"Designate target, Alpha Three," a calm, smooth voice came over the bridge. The holodisplay shifted, changing from the wide view of seventeen Imperial Star Destroyers and six alien vessels to focus in on one of the six alien vessels, one of the five smaller vessels, though small was a matter of perspective Thrawn mused.

The vessel highlighted by the tactical holodisplay was easily the size of Grand Admiral Mitth'raw'nuruodo's flagship the Chimaera, but rather than sharp angles designed to allow all guns to fire on a single target, this vessel was thickly armored, with much fewer gun emplacements, and the shape was organic, with long smooth curves perfectly designed to deflect directed fire. One could be forgiven for assuming the vessel to be a primarily defensive ship, but Thrawn knew better.

The lines might be smooth and organic, but they were predatory, and the vessels sublight engines were large and powerful, the ship to ship weapons, though few in number, vastly outstripping turbolasers in their power output. It was perfectly designed to rush an enemy ship formation, shrugging off incoming fire, and unleash devastating firepower.

"Target is at full strength, or so we believe, Admiral," Commodore Faro said as the display gave readouts of the ship it was currently focused on, "It's managed to stay out of the fighting. It seems content to watch the battle from a lower orbit."

"Notice its position in orbit," the Chiss Grand Admiral spoke, still as calm as ever, even the chatter between the ships of the Seventh fleet rattled through the bridge all around them.

The imperial woman expanded the display slightly, to show more of the space surrounding Alpha Three, "It's holding above Omega? A last line of defense for the command ship?"

"A certain possibility," Thrawn admitted to the captain of his ship, "However, note its current attitude, it isn't ready to respond to any threat from high orbit."

The commodore's face lit up with understanding, "But it is ready to move to a lower orbit anywhere over the planet."

"Exactly, I believe that if we were to land ground forces to oppose those deployed by Omega, Alpha Three would move to cut them off."

"Meaning that if we were to support the ground war, we would have to dispatch Alpha Three first," Karyn Faro finished, then pointed out the current problem, "Unfortunately we are going to have to break through the Alpha's One, Two, and Four. Reports from the Strikefast indicate that those three ships were able to knockout Christophsis' defenses by themselves."

"True," the Chiss agreed, "The alien ships appear to have a significant power advantage to our own. We will have to be careful in our engagement, but I do not believe we can delay landing ground forces. Their aggressive destruction of all ships, military and civilian, suggest that they are likely not discriminating their targets on the ground."

"Sir!" Lieutenant Hammerly called from the crewpit, "Enemy capital ships appear to be launching fighters! They are orienting themselves to face us, but are holding steady.

"A defensive posture," Thrawn mused quietly as he brought the holodisplay to show the entire field. The three targets in high orbit were indeed oriented towards the incoming Seventh Fleet, dozens of specks flying out from each warship, already Hammerly was designating target signs for each formation, and pulling as much information about the fighters as she could from the sensors.

The defensive posture was puzzling, considering how much zeal and aggression they had shown in their initial attack on Christophsis. Almost as though the Empire's presence had been a personal affront to the aliens, but now they sat on their heels, content to let the Seventh Fleet sit outside of weapons range and simply observe. Unfortunately, there wasn't much to observe directly, as the ship designated Omega was so large, it blotted out much of the ground activity, and it's mere presence and power generation was enough to disrupt communications with the Imperial garrison on the planet.

There's something down there on the planet that they want.

"Commodore Faro," the Grand Admiral instructed, "Instruct Star Destroyers Rancor, Dragon's Breath, Spartan, and Vengeance to launch all Ties, along with our own. They are to form up into five distinct waves. Waves one and two will be the standard Ties, wave three will be Tie Interceptors, wave four will be our bombers, and wave six will be made of Tie Defenders."

The Chiss barely registered his exceedingly brilliant second in command relay his orders to the rest of the fleet as tactics and strategies played themselves out in his mind. Typically, he would prefer far more time to study his adversary and their movements and their culture before engaging in combat, but the situation demanded immediate action. What little the Imperial Star Destroyer Strikefast had been able to relay about the attack had painted a picture of slaughter, with the aliens ruthlessly hunting down any and all Imperial citizens and killing them without hesitation. Thrawn's very own Seventh Fleet had been the closest force available to counterstrike, and so the Emperor had sent the Chiss admiral and his fleet into battle with an unknown enemy of unknown strength and unknown tactics.

Thrawn was highly regarded for his tactical and strategic brilliance, but the majority of his genius came from his ability to learn from his opponents over a series of interactions and be able to guess their next moves with frightening accuracy. Against the unknown, Thrawn was still likely the best military tactician the Empire had, but his best advantage would be nullified for the opening bout.

"Star Destroyers Balefire and Iron Fist will also launch all Ties, but their target is the planet's surface," the Grand Admiral continued to order, Commodore Faro relaying his commands with precision and confidence, "the Balefire will descend first, one hundred kilometers west of Omega, Captain Reetan and the Iron Fist will provide cover for the Balefire while they offload troops, and then will switch places. Captain Pallaeon."

Ships were already underway, the two ships designated for the surface already breaking from formation as swarms of fighters surrounded the fleet, organizing themselves into lines according to Thrawn's design.

"Captain Pallaeon will take the Harbinger, and the Sovereign and jump out of the system on the galactic west, launch all Tie Defenders, and hold position, and wait for my signal."

"The remaining nine Star Destroyers will hold position, Tie fighters, push forward, and engage."

Verun Tolamee stroked his mandibles absentmindedly as he watched the triangular ships of the human empire shift in response to his three battlecruisers launching fighters and moving into a defensive posture.

"Fleetmaster," a white armored officer of the Fleet of Repentant Salvation spoke from one of the sensor terminals, "Enemy ships are launching fighters, four configurations noted, threat levels being determined. Four ships breaking off, two headed towards the surface!"

"And the other two?"

The sangheili warrior shook his helmeted head as he looked back to his superior officer, the gold armored Verun, "Jumped away, using that unusual FTL of theirs. Vector puts it to the galactic west."

The four sharp toothed mandibles of the ancient sangheili curled into a vicious smile that set lesser species on edge.

"Our adversary thinks themselves clever! He aims to catch the Ancestor's Wrath in a trap. Veritus!"

The communication holotable lit up with the hulking visage of a jiralhanae chieftain. Most sangheili refused to work with the simian aliens, citing them as unclean, brutish, and unfit for honorable battle. Verun was under no illusions as to the honor of his fieldmarshal Veritus. The jiralhanae was vicious and cunning, in a low, animal way, but there was no one in the fleet as ruthless and efficient as the massive chieftain, and as long as he respected the sangheili warriors under his command, Veritus would remain the Fieldmarshal of the Fleet of Repentant Salvation.

"Fleetmaster," the brute rumbled lowly, "To what do I owe the pleasure?"

"You're about to be busy," the saurian alien replied, "the human's are about to land two ships worth of enemy forces. I could stop them…"

"Aw… don't take away my fun!"

No one could say Veritus didn't love his duty, "I do not intend to, but I will not be able to provide additional air support."

The chieftain snarled and clenched his hammer with both meaty hands, "I will make do, and gladly!"

"I have no doubt."

The transmission ended just as the Blade of Holy Justice's shipmaster spoke from the tactical map, "Enemy fighters are moving to engage."

Verun stood to his full eight feet from his throne and approached the map, "And so it begins!"