Star Wars

by Alicia G

Chapter Two

War. It can be a hard thing for a child to grasp. No matter how much Ven spoke about the conflicts the sentients of the galaxy inflicted on each other, I could never understand why. Why they would wish to inflict such pain on each other. It wasn't until I had seen such travesty with my own eyes, felt the first true pangs of loss, did I learn.

~ * ---- * ~

I spun the co-pilot's chair from side to side as I watched the readings on the console in front of me. From the corner of my eye I could see the sudden twitch of Ven's lekku, the only sign of the annoyance I was causing. I had grown used to his surly demeanor and didn't make much of it. Three years of solitude on the forest planet had taught me that much at least."Master, where is it you said we were going?"

"Geonosis. And before you ask; we're to aid in the rescue of Master Obi-Wan Kenobi, Senator Padme Amidala and Padawan Anakin Skywalker."

I turned, pretending to study a set of read outs closely to hide the smile playing on my lips. My constant questioning had always seemed to be an annoyance to him. Not that I purposefully asked questions to cause such a reaction. Being naturally curious I usually found the safest course to sate it was to ask questions. Of course, not all questions can be answered with words, some things must be experienced. As my attention turned to the brown planet below, I tried to recall what I knew about Geonosis. From what I could see on the scanners it's an arid planet with a low percentage of water, which meant a great deal of dust and sand was to be expected.

The console in front of me chirped and my attention turned suddenly to the data burst we were receiving. "Master, we are receiving orders to rendezvous at a temporary command center and aid in the apprehension of the Separatists attempting to flee." I sent the coordinates to one of Ven's monitors, which he responded to with a manipulation of his controls. He angled his small freighter on a sharper trajectory through the atmosphere. Once Ven's piloting would have frightened me, but now, after two years of traveling with him on this very ship, I didn't bat an eye over his maneuvers. I only worried that he would cause some unnecessary work if the hull plating got too badly damaged. With a wary eye, I watched the readouts as the hull plating continued to heat up.

My attention was diverted when I picked up a change in the sensor read outs. "Readings are showing Separatists vessels powering up engines."

"You know as well as I this ship doesn't have the capacity to take out one of them." His tone held the familiar note of a challenge. Since the ship was a Barloz-class freighter, a design known for its sturdiness rather than its offensive capabilities, its primary use was as a home for us when we traveled. While Ven had upgraded the ship, the additions had been primarily defensive.

"No Master, but perhaps we can disable their engines." I was already scanning one of the ships, a Core ship, looking for the weak spots and using my own intuition to determine the most likely target. When I was done, I sent the target coordinates to him. As we passed over the ship, he fired a volley of torpedoes. His shot was true and the engine he targeted shorted out.

As the spherical ship began its decent toward the surface once more, Ven looked up and met my gaze. "Well done, Marina."

"Thank you, Master." I fought the forming smile and turned my attention back to the sensors. "There are reports of groups of Geonosians attempting to sabotage the factories."

"We'll head there then. Request backup from the command center."

Nodding quickly, I requested the aid and informed them of our intentions. I had just received a confirmation when I noticed we had landed. Ven was standing from his seat and was heading toward the ramp. As he walked, he adjusted the weighted gloves he wore, a habitual gesture for when he knew he was about to get into an unavoidable confrontation. Ven was a master of an unusual sect of the Order called Force Warriors. Unusual, in that not many studied the art in this day and age of lightsaber combat. Having seen Ven in action, I knew once he got up close to an enemy he didn't need his lightsaber. He needed only his fists. Following behind, I pulled my set of gloves from a pouch on my belt. As most of my duties on the ship involved repair work I rarely wore them.

The ramp was already lowering when I reached Ven's side. I was astounded by the sudden blast of noise which invaded the ship. Ven saw my wince as I attempted to adjust.

"Courage, Marina. You have been training to handle times such as these." True enough, he had been preparing me for this. He just hoped I would never need his training. I also knew training with remotes and being involved in an actual battle were two entirely different situations.

Responding with a nod, I unhooked the lightsaber from my belt. The weight of the hilt was comforting in my hand. The ramp was half lowered as we jumped the rest of the way off the ship. I looked quickly around before turning to the controls to close the ramp and lock the access panel.

When I turned back around I had my first glimpse of the Republic’s newest acquisition. At least, that’s how Ven referred to them. While he had been trained to fight and fight well, he was a peace loving man. The thought a group of individuals, clones or not, had been created solely for the intention of being used in war greatly troubled him.

Ten white armored troopers jumped out of a LAAT/i and ran toward us, wary as they looked about them. Stopping in formation the apparent leader, sporting olive green arm plates and stripe on his helmet, took an additional step forward. Behind them the LAAT/i took off, already recalled for another mission. "General, Commander, CT-1532 reporting.”

Ven nodded to the trooper. "Very good, Sergeant. Let's get to work." He turned and started walking toward the factory designated as a target. "We are to divert the Geonosian saboteurs from further affecting the factories." I walked beside him, still watching the clones curiously over my shoulder. They fell in behind us, taking up defensive positions.

As we neared the factory, I realized how quiet it had become. Up until now, I could hear distance indications of fighting elsewhere. Nearby, however, there was none. Crouching behind a fallen wall, I looked at the datapad I carried on my belt and checked the coordinates. We were in the right place, but there was no sign of the Geonosians reported to have made their way here.

Ven, sensing my uncertainty, whispered to me, "Reach out with your feelings. You will find them." I did as he instructed and did indeed find them. The Geonosians, an insectoid species,, had taken up a position inside the factory's entrance. They were attempting to ambush us. I tried to count how many of them there were, but my mind was suddenly spinning as I sensed more coming in behind us.

"Master..." I looked behind us concerned. They weren't close enough to be in sight, but I knew they were coming straight for us.

"I sense them too." He was looking around for an escape route. A sudden explosion caused the walls of a rock carved building to collapse. Debris and dust filled the air. I tried not to breathe it in as I surveyed the area once more. The escape route we both had been considering was cut off. We were trapped and now outnumbered. "Sergeant, call for backup."

"General, our transmissions are being jammed." Beside me I heard Ven curse quietly in Ryl.

I had gone back to counting the number of Geonosians. Five were in the factory while about twenty were closing in behind us. "Master, we could take the factory and hold position till reinforcements arrive."

"If they haven't rigged the factory to explode already." He was studying the factory ahead of us.

"Won't know till we go in. Besides, I should be able to neutralize any explosives they have set." I had been doing exceedingly well in my lessons concerning demolitions. Never could I fault Ven for giving me a wide range of skills.

"Sergeant, how many grenades do we have?"

"Five thermal detonators and ten frags among us, General."

"That should be plenty. Marina, set several detonators here to detonate manually. You," he said indicating a trooper. "Stay here and cover her. Rest of you, with me." A few of the troopers handed me a couple detonators before following Ven, firing shots toward the factory entrance to cover the charge. Ven activated his silver blade, deflecting blaster bolts fired from within. I quickly recovered from my momentary lapse as I sensed the Geonosians, having heard the sounds of combat, pick up their pace.

I looked at the detonators for a moment and then at the crumbling wall where I had taken cover. Pulling out my kit I set about my task of rigging the charges with practiced motions. The remaining trooper watched as I worked. I carefully hid the detonators amoung the debris around the wall, camoflaging them as best I could.

A shot whizzed by my head, indicating I had run of time. Grasping a grenade in my right hand and activating my lightsaber in my left I prepared for our retreat. "Let's go." The trooper was on the other side of the wall and had already begun returning fire. Quickly calculating the distance, I called on the Force to place the grenade in a mound of loose sand in between us and the Geonosians. The resulting explosion kicked up a large cloud of dust creating the diversion I had hoped for. Making a run for it we made it safely to the now captured factory.

We were greeted by three troopers placed to guard the entrance. As we neared, they began firing at the rapidly approaching Geonosians behind us. They weren't, however, close enough to the wall outcropping. I moved deeper into the factory's entrance hall. Ven was surveying the wounds a few of the troopers had sustained and applying bandages where needed.

"Charges are set, Master." I handed him the detonator. "Any sign of explosives in here?"

"None, take these two and get to work," he said indicating two of the wounded troopers he had been working on.

"Yes, Master." Without another word, I gestured for the troopers to follow and proceeded down the hallway. The power to the building had been disconnected forcing us to activate a series of glow rods to compensate. The Geonosians had crafted their buildings into the stone. While some of the buildings were reminiscent of termite hills they also carved underground. This factory was one such subterranean structure. The first couple levels housed the spare parts and materials used in production while the levels below that contained the factory itself.

The two wounded troopers and I found several Geonosian stragglers, but nothing to indicate they had set any charges. With some apprehension, we continued further into the factory using the emergency access ladders to delve further undergroud. A sudden explosion on the surface caused me to smile slightly as I reached out toward a rock wall to steady myself. There was a small cracking sound and I could see parts of the ceiling and walls begin to crack around us. The thermal detonators I had set at the crumbled wall had detonated. I focused my senses toward the surface, trying to determine what damage they had caused. The blast had taken out some of the Geonosians' dwindling party leaving about seven to be dealt with. We were about to continue down the dark passageway when another explosion rocked the factory, this time causing the walls and ceiling to begin collapsing.

"Uh oh... Not good. Fall back." I reached out with the Force, placing pressure on the weakest parts of the ceiling and walls around us in an attempt to give us more time. As it took most of my concentration to do this; one of the troopers ran beside me, holding my elbow to keep me from tripping. I lost track of how long we were moving, but it seemed like ages before we arrived back at the access shaft to the higher levels. No longer able to concentrate, the passageway we just passed through collapsed. "Move it," I ordered breathlessly. The two troopers didn't hesitate as they mounted the ladder and began the climb upward. When I reached the top, one of the troopers grabbed my arms, pulling me out of the shaft. I paused a moment to catch my breath, taking the time to survey our surroundings. The explosions apparently hadn't affected the upper levels of the factory, but I guessed it wouldn't be long before it too became unstable.

"Commander?" One of the troopers looked down on me, his tone concerned.

"Let's go, we should get back to the others." I didn't wait for a response as I turned, running toward the entrance.

The sight that met us there was devastating. Three troopers had been pulled back from the entrance, and were lying almost motionless on the stone floor. Ven was standing near the entrance, deflecting some of the shots back toward the Geonosians with ease. The two troopers who had accompanied me took up a position at the opening, joining their five remaining squad mates. Noticing our arrival; Ven backed further into the factory toward me. He deactivated the silver lightsaber, holding it easily in his hand by his side.

"Find anything?"

I shook my head. "No, we had to discontinue the search when the subterranean levels became unstable. The second explosion destabilized the foundation."

"That's too bad. The Geonosians outside are becoming increasingly difficult targets. Since we are still unable to contact reinforcements..." He was cut off by a loud thud. But Ven didn't have to finish the sentence. We were pinned. He looked back over his shoulder as one of our troopers collapsed against the wall. He had taken a direct hit. The trooper behind him grabbed the back of his armor, pulling his wounded squad mate out of the way and then taking his place.

"What are we going to do, Master?" I asked him quietly. "We can't stay here."

Ven nodded, looking toward the opening. There was a short lull in the blasts coming through. "What would you suggest?"

I sighed. Even in the direst of circumstances, he was always testing me. I thought for a moment. "We could fall further back into the factory. Have them come after us in the hope we can take them out in the close quarters." There wasn't much the two of us could do from a distance. In close quarters, we could easily handle the remaining Geonosians.

"Or they will wait for their own reinforcements or for the likelihood the building will collapse on us."

"There's going to be risk in anything we try, Master."

He waited, turning to look at me once more.

"We could press forward. Surprise them with the sudden charge. Do we still have some grenades?" With a nod from Ven, I continued. "When we get close enough we can use the grenades to disorient them further or take them out completely." I paused a moment. This was probably our best bet. Ven was right; they could wait for reinforcemtents to arrive and who knew how long the structure would remain standing. At any moment it could collapse right on top of us.

"Sergeant, prepare for a charge. We will provide cover until you're close enough to bombard them with the remaining grenades."

The sergeant looked back at Ven briefly and then began relaying orders to the rest of the squad. Only six were able to stand. Outside I could sense five Geonosians holding their ground in ruins war the wall had been.

I reached for my lightsaber, only to find it was gone. "Uh oh." I looked down at my belt and checked the pouches. My datapad was gone as well. I must have lost them during the cave in.

"What is it, Marina?"

"Um..." This wasn't going to pleasant. Especially after the many lectures over the years of such irresponsibility. "My lightsaber is gone," I answered sheepishly, waiting for the lecture I was sure to get.

Instead he sighed, "We will discuss this later." He passed over the lightsaber he held in his hand, already reaching for the backup he kept hidden. He activated it and a silver blade came to life. The brother to the lightsaber I held in my hand. This was the first time he allowed me use to one of his sabers. We had always been able to retrieve mine in the past or, if not, had the time to rebuild it. Already I was close to being able to build my own.

The lightsaber I held was thicker than most with the activation switch set near the top of the hilt. The hand grip consisted of a protruding spiral which wrapped around and was offset by beveled glyphs following along the spiral to the bottom. Ven pulled me out of my examination of the hilt by heading toward the entrance; the hum of his lightsaber becoming increasingly distant as he moved away. Swiftly, I activated my borrowed lightsaber, hefting it in my hand to accustom myself to the change. Satisfied with how it felt in my hand, I took my place on the other side of the exit from Ven. I knew what to expect from this tactic. We would head out in front with the troopers, providing cover till we reached optimal range for them to toss grenades at the Geonosians. How hard could this be? I winced... Why did I just ask that? I took a deep breath, calming my sudden nerves.

On the other side of the exit, Ven was looking from me to the Geonosians. He gave a deliberate nod, his signal. Stepping out in sync, we instantly began redirecting blaster bolts from ourselves and the troopers behind us. Ven was able to send a good deal of them back toward the Geonosians causing them to duck for cover. I, however, barely managed to cover my side of the formation. Concentrating on the blaster fire I matched Ven's pace as we made our way steadily toward the entrenched Geonosians. Behind us, the troopers continued to fire at the Geonosians, and then, finally, we were in range. Massive explosions rang in my ears as the remaining frag grenades detonated.

Then it was quiet save for the hum of our two lightsabers. Our squad moved cautiously through the dust. Blinking rapidly, I tried to clear my eyes of the irritating dust and was forced to close them when they started to burn. Thankfully, I didn't need my eyes to see. I compensated by reaching out with the Force and allowed it to guide me forward. I couldn't sense any surviving Geonosians here. Overhead I could hear the familiar sound of the LAAT/i returning. Nearby I heard the squad sergeant requesting pickup.We had done it.

The dust slowly cleared, but it was made worse by the approaching LAAT/i which set down a dozen or so meters away. I turned to a few of the troopers beside me. "Go collect the wounded." They saluted to me before running off to fulfill my command. Looking around, I was struck by the carnage. Decimated and burning Geonosian corpses littered the ground only outnumbered it seemed by the piles of debris. I grew sick. Leaning against the remains of the wall, I attempted to focus on something other than what I saw around me.

"Commander?" The sergeant was suddenly standing beside me, obviously concerned. I looked at him and saw his helmet was off, held under is arm.

"Yes, Sergeant?" I fought with the undesirable urge to purge the contents on my stomach.

"We have droids closing in on our position, Commander."

"Have all men been accounted for?"

"General Ven and a few of the others are still retrieving the injured." Looking over toward the collapsing factory, I saw the three troopers helping their comrades toward the LAAT/i. There was no sign of Ven.

"Let's be ready to go once they are back." The troop sergeant nodded and made his way back to the transport. I followed him, matching his pace to walk at his side.

"Commander?" I had been staring at him. Now that there was a lull in combat my curiosity had come out in full force.

"Uhm... I was just wondering..." The sergeant looked at me waiting. "Is that really your name? CT-1532?"

"This is neither the time nor the place for that sort of question, Commander." He looked off toward the factory. I sighed at his response. He was right of course, but that never really kept me from asking such questions.

"I'm guessing that's a 'yes'." I thought a moment, looking off in the same direction. The troopers were moving slowly toward us. "Kaden." He turned his head to look. If he didn't have his helmet on, I would have met his gaze. I settled for looking at the "t" shaped visor. "Sergeant Kaden. It has a rather nice ring to it, don't you think?" Kaden considered me a moment. I smiled at him, and then turned back toward the transport.

The troopers were more than halfway to the transport when the first rank of droids came within firing range. The resemblance between the Geonosians and the B-1 battle droids they had produced was uncanny. Taking cover in the LAAT/i, the troopers returned fire. I turned and ran toward the retreating troopers to provide cover with my lightsaber. Ven was still nowhere in sight. "Where is he? Where is Master Ven?" I yelled to the troopers, deflecting a few shots coming our way. The noise level was beginning to increase again.

"He's still inside, CT 1478 was having difficulties and the general stayed behind."

I swore fluently in Ryl, and then hissed as I took a shot to my leg. I resumed my concentration of deflecting the incoming fire, limping slowly toward the LAAT/i with the troopers following behind. Troopers from the transport reached down and started hauling their squad mates inside. I remained outside still staring at the factory. Where was he?

"Commander, we need to leave. Our position is being overrun," Kaden called, holding out an arm to pull me inside.

"Master Ven is still inside. We can't leave just yet." My attention was turned toward the factory, looking for any sign that Ven would emerge from inside.

"There's no time." He had jumped out of the transport and took the few steps to approach me. "I'm sorry for this, Commander," he said, just as he picked me up and tossed me into the transport. He leapt in beside me just in time to prevent me from jumping out again. The transport lifted up and shook slightly as blaster fire impacted the plating.

"You are out of line, Sergeant," I said, glaring at him. "Turn back now!" Then I turned my attention to outside the craft to where the factory was. There was still no sign. The droids were steadily making their way closer to the factory.

Kaden shook his head. "Sorry, Commander. You're welcome to send in a reprimand."

No... That I wouldn't do. How could I reprimand him for doing his duty, when I had almost failed to do mine? I was suddenly hit by the extent of what just happened. Could he really be gone? Or having taken refuge inside the factory, was he still waiting? I reached out with the Force, using the bond which had formed between us over the years to home in on him. I found nothing.

He was gone. I could no longer sense him in the Force. My knees buckled beneath me as I was suddenly overwhelmed by the emotions I felt. Kaden caught me and led me to a bench without a word. My head was bowed forward as I fought with the emotions which threatened to take over.

Firith Ven was gone.

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