Heirs to the Rebellion - Part 2

who's the more foolish, the fool or the fool who follows him? 

Part 2: Lady of the Rebellion

Jag sipped from the mug of caf as he stood in the darkened bedroom, looking out over the Bothawui vista. Lights twinkled in the distance, but it was still not the horizon he was used to looking at from his apartment on Coruscant, or even the quiet countryside that was spread out from the windows of the family estate on Corellia.

He couldn’t help but wish for either of those places. The visit on Bothawui had been nothing but stressful. Jaina had come back from the first reception in a foul mood that he understood completely—he’d had to come up and ask in a whisper if she needed rescuing from Fey’lya, and she had. The actual dedication had gone smoothly for her, but he had briefly wished his hair was long enough to pull out of his head with the security details, and the second reception afterwards at the combined clans building had been entirely hellish for all involved. On their way back to the hotel, Jaina had reminded herself that she needed to make sure that she always had an escape plan from Bothan events in the future. Everyone was relieved to be going back to Coruscant.

He took another sip of the caf. It would probably keep him from getting back to sleep, but something had kept him from being able to sleep deeply anyway. Insomnia might as well have a real reason for existing. It was surprisingly quiet here, but Jag figured that had something to do with being ten stories up. Drev’starn had a height limit on all the buildings in the capital city, and it kept things more accessible than they seemed on Coruscant.

Something moving below caught his eye. Frowning, Jag moved closer to the window to see. It was probably just a piece of cloth from a flag—

It wasn’t. Someone was rapidly descending the building.

His charric was on the table. Dropping the mug to the table with a clatter, he rapidly pulled the charric from the holster as he crossed into Jaina’s suite, thumbing the safety off as he moved. “Jaina? Jaina!”

There was no answer to his call, and he raced into the bedroom of her suite. There was a body-shaped mound in the middle of the bed, and he quietly crept towards it, fear in the pit of his stomach. He pulled down the bedspread—

Pillows were arranged to masquerade as a sleeping body. Cursing, Jag ran back out to look at the balcony. A grappling hook was secured to one end of the railing.

He moved with the kind of speed he hadn’t needed in far too long, back to his room long enough to pull on a shirt and boots. Tucking the charric into the waist of his sleep pants, he moved back to Jaina’s room and the balcony. The figure had just reached the ground and was moving along the streets.

Still cursing to himself, Jag hauled himself over the balcony. The slim rope was more than strong enough to hold his weight. Grimacing, he started rappelling down the building far faster than was safe. The rope burned his hands, but he ignored it, moving down the ten stories as fast as he could.

The figure had disappeared around the corner by the time his feet touched the ground. Fortunately, the window was to the side of the hotel, and Jag didn’t have to deal with any curious Bothan doormen or Imperial guards.

Every glimpse he got of the figure made him more and more certain that it was Jaina he was following. Despite the dark cloak she had wrapped around her—the only sensible thing he’d noticed about her entire escapade—a distinctly feminine economy of movement had clued him in to her identity. But sneaking out of a hotel, over a balcony, without her security escort didn’t exactly fill him with confidence about whatever errand she was on. Dread was congealing in his stomach in a way he hadn’t felt in a long time.

Gritting his teeth, Jag refocused on his task. For some reason, the week he’d spent around Jaina had managed to bring up memories he’d carefully kept buried in the back of his mind.

He was probably six blocks from the hotel and therefore the city center when Jaina finally stopped. Most pilots didn’t get much stealth training, but the Chiss Academy had been an elite academy for a reason. Concealing himself in the shadows, he watched as Jaina handed a figure something small—probably a datastick.

All he could hear was a murmur of voices, and he moved a little closer. He pulled his charric from his waistband and held it in a double-handed grip.

“—have to get to General Kenobi as soon as possible,” he heard Jaina say in urgent tones. “All the information on the Sun Crusher torpedoes are there, and the fleet is preparing for an attack on Derra IV within a few weeks, if not days.”

The answering voice was tinged with a Bothan accent. “What of the attempt on your life? It was not ordered by the Rebellion, and the princess wanted to make sure that you had not been compromised.”

“No,” Jaina said. “My security detail thinks that it was a one-time attack by extremists. I am probably the safest person in the galaxy right now.”

The Bothan said something Jag couldn’t hear, and he moved a bit closer, still staying in the shadows.

Jaina suddenly stiffened. “Someone’s there.”

“It is Bothawui—someone is always there,” the Bothan said as Jag took a step back further. He moved further back until he could no longer see Jaina or the Bothan. The murmur of voices continued for a moment until he thought he could risk moving forward again.

The shadows were suddenly illuminated, and Jag found a brilliant violet blade hovering near his neck as his charric flew from his hand. His gaze followed up the blade until he saw Jaina’s face at the other end. “That’s not the blade you left on Coruscant,” he said quietly.

“No,” she said. “It’s not.”

The Bothan remained in the shadows. “My lady—“

“My security detail followed me,” Jaina said, her eyes never leaving his face. “How much did you hear?”

“Enough,” he said.

“He must die,” the Bothan said flatly. “He has heard too much.”

“Go,” Jaina said. “I will keep him here while you escape.”

“My lady, you are far too valuable—“

“Go!” Jaina ordered. “Our work will be for nothing if those plans do not reach General Kenobi.”

The Bothan disappeared into the night. Jag’s eyes were on Jaina, his throat tight with betrayal. Her eyes stayed on him, the lightsaber humming and snapping far too close to his neck. “I should have checked to make sure you were asleep,” she said quietly. “I got sloppy, and I’m sorry.”

“Sorry because you’re going to have to kill me the way your friend suggested?” Jag asked, his anger coloring his voice.

The lightsaber winked out, and Jaina lowered her arm. She flipped his charric around far too expertly and handed it back to him. “I am a Jedi, and I do not kill needlessly.”

A chill ran through him. “You’re a what?”

“A Jedi,” she said. “Like Anakin Skywalker was before he became Darth Vader.”

“You do not kill needlessly, but you are handing over military secrets to the Rebellion?” Jag asked. “That’s not killing needlessly? You will be Empress one day, Jaina. You can make whatever changes you want then if you would just be patient.”

“I can’t afford to be patient,” Jaina said. “And the kind of temptation that power holds—I am far too afraid of becoming my grandfather to take the throne.”

“And so you will betray your people to the Rebellion?” he snarled.

Her eyes flashed. “Do you know what my grandfather has planned for Derra IV, Jag? Do you know what the 181st is protecting? Have you ever heard the name Sun Crusher?”

“Some military code name,” he said.

“No,” she said. “It’s a superweapon. Like the Death Star, but worse.”

A far deeper chill ran through him at that. He knew how destructive the Death Star had been—the Empire occasionally ran training exercises in the remainder of Alderaan. “How could anything be worse?”

“The Sun Crusher is capable of destroying an entire star system,” Jaina said. “One torpedo fired into a sun causes an irreversible chain reaction that makes the sun go nova within hours. Can you honestly tell me that anyone can use that power responsibly?”

“No one would fire it,” he said, his mouth dry.

“Just like no one would fire the Death Star?” Jaina said. “The Tarkin Doctrine is alive and well, Jag. If the Yuuzhan Vong hadn’t finally destroyed the Galaxy Gun, do you honestly think that my grandfather wouldn’t have turned it on our own planets? Did you see what the World Devastators did to Mon Calamari, or did you just see whitewashed Imperial propaganda? Mon Cal may never recover.”

He ran one hand through his short hair and swore. “Jaina, how many more people will die if this war continues?”

“How many more will die if it doesn’t?” she challenged.

“A Jedi?” he questioned, his mind refusing to deal with the implications of something like the Sun Crusher. “The Jedi are—“

“—not evil,” she finished. “They were the guardians of peace and justice for a millennia, until Palpatine and my grandfather slaughtered them all at the end of the Clone Wars.”

“And we had peace!” he growled.

“We had tyranny!” she retorted. “Do you honestly want to go on with no say in your own life?”

“No say?” he asked, almost laughing. “Jaina, I voted for you in the last election.”

“And how much power do I actually have?” she said. “If I was not the granddaughter of the Emperor, I would not be able to do anything. The Senate does not even truly have control over the Empire’s treasury, much less the military. We are a farce, Jag, and every senator knows it.”

A sound at the other end of the alley caught their attention. “This is not the place to have this argument,” she said.

“This argument is over,” he said. “By all rights, I should arrest you.”

“Are you going to?” Jaina asked. “Are you going to tell my grandfather?”

“Do I have a choice?” he asked. “Your grandfather can read my mind, Jaina. How could I hide something like this from him?”

She took a breath. “We could leave now. We could run to the Rebellion.”

“A Rebellion that’s getting ready to be destroyed by the Sun Crusher,” he said darkly. “Jaina, I can’t abandon my duty. My mother has lost her husband, her brother and two sons. Do you have any idea what it would do to her to lose another son?”

“No,” she said quietly. “I don’t.”

“Give me your lightsaber,” he said, holding out his hand. “Please.”

She handed it over to him quietly. He looked up at her in surprise. “You’re just going to go along with me?”

Jaina met his gaze. “You’re a good man, Jag. And I trust you to do what you think is right.” She looked over her shoulder. “Dawn is coming. We need to get back.”

Holding the cylinder in his hand, Jag watched her pull the hood of her cloak back over her head. “Yeah,” he said. “Dawn is coming.”

And he had to obey his master.

*** 


Jaina had gone straight to her senator’s office when they arrived on Coruscant early in the morning. Jag had set two of his officers to stay with her, but had generally left her alone. He’d spent quite a bit of time alone in the cockpit of their transport, studying the handle of Jaina’s lightsaber. The feeling in the pit of his stomach kept him from eating despite being hungry.

He had requested an audience with the Emperor, telling the royal guard that it was a matter of urgency regarding Lady Jaina. It was still nearly evening before he was admitted to the Emperor’s throne room. This time, he was far more nervous than he had ever been before when walking into Vader’s presence.

“A matter of urgency, Colonel,” the Emperor rumbled from his seat. “Report.”

Jag felt his voice catch in his throat as he began his report, beginning with Jaina’s descent down the wire and outlining her meeting with the Bothan agent, her violet lightsaber, and her refusal to kill him. “She gave me her lightsaber, my lord. I have it here.”

He held it out towards the Emperor. It flew from his hand into Vader’s grasp and the Emperor held it in front of him. It ignited and Vader waved the blade in the air. It hummed with the lethality of all lightsabers before it shut off. “So, Kenobi is very much alive,” he rumbled quietly. “And he would steal my granddaughter from me.”

Jag didn’t have an answer for that, simply standing there, knowing that his life could very well be forfeit for accusing Jaina of working for the Rebellion, no matter how true it was. For a long moment, there was no sound other than the mechanized inhalation and exhalation of Vader’s breath. “Where is my granddaughter now?” the Emperor finally asked.

“She is in her office at the Senate building,” Jag answered. “I thought it best for things to seem normal.”

“And no doubt my granddaughter hopes that you would side with her,” Vader said, rising from the throne chair. His anger tinged his voice even through his synthesizer. “Come with me, Colonel.”

Swallowing hard, Jag followed the Emperor. Vader waved off the guards that would have accompanied them, and the two of them moved through corridors that most didn’t know existed, and Jag was quite certain that he would have become lost in the labyrinthine halls without the Emperor.

They emerged in the Senate building, not far from Vader’s own rarely used senatorial office. The Emperor didn’t have to come to the Senate—everyone came to him. A few more turns down corridors led them to Jaina’s office.

Vader didn’t bother announcing himself, and Jag would have guessed that Jaina knew her grandfather was approaching. Even though he did not have the Force, he was sure that he could have sensed the angered presence of the Emperor bearing down on him. Dismissing Jaina’s Chiss guards from their duty stations, the Emperor strode into the office.

A Wookiee representative was in Jaina’s office. Vader’s black gaze focused on him and on Jaina’s assistants. “Get out.”

The others escaped the office quickly, not wanting to be in the way of familial wrath. Jaina’s eyes were not on her grandfather, but on the officer standing behind him. Jag tried to keep from looking at her, focusing instead on a point on the wall over her head as the door shut behind them.

“Tell me Colonel Fel is lying about your involvement with the Rebellion,” Vader said to his granddaughter. “Tell me he lies, Jaina.”

Jaina calmly stood, facing her grandfather without fear. “If General Kenobi has taught me one thing, Grandfather, it is the uselessness of lying.”

Vader stood silently, and Jag felt his mouth drop open as Jaina rose above the desk. Her face began to turn red, and she brought her hands up to her throat. Her gaze was squarely on her grandfather now. “You’d kill me, Grandfather?” she rasped. “You will kill me the same way you killed Grandmother?”

A sudden roar erupted out of Vader’s throat and Jaina fell none too gently to the ground behind her desk. She managed to stand, rubbing at her throat as her face returned to a proper color. “Go to your quarters,” Vader rumbled. “And do not think of stirring without my express permission until I have decided your punishment.”

Jaina drew herself up, straightening her back. “You do not have to do this, Grandfather. You can stop this before it is too late.”

“You do not understand,” Vader answered.

“No man who treated my brothers and I with the kind of love you offered us could possibly be all evil,” Jaina said, coming around the desk. Her voice was still hoarse from the choking. “There is still good in you, Grandfather. You are not all gone.”

“Out!” Vader ordered, and Jaina flinched back. Her eyes flickered from her grandfather to Jag and then back to the man who was no longer her grandfather but the ruler of the Empire and there was sorrow in her eyes. She didn’t say another word as she exited, leaving Jag once again alone with Vader.

The Emperor clenched a hand into a fist before turning to Jag. “You have served me well thus far,” Vader said. “I have one more assignment for you, Colonel.”

“Yes, my lord,” Jag said, dreading what he knew Vader was about to ask.

“My granddaughter must be executed,” Vader said, his hand clenched. Jag could hear the servomoters in the mechanical hand straining to keep up the pressure the Emperor was requiring of it. “This must be done discreetly. It should look like an accident.”

No, Jag thought. Please, anything but that. He felt bile rise up into his throat. Vader turned to look at him. “Do you have a problem with that order, Colonel?”

Jag swallowed hard. “I regret that there is no other way, my lord,” he answered.

Vader turned away from him again. “So do I.”

***

The lights were off when Cherith rushed into the apartment after yet another smash performance. She flicked on the lights in the foyer, dropping her purse on the table, and headed towards her room.

Her brother hadn’t made his presence known, and if she hadn’t jumped, he probably wouldn’t have spoken to her. “Stars, Jag. You could let some one know you were here.”

Her brother snorted from his position in the living room as she walked in, leaving the lights off. He was sitting in a chair, facing one of the big windows that displayed the Coruscant outside. One hand held a glass of amber liquid that was pressed against one side of his head, and Cherith recognized her mother’s bottle of “medicinal” brandy sitting on the table beside him.

Her errand temporarily forgotten, Cherith perched herself on the arm of his chair. Jag was still wearing his uniform, but she noticed that his rank insignia and code cylinders had been tossed on the table with the bottle of brandy. His tunic was unfastened at the collar, and though his eyes weren’t glassy with the liquor, she could still smell it clearly. “What’s wrong?” she asked.

Jag sat silently for a moment, and for a moment, she thought he wasn’t going to answer. When he finally did, his voice was rough. “If you disobey orders in the Imperial Navy, you had better be damn sure that it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “I’ve done it once before.”

“You’re thinking about disobeying an order?” Cherith asked. Jag still wasn’t looking at her, his gaze far off in the simulated window. She’d seen her brother come home after disobeying the order that got him reassigned. He had been spitting mad over the entire incident, set in his determination that he’d done the right thing and hadn’t looked back. Wedge had backed his nephew up even before he heard the particulars of the mission.

Jag sighed, rolling the cool glass against his forehead. “It’s not black and white. Not like the Battle of Garqi. I knew what had to be done, and I did it. We ended up fighting that battle to a draw instead of being destroyed. This is different.”

“Can you tell me about it?” Cherith asked.

He shook his head. “It’s classified. And—“ he didn’t continue, taking a sip of his drink instead.

She took a breath. “Well, let’s think about this for a second. You’ve been given an order. Will it put people in danger?”

His jaw clenched. “Yes.”

“Is it morally wrong?” Cherith asked.

She wasn’t expecting the snort from him. “Who do you ask to find out?” he said. “Every person has their own different set of morals, Cherith, and depending on who you ask, it’s a necessity, it’s just, it’s regrettable, but has to be done, or it’s flat out wrong.”

“If you’re having second thoughts about it—“ she began.

“Cherith, I have second thoughts about lots of orders I’m given,” he interrupted. “I follow them anyway.”

“But I’ve never seen you sit like this and think about them,” she said. “Jag, if you’re having to sit to figure out whether it’s right or not, I think you already know the answer.”

He sighed. “This isn’t something that would end in a simple court martial and dishonorable discharge, Cherith. I don’t follow this order, and it could very well end up getting me killed.” He cursed softly under his breath in Chiss, a brief descriptive expletive that he never would have uttered in his mother’s presence. “I don’t follow this order, and I could lose my life. But if I do—I might just lose my soul, Cherith. And right now, I’m not sure which is worse.”

Cherith moved from her spot on the arm of the chair and knelt in front of her brother to look him in the eye. The dark expression on his face reminded her of Davin, and the weariness around his eyes of her uncle. “How could losing your soul not be worse?”

She saw his gaze flick to their mother’s bedroom door. “Because I’m not sure I’ve got it to lose.”

Her comlink started beeping. She flicked the button with her thumb and ignored it. “Is this because of what happened at the opera house?”

“She hasn’t spoken to me since,” he said.

“You were on Bothawui for two days,” Cherith reminded him.

“I tried talking to her,” Jag said stubbornly. “She can’t look me in the face right now. And if I do this—if I disobey this order—I’m afraid of what will happen to her. Of what will happen to both of you.”

“You mean putting us in danger?” Cherith asked.

He shook his head. “You two are public figures, for the most part. You’d be safe. But I can’t put her through that.”

“Jag,” Cherith said sternly. “Mom wouldn’t want you to carry around the guilt of whatever this is that the Empire is asking you to do for her sake. And you know that. Let me worry about Mom.”

Her brother finally met her gaze. “If I go against my orders, Cherith, things are going to change. I can guarantee that I’m not going to be here. It’s going to be you and Mom against the galaxy. The Empire’s going to accuse me of some unflattering things, and you’ll have to look beyond the propaganda. You may even have to publicly disown me.”

“Mom’s the greatest actress since the Republic,” Cherith said. “I’m not too bad either. I think we can handle lying to the press.” She paused. “You’re going to disobey, aren’t you?”

She saw the expression of determination in his face. “I think it’s best that you don’t know right now, Cherith. You need plausible deniability.”

“And I’ve got it,” she said, rising to her feet. “Do you need anything from me?”

He took a breath, wondering if he should even bother asking. “Can I borrow some cash?”

“How much?” she asked.

“All you can spare.”

She retrieved her purse and handed it to him. Her comlink began to buzz in her pocket again. “Damn it. They’re waiting for me at General Phennir’s. I left my shoes here and came back to get them. Is Mom asleep?”

He nodded, digging in her purse as she began to hunt under the table. “Did you need to leave a note?”

“If this party goes as long as they think it will, I’m not going to be back until morning. Here they are,” she said, pulling the pair of shoes out from under the table. “You?”

“I don’t know,” he said honestly.

She took her purse back from him. “Did you leave me enough for cab fare?”

He nodded, and she leaned forward to kiss his cheek. “Whatever you do, Jag, we love you. And we’re proud of you. Okay?”

“I’m pretty proud of you too, short stuff,” he said, hugging her.

Cherith smiled and, with one last look over her shoulder at her big brother, left.

Jag set down his glass and counted through the cash Cherith had given him. A similar search through his mother’s purse—he bit back the guilt—netted him some more. Grabbing an old pilot bag out of the closet, he took it into his sister’s room, gathering supplies he thought he might need. A second sweep through his own quarters finished what he thought he would need.

He sat down at the comm center and made a few more arrangements, and left two messages, one for the morning and one that would appear later.

This wasn’t going to be easy, but his uncle said that nothing worth doing ever was. Jag took a look at the holo on the table, one of the last ones of them all together—Syal and Wedge, Chak and Davin, himself and Cherith. For half a second, he considered taking it with him, but he knew that he couldn’t risk having that kind of identifier on him. He firmly fixed the image in his mind, wishing more than anything that his uncle was there to advise him. “I hope I’m doing the right thing,” he said quietly into the darkness.

He set the bag by the front door, and crept into his mother’s room. Syal was asleep, the covers pulled up to her chin. He leaned over to kiss her forehead.

Her eyes opened. “Jag?” she said sleepily.

“Hey,” he said. “I’ve got to go. I may be gone for a while, so don’t worry.”

His mother nodded with a yawn. “Okay.”

“I love you, Mom,” he said, kissing her cheek once more.

He was almost out the door before he heard her reply. “Love you too.”

***

He’d made every preparation, taken every precaution, but as Jag approached Jaina’s quarters, he still couldn’t rid himself of the feeling of nervousness. He’d assigned his officers away from Jaina’s quarters and had an excuse ready if anyone stopped them—that Jaina was going to some sensitive negotiations. Everyone should be away and this should go smoothly—assuming Jaina cooperated with his plan. All he had to do was get her to the speeder, and he could explain everything to her.

He hit the annunciator and waited. He had spread the rumor that Jaina wasn’t feeling well to explain her sudden absence from public life. Hopefully, that excuse would hold long enough for the plan to work.

Jaina answered the door. She had abandoned her senatorial robes for a simple tunic and pants, and if Jag had not known better, he would have believed the rumor that she was will. Her long hair was haphazardly piled on top of her head, and the paleness of her face only made the shadows under her eyes even darker.

“My lady,” Jag said formally. “If you would come with me, please.”

She studied his face silently for a moment before nodding. “Of course, Colonel.”

They walked in silence to the hangar that was reserved for the personal use of Jaina and her brothers. As her security liaison, Jag had been given permission to park his family speeder there. He couldn’t help but be thankful that his mother had insisted on one that had a closed top and tinted windows, because even though Syal had been out of the public limelight for some time, she was still occasionally harassed by sludgenews reporters seeking an easy way to make a few credits.

He smoothly piloted the speeder out of the palace hangar, joining Coruscant’s traffic patterns. They were almost five klicks from the palace before he pulled the jammer from his pocket, flicked it on, and threw it on the dash. He might have been acting overly paranoid, but when dealing with the Emperor, being overly paranoid was probably called for.

Jaina looked from the jammer to him as he guided the speeder to a lower traffic pattern, and finally spoke. “Where are we going?”

“First we’re going to get some place where we can disguise ourselves,” he answered. “Then we’re going to sell this speeder. I’ve got reservations for us on a transport to Corellia that we’re not going to take. We’ll find some transport off Coruscant to someplace where you can get to the Rebellion.”

“A disguise like this?” Jaina asked. He looked over and nearly wrecked the speeder in surprise as there was an entirely different woman sitting in the seat Jaina’s real appearance suddenly returned.

“How—“ he began.

“The Force,” she said simply.

He thought for a moment. “Will it fool cameras?”

She shook her head. “I can disrupt the cameras, though.”

Jag tapped the controls, dropping them another level. “That’ll still give it them traceable route. If we change your appearance a little, then the cameras will still have trouble following you, and if you can do that trick for people—“

“The longer we have until someone discovers us,” she said. Her voice suddenly hardened. “You had other orders, didn’t you?”

Jag pulled into the garage outside a mid-priced hotel. “Yes. I’m disobeying them.” He reached into the backseat of the speeder for the pilot’s bag. He pulled a cloak from it and gave it to her while he stripped out of his tunic. “Can you do that trick on me too?”

She nodded, wiggling into the cloak and pulling the hood over her head. “Yes. Let’s go.”

Jag knew what it would look like to anyone paying attention as he booked the room. Paying with cash, followed by a cloaked woman would give anyone the impression that they were at the hotel for an illicit tryst. That would be a misconception he could live with.

He still carried the jammer into the hotel room, tossing the pilot bag onto the bed as Jaina closed the door behind him. He shut the curtains before Jaina pulled the hood of the cloak back. “Now what?” she asked.

Jag opened the bag and spilled out the contents. “I’ve got some clothes and makeup that belong to Cherith and some civilian clothes for me. I’ve got two blasters here, one for each of us. I figure I can sell my charric for a little extra cash.” He pulled out some small boxes. “Hair color. There’s not much I can do but get rid of this white streak. We’ll have to cut your hair and color it.”

Jaina ran a hand over her hair and sighed. “Whatever it takes.” She snorted. “The Naboo only cut their hair short out of mourning. I suppose this is the death of a life for me, but not one that I’m really sorry for.”

He nodded. “Come on. The faster we do this, the better our chances of getting away.”

Jaina nodded, pulling off her tunic, leaving her in the undershirt. “Care to play barber?” she asked, loosing her long hair from its bun.

She led him into the refresher and closed her eyes while Jag took his vibroblade and cut off her tresses one by one. The result was a rather uneven length about chin level, and he finally gave Jaina the blade to let her finish. She made the cut even more uneven and choppy.

Jag took the color, running the gel through her hair, and watched as her dark hair bleached itself of color until it turned blonde. He halted the progression with a rinse, running his fingers through her hair until the water ran clear. He combed the color gel into his own hair, through the white streak genetics had given him and rubbed a hand over his scar. “There’s not much I can do to hide this. I should have gotten it removed when I got back to Coruscant.”

Jaina shook her head as she toweled her hair dry. She looked completely different with the new hair color. “Too late now. We can’t do anything about it.”

Jag returned to digging through the pile he had dumped out of the bag. “Here. Contacts. Cherith uses them for auditions.”

Jaina took one of the cases and gathered up some of the clothing he’d brought. “I’ll go change in the refresher.”

He took her brief absence as a chance to do the same, stripping out of his uniform pants. He only had a few sets of civilian clothes and he pulled on a pair of black trousers and a long sleeved shirt before fastening his uncle’s old service blaster to his leg. Taking the vibroblade, he ran the edge along his boots, scuffing them up.

Jaina emerged from the refresher. She had bright green eyes now, and she was dressed in some of Cherith’s oldest clothing. Jag had cursed as he’d gone through his sister’s entire closet looking for clothing that would match the kind of fringer persona he was going for.

He handed her the other blaster. It was almost identical to his own, having been his father’s service weapon. The holster wasn’t quite as scuffed as Wedge’s, but it was enough. Jag had counted himself lucky to have the blasters, that his father and uncle had found it necessary to replace them and carry newer models when they died. “I couldn’t get your lightsaber,” he said, shoving the vibroblade into his boot. “Your grandfather still has it.”

Jaina made a dismissive gesture with her hand. “I can build another one.” She pulled the cloak around her and Jag pulled out the old jacket he had packed. “What do we do with the old stuff?” she asked.

Jag gathered it up, checking the pockets for anything useful before unceremoniously dumping it down the trash chute. “We’ve still got some extra clothing here,” he said, stuffing it back into the bag. “The only other thing is that we both still sound Coruscanti.”

Jaina made a face. “When we’re both half Corellian.”

“Speak for yourself,” he said. “I’m all Corellian. At least we have someone to emulate.”

Jaina’s voice stretched to a drawl. “How’s this?”

“Close,” he said, letting himself lapse back into the dialect he’d so carefully trained out of his voice as a teenager. “You just haven’t spent enough time on Corellia.”

Jaina laughed. “Or I don’t know enough Corellians.”

“You know me,” he said, zipping up the pilot bag. “I’m definitely enough Corellian for you.”

“You think?” she said, somewhat breathless as he moved towards her.

His voice deepened, and his drawl made his words flow slowly from his mouth. “I know so.”

He claimed her lips, one hand moving through her now short hair. Her hands came to rest on his chest as she opened her mouth to him.

When they finally parted, she was pressed up against him, her face flushed. His heart was pounding, and his hands refused to move themselves from where they had come to rest on her slender hips. “Why?” she asked, her head against his chest. “Why did you change your mind and decide to help me?”

“Because killing you would kill me,” he said. “It would destroy everything I’ve ever believed in and fought for and make it meaningless. Because it wouldn’t be fighting for the Empire. It would be murder. Because it would kill part of my soul. It would kill the part of me where everything good resides.” He pulled back just enough to look her in the eye. “And because somehow you’ve become part of me. You’ve worked your way into my heart, and if after this nothing happens between us, I will still be a better person for knowing you.”

She cupped his face in her hand. “I told you once before that you were a good man. Now I think you finally believe it.”

***

Jag didn’t get as much as he hoped for the speeder, but selling his charric made up the difference. The Chiss weapons were still rare on the open market, and despite the fact that they lacked a stun setting—or perhaps because they lacked the stun setting—they were more highly sought than a regular blaster.

Finding passage off Coruscant would be a little harder. “I don’t really have a contact with the Rebellion,” Jaina told him quietly as they moved through Coruscant’s undercity. “My cousin Najia usually sets up meetings for me.”

Jag nodded. It made sense. Naboo had been known to have strong Rebel sympathies, but spending time with Naboo’s senator Najia Naberrie would be more about spending time with family than anything else. “What would be the best way to make contact?” he asked.

“If we get to Derra IV, I can contact General Kenobi through the Force,” Jaina said. “He’ll send someone for us, if he doesn’t come himself.”

Jag ran through the options in his head. “The smaller the planet, the easier it will be for us to escape. Smaller spaceports have less security. We could probably steal a ship if we needed to.”

Jaina didn’t look at him. He was still weaving through the crowds, but her concentration was divided between their disguises and following him. “Is that something they taught you out there on the Rim?”

He grimaced. “You’d be surprised at what I learned during the war.”

She didn’t respond to that, pausing outside a cantina. “Here,” she said.

“Here what?” Jag asked.

“We’ll find what we’re looking for in here,” she said, disappearing inside.

Jag followed her, wondering what she was doing, but she immediately made her way to a large Wookiee woofing an order at the bartender. Jag stood behind her, his hand on his blaster while the Wookiee chuffed an answer to her question. Jaina quoted him a figure that was a good portion of their cash, and the Wookiee nodded. She shook his massive paw, and the Wookiee barked something at the bartender, waving a paw in dismissal. “Chewbacca will take us to Ralltiir. Finding transport from there should not be difficult.”

Jag made a few quick calculations. Ralltiir was fairly rural, and stealing a ship wouldn’t be hard if necessary. Most importantly, it was close enough to the core for them to make a quick change of ship on their way to Derra IV. “All right,” he said. “Let’s go.”

*** 

 Jag landed their appropriated ship in one of the large landing bays on Derra IV. Touching the repulsors, he set the ship down in one of the few empty spots, the rest of the bay taken up by starfighters: X-wings, Y-wings, a few TIE Interceptors, even a few of the B-wings he regarded as utterly useless. Still, this was just the force that would take off from the ground.

They’d arrived on Derra IV, and Jaina had finally emerged from her cabin. She’d sequestered herself in the cabin with a variety of tools she’d scavenged. They’d explored the ship not long after making the jump to hyperspace and had found an unusual bounty—gemstones hidden within a smuggling compartment. Jaina had led him both to the ship and to the stones.

She was holding a new lightsaber hilt in her hand when she came up to the cockpit. The dark circles under her eyes suggested that she hadn’t slept over the last three days, but she seemed at peace with that fact. “I have a clearance code to get past the ships in orbit,” she said.

Jag wasn’t sure what he had been expecting when they exited hyperspace, but it wasn’t what was waiting. He’d known that the Rebels had largely scavenged the Katana fleet and that the fighting force was made up most of those dreadnaughts, but he certainly didn’t expect to see two full battle groups in orbit, composed of the Katana dreadnaughts, Mon Cal capital ships and a captured Star Destroyer. Taking a look at the sensors, he quickly identified Garm Bel Iblis’ Peregrine and the flagship of the Rebel fleet, Ackbar’s Home One. Jaina leaned out the window. “The First and Fifth Fleets,” she said. “They’re the best we have.”

He knew that quite well, and as the landing ramp lowered down to let exit their stolen transport. At the end of a ramp, an older man stood wearing unusual robes. Jag got a good look at the man’s bearded face and realized that he was looking at one of the Empire’s most wanted men—Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Jaina launched herself down the ramp and into the man’s arms. “Ben!”

The Jedi general returned Jaina’s enthusiastic hug. “Jaina. You’re safe. We’d been worried after Asyr said your security had caught your meeting.”

“My security is a good man,” she said, looking behind her as Jag walked down the ramp at a more leisurely pace. “Jag, I’d like to you to meet General Kenobi. Master, this is Colonel Jagged Fel.”

“Just Jagged Fel now,” Jag said, shaking the general’s hand. The grandfatherly looking figure could not be the evil figure that the Empire had always claimed.

Kenobi nodded. “The HoloNet has remained quiet about your defection and Jaina’s disappearance. I assume that the Emperor is keeping things under wraps until he can confirm that Jaina has come to us here. Your face will be all over the news in a day or so.”

“I’m surprised that’s not already the case,” Jag said. Their trip from Coruscant to Raaltiir had only taken hours, but from Raaltiir to Derra IV had taken three days.

Jaina held out the cylinder that had taken her attention during that time. “My new lightsaber, Master.”

Obi-Wan took it from her, a frown creasing his forehead as he did. “What happened to the other one?”

Jag clenched his jaw. “That was my fault,” he said before Jaina could explain. “The Emperor has it now.”

Obi-Wan gave him a measuring look before returning his gaze to the lightsaber. He handed it back to Jaina. “Ignite it.”

Jaina took a step back. The lightsaber sprang to life in her hand with a snap-hiss. It did not bear the color of the violet lightsaber she had held to his throat, or the red of the lightsaber she had as the Emperor’s granddaughter. This lightsaber burned a pure white, from the middle beam of light to the corona surrounding it.

Obi-Wan’s eyes barely widened in surprise, but he nodded slightly as if something had just been made clear to him. “That is the lightsaber of the Sword of the Jedi.” His eyes lost focus. “You will be a burning brand to your enemies, a brilliant fire to your friends. Yours is a restless life, and though you shall never know peace, you will be blessed for the peace you bring to others.”

“Obi-Wan?” Jaina said softly, and the old man’s gaze refocused on her face. “Are you all right?”

Obi-Wan blinked. “I never used to hold much faith in the Jedi prophecies. Especially not when Anakin became Darth Vader. But when you came to us, I began to believe again, as Anakin—“ he stopped. “Come. Now is not the time for an old man’s idle thoughts. Kirana Ti and Daye will be glad you are here. Daye is ready to have a new sparring partner.”

Jaina groaned as they followed Obi-Wan into the main part of the base. “Kirana Ti is beating him up again?”

“Something like that. I believe he wanted someone to fight that he could ‘at least have a chance of winning against,’” Obi-Wan said, his voice betraying his amusement.

“Where are Cilghal and Daeshara’cor?” Jaina asked. “Or Kyle, for that matter.”

Obi-Wan grimaced. “With the Empire preparing for the attack, I sent them away. Cilghal and Kyle are on Mon Calamari, and Daeshara’cor has returned to Ryloth. Each of them has their strengths, and should we fail here, the three of them will be able to continue to train Jedi for the future.”

“Jaina!” a voice called from down a hall. They turned to see a stately woman with white hair striding down the hall, followed by a young boy who shared her features.

“Princess,” Jaina said, accepting a hug from the woman, and Jag suddenly recognized the woman.

“We feared the worst when Asyr returned,” the princess said. “How did you escape?”

Jaina turned. “I’d like you to meet my savior, Your Highness,” she said, seeing Jag’s strained expression too late. “Jag, Princess Winter Organa Celchu of Alderaan and her son Bail. Princess, this is Jagged Fel.”

Winter’s face turned ashen as she stared at Jag. “Of the 181st?”

Jag swallowed, and Obi-Wan stepped up, waiting to intercede in the inevitable explosion. “Yes, ma’am.”

Winter turned swiftly on Jaina. “You brought the man who murdered my husband here?” she asked, her voice filled with barely contained anger. “How could you do this?”

“Winter—“ Jaina began.

“Ladies,” Obi-Wan said, drawing them to the side away from Jag as Winter began to unleash her anger and sorrow on Jaina in the form of a list of all the reasons that Jag would have been better off dead than on Derra IV.

Jag stood rooted to the spot. As a starfighter pilot, he rarely had occasion to even confront his opponents face to face, much less their families. Jaina and Obi-Wan were both trying to calm Winter down, but Jag couldn’t help but feel his heart wrench at Winter’s expression of grief. The Imperial dossier on her—one he’d seen before the mission that had killed Tycho Celchu—had made specific mention of her perfect memory, and he knew that the grief the woman felt over her husband’s death was one that would never abate.

“Did you kill my dad?” a voice said from next to him, and Jag realized that Bail Celchu was still standing next to him. He tentatively pegged the child’s age at seven or eight as he knelt down in front of the boy.

He could only imagine that the child had inherited his hair and eye color from his father, and he could barely find his voice. “I did.”

The boy seemed to consider this answer for a moment. That had been but a year before, and the child was certainly old enough to remember his father and the grief that accompanied it. His blue eyes showed a soul that was much older than his young age. “Why?” Bail asked.

The lump in Jag’s throat just seemed to grow. How did one explain the complexities of revenge to a child? “Do you know who Wedge Antilles was?”

Bail nodded. “He was the best pilot the Empire had. My dad shot him down.”

“That’s right,” Jag said, fighting back his own grief at his uncle’s death. “My father died when I was a baby. I never knew him. Wedge was my uncle, and he helped take care of us. He was like my dad.” He paused for a moment. “Were you angry when your dad died?”

Bail nodded again. “I was really mad. I wanted to hit something.”

“I was really mad when my uncle died,” Jag said. “I wanted to hit something or to shoot something down. And I was angry with your dad for shooting down my uncle.”

“But my dad was one of the good guys,” Bail said. “And your uncle was one of the bad guys.”

How Jag wished for the simplicity of the black and white view of a child. “I didn’t think that your dad was one of the good guys. I thought my uncle was one of the good guys, and that I was fighting for the good guys. I thought that what I was doing was the right thing.”

“But you’re here now,” Bail said, looking at Jag. “So you’re not one of the bad guys anymore?”

Jag shook his head in a negative. “I’m not fighting for the Empire anymore.”

“My dad used to be a bad guy,” Bail said. “Then he met my mom, and he decided to be a good guy. Why did you decide to be a good guy now?”

Jag looked over. Jaina, Winter and Obi-Wan were all standing quietly, listening to his conversation with the boy. “I met Lady Jaina. And I decided to be a good guy.”

***

Jag stood in the back of the briefing room as General Kenobi and Admiral Ackbar briefed the fighter pilots. Jaina was sitting at the front of the room with Winter, both of them dressed in Rebel uniforms sans rank insignia. No one had offered him a similar uniform, but he’d finally managed to scrounge up a change of clothing. He’d managed to get every possible reaction from the Rebels, from trust and gratitude to wariness to downright hatred.

“The Imperial fleet will be here within days, if not hours,” General Kenobi said. “This is their primary weapon, the Sun Crusher.” An image of the small ship appeared in holographic relief. “It’s not much bigger than a starfighter, is covered with armor that can stop lasers, and launches missiles that can destroy entire star systems. The fleet will accompany it to keep us from evacuating who we can and escaping.”

Ackbar stepped forward as whispers of disbelief spread throughout the room. “We have a strategy,” the Calamarian said in his hoarse voice. “We captured two dovin basals during the war. We have installed them on an X-wing. A pilot will be in charge of intercepting any missiles the Sun Crusher manages to fire, and then to use the dovin basals to capture and destroy the ship with their gravitic fields.”

Kenobi stepped forward again. “If the Force is with us, the pilot will be able to eject before the Sun Crusher and the X-wing is destroyed. However, the odds of this happening are small.” The Jedi Master swept his gaze over the assembled pilots. “No one will be ordered to do this. But we will need a volunteer from one of your squadrons, and they will need to be one of our best.”

Jag watched as the squadron commanders considered the matter. Volunteering wouldn’t be the only requirement. The mission would take the kind of skill only possessed by a very few—the kind possessed by Soontir Fel. Wedge Antilles.

Tycho Celchu.

“I volunteer,” he said, detatching himself from the wall.

“You’re an Imperial,” one of the pilots snarled at him.

“Hardly,” Jag said, stepping forward and carefully, ignoring the look of horror on Jaina’s face. “In case you haven’t noticed, my life was forfeit the moment I decided to disobey the Emperor’s orders. And the fact is that you need the best pilot you have. That’s me.”

He recognized the next pilot who spoke—Gavin Darklighter, the man who had taken Celchu’s place as leader of the Rebel’s premier squadron. “And what makes you think you’re the best we have?”

Jag regarded him coolly. “Because I’m the best anywhere.”

The Bothan female—Asyr Sei’lar Darklighter, the one who’d met Jaina on Bothawui—snorted in amusement. “And I thought you had an ego, Gavin.”

“It’s not ego,” Jag said. “It’s truth. I’m descended from the two best pilots the Empire ever had. I trained with the Chiss at Nirauan academy. And I shot down the Rebellion’s finest pilot.” He carefully avoided Winter’s gaze. “The Empire is sending the 181st to Derra with their superweapon. The commander and I trained together, and she’s served under me for years. I know how she thinks and can anticipate her strategy, which is something you can’t do without understanding both the Chiss mindset and Shawnkyr.” He paused. “Just because I fought for the Empire doesn’t mean I can’t see when a massive evil is about to be committed. I have no desire to watch Alderaan repeat itself.”

The entire briefing room was silent in the face of his logic. “So why are you doing this for the Rebellion?” someone finally asked.

Jag gritted his teeth. “I’m not.”

“Very well,” Kenobi said. “Someone get Commander Fel a uniform. It’s the least he deserves.”

***

The pounding of footsteps behind him caused Jag to turn as Jaina caught up with him as he left the briefing room. “Jag, wait!”

He halted and politely inclined his head. “My lady.”

“Why are you doing this?” she demanded. “This is a suicide mission and you know it.”

He sighed. “Jaina—“ The corridor was not where he wanted to have this discussion. Sithspit, he didn’t want to have this conversation at all, but he knew Jaina wouldn’t let it go if he tried to escape. “In here,” he said, pulling her into a conference room.

Her brown eyes bored into him. “Tell me you aren’t doing this for my sake. You’ve already thrown away your family and your career. I couldn’t stand it if you did the same with your life.”

“I’m not,” he said, pushing a hand through his hair. He needed a haircut, but that was far down the list of his priorities right now.

“Then why?” she pressed. “Please tell me, Jag. I want to understand.”

“Because—“ he began. “Because Bail Celchu deserves to have a life where he doesn’t have to fear the Empire raining retribution down on him. A life without fighting. After all that I’ve taken away from him—this is something I can do for him, Jaina. Something I have to do.”

There was understanding in her eyes. “Okay,” she said softly. “You’ll be careful?”

“I can’t promise that,” he said.

Jaina wrapped her arms around his neck and held him close. “I don’t want to lose you,” she whispered.

Any comforting words he spoke would be a lie, and he cared too much for the Imperial princess to deceive her, so he breathed in the scent of her hair and said nothing.

***

The klaxon awoke Jag with a start as alarms begain to ring out all over the Rebel base. He’d slept in the specially outfitted X-wing the last two nights in a row—apparently, that had been a prudent measure. The Imperials had arrived.
He pulled the unfamiliar helmet over his head as people burst into activity, ignoring the cramps in his legs from being crunched into the cockpit of the starfighter. He’d slept in his clawcraft on more than one occasion, and had even had the misfortune to sleep in one of the TIE prototypes that Vader had commissioned with their new shields and hyperdrives—they had taken up so much space that flying the fighter had been a battle of itself. The X-wing at least had an open canopy, one that was now lowering, blocking out the sounds of shouting and whining engines as the Rebel starfighters prepared to launch from their ground base.

Gavin Darklighter’s voice came over the comm. “All fighters report in.”

The Rogues began to call in their numbers and readiness. Jag was last, answering as he examined his astromech’s positve output on the dovin basals. “Rogue Special, four green and lit. Dovin basals are up and working.”

Jaina’s voice came over the comm next, clear and calm. “Rogue Squadron, you are clear to launch. May the Force be with you.”

As his X-wing roared through the atmosphere, Jag felt the first edges of anxiety closing in on him. For the first time, the TIE fighters and clawcrafts would be red on his board, marked as hostiles rather than friendlies. He switched over to speak to the R8 unit he’d been assigned—one nicknamed Snarky. “Snarky, identify all members of the 181st and mark them as blue on the IFF board.”

Snarky bleated a message at him, and Jag cursed inwardly. The Rebellion was far behind the Chiss when it came to starfighter design. He was going to have to rely on his own eyesight to distinguish the 181st clawcraft from the other squadrons swarming out of the Star Destroyers that had jumped in system. The unearthly feeling edged closer in. He’d always looked at Star Destroyers as comforting sights, ones that were meant to protect citizens and keep people safe. Now, he wondered if he was seeing them as they really were for the first time, machines designed to do nothing but kill.

His uncle had said once that there was a reason the vessels were called destroyers.

Jaina’s voice continued to relay messages to the squadrons in her calmest tone. “All squadrons, the Sun Crusher has appeared on our scopes leaving the Avenger. It’s surrounded by the 181st.” She paused for a moment. “Polearm Squadron, engage the 181st on their right flank and draw their fire. Rogues, you are clear to engage.”

The A-wings of the Polearms shot out ahead of the formation, diving in towards the squadrons. The cruisers and Star Destroyers had already begun to exchange turbolaser fire, and formations were beginning to break as fighters weaved between the blasts. Jag’s throat was tight as the A-wings began to fire—despite their speed, the Polearms were effectively being sacrificed to the 181st to allow the Rogues to have a shot at the Sun Crusher.

“Rogues, break by groups,” Darklighter ordered. “Group three, stay with Rogue Special at all costs.”

The other two flight groups broke off, heading for the 181st. The clawcraft began to swoop around in a classic Chiss formation, and Jag opened his comm. “Lead, Special. Dive towards the planet, they’ve got a second group in behind them.”
The lead Rogue fighter did what he said immediately, diving down towards the planet surface, rather than out towards space. The first flight of the 181st overshot their mark, letting the second group of Rogues open fire on the second fighter group of clawcraft and letting a few of the Polearms break away from the flank and join into the fray. The Sun Crusher continued to advance towards a firing range, but Jag had to hold back with the other Rogue pilots. If his fighter was destroyed by wayward fire, there would be no chance of saving the planet from the Sun Crusher.

And that meant he was going to have to start flying like he’d never flown before as the 181st finally focused on his modified fighter. The Rogues surrounding him broke their formation to begin firing—Eleven went down almost immediately under the fire coming from one of the clawcraft—Issiri, he thought, watching the fighter move in ways that should have been entirely impossible.

Not Issiri. Shawnkyr.

Another Rogue fell to her lasers, and Jag suddenly found himself tailed by her clawcraft. Cursing the less maneuverable X-wing, he jerked the fighter to one side. He knew better than to get into a fight like this with Shawnkyr. He bettered her when they were flying the same kind of fighter, but with this, they were about equal.

He spat a Chiss curse as he flipped the fighter on its side, letting the dovin basals do the work for him, swallowing the laser blasts she shot towards him, but he couldn’t concern himself with her fighter as Darklighter brought his fighter to the rescue, distracting Shawnkyr with a barrage of laser blasts that began to chew their way through her shields. “Ground Control to Rogue Special, Sun Crusher missile is away,” Jaina’s voice said, and for the first time, a tinge of panic sounded.

The missile was streaking towards the planet, and Jag gunned his engines to well past their safety points chasing after it. The trajectory took him out of the the fight, after the missile. Shunting power from his shields to his engines, he touched the slimy control that operated the dovin basals, opening the singularities as wide as he could get them to go.

The missile diverted from its course, the gravitic field created by the dovin basals changing its trajectory. Jag held his breath as it disappeared into the dovin basal, hoping against hope that the massive energy stored in the missile would be contained by the Yuuzhan Vong technology.

His X-wing shook with the effort, but it held. “Sun Crusher missile neutralized,” he reported calmly. “Rogue Special returning to the furball.”

Darklighter had ejected from his X-wing, but Shawnkyr’s fighter showed real signs of damage as Jag returned to the battle. The Sun Crusher would take a few minutes to arm another missile and fire it, but those few minutes were all Jag really needed to get to the vessel and enact Ackbar’s strategy. He just had to get through Shawnkyr, and she had no intentions of letting him near the weapon.

He had to take her down. He opened fire, aiming at the life support systems on the clawcraft, knowing that would force his friend to abandon her fighter and the battle. She threw her fighter to port, out of the way, and he swore again. “Snarky, open a channel to her fighter.”

The astromech objected, but Jag ignored the droid. “Do it now!”

With a blast of irritation, the astromech did as he ordered. “Shawnkyr, this is Jag, stand down.”

Her fighter turned to face him head on and didn’t stop moving towards him. “Colonel Fel, where are you? We could use your assistance.”

“I’m in the X-wing you’re about to fire on,” he said, sending the fighter into a spin that put him in the pursurer’s position once again. “Shawnkyr, stand down. I don’t want to kill you.”

There was a cold anger in the Chiss’ voice. “You have betrayed us, Colonel.”

“The Empire betrayed all of us when they sent a weapon to destroy a star system,” he said. “Shawnkyr, I don’t want to shoot you, stand down!”

“I’m sorry, Colonel,” she said, flipping her fighter around once more to face him head on again. “I can’t do that.”

Her shields were almost depleted, and Jag swallowed hard as she flew towards him. He squeezed the trigger, letting laser bolts fly, and they impacted with one of the pylons. Her fighter went into a spin, a death spiral, and he palmed his comm again in desperation. “Shawnkyr, punch out!”

It was too late. The clawcraft exploded, and Jag felt something fall into the pit of his stomach. Inside, something was screaming, but the analytical part of his brain saw the opening he needed. Shunting emotion away, he focused on the mission, flying straight for the Sun Crusher.

He almost rammed the vessel, opening the dovin basals as wide as they could go. He launched the grappling hooks, ensuring that the starfighter wouldn’t be shaken off while the gravitic fields did their work, and he watched in amazement and a kind of horror as the superweapon began to fall apart in front of him.

Still, he waited. He had to be sure that this was going to work, had to make sure that the X-wing stayed close enough to finish the job. Bursts of air flew out of the weapon as it began to explosively decompress. Other secondary explosions began to burn inside.

The X-wing shook violently, and Jag knew he didn’t have a second longer. Activating his life support field, he pulled the eject.

The canopy burst open, shooting him away from the Sun Crusher and his doomed X-wing. He watched the explosion from afar, numb with more than just the cold of space that managed to seep through his suit. He watched as bel Iblis’ Dreadnaughts jumped into system, assisting the Mon Calamari vessels in driving the Star Destroyers out of the system.

As the medical shuttle approached, Jag finally closed his eyes. What should have been triumph was like ashes in his mouth. 

***

Despite their losses, the mood of the Rebellion forces as the medical shuttle landed was ebullient. There were cheers coming from every corner; the Rebellion knew too well that they needed to take their victories and celebrations where they could get them. There would be time for grief later—there always was.

Jag was feeling the grief now. Despite the hooting and yells of congratulation coming from the landing bay as the shuttle’s ramp descended, he could not make himself feel the triumph, and his sudden acceptance by the Rebels wasn’t anything he could handle right then.

He pushed through the crowd that was bent on congratulating him, ignoring the medical officers insisting that he go to the medical bay for a real check after floating in space. He left a wake of confused officers behind him as he wound his way down the hallway.

The refresher was thankfully unoccupied. Leaning over the sink, Jag emptied the contents of his stomach.

He hadn’t been sick about a battle since the first time he’d flown. He’d thought that he’d put that behind him forever, the disgust for himself and the self-loathing that killing another being caused him. He’d justified it to himself that he was killing to protect others. He hadn’t thought about it in years, not since his first fight against the Rebellion. Wedge had been there with him, and he had been following in his uncle’s footsteps, and he had never had a doubt about fighting the Yuuzhan Vong.

But he had also never killed his best friend before.

He threw up again, then leaned his forehead against the mirror, letting the coolness of the glass sink into his forehead. There was an empty feeling in his chest, one that felt like someone had taken his heart and forcibly ripped it out of his chest.

He heard a voice outside the refresher calling his name. Hoarsely, Jag replied that he was all right, that he just needed a minute.

He needed far more than a minute. He sank down on the floor, ignoring the clash of the orange flightsuit with the institutional green tiles. He’d saved an entire planet; he had succeeded in keeping the Rebellion alive. All it had required was the death of a good woman who had been his friend—someone who had accepted him into her society without reservation, a unique action for a Chiss.

“Jag?” a soft voice said from outside. “Jag, it’s Jaina. Are you all right?”

He didn’t answer, unsure that he could answer her. “Jag, I’m coming in,” she said. A moment later, the door slid open and Jaina slipped inside.

She knelt down beside him. “Shawnkyr?” she said softly.

He looked up at her in surprise and she smiled gently. “We heard your comm call to her. And if that wasn’t enough, your mind has been screaming her name ever since you landed.” She brushed back a stray piece of hair from his forehead. “You loved her very much.”

“She was my best friend,” he said quietly. “If there was one person I could rely on, it was Shawnkyr. She was there when everything else went to hell. When my brothers died—when my uncle died—when my mother broke down and couldn’t function—not only was she there to support me, she covered for me so I could take care of my family. She was part of our family, in a lot of ways, more than she was part of the Nuruodo clan.”

“I am so sorry,” Jaina said, and he finally looked at her, seeing the pain in her eyes. “I never wanted to involve you in any of this. I took you away from your family and your friends and your career. I have made you do things that you never should have had to do—“

“What I’ve done?” he said incredulously. “Jaina, if you hadn’t gotten me involved, I would have been guarding the Sun Crusher along with Shawnkyr. I would have shot down whoever was in that X-wing, and I would have been responsible for perpetrating the greatest evil the galaxy has seen since Alderaan. You kept me from being an accessory to mass murder.” His stomach gave another twist. “I’m so tired of this. Tired of the endless killing.”

“That’s why you do it,” she said quietly. “So no one else will ever have to go through this.”

He wrapped an arm around her waist and drew her close, letting her physical presence comfort him in a way he couldn’t begin to express. She didn’t object, letting him rest his head on her shoulder and bury his face into her short hair.

When he finally let her go, he had to wipe the tear tracks from his face. He had not had time over the last few weeks to let the events settle in his mind, and now at the end of this, every emotion he had carefully bottled away and controlled, the way he’d learned from the Chiss, had finally overflowed the container where he had locked it away.

“You’re not going to like this,” she said quietly, “but you know they’re going to want to give you a medal.”

“I don’t want one,” he answered.

“Let them do it,” she said. “It means something to them, even if it doesn’t to you right now.” She got to her feet and held out a hand to him. “Come on. You need to get to medical. At the very least, we can talk them into giving you a couple days off just to rest without anyone bothering you.”

He let her help him to his feet, nodding, and followed her to the medical bay where he could finally get some rest.

***

Back to Part 1        
Epilogue