"HELL, IT'S ABOUT TIME." -Tychus, actually talking about this, not his freedom.

-NQS-391, Hyena-class Droid Bomber, 15,000 kilometers from Bestine IV-

The droid ship whirled away from a burst of exploding shrapnel, launched by their enemy target. NQS-391 took the risk and fired a full burst of engine thrust, hoping to launch himself through the point-defense field. A fearsome array of incoming green lasers zoomed past 391 and his comrade bombers. Their escort fighters had long since been smashed out of the way. The Republic was getting better at point defense, the droid noted.

NEW MISSION ORDERS: Blared the fighter control computer from his home vessel, a Lucrehulk more suited to carrier duty than battleship duty. RE-FOCUS ATTACK ON HOSTILE UNIT 13. 391 was perplexed, and not a bit amused by this change. Half his squadron had been taken out by Hostile Unit 41, the Venator they were attacking. Hostile Unit 13 was just another Venator-class lurking off to the side of the fight. That was over 700 kilometers away! 391 was about to put out a request for information on the status of the battle, when a passing Tri-fighter pack contacted his own bomber squadron.

Leave this premises immediately. The droid bombers swooped around as one, and saw the reason why. The Lucrehulk-class battleship Zengjuk, was nearly on top of them, and presenting a full broadside. With his excellent artificial vision, 391 could see the cannons and turrets taking aim. Go go go go go go the Tri-fighters desperately sent to any friendly units nearby, shooting off at full thrust. NQS-391 and his comrades were right behind them. With a multitude of bright flashes, Zengjuk released enough firepower to destroy a continent on the hapless Hostile Unit 41. 391 expended far more fuel than he wished trying to dodge the lasers flying past him. Quickly, the group was out of the firing lines from Zengjuk. It was off to Hostile Unit 13.

-Bridge, Zengjuk, Lucrehulk-class Battleship, 15,000 kilometers from Bestine IV-

"Bloody droids!" Admiral Mar Tuuk cursed, shaking his fist out the bridge window. "Get out of my firing solution!" The assortment of bombers and fighters veered off towards Zengjuk's stern, headed somewhere Tuuk didn't care to think about. The enemy Venator was glowing blue under the heavy assault, it's shields were about to give out. When they did, anyone on that ship was as good as dead. Tuuk turned to the three-dimensional holographic map he had up, that denoted where every ship detectable was. To his ship's starboard, there was the lone Venator currently being destroyed. The admiral took a glance out the bridge and saw it's bow crumple and disintegrate under concentrating fire. To port, two more Venators and five Acclamators were enclosing, quickly. And straight ahead, nearly 4,000 kilometers out and rapidly approaching, were the two Subjugators and the rest of the Confederate fleet here. "Divert reactor power to the portside batteries and shields, we're taking on the seven ships out there." Admiral Tuuk ordered.

"Roger, roger." Answered a pilot droid, tapping away at his controls.

"Gunnery, get me a firing solution on them." The droids at the fire controls simply nodded, and got about their work.

"Reactor power diverted, admiral." Announced another droid.

"Firing solutions ready, awaiting orders." Said one of the gunnery droids.

"By all means, then, open fire." Tuuk pointed at the oncoming Republic vessels. Enough energy to power an entire, developed world for a few seconds was released on them in a hail of red light. Their own green lasers bounced harmlessly off the toughened shields of the Lucrehulk. "Call in our frigates, I want some heavy ordinance here."

-Main bridge, Cataclysm, Subjugator-class Heavy Cruiser, 17,800 kilometers from Bestine IV-

"Get Patriot Fist on the flank of that Imperator." Grievous commanded sternly from his own holographic display of the battle. Whichever droid operated communications re-directed the straying Recusant light destroyer back into the fray. Battles were serious business, and had to be maintained like a finely tuned speeder, lest they fell apart before one's own eyes.

"Sir, the first wave of bombers has returned." Said the droid at fighter control.

"Get them re-fueled and re-loaded, we have no time to waste. The quicker we can wipe this fleet out, the better." The cyborg general stated. He turned to the bridge windows, which offered a 180-degree panorama of the space outside. The Republic lines had collapsed, and they had lost many ships. But it was not without cost, a scattering of the General's own frigates and destroyers had been badly damaged. With an explosion, a Munificent tore in half under the fire of two Star Destroyers, as if sensing the observations of Grievous. A wing of Tri-fighters zipped past the bridge, returning to their mother ship. "Direct fire towards the Imperator's weapons." Grievous said. They weren't exactly a match for the Subjugator, but they were a nuisance to him and a threat to the frigates and destroyers. Serenno, the other heavy cruiser, lurked behind the Imperator, and was providing a wall between it and its escorts.

"Bombers have been sent out again, general." Reported the pilot droid.

"Have them go after the three Acclamators that are trying to shoot their way past Admiral Tuuk's ship." Ordered Grievous. "The Vulture droids from Zengjuk should keep them covered." He turned his attention back to the pesky Imperator, so new it wasn't even adorned in the red Republic stripes. Whoever was in command on it, they knew Grievous's strategy, and were beating a hasty retreat, going down at an angle perpendicular to the two heavy cruisers.

"General, should I pursue?" Asked Esera Corin over the comm lines.

"No, let him go. There's no game in destroying a ship straight out of the yards." Grievous replied.

"Yes sir." The Jedi said. "But I thought you said we're sparing noneā€¦"

"Think of it as rain check for death. We'll get back to him on it." Grievous explained. "This fight is over. Wouldn't you agree, Admiral Tuuk?"

"I would. Just a few more ships left to destroy." The Neimoidian admiral stated from his battleship. "It's almost too easy."

"Oh, our friends on Coruscant will see to that." Laughed the General. "In a few weeks, if all goes correctly, they'll be pulling back everything to stop our mischief."

"Speaking of mischief, how do you think Jerithox's mission is going?" Asked the Jedi.

"A fine question." Grievous said. "A fine question indeed. But now, we head to the rendezvous point. We'll be back, one day."

-Main Bridge, Independence, Subjugator-class Heavy Cruiser, 12,000 kilometers from Malastare-

The massive ship shuddered as Republic fire smashed into the shields. High Admiral Jerithox gripped a railing, bracing against the multiple impacts. "Admiral, the enemy appears to have updated their tactics since last time we did battle!" Announced OOM-27. "They've spread out in some kind of half-sphere, far apart enough that our IPC can only hit a few out a time, but they can all concentrate their fire on us at once."

"Most ingenious of them." Commented Jerithox, nodding in respect. "Have the fleet maneuver around to the starboard edge, we'll use their own vessels as cover."

"Roger roger." Cringed the command droid. He relayed the orders to his pilot droids. Independence swung around slowly, inertia still carrying it on it's original course. The slight vibration in the ship's floor became more apparent as the engines all fired at maximum thrust, launching the Subjugator on it's new setting. The assortment of battleships, destroyers, and frigates mirrored it, and descended on the edge of the Republic half-sphere formation. Already, the Star Destroyers on the far end were breaking lines and moving up to assist their fellows. Concentrated volleys of red laser focused on only a handful of hostile targets at a time, using overwhelming power to bring down their shields. It was only a matter of bombardment from Munificent heavy weapons after that.

"Those are our greatest weapon." Stated Jerithox to himself. "Ion Pulse Cannons, no. Super-heavy turbolaser batteries, much more accurate."

"Indeed, sir." OOM-27 nodded. "We've got incoming bombers with fighter wings."

"No doubt they want to re-create Malevolence on us. They'll be sorely disappointed." Jerithox laughed

"They will, sir." Captain 27 replied. "Shall I order the Vulture droids launched?"

"It would be wise, don't you think?"

"I was just making sure not to circumvent your authority, sir." The captain explained.

"Good, good." The organic answered with a sigh, sitting down in his chair. Not for the dramatic effect, either; the High Admiral hadn't been his best in many years, and it was certainly getting worse now. "Do what you must, Captain. I'll keep an eye on things from up here." OOM-27 got the hint: Jerithox was ceding command temporarily, in case whatever was happening flared up into something worse and incapacitated him. It wouldn't be the first time.

"Very well, admiral." 27 turned to face the bridge windows. "Shut down the cannon generators, just in case." Ordered the droid. Numbers and letters flashed across the screens, as the power source on the diagram of Independence went from a healthy blue to a lifeless orange. The Republic bombers were still moving in, but now they had no solid targets to hit. Unless-

Flashes of blue burst from the Republic ships, all converging on one target: Independence. "Oh my." Captain 27 noted in awe. In a second, the entire vessel was shaking under the bombardment. "Where are our escorts?" Demanded the command droid.

"Sir, they're still forming up, none are being targeted. It's only us!"

"Is their bombardment focused on anything?" Asked Jerithox, from behind the hand over his face.

"Uh-" The pilot droid checked his consoles, while another looked out the window. "Yes, admiral, they're concentrating on the shielding just aft of the starboard ion cannon."

"Then it's only a matter of time before-" OOM-27 was cut off.

"Shields have failed over the forward starboard hangar section, sir!"

Exclaimed a droid.

"Well then, it seems we know where those bombers are headed." Jerithox commented.

"Where are those fighters?" The captain demanded to know, waving a metal arm at the assembled bridge crew.

"Fighter wings one though eight have launched from the port hangars, the others are trapped starboard by the bombardment. Those hangars have been sealed for protection, though it is unknown how long the blast doors will hold out." Reported a pilot.

"Wing seven has engaged the enemy. Wings three and four following, eight right behind." A deep rumbling shook the ship, as it lurched to its side.

"I fear we may not have stopped them." Lamented the High Admiral, now slumping down in his chair. "And I fear I'm no use now, take full command, captain."

"Sir, we have hull breaches all across the area-"

"We're losing air, fast!"

"Regional power reactor is leaking-"

"Another wave of bombers is incoming." OOM-27 attempted to filter the cacophony of reports as he tuned in to the ship-wide communication system, something no organic could do easily.

"Vent the entire area, we don't need the air, and it'll put out a lot fires. Have point defense focus on incoming bombers alone, the Vultures will deal with the fighters." The command droid ordered, perfectly filling his described function. "Roll us over, get the damage side facing away from the Republic fleet." All his subordinates complied right away, a few bungling their simple tasks, others performing quite well. The stars and surrounding ships began to drift to the right, but really, it was Independence spinning around. Just in time, as well, the Republic had begun another volley.

"Sir, the frigates are in position."

"Fire, then!" Finally, the support ships gave their support, giving the Republic something to face other than the Subjugator. "Focus only on a handful of targets... Give them a dose of their own medicine."

"We're waiting on the word, sir!" Came the reply from Commander OOM-5301, aboard the frigate Marker.

"Hostile units 21, 22, and 23. Destroy them." Decreed OOM-27. He stood gripping the bridge railing, watching as their own hail of red laser slam the chosen sacrifices. The Recusants joined in, supported by the Lucrehulk battleships. It was only a matter of minutes before the Confederate forces had countered the Republic's, but things were quickly devolving into a draw. Four frigates, eight destroyers, and one Providence had succumbed to various enemy tactics; and compounded with the damage to Independence, OOM-27 decided to call it a day. "All units, this is Captain OOM-27, acting commander of the fleet. Pull back to the rendezvous point." He waved in the general direction away from Malastare. "Time to go." Group by group, the Confederate fleet spun around to retreat. 27 left minor operations to his inferiors, as he ascended to the bridge's dais to check in with the High Admiral. Jerithox was still slouched down in his chair, looking very tired.

"You got us through this one, droid." He remarked, looking up. "I fear I picked up a bug from someone on the station, though."

"It would appear so, sir. We should get you to the medical deck." Suggested the captain, offering a cold, metal hand. Jerithox accepted it, as he slowly rose.

"Medical deck, good idea..." He nodded, as he feebly straightened his black uniform out. "Leave it to me to get sick on the eve of a campaign like this one."

-Main Bridge, R-25762, Recusant-class Light Destroyer, Hyperspace-

OOM-919 tapped his metallic fingers on the captain's chair, waiting for the vessel to emerge from it's blue otherworldly confines. Soon... Soon they'd arrive at Raxus, and find out exactly what was happening. Or what had happened. The droid wasn't certain on what they'd find at the Confederate capital planet. "Pilot, drop us out on the edge of the system. We don't want to alert them to our presence."

"Roger, roger." The reality of Hyperspace gave way to quickly retracting lines of light, which themselves gave way to stars. One was slightly larger than the others, that must have been the system star. "Here we are, sir."

"What's out there..." Muttered 919 to himself, waiting as the sensor data flooded back in.

"Commander, we're detecting a token Republic force in orbit." Reported a pilot droid. "It seems they aren't expecting anyone here. However, we have no current information from the ground..."

"Well, scan for any outbound signals!" Ordered the commander. "If there are no forces of ours in orbit, then surely, someone must be still down there!"

"Roger, roger." Clicks and beeps sounded as various orders were sent in. "Aha! An encrypted message that's continuously being broadcast on all secure CIS channels. Should I play it?"

"What do you think, pilot?" 919 asked. He wished he had a face for a moment, so he could glower. "Yes, play the message, you fool!" A blue hologram immediately shot up on the arm of the captain's chair. It was of a middle-aged Gossam female.

"Hello, my name is Amita Fonti." The recording began. "If you are seeing this, then I am likely dead. The Republic laid siege to our fair world some six months ago. They destroyed our fleet, and then began the ground war. Our garrison was not strong enough to hold out forever, the last organized droid units fell early this week. It won't be long before the militia is broken, and they come for us. We have committed high treason against the Republic, and it is likely we will pay the ultimate price. Whoever is listening, send help, liberate Raxus from these invaders. I wish we could have done more, but the burden falls to you now. Goodbye, and good luck." There was a brief silence.

"Well, that's ominous." Remarked a pilot droid. You don't say, OOM-919 wanted to shout.

"How long ago was this made?" Asked he.

"No timestamp, sir. There's no way to tell. It could've been before the General's raid on Coruscant, it could have been yesterday, for all we know."

"Find out when Raxus first reported enemy ships, I've got a message to send."

-Conference Room A, Cataclysm, Subjugator-class Heavy Cruiser-

"...And that, sirs, is what we found at Raxus." The droid commander stated, after playing the recording he had picked up.

"The situation doesn't look good." Noted Grievous, leaning back.

"We should send a fleet at once!" Viceroy Gunray piped up, his hologram pointing up enthusiastically.

"What fleet?" Replied Jerithox's transparent blue image, coughing as he spoke. "Grievous and I have a mission out here, everyone else is all tangled up in their own problems."

"We lack suffcient available forces for liberation. Furthermore, our skilled commanders are all deployed at the moment." Said the cyborg. "Unless you want Tambor leading a minor raid?"

"He'd try to turn it into the greatest battle of the millennium." Admiral Tuuk answered, with a dismissive wave. "To my understanding, Independence has take significant damage."

"Yes, she has." Jerithox agreed. "I may need to return to port. Our Jedi friend could lead in my place."

"What? No!" Corin protested. She was there in person with Grievous, given their proximity. "Sir, I am not a natural leader-"

"You're a Jedi, of course you can lead." Gunray stated, like it was the most obvious thing in the world.

"Jedi aren't... Never mind." She sighed. "I'll replace Jerithox if need be."

"I suggest taking Captain OOM-27 with you, he's a good resource." High Admiral Jerithox said it in a manner that wasn't a suggestion at all. Corin nodded.

"Now, what about Raxus?" Asked Tuuk.

"It'll be our first priority after this. They may even withdraw because of our activities here." Grievous said. "The plan goes forward, comrades. Dismissed." The holographic conference disbanded, only the human Jedi and the cyborg remained. "Now, Jedi, you've been entrusted with a very important task."

"I understand, sir."

"If you're going to mess up, it's better to do it now, than later. It is never to late to learn." Grievous made it sound like a threat more than advice.

"Yes, sir." Corin said, steeling herself visible. "I'll get the job done."

"That's the spirit." Rumbled the general, as he stalked out of the room. "Life goes on."

Author's note: Sweet mother of mercy, it's been a long time. Y'all should thank my brother, he got my ass into gear about this. Merry Christmas folks, this is a gift. I've finally got over my uberblock too, I think I know where I want to go from here in the coming chapters... Things are gonna get real. Let's hope I can stick with it.