"Madam, are you certain you're all right? You've been through quite an ordeal tonight."
Callista managed a weary smile, despite her shakiness. "I'll be fine, Threepio. What about the kids? Are they..."
"The children are sleeping soundly, Mistress Callista," Threepio assured her right away. "I made certain that they were perfectly safe the entire time."
"Thank you," she whispered, glancing towards their room. Her voice cracked slightly, despite her best effort to keep composed. With a deep exhale, she closed her eyes and summoned the Force, reminding herself that her children were safe. She had made sure of that.
"Oh no you don't!" Callista cried, racing to Manzir's side as she saw the old woman stir and start to get up from her kitchen chair where she had been resting. "You've got a concussion, you need to stay put for a while, honey."
Manzir responded with a casual laugh at her startled friend. "You worry too much," she grumbled. "I've just got a nasty bump, that's all. It's not the first time it's happened to me, and it probably won't be the last."
"Manzir..." Callista groaned, her eyes pleading with Manzir to remain sitting. "Please, after everything that's gone on tonight..."
"All right, you win," Manzir finally conceded. "I'll stay put. Now what about you? Are you fine now?"
Callista nodded weakly. The ordeal had drained her, but she was more than relieved that the nightmare was finally over. She sighed and looked towards her sleeping children once more. "She's gone now... She can't hurt the kids anymore. And Luke's going to make sure that they can't send any more sisters to hurt them..."
"Alpha leader, they're still coming, we can't cover 'em quickly enough," Meys said to Luke over the comlink as he eyed more ships coming forth from the planet.
"Acknowledged, Alpha three," Luke responded, "My group will cover these two emerging right now. Meys, they're on your tail, I can see them, watch your back!"
Meys quickly maneuvered around the transport that had been pursuing him, expertly dodging their laserfire. "I see it, Alpha leader," he replied. "Don't worry about me, I'll manage."
Luke nodded. The young man was good, he could see that for himself. He watched him for a while from the corner of his eye as he steered his fighter towards the new transports coming out of the atmosphere. "Take my lead, everyone. Evasive maneuvering! This may be a transport, but it'll bite!"
The fighters answered him in acknowledgement as they followed him towards the large ship, avoiding the laserfire emanating from it. They formed the attack formation, surrounding the transport as it fired at them continuously. Luke quickly pulled up as it managed to maneuver through them, and angled towards the fighters.
"Watch out, it's in attack position!" he shouted at his group. His warning came a second too late, as he saw the transport strike one of the fighters behind him, the small craft tilting slightly from the impact.
"Silas, are you all right?" he cried out to his student.
"I got hit, but it's not bad," Silas answered to reassure Luke. "It knocked my stabilizer loose, but I've got my astro droid working on it. I can cover you, Master."
"No," Luke countered, getting ready to peel off to head towards another transport. "Take care of yourself, Silas. Alpha five, Alpha eight, we'll need to go after this next one, come on..."
Still more ships emerged, coming faster this time. Luke and the rest of the squadron had lost count after a while as they fought to keep control during the frenzy of laserfire.
"Master, these new ones have stronger shields, we'll need more fighters to go in one each one!"
"These are the big cruisers, boys," Luke said in acknowledgement, "We'll need all the firepower we can aim at 'em, and keep watching your backs, these ones'll toast you if you're not careful!"
"Luke I see another one," Wedge said over the comlink. "We'll take this one, just stay on the leader there."
"Just like the old days, huh Luke?" Wedge managed to joke in the midst of the chaos.
Luke's laugh cracked over the comlink. "Wouldn't miss it for the world."
Sorbin couldn't suppress the smug grin on his face as he faced Milton and Carron in his chambers. His plans were moving along better than he had anticipated, and soon everything would fall perfectly into place. He had shared little with the two men in the interim, but he had brought him here today with the intention of disclosing everything.
"General, are the ships in place in the Hoddee System?"
"Yes sir," Carron answered him. with an obedient nod. "Our entire fleet is there now, and our allies are assembling as we speak."
Sorbin nodded coolly in approval. "Good, good," he remarked, stroking his chin absent-mindedly. He then turned to Milton. "Have we heard from Hoddee yet on whether the Republic has contacted them?"
Milton nodded weakly, once again switching to auto-pilot and willing himself to put on the expected loyal front. "Yes," he replied blankly. "Ambassador Unar has informed me that the Republic has responded to their plea and will be sending aid as soon as possible. The Republic fleet will amass in the Hoddee System shortly."
"Excellent," Sorbin laughed upon hearing the news. "And we should be able to withstand what they send. Surely the Republic won't be so bold as to send their entire fleet and leave their capital vulnerable."
"Sir, they did not indicate to Hoddee how many fighters and cruisers they are sending. Are you sure that--"
Sorbin shot a subtle look of annoyance his way almost immediately, stopping Milton in his tracks. "Have faith, Governor," he told him in an almost condescending tone.
"I'm sorry, Minister," Milton offered. "I'm just concerned. If any part of this plan should go wrong--"
"It won't." Sorbin answered him flatly. "The Republic will do exactly what I anticipate they will...And then we'll go in for the kill."
Milton resisted the urge to shudder in response to Sorbin's matter-of-fact reasoning.
"The Nightsisters are on their way to Yavin now to take the Jedi by surprise," Sorbin continued, oblivious to Milton's reaction. "And then the Jedi will soon be out of the way, so that frees us to focus our energies on the invasion of the capital."
"Sir, I'm concerned that they have not made contact with us yet," Milton interjected, knowing with every comment he made, he was risking attracting Sorbin's ire for daring to dampen his spirits. But Milton felt Sorbin's overconfidence surge, and he did not share the Prime Minister's optimism. He wanted to inject some objectivity before Sorbin lost all perspective.
He got the reaction he wanted out of Sorbin. "What do mean they haven't contacted us yet," he said to Milton, his eyes narrowing in mild concern, though in typical fashion, he managed to remain maddeningly composed.
"Sir, they were to contact us as soon as they had left Dandoleer, that was what he had agreed upon" Milton explained, "but they have been long overdue."
Sorbin sat up in his seat and interlaced his fingers on his desk. "I'm sure there's a reasonable explanation," he commented, not wanting to invite the possibility that something may have gone awry in the carefully laid out plans. "Have we tried--"
"Minister Sorbin," a voice cracked through the comlink on his desk.
Sorbin muttered a curse under his breath, annoyed at having been interrupted. "Yes, what is it?" he barked in response.
"Sir, there is an urgent message from Dandoleer--"
"What?!" he shouted back in disbelief. He looked up at Carron and Milton, as if to confirm that he had heard the officer's words correctly.
"Dandoleer, sir. The Nightsister Ayedana Wey insisted that she speak to you immediately--"
"Put her through!" Sorbin shouted before the officer could even finish his sentence.
Ayedana's image appeared before the three men, her body shaking with rage.
"Madame Wey, we have been expecting you to contact us--"
"You've betrayed us!" she screamed, trembling as she spat out her words. "You've betrayed us!!"
"Ayedana, what is going on? Tell me!" Sorbin responded as he stared at her in shock. The hatred in her eyes was so intense that he almost shuddered.
"I knew there was a reason to be afraid of you," she continued, still not making much sense. "They told me I shouldn't have trusted you, but I did!"
"What is happening?" Sorbin asked again. She was incoherent, and he was starting to feel the worst.
"We're under attack!" she shrieked. "You told them about us! You tricked us into coming out of hiding!"
"What?" Sorbin gasped. "Who's attacking you? We've told no one about you, I assure you!"
"No more lies!" she countered. "How else could they know about us? How else could they know to come after us?"
"Ayedana, you have my word that we haven't alerted anyone of your presence--"
"We've lost all out ships!! Mine is the last of the transports left, and we can't survive much longer!"
"What do you mean?" Sorbin asked in horror. "Who is attacking you, Ayedana?"
"The Republic!" she shouted back, causing Sorbin to turn pale at her words.
"No," he shook his head in denial, "No, that can't be possible... That can't be possible... They don't know about you! How can they..."
"It's too late!! It's too late!!"
Her image vanished suddenly, and Sorbin spun around in shock. "What happened?" he demanded, "What happened to the transmission?"
"Sir, we appear to have lost communication with them," the voice on the comlink said again.
"What do you mean we've lost communication? Try again!"
"Sir, no connection can be established. I'm afraid... Their ship has been destroyed."
"No!" Sorbin spat out. "Can you make contact with any of the other Nightsister transports?"
"No, sir, they've all been destroyed."
Sorbin looked back at Milton and Carron, who had watched the Prime Minister in silence, not knowing exactly what to say. "How could they know," he repeated again, still not believing what he had just witnessed.
Carron was the first to speak.
"Minister, this... may yet work to our advantage..."
Both Sorbin and Milton looked at him in curiosity.
"Continue," Sorbin urged, waiting in anticipation for his explanation.
"Ayedana said that the Republic had come after them on Dandoleer. That means the Republic had to deploy some of their fleet there already..."
Sorbin nodded, the maniacal glee once again returning to his eyes as he began to understand Carron's line of thought. "Which means they'll have even fewer to send to Hoddee, and still fewer left to defend the capital... They'll be even more vulnerable than we anticipated!" He leaned back on his chair and closed his eyes in concentration before letting out a crazed laugh.
Milton watched the two men in silence, trying to absorb their words. Even after everything they were still going to proceed with the plan?
"We'll still have to deal with the Jedi sooner or later," Sorbin said, his voice once again returning to normal, "but we had better strike while the iron is hot. Time is crucial here. General, alert the fleet. Tell them we're on our way to rendezvous with them as soon as possible."
He narrowed his eyes again briefly, then his
mouth formed a cunning smile. "They may have
thwarted our plans for the Jedi, but I will
have the last laugh..."
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