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Before - Legends The Last Full Measure (KotOR leadup: Laera & OCs + Kavar, Bastila ? war drama/action) COMPLETE!

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction- Before, Saga, and Beyond' started by Goodwood, Oct 13, 2011.

  1. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

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

    Despite a string of victories on the Outer Rim against the brutal Sith Empire, the Republic is in dire straits. Two years after her unit helped spark a counteroffensive against the forces of Darths Revan and Malak, Captain Laera Reyolé, now a Jedi Knight, must leave behind those she fought alongside for so long and embark on a daring, but incredibly dangerous assignment. The stage is set for a showdown of galactic proportions, but will she be able to summon the last full measure of devotion?




    [B]Chapter One[/B]


    [I]“Brace for impact!”[/I]
    [I][/I]
    The shout roused me from sleep with all the subtlety of a charging reek, and I nearly cracked my head on the storage compartment over my bunk as I lurched toward an upright position. It was only after looking around to find that my quarters were in perfect order did I realize that the alert hadn't come from any sentient being or through any comm system.

    [I]Kriffing visions,[/I] I muttered to myself as I regained my bearings. The last several nights had been sprinkled liberally with these sendings, interrupting my sleep and leaving me in a consistently foul mood, though I tried not to let it show. Rubbing my forehead with my left hand as I checked the chronometer with my right, I pondered once again the possible import of these Force visions. Every one of them had been slightly different, but they all revolved around a central theme: the undertaking of a desperate mission designed to buy time for the Republic to stabilize in the face of the continued Sith onslaught. Each had also involved an unexpected reversal of some sort, but as with the circumstances, the specifics were always different, and it was never clear if these twists were blessings or curses.

    Blowing a sigh, I decided against trying to continue sleeping; if worse came to worst, I could still call upon the Force to keep me awake and aware. My ruminations did nothing to shed any light on the current conundrum, however, so, after slipping into my battle dress uniform, tucking my sidearm into its holster and clipping my lightsaber to its belt hook, I left the small room. Working my way through the corridors and companionways of the massive [I]Centurion[/I]-class battlecruiser at a brisk trot, I soon arrived at the physical training area that was shared by [I]Stalwart Defender'[/I]s compliment of Army troopers and Marines.

    It had been two years since the attack on Iridonia, and despite the astonishing success of the counteroffensive that had resulted from the incredible victory there, the Republic as a whole was faring worse than ever. Darth Revan's armadas seemed to be limitless. Decimate an attacking Sith fleet in a desperate holding action, and a new, far stronger one would show up a week later; wipe out a Sith garrison holding an outpost world, and within two days, they'd send an overwhelming force to take it back. Everyone from the ensigns fresh from the academy to the top echelons at High Command were flummoxed, and even the Jedi High Council was unable to offer any tangible insight. If something was not done to curtail this endless stream of war matériel—and soon—then it seemed to be only a matter of time until the Republic was overwhelmed by sheer numbers.

    And that didn't even account for Revan's tactical and strategic genius. I'd gotten thoroughly acquainted with his skill in both realms during the conflict with the Mandalorians. The man was an absolute marvel in the way he worked, always keeping three steps ahead of his enemies, never squandering soldiers and resources if he could help it, and continuously shifting the way he waged war. As part of his reforms after he had assumed command of the Republic forces combating the Mandalorians, he had stripped all defenses from worlds that were not worth holding, using them to fortify the ones that were valuable, so as to make any attack virtually suicidal, all the while keeping up a constant reserve that could be used to strike crushing counterblows. Now, as he turned his guns and the legions at his command against those he had once served, his doctrine had shifted yet again.

    As the fight against the Sith had intensified in the wake of the Iridonia-Lannik Campaign (as we called that first counteroffensive amongst ourselves), it had become clear, to me at least, what Revan's overall strategy was. He would take great pains to preserve the military-industrial complexes of worlds he had set out to conquer, and in other cases, he would bypass completely planets that relied on other sorts of economies, regardless of whether or not they were defended or posed a threat to the Empire's flanks. At the same time, he would unleash Darth Malak, his pet nek, to wage campaigns of terror-bombing, as had been the case at Telos IV, or else to engage in brutal attacks on random planets beyond the current planes of contention. Perhaps most disturbing of all were the assassinations, some of which he carried out himself, of public figureheads. A year ago, the Dark Lord had personally hunted down and slaughtered Yusanis, the politically powerful Republic representative of the Echani people, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that the two had fought against the Mandalorians together. All of this, in my mind, added up to one thing: Revan wanted, above all else, to preserve the status quo of the galaxy even as he set out to conquer it.

    For the half-hour I spent in morning exercises, I tried to forget the war, if only for a few moments. There were some positives, after all. In the wake of the Iridonian liberation and resulting victory at Rodia, the High Council had seen fit to bestow upon me the rank of Jedi Knight; I'd celebrated the occasion by rebuilding my lightsaber, adding a feldnar crystal and retooling the emitter. Young Bastila Shan, flitting about the battleplanes aboard the [I]Endar Spire[/I], was using her mastery of battle meditation to keep the Republic in the fight. And we of the Third Battalion had had the chance to do some kicking back of our own. At this juncture in time, [I]Stalwart Defender[/I] and the three [I]Hammerhead[/I]-class cruisers of her task force, [I]Delta Dagger[/I], [I]Horseshoe[/I], and [I]Kickboxer[/I], were heading back to Kuat for repairs and replenishment after several months on the front lines, and the rumor mill was grinding out choice tidbits relating to possible planetside liberty for the crew as well as the task force's soldiery. According to the schedule I'd been given, we would be dropping out of hyperspace at the edge of the system sometime today, and I was looking forward to stretching my legs in Kuat City along with the officers and troopers under my command.

    As I was finishing up my routine and feeling somewhat better for it, Commander Thedus Bimm, also clad in BDUs, walked into the exercise room. Catching sight of me, his blue-green speckled aura followed him as he strode toward where I was finishing up the last of my Shien practice katas. “Remind me never to come at you with a vibroblade,” he smirked.

    Snapping my weapon back onto its belt hook, I ran a hand through my auburn hair. I had let it grow out to nearly waist-length. Braiding it before battle had become almost a ritual for me, allowing me to bring my focus fully onto the task to come. “You wouldn't get within two meters,” I retorted mildly, patting Bimm's shoulder. “So, what's the surprise?”

    “You know, ever since you got back from Coruscant after the fight at Rodia, it's been impossible to keep anything away from you,” he replied irritably, drawing a datapad from a pants pocket. “Yeah, I've got news. Fresh byte over the HoloNet from our last course correction.”

    I took the device from him, reading the snippet he had keyed up for me. As I did so, a familiar tingling sensation began to tickle at the base of my skull, and I began shaking my head in consternation. “Well, that solves one mystery,” I remarked under my breath.

    “And that cryptic thing you've been doing, that's not helping my sanity either,” Bimm grumbled.

    “You've [I]never[/I] been sane, Mr. Bimm,” I shot back with a roguish grin.

    “Master Jedi, you wound me,” he replied, deadpan.

    “Tell it to the corpsman,” I snorted, shoving the datapad into the younger officer's chest. He took it with a [I]whuff[/I], clutching at it and staggering back as though I'd punched him full-Force. That drew a laugh out of both of us.

    “So, what's this mystery you spoke of,” he asked as we exited the facility and headed for the Marine officer's mess.

    “Just another Jedi thing,” I dodged, knowing that Bimm would recognize it as such.

    “You don't have a problem with me taking over the battalion while you're gone?” he asked, getting down to business. Even without the Force, I could feel his anxiety and concern, and it humbled me. He and I both cared a great deal about the men and women under our respective commands, but I knew he was ready for the burden. Stepping in front of him as we passed a less-traveled corridor, I stopped him with a raised hand.

    “Thedus, we've been through all nine Corellian hells together, and we're both still in it,” I said warmly, again putting a hand on his shoulder as I looked him square in the eye. “There is no one in this unit that I trust more than you, particularly to lead it.”

    “Thanks, Captain,” he replied, a tremulous smile forming on his dark visage.

    “You've earned it,” I assured him. “Now, let's get something to eat before the ensigns clean us out again.”

    — — —

    One of the first things that a new Marine learns when she is assigned to a line unit is how to manage her belongings so that she is able to relocate on little more than a few minutes' notice. Packing away one's emotional ties, however...that's something a person never truly masters. By the time Rear Admiral Kedlis Hetton brought his task force out of hyperspace on approach to the Kuat Drive Yards outer markers, I had already been packed and ready to go for nearly half a day. I had spent the rest of that time filling out datawork in preparation for the temporary change of command for Third Battalion, logging the appropriate names and dates, as well as my own recommendations for who should do what in the meantime. Chek Nessai, the Corellian leading Dorn Company, who had been promoted to full Commander along with Thedus Bimm, was tapped to take over as battalion executive officer. I'd never had an XO of my own while in command, but that had been a rare exception forced on me by the shortage of qualified officers in the first days of the war.

    Meanwhile, I had a shuttle to catch.

    Less than five minutes after [I]Stalwart Defender[/I] reverted to realspace, it was met by a [I]Ministry[/I]-class orbital shuttle, which would take me from the battlecruiser to the [I]Foray[/I]-class frigate [I]Zapdash[/I]. The small, in-system couriers, used all over the Republic, were moderately well-appointed, which was more than I could say for the small warship I was to board after docking. I'd had the unfortunate privilege of traveling on such vessels before, and had regretted the journey every time. Though they could theoretically haul upwards of five hundred passengers, there's a good reason why their crew is only ever around sixty. Small and cramped, their biggest asset was their ability to land on the surface of a world, as well as their high sublight acceleration, speed, and maneuverability—oh, and they're also cheap to mass-produce. This last quality was evident in every bulkhead, every compartment and access port, and I did not look forward to spending the long trip to Tython in such close quarters.

    “Atten-SHUN!”

    As I entered the hangar bay, clad in my dress reds with my duffel over my left shoulder, the shouted order from the battalion sergeant major brought everyone upright with parade-ground precision. The entire unit had turned out for the formal ceremony in which command would be transferred, however temporary that was supposed to be. It was heartening to see them all gathered, veterans and replacements alike, to give their respects to the woman who had led them into battle time and time again. As I strode into the vast hangar toward the shuttle, down a cordon flanked on each side by Marines, I kept my right hand up in formal salute in answer to the salutes of my subordinates, my comrades-in-arms, my friends. It was a difficult thing to do, leaving them behind, but it had to be done. [I]Is this how you felt when you left, Vima?[/I] I asked the Force. [I]Is this how they showed their respect when you departed the old Fleet, when you returned to the Republic to face the judgment of the Council?[/I]
    [I][/I]
    After what seemed like an ageless walk, I reached the head of the assembly, which was cast in the shadow of the shuttle's aft end, its wings folded up as if it, too, were offering salute. The Marines in the hanger turned at that point to face the proceedings, the unanimous shuffling of their feet echoing throughout the vast bay. “I relieve you of your post, Captain Reyolé,” Bimm said, his tone professional as he uttered the formal greeting.

    “I stand relieved, Mr. Bimm,” I replied in formal response. “May the Force be with you and those you command.”

    After a final exchange of salutes, Thedus Bimm, my friend and compatriot, turned aside. Though my heart ached with the departure, I walked up the shuttle's ramp with my head held high.

    “Battalion, dis-MISSED!”

    The last thing I heard before the ramp sealed shut was the sound of sixteen hundred booted feet marching back to their owners' normal duties.

    — — —

    Tython, or so I've been told, is a beautiful planet, filled with lush forests and scenic mountain views. I knew that it was considered a sacred world by the Jedi Order; it was, in fact, where the Force had first been discovered some twenty-five thousand years ago, give or take a couple of millennia. But I wasn't going to be able to see it for myself, which was a pity considering how I got there. The three-day trip from Kuat had not been at all pleasant. Between the close quarters aboard [I]Zapdash[/I], the fact that I knew no one aboard the warship, and the uncertainty that surrounded the necessity of incurring the not inconsiderable expense of drawing me this far into the Deep Core, I had been run ragged trying to keep my head on straight. As if that wasn't enough, the persistent flickers of Force visions had not abated with the change of vessel and direction.

    As the small frigate dropped out of hyperspace over the planet's terminator line that morning, I was summoned to the bridge, where [I]Zapdash'[/I]s captain, Lieutenant Commander Quitas Nell, had me brought to the forward viewport to stand alongside her. “Captain Reyolé, it's good to see you,” the red-haired woman nodded as I stood at ease.

    “Captain Nell,” I acknowledged, keeping my discomfort well-hidden. She was competent, as frigate commanders went, smart and aggressive, but with little regard for groundside operations. I had figured out early on that she only respected me for my rank and my lightsaber, but that was the least of my worries as far as the trip itself went. Along with [I]Zapdash[/I] and the rest of the Second Fleet, she had participated in the Battle of Rodia and the resulting counteroffensive, only to be wounded at Lannik when the vessel took a bad hit to the forward section.

    “I wanted to let you know that we'll be rendezvousing with a small fleet gathered on Tython's other side,” she said, keeping her gaze fixed on the planet visible through the transparisteel viewport. “I don't exactly know what's going on myself, but a shuttle will meet us there to transfer you to the flagship while [I]Zapdash[/I] joins up with the flotilla.”

    “What's our ETA?” I asked, arching a brow at the Navy woman. [I]If it helps, lady, I have no idea either.[/I]

    “Fifteen Standard minutes, give or take,” she replied.

    “Thanks for the information,” I said curtly. We exchanged halfhearted salutes, and I beat a swift retreat back to my quarters to pack once again.

    — — —

    True to her word, within a quarter hour I was back in my dress uniform and aboard another shuttlepod, bound for the leading echelon of [I]Hammerhead[/I]-class cruisers. Pestering the young junior lieutenant at the helm for a sensor readout, I learned that this fleet of cruisers and [I]Foray[/I]-class frigates, barely fifteen ships in all, was to be backed up by no heavy cruisers or ships-of-the-line, to say nothing of any starfighter carriers. [I]Whatever they're up to, they don't intend to stick around for a slugging match,[/I] I thought ruefully to myself as the pilot conducted his approach toward the small hanger bay of the lead cruiser. “Shuttlepod Krill Aurek Three Niner Seven to [I]Vibrosword[/I] Control, requesting docking clearance,” the pilot muttered into the comm.

    “[I]Vibrosword[/I] Control reads,” replied a bored voice whose accented Basic reminded me of a Mon Calamari. “Please transmit authentication code.”

    “Transmitting now, [I]Vibrosword[/I],” the pilot responded, flipping a switch on the comm board. This action prompted a scowl from me as I pondered the meaning of such a measure. [I]Something's not right here,[/I] I mused. [I]The only time we ever bother with code clearances is in preparation for...[/I]
    [I][/I]
    And then it hit me. Once again, I'd been suckered into playing by the Force's rules which, I supposed, was inevitable now that I was in effect its servant. After having spent nearly four years among the Jedi and their ways, the Force had become like a second skin to me, like a third eye, and I couldn't imagine having lived without it. Its strength had become my own, and I had learned how to call upon it in times of greatest need, of most pressing urgency, to prevent looming crises from turning into total catastrophes, or else to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, on so many occasions throughout this long, exhausting war. If the price of such feats was occasionally becoming subservient to the whims of this highest form of energy, then so be it, whatever got the job done with the most number of friendlies left over.

    As I sat there, lost in thought, I missed the comm message that validated our codes, only coming back to myself as the shuttlepod snaked its way through the magnetic containment shield of [I]Vibrosword'[/I]s small hangar deck. The pilot set the pod down smoothly, and soon the entrance ramp extended amidst the hissing of outgassing and the noises of a busy docking bay. “We're here, ma'am,” the lieutenant announced unnecessarily.

    “Thank you,” I replied, rising from the passenger seat and making my way down the gangway. It began to retract almost immediately after my feet met the deck; within moments, the short-ranged, oblong craft was already backing out through the warship's magcon shield. Not bothering to spare the harried pilot a second glance as he sent his pod into a hasty retreat, I marched briskly toward a mixed bag of Jedi and Republic officers who were, like myself, dressed in their formal finest, which I regarded as slight overkill.

    “Laera, it's good to see you again,” said a familiar voice as I approached. Jedi Master Kavar, detaching himself from the small group, extended his hand toward me, which I took. “We're glad you could make it out here on such short notice.”

    “If there's one thing I've learned, Master, it's that the Republic can get anything done when it sets its mind to it,” I replied, nodding toward the techs and mechanics working throughout the hangar bay. “How has the war been treating you?”

    “Not very kindly, I'm afraid,” Kavar replied with a slight frown. “We've been losing far more often than we've been winning, but this you already know. Perhaps we should gather someplace more private, where we can discuss why we brought you out here.”
    — — —
    In a room not all that dissimilar to the one in which I had recruited Commander Onasi for the scouting trip to Iridonia two years prior, the officers and Jedi gathered. Kavar took up station at the head of the room next to the holoprojector as I took an available chair fairly close by, and began introducing those gathered. “It's been a long war,” he began. “Some of us may already know each other, while others may have only met on occasion.

    “This is Laera Reyolé, Jedi Knight and Captain in the Republic Marines,” he said, gesturing toward me. “She is a highly-experienced and effective ground commander; it was her planning and execution of the Iridonian liberation that led to the Iridonia-Lannik Campaign.” He then gestured toward a Bothan sitting near the back that I only then recognized. “Lieutenant Silas Dan'kre was responsible for finding the intel on the Rodia operation; he has since been transferred to Republic Intelligence's slicer-warfare division.” Kavar then pointed to the older, dark flaxen-haired woman in Navy admiral's grays who stood next to him. “Vice-Admiral Forn Dodonna is our fleet commander. She brings considerable experience to the table, having fought against the Mandalorians as a cruiser captain, as well as a keen tactical mind.” The Jedi Master then pointed out the young Padawan who sat next to Dan'kre, and I recalled having met with her after the victory at Iridonia, along with her Master. “Bastila Shan, I'm sure, needs no introduction,” Kavar continued. “Her mastery of battle meditation is in large part responsible for the success of our last counteroffensive, and other victories since.”

    The Jedi Master continued to introduce the rest of the officers and Jedi, the former a litany of the fleet's cruiser and frigate captains, along with Dodonna's flag captain, who commanded [I]Vibrosword[/I]. “Now, as to the reason why we've gathered you here today,” Kavar said once the appropriate acknowledgments had been concluded. “After much deliberation, Republic High Command and the Jedi High Council have jointly agreed upon a mission that will, the Force willing, blunt the onslaught of the Sith by taking advantage of one of their primary weaknesses.

    “We are going to capture Darth Revan...”>
     
  2. TrakNar

    TrakNar Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Registered:
    Apr 4, 2011
    The Marines have gotten themselves quite an undertaking. Those Sith are a wily bunch. But, Laera, now a full-fledged Jedi Knight (yet no doubt still as out of her element around her Force-wielding Order as she was when she was a padawan), will be the linchpin of that mission. It takes a Force-user to know and possibly capture a Force-user.

    Wonder what the Council thought of her dress reds...
     
  3. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    Registered:
    May 11, 2011
    She wears Jedi robes when she's among the Jedi. But out in the fleet, she wears the appropriate Marine uniform.
     
  4. TrakNar

    TrakNar Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Registered:
    Apr 4, 2011
    No doubt still as awkward as a teenage boy at his first school dance in those robes, though. :p
     
  5. earlybird-obi-wan

    earlybird-obi-wan Force Ghost star 6

    Registered:
    Aug 21, 2006
    Great beginning
     
  6. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    Registered:
    May 11, 2011
    Thanks, earlybird.

    At this point, though, Laera's gotten a bit used to hanging out with Jedi as one of them; it's been about four years now since she joined up back on Dantooine.




    [B]Chapter Two[/B]


    “We're going to do...what, sir?”

    Lieutenant Dan'kre was the first to recover from the shock that had befallen the gathering, something that I secretly admired him for. The young Bothan had matured rapidly in the wake of that first mission, nearly two years ago, when he'd come within a hair's breadth of being skewered on a Sith marauder's lightsaber. Snatched up by Intelligence after the dramatic victory at Lannik, he'd risen to full lieutenant after having revamped the entire way that the branch conducted its signals intelligence and anti-slicer security operations. Even as I took in his dark red aura which oscillated with yellow sparks, I could sense the rapidity with which he contemplated the myriad ways that the outlined objective could be accomplished.

    “Outwardly, the Sith appear to be powerful,” Kavar explained, “but look at how they operate from the inside, and it becomes an illusion. When you confront a being who relies upon power taken from others, the surest way of defeating that being is to deprive him of that which fuels his power.” I nodded at that, recalling the words I'd said to the dying Zabrak, Acaadi. [I]Power can be given, and it can be taken, but strength is eternal.[/I]
    [I][/I]
    “Cut off the head, and the serpent dies,” I elaborated. “The one thing that all the generations of Sith and other great bands of outlaws have in common is dependence upon a strong leader, a uniting factor. Without one, they turn on themselves as they fight for whatever power, however temporary, they can get their hands, paws or claws on. It was the same with the Mandalorians as well.”

    “Captain Reyolé is correct,” Kavar said, pride evident in his voice. “When Revan killed the last Mandalore, it broke them, sealing the victory at Malachor V. If we can capture Revan, and deprive the Sith of their strongest leader, they will turn on each other, giving us the chance to reinforce and rebuild.”

    Inwardly, I was smiling, both at Kavar for having the grace to refer to me by my military title when among other officers, and at the sheer audacity of what he was proposing. I'd come up with some vac-brained schemes in my time, both as a Marine and a Jedi, but this plan took the ta'co.

    “I assume that we have a means to track down our target,” Admiral Dodonna put in after a beat.

    “In fact, ma'am, we do,” Dan'kre replied, drawing a datapad from a case at his feet and plugging it into the holoprojector. “An Intelligence data raid on the recently-established Sith base on Sernpidal has just yielded results. We anticipate that Darths Revan and Malak will be making several stopovers along the Corellian Run and Bright Jewel Cluster, and though their intentions are unknown, the evidence points to a general consolidating of their territory.” He brought up an image of several star systems arranged along and in close proximity to the galactic hyperlane.

    “This data is time-sensitive,” he elaborated. “Due to the nature of Sith data-caching and their system of checks, any action taken will need to be within the next ten to fifteen Standard days.”

    “How are we going to draw them into battle?” I inquired, looking from Admiral Dodonna to Master Kavar.

    “Lieutenant Dan'kre is too modest,” the older woman observed. “The attack at Sernpidal wasn't just a raid. Two companies of the Nineteenth Marine Battalion overwhelmed and destroyed the Sith presence there, achieving complete surprise and nullifying any chance of the garrison alerting the rest of the Empire. As for drawing them out, we are making arrangements to rendezvous with the [I]Interdictor[/I] cruiser [I]Battleaxe[/I] en route to Ord Mantell, where we hope to intercept Darth Revan's fleet.

    “I don't understand,” I interjected, shooting the admiral and the Jedi Master each a raised eyebrow. I was beginning to wonder if they had already planned out the mission and that this briefing was solely for the benefit of myself and the various warship captains. “Why bring me all the way here to the Deep Core if we're just heading back Rimward again? Wouldn't it have made more sense to assemble at Kuat, pick up some heavier ships, and use this intel to set up a showdown fight?”

    “That was exactly the position of Fleet Command,” Admiral Dodonna answered, her gray eyes flicking from me to Kavar and over to where Bastila Shan sat. “And to be frank, mine as well. Master Kavar, are you certain this is the wisest course of action?”

    “Yes,” the Jedi Master responded, his voice and sense even but firm. “We believe that, when Revan and Malak ventured into the Unknown Regions after their defeat of the Mandalorians, they encountered something, the likes of which the Republic has not seen in over a thousand years. It is absolutely imperative that we do everything we can to capture the Dark Lord, and find out what he knows.” He then looked me fully in the face. “As for why we brought you, specifically, here, the reasons are twofold: by assembling this far Coreward, we can more easily maintain secrecy; as well, we need you and your skills to help ensure that the boarding operation succeeds.”

    Kavar pressed a control on the holoprojector, and the star map was replaced with a 1:100 scale holographic mock-up of an [I]Interdictor[/I]-class cruiser. “The overall plan is relatively simple. When we draw the Sith fleet out of hyperspace over Ord Mantell, Padawan Shan will utilize her battle meditation to keep their forces off-balance while we pin them between our fleet and the planet. At such a point, she will join Captain Reyolé, our Knights, and a platoon of our best soldiers aboard [I]Vibrosword'[/I]s [I]Jarhead[/I]-class lander—” I chuckled to myself as I felt the ripple of mild irritation in his aura as he said the name, “—for the boarding itself, to be escorted in by the three squadrons of Aurek fighters from [I]Battleaxe[/I].

    “Padawan Shan and our Knights will make their way to Darth Revan's command bridge, cornering and capturing him if at all possible.” As he continued to outline the plan, the Jedi Master gestured toward various parts of the holographic warship's interior. “Meanwhile, Captain Reyolé and her troops will do what they can to keep the flagship's crew busy, maintaining a line of retreat back toward the hangar bay. This is the most dangerous part, because while she is engaging the Dark Lord, Padawan Shan will not be able to use her battle meditation to help us. I will do my best to coordinate with Admiral Dodonna from [I]Vibrosword[/I], but it will be a tough fight, particularly since we will most likely be outnumbered and outgunned. If worse comes to worst, and the strike team is killed or captured, we will fall back to Ord Cestus and rendezvous with the fleet guarding Corellia.”

    “With all due respect, Master Kavar, that's crazy,” I said after he had finished. “No offense, but I don't know anyone here, save for you, Bastila, and Lieutenant Dan'kre. If I had been given leeway in choosing my platoon, then perhaps it would be possible, but as it is, I can't give you any guarantees that I, or anyone you put under my command, will be able to get the job done.”

    “Having fought alongside Captain Reyolé, I'm forced to agree,” the Bothan put in. “If I could perhaps accompany her and use my knowledge of Sith information systems to, say, vent the atmosphere of a few choice compartments, that would lessen the number of troopers that she would have to deal with...”

    “Well, that's something, at least,” I said, shooting Dan'kre a smirk of approval. “Is [I]Vibrosword[/I] outfitted for Marines, Admiral?”

    “Yes,” she replied with a dubious look. “We have a platoon's worth of heavy armor and boarding weapons, but our soldiers don't have the specialized training of the Marines. Master Kavar, I'm afraid I must concur once again with Captain Reyolé, The Republic and the Jedi Order have set us a task for which we may not be equipped.”

    Finally, the Jedi Master responded, walking to the holoprojector to extinguish it before looking over the assembly of officers and Jedi. “These are all valid concerns, of course,” he said gravely. “I sympathize with you all, but we must also face facts. The sixteen ships here in orbit above Tython constitute the last reserves of the Republic Navy. Even as we speak, Admiral Hetton and his task force are on their way to provide reinforcements for Eriadu in anticipation of a thrust by the Sith in that direction. The shipyards at Sluis Van fell last month, leaving only Kuat and Corellia to repair and replenish what we do have, in addition to replacing those vessels we lose. Their output of new ships has trickled down to almost nothing. This is our only recourse; if we fail, then there will be nothing to stop Darth Revan from taking over the galaxy.”

    I still had my doubts, but datafiles don't lie. The sincerity of Kavar's exhortations were obvious, and though his plan was tenuous at best, I could sense that, indeed, there was no other choice. “Well then, if you will excuse me Admiral, Master,” I said with a sigh of resignation, rising from my chair. “It looks like I've got less than ten days to train up a new platoon of Marines.”

    — — —

    An hour later, with the fleet in hyperspace on their way to meet with [I]Battleaxe[/I] in an uninhabited system Coreward of Ord Mantell, I met my boarding party. Along with Jedi Padawan Bastila Shan, four other Knights were to be involved, all of them humans ranging in age from their mid twenties to thirty, and all of them males who carried themselves as though they'd been raised on Coruscant. I didn't need the Force to tell me that, though they were skilled swordsmen, some of them were a little short on combat experience, particularly aboard warships. But that was Bastila's problem, not mine, as they were technically under her command, and so I decided to save any formal acquaintances for later. Nevertheless, I made a mental note to engage each of them in at least one mock duel before the trip was done, so that I could gauge their abilities for myself.

    Admiral Dodonna's platoon of Army troopers, on the other hand, were clearly battle-hardened for the most part, but it was also readily apparent that they were used to fighting on the surfaces of planets and moons. Their commanding officer, an olive-skinned Twi'lek male named Ibratu'na, bore a fine scar along his right upper cheek that he'd earned in combat with Sith troopers at Mon Gazza. He brought the forty men and women of his platoon, who stood a meter apart from one another, to attention as I entered their muster room. I deliberately forced them to keep their poise as I passed an appraising eye over each of the gathered soldiers. Lieutenant Ibratu'na was the only non-human among them; the rest of the lot were a mix of natives from all over Republic space.

    “My name is Captain Laera Reyolé, Republic Marines,” I began in an intentionally brusque but very precise manner, finally allowing them to relax as I paced back and forth before them, hands clasped at my spine. “I am well aware of the unusual nature of the upcoming mission, and that you yourselves know what is going on and what is at stake. That said, each and every one of you [I]do not[/I] qualify. I aim to correct that oversight.

    “You are not Marines, and it takes Marines to fill Marine-issue assault armor and prevail in the kind of action we're going to be seeing. I've got less than nine days to make you Army nerfs into Marine gundarks. It's going to be tough, it's going to get rough, and I suspect that any respect you may have for me now might get shoved out the airlock well before we're done. That is a price I am willing to pay, if it means that you survive and perform well. You may hate me, but the more you hate me, the more you will learn. The more you sweat in training, the less you will bleed in battle! Do I make myself clear?”

    The assembly responded in Army fashion, with an enthusiastic “Hoo-ahh!”

    Picking out a soldier at random, I strode briskly toward her, sticking my face right up into hers. “Am I going deaf?” I barked into her ear. “I don't think I heard you, Corporal!”

    “Hoo-ahh, ma'am!” the blond woman shouted, her green eyes screwed up in concentration.

    “Kriffing hell, I [I]still[/I] didn't hear anything!” I yelled right back, nearly spitting into the hapless noncom's ear. “I've met Chadra-Fans that could yell louder than you, girl!” This wasn't how I usually conducted training—and I'd spent three years as a drill instructor—but we were on a time budget, and thought these people were battle-tested, I needed them at their absolute best. “What's your name?!”

    “Seela Dar, ma'am!” she bellowed, louder still.

    “Where in space are you from, Corporal Dar?”

    “Tatooine, ma'am!”

    “Tatooine, you say?” I asked loudly. “So I guess you figure you're some kind of sharpshooter, huh? Plunking vermin with some kind of long rifle at ludicrous distances, huh?”

    “Yes, ma'am!” she shouted in defiance. “I'm a damn fine shot, ma'am!”

    “Sithspawn, I don't believe you, Corporal Dar!” I barked again. “You're going to have to [I]show[/I] me that you're a crack shot before I let you wear my armor! Is that clear?”

    “Crystal clear, ma'am!”

    I finally withdrew from the corporal and turned toward one of the male privates, a tall, dark-skinned bald youth who'd fought at Lannik, and gave him the same treatment. “What's your name, Private?”

    “Tango Goss, ma'am!”

    “And what makes you think you've got what it takes to wear my armor, Private Goss?” I asked, lowering my voice to barely above a whisper.

    “I'm a good soldier, ma'am!” he shouted.

    “Good soldier my hindquarters, Private!” I all but screamed in his ear. “Being a 'good soldier' isn't good enough, boy! Get down on the deck and give me thirty! Right kriffing now!”

    The young private immediately did as he was ordered, and began pumping out push-ups at a brisk pace. Most unwisely, one of the other privates, who looked like he'd not seen any action at all, gave into his urge to laugh. Calling upon the Force, I executed a backflip that brought me right alongside the upstart soldier. “Is something funny, son?” I said evenly as I whipped around to face him. “Because I'm pretty sure the rest of your platoon could use a good laugh right about now.”

    “N-no ma'am!” he stammered, awestruck at my acrobatics.

    For the very first time in my military career, I struck a fellow soldier. I didn't want to do it. I didn't like having to do it. But he needed to learn, and learn quickly, that [I]I[/I] was in command, and that he would be learning to do things [I]my[/I] way, the [I]Marine[/I] way. It wasn't that bad of a hit, really, but the shot to his solar plexus brought him to the floor in near-agony. A ringing silence fell about the room as the private attempted valiantly to keep quiet as he recovered. “Was that fun, you little maggot?” I asked him in a deadly whisper, crouching beside him so that only he could hear.

    “N-no...ma'am...” he groaned.

    “Good, because it wasn't fun for me, either,” I replied, just loud enough to reach everyone as I strode toward the front of the gathering. To his credit, Lieutenant Ibratu'na hadn't so much as twitched a lek throughout the proceedings; as a result, my respect for him rose a notch, for this let me know that he would do his duty without protest. “I am not unreasonable,” I said, resuming the lecture. “If any of you think for [I]one damn second[/I] that you are not Marine material, at [I]any[/I] point in the next nine days, you had better let me know. I don't want any of you candy-assed jackals realizing that inconvenient fact while under fire, or else you might find my blade perilously close to your scalp. Do you get me?!”

    “Hoo-ahh!”

    — — —

    I felt thoroughly miserable in the wake of the browbeating I'd given the platoon upon our first meeting, but I locked the feeling away as I led them in a series of warm-up calisthenics. Under normal circumstances, it takes nearly six months to turn a civilian into a Marine, and that's just the boot camp phase. Since I was dealing with a trained and tested Army unit, however, I had to first break them of a few bad habits. After taking them through Marine-style physical training, I set them up with spotting lasers and ordered them to “take” [I]Vibrosword'[/I]s engineering section.

    “Sergeant, just what the hell are you doing?” I asked one of the squad leaders, who was setting his troopers up to breach the portside accessway.

    “Setting up to breach, ma'am,” he answered with a shrug, withdrawing his hand from the door actuator.

    “Where the hell are your flashbangs?” I admonished him with a snarl. “And why stack up so closely, and along only one side of the corridor? A single lucky grenade from the grunts inside, and your whole squad's wiped out!”

    “I thought that—”

    “No, you didn't, Sergeant,” I interrupted him. “This is a warship, not some dirtdown farmers' fort! How the hell were you going to subdue the enemy once you got in?”

    Without waiting for a reply, I began guiding the squad into something resembling a proper breaching arrangement, demonstrating the correct postures and positions by grabbing them and none-too-gently forcing their arms and legs into compliance. I had had to ratchet down my connection to the Force as I did this, because it had started to boil with unpleasant thoughts—thoughts I'd never had hoped to come by in my life. Finally, they seemed to get it, so I moved on to the other two squads to check their readiness.

    Unfortunately, they fared no better under my scrutiny, and it was nearly ship's night before they were all prepared to attempt the maneuver. I'd made sure to clear this training activity with Admiral Dodonna and her flag captain, a Coruscanti named Piers Kathla, and the engineering staff had been replaced by protocol and utility droids. I watched via holocam projection as all three squads executed the breach; much to my surprise, the soldiers did a fairly credible job of it. Despite that, it was readily apparent that they lacked experience in the sort of fast-paced, ever-alert fighting that is necessary when engaging hostiles in the tight confines and long hallways of a starship. It would have helped if [I]Vibrosword[/I] had had the sensor harnesses used by Marines in our own training sims, because that would have forced them to learn quickly, but also correctly, as I pitted each squad against one another. Once the exercise had finished, I called the platoon back into their muster room.

    “So goes Day One of your retraining,” I said after pacing before the assembled platoon for several minutes of terse silence. “Ladies and gentlemen, color me unimpressed. Your breaching was slow and uninspired, your responses were sluggish, and I am [I]still[/I] trying to figure out what in the name of the Force Sergeant DiSote was attempting to do.”

    The black-haired, brown-eyed leader of Second Squad visibly blushed at my words, and I fixed her with a glare that, were my eyes lasers, would have seen her vaporized on the spot. The woman had, despite my instructions, set herself up to be first in the room after breaching. While leading from the front is well and good in normal circumstances, charging headlong into a lightfight, let alone one in tight quarters, is the last thing a squad leader should be doing.

    “We're going to run through it again, boys and girls,” I continued remorselessly, and there was an audible groan from the assembled soldiers and noncoms. “But first we're going to take a little run; a few laps around the ship ought to get us nice and loose. And when you breach, I'll be in the control room for the main drive core, picking off your laser blasts and witnessing for myself just how much you can tighten things up.

    “Welcome to Hell, kiddies.”

    — — —

    I ended up pushing the platoon into ten full laps around the main deck of [I]Vibrosword[/I], which amounted to roughly six kilometers of running through busy corridors past a plethora of crewers and droids, keeping up a running commentary of what it meant to fight for one's life aboard a warship. When we pounded our way through intersections, I'd give advice on the best way to set up a four-way defense. When we worked our way through crowded corridors, I instructed them on how to use enemy personnel as living (or nonliving) shields if necessary, “volunteering” a hapless private in order to effectively demonstrate the technique. I even spent half a lap lecturing them on elementary anti-Force user tactics, hoping that they'd remember enough of them so that picking off their massed spotting laser bolts would be a challenge for myself as well.

    The final lap ended at the cross-corridor that divided the engineering section from the rest of the cruiser's main deck. “Alright, grunts,” I said, signaling for them to halt. “Now that we've gotten the kinks worked out, let's try this again. Break by squads and stack up for breach, go only on my command.”

    Wordlessly, the platoon divided itself up, with Lieutenant Ibratu'na taking over Second Squad from the despondent-looking Hellin DiSote. As they did so, I made my way into the drive core control room as promised, sealing the hatches behind me. When I got there, I activated the stash of six training remotes that one of the engineers had placed underneath one of the consoles, which he had done on my orders as I'd taken the platoon out for its run. In addition, he had equipped two of the utility droids, both of which were of the new T3 line, with stun pistols as an added surprise. Knowing that this exercise could only be brought off correctly through my use of the Force, I calmed myself and allowed it to flow into me, letting it sweep my dark thoughts and emotions away. Finally prepared, I gave the order.

    The swishing of training remotes as they glided through the air, the sounds of status indicators, and the occasional burst of droidspeak were the only things that could be heard for the first couple of minutes, but that was to be expected. I could sense the platoon's approach to the outer doors of the core room, and I set myself in stance and in the Force as they stacked up to make the final breach. When they executed the three-pronged attack, the room exploded with noise and light as forty men and women charged into the compartment in a flurry of motion, light-guns blazing and practice flashbangs discharging.

    Almost immediately, the remotes and utility droids counterattacked, spraying a mix of stinger darts and stun bolts into the attackers as I brought my lightsaber to life to pick off incoming bursts. After the first few moments, three troopers were down, with both utility droids feigning destruction as they'd been programmed to do if tagged by the unit's spotting lasers. Others were bellowing their displeasure at having been zapped by the remotes, but they were giving as well as they got, and soon the floating orbs were “dead” as well. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Ibratu'na had brought the entire Second Squad to bear on my position, and I was forced deep into Soresu in order to pick off the shots of a dozen troopers and a suddenly transported Twi'lek officer. [I]So, you [/I]can[I] fight after all![/I] I thought with great satisfaction as I threw myself into the effort.

    The thirty-one remaining effectives among the platoon were soon pouring fire into the umbrella of light cast by my rapidly-spinning cerulean blade, and I began to send their laser darts back at them. They weren't painful, but they packed enough of a punch that you would know it if you got hit, and soon the number of assailants was reduced to twenty. Corporal Dar, however, taking cover behind a console, managed to penetrate my defensive kata, pegging me just above my left breast. Feeling that it would most likely have been a killing shot even if I'd been clad in full assault armor, I deactivated my weapon and called a halt to the furious lightfight.

    Gradually, the compartment fell silent, and the “dead” rose from the deck to join their fellows as they assembled before me. I clipped my lightsaber back onto my belt, then regarded each soldier in turn as I again paced before them. “Corporal Dar, have you seen a Jedi in action before?” I asked curtly.

    “Yes, ma'am,” she replied, a small measure of pride evident on her face. “On Lannik, the platoon was accompanied by Jedi Knight Georg Oakes.”

    “He's one of the Jedi on Bastila Shan's strike team, correct?”

    “Yes ma'am.”

    I nodded to the young corporal, a satisfied smirk on my face. “Corporal Dar here was the one who finally got me,” I said to the assembled platoon. “Pay attention to how she fights a Force-user, and next time I won't end up 'killing' so many of you. First rule: never use blasters if you can help it. If you absolutely must do so, use them from cover, and change up the angle of your shots and where you're firing from. Second rule: know before you go. If you even suspect that someone within the room you are assaulting is trained to use a lightsaber, make sure you soften them up with flashbangs, gas grenades, or even frags, whatever you've got handy. If you've got a thermal detonator, use that. Third rule: never, [I]ever[/I] close to melee range with a Force-user if you want to survive the fight.” I patted my weapon. “This blade [I]will[/I] go through just about anything.

    “Overall, despite the little surprises I'd set up for you, this was a bit of an improvement. You're still not Marines, not by a long shot, but your performance this time around demonstrates that you at least have the potential to measure up...eventually.” I stopped pacing as I reached the middle column of their makeshift formation. “Everyone fall out for chow and sack time. You're going to need all the rest you can get, so make sure not to waste any more time babbling amongst yourselves than is absolutely necessary. Dismissed!”>
     
  7. TrakNar

    TrakNar Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Registered:
    Apr 4, 2011
    Ah, Laera the drill instructor. Channeling her old gunny, I see...

    Do those mud-Marines have what it takes to make it? To be the few, the proud, the Republic Marines? Well, with the way Laera is going... they'll be trained and ready to go in no time.

    She should borrow Tuffass's Clue-By-Four. That will whip them into shape.
     
  8. earlybird-obi-wan

    earlybird-obi-wan Force Ghost star 6

    Registered:
    Aug 21, 2006
    Great action and description of the exercises

    I will be following this one
     
  9. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    Registered:
    May 11, 2011
    Thanks for the compliments, everyone!

    As for the Clue-By-Four, nah, Laera wouldn't have gone that far. In fact, she wouldn't have hit the guy at all if she wasn't already under so much stress.



    [B]Chapter Three[/B]


    The platoon filed out in silence, and I was left alone to deal with my private ruminations. The day's exercises had been nearly as exhausting for me as it had been for them, and I knew that the subtle aches and pains would get worse before things got better. Sighing to myself, I massaged away a headache that was threatening to burst forth, only to notice that Lieutenant Ibratu'na was still in the room with me. The Twi'lek officer leaned against the hatchway, his arms folded across his chest and his lekku wrapped about his neck, one of the tips twitching in some incomprehensible mannerism.

    “I'm guessing you didn't stay behind for idle chatter, Lieutenant,” I said, trying to sound mildly interested.

    “Your supposition is correct, Captain,” he agreed, unfolding his arms and striding toward me. “Permission to speak freely?”

    “Please do,” I replied.

    “I have to wonder if all of this is necessary,” Ibratu'na inquired earnestly. “My people are good fighters, they've experienced battle before.”

    I turned away to hide my shame from the man as he vouched for his troopers. There was something about the entire situation that had me on edge, and Ibratu'na had to be suffering even more. Thrust under the command of a seemingly uncaring and unforgiving officer who belittled his people in front of him and threw aside everything they had accomplished couldn't have been easy. Were our positions reversed, I'd like to think I'd have taken such treatment with as much grace as he had, but that would have been a lie. He deserved an explanation after what I'd put his unit through. “And you're a good officer, Ibratu'na,” I replied, turning back to face him after a few moments of quiet reflection. “The Republic needs people like you and your soldiers now more than ever. It also needs you to survive the lunatic assignments that we're given in desperate times such as these, and I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I didn't do everything in my power to maximize your troops' odds of success.”

    “I understand that, ma'am,” Ibratu'na replied, his lekku unfurling themselves to hang parallel to his spine. “And I'm not questioning your intentions or motivations. Private Axeli was decorated after Lannik for pulling Sergeant DiSote from a burning building during an ambush. Corporal Dar was promoted after she helped to repulse a Sith counterattack on Mon Gazza. And Private Goss was wounded in the act of shielding me from a grenade.”

    With a tug of the Force, I dragged a pair of chairs from a line of consoles on the wall opposite and plunked myself down on one of them, inviting the Twi'lek to join me, which he did. I'd skimmed the platoon's service records, but the revelation that the trooper I'd punched had saved the life of the squad leader I'd embarrassed had been painful; the knowledge that two members of the platoon had nearly shared my earlier fate was nearly enough to make me break down right there. I could read the sincerity in the lieutenant's bright magenta aura, along with the desire to do his best by his people, and this made my heart ache even more. But I had to be strong, for Ibratu'na, for his troopers, for Bastila's strike team, for the Jedi, and for the Republic itself. “I don't doubt their courage, Lieutenant,” I managed to say.

    “Then please, don't doubt their skills,” he implored. “I've fought alongside Marines, during this war and the last, and I know that you hold to a certain set of ideals. My people aren't used to these kinds of ideals, and while I realize that they don't quite have the skillset that the mission requires, I do know that they are fully capable of learning them in the time we have remaining. Corporal Dar, at least, has proven that.”

    “She has indeed,” I replied wearily after another pause. “And you're right, they're all capable soldiers. Something stinks about this whole mission, though, and I wonder if you can feel it.”

    Ibratu'na opened his hands. “Captain, I don't have your connection to the Force to provide me with such insights, but you're right, there [I]is[/I] something odd about this venture. For instance, why are you the only Marine assigned to this flotilla if our main goal is the boarding of an enemy warship? And why are we putting some of our most competent leaders in grave peril on the off-chance that we could capture one Sith Lord? Forgive me, ma'am, but it simply doesn't add up.”

    “I've been asking myself similar questions ever since I got the operations brief,” I replied, shaking my head ruefully and blowing a sigh. “In all honesty, I feel as though I'm just as much in the dark as you are.”

    The Twi'lek looked through a nonexistent viewport in the rough direction of the warship's bridge. “Then I have to wonder, why the charade?”

    “I'm not sure what you mean, Lieutenant,” I asked, shooting him a puzzled expression.

    “You've experienced combat alongside and against Force-users, both as a normal soldier and as a Jedi,” Ibratu'na said bluntly. “Like myself, you started out as an enlistee. You've been a drill instructor, you've experienced nearly every facet of warfare there is, and yet you treated these men and women as though they were raw recruits, as though they were beneath you. I know you don't actually feel that way, ma'am, but I ask again, is all of this really necessary?”

    Though I wasn't proud of what I had done this day, I was resolute in the fact that I was doing the right thing, both for myself and for Ibratu'na's platoon. Military discipline, however, mandated that I keep my true feelings from him, that I be the one to make the hard choices and live with the consequences. That selfsame ethos, I knew, was what kept the Twi'lek going, and why he hadn't objected earlier, and I respected him immensely for it. Whatever I said next, I knew he would accept, even if he didn't like it. “It is,” I replied, with a quiet finality that indicated that this conversation was over. “But it needn't be in future. For now, let's just get some rack time.”

    — — —

    Thankfully, my rest went uninterrupted by the twitchings of the Force that had been such a nuisance lately, and I awoke refreshed from the previous day's activities. Since the platoon had gone through so much grief at my hands, I chose to give them the morning off, after a fashion, once we had gone through morning exercises. Dividing the unit by squads and providing them with schematics of [I]Interdictor[/I]-class cruisers, I tasked Ibratu'na's people with devising three possible routes through the target vessel for the coming boarding action. One squad I instructed to come up with the most direct route to and from the main bridge, another, to map out the most circuitous passageways, while Sergeant DiSote's squad was assigned to figure out how best to cause the most mayhem in the least amount of time. The overall objective was to get them thinking like Marines, teaching them the Three As: Awareness, Adaptation, and Alacrity, as well as to evaluate their planning skills and get a sense of their thought processes.

    While Lieutenant Ibratu'na supervised their sessions, gravitating between his three squads but not interfering, I sought out Bastila and the rest of her strike team. Lieutenant Silas Dan'kre had caught up to me as I'd left the platoon to their work, and together we went over some troubling news, which I knew needed to be passed along. The five Jedi were meditating together in their shared quarters, and I wasn't surprised to learn that they had been expecting a visit from me. “There's something we need to discuss,” I said as Bastila herself showed me inside.

    “Of course, Laera,” she replied, taking a seat on the padded deck. “What can we do to help?”

    “It's about the plan,” I began, joining the quintet between two of the unfamiliar Jedi, one a recently-scarred, battle-tested man of about thirty Standard years, the other a white-haired, dark-skinned youth who looked just a bit over a year older than the only other woman in the room. “I understand the role laid out for myself and Ibratu'na's platoon; we're to open a corridor for you to wherever Darth Revan may be lurking and hold it. The details of what part you five are going to play, however, are still a bit sketchy.”

    “It's actually quite simple,” the younger man replied in a manner that reminded me of a primary school teacher. “If Darth Revan isn't on the command bridge, it will still be easy to locate him by his sense in the Force, as he'll be emanating the most intense dark side signature. We will track him, corner him, and do our best to capture him.”

    “I got that much from Master Kavar, thanks,” I shot back, nettled. “And you are?”

    “Jedi Knight Keeh Rha, at your service,” he said with an exaggerated nod.

    “Noi-Vas Jenn,” a red-haired and -bearded Knight sitting to Bastila's left introduced himself.

    “Georg Oakes,” said the scarred veteran.

    “Haydin Biddell,” said the last Jedi, a dark-haired, deeply-tanned and muscular specimen who would have, long ago, inspired animal lust within me. I found this particular fact somewhat humorous, but I kept it tightly under control; sure, he was good-looking, but I was far too old for him and sexual fulfillment was not in the battle plan. That, and it would destroy whatever semblance of discipline that either of us possessed.

    “Well, now that introductions are out of the way,” I said instead, “maybe you can be a little more forthcoming on details. Like, say, are my troops supposed to babysit you, or are you five going to be leading from the front?”

    “The latter, I think,” replied Oakes, who had either completely missed the small hint of sarcasm in my retort, or else chose to ignore it. “Communication shouldn't be a problem, and we can handle any threats ourselves.”

    “Let me get this straight,” I said, looking the scarred Guardian straight in the eye and smiling inwardly as his hazel-green aura squirmed slightly. “You lot are just going to run amok while my troops and I knock out anything that moves between the hangar and the main bridge? You're not going to stick with the unit, or at least take a fire team with you?”

    “I don't see how that's so out-of-the-ordinary,” Keeh Rha protested. “We four, plus Bastila, can work well enough as a team.”

    “Son, just how many battles have you participated in?” I asked him, spitting him with a scorching stare.

    “This will be my first—”

    “It'll also be your last if you don't see sense,” I interrupted him, resisting the urge to put my face in my palm in consternation. “Last I checked, [I]Interdictor[/I] cruisers carried over thirty-six [I]hundred[/I] troops, and from what I hear, the Sith aren't hurting for volunteers, particularly of the cannon fodder variety. You five rush off by yourselves and none of us will even make it out of the hangar bay.” I drew a small datapad from my left chest pocket and handed it to Bastila. “Did you know that the Sith have now outfitted their warships for just such an occasion?”

    “I was not aware of this, no,” the young woman replied, shaking her head as she perused the schematics. “If this is accurate, it looks like they've added self-powered turrets above every hatchway leading off their hangar bays.”

    “It's accurate,” I replied solemnly. “And I hadn't known about it either, until Lieutenant Dan'kre informed me this morning. This was an Empire-wide order, passed down from Darth Revan himself; the squids at Intelligence barely made it to us with this information before we left Tython.”
    Keeh Rha seemed unperturbed. “Then it is simply one more obstacle to overcome,” he said lightly.

    “No, it isn't,” Oakes replied before I could harangue the rookie for him. “Laera is correct; we hadn't known about this, and it means we need to adjust our thinking. The way I see it, we can handle this one of two ways; either we let the lander's gunners saturate the hanger bay with fire as we breach their magcon shield, or all five of us use our lightsabers to destroy the turrets with reflected blasterfire.”

    “[I]Now[/I] you're thinking like Marines,” I nodded gratefully. “Georg, how good are you at blaster deflection?”

    “I prefer the Soresu form naturally, so I am fairly good in that art, even against nonliving opponents.”

    “Good, because there are a couple of problems with your first option,” I replied, smiling slightly. “First, you threaten to compromise the ship's structural integrity by firing heavy blaster cannons all over the place and second, we may need to appropriate any other spaceworthy vessels in that docking bay, and they might 'accidentally' be rendered unusable.”

    “Since you are the expert, what do you suggest?” Bastila asked sardonically. I chose to ignore the irritation that was readily apparent in her voice and aura.

    “Georg's second option, naturally,” I countered politely. “I'm pretty good with reflection myself, and between the six of us, we can subdue the automated defenses before the organic ones become aware of just what kind of trouble they're in. The lander's shields can keep my platoon protected while they debark, and we can proceed from there—together."

    “What of the lander's crew?” Noi-Vas Jenn inquired. “Should one of us stay behind to protect the ship?”

    “No,” I said instantly. “[I]Jarhead[/I]-class landers have plenty of shielding and their armor is tough, they can handle anything the Sith troopers could throw at them. Incidentally, how many of you have piloting skills?” I asked, suddenly inspired. Thankfully Haydin, Georg and Noi-Vas all nodded their affirmation. “Good, because I don't have any whatsoever. You three, consider yourselves emergency pilots, if what I said about our own ship proves incorrect."

    “Wait a moment, Laera,” Bastila interrupted heatedly. “This is [I]my[/I] team, you don't have the authority to change its structure or purpose! You are to lead [I]your[/I] team and hold the way open for [I]us[/I].”

    This time, I did facepalm. “Bastila, please, just listen to what I have to say.”

    “Excuse me, but—”

    “I said [I]shut up![/I]” I bellowed, and the younger Jedi visibly flinched. “Look, I'm not trying to take command or steal your glory—not that you should even be [I]thinking[/I] about glory—I just want to make sure that as many of us come out of this with our skins intact as possible. If you want me to have anything to do with your little enterprise, at least be civil enough to respect my knowledge.”

    Silence reigned as each Jedi exchanged glances around the room. Bastila in particular seemed too shocked for words, which had been precisely the point of my little outburst. This clearly wasn't the young woman I'd met aboard the [I]Stalwart Defender[/I] after the liberation of Iridonia, and I found myself wondering just what had prompted this little outburst. Having to tell a fellow Jedi to shut up was something I'd never expected to be necessary, much less the need to shout it as an order. The young woman's aura continued to boil with resentment, but I was saved the necessity of having to apologize by Keeh Rha, of all people.

    “Bastila, please, Laera has shown how we are ignorant,” he said soothingly, placing a hand on her shoulder as he turned to me. “Unfortunately, my piloting skills aren't as well-developed as I would prefer, given our mission, or I would have volunteered as well.”

    “Very well,” the young woman replied finally, her voice steady despite a small twinge of irritation in her sense. “Laera, we will consider your expertise. Is there anything else you wished to add?”

    “Only this,” I said simply, opening my hands to encompass the other Jedi. “At some point in the next few days, I'd like the chance to engage all of you in mock duels—one at a time, of course—in order to gauge your skills and my own in relation to the whole.”

    “It'll also help to pass the time,” Haydin put in. “Very well, I'm game.”

    “Me too,” Keeh Rha piped up. The other Jedi nodded their assent as well, and even Bastila seemed up for a bout. Deciding that we'd settled enough for the moment, I stood and bowed myself out of their quarters, letting the Jedi know that they could find me when they were ready to fight or if they wished to go over anything else.

    — — —

    The Bothan intelligence officer caught up with me one corridor down, for once managing to surprise me in my ruminations of what had just transpired. After exchanging salutes, I gave him a nod and smile to let him know he'd gotten the drop on me, a roguish look which he returned with interest. “How did they take it?” he asked as we strode down the companionway toward the officers' mess.

    “It made them realize they couldn't just run off and play hero while us Marines held the hatch open for them,” I replied with a sigh. “Thanks for getting that information to me.”

    “It was my pleasure, Captain,” Dan'kre replied, his neck fur rippling. “Are you still willing to let me tag along?”

    I whacked his shoulder playfully. “Silas, you're probably the only person I can think of right now who could make this whole thing work.”

    “You are too kind, ma'am,” he said warmly. “'Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more, or seal the bulkhead up with our own dead.'”

    “I didn't know you read Whipstaff,” I said, bemused at the younger officer's quip.

    “Oh, but Captain, you've simply not experienced Whipstaff until you've seen him in the original Bothan!” Dan'kre replied with mock astonishment. “[I]Nellus V[/I] was one of my favorite of his holoplays while growing up, you could say his work is partly why I joined the Marines.”

    “I'm glad you've not forgotten your roots,” I said sternly, though the effect was ruined by the wink I shot at him. “The Marines' loss was Intelligence's gain.”

    “Say that again when we survive this mission, ma'am, and I might just believe you,” he replied with a feral grin.

    — — —

    My spirits buoyed somewhat by the conversation with Lieutenant Dan'kre, I grabbed a bite to eat before checking on the platoon's progress. Prior to entering the wardroom in which they worked, I paused to take a gander at the holocam feed. What I could see confirmed the general sense of camaraderie that I'd felt from them on my approach, and for a few moments it was relaxing to see how they threw themselves at their tasks. Putting my expectations aside, I clicked the monitor off and entered the room, Lieutenant Ibratu'na calling his soldiers to attention. “At ease,” I said, striding toward the far bulkhead.

    “Lieutenant Ibratu'na will now collect your reports,” I continued, once again pacing before the assembly. “I'll be going over them in due course. Right now, though, I want you to sit and close your eyes. Yes, even you, Private Tarsis.”

    I stopped then, and faced the platoon while they moved to draw chairs from their stacks along the walls and plant themselves in them. “Now, think back to the Three As I mentioned earlier,” I said, lowering my voice to barely above a whisper, forcing the gathered soldiers to focus on me in order to hear what I had to say. “'Awareness' is the most important of the As. Private Goss, what does 'awareness' mean to you?”

    “'Awareness' is a sensitivity to the battle around you,” the young soldier replied, his tone equally soft. “If you are aware of an enemy who is not aware of you, you are already halfway toward defeating him.”

    “Precisely correct, Private,” I replied. “Sergeant DiSote, what does 'Adaptation' mean to you?”

    The black-haired noncom nodded. “'Adaptation' is the ability to adjust to changing circumstances. If you come up against an unanticipated turn of events, you have to be able to think quickly to work around them.”

    “Correct in essentials,” I said, though my tone was not harsh. “Adaptation also includes the ability to use these unexpected disruptions to one's advantage. Corporal Dar, what does 'Alacrity' mean to you?”

    I had saved her for last, banking on her ability to think fast as well as shoot fast, and I was not disappointed. “'Alacrity' is mobility,” she replied confidently. “The enemy can't kill what they can't pin down, and the best way to stay alive is to keep moving, to keep [I]them[/I] guessing.”

    “Good answer, Corporal,” I said, bringing my voice back to normal volume. “All of these axioms add up to a fourth rule: 'Anticipation'. To be able to anticipate an opponent, you have to have mastered the other three core principles. These mantras are at the very heart of Marine training, and they will keep you alive for as long as you are able to focus on them. Now, who can tell me in what direction a Marine should always be moving?”

    There was a lengthy pause as the troopers pondered the question. I didn't expect them to know, but I wanted them to mull the idea over anyway, so I could further evaluate their thinking. By reading their auras, I could sense that they seemed relieved at my supposed change of style, but they were still wary of what I might do to them next, which was understandable. Still, they were doing their best to wrap their minds around the problem. Finally, I answered for them.

    “A Marine is always—[I]always[/I]—advancing!” I said emphatically. “'Awareness' means knowing [I]where[/I] to advance; 'Adaptation' is knowing [I]how best[/I] to advance in any given situation; 'Alacrity' means advancing [I]swiftly[/I] and in good order; 'Anticipation' means knowing how and where [I]the enemy[/I] is likely to advance to meet you.”

    Private Axeli raised his hand slightly, and I nodded at him. “What about retreat?” he asked earnestly. “If a platoon of Marines is outnumbered, outgunned, or outmaneuvered, sometimes you have to fall back.”

    “Sithspawn, 'retreat' is simply another word for advancing!” I replied as though this were obvious. “Just because the enemy forces you to give ground doesn't mean they're winning, especially while fighting aboard a starship, and moving toward something doesn't mean you're facing it. A Marine's job isn't to hold ground, but to take it!” I paused for a few moments to let them take this in. “Make no mistake people, we are [I]not[/I] here to die for the Republic. We are here to make the [I]other[/I] void-brain bastards die for their Empire!”

    There was a collective “Hoo-ahh!” at that, and I favored the gathered troops with a predatory smile.

    “Respect these four axioms,” I said after the exhortation had had its effect. “Treasure them as you would a loved one, and always keep them in your thoughts. You'll find that, if you do so, you will see with clearer eyes, solve problems with a more open mind, and move faster with greater purpose toward whatever you set yourselves out to accomplish. I am your conduit, your navigational computer, and I will show you the way toward not just survival, but success! Fall out for chow, and report back here in thirty minutes for another run at the engine room!”>
     
  10. TrakNar

    TrakNar Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Registered:
    Apr 4, 2011
    Personally, I prefer the term "strategic relocation."

    Anywho, good chapter. Hopefully these mud Marines have what it takes.
     
  11. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    Registered:
    May 11, 2011
    As Chesty Puller (reportedly) said at the Chosin Reservoir: "Retreating? Hell, we're not retreating! We're attacking in a different direction!"




    [B]Chapter Four[/B]


    While the platoon enjoyed their midday meal, I was busy preparing for the latest twist in their training. “Thank you for seeing me on such short notice, Admiral Dodonna, Captain Kathla,” I said after exchanging salutes and entering the small wardroom where the two senior Fleet officers were taking their own break.

    “Glad to finally meet the woman who shot up my engine room in person,” Piers Kathla replied, tossing me a lopsided grin.

    “How goes the training regimen for our boarding party?” Admiral Dodonna asked, her expression neutral but her aura prickling with the barest hint of nervousness.

    “It's too soon to tell, ma'am,” I replied. “That's actually why I'm here. With your permission, I'd like to borrow [I]Vibrosword'[/I]s engineering staff.”

    The two officers exchanged glances, underpinning the sense of uncertainty that lingered about them. “What did you have in mind, Captain Reyolé?” Kathla inquired.

    Opening my hands to encompass the room as though it were the whole ship, I began to explain why I needed their help. The warship's captain seemed dubious, but the admiral was intrigued by my ideas and what I had in mind. “Basically, it comes down to this,” I concluded. “They need experience fighting an unknown quantity, someone they've never fought alongside before, which is why I can't simply pit each squad against one another if they are to learn correctly.”

    “I assume you will want to take basic precautions?” Admiral Dodonna asked.

    “Of course,” I replied. “Stun blasters only, and I'd like to have the ion engines taken offline during the exercise.”

    “We don't need them while traveling at lightspeed,” Captain Kathla agreed. “But if something were to go wrong and the hyperdrive conked out, we'd be dead in space for at least two hours in order to perform a cold start of the sublight drives. Still, they don't like to be shot, either with stun fire or fully-powered blasters.”

    “I understand the risks,” I said with a nod. “Fortunately, the hyperdrive motivators shouldn't be in any danger.”

    “Very well, you have our permission,” Admiral Dodonna agreed, nodding her approval. “Good luck.”

    — — —

    Waiting with the hastily-assembled crewers of [I]Vibrosword'[/I]s engineering section, which consisted of fifty-seven officers and enlisted personnel all armed with low-powered stun blasters and wearing black armbands over their uniforms, I observed the platoon's progress over a small holocam feed. I smiled as they made their way through the empty corridors and control rooms; they were doing their best to incorporate what I'd told them earlier. None of them were staying still, and they were all taking every precaution; even after they'd cleared the entire section, they began to make preparations for a mobile defense. I decided not to give them the time they would need. “Alright, let's hit it!” I yelled to the engineers and techs as I stood up and unlimbered my lightsaber. “CHARGE!”

    Making an almighty racket, the crewers, with myself in the lead, ran pell-mell down the main companionway, spilling into the central control spaces and firing their weapons with wild abandon. While I deflected simulated laser blasts, the engineering staff rained blue stun bolts onto the defenders, and soon the fight descended into a free-for-all melee. Fully a quarter of the platoon went down in the initial rush of their hastily-organized defense, including Lieutenant Ibratu'na, and even though they were now leaderless, they began to fight back with the savagery of cornered taopari. Everyone knew that this wasn't a real attack, but an outside observer wouldn't have known it to see how they fought. Eventually, the platoon forced an opening for themselves, conducting an impressive fighting retreat back to their muster room with a swarm of angry engineers in hot pursuit.

    I'd managed to stay “alive” throughout, and eventually called a halt to the exercise once the remaining members of the platoon who were still combat effective had sealed themselves inside. “Alright, we're all done,” I said over the internal comm. “Engineers, dead or alive, please report back to your posts. Lieutenant Ibratu'na, please rouse your 'casualties' and report back here.”

    The corridors reverberated with the groans of the “dead” and “dying” as they pulled themselves together and did as they were instructed. When the platoon was fully assembled, I gave them a few minutes to catch their collective breaths before beginning the post-exercise debrief. “An interesting twist,” I began at last, once again pacing before them. “But it's something you'll have to expect when we go into battle.

    “Two things stood out about how you conducted this exercise,” I said after a lengthy pause, continuing my back-and-forth strides. “First, you all seemed to be a little more sure of yourselves, a bit more on the ball, even after you'd figured out that things weren't as they appeared. I like that. It shows you're paying attention and that you want to do better.” I glanced at the three squad leaders in turn. “Second, you conducted yourselves fairly well in the wake of such a surprise counterattack. Even after Lieutenant Ibratu'na's untimely demise, you took my words to heart and 'advanced' in the other direction when it became clear that you could not hold against me and the mob of engineers. However, I very nearly came close to cutting off your arm, Private Soskins; you should go and see the corpsman when we're done here.”

    The black-haired, pale-skinned soldier ruefully nursed a small, angry weal near his elbow where my blade had accidentally brushed it, slitting his uniform. He nodded his acknowledgment. “Yes, ma'am, I understand” he said by way of apology.

    “Don't worry about it,” I said sympathetically. “It was as much my fault as anything else. Ladies and gentlemen, the important thing here is to remember the third rule when taking on Force-users: never close to melee range.” I stopped pacing, mimed holding a blaster rifle to my chest, and backed away from the assembled troops. “Advance away from one if you have to, but don't get within reach of a lightsaber unless you're feeling particularly brave—or suicidal. If, however, any of you just happen to have one of those new cortosis-woven vibroswords hidden away somewhere, please let me know.”

    That got a laugh, which eased some of the tension that remained. “Now, let's talk numbers,” I said, motioning for the platoon to take seats. Once they had, I continued the breakdown. “Including myself, the forty of you faced off against fifty-eight crewers, mostly engineers and technicians, who only have basic combat training but an intimate knowledge of the territory being contested. In the course of the battle, fourteen of you were 'killed' and a further ten were 'severely wounded' during both the initial counterattack and your retreat. Folks, that's about sixty percent casualties, and against the kind of foe you are most likely to engage. If I hadn't joined the engineers, the numbers might have been more favorable, but when we go into battle, I might not always be there to help out against an enemy Force-user. One who, mind you, will not hold back, who will in fact use their entire repertoire of powers and maneuvers against you.”

    To drive this last point home, I relaxed into the Force, pulling an empty chair into the air toward me with great speed. As it closed in on my head, I whipped out my lightsaber, activated it, and cut the incoming furniture into a dozen pieces, which clattered against the bulkhead behind me. “This is the kind of thing a Sith Lord is likely to do to any one of you, should they catch you alone,” I said. “Any questions?”

    There were none. Everyone was either too tired from the brawl they'd just come out of, or else too shocked after realizing just what could happen to them if they ran afoul of one of Darth Revan's Force-using lackeys. I decided at that point that they had suffered enough for one day, and after collecting the three squads' infiltration plans for review, I dismissed them early. This wasn't really an act of generosity on my part, but acquiescing to the simple fact that I still needed to tie up a few loose ends in regards to the battle plan. We were nearly two days into the trip to Ord Mantell, and the Army troopers had packed a lot of learning into a very short time frame. Once they had left for their barracks, I held Ibratu'na back, so that we were again alone. “Your impressions, Lieutenant?” I asked him solemnly.

    “As you said, Captain, an interesting twist,” he replied, his lekku twitching. “I can see why you wanted us to face such a foe.”

    “[I]Interdictor[/I] cruisers outnumber us nearly a hundred to one in terms of troops, Lieutenant,” I reminded him. “Their crew compliment is in excess of five thousand, and they're likely to be trained just as well as [I]Vibrosword'[/I]s engineering section in terms of combat. But this isn't just about numbers.”

    “Thankfully so,” Ibratu'na replied with a doleful look. “After all, I 'died' in that rather unruly contest.”

    “At least your death was only simulated,” I said, cocking a mischievous brow in his direction.

    “I...don't quite understand,” he said, utterly nonplussed.

    “I thought you had received a copy of my service record when I took overall command of your platoon,” I said, brow raised. Before the Twi'lek could reply, however, the hatchway opened and a Bothan entered the room. “Ah, Mr. Dan'kre, glad you could make it.”

    “Lieutenant Ibratu'na, Captain Reyolé,” the Intelligence officer said, nodding as his brow fur rippled and his ears twitched slightly. “I watched your performance in the engine spaces, very impressive.”

    “We were just discussing that,” I said, smiling at the Army officer's discomfiture.

    “Then I take it you've told our friend about your prior experience with nonlife?” Dan'kre asked, a mischievous grin on his face. The Bothan, as a senior naval lieutenant, outranked the Twi'lek, and the latter knew it. His expression and aura spoke of expectations of losing much of his dignity at our hands, but that wasn't my intention.

    “Actually, we were just getting to that,” I said, still smiling. “Would you care to inform him, Silas?”

    “It would be my honor,” he said, giving a mock-bow before turning to face Ibratu'na. “You see, then-Commander Reyolé here led the infiltration team on Onderon prior to Revan's—excuse me, 'Darth' Revan's—effort to liberate that world from the Mandalorians. Her team succeeded in bringing down the defense grid once the main force had landed, but she was killed during the effort. Our former friends, now bent on killing us all, had decided to incur the quite significant expense of literally resurrecting her. The necessary tech has been around for quite some time, and they decided to use it. So here she is, now a Jedi Knight as well as a captain in the Marine Corps.”

    Ibratu'na looked from me to the Bothan and back again, almost certain that he was being wound up for some punchline to come. “I did receive your service record, Captain,” he finally managed to say. “Parts of it were redacted, however, and I deemed it best not to inquire further. Obviously, this fact was one such thing that was kept from me."

    “Don't worry about it,” I said gently. “In fact, you're taking this much more rationally than Lieutenant Dan'kre's initial reaction, back when he'd been an ensign.”

    The Bothan's eyes went wide for the meanest flicker of a moment, but I caught him at it and held him fast with a smirk. “Oh, here we go,” he said, shaking his head.

    “Oh, come on, Silas, you survived, didn't you?”

    “Barely, Captain, just barely,” he replied with a sigh. “In any case, Lieutenant, whatever the captain tells you about squaring off with Dark Jedi, I can tell you, she knows what she's talking about. But back to why we're here.”

    “You've got the codes and spikes worked out?” I asked eagerly.

    “Yes,” Dan'kre replied. “I cannot guarantee that they will work on the first try, but if they don't, I can tweak them on the fly. Then we'll have at least partial access to the flagship's environmental controls, internal security, and possibly the hangar bay as well. Best case scenario: we'll be able to seal off entire companies of Sith troops in their barracks, lock down the hangar bay to protect our lander and other possible escape vehicles, even flood critical areas with exhaust from the ion engines or main reactor to kill off enemy crew. I'm banking on at least one of these measures working straightaway, but we may be able to do even more once we're aboard.”

    “Excellent work, Silas,” I said, patting his shoulder gratefully, then turning to Ibratu'na. “Lieutenant, I want you to keep these possibilities in mind, but don't tell the platoon. I want them operating on the assumption that they'll be met with waves of hostile troops and crewers.”

    “What, and have no one to appreciate my genius engineering and slicing skills?” Dan'kre mock-protested. “Honestly, Captain, you take all the fun out of life.”

    “Keep it up, Silas, and I'll have you working on fixing their refreshers while we're there,” I replied with a predatory grin.

    “Your pardon, Captain, Lieutenant, but the Twi'lek is lost,” a slightly irritated Ibratu'na put in.

    “My apologies, Lieutenant Dan'kre and I go back a ways,” I said. “For this mission, he's my hole card, and I want him kept in the interference field for as long as possible.”

    “I understand,” he replied with a nod, his left lek spasming in a gesture that might have been a resigned shrug. “Am I to conclude, then, that Lieutenant Dan'kre will be accompanying us on the mission?”

    “Yes,” I replied. “But only as an expert slicer; he'll primarily stay with me. If anything happens to us and the other Jedi, or if we're cut off from your people, command of the mission will fall to you. Hopefully, it won't come to that.”

    “Very well, Captain,” Ibratu'na replied, his expression softening slightly. “With your permission, I will take my leave.”

    “By all means,” I said, standing up. “I'll see you and your people at 0800 hours tomorrow.”
    “Rather an irritable one, isn't he?” Dan'kre asked once the Twi'lek had left. “Your respective command styles seem to be quite different.”

    “He's alright,” I said with a sigh. “I put him and his people through the wringer yesterday, and I don't think he's quite forgiven me for it. Getting 'killed' in today's performance, as you call it, didn't help matters, and I'm betting he doesn't care for Intelligence types tagging along on missions. But he doesn't know you like I do.”

    “How very reassuring,” the Bothan replied with a smirk. “By the way, I ran into Master Kavar earlier today. He was hoping to get a word in with you at some point.”

    “Wonderful,” I sighed. “I guess there's no getting out of this one, even if I've still got work to do.”

    “You are a senior officer, can't you just delegate?”

    “Sure I can,” I replied, a grin replacing my resigned look as I got up once again and picked up a trio of datacards from the nearby podium. “Here, take a look at these and see if they're worth anything. Each is an infiltration plan for our target vessel; if you spot something that can be improved upon, please don't hesitate to alter them.”

    The Bothan got up and accepted the pads as though he were receiving a prestigious award. “I humbly take on this assignment in hopes that it will impress my boss and help her to not feel so bad about herself,” he said, bowing deeply.

    “Dan'kre, I'm warning you...”

    — — —

    The Jedi Master Kavar, whom I had met on Coruscant when the High Council, of which he was a part, had Knighted me, turned out to be lurking in a tiny office just aft of the warship's bridge. I could sense the concern in his aura even before I had reached the command deck, and this made me feel somehow self-conscious. All of our prior meetings had always been amongst other beings, Jedi and military officers alike; for him to call me in for a private chat could mean any number of things, few of them good. Still, he was the senior representative of the Republic on this mission, and were he to tell me to kiss a Gamorrean, I'd have asked him which cheek.

    “Hello, Laera,” he said mildly as I entered the tiny alcove where he'd sequestered himself for our little chat. “I trust you had little trouble finding me.”

    “Of course not, Master Kavar,” I said, giving him a small bow before joining him in a meditative posture on the deck. “What can I do for you?”

    “Padawan Bastila Shan came by earlier,” the senior Jedi replied, his tone still amiable. “I understand that you met with her and her team, and that things got a little heated.”

    “I apologize for that, Master,” I said with a generous sigh. “It's just that—”

    “There is no need to apologize,” Kavar interrupted gently, placing a warm hand on my shoulder. “Both of you were right—and both of you were wrong. As it happens, I'm glad that you were able to come to a resolution, and that everyone is now operating on the same frequency.”

    “As you say, Master,” I replied, unsure whether to thank the man or resent him. “I do have one concern, however.”

    “By all means, please proceed.”

    “When I first met Bastila Shan, it was just after the liberation of Iridonia,” I began, trying to sound charitable—as a fellow Jedi, she deserved that much. “She seemed well-adjusted for a woman of her age, maybe even a bit more mature than most, humble and generous. But when I met with her strike team this morning, she...well, she wasn't the person I remember from two years ago.” I paused to let Kavar respond, but he seemed to sense that there was more to be said. However, as I tried to come up with an explanation, a sudden need to justify myself burst forth. “I'm no saint, Master, and I admit it. From the moment the Dantooine enclave council invited me to join the Order, I've been resistant to the Jedi ways, to the point of being downright verbally combative on occasion. I'm fairly certain that the peacetime Order wouldn't have accepted me, but I don't resent that fact; in truth, I'm glad to be here, and grateful for everything that I've learned and the many opportunities to serve the Republic. I've always striven to improve myself, despite all the complications. In the face of everything that has happened to me. I've done my best to be a good Jedi, a good person, even if things didn't work out the way I'd hoped.” I finally ran out of words, and the small space echoed with the silence that fell.

    “You've kept this to yourself for a long time,” Kavar said, his tone neutral, his aura unreadable. It was not a question.

    I nodded, the preceding commentary having drained me mentally. “Yes, Master. But there's a war on, and my well-being is secondary to the survival of the Republic and the Jedi Order.”

    The Jedi Master, saying nothing, looked me straight in the face as though evaluating me on multiple levels. Closing my eyes, I let him into my mind, feeling his gentle, reassuring thoughts glide through my own. This lasted for quite some time until, finally, he tapped my shoulder and I blinked.

    “It was a mistake to ask you to join this mission without the proper support,” he stated finally, with a warm, fatherly tone to his voice and countenance. “The Order both overestimated and underestimated your abilities, and for these errors, I apologize on behalf of the Council. You have nothing to be ashamed of, Laera. Not for how you have conducted your training of Admiral Dodonna's troops, not for your exchange with Bastila, and not for your perceived inadequacies as a Jedi. You have, quite frankly, been through hell, and the fact that you still strive to serve the light within yourself, as well as the galaxy, is simply astounding.”

    Despite the words of encouragement that the Jedi Master was offering, which were as sincere as any I'd ever heard or felt in my life, a tear formed in my left eye. Hot and wet, it slid down my nose and dripped into my lap, and it was soon followed by more. I had never before received such wholehearted praise from a Jedi Master; Vrook had always seemed so unwillingly impressed with my accomplishments during training. Kavar's honesty seemed to flip a circuit within my psyche.

    The weight of billions of stars seemed to fall on my shoulders and, finally, after having put up so much resistance over such a long time, I broke down completely. My body was wracked with sobs as I wept openly, the dam of control I'd steadily built up over the last four years of turmoil finally bursting. Kavar did nothing, and for that I was grateful. I knew that in this dark, confined space, no one would, or could, hear my cries. I had lost so much, gained so much more, but it had all come so fast, so suddenly, and in the midst of a fight for the very soul of civilization. I cried my heart out in that room for what seemed like a lifetime, pouring out my anguish, my despair, and my helplessness in the face of such an unfair universe. A universe that had conspired to rob me of my proper death, that had forced this second chance upon me, and had insisted that I be embroiled in yet another galaxywide conflict. Finally, I cried myself out, there were no more tears to give, the reservoir of emotional pain was drained dry.

    “Bastila will realize her true self in time,” Kavar said, after what seemed like an eternity of silence. I wiped my raw, bloodshot eyes, sniffled a bit, and looked up to face the Jedi Master. “Her abilities are powerful, and she sometimes lets them get to her head. It is a trap that all too many of us fall into, yet most find their way out in due course. You, I feel, are one such Jedi, Laera.”

    “Thank you, Master,” I said thickly, unsure what to do next. “I...I don't want to fall, not again.”

    “You never fell, Laera,” Kavar said reassuringly. “You simply had a lot on your mind. And your well-being is just as important as the welfare of the galaxy.”

    Completely and utterly exhausted, I trudged back to my quarters and threw myself onto my rack without even bothering to shuck my uniform. I deliberately avoided any corridors through which the warship's crew happened to be walking, but this turned out to be more difficult than it should have been. My connection to the Force was fuzzy and severely diminished in the wake of the emotional release, and as sleep overtook me, I vaguely wondered what the morning would bring.>
     
  12. TrakNar

    TrakNar Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Registered:
    Apr 4, 2011
    Awww... Laera could use a hug...

    Though, that rampant wanton destruction in engineering beforehand... Does she not know that the rest of the galaxy's taxpayers PAID for that chair that she slashed to bits?! That better come out of her salary! Such inconsideration for the things that the average citizen pays for. Why, if it wasn't for the hardworking Jax Schmax and his 9-to-5, she wouldn't have a chair!
     
  13. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    Registered:
    May 11, 2011
    Chapter Five


    A staccato of raps on the hatch brought me back to the realm of consciousness, and I blanched as I caught a glimpse at the chronometer, which showed quite clearly that I'd overslept by a great deal. “Just a minute,” I called automatically as I shed my BDUs which, like the sheets on my rack, were soaked through with sweat. After drawing out a clean set, I ducked into the tiny refresher and luxuriated in the hot sanisteam as it cleansed my naked flesh. The night had passed in the blink of an eye, without any sense of having slept at all, and I found this profoundly disturbing.

    Finally clad in a dry uniform, I opened the hatchway to see who had come to fetch me, and immediately snapped into a parade-ground salute. Vice Admiral Forn Dodonna, her eyes and sense broadcasting concern, returned it. “Captain Reyolé, are you well?”

    “I'm...no, Admiral, not technically.” I said before I could stop myself. Did Kavar tell her...? No, that's impossible, no Jedi would do such a thing.

    “When Lieutenant Ibratu'na informed me that you hadn't arrived at the troopers' muster area, I thought there might be something wrong,” the fleet commander replied. “Do you require medical attention?”

    Something seemed to be filling my head, like a heat haze, leaving no room to think of a reply. I simply stared blankly, stupidly, at the admiral, not taking in a word she'd said or a flicker of her sense in the Force. It, too, had suddenly become impenetrable; tapping into its energies had become like trying to tap a hole through durasteel with a child's rubber mallet. The last thing I remember was seeing her eyes, those piercing gray eyes, flashing as she beckoned for a corpsman, then everything went black.

    — — —

    ”We almost lost her, Admiral, thank the Force you were there,” said an unfamiliar Mon Calamari voice.

    I tried to open my eyes at the words, but they wouldn't cooperate. I then tried to open another set of eyes and found, quite to my astonishment, that the Force worked almost as well as my normal vision. The chief medical officer, whose name I didn't recall, was standing to my left, while Master Kavar, Admiral Dodonna, and Captain Kathla had arrayed themselves on my right side, along what must have been a bed in the sickbay aboard Vibrosword.

    “Doctor Oopal, she's starting to come around,” a woman, possibly a corpsman, said suddenly as I continued to take in the scene via the Force.

    “Very well,” Oopal replied. “Give her the stimulant.”

    There was a soft hiss, and my body gave an almighty spasm as pain shot through me from scalp to toes. I gasped heavily, then bolted upright; I hadn't been restrained, but my sudden movement almost upset a small IV dispenser and a tree of monitoring equipment. My fleshy eyes were still not working, though I could feel my lids and lashes fluttering back and forth. “I...I can't see!” I blurted out. “My eyes...they're broken...”

    “Easy, take it easy, Laera,” Master Kavar replied, laying a hand on my shoulder and letting the Force pour into me through him. “You're going to be alright.”

    I took several deep breaths, briefly casting my other senses around the sickbay before turning my awareness inward. After falling into the familiar patterns of deep, meditative breathing with the Jedi Master's help, I became dimly aware of what was going on. The cybernetics which had been used to bring about my resurrection were now gone, I could no longer feel the absence of life-energy within my body that defined their presences. “Wha...what happened?”

    “There was a cascade malfunction with your implants,” Dr. Oopal said gravely, his sense making it clear that he considered my blindness to be the least of my worries. “They had to be removed and replaced with hastily-synthesized organic tissues. You've been out for nearly two days.”

    “Can you tell us if she'll recover fully, Doctor?” Admiral Dodonna asked, equally concerned.

    “At this point, I can't even guess how she survived the initial breakdown,” the medical officer replied with a confused gesture. “It must have been something to do with the Force, but that is well beyond my scope of knowledge. What I can say is this: given time and therapy, Captain Reyolé should make a complete recovery, but right now I don't think she's even fit to leave this bay, let alone resume her duties.”

    “But...no, that's not possible!” I protested vehemently. “I have to go on this mission, I have to train the platoon!”

    “I wish that were possible,” Dr. Oopal replied mournfully. “Your eyesight can be restored, but not until we reach a planetside hospital. There are also serious concerns regarding the effects of this emergency procedure on your endocrine and nervous systems. What is more, the tissues will certainly have to be replaced with better substitutes when we return from the mission, and possibly even with more cybernetics.”

    “You don't understand,” I said, more calmly than I felt. “I can see you all just fine, if a little oddly-colored. See?” Reaching out with my left hand, I pulled a writing stylus from the physician's chest pocket, tossed it into the air, and caught it with practiced ease before slipping it back. “There isn't going to be a mission unless I return to duty!”

    “Laera, you don't have to prove anything to us,” Master Kavar said, his tone gentle but firm. “Lieutenant Ibratu'na has been following your example, and the boarding party has been training hard.”

    “Master Kavar is correct,” Admiral Dodonna agreed. “Captain, I don't want you to put yourself in jeopardy unnecessarily, and there are other things you can do in the meantime.”

    I turned to fix the admiral with an unseeing stare, though her aura was brimming with equal parts sympathy, concern, and, oddly, pride. “What could I do, ma'am?” I pleaded with her in hushed tones. “What else could I possibly contribute that would aid in this mission's success?”

    The ward descended into silence as I continued to stare down the other occupants in turn. After several long minutes, the Jedi Master cleared his throat with polite authority. “Could Laera and I have a few moments of privacy?”

    “Of course, Master Kavar,” Admiral Dodonna agreed, though her sense betrayed a bit of relief at being given the opportunity to return to her duties elsewhere. I cast my gaze at my lap as the others filed out as well, leaving me alone with the High Council member.

    “Laera, I told you two days ago that your well-being was just as important as that of the rest of the galaxy,” he began, drawing a chair and sitting down next to the gurney on which I lay. “It's unfair, I know, everything that's happened to you, everything you've been made to suffer through. But can you tell me, honestly, that your destiny lies with conducting this mission, even after what has transpired?”

    I twiddled my thumbs for a few moments as I gathered my thoughts, but as I opened my mouth to reply in the affirmative, a sudden epiphany hit me like the shockwave from a supernova. I'd been thinking when I should have been feeling. I'd wasted so much time—four long, arduous, exhausting years—pondering what I was doing, where I was going, and how I went about things, that I'd forgotten this most basic truth of the Force: feel, don't think. I closed my blind eyes, let go of my conscious thoughts, and let the Force do the talking as I felt for where my destiny lay. I had never before questioned the fact that I was meant to live a life of service to others, to protect the innocent against the rotten elements of a galaxy in turmoil, but it had always been in the broadest sense. At that point it became clear as transparisteel that there was only so much that Laera Reyolé herself could do, that it wasn't up to her to save everyone. Now, finally free of an ultimate responsibility that had never been mine to take in the first place, I allowed myself to be swept up in the currents of the universe as I asked them to show me my special destiny, and they replied in a rush of images and feelings.

    Lightsaber in hand, I deflect blasts from silver-armored, faceless troopers, killing them with their own weapons fire. A Dark Jedi pops into the blue-black paneled corridor, and we engage in a furious staccato of blow and counterblow before she is eventually defeated. The scene changes, and I am now in an armed shuttlecraft along with a Bothan I know well, who is doing his best to pilot the small vessel away from a furious space battle. Finally, the vast warships draw apart, and the shuttle rockets away from the nearby planet at high speed.

    Then something very unexpected happens. The Bothan and I are suddenly walking down the streets of a near-modern city, where wheeled vehicles are still the norm, and where blue-skinned, hairless humanoids walk back and forth to wherever their business carries them. I know without having to ask that I am on some uncharted world, where the native inhabitants are on the cusp of interstellar space travel, but not quite there. And, as well, I know with ironclad certainty that it is my destiny to be there, on that specific planet. But the only way to fulfill this promise from the Force, that I do indeed have a special purpose, is to go on this mission to capture Darth Revan.

    I returned my gaze to the here and now to regard Master Kavar, who seemed oblivious to the time I'd taken to feel this out. “Yes,” I said finally, my tone brokering no argument, not even from a member of the High Council of the Jedi Order. “My destiny lies with this mission.”

    “Then there may be a chance we can get you back in shape in time to fulfill that destiny,” he announced. “I promise you, we will make it happen, one way or another.”

    — — —

    The Jedi Master left Vibrosword's sickbay to begin preparations for whatever it was he had in mind. Meanwhile, I was left to my own devices, free to explore this feeling of contentment, at having finally realized that there was a reason, concrete and indelible, for my existence, and that I didn't have to try and hold the galaxy upon my shoulders. The details, I knew, would come in time; four years of Jedi training and active service had, at least, taught me that much. However, no sooner had I laid back in the hospital rack to relax for a bit than the hatchway was hissing open and Silas Dan'kre came scampering up the ward. “Captain, you're awake!” he exclaimed, rushing to my side and gently brushing my arm. “They only just let me in, but they wouldn't say what had happened!”

    “Take it easy, Silas,” I said, deciding that now was not the time to tell him where he'd be going, if my intuition was correct. “Just a bit of trouble with the tech.”

    “What 'tech' are you—” he began, then slapped his forehead as his fur bristled in astonishment. “No, it can't be...that stuff is supposed to last for a lifetime—two lifetimes, in fact!”

    Though I couldn't pick out the precise details, from what I could perceive of the lieutenant's aura and the discolored outlines of the sickbay, he was attempting to slice into the medical computer and retrieve my chart. “Dan'kre, stop that at once!” I admonished, slapping his furry hand away from the input board.

    “But...how can you...?” he stammered, obviously having gotten to the part about my symptoms. “It says you're blind!”

    “In my physical eyes, yes, Silas,” I said soothingly, directing his hands away from the computer and holding them in my own as I sat up. “But I can see you just fine with the Force. Look, why don't you stop worrying about me and tell me what's been happening with the platoon?”

    “Okay...sure thing, Captain,” he said, breathing a sigh that didn't quite dissipate the anxiety that had pounded within him. “Well...Lieutenant Ibratu'na asked me for some ideas on what to do next, so I suggested a few exercises for his unit to try out. After you had taken ill, he and I had them practicing on the lander, learning how best to get in and out quickly. They're pretty good, for Army nerfs; whatever you had them doing before, it seems to have worked. And I'd keep an eye on that Corporal Dar, she's got potential.”

    I nodded, blowing a sigh of my own and tightening my grip on the Bothan's hands for a moment. “And what have they been doing today?”

    Dan'kre's aura seemed to blush a bit, but he continued. “You know those plans you had me look over?” he asked tentatively. I nodded for him to continue. “They weren't bad, but they weren't that great, either. I took them through a refined set; by the time we make the rendezvous with Battleaxe, each squad should have all three plans—direct, destructive, and circuitous—memorized.”

    “That's good,” I nodded gratefully, relinquishing my grip on his hands and reaching up to pat his shoulder. “In fact, that's great. Thank you for being there for me, Silas. I know we can pull this through.”

    “You seem awfully certain about that, Captain,” he said, taken aback. “If I didn't know better, I'd say you were planning to come along anyway.”

    “Not 'planning to,' Silas,” I said, resolute. “I am coming along. And I intend to do what I signed on to do, no ifs, ands, or buts. By the way, how are your piloting skills?”

    The Bothan's fur shot upward in a look of extreme duress, but he knew better than to balk at answering a direct query from a superior officer. “I am...competent enough...after a fashion...” he replied dully, completely at a loss for anything else to say.

    — — —

    With ship's night approaching and the intelligence officer nearly catatonic with shock, Dr. Oopal returned to the ward to perform a routine checkup, shooing the lieutenant back to his own quarters. “Interesting,” he said absentmindedly in that gravelly voice so common to his species, his eyes rolling outward as he examined me. “Very...interesting.”

    “You don't seem quite sure of what you're seeing, Doctor,” I said matter-of-factly.

    “Yes, one of the curses of working on Force-sensitives,” he muttered distractedly. “You people are constantly pulling tricks that keep us regular physicians baffled, and it's not helping my sanity. Particularly in your case.”

    “You've treated Jedi before?” I inquired.

    “Once or twice,” he said as he continued to touch his probe to some rather sensitive parts of my anatomy. “Young Georg Oakes was quite a mess when they got him back here after Lannik, but he healed up remarkably swiftly considering that we didn't have a Jedi healer in the fleet. He insisted on keeping that scar, however...a pity.”

    As the chief medical officer finally put his diagnoster away and began tapping at the medical computer, his aura flashed with irritation. Turning my head toward the hatch, I could see why; every other Jedi aboard Vibrosword, including Master Kavar, had just walked in. “This really isn't the time, Master Jedi,” Dr. Oopal protested, raising his webbed hands to hold the six humans at bay. “Captain Reyolé needs rest, once I figure out what's going on with her metabolism.”

    “We appreciate your efforts, Dr. Oopal,” Master Kavar began, politely but firmly. “If it weren't for you, we would have lost her altogether. Now, it's time for us to lend our own brand of support.”

    “But none of you are healers!” the Mon Calamari objected even more vehemently. “I cannot in good conscience let you practice an art in which you have no training, on a woman who is still very delicate!”

    “I understand your concern, Doctor, but please, this is at Captain Reyolé's own request.”

    It wasn't exactly true, but then truth has, as often as not, been a matter of one's point of view. It was enough, however, to get the medical officer to back off. Like any good doctor, he had to acquiesce to the patient's desires in matters like these. If I said that I wanted a Mandalorian shaman to take over my treatment, Dr. Oopal could hew and haw until Coruscant's sun went nova, but in the end he would have to accept my rather idiotic and masochistic request. Grumbling recriminations under his breath, the hapless medical officer left the sickbay, leaving me alone with Master Kavar and his posse. “Thanks,” was all I could say.

    “We're here for you, Laera,” Bastila Shan said, grudging respect evident in her sense. “We Jedi take care of our own.”

    The sentiment was echoed by the other Knights present, who began to spread out as Master Kavar wheeled my rack into a more open area so that they could surround me on equal sides. “We've hit upon a theory as to what happened to you, Laera,” he said, motioning for me to lie back down. “Revan and Malak, when they ordered their resurrection technology put into you, didn't seem to have taken into account the physiology of Force-sensitives. Or it might have been the fault of the supervising physician, we cannot be sure. What we do know is this: the cybernetic implants and your body are incompatible due to your sensitivity. We feel that, once you became conscious of your connection, and began to strengthen it through training, your own body began to reassert itself, taking over the implants' functions bit by bit until, finally, the entire system was rejected. This final collapse was what nearly killed you...again.”

    I laughed—I couldn't help myself—and the laughter became infectious as, first Keeh Rha, then Haydin Biddell, then the entire group, became overwhelmed with mirth at the utter irony of this entire process. Even Master Kavar chortled a bit, but he was the first to recover. “They sometimes say that laughter is the best medicine,” he quipped. “Now, let's get to work.”

    Finally managing to curtail my giggles, I lay still and began to breathe deeply. The senior Jedi placed a hand on my forehead, and one on my neck. To my right, Biddell and Keeh Rha stood, the former placing his hands on my upper arm and chest (taking care not to intrude), and the latter on my abdomen and thigh, respectively. The process was repeated on my left by Georg Oakes, opposite Biddell, and Noi-Vas Jenn, opposite Keeh Rha. Bastila placed her hands on my shins, then nodded to Master Kavar, and the combined Force energy of a Jedi Master, four Jedi Knights, and an experienced Padawan flowed into me. The sensation was utterly indescribable, and though it was far from uncomfortable, the intensity of it whisked away all conscious thought.

    — — —

    The rendezvous with Battleaxe was less than four days away by the time the marathon healing session ended, and though I wasn't back up to one hundred percent capacity, Master Kavar assured me that everything would be sorted by the time we were to make that final stopover. Back in uniform, but with a band of black cloth over my eyes to protect them while they continued to mend, I made my way to the platoon muster room, where Lieutenant Ibratu'na had assembled his people. They had spent the intervening day familiarizing themselves with the set of heavy boarding weaponry that Vibrosword carried, but what I brought with me made several of them whistle in appreciation. Dragging forty sets of Marine-issue heavy assault armor, loaded onto racks borne by two powerful repulsor sleds, I entered the room itself.

    “News travels fast on a ship this size,” I said warmly as the awestruck soldiers approached the neatly-stacked gear. “The efforts of each and every one of you to continue your training, despite the circumstances, makes me proud to serve as your commanding officer for this mission. You have well and truly earned the right to wear the armor of a Marine. Now, who wants to be my practice dummy?”

    “I'll do it, ma'am,” Corporal Seela Dar said, her aura beaming with pride and confidence.

    I beckoned her to come forward, grabbing a folded body glove off the top of the nearest rack and handing it to her. “You'll probably want to visit the refresher first,” I said with a lopsided grin.

    Less than a minute later, carrying her BDUs over one arm, the black-clad noncom returned. “Most of you know how to put on your basic battle armor in your sleep,” I began, relieving Dar of her uniform and setting it aside. “But Marine armor is a bit more complicated. This suit is vacuum-rated, and its seals will keep out anything from airborne pathogens to nuclear waste, as long as you keep your helmet screwed firmly on your face. This is partly why they call us 'jarheads,' apart from our first battle helmets resembling spice jars.”

    That got a laugh out of nearly everyone. I handed Dar her helmet, which she turned over in her hands. “These buckets are marvels of technology, folks,” I explained. “The visor contains a heads-up display that tracks movement, low-light and thermal vision modes, and an auto-polarizer and sound-dampener that negates the effects of flashbangs. It's also got an internal comlink and loudspeaker, as well as small reservoirs of pure water and nutrient paste in case you get hungry or thirsty. For even more fun, this thing can crack open a humanoid skull like an overripe melon!”

    As Dar tried on the helmet I had handed her, I began tossing more of them to the other troopers present, saving the last one for Ibratu'na. “The techs worked this one up especially for you, Lieutenant,” I said, handing him the oversized bucket that included ample space in the back for him to tuck his lekku into and still achieve full seal.

    “You honor me, Captain,” he said gravely as he accepted it, though he, like everyone else, was a bit uneasy with the fact that I was doing all this while wearing a blindfold.

    “Alright, let's not get too comfortable with these things just yet,” I admonished as the men and women of the boarding party continued to examine their new gear. “Corporal Dar, let's continue, sans the helmet if you please...”

    For the next hour, I slowly decked the corporal out in her new white black and red suit, piece by piece, explaining each one to the assembled platoon as they received their own examples. Using the hapless Tatooine native as an impromptu woman-nequin, I showed them how to personalize the fit of each part for quick and easy removal and reattachment. Once Dar had been fully decked-out in armor from head to boot, I dismissed the rest of the platoon so that they too could change. “That couldn't have been very fun,” I said to her once everyone else had left.

    “It wasn't that bad, ma'am,” she responded with a smirk, tossing her helmet from hand to hand. “As a kid, I had a bad run-in with an overly-large womp rat that was worse.”

    I slapped Dar's armored shoulder and returned her grin with a predatory smile of my own. “Lieutenant Dan'kre tells me that you in particular performed quite well during training while I was out of commission,” I said in a low voice. “That you in fact demonstrated significant initiative and even got a couple of the privates out of a jam while playing on our lander.”

    “That's right, ma'am,” the corporal replied with a small nod, her sense somewhat uneasy.

    “Well then, you should take a look at this,” I began, retrieving a small datapad from my hip pocket and handing it to the young woman, who took it. “You are now Sergeant Seela Dar, and if you choose to accept the offer, I'm willing to recommend you for transfer into the Marine Corps. The opinions of senior field commanders carry a lot of weight with the recruitment board, the same goes for Jedi Knights.”

    “I...Captain, I don't know what to say,” the newly-minted sergeant replied breathlessly. “How would this work?”

    “The Marines are always looking for good people from both the Army and the Navy, officer or enlisted.” I said, the predatory smile melting into one of genuine affection. “If you accept, the recommendation will be sent back to High Command when we drop out of hyperspace to rendezvous with Battleaxe. From there, it's only a matter of surviving our mission, and then you'll be sent to Carida for the expedited training course, which takes nine weeks. Depending on how well you do—and I'm betting that you'll do just fine—you will be given the opportunity to go on to advanced training courses, such as scout/sniper school. After that...it's really up to you, but at the very least you'll be given your own squad.”

    “Scout/sniper school...” Sergeant Dar repeated, awestruck. “Captain...please, I have to do this.”

    “I knew you would say that,” I replied, ruffling her hair in a motherly sort of way. “You were born to be a Marine, but the Army got their paws on you first.”

    “Thank you,” she stammered. “Thank you so very much...”
     
  14. TrakNar

    TrakNar Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Registered:
    Apr 4, 2011
    Awww... Laera's got a new friend...

    Now that she's back, full of vim and vinegar, and ready to get all grit and gundarks, let's get this mission underway!
     
  15. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    Registered:
    May 11, 2011
    Chapter Six


    When the rest of the platoon, clad in their brand-new armor, marched back in, I led them once again in the same warm-up exercises we had done before. For them, at least, this proved to be much more of a workout than they expected, with the weight of the armor on their bodies and the negligible, but noticeable, limitation of their mobility. When the routines were complete, several of the less-experienced troopers were clutching at stitches in their chests, sides, or backs, while others were nursing small muscle kinks.

    “I never said wearing this gear would be easy,” I said briskly as everyone took a seat. “Hut-ut, keep that helmet on, Private Utides.” The trooper, who had just begun to extract his head from the bucket, hastily plopped it back into place. “You're going to have to get used to the heft and encumbrance of these suits if they're to do you any good in battle. To that end, from now on until we rendezvous with Battleaxe, you're to remain fully armored at all times—except while eating and sleeping. I'm not that mean.”

    A couple of soldiers in the back row emitted low groans, but I didn't have the gumption or the energy to do anything about it. Thankfully, the helmeted stares of some of the noncoms was enough to make them fall into line.

    “One more thing before we continue training,” I began, taking a seat in front of the assembly and pointing to my face. “Don't let this blindfold fool you; I can see just about everything you're doing. Including you, Private Axeli.” The private, who had been adjusting the fit of his codpiece, visibly jumped. Meanwhile, I pulled a small comlink from a pocket, flicked it to a preset frequency, and began speaking.

    “Lieutenant, I think it's time we went on another run. If you would be so kind...”

    — — —

    As I led the troopers out into the companionway several minutes later, Lieutenants Dan'kre and Ibratu'na took over, the former leading and the latter bringing up the rear as the formation began to lap the warship once again. Since I was still very much on the mend, I went back to my quarters to rest up for the next day's activities, trusting in the Bothan intelligence officer's ability to think of something for the platoon to do. On that first day aboard Vibrosword, Silas had told me that he still kept up on his physical training, despite spending most of his duty hours sitting at desks or computer terminals. Thus, he was quite able to pace the Army nerfs to their limits, and then some, and I think he was quite happy to get back into the ethos of the Marine Corps.

    Meanwhile, I busied myself with reviewing his revisions of the squads' tactical plans for the boarding action itself, extinguishing my sleeping area's lights and removing the blindfold so I could actually see them (though they were still healing, I did have limited use of my eyes). Since I'd never gotten the chance to review them myself, Silas had taken the thoughtful measure of appending his revisions as notes, at least on the copies he had given me. After skimming the three datapads, I decided that he'd been correct in his overall assessment, though I thought I could detect Sergeant Dar's handiwork in the circuitous plan. My initial hope had been to assign one squad to each of the different routes, so that all three batches of thirteen soldiers would be able to specialize in one of them to a high degree of precision. After looking over the Bothan's appendices, however, I realized that this idea would have been a mistake; it was better to have all the troops memorizing all the possible plans than to have such ingrained specializations. “Adaptation” was the rule here, and I'd briefly forgotten it.

    The simple fact was that the lieutenant was much more familiar with the layouts of Interdictor-class cruisers than I was, possibly even more aware than some of the Sith crewers we would encounter. These vessels had, after all, started out as the next generation of Republic ships-of-the-line, intended to bridge the gap between the smaller Hammerhead-class cruisers and Foray-class frigates, and the much larger Centurion-class battlecruisers and Inexpugnable-class command ships. I found myself wishing that one of the latter vessels had survived the initial weeks of the war. An Inexpugnable would certainly have gone a long way toward evening the odds, but I wouldn't have said no to a Centurion, particularly Stalwart Defender. Still, one could only play the sabacc cards they'd been dealt, not the ones they'd hoped to get.

    After about an hour of poring over the plans that my unit had drawn up, I finally laid back on my rack and drifted off to sleep. I was grateful for the knowledge that, within the healing trance that Master Kavar had taught me, no dreams would trouble my repose.

    — — —

    I came out of the trance at precisely the moment I'd set, 0900 hours the next day. Feeling significantly better, though still not at full battle readiness (which wouldn't be for another few days yet), I exited my quarters just in time to watch the boarding party run past at a brisk trot, their armor rattling softly as their booted feet beat a cadence across the deck. Though still blindfolded, I caught the cocky nod that the helmeted Bothan shot me as he brought up the rear of the formation, which I returned with a grin of my own. Drawing out my comlink, I flipped it over to his bucket's comm frequency. “Enjoying your morning jog, Silas?”

    “Absolutely, Captain,” his somewhat distorted voice replied after the group had rounded a bend. “We're closing in on nine laps, then one more before I take them back to the lander for another round of practice.”

    I smiled at that. Yes, they would have to have another few goes at rapid entry and exit now that they were fully armored. “Would it be safe to assume that the rest of the hangar bay will be empty while the platoon has their fun?”

    “Pretty much, ma'am,” the lieutenant replied with a verbal shrug. “The techs tend to want to get as far away from us as possible, though I don't see why; we're such a lovable bunch. Why do you ask?”

    “Oh, no reason,” I said, putting just enough fake innocence into my voice for Silas to understand that there was, in fact, a very good reason, one that he would love. “Carry on, Lieutenant.”

    “You got it, ma'am!”

    I deactivated the device and shoved it back into my arm pocket, then set off at a casual pace toward the ship's armory. When I got there the ensign in charge, a Chagrian I'd first met the day before when I'd fetched the platoon's worth of Marine assault armor, saluted smartly. “What'll it be for today, ma'am?” he asked lightly once we'd traded salutes. “I just finished working up a shoulder-mounted turbolaser, and I gotta say, it's a real beauty!”

    I laughed. “Jeenat, assuming a turbolaser could even be chopped down so that it would fit within the average corridor, anyone who fired it would get thrown back fifty meters!”

    “Aw, nuts,” he replied in mock disappointment, punching the air. “I knew there was a catch. So yeah, what can I get you?”

    “Three flashbangs and a gas grenade,” I said, letting a satisfied smirk creep onto my face. “And not the practice ones, either.”

    Checking active ordnance out of a warship's armory isn't like buying trinkets at some tourist-trap gift shop, or even buying munitions from a planetside weapons merchant. After signing a dataform and providing a thumbprint signature after drafting a hardcopy explanation of what purpose the grenades were for, the ensign handed over the requested merchandise. This was to make sure that no unauthorized weapons made their way to critical areas for any number of reasons, ranging from basic safety precautions to the desire to head off possible mutinies or mass defections. Given all that had happened thus far in the war against Darth Revan's empire, this was an understandable measure, and it wasn't much of an intrusion. I took the belt of grenades, which had been tucked into pouches, put them on, and strode casually toward Vibrosword's hangar deck.

    — — —

    As the intelligence officer had indicated, when I got to the set of hatchways that led to the small docking bay, it was to find that only the auras of the Bothan and Ibratu'na's platoon were present. Hangars aboard Hammerhead-class cruisers were small, with only enough space to hold a pair of orbital shuttles or, in a pinch, a quartet of Aurek fighters. Since the boarding party would be staging from Vibrosword, it had been cleared of all craft to make way for the Jarhead-class lander, which took up a very large footprint. When I'd first transferred over from Zapdash, it was with such a relief to be aboard a larger vessel that I hadn't even noticed the large, boxy dropship. Of course, in all fairness, I had been rather preoccupied at the time. Foray-class frigates, on the other hand, possessed what amounted to little more than a glorified docking collar nestled into a niche in the hull, which was barely enough to support their solitary shuttlepods.

    Taking up station against the bulkhead between the two entrances, I withdrew the grenades one by one from their pouches and placed them in a line on the deck before me. Relaxing into the Force, I used it to pull the arming pins from each and, holding the detonators so they wouldn't go off until the right moment, lifted them into the air. I extended my awareness into the bay to get a sense of what the troopers were up to; sensing that they were just about to go through another quick exit scenario, I tapped the actuator on the nearest hatchway, which hissed open. Letting the fuses go, I hurled the entire lot through the portal and amongst the rapidly-debarking platoon, then placed my hands over my ears and closed my eyes tightly beneath the blindfold.

    True to their nature, the flashbangs went off with an earsplitting pow! and even through the cloth and my closed lids, I could still see the flash reflected off the bulkhead on the other side of the corridor. The gas grenade, however, made no noise, save for a low hiss, and even as the smoke from the former ordnance dissipated, it was replaced with a noxious assortment of chemical irritants designed to temporarily blind its victims and distract them with an incredibly powerful itching sensation. Releasing my ears and letting my lids flutter, I strode into the bay as the platoon recovered from the unexpected nature of the attack and fell into line. Most of them seemed taken aback, but not so much that they were thrown off-balance, and inwardly I admired them for that. A couple of soldiers, however, were still shaken, but at least none of them had started twitching with the telltale signs of gas exposure.

    “Surprise,” I said, deadpan.

    “Aw, Captain, you did remember my birthday!” Lieutenant Dan'kre said, smirking beneath his helmet.

    “Don't be silly, Mr. Dan'kre, your birthday isn't for another three Standard months!” I retorted, then turned to address the platoon. “So, now that you've all experienced the real thing, who wants to tell me what it was like?”

    Unsurprisingly, it was Sergeant Dar who answered. “Well, ma'am, the auto-polarizers and sound dampeners worked fine, and I didn't really feel a thing, but afterward, I couldn't see or hear much of anything for a couple of seconds.”

    “And that, people, is the drawback,” I said with deadly seriousness. “The only way to avoid any effects from a flashbang is to either be out of range, or behind solid—and I mean practically airtight—cover. That's what makes these beauties so effective; even with these fancy gadgets of ours, if you get hit, you're vulnerable for just enough time to ruin any sense of situational awareness you might have had. It's better than being rendered unconscious or severely incapacitated, but in shipboard fighting, those two seconds can be the difference between life and death. And now for the good news.”

    I retrieved the four spent grenades and pouched them. “These things aren't all that heavy by themselves, but each one of you are going to be carrying a minimum of five of them—four flash, one gas—with you when we board, on top of your blasters' power packs and gas cartridges, plus your other ordnance. They are very effective against Force-users, due mainly to the fact that we prefer not to wear armor. But be warned: if they see you toss one, they're very likely to simply shove it right back at you. Any questions?”

    There were none, and each trooper's sense made it clear that they understood the implications of a misjudged attempt to flash a lightsaber-wielding Sith. “One more thing before I leave you for now,” I began. “I don't want you wasting these things on small clusters of Sith troopers or crewers. Save them for when we enter large rooms with heavy concentrations of hostiles, or else against Sith armed with lightsabers and the Force. These are precious commodities, and will save your life if used correctly and with deliberation. For the best results, and to ensure you don't become the victims of blowback, try to time your release so that the detonators go off when they reach your target; I've found that a three-count works best.”

    I nodded toward the two other officers, and we exchanged salutes. “Keep up the good work, everyone,” I said, turning on my heel and leaving the bay while Silas and Ibratu'na began to resume the platoon's prior activities.

    — — —

    For the next day and a half, the men and women of the boarding party continued to train hard, while I made intermittent surprise visits, usually bringing some kind of unexpected complication to the party. That afternoon Silas led them on another practice breach, once again tackling the engine room, but this time in full armor. Since he'd warned me by comlink well ahead of time, I'd been able to work up a few fun diversions in the form of miniature motion detectors, placed in random spots, that would trigger more live flashbangs and gas grenades, as well as the entire ship's compliment of remotes, some twenty machines in all, set to boil forth as soon as the main engineering spaces were opened. Nobody came out of that one looking pretty, and the Bothan later complained that he'd been among those “killed” in the skirmish. “Suck it up, friend,” I'd told him in private. “You'll be in it up to your neck just like the rest of us, so consider that a refresher course.”

    The day that followed saw no less than three more pop-ins. Now feeling very near to full battle readiness, to the point that I felt comfortable dispensing with the blindfold, I did my best to throw yet more hydrospanners into their machinery. While the platoon ran laps around the ship, I intercepted them at a T-junction just forward of the hangar with a quintet of remotes and my own DL-3 blaster, set to stun. The melee that ensued culminated in my simulated death, but not before the remotes' blasts and my stun shots had sent twelve of them to the deck.

    As the unit was finishing up their noontime meal, I lobbed a pair of gas grenades into their midst so that they could experience for themselves what full exposure would feel like (Marine training includes building up resistance to the stuff, which is seldom easy and never fun). After a trio of corpsmen had mopped them up, Silas divided the platoon and pitted the two halves against each other in a stun blaster fight through a series of lower-deck corridors that had been temporarily cleared of Vibrosword crewmembers. Without telling him what I had in mind, I used the Force to mask my presence and, prowling the area like a taopari on the hunt, I proceeded to pick off individual troopers without anyone realizing what was actually going on. By the time the Bothan attempted to call a halt to the exercise, no one was awake to respond, and he turned around to find me pointing my blaster right at his neck, grinning as though I'd just trumped his pure sabacc with an Idiot's Array. “Gotcha.”

    The intelligence officer doffed his helmet and stared vibroblades at me. “Tell me, Captain, did any of them end up fighting one another, or did you get them all?”

    “More like the latter than you care to think about, Silas,” I replied, my smile broadening. “It was as much a learning experience for me as it was for you and the rest of them, if it makes you feel any better.”

    “Oh yes, wonderful,” he replied with mock cheerfulness, throwing up his hands. “Just what every commander wants, to have his whole unit wiped out right under his nose.”

    “C'mon, let me make it up to you,” I said, slapping his armored shoulder. “Once we get everyone roused and we get off-duty, I've got a bottle of Corellian whiskey we can crack open. We rendezvous with Battleaxe tomorrow, and I was thinking of giving the unit the day off.”

    “Well, I suppose. We've certainly earned the rest after what you put us through.”

    Half an hour later, after I'd used the Force to revive them, the rest of the platoon assembled for one final lecture from me. Their auras radiated with embarrassment and consternation, but they paid attention as I explained what would happen next. “Tomorrow we meet up with our Interdictor cruiser, Battleaxe, then move on to the target zone. We'll be in realspace for some time, getting bearings and checking up on our intelligence via encrypted HoloNet transmissions, along with conducting spot repairs and other systems checks. The crew will be very busy all over the ship, so there's really no point in conducting any more training activities. Therefore, you will all be off-duty; free to take off that armor, wash your uniforms, and rest up for the big day. Just before we make the last jump to hyperspace on our intercept course, you'll be given your last general orders and squad assignments, your callsigns and comm frequencies, and briefing bytes regarding the final infiltration plans."

    I paced once back and forth before the platoon, stopping next to Lieutenant Ibratu'na. “A lot has happened over the last nine days,” I said, an air of radiant pride in my voice. “You started out as Army nerfs, but you became much, much more. Despite everything I threw at this unit, each and every one of you stepped up to the table and gave it your all. This most recent exercise was not designed to humiliate you, but to keep you on your toes, and to teach you that, no matter what you do, sometimes the enemy is just better, or sometimes things just don't go your way. Simple happenstance has played a factor in countless battles and wars throughout history, there's just no avoiding it. You've made me exceptionally proud, and believe me when I say that I would go to war with any of you, at any time. Now, go get some celebrating done, you've earned it—and that's an order!”

    Everyone else present snapped to attention and, in unison, removed their helmets and threw their best parade-ground salutes, bellowing “Hoo-ahh!”

    — — —

    “I have to admit, Captain, you sure know how to motivate people.”

    Silas and I both took long pulls off of our whiskey, letting out sighs of contentment as we slapped our glasses against the tiny table in my quarters. I grabbed the bottle of Whyren's Reserve that I'd won off of Chek Nessai in a sabacc game two days before my departure from the Third Battalion and refilled the small vessels. “I couldn't have done it without you, not after what happened with the tech.”

    “We're Marines, ma'am, we take care of our own,” he replied, and I found myself chuckling at his inadvertent echoing of Bastila Shan's reassurances.

    “Well, you did a magnificent job of filling my shoes,” I said, weaving a little as the liquor hit me. I'd never really been that much of a drinker, and after three nights of healing meditations, I still needed one more before I considered myself in tip-top shape. “It's just too bad you went Intelligence, because you'd make a great company commander.”

    “Oh, if only I could,” the Bothan replied mournfully, his ears drooping slightly as his fur rippled. “You taught me something very important prior to the Iridonia mission, and reinforced it during the battle: you go where your talent takes you. I'm a good intel officer, or so they say, and an even better slicer, so until they find someone better, it's my duty to stay there. Besides, who'll write up the histories once the war is over?”

    I smiled, drained another shot of whiskey, and fell back in my chair. “You assume we're gonna win, Silas,” I chuckled.

    “Gotta stay positive, Captain,” he said, joining in the laughter. “I still don't know what's going to happen once things start heating up, but we've got a lot going for us.”

    “Like you, for instance,” I said with a sigh, blushing at how that had come out. Whether it was the whiskey or some other factor, I didn't know, but something about the Bothan's presence and familiarity in the Force held me fast, like a warm blanket. After a brief bit of introspection, I realized what that feeling was, and the shock was nearly enough to make me gasp in horror. Laera Reyolé, you can't fall for him! I admonished myself. He's half your age, he's a Bothan, and more important, he's your subordinate!

    “Me?” the lieutenant asked, raising his brow as his ears twitched. “Like you said to Lieutenant Ibratu'na, I'm just here as an expert slicer, not really anything else to it...” His voice trailed off as he noticed my discomfiture. “Are you alright, Captain?”

    “Just the whiskey,” I dodged, pouring another shot as my cheeks got redder. “I'm not much of a drinker, really.” It was one of those little white lies that one tells when they're embarrassed and I knew it, which made my cheeks flush a bit more.

    But the truth was too obvious to ignore. I'd first met Silas Dan'kre as a shave-tailed ensign on his first posting after graduating from the Academy, and had fought alongside him in battle after battle during the Iridonia-Lannik Campaign. We'd gotten to know each other fairly well, and despite our disparity in age and rank, I had come to think of him as a friend and comrade in the same sense as Commander Thedus Bimm, who I had known for far longer, and whose presence I still missed. Even as we had gotten reacquainted aboard Vibrosword in preparation for the coming attack, the younger officer was still just that, a buddy, someone to play a few friendly hands of sabacc or pazaak with as we discussed the coming mission.

    But when I'd taken ill and nearly died...again...I'd somehow reached out to him on a different, far deeper level. It was an unconscious, involuntary thing, it had to be, sparked by my desperate need to find some touchstone to the reality I had known when it looked like it might be taken away from me. Maybe it had something to do with his place in my destiny, or maybe it had been the way he'd taken over training the platoon as I recovered, I couldn't be sure. What I did know was this: I had forged a bond with him, he was as much a part of me as my lightsaber, but in a different, far more personal way. Was it truly love? Or was it instead just some sort of infatuation, the kind I'd never really let myself have while growing up?

    While there were no rules against fraternization between enlisted personnel, or between officers (but not between officer and enlisted—that was strictly out-of-bounds), I had never pursued a relationship with a civilian or a fellow Marine. In fact, I'd only ever had intimate relations with another person twice. Hoping for some distraction, I downed the shot I'd poured, banging the glass hard as I shook my hair out of its bun. This, as it turned out, was exactly the wrong thing to do.

    “With all due respect, Captain, I think you've had enough,” Silas said gently, shaking his head as he got up. “It's been fun, but I have to get some rack-time myself.”

    “Yes, okay,” I said, blushing still more, if that was possible, as I corked the bottle and stood up as well. “I'll see you sometime tomorrow, then?”

    “Of course, Captain,” he replied with an indulgent smile. “On a warship as small as Vibrosword, I could hardly avoid you.”

    “Try shipping out on a Foray-class frigate sometime,” I said, walking the Bothan to the hatchway and thanking the Force for the change in subject even as the evening ended. “They make Hammerhead cruisers look like luxury liners.”
     
  16. TrakNar

    TrakNar Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Registered:
    Apr 4, 2011
    Aww...

    Hey, I advocate Bothan love. Go for it, Laera! Embrace your cougar side! Get that lil guy alone in your rack and have your way with him!
     
  17. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    Registered:
    May 11, 2011
    Chapter Seven


    I rose the next morning at 1000 hours—an hour prior to our scheduled rendezvous—feeling fit and fresh for the first time in nearly a Standard week. The odd sort of “second sight” that had served me well while I had been healing was now gone, but that didn't bother me; I could still sense the auras of nearby beings without conscious effort. After enjoying a long, hot sanisteam, relaxing into the vapors as they cleansed my body, I donned a freshly-laundered set of BDUs and took a jog around the ship to get my blood flowing. As my chronometer beeped a five-minute warning, I made my way to the bridge to find Admiral Dodonna and Master Kavar standing just behind the forward viewport and Lieutenant Dan'kre sitting at the communications terminal alongside Vibrosword's comm officer. The fleet commander and Jedi Master had their hands clasped at their backs and were looking out into the mottled tunnel of hyperspace. “Admiral, Master,” I said lightly, nodding to each in turn as I joined them.

    “Captain Reyolé, it's good to see you well once again,” the older woman replied warmly. “Master Kavar and I received your report on the boarding party, it was most reassuring.”

    “Thank you, ma'am,” I said with a grateful nod. “They're ready, no doubt about it.”

    “One minute to reversion, Admiral,” the navigation officer piped up.

    “So ends our long jump,” said Captain Kathla as he strode toward our small gathering. “Sensors, get ready to pick up bearings on the rest of the fleet when we decant.”

    “Aye-aye, sir,” the sensor officer replied.

    It was at that point that I remembered that I'd hoped to meet the other Jedi in the boarding party in mock duels, but that idea had gone out the airlock when I'd taken ill. Still, now that I was back up to full health, maybe at least one or two of them could spare the time until we jumped again. The telltale vibrations of a ship dropping back to realspace drew my attention to the viewport just in time to watch as the colorful vista shattered into thousands of beams of light that swiftly shrank back into the pinpricks of stars. “We're here,” I said absentmindedly.

    “Hyperdrive is secure, ion engines are coming online,” the helmsman reported. “I've got a green board, Admiral.”

    “Admiral, the rest of the fleet is decanting,” the sensor officer added. “Drift is nominal, we're right where we're supposed to be.”

    “Good work, everyone,” Admiral Dodonna replied, turning to face the bridge crew. “Navigation, input the coordinates for the jump to Ord Mantell. Helm, get us on the appropriate jump trajectory. Comms, check in with the rest of the fleet and inform me of their status. Chief, let's get the engineers and repair crews to work checking the ship over.”

    The bridge echoed with a chorus of “aye-ayes” from the various bridge officers and the chief engineer. Master Kavar, who until then had stood motionless, nodded his approval.

    “Admiral, the fleet's responding,” the comm officer said after a few moments of silence. “Most ships report overall operational readiness, but Zapdash and Quickdraw are reporting minor trouble with their hyperdrive induction coils and alluvial dampers. Their captains insist that they will be fit to jump with us, however.”

    “Thank you, Lieutenant,” Admiral Dodonna replied, unsurprised at this turn of events. I wasn't, either; since both vessels were Foray-class frigates, they weren't really meant to go on such lengthy journeys while traveling at lightspeed. “Get us a secure uplink to the HoloNet, I want updates on the galactic situation within the hour.”

    “Aye-aye, ma'am,” Lieutenant Dan'kre replied.

    For the next several minutes, those present on the bridge concentrated on their assignments, leaving only the beeps and twitters of computer terminals and instrument panels to break the silence. I began to extend my awareness out to the rest of the fleet, briefly taking in the collective senses of the fifteen other ships' crews. Everyone's thoughts seemed to be buzzing with expectation, which wasn't surprising given the situation. Here we all were, literally in the middle of nowhere, waiting for a rendezvous that might not come. Nine days is a long time to be cut off from the rest of the galaxy, and most knew that a lot could happen in that kind of timeframe.

    I walked over to where Silas was working with the comm officer, another Bothan, whose black and tawny fur picked up highlights from the bridge deck's subdued lighting. The two were combining their efforts to swiftly achieve the desired secure channel while I looked on, watching in ignorance as they tapped keys with graceful ease. They uttered a short dialogue in their own language, which I couldn't comprehend, but the intelligence officer seemed to bristle at the other man's last remark. By the time I made my way back to where Master Kavar stood, twenty minutes had passed since the reversion to realspace.

    Battleaxe is late,” the Jedi Master remarked quietly, so that only the admiral and I could hear. “The ship was supposed to have been here when we arrived.”

    “How do you want to play this, Master Kavar?” Admiral Dodonna inquired, her voice just as low.

    “We can't do much of anything until the ships we have are ready to go,” he replied.

    “Indeed, they didn't have as far to go as we did,” the fleet commander agreed. “We're running out of time. If Battleaxe doesn't show within the next ten hours, we'll go ahead without her.”

    “Agreed.”

    The two went back to their vigil at the forward viewport, where I joined them for several minutes of terse silence. Without the Interdictor cruiser's gravity well projectors, we wouldn't be able to trap the Sith force nearly as effectively, and the lander would be terribly vulnerable without the warship's three squadrons of Aurek fighters to provide escort. After another ten minutes, as the crew began to grow slightly nervous, I decided to head aft and seek out the other Jedi, perhaps getting one of them into a practice bout while we waited. I had just made it to the portside hatchway when the sensor officer nearly shouted.

    “Admiral, I have two ships exiting hyperspace off the starboard bow!”

    “Get me a classification, now!” the fleet commander ordered sharply. “All ships to battle stations!”

    “I'm getting a coded message via tightbeam transmission from the lead ship,” Silas added. “It's Battleaxe, and they're bringing new friends!”

    “Get me a comm feed to Captain Tethet as quickly as you can!”

    “Secure channel open, Admiral,” the comm officer replied.

    “Admiral Dodonna, sorry we're late,” a voice said over the intercom in accented Basic. “We ran into some old friends who want back into the fold, and I've convinced them to join us.”

    “Admiral, I've got a feed on the second ship,” the sensor officer said in hushed tones. “Interdictor-class, transponder identifies her as Wrangler, last seen at Foerost three years ago!”

    “Captain Tethet, I'm glad you were able to make it,” the fleet commander said into the comm station. “Please give my regards to our prodigal sons and daughters, and ask them if they would be kind enough to send a representative to meet with me aboard Vibrosword.”

    “Absolutely, Admiral, we're heading into formation.” The comm channel closed with an audible bleep. This unexpected news caused a few of the crewers to whistle in appreciation, or else wring their hands nervously. While defections to the Sith cause had been rampant ever since the first days of the war, few had ever heard of anyone coming back to the Republic, and fewer still were those that did so without some secret agenda. Redemption seemed to be in short supply these days, but even those that were likely false positives had to be given some degree of leeway, or else no one would try it.

    “Master Kavar, Captain Reyolé, I would be grateful for your presence when I meet with Wrangler's captain,” Admiral Dodonna said, the surprise still evident in her eyes and her sense in the Force.

    “We would be happy to assist,” the Jedi Master answered, and I nodded in agreement, at the same time focusing my abilities in Sense Aura toward the newcomers.

    “They're legitimate, but terrified,” I said after half a minute's silent meditation. “I can't get much more precise than that, Admiral, other than the fact that their crew compliment is well below spec, but I'd wager ten years' pay they want to help.”

    — — —

    The three of us walked briskly toward the warship's hangar deck to meet the incoming shuttle, with myself in the lead and Master Kavar to Admiral Dodonna's left. As we approached the last turn toward our destination, my comlink bleeped for attention. Pulling it out, I flicked it on. “Captain Reyolé here.”

    “Captain, it's Lieutenant Dan'kre,” the Bothan said, his voice distorted but obviously nervous. “I've got some new information on our recent arrival.”

    I turned up the volume so that the other two could hear. “You're speaking to all three of us now, Mr. Dan'kre,” I replied. “What have you got?”

    “It's about Wrangler,” the intelligence officer began, more calmly than he had to be feeling. “While she was indeed last seen at Foerost, she wasn't one of the warships stolen by the Sith, she was one of the attackers.”

    That brought Admiral Dodonna and Master Kavar up short, but I wanted to know more. “What can you tell me about the vessel's prior service with the Republic Navy?” I asked.

    “She came off the ways at Corellia about half a year after the conflict began,” the Bothan rattled off. “After shakedown, she was assigned to Admiral Saul Karath's fleet, guarding Coruscant against a suspected Mandalorian raid, which turned out to be a ruse to capture Zayne Carrick, if memory serves, though the details are surprisingly well-classified. Wrangler continued to serve under the overall command of Karath for some time, until Revan and Malak took over the war effort. Assigned to their main fleet, she participated in the battles over Onderon, Dxun, Althir, and Malachor V. After that...well, we know what happened.”

    “Good work, Mr. Dan'kre,” I replied. “Thanks for the information.”

    “I just hope this doesn't turn out to be some kind of misdirection play. Dan'kre out.”

    I clicked the comlink off and slipped it back into my pocket, then turned to face the admiral and the Jedi Master. “We should still hear them out, Admiral,” I said in a low whisper as several engineers strode past. “They were well within my range of detection, and I could feel their earnestness, despite their fear of reprisal.”

    “In any case, if they try anything rash, the fleet is still at battle stations,” Master Kavar added.

    “Very well, we'll proceed as intended,” Admiral Dodonna agreed, and we turned the last bend toward the hatchways. The starboard portal slid open as I touched the actuator, and we entered the docking bay, which was now quite full with the addition of the shuttle that had arrived from Wrangler. Hands on our lightsabers, the Jedi Master and I led the way toward the shuttle as a pair of humans made their way gingerly down the egress ramp once it had lowered fully. The first was a blond, recently-scarred man of about thirty-five Standard years, whose dark, intelligent eyes darted from point to point, taking in his surroundings as quickly as possible. His companion, about five years his junior and with dark red hair, wore a patch over his left eye, with the remaining blue one keeping a steady, watchful eye on the older man. Both of them wore Sith uniforms, black knee-boots, light gray trousers and medium-dark gray tunics with thin black belts and sashes; however, I recognized their empty holsters as a gesture of cooperation in a potentially volatile situation.

    Admiral Dodonna strode forward to meet the blond officer, who took her proffered hand. “Welcome aboard,” she began. “And who might you be?”

    “Lieutenant Commander Josef Farfax,” the senior man replied. “This is Lieutenant Secar Dunnigal, my second.”

    “Admiral Forn Dodonna,” the fleet commander introduced herself. “This is Jedi Master Kavar, and Captain Laera Reyolé.”

    Farfax looked momentarily taken aback at the mention of my name, and I instantly recognized why. “The Laera Reyolé?” he asked tentatively, turning to face me. “Unofficial channels said that you'd died on Onderon, fighting the Mandalorians...”

    “That was indeed the case,” I replied gently, hoping to extend a branch of trust with this information. It wasn't classified, technically-speaking, but it wasn't something that the military had wanted to spread around. “I died, and our mutual friends had me brought back.”

    “Admiral, with your permission, perhaps we could continue this someplace more private,” Lieutenant Dunnigal suggested, his head lowered deferentially.

    “Of course," she said, gesturing up the corridor. "Right this way.”

    — — —

    Sequestered in the same nearby briefing room where I'd learned about our overall mission, the five of us had taken seats save for Master Kavar, who kept vigil at the head of the room. I sat next to Admiral Dodonna, who sat opposite Commander Farfax, with Lieutenant Dunnigal across from me.

    “It's been about three Standard weeks since the incident that sparked our desire to return,” Farfax began once we were all comfortable, his voice betraying his sheer physical and mental exhaustion. “Xaset Terep had been assigned as our Jedi liaison during the last six months of the war with the Mandalorians and, after Malachor, the ship went with Revan's fleet to the Unknown Regions. Then Revan and Malak called all the surviving Jedi to their flagship and left; when it came back, they brought the darkness with them. Every Jedi aboard had come back as a Sith, and the vast majority of the officers and crew fell under their sway. Terep told us that all weaknesses were to be purged, and punishments suddenly became much more brutal, even for minor infractions. Just before the attack on Foerost, Terep executed our captain and took command himself; we were never told why, but many of us suspected that he had been unwilling to attack the Republic in such a way.” He paused to mop his brow, as he'd begun to sweat profusely. I sensed that his words came at great cost, and I attempted to buoy his spirits through the Force.

    “With Terep in command, we fought against the Republic many times. But he wasn't a very good tactician or leader, and most of our battles resulted in long refits at various shipyards under Sith control. Finally, three weeks ago, we ran into a patrol of two Hammerhead-class cruisers and a squadron of Aurek fighters. Terep immediately ordered us to launch fighters and attack, but then something very disturbing happened. We all began to feel incredibly sluggish, and our Sith interceptors started to fall out of formation as the Aureks picked them off in droves. The Hammerheads began to bracket Wrangler with turbolaser fire, and despite everything Terep could think of, we were getting pounded hard. He realized that we couldn't win, but as soon as we had retreated, he lost his nerve and began lashing out at officers and crew alike, killing us indiscriminately. Dunnigal and I finally managed to convince a company of troopers, who had served with us during the Mandalorian war, to take on Terep and kill him, if only to save our own skins.” Farfax pointed to his scar. “I earned this, and Dunnigal lost his eye, in the fight that followed, but we were able to overcome the insane Dark Jedi.”

    “What happened next?” Admiral Dodonna asked, her voice very soft, almost motherly.

    “The crew was divided on what to do after that,” Farfax continued. “With Terep gone we were free, in a manner of speaking, from his and Darth Revan's manipulations. A cadre of officers attempted to wrest command for themselves, but they couldn't decide upon who would be captain, and they ended up destroying one another in a series of violent altercations and murders. While this was going on, I began remembering things, things I'd not thought about since before we'd even met Terep, and I realized where I should have stayed.”

    The two ex-Sith officers exchanged glances, and Dunnigal took over the explanation. “Commander Farfax confided this to me, and I agreed with him that we should never have gone off with Revan after Malachor. We, along with the troopers who had survived the fight against Terep, began to bring the rest of the crew around to our way of thinking, using the failed takeover as an example of what following the Sith would ultimately lead us to—violent self-destruction. As the senior surviving officers, the crew chose to cast their lot with us...I used to be the sensor officer, while Commander Farfax had been the off-watch executive officer. We decided that our best course of action would be to plant ourselves on the Republic side of the border, along the Corellian Trade Spine, hoping to interdict a force of Republic warships to surrender to. That's when Battleaxe showed up, and we recognized her as having escaped the massacre at Jaga's Cluster. Captain Tethet was doubtful at first when we contacted him, but with our weapons powered down and not enough gunners to man them in any case, he eventually believed our story. When he asked us to accompany him here, we readily agreed, though he hadn't provided an explanation, only coordinates.” Like with his compatriot, this explanation seemed to severely tax the lieutenant, and he too broke out in a cold sweat.

    “Redemption is a long and difficult road,” Master Kavar said, breaking the silence that had fallen after several minutes of it. “You have taken the first steps, and while I believe your stories and trust in your intentions, there is still much to be resolved. We cannot afford to delay our mission for very long; we depart in less than nine hours. If you would stand with us, we must make sure you are ready to engage in battle by that time.”

    “And if we are unable?” Commander Farfax asked, deep concern evident in his voice and expression.

    “If, by the time we are to depart, you do not consider yourselves battle-ready, set course for Ord Cestus and remain there for the time being,” Kavar explained. “We can provide you with passcodes to authenticate your arrival, and our forces there will see to your continued repair and reprovisioning.”

    Battleaxe should be able to provide replacement crewers, as well as repair teams and extra supplies,” Admiral Dodonna continued. “In addition, the rest of the fleet stands ready to provide whatever else you may need; the Force knows how much difference an extra ship-of-the-line will make in what we are about to do.”

    “How many interceptors do you have left?” I asked.

    “Twenty-two are ready to fly,” Lieutenant Dunnigal supplied dully. “We've got another ten in various states of disrepair. Pilots, on the other hand...we only have eleven fit for duty.”

    Much to everyone's surprise, I began smiling as an idea hit me. “Admiral, with your permission, I'd like to coordinate with Lieutenant Dan'kre and whatever engineers are available, as well as Wrangler's people, on a possible use for their fighters.”

    “What did you have in mind, Captain?” the fleet commander inquired, arching a brow at me. “They can barely mount a squadron's worth of ships, and in the heat of battle, they would be dangerously exposed to friendly fire.”

    “What I'm thinking of, Admiral, won't require pilots,” I said, smiling still more broadly. “I'm talking about drones, packed with baradium explosives. It's a tactic as old as space warfare itself, once called kamikaze by a long-dead civilization...”

    — — —

    While Master Kavar and Admiral Dodonna continued to liaise with Commander Farfax after having given their approval to my plan, Lieutenant Dunnigal and I left the room only to find that Lieutenant Dan'kre had taken it upon himself to meet us. “I hope I'm not intruding, Captain, but I wanted to meet the representatives from Wrangler for myself,” he explained, nodding to the lieutenant in Sith uniform standing next to me.

    “It's alright, Lieutenant,” I replied, returning his salute. “I was actually just about to call for you. This is Lieutenant Dunnigal, their second-in-command.”

    “A pleasure,” the Bothan nodded, accepting the other man's hand. “And what would you have of me, Captain?”

    Wrangler still has a number of spaceworthy Sith interceptors aboard,” I explained as we entered the hangar bay and strode up the shuttecraft's ramp. “I was hoping you'd be willing to help us to convert them to bomb-drones for use in the upcoming battle.”

    “That shouldn't be a problem,” Silas replied with a nod. “The controls on their fighters are quite simple, it wouldn't take very long to rig up a set of full slave circuitry for the lot of them, given the right number of people and proper equipment.”

    And to authenticate their story...” I said in the barest hint of a whisper, so that only the Bothan could hear. All precautions had to be observed, after all, and who knew what additional intelligence the officer could pull from the defecting warship's systems?

    The intelligence officer's ears immediately perked up as he realized what I had just asked him to do.
     
  18. TrakNar

    TrakNar Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Registered:
    Apr 4, 2011
    Oh, I see now that they have some help from former insiders, though, like Laera, I have to wonder if they can be trusted. Are they truly Sith turncoats, or is this a bit of subterfuge on their part, as they infiltrate the Republic and foil Laera's carefully-laid plans from the inside?
     
  19. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    Registered:
    May 11, 2011
    Chapter Eight


    The flight over to the Interdictor-class cruiser Wrangler was silent but short, with Lieutenant Dunnigal piloting what he called a Herald-class shuttle. The boxy, rather ungainly craft looked vaguely familiar, as though it were based off of a previous design that I'd once seen but couldn't place. The cockpit, which normally seated two in tandem, was situated on a high protrusion that extended over the main hull, which resembled an old-fashioned square-tent shelter that held cargo for orbit-to-ground transport or ferrying between starships. Silas and I shared the aft seat while the one-eyed lieutenant took the helm, bringing us into the warship's vast bay with understandable hesitancy. The shuttle landed with a slight bounce, and we exited in good order.

    If the shuttle itself was slightly shabby-looking, it was nothing to the hangar into which it had brought us. Sith interceptors, their wings folded, hung in overhead racks; several of them seemed to be missing panels, while at least one looked as though it was about to fall from its moorings. The deck was stained more than what would normally be tolerated with lubricants and spilled fuel, and a number of blaster burns, along with what looked like shallow furrows carved by a lightsaber, could be seen scattered about in clusters. The bulkheads as well were equally stippled by blasterfire, and one section near the magnetic containment shield barrier looked like it had been blown open by an ill-placed grenade, nearly compromising the entire compartment.

    This place had been the scene of one hell of a fight.

    “I must apologize, it doesn't get much better further in,” Lieutenant Dunnigal said, noticing our examinations. “We've been focusing our repair efforts on vital systems, and don't have the personnel or resources to spare on appearances.”

    I nodded grimly, picking up residual traces of the combatants' emotions through the Force. This had clearly been where Farfax, Dunnigal, and their troopers had cornered Terep; a psychic bloodstain of darkness, which spattered the deck and bulkhead near the grenade impact, marked the spot where the former Jedi Knight had died. “A lot happened here,” I said, placing a reassuring hand on the young officer's shoulder. “This was where you made your stand, isn't it?”

    “How do you...?” Dunnigal asked, fixing me with a wide, one-eyed stare.

    “It's a long story, Lieutenant,” I said simply. “Who's your senior starfighter mechanic?”

    “That would be Chief Gerrus,” he replied, pointing to a balding, swarthy man in filthy coveralls who was shoulder-deep in the innards of a fallen fighter in a corner of the bay. “He's over there, cannibalizing one of the Interceptors for parts.”

    The three of us began to walk briskly toward where the mechanic worked, accompanied by two other technicians, but the noise of active repulsorlifts drew our attention back toward the entrance. Two Ministry-class shuttles entered the bay in quick succession, followed by a large cargo carrier that had to have come from Battleaxe. Once the shuttles had touched down, their ramps descended and two squads each of Republic Army troopers spilled out and began securing the bay, covering the handful of crewers who were present with blaster rifles. An Army major in red, blue and gold officer's battle armor and clamshell helmet strode purposefully toward us, coming to attention and snapping off a crisp salute. “Captain Reyolé, I presume?” he asked smartly.

    “At ease,” I replied, returning the gesture. “What's going on here, Major...?”

    “Ethan Decamp, ma'am,” he answered, relaxing slightly. “Captain Tethet sends his regards. My men and I are to provide security and additional support while the engineers and techs offload cargo and assist in repairs.”

    “That's lieutenants' work,” I said, cocking an eye at the Army officer. “Is Tethet that bothered by what we're doing here?”

    “Not at all, ma'am,” Decamp replied, a hint of pride in his voice. “I requested this assignment, in fact; I'd served aboard Wrangler during the last war, and wanted to make sure the old girl got back in action as soon as possible.”

    “Well, that's good to know,” I said, gesturing the man to join us. “Are any of your people handy with a hydrospanner?”

    “Absolutely,” the major replied, gesturing toward the nearest squad. As he did so, I noticed for the first time that every one of them wore toolbelts over their armor in addition to their sidearms. “We worked this out on the trip over. My security detail are good enough at mending conduits, restoring structural integrity, and installing replacement gear. But we're not trained techs, so we brought along some of the best specialists from our engineering section to assist in major repairs. We'll coordinate our efforts with Wrangler's own crew, hopefully between all of us we can get her up to speed in time for departure, but we're prepared to stay aboard if need be.” He turned back toward his platoon. “Alright, let's get to it!” he called, waving his hand in an overhead circle.

    The security men immediately slung their rifles and began unlimbering tools as the cargo transport's hatches opened and the promised engineers debarked, dragging repulsor sleds full of parts and equipment behind them. Several of the troopers went inside, coming back out with yet more gear, and I turned back toward where the chief mechanic stood, gazing transfixed at the panorama of humanity as the newcomers rushed off to do whatever it was that needed to be done. After several more runs, the security men who stayed behind had the cargo transport emptied, and all three ships promptly lifted off, probably heading back to Battleaxe.

    “If you'll excuse me, Captain,” Major Decamp said after the transports had left, “I need to attend to my people. Please don't hesitate to call if you need anything.” We exchanged salutes and the officer departed, leaving Silas and I alone with the ex-Sith officer and mechanics.

    — — —

    Over the course of the next two hours, we were able to figure out how to apply the slave circuitry to the spaceworthy fighters and had begun the process of converting them. The only hitch was that Wrangler didn't have enough explosives to do the job, but this proved to be a temporary setback. The shuttles and cargo transport from Battleaxe had continued to ferry over men and matériel, so that the docking bay became a hive of activity with techs and soldiers alike running back and forth. After a quick conversation with Major Decamp, I was able to secure enough baradium from Battleaxe to make each interceptor into a flying bomb that would impact its target with the force of several capital ship-grade proton torpedoes. As an extra precaution against a possible change of heart, I borrowed one of the squads of Army troopers to carry out the actual installation of the explosives.

    Chief Ato Gerrus was friendly enough, though he was still shaken up over what had happened in the past month. He seemed eager to be able to get rid of the interceptors he'd been charged with maintaining, claiming that they were “poorly-designed rattletraps” that looked like they were “dreamed up by a blind Verpine with a sick sense of humor. I'd give just about anything to work on Aureks again.”

    Once we had completed converting twenty-one of the craft into drones, keeping another spaceworthy example intact for examination at a later date, I had Silas imprint them all with a single command override code, so that only he would have control over their flight systems and detonators. With our work in the hangar bay complete, Lieutenant Dunnigal escorted us to the main bridge. Though I wouldn't admit it to anyone else, I was glad to get out of there, as the Force within had felt greasy and corrupted. As we walked the corridors, we passed knots of crewers and soldiers hard at work; most wore Sith uniforms, but enough were in Republic colors to reassure me that this was in fact a joint venture. Finally, after a quarter hour of walking, we arrived at the command deck.

    “This was where it all started,” Dunnigal said, shaking his head dolefully and pointing to a series of scorch marks and a ruined computer console. “Terep killed our helmsman for not having retreated fast enough, he used some kind of Sith power that sent electricity streaming into the poor kid.” The lieutenant then gestured to where the command chair should have been. “He then ripped his seat from its mountings and hurled it at a bridge guard, whose head was crushed flat. After that, it only got worse.”

    “It's alright, Lieutenant,” I said, again placing a gentle hand on his shoulder. “We're here to help, if you're willing to help us.”

    “Anything, Captain,” he replied with a sigh. “Anything to get away from the fear...”

    “We need to gain access to your ship's main computer,” I said. “Can you get us in?”

    “Commander Farfax has the codes, but he left our computer unlocked when we transferred over.” Dunnigal pointed to an intact console in the starboard crew pit. “You can access it from there."

    I nodded to Silas, who jumped the two meters between the command walkway and the crew pit. Placing a hand on my lightsaber, I watched as the Bothan brought the terminal to life and began sifting through records and files. Dunnigal seemed not to notice as he paced the bridge, but I could read in his aura that he was still haunted by memories of this place. I didn't blame him for such feelings, but it cast doubts in my mind as to whether or not he'd be fit for duty in time for the coming mission. Five minutes later, however, the man's discomfiture was driven temporarily from my mind as Silas looked up at me, his face dull with shock. “What is it?” I asked, a tremor of unease shooting through me.

    “It's...horrible...” was all the Bothan could say. I jumped into the pit to join him, landing catlike beside the console, and looked at the holographic log that he'd brought up.

    “But it confirms their story,” I whispered. “We need to get this back to Vibrosword so the boarding party can see it. They need to know what they might be up against later on.”

    “Yes, Captain,” the intelligence officer replied, taking out his comlink and attaching it to the console's data access port. “Downloading log now...sending...and they have it. I've included a short text message to Lieutenant Ibratu'na.”

    “Good work. Now, let's test your codes against this ship, maybe see if we can improve them.”

    “I was just about to suggest that, Captain,” Silas replied, smiling back up at me.

    With a satisfied nod, I relaxed into the Force and performed a flying backflip up to the command walkway, landing in a crouch as Dunnigal, who I had thought was looking elsewhere at that moment, turned back toward me. He looked suddenly horrified, though he managed to pull himself together a moment later. “Sorry about that,” I said, standing up.

    “You really are a Jedi...” he said dully.

    “I am,” I replied. “Still a Marine, though, in case you were curious.”

    “I...” he began, paused to gulp in a breath, then began again. “I...don't know how to explain this...but it's a good thing they didn't detect you as being Force-sensitive...once we'd begun the second war...”

    “What do you mean?” I inquired gently. “Secar, if you know something...something that could help the Republic...”

    “I'll...try and explain,” he replied, correctly guessing my meaning. “It started after we'd left for the Unknown Regions in the wake of the victory at Malachor. Troopers, crewers, and officers would just...disappear. An officer sent by Revan, Malak, or one of his people would arrive on board, and after they leave, suddenly we're two or three hands short. No one was immune, and the selections seemed to be at random, across all departments. They say that if you got picked...there was no refusal.”

    “Picked for what?” I asked patiently, taking the officer's hand and pouring reassuring feelings into him through the Force.

    “None of us were ever told,” he said wearily. “But every time it happened...it was as if someone had reached into your body and extracted a few cells...we felt violated, somehow. The ones they took were some of our most intuitive, the ones who seemed to 'get' things more easily and readily than everyone else.” His sense blazed with sudden understanding. “I think...I think they were culling us for Force-sensitives! I can't be sure, but it's the only explanation that makes sense!”

    I didn't want to give serious consideration to what the lieutenant was saying, but even as he said it, I knew it to be true. This entire warship stank of the dark side, and it was a miracle that Farfax and Dunnigal had had the wherewithal to rise above their circumstances and lead the remnants of the crew to their present situation. Come to think of it, Laera, I thought to myself, it's a good thing that you got rid of your own emotional baggage, too... On a hunch, I began to delve deeper into the younger officer's aura, probing his sense in the Force; it didn't take long to confirm what I'd begun to suspect.

    “You are right, and you would have been next,” I said in hushed tones, and Dunnigal became white as a sheet. “The Force is strong within you, and they would have twisted it, made you into a mockery of yourself. You and Commander Farfax are to be commended for doing what you did and returning to the Republic and the light.”

    I drew out my comlink and flipped it to Vibrosword's command frequency. “Admiral Dodonna, please.”

    “Yes, Captain Reyolé, what is it?” the fleet commander's voice asked a minute later.

    “Admiral, I'm on the bridge of Wrangler, and have accessed their main computer.”

    “What have you found? Do they check out?”

    “Affirmative, they check out alright,” I replied gravely. “Is Master Kavar with you?”

    “One moment...yes, here he is.”

    “Master...this ship absolutely reeks of darkness. We need to get these people back into Republic uniforms as soon as possible. We've got one, possibly two Force-sensitives among the crew, and they're going to need our help.”

    “I'll be over with a cargo of spare uniforms right away,” the Jedi Master's concerned voice replied. “And we'll send for spares from the other warships as well.”

    “Thank you, Master. Also, could you bring Commander Farfax with you?”

    “Of course.”

    — — —

    Having accomplished everything we'd set out to do aboard Wrangler, Silas and I, along with Lieutenant Dunnigal, made our way back to the main docking bay to meet Master Kavar's shuttle. By the time we got there, roughly five hours had passed since both Interdictor cruisers had arrived in-system, half the time Admiral Dodonna had set for the fleet's departure for Ord Mantell and the fate of the Republic. The Jedi Master wasn't long in arriving, as the fleet had repositioned itself around the two larger warships, Vibrosword taking up station between and slightly above the cruisers on the plane of the ecliptic, with a vanguard of Hammerhead cruisers and Foray-class frigates surrounding this main body in a hemispherical formation. As the shuttle touched down, I caught sight of Major Decamp, who was supervising the replacement of the blown panel near the magcon shield, and beckoned for him to join us.

    “How are things looking?” I asked briskly as Master Kavar approached to within earshot.

    “We're well on track,” the major replied proudly. “Most of the damage is superficial; the biggest problem seems to be an unstart in one of the main sublight drive cores, but we should have that taken care of within the hour. On the other hand, we're still bringing crewers and gunners over to fill in the gaps so she can fight alongside us. Whatever happened here, it took a lot of the original crew with it.”

    A note of concern had begun to creep into Decamp's voice. “How many are fit for duty?” I asked.

    “Only about twenty-five hundred, ma'am, which is enough for basic interstellar operations, but not for a fighting ship.” The major shook his head with dismay. “Among the troopers...well, assuming the wounded recover fully, we're looking at maybe a battalion's worth.”

    My heart skipped a beat—no wonder the ship smelled so badly of mayhem and death. In the chaos that had erupted in the wake of Terep's mental breakdown, fully five thousand lives had been lost aboard Wrangler in the three weeks that followed. “What is your sense of the situation?” Master Kavar inquired as he and Commander Farfax joined the discussion.

    “I don't have your abilities in the Force, sir, but from what I and my people have heard, they really want to repent,” Decamp replied. “If I had to guess, most of the casualties were those who joined Darth Revan after the war began, because I ran into a few old shipmates who had a lot on their minds. They're shaken, but they were sure glad to see a familiar face after all this time.”

    “What I've brought with me should help,” Master Kavar said, gesturing back to his shuttle. “I've got about three hundred spare Republic uniforms here—” The Jedi Master paused as another shuttle arrived and landed beside his own, then plowed on without missing a beat. “—and unless I'm much mistaken, that's another five hundred from Rapier. We'll have enough for everybody within the hour, can you handle distribution?”

    “Yes sir, we can handle that,” the Army officer replied, snapping to attention.

    “Good. Kindly see to it.”

    “Right away, sir!”

    As the major left to carry out his orders, Master Kavar, Silas and myself walked off to a nearby briefing room with Commander Farfax and Lieutenant Dunnigal. “You should probably get back to Vibrosword, Mr. Dan'kre,” I said, touching his shoulder to make sure he knew I wasn't blowing him off. “I'll see you soon, and we can go over what we downloaded with the platoon then.”

    “Of course, ma'am,” he replied. “I'll help offload the uniforms from Master Kavar's shuttle, then accompany it back to the ship.”

    He left, and I entered the briefing room, where the two ex-Sith officers had taken seats opposite the Jedi Master at a round table that normally seated fifteen. Without uttering a word, I approached the commander, sat next to him, and read his aura, confirming that he was Force-sensitive as well. Indeed, both of them were strong enough in their connection to merit some form of training. I looked from one officer to the next, then nodded to Master Kavar. “Yes, he is too,” I said simply.

    Dunnigal shuddered visibly, but Farfax only shrugged. “I'm what, exactly?” he asked, cocking an eyebrow at me.

    “You're...you've got the Force, too,” Dunnigal supplied. “Captain Reyolé, she...I guess she 'read' me somehow...she's actually a Jedi, too.”

    “So...they would have taken us, wouldn't they?” the commander asked his second, who nodded. “Captain, Master...I cannot thank you enough for saving us from them! They...I...”

    “It's alright, you are both safe with us,” Kavar said, his tone gentle and reassuring. “Are you fit for duty? Do you think you can fight this ship within, say, ten hours' time?”

    “No,” Dunnigal replied automatically. “Maybe if I got away from this ship for a while, I could assume a post on some other vessel...but not here, not now.”

    “I could probably serve,” Commander Farfax said after gathering himself for a moment. “But I'm not qualified to captain Wrangler, even temporarily. I'd relieve myself of duty if we weren't about to go into battle like you say.”

    Master Kavar rose from his seat, accessed a holocomm device, and within a few moments, a three-quarter size image of a Quarren in a Republic Navy captain's uniform appeared before us. “Captain Tethet, we'll need a command crew over here as soon as you can assemble one,” he said.

    “Of course, Master Kavar,” Battleaxe's commanding officer replied. “I'll have my executive officer lead a detail to accompany our next shipment of crewers and supplies, which should be leaving in half an hour.”

    “Excellent, Captain, you have our thanks. Kavar out.”

    The holographic captain gave a bow before its image winked out, and the Jedi Master turned back to the two officers. “I think it best that you return to Vibrosword along with Captain Reyolé and myself. When we arrive, we can get you settled in and you can have some rest while repairs continue here. After that, whenever you feel up to it, you can join us on the bridge for the battle to come.”

    “On behalf of my crew, I thank you,” Farfax replied, standing and shaking the Jedi Master's hand. “You've saved us from a fate worse than death.”

    — — —

    An hour later, having made the short trip back to the flagship and settled the two ex-Sith officers into their quarters, providing them with appropriate uniforms, Master Kavar and I were heading up to the bridge to brief Admiral Dodonna. “You did exceptionally well, Laera,” he said as we walked. “Reaching out to them like that, you probably saved them from becoming Dark Jedi.”

    “No, Master, they saved themselves,” I replied, not wanting to take credit I didn't deserve. “It's a miracle, actually, that in the midst of so much chaos and death, they rediscovered their true selves after having forgotten for so long. What's even more amazing is how they followed up on that, and brought us an important additional weapon in the battle to come.”

    “I'm glad to hear you say that,” the Jedi Master replied. “Did you learn anything else from them?”

    I nodded grimly. “I did. Commander Farfax wasn't exaggerating about 'a fate worse than death.' Lieutenant Dunnigal told me about a pogrom that Darth Revan seems to have initiated throughout his empire. It appears that they, or their agents, periodically cull their fleets and armies, looking for Force-sensitives, and pulling them from the ranks and 'disappearing' them.”

    “This news is most disturbing indeed,” Kavar replied. “It also correlates with reports we've received from volunteer Jedi watchers.”

    “We have watchers now?” I said, cocking a brow at the Jedi Master.

    “Aside from cooperation with the Republic, the Jedi Order has always relied upon outside support to help us achieve our overall goals,” he replied quite calmly. “Throughout our history, Knights and Masters have raised their own militia forces to help them keep the peace, or else to combat injustice, either on their own homeworlds or throughout the galaxy. In times of great crisis, we have sometimes hired those who are willing to track Jedi, to make sure they stay on the path of the light, to report on their activities but not to interfere. Revan and Malak knew of this, and they may even have had someone watching you. It makes sense that they've continued this practice to identify Force-potentials and other targets for conversion.”

    “You mean, they're not just out to kill us?” I asked, knowing the answer even as I finished the question.

    “No, Laera. This is as much a war of conversion as it is one of conquest, and it has been that way since the first battles. We've lost as many Jedi to the teachings of the Sith as we have to their lightsabers.”

    As we entered the admiral's wardroom, I knew that I had been right to wonder, back on Dantooine, what fate might have awaited me had I not died at Onderon. Now that I knew what would have happened, now that I finally had my answer, I was able to rest easier in the company I now kept as a Jedi Knight.
     
  20. Thumper09

    Thumper09 Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Dec 9, 2001
    Excellent story! You've got fascinating characters undertaking an interesting and dangerous mission, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it all pans out between the Army-turned-Marines, the Jedi strike team, and the scars on Wrangler and her surviving crew. As if that wasn't enough, Laera's earlier dreams/visions keep me wondering if things will take a turn for the worse or not. A lot can go wrong on this mission, but they've prepared as much as they can and a lot can go right too.

    Plus, I have to say that Zapdash is an awesome name for a ship. :cool:

    Keep up the great work! =D=
     
  21. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    Registered:
    May 11, 2011
    Glad you like the story so far, Thumper!

    You should know though that this is actually the fourth in the Laera series; the three previous iterations are in my bio. Plus, for added fun there's the Tales from the Corps anthology that Trak and I wrote.

    Not that I'm tooting my own horn here... ;)
     
  22. TrakNar

    TrakNar Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Registered:
    Apr 4, 2011
    Oh dear, culling for Force-sensitives... This mission is vital, yes, but I get the feeling that there will be considerable losses...
     
  23. Thumper09

    Thumper09 Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Dec 9, 2001
    Cool, thanks for letting me know! :) I'll try to check them out when I have some time. If nothing else, consider this a positive datapoint that, at least for me, even without that background knowledge I'm not having any trouble following the story or understanding what's going on with the characters in this fic. :) Every time a question about their past experience or history rattled around in my head, this story answered it even if it was a bit later on (which is perfectly fine with me-- I like having info and details sprinkled throughout. It helps to keep me reading to find the next nugget). So good job! :cool:
     
  24. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    Registered:
    May 11, 2011
    As a writer, that's always a great complement to receive. You have my thanks!




    [B]Chapter Nine[/B]


    “...yes, thank you, Captain. Please convey my regards to your crew.”

    The elder officer closed the channel, and the holographic figure of a human Republic Navy lieutenant commander, which I recognized as being that of Quitas Nell, vanished. Admiral Dodonna then turned to regard her visitors, a smile easing itself onto her visage. “That was Captain Nell of [I]Zapdash[/I], reporting that her ship is now at full combat readiness. [I]Quickdraw[/I] reported the same condition only a few minutes prior.”

    “What of the rest of the fleet?” Master Kavar inquired.

    “Last-minute preparations are still underway,” the admiral replied, taking a seat. “The effort to bring [I]Wrangler[/I] back up to fighting condition is delaying our efforts elsewhere, but all things considered, the tradeoffs seem worth it. We cannot remain here much longer if we hope to successfully spring our trap, however.” She shook her head slightly, as though trying to dispel a haze of thought. “Thankfully, the rest of the galaxy hasn't collapsed around us while we were en route to the rendezvous point, and Fleet Command has been appraised of our situation. I have been granted final approval to commence the operation at my discretion.”

    “Did they receive my correspondence in regards to Lieutenant Ibratu'na and the rest of his people?” I asked.

    “Yes, they did, as well as a report on what transpired with your implants.”

    I resisted the urge to wrinkle my nose at that, but the Marine Corps bureaucracy needed to know about anything that could affect my ability to perform my duties. The same stipulation applied to everyone in the fleet, of course, but given the nature of my circumstances... [I]Well, at least you're back on your feet,[/I] I thought to myself instead. “Thank you, Admiral.”

    “You are most welcome,” she replied, then her smile faded somewhat. “Tell me of [I]Wrangler[/I], though. Were you able to put your idea into practice?”

    “Yes, we were, with help from [I]Battleaxe[/I] and her generous supplies,” I said confidently. “Lieutenant Dan'kre should be liaising with [I]Vibrosword'[/I]s communications and sensor officers as we speak; I expect that by the time we jump off, we'll have this end of the system fully in place and you'll be able to target them as you see fit. The yield of the explosives, combined with the interceptors' own fuel stores, should be around four point three times that of capital ship-grade proton torpedoes.”

    The admiral nodded, satisfied. “What of the general mood of the remaining crew?”

    Master Kavar cleared his throat before answering for me. “They want to fight with us, that much is clear. As you know, however, we've had to pull additional personnel from all over the fleet to fill out their compliment, which has been severely depleted; [I]Battleaxe[/I] is, even now, assembling a new command crew. If [I]Wrangler[/I] survives the upcoming battle, I recommend that the ship be sent back to Corellia immediately for refit and an entirely new roster, while those who arrived with her should be given immediate furlough and then reassigned to other vessels.”

    Admiral Dodonna blinked for a moment in disquiet. “Are things that serious?” she asked haltingly.

    The Jedi Master inclined his head toward me. “Admiral, they've been through just about every kind of hell you can imagine,” I said, rising from my seat and stepping over to the holoprojector. After tapping in a series of commands, the scenes of Terep's madness and the troopers' confrontation played itself out before them, and the fleet commander blanched. “I don't have details, but given how Commander Farfax described it, I suspect that the patrol they encountered immediately prior to this incident included Bastila Shan, aboard the [I]Endar Spire[/I].”

    “Captain Reyolé is correct,” the Jedi Master confirmed. “Three weeks ago, the [I]Endar Spire[/I], along with the [I]Feldnar Spire[/I] and the 37th Starfighter Squadron, encountered an unidentified Sith [I]Interdictor[/I]-class cruiser in the Upestis system, an uninhabited binary star system about three parsecs Coreward of the Corellian Run, driving it off after a short skirmish. Bastila forwarded the report when I asked her to join us on this mission. However, I wanted to verify that this was indeed the same warship from that battle before informing you.”

    “I understand, Master Kavar,” Admiral Dodonna replied, her sense coming back under control. “Thank you for the updates, I will take your suggestions under advisement and update Fleet Command before our departure. We should be making the final jump in approximately three hours, dropping out again ten hours after that.”

    The three of us rose, and I exchanged salutes with the fleet commander before the Jedi Master and I saw ourselves out of the wardroom.

    — — —

    The boarding party's reaction to the holorecording was very similar to that given by the admiral; some gasped audibly, others simply bore looks of utter horror, and one of the newer privates came close to being sick. I didn't need to explain to them what it meant, but it was quite effective at capturing their attention for this final briefing. “I hope you enjoyed your day off, people,” I said in low tones, once the dramatic confrontation had finished. “What you have just witnessed really happened. This [I]is[/I] the full power of the Force, in use by a dark-sider who has lost all control over his body and mind. If any of you had doubts before, let this be a reminder to you of how dangerous facing a Force-user can be."

    I paused for a few moments to let the enormity of the recording, as well as my advice, set in and churn about in the minds of those present, which included Lieutenant Dan'kre and the five Jedi of Bastila Shan's team. “Here are your final orders,” I began again, withdrawing my personal datapad from its pocket and motioning for the platoon to do the same. Once they had done so, I entered a sequence of commands that transmitted the various files to their intended recipients. “These bytes contain your final squad rosters, tactical comm frequencies, and updates to the infiltration plans. We jump off at 2100 hours, and will be arriving at our target destination at 0700 hours tomorrow. I want everyone up and ready to move at 0630, in case we get yanked out of hyperspace a bit early, so save your chatter and do your best to rest up for the battle to come. Any questions?”

    Private Goss raised his hand. “Which squad will you be marching with, Captain?”

    “We'll see when we get there,” I said simply. “I don't know what we'll find once we board—that is, [I]if[/I] we make it aboard—so I won't be able to commit us to a course of action until then. In the meantime, everyone should keep all three plans in mind, because I might ask you to switch from one to either of the others at any time.”

    “What's our priority once we make it aboard?” the staff sergeant leading First Squad asked.

    “I'm glad you asked that, Sergeant,” I replied grimly. “Just before we left, the fleet received intelligence about new anti-intruder measures the Sith have taken. Immediately after we land, the Jedi strike team and I will debark and do our best to neutralize the docking bay's internal defenses. Once one of us gives the 'all clear' signal, fall out by squads and move on to the plan you've been assigned, dispensing your trip mines at your own discretion.” Among the weaponry that had been issued to each soldier in the platoon was a nasty little toy that combined a proximity fuse with a crude identify friend/foe sensor. If the simple package didn't pick up the small lithium patch each of us had applied to our armor or clothing, it would detonate a plasma charge designed to roast anyone unlucky enough to be caught within a three meter radius, armor or no. Even I hadn't known about these until I'd had the chance to examine the equipment for myself, which seemed to indicate that it was a very recent addition to the Republic's arsenal. “Other than that, your priorities are to stay alive, kill as many Sith as you can, and keep the way clear for the Jedi and your fellow soldiers. Anything else? No? Then you're all dismissed until 0630, where we'll meet at the lander for boarding.”

    The platoon filed out, followed by Lieutenant Ibratu'na, who offered me a bow as he exited the room. This left only Silas, Bastila, myself, and the other Jedi. “I get the feeling you want to ask me something, Mr. Dan'kre,” I said obliquely, shooting him a quizzical glance.

    “It can wait, ma'am,” he said, suddenly uncomfortable.

    “As you wish,” I replied. “I need to get some rack time myself; working over on [I]Wrangler[/I] tired me out.”

    The Bothan and I exchanged salutes, and he left the room. I was about to follow him when Bastila put her hand on my shoulder. “Laera, a moment please,” she said as Noi-Vas Jenn nodded and stepped closer.

    “Alright, Bastila, but only a moment. It's been a long day and I really do need the rest.”

    “I understand,” she said with some concern. “Master Kavar told us of what transpired aboard [I]Wrangler[/I] and what you have learned, but we wanted to be sure; that's part of the reason we came to this briefing.”

    I turned to face Bastila and the other Knights and attempted to get a sense of what they were trying to get out of me. They seemed to have prepared for this, however, because they'd managed to clamp down on their auras so that I could only pick up vague surface impressions. While I could have penetrated their defenses, it would have taken more effort than I had to give at the moment, and as fellow Jedi, they deserved some measure of mental privacy. Still, it didn't take a genius, or a Jedi, to put two and two together and arrive at an educated guess as to what was bothering them. “You still think this is some sort of trap, some kind of 'taopari in nerf's clothing' gag, right?”

    “That ship was cloaked in darkness,” Noi-Vas Jenn put in, his voice subdued. “Even from [I]Vibrosword[/I] we could feel it, the pain, anger and despair, like a bloodstain upon the stars.”

    “Very poetic, Jenn,” I retorted irritably, crossing my arms over my chest. I couldn't help it; these people were intent on interrogating me and I was in desperate straits from dealing with everything that was going on. “Had you bothered to come over for yourselves, you would have felt that they're on the path of redemption. We personally cleaned out their armory, they've got a Republic command crew overseeing operations, and there are enough of our personnel on board that, even if this [I]is[/I] a trap, there's nothing they can really do to hurt us. They have no idea what we're truly after, and if we all manage to survive, things are likely to remain that way. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to bed—if you want more details, go and bug Master Kavar.”

    Without so much as a nod or gesture, I walked out of the room and back to my quarters.

    Though I wanted to throw myself into blissful unconsciousness immediately, I knew that it would be a mistake to do so. Instead, I knelt on the small space of open floor and meditated, centering myself within the Force. Noi-Vas Jenn had been correct, that vessel was indeed a flying emotional wreck, and if the Republic weren't in such dire need of warships, I would have recommended that it be decommissioned, disassembled, and its parts melted down for scrap. But we needed [I]Wrangler[/I], we needed the flying bombs that she now carried, and we needed the extra set of deflector shields and turbolasers to fight Darth Revan's fleet and protect the flagship. For an hour I knelt there, breathing in the light and exhaling the residual darkness that had clung to me after returning to [I]Vibrosword[/I]. Balancing myself and my connection to the Force so as to go into battle fully-rested and without distractions, I deliberately avoided probing for a hint of what was to come. Many years of experience as both a Marine and a Jedi had taught me that worrying about things beyond my control was a futile waste of energy. We had done everything possible to maximize our odds of success, now it was up to us to simply do what we had come here for and get the hell out.

    As I finished my meditations, feeling properly tired instead of simply mentally exhausted (there's a difference, trust me), I stood up and disrobed, tucking my uniform under my rack and laying down. Just as I closed my eyes, I felt the vibrations through the deck and bulkheads of [I]Vibrosword[/I] that indicated a successful jump to lightspeed. We were off.

    — — —

    “Atten-SHUN!”

    The forty fully-armed and armored men and women of Lieutenant Ibratu'na's platoon snapped to attention at his order as I, similarly clad but bearing only my lightsaber and DL-3 sidearm, entered the hangar bay, helmet tucked under my arm. “At ease,” I said simply, returning the officer's salute. “Is everyone ready?”

    “Hoo-ahh!” they shouted in unison as the hatchway opened again.

    “You're forty-three seconds late, Mr. Dan'kre,” I said, my gaze still on the assembled troopers. “Did you stop by the commissary to pick up the latest issue of [I]Gentlebeings Quarterly[/I]?”

    That got a laugh out of the men in the platoon; the women simply nodded knowingly. Silas, on the other hand, looked slightly stricken, but I chalked that up to nerves. He had always had trouble with pre-mission jitters—hell, anyone with half a working brain who's about to go into battle [I]should[/I] have similar feelings—but he seemed to be just a bit more out of sorts than I remembered. In any case, whatever was bothering him would assert itself in time, or else get pushed aside completely once the blaster bolts started flying. So I took advantage of the momentary absence of the other Jedi and addressed the group of soldiers one last time.

    “This is it, what we came here for,” I began, my tone even and firm. “Know that you are now Marines in spirit if not yet in name. Know too that whatever happens in the next few hours will affect each and every one of us for the rest of our lives. This isn't about light versus darkness, the Republic versus the Sith, or anything else. This is us, just us, going into battle one more time. Watch each others' backs, help each other out, and fight like I know you can. Do that, and we [I]will[/I] succeed.”

    As if on cue, the hatchway hissed open once more as I finished my address, admitting Bastila and her people into the bay. I turned with parade-ground precision to face them. “First Marine Strike Platoon all present and accounted for,” I said crisply. The name was by no means official, but it felt good to say and I could sense the pride in the troopers assembled behind me.

    “Thank you, Captain Reyolé,” Bastila replied mechanically. [I]At least she remembered you're a Marine first,[/I] I thought to myself, concealing a satisfied smile. “We still have twenty minutes until reversion.”

    I nodded, then turned back to the formation. “Platoon, helmets on! Seal up and mount up, go go go!”

    The small bay, which had fallen to near-silence, was overrun with a cacophony of noise as eighty-four booted feet broke formation and entered the lander's five hatchways, which had already been opened, in magnificent order. Not a minute after I'd given the word, everyone was ensconced in a seat, bucking themselves in quickly and confidently. I took a station near the forward port egress hatch, alongside the bulkhead that separated the troop compartment from the dropship's vital systems and, in turn, the cockpit, where a small intercom switch and pickup were placed. “Internal comm check, Jenth Esk Two Two Eight.” I said into it once I'd strapped in.

    “Jenth Esk Two Two Eight,” the reply came back smartly. “Pilot, gunners and flight engineer reporting. We have a green board for engine prestart.”

    “Green board acknowledged, you are go for prestart of repulsorlifts and sublight engines. Ignition and liftoff to commence on command of Admiral Dodonna.”

    “Acknowledged, we are commencing prestart sequence and sealing hatches.”

    “Very well,” I said, concluding the conversation for now as the bay was filled with the hissing of well-tended hydraulics. “Swift flying and sure shooting, out.”

    I half-expected the Jedi to sit themselves opposite the forward hatches on the port and starboard sides of the lander, and I wasn't disappointed. Bastila, however, had taken the seat closest to the rear exit ramp, and seemed to have gone into a meditative stance. I knew at once what she was doing, and for the first time I had cause to wonder if battle meditation worked in hyperspace. The crew of [I]Vibrosword[/I] would certainly begin feeling more confident, but the rest of the fleet... [I]Well, that's for us to find out, isn't it?[/I] I said lightly to myself as I turned toward Silas, who as usual had taken the seat right next to mine. “You okay?” I asked him over our private channel as the lander began to vibrate, its systems coming fully online after having been on standby for the past half-hour.
    His sense spoke of reluctance, but I attempted to bolster his confidence by laying a hand on his armored knee and caressing his aura with the Force. Oddly, this made him even more nervous, and he didn't reply. I withdrew my hand and connection, but continued to query him. “Silas, what's wrong?”

    “I've been thinking, Captain,” he said after a beat. “Over the past few days, you've begun acting...oddly...toward me. I know humans and your mannerisms well enough; not as well as my own people, but the signs are there. Subtle, but there.”

    My innards squirmed a bit as I took this in. I didn't need the Force to tell me what his statement meant, but it sure helped—not that I [I]wanted[/I] such help. “Go on,” I said, managing not to betray how I felt in my voice.

    “Things you've said to me,” he began, as though ticking off items on a list. “The way you alternate between my clan name and given name, even in front of other officers. Your relaxed attitude when we're on duty together. How you invited me to your quarters for drinks the other evening and how you behaved toward me as that evening drew on. And that somewhat flippant display on the bridge of [I]Wrangler[/I]. Forgive me if this is in error, Captain, but I think you have developed feelings for me that go beyond our professional relationship.”

    I was, at the same time, both outraged and immensely relieved. Silas wasn't stupid; in fact, he was one of the smartest Marines I'd ever known. He was also highly intuitive, both traits being essentials of the slicer trade, near as I could tell. I hadn't really counted on him putting the pieces together so quickly, however, though I should have expected it. Therefore, I chose to go with my gut and told him the truth. He deserved to know, and there was nothing to be gained by holding back now. “You...you're right, Silas,” I said dolefully. “I'm sorry if that makes you feel uncomfortable."

    “On the contrary, ma'am,” he said, gently putting my hand back on his knee and covering it with his own, his aura radiating warmly with awe and relief. “Now that we're on the same wavelength, I must confess that I've always admired you, even from afar. You taught me how to stay cool under fire, and you've saved my life at least three times. On top of that, you have always put the needs of the unit above your own, and you're probably the finest combat leader I've ever known.” He paused for a moment, wondering. “I do have to ask, though...have you always felt this way?”

    “No...” I confessed, after a few moments of feeling things out. “It was only recently, after I'd taken ill, that these feelings manifested themselves. You were the only familiar sensation for me as I recovered, and I feel as though I unconsciously locked onto you as a source of comfort.” I paused for a moment, unsure how to proceed. “Silas, I don't know if this is love or something else, or even if it could work out between us; Jedi aren't supposed to have attachments. In any case, you...you deserved to know.”

    “I understand, Captain,” he replied. “And I'm glad that I was able to pay you back for all you had done for me. But...maybe this isn't a hydrospanner in the works. Maybe it's something for us to fight [I]for[/I] instead of [I]against[/I].”

    “If that's the case, then maybe you should start calling me Laera,” I suggested, squeezing his hand and smiling underneath my helmet. [I]Oh, sweet release...[/I] I cooed to myself as my spirits soared.

    At that exact moment, the compartment was filled with a keening series of warning klaxons. The fleet was dropping out of hyperspace, and the Force was suddenly boiling over with a tumult of emotions.>
     
  25. Thumper09

    Thumper09 Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Dec 9, 2001
    The "new" Marines really have some guts to still be willing to go into combat after watching the recording from Wrangler. I hope for their sakes that they won't have to face any of the types of things they saw on it.

    I'm curious to see how things will change on the mission with Wrangler present, compared to the original plan. I'm sure the added firepower will be a bonus, but I could also see how the ship could cause some hitches in the plan.

    I liked the conversation at the end between Laera and Silas. It was mature and genuine, and hopefully after this mission they'll have a chance to explore it further.

    Great post, and I'm looking forward to seeing how the mission unfolds! :)