We knew when the HoloNet came back on line, after going dark for many hours, with the announcement that Coruscant had been liberated by the
We had sat in the living room glued to the HoloNet watching as holocam crews and reporters had raced to the battle fronts and shouting above the noise of the fray giving the denizens of Coruscant the blow by blow of what was happening, at least as far as they were able to see. It was both terrible and fascinating all at the same time and while I felt a sense of horror creep over me I was compelled to watch it all unfold live before my eyes.
Of all the fighting reported, it was the battle for the
I had simply sat in the darkness of the room, tears streaming down my face as I watched the brave men and women of the Imperial army make their stand against the rebels but it was a slaughter. The Rebels bombarded the Palace and although the Elite Force that was guarding it stood their ground it was of no use against the air strikes.
Holocam crews captured it all and even though I had known it was all happening in real time, the surreal quality never went away. It was like watching a holodrama but the people dying were not actors who would get up after the scene was cut, they were real people and they laid down their lives to try and hold the enemy at bay.
The palace grounds were full of the carnage of war and the news crews captured it all, the broken bodies, the tangled wreckage. There was blood and gore everywhere. When a strike hit the AT-At that was on the front line, in charge of directing the ground troops I had known a terrible sinking feeling in my gut, that feeling I had come to associate with very bad things.
The reporters who were dodging blaster fire and trying to vie for the best capture shots managed to record the survival of a general I would learn later was called Tal Ashen. He quite literally crawled out of the wreckage of the AT-AT to get back up and command the stormtroopers who were still alive, all the while firing with his hand pistol to keep the rebels at bay. I had watched in absolute horror as he was shot dead. Shortly after that someone from the rebellion side must have decided that the news crews were giving out too much information and all feeds had been abruptly terminated. The scene cut to the studio but was swiftly replaced by the emergency broadcast signal which told everyone to remain calm and stay tuned for further instructions. After ten minutes my uncle had switched it off. I had sat on the couch trembling. My brain trying to take in what had just happened but it was too much, too vast, and too unbelievable. Occasionally an orbital strike would hit something close enough to make the apartment building shake but apart from that and the infrequent flash from something exploding there were no more signs that the planet was under siege.
When the city wide alarms had stopped wailing and the distant tremors and rumbling of shelling had ceased my uncle had turned the HoloNet back on. Some time shortly after that a very tired looking woman I had never seen before had come on line and given the message that Coruscant had been liberated from Imperial tyranny and that the populace of the planet were requested to remain safe in their homes and not to panic, all was well. She had looked scared, her eyes kept darting to someplace off camera and her hands trembled. Sadness and exhaustion washed over me.
“What do we do now?” I asked when my crying jag had come to an end.
Uncle Vahlek gave me a tired look. “Now we wait.” He replied.
Puzzled, I frowned. “Wait? Wait for what?”
“We wait to see what happens next, to see if there will be more fighting or if the battle we watched was it. We wait to hear what the new government’s terms for its people are and how things will be run. We wait to see how this new government will act or if it will even hold. This is a fragile time and there are several other powerful factions out there wishing to carve up a piece of the Imperial pie, Coruscant is a very large and very important piece of that pie. It may be that, while this invasion has been successful now, in a few days we will see another turn around.” He said wearily.
“Do you think they will send armies out to round up everyone who is still loyal to the Empire?” I asked. The memory of General Ashen’s death was still vivid in my mind.
My uncle’s green eyes flicked to my face for a moment. “No.” he said with a slight shake of his head. “They have neither the man power nor the inclination. I suspect the biggest hurdle these people have now is creating a viable governing body that can maintain and control this planet along with all the other systems they hold.” His shoulders heaved as he sighed. “If my guess is right they will try to be as quiet and as calm about this take over as possible. They do not want to be seen as aggressors but as liberators. The next few days and weeks will tell us more but for now there is nothing much to be done except wait it out and maybe get some rest.”
“Was it like this in the Clone Wars?” I asked, getting up to follow him to the kitchen.
For a moment I didn’t think he would answer me then he said carefully. “In some small way I suppose so, although my memory of that time is that the fighting was far worse, the armies that clashed were larger, more violent and far better equipped and that neither side wanted to give in. In some ways what you saw tonight was the ending of a battle that has been raging for the better part of two and a half decades.” He told me. “With the exception of the troops at the Palace, the Imperial forces did not put up as much of a fight as I thought they might.”
I looked at my uncle in surprise. “What do you mean?”
“The fight was over too quickly, and the Empire has better defences, better ships than the rebellion does. This planet’s shields and orbital defences far out weigh anything the
“You think they just gave up, that Isard surrendered?” I asked in utter disbelief, almost dropping the teapot I had been emptying into the sink.
“I don’t know, Lei’lei.” He said thoughtfully. “You told me that when you went to speak with her she was not available. I find it unusual that the leader of the Empire and ruler of this world chose not to be here when she was needed most. It is entirely possible that she knew this was going to happen and was not even on the planet because she had already decided the outcome.”
I opened my mouth to say something and then closed it again when I could not find the right words. I could not fathom her giving up Coruscant without so much as an honest fight and the very thought of it made me suddenly angry. People, good people had died and for what? She had abandoned it to be taken over by the rebels but given her lust for power and the importance of the Core planet this made little sense to me so that meant there had to be another reason. I tried to logic out her thinking behind these actions the way Thrawn had taught me to, back tracking through everything I had seen and heard. My dreams, the events that had been happening day by day, Cati’s death…. I sucked in my breath as though all the air in the room had suddenly vanished.
It was as is a holodrama unfolded right before my eyes and I wondered for a second how I could have been so blind to miss the subtle and not so subtle hints that had been thrown my way. Horrified, I suddenly understood the pieces of the puzzle that had been laid before me over the last few weeks. I felt as though I could not breathe and I must have gone as white as Hjal snow because my uncle’s reaction was swift and full of concern.
“Are you feeling alright?” My uncle asked in alarm, reaching for my arm.
“I was right.” I said softly giving him a look that made him stop mid move. “And so was Jyrki.”
My uncle’s eyebrows went up in question. “In what way?”
“She left the way she did because she knew that even if the rebels took this world it would not be the victory they had hoped for.” I whispered.
There was a terrible, long moment of silence while my uncle searched my face for answers. “You think she was the one who had this Krytos virus manufactured.” It was a flat statement not a question and I understood that this thought had also occurred to him but he had not wanted to voice it.
I nodded grimly. “Jyrki told me as much and I know he was speaking the truth but I didn’t want to hear it, not right then and there. The dreams I had, all the signs led in that direction but I did not want to believe it, then you offered a different angle, that she was looking for a cure but that’s not the case, is it?” I stopped as tears filled my eyes. My friend had died horribly because of this virus and all because Isard had decided not to launch a full scale defensive attack. “How could she?” I asked my Uncle. “If she really did this, if she was the one who is responsible for this terrible sickness, then she’s killed hundreds of beings and will continue to kill even more.” I trembled at the sheer scale and horror of this concept. “How could she do such a thing?”
“You do not for certain that she did.” Uncle Vahlek said softly, carefully.
I looked into my uncle’s pale green eyes. “Yes,” I said, “yes I think I do.” And I told my uncle everything that I suspected including all of the dreams, the fact that Jyrki had named Derricote who was more than capable of such biological engineering.
There was another very long moment of silence and then my uncle spoke. “Some people are very sore losers, Lei’lei. They would rather destroy everything than let it go to someone else. Isard is such a person and as long as I have known of her, she has never fought fairly or in the interest of others, only her own.”
“She is a coward.” I spat, angrier than I had felt in a long time. “Using innocent civilians in this way is …,” I searched for a word that fit what I wanted to say but there was nothing in Basic that came even close so I chose a Cheunh word instead, “…nja’cht’Vagaari’njen.”
My uncle nodded. I knew he understood Cheunh well enough to know what I meant, although I didn’t know how he had learned to do so or when. The word nja’cht’Vagaari’njen meant to be as base as the Vagaari and in Cheunh it was a terrible insult, perhaps even the worst thing you could call someone in the language of the Chiss.
The Vagaari, Thrawn had explained to me, when I had asked about the peculiar meaning and syntax of this somewhat unusual word, were a race of nomadic aliens that mainly lived in the Unknown Regions near the Chiss Ascendancy. For the most part they were a warrior race who thrived off acts of piracy and destruction, with a penchant for cruelty to all the races they enslaved. They were fierce, savage and utterly without any honour what so ever. Thrawn’s distaste as he had spoken of them had been a palpable thing.
“When I first encountered them I was quite horrified to learn that their main method of defence was to use the slaves they captured as living shields for their ships. They locked their prisoners inside small, transparent bubbles on the hulls of their ships so that potential enemies would see that they were killing innocent civilians in order to destroy the Vagaari themselves. It was most effective as well as being disgustingly vile. When the Chiss learned of this despicable, cowardly method of defence the name Vagaari became synonymous with acts so atrocious we could not speak of them without placing them in the same context as these aliens.”
What Isard had done ranked as the worst thing I had ever heard of. I swallowed hard against the rising nausea that threatened to send me running to the ‘fresher, my heart pounded and a wave of dizziness swept through me. People dying in wars and battles were one thing, as awful as it was, I understood that at least both sides had a chance and those that entered the fight had usually done so of their own volition but to set a lethal virus amongst a civilian population simply to sabotage the rise of the next government was beyond vile. I did not even realise that I was gripping the handle of the tea pot so tightly that the blood had drained from my fingers until my uncle pried it from my hands gently. He wrapped his arm about my shoulders and tugged me tightly to his body in a protective hug.
“Why? Zte’sa why is this happening?” was all I could think to ask.
“It has been a long time coming Lei’lei.” He said.
“Well explain it to me, because I do not understand.”