The steady whine of laser fire announced another volley. As if an alarm went off near my head, my eyes sprung open and I gasped softly. My vision was blurred, watery, and I couldn’t make out anything at all. Struggling to move, I felt the crumbling remains of the room’s walls around me, and my gloves collected dust from the duracrete floor. As my vision cleared, I began to make out the silhouettes of two men hovering over me. Concentrating as much as I could, I realized that these two were soldiers. Blinking a few more times as if it would clear my head, I struggled to sit up on my elbows.
As if he was waiting for me to try and get up on my own, the younger of the two soldiers grasped my left arm. With an assured tug, he lifted me to my feet. I thought my legs were going to give way from under me. Something in my knee clicked in a not-so-natural manner, and I found myself tumbling toward the floor again. Quick thinking from the two soldiers at my side saved me from a nasty fall. Their two armored bodies became crutches, and I mouthed a quick ‘thank you’ to the pair; I was unsure if any words actually came out of my mouth. That laser fire was still going strong in the distance, deafening me.
“You okay, Rookie?” the elder of the two shouted. He was my commanding officer, I believe. His voice sounded raspy and hoarse, and he was definitely not happy.
“Yeah,” I muttered as loud as I could. It felt awkward, but I was more worried about my legs.
“You took quite a beating from that mine,” the other soldier noted dryly. “Were you watching where you were going?”
He was trying to joke with me, I think. It was hard to tell.
“I was,” I responded with the same enthusiasm. “Maybe if I had some cover fire while I was being chased by-”
“We’re going to let you go now, ‘kay?” the first soldier interrupted.
I didn’t even have time to acknowledge him before the two soldiers let go of me, moving away in a nearly simultaneous motion. Luckily for me, my legs proved their worth and kept my body from collapsing again. I was still weak, but I could stand. I heaved a sigh of relief while the other two soldiers returned to their positions by the wall.
There were nearly two dozen of us in that empty room in that battered building. The last remnants of our company reduced to about a tenth of our initial strength. Constant fighting over the past few days had devastated our teams and weakened our resolve. Now here we were, hiding like rodents in some abandoned building in a city we did not have under control at all.
I could not say for sure why some of my companions joined the Army, but I know they were probably happier to be here than me. I had signed up to fight the Sith Empire, the illegitimate spawn of every deplorable thing you could think of, because I was feeling particularly patriotic after a few rounds of whiskey. What a mistake that was. My drill instructor told me that it was our love and fervor for the Republic and its ideals that kept us going strong in combat. Let me tell you, nothing says ‘I love the Republic’ like getting shot at by a horde of alabaster-armored, heavy blaster-toting, soulless sons-of-banthas while running around like a mindless idiot. No kidding. I should get a medal for all the times I’ve been shot at.
There had been a large Sith attack on Sluis Van a few months back, and the spoiled bastard politicians in the Galactic Senate only recently gave the all-clear to kick the Sith straight back to the hellhole they came from. However, a dwindling number of recruits and lack of veterans from the Mandalorian War meant they had to cut corners while recruiting and preparing new soldiers. For example, I had received some five weeks worth of basic training out in the Rim. I learned how to salute, handle a rifle, and reload that rifle before I was assigned to this company and placed on the front lines.
I’ve never been an ideal soldier. No, Republic brass probably has a file somewhere that details just how bad I am at the whole combat thing. I had actually walked into a minefield on our last mission. To be fair, I had not walked in on purpose. No, a Jedi was chasing me–excuse me, Dark Jedi. We have to differentiate between the ones that are helping us and the ones that are killing us. Blue is a friend, red means you’re dead. I think that’s how the old mantra went.
No matter how many Jedi they send to aid us now that their erstwhile friends are causing trouble, I’ll never trust them. Light side, dark side–Jedispeak for going AWOL–or shining side. It’s all the same. If everyone could see what those Jedi did to my allies on the battlefield, with their mystic devilry and laser swords, they would have no support in the galaxy. I have seen them kill more men than blaster and grenade ever will. I swear on the Force that I will never fight a Jedi. Ever. If that means running into a few minefields, so be it.
The laser fire stopped. It was a beautiful thing, silence, and not something I fully appreciated. My sore ears welcomed it gladly, even though no one else in my squad looked pleased. Frowning under their murky visors or customized red-and-yellow helmets, every soldier in the room stopped talking.
The scout’s warning pulled me out of my introspection damn quick. Everyone who had not suspected the incoming attack was now well aware of the danger. Sith bombers, affectionately dubbed Raptors for their piercing cry, were modified versions of standard Sith fighters. They still had that small, pod-shaped gray body, but they lacked the unique wings. Instead, they only had two, extendible flaps that allowed the low-altitude crafts to hover over long distances. And, of course, they had bombs. At least they didn’t drop nuclear bombs on us like the Mandalorian beasts had done to Serroco. Laid waste to the entire planet. Even the Sith were not capable of such savagery. Telos came close, but even that was civilized by Mandalorian standards.
I was a fool. I didn’t even bother bunkering down to prepare for the incoming attack. The bombers soared by, dropping their payload around the building we were taking shelter in, causing the entire district to tremble in their wake. The resulting explosion tore through the upper levels of the building and shattered the walls nearest to the streets. Soldiers around me dove for cover, or at least positioned themselves as close as possible to the floor. I was thrown off my feet and my head smacked the floor. The red armor I was wearing, replete with yellow trim, rattled against my black mesh combat suit. I struggled to remain conscious, despite myself. I knew if I gave in to the darkness now, there was a very good chance I would never wake up.
Promptly regaining my full strength, I quickly felt the back of my head. It was swollen, and there was a slight throbbing of pain, but it was not bleeding; if I was not bleeding, I could function. Rolling over, I realized that everything hurt: my ribs were tender and weak to touch, my legs were still trying to recover, and my arms had the strength of vweilu nut soup noodles. I positioned myself so I was resting on my chest, and then I tried to use my hands to push up and off the ground. After a few failed attempts, I was back on my feet.
All our turret gunners and snipers positioned by the east wall had died, falling to their deaths in the streets below when the wall gave in around them. We were lucky. It seemed as though the bombers had not aimed for us in particular. The hole in the building left over from the bombing run had let sunlight pour into our room. After being used to the dim, almost pathetically weak light from the glowpanels in the room, the light was welcome, but unexpected.
“Sergeant Horan, report!” someone, I think it was the older of the two men who had helped me, shouted.
The younger of the pair, Horan, stood up before addressing the other. “Looks bad, Major. We lost our primary gunners, our four turrets, and most of our snipers.”
“Damn,” the major muttered. He had this look on his face that was indescribable. It looked as though he was panicked, fatigued to death, and furious at the same time. “Horan, I want a full damage report. Figure out who’s left, and who’s able to fight.”
The major turned away from the other soldiers and headed off on his own before activating his earpiece comlink. “This is Major Obeno Mallory to Corellia Squad. Corellia Squad, we are pinned down in the Maprin Corp. building with no snipers or turrets. We could use some assistance, over.”
No reply came, from what I could gather. Some of the other soldiers began to mutter worriedly amongst themselves. I could not hear what they were saying; truthfully, I did not care too much. I did not know too many of these soldiers, and they did not know me. It was better that way, I think. If we got too attached to each other, we’d get emotional and become wrecks when someone died. Which, obviously, happened often. It was definitely better when the deaths were announced as ID numbers.
While the other soldiers were rearming themselves or searching for extra ammunition, I grabbed my helmet from the broken wall where I had woke up earlier and threw it on my head. It took a moment to get used to the translucent visor, but once I did, it accentuated my vision appropriately.
“Corellia Squad, this is Major Mallory,” our commanding officer bellowed. “Respond!”
“I think they’re dead, sir,” one of the soldiers in my squad spoke up. He was fairly new, but not as new as me. “Why else wouldn’t they respond?”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Corporal,” Mallory snapped. “They can’t be dead. Regen and his boys are on a search-and-rescue mission, for Force’s sake. Pure reconnaissance. There’s no danger.”
“To be fair, sir,” I said, speaking up. “This city has hundreds of Sith. I would hesitate to call it safe.”
“Don’t be stupid, Rookie,” the major replied. “If they were dead, I’d have heard about it from Command, not you.”
“What if Command’s been cut off? The Sith could be blocking communications, sir,” another member of the company said in the distance.
“No, no,” Mallory replied in a fiercer tone. “But since you all seem so vocal about expressing your opinions, I think you all ‘re forgetting your real mission. To kill Sith! So get out there, find Corellia Squad, and kill Sith!”
“Shall I lead them, sir?” Sergeant Horan asked, handing him a datapad detailing the status of our entire company, holed up on the different levels of the tower.
“Of course,” Mallory replied. “Coruscant Squad, suit up. Three, Four, Five, Nine, and Ten, you’re with Horan. Seven, Eight, and the rest of Metellos Squad, sit tight.”
A chorus of shouts, confirmatory grunts, and the occasional nod broke out in reply. I was Coruscant Ten, so I was with Staff Sergeant Horan on this mission. We all broke off and went to set up. Coruscant Three and Four were tough guys, muscleheads with no sense of humor. Coruscant Five was a Mon Calamari, one of those fishy people from Dac, and he was a chatterbox. Together, the three of them could criticize you, lambast you, and pretend to compliment you all at once. The major was just doing his best to keep the chatterboxes away from his post.
Nine was… well, he was pretty quiet. Big guy, but quiet. He joined the squad a little before I did, and I didn’t know him too well. He didn’t make himself known, so it was harder to get to know him, unlike everyone else in our company. There had been a Coruscant Eleven and Twelve–transfers from Alsakan Squad–but they didn’t last very long. Both of them had died prior to my incident with the minefield. My rookie status deemed indefinite, at least while I was with Coruscant Squad.
I went to search for my gear, which must have been moved prior to the aerial bombardment. The rest of my squad was prepared as ever, and they followed Sergeant Horan down the stairs and out of the room. Worried that they would leave me behind, I panicked. Running over to one of the soldiers standing idly by, I asked him if I could borrow a weapon before our commanding officer noticed.
But he was attentive as always, so he noticed me too quickly.
His first few words were unintelligible–they sounded quite profane–but the rest of his comments were clear as day. “Damn hell, Rookie! What are you doing here? Didn’t I sent you with Horan?”
I tried to reason with him. “Yes, sir. But you see, I-”
“Are you talking back, Rookie? Are you giving me lip? I’ve just about had enough with your smart-mouthed back talk! Now you get your sorry ass in line or, so help me, you’ll be court-martialed and stationed on the worse penal colony-world the Republic can find!”
‘Sir, sorry sir’ was the only thing I could say. No sly retort, no indignant response, and no justification whatsoever. I don’t care what anyone else says about military training: it’s effective. Of course, I was scared to death of Major Mallory–he was well-built, even without armor, and he had enough muscle to rip me in half–and so I left. I left without any weapons or my gear. It was probably the stupidest thing I have ever done.
Scrambling down the metal stairwell that had once served as the emergency exit route for this corporation’s offices, I chided myself silently. No doubt some idiot from Metellos Squad had taken my blaster and gear as their own, not even caring what I would do without them. It was probably a prank. Beating myself up for my carelessness and their idiocy, I didn’t even realize I had reached the lobby, where the other members of Sergeant Horan’s team were waiting for me. None of them looked happy to see me, and a few muttered something about the slow new guy.
“Took you long enough, Rookie. Put your helmet on backward?” Horan asked, his voice choppy and monotonous. Again, I think he was joking with me, but it was impossible to discern just how serious he was.
“No,” I muttered back, a tad embarrassed that everyone was staring at me. “I just couldn’t find a weapon…”
“What?” the sergeant stopped dead in his tracks. “You don’t have a weapon?”
“Damn Rookie,” Coruscant Three muttered.
“He’s lose his limbs if they weren’t screwed on,” Coruscant Four noted.
“You can’t just go charging into battle without a weapon. At least say something before we dive into the fray! What would we do if we were down a member in our first engagement?” Horan drawled.
“I… I did say… you were about to-”
“Someone throw the kid a weapon,” Toredo said.
“I’ve got him, Sergeant,” Coruscant Five replied. He pulled his blaster pistol and extended it to me. “Try not to lose this one,” he added.
“Now that we’ve ensured the rookie is armed, can we leave?” Horan asked.
Shouts of approvals and a few jeers rang out in the lobby. We were a rowdy bunch. Ignoring some of their harsher critique, I joined the five of them as they left the lobby of the office building and headed into the Sith-infested streets around us. The streets were wide, much wider than streets I’ve seen in the Core Worlds; they were practically large enough for us to roll tanks through or land transports on. I felt naked, in a sense. In this place, we could be beleaguered by sniper fire, struck by aerial bombardment, and surrounded in an ambush without protection. I missed the building as soon as we left it. At least we were safe there. Sort of.
While the roads spanned meters across for the sake of mechanized travel during peacetime, the buildings running parallel to them were the exact opposite. There was almost no space between buildings, leaving just enough room for a few waste compactors lined up side-by-side. The few alleyways there were happened to be blockaded by durasteel gates, limiting any method of escaping into one during a firefight. If we were assailed by a large group, there would be nowhere to escape. Granted, there were overturned hovercars, damaged street signs, broken remains of buildings, and the like, but those things would be poor cover from a Sith tank.
Our footfalls were the only thing that could be heard in this empty city, but the distant cries of Sith bombers were barely audible, destroying some far off place. Horan led the charge, skittering from various debris on his way through the district’s streets. Three and I were next, followed by Four and Nine, and Five brought up the rear, as the sniper. Turning back around, I could hardly see the Maprin Corporation building over a few other reasonably sized towers. Three was whispering something to Four, but the Togorian was ignoring him for the time being.
“Sith troopers, eight o’ clock!” Coruscant Nine shouted in his comlink for the rest of us to hear.
Like machines, we all turned around at once and saw two squads–about thirty-two soldiers–heading toward our location. They had not seen us yet, but if they kept moving on their patrol, they would eventually catch up with us. Instead of waiting for them, we decided to take the initiative. Rushing them with swords while outnumbered was foolhardy, and we could no longer afford assistance from the rest of our allies back at base. So we decided to keep it simple. Blasting its way out of trouble was practically the credo of the Republic Army, anyway.
My squadmates all activated their energy shields–mine had been stolen, so I had no such defense–and opened fire at the Sith soldiers while running toward some overturned vehicles for cover. The enemy had not seen us, and my companions’ shots and Jacque’s sniper fire took out four of their allies before they noticed. It took less than a second for them to realize what was going on, good soldiers as they were, activating their own personal energy shields so the battle could begin.
Their red blaster fire overwhelmed the air above me, keeping me from peering out from over the rubble I was hiding behind. I scampered between cover as quickly as I could, silently praying that I would not be hit. If I was, I could see myself in a military casket. Despite our lack of genuine cover, though, I was having surprisingly good luck avoiding their fire. Every so often, I tried to get a shot in, but I couldn’t hit any of them. There were so many, and they were cluttered so close, but I just couldn’t find my mark. Grumbling, I tried harder and focused more, but to no avail. I blame the Republic and its shoddy training methods. Still do.
Coruscant Four’s shields were the first to fall. I watched in quiet horror as he struggled to reload his rifle’s power pac and his shielding unit at the same time. Heavy weapon specialist, indeed. His efforts weren’t enough, and three Sith blaster shots shattered his red and yellow breastplate, one after another, until they had punctured the suit entirely and tore through his ribcage. A bit of blood was visible from underneath the armor, but the intense heat of the shots had cauterized the wound and prevented him from becoming a gory mess. The giant feline let out a soft growl before collapsing to the ground, no doubt in his final moments.
There was nothing we could do against the twenty or so enemy troopers remaining. Most of my allies’ rifles were already losing power, and we did not have ammunition to spare. No matter how many blaster shots we traded, there was always more coming toward us and just as many soldiers still standing. Horan tossed a few fragmentation grenades into their midst, but they could only aid us so much. After Three had died, in an eerily similar manner to Four, Horan ordered a retreat. He couldn’t contact Mallory, and he was unwilling to die before we completed our objective.
As we scurried away from the fight, the Sith troopers pursued us tenaciously. Toredo and Jacque occasionally stopped to fire a few shots back at them, but their attacks were ineffective deterrents. After a few minutes of running through the city, avoiding other Sith patrols and battlements, Horan led us into a vacated alleyway. Taking a few sharp turns and throwing ourselves over some metal fences, we eventually lost our Sith pursuers and ended up back in the main streets about two kilometers from our base.
“Damn hell, Rookie,” Horan yelled.
I was still catching my breath, and before I could respond, he had grasped the collar underneath my armored breastplate and shoved me into the nearest wall.
“What’s your problem?” he continued. “Drawing blaster fire toward my soldiers like that?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” I snapped back, a bit dazed. My adrenaline was still rushing from our firefight, so I tried to push him away from me. It didn’t work.
He jabbed me in the stomach. “You’ll address me as Sergeant, boss, his damn majesty, or you don’t address me at all! Got it?”
Five walked up to him and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Listen, Sergeant, I don’t think the kid meant any harm. I mean, I don’t think he was using our allies as distractions on purpose…”
“Not now, Jacque,” Horan hissed. “If this rookie doesn’t learn now, he’ll never learn. He can’t expose others to enemy fire just to save his own hide!”
“I… I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I growled as fiercely as I could. “I was just ducking and dodging around-”
“Behind my soldier’s backs, so you could draw the Sith’s shots toward them instead of you!” Horan shot back.
“No!” I screamed. I tried to pry his hands off my collar again. “I was just trying to stay alive…”
“Nakin,” Jacque muttered to the sergeant, even though I could hear it. “Listen. It was just an accident. Just file a report after the battle and get the kid disciplined. No need to make a big deal. Why, I remember a time when I…”
“I just lost two good men, Jacque!” Horan yelled back. “Two men who’ve been serving under me for far longer than him. He’s trash. I can’t believe he’s even here right now. Should have died in the minefield.”
I couldn’t take it. Staring at his face, his dark eyes glaring at mine, I had to do something. I felt my eyes tearing up. Trying to gather all of my rage into a single vindictive front, I spat at him. Probably not the best choice, in retrospect. The spit flew by his face and, even though it missed, he was furious. A quick punch to the chest sent me sprawling over. As I writhed about on the ground, he let out a heavy sigh and his anger subsided. I was surprised at how fast he composed himself. Without so much as a grunt, he picked up his blaster rifle and headed north, forcing Five and Nine to follow him. Gasping for air and trying to regain my strength, I followed their dreary procession as soon as I was able.
I wiped some beads of sweat and a few tears away from my eyes. I’d be damned if they thought I was crying or some such nonsense. I was exhausted, physically and emotionally, and my commanding officer’s reproach did me no good. My body seemed to react instinctively to the pain my body was going through and I felt like I just wanted to keel over and die. Eyes downcast, I followed the trio of soldiers in front of me like a beaten child. I’m a coward. No point in denying it. I’m no good at anything but gathering goods and packing boxes. As soon as I am able, I’ll head back home.
I should have died instead of those soldiers. They were true servants of the Republic. Dignitaries worth more than I in the grand scheme of things. I’m just… I’m just so damn selfish. They died because I don’t have the strength in me to fight by myself.
The streets were as grim and silent as we were. Our journey was slow, but we had lost all sense of professionalism and military rigor that we had before. It was almost as though we were on holiday–a dreary holiday, at best. If we were attacked, we would have died for sure. There was no cover at all in this section of the city; the streets had been cleared so Sith tanks could tread on through. We didn’t even have enough stamina to maintain a marching pace. Besides, our energy cells and power pacs were running low or missing altogether, leaving us in a precarious situation.
We had been walking for so long I was almost relieved when we made contact with other soldiers. Jacque spotted them first, always the ready sniper, dropping on one knee and pointing his rifle toward a distant alleyway. Toredo raised his blaster rifle instinctively while Sergeant Horan powered up his shields, leaving me clueless. However, Jacque signaled for us to stand down. Despite the rust, sweat, dirt, and other deplorable things that caked their armor, it turned out that his targets were Republic soldiers. Sergeant Horan led the procession into the alleyway Jacque identified, our weapons at the ready just in case.
There were two soldiers in the alley; luckily for us, their red and yellow armor was unmistakable. The elder of the two, a Twi’lek, was far older than any of us except maybe Jacque. He had auburn skin, vaguely resembling the color of his now faded combat armor. His lekku, peculiar head-tails that dangled from the back of his head, were positioned behind his helmet, where two customized slits were created for them to fit through. The soldier accompanying him was a female Human, probably also a noncom. She wore a full-face helmet, and I could not discern her appearance from where I was standing. I did not recognize them, but Sergeant Horan stepped out from behind the wall and waved at them.
“Soldier, what’s your name?” Horan called to the Twi’lek, in his usual monotonous tone.
“Voln,” the Twi’lek answered, not the least bit surprised by our sudden appearance, “Master Sergeant Fala Voln, Cresh Company. I’m the head of Corellia Squad. This is Corporal Marina, my third.”
Marina acknowledged us with a slight nod of her head.
Toredo, ever the somber one, was no nonsense. “Why didn’t you respond when Major Mallory tried contacting you?”
Voln crossed his arms and frowned. “Sith pinned down our unit and are blocking communications in and out of the city. We have reason to suspect they’re monitoring our channels. Too risky.”
“Is Major Regen still alive?” Horan asked.
“He’s up at the compound with a few others,” Marina spoke up.
Voln pointed eastward, directing our eyes toward a small building about four hundred meters away. “Our forces have been hit hard. Major Regen’s been trying to coordinate the attacks but had no luck. As far as I know, we’re the last of his unit. Until we met up with the major, we were sent to track down Sluissi leadership in this city. The major took command of the operation personally once our company fell apart.”
“How many of you left?” I asked.
“Less than a dozen,” Marina replied plainly.
That wasn’t good. Mallory and Regen were the leading officers in this abandoned hellhole-called-a-city, and they had entered with two full companies of Republic soldiers. Together with their survivors, our unit numbered at about thirty soldiers. If I was one of the bigshots leading this operation, I would have called the situation untenable and gotten out a long time ago. Why were we still here?
“So where are the Sluissi leaders?” Horan asked.
“Also at the compound,” Voln continued. “We tracked them down and learned they were being imprisoned there. Major Regen is trying to figure out how to get by the Sith patrols guarding the building. He sent us to search for Besh Company to provide support.”
“How bitterly ironic. We were searching for you to relieve our situation,” Jacque chimed in.
“Sounds like a plan,” Horan said. “We’ll join up with you, and you’ll come back to our base once we rescue those Sluissi.”
And so we did. I objected to the idea that the sparse remains of Regen’s outfit would be any help at all, but my comments were dutifully ignored. After we introduced ourselves to our newest set of allies, Sergeant Voln led the way toward their commanding officer. Toredo and Horan followed him closely, while Marina, Jacque, and I brought up the rear. Marina had acquired a blaster rifle from Horan, and I was the only soldier in the group with just a blaster pistol. The two soldiers of Corellia Squad were better outfitted than I, and they were just a reconnaissance squad. I am not cut out for this.
After taking a roundabout path to avoid a few Sith troopers in the main street, we arrived at an armored building that resembled one of the many boxish outposts constructed by the Republic during the Mandalorian War. If we hadn’t built it, we might as well have. Sith patrols were circling the street around the building, forcing us to creep through several sidestreets to reach an alley were several Republic soldiers and a few Sluissi guerrillas were waiting for us.
“Welcome back, Corellians,” the only Aqualish said. He spoke in Huttese, but he was using an audio translator. “Who are they?”
“We’re a segment of Major Mallory’s forces,” Horan spoke up. “We’re here to aid you in your efforts.”
“Indeed,” Voln pointed toward each of us in turn, introducing us in Huttese. “Staff Sergeant Horan is in charge of the forces. The other three are Warrant Officer Jacque, Coropral Toredo, and… and…”
He didn’t even remember my name. What a surprise.
“Private First Class Jhosua Weros, Besh Company, sir.” I saluted. “Or you can just call me Rookie. Everyone else does.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Regen replied. “What sort of nickname is ‘Rookie’? Your name is Private Weros, and that is what you shall be called.”
“Sir,” I said approvingly.
He nodded and turned away.
“Major, are the Sluissi still inside?” Horan asked.
“They are. They’re locked up in a room adjacent to the lounge–some sort of archaic safe. I suspect the Sith are planning to export them as slaves. We cannot let that happen. I have a plan, but it will take all our skill and manpower to pull it off.”
“Do you think we have enough men?” his sergeant asked.
“No,” Regen muttered. He removed the translator from his helmet, so he could speak privately. “We’ll use Mallory’s forces as a distraction. Once they punch through the first line of troops, we’ll rush the remaining Sith soldiers and rescue the prisoners. That way, we reduce our casualties and get the credit for the operation.”
He must not have realized I was fluent in Huttese.
“That sounds risky,” Voln replied. “There aren’t enough of them. Do you really think it will work?”
“Bolster their force with a few of ours. That way, they won’t be suspicious.”
“Understood.” Sergeant Voln turned toward us and smiled. In Basic, he explained: “The compound has two entrances. They don’t have threatening exterior defenses; once the patrols are dealt with, it’s easy to get inside. Most of our force will have to attack the main entrance.”
“We’ll help in any way we can,” Horan said.
The Twi’lek nodded, pleased at his response. “The interior, on the other hand, is well defended. It will be difficult to get us all inside at once. Therefore, Major Regen and I propose that a few soldiers try and sneak around the back, kill the soldiers guarding the rear entrance, and flank our enemies during the attack.”
“Sounds easy,” Jacque noted. “Too easy.”
“We’re not all going to get out of this one alive,” Voln admitted. I knew he was referring to us, but what else could I do? They wouldn’t believe me. “The guards outnumber us three-to-one, and they can call for reinforcements when necessary.”
Sergeant Horan glanced over us, eyeing each of his soldiers before responding. “I’ll nominate Rookie and Toredo for the main attack.”
Voln glanced at the major, who muttered something in Huttese.
“What is it?” Jacque asked, growing suspicious with all their whispering.
“Major Regen thinks it would be better if Jhosua went with Marina and Jacque ‘round back, Sergeant,” Voln said at last.
Horan assented, electing Jacque to lead our flanking team. Assembling the few survivors of his company, Regen gave them and their Sluissi allies a few inspired words and then allowed them a moment to themselves. While they prepared their weapons and shields, Jacque led Marina and I across the street toward the building directly neighboring the bunker. We made our way along the right side of the taller building and silently progressed until we reached the back alley. It was cramped, forcing us to walk single-file, but at least there were no Sith troopers.
“You and Marina will be the flanking unit, ‘kay Rookie?” Jacque informed me. “I’ll be waiting on that roof, watching for Sith reinforcements.”
“You a sniper, Jacque?” Marina asked, somewhat jokingly. “I didn’t know your kind’s eyes were good for that kind of thing.”
The Mon Calamari smiled, ignoring the veiled insult. “It’s more of a hobby, really. Why, I could tell you about my first rifle, all the way back on Adamastor. Shooting giant rulpins right out of the water. Those were the days. Why, even after that, during the Mandalorian War, I-”
“Might want to head on up,” I interrupted him. “We’ll be attacking any minute now.”
Jacque sighed. He seemed crestfallen and actually wanted to finish his story. Nevertheless, he climbed up a nearby ladder to a rooftop on the building adjacent to the one we were attacking. Meanwhile, Marina had prepared her weapon–the blaster rifle–and activated her shield’s energy unit. Her movements were fluid, noiseless, and reserved. Just watching her made me worried. I had less confidence, less skill, than a woman?
“Marina,” I said. “You ready?”
“You’re asking me, hotshot?” she asked. “Have you even activated your shields? Where’s your rifle?”
I frowned. “I don’t have either, but-”
“Let’s go,” Marina said, flipping off her comlink. “They’re starting.”
She led the way forward, walking several meters further into the alley until we had found our way to the back of the large complex. Sidling on the right side of the metal door that served as a–strangely unguarded–back entrance, she signaled for me to join her. Once I was there, blaster in hand, she held up three fingers and started counting down.
“Wait,” I whispered hoarsely. “Are we going on zero or one?”
I assumed zero, but apparently I was wrong. Spinning around on one foot, she elbowed the door’s control panel, causing the rusted door to slide open with a painful whine. Squeezing her blaster rifle’s trigger, Marina released a steady stream of green fire that caught several Sith troopers inside unaware. Once she charged inside, I peered in after her. No sense waiting. With a deep breath, I crouched as low as I could and followed her inside.
The bunker’s interior was boring and wholly forgettable. The walls, ceiling, and floor were covered in shining durasteel, which would have looked impressive if blaster residue and splotches of blood had not stained the halls. As I pursued Marina through the halls, she managed to fire at any wandering Sith soldiers we encountered before they threatened us.
Before I knew it, we had reached what must have been the lounge. Surrounded on all sides by doors that led to different sections of the bunker, it was essentially a central hub for the Sith troopers stationed within. There were several couches, some other miscellaneous sofas, and more than a dozen chairs scattered about, entirely ruined during the firefight. Bookshelves and game tables had been broken or tipped over, transparisteel was everywhere, and bodies were already strewn across the carpeting by the time we arrived. Sith troopers were trading fire with our Republic and Sluissi allies, sending green and red blaster fire around the room in confusion.
Only two or three Sith troopers noticed our entrance, and they fired at Marina. My companion’s shield protected her from the bulk of the blaster fire while she dashed from one end of the room to the other toward cover. I, on the other hand, ducked behind a nearby overturned table to avoid getting killed. Incoming shots ricocheted off the metal table, sending bursts of red energy in random directions. My allies were too distracted by the other soldiers to help me, but I could tell that the Sith firing at me were getting more and more precise. I wanted to fight back, but my body refused to move from behind the table. After all, I had no shielding and was armed with a measly pistol.
Marina slid behind a couch near my position. “Rookie!” she shouted. “The Sluissi are behind that door. The rest of our soldiers are pinned down, so we have to free them!”
I glanced at the door she pointed at. It was a thick metal door across the room that seemed to guard some sort of vault. About five meters from where I was, there was no way I could reach it without assistance. Sith soldiers were everywhere, spread out across the room, and without a shield I was as sure as dead.
“No way! I’m staying here.”
Her cover fell apart in a single blaster shot, forcing her to put distance between herself and me. “Don’t be a coward! I’ll cover for you.”
I was dubious of her ability to protect me. She was a woman, after all. “I don’t trust you!”
Blatant and rude, but true.
“You what?” she shouted back angrily. “Rookie, you free those captives, or by the Force, I will shoot you right out of cover until you do!”
I begrudgingly accepted my fate at that point. Rolling from the cover of the table, I avoided the incoming streams of red blaster fire and sprinted headlong for the vault. All the while, Sith troopers around me were peppering me with blaster fire, missing me by slimmer and slimmer attempts each time. Luckily, Marina kept her promise and leapt out from behind cover to draw their attention from me. With my allies around the room engaging their own selection of Sith soldiers, I was not harassed any further.
I reached the door to the vault in less than a minute. The door was only accessible by keycard. I smiled when I saw the keycard had been left in the slot. Pushing it inside, I heard a soft click. The door slid open, revealing a hulking t’landa Til waiting inside. The quadraped stood in front of all the Sluissi with a hold-out blaster in his small arms.
I think I screamed when he pulled the trigger and hit me at nearly point-blank range.
I don’t want a posthumous medal!
My eyes fluttered open, and I gasped when I saw nearly a dozen Sluissi surrounding me. Everything was quiet now that the fighting had ceased. The serpentine beings were muttering to themselves in their native tongue, and all their eyes were focused directly on me. It was peculiar and a bit uncomfortable, to be honest. Suddenly, one of the elder Sluissi with red-hued skin approached me, pushing his way through the crowd, and glanced at me with his single good eye.
“He is alive!” the Sluissi shouted in Basic. “The Ssorc Daemonss lives!”
The Sluissi cheered and repeated the phrase in their native tongue. I don’t think I’ve ever been so confused. During their bizarre chanting, Horan, Regen, and Marina shoved their way through the crowd of natives. The look on their faces was one that surpassed shock; it was as though someone had been cut in half and returned to life before their eyes.
“Rookie, you’re… alive?” Sergeant Horan asked. Even his normal monotone voice betrayed terror.
“Yeah,” I muttered. I was still a bit weak, and I couldn’t stand. “What happened?”
“The avatross survived his trial of courage and fire! He has been reborn as the great spirit of our ancestors, Ssorc Daemonss!” the elder Sluissi shouted.
The other natives cheered again.
“Quiet,” Major Regen growled in Huttese. “Private. What happened?”
“I… I don’t know,” I admitted. “I saw one of those huge t’landa Til, and he shot me. I thought I’d died…”
“His armor’s punctured, but the mesh underlay absorbed about ninety-six percent of the force. His chest’s been bruised–burned a bit, too–so it’ll sting for weeks, but he should be fine,” Marina announced, kneeling over my collapsed body. “He’s lucky to be alive.”
“How is that possible?” Horan spoke up. “In close quarters like that-”
I should be dead.
“The Ssorc Daemonss cannot die!” the aged Sluissi interrupted. “He can only be reborn! Reincarnated in times of dire need!”
“Would you shut that insane fool up?” Major Regen asked one of our Sluissi aides. “Where we come from, you do not interrupt important conversations-”
“Sergeant Horan, Major Regen,” Jacque’s voice chimed in. Even though he was talking in our leaders’ comlinks, I could hear him clearly from where I was. “You’d best finish up in there. There’s a Sith patrol headed our way. They don’t look happy.”
“How many soldiers?” Horan asked.
“Two dozen, give or take. Should I engage?”
“Negative,” Regen replied. “Get behind the building, where Private Weros and Corporal Marina entered. We’ll meet you there.”
“Can you stand, Rookie?” the sergeant asked.
I nodded, even though I was not sure. I didn’t want to be any more trouble than I already was.
“Then let’s go,” Regen said, cutting the comlink. “Marina, get the other Corellians and round up the Sluissi. Sergeant Horan, take your squad outside and link up with Jacque.”
Toredo helped me to my feet while Marina and the major tried to convince the surviving Sluissi leaders to follow us. I was grateful for the help, but incredibly embarrassed. This entire escapade had to stay off my records. Except for the part where I got shot. I could get a medal for that. And maybe free liquor.
Once I was sure I could stand, I grabbed my blaster off the ground and followed Sergeant Horan to the base’s rear exit. As planned, Jacque was there waiting for us. After a few moments, the remainder of Major Regen’s unit and the liberated Sluissi joined us. Venturing through the alleyways, we stayed as far away as we could from the Sith patrol, but it was difficult to hide nearly fifty sentient beings on short notice. We escaped detection, but just barely.
Sergeant Horan was giving orders to Toredo, Jacque, and I when Major Regen interrupted him. With so many new allies in tow, he figured it was a good idea to contact Mallory and determine a place where we could join forces. Traveling all the way back to the Maprin building would be impossible with so many unarmed Sluissi to defend. We needed to meet somewhere closer.
Our discussion was cut short when our radios suddenly crackled and returned to life.
“This is Colonel Ducian Eto, Republic Army, broadcasting on all Republic frequencies. I repeat, this is Colonel Eto, please respond if you receive this message so you can receive your new orders.”
Colonel Eto was the leader of the 39th Battalion here on Sluis Van. He was a real big shot. Survived more than a dozen battles, fought under Revan himself in the Mandalorian War, and ended up remaining with the Republic while most of his allies defected and formed a Sith Empire. We respected him and for good reason. Someone with the tactical prowess and skill he’s got could have joined the scruffy, brown-nose generals in Republic brass long ago. Instead, he chose to forgo promotions and stay a colonel to lead us common soldiers. Or so the story went.
The colonel was stationed at Outpost SV-0, one of our remaining holdouts here on Sluis Van. It was well defended and contained all the soldiers and machinery we pulled back from our other bases. There was no way the Sith could launch an attack on it without major casualties; Colonel Eto was safe to give orders from there. But then, it was one of our last bases, so it won’t be safe for long. To be honest, I would prefer it if the Sith kicked us right back into the Core. I’m no traitor, but it would be a really nice change of space. I’m already tired of the snake-people.
Either way, the colonel’s voice was a nice surprise for our tired spirits. All of us cracked a smile, and we eagerly clicked our comms in response to his message. After being redirected by several communications officers, we were told to stay put until the colonel could speak with us personally.
“Is this Besh Company?” Colonel Eto’s asked via Sergeant Horan’s helmet-mounted comlink.
“Yes, sir,” he replied.
“By the Force,” the colonel muttered. “When we lost contact, I thought we’d heard the last of your unit. I thought for sure the Sith had bombed the city. How many of you are left?”
“Three from Coruscant Squad are with me, plus the remaining four members of Regen’s company, sir. We’ve got some Sluissi with us, as well,” Sergeant Horan explained. “Besides us, Major Mallory and the rest of Besh Company are stationed in the Maprin Corp. building.”
The comm was silent for a moment. “Major Mallory and his men are dead, Sergeant. Confirmed KIA. For now, Major Regen is in command of the evac operation. I’m sending two Kneebhawk-class carriers to pick up the survivors; meet them at the city limits ASAP. Eto out.”
I bowed my head out of respect for Mallory and the other members of our unit. The Sith must have found them, or they were killed during another bombardment. This was just another case of me surviving when better soldiers died. Unlike me, Sergeant didn’t know how to handle the news. Horan’s knees buckled. Mumbling to himself, his face blanched, and he started hyperventilating. We were the last members of Besh Company, and Sergeant Horan was our commanding officer. I don’t think he’s ever been in an absolute leadership position, and he’s always had Mallory to help him out. Major Mallory had no children, but Horan was the closest thing he had to a son. I pitied him–he basically lost his father today.
“Major,” Jacque said, his voice stilted and a bit confused. “How… shall we escape the city?”
The Aqualish major was quiet for a moment. After talking with one or two of his surviving soldiers, he glanced at a datapad that contained a map of the city. “There is a sewage system that flows from the center of the city into the surrounding countryside. No doubt the evac carriers will be waiting for us. Let’s go.”
No one said anything to Horan. We figured it would be better to give him the silence and time he needed to recover from the alarming news. After some time and several wary searches for Sith patrols, he recovered. Once we were prepared, Major Regen led the way. Republic soldier and Sluissi marched side-by-side, making our way from the side streets into the sewers on the eastern edge of the city.
The sewage flowed beneath the city through massive interconnecting tubes large enough for a hoverspeeder to travel through. In retrospect, we should have used these tunnels to travel across the city. Luckily for us, the water was shallow since plumbing had not been used since the city was attacked by the Sith a few weeks ago. Nevertheless, the trip was not exciting. Dreary stone lined the walls and fetid water lingered at our ankles, reeking of excrement and rotting food. A few of us, including me, gagged at the violently bad smells, but the rest of the soldiers and the Sluissi endured the torment without a word.
Once our procession of soldiers and natives made it through the sewers, Major Regen led us into the vast countryside beyond the city limits. In times of peace, they would have looked stunning. Now, scarred by deep gashes where bombs had been dropped and littered with torn up earth left behind by tank treads, the region was almost forgettable. The city was burning behind us, its larger towers collapsing at long last from repeated artillery fire or aerial bombardment. It belonged to the Sith now.
Just as the last of our soldiers had emerged from the underground tunnels, two Kneebhawk-class low-altitude carriers descended upon us. Gunship-sized vessels meant for transport and support roles, these vessels had been in service for at least ten years. Their most prominent–and useful–feature was their enlarged and elongated aft, a stark contrast to its sleek and conical forward section.
“We’re dividing our forces,” Major Regen announced. “Just in case we’re shot down on our way to base. A dozen Sluissi will be placed in each ship, and they’ll each have a squad to escort them. Coruscanti, you’re with Kneebhawk Aleph-Dorn.”
Sergeant Horan mumbled an acknowledgement, even though he was not actually speaking to anyone but himself. I was worried for him, despite our previous encounters. He needed to talk to someone, but I didn’t know what to say. Without a word, he motioned for Toredo, Jacque, and I to join him on the first Kneebhawk.
We were lucky to have a four-man squad after this mission. Granted, we lost Major Mallory and the remainder of our allies, but at least we could say we survived. The Corellians had lost Sergeant Voln in the attack on the bunker, along with several of their Sluissi scouts.
I knew we weren’t supposed to dwell on the deaths of our comrades, but I couldn’t help it. Something was bothering me. I couldn’t pin down what it was. Before I knew it, the Kneebhawks were nearly nine kilometers in the air, leaving behind the city and the dead soldiers to burn under the last wave of Sith bombardment.
Colonel Ducian Eto sat in his chair, resting his arms on his desk. He twitched ever so slightly every few seconds, but for the most part, he was lost in thought. Sweat dripped from the back of his neck and ended up running down his red and yellow officer’s uniform. Tight-fitting and altogether uncomfortable, the uniform caused the humidity of Sluis Van to be near unbearable. The sweat traced the combat scars and weather-rugged lines in the colonel’s face, causing Eto to run his gloved hand through his cropped black hair to keep the sweat from his eyes. It didn’t work as well as he hoped, causing him to sigh.
The colonel skimmed the flimsy at his desk. There was no good news to be found. According to the reports, the Sith were beating back the Republic Army on every front. Several cities had fallen to the Sith during the past few hours, including ones Eto had ordered destroyed–his soldiers’ efforts had failed–before the Sith could seize their resources. There was practically nothing left of Besh or Cresh Company after a haphazardly prepared strike against a Sith-controlled city, but his other two companies were faring a bit better.
Since arriving on Sluis Van some three weeks ago, Colonel Eto had pleaded with the Republic Senate for reinforcements. At first, he received no response. Lately, he had been sternly rebuked for requesting more soldiers to secure an apparently unimportant Outer Rim world that was not a member of the Republic. That left his single battalion, the remains of a battered reserve fleet, and local Sluissi natives the only thing standing between the Sith Empire and this world’s valuable shipbuilding resources.
Colonel Eto hated guerrilla warfare, but he hated drawn-out sieges even more. If he had any more troops on reserve, he would have used them to secure Outpost SV-1 while the fleet distracted Sith leadership in orbit. With the Sith generals distracted, Eto would send the bulk of his forces to capture the primary Sith base on the western continent. From there, he could use the resources seized to bolster his own efforts. Unfortunately, he had no other soldiers; all of his men were stationed in SV-0 or SV-1, the last Republic outposts.
A knock on the colonel’s door forced him to return to reality. “Come in,” the weary officer said.
Lieutenant Rajes Thonnel walked in at his behest. Although he wore the same officer’s uniform as Eto, he was in every way his opposite. The colonel had attained prominent muscles and equally grievous scarring as a result of countless hours of training and in combat. Thonnel, at least fifteen years his junior, was androgynous, bright-eyed, and frail. Eto had read his file; he had never seen a day of combat in his life. He was an officer who had received his rank based on his family’s status, not skill or dedication.
The lieutenant saluted his senior officer as he walked in. In his other hand, he was balancing a large stack of datapads and flimsy. Although he had no field experience to speak of, Colonel Eto could think of no better assistant and adviser than Rajes Thonnel. He was worried that promotions would have sent him into the field, thus he delayed sending such recommendations as much as possible.
“You have news for me, Lieutenant?” Eto asked curtly.
“The… remnants of Besh and Cresh Company have returned. No good, sir. There are only about a dozen of them.”
Eto scowled. “I was afraid of that.”
“Also, Ruan and Duro Squads have been sent east–per your orders–to scout out the Iridorian presence there.”
“Is that all?”
“I’m afraid, not, sir.”
“‘You’re afraid not’?” the colonel repeated with a groan. “I was afraid of that. What is it, Thonnel?”
“The… the leader of the Sith forces wants to speak with you. On a private channel, sir.”
Eto’s face betrayed no emotion, but he was surprised. The Sith rarely held audiences with their opponents, Republic or otherwise. In fact, it was quite unlike the Sith to accept anything but death from their foes. If one of the Sith generals actually wanted to speak with a Republic commanding officer, their situation might actually have been worse than the Republic’s.
“I’ll take it from the comm in here, then. Thank you, Lieutenant.”
“Of course, sir.” Thonnel saluted. Before he left the room, he added: “And the rest of Besh and Cresh Company, sir?”
“Merge them with Altesius’s unit.”
“As you wish.”
Once Thonnel had stepped out, Eto was left to his own thoughts again. Not wanting to leave the Sith waiting, the colonel warily activated the communication panel near his desk. After obtaining the necessary frequencies from his comm. officers, Eto returned to his seat as the image of a meter-tall, hologram-blue figure formed before his eyes. Within seconds, the vague and distorted shape had taken a humanoid appearance, and Eto could barely make out the individual’s clothing and physique. The speaker wore an imposing black mask, apparently of Mandalorian design, that was speckled with rust and worn from numerous battles. A hood covered the holographic figure’s head, eventually drooping near the shoulders and joining a thick black cloak that was draped over the Sith’s ornamental combat robes.
“Colonel Ducian Eto?” The figure’s voice was calm and cordial, if a bit distorted behind the mask.
The colonel was surprised. His appearance suggested a sinister tone. He was far more worried, though, because he thought he recognized that voice.
“You have me at a disadvantage,” the colonel replied.
“I’m disappointed, Ducian. After serving me so well at Vena and Makem Te, you seem to have forgotten me so quickly…”
“Revan,” Eto shot back.
“Darth Revan,” he retorted in kind.
Eto shuddered in his seat. Darth Revan, Dark Jedi and traitor of the Republic, was speaking with him for the first time in nearly five years. After the Battle of Malachor V, the colonel had hoped to never hear from Revan again. It was bad enough that just talking with his old general brought back secrets and regrets from the Mandalorian War. He had left Revan’s fold because of the brutal tactics that the colonel could no longer agree with, but he tried to hide his disgust as best as he could for now.
“What is it you want, Revan?”
“I just want to talk, Ducian.” the Sith paced from one side of the hologram to the other. “Like we did before the war.”
“That you started,” Eto snapped. “I don’t believe you just want to talk.”
“Remember Ord Cestus? I think you were saying something about returning to your family…” Revan continued his former thought.
“My sister,” Eto replied fiercely. “Since the war ended, she’s the only one left. The Mandalorians killed everyone else.”
“I know, and I’m sorry,” Revan said. Extending his hand, he reached out as though Eto could grab it.
“No, you’re not. If you were sorry, you’d turn yourself in to me–right now. And we would have peace again.”
This time it was Revan who shuddered, more so to mock Eto than out of fear. “That cannot happen, Ducian. Your skills as a leader are invaluable. Did you think we could have won Azure without you?”
“Don’t be coy with me, Revan.”
“Did you know I had to personally take command of this battle?” Revan continued, ignoring the colonel for the time being. “The former leader was unable to properly fight your ruthless offensives. If you were still fighting for me, you’d be leading soldiers as a general by now…”
“I’m not in this for promotions, Revan. I’m in this to stop the fighting and bring you back to your Order. You are a traitor to them and to the Republic you swore to serve.”
“Is that what you tell yourself so you can sleep? Is that what you tell your soldiers, or even your sister?” Revan asked, cackling with delight. “Poor, naive, Ducian. The Republic leadership has abandoned you. They do not respect your skills or your dedication. You are just a pawn to them. A poor kath hound that they regard only because he knows how to bark and fetch!”
“Your words don’t work! I won’t join you!” Eto replied. “You and are I nothing alike.”
Revan raised his hands innocently. “I never suggested such things. However, I have taken notice of your soldiers’ faltering morale. Their… cowardice… is prevalent, and even my neophyte Force-sensitives can sense their fear. I am not merciless, Ducian, and you know this.”
“Tell that to the Mandalorians who died at Malachor V.” The colonel’s eyes blazed with anger and he added in a hushed voice, “Tell that to the Republic soldiers you left around Malachor V.”
“… If you and your soldiers retreat in three days’ time, I will allow your ships to leave the system unmolested–provided they do not attack my vessels.”
The colonel glared at the lifeless mask before him. He couldn’t even remember the man’s actual visage; it had been so long since he had seen the fallen Jedi’s true face. “You would never let us do that.”
“I would. You have my word-”
“You’re Sith. You’ve become treachery incarnate.”
“-as a friend. For your actions during the Mandalorian War. There is but one, small thing you must do for me in return.”
Eto shook his head. He knew there was a catch. “I will not swear allegiance to you, Revan.”
The Dark Lord sighed. “No, Ducian. I already said I have no desire to forcibly enlist your services. However, there is a Jedi Knight in your service who has piqued my interest.”
Eto nodded slowly, bidding him to continue.
“The young Jedi holds a key in her hand that no one else has. You have no idea what she can accomplish. Without her, the entirety of the Galactic Republic–and my own Empire–could be endangered.”
“How do you know this?”
“I have foreseen it.”
“I don’t want that to happen, but I sure don’t trust you.”
“You don’t have to,” Revan stated simply. “Simply surrender the young Jedi, Verita Ladola, to me. If you do, then all your men will escape the planet. Thus swears Revan, Lord of the Sith and Emperor of Korriban. Consider the position you are in, the lives of all your soldiers, and the life of your sister before responding to my offer.”
Eto allowed Revan’s body to dissipate, fading into an intangible blur. The colonel remained in his seat, meditating on Revan’s words. Despite his best efforts, the words of the Dark Lord gnawed at his mind. There was no way he could deny that Revan’s offer was the most satisfying option he had. He would risk the lives of men needlessly if he tried to attack the Sith elsewhere, and there were very few tactical locations his forces could defend. But what did Revan want with Verita, and why would he let the entirety of the Republic go because of her? It made no sense. It had to be a trap.
The colonel placed his right hand above his brow and rested his arms on his desk. Regardless of the means, Eto would ensure that his soldiers escaped Sluis Van. Revan could not prevent that, and the colonel would see to that personally.