had followed his Master's orders, targeting the Agri-Corps worlds with small but potent forces, each assault built around a single Lucrehulk carrying a full army corps in their holds.
The Jedi in the city, which was called Waypoint by the Jedi, for it was simply a Waypoint for their wheat up into the space station, were ready. None of them might have passed their Trials to become Padawans or not been chosen within three years of doing so. But they still had their lightsabers, and they still had the Force, even if they were not fully trained in its use.
When those landing ships landed, the Jedi rushed forward, lightsabers battering back any fire from the transports or circling Vultures that came towards them, although many found this test beyond their abilities, falling quickly. Yet when the transport doors clanged down, the Jedi were in among the droids before they could start to disengage from their clamps.
But there were so many of them. Destroying a hundred droids took enough time for twenty to get online, and they began to lay down cover fire, covering their fellows as more and more of them activated. Then another ship landed. Two more. Five. Soon the Jedi were forced to retreat, the few left alive to do so.
As the last of the Jedi who had rushed forward to attack the landing area died, one droid stepped on a dead Jedi's body, crushing it beneath his foot, before turning towards another landing ship that was just sitting down. Around him, other droids moved forward, creating a defensive cordon around the landing zone. "Landing zone secure. What are your orders, general?"
"Our orders are clear," another droid voice replied, this one built around the lines of the command droid HK had destroyed. "Kill every sentient on this planet. If it has a pulse, it dies."
"Roger, roger," the first droid replied, accompanied by a chorus of B1 droids as they began to organize into squads. The Jedi had done a decent job of disrupting that organization at first but had paid horribly to do it.
Now those droids moved out, casing the city from one end to another, before pushing out deeper into the hinterlands towards the farms. Their orders were clear, after all.
Elsewhere, other agricultural worlds were being attacked similarly. On Marfa, another Core World Agri-world, the Jedi Master in charge of the planet had attempted to surrender, claiming that they were noncombatants. Every Jedi on the planet had then been rounded up, essentially to be taken off-planet. But instead, the moment they had been in one place, droids and simply gunned them down, fire coming at them from all sides and above. Surprised, off-balance and in the open, the Jedi fought back but could not face the weight of firepower the droids brought to bear. Three hundred and twenty-eight Force users died that day.
Other planets attempted to fight back as Salliche had. But the reason why these men women and youths had been sent to the Agriculture Corps had been because most of them lacked the strength in the Force necessary to become a Jedi. A few among them did have that power, but had been passed over as padawans once too often and lacked true combat experience.
Of the agricultural worlds that had looked to the Jedi order as part of the Agri-Corps, only the population of one of them was able to survive past the day of the initial attack. There, an ancient Sullustan, Master named Jal Fen, had retired from active service with the Order. Upon hearing of Confederacy ships heading toward their world, he had taken command of the planet, ordering his fellows to hide and wait.
Here too, the droids came down. Here too, they moved out into the town beyond the spaceport, searching for hiding Jedi among the shattered debris left behind the bombing runs of the Vultures. But unlike Salliche, the Agriculture Corps on this planet had retained some level of technology.
"Warning explosive compounds detected!" a droid near the front of a column moving through the city warned, just before one of the buildings to one side of it exploded outward. B1 droids could detect explosives, but not very well through the rubble all around them.
Through the smoke and debris of the explosion came several Jedi, tossing makeshift smoke and chaff to cover their advance into the side of that droid column, where Master Jal led them in. "Strike them down and then away! Do not get bogged down, do not allow yourselves to be surrounded!" he shouted at the top of his lungs, further enhanced by the Force. Then he began to cough, shaking his weary head. "I am far too old for this!"
The droids around him seemed to have no respect for age whatsoever, alas. They turned their blasters on him, but Master Jal used Soresu for preference and was easily able to batter their plasma bolts back, using the droid's own firepower to destroy them.
Then he threw down a small disc on the ground, which exploded into stroking lights and smoke, further disorientating the droids. "Back away now, my fellows!"
The Jedi all around him obeyed, leaving only one of their own dead on the field of battle.
Elsewhere in the city, other such attacks occurred as the droids of this column radioed in that they had been attacked by the Jedi. The response was overwhelming, as Jal had been worried it might.
Vulture fighters streamed down, but could find nothing as more smoke bombs, basically local reeds when burned created a nasty smelling smoke, went off on the various rooftops, covering the city with a fog bank that they could not target through very well. With the overhead cover firing indiscriminately, the droids still pushed forward, running into several more ambushes, but no more Jedi. They were in full retreat now, in a manner that the droids for all their intelligence and programmed abilities would not have thought of.
Below the city in the sewers, Master Jal and his small group met up with the other Jedi that had been attacking the droids and the groups of them which had been in charge of emplacing the bombs. "Excellent work. And now, to the east we must go, my friends. The mountains call us."
"There are so many of them, Master," said one youth, just past the age where he would've been taken on as padawan. In his case, the ancient Sullustan knew, the young man had been passed over due to a lack of power in the Force. He had proven an able student when it came to engineering and had been one of the ones who had devised the various chaff bombs they had just made such liberal use of.
Yet he had not gone through the full rigors of Jedi training, and it showed in his hesitation, in the fear that his fellows could feel through the Force. "I don't think we destroyed more than 300 or so of them, and more were still arriving! How are we supposed to fight numbers like that!?"
"We are not." The ancient Master reached forward lightly patting the youth, he was human and was quite a bit taller than the Sullustan, but all of the taller races had to stoop in the sewers anyway, so that didn't matter. "We do not fight to win, my young friend. Jedi rarely fight solely to win, there must be an objective, a cause to fight for. Here, that cause is survival. We fight to survive. We fight because our deaths would serve no purpose whatsoever. But while alive, we can, at the very least, make these droids take the time to hunt us. Into the deep forests and woods of the mountains, the crevasses, the dead ends, the lack of trails, and all that nice, heavy rock to snarl up their sensors. Do you understand my grand strategy now?"
The younger man being chuckled then nodded his head in acquiescence, his fear dissipated by the jocular, almost whimsical tone of the older Master. "Yes, Master. And I am sorry for my…"
"Think nothing of it. Fear is a natural emotion, my young friend. It is only in giving in to fear, into starting to hate that which has made us afraid, in which we give in to the Dark Side. And right now, every day we are alive is a victory in that struggle."
With that, Jal waved the youth and others on through the sewers. Sewers which would lead them deeper into the mountains to what the droids would no doubt think was simply a dead end, a canyon without any sign of way up or down where the refuse of the town fell down to a river. But that was because they didn't know of the maintenance passages which would lead up deeper into the mountains right before that end. They were small those maintenance tunnels, more than one human or other overly tall species was going to have a bad back after this day's work. But they were big enough to get through.
And every word I just spoke is true, the old Master thought to himself, as he watched his fellow Jedi move on. But while each day we are alive is a victory, we cannot survive long without being relieved. I hope that Master Yoda and the others remember that we are here, or else this is going to be a very long, very uncertain time for all of us.
But the small victory Master Jal's retreat mattered not at all. The rest of the agricultural corpse had been almost wiped out entirely by this point. And the rest of the war was not going at all well, either. While the Republic hadn't been taken entirely by surprise, they had been taken by surprise as to the size of the assaults that were being launched throughout the known galaxy by the Confederacy.
Several of those attacks had been blunted thanks to the Veil of the Dark Side being ripped away so suddenly, allowing Master Yoda to predict the future to a certain degree. But he'd had to make the devil's choice. The Jedi had to choose where to concentrate, not just the Jedi but the Republic navy. Many Ord-system admirals who had not obeyed his orders, had been caught out of position and wiped out. Others had and still sustained heavy damage.
And yet, thanks to Master Yoda, the most important assaults had been blunted. The assault into Corellia had stopped and had resoundingly brought Corellia and its sector back into the Republic's fold. Other assaults into the Core Worlds have been stopped, and one fleet of Twenty Lucrehulks had actually been mousetrapped, stuck between three Ord Patrol fleets. They had been forced to retreat with heavy losses.
Other spoiling raids were stopped in their tracks, especially those that would have hit the Republic's ability to continue the war: concussion and proton torpedo construction sites, various repair yards. Ord systems had fought back fiercely, tying down more Confederacy forces than they should have.
And the Confederacy did not know about the secret Republic build-up, as the Jedi had until the Chancellor confided in them before his collapse via poisoning. That build-up and the troops that had been trained to operate as ship personnel now came into play, turning the tide here and there throughout the Republic. The momentum might still be with the Confederacy, and the Jedi had paid a grievous cost but the war was slowly becoming a stalemate.
On the Force side of things, the many Jedi deaths occurring in those first days of the war reverberated through the Force, the strength of the individual in question directly corresponding to how far each splash was felt. These deaths helped fuel the reconstruction of the Veil of the Dark Side. And yet, this was a very slow process due to the initial impact on Sidious. Almost five days after the Veil had been torn asunder, he was still reeling from the mental effect of it on his mind, leaving the Lord of the Sith completely unable to influence events or even talk to anyone.
Indeed, if not for the fact that she had also been almost completely overcome by it, his apprentice Komari Vosa, Darth Sanvia, would have probably killed him in an attempt to take his place as the head of the Sith, regardless of how much that would mess up the Great Plan. Weakness in a Sith could never be condoned. But Sanvia, like the other Sith, was dealing with her own issues, although none of them came close to what Sidious was facing.
Because unlike them, Sidious had been the master of the Veil. He had linked almost his entire Force sense, the bundle of energy that marked him out as unique in the Force to the Veil, the better to direct and control it as the eddies the chaotic Locust had created reverberated through the Force. Now though, those eddies had multiplied in a single instant into an all-consuming tsunami of madness. At least as to its effect on the Veil.
Metaphors tended to fail on this scale, but this one was spot on. Sidious felt, as he tried desperately to think through the haze of pain, to use his growing anger and fury, that it was like someone had taken a hammer to his brain, shattering it like glass. Now, as Sidious was trying to put the pieces back together, each piece was acting like it was alive, fighting his control the glass scratching against one another, causing further reverberations of pain through his already tortured mind. It was by far the most painful thing he had ever felt.
To put it bluntly, Sidious was in quite a lot of pain, and his screams reverberated through the hidden temple of the Sith on Coruscant.
And elsewhere in the galaxy, on his personal flagship, the Sith Lord Tyranus was also reeling, though not to the extent of his master. His was a more personal sort of pain. Losing his arm was in itself debilitating, but how he had lost was worse.
For most of his life, Tyranus had been certain. He had first been certain he was going to be a Jedi, certain he would become a famed lightsaber duelist. He had been certain that helping Mace Windu create Vaapad would cement his place in the Jedi's annals for all time. And then, when Windu had begun to take all the credit for creating Vaapad, he had been certain he had wanted to find some way to become famous once more within the Order. And then, through his discussions with Sidious, the man who had been Sora Bulq had become certain in the power of the Dark Side and its destiny.
Now that certainty was gone, stripped away along with much of his own arrogance. Not even Ranma's arrival in this universe had created such an issue for him before. On top of that, Master Dooku had defeated him with relative ease, overcoming Tyranus in a way that Windu had been unable to do previously. It showed he still had not achieved the level of skill and ability that he had thought.
Tyranus found himself reflexive, reflective, confused, even hesitant. And yet, while I might be hesitant and without direction right now, we cannot allow that hesitance to impact everything else. He thought to himself. Because unlike other Sith, Tyranus had little in the way of ego when it came to his place in the Order or personal power. The Weequay could place the Great Plan over his own self-aggrandizement.
This, the day after his defeat at Dooku's hand, he did, after hours of meditating on the decision until he knew it was what he had to do.
"Get me Grievous."
This order was obeyed almost instantly by the computers, which listened for his every command in his private meditation room. A moment later, the face of the cyborg appeared in a red hologram in the center of the room. The cyborg warlord had retreated with his fleet mostly intact still from the defeat at Corellia to a nearby Confederacy world. He had already transferred his command to a new ship while his old flagship was given to the repair yards, and was planning his next campaign.
He might have felt the Bulq was calling him to take him to task for the defeat in Corellia, but Bulq had no such thought in his head at present. "Grievous, something has happened. My attempts to ambush the Jedi did not go as planned, and I will have to deal with the consequences personally. That will take me some time, during which I will not be able to direct the war effort. Therefore, I am placing you in overall control of the military. You answer only to me, but I will not require you to turn in plans or anything else at this point. We have the momentum somewhat, despite your own setback in Corellia. Keep the pressure on."
Tyranus shrugged, the image barely visible in the pickup from Grievous' end. "Do not communicate with the fleets dispatched to the AgriWorlds. After they are finished, I might have more work for them soon. But beyond that, it is your show. For now," he added, injecting a tone of warning in his tone, "remember who you serve, Grievous."
"As if my electronic brain could ever forget," the cyborg replied. "But I want to be clear on this. I can override other admirals? Change our strategic objectives and doctrine?"
"Yes. However, while offensively, you can do what you wish, to not change overmuch on the defensive side of things. And if you decided, for whatever reason, to start redistributing the fleets placed in defensive positions, do so as sparingly as possible."
Grievous nodded in the pickup, a smirk visible in the skin under his eyes, the only part of his face that remained natural. "I will see the Republic burn. I swear it."
"I do not doubt it." With that, Tyranus cut the line, and then after steeling himself for a moment, sent out a brief Force pulse.
A moment later, a shaft of light appeared in his meditation chamber as the door opened, and his apprentice Asajj stood revealed there. "Master, you sent for me? Are you recovered from, from whatever happened?"
Unlike Tyranus, Asajj could not use the Veil and had not been as badly affected by its destruction as he was. But even now, Asajj knew she was weaker than him, and Tyranus could not find any sign of her desire to overthrow him. Good. My decision to take her on as a full-time apprentice and name her a Sith seems to have worked very well.
"Come inside," he intoned, his voice reverberating through the force seemingly from everywhere within the area. "Your training in simply using the Dark Side is almost over. Now, you will become a Sith. You will leave your old name behind, as you have left your old training as a Jedi behind. Your earlier anger is to be supplanted by the new, your will by the will of the Dark Side and the Great Plan. Leave behind fear, leave behind mindless anger. Leave behind the light side of the force," he finished. "Fully embrace the Dark Side."
With each word, the Force pressed in from all sides on Asajj, causing brief flashes of agony as she attempted to step forward into the room. But Asajj knew this too was a test, and she bore through it eagerly, using the pain and the pressure on her mind to fuel her anger and thus her power. Soon she was near the center of the room, but Tyranus was nowhere to be seen.
"Leave behind the Light," Tyranus repeated, his voice now mocking. "Unless, of course, you are afraid of the Dark?"
With a grimace, Asajj realized that the door it stayed open behind her, and she was still standing in the light it let in from the hallway beyond. It was allowing her to see in the entirely blackened room, although she still couldn't see Tyranus. This is as much of a test as the pressure he is pushing down on me, Asajj suddenly realized. As much as the old method for training younglings by putting them in sensory deprivation helmets. She had to give herself to the dark, in word and in deed now and forever.
"Leave behind your petty anger at how you were forgotten by the Jedi. Embrace the purpose of the Sith to wipe them out. Leave behind your thoughts about proving the Order in the wrong. What does right and wrong matter? Only power matters, for then you can declare what is right and wrong. Leave aside your anguish and old hatred at what your former master went through, embrace hatred in its own right and use its power to destroy all that dare stand against you. The power of hate, the power of anger, and the control that can harness it, that is what makes a Sith, as I have told you before."
Asajj flinched at the accusations, the original reasons why she had reached out to the Dark Side after being trained by the Jedi Knight, Ky Narec. But that had been years ago, and Asajj had done so much for the Sith cause since then that Asajj had already begun to leave those reasons, her desire to punish the Order for forgetting her Master and herself, behind. Now for just a moment, she thought of the Jedi Knight she had faced in the Hypercom relay station, Obi-Wan Kenobi. How he had fought her, nearly defeating Asajj despite all of her training. His face consumed Asajj's vision for a moment.
But then it was gone, subsumed by hate and the desire for power above everything. With a shout, Asajj reached out with the Force breaking through Tyranus' vague presence around her to slam the door shut, locking out the light so that not even a tiny trickle could be seen. In this darkness, she reached out with the Force, roaring out in anger as she tore away the Force Cloak and Force Stealth techniques that had been hiding Tyranus right in front of her this whole time.
"Kneel," Tyranus boomed, his voice and presence so suddenly revealed to her that it was all Asajj could do but obey, awed by the power her master possessed. Even with his arm gone, a robotic one being prepared for him, his strength in the Dark Side was undiminished. She could not even see a hint of the fact Tyranus was using this ceremony to find his own self-control in the Force.
His crimson lightsaber flashed, so suddenly bright that eve her eyes, which had been in the light of the corridor outside so recently flinched. Yet she noted the Weequay's own eyes did not flinch, as he raised it, gently placing it on either side of her head. "I take your name, Asajj Ventress. You are Darth now, and I name you are Darth Diabolus. Rise and take your place beside me as a true Sith Lord."
"Yes, my master," Darth Diabolus answered, slowly rising to her feet.
"Come, we have much to do," Tyranus ordered, moving towards the doorway. Even with Grievous seeing to the war effort, there was still a lot he could see to personally, even with the Force as chaotic as it was. He would see to the political side of the Confederacy for a time, solidifying his rule over the disparate factions further. As for Darth Diabolus… "I have a task for you. It was time to hunt down the so-called Lost Jedi, Antilles. He is the last trained Jedi Shdaow beyond our mole in the order. We know where he is currently. Kill him. Let the Jedi Shadows die with her."
"Yes, my Master," the Dathomiri woman who had been Asajj Ventress replied, her eyes flashing almost pure yellow for a moment before settling back into her normal blue, tinged only lightly with yellow. "It will be done."
While he was utterly without empathy, more of a tyrant than an admiral, and mostly unwilling to ask for advice, Grievous was still a thoroughgoing professional. This meant that the first thing he did after getting off the phone with Tyranus was to reach out in turn to all of the fleet admirals in charge of the Confederacy's theatres of war.
He did so one at a time, glaring each sentient into submission as if each of them had done something wrong. Even through a Hypercom communication, his golden-eyed glare and villainous robotic visage did its work, all of them quailing one after another. Neimoidian, Selkath, Muun, Gossam, Geonosian, Skakoan. Regardless of species, all of them eventually looked away, unable to sustain at Grievous.
The only one who lasted any time at all was a Harch commander, Admiral Trench. He glared right back for a time, his many arms folded in front of him as his eyes stared back at Grievous unblinking. That one, Grievous thought, would bear watching in the future. For now, though, he was useful. "My fellow admirals. I have just been in contact with Grand Dictator Bulq. His own strike against the hand puppets of the Senate have caused him issues. It was apparently somewhat successful but cost him more personally than he had hoped. Because of that, he has seen fit to put me in charge of the war effort for the foreseeable future as he deals with the political end of things and those more personal matters."
"And what does that mean on the strategic scale?" Harch admiral interrupted, scowling now. "Because I have to tell you, if it means that we are going to keep up with this idiotic plan of small-scale attacks at few if any real strategic targets, then I question your abilities."
Grievous barked a harsh metallic sounding laugh. "It will not, and beyond the strike into the Corellia Sector, none of our opening operations were thought up by me. We will no longer fritter away our strength that way. Some attacks will still go through, and we will retain at least 29% of our fleets that are currently on defense where they are. The rest will be added into our offensive operations in allotments based on where they are and current need."
"Excellent!" All of the earlier Harch's antipathy towards Grievous disappeared at those words. "Excellent. We need to start hitting real, strategic hardpoints, wipe out the Republic's ability to make war before they can get their feet under them."
"Agreed," said a Muun, one of the most senior Banking Clan leaders, who had used that position to almost literally by his commission. "My people could give any of you the numbers if you wish to peruse them, but the gist of it is that the Republic has far more depth to their logistical reserves and their industrial capacity than we do. And worse, it's far more spread out than ours, less susceptible to destruction. We might have our secret fleet construction yards, but the material gathering, the rest of our logistical pipeline is vulnerable if the Republic can get its industry set on a wartime footing."
"If we can keep the momentum, it won't matter how vulnerable we are," a Neimoidian admiral barked, his voice full of false bravado.
"Agreed," Grievous interjected. "Furthermore, our combat doctrine will change."
That made all the Admiral sit up, frowning in confusion. Grievous smiled as much as he could, given most of his face was made of cybernetics, and he pointed to the banking clan member with one robotic finger. "You said it yourself, Admiral L'vok: The Republic has far too much industrial depth. We must start removing that depth. Not just conquering it, since even that would take time, effort and material to do, spreading out our own forces. No, we must destroy the Republic's manufacturing capacity. To that end, I am ordering a full change to our combat structure. No longer will we attempt to invade planets unless that is the only way to bring down their planetary shield generators. If the shields can be taken down from orbit, that will be done instead. And we will bombard planets from orbit. Total war. What I did to Duro will be done to every planet we attack from now on. Regardless of previous importance."
That made some of the admirals quail for a moment. They were fine with killing millions of soldiers, even billions, to ensure the Confederacy's way of life. Freedom from the Senate, the Republic, and its horrible laws, freedom to see to their business as they should. But to order the massacre of untold trillions of civilians? That was something none of them had considered.
But Grievous made them look at it now, repeating his earlier reasoning. "We must do this. Even taking planets tie down our forces to defend our new holdings, and it will be months at best, years more like before any planet we conquer can materially add to our war-making efforts. They must be destroyed so that the Republic cannot use them in turn."
Trench nodded his head sharply, all of his eyes clicking close in one of his species moves of agreement, adding emphasis to his words. "Grievous is right. This must be total war. If a planet is foolish enough to have remained with the Senate after decades of growing corruption and malfeasance, then they deserve whatever they're going to get. "But that's doesn't mean we should not concentrate our forces more than we are.
"There might be an exception to that rule," one of the admirals growled, a heretofore silent Quarren, who was part of the Commerce Guild. "Rendili StarDrive is practically being torn in half at present from the debate between staying with the Republic and joining the Confederacy. I vote we do not attack anything in that sector. Instead, we send in material resources to help our confederates, gain control of Rendili StarDrive. That sector is rich in resources and chipmaking capacity, and their own fleets are large enough to make a difference in the overall war."
"At the same tone, Kuwait has thrown its entire balk behind the Republic. It should simply be wiped out," said another Admiral, getting into this new concept of total war quickly, Grievous was pleased to note. "In fact, they've bought in so much, that there are rumors that they actually created their own secret shipyards."
"Rumors no longer," said one of the other admirals, grimacing angrily as he leaned back in his chair. He was a human, the only human that was part of this conversation. Although there were many human fleet commanders among the Confederacy, they were not as well represented at the highest level of command. This one's face was thin, almost harsh, and yet looked as if he had recently been overweight to Grievous' eyes.
"We got hammered heavily in our recent engagements in my sector. In fact, we weren't able to succeed at any of our primary goals. Somehow the Jedi figured out what planets we'd attack and reinforced them with this secret fleet. Their dreadnoughts aren't much against a Lucrehulk or even a Munificent. Old pre-Katana-class cruisers, they lack offensive firepower and don't have any starfighters. But they are durable, and they've got a lot of them. My commanders and I counted at least two hundred and fifty ships of the same basic design, operating in our theater alone. We destroyed at least seventy of them in various engagements over the past week, but still…"
"In that case, the attack on Kuwait must have two strategic objectives," Grievous said, taking command of the discussion once more. "First will be the complete destruction of the construction yards, and wiping out the population. The second will be an infiltration group to gain access to their secret computer cores. No matter how well-hidden these shipyards are, there will be clues to point us in the correct direction to search for them."
"Might I suggest one of my Spider Units?" Trench asked, speaking of the Harch Secret Service's special division troop. "Or, should I take complete command of that operation?"
"No. It will be one of our most important missions going forward, and I will take command of it. I will second my own fleet, the fifth, fourth, and I will take from the defense forces of seven nearby worlds to make up my fleet. A hammer fit to break Kuat and disguise the scalpel attack of the infiltration group."
Then he looked at the Admiral who had complained about getting hit hard by these secret constructions. "Where did they come from, do you know?"
We have no idea where they were built or where they initially crewed, though my fleets took a few ships almost intact, their long-term memory banks were scrubbed. I can also report their crews were made up of at least two-thirds clones, as we were warned about," the human, whose name was Tom Thorne, replied. "The Republic really was gearing up to war to keep us under their thumb, they just weren't moving as fast as we were. "But for a forward deployment zone, they are using Bilbringi. The shipyards there are quite a bit larger than any reports I've seen on them."
"Destroy it. With your fleet combined into one fighting force, you should be able to do so."
"We will take heavy losses if they call in that those ships, but yes," Tom grimaced, but nodded resolutely. Bilbringi also didn't have any local civilian population for him to decimate. But destroying the fleet there would weaken the three nearest Ord fleets enough he could knock them off one after another.
"At the moment, losses among the Republic forces serve us just as well as outright victories," Grievous retorted. "Remember, most of our army are droids. Why do we care about their deaths? Building more ships and droids is far easier for us than training troops is for the Republic, even with their use of clones."
That won a laugh from everyone, although Grievous had been deadly serious and hadn't intended to make a joke. Yet his robotics analyzed the laugh and realized it was a laugh of simple agreement rather than humor. Other races are very strange, the Kaleesh warlord thought to himself before shaking his head, as he reached forward, inputting a few commands so that an image was displayed next to his head in the pickup. "This will be the center of our third most important attack. Admiral Trench, you will be in charge of this campaign."
Two planets appeared one after another. They looked almost like twins, but they were not. Nor were they even in the same sector, though they were somewhat close to one another in terms of the time it would take someone to get to one from the other. Trench instantly realized what he was to do. "Attack one, force it behind its shields, and then hyper out for the other. Eventually, anyway," he mused.
"Exactly. Now, does anyone else have any further ideas about what to do in their own sectors of operation?" Grievous opened the floor for more discussion.
That conversation went on for some time, but Grievous was happy when it ended. Grievous could not be everywhere at once or concentrate on everything equally. The other admirals had proved somewhat capable and thus could be made to serve for now. With this in mind and the new operations, they would be able to keep the pressure on the Republic, and hopefully for all time.
Though Grievous and the other admirals hadn't known it, the Great Plan called for the war to settle into a seesaw, almost a stalemate in point of fact as the Confederacy proved unwilling to use their numerical superiority as they did. And if Sidious had been able to communicate with Tyranus, that is what would have occurred. A few planets would have been scorched entirely, enough to feed the Dark Side yes and to paint the Confederacy as the enemy in the eyes of the Republic's citizens, but not so much as to damage the Republic as a whole. But with Grievous in charge and Tyranus and Diabolus instead concentrating on something else entirely, things had changed.
The strength of the Confederacy was in its current numbers, and the ability to not care much about losses safer the time it took to rebuild, as Grievous had noted. And he was going to ride that advantage for all it was worth, to the tragedy of the Republic as a whole and the great horror of its people.
The day after the battle for Corellia ended, Ranma and Shaak retreated to the Wild Blade, where it was currently docked with one of the shipyards above Coronet. There they kicked out everyone, even Ahsoka.
"You got a whole temple to train in kiddo," Ranma said, as he began to push Ahsoka down the ship's ramp out into the insanely busy hanger bay beyond. Every single shipyard in Corellia was busy right now, full of volunteers who barely knew how to weld helping the regular yard staff to repair damaged ships or, in some cases, mobilize mothballed ships that hadn't been destroyed by the Confederacy fleet.
"Master?" Ahsoka almost begged, looking over at Shaak. It wasn't so much that she was worried about being bored in the Green Temple, but she didn't like being separated from her master and her training. It had absolutely nothing to the idea that the other Jedi might try to force her to meditate for hours on end after this battle about the necessity of being centered in the Force or not taking pride in her martial ability or whatever. Really!
The older Togrutan just chuckled, shaking her head. "Part of married life is making time for one another, my Padawan. And not just the physical side of things, but time to simply talk and be alone together. And after this battle, Ranma and I need some of that. Besides, your lightsaber skills are such that you would benefit from seeking out other duelists than me or those aboard the Wild Blade. Not other padawans, though. I believe you would find most padawans a little too easy to defeat at this point."
Ahsoka frowned then hesitantly requested, "Could I, that is, could I ask Bo about training with some of her people instead?"
That caught Shaak aback, but she nodded. "Certainly. But I don't want you to concentrate solely on fighting Mandalorians. Remember that we will be facing Dark Jedi and Sith. Thus, facing lightsabers and Force users will always be good training. Do not assume that the fight during my wedding was an aberration and that the enemy you face will be like those Dark Brothers or whatever they called themselves."
That caused Ahsoka to nod firmly and Shaak went on. "If Bo-Katan agrees you may train with Janice or one of the others, then you may do so but only for half the day. The other half will be split equally between meditation and training with another Jedi. Check with Master Fisto. He and Anakin should be free to train with you."
"And it will just be for the day?" Ahsoka didn't like to admit it, but a day without training with her master and Ranma at this point was kind of weird. Even when they had been on Wayland, Master Ti had given her some training exercises to perform.
"Yes, it will just be for the day if that. I would wager we'll only get to spend half a day on our own before the rest of the universe intrudes," Shaak shrugged her shoulders. "Such is the vagaries of the Force."
"Heh, and my luck too," Ranma added, rolling his eyes. "But for now kid, git!"
Ahsoka sent a mock glare Ranma's way but willingly exited the ship at that point, joining Anakin. Kit had yet to return from the planet and seemed to be hip deep in discussions with General Garm Bel Iblis, the Corellian Dictat and the Green Council.
The two Padawans took a shuttle to the Green Temple, needling one another until they arrived. There they were escorted into meditation cells and told to meditate. Yet armed with Master Ti's permission to seek out the Reborn, Ahsoka was able to escape this dire fate, and with Anakin, found Master Fisto, who agreed to escort them through the battered city to where the Mandalorians had set up shop.
As they went, Ahsoka noticed that a lot of the walls they were passing by seemed to have already grown some new ads for something. But when she concentrated on one as they waited for some traffic ahead of them to clear up, Ahsoka realized that most of the ads she was seeing were recruitment posters. "'Take the fight to the Confederacy. Join the Corellian Sector Security Fleet. Fight for your freedom, fight for Corellia! This time it's personal!'" Ahsoka read aloud, shaking her head. "What do the Green Jedi think of all this?" she asked, looking over the other two.
Kit shrugged. "They're all for it. The Green Jedi have always been to singularly loyal to Corellia, putting their loyalty to it over their loyalty to the Republic as a whole. That has never sat well with the rest of the Order, but we always allowed them to go the wrong way simply because forcing them to do otherwise would have cost us too much and might have led to outright conflict. The idea of Corellia fielding its own navy goes along with that nationalistic fervor, and at this point, the Republic is so far o the backfoot strategically we need all the help we can get."
"I wonder how many of them are going to join up with the Mandos," Ahsoka mused.
"We'll find out soon, I guess," Anakin shrugged. "Look, there's Janice." The Mandalorian squad leader's helmet was distinctive with a bright slash of purple like eyeliner under her helmet's visor, and a purple outline to the owl painted on one shoulder. "Let's ask her about getting in some training time with them."
Kit nodded and set the hovercar down in front of a few Mandos, who looked up with interest as the crew of the Wild Blade exited the machine. Ahsoka though, had already turned her thoughts to something else. I wonder how recruitment is going on elsewhere in the Republic. We can't fight this war on our own with just the allies we've already gathered.
It might have astonished anyone who knew them, but after kicking the youngsters out, Ranma and Shaak did not leap directly into bed. They'd made love more often than not on the slow approach to Wayland, and then once on Wayland too. Thus that aspect of their relationship was somewhat sated. Or as close as it ever could be.
What they had missed most was solitude. The ability to be alone. Ranma preferred to have some time to his own, about an hour a day, basically, to meditate in his own manner. Shaak desired solitude a bit more, time with her own thoughts and her connection to the Force. It was just one of many contradictions in her nature that Togrutan, a species known for being very communal, would almost need time on her own.
Today, Ranma gave it to her. He ordered HK to nonlethally wound anyone who came close to the ship besides the other members of their odd little crew, told Tune to turn off, and then physically removed the communications console from the ship's cockpit so they couldn't be interrupted by incoming calls. Then, with a light kiss on her lips, Ranma had left Shaak in the cockpit, where she closed her eyes and simply breathed in deeply for some time, enjoying the fact no one else besides her most beloved was around for just these short hours. Then she began to fall into a trance, reaching out to the Unifying Force.
Her visions were almost instantly dominated by visions of battles to come. Many of them dealt with Wayland, one worrisome one showed something like a scene from Coruscant or another ecumenopolis as the war came to the planet. But after that was an odd one. A strange, shadowy planet, one which seemed to almost thrum with some inner Force power. That one was very strange indeed.
For his part, Ranma spent the next two hours exercising, going through his forms. After three hours of exercising, Ranma was done with it, then spent another forty minutes meditating, frowning as he concentrated on his Living Force. After his exertions of the day before, it had grown back weakly and easily. But then, Ranma too pushed out his mind out into the Force as Shaak had been training him to do, not to see or sense anything, but to practice gathering energy from the Unifying Force.
Ranma could feel the Force of roiling in a way that Shaak had often described as being the effect he had on the Force in general. But now, Ranma realized that that impression was magnified many times over. Like Shaak had told him, the Veil of the Dark Side was in tatters, and he understood what that would mean for the Jedi. For himself, it just gave him a feeling of intense satisfaction. I hope you choke on it, you hate-worshipping fucks! 'The Force will set me free,' bullshit! Your all slaves to your Dark Side, and I hope we end you all eventually.
The dimensional traveler wasn't looking for direction or anything like that. Ranma still firmly believed in making his own path, although he knew that most of the time that meant following Shaak and where the Force led them, able to talk to them because of his own Living Force. He was fine with that, the Force led them to some great fights and had helped them find Wayland. But that was a far cry from dictating his every move.
Now, for the first time, the Force spoke to Ranma directly without Shaak's Force-self being joined with his own. It sent him visions, flashes of images of a future. Personal, important possibilities of the future. With his limited experience, Ranma had little in the way of experience to help him figure out what most were supposed to be.
The first was of a young girl. She was a tomboyish little thing, maybe a year or two younger than Ahsoka, if that, or just not as tall, Ranma had no way to tell. Her hair was cut short, and she wore the typical Jedi robes. Her face was screwed up pugnaciously, and she was standing in a decent copy of the Jedi unarmed training stance. For some reason, she had a bit of food in her hair as she stared challengingly at whatever was in front of her.
Next was a monstrous, truly monstrous, space station, a giant oval with rounded ends and a center built outward like a tube around the oval. The vision zoomed out for an instant, showing two planets circling the space station like it was a star.
Even Ranma knew what this thing was, heck some of the first discussions he'd had with Master Dooku was about it. And he'd seen the sensor readings on it the day before. Centerpoint station. The Force was telling Ranma that at some point, his future would take him back here. For good or ill, Ranma couldn't tell, something that annoyed him. Damn it, if you're gonna give a guy visions, the least you could do is give him enough to understand their meaning!
The Force seemed to hear him since the next vision came complete with a reddish tinge to it, a visual emphasis if ever Ranma had seen (Felt? This Force stuff still annoyed Ranma). This vision was of Wayland. The planet was being attacked from space, with masses of ships racing down into orbit. Okay, so that's clear enough. We need to head back there and bring an army too. Fine.
But then, Ranma's sense of self was once more constrained by his physical body, the Force not having anything more to tell him. There, Ranma realized with a start that he too needed some real meditation time.
Like the Jedi, Ranma really wasn't a soldier for all he could walk the walk. He wasn't built for warfare, not really. He was a warrior true, but he much preferred small-time action, with few deaths and most of the action centered on himself or a small number of combatants. The battle through the mountain in Wayland and before that, the assault on Jabiim, had given Ranma insight into what war might be like. The battle here in Corellia gave him the full picture, and Ranma realized he was quite tired of it already. He found himself in dire need of finding his own center, his own balance.
About an hour later, Ranma came out of his meditation feeling better, but with a few questions that he wanted to ask Shaak. Moving into the kitchen, he began to prepare a meal for the two of them, something with steak in it naturally, but a bit different. Corellia had a few ingredients he wanted to try.
The smell of searing steak was what greeted Shaak when she came out of the cockpit, and she smiled, happy at the way her husband knew how to pamper her. For a moment, she looked down at the torque on her arm, reveling in that visible reminder of her permanent connection to the man currently cooking her dinner.
Then she shook it off and moved into the sitting area. She set the table wordlessly, before moving over to Ranma, hugging him from behind, laying her chin on his shoulder.
"Hey," he greeted her, turning his head just a bit to smile at Shaak.
"Is there anything you want me to do?"
"Heh, make up a salad for me?" he requested, smirking at her. "I can't live off meat and rice alone, even the way I'm going to be preparing it here." The meal in question was steak with a light glaze of something that Ranma felt tasted almost like curry powder would back home, but beyond that, Ranma hadn't decided on what to make as a side dish.
Chuckling, Shaak did so. There was silence between them for a moment, the calm of a couple who didn't need words to communicate. Shaak reveled in that, and by Ranma's smile, she knew her husband did too.
Soon they were sitting down, discussing the battle, and what would happen from here on as Shaak happily bit into the curry-glazed steak, fully enjoying the blast of many different spices to go with the rare steak. "We'll have to reinforce Wayland," she said with her mouth full, something that would have caused her to rap Ahsoka's knuckles. "Master Yoda has its coordinates, and we'll be moving in troops to help, but he says that it is the focal point, and my own Force senses confirm it. If we can keep control of it long enough, then we will be able to discover who the Sith is. The real one, not Tyranus."
Nodding, Ranma relayed what he had felt in the Force, which caused Shaak to nod, pleased and happy Ranma had been able to reach out to the Force without her there to guide their conjoined spirit. The Centerpoint Station bit was interesting, but not as important as leaving for Wayland as soon as the promised reinforcements arrived.
The two of them spent a few minutes going over the images, with Shaak admitting she did not know who the young girl could be, though she was somewhat amused to think that perhaps Ranma had his own Padawan out there somehow.
After that, Ranma questioned her on the last statement Shaak had made about what Yoda had told her in turn. "He confirmed that? That there's another Sith Lord out there beyond Bulq?"
"Oh yes," Shaak answered, a faint frown on her face as she put her fork down. With her Jedi self-control, that was the equivalent of a violent scowl on a normal person. "Master Yoda said that the real mastermind intends to sit in the shadows. The goal of the Sith is still the same as it has always been, destroy the Jedi and conquer the galaxy. Only their methodology has changed."
"Well, that at least wasn't new information," Ranma drawled, shaking his head. "But the rest, the rest is interesting."
Shaak chuckled dryly. "Indeed. Beyond that, Master Yoda warned that the Order itself would be taking serious body blows for a time, but that the Order would survive it. He also requested that Anakin and his new master, no, I don't know if he knows Kit has taken him on, to head to Zonama Sekot."
"Hmmm…" Ranma muttered, chewing his own food and not saying anything before steeling himself and going back to the original point. "If we kill this secret Sith, will that end the war?"
That was one of many questions he'd tried to search the Force on his own for an answer to. But all he got was a sense of something momentous around the corner.
Shaak sighed, shaking her head. "I doubt it. If we could kill him, Tyranus and the other Dark Side users they have allied with, the two female assassins that we know are out there, and the Jedi who have fallen to the Dark side and flocked to Tyranus' banner, it would certainly slow the war down. Perhaps we could make the Confederacy realize that they were being led by a group that only cared for their own power. But that would not make their grievances against the Republic go away. It would not make the blood that has already been shed enough for either side."
"After the first battle is over, you have all the reasons you could ever want to remain at war, huh." Ranma sighed. "I was afraid of that. And the Jedi order will continue to fight for the Republic?"
Shaak bit her lip with her sharp, predatory teeth very lightly as she understood the real question Ranma was asking: Would she still wish to fight for the Republic if the Dark Side users were removed from the equation? "Yes," she answered at last. "I'm afraid so."
"Damn," Ranma cursed mildly, shaking his head. "Oh well. It was just a faint hope, I suppose."
"Hope is never faint, Ranma, you either feel it and feed the feeling or let it subside. And while I understand why you are asking, I'm sorry, but I could no sooner leave the rest of the Order to fight this war than you could leave an innocent to fight for his or herself when faced with one fighting a battle they couldn't win."
"Well, hell, when you put it like that, I can't exactly argue," Ranma grumbled, though he was smiling as he did. "Still, I can't say that the idea of skiving off, going back to just searching for more martial arts styles to add to our abilities and perhaps just training the others wouldn't have a certain appeal."
Shaak nodded, then quizzically queried, "Are you certain you will be getting more trainees? Bo-Katan didn't indicate one way or the other before the battle, but let us face facts, there is a difference between training and training while also surviving the kinds of battlefields the two of us are going to throw ourselves into. This latest battle is a case in point. None of the rest of our little crew could have survived the sheer amount of firepower we faced."
Ranma grinned like a wolf, remembering the party he had gone to with the Mandalorians. "You still don't understand the warrior mentality, either the Mandos or the Nova Guard. Yes, they lost people under our training. But look at what they accomplished. They helped us take an entire planet on Jabiim. They helped defeat an entire reinforced brigade on Wayland along with who knows how many Brotherhood members and various beasties. They fought Dark Side users and won during our wedding. They have faced beasts that make even Jedi quail. And Janice, Dralshy'a, Kik'tova, Cro, and Kad survived. No, they'll assign trainees to join us, although they might offer more mature trainees instead of the younger set."
Shaak paused, licking some sauce from her lips as the thought on that, then nodded in agreement. "Hmm. So, when this war ends, what will you want to do first?"
That was it, Ranma would later reflect. With the tearing of the Veil and Wayland under their command, there was no more talk of if the war ended in their favor, or if they were able to find the Sith or whatever. They knew that the Sith days were numbered so long as they could keep Wayland, and they would die rather than give it up. Either they would be dead, or the Sith would eventually be defeated. After that, the Republic and Confederacy would figure out a way to end the war somehow. It was just a matter of time.
Of course, the day was not entirely taken up by such discussions. Eventually, the meal was finished, and Ranma lifted Shaak into his arms, causing her to giggle aloud before she began to lick and nibble at his neck. Later, as they were snuggling in bed, with Shaak asleep in his arms, Ranma had a bit of an epiphany. This right here, Ranma thought this is what bliss is like.
Alas, his stomach didn't quite agree with him, Shaak having eaten the majority of the dinner without Ranma having noticed, or cared really. Surprisingly, Ranma had found having Shaak eat his meal was almost as pleasurable as eating it on his own. And about two hours later, he gently, and very reluctantly shifted out from under Shaak, heading to grab a snack.
Coming back from the kitchen, Ranma blinked as the entrance to the ship opened, and Ahsoka bounding out of the entrance at the head of Kit, Janice and Anakin. All three paused to stop and stare at Ranma clad in only his briefs, and he looked back one eyebrow rising. "Damn people. Do I need to put up a do not disturb sign or something?"
Ahsoka groaned, thankful beyond belief that Ranma was wearing his underwear at least. Having seen him in the nude once was more than enough for her. "What the heck! Why the kriff are you going around the ship like that! That's as bad as finding Skyguy coming out of an alleyway with one of the Night Owls when Master Fisto and I tried to find him earlier! I'm surrounded by perverts!"
Ranma looked over at Anakin, who had the grace to blush and look away, before looking back at Ahsoka. "Point one munchkin, this is our ship, and I can go around dressed however I want. Point two, Shaak and I are married, so long as we're only perverted toward one another, that's allowed."
"What's a munchkin?" Ahsoka muttered while Anakin looked away while Kit chuckled quietly at his Padawan's expense. But there was no censor in his tone or face, which Anakin was relieved to see.
"Unfortunately, we do have to interrupt you," Kit chuckled, pushing Ahsoka gently forward while still sending a teasing, knowing smile Anakin's way.
"Why?" Ranma drawled, although he already had a good idea.
The Nautolan shrugged. "Information is coming in about the rest of the war and we were sent a packet about it."
Moments later, Shaak, dressed in her under-shift rather than anything else, was curled up against Ranma as the two of them shared a datapad. Both of them were utterly unwilling to set aside their 'married time' just yet, despite this interruption. Although while Shaak was simply ignoring the blushes coming from Anakin and Ahsoka, Ranma was grinning at them both whenever he caught their eyes, the nature of that grin changing depending on its target. That was enough of a hint for Anakin to stop staring again.
Despite having fun at the youngster's expense, Ranma was still able to read what was in front of them, and after a few minutes of quiet perusal, he spoke up. "Okay, color me confused but how does the Republic have this many ships? I mean, I hate to be that guy, but where is the Republic getting them?"
"It seems that the Republic has been funding an entire arming program via a project one our fellow Jedi set up," Kit explained, having read some of the information packet on the trip up from the Green Temple. "Master Sifo Dyas figured out that the Sith were out there but not who they were, and that the Order would need a military. He set up a clone system. I remember him somewhat. A Jedi of Master Dooku's generation, who believed in the Living Force type of methodology over the Unifying Force type."
"Which will give us enough of a force to fight back against the droid army. It's good thinking," Anakin mused.
"Clones? I didn't know that Republic technology could do that," Ranma stated, frowning.
Kit chuckled dryly. "It's not common for certain."
The process was explained to Ranma, who nodded thoughtfully. "Well I suppose that gives you enough troops. Still, why are so many of these clones choosing to become soldiers?"
Anakin laughed. "Choosing, no, there'd clones, why would they have a choice?"
"Why wouldn't they?" Ranma questioned, looking up in startled shock at that.
"Because they are clones. Clones are not given rights as Republic citizens would, very few planets would even assume they were sentient, let alone capable of making choices. They come out of the cloning process fully grown, with all the mental information they could be given already installed into their minds via a kind of mental programming," Kit said with a shrug. "That doesn't mean they aren't alive, but the idea of them having a choice is rather silly."
Ranma breathed in deeply and reminded himself very firmly that Kit was his best male friend, and tearing off his lekku in annoyance would probably not be seen as a good thing. "Let me get this straight, these clones are cloned from one person. So unless something really inhumane, like a lobotomy or something, is done to them in the tube, they are just as alive and sentient as the person who was their template. I want to know point-blank whether or not these clones are given a choice."
"Why?" Ahsoka asked bluntly, while Shaak sighed, knowing where this was going and not liking it one bit.
"Because right now, from what you've told me so far, I don't see a difference between these clones and slaves who are born into their chains," Ranma growled. "If they aren't being given a choice, that is slavery, slavery on a scale that makes the Hutts look like common street pimps in comparison."
The Jedi looked at one another, with Anakin, in particular, looking suddenly stricken. The indentured slave labor comparison had cut him to the quick, and now he was reassessing his previous position.
"…I don't know," Kit answered at last. "I don't know, but now that you've pointed it out, it does seem obvious that however they were brought into this world, they are living breathing people. And thus they have the same rights as any sentient being. But how to go about giving them that freedom will be a question. After all, they come out of the cloning process fully trained as soldiers. That will be all they will have been taught, all they know."
"I suppose you could argue that they have to work off the amount of money their creators sunk into their um creation? Is that the right word? But even so, they should be able to win their freedom," Ahsoka interjected.
"Exactly. Something like a five-year tenure in the Army, then free to either sign up again or to the I don't know, take online classes or something, becomes something else." Ranma tapped the table in front of him. "Let me be clear about this. I will not fight for anyone who condones slavery. Someone who isn't willing to do anything about it is one thing, which the Jedi Order mostly is, and the Republic certainly is as well, is one thing. But to actually use slavery on this scale, that is something else entirely."
"Ranma…" Shaak sighed, then nodded her head. "I believe that Ranma speaks sense. Fighting for the light side of the Force is one thing. But we cannot forget that sometimes, simply keeping to the Force rather than falling to the Dark Side does not equate to being in the right. We have to understand right and wrong as well."
"I think we need to get in touch with the Republic high command and the Jedi Council then," Kit said with mock cheer.
That conversation did not go as well as could've been hoped. Master Yoda was in consultation with the Republic High Command at the time and was unable to take part. Most of the rest of the council were in the field or had yet to return to Coruscant, like Master Windu.
This sadly meant that Ranma and the others talked to the portion of the Council that was least enthused with Ranma and his impact on the Order: Agen Kolar, Adi Gallia and Depa Billaba's replacement on the council, a purple-skinned humanoid named Atheec Tar. The argument went on for some time, but Ranma was finally able to get his threat across even if he couldn't convince the three of them of the fact that using clones like they were slave-soldiers was a morally corrupt act. "You either do something about this, or I stop fighting with you. My marriage to Shaak does not mean that I will turn a blind eye to evil on this scale!"
Eventually, the Jedi Council agreed to look into it, with a statement from master Kit being the final point in favor of trying to do something so the clones could have some kind of free choice as to what to do with their lives. "These troops are trained to an incredibly high degree and will be trained to be dedicated to the Republic to for certain. But dedication does not equate to true loyalty. The chance to earn their freedom might. Something to think about gentlemen."
With that they cut the connection, with Ranma still snarling in anger at the denseness of the trio of Masters and their unwillingness to see the immorality of the clone army as it was currently being used. In the silence that followed, Ahsoka voiced a question that had been plaguing her for a bit since they began talking about clones. "Um, I have a question. Did anyone mention who exactly they used as a template for the clones?"
Shaak and Ranma exchanged a worried glance at that, now wondering the same thing and very worried about the implications, while Anakin shivered, looking around warily. "Why did I just get a chill down my spine?"
"That is the Force's method of telling you that it can always get worse, my young Padawan," Kit sighed. "It is a feeling I suggest you get used to if we keep traveling with Ranma."
The fact neither Shaak nor Ranma made any comment on that caused Anakin to sigh too.
When the first Confederacy fleet arrived in-system, the defenders of Kuat felt that it was a raiding party, and calmed down from the semi-frenzy they had been in for a full day since another arrival had shown up unannounced. True, it was a large one: fourteen Lucrehulks, forty-two Munificent class cruisers, assorted gunships, and innumerable hordes of Vulture fighters. A point which was quickly becoming the signature calling card of the Confederacy fleet. But that armada was no threat to Kuat.
Everywhere around the large ring of construction yards alarms blared, and Kuat System Security (KSS) ships began to roll out from their various hanger bays to join the combat space patrol that was already in orbit. The full strength of the KSS was two hundred and ninety-five cruisers, seven hundred gunboats, and seventy-two starfighter wings bolstered further with three in-system Star dreadnaughts. Massive battleships larger than even the Lucrehulks of the Trade Federation, it was the capability of the Mandator class which had brought Kuat the coveted connections with the Chancellor and the agreements to build up the secret Republic Fleet.
Both the in-system Star Dreadnaughts and the cruisers were older ships than the attackers, but the cruisers were larger than the Munificent class, with commensurately more weaponry minus the spinal-mounted super-large turbolasers. They were a local design that had never really seen many buyers elsewhere, good all-around ships that didn't have the shielding or armor of the foolishly named Dreadnaught class or its predecessor which were now in use throughout the Republic as the war began. If anything, they were a little too geared to taking on other capital ships to really be of much use in peacetime, when anti-pirate activity was the thrust of most ship design, much like the Mandator-class but without the size which could instill awe in anyone who saw them.
And in peacetime, it had been against the law for that many military vessels to have hyperspace-capable engines. That had been the case until the commencement of this war. Now barely a week into the war, many of those ships already had hyperspace engines, such was the size and speed of Kuat's shipyards.
The construction yards themselves were not without defense either. Their designers had long known that as they built up, so too did their importance grow in any conflict. Weapons and shields came online quickly and efficiently. Each hab-block of the ring, which were segments of the yard about ten Lucrehulks long, had their own shields, weapons, and local command center. The command center was normally in charge of the work going on in a section, but the KSS, while not very experienced, was highly trained, and extremely loyal to the company that was both governmental body and primary employer in the system.
"I don't know what they're planning with such a small force, but we can see them off easily Master Rancisis. Your warnings were unnecessary," System Administrator-Admiral Perry of house Andrim said to the nonhuman Jedi that was standing next to him.
He was a little put off by the Jedi, for many reasons.
First, although Perry didn't make a big deal of it, he was very much a pro-human speciest, much like all of Kuat. They didn't see aliens as sub-sentient per-se, although there were exceptions. They just didn't see them as trusting or as intelligent as humans. Beyond that, Perry was a little annoyed by how tall the Thisspiasian Master was. Perry was in a hover seat that hovered several feet above the air in his command center, and Master Rancisis' head was still level with his own as he stood to one side, his large snake-like body thrusting his body up equal to the admiral's hovering form.
This was secondary to the primary reason behind his annoyance. The Jedi councilmember had shown up late the evening before and had informed the locals that the Jedi Council had somehow used their bizarre Force powers to see that the Confederacy was going to strike at Kuat. Which was, honestly speaking, somewhat logical but also very stupid. Kuat had some of the strongest defenses in the Republic, dwarfing even most Core World sectors! Its construction yards, called the orbital array by the locals, was one of the few real megastructureswithin the Republic beyond the HPC relays, something they were extremely proud of.
A spoiling raid made perfect sense, though. Destroy the outer system's infrastructure, and you could hurt the system construction ability tremendously. While the orbital array was huge, about three-fifths of the system's construction ability was scattered around in smaller shipyards. Or a feint perhaps, attacking the system's outer areas, pinning the KSS in place so that we retain our hyperspace-capable units in-system while more attacks are launched elsewhere in the sector. But Master Rancisis warned of an all-out attack, which is just ridiculous, even if we haven't finished our defensive rebuilding and organization. If only they had waited another two weeks, we would have had our minefields built up and be impregnable!
"Do not become fixated on that idea, nor assume that you know the minds of your enemy," Master Rancisis warned, his eyes closed as he communed with the Force. "This is but the first claw, more are going to be unsheathed momentarily. Do not send out your forces to engage them just yet."
Perry wanted to shout back at the Jedi Master, given the disruption the sentient and his orders had caused since he arrived in the normal running of the construction yards and indeed the system as a whole. But he calmed himself. The man had been sent here from the Republic high command and the Jedi Council. After this was proven to be nothing, that would be the point to put political pressure on the Order, to stop them from acting so highhandedly in the future. Bah, as if being able to use their mysticism really makes them worth listening to! A full attack? The Confederacy could never hope to take us, not without a kriff-ton more ships than this.
"You realize if we do not send our fleet out to engage them, they will be able to overwhelm our combat space patrol and destroy much of the outer systems infrastructure?" he asked instead of the vitriol he wanted to pour forth. "As they have already done to Duro and Corellia."
"Perhaps. But that can be rebuilt, and the amount of amusement in your voice when you mention Corellia does you no credit Admiral Perry," Master Rancisis replied, before pointing a finger at the sensor suite in front of them as the hologram updated itself. The man's internal anger was bothersome given how the man was broadcasting it so strongly, but Rancisis had other things to concentrate on right now. "And the second claw has been unsheathed."
This force was of a different configuration than the first. Forty-seven Munificent class, along with ten smaller carriers, a larger proportion of gunboats, and several hundred ships of a type that took Admiral Perry a moment to register. "Hardcell transports, the Banking Clan's transport stable? What the kriff are they going to do with those?" he muttered as he began to bark out orders, shifting his fleets disposition to cover two angles of attack from the outer system as the other fleet hadn't made any moves.
At the same time, the CSP, or combat space patrol, began to form into one flotilla to one side of the first Confederacy fleet. It had little chance against a force that large, but they could still do one long-range attack run perhaps, peeling off and destroying Vulture fighters.
"Wait," Master Rancisis ordered, his voice so harsh with command that everyone in the command center froze, even the people who were supposed to relay Admiral Perry's orders.
Perry turned to him angrily, his patience with the Jedi wearing razor-thin. "Master Jedi! You cannot give orders in my command center!"
Master Rancisis shook his head, holding up another finger making three that he was holding in the air. And he still hadn't opened his eyes, Perry noted. That fact made Perry even angrier, but Master Rancisis voice was calm as he continued to speak smoothly as if Admiral Perry hadn't interrupted him. "And three."
It was with a small amount of shock and rising worry of that Perry noticed the sensor screen updating almost on the moment from when the Jedi Master spoke.
"We have another fleet in system, on another angle of attack. This force is the largest yet," one of his technicians shouted. "Sixty-two Lucrehulks, sixty-five Munificent class, a hundred and fifty gunboats."
At that sight, Admiral Perry began to scowl angrily. "All right, so they have brought enough ships to play to possibly overwhelm our own mobile defense force. But it still isn't enough to truly threaten the construction yards!"
The Thisspiasian body swayed from side to side, his people's equivalent of shaking his head. "Perhaps, perhaps not. Pull back your combat space patrol Admiral, those ships are about to come under fire, and we can ill afford any losses just yet."
Scowling, Admiral Perry did so. After all, it was just good sense. The six heavy cruisers that had been on patrol through the outer system and their accompanying fifteen starfighter squadrons had been making for that first fleet to try a firing pass, a swift long-range assault that would've pulled starfighters off the enemy's CAP (Combat Air Patrol) and destroyed them before pulling away, using their greater speed than that of the Lucrehulks so that they would not be engaged by them directly before turning in-system.
But they had already been turning back the moment the second force appeared in-system, so his orders were somewhat redundant. About twenty minutes later, he slotted them into the rest of his feet, concentrating the fleet to face the newest threat, trusting that the shipyard's defenses would be able to face the first two 'claws' as the Jedi Master put it.
But then, the Jedi Master held up two more fingers, sighing faintly. "And now it comes to it, the fourth and fifth claws. Master Yoda read the future right, it seems."
"We, we have two more fleets incoming! Both of them fifty Lucrehulks minimum, we can't get a proper read they came in too close together to make each ship out in turn! Neither force seems to have an equal amount of smaller units thought. They are both coming from below and above the system plane," the same sensor tech reported.
Every system had a single plane of space, or coplanar, where the majority of the planets circled around the sun in the center. Planets routinely did not vary much from that plane due to how they had been formed billions of years ago. There could be a lot of discrepancy in where they were on that plane of the system, but one planet wouldn't say, have an orbit at a ninety-degree angle around the sun in comparison to the majority. But space was a three-hundred and sixty-degree battlefield, and an Admiral forgot that at his peril.
Now, Perry was cursing valuably, his eyes beginning to widen, as his heart began to pound his chest. The fleet coming at him was massive, truly massive, and was now of a size that it could indeed threaten the construction yards, perhaps even take the planet. Worse, these last two fleets were coming at the planet from angles where the construction yard wasn't. The construction yard was built around the equator of the planet, but Kuat's poles had been left free of any such construction. "They, they are trying to separate my fleet from my construction yards, forcing me to choose which enemy force to engage! I can only truly face any one of these last three forces individually, not all at once!"
"Exactly. The Confederacy is willing to sacrifice one such force to that kind of engagement because they know that doing so will bog your own mobile forces down." In comparison to Admiral Perry's worried almost hyperventilating voice Master Rancisis' was a splash of cold water in the face. "You must not allow that. Use starfighters to blunt the attack from either of these new forces as much as possible for now, tear away their own Vulture screens. Meanwhile, pull your mobile defense forces back towards the construction yards, do not sacrifice them against any of these forces."
The aged Thisspiasian turned his body to one side to address a communications specialist. "At the same time, send out a call for reinforcements. The fate of this planet, and perhaps your entire sector, is going to be determined in this battle."
"Yes, yes! Reinforcements! Yes, we need them," Perry shouted, pointing a near histrionic finger towards the same com-tech. "Get the call out! Call everyone, send a report to Coruscant, and, and every other system in our sector! We need reinforcements!"
So busy was he with that, he didn't even mention the reinforcements that the Jedi had brought with them. Those reinforcements stayed hidden where they were on the inner portion of the construction ring.
Over the next hour, the Confederacy vessels moved in system methodically destroying everything in the outer system they could. Cargo haulers, the space stations that were all over the system, asteroid miners, incoming and outgoing craft. At the same time, Kuat's planetary shield came online, adding its own layer of defense around the planet, as the few weapons stationed on the planet also came online.
But such was the size of the orbital array that the planetary shields could not reach out to the ring and cover it in turn. Each aspect of the construction yards had their own shields, but they weren't nearly as good as it could have been with the shields of the planet covering them as could be the case elsewhere with defense stations.
During the time the Confederacy was busy in the outer system and intense dogfights occurred around the armada designated 'North Pole Assault Fleet', reinforcements did arrive, popping out of hyperspace and racing in system before they could be engaged, the Confederacy having spread out their formations enough to allow this. Seven of the other systems in the Kuat sector and hyperspace capable defense fleets, and all of them sent aid to Kuat. Each individually was of a size that had seemed adequate in peace time, and together they adding another forty-seven heavy cruisers, six-hundred gunboats, and forty-two starfighter wings, almost all of them the new Sprite class.
Two of the secret construction yards were close enough to also reroute their own defense fleets. This added a further sixty-four heavy cruisers of the doughty pre-Dreadnaught class and four fighter wings.
But the Confederacy had been reinforced as well by two more Lucrehulk heavy forces, each of sixteen Lucrehulks each. One such group had jumped in almost well enough to pin down a reinforcing fleet, which was forced to sacrifice its starfighter wings in a desperate attempt to get away.
And unfortunately, that was it for the reinforcements that Kuat could expect to arrive in time to do any good. There were no more system defense forces in range to help within the sector. The nearest Ord-system patrol fleet had been wiped out in the earlier attacks that the Confederacy had launched and had not been replaced yet. The two other closest planets of any importance were already being attacked by smaller Confederacy forces, which everyone had assumed was why that system fleet had been wiped out. This early in the war everyone had felt that attacking a place like Kuat, a hard point if ever there was one, would've been the height of folly.
The Republic high command had been wrong. The Confederacy had far more ships to put into the field than even the worst pre-war reports had warned, and now, Grievous was using that advantage as it should have been used from the start. Aggressively, yet intelligently. Pinpoint rapier attacks of overwhelming power to in turn destroy the Republic's ability to continue the war.
On his flagship Grievous smiled thinly, as all the pieces were in place. Staring at the sensor hologram, he smiled as his fleets moved into position. One fleet, the second which had jumped in-system looked as if it was meant to guard the backs of the others, moving around the outer system behind them on an elliptical orbit while the two hammers came at the planet of Kuat from above and below, fit to avoid most of the fire power of the construction yards. A third fleet, composed of nearly a hundred Lucrehulks and the majority of the Munificent-class ships in the system, and all the smaller carriers have been composed into one fleet.
Now they, and Grievous himself on his new flagship the Punisher, were barreling along the system plane towards the center of the construction yards facing them. This in turn forced the mobile defense forces into that orbit.
Grievous was interested to note that the defenders had not taken the bait of his smaller flotillas. They had not split their firepower by sending out to their defense fleets to engage one or the other. The amount of reinforcements had come as a surprise, but that was why his own reinforcements have been nearby hidden in deep space ready for the call. It merely meant that the rest of the Kuat sector would be without their defenders after this battle was won.
"Admiral Grievous, we are about to enter weapons range," his sensor specialist warned him. Permission to release the droid fighters?" Most of those droid fighters, which accompanied the main fleet had been held back as a CSP within the envelope of the capital ships' defensive fire. In that role, they had beaten off a few starfighter attacks before the locals wised up to the fact that they weren't going to get any hits like that. They just didn't have enough starfighters of their own to break through the swarms of Vultures.
Although he wasn't happy to see how many gunboats he had lost to those attacks. Still, that is a small price to pay. And there are always more Vultures.
"Permission granted. All ships, fire in echelon command." This command meant that each division of ships, which could simply be in the larger ship class to war for, but in the smaller class would mean more eight or 12, would fire at the local Commodores command. "Open fire. Target the lead Star Dreadnaught. That trio of ships compose our most dangerous opponents."
At the same time, the defenders began to open fire, their starfighters streaking out once more, wings upon wings of starfighters dueling now in the area between the two fleets. The most massive starfighter dogfight in the last thousand years began, dwarfing even the fights that had occurred in Duro and Corellia or in Kuat itself thus far. Indeed, the Corellian campaign seems now as if it is but a prelude to this one, Grievous thought, as he began to bark out orders, moving his ships this way and that to target different areas of the construction rings as the battlefield began to spread.
His fleet, which had previously been more in the shape of an auger, spread up and down now. More of his starfighters and capital ships moved into a sort of enveloping wall formation to come at the construction yards from above and below as well as straight on from the angle where they aimed themselves initially.
As they did, so too did the system's mobile defenses, the reinforcements having been fully integrated into the defenders fired by this point. The cyborg's eyes began to narrow almost instantly though, as he noticed something interesting. The system defense armada was not being nearly as aggressive as he had hoped they would be. They weren't making any mistakes, staying in close so that their envelopes of fire covered one another well, and staying within range of the construction ring's own weapons. Even the Mandators were doing so, even as they shifted to be the center of the battle.
Still, that was a purely defensive action. There was no way that they would be able to see the next aspect is coming. And even if they did, they wouldn't be able to break away.
Master Rancisis sighed faintly, his eyes still closed as he communed with the Force, using the skill Battle Meditation. This allowed him to feel the floes of the battle and bolster his side of the battle, making the disparate ships and crews work together. Yet he could tell already this battle was not going to be one they could win.
The enemy has simply brought too much strength to bear, and there is something hidden too, something was going to occur, which Yoda had warned about in vague terms and which Rancisis could now see more clearly. But I cannot stop it, he acknowledged, as that future loomed ever closer with the two hammers coming up and down towards Kuat. I cannot stop it, but I can stop the greater strategic loss perhaps.
Because hidden in that greater darkness, that greater act of pure evil, was a worse strategic goal that could not be allowed to fall into the Confederacy's hand. This is why Jedi should not allow their emotions to cloud their actions, the Thisspiasian reflected somewhat wryly. Because as this battle went on, he was going to be giving orders would not be at all well received. But at least I am keeping my head unlike the human in his ostentatious hover chair beside me.
Indeed, as the battle for Kuat began in earnest Admiral Perry began to break down. His heart stammered in his chest, and he began to pound one hand on the side of his hover chair as he shouted out, "Where are our reinforcements? Where are they? Why is this happening!? It shouldn't have happened! Why is it happening, why are they willing to do this!? Where is the Republic? Ge, get me the Chancellor, he, he needs to get us help!"
It was time Rancisis decided. His voice came out crisp and clear, as it had since the moment, he and the rest of the Jedi expeditionary fleet had been sent to Kuat. But now it carried a tone of finality that it hadn't carried before. "Admiral Perry, you are relieved of command. I regret to say, but you do not have the experience necessary to truly command in battle, and your panic proves this out. Please recess yourself."
As the Admiral began to blather at him in anger, Master Rancisis gestured to two nearby guards. "Gentlemen take the Admiral to his room. He is overwrought."
The men and women in the command center turned to him in shock, as well as some delight. The admiral had not been making friends in the last few minutes as his orders began to show his panic. Even the two men by the door, some of his personal guards, didn't argue, simply moving forward and pushing the Admiral out of the room, an act made much easier thanks to his hover-chair.
The moment the Admiral was out of the room, as Master Rancisis reached out with the Force, gently calm in the men around him, as well as every other mind in a command position throughout the system. It was difficult, and he could feel the strain of it, but the other Jedi in the system helped, adding their power to his, their calm, steady presences adding to his own.
"Ladies and gentlemen stand firm. The Confederacy, these users of unfeeling machines who have not the courage to get their own hands dirty, have brought war to your system. They have brought destruction. We will do what we can to make them pay for it. Think only of your own tasks, and trust in those above you. With the Force as our guide we will do what we can."
It was not the most rousing speech. It was not designed to instill courage or to make the defenders fight all the harder, or even make them believe victory was possible. Even Battle Mediation could only do so much on this scale against this weight of firepower. And Master Rancisis was a Jedi, and moreover, he was a Thisspiasian, a species who had long abjured the more violent portion of their nature. As a Jedi he had taken that a step further shunting aside all of his emotions.
Instead, his words instilled a certain amount of grim efficiency as everyone within range of his Force presence began to go about their duties with a more professional, determined air than before. The enemy might win the day. But they would pay for it.
On his flag bridge, Grievous snarled irritably. For a moment, the command of the defenders had seemingly begun to panic, different flotillas moving in more directions, getting in each other's way rather than covering one another with their defensive fire. Four cruisers had been knocked out in that time, and a full wing of starfighters had found themselves too far away from their fellows losing dozens of Sprites to the Vultures before they could pull away.
But now the defenders had seemingly gotten themselves back together and the fight was continuing.
"Sir, we're losing our starfighters on a rate twenty-five percent faster than we expected to. The enemy starfighters are fighting better than we anticipated, and most of them are being careful to not come out from the defensive envelope of the construction yards. Their gunboats are also mauling our Vultures and taking little in the way of losses of their own."
"Show me the data," Grievous ordered before grumbling angrily as he read the data. "Inform the Dark Jedi that he is to hold off on his attack for now. We need to wait until their defensive formations have broken down further before we can launch Hidden Dagger. Bring forward our Vulture Reserves from the carriers with Hidden Dagger."
He then smiled as much as his cybernetic parts would allow, pointing at the tactical screen. "On the other hand, Operation Clamp seems to be going off without a hitch."
At that moment, the two previously unengaged fleets coming from above and below the planet came within range of the planet's defensive fire. Planetary grade weapons had greater range and far more stopping power than even capital ship-grade weapons like the Munificent class's spinal mounted turbolaser, and the Lucrehulks making up those fleets began to take fire.
But as the spy reports had told them, Kuat really didn't have very many of those on the planet itself. And none of the fire from the construction yards could range on them as they closed into their own range. The Southern and Northern Pole assault fleet's starfighters stayed in close just in case. Even with their concussion missiles, a Vulture's ability to damage a planetary shield was next to nothing, except in overwhelming numbers. Which admittedly Grievous could have used if he had mustered them as one gigantic fist. But it would've been a very flimsy, very obvious fist, so he had not done so.
As he watched, the defenders began to respond to this new threat. And an instant later, he snarled as he realized he had missed something.
Master Rancisis smiled thinly as several KSS capital ship squadrons retreated underneath the planetary shield. There they began to traverse around the globe towards one of the incoming fleets, using the planetary shield to block incoming fire as they got in between the North Pole Assault Fleet and the planet. A hundred and seventy mixed heavy cruisers against fifty Lucrehulks.
The Jedi Master had pulled back most of those ships one or two at a time from the main battlefield, unnoticed thanks to the amount of fire that the Mandators were drawing down on themselves. They had hidden behind the bulk of the construction yards from the enemy's sensors, which were close to being overloaded by the sheer size of the battlefield and the number of ships battling it out and now that proved its worth.
By the time they reached the contact point, the incoming fleet had seen them coming, but they kept coming. This aspect of the battlefield was much more evenly matched, the number of heavy cruisers offsetting the much greater amount of firepower that each Lucrehulk possessed. And the planetary shields helped immensely in aiding the locals make up their size disadvantage.
But this, alas, left the Southern Pole Assault Fleet completely unengaged by the mobile defenders. The defenders just didn't have enough mobile firepower, not with the main hammer slamming into the construction yards still.
They began to hammer the planetary shield, raining down fire so much that it looked almost as if a solar flare had simply appeared between them and the planet such was the firepower being displayed. Within twenty minutes, the planetary shield along that area began to shiver, and the defenders down below on the planet gulped as they waited for the incoming invasion.
But it was only now that everyone else realized what Master Rancisis had known all along. The darkness that he had sensed was not a planetary invasion or the death of the defenders. Now, the darkness he had seen in the future of Kuat was far worse. As the planetary shield started to fall after more than an hour of pounding, the Lucrehulks did not abate their fire as most of the defenders had thought they would.
For the second time in this war, Grievous had ordered a planetary bombardment. Turbolasers flashed down from on high destroying defensive batteries, the few scattered defensive positions, and any and all habitations on that part of the planet. Within ten minutes of the bombardment's start, the entire southern segment of the planet had been wiped clean of sentient life.
This did not equate to the number of deaths another Core World would have suffered under a similar bombardment. Kuat had long been the site of a very careful ecological terraforming project. Most of the system's inhabitants lived in the construction yard, and every industrial aspect of their society was up in orbit. It was the agrarian part of their society that was on the planet, the governmental and rich who lived there. That amounted to quite a high number of people even so, but not nearly as much as it would have on any other world.
The horror aspect of such an attack, however, was much the same, or worse. Many Kuati believed in keeping their planet sacrosanct, and this cut to the core of that belief.
At the same time, more than two hours into the main battle, more ships began to die, first on the defender's side. Cruisers were just not strong enough to take the amount of punishment that a Lucrehulk could dish out, even with the three Mandators taking so much of the attacker's fire. First one, then five in the main battle, followed by one unlucky ship on the northern pole, died in massive explosions or were simply shattered.
But there, Master Rancisis' plan had brought more power to a point and this began to tell on the attackers too. A force of three Lucrehulks came apart one after another, pounded by sixty of the defenders who could concentrate fire on them to the exclusion of the other capital ships around them.
While the planetary shields had been hammered down elsewhere, they still were up over northern pole, as the attackers had tried to split their fire, battering at the shield in a wider radius to engage the defensive ships that were directly underneath it at those points. This wasn't working very well, while the defender's ability to target groups of ships to hammer groups of Lucrehulks at a time was working quite well.
Grievous noticed this and began to scowl. But the south pole attack had done so well, that Grievous now had those ships able to engage and pour their own fire into other aspects of the battlefield. "Order the southern feet to split up into teams of four. They are to spread out from their current position, firing down into the planet as they do so, but then engage the construction yards from those aspects. It is time to split the construction yards defensive fire further."
"And the Northern Fleet, sir? They're getting hammered," one of his sensors techs reported.
"They can take it. The North Pole Assault fleet is doing its job, pinning the majority of the mobile defenders down there. Because of that, we are winning the main battle. And our firepower is going to start telling even further soon."
Despite all Master Rancisis could do on a tactical level, the defenders were indeed being overwhelmed. The construction yards were big, tough targets. But they were not as good as an equal tonnage of defense stations could've been. Their heavy cruisers were, again, just not up to take on the number of Lucrehulks in the system, not and fight the number of Munificent class ships, which were their natural opponent. And concentrating on the Lucrehulks as they had at the start of the fight meant most of those Munificent classes had yet to be directly engaged by the defenders. Their spinal mounted turbolasers were now started to have an effect on the battle. One of the Mandator class was almost without shields at this point, much of its armament slowly starting to fall silent.
Yet Master Rancisis knew there was another aspect to this battle. Even as the main battle began to go against Kuat, he prepared for the secondary strategic threat. "Contact Master Shaltear and Master Tyffix, please," he ordered one of the internal communications devices. "Inform both of them that their forces will be needed shortly."
Grievous smiled. The defenders were finally being overwhelmed around the construction yards as the Southern fleet had split up upon his orders. They had spread out the defender's fire, and now the KSS forces were faced with attacks from behind and below as well as directly in front. They simply couldn't deal with it, and swaths of the construction ring's local shields were being hammered under. Their defensive shields are good, he acknowledged, but not good enough. Once the Mandators fall, the battle will be nearly over.
Even so, the fight above the northern pole was indeed going against his forces, the planetary shields having sustained enough fire to allow the defenders with their greater numbers to start to overwhelm his Lucrehulks there. Six more Lucrehulks had been lost there, making for a total of ten by this point just on that portion of the battle. Elsewhere in the battle, twenty-two had been knocked out of the fight or outright destroyed, along with forty-nine Munificent, none of which had survived long enough to retreat.
And the defenders had done a much better job of wiping out starfighters from the start than he had anticipated. Their gunboats seemed to have been designed for that role rather than the normal jack of all trades type as his own were. That had already forced him to bring forward more of the Vulture wings from the Hidden Dagger fleet. But even so, it was time.
"Order the Dark Jedi to launch Hidden Dagger," Grievous growled as yet another defensive ship flared into death, followed by an entire segment of the construction ring losing power. Its shields went down, ion cannon fire flaring across their surface, shorting out and destroying defensive installations. Turbolaser blasts then began to rain down, destroying the physical construction of the yard, cracking its outer shell, shattering it within seconds, showing once more that the construction ring segments, for all their firepower, were not built to take the punishment of war.
Master Rancisis could feel the despair of the defenders as the fight finally began to tilt further against them. But he rejected it utterly, not allowing it to impact his ability to use the Force, and then reaching out, trying to instill that in the men and women of the KSS.
"Order an evacuation of sector beta twenty-nine," he said, naming the sector that had just been completely overwhelmed. In fact, contact each sector's nominal commanders. I understand there are evacuation procedures? Evacuate all nonessential personnel to the northernmost pole as smoothly and capably as possible. Sequester every hyperspace capable ship still within the construction yards, order them to take on as many people as they possibly can. That process should already have begun, but it needs to be made official now."
"Master Jedi?" one of the communications specialists practically yelped, startled.
Master Rancisis kept his voice calm as he opened his eyes to lock gazes with the man, his voice kind but firm. "We have lost this battle, young man. We lost the moment their own reinforcements appeared. Now our mission must change to getting away, to husbanding your civilian population as much as possible and to escape to fight another day with what forces we can. Do you understand?"
He could see the spines stiffen everywhere in the command center and nodded his head firmly. "See to your duties, gentlemen. We will not win this battle. We can still do our duty."
Everywhere across the construction yards evacuations had indeed begun hours ago, many of the population wanting to head down to the planet. That had stopped when it became clear what the two Lucrehulks fleets coming from above and below were going to do, but most of the population had already been in place, ready to be moved.
Now, even as Grievous launched Hidden Dagger, that planning began to have an effect. From the side of the construction yards facing into the planet blast doors open, and literally thousands of small to large hyperspace capable ships began to trickle out.
Most of them had been civilian sector ships who had been ordered from the yards but when the war began, all work on them stopped. But, such was the ability of Kuat construction yards that most of them already had their hyperspace engines, were airtight and ready to go. Most of them didn't have shields, and none of them were armed. They were, large and small, very, very flimsy vessels. But there were a lot of them and with them came the vast bulk of the civilian population.
Those ships hid for now behind the construction yards, moving slowly so as not to be noticed by the ongoing assault. Even the Lucrehulks attacking from around the planet from the north pole didn't see them for now.
At the same time, other ships again begun to move. A small wing of Jedi starfighters husbanded throughout this battle up to this point. And five Katana-fleet cruisers, which also had not been part of the battle, most of whom were crewed by Wookiees from Kashyyyk. Their addition might well have made a difference at any one point of the battle, but would not have made a difference overall, there were just too few of them. However, Master Rancisis had seen a much better way to use them.
From out-system, the second Confederacy flotilla that had invaded Kuat had seemingly been on patrol against further reinforcements. It had been inching closer throughout the battle, not engaging, but had been moving just out of engagement range. Now with the defenders completely bogged down and losing ground, this fleet came crashing through like a rapier just as the North Pole Assault Fleet began to take more losses, another Lucrehulk dying there.
This flotilla was made up of mostly Munificent class cruisers and Hardcell-class transports. The latter type of transport ship was known for its durable shielding and heavy armor, not its offensive firepower. It was designed to get what was inside it to wherever that ship was going come hell or high water, and it could literally crash into and through ships of similar weight class.
This attack should have come as a complete, utter surprise. The flotilla came down towards the construction yards at an angle, behind and above almost, using the North Poll Assault flotilla as cover right up until the last moment, while that Flotilla had finally, finally, battered the planetary shields down.
From that position, they should have pounded the shields of one of the ring's segment down and allowed the Confederacy troops to crash into the yards and land their forces. This included the Force under the Dark Jedi, Ror, dark-skinned Zabrak whose horns had been shattered or cut off sometime in the past.
And while the first aspect worked out for the attackers, the Munificent class ships were almost instantly jumped the moment they came within range. More system patrol ships peeled off from the main battle and the battle over the North Pole. The Jedi cruisers moved out to engage them in turn. Having been completely unseen before this point, they caught a Munificent out of position, pounding its shields down and swiftly shattering the vessel in two.
As the Munificent came apart, the Katana class cruisers targeted the Hardcell transports, which, while tough and durable, could not sustain the fire coming at them now. More than a dozen of them lost engines or flared out of existence within the first few minutes, such was the surprise the Jedi had achieved. At the same time, the Jedi starfighters crashed into and through the Vulture fighters that were part of this portion of the battle. There are only twenty such squadrons and Vulture starfighters, as good as they were, were not up to tangling with Jedi starfighters covered from by the cruisers of the KSS.
Grievous snarled angrily, slamming one robotic hand down on the side of his chair so hard the chair shattered as he stood up, hydraulic muscles clicking and whirring as he stalked his command center, roaring out, "How! How do they know! Cursed Jedi!"
"The attack is ongoing, sir. We have achieved some aspect of our hidden agenda. Five Hardcell units, including the one carrying Jedi Ror are down punched through the construction yards shields as expected. We just don't have a force on the ground as it were that we had hoped, but we have enough," one of his sensor techs dared to try to soothe the cyborg.
Grievous snarled, backhanding that sensor tech so hard the man's skull shattered under the blow as his neck snapped. His body was sent flying sideways out of his chair to smash boneless against the far wall, as every other sensor tech and communications specialist in his command center cringed.
"Fool!" Grievous snarled at the corpse. "If the Jedi have been able to spot that aspect of our battle plan, what else will they have done in the actual construction yards to fight it?"
Inside the construction yard that had thus been invaded, Ror was finding that out personally. He had quickly reorganized his forces bringing together the disparate units of fifteen companies of combat droids into one central whole, pushing them outward hard in every direction. At the same time, he had turned over that command to the droid's own local control, and moved through the battlefield on his own, his own part of this operation very clear: Find one of the scattered central computer nodes and drain every bit of information he could.
Behind him, five droids specifically designed to contain data and transfer it from one place to another followed him. Their bodies were even more block than normal B1 types, like deformed men with massive chests and stomachs going forward and back.
But as the attack spread out, the droids involved in this battle became the first units of the Confederacy to face the clone troopers in infantry-style warfare.
The clone troopers were dug in at hundreds of different hard points, spread out a little too much in the clone commander's opinion. But the space-based aspect of the battle had gone better than he had anticipated too, so he felt that was a wash. "All units, fire at will," he barked into his com bead before looking over at Jedi Master Tyffix. "Unless you have an objection?"
The Gand Jedi shook his head. The Gand was an insectoid species who had to wear masks while in most environments, shorter in stature than humans, they could be bulky or thin, like Tyffix, with large, insect-like eyes under their full-facemasks.
He was an older Jedi, a Sentinel who had been tasked with leading the infantry side of this battle. "Not at all. Just remember that this is but one aspect of the battle. We must hold off these droids until the evacuation of this sector is accomplished, and I sense that even now, this part of the battle is not as straightforward as it appears. Contact the defenders of the computer core and order them to prepare for an attack."
"All of this to hide a computer hijacking?" the clone commanders muttered, frowning and annoyance but then nodding slightly. It made sense, after all. The overall battle was lost, he had been able to tell that hours ago. The defenders had done better than he had anticipated against the immense firepower coming at them, and the Jedi had proven far more cold-blooded and calculating than he had expected from them given the data he had on the Jedi. "Yes, Master Jedi. And yourself?"
"I believe I will head there personally. You seem to have this aspect of the battle under control. Prepare your own troops to fall back as need though. Remember, this is a delaying action. No one needs to die today if they can be saved to fight another day."
The clone trooper snorted at that, gesturing the Jedi on. It didn't make sense to not sacrifice the troops as much as possible to bleed the enemy, but he supposed the Jedi were supposed to think longer term than that. And droids can be replaced even more than we can.
Moments later, Master Tyffix stood in front of the nearest computer court to the place where the surviving Hardcell transports had been able to crash land into the construction. The atmosphere of this portion of the construction yard was beginning to deteriorate from the damage it had taken, even the interior bulkheads failing. But as a Gand, that didn't matter to Tyffix. Once the air was gone, he could actually remove the mask he had to wear normally as Gand did not need to breathe.
It did matter to Ror, who had just come into view around the corridor. He wore an abridged spacesuit covering his mouth and nose but left his eyes and the rest of his head bare, allowing his yellow, angry gaze to be visible. He stopped suddenly at the sight of the Jedi Master, his lightsaber activating.
But for all his surprise at meeting a Jedi, the former padawan-turned-Sith Acolyte could not stop himself from taunting his enemy in a very crude example of Dun Möch. "You've lost Jedi! Everything in this system, everything is going to be destroyed! All its people, all of its infrastructure, everything will be lost to your corrupt Republic and your blind, naïve Order! You have lost."
"The battle certainly. But the battle is not the war. Your attempt to bother my balance in the Force will fail. Even with the Force, I cannot impact the whole battle, and I know it. I can only be concerned with my personal aspect of it. You will not defeat me. Surrender, Padawan Ror, and the Order might be lenient."
"We shall see!" With that, Ror launched himself forward, his lightsaber flashing out as he leaped forward.
Master Tyffix met it with his own, and the two of them began to duel, bouncing around the place. Both of them used Ataru, which meant highly mobile, acrobatic attacks. Here, with the gravity of the construction yards also beginning to fail, that was emphasized. The walls and ceilings became momentary landing zones as they launched at one another, using the momentum of each parry or attack to one another back and forth.
The lightsabers crashing into one another many times in the next few minutes the sound slowly petering out with the air, but the violence still ongoing as elsewhere the battle continued to rage.
The main aspect of the battle, the battle occurring around the construction ring was most decidedly tilting against the defenders now. One of the Mandators had exploded, another had been silenced entirely, all of its weapons out. The last Mandator was still fighting, but without the two massive Star Dreadnaughts soaking up the enemy fire, the construction rings and the remaining defenders were now taking even more damage.
However at the same time, Hidden Dagger had been blunted, the Jedi starfighters and the Katana fleet ships not only impacting that part of the battle but almost sending that flotilla reeling such was their surprise.
Now the remaining mobile defenders began to congregate there, pulling back from the north pole in squadrons to face this new threat. In so doing, they created a corridor between the remaining Lucrehulks of the Northern Pole Assault Fleet and the Hidden Dagger flotilla.
Into this corridor the hyperspace capable civilian ships fled, taking fire from Vultures from all sides, but defended by the last of the local starfighters. Such was the population density of construction yards that this went on for forty minutes, while Grievous attempted to peel off ships from other areas of the battle to interdict them. They destroyed dozens of ships, a but the defenders had retained enough of their mobile defense ships to keep that lane open despite everything else Grievous had done.
Those ships were battered and dying now, but they were doing so to defend their loved ones. And just like in Corellia, this pushed them to levels of heroism that Grievous for all of his cold calculation, could not have anticipated. Furthermore, thanks to the Jedi, they still retained cohesion, where in any other circumstances at this point in the battle, it would've been utter chaos. Still, the battle was pushing to its conclusion now. This was punctuated by the Last Mandator dying, ramming a Lucrehulk even as it came apart under enemy fire.
In the command center, Master Rancisis sighed as more of the construction yard began to fail, and the command center itself began to lose power. "It is time to evacuate. To the nearest escape ship, ladies and gentlemen."
A second later, he began another order, moving two more cruiser squadrons into position to counter three Lucrehulks that attempted to break away from the main battle around the construction yards from and up to help try to stop the evacuation. Most of those ships died under the fire of the Lucrehulks, but two of the Lucrehulks themselves were sent reeling, their weapons dead, their systems shutting down in large chunks across their hulls. And shifting fire to them had defended the civilian ships. Even the third Lucrehulk retreated back towards its fellows rather than try to chase them down.
"What about you, Master Jedi?" asked one of the sensor techs even as she stood up from her position, staring over her shoulder at him.
"I will stay here and help coordinate things. We must retain central command until the last possible moment. We must get as many people out as we possibly can. That could mean that I may go down with the ship as it were. I am resigned to becoming one with the Force," Master Rancisis intoned, his eyes still closed as he coordinated the battle through the Jedi.
However, that was not to be. A second later, all power to the command center failed, and Master Rancisis opened his eyes, sighing faintly as emergency lighting came on. The emergency lighting would just keep the lighting on obviously, not the communication and sensor equipment that was necessary for him to run the battle from here. "Or perhaps not."
More than one of the sensor techs shivered at the amount of, not negativity but simple unconcern that the Jedi seems to hold for his own life. But they were all happy that he was coming with them, heading from the command center towards the nearest evacuation ship. This was a Consular-class ship, one of the ships that the Jedi had arrived in, and it powered up and away from out of the construction yard to join the last band of fleeing refugee ships.
Once in the Consular-class ship, Master Rancisis was once more able to engage with the rest of the battlefield, shouting out orders even as the Jedi starfighters began to die.
Deep in the bowels of one specific sector of the construction ring, Master Tyffix found himself being pushed back further with each exchange, on the back foot almost entirely by this point. Ror simply had more endurance than him, more training with a lightsaber as most Sith users did in comparison to Jedi. Yet, that does not mean that I am without resources.
Within one second and the next, he switched styles almost entirely, bouncing around and through several different attacks from Ataru as he exchanged blows with his opponent, then settled down into his one spot, switching almost entirely to Soresu. The switch took Ror aback for just an instant, and though Tyffix could not have sustained that style, that was enough. He reached out with the Force, and a Force Push slammed into Ror, hurling him down the corridor.
For a moment, he was confused as the Jedi had hurled him down the hall towards his actual target. That target, however, was being guarded by a full company of clone troopers. The clone troopers took him under fire instantly, from above below and to the side.
Ror snarled in rage, his lightsaber flashing out to deflect their bolts as he recovered from the push, spinning in midair like a top almost as he used his lightsaber to block the clone's attacks, Despite this desperate defense several plasma bolts hit him, yet they didn't put Ror down. He had gone through the toughness training as every Jedi who wished to follow Master Bulq had, and simple plasma bolts were not going to be able to put him down.
Concussion grenades, however, were somewhat more dangerous, and he used the Forced to fling them back towards the commandos. They scattered, but at least one fire team died from their own weapon being so violently returned to them.
All of this had stalled him in place long enough for Tyffix to plan his next move. Now, he reached out with the Force, grasping the ceiling and tearing it down towards Ror.
Ror turned his attention upwards and reached out with the Force to halt the incoming debris, taking more fire from the surviving commandos, who had not panicked or retreated. One hit him in the face, taking out an eye. He screamed in agony, but his anger at that injury fueled his power, and he pushed hard enough with the Force to simply hurl the debris from the ceiling away up into the floor above.
He then whirled, bringing his lightsaber around, but just a little too slow. Tyffix's lightsaber battered it to the side, and Ror couldn't recover from that fast enough to bring his lightsaber again into a defensive position, as Tyffix's lightsaber stabbed him straight in the already injured eye. Despite his toughness training that was enough to overcome it as the plasma blade seared through his eye socket deep into his brain.
Ror died instantly and Master Tyffix slowly turned off his lightsaber, placing it on his waist. He closed his eyes, feeling through the Force as he got an idea of the overall battle. A second later grabbed his communicator from his belt, nodding to the commandos around him. "Commander Alpha, evacuate. Blow the computer core, and then head to the nearest evacuation point."
In this manner operation Hidden Dagger failed miserably. Not only did Ror die, but Master Rancisis had seen this type of assault coming and had prepared for it. Everything that could be copied out had been copied and removed to one of the two Jedi cruisers, while the actual computer cores had been rigged to blow. Now those computer cores were blown destroyed as the last of the defenders raced to their evacuation ships and which computer cores hadn't been rigged to blow were destroyed by clone troopers as they moved through the massive construction yard. Many of them lost their lives in the doing, but the enemy would not get any of the data on the hidden construction yards that they had so wanted.
Many of the KSS defenders did not flee. They, and the survivors of the in-system defense fleet ships which were not hyperdrive capable stayed at their positions, still under Master Rancisis' command even as he joined the rest of the fleeing refugees. Someone had to keep the attackers' attention, so he could not go after the fleeing civilians en-masse and it fell to them to do it. Several Jedi stood with them, dying at their posts on various squadron-level command ships or scattered centers on the construction ring itself.
Master Rancisis felt them die, Jedi and defender both as every remaining hyperspace capable defense ship formed into a single fleet around the last of the refugee ships. The corridor that they had kept open now became an ovoid formation heading out-system, losing ships even as they went.
Behind the fleeing ships Grievous snarled angrily, trying desperately to shift more of the Northern fleet away from the snarling battlefield over that pole, eventually pairing it down by half its remaining number. Hundreds of ships began to die, but those Lucrehulks had already been battered and now they too began to die.
That aspect of the battle continued as the defenders fled, more and more ships on both sides being knocked out or destroyed. But the fleeing ships of the Kuati defense force did not stop to help their fellows. Every ship that fell out of line was left behind, on orders of Master Rancisis. It was the civilian ships that had to be escorted out system, and if the KSS ships and their allies had to die to get them out, so be it.
Even so Master Rancisis might well not have gotten any of them out at all. The Lucrehulks still retained a massive firepower and durability advantage over the cruiser enemies, and as the construction yards began to fall silent, more of the Lucrehulks involved in the main battle were peeled away from it and added to the attackers attempting to interdict the fleeing refugee ships.
But the battle had gone on too long. While the nearest Ord-system patrol fleet had been completely wiped out in the first week of the war, the next closest hadn't been. The defenders had bought them enough time to arrive. Now twenty-four undamaged Republic class cruisers, one hundred and eighty gunboats of various design and fourteen starfighter wings jumped into Kuat, timing their angle to come in between the fleeing Republic ships and their attacks.
Grievous quickly began to reorganize his ships, pulling back to face this new force and put together enough Vulture fighters to slow it down. But the Vulture fighters had paid an exorbitant amount to close in with the construction yards and they were no longer well organized enough to face this new fleet.
But Master Rancisis knew that even with the new ships added, the battle here was lost. The construction yards were already being completely demolished behind him. Soon there would be nothing left to fight for here, and the Confederacy still retained numerical and material superiority. Because of this overrode the Ord-system defense fleet Admiral, a Weequay who looked at him in frustration and anger. But even now Master Rancisis was calm, almost serene even as he felt more Jedi die. "We cannot win this fight even with your ships added to our own Admiral. We are too battered. We must defend what we can."
Sullenly the defense fleet went to work, working with the other surviving defense ships to beat off ten more Lucrehulks, who retreated under this new enemy's attack even as Grievous began to reinforce them. About thirty minutes later, the refugee fleet reached the hyperspace limit of the system, and jumped out, followed instantly by the more heavily damaged ships. Six more Lucrehulks succumbed to Ord fleet and the remaining KSS ship's fire, before the defenders and the newly arrived defense fleet followed their charges into hyperspace.
Grievous snarled in his command center, moving around like a specter of death, his electronic hands clenching and unclenching as he fought the urge to grab up one of his lightsabers and start hacking about him indiscriminately in his rage. The battle was won, but one of his strategic objectives, he somehow knew, had utterly eluded them. Still, his other strategic objective had succeeded he thought to himself, calming down as the construction ring of Kuat continued to die.
"Sir, the Southern Fleet is asking for instructions?" That portion of his fleet was the least battered and had formed up into a single division once more when Grievous was attempting to halt the evacuation. "Are they to try to calculate the enemy's jump and go after them, or are they to rejoin the rest of the fleet in destroying the construction ring?" a hesitant voice inquired.
"No. They are to do neither. The Southern Pole Assault Fleet is to move back into position over the planet and commence a wide-range orbital bombardment. Destroy the construction ring utterly, and then mangle the planet," Grievous intoned, his electronic rasping voice unable to hide his dark delight at the destruction he had wrought and would continue to enact on the Republic. "Absolutely nothing that they have made in this system will remain. Kuat will never ever be able to recover from this once we are through. Not in their construction yards, not on the planet itself. Kuat Shipyards ceases to exist today."
Soon, turbolaser fire again began to blast down into the atmosphere and a planet began to die.
Indeed, the message of total war was being driven home across the entire Republic. Missions that were previously supposed to simply wipe out space-based infrastructure began to be attacks on planets, few of whom outside the Colonies Region had planetary shields. Whole sectors were being so attacked, while in the Core Worlds, a single sector had been picked out to be part of a new campaign of destruction. Despite being staunchly pacifist and giving only food to the war effort, Alderaan came under an attack almost as large as the one launched against Kuat.
But there the attack aimed at the actual planet of Alderaan broke off the moment a few defenders retreated under the planetary shields. Plural. Alderaan had six layered planetary shields, each with its own dedicated thermal energy tap. It would have taken a fleet the size which attacked them days to hammer them under, and unlike the construction yards of Kuat, the defense stations around Alderaan were both numerous and built entirely to defend the planet, within the range of the planetary shields.
Just because they were pacifists of the first-order had not made the rulers of Alderaan blind to the fact that other people did not share their pacifist beliefs.
But the attacking fleet broke off not just because they couldn't decimate the planet. Rather, they broke off when defenders of other planets in the sector arrived to help defend Alderaan. Then, the attacking fleet, under Admiral Harch, broke contact, jumping out to another planet in the same sector. There, they instigated the scorched earth campaign, battering the planetary shield of another agrarian world named Raisa down before wiping its inhabitants out from one pole to the next. Two more planets in the sector were served in the same manner, the defenders pulled out of position to Alderaan. Then Harch's fleet simply disappeared, its first job done. Its second objective would need to wait a bit more before they hit it in turn.
Bilbringi, too was taken. Conquered this time, as there was no local civilian population to keep from acting out. The construction yards were a strategic resource that could eventually be turned to the Confederacy's use.
Other strategic targets, however, were blocked or deflected by the Jedi and their ability to perceive events once more in the future. Only a few of them could, given the roiling chaos the Force had become, but those few were enough to put the rest of the Order in position to help. More Jedi died, more planets were destroyed, but if the Confederacy was searching for a knockout blow, they had yet to find it. The Republic was reeling horribly, but it was also coming awake, with more and more ships and system defense fleets coming forward to join the Republic Navy.
But the Confederacy wasn't searching for a knockout blow, not yet and little blows could add up despite the Jedi's best efforts. Kuat was the worst loss to the Republic. It was not the only one.
But even so, for the Jedi and the Sith in particular, there was only one battlefield that truly mattered. Where the Sith themselves would face not just a setback, but their plans completely blowing up in their faces.
And that was Wayland. It became a race between whether or not the Jedi and their allies could reinforce the planet before Sidious could recover and order the Confederacy fleets to take the planet back via Tyranus.
And unbeknownst to nearly anyone who hadn't come into contact with Ranma and Shaak Ti, it was a race that was won by the Nova Guard.
"Sergeant Cro report," intoned a deep, almost sepulchral voice coming out of a Nova Guard helmet. The fact the man wearing it was stooped with age, his four-fingered hands trembling slightly with the effects of age, did nothing to take away from the authority of that voice. This was Over-Commandant Yurick, one of the five beings who led the Nova Guard.
Sergeant Cro saluted quickly, grateful he had already prepared a presentation. Using the tactical screen of Wayland's command center, he walked the Over-Commandant through the battle for Wayland from start to finish. He didn't even bother emphasizing his own people's role, he didn't have to. The scope of the battlefield and the fact that they had already lost members just added to the reality of what they had accomplished here.
He also spoke extensively about what they had learned from Ranma as well as what they had yet to learn. The combat skills, the ki techniques he had shown off, the fact that Cro himself had begun to show some results from the toughness and reflex training he had put them through.
Through all of this, K'Kruhk, out of the med-bay along with the wounded Mandos, stood to one side along with Obi-Wan. "Looking at it now, it really sets in what we did here, you know?" whispered Dralshy'a. Then her body language changed and she seemed to almost hop in place excitedly. "And it gives me a few ideas on how to defend the mountain better too. Those automated missile launchers, they are going to be the key I think."
"Hmm…" Yurick grunted, then gestured with two fingers. Before any of the others could intervene, his two bodyguards moved around him and struck with their staffs toward Cro. Both of them had been chosen amongst the best of the Nova Guard, such was Yurick's position. The attack was fast, deadly, without any kind of tell showing their intent until the staff ends shot forward.
To Cro, they looked as if they were moving through gelatin.
Cro caught one staff, tore it out of the man's hand and leaped into the air, one foot lashing out at the other man, the blow flinging him backward. A blow from the disarmed guard struck him in the head, but Cro didn't even turn his head simply bringing the staff back around in an arc faster than the other Nova Guard could track. He fell unconscious to the ground at the unmoving Yurick's feet.
The older Nova Guard nodded his head slowly. "So, the training that this Ranma provides is good. Enough for us to continue to follow the Jedi Order. For they too are strong and the strong should rule."
"For they are strong," the Sergeant Cro repeated back to him, while Obi-Wan looked worried. But K'Kruhk, who had a better understanding of the Nova Guard's ideology, indicated he would explain later. Rule, in Nova Guard parlance, merely meant that another group was strong enough for them to follow, not that they should, in fact rule like the Republic did.
"Good. I have brought a full Army group, with an emphasis on heavy weapons, tanks, and jungle troops. How long do you estimate we have before we can expect a response? Or reinforcements?"
Unknown on the response, sir. We are essentially cut off here at the moment from any real-time data. Via our contact with Balmorra, we have learned that they will be sending some help too, combat droids they have developed locally, apparently. Bigger, tougher, more expensive than most, basically tanks by any other name." Sergeant Cro shrugged. "And they have reported that the battle for Corellia has ended. I anticipate Ranma and Master Shaak and the Wild Blade to return here, possibly with Mandalorian aid, or possibly not."
The Nova Guard Lord general scowled, shaking his head and crossing his arms in a manner his species shared with humanity as he stared at the data readout from the computer. He didn't like not knowing how much time they had to prepare. "And the tactical net has been completely removed of malware? Cut off from the data core?"
Anton nodded, looking like death warmed over. He hadn't slept and had been relying on stimulants ever since they had taken the mountain, so much so he was in danger of becoming addicted to them. But there was still a limit to what a single slicer could do, especially when Anton couldn't afford to make a permanent mistake. Yet he had accomplished that much at least, when ordered to do so, pulling himself from the data core.
"Good," Yurick grunted again. "You get some sleep. I want you asleep for twenty-four hours. Then I want you to detox. I will have no one working with me who is addicted to any substance, no matter how benign in small doses it might be. Once that is accomplished, you will have command of the eighty military-grade slicers I have brought with me. They are better at breaking descriptions and into enemy communications than breaking down computer files, but they can still help you. I also want that system completely cut off, and defended against any kind of remote access understood? Don't bother with the data itself for now. Unless you think you might be able to copy it out?"
The Balmorran native shook his head from side to side, more because he felt it would fall off rather than by design. "First thing I thought of," he reported dully. "But every file in that system has a connected program that is basically demanding password access to access it at all, and there's a gene-lock to copy any of the files out. I won't say it's impossible, but I can't do it on my own."
"Very well. We'll leave that aspect for now. Now go get some sleep, boy."
Anton stumbled off, and the Over-Commandant moved over to the command seat, sitting down with some relief and twisting around to stare at Sergeant Cro and the two remaining Mandos as well as the two Jedi. "No comments?"
Obi-Wan shook his head. "While I have been trained in combat tactics and maneuvers, I certainly have never been in charge of a battle that could become as large as an attack on Wayland could be."
"I agree. You understand your people's capabilities and talents, we do not. You understand the importance, we cannot add more there." K'Kruhk touched one of his tusks, frowning. "If I sense a Dark Side user when we are under attack, I might countermand certain aspects of your orders in that area of the battlefield, but beyond that, you are in charge Over-Commandant."
"Sense as well as strength from the Jedi," Yurick chuckled. "Truly, we have chosen the right side in this war."
While a little concerned about how the Nova Guard Admiral was talking, Obi-Wan simply nodded his head, making a note to talk to K'Kruhk about the mentality of the Nova Guard later, watching as the man worked. After barely an hour, Obi-Wan was satisfied with how this was going. With what remained of the defensive installations of the mountain, and what the Nova Guard had brought with them, he was certain that they could hold out against at least the first attempt to reclaim Wayland.
After that, he wasn't certain, judging by the reports he was getting secondhand about the various battlefronts. But they had a chance here, a real chance to turn this secret war around. And he would die to see that happen.
Sidious was still in agony, his mind afire, but he had turned the corner at last. He was now able to deaden the pain using a smidgen of the pain to make his hate stronger, his thoughts more lucid even as the agony battered at him. In this, I prove once more I am Master of the Dark Side! he thought, as he slowly but surely separated his Force Presence from the Veil. He could reestablish his connection to it later. For now, he needed his own thoughts lucid, able to consider, plan and above all respond to this massive setback.
So, the Veil is still there, but horribly tattered, Sidious thought as he sensed his apprentice moving around elsewhere in the Sith Temple under Coruscant. Sanvia didn't feel as weary mentally or physically as he was, but she was just as off-balance. More so than Sidious, in fact, for whom self-control was as much a part of his own creed as using hate and anger to fuel his strength.
Setting that thought aside, for now, he continued with his ponderings. How? How could the Veil of the Dark Side be destroyed? The Sith have slowly spread our influence of the Force for more than 900 years, unstopped by any Jedi, slowly creating the Veil until it hung like a permanent dark cloud between the Jedi and the sun of the Force! Even with the Chaotic Locus and his ongoing impact on the Force, the Veil was still in place, able to allow me to combat that chaos to a certain extent, growing over time as I acclimated to it.
There was only one response to this. The Veil of the Dark Side could only be torn asunder as it had, if something in the future, both near and far, changed drastically in favor of the light side of the Force. The Great Plan. It is no longer certain. It is now only possible. But if that case, what could have changed!
Setting aside his sudden unease with the swiftness of a lifetime's practice, Sidious considered further. There are only three real targets where things could have been so impacted as to put the Great Plan in danger. First, the planet where Maul was trained. They could have discovered how we Sith have begun to develop our own toughness training techniques. But… No. That would not be enough to create this big impact.
Second, is here on Coruscant, this Temple having been discovered somehow. But if that was the case, Sanvia and I would personally have come under attack by this point, and I certainly would not have been able to retreat here in the first place.
That leaves only Wayland. The worst part of the three perhaps, certainly the worst in terms of Sith knowledge and the Sith Order as a whole!
While Temple here on Coruscant was the secular center of the Great Plan, and as such knew everything and had copies of everything that was in motion for the Great Plan, Wayland was the center of the Sith Order as a whole. It was where various Sith artifacts had been stored, where much of each Sith Lord and apprentice's training over the millennia had occurred, where the soul as it were of the Sith Order as it was created by Darth Bane existed.
It had recordings of communications between the mountain and here on Coruscant. Recorded orders, various notes and messages that the Sith Lords left one another over the millennia installed in its computers to go with all of the experiments currently going on there. Including orders from Sidious himself, speaking with his own voice to the Brotherhood.
How! How in the world they found Wayland? How did the Chaotic Locus find it? It must have been him, it is the only thing that makes sense, but how were they able to do it, by the Dark Side!?
Shaking his head, Sidious set that thought to one side, his voice coming out as a sibilant hiss of pure venom and hate as he fought to control himself. "I cannot think about that now. I must deal with the fact that they found Wayland rather than the how of it."
With that in mind, he stood up from where he had been laid out on a meditation bed, standing on wobbly feet but standing, using the Force to keep himself upright as he moved through the temple. Outside of his personal meditation quarters, quarters that he had not used since his ascension to Darth, he found his current assassin and nodded brusquely to her. "Come with me," he ordered.
With Sanvia silently following him, the two moved to the communications room, where Sidious sat down and called up a current star map of the Republic, a map that was so detailed that even the one in the Republic High Command's Strategic Control Center would pale in comparison. He smiled thinly as he first noticed that the Agri-Corps worlds of the Jedi were showing as having been seared clear of life, the pulsing red icons giving him a distinct amount of pleasure before he thrust it aside.
Then he began to frown at the numerous other planets, which were also reading as having been wiped out or attacked in some fashion. One, in particular, stood out and he nearly hissed in anger. At this point in the war should have occurred yet or in the case of Kuat, if ever! That attack will have damaged the Republic severely!
Of course, Sidious didn't care about the lives lost. Indeed, he barely cared about the planet of Kuat. It was only the shipyards in the system that really mattered to him. That, and the amount of political damage it would do him in the dark alleyways of power. Sidious had practically promised that Kuat would never be attacked, certainly not like this. That would cost him, and he might have to have many former allies killed in untraceable manners to stop them from causing trouble over it.
But after a second, Sidious's calm, calculating side came to the fore once more. Yet with the Veil destroyed, perhaps it is best this way. Regardless, I will allow this new series of attacks to continue. It might possibly direct attention away from Wayland. Looking over at Sanvia he ordered, "Remain silent. Watch, listen and learn."
The woman barely had a second to nod her head in acquiescence when Sidious was calling Darth Tyranus. The Weequay's face appeared in the Halcyon device, almost as if the creature had been waiting for his call. The relief in his expression was almost enough to cause Sidious to sneer automatically, before he realized that like himself, Tyranus must have been buffeted by the recent shredding of the Veil. If not quite as much as Sidious himself.
"Wayland has fallen to the Jedi," Sidious began without preamble. "It is the only target of significance beyond here on Coruscant that could have caused the rending of the Veil of the Dark Side."
Tyranus nodded, his eyes flashing as he started to understand the impact of that. "I can have several small-scale fleets there quickly, but if they have reinforced Wayland heavily enough, none of them will have the troops necessary to take it. From what I understand, the planetary shield generators will keep the mountain itself intact even from a direct orbital bombardment of several orders of magnitude."
"Nonetheless, Wayland must be retaken. Or if not retaken, then destroyed before the Jedi can fully delve their discovery."
"At this point, though, they might already began to deconstruct security protocols and met computer measures against data tampering. We need a fallback plan," Tyranus cautioned.
His lack of arrogance and his very controlled response to this disaster pleased Sidious and he nodded sharply. "Agreed. If Wayland can be retaken in the next week, then perhaps the Jedi will not have learned enough to undermine my position here. The various defenses programmed into every piece of circuitry in that mountain are formidable. But if they have, I will be forced to retreat to the Confederacy."
"I will start to create a groundwork for such a move, though it is doubtful you will be able to retain your public persona," Tyranus answered with a nod, understanding that doing so would leave quite a lot of the machine that was created up to the Great Plan in place. Without Sidious at the center of the Republic side of that machine, it would slowly either erode or be rolled up by the Jedi if they were able to find as much information as both Sith feared they might on Wayland.
"To that end, we cannot allow your Acolytes to sit idle or simply become part of the Confederacy military. Order them to kill Jedi scattered throughout the Core Worlds. Target them one after another, not just for death, but for public humiliation and loss of public esteem if their deaths cannot be contrived. That way, at least some of the propaganda machine can still be used in the future to tie the Republic to us once more."
"That is far-reaching," Master Tyranus said with an approving nod, while Komari remembered one of her past missions was to kill one of the few Jedi who understood the nature of propaganda, Master Trebor. "And yet, it presupposes that the order itself will still take as much damage as they would have near the end of the Great Plan."
"True. I will be putting other plans in place to make certain that that is the case," Sidious smiled thinly, his eyes flicking through the pickup toward Sanvia beyond Tyranus' image. "The Veil is still keeping us hidden and the Invisible blade always stabs the deepest."
Tyranus nodded at that, promising to do what he could to reclaim or destroy Wayland. In fact, he had two Acolytes nearby, both of which he could use as to rally disparate smaller defense formations into one attack, which could then pound Wayland flat if the first attack, which he would order as soon as they finished speaking, was not successful in reclaiming the planet. "In fact, Master, destroying the planet is probably the best plan. If the Chaotic Locus was involved in discovering the first place, he would no doubt lead forces back to defend it. And most of his abilities make that bizarre human more dangerous in person on the ground than in space."
"A point. Make one attempt to reclaim it on the ground, and if that it does not succeed, pull back into orbit and bombard the planet until the entire continent the mountain sits on is rubble," Sidious ordered.
With that, the two of them cut the connection, and Sidious turned to his apprentice. "I have a mission for you."
"I am yours to command master. How may I help us strike against the Jedi?" Sanvia asked eagerly.
"I wish you to create a final parting gift to the Jedi."
"Of course, Master. What is it, what if you wish me to do?"
"While I attempt to use my public persona to keep the Great Plan going, I wish for you to prepare a contingency plan. There are plans within the computers here to build a Thought Bomb, a Dark Side weapon, the same which Sere Kaan foolishly attempted to use to end the New Sith Wars."
Sanvia's eyes widened in shock, knowing the tale and how many Sith had died to power the device. But her master answered her concern before she could verbalize it. "While we lack the ability to power it to that effect, we do not need it to be that strong either. Take the plans. Go to Korriban. There you will find enough Dark Side energies to power it enough for our purposes. Then return here and install it under the Jedi Temple."
"I want it ready in a week. If the Jedi discover enough on Wayland to point the finger towards me, the Jedi Temple and everyone in the Senatorial District will not live to see that triumph!"
At the beginning of the Clone Wars, the point was made a few times that the Confederacy had a massive numerical superiority in troops and ships. But they used it poorly, frittering away those numbers on secondary targets or ones that did not really harm the Republic's war efforts. Kuat, for instance, was never attacked, despite its central position to ship construction, and it being known among the Confederacy that Kuat had to be silenced before any attack on Coruscant. The Confeds got bogged down in planets that produced resources instead of final products for the most part, and when they launched large scale attacks, they did so poorly at poorly chosen targets. Added was the fact they wanted to conquer planets, which further used up their occupation forces and split their space assets.
This meant the war bogged down. Precisely what Sidious and the Sith wanted. Here, however, we have Grievous calling the shots for a bit, and even that bit is enough to severely damage the Republic's ability to continue the war effort.
As well, I wanted to show the importance of space battles to the war. This war will be decided in space. It won't be decided on the ground. Planets produce assets, but if you wipe out their orbitals, you cripple the local industry, let alone anything else.
Anyway, hope you all enjoyed this, and even if I can't see them right away, if you did enjoy it, please leave a review.
Alas, GDWHOM, the small story winner won't be out by the end of the month. I just won't be able to get the full chapter out by tomorrow. It will be updated in July at some point – should be finished it by Sunday. But hey, 39,000 words here, nearly 20,000 words in Fate, 30,000 words in plans and discussions, and 51,000 words in the Sword, Bow and Horse chapter over on Patty on… that's enough to be proud of, I think. LOL.