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View Full Version : Compilation of Ronin's 22nd Regiment



Lieutenant Paladine
17 December 2008, 05:14 PM
I did this for Ronin, even though he didn't ask for it. Merry Christmas All!


22nd Regiment:
A Lesson In Betrayal

Kamino, Clone Primary Training Facilities. First Floor.
Jedi Knight Paj Verdana watched the children sat at their desks, eyes riveted to the imbedded screens, absorbing terabyte after terabyte of information. Every child dressed in identical blue jumpsuits. Every child identical.
They paid him no attention as he strode round the cavernous circular chamber, his boot heels clicking on the blue-grey deckplates the only sound aside from an occasional cough or fidget from the children.

Adult clone troopers in full armour and with rifles at port arms were posted in front of doors at opposite sides of the room. Verdana's slow stroll took him past each of the two troopers every three minutes exactly, FS-6196 noted as he stiffened and snapped to attention at the general's approach.
Almost as precise as us now, FS-6196 though. He, better known as Lance, and Verdana had fought together in several battles over the last three years and finally it looked like the war might end: Dooku was dead and Grievous was being hunted down in the Outer Rim.
"General," Lance nodded.
"You needn't do that every time I pass, Lance," Verdana grinned, his arms folded in opposite sleeves. He found this pose kept the troops as relaxed as possible. Whenever they saw his hands leave his voluminous sleeves they generally all stiffened and got ready for orders.
"When this war's over, my friend, I really must take you out for ale," he smiled.
"That would be...nice, sir," Lance replied, "I've occasionally wondered what happens to us when the war ends."
"You get to relax. Take off that armour. Put away that blaster. Have a normal life, I hope," Verdana decided to stop his pacing and stood next to Lance, watching the children. They never stirred, didn't get distracted by or eavesdrop on his conversation with Lance, just kept studying. Their headsets droned on with audio instruction, their individual screens accompanying the monotonous voice with endless images. So like droids, Verdana thought to himself, but they're not. They're human. The sons of the Republic.
Verdana nodded toward the children; "a normal life for them too, I should think."
"Well," Lance ventured hesitantly, "not exactly a normal life. Sir."
He was right. Removed from the tanks ten years ago, Lance had only another twenty years to live. The clone army's rapid maturing also meant rapid aging and a premature death. Verdana realised that the hundred children before him would probably all be dead before he himself was.
"I'm sorry sir, I shouldn't have-"
"No, Lance. I'm sorry," Verdana replied grimly, bowed his head and continued pacing round the room.


The children had moved on to a reaction exercise; styluses in hand they designated simulated targets and objectives on the screens, eliminating holographic enemy while protecting friendlies. Every child moving quickly, precisely, in unison.

Then he felt the atmosphere change. Verdana looked across to Lance. The clone's head was tilted to one side; a habit he had whenever he was receiving a transmission, and around him the background whisper of the children’s headsets had ceased.
"Lance?"

Suddenly Lance and the other trooper were raising their blasters toward him.
"What are you doing?!" Verdana cried out in alarm though he could feel their killer instincts through the Force. Cold, emotionless and overwhelming.

His lightsaber intercepted the first bolts and sent them off into the ceiling but stood at opposite sides of the room the two clones: Lance and his vat-brother Raze, had him in a crossfire. The next blaster bolt he sent back at the firer, catching Raze full in the chest and dropping him to the deck.
But he paid for that momentary focus on a single foe as Lance's shot clipped his thigh and the Jedi staggered.
He turned to confront the remaining trooper. Lance stood lining up his next shot. The way he held his rifle and stood leaning in to take the recoil, side-on to his enemy to reduce his profile: Verdana had seen it countless times over the last three years. But he had never been its target.

Lance fired again. And again. And every bolt Verdana sent into the ceiling or walls. The clone fired at the Jedi's feet, hands, face, everywhere but each shot was met by the knight's laser sword.

And then the trooper lowered his aim from the Jedi. And they were upon him. Small hands grasped his brown robes, his arms, his legs. He cried out in surprise as the young clones came at him but he couldn't bring himself to attack them. Verdana struck at them with the Force, sending a dozen of them flying but they kept coming, swamping him. Small but strong, skilled fingers twisted his lightsaber from his grip while others found his eyes. And finally he collapsed under their weight.
A child sat astride his chest, stylus held overhead in a two-handed grip like a dagger.

"Nooooo!"
22nd Republic Clone Commando Regiment
All In A Night's Work

Vollanda, Mid Rim. The Second Year of the Clone Wars.
0100hrs (local time)

The plain was silent, just a little wind swaying the tall grass and the trees at the forest's edge. While Vollanda's two moons bathed the grasslands in pale light, when they weren't obscured by the clouds scudding across the sky; the forest was a well of darkness.
Alpha squad were set up in the high grass at the bottom of a hill almost half a klicks from the forest's edge. Their black mark III Katarn armour was covered with filth, ferns and tufts of grass. The camouflage combined with the dim light made them all but invisible.
The four commandoes; Pawn, Rook, Knight and their sergeant: King, were spaced out at maximum secure comms range. This was enemy territory and open communications were too risky.
Pawn shifted uncomfortably. No matter where he lay or knelt there always seemed to be a rock digging into him.
"Don't let sergeant Whitefeather see you fidget like that," Knight said, resisting the subconscious urge to rub his forehead.
"Don't let the enemy see you fidget like that," added Rook.
"Talking of the opposition, aren't they a little late?" Pawn commented, "You'd expect them to be punctual, being mechanical an' all."
"They're killing machines, Pawn. Not clocks."
The four of them had been camped out at the edge of the grassy plain since sundown and the wait was beginning to get to the squad's combined scout-and-demolitionist.

Vollanda had defected from the Republic to the Separatists (no one in the GAR except officers ever referred to them as the Confederacy of Independent Systems) early in the Wars. Ever since, the seppies had been using it as a staging point for operations further into Republic space, but now the Republic was pushing back the seppies in this sector and Vollanda had become a lynch-pin.
While the seppies fortified their positions and dug in at major settlements, the Republic conducted raids.
Vollanda was now under a GAR orbital blockade but three things prevented a normal siege. Firstly energy shields over the major cities ruled out orbital bombardment. Secondly logistics prevented invasion. With battles raging across the galaxy the GAR couldn't afford the heavy losses that conventional ground assaults would result in. And thirdly that elusive enemy of the soldier: politics. Full-out assault would result in heavy collateral-damage. Which, in civvie-speak, meant dead women and children on the morning holonews putting Coruscanti off their cereal.
Thus the 22nd Republic Clone Commando Regiment's Alpha squad had been covertly inserted onto Vollanda. Alpha prided themselves on being one of the regiment's few pure pods, rather than mongrel squads like Kappa or Sigma.
So far the four had been conducting guerrilla warfare on the seppie forces for a couple of months: fuel depots blown up...landing fields mined covertly...MTTs ambushed in mountain passes...Knight alone had racked up a dozen seppie officer kills with his DeeCee's sniper attachment.

And now they were acting on intel from above: the orbiting GAR blockade consisted of more than just warships. There was also a Clone Intel Division Eve. The 'Eve' was a recent development: a Corellian corvette variant designed for monitoring enemy communications. Studded with antenna and aerials all over its hull, the Eve was lightly armed and required other vessels for protection. Nevertheless, this time Eve had come up with the goods: apparently Alpha's hit-and-fade tactics had been beginning to really hurt the seppies and they were consolidating in a handful of key settlements. This meant transferring forces from smaller garrisons to the key locations. Eve had picked up all this in seppie communications between OOM droid commander units, and that the forces wouldn't be transferred by air for fear of GAR fighter raids from orbit.
Thus Alpha found themselves sat in a grassy field on a cool night waiting for a convoy of STAPs, ATTs, MTTs and Fett-knew-what-else to hover past.
A bush at the edge of the forest shifted and King heard Knight's breathing catch. Each commando heard his brother's breathing as a constant, comforting background noise. Without that constant sound, that rhythmic reminder that he and his brothers were alive, well and together, a clone commando felt extremely lonely. King had heard that even natural-borns experienced the same feeling. Generationals, who spent their entire lives aboard starships, were accustomed to the hum of a ship's systems and the minute vibration of its drives running through the ship. Remove them from their ship and they felt like a part of themselves was missing.

Knight released his breath as a stazelle bounded out of the forest and across the plain. The moonlight caught the mammal's shiny pelt and large antlers.
Over the comm someone swallowed.
"Anyone hungry?" Rook inquired, "I can slot her, gut her and roast her all in one shot."
"Quiet," King snapped.
Though the forest was pitch-black to the naked eye, it was painted in false tones of green on the commandoes' HUDs. Not quite daylight-level vision, but King could make out movement between the trees. And it was more than stazelle.
The treetops deeper in the forest were moving as something large pushed its way through and eventually the whine of repulsors escaped the forest. First came the distinct high pitched whine of STAPs as a pair shot out of the tree-line: scouts for the convoy. The four commandoes let them go; they were waiting for a bigger prize....
and then came a pair of Armoured Attack Tanks, beige hulls seeming grey in the dim light as clouds concealed the moons. With a crunch of breaking wood four Multi-Troop-Transports broke through the trees.
Pawn swallowed and shifted his grip on his DC-17m. Those four MTTs alone meant Alpha was outnumbered more than a hundred-to-one and he watched as more and more huge seppie machines of war exited the forest and began to float across the plain like gigantic insects marching back to the hive.
They waited patiently as the lead vehicles neared the middle of the field, the ATTs at the sides of the convoy just two hundred meters from the four concealed clones.

"Knight. Light 'er up," King said, giving Alpha's sniper his cue.
But when Knight raised his DC-17m and fired at the convoy no plasma bolt, ardanium slug or grenade flew from its barrel.
"Alpha One to Raider. Target painted."
"Raider One to Alpha. Acknowledged. Twenty seconds."

A few dozen kilometres north of Alpha squad's position Raider flight: four ARC-170 fighters tore across the countryside flying NOTP. The ground was a green blur in the HUD of Raider One's pilot: Jolly. He looked to his left and gave a thumbs-up to Raider Two. Night vision and a lifetime of training allowed the four clone pilots to keep a tight formation while flying exceedingly low at top speed.
"Torpedoes armed," announced Yoss: Raider One's bombardier.
"Our six is still clear," Zig replied from behind Jolly.

Raider flight had dropped down from orbit a hundred klicks out and been flying nap-of-the-planet all the way since at top speed. They figured it was best to get in, drop the torps and burn it back to orbit as fast as possible. Sneaking about was more Alpha's territory.
Yoss was glued to his gunnery console. The flight of ARC-170s would fly over the seppie convoy in a split second. And in that split second Yoss and the other three bombardiers, with their R2s' aid, had to find the patch Alpha was painting with a laser designator and drop hell on it. After that it was up to Jolly and Zig to respectively fly them home and cover their shebse.




Knight kept the designator steady. The device itself was a small attachment mounted on the side of his DeeCee's sniper module. Courtesy of Xerrol Arms, it focused a laser of a wavelength imperceptible to the eye on whatever it was pointed at. Apparently the company had plans to develop the technology to a lethal level for use as a sniper rifle. Knight couldn't wait to get his hands on one.

Rook already had his DeeCee's anti-armour attachment fitted to his rifle and he was sighting the lead ATT. Pawn mirrored him by lining up the rear tank. Soon after Raider flight dropped their torps King wanted Alpha to move out, but anything the ARC-170s didn't take out would probably start searching the area, thus they prepared for a fighting withdrawal.
King and Knight would retreat first, sprinting thirty meters back toward the forest while Pawn and Rook engaged the droids, then they too would run under covering fire from King and Knight. The leap-frog would continue until they could fully disengage. Hopefully that meant the cover of the forest and they'd be dozens of klicks away by sunrise and the inevitable Vollandian investigation.
That's if all goes to plan, King thought, scanning the northern horizon for Raider flight.

Jolly's grim expression loosened slightly as he spotted the seppie convoy through his nightvision.
"Yoss?"
"I see her dammit! Torps away!"



Approaching at supersonic speed the droids neither heard nor had chance to spot the flight of GAR fighters. And suddenly the convoy was engulfed in blossoming explosions. All four commandoes were forced to look away as their helmets' nightvision visors were overloaded.
No one heard the four ships roar overhead and break for orbit, though their sonic booms washed over the plain a second after the torpedoes hit.
"Raider Four to Raider One. Jolly, we had a misfire. The torps didn't fire. I repeat. Raider Four misfire."
"Fierfek!" Jolly cursed.
"We're not going round again, are we?" Yoss moaned and Zig watched the explosions light the night through the sights of his rear guns.
"No, buggrit," Jolly swore again, "they'll be launching vultures from the city as we speak. Alpha'll have to deal with it."
Zig resisted the urge to argue. Jolly was nothing if not stubborn and it was his hand on the stick. He settled for a quick salute down at the burning plain as Raider flight shot toward the safety of space.




King's lungs burned as he pumped his arms and legs, blaster bolts tearing into the turf around him. Ten meters to his left Knight was also sprinting for all he was worth and behind they could hear the thwump! of their brothers firing anti-armour rounds at the remaining seppie forces.
In unison they turned and dropped prone, fighting to steady their weapons against their ragged breathing and adrenaline-shakes.
"Rook. Pawn. Go go go," Alpha's sergeant called out as he surveyed the enemy. Raider flight's strike had taken out over half of the seppie vehicles. All but one of the MTTs, all of the HAGs and a large number of the ATTs were scrap.
But that still left six tanks and one troop carrier.
As Rook and Pawn ran past them toward the forest King and Knight gave them covering fire...though at this rate they would run out of AA rounds before they made the tree-line.

Knight, more comfortable with his sniper attachment than AA, braced his rifle against his shoulder and grunted as it kicked. It sent a shell into the side of an ATT manoeuvring round a burned out multi troop transport, punched through its weaker side armour and detonated within. The tank's repulsors failed and the gutted wreck dropped to the ground, smoke billowing from the turret hatch.
"King. Knight. Go go go!"
And they continued to leap frog away, carefully taking shots at the pursuing tanks...further back the MTT's hatch creaked open and its rack of droids extended out from the depths of its gullet.
One hour later
Pawn winced as Knight wrapped a bacta-soaked bandage tight around his brother's arm. Pawn had been a bit too close to a blast from one of the ATTs' cannons as they had fled into the forest, and he'd got scorched. By the time they had reached cover there were only two tanks still operational, but those two had opened up with their missiles and tore up the forest around the clones, driving them deeper and deeper into the woods.
Pawn, nursing his right arm, had lead them into a gorge within the forest and the terrain had forced the seppie tanks to give up the chase.
Thus they took a few moments to dress their injuries, reload with what meagre ammunition remained, and fill their canteens in the river snaking along the bottom of the gorge.

Pawn nodded his thanks while Knight covered the scout's bicep with a replacement section of black bodysuit. The Katarn armour plate over that part of his arm had absorbed the brunt of the blast and was now scrap but Knight tucked it into Pawn's backpack nonetheless. If the seppies hadn't suspected Republic commandoes were operating on Vollanda before, after the hit on the convoy they sure would. Especially if any of those droids had had the brains to call it in to their HQ. Still, they packed up all their waste: empty ration packets, spent power packs. Never get sloppy and leave a trail, sergeant Whitefeather had lectured them, Even after making a strike and announcing your presence, fade back into your surroundings. And that meant putting as many klicks between them and any remaining droids as possible. Even as the seppie tanks had been pounding the forest, B1s were deploying from the MTT and moving toward the forest.

With clouds now filling the sky, the bottom of the gorge was pitch black and they had to use their nightvision for everything. Rook was on stag watching the mouth of the gorge, leading back up into the forest, while the other three were forty meters down it by the river.
Every five minutes Rook double-flashed his helmet's tight beam lamp down at them.
All clear.
"How you doing, vod?" King asked, sitting on a fallen tree next to Pawn.
"Not too bad sarge," he replied, flexing his arm confidently though he was clearly in considerable discomfort. "I've been checking the topographics and I think we're maybe two klicks from the eastern edge of the forest."
King suppressed a sigh, "so we're running out of trees to hide behind? What about this gorge?"
"Watercourse sarge, obvious E&E route," Knight commented. That was another thing Whitefeather always hammered into them, use the terrain to your advantage but don't rely on it too heavily. Remember that what looks like good cover to you looks to your enemy like a good place to search.
Pawn nodded before continuing. The clone's photographic memory had gotten him the dubious position of Alpha squad's scout. "We're really just in a gully at the moment, leading down into the gorge proper a klick in that direction. The gorge itself runs pretty much east-west."
King was about to answer when something flashed repeatedly in his peripheral vision.
Rook flashed his lamp over a dozen times then began crawling as fast as he dared back down toward his brothers, only speaking when he was sure he was within the secure ten-meter range.
"Tinnies. Must be the ones from the MTT. What's our play?" Rook asked, already sighting his rifle back up toward the gorge mouth and the forest, finger inside the trigger guard.
"No wets?" Knight asked quickly, scanning the opposite direction and the cliffs to both sides with his own weapon. If they were only being pursued by droids they should be able to evade them easily enough, but if there was a living officer directing them then things were worse.
"Didn't see any," Rook responded, his eyes never leaving the mouth of the gully.
"Okay Alpha, move out. Knight on point. South to the gorge. Pawn behind Knight, me and Rook'll cover our shebse."
If they were being tracked by live, well trained enemy, they’d have been inclined to avoid the river…but with droids on their tail it was worth risking it.
As Knight and Pawn began to move off a B1 battle droid, its beige metallic body seeming bonelike in the low light, approached the path leading down into the gully. Both King and Rook tracked it with their rifles. If it made a step into the shadows of their hiding place, they d have to drop it and run. The skeletal droid stopped at the edge, scanning the muddy path with its optical sensors. Rook was pleased he'd crawled rather than ran back from his lookout point; no discernable tracks. B1s were equipped with sensors comparable in power and resolution to the human eye, with no particular benefit in low-light conditions so, if they were lucky, the droid would just move on.
But tonight hadn't exactly been a lucky night.
Before it even managed to plant its raised foot on muddy slope down into the gully, King's single shot blew a smoking hole through it's torso, the blue plasma blast exiting through the droids backpack in a shower of sparks and shooting off into the underside of the tree canopy.
Almost as soon as the sound of the blast had echoed off though the forest they could hear the sound of cheap servos: more droids on the way.
Hoping Knight and Pawn were having better luck down towards the gorge, King and Knight turned and moved off.

0530hrs (local time)

After fighting through the dark gorge for almost three and a half hours they climbed the sheers southern face of the valley. Throughout the trek-come-battle they had swapped roles to give each other time to reload and catch their breath while others fought rearguard. At the moment it had been twenty minute since their last engagement it seemed like they were in the clear. But Pawn never quit worrying until seems like became is.
As they scrambled up to the rocky edge of the gorge they could see the sky lightening though there were still clouds overhead. Exhausted, their muscles crying out for rest, they ascended carefully. They had decided not to exit via the end of the gorge some two klicks further east: if any of the droids had reported in during the night's fighting the end of the gorge would be prime ambush territory.
Knight slowly raised his mud-smeared helm to look over the edge at the terrain beyond. The forest was now far behind to the west and he found the terrain had turned into rolling hills of bracken.
And not a droid in sight.
Easing himself over the edge he scanned their surroundings through his rifle's scope.
"Clear."
And the others followed him up, Pawn still favouring his injured right arm. He turned to King with a complaint on his lips only to find King holding one hand to the side of his head and all their comms came alive.
"Valiant to Alpha. Come in Alpha." A cultured Core Worlds accent.


Pawn groaned, "shoulda stayed in the gorge."
"Alpha One to Valiant. Receiving you loud and clear. Over," King responded.
The officer was suddenly cut off by a gruff and instantly recognisable Corellian.
"And just where the [expletive deleted] have you been, Alpha? Wez been trying to contact your lazy arses for hours!"


"Definitely shoulda stayed in the gorge."
"E-and-E boss," King replied. He hated it when anyone put Alpha down. He especially hated criticism from sergeant Aricoza.
"Oh really? Well, no rest for the best. Command has a new mission for you. You're to infiltrate Wirrula: the capital, and bring down the shield. Youze got twenty hours. Valiant out."


Knight looked toward the city. West. The complete opposite direction to which they had fought through the night.
King took a deep breath, "Alpha! On your feet soldiers! Pawn. Pick your face up and take point. Knight, cover our shebse. Rook. I want stazelle steak for breakfast. Oya!"

THE END

22nd Republic Clone Commando Regiment
False Flag

TC-1979, known casually as Top was the highest ranking clone in the 22nd Regiment. He was the Regiment. While Jedi had lead most of the GAR's forces early in the war, as attrition wore down the number of Jedi able to take command roles those positions were taken by both natural-born and clone officers. And if the truth be told, it was probably for the best. While the Jedi were formidable warriors, always dedicated to doing what was right, they weren't generals.
Top, on the other hand, had been trained since childhood by career soldiers from all ranks. He neither liked nor disliked his position. It was what he was made for. But it didn't make it any easier sending brothers out on missions knowing that some wouldn't be coming back, and being the head of a commando regiment, the missions they got were amongst the hardest, the dirtiest, and the darkest.
Like this one.


Karfeddion, Senex-Juvex Sector. The Second Year of the Clone Wars
0125hrs (local time)

A dark form glided silently across the moonlit gravel garden; millions of small pebbles swept into rows and spirals. At once both a work of art and the simplest of intruder alarms. It was impossible to cross the stone garden surrounding the governor's mansion without both making noise and leaving telltale tracks. Yet the armour-clad figure had crossed it unnoticed.
Flattening himself against the mansion wall he brought up his rifle; a bulky BAW E7 blaster and motioned to his squad mates at the outer wall. And one by one the other members of the squad silently crossed the garden, taking up positions around the first intruder. Quiet, professional, one covered the building's wall in each direction while another watched the garden and outer wall and the first knelt by a plant pot and extracted a small package from his tan webbing: a Sheer Silence Bubble generator and commtrigger. After switching the commtrigger on and testing its power, he carefully concealed it behind the plant pot at the base of the mansion wall.
"Set,"

his Jabiimi accent came over the small squad's commnet.
Next he readied his spike-launcher. They had to move quickly; a pair of guards patrolled the outer wall every five minutes. In addition the white building was in stark contrast to the dull metal plated armour and red tabards of the four Jabiimi Nimbus commandoes.

The grapnel dart sunk itself into the underside of the fourth-floor balcony directly above them and the first Nimbus commando began to ascend. His repulsor boots, which had allowed him to silently and without trace cross the intricately patterned gravel-garden, also enabled him to scale the wall soundlessly with his feet cushioned a centimetre from the white permacrete itself.
Reaching the second storey he had to angle his boots and carefully move left round a large transparisteel window. When the repulsor boots were flat against a vertical surface it was difficult enough getting traction, but this was a true challenge. Sweat beaded on the man's head inside his grey peaked helmet, its red visor and HUD bathing his face in a sanguine glow.
Slowly but steadily he made it past the window and up to the third floor window. Still all was quiet, no sound from within the house, the occasional hoot of nocturnal avians in the surrounding forests...and the sound of the two guards making their way along the perimeter wall's walkway.
Moving up and alongside the window the first Nimbus commando slowly peeked through the transparisteel. Inside was a corridor running left-to-right; east to west on the construction bluefiles of the mansion he had memorised in their briefing. A turbolift at the west end, and at the east the corridor followed the wall round to the north.
If they haven't changed anything since the place was constructed, he thought to himself. He was now in the shadow of the fourth-floor balcony and some five meters above the other three CIS commandoes. His rifle was slung across his back; not easy to get to in an emergency but it prevented the weapon accidentally banging against the mansion wall and potentially compromising the whole op. Still, he had a blaster pistol holstered at his thigh, though if the guards on the wall spotted him he'd be relying on the rest of his squad to take them out.
He carefully extracted a vibrosaw from his webbing. Another thing he had made a mental note of on from the construction plans: the transparisteel windows of the governor's mansion were micro-thin, triple-glazed and rated to withstand cannon fire...the putty the windows were held in with however, was not quite so resilient.
The two perimeter guards then came into view; clad in black blast vests and helmets over House Vandron colours, Merr-Sonn rifles hanging from slings at their sides. The dangling commando watched as two of his three squad mates beneath him tracked the guards with their own BAW E7s while the third kept watch for other threats.
He kept the vibrosaw in hand and unpowered as the two guards patrolled past oblivious to his presence, their attention focused more on the hip flask they passed back and forth.
Turning back to the window he inserted the small circular saw into the flaky, decades-old putty and finally turned it on. The small saw began to turn and a pipe attached to it sucked up the dust as the commando carefully moved the saw round the window. No trace of infiltration.
The tiny saw's whine was largely muffled by the putty itself but still it sounded deafening to the commando as he hung suspended by a slender thread.
Eventually the saw had cut round the transparisteel sheet. He stowed the tool away again and, attaching suction cups to the transparisteel, he checked through once more for any movement within. Satisfied, he slowly eased the sheet out of its mounting, clamped it to the underside of the balcony above and slipped through the opening.
He immediately dropped into a crouch, his boots keeping him above the deep-pile blue carpet, his rifle up and scanning the barely-lit corridor. Though he had entered almost silently, the change in air pressure caused by opening a door or window could disturb a sleeper, so he paused, quickly familiarising himself with the sounds of the house, and checked his surroundings. Though only a little moonlight got in through the windows, it was clear as day through the Nimbus commando's HUD...if red-tinged.
"Clear."



He moved to one side as the other three members of the CIS special-forces unit climbed up. The last commando brought up the monofilament grapnel line with him and fitted the transparisteel window back in place.
The first commando lead the squad along the corridor west to the turbolift, two commandoes on each side of the corridor, the rearmost stalking backwards to cover their tails.
At the turbolift the lead Nimbus pulled a small aerosol from his webbing and gently sprayed it over the keypad. The spray's luminous green powder reacted with moisture on the four keys that had most recently been touched. But in what order?
While the other commandoes waited he gently pressed the four keys with a repulsor stylus.
Governor's D.O.B.
The lift arrived and opened as the green glow on the keys was already fading and the four commandoes piled in.
As soon as the last was in the doors closed and, after checking the lift for cameras he lifted his helmet to reveal the sweaty face of Jango Fett.
"Fierfek, Pawn! Could you've taken any longer on that entry?"
Classroom 5B, GAR training facility, Tipoca City.
One week earlier.

The four clone commandoes of Alpha squad sat at desks, the only students in the big circular classroom that usually held over a hundred. Though they hadn't been in classroom 5B for over six years and they barely between the fixed chairs and console-desks anymore, their attention was fixed on their instructor.
"Where can I get a speedercab?" she asked, all six foot of her, most of which was legs and blonde hair.
"Where can I get a speedercab?" the four clones chanted, echoing the woman's strange accent and intonation.
"Good, good!" the woman beamed, "I don't think I've ever had such good students. Now, tell me your names."
"I'm Pawn," the scout said, winking at the young linguist.
A look of shock appeared on her pretty face. "Excuse me?"
"Ah, like the board game piece, ma'am," Knight explained politely, "Pawn. Rook," he indicated the bored-looking commando toward the back of the class, then at the sergeant in the front row, "he calls himself King. And I, dear lady, am your Knight in shining armour," he grinned.
"ATTEN-SHUN!" King barked, already on his feet as commander TC-1979 strode into the room. In a snap he was followed by the other three clones.

Top wore standard white clone trooper armour though the rank plaque on his left breast indicated his rank and he himself was clearly identifiable by the black patch over his right eye. Lost on Geonosis he refused to have it replaced with a cybernetic and wore the patch as a badge of honour.
"As you were, boys, as you were," Top said as he moved to the front of the classroom.
"How are they doing?" he asked the woman.
Her blushed cheeks returning to their natural tone, she replied; "linguistically they are wonderful students."
Top turned to the four clones with a half-serious scowl.
"You boys haven't been giving Mrs Lobii a hard time have you?"
"Missus?" Knight muttered disappointedly while the others just grinned and shrugged.
Top asked Mrs Lobii to excuse them and King had excuses loaded and armed as soon as the door closed, fully expecting to be chewed out by the head of the regiment.
"King, save it," Top started, hands up to fend of their flimsy excuses. "Do you know where Mrs Lobii is from?"
Though he had expected a few smart suggestions along the lines of Zeltros or Iego he got blank stares.
"Jabiim," he announced to the clones' surprise.

Jabiim had been a member of the Republic for three long millennia but in recent years the planet's needs had been overlooked and ignored by an increasingly complacent and corrupt senate. The discovery of rich ore deposits had brought the planet back to the attention of the Republic...and the CIS.
A recent campaign on Jabiim had failed badly, resulting in the entire planet throwing in their lot with the seppies.
Jabiimi was now generally synonymous with enemy and often terrorist.

"She's been teaching us to speak with a Jabiimi accent, right commander?" King ventured.
"So...we're retaking Jabiim, and you need us to be able to blend in...vocally?" Knight asked, clearly confused. The four clones were identical and didn't look in the slightest bit Jabiimi. Jabiimi men generally had lighter skin and long brown or blonde hair. And big beards.
"That is what Mrs Lobii believes and why she agreed to lend the GAR her services. She and her family happen to believe that Jabiim should have stuck with the Republic," Top explained; "unfortunately, Knight, your mission is nothing quite so valiant."
A sombre mood settled over the squad.
"I'm sending you four on an assassination mission, on a world in the Senex-Juvex sector," the clone commander explained.
"Sir, I wasn't aware that the S-J Houses were involved in the war?" King pointed out.
"They're not. Yet." Top paused; "Are you boys familiar with the term false flag operation?"


Karfeddion.
0140hrs (local time)

Pawn and King positioned themselves on the right side of the lift, Rook and Knight on the left.
As the doors slid open with a soft ping the two House Vandron guards at the far end of the corridor looked up at the sudden break in the monotony of their nightshift, and were duly cut down by shots from Knight and King.
From this phase forth things would likely get noisy and bloody.
Pawn and Rook then moved out of the lift, Rook taking a knee and covering the passage to the north, deliberately ignoring the security holocam in the corner of the corridor which dutifully recorded everything. Pawn lead the other two along the main passage, past paintings and busts of House Vandron nobles adorning the walls, over the smoking corpses of the two guards, to their target.
The governor's bedroom.

Rook backed up after his brothers vacated the lift and wedged the bust of a particularly chubby duke between the closing lift doors to hold it. The doors chipped at the carved marble jowls of the bust and returned to an open position. Meanwhile Pawn, Knight and King stacked either side of the ornately carved greelwood bedroom door. Pawn had a pair of primed C-10 stun grenades in his hands, while the others had their rifles ready.
"On three," Pawn said in his best Jabiimi accent, his helmet's comm now set for external speaker-mode.
"One-"
"Two-," and a siren went off somewhere within the house.
"Three!" Pawn cried as he booted the doors open and tossed in the stunners.
The three clones looked away; back down the corridor to Rook as the grenades flashed as bright as sunrise, the concussion waves blasted the bedroom's antique furniture and twin booms echoed out of the mansion and into the surrounding forest.
King and Knight then charged in, mowing down anything that moved with their blasters.
Classroom 5B
"But why?" Knight asked after Top had explained the details of the op. He, in fact all of Alpha squad was used to clear-cut missions. This cloak and dagger stuff was a first and it didn't feel right.
"Don't you boys go developing consciences now," Top replied, "you weren't born with them and I doubt you got them from sergeants Aricoza and Whitefeather." He paused. "Strategically the Senex-Juvex sectors are a void between us and a number of seppie systems. Firstly, if they're on our side it makes it easier for us to get at the enemy. Secondly the S-J Houses carry considerable clout both economic and political. Thirdly, if we don't do something to get them on our side then the CIS will try to get them as allies."
He was prepared to go deeper into it since he needed them to understand the mission fully, but their professionalism took over. They were soldiers, he was their commanding officer.
"So," King said after a moment to gather his thoughts, "we get in, flash our shebse at the security cameras," he was particularly reluctant to deliberately compromise the op, it went against all they had trained for. "Then we slot the governor and exfil to the RV. Not too dif-"
"Everyone."
"Pardon sir?"
"Everyone in the house is to be eliminated."
Knight shifted uncomfortably and even Rook looked up.
"Sir," King started, "what about chil-"
"Everyone, sergeant."


Karfeddion.
0150hrs (local time)

King slapped a new power pack into his rifle. The barrel was getting hot. Karkin' seppie weapon! Give me back my deecee! But he knew it wasn't the weapon that was getting to him. It was what had happened on the upper floors of the mansion. In the governor's bedroom. And the other rooms. Fierfek man, get a grip! Stay focused!

They could hear movement throughout the house as guards, believing the turbolift to be blocked, raced up the staircases. But Alpha was already on the first floor, deed done, and moving toward the south wall. They reached the spot where, on the other side, Pawn had set up the commtrigger and Sheer Silence Bubble generator. Pawn now extracted a second generator from his kit while Knight and Rook took up covering positions and King got on the comm to get their extraction RV ready.
Pawn's hands shook as he affixed the generator to the middle of the wall with sealant then drew a can of thermite gel from his kit and proceeded to spray it on the wall making a circle almost a meter and a half in diameter.
"Set. Stand clear!"


As he depressed the detonator in his hand it first activated the Sheer Silence Bubble generators on both sides of the wall, then set off the detonite blowing a hole in the wall almost totally silently.
King moved through the breach first, kneeling to the right of the hole to cover his brothers. Pawn came next and covered left then came Knight, readying his own grapnel launcher. Rook brought up the rear and no one spoke.


Tipoca City.
12hrs later
Top stood with Taun We and a couple of humans in an office overlooking the debriefing room where Alpha squad sat. The four commandoes were silent. No chatter, banter or trading of insults.
"Well done commander," one of the humans beamed, "job well done!"
"I hear the Houses have already opened negotiations with the senate to bring the Senex-Juvex sectors into the war, on our side!" the other man chuckled.
"The governor's unfortunate demise should be hitting the holonews any moment now," the first added eagerly, motioning to a holoprojector that currently showed a war report."

Taun We, ignoring the two smug, natural-born humans, spoke directly to Top, "TC-1979 I am concerned about CS-658, 659, 660 and 661. They appear to have been affected psychologically..."
"Bah! They'll get over it!" one of the men laughed.
Top looked the Kaminoan in her big black eyes. He knew what she was silently proposing, "again?"
Taun spread her arms, "the procedure was a complete success when carried out on Kappa and Sigma squads. They have no recollection."

Just then the holonews started.

A young, clean-cut man in an expensive suit appeared on the screen in front of the governor's mansion on Karfeddion. It was now daylight and the estate was surrounded by military and law enforcement speeders.
"I am Lanz Kaveel, reporting live from Karfeddion at the site of a terrible massacre that occurred less than half a day earlier. House Vandron security has only now released details to the media and allowed reporters to the scene of these hideous murders," the man said, milking the melodrama.
"A little over twelve hours ago individuals believed to be special forces from Jabiim, operating on behalf of the Confederacy of Independent Systems, snuck into governor Roke's mansion, mercilessly slaughtering those within."
Archive images of governor Roke, his wife and family flash up.
"This unprovoked act of war is believed to have been a threat from the CIS, who have shown interest in acquiring the genetic techniques House Vandron is famous for."
Images of House Vandron’s genetically adjusted slaves replace those of the dead.
"House Vandron officials are condemning the CIS's actions and refuse to give up their secrets. It is rumoured that House Vandron, on behalf of all the Senex-Juvex sectors, is in talks with the Republic to unite the two galactic bodies in their fight against the separatist menace."
The reporter paused, one hand on his earpiece.
"I'm - I'm just getting new information, that that the governor's daughter seems to have survived the slaughter!"
The young man, dreams of journalistic acclaim almost visible in his eyes, turned and ran toward the governor's mansion. Flashing his press credentials he passed House Vandron guards in full powered battle armour, blaster rifles at port arms.

A young girl, no more than six standard years old, was sat on a repulsor stretcher behind a medispeeder as medics checked her over and tried to shoo the reporter away.
"Tell me, young Fiolla, what happened. Did you see them?" the reporter asked, shoving his recorder in the child's face, past the angry medics.
"I heard shooting, lots of shooting and screaming," the child muttered between sobs, "so I hid in my wardrobe."
"Please get the frak out of here!" a medic cursed but the reporter ignored her.
"What happened then Fiolla, did you see them? Did you see who killed your parents and brothers?"
As tears poured down the child's face she whimpered; "He found me. He found me. He pointed his gun at me but he told me to run and everything would be okay....where's mommy! I want mommy!" and she broke down into wailing screams.

The report went back to the studio where so-called experts discussed the event's impact on the on-going 'Clone Wars' and the CIS's interest in genetics as a way to either create their own clone army or combat the Republic's virally.



Taun saw Top's jaw muscles tighten and the fury in his eyes as he turned to stare down through the tinted glass at the four motionless commandoes sat in the debriefing room.
Finally he turned back to her and nodded curtly; "do it."

THE END
22nd Regiment:
Seela

Flight deck of the Venator-class star destroyer Valiant
Two mass-driver missile launchers mounted at the wing roots, just fore of the main engines. A rack of four rockets nestled under those down swept wings. A composite beam laser turret imbedded in each wing and another two beamers in larger ball turrets either side of the main cabin. A non-standard pair of Merr-Sonn Z6 rotary blaster cannons in the chin and one at the rear rounded out Seela's armament.
A Rothana Heavy Engineering Low Altitude Attack Transport - Infantry version.
Roll had flown nothing else in all his eight-year life and he loved it with all his heart. The larty was an ugly SOB to some, and Roll had to admit that it wasn't the safest ride but he wouldn't pilot any other vessel. Some of the other clones from his batch had moved on to V-19 Torrents or the newer ARC-170s and V-wings...but Roll loved his larty.
He strode round the gunship, the sound of his footsteps absorbed in the racket of technicians and droids prepping other craft for the upcoming mission. He was proud of his ship: the same one he'd piloted down into that arena back on Geonosis almost three years ago. He had no personal property, heck he himself was the property of the Republic, but what he did have was his pride. And he was damned proud that he and Seela had made it through thirty four months of constant war unscathed.
Well, almost unscathed, he thought, checking the new armour plating on the starboard wing. Carbon scoring still showed round the edges of the plates the techies had just hammered back into place. Most of the wing gone but Seela had still got Roll home.
His inspection took him to the gunship's front and the red-skinned Twi'lek dancer painted astride a bomb. He checked the Z6 rotaries, gently moving the barrels by hand to check the mounts were well lubricated. Nice and smooth. He then looked up reluctantly to check the canopies. Both were new and gleamed in the hangar's light. He could almost make out the thread of detonite imbedded in the transparisteel to blow the canopies before ejecting the pilot and gunner. Both were new canopies though only one had needed replacing. The damage to Seela's starboard wing hadn't been the only damage on their last mission.
Rock.
Since they'd been decanted from the vats Roll and Rock had flown together aboard Seela. The three had been inseparable. They'd taken turns painting kills on Seela's fuselage. Her body. Roll always the pilot, Rock always on the guns.
But a single shot had ended it all.


One week earlier...

The cockpit was a riot of flashing lights and alarms, the gunship rocking beneath them as Roll dove them toward the jungle.
"Steady, girl," he said to the airframe around him.
The planet's name wasn't important. It was just yet another battlefield for Roll, Rock and Seela. Jungle terrain. Roll's second least-favourite environment behind urban. Either way it usually necessitated long hovers over terrain that gave cover to the enemy but none to Roll's own shebs. And this was a hot one. Clouds of hot mist hung in the air, humidity was almost a hundred percent, and temperature close to 313 degrees...all in all it made the thermal scope pretty much useless. A blink and his HUD removed the blanket of orange IR, replacing it with an undulating sea of green treetops.
And up from the carpet of greenery flew streams of triple A. Red, blue and green, it was like a fireworks show. Not that he'd ever seen real fireworks, only a few microseconds of footage during a morale section of his flash-training back on Kamino. Fireworks and smiling children were apparently what he fought for and would be welcomed by at war's end. Both Roll and Rock agreed they'd rather be greeted by the real Seela. They wouldn't even mind sharing.
He put that to the back of his mind as a new sound cut through the cockpit.
A warning tone.
Hailfire.
His HUD immediately pinpointed it: eight o'clock, 2K and closing.
LAAT/i gunships weren't built for speed and there were few craft that could hope to outrun a Hailfire missile. Despite their speed and snaking flight, Hailfires weren't the most manoeuvrable missiles and Roll knew they might be able to out manoeuvre it: turning toward a missile coming at you from one side might at first seem like insanity, especially when your guts told you to run, but sometimes it was the right move.
Throttling up he pushed the cyclic forward and to port while also pushing on the pedals to swing Seela rocketing toward the missile.
Meanwhile behind him Rock switched over to rockets and armed a pair. With all the foliage he might only get a single chance to nail the droid. And all the time he tried to ignore the missile streaking toward them. That was Roll's job. Getting the droid before it shot off more missiles was Rock's responsibility.
And all the while they were silent. After years and dozens of missions together they didn't need the incessant nattering that clone commandoes found so necessary.
Roll gritted his teeth and pushed hard on the control stick, balancing increasing their speed against pitching nose-first into the treetops. The missile was not as visible as its smoke trail was; purple-grey and snaking toward them. The missile too was fighting to change course. Clearly the droid had expected the larty to both accelerate and run or to turn away from the missile. Neither of which would've worked.
Rock's thumb rested on the pickle. As soon as Seela spotted the Hailfire and gave him a firing solution, he'd loose the rockets and they could be on their merry way...aside from all the blaster bolts and laser blasts that were being shot up at them continuously. The sound of small arms impacts spanging against the fuselage was like the constant downpour back on Kamino.
It was going to be close; the missile lock warning became a constant drone in Roll's ears. The gunship was still rolled almost onto her port wing and was turning rapidly...and the missile's own arc was bringing it to bear.
Suddenly Rock's HUD lit up and painted a glowing green box round a rapidly moving form in the valley ahead.
Seela had found the Hailfire. And it was running. Rock nudged the reticule a little ahead of the large-wheeled droid as it tore it's way through the undergrowth; Seela was good, but Rock preferred to put the rockets a little ahead when he had to nail the Hail.
He squeezed the trigger, oblivious to the fact hat Seela's port wing was almost collecting birds' nests and the Hailfire missile itself was almost upon them. And as soon as Rock's rockets appeared in his peripheral vision Roll hit the ECM.
The Hailfire missile was designed to roll and snake toward its target, making it exceedingly difficult for even automated guns to shoot down. However, this meant it had to use sophisticated sensors to constantly track its target and adjust its flight-path. Sensors that could be jammed, if only momentarily.
While Seela's own rockets had been dumb fired. Skill and training, rather than technology, put both rockets into the fleeing Hailfire droid...as the droid's missile essentially found itself blinded. Its target was there one moment and gone the next. The onboard sensors automatically sent the missile into a widening spiral to reacquire the gunship.
And ploughed into the jungle canopy.
Rock chuckled to himself as Roll righted Seela.
"Droids," they muttered simultaneously.


Seela was flying hungry: an empty belly. Not even her door-gunner composite beams were manned because she'd been sent to the planet on a hot pickup. A commando squad and two trooper squads had infiltrated the planet two hours earlier and secured a member of the government who was defecting. In the briefing room after dismissal the two had debated whether it was a willing defection or a persuaded one, Rock stating that when confronted by that many blaster rifles, everyone was willing. Before boarding Seela the pair were as chatty as any other clone or natural-born soldier...but once they were in her their existence was in her hands, hers in theirs and the atmosphere was solemn.


Ahead lay the city: grey ferrocrete in stark contrast to the lush green jungle surrounding it. Most of the buildings were low one or two-storey affairs but a few towers rose up higher than the treetops. Thick black smoke poured from one tower crowned with mangled antennae. That probably accounted for the lack of seppie air units in the area.
The commandoes' work, Roll surmised, but where were they?
Their briefing had indicated that the commandoes would be storming a town house in the north west of the city while the troopers held the perimeter, and Seela automatically designated it on the two clones' HUDs...though the smoke and gunfire in that general area was indication enough.

The seppie AAA had actually dropped off as they had neared the city but it suddenly picked up again as every peasant with a rifle started taking pot-shots at the gunship zooming low over their homes.
Rock sucked in a deep breath and adjusted his grip on the weapons controls as Seela’s sensors picked out countless individuals firing up at them. Blasters, slugthrowers, shotguns, rocks.
Roll throttled up, sending clouds of dirt and sand down the streets below and stopping some of the nearby shooters. He took them over the city as low and fast as possible, veering round the taller buildings. And suddenly the GAR taskforce came into sight:
speeding away from the wrecked townhouse, piled aboard a pair of no doubt stolen speeders were four clone commandoes and half a dozen troopers. And in hot pursuit were three speedertrucks full of assorted thuggery. While drivers attempted to weave between pedestrians and street stalls their passengers exchanged gunfire. The distinctive blue plasma bolts of DC-15's and DC-17m's from the clones...and red bolts from the seppies who were as varied as their weapons: Quarren, Trandos, Rodians, a few Humans and Weequay.
"Bugger this," Rock muttered to himself and cut loose with the twin Z6s.
All other sound; gunfire, explosions, screams and the roar of engines were momentarily eclipsed by the high-pitched whine of the two heavy rotary blaster cannons. They cut a swathe of destruction up the road, the first bolts landing just behind the rearmost GAR-commandeered speeder...and tearing through the lead pursuing seppiewagon like a huge vibrosaw. Flames engulfed the truck's cabin as its power cells went up and the smoking wreck, now stacked high with blasted corpses skidded to a halt in the road.
"Kandosii! Alpha squad to Seela. What took you so long baby? We lost our reservation and were just gonna catch a taxi home!"


Roll rolled his eyes and he heard Rock sigh, Commandoes.
"Seela to Alpha. King, you have the package?" Roll responded.
King's initial reply was drowned out by a loud THUMP-THUMP from Rook. Alpha squad's heavy weapons man had seen fit to bring along a cip-quad.
"Say again Alpha-One. Say again."
The black Katarn-armoured King, sergeant of Alpha squad, patted a terrified-looking Gossam on the head. Roll had failed to see him in crammed in between troopers and commandoes on the open-top speeder.
"We got the hut'uun*. Now land that bird so we can get out of here!"


* coward
The clone trooper at the wheel of the lead speeder slammed on the emergency brake as he revved the repulsor coils, skidding it to a stop across the road like a barricade. Immediately the four troopers piled out the safe side and took up firing positions using the speeder's bodywork for cover. At the same time the rear speeder mirrored the move, blocking the rear, with just enough room for Seela to set down between the two vehicles.
Rook and Knight stood behind their speeder-come-barricade: Rook's cip-quad hammering the next seppiewagon into a fireball and Knight sniping at hostiles as they gathered on rooftops.
King and Pawn hauled the Gossam out of the vehicle as the remaining two white-clad clone troopers covered them; one falling to fire from a rooftop.
A shot from down the street drew sparks from the fuselage just decimetres from Rock's face and he clamped down on the trigger; the Z6s tore up the road as they chased the fleeing shooter and finally annihilated him in a burst of red mist.
Seela's doors slid open and ready as Roll lowered her to hover less than a meter from the ground. King and Pawn immediately tossed their prize aboard and the remaining clone troopers piled atop him. Even if the seppies tossed a grenade in, no one was going to scratch that little alien.
Rock swept the wing beamers across the rooftops ahead of Seela as King and Pawn covered Knight and Rook's own boarding. Shots continued to spang off the larty's armour and suddenly...
"Arrr Peee Gee!!"
They were a sitting duck. Since everyone there had the same voice Roll never knew who yelled it out but suddenly Seela veered to starboard as the rocket propelled grenade hit her wing and blew a hole through it.
"Fierfek!" Roll cursed uncharacteristically and struggled to regain control before Seela listed into the roadside building.
King leapt aboard as soon as she was level and extended an arm for Pawn as Roll fed power to the repulsors and she began to rise and Rock kept the Z6s sweeping the rooftops and streets.
Pushing the control column forward gently at first in case her wing gave out, Roll also swung her toward the jungle...and suddenly, over the sound of Alpha firing out Seela's doors and dozens of separatists in the streets and on rooftops shooting back, Roll heard a single shot louder than the rest.
Maybe it had been meant for him...
but suddenly the Z6s were quiet.
Roll waited a moment for his partner to resume firing.
"Hey, you tired of fighting or something? Shoot, dammit!" King shouted over the comm-net as more and more enemy fire began to hit the retreating gunship, denting her armour and punching through in places.
But there was no response from Rock.
Roll risked a look back to Rock's position, momentarily taking his eyes from their flightpath...and found Rock's canopy was dominated by a big hole surrounded by cracks like an arachnid's web. Rock himself was slumped forward, only the top of his white helmet visible...


Flight deck of the Venator-class star destroyer Valiant
Roll shook himself out of his reverie. There was a new mission to fly and scuttlebutt said the war was nearly won.
Fireworks and smiling children.
But it wouldn't be the same without Rock there too, Roll thought as he caressed the hand-painted Twi'lek dancer.
It was then that he heard a footsteps approaching. He'd never heard such precise steps since Kamino. Almost marching. Looking up he found a clone walking stiffly toward him, the yellow-trimmed white armour and destinct helmet denoting larty crew.
The newcomer stamped to attention and saluted at exactly regulation-distance in front of Roll. He could almost hear the man's tendons strain he was so stiff.
"Sir! NG-8305 reporting for duty, sir!"
Roll had known they would replace Rock but he hadn't expected it to happen so quickly. Then again he couldn't fly Seela into combat without a gunner.
8305 took Roll's silence as a cue to continue.
"She's a fine ship, sir. I look forward to riding her with you," the young clone said, looking over the gunship's battered, scarred and patched fuselage and wings. "What's her name?"
Roll could hear the nervousness and excitement in 8305's voice.
"I hear we'll be flying some boys from the twenty-second, sir," 8305 continued, "have you ever worked with them before, sir? I hear they're some tough sons of-"
"Eighty-three-oh-five," Roll interrupted quietly and his new gunner snapped back to attention, almost rocking back on his heels.
"I've flown with the twenty-second once or twice before. Don't be so nervous," he quickly changed the subject, "and her name is Seela. What, 8305, is yours?"
8305 stood motionless and speechless.
Sighing, Roll continued, "Well, I can't call out eighty-three-oh-five every time I need you to blow something up, or the three of us aren't going to last long."
Silence.
"Get your shebs aboard. Get her warmed up for me while I think up a name for you. And hurry. Kappa and Sigma'll be here soon."
8305 snapped off another salute and boarded Seela just as the black-clad commandoes arrived on the flight deck. Unlike Alpha, these boys weren't an original pod; both were mongrel squads but together they had forged a brotherhood on the battlefield. Roll looked to 8305 in the gunner's position. Perhaps they too could form the same bond.
He gave Dutch a firm handshake and nodded to the others as they took their places in the cabin, then he himself boarded and strapped himself into his ejection seat. 8305 was busily running through the pre-flight and warm-up. The kid was so eager to please, so fresh and full of enthusiasm...just like Rock and Roll had been three years ago. The commandoes too had changed. The war had changed them.
"Eighty-three-oh-five, your name is Gra’tua," Roll said, breaking the silence.
"Yes sir thank you sir!" the young clone replied, "sir...what does it mean?"
"Vengeance. Gra'ika. Vengeance."

And Seela carried them out of the Valiant on their final mission.
22nd Clone Command Regiment
All for One…

It is a crying shame when a being dies...
Even more so when that life is taken...
and taken from one so young...
he thought as he lined up his sight's reticule on the human child hidden in the bushes.
So confident that he hadn't been seen. That the alien's cold black stare would pass over him and his life could go on.
The sights settled on the child's mud-caked forehead and the alien released half a breath, steadied his aim. His heart beat slowly but it was like a war drum in his ears. He gently began to squeeze the trigger, finally caressing it through the firing point between heartbeats.

"Karking mother of a Hutt!!!" the six foot, camouflage-clad child screamed out as the dart imbedded itself in his forehead. "Sarge! You nearly had my eye out..." then the tranq took effect and Knight slumped back into the mud.

Garloz chambered another dart in his rifle. While he reloaded was exactly when he expected one of the other clones to strike. They'd better: that's how he'd trained them. And as expected darts thudded into his bulky bodysuit from three directions. One hit the suit's chest over his heart, one the back of his neck and one the side of his head below his right ear.

He was stood in one of the largest chambers in Tipoca city, located beneath the waves and sculpted to resemble a typical area of countryside on a temperate world. The Force only knew how the Kaminoans had got all the soil, grass and trees down there. Almost a kilometer in diameter the exercise chamber was sculpted with hills, dips and even a river. They were currently on their third exercise of the day: from the arena's outer wall the four clone commandoes had been tasked with getting as close to Garloz at the center as possible. They then had to put a dart or two into his heavily-padded bodysuit and exfil without being spotted.
So far Knight had failed before he had even got a shot off.

A rustling in the bushes off to Garloz's left had him fluidly turn and kneel (as fluidly as the bulky suit allowed). His rifle came up: a natural extension of himself, and three hundred meters out he saw the bushes part as a commando in green and brown DPMs, rifle cradled in the crooks of his elbows, crawled away from his firing point. Garloz watched for a second; the clone (Ghost, he thought it was, from Omega squad) was good, keeping low, avoiding disturbing the vegetation around him too much...but he was both moving a bit too quickly and retreating in a straight line away from the Nikto instructor. Nothing to be ashamed of, after taking a successful shot everyone felt the adrenaline and your natural flight-inclination was heightened. It took training to get over, and training was what these four would get over the next straight twenty-four hours.
Garloz put a dart into Ghost's right buttock and turned to find the other two as Ghost yelped in surprise.


Nothing. No movement except the artificial wind blowing the knee-high grass. Garloz felt hideously exposed: his sniper-instincts were screaming at him to get onto his belly and out of sight. But today he was playing the dumb enemy officer. Stood proud and just asking to be shot.

He had ordered them to remove their Katarn armour and bodysuits as soon as the four commandoes had reported to him. Sometimes soldiers got a little too comforable in their shiny armour and too reliant on their high tech weapons. Thus he'd dressed them in good old DPM fatigues, old leather boots, and handed each of them a Dressellian rifle chambered for tranquiliser darts. And so they didn't get too blase about being shot, he'd filled the darts himself: a capsule of venom from a Malastarian stingfly would be injected upon impact and the heavy doze of tranq a second later. Just enough bite. Not particularly inclined to play fairly, and not wanting to end up looking like a Spiner, he had donned thick goggles and a padded suit so he could record hits without needing medics on call.

Only two left. Maybe they're already slinking away. Both got pretty good hits with those first shots, he thought as he wandered about the artificial countryside. But he knew these four; one each from Alpha, Sigma, Theta and Omega squads. There was intense rivalry between commando squads and none of them would be satisfied with only one killshot.
He smirked to himself. He'd train that childish rivalry out of them tomorrow: pair them up in spotter-shooter pairs and finally a four-man team.
His flawless black eyes scanned the terrain. Scattered trees. Lines of bushes. Small hills. The river trickling gently off to his right. He had trained them to avoid obvious sniper positions: don't position yourself atop a hill or your silhouette will give you away. Instead move to one side or down the hill a bit. Obvious cover would also attract enemy attention if not fire as soon as a sniper took their shot.
Eventually he'd have them making their own ghillie suits too.

His wander took him to the river and he casually glanced along it both ways. A casual glance in which he took in several details: boot prints in the mud leading from a thicket to the river itself. And there weren't any prints or marks on the other side that he could see.
Sneaky. Must be Theta's Rat.
Rat must have moved either up or down the stream and come out on one side further along to hide his movement.
Then Garloz spotted him. A couple of hundred meters upstream, lying on the river bank in the mud, reapplying filth to his face and hands that had washed off in the crawl up the river. His camouflage reapplied, Rat began to crawl up the riverbank.
"You missed a spot," Garloz whispered to himself and sank a dart into the clean pink back of Rat's neck.

He then heard the whistle of a dart pass the side of his padded head. Garloz was, like most beings in his trade, rather cool and emotionless the majority of the time, but that was a miss. No clone trooper, definitely no clone commando and by the Seven Corellian Hells no student of his missed such an easy target!
He quickly scanned the area with his goggled eyes. There was only one commando left and they'd just bought themself a ticket to reconditioning. Maybe they could be retrained to clean 'freshers or paint battleship hulls with a toothbrush.
Garloz quickly found him. A prone figure out a dozen meters beyond where he'd dropped Knight. The shooter was lying atop a hill, his silhouette a clear giveaway. And they weren't making any attempt to move.
Lining up another miss, are we? Garloz thought to himself as he raised his own rifle again. And through his scope he saw it. A dart protruding from the prone clone's forehead, and drag marks in the dirt where someone had moved him.
That was Knight.
And Garloz had been fooled.

He heard the almost silent puff of a suppressed shot and then a stabbing pain in his right hand.
Lowering his rifle from his eye he looked at his hand to find a dart wedged between his index and middle fingers, the needle deep inside the flesh of his hand. His hands being the only non-padded parts of his bodysuit he could already feel the tranq coursing through his veins as the last clone commando sniper: God broke cover only ten meters away, a huge white grin on his muck-smeared face.
"No rules against moving sleeping brothers, is there sarge?"
"You sneaky bastard..." Garloz replied and keeled over.
22nd Republic Clone Commando Regiment
Shackles

Tandel, Outer Rim. One month after the Battle of Geonosis
1500hrs (local time)
Day Five

He had his target steady in the sights of his deecee, the butt firmly in his shoulder, his left hand gripping the barrel furniture. Not too hard, not too gentle. He was lying prone; one leg straight behind, one leg bent, so his body would absorb the recoil without throwing the shot off, just as he had been taught. He fought to steady his breathing as the sights wavered up and down. At this range that much movement would send the shot either way over the target’s head, or into the ground far short. He closed his eye, waited a second, and opened it again only to find his deecee now pointing a bit to the left of his target, so he shifted his hips to adjust his natural point of aim. After testing it again, he was satisfied. And he pulled hard on the trigger.
"No, no, no!" Pawn shouted as the blue bolt of plasma flew off into the sky, passing a good twenty meters above the target’s head. The shooter at his feet, a boy at the mature-end of his teens, winced. They'd been on the range for over an hour now and he'd failed to put a dent in a single target.
"Never snatch the trigger," Pawn lectured, standing with the mud-flecked boots of his grey Katarn armour almost touching the boy's ribs, his shadow covering the young Tandellian.

Tandel’s government had thrown in their lot with the Confederacy of Independent Systems shortly before the Battle of Geonosis, but its populace weren't so keen on the idea. While those few who lived in the capital city were all for automation, major industrialisation, open-cast mining and a droid garrison (both to defend the planet against the Republic and to keep the commoners in line), the majority opposed it. But, as often happens, those in power had their say and less than a month after the Clone Wars had officially broken out, Trade Federation factories and Baktoid Armour Workshop foundries were springing up across the planet. Those not profiting from this new enterprise, in fact those whose livelihoods if not actual lives were being destroyed by it, rose up in protest and were summarily gunned down en mass.
Thus the Republic 22nd Commando regiment’s Alpha squad: sergeant King and his clone brothers Knight, Rook and Pawn were covertly deployed to Tandel to train those locals who sought to overthrow their leaders. To train them how to fight a guerrilla war.
The boy took a deep breath and tried again as the commando moved on down the line of rebels.

Day Thirty
2600hrs (local time)
"I thought you RCs always packed deecee seventeen em's?" Chal asked, looking at the bulbous weapon in Pawn's hands.
The commando almost chuckled to himself. The way Chal used 'packed' and the casual 'deecee'; the boy was trying a little too hard to be a soldier. Pawn cocked his Golan CR-1 blaster cannon loudly and deliberately, "true enough young 'un. But I prefer one of these when I go fishing."
This simply confused the young man further. "Fishing?" he asked with a raised eyebrow.
Pawn smiled, then realised that Chal couldn't see that due to his helmet. “You’ll see. You’ll see. Just one thing: I go in first.”
“Osik!,” Chal replied irritated. He'd been learning a few choice words of Mando'a from Rook. "You can't protect me forever Pawn. You're here to train us, not fight for us."
The commando shook his head sternly. "That's got nothing to do with it Chal. That is why I'm not letting you go in first," he said, pointing to the Tandellian's rifle.
Chal held a Blastech DC-15A rifle; the basic weapon of a clone trooper. Thousands were manufactured daily in Blastech factories across the galaxy and this particular batch had been smuggled in by shady characters in the deniable employ of the Republic. The rifle was accurate, sturdy, easy to clean, resilient to various atmospheric and environmental conditions and powerful. It was also over one point five meters long. Not exactly ideal for what they were about to do.

Rebel sympathisers had learned that the government forces were planning to hit rebel safe houses in the town of Echost. The rebels had immediately and covertly evacuated all those locations, and then decided to hit the government's own strike team. The government forces had arrived in a couple of trucks. The soldiers themselves were in plain clothes, claiming to be from the neighbouring town of Cartyer when they checked in at the town's cantina-come-inn but their ramrod postures and city accents had set off alarm bells in the innkeeper's mind.
Thus the rebels knew that there were ten government soldiers and two speeder trucks. All the soldiers had been seen coming out of the same truck, meaning that the second truck was carrying either weapons or droids. One of the youngest rebels had managed to get close enough and sneak a peek under the truck's tarpaulin to confirm the presence of twelve deactivated B2 battle droids and a portable control unit.

King and the rebel leaders had decided that it was high time they struck back at the government and the seppies, and their newly trained troops could get some operational experience, or 'trigger-time' as Rook called it. So Pawn, Rook, Chal and half a dozen other Tandellian rebels were sat in the back of a nondescript speeder truck of their own, on their way to the Echost cantina.
The owner had lost a son in the initial anti-government protests and had provided the rebels with all the information he could. Floor plans of his property, which rooms the soldiers were using. He'd even offered to drug their meals but the rebels had advised him against it: if an autopsy revealed drugs in the soldier's systems the government would likely raze Echost and blame it on the rebels.
"We're going to be storming a building and engaging the enemy at point-blank range," Pawn now spoke to all the rebels in the back of the truck, raising his voice slightly to make himself heard over the truck's out-of-tune repulsorcoils. "That means you need to be quick, alert and on the ball. We don't anticipate there being any friendlies getting in the way, the owner has assured us of that: he’ll be holed up in his room with the door locked, but all the same: check your targets. We don't want any blue-on-blue."
Chal and the other rebels; four men and two women, all human and all under twenty, looked as confused as each other.
Rook looked up from the tube-like weapon on his lap. A Golan Arms RPG-8T. "No fratricide."
Blank looks.
"Don’t shoot each other."

"Just like we practiced, one team in through the front, one through the back. Myself and Rook will lead each team." They had spent all yesterday and the morning practicing with empty weapons and sticks lain out on the ground as a life-sized map of the inn's upper floor. At first some of them had laughed at it and goofed off until the two commandoes had posed as government troops and started using their rifle's PEP lasers to stun them.

The truck rolled up the main street and as it passed the alley between the cantina and a row of houses, Pawn, Chal and two other rebels leapt out and quickly darted into the shadows of the alleyway. Alpha's scout led the small unit quietly along the alleyway, careful not to tread in the trash carpeting the ground, to the cantina's back door. Without a word they stacked either side of the door, just as they had trained.

Rook and the other three rebels continued along the road to the town square in front of the cantina. The two unmarked government speeder trucks were parked out front, as they had been informed. Before their truck had even finished braking, Rook was out its back, taking a knee and raising the RPG's sight to his helmet visor. He had told the three rebels not to exit the truck until he'd dealt with the truck carrying the droids lest they get burned by the weapon's back blast. He only hoped they remembered as he squeezed the trigger and the rocket shot across the unlit square, lighting up the night as the thermal detonator mounted on the rocket annihilated the truck and its load of droids.
"Go, go, go!" Pawn shouted as soon as he heard the blast. The light from the baradium warhead lit up the night sky and was even visible from their position on the other side of the building. Though they had been told the door would be left unlocked, Pawn wasn't taking any chances and he put a blast from his Golan cannon into the lock, followed by his boot. Chal and the other two rebels followed him in, sweeping their long rifles across the cantina kitchen.

Rook charged past the burning wreckage of the speeder, twisted and melted metal corpses within sparking, and applied his own boot to the cantina's front door. The three rebels were close behind but keeping good spacing, as he’d taught them. They quickly moved through the empty, unlit bar, the light from Rook’s helmet lamp reflecting off the optics above the bar and a few glasses that had been left on the tables.

Team One moves in through the front door. This leads to the bar. Lots of tables, chairs and the bar itself. That means an abundance of cover and hiding places. So be careful. We know the enemy are lodging upstairs, but that doesn’t mean they might not stay up for some after-hours drinking. The bar might not be empty.
Once that’s clear, the north-west door leads to the hallway. Stack either side, check the hall, move in and up the staircase.
King’s briefing echoed in the minds of the rebels following Rook, each trying their best not to look as scared as they felt. But to them the Republic commandoes showed no fear. They were almost like machines. Everything was done in clear steps, no room for error, always planning ahead.

Team Two takes the rear as soon as Rook gives the signal. Stack at the back door, take it, and sweep the kitchen. Move to the other staircase and up.
Chal’s heart was pounding in his ears and his hands were sweaty as he gripped his rifle tightly.
The kitchen was clear and Pawn was leading them across the kitchen to the staircase. It would take them up to the second storey hallway, while Team One would be ascending from another staircase at the other end of the hallway.
"No one in the pantry?" Pawn asked conversationally.
Chal cursed himself and swung his rifle to cover the pantry door. He’d been concentrating on the commando and forgot his own job. Back in the briefing, after King had laid out the plan Pawn and Rook had gone through it in detail with their teams, giving each rebel an arc to cover so that nothing would be missed.
"Clear," he replied, chagrined.

Rook’s immolating the gov speeder should have woken everyone in the town, and definitely ensured the soldiers wouldn’t get their full eight hours, but so far there hadn’t been any noise from the second story, and that didn’t bode well. It was too quiet. Either they learned we were coming and pulled out without anyone seeing them go, Pawn thought as he peeked round the base of the staircase, Golan cannon ready to blast anyone positioned at the top, or they’re ready for us and dug in.
Pawn gestured to Chal and the other two that he was moving up the stairs and they were to follow him.

Rook had also noticed the distinct lack of incoming fire. Storming buildings occupied by the enemy were usually fast and bloody affairs, but so far they had managed to make it half way through the plan seemingly unnoticed. He almost wished he hadn’t RPG’d the speeder truck. Almost.
His own Golan cannon was up and ready, the short stock against his shoulder and his left hand holding the weapon’s drum-shaped power pack to steady it. He’d fired CR-1`s before and they kicked like a Bantha. They also ate power packs, so he’d have to keep track of his shots mentally. A dead-man’s click was a difficult embarrassment to live down.

Pawn reached the top of the staircase to spot a black blast helmet with full-face visor peering round the corner in front of him, above the muzzle of a blaster rifle. He ducked the first bolt, sparks and chips of masonry raining down upon him.
"Hard frikkin` contact!"


"Thanks Pawn, be sure to tell me if they hit you."


and Rook popped up his staircase to find a soldier with a blaster waiting for him too, a Merr-Sonn G3 he noted subconsciously as he fired before his opponent could. The Golan cannon bucked hard and sent out an expanding hail of blaster bolts, taking the gov soldier full in the face...and taking much of the wall too.
Rook could now hear other soldiers moving further up the corridor. The cantina’s upper hallway was shaped like a letter-C. Rook and team one had come up at the top end, and Pawn at the bottom. They had the soldiers in a nice crossfire. Before another could take the dead one’s place, Rook charged to the corner, stuck his cannon round it and fired off a couple of shots at the enemy in the corridor. There were six of them, seven including the one at his feet; three clustered at Pawn’s end, three facing Rook. His blasts tore through the unarmored legs of one soldier, dropping him screaming to the floor. He hadn’t even noticed it, but the three rebels had moved up behind him and one now leant out round the corner to take a shot. Not bad. They’re learning.

As the rebel ducked back, a volley of shots from the soldiers following in her wake, Rook gestured that they were all to fire at once.
"Team One to Team Two. Covering fire now! Move your shebse Pawn!"


As the end of the corridor was riddled with shots, Pawn, Chal and the other two rebels moved up to the corner. Someone in the middle of the hallway screamed and a body dropped.
When Team One’s fusillade ended Pawn and Chal leaned out, at the same time as two of the government soldiers who had sought cover in doorways. Pawn’s cannon roared and another soldier joined the three on the floor, while Chal’s shots send the other soldier ducking into a room.
One of other two rebels with Pawn then moved out into the corner of the corridor on his own as another soldier peeked out. Though Alpha had been training the rebels intensively for a month now, the soldier had years of experience and Pawn could only watch as the young freedom fighter slumped to the floor, a smoking hole in his chest.
Chal stood rigid, staring at the body. The first corpse he had ever seen.
Pawn quickly pulled him back as Rook and his team opened fire again.
"Chal! Pull yourself together!”
"NOBODY FRAKKIN' MOVE OR I BLOW HIS HEAD OFF!"
There was only one gov-trooper left. Additionally the minor mystery of the inn-keeper's location was also answered. The rebels had got word to him the night before that he should barricade himself in his room but here he was with a blaster pistol against the back of his neck, being used as a shield by the last of the government soldiers. And this one was no fool. They hadn't been able to trick or negotiate him out. The hostage ruled out rushing through the doorway.
"Can't you just shoot the gun out his hand?" Chal suggested, his image of the four clone commandoes' invincibility wavering slightly.
"I can do that," Rook said and stepped forward, only to be dragged back by Pawn.
"Despite what my trigger-happy sibling thinks," Pawn began, "this isn't a holodrama."
The two commandoes and the five remaining rebels had retreated to the far ends of the corridor, giving the hostage-taker some breathing room.
"Plus," Pawn continued, "he has his weapon to the back of the hostage's head. The atlas. First vertebra. We can't shoot it from the doorway, and I hope the barkeep isn't stupid enough to try and knock the barrel aside with the back of his head. A shot, either deliberate or ND, will probably take his head off."
ND = negligent discharge. To accidentally fire a weapon.
"So what do we do?!" one of the other rebels asked worriedly. It seemed he knew the inn keeper. Pawn hoped that wouldn't become a problem and promote rash action. Rook accounted for about as much rash action as Pawn could handle.
"We wait."
"Wait?" Chal and another said together. "But he'll blow his head off!"
"No. He won't," Pawn replied confidently.
"You hope," Rook said over their secure comm frequency. "Ten creds says twiberry jam."


Alpha's scout fought to ignore the comment.
"No demands," he said to the rebels. "It's a waiting game, see?" He jerked a thumb toward the doorway and the hostage-situation beyond. "I'm guessing he's supposed to check in with his superiors, so now he's waiting 'til he's overdue and they wonder what's up. And we're waiting for Knight to get into position."
"Did someone say my name?" Knight's voice came over the net.



Though all clone commandoes were trained to excel in many forms of combat, with myriad weaponry, each had his own specialty. While Pawn was the squad's reluctant scout and twice-reluctant demolitions expert, Rook was au-fait with all manner of esoteric weapons (and his enthusiasm being proportional to the calibre of the ordnance). King was the squad's sergeant, their leader, tactician and glory-seeker. And, for this mission, their liaison with the resistance leaders. Knight was Alpha squad's medic secondarily and primarily it's sniper. And now he found himself in the tower of the town hall, across the town square from the inn, lying prone on a carpet of guano.
It gave him a perfect view of the whole settlement. Up against a large number of hostiles he knew he'd be able to get off a couple of killshots before he'd have to move from a position like this. That was the problem with towers: they gave great lines of fire but also they were the first place hostiles looked for an enemy sniper. Then they directed heavy artillery onto it. It was often surprising how much ordnance the enemy were willing to expend in order to neutralise a single enemy sniper.
It gave Knight an ironic feeling of self-worth.

But this wasn't quite the classic sniper situation (It so seldom is, he thought to himself). The hostage was one factor. Back on Kamino some of their less palatable training had been in the prioritising of both targets and assets. It was common knowledge that snipers targeted enemy officers. But also their training had included friendly assets. If two 'friendlies' were threatened and you could only manage one clean kill, who did you sacrifice? From a young age the clones had known their own pecking order, from the top down: ARCs, commandoes then standard troopers, further broken down by rank. Jedi were of course above all this.
But this innkeeper was not a member of the GAR.
True, but he was aiding the Tandellian rebels.
He's not a combat asset.
Again true, but he had provided them with valuable information, putting him in the nebulous category of 'intel asset'.
The op is screwed. The gov will flatten the town. His value as an intel asset is negligible.
Not nice. But very true.
Any fallout if he does catch a lethal dose of duranium to the brainpan?
Unfortunately the answer was: yes. This innkeeper was known to the rebels, personally in some cases. Even if it was unavoidable, King had told Knight as he climbed the tower that they couldn't afford any accidents.

Then there was the angle. The only opening in the tower was the crap-encrusted top upon which he now lay, far too high for a shot through the window. He’d have to put it through the building’s roof. Which meant a thermal scope and an ardanium round.
Where their usual rounds for their Blastech DC-17m were made of duranium (a good balance of muzzle velocity and hardness for common-or-garden sniping), Knight also carried a magazine of ardanium rounds. Ardanium was a metal mined solely, as far as he knew, on the planet Questal. It was unique in that it actually became harder after exposure to radiation. Thus it was in great demand for starship reactors and the like, on both sides of the Clone Wars. When you had a target you absolutely had to drop with one round, but there was cover or armour in the way, Sergeant Whitefeather swore by them. There was of course the issue of radiation poisoning but Whitefeather expected to die on the battlefield before he lived long enough to get cancer, the commandoes with their artificially shortened lives knew they weren't going to live that long and the whole idea was that the target didn't live to such an age. So no one worried about it too much.
On the positive side the round had to the power to get through the tiles covering the building’s roof with minimal deflection, on the downside was the possibility of over-penetration-of-a-soft-bodied-target: He didn't want his round to pass through the target then ricochet around and end up in the poor hostage after all. That would be bad for Alpha squad's reputation.

Finally he raised his rifle's stock to his shoulder, fitting the side of his helmet to the cheek-piece, aligning his visor with the scope. He started with a standard view, no filters, and sighted on the window of the target room. A blink then overlaid a thermal scan on the sight's image...and there they were: one gov-trooper and held in front of him one very scared innkeeper standing in, what appeared on the scope as, a puddle of warm liquid. The trooper didn't seem to be supporting the man's weight, so Knight concluded it wasn't blood.

Both still seemed to be stood in the middle of the room, just off-center so that a shot couldn't bag the soldier through the window, and not close to any of the walls. It seemed this last gov trooper was desperate, but still sufficiently disciplined and switched-on. They were half-facing the door, the trooper would have a good view of the doorway (where the commandoes were most likely to try something from) and he'd catch any movement at the window (such as Rook rappelling down and crashing in, as he had requested. King had been quick to deny that) in his peripheral vision. He wouldn't however be able to predict an AP round coming through the ceiling from an unseen firing point.
The problem was the angle. Almost any shot Knight could put into the thermal-image of the trooper would pass through into the hostage. He had to wait and hope they shifted position. Or…
"King. I don't have a clean shot. Pawn. Get him to move a little. Rotate forty-five in either direction."
"Exactly how do you suggest we do that? Oh please mister hostage-taker would you kindly turn a little for my sharpshooter brother? While you're at it I don't suppose you'd mind surrendering?"


And that gave Knight an idea.
"Yes," he replied in all seriousness, "say that. Exactly that."
"Knight, what the frell?" King demanded.


But Knight was focused on his target. The two blotchy, multicoloured humanoid images on his scope, like two strange amoebas.
As Pawn called out to the trooper he stiffened, then spun round reflexively to face the window. It never did them any good but it was something hostage-takers always did: turn to look out the window, as if spotting the sharpshooter would somehow stop the bullet.
But he turned too far, too fast. The hostage was now between Knight and the trooper.
[i]It'll do, Knight thought to himself as he shifted his crosshairs to the hostage.
And fired.
Knight found King chatting with Rook in the town square after the op, with minutes before they evacuated the place. As Knight approached he could see the grin on Rook’s face. His trigger-happy brother made an exit as the sniper approached their sergeant.
Before Knight could say a word, King rounded on him.
“You shot the hostage?!”
“I shot through him, sarge,” Knight protested, keeping his cool; “a clean shot through the bicep, into the hostile’s chest and heart.”
“You shot him,” King repeated, “Did I not specifically say ‘Don’t shoot the hostage’?”
“C’mon sarge, he’ll live. And he’ll have an interesting story to tell his grandchildren,” Knight added, hoping to defuse King’s anger with a joke.
It failed.
“Millimetres from his brachial artery, Knight. Millimetres. He could’ve bled out in minutes.”
“But he didn’t sarge. Look, the hostile moved, and the shot presented itself.”
“I know you were using a thermal scope, Knight. The image through those isn’t clear enough to judge a shot like that,” King continued. This was the first time that Alpha squad had ever had to work with another combat unit, aside from occasional co-operations with other commando squads, and King didn’t want his troops giving these rebels gung-ho ideas that were going to get them killed. “I expect osik like this from Rook, not you.” He sighed. “Just don’t let any of them know what a risk you took,” he nodded toward the rebels as they piled into speeders.


"I- I'm not sure I can do this. I'm not made for this kind of thing," Chal muttered, eyes fixed on his dead comrade in the corridor on the upper floor of the inn. While Rook and the others had hurried the innkeeper out for medical aid after Knight’s shot, Chal had remained in the corridor, while Pawn had inspected the bullet hole Knight had made in the building’s roof.
"No. You weren't made for it," Pawn replied, "but what choice do you have?" he said, returning to the rebel’s side.
"I volunteered. I can quit," Chal started, trying to convince himself more than the clone.
"Can you?" Pawn asked, looking down at the dead freedom fighter. "Do you think that would make him proud? You've got as little choice as I or my brothers do. We don't have a homeworld, we barely have a culture. You have both. You've got even more reason to fight than I do."
Chal turned his red eyes to look at the commando's anonymous faceplate.
"Why do you do it?"
"Because I was made for it."
Day Sixty Four
2000hrs (local time)
Pawn sat next to Chal in the Trast A-A5 speeder truck, along with almost thirty others including the three other members of Alpha squad. Their target was high priority; a chance to really hit the seppies where it hurt, so the rebel leaders had assigned all their best troops and stealth dictated that they all pile into one vehicle. A phrase involving eggs and baskets came to Pawn's mind.
Their target was a droid control center. The seppies could spare a few hundred B1s to protect their assets on Tandel, but they couldn't keep droid control ships in orbit when they were needed on the frontline. Thus they had constructed dozens of armoured bunker complexes across Tandel equipped with control computers and powerful transmitters to keep their caretaker droid legions working.
The particular one the rebels were planning to hit was the closest to Tandelai: the planet's capital. Destroying it would disable all the remote-controlled droids for a hundred klicks, and that included seventy percent of the droids in Tandelai.
This was the real opening move in Tandel's liberation. All the operations Alpha and the resistance had been conducting so far had hit the gov and the CIS: fuel dumps, troop convoys and the like, but once they destroyed this control center it'd be a direct push to take Tandelai. They couldn't give the CIS or the gov time to set up another transmitter.
Pawn wasn't exactly sure what the resistance had planned once they took the capital. Force the current fatcats to step down, replace them with the resistance leaders? Some of these rebels were pretty firebrand-types. They were good enough at stirring up dissent against the government but he wasn't sure how they'd handle ruling their own world. Most had been farmers, ranchers and other country-types before being forced to take up arms. Still, that wasn't Alpha's concern. Their purview was, King reassured him, to aid in the removal of the CIS-backed government. They also had secondary objectives which they weren't to discuss with the Tandellian Resistance. Firstly To minimise the destruction of assets which would prove useful to the Republic upon Tandel's return to the galactic body. Truth was that the CIS presence on Tandel had dragged the somewhat-backward planet into the present. The seppies had introduced advanced technology, manufacturing, processing and the like. Tandel had become a far more valuable planet than it had ever been before and certain factions within the senate didn't want to see the seppies' hard work go to waste. So Alpha had been advising the resistance to concentrate their efforts on military targets.
The other secondary objective was more like SOP to the commandoes: The gathering of intel which might prove useful in the Clone Wars itself, not restricted to the Tandellian uprising.

2500hrs
Through his rifle's scope the Knight watched the four camouflaged figures sneaking through the undergrowth. If it weren't for the visual enhancements in the scope coupled with those in his HUD the four would have been invisible in the twilight and the thick jungle terrain.
"King, they're nearing the perimeter fence."
"Roger that Knight. I have a pair of SBDs in each tower, bricks of B1s within the compound. 16 total."


Knight looked away from the four sneaking figures momentarily to check a feed in the corner of his HUD.

Traditionally military snipers never worked alone, with two exceptions: holodramas, and sergeant Garloz Whitefeather. In Whitefeather's case it was rumoured that he had had a spotter but no one dared ask what had happened. Either way, a sniper-spotter team was standard operations.
But, while the Republic's clone commandoes were trained for such pair work, their kit had done away with the necessity. Each commando's helmet HUD enabled him to check squad mates' POVs essentially giving him three additional pairs of eyes. And their small probe droids were useful for more than just scout-work. Though the initial models had been little more than dumb portable cameras, later models could be set to observe for threats and other pre-programmed images: to act as spotters.

The CIS facility was, it turned out, more than just a droid control center. There clearly was a control computer there: a huge comm tower extended up thirty meters to punch through the jungle canopy and terminate in a vast mesh dish. But there were also automated maintenance factories, and droid reserves kept deactivated in MTTs and bunkers. The ground in the base looked as if it had been flattened either by a turbolaser blast from orbit or a couple of proton bombs dropped from an airspeeder to clear a patch of jungle. The CIS had then dropped their pre-fab structures, set up a perimeter fence and left it alone. But, jungle being jungle, nature had moved quickly to regain her territory. Vines, creepers and moss were spreading back across the burned ground, and the trees were already pushing at the perimeter fence.
Knight was perched in a tree not far from the perimeter, with King mirroring him on the other side of the compound, and they had positioned half a dozen probes each no larger than a thermal detonator, in the surrounding trees.
A droid couldn't so much as drop a nut without them noticing.

The resistance members had been split between four infiltration teams, and the rest were held in reserve. If the op went Gungan they'd be responsible for pouring fire into the compound to cover the others' retreat.
Pawn and Rook each lead one of the infiltration teams, Chal another (after being shaken up in that first job in Echost he was actually turning into quite the spirited fighter, Pawn thought). The last was lead by a man by the name of Taiben. Not the best of shots nor the lightest stepper, this was one of those times when concessions had to be made. Taiben was one of what amounted to the resistance leadership. He'd been eagerly learning all he could from King, had insisted on having a key role in the operation and was clearly keen to secure himself a seat on Tandel's next government.
King and Knight had positioned themselves partly for sniping and observation, and partly to cover Chal and Taiben's shebse.
Down in the dirt Chal was now on his knees and elbows crawling through the mulch and moss carpeting the jungle, edging toward the CIS compound's perimeter fence with his weapon held out in front of him. Since they had hit the government soldiers back in Echost over a month ago they had been busy, and Chal had picked up a new blaster: a Baktoid Armour Workshop E-5 carbine. Before heading into the jungle Pawn had told him to leave the DC at camp.
"It's cumbersome. Too long. In the jungle you're not going to be engaging targets at such long distances. That tinny carbine'll do you fine."
The three other resistance fighters behind him were similarly armed, and the four of them were clad in DPM fatigues with dirt smeared over their faces. At first they had clad it on thick, almost painting their faces with caked on chevrons and tiger stripes...prompting raucous laughter from the commandoes.
(DPM = Disruptive Pattern Material aka camouflage)
"Just enough to darken your skin, cut down on shine and break up shape," Pawn managed between giggles, "you look like a bunch of cack-handed sanitary technicians!"

Eventually Chal and his team made it to the wire.
"Pawn, your pet freedom fighter is in position."


Pawn acknowledged King's voice in his ear with a double click of his own commlink.
He and his team were already in position at the fence. Two meters high, alternating electrified wires and strands of monofilament thread, crossing it would be a toss up between electrocution or limb loss. Pawn could see where a tree branch had grown against the fence, the bark charred black in places; neatly cut into like cheese in others.
Part of being Alpha's scout also meant he was its B&E expert, and he'd thought up several ways to defeat the fence while back at camp. Starting with the simplest he extracted a pair of wire cutters from a pouch on his belt kit and, checking the feed from the remote probes to ensure no droids were looking his way, he closed the cutter's blades on one of the monofilament threads.
He had modified his wire cutters with clamps either side of the blades to hold the wire in place. Once in the past he had clipped some mono-wire that had been so taut that it whipped when he cut it and he'd nearly lost a hand.
As the blades met it was like a magic trick: the wire cutter closed but the thread wasn't cut. With a sigh he opened the cutters and inspected the fine line the thread had carved into both blades.
Great! A perfectly good pair of cutters ruined! Since when did the seppies start using decent alloys?
"Cutters are a no-go," he said with irritation into his commlink. There was no point the other teams damaging their gear too.
"No problem here," Rook replied, "we've found our way in."


Pawn checked Rook's POV in his own HUD only to see a wall of tree bark bathed in night-vision filter green, then an elevated view of the seppie compound. Checking one of the probes' views he could see Rook and his team climbing a tree near to the fence and edging out along branches overhanging the wire.
"Di'kut! You think you're a Wookiee?" Pawn said over the net, "How're you gonna get your shebse back across?"
Rook declined to reply.
Turning his attention back to his own team's infiltration he moved along the fence to the nearest post. If they couldn't cut the mono-wire and get through the gap, he'd have to knock out power to one of the electrified lines. Just one, and temporarily, any more and alarms might go off. Unfortunately the nearest post was under one of the compound's four guard towers. Then he saw it. The chink in the CIS security:
The four towers each stood on four legs, five meters high, straddling the perimeter fence. Two legs in the compound. Two in the jungle.
What a nice bridge.
Pawn got the attention of the three rebels trailing him, pointed to the tower and motioned climbing.
The nearest, a pretty if rather underfed girl by the name of Melina looked at him in disbelief. Atop the tower were two B2 super battle droids, dutifully and repetitively scanning the thick wall of jungle before them, and ever so often checking the compound itself.
Pawn turned toward the tower and started to crawl toward it at a snail's pace.
They can either follow me or sit there and be a snack for the mozzies.

When he finally got to the base of the tower's closest leg, sure enough the three rebels were behind him. Moving low and slow, and with all the foliage on the jungle floor the SBDs never even glimpsed them.
Now they just had to climb the tower's metal framework silently, edge across and climb down the leg the other side of the fence.
Chal and his team hid behind one of the compound's three bunkers, just inside the wire. They'd been lucky enough that the ground under the fence was relatively soft mulch. Fallen leaves, rotting wood and the like. Slowly, pausing whenever a droid patrol passed or a droid in a tower looked their way, they had scrapped enough of a dip to slither underneath the fence. Still, as Tark brought up the rear his Merr-Sonn G8, slung over his back, had had it's foresight lopped off by the lowermost monowire as he crawled under.
"Chal is in. Rook is in. Taiben is in. Pawn, what are you waiting for? Dawn?" King goaded.



Pawn was already under the tower, inside the compound along with two of his team, covering Melina as she edged slowly across the tower's framework, just beneath the two SBDs on sentry. If either had the whim to look directly down they'd spot her.

Melina Tikaris was no great fan of heights. Unfortunately she also kept herself to herself and hadn't seen fit to inform anyone of her fear. So, perhaps it should have come as no surprise that when, to the idea of sneaking into an enemy military compound and blowing it up, climbing was added, Melina encountered trouble.
She had shuffled halfway across the tower when she slipped.

And fell onto the fence.

Her scream split the quiet night air even as the compound's sirens came alive.
"See to her!" Pawn shouted to the other rebels and he rolled flat onto his back under the guard tower, slapping the anti-armour attachment onto his deecee. With the butt tight in his shoulder he fired directly up at the tower above.
The tower and the two SBDs in it vanished in a huge explosion, raining shrapnel down across the whole clearing and scorching Pawn's armour. As Alpha's demolitionist he had seen, and he had to admit he had enjoyed, countless explosions. But he'd never been quite this close before.
"PAWN!" someone called out over the net.


"I'm alright I'm alright!" he replied. And even as he picked himself up he could see things were turning to osik. Melina falling onto the fence, or her scream… something had set off an alarm. The compound was now floodlit by lamps on the fence posts, a klaxon blared and the air was thick with blue and red laserfire. The other three teams were engaging the remaining towers and the patrols of B1s, and the sharp crack of Knight and King's rifles punctuated more droids dropping.

The two rebels with Melina were out of their depth. Pawn could see that her right leg had been cleanly severed above the knee. He could see the rest of it laying on the ground the other side of the fence.
And the blood.
The sandy ground was stained dark as it gushed from her leg and one of the rebels, medpac open, futilely tried to stick a bandage over it.

The human body contains around five point six litres of blood. Lose more than fifteen percent and you can expect to feel it: dizziness, cognitive impairments, headaches. Fifteen to thirty percent and your heart races, your skin will pale and be cool to the touch. The loss of thirty to forty percent and you're in the danger zone. Blood pressure drops, heart rate increases further. Over forty percent and you're at death's door.
And Pawn estimated there were a good few pints spilled onto the ground already. The femoral artery, the main blood vessel in the leg, had been severed and Melina's life was pissing out of her at quite a rate.
Kneeling by the stump he tried to ignore her pale face and the fact that she'd fallen silent, and he drew his pistol.
"What the frak!" one of the rebels exclaimed, thinking Pawn meant to put her out of her misery. The commando pushed him away and told him to cover them: the exploding guard tower had got several droids looking in their direction.
Pawn dialled down the power setting on his pistol then placed the barrel against the stump of her leg. He knelt hard on the inside of her thigh. Partially to staunch the flow, partially to keep her still.
He'd heard that the security police of the Corporate Sector Authority used a vicious technique on suspects to extract information and confessions: using a blaster on a low power setting to sear the flesh. They called it The Burning.
Pawn hoped to apply the same principle here as he squeezed the trigger of his DC-15s, sending a shot across the open end of the woman's leg and eliciting an ear-piercing cry from her. The two rebels looked back at him and he shouted at them to keep firing at the droids. Two of the compound's bunkers had opened and were spilling out more battle droids.
The shot had charred the raw flesh but it wasn't enough. Pawn fired again and again, focusing on burning the wound over, deaf to the woman's returned but weakening screams and the fire-fight raging around him.
He blinked to clear his vision, he was sweating heavily and hadn't a clue if he'd saved her or simply made her last moments excruciating agony. Either way she seemed to be out cold.
Pawn then called to the rebels, directing one of them to keep kneeling on her thigh, to get a fluid line into her...and to stay with her.
"Pawn!" King's voice boomed in his ear.


He realised that his sergeant and brother had probably been calling him for the past few minutes, but he had been totally focused on Melina.
"Pawn! You're the one with the damned bomb! Get to the control bunker!"


"Had a slight medical emergency sarge. And its a charge not a bomb!" but he was already looking toward his objective: the bunker at the centre of the compound, the antenna tower rising above it.
The four teams had entered the compound almost equally spaced around its perimeter, and had quickly dealt with the B1 battle droids on patrol. Also only one of the guard towers remained standing, the two B2 SBDs atop it pouring fire down and keeping Taiben's team pinned. But more and more B1s were deploying from the bunkers. The rebels also had signalled their own reinforcements to move up, but the whole battle would end pretty much immediately if Pawn could get into that control bunker and plant the charge. Unfortunately that meant fighting through all the droids he was hoping to deactivate.
Rook and his team had been sneaking along the wall of a bunker, behind the backs of a brick of four B1s when Melina's scream had split the air, closely followed by claxons. As the droids had turned toward Pawn's position Rook and the three humans had cut them down in a hail of blasterfire.
They had then all looked away as the exploding guard tower lit up the night.
"PAWN!" someone, either Knight or King, called over the net.


Rook was speechless. None of them had ever been even seriously injured. Nothing more than a few blaster burns, and they were always picking shrapnel out of each other. And here was Pawn going out in a blaze of glory.
Rook almost died of jealousy.
"I'M ALRIGHT I'M ALRIGHT!" the whining scout's voice came back eventually, though he probably didn't realise he was shouting.


Things were rapidly going FUBAR as Rook saw two of the compound's four bunkers open their blast doors and vomit forth B1s. Along with the control bunker at the centre that left one other. Rook hoped it was empty but he didn't bet on it.
Not to be outdone by Pawn Rook fitted his grenade attachment to his DC-17m and put a couple into the nearest crowd of B1s. The three humans on his team were trailing him dutifully, keeping good spacing. Not entirely unlike droids he thought as he strafed toward an MTT. Most of its maintenance hatches were open and he could see through the front that it was empty so it seemed safe enough.
Once he almost tripped on the broken, blasted ground...and then it rose up beneath him in a shower of dirt.
this is it! he thought as the earth beneath him exploded up. A landmine in slow motion.
A landmine with red eyes, antenna, a cannon and four legs.
As the dwarf spider droid hauled itself out of the ground Rook rolled off its dome-shaped body. The Commerce Guild used dwarf spider droids for subterranean infiltration and so they were exceedingly good at burrowing, considering their size. But Rook had never known them used as hidden reserves like this. And he might never see it again, he thought as the quadruped droid planted one of it's feet down hard on his chest. The Katarn armour creaked under the weight.
He reflexively dropped his deecee: with the grenade module still attached he couldn't use it at point blank range. The grenades didn't arm until they'd flown ten meters. Besides, he didn't want to die on his back, crushed under a droid's foot.
Drawing his pistol he fired rapidly up at the droid's opposite legs. He didn't want to bring the whole thing crashing down on him.
The droid began to raise another foot, moving it to smash down on his helmet.
As it raised the foot, it put more weight on his chest and with a loud CRACK! his chest-plate gave way, followed by a couple of ribs. Pain exploded in Rook's chest and he cried out.
One of the droid's eyes exploded in a shower of sparks as a rifle shot from King found its mark. Then suddenly Chal and his team were there. Two of the rebels grabbed the leg on his chest and heaved at it, trying to get its crushing weight off his chest while Chal and another kept the other leg from stamping down on his head. Eventually they managed to lift the leg from his chest and they rolled the droid over but Rook was too busy breathing to pay attention as they finished it off. His chest was on fire and he could feel the broken ends of his ribs grating as he sucked in air despite the pain.

Chal aimed his carbine at the droid's exposed, unprotected belly and poured shot after shot into it as it's legs kicked, helplessly trying to right itself. Eventually it black smoke poured from its guts and the hole of its right eye and it ceased moving. Popping the power-pack from his weapon he quickly inserted a fresh one from his webbing, tugging on it to make sure it was in well. Surveying the area for threats he knelt by Rook. Another rebel was already working on the clone: removing the broken pieces of chest-plate and gingerly probing his chest with his fingers. Rook was breathing in pants through gritted teeth, his face set in a rictus of pain. The rebel administering first aid turned to Chal with a grave look on his face.
"Ch-," he started then remembered protocol. "Liberty Two to Alpha One. Alpha Three is down. He's in bad shape. Immobile. Please advise."

King, still perched in a tree beyond the perimeter, watched the scene through his rifle's scope. What Rook needed was a bacta tank. And the only place they'd find those would be the city.
Via their commlink he had Knight direct the rebels in checking Rook and doing what they could for him. They listened at his chest: he was a lucky son of a Gundark because, though several ribs had given under the droid's weight, his lungs hadn't been punctured. They then got some tryptazocine into him: it'd take the pain away but leave him conscious enough that they'd know if he deteriorated.
Two of the rebels stayed with him while Chal lead the others toward the bunkers. Two more spider droids had surfaced and were cutting Pawn and Taiben off from the control bunker.

Pawn aimed carefully and sent a grenade arcing into the last remaining tower, then quickly ducked back as the two dwarf spider droids brought their cannons to bear on him. Bolts churned up the ground and more drew sparks from the bunker he hid behind.
It seemed that all the compound's droids were now active and out engaging the commandoes and rebels...though he was sure that the control computer would also be diverting nearby droid forces toward the compound. ATTs or a pair of MTTs coming crashing through the jungle, loaded up with droidekas would end the offensive all too quickly.

He stood only twenty meters from the entrance to the control bunker but it was twenty meters thick with droids. Taiben and one rebel stood opposite Pawn, they too sought shelter from the hail of enemy fire. Both were bloodied, Taiben had a field-dressing over his arm; the young man at his side had a badly bandaged leg. Pawn's own grey armour was now almost black with burns from explosions and blaster fire.
He motioned that they should hold their position.
As he leaned out once more he had to duck back immediately as a cannon round sent molten plasteel fragments flying from the bunker side.
Buggrit, he thought to himself, and pointed his deecee's grenade module not around the corner, but at the bunker opposite. The grenade shot from his barrel and ricocheted off the wall with a loud CLANG!, detonating amongst the droids behind him.
It was then that Chal and his team joined up with Taiben. Pawn couldn't make out what the resistance leader was saying but suddenly the five Tandellians broke cover and charged at the remaining droids.
"Karkin' IDIOTS!" King shouted.


But there was no stopping them. No sooner had they moved out from behind cover and one of the rebels fell, two smoking pits in his gut, screaming in agony.
Pawn took a deep breath and sprinted for the control bunker. They were idiots, they'd probably all die, but he had to make use of the distraction.
Twelve dead. Four critically injured, including Rook and Melina. Almost everyone else had burns, cuts or scrapes. Pawn had managed to blow the computer just as Knight had spotted a flight of droid starfighters inbound. One of them had crashed not ten meters from the compound itself.

Pawn had then hotwired an MTT to get them out of there before his secondary charges raised the whole compound. So, while King, Taiben and some of the able bodied rebels piled aboard the speeder van, Pawn drove the MTT. Knight and Chal tended to the wounded aboard the seppie troop carrier: there was far more working room.
Melina was still out but they were heading for a settlement where they knew there was a sympathetic doctor. And they needed one. Not just the expertise, but also supplies. While a normal APC would carry some medical kits, the MTT's stores were loaded up with arc welders, optic sensors, servos and lubricant.

Tandelai government hall. Day 65. 0949 hrs (local time)
Counsellors Huem, Drako and Lokkloth sat at three of the five seats around the semi-circular table in the meeting hall. The other two seats were conspicuously vacant. All three men, though they differed in age, skin tone and build, shared three characteristics: firstly they had profited immensely from the deal they had struck with the Confederacy of Independent Systems, secondly all assuaged their guilt about the fates of their two colleagues by assuring themselves and each other that it was ”for the greater good” and that they were ”men of vision and thirdly all three wore, in addition to their jewellery and fine imported clothing, deep frowns of concern.
Stood before them was a bronze-coloured protocol droid, who had just concluded a preliminary report explaining why the great majority of the CIS droid forces in Tandelai had suddenly and, at the time, inexplicably shut down during the night.
The Tandellian Resistance had succeeded in destroying the control complex.
“This is more than the work of farmers and nerfherders!” Huem huffed, his jowls swaying.
Drako nodded, staring into the depths of the black marble desk in front of them, while Lokkloth alternated between wringing his hands and mopping his brow.
Huem looked at his two co-conspirators. Useless, spineless worms! By the Force, if only the others had agreed with me! At least they had some spirit! He shook a chubby finger at them; “they’ve got help, I tell you. The Republic, mercenaries…the Hutts, I don’t know who, but they’ve got help.”
“I pray it’s not a Jedi,” Lokkloth mumbled.
Huem slammed his fist down on the table, startling the other two, then stabbed a finger at the droid. “Get those ships in the air. Find those bastards!”

The skies over the town of Nomuuk, 50km south of Tandelai. 1048 hrs (local time)
Eagle One banked his Headhunter and turned, looking at the town below, while Eagle Two covered his six. The Incom/Subpro Z-95 Headhunter was one of the best starfighters available: two triple blaster cannons made it formidable against enemy fighters or when strafing ground troops, and it had concussion missiles for punching above its weight. This particular pair of Z-95s had been bought by the Tandellian government with the first bit of profit-sharing they had with the CIS. And, with droid 'vulture' starfighters patrolling the skies over Tandelai until this morning's rebel strike, the Headhunters had been unused. The droid ships had begun dropping out of the sky seconds after most of the battle droids manning the city walls had turned to statues.
Thus Eagle One's pilot had been delighted when the council had ordered him to suit up and take his bird for a spin. He and his wingman had been directed to investigate the sudden droid failure. They found a clearing where the droid compound had originally been, but it had been completely obliterated.
(That was the good thing about half the resistance members being farmers, Pawn had thought, great stores of fertilizer!)
The two pilots had then been flying in a search pattern, trying to find any trace of the rebels. As far as Eagle One was concerned he and Eagle Two may as well just strafe Nomuuk and any other town. It was well known that most of the towns and villages were friends with- if not members of- the resistance.
He could see a Multi Troop Transport roughly parked at the east of the town.
Must've been on patrol and conked out when the base was blown up, he thought, watching the townspeople scurry about like rats, I bet those thieves have stripped the thing bare by now. That'll be another hundred blasters in rebel hands.
He lead Eagle Two in another circle of the town, contemplating putting a missile into the middle of the town, then banked and set course for the next town.
A few country bumpkins...not worth it.


Knight watched through his helmet's macrobinocular visor as the two starfighters broke off their patrolling and headed east. "Birds are gone."
"Understood. Your watch still doesn't end for another four hours though," Pawn replied cheerily.


And it wasn't likely to get interesting again. Knight was up in the highest building, as usual, on watch. Rook was recovering at the town's clinic, though he wouldn't be fighting fit for quite some time. The local doctor had done what he could but, despite his wishes, Rook wouldn't be taking part in the attack on Tandelai. An attack which King was currently planning with Taiben and the other resistance leaders. And Pawn was supposed to be getting some food down his neck, then sleeping. That was one of the first things Whitefeather had taught them: when there was a lull, fill your stomach and get some sleep. You never knew when you'd get the chance again.
After a few minutes Knight heard a deep rasping sound. He first put a hand to the side of his helmet, blocking the external pickup on that side but the sound persisted. It was internal. Just great. Now our comm gear is on the blink. The rasping rose and fell, Knight shook his helmet slightly then realised what it was.
"Pawn. You're channel is still open."

"Pawn!"

"PAWN!"

"Bastard," Knight muttered to himself and yawned reflexively.
When the Jedi had contracted the Kaminoans to grow them a clone army, from the genetic material of the Mandalorian bounty hunter Jango Fett, it had been Fett who had laid out the details of exactly what was to be made. There were three basic divisions: ARC troopers, commandoes and troopers.
The ARCs were almost pure Jango and were trained by the man himself. Trained to be one-man armies. The troopers, at the other end of the scale, were pretty diluted. Jango's fiercely independent streak was engineered out, making them instead fiercely loyal to their commanding officers (who, in many cases, were Jedi). They were instructed by computer simulation and flash-training. And the commandoes fell somewhere in between. They were raised in fours, called pods after the groupings of Kamino's native aihwa beasts and trained by mercenaries hand-picked by Jango. These training sergeants included the Mandalorians Kal Skirata and Walon Vau, the foul-mouthed Corellian Diermon Alvis Aricoza and the Nikto sniper Garloz 'Whitefeather'. Called the Cuy'val Dar each was responsible for around a hundred clones. In the Republic's 22nd Clone Commando Regiment Aricoza and Whitefeather were two of the main instructors.
Each pod was trained to operate as one entity. Where natural-born soldiers often referred to the relationship between them as a brotherhood, never was it more true than amongst clone commandoes of the GAR.

Early after they had been decanted from their tanks, CS-658, CS-659, CS-660 and CS-661 had been grouped together as a pod and given to sergeant Whitefeather for instruction.
The four identical ten year olds had looked up at the ugly green-skinned alien and his flawless black eyes and shrunk back in fear.
King remembered well how Whitefeather had then taken them to one of the training rooms: a cavernous chamber deep within Tipoca city containing a large area of countryside, as if transplanted from Chandrilla or Alderaan to this cold city on this oceanic planet.
"You are scared of me?" Whitefeather always spoke, they would come to realise, in a harsh whisper. Rarely did he raise his voice and even then it was simply as if his whisper reached further.
The four young boys had nodded hesitantly, then vigorously as the alien had drawn a huge matt-black pistol from a holster on his right thigh and cocked it.
Whitefeather had nodded slowly then spoke again.
"Use your fear. Run and hide."
The four boys had bolted off into the countryside like wamprats. But they had ran together, not split up.

Over the next ten minutes Whitefeather had hunted them down. In what seemed to them to be just a cruel game, the Nikto had both tested them and taught them their first lesson.
It's okay to be scared, King remembered Whitefeather saying as he lead them out of the training chamber and to the refreshers, so long as you use it. Don't let it paralyse you.

They had spent much of their first months, equivalent to a few years for natural-born boys, in that chamber playing the games boys play. Hide-and-seek. Tag. Climbing trees. Throwing stones. Looking back King could see how Garloz had moulded them, and identified their emerging personalities. Though they were all identical clones, each child seemed to take on some aspects of their progenitor, and their instructor, more than others. More often than not this lead to their squad-specialty.
CS-661 had always lead the others in finding the best spots to hide in, and had whined the loudest when Garloz invariably located them. This boy had grown into Pawn.
CS-659 and CS-660 had been like mirror images of each other. 659 always quiet and reserved, with a penchant for climbing trees then throwing rocks. 660 brash and the first to throw a punch.
Knight and Rook.
Then there was CS-658, always first.
First to hesitate.
First to be caught.
First to cry.
First to defecate himself when they had started using live ammunition on their eleventh birthday.
King.
He'd come the furthest and fought the hardest of all Alpha squad. For his brothers. Back then the idea of mongrel squads like Kappa and Sigma was dismissed as unviable. The failure of one was the failure of the whole pod.
One night the young King had summoned the courage to approach Whitefeather in his quarters. The child was sick of failing. Sick of giving up despite his brothers' encouragement.
He had found the Nikto's door ajar and peered inside. Garloz was bent over a small lathe and vice on his work bench, a table lamp and the lightning outside the only illumination.
It was well known that sergeant Whitefeather machined his own ammunition to a high precision. The curious child decided to wait a while and observe his instructor.
Carefully the Nikto machined both bullets and casings, eventually placing four pairs on the bench next to the lathe. Deactivating it, he fitted one of the casings into a vice and took a handheld vibro-etcher from a draw. He then proceeded to gently write something on the side of the casing, but from where King crouched in the doorway he couldn't make out the markings. Not until Garloz removed the casing from the vice and stood it on end ready for filling.
CS-658 KING


He stood frozen as the Nikto slowly etched the other three casings.
CS-659 KNIGHT


CS-660 ROOK


CS-661 PAWN



As the last casing was placed on the bench, the metallic sound was amplified to the child's ears. A death-knell.
He turned and fled.

Outside Nomuuk Cantina, 1231hrs (local time)
King shook himself out of his reverie and found his left hand tightly gripping the metal that hung from a cord round his neck.
He opened his hand and looked down at the bullet, rolling it slightly to see the inscription.
CS-658 KING


Though it had only been a few years ago since that night, much had changed. King had changed. He'd gone from being the runt of the litter to being its boss. Now one of his brothers was badly injured, and the rebels they were working with were inside the cantina arguing until they were blue in the face over their planet’s future once they’d succeeded in liberating it. Such petty bickering irritated him when there was real work to do: planning this damned liberation. As a sergeant; usually only responsible for himself and his three brothers King was somewhat out of his depth, but, ever since that night back on Kamino King had pushed himself and his brothers harder and harder, volunteering for near-suicidal missions. The bullets they all wore round their necks signified that they were warriors in the eyes of Garloz Whitefeather. They had proved themselves, but still King pushed them on.
He could hear Taiben screaming at another rebel, both as stubborn as each other. While the majority of the resistance members had originally been farmers, miners, ranchers and the like: all disgruntled with the way the CIS had been granted free reign by their own government, Taiben had been a merchant. Travelling like a nomad from town to town across the entire planet, he had returned to the capital of Tandelai upon hearing of his government’s agreement with the separatists, and found that he was out of business. The Trade Federation had purchased the rights to all commerce on Tandel. All his shops, warehouses and goods had been seized.
For the resistance he was a great asset; who else had so many contacts all over the planet? But the weather-beaten trader had been quick to capitalise on his strengths...just as he had been quick to spot niche markets and exploit them, he rapidly ensured that the resistance needed him. And so he had risen through their vague ranks from a messenger to a coordinator and organiser of rebel cells.
And now, as they neared the capital city, he seemed he wanted an even bigger piece of the pie.
What would sergeant Whitefeather do? he thought to himself. All the father figures the clones had had in their lives: Jango Fett, their very progenitor; sergeants Whitefeather and Aricoza…all had been mercenaries. They’d probably have sold their services to the CIS and slotted all the rebels in this cantina.
King knew that some found it strange that Fett had been the template for the Republic’s army, yet had died as the right-hand man of Count Dooku: head of the Confederacy of Independent Systems. But to the clones, particularly the ARCs and the commandoes it wasn’t so bemusing; most of the Cuy’val Dar were mercenaries. It was just business. Doubly so in Fett’s case since he was a Mandalorian.
Still, that didn’t help King’s current situation.
The first thing he recognised was a constant whine. The whine of banks of repulsor coils. The tone was particular to those used in the Baktoid Armour Workshops AFVs.
After his hearing, his vision was the next sense: his eyes snapping open and instinctively searching for the enemy vehicle. Only to find he was within it.

Captured BAW Multi-Troop Transport 132021 renamed Stallion, bound for Tandelai. Day 66. 1056 hrs (local time)

Rook found he had been carefully strapped into one of the two control positions at the very rear of the MTT. The gunner's position.
"Awake at last!" called Pawn from the pilot's position next to him. He had to shout since the whine of the vehicle's repulsors was almost deafening inside the vehicle. Normally crewed by a pair of pilot droids, variants of the ubiquitous B1 who would receive sensor information direct to their own processors from the vehicle, BAW had scrimped on sound insulation.
"Are we nearly there yet?" Rook shouted back and they both laughed. "So how come I'm along for the ride? Aren't I a casualty?"
"That's what I said to King, He's a hopeless case sarge, best put your pistol to his head and do us all a favour!"
Rook replied with a one-fingered Corellian gesture he'd learned from Dutch in Kappa squad.
Though he was pumped full of painkillers (he felt almost numb) his chest still ached. He wore all his Katarn armour except his chest-plate, which had been smashed beyond repair. His black bodysuit felt particularly tight: bandages round his torso to keep everything together and aid rapid healing.
"So what's the plan?" he shouted as he looked over the console in front of him. In some ways the GAR and the droid army of the CIS were surprisingly familiar: both favoured standardisation in their hardware. The interior of one KDY warship was almost if not identical-looking to any other. Many parts were interchangeable. So it was with the products of the CIS Baktoid Armour Workshop's AATs, MTTs and HAGs. One gunnery console looked much like any other.
"An idea of King's, naturally," Pawn replied and he began to explain. Though their blowing up the CIS compound two days earlier had knocked out seventy percent of the droids within the capital, another control bunker was keeping thirty percent of them still going. That meant that, after a bit of a detour to get their approach right, their captured MTT could get into the capital without arousing suspicion. Just like in an old Mandalorian legend, King had explained.
"We're doomed!" Rook laughed.
"Yeah," Pawn resignedly, "that sounds about right."

The main compartment of the MTT took up a good ninety percent of the vehicle and normally contained racks holding over a hundred battle droids. The rebels had stripped these out and now their main strike force was settling in for the journey to their planet's capital.
King was talking near the front hatch with Taiben and the other three resistance leaders who had volunteered. King had knocked a few heads together and got them talking to each other in reasonably civil tones. One reason, King thought, that these four in particular had volunteered was to get themselves war hero reputations and better positions in the aftermath. So long as they shot straight, and kept to the plan, he didn't much care.

Knight sat on the bare metal deck with Chal and a dozen other rebels, going over the plan with them.
"Pawn takes us in from the west," Knight explained, "we go through the city's Xiphus Gate-"
"What if we're stopped?" one particularly pale looking lad asked.
Knight looked to Chal, who wrinkled his brow for a moment in recall. "They probably won't, since the droid forces are pretty much left to run automatically," he explained, "but if they do, we ah, we..."
"We have a B1's vocabulator wired into the comm," Knight finished for him. "Plus Pawn has about as much charisma as a droid, so imitating one shouldn't be too hard."
"Then we..."
Tandelai city. Day 67. 1957 hrs (local time)
They had waited until sundown before exiting the transport. The front hatch swung open slowly, its servos sounding deafening compared to the deserted city streets. It seemed the government had declared martial law with the loss of so much of the city's droid forces, and set up a curfew.
Good, thought King, with most of their battle droids out of action the remaining ones and the meagre gov troops are going to be stretched thin enforcing this curfew and manning the city wall.
Still, they were a few streets from the gov-hall and with no one else out and about, if they were spotted then they were clearly up to no good.
The commandoes had maps of the city and the government halls uploaded to their HUDs and those rebels who didn't know the place had been made to memorise the map.
King had had Pawn stop the MTT in a back street. The main boulevard leading directly to the government buildings was blocked by checkpoints, so they'd have to go the rest of the way on foot.
Rook, despite still having some broken ribs, insisted on going with them. They'd be moving slowly anyway and they couldn't leave him in the MTT. Besides, King couldn't admit it to the rebels but Rook even busted up and full of drugs as he was, was still a better shot than any of them save Knight.
Thus the four commandoes and a dozen rebels slipped out of the Trade Federation transport and into the dark, unlit alleyways of Tandelai. Their objective was no more than a hundred meters distant, but taking the back streets, stopping every time a security speeder went up on of the main streets or an airspeeder went overhead, it took them almost an hour. They could hear the sounds of domestic life continuing as normal as they crept behind houses and apartments, the smell of cooking emanating from extractor fans. Such rich and varied smells Pawn noticed, lifting his helmet momentarily when curiosity got the better of him. Totally different from their bland field rations or the food back on Kamino and, he had to admit, better than the stew and broth that formed the rebel's staple diet. They could also hear families. The sounds of children playing and parents shooing them off to bed. It reminded most of the rebels of their own families and what they fought for. And for Alpha squad it was a window into an alien world. One they would forever be spectators in.
At one corner, as they neared the plaza in front of the grand government hall, Pawn stopped and directed a remote probe to hover out and peek into the street. Through its sensors they could see their objective.

Tandelai was the largest settlement on Tandel, with a population of a couple of million. Hundreds of years ago the planet had been settled by human colonists and they had built a high perimeter wall. As it had grown it expanded beyond the perimeter wall, necessitating the building of a new wall and a new wall again and again. The city now resembled a tree stump somewhat with its concentric circles of walls. The architecture also changed from the most modern structures on the city outskirts to the original buildings at its centre. The government building itself had been converted from the colony ship that had brought the settlers hundreds of years ago. Thankfully it had been a relatively common model back in its day and GAR Intel Division had been able to dig up schematics before Alpha had deployed. After a bit of consultation with rebels who'd been in the building itself they had been able to revise the schematics to take into account changes over the years. The engines had, of course been stripped out and most of the two hundred meter long cruiser's original engineering section had been converted into environmental control. Although Tandel's atmosphere was Class-I, the ship-come-building was a designated disaster shelter. The bridge was now a meeting hall for the council, with a fantastic view of the western half of the city. The council members themselves, even before the Clone Wars, had lived within the converted crew quarters. With three of it's seven decks below street level, the cargo holds above ground had been converted to reception halls, rarely-used ball rooms and displays of Tandellian culture. Those below ground had been for storage but, Taiben explained, after the CIS had approached the Tandellian council about an alliance the two members of the five-strong council who had disagreed now inhabited cells on the lowest deck. There were unconfirmed reports that only one was still living.
Meanwhile the three who had welcomed the seppies with open arms and hungry wallets now ensured that the 'building' ancient blast-wave cannons had been replaced with the latest Xi-Char turbolasers.

And, Pawn observed, parked in front of the hall's former main airlock - now an ornate porch, were two armoured speeders: one an APC, the other a small tank mounting a blaster cannon and a pair of missiles.
"King. There's a welcoming committee," Pawn pointed out rather unnecessarily.
He fully expected Rook to volunteer to step out and blow up both vehicles but he stayed silent, cradling his rifle and breathing carefully. Pawn could hear the sound over their squad channel: the sound of a man in pain, breathing through gritted teeth. Their Katarn armour's torso plates contained condition-monitors so each member was aware how his brothers were fairing, but with Rook's smashed, they had to rely on the stubborn di'kut to tell them how he felt.
"You need another shot?" Pawn asked over the squad channel.


"I'm already over recommended." Rook replied, "give me more and I'll be seeing pink dancing Hutts."


King tried to ignore their chattering, though he too could sense how much pain Rook was in. The sooner they got this over and done with, the better.
Route One: the front entrance was predictably unviable, so they went for route two.

Pawn ejected his vibrodagger unpowered from his left gauntlet and used the dead blade into carefully pop a manhole cover. From the look on Chal's face Pawn was glad he had replaced his helmet. He signalled to the others that he was going down to check it out, while they kept an eye on both ends of the alley they now crouched in. It seemed that the curfew also included a black-out. The street lights were out at least, and, had any of them taken their nervous eyes from their assigned fire-arcs they would have seen a night sky full of stars.
Tandelai Government Hall. Day 67. 2107 hrs (local time)

Counsellor Huem looked out at the dark city, the only illumination coming from the running lights and searchlights of the speeders he had on the streets and in the air. About ten klicks distant he could see the silhouette of the city's perimeter wall. It was silhouetted because they had mounted high powered lights on the wall, illuminating the approaches to the city as clear as day. They knew the rebels were going to make a move soon, and he didn't want them sneaking in during the middle of the night. Thus there were troops on the wall, troops on the streets, speeders blockading all intersections and airspeeders sweeping the city. The squadron of Headhunters and the remaining active droid forces were ready close by. It was costing Tandelai a pretty penny to maintain the high level of alert. But if it failed then all their efforts would be for naught.
Well, it was more “all his efforts” now. He had been sure that Drako and Lokkloth wouldn’t have been able to stand the pressure eventually…so he had pre-empted their resignations. Permanently.
Droids were such loyal followers, and when used in sufficient numbers, quite accurate shots.

Tandelai government hall. Sub level three. Waste processing room. 2124 hrs (local time)
Steam rose from a grill in the middle of the chamber to mix with the rank stench in the humid room. Condensation and filth dripped from the ceiling and the pipes criss-crossing the walls. The metal grill lifted a fraction and slid aside. A moment later the near-silence was disturbed once more by the faint hum of repulsors as a small spherical droid, no larger than a thermal detonator, floated up out of the sewer pipe and slowly rotated full-circle.

Pawn signalled all-clear then climbed up into the room, his rifle trained on the door and his vibro-dagger extended, but not activated, from his left gauntlet.
As the others joined him in the dark, reeking chamber he retrieved and stowed the small probe droid then took his position by the door. Taiben nodded to two of the rebel soldiers; they would remain here to guard the escape route while the rest attempted to capture the three counsellors. They both wore respirators, the trip through the old sewer tunnels under the city hadn't been too long, but these two might have to put up with the fumes for quite a bit longer.
The others prepared to move through the room's only door while Pawn listened at it. After a few long seconds he looked to King and shrugged. The metal was too thick, and the door fitted its frame seamlessly.
Weapons up and ready, he hit the button to open the door.

It was all the rebels' fault, thought Brue Gintz as he slouched at his post. If it wasn't for the rebels he wouldn't have been drafted into the Tandellian Guard. Then he wouldn't have got drunk with Kaido. Then he wouldn't have struck that officer. Twice.
Yup, it was all their fault. He promised himself that if he ever saw any rebels he'd tear chunks out of them. Still, that wasn't likely to happen down here in The Dungeon. Just the rats and those fools in cells for company. And Brue had been ordered not to talk to them. Twice.
It was much to his humble surprise then, when the door in front of him, labelled Waste Processing Room, slid aside. First he was assaulted by the reek of raw sewage, which appeared to be splattered over the dark figure in the now-open doorway. He was then assaulted by the dark intruder.
He gagged as a rifle muzzle was thrust into the soft skin at the base of his throat, just above his collar bone. The armoured figure then punched a blade into his neck, whining as it sunk in. Brue dropped his rifle and clutched helplessly at the armoured hand and arm as it cut through his windpipe, his hands slipping off the plates of grey armour. It felt as if he were drowning, he could feel the front of his fatigues were wet. He fought for breath but it wouldn't come. The dark figure pressed him back against the wall, pushing the blade deeper, though Brue could no longer feel anything and soon the darkness took him.

2141 hrs (local time)
As the turbolift ascended through the building, rebels broke off in teams of threes and fours at each level. They couldn't be sure where their three targets were, so they had to try all the high-probability locations: each counsellor's quarters, his office, and the main meeting room in the ship's own bridge. This, being the most likely place, was where the four commandoes, Chal and Taiben were headed.

No sooner had they stepped out of the turbolift onto the top floor than the commlink came alive: one of the other teams had been discovered and engaged. They were now withdrawing, under fire, to the waste room.
"What about us? The other teams?" Chal asked in a low voice. With one team heading back to their original entry point the gov troops would seal it off, whether or not they knew there were more rebels still in the building. They'd just have to find another way out, which would be harder as the alert was raised.
So that only left winning.
The six of them advanced down the corridor slowly, split and staggered; three each side, Knight and Pawn up front, King and Chal bringing up the rear. Though he still wore his helmet, even the two rebels could hear Rook breathing hard. Every few paces he took his left hand from his rifle to hold his chest.
"Team two to team one. Counsellor Lokkloth located. Someone already geeked him.


"Team five here. Drako's dead too."


Chal looked to Taiben but he seemed as surprised as the rest of them.
"Keep moving," King ordered. He didn't know what was going on but that was two of their targets dead by another's hand. And the way team two had said "already geeked him"...
"Team one to teams two and five. Exfil immediately. Avoid engagements. Entry point is most likely compromised. Go for the vehicle bay. Escape pods as last resort."
None of them really wanted to blast themselves out over the city in a centuries-old escape pod but it wouldn’t be the strangest ride Alpha had ever taken.

Tandelai council building, top floor. 2158 hrs (local time)
Eventually they made it to the antechamber. Originally it had been a security station and checkpoint, the only access point to the old ship's bridge. Now the only way in to the council chambers. They only hoped that counsellor Huem was in there.
Again Pawn drew a probe droid from his belt kit and had it peek round the open doorway and into the antechamber.
"Intruder alert! Intruder alert!" came a chorus of digital voices from within, followed by a hail of incoming fire. The wall next to Pawn exploded and threw him backwards as pieces of wall and tiny fragments of probe droid rained down.
"B3s!" Pawn called out as he staggered to his feet, keeping his weapon trained on the doorway in case the droids went on the offensive. B3s, sometimes called SBD2s were an improved version of the B2 super battle droid, armed with the B2's standard arm-mounted blaster rifle...and a mini-rocket launcher.
If anything it confirmed the counsellor or someone important was in the council chamber.
As he stood he felt a stabbing pain in his thigh and looked down to find a shard of metal protruding a good ten centimetres from his thigh, right between the armour plates. Seeing his brother's injury Knight automatically stepped up to cover Pawn as he dealt with it.
The hail of fire and rockets had stopped, and they could hear four or five droids moving about on the other side of the doorway, repositioning themselves.

Pawn gritted his teeth as he took a careful but firm hold of the shrapnel stuck in his leg. Thankfully it just seemed to have penetrated the muscle, he wasn't bleeding too heavily. He took a deep breath and slid it out of his thigh, releasing his breath in a pant as the metal came free.
Like Knight the others, Taiben and Chal included, had moved to cover the doorway. They had also spaced out more. The droids didn't have a clean line of fire to the commandoes' position, but all the same the fact that their enemy had rockets was cause for extra caution.
Taiben looked to King impatiently, and made no attempt to speak quietly "well? What now? We're stuck!"
Even through his helmet, King stared daggers at the merchant-come-rebel leader. He spoke slowly, his voice low and cold. "We. Keep. Our. Bloody. Voices. Down!" The clone sergeant motioned Pawn and Knight, pointing to grenades on their belt kit, then to the two sides of the doorway.


The four B3 SBDs had their weapons trained on the doorway, two set for blaster fire, two with rockets primed. Having more advanced tactical programming than the standard model, and considerably more than B1s, they had positioned themselves behind the cover of a security console...half concealed by a bulkhead...anything to reduce their profile. And all with weapons and sensors trained on the doorway. Their master was in the chamber behind them and they were charged with his protection, at the cost of their own existence.
The droids automatically picked up on two objects that then rolled through the doorway from the corridor and into the room. Two cylinders which then began discharging thick white smoke. As the four droids attempted to adjust their sensors to penetrate the gas, four armoured figures advanced out of it, guns blazing.

Rook and King went in first, Rook moving to the right corner and automatically engaging the droid in his assigned arc. Years of training together ensured that all four commandoes knew exactly what to do and what their brothers would be doing. King followed Rook, then Knight and Pawn moved in and left, dividing up the room and targets mentally, firing as they moved.
Two of the droids toppled, spewing sparks from holes punched in their chassis while the other two returned fire, sending Pawn diving for cover behind a bulkhead. His injured thigh slammed into the wall and he bit back a curse.
King and Rook, their targets now so much scrap metal, advanced through the smoke, their HUD-filters cutting through the interference and giving them a clear view of the remaining droids.
And in seconds it was all over, smoke rising from weapon muzzles as the smoke from the grenades spread further. The room, a moment earlier filled with the roar of blaster fire, was silent but for the creak of cooling alloy and the spasming servos of one droid’s leg.
Rook stepped forward and finished it with a final shot as Pawn hurried, nursing his leg, toward the door at the end of the room and set to work on the lock...

Knight and King charged into the council room and tackled the portly counsellor to the deck while Rook and Pawn followed more cautiously, sweeping the room for threats with their rifles.
All was clear.
As Knight drew a pair of stun cuffs from his webbing they heard the sound of a weapon being drawn and turned to see Taiben advancing into the room, his weapon levelled at Huem.
"Taiben, what’re you doing?" King asked carefully, his own hand straying toward his holstered pistol.
"He dies," Taiben said, his eyes never leaving his target.
"What?" exclaimed Chal, his rifle limp in his hands. Since joining the resistance he had killed, mainly droids but there had been a couple of men too. Government troopers: fellow Tandellians. But it had always been in combat. The enemy was always armed. Not like this. Huem was a greedy coward, he paid others to do his dirty work. Knight now had the man secured in binders. He wasn’t a threat.
"He dies: the seppies see that they have no friends left on Tandel," Taiben stated as Rook moved to position himself between Taiben and their captive.
King and Pawn moved to the sides, King's hand still on his holstered pistol, Pawn's rifle pointed in Taiben's general direction.
"Negative," King replied, "the resistance has won, no one else needs to die. That right counsellor?"
Huem's eyes had been transfixed on the muzzle of Taiben's blaster, only when Rook blocked his view could he speak. "That's right! That's right! I surrender!" the words poured from his chubby lips as sweat ran down his forehead, soaking his shimmersilk shirt.
"This war is over Taiben," King continued.
Ignoring the commando Taiben cocked his head toward Chal. His pistol had never wavered and now pointed at Rook's unarmoured chest.
"Huem must die. If not his supporters will rally and the CIS will send more forces. Chal, you know I'm right."
In the blink of an eye King's pistol was out of his holster and pointed at Taiben's head, Rook followed suit with his rifle.
"Huem lives. Tandel is free. This war is over but the Clone Wars continue," King explained, fighting to stay calm. "We need him alive. He has intel we need about the seppies. He lives."
Taiben smiled, "You see, Chal? They're not here to help us. They were working toward this all along. Kill Huem."
Chal waivered, his rifle coming up even as he looked to Pawn in confusion.
Pawn shook his head, his rifle now trained on Taiben's chest. "You know that isn't true Chal."
"Kill him! Do it or we'll never be free," Taiben spat.
Chal took a step to the left, giving him line of sight past Rook, to Huem and Knight. His rifle was now at chest level, pointed toward the bound man.
"Pawn!" King ordered and, after a moment's hesitation, Pawn shifted his aim to Chal.
Chal immediately froze.
"Damn you clones!" Taiben cursed and lowered his pistol.
Just then Rook's aim waivered. Keeping his rifle trained on Taiben with broken ribs was taking it's toll.
As Taiben's pistol lowered his right foot shot up in a desperate kick, "Now Chal! Now!"
Pain exploded in Rook's chest as the rebel's foot slammed into him and the room was filled with blaster fire.



Knight knelt, tending to Rook, whose chest was rising and falling with ragged breaths. Counsellor Huem lay on the ground, still alive but shaken considerably.
Alpha's sergeant stood over Taiben’s body, smoke rising from deep blaster wounds in his chest and face. He was barely recognisable.
"Pawn?" King called, "Pawn!"
Alpha squad’s scout stood like King, staring at the dead body of a Tandellian rebel. Chal.
"C'mon Pawn, we've got to be out of here."
When Pawn didn't answer King looked at him, then down at the corpse. Eyes glassy, the boy had a look of shock frozen on his face. Shocked that fate had cheated him out of a full life. That just when the fighting had come to an end he had had to put his life between those he trusted most.

King was about to speak again when Pawn finally broke his silence; "he gave his life."
"Yeah," King sighed. Anything to get Pawn moving. If another rebel team came to assist them the whole scene would take some explaining and probably result in more unnecessary deaths. "Come on bro’. We see corpses every day. Nothing new here. He was loyal, a good kid but we have to move." He dragged Huem up off the floor and motioned for Knight to get Rook on his feet. "This war’s gonna take a lot more lives yet."
"No," Pawn said quietly, "our lives are taken. He gave his."

THE END

Ronin
22 December 2008, 12:21 AM
Well, you could have got them in chronological order ;) but thanks anyway. :clonetpr:
There are still a couple or so unfinished...which I`ll get round to "one of these days".

Lieutenant Paladine
22 December 2008, 06:20 PM
I didn't have enough time to look through it too carefully, but I hope you like it.

I'm a fan of the 22nd Regiment.