In Stars: Part I
by: Asuka

The world hung like a child's marble suspended in the vastness of space. Through the transparisteel view port the cabin's sole occupant occasionally got glimpses of green covered continents and deep blue seas through dense white and gray clouds. It was nearly identical to a thousand other planets flung across the galaxy, the only unique things separating it being the shape of its continents and the fact that it had not yet been captured despite its close proximity to the invasion path.

The pilot sighed, resting her chin on her crossed arms, and tried to banish all thoughts of the invaders from her mind. She should be happy that the planet had somehow survived. Ecstatic, even: Others had not been so lucky.

Whenever the Yuuzhan Vong captured a planet they reshaped it to their desires, employing horrible biologically created beasts and organisms to change the chemical make-up of the world, if they didn't outright destroy it, sacrificing the inhabitants or enslaving them. She'd been there at Ithor and had witnessed the destruction first hand. What had once been a thriving planet was rendered uninhabitable in a matter of moments. The thriving forests and plains reduced to slime covered deserts.

Yet despite the war waging around it, Middle-Earth was untouched. A haven like it had been during the first decade of her life.

Anagha had half expected it to find it already enslaved, one of the Vong's huge worldships waiting in ambush for the much smaller New Republic Correllian Corvette, with enough coralskippers, the Vong's living starfighters, to easily decimate the two hastily slapped together squadrons at her command.

It had been a long journey, from the awkward teenager she'd been when she'd left to the battle hardened commander she was now.

Trista had been furious when she'd found out. The woman had been Anagha's hero for ages; she'd grown up listening to tales from her uncle Jalaal about the diminutive Jedi. She'd thought for sure that the older woman would understand.

The Old Republic style Jedi had lectured her on what a waste the expedition would be. It would remove valuable pilots from the front, draining the New Republic's resources, and, Trista had gone on to point out, it could very well lead the Vong straight to Middle- Earth. The planet, she felt, was quite capable of protecting itself without the New Republic meddling in its affairs.

Anagha had automatically questioned how the Jedi knew that Middle-Earth was safe. It was well known that Trista's methods were extremely different from Luke Skywalker's, or any Jedi he had trained, but whenever she tried to sense Middle-Earth through the Force, all she got was a vague foggy impression. But then Anagha was hardly known for being adept at using the Force.

"Well you haven't exactly seen any Hobbits, Dwarves or Elves running around as Vong slaves or used in any sacrifices have you?" The Jedi had pointed out, crossing her arms over chest before pulling at her lower lip.

Anagha steepled her fingers and pressed her thumbs against her forehead. She'd continued to worry about this same thing every single minute on the weeklong hyperspace journey here. The New Republic was too technologically advanced; Middle-Earth's far more medireview culture would never be able to catch up. Which was why, she reminded herself, precautions would be taken. This was to be fact- finding mission only, there was to be no interaction with the inhabitants if possible. A selected few would go in, judge the situation, and, if there was a threat… Anagha could only hope that there wasn't, going down that course would require too many explanations for too many people…and as Trista had said days earlier; any interaction could very well destroy the innocence that was Middle- Earth.

The door whisked open behind Anagha, revealing a tall humanoid figure with two long snakelike tails, called Lekku, where hair would normally be on a human. The bright orange of the Twi'lek's flight suit clashed horribly with her blue skin. She threw Anagha a quick salute before reporting that the pilots from both Outrigger and Outlander Squadrons were waiting in the ready-room. The door shut quickly behind her retreating form.

Anagha sighed; she had her orders…


In Minis Tirith, Arwen was awakened by the sudden emptiness in next to her in bed. She opened her eyes and sat up to find Aragorn, King Elessar, dressed and pulling on his boots.

The former ranger saw her and flashed her a slight smile. "One of Faramir's men found something on patrol, and they want me to look at it."

Arwen sighed, she had been married to Aragorn for a year now and was used to him going off to lead a band of men to hunt orcs or to judge some dispute occasionally. "When will you be back?"

"In an hour or so." Seeing her confused look he quickly added, "They brought it here."

He grabbed his cloak from the chair and quickly came over and kissed her lightly. "It's probably nothing, go back to sleep."

The former elf nodded and watched his retreating back as he left the chamber, knowing that it probably was something. Faramir would not leave Ithilien and Eowyn for just anything.

"They found it in the forest near a town," Faramir quickly explained as he and Aragorn headed through the streets of Minis Tirith towards the lower gate. In the East the sky was hazy with the beginning of dawn. My men would have dismissed it as just another Orc but Beregond didn't like how it looked. It's too tall to be either an Uruk-hai or an Orc…and neither of those are as mutilated as this is."

Two guards stood in front of an old house that had been cleared of any occupants. They both gave the King a salute before one stepped forward to open the heavy oak door. Aragorn went inside, easily brushing aside the curtain that separated the entryway from the main room, Faramir close behind him.

The first thing he noticed was the smell, reminding him of a battlefield where the dead waited to be buried, baking in the sun. Then he saw the stiff form stretched out on the table in the middle of the room. He stepped closer, ignoring the men who saluted him before moving back into the shadows as they covered their faces with rags in the process.

The thing was tall and vaguely human looking, but there any similarities between it and any race of Middle-Earth stopped. The forehead sloped back dramatically from an over pronounced brow, all the other features looked like severe comical replicas from a crudely carved child's toy. The nose bridge was flattened against the face; the very tip of it was neatly excised along with any cartilage underneath. It had no lips, and long wide gashes slashed across its cheeks showed sharp, decaying teeth. Tattoos covered its head, scalp and any other peace of skin that showed. The armor was hard and crab- like, reminding him of the crustaceans that inhabited the shallow streams and ponds he had occasionally come across in his wanderings. Horns protruded from its shoulders, elbows, and knees, rough raised scars surrounding them. Underneath the skin, he could see rough raised knobs and indentations that weren't made of muscle.

A long slender staff was clutched in its hand with a sharp point at one end and a flat diamond-like head at the other. Scales covered its length, reminding Aragorn of a sleek serpent. Almost unconsciously he reached out a finger and touched its back surprised by its warmth.

The thing immediately came to life, writhing out of its owner's hand and spitting a thick green glob at one of the men across the room. Faramir quickly slid his sword out of its scabbard and unceremoniously hacked at the creature's head. His sword shattered but not before the creature stilled and went limp, its head bouncing once on the straw covered floor. In the corner the man who had been hit with the poison gasped for air as he lay in one of his comrade's arms, a large hole burned through his chest.

Not unused to battle, Aragorn walked out of the house and into the clear air outside. He took several deep breaths and then sent one of the guards running for his messengers with a single word. If there were more of those creatures out there all of Gondor and Rohan would have to be warned, along with the Shire and the Elves. Also, he would have one rider sent after Gandalf; no doubt he would need the wizard's advice in this.

| Part II |
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