A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...
…There was once a princess, beautiful beyond belief, who had set a million worlds on fire.
In the heart of the capital of the world of Valis, a carriage of varnished black wood inlaid with silver, pulled by the power of black-feathered mounts, stopped in front of the Cathedral. The side door opened, and a silver-haired page, an albino hyur boy in his mid-teens, stepped out into the rain, taking a moment to look up at the grey skies. Above, just below the clouds, immense airships — masses of dark steel arches and frames and glossair drives — float in the air, their scale made evident by the murder of crows flying close to them. Remora fighters, small flying gun towers, serve as their escorts, flying in parade formation.
The page stopped admiring the vessels, and set an embroidered waterproof sheet upon a puddle on the stone pavement. The way thus prepared, a young woman, clad in mourning dress, her starlight silver hair covered by a black silk veil, steps out. Tall, armour-clad figures had cordoned off the area, keeping an entire crowd at bay, but they needed not bother, for all present, peasant and noble alike, were in no mood to clamour for her attention. Not a single soul present felt like smiling.
The bells tolled, and Ajora van Oberyth, princess of Valis, knew it was time. She dreaded entering the Cathedral, even as the bas-reliefs of God's creatures silently bid her welcome as they were opened by Royal Guards. The bell tolled again, hurrying her, but she found her first step faltering.
Thankfully, her page, her most loyal companion and friend, was there to keep her from falling. Half the time, he bore the title of court jester as well, but that day would tolerate no mirth. He guided her within.
Inside, the Cathedral was dark, lit only by a hundred candles mounted on chandeliers above and below. One could barely see the rib vault arches upon the ceiling high above, or the elaborate stone work on the pillars supporting the vast chamber, or the elaborate mandala fresco of the Kildean Zodiac painted in the forward alcove from which the Grand Kiltias spoke...
But the casket... the closed casket of carved ivory, Ajora could see clear as day, at the center an elaborate arrangement of five-petaled Lunar Tears that glowed an ethereal white. Mother's favourites, Ajora realized.
"...Blessings of the Great Father descend..." the Gran Kiltias recited, "and guide the body of our beloved Roy to return to the earth."
Ajora, possessed by sorrow, approached the Casket, making her way past the other mourners, her grandfather, uncles and aunts... The Grand Kiltias, his heart full of understanding, does not stop her then, nor does he stop her when she opens the casket.
"Great Father," he continues, "guide your beloved son's spirit to return to heaven, towards the embrace of the Mother of all."
Ajora only peered inside, but the sight was enough for her heart to break all over again. The Horrors' work had not left much for the embalmers to work with. The face was still, even peaceful... but half of it was cracked, the horrifically sunken, twisted flesh covered by a half-mask of ivory, inlaid with silver.
If only the airships hadn't been so slow, if only our arms had been more powerful, if only our soldiers braver, faster, STRONGER...
"Papa..." she muttered, failing to choke back her tears. The Pagans had done this, all in the name of the Horrors they worshiped as false gods. She could remember their Warchief, Valfodr, the Immortal, the Abomination, seizing her father — he had been so strong! Fight back, fight back! Papa, please! —by the throat, grinning smugly at her as the Worm made its home inside of him, corrupting his flesh...
Help me, he begged, at the end. Please...
I-I don't know how... the words that escaped her lips that day would haunt her forever.
"And so we give our farewell to Solus van Oberyth, King of Valis," the Grand Kiltias finished. "Faram."
"Faram," the mourners echoed, all except Ajora, who wept openly on top of her father's casket. Her whimpers echoed in the great hall for minutes, before her page, his head bowed in deference, approached.
"My lady?" he said, shyly. "It is time to let go."
Ajora was silent, her head not rising from the casket. Never, she thought. I will never let this go. "Oh, father... I swear on your corpse... I will have vengeance on the Pagans for this. I will build fleets to chase them to the stars... I will build armies, to burn down all their homes..." She would have screamed all this to the heavens, if she could have...
"Ajora," muttered Kieran, forgetting his station as her servant. Ajora, however, was beyond caring about such things.
"Papa," she cried, quietly. "On my blood I promise you..." there was determination in her voice now. "I will become the Ren, and I will wield the power of the gods themselves..."
Kieran felt his blood run cold, and could have sworn he saw the Aeons of the Zodiac look down upon Ajora...
"...and I will kill them all, Papa, all for you... every last one of them... I swear it."
A long time ago, on a planet far from here, in a time far from now, there was once a princess who had loved her father very, very much... and the oath of vengeance she had sworn over his corpse would cause unparalleled suffering to people beyond counting, among stars undreamed of, for thousands of years to come.
"I swear it..."
7000 years later...
THE KNIGHTS OF REN
EPISODE ZERO: THE BATTLE OF D'QAR
It is a dire time for the New Republic.
Despite the destruction of Starkiller Base,
chaos reigns across the galaxy as warlords
and crime syndicates attempt to carve out their own
empires out of the Core World territories, forcing the
diminished Republic fleet to fight an uphill battle to maintain order.
Meanwhile, The First Order, undaunted by its devastating loss,
begins an immense assault across the Outer Rim, a blitzkrieg
that will secure valuable resources and manpower
for the inevitable final push in the Core.
The only thing standing in their way now is a ragtag fleet
gathered above the skies of the planet D'Qar, the headquarters of the Resistance.
There, the myriad forces arrayed against tyranny ready themselves to make their stand.
Thus the first battle of the War for the Outer Rim begins...
A single TIE fighter streaked past the bright grey hull of an immense Resurgent-Class Star Destroyer. It was quickly joined by the rest of its flight, their presence signaled by the beastly wail coming through the TIE's cockpit's auditory emulators, an interpretation of its Twin Ion Engines' energy signature. Their destination: a large fleet of diverse, exotic warships and converted transports trading blaster fire and torpedoes with eight more Star Destroyers. Such was the rag-tag fleet of the Resistance, sworn enemies of the Order to Restore the Empire.
The battle raged over the low orbit of a blue, Class M planet: D'Qar, headquarters of the Resistance. Casualties of the battle floated in the dark, but slowly made their way down to the blue curve of its atmosphere as gravity seized their masses, slowly turning into burning meteors...
The flight of TIE Fighters screamed across the airless void to join the space battle. Once there, they evaded blaster fire from enemy turrets, and fired their twin-linked Pulse Lasers at any target of opportunity they came across. Eventually, their overconfidence gets the best of them, and they are obliterated by clustered bursts of plasma flak. The source of their doom? The impressive flak guns of a Mon Calamari Supercarrier with the word Raddus painted across the side of its hull, written in aurebesh. It suffered barrages of turbolaser fire from all sides, but its advanced shields, backed by redundant generators and a powerful central power core, held fast.
Meanwhile, Resistance Ace Pilot Poe Dameron, flying his custom black T-70 X-wing Multirole Starfighter, unleashed a barrage of blaster fire from his craft's four wing-mounted guns. His target, the Star Destroyer Crucifier's array of point defense guns, melted under the bursts of orange-red photons, and turned into useless slag that floated into the black.
"This is Black One!" Poe practically shouted into his helmet's microphone. "The Crucifier's flank is wide open!"
On the bridge of the Raddus, Admiral Gial Ackbar — Veteran of the Galactic Civil War — received Poe's signal, and bellows at his weapons officer. "Launch the salvo!"
Outside, hatches opened across the side of the Raddus, and twenty Assault Proton Torpedoes emerged from their launch ports, trailing plasma behind them as they flew towards the Crucifier. A squadron of TIE FIGHTERS attempt to intercept then, but Poe and his wingmates take them out before they can. The torpedoes bypassed the Star Destroyer's shields completely, then penetrated its hull, causing it to explode from the inside out. Having lost all power to its engines and repulsorlifts, it can no longer maintain its orbit, and promptly falls towards the planet.
In the background, the Star Destroyer was engulfed in flames. At her post, communications officer Kaydel Ko Connix desperately attempts to sort out the frantic chorus of radio chatter – mostly casualty reports. Typing fast, she relays the relevant information from her console to the central holographic pit of the bridge, where Admiral Ackbar and General Leia Organa study an holographic map of the battle as a small blue triangles and squares face off against large red triangles.
"So far so good," says Leia, confidently. Casualties were low, and fatalities even lower, while the First Order's losses were steadily mounting.
"A little too good," comments Ackbar, "They're holding their trump card back."
"Their mistake." Leia turned to her comms officer "Kaydel! Give me a status report on the evacuation!"
"Aye aye!" Kaydel responded, then she began to speak into her headset. "Raddus to base, ETA on complete EVAC?"
From the grassy surface of D'Qar, the raging battle was little more than a cluster of bursting lights in the sky above, but the urgency of the situation was felt nonetheless. Hundreds of resistance personnel scramble outside of the Resistance facility they had built into the hills, carrying all kinds of important materiel towards the StarMaster transports that had just landed on the ferrocrete landing pads.
Vober Dand, a male tarsunt clad in the olive uniform of a Resistance officer, looked upon the scene as he spoke in his communicator.
"Base to Raddus!" yelled Vober over the roar of VTOL engines. "The Transports just landed and the last group is on its way out, we just need ten more minutes before we can take off!"
Kaydel's response came out of the speaker laced with some static: "Understood, hangars one through four will be notified."
"Good!" Ackbar nodded. "Now hail Captain Elson and order him to move his corvettes to Navpoint Beta! Those Transports will need cover fire!"
Suddenly, an alarm beeps on the console of Tam Dradis, the Raddus' Sensor Operator.
"Admiral!" The young Miralukan shouted as sensor data was being streamed through his opaque plastic visor. "I've got a massive quantum waveform on the scopes! ...Dreadnought displacement! Incoming Hyperspace Jump!"
"Here it comes," muttered Leia.
"Alert the fleet!" bellowed Ackbar, his voice like gravel. "Incoming Dreadnought!"
As Star Destroyers moved into turbolaser range, a First Order Dreadnought, the Eclipse, surged out from Hyperspace and appeared behind them, dwarfing each Resurgent by a factor of four. A Blood Stripe had been painted across its dark hull, marking it as a Special Forces warship.
Inside the Eclipse's bridge stood a tall, fit, middle-aged Onderonian human man, bearing the same Blood Stripe along the sleeve of his black uniform. Such was Paxton Fell, a grizzled Imperial war veteran from the Galactic Civil War and one of the leaders of the First Order's Special Forces. From where he stood, his gray eyes could see all the young men and women of his command crew as they worked calmly in their shallow pits. The bridge was bathed in a sickly red light, contrasting sharply with the blues of the crew's holographic consoles.
"We have arrived," stated Krios, the Eclipse's Navigator.
"I know," replied Fell, hiding his mild annoyance beneath a cool exterior. "I have eyes, sailor." He turned to the flight controller. "I want all Interceptors out there and on Point Defense, and the Bombers—"
Stepping out of the shadows, Armitage Hux, General of the First Order, appears, and approaches Fell. "Tell the pilots to stand down." He commands. "They will not be needed. The Eclipse can deal with anything the Resistance can throw at it." He snickers, and nods towards the melee of capital ships in the distance. "Ready the main gun, target the planet."
Paxton quirked his eyebrow. "But the Raddus is right there. We can just—"
Hux sneered at the older man. "Are you questioning the orders of your general, captain?"
There was a tense moment where Hux and Fell glared at each other, and it was obvious that Fell had nothing but contempt for the young general.
But rank was rank.
"No, sir," he responded. "All fighters stand down. Gunnery, ready the main gun, set reactor output to fifty—"
"One hundred percent!" Hux interrupted again, but this time, possessed by the very worst passionate intensity. "The surface must burn."
Fell looked at the D'Qar, at one of the few thousands of Class M planets in the entire Galaxy, capable of sustaining all kinds of life, humanoids included... and could almost feel his wife desperately clinging to his arm, begging him to stop this madness.
But she wasn't there. How could she be? The Rebels had taken her away from him, so many years ago.
Outside, the Eclipse's prow splits open, revealing crystalline apertures that glow a bright blue-green, the telltale light of a Superlaser.
"Weapon is charging," stated Kilran, the Eclipse' Gunnery Officer. "Ready to fire in... ten seconds."
Discreetly, Paxton Fell tapped a few keys on a holographic interface mounted on a wristband.
Somewhere in one of the Eclipse's vast fighter bays, a matching wristband lit up, attached to the arm of another bearer of the Blood Stripe. This man was younger, and paler than the captain above, and was clad in a TIE Fighter pilot's flight suit, modified to handle the stresses of a fast, agile craft. The pilot, Malek Fell, brought the wristcom to his face and let its laser aperture project a message onto his retina:
Malek approached a TIE's cockpit pod, emblazoned with a White Crow over a Black and Burgundy shield, the emblem of the 181st Carrion Crows Elite Starfighter Squadron. He made it several steps on the boarding ladder before Flight Control's voice blares over the loudspeakers.
"All fighters stand down," it said.
Malek pointedly disobeys, and steps into the high-tech, advanced cockpit of his starfighter, a octahedron-shaped black droid with a red optic following him in. As he fastened his seatbelts and puts on his custom helmet, the Droid slots itself into a port behind him, augmenting the ship's electronics.
The start-up sequence finished, just short of igniting the drives, Malek... began to wait, patiently, for his father's signal to deploy.
Gunnery Officer Kilran watched the Superlaser's status on his console. He paid particular attention to the heat gauge, and the Eclipse' massive heat sinks' output. Then, a progress bar rose to the top...
"Weapon fully charged," he declared calmly.
Hux nearly shuddered with delight at the thought of firing the Superlaser. "FIRE!" He commands, eagerly.
Particles gathered in the mouth of the superlaser, forming a ball of energy. The ball compressed, trembled, and exploded, spewing a ray of blue-green energy.
The beam surged past a squadron of X-wing starfighters, and a handful of Resistance frigates. In spite of missing them by meters, the ambient energy of the beam alone was enough for the X-wings' fuel cells to detonate, and the frigates' hulls to be peeled off, killing all inside. The beam then blew through the hull of a red Assault Frigate MKII, and continued on through the atmosphere of D'Qar. Inside his cockpit, Poe Dameron can only look on helplessly.
"No..." he muttered, horrified, knowing that another living world would die at the hands of the First Order.
The beam impacted the ground, which shattered under the raw firepower of the superlaser.
Vober, startled by the scream of ignited air, turned to face the impact point, kilometers away... Then, a wall of dust and fire surged out of the distant horizon, rapidly making its way towards the base. He would have been awed by the sight, had he not been utterly terrified at his impending doom.
"TAKE OFF!" he screamed at the pilots. "TAKE OFF NOW! WE—"
He was cut short by an earthquake, and the ground cracked beneath him, splitting into deep chasms with the bright orange glow of lava at the bottom. Vober and his crew fall into the chasms, screaming in terror, and were quickly followed by the one transport that failed to engage its repulsorlifts in time. The Transports that managed to take off switched on their afterburners, a desperate move to stay ahead of the shockwave and make it to the Raddus.
"Keep going!" yelled one of the transports' pilots over the radio. "Keep going! We're almost safe!"
"This is transport 2!" shouted another, frantically. "Our engine's too hot! We're not—"
His ship lagged behind significantly, and was torn apart by the shockwave, then another Transport's engines failed, then another, and another...
Leia put her hand over her chest, stumbled, and leaned against the holotable to maintain her balance. Through the Force, she felt the death of every man and woman on D'Qar as the once verdant planet turned into a ball of ash and lava. Every, Single. Death... was a stab in the heart, with a dagger made of ice colder than Hoth.
Ackbar looked at her, worried. "Princess...?"
She quickly regains her royal composure. "I'll be alright. Dradis, how many transports did we lose?"
"I've confirmed four of the twelve signals going silent," replied Dradis. "The rest... IFF confirmed! They're alright! ETA six minutes!"
"Elson is reporting in!" added Kaydel. "Nav Beta is secure!... wait... The Dreadnought is transmitting
across all frequencies - it's General Hux!"
Of course it is, Leia thought. Theatrics backed by planetkillers. That's Hux in a nutshell. "Put it through."
"Rebels..." Hux's static-laced voice began...
As Poe and his Black Squadron flew through the battle, Hux's voice resounds over the comms.
"...You are beaten. Your cowardly assault on Starkiller Base was all for nothing. Our numbers are limitless! Our weapons are mighty! Our resolve is unmatched! Look upon the world below you as it turns to ash, and know that all your homeworlds and all your peoples will suffer the same fate... unless you surrender, and submit to the mercy and grace of the Supreme Leader!"
D'Qar turning volcanic, far more than Hux's speech, was the one thing demoralizing the fleet opposing the First Order. While the Resistance's ships — hand-me-downs from the New Republic Military — were holding the line at great cost, their allies, Pirates, Mercenaries, and Milita, were starting to break formation, singling themselves out for destruction by the Star Destroyers and their TIE Fighters.
Poe hated to admit it, but while Hux was not a master strategist, he knew the value of shock and awe.
"...You have five minutes to comply." Hux finished, happy to put his speechcraft skills into practice. He motioned the comms officer — Lieutenant Lynn — to cut the channel.
"You underestimate Organa," commented Fell. "She didn't break at Alderaan, and she certainly won't shed tears for some backwater."
"That was then," replied Hux, snorting in contempt. "This is now. Organa is old, and weak..." Hux gestured at the central holotable, as a handful of Militia and Pirate warships attempt to break off their engagements and hyperspace away. "She has already failed to hold her pitiful new alliance together, and now it falls apart before her very eyes. Her surrender is inevitable."
Lieutenant Lynn raised her hand, getting Hux's attention. "General! Incoming hail from the Raddus! It's Organa!"
Hux smirked. "Of course it is," he said, turning to the holo-projector. "Patch her through!"
Leia, clad in her officer's uniform, appears before Fell and Hux as a hologram. She looks defeated.
"Your Majestry," Fell bows slightly, his tone respectful. He may have hated her brother's guts with a passion, but that did not mean his manners had to go out the airlock.
Hux, of course, had no such scruple. "Come to your senses at last? Order your ships to stand down, before I lose patience and show you the real power of this mighty warship!"
"General Hux," Leia began. "I have received your message, and as the leader of the Resistance I speak for every man, woman and droid within it when I say...
Leia pauses for effect...
"Yes?" Hux prods.
"Go kark a wookie, you snot-nosed, arrogant little boy." And with that, Leia cut the channel.
Hux's left eye twitched as he trembled with rage, while Fell suppresses a chuckle. "That's some surrender," commented the older man.
"...It's disintegration, then." Hux turned to the crew. "Helm! Keep the prow trained on the Raddus! Gunnery, target their flagship and FIRE!"
"Sir?" began Kilran, hesitantly. "We can't fire!"
"...What." Hux was not happy to hear that.
"Our heat sinks are still cooling the main gun!" explained Kilran, pointing at the heat gauge. "If we fire now our entire ships internals will melt!"
"How long is it going to take?!" Hux demanded to know.
"Four minutes," said Tam Dradis.
"Those transports can't go any faster," said Leia. "We need more time..."
"We'll get it," said Ackbar. "Kaydel, Get Commander Dameron and Vice Admiral Celchu on the horn! Plan B is go!"
Out in space, Poe had received Ackbar's message loud and clear. "Roger that," he confirmed. "Plan B is go! Black Leader to Black Squadron, report booster status!"
The rest of Black Squadron's X-wings formed up on Poe's wing.
"Black Two," said Snap Wexley over the radio. "Boosters charged and standing by!"
"Black Three," said Nien Numb in Haya, "standing by!"
"Black Four," said Jess Pava, "standing by!
"Black Five," confirmed Karé Kun, "standing by!"
"Black Six," said C'ai "standing by!"
Poe smiled. "Good! Follow my lead and ready your Mag Pulses, we're taking the Eclipse to the dentist! Taika, think your boys can keep up with us?"
A squadron of nine refitted V-wing Starfighters, painted in various personalized paint jobs, blasted their way past some TIE Fighters and formed up alongside Black Squadron. Inside the cockpit of the lead V-wing,Taika Katanga, a Weequay man clad in the trappings of a space pirate blended with the look of a Naboo fop, grinned eagerly under the transparent face shield of his helmet.
"Ha! Keep up?! Black Leader, by the time you reach the dreadnought you'll be choking on my exhaust!"
Suddenly, TAIKA's spherical radar readout blinked orange, and twelve pips appear on it, warning him of an equal number of TIE Fighters moving in to intercept Black Squadron...
"We got incoming!" warned Jess, before Taika could even say anything. "Do we engage?"
At the center of the Command Deck of a refitted Confederate Providence-Class cruiser, a tall tactical droid stood in the center of the bridge, the cables running through the back of his head feeding him streams of sensor data. This allowed him to micromanage his force's every task through ansible channels and auxilliary computer cores.
"This is Captain Kalani," said the tactical droid, a veteran of a bygone age. "Vulture droids A1 through A10: protect the X-wings at all costs."
"Roger-Roger," the droids respond. "Glory to the Free Droids Alliance."
"That's a negative, Black Four," said Poe, chuckling. "Let our friends handle it."
Before the TIEs can even enter optimal firing range, they are shot at by, of all things, a flight of Vulture-class Droid Starfighters. The TIEs that didn't fall to the droids blaster shots and energy missiles scatter, becoming easy prey to the smaller, nimbler craft.
"This is A1!" The lead Vulture droid transmitted over Black Squadron's channel, as the last TIE became engulfed in blaster fire. "Your sky is clear, meatbag!"
"You heard the clanker!" radioed Poe, his confidence surging. "We're clear! Lock S-foils into cruise position..."
On his command, the X-wings' S-foils close. As they line up towards the Eclipse, their boosters' nozzles, an aftermarket mod common with hotshot militia pilots, begin to glow...
"Go into overdrive on my mark..."
Behind Poe's cockpit, the spherical astromech droid, BB8, pops and swivels his head out into space, beeping fearfully as its main optic beheld the First Order Dreadnought they were about to attack.
"Don't worry," Poe reassured him. "The Force is with us..." A deep breath, hand firmly on the throttle, Poe was ready. "MARK!" he yelled, pushing the throttle past the red line.
Black Squadron's boosters lit up the black, propelling them forward at triple their normal acceleration. Almost as quickly, both the Vulture Droids AND V-wings activated their afterburners, and together they streak like comets past enemy and allies: X-wings and TIEs, Assault Frigates and Star Destroyers. The squadrons cleared the melee completely in mere seconds, rapidly crossing the starry void between the Eclipse and the cluster of fighting warships.
Guld, the Eclipse's sensor operator, stares at his console in confusion. "Sir? Incoming X-wings and... ships I haven't seen before. Twenty-eight readings, coming in fast."
Concerned, Fell walked up to Guld's station and verified the readings for himself. He recognized the Vulture Droids and V-wings immediately, having faced them in dogfights out in periphery of civilized space during the Thrawn Campaign.
Someone at the Academy needs a swift ass-kicking, thought Fell, glancing at Guld, annoyed at the young man's ignorance of Clone Wars hardware. Even outdated machines can be a threat out here...
"Problem, Fell?" probed Hux, walking up behind the veteran captain.
"Yes," replied Fell. "Vulture Droids, and V-wings packing autoblasters. Multi-role Fighters, a lot of em. Should I send out the Interceptors?"
Hux glanced at the console over Fell's shoulder, and refocused his attention back to the raging battle hundreds of kilometers in front of the Eclipse. "Obsolete machines from a time best forgotten. Flak towers! Forward screen! They'll be dead before they can reach torpedo lock range!" he stated out loud, then, quietly: "...Or did you think I would let your bastard get any glory at this hour of triumph?"
Silently, Fell imagined throttling Hux for his insolence and arrogance.
Outside, on the surface of the Eclipse, forty gun towers came to life, each equipped with two quad plasma flak cannons. They unleashed bolts of plasma, set to burst six kilometers away from the Eclipse's prow, forming a curved wall of green bursts that would dissuade any sane pilot from even approaching the massive capital ships.
Of course, Poe and his friends were not known for sane flying.
"They're not slowing down..." Guld tried not to sound impressed – such emotions were treasonous.
"An attack of desperation," dismissed Hux.
Fell knew better. "How fast are they going?"
"Two-hundred and forty megalights." replied Guld. "At this rate they'll be in torpedo lock range in ten seconds."
"And dead in six." added Hux.
Fell checked the holographic battlemap, and sees the x-wings clustered closely together, pointed directly at something. Realization dawned on his face... "They're giving their torpedoes a boost!" He shouts at the helmsman: "THEY'RE IN RANGE! EVASIVE MANEUVERS, NOW!"
The helmsman, Pressly FL185, freezes in confusion and uncertainty, unable to comprehend the threat. He fails to fire the lateral thrusters...
...Just as Poe and his squadron unleashed a salvo of Mag Pulse missiles aimed at the three forward Flak towers of the Eclipse. The missiles, with the initial momentum given to them by the X-wings that carried them, flew past the wall of flak, fast as turbolaser shots. Only half of the projectiles make it to their targets, but that's enough: Electromagnetic pulses surge out, causing the electronics in four if the forward defense towers to fry, leaving a huge gap in the Flak wall that the resistance squadron wasted no time taking advantage of. Within seconds, the Resistance fighters were on top of the Eclipse, swarming over its dorsal hull.
"Time to pull their teeth!" shouted Poe. "S-foils open! Full power to guns!"
"Remember," warned Wexley. "Don't play chicken with those things!"
Illustrating his point, one of the Vultures flew straight at a tower for too long, and was promptly shot out of the black. It screamed almost comically as it turned into a fireball, trailing smoke.
"Argh! Stupid clankers! What did I JUST say?!" Wexley's tone spoke volumes about droid losses. After all, droid intelligences were backed up on the Arc.
The fighters began their strafing runs, and quickly the Eclipse lost its point defense coverage as Taika and his V-wings fired impressive blaster barrages upon the Dreadnought's anti-starfighter gun turrets. None of them can keep up with Poe, who manages to take down four towers by himself, before firing one last Mag Pulse at a dorsal shield generator's primary emitter.
"X-wing Bombing run successful," Kalani transmitted. "Attack of opportunity detected. Vulture droids A1 to A3, arm proton torpedoes, destroy the Eclipse's bridge."
"Roger-Roger," the three droids confirmed their orders in unison.
As Hux ranted and raved at the command crew, Fell saw the three Vultures coming, prompting him to press a key on his wrist comm. Going over Hux's head... that was guaranteed to get him in trouble with Snoke, but then again, it wasn't as if the young General was doing anything productive. Someone's got to save our skins, he thought. Up to you, son.
The Vulture Droids readied their single torpedo launchers. Inside the droids' artficial mind's eye, target lock reticles form, centering on the Eclipse's bridge.
"Target locked," the droids speak in unison. "Firing—"
Their moment of glory was cut short as four lances of green light pierce their lead fighter's thin hull. As it exploded, the rest of the droid fighters scattered, and are picked off one by one.
"Error! Error!" cried A3, "it came from—" and its warning was cut short by a shot to its central processor core.
A fighter emerged from the cloud left behind by the exploding droid, trailing wisps of black smoke as it flew out to meet the enemy. It was a TIE/SF Interceptor, a faster, deadlier successor to the dagger-winged TIE of the Galactic Civil War. Fitted with four weapon pods packed with concussion missiles, it could put an entire squadron of fighters on the defensive by itself.
It bore the mark of the Carrion Crows. Malek Fell had just been unleashed upon the Resistance.
"What the hell is that?!" shouts Kare, having never seen a TIE like that before.
"Interceptors!" cries Nien. "They've launched Interceptors!"
"Wait," Snap double checked his sensor scopes. "I only see the one!"
While they spoke, Malek outmaneuvered and killed another trio of Vultures.
"Where's the rest of them?!" asks Jess, nervous.
Taika's pirates attempt to kill Malek, only for him to maneuver around the fallen towers, pulling off an inertial slide that caught a V-wing unawares, dooming it to a fiery death.
Poe would have been impressed if the Interceptor had not been flown by an Imp scum. "Who in Malachor is that guy?!"
"A dead man!" Taika radioed, arrogantly. "Poe! Drop the buoy! My boys will handle that Interceptor!"
Hux pointed a finger at Malek's craft. "I gave no order to launch! COMMS! Activate that fighter's self-destruct IMMEDIATELY!"
"BELAY THAT!" Fell had it up to here with him: "That interceptor just saved your miserable life, you LUNATIC!"
Thankfully, Lieutenant Lynn had better sense than to destroy the one ship that was saving their lives.
Poe, following the plan, flew his X-WING a kilometer above the Eclipse's dorsal hull, right in the Eclipse' heavy turret's dead zone. A small hatch on the underside of his starfighter opened, revealing a small hyperwave signal beacon. The device was ejected and stabilized by cold gas jets, and began to transmit...
"Detecting a quantum waveform above us!" warned Guld. "Cruiser displacement!"
A Hapan MC45 Assault Frigate hyperspaced in, followed by a squadron of Mark III Advanced Y-wing bombers and a flight of H6 medium bombers. Their escorts, a wing of RZ-2 A-wing painted with blue stripes, form up on their flanks.
A young woman's voice, one Poe could only assume belong to Vice-Admiral Celchu, came over the channel. "This is the Stormblood, we have arrived!"
"Black Leader to all starfighters," warned Poe. "Be advised! The First Order gave one of their Aces a new toy! Watch out for dagger-wing TIEs, they're packing a ton of heat!"
Blue Leader, the A-wing Ace Pilot known as Tallissan Lintra, responded: "Roger that, Black Leader. You heard him, Blue Squadron! Break and Attack! Let's show these Imps what A-wings can do!"
As the A-wings move out to engage, the Stormblood's side hangar doors opened, making way for four hammer-shaped heavy bombers, the B-52 StarHammers.
To meet them, the Eclipse's flight crews finally launched two squadrons of TIE/FO and TIE/SF space superiority fighters, and three flights of TIE/SF Interceptors. Before the Eclipse can launch more, the Stormblood fired its ion cannons on the Dreadnought's dorsal hull, causing hangar malfunctions that expose crews to empty space, Turbolaser servos to lock up, and launch tubes to stay closed.
But something was wrong... the ion bolts took far too long to reach their target. The Stormblood was nowhere near the jump beacon. It was nearly twenty kilometers away, in fact. Poe was horrified, having just realized that things had not gone according to plan: "Oh, no... They misjumped! The Stormblood's too far!"
"The StarHammers will be cut to ribbons before they can even launch their payload!" warned Snap. He was right: due to their heavy mass, StarHammers were infamously slow to accelerate.
"If we survive this," growled C'ai, "I'm personally going to strangle their navigator!
Kalani appeared as a hologram within the projector pit, and addressed Leia.
"Our strategy has failed," he states, coldly. "Calculations indicate that we will not destroy the Eclipse in time. We must initiate emergency hyperspace protocols immediately."
"We can't afford to scatter the fleet!" protested Ackbar, turning to Leia. "All is not lost! The boy can still pull it off! You must have faith in him!"
Unfortunately, Leia and Kalani were of one mind of this. Better to scatter the fleet and survive, than to risk its annihilation. "Navigator," she began, her tone grim. "Spool up the hyperdrives."
"Leia!" protested Ackbar.
"Signal the fleet," Leia commanded Kaydel. "Initiate blind emergency jumps, rendez-vous at meeting point Alpha!"
The Eclipse's fighters, outnumbering the Resistance bombers and their escorts two-to-one, attempted to swarm the huge, slowly-accelerating StarHammers. Heavily armoured and armed with six beam laser turrets, the StarHammers had no problem fending off the TIEs before the A-wings re-engaged them. The few First Order pilots that could attack the heavy bombers managed to land a few solid missile hits on the resilient craft, taking out their shields but doing nothing against their tough, high-density Durasteel armour.
The StarHammers' escorts, however, were not as resilient. The Resistance's pilots were valiant, but bravery did not protect against missiles and lasers. Casualties were slowly mounting, and Resistance comms were starting to fill with frantic calls for help and enraged final cries of defiance.
Lumi Celchu's voice cut through it all: "This is Vice-Admiral Celchu to Storm Squadron! We have been ordered to retreat. All StarHammers RTB! All fighters are to blind jump immediately!"
As Celchu spoke, Tallie baited two TIE/SFs to chase her, setting them up to be downed by flanking shots courtesy of Poe's X-wing. Tallie quickly returned the favour by taking out an Interceptor about to fire at Poe.
"Storm Squadron!" Poe protested. "Belay that! We can still take this thing out! No, we MUST take this thing out!"
"Black One!" Lumi's voice was cold as ice. "You are out of order! Abandon the attack immediately or I—"
Poe pressed a few buttons on his console, tuning out Celchu's signal. "Everyone!" he began, "listen to me! You all saw it! The Eclipse is a planet killer! If we run now, we'll let another Hosnian Prime happen, but if we see this through we can be heroes and save billions of lives! Who's with me?!"
"We're with you Poe!" radioed Storm One. "Let's make these bastards pay!" yelled another.
"FOR HOSNIAN PRIME!" screamed Storm Four, and with that, Poe Dameron had overruled both his General and a Vice-Admiral.
"Black Squadron! Storm Squadron! I am ordering you to retreat!" Celchu commanded, but it was no use – Storm Squadron had been torn from her control with one impassioned little speech. Nevertheless, the Stormblood kept its ion cannons firing.
While Lumi Celchu remained calm, Leia was absolutely livid. "Poe!" she yelled over the radio. "What the hell are you doing you insane—"
"Y-wings!" Poe commanded Storm Squadron, his expanded command feeling as comfortable to him as an old leather coat. "Get those heat sinks!"
In response, the flights of Mark III advanced Y-wings split off from the StarHammers at full speed, shooting TIEs with their nose turrets. They suffered a few losses, but they managed to loose their torpedoes at the radiators that line the Eclipse's side trenches.
Alarm klaxons throughout the Dreadnought blared as its hexagonal reactor pit opened up, releasing coolant fumes into the void, an automated response by the enormous ship to prevent a meltdown.
Poe cheered: "There's our opening, just as planned! "Everyone with torpedoes, focus on that reactor! Do as much damage as you—"
"Poe!" Taika cried out. "I could REALLY use your help here!" His custom painted V-wing was being pushed to its limits, dodging and weaving around Malek's autoblaster fire. "That ace just downed all my boys by himself, and now he's after ME!"
Malek scored another hit, and alarms scream all over Taika's cockpit.
"Shields down! I don't know how long I can last!"
"I got eyes on the ace!" radioed Tallie. "And he's got friends coming!"
"I'll take care of his friends!" replied Poe. "You go help Taika!" If there was anyone who could take on a TIE Interceptor Ace, it was Tallie Lintra.
"Roger that!" Tallie's A-wing afterburned towards Malek, and the First Order Ace disengaged from Taika to focus on her, sensing her to be the greater threat. Malek lets Tallie chase him closely, dodging her twin-linked GO-4 laser cannon's shots, then briefly reversed thrust, getting behind her.
Inside his cockpit, computer tones confirm target lock, and he fires a Sidewinder-class concussion missile from one of his ship's missile pods at her. Tallie, in response, attempted to evade the missile by dropping chaff pods, but the clouds of charged metal dust fail to jam the missile's lock. The only option left to her: engaging her boosters and outfly the missile.
As Tallie escaped, Malek got eyes on Poe's X-wing engage his reinforcements and watches in shock as three incoming Interceptors' hulls erupt in flames under a barrage of blaster fire from Poe's X-wingss. Malek's face contorts under his helmet, a hateful gaze burning through the eye slits.
Malek moved in to engage the Resistance Ace. "You're going to pay for that, Rebel scum." he transmits over an open channel.
"Come and get it, Imp," Poe replied, as he brought his X-wing about for a joust with the Interceptor, with Malek responding in kind. They both roared as they faced off, firing at and missing each other by inches, until they came come nose to nose, with neither of them willing to disengage... until the last second, at which point they scraped off each other's paintjob.
Two dots, one green, one red, fly past one another in the middle of the holotable as Fell, glares intensely at the hologram of the battle raging just above the Eclipse. Hux, in the meantime, barked orders that nobody could really obey, the latest of which was this:
"ANY AND ALL TURBOLASERS, FIRE AT THE HEAVY BOMBERS!" he bellowed, believing he could not be heard over the din of the red alert klaxons screaming throughout the ship. Those orders might have been worth a damn, if he had not pulled the Eclipse from dry dock before it could have its shakedown cruise. As it was...
"We can't!" protested Kilran. "The rotors and servos on our main turrets are still glitching from the ion charge!"
"All decks report major internal damage from Ion detonations!" relayed Lynn.
"KEEP THE RESPONSE TEAMS FOCUSED ON THE MAIN GUN!" Hux bellowed some more.
"Comms!" commanded Fell, after meditating on the battle map. "Patch me through to Beta and Gamma flights!"
"Aye aye!" responded Lynn, obeying."Patching through your commlink!"
Fell spoke into his wrist mic. "Beta wing! Gamma wing! Focus fire on the outermost StarHammers! Dumbfire your missiles at max distance at their wings and get them to huddle!"
"Understood!" radioed Beta Leader.
"Roger that," responded Gamma Leader. "Killing locks, preparing to dumbfire..."
Malek could hear his father's voice calling to him from his helmet's headphones. "Alpha One? Alpha One! Do you read?"
"I read you!" the pilot responds. "I'm a little busy!
"Get ready to disengage on my mark and take out that lead StarHammer!"
Just like we practiced on the sims, Malek thought. "I've got three aces to deal with, damn it!"
"Have faith, son, if there is anyone who can pull off that shot, it's you!"
"...Understood, sir, Alpha One, engaging StarHammer!" This was NOT going to be easy.
Sir!" cried Guld. StarHammers will be in optimal assault torpedo range in twenty seconds!"
"SUPERLASER STATUS!" Demanded Hux.
"Two minutes!" replied the Gunnery officer.
"Blast it!" Hux screamed. "Blast it all!"
The Resistance fleet managed to down another Star Destroyer, clearing their escape route. The lighter picket ships made their blind jumps while the larger workhorse vessels sync their navigational computers to the Raddus' own NavCom. The Transports, meanwhile, were still trying to make it to one of the Raddus's hangars on time. One of the StarMasters blows an engine, but still accelerates, despite the vast hangar doors closing.
"Raddus! What's happening?!" cried out one of the StarMaster pilots over the comm waves. "Why are the corvettes leaving?! Why aren't the hangars open?!
"No, no! Please! Don't leave us! Don't abandon us!"
"Elson to transports, don't worry!" the captain of the Protector tried to reassure them, but it was clear he was starting to panic as well. "We're still with you! We're still with you!"
Kaydel hears all of this, and looks back at Leia, unsure what to say next. "...What do I tell them?" she asked apprehensively, secretly hoping the question alone would convince Leia
"Tell them nothing." Leia's response was terse. She didn't like it, but difficult decisions needed to be made. Then, finally, she made the final call. "Lightspeed."
The Raddus' mighty hyperdrive began to hum across the entire ship. The stars on the viewport began to stretch through the pseudomotion caused by hypermatter particle lensing space in front of them...
...Only to snap back to normal. The hyperdrive sputtered, and shut down. The Raddus wasn't going anywhere.
"What the hell?!" growled Leia, years of smoking making her voice almost as gravely as Ackbar's.
"Engineering reports the hyperdrive's been sabotaged!" relayed Kaydel. "Lightbringer and Vigilance report their hyperdrives are malfunctioning too!"
"How long until they can fix the problem?!"
"Not before the Eclipse fires..." Ackbar responds, sinking into his floating pod chair. "We're trapped."
Leia turned to the holotable, and saw that Black and Storm Squadrons were still fighting the Eclipse. It all came down to them.
Their launch tubes restored, more TIEs have joined the fight above the Eclipse, and prioritized the StarHammers. More concussion missiles are loosed at the heavy bombers, with the few that make it past their point-defenses denting their thick armour. Lacking shields, the StarHammer pilots bring their ships closer together so that their turret's fields of fire overlap. Slowly but surely, they approach the Eclipse's core, but Hammer 4 lags behind, it's auxiliary engines disabled.
"We're almost in range!" declared Hammer One's pilot. "Readying Assault Torpedoes..."
Hatches on Hammer One's long, thick wings opened up in the front, revealing the massive warheads of capital-class assault proton torpedoes. In the back, matching hatches expose the nozzles, to prevent the incoming backblast from cooking the inside of the ship.
Meanwhile. Malek gracefully evades Poe's blaster barrage. Taika and Tallie join in, putting even more pressure on Malek by raining flaming red bolts upon him. Despite this immense pressure, the First Order Ace managed to make an attack of opportunity at Jess, who had tried to surprise him from the flank. The burst of autoblaster shots tears past her shield, her engines, and her astromech droid...
"Jess!" Poe cries out. "NO!"
"EJECTING!" Jess screams, and Poe watched on as her X-wing's cockpit broke off, its microthrusters pushing it away from the strike craft's hull. The Starfighter erupts into flames, but Jess was on her way to safety.
Malek passes her by, uninterested in shooting helpless pilots. His father had taught him better than that.
"I'm okay!" Jess transmitted.
"That guy's really starting to piss me off." Poe muttered to himself, before speaking into his radio. "Snap! Get her out of here!
"On it!" Snap responds.
"Now," the command came, and Malek was galvanized into action. Setting his throttle to maximum, he pushes his fighter across the battlefield towards the central StarHammer, making his Interceptor spin and twist, firing his lateral thrusters to confuse Poe, Tallie, and Taika's tracking. Glancing hits were landed, but easily deflected by the Interceptor's upgraded shields, not slowing down Malek one bit, not even to get out of a H6 Scurrg bomber's way.
Poe, shocked at the sheer speed Malek was moving at towards his target, came to the only conclusion he could: "Kamikaze! He's going ram Hammer One! Stop him!"
"I'm trying!" Tallie grits her teeth, firing bursts from her guns. Attempting to get a lock for her own concussion missiles didn't work, and she was beginning to regret not packing heatseekers.
"Schutta just won't die!" Taika swore.
Poe tried to warn the bomber crews of the danger coming their way. "Hammer One! You've got an Interceptor packed with missile pods coming at you fast!"
Hammer One heeded the warning. "All turrets, focus on that Interceptor!"
The StarHammer's turrets fired lances of orange light at Malek, whose breath became louder and more ragged as adrenaline burned through his nervous system. Tallie, Taika and Poe's kept intense pressure on him with blaster fire... and yet, they were unable to get a good shot at him. Desperately, they went from controlled bursts to continuous fire, attempting to take the enemy Ace out.
Malek pressed a few keys on his console, and a screen blinked ALPHA STRIKE – FULL SPREAD in aurebesh. Malek's thumb hovered over the secondary trigger on his joystick for a moment... then pushed it, emptying his interceptors four missile pods, unleashing a swarm of twenty-three SIDEWINDER concussion missiles. They veer off course, well away from the StarHammers.
"What's he doing?! He can't take them out without— OH, KARK!" Tallie swore as the Interceptor ejects its empty pods behind it, one of them glancing her canopy. Meanwhile, the turret gunners, panicking at the sight of so many dangerous, agile missiles, begin firing on them, hoping to take them out before they hit their marks.
Poe keeps shooting and narrowly missing the lighter, faster Interceptor, and Malek gets closer to his target...
"Gunners," signaled Poe. "Keep shooting the TIE! Those missiles aren't going to—"
The missiles explode, forming a cloud of bright plasma that blinds the gunners. Their shots go wide as they shoot at the ensuing cloud of black smoke unable to see their coming doom getting closer...
"Taika! Keep firing! Keep firing!"
"What is he?!" Tallie snarled. "A damned Jedi?!"
"My guns are melting, Poe!" warned Taika.
Poe's guns ran hot. Malek got closer still...
"Come on..." Poe grit his teeth in frustration as he engaged his guns' overrides and kept on shooting. The four blasters began to deform and slag, lowering their accuracy and increasing his desperation. "Gunners! Shoot him! Shoot him!
"We can't see anything!" one of the gunners cried, his eyes darting about the cloud as Malek entered it.
"TORPEDOES HOT, FIR—"
And it emerges from the side of the clouds, trailing wisps of smoke behind him. Time stopped as he cuts his twin ion engines, letting the inertia carry him forward while vernier thrusters turn his ship towards Hammer One's cockpit. Only one of the interceptors' wingtip beam guns was fully charged and about to fire, but Malek only needed one shot.
A HUD was reflected on Malek's visor, the reflection of the bright orange cross-hair blinking over his right eye. "I win," he said, pulling the trigger.
Hammer One's pilot looked to his right, as a overcharged green lance of light hit something on that side of the cockpit, hitting nothing important... as far as he could tell. He watched as the Interceptor flew away, ion engines screaming brightly into the black.
"Huh, he missed." the pilot said to himself, relieved. He called out to his crew. "Hey! He miss—"
The Assault Torpedo Warhead that Malek had been aiming for detonated, the explosion killing the heavy bomber's pilot immediately. The crew and the gunners have just enough time to scream in agony before the other warheads detonate, stripping the flesh from their bones in an instant before obliterating the heavy bomber.
Outside, the cyan fireball of energized protons expanded slowly, and engulfed the other two StarHammer nearby, flying danger close to one another after Gamma Wing had herded them close together. Their own payloads exploding in turn, the fireball expands further, but the fourth one in the formation, its pilot made of sterner stuff, had kept his craft far enough away to get caught at the edge of the blast... Only to have its crew section, along with its engine, gets gutted like a fish by shrapnel, spilling people and parts into the void. All fighters, friend and foe alike, attempt to outrun the fireball. Most make it, but are disabled by the shockwave. Others are destroyed by the shards of heavy armour, causing a small Kessler effect that cause fighters to burst like fireworks.
Leia and Ackbar hang their heads in defeat.
"We're doomed..." Leia muttered.
Fell saw the heavy bombers destroyed on the holomap, and breathed a sigh of relief. "We're saved."
Hux adjusted his hair, trying to appear cool-headed even as a drop of sweat flows down the side of his face. "As if there were any doubts. This ship is invincible."
As if you designed it, thought Fell sarcastically. "Status of the Reactor Core?"
"Engineering reports it's still venting heat," relayed Lynn. "The Y-wings' torpedoes have put a few dents in the core, some of the coolant pipes have been ruptured... but it is nothing critical."
"Sitrep on the battle?"
Guld responded: "A handful of friendly and enemy fighters are still engaged, sir. Some of their strike craft are making blind jumps." He smiles. "They've lost and they know it."
"Star Destroyers Galvanizer, Enforcer, and Oppressor report they are still engaged with the Resistance Flagship," said Lynn. "They request fire support!"
"Status of the main gun?" asks Hux, eager to fire his new toy again.
"Ready in sixty seconds!" reported Kilran.
That made Hux very happy. "Good. Order the Galvanizer and Enforcer to keep their distance.
"Set Superlaser aperture to a three degree spread. We will wipe out the Resistance fleet in one blast!"
The X-wing's shield emitters shorted out, illuminating scars on its hull. Inside, Poe's head hung, his face covered in rivulets of blood, some of which floated in the low gravity.
His eyes were shut.
BB8 beeped frantically through the cockpit's electronics, hoping to wake him up. Suddenly, his eyes snap open, and his eyes take in the sorry state of the Resistance squadrons. The audio emulators are off, the struggle of his friends to stay alive was a silent spectacle of lasers... Black Squadron, valiant to the end... but it was only a matter of time before the Eclipse would clear its ion charges and finally spit out all four of its fighter wings and overwhelm them all.
The Stormblood tried to break off, but it was soaking turbolaser fire. Taika made his blind jump, getting the last laugh on three TIEs, but abandoning his allies. Typical, thought Poe.
Poe sighed, the fight having nearly gone out of him. "We had to try, buddy," he told his robotic companion.
BB8 beeped sadly in response.
"We did our best... we, it, it just wasn't good enough." It galled him deeply that in the end, it had all depended on one fighter on the other side being better than him.
Static burst into his radio, courtesy of BB8. "Jess?" said Snap, his voice marred with white noise. "What are you doing?!"
"Snap?..." Poe muttered, then shouted. "Snap! Are you still alive?
"Jess, don't do it! The radiation will kill you!
Poe tried to catch Jess's response, but it was not clear through the static. "BB8? I can't see too good... can you see what's going on?"
BB8's head swiveled, scanning space with his main optic. He beeped excitedly, as he finds Jess' escape pod docked with the tumbling Hammer Four.
Jess, with her helmet fully closed and a radiological alarm blinking on the side of her helmet's visor, pulled out the dead pilot of the ruined cockpit and floats into his seat, pushing past floating shards of transparent plastic and twisted metal. She tried to switch on the ship's HUD and holo-displays, and succeeded after giving the computer a few kicks.
"Jess, don't do this! This is crazy!"
Karé joined Poe's protests: "You've got no engines!"
"You're wrong," said Jess, filled with determination.
The flickering displays showed the ruined StarHammer's payload's status. All missiles read fully armed and operational. Jess pressed each of the holographic missiles, overriding safeties and triggering their mag clamps.
"I've got twelve of them."
Jess pressed the joystick's secondary trigger, commanding the missiles to fire their engines. The mag clamps hold fast, keeping them inside the ship as the backblast propelled it forward. The acceleration, powerful but turbulent, forces Jess to keep the verniers firing to make sure the ship stayed on target: The Eclipse's reactor pit.
"StarHammer!" shouted Guld, "COMING IN HOT!"
"Alpha One!" commanded Fell. "Intercept kamikaze, now!"
"Forget Alpha One!" screeched Hux. "Send all fighters against that thing NOW!"
Malek was just about to finish Tallie off when he hears his father's call. Spotting Hammer Four's trailing plasma, he made a bee line for it.
Poe watched as TIEs begin to swarm over the last StarHammer. This is it, he thought. There is nothing left, that bomber is only being held together by prayers. His horror made way for awe, by the unlikeliest of saviours... a hundred droid fighters, swarming all around Jess' bomber like a school of fish, forming a shield of flying metal, filtering the heaviest of the laser fire coming on all sides.
"Oh, Maker bless those damned clankers!" radioed Snap, even as he shot down another TIE.
Poe knew that miracle wouldn't last long. He quickly restarted his X-wing, but the engines struggled to rev back up. "BB8, can you give me guns, missiles, anything?" he asked, frantically. Malek was tearing through the shell of swarming droids, stopping only to cool his weapons.
BB8 beeped frantically.
"Slower beeps! What DO we have, then?!"
BB8 kept beeping, and the booster gauge and hyperdrive readouts lit up.
"Okay... I can work with that."
Black Squadron valiantly attempted to keep enemy TIEs off Jess's back long enough for her to get a good angle to loose the torpedoes. A Gunner inside Hammer Four woke, and managed to down a TIE before dying from his wounds. One last act of defiance, of rebellion, before the end...
Unfortunately, the TIE wasn't Malek. The Ace approached, stripping off the swirling shield with autoblaster fire until it was thin enough for him to line up an autoblaster shot at the ruined StarHammer's cockpit. He managed to fire a short burst before a loud thud echoed through the hull and he suddenly lost control of his craft.
"What?!" Malek screamed over the open channel.
"STILL ALIVE, SCUMBAG!" Poe yelled right back.
Poe's X-wing and Malek's Interceptor wings were interlocked as they spun out of control together, their verniers pumping out plasma plumes as Malek tried to wrestle his ship away. It was no use – the S-foils only closed tighter, their grip on the Interceptor's dagger wings unyielding.
BB8 pops out of his Astromech slot and clamps on the X-wing's cockpit with his magnetic harpoons, while Poe made a rude gesture at the TIE's cockpit pod's main sensor, a gesture BB8 gladly mimicked with one of his built-in tools. The X-wing's cockpit broke off, leaving Malek behind as he roared furiously — but impotently — while he was dragged along with the X-wing's blind hyperspace jump.
"And so long!" shouted Poe, defiantly.
"Someone get Poe's pod!" ordered Nien to anyone within range.
"On it!" responded Tallie.
"Jess, you've got a perfect angle at the core!" yelled Poe. "Cut the torpedoes loose!"
Jess did not respond.
"Jess? Jess! Do you read me?!"
Jess was wounded. Two of the autoblaster shots had hit close, causing slag to pierce her leg, while another managed to graze her suit, letting the cosmic radiation through. Going in an out of unconsciousness, Poe's pleas in her helmet's speakers gets her to focus on her situation.
Bless you, lover, she thought fondly, through the pain and the sickness.
She was lined up with the reactor; all she had to do then was disengage the mag clamps on the torpedoes and the Resistance would win. She would go home, get into a bed on the Mercy, and recover, fight another day. She would see her sister again.
But no, the Mag Clamps were fused.
She saw the engine light go green, and she laughs.
"Oh, that's just perfect," she gasps. "Now? Really?"
"Jess! Jess!" Poe calls to her. "Cut them loose and bail out, Snap's ready to pick you up!"
"A-Anyone...anyone, do you hear me?" she coughed into her helmet. "I need you guys to do me a favour, okay?"
"You'll tell her yourself!" Karé yelled. "Bail out, damn you! Bail out!"
"Tell her I love her with all my heart..." she groaned out.
Jess set the throttle to maximum, and sped up the StarHammer towards the dreadnought's core.
The remaining droids scattered. It was all on her now.
"And that I'm sorry..." she muttered.
Missiles and blaster shots hit the heavy bomber, but true to its name it smashes through the fighter screen, soaking up kill shot after kill shot until finally its entire cabin ignited and bathed Jess in fire. Her cries agony echoed across the battle through every radio in the Resistance Fleet, and they all watched somberly as the heavy bomber, now a small comet of plasma, slowly sank into the Reactor pit...
Poe shut his eyes.
"ALL HANDS BRACE FOR IMPACT!" screamed Fell, but it was too late.
The Eclipse's insides erupted into flames. Thick armour plates flew off, ejecting thousands of First Order crewmen and fighters and empty escape pods into an airless doom.
Poe, his pod magnetically clamped on Tallie's A-wing's underside, opened his eyes watched the Eclipse explode, his expression weary. Tallie made her A-wing form up on Black Squadron, along with what remained of the Droid fighters and Storm Squadron... which wasn't much.
"Jess did it..." muttered Poe, his throat hoarse. "She saved the Resistance."
"The Force was with her, then, and now..." prayed Nien.
Tallie let out a long sigh, watching as TIEs scatter away, demoralized at the destruction of their mothership. "Scopes are clearing. Hyperdrive is go... Blue Squadron... Black Squadron? Let's get out of there."
And suddenly, as if defying its fate out of sheer spite, the Eclipse's flames died...and its lights went back on.
After all this, it had all been for nothing.
The command crew had been rattled and shaken off their seats, and Hux was scrambling to get up as Fell tended to a wounded crewman. All around them consoles were erupting in showers of sparks, barely functioning. Some of the crew were putting out fires with foam extinguishers, while other sealed small breaches in the hull. The entire room was lit by red emergency lamps a red gloom that made Hux's manic smile and cackling laughter all the more frightening. After all, the Resistance's efforts had all been for nothing. The Eclipse endured. The new rebellion was doomed before it could even start.
It was all because he had been smarter than them all.
"STATUS REPORT!" he yelled, even if the klaxons had sputtered out and died. The man needed to hear his own voice above all others.
"Primary core is down!" reported Lynn. "Bulkheads are sealed, Death Star protocols are engaged and damage is contained! Secondary fuel celss two, five and six are coming online!
Kilran did not respond, and Hux saw him unconscious at his post.
"Bah! Up to my ARMPITS in incompetence!" The General scrambles up to the Gunnery station and saw that the weapon was ready to fire. He raised his fist gloriously...
"Stop, you fool!" Fell yelled. "Particle containment won't hold!"
"FOR THE FIRST ORDER!" He yelled, bringing his hand down on the big red holographic button.
The Eclipse's armored prow opened to reveal the superlaser aperture once more, revealing the glow of the mighty weapon, and the growing sphere of energy inside...
"Oh, no... no not like this," muttered Tallie. "It can't all have been for nothing..."
A cone of green light emerges, bathing the entire Resistance fleet in energy particles. The heat isn't quite enough to destroy everything, but it soon would be.
"Somebody fire a torpedo at its mouth!" Karé pleads "Or-or a hand blaster, a kriffing rock! Anything!
"It would take a miracle to save the fleet now!" said C'ai
The main gun began to rupture, and only the Force itself knew if its containment would give out before or after the Resistance fleet would be completely destroyed.
In an hidden ship far from the battle, a man stands in shadow as blue-skinned crewmen clad in high-tech uniforms calmly go about their duties. Having observed the battle since the beginning, he gives the order that will change the fate of the Galaxy, unwilling to leave things to chance.
From a far point above the fleeing Stormblood, there was a flash of light, and a glinting ray of metal streaked past the Hapan ship at near-lightspeed, almost instantly hitting the Eclipse's prow. Receiving several gigatons of kinetic energy on its prow, the dreadnought's thick durasteel armour buckled like a sheet of cardboard, ruining the main gun's particle containment completely. With the aperture unable to contain the energy, the cone of light vanished, and the sphere of light expanded slowly outward, devouring the prow...
The rest of the ship was next.
"Transports are in! All are accounted for!" Kaydel was elated. They were going to make it, after all! "Engineering reports hyperdrive is ready to go!"
"They've done it." said Ackbar, over the cheers of the bridge crew. "HA! They've kriffing did it! Get us out of here. Now!"
Hux's expression of pure rapture had vanished, replaced with utter despair as the Resistance fleet escaped, and the sphere of energy approached him...
"No... no, this isn't fair," he's on the verge of tears. Snoke would make him pay for this failure. He needed a patsy, someone to—
His skull cracked under the butt of Fell's pistol, and he falls on his face.
Content that he wouldn't be getting up any time soon, Fell moved quickly to a nearby wall, smashed a glass panel surrounded by red metal, pulled out a metal cylinder, turned it, and pushed it back in just before the Eclipse's bridge disappears into the light.
The Eclipse was gone, utterly annihilated by its own weapon.
Against all odds, the Resistance had just won a victory. A costly one, but a victory nonetheless.
The Chiss had a reputation of being one of the most technologically advanced civilization of the galaxy, and while the machinery that surrounded the alien vessel's Captain and his Executive Officer was just as utilitarian as the Empire, it looked definitely more modern. Holographic haptic displays dominated the space, surrounding chairs designed to accommodate cybernetic interfaces. The two officers confered over their own version of the holotable, with a spherical display set up to observe the aftermath of the recent battle.
"Humans." The XO shook his head. "Such mad creatures. The odds were not in their favour and yet they still attempted that suicidal bombing run."
"Not just the humans... the droids, as well." The captain had been impressed by the old droids. He had encountered them before, long ago, and they had not been as imaginative before. "Give them credit, the attack succeeded."
"At great cost, and only with our help."
"Our help? No... no, We merely hastened the inevitable. The Superlaser was just about to explode, after all."
"What happens now?"
The Chiss Captain approached the holographic globe, and its blue light illuminated the aged, slightly scarred face of none other than Mitth'raw'nuruodo, once known throughout the known galaxy as Grand Admiral Thrawn. Responsible for billions of deaths in his attempt to destroy the New Republic shortly after the battle of Jakku, he had been killed by his bodyguard shortly before the Battle of Pellaon, where the Imperial Remnant had been defeated once and for all.
Clearly, the news of his death had been exaggerated.
"Now?" he replied. "Now, my dear commander S'jet, we send our report back to Command. Once they've seen what the Resistance is capable of, they will be easier to convince of the plan."
"The plan to rally the Resistance. To rebuild it, improve it, enhance it... and with that weapon in hand we will slowly, but surely destroy the First Order, ship by ship, crew by crew... Every man, woman, and yes, even child." He sounded eerily calm, but S'jet knew better: deep down, the ageing Thrawn was animated by one thing.
"And if they don't approve of your revenge, Thrawn?" challenged S'jet. "What then?"
Thrawn smiled confidently at S'jet, turned away, and stepped back into the shadows. The conversation was over. "Dump the railgun's heat and engage stealth systems," he ordered, just loud enough to be heard. "We will stalk the Raddus until Command sends a response."
"...Understood." The XO relayed the orders.
Thrawn stopped for a moment, as if recalling something. He hadn't forgotten, of course, but he had acquired a taste for theatrics in his advanced age. "Oh! and one last thing: signal Omega-One that her request is granted. Her great interest in that X-wing pilot appears to be quite warranted."
S'jet's gaze fell upon holographic bust of Poe Dameron, and he wondered what the future had in store for the young human. If it involved Thrawn, it could not be good...
The battlefield had become silent, and the dark, burning husks of fallen Star Destoyers and Resistance vessels, fell prey to the now volcanic world of D'Qar's gravity.
A shadow loomed over the wrecks, belonging to a ship of alien design that had appeared — out of nowhere — over the planet's orbit. It's skin was dark biometal, inlaid with decorative silver...
...Like that carriage in the rain, a long, long time ago.
END OF EPISODE ZERO
PREVIEW of EPISODE 1
On an island on the remote planet of Ahch-To, a scavenger girl named Rey, who had trekked across an entire star cluster following a starmap to this place, walked up a hundred stone steps to reach a robed man standing atop an artificial hill. The man, aged and worn, sensed her presence, and slowly turned around. He pulled back his grey hood to reveal his face, and despite never meeting him before, Rey felt like she knew, deep down, that this was the man she had been looking for.
This was Luke Skywalker.
He was much older than she had expected, with a full beard on his face and greying hair on his head, his blue eyes full of the kindness that only the elderly had. He did not ask her name, or what she was doing here. Rey assumed it was because he already knew. How could he not, being a master of the Force, that energy that permeated all things, even thought and memory?
She pulled something out of her ruck-sack: a metal cylinder of chrome, long as two spans of a hand: Anakin Skywalker's lightsaber, once wielded by Luke against Darth Vader in the depths of Cloud City for that fateful duel that had turned his world upside down. Rey handed it to him, and could only imagine the memories that must have raced through his mind right then.
Luke stared down at the weapon of a bygone age for a moment, then back to Rey. The girl smiled, and eagerly awaited his response, no doubt a revelation, or a pearl of wisdom, or...
"What is this?" he asked, utterly confused.
Rey's expression fell. Something was wrong. Very, VERY wrong.
Old age had ravaged Luke's mind.
He had forgotten everything.