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Before - Legends Tales from the Corps, Vol. 1 - Collab- COMPLETED 11/15- Epilogue

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction- Before, Saga, and Beyond' started by TrakNar, Sep 14, 2011.

  1. TrakNar

    TrakNar Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Apr 4, 2011
    Title: Tales from the Corps, Vol. 1
    Authors: Goodwood and TrakNar
    Type: Short story anthology
    Genre: Action, war drama, character study
    Characters: Revan, Malak, Mission Vao, Vrook Lamar in varying capacities, and several OCs.
    Rating: PG-13 for violence and strong language

    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.

    Laera Reyolé, a Human woman from Agamar and Tuffass, one of the first Gand to encounter the Republic, went on to become two of the most famous Marines of their day. But who were they really? This collection of stories and vignettes explores the lives and careers of two of the Corps' finest soldiers, taking the reader from the training depots of Carida and Corulag to the far reaches of known space and into the thick of the Mandalorian Wars.


    Laera's legs felt as if her boots had been filled with ferrocrete. She had been on Carida for over a year now, but she just could not acclimate herself to the higher gravity; it was as if the entire planet was in a permanent launch sequence. It was ideal for hardening the Marines' latest batch of fresh-faced new recruits; nevertheless, it was also a sensation that made her stomach dive into her knees, with her heart in close pursuit. Despite the hardships, she continued on the quiet stroll along the lake's shore. Her companion, if he was as uncomfortable as she was, didn't show it. He was a diminutive insect; quite literally so. Like her, he was clad in PT grays, with MARINES emblazoned across the sweatshirt, but his stocky form barely came up to Laera's chest. His presence more than made up for his lack of height; the battle-scarred exoskeleton and expressionless visage betrayed what he had witnessed on the field of battle and he spared little expense in imparting his knowledge to his recruits. Laera could still recall her own training under the smaller gunnery sergeant; her parents were privy to the details in the letters that she had written home.

    With a grunt, Laera's companion seated himself on a bench. "Tuffass will be honest; he doesn't much care for this planet..." He allowed himself a tired laugh as he rubbed his right knee. Tuffass was, if Laera recalled correctly, a Gand; a little-known insect species from some backrocket world beyond the reaches of known space. Near as she could tell, Gands did not breathe the same atmosphere that she did, as Tuffass's face was always obscured by what had to be a custom-designed respirator. He was undoubtedly quirky, speaking in third-person all the time.

    "So, Gunny, I've been meaning to ask," Laera began with a bit of small talk, "why are you called 'Tuffass'?"

    Tuffass tilted his head to meet her gaze. His compound eyes studied her for a moment. "Because he has a tough ass." He returned his gaze to the lake and rubbed his knee some more before flexing the joint a few times. "Earned it on that mist-forsaken rock, probably before you were even born." He took a deep breath. "He...usually doesn't discuss that. Let's just say that Tuffass proved that he is a tough ass."

    Laera nodded slowly. The water lapped against the lake's rocky shore in gentle waves, the breeze warm upon her face. It was a rather pleasant afternoon, she had to admit. Certainly a refreshing change from the weeks of rain. The heavy drops had pounded like hailstones as her recruits fought their way through the muddy obstacle courses, harried them during blaster training, and made nightmares out of field problems. Though, she had to thank the rain for at least one thing; it made the grueling training a bit easier to bear for her recruits, as they were not sweating their very lives through their pores. A week ago she had had to send three to sickbay and one had not returned; mustered out due to an underlying condition. She felt sorry for that recruit; he had come from a similar background as Laera, wanting nothing more than to support his family and serve his community. The look on his face when he had boarded the transport cut to the quick.

    Tuffass stood up and his knee let out a wet pop. He stumbled forward as he grabbed hold of the railing that rimmed the lake's shoreline. And there he stood for a very long moment, his breathing becoming heavier. Carefully, he flexed his knee and sucked in his breath with a loud hiss.

    Laera was on her feet immediately. "You all right, Gunny?"

    The short Gand managed a nod and swallowed his breath. He rocked his weight onto his right leg and took a tentative step, followed by another. Laera followed him closely, finally noticing the limp; Tuffass had always walked with one, but this time, there was a degree of pain that accompanied it; despite his stoic visage she could somehow sense it. He remained silent as he walked, trying to bring himself back to his normal gait.

    "Perhaps you should stop by sickbay;"

    "No," Tuffass said tersely. "Blasted planet...just harder on Tuffass's joints."

    "Gunny," Laera persisted, "at least before you go back on duty. The recruits"

    "Those maggots will see nothing," Tuffass shook his head adamantly. "He has plenty of time to heal. This will pass." Those last three words sounded as if through gritted teethor mandibles, in his caseas he commanded that his knee cooperate, as if it were one of his recruits. Though, his limp remained pronounced and noticeable, and he paused to support himself on the railing.

    Laera frowned. Sure, one should not show any weakness to their recruits, but they were on weekend liberty. Clearly the Gand was in pain. And clearly, the Gand was also one of the most stubborn individuals that Laera had ever known. "The commissary is right up there," she nodded to one of the buildings along the ridge, "I'll get you some ice."

    Tuffass nodded in agreement, much to Laera's relief. The two continued along the path in silence, save for the gunnery sergeant's heavy breathing. They entered the building, the main portion being a dining hall not unlike a civilian tapcaf, and Laera immediately fetched a bag of crushed ice. She handed it to Tuffass and seated herself across the table from him.

    "Thank you, Gunnery Sergeant Reyolé," Tuffass's voice was low as he placed the bag against his knee and leaned back in the chair, letting out a long breath. "Blasted planet..."

    Laera chuckled. The heavier gravity was not very kind to her joints, either. Many an evening, she had retired with sore knees and aching feet. "So, did you bring your 'wall of names' here, too?" she asked, feeling that a change of subject was in order.

    Tuffass let out a sharp laugh that caught her by surprise. "Hah! Nah, Tuffass left that at home. He brought his Clue-By-Four, though."

    Laera smiled. She had seen that infamous wooden plank when she was a recruit, and had dreaded ever being unlucky enough to have required its usage. "Have you ever actually ''used'' that thing on anyone?"

    Tuffass shook his head and leaned forward, meeting Laera's gaze. "Between you and Tuffass," his voice was low, "it's just for show. His CO would never let him actually beat clues into his maggots, much as he would want to."

    "It certainly works, though. Nearly scared the star-stuff outta me when I first saw it."

    "That was the plan." Tuffass cocked his head slightly and Laera could have sworn that she saw him smile behind his mask. "But you turned out pretty good in the end."

    It was all Laera could do to hide her face as it flushed with equal parts relief and pride. Inspiration struck after several minutes of commiserating silence, and she briefly departed the small table where they had sat. A couple of minutes later she returned, clutching two triple-chocolate ice creams. The elder gunnery sergeant's reaction was palpable if one knew what to look for, even if Laera didn't quite know the specifics. He removed his mask and as he greedily devoured a third of the creamy dessert while Laera licked indulgently at hers, he seemed to relax by a few degrees. After that he began to take his time, so that the two Marines finished at about the same time.

    After wiping his mouth, the Gand replaced his breath mask and leaned back in the chair. "Chocolate: the only thing that makes it all bearable," Tuffass said with his own unique equivalent of a contented sigh. His compound eyes glistened slightly as he bobbed his head this way and that, lost in thought. "You wanted to know how Tuffass got his name, do you?" he finally asked after a moment of quiet reflection. "Well, perhaps he could get around to trusting some being with the story. You, if nobody else..."
  2. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    May 11, 2011
    The introduction to this anthology, which made the entire effort possible to begin with, was borne as a character study by TrakNar. She hadn't intended to do anything with it, but I asked her if it would be possible to use it as a basis for the story ideas I had been brewing for some time. She agreed, and Tales from the Corps, Vol. 1 was the result. Without Trak's inspiration, support, and efforts, this collection of short stories would never have made it off the proverbial drawing board.

  3. TrakNar

    TrakNar Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Apr 4, 2011
    Yes, do enjoy the stories! The next one is up, and it's a bit of a hefty read.

    [B][I]Nom de Guerre[/I][/B]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]Gand had long since become accustomed to his Republic Marine-issue battle armor; it was molded to suit his short frame and didn't bob quite as much when he ran. It had only taken the armorsmiths a couple of months after his graduation to manufacture a custom-designed suit based on his stature and physiology; as he understood it, they had started from a set that had initially been designed for use by a race of cave-dwelling mammals called Sullustans. He'd been in the Corps for six years now and had finally made corporal eighteen Standard months prior to this day. Having served as a recon scout with Esk Company, Second Battalion, Sixth Marine Regiment had been among the most joyous times of his life. The bipedal oxygen-breathers that made up the rest of his unit had proven to be good company, and he enjoyed spending his free time amongst their many varieties. If nothing else, his comrades were good for some easy entertainment; as he was the best scout in the regiment, he was frequently invited by company commanders to "ambush" their troops in order to help keep them sharp and battle-ready.[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]So it was thoughts of happiness at many a well-played training prank that Gand mused upon as he walked to his commanding officer's place of business, which he knew was a rather sparsely-decorated affair that spoke of a career spent on the move from post to post. His own semi-private quarters were quite similar, as he did not own much of anything aside from his armor, his gear, and his uniforms, specially-tailored to fit his small frame.[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]"Corporal Gand is reporting as ordered," he said to the Rodian lance corporal stationed at the desk outside. “Gand believes that he was summoned by Lieutenant Xodl.”[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]He regarded the being behind the desk; the Rodian was not much older than himself. A quiet individual, the aide was usually found at that desk, Gand had seen him quite often. Stacks of flimsiwork sat on the surface as the Rodian plodded through each sheet with methodical diligence. He wore what Gand could only surmise as a galaxy-weary expression on his face; his shoulders rolled forward, half-lidded eyes and a snout that was turned down. He seemed unhappy and Gand was not sure why. Surely this young Rodian had seen some action outside of the office setting at least some point before, as he had noted the sheen of a prosthetic under the lance corporal's pants when Gand had seen him walk down the hall in a loping gait. After this Rodian had recovered from whatever injury he might have sustained on the battlefield, how could he have been relegated to a desk for the duration of his enlistment? A cold feeling began to pool in Gand's stomach. He had seen what happened to former findsmen on his homeworld when grievous injury had prevented them from attending to their duties as they should, even if only until the limbs regenerated. Cast aside, they were, like discarded playthings. Cast aside, relegated to menial tasks. Injury was a weakness, a weakness that should never be revealed. Many findsmen had gone to great lengths to hide any injury that they had sustained, as if it were to be made known to the Elders, then they were deemed as unproductive nuisances. Burdens on the family. Many went into exile and Gand had known of a few that had taken their lives. Injury was a weakness and weakness should not ever be made known, else it will be exploited.[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]"You are expected, sir," The Rodian's voice, tinged with just a hint of a lisp, replied, snapping Gand out of his meditation. The aide pressed a button on his terminal and the duraplast door to his right immediately hissed into the wall. Gand strode smartly through it, stopping just short of where his commanding officer sat and, clicking his heels as he stood at attention, snapped off a precisely-measured salute.[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]"Corporal Gand is reporting as ordered, [I]sir[/I]!" he repeated, placing a respectful emphasis on the last word.[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]The human officer smiled slightly as he stood and returned the gesture. Gand thought that he sensed that the expression held some meaning to it, but his understanding of the many varieties of alien body languages and facial expressions was still incomplete. "At ease, Corporal," he said easily, then frowned slightly. "It has been a privilege to have had you in my company, Gand. You've helped to keep the regiment sharp these last months, and with all the trouble that's been going on here in the Outer Rim, I hate to lose you."[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]Gand had not relaxed as he had been invited to; he had determined long ago that his fellow Marines respected humility and an upright demeanor—much as he and his own kind did. However, the lieutenant's words had been tinged with what his species referred to as "regret," and Gand was unsure as to why. "Gand apologizes, sir," he replied. "But Gand is not aware that Gand was planning to go anywhere."[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]Lieutenant Walthir Xodl chuckled a bit. "Never could get used to you referring to yourself in the third person," he remarked, careful to put enough emotion into his voice so that Gand could understand his meaning. "Or with you taking everything so literally."[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]He turned to look through the window and out into the village bordering the outpost, his hands clasped behind his back. "Unfortunately, you [I]are[/I] going somewhere. Your service to this outfit has been exemplary, and you are easily one of the best scouts in the entire division. This has been brought to the attention of the brass at Coruscant, and Rear Admiral Oluth Par'fey has personally asked for your services."[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]The officer extracted a cheap, disposable order datapad from a desk drawn and offered it; gingerly, Gand took it with his three-fingered hand and examined its contents. The transfer order was simple enough: he was to catch the next transport back to the capital world of the Galactic Republic, where he would then be sent to Druckenwell, where the Twelfth Marine Regiment, Fourth Marine Division was assembling. An addendum noted that he was to receive training for a new role: as a fire-coordinator for the Republic Navy, he would be learning how to liaise with warships in orbit of a planet in order to call down precision strikes. Gand mulled this idea over; as a scout it was already his function to seek out enemy forces on the ground, reporting their position to the chain of command. This seemed to be a similar task but on a much larger scale, for instead of fifty of his fellows engaging the foe in close combat, he would be unleashing the highly-destructive firepower of spaceborne turbolaser fire.[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]"Gand understands, sir," he replied after a poignant silence. "Gand will go and gather his belongings. It has been his honor to have served this company."[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000] [/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]— — —[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    "Second Platoon, ON YOUR FEET!"[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]The order, barked loudly enough to rouse the dead, evoked a swift and strong response as the forty Marines in the barracks shot out of their racks and slipped on their body gloves. As Gand zipped up his own garment, he cast a brief but watchful eye at the hatchway from which the command had originated. Standing there was First Sergeant Jalard'aven, a Twi'lek of the Lethan subtype who served as lead NCO of Aurek Company, First Battalion. A harsh taskmaster who nevertheless rewarded good, honest effort, he was responsible for keeping the enlistees and junior noncoms in line and following their officers' orders. It was rumored that he was in the running for a battlefield commission, or else a trip to OCS, but Gand didn't much care about such possibilities; he rather liked Jalard'aven, and as far as he was concerned, the sergeant could keep on being who he was.[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]During the five months Gand had spent in training for his new position and then integrating with his new unit, the conflict with Exar Kun's Brotherhood of Sith and their Krath allies had expanded exponentially, culminating in a raid on Coruscant itself that had seen the deaths of many Marines, Jedi, and the politicians they were charged with protecting. Ossus, where the primary Jedi archives were located, had suffered a horrific fate when the Cron Cluster had collectively gone nova in the wake of a battle waged within the dense mass of stars. Across the galaxy, marauding bands of Krath warriors were terrorizing the civilian populations of countless young and underpopulated colony worlds while trainee Jedi were suddenly turning on their mentors with lethal intent.[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]But that was all about to change.[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]The entire Fourth Division, under the command of Bothan admiral Oluth Par'fey, had been mobilized for a full-scale offensive. Backed up by the Republic Rim Fleet and hundreds of Jedi Knights, they were about to land on Kun's base of operations, one of the many moons of a backrocket gas giant in the Gordian Reach called Yavin.[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]And then they would pulverize it into a fine mist.[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]As he tacked on armor plates with finely-trained speed and finesse, Gand knew that he would be part of the first wave. The capital ships of the Navy would need someone with his skills to call down precision turbolaser fire, opening holes in the Sith defenses for the infantry and Jedi to exploit. Gand finished armoring up, securing his helmet seals after a hearty intake of breath from his now-packed breath mask as he did so. Hefting his chopped-down BC-7m carbine, he slung it across his back as he gathered his target spotting laser and heavy-duty field datapad with in-built surface-to-space comlink.[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]The Twi'lek sergeant had long since left, most likely having moved on to rouse Third Platoon. Taking his place at the hatchway was Ensign Kisslar, a young human officer who had taken over the platoon at about the time of Gand's arrival. At his beckoning motion, the Marines in the barracks assembled by squads and made their way to their transport.[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]"Hurry up boys, we're behind schedule," he said to no one in particular as he jogged behind his marching troopers while they made their way through the bowels of the massive Republic cruiser. He didn't seem to notice nor care that the troopers he was tailing were holding their own private conversations over preset channels.[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]"This is it, Gand," the voice of Staff Sergeant Faldalon Pikosa, his squad leader, commented idly. "You scared?"[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]"Gand is not afraid for the safety of his person,” he replied, equally nonchalant, ignoring the cold feeling that had crept up the back of his neck. That feeling usually manifested when the mists were trying to inform him, but he did not have the time to meditate on that. He had a mission to do, a goal to meet; the mists can wait. "Gand is eager to rain destruction upon those who would sow discord among his beloved Republic."[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]"That's what I like to hear, son," the veteran noncom said approvingly, grim satisfaction in his tone.[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]"You're really not afraid, sir?" the high, raspy voice of PFC Jondon Lir, Gand's assistant coordinator and supposed bodyguard, chimed in hesitantly.[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]"Of course we're afraid, you nimrod!" Pikosa shot back indignantly. "Only a loon or an idiot isn't afraid of impending battle!"[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]"Focus on your mission, Private," Gand offered, in what he hoped was a reassuring tone. "Keep the enemy away from Gand and he will call down fire on anyone who would dare to harm the platoon."[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]"If you say so, sir," the enlistee replied, and Gand could detect an increase in nervousness in the young man's voice and demeanor.[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]"Snap it up, you lot!" Jalard'aven barked into the platoon frequency as he jogged past, the plates of his armor rattling like a poor-fitting carapace and his overlarge "jarhead" helmet bobbing up and down. "We're pads-up in three merns, so hop to it!"[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]The platoon increased its pace to match that of the first sergeant as Third Platoon joined in on the procession, taking up station behind them as they neared the huge bay that housed the battalion's transports. Gand knew that they were aboard just one of many such cruisers, each carrying another battalion of Marines in their bellies. Though as a fire-coordinator, he had only been taught the basics of fleet operations; he had learned enough from his instructors and so-called "bedside reading" to be reasonably sure of how this would work. First, the vanguard of the Republic fleet would surround the moon, clearing away any hostile warships and cutting off all avenues of escape into hyperspace. Then the main body would launch the Marines' transports and begin setting up on their prearranged bombardment coordinates. Meanwhile, the first wave of Marines would secure a landing zone, defending it as the rest of their brethren and then the main force of Jedi Knights arrived on the surface.[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]Aurek Company, Gand knew from the previous evening's briefing, would be among the very first to touch down.[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000] [/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]
    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]— — —[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    "All right, ladies and gentlemen, are you ready to bring the [I]pain[/I]?"[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]"SIR, YES [I]SIR[/I]!"[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]A being not wearing full Marine-issue assault armor would have experienced near total silence in the transport as it made its descent toward the surface, carrying First and Second Squads from Second Platoon. As it happened, Gand was not so unfortunate, and inwardly he appreciated the uproarious camaraderie that lit up the comm channel. This was the time when good combat leaders made themselves evident, delivering last-minute information, advice, or pep-talks to their troops. Sergeant Pikosa was especially good at this.[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]"The average Massassi warrior is over two meters tall," he said, the bravado in his voice unchanged. "They weigh in excess of ninety kilos, and have sharp bone-spurs sticking out of all sorts of unpleasant places! But they are [I]NOT[/I] immortal! You shoot 'em with your blasters or stick 'em with your vibroblades, and they will die just like any other scumbag! Am I understood?!"[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]"SIR, YES [I]SIR[/I]!" the troopers replied loudly.[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]Gand, however, did not join in the revelry; his voice was ill-suited to shouting over a comlink through the ammonia-based atmosphere contained within his helmet. Instead he kept his compound eyes closed, focusing on the mists and steeling himself for action, a ritual he had known and perfected since long before he had ever heard of the Republic Marines. Perhaps now he could answer the call he had felt earlier, the beckoning to look to the mists for answers to the battle's outcome.[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]"Thirty seconds!" the human belted out at the top of his voice.[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]"THIRTY SECONDS, [I]AYE[/I]!" the half-platoon responded enthusiastically, which yanked Gand from his momentary meditation. Thirty seconds was simply not enough time, the mists will have to wait.[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]The time seemed to pass in an instant, for no sooner were the words out of their mouths than the transport bucked hard to port as it slammed into the thick air of the moon's troposphere, with Gand's stomach following in close pursuit. The buffeting continued, with the Marines in the compartment grabbing onto roof-mounted handholds for support; handholds too high for Gand to reach, so he braced himself against the bulkhead as he was jostled from side to side. Half a heartbeat later, the machine impacted on the unforgiving surface, its hatchways blasting open in a rush of hissing and escaping steam. Almost immediately, Gand's ears were assaulted by the din of battle: the blood-curdling screams of friendly and enemy combatants, the whine of blasterfire, the [I]puk-puk-puk[/I] of missed shots impacting soil and stone, and the unmistakable sounds of bodies being horrifically abused by hulking, red-skinned monstrosities.[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]"Move! Move! [I]Move[/I]!" Pikosa screamed, leaping out of the nearest hatchway and gesturing wildly for the rest of the platoon to follow. Ensign Kisslar, displaying the sort of gornt-headed bravery that Gand had not expected him to possess, was the first to follow—and the first to die as the well-aimed bolt from a Massassi weapon shattered his faceplate and exploded his skull.[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]Reacting instantly, Gand shoved the deceased officer's smoking corpse out of the hatch, following in its wake as he dashed out of the transport and into the sun. He felt a twinge of remorse for the fallen ensign, but the scream of blasterfire told him in no uncertain terms that he did not have time to mourn. The clear blue skies of Yavin 4 drew his attention for only the barest hint of a moment as he threw himself at the rough ground in order to avoid another burst of accurate suppressing fire. Unlimbering his blaster carbine and cradling it in his arms, he shimmied forward on his belly, heading toward an exposed outcropping of rock that had been seared black by the pre-landing bombardment. All around him red and green bolts blanketed the air in a colorful but deadly crosshatch of energy, but he knew that he couldn't just sit here and wait for the others to emerge from the transport—if they made it out at all.[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]Unhitching his equipment bundle, Gand wedged it between the outcropping and the dirt beneath it, then poked his head over it for just long enough to take a quick look at what lay before him. Somehow he had managed to snake his way through the blind spots of around ten Massassi warriors as they lay a brutal pattern of fire on the landing zone from their fortified position, which looked like it had been made in haste out of large stones. Intent on taking advantage of this turn of events, Gand set aside his carbine and armed the pair of fragmentation grenades he had been issued, flinging them into the small, improvised redoubt. The resulting explosion was so near that the shockwave resonated within his sealed cylindrical helmet, causing Gand's head to spin in momentary disorientation. After a brief spell, he pulled himself together sufficiently to observe the effects of his ordnance. Eight of the muscle-bound brutes had been blown apart, with another two bleeding profusely as they staggered about senselessly. Gand gave the survivors no chance to recover, coolly unloading a pair of shots apiece into their heads.[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]"Nice work, Gand," crackled Sergeant Pikosa's voice into the platoon frequency. "Alright people, I'm taking over the platoon for now! Move up, get into that cover and prepare for counterattack!"[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]After collecting his gear, Gand vaulted the outcropping and made his way through the carnage to the position he had just cleared out. Setting his carbine, he kept vigil as the remaining members of the half-platoon picked their way swiftly toward him. "Who did we lose?" he asked once they had caught up and began setting up a base of fire around the first of the platoon's two heavy repeating blasters.[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]"Aside from Kisslar, we lost Henshel, Ybai and Ilgor dead plus a few others wounded, though they're still fit to fight," the sergeant replied. "The transport's a loss, though; she took too much fire while we were using her as cover and the crew is taking refuge inside. If it weren't for you we'd still be pinned down back there."[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]"Gand does what he can," Gand replied as he sat next to a particularly fat rock and began unpacking his targeting laser. "Where is Lir?"[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]"Right here, sir," the private replied, squatting next to Gand and helping him in unpacking and setting up their equipment. His armor had been scorched and furrowed along his right upper arm, likely a glancing blow from a Massassi blaster.[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]As the remaining Marines took up firing positions around the repeater, Gand sat his laser atop the rock and began looking through its optical scope at the far horizon. Tuning out the rest of the battle even as it unfolded around him, he scanned the vicinity for anything that even vaguely resembled a threat. The laser, coupled with its onboard computer and the field datapad, did most of the work for him. As he pulled its invisible cone of beams through a full circle, it slowly mapped out the terrain around them out to a range of five kilometers. Fortunately for him, the squad's position did not seem to be within the line of sight of any Massassi snipers that were surely out there, because the laser needed to be at the highest and least obscured point possible in order to do its job.[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]"Gand has the field," he announced after having completed his scan, which was downloaded into the datapad and combined with data being received from other, similar devices in the possession of other units.[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]“We're through to Fleet," Lir said. "I have the [I]Orskinay[/I] and [I]Elephantine[/I] on channel and open for business.”[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]"Alright, let's get them some targets," Pikosa added brusquely. "Looks like another transport's coming in, over to the left!"[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]Gand peered through the scope in the direction the sergeant indicated, where another ship much like the one that had delivered him and his fellows to the surface was making its own rapid descent. "They are taking fire," he said, with a strange tone as though he was commenting on the weather. His nuances struck him as odd for a moment, but he shrugged off the feeling. "From another makeshift redoubt, Gand thinks. Coordinates three seven zero by Aurek Forn Jenth..." That cold sensation continued to gnaw at the back of his neck. [I]No time,[/I] Gand told himself. The mists will have to wait.[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]" Aurek Forn Jenth," Lir repeated into the comlink. "Fire mission is hot, we have inbound."[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]Silence descended upon the forward position as the two squads waited for the promised orbital strike. Sure enough, within moments a cascade of red lances as thick as tree trunks plunged toward the surface, impacting on the indicated target area and sending up geysers of half-melted earth and rock. "Fire mission complete," Lir said into the comlink before turning up to regard the squad leader. "What now, sir?"[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]"Now, we wait for reinforcements," he replied with some measure of satisfaction. "Unless Gand can find you something else to shoot at, of course."[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]"Gand has something," the insectoid corporal said as though on cue. "Grid square three six nine by Aurek Forn Leth, target appears to be enemy foot-mobiles advancing in column through a nearby gully"[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]"Numbers?" Pikosa asked harshly.[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]"Gand estimates about thirty in all, sir."[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]"There's gotta be something else," Pikosa insisted. "They don't just move into the open like that, not unless there's a whole wave of 'em."[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]"Gand does not see anything," he replied tartly. "But he will continue looking. Lir, call it in, adjust fire two degrees northwest."[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]A few moments later, another burst of turbolaser fire churned up the ground, vaporizing the advancing enemy troopers and deepening the gully by a considerable amount. Meanwhile, another six transports had landed and departed, dropping off the rest of the battalion before heading back for the orbiting fleet. As the bombardment cleared, a seventh craft began its ascent.[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]Which was precisely the moment when everything went completely to Chaos.[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]As Gand brought his laser back around to regard the landscape beyond the landing zone, it was suddenly filled with red skin pulled tautly over bulging muscles. The air was rent by the keening roar of the bare-chested warrior as Gand attempted to scramble away from his assailant, knocking the scope from its perch. He was not fast enough, however, and was yanked into the air by his left leg—white-hot pain shot through the appendage and his hip as he was tossed about like a human youngling's ragdoll. His body snapped forward and backward, arms flailing. An involuntary shriek escaped from Gand's mandibles as the creature then grabbed the corporal's left arm and began to pull as though to tear him in two. Pain slammed across his body as if he were hit with a board and his carapace cracked in sickening protest. Dimly, he registered the screams of more warriors, the shouting of his fellow Marines, and the whine of blasterfire as it engulfed the compromised position. His breath came to him in strained gasps; a sliver of wet cold in his left side where he heard the plates of his exoskeleton give way. He felt his shoulder and hip separate, pain seeping out in a warm dampness that moistened his body glove. Darkness began to creep in around the edges of Gand's vision as the Massasi continued to abuse his body.[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]A blaster shot resonated particularly loudly within his ears, and Gand felt himself hit the ground with a dull thud.[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]"They're charging the landing zone!" he heard Pikosa shout through the gelatinous pounding in his head, the sergeant's voice muffled by the pain. Gand gingerly attempted to work his injured limbs, but to no avail; the joints were dislocated and the Sith warrior had mangled them with all the savagery of the fabled gundark. His arm was bent at an unnatural angle and his leg had folded under his weight when he had fallen. He turned his glassy gaze to the blood-soaked ground in front of him, and saw that his antagonist, a massive hulk of a beast, lay flat on its back next to him, a smoking hole right between its solid yellow eyes. The mouth gaped, the head twisted at an unnatural angle, and the dead eyes were fixed on Gand.[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]"Sir, are you okay?" Lir was saying as he injected a syringe of kolto into Gand's helmet-mounted feeder. "Corporal Gand, sir?"[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]"" he ground out through his tortured vocal chords. "Get...the scope..." His labored breathing sounded strangely loud and contained within his helmet. A deafening [I]whoosh[/I] in his ears with each breath, ammonia swallowed into lungs that strained against a crushing band of pain. His throat burned, his chest burned, his arm and leg burned.[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]"More are on the way, let's get you out of here, sir!" Lir insisted, attempting to drag Gand to his feet. The grip by which Lir held him caused further dislocation in his shoulder and Gand could feel one of his chitinous plates shift inward by the movement. A burning vibroblade of pain slid into his chest and he inhaled sharply.[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]"No, Gand will not be moved!" he snapped, the sudden burning pain pitched his voice into a loud shriek. He arched his back to shake the private off and reached with his working arm for the surface-to-space comlink. His body protested in pain, but after a few frantic moments of clawing, he finally grabbed the cylinder in his tri-digit hand. If more of them were threatening to overrun the landing zone, then there was only one way for them to have gotten in such a position unnoticed... "Fire mission danger close," he strained into the device, quickly so as not to allow the pain to influence his words. "Grid square three-seven-one by Aurek Forn Krill!"[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]"Fire mission danger close acknowledged," the voice on the other end of the channel replied coolly, unfazed by the order. "Advise seeking cover in five ticks..."[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]"MARINES, HIT THE DIRT!" Pikosa screamed, and the ground shook as fourteen bodies impacted the soil. Lir had flung himself onto Gand's prone form in an attempt to shield him.[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]Five seconds later, the promised artillery fire rained down upon the designated coordinates—the grid square immediately to the east of the position occupied by Gand and his comrades. The cacophony of noise was nothing like the war cries of charging Massassi; it was like the cracking bellow of some tremendous beast of legend, whose mouth was the size of a shockball court and whose vocal chords were ten meters long. A wave of intense heat washed over the survivors' prone bodies like water; several muffled cries of pain were carried over the comm. After what seemed like an eternity the noise and heat abated, and an eerie silence descended upon the battlefield. The smoke dissipated like a fine mist, its swirls a hypnotic and beautiful reminder of the forces that had rent the ground into scorched, cracked particulates.[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]"Check in, people," Pikosa ordered as he stood up and shook himself back together. "That won't be the last of them."[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]Gand managed to communicate the fact of his continued existence through the pain that still racked his arm and leg, which had since crept into his thorax and abdomen. His breath came in short, shallow gasps—pain had effectively curtailed any deep inhalation—and he was suddenly very grateful to the Marine Corps' armorsmiths for having done such a fine job on his suit's vacuum seals. Clenching his mandibles, he managed to use his good arm and leg to move himself over to a stone, where he rested up against it. "The scope!" his voice rasped to Lir after a moment's respite. "Get the scope up!"[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]"Aye, sir!" the private replied, extracting the device from underneath the corpse of a dead Massassi. "I've got it up..."[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]For the next ten minutes Lir called coordinates, which Gand obediently relayed to the warships tasked to their spotter scope's data feed; the activity kept him conscious and helped to distract him from the crushing pain that had wrapped itself around his body. The half-platoon he had landed with, now whittled down to a single squad of combat-effective troopers, occasionally blasted Massassi that managed to get too close. The barrages continued, carving a mini-canyon through the soil as they were marched up the valley through which the counterattack had come. With each strike, more of the mist-forsaken moon's defenders were annihilated.[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]Finally, exhausted and in excruciating pain, the blackness came for Gand...[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000] [/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]
    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]— — —[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    Voices, distant and muffled, began to flit through Gand's consciousness like the whorls of mist within the atmosphere of his homeworld. His awareness slowly came to him; one of the first things he noticed as the sounds around him became more and more distinct was the absence of that crushing pain. For that matter, there was no pain at all. He felt a soft surface beneath him and he attempted to open his eyes to see who was speaking, but the lids were two heavy to lift. After a few moments of listening to the goings on, he shifted slightly, carefully working his body underneath the blankets that he suddenly realized were covering him. It was at that point that he noticed an odd feeling in his left limbs; starting just below the shoulder and mid-thigh. A strange tingling sensation was present, he could have sworn that he could feel the heavy fabric of the blanket resting on his foot, his ankle felt tense and twisted at an odd angle. His hand was clenched in a tight fist, a tightness in his elbow. He tried to flex his limbs, only to realize that they were gone. Taking a deep breath, he dully realized that someone had found his breath mask and had fitted it to his face; his focus, however, was on his missing left limbs.[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]That cold sensation that he carried throughout the battle enveloped his head and chest and his heart began to thud against his thoracic plates. The bandages he felt binding him, the limbs that had been removed... the mists were trying to warn him. They were trying to warn him. He could have survived intact if only he was able to listen to them! If only he could have taken that brief moment and meditated, he could have been privy to the outcome. He would still have his arm and leg, he would have survived the encounter without injury if he would have taken one single moment to listen to the mists, to heed their warning! He shook his head—or what ever virtually unnoticeable movement he could muster—now was not the time to punish himself. That nagging, cramping feeling in his ankle, albeit a phantom sensation, was reminder enough. A reminder of letting his guard down. What a foolish weakness. He had gotten complacent, and thus careless.[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]More voices brought Gand further out of his internal diatribe. "...are able to regenerate," a male voice was saying, judging by the pitch and tonal quality. Gand did not recognize the speaker, but that was to be expected. "His species is phenomenal, it really is."[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]"He's a phenomenal Marine as well," the voice of Lieutenant Belton Carter, Aurek Company's commanding officer, replied. "That little shrimp sure does have one tough ass..."[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000] [/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]
    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]— — —[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    "They gave Tuffass the Distinguished Service Order for his troubles, along with the Crimson Cross, Second Class," the Gand continued, wrapping up his story. "Then they fitted Tuffass with prosthetic limbs until his natural ones completed regenerating. It is as you think. Tuffass is called Tuffass because he has a tough ass. That is all."[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]Laera, wide-eyed, did not reply. Night had fallen by the time the elder sergeant had finished recounting his tale. The Navy chief who was in charge of the commissary belted out a warning, informing the now-sparse crowd that the place was about to close its doors and lock up. No one seemed to pay the harassed-looking Nikto any heed, however, save for a Rodian corporal in BDUs who was wolfing down the last of his own snack. Laera blinked a few times as she regarded the stragglers, then focused her attention back on her old drill instructor who had now become her comrade.[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]"That explains your name, but not the—"[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]"They grew out too short!" Tuffass hissed just loud enough for Laera alone to hear. "Tuffass does not know why, and he has long since ceased to care. What matters is that Tuffass can still serve the Corps and, by doing so, perhaps spare another young Marine from sharing his fate." Those last words were said quietly, with a hint of remorse.[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]“But anyway, that was the end of Tuffass's active service career,” he continued. “He was put into a succession of desk assignments much like that wounded Rodian had been, where he eventually received promotions to sergeant and staff sergeant. He would have languished in that field were it not for the new Commandant, Oluth Par'fey, his old division commander. She was a wise warrior, a veteran of the Droid Revolt as well as Kun's war, and she was appalled at Tuffass's situation. She offered him a promotion to gunnery sergeant and this opportunity to train maggots, and he took it, gladly and without haste. And that is how you came to be taught by such a tough ass.”[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]Laera nodded and smiled as she mulled this over quietly. The thought of Tuffass behind a desk was something that she simply could not picture; to have such a presence be relegated to flimsiwork, with only a computer to bark at just did not seem right. As much as her younger, less-experienced self would have hated to admit it, she was glad that Tuffass had become a DI, as she could not imagine him as anything other than the overbearing, obscenity-bellowing teacher whose methods had become legendary. And a remarkable DI he had been, considering the trauma that had caused his ever-present limp.[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]The idea of asking the Gand why he did not use compensatory devices, such as a thicker sole for his left boot, was dismissed almost as soon as it coalesced within her head. The answer had been obvious since the first day she had ever met Tuffass: sheer, gornt-headed pride forbade the tough sergeant from showing the slightest hint of weakness. Even entertaining the thought of sparing himself such discomfort was likely a shameful thing, which also explained his reluctance to discuss his personal history—nearly being ripped in half by a beast over twice one's size would cause any reasonable being to become a bit unhinged.[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]"I think I understand," she said at last. "Thank you for confiding in me."[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]"Tuffass is glad that you appreciate his tale, young sergeant," he said with a snort, though it lacked any sort of scorn or vehemence. "He may disagree with your own training methods, but he cannot contest their results. But it is getting late, and Tuffass requires plenty of rest."[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]"Thanks, Gunny," Laera replied, standing up and turning toward the door. She was about to leave when she noticed that the Gand was having some trouble extricating himself from the bench. Catching a glimpse of a pair of human recruits who were also leaving, she subtly moved to her left in order to obscure the struggling sergeant from their view. By the time they moved on, the insectoid had freed himself. "Could I walk you back to your quarters, at least?"[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]"Tuffass would appreciate that."[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]

    [SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]As they walked, Laera's own memories began to churn...[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]
  4. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    May 11, 2011
    Backrocket Brainiac

    Laera Reyolé tucked a lock of medium-length auburn hair behind her right ear, then slammed the plasteel traveling case shut and cast one last look around the small space. Aside from her bed, now stripped of blanket and sheets, there was a small chest of drawers that had been constructed of binka wood and, placed on a shelf underneath the equally-small window, a whittled carving of a Praetorian-class frigate. The piece bore little resemblance to the capital warship it had been modeled after, and its carving had caused more than a few cuts to her digits and even a gash across her wrist that had taken months to fade completely away. Grabbing the handle of her case, she turned toward the door of her tiny bedroom and nearly ran headlong into her father.

    “Easy there, Lilly,” Daddi Reyolé said, taking advantage of the momentary silence to use his daughter's childhood nickname one more time. A doughy-faced man of middle years, he was only a few centimeters taller than Laera herself; she knew that, by the time she stopped growing, she would surpass him in height. “The transport doesn't leave for another two hours, we'll be at the spaceport long before then.”

    Laera blushed slightly with embarrassment. “Sorry Dad,” she said apologetically. “It's just...this is it, huh?”

    “Yeah,” her father replied wistfully, placing a loving hand on her shoulder.. “My little girl is going off to see the galaxy.”

    “I'm nervous,” she blurted out before she could stop herself. “I've done all the reading and exercising I can, but what if it isn't enough? What if the other recruits all laugh at me? What if I screw up and flunk out?”

    Her father smiled indulgently, the expression he always used when he sensed genuine distress in another person. It usually worked, too. “Now look, kiddo,” he said mock-sternly. “Don't you go fretting about what may or may not happen once you get there. You're fast, strong, and sharp as a whip. They'll be mightily impressed with you, don't you worry.”

    “I know, Dad—I mean, yes, I understand, but still...” Laera paused in her rambling as she stared off into space, looking back at her father after a few moments' silent contemplation. “It shouldn't be like this.”

    A shadow seemed to cross the room as the two Reyolés' expressions darkened. Laera knew that her parents had once owned a beautiful three-bedroom house on the other side of town. She also knew that it had been leveled during an attack by a group of bad-tempered raiders in fancy armor who had called themselves Krath. And she also knew that the Jedi had shown up just after the Krath had left Agamar, though they had only stopped for just long enough to assess the damage and deny requests for aid before following the raiders' hyperspace trail. In the wake of the attack, the Reyolés had been forced to move into a succession of cheap apartments in the city center, with Laera growing up amongst other kids whose families had also suffered similarly. The word “Jedi” was only spoken with contempt among them, if it was ever uttered at all.

    But Daddi wasn't about to let his only child leave on a downer note. His expression was the first to shift back to normal as he strode to Laera's tiny window and picked up the wooden warship. “There's probably as much of your blood in this thing as anything else in this apartment,” he said with a chuckle. “Are you sure you want to leave it behind?”

    Laera snapped out of her momentary funk as she turned toward her father. “Definitely, Dad,” she said decisively. “There won't be room to put it on display. And besides, I don't want it reminding me of how badly my first attempt at woodcarving went, or I'd never try to get better at it.”

    “That's my girl,” Daddi replied, once again chuckling. “Never say die, eh?”

    Laera nodded, and her father put the frigate back in its place. The two of them left the room, Laera in the lead as she carried her packing case with her into the small living room. Her mother, Ceylon, sat tall and upright in their battered old nerf-hide three-seat sofa. It was the only piece of furniture that had been salvageable from their old house, wrecked when Laera had been barely two years old.
    “Almost time, then?” she asked, a worried look sliding onto her visage as she tucked a lock of blonde hair behind her ear. Laera idly wondered when she had inherited that specific nervous motion.
    “Yes, dear,” Daddi replied. “Laera and I were just...talking a bit.”

    “I'm ready to go, Dad,” Laera said, nervously holding her case in both hands and gazing at the floor.
    “We'll go in a minute, Lilly.”

    As though on cue, Ceylon rose from her seat and strode into the kitchen. A tall, lean woman, her height was easily at least a head greater than her husband. While Laera's father tended to be jovial and open, her mother was mostly quiet and dignified, though there were times when she could be direct and stern. The two complimented each other well, and arguments had been rare. Both were hard-working, and had done all they could to support their daughter. Laera loved them both dearly, and she knew that she would miss them terribly while she was away.

    Her mother returned from the kitchen, bearing a small bundle. “Your father and I want you to have this,” she said, handing it to Laera.

    Wrapped in cheap flimsiplast, it was shaped like an amorphous cuboid and gave way as she squeezed it gently. Ripping open the paper, Laera extricated what turned out to be a red tunic—the upper part of the Republic Marines' signature dress red uniform. Tucked into the folded shirt was a pair of trousers, which were a lighter and less intense shade with a broad gold stripe down the outside of each leg. She let out a gasp of wonderment, then came close to tears. “ shouldn't have...”

    “Of course we should have, dear,” Ceylon said, sounding as though she too was about to cry. “You're going off to join the Marines, you should have a uniform...”

    A lump formed in Laera's throat. The uniform had to have cost a good deal of credits, credits the Reyolés could ill-afford to spare. How could she ever make this up to them, when they had so obviously gone to such an effort to support her decision? “I'll make this up to you,” she said, swallowing hard. “Recruits still collect pay even while we're in training. I'll send it back home, you'll need it more than I will.”

    “You don't need to—” Daddi began, but his daughter cut him off.
    “I do,” she said. Her tone was not that of a defiant teenager, but for the first time it was that of a young woman, making her first mature decision. Surprise flushed within her mind as she realized that this had quelled her earlier urge to weep. “I'm not joining the Marines to run away or to prove myself. I'm joining up to help support my family.”

    — — —

    Daddi walked Laera to the spaceport; it was only about a kilometer away, the day was nice and warm, and they had time to kill. They exchanged few words, though, with Laera mostly taking in the sights and committing as much as she could to memory in case things changed while she was away. She knew from her reading that, if she was fortunate, it would be a whole two years at least before she was given any significant time off from her duties as a Marine. And she had done a lot of reading, including every publicly-available document regarding the Republic Marines, their history, their doctrine, and their training methods. She had also watched every holodocumentary she could lay her hands on, and even a few war holodramas that featured Marines in combat situations.

    Despite this, becoming a soldier had not been her original goal in life. Laera had wanted to be an artist, someone who worked with her hands to produce beautiful objects, which was why she had set out to carve that warship in the first place. Binka wood was far too hard for that sort of thing, but it was the only kind readily available, for free, and in small pieces suitable for such projects. As she followed her father through the small commercial district, she mulled over what it would be like to sink her carving blade into something soft. Perhaps she would be able to get hold of some halsa wood, or the neck of a Krath warrior...

    She swatted this last thought away as though it were a kisquo, a blood-sucking insect native to Agamar that was considered a pest by everyone except the nocturnal birds which fed on them. Laera had had such idle thoughts before, but they were rare and typically only showed up after someone had brought up the topic of Jedi or the raid. Determined then as now not to let her past rule her—a past she did not even remember—she began to recite a number of Marine Corps axioms she had learned while reading. Close the distance, close the kill... Center mass equals a sure kill... The more you sweat in training, the less you will bleed in combat...

    “We're here, dear,” her father said mildly.

    Laera nearly jumped when she realized that she had not only been led through the terminal gate, but right up to the waiting area just outside the landing pad where her ship was being serviced. It wasn't her ship, of course; it was in fact a roaming recruit transport, the kind that was sent out every so often on a prearranged circuit to pick up those entering the military and deliver them to their assigned training depot. According to the acceptance packet that had been sent to her family, this particular transport would leave Agamar with her and three other recruits aboard before continuing its route and taking the lot to Corulag, a bustling, metropolitan planet in the Core Worlds. Looking about the terminal she thought she could spot the others; they were wearing plain-looking, well-made coveralls of a utilitarian nature, which was quite different from her own outfit: a loose-fitting faded blue blouse, a dark gray knee-length pleated skirt, and a pair of well-worn brown canvas shoes.

    The nervousness she was feeling broke through her concentration, and she felt a shiver run up her spine. Her father must have seen something, for he smiled meekly at her. “It's okay to be nervous,” he offered. “You're starting a new life and you might not be back for a while.”
    Laera nodded tremulously in reply, the motion exaggerated by nerves. “Looks like I picked the wrong outfit...”

    “Don't worry about that,” Daddi replied. “I want you to know that your mother and I love you, and that no matter what happens, we are very proud of you.”

    “Thanks, Dad,” Laera said. “I won't forget you. And I'll keep my promise.”

    Silence descended between them as they looked at one another, drinking in each other's appearance. An unseen announcer spoke through a microphone, informing those in the waiting area that the transport was ready for boarding. Laera rose nervously, clutched her case tightly in both hands, then put it down again before throwing herself into a hug and squeezing her father for all she was worth.

    “Ooof!” he grunted, the force of his daughter's squeeze driving the wind from him. “Take it easy kiddo,” he said when she finally let go and tousling her hair. “I may not like the Jedi, but there's no denying the Force exists. For what its worth, may the Force be with you.”
    Her throat too tight for words, Laera simply nodded, took up her case once more, and scampered to the boarding ramp.

    — — —

    Three days of hyperspace jumps and groundside pickups later, the transport was inbound to Corulag on the final leg of its journey. The time had passed in a haze, a jumble of comings and goings throughout the tight quarters aboard, and endless, circular conversations about what would happen to them and what the training would be like. Laera, too nervous at first to join in, found that when she did so the others seemed to be disinclined to take her seriously. Though she had nothing to back it up, she asserted to herself that this was caused by two things: the fact that she was only sixteen years old, and that she was dressed in a fashion that was as un-military as it was possible to be. Everyone else, it seemed, was at the age of majority and beyond, and most couldn't be bothered to give her the time.

    When the vessel finally landed on Corulag, Laera set off alone, making her way through the arrival gate with no new friends to accompany her. She felt more lonely than nervous by this time, trudging through the facility at the back of the pack of recruits as they made their way to the mag-lev train which would take them to the Marine Corps Recruit Training Depot. She didn't even have her case with her any longer, so she didn't even have its worn rubber handle to worry over. A droid had instructed all recruits to leave their baggage aboard the transport, stating in its monotone Basic that it would be taken separately. For the first time doubt began to creep into her mind, a queasy sensation that formed at the base of her stomach and threatened to make her nauseous.

    When the train halted at the depot and the recruits piled out, she was once again the last in the gaggle to depart. Laera didn't really mind, she was too busy looking for where she was supposed to go next to care about the others. She took the guide flimsi, which she had been poring over for days now, out of her blouse pocket and scanned it once again, confirming that she was supposed to report to Seven Eighteen Blue Barracks. Someone had had the helpful idea of painting multicolored lines along the walls, and she followed the blue one as it led deeper into the station and down an underground passage. After what seemed like several kilometers she arrived at a junction in the corridor, where seven paths branched off. Each new hallway corresponded to a color, and Laera seemed hardly surprised that the blue line she was following led down the furthest one. Turning where indicated, she followed this new course.

    All along both walls were scattered durasteel doors, each with large numerals emblazoned in blue next to them just above the guide line. The even numbers, beginning with 2-1, 2-2, 2-3 and so on, were on her left while the odd ones, beginning with 1-1, 1-2, 1-3 and so on, were on her right. A small note on her guide flimsi told Laera that she was to follow the lines until she saw her number, but it didn't say what the numbers meant. As she walked, however, she eventually saw doors marked 2-18 and 1-18, with the following ones marked 4-1 and 3-1, respectively. “Oh great, more walking!” she muttered to herself. “At least the pattern is clear and I won't be completely lost!”

    Still quite alone in the barracks complex, Laera proceeded onward, though she determinedly picked up the pace. When she finally did find the door marked 7-18, she was hardly surprised to see that it and 8-18 were the last in the kilometers-long corridor before it ended abruptly in a ferrocrete wall. With a sour look on her face, she scanned the walls and door for a way to access the room beyond, but there didn't seem to be one. As she touched an innocuous-looking pad next to it, a droid's voice barked at her. “Name and service number!”

    Laera let out a gasp, then scrambled again for her guide flimsi. “Um...Laera Reyolé, um...six eight zero three dash two two nine three Isk Trill?”

    “Voice recognition accepted,” the droid replied, its tone inexplicably friendly. “Your bunk is marked four two Besh. Please find your uniforms and possessions in the locker marked four two Resh. Have a nice day.”

    Before Laera could react, the door slid almost instantaneously into the wall with a loud hiss. Not taking any chances, she bolted through the portal and into a vast room stacked on each side with lockers and bunk beds. Recruits, most of them dressed in what Laera recognized as the standard-issue battle-dress uniform, looked up at her; a few of them laughed when they caught sight of her. Blushing furiously she slowed her pace and walked the length of the room, glancing left and right as she passed each bunk, looking for hers. Once again the Corps seems to be ranking you dead last, she thought to herself as she arrived at Bunk 42B, which was the uppermost bunk on the last set to her left. Only it and the locker, marked 42R, stood before the ferrocrete wall that was the far end of the barracks.

    Growling under her breath she opened the locker to find that it was hung with three sets of BDUs, with a set of drawers ensconced in the bottom third of the floor-to-ceiling storage space. What was surprising was that they appeared to have been tailored just for her, and when she opened the uppermost of the three drawers, she saw comfortable-looking, if modest and unflattering, underwear in her size. The next drawer contained a set of gray sweatwear and several T-shirts which went, Laera assumed, with the BDU pants and jacket. The bottom drawer contained a sturdy pair of leather combat boots along with three metal boxes. Taking out the boots and setting them on the floor, she examined the contents of each box: the first contained cleaning and maintenance supplies for her uniforms; the second was filled with assorted toiletries; the third was empty, marked only with a big fat P on the lid.

    “That's for any personal effects you came with,” said a friendly-sounding female voice.

    Laera nearly dropped the box in surprise, but managed to set it aside as she turned to look at her greeter. She was easily three years her senior, taller but also somewhat thicker, a longtime athlete's build. Fair-skinned, her hair was the color of obsidian, which complemented her hazel eyes. The name tape on her uniform indicated that her surname was Cenchu. “Th-thanks,” Laera replied, stuttering slightly. “I just got off the...”

    The woman's smile caused her to falter. “That was kind of obvious,” she said with a chuckle. “Miranda Cenchu at your service, I'll be your bottomer.”

    “My...what?” Laera asked, nonplussed.

    “Your bottomer,” Miranda replied. “You've got top bunk, I've got bottom. Simple enough, right?”

    “Yeah, really simple,” Laera mumbled distractedly. “I'm Laera Reyolé.”

    “Interesting name,” Miranda replied. “Don't think I've heard that surname before, where are you from?”

    “Agamar,” Laera said. She was still uncertain what was going on, but she was grateful for at least one friendly face. “Out in Lahara sector.”

    Miranda whistled. “Backrocket sector, that. I'm surprised the Republic accepts recruits from there, but then the HoloNet does go pretty far.” She paused for a moment. “Oh, please don't think me crass,” she apologized. “Back on Alderaan we're used to a lot of people being from well-known planets. C'mon, I'll show you around and then you can change. I expect the DIs will be here soon, and they won't want to see you in your civvies...”

    — — —

    “The only reason I know all of this is because I was the first to arrive,” Miranda said as she and Laera reentered the main room of the barracks, Laera having changed in the communal refresher stations separated from the sleeping area by a hinged half-door. “That was three days ago, and recruits have been arriving in waves every day since. It's not surprising you're the last of them, being from so far away.”

    As the two walked back toward their bunk, Laera realized that this was an entirely female platoon; her reading had seemed to indicate that training was co-educational in nature. Though she shouldn't have been surprised by it, when she realized that humans were actually in the minority among the other recruits, she had to work hard to resist the urge to stare. There were at least four Bothan females, all clustered around a pair of bunk beds, and a pair of gray-skinned Twi'leks chattering in their own language around a third. Among the other species represented in the platoon were Duros, Nikto, Weequay, an Elomin, a surly-looking Aqualish, a pair of grim-faced Gotals, and an emerald-green Rodian who was idly plucking at her sleeve.

    The two recruits returned to their bunk, where Laera began to look for her case. She found it sitting atop the drawers, half-hidden beneath the hanging sets of BDUs. Opening it, she began transferring the contents to her personals box, only barely managing to get everything to fit within; the clothes would be full of wrinkles if she ever got around to unpacking them. Putting the box away, she closed the drawer, tucked the case back where it had been, stood up and closed the locker. As if on cue, the barracks' main door hissed open.

    “RECRUITS, FALL IN FOR INSPECTION!” a loud male voice shouted.
    Turning around smartly, Laera strode forward and placed herself precisely two paces in front and to the left of her bunk's end post, precisely aligned with her locker doors and facing the wall opposite. By the amount of noise that rolled through the room, she guessed that the rest of the platoon was doing something similar. When everyone had done as the unseen voice had commanded, two pairs of feet began to make their way down the middle of the room, stopping occasionally. Casting a brief glance out of the corner of her eye, Laera saw that Miranda had taken up a similar position on her side of the bed. Beyond her bunkmate, she could see that other recruits were not quite as precise.

    “Eyes forward!” another male voice barked from the other end of the room. More footsteps, then the first voice muttered something that Laera couldn't hear before moving on.

    “Stand up STRAIGHT!” the second voice roared again after a few minutes' silent pacing. “This isn't market day, recruit! Get that load off your shoulders and SQUARE UP like you've got some GUMPTION!”

    After that, Laera kept her focus fixated forward, determinedly blinking so as not to appear glassy-eyed. Eventually the voice assigned to her side of the room arrived at Miranda, grunted, then appeared in Laera's field of view. For a human he was positively enormous, though his bulk was well-proportioned and muscular in nature; the left collar of his BDUs bore the stripes of a staff sergeant. He looked down at Laera, crouched onto one knee, then passed a mammoth hand in front of her gaze. She blinked to indicate acknowledgment, and the noncom rose with a noncommittal grunt and walked silently back to the head of the room as his opposite number did the same.

    “Nerf to taopari in ten seconds flat, eh?” Miranda whispered. Laera inclined her chin a few degrees, but otherwise ignored her.

    Then a new pair of footsteps began to echo through the room. Though they were precisely-measured, Laera thought that she could hear the slightest bit of a limp in them. The strides weren't as long as the DI who had just come by, which suggested the newcomer was significantly shorter. The sensation of curiosity was so palpable that Laera could imagine that every recruit, including her, was straining to have a look at him.

    When she finally did catch a glimpse, her heart sank.

    “What is he supposed to be?” Miranda asked, whispering again.

    “If you value your skin, shut up,” Laera hissed through clenched teeth. “I've heard of this guy.”

    Wisely, in Laera's opinion, Miranda shut her mouth and adopted the closed expression she was supposed to have when being faced down by one of the most infamous drill instructors in the entire Republic Military. Tuffass the Gand was a few centimeters shorter than she was, but he was no less a presence than the burly sergeant who had come by earlier. He continued to pace the room, doubling back and heading for the door when he reached Laera's bunk, only to turn around and stride up the barracks once again. This time, though, he had a lot to say.

    “This is Gunnery Sergeant Tuffass, your senior drill instructor,” he said in a high, loud voice, hot enough to melt wax. “From this moment forward, the first and last words out of your diseased mouths will be SIR! He sees that he has been given charge of a platoon of female maggots this time around. That's right, he said MAGGOTS! You are all maggots, pond scum, ground worms, pieces of filth that Tuffass scrapes off his boot after a long march through the wilderness. You are worthless globs of gornt ****, smears of stains of bodily fluids from creatures whose very names turn Tuffass's stomach. From this point on, you are nameless. Whatever fancy surname you think you possess, it no longer exists! Rip off your name tapes! RIP 'EM OFF NOW!”

    Laera glanced down at her chest and noticed that her own tape had been affixed to her uniform with a hook-and-barb arrangement which, ironically enough, permitted easy removal. Doing as she was told, she ripped the identifier from her uniform and tossed it onto the floor. Miranda looked hesitant, but Laera shot a meaningful look at her and she too complied.

    “Good, at least Tuffass doesn't have any deafness in his platoon.” the Gand said from the doorway. “Sergeants, collect the maggots' tapes. You know what to do with them.”

    As the other two DIs made their way up the barracks, plucking the names of the recruits from the floor as they did so, the senior drill instructor reached behind the doorway and brought into view a large wooden plank. At a meter and a half in length it was taller than he was, but he held it aloft with a deft and decidedly intimidating hand.

    “This is Tuffass's Clue-By-Four,” he began once the sergeants had departed. “With this instrument, he will beat clues into the skulls of those maggots who need them so very badly. You have all taken the oath to serve Tuffass's beloved Corps, but Tuffass will only let those who he deems worthy to join as full Marines. The only way you maggots can do that is to earn your name back, because only named maggots get to be Marines!”

    Somewhere, someone let out a noise that might have been a cough, or it might have been a laugh. Whatever it was, Laera's heart bulged with sympathy, because—

    “DID TUFFASS SAY SOMETHING HUMOROUS?!” he yelled at the top of his voice, stomping over to the offender. “EYES FORWARD, MAGGOT! Do not look at Tuffass! He will NOT have scum looking down on him and he will NOT look up to scum! DOES TUFFASS MAKE HIMSELF CLEAR!”

    “Sir, yes sir!” a human woman replied, clearly terrified.

    “What was that, maggot?” the pint-sized DI demanded. “Tuffass thought he heard slime bubbling, but he isn't too sure!”

    “Sir, yes SIR!” the woman repeated, managing to put a bit more beef behind the words.

    “Do you think Tuffass is funny?”

    “SIR, NO SIR!”

    “Then why did you laugh at Tuffass, maggot?”

    “Sir, it was a cough, SIR!” the recruit said, half-begging for the gunnery sergeant to believe her.

    “Well then, are you sick, maggot? Perhaps you should be sent to sickbay, then you can put on some makeup for the trip back home! Maybe you'll even find a mate among the other tailless mynocks unfit to join Tuffass's beloved Corps!” The sergeant turned away, disgust evident in every motion though no one was quite sure how to read his body language. “Mists of the homeworld, what a pathetic excuse. From now on maggot, your name is Virus. Do you like that name?”

    “SIR, I LOVE THAT NAME, SIR!” the recruit fairly screamed.

    “Kriffing hell, that was the absolute worst attempt at sucking-up that Tuffass has ever heard in all his life!” He turned and swept his gaze across the room. “Tuffass reminds you that until he says so, you have no names, and that means NO IDENTITIES! You will not refer to yourselves using personal pronouns of any kind! You are to use the nickname Tuffass gives you until you have earned the right to your true name and the privilege of joining Tuffass's beloved Corps!”

    He strode up the barracks once again, heading in Laera's direction as he continued to bark general orders. “Tuffass is tough but he is fair. All species are equal within his beloved Corps. Humans, Twi'leks, Bothans, Rodians, Zabraks, Duuuuros—” he seemed to deliberately overdo the first syllable “—they are all equally worthless until the individual proves themselves otherwise. You will learn the methods and doctrines of the Marine Corps, Tuffass will teach you. You will become lean mean organic fighting machines! You will be killers! You will be instruments of death, begging to be let loose and make those who would dare threaten the Republic run away, screaming for their mamas!”

    The short sergeant stopped before another recruit a couple of bunks over from Laera, on the other side of the barracks. “What's your excuse, wormhead?”

    “Sir, the recruit doesn't know what the senior drill instructor means, SIR!” the Twi'lek yelled in response.

    “You don't know?” Tuffass asked incredulously. “Do you mean to tell Tuffass that you cannot explain the constant twitching of those ugly worms sticking out of your skull and hanging disgustingly over your shoulders?!”

    “S-sir, they're called lekku, sir!” the recruit replied, clearly as terrified as the previous one. “They twitch of their own accord, SIR!”

    “Of course you can't control them!” Tuffass replied mockingly. “DO YOU THINK THEY WOULD LET TUFFASS TEACH TWI'LEKS WITHOUT KNOWING ABOUT THEM?”

    The browbeating continued for some time, with the drill instructor bobbing from bed to bed, delivering the most masterful series of put-downs that Laera had ever witnessed. The range of nicknames that he could come up with, based on his first impression of the various recruits, was impressive in the extreme. Virus's bunkmate was named Phlegm, the Twi'lek and her bunkmate became Tapeworm and Ringworm, respectively, and everybody else got something that was just as derogatory if not worse. A couple of the others had even had to do push-ups as a result of their inability to satisfactorily meet the demands hollered at them. Eventually, perhaps inevitably, Laera found herself chest to head before the alien sergeant.

    “You've been awfully quiet, shrimp,” he inquired, obviously referencing the fact that at sixteen, Laera was the shortest and smallest recruit in the barracks—even so, she was still taller than he was. “Tuffass wonders about that. He's seen you standing stock-still throughout this little session, eyes straight ahead and blinking only when necessary for your kind. Did you study up before you shipped in?”

    Laera suspected that the sergeant's demeanor, which was unusually civil given his earlier discourse, was bait for a trap. Still, honesty was the best policy, and she belted her reply loud and confidently. “Sir, the recruit has been studying, SIR!”

    “Holy **** on a repulsor stick, we have a kriffing brainiac in the barracks!” Tuffass bellowed, turning to point Laera out to the rest of the recruits. Then he snapped his molten gaze back to his newest victim. “Who was the first Commandant of Tuffass's beloved Corps!”

    “Sir, Admiral Sakira Tobonne, SIR!” Laera replied.

    “Who founded the Marine Corps Band!”

    “Sir, Lieutenant Commander Yen Duursema, SIR!”

    “What was the purpose behind the formation of Marine Force Recon!”

    “Sir, to gather intelligence in a hostile setting, to scout planets for enemy presence, and to carry out missions of sabotage and high-value target elimination, SIR!”

    “How many fighter wings does the Marine Corps possess?”

    “Sir, eight wings, SIR!”

    “With a ninth on the way,” Tuffass said proudly. “Your new name is Brain. Do you like that name?”

    “Sir, Brain will accept and utilize that name, SIR!”

    A subtle change in the sergeant's stance let Laera know that she had pushed her luck just a bit too far.

    “That, Brain, is not the question Tuffass put to you,” he said in a carrying whisper that seemed to radiate menace. “You're smart but you're stupid, Brain, do you realize that? No, do NOT answer, that was a rhetorical question! You just made the first mistake of your short career, Brain; you made an assumption. You assumed that Tuffass would be impressed by your knowledge and semantics, and tried to make yourself look good. But hey, in spite of all that Tuffass likes you. He likes you so much in fact, he's gonna give you some special details throughout the rest of the week.”

    He turned away from Laera then, who was trying desperately not to turn crimson with shame. “Tuffass hopes that the rest of you learned something from Brain's example here. Assumption is the mother of all kark-ups! IS THAT CLEAR!”

    “SIR, YES SIR!”

    — — —

    “Smooth, Brain, real smooth,” Miranda—now renamed Makeup—commented as she and Laera scrubbed out the refresher station late that night, using only primitive hand brushes. “I would say you got off easy, but then the rest of us didn't have to make that run with the sergeant on their backs.”

    Laera's back gave a particularly painful spasm at those words, and she had to momentarily rise to a sitting position in order to try and relieve it. The five kilometer run she could probably have handled, especially at the somewhat languid pace of the rest of the platoon. But with Tuffass clinging to her like a mynock, shouting invective at her and the platoon in equal measure, it had been quite a hellish experience. “Believe me Makeup, if I had only known...”

    “Oh, we believe you alright,” Miranda replied. “But you probably knew already why they call this 'Hell Week.'”

    “This isn't Hell Week,” Laera bit out. “This was just indoctrination and acclamation. The real Hell Week starts at sunup, the day after we're introduced to the DIs.”

    “Thanks,” Miranda replied contemptuously, bashing the floor with her brush as she tried to dislodge a stubborn bit of grime. “I so did not need to know that.”

    Silence passed for several minutes as the two recruits, who were clad in their underwear and shower shoes so as not to spoil their uniforms, separated to clean different parts of the communal facilities. “So, why did you join up anyway?” Miranda asked, her back to Laera. “You're young, you're tiny, and though you're smart, you don't seem all that strong.”

    Laera smiled to herself. “You just made my mistake, Makeup,” she replied with a chuckle. “But I did it to support my family; the Corps pays good money if you make it through boot. What about you?”
    “Rebellion, mostly,” Miranda scoffed, ignoring Laera's barb. “Everyone expects us Alderaanians to be either artists or philosophers, not athletes and certainly not soldiers. We do have a small defense force apart from the Republic Military, but my parents wouldn't sponsor me to join up there. So I ran away to the Corps, figuring they were more likely to see action than any other service branch.”

    “I take it you were impressed by the sergeant's speech,” Laera said.

    “Hell, why the kriff not?” she asked. “I get to see the galaxy on someone else's credits, and hopefully most days will involve a good fight. And before you ask what sport I played, I didn't play any. I wanted to be a shockboxer but there's no league for it on Alderaan.”

    The two finished their cleaning in silence, then made their way silently back to their bunks. Miranda stood aside to let Laera ascend to the top bunk, but Laera had no intention of using the small ladder at the end. Putting her hands a meter apart on the railing, she vaulted upward and managed to get her left foot on the far post, using the leverage to heave herself onto the mattress. “Impressive,” Miranda remarked idly. “I admit, I didn't think you had it in you.”

    “Ow,” Laera replied sarcastically, massaging her back. “Goodnight, Makeup. Please don't talk in your sleep.”

    — — —

    Thankfully, Makeup wasn't a nocturnal vocabulator—at least, not that Laera could tell. When the three drill instructors walked into the barracks, each banging a pair of metal pots together, everyone began to throw off their bedclothes and scramble from their bunks and into some semblance of inspection positions.

    “Alright boys, time to get up!” the high voice of Tuffass belted out, deliberately confusing the gender of the recruits. “It is now 0500 hours, and time for the Marine Corps' favorite activity: physical training! Grab your sweats and pull 'em on, then follow your drill instructors to the PT plaza where you will form into four rows and ten columns. You will then do exactly as they do, maggots, exactly as they do it, and you will LOVE IT!”

    “SIR, YES SIR!” the recruits bellowed in unison.

    In the mass confusion that followed, with forty women scrambling for their PT gear and putting them on as quickly as possible, the diminutive sergeant seemed to disappear. Laera didn't have the time or energy to spare in wondering why; her back was still aching from carrying the little cuss around the previous day. Gradually the tumult died down as the training platoon got themselves together and formed a double line before the junior instructors. Somehow Laera ended up leading the left column, where she stood face to chest in front of the massive DI, whose name tape identified him as one J. Pavan.

    “You heard the gunny, ladies,” he said loudly, though his voice carried none of the venom of his bug-like superior; instead, it was replaced with casual sarcasm mixed with a general air of disdain. “Let's move those cute little asses!”

    Turning about, he began to march briskly through the barracks door, after which he immediately took a left into what Laera had previously thought was solid wall. Hot on Sergeant Pavan's heels, however, she quickly realized that it had in fact been a massive, heavily-disguised doorway. Beyond was a large earthen ramp, beaten smooth by generations of boot-prints, which led to a vast field of beautifully-manicured grass that was barely discernible in the predawn gloom. What was much more easily noticeable was the fact that they were far from the field's only occupants; at least two dozen more groups of forty-odd beings were scampering to and fro, or else stationary and engaging in various stretches and other exercises. Every one of them were yelling chants of some variety, or else counting off in unison, giving off the impression of an audience rooting for their favorite shockball team.

    “Platoon, halt!” Sergeant Pavan yelled once they had jogged to a spot about twenty-five meters northwest of the ramp. “Assume PT formation!”

    “SIR, YES SIR!” the recruits screamed as they hastened to obey. As the last of them fell into the assigned four row, ten column formation proscribed by their senior DI, despite the noise of the crowd Laera thought she heard someone off in the distance yell a command.

    All at once, fifty or more blaster rifles opened fire, arcing red bolts of energy over the field no more than a meter or two above their heads. “Hit the dirt, ladies!” Sergeant Pavan ordered, suiting action to words and throwing himself onto the ground. “Those blasters are not set to stun!”

    Taking the sergeant at his word, Laera dove for the deck, landing on her knees and open palms. The grass, only a centimeter from her nose, smelled of sweet dew with a hint of musk.

    “Watch carefully, ladies,” the DI belted out. “This is how you do a Marine-style push-up!”

    Counting off the motions as he did so, he demonstrated the correct form, which was different from the exercise most civilians thought of as a push-up. With his arms spread apart so that his elbows formed a natural pivot point perpendicular to the ground and his knees locked straight, he proceeded to do two up-down motions, after which he counted off. “One! Now let's see what you've got!”

    Following his lead, the platoon attempted this more difficult maneuver. Laera was able to do it, but not without more complaints from her back and shoulders. A few of the recruits were having trouble, particularly Ringworm, Phlegm, and the Bothans Hairball and Peachfuzz. Their perceived lack of effort earned a visit from the other DI, Sergeant Grimski, who yelled invective at each of them in turn. “Do you want to quit!” he yelled at Peachfuzz. “Have you proven your manliness yet, sweetheart!”

    “Sir, no sir!” the Bothan recruit, whose fur was a pale yellowish pink, yelled back.

    “I don't kriffing believe you, meat-pie! Show me a real push-up! Show me you want to earn your name and become a Marine!”

    “Sir, yes sir!” Peachfuzz replied, the strain of the effort clear in her voice. Laera didn't have time to see if she pulled it off or not, because Sergeant Pavan was barking for attention.

    “On your feet, ladies, move!” he yelled as he did the same. “Remember that push-up, because you're going to be doing lots and lots of 'em in the next six months!”

    For the next five minutes, as the blasterfire continued in waves, Sergeants Pavan and Grimski taught the platoon the various exercises they would be expected to perform every morning. After push-ups, they learned about Marine-style sit-ups, Jumping Jaxes, spring-leaps, quick-drop/quick-stand routines, stretches, and the accepted marching and quick-marching paces. Laera was able to keep up for the most part, though her back kept acting up. Miranda was, predictably enough, doing the best and wearing a big grin while she was at it. Finally, Pavan called a temporary reprieve.

    “Well now, ain't this a cluster-knock,” he said as the blasterfire halted, mockery and scorn clear in his tone. “I gotta wonder what the kriff the recruiting board was smoking when they let this bunch of weak-kneed, noodle-armed puffballs into my beloved Corps! With the possible exception of Makeup over there, I doubt a single one of you could so much as get up from a sitting position while in armor! Now hit the deck and push ten, all of you, right kriffing now!”

    Once again, in a beautifully-choreographed manner, the blasterfire resumed as the platoon fell into position and began grunting their way through the DI's orders.

    — — —

    “You look terrible, Brain,” Miranda said after Laera sat at the bench across the table from her and began digging into her breakfast. The sun was just poking its head over the horizon, and after having been deposited at the nearby mess hall, the platoon had been given fifteen minutes to secure chow and feed themselves.

    “And you look like you enjoyed yourself,” Laera retorted in a low rumble.

    “I'm serious, you might want to consider going to sickbay and getting your back checked over.”

    Laera spitted the older recruit with a molten stare of her own. The woman's expression was sincere enough, but she had a hard time accepting such an observation from someone who had actually earned an honest compliment from their DIs. “Absolutely not,” she said in an undertone as another recruit joined them. “Now shut up and let me eat; I'm gonna need every spare calorie to make the O-Course.”

    “Oh come on, Brain,” Miranda said insistently. “You know as well as I do that you're still aching from yesterday's run. If you strain yourself—”

    “Listen here, cupcake,” Laera bit out, jabbing her spork at the athlete. “I joined up to help my family, not to impress some sportscaster when you start your glamorous shockboxing career with help from the Corps. I'll do whatever it takes to see this through, even if they break every bone in my body. Don't presume to lecture me on what I can and cannot accomplish!”

    “I wasn't trying to—” Miranda began, but Laera was having none of it.
    “I'm fine, Makeup,” she hissed. “Maybe you should hurry up and eat so you can get back to the barracks and paint your face before we run the O-Course. Sergeant Grimski might appreciate the effort.”

    Without another word, Laera moved her tray one table over, taking up a space between Virus and the Rodian, now named Squeak.

    — — —

    Tuffass was waiting for them when the platoon, shepherded by the junior DIs, arrived at the starting point for the obstacle course, which was a small grassy knoll overlooking an artificial cut. A permacrete line and starting marker had been built at the top, pointing down the ramp which led to the first obstacles. The marker pole itself bore a large metal sign, upon which the current times for completion were posted on flimsi. These were divided into several sections, marked MINIMUM EXPECTED, AVERAGE DAILY, AVERAGE WEEKLY, AVERAGE MONTHLY, and RECORD TIMES. Laera couldn't help but notice that the most recent record had been set some fifteen years prior, which meant that this course wasn't going to be easy.

    “Twenty minutes or less, that's all you gornt-punchers need to know about this O-course for now,” Tuffass explained. “Divide up by fives and mount the line! NOW!”

    With her upper back still prickling, Laera attempted to mosey her way into the back five group. The diminutive sergeant must have seen her, however, because he called a halt. “Belay that!” he hollered. “Maggots, back in formation! Brain, front and center!”

    The platoon fell back into its four rows as Laera, keeping her head locked upright and wearing a neutral expression, obeyed. “Sir, recruit Brain reporting as ordered, SIR!”

    Tuffass leaned in and spoke in low, menacing tones. “Still smarting, maggot? Don't worry, it gets better.” Then he switched back to his high holler. “Maggots, today is your lucky day: Brain has just volunteered to run the O-Course first. She's even going to do it solo, so that you can watch and learn that it takes TEAMWORK in order to make it in Tuffass's beloved Corps! Now MOVE THAT ASS, BRAIN! GO! GO! GO!”

    Laera dashed down the ramp without hesitation, her gaze locked firmly on the first hurdle...

    — — —

    Memories of that first run at the Corulag depot's course still caused Gunnery Sergeant Laera Reyolé to wince in sympathy with her younger self. Nineteen minutes and forty-two seconds of pure, unadulterated hell it had been, but she had survived the cut with only minimal bumps and bruising. That afternoon, after a healthy dose of pushing fenders—two-meter diameter cylinders made of rubber that took six recruits apiece to even move—up the ramp from the barracks to the PT yard, the platoon had gone through the course again. She had been permitted to accompany a division of four others for the run, and because of that she had managed to post a significant reduction in time. But she would never forget that first run, never in a thousand years, because it had been the first time she had ever felt true doubt regarding why she had joined up.

    “You know, you certainly made me work for it, Gunny,” Laera remarked idly as she and the Gand neared the recruits' barracks; it was tradition for DIs to sleep and spend their downtime near their charges. “To get this far, I mean.”

    Tuffass bobbed his head in his equivalent of an approving nod. “That was Tuffass's job, no more and no less. Tuffass wouldn't have been able to live with himself if he hadn't found a way to make Brain appreciate the purpose of her training.”

    “And the lesson was learned,” Laera replied with a grin. “No amount of study can ever prepare someone for such a life-altering experience.”

    “Tuffass is glad that you agree,” he said simply.

    She bade the elder drill instructor goodbye as the two parted company, each heading for their respective barracks. Laera had planned to take her third class of recruits, who had finished their own Hell Week several weeks prior, through Carida's own O-course for their third day of running it. This was the same course on which she herself had nearly set a record soon after arriving on-planet, though the high gravity had nearly caused her to break a leg. She hadn't planned on going for that record; the run had only been intended as a joyful vindication of all that she had learned while ascending the ranks of enlisted personnel.

    Starting with the event in Basic Training that had earned her name back...
  5. TrakNar

    TrakNar Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Apr 4, 2011
    Quick warning: Tuffass is a bit of a potty-mouth.

    [B]Fools Rush In[/B]

    The pot-banging that signaled yet another new day of Marine Corps recruit training rebounded off the walls, echoing about the chamber. Squeak, the first to rise, covered her ears in pain as she kicked her blanket off and rolled onto her feet. It was only after the two junior DIs left that she removed them and began to dress, muttering invective to herself in her native Rodese. “This is too much!” she finally belted out in Basic as she threaded her antennae through the holes in her hat. “Can they not think of another way to rouse us?!”

    Nobody answered her, because at that moment the senior drill instructor entered the barracks. He crossed his arms over his uniformed chest and cast his gaze about the room, warning the rest of the platoon against replying. “Honestly, it's like they're deliberately out to make Squeak uncomforta...”

    Her voice trailed off as she noticed the presence of the diminutive DI.

    “Are you finished, slime?” he deadpanned.

    “Sir, yes SIR!” Squeak shrieked as she snapped to attention.

    “Tuffass doubts that, maggot!” he replied hotly. “Drop to the deck! RIGHT KRIFFING NOW!”

    By this time the rest of the platoon was up and dressed, standing at attention before their bunks in inspection formation. Laera and Miranda watched with suppressed amusement as Tuffass proceeded to stand on the small of Squeak's back. “Now, give Tuffass twenty!”

    “Sir?” Squeak asked, her voice muffled slightly by the fact that her mouth was touching the floor.


    As the hapless Rodian recruit grunted under the strain of having to do push-ups with sixty-nine kilos of weight on her back, Laera mulled over what was in store for them. The platoon had just finished their marksmanship qualifications the previous day, and while she was proud of having earned expert on blaster rifles, the fact that she had zeroed on the final round of pistol shooting irked her considerably. Though she had still made sharpshooter, albeit barely, the thought of having missed the holy grail of dual-rate expert in such a way caused her cheeks to flush with embarrassment. But there was no time to dwell on this; with the end of weapons qualification testings had come the beginning of the final phase of boot camp, Advanced Combat and Tactical Training.

    “What is the private's fourth general order?!” Tuffass belted out as Squeak grunted the completion of her fourth push-up.

    “Sir...” she groaned, struggling with the weight on her back, “...the private's fourth general order repeat all calls from posts...more distant from the guard position...than the private's own...sir!”

    “At least your brain hasn't blown up yet, Squeak,” Tuffass spat. “Brain! What is the private's seventh general order!”

    “Sir, the private's seventh general order is to talk to no one except in the line of duty, SIR!” Laera belted out.

    “Which means your watery-eyed wailing was in direct violation of your standing orders, you little sweat-sucking nerf-lover!” Tuffass, bending low on Squeak's back, yelled into her ear. The Rodian nearly fell over in shock and pain, but she managed to recover and pump out another push-up. The Gand kept his balance, seemingly unaware of what had just happened. “Continue the exercise void-brain! Without the bitching or, the mists help him, Tuffass [I]will[/I] get the Clue-By-Four!”

    The platoon watched in silence as the Rodian did her best to comply. They were used to this practice; Laera caught glimpses of a number of others wearing pained, sympathetic looks. So far she herself hadn't had to endure this treatment, but on the whole she thought it was rather an easier punishment to bear than having to run five klicks with the sergeant perched on her back in a death grip. Eventually, with considerable effort, Squeak finished the twentieth push-up. Tuffass dismounted casually, and the recruit was permitted to rise to her feet. “Alright maggots, armor up,” he said after his latest victim had fallen in. “Report to the armory in fifteen minutes and collect spotting weapons and harnesses; we're hitting the field today.”

    Turning on his right heel, the Gand strode out of the room, leaving the women alone to change. As soon as the door slid shut behind him, the forty recruits began scrambling to shuck their BDUs and don their training armor, which they had received two weeks prior to the start of the second phase. It was hot, heavy and cumbersome, but it did what it was designed for; by now everyone had gotten used to the weight and bulk, if not the appearance and the sensation of being sealed inside a tin can. Laera hadn't been the first to adjust to the feeling of claustrophobia; Miranda, that increasingly irritating bundle of energy and enthusiasm, had been taken down a notch when she had discovered that vacuum ratings didn't agree with her self-confidence at all. As if that hadn't been enough to make Laera smile, the woman had also barely qualified during her marksmanship finals.

    As she slipped the helmet over her head, however, Laera put those thoughts aside. Today they were actually going to put what they had learned into practice, and she wasn't about to disappoint the DIs or the rest of her platoon. She wasn't completely without skills in this regard: in happier times she had often played Troopers and Raiders, a popular children's game played with cheap plastic lasers and target receptors. Among the apartment complexes and parks of her hometown, she had become one of the more sought-after teammates for her ability to sneak about the “battlefield” and pick off the “enemy” before fading into the background. Though she knew that, compared to actual military exercises, these games were but crude imitations with no real consequences, Laera took heart in the fact that she had the gumption to pull it off as well as the scores to prove that she could hit her target.

    Fifteen minutes later, the platoon lined up by twos before the armory counter to collect their field gear. Laera was in the middle of the right column, where she stood next to Horny, the Elomin who dwelt on a bottom bunk halfway down the barracks. The alien had proven a competent marksbeing, and she was wearing a rare smile as she waited.

    “Ready to get out there and have some fun, Horny?” Laera asked.

    “Fun...” Horny replied, as though this concept were alien to her. “Brain thinks that this”

    “Well, not with that overbearing shrimp yelling at us every other second, no,” Laera admitted. “But once we divide up and go at it, he won't be able to track all of us[SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]—[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]he's good, but he's no Jedi Knight.”

    “You know what will happen?” Horny asked. Her smile was long gone now, and though her expression was unreadable the words carried enough meaning. “Never mind. You are Brain, you are the one who studies, who wishes to be prepared.”

    “And to think, I washed out of the Youth Scouts,” Laera replied with a chuckle. “Apparently the scoutmaster didn't appreciate my sneaking up on her and pelting her with binka seeds.”

    “Horny hopes that she is not in your squad, then,” the Elomin replied, closing the discussion on a sour note.

    Laera didn't have time to stew; barely ten seconds later, the recruit before her finished collecting her gear and sauntered off to join the others who had already been similarly armed. “Name?” the bored-looking human chief petty officer manning the desk asked.

    “Brain,” Laera replied.

    “I mean your [I]real[/I] name, dolt,” he spat. “Tuffass and his shenanigans, I swear to the Force...”

    Laera was thankful that her helmet was on, because the Navy noncom's muttered remark had made her break out in a toothy grin. “Laera Reyolé,” she answered after a beat.

    The chief punched something into his datapad, then looked back up at her, brandishing the device. “Sign here, private,” he said grumpily. “With your actual birth name, if you would be so kind.”

    Laera took the datapad and drew the attached stylus from a slot on its side. Scribbling her signature, she handed it back to the chief, who promptly snatched the device and disappeared. Ten seconds later another Navy petty officer appeared, bearing a medium-size plastoid box upon which a BR-7m-S spotter carbine had been set. “Training weapon number six one eight dash oh four Krill is registered to you, Recruit Reyolé,” he said dully. “As is spotter harness three nine oh dash Besh seven Resh. You are responsible for the keeping of this equipment for the remainder of your training. Do you have any questions?”

    The Navy man's tone indicated that he rather there wasn't, but Laera was feeling particularly perky. “Yeah,” she said idly. “Can I get a receipt with that?”

    “Here you go,” the petty officer said, somewhat miffed as he slapped a small piece of flimsi onto the box. “If you lose any of this stuff, it'll be your hide. Now get going.”

    Laera hefted her new equipment and scooted to the side, tucking the flimsi underneath her breastplate's collar and pinioning the box against the wall with her left boot as she slung the carbine across her back. Taking the box up once again, she joined the others who had already received their gear. All of them, Miranda included, were attempting to fit the harnesses over their own armor, though none seemed to know what they were doing. Laera decided against aping them, and continued to hold her own box even as the rest of the platoon did the opposite. As the last of them[SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]—[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]the orange-and-white furred Bothan nicknamed Lassie[SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]—[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]drew their weapon and harness, Tuffass reappeared.

    “Now this is truly a pathetic sight,” he said, posting his three-fingered hands on his hips and looking daggers at the assorted recruits trying desperately to master their equipment. “It seems that out of all of you, only Brain had the sense to wait until instructed before making complete and utter fools of themselves. Put that **** down on the ground RIGHT KRIFFING NOW and fall into formation! Brain, front and center with your box!”

    “Sir, yes SIR!” the recruits bellowed as they did as they were told.

    “Sir, recruit Brain reporting as ordered, SIR!” Laera said crisply as she presented herself to the senior DI.

    Tuffass pulled her by the arm until she stood facing the thirty-nine other trainees, then indicated her carbine. “Observe how Brain utilized her weapon's sling,” he said hotly, pointing at the sturdy strap that was connected to the carbine's butt and stock, which presently straddled her breastplate. “Since she is not using it she has slung it across her back, muzzle pointing up in a safe direction, yet readily accessible in case of emergency.” He paused, then glared at the recruits, his compound eyes glittering. “Meanwhile, each and every one of you has left your weapons on the [I]FLOOR[/I]! Where the hell are your brains, maggots, in your asses?!”

    He then took Laera's box and opened it, pulling out the single-piece target harness encased within. “Brain, take a knee,” he said. “Watch and learn, bog-slime.”

    The Gand then began to instruct Laera in how to properly wear the thing. The two main parts of the harness were actually joined by a series of six connector straps, four of which were adjustable and connected around the sides, with the other two running over each shoulder and bearing their own target receptors. Unclasping the side straps, he draped the assembly over Laera's head and shoulders, then reconnected the fasteners around her abdomen. After tightening them down in a less-than-gentle fashion, he smacked Laera's left shoulder plate and motioned for her to stand. “If any of the rest of you void-brains can't do this simple feat on your own, then you have no place in Tuffass's beloved Corps! Now MOVE IT OR LOSE IT!”

    [CENTER][SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]— — —[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE][/CENTER]

    Ten minutes and a shipload of obscenities later, the platoon formed up at the gates to one of the Corulag depot's all-weather training fields. Clad in full combat gear with their rifles and carbines slung over their shoulders, they made for a reasonable approximation of a professionally-trained unit. Tuffass, however, didn't seem to be at all impressed as he and the other two DIs paced silently before their charges. Laera thought that he must be thinking hard about what he was about to say or do, but all she could come up with was what she had learned from the reading she had done before and since shipping in. If she was correct, then the drill instructor was contemplating squad assignments, particularly who would be fit to become recruit squad leaders.

    Finally the Gand stopped, standing at the center of the formation as the other two DIs stood menacingly beside him. “Up until this point, this collection of rancid walking ground nuts has received its training as a whole. That is about to change, maggots. From this point on you will be learning what it takes to survive in combat[SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]—[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]not just how to march, how to shoot, or how to make your racks and square away your gear. This, meatbags, is where you learn how to be[I]Marines[/I].

    “The deadliest weapon in the galaxy is a Marine and their blaster,” Tuffass continued, resuming his pacing as Sergeants Pavan and Grimski glared at the platoon. “But it is not the being, nor the weapon they wield that is deadly. It is a hard heart that kills. It takes a killer instinct in order to use that weapon to its fullest. If you scum-sucking pantywaists don't have that instinct, that desire, that [I]need[/I] to kill the enemy, then you will hesitate. You will [I]not[/I] kill. You will become [I]dead[/I]Marines, and then you will be in a whole world of ****. Because Marines are not allowed to die without permission! IS THAT CLEAR!”

    “Sir, crystal clear, SIR!” the platoon responded.

    “The only way for you pukes to develop that instinct is through experience,” the sergeant continued, stopping once again between the two junior DIs. “You must learn what it is like to have someone else get the drop on you, so that you will be able to understand how humiliating it is to get shot. And Tuffass is not talking about those stupid dreams you have of waking up in primary school and realizing that you forgot to wear your clothes. No, Tuffass talks about [I]true[/I]humiliation, the kind that makes you want to die on the battlefield right there and then! Because that is precisely what you [I]will[/I] do if you are ever surprised in a real-life combat situation, when the other pukes have real weapons [I]and[/I] that killer instinct!”

    Tuffass fell silent then, and Sergeant Pavan stepped forward. “Recruits, break up by squad as your nicknames are called, forming up there, there, and there” the enormous noncom said loudly, pointing at in turn at three posts near the gate. “First Squad will form up on myself, with Recruit Ringworm as recruit squad leader. Second Squad will form up on Sergeant Grimski, with Recruit Lassie as recruit squad leader. Third Squad will form up on Sergeant Tuffass, with Recruit Makeup as recruit squad leader...”

    Laera's heart skipped a beat as she listened to the sergeant calling off assignments. [I]Makeup, a squad leader?![/I] she thought furiously. [I]The woman could probably knock Pavan out in the shockboxing ring, but outside of that, she's no leader![/I] Blushing with suppressed indignation underneath her helmet, Laera listened with only half her mind as the rest of the platoon's names and squads were reeled off.

    “Brain!” barked Sergeant Pavan, causing Laera to jump slightly. “Are you waiting for a written invitation from the Commandant?”

    Laera shook her head mutely.

    “THEN GET THE KRIFF OVER TO THIRD SQUAD ON THE DOUBLE!” Pavan yelled. “And get a cup of caf while you're at it, maybe that'll get your head back in the game!”

    As the junior DI muttered imprecations under his breath, Laera did her best to hide her renewed indignation at her billeting as she strode over to where Tuffass and Makeup were waiting, deep in conversation. It wasn't so much Miranda's lack of notable martial skills that irked her, nor the woman's talkative and gregarious personality. It was the simple fact that, in Laera's estimation, the older recruit simply didn't have the presence of mind or the level of dedication necessary to be able to look out for anyone other than herself. Maybe there was something that the senior drill instructor saw in her that Laera wasn't seeing, but that didn't help her mood any.

    “About time you joined us, Brain,” Tuffass said in low tones. “Did your little nap help any?”

    “Sir, yes SIR!” Laera replied, unable to think of anything else to say.

    “Third Squad, fall in,” Tuffass instructed, turning away from the still-fuming Laera and addressing the thirteen recruits, continuing when they had assembled. “Makeup is now your squad daddy, you will defer to her in all matters pertaining to your pathetic existences that are not directly supervised by Tuffass or your instructors. Which means that when none of us are around, she is your parents, your planet, and your god. You will worship her as you would worship Tuffass. Is that clear?”

    “Sir, yes SIR!” the squad, including Miranda, replied.

    The Gand then turned to Miranda. “With great rank comes great responsibility, Makeup,” he said. “But woe betide any poor dumb private who thinks that this axiom doesn't apply to them! These little parasites are now [I]your[/I] responsibility. Their actions will, from now on, reflect on you and your prospects within Tuffass's beloved Corps. Is that clear!”

    “Sir, yes SIR!” Miranda barked in reply, snapping off a salute.

    “Just what the kriff was [I]that[/I]?!” Tuffass barked indignantly. “You trying to show off, Makeup? Didn't Tuffass tell you that a Marine ONLY salutes officers!”

    “Sir, the recruit apologizes, SIR!” Miranda roared.

    “DO NOT APOLOGIZE!” Tuffass nearly screamed, grabbing Miranda's collar and bending her over so that she was faceplate-to-mask with him. “Tuffass is starting to think he made a mistake already with you, Makeup, and you do NOT want that! Now form up your girls and hit the gate, you're going hunting!”

    Looking somewhat put out despite the suit of armor she wore, Miranda called for her squad to form double lines as she led them to the gate just as Second Squad finished passing through. Laera, standing at the end of the right-hand column, walked next to Squeak, whose bulbous helmet provided room for her larger ears, antennae, and spines.

    “Helluva way to start ACTT, eh?” she asked in a low whisper as they marched through. Nobody was paying them the slightest bit of attention, so Laera felt comfortable engaging in a little chit-chat.

    “Squeak now understands what you went through on the first day,” the Rodian replied sympathetically. “That vicious little bug...I knew a Kubaz who would have enjoyed preparing him for a meal.”

    “I've never met a Kubaz, I've heard they prefer an insect diet, but to eat a sentient species...?”

    “If Kubaz ruled the galaxy, there are many sentient insectoid species that they would be feasting upon,” Squeak said, a sour note to her accent. “Unfortunately, they do not.”

    Just then, the comlinks built into the recruits' helmets buzzed. “This is Recruit Makeup, testing Third Squad tactical frequency. Everyone report in.”

    The squad did as instructed. “Brain, checking in,” Laera replied after Squeak had done the same. “What's up?”

    “We've been assigned to proceed northwest along a low, forested ridge,” Miranda said. “There's another training platoon conducting exercises in the field today, and the three squads are supposed to be playing search-and-destroy. That other platoon is looking for us and we're looking for them.”

    “Sounds like fun,” said Tapeworm halfheartedly. “Just so long as this other platoon doesn't get the drop on us.”

    “Second Squad calling Third Squad,” the voice of Lassie said over the comm. “What's your game plan, Makeup?”

    “We follow orders and shoot anything that comes our way,” Miranda replied simply.

    “If that's how you want it,” Lassie replied dubiously. “We're going west, splitting off on the other side of the creek from your route. First Squad's going southwest through the rocks and back north along our flank.”

    “So they're the backup, then?” Miranda asked. “Figures Ringworm would try to sweep in and take the prize.”

    The Twi'lek had qualified alongside Miranda two days previously, scoring the coveted dual-rate expert while the human had had to cope with the shame of being bestowed with dual lunchboxes, as the Basic Marksmanship Badge was nicknamed. The rivalry between them had been fierce all through the Basic Physical and Basic Combat phases of training, and this latest incident hadn't helped any. Laera thought that it was all quite silly, but then she supposed that these were the sorts of things that were inevitable about military life. Despite the fact that they were bunkmates and that the older woman had helped her to get settled in, Laera did not count Miranda as a friend. What with practical training, lectures, and the reading required during off-duty hours, the young Agamarian had thus far had no time to make any real friends within the platoon.

    “Lassie advises against thinking that way,” the Bothan replied cautiously; everyone suspected that their communications channels were being monitored and no one wanted to get caught violating Tuffass's edict regarding personal pronouns. “Anyway, we're set to rendezvous at The Pyramid, assuming all three squads come up empty.”

    “Got it,” Miranda said tartly, ending the exchange. “Third Squad out.”

    The squad continued its trajectory, coming under the shade of the trees as the conversation was terminated. At a hand gesture from Miranda, the recruits increased their intervals to the accepted five meters as proscribed by Marine Corps infantry doctrine, which was meant to minimize casualties if a grenade or mine detonated amongst them. Most of the recruits weren't bothering to enforce much noise discipline so Laera, as the tail-end charlay of the bunch, kept her focus oriented to the rear of the formation lest anyone attempt to sneak up behind them.

    Nothing happened for the next half hour as they continued to march along the top of the ridge, save for various squadmates intermittently exchanging idle chatter. Horny and Phlegm were having an argument about the merits of rifles versus carbines, while Leatherhead, a Duros recruit, was verbally sniping at Ivory, the ever-surly Aqualish. Laera tuned them all out, however, and kept her focus on the forest around them, wondering why nothing was happening and why Miranda wasn't trying to maintain control of her people. As the squad walked around a large boulder that jutted up from the grass, however, Laera heard something that was distinctly amiss.

    “Makeup, Brain,” she whispered. “We're not alone.”

    “Squad, halt,” Miranda said. “What've you got, Brain?”

    “Not sure yet...possible bogey off to the rear on our right flank.”

    “Take Squeak and check it out,” Miranda ordered. “Squad, take up a defensive posture.”

    “Here?” Horny protested. “There's no cover but this rock!”

    “Just do it!” Miranda hissed. “Find something to hide behind if you're too chicken**** to stand your ground.”

    “I don't like this, Makeup,” Laera said as Squeak joined her in scouting out the area.

    “You don't have to like it, Brain,” Miranda shot back. “Just check out your noise and try not to get shot.”

    Shrugging to herself, Laera gestured to Squeak to fall in behind her. Moving forward at a crouch, she unslung her carbine and began playing its scope in a one-eighty degree arc before her. Quietly, the two of them picked their way through the trees toward the source of the noise she had heard earlier. It had not repeated itself, but she had a feeling that its source was still nearby, or perhaps moving parallel to her squad's line of march. Gravitating in that direction, she heard the noise again; being closer, she was able to identify it.

    Footfalls. Armored footfalls.

    “Squeak, freeze,” Laera hissed, then waited a beat. “Get behind that last tree...slowly and [I]very[/I]quietly.”

    The Rodian complied without a response, which spoke of how serious she was taking this. Laera admitted to herself that Squeak was a pretty fair sneaker, as even she couldn't hear the steps as she retreated to cover. “Alright...cover me,” Laera said. “I'm going in closer.”

    Inching her way to the left, Laera stealthily made her way toward the source of the noises, hidden as she advanced from tree to shrub to tree again. Thirty seconds later, she arrived at the edge of a clearing, where she gently pulled back on a fern's broad, leafy stem to get a look at what lay beyond. It made a whooshing sound almost immediately thereafter as Laera spun about and quickly put some distance between the clearing and herself, thinking hard.

    “Brain to Makeup,” she said into the squad tactical frequency as she crouched next to where Squeak was taking cover. “Hostiles are tracking us on a parallel course, ambush suspected ahead. Recommend you fall back on my position. Repeat, hostiles tracking us, recommend we pull the squad back!”

    “And let Ringworm corner these clowns?” Miranda replied hotly. “I don't think so, Brain! Get your ass back here, we're continuing the patrol!”

    “Recommend you belay that order, Makeup!” Laera growled. “You're walking into a trap!”

    “You have your orders, Brain! Makeup out!”

    “That nerf-brained sith-spawned gornt-puncher!” Laera raged to herself. “She's going to get the entire squad killed!”

    “What do we do?” Squeak asked uncertainly.

    “We follow orders,” Laera spat. “But not the way that idiot wants us to. Follow Brain; keep your head on a swivel and your eyes peeled.”

    Ten minutes later, Laera and Squeak arrived at where the squad had squatted while the pair had scouted out the original disturbance. Convinced now more than ever that she was right, she had the Rodian provide overwatch from a half-obscured cut in the rock where it met the ground while she again ranged outward from their original path, this time in the opposite direction.

    “Squeak, you got anything?” she asked five minutes later, nestled under another broadleaf shrub as she tracked a pair of “enemy” trainees with her carbine.

    “A pair of bogeys came within ten meters of this position,” she answered. “But they didn't spot Squeak, and she didn't fire.”

    “Good, that's good,” Laera replied, satisfaction in her voice. “Are they still in view?”


    “Okay, this is where it gets tricky,” Laera said. “Brain's got two in scope as well. On her command, take out the tail-ender, then the leader; with luck, we'll get all four of them before their buddies realize they're down.”

    “Ready,” Squeak said after a beat.

    Laera lined up the trailing bogey in her sights, then began to apply pressure to the trigger. “Go.”

    Two seconds and two shots later, the two “hostiles” were down. Both recruits were twitching, their harnesses buzzing with a low-charge electrical current to let their wearers know that they had been “killed.”

    “Squeak has two down,” the Rodian reported dutifully. “What now?”

    “There was a fallen tree about two hundred meters up the trail from the rock,” Laera said. “Meet Brain there, then we'll catch up to the squad, hopefully before our friends decide to bring the party to them. If we're that lucky, we let Makeup think we got killed, then ambush the ambushers.”

    “Ambitious,” Squeak replied, the rustling of her helmet on leaves accenting her approval. “Squeak likes it.”

    The two met up as planned without interference, Squeak crouching behind cover with her rifle pointed to the rear as Laera looked ahead for any signs of potential trouble. Seeing nothing, the two began to follow the path the squad had been assigned, though from twenty meters to the left amidst low underbrush. Moving quickly but less than stealthily, the pair began to close the gap between themselves and their squadmates when the sound of blasterfire rent the air.

    “Down, down!” Laera snapped as she hit the dirt behind a thornbush.

    “Makeup to Brain and Squeak, where the kriff are you!” Miranda's voice yelled into the channel. “We're taking heavy fire from two s[SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]—[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]FIERFEK!”

    Laera just barely managed to refrain from playing the I-told-you-so card; instead, she remained silent as she beckoned Squeak to hurry up and keep quiet.

    “Real cute, Brain!” Miranda called again half a minute later. “Get your candy asses up here NOW!”

    Laera maintained her silence, as did Squeak. The whine of weapons fire increased in pitch and volume as they neared the site of the ambush; eventually they reached a dip in the ridge, from where they could catch brief glimpses of the rosy red light of simulated shots reflected off the landscape. Laera crouched against the far edge, then toggled her helmet comlink's frequency tab to bring up the platoon channel. “Brain to Ringworm or Lassie, status report...”

    “Ringworm to Brain, we're hearing blasterfire about a klick north of our position,” the Twi'lek leading First Squad replied. “You know anything about that?”

    “It's Makeup and Third Squad,” Laera answered bitterly. “They're about two and a half klicks out from the gate along the northwest ridge, and they've walked into an ambush. It's just Brain and Squeak for the moment, and we can't take them on ourselves.”

    “Lassie to Brain and Ringworm, we're closer and heading in that direction,” the Bothan leading Second Squad replied. “Estimates on enemy strength?”

    “Squeak and Brain took out four hostiles,” Laera replied. “Possibly from different squads; we were separated by about three or four hundred meters when we took our shots. Before that, Brain spotted more about two hundred meters further east.”

    “Three-pronged pincer,” Ringworm remarked, echoing Laera's sentiments. “Just like what we were trying to accomplish. Suggestions?”

    “Squeak and Brain can cause a distraction,” the Rodian suggested. “We can fire into their back ranks, draw a few away, and buy Third Squad more time for you to relieve them!”

    “Agreed,” Laera replied.

    “Lassie concurs.”

    “As does Ringworm. Let's do this, ladies.”

    The lack of a reply from Miranda made Laera wonder, but only for a moment as she and Squeak ascended the dip and stalked the ridge looking for hostiles. They didn't have to go far; barely twenty meters away there was another dip, where another fallen tree provided some cover. From there, they could spot a half-squad of troopers attempting to flank Third Squad's position.

    “Tail-enders first,” Laera said, balancing her carbine on the felled bole and taking aim. “Three shots apiece, then we fall back.”

    Squeak replied by leveling her own rifle and assuming a one-kneed shooting stance.


    Laera's first shot winged the second-to-last hostile, but it wasn't enough to knock him out of the fight. Her second shot remedied that slight miscalculation, while Squeak's first two shots nailed her targets squarely in their backs. The two recruits spent their third shots on the same target, which went down as well. “Go!”

    They bolted for the relative safety of the dip as the remaining two hostiles dove for cover, hiding in the terrain features before they had a chance to return fire. At least that's what Laera hoped as she tried to figure out a way to take more heat off her comrades. That was when the blasterfire began to fall off, presumably as more hostiles detached themselves from the running lightfight to look for their antagonists. “We can't stay here,” Laera observed.

    “Squeak agrees,” the Rodian replied. “We could go around the other side of the ridge and reinforce Makeup from the northern flank.”

    “Good idea, let's do it.”

    “Lassie to Brain and Makeup, help is on the way!” the leader of Second Squad announced over the platoon channel. “Just give us a few more seconds...”

    “You've got them,” Laera hissed as she and Squeak sprinted across a clearing, blasterfire reaching out for them but tracking too far behind. “Give'em hell, we certainly will!”

    At that moment, Laera saw it. To her left was what remained of Third Squad; Horny, Phlgem, Ivory, Leatherhead and Tapeworm were all down, with only Miranda and a handful of others dodging incoming fire and snapping off hasty return shots. It was a supremely bad position to be in, nestled within yet another dip with high ground on all sides but their backs. Pushing Squeak out of the line of fire and into cover, Laera leveled her carbine and took aim, hitting a hostile square in his chest as he attempted to jump the squad leader.

    “Charge!” Laera yelled as she ran forward at full tilt, spraying simulated light packets at anything that moved. Several bolts sizzled uncomfortably close by, heading in the other direction as she sprinted toward her comrades, but their fire suddenly became wild and disorganized as she reached Miranda's position. “Second Squad's here, let's move!”

    Though Miranda hesitated, the rest of the “survivors” did not, and joined in Laera and Squeak's foolhardy charge toward the suddenly distracted and divided enemy force. Firing from the hip, Laera continued to drain the charge in her weapon as she ran, occasionally winging an enemy trooper. Most of her shots went wild, however they were backed up by the blasters of Second Squad and the newly-reinvigorated remains of her own, and the hostile force broke and ran for cover. Several more went down as they ran, before a very official-sounding voice resonated within everyone's helmets.

    “All recruits, cease fire, cease fire, cease fire. Shoulder arms and report to muster stations on the double.”

    Suddenly realizing how much the last hour's activities had taken out of her, Laera hunched over after slinging her carbine and began panting heavily. In her peripheral vision she could see the “dead” rising from where they had fallen as the kill-shock in their harnesses was switched off, likely done by remote control. They too grabbed their weapons and stowed them across their backs, some muttering invective under their breaths as they departed for their own gate. Laera, however, waited until the rest of her squad got back up to speed before moving.

    “Uh, let's not do that again,” Phlegm remarked ruefully as she dragged herself to her feet.

    “Horny agrees,” the Elomin said as she hefted her way back up. “She also suggests that perhaps Makeup ought to be more open to her subordinates' advice in future.”

    “Shut it, both of you,” Miranda replied angrily, doffing her helmet and staring daggers at Laera as she advanced upon the younger recruit. “What the [I]stang[/I] were you trying to do, Brain, get us all killed?”

    “Jedi rule of thumb,” Laera said, distaste evident in every syllable. “When outnumbered, attack.”

    “Squeak thought you hated Jedi,” Squeak put in.

    “Brain doesn't hate them, she just doesn't trust them,” Laera replied as Second Squad joined the party. Together, and with First Squad quickly joining them, the platoon made its way back to their jumping-off point. “And while they are in fact self-serving hypocrites, they do know a thing or two about battle.”

    “It doesn't matter now,” Lassie put in as she joined Laera and Squeak. “Let's just get back to the barracks for the debrief and call it a day. Lassie is[I] very[/I] hungry and she doesn't want to miss evening chow.”

    The platoon made its way back to the gate in silence, trudging along wearily for half an hour before finally arriving at where they had started. Their DIs were waiting for them; the two human sergeants were perched in the cab of an open-topped speeder truck, while Tuffass was looking down on them from the truck's cargo area. His eyes were half-closed in an expression that, on a human, could be mistaken for extreme exasperation. “In the wagon, maggots!” he bellowed. “Tuffass doesn't know why, but the brass seems to think you deserve a ride to the mess hall instead of having to march all the way there. Personally, after witnessing that cluster-knock of a field exercise, he would have made every single one of you carry fifty kilos of rocks around for the next three days!”

    Withering under that scorching gaze, the platoon heaved themselves into the speeder truck, which was lined with benches long enough to accommodate all of them. As the truck began to move, those recruits who hadn't already done so, including Laera, removed their helmets and wedged them between their legs. The breeze of the truck's slipstream rifled through her short auburn hair, bringing a welcome source of comfort as the adrenaline rush of battle wound down within her. It had happened, it was over, and despite what Miranda had had to say, Laera felt that she had acquitted herself well. She caught Squeak's eye and smiled, an expression which the Rodian returned. ''Perhaps I've made a friend after all,'' she thought to herself. ''Squeak's got a head for this stuff just as much as I do, it seems...''

    [CENTER][SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]— — —[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE][/CENTER]

    An hour later, after having showered, changed into their BDUs, and eaten dinner, the platoon gathered in the barracks. Assembled by squads, they waited for Tuffass to deliver his verdict.

    “Combat is, at the same time, the most fun and the most fearful experience you will ever have in all your miserable lives,” he began. “By the time we are done, Tuffass guarantees that every single one of you will have died on at least three or four occasions. No one escapes this depot without feeling the sensation of pseudo-death. No one. So don't even think about trying. Brain, front and center!”

    Laera, who had once again taken a place at the back of the squad, hastened to comply. “Sir, recruit Brain reporting as ordered, SIR!”

    “Who's your squad leader, maggot?”

    “Sir, the recruit's squad leader is Makeup, sir!”

    “Makeup, front and center!” Tuffass barked, but Miranda had to take only a few steps until she was shoulder-to-shoulder with Laera. “Do you mind telling Tuffass what the fierfek was going through your cute little numbskull when you ordered full ahead right into A KRIFFING AMBUSH?! One which you were WARNED about?!”

    “Sir, the recruit has no excuse, SIR!”

    “Pathetic,” the sergeant hissed, then resumed his bellowing. “You are hereby FIRED from squad command[SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]—[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]get your sorry carcass out of Tuffass's sight RIGHT KRIFFING NOW!” Miranda, scandalized, retreated to where Laera, moments before, had stood. “Brain, YOU are now Third Squad's leader, with all the rights and responsibilities that the position entails. If you would be so kind, you may present yourself before Tuffass in his office at your convenience.”

    Laera blushed slightly as she too retreated, occupying Miranda's former spot.

    “Every one of you should take Brain's example to heart. She was ''aware''. She moved with ''alacrity''. She ''adapted'' to the situation. And because of this, she was able to ''anticipate'' how that situation could develop. She happened to be correct this time, and because of this and her actions out there today, she saved your sorry asses from being mopped up entirely. But beware, because while she was right this time, she will not always be, and that is why it is up to each and every one of you to evaluate any given situation for yourselves, acting accordingly and passing all relevant information on to your comrades. THAT, ladies, is what makes a Marine and their blaster the deadliest weapon in the galaxy[SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]—[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE]teamwork, and the willingness to do whatever is necessary in order to defeat all enemies! Fall out!”

    Without another word, Tuffass turned on his right heel and strode out of the barracks, flanked by Sergeants Pavan and Grimski.

    Almost before the door had finished closing, the recruits burst into many conversations at once. Laera, however, didn't feel like rehashing the day's activities with the others. Hands in her pockets, she made her way quietly to Squeak's bunk, where the Rodian was sorting through some personal items.

    “Oh, hey Brain,” she said meekly upon noticing Laera's arrival. “Hell of a battle, eh?”

    “Yeah,” Laera sighed. “I just wanted to thank you.”

    “For what?”

    “For sticking with me out there,” Laera said evenly. “You could have obeyed Makeup's order and left me alone, but you didn't.”

    “I saw what you saw,” Squeak replied, her snout drooping slightly. “It seemed a foolish thing for Makeup to do, ordering us back and continuing onward.”

    “Whatever your reasons, thank you. I couldn't have gotten this position without your help.”

    “Sure you could have.”

    “No, I couldn't. It takes two to make a team. And I want you to know that I think of you as a friend.”

    [CENTER][SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]— — —[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE][/CENTER]

    The senior drill instructor's office was easy enough to find, as it was the first door to the left from the barracks entrance and was clearly labeled as such. It was with some small measure of trepidation that Laera poked the door chime and waited for a response, which came with a ''whoosh'' as the door slid open. Taking a deep breath, she strode through it and into the sparsely-decorated office. “Sir, recruit Brain reporting as requested, SIR!”

    “At ease,” the Gand said, sliding a desk drawer shut and standing up. “Come over here and take a look at this.”

    Laera followed Tuffass as he came out from behind his desk and strode over to the right-hand wall. It was bare except for a large frame, which was draped with a plain white cloth. With an uncharacteristic flourish, the DI whipped the covering off the frame, to reveal...

    “This is Tuffass's wall of names,” the sergeant explained. “Recruits who not only earn their name, but who have demonstrated exceptional ability, get their identities enshrined on this plaque. You have earned your name, Laera Reyolé, and Tuffass would like to put your tape onto this wall so that he remembers not only what you did today, but what you are ''capable'' of doing.”

    “” Laera stuttered, unable to think of the appropriate response.

    “Well don't look so shocked, Reyolé!” Tuffass replied with a small chuckle. It was an honest chuckle, and the sensation it evoked caused Laera to blush even more. “Tuffass thought you could keep your head in a crisis, don't disappoint him now!”

    “Sir, it's just that...well, Reyolé didn't expect...”

    “You've earned your name, Private, you can use pronouns now.”

    “Well, ''I'' didn't expect something like this...sir...”

    “Just don't let it get to your head, Reyolé,” Tuffass cautioned. “And don't tell the other recruits about this little shrine. They'll find out in due course if they prove themselves worthy. For now, take good care of your squad. They will know by your name that you have earned it, and what it takes to earn theirs.”

    “Sir, I won't, sir,” Laera replied with a nod. “Thank you, sir.”

    “Dismissed, Reyolé.”

    [CENTER][SIZE=13px][FONT=Verdana][COLOR=#000000]— — —[/COLOR][/FONT][/SIZE][/CENTER]

    Yes, a lot had happened to Laera since those halcyon days. Squeak, whose real name was Reeka Chorizzo, had earned her identity not long afterward during a different field exercise in which Laera herself had felt what it was like to experience a simulated death. The woman had taken over command of the squad and had managed to get them out of trouble just in time to participate in another simulated victory. Miranda...somehow she had never quite made the cut in that regard, though she did graduate. The rest of the squad, however, had eventually earned their names as well, and Laera had come to regard them as friends too. It had been a life-changing experience, going through boot camp, but it had been a change for the better.

    “Reeka, wherever you are, I hope you're doing alright,” Laera mused as she slipped into her rack for the night.
  6. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    May 11, 2011

    Going through the Blast Furnace again seemed to be almost as tough on Laera as it had been that first time, thanks to this damnable planet, and she was the kriffing drill instructor. Still, this was her sixth round of mentoring recruits during the three-day event, which was the culmination of their training, and she seemed to be doing as well as ever. Three years enveloped in the double gravity of Carida had toughened her up considerably, and she could not recall ever having felt better about herself.

    As her training platoon trotted past in marching formation, she smiled to herself. Tonight, the whole ordeal would be over for them. After a simple ceremony, conducted at dusk and led by Captain Teeklak Sookanado, the Recruit Depot's Rodian commanding officer, the thirty-nine recruits who had made it this far would become Marines in full. Laera was proud of the work she was doing, and of this platoon in particular. Every DI lost about two or three recruits out of each training class; it was unavoidable due to accidents, injuries, and the fact that, simply put, some folks just weren't cut out to join the Corps, no matter how hard they worked or how badly they wanted it. But this time she only had one dropout, and he was going to have the chance to complete the training once his leg finished healing.

    It had been her best class yet. Two nights previously, as she discussed their training with the members of her platoon, Laera had gotten the impression that the recruits truly respected her and what she had had to teach them. The squad leaders—along with a few other recruits—were shaping up to become fast-trackers for promotion into the non-commissioned officer ranks, while many of the others were set to get into some of the more difficult advanced training courses. Two of them were positively deadly with blaster rifles at just about any range, and she had encouraged them to undertake the path of the scout/sniper, while another three seemed set on joining a Force Recon company. She was proud of each and every one of her recruits, from all six classes; she even received the occasional letter of thanks from those who had come before.

    But the time for reflection was over. With the sun beginning to sink toward the horizon, Laera slid from the rock upon which she had been sitting, her junior DIs following suit. “Time to get changed,” she said. “Dress reds, you know the drill.”

    The two staff sergeants accompanied her as she walked back to the barracks. The recruits knew what they were doing by now, so she didn't worry about whether or not they would find the parade ground where the graduation ceremony would take place, or if they would arrive on time. As the sergeants three marched in quick-step back toward the barracks, they passed Tuffass and his own junior DIs, who fell into step alongside them.

    “Another day, another graduating class, eh?” Laera said jovially to the Gand as she sauntered along, then her voice dropped to a whisper. “How are you holding up?”

    “Tuffass is well, thank you,” he replied levelly. “His latest batch of maggots seem to have finally molted, and they are almost ready to fly.”

    “Always a charmer, Gunny,” Laera said with a smirk. “Any new names to remember?”

    “A couple,” he said with the meanest hint of a smile from beneath that compact respirator. “They will go on the wall when he finally leaves this kriffing world.”

    Laera wondered, not for the first time, why the Corps had even assigned the already-handicapped noncom to such a torturous world. But she kept these thoughts private; she knew as well as any other Marine that you went where they sent you, and that was that. Tuffass would have no more requested a review of his assignment than he would have volunteered to be ejected into space without a vac-suit. In any case, such thoughts were useless; she needed to be concentrating on the needs of her own kids as they left the nest and ventured forth into the galaxy. The combat arachnids of this world were nothing compared to what chaos could be called down on the Republic should a menace such as the Sith ever return.

    The six noncoms, lost in their own reflections, said nothing as they made their way back to their respective barracks.

    — — —

    The panorama of another Caridan sunset was beautiful, but most of those who would be present for the ceremony wouldn't be in a position to appreciate the natural beauty it represented. Laera, with her junior DIs flanking her, stood before her platoon's assigned position on the parade ground in front of a podium that had been set up earlier in the day. Other knots of instructors stood to her left and right, but she paid them no heed, instead staring directly ahead as she and the others waited for their recruits to arrive and fall into formation within the plaza. All of them were resplendent in their dress reds, which bore their full sets of military decorations and honors. Laera still wore the uniform which had been given to her prior to her departure from Agamar so many years prior, though it had long since been altered to account for her growth into full womanhood.

    As she waited, she wondered briefly about her parents. She had corresponded with them, of course; about once every two or three months she sent them short messages letting them know how she was doing. She had kept up her woodcarving after graduating boot camp, and every time she completed a piece, she sent it home to her folks as a keepsake. Laera had become quite good at it, in fact. Her last piece, a reproduction of the new Hammerhead-class cruiser, had actually been a little too accurate, and someone from Republic Intelligence had intercepted the package before it could reach her homeworld. The thought of the indignant explanation still caused her to smile; they had told her in no uncertain terms that she was to mind what she carved lest she accidentally leak classified information. So she had taken up her knife once again, slicing out a few details here and there before sending it along once again.

    Her parents had written back as well, and just as frequently. Though she still hadn't had the chance to return to Agamar for a proper visit, Laera knew from their messages that, thanks to her pay, they had gotten back on their feet in a big way. Just last year they had finished rebuilding the old house, though Daddi had admitted to it not being the same with his little girl absent. They were enormously proud of her having risen through the ranks, and had supported her wish to go career and reenlist. Somehow, Laera resolved, she would make it back to her homeworld soon. Maybe Captain Sookanado would be amiable to approving a request for a thirty-day furlough...

    Her musings were interrupted by the arrival of the recruits, who began trickling onto the parade grounds in squads and forming up before their respective instructors. Third Squad was the first of hers to arrive, quickly followed by First and then Second Squad. All of the recruits were looking quite exhausted; their uniforms were filthy and soaked with flop sweat, as was to be expected after having spent seventy-two hours in them with no respite at all save for a pair of high-calorie meals at the twenty-four and forty-eight hour marks. The expressions on their faces more than made up for their messy appearances, however, with every one of them displaying a clear sense of relief and pride. The multispecies group had given their all, and the payoff was about to begin.

    When the last squad took its place, a single set of footsteps on ferrocrete echoed through the plaza from behind where Laera stood. The steps grew nearer, and the groaning of wood announced that their owner had mounted the podium.

    “At ease,” the confident voice of Teeklak Sookanado said, the sound system rigged along the perimeter carrying his words to all. “The furnace has been shut down and you, having endured its heat, have emerged as tempered durasteel, as Republic Marines. Close your eyes, bow your heads, and ponder that fact and what it means for you.”

    The traditional minute of contemplative silence seemed to ripple across the plaza like wavelets on a pond, and Laera's skin puckered with the sensation. There was something inexplicable about this part of the ceremony that had always resonated within her, especially since she had become a DI and had experienced it from the other side. Reflection, she had decided, was a good thing, and a useful exercise for one to engage in.

    “Every man and woman standing here has done something extraordinary,” Captain Sookanado continued, ending the quiet time as he gave the traditional commencement speech. “You reached deep within yourselves and found something that you might not have realized even existed, and put it to good use. In so doing you have forged yourselves anew, and now embark upon a mission of the utmost importance. A Marine considers as their most basic duty a commitment to the preservation of civilization, because he or she knows that it is by its very existence that we enjoy the liberties it provides. As Marines of the Republic, we are the guardians of peace, justice, and the innocent, ever present on the frontier and throughout the galaxy, ready to intercede at a moment's notice when those values are threatened.

    “You emerge as Marines during a time of uncertainties. I will not lie to you, nor soften the truth. Beyond the Republic, even as we celebrate your tremendous achievement, a force moves from star system to star system, planet to planet. This force is your opposite, for they live to conquer, to destroy, to raze entire worlds simply for the sake of battle and war, to test their skills in mortal combat simply because that is what they do. I speak of the Mandalorian Neo-Crusaders, and though they continue to leave the Republic in peace, it is my opinion that it is only a matter of time before they turn their attention Coreward. Vigilance is what you have trained for during these long and difficult months, and it is vigilance that we must always exercise as we move forward, together, as a united force in the never-ending struggles of the galaxy.”

    “Detail, commence!” a voice shouted in the distance as Captain Sookanado stepped back from the podium.

    By this command, a pennant some five meters high and fifteen meters long was strung up the thick flagpole at the center of the plaza, which was situated behind the podium. As it reached the top of the mast, the flag was caught in the dusk breeze, unfurling to reveal the Marine Corps Crest emblazoned in gold upon a field of blood red. As the banner began to snap in the wind, a single laser cannon bolt shot skyward.

    “Marines, DISMISSED!” Laera bellowed, along with every other DI on the line.

    With a great cheer, the gathered privates flung their hats in the air, catching them amidst hearty congratulations, handshakes, back-slaps, hugs, and all manner of celebratory gestures. Throughout the tumult, Laera exchanged satisfied, if weary, glances with her junior DIs. She knew that all three of them were thinking the same thing: chow, then rest, then more rest.

    As she began to head back to her billet while new Marines continued to shout and cheer one another, a pair of footsteps fell in behind her. These weren't the strides of her subordinates, but the immediately-recognizable almost-limp of Tuffass, as well as that of Captain Sookanado himself. As if by unspoken agreement, the unlikely trio continued unfazed until they were out of sight of the celebrating mob. When they were, the Rodian motioned for the two DIs to follow him to his office. Five minutes later, they were there, with the door shut and privacy-sealed.

    “Captain Sookanado,” Laera acknowledged, exchanging salutes with the depot's commanding officer. “May I ask what this is about?”

    “Of course, Gunny,” the officer said amicably as he took a seat and bid his guests to do likewise. Laera did but, predictably, the Gand remained standing. “I wanted to see you as soon as possible after the graduation ceremony, just so that we could settle something that's been on my mind.”

    “At your pleasure, sir,” Laera replied, somewhat nonplussed.

    The Rodian officer steepled his sucker-tipped fingers over his desk, his glittering black eyes meeting Laera's sapphire blue irises. “I've been watching your performance as a drill instructor for quite some time now,” he began, his voice even, his expression betraying nothing, ever the consummate commander. “What you were able to achieve with your most recent class is nothing short of miraculous, and it speaks highly of your skills as a leader and motivator. While it is regrettable that Private lklew wasn't able to graduate with his classmates, the fact that he is still willing and able to complete his training is yet more proof.”

    “Thank you, sir,” Laera said into the captain's momentary pause.

    “Your career up to this point has also been exemplary,” he continued. “Your service record demonstrates that you are quite at home both aboard warships and while stationed on frontier outposts. Despite what the propaganda mill would have the citizenry believe, this isn't as easy as it sounds. For these reasons, I would like to recommend you for acceptance into Officer Candidate School.”

    “Sir, I...don't know what to say,” Laera said honestly, a lump rising in her throat. “It's been hell teaching these recruits on this high-grav world, but I honestly love it.”

    “This is a big step, I admit,” the captain replied, sympathy and understanding in his words and visage. “But it is my belief, and Gunnery Sergeant Tuffass here agrees with me, that you will be in a far better position to utilize your talents and abilities as an officer than you ever could have been as a drill instructor.”

    “Gunny?” Laera asked, shifting her gaze to the Gand. “What do you think?”

    “Tuffass will be honest,” he said in low, regretful tones. “If it were not for his injuries, he would have jumped at the chance to accept what you are being offered now. You are a good teacher, yes, but you are also a born leader. He knew this the moment you came to your squad's rescue during that first field exercise so many years ago.”

    “The next session of OCS doesn't start for another three months,” Captain Sookanado said into the uncertain silence that had descended upon his office. “In the meantime, if you choose to accept my recommendation—that is to say, your ticket in—then you will be given leave to visit any planet in the Republic that you wish. But I have a feeling about where you will want to go.”

    “Agamar,” Laera muttered distractedly.

    “Indeed,” the Rodian replied. “It is my understanding that you still have family there, correct?”

    “I do, sir,” Laera said, leaning slowly back in her seat, buying herself time to think. It was what she had been hoping for, to get to see her mother and father again, to see the house, to come home and live at a languid pace, if only for a little while. Her parents would be thrilled, of course, with their daughter becoming an officer. She had missed them dearly; the messages to and from had been textual only, the Republic didn't have the resources to spare to subsidize calls in full holo to such a young and remote world. A horrible feeling of dread washed over her at the prospect of this being her only chance to reacquaint herself with them.

    “Take your time, Sergeant,” the captain said as the silence dragged on. “But don't take too long. You have until tomorrow evening to choose, because that's when I have to have your replacement picked for the next class...”
  7. TrakNar

    TrakNar Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Apr 4, 2011
    Third Bat

    “Thirty seconds to reversion,” the pilot said over the internal comm, his voice distorted slightly.

    Newly-promoted Lieutenant Senior Grade Thedus Bimm adjusted himself where he sat in the hyperspace shuttle's passenger compartment, switching his duffel from one arm to the other at the same time. He scratched idly at his neck; the starch hadn't yet come out of this set of Marine-issue BDUs, which was the third in the bundle of uniforms he had only received a week prior. He wasn't looking forward to the process of breaking in his brand-new armor, either, particularly since it would most likely take place under combat conditions.

    He scowled to himself and crossed his arms over his chest with disgust. He'd been recruited into the Marine Corps from the Republic Army's 83rd Assault Division by some Navy captain he'd never even met and who probably had had a grudge against the Army. When he had entered the Inter-Service Training Academy, the galaxy was at peace—relatively speaking, that is. Now that he had made it through the nine-week course and been assigned to a line unit, the entire galactic situation had gone straight down a black hole. Three weeks ago the Mandalorians, those delightfully barbaric roaming war-lovers, had begun a three-pronged assault on the Republic. And they were having a field day, Rybet-leaping from world to world and trashing them as part of some sort of new Crusade.

    ''Just what the kriff are you crusading for anyway, you void-brained bantha-poachers?'' he thought to himself as the subtle vibrations of a starship leaving hyperspace rippled through his seat. As far as anyone could tell the Mandos simply worshiped war, in the way some primitive pre-spaceflight species might worship the stars, and their religion compelled them to seek out the biggest, most challenging opponents and fight them, apparently to the death. And apparently, the Republic was the big guy on the interstellar block that they now had to beat.

    Boy, what a universe.

    Thinking too much about these things tended to give him a headache, so Thedus resolved to let his ongoing thoughts about the galactic situation cease as he concentrated on where he was now, and where he would soon be. Two days previously he had been assigned to Besh Company, Third Marine Battalion, where he would serve as its executive officer. The company was being formed up for some sort of excursion aboard a small convoy of warships in orbit of Vulta, an industrialized Outer Rim world near Taris, which had just been overrun by the Mandos. This was where his shuttle was bound, carrying himself and a couple of Marine noncoms who were also new to the outfit. What the op was and where it would take place were immaterial to him at this point; he had long since learned to suppress such curiosity during his prior career as an Army officer, and knew that he would be given the details at the appropriate time.

    Thedus was thankful that there were no viewports in this compartment, as he still hadn't quite gotten used to looking out upon the vast emptiness of deep space. He knew that, as a Marine, he was expected to be able to deal with the sight, since he could very well be called upon to scuttle up the outer hull of a warship like a ticq up the backside of a lumbering nerf. The idea gave him no comfort whatsoever, since he had only barely passed his zero-gee combat training.

    “Docking in five,” the pilot began, then counted down over the intercom. As he reached zero, there was a muffled thumping noise accompanied by a shudder, indicating that whatever ship they were moored with had successfully attached an umbilical. “Hard lock achieved, you are clear to disembark.”

    “Alright boys, let's go,” Thedus said in a half-growl as he unstrapped himself and rose from his seat.

    Arriving at the tiny airlock, he pushed the release and both doors, receiving the full-seal signal, opened. The three Marines strode through the short umbilical and into the airlock on the other end, beckoned forward by a Navy crewer who watched the viewports with an anxious expression on her face. Under normal circumstances Thedus would have considered the dark-skinned young woman to be quite striking, but the puckered, nervous expression on her face detracted from her appearance somewhat.

    “You know, you're not gonna be able to spot any incoming from there, Crewer,” Thedus said sternly.

    “Yes, sir!” she said, half-shocked and half-relieved.

    “Can you direct us to where Besh Company is being billeted?” Thedus asked, his voice softening somewhat. “We're kind of in a hurry.”

    “Of course sir, right this way,” the crewer replied, and tapped a sequence into the locking keypad.

    The airlock's inner door hissed open, and as the crewer led her charges to their destination, Thedus realized that they had boarded one of the brand-new Centurion-class battlecruisers; the décor was a dead giveaway. If there's gonna be a fight, at least we're going in with some power behind us, he thought to himself as he and the two noncoms walked down the long, spacious passageways. Here's hoping my new CO appreciates that.

    It was quite a walk, from the side docking port to the barracks were Besh Company had been billeted. They hadn't gone thirty paces before Thedus felt the telltale sensation of a hyperspace jump, the haste of which explained why the shuttle had docked with the massive cruiser instead of taking the safer but slower route of landing in any of its bays or hangars. Whatever this mission, it seemed to be proceeding under a strict timetable--;which, in times such as these, was a dicey proposition at best. Finally, the crewer guided the three new arrivals to the proper place, offered Thedus a salute which he returned rather lazily, then scampered off to do who knew what.

    Thedus didn't really care at the moment, because the hatchway had just hissed open and he suddenly found himself chin-to-nose with a harassed-looking Human female wearing Marine BDUs and the rank insignia of a lieutenant commander.

    “You the new junior?” she snapped.

    “Yes ma'am,” Thedus said automatically, repeating the halfhearted gesture he'd given the crewer.

    “Get your handsome ass in here, then,” she continued, ignoring the salute and seizing his hand. Her grip was unexpectedly forceful as she nearly dragged him through the barracks' anteroom and into what was most likely her office, dismissing the two noncoms as she did so. “You two, go find your squads and get to know your people. Make it fast, though, we're on a time budget.”

    The sergeants answered smartly and headed off, but Thedus couldn't see where they were going as the door hissed shut behind him. “Take a seat,” the officer said shortly.

    Thedus did so, taking a moment to admire this woman as she paced the room once before taking a seat on her side of the small desk ensconced in the equally-small office. Her skin pigmentation was significantly lighter than his mocha visage; more of a light bronze shade that spoke of a lot of time out in the field combined with just the right mixture of genetics. Her eyes were a bit darker and more lustrous than his, a deeper shade of sapphire, and her auburn hair was grown to shoulder-length and restrained by a brown clasp. He would have described her as quite pretty, despite her expression or the worry lines that were beginning to manifest themselves. This officer was experienced, there was no mistaking that fact.

    “Uhh, Lieutenant Thedus Bimm, reporting for duty?” he asked uncertainly as his apparent commanding officer fixed her eyes onto his.

    “Lieutenant Commander Laera Reyolé,” the woman said by way of introduction. “Welcome to the Third Marine Battalion. I understand the Corps rescued you from the Army not too long ago.”

    “Rescued” wasn't the way Thedus would have put it, but he didn't really mind; he had, after all, accepted the offer, though admittedly he hadn't exactly sussed out what it had entailed beforehand. However, that thought was driven from his mind as recognition at the woman's name flared within his mind. “Thank you, Commander,” Thedus replied. “I'm...not sure how to put this, ma'am, but scuttlebutt says that though the war isn't even a month old, you've already been on the spit.”

    “Yeah, that's right,” Reyolé acknowledged briskly, locking stares with her XO. “The Mandos hit the outpost at Bad Alshir on their first stop toward Taris. We beat back their initial probe but command yanked us out before they could return in force.”

    “I hear they're giving you the DSO for your leadersh--” Thedus began, but he was interrupted by his CO resuming her feet.

    “Let's get one thing straight, Bimm,” she admonished. “We're not in this to get medals. We're Marines, which means we do what we have to do to defend the Republic, whatever it takes. You're hardly unique; I've met plenty of soldiers and officers who joined up for the fun of it. But let me tell you plain: it just doesn't work that way. You want to get out there and kill Mandos, right?”

    Reyolé was posting her hands on her hips, and from this attitude and her continued silence, Thedus decided that this was not a rhetorical question. She was trying to get a sense of his mettle, that was probably it. “Well ma'am, if the mission calls for it...”

    “At least you've got some brains to go with that brawn,” she said with a scowl, making the observation into a backhanded compliment. She turned her back on him as he stood up, and continued. “Six years I spent on that dirtball, looking Rimward, waiting for some void-brained scum-nut to try and stake a claim. Well, someone did, and they damn near killed us all in the process. Keep your eyes peeled and your head cool, Marine, and you'll soon learn that the best fights will find ''you''. Follow me.”

    Turning abruptly, Commander Reyolé led the way back out of the office and through to the main barracks, which was swarming with troopers, noncoms, and officers. Most of them were engaged in little knots of three or four, holding their own conversations as they squared away their kit, cleaned their weapons, or simply chatted. “Company, atten-SHUN!”

    At her bellowed command the company ceased its idle chatter and fell in before her, assuming formation and organizing themselves by platoon, while Thedus stood behind and to the right of his commander. “Now that everyone has joined us and we're on our way, I can tell you what we're up to,” she said into the stony silence. “As everyone knows, the Mandos now own Taris. However, there are a lot of small colony worlds in the nearby star systems that have come within Mandalore's crosshairs. We are currently heading to one of them, a planet named Sigdooine in the Escher system. It's a temperate planet with good mineral wealth, an abundance of arable land and no native sentient species; perfect for setting up an agriworld with mining interests. Right now there's only a small pioneer team on the surface, about three hundred fifty civilians in all. Our mission is to see to their evacuation and the demolishing of any supplies and equipment we can't take with us. Any questions?”

    The second platoon leader's hand was raised to his shoulder, and Commander Reyolé pointed him out. “Yes, Plixin?”

    “Any intel on nearby enemy fleet units?” he asked briskly.

    “Republic Intelligence seems to think that the Mandos are busy consolidating Taris and the other planets in that system,” the CO replied. “But we can't rule out the possibility of scouting parties or an inconveniently-timed full-scale assault. That's why we have to get on the ground, do our jobs, and get the hell out a-sap. What is it, Neile?”

    A yellow-skinned Twi'lek female in the fourth platoon had raised her hand. “Commander, is our priority the civilians or the supplies?”

    “The civilians are our number-one concern,” the commander replied, a hardness creeping into her voice. “That's why we're going down in half-empty transports. We will land as a unit and debark, then the civilians will be ferried up to the ship. During the evac, we set up a defensive perimeter, do everything we can to blow the facilities groundside, and maybe even lay a few traps; if all goes well, we'll be back aboard within two standard hours. Now, the last thing we want is for the Mandos to turn Sigdooine into a forward base, but if they bring ships into the system then we're pretty much on our own.”

    “So if the Mandos do show up, we'll be left behind?” Thedus said incredulously.

    Commander Reyolé spun on one heel and cast a scorching look at her lieutenant. “Precisely, Mr. Bimm,” she said in low, molten tones, then turned to regard her company. “Yes, such a development would put us in a bad situation, but that's what we all signed up for. We'll be arriving in-system in five hours, making planetfall ten minutes after that. Everyone is dismissed until five minutes before our scheduled reversion, where you will report to the troop landing bay in full armor and kit. Get some chow, clean your weapons, and tidy up any loose ends you might have. May the Force be with you.”

    As the company broke up to begin final preparations, Commander Reyolé subtly beckoned for Thedus to follow her once again. He knew that he would catch hell for his outburst, because he had known as an officer that it was a very bad idea indeed to question an order in the presence of those under his command. As the door to the commanding officer's billet slid shut behind him, his hunch was proven correct.

    “Just what the ''stang'' do you think this is, Lieutenant!” the commander bellowed, smacking her desk with her open right hand. “You signed the flimsi, you took the training, and now that you're in a line unit you want to become the mother of all cluster-knocks? Who in their diseased mind thought it would be a good idea to recommend you for transfer, anyway?”

    Thedus thought that drill instructors could take a few lessons from this woman as she dressed him down. “Captain Yagato, ma'am,” he replied. “The...the recommendation was passed down through channels, ma'am. I never met him personally.”

    The woman brought her hand up to her inclined forehead, looking as though she was attempting to massage away a headache. “Feldui Yagato, of the Kikakaze?”

    “Yes ma'am,” Thedus said, somewhat taken aback. “I was a platoon leader with the 83rd Assault Division, serving a rotation aboard that vessel.”

    “Fierfek, that explains a lot,” Reyolé replied resignedly. “Every few months that Sithspawned Navy puke sends a bunch of hotheads like you over to the Corps to see if they'll pass muster. So far you're the first one I've met who did, so count yourself lucky--or unlucky, as the case may be. As for your little jaw-jacking back there in front of the company, it will never happen again. Clear?”

    “Leth cresh,” Thedus replied, hoping to get this gundark of a company commander to lay off him a bit. Like crystal.

    “I'm not unreasonable, Mr. Bimm,” she said after a few moments of terse silence, crossing her arms over her chest. “If you think something's not right, or you have some insight into what's going on, I want to hear your opinion. Hell, if it's clear that I'm totally misreading the situation, then tell me. more careful next time.”

    Thedus nodded gratefully. “Understood ma'am, I will take that under advisement.”

    “By the way, how's your gear? Are you good to mount up so soon after your transfer?”

    “I'll be ready, ma'am,” Thedus replied with a quick nod. “Where will you want me?”

    “First, take this time to get to know the company,” Reyolé rattled off briskly, now all business. “Once we head out, stick with first and second platoon, as I'll be coordinating third and fourth. We maintain opchans on squad, platoon, and company levels but I'll need you to maintain an open link to Tac Two-Seven for private chatter. Tac Two-Eight is for direct communications with Fleet and is only to be used in an emergency; I'll be handling those calls. Anything else?”

    Thedus was momentarily lost for words, which was saying something considering his usual flippant nature. It was because of this that he had been rather badly harangued by the master gunnery sergeant during his stint at ISTS.

    “Tell me truly, ma'am, what happens if the Mandalorian fleet ''does'' show up?” he asked finally.

    “Then you find out what I said earlier about the best fights finding you,” the commander said cryptically. “Dismissed.”

    -- -- --​

    Besh Company, Thedus decided, was a fairly good representative of the Corps' ethos. At least, as far as he had known it those few times he'd ever billeted alongside a Marine unit. Most of them tended to be pretty rowdy during downtime, probably because they didn't get very much of it. If Commander Reyolé was any indication, then he was without a doubt an oddity among the Republic Marines' officer corps; this impression seemed to be reinforced by the up-front and frank attitudes of the platoon leaders and their seconds. Lieutenants Lanoli, Plixin, Sercote, and Alders, who commanded the first, second, third and fourth platoons, respectively, were all OCS graduates. Thedus had earned his commission in the Army by attending the academy on Carida, which meant he'd spent four years on that high-grav world toughening up his body and sharpening his mind.

    It was clear that his subordinates, however, had a lot more field experience.

    “If you don't mind my saying so, sir, I'm surprised Commander Reyolé let you live,” Alders said after swallowing a mouthful of nerf steak. “First day on duty and you interrupt the CO? That's grounds for execution in some civilizations.”

    “Heh, I've heard of her assigning laps for much less,” Plixin chimed in.

    “Laps?” Thedus asked, puzzled. “What's so difficult about running laps?”

    The junior lieutenants all exchanged glances, then looked back on their XO with identical grins. “Sir, do you know how long a ''Centurion''-class battlecruiser is?” “Lanoli said. “They're twelve hundred meters from stem to stern, so that means a lap around the ship is about three klicks. She'll make you run them in full armor and kit, including your weapon.”

    “Have any of you actually had to do that?” Thedus asked, cocking a disbelieving brow at the platoon leaders.

    “Do we look that stupid, sir?” Sercote asked with a shrug. “Nah, she's only done that to a few privates and one of my corporals. The Navy doesn't like us kriffing around with the ration supply, so they won't let her assign KP.”

    Several bites later, a commotion began to develop a few tables over, where some Navy officers were enjoying their own meal. Thedus payed it no heed at first, until...

    “ the jarheads finally got all their people, including a mud marine of all things.”

    Thedus recognized the term “mud marine,” it was commonly-used slang for someone who joined the Corps after being recruited from the Army. Its counterpart for Navy personnel was “void marine,” which Thedus thought was quite apt. However, there was no way he was going to let some Navy space-jockey get away with calling him mud. Grabbing a handful of steak and gravy, he leaned back, identified the offender, cocked his arm, and let fly.

    The Navy man never saw it coming; the glob of food hit him square on the nose.

    “Good arm,” Alders said approvingly.

    “FOOD FIGHT!” yelled another Navy officer, following the proclamation with his own edible missile. It missed Thedus by centimeters, who had ducked underneath its arc, causing the hurled vegetable to smack another officer in the back of his bald, belekkued head. The green Twi'lek male, a truly massive being dressed in Marine BDUs, glared at Thedus and then at the pitcher. He nodded at the Navy officer, a gesture which seemed to be a mute signal of acceptance.

    The air was soon thick with flying rations.

    “Atten-SHUN!” bellowed a well-projected female voice five minutes later, a bellow which succeeded in switching off the lunchtime brawl as though it were a glowrod. “What the KRIFF is going on here?!”

    Thedus, who had just hurled a lump of mashed tubers when the shout came, stood to attention and twitched his gaze in the direction of the new arrival. When he saw that it was Commander Reyolé, his heart did a somersault. Given the subtle groans coming from his new subordinates, he could sense that they too were fearing the worst. It was probably fortunate that, within this mess area, the Marine officers were outnumbered more than two to one by their Navy counterparts.

    Reyolé strode up and down the mess area, ascertaining the damage done and occasionally shooting filthy looks at particularly guilty-looking junior officers. After what seemed like an eternity, she arrived at where Thedus and her other officers were standing. “Just tell me one thing,” she whispered coldly. “Tell me you weren't the one to throw the first shot.”

    Thedus swallowed hard. “I can't tell you that, ma'am.”

    “Then please, tell me what in all the galaxy could have possibly compelled you to start this?” she asked, folding her arms once again and pursing her lips tightly in a thin line. Her stare seemed to bore into him, and he had to work to resist adjusting his collar.

    “Ma'am...” he began. “ of my esteemed colleagues in the Republic Navy referred to myself as a 'mud marine,' and the company as being 'jarheads.' I could not in good conscience allow this slight go unaddressed.”

    If Thedus had thought that her lips couldn't get any thinner, he was wrong. “Stow the melodramatics, Mr. Bimm. Consider yourself on report for the time being, with your punishment to be determined ''if'' you survive the mission. This has got to be a new record for the Corps; first day on official duty and you're already in the doghouse not once, but twice.”

    Turning gracefully, she strode to the head of the mess area. “All you Navy void-brains, start cleaning up this mess, now! Marines, report to your barracks and clean yourselves up; you are confined to quarters until mission go.”

    -- -- --​

    By the time he reported to the hangar bay for the mission--doing so five minutes earlier than the commander had ordered--Thedus was almost praying that the Mandos would come and rescue him from this disciplinary nightmare. He considered himself a capable, if untested, officer; the people under his command had always seemed willing to follow him with a minimum of fuss. He had been doing well in the Army before Captain Yagato had passed along the recommendation. He had in fact graduated near the top of his class at the Academy, where he had specialized in small-unit tactics and counterattacks, as well as dabbling in covert ops. But as a Marine...he didn't really know what it was he wanted.

    His thoughts were hazy and unfocused as he glanced over the hangar itself, where the dropships were arranged in two columns. Besh Company was shipping out aboard a total of ten of the Corps' purpose-built assault landers, which was more than twice what they needed. It seemed to be a simple thing, this operation: jump into the system, descend in the landers, send the civvies up all in one go, then wait for them to debark and send the empty landers back, with a fighter escort if necessary. Stop worrying! he admonished himself as the rest of the company entered the hangar and formed up prior to departure. Just get through this mission, then you can face down the gundark when other people aren't trying to shoot you!

    As the last of the troopers fell in, Commander Reyolé stepped over to the front of the formation. “Alright, let's get'em boarded!” she barked, getting things going without preamble. “First platoon, second platoon, you'll be with Lieutenant Bimm; third platoon, fourth platoon, you'll be on me. No more than two squads to a transport! Move!”

    “Take the landers on the left!” Thedus ordered once the CO headed for her own transport. “Platoon leaders, load at your discretion!”

    Suiting action to words, he galloped up to the first lander in his column, boarding it by its rear ramp and taking a seat next to its forward portside hatchway. It occurred to him then that he'd never before been in one of these Jarhead-class landers, as they were called. The practice drops he'd conducted during ISTS had been aboard Ministry-class orbital shuttles, which seemed rather pointless in retrospect seeing as how these craft were vastly better-suited to the role. The interior was comfortably large, and had enough seats for ten people in addition to an entire platoon's worth; doubtless it could hold more passengers if they weren't in full battle kit.

    As he strapped himself in, another armored Marine took the seat to his right, tapping him on the shoulder plate. “Excuse me sir, may I have a word?”

    “Go ahead,” Thedus said dully.

    “First Sergeant Karmana Till,” the woman introduced herself. The melodious tint to her voice caused Thedus to speculate that she was not actually Human. “I heard about what happened in the officers' mess.”

    “I'm sure you were thrilled, Sergeant,” Thedus grumbled. He realized that, as Besh Company's senior noncom, she was the link between officer and enlisted and certainly knew Commander Reyolé better than he did. “What's the word on our fearless leader, anyway?”

    “Commander Reyolé was only assigned to us sixteen days ago,” the noncom replied with a shrug. “She's about the only person in the outfit who has combat experience, so I trust that she knows what she's doing.”

    “But how do I get her to like me?” Thedus asked, hating the petulance in his own voice.

    “Just take it easy in future,” Till replied. “Let her get a chance to know you before you start taking liberties. Third Bat isn't the strictest outfit in the Corps, and it seems to work well enough that way.”

    “Noted, Sergeant,” Thedus replied, and it was his turn to shrug. “Thanks for the advice.”

    “Anytime, LT,” she replied, a bit of pep in her voice.

    -- -- --​

    Thirty minutes later, the company was on its way to the surface of Sigdooine. Thedus was sharing his lander with the first sergeant, as well as the first two squads of the first platoon. As the lander began to enter the upper atmosphere, it started to vibrate more severely as it met thicker and thicker air; Thedus supposed the pilots must be doing a nosedive for the jostling to be this intense, but for a combat drop it was the optimal vector; straight down and on the target before they realize what's coming. About a minute before the scheduled arrival time, the internal comm crackled to life.

    “Pilot to passengers, I've got an update for ya,” said a male with a thick Corellian accent. “New plan is to drop in the town square; turns out the population's a bit bigger than initially thought.”

    ''Great, just great,'' Thedus muttered in his head. ''As if this mission has enough risks...''

    “Pilot, understood,” the first sergeant replied, reaching across Thedus's lap to hit the comm switch. “We're ready for touchdown.”

    “Thirty seconds!” the pilot replied.

    “Brace brace brace!” Thedus yelled as he unstrapped himself, stood, and grabbed hold of an overhead grip-loop. “I want everyone out within fifteen seconds of landing!”

    “Sir, yes SIR!” the two squads of Marines replied, following his lead.

    The last of them had barely gotten a grip when the lander hauled up on its belly, pulling out of its dive with tremendous effort. The inertial compensator was overloaded by the maneuver, resulting in the troopers swaying to the rear with the force of it. No one lost their grips, however, and the craft impacted the ground with a sonorous thud!

    “Move move move!” Thedus ordered as the side hatches and rear ramp hissed open. He was second behind the company sergeant to exit the craft; following her lead, he sprinted for the nearest cover as the rest of the landers arrived. “Where the hell are we?” he asked once he, the sergeant, and the first squad squatted on the near side of a low brick wall. “Is this the village square?”

    “Looks like it, LT,” Till replied with another shrug. In removing her helmet she confirmed Thedus's earlier assumption, revealing that she was in fact a Zeltron; her violet hair went well with the deep magenta of her skin. Producing a comlink, the first sergeant flicked a switch and brought it to her helmet.

    “Citizens of Sigdooine,” she said, her voice magnified by the comlink's setting. “The Republic Marines have come here to assist you. Please assemble at the center of town and we will do our best to make this process quick and orderly.”

    She began to repeat the summons, walking amongst the outer area of the large, open space that looked to be the center of whatever community the pioneer team had built. Tentatively at first, the town's populace, who were exclusively Human, came out from their homes and whatever shops were in view. The rest of the company had landed by now, and the sergeant's message was being repeated by Commander Reyolé. Gesturing for the two squads that had exited the lander with him to set up secured positions nearby, Thedus set out to find the company commander.

    “Ah, there you are, Mr. Bimm,” she said when he hailed her. “Looks like we've hit a snag.”

    “It could be worse, Commander,” Thedus replied nonchalantly.

    “You don't know the half of it, Lieutenant,” Reyolé said with a rueful air.

    “Oi! What the hell d'you think yer doin' here, ya bloody jarheads!” yelled a voice from off to their left. The two officers turned to see a well-dressed, middle-aged male with a generous beard and mustache--not to mention a distinctly well-fed appearance--striding indignantly toward them. “This is an independent community, we want nothing from yer Republic!”

    “Oh, here we go,” the commander growled under her breath before doffing her helmet. Thedus did likewise, and the two strode forward to meet what had to be the town's leader--or the president of the whole damn planet. “Are you in charge here?”

    “Yer too bloody right I'm in charge!” the man replied hotly. “Governor Tier Grordick's the name, and our people are not subject to your laws!”

    “This planet is in danger, Governor,” Reyolé shot back, equally adamant. “Taris has fallen to the Mandalorian clans, and we--”

    “And they can bloody well have it, then, can't they?” the governor shouted, waving a dismissive hand. “We're not some colony, beholden ter some corporation or what have ya, we came here to get away from that urban cesspit!”

    “If you don't leave now, Governor, then your people will be next on Mandalore's list of targets!” the commander admonished loudly. “You risk a great deal by staying here!”

    Thedus Bimm considered himself a laid-back kind of person, even during the course of his duties. But he wasn't blind, nor was he ignorant of how people tended to interact, and he could sense the approaching impasse. Hoping to head it off, he held up a hand to halt the governor's reply even as the bearded man sucked in his breath.

    “Commander, if I may,” he said, casting a sideways glance at his superior officer.

    “By all means, Lieutenant,” she said flatly, crossing her arms over her breastplate.

    “Governor, I realize that your people value their independence,” Thedus said to the official. “We value it too, that's why we're out here in the first place.”

    “A fantastic way to show it, sending in a dozen assault ships,” he said sarcastically. “You going to push us in at blasterpoint, then?”

    “You mistake our intentions, Governor,” Thedus replied, unfazed by the rebuke. “You see, my commander here knows what it's like to face the Mandalorians in battle. She fought them on the Rim, and knows how brutally-effective they can be.”

    “So? What of it?”

    “Governor, the fact of the matter is this,” Thedus began, holding up his fingers and ticking off items for emphasis. “One, this planet is ripe for the plundering: it's got farmland, minerals, even a close proximity to a well-traveled hyperlane. Two, this town is hardly the ideal location to fight a battle. And three, wishing no offense to you or your people, you're not trained soldiers and would be overwhelmed rather quickly. Is that about the size of it, Commander?”

    “As much as I hate to admit it, my subordinate is correct,” Reyolé quipped, her demeanor relaxing somewhat. “Governor, we really ''do'' want what is best for your people.”

    “I still don't trust yer Republic,” he scoffed, though his head had deflated a bit. “The least you could've done was send a message.”

    “Such a communiqué could easily have been intercepted, Governor, and I think you realize that,” Thedus replied. “But if you feel this strongly, why not tell your people the facts and they can decide for themselves?”

    “What's ter stop me telling them they're best left alone?” the politician grumbled, but then he turned away and brought out his own comlink.

    -- -- --​

    It didn't take long for the thousand people living in the town to make their choice. Nearly all of them agreed to be ferried Coreward aboard the Republic warship; those who refused were either pressured into leaving by their families or else told simply that the majority had spoken and packed aboard a lander anyway. An hour after his craft had arrived on the surface, Thedus was watching it ascend into the sky, this time loaded with a hundred villagers packed in shoulder-to-shoulder. There had been no alternative to stuffing the Jarhead landers thus; there was no time for a second run, and every minute of delay increased the odds of the Marines' position being compromised.

    As the last of them vanished from sight, the troopers and officers of Besh Company were working feverishly to set up defensive positions, saving the demolitions for emergency use since there was nothing here worth blowing up that the Mandos wouldn't likely trash themselves if they came to call. Thedus, meanwhile, had mounted the roof of the village's tallest building, where he had begun to scan the outskirts for signs of trouble.

    “Room for one more up here?” a voice said, interrupting his observations.

    Thedus looked back at the access door to see Commander Reyolé, who was hefting a BR-12m rifle in sniper configuration with practiced ease. Careful to keep his surprise at her choice of weapon hidden, he offered her a halfhearted salute. “Of course, Commander. Looks like everyone's settling in; if the Mandos decide to move on our position, we won't make it easy for them.”

    “Good,” she said, then began unfolding her rifle's bipod as she strode toward the roof's edge. “Care to spot for an old sniper?”

    “I...didn't realize you did that, Commander,” Thedus replied uncertainly as he took a knee beside her now-prone form and bringing his macrobinoculars back up. “I've never heard of...”

    “I wasn't always an officer, Mr. Bimm,” she said, adjusting her rifle's scope. “My first deployment was as a scout/sniper fresh out of advanced training. It's a good line of work, if you've got the skills.”

    “Must have come in handy on Bad Alshir,” Thedus said.

    “Got seven confirmed kills that way, all without having to leave my headquarters,” the commander agreed with a chuckle. “That was after the transparisteel had been blown out by a near-miss from a proton mortar round, of course.”

    Thedus laughed at that; to his surprise, Commander Reyolé joined in.

    “That was some smooth talking down there, Lieutenant,” she admitted once the mirth had run its course. “I probably couldn't have made the governor see sense otherwise.”

    Thedus shrugged. “It wasn't all that difficult, ma'am. In my experience, civilian leaders are a lot more concerned with appearances, with 'acting the part' and what have you. I just played to his tune.”

    “Ah, politics,” the commander remarked with disdain, getting up from her position and shouldering her rifle. “If there's one thing at which I rank dead last, then that is it...”
  8. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    May 11, 2011
    Master and Commander

    In the vast main hangar of the Interdictor-class cruiser, more than a hundred Republic Navy, Army and Marine Corps personnel were gathered, all clad in their finest dress uniforms, their pants pressed and their shoes shined. Standing in formations, segregated by service branch, the officers and enlisted beings faced the back wall where a stage had been set with a podium, a large table bearing a multitude of small boxes, and a simple backstop of blood red velvet curtains. Upon this platform stood about a dozen robed and cloaked Jedi Knights, accompanied by a few Masters, but they remained on the periphery. The dais itself was occupied by two beings, a man and a woman: the man was tall, clad in an orange leather greatcoat with high collar, his head bald and tattooed with two broad, pale blue stripes; the woman, significantly shorter and older, had fiery red hair and carried herself modestly, in keeping with her subdued mode of dress.

    Jedi Master Vima Sunrider looked at her companion, the Jedi Knight Malak, and nodded.

    “Soldiers of the Republic, it is our honor to have you here today,” he began, speaking into a comlink mounted at the podium. His voice was magnified severalfold by the ship's internal comm, so that everyone present could understand him; this also provided the rest of the vessel's crew with a running commentary. “The recent fighting along the Mandalorian front has been brutal, but you have all acquitted yourselves magnificently. It is to commemorate you and your efforts that we hold this ceremony, so that your valiant contributions to the war effort can be appreciated and given proper recognition. When your name is called, step forward to receive your commendations.”
    Malak stepped back, and Vima took his place. She withdrew a flimsi from her robe pocket, gave it a cursory examination, then began to read from the alphabetized list. “Abidee, Sauder.”

    A Human male who looked too young to consume alcohol detached himself from the formation of Republic Navy personnel and trotted up to the podium. When he arrived, Vima presented the young officer with the appropriate box. “For your actions at Randon, the Republic bestows upon you the Navy Orb.”

    As the boy, blushing furiously, rejoined his fellows, Vima handed off the flimsi as she exchanged places with Malak once more. “Apel, Redanna,” he called.

    An Army trooper, her visage prematurely pockmarked and bearing a patch over her left eye, made her way to the dais. Malak handed her a pair of boxes when she arrived. “For your actions at Dagory Minor, the Republic bestows upon you the Silver Shield, as well as the Crimson Orb, Second Class.”

    The ceremony continued thus for some time, though Vima was not paying full attention. As the most senior of Revan and Malak's coalition, she had been given the rank of General by the Republic High Command. With the former Knight off doing who knew what during his solitary mission to the edges of known space, it was left to Malak and herself to lead this formal gathering. The front lines were stable—for the moment, at any rate—so the time had come to conduct this bit of morale-boosting pomp and circumstance.

    As “Iplan, Xaart” received the Silver Shield for his own efforts during the Republic's defeat at Dagary Minor, she reflected on what had brought her to this point. She knew that many in the Order were scratching their heads in confusion or expressing frank disbelief at why a woman of her wisdom, experience, and abilities had seen fit to go dashing off to war, in spite of the Order's stance against premature involvement. But it was for those very reasons that she had joined the Revanchists in the first place; her mother had known that the most assured way for evil to triumph was for good people to do nothing. It was an axiom that she had long ago embraced for herself, ever since her training under Ulic Qel-Droma on Rhen Var and upheld during her service since then. If Nomi Sunrider were still alive, she would have felt the same way, of this Vima was certain.

    If Nomi Sunrider still lived, it would be her leading the Republic, not Revan and Malak.
    And the entire Order would have followed rather than the youngest, the most brash. The ones who were, in fact, at the highest risk of falling to the dark side.

    Atris had been the one to express the greatest shock of all when Vima had informed the Council of her choice. The Jedi historian had berated her mercilessly, even in front of the other Masters. But it had been for naught, and Vima suspected that this had caused some wounding within the archivist's soul. Atris had, after all, been a Padawan to her mother, and she and Vima had once been friends. The other masters' reactions had been guarded, with none of them making the same grandiose pronouncements or declaring that such a decision would inevitably lead to darkness. Kavar had held his disappointment in check, but Vima had seen hints of it; Vandar had stayed completely neutral; Vrook had presented a scowl carved in stone throughout; the others had borne mixed expressions, some were almost sad, but some seemed to understand.

    Nearly a year later here she was, at a ceremony honoring those who risked everything, who had suffered so much, to fight a foe that could only be thought of as a vast, amorphous need to wage total, highly-destructive war. And waged it they had. From Eres III to the Xoxin plains, from Duro to Ithor, the Mandalorians' self-titled Neo-Crusade had sought to conquer for no other discernible reason than to simply keep on conquering. Ithor, thankfully, had been saved during that first year, though it had been a near thing.

    “Reyolé, Laera,” Malak called, drawing Vima from her ruminations. She didn't understand at first why the name held such meaning for her, but as the blue-eyed, auburn-haired Marine mounted the steps leading up to the stage and strode confidently toward the dais, the Jedi Master caught a hint of her sense in the Force.

    Much to her surprise, she glowed like a miniature sun.

    Malak, unperturbed by this revelation—or, perhaps, he hadn't cottoned on to it—continued speaking. “For continued excellence in leadership and your actions during the Battle of Contruum, the Republic awards you the Marine Corps Star and a promotion to full Commander.”

    As Commander Reyolé accepted the boxes presented to her by the tall Knight, her gaze met Vima's. Something seemed to pass between the two women in that span of only a few heartbeats, and she resolved to arrange to meet this officer at a later date and get to know her better. In the meantime, however, it was now her turn to present a citation.

    — — —

    The door to her quarters chimed, rousing Vima from her meditative posture. She had known who was coming, though, and responded quickly. “Commander Reyolé, it was good of you to see me,” she said, gesturing the officer, now wearing her battle-dress uniform, toward a small table around which a trio of chairs had been placed. “Please, have some refreshment.”

    “Thank you, General Sunrider,” the woman, who Vima realized was not far removed from her own age, said as she took a seat. “May I ask what this is in regards to?”

    “I simply wished to meet you in less formal circumstances,” Vima replied, pouring for her guest a steaming mug of caf from a tray and hot plate on her desk, then she made one for herself. “You'll like this blend, I brew it strong enough to etch transparisteel.”

    “The way it's meant to be,” Reyolé said appreciatively, taking a sip and nodding her approval.

    As Vima sat opposite the officer, she noticed a slight twitching of the younger woman's sense; she seemed uncomfortable for some reason, almost as though... “You don't trust Jedi, do you?”

    Laera Reyolé pulled a face as she swallowed another mouthful of caf, then set her cup on the table. “With all due respect, General, I don't believe that is your concern,” she said, doing a remarkable job of retaining her composure. “I would rather not discuss it.”

    “As you wish, Commander,” Vima replied, taking a sip and setting her own cup aside. “May I make another observation, however? I would not think less of you were you to decline an answer.”

    “You are my superior officer, Master Jedi, you may make any observation you desire.”

    Vima could sense that the woman was trying to wall herself off from any Force probes, which she supposed was understandable given the circumstances. Most of the officers and personnel she encountered seemed to regard her in one of two ways: either as an extremely capable leader who understood battle and war, or as the glory-seeking daughter of a great leader who didn't care one jot for the people under her command. Commander Reyolé, however, didn't seem to share either sentiment. Instead, she was actually succeeding in keeping her mind neutral before the gentle brushing of her thoughts that the Jedi Master was engaged in.

    After a pregnant pause, Vima spoke again. “It is my understanding that you led the force that defended Bad Alshir during the first battle of the invasion,” she said gently, taking care not to seem overly curious. “You have been wounded on several occasions, and you are among the most experienced of the Republic's field officers. Before that, you served as a non-commissioned officer for many years, three of them as a senior drill instructor, before going to officer candidate school and earning your commission. Tell me, what is it that has kept you going after having gone through so much?”

    The commander fiddled with her caf cup for a few moments, then drained it, buying herself time to think. When she spoke, her voice and countenance were grim. “I suppose it's just down to one simple fact: my family lives on the Rim, and as long as the bucketheads are doing their best to conquer the Republic, they'll always be in danger.”

    “Where does your family live, if I may ask?” Vima replied.

    “On Agamar,” Reyolé said in that same resigned tone, but then she continued. “On this ship, others like it, and on a hundred different worlds scattered across Republic space. You see General, Master Jedi, the Corps is my family as well.”

    Vima nodded sagely, her expression showing approval. “The Jedi Order is not so different from the Republic Marines, Laera. May I call you Laera?”

    The commander nodded, a subtle inclining of her features, and Vima continued. “You see, Laera, those of us among the Jedi are encouraged to form bonds that are very much like that which you share with your family, and the soldiers and officers you know and command. None of us are perfect, but by maintaining such ties, we are able to support one another and use our own individual strengths to counter each others' weaknesses. Through such cooperation, balance is achieved.”

    Laera seemed to work her way through that thought as she stared at her empty mug. Silence descended on Vima's quarters, a sort of contemplative feeling that seemed quite appropriate for the occasion and the topic of discussion. The Marine had begun to relax slightly, almost in spite of herself, and Vima was careful to maintain discretion with her abilities in order to encourage the woman further.

    “I've heard of your mother's exploits,” Laera said abruptly. “If you will pardon my frankness, you seem to be quite a different person.”

    “Oh, you've only seen the public records, Laera,” Vima replied, offering a warm smile. “They tend to...exaggerate certain aspects of her personality. She and I are actually very much alike in almost every way.”

    “I...didn't realize,” Laera said apologetically.

    “And why should you have?” Vima asked with a shrug. “You never met her, and I knew her for nearly all my life. My mother...I almost wish she were still with us. We'd be following her orders now, not Revan's...”

    Vima hadn't meant to admit that to Laera, but something had begun to form between the two of them. It wasn't a Force bond, at least insofar as she understood it, but it was something that had become more and more manifest between herself and the beings under her command. The Jedi Master wondered if this was some aftereffect of having been in so many battles, alongside so many different soldiers in such a short time, or if it was something that had always been a part of her. In either case, she felt compelled to nourish that connection.

    “I watched her funeral over the HoloNet,” Laera said into Vima's thoughts. “While I was stationed at Bad Alshir. My CO at the time said that Jedi don't generally hold public memorial services.”

    “No, we don't,” Vima replied. “Nomi wouldn't have wanted it either, but I guess the Republic needs its heroes. Now more than ever, it seems.”

    “Hence the ceremony in the hangar bay,” Laera said, a hint of resentment and chagrin both working themselves into her voice. “Malak standing tall up there, thinking for all the universe how important he and his buddy Revan are...I'm sorry, that was uncharitable.”

    “No, it was honest,” Vima said reassuringly. “Honesty is to be respected, especially when it comes from those outside the Order.”

    Laera paused, then fixed her eyes on Vima's. “You know, you're ruining this impression I've had of Jedi being self-righteous blowhards.”

    “You're not the first to say that, you know,” Vima replied with a half-grin. “For what it's worth, I do not begrudge you for whatever bad feelings you've ever expressed for Jedi or the Order.”

    “I know that the Jedi serving with Revan's forces are but a fraction of the whole,” Laera said as she rose to pour herself another mug of caf. “May I ask why the majority have stayed neutral?”

    Vima contemplated this query in silence, taking some time to weigh the options even after Laera had resumed her seat. Technically, she wasn't supposed to be telling anybody—not even her fellow Masters—about the goings-on of High Council meetings. However, she felt a strong compulsion to share what had happened when she had announced her intentions; despite this, she resisted. “It is...complicated,” she began instead. “Suffice it to say that the Council did not choose to accept what I saw—what my mother would have seen. Speaking for myself, I joined Revan's cause in order to save civilization, to preserve the peace it creates. It is that which keeps me going, regardless of what the effort may cost.”

    “To the Republic,” Laera said, raising her caf cup.

    “To the Republic,” Vima replied, repeating the gesture. After a few moments of silence, she broached the topic that had been on her mind for some time, a way to further bring about the prosecution of the war effort. “I've been mulling over a few ideas about how we can fight the Mandalorians more efficiently. One of them seems like it would suit you, if you are willing to be a part of it.”

    “I'm always up for new ways of doing things,” Laera replied, placing her cup on the table once more. “What's on your mind, General?”

    — — —

    After two more months of bloody conflict, Vima Sunrider was beginning to feel the weight of having witnessed so much death and destruction. Despite the increasing pressures of command and the inauguration of Revan's grand strategy for defeating the Mandalorians, the Jedi Master felt as though she was right where she belonged. Particularly considering the ever-ready presence of Laera Reyolé.

    After her promotion to full commander, the Marine had been bumped out of the Third Battalion, with a young, up-and-coming officer named Thedus Bimm taking her place as leader of Besh Company. In the wake of the loss of Duro, Vima had finished plans to form her own small unit of soldiers and officers, each one talented in several fields of warfare, for use in covert insertions prior to major planetary assaults. Drawing personnel from all three service branches including Marine Force Recon, she had wanted to place the fifty beings she had recruited under Reyolé's command, so that it would be led by someone she could trust. Laera had accepted, and the scheme had been approved in a communiqué to the fleet from Revan himself. It had taken this long to get everything assembled and working smoothly, and now she was ready to meet with the unit, designated Viridian Squadron after the color of Vima's lightsaber blade, as a whole for the first time.

    Striding into the large and well-appointed briefing room, she acknowledged the gathered men and women, who were dressed in their original branch-specific day uniforms, as they stood to attention. “At ease,” she said, and everyone resumed their seats. “Commander Reyolé, is everyone present and accounted for?”

    “We're all here, General Sunrider,” Laera replied briskly. “Viridian Squadron is at your disposal.”

    “Excellent,” Vima said, then began to manipulate the holoprojector. “As it happens, the fleet is gearing up for a major operation, and I've asked to have you dropped in prior to the invasion.”
    “What planet are we hitting, ma'am?” one of the other officers, an Army captain named Nor Estayo, asked.

    Vima pressed one last button on the holoprojector's control panel, and the holograph of a planet-wide city emerged. “Taris.”

    One of the hallmarks of Viridian Squadron was its informal nature. As an “off-books” unit whose very existence was kept classified, it was in essence Vima's personal strike force. She didn't think of it as such, though, especially not with Laera helping her in selecting the best candidates. And, because the squadron was kept apart from the regular chain of command, many of the formalities of line units were ignored. For instance, the babbling amongst them that broke out at the mention of their target. Every being present had already proven themselves to be skilled operators, disciplined in their own way, so both Vima and Laera felt comfortable in allowing them their freedom.

    After all, pre-invasion insertions were incredibly dangerous, both to those being inserted and those who would come after should the mission be compromised.

    “Alright people, let's look to the plan,” Laera said, drawing the squadron's attention back to the Jedi Master. “Where do we insert and when?”

    “As we all know, Taris was the first major world to fall to the Mandalorians,” Vima said, nodding to her commander. “Because of this, they will be well-entrenched upon the surface, and will likely have significant numbers of warships in orbit. However, information about underground resistance movements has been making its way to Republic Intelligence for some time now.”

    Vima touched another button, and the image of the planet was replaced by a city grid. “Known to the locals as the “Jedi Tower,” this Upper City high-rise was home to the Order's operations on the planet and was a focal point for the initial invasion. However, Intelligence suggests that it is now largely ignored save for routine patrols. Taris is a big world, and they're losing warriors every day to the swoop gangs and other pro-Republic insurgents. For this reason, you will be inserting into the Middle City about a kilometer away from the Tower, aboard an ex-Mandalorian Q-carrier that the Ninth Force Recon Platoon 'acquired' on Zeltros.”

    “Are all fifty of us gonna fit in one of them things?” asked an Army technical sergeant. “I helped check out a couple of wrecked ones on Ithor, and they're not that big.”

    “The intact ones are about the size of Jarhead-class landers,” Laera corrected the noncom. “General Sunrider and I checked our insertion vehicle over with a fine-toothed comb. It'll be tight, but the thing will get us where we need to go.”

    “I guess that means I'm in the cockpit,” said Omaar Bradli, a Navy ensign who looked far too old for the rank. Vima knew that he'd been given a battlefield commission recently, and that out of all of Viridian Squadron, he was the most proficient speaker of Mando'a. In fact, he was fluent in the language, and had used that knowledge to escape Mandalorian captivity in the first weeks of the war.

    “You would be correct, Ensign,” Vima replied with a smile. “It'll be up to you and Captain Estayo to get the squadron to the surface unmolested and hide the lander. We hope to use it in future operations, so please do try to avoid getting shot down.”

    A ripple of laughter crossed the briefing room, and the two officers were given appreciative back-slaps by the other members.

    “Now that we've got the basics out of the way, let's get down to brass tacks,” Laera said, standing up and bringing out her own datapad. “Aurek Team will be led by...”

    — — —

    The briefing took another half hour to wrap up; in addition to finalizing the organizational structure and handing out team assignments, there had been a number of questions as to the purpose of the infiltration. Vima and Laera had agreed that this initial insertion was to be more of a practice run, in keeping with the idea of the Tarisian assault marking the beginning of the counteroffensive. The three team leaders had agreed that the plan would work best as a three-pronged effort: Aurek Team would obtain Mandalorian gear and, thus disguised, attempt to sabotage the enemy's defenses; Besh Team would attempt to make contact with any of the major swoop gangs or resistance groups; Cresh Team, meanwhile, was tasked with finding and tracking enemy commanders and, as the Republic fleet arrived, eliminating them.

    “Everything looks solid, Master Sunrider,” Laera said as the two of them left the room, the last to leave. The mission was still a few days off, and the squadron had been given plenty of time to work as teams to plan their missions, along with all available intelligence sources. “Has their armor arrived yet?”

    “Laera, I've asked you to call me Vima twice already,” the Jedi Master admonished mildly. “As for your question, their gear will be arriving in ten hours aboard the next personnel transport.”

    “The Army and Navy folks will need some time to adjust to it, so the sooner it gets here the better,” Laera said with a shrug. “I was planning on visiting the armory and exchanging my sniping blaster for a SOPMOD carbine, as it won't be...”

    Her voice trailed off as she caught the look on Vima's face.

    “I'm not going, am I?” she asked bluntly.

    “No,” Vima said simply. “Captain Estayo is more than qualified to head up this first mission; he's up for promotion to major soon, anyway. To be honest, Laera, while I trust you to lead the squadron, I didn't exactly intend to have you leading from the front.”

    “Master...Vima, that is exactly what a Marine does,” Laera said, anger creeping into her voice and sense in the Force. “We lead by example, not simply by issuing orders.”

    “I know,” Vima replied, keeping calm despite Laera's rising emotions. “This wasn't an easy choice to make, believe me. But I have to factor so much more into the equation, including the operations to follow.”

    “I see,” Laera said, and for a few moments the two walked in silence. “Vima, I do trust you—you're the only Jedi I've ever trusted, in fact—but this isn't easy to accept.”

    Vima sighed. “I would have been more worried about you if you had just taken my benching you in stride,” she said, inclining her head. “I picked you to lead Viridian Squadron because you're a natural leader, and while you won't be going for this op, there are others in future that I would greatly appreciate you taking an active role in.”

    “Such as?” Laera asked, a bit of hope emerging in her response.

    The pair halted at a junction where no other soldiers or other personnel were present, Vima indicating a nearby room. Opening the door, she led the way into what turned out to be an unassigned dual-occupancy quarters deep in officer country. After checking that no one else was about, she sealed the door. “If word of this gets out it'll be both our hides, war heroines or no.”
    “I understand,” Laera replied, her demeanor sober as she stood at attention.

    “Your service records say that you served in Iziz City for some time, even if that deployment was more than fifteen years ago. Do you remember much of the place from your time there?”

    Laera seemed to ponder that question for a moment, then regarded Vima with a nostalgic grin. “Fifty-meter walls with plenty of coverage, laser cannon mounts and wave gun emplacements every hundred meters on the first wall and even more closely-packed the further up you go, and a population that lived in fear of the jungle for the better part of four centuries? I'd say I remember the place pretty well. Do you mean to tell me...”

    “...that Iziz will be our next target?” Vima finished for her. “You would be correct.”

    Laera's deep blue eyes bored into Vima's hazel orbs. “Vima...General Sunrider...if you don't send me on that mission, I swear on my own head that I will sneak aboard the insertion vehicle myself.”
    Vima smiled. “Laera, if anyone under my command was capable of pulling off such a stunt, it would definitely be you.”

    Exchanging nods, the two parted company with Vima heading for the warship's bridge while Laera walked toward her quarters. Humming idly to herself she caught a nearby turbolift, which took her to the command deck. Stepping out of the lift, she was intercepted by Malak.

    “Greetings, Master Sunrider,” the younger Jedi said respectfully as the two headed for the bridge together. “Is Viridian Squadron ready to launch its inaugural mission?”

    “They'll be ready when they need to be,” Vima replied curtly. “I was meeting with their commander just now.”

    “Am I to take it that your conversations with her have had the desired effect?” Malak asked obliquely.
    Vima flashed the tall Knight an admonitory glare. “I did as you asked,” she said shortly. “Commander Reyolé is a fine officer and a good friend, but she is not one to be trifled with. She's proven that to me many times over in the last two months.”

    “I understand—” Malak began, but Vima cut him off.

    “No, Alek, I don't think you do,” she said, and there was no mistaking the stern rebuke in her voice and the way she used the man's true name. “There is more to Reyolé than meets the eye, it's true. But getting back to the bigger issue, you two need to be careful. I don't know what your pal Revan has been up to this past year, and frankly I don't give a damn. He needs to realize that, with the coming campaign we can win this war, but we need to proceed carefully. Once the offensive starts, no more reckless abandonment of worlds, no more grandiose schemes that needlessly jeopardize civilians; from here on in, it's a straight-up fight to the finish.”

    As Vima's declaration came to a close, the two ascended the ramp and walked through the hatchway to the bridge itself, where a cloaked and hooded being stood in wait for them.

    “Master Sunrider, it is good to see you again,” the voice of Revan said from beneath a hauntingly familiar mask. “Please, join me. I have a slight modification to make to the coming campaign that I wanted to run by you first...”
  9. TrakNar

    TrakNar Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Apr 4, 2011
    The next part is up!

    [B]Into the Hornet's Nest[/B]

    “Mister Estayo! Mister Estayo! Something's coming!”

    Roused from his sleep by the girl's pleas for attention, Ensign Omaar Bradli threw off the thin blanket he'd been given to sleep under for the night. Motioning for the girl to hush, he made his way through the gloom of the Lower City warehouse where the unit had set up shop the previous evening to where Aurek Team's leader had curled up. Leaning in close, he whispered to his captain. “Sir, the Vao girl is back.”

    Nor Estayo tossed his own blanket aside as he stretched within the Mandalorian armor he'd appropriated within an hour of landing on Taris a week prior. Around him, the rest of Viridian Squadron's members cast off their nocturnal slumber, rising from whatever sleeping arrangements they had been able to make and gathering up their weapons. “What's up, Cap?” a Marine corporal asked after releasing a huge yawn. “We moving on?”

    “Depends on what our little friend has to tell us, kid,” Omaar said instead. “Where to, Mission?”

    “Up this way, Mister Bradli!” the young Twi'lek said, excitement shining in her luminous brown eyes.

    “Alright everyone, let's get ready to move out,” the captain said as he and the ensign got up to follow their guide. “Either this place is about to be liberated, or the Mandos are about to descend on us like a hive of stinging insects.”

    Omaar knew that, strictly-speaking, Mission Vao wasn't really their guide. She was, in reality, a nine-year-old street urchin who seemed to have found a protector among the Hidden Beks swoop gang, led by Gadon Thek. A quite reasonable Tarisian native, he had earned extensive experience engaging in partisan warfare with the planet's Mandalorian conquerors. He suspected that her lookout was in fact the gang's second-in-command, a hard-bitten member of the girl's species named Zaerdra, who was a fiercely loyal fighter and a good shot with a blaster pistol. Vao claimed to have known a few Jedi during the initial battle for this world and the first weeks of the occupation, but most of the squadron had dismissed her tales as childhood fantasy.

    Not to her face, of course; none of them were ''that'' crass.

    As the two officers ascended a stairway to an upper-level catwalk, the sound of airspeeder engines could be heard off in the distance. The noise was faint at first, but became steadily louder as they neared the door to the roof. Motioning for the Twi'lek girl to stay back, Captain Estayo cracked the durasteel hatch by a hair and peered through. Then, he slammed the door open. “Get the squadron up here, m'lady,” he said to Mission with a big grin on his face. “Our deliverance is at hand.”

    “Yes sir!” she piped up, throwing the man her best imitation of a military salute.

    As she scampered off in exuberant compliance, Nor and Omaar shouldered their carbines and approached the trio of assault speeders that had alighted on the roof. All around them they could see the presence of Republic military craft, including dropships and the ubiquitous [I]Aurek[/I]-class starfighters. Out of the flanking vehicles spilled a half-squad each of Marines, who promptly dashed off to the edges to provide overwatch and covering fire for a pair of passing shuttles. The central speeder's hatchway, however, did not open until some unheard all-clear signal had been sent. When at last it did open, out from within strode Commander Laera Reyolé, confidence evident in her visage and gait.

    “It took us a while to find you, Nor,” she said with a half-smile after the three officers exchanged formal greetings. “Your signal was a little sketchy on details.”

    “My apologies, Commander,” Estayo replied. “But we couldn't risk giving out any further details in case any lingering Mandalorian units intercepted our transmission and decided to get some last-minute killing in.”

    “A prudent course of action, of course. You've both done a good job Captain, Ensign,” Reyolé began, but then she uncharacteristically hesitated. After a moment, however, that roguish grin returned in force. “Or should I say, Major and Lieutenant.”

    “Thank you, ma'am,” Nor and Omaar said at the same instant, throwing their best salutes to the commander.

    “From what I understand, [I]I[/I] should be thanking [I]you[/I],” Commander Reyolé replied. “So tell me, how's the rest of the squadron holding up?”

    “Aurek Team has three KIA and six wounded, all from the first few hours after insertion,” Major Estayo said, his light tone laced with a hint of grief. “We had a bit of trouble getting suitable disguises; fortunately, our friends didn't realize who we were and dismissed us as partisans.”

    “Besh and Cresh teams had no KIA, but we got some broken bones and a few blaster wounds from running skirmishes,” Omaar added. “We successfully made contact with the local resistance, which was formed from a coalition of Black Vulkars, Hidden Beks, and a few surviving members of the Tarisian Constabulary. The Beks are the best-equipped in this area, and they helped us to hump the wounded to a secured location.”

    “That's good news,” the commander replied, nodding her head in acknowledgment of the casualties. “It also proves what General Sunrider suspected about the Mandos' ability to control large urban centers. We'll have a transport down within a quarter-hour to pick everyone up and leave a recovery crew for the Q-carrier...that is, [I]if[/I] you managed to keep it in one piece.”

    “Oh, there's no worrying about that,” Omaar said with a grin. “She's parked in the sub-subbasement of the old Jedi Tower, ready to be retrieved.”

    Reyolé patted both officers on the back in turn. “The squadron has done an excellent job gentlemen, I look forward to your full reports.”

    [CENTER]-- -- --[/CENTER]

    A couple of weeks later, Viridina Squadron was back up to speed; though those who had been wounded during their initial sortie were now fit for duty, there were no immediate replacements available for the dead. Lieutenant Omaar Bradli wasn't too concerned, however, as he made his way through the fleet's flagship to the briefing room in the company of Major Nor Estayo. The soldiers and officers of the unit had been summoned there by a prearranged series of beeps and whistles, broadcast over their comlinks, so that they could get out of whatever task they might be engaged in by claiming to have a broken device. It was one of those fun little touches that General Sunrider had come up with, and Omaar liked it.

    “Scuttlebutt says this one's gonna be hot,” the major said as the two walked confidently down the corridor.

    “Scuttlebutt also says that Commander Reyolé might make captain if we pull it off like last time,” Omaar replied sardonically. “I wouldn't trust such idle rumors if I were you, sir.”

    Nor chuckled. “Duly noted, Lieutenant.”

    “And let's hope things don't get [I]too[/I] hot,” Omaar added. “I still say we got lucky on Taris; if the Mandos had had any idea that our arrival was a precursor...”

    “Yeah, I know what you mean,” Nor said quietly, so that a gaggle of crewers going the other way couldn't hear. “Holding an ecumenopolis without the voluntary cooperation of the populace is next to impossible anyway. I wonder why they even bothered to conquer Taris when they could have just as easily bypassed it after nuking the place like they did with Serreco.”

    “If I didn't know better, sir, I'd say you were trying to get into War College,” Omaar said, shooting his friend a smug look. Despite the disparity in their rank and the fact that Nor was an academy boy while he had come up through the ranks, Omaar had found himself liking the man. He was cool under fire, knew his way around the galaxy, and seemed to respect everyone else within the squadron. They both held Commander Reyolé and General Sunrider in high esteem, and had seen their trust vindicated in how the liberation of Taris had played out.

    Before the major could summon a snarky reply, however, the two reached the hatch to the briefing room and entered. As it happened, they were the last to arrive. “Sorry for holding you up, ma'am,” Nor said as he saluted the two women standing at the holoprojector.

    “Not a problem, Major,” General Sunrider replied, nodding politely.

    “Just don't make a habit of it,” Commander Reyolé added, her tone and the glint in her eye softening the words. “Well, now that everyone's here, we can begin.”

    “We've been given our next assignment,” the Jedi Master said, activating the projector as Nor and Omaar took seats. “Thanks in large part to your work with the resistance, the Republic was able to secure Taris swiftly, with the last pockets of Mandalorian resistance eliminated three days after your extraction. Given this turn of events and the recent loss at Jaga's Cluster, Revan has decided to up the timetable for the final push, and that means we're going in a bit short.”

    The commander fiddled with the control panel, and the starfield that represented Taris and the surrounding systems was replaced by a large, green orb. “Our next target is Onderon,” she said grimly. “They've had a rough half-century, starting with the Beast Wars and including Exar Kun's little scrap. While Taris was being subdued, Mandalorian forces fortified Dxun, its moon, and used it as a staging area to once again descend upon that world and occupy its only city, Iziz.”

    She tweaked the controls again, and the rotating simulacrum was replaced with a holograph of the ancient walled fortress. “I had the privilege of serving there during my early career--” she paused as a couple of the younger enlistees exchanged subdued laughter “--which means that I will be accompanying the squadron. There will be other complications as well, chief among them the simple fact that, unlike Taris, Iziz is small and well-defended from outside attacks. It's also very difficult to remain undetected, which is why we're going in only a few hours prior to the actual invasion.”

    A worried silence fell on the room.

    “Any questions?” the commander asked after a beat.

    “What's our goal here, ma'am?” one of the Marine sergeants asked.

    “Your primary objective will be to infiltrate the defense grid and eliminate any power generators you can find that link to it,” General Sunrider said grimly. “I won't lie to you; this mission is very dangerous, and there is a strong possibility that many of you will not be coming back. However, we have taken steps to try and even the odds.”

    “First of all, there's myself,” the commander said, not missing a beat. “I served there for quite some time and know the city well, plus the Onderonians have a severe aversion to messing with the architecture. Second, General Sunrider has successfully made contact with the resistance in Iziz and has, through them, obtained a basic layout of the Mandalorians' improvements to the already formidable defenses. Third...well, let's just say there'll be plenty of locals willing to take weapons off corpses and join in the fun.”

    Omaar exchanged a glance with Nor, and the two nodded in agreement. While the operation was risky, they had a lot going for them. And it would be good to finally be able to see the commander in action.

    “Are there any other questions?” the general asked. After several moments of silence, she concluded the briefing. “You will all find the customary briefing bytes uploaded to your personal datapads. We're already on course for Onderon, so you'll be boarding the infiltration vessel and disembarking at 0930 hours tomorrow morning.”

    “Remember, the rest of the crew does not know where we are going,” Commander Reyolé added as the soldiers and officers of the squadron rose to their feet. “For the sake of operational security, keep chatter to a minimum. Dismissed.”

    [CENTER]-- -- --[/CENTER]

    The cockpit of the captured Q-carrier still reeked of Mandalorian despite extensive cleaning and rewiring, but Omaar had gotten used to it. With so much riding on his ability to convince the bucketheads below not to blow them out of the sky, he could afford no distractions. Though the initial part was over, that did little to ease his mind; in fact, he was now more worried than ever.

    “Whatever it was you said, sir, it seemed to work,” the chief piloting the carrier said through his Marine-issue helmet.

    Omaar, oblivious to the pilot's comment, was activating the internal comm. “Commander, I managed to get us clearance to where you wanted to land, but they're going to have a welcoming committee waiting for us.”

    The comm unit crackled with static through the terse silence that followed, during which the lieutenant suspected that his commander was doing some hard thinking. “Well, that certainly throws a spanner into the works,” she finally said, her tone guarded. “Alright people, we can still do this.”

    “What are your orders, ma'am?” Nor asked from somewhere else in the back compartment.

    “Chief Ronnell, there should be a garbage disposal chute to the left of where we're landing, about a dozen meters from the pad,” Commander Reyolé instructed. “Cresh Team, as soon as we land, blow the portside hatch and make for that chute; do not look back, do not stop to fire, and do not wait for the rest of us. Aurek Team, we take the Mandos head-on while Besh Team provides covering fire. If we survive, we make for the chute and rendezvous with Cresh Team at the first juncture. The area is exposed but not too well-defended; if we act fast we should be able to count on the element of surprise.”

    “Did you work this out with the Mandos ahead of time, Commander, or are you just clairvoyant?” one of the Army noncoms asked cheekily.

    “Focus, people,” the commander admonished gently. “How long until we're down?”

    “Settling into their holding pattern now,” the chief replied nervously. “Should be only a minute or two...”

    “Good. Chief, you're with Cresh Team. Everyone else, you have your orders.”

    As leader of Besh Team, Omaar detached himself from the co-pilot's seat of the Q-carrier and entered the back area, which was filled with troopers decked out in Marine assault armor. All of them had their helmets on and sealed, but he knew his people well enough to recognize them by their height, build and how they carried themselves. Taking up a position near the starboard hatchway, he drew his BR-12m from the blaster rack and flipped off the safety. And then he waited.

    “Touchdown in fifteen seconds,” the pilot warned. “Looks like about a dozen bucketheads, loosely organized--I see the chute!”

    The craft hit the ground hard, bouncing slightly. Even as it settled, the safety ejectors on both hatches were pulled, causing them to burst from the hull. The starboard hatch slammed bodily into the nearest Mandalorian, crushing him flat before he had even realized what was happening. As Omaar slipped out of the carrier and off to the side, he realized that the dead Mando's fellows were slow to recognize that they had been had. Raising his blaster to shoulder arms, he took a knee and began blazing away at anyone he could see who was not wearing Republic-patterned armor. His blasterfire was soon joined by the rest of his people, who quickly had the eight or so survivors pinned down while Commander Reyolé led Aurek Team in a charge on their position. Barely half a minute after touchdown, the fight was over.

    “Cresh-One, check in!” the commander barked over the squadron channel, her voice slightly breathless with exertion and adrenaline.

    “I read you, Commander,” the Marine junior lieutenant leading the third team replied. “That chute's a long ride, caution is advised.”

    “Noted. Did everyone make it?”

    “We're clear ma'am. Waiting on you at the first intersection.”

    “Good,” the commander replied, then began waving for the other two teams to rally on her. “Alright Viridians, let's head out--it's time to get very lost very quickly!”

    She led the way to the chute, which from the outside looked fairly innocuous. When she opened it, however, it was readily apparent that it lead right to the city's sewer network. Omaar caught sight of Nor as he was tallying up his team and exchanged a knowing nod, realizing that both were thinking the same thing: ''Whoever designed this armor should get a medal.''

    As Cresh-One had pointed out, the ride down was precarious, due in large part to the chute being slick with who knew what kind of fluid slurry. Fortunately for the squadron, it was large enough to accommodate a rapid descent in twos and threes, so that after another minute everyone had met back up at the designated site. “What is this place?” one of the noncoms asked uncertainly. “It' an oven in here!”

    “That's because the sewer lines run above the power conduits,” the commander replied. “The heat generated from them rises into these pipes and makes for an uncomfortable trek.”

    “Where do we go from here, then?” Nor asked.

    “Just follow me for now,” Reyolé advised, then began marching off along the left branch of the intersection.

    For nearly an hour the members of Viridian Squadron marched, tracking their leader by her thermal signature due to the almost nonexistent lighting. Unfortunately, this necessity also meant that they got to see first-hand what kind of animals lurked in the Onderonian sewer network; about the only good thing about this was the fact that none of them were capable of attacking anything larger than a nek. Finally, the commander came to a halt at a T-junction whose ends were capped by cast iron hatchways.

    “Shaped charges, there there and there,” she said, pointing at the right hatch in a pattern that formed an equilateral triangle.

    A pair of the unit's demolitions specialists began withdrawing components from each others' packs, setting the constructs at the indicated positions. They beckoned for the rest of the squadron to back up before setting the detonators. “Ten seconds,” one of them said as they too retreated.

    “Viridians, go on the blast,” Commander Reyolé advised as the timers ticked down. “We're in the sub-subbasement of Defense Nexus Three, which means the place will be crawling with Mandos very soon after. Hit hard and hit fast, and don't stop for anything.”

    Any verbal acknowledgments that were on offer died as a sonorous ''ka-rump'' rent the still air of the sewer pipes. Even as he sprinted toward the jagged metal hole where the iron hatch had been, Omaar knew that they were well and truly past the point of turning back. Defense Nexus Three had been identified by the Onderonian resistance as the least-protected of the seven bunkers that made up the core of Iziz City's defenses and, therefore, the weak link in the chain. That was, however, of small comfort to a man who had known the full capabilities of the Mandalorian clans long before this war had officially started.

    “Aurek Team, secure this area,” the commander ordered once everyone had exited the sewer. “Major Estayo, you must hold this position no matter the cost, it will be our only way out. Understood?”

    “Yes ma'am,” Nor replied, nodding soberly.

    “The rest of you are on me,” she continued, and Omaar could sense that she was building up to a battlefield proclamation. “Ladies and gentlemen, we are the point. The fleet will be here in three hours to launch the main assault, but if we fail to knock out this position, a lot more of our fellows are going to die. Our sole reason for being here, even though we're cut off and with the element of surprise lost, is to disrupt the enemy's ability to fight. Every Mandalorian you kill in the next few hours will save the lives of ten Republic troopers.”

    Commander Reyolé paused for a moment, looked around the gloomy basement as though contemplating something otherworldly, then moved toward a hatchway. “Besh and Cresh Teams, you're on me,” she said as she opened the hatchway. “May the Force be with us all.”

    [CENTER]-- -- --[/CENTER]

    “Flash out!” Omaar called as he tossed a flashbang into a room on the second floor of the complex. A loud [I]ka-RUMP[/I] rattled his helmet as he backed away from the entryway; in the silence that followed, he and three of his troopers rushed the room and gunned down its dazed occupants with repeated blaster shots. “Clear!”

    “Move up!” the commander ordered as she entered what turned out to be a computer access room. “Cresh-One, secure the outer corridors and prepare for another counterattack.”

    “Yes ma'am,” said the gunnery sergeant who had taken over the team. In the time between entering the sub-subbasement and ascending to this level, the squadron had taken heavy losses. The lieutenant who had led the third team had been killed in a fierce crossfire one level below, along with two of his men. Omaar himself had been hit in the lower leg, but his Marine-issue assault armor had ablated enough of the impact so that he was able to continue fighting.

    “You, you, you and you, go help them out,” he said, pointing to four of his troopers and gesturing toward the Creshers. Walking with a slight limp, he joined Reyolé in consulting one of the monitors.

    “Can you make anything out from here?” she asked, gesturing toward the Mando'a script flashing across it.

    “Yes ma'am,” Omaar said. He removed his helmet and began tapping at the terminal, bringing up a series of files. “It looks like we've still got another floor to go before we get into their vital systems.”

    “Is there anything you can do from here to help us?” the commander asked, removing her own helmet as well. Her auburn hair was slick with sweat and plastered to her forehead and neck, and she seemed to be enduring a good deal of combat-related stress. Omaar wished that he could offer her something more.

    “No ma'am, this terminal is only connected to the network via a basic info-retrieval line,” he said. “I'm no slicer, and even if I was, there's no way to do anything beyond calling up systems maps and general status reports.”

    “Then we do this the hard way,” she replied, replacing her helmet. “Let's mov--”

    “Incoming Mandos!” Cresh-One yelled. “They're coming up the north corridor, take cover!”

    “I guess that's our cue,” Omaar offered as he shot the terminal in frustration.

    The commander wasn't listening, however. “Aurek-One, status report!”

    “We're okay for the most part,” Nor's voice came back over the squadron channel. “The bucketheads tried hitting our perimeter once, but we had set up a barricade. From the sound of their chatter, they don't seem worried about us for now.”

    “If they change their minds, you know what to do,” Commander Reyolé replied as she and the rest of Besh Team hurried out from the computer room in order to flank the incoming Mandos. “We're counting on you to hold the door open for us.”

    Omaar slipped his helmet back on as well as he trotted alongside his commander, his carbine ready. “We're sure in the middle of it now,” he growled.

    The whine of blasterfire could be heard throughout the complex as the ten of them trotted around a corner. As they did so another squad of Mandalorian warriors appeared, with the Viridians opening fire into the side of their formation as they sprinted past one corridor ahead. One of Omaar's troopers tossed a grenade, which bounced off a corner of the intersection and went off with a [I]bang![/I] as it landed among the enemy's back ranks. No charge order was needed as the Republic troopers moved ahead to finish off the enemy reinforcements. They weren't out of the woods yet, however, as Cresh Team still had incoming. Pausing only momentarily, Reyolé led the remains of Besh Team down another corridor and right into the rear of the attacking Mando platoon.

    Shouldering his carbine, Omaar unsheathed his vibroblade. Flicking it on, he grabbed the helmet of the nearest Mando, pulling the man's head back to expose his throat and slashing it open. The buckethead went limp and Omaar, already focused on his next target, kicked the body aside. As he thrust his blade below the warrior's breastplate, he caught sight of his commander from the corner of his visor. He watched as she pressed the muzzle of her sidearm into the nape of another Mando's neck and pull the trigger, decapitating him with the power of her DL-3's blast. Before the headless body hit the floor, however, something heavy knocked into Omaar's knife arm, knocking the weapon out of his grip and sending him reeling. Slightly dazed, he attempted to go for his carbine, but was interrupted by a blood-curdling war cry.

    Armored hands wrapped themselves around his throat and began to squeeze, the struggle to remain conscious sending Omaar to his knees and eventually the floor. Eyes shut tight against the pain, he could not get a bead on his attacker, and his brain was becoming foggy due to lack of oxygen. As he choked and gasped in one last desperate lunge for air, the war cry ceased abruptly and he was suddenly able to breathe. A body fell atop him as he attempted to suck in more air, but he lacked the strength to push it from him. Finally, the corpse too was pulled away.

    “Lieutenant Bradli, are you alright?” a distant female voice asked. “Lieutenant, answer me!”

    Someone pulled off his helmet, and it was only then that he recognized Commander Reyolé standing over him. “M'alright,” he spluttered, his breathing shallow. “Help me up...please...”

    The commander's grip was surprisingly strong as she took his arm and eased him into a sitting position, from where she hefted him to his feet. “Are you able to continue the mission?”

    Omaar took a few moments to regain control of his breathing. Massaging his neck, he nodded in reply. “If I don't fight, I'm useless to you. I might as well be dead.”

    “If you can't fight but try to, then you are worse than useless,” Reyolé admonished mildly, the warmth in her expression taking the sting from her words. “Come on. We're down to half strength, but we still need to get to the main control room.”

    Omaar didn't follow right away as the commander strode off. All around him lay the bodies of dead Mandalorians and Republic soldiers, among them Cresh Company's gunnery sergeant and interim leader, who had taken a heavy slugthrower shot to the chest that had exploded his armor's thick plating. The number of enemy dead was significantly larger, but the way they kept coming it seemed as though no one would be getting out of this assault alive. “Alright boys and girls, you heard the commander,” he finally said, trudging through the carnage. “Let's get to it.”

    [CENTER]-- -- --[/CENTER]

    Blood soaked the armor worn by Lieutenant Omaar Bradli, and a few more gashes had been carved into it by Mandalorian heavy slugthrowers. As the remnants of Viridian Squadron dealt with the last of yet another enemy squad as they fought to gain ground on the uppermost floor of the complex, he was half-tempted to call Nor on their private channel and ask if he could spare a few more troopers. The possibility was soon quashed, however; if anyone was going to make it out of this deathtrap, it would be his friend and comrade, and he wanted someone to survive who would look upon his contribution to the war effort in a positive light.

    The combined strength of Besh and Cresh Teams had been whittled down to a handful of soldiers now; they weren't even up to squad-level strength. Omaar himself was nearing exhaustion, and he could tell that many of the survivors were also close to the breaking point. Commander Reyolé's shoulders were slumped with fatigue, and the normally composed and confident officer was showing definite signs of having been wounded. As he looked her over while she was momentarily distracted, he noticed that her armor bore signs of multiple scrapes and furrows, as well as an impact hole on the back of her thigh that had to have come from a ricochet.

    The small formation, every soldier within it panting hard within their helmets, marched slowly down a side corridor in the direction of the central control complex. “Estayo, report,” Reyolé said again into the squadron channel.

    “The Mandos are focusing on us now,” the officer replied. “But their probes are half-hearted, they're only sending a few men into each of our checkpoints at a time. I was just about to pull the team back to a more defensible location.”

    “Do it,” the commander advised briskly, managing to keep the weariness from her voice. “If you've got any grenades left, see if you can improvise a few triggers and then rig new barricades.”

    “Will do,” Nor replied, his voice sounding to Omaar as though he had realized just how strung out his commander was. “How are the rest of you holding up?”

    “It's bad, Nor,” Omaar replied before Reyolé could muster the words. “The fleet will be here in a few minutes, but it's looking like your team will be the only Viridians they pick up.”

    “Give'em hell, then,” Nor said, understanding in his voice. “We're falling back now; may the Force be with you.”

    The chatter ceased as the combat-depleted squad continued onward. They hadn't gone ten meters, however, when all hell seemed to break loose--not within the building itself, but from outside. The clamor was so loud that it could be heard even through the thick outer walls of Defense Nexus Three, and the entire complex shuddered violently as if it had been the anvil to a massive cosmic hammer. “Looks like the Navy started things off a little early!” an Army noncom barked scornfully.

    “It's just as well,” Omaar replied hotly. “With them here, that means less Mandos for us!”

    “It also means we've run out of time,” Reyolé barked, ending the banter. “Now get the lead out!”

    Another blast rocked the city, sending the entire squad falling to the floor as a cloud of dust washed over them. As the floor settled, Omaar was among the first to rise, and the first to realize that a five-meter hole had been blown in the wall not twenty meters ahead, admitting daylight into the building. There was no time to stop and contemplate the view, however, and the squad moved on, finishing off a quartet of Mandos rendered senseless by the blast's concussion.

    The sounds of battle, it seemed, were everywhere in the city of Iziz: the spitting whine of blasterfire; the screams of the dying, the pounding of concussive shockwaves slamming into walls and floors. Smoke continued to drift through the corridor as the squad of soldiers stacked up along an inner wall. Deep within the Mandalorian-held strongpoint, the din was a cadence that gave voice to the grim business of war.

    “Come on, just around the bend!” the commander all but shouted.

    “Ma'am, we've got Mandalorians on all sides!" one soldier pointed out. "We'll never make it without support!”

    “If we make it, Corporal, we won't need support!” Reyolé bellowed back. "We destroy this power generator, the defense turrets go dead and the whole Mando line collapses!” She gripped her blaster with purpose, then turned back to the junior noncom and the remnants of her unit, her countenance grim. “We're dead if we leave, but just as dead if we stay! D'you want those dogs to sing songs about how they gunned you down?”

    The combat-reduced squad, their armor chipped and scorched by shrapnel and blasterfire, their faces stained with blood, sweat, and grime, looked at their commanding officer one more time. The eyes of each man and woman spoke of many things: fear, admiration, pure unbridled grit and determination, as well as an overwhelming sense of trust. They knew that, whatever happened, they were serving and fighting alongside brothers and sisters. Barely a moment passed as their commander asked for, and got, their assent to one last, grand effort. As one, the soldiers raised their weapons, prepared themselves, and tore through the accessway into the inner control area.

    Omaar Bradli, his carbine leveled and spewing out packets of coherent light, watched in horror as the Mandalorian he had just shot lobbed a grenade. Diving for cover, he witnessed the explosive orb as it detonated, tearing into the breastplate of his commander.

    The universe seemed to grind to a halt in that moment, a silence like the depths of space falling onto the command center as the last Mandalorian warrior clattered to the ground, smoke rising from a hole in his helmet. Blood thundered in Omaar's ears as he tried and failed to come to grips with what was happening; the logical part of his brain was screaming for him to move, to finish what they had come here for and set the charges that would blow the command and control section to smithereens. But his emotions were getting the better of him as he glanced back to the limp form of Commander Reyolé, her armor perforated, her helmet knocked away by the blast's concussive wave, a dribble of blood oozing from the corner of her mouth.

    "Sir, we have to move!" the doubting corporal shouted, kneeling beside Omaar. "The charges..."

    "I know!" Omaar bellowed back over the noise that had suddenly returned in full force, "Are we clear?"

    "Yes sir, we just need to get the kriff out of here!"

    "We need to get the commander out!" Omaar insisted, letting his sentiment get the better of him.

    "She's dead, sir!" the corporal yelled urgently. "The Mandos are closing--"

    "We're not leaving her!" Omaar, defiance in his heart, said as he resumed his feet. "Help me lift her out, or so help me..."

    "Yes sir!"

    The two soldiers, working in unison, hefted the body of their fallen leader in a rescue carry. Dragging her away, they made it to the turbolift back to the basement just as the charges went off. The mission had been a success, the defense nexus was effectively neutralized, and now it was time to depart.

    However, in Omaar's opinion, the cost had been far too high.
  10. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    May 11, 2011

    Daddi didn't know what was worse: the fact that his little girl was dead, or that his wife was taking it so hard. She hadn't stopped crying since the hypercomm message had arrived, and he didn't blame her. He was little better off, to be sure; he had known that this might happen, that with Laera being a Marine, the chances were high that she would become a casualty in the continuing war against the Mandalorian invaders. This did not make the pain of her death any easier to bear.

    What did help, if only slightly, was the fact that he and Ceylon were far from alone in their grief. Along with the notification had been included a summons to a mass soldiers' funeral, to take place in orbit above Corulag, which would honor his daughter and others who had died in the liberation of Onderon and the bloody retaking of its jungle moon, Dxun. As the couple wandered the grand concourse aboard the luxury liner that had been appropriated for the task, they saw dozens of Army, Navy and Marine officers and ratings making their way toward the giant auditorium where the service itself would take place. It wasn't due to start for another half hour, so they took their time.

    “Please excuse me, but are you the Reyolés?” a polite, well-educated female voice asked from behind them.

    “Yes, that's us,” Daddi said in a vain attempt at levity as he and his wife turned to regard the speaker. Ceylon tried and failed to suppress a sob, and he himself had to work hard at resisting the urge to sniff loudly when he realized that the speaker wore the robes and lightsaber of a Jedi. “Who might you be?”

    “Just call me Vima,” the Jedi said warmly, nodding deferentially. “I'm glad you could make it.”

    “W-we had t-to come,” Ceylon said haltingly, trying again to master herself. “Laera was our only child...”

    “I understand,” Vima said, and Daddi got the distinct impression that she meant every syllable. “Truly, the galaxy is diminished for her loss.”

    Daddi swallowed hard against the lump rising in his throat. “Th-thank you, Master Jedi.”

    “Your grief pulses like a beacon in the Force,” Vima continued. “It is your love for her that makes it so strong. Embrace that love and the memories you have of your daughter, and she will never truly be gone from your hearts.”

    “Did you know her at all?” Ceylon asked tentatively.

    Vima nodded sagely. “I had the privilege and pleasure of knowing her quite well, yes,” she replied. “I am, in fact, indirectly responsible for her death. I approved her request to lead the mission that killed her.”

    The statement, though it was said as an apology, nevertheless had a profound effect. Daddi was rocked back on his heels, and Ceylon seized her husband's hands in a viselike grip. After a few beats, he was able to recompose himself. “We appreciate your candor, Vima,” he said finally. “But I don't think there would have been any way to keep our Laera from going.”

    Vima smiled at that. “You know your daughter well, Mr. Reyolé,” she said, almost regretfully. “She told me herself that if I didn't let her go, she would sneak aboard the transport anyway.”

    Ceylon gave a watery chuckle in spite of herself. Daddi couldn't explain why, but he suddenly felt a surge of affection for the robed woman standing before them. “She would've pulled it off, too,” he said proudly. “Laera was always doing things like that. When she was just a kid we couldn't...well, we didn't have the wherewithal for her to go with her class on a field trip to the capital, but she went along anyway. Neither we nor her teacher could figure out how she managed it.”

    The trio began to make its way toward the auditorium. “She never stopped thinking of you,” Vima said. “You raised a fine daughter.”

    “Will you be speaking at the service?” Ceylon asked meekly.

    “I'll be giving a general eulogy,” Vima replied. “We lost a lot of good people on Dxun, and there won't be time to address everyone.”

    “We understand,” Daddi said as he gazed at his feet. “Thank you for your time, Master Jedi.”

    “You are most welcome. I hope the service helps you to find peace.”

    Arm in arm, Daddi and Ceylon walked a little way further down the concourse. Spotting a cluster of dress red-clad Marines engaged in muted conversation, among them a number of officers and varying grades of sergeants, the couple drifted toward them. One of them, a Rodian wearing master sergeant's insignia on her arms, was at the center of the discussion.

    “...still can't believe she's gone, after all she managed to achieve,” the alien said, her head bowed.

    “Tuffass understands,” a short Marine of a species the Reyolés had never heard of said by way of reply. Daddi instantly recognized the name, but the manner in which it was uttered puzzled him. “Commander Reyolé will be missed.”

    “I hope we're not intruding,” Daddi said to the gathered soldiers. “I couldn't help but notice that you mentioned our daughter. Did any of you know her at all?”

    The Rodian turned to face Daddi and Ceylon, her round, dark eyes glittering with recognition. “You are Daddi and Ceylon Reyolé, Laera's parents?” she asked.

    Daddi and Ceylon both nodded.

    “Please, it is no trouble at all,” the sergeant said, extending a sucker-tipped hand. “Master Sergeant Reeka Chorizzo at your service, Laera and I went through boot camp together.”

    “I think Laera mentioned you once,” Ceylon said, grasping the Rodian's hand and pumping it. “You were her first friend in the Marines.”

    “It was my honor, I assure you,” Reeka replied warmly, then indicated the diminuative alien. “This is Gunnery Sergeant Tuffass, he was our senior drill instructor.”

    The alien—Daddi recalled dimly that he was a Gand—extended a white-gloved tridactyl hand. He took it, noticing as he did so the polished, compact breathing equipment he wore over his insect-like face. Memories of past correspondences and long, enthusiastic discussions over the dinner table came flooding back to him. “The infamous Tuffass,” he said, managing to crack the ghost of a smile. “It is good to finally meet you, sir, Laera told us a lot about you.”

    “Tuffass was hoping that you would be here,” the sergeant replied. “He would like to think that the mists through which your daughter now travels will part so that she can see you one last time.”

    Ceylon nodded, apparently better able to digest the sentiment than Daddi was, though he managed to get the gist of its meaning. “Thank you,” she said. “Laera held you in high regard.”

    Daddi looked over the rest of the knot of Marines, looking for any other faces that Laera might have described. He spotted a tall, dark-skinned lieutenant commander whose blue eyes were just a shade lighter than his daughter's had been. His left arm was bound in a sling, and a scar snaked up from underneath his collar to disappear behind his left ear. “Commander Thedus Bimm?” he asked tentatively. “Laera told us about you in one of her last letters.”

    The officer nodded, his once jovial face set in a hard expression. “Yes sir,” he said heavily. “Laera was my commanding officer when I first became a Marine. I was former Army, and she gave me a crash course in Marine discipline.”

    “She said that you had started one of the largest ration fights she had ever seen,” Ceylon said, managing to hoist a smile.

    “Where did you get wounded?” Daddi asked in what he hoped was a respectful manner.

    “Jaga's Cluster,” he said frankly. “I took over her company when she was promoted to commander and fought in the battle there. Barely made it out, too; if it hadn't been for the intervention of Jedi healers, I wouldn't be standing here today.”

    “We were met by a Jedi earlier,” Ceylon remarked. “A woman named Vima. Did she tend to your wounds?”

    Thedus seemed taken aback. “Master Vima Sunrider?” he asked. “Goodness no. I was treated at the Temple on Coruscant.”

    “Wait, I know that name,” Daddi said, half astonished, half bemused. “Her mother was Master Nomi Sunrider, correct?”

    All of the assembled Marines nodded in unison. “Aside from Revan and Malak themselves, Master Sunrider is our highest-ranking general,” Reeka said proudly. “We owe her a lot.”

    “I just wish she'd been at Jaga's Cluster,” Thedus put in sourly. “If she had, I wouldn't be like this. But hey, the docs say I'll be back to fighting trim in a couple more months—can't say the same for a lot of others, though.”

    At that point, a few more soldiers arrived at the impromptu gathering. A mix of Army and Navy officers and ratings, they offered respectful nods to the Marines. “Any of you seen a Rodian—” one of them, an Army major, began, then halted as he noticed Reeka. “Sergeant Chorizzo, we've been looking for you.”

    “Major Estayo, Lieutenant Bradli,” she said as she and the Marine noncoms offered precision salutes. “What can I do for you?”

    “Master Sunrider wanted you for something, but she wouldn't say what it was,” the Navy junior lieutenant said, scratching at his ginger hair. “She's waiting for you by the military entrance.”

    “Understood, sir,” Reeka said, offering another salute before walking off.

    “We should probably be heading to the auditorium,” another of the Marine officers said. “The service is only ten minutes off.”

    The knot of soldiers began to drift apart at that, heading off in Sergeant Chorizzo's wake toward what Daddi and Ceylon could only assume was the entrance meant for members of the armed forces in attendance. Daddi gave his wife a hug, then stood on his toes to kiss her forehead. “We should probably get going as well, dear.”

    “Yes,” Ceylon whispered sadly. “It's time to say goodbye.”

    — — —

    The auditorium was packed to the gills with people; it was an effort to get decent seats, but the Reyolés managed it. Segregated by service branch, members of the Army, the Navy, and the Marine Corps sat in the lower seats, while civilians from all over the galaxy sat in the upper balcony. The stage area, which was occupied only by a simple dais and podium, was backed by a huge transparisteel window that offered a panoramic view of the space above Corulag. The planet itself was visible to stage left, its terminator line turning the visible surface into a crescent. Save for a few mutterings here and there, the audience was eerily silent.

    At the appointed time a spotlight shone down onto the dais, cutting through the subdued lighting in the place. Into its cone of illumination stepped Jedi Master Vima Sunrider, erstwhile member of the Jedi High Council, daughter of the legendary Nomi, and a leader in the Republic's effort to beat back the marauding Mandalorians. Following in her wake was none other than Reeka Chorizzo, though the Rodian sergeant did not ascend the dais and she remained cloaked in semidarkness.

    “Soldiers and citizens of the Republic,” Vima said into the podium's comlink, which amplified her voice so that all could hear. “We are gathered here to pay tribute to those who have given their all in the defense of civilization, and in so doing, made the ultimate sacrifice of flesh and bone. We are here to commend those whose physical remains we have been able to recover from the battlefields of Onderon and Dxun to the eternal void of space, as a symbol of their commitment to keeping it safe for those who wish to live in peace.

    "This is but a symbol, however, for it is not their bodies which we mourn. Instead we say goodbye to souls, to spirits, to sentient beings, those we loved and have now lost. We commend their bodies to the void not only to pay respect, but to remind ourselves that we must forever be mindful of what can come from that void to bring harm upon those who are unable to resist its desire for conquest. It was space that spawned us all, and it is to space that we inevitably return. We stepped forth from supernovas; may those we honor step back in and find peace.”

    The Jedi Master pushed a button on the podium, and a few moments later a veritable tide of black objects came into view. As the first wave grew smaller, another wave was launched, and another, and still another. Hundreds of the black, coffin-sized pods were released, each generating puffs of what looked like smoke as they accelerated away from the starship's exterior. As the tenth and final wave vanished from sight, Vima resumed speaking.

    “There is one particular name we must also remember,” she said. “As the Republic assaulted the Mandalorian occupiers of Onderon, assisted by the citizens of Iziz who took up arms in defense of their home city, a Marine commander was in the thick of the fight of her life. Against overwhelming odds, she rallied those under her command and led them as they opened a hole in the Mandalorian defenses. This effort did not come without cost, and she fell in the struggle. In recognition of her conspicuous gallantry above and beyond the call of duty, it is my honor to present to the family of Commander Laera Reyolé the Cross of Glory, the highest award the Republic can bestow. Here to read the official citation is Sergeant Reeka Chorizzo, a longtime friend.”

    Daddi's heart seemed to disappear as Vima stepped back and the Rodian sergeant took her place. Beside him, Ceylon had dissolved into silent tears, burying her face in his shoulder.

    “Inserted into Iziz City on what was supposed to be a covert drop,” Reeka began, “Commander Laera Reyolé led her unit into the landing zone despite having lost the element of surprise. Demonstrating remarkable recall from her time serving in the city in her early career, she led her unit to the objective through the sewer system. In so doing she regained the initiative, penetrating the outer defenses of the target facility without incurring casualties. For three hours Commander Reyolé maintained contact with the enemy, urging the troopers and officers under her command to press onward despite repeated counterattacks. Leading from the front, she personally killed seventeen enemy soldiers, wounding more, and saving the lives of her comrades in trouble. Despite suffering severe casualties, she maintained her cool, leading her unit in taking over the facility. While clearing out the last pocket of resistance, she was killed in action by an enemy grenade.”

    A single tear glistened in her left eye as Reeka folded the flimsi bearing the citation and tucked it into her right pocket. Not bothering to whisk it away, she pressed another button. The eyes of everyone in the auditorium followed her own as she turned to regard the vast window and the single casket as it shot out into space.

    No one present knew that, in reality, the casket was empty.
  11. Valairy Scot

    Valairy Scot Manager Emeritus star 6 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Sep 16, 2005
    That was quite a read in one go - and such excellent drawn characters! I am truly impressed with the very realism of your OCs and the situations you put them in.
  12. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    May 11, 2011
  13. TrakNar

    TrakNar Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Apr 4, 2011
    BAH stupid me, ignore this.
    Goodwood likes this.
  14. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    May 11, 2011
    Okay, all the stories are fixed! Now a new story will soon be published.
  15. Findswoman

    Findswoman Fanfic and Pancakes and Waffles Mod (in Pink) star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Feb 27, 2014
    Goodwood, congratulations on this wonderful series of stories. The combination of colorful and believable characterizations, the incredible level of detail (military and otherwise), the immense amount of research that so manifestly went into the writing of this... all those things bring the stories to life in a most delightful way. It was a real pleasure getting to know Laera and her corpsmates (and of course the inimitable Tuffass—more on him later) and seeing the different aspects of their personalities evolve over the course of the stories. You're a real ace at character creation. :)

    Here I really do have to make special mention of Tuffass (the gent's name!). Of course it probably comes as no surprise that I have a soft spot for the Gand character, but wow, he is a tour de force. The way he carefully cultivates his "tough-assed" persona is just so incredibly delightful to read. And that makes it even more of a treat to see his charming side comes through every now and then (as in the "Interlude") and to see his respect for Laera increase. I know from the Fanon Wiki that he was co-created by you and Trak Nar; fine work by you both, and I can see both of you in him.

    Great job writing the combat scenes—the ones in "Nom de guerre" stood out for me, especially the way they were combined with Tuffass's introspection. I have immense respect for anyone who can write good combat scenes, because I find them extremely difficult!

    "Brainiac" was a very fun introduction to Laera's life as a recruit and to the various colorful characters she shares that life with—just basking in the finely crafted characterizations is a pleasant experience. Silly little Miss Makeup! ;)

    "Fools Rush In"—quite riveting, exciting stuff! Brava to Laera for her brave, foresightful demeanor during the exercise, for earning the respect of her stern DI, and for finding a friend in Reeka.

    I like the way the narrative takes a darker, more serious turn at the "Interlude"—what a poignant moment for Laera (and, as mentioned above, it's nice to see another side of Tuffass, who really isn't such a meanie underneath).

    "Third Bat"—it's neat to see Laera as a full-blown officer now. Bravo to Thedus for getting results with the governor and his people; he turned out not to be so silly after all. I like that Laera gave him that chance, even after the two of them didn't quite get off on the right foot at first—that shows she's a got a reasonable, understanding head on her shoulders. And I just love the governor's accent—I kind of heard him as Mr. Mash in Are You Being Served?. ;)

    I enjoyed Vima's and Laera's conversation in "Master and Commander." I don't know how it was that Vima knew that Laera would be the right woman for the job (just that Jedi sense, I guess), but there's no doubt that she is, and I like the beginnings of a friendship of sorts between this "master and commander." And what an ominous ending with Revan creeping back!

    The character "Omaar Bradli"—what a fun little homage! :) Who else in teh stories (if anyone) is named after someone in Real Life?

    And finally, very cool dovetailing of the final scene of "Hornet's Nest" with the first scene of "Death and Life." I thought Iziz and the Mandalorians sounded familiar, but then for some reason the line "D'you you want those dogs to sing songs about how they gunned you down?" really brought it home—don't know why. But, in any case, just... wow. And the epilogue—close to tears.

    Again, bravissimo on some amazing work. Since this is "volume 1," does that mean there's a "volume 2" (or beyond)? It would be so cool to read more! :)
    TrakNar and Goodwood like this.