In the wake of Yrica Quell’s shocking decision—and one of the fiercest battles of their lives—the remnants of Alphabet Squadron seek answers and closure across a galaxy whose old war scars are threatening to reopen.
Soran Keize has returned to the tip of Shadow Wing’s spear. Operation Cinder, the terrifying protocol of planetary extermination that began in the twilight of the Imperial era, burns throughout the galaxy. Shadow Wing is no longer wounded prey fleeing the hunters of the New Republic. With its leader, its strength has returned, and its Star Destroyers and TIE squadrons lurk in the darkness between stars, carrying out the fallen Emperor’s final edict of destruction—as well as another, stranger mission, one Keize has championed not for the dying Empire, but for its loyal soldiers.
Alphabet Squadron’s ships are as ramshackle and damaged as their spirits, but they’ve always had one another. Now, as they face the might of Keize’s reborn juggernaut, they aren’t sure they even have that. How do you catch a shadow? How do you kill it? And when you’re finally victorious, who pays the price?
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Naval Hymns of the Old Republic
“This war is over,” the admiral said. “We know it, and soon the Empire will, too.” General Hera Syndulla almost believed him, but reminded herself: Only rebellions thrive on hope. Republics need sturdier foundations.
The assembly room smelled of ozone and glittered like the interior of a sapphire, each facet a hologram flashing and wavering as transmission streams threaded the galaxy and manifested in the New Republic’s military leadership. Eleven months prior—following the Battle of Endor, when the war had first been declared over—such a gathering would have been unthinkable. Now, thanks to the twin miracles of a newly reclaimed hyperspace comm network and the massive receiver systems of the ex–Star Destroyer Deliverance, the architects of the Rebellion’s victory exchanged reports like conquerors dividing spoils.
“The core of the enemy force has retreated,” Gial Ackbar went on, and flapped a holographic hand at an unseen assistant. A star map sprang up at the center of the amphitheater, and ghostly heads—along with the heads of the flesh-and-blood attendees near Hera—refocused their attention. “Coruscant remains under Imperial control, but the fleeing loyalist armadas have ceded the rest of their territory to us. That leaves the warlords and opportunists isolated; eliminating the last of them will take time, but few remain a serious threat. Our battle groups are even now removing the holdouts’ fleet-building and transport capabilities.”
Red blotches flashed onto the map, stains of Imperial presence on the galaxy. Blue arrows, each indicating an allied force, encircled the red. Hera recognized the larger occupied territories—the Anoat sector, the Faultheen sector, the Chrenthoan Abyss. Coruscant, where the Imperial regent controlled a single blockaded planet and trillions of lives, glowed softly in the map’s center. A faint mark like a blood drop represented all that was left of the Imperial presence in the Nythlide Array, where the Deliverance had spent the past week smashing blockades.
It was, at a glance, a simple map with a clear message of New Republic supremacy. Yet fainter lines suggested a more complicated story: Trails from a dozen points led into a region where individual stars became a haze of fog in the poorly charted Western Reaches. What was left of the true Empire’s military—what the admiral had called the loyalist forces—was secreted there, on the edge of the Unknown Regions.
Hera squared her shoulders and spoke in a voice that offered no challenge, no skepticism. Ackbar viewed the war in ways foreign to her, focusing on the ebb and flow of fleets like tides rather than the struggles of mortals on the ground. But she had come to recognize the artistry of his designs, even when she disputed their wisdom. “How close are we to finding the enemy’s hidden base?” she asked.
The admiral smiled broadly and bowed his bulbous head. “We’re launching probe droids as swiftly as Troithe and Metalorn can manufacture them. Chief of Intelligence Cracken will speak to other leads under investigation. Shall we begin with the division reports . . .?”
The conference took on a familiar shape, and though Hera listened to what was said—filed away every word in the whirring part of her brain that cross-referenced tactical updates and coordinates for strategic significance—she found her attention less on the briefs and more on the emotional tenor of the room. Airen Cracken spoke of the Empire’s efforts to remain hidden, cited rumors of a harsh world occupied by legions of stormtroopers, and there was a predator’s excitement beneath the frost-bitten surface. General Ria appeared exhausted, but her mouth curled into a smile as she spoke of the campaign to drive the Imperial-Royalist coalition off Xagobah. Admiral Ho’ror’te’s snuffling and grunting was harder to parse, but Hera thought she recognized a weary resolve as he spoke of the sacrifices of the Unerring and its escorts to destroy a conspiracy orchestrated by one of Palpatine’s mad viziers.
Hera began shifting focus to her staff—felt discomfort behind her through a hint of human pheromones or movement in the air—when Ackbar called her name. “And your battle group, General? Nythlide is secure?”
“Under control, at least,” she replied. “Two carriers under Major Jaun will stay to support the local militia. Now that the battle group has punched through the blockade, the Deliverance is returning to its primary objective.”
“Back to the hunt?” Ho’ror’te growled, the bass entangled in static.
“Back to the hunt,” Hera agreed. “We’re continuing to work with New Republic Intelligence—” She cast a nod toward Cracken, neither expecting nor receiving acknowledgment. “—to locate the 204th Imperial Fighter Wing. Since that unit’s departure from Cerberon, we’ve confirmed only a handful of sightings but remain confident we’re on the right trail. Nythlide slowed us down. From here on out, though—”
“Your last report suggested the 204th—Shadow Wing—is working with the loyalists.”
This interruption came in a voice Hera didn’t recognize. A dark-haired man in civilian dress stood six meters to the right of Ackbar, alone on his holographic dais. Codes scrolled beneath his feet indicating his transmission’s point of origin: Chandrila.
The temporary New Republic capital. Chancellor Mothma had been unable to attend the conference, but she was making her presence known.
“We believe they’ve made contact, yes,” Hera said. “That’s based on comm tracing—General Cracken can provide specifics.”
“Then shouldn’t the 204th be in hiding with the other loyalist units? Your pursuit is taking you far from the Western Reaches.”
Hera swallowed her immediate dislike of the man’s tone. It wasn’t an unreasonable query. “We aren’t certain what the 204th is doing in this part of the galaxy. However, I’m confident that whatever the particulars, Shadow Wing represents a real threat. Since the Battle of Endor they’ve been responsible for numerous military setbacks and lost lives, not the least of which were the genocide on Nacronis and the Cerberon uprising. The unit has proven its capacity, time and again, to inflict unexpected harm. We shouldn’t doubt such harm is ongoing.”
She was surprised by her own passion—nearly as surprised as Chancellor Mothma’s aide, who had stiffened and retreated almost out of view of his holocam.
You’re among friends, she reminded herself. Maybe you should act like it? She smiled with what she hoped was humility before continuing.
“That said, I am equally confident this operation will be over soon. Shadow Wing has nowhere to run, and despite some recent losses there’s no one in the galaxy better equipped than Alphabet—than our Intelligence working group—to find and neutralize this foe.”
Again she had the sense of discomfort from someone behind her. She suspected she knew the source, but she had one more point to make. “If by chance the Empire’s fleet is located before we can find the 204th, the Deliverance retains the flexibility to disengage and support an engagement elsewhere. But I’m not worried about choosing one over the other. Shadow Wing can be defeated. The Empire as a whole can, too.”
Mothma’s aide nodded swiftly. The military leaders were less attentive, though Hera knew better than to feel slighted—each had come to the conference with their own concerns, and each had worked with the others long enough to have a measure of trust. If Hera told them the 204th was a threat, they would believe her; if she told them she would end that threat, they would believe that, too.
The conference moved to other reports from other regions of the galaxy and ended with inspirational words from Ackbar that Hera largely neglected to hear. Afterward the holograms vanished with a flash of light and a popping noise; when they were gone, Hera blinked away spots and heard the humming of the Deliverance’s reactor. The voices of her staff rose and she issued swift orders as they all moved toward the door.