A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away …
THE PHANTOM MENACE
War! The galaxy is in chaos. The Republic is crumbling under the ruthless attacks by the Separatist commander, GENERAL GRIEVOUS.
The next to fall is the Core Worlds Orbital Defense, a series of space stations tasked with protecting the heart of the Galactic Republic.
General Obi-Wan Kenobi and his Padawan Anakin Skywalker have been dispatched with a fleet of Star Destroyers to defend the station....
The Core Worlds Orbital Defense began life in the aftermath of the Battle of Alderaan. Alderaan’s very nature as a pacifist world, lead by a Queen and her husband who were shining examples of resilience in the face of tyranny, became a propaganda symbol for the war effort. “Join the Republic Forces—Fight for Peace” the slogan said, and the enlistment numbers swelled.
So that no other world underwent the same bombardment as Alderaan, the Republic Senate unanimously approved the creation of Orbital Defense, a series of spherical space stations armed with a laser powerful enough to damage any capital ship that threatened to breach the line. Protected by a shield tinted orange-gold, the Hub for these stations was the largest sphere of all, with long-range targeting capabilities concentrated at a central ellipse.
Four Lucrehulk-class dreadnoughts targeted their batteries on the Hub’s closest hemisphere, the red turbolasers slamming into the Hub’s shield. The shield flashed orange and fizzled gold. In response, the Hub emitted a green laser beam. The laser caught a dreadnought in rotation. The momentum aided the beam in bisecting the Separatist ship lengthwise. The lights flickered out and the oblong halves drifted apart.
The downside to Orbital Defense was the elapsed time between attacks. The kyber crystals that powered the laser needed a full cycle to recharge, giving the Separatists time to retaliate. Red turbolaser blasts battered the Hub’s closest hemisphere, causing its shield to finally sputter orange-gold and die. Red turbolasers battered the Hub’s surface, scorching the hull. Flames danced for mere seconds before being snuffed out in the vacuum of space.
At that moment, a fleet of Republic Venator -class Star Destroyers swept out of hyperspace. The six Destroyers paired off against the remaining dreadnoughts, two against one. The Destroyers’ batteries unleashed blue turbolasers and the Separatist ships responded in kind, both sets of capital ships sustaining damage to their hull. From the Republic Destroyer Victory, the red topside panels parted and a squadron of V-wing starfighters launched out of the docking bay to align themselves in attack formation.
In his Actis-class interceptor, Jedi General Obi-Wan Kenobi keyed in to his squadron: “This is Red Leader to Red Squadron. Split into two group. Follow Padawan Skywalker and aim for the hyperdrive engines. We want to stop their escape.”
His comm crackled with confirmations, his Padawan’s voice topping off the chatter: “Roger that, General Kenobi.”
The starfighter squadron split into two teams as instructed, their maneuverability and speed bringing them into the Separatist dreadnoughts’ defenses. A red turbolaser struck one V-wing and it burst into a ball of flames. Obi-Wan dodged a red turbolaser that would have taken off his starboard wing.
The Republic Destroyers moved into flanking position, trapping the Separatist ships between them and Orbital Defense. The Victory aimed all batteries at the closest dreadnought and blue turbolasers pierced the dreadnought’s hull, through one end and out the other.
Anakin Skywalker’s team dodged a hail of red turbolasers. The padawan’s Actis-class interceptor broke off from the group and slipped beneath a dreadnought. In the cockpit, Anakin bypassed his targeting computer and fired. Green lasers struck the undercarriage hyperdrive engine. The explosion swallowed Anakin’s starfighter, but he sailed his ship through it. When he surfaced and swung around, he spotted his team engaging in feint dives: by skimming so close to the dreadnought’s surface, the batteries couldn’t recalibrate for close firing, so the V-wings unleashed rockets that left the dreadnought’s hull pockmarked and smoldering. One V-wing took a red turbolaser blast and exploded. Anakin keyed in to his team:
“Squadron Team, turn your attentions to the next dreadnought — this one’s done.” Next, he punched in a line to the Victory: “Captain Greniss, it’s all yours.” Then Anakin angled his interceptor to join the raid.
Obi-Wan lead his team in a focused run on a dreadnought, but as the V-wings unleashed a hail of green laser blasts, the Separatist dreadnought jumped into hyperspace — going up . Obi-Wan rolled his eyes. Of course , he thought. He ordered his Squadron Team to swing around and launch an assault on the last dreadnought, but by the time he angled his interceptor around, that dreadnought, too, launched into hyperspace, also going up. Red Squadron drifted to a halt. Obi-Wan looked around. Both the captured dreadnought and the remnants of the bisected one hovered in space.
Obi-Wan keyed in to the bridge of the Star Destroyer Victory to announce the end of engagements. At that same moment, a green beam from the Hub sliced straight through the captured dreadnought. Obi-Wan stared, flabbergasted. As he watched, the vacuum of space ripped the dreadnought in half, the lights winked out, bodies and debris spiraled into the black.
He slammed the console. “Captain Greniss, what’s going on? We won. We were supposed to take prisoners.”
Captain Greniss’s heavily accented Daiquilian voice filtered into his cockpit. “New orders from Forward Command: Show the enemy no quarter.”
Obi-Wan gagged. He opened his mouth to refute, to lay out his reasons, but Captain Greniss ordered Red Squadron back to the Victory. Out the corner of his eye, Obi-Wan glimpsed the V-wings as they passed him by. At last, he heard Anakin’s voice crackle into the cockpit, waking him up. “Master. Let’s go.” Obi-Wan blinked, but the image of a war crime flashed behind his eyelids. He followed Red Squadron, through the force field, into the docking bay, and forewent the post-checks. Obi-Wan grabbed the handles, pulled the transparisteel dome open, and hopped out.
The grind and clink of the docking bay assaulted his senses, the metallic odor of Malastarian fuel burned his nostrils. Obi-Wan marched out of the docking bay and arrived on the bridge of the Victory without remembering how he got there. He sensed Anakin at his flank, his Padawan’s presence a steady reassurance, but then Obi-Wan was sweeping past the officers at their command stations, alien and human both. He spotted Captain Greniss at the comm. Obi-Wan wouldn’t call the emotion fury, roiling there under the surface, but it was a severe distaste.
“Captain Greniss,” Obi-Wan began. The Daiquilian turned. Reptilian gills flared in recognition, the solid blue eyes in direct contrast to the red scales. The gray command uniform had been tailored to accommodate the tail, and it snaked upward, sinuous, ending in a barbed point.
“No quarter? I was never informed of such an order.”
Captain Greniss moved to the next command station, saying, “Check in with your Jedi Council. They’re the ones who approved it.”
Obi-Wan stopped in his tracks. That couldn’t be true. He traded a look with his Padawan. Anakin raised a brow, short hair and short braid shaping his face into a younger version of itself. Then Obi-Wan turned back, but Captain Greniss had moved on, a tacit dismissal. Well. Anakin’s heavy hand clapped Obi-Wan’s shoulder. Small comfort, but this wasn’t over.
Obi-Wan commandeered an empty station in a shadowed corner, observed Anakin blocking him in, and then entered the code to the Old Folk’s Home. Master Mace Windu and Master Ki-Adi-Mundi appeared as small, blue holograms seated in the empty Jedi Council Chamber.
“Master Kenobi,” Master Ki-Adi-Mundi said, his measured speech pattern at odds with Obi-Wan’s annoyance. “Orbital Defense is secure?”
“Yes, Masters.” Obi-Wan cursed himself — he forgot about debriefing. “Orbital Defense has been defended. But what’s this about giving the enemy no quarter?”
Both Masters appeared to settle into a meditative silence. Obi-Wan waited. Even Anakin stuck his thumbs in his belt and reined in his patience. At last, Master Windu said, “Don’t think this was an easy decision to make. With his cloning technology, Count Dooku has an inexhaustible supply of enemy combatants, and according to our calculations, the Republic is losing fifteen hundred soldiers every hour of this war. We had to do something.”
Obi-Wan clenched his teeth, preferable to slamming the console with his bare hand. “How are we meant to engage in prisoner exchanges if we kill our enemy? This will only lead to escalation.”
“That may be so,” Master Ki-Adi-Mundi said, “but one Jedi dies every hour of this war, too.” Obi-Wan blinked, shocked. He had never heard the statistics before. In a rustle of robes, Anakin straighten behind him, no doubt equally taken aback. “We need to bring an end to this conflict, and quickly.”
“And it’s good you contacted us,” Master Windu said. “We’ve received a request from the Prince of Alderaan, Bail Organa. Seems he’s discovered an anomaly and requested the Jedi investigate.”
Obi-Wan nodded. “Yes, Masters.” The holograms fizzled out.
Anakin cleared his throat.
Obi-Wan looked up into bright blue eyes, cheeks twitching in a hesitant smile. Ah, yes. Alderaan. Obi-Wan faked a frown. “Maybe I shouldn’t have agreed so quickly. I mean, Alderaan’s lovely and all, but — ”
“Obi-Wan.” Anakin had the most piercing whine. Obi-Wan grinned, dropping the act, and then stood and clapped his friend on the shoulders. Anakin smiled, his excitement brimming at the seams. “I’ll get a shuttle ready.”
Anakin hurried off, long legs swallowing the deck whole. Obi-Wan followed at a more sedate pace. His Padawan’s affinity for the “Heart of the Republic”, as Alderaan was informally called, stemmed from Anakin’s affection for a certain Naboo Queen. Obi-Wan wondered if he should be alarmed. Or not. After all, they were just friends.
It would do well to have a furlough, even if it meant working a mysterious investigation. At least they would be away from the front lines.