"No, she sacrificed her life, so that we might prevail." Raddus replied, stoically. "There will be time to mourn her passing later, but now we must capitalise on her final act. Open fire on that Destroyer."
"No!" Wedge exclaimed, overcome with emotion. He'd never met the Commander before this battle, but he'd heard the stories. Her loss would be a deep blow to morale, and to their tactical ability.
Dak forced himself to remain calm. He had opened himself to the Force, for the first time in so many years, and wasnt prepared for what he could sense. He had felt the destruction, the death of each crew-member a fresh shard of ice piercing his heart, though it was Amadeus Holdo's death which stuck with him the most. Despite what she endured, she faced her end with calm acceptance. He had a feeling that she was comfortable with the nearness and inevitability of her own mortality, like it was a motto by which she lived. Perhaps that was the thought that kept the whole Alliance fighting, no one soldier knew they could win, or even survive, but collectively they might just make a difference.
The Star Destroyer listed slowly, its central tower trailing smoke and venting gasses. One shield dome had split open, the shattered sphere burning furiously. Its bridge had been utterly ruined, leaving it rudderless.
Admiral Malefic ran through flaming corridors, pushing past troopers and support officers still dazed from the collision. He squeezed underneath a collapsed archway as a group of three Evac-troopers armed with extinguishers fought against the overwhelming destruction. His pristine, white tunic was now a frayed mess, burnt and charred with carbon scoring. Just as he made it clear, the troopers were engulfed but a new fireball, as the corridor exploded in a shower of flame and jagged debris. Malefic didn't look back, he was too focussed on reaching his shuttle. The thoughts of a retreat made his stomach turn, it was a cowardly move, he'd have to sacrifice the Destroyer, its factory, and worst of all the cortosis rich Andriss. He would become a laughing stock back on Coruscant, among the Emperor's court. He could rebuild, no one setback could hold back his intelligence, after all. But it would be infuriating, and inefficient. Silently, he cursed the idiotic commander who dared ruin his plans, then smiled malevolently. His final scheme would ensure this defeat became a draw. A scant comfort, petty even, but it was enough to keep his spirits up.
"The Destroyer is accelerating!" Raddus realised, his already large eyes widening further. Its main bridge, the primary control centre, was obliterated. Even if it was a model outfitted with a secondary helm, that should take far longer to be brought online.
"Admiral, it appears to be changing course." replied a crew-member. "Probably executing some final manoeuvres input just before it was destroyed."
"What are you planning, Malefic?" Raddus asked, his face grim.
With a sinking of his stomach, Dak realised what Malefic's final scheme entailed. The last order input to the destroyed control room, was to accelerate the Destroyer into Andriss. It made sense, he had to admit. Cortosis was too dangerous an asset to leave in Rebel hands. Though Dak's concern was for the miners stationed on the surface, and if he was honest with himself, for R3 just as much.
"Wedge! Lara!" he yelled, while his mind raced. "That Destroyer is going to plow into the surface. We need a plan, now."
"How long do we have?" asked Wedge. Lara was already running the calculations.
"Less than fifteen minutes, its engines are running hot." she replied.
"So we cripple its engines?" Dak proposed.
"Not enough." Wedge replied. "Its momentum will carry it forward even if the propulsion goes."
"He's right." Lara confirmed. "It'd buy a few minutes, but that ship is already on the cusp of the planet's gravity well. Maybe send a team onboard, hijack the secondary helm?"
"Not a ship that size. You'd need an invasion force, not a boarding party." said Wedge.
"So, we..." Dak considered. "We target it with the fleet. Blow it up before it crashes."
"It might be crippled, but it'll take serious power to crack its reactor. And, if we're too slow, we'll just spread debris over a continent instead." Wedge said. He was disheartened, there was nothing they could do. The momentum was against them. Malefic had forced a draw."
"There's got to be something!" Lara insisted, as she poured over the Centurion's holo-display.
"Maybe there isn't..." Dak sighed. He'd had hope, briefly. Hope that maybe there was some good he could do in the galaxy. Hope that there was something left worth fighting for. But now, they were out of options, they'd only succeeded in signing the death warrant of a whole world. Despite his grief, his mind kept replaying Holdo's sacrifice. Even at her end, she hadn't given up. They couldn't disrespect her memory by quitting now.
"Momentum..." Wedge repeated, softly.
"You OK there buddy?" Dak asked, concerned.
"Momentum!" Wedge exclaimed, louder this time. "We can't stop the Destroyer, but we can slow it. Arrest its momentum, as much as we can."
"We can't just turn on the brakes. It's in space." Lara replied, cautiously. She hoped Wedge had more to his plan.
"But we do have tractor beams."
"Against a Destroyer? Its three times bigger than Raddus' ship... dozens of times larger than anything else we've got." Dak said, incredulously.
"Its basic mechanics." Lara agreed. "The Escutcheon is by far the biggest object in the equation. If our ships try and hold it back, we'll just be swept along in its wake."
"Individually, yes." Wedge replied. "But our whole fleet, together? Our collective mass could be enough to hold it back, just a bit."
"Long enough to mount an evacuation?" Lara asked aloud, running through Wedge's suggestion. If our freighters ferry the miners away, the larger ships could try and hold back the Destroyer." She ran a quick calculation. "Mass wise, we make up maybe half the weight of the Escutcheon. Nowhere near enough to stop it."
"But enough to slow it. For maybe just long enough." Dak concluded, resisting an urge to be giddy. He paused to collect his thoughts, a flurry of emotion coursed through him, but, at its centre lay an island of calm. He felt as if everything was slotting neatly into place, and suddenly, he knew his own part to play. The Force seemed to speak to him, through his certainty; the tractor beams alone would not be enough. He saw the possibilities stretch out before him, the final freighters caught up in the inevitable collision while trying to escape. The Centurion among them. Lara, surrounded by a corona caused by the detonating reactor of a Star Destroy impacting Andriss. Then he saw what he needed to do. How to tip the scales in their favour. He couldn't see how it ended, not for himself, but he was certain everyone else would escape with their lives.
"Excellent plan, Wedge." he said, at last. "Let Raddus know, please. Time is of the essence." As the young pilot switched comms, Dak spoke privately to Lara. "Make sure you find R3. I had to leave him down there."
"Poor ReeTee!" Lara gasped, in exaggerated horror. "He's not going to be happy with you when this is over. Don't worry, I'd never let something bad happen to him." Her emphasis was quite telling.
Dak ignored the good-natured jab. His mind was elsewhere. "Lara, there's something I need to do. I can help arrest the Destroyer's momentum."
Lara froze, instantly picking up on Dak's plan. "Something that big... you won't take the strain."
"Size matters not, as an old teacher once told me." he quipped, before returning to his serious tone. "Besides, it's not like I'm trying to pull it out of the sky. I just need to hold it back a bit."
"Using the Force like that, the strain could kill you!" she protested, but it was a token effort. She knew he had already decided. "Just, be careful, alright? ReeTee won't forgive you if this kills you."
"All we can do is trust in the Force, and hope." Dak said, warmly.
Wedge's voice crackled across the comms. "What did I miss?"
"Just some father-daughter surrogate bonding." Dak brushed off the question. "Well?"
"Raddus is implementing the plan. Here goes nothing."
With that, the pieces of the plan fell into place. Lara and the Centurion led the first wave of evacuation shuttles. Wedge and the remaining fighters acted as an escort, running interference on the TIE fighters which had opted not to return to their base for evacuation and had chosen instead to fight to the last. Raddus positioned his armada around the Destroyer, arranged to maximise their tractor locks. And Dak reached out, into the murky depths of the Force, sinking deeper than he had ventured in decades. He plunged deep, through rippling waves, then swirling eddies, down past an endlessly surging maelstrom, until he reached a pocket of calm. He reached out, running his fingers through crystal clear, calm water. An oasis of stillness, a nexus of tranquility. He closed his eyes and saw before him, looming above, vast and imposing, the Escutcheon. He ignored most of what he felt; its frantic crew, its panicked officers, the flurry of small craft hovering around it, until all that remained was the ship. He could reach out, surround its surface with his essence, and he did so, imagining his fingers extending out, grasping the Destroyer. Then, fighting against the strain, he closed his fist, holding tight, and held, pulling against it's intended motion.
Immediately, he had to release, overcome with the exertion. Undeterred, he reached out once more, managing to hold it for a second this time, before letting go. Arven Vorlack continued to try, each time reaching out, each time holding for slightly longer. He lost all sense of time, fixated as he was on his singular mission. After what might have been moments, of hours, the exertion finally proved too much, and he slipped into darkness, drowning among the waves into which he had sunk.
Slowly, Dak opened his eyes. His surroundings were stark, white, and oppressive. His vision swam slowly into focus, as he tried to make sense of his location. A sudden pain ran through his arm, as a deafing noise tore though his ears. As the fog cleared from his mind, re recognised Lara, sitting beside him. She had been squeezing his hand, and at the sight of his stirring, she had yelped quietly. Evidently, Dak thought, he was still a bit sensitive to stimuli. Lara beamed at him, delighted that he was aware, at last.
"Not dead then?" he tried to say, though his voice emerged weak and cracking.
"Not for lack of trying." Lara replied, beaming wide as a tear made it's way lazily down her cheek. "You've been in bacta for 3 days. The med-droid wasnt sure if you'd actually regain consciousness."
A sudden shrill beeping came from below Lara. Dak leaned slightly, wincing in discomfort, to see the source of the disturbance. "R3!" he exclaimed, overjoyed.
"As I was saying, ReeTee here disagreed with said med-droid. With some exceptionally harsh language, I might add."
"The evacuation was a success then?"
"Yep, barely. Me and R3 were the last transport to take off, on our third trip. Andriss, unfortunately, is reduced to an irradiated, inhospitable rock. But we managed to evacuate all of the miner off just in time, including a somewhat curmudgeonly Sloane Fel. He had some harsh words for you too, actually."
"Nothing I dont deserve."
"Actually, when he was finished ranting, he did thank you. He was genuinely surprised we came back to evacuate them. Not enough for him to consider signing up or anything, but he admitted that maybe the Alliance is something different to the Empire, or the Republic."
"Obviously, you've always been better with people. He thanks you, but kicked us out of his home." Dak laughed. "Speaking off, where is Wedge?"
"Red squadron left with Raddus yesterday, to assist General Syndulla in an offensive in the Tion cluster."
"It never ends, does it?"
"Not as long as there are people imposing their evil on others, no. The struggle never ends, but life goes on. We keep on fighting, day after day, in the hopes of a better tomorrow." She rose from her chair, kissed Dak gently on the forehead, and smiled. "But that's tomorrow's battle. Just get some rest, okay?"
Dak watched her leave, with R3 trundling merrily behind her. He smiled proudly, then turned his thoughts inward. He'd given up being Arven Vorlack long ago, and he had no desire to go back now. But Dak Dogba had plenty left to fight for. The Jedi were long dead, and good riddance to their blind dogma, but maybe something could rise from the ashes. Not some hero on a broken pedestal, nor a lauded leader, but maybe a smuggler, a pilot, a soldier, with hidden talents. He drifted back into a deep sleep, dreaming visions of the future, not of the past.