Leia literally took a backseat during the flight to Esfandia. Trying to compete with her husband and Droma was too exhausting, and, ultimately, pointless. At times it seemed their affinity wasn’t entirely amicable, but it was perfectly natural. They’d hardly stopped talking since the Ryn had come aboard. Bringing each other up to date on events since they’d parted at Fondor, they covered everything from sneaky tactics to Anakin’s death. After the latter, Droma had left the bridge for a while, to sing a plaintive lay in a language Leia didn’t understand, but then he’d returned with a story about one of his exploits in the Senex sector. The tale was as tall as a Bolenian hillspinner,
but it served its purpose by easing the pall of melancholy that had engulfed the Falcon
“So they started taking apart the tanker module,” Han
was saying now, relating one of his own stories to Droma,
his mood far removed from the grief that had consumed
“Which you said was filled with liquid hydrogen.”
“Yeah, but destroying the tanker didn’t stop the hydrogen.
If anything, it spread out a little, exactly as
“Why?” Droma asked, frowning. “Hydrogen won’t
burn without oxygen.”
“That’s what Goldenrod said. That’s the trouble with
droids: no imagination. As our shields failed, I told Leia
and Jacen to punch holes through the cruiser’s hull with
our quads. Before I could tell those scarheads to eat ions,
there was more than enough oxygen for the hydrogen to
react with. The cruiser went up so fast we had a tough
time dodging the pieces. After that, it was just a matter of
getting out of there. The few skips we left behind weren’t
putting up much of a fight.”
“Understandably. I hear Vong skips are useless once
they’re cut off from their yammosks.”
“Well, they’re not completely useless,” Han said, “but
it does give you an advantage.”
Droma shrugged. “Speaking of yammosks, I’ve heard
some stories about them that would make your tail stand
Leia listened to the banter but offered nothing toward
the conversation. Instead, she concentrated on the information
Droma had provided them: communications had
indeed been lost with the Unknown Regions. The destruction
of the base on Generis and the attack on Esfandia appeared
to be the source of the disruption. A free-floating
proto-world, Esfandia had long since cut free from whatever
star had given birth to it, but still had enough radioactivity
bubbling in its core to sustain a liquid atmosphere.
It wasn’t the most hospitable of places, but it didn’t need
to be. A skeleton crew of about a dozen people, mainly
technicians, normally inhabited the relay outpost, which
had been hastily converted from a scientific station at
the beginning of the war with the Yuuzhan Vong. Since
Luke’s mission had entered the Unknown Regions, the
Galactic Alliance’s military presence around Esfandia had
been upgraded to two squadrons of X-wings and a frigate
by the name of Corellian Way
. What had happened to
those forces was unknown. The relay staff only had time
to broadcast a message alerting their superiors on Mon
Calamari that they were under attack by the Yuuzhan
Vong before all communications had been lost.
That wasn’t necessarily a sure sign of disaster. The
relay base was designed to resist such attacks. Imperial
AT-AT technology had been adapted to the cold soup of
Esfandia’s environment, creating a giant, mechanical, crablike
construction capable of moving from place to place
at a slow but steady pace. Such mobility was an advantage,
given that most of the world was studded with
receivers sensitive enough to detect transmissions from
deep in the Unknown Regions. The base was designed to
circumnavigate the globe, maintaining the receivers, while
the technicians remained safely inside. That the ability to
move made it easier to hide when attacked was a bonus.
The base, therefore, could have simply gone to ground,
tucked away in a crevasse or under the thick silt of the atmospheric
soup. If it could be found, it could be reactivated.
Assuming, of course, that the Yuuzhan Vong hadn’t
found it first and destroyed it for good.
Leia sent her thoughts outward, far beyond her location
in hyperspace, beyond Esfandia and whatever awaited
them there, to her brother, Luke. The last message Cal
Omas had received from him suggested he’d found a
promising lead and was setting off to investigate. He
hadn’t specified what that lead consisted of or where he
was headed, and now there was no way they would know
unless they repaired the communications outage. Leia
had no doubt that, were anything terrible to happen to
him, then she would know about it. She would feel
just as she had in the past. Nevertheless, she was concerned.
So much was invested in his mission—personally,
and on a galactic scale—that if something were to go
wrong, it would be a disaster of unimaginable proportions.
The conversation between her husband and his old
friend shifted as the Falcon
’s console began to beep and
flash, announcing that they were nearing their destination.
“Right on the nose,” Han said proudly, flipping switches
in readiness for the return to realspace.
“And we didn’t even have to get out and push,”
Droma said dryly.
“Yeah, that’s real amusing,” Han returned without
smiling. “Now you want to move your funny, fuzzedup
self out of that chair so Leia can come forward and
“No, that’s all right, Han,” she said as Droma began
to stand. “I’m sure Droma can manage.”
She couldn’t say that she was enjoying the break from
routine, but it was interesting to watch Han’s interaction
with the Ryn. Memories of the terrible time when Han
had pulled away from her while grieving for Chewbacca
still stung, but only Droma had witnessed how low Han
had really sunk back then. If having the Ryn aboard did
remind Han of those painful times, he certainly wasn’t
letting it show.
“You remember how to operate the copilot’s board?”
Han asked Droma without looking up from what he was
“Follow orders, and curse when something goes
wrong,” Droma replied with a smile. “Which it invariably
Han affected an indignant expression on behalf of his
beloved freighter. “Hey, she may be old—”
“But she’s still got it where it counts, right?” Droma
“What have I told you about doing that?” Han said
Droma laughed. “Anyway, it’s not the age of the ship
that worries me,” he said, flicking a couple of switches of
his own. “It’s the age of the pilot I’m more concerned
The navicomputer bleeped, cutting off any retort Han
might have been about to offer. Both faced the front just
as the sweeping streaks of hyperspace dissolved into a
cold and distant starscape. There was no primary to dim
the stars with its glare; the nearest inhabited system in
this section of the Mid Rim was more than ten light years
away, and the nearest star of any kind was half that
distance. There was nothing for trillions of kilometers
but space dust, and the tiny bauble that was the lonely
world of Esfandia.
Or so it should
have been. As Pride of Selonia
with Twin Suns Squadron emerged from hyperspace alongside
, Droma’s eyes checked the sensor console
for the orphaned planet. The Falcon
’s sensor suite was
still ahead of standard tech, and it soon acquired the target.
It was covered with thick clouds, and glowed a burnt
orange in artificial colors that looked wrong to Leia’s
eyes until she realized what was missing: because Esfandia
had no sun, its sole source of heat lay at its core. And
with no orbit to follow, that meant it would have no seasons,
either—which in turn meant no icy poles, and no
broiling equator. It would be the same temperature all
Closer scans, however, revealed that not to be entirely
the case. There were at least six hot spots on the hemisphere
facing them, and even as they watched, another
blossomed into life.
Droma zoomed in closer to examine the cause.
“Aerial bombardment,” he said. “Someone’s dropping
mines from orbit.”
“They’re taking out the sensors,” Leia said. “The Yuuzhan
Vong are still here!”
Han’s eyes darted across the displays in front of him.
“I’ve got a strong presence in close orbit. Seven capital
vessels, nine cruisers. Not many skips detached, though.
No sign of the local defenses, or the reinforcements from
“I think I can guess why not, too,” Droma commented.
Leia knew exactly what he meant. The Yuuzhan Vong
force in orbit over Esfandia was enormous by any standard.
Against the two squadrons and one frigate Esfandia
had possessed, plus the two squadrons Mon Calamari
had dispatched to investigate, it was almost obscene.Overkill
didn’t cover it.
“I thought the Vong’s resources were stretched,” Droma
Han just grunted. A crackle of information flowed
across newly reopened communications lines. Captain
Mayn and Jag were looking for instructions.
“Tell them to hold off for a moment,” Leia ordered.
“We can’t go in like this. It’d be suicide.”
Han turned in his seat to face her. “We can’t just leave,
She nodded in agreement. “The relay base must still be
down there, otherwise the Yuuzhan Vong wouldn’t be
wasting time taking out the sensors. Without the base,
none of it would work.”
“So what are we going to do?” Han asked. “They’re
going to see us any second.”
Leia stood to look over Han’s shoulder, placing a hand
gently on his neck. The Yuuzhan Vong forces were formidable.
“If we can get past the capital ships, we might
be able to make it down into the atmosphere and find the
base before they do.”
“Then what?” Droma asked. “We’d be in exactly the
same position as the base. It would just be a matter of
time before they find us.”
She could feel her frustration mounting as a solution
to the dilemma failed to present itself. If they had to
abandon Esfandia, they might still be able to jury-rig another
relay base elsewhere that would allow them to
reestablish contact with Mon Calamari.
She shook her head irritably. It would still mean leaving
innocents here on Esfandia to die, and the thought of
that simply made her feel ill, reminding her as it did of
the time back on Gyndine, where so many had to be
abandoned to a cruel fate.There has to be another way,
Almost in answer to the thought, a bleeping sounded
from the sensor suite, announcing hyperspace emissions
from the far side of the planet.
“Incoming,” Droma announced, his tail wrapped
around the base of his chair, gently twitching.
“That’s all we need,” Han muttered. “Maybe it’s time
we bid a hasty retreat, after all.”
“Hold on.” Leia switched vantage points to look over
Droma’s shoulder. “I don’t think they’re Yuuzhan Vong.
Broadcast an emergency on the Imperial codes.”
“Imperial—?” Han started, but clammed up at a glance
at the scanner display. The corner of his mouth curled up
into a grin as he sent off the coded transmission. “Well, I
never thought I’d be glad to see a Star Destroyer.”
Not just one of them, Leia noted. Two of the massive
vessels were lumbering out of hyperspace over Esfandia,
fully equipped with support vessels and TIE fighters
already streaming from launching bays. The way they
swooped in to engage the Yuuzhan Vong filled her with
an immediate sense of optimism and kinship.
She didn’t immediately recognize the markings on the
Star Destroyers, but judging by the blast scoring and
other minor damage, it looked like they’d both recently
’s comm bleeped, and Han quickly answered
it. It was Grand Admiral Pellaeon.
“I should have known I’d find the Millennium Falcon
here,” he said. “You’re always at the heart of trouble.”
Leia felt a smile creep across her face. “It’s good to
hear from you, Gilad.”
“As it is you, Princess,” he said.
“That’s not Chimaera
you’re flying,” Han put in. “It
looks too old.”
“It’s Right to Rule
,” Pellaeon said. “One of the oldest
in the fleet. We’ve been chasing this sorry bunch halfway
across the galaxy, trying to restrict the amount of damage
they inflict. We lost them at the last jump, which is
why we’ve only just arrived. Our intelligence data on your
remote stations is sadly out of date.”
“Not as good as theirs, obviously,” Leia said.
“We’re here to try to turn our luck around now.”
“I’m glad to hear it.”
“Are you joining us?”
“We’re at your command, Admiral.” Leia said.
“I’ll have targets for you shortly. Commander Ansween
will relay them to you.” Then, almost as an afterthought,
the Grand Admiral added: “Nice to be fighting
beside you finally, Captain Solo.”
Han looked up at Leia when the line closed a moment
later. “We’re taking orders from an Imperial now?”
“Things have changed,” she said. Her heart was telling
her that Pellaeon could be trusted, and the Force was
telling her the same thing. “He’s defending a Galactic Alliance
asset. Think how strange that must feel to him
Han chuckled ruefully. “I guess. It’s just that I’ve never
been one for taking orders—from anyone
. I hope this
newfound camaraderie between us isn’t going to make
him think that’s about to change.”
Leia smiled at her husband; one hand fondly massaged
his neck. “I’m sure Pellaeon’s fully aware of that, Han.”
The comm unit crackled back to life, this time with a
female voice—obviously the commander whom the Grand
Admiral had mentioned.
“Your primary target is the destroyer Kur-hashan
she said. A flood of charts and other data accompanied
the message on the Falcon
’s monitors. “This is a yammoskbearing
vessel. Secondary targets are support vessels. Engage
at will. Right to Rule
Han punched a course into the navicomputer. “You
got that, Selonia
“Loud and clear,” came back the voice of Captain
“Twin Suns awaits your orders, Captain,” Jag said.
He sounded calm and controlled, but underneath the
cool exterior Leia knew he was primed and ready for
“Are we about to do what I think we’re about to do?”
Droma asked, somewhat nervously.
“You’re the one always second-guessing everyone,”
Han replied. “You tell us.”
“It doesn’t take much foresight to know we’re still
outnumbered. While it’s nice that we have company and
all, it still only makes two Star Destroyers against sixteen
of the big uglies.”
“I know,” Han said, a wide, familiar grin settling onto
his face. “It makes it so much more interesting when the
odds are stacked against you, don’t you think?”