Chapter Six

Jacen was not a pilot- not as Jaina or Anakin had been- but Skywalker and Solo blood did flow through his veins and so he had volunteered to fly with a squadron of Hapan fighters, offering to be Tenel Ka's eyes and ears in the midst of the battle. At the moment, however, Jacen was suffering from exhaustion and sensory overload. The adrenaline pumping through his veins was keeping him from dropping to the ground and keeping him from feeling anything at all- the way that his hands ached from griping the steering column or how his ears rang from the loud chaotic yells of battle chatter now emphasized by the near absolute silence.

The battle had lasted far too long for the small size of the Yuuzhan Vong and Peace Brigade forces that they had faced. They had stopped the Yuuzhan Vong forces from inflicting more damage on Hapes itself or any of its inhabited moons, but what they had achieved could hardly be called a success.

Tenel Ka was waiting for him as he stepped forward as he climbed slowly out of his cockpit. Concern for him was clearly evident in her eyes.

"Friend Jacen, are you injured?"

He shook his head slowly. "No." His expression was grim. "So much death. The Force is consumed by it. I can't sense anything else."

"I'm sorry, friend Jacen. I should not have asked for your help."

"No," he replied quickly and definitely, "I'm fine. I volunteered to fly that mission and I have a lot to report."

A brief smile of relief flickered over her face. "Thank you, friend Jacen. I am interested in hearing your insights into this situation."

Together they slowly began to walk away from the palace's large hangar bay and towards the large corridors that led into the heart of the Hapan palace.

"Princess Tenel Ka," a Hapan captain bowed quickly in front of her and then held out a datapad. "Here is the preliminary report from the battle. The full report will be ready for you within the hour, Princess."

"Thank you, Captain," she replied curtly, taking the report from him. She glanced briefly down at the report and then back at the captain. "Please alert all of my commanders to report to me in person in two hours."

"But, Princess, the usual protocol allows-"

Tenel Ka took a step closer to him and despite the fact that the man towered over her, the look in her grey eyes was enough to silence him. "I do not care about protocol, Captain, I care about Hapes. All commanders will report to me in two hours unless they are dealing with emergencies. Understood?"

Jacen could see the sullen look in the Captain's eyes and he prepared himself to deal with the man if he should get out of control, but when he responded to Tenel Ka, the captain's voice was clear and firm. "Understood, Princess."

She stared at him for a moment longer and Jacen could sense that Tenel Ka wanted to add some else, but she simply stepped past him without another word.

Once they were out of the man's hearing, Jacen heard Tenel Ka let out a disgusted sigh.

"He is working for my second cousin, Kallia. She hopes that my family will either be killed or disgraced by this war so that she can gain power. Kallia doesn't care if Hapes is destroyed along the way as long as she achieves her goal."

"One more reason to stop the Yuuzhan Vong here and now."

Tenel Ka nodded, "Fact."

"We can't stop the Vong the way we fought them today, though. We had an even or superior number of forces and we almost didn't stop them. If we keep achieving victories like this we will have nothing left."

Tenel Ka nodded grimly, not shying away from the harsh fact before adding one of her own. "We also cannot match the number of the Yuuzhan Vong forces if we are forced into many more large scale battles."

They walked together, silent for a moment as they both drifted deep in to thought.

"If we can't win against the Vong with superior force, we need tactics that will put the odds in our favor."

"Indeed," Tenel Ka paused, considering what she was thinking about, and then added, "Come my friend, we have much work to do before this meeting begins."

Nearly two hours later, the table in front of Jacen was scattered with data cards that were filled with every piece of knowledge about the Yuuzhan Vong that they had been able to locate. Some of it was relevant, some of it appeared to be irrelevant, but almost all of it had been at least casually glanced at by either Jacen or Tenel Ka as they struggled to find any piece of knowledge that could help them.

Now they were brainstorming, Tenel Ka pacing back and forth across the room as they threw ideas around.

"It will not work," she snapped, her emotions creeping into her voice.

Jacen stood up. He had been sensing her emotions rising as the time of the meeting grew closer. Her emotions had been running very close to the surface for hours now, an unusual occurrence for Tenel Ka.

Now Jacen directly into Tenel Ka's path and stopped. As she tried to step around him, he reached out to grab her forearms to stop her, ignoring the fact that Tenel Ka could easily send him crashing to the ground with one twist of her wrist.

There was a brief moment of awkwardness as his hand clasped around her forearm and there was no where for his other hand to go. Most people would have jerked away from her then, treating her differently then if she were any other human, with two arms instead of one.

Instead Jacen dropped his hand to her waist. There was another moment of awkwardness and then Jacen said with as much normality as he could muster, "Perhaps it won't work, but maybe someone else can modify the idea to something that will work."

Tenel Ka had looked annoyed as he had sharply cut off her pacing, but she seemed to have calmed down slightly as he spoke.

"We've made a good start here, Tenel Ka. You have something to tell your commanders about and plans and tactics that they can implement immediately. There are many other capable officers here that can come up with variations and suggestions based on the new and revised tactics that we're proposing."

"I know," she replied quickly, her voice still sharp and strained, "But the fate of Hapes rests on this, Jacen. We cannot survive as we are, and I do not know if we can change fast enough. This is most important than anything that I have ever done and I have never done anything like this before. I cannot fail." There was no self-pity in her voice, just fear of failing her people.

Jacen tried not to flinch at the memory of his own failure.

"The impostor must have opened an escape tunnel." It no longer hurt to speak, but his aura had gone from faint to bright. His cells were burning like fire

Jacen sensed it in an instant and felt the flicker of hope and doubt warring within him. He felt the fear rising rapidly up in him-fear for Anakin.

"Jacen, you're in charge. Take everyone and go after her."

Jaina's surprise, resentment and her own fear flared brightly in the back of his mind. His own surprise was there and then his pain and doubt.

He had failed Anakin's trust and the price that he had paid for his failure had been higher than he could ever have imagined. His eyes caught Tenel Ka's clear gray gaze and he forced himself to breathe in the calm of the Force over his own suddenly tumultuous emotions.

This wasn't about his failures. This was about Tenel Ka and he had placed his faith in her on numerous missions without hesitation.

"You won't fail," he said firmly. He hesitated, sensing that she still wasn't convinced and added, "You know, Jaina once told me," he swallowed tightly, barely able to speak his twin's name.

Tenel Ka reached up quickly, grasping his arm in a gesture of comfort.

He managed a feeble smile for her and continued, "Jaina told me that the only way not to let the big picture overwhelm me was to focus on what was in front of me at the moment. It was good advice." He trailed off, suddenly uncertain of what he was saying.

"Indeed," Tenel Ka's voice was low and quiet. He hardly felt her hand leave his arm and reach up to caress his cheek. "It is good advice," she murmured, just before her lips brushed softly against his in a sweet kiss.