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Before - Legends Saber Battalion (Tales from the Corps: Jedi Civil War pre-KotOR action -- full-on Marine assault!)

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction- Before, Saga, and Beyond' started by Goodwood, Jul 28, 2011.

  1. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    May 11, 2011
    Title: Saber Battalion
    Author: Goodwood
    Timeframe: Pre-KotOR, Jedi Civil War
    Characters: OCs + assorted KotOR characters
    Genre: Military action
    Summary: For approximately four thousand years, from the earliest conflicts with the Sith Empire to the Ruusan Reformation, the Republic Marines did battle with the enemies of the Galactic Republic. Renowned for their skill in all aspects of galactic warfare as well as their traditions of duty, valor, honor and loyalty, the Marines were one of the foundation stones for civilization throughout the galaxy.

    In the wake of the betrayal of Revan and Malak, Laera Reyolé is thrust once more into battle after a year of training as a Jedi. With the Republic reeling from the relentless onslaught of the new Sith Empire, the Marine captain, now in command of the Third Battalion, plans a counterattack on the Zabrak homeworld of Iridonia in a bold, last-ditch effort to stem the tide of conquest. With the galaxy at stake, will her Marines be up to the task?

    [B]Chapter One[/B]

    The small starship lurked just behind the terminator line of Iridonia's smaller moon, its systems powered down to the absolute minimum required to sustain its two human occupants. The pilot, a native of the recently-bombarded world of Telos IV, maintained a grim vigil at the helm, while his passenger, ensconced in the seat behind him, sat so still that she appeared, at first glance, to be dead.

    It wouldn't have been the first time.

    The woman, her face slack as she sat, cross-legged and unbuckled, meditated, extending her awareness as far as it would go. She felt her way steadily outward toward first the moon above which the scout vessel hovered, then the planet that the natural satellite orbited. Subtle auras, diminished by sheer distance, marked out large population centers; those were to be avoided if at all possible. Her abilities were not strong nor finely-tuned enough to allow her to pick out anything more specific than the combined signatures of a hundred or more sentient beings; despite this, she could still spot that many folks when they lurked where they shouldn't be. For hours, she felt her way across the planet, though the task was made easier by having spent time beforehand eliminating vast swaths of its surface, areas that were too volatile for anyone or anything to exist upon for any length of time. Finally, after a full sixteen Standard hours of pushing herself to her absolute limit, Laera Reyolé was completely exhausted.

    “Ready to call it a day, ma'am?” Carth Onasi, the pilot, asked as the Marine captain brought herself back to the realm of 'ordinary' consciousness.

    “You bet,” Laera replied wearily. “Thanks,” she added, after the commander passed her a mug of caf, which she drained in one.

    “Any luck finding what we're looking for?” Onasi asked, a hopeful note to his voice.

    “Not yet.” Laera frowned, looked about the scout ship's tiny interior, then back through the viewport at the world below. The pilot had swiveled his couch around to face her as he sat with his own beverage, his visage still grim. “Don't look at me like that, Carth,” she admonished. “We'll find something soon. I've already got a few likely spots outlined.”

    “My apologies,” Carth said, turning in his seat slightly. “We've been out here for a full two days; frankly, I'm surprised the Sith haven't spotted us by now.”

    “Don't worry,” Laera soothed. “As long as you've kept to the course I plotted, they'll never know we were here. Trust in the Force, my friend.”

    Carth finally managed to crack the ghost of a smile at that remark. He knew that the officer next to him had once held a deep disregard for the essence of the universe, particularly for those who used it, but he also knew that she had recently undergone a year of extensive Jedi training. For her part, Laera still felt for the pilot, who had lost his family in the Sith assault on his homeworld some ten days prior to the start of their current mission. The last several months had been brutal, real nightmare stuff, packed with the kind of events that almost made one think that the Republic had finally had enough. In battle after battle, the forces of Darth Revan and Darth Malak had sliced their way into the very edges of the Inner Rim, carving out an empire with the precision of a Ho'Din master neurosurgeon.

    The utter devastation of Telos, ordered by the latter Sith Lord and carried out by Carth's former mentor, Admiral Saul Karath, had brought the conflict to a personal level that bordered on a fanatical vendetta. Despite all the emotional pain Laera knew that, even now, must be eating at him like a cancer, the veteran pilot and soldier did his duty to the best of his ability. As his smile died, Laera rose from her own seat, beckoning Carth to follow her through the cockpit hatch to the tiny compartment beyond. This area, which housed a combination sensor suite, tactical plotter, encrypted hypercomm transceiver, and dedicated analysis computer, also contained a pair of fold-down sleeping racks that would have been uncomfortable for a Chadra-Fan. Still, it was the best they had, so they made the most of it.

    Eight Standard hours later, the two officers were back at it. While Carth kept the ship hidden, Laera continued to scan the planet via means which were well beyond the capabilities of the technological marvel housed in the main cabin. After another seven hours of concentration, she had a vector. Fifteen minutes of dedicated work by passive and semi-active scanners, which were “flashed” intermittently so as not to arouse detection and triangulation, followed up by several hours of number-crunching by the computers, they had their target. Still undetected, the two-man scout vessel slipped into hyperspace, popping out a scant three light-years away to rendezvous with the four-ship flotilla from which it had staged.

    — — —

    [B]Five days earlier[/B]

    In the officers' briefing room aboard [I]Stalwart Defender[/I], one of the last [I]Centurion[/I]-class battlecruisers remaining in Republic service, the commanders and executive officers of Aurek, Besh, Cresh, and Dorn Companies, along with the leaders and seconds of their constituent platoons, were gathered. Clad in their battle-dress uniforms since this was not a formal occasion, they talked to one another, mostly sharing friendly comments as they anticipated the appearance of the commanding officer of the Third Battalion, Republic Marines. The younger officers, ensigns and junior lieutenants mostly, were fairly new to the outfit, and were still in the process of getting to know one another beyond the brief period of remedial training that the unit had gone through back on Coruscant. The senior officers, veterans of the previous conflict with the Mandalorians, mostly sat in silence, a few exchanging comments about their new leader.

    After several minutes of idle chatter, the door hissed open and she strode in. They knew who she was, of course, but clad in her dress reds lavishly decorated in unit citations, commendations, and campaign ribbons, her sidearm in its polished black holster, and the shining metal hilt of her lightsaber attached to her belt's other side, she still cut a dashing figure for those fresh from the Marine Corps Academy. The myriad conversations ended abruptly as the officers present immediately stood at attention, while she strode into the room and cast the gathered men and women a silently appraising look.

    “At ease, people,” Captain Laera Reyolé finally ordered, pausing so that everyone could return to their seats. “I hope you've been enjoying the cruise so far, because things are about to get interesting.” A couple of officers from the second row exchanged glances at this. “Throughout the galaxy, things are looking grim; one doesn't need the Force to see that. However, it is my sincere hope that soon, we can do something to affect the current situation in a positive way. Map, please.”

    The lights of the room winked out, and along the wall behind the battalion commander, a holographic starfield appeared. It showed the southwest quadrant of the galaxy, from the fringes of the Outer Rim through to the Core Worlds, its focus on the current zones of contention. Stars whose systems were firmly in Republic hands glowed red, while those thought to be in danger glowed yellow-orange; still others blazed blue, which indicated that they were now under Sith occupation. The map did not distinguish whether or not these worlds had been conquered or had abandoned the Republic voluntarily, but that didn't matter at the moment.

    “Republic Intelligence has identified a few possible points for counterattack,” Laera said as she turned toward the star map. “Unfortunately, due to the losses incurred at Foerost, the Navy still doesn't have the resources to carry out even a minor offensive. To be frank, they're barely holding the line as it is, so it's up to the Marine Corps to make these traitors bleed. Fortunately, I happen to have a target in mind.”

    With a gesture from the captain, the stars winked out, to be replaced with a map of a star system tagged as being located within the Mid Rim's Glythe sector. Additional notations indicated the presence of nearby hyperlanes which stretched from there out to the Outer and Inner Rims of the galaxy. “Iridonia,” Laera explained. “The Zabrak homeworld was a major point of contention during the last war, as most of us know. Now, Intelligence suspects that the population has voluntarily welcomed the Sith forces of Darths Revan and Malak after the recent battle there, and may be vulnerable to a hit-and-fade attack. I propose that we go one better; I say we hit this world, go groundside and make off with all the supplies we can carry, then blow their base as we leave. The Force willing, we'll be in and out before reinforcements arrive. Questions?”

    A man in the front row raised a hand. Taller than Laera, his skin tones darker and his features heavier than her own, but with similar colored hair and eyes, his lanky form belied his incredible physical power. She had personally witnessed the man, now a commander and leader of her old company, decapitate a Mandalorian warrior in full assault armor. Laera smiled as she acknowledged him. “Mr. Bimm, how nice to see you again.”

    “Likewise, ma'am,” the officer acknowledged jovially. “If I may say, that's a nice-looking toy you've got there.”

    “That's not exactly a question,” Laera replied, repressing a smile; nevertheless, there was a wave of muted chuckling. “But then, you were always stirring up trouble with the Mandos, no reason to think you'd stop with us.”

    “Aye-aye, ma'am,” Thedus Bimm replied with a smirk. “I wanted to make sure, however, that we know what we're getting into before we hit the Sith.”

    Laera's good cheer faded, and she was all business once more. “It is being attended to,” she replied. “Within the next few days, we will have a full operations brief, complete with optimal and backup entry and exit vectors, scatter-plots, and primary, secondary, and tertiary landing zones, in addition to estimates of enemy strength. Until we have that brief, I want you all to run your units through CQC and quick-hump training until their limbs are falling off.”

    Close-quarters combat training, as everyone knew, could be fun but exhausting. Quick-hump training, on the other hand—which consisted of practicing the rapid entry and exit from [I]Jarhead[/I]-class assault landers—was usually just exhausting. Ideally, the platoon and company commanders would be mixing up the timing of these sessions so as not to tire their troopers out unnecessarily.

    A hard-bitten woman four seats over from Bimm raised a hand. Her pale face was puckered with a series of small scars, where shrapnel from a room-buster had pierced her helmet during the battle at Jaga's Cluster some eighteen months prior, She wore her sandy hair tied back in a tight bun, and her brown eyes seemed to burn like hot coals, which was understandable given the hell she had escaped from in that engagement's aftermath.

    “Ms. Nessai,” Laera acknowledged the leader of Dorn Company. She didn't know the woman all that well, they had seldom seen each other outside of battle even before her death. As she had gotten back into the service after returning to Coruscant in the wake of the Sith declaration of war, she had learned that the Corellian had earned Bloodstripes for having saved her ship, the [I]Interdictor[/I]-class cruiser [I]Battleaxe[/I], from capture by the Mandalorians during the massacre. The woman had missed out on Malachor V, as she and the rest of her crew were laid up at Corellia as their cruiser had undergone repairs. At the start of the new conflict, [I]Battleaxe[/I], her compliment of Marines replenished, had been reassigned to the Republic armada that guarded the strategic Core Worlds system and its vitally-important shipyards.

    “Yes, ma'am,” the other woman began. “Are there any special orders regarding the treatment of civilians and prisoners?”

    “I'm glad you asked,” Laera acknowledged. “So far, the Sith forces that we and our friends in the Army have encountered do not demonstrate a propensity for surrender—not unlike the Mandalorians. That said, any live enemy soldiers we do manage to find who are not actively hostile should be detained if possible; they could prove to be an aurodium mine for the Intelligence people. As for civilians, I'm hoping to avoid contact altogether, but if there is, we do not fire unless fired upon. Is that clear?”

    There were several murmurs of ascent as Laera touched the holodisplay controls, and the star map faded as the room's glowpanels turned back on. “If there is nothing else, I've got some last-minute reminders to give out. The [I]Stalwart Defender[/I] is now under communications lockdown, along with the task force's [I]Hammerhead[/I] cruisers [I]Horseshoe[/I], [I]Endar Spire[/I], and [I]Delta Dagger[/I]. The Aurek fighters of the 52nd Navy and 23rd Marine Squadrons will be hyping in on another location, in order to conduct their own operation, and should return soon enough to support our attack, the goal being to draw resources away from our target. I don't expect that to happen, but every bit helps. Until we have a strike package, you're all dismissed.”

    To Laera's surprise, no one moved. She crossed her arms, and allowed a scowl to bloom as she regarded her subordinates with a gimlet-eyed stare. “All right, what's the big idea?” she asked finally.
    Bimm, a childish grin blossoming on his dark face, broke the silence. “It's just...your toy. We [I]have[/I] to see it in action...”

    Laera was not amused—well, maybe a little—but she knew that, sometimes, allowing such shenanigans was a good release. With all that was going on, she knew that the men and women under her command needed to vent their spleens.

    “Mr. Bimm, this is most definitely [I]not[/I] a toy,” Laera said as she touched the lightsaber hanging from her belt. “It is a tool, a weapon, and a companion. Maybe someday, when you're not clowning around, I'll tell you how I—sithspawn!”

    A dozen hands moved as one, launching small pebbles in a veritable deluge of stone. Through the Force, Laera realized their intent just before they acted, and in a split second decided that this, if nothing else, would be that pressure valve she'd been hoping for. With her awareness exploding around her, she snatched her lightsaber from its hook and, in one fluid motion, had it activated and in guard position. She picked off the hurled pebbles with practiced ease, each stone vaporizing as it impacted on the cerulean blade of her weapon. Her Soresu cadence made her blade appear to be a solid circle of light as the volley increased; the rest of the officers had joined in the fun. Finally, after several minutes of reckless abandon, her attackers ran out of ammunition.

    Laera, however, hadn't even broken a sweat.

    “Well, boys and girls,” she continued, her tone making it clear that playtime was over, “now that you've had your fun, we can get back to business. Are you suitably impressed, Mr. Bimm?”

    “Yes ma'am!” he replied, getting up and snapping off his best salute, which was saying something considering the sloppiness with which he usually greeted his superiors and subordinates.

    “Then get the kriff out of my briefing room!” Laera bellowed in mock indignation. “You've got training to conduct, and if I don't see you all working just as hard as your people, you'll be [I]wishing[/I] that the Mandalorians had conquered the galaxy!”
  2. TrakNar

    TrakNar Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Apr 4, 2011
    That's what you get when you're packing a big saber. Suddenly everyone wants to see you whip it out and play with it. :p
  3. gaarastar58

    gaarastar58 Jedi Master star 3

    Dec 19, 2010
    I'm glad I'm not serving in the republic navy, they sound like an undisciplined lot!

    Keep writing!

  4. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    May 11, 2011
    Chapter Two

    Laera remained in the briefing room for a few minutes longer, browsing the crew manifests of the four warships in the task force. These vessels, along with the soldiers and starfighters they carried, were among the only mobile reserves that the Republic had left. She knew that she was not the only one with Jedi training in the flotilla, since each of the other ships carried at least one Jedi Knight or Padawan; however, as the recently-promoted commander of the Third Battalion, she was also the senior Marine officer present. The thought of a Jedi Marine still made her smile somewhat, though the thought was always tempered by the grim realities of a war where Force-user fought Force-user. Laera forced herself to resist the temptation to rue her own past when it came to such things, however. What mattered was the here and now: how she, as both a Marine and a Jedi, could fight against the tide of darkness that stabbed its way toward the very heart of the Republic she so dearly loved.

    She brought her attention back to the manifest she held, which was a roster of all the pilots within the task force, organized by proficiency and type rating. As she browsed the list of the most senior multi-rate pilots, the dossier of Carth Onasi, now a full Commander stationed aboard the Endar Spire as its executive officer, came up. She smiled briefly, calling up the man's details despite the fact that she had already known him from the year before. Laera soon wished she hadn't, because it reminded her that it was his homeworld that had been subjected to so terrible a bombardment. The document indicated that his wife had died of wounds resulting from the attack, while his son was listed as “missing,” which she knew really meant “dead, but without enough parts left to bury.”

    Laera scowled, not at the Sith, but at herself, because she knew that in order to successfully pull this mission off, she would need to draft the man into such peril so soon after having gone through a fate worse than death. Which is really saying something, she thought to herself, seeing as I have died.

    — — —

    Carth Onasi trudged through the corridors of the Endar Spire toward its hangar deck to greet the new arrival, his heart still heavy with loss. He barely acknowledged the salutes and greetings of the warship's crew as he walked; his mind was far, far away, amongst the ruins of Telos, wondering why such a thing had been carried out, and by none other than his own onetime mentor. Worse still, he battered himself with recriminations about why he hadn't been able to get there in time to save Morgana and Dustil.

    The commander arrived at the hangar as a small shuttlepod's egress ramp began to lower, the haze of out-gassing partially occluding the form of the officer that descended it. He continued to march, as though on autopilot, toward the ramp, snapping to attention as the figure reached the deck. “Commander Onasi, it's good to see you again,” the woman said as she returned his salute.

    “Captain...Reyolé?” he replied hesitantly, not quite believing his eyes. “I thought you'd still be on Dantooine, never mind back in uniform and out here in the middle of nowhere."

    Laera strode forward, embracing the man, letting the Force flow into him in an effort to buoy his spirits. Carth, unsure at first, returned the hug, his pained expression gradually subsiding as the two broke apart. “Thought you'd like to see a familiar face after what happened,” Laera said apologetically. “Carth, I'm so sorry for your loss.”

    “Thank you, ma'am,” he replied, lowering his gaze. “It's still painful...incredibly painful...but I'm holding it together.” Carth followed Laera's lead as she made her way from the cold, noisy environs of the hangar deck toward a nearby briefing room. “You know, I guess I really shouldn't be that surprised to see you here,” he said after the two had arrived, pointing at the lightsaber that hung at the Marine's belt.

    Laera hid a smile as she turned toward the holodisplay controls at the room's head, triggering the sequestering function as she brought up a star map. Finally, she turned back to face the pilot, her hand on her lightsaber. “A little ostentatious, I know, but it's tradition to keep this thing visible. As to why I'm here...well, that's rather complicated.”

    “Things always seem to be that way with you, ma'am,” Carth replied. The two managed to share a weak smile as they sat opposite each other so that they could both see the star map. “Were the Jedi alright with this?”

    “They were all for it, after Darth Revan made his little proclamation,” Laera acknowledged with a rueful shake of her head. “It's funny how it worked out, though. There I was, being formally inducted into the Jedi Order with my basic training complete, when in walks this tow-headed teenage apprentice with a holocomm pad to play our old friend's broadcast about the Foerost disaster.”

    Laera sighed. “The Masters were silent for a really long time, and I got this funny feeling in my gut about how it'd been at our mutual friends' behest that I got the benefit of this little second-life treatment. But then they finally snapped out of it, and before I knew it, I was all but begging them to point me in the right direction to do the most good. They told me that, since my training was complete, I could do what I wanted, and so I burned sky for Coruscant. Next thing you know, High Command has me rushing to take over the Third Battalion and get it back up to combat readiness, and now we're aboard the Stalwart Defender. That's where you come in.”

    Carth's expression was a mask, but Laera could sense that he was struggling to come up with an appropriate response. She could feel his burning desire to put some serious hurt on the Sith; somehow, with the kind of certainty that only the Force could give, she knew that he would get his chance...eventually. “What do you need, ma'am?” he finally asked.

    Laera manipulated the star map's controls with the Force, bringing up the home system of the Zabraks. “Iridonia. You remember it from the last war, right?”

    “Yes,” Carth replied, looking at the holographic display. “One of the first systems to fall to the Mandalorians; eventually we took it back, but I was elsewhere at the time. Now the Sith seem to own it.”

    “Intelligence thinks this was a voluntary absorption in the wake of the recent battle. After a bunch of Mando mercs blew a major comm center, the Sith fleet showed up, and the Republic was forced to evacuate what forces they could.” Laera sighed heavily. "And really, why wouldn't they? They probably still see Revan as a hero.”

    Carth looked uncomfortably at her, his eyebrow raised. “Do you?” he asked before he could stop himself.

    The question rocked Laera back in her seat. Its context, and the burning resentment lingering behind it, though it wasn't directed so much at her as it was the new Dark Lord and his bald lackey, made her wince both physically and emotionally. After a moment, she composed herself enough to reply, her voice low but with an edge. “Revan may be why I'm still alive, but that doesn't mean bantha dung right now. He betrayed us all, and for what? No, Carth, he's no hero, not anymore." She paused, her features and voice softening as she continued. "And please don't apologize for speaking your mind.”
    The other officer had raised his head in protest, but returned his gaze to the display, his stillborn apology bouncing around in his mind. “Aye-aye,” he replied, sullen. “What's the mission?”

    “Despite the fact they now have you helping to shepherd this bucket, you're still the best pilot in the task force,” Laera answered, pointing at the star system on the display. “I need you to fly a scout ship into the Iridonia system without arousing suspicion, so that I can probe the planet for its Sith presence. I've got a plan set in motion to raid the world, take what we can, and blow the place to Chaos on our way out, but it is highly-dependent upon knowing exactly where the Sith are based. If all goes well, we might be able to drive them, at least temporarily, from the planet.”

    “How do you expect to scan an entire planet, never mind one that is currently occupied by a hostile force, without being detected?” a bemused Carth asked.

    “Simple,” Laera replied, and with a flick of her finger, she snatched the DL-3 blaster from Carth's holster, catching it by the barrel and offering its grip to him. “I learned a few tricks back on Dantooine that will come in very handy indeed.”

    — — —

    Her rumpled BDUs sticking to her in uncomfortable ways, Laera descended the ramp first as the scout ship's pilot finished locking down its systems. She started stretching, trying to get the kinks out of her that had been put there by the unbelievably tight quarters within the equally tiny vessel that she had just spent four solid days wedged inside. As she bent over to touch the tips of her boots, Carth joined her, his left hand holding the datapad that, in effect, held the keys to Iridonia. “I didn't think my landing was that bad,” he remarked.

    “It's not your landing that did it,” Laera shot back as she straightened up. “I hate these scouts, the Force alone knows how you Navy people put up with them.”

    “Can't say I like them much, either,” Carth replied. “Never flew them before myself.”

    Laera turned about suddenly, her wide eyes looking daggers at her friend. “Men,” she mumbled as she faced the far bulkhead. “Come on,” she continued, her voice back to normal but no less irritated. “Let's get that data to the boys at Intel. We need that strike package put together in a Coruscant minute, or we'll miss our chance.”

    — — —

    “So this is what we're most likely to be going up against,” Laera said, recapping the briefing. She was once again in the muster room, and once again, the officers of the Third Battalion were before her. This time, it was not a star map they discussed, but the holographic display of a topographic map. “About five hundred officers, troopers and workers will be in the base itself, with at least four ten-man outposts. In addition to their squad-sized garrison, each outpost has an anti-air turret to discourage casual observation by airspeeder, but they can also down an Aurek in a pinch.” She gestured to one of the outposts which, due to the terrain, was slightly out of place for optimum defense.

    “Their towers won't hurt a lander, however. First Platoon, Dorn Company, that's your objective. You are point on this operation. After the task force decants from hyperspace, your transport, escorted by the 52nd Naval and 23rd Marine Squadrons, will hit the outpost and, hopefully, take it over. This will open up a landing cordon for the rest of us; after you either blow the tower or secure it, the 23rd will move in and begin suppressing the defenses at the main base while the 52nd initiates combat aerospace patrol. Aurek and Besh Companies, we're the fist. We go in, tear the place to shreds, and, after Cresh Company secures every ounce of gear they can hump, get back out, while the rest of Dorn Company neutralizes the remaining outposts. The base is primarily a supply depot for passing Sith warships, and likely isn't manned by their best troops, but don't count on it. Because of the potential risks involved, we need to be on our toes and doing our best to keep this operation short and sweet. Any questions?”

    “Where are you going to be, ma'am?” asked Chek Nessai.

    “Right in the thick of it,” Laera replied. “I'm riding down with Second Platoon, Besh Company, but if need be, I could divert to your location if you require backup.” That got a laugh out of Bimm, who gently nudged Dorn Company's commander on the shoulder.

    “Alright, that's enough kidding around, Bimm,” Laera admonished mildly. “Anything else?”

    The executive officer of Cresh Company, whom Laera had known as a junior lieutenant during the lead-up to the Onderonian liberation, raised his hand. “What of the task force?” he asked.

    “They'll be just beyond the gravity well of Iridonia's larger moon,” Laera explained. “Their primary purpose is to stay hidden and, if any Sith warships happen to stop by, engage and destroy them before they can report our presence or send reinforcements. Admiral Hetton assures me, however, that he's ready to come to our rescue should the whole operation fall apart. If communications fail, I have the means to contact them.” Laera tapped her temple with her finger demonstratively. “Next?”
    A sandy-furred Bothan ensign in the back row put his hand up. “Yes, Mr. Dan'kre?”

    “Are you sure it's wise to risk yourself, Captain?” Silas Dan'kre asked, his tone deferential. “You are valuable both as a senior field commander and a Jedi, what would happen if you were to fall in battle?”

    Laera flashed the Bothan a predatory smile that raised the fur on his neck. “Fresh from the Academy, aren't you?” she asked.

    “Yes, ma'am,” Dan'kre answered, trying and only partially succeeding in hiding his nervousness. “I was only posted to the battalion as we left Coruscant.”

    “Don't worry kid, I've been dead before,” Laera continued after a beat, still smiling. “Stick close to me, and I'll make sure you don't have to find out first hand what it's like.” The Bothan looked stricken, and the entire auditorium rang with laughter. Even Commander Nessai, who had always been reserved even before her experiences during the last war, managed to bark out her amusement. Finally, the mirth died down and the captain continued.

    “That's the nuts and bolts, ladies and gentlemen. We've got two days until the Aureks return and we jump off. I highly encourage you to spend the intervening time drilling your troops on their assignments. I don't care if you have to engrave the topography onto their skulls, just make sure they know the plan. Dismissed!”
  5. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    May 11, 2011
    These are actually the Republic Marines, a fanon creation of mine that combines the best of the GFFA with the more applicable elements of the United States Marine Corps.
  6. TrakNar

    TrakNar Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Apr 4, 2011
    Knowing Silas from my readings on SWFanon, it's interesting to revisit him when he was young, raw, and naive. And it's about time that those void-brains shaped up and took things seriously.
  7. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    May 11, 2011
    Chapter 3

    Ensign Chak Ravartin maneuvered his Aurek fighter into formation with the rest of the 23rd Marine Squadron, taking up station alongside the leader of Two Flight. “Shabu Six is on station,” he reported as, similarly, the rest of the twelve pilots in the newly-replenished squadron acknowledged their readiness. So far, his first combat mission had proved uneventful, but he suspected that such delusions of normalcy were just that. As the last pilot checked in, he rubbed at the charm he wore around his right wrist, which he contended had always brought him luck whenever he had worn it during a swoop race.

    “Shabu Lead to Dalus Lead, we're ready when you are,” the squadron leader announced to the second unit in the formation, the 52nd Naval boys. The two squadrons, which had been dispatched from Admiral Hetton's task force, were to harass the Sith presence in the Roche asteroid belt, which had been conquered a few weeks prior. With the Republic having been forced only recently from the Verpines' home system, the small force had a good idea of where to strike and how. The mission briefing had been thorough, and Chak had gone through it over and over during the long hyperspace voyage to the target area.

    The target's designation in Basic was Cobalt Jenth Two-seven, and it housed a formerly Verpine-run shipyard and repair facility. Using the outer asteroids as cover, the two units were to close on the target from two opposite directions; the Marines would launch proton torpedoes at the facilities, then go after targets of opportunity while the Navy fighters would take on any of the new Sith interceptors or other space forces that attempted to intervene. If no spaceborne enemies presented themselves, both squadrons would wreak as much havoc as possible before their fuel hit bingo—meaning that they had come to their maximum endurance before having to break off for home.

    As the squadron leaders acknowledged one another, the two formations split, each on their own ingress angle. Chak kept close to his flight leader; though he desperately wanted to shred some Sith fighters, he knew that his duty was to watch the other pilot's back, serving as an extra set of deflectors and sensors. He still wasn't quite sure what to make of that thought, interposing himself between an enemy and an ally. Sure, he had been a talented swooper back on Coruscant, and his simulator scores were good enough, but he'd never really allowed the idea of dying for a stranger to take hold of him. Most of the others had made fun of his superstitions, and his charm had been stolen more than once during his training, though the guilty party had always managed to sneak it back into his possession somehow.

    “Shabu Lead, Three here. I've got eyes on the nearest wave of rocks. Twelve klicks out at zero-three-niner.”

    “Understood, Shabu Three,” the commander replied, his cool, professional tones soothing in Chak's ears. “All flights, in we go, scatter formation.”

    “Scatter formation, acknowledged,” Shabus Five and Nine replied. Chak knew that this was an infiltration tactic, designed to disguise intent as well as strength. The basics of the formation varied depending on the circumstances: above a planet, scatter formation involved the three flights breaking into six wingpairs, which would take zigzag courses and use terrain-following flying to sneak in on the target; in space, the tactic was only used in asteroid fields, where the six pairs could hop from asteroid to asteroid seemingly at random, but keeping to a broader arc designed to take them into the target area. Chak decided that he liked the idea of playing hide-and-seek amongst asteroids, it reminded him of having dodged airspeeders amongst the congested traffic lanes of his homeworld.

    “Pull it in, Six,” his flight leader ordered as, dimly, Chak realized that he'd drifted slightly. Tapping ethereal rudder, he swung his Aurek back into line with Five as the lead starfighter sideslipped a cruiser-sized carbonaceous rock. Close on each other's wings, the two ships shot from asteroid to asteroid, going port, starboard, relative down, port again, then relative up before a final turn to port. “Shabu Five to Lead, I've got eyes on,” the senior lieutenant announced.

    “Acknowledged, Five. Squadron, bring it in on Five's location. Set wings to attack position.”
    The comm was silent; there was no need to reply. Each fighter's computer, when put into scatter mode, periodically squawked the other fighters in the squadron, helping the pilots to maintain unit cohesion. This was not without its drawbacks, as comm jamming prevented the system from returning results; in addition, if an enemy had pinpointed the rendezvous point, the entire unit could come under concentrated fire as it came back together. This was why the formation was only intended to be used for surprise attacks.

    Within minutes, the squadron had reformed for the run in on Cobalt J-27, their systems prepped for combat. Now in a following formation, with each flight stacked behind one another, the 23rd Marines increased to full attack speed. “Target ahead,” Shabu Three announced, “adjust angle by point five.”
    Chak did as ordered, and his sensors immediately painted the image of a repair facility onto his primary monitor. Even better, the facility was not empty; a small transport bearing Sith markings appeared to be moored there.

    “Shabu Lead to all wingpairs: fire at will, fire at will, fire at will!”

    The formation broke into two-ship elements once more. The comm unit was lit up with cries of “tone acquired, fox one!” as twenty-four proton torpedoes were sent screaming into the facilities built around the shell of the asteroid, which was the size of a small cluster of battlecruisers. Chak smiled as the transport he had targeted imploded under the impact of his missiles, fires flaring briefly throughout its hull as the force of the detonations ripped it from its moorings. The hulk slammed into another repair dock, ripping it free of the station and sending debris spiraling off into space.

    The torpedoes of Shabu Five, meanwhile, had slammed into a hangar bay, easily bypassing its magcon shield and detonating within. The force of the twin blasts sent debris gushing out of the bay, which included the shells of three Sith interceptors that had died before they had been manned. As the element leader peeled away, Chak was hot on his exhaust, and together the two fighters looped back around for another pass. This time, their torpedoes found and busted open a bulk freighter almost as large as a Hammerhead-class cruiser, which split in two and scattered its cargo across the surface of the asteroid.

    “Shabu Nine to Lead, Three Flight is out of torps. Looks like this base won't be repairing anything for months.”

    “Affirmative, Nine,” Lead replied. “Squadron, form up and get some distance between us and the base while I notify Dalus.” The comm went silent for a minute as the twelve Aureks came back together, heading for the outer rings of the Roche belt. “Dalus reports that they're outbound,” Lead announced. “They caught a half-squad of interceptors guarding an incoming cruiser. The slims are dead and they're finishing off the capital, it looks like it had suffered some pretty heavy battle damage.”

    “Lead, Six here,” Chak inquired. “Five and I have torps left, if they need help.”

    “Settle down, kid,” Eleven chimed in, her voice light. “You'll get your chance to shoot something live.”
    “Secure that chatter,” Lead admonished. “Dalus is clear and heading for lightspeed, and we're doing the same. We've done our job, people, now it's time to head home so we can rest up for the main event.”

    The flight leaders acknowledged the order to head home. As the squadron exfiltrated the asteroid field in order to make a clean jump into hyperspace, Chak replayed in his mind's eye the events of the attack. The thought of that transport blowing up and taking half the dockyard with it was pleasing to him.

    — — —

    Rear Admiral Kadlis Hetton stood, his back facing the hatchway to the large, well-appointed quarters his rank warranted, as he gazed through the transparisteel viewport to the starfield beyond. The two squadrons of Aurek fighters had just returned from their mission to the Roche system, and were even now docking with the Stalwart Defender to rearm and refuel while their pilots reported their results and got in one last rest before the Iridonian raid commenced. The admiral, a native of Corulag, sometimes imagined what it would have been like to have been able to fight the Mandalorians in starship combat. He knew that it was only his assignment as head of this very task force, then charged with patrolling the other side of the Republic, that had kept both his warships and their crews intact throughout the fighting. He suspected that, were it not for the intervention of the Jedi, he would have gotten his wish, and would not have liked the results.

    As it stood, he knew where his loyalties lay, and was glad he had not been called upon to join the Revanchist crusade. Prior to the treason of Revan and Malak, Hetton had only ever met a Jedi once, when he had served as helmsman on a destroyer bringing a cadre of Knights back to Coruscant from a training academy on Arkania. On the few occasions that he had talked to one during the trip, he had found them to be decent company, if a little self-absorbed, but he had considered that par for the course when each of them commanded the same level of power as a squad of troopers. The three Jedi Knights stationed aboard his cruisers, however, were different, subdued, as though a great physical trauma had been inflicted upon them by the recent tide of events that had swept through the galaxy. He certainly understood how they felt, as he too had had friends and comrades who had defected to the Sith cause.

    As if in deliberate contrast, however, he found himself admiring the Padawan aboard his flagship, except that she wasn't simply a Padawan, but also commander of the battalion of Republic Marines that had been brought aboard for this deployment. The formerly-deceased Captain Laera Reyolé was, in his opinion, a firebrand, a highly-motivated warrior who had earned in full every decoration in her service record, and just the kind of leader the Republic needed at this time. The fact that she now commanded the Force made her even more worthy of admiration, and Hetton found himself wishing he'd been given a dozen more like her. The plan she had put together for this counterattack was elegant in its simplicity and inspired in its sheer audacity, and he had agreed to it at once with little else to suggest by way of refinement. His only concern had been the proximity of Iridonia to a major hyperlane, but the Marine officer had assured them that, were he to take up station on the edge of the larger moon's gravity well, he would be in excellent position to pounce on any Sith warships that happened by.

    The Stalwart Defender, he knew, was a good ship. One of the last surviving Centurion-class battlecruisers that was still under Republic command, it was powerful, and capable of fielding an entire wing of starfighters, as well as carrying many more troops aside from the men and women of the Third Battalion. The two units he had sent on the diversionary raid represented only a third of his starfighter strength, but Captain Reyolé had wanted to limit the number of units involved in the actual attack, in order to mask the true size of the task force. What was more, most of the pilots of the 51st, 53rd, 54th and 55th Squadrons were fresh from flight school, or else had spent barely more than a year with the Fleet prior to the declaration of war. The crews of all four of his ships, on the other hand, were well-drilled and experienced, having honed their skills in border skirmishes in the years before and during the Mandalorian conflict. Provisioning was also not a problem, as his flagship carried enough stores and ordnance to last the task force for up to a year of continuous operation. The object of the upcoming attack was not so much the acquisition of supplies, but their denial to the enemy, and the boost in morale and propaganda value that such a counterblow would net throughout the Republic.

    As he continued to gaze into space, his thoughts focused on the fighting to come, the intercom at Hetton's desk buzzed. He turned, strode toward it, and pressed the activator. “Yes, Lieutenant, what is it?”

    “Admiral, the Aureks are all aboard,” his yeoman replied, her tone that of professional detachment. “Commanders Elli and Juyode have finished their debriefing, and have submitted their reports. They, along with Captain Reyolé, would like to see you.”

    “Very well,” Hetton replied, smiling. “Show them in.”

    The hatchway clicked and hissed open, and three officers, two Human and one a Twi'lek, with the commanders in flight suits and the captain clad in Marine BDUs, entered and saluted. Hetton returned the salute, then motioned for all of them to sit. “Report, please,” he inquired politely.

    Veris Elli, leader of the 52nd Starfighter Squadron, at the deference of the Marine captain, spoke first, her lekku twitching slightly. “The Roche diversion was a complete success,” she said, the pride in her unit and its mission obvious in both her countenance and voice. “The facility at Cobalt J-27 was neutralized, along with a transport, a bulk freighter filled with cargo, a half-squadron of Sith interceptors, and a damaged Interdictor-class cruiser.”

    The admiral shook his head in awe. “More than we could have ever hoped for,” he beamed. “Commanders, please relay my personal regard to your pilots, it should help them rest easier for their next mission.”

    “Aye-aye, sir,” both officers acknowledged in unison before trading salutes and departing.

    “I must say, this is quite an auspicious start,” Admiral Hetton said after the hatch had closed.

    “Yes, Admiral,” Laera replied, her own smile more predatory. “Before this, I wasn't completely sure that Navy fliers could handle Marine tactics in such a situation, but I'm glad to be proven wrong.”

    Hetton let the slight cheek in the Marine officer's tone pass unnoticed, as inter-service rivalries were as much a part of military life as morning PT. He had to admit that the captain was correct, however; asteroid-dodging was not something that the Republic Navy typically taught its pilots in flight school. On top of that, this excursion had proved the effectiveness of the scatter formation, which had been developed very recently, and only after the calamity at Foerost. “What is your sense of the mission now, Captain, in light of the success of your diversion?” he asked.

    “When this circulates among the task force, sir, morale will skyrocket,” she replied, her eyes bright. “What is more, the two squadrons now have battle experience, and won't be going in raw or understrength. My only concern is that they might not be rested enough before we lift off.”

    “Is there a way we can account for that?” Hetton asked, his eyebrow slightly raised. He wanted to make sure that the woman before him was ready to accept the go-ahead. “Should we postpone the mission by a day?”

    “No sir, I don't feel that we can afford a postponement,” Captain Reyolé declared. “We've done all that can be done, all that can be expected. Tomorrow, we'll either emerge victorious, with an abundance of extra supplies, or we'll all be dead. There can be no middle ground, Admiral, no compromise; we win or lose it all on Iridonia.”
  8. TrakNar

    TrakNar Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Apr 4, 2011
    You know... Storm Eagle's Maverick Hunter X remixed theme works quite well as a soundtrack for the first part of the chapter. Good to see some starfighter combat. And the Twi'lek in the latter half... she somehow seemed somewhat familiar... ;)
  9. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    May 11, 2011
    I'm sure I'd love the song if only I knew where to look for it... ;)

    Thanks for the compliments so far!
  10. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    May 11, 2011
    Chapter Four

    Ship's night passed in unnatural quiet, with officers, crewers, soldiers and pilots whispering to each other in hushed tones from station to station, or else huddled together in mess halls or sleeping quarters. Nearly everyone was talking about the astonishing success of the Roche raid, marveling at the destruction of a turncoat capital ship on top of the neutralization of the asteroid's docking and repair facilities. The Marines of the Third Battalion, sequestered in their own barracks, were in high spirits. Many of the enlisted men had begun painting representations of crossed lightsabers on their armor, either on their chests or their shoulders, with some of them referring to themselves as belonging to “Saber Battalion.”

    "You must have had something to do with this," Laera finally said in an accusatory manner that was ruined slightly by the glint in her blue eyes.

    Thedus Bimm, sitting across from Laera's tiny desk in her private quarters, grinned mischievously. "Honestly Captain, this wasn't my idea!" he mock-pleaded. "Though now you mention it, I might have encouraged it by adorning my own armor thus. Besides, look at all you've done! The troops absolutely love you!"

    "I don't want them to love me, I want them to fight!" Laera said, waving the compliment away. This wasn't the time for flattery.

    "They'll fight for you, no doubts there," Bimm replied, still grinning. "Remember when I came over from the 83rd Assault Division? They loved me so much that the other officers instigated a mass ration fight that had the entire ship's security detail breaking it up!"

    “Just my luck,” Laera remarked ruefully. The man opposite him loved hyperbole; he seemed to drink it like caf. “First I die, then I get suckered into Jedi training, and then they stick me back here with you jokers.”

    “Ain't war hell, boss?” Bimm replied with a chuckle.

    “You bet your butt-plate, mister,” Laera shot back. “At least this time I get to hand out the punishments.”

    Bimm recoiled in mock horror, his eyes wide. “Aw, c'mon Cap'n, we've always done right by you!”

    “Yeah yeah, save it for the Sith,” Laera muttered. “Fine. If the men want to start calling themselves Saber Battalion, then so be it, it's now our unit designation. You want to tell Vice Admiral Dun'vei yourself?” After Bimm's shocked silence, which she knew was only partly genuine, continued for almost a minute, she flashed him her best roguish grin. “Tell you what," she purred. "After the mission, if you survive, that'll be your reward. I'll let you make the full report to Dun'vei. If you do good, I may even let you do it by holocomm instead of in-person. Dismissed.”

    Laera had to almost drag the blabbering officer from her quarters, but she knew that the man had enjoyed the exchange as much as she had. Bimm had always been a jokester in garrison, and she had learned to value his ability to lighten the mood, even when things seemed to be at their worst. When out in the field...well, she had never had to worry about him once the fur started flying. She knew that it would be flying thick and fast soon enough.

    With calm once again restored, Laera hit the sack, settling in and falling asleep in moments. She slept restfully, until around 0330 hours...

    Smoke slithers through the corridor, its walls and ceiling flecked with the occasional guttering flame caused by the impact of blaster bolts, with silver-armored bodies lying about at infrequent intervals. The platoon of helmeted Marines, crossed lightsabers painted on their armor, strides past their dead enemies, slain moments before, and advances steadily upon the base's inner command center. The first Marine in line carries not a blaster, but a lightsaber, its cerulean blade lit and poised for defense. As the column comes upon the door to the command center, the saber-wielding officer slashes a hole through the door, bolting through even as it collapses in on itself, its edges red-hot where the lightsaber has cut it. Only a few officers remain at their posts in the room beyond, and those that do not throw up their hands are swiftly cut down by blasterfire. The saber-wielding officer begins looking at computer readouts, helmeted head drawn inexplicably toward an unimportant-looking display in the far corner. Gesticulating madly, the officer beckons for an armored subordinate to come forward and examine the terminal. The junior officer removes his helmet, revealing the furred countenance of a Bothan, and begins throwing commands at the terminal with the practiced ease of a professional code-slicer...

    Laera sat bolt upright in her bunk, gasping as she tossed the sweat-soaked blanket from her as though it were alive. She knew what she had just witnessed was no dream, no result of pre-mission jitters, but a sending from the Force, just as Master Lamar had described. But something about it felt wrong to her, like it hadn't been entirely the will of the Force itself. An oily sheen of darkness seemed to have covered the experience, like a thin veneer of slime smeared over a helmet's visor. Laera began to shiver as she sat, clad only in her undergarments, and only through a supreme effort of concentration was she able to draw upon the Force to calm herself.

    Glancing at her chronometer, she realized that only forty-five Standard minutes remained before it was time to rouse the battalion for the mission. With a slight twinge of nausea, Laera slipped into her armor's black body glove, the feel of its semi-elastic material on her skin helping her to recover from the feeling of having been somehow used for a purpose that was not her own, and without her consent.

    — — —

    As he walked among the vast troop landing bay, crowded with Marines making last-minute preparations and adjustments, Lieutenant Commander Thedus Bimm decided that he rather liked these Jarhead-class landers. Manufactured by Kuat Drive Yards, it was an upgraded version of the original dropship design that had been adopted by the Marines some thirty years ago, give or take. It didn't have that much in the way of firepower, only a pair of turreted double blaster cannons at the top, but it was thickly-armored and boasted an impressive array of deflector shields. Shaped roughly like a wedged box, its forward section housed the cockpit, with the fire control stations situated immediately behind. An armored compartment, where the shields and backup systems resided, separated this from the troop compartment, which was large enough to accommodate fifty-two Marines in full battle gear in something resembling comfort. The rear cabin itself boasted five exits, two on either side, with a large ramp forming the aft end of the hull. The craft's powerful sublight engines were attached to the upper corners of the aft section by heavily-reinforced and armored pylons, making them tempting, if difficult, targets. The engine pods also housed the slow Class 3 hyperdrive motivators, but Thedus supposed that having a hyperdrive was better than not, particularly given the nature of this assault. These boats were not elegant, but then again, they were never intended to be.

    As he arrived at the lander that had been assigned to his First Platoon, Besh Company's commander began to bang on the hull's outer plating, his armored fist making a loud rapping noise. "First Platoon, mount up!" he bellowed.

    The Marines nearby immediately stopped what they were doing and stood at attention, yelling "Sir, yes SIR!" before trotting onto the lander. Throughout the bay company, platoon, and squad commanders were shouting similar orders, and the volume of the din rose sharply as armored boots thudded against metal, beating a steady tattoo as each man and woman marched in lockstep. Once his lead platoon had boarded, Thedus himself entered the lander, taking a seat at the forward port exit hatch and buckling himself in. "Platoon is secure," he announced over the intercom. "Start it up when you're ready!"

    "You got it, sir," the pilot, his voice tinny in the small speaker, replied. Thedus smiled underneath his helmet. Like the Corellian who flew this ship, several of the lander crews had once been smugglers who'd been caught by the Republic, and offered the chance to serve as support pilots for the Marines instead of being sent to a penal colony. They were unpaid, but their service contracts were half as long as those of volunteers, and at the end of their stints their records would be expunged and they'd be given government trading licenses. The man piloting this ship had been busted ferrying guns to a band of Mandalorian mercenaries a year back; apparently he had decided that having aided and abetted a known enemy would not get him good treatment on a prison world, and had eagerly signed up with the Marines.

    Thedus smiled to himself when he considered the insertion plan. Once the force of some thirty landing craft had disembarked from the Stalwart Defender, they would make a small hyperspace jump right into Iridonia's gravity well, designed to pull them back into realspace on a direct trajectory toward the target. Dorn Company's landers would split off and head in first to neutralize the outposts while the starfighter squadrons provided aerospace cover. Aurek and Besh Companies would hit the main facility, their landers hitting groundside in a perimeter around the base so that the massed blasterfire from the turreted cannons would keep the enemy's heads down long enough for the Marines to debark and beat feet for the outer walls, where they would blast improvised doors through which they would launch gas and concussion grenades before storming in. Cresh Company, meanwhile, would land elsewhere and wait for the base to be cleared before they, along with the rest of the battalion, began humping out the purloined supplies that were, ostensibly, the primary objective.

    This was the kind of sucker-punch assault that he loved.

    As the engines roared to life, sending sweet vibrations throughout the hull, the overhead speaker whistled, signaling the commencement of a broadcast intended for the entire force. "Attention, Third Battalion," the crisp, ironclad tones of Captain Laera Reyolé rang throughout the troop compartment. "We have a green light for Operation Hornhead, liftoff in thirty seconds. See you all on the ground."

    — — —

    Chak fidgeted with his flight gloves once more, then rubbed his lucky charm before gripping the control stick of his Aurek fighter once again. Back in space, back on the wing of Shabu Five in about the middle of the squadron formation, he watched as the first of the landing force emerged from the belly of the massive battlecruiser that was the head and heart of the task force to which he belonged. The 23rd Marines, along with the 52nd's Navy flyers, had launched some ten minutes prior in order to keep a sharp eye and finely-tuned scanner out for any nasty surprises. The twenty-four starfighters took a weaving course over and ahead of the formation of assault craft as it formed up, so that they could quickly orient themselves toward any uninvited guests.

    The ensign knew his part in the plan: once the landers jumped, a counter would start; once it reached zero, the Aureks would follow the same course. The intent was to have all the attacking ships pop into realspace at or about the same time, both for defensibility and maximum psychological impact when the enemy saw so many ships popping up on their screens at once. While the 52nd flew combat aerospace patrol, it would be the 23rd's job to suppress any heavy, planetary defense-grade weapons the enemy might possess, as well as to provide distractions for the anti-air guns of the outposts. It would be dangerous work, but Chak reveled in the challenge, his appetite whetted and confidence boosted in the wake of the Roche raid.

    Now assembled, the thirty landers of the Third Marine Battalion seemed to elongate, and then disappear entirely as they jumped to lightspeed and their destiny. Chak Ravartin, like the rest of his comrades, then touched a button that initiated the all-important countdown.

    — — —

    Laera sat at the forward starboard exit hatch, the helmet she wore obscuring her face. For once she was glad of it, as it hid her expression from the rest of Second Platoon, Besh Company, all of whom now sported the crossed lightsabers that had just recently become the unofficial unit emblem. Still slightly uneasy in the wake of the corrupted Force vision, she wished she'd had more time to address her troops. There was something about offering words of encouragement to others that had always helped her to put her own mind at ease; it was only now that she realized how much of a difference it made. There was no help for it, however; the mission was a go and the transports were already in hyperspace.

    No one aboard said much of anything, everyone seemed to be dwelling on their own private thoughts and fears. Laera didn't need the Force to know that tension was steadily building amongst her troops; she knew full well from years of experience that this was in fact perfectly normal. It was the operations in which those involved had gone in cold, with no anxiety, no budding apprehension, that so frequently led to disaster. The promises of a "blue milk run" were ignored amongst the Corps as a matter of course. After all, if a unit of Marines needed to be sent into a given situation, any hope for a minimum of bloodshed had long since been shoved out an airlock without a vac-suit.
    To her left, the young Bothan ensign Silas Dan'kre tapped Laera on her shoulder plate. She looked at him, he seemed to be mouthing a question. She touched a finger to her chin, indicating that he should activate his helmet's comm system; apparently he had forgotten about that. The rookie seemed to take the hint, however. "Captain, a moment?"

    "What is it, kid?" Laera asked, determinedly keeping her tone light.

    The Bothan gestured toward his own blaster carbine. "I couldn't help but notice your lack of a weapon, ma'am," Dan'kre said, confusion evident in his voice. "Did you forget to draw one from the armory?"

    Laera laughed in spite of herself. If I'm not careful, she thought to herself, I'll have another Bimm to deal with, which will do horrible things to my sanity. "No, Ensign, I didn't forget," she said aloud, bringing the lightsaber attached to her utility belt into view. "I've got my lightstick with me, which is all I'll ever need for this mission."

    "I see," the Bothan replied, not quite believing his eyes or ears. He'd seen the impromptu demonstration she'd given several days ago now, and he wasn't hopelessly ignorant of the Jedi, but he still found it a bit intimidating.

    Through the Force, Laera sensed his disquiet. "It's okay to be nervous, kid. Like I said before, stick with me and you'll be fine."

    "Yes ma'am," Dan'kre replied, managing to summon up some small measure of confidence.
    "Thirty seconds to reversion," the pilot announced through the intercom.

    — — —

    "All ships are away, Admiral," the young junior lieutenant announced as she stood beside the flag officer at Stalwart Defender's bridge viewports. "Captain Tyr reports 'ready to launch' for the remaining Aurek squadrons."

    "Thank you, Lieutenant," the silver-haired Hetton replied. "Signal the task force, we jump in two minutes."

    "Aye-aye, sir," the yeoman replied crisply.

    "While you're at it," Hetton added, "please remind Jedi Wellir aboard the Endar Spire to have his Padawan keep her mind open. I think he will understand what I mean."

    With a nod, the yeoman departed to relay the admiral's orders to the communications officer, leaving Hetton to once again gaze at the tableau of stars before him. The one thing he disliked about the battlecruiser's design, which was otherwise as good as any produced by Republic engineers, was the vastly overlarge bridge and command deck. He suspected that the aft bridge alone could have comfortably housed a performance of the full Coruscant Philharmonic, with enough room left over on the walkway from the forward viewports to the aftmost crew pits to comfortably seat a thousand patrons. As it stood, nearly half that number could be observed on the bridge at any one time, either manning various stations, standing post as guards, undertaking maintenance or repairs, or relaying reports of various kinds to and from other parts of the ship.

    The Stalwart Defender's commander, who had been Hetton's executive officer before his promotion to rear admiral, was off at the back, monitoring the navigational computer's readouts. Both officers had been somewhat apprehensive—at least at first—about the course that the mission planner had plotted for the task force. But there was no time now for second-guesses; as Captain Reyolé had said the previous day, everything was as ready as it could ever be.

    Captain Nor Melao soon arrived at Hetton's side. "All stations report ready," he advised. "All other ships report likewise. Thirty seconds to jump."

    "Excellent, Captain," Hetton replied, turning to regard the straw-haired officer. "Maybe today we'll get to put the old girl to good use."

    The countdown passed in silence, then the stars seemed to stretch out before them.
  11. TrakNar

    TrakNar Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Apr 4, 2011
    Something tells me that Laera should listen to her Spider-sense... this blue milk run may not be as it seems.
  12. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    May 11, 2011
    Chapter Five

    Roughly five thousand kilometers above the surface of the homeworld of his species, far beyond the physical sight of any organic being, fifty-four blots of life suddenly appeared within the Force, some smaller than others. Acaadi smiled to himself as he walked the perimeter of the Sith-run supply base in the predawn gloom, satisfied that he'd soon fulfill his purpose here. The dark warrior could sense the battle to come, as clear as cut crystal; he had in fact been sensing it for days. The tang on his tongue had been unmistakable, exquisite, triggering his inner bloodlust. So had it been when he had fought the Mandalorians, then as a Jedi, though he had been taught to shunt it aside, and so it had been when he had fought his former allies, allied with his former enemies, to free his world from the weaknesses that ensnared it.

    The Mandalorian war had been like a wake-up call for Acaadi. He'd been a Jedi for as long as he could remember, a selfless protector of the weak, a defender of the Republic, and he had eagerly joined Revan and Malak's crusade to punish those who would claim to be so strong as to conquer the galaxy. The fights he had engaged in, the battles he had won, the enemies he had slain, were all fresh in his mind's eye, his memories like battle trophies that would always be there and would never tarnish. He had reveled in it all; not even the Marines he had fought alongside could appreciate true war, not as he did. They prattled on about honor, about loyalty and self-sacrifice, but he had come to see those delusions as folly. The Jedi Crusaders, now the dark Lords of a resurgent Sith Empire, had opened his eyes to the one essential truth: there was no good and evil, there was only power, and those too weak to seek it. And he had taken great joy in helping to spread that message to the other Jedi. The irony of it all struck him as fitting, quite fitting, for he had become something of an expert in freeing other beings from the weakened, stagnant beast of the Republic and the Jedi Order, opening them to the power of the dark side and the Sith who mastered it.

    Now that he knew for sure that the attack was at hand, Acaadi simply kept on strolling, not bothering to alert the phalanx of troopers who ran the base and supervised the distribution of the war matériel held within. Why would he want to warn the prattling scum who did not witness war, experience battle the way he did, when they wouldn't know what to do against the tide of destruction that was, even now, pointed directly at them? No, Acaadi would not warn his minions, because that brightest spot in the Force, that was what intrigued him. He wanted this...special arrive intact, so that he could engage in face-to-face combat, and once again claim another successful seduction. His smile having turned into a feral grin that was all teeth, the black-cloaked Zabrak picked a spot and lurked there.

    This was going to be most entertaining.

    — — —

    Lieutenant Commander Chek Nessai had passed the trip in the same tension-building silence as the rest of her First Platoon. In the windowless, armored compartment, she could not see the mottling of hyperspace as it shattered into thousands of lines, but she could feel through the hull as the hyperdrive cut out, the vibrations pitching slightly higher as the lander was yanked out of hyperspace, then growing in intensity as the sublight drives kicked in.

    “Reversion complete,” the pilot announced. “On course and looking good. Atmospheric entry in...ten minutes!”

    Like many of the Marines crammed into their landers, the hardened veteran knew that these next ten minutes would be among the longest of her life. This silent charge into who knew what, without knowledge or forewarning, but with a certainty that death was a constant companion, took a special brand of courage, one that the Marines of the Galactic Republic prided on having found within themselves.

    Almost in spite of the mounting tension, the battle-scarred company commander found herself smiling, albeit grimly, because the leader of the strike force had done her homework. The Third Battalion knew, roughly, what they were up against; they knew, also, what their mission was and where their priorities lay. Their commander had faced the worst that the Mandalorians could inflict, and had come back swinging. Both women had had that in common, and because of this, Chek Nessai was willing to follow Captain Reyolé through all nine Corellian hells and back, sacrificing everything if need be in order to get the job done.

    The lander began to buck as it made contact with hard atmosphere, screaming in at an almost suicidal angle in a Mandalorian-style nosedive. Chek threw a glance toward the jump-light, which still blazed red. After several more moments of rumbling, she checked again, and saw that it had just begun to glow bright yellow.

    “Stand ready!” she yelled into her helmet's comlink, suiting action to words by unstrapping herself and standing upright. Along with the rest of the platoon, she gripped the upper railings as the lander pulled up hard, the gravitational forces too much for the acceleration compensator to fully bear.
    The next ten seconds ticked by like hours, like lifetimes...

    — — —

    The young ensign flying Shabu Six marveled as the tunnel vista of hyperspace dashed itself against the gravity well of Iridonia, the blazing lines shrinking back into the pinpricks of stars partially occluded by the world below. The flotilla of dropships, with their fighter escort, had arrived exactly as planned, on the terminator line between day and night, with dawn having just broken over the target area. As the attack force continued down the planetary well, Chak watched as the first wave of four landers detached themselves from the main force, pulling ahead and angling toward their own targets.

    “Shabu Squadron, we're on the leaders,” Commander Juyode announced over the comm. “Two, three, you're on me for the first lander; Four, Five and Six, on the second; Seven, Eight, and Nine, take the third; Ten, Eleven and Twelve, stick with the last one. Keep a sharp eye, mark targets as they appear, and give'em all you got!”

    The Marine pilots responded exuberantly, splitting up as ordered and accelerating to attack speed as they locked their wings in extended position and armed their weapons. The three-ship elements took up triangle formations in front of their assigned landers, intending to plow the road for them as they lumbered toward the drop zones. Chak took the starboard quarter behind Shabu Five, as Four took station to port. The ensign glanced back in his cockpit for a visual confirmation that he was in formation, turning about to refocus his sensors on the approaching target. By sheer dint of luck, his flight had been detailed to the shuttle heading for the initial point of insertion, that one tower that was slightly out-of-place.

    — — —

    “Green light, green light, go go go!” Chek bellowed as the interior was bathed with flashing verdant light. The side hatches and rear ramp hissed open, and the low glow of dawn began to spill into the craft from its starboard side even as it rattled under the weight of several hits from blaster cannon fire. The officer was first out of the lander, unlimbering her carbine as she sprinted forward, unleashing a string of blaster bolts in the general direction of the tower even as three Aurek fighters screamed by overhead. She was followed quickly by the rest of the first squad, who showered the outpost with fire while the rest of the platoon disembarked and followed suit.

    “First Squad, on me!” she ordered. “Second and Third, suppressing fire!”

    As most of her troops spread out, bathing the outpost in the crimson glow of blasterfire, she sprinted the hundred meters toward the outpost entrance, spraying the door with packets of coherent light even as an armored hand made to shut it in her face. The dark form of the enemy trooper fell forward, clearly dead, forcing the door in the opposite direction he had intended. Bracing herself against the wall beside the entrance, she waited briefly for enough of her men to stack up alongside her.

    “Breach, breach, breach!” Chek warned, tossing a concussion grenade into the dark room beyond. It went off with a crump that would have been quite painful were it not for her helmet's aural protection. Flicking on their helmet lights, she and the squad of Marines behind her sprinted into the room, only to find it empty. “Clear!” she announced while issuing hand signals to her Marines. “Move up and fan out!”

    With the rest of her platoon outside providing a mobile base of fire in addition to the blaster cannons of the lander, Chek led the first squad as they progressed by fire teams through the small complex. Within half a minute, the dozen silver-armored, black-masked troopers defending it were dead, so stunned that they hadn't been able to get off more than a handful of poorly-aimed shots at their assailants. Chak made her way to the central part of the outpost, situated on a second level. “Sergeant, check that turret,” she ordered a nearby Marine.

    “Still operational, ma'am,” he replied.

    “Good,” Chek replied. “Get it operational, and start firing into the air, let's make those murglaks in the base think they still own it." After receiving a nod from the sergeant, who had requisitioned a corporal into helping him, she adjusted her comlink. "Good job, First Platoon," she said, then adjusted it again. "Hornhead Spear to Hornhead Hammer,” she muttered into Third Battalion's tactical frequency. “First one's free. Tab's on me.”

    — — —

    Laera smiled to herself as the leader of Dorn Company relayed the codewords she'd hoped to hear. Just then, her lander's jump-light switched to yellow, and she unbuckled and stood up with the rest of the platoon. “Good job, Spear,” she replied. “Let the good times roll.”

    So far, so good, she thought to herself as the landing craft hauled back into its pull-out maneuver, jarring the occupants of the troop compartment.

    — — —

    “We have green light for drop,” Thedus Bimm bellowed. “Move your asses, Marines!”

    As the hatches and ramp popped open, Thedus and his company's First Platoon jumped the two meters to the ground as the lander hovered in place, bathing the outer wall of the main base in fire from its blaster cannons. The men and women of his company bellowed war cries as they sprinted toward their objective, adding their own carbines to the hail of crimson death. Nearby, other landers had begun to deposit their troops, who put up just as much of a ruckus. As he neared the wall, he heard the codewords over the battalion frequency, which prompted him to run even faster. “Demolitions,” he yelled as he put his back to the barrier. “Get your gear up here and blow us some holes!”

    The whine of blaster carbines and roaring of their heavier counterparts didn't quite drown out the thumping of armored boots on hard ground as the platoon with which he had dropped caught up to him. Four men detached themselves from the main body, digging items from the packs of their fellows, so that within a matter of seconds, four breaching charges had been set. “Breaching, breaching!” they yelled, as the charges imploded the wall to form man-sized holes, through which they tossed small thermal detonators. “Fire in the hole!”

    Gouts of blue-white flame erupted from each hole, missing the Marines nearest to the breaches, as they had taken cover at the warnings from the demo men. All along the outside perimeter of the supply base, similar explosions were taking place as the two companies of the main force Marines systematically tore through the three-meter barrier. “Besh is in,” Thedus said into the tactical comm as he and his men made their way forward. “Advancing on the center.”

    — — —

    As Laera jumped from her own lander, unhooking and igniting her lightsaber as she impacted the ground, she took in the reports from her platoon and company commanders. The second outpost tower had fallen, while Aurek and half of Besh Company had succeeded in breaching the outer wall, with Cresh taking up their assigned holding positions. Cresh, as "Hornhead Smuggler", had been sent in on nearly-empty landers, each one with only a squad aboard, as their purpose was to haul away all the goods and armaments that the rest of the battalion could lay hands on.

    Sprinting toward the section of wall nearest to her lander, Laera skidded to a halt as she reached it. Stabbing her lightsaber into the barrier, she steadily carved out a hole more than three humans wide as the rest of Second Platoon caught up. “Save the demos,” she said, gesturing to the gaping maw as a pair of Marines came forward with their packs. The two shook their heads in bemusement as the rest of the platoon advanced around them.

    “Hornhead Overwatch, report,” Laera called into the tactical frequency as the platoon sprinted toward a hatchway on the inner complex's wall.

    “Overwatch here,” Commander Veris Elli reported from her Aurek fighter somewhere overhead. “Skies are clear, but we've got scattered fire from Point Spear-One, looks like they're demonstrating. Hammer Point is largely clear of hostiles...wait one...” The comm went dead for a moment, during which time the platoon stacked up along the complex wall. So far, in her opinion, things had been too quiet. “Hammer, we've got movement about half a klick from you, forty-plus foot-mobiles running full tilt toward your location.”

    “Thanks, Overwatch, out,” Laera replied. “Hornhead Scalpel, we could use a run right about now...”

    — — —

    “...coordinates to follow,” the comm unit spoke with the voice of the Third Battalion commander. Chak flipped his primary monitor over to superimpose the incoming location onto a map of the area, which painted a target not far from where his formation was flying.

    “Four, Five, Six, take them,” Shabu Lead ordered.

    Almost as one, the three Aureks banked hard toward the indicated position. Chak brought his laser targeting reticule up, centering it on the small formation of armored troops that was barely visible in the dawn light. “Shabu Six has eyes on,” he reported. “Guns guns guns!”

    On the ground, the heavy laser cannons of the three attacking starfighters raked through the platoon of Sith troopers, ripping them to shreds before they could even react to the incoming threat.

    — — —

    "Good work, Scalpel," Laera said into the tactical comm as the Aureks pulled up from their strafing run. The attack had bathed the area in fire, which further illuminated the complex even as Iridonia's sun continued to rise. "Dan'kre, you still with me?" she called as the platoon stacked up outside the hatchway they'd been aiming for.

    The Bothan moved to join the human captain by the entrance. "Yes ma'am," he said confidently.
    Laera smiled. She had known that, once the curtain had risen, the young ensign would forget his doubts and focus on the mission. "Good," she said to him with a nod. "You any good with that carbine?"

    Dan'kre responded with a brisk nod, bringing his weapon up and holding it to his armored chest.
    "Then let's kick this pig open and see what awaits us inside!" Laera yelled as, with one great swipe of her cerulean blade, she knocked the heavy door down.

    — — —

    From within his hiding place, the Dark Jedi watched through the Force as the battle progressed. All four of the outposts had now fallen to the rampaging Marines, who were even at that moment breaching the inner complex after having taken almost no casualties. He had been able to witness with his physical self the three Republic starfighters as they had decimated a cluster of defending Sith troopers.

    The sight had been glorious.

    Acaadi knew, however, that it would soon be time to move. The overwhelming number of troops on the ground, with the help of so much air support, all but guaranteed a victory for the Republic's ground forces. His only recourse now lay in corrupting that one bright spot in the Force who, even as he watched, cut her way into the base...
  13. TrakNar

    TrakNar Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Apr 4, 2011
    It's good to see the battalion working together, completing their objectives and functioning like cogs in a well-oiled machine. It's a definite change from the almost childish and disorganized lot that threw rocks at Laera during briefings and engaged in food fights.

    Those void-brained maggots... Certainly not from Tuffass's platoon! You learn respect in Tuffass's platoon! </GySgt Tuffass>

    Anywho, it's nice to see the battalion grow up and act as they should. The attack seems to have gone off without a hitch, though I suspect things may not be what they seem...
  14. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    May 11, 2011
    Chapter Six

    The task force under the command of Rear Admiral Kedlis Hetton reverted to realspace just as planned, with the four warships taking up their position as the Marines and their fighter escort were completing their descent into the extremes of Iridonia's upper atmosphere. “Reversion complete, Admiral,” Captain Melao reported. “The fleet will be on-station in a matter of moments.”

    “Good,” Hetton replied, rising from his command chair and striding forward along the upper bridge walkway, his hands clasped at the small of his back. “Bring the cruisers to delta-forward formation. Inform Captain Tyr that he is to launch his squadrons immediately, taking up station between us and our cruisers. All ships are to minimize their sensor signatures by any means available.”

    “Aye aye, sir,” Melao replied. The two men nodded to each other as the captain made to relay the admiral's orders.

    For the next several minutes, Hetton kept his eye on the landing force's progress via the sensor officer's telemetry screens. As they made planetfall, the reports coming through over their tactical frequencies could be heard over the communications officer's console, toward which the flotilla commander gravitated. He allowed a slight smile to crease his otherwise rather bland brow, as he noted the swift progress of Captain Reyolé's Marines.

    In the starfield beyond the forward viewports, the crest of Iridonia's day side could just be made out against the moon behind which the task force lurked.

    — — —

    The boom from the heavy door's impact against the brightly-lit corridor floor hadn't quite faded before Laera and the first squad of her Marines had dashed into the complex, stacking up against the walls for cover as they approached the nearest intersection. Silently gesturing for her troops to ready themselves, she extended her awareness into the Force, looking for the telltale auras of nearby lifeforms. Those of her Third Battalion were easily filtered out; most of them she already knew well enough that they blended into the background as she concentrated on finding signatures that were unfamiliar. For the moment, however, she could feel no hostiles in the platoon's immediate vicinity.
    As the rest of the platoon poured into the corridor, Laera gestured for the formation to split up by squads. “Stick close,” she reminded Ensign Dan'kre with a whisper. “Second Squad, on me. First and Third, fan out. Keep it tight and don't take any chances.”

    A chorus of nods greeted her orders, and as Laera guided the dozen Marines of Besh Company's Second Squad, Second Platoon deeper into the complex, the other squads progressed onward in other directions. She didn't have to broadcast similar orders to the other units over the tactical comm; this kind of breach-and-clear operation was commonplace enough that the individual platoon and squad leaders could coordinate their roles without further instructions.

    Keeping a steady pace, her lightsaber still lit and poised to pick off incoming blasterfire, Laera led her troops into the heart of the complex, toward where she suspected the command center was situated. As the squad progressed, she kept her Force-perception sharp, on the lookout for enemy personnel. After a few minutes of near-silent progress, she began to wonder where the Sith garrison had got to. Ordering her squad to take up a defensive posture within a large storage area, situated off a hallway not far from the complex's core and full of supply crates, she got on the tactical net. “Hornhead Hammer to Hammer Two-Actual, report!”

    — — —

    The smoke had only begun to clear when the tactical comm buzzed inside Thedus Bimm's helmet. Before replying, he gestured toward the squad accompanying him, signaling the Marines to hold up and stand ready. “Hammer Two-Actual here. We're making steady progress; all four towers were taken more or less intact. The Sith in the main facility are putting up a scrap, but they don't seem all that keen on holding this place. We just ran into a mob of them, but they retreated before we could get off more than a handful of shots.”

    The comm was silent for a moment as Thedus mulled over the possible implications of this lack of eagerness on the part of the Sith—something he strongly suspected his captain was also doing. Finally, she responded. “I don't like it,” Laera's voice spoke into his comlink. “Call me crazy, but I've got a bad feeling about this.”

    “Call you crazy, ma'am?” Thedus replied with a snort. “Perish the thought! Got any special orders for us?”

    The senior officer's reply was decidedly direct. “Hornhead Hammer to all ground units: clear this place out and secure for possible counterattack.”

    — — —

    “Let's move out, people,” Laera ordered her squad as they left the storage room and resumed their recon of the base. Turning left at a T-junction, she began to pick out the auras of enemy troops. “Incoming!” she hissed after they had progressed only a few dozen meters; at her signal, the troopers divided their column into two, each crouching against the walls as, around another corner, a half-dozen silver-clad soldiers marched. The Marines didn't need orders or permission to fire, and within a quarter-minute, all six Sith were dead on the floor, their armor smoking from several blaster hits apiece.

    The troopers continued forward, taking the corridor from which their recently-deceased antagonists had come, maintaining their two-column, wall-hugging formation. Only a few Sith soldiers could be picked out through the Force as Laera's squad advanced. As they approached the inner command center, a quartet of grenadiers tossed their ordnance into the hallway at the Marines' feet, but with a sharp push of her palm, the Jedi sent them back at their attackers. Their auras vanished as they died, killed by their own grenades.

    “Close one, ma'am,” the squad's sergeant commented.

    “A little too close,” Laera replied, shaking her head ruefully. Oh, how handy that would have been back on Onderon! she thought to herself, glad that her troopers couldn't see the ugly expression on her face.

    Turning the final bend before entering the corridor that led to the complex's nerve center as she sprinted ahead of her Marines, Laera once again brought her blade up. Three more enemy soldiers immediately opened fire on her; two bolts missed wide, but the third she was able to send back at her attacker, though it missed him by a meter. Whirling her blade in a steady cadence, she picked off more bolts, increasing her rebounding accuracy, so that by the time the rest of the squad had caught up, all three of her opponents were dead. With the way forward clear, they dashed toward the far end of the hall, whereupon Laera slashed the door open with her lightsaber before deactivating it. Bashing her way through and tucking into a shoulder-roll, she regained her feet and brought her reignited weapon up as she assessed the threats beyond.

    The room itself was dark, in contrast to the stark lighting of the base's corridors and hallways, lit only by the glowing of many monitors, planar and holographic. Several unmasked Sith officers and technicians could be seen sitting at various monitoring stations. At least two of them were foolish enough to scramble for weapons, only to be cut down before they could so much as grip their sidearms. The rest, however, raised their hands in surrender, but before Laera could order her men to take them into custody, the words she had been hoping against were broadcast over the comm...

    — — —

    Admiral Hetton was listening in at the comm console when the sensor officer spoke up. “Admiral, we have enemy ships decanting from hyperspace over the target area!”

    The flag officer wheeled about, his green eyes flashing. “Class and numbers, Lieutenant?”
    “I count three—no, four Interdictor-class cruisers! They are launching fighters!”

    “How many, and in what direction?”

    “Only about a squadron each, sir,” the sensor officer replied. “They're taking up patrol stations, the capitals are in loose diamond formation, oriented parallel to the surface and heading for an outbound vector.”

    The admiral cursed to himself. He'd suspected this, had told the Marine captain that it was a possibility, but even he was surprised at the power of the reinforcements that had been dispatched—if the four enemy warships out there were in fact reinforcements. Whether they were intended to repel the Republic's attack or had simply stopped by for supplies, it was impossible to tell; nevertheless, this could mean serious trouble. Fortunately, their actions suggested that this was just a routine pit stop on their way to some other battle, and that meant he had options. “Bring the task force around on an intercept course," Hetton ordered, maintaining his cool. "At least we can hit their back ranks before they realize what's going on down there. Comms, send the codewords.”

    — — —

    Chak Ravartin heard the words, his mouth opening in a choked-off gasp as he pulled out from a strafing run on a retreating column of Sith troopers. “Hornhead Capital to all units: the horn has been severed; repeat, the horn has been severed!”

    “Shabus, form up and strike for space,” Commander Juyode ordered over the squadron channel. “Set course two-oh-two and link up with Dalus. Let's bag us some Sith fighters!”

    As Chak swung his Aurek around to rendezvous with his flight, he mulled over the possibilities. He knew, by use of that specific phrase, that enemy reinforcements had arrived, and it would be up to the two squadrons of Republic starfighters to engage the incoming formation as best they could from head-on. This would, ideally, make the enemy focus on them, while the rest of the task force's fighters and capital ships hit them from the other side. The prospects were not particularly good, and the young ensign had cause to dislike them even more when his primary monitor informed him of the extent of the threat: four enemy capital ships and, potentially, sixteen entire squadrons worth of Sith interceptors.

    — — —

    No sooner had the second word in the code phrase been uttered than Laera sprang into action. Throwing all caution to the wind, she called upon the Force in a great leap that took her up in a grand arc toward the room's high ceiling, to land in a graceful crouch atop the communications station. Within a half-second, she had stabbed her weapon deep into the console's inner workings; it spat sparks that caused the officer stationed there, who had only begun to surrender, to leap back from it, her dour face white with terror. “Squad, deal with these prisoners,” the captain spat as she dismounted the ruined piece of equipment.

    As the Marines rushed to obey, slapping flex-binders on the handful of officers whose hands had been raised, Laera looked about the room. With a lurch in the pit of her stomach, she recognized the configuration of one console, tucked away near the far corner of the large command center. “Dan'kre, get up here!” she ordered, striding toward the terminal.

    “Yes, ma'am?” the Bothan inquired as he joined his superior officer at the console.

    “You've got slicer training, right?” Laera asked hurriedly.

    “Yes, ma'am; I was an amateur slicer before joining the military. They trained me further—”

    “Never mind that,” Laera snapped, pointing at the terminal. “Get into that thing and drain it dry. I want every byte of data you can suck out of it, as well as every other intact computer on this base, encrypted or not.”

    “Yes ma'am!” Dan'kre replied as, removing his helmet, he slipped into a seat and began tapping at the interface, his fingers skittering across it with frantic purpose.

    — — —

    As Chak and the rest of Shabu and Dalus Squadrons burned sky, closing the distance between them and the leading vanguard of Sith fighters at maximum velocity, he began to rub almost frantically at his charm. Busting up an asteroid depot that hadn't even known they were under attack before the first volley had hit was one thing, but rushing headlong into battle against superior odds was something else entirely. He, like the rest of the two dozen Aurek pilots, kept their reservations to themselves. Until they closed the distance, all they could do was to make sure that their shields and weapons were at full capacity. It's a good thing we scrimped on the torps, he thought to himself.

    “Fifteen seconds to max firing range,” Shabu Lead announced. “Prepare proton torpedoes for volley fire, launch on my mark!”

    Chak made the necessary adjustments, his hands somewhat unsteady as they gripped the flight controls. The range-to-target indicator on his primary monitor scrolled rapidly downward, with the pilot starting to sweat as it did so. You're doing fine, the alien, yet comforting thought slipped into his mind at that moment. It used his own words, seemingly drawing upon his own inner confidence and skill, bringing it to the fore. Just relax and keep loose...

    Chak smiled in spite of himself. His senses seemed to snap into an almost super-focus; he could see and feel everything around him as though he'd been given a stim-shot. When Shabu Lead ordered volley-fire, he noticed that the commander, too, seemed to sound more sure of himself. Dutifully, the ensign dual-launched his proton torpedoes, and almost immediately, two Sith interceptors flashed into fragments amidst two magnificent fireballs. Those weren't the only two to go up in flames, however, not by a long shot...

    “Shabu Squadron, break by pairs and fire at will!”

    — — —

    Acaadi smiled wickedly to himself from where he lurked, hidden, near the supply depot's command center where he had known his target would go. He had sensed the arrival of the Sith task force, had sensed too that they had not arrived expecting battle, but they were more than adequate to repel this pathetic Republic assault. Soon, this skirmish would be but a memory, and an entire battalion of the Republic's finest troops, along with their expensive landers, would be ground beneath the mighty tread of the Sith Empire. He relished the thought of corrupting the Jedi officer in the next room, who he vaguely recognized. It would be a most exquisite thing to add her power to that of the Sith—it would more than make up for his failure to seduce his former comrade, Duqua Dar. If this officer was who he felt she might be, then he would indeed be greatly rewarded by the Dark Lord for bringing her to him.

    In the midst of these appealing thoughts, he began to sense the effects of a new presence in the Force. It was not located within the complex—it wasn't even based anywhere on this world—but it resonated with strength and confidence, touching minds throughout the surrounding area and...around the moon? “That can't be right,” the dark Zabrak warrior whispered to himself. “Why would this power focus itself in such a far-off area?, it can't be...”

    His hopes dashed only moments after he had given them purchase, Acaadi knew that this battle would not be the foregone conclusion he had thought inevitable. His Republic adversary had been cleverer than he had given her credit for; she had brought her own spaceborne reinforcements, a powerful force that was augmented by the strength of Jedi battle meditation. This was going to get ugly.
  15. TrakNar

    TrakNar Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Apr 4, 2011
    Oh dear... Looks like this blue milk run isn't going to go as smoothly. However, it seems that for Acaadi, his plan won't go as smoothly as he intended, either. Can't wait to see what ace Laera has up her sleeve.
  16. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    May 11, 2011
    Chapter Seven

    Laera removed her helmet, drawing out the comlink and fastening it to her ear as the rhythmic sounds of Dan'kre's slicing activities tapped out a tuneless mantra. Save for the Bothan's efforts, the command center had descended into silence, with the troopers of her squad covering the three entrances into the room and keeping an eye on their prisoners. The Marine captain took advantage of the momentary silence to obtain reports from Third Battalion's company commanders. “Hornhead Hammer to all ground units, let's have a sitrep.”

    “Hammer One Actual here,” Aurek Company's commander replied. “Our sectors are clear; we've taken a few casualties, but the Sith troopers are all down. We've got workers fleeing into the countryside, however.”

    “Two Actual here,” Bimm's voice came back, excited. “Same situation here, all sectors clear. They've taken to the hills and we're setting up a defensive perimeter.”

    “Scalpel here, all sectors are clear,” Chek Nessai reported, her tone satisfied. “We've got four outposts up and operational; if the Sith fighters break through and make a run on us, we'll be ready.”
    Laera nodded to herself, allowing a small smile to dimple her left cheek. Despite the presence of Sith reinforcements in the space overhead, the situation on the ground couldn't be better, and a sense of indomitable confidence stole through her mind. “Good work, everyone,” she said. “Smuggler, bring your landers inside and get ready to load'em up. Hammers One and Two, send whoever you can spare to assist.”

    A chorus of acknowledgments came back over the comm. Laera turned away from where she had been monitoring Dan'kre's progress, and walked over to a sensor display. Bringing up a live feed from an exterior camera, she watched as the landers of Cresh Company rose into the air and landed inside the outer perimeter. Through some miracle of piloting skill, all fourteen of their landers were able to fit onto the supply docks, which was a relief considering how vulnerable the whole operation now was to a massed orbital bombardment. Looking like armored ants, the soldiers swarmed from their vessels and into the complex, eager to take advantage of the impromptu fire sale.

    The officer was about to call up a schematic of the planet and its surrounding satellites in order to get an idea of what forces the Sith had brought when a prickling sensation at the back of her neck caused her to look up and around. Laera watched as a shadow flitted into the room from the far passageway, but before she could shout a warning, the silence was rent by the snap-hiss of a lightsaber. A crimson shaft of energy lanced outward and sliced two of her troopers in half; the two Marines crumpled noiselessly, as though they were some sort of puppets whose manipulator cables had been cut.

    — — —

    “Five minutes to maximum firing range, Admiral,” the sensor officer advised.

    Staring gimlet-eyed through the forward viewports, though he knew that it was no use, Admiral Hetton nodded in acknowledgement of the lieutenant's warning. “Comms, put me through to the fleet,” he replied.

    “Aye-eye, sir!”

    “All ships, this is Admiral Hetton. Our enemy outnumbers and outguns us, but we've got'em by the tail this time, and we're going to make them pay for it. Captain Tyr, your Aureks will break by squadron and unload their proton torpedoes into each enemy cruiser, then go for the fighters. Endar Spire, Delta Dagger, Horseshoe and Stalwart Defender, hold fire until I give the order, then hit the nearest cruiser with everything we've got.”

    “The fleet's responding, sir,” Comms said. “We're ready.”

    “Sir, the formation is breaking apart,” the sensor officer said, dumbstruck. “The planetside squadrons are decimating their fighter force, and the cruisers are balking! They're moving out of position for covering fire!”

    Hetton motioned for the comm officer to mute the fleet channel. “What do you mean?” he asked the lieutenant at the sensor station.

    “I don't know, sir,” the young officer replied. “It's like they're...I don't know how to say it...but they're scared off somehow! The trailing cruiser of their diamond formation is slowing down, the two on their wings are peeling off. By the time we get into optimum range, the enemy ships won't be able to cover each other!”

    By the Force! Hetton swore to himself, awestruck. Then he grinned, a feral smile that he couldn't recall having given before, and signaled for the resumption of communications. “All ships, move to attack speed and fire as you bear! Hit those Sith bastards with everything you've got!”

    — — —

    In the space above Iridonia, all hell broke loose. Nova, Vorda, Palo and Thex, the four squadrons of starfighters that had stayed behind with Admiral Hetton's task force, suddenly screamed ahead, unleashing massed volleys of proton torpedoes as they bore down on the four Interdictor-class cruisers of the Sith fleet. The enemy ships' defensive fire was scattered and, for the most part, ineffectual, and sheets of blue fire enveloped their shields. They continued to launch their compliments of Sith interceptors, but they came out piecemeal, and were easy prey for the two units of Aureks that had gone in with the landing force. Shabu and Dalus had only lost three fighters between them, with two pilots succeeding in going extravehicular, but they had destroyed twice their number among the opposition in the first few minutes of the engagement.

    As the Republic cruisers, backed up by their massive flagship, came into range, they unleashed a withering barrage of turbolasers, ion cannons, and proton torpedoes. The three Hammerhead-class cruisers at the head of the formation caught the trailing Sith capital ship in a murderous crossfire, collapsing its deflectors, boiling off armor plating, and puncturing gun turrets. The first volley of ion cannon fire from the Stalwart Defender left it dead in space, unable to maneuver or defend itself, and soon a torrent of escape pods began to blossom forth.

    Unperturbed, the Republic force continued to wade into the fight. Nova and Thex squadrons succeeded in bracketing the leading cruiser in successive nova flares of proton torpedoes combined with fusillades of laser cannon fire, dropping its port and starboard shields. Vorda and Palo squadrons, hot on the heels of their fellows, took the opportunity to land killing blows on the enemy vessel, tearing vast gashes into its flanks that belched flames, bodies and debris into hard vacuum, along with the ship's atmosphere. Horseshoe, on the port flank of the Republic cruiser formation, finished the Interdictor off with a hail of turbolaser fire aimed at its bridge tower. Stalwart Defender, the flagship, found itself in between the remaining enemy ships. Undaunted, the battlecruiser's gunners and torpedomen sent punishing fire into each, as the Aureks turned back to further harry their remaining antagonists. Trapped between their Republic adversaries and the gravity well of Iridonia, the Sith flotilla had no possible recourse or escape. Twenty minutes after they had entered the system, all four vessels were either destroyed or effectively neutralized.

    Ensign Chak Ravartin, who had claimed his fourth victory in the waning moments of the battle, found himself awestruck at the decimation that he and his fellows had inflicted on the enemy. He watched as one of the Interdictor cruisers blew itself into thirds, its upper and lower hulls tearing free as a massive explosion separated them from the vessel's aft section. It reminded him unpleasantly of having cracked open the claw of a shellfish in order to get at the meat inside, and he found himself wondering how he'd feel if a similar fate befell his own ship. “Shabu Six is clear,” he informed his squadron. “Orders?”

    “Six, Five here. Nice work on that last one. Turn to point eight two and form up with the squadron.”
    “Aye aye, sir,” Chak replied, doing as he was told.

    — — —

    Laera had her lightsaber in hand and lit even as her men fell where they had stood. With a roar, she leaped after the shadow, managing to interpose herself between it and two more of her Marines. As the two blades locked together, the shadow formed itself into a being, clad almost entirely in black robes; his cowl fell away from his horned head, and recognition blazed within both of their eyes. “Acaadi,” she hissed, making the Zabrak's name into a venomous curse.

    “So you were the presence I felt...Commander Reyolé,” the Zabrak spat, his tone filled with contempt. “And here you are, playing with your new toy, how pathetic!”

    Laera swung her blade upward, breaking the lock in a vicious Shien uppercut, following up with a blast of Force energy that sent Acaadi staggering back. “It's Captain to you, traitor!” she shot back. “So, what did 'Darth' Revan offer, to make you forsake your oaths?”

    Acaadi chuckled to himself, then laughed maniacally. “Oh, it's so funny you should ask, Commander!” he barked. “He offered me nothing more or less than what he gave you—a second life, a chance to find out who you really are!”

    As the Dark Jedi finished, the rest of the squad of Marines attempted to help, firing their carbines at the night-clad Zabrak. The Sith picked off their shots with practiced ease, forcing Laera to redirect them before they could hit her people. “Stay back!” she ordered. “Protect Dan'kre, I'll deal with this...thing!”

    Acaadi laughed again. “Yes, stay away, you worthless mudbugs!” he crowed. “Your commander is unfit to lead you as it is! She threw away the chance that Revan offered her, the gift of resurrection that he gave her, so that she might realize her full power, and fulfill her true destiny!”

    Laera suddenly found herself sweating, though it was wicked away by the body glove underneath her armor. Her heart began to beat in her ears, almost drowning out the hum of the two lightsabers. Part of her mind knew that this abomination, this thing that had once been her ally in a war now over, was simply trying to goad her into making a mistake. Another aspect, that which she had discovered on Dantooine with the help of Master Lamar, suspected that he was trying to convert her to his dark ways. Her most basic feelings, her love of the Corps and the Republic, simply wanted to smash this jeering traitor's face in and use his horns for toothpicks. It was this latter part of her mind that took over as she leaped to the attack, painting the air blue with a stream of incomprehensible invective.

    Acaadi found himself taken aback at the sheer ferocity his taunting had unleashed. His own skills in Ataru were barely able to hold off the crushing power of the older woman's Shien strikes, and his own parries and counterattacks were unable to penetrate the veil of Soresu that she seemed to slide into almost on instinct. His eyes grew wide as he realized that he might just have bitten off more than he could chew; the sudden burst of understanding hit him like a wet sunfish. He realized that he wasn't just facing a Jedi of middling power, who still needed further training in order to achieve mastery of her own potential, but instead a battle-hardened Marine whose newfound skills in the Force only enhanced her raw killing power. The Dark Jedi began to fall back, away from the squad of troopers he had intended to kill, doing his utmost to hold the enraged Jedi at bay. “Stop!” he almost-begged. “You don't yet realize how important you are!”

    “I'm important enough to kill you, traitor,” Laera shot back. With a flurry of infinity loops that threatened to trap her opponent's blade and send it flying, she forced the Zabrak back out of the command center and into a corridor. “And that's all that matters right now!”

    Acaadi hurtled himself to the side, using the Force to propel himself off the corridor wall and back out of range. “I know what Revan did to you, and I know why,” he sneered as he landed. “You think he doesn't know you're with the Republic, that you've trained as a Jedi?”

    Even as she gave chase, this comment brought Laera up short. For the briefest split-second, she remembered the corrupted nature of the Force vision from the night before, and of how she had found exactly what it had pointed to, even if its events hadn't played out in exactly the same way. Her mind flickered back to the young ensign and the data he was working to obtain; through the Force, she sensed that he was doing well, and hadn't run into anything suspicious, though he was distressed at the events that had unfolded.

    “You are beginning to realize, yes,” Acaadi continued as he retreated, his tone a mocking purr. “Revan wanted you to survive, to rejoin the Republic, to be his spy in the Marine Corps and the Jedi Order! Why, even now, he can sense your anger, your hatred, even as you battle me!”

    “Liar!” Laera bellowed, and once again she attacked with reckless abandon, closing with impossible speed upon her opponent. Trapping the marauder's blade high and kicking out with an armored boot that connected with his midsection, she sent her opponent tumbling to the floor. He skidded further away as he landed, discarding his cloak as he scrambled up and into a backward somersault. With a flicker of the Force, he sent the garment hurtling toward Laera as she sprinted after him; just as easily, she sliced it to ribbons and continued the pursuit. Dimly, the rational part of her mind could sense that he was enjoying this chase, using it to exhaust her, so that he could humiliate her before killing her. Yes! an unfamiliar, yet friendly thought whispered into her mind. Don't give in! Be smart! Be a Marine!

    As the Zabrak rounded a bend in the corridor, Laera skidded to a halt. That thought had come from someone else, but it had used her voice, her own ideas and feelings. She also thought that she recognized the presence of the person who had introduced it...but no, that wasn't right. Wellir's Padawan was still in the process of learning this power; the Jedi Master himself had told her this when they had first met. Her blood-rage subsiding as she took a series of deep breaths, Laera thumbed her comlink to the general ground-air-space frequency. “Hornhead Hammer to all units, be on the lookout for a Dark Jedi roaming the premises. Do not, repeat, do not engage him directly. He is mine.”

    — — —

    Acaadi continued to run, despite the fact that he could sense that his opponent no longer chased him so eagerly. Contrary to what the woman might think, he hadn't exactly lied to her; he had suspected, at least, that Revan had had some broader plan in mind when he had brought his erstwhile compatriot back from the dead. Her reaction to these suppositions, however, had been unmistakable, and he had leaped upon them to fuel his Dun Möch assault. In truth, he had no idea what Revan might have had in mind for her; he had only ever met the Dark Lord once since the Battle of Malachor V, and even then only in passing.

    It was only then that he realized the full import of Reyolé's new lack of enthusiasm: his mental attack had failed.

    The Zabrak stopped then, taking in his surroundings. Through the Force, he could sense the murderous intent of dozens of nearby Marines, no doubt they were even now blocking off all possible escape routes and preparing all sorts of clever little ambushes. He could sense, too, that his opponent had once again regained her composure, and was striding toward him with renewed purpose. It was not, however, a desire to kill that fueled her, but to protect; she knew that he could handle any one squad of Marines and work his way out of the base, perhaps to rally more ground forces to his banner. For a moment, Acaadi allowed himself to entertain that possibility, but discarded it at once as a lost cause. This woman was no fool; she had likely warned her troops not to attack him directly.

    No, the only thing he could do at this point was to face her, one-on-one, and kill her.

    — — —

    Her senses attuned, Laera continued down the corridor at a brisk pace, taking the same right-hand fork that Acaadi had when he had bolted. Her blade in a loose guard, she continued to track down the former Jedi Knight, who had ducked into an immense room to the left of the hallway. As she neared the hatchway, however, the comm crackled on the task force's general channel. “Hornhead Capital to all units: the horn is secure; repeat, the horn is secure.”

    “Dan'kre, have you penetrated their network yet?” she asked after switching her comm over to Besh Company's tactical frequency.

    The Bothan sounded a bit awestruck as he spoke. “Yes ma'am, we're in and pulling data dumps! And Captain, you wouldn't believe what I found lurking in this terminal! The Sith were planning to—”

    “Not over comms, Ensign!” Laera admonished gently. “I'll be there in a few minutes to see what you've got. In the meantime, keep pulling files!”

    Snapping her comlink off without waiting for a reply, Laera used the Force to trigger the hatchway actuator. It hissed and clicked open to reveal a darkened expanse that would have provided a comfortable fit for three of the Marines' landers. High shelves lined the walls and filled the room, forming meter-wide aisles in a veritable maze. Deactivating her lightsaber, Laera closed her eyes and reached out into the Force to feel where the Dark Jedi lurked, at the same time muting her own presence. This little trick might have worked on a Padawan, she thought as she pinned down his location, but not a Padawan Marine.

    Her eyes still closed, Laera walked into the storage room, picking her way through the maze of shelving on a seemingly erratic course toward the green-gold aura of her opponent, deliberately making it seem as though she didn't know where she was going. With a smirk, she realized just how limited the man's tactical ability really was; he'd been a good fighter against the Mandalorians, but he was no leader, no planner. His best contributions had always come during massed assaults, where he could push his way through enemy chokepoints and slash a path through them. This kind of taopari-and-nerf game of hunting, however, this was what she had always been best at.
    As she reached the end of a far aisle, Laera suddenly crouched, then called upon the Force in a graceful backflip that landed her on the empty top shelf of the stack behind and to her left, easily ten meters or more above the floor. Even as she landed, she reactivated her lightsaber, its cerulean blade cleaving the darkness before her. “Surprise!” she shouted with glee.

    As Acaadi brought his own crimson weapon into line, Laera was on him, slamming the heavy pommel of her hilt into the wrist of his sword hand. Bones popped as, with a yelp, the Zabrak rose to his feet, backing up as he caught his weapon's hilt in his off hand before it could fall to the floor. Using Soresu to form a nearly-impenetrable wall of energy, Laera pushed Acaadi further and further back, keeping him on the defensive with randomly-directed jabs and sweeps. Clawing for room to maneuver as one of Laera's swipes nicked his left wrist, the Dark Jedi sent a few boxes of supplies at the oncoming Jedi, who either ducked them or used her own power to divert them back at him.

    Sparks flew and their blades hissed and spat as they made contact, blue upon red, casting a violet half-light upon the shelves around them as the two combatants neared the end of the shelf. Acaadi scrambled to keep up with Laera's continued assault until, finally, he managed to clip the Jedi's sword arm with another thrown supply crate. Laera backed up a few paces as she recovered her poise, but the opening was enough for the Zabrak to unleash a peal of Force lightning into the Marine officer.

    Laera gasped in pain as the corrupted electrical energy surged through her, causing her muscles to spasm as she tried desperately to regain control. She had never before imagined that such a power existed; taken completely by surprise, she gave more ground to the advancing menace that had once fought alongside her on Taris. Struggling to think of something, she finally managed to turn her blade into the attack, and found to her great surprise that it deflected the continuous waves of lightning. With the pain gone and her body now firmly under her control, Laera began pushing back, sending the arcs of electricity careening off into the ceiling until, exhausted, Acaadi had no choice but to cease the assault.

    Switching over to Shien, Laera once again resumed the offensive, keeping the Zabrak off-balance with a staccato of blows before slashing through the shelf immediately between them. The whole structure groaned in protest, unable to take the weight of the two beings standing upon the disconnected bits of shelving. Laera, who had prepared for this, used her section as a springboard, jumping into the air between shelf and ceiling, striking out at her opponent. The double-booted, Force-augmented kick connected with overwhelming force, and Acaadi was sent flying over the edge. Shock evident in his eyes, he smashed into another shelf, then plummeted to the floor, landing with a sickening crunch.

    Moving quickly, Laera deactivated her lightsaber, clipping it to her belt with her left hand as she grabbed an overhead conduit with her right. Using her momentum, she swung herself over to the next set of shelves, maneuvering toward the floor in a far less drastic manner. She found him on his back, his arms and legs spread in unnatural ways, barely struggling for breath; he was dying, and he knew it. “Revan...was right...” he croaked, as blood burbled into his mouth and over his face. “You have...much power...”

    “No, I don't,” Laera whispered mournfully, shaking her head. “Power can be given, and it can be taken, but strength is eternal.” Through the Force, the Marine looked on as the aura of her foe faded into nothingness.
  17. TrakNar

    TrakNar Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Apr 4, 2011
    Hoo boy... While the fleet may still have the upper hand in this arena, Acaadi still knows where the vulnerable spots are in the battalion. Though, I like the way that Laera fights; none of this fancy flourishing to look pretty for the cameras. She gets in there and fights. Hit 'em hard, hit 'em fast, and don't let 'em hit back. It may not look as pleasing as spinning a lightsaber around and doing crazy acrobatics while leaving yourself open, but it is certainly just as effective. Moreso, even, than flourishing. Laera is a smart one.

    I can't wait to see how this plays out.
  18. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    May 11, 2011

    “I still can't believe we pulled it off, sir,” Carth Onasi was saying to the captain of the Endar Spire as the two officers, flanked by the two Jedi who had accompanied the warship from Coruscant, walked toward the captain's wardroom aboard Stalwart Defender. “When the Sith showed up, I was expecting a bloodbath.”

    “I've never seen such a one-sided victory, either,” Captain Fullar replied. “Not even the Mandalorians were able to overpower an enemy with such seeming ease.”

    In the day following the Republic's raid on the Sith fleet supply base and subsequent rout of a superior force, Admiral Hetton's task force had changed tack. Instead of demolishing the base and retreating as originally planned, he had turned it into a staging area, sending the newly-redesignated Saber Battalion, reinforced by the rest of the task force's ground troops and armored vehicles, out to liberate the planet itself. Despite its strategic location, the Sith presence was limited, with only a few hotspots remaining; these were swiftly taken care of by strafing runs from the Aurek squadrons. The Iridonian government, impressed with the resounding victory, had readily accepted the return of Republic troops and defenses. What was more, Captain Laera Reyolé's Marines had secured an intelligence coup after having sifted through the Sith computer network. This was why the two senior officers from the Endar Spire were now aboard the flagship, to hear what had been learned and to find out what was next for the flotilla.

    “We know what happened,” said Wellir, the Mon Calamari Jedi Master, whose tone was somber despite the circumstances. “My Padawan and I are hoping to shed some light on the battle.”

    “Of course,” Fullar deferred. “I look forward to hearing what you have to say.”

    Carth turned toward the young woman who strode at the back of their small column. “I don't think I ever got your name, Miss...”

    The Padawan dipped her head in a small bow as the quartet continued to walk. “Shan,” she replied modestly. “Bastila Shan, and it was my honor to have been able to help.”

    “From what I hear, you did more than help,” Carth said with awe. “I'd never heard of—ah, here we go.”

    Captain Laera Reyolé, resplendent in her dress reds, was just emerging from the wardroom. “Commander Onasi, Captain Fullar, there you are,” she said, holding the hatchway open. “We were just about to start the briefing.”

    “What's this about?” Wellir spoke up as he and his Padawan hurried to keep pace with the Republic officers. Laera said nothing, only gesturing for the four of them to enter the room, which they did. Inside, at the far end, a holographic star map had been set up. At a table in the center sat Admiral Hetton and Captain Melao, along with the captains and executive officers of Delta Dagger and Horseshoe, as well as Captain Tyr, head of the task force's starfighter wing. A Bothan ensign sat near the head of the table, looking nervous in the presence of so many senior officers and Jedi.

    Shutting the door behind the newcomers, Laera strode purposefully toward the head of the table, where she sat opposite the ensign. Admiral Hetton then stood up and regarded the projection. “Rodia,” he announced. “This was where the Sith reinforcements were headed, and they were to be but a part of a larger attack force. Ensign Dan'kre here was able to pull their entire operational plan during Captain Reyolé's assault; thanks to him, we'll be able to stop this offensive cold. I've already forwarded this data to Republic Intelligence, and we're to meet up with the Second Fleet, under the command of Vice Admiral Dodonna, at the edge of the Tyrius system as soon as possible after securing Iridonia and dropping off all non-essential personnel.

    “There's just one thing I have to know,” he asked, regarding the two Jedi at the far end of the table. “What exactly happened that allowed us to execute such a devastating attack with almost no casualties?”

    “I'd like to know, as well,” Laera put in, regarding the two Jedi who still stood, flanking the hatchway.

    “It's called Battle Meditation,” Wellir supplied, his voice gravely. “A rare ability, it can influence entire armies, calling upon their inner strength and willpower, while at the same time demoralizing enemy forces and causing them to make mistakes. I had been training with my Padawan here in order to develop its presence within her. Like the rest of you, I'm just as glad—and surprised—that she was able to master it so suddenly.”

    Hetton nodded, then met the Mon Cal's gaze. "Do you think Padawan Bastila will be able to help us in defending Rodia?"

    "I have no doubts at all, Admiral," the Jedi Master replied firmly.

    — — —

    Leaving behind most of Saber Battalion, along with six thousand of the task force's Army troops and three of its Aurek squadrons, including the 23rd Marines along with the 51st and 52nd Navy fliers, Admiral Hetton and his task force had set a hyperspace course toward the outer edges of the Tyrius star system. The trip would take at least two days, during which the crews of the four warships did what they could to patch up the relatively minor damage that had been incurred during the short but vicious battle. In her darkened quarters, clad in her BDUs and utterly exhausted, Laera sat on her bunk, opposite Master Wellir and his Padawan, Bastila Shan, who had brought in a pair of stools.

    "I felt your struggle with the dark side," the Mon Calamari said, his far-set eyes reduced to amber crescents, his voice gentle. "You nearly lost yourself in that duel against your former comrade."

    Laera looked from the Jedi Master to his apprentice, the young human woman who was only about half her age, and back. "The dark side," she sighed heavily, wiping her brow. "I guess no amount of forewarning can ever really prepare you to meet it, especially within yourself."

    "Precisely," Wellir replied. "Bastila's Battle Meditation helped you to understand what was going on within you, but it was you who made the choice to let go of your anger and your rage, and to go forward as a servant of the light."

    "I don't feel particularly light at the moment, though," Laera shrugged. "He, that is to say, Acaadi, said some things, things that have been eating at me ever since we met in combat."

    "Whatever he told you, you must not take it at face value." Wellir said, his aura indicating frankness. "The dark side is beguiling, misleading; deception, secrets and lies are its dominion. You will rarely, if ever, meet an honest Sith, and certainly not among those allied with Darth Revan."

    Laera nodded, then looked back at the Jedi Master, meeting his gaze. "Which means that now, more than ever, we should be doing what we can to fight the darkness, whenever and wherever it is revealed."

    "Such is the way of the Jedi Guardian," Wellir agreed, his barbels quivering. "Such is the way of the Jedi Marine and her Saber Battalion..."

  19. TrakNar

    TrakNar Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Apr 4, 2011
    That last conversation regarding Laera's fears and what Acaadi had said to her certainly makes me wonder. Granted, the Sith are manipulative bastards, in no uncertain terms. They say things to throw you off-balance, but then again... the Jedi are not innocent of essentially blowing the proverbial smoke up one's ass. They know something, and they are of course hiding it. It's that stuffy holier-than-though, my-word-is-law attitude that irks me about Jedi.

    Anywho, great story! Now, off to read the next one...
  20. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    May 11, 2011
    Yeah, when I wrote the first draft of Saber Battalion I still hadn't nailed down precisely where I had wanted to take the character of Laera Reyolé. In point of fact, it was written before an extensive rewrite was performed on A Marine Went to Jedi Camp (transforming it from a "meh" short story to a decent novella). Therefore, the ending was intentionally left open.

    I'm sure you'll see why as her saga continues to unfold. ;)