“You two, knock it off!” barked Sergeant Rusk. Doc and T7-01 had been jousting playfully around the holoterminal on the crew deck of the Freedom Rising, Serrocco’s Defender-class light corvette, electroshock bolts and pillow feathers flying everywhere. Kira smirked and slouched deeper into the pilot’s chair, her feet up on the dash. They were always up to some misadventure or another, Doc and T7. Doc had been paying the astromech a lot more attention the last few weeks, spending his time almost entirely with the droid since Kira had married Serrocco.
She didn’t blame Doc, the poor, flirtatious lug. Serrocco was a dutiful soul and neither Rusk nor Scourge were any fun. C2-N2 was completely hopeless too. She might have made a decent source of entertainment herself since she shared much of Doc’s lighthearted, easy-going spirit and taste for adventure. But he had been keeping a respectful distance since she and Serrocco had eloped. Before that, he hit on her almost daily. She appreciated his restraint. She knew it must not have been easy for a man of his particular persuasion.
Her mind came back to the present. She did not like where they were right now, tethered to Darth Marr’s flagship, holding position in some sector of unknown space. They were well beyond the reaches of both the Republic and the Empire, and she desperately wanted Serrocco to finish his business with Marr and then for them to rocket out of there as fast as the hyperdrive could carry them. She had done as he had instructed and had kept the ship ready for a quick departure, though an uneasy feeling was starting to creep up on her. Perhaps it was due to their close proximity to the many dark side adepts she knew Darth Marr must have kept in his employ.
She hated the Empire. She hated what the Empire represented and what they had done to her -the destiny they had forced upon her as a child of the Emperor, a destiny from which she had been required to free herself. She hated anything that smelled like the Empire. And here they were again, partnering with Imperials in the crusade to track down and destroy the Emperor.
That was one aspect of the Alliance with which she could agree, at least. She hated the Emperor. She hated that he had corrupted her and forced her to be one of his children. It was personal. She had been only too glad to join Serrocco in his campaign to rid the galaxy of his foul presence. He was a massive threat. After all, she had witnessed his consumption of Ziost with her own two eyes.
That was an interesting word. It fit. The whole planet was obliterated in mere moments, a wave of dark-side energy washing over the entire world, reducing its structures to rubble and turning all organic matter on the planet instantly to dust -people, plants and animals alike. The tidal wave of Force energy was greater than any she had ever felt, greater even than the discharge of energy she had struggled to overcome when Serrocco had landed the crushing blow against him on Dromund Kaas.
But that had not been enough. He had returned. Revan saw to it in his failed attempt to summon the Emperor and then destroy him on Yavin IV. And now he was unleashed upon the galaxy once more. She resented Revan for that, the fool. He should have known better.
Darth Marr knew the stakes, at least, and she had to admit a certain grudging respect for him. Of all the members of the foul dark council, only Marr had taken a leave of absence from directing the Empire’s military to lead the joint operation to hunt the Emperor down. And here they were –now- after months of silence, following a fresh lead. That, at least, was good.
“Fancy an oratay slurry?” Doc asked, jarring her from her thoughts and handing her an odd-looking glass as he slid himself into the copilot’s chair, sipping carefully on one of his own. “It’s a Bith drink. Hate the stuff myself, but it’s all I could drum up with what we had on board. That droid needs to go shopping.”
Kira was thankful for the distraction. She removed her feet from the dash and sat up, taking a sip. “Ugh! This stuff is tart,” she exclaimed, “Are you trying to kill me?”
Doc chuckled as he perused the navicomputer for a moment. “No idea where we are.”
“I know,” remarked Kira, “We’re out in the middle of nowhere. And something doesn’t feel right.” She couldn’t shake the feeling of unease in her heart that had continued to grow the longer they sat motionless in unknown space, tethered to Marr’s frigate.
A sudden series of blips and chirps issued from the ship’s sensor computer. Kira glanced casually in its direction expecting some routine report of a local spacial anomaly or the movement of Imperial and Republic ships in the battlegroup. She sat up abruptly. “What’s this?!”
It moved like lightning, streaking toward Marr’s ship, its sheer velocity making it hard to see as it whizzed by. It arced up and over the frigate, buzzing the bridge section as it hurtled by, shooting out wide, and then banking effortlessly to the right before disappearing into hyperspace.
“A probe,” said Doc, though his voice made him sound less than sure.
“Aren’t probes supposed to be short range?” asked Kira.
Doc shrugged, a puzzled, somewhat worried look on his face, studying the console in front of him intensely as he put down his drink. “Think so, but that was moving…”
He did not need to finish his sentence. All at once the question was answered when a capital ship of some unknown origin dropped out of hyperspace, immediately within range of Marr’s frigate. It had the look of a capital ship, though its design was strange to Kira. A glance in Doc’s direction confirmed he was thinking the same.
The feeling of unease was a near panic now.
Zoop! Zoop! Zoop! Zoop! In they came, half a dozen more ships of identical design to the first, dropping out of hyperspace into a perfect diamond formation with the first. Zoop, zoop, zoop, zoop. Four or five more. No, eight. Twelve? Twenty four? A hundred and twenty four?
The number was staggering! Kira had never seen anything like it in all her life. It was a fleet! Hundreds of ships were emerging from hyperspace. Those in the rear battlegroups took rank-and-file formations while those in front formed a diamond attack posture. What was more unnerving was the way they dropped out of hyperspace with perfect mathematical precision, the kind of precision that was difficult, Kira knew, even for the some of the most advanced astrogation computers in the Republic.
They began firing.
Kira was immediately at work, pushing buttons, adjusting knobs, her Jedi reflexes taking over before she had fully processed what was happening. They were in trouble. They needed to get out of there. Out of the corner of her eye she glimpsed a wide-eyed Doc beginning to grasp their predicament too, though his response was not as immediate as hers. She could not blame him. He had not experienced the same reflex training she had, though he was a resourceful, resilient fellow. He began to punch buttons and calculate hyperspace routes as he caught up.
SERROCCO! They needed to get Serrocco on board!
“What’s going on?” demanded Rusk, appearing in the door behind them, his voice always carrying a tone of command even when he was asking a question. The whole crew was suddenly in the cockpit as Scourge and T7 shuffled past him.
“This…” Scourge began after a second or two, peering through the transparisteel viewport at the engaging enemy fleet, a look of shock and revulsion on his face. He left his thought unfinished, however, whirled on his heel and abruptly left the cockpit. Kira did not have time to follow up or even to spare him a second thought, though she thought his response was odd. In fact she was acutely aware of her annoyance at the sudden presence of the others. She did not need them getting in the way. Not when all their lives were in danger.
Fortunately, T7 found a corner and hunkered down, the perceptive little guy. He always knew how to be optimally helpful in any situation. Rusk sprang into action too, switching a nearby targeting array console to manual mode and then immediately engaging the quadlazers, releasing a volley of turbolazer bolts at the nearest ship.
Kira took a second to focus and let herself slip into the calming waters of the Force. She had been acting on pure, animal instinct since the moment the crisis began, but she knew she was better than that. She was a Jedi. She would be far more effective as a conduit for the Force, letting it permeate her being and flow freely through her, acting not on the basis of instinct, but as a living expression of the Force’s will. There is no emotion; there is peace, she recited to herself under her breath, feeling herself ascend to the higher plane.
As time slowed, she reached out and felt the vibrations of the engines in the durasteel around her, the near-silent oscillations in T7’s circuitry, and the wave of emotions emanating from Rusk and Doc beside her, both of whom felt frenzied to the edge of consciousness, driven almost entirely by adrenaline. She knew she could not be that way. She was a Jedi. There is no passion; there is serenity.
She let her senses extend beyond the ship. Ah, Serrocco was safe, moving skillfully through Marr’s flagship, dispatching cluster after cluster of a strange new type of droid as their squads emerged from invasion pods. She had been unaware of the pods that had punched through the hull of Marr’s frigate, but there they were. There were so many of them.
Marr too was moving through the ship, a conduit of the Force much like herself and Serrocco, though his emotions were distinctively different. He fuelled himself with anger and rage, working himself into a blinding fury, a mastery of the dark side that made her feel sick. But the power emanating from him was undeniable and breathtaking in its ferocity. She let her senses extend still further, to the ships of the opposing fleet.
Nothing. She felt nothing. How could that be?
Kira suddenly became aware of the many actions she had been performing while her perceptions had been exploring the space around her. The Force had guided her to consult the system controlling the ship’s airlock, to seal it off and to disengage the docking clamps. There on the viewscreen in front of her was a report on the status of the airlock. It needed to be disengaged from within Marr’s flagship, but the docking structure had been damaged by enemy fire.
She fumbled for the holocommunicator and engaged the transmitter. “We’re having some trouble here,” she pleaded, “They shot out the airlock, but the clamps are jammed up. We can’t do anything!”
“I’ll be there right away, Kira. Just hang in there,” came Serrocco’s slightly-static-muffled reply, his answer a little cooler-headed than she might have sounded herself.
Great. They had to wait. She knew that before she called. She knew he was already doing his best to protect the crew, to protect her. But they were wasting precious time, every moment an opportunity for the invading enemy fleet to blast them out of the sky. At least Serrocco now knew how they needed help. She took comfort from that.
A series of cascade explosions suddenly rocked Marr’s ship, reverberating in turn through the hull of the Freedom Rising. It had lost power and was beginning to drop out of formation with the rest of the battlegroup, buckling under the relentless pounding of the opposing fleet’s fire. Kira’s senses were screaming as she felt the floor lurch beneath her again. If Marr’s ship was destroyed, it was likely to take them with it. They needed badly to break the tether.
Then, just like that, they were free. With a hiss of escaping atmospheric pressure, the docking clamps disengaged and the Freedom Rising pulled away from Marr’s frigate. Serrocco must have succeeded executing a manual disengagement. Kira wasted no time, engaging the thrusters to create a little distance.
She hit transmit on the holocom again, “We’re free and clear, but it’s not looking good out here.”
“If you see an opening to escape,” Serrocco instructed calmly, “take it. Someone has to make it back to the Republic.”
She knew he was right, though she did not want him to be. She was responsible for the lives on board: Doc, Rusk, Scourge. Even T7 and C2. What was more, getting word out from this encounter and back to the known territories was vital. Both the Republic and the Empire had just been attacked by a third power that, by the look of it, had been growing and entrenching for years in the unknown sectors of the galaxy. The Force alone knew what was out there. And the Force alone knew what kind of threat it posed. If they had alerted a hostile power of this magnitude to their presence, every day of headstart they could muster would be vital in staging an organized resistance.
Still, Kira could not abandon Serrocco. “We can’t just leave you behind,” she pleaded.
“You have to. Please, Kira.”
She took a moment to think, a moment to surrender. It felt like a lifetime. “Alright,” she said, deciding to trust her best friend and lover’s wisdom. He was, after all, a gifted master of the Force. It would protect him. “But you’d better be right behind us,” she added, a tear forming in the corner of her eye. “May the Force be with you, Master.”
T7 chirped a query behind her, but she didn’t care to translate his chatter. On the periphery of her perception she saw Doc observing her thoughtfully. He must have been watching carefully, hoping as she hoped to be able to retrieve their friend and leader before retreating. He had found a hyperspace trajectory and was waiting reluctantly to engage it. But the decision was made. She knew he knew. It was time to go.
Kira turned her attention to the viewport in front of her. They had work to do. She quickly brought the ship about as Doc threw the lever and engaged the hyperdrive. The stars became lines as they slipped between the enemy ships and into the solace of hyperspace.