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Mandalorian Wars: A Trial by Fire

Chapter Text

Wanted to say a couple of things before getting started with the story. Most important first: thank you so much, to each and every one of you for reading. Feedback would absolutely make my day, so I can improve my stories for you. But regardless each pair of eyes makes me happy. I love to write and this is my first time showing my work to the public. The Old Republic is my favorite period in Star Wars, and I hope I can do it justice. The Mandalorian Wars is pretty unexplored, and I wanted to fill some of that in.

Since Disney decanonized Legends, I've made some creative changes. For that reason, the following explainer has spoilers for several Old Republic-era media. If you don't really know anything about Old Republic era lore (or plan on playing KotOR), skip this. It's more for those who are very up-to-speed on this era of Star Wars lore.

*SPOILERS*

(1) The Mandalorian Wars take place over 100 years after the Exar Kun Wars (as opposed to 20 years in Legends). The point was that the Republic had no major wars in its recent memory and was very complacent and lazy in its peacefulness.

(2) The Mandalorians were never manipulated by the Sith into invading the Republic. That decision really peeved me when it came out, and I never agreed. Just because the Sith are bad guys doesn't mean they're responsible for EVERY bad thing that happens in the entire universe. Some things just happen organically. This, to me, is one of them.

(3) The Sith never control Revan and turn him to the dark side. Again, when I learned this from the Revan novel, I was shocked. Revan, one of the most intelligent, powerful, and strategically minded individuals in galactic history, becomes a lap dog for some other Sith lord. Yeah, right. Bungled up one of the best storylines in the SW universe, in my opinion. As above, some things happen organically. Revan's fall to the dark side is one of them - the horrors and power that comes with war can do that to some people. Along with, of course, being shunned by the traditionalists in the Jedi Order.

END SPOILERS

With that being said, read on! I hope you enjoy reading this story as much as I enjoy writing it.

Chapter Text

She had a bad feeling. As her master would say, she "felt a disturbance in the Force." She was still getting attuned to her senses; she did not have the same clarity as most Knights and Masters had. But this was a great enough disturbance that even Mekumi Sakaroto, the Padawan that she was, could feel it.

It felt like despair. It was the sinking feeling in one's gut when they walked into the front door to find a beloved family member dead. It felt like the shattering of security one got after their house gets burgled, that they are no longer safe even in their castle. Before she could speculate about what happened, she sensed a presence enter into the room and slink up behind her.

"Meku, you're gonna wanna see this." His familiar voice was like a comforting hand on her shoulder, calming her senses.

"Can it wait? I'm in the middle of some meditation." Meku was kneeled on the floor, hands clasped in the traditional Jedi stance. Her answer was only half-true; she didn't want to confront the evidence. She hoped maybe whatever it was would be handled by someone more powerful or talented than she.

Sakett Jonen was her best friend, and could see right through her. "Trust me on this. I've felt it too. You need to see what's going on."

Meku sighed and muttered, "alright." He was right; she was a Jedi, sworn to protect peace and justice in the galaxy. She may as well quit the Order if she didn't want to confront problems. Meku leaned on her arm and stood up to face her best friend.

Mekumi was a short and slender human. She had pale skin broken up by a few dark freckles. Her long, neat hair was white. It was straightened and combed neatly all the way down to her mid-back, except for the traditional Padawan's braid. Her wide doe-eyes were an icy gray-blue.

She stood in stark contrast to her best friend. Sakett was also human, but he was tall and gangly. Meku's robes fit snug over her skin, while Sakett's seemed to hang off of him. His skin was brown and earthy. His hair was cropped short, with the exception of his braid.

Sakett generally radiated an energy of good-natured awkwardness. Not today. Meku could feel fear on him as they walked down the hallway. It was an echo of the disturbance, and she could hear this echo radiating throughout the massive Jedi temple on Coruscant. Her home. She whispered part of the Jedi Code to calm herself. "There is no chaos, there is harmony, there is no chaos, there is harmony, there is no chaos, there is harmony." She took a deep breath to center herself. Sakett's easygoing presence usually comforted her, but his worry put her even more on edge.

They approached the door leading to the auditorium, where Padawans would be lectured en masse by Masters, or would get together to watch HoloVids. Meku could feel the fear amplified beyond this door. It wrenched her gut. She took a deep breath. The door opened.

The auditorium was a massive, round room bordered by windows showing Coruscant's hectic sky traffic. There were no seats; Jedi preferred to sit on the ground. The room was packed with Padawans, no Knights or Masters were around yet. The windows were darkened, and one was replaced with a screen showing a newscast. This was the first amplifier of the Force's disturbance, and this is what brought it here, from thousands of light-years away, echoing into the Temple.

The headline simply read "VANQUO INVADED." The screen was showing a shaky, blurry video. The cameraman must've been holding the camera with no stability equipment. But certain sounds were unmistakable. Blaster fire. Landers touching down, the hiss of their airlocks opening doors to release troops. Explosions. Screams. Soldiers barking out orders and positions. War cries.

The fatherly news anchor narrated everything he knew. Trained to have a calm, professional voice at all times, he acted completely out of character. Patches of sweat showed through his formal clothes and shone on his forehead. He had to keep his voice from shaking and peppered his phrases with "ums" and "uhs," finding words difficult.

". . . it's confirmed that this, uh, this attack happened less than half an hour ago. Um, ah, the Republic, um, flotilla above the planet was, it, it was… it was destroyed.

The…" Meku could sense the anchor's difficulty with the word, like cursing in front of one's mother, "the... Mandalorians began landing troops. Our forces on the planet are fighting bravely, uh, they, um. They're requesting reinforcements, and we believe…"

The Mandalorians. Meku's heart sank. It was happening. Over the last eight years, the race of warriors had been raiding and conquering worlds in the outer rim. They had been very careful not to target Republic member-worlds. But most recently, the attacks began getting closer and closer to the Republic's border.

The Republic did nothing. The last Chancellor took the advice of the Jedi Council and did not intervene. The final nail in his coffin was to rush the distant world of Taris into Republic membership and move a massive fleet into Tarisian space when the Mandalorians got close. Why? Many big business interests lay in Taris.

This was an election year. He was voted out by an outraged public, and decried as a corrupt hypocrite who only protected these outer rim planets when it benefitted his pockets. He was replaced with an impassioned, charismatic leader who promised action against the Mandalorians, and who promised to defend any world from them, rich or poor. She was sworn in only a few months ago.

She responded to the Mandalorian threat by sending a small flotilla to the planet Flashpoint, which lay just outside the borders of Republic space. This fleet was engaged and defeated, and the Mandalorians took the barren world. Smaller Republic and Mandalorian fleets engaged over Suurja, an outer rim world, for a few months, but the fighting was inconclusive.

Afterwards, the Mandalorian advance cooled, and the public believed they'd been intimidated by this new Chancellor. But it all became clear today. They had been building their strength to attack the Republic. To call their bluff.

The Mandalorians' wars were almost unreal to Meku, the Jedi, and most people living in the Republic. It was like something that happened in a HoloVid, almost a legend. The Mandalorians seemed like someone else's problem, and the Republic always felt like a safe haven. And over eight years, while people fought and died, the Republic's people had become used to it. Even bored by it.

This pathetic dream was shattered today. For eight years, the Republic treated the Mandalorian threat like they would a newscast about a string of violent burglaries several cities away. No big deal. Today, the Republic awoke in the middle of the night to find the door kicked in and the armed burglar in the living room. Vanquo was a Republic world.

A Padawan on the far edge of the room was sobbing hysterically. Meku recognized him; a stocky Twi-Lek. Vanquo was his homeworld. His family was still there, working in its mines. Despite being raised in the Temple since infancy, the connection of blood was still strong. His friends were crowded around him, trying to reassure him with the Jedi Code. "There is no emotion, there is peace. Please, relax." His sobbing only grew louder.

Meku ran a hand over her scalp in disbelief, causing a few strands to stand up on her otherwise immaculate hair. Confusion and fear controlled the atmosphere. Meku looked up to Sakett. "What do we do?" His hand rubbed the back of his neck.

"Ionno." he paused. "Hey, the Council will know. They always know. I trust them."

"You… you think they'll send us out to fight them?" Meku sounded nervous. She feared being shipped out to the front line.

"We're guardians of peace and justice in this Republic, right? Seems like a no-brainer."

"Hm." She watched the Mandalorians advance on the holoscreen. They seemed unstoppable, like a force of nature. The garrison troops might as well be trying to stop a tidal wave. A rocket was fired towards the camera, and the feed was replaced with static. Without even thinking, she spoke. "This changes everything."

Chapter Text

In a few days, the entire planet had been taken by Mandalorian forces. They demolished the fleet above the planet, they demolished the ground garrison, and they demolished the even bigger reinforcement fleet. The Mandalorians were now headed to Taris, and the Republic was scrambling an even bigger fleet to defend the ecumenopolis.

Their attack startled the Republic, but the crushing victories terrified them. This sent mighty shockwaves through the Republic and the Jedi Order. Jedi were trained since birth to let go of their fears and other emotions, and simply become vessels for the Force. This was difficult when Mandalorians were knocking on the front door.

The new Chancellor called for every part of the Republic to join the fight against the invaders. She called for volunteers to work in its armies. Its titanic manufacturing base would be converted into a war machine, to create weapons, armor, and material.

Meku felt it wouldn't be enough.

A few days after the invasion of Vanquo, the Council had urged Jedi Masters to call meetings and discuss things with their apprentices. Air things out. Meku and Sakett were in one of these meetings, along with several other Padawans and their Masters. Sakett's Master, Kelam Risan, had set this up.

The meeting had Master Risan's mark all over it. Risan loved food, he loved cooking & eating. He must've thought the best way to ease the tension was to have a cookout on an outside deck of the Temple. Tables were set up, some soft music was playing, and all sorts of food was laid out. Much of it was exotic; fruits, vegetables, and meats from distant places. Haruun Kal, Naboo, Tatooine, Alderaan, Cato Neimoidia, and more were represented on people's plates. Tarisian Ale, considered some of the finest liquor in the galaxy, was set up. For Masters only.

"How difficult was it to get Tarisian Ale here?" Meku thought, shocked. "Aren't the Mandalorians on their way there?" Master Risan and a few other culinarily inclined Jedi cooked meat and vegetables, the smoke going up into the open air. They snuck bites here and there. Sakett dutifully helped his Master, carrying trays of meat to the cookers, and bringing the finished products out to tables. Council Grand Master Atris, Master of the Archives, was present at a bigger table. She sat with a few other Masters and Knights, all of whom hung on her every word. Many others were talking, socializing in groups. Meku sat alone, poking at her food.

 

 

She had a Kaadu steak, with some various greens on the side. Master Risan had loaded up her plate. "Eat, young one!" he said, several minutes earlier. "If you wanna be a strong Jedi, you need all the nutrients you can get! Your body's a temple, take care of it!" Meku never had a big appetite. For a Jedi, at least. Jedi ate like rancors; their use of the Force supercharged their metabolisms.

She had even less of an appetite now. Meku didn't eat when she was stressed. She had so many questions, so few answers. She wanted to just talk about this. And what was everyone doing? Eating, making small talk. Her Master had avoided discussing this, opting to help Risan set up for the cookout.

Everyone talked. Meku occupied herself inside her own head. She was never one for parties. She hated small talk. She took a bite, chewing mindlessly. She was so deep in thought, she couldn't appreciate the meat's exquisite flavor.

She looked around. Up at the sky, sun shining on this beautiful day. Sky traffic, busy as always, cast dancing shadows all along the temple's surface. The wisps of smoke making their ways upwards. She followed that down, seeing the cookers, occupied with their grilling. She looked around. Bountiful food, everything looked plump to bursting. There were people near her, talking sports. She stayed silent, knowing very little about sports.

Meku closed her eyes, opting to feel the energy of the people here. And she could feel it, a lightheartedness. The rich food and drink were doing their jobs well, lubricating plenty of conversation. But all this was just a blanket, a thin one. She took a deep breath, stretching out with her feelings, as her Master taught. Peeling back that blanket.

Everyone was using the food and small talk to distract themselves from the questions that plagued them since the invasion of Vanquo. The thin blanket provided only a superficial comfort to the questions squirming inside. The fears, worries, stress, and guilt that caused more than one sleepless night. Would they get their answers here?

 

 

"Meku, what'cha eating there?" She was startled out of her thoughts by one of the voices in the nearby group.

"Uh," she looked down at her food, forgetting what was in front of her. "Kaadu steak, I think?"

"Is it good?" One of the Padawans talking sports was trying to include her in the conversation.

"Well," she looked down again, as if the food would give her the answer. She paused for a moment. "I, uh, I don't remember."

The apprentice gave a "is this person for real?" look. "You... don't remember?"

"I'm sorry," Meku replied, "I'm kind of out of it."

"Why don't you tell us what you think of the Galactic Cup? Rooting for Coruscant?"

"I haven't really been watching it lately." Meku wished she had more to say. She was bad at this. "I was rooting for Iridonia, but they got kicked out. I stopped following it after that."

"Oh." One of the others in the group started talking about why Iridonia lost the game, and the kind Padawan turned back to listen. Meku's thoughts went inward, tuning out the conversation which was likely to ignore her again.

 

 

She wanted answers. Before she could get too deep into thought, she was again interrupted. This time, by a voice much more familiar and comforting to her.

"Meku, you're too tense." Sakett was holding an empty tray, meat juices pooled on it. "C'mon, try and enjoy your food. You've hardly taken a bite." He set the tray down and sat down next to her. Meku smiled warmly at her friend.

"I'm not that hungry… I've been picking at this. Probably won't finish it."

"You've been overthinking a lot, huh?" Sakett gazed at his friend with care and concern.

"You have no idea, Sak." She rubbed her temples. "The Mandalorians just destroyed two fleets and they're knocking on our front door. And no Master here seems worried. Is it weird of me to be so worried?"

"Not at all! I'm worried too. It's like, so many people out there lost their homes or are hurt." He paused. "Or they… passed on. I've been feeling like we should do something about it."

"Right! I sense a lot of Jedi feeling like we do. But the Council doesn't seem to get it."

"Well, it's only been a few days. Maybe they're still planning on something."

"Maybe. I just wish they'd let us know. We're fumbling around in the dark."

"I trust them. They are slow sometimes, but they always do the right thing."

"Hey, maybe we'll be like those Jedi in the HoloVids, fighting the good fight! Valiantly beating badguys with a swish of the saber!" She imitated the famous movie trailer voice, and pantomimed saber fighting.

Sakett continued the reference, "And no blaster raised to us shall succeed!" He raised two imaginary blasters to his friend, who pretended to deflect the bolts back at him. He pantomimed being hit with the bolts.

 

 

Meku and Sakett shared a chuckle before sighing in sync. Meku relaxed a bit and took another bite, now able to taste the flavor.

"Wow, this is really great!"

"I seasoned it myself," Sakett said proudly.

"You did well! It's sublime! You need to do this more!" Sakett smiled wider than she'd ever seen.

"Master Risan taught me." Sakett rubbed the back of his neck.

"He's teaching you important Jedi skills, huh?" Meku gave a teasing smile.

"Hey hey! What's more important than nourishing your body?"

"Oh so important! A Sith Lord will beat you with two hands tied behind his back, but hey, at least your seasoning's on point!"

"What about the Mandalorians?"

"Maybe if you threw steaks at them, they'll be distracted and you'll live."

Sakett deepened his voice, "My enemies underestimate the power of the Sauce!"

Meku guffawed. "May the Sauce be with you!"

 

 

The two of them continued talking, the conversation flowing like water between them. They teased each other, playfully arguing about whether the Force or the Sauce was more powerful. Meku was thankful for him; she never got along this well with anyone in the Temple. They talked for over an hour, while everyone finished their plates and passed around desserts. After dessert was served, Master Risan banged on the metal cooker, calling for attention.

"All right everyone," Risan announced, "what do you all think of the food?" The air buzzed with "good," "delicious," and other such words, while many raised their glasses or gave thumbs-up. He continued.

"All of us Masters have sensed much emotion, stirring in you. Fear, confusion. Anger. Hate, even." He had a tone like a father choosing to give his child stern talk rather than disciplining.

"We understand how you feel. The threat of invasion is no small matter. So let's discuss these feelings, and air them out."

One of the younger padawans, who had barely reached teen years, exclaimed, "Master Risan, will the Mandalorians attack Coruscant?"

Risan chuckled; his chuckle masked a fear so subtle and so well-hidden it barely registered in Meku's senses. "No, the Republic war machine will stop them. You needn't worry about being attacked."

"But Master," another apprentice piped in, "the news reports say that the Mandalorians have defeated two Republic fleets!"

"The media likes to make things seem worse than they actually are. Our brave soldiers will see us through to victory."

Many more questions were asked, mostly by apprentices who were very young, preteens, all centering around how deep into the Republic the invaders would actually get. In the Force, Meku could feel the buzz of the Padawans who were old enough to fight, and had different concerns on their minds.

 

 

Meku looked at Sakett. They were wondering the same thing, the question that plagued them from the beginning. All this talk about the invaders' eventual defeat was just beating around the bush. Sakett nodded once before making his move.

"Master!"

"Yes, my Padawan?" Risan smiled at his protegé.

"When is the Council going to send us out there to help?" Sakett inquired.

The answer came with a flat yet powerful tone, like a book dropped from the top of a shelf. "They aren't. Next question."

In that moment, a thousand emotions flooded Meku's mind. She could feel the wave of emotions, like hers, overcome the Knights and fighting-age apprentices nearby. At first, she was relieved. She feared combat with the nigh-unkillable Mandalorians, and it was a weight off her shoulders to not be forced to go to Taris or some other world to risk life and limb in this war. But less than a split second later came a stronger emotion.

Guilt.

Sakett was right. A Jedi's whole life was to protect the Republic. To protect the poor, downtrodden, innocent people of the galaxy from war, oppression, and any other scourge. To be a shield for those not strong enough to defend themselves. She felt dirty, like a child who had been caught doing some horrible wrong against their parent. Except this time, it was the parent who allowed it.

 

 

Master Risan was in the middle of answering another question when Meku suddenly and sharply called out.

"Why?"

Everyone was caught by surprise. Meku hardly said a word at these big gatherings. She hated speaking in public and all the eyes on her burned like blaster bolts. But she was determined. This felt too wrong to be real, and she needed to rectify what he said.

"I'm sorry?" Even Risan was caught off guard by the sharpness of Meku's question.

"Why. Why aren't we going?"

"The Council has disallowed it."

"Why?"

Risan blinked in surprise. "Why?"

"Yes. Why."

Meku's answer shocked him even more. Most wouldn't question a direct order from the Council. Meku stared defiantly forward, into Risan's eyes. That way, she didn't have to see the stares coming from her fellow Padawans. It didn't help that much.

Meku could feel her fellow apprentices' shock, and judgment for her defiance. She could also feel much of their sympathy. Many had the same feelings she did. Many felt thankful that she asked the question, so they didn't have to.

Meku could also feel Sakett's energy, despite not seeing his face and gestures. All of which were screaming what in the BLAZES are you doing you crazy woman stop stop STOP stopstopstopstopstopstop oh my word. I'm going to strangle this idiot, please, don't strangle this idiot WHATAREYOUDOING-

Meku's own Master, Mohtarma Kunas spoke up.

"Young apprentice, the Council has deemed our intervention unwise."

"Why is that?" Meku furrowed her eyebrows.

"Please just accept the Council's wisdom-"

"Our whole existence is to protect innocents, right?" Meku gestured at the sky traffic with her hand. "How can we do nothing if there are people dying out there on Vanquo and Taris?" She could feel Sakett grow even more hysterical. If she looked slightly to the right, she'd see him nearly tear out his own hair.

"It's war, Mekumi, people die all the time. It just happens." Her Master was palpably frustrated and embarrassed, being defied openly by his Padawan in front of a crowd of other Masters and a Council Member. He tried to cover up his frustration with her by adopting as diplomatic of a tone as possible.

"But Master, murders happen all the time. And kidnappings and piracy… we fight those things. Isn't it our job to stop evil regardless of how often it happens?"

This garnered a couple "yeahs!" "that's rights!" and other, more subdued murmurs of agreement from the audience.

"My Padawan-" Master Kunas was interrupted by Council Master Atris, who stood up abruptly to end this nonsense. Like Meku, Atris had stark white hair, pale skin, and blue eyes. Atris' eyes were a deeper shade of blue, with no gray like Meku's had. Atris was also not as thin as she, and kept her hair in a tight bun.

 

 

"Young one, if you wish to pursue a career in journalism, I can have one of the more loyal apprentices escort you to an exit. Find a nice news outlet to work for and ask all the questions you like." Her brows were furrowed like Meku's, hands lay on her hips. Atris leaned her body slightly forward, towards the object of her stinging words. "If you wish to be a Jedi, it entails obeying the orders of the Council to the letter."

"With all due-"

"Those on the Council were appointed for their wisdom, clarity, and vast lifelong experience. Do you really think you, who has not even passed the Trials, and have barely reached womanhood, can question the wisdom of several Masters who have devoted their long lives to this Order? Do you honestly feel qualified to second-guess our wisdom?" She paused and cocked a white eyebrow. "Well? Do you?"

Meku shut her mouth and her cheeks went redder than the wine in Risan's glass. She sat back down, hugging her arms to her chest. Atris gave a nod of triumph, and sat back down as well. An awkward silence followed. Sakett had moved a couple of inches away from her.

"Look, young ones..." Master Risan tried to de-escalate the situation, "It's a strange new time for us. We haven't been at war since Exar Kun, and that was a century ago. Things are very heated. You must meditate and help center yourselves. Within the Force, you will find all answers. Every Master in this Temple, they care for you. Council too. We always try to do what results in peace, justice, and the Force's will. And the Council only does what they do because the Force wills it. Please try to be understanding. Please find it in your hearts to accept that this may be something bigger than you understand."

Risan sounded fatherly. Reassuring. But Meku could still feel the doubt all over the crowd. The guilt. The confusion. The surge of conscience. It came from everywhere, even in the area where the Knights and Masters were sitting.

"One last thing before you go, young ones. Look around you. Look at all this wonderful food that surrounds you. We Jedi have a lot to be thankful for. This great feast sustains you, gives you the nutrients you need to survive. So long as you put your faith in the Council, you will be sustained. You will hear the Force speaking to you, and be wise enough to heed its words. But beware; going away from the light and on a path of darkness will decay you. You'll lose this nourishment. Your strength will not renew. And you will close your ears to the Force's will. Such a path will only bring you darkness and despair. With that, our meeting is adjourned. Please meditate on this."

The apprentices shuffled out. The Masters stayed to talk, while those who cooked turned their attention to cleaning. Sakett stayed behind to help his Master tidy up. Meku looked down on her plate. It was still loaded with food. Despite eating some, Meku still felt empty. And the words of the Masters, which were supposed to reassure and calm her, left her feeling even more confused.

She felt wrong, like a child feels when police arrest their parent. That, this shouldn't be happening. Surely, this wasn't real. Surely, the Masters she had looked up to with such pride wouldn't let this happen. Would they?

Chapter Text

Meku lay sleepless at night. The past few weeks she tossed and turned, her mind constantly occupied with current events. Worry for the people caught in the fighting. Shame that nobody helped the outer rim earlier. Shame that she ignored this for so long, and that it only became a problem when it touched the Republic. Frustration with her elders for their fortune-cookie sayings that didn't help her make sense of anything. Confusion as to what her place was in all this.

Her thoughts were interrupted when she sensed a presence at her door. She could feel warmth and friendliness, but also nervousness. Hesitation. She knew who it was well before the knock came.

"Who is it?" She teased.

"The Supreme Chancellor." He made his voice comically deep. "I have an important mission only you can complete. It is your DESTINY."

She chuckled. "The Chancellor's a girl now, you dolt!"

"Oh right!" He cleared his throat, then made his voice several octaves higher. "How bout now?"

She giggled again, thankful for him. "A little better, Falsetto."

"Can I come in now?"

"Right." She sat up in bed and used the Force to flip a switch on the side of the door. It whooshed open, and standing there was Sakett. He wore his night tunic and his ever-present goofy smile, dominated by his big teeth. He smiled wide enough to make bird's feet at the corners of his eyes. His hands were behind his back.

"It's late, what're you doing? Shouldn't we be asleep?"

"We should. But you've been stressed."

"Well," she was going to deny, but simply sighed and agreed, "yeah." She spoke those words with a heavy weight on her shoulders. So much had happened in the Wars in the weeks after the feast.

Sakett pulled his arms from behind his back to reveal a few Vids and snacks. "Me too. And nothing cheers me up like a late-night movie! I've got our favorite, The Four Fools Greatest Collection." He started narrating like a voiceover for a trailer. "Including the most memorable episodes like 'Chumpionship Racers,' 'Turboloser Cannons,' and 'Doofus Derby.' Pick your copy up for only 9 creds 99!" He gestured to the snacks. "Plus, all the sugary, sweet, disgustingly unhealthy snacks you could possibly think of. What say you? Make it a night?" Meku chuckled and playfully punched him on the arm.

"Master Risan probably wouldn't approve of you staying up late and eating junk food." She imitated his Master's upright tone, wagging her finger. "A Jedi must always exercise, eat healthy, and be well-rested. Your body's a temple, young one, keep it pure."

Sakett's giggle hid a pang of guilt. Meku sensed it; he hated disobeying his Master. "Well, if you wanna stay here and sleep I understand." He shuffled his feet. "Go ahead and be boring."

Meku walked back towards her bed, as if to lay back down in it. She could feel Sakett's heart sink. But instead, she picked up a blanket and a few pillows. "Alright, I suppose I can join. You rebel you!" His smile hid another pang of guilt. Sakett had one of the strictest Masters in the Temple, right up there with Masters Vrook and Atris. He always tried to please him, and she could tell it took considerable effort for him to break the rules like this.

 

 

The two of them walked to a meditation chamber; it was very close to the dorms, but it had a holoprojector and was nearly soundproof. Meku sensed the knot in Sakett's stomach, he was nervous too. But she was determined to make this a good night. No talk of war, Masters, duties, obedience, or any of that bantha poodoo. Just some silly movies.

They shared snacks as they walked, teasing and playfully shoving each other. Talking in whispers about how difficult their latest tasks have been and making some jokes at their Masters' expense. Looking over their shoulders every few moments to make sure no one was onto them.

In the chamber, Meku plopped their stuff down while Sakett set up the holoprojector and the vid. Right before he turned the projector on, they both froze, like eopies in the headlights. Someone was coming.

Meku scrambled to pick up the things while Sakett looked around for a place to hide. There was one entrance and exit, but the room was full of plants - nature helped a Jedi center themselves. She found a particularly thick shrub, in a dark corner. She threw the things behind it, then jumped over, crouching down. Sakett followed, dive-bombing the landing just before the door opened.

"How stupid could we be? Whoever comes in is just gonna sense our presence anyways. We might as well have invited them to watch with us. Stupid, stupid-"

Whoosh! The door opened, and in walked a woman. She was older, shorter, wearing a hood that covered her eyes. Meku could barely see, but she didn't have to. The Force flowed through her powerfully, a river white with frothy rapids. She exuded wisdom. Only one person in the temple felt this way; Arren Kae.

Meku seldom met Kae, but she respected her immensely. She was not only wise, but smart. Witty. Woe betide anyone who got on her bad side; even some Masters called her a dusty old scow when she wasn't around.

She feared getting caught by someone she respected so much. Meku always felt so juvenile around her. As if she should be doing something better with her life when Kae was around. Meku closed her eyes, hoping her racing thoughts wouldn't betray her. She tried to think about something calming. Anything, in the laughable hope that this casual movie night wouldn't end in trouble.

 

 

To her shock, Kae walked in nonchalantly, took a seat on the floor, and began meditating. "What in the…" Meku looked over at Sakett, whose eyes were wider than dinner plates. "Is she blind? Can she not feel us here? No… there's no way. She's ignoring us, then. But why?" she pondered. "Well, she isn't really a stickler for rules."

Kae was totally unlike most Masters; she questioned the teachings of the Jedi constantly. Kae would've been on the Council long ago, had she followed the Code. But she forged her own path. She debated even Councilors on closely-held tenets of the Order. Often times Meku agreed with her. Many hated her, but Meku sometimes wished Kae was her Master.

Perhaps someone who questioned the rules so much didn't care about a couple of apprentices out past curfew watching movies, so long as they didn't bug her during meditation.

She hoped.

Meku could feel Kae's presence, encompassing the room, like she was ten feet tall. They sat there for minutes like this, Meku wondering what in the blazes would happen next. Then, the door opened again.

In walked a balding, big-nosed, swarthy male figure. Meku knew who this was, Council Grand Master Vrook Lamar. AKA the strictest, most conservative, most hardheaded Jedi to ever live. She was caught now. To Vrook, being out one second past curfew was as bad a sin as murdering a Councilor. Meku prepared excuses in her head for the verbal assault that would come.

 

 

"We need to talk." Meku opened her mouth to speak, but before she could get a word out, Kae's voice cut her off.

"You could not have saved this for a decent hour?" Meku forgot Kae was in the room. Even her Force-senses slipped up, missing her presence. Meku wondered how she could've missed a presence as powerful as Kae's... maybe she was too nervous about Vrook. Maybe. Vrook stood before Kae, who was still sitting.

"There's been some issues that have come to my attention which deeply concern me."

"Many things concern you. Most are not worth your concern." Meku felt Kae's words ringing, as if everything she said was indisputable truth. As if every sentence was 'two plus two is four.'

"The Mandalorians are annihilating the Republic forces. They're coming close to shipbuilding worlds. The Chancellor is getting desperate, and has asked for our help in battle." Kae said nothing, waiting for his next words. It was clear he wasn't interested in anything she had to say, and simply wanted to get his word in. Vrook continued, "She knows what my answer is. But she's not backing down. She plans on asking us publicly for help. That damn woman is going to try to pressure us to change our minds."

"Have you come to me for advice, then? Are you considering changing your answer?"

"Absolutely not!" He recoiled back, as if Kae insulted his mother. "You know that the answer was, is, and always will be a no."

"Then what is it you ask of me?"

"It's come to my attention that certain Jedi in our Temple have considered defying the Council's ruling, and joining the war." He talked to Kae as if she was a student who had been slacking in her studies, even wagging his finger. "And worst of all, you have been counseling these Jedi to defy us!"

"I never-"

"Are you telling me these students are lying?" Vrook cut in.

"If you would allow me to complete my sentence, Grand Master." The last two words were dripping with vitriol. "I never counseled them to defy you. I simply counseled them to listen to the Force, and do what they knew was the right thing."

"And the 'right thing' is to flip us the bird and march off to war, is it?" Vrook said, indignant.

"Perhaps. Only they can answer that question."

"I've made a decision, Kae. We, the Council, have made a decision." He pointed down with his finger to emphasise, "Our word is Law to the Jedi Order."

"You walk a slippery slope." Kae was known to speak in short, confusing parables.

"Slippery slope, huh? You self-righteous old woman." Vrook balled his fists. "How about marching off to war based on fear, hm? Letting fear of the Mandalorians rule their decisions? That is a slippery slope to the Dark Side! For someone so wise, you forget the first thing we learned here."

 

 

Until now, Kae sat, meditating, with her face straight forward and her eyes closed. Meku's eyes had become used to the dark, and she could see Kae's eyes open, and her head tilt upward to face Vrook. "You believe fear motivates these young Jedi?" She laughed; a slow, deliberate, mocking laughter. "To have come so far, to hold such a high station, and yet be so blind." She stopped laughing, abruptly. "Fear is not what drives these young ones. Nor is it anger or hatred towards the Mandalorians."

Kae squinted her eyes at Vrook before continuing, "They wish to fight because they care for these innocents on the front lines who burn and die at the guns of the Mandalorians. They fight to stop children from being orphaned. To stop wives from becoming widows. They fight out of love, caring! And you are so blinded by your arrogance that you cannot even see something as obvious as the plants in this room."

"You dare-"

"-And might I remind you," Kae was finished being talked over by this man, "of the lesson we learned after the one about Fear. Power. Power is a far more dangerous corrupter of souls than fear, anger, hatred, and all passion combined." She spoke the next sentence very slowly, deliberately, "And you have become a very powerful man indeed."

"I will not have you treating me with such disrespect! I have made a decision, and it will stand. I am a Grand Master of the Council, you will respect me when you address me!"

She closed her eyes and looked forward again "You fail to even listen. You fail to open your eyes to see what is in front of you. You only see what you wish to see. Your inflexibility will be more dangerous to you than any Mandalorian."

Vrook sighed deeply, rubbing his temples. "I have foreseen what will happen if the Jedi join." He gestured with his palms open, trying for the first time to get her on board with him. "The Force has spoken to me!"

"Have you ever considered that you may be misinterpreting the Force's words?"

"Impossible. I've seen it too vividly for there to be any interpretation. If the Jedi join this battle, it will destroy the Order, and much of the galaxy with it."

"Ahhhhh, you are so clairvoyant that there is nothing new to learn, no new angles from which to see." She sighed. "The Force is not a cookbook you can just read, with one simple meaning. It is a subtle thing; it has ebbs and flows. It does not shout, it whispers; its meanings hidden within parables. The Force tries to speak, yet you deafen yourself. You fumble in ignorance. Your rigidity will destroy the Order and galaxy more surely than any Sith Lord."

A scowl returned to Vrook's face. "I am not your Padawan, you don't get to disrespect me like that."

"It is simply the truth. Flounder about, grasping for your vaunted respect, if it helps you sleep."

"I've made my decision. I expect you to fall in line. Do not subvert the Council."

"My actions are irrelevant. You may as well stop the tides with your lightsaber. Change is coming, Vrook, whether you like it or not. This conversation is over."

"I am giving you a direct order. Heed. My. Words. Kae."

She gave no response. They were silent for a few minutes, Vrook standing, staring Kae down. Kae sat, meditating, eyes straight ahead, as if the Grand Master was not even there. Vrook gave in first, storming out with a grumbled sigh. Several minutes later, Kae yawned deeply, and then stood up for the first time since entering the room. She walked calmly out, stopping at the door. In the dim light, straining her eyes, Meku thought she saw the slightest trace of a smile on Kae's lips.

Chapter Text

"Can we please practice blaster deflection?" Meku asked with an exacerbated tone. Master Kunas and Meku were sparring, practicing saber-to-saber combat. Kunas, a middle-aged Togruta, sighed and slumped his shoulders.

"I know why you're asking. And the answer is no." He swung at Meku, who deflected his saber away with ease. They had both worked up a bit of a sweat. Master Kunas breathed heavy; his age caused him difficulty in keeping up with his young, spry apprentice. She seemed to have an unlimited reserve of energy. "What I wouldn't give to be young again."

Meku came in with a stab aimed right at Kunas' neck. He stepped back, dodging just in time. Their lightsabers were set for training mode. If that blow had connected, it would've given the Master a slight shock instead of impaling him. A split-second later, another swing came from above, on a path to slice right through his shoulder and chest. He used the downward momentum to deflect this blow towards the ground, but before he could counterattack, she swung at his ankles. He had to jump and backflip to get away from her saber's impressive reach. It was times like this Kunas truly regretted his apprentice's cleverness.

Meku was exceedingly short, an inch over 5 feet. This didn't affect her much during her childhood, but when puberty hit, all Padawans her age shot up in height while she… didn't. Sakett was a foot taller than her. Even Master Kunas had a solid eight inches on her. As a result, lightsaber duels were very difficult; Meku's opponents could always outreach her.

One day, Meku, Sakett, Kunas, and Risan were all having lunch together, and Meku was complaining about being outreached. Sakett said simply, "Well, why not get a longer lightsaber then?" It seemed so easy, and they always chuckled when they realized the solution was under their noses the entire time.

Meku and her Master spent lots of time together researching long-bladed swords of ancient design, and even visited a vibrosword manufacturer to test out various two-handed longswords. It always made Meku smile to think of that time. They shared a lot, and bonded together. She remembered the way her face lit up when she completed the lightsaber and ignited it for the first time. That brilliant purple blade paled in comparison to the light that came from her eyes. She remembered her Master's proud look, like a father reading his daughter's perfect report card. He nearly cried.

 

 

Now, however, Meku's cleverness was causing Kunas a lot of problems. For one, he (and anyone else who dueled her) was now on the back foot, because she could outreach her enemies and fight them from a safer distance. Her saber was taller than she was. The handle was long too, allowing her to space out her hands to get leverage on her opponents and manipulate their blades. Saber dueling was Kunas' least favorite part of training; he always grumbled when it came time for it.

Also, she asked him a lot of questions. The more questions she asked, the less satisfying her Master's answers were. And since Vanquo, Meku had more questions than ever.

"Why can't we practice deflection?"

"Follow my orders please."

"But-"

"No buts, little one. Now focus, before I slice yours off!"

Meku chuckled, and re-entered her battle stance. She Force-pushed, but her Master sensed it coming from miles away. He sidestepped just in time to escape the blast, but Meku was already on top of him. It was a ruse! He raised his saber with just enough time to block a blow right to his face. But the blows kept coming.

"Keep your emotions in check, don't let anger consume you in battle!"

"Yes, Master!"

He was right, Meku was overcome with emotion. The whirlwind of worries about the war had gotten her distracted, and she became more aggressive to compensate. But she wasn't angry… her Master missed that. Shouldn't he know her better?

The duel continued for a few minutes, but Meku's mind kept slipping to the war. Thoughts about what was the right thing to do. Her stress distracted her, and her Master took advantage of that. He feinted to the left, and she brought her saber to block. But he pulled back and, before she could react, he Force-pushed her, knocking her down.

Kunas ran towards her to deliver the final blow, but Meku kicked at the side of her Master's leg, causing his knee to buckle. She then kicked his wrist, flinging his lightsaber across the room.

In a split second, she'd gotten back up. Kunas attempted to Force-push her, but she jumped over the blast, landing behind her Master, back-to-back.

Rather than swing her blade around to strike him, which would've taken too long and given Kunas time to react, she instead twisted her body to the right in a short motion, striking him below his ribcage with her saber's hilt. He recoiled in pain, and a backwards kick to his knee made him collapse on the floor. When he turned to be on his back, his neck was less than an inch from her saber.

Out of breath, he said "Good! Good job, my young Padawan. Wow!"

"Thank you Master!" She smiled, eager for the compliment. "can can we practice deflection now?"

"BLAST IT MEKU," he paused to take a gulp of air, "STOP ASKING!"

"Heh heh heh." her chuckle hid a twinge of frustration. She felt like Kunas never listened to her.

 

 

She switched off her saber and extended a hand to help her weary Master up.

"Your feelings betray you. You have a lot on your mind, I'm surprised you beat me with your emotions tugging all over you."

"I'm sorry, Master."

"What has got you so worried?"

"The Mandalorians, what else could it be?"

"They won't win, trust me on this." Meku looked down at Kunas' feet, dissatisfied with her Master's confident answer. "You fear them, don't you?"

"It's, I mean, yes. But it's not even that." Before she could continue, Kunas cut in.

"You can't let fear rule your emotions, little one. Fear is a path to the Dark Side."

"I know Master, I know. It's not just fear." Her frustration was palpable in her tone of voice. "I still don't understand why we don't do anything about it."

"The Council has forbade it, simple as that."

"But why? Wwwhhhhyyyyyyyyyyyy?"

Master Kunas looked at her with the same look one gives a five-year-old who won't stop bugging them. "We don't question the Council, you know better than that."

"But they're wrong! People are dying out there, we have to do something!"

"There is no emotion, there is peace," he recited the first line of the Jedi Code while pointing his finger. "Please control your emotions better and speak with respect."

Meku sighed, closed her eyes, and took another moment to center herself in the Force. She responded with another tenet of the Jedi; "A Jedi's whole life is sacrifice." She gestured out the window, "people out there are dying. We're the most powerful warriors in the galaxy, we can stop them. Why don't we go and stop this bloodshed? They need us."

Her Master suppressed a chuckle, but still smiled at her condescendingly, as if to say "that's cute." "Meku, you're young." He put a reassuring hand on her shoulder, but it felt cold. It took all her self-control not to recoil from his touch and storm out of the room. She wondered if he'd ever take her seriously.

 

 

"When you get to be my age, you realize a lot of things. Right now, you're naive, you don't understand the way the galaxy works. And you don't understand the true wisdom of the Council. Those people get chosen because they have so much knowledge, wisdom, experience. They know better. They can see things more clearly than you do." Meku didn't respond, crossing her arms.

"Hey, listen, I was your age once. I've felt these powerful emotions you're feeling. I've argued with my fair share of Masters. More than my fair share, actually." He looked wistfully out the window, recalling those old times. "But now, I look back, and realize they were right. I was so arrogant then, so reckless. We Jedi aren't a reckless people. But all young ones are reckless."

"It's not just the young, though. Knights and," out of respect, she dared not mention her botched movie night with Kae, "and even Masters agree with me. It's wrong of us to sit here and just let the Mandalorians kill our people. I mean, don't you think that's wrong?"

"What I think is irrelevant. We always obey the Council."

"That's not what I asked. I asked you if you thought they were wrong."

"Sheesh, Meku, so many questions. You ask questions like a reporter! Follow the Code, listen to the Council, and you will understand their wisdom." Despite dodging the question, Master Kunas' feelings gave him away. It was subtle, she could tell he was trying to hide these thoughts. She knew he had his own questions, but was too obedient to ask them.

"Master-"

"Enough of this talk."

"Be honest with-"

"-I said enough!" Master Kunas snapped. Meku decided to ask no more questions. Kunas sighed deeply, massaged his forehead, and switched to a more diplomatic tone. "Meku, please, for me, follow our rules."

She sighed in defeat. "Yes, Master."

She could sense Kunas felt bad for snapping at her. "Hey, listen. Um, you want to go out for dinner with some of the Masters and I? We're gonna have some Bantha tenderloin. Very exotic, good stuff!" Meku simply shook her head no. Even if she wanted to spend time with her Master, she hated social gatherings anyway. She preferred to stay in with a book or datapad.

"Very well. Meditate on these words, my Padawan. I know one day you'll realize the error of your ways." He turned to walk away, but stopped in the doorway. "And I'm always proud of you, okay?" She cracked a little smile. Satisfied, Kunas walked back to his quarters, leaving Meku alone in the training room.

 

...

 

She looked down at her saber, still clutched in her hand. She smiled, remembering the adventure-and-a-half it took for her and Kunas to build the dang thing. Many long nights and practice sessions with different lengths before she found the right size. This was about seven years ago, when she was only twelve.

Times seemed so different then. She and Kunas were so close. They rarely fought and she looked up to him as the one pillar in her life. He was infallible; the greatest, "bestestest" person who ever lived in the whole wide galaxy. Her hero.

Now, they always butted heads. They argued more than ever. Sometimes they argued daily. When they ate meals together, the flowing conversation of old was replaced with awkward silence. He wasn't her enemy, but he sure acted like it.

"Maybe I'll go talk to Sak. He gets it." With that, she got up and started towards the door, sensing a presence approaching from the other side. Before she got there, it opened. In walked the same stocky Twi'Lek from before, the one from Vanquo. "What was his name again?" She furrowed her eyebrows, failing to remember. "Can't remember his name… well hopefully he won't talk to me."

"Mekumi."

"Well dammit," she thought. "Hi. How are you feeling? Hear anything about your family?"

Meku felt a pang of hurt radiate from him. "No… nothing yet. Still holding out hope."

"There's always hope." She wanted to reassure him, but had trouble finding the words. She chided herself for being so tactless at conversation. "They'll be okay, I… they will be okay."

"Are you expecting anyone? I need to talk to you about something important." His tone was furtive. He was cautious, constantly on the lookout for someone.

"What about?"

"Are you expecting anyone?" he asked more forcefully this time.

"No, no-one's coming. What's the matter? Is everything okay?"

He said nothing, instead walking towards her. "What in the blazes does this guy want? Is he spying on me for the Council? Is he gonna fight me? Did I do something wrong? Did I insult his family? Oh boy, I said something wrong about Vanquo, didn't I?"

He stopped, face-to-face with her. He looked over his shoulders before speaking in a hushed tone.

"I was there at the cookout a couple weeks back, when you stood up to Atris and those Masters." Weird. She would hardly describe it as standing up to them. He continued, "We respect that. We can use an ally like you."

"We? Who is we?"

"Can't talk too much about it, prying ears are everywhere. Take this." He handed her a leaflet, on paper.

"Paper? You couldn't have beamed this to my datapad?"

"Masters can intercept beamed transmissions. We're doing this the old-fashioned way. Just read it."

"Old-fashioned? More like ancient." Meku read the leaflet.

 

MEETING OF THE JEDI REVANCHISTS
MIDNIGHT AT THE BLUE SANDCRAWLER JAVAHOUSE
TEMPLE DISTRICT, CORUSCANT

If you have disagreed with the Council's decision to stay out of the war, you are not alone. Thousands of Jedi feel the same way. We all know something must be done.

It is our duty to protect the Republic's people.

No longer can we stand idly by while the Council dithers about. Every person killed by a Mandalorian is etched on the conscience of every Jedi who does nothing.

But YOU can make a difference.
YOU can protect them.
YOU can save the Republic!
YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
THE CHOICE IS IN YOUR HANDS.

Signed, The Revanchist

 

"The Revanchists…" she mouthed the word soundlessly. She had heard of them; a group of Jedi led by someone… ah, she forgot his name. She was so bad with names. In fact, sometimes she wasn't sure if the leader was a he or a she. It didn't matter, they never called him by his name. Everyone called him The Revanchist. He had been gathering support, and many Knights and Masters joined him in his crusade to lead the Jedi into the war. He was often on the news, drumming up support for his cause.

That was all she knew. Padawans didn't have the same freedoms Knights and Masters had. Their Masters had full authority to read their datapad messages, control what they could watch on the HoloNet, and control who they spoke to. Once the Revanchist started appearing on the news, most Masters forbade their apprentices from watching it. Kunas included.

"Midnight? What day?"

"We didn't put the date on it, don't want any Masters to read it and ruin the show. The meeting is tonight. Will you be there?"

"I…" "...Don't have permission from my Master to leave the Temple ...Was specifically told never to speak to Revanchists ...Am gonna get in huge trouble if I'm caught ...Am gonna be considered a traitor to the Jedi Order ...Am gonna disappoint and anger my Master..."

"I…" "… don't care." "Yes. I'll be there."

"We're trusting you to keep this confidential."

"I will, I swear."

"See you there, then. The choice is in your hands."

With that, the Twi'Lek turned heel and walked away. Meku neatly folded the leaflet, stuffed it in her bra, and walked out, butterflies in her stomach.

 

...

 

In her room, Meku disrobed, careful to hide the pamphlet with her feminine products. She knew Master Kunas was too conservative to ever look through those. She showered, washing the sweat and salt off her body. She went through the motions of all her night chores, but was running on autopilot. Her mind was racing, different emotions vying for space in her brain.

She was excited, that was for sure. But she also felt guilty. Determined. This had to be the right thing to do. Curious. Would she get to meet the vaunted Revanchist? What was a Revanchist meeting like? What did they even do? Nervous. Would she have the stomach for this? Could she pull through?

Her thoughts occupied her all night. Despite working up quite a sweat, she didn't have an appetite for dinner and didn't bother trying. She laid in her bed, but couldn't sleep. Glanced at her wrist-timer. Four hours until the meeting. The Javahouse was an hour's walk from the temple, so, three hours to go.

She opened a book to pass the time, but the words bounced off her eyes. She was taking none of it in. She switched to a different book. Still nothing. A third book. Nothing registered. She may as well have been reading a shoe. "Blast it!" Okay, no book. She put the book down and picked up her Datapad, thinking to watch some silly videos until then.

She opened up the HoloNet browser to try to find funny videos trending on YouStream. The page failed to load. "What?" She hit the reload button, but no luck. She hit it a hundred more times before realizing what was wrong. "That's right," she thought. Since the Revanchists started gaining steam, her Master blocked her HoloNet connection. Meku was only allowed to go online with permission.

She considered sending her Master a message asking for permission, but she decided against it. The last thing she wanted to do was draw attention to herself. She got up and paced around before sitting back down. She repeated this for what felt like a hundred years. Looked down at her wrist. Two hours and fifty-six minutes to go. "Oh, you gotta be flaming kidding me."

She opened her Datapad again, hoping that the HoloNet would magically be online. It wasn't. Of course it wasn't. "Maybe a nice movie!" Although her 'pad was offline, she had downloaded a few movies, including The Four Fools Greatest Collection.

"Sak…" Meku felt bad watching it without him. Especially considering they were supposed to watch that together in the meditation room. Okay, another movie then. She scrolled through the short list.

Four Fools Greatest Collection
Bounty Hunter: The Jungle Rundown
Bounty Hunter 2: Judgment Day
Bounty Hunter 3: The Assassinator
A Wedding, a Mansion and Three Hutts
The Adventures of Blastor Eiffel; Jedi Extraordinaire
Son of a Bith!
I Am Speed: The Shocking Story Behind the 88th Annual Malastare Championship
Two Piece in a Pod
Showdown on the Circuit
Pirates of Nar Shaddaa

Right now, all these movies had the appeal of moldy bread. She liked all of them, no doubt, but she'd seen them all a hundred times over. Plus, she didn't feel like a movie. She had to do something before she went crazy. She put a pair of headphones on, picked a movie at random for background noise, and decided to clean her entire room, top to bottom.

Master Kunas said that cleaning was supposed to be therapeutic and help a person center themselves in the Force. Hopefully it would stop Meku's mind from racing fast enough to make her head spin. She put her clothes away, made her bed, picked up small random things from the floor, put them all away, and dusted off her dresser. She checked her wrist again. Two hours and forty-seven minutes.

"OH, COME ON!"

Chapter Text

After what seemed like an eternity, Meku left with an hour and a half to spare, sleepless, head spinning, and with a room as clean as Chromium. While overthinking, she realized she didn't want to go alone. She made a slight detour to Sakett's room and rapped on the door. Nothing. Sakett was asleep; even without her senses, she could hear him snoring.

She knocked again, taptaptaptaptaptaptap. Nothing. "Sak!" she forcefully whispered. Taptaptaptaptaptaptaptap. She heard some grumbled nonsense.

Taptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptap.

"Mmrrhhh, what?" He growled.

"Open up!" Taptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptap.

The door whooshed open and what appeared to be a zombie opened the door. His hair was unkempt, his eyes were hardly open, and he wore his blanket around him like a cape.

"Excuse me Mr. Zombie, could you please wake up my friend Sak for me?"

"Very funny, doof head." He rubbed an eye, still not sure what year it was. "Why do you wake me like this? Everything okay?"

"Get dressed and take that wild animal off your head, we're going somewhere." This caused him to open his eyes.

"Wh.. where?"

"I'll tell you on the way. Now go, you nerf herder!"

He hesitated for a moment. "Alright, alright."

 

 

Meku sat on his bed while Sak changed and washed up in his refresher. Meku's leg bounced up and down. She had taken the leaflet with her on the off chance that her Master would wake up in the middle of the night. And search her room. And have the stones to look in her feminine products. Y'know, just in case.

"You better not fall asleep on the sink again," she teased.

"Just five minutes?"

"No!"

Sakett came out, looking slightly less like he just rose from a grave. "Okay, I'm dressed, now can you please just tell me where in the blazes we-" Meku grabbed his robe and started running to the door.

"No time! Let's go!"

Out in the hall, she let his robe go and they switched from running to walking, so to not draw attention.

"This another movie night?" Meku wordlessly reached into her robes and handed him the leaflet. He read it over, and stopped in his tracks like a leash had been yanked on his neck.

"Meku, are you out of your flaming mind?" Sak looked over his shoulders to make sure they were alone. "You know we aren't allowed to speak to known Revanchists."

"Sak, don't you feel bad?"

"Yes I feel bad! We aren't even allowed to leave the Temple without permission. You're gonna drag me out of here to meet with them?" He spat the last word out. She could feel the guilt radiate off of him.

"No, about the war, you idiot. Don't you feel bad about all those people dying out there?"

"It doesn't matter what I think." The young man echoed their middle-aged Masters. "The Masters said-"

"Forget those blasted Masters!" Meku caught herself and lowered her voice before continuing. "You know in your heart, that it's wrong for us to do nothing."

"The Council… they say this will lead us on a dangerous path. So yeah, maybe it is wrong." He crossed his arms, almost playing devil's advocate.

"C'mon, Sak, I know you better than that." She touched his shoulder. "I know you have a heart. And I will never judge you. You can be honest with your feelings."

"Meku, I…" she could tell he was struggling, like the words had trouble even coming out of his mouth. "You… yeah. You're right. I think we should be doing something."

"So come with me."

"No, I'm not gonna join the Revanchists."

"You don't have to join. Just come see what it's like. There's no harm in just being there. Just the two of us, on an adventure. What say you?"

Sakett hesitated, silence filled the air for minutes. She could feel the conflict between him, two sides tugging. "Fine. But I'm not gonna like it."

"You don't have to. Now let's go adventuring." Sakett sighed. He tilted his head back, as if to ask the ceiling "what in the galaxy is wrong with this crazy woman?" and followed his friend.

 

...

 

They had no problem getting out of the Temple. The entrances were unguarded and unlocked to let Knights and Masters travel as they pleased. They walked in the cool, dry, night air, talking about different things. Meku wanted to make sure her friend was comfortable, so she purposefully avoided touching on the Revanchists or the war. They talked podracing, saber technique, how their days had been, and the new movie that was coming out. The crisp night air was refreshing, despite it being tinged with Coruscant's pollution.

The Javahouse was a small building, a one-story addition to a megascraper on the planet's surface. It looked kind of dingy. It was built of a rust-red metal, and the inside was packed with pieces of art their Masters would describe as "tasteless." Some showed partial nudity, others showed sinking sea vessels, burning starships or ugly caricatures of old people in fancy clothes.

Despite the late hour, it was full of younger people, dressed in strange-looking clothing. Many had tattoos; not religious or traditional ones, but the "just-because" style that her Master detested. The air hung with the lovely smell of java beans and java juice being sipped.

Meku reached out with her senses, feeling the energy of this place. There was a vibrant buzz, an energy of upheaval. It felt like many urban plant roots, trying to break through duracrete. Thoughts were scrambling, squirming, trying to shove their way into the universe. Trying to birth something new, trying to plant a change in a galaxy that stifled them like duracrete stifling the growth of a plant's stem. Or, at the very least, trying to find their place in a strange, confusing galaxy.

"Hey Jedi! Your friends are downstairs!" The barista's yell snapped Meku out of her thoughts. She pointed toward a door labeled "BASEMENT"

"Oh, thanks!"

Hearts pounding, Meku and Sak walked together. She lead the way, while he tagged behind. He walked reluctantly, as if he was being physically dragged. They both kept their eyes peeled, as if a Rancor would come out of any corner and eat them alive. Or, worse, Master Vrook.

The basement was far bigger than the actual Javahouse. The walls were covered in maps, unfinished art pieces, and shelves with multiple books. Everything was splayed out haphazardly. Strewn about the room were various clothes, spare parts for Java machines, musical instruments, human-sized bags of java beans, big crates, and various odds and ends. Several chairs were strewn around, all occupied by Jedi, civilian sympathizers, and curious observers. Some sipped java juice and talked among themselves. All of the chairs were made of something different, nothing matched here.

It was packed with people. Many had to sit on java bags or on the floor. "What a dump," Sakett remarked. "Why don't we leave and and catch a podrace at-" he bit his tongue when Meku shot daggers at him with her eyes. "Alright, alright." He put his hands up into a mock surrender pose.

Meku and Sak stood at the mouth of the stairwell for a while before a figure stood up and a friendly voice shouted over the buzz. "New guys! Hello. Take a seat, plenty of bean bags to go around." He was bald, tall, clad in orangey red, and extremely muscular, built like a rancor on growth enhancement.

 

 

Meku, as usual, led. They found a bean bag in the corner, away from everyone else. The two of them shared the bag. Meku had cold feet before this, but that was gone now. She could feel the aura of the room. Warm. Welcoming. She hadn't felt this welcome in the Temple in ages, not even by Master Kunas. And despite the ramshackle look of the place, everyone here seemed to have a unity of purpose.

Unlike Sakett, who was radiating an energy of why am I here? get me out of here oh lord why am I HERE this crazy woman is gonna be the death of me oh no... Vrook is gonna strangle me I know it he's gonna kill me himself WHY do I go along with this...

The huge man approached the two Padawans, smiling. "If the two of you want to get a cup of Java juice, go ahead. We'll hold start for a few minutes."

"I'm good." Meku said, trying to mask her excitement. She forgot this man's name, but had known him to be the Revanchist's partner, always standing by his side. "I don't even drink that stuff."

"Good for you! Best to let the energy come natural." His voice was deep, charismatic. "I'm Alek, by the way." He extended his hand

"Meku," she shook his hand. Her small form was engulfed in Alek's massive paw.

"A pleasure. It always makes me happy to see new people joining us." He turned to Sakett. "What about you?"

Sakett simply shook his head. His nervousness before this hulk was so palpable you could taste it. His cheeks were red despite his darker brown skin.

Alek chuckled, "Don't worry, comrade. We don't bite."

"Sakett," he replied shortly, opening his mouth the absolute minimum to get the word out before clamming up again. Alek could clearly sense his discomfort.

"Well, I'll let you guys acclimate yourselves. Nice to meet you both. I hope you find what you're looking for here." He bowed his head and walked away.

Sakett was dead silent. He shared very little of her excitement. Before she could say anything to him, Alek spoke up again, this time from the front of the room.

 

 

"Good evening everyone," he clasped his hands, "let's get this started. I see many new faces, very good! It always makes me happy to see new comrades join our cause." He punctuated by putting his hand over his heart. "It helps keep us going. The Revanchist is not here today, he has gone to Cathar and I shall be joining him after we adjourn. I'm not gonna bore you this time around with news or plans, because we have someone very special joining us today. Everyone please welcome Jurtha Lod."

A woman stood up, sitting next to her were three children. She didn't look special… she looked just like a middle-aged woman. Average height, average features, dark skin, rough hands, a little chubby, clad in ordinary civilian clothes.

"Jurtha is a refugee from Vanquo. She is going to be interviewed for the news tomorrow, but she stopped here to tell us her story. She felt it was so important, she told the reporters they had to wait. With that, I'll get out of her way and let her speak to you. Please make her feel welcome." Alek bowed his head and gestured for her to come to where he was. Some Jedi clapped for her, others said reassuring phrases or gave positive gestures. She stood near him, dwarfed by his massive size. Her nervous hands were in her pockets. Back and forth, she rotated her slumped shoulders, looking at the ground.

Alek lay a reassuring hand on her shoulder. "Whenever you're ready."

Jurtha took a deep breath before beginning. "Um, okay. Uhhh, well, hi." Some of the Jedi said hi back. Meku just listened, wishing she'd sat closer. She turned to Sakett, whose thoughts were not hysterical for the first time in hours. His nerves had calmed down as he focused on this woman.

"I, well like he said, I live on Vanquo. Lived. I was there with my husband and our kids." Her eyes started welling up as she thought of her family. "He worked in the mines. I ran a repair shop out of our house. I fixed landspeeders, mining equipment, droids, even some starship stuff. I, everything seemed so normal. We all thought we were safe in the Republic. We never thought the Mandalorians would even come close."

Meku closed her eyes, barely listening to the words, instead stretching out with her feelings. She could feel the woman's pain. It was a world's worth of hurt. Meku had been on adventures with her Master and spoken to all sorts of people. Crime victims, the bereaved, and survivors of pirate raids. But this was different. Those were matches, this was an inferno. She had never felt so much pain in one person. She didn't even know it was possible. It pierced her heart.

As she concentrated deeper in the Force, something strange happened. She felt her body going into a trance. She had been trained for this; a vision was coming. Guided by Jurtha's words, she could see everything that happened:

 

 

 

 

He was outside doing some chores. Although he was a boy of twelve years, he felt much closer to his mom. He loved to tinker with machines like she did, and didn't enjoy sports like his father. He knew everything there was to know about engines, droids, speeders. He'd even know more than most grown-ups. His two brothers, eight and six, were inside cleaning up while mom cooked and pop watched sports on the HoloScreen.

His little village was one of many that dotted this side of the mountain. A few miles away lay the mine pop commuted to every morning. On the other side of the mountain was one of the biggest spaceport cities on the planet. They rarely went though, didn't have much money. Besides, city folk were kind of weird. The kids were never as much fun to play with as his neighbors, and nobody in the city knew how to fix anything.

Their house was tiny, as were most on this side of the mountain. They built a workshop in the back for mom's projects. The front and back yards were littered with engines, parts, landspeeder shells, droids in various states of repair, lubricating fluids, and all sorts of other mechanical stuff. The sun would be setting soon, it made him squint as he looked for some spare parts to finally fix the darned ore-hauler engine. They'd been working on it for weeks. It should've been done days ago, but they'd run into issues.

He heard a noise coming from the east, in the direction of the setting sun, opposite the mountain. He could barely see, the sun obscured these things from view. He shielded his eyes with his hand and squinted his eyes in focus. They looked like insects, but the noise, as faint as it was, was unmistakable. Sublight engines, such as would be fitted to a starfighter.

Strange, it sounded nothing like the high-pitched whisssshooo sound the garrison's Aurek-class TSF fighters made. It also wasn't the warbling of the Chela-class bombers either. He'd seen them do flyovers enough times to know that for sure. As the figures approached, he could make out little details. Weird, they almost looked like giant flying animals. They had legs, wings, and… were those people riding atop them? What?

His eyes widened as he remembered catching newscasts in passing. "Oh, no..." He hoped it wasn't true. Maybe they'd discovered a new, rideable dragon? Maybe there was some kind of circus in town? Bringing in exotic creatures to wow the people in the big city? It had to be. There was no way.

No. A few moments passed and he could see more clearly. There were hundreds, maybe thousands of those flying things. As the figures got closer, he could make out details.

They weren't animals, though they looked it. They looked like dragons, but dragons were supposed to be somewhat elegant, right? These things were absolutely hulking, looking like what'd happen if a dragon mated with a terentatek. It was built out of thick, drab green metal. Where the animal's face would be were several gun barrels. They had proton torpedo launchers on their flanks and the bases of their straight wings. Their engines made a deep, bassy burble. A noise he recognized from the news.

 

Basilisk War Droids.

 

The feared mount of the Mandalorians. He'd spent most of his life hearing about their conquest of worlds outside the Republic. No one seemed to care, and over eight years, it'd become normal. The war wasn't real, it was just something that happened on the news. A story to watch on the Holo.

The Basilisks were right atop his neighborhood now, most of them flying over, headed directly to the city. They were accompanied by lumbering transport ships, carrying even more troops. The Mandalorians were here. They couldn't be here, he was seeing things. He was going crazy. "That's what happens when you don't wash your hands. All that microlube gets on your food and you get sick!" He had to be seeing things. It had to be fake. It had to be. It had to be.

Then, the first Basilisk touched down onto their cobbled road, sending a shockwave that rocked the ground beneath him. It wasn't fake. It was real, and they were here. He watched in shock as more and more Basilisks touched down, along with a lander, which released infantry. Why here, of all places? The Republic base was on the other side of the mountain, by the spaceport city. Why here, why now, "why me?"

People who were outside screamed or ran. Many came out to check the commotion. He didn't. All he could do was stand, dumbfounded. He had totally shut down. "Pack your things, weaklings," a Mandalorian had some sort of sound amplifier on his Basilisk, "today is the day you become warriors! Anyone who runs or fights will die!" True to his word, those who ran were gunned down without mercy.

He focused on a neighbor woman cradling her toddler in her arms. He knew them, his family had babysitted the little girl a few times. She ran off, hunching over her daughter to protect her. A Basilisk fired its heavy laser cannon, disintegrating them both. She was there a second ago, and then just gone. A magician's trick, poof. He wanted to scream, but no words came out, his body was frozen like Carbonite. All he could do was take it in.

The troops that spilled out of the transport grabbed those who didn't run, dragging them away. Others gunned down runners. The Basilisks herded people into the street, while their merciless guns fired both warning shots and lethal ones. Suddenly, hands grabbed his shoulders.

 

 

His body moved for the first time, squirming to get away from being kidnapped. He'd heard legends of those kidnapped by the Mandalorians, forced to fight for them. Or work, supporting their warrior culture.

"No! No!"

"Jom! Oh Jom, honey! Come inside, hurry!"

The voice quivered with fear, but it was familiar. Mom's. Thank the stars above. He stopped resisting and ran inside with her, slamming the door behind him. Her brown skin was pale. Inside their living room stood pop, checking the sights on his blaster. Clutching his waist were his brothers.

"Is there anywhere in the 'shop you can hide?" Pop's voice was intentionally strong, the steel in his demeanor propped up with twigs, masking the same fear that permeated everyone here.

"There's an ore-hauler with an engine out. We can hide in the engine compartment." Mom replied.

"Then let's go!"

After checking to see if the coast was clear, Pop led the way, mom followed, holding the boys' hands. Jom was in the back. He was numb, it felt like he was in a dream. The door to the workshop was open and the ore-hauler lay on the ground, its repulsorlifts disabled. It was a big, boxy thing, taking up most of the space in the workshop. Things had been put aside hastily to make room for it. The client actually kept the bed, they were just working on the cab section.

The engine was out. The client was frustrated that the job had been delayed, but if it hadn't...

The engine bay lid was open. Poppy watched the door while mom put the other two boys inside, moving wires and hoses aside to make more room. "There should be enough space for all of us," she muttered as she beckoned Jom over. He clambered in himself, followed by mom.

Mom was wrong, there was barely room for the four of them to move their arms in the engine bay. Their legs were intertwined with each other like tentacles. Poppy came over, and his eyes became sad upon seeing the situation. A second later, that expression was replaced with steely-eyed determination.

"Come in, dad" his younger brother pleaded.

"We can make it work, if you just-" mom added.

"-sorry, honey. There's no room, I'm too fat from all that good food you cook." He smiled, trying to make light of the situation. "Just stay here. Don't open this lid up, ever, until the noises stop. Okay?" They all nodded. "I love you guys."

He wanted to protest, but he couldn't even get a word in before the lid closed, replacing everything with pitch black. Pop's footsteps thudded away. He always walked with heavy, thudding footsteps, due to his girth. Jom never realized just how dear that sound was to him. Nor the sound of the 'screen going at night, the fizzing of beer being poured, the grunts he made as he slept or shifted in that big, poofy couch. He never realized how terrible all those things would be to lose. He never realized how much of these little things he actually remembered.

Now, different sounds filled the air. Yelps of pain, screams from those being taken against their will. The Mandalorians' voices, making unintelligible words through their helmets. The whirring of the circuits and servos on the Basilisks. Gunshots. Crying.

"Mommy," the youngest tried to ask before she covered his mouth.

"No words," she whispered, her voice as low as she could possibly make it. "Not a single sound until we open this lid. Otherwise we die."

 

 

He felt his little brother go still as the weight of that last word pressed against him. "Die." Until now, it was just something that happened in action vids, usually accompanied by a one-liner. Die. Not something that happened in his neighborhood. Certainly not in his family. Die, D-I-E: to stop living, see also, decease. That was a real thing. That could possibly happen. No, that has been happening, today, to real people he really knew.

It could even happen to poppy.

The prospect of that made him hang his head, and scrunch his face as he held back tears. It took every ounce of him not to cry, not to just bawl right now. His biological instinct to survive had taken over and ensured his silence.

Before he could even think, he heard heavy, thudding footprints again. His eyes lit up. "Poppy?"

"See anyone back here?" The voice was gruff, harsh. Not like pop's soothing voice. It also was distorted through a helmet.

"No, just a bunch of crap," responded a more youthful voice.

"Yav's checking inside for future recruits. Might as well check this place."

"Ugh, grease is gonna get all on my armor."

"Suck it up, you're part of the Mando'ade now. We do everything for Clan and Honor. Dirt on your gear is part of life. Now let's search."

"Yessir."

"Damn damn damn damn no no no no no no no no no." He prayed to the Force and every deity he could think of to not let them open the lid of the hauler. He heard metal clanging from parts being thrown around or kicked. Creaking from cabinets opening. The clacking noise of plasteel cylinders opening.

"Hey, an Arkanian power cell. I could use this!"

"Focus, please? We're looking for people."

"Right, sir."

They rifled around for a few more minutes. Jom was confident he'd learned how to live without breathing. The Mandalorians opened the doors to the hauler's cab. They rifled around inside, checking under seats and interior storage bins. They were literally inches from their family, and if they opened the engine bay, they'd all be caught. After what seemed like ages, the Mandalorians declared there was no one here, and cleared out. They only let out a sigh when the footsteps faded into the background noise.

 

 

Now all they had to do was wait. Like pop said, wait until the noises went away. It seemed like the noises went on forever. Fear kept the family awake, alert, and dead silent for quite some time. The family didn't speak to each other, but slowly, a few whispers were exchanged once in a while for things of crucial importance. Like, "Mom, I love you." She'd put her arms on the boys' shoulders to reassure them.

Hours after the sun set, fatigue started to set in. Jom was determined to stay awake to protect his family, but as time rolled by, he found his head lolling back. Mom whispered, "Sleep, honey. I'll wake you up when I get tired and you can watch for danger." Despite her blessing, Jom could only sleep a few minutes at a time, being startled awake by a danger, imagined or otherwise.

As the hours turned into days, the hiding began to wear on their bodies. Their legs cramped and grew more uncomfortable in the packed engine bay. They were unable to relieve themselves for fear of the smell or puddles giving themselves away. In their rush, they didn't bring any food or water. Their mouths dried and their stomachs grumbled, but the sounds still didn't go away. Sometimes, they'd hear screams as the Mandalorians found someone in hiding. It was a sobering reminder; "don't give yourself away."

Every so often, Mandalorians would make their way into the shop, looking for more loot. Every time, they went silent, trying to not even think too loudly for fear of being found. But every time, the Mandalorians would leave after several minutes of rustling metal around and rifling through drawers and footlockers.

The sun set for the second time since they'd gone into hiding. He could tell, because the hauler's metal would heat up as the low-setting sun cast its rays into the shop's open door. The thirst and need to pee was killing him. As time went by, he felt a growing need to fight all Mandalorians himself if it meant getting a glass of water.

But then, they had heard less and less talking. However, there were still bangs and thuds, showing that someone was still out there. Finally, they heard a new noise, one that lifted his spirits.

 

 

"Jom. Mister Master Mechanic in-training," Mom whispered.

"Yes?" He smiled from the compliment.

"You know what that sound is, right?"

"Repulsorlift engines, and sublight ones are firing up." He could recognize that sound anywhere.

"Very good. You know what that means, right?"

"Spacecraft are taking off."

"You're right, my boy. Maybe we can get out of this box today!"

With hope in their eyes, the family kept their ears perked up. One by one, craft took off from their village. A few Basilisks took off as well, he'd recognize that fear-inspiring burble anywhere. They flew east, their engines echoing into the distance. As the last lander and Basilisk took off and went into the distance, the noise was replaced by beautiful silence.

"Mom," Jom started, "the noises stopped."

"Nobody get too excited now, okay?" I'm gonna go out first and make sure the coast is clear. Wait for me to say it's safe, okay?"

The boys nodded. With that, mom undid the latch on the hauler and lifted the engine lid open. The lid had let in almost no light, and the evening sun's rays were blinding to eyes that'd been seeing two days of darkness. Mom stood up, taking a moment to stretch her body out before climbing up, out of the engine bay, and into the world. She shut the lid behind them, just in case. The boys held their breath, as if a Basilisk was going to jump out of the sky and catch them right away.

But there was nothing, just the patter of mom's footsteps. She was gone a few moments before returning, her head peeking into the engine compartment. "C'mon out, boys. Nobody's here." They all breathed a sigh of relief, muttering thanks. After they'd taken a few minutes to relieve themselves, they all stood in the front yard, seeing the carnage that their neighborhood had become.

 

 

The cobblestone street was cracked in places where Basilisks had landed. Carbon scoring from blasters were scattered across various houses. There were a few bloodstains on the street that had dried and become brown. Some houses had collapsed or been burned down. Families' landspeeders still lay in their driveways or garages. There was not a single Mandalorian, Basilisk, or transport in sight. Neither were there any bodies - the Mandalorians must've cleaned them up while camping out here.

"Mommy, I'm scared," Jom's youngest brother said, clinging onto mom's hand. He didn't want to admit it, but he was too.

"I'm here, okay?" Mom's voice was full of steel. She was going to do everything in her power to protect her children. Jom barely heard this conversation. He'd come to realize there were no bodies. Meaning there was no sign of pop.

"Now, we all have work to do." Jom turned his head back and forth frantically, hoping for any sign of his father. "Can you guys do a job for mommy?"

"A job?" The middle brother asked. Jom's eyes darted between each bloodstain and carbon scoring around his neighborhood. Any of them could've been poppy.

"Yes, a job. You will help mommy get us out of here. Can you do that?" Poppy was gone. He was dead, or worse.

The boys responded back with yesses, voices both excited and fearful.

"Varn and Kolle, your jobs will be to go into our house and find some food and water. Can I trust you to do that?"

"Yes, mom!"

"And if you see anyone, anyone at all, yell like hell for me."

"We will." As the younger boys ran off, Jom held his head in his hands and started to weep.

"Jom," mom laid a reassuring hand on his shoulders.

"Poppy... is gone," he said between breaths.

"Jom, listen to me!" Her hands grabbed his shoulders hard, and her voice became harder. "I know this is hard. But poppy did this for a reason. He sacrificed himself so we could live! Do you understand?"

Jom took deep breaths, trying to stop the tears. He nodded, making a barely audible "mmhm."

"You are the man of the house now. We have to make sure we survive. We have to make sure pop didn't do this in vain. I can't do this on my own. You have to help me take care of our family. It's your responsibility now. Understand?" The tears slowed, and stopped. Jom wiped them from his face, nodding with resolve, swallowing to stop the tears. "I need you." She gestured into the house. "They need you. Can you be strong, for mommy?"

"Yes." He tried to make his voice hard, but it just cracked.

"Say it again.

"Yes, I'll be strong."

"No, again! Say it like you mean it!"

Jom wiped the last bit of moisture from his face before replying, "Yes, I'll be strong!"

"Good." She let out a sigh. "Now come with me. Let's see if we can get any of these landspeeders running, so we can get the hell off this planet."

 

 

 

 

Back in the Javahouse, Meku could hardly believe the hell Jurtha had gone through just to get here. The hurt raged across her psyche like a wildfire, overloading Meku's emotions. But beneath this wildfire was a tiny, almost invisible gem. Meku barely sensed it, but it was there, just as surely as she was sitting on that bean bag. A gem of hope.

That gem shone brighter every time Jurtha looked at a Jedi in the crowd. That gem gave her the strength to keep telling her story, to keep reliving that trauma, even though that was the last thing she wanted to do.

Meku felt a huge weight on her shoulders. All the woman's hopes rested in her, Alek, Sakett, and every other Jedi. That gem was Jurtha's saving grace, and Meku felt it was her responsibility to never let that gem break.

"... and now we're here. I, I been here for a little while. For a little while, I didn't want to talk about it. I didn't care about war, or Jedi, or Mandalorians. I just wanted my kids to be safe. I wanted to make their nightmares stop. I could care less what happened out there. But… I realized. I realized that was wrong. That's how I was thinking before the Mandalorians showed up to my planet. And… all that happened was a, a, like, a rude awakening. Now I talk. Because I don't want anyone else to go through what I went through. That's why we need you. So this doesn't happen to no one else."

She looked around, as if searching for more words to say. When she found none, she just said "and that's, uh, yeah, that's all." She hugged Alek deeply before making her way back down to her seat. Meku looked around the room, which had gone dead silent as these Jedi lived through the woman's experience. Sakett had his head in his hands, looking blankly at the floor. His whole world was shattered, he didn't even know this sort of thing was possible in the real world. None of them did.

Even Alek, who seemed so smooth and charming, was lost for words, staring into space. He was the first to regain his composure, and cleared his throat. "I hope we all shared something important there. We fight for something more important than ourselves. More important than the Jedi. More important than this Republic. We fight," he looked at Jurtha, drawing strength from her for the first time, "for her. For her children. And everyone like them. They will pay. We will butcher those barbarians, and make sure they never do this to another family again."

Some Jedi nodded somberly.

 

 

Alek used the last few minutes to hand out pamphlets and give advice on writing to senators, speaking out to the media, and the process of joining the military. Everyone took them, but remained silent. Meku was on autopilot, her mind overcome with what she felt in Jurtha.

Alek then switched to talking of the future. He said the "moment of truth" would come in twelve days, after the Chancellor made her televised appearance before the Council to make one, final, public plea for their help. That would be the time to "do or die." That would be the day the Jedi were to make the choice: join, or stay.

"Keep in mind, this moment will be right after her request. We are so close. With that, this meeting is adjourned. The choice is in your hands."

Meku and Sak walked home, not a word spoken between them.

Chapter Text

Since the Council's proclamation that they would not be joining the war, the Temple became divided. Meku spent so much time with Sak and her Master that she didn't see much of this. Not to mention, Kunas blocked Meku from even watching the news, to keep her sheltered.

But lately, the air in the Temple became so tense that it was obvious to even a sheltered shut-in like Meku. Kunas was good at sheltering his Padawan, but he couldn't block her from life inside the Temple. And since the Revanchist meeting, everything became more visible to her.

Today, seven days after the Revanchist meeting, Meku was training. Master Kunas was feeling under the weather, and Sakett had gone with his Master to help solve a jewelry theft in the Federal District, and wouldn't be back for a few days. So she trained alone, practicing blaster deflection with several remote droids. After working up a sweat, she cooled down with some calisthenics before leaving. As she walked out, she had a bad feeling.

She saw several Jedi Knights and a few Padawans standing together, talking in hushed tones. Revanchists - she recognized a few faces from the meeting, including the Vanquian Twi'Lek. One of the Knights saw her and waved her over, to join them. Before she could react, a different Knight turned a corner and saw the circle.

 

 

"Jan!" the lone Knight called out. His voice was charged with emotion. Meku sensed that this was personal to him.

"Nari," the person she assumed was Jan replied coolly.

"Why are you hanging around with these guys?" He spat the last two words out like he was talking about garbage.

"They're my friends, Nari."

"They're no friends of yours. I know they're Revanchists, they're traitors to the Order!"

"Ohhhh boy," Meku thought, "this is not gonna end well."

"Hey, watch your mouth," a second Knight, a woman, called out.

"Or what? What're you gonna do, hit me? Typical violent Revanchists." Nari sneered at the group. "All you wanna do is just fight. No better than the Mandos."

"You know nothing about us. Now back off, gimp-boy." The second Knight retorted.

"Jan, let's go," Nari responded. "Clearly these guys are spoiling to be violent. They're beneath you, man. Don't drag yourself down."

"No Nari, I'm staying right here," Jan responded.

"They're corrupting you, can't you see?"

The second Knight cut in, "Defending innocent people is corrupting now? Call me corrupt then, coward. Least we're fighting for what's right."

"You're killing the Order!"

"You're killing real people, Nari!" Jan cried out.

"Yeah, and I'd rather the Order die than innocent people," The second Jedi shook her fist as she spoke, "and you along with it!"

"Space off, you scow!" Nari's face was twisted in anger.

"Call me a scow! Why, you..." The second Revanchist, set off by this, had gotten into Nari's face, and they started screaming unintelligible nonsense at each other.

"Back off!" Nari yelled. Meku could feel his fear, that of an animal backed into a corner.

"Rula, leave him alone!" Jan cried, "save it for the Mandalorians!" The other Knights simply watched.

 

Meku sighed and walked over to try to separate them.

 

This Rula person was less than an inch from Nari's face, still screaming. Nari shoved her back with two hands, yelling "Back off!"

Rula then punched Nari in the face. His head swiveled, blood spurting out of his nose and splattering onto the wall.

"Rula!" Jan yelled.

Nari felt his nose, and looked down to see blood on his hands. He snarled and Force-pushed her, sending her flying backwards, hitting the wall, and landing on all fours. He then descended on her, trying to land blows. She'd turned onto her back before he could reach her, and the two of them punched, kicked, and struck each other.

Meku sprinted over. Jan's friends were holding on to Rula, while Meku grabbed Nari from behind by his biceps and yanked him back. Nari squirmed and almost got loose before Jan helped hold him down. The two of them forced Nari onto the ground. Jan pinned his knee on Nari's chest, while Meku gripped his arms. Jan then spoke, his tone forceful. "Get out of here, Nari! And if this is the way you're gonna be, don't ever speak to me again!"

"You…" Meku sensed the hurt radiate from Nari at that last sentence. "Fine." He paused to wipe blood off his face. The hurt was replaced with anger and pride, wrenching his heart. "Fine… FINE! I see who you are now. I see your true colors… traitor!" Nari got up and dusted himself off. "Can't believe I ever called you my friend." He stormed off.

Rula had calmed slightly, but was out of breath. Jan's shoulders slumped, he looked at the floor. His face grew a pained expression. He sighed, calming himself before turning to Meku. "Thanks for the help, comrade. Glad to know you've got our back. We got yours."

Meku nodded once and turned to walk away, not sure how to feel about this.

 

 

"Wait, Mekumi, we were waiting here for you to get out. We've got a mission for you." Meku stopped, her ears perked up.

"A mission? I can't even get on YouStream, what use could I possibly be to the Revanchists?"

"How can I help?"

"You know the moment of truth is coming in five days."

"Yeah, the Chancellor will be televising her request to the Council for aid. The entire Order will see them for their corruption."

"That was the idea. But those nerf-herders on the Council announced that the conversation won't be televised. And they shut off all HoloProjectors, screens, and block the HoloNet from playing any of that conversation inside the Temple. Or any temple; Dantooine, Alderaan, none of those guys will see this," Jan said.

"Blasted Vrook..." Meku replied, bitterness in her voice. "How do we get around that? How do we film it? How do we turn the screens on?"

"Leave that to us," Jan said confidently. "Your job will be to tell every Padawan on this level to meet us in the Auditorium. We'll have fixed the HoloScreen there and bootlegged a connection to the 'net." He crossed his arms. "All we'll need is an audience. That's your job."

"Why me?"

"The Masters seem to trust you a lot. Despite your little outburst at the cookout, you're generally quiet. They believe you loyal to them. Everyone else loyal to our cause is too suspicious. Like Neff," he pointed to the Vanquian Twi'Lek, "he'd be way too obvious. It has to be you."

"I…" She shuffled her feet and looked down. "I will."

"Very good. We'll give you the details later. This is a great help to us."

"Th-thanks." She wasn't sure what to say.

"No, thank you. We'll speak later. The choice is in your hands."

 

...

 

With that, Meku nodded and walked off. Her emotions had been a whirlwind ever since Vanquo, and this just poured fuel on the fire. She believed in the Revanchist cause, of course, but the Temple was her home. The Jedi were her family, she loved them. She loved the Jedi more than the mother and father she'd only met once, more than the children she'd never be allowed to have. She wanted more than anything to be loyal to them, to just follow their commands and trust in their wisdom.

But something was wrong. The decision not to help in the war did not feel like wisdom. They were so hostile to those like Meku, who simply asked "why?" Worst of all, the self-titled guardians of peace refused to give aid to worlds that burned. Millions died, millions more were injured, and more still became refugees. The Council deliberately left people like Jurtha to fend for themselves. Uncaring.

Meku knew what she had to do, but decades' worth of obedience training plagued her with doubt. She decided to talk it out with someone. She marched down the hall with purpose, standing tall. She marched right past Sakett's door, and right past the door of her Master, going to the more secluded wing of the temple where Arren Kae lived. Meku reached the door and, without hesitating, knocked.

The door opened. "Come in," said her velvety voice. Meku marched in. Kae's room was small and sparse. Just a bed, her lightsaber, a tea tray, and a few personal items lay around. Her few clothes were in duraplast tubs that tucked underneath the bed. There was very little in the way of decoration, other than a wall-spanning shelf full of books and holocrons. This always surprised Meku; most Masters of that age had all sorts of decorations and adornments, and needed drawers to hold their many clothes. Kae herself sat cross-legged in front of her bed, reading a text. She beckoned Meku to sit down across from her.

 

 

"May I offer you something to drink?"

"No thanks."

"It is rare I see you walk so confidently. A good thing."

Meku's confidence usually eroded when speaking to Kae, someone she respected so much. But this boosted her confidence, made her heart swell with pride. "Thank you, Master Kae."

"I doubt you have come for me to critique you on your posture. Tell me young Sakaroto, what brings you here?" Kae framed it as a question, but Meku could sense she already knew.

"I have a question."

"Ask, and I will answer."

"I… I'm conflicted."

"Tell me about this." Then, she leaned back to listen. This surprised Meku; she half-expected Kae to go on about how she sensed Meku's feelings and knew what she was going through and offer some sage advice, like all the other Masters in the temple had.

Out of surprise, Meku took a second to reply. She spilled everything to Kae; her meeting with the Revanchists, seeing Jurtha, her wanting to defy the Council and go to war. Her feelings about everything. Anger with the Council. Frustration with her Master. Shame for having not taken this seriously until the Republic was attacked. Her conflict at leaving the Jedi, her one true family. And most of all, a deep-seated, burning need to end this war before it got worse.

Meku talked about everything except that night she eavesdropped on her and Vrook. She probably already knew… didn't she? Kae listened attentively.

"And I, I just don't know what to do! I know it's wrong to sit here and let the Mandalorians burn planets down but… I'm not supposed to disobey the Council. And… and… what if they're right? What if it is unwise for us to join the war?" Meku realized she had been talking for a long time. "I… I'm sorry. I've been spilling my guts out to you for so long… you're a Master, and an Archivist, you're probably very busy. I don't want to waste your time."

Kae smiled. "Teaching someone is never a waste of time. Do not view this as such."

Meku rubbed the back of her neck. "I know, but-"

"-But nothing. A Master must always have time for any student. A lesson many in this temple have forgotten. I see what it has done to the younger generation. If you ever wish to carve your own path, you must unlearn this. You must not focus on pleasing others, and only do what is right."

"But Master Kae, what is right? Is the Council right? Is the Revanchist? What do I do?"

"I cannot tell you this."

Meku's mind went back to the botched movie night, and thought of Vrook's harsh command. Her frustration bubbled to the surface, "Don't let Vrook intimidate you!"

"Vrook?" Kae smiled wide, and gave a chuckle. "That man couldn't intimidate a womp rat with a battlecruiser. This is not about Vrook."

"Then…?"

"I cannot give you the answer to this because the answer is already inside you. You have it."

"But I don't!"

"Search your feelings."

"I have, and-"

"-No." Kae's voice hardened. "No, you have not. That, I can easily sense within you. Your feelings are clouded by guilt for leaving the Order, and leashed by the teachings of your Masters. You must sense your path in the Force, unfettered by guilt or training. Unfettered by the Jedi teachings or pressure by the Revanchists. With those lenses removed, you will finally be able to see. And you will find what has been inside you since the very beginning."

"You…" Meku was about to argue again, but then it hit her, harder than a landspeeder with a drunk pilot. She'd finally snapped free of the leash on her neck. Meku's eyes widened. The gem she'd seen inside Jurtha shone light into the center of her soul. It all made sense.

"It appears you have found your answer." Meku simply nodded. "No need to tell me what it is. You must do what you feel is right, whatever that is."

"Thank you, Master Kae. I gotta go!"

"Do not thank me. This was all your doing. And, may the Force be with you."

Meku stood up, bowed, and bolted out of the room. There was now no doubt.

Chapter Text

Today was the day, the "moment of truth." Over the past few days, Meku met up with Neff, Jan, and other Revanchists for news and instructions. The meetings had to be short, and she never spent more than a few seconds with them so to remain the trusted Padawan she needed to be for this mission. A few whispered phrases and an exchange of papers was all that would happen. Her feminine drawer now had more pamphlets in it than it did hygiene products.

In an hour's time, Chancellor Shepherd would be visiting the Temple to ask the Council to join. This would be televised, cast to the HoloNet, and most of the Republic would be watching. Thanks to the efforts of the Revanchists, so would the entire Jedi Order.

Meku was ready. She was to go door-to-door, knocking, telling all Padawans in her sector to go to the auditorium where, months ago, they'd all witnessed the invasion of Vanquo. Sakett had just returned this morning, and she went to his room first.

Taptaptaptaptaptaptap. The door whooshed open, Sak greeting his best friend with a big smile. "Sak!"

"Meku! You're a sight for sore eyes!" They embraced.

"Did you catch that jewel thief?"

"Oh, what a ride! We caught him while he was trying to rob a senator. Biiiiiiig mistake, I tell ya. He tried to get away on a speeder, and," his eyes lit up as he relayed the story. Meku let him tell the whole thing. She wasn't trying to make small talk or distract, she was genuinely excited for her friend.

"Well, looks like you showed him the power of the Sauce."

He guffawed, "He's not gonna get a whole lot of my cookin' in the slammer!" The two of them smiled. Sak's expression changed; he could tell Meku was in a bit of a hurry. "Hey, what's going on? Is everything alright?"

"Sak, there's something important going on in the Auditorium. You need to be there."

"More stuff about the Mandalorians?" Sak's crime-hunting trip had left him unaware of the goings-on at the Temple and the controversy over Chancellor Shepherd's visit today.

"Just go over there, okay?" She sighed, the mounting tension getting to her nerves. "It's something you need to see. Trust me."

Sakett gave a smile. "Man, I just came back from fighting crime, doing justice, and I can't even catch a break, huh?"

"You dip head!" She gave him a playful shove. "Now go!"

Sakett nodded dutifully and started to make his way over, but stopped when he realized Meku wasn't accompanying him. "Aren't you coming with?"

"No Sak, it's so important that I'm telling every Padawan in this sector about it."

Sak's eyes widened. He could sense the steely purpose inside Meku, and the tension building within the Temple. This was something big. Big enough to make Meku, the shut-in she was, want to talk to every apprentice in this sector of the Temple. "In that case, lemme help. I'll go this way," he pointed, "you go that way. We'll get it done in half the time."

"Oh Sak, you don't have to do that…" she knew how he felt about Revanchists and didn't have the heart to tell him he'd be executing their own plan.

"If it's that important? I will. Now c'mon, get going, before they miss, well, whatever's going on in there!" Sakett ran to the nearest door and started knocking. Meku sighed and ran to the next door in the opposite direction.

 

 

After several minutes, she'd gotten most of the Padawans in her sector. Only a handful of doors remained to knock, and she could join the group in the auditorium and see what the Council had to say to the Chancellor. Her heart was racing with both nerves and excitement, so much so that she ignored her senses telling her of a presence around a corner she was turning.

She turned the corner and came headfirst into Master Risan. She stopped dead in her tracks. She tried her hardest to play it cool. She couldn't help but feel like a gizka that'd been caught rummaging through someone's bag.

"Meku, you look like you're in quite the hurry. What's going on?"

"Nothing," she searched her head for an excuse, any excuse, that didn't sound completely pathetic. "Just walking around." "Completely pathetic! That was the worst thing I could've said, come on!"

"I sense great nervousness in you, young one." He leaned forward, his eyes meeting hers. "Many negative emotions. Is there something I should know?"

"No, not at all." She tried to distract from the subject. "Did you catch that jewel thief? That must've been quite the adventure."

"I think there is something I should know. You're acting way too antsy to just be strolling around the Temple."

"Master Risan, please." Her heart started pounding, "You know I'm a good Padawan. Why would you accuse me like this?"

"You're right, you are a good Padawan. Which is why it concerns me that you're acting so strangely. What is it you're doing around here?"

"I'm…" she paused to think of any excuse to give him, but she didn't want to lie to him, "I'm just so worried about the Mandalorians, you know. I wanted to talk to an apprentice about something."

"Oh, which apprentice? You usually only talk to Sak."

"Dammit!" Meku's heart pounded, she had no idea what to do. She didn't even know the name of anyone who lived in this area. "Why can't I ever remember anyone's name? Curse my stupid memory!" She was debating between running away or, well, that seemed to be the only legitimate option. She didn't want to give the Revanchists away. There was way too much to lose now.

"I thought… you see, I thought Sak-" Loud footsteps interrupted her. Behind them, a Knight sprinted at full speed, stopping just short of running into them. His face wore a frantic, worried expression. He was out of breath as he spoke.

"Master! Oh thank goodness you're here. A fight broke out in the dining hall! I," he stopped to take a deep breath, "I tried to break them up, but they're too intense. You know those blasted Revanchists. Someone's gonna get hurt, I need your help, please!"

Master Risan sighed, exasperated. "Very well. You," he pointed at Meku, "go back to your quarters and wait there for me. We'll finish this conversation."

"Yes, Master Risan." She nodded dutifully. The two of them ran off, and Meku waited for them to turn a corner and for their footsteps to fade before continuing to the last handful of doors.

 

...

 

Meku and Sak's efforts had paid off, the auditorium was packed with Padawans. Knights and Masters filled the room as well. A few Revanchist Knights stood guard by each door, and others worked the controls to the HoloNet bootlegger. She had barely made it; the HoloScreen was already playing, and the room was darkened. Meku couldn't find Sak in this room, so she simply watched the broadcast.

The angle on the screen was strange, it showed the Chancellor's back, she was walking the hallway that led into the Council chambers. The camera bounced rhythmically, as if with someone's footsteps. The angle was much lower than usual; the camera was more at hip or stomach level than eye level. There was no background narration.

As the door opened, a blue-gloved hand made a "go ahead" gesture, taking up most of the screen. Chancellor Shepherd stepped ahead, followed by one of her deep blue-clad Senate Guards, and then the cameraman. The door whooshed shut behind them. She stood at one side, facing the Council. To her left was the Guard, to her right was the cameraman. Opposite her sat the Masters; Vrook Lamar, Atris, Zez Kai-Ell, San Kavar, and Lonna Vash. Nobody looked at the camera.

"Councilors. Grand Master Vrook." Shepherd's voice was calm. She bowed, and the Guard followed suit. Strangely, the camera also bowed, pointing towards the floor. Dark blue robes dangled in view.

"Oh!" Meku thought, "Is the camera hidden? Is this all secret?"

"Chancellor." Vrook spoke up. "What brings you to request this audience?"

"I need to make a respectful request of you." Vrook lay his fingertips on his eyebrows, knowing what was coming.

"Go ahead, then." Vash, a middle-aged woman, said with a smile.

"I'm not one for beating around the bush, so I'll just say it straight out. The Republic needs your help. I don't know if we can win this war without you. The Mandalorians keep pushing forwards, they're getting dangerously close to our industrial -"

"No." Vrook cut her off. "We have told you already, and if that's all this was about, you've wasted all of our time."

Shepherd's head went back and she blinked in disbelief. "But Grand Master-"

"The Council has made its decision." Atris replied coolly, hand up in a 'stop' gesture. "You may leave if this is all you're here for."

 

 

"People are dying out there." Shepherd's voice became less calm, more hard and forceful. "Millions are dead or kidnapped, enslaved by those monsters! Millions more are refugees. Worlds burn as we speak! Aren't you going to anything about this?"

"Chancellor, please." Zez Kai-Ell, a long-haired, mustachioed man with big earrings spoke in a more diplomatic tone. "We understand your concern that people are dying. It pains us to do nothing. But we have foreseen greater harm to the Jedi, and the galaxy, if we fight. That's why we have to wait it out, and see if-"

"-You need not explain to her." Atris interrupted, her forehead scrunched in annoyance.

"Atris is right, we have explained our vision before. We have already given our final decision. And you," Vrook pointed an accusatory finger at Shepherd, "test our patience with your repeated requests."

Kai-Ell and Vash shifted uncomfortably in their seats. Meku could sense their disagreement and discomfort at Vrook's bullishness. Atris, Vrook, and Kavar all remained steadfast. Chancellor Shepherd's eyes were wide in surprise. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. When they opened again, her face was one of unstoppable resolve.

 

 

"I know what's going on here."

"What? Going on?" Kavar asked, confused.

"Do you know where I'm from?"

"Don't waste our time with your damned stories." Vrook said, dismissively.

"No. You listen to me. Do you know where I am from, yes or no?"

"Where are you from, Miss Chancellor?" Master Vash decided to indulge her, causing Vrook to lower his forehead into his palm and Atris to glare in annoyance.

"I was born here, but I grew up on Taris. Not the bourgeoisie Upper City either, I was in the Lower City. I grew up poor, Councilors. Did you know that?"

"What is the point of this?" Vrook asked.

"The point is I know why you do this. You're afraid." She took a breath deep enough to make her shoulders rise, like a gun charging. "You're cowards!" She flung the accusation at them with as much force as if she'd thrown a literal stone. "You've become soft. Your duty, just like mine, is to protect the people of the Republic. And you've gotten so used to good food and comfortable living, you won't get off your asses to fight when the time comes!"

"You dare accuse us of cowardice?" Atris' face had become disgusted. "How dare you speak this way to your guardians, who protected you from Exar Kun and Ulic Qel-Droma! You have some nerve!" She spat the words out.

"Guardians, huh? Doing a great job at that. Also, that was was almost a century ago. None of you were even alive, don't give me that Bantha fodder."

"You are-"

"No, you are cowards. You've become too complacent. You don't know what it's like to eat butter sandwiches and get evicted. You don't know what it's like to have swoop gangs fighting on your street. You don't know what it's like to live with war. You don't know danger, or hunger, or desperation. You don't know what reality is anymore. And I know that's true, because anyone who's ever been through those things would never let it happen to someone else. Especially someone they swore to protect!"

Chancellor Shepherd had lost her cool, her face and voice totally full of rage. But underneath that rage, Meku felt this was calculated. The rage was genuine, but it was planned to happen. The way one hits the detonator to cause an explosion.

 

 

Meku looked around the room. Everyone was silent, glued to the screen. She could feel their emotions, all of them popping and bubbling like fireworks. They'd never seen a secret tape of the Council before. Some were in disbelief at how they treated the Chancellor. Others felt burning guilt for all those caught on the front line. The guilt would translate into determination to do something about it, Council be damned. Even those loyalist apprentices felt shame at how they were handling this. Meku turned back to watch.

"-sit here, spout your fake wisdom, dress in expensive robes and eat expensive food. I know how much all your crap costs, I see the budgetary statements every quarter. Our people pay for all this, and you turn your nose up at them. You arrogant son of a bitch!" She forcefully pointed at Vrook. "You disgust me. You all disgust me!"

"Chancellor, with all due respect-" Kai-Ell tried to explain.

"-She deserves no respect! Speaking to us like this!" Atris turned to Shepherd. "Leave our presence!"

"Please, Chancellor, try to see this from our eyes." Kai-Ell continued.

"We've foreseen a terrible harm if Jedi join this fight. For the good of us, and our people, we have to avoid that harm, at any cost," Vash explained.

"Great, just great. Yeah, keep having your blasted visions while the Republic bleeds to death! That'll be a comfort to all those people dying. 'Hey, Jedi say it could be worse, so just take it!' Lemme know how bad your visions get when Basilisks rain down on Coruscant."

"I've had enough of this!" Vrook yelled. "Leave our presence immediately!"

"Oh, happy to, Grand Master. I'll be sick if I stay here another second. I'll just end with this: you'll answer for your arrogance. Not to me. To the people. And they won't be happy." She turned heel to walk away, but turned her head and quipped, "False guardians."

 

 

The Holo feed was replaced with static. After a few seconds, a new figure appeared on the screen. It was the Revanchist. Meku felt many hearts in the room well up with pride at their hero. A few had resentment or disgust for him. Others still had a begrudging respect; he may be defying the Council, but he had a point. A point almost all those in the room agreed with.

He stood on what looked like the command deck of a cruiser. Alek and Admiral Saul Karath stood behind him. He faced the camera directly, clad in gray-black armored robes. He wore a Mandalorian woman's mask under his hood. It had become his signature, the symbol of his movement. He wore it any time he appeared on camera. Few people in the Republic knew what he looked like beneath it.

"People of the Republic." His mask distorted his voice, but it still boomed with charisma. His mere voice transformed him from a man into a shining beacon. "Witness these false guardians. You leave your homes, become refugees, and they don't care. You lose loved ones, and they don't care. You fight and die, and they don't care. Worlds burn by Mandalorian guns, our worlds, and they. Don't. Care.

The Council are supposed to be your guardians. Their entire life's devotion is to protect you. And they have failed you. No! Not only have they failed. They never even tried. They turned their noses up at you. They don't care one way or another if you die. They say they have visions of greater danger if they join. Excuses. Lies! Don't believe a word they tell you.

The Council cares for you as little as the Mandalorians do. The Republic's people are great people; you deserve only the best. And you do not deserve to live in this hell. You do not deserve a Jedi Council that lounges around on Coruscant while these barbarians lay waste to your homes!

But there is no worry. You have nothing to fear. Because the Jedi, the true Jedi are on your side. The ones who remember their oath to you. The ones who will gladly lay down their lives to save yours. The Revanchists will do what the corrupt Council won't. The Revanchists will protect you, and protect our great Republic. The Revanchists will destroy the Mandalorians, and send them back into the hole where they came!"

 

 

Cheers echoed, both inside the auditorium and outside the temple. Meku looked out the window, seeing crowds of people gathered outside the temple. Many had portable screens or holoprojectors.

"For the Jedi all over the galaxy, today is the moment of truth. Today, we will stop sitting idly by while these barbarians ravage our homes. Today, we stand up and say 'no' to the Council. Today, we fight for what is right. The choice is in our hands," he laid his open hand out before him, palm up. "And today, we choose to join the war, and drive out the invaders!" He drove the hand up in a fist.

The crowd was in a frenzy, and the Jedi inside the room were yelling in agreement. Many had their fists up with him. They didn't even notice a group of angry Masters pounding at the doors, their muffled screams of "stop this at once!" falling on deaf ears. The Revanchists in the room had hot-wired them shut.

"Any Jedi who wants to do the right thing, stands with me. If you want to do the right thing, stand together, and walk outside your temple. I have arranged for Republic Military transports to pick up volunteers outside every Jedi Temple in the galaxy." As if on cue, a sleek Ministry-class transport flew by the window, on course to land. "If you want to protect people, you know what to do. The choice is in your hands. Revan, out."

The feed went to static again, and was replaced with a view of the Temple on Coruscant, the transports landing on pads and outside the main doors. The room was full of cheers, and Jan yelled out, "Well, what are we waiting for? Let's take back our worlds!"

The crowd yelled back, shouting "yeah," "lets do it" and the like. Neff screamed "This is for Vanquo!" He received even louder shouts. Several of the doors (other than the ones where the Masters were pounding) opened, and the young Jedi flooded out, running to grab their things. Meku, closer to the back of the room, was one of the last to leave.

Chapter Text

Meku sprinted to her room with Force-aided speed. She rifled through her drawer and took a look at one of the pamphlets. It had a small paragraph telling Jedi what to take with them when the time came to enlist. It was tiny, she would have to leave most of her things behind. She didn't care. Her things could all burn.

Meku packed a small bag. In it was what she was allowed to take. A few robes and undergarments, lightsaber, identification, Datapad, headphones, hygiene kit, hair ties, wrist-timer, all the credits she had to her name, and a couple of books. There was one final thing before she left; a necklace.

When they were children, Sakett had gone with his Master on a mission to a tropical world. He gathered a handful of colorful beach rocks, drilled holes in them, strung a metal wire through, and presented his necklace to his first friend. Master Kunas told her not to wear it, as not to grow sentimentally attached to any one person or thing. As such, it sat on her dresser all these years. She held it, feeling the smooth rocks. "Sak…"

With the necklace around her neck and her worldly belongings in a small bag, she ran to make one more stop before catching a shuttle outside the Temple. She was going to fight, but there was no one in the galaxy she'd rather have by her side.

She rapped on his door several times, impatient. When it finally opened, Sakett's gaze became sad upon seeing Meku's bag. He'd seen countless other apprentices and Knights leaving the Temple, carrying similar bags.

 

 

"Pack your junk, Sak, let's go!" Her voice was full of drive and optimism, so focused on her goal that she couldn't feel his crippling sadness.

"Meku..."

"C'mon, we got places to go and a galaxy to save!" She opened up one of his drawers and started flinging his clothes over her head, landing on the floor. An undergarment landed on Sakett's head. He removed it slowly, with difficulty, as if he had weights tied to his wrists.

"Listen…"

"Talk while you pack! You don't wanna miss the whole war, do ya?"

"Meku-"

"And put that underwear down! Go get your saber! Can't take on the Mandalorians wielding some boxers-"

"-I'm not going!" Meku stopped like she'd run into a wall.

"V-very funny, Sak." She smiled, hoping he was joking. But she could feel his sadness now, and a feeling that overpowered that. Loyalty.

"I can't do this." Sakett was getting choked up, he had to force each word out. He couldn't even look at his friend; he stared directly at the floor, or the underwear in his hand.

"C'mon, Sak." Meku gave him an encouraging smile. "You're a great fighter. You'll do well in battle. You have nothing to fear."

"It's not that-"

"Plus, who's gonna cook for me when I'm out there? Lord knows I can't cook to save my life." At this point, the tears started flowing from his dark brown eyes. He was overcome with emotion, bombarding Meku's senses. "C'mon… who is gonna teach me the power of the Sauce?" He started weeping.

"The Council forbids it." He had to choke out every word between tears. "My Master forbids it."

"Who gives a toss what they think! People are dying. You were there with Jurtha! You heard what the Revanchist said. You told me yourself! 'We're guardians of peace and justice in this Republic,' remember?" Meku's eyes were wet, and tears streamed down her face as well. Her tall, confident walk had slowly devolved into her usual slouching, uneasy posture. "Seems like a 'no-brainer,' remember?"

"We have to listen to the Council-"

"The Council is wrong!" Meku was holding one of Sakett's belts, gesturing with it.

"They know more than we do, Meku. That's why-"

"THE DAMN COUNCIL IS WRONG!" She threw the belt at him. He made no effort to block it, letting it hit his face. The leather made a smack on his sopping wet cheeks. His chest heaved.

"Meku, we're all a family. Stay with me. We can watch the Four Fools together, spar together, just like we always do."

"I can't stay here, Sakett." That final word stung him. She almost always called him Sak.

"Please, Meku! Please, stay!" He grabbed her shoulders, clinging to them. "I can't lose you! I… you're my best friend!" It didn't take Jedi senses to know there were feelings between them deeper than the bonds of friendship.

"You don't have to lose me." Her voice beamed with hope. "Come fight the Mandalorians with me! Blast those fools on the Council! Let's do what's right, together, hand in hand. We can even fight back-to-back, just like we practiced." The memory of many a practice session brought a smile to her face. She placed warm, reassuring hands on his arms. "We can do what's right. We can save this galaxy."

"The…"

 

 

Sakett stopped. Meku could feel that part of him, the part that wanted nothing more than to be with her. The part that was telling him, "She's more important than the Council, you dolt. Do it!" Meku felt him turn around, he changed his mind!

It lit up her world!

 

But it only lasted a moment, before the leash tightened around his neck.

 

Unlike Meku, Sakett did not have the strength of will to break that leash. Masters Risan, Atris, Vrook, and all those damnable nerf-herders on the Council would always be on the other end of that leash. And Sakett would obey, like a Dewback to its rider. "Stay, Meku. Stay."

But she had no temptation to stay. Meku shrugged his hands off her. "Every moment I wait here, people die. People that I could've saved. And every person who dies out there is on my conscience. I couldn't live with myself. I don't know how you can live with your decision. The choice was in your hands." With that, she regained her tall posture, and walked out, wiping the tears from her face. Sakett collapsed on his bed, weeping.

She marched down the hall, towards one of the Temple's main entrances. The halls were full of Jedi. Masters, Knights, and Padawans of every race, shape, and color marched with her. Some spoke among themselves, while others shouted Revanchist sayings.

When she got outside, several Ministry-class transports lay on the flat courtyards outside the temple, propped up on their landing gear. They were sleek and aerodynamic, painted the colors of the Republic, brick-red on white. Their three wings looked like fish's fins. Jedi were lined up to get inside them. More circled around, waiting for their turn to land. The courtyards were surrounded by cheering crowds. Many military recruiters were in the crowd, using this energy to levy new soldiers. Many in the crowd held various signs. Meku read a few:

False Guardians.
No better than the bucketheads.
Thank the stars for the Revanchists.
I fought in the Exar Kun War, and I'm glad to fight with REAL Jedi again. This one was held by young boy sitting on the shoulders of a graying wookiee.
Revanchists kill Mandalorians, the Council kills civilians.
Eat the Council.

One sign had Vrook's face next to a Mandalorian, saying "What's the difference?" Many signs simply had photos of the Revanchist or his signature mask with the subtitle "Our Hero."

 

The crowds also yelled various things, causing an unintelligible, clamoring buzz. Meku could stretch out with her feelings and hear what many in the crowd were thinking;

"Thank the Gods, the Jedi have joined us. We're saved!"
"If the Jedi are on our side, we've got this thing won."
"We knew you would do it! We never doubted you."
"I'm gonna join right now! If the Jedi are fighting, then I will too. How sweet would it be to fight alongside real Jedi?"
"Me too, I'm also gonna join."
"Count me in!"
"Those Mandos won't know what hit them."
"We love you, Master Jedis!"

The Jedi had barely even left the Temple, and these people were acting as if the war was already won. Her heart swelled up with pride. Maybe winning the war would be this easy. Regardless, she could sense the overwhelming feeling from the crowd. She, and every other Jedi joining the war had given them hope. Their fear and despair was replaced with the gem of hope. It filled her, just like when she met Jurtha. The hope warmed her soul. Sakett and the Jedi were a big part of her life, but this was more important.

"This is why I do it."

Chapter Text

After a bit of a wait, Meku's shuttle took off, leaving Coruscant and her old life behind. As it climbed, she looked down, seeing the buildings grow smaller. Jedi talked in the cramped passenger compartment while the pilots worked the controls. Many were meeting one another for the first time; she forgot how big the Temple was. Eventually, the ecumenopolis became a round bronze dish in the window as the shuttle made its way into orbit.

Meku could see the ships of the Coruscant Defense Fleet. They almost looked like dull stars, small points on the sky that didn't glitter. As they approached, she could make out the shapes. All were painted brick-red on white.

Most of them were Hammerhead-class cruisers, the workhorse of the Republic Navy. Their namesake heads had several turbolaser batteries on the sides, top, and bottom. Their angled bridge windows gave a look of a predator focusing on its prey. There were also smaller Foray-class corvettes; their long, cylindrical bodies punctuated by a massive engine block. The Hammerheads and Forays were accompanied by other ship designs Meku didn't even recognize. They all circled around a massive, H-shaped space station.

A voice piped in from the cockpit. "Shuttle 528TD-39 hailing Cruiser Redemption. Do you read?"

"Loud and clear, 528."

"Requesting permission to board," the excitement was palpable, her voice was lilting as she spoke, "carrying a full load of Jedi here!"

"Landing code?"

"Wroshyr Tree 3939."

"Permission granted. Welcome, Jedi."

The transport landed in the hangar bay of the Redemption, and the crowd of nearly 40 Jedi spilled out. Republic soldiers were working, moving things around or repairing starfighters. The inside was painted the same red-on-white as the outside of the ship. One soldier stopped in his tracks upon seeing the group of Jedi, and yelped for joy. "Look man, Jedis! How wizard is that?"

Another yelped, "Wohoo! Those bucketheads won't know what hit 'em!"

"We gonna kill some Mandos now, ain't we?"

"No-one will stop us!"

Other soldiers joined in, shouting encouragement or simply cheering in excitement. Meku could feel all of them, this was the most hopeful they'd been in months. Many of the Jedi responded by waving or saying things back. Meku just watched, taking everything in.

 

 

This continued until the ship's Captain walked onto the deck. "Back to work, you lazy jawas!"

A chorus of "yes, sir" followed before the soldiers returned to their duties. The Captain was less starstruck by the Jedi; perhaps he'd worked with them before. He gave off that comfortable familiarity one does with an old coworker.

"Welcome aboard, Masters Jedi. You sure took your time, eh?" He cracked a wide smile.

A confident Jedi Knight stepped forward extending his hand to shake with the Captain. "We're here now, and ready to serve. What can we do for you?"

"Oh," he shook the Knight's hand, "You aren't fighting anyone yet. We gotta process you first."

"Process?" another voice asked.

"Oh yeah. Welcome to the Navy, where bureaucracy is king and the war doesn't matter. You're gonna go over there," he pointed to a door which read 'QUARTERMASTER.' The door was huge, probably meant to take in vehicles full of cargo. "They're gonna ask you some standard questions and take your biometrics. That way, we can accomodate you properly. They'll check your bags; any items you aren't allowed can be sold, mailed somewhere, or donated to charity. They'll issue you some equipment and things, and you'll stay in a room until we figure out where best to send you. You'll await your orders then. Understood?"

The Jedi responded with a few yeses or mmhms.

"Oh, and by the way, you stand at attention and say 'Yes, sir,' to all superior officers. Understand?

Many of the Jedi, Meku included, stood up a little straighter and answered "Yes, sir." They were all out of sync.

"That'll do for now. Well, war's not gonna win itself. Don't wait around here, go ahead." He walked off to address the next shuttle that came in, and the group of Jedi made their way to the Quartermaster Depot.

 

 

Inside lay a long desk with four crewmen sitting behind it. They all had datapads in front of them. Behind this desk was a massive store the size of a warehouse. It was stocked with everything the ship needed; from blasters to clothes to food to spare parts. To the right of the desk, a few more crewmen stood around, waiting. Meku's group was the first on this ship, and she could see the soldiers' eyes light up when they arrived.

One of them spoke up, "Alright, attention everybody!" He tried to keep his voice professional, but Meku could sense his excitement. His heart raced and there were butterflies in his stomach. It was the same feeling one got when they finally met a childhood hero. "Please form four orderly lines in front of each of us at this desk. We will ask everyone a series of standard questions.

After the questions, we check your bag and take your biometrics. After that, we print you an ID card." Then, you go over to one of those runners." He pointed to the group of soldiers standing. "Give 'em your ID card and they'll give you a few things. Everyone understand?"

"Yes, sir." The group said, all incoherent and in different tones. The soldier cracked a smile at this. The Jedi broke off into four lines as ordered. Many were talking excitedly among themselves.

Meku kept to herself, wondering what the future had in store. She didn't get too much of a chance to think before reaching the front of the line. A friendly, tired-looking Quartermaster looked up at her.

 

 

"Name and spelling?"

"Mekumi Sakaroto. M-E-K-U-M-I, S-A-K-A-R-O-T-O."

"Rank?"

"Padawan."

"Species."

"Uh… human?" "I don't have horns sticking out of my eyes or anything. What else could I be?"

"Look," he sighed, "I gotta fill out this form, so I gotta ask these dumb questions. Bear with me, yeah?"

"Sorry," she blushed a bit.

"Sub-race, if any?"

"Echani."

"Age? In standard years."

"Nineteen standard."

"Gender?"

"Female."

"Any allergies or medical conditions?"

"Yeah! Uh, slight allergy to Java." He made a few extra keystrokes before continuing.

"Any major surgeries?"

"No."

"Any special skills or talents beyond standard Jedi training and Force ability?"

"Special talents?"

"Like, are you a good pilot? Can you hack computers, reprogram droids?"

"I have some medical training." She rubbed the back of her neck, embarrassed. "I'm no surgeon or anything though."

"Okay." He filled out the form, mouthing to himself as he typed, "ba-sic medi-cal trai-ning." He looked up at her again. "Master or apprentice joining you? Part of any group?"

Meku sighed and looked to the floor with a pained expression. "No."

The soldier gestured to a square just in front of him, where she was standing. "Please stand with both feet in that square."

"Got it. I, I mean, sir, yes. Uh, yes, sir."

 

 

He smiled and rolled his eyes. "Relax, kid. Just stand." Meku did her best impression of standing at attention. From behind the desk, a small floating droid came out, its repulsor making a soft whoob sound, along with the buzz of the several conversations in the depot. It was fitted with cameras, needles, and claws. "Keep that straight pose," the quartermaster ordered, looking at his screen.

The droid floated all around her. She could feel the circuits working, the droid dutifully doing its job, ignorant of the situation. It emitted an invisible wave which scanned her body completely. "Scan complete," its synthetic voice said.

"Arm straight out in front of you, palm up, like this," the Quartermaster said, demonstrating. Meku did as told. "Hold it still, he's gonna draw your blood." One arm of the droid dabbed a bit of disinfectant on her inside elbow, while a claw grabbed her arm, clamping down tight. She looked down, confused. "That's normal. Tryna make your veins pop."

"Oh. I got it, yes. Uh, sir." After a few minutes, the droid had withdrawn a vial of Meku's blood.

"Blood draw complete." The droid applied a spray formula to close the wound, then floated directly in front of Meku's face.

"Look straight forward and don't smile." came the voice behind the desk. She looked ahead and kept her face straight. The droid clicked.

"Photograph complete," the droid said.

"And, uh, you can put your arm down now." Meku didn't realize her arm was still up, and it shot down to her side.

"Aaaaaagh, c'mon Meku, you're making a fool of yourself."

The quartermaster gave a little chortle. A device on the desk printed out a datacard with her photo and information on it. "This is your identification card. Do not lose this, okay?"

"Yes, sir. I won't." She took it.

"Do you want a blaster?"

"I don't get to keep my lightsaber?"

"You do! Jedi can elect to have a blaster, too."

"Uh, no, I'm alright." She'd never even fired one before, so she figured it'd be a waste to take one.

"Lemme see your bag." She lay her duffel bag on the desk. He rifled through its sparse contents. "Wow. You're good. You actually have the right stuff." Meku tilted her head, confused. "Some recruits try to take their whole house with them. You can't imagine the look on their face when we charge 'em to mail all that junk home." He gave a big grin. "You prolly foresaw all this anyways, right?"

"No, just read a recruitment pamphlet. Sir."

"Oh!" He let out a surprised laugh. "Right, you got me there. Now I feel bad for assuming! Well, you're all set. Go ahead and give the runners your ID, okay? Welcome to the Republic Navy, Private First Class Sakaroto."

"First class? What does that mean?"

He gave a short smile before returning his face to its tired, blank, resting expression. "Next!"

 

 

Meku walked to the runners and handed them her ID. Within a few minutes, they had returned with a backpack full of things. "Your room is on deck M1. There's a datacard in there. It's an instructional video for Jedi. You need to watch it ASAP. Since they're not putting you guys through blaster camp."

"Thank you, I will." Meku walked away, realizing she forgot to say "sir." "Who am I supposed to call sir again? Superior officers? How do I tell who a superior is? Big hat, maybe? Shouldn't I be fighting Mandalorians now?" She looked inside as she walked to the nearest elevator.

The bag was thick and heavy, designed to be durable and last forever. In it were several things. There was the standard-issue black and red uniform of the Republic Soldier, only missing the red and gold helmet and armor plating that she'd seen others wearing. Black combat boots. A utility belt with various things on it. A medical kit. A flashlight. A folding vibro-knife. An in-ear portable comm unit. And, of course, the datacard with the basic instructions on it.

As Meku made her way to her room, her mind was swirling with thoughts. She had never worked with the military before, and now she was going to be a full-on soldier. How long would she have to wait before actually being shipped out to the front lines? What was there to eat? Was she supposed to stop wearing her robes? Was that what the uniform was for? Would she work with other Jedi? What was her job going to be?

The thing that plagued her the most was her doubt. "Can I even do this?" Meku had never even killed someone before. She'd helped her Master catch criminals and even stop a pirate raid once, but never killed anyone. Sure, she'd injured people. She'd deflected blaster bolts at pirates and cut a would-be kidnapper's hand off. But she'd never had to take someone's life. Now, she was expected to.

 

 

"Do I have the strength for this? Maybe I should've stayed on the temple. Am I the right person for this job? Oh man, what if I mess this up, what if…"

"No."

She thought of Jurtha again, her boys, and all those cheering crowds. The gem of hope she'd seen in all those people. "I am their hope. I can't let them down. I have to do this."

With a sigh, she entered her room. It was tiny, cramped up by five beds and footlockers. There was a refresher in the back of the room, and not much else. It was also empty; she seemed the first Jedi to arrive. No worries. She dropped her bags nonchalantly by a bed and sat down on it. She pulled her datapad out, booted it up, and put her headphones on. She plugged the datacard into it, and a holo-movie loaded up.

REPUBLIC MILITARY BRIEFING FOR ENLISTED JEDI. She put the movie on, and a handsome Republic officer filled the screen, talking about various things.

Before she got too far into the video, the door opened again, and three more Jedi came in. She looked up and acknowledged them with only a nod before darting her eyes back to her 'pad. She'd never seen these Jedi before, another reminder of both the size of the temple, the popularity of the Revanchists, and how little she spoke to anyone beside Sakett.

She could hear muffled voices over her earphones, and could sense these people trying to get her attention. She sighed, paused the video, and pulled the headphones out so she could listen.

 

 

"Hey there, I don't believe we've met!" A Knight gave her a friendly smile and told her his name, along with the names of his two friends. She forgot their names as he said them; she'd really have to work on that. "What's your name, Padawan?"

"Meku Sakaroto."

"Are you feeling okay?" His tone and aura conveyed genuine concern.

"I… I'm fine. I just… been through a lot."

"We all have. But we did the right thing, you know?" She gave him a nod. "Well, the three of us are hungry. We're gonna head to the mess hall and catch some grub. Wanna come with, maybe the four of us can get to know each other?" Meku knew they were just trying to reach out to her, but she just wanted to watch this video and retreat into her own head. She didn't have the energy to be social with these people.

"Uh, I'm really tired right now. But thanks for the offer."

"Oh, okay, no worries."

 

 

With that, she put her headphones back in while the three Jedi talked. When the final recruit came in, the four of them left for the Mess Hall, while Meku paid attention to the video. It was hours long, and covered a variety of topics.

It talked about how to properly wear and clean one's uniform. Jedi were allowed to choose between their robes or their uniforms. How to determine someone's rank. What rank the recruit was. Meku, like all Padawans, was a Private First Class, the lowest rank of all. How to stand at attention, what the pose looked like. How to say commands and the like over the comm system.

And, most frighteningly, a briefing on the enemy. It showed a multitude of different Mandalorian ships, including the infamous Basilisk. It talked about their Beskar armor, AKA "Mandalorian Iron." Some of the heaviest, most impenetrable armor in the galaxy. It was even resistant to lightsabers. The video advised, "apply heavy pressure with lightsaber to cut through this armor. Imagine it like a knife cutting through a big block of cheese. Either that, or aim for the joints between armor plates. Approach with extreme caution."

Meku tried as best she could to pay attention, but her mind kept drifting away, overthinking. Past, present, and future were examined by her conscious. She was so antsy, wondering when she would start. The long day she had, plus her lightspeed thoughts exhausted her. After a few hours of this, she passed out, asleep, in her full clothes.

Chapter Text

Meku opened her eyes. She was tired, having tossed and turned all night. The ship's lights were flickering, sparks were coming down from a ceiling light. "What's going on?" She got up, and sat at the edge of her bed, reaching out with her senses.

She sensed danger. Her eyes widened and her body snapped awake as the adrenaline coursed through her. Danger. The Redemption was under attack! She stood up and clutched her lightsaber. "Hello?"

Silence. It was as if she was on this deck alone. The floor rocked beneath her as the ship got hit with some sort of explosive. Did nobody come get her? Come look for her? She debated yelling again, louder, but decided against it. "Don't wanna give myself away if the Mandos are around." She stuck her head out of the door, trying to look around. Assess the situation.

The hallway of level M1 was dark, the lights were all off. She tried to reach out and sense with the Force. She was alone, and her feelings were clouded by darkness. She pulled the flashlight from her utility belt and turned it on. It sparked and failed. "Seriously? No light at all?"

With nothing for it, she decided to walk down the hall, feeling the walls with her hands to guide her. She could hear nothing. The ship had clearly been through battle, but there were no gunshots, footsteps, or shouting. Nothing that she could see or hear.

Suddenly, she sensed a presence behind her. A hostile presence. In one fluid motion, she rotated around and activated her lightsaber, the long, purple blade illuminating the hallway for the first time.

At the other end, she could make out a shape like a Mandalorian. He was facing away from her. "How does he not see me?" He had his gun pointed towards a Republic soldier who had surrendered.

 

 

"Please, don't kill me, I surrender!"

"Surrender? Pathetic. There is no surrender!"

"Someone, please help!"

"Hey," she shouted, "leave him alone!"

The Mandalorian ignored her, instead setting his blaster from stun to kill.

"Hey!"

He touched the barrel to the soldier's forehead. The soldier, shaking in fear, closed his eyes as he anticipated the inevitable.

"NO!"

 

 

Meku ran towards the Mandalorian and sliced his weapon in half, before he could shoot. Finally, the man turned to her and acknowledged her existence. He pulled out a bloodstained vibrosword and, without saying a word, started swinging at her.

Meku parried his blows, seeing his every move with the Force. Its clarity had returned, and she could see, just as the purple of her saber allowed her to physically see the hallway. She Force-pushed him, knocking him over. She swung her saber down to deliver the killing blow.

The Mandalorian rolled away and got back up. He swung his blade in a sideways motion, to cut Meku in half at her chest. She jumped over the blade and, as she came back down, slashed in a diagonal motion. Her saber cut through his exposed neck, and the momentum of the blow buried the saber deep within his chest armor. It'd actually become stuck in the Beskar armor. "This stuff is nothing to mess with," she thought as she occupied herself tugging it out.

With a final yank, the saber came out of the now-decapitated Mandalorian. Turning the saber off would've been faster, she mused. "But that seemed easy." She looked down at the corpse. Wires came from his chest, as if he was part droid.

 

 

She heard another saber ignite down the hallway. She looked up and saw, of all people, Master Kunas! "Oh, thank the stars," she sighed in relief. "I had no idea you were gonna join, Master! I'm glad! But quick, are there any other survivors? Let's try to find out what's…" She trailed off as her senses warned her of something.

Kunas said nothing, and held his saber in an aggressive stance, as if to attack her. "Master?" He said nothing, still in his aggressive stance. "M-Master. It's me. Meku, remember?"

"TRAITOR!" He screamed at the top of his lungs. His saber, normally green, became red. She looked down at hers; also red. "What?"

"Get off my ship," his voice bellowed. His saber switched between green and red.

"This isn't your ship!" Meku's saber was also switching. The hallway was lit up in green, purple, and red as the colors switched.

"Get off my ship," he repeated. "Before I force you off. Get off my ship!"

"Force me off? What in the blazes? Is he okay?"

"Get OFF my ship!" He raised his color-switching saber over his head, in an attack pose.

"No!" He'd clearly gone crazy and she'd have to disarm him. She ran at him, and he just kept repeating. "Get off my ship, get off my ship, get off my ship..."

 

 

"Get off the ship. Hey, Meku. C'mon, we've got orders, we gotta get off the ship!"

Meku awoke, bolt upright, gasping for air. The Knight she met last night recoiled backwards, unsure what to do. Her chest rose and fell as she caught her breath. She looked around the room, frantic. Lights on. No shaking from any attacks. She could hear all the usual sounds of footsteps and talking through the open door. And there was no hostile presence; just three concerned-looking Jedi Knights.

"Sorry if I startled you there, you must've been having a real bad dream."

"Yeah… bad dream." She hoped. Meku blinked, her face still blank, mind still adjusting to being in the waking world. "Sorry, what are we doing again?"

"We've been given our orders," the excitement was palpable in his voice, "and we get shipped out!"

This snapped her awake. "Where to?"

"Well, we're going to the 440th Mechanized. But I dunno where you'll be going; all of us are going somewhere different. Your deployment is on your datapad. Transports taking off soon, you should get going!"

"Thanks, I will!"

With that, the three Knights walked to their transports. Meku brushed her teeth and freshened up before leaving. While on the elevator, she checked her datapad.

 

"PFC(J) Mekumi Sakaroto
Transfer from RNV Redemption (CDF) to RNV Hearth (16BG).
Position: Marine Infantry
Board transport in hangar bay at 0745."

 

She had no idea what any of that meant. It may as well have been Huttese. "RNV Hearth? That's a ship name, isn't it? And what is 16BG? What's all this?" Thankfully, she'd report to the ship's sole hangar bay, and a transport would take her to the Hearth.

When the elevator doors opened, the hangar bay was full of commotion. Hundreds of Jedi hustled about, being guided by crewmen. Transports were being made ready; both the mid-sized Ministry-class, and much larger ships meant to carry hundreds. She sensed a few were outside, waiting, their pilots growing impatient. She stepped off before a stressed-looking crewman asked, "Name and serial number."

"Uh," she was caught a bit off guard, "Mekumi Sakaroto. Um, my serial number-"

"-It's on your ID if you don't remember," he cut in. She could sense his deep annoyance from having to explain this to hundreds of Jedi. She opened up her bag to dig out her ID, she didn't have it on hand. The crewman's impatient face made her cheeks turn bright red.

"You should know better!" After what felt like ages, she found the card and read her serial number aloud to him.

"You're in group 7. They're over there." He pointed to a group of about 40 Jedi. "You're going to the 16th battle group. You board soon, next Hera after this one takes off."

"Hera?"

"The transport. Uh, Hera-class. The big ones."

"Oh!" she noticed his rank; Corporal. Higher than her. She snapped to attention like she saw in the video. "Thank you, sir!"

His expression lifted just a little, she could sense his pleasure that she was at least trying to act the part. "At ease." He then waved her off as his face resumed a grumpy expression. "Move along, there's a lot of you."

 

 

"Yes, sir." She stepped off, and walked to group 7 as the Lieutenant addressed the next Jedi to come out of the elevator. Meku stood awkwardly on the edges of the group as she awaited her transport. She reached out to feel the energy of the ship. It was alive, buzzing with myriad thoughts.

She could feel the transport pilots, impatient, eager to "just get going already." The crewmen, starstruck at seeing their heroes, but stressed as they managed the fine details of transporting hundreds of them across the galaxy. And, of course the Jedi. They were feeling much the same thing she was. A motley mixture of excitement, fear, drive, purpose, and trepidation.

"Meku! Glad to see you again, and glad to have you with us!" She saw Jan walk towards her, flanked by Neff and Rula. He walked with confidence, taking a natural place as the leader of his little entourage. A winning smile adorned his face.

"Jan, of course I'm with you on this. I wouldn't miss this for the world."

He smiled, "Oh I know that. No, I meant with us as in, going to the same place." Meku gave him a confused look.

"You're headed to the Hearth with us," Neff clarified.

"That you are. After your amazing work yesterday, I made that request to the Quartermaster. Said you were part of my group. If you're as good at fighting as you are at bringing people together, we'll win this war in days!"

Meku was smitten. She barely knew these people, and they made her part of their team. She was a part of them now. She wasn't sure how to feel. "Oh, it wasn't that difficult. All I had to do was knock on some doors." She ran her hands through her hair.

"Hey, it helped us enormously. Without people like you, there'd be way less of us here. Mandos would still eat us alive."

"Thanks." She gave a smile, "It was the right thing to do."

"You're damn right. Glad to have you aboard." Jan sensed her worry. "Hey, something got you down?"

"Oh, it's nothing."

"Come on now." He lay his hand on her shoulder. "We're a team, I want to make sure you're all in tip-top shape. For all of our sakes, please be open." He smiled warmly.

"I had a bad dream. I, I'm not sure it was a dream." She hoped it wasn't a vision, though she knew the line between those two things were often blurry for Jedi.

"Tell us about it. Maybe I can help interpret it."

 

 

Meku stared off as she told him every detail. Jan, Neff, and Rula listened attentively. After she finished, she felt a little better about it. After thinking on it for a few moments, Jan proclaimed, "Sounds like a dream. You're a Jedi, but you're human too. Stress makes you dream weird things, just like for laypeople."

"You really think so?"

"Oh yeah," Rula chimed in, "Sounds like something I'd see if I had one too many spicy spud-stuffers!" They all shared a chuckle at that. Meku felt a weight lift off her shoulders. She may have been heading off to war, but she was happy to at least have these people on her side.

After several minutes, the group boarded, talking among themselves. Meku felt more comfortable as the transport took off and jumped to hyperspace.

"So Jan, what else do you know about the Hearth?"

"Not a whole lot. Hammerhead, probably. I do know it's part of the 16th Battle Group, over Randon. We'll be a part of the ship's crew, I think. Neff's gonna be a pilot."

"No way, you can fly?"

"Heck yeah! Gonna blast some Mandos outta the sky!" Neff's lekku twitched in excitement as his eyes lit up at the prospect. Meku could feel inside him; a burning desire for justice and revenge.

"The rest of us are just gonna be Marines."

"What does that mean?" Meku asked.

"We're part of the ship's troop complement. We can fight in space, or on the ground, wherever we're needed." Meku nodded. This was all new to her, and a lot to take in.

 

 

The transport jumped out of hyperspace much later. Looking out the window, Meku could see Randon, a blue-green garden world. She could also see the 16th Battle Group stationed in orbit over the planet. Several HammerheadsForays, and others gathered around a massive disc-shaped ship with a rectangular superstructure jutting out of the "bottom." It was about ten times longer than the Hammerheads that surrounded it. This disc looked more like a space station; only the blue glow of its engines gave it away as a starship.

"Look at the size of that thing!" Rula gasped in wonder.

"Inexpugnable-class," Neff said. "3.1 kilometers long, central command ship for the Republic Navy. We lost one, the Courageous, at Serroco." He had been doing some reading. Meku felt woefully unprepared, like she didn't know anything.

"Hard to imagine how you can even kill one of those," Jan mused.

"Just goes to show how tough those Mandalorians are," Neff replied. "Can't underestimate them."

"You're right about that," Jan replied.

 

 

Their transport docked on the Inexpugnable-class, where the many Jedi were split up and put on the tiny Conductor-class transports, and shuttled off to the ships or bases they'd be deployed to. Their shuttle docked with the Hearth, another Hammerhead cruiser. It, like most ships in this fleet, bore battle scars. Carbon scoring pockmarked the red paint and some bits were visibly smoking or sparking.

This continued inside the hangar bay. Most of the twelve Aurek fighters and Chela bombers, six of each, were scarred. One fighter had its engine bay open, the repairmen scrambling to fix it while the crew chief bellyached. "No, I need a higher strength polywire here for this circuit, so it doesn't short when the shield gets below 10%. What do you mean, we don't have it? S'supposed to be shipped in last week. Check again with the QM!"

Some troopers were posted outside of the Quartermaster's, trying to patch up their armor. Others were looking for gun parts or ammunition. Meku reached out with her senses and could feel the ship. It felt like a wounded, hungry animal. The soldiers had been beat at every turn, even the machinery felt tired.

"Atten-HUT!" Meku was shaken out of her feelings by the sharp call. She noticed two people walking towards them. One, a black-skinned man, was dressed in a clean and pressed Captain's uniform. He looked confident, but betrayed feelings of fear and desperation. The other was a shorter, muscular woman with brick-red hair that matched the paint on the ship. She burned with wrathful, bright fire. Meku could sense her mind constantly working, constantly planning, trying to get an angle. She wore standard black and red fatigues, but the patches gave her away as someone of higher rank. She forgot most of the ranks already, but thankfully it was easy to keep track of. "I'm the lowest, so I just stand at attention for everyone."

 

 

Meku stood at attention, along with her new team. The Captain beamed, while the woman furrowed her eyebrows. She was the first to speak, "You, white-hair, eyes straight forward. Stop looking all around when you're at attention."

"Yes, ma'am." Meku fixed her gaze forward, wondering what chip this woman had against her.

The woman smiled towards the Captain, "They can't even stand straight, how can they fight the Mandos?"

He smiled and raised his eyebrows in a "suuuuuure" gesture. "Give 'em a chance, Foster, they'll grow on you." He turned to the thoroughly confused Jedi. "At ease."

"Welcome to the Hearth," the woman continued, "This is gonna be your home for the rest of the war. Or, until someone says otherwise. He is your Captain, Leto Abel. I'm Commander Maxine Foster." She looked at the Jedis' blank faces. "You do know what Captain and Commander mean, right?"

Meku could sense this woman's need to test them, to put their feet to the fire. She wondered what the purpose of all this was. Nobody said anything, so she pointed to Meku again, "White-hair. Name."

"Mekumi Sakaroto."

"Wrong!"

Meku gave her a confused look. "What? I'm pretty sure I'm right about my name, crazy woman."

"I'm sorry?"

"You address me as ma'am! 'My name is this, ma'am.' 'I'm sorry, ma'am!'"

"Yes, ma'am. My name is Mekumi Sakaroto, ma'am!"

"Better," replied Commander Foster. "Do you know what our ranks mean, Private Sakaroto?"

"I know you're both higher than I am, so I follow to everything you say, ma'am!" Captain Abel cracked a big smile. Foster's eyes narrowed, but Meku could sense her laughing inside.

"She's got the right idea, Foster. That's what really matters, eh?"

 

 

She choose not to respond, instead turning to address the rest of the Jedi. "The Captain is the master of the ship, he controls the entire vessel and commands the crew. The ship has a troop complement on it. Four hundred men. At least, that's what it was. We're almost half that now, thanks for taking your sweet time. We land planetside, repel boarders, board ships, and do anything else that requires boots on the ground. All of them answer to me, and I answer to Captain Abel, understood?"

The Jedi replied with a chorus of yesses. Meku, not wanting to embarrass herself again, was the only one who curtly said "Yes, ma'am!"

"No, you say 'yes, ma'am!' Like she did. Again!"

"Yes, ma'am!"

"Better. You'll be assigned to different squads." She paused. "Twi'Lek, you know what a squad is?"

"Basic unit, ma'am," Neff responded, remembering from the video. "Five people. Twenty squads in a maniple, ten maniples in a legion. Uh, ma'am."

"That's true for ground-based infantry. On a ship, all squads are under the Commander's authority. No legions, but bigger ships have maniples. It won't do to have one grenade take out all of you at once, so each of you will be attached to different squads in this complement. Except..." she looked down at a datapad, "Volmar? Neff Volmar?"

"That's me, ma'am," he replied.

"You're gonna be with the fighter squadron. The rest of you will be on infantry squads. Got it?"

"Yes, ma'am."

 

 

She paused and sighed, "I understand it's important for you to train together and meditate and do your Jedi thing together. So, what accommodation can we make for you to have those things?"

They all paused, unsure. Jan was the first to speak. "I think, once a day, we should have some time set aside for that. Meditation, debriefing, that kind of thing."

"How much time?"

"Two hours?"

"That'll work. Two hours per day, once you get off duty, and you get to do the Jedi thing together. Anything else?" No one said anything. "Very well," Commander Foster continued. "You'll get two hours. Volmar, report to the Flight Leader over there. Jan Lassar, you'll be leading the 92nd squad. Rula Olim, you'll be leading the 5th. Sakaroto, you'll be in the 36th. All of your quarters are on deck M1; that's the garrison deck. You'll want to get going ASAP. Your squad is your new family. They'll be the ones who have your back in a firefight. The sooner you get to know them, the better."

"And by the way, we are glad to have you," Captain Abel conceded. Foster nodded - despite her hard exterior, Meku could feel the subtle thankfulness underneath, the gem of hope.

"Yes. Yes, we are. To walk out on the Council, that took guts. Thank you for being here. I know we'll be able to take those damn bucketheads." She stopped and gave a teasing smile. "But anyone who asks to put in a waterfall or a pond will get thrown out of the airlock, Jedi or no Jedi. Welcome aboard the Hearth, boys!"

Neff walked towards the fighter squadron and introduced himself. The Jedi walked towards the elevator, Jan saying something about how he'd start a group message to arrange their meeting times. She was hardly listening, just trying to take it all in. Her stomach rumbled, she realized she hadn't eaten in almost two days. "I need a good meal. Maybe that's how I'll get to know the squad, over some nice food. Speaking of… what're they gonna be like?"

She arrived at the door. She could sense their presence inside, and she closed her eyes to gather her strength. Finally, she knocked, eager to meet her comrades.

Chapter Text

Meku walked in. Like on the Redemption, her room was cramped. Five beds, footlockers, and one refresher. A rack lined one wall, it had various blasters on it. The room had four men in it. One was a middle-aged, tall, scarred, muscular, tattooed, ugly lump. There was an athletic-looking Duros eating a candy bar. He had machine parts scattered on and next to his bed. One hand held the candy, the other held a hydrospanner. He was next to an older Zabrak who was tall, with a huge frame and a bit of a belly. The Zabrak was very calm and gave soothing vibes, he simply clasped his hands. Nearest the door, another human, in his twenties, read his datapad, this one handsome and chiseled.

Meku walked in expecting to say something. 'Hi,' 'glad to meet you,' 'looking forward to working with you.' It all sounded very good in her head, but she was now tongue-tied.

"So, you're the FNG," the ugly man spoke up. A chest patch on his fatigues read "DEVORE." He walked towards her, sizing her up, the way one would if someone started to act very tumultuous in a bar. She could sense there was hostility in his thoughts.

"I, I don't know what FNG means, there must be a mistake. I'm just a Private First Class." The Duros smiled at this, while the Zabrak chuckled. The ugly one remained, glaring, judging her. "I am really looking forward to you all working. I mean, to working with you all."

"Stand at attention, FNG." She snapped to attention, wondering why words were so difficult. Her cheeks flushed red. The man sighed, the rest simply watched.

 

 

"So, you gonna win this war for us?"

"That's, uh, that's the plan. I mean, I hope?"

"Are you now! Think you can do everything, don'cha?"

"Not really, I mean. I barely even know how to fly, I just-"

"So what use are you?" She was taken aback. This man was nothing like the cheering crowds on Coruscant, or even the starstruck Quartermasters. She didn't know how to respond. "Answer!"

"Uh… I think I'm a lot of use? I trained my whole life, you know?" She corrected herself, "Sir. I trained my whole life, sir."

"Trained your whole life, eh?" He scoffed. "Your training ain't prepared you for this, I tell you what."

"I mean, it's just war. That's a big part of our training, sir." She sensed his anger at this; she had definitely hit a nerve. His mouth, open in disbelief, confirmed this. She tried to explain "Fighting-"

"Oh! Ohhhhhhhh! Fighting? You think it's simple as'at? You think you can just run at the bucketheads swingin' your laser sword and win this whole war?"

"I mean-"

"-Wrong! You don't even know what war is. Not yet. And just 'cos you can fight, doesn't mean you can war." He looked her up and down. "And you don't even look like you can fight." He spat the last words out, almost like a challenge. Meku tried to stand her ground with him.

"With all due respect, sir, I can fight. That's why I'm here." If she touched a nerve before, she stomped on it now. She could sense him explode inside.

 

 

"That's why you're here, is it?" He turned to the rest of the people in the room. "So we can't fight, huh? That's why you've graced us with your holy presence, ain't it?"

"Sir, I-"

"We've been losing this war cos we can't fight good! We just weren't trying hard enough! But if we believe in ourselves, and with a little bit of Jedi magic, we'll be all good in no time! Been doin' this longer than you been alive, but you sure are gonna show me, aren'cha?"

"But-"

"Shut up, you snot-nosed punk!" He turned to the rest of the men. "Sorry boys, we had it wrong this whole time! We just weren't swingin' our laser swords good enough." He was in mock histrionics, hands on his face. "Thank goodness the Jedi have sent us a literal child to show us how to do it right! Whatever would we do without'er?"

Meku said nothing, just waiting for the verbal barrage to stop. Her cheeks were redder than the paint on the walls, and she wished she could just cover herself in her robes.

The ugly man turned and started screaming in her face. "Whatever would we do without you, Master Jedi? Tell me, what would we do without you? Please, show us your invincible ways of combat! Please, bless our stupid asses. 'Cos without you, we don't even know how to hold a vibroblade!"

A long, awkward silence ensued. This was not the first impression Meku wanted to make. The rest of the men shuffled uncomfortably, eyes darting away from the ugly man. Except the handsome one. He remained buried in his datapad, impervious. Meku tried to ease the tension.

"Look, sir. I'm sorry if I made a bad impression. I think we should start over. I'm happy to be aboard, and I'm happy to work with you guys. I'm sure there's plenty I can learn from you. I, at least, I want us to get to know each other."

The ugly man replied with a "Pfft." He waved her off like she was a buzzing insect. "Get to know them. I'm going for a drink. Bye."

 

 

He walked past Meku and out the door. It whooshed shut behind him. Meku exhaled deeply, staring at the floor. She had no idea what to do, or even where to go. She just stood there, wondering what this man had against her. This was nothing like the Temple, and nothing like how she expected it to go.

The Zabrak was the first to speak up. "Hey Jedi, don't take him too hard. Sarge's really, uh..." he paused a moment, thinking of the right words. "Difficult."

She just nodded in response, fearful that if she opened her mouth again she'd tick off the rest of them like she did to the ugly man.

"C'mon," he continued, "what's your name?" The Zabrak smiled at her, showing his sharp, fang-like teeth.

"Meku. I mean, Private First Class Mekumi Sakaroto, sir."

"Relax, Jedi. I don't outrank you and, even if I did, I don't care." He pointed at the Duro, "That's Oka Krono." He gestured to the handsome man. "He's Luay Khain. He doesn't talk much." Luay simply raised a hand in a halfhearted 'hi' gesture, never taking his eyes off the screen. "And I'm Brax Au'manar."

"Pleased to meet you all." She looked all around the room, giving a general wave at everyone. "I'm really happy to be here. And anything I can do to help, just let me know."

"You're gonna regret saying that, we'll put you through hella work," Oka spoke up, smiling. Bits of chocolate stained his teeth. "So, your name, is Meku?"

"Yeah." She smiled.

"Pretty name, sounds almost Duro. Where from?"

"I dunno, I spent my whole life in the, the Temple." Just saying that word brought back a tidal wave of memories. She'd left her entire life behind. She shook her head to clear those thoughts out. "That's not my life anymore." "But I do know that I'm Echani."

"Ooh, the Echani. Good fighters, though I hear their food is rather bland," Brax opined. His voice was soothing, like a father's, and put her at ease.

"Man, complain too much!" The Duros' flanging, choppy accent stood in stark contrast to Brax's smooth tone. "Any food you don't throw up, good food."

"You gotta raise your standards."

Meku giggled a bit, but all this talk of food reminded her that she hadn't eaten in two days. "Hey guys, speaking of food. Wanna go get something? I'm kinda famished." Oka and Brax looked at each other, chortling to themselves. Meku tilted her head, confused. "What's so funny?"

 

 

"Really are an FNG, aren't you?" Oka smiled. "We only eat at certain times. Last meal for today, like, an hour ago."

Meku threw her head back, looking at the ceiling. Brax said, "Hey, I've got another candy bar if you want it. It's my last one."

Meku's eyes darted to him, but she dared not say anything. She didn't want to take his last candy bar. "I, I'm good. I'll wait till breakfast." As if on cue, her stomach gurgled audibly at the thought.

"I heard that," he teased. "Either the hull's bending or you're really hungry." He held his hand out. "Take it."

Meku shook her head. "No, really."

"Stop lying and take the bar."

"Seriously! I can wait till-"

She sensed the thoughts in his head long before he acted. The subconscious command, fired down his synapses to his muscles, commanding them to "throw it!" His wrist flicked, but no sooner had the candy left his hand did Meku have hers up in exactly the right place. It landed in her hand instead of smacking her in the face.

"Ooh, you're good," Oka said. "Join intramurals, maybe. Win, methinks."

"Well, it's yours now." Brax smiled, teasing. "Enjoy it. Also, that bed," he pointed at the one closest to the refresher, "is yours." She looked down at her hand, then to the bed.

"Thanks, uh…"

"Brax."

"Brax. Right, sorry. I'm really bad with names."

"Should learn 'em," Oka advised, "especially Sarge's. Fixing to throw you out the airlock, if you mess up."

"I can see that… wait, Sarge?"

"Yeah, he's our squad leader. Sergeant Jimny Devore."

"Oh, lovely. Of all people, he's gonna be my boss."

 

 

She sat down on the free bed and tore open the candy bar. She took small, carefully measured bites, having been trained in etiquette at the temple. Between a bite, Meku asked, "Is there anything I can do to, uh, stay on his good side?" She gestured to the empty bed that Sargeant Jimny occupied.

Brax rubbed the back of his neck while Oka shrugged. "Honestly, just stay out of his way," Brax noted.

"Yeah. He has moods. Some good, most... not good," Oka added.

"Good point," Brax replied, "His mood controls how he acts to others. Just always be super-respectful. Don't argue. 'Yessir, yessir,' and that's it."

"Yes, needs respect," Oka agreed. "Loooooots of respect. Understand, he's been doing this twenty years. You come in, act disrespectful." Meku raised her hands in an I did not do that! style of gesture. Oka shrugged matter-of-factly. "Disrespectful. Kinda set him off, get it? Have utmost respect. He's been in this a long time."

Meku understood a bit more now. It explained Sarge's smouldering at her. She could sense the same feelings of anger and bitterness in Foster, Captain Abel, even in Brax and Oka. Although they were much stronger in Sergeant Jimny than in both of them. From Luay, strangely, she sensed very little. Just massive focus on, well, whatever he was doing on that datapad. Video game, seeming from his thoughts.

"Yeah, that's why respect is a big thing for him. Gotta show him you've earned this, that you aren't a liability."

"Honestly, just needa get used to you. Not used to you now." Oka rubbed his chin with his long, gray-green fingers. "You're filling big shoes."

"Big shoes?" Meku asked. Brax seemed equally confused.

He responded with a simple "Yeh."

"I understand." Meku didn't understand, but she also didn't want to press the matter and make herself look dumb. "Thanks for the help. And I promise, I'll make you guys proud."

 

 

She finished up the candy bar and threw the wrapper away. She had a million questions, everything from "when do we actually go out to fight" to "What do we do all day here?"

"Um, guys, what is the plan for tomorrow?"

"Patrol," Oka replied, picking up one of the machine parts and examining it.

His answer cleared up exactly nothing. Meku's confused face prompted Brax to explain.

"Certain squads are assigned to patrol while the rest of the ship trains. We go around, look for spies, saboteurs, troublemakers, that sort of thing."

Meku nodded, wondering how common spies and saboteurs were that the ship needed dedicated patrol squads.

"It's not as exciting as you think," he continued, "We're pretty much like police."

"On a good day, might break up a barfight." Oka said. "Most days, well, just admire decorations. Rather be training."

"Yeah, usually we just enforce the regulations. Y'know, no messing with restricted equipment, no drunk and disorderly, no vandalism. There's a whole book of regs you can look up. Guaranteed, most boring thing you'll ever read. If you're ever hurting for something to do." Brax paused. "Which, you know, doesn't happen a whole lot."

"I'll take a look at those," Meku replied with enthusiasm as she pulled out her datapad. She hoped more dearly than anything to just impress them.

"Anyways, it's getting pretty late. Gotta be up early tomorrow. We should all get rested," Brax stretched as he spoke. Meku wished him goodnight, and read up some regs on her datapad. Brax was right, it was boring. But she tore through the rules with gusto anyways. After a while, her eyes became very heavy with sleepiness. The words hardly registered to her tired brain, so she closed the display and was about to put her datapad away when it chimed with a new message. She never even read the message; the "from" made her completely freeze in disbelief.

It was from Sakett.

Chapter Text

Meku was speaking to her Master, in her room at the Temple. She was tucked into bed, cosy in the thick blankets. He was standing tall, beaming enough to light up the whole temple. Meku was smiling too. "Don't forget we're to meet with that Senator tomorrow to help him catch whoever's been slicing his systems."

"Of course! We'll find that guy!" She spoke with conviction.

He turned to her dresser, seeing the long handle of Meku's lightsaber displayed prominently on it. This was just after she built it; before the times when she'd nonchalantly leave it on her belt when she slept. Just seeing it made them both smile even bigger.

"That thing is amazing, and I am so proud of you. You have no idea."

Meku remembered this very well. It was one of the happiest days of her temple life. She cherished that it returned to her in her dream.

She blushed in response. "Master, your guidance helped me to build it. I wouldn't have anything if not for you."

"Meku, you've taught me more than I ever knew." He sighed. "Let's not get too caught up in our feelings about this. You know we must not let ourselves get overcome with emotion."

"Sorry Master, I'm just so excited!"

"I'll let you in on a little secret," he feigned an I'm-breaking-the-rules smile for her, "I am too." It spurned a giggle from his twelve-year-old apprentice. "But there is no emotion, there is peace. Now sleep well, little one. We've got a big day tomorrow."

"Goodnight Master. You're the bestestest."

"Goodnight, little one. You're the bestestest." He turned to walk away, and she could hear the voice in his head speak, despite how much he tried to hide his feelings from her powerful senses. "I love you." She could feel the warmth of his heart, and the connection he had with her. That of a father to his daughter. One their teachings mandated he'd always have to distance himself from.

Meku embraced the warm, fuzzy feelings within her chest. He was her hero, and no teaching would ever let her disbelieve that. She turned over to sleep, as she did in reality all those years ago.

 

 

Her door opened again. This time it was Vrook, standing menacingly at the door, chest heaving from exertion.

"Grand Master, is everything okay?" Her question had all the innocence of a twelve-year-old who never had cause to doubt her elders. Vrook remained silent, only breathing heavily.

"G - Grand Master?"

Vrook ignited his lightsaber. "Die, traitor!"

Confusion and shock gripped Meku as Vrook slowly stepped forward. She bolted upright. "Master! Master, please! Help! HELP!" Master Kunas ran in shortly after, his face concerned.

"What's going on here? Grand Master, what's the matter?"

"She's a traitor, and must die."

"Surely there must be some mistake."

"None at all. She must die."

Vrook raised his saber to bisect Meku. She Force-pulled hers from the dresser and ignited it, just in time to block Vrook's blow. It ignited red. Vrook's blade, ordinarily green, was also red now.

"See? A red lightsaber. She is evil, and has betrayed us all."

"I suppose you're right," Kunas agreed. "Do what you must." Meku's heart sank into her stomach. Her bestestest hero had turned his back on her.

"Wait, you don't understand!" It was too late, she was alone. Vrook moved to attack.

 

...

 

Meku bolted awake, again gasping for breath. She looked around and saw Sergeant Jimny standing over her, holding a blaster cleaning rod as if he'd been prodding her with it.

"Rise and shine, Master Jedi," he mocked. "Time for duty. If you make us late for posting, I'm gonna space you out the airlock, let's go!"

"Yes, sir!" The phrase was slowly becoming hard-wired into her brain. She saw Brax, Oka, and Luay getting ready. She got up and started throwing on a different set of robes, as she'd been wearing these nonstop since the temple. Her tired brain tried to make sense of what had led her to this point.

She remembered reading through a bunch of the regs last night. Just before she slept, she got that message from Sak. She reread the words in her head as she got ready.

 

"Dear Meku,
I hope this finds you well. You're probably killing Mandalorians by now and saving the Republic and all that stuff. I just wanted to say I'm sorry. You left on bad terms and I think that's wrong. I don't agree with what you did, but you're still my best friend. I hope you feel the same way too. Anyways, if you don't hate me by now, I'd love to HoloChat with you.

Sincerely,
Your friend, Sak"

 

She'd spent several minutes deciding whether to chat him right then and there. But the snoring of her squad members convinced her otherwise. She didn't want to wake them and she needed her sleep for today's patrol. She eventually brushed her teeth and gave in to her heavy eyes.

She watched her teammates get ready. They were methodical, having done this several times before. They threw on their fatigues, and their attention to detail was impeccable. Their belt buckles were all exactly in the same place. The pants bloused into the boots at the same height, letting the exact same amount of fabric bloom out from the top.

Once the boots and fatigues were on, they helped one another with their red and gold armor. Oka and Jimny helped Brax and Luay first, pulling the armor over their shoulders, tightening and adjusting the straps, and then clicking all the utility and weapons gear into place. The final step was the teardrop-shaped helmets.

Meku couldn't help but notice that this looked more like police equipment than military hardware. Their only armor was a vest that covered their upper bodies and shoulders. Only Brax and Jimny had thigh-plates. It was strange when compared to the head-to-toe, full-body armor of the Mandalorians. "That's right," she remembered. The Republic hadn't fought a major war in over a hundred years. The military was more for patrolling hyperspace lanes and fighting off pirates, raiders, and small insurrections. They'd become more of a police force than a real military; growing used to the century of peace since Exar Kun. The Mandalorians were an all new enemy; organized, industrialized. The only faction in the galaxy large and powerful enough to be comparable to the Republic. This war was going to be hard-fought.

Meku tied her hair and made sure her utility belt had everything it needed before going out to the mess. After getting their meals and sitting down, Oka and Sargeant Jimny spoke between themselves. She noticed bitter glares from them. She'd gotten double rations because of her supercharged Jedi's metabolism.

Luay, on the other hand, was buried in his datapad. She could sense his thoughts were on the video game he was playing. He used one hand to absentmindedly shovel food into his mouth. This didn't seem to phase the other squadmates, they seemed totally used to it. They made no attempt to socialize with him, treating him almost like decoration. She suppressed a chuckle and felt she could relate to him. "Maybe this Luay guy is as awkward as I am. Would explain why he's always on that thing."

 

 

Brax turned to look at Meku, snapping her out of her thoughts. "Alright Jedi, let us explain to you how this patrol thing works." She sensed much more warmth from him than the other three, and listened attentively.

"Yes, sir?"

"Again, we're the same rank." He waved her off. "We get selected for patrol on certain days of the week. In the morning, command sends Sarge a comm as to what area of the ship we patrol. Then we walk around that area and, well, look for trouble."

"Reg violations, right?"

"Yeah, mostly. We also respond to other emergencies like fires. Today's patrol area is the engine deck."

"And you're new, so your job right now is to observe us." Jimny spoke with a commanding tone. "Follow my commands, and do what I say 'till you get the hang of it. Got it?"

"Yes, sir."

"And don't expect nothing too exciting." She simply nodded, trying to go over the regs in her head. "This ain't no action vid, FNG."

After breakfast, the squad spent the next several hours patrolling the engine deck. Jimny and Oka "took point." This was the Navy-speak for "walked in front." Brax and Meku brought up the rear. He would translate the Navy-speak, explain to her what to look for, what comm codes meant, and other things.

Sarge was right - there was very little to do. They would walk around the deck just making small talk, listening to the engines hum, and chatting with the engineers when they weren't so busy. When she wasn't being talked to, which was a lot of the time, Meku would stretch out her senses and just feel the ship around her.

The engines were especially soothing, their rhythmic hums were like waves lapping onto a beach. It provided a backdrop as she felt the life on the ship, milling about. She couldn't listen to it for too long - it hurt. She could sense fear, anger, and desperation in the ship's crew. It was the same feeling a prey animal gets when it is out of breath, lost, running out of options, and can still hear its predator chasing it.

She wanted to heal it, to make this pain and fear go away. "But to do that, we have to make the predator go away. That's why we're here, right? To bare our teeth and make the predator back off?" She stopped feeling the aura of the crewmen and went back to feeling the machinery on the ship.

 

 

The engines' rhythmic hums, like heartbeats and breaths. The comm systems relaying thousands of messages back and forth, like synapses. The sensor array with its eyes and ears peeled. Droids ferrying supplies back and forth, like blood cells. She always found it interesting that technology mimicked life in this way.

She wistfully remembered Master Kunas teaching her this. "Remember little one, the Force is in everything, even in things not alive. Listen to every star, every mountain, every ocean, every starship, even. You'll be surprised at how they act the same as the living Force."

The happy memory soured when she thought about her dream. Hopefully it was just a product of her nerves, and not some strange vision. She couldn't wait to meet with the other Jedi to talk about it and debrief. Being with these soldiers was so... foreign. They lived in the same Republic, spoke the same language, and were even fighting to protect the same people. Yet, they seemed completely alien.

Meku, having been in the Temple her whole life, and surrounded by Jedi, felt an outsider here. The jargon was like another language - so many abbreviations and weird terms. Plus, they were crude, boozy, hard people. "Uncivilized ruffians," Vrook would say.

"That's not right," Meku thought to herself. "You can't look down on these people. They're sentients just like you are. So what if they don't meditate or like a quiet night in with a book? These are real people." She mentally punished herself for feeling this way. Still, it'd be easier not to do this if she didn't feel so damn unwelcome. And besides -

"-Wait." She stopped in her tracks and perked up, attentive. She could sense something amiss.

 

 

"What's the matter," Brax asked, noticing she'd stopped.

"I sense something." Sargeant Jimny and Oka stopped too, giving a strange look.

"Sense what, FNG?" Sarge seemed impatient, like she had nothing important to say.

"It's…" she closed her eyes, and pointed, "over here." She pointed to a door that read 'MAIN REACTOR CONTROL: AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY.'

His face went from casual to alert. "What do you sense in there? Bomb?"

"No, I sense people, but…" She struggled for the right words to say, her hands trying to grab the words from the air. "I can… I can feel that they're in there and they know they're not supposed to be. They, they know they're doing something wrong."

Jimny's eyes widened as his danger response kicked in. Meku could sense inside his mind, and she knew he was preparing for the worst. Apparently, the ship's reactors were a prime target for sabotage; she saw a memory playing out in his mind of a time the Hearth was almost destroyed by an enemy who made their way to that room.

"Guns, now!" The squad whipped out their blasters in a fluid motion. Jimny and Oka had standard assault rifles. Luay had a small carbine, with a sniper rifle strapped to his back. Brax brought in the big guns, with a heavy repeater. Meku pulled her saber off her belt, but didn't ignite it.

"Formation, door entry, pattern 2," Sarge barked. The squad all took positions by the door. Oka was on one side, Luay and Brax were on the other. Sarge stood at the door's control pad, ready to enter. Meku stood there, having no idea what the blazes "door entry pattern 2" was supposed to mean.

"Why are you standing there, idiot?!"

"I, I don't know wher-"

"-Just get behind me, and be ready for anything."

"Yes, sir," Meku spoke as she made her way behind him.

Jimny flashed a card at the door's control panel and it opened. The squad entered the doorway all together, each of them sweeping the room with the barrels of their blasters to cover the entire area. It looked well-rehearsed. Well, except for Meku, who stumbled in behind the professionals.

The main reactor control room was empty, but for two people. A man in an orange and black Engineer's jumpsuit, and a woman in soldier's fatigues. The soldier was on the engineer's lap, and they were deeply kissing when the squad busted in, ready to shoot. As they busted in, Jimny yelled, "Hands up, now!"

This scared the two completely out of their skins. The soldier's training served her well. She jumped off the engineer's lap and put her hands up immediately, saying "we're friendlies!" The engineer, on the other hand, just had an eopie-in-the-headlights look, dumbfounded. Jimny took a look at the situation and exhaled sharply.

 

 

"You," he pointed at the soldier, fire in his voice, "name and rank!"

"Lance Corporal Chani Arrakis, sir!" She stood at attention, eyes dead forward.

"And you?"

"Engineer Garrix Palaven, sir!"

"Anyone else here with you?"

"No, sir."

"Oka, run names," he ordered.

"Sir," the curt reply came as Oka pulled out a datapad.

"You have clearance to be in here, Arrakis?"

"No, sir."

"Then what in the san hill are you doing in here?" He kept the rage in his voice, Meku could sense he wanted to put fear in their hearts. He turned to the engineer. "And why did you let her in here when you know damn well she ain't got the clearance?"

"I… we…" Garrix stammered. Meku could sense his emotions too. He was frightened, but also embarrassed.

"Spit it out!"

"I'm sorry sir, I, I just brought her in here for a little, you know, a little personal time."

"Whassat supposed to mean?"

"The other engineers were out working on a secondary reactor, sir." He fidgeted with his hands, uncomfortable. "They left me here to watch the control room. Chani and I have something going on, and, I thought we could… you know… get some... alone time."

Jimny turned towards the soldier. "That right?"

She looked down in shame for a moment before admitting, "Yes, sir."

"And're you here by your own consent?"

She nodded again, "Yessir, yessir."

 

 

Jimny leaned in very close to the soldier, and then the engineer. He spoke in a quiet, menacing tone. "And is this a cover-up for anything else? You planning on blowing us to hell and gone?"

They both shook their heads furiously, replying with nos and absolutely nots. Meku sensed the truth in their voices. She could also tell from looking at them. The engineer's shirt was partially unbuttoned. The soldier's hair was messy, as if someone had been running his hands through it. And the chair they were sitting on was far away from any equipment. She could sense all of these cues in the minds of her comrades, who analyzed the evidence like she did.

"Hm. Well, your story seems believable. But this is too serious for me to... just let go." He turned away and stared off. "If I's wrong about this, whew. I'd have the lives of 300 crewmen, 400 marines, 12 pilots and, oh yeah," he pointed to Meku, "3 Jedi on my conscience." He let out an emotional exhale to punctuate his point. "I'll have to report this to the Brig, and their detectives can question you about this."

"Please sir, I'm telling you, that's all we were doing!" He plead with Jimny. "I had some alone time in here and wanted to get intimate with my Chani. That's all! Please, don't do this."

He may not have been a saboteur, but letting someone in a restricted, critical area like Reactor Control was a violation of, what section was it? Right, Republic Navy Regulation 163.160(b). Not to mention fraternization among the ranks was also a minor infraction, RNR 811.803(a)(1). Meku was glad she read over the reg book last night.

The engineer's fears played out in his mind. He'd be demoted, for sure. Years of hard work and education would go down the drain. The stain on his reputation might even end his engineering career. He'd have to go to school for a new career, if he could even get into a school. If not, well, he'd be washing dishes. Chani, too, feared demotion, and being posted on a backwater planet with little importance, action, or opportunity for promotion. She'd joined the military for honor and to protect her people, but she'd leave it ashamed.

 

 

"I sense they're telling the truth," Meku whispered to her leader. He nodded and waved her off, as one would wave off an insect. Meku could sense that he was trying to scare them.

"Even if y'all were here to get a little hanky panky in. That means you," he pointed an accusatory finger at the engineer, "weren't watching the gauges. What woulda happened if the reactor had a meltdown while your tongue was down her throat? Huh?" The engineer said nothing, looking down at the floor in shame. He was a child caught red-handed by his father, praying that he wouldn't get belted. "What woulda happened?"

"It wouldn't have been good, sir."

"Not good? Not good? We'da been just as dead as if you were a saboteur. That what you want? You wanna kill 715 people, Engineer?" He paused for a beat. "Answer me!"

"No, sir!"

Jimny took a long, purposeful pause, the air pregnant with tension. He made a big show of taking Oka's datapad and reading what he pulled up on Chani and Garrix. He then handed it back to Oka. "Now, my Jedi here tells me she sensed the truth in you. So for that reason, and that reason alone, I ain't gonna arrest you on suspicion of sabotage." The two exhaled deep sighs of relief. "But if I catch either of you neglecting your duties again, I'm bringin' the hammer down, and you two're going straight to the Brig. Clear?"

"Yes, sir!" they both responded, in unison.

"Then stop standing there, you pathetic sops! Get back to your duties, both of you!" The engineer went back to his gauges and dials, reading them with droid-like accuracy. Chani scurried back to her posting. He turned back to the squad. "Alright, let's clear out."

 

 

As the squad walked away, Meku's curiosity got the better of her. "Sergeant, sir?"

"What is it?"

"Why did we just let them go?"

"You said it yourself. They were telling the truth."

"But sir, they violated the regs. Letting a person into a restricted area is against RNR-"

"- I been around the block. I know the rules, FNG."

"We've got discretion whether or not to cite someone. We won't do it if we think it'll do more harm than good," Brax added to help clarify.

"You think it would've been worse to let them get away, sir?"

"Use your brain, FNG. He's a good engineer. She's a good soldier. They got no record with the Brig."

"Brig?"

Jimny sighed and rolled his eyes, wondering why this stupid young woman didn't know such basic terms. "The Brig is the ship's jail. The staff there's in charge of investigation, arrests, warrants, prosecution, all the Navy justice stuff. We bring 'em arrestees or cites and they decide what to do with 'em."

"Oh. Got it, sir."

"We'd know if they had a history of bein' troublemakers. It was two young idiots being stupid and choosing the wrong place for their face-suckin'. So what good woulda come of arresting them?"

Meku paused for a moment before she realized this wasn't a hypothetical question. "Well, they wouldn't choose the reactor control to, uh, rendezvous."

"Uh huh. And what bad coulda come of it?"

"Well," her mind returned to the two miscreants' fears while explaining themselves, "They'd get in big trouble. They'd prolly get demoted. That soldier, Chani, would be on latrine duty, maybe change her posting. The engineer, Garrix, he'd get demoted too. He might have a black mark on his career."

"And do you think we scared the piss outta them?"

"Y-yeah! I mean, uh, yes sir." "Hell, you even scared me!"

"And you think scaring them woulda been just as effective as getting the Brig involved?" Meku nodded. "And you think it'd be helpful to the war effort to lose us a good engineer and a good soldier?"

"No, sir."

"That's why." He sighed in disappointment. "Of all people, you should know this. Didn't you break your Jedi rules just to be here?" Meku didn't reply, her face went red. "S'what I thought, FNG."

"Sir, I thought I was a Private First Class. What's FNG mean?"

He chortled. "Fraggin' new guy!"

Chapter Text

It was a long day. Meku pulled a full shift on patrol with her squad, learning all sorts of new things and trying her best not to get on Sargeant Jimny's bad side. She ate lunch and dinner with them, staying quiet to not embarrass herself.

After all that, she spent two hours meditating and debriefing with Neff, Jan, and Rula. It was a breath of fresh air to see fellow Jedi again. It felt like coming home after being abroad. This took place on the observation deck, where cadets could see the stars. When the other Jedi shuffled out to get a well-earned night of rest, Meku stayed. She stared at the stars for several minutes.

Her eyes started to moisten. She blinked hard, fighting back tears. In the span of a few days, her entire world was turned upside down. Everything about her life changed. The people she knew. The food she ate. The conversations she held. Even her cherished mentor had been replaced with a grumpy man who seemed like he only wanted to bring her down. He maybe even took pleasure in it.

Tears started flowing down her face. Her breathing became irregular, she fought the urge to just cry. "There is no emotion, there is peace." She wiped the tears off with hard, angry, scraping motions. "Stay strong, Meku. Remember why you're here." Her mind drifted to Jurtha, the gem of hope she saw within her. She took several deep breaths to center herself. "You're doing the right thing. All this is worth it."

After calming her emotions, she pulled out her datapad. She'd messaged Sak earlier, saying she'd like to HoloChat with him. She pulled out the 'pad and couldn't help but giggle at his username, "MasterSakMan1234." She sent him a message, "you ready?"

 

 

Not even a minute later, a call came in. From the 'pad's projector came a six-inch tall hologram of a figure so familiar, Meku had to stop the tears from coming again. He was sitting down, and Meku could recognize where he was just from his posture - the big, poofy, plush chair he kept by his bed.

"Meku?" She could sense his sheer excitement from all these light-years away.

"Sak!"

"Meku! I… uh… hi." As usual, both of them were having trouble coming up with words. Meku just gave a chuckle.

"Hi, doof head."

"Oh man, oh man oh man oh man." The tiny hologram rubbed the back of its neck. "So.. do you hate me?"

"No, no, Sak. Never."

He exhaled. "Me neither. But you're a hero of the Republic now, right? Mandalorians will surrender any day now, if you're out there." She smiled weakly at the naked compliment.

"Don't feel like much of a hero, honestly. I… It's hard for me just to even get my bearings here."

"Really? How hard could it be? You just show up and start fighting, right?"

"Oh, it's a lot harder than that. All I've fought till now was… well.. Paperwork."

"Seriously? We're the best fighters in the galaxy and they have you doing paperwork?"

Meku resisted the urge to repeat what Jimny told her, "Just 'cause you can fight, doesn't mean you can war." She decided against it… she wasn't sure he'd get it.

"There's more to it than that. It's been a ride, just getting set up..."

 

She relayed to him what happened so far; the biometrics. Meeting Commander Foster, Captain Abel, Sarge, and the rest of the squad. Learning to say 'sir' and 'ma'am' after every sentence to people who outranked her. Which, by the way, was everyone. Learning all the foreign jargon and the ridiculous abbreviations the military seemed to use for literally everything.

Sak would interrupt here and there to clarify, or to point out that "yeah, that is kinda dumb, isn't it?"

 

"And now I'm here. I… honestly I didn't know what to expect when I left the temple. But I never expected it to be like this." Meku felt much better after getting all this off her chest.

"Wow." Sak was at a loss for words, just taking it all in. "I didn't know there was that much to it. The military seems so complicated… it shouldn't be. Just go out and kill the enemy, right?" Meku suppressed a cringe, she was absolutely sure Jimny and Commander Foster would throttle her if she ever said that.

"Well, enough of me prattling on about myself. What's been going on with you? How are things at the Temple?"

"Well, I'm going through the Trials next week. I'll be a Knight soon!" Sak bounced in his chair at the excitement, before suppressing it and returning to a calm state.

"I'm so proud of you!" Meku felt a pang of sadness as she looked down at her Padawan's braid.

"Thanks, Meku. You know, -"

Sak went quiet and dead still. She thought the Holo had glitched, but the subtle rise and fall of his chest indicated otherwise. He was hiding from something. After a few moments, he turned back to Meku.

"Sorry 'bout that. I…" he hung his head, "I'm technically not supposed to talk to you."

"What in the blazes?"

"Loyalist Jedi are no longer allowed to associate with known Revanchists. But the way I see it, you're not a Revanchist. You're just a soldier." He then gave a little grin. "Plus, nothing wrong with giving moral support to our troops."

"I wouldn't go there. I sure don't feel like a soldier. I feel…" "...Incompetent. Stupid. Useless. A drag..." "...like, I'm just Meku."

"Just Meku is fine with me." He smiled, and she returned with a warm smile. "Hey, did you catch yesterday's race?"

"No!" her jealousy showed. "What happened?"

"Bes Lettev won again. I'm telling you, you picked the wrong guy."

"Nonsense!" She drew back in mock offense. "Just you wait and see, Anis Notyra will take the championship. I can feel it."

"Notyra is an upstart. He's got fire, but Lettev's experience is gonna see him through."

The two of them talked pods for a while, before Meku realized how late it was. After the two said their goodbyes, Meku stared at the stars for a few more minutes, wondering what the future would bring. With that, she turned heel and returned to the squad's quarters for some well-earned rest.

Chapter Text

A week had passed. Meku learned more and more about military life, and had HoloChatted Sak a few more times when she could. On this day, she was in the quarters with the squad when she had a bad feeling. A few minutes later, this was confirmed by a noise.

"What is that?" Meku asked. She could sense impending danger and knew the answer wasn't going to be good.

"Alarm," Jimny replied, "bucketheads, inbound! " He raised his voice to give commands, "Everyone, get in your armor, helmets on, ready for duty! Jedi!"

"Sir!"

"Keep your comlink on for word from the Commander."

"Yes, sir!"

Oka and Jimny helped Brax and Luay get their armor over their shoulders, then they switched. Meku simply put her utility belt on over her robes and switched on her comlink. She then did her hair, folding it all into one thick braid, so it wouldn't be in the way. Finally, she put on Sak's necklace, tucking it under her robes and undershirt. As she did this, the men got their armor on, buckled their belts and teardrop-shaped helmets, and took their blasters off the wall rack.

Once they were all suited up, they ran to their patrol area of the ship, near the mess hall. Once there, they stood, waiting. Meku's more experienced squadmates remained calm. She and Brax were both frantic, hearts pounding, wondering what could happen. Meku reached out with her senses. She felt danger, but it felt far away. The ship's crew were waiting, much like the squad was, tense. It felt like someone falling, watching the ground come closer, waiting for impact. The Mandalorians must have been in hyperspace.

After less than a minute, the ground hit. The tone of the alarm changed, and she could sense the bridge crew preparing for maneuvers. They had arrived. "The battle is starting," she thought, "oh my lord, my first battle!" She gripped her lightsaber tightly, bouncing up and down on the balls of her feet. Her heart was racing, adrenaline coursing through her body, muscles primed for action. She looked over and noticed Jimny and Oka standing around casually, leaning on the wall. She cocked an eyebrow, confused.

"Relax, FNG. They gonna slug it out in space for a long time. It's waaaaaaay before they need us."

"Seriously?" This was insane to her. "The Mandalorians are finally in-system, and we just sit here?" Her hands were over her head in disbelief, the adrenaline was making her body move in quick, jumpy motions.

"Kid," Oka said, "we're foot soldiers on this ship. Our blasters, useless in ship-to-ship fights. Unless we get boarded, go board an enemy, or go planetside, we just wait here on the ship. What goes on between the capital ships, got no control over that."

"Yeah, idiot. You should know this." He sighed deeply. "It's my least favorite part of this crap." Jimny rested his head on the wall, looking at the ceiling. "Hurry up and wait. If we're lucky, we get boarded or something. Otherwise we just look pretty and wait for the ships to finish their business. And pray we don't get blown to smithereens by an enemy cruiser while we just wait here."

Meku's hands went back to her side, smacking on her hips. She let out an exasperated "aaaaaagh!"

"Welcome to war, kid! Not as exciting as you think!"She just grumbled and paced, getting more worked up by the minute.

 

 

"Jedi," Luay opened his mouth for the first time, "quit pacing, you're making me antsy."

"Why not try meditating," Brax suggested. She stopped in her tracks. "Duh! How could I have forgotten that!"

"Thanks! Meditate, yes. Do that. Yes, uh, meditate. I will. Much, of thank." She sat on the floor and crossed her legs, trying to center herself. Her thoughts were all out of whack. She had difficulty allowing the Force to just flow through her.

She slowed her breathing, trying to take her mind off this frantic path it was on. She could feel turbolasers firing, their volleys slamming into shields like waves on a beach cliff. Starfighters were dogfighting, insects buzzing around the lumbering beasts of the capital ships. The Hearth's engines were fired, the ship was maneuvering. She tried to tune her breathing into the pulsing rhythm of the engines. Her heart started to calm down, it was working. Then, her comlink chimed in, shattering her clarity.

"All squads and Jedi." It was Commander Foster. "Report to the hangar, immediately."

"Alright boys," Sergeant Jimny ordered, "time to do some stuff! Hangar bay, ASAP!"

The five of them, along with the many other squads in this sector of the ship, ran to the hangar bay. Several Ministry shuttles were in the hangar, being boarded by squads. The six Aurek pilots, Neff included, clambered into their fighters.

"Squads to a shuttle!" Foster, in full armor, was pointing and gesturing, "No time for briefing, I'll brief you on the way down!"

"You heard the woman," Jimny ordered, "move out!" The squad ran to the nearest shuttle, standing in its cramped quarters.

 

 

After several minutes, four Ministry shuttles took off from the Hearth's hangar bay, carrying over 150 soldiers, and three nervous Jedi. Six fighters escorted the shuttles. Meku's comlink crackled.

"Commander Foster to all squad leaders, listen up. Mandos snuck landing craft behind their fleet. We couldn't intercept them, and now they're wreaking havoc on the cities down there.

Your job involves a comm tower. It's outside a major city and we've been using it to coordinate our planetside troops. The Mandos took it, and our ground forces are totally blind.

It's imperative we take the tower back and keep it intact. It's near some rock formations. Pilots, land on the other side of the rocks, that'll give us cover from snipers on the tower. Enemy numbers and type unknown; be prepared for anything. Clear?"

"Ma'am, yes ma'am!" Jimny responded, along with the ten other squad leaders in the shuttle.

"Do me proud!"

Meku stood with the other fifty-odd people she shared the shuttle with. She was too short to reach the grab handles on the ceiling. Her comm chimed in again, this time it was Jan on the private, Jedi-only frequency. "Alright team, we're split up, but we're not alone. Everyone needs to center themselves. Close your eyes, breathe deeply, and let the Force flow through you. Let go, and allow yourself to be guided by its energy. There is nothing to fear."

"Thanks, Jan," Rula responded. Meku was shuddering. She closed her eyes, trying to breathe deeply and calm herself. She sensed a presence coming towards the shuttles. A voice came in from the cockpit.

"Escort, I spot Davaab fighters on course to intercept." She could see and hear the pilots, there was no wall between the passengers and cockpit.

"Copy, task force. We got 'em," the radio crackled confidently. The shuttle had no windows, only the windshield in front of the pilot. But Meku could feel the Aureks break off to engage the Mandalorian fighters. Their pilots were eager, she sensed the excitement and haste in chasing the enemy. Meku had a bad feeling about that. Several minutes later, her bad feeling was proved right.

She sensed another incoming presence. This one felt the same as when a savannah predator catches a helpless straggler far away from the herd. This predator was running at them, full speed. Their pilots were thirsty for blood, she sensed the red mist in their eyes, and the adrenaline coursing through their veins. She also sensed the bond between them and their craft, the same as between a rider and animal.

Meku knew what was coming long before the pilot spoke.

 

 

"Escort, I've got six Basilisks incoming, I need cover."

"Negative, task force. Too many Davaabs here, we got pulled into a dogfight. Unable to assist."

"Damn!" The pilot cursed under her breath. She prodded another couple of buttons. "Hearth Marines to 16th Group, we need fighter support. We've got Basilisks incoming, no escort."

"Copy, task force. Fighters deploying, ETA six minutes."

"Sir, we don't have six minutes, is there anyone closer? There are three Jedi aboard!"

"Sorry, task force. That's the closest squadron we got. We'll order them to rush."

"Copy…" Meku could sense the weight of suppressed fear in her voice.

"There is no chaos, there is harmony." Meku remembered the Jedi Code in her head, repeating it to calm herself.

"Everyone hold on back there, it's gonna get rough!" The pilot yelled, the two women in the cockpit frantically working the controls.

"Torpedo incoming," the copilot said, keeping her voice calm, trying not to lose her cool.

"There is no passion, there is serenity." A few moments passed by, she could feel the torpedo tearing through space, headed directly to them, while the pilot waited.

"Flares, now!"

The flares lit up space with bright red light; Meku could see the light reflecting in the pilot's windscreen. The shuttle rocked as the torpedo exploded away from it, narrowly missing its mark. Meku could hear the bassy sound of the Basilisks as they passed by, narrowly avoiding collision. One even flew past the window, and Meku got the tiniest glimpse of it.

"They're gonna come around for another pass," the pilot ordered, "ready the chaff, and the last set of flares."

"Ma'am." Meku could feel the fear and tension in the passengers. It was bad enough that they were being shot, but the fact that they could do nothing about it was far worse. Their lives were in the pilots' hands, and they hated not being able to fight back.

 

She sensed the Basilisks coming back around, ready to fire. "There is no emotion, there is peace." She sensed that their first pass was a test, and now was the time to kill. She felt the satisfaction in the riders' minds as they pulled the triggers and watched the torpedoes course towards their targets.

"Multiple torpedoes! Launch flares?"

"Wait for it…" The pilot was again judging, waiting for the best time. Meku could feel the gears in her head working on overdrive, making precise calculations.

"There is no ignorance, there is knowledge." Her heart beat faster, the mantras were not working.

"Now!" The pilot cranked the controls and the shuttle lurched upwards as the flares shot downwards. Once again, space lit up in bright red. There were many more torpedoes, and they hit much closer than last time. The transport rocked as if it'd been kicked, causing some passengers to stumble or grab their squadmates for support.

Green lasers streaked across the window, some hitting their ship. Meku could sense the emotions of the Basilisk riders. Focused. Focused on her craft. One rider set a course to collide with them, hoping to tear them apart with his droid's claws. He was making subtle calculations, like their pilot was.

The shuttle darted diagonally, almost rolling over, narrowly missing the collision. The passengers lurched back and forth. Meku felt the frustration in their predator's mind. She also felt satisfaction in another; he had hit his mark. In the vacuum of space, the Force enabled her to hear the Basilisk's claws shearing another shuttle's wings off. She sensed Jan inside.

 

"There is no death, there is the Force."

 

The Basilisks turned back around, reeling them in. The shuttles could maneuver all they wanted, but they were only delaying the kill. It didn't stop the pilot from trying everything. The ship tore to the left and rolled, most laser shots narrowly missed it. Some hit, and Meku could feel the straining of the shield generator to keep up. Their shields were dangerously low.

"There is no death, there is the Force."

"Torpedo incoming!"

"Chaff!"

"There is no death-" the ship violently rocked, the torpedo had exploded extremely close. The flashing red light in the cockpit gave it away: their shield was down. The ship jinked right, again narrowly avoiding being grabbed by their predator. The Basilisk tore past, she could see its tail end through the window.

"There is no life - uh - I mean, there is-"

With no shield, they were dead meat. Fifty-odd soldiers and one white-haired Jedi would call this shuttle their coffin.

"There is, death - no death, there is Force-"

The predator turned back around. He was coming directly at them, head-on.

"No death, Force-"

His laser cannons fired. The pilot and copilot were frantic, moving as fast as their bodies would let them.

"No Death, Force-"

The ship twitched and rolled. Most shots missed by inches. One found its mark, being absorbed by the thick armor. The ship shuddered. A high-pitched alarm came from the cockpit.

"Death Force death force death force death force death force deathforcedeathforcedeathforce-" As the Basilisk came straight at them, there seemed to be no other option than death.

 

 

Suddenly, several green lasers arced, hitting the rider and his mount. Aurek fighters zoomed past, blasting the Basilisk repeatedly until it exploded. The shuttle flew through the explosion, Meku could feel its heat inside the cabin.

"Can't leave you alone for a minute, can I?"

The pilot exhaled hard enough to push the entire ship backwards. "Dammit escort! You guys have the worst timing." Cheers, laughs, and screams of relief echoed through the cabin.

"So ungrateful! We can leave, if you ain't having fun."

"Oh shut up, you cocky SOB. Go do your damn job!"

"Copy that, task force. You can lavish me with praise later, then."

The speedy fighters made short work of the heavy Basilisks. The path was clear as the shuttles made their way planetside. Meku reached out with her senses to see if any others had made it.

She felt one, with Commander Foster's fire raging inside, hyping up all of her soldiers. She felt another, with Rula on it. The pilots felt frantic, barely holding it together. It must have been damaged and out of control. She could hear echoes of their thoughts, planning for a crash landing. There was no sign of Jan or his shuttle, and her shoulders weighed down with the thought that he was gone.

 

 

She looked down at the floor, but a banging interrupted her sullen thoughts. She looked up and saw Sarge banging on the metal cabin with his fist. "Ey, pilot! I want a refund."

"What?"

"I said I want a refund!" A big, goofy smile crossed his ugly face. "Every time I fly yer stupid spaceliner, I get my ass shot off. And by the way, no in-flight meals or anything. What kinda nerfshit service is this?" Some soldiers around them chuckled.

The pilot played along, replying in her best imitation of a stewardess. "Thank you for flying Navy spaceways, where our motto is: If you don't like it, suck it up, princess!" More soldiers giggled at this. "Please be warned that most of our flights include severe turbulence, lasers, explosions, and buckethead bastards. In-flight meals include blaster with a side of grenade."

Meku looked around, stupefied. "We almost died and they're making jokes? And… they're… LAUGHING?"

"We'll be landing on Randon shortly. Local time is 1545 and local weather is total suck. Weather reports say muddy with a chance of bastard. Please be cautious when removing items from overhead bins, as contents may have shifted during evasive maneuvers." The soldiers were in an uproar.

"I still want a refund!"

"Anyone who requests a refund has to talk to the barrel of my blaster. So far, no one wants one! We've got stellar customer service, you see?"

 

...

 

 

The secondary repulsor engines kicked in, they were getting close to touching down. "Get by the door," Jimny ordered, "You'll be the first one out."

"Yes, sir." The soldiers were readying themselves; charging blasters and hunkering down.

"Step aside," Jimny shouted, "Jedi comin' through!" Many of the men on board lit up hearing this. Some even yelled encouragement.

"You got this, Master Jedi!"
"Give 'em hell!"
"It's an honor!"
"We can't lose with you here!"

She got to the hatch, and Jimny turned to her. "When that hatch opens, you cover us with your deflecty stuff. We're all gonna run like hell for cover. Make. Sure. We. Make it."

"Sir." The ship thudded as the landing gear touched the ground. Blaster fire pinged off the now-recharged shields.

"Let's see what you're made of."

"Alright, boys," the pilot called out, "door opens in five, four, three, two-" Meku closed her eyes, took a deep breath to center herself. Her heart was absolutely pounding. Her hair was standing on end, and her gut wrenched. Adrenaline flooded her body. "One."

She ignited her saber.

"Now now now!"

Chapter Text

The hatch of the shuttle opened. The men inside screamed war cries as they charged forwards, behind Meku. They were greeted almost instantly by blaster fire. Her long saber's reach deflected most of the shots harmlessly to the sky or rocks. The sky was cloudy, the ground covered in thick mud that pulled at her boots, making it hard to walk.

She slowly advanced, focusing on deflecting and keeping her footing. Men sprinted past her, getting into cover behind rock formations as small as a speeder or as big as a building. There was an acre or so of rock formations between them and the tower. Mandalorian crusaders had deployed in the rocks. She and the troops would have to dislodge them. Meku pressed forwards, almost exactly between the Republic soldiers, behind her, and the Mandalorians, in front of her.

Most enemy fire was directed at her. Her saber became a purple blur as she deflected back shot after shot. On the upside, she mused, their attention was hardly on the other soldiers. Of the eighty or so people that spilled out from the two Ministries, only a couple were hit. Most of them were advancing, lining up clear shots against the enemy, maneuvering to surround them.

"Dammit, men," a voice boomed from the distance, "stop shooting the flamin' Jedi!" The anger and frustration was palpable in his voice. "Focus fire on the troops! I'll handle the Jedi!"

Almost instantly, the shots stopped, and she stood there, wondering what to do next. She heard the sound of rockets firing. Two Mandalorians with jetpacks flew over the battlefield, bearing directly on her. One wielded a blaster, the other a vibroblade. She subconsciously named them Blaster and Vibroblade. The rocks may have provided some cover from the men on the ground, but they had a clear shot. Thankfully, so did Meku's squad.

Blaster shot at Meku while Vibroblade shut off his jetpack and free-fell to the ground. "Eat this!" Brax returned fire. Other soldiers joined him. Most of the hits were absorbed by their Beskar. One well-placed shot got Blaster's jetpack, causing the man to careen off into a boulder. His body became riddled with bolts.

 

 

Vibroblade landed directly in front of Meku, and wasted no time swinging away at her. She was able to sense the subtle mechanisms of his mind that involuntarily told his muscles, "step here, swing left..." She parried his blows, then slashed diagonally to take his right arm off. Her saber glanced off his armor, and he stepped back.

"What the!" She was completely shocked. She remembered the training video about Beskar armor, but she was still totally stupefied. This was the first time in her life that her saber hadn't been able to cut straight through something with one swish. "That's right. Gotta go for the gaps."

"Help the Jedi," Jimny called in the distance, "shoot that bastard!"

"I don't wanna hit 'er!"

"Aagh! Try and go around the right flank!"

The Mandalorians had no such qualms about hitting their own man, and she once again found herself deflecting several blaster bolts. Vibroblade saw the opportunity and renewed his attack. Despite the Force giving her unbelievable speed, her saber couldn't be everywhere at once. Meku had to contort herself to block Vibroblade and dodge blaster bolts, or vice versa.

Vibroblade knew this, and swung at her wildly. He wasn't trying to kill or even hit her, just trying to swing as many times as he could to tire her out, force her into a mistake. His strategy worked.

Meku sensed the mind of a Mandalorian to her right aiming his rifle at her, and pulling the trigger. At the same time, a swing from Vibroblade, from the left, came straight downward to bisect her. She stepped back to avoid the blade and brought her saber to her right to block the blaster bolt. The blade buried itself in the mud as the blaster bolt was deflected off her saber. She stepped back to counter another bolt, but a fist hit her right at the back of her knee.

Her leg collapsed, and she fell to the floor, face up. Vibroblade grabbed her by the robe and headbutted her with his unforgiving, T-visored helmet. Her vision went white from the impact, she was now seeing through the Force. She could feel Vibroblade straddle her and reach for his sword. As her vision started to return, she made a split-second decision. She had her lightsaber in her hands, but didn't use it to kill him. Instead, she kicked up with all her might, landing her shin right in his groin.

And nearly shattering her tibia on his armor. She yelped in pain, and the man laughed. She instinctively dropped her saber and grabbed her leg, a reaction to the pain. "Cover me, I'm gonna get her," came a familiar voice from behind her. Vibroblade raised his sword above his head to finish her, but was shot several times in the chest.

Meku sensed Jimny running from behind, screaming at the top of his lungs, blaster raised and firing. The rest of the squad fired other places, keeping enemy heads down so the coast was clear. While Vibroblade was caught by the blaster fire, Meku Force-pushed him with all her strength. He went flying back and slammed into a boulder.

Jimny was on top of her now. One hand held his blaster, firing wildly at the enemy to keep their heads down. The other grabbed her by the shoulder and pulled her, "on your feet!" Meku jumped up, feeling danger to her Sargeant. As they ran back to cover, she reached for her saber in the Force. It was too late, Jimny took a stray round to the chest. He stumbled a bit as if he'd been punched, but kept moving. "His armor must've absorbed it," she thought. A millisecond later, the saber found its way to her hand and activated, blocking another shot aimed right at Jimny's head.

They made their way back to cover, where the rest of the squad waited. They pressed themselves onto the room-sized boulder for protection. The sounds of battle were all around. Blaster bolts firing. Sharp yelps of people who had been shot. The more subdued moans of those who were lying down with their wounds. The squelch of the mud under their boots. Men barking out orders. Meku looked at the smoking scar on Jimny's chest armor.

 

 

"Are you alright? You've been shot."

"Never better!"

"36," Commander Foster chimed in on the comm, "what happened to the Jedi? Where are you?"

"Ma'am, she's out of that pickle. We're on the right flank."

"Right flank, push forward, surround the enemy's left!"

"Yes, ma'am!"

"Sir," Meku said, "what is… what's flank mean?"

"It's…" Jimny paused, taken totally off guard. He'd never had to explain that before, everyone just knew what it was. He stared off into space to try to come up with an explanation when a stray blaster bolt whizzed past nearby. He shook himself out of it. "Just follow me and do as I say!"

"Yes, sir!"

Brax poked his head out of cover and nearly got it blasted off. "I can't get a clear shot, they've got me pinned down." Meku could sense who he was talking about. Four Mandalorians behind a speeder-sized rock, directly in front of them. They were able to pin down multiple squads, not just them. They wouldn't be able to push forward until this group was taken down.

"I'll throw a flash grenade," Oka responded, reaching to his utility belt. "It blows, you cover us, we rush 'em. Ready?"

"Ready!"

Oka threw the grenade, arcing it over their rock. Meku guided its path to land it precisely at the Mandalorians' feet. It blew with a loud pop, making her ears ring. In the distance, mud splattered. "Go, go, go!"

Brax sprayed the area with laser fire, keeping the enemy's heads down. Jimny led the four of them, running at the rock. Meku's small size and Force-aided sprint got her in front of her Sergeant, and she turned the corner to confront them. The flash grenade didn't do as well as they'd hoped; Meku didn't know some Mandalorian visors were equipped with auto-dimmers to protect from flash grenades. As such, she'd come face-to-face with four gun barrels pointed right at her.

They fired, and she deflected the bolts back at them. The Mandalorians didn't notice Jimny, Oka, and Luay appear behind them. They were dispatched with several rounds fired into their backs.

"See, that's flanking!"

Meku made an "oh!" face and nodded. The four of them got back into cover, while Jimny ordered "Brax, move up, coast is clear!"

"No, wait!" Meku shouted. Jimny looked at her funny. "It's not clear." Meku closed her eyes, reached out with her senses. Parallel to them, a Mandalorian was sneaking by, hoping to get behind the Republic troops' line and kill them from behind. "He's trying to, what's that word... flank. Flank us." She raised a hand in front of her and swung it in an upwards motion.

The Mandalorian levitated above the battlefield, flailing his limbs. Various soldiers blasted him out of the sky. "Okay, now it's clear." Brax moved up, the team was back together.

 

 

Their efforts pushed the Mandalorians back, and the right flank was able to get behind the Mandalorians' left and crush them from behind. Meku still hadn't killed anyone; she mainly made it easier for her comrades to do that. She'd Force-push enemies out of cover or levitate them out of their hiding spots. Her fellow soldiers did the rest.

After some fighting, the Mandalorians had started to fall back. Commander Foster and her elite guard had caught up with Meku's squad. Behind them was a maniple of impetuous Republic troops, eager to finally beat the bucketheads for once.

"They're retreating to the comm tower, let's press the attack!" Commander Foster gestured with her high-power battle rifle.

"Wait!" Meku held her arms out to her sides. "Don't go any further than this. I sense danger. Uh, ma'am."

Foster rolled her eyes. "Kid, it's a battlefield. There's danger everywhere. We're pressing forward."

"No, no. I mean," she struggled to come up with the right words for what she was sensing. Hostile presences on the tower. Like fishermen, watching from a high place, waiting for just the right moment to cast a harpoon and trap a helpless fish. "On the tower. Snipers, I think. Any further than this, and they have a clear shot at us."

Foster nodded, now understanding. She got back on her comm, "Men, hold position." she turned back to Meku. "Can you tell how many?"

Meku squinted in concentration. She could hear their heartbeats, feel their impatience, that "come on, come on, get out here," of someone eager to kill. "Six. yeah, six."

"Well, you do the deflecty thing don't you? Is six snipers too much for you to deflect?

"I, I think I can do that."

Foster got an angry look on her face. "Not good enough. Can you or can you not?"

"I… I mean, I can." Her voice had an upwards inflection, like she was asking a question.

"No, be sure! Can you or can you not?" She bared her teeth.

"I can, ma'am!"

"Better."

 

 

Foster's finger went in her ear to activate her comm again. "New plan. Six snipers on the tower. Jedi's gonna go out there and draw the sniper fire. We need to counter-snipe them. All snipers, set up and get clear shots. On my command, the remaining squads push forwards. Clear?"

The squad leaders replied with a curt "yes, ma'am," in sync. Foster nodded towards Meku. She looked at her saber. "Let's do this…" Meku took a deep breath and gathered her strength before running out into the open. Almost immediately, the six snipers opened fire on her.

She sensed the intent to kill before the triggers were pulled, and her lightsaber blocked every bolt. "Just like practice." After a few seconds, Republic snipers started shooting, their red lasers arcing out from the rocks. One hit a Mandalorian, too focused on Meku to even notice he was being shot. It burned clean through his visor, and he fell, lifelessly, several stories to the ground.

"Oh hold on, I can do that!" Meku reached out with her hands and made a pulling motion. Two Mandalorians on the third floor found themselves yanked off, falling onto the mud, making a splat as they landed. Their bodies were hit with several sniper shots.

Another shot found a Mandalorian's chest, but his armor easily absorbed the high-powered shot and he ducked back into cover. "Oh, no you don't." She used the Force to pull him back into the open, and three more sniper shots finished him off. Two more to go.

Foster gave the order. "Now, now, now! Rush the tower!" Around seventy men charged the tower, her squad included, screaming war cries, chants, or unintelligible nonsense. Foster joined them, but stopped at Meku's side. "Jedi, you stay here. Once we're in the tower and got their attention, you go around back and flank 'em. Can do?"

Meku paused a moment to make sure her response sounded confident enough. "Yes ma'am, I can!" She yelled a little too loudly, giving her bravado away to Commander Foster.

Foster didn't call her on it. "Good!" She then turned to the tower and continued running, rejoining the crowd of men.

 

 

Meku eyed the stampede of soldiers, waiting for them to enter and distract the enemy enough. She was trying to judge how long she should wait when she sensed a presence behind her. She turned around to see Jimny limping. "I'll catch up, guys," he said between breaths. It was as if he'd just ran a marathon. Then she noticed the blood spilling from his stomach and onto his groin.

That shot was more harmful than she thought. She holstered her lightsaber and ran to her Sergeant, grabbing onto his shoulders. "You're hurt. I'm going to get you to cover."

"No…" he breathed deeply, "I'm fine. Gotta rush the tower… orders."

She tried to make her voice more commanding. "Get into cover. You are hurt, and you're gonna do us no good out there." Still holding onto his shoulders, she walked him backwards, finding a nice shady boulder where he'd be safe. He grumbled, but didn't fight her.

"I'm… I'm fine. Will you, will you just stop," he spoke between breaths. She ignored him, sitting him down with his back supported by the boulder. Her gray-blue eyes met his, and her hard expression shut him up.

She hovered a hand over his wound to feel it in the Force. His cells were speaking to her, giving a diagnosis more accurate than top-line medical scans. Strange, she'd never seen a wound like this. Most blasters caused severe burns, not bleeding. Quite the opposite; they cauterized any opening in the flesh.

"What in the blazes hit this guy..." she mused to herself.

"Disruptor," he responded, unaware that the question was more rhetorical than anything. Meku's face shot back as if he'd told her a ghost cursed him. She'd heard of disruptors; a form of blaster that disintegrated its victims, literally separating their molecules from each other. The Republic banned them completely, and spent decades hunting down and destroying all known examples in their space. She was confident they didn't even exist anymore.

"You're joking. They're banned!"

"Mandos don't give a damn about our laws, idiot."

Her eyes widened. "Right." Well, it was time to get to work. "Hold still, this might burn a little."

 

 

She used her lightsaber to cut Jimny's chest armor off. She lifted the top of his uniform, exposing his belly. She closed her eyes, opting instead to feel just how severe the wound was. Thankfully, not very. His armor had taken the brunt of the shot. The wound was only the diameter of her wrist-timer, and not very deep. But the separation of the molecules in his gut had opened up a lot of veins and arteries, causing a lot of bleeding, soaking his clothes and getting into the mud. "That explains his exhaustion. Hm. Gotta stop this bleeding."

She unclipped the first aid kit from the back of her utility belt and put gloves on. She then found some cloth. She used it in one hand to soak up some blood, while the other reached in and found some disinfectant spray. "Won't cauterize, but it's made for open wounds. It'll help the blood clot... good enough for now." She soaked up as much blood as she could before spraying the agent on his wound. He grimaced, it burned a bit.

She then opened up a portable Kolto container. Kolto was almost magical; it cleaned, disinfected, healed, and facilitated the body to self-heal. Soldiers with severe enough wounds would be suspended in an entire tank of the stuff. She only had a liter or so of it, so she scooped it out of the wide cylinder and slopped it onto his wound.

"Oh, that's the good stuff. Ohhhhh, yeah." The Kolto soothed his wound and his body relaxed a bit. Finally, Meku got a big bandage and applied it, closing off the wound. She wiped the Kolto on her robes, and stood up. The sounds of gunfire from the comm tower was muffled.

"Can I fight now?" He wore an annoyed look.

"Absolutely not. Rest here and wait for medevac. You better listen to that order."

"I outrank you." He smiled, his eyes sleepy. "Idiot."

"Well sir, I need to see some action too, you know? You can't hog it all." Jimny, too tired to respond, simply blinked his eyes, trying to keep them open. With that, she ran off to rejoin the fight.

Chapter Text

Meku slinked past the smooth durasteel walls of the tower, making her way to the entrance opposite the one she'd seen her comrades bust in through. Suddenly, her senses warned her of impending danger. Something artificial was hurtling towards her at breakneck speed, unaware of its purpose to kill her. A rocket.

She Force-jumped away. A millisecond later, and she would've been vaporized. But still, the shockwave was powerful enough to completely interfere with her jump, causing her to flail and lose her lightsaber. She landed on the ground with a smack, the mud splashing all over. Her saber was flung a great distance away by the blast. She got onto her hands and knees, trying to make sense of what was going on. She could feel who had fired the missile. This person was airborne, and bearing down on her with jetpack-fueled speed.

It was Vibroblade.

Before she could react, he was on her. He landed right on her back, one foot on each kidney, slamming her down into the mud. Her ribs were on fire! He stepped off and straddled her. She tried to roll over, but he grabbed her braid and yanked her up, hard. He almost snapped her neck.

Vibroblade lifted her with one hand by the braid, the other grabbing the collar of her robe. He threw her with ease. She slammed face-up in a puddle deep enough to cover her eyes. The impact knocked the wind out of her. She leaned up to halfway sit, reaching out to Force-pull her lightsaber. It was too late.

Vibroblade was standing over her again, and kicked her right in the face, sending her splashing into the puddle again. He then got on his knees, straddling her chest. Meku raised her head to be out of the mud. Her neatly braided white hair was all brown, and getting in her face. He then put both of his hands around her neck, forced her down to the bottom of the puddle, and squeezed.

 

 

Instinctively, she flailed about and grabbed at his forearms, trying desperately to remove his hands from her slender neck. It was no good, his arms may as well have been forged from starship-grade durasteel. She couldn't breathe. Opening her mouth gave her zero air, and just got mud down her throat. His powerful grip even blocked the blood vessels in her neck.

Meku could feel her consciousness fading as her brain was deprived of blood, starving of oxygen. Her flailing arms began to feel heavy, like they were made of rock. Her vision became blurry, then started to fade to black as she saw stars. She couldn't hear the blaster fire, and not even the slop of the mud she was buried in. Her head, unable to circulate its blood, felt like a balloon that was going to pop at any moment.

She stopped flailing and tried to focus. "Lightsaber… I need… lightsaber." She reached one arm out to the side to Force-pull her saber towards her. Her oxygen-deprived brain couldn't muster up the strength to bring the saber to her hands, only shaking it a little. She may as well have been trying to pull one of the Hammerheads out of orbit. It was too heavy, and too far away for her weakened mind to will it to her.

 

Her outstretched arm began to slowly droop. She was going numb, losing feeling in her hands and feet. Time slowed down and her vision changed from stars to pure black. Only a few more seconds and her brain would run out of oxygen, and start shutting down. She was going to die. She lost control of her arms, and they fell to her side. She felt consciousness slipping away; that moment just before falling asleep.

 

"This is how it ends... I had a good run… At least I was... doing... the right thing."

"Goodnight, little Jedi." His voice was faint, a whisper from across an empty hall. This was her end.

 

"This muddy puddle, this is where I'm going to die..."

 

"No," a voice growled within her. "NO!"

 

With renewed clarity, she brought her arm back up. She was too weak for the lightsaber, her subconscious knew that. Instead, she sensed for something much closer. Much smaller. A switch. She had no idea what this was, her dying mind acting completely through the Force. Just a switch.

 

Flick.

 

The hands let go of her neck, and Vibroblade screamed. Meku rose from the puddle like a corpse rising from a grave. She gasped for air, completely forgetting about the mud lodged in her throat. She coughed and hacked, spitting out brown and red. She didn't care, she breathed as much as she could.

Air! Beautiful air! Delicious, amazing, wonderful AIR! Thank the stars! Her vision, hearing, and Force senses slowly started to return as her brain came back online. She gasped for air, each breath heaving her chest and shoulders to take in as much as possible. Oblivious, it took several seconds for reality to come back to her. She realized what was going on and why she was in this situation in the first place. She remembered she was in danger. Vibroblade was nowhere to be seen.

"Wait! Where is he?" She looked around and reached out with her senses. She was still very dizzy and felt like she was half-asleep. The world was spinning around her; any rapid head movement made her lose her balance and fall down.

She saw Vibroblade on his hands and knees, by the comm tower. He looked to be in severe pain. His jetpack was sparking, his armor was cracked. Two stories above him, there was a massive dent in the durasteel. His helmet had come off. She could see his face. He had pale skin like her, but jet-black hair and narrow eyes.

The switch she had flicked was for his jetpack. It propelled him at full power, slamming him into the comm tower. He was hurt, she could feel his broken bones and ruptured organs overloading his mind with pain signals. He had to be done for.

Meku stood up, still breathing hard. Her body felt on fire. She ran towards him, one hand extended, willing the saber to her hands. Her head was spinning so much, she stumbled several times. When she reached him, she ignited her lightsaber to raise it over her shoulders. One slice would sever his exposed head. She hesitated. "He's helpless. I can't… I can't do this. It's not the Jedi way. He should be taken prisoner."

 

 

Shockingly, he reached into a shoulder holster, pulling out another rocket. The fact that he was even functioning through such pain boggled Meku's mind. Mandalorian discipline was truly iron-strong. His wobbling hand moved the rocket from his right shoulder to his left wrist. She could see the big bulk on his left forearm - it was the launcher.

As he opened up the launcher, she could sense the single-minded purpose in his pain-addled mind. He wanted to kill her. That was all he could think of, that one thing consuming him.

"I can't do it…"

"It has to be done." He loaded the rocket into the open launcher. She froze as if encased in carbonite.

"To take someone's life…"

"He's going to kill you both. There's no other way! And if you die, those soldiers inside are done for. Are you gonna leave them all to die? It's now or never!"

He closed up the launcher, its deadly package ready to fire.

She shrieked as she brought her arms down, her saber slicing easily through his neck. His head rolled away. His now-limp body collapsed on the ground. The wound was instantly cauterized by her blade, and she could smell the burnt flesh, like cooked meat.

 

 

Without warning, Meku vomited, spilling her guts out onto the floor. She didn't stop, even after her stomach's contents were emptied. She kept going, dry-heaving over and over again, her body spasming. Her hands were on her knees, stopping her from falling over.

As her hearing returned, she finally was able to hear the voices on her comm. "Jedi, where are you?" Commander Foster's voice played to a backdrop of blaster fire and explosions. "We're pinned down over here! Can't maneuver! Where are you! Is she okay? Has anyone seen her? Blast it!"

She had to stop retching. She willed herself to stop. Her body wanted nothing more than to just let go, just collapse, and be done with it. "No." She kept retching. "Stop it, Meku! Those soldiers in there are going to die without you. Is that what you want? You signed up to help them!" She forced her body to stop this nonsense. "Be sick later. Now..." she looked down at her lightsaber, and knew what she had to do.

 


 

Meku found herself in an unfamiliar place. Her consciousness was hazy, she wasn't even sure if this was another dream. She appeared to be in some sort of control room. Switches, screens, gauges, and dials were everywhere. Out the window, she could see for miles. She appeared to be somewhere very tall.

"Where?" She looked around, she was surrounded by Republic soldiers. Commander Foster and her squad were standing right next to her. Oka was working some controls, Foster was speaking in her comm.

"...taken the comm tower, objective complete, I repeat, objective complete. Requesting AA for possible retaliation and reinforcements for mop-up operation. Equipment seems functional. Moderate casualties, we'll have a full count soon..."

Casualties. She was still on Randon. She felt the aura of the soldiers around her. Most of them were focused on her. They felt respect and admiration, mixed with a hint of fear. Fear of her.

"Why?"

Meku looked down at her hands. They, like her robes, were covered in mud. She noticed also blood. A lot of it. She wasn't sure where it came from, everything was a blur. She remembered almost nothing.

Foster's armor was pitted and carbon-scored, she had barely made it out of this alive. Meku's squadmates were all there as well, staring at her. Brax had a concerned look on his face. She finished giving her report and turned to look at Meku.

"That was a hell of a job you did back there! We thought you were cooked! But you sure know how to make an entrance, I mean..."

Meku's hearing was off for some reason, everything sounded slow-motion. "Heeeeeeeeelllllllllllllllllllllllllll ooooofffffff aaaaa jooooooooooooooobbbbb…" Commander Foster said more things, but they hardly registered, and all Meku could manage was to nod blankly.

"Jedi, are you okay? Jedi, hello? Hey, listen!" Foster snapped her fingers in Meku's face.

Meku simply said, "just peachy, how, you? Any, anyone feeling a movie?" She then collapsed onto the floor. In her fading consciousness, she could hear Foster and her squadmates speaking in alarm about medevac. She faded into black.

Chapter Text

Meku awoke in a medbay. She was on a bed, and hooked up to various monitors. Most of them were on her head, which was absolutely pounding. Her entire body was sore, and her throat was in extreme pain. It hurt too much to even turn her neck and look at her surroundings. Swallowing and even yawning shot pain all through her neck. A few nurses rushed by, followed by a whoob-ing medical droid. The walls were lined with beds, equipment, and Kolto tanks. Most were occupied by wounded.

"Weird," she wondered, "Why am I in the hospital? Why am I in so much pain?" She scrunched her forehead, deep in thought, trying to piece together how she ended up here. Suddenly, memories started flooding back to her.

The mud sucking at her boots. The blaster fire arcing through the boulders. The red of the flares illuminating the shuttle. Rubbing the cool, gooey Kolto on Jimny's hot wound. Learning to flank. Her scream as the shuttle doors first opened to a wave of blaster fire. The feeling of fear and admiration emanating from the soldiers on the comm tower. Vibroblade.

Vibroblade! She looked around, poised for action. "Is he here! Can he still - no, wait. He's dead." Try as she might to remember the day, it only came back to her in fragments. Disjointed fragments, out of order. And she had absolutely zero memory of what happened between killing Vibroblade and the control room, nor could she remember anything between the control room and now. It was completely empty, like she'd been asleep.

She looked down, and noticed her muddy, bloodstained robes were replaced with a gown over clean undergarments. Everything was clean, even under her fingernails. "Wait!" She felt for Sak's necklace, but it was gone. Meku sensed that she'd never see it again. She closed her eyes and reached out in the Force, trying to feel where she was.

She was back on the Hearth, its aura was familiar. She could feel soldiers and crewmen milling about, carrying out their duties. Despite having taken casualties, their hearts swelled with happiness. She could feel the pride and purpose occupying the heart of a victor. Their victory had invigorated nearly every person on the ship, and they did their duties double-time, smiling. More nearby, she sensed a presence come towards her.

"Good to see you awake, Meku." Brax came in, followed by the rest of the squad, Commander Foster, and Captain Abel. Even Luay was there, holding his 'pad like usual. Meku tried to rise to attention, but was waved down by the Captain. "We were worried about you."

"I was more worried about Sgt. Devore over here," Foster spoke with a teasing smile.

"Did - did I do something wrong on first aid, ma'am?" Foster laughed at this.

"No, you've been out for two straight days." Meku's expression became shocked. "Didn't know if you'd make it. If you died under his command, I would've thrown his sorry ass out the airlock! That right, Devore?"

"Ma'am," Jimny replied sheepishly, looking down at the ground.

"How are you feeling?" Brax asked, with concerned, fatherly eyes.

"I…" She looked at her squad, not wanting to come off as weak or unable to do her duty. "I'm okay. Just… it's hard to remember what happened."

"Your brain was deprived of a lot of blood. A whole lot," Brax replied matter-of-factly. "Plus, med reports say you took some serious hits to the head."

"You Jedi must be built outta something hella strong! If that happened to one of our guys, he prolly wouldn't live through that!" Oka said with a complimenting smile. "Such big tough in such small package. Skeleton made of durasteel or something, I tell you."

"She did better than the others, that's for damn sure," Jimny added.

"Others?" Meku perked up, and immediately regretted it as pain shot up her spine and into her neck. After stifling a moan of pain, she asked, "Where's the others?"

"Neff's fine, and he racked up seven kills," Captain Abel replied. "An Ace in his first battle."

"Jan and Rula?" They sighed; the news wouldn't be good.

"Rula is comatose, head injury from the crash. We don't know when, or if, she'll recover. Pilots say she used the Force to slow down the impact, instead of bracing herself. Many soldiers owe her their lives." Meku's eyes widened as Foster continued.

"Jan is dead, sucked out into the vacuum by Basilisks." Meku's heart sank. She hadn't known them long, but her friends were gone.

"But hey, you're here. Hot damn, glad you're on our side. Hate to be fighting against you," Oka continued.

"Yeah, seeing what she did in that building. I didn't even know that was physically possible!" Brax added.

Before Meku could ask exactly what happened in the building, Sargeant Jimny cut in. "He's damn right," nodding with approval and pride as he spoke. "Tough as nails is what Meku is. Nothing can kill 'er." Despite the pain, that lifted her spirits like nothing else. She thought this obtuse man would hate her forever.

"And how's your wound, sir?"

"This thing? Psh." She could sense the bravado covering up his very real pain. "Bucketheads gotta try harder'n that to off me. I've had worse from shaving."

"With all due respect, old guy, a strong wind can knock you over," Oka teased.

"No insubordination!"

"Need someone to keep ya humble, Sarge. Don't want your head to be so big it's a target. I'm helping, sir."

"Yeah, till you get put on latrine duties for the rest of your life. Then we'll see who's full of shit." Meku laughed in her head, as Jimny crossed his arms. "Any more words?"

"I'm done, sir."

"Smart." He paused. "But thanks for the first aid, Jedi. Not like I needed it, but y'know." He smiled. She knew that was all the thanks he'd give her and the only admission of how bad his bleeding was. Had she not intervened, he would've bled to death on Randon's surface.

"And the Mandalorians?"

"Routed the fraggin' buckets," Brax said, his pride lifting his spirits. The men were weary, they needed this victory far more than ever. "Ran away with their tails between their legs."

"Warrior culture, my ass. But hey, they're more'n free to kiss mine. After I'm done kicking theirs." Jimny added, with a nod for emphasis. Meku chuckled at the crude humor she was still getting used to. She'd get an earful if she ever made such jokes around the Temple.

"Before you all start holding hands, let's get to business," Foster cut in. "Sakaroto, are you walkable? Can you continue duties?"

Every rational thought in her brain wanted her to say no. To say she needed a few days to rest up and recover. Until she could turn her head, at least. But she looked at these soldiers. She was just starting to get on their good side, especially Jimny. And he was doing his duties with a disruptor wound.

Most important, they all looked up to her. Despite the bitterness that she'd come in from a pampered life and didn't exactly 'earn' the soldiery, she was the gem of hope. She was the icon they could rally around.

Before her, they looked to the future with bleak eyes. They envisioned defeat after defeat. They imagined Basilisks raining down on the highrises of Coruscant. But when they looked at her, or Revan, all that changed. They envisioned victory. Freeing their captured planets from occupation. Protecting their homes, their families. She had to live up to their dreams. It would not do for her to look weak. Ever.

"I can, ma'am. Nothing will stop me."

"Atta girl, that's what we like to hear!" She could hear the cheering within their hearts.

"In that case get some food in you, you need it. Mess is serving dinner now. I expect you on patrol tomorrow morning, you lazy sops. Dismissed!" She and Abel curtly walked away to continue managing the ship. Meku tried to get up from her bed.

It was a slow process. Her muscles burned, still rebuilding themselves from the shock. She stood stiffly, and tried her best not to hobble when she walked. She tried to cover up the intense pain by standing casually, as if nothing was wrong. She was fooling exactly nobody, she could sense the boys stifling their concern. They wouldn't say anything, though.

"Glad you've returned to the land of the living!" Jimny smacked her on the back. It took all her strength not to fall flat on her face and she actually had to shoot her arms out to balance herself. "Let's get some dinner, soldier."

That last word rung in her head. Soldier. She was a part of this now. She felt more proud than she'd ever felt before in her life. Soldier. More than when she built her lightsaber, more than when she first managed to levitate something heavier than a pen. Soldier. She was a part of something bigger than herself. Despite the pain, she was walking on air.

The squad first stopped in their quarters, allowing Meku to change into some fatigues. Her robes were on her bed, folded and clean. No sign of the necklace, as she feared. It was gone. She checked her datapad quickly and noticed a message from Sak that read, "HoloChat tonight?" She put it down. "After dinner," she thought.

 

 


 

 

After she'd changed (she forwent the robes and changed into her soldier's fatigues instead) and freshened up, they made their way to the mess hall, conversation flowing easily. Many crew members or fellow soldiers cheered them as they walked. As they sat down with the food, Meku noticed it was different than the usual rations. "Weird," she thought.

"Hum. This isn't what we usually get," Brax quipped.

"What'sa matter, foodie? Can't handle something new?" Oka prodded him with a long, gray finger.

"Oh, it's not that, I'm just wondering where we got this."

Jimny stopped chewing to explain. "Warships don't like to live on SCRs." Meku's confused face made him take a detour. "Stored Consumable Rations. Those are, like, the food and stuff we keep stored on board. We like to save those for emergencies or operations behind enemy lines, where we can't get food. So when we're over a friendly planet, we fly it up here from planetside."

"Why is that?"

"Shipping food from the Core is expensive! We live off the land, save the Republic a few creds."

"Saving creds? What about winning the war," Meku asked.

"Winning ain't about blasters, ships, armor. It's about money. Whoever can do war the cheapest usually wins."

Meku nodded, she never knew there were so many moving pieces to all this.

"Still think having the bigger gun helps," Oka added in the middle of chewing. "Just sayin'. Give me a choice between big gun, small gun? Take the big gun." This garnered a giggle from the rest of the squad, and they kept talking.

Meku took a moment to just watch them. She took small, slow bites. Her etiquette training back at the temple still had a hold on her. Jimny and Oka wolfed down their food, practically inhaling it. Oka had brought a droid's head and some tools to the table, he worked on it and took breaks to inhale some food before getting back to it. He worked with skill and precision, he seemed to know machines very well. Luay took average-sized bites, staring at the datapad while he ate. Brax took measured bites, contemplating each one. She could sense gears turning in his head, examining each bite. His thoughts were focused on flavor, texture, smell, presentation.

"Why do you do that?" No one answered; Meku's question came out of thin air. She pointed to Brax. "When you eat, you chew a lot, and I can sense in your mind. You, like, you analyze the food."

Brax got an embarrassed look on his face and stopped chewing. Meku's face flushed red; she only then realized it was probably not very tactful to remind people that you could see inside their heads.

"He thinks he's some kinda food critic," Jimny replied, almost dribbling his half-chewed food on his chin.

"Hey! Food was my job before this!" Before Jimny could retort, Meku cut in.

"It was? What did you do?" Meku's eyes lit up with curiosity.

"Used to own a restaurant on Vanquo. My family and I ran it. Me, my wife, and our three daughters. Grocery market on the first floor, restaurant on the second, we lived on the third." His hands pantomimed stacking of the floors. His eyes stared off into the distance, and Meku could see the happy times of the past playing out across them.
"And before you ask, yeah, we got out alive. We were actually on vacation on Alderaan, whole family and I, when Vanquo got hit. I…" He blinked his eyes hard, trying not to think of it, "I actually thought we shouldn't take the vacation. Figured we should be at home, running the place.

Told my wife we'd lose money if we left for a week. But she said we had good employees and decent droids. They'd take care of the place for us, they'd do us proud. And 'there's always money, but family time is special. You never get that back.' If it wasn't for her..."

"Well, you're here now, family is okay." Oka looked up from his repair. "What really matters, y'know,"

"Yeah, they're good." He smiled.

"So how'd you end up here with us?"

"I decided we were not gonna be poor refugees out on the street. Wife found a waitressing job and an apartment on Alderaan. She was the only one who could find work, so I joined the military. Wanted to support them. Stopping the bucketheads who did this to my family, well, that's a bonus, too."

"We'll make sure there's a Republic for them to go back to," Meku replied with conviction. Brax nodded his agreement.

"So, yeah, you could say I know a lot about food. We'd like to open another restaurant after all this is over."

"So how does this compare, Durasteel Chef?" Jimny smiled teasingly.

"Better than the SCRs, that's for damned sure."

"Not a high bar, I think. Shoes, prolly more tasty," Oka chided.

"It's decent. Cooks up here kinda know what they're doing, if they're given the right ingredients. Although I'd go easier on the salt, geez."

"Alright, Durachef, whatever you say," Jimny retorted before taking another huge bite. "It ain't fine dining, princess, so suck it up."

"Hey, can't complain." He shrugged. "Although it's okay to dream of something better. Like… food that isn't garnish on some salt, oh goodness."

 

 

Meku chuckled at the back and forth from the boys. During a lull in the conversation, she asked Jimny why he joined.

"Kid, I joined over twenty years ago. Grew up in Taris' undercity. Life was shit, military's the only way out. Lied about my age to join, and ain't never been happier. Never leaving this job, gonna stay here till it kills me."

"You sure about that," Brax seemed perplexed, "haven't you got a family?"

"Hell no!" He seemed taken aback. "That's dumb as hell. Someone sucking up all your money? Telling you what to do with your life? Come home on time, and sober. Can't shoot the HoloScreen when it ain't working. Can't leave the refresher seat up. Can't ride a swoop bike if I so please. Nah, this beats family life by a long way." Meku pondered the irony of such a rule-hating man living in the military, where he was governed completely by rules.

"What happens when you get too old to fight?" Brax retorted.

"Ain't gonna happen. I'll die in battle, serving my Republic, like a man should." After a pause, he added, "Beats dying of old age, surrounded by your family like a flamin' loser. Going out with a bang, that's the way to do it."

Brax rolled his eyes so hard they were all white. Meku simply sat back and took it all in, just staggered that there were people in the galaxy who thought like this. But she stopped herself from judging him as Vrook would. Jimny wasn't wrong for thinking that way - he could live his life as he pleased. Meku punctuated her thought with a shrug and turned to Luay.

"What about you, Luay? Why did you-"

"We've asked him already," Jimny cut in. "But he don't like to talk about it."

"Oh…"

"Some of us don't like to talk about our past." Oka looked up from his droid-head. "You just respect it, y'know?"

"Yes, I got it." Meku sensed that Oka and Jimny had to earn Luay's trust to learn about his past. She felt a bit embarrassed for hitting a nerve but, no sooner than she had that thought, Jimny said something else.

"So what's wrong with that droid?"

"Loader droid. Y'know, puts supplies into boxes, takes em to, fro. Circuitry got fried, started going crazy. Loading people into boxes. Weird man, weird." And just like that, the conversation took another turn and started flowing again.

"Stupid cheap parts," Jimny replied with disdain, "we shouldn't even use droids. Ain't nothing like a good man. Worth a hundred'a them rust-piles."

"If ya build em right, can be hella machines."

"Not better than a sentient, for sure." Jimny crossed his arms, cocky.

"Dunno Sarge, can you lift 2.8 tons?"

Jimny pantomimed a yawn, "with a finger!"

Oka talked while he worked, not missing a beat on the repairs. She could read his thoughts, but this time she made sure not to announce what he was thinking to everyone. "Green wire goes into switch 7A, unplug circuit 22B before that! Reroute power from 22B to 22C, so it doesn't fry the system again, then we just…" His skill was impeccable, he knew these machines more intimately than he knew his own hands. Meku knew she had a lot to learn, from all of these people.

 

 


 

 

The squad finished their food and began to walk back to quarters when Jimny stopped them.

"Boys, listen. We should celebrate this victory with something a little more'n dinner." Oka and Brax grew a knowing expression, while Meku was just confused.

"What do you mean, sir?" She cocked her head.

"Let's go to the entertainment module and have us some drinks. Whose with me?"

"I'm done with this droid here, so I'm up for that! Oka replied enthusiastically.

"We've got patrol early tomorrow, don't we?" Brax asked, rubbing his neck.

"It's not every day we score a victory. We've earned a night out."

Brax shrugged at this. "Sure, why not."

Jimny turned to Luay. He took his eyes off the screen for what seemed like the first time all day. He was oblivious to what was going on.

"Drinks. Wanna go?"

"Oh. Uh, no sir." Meku could see that most of his mind was still occupied by the video game he was playing. "I'll get an early night." Jimny gave him a dirty look.

"C'mon, really? Don't be a wuss. Come with us man, it'll be fun."

"Is that an order, sir?"

"Piss off then, you fraggin' droid. Go sleep with your damn datapad."

"Sorry, sir. Just not feeling up to it."

"Whatever."

Luay walked away and Jimny exhaled sharply. The rest of the squad turned to Meku. "You're comin' with us, right?"

Meku was about to say no. She was sore, in pain, needed sleep, and wanted to just to go an isolated corner of the ship where she could chat with Sak. But the faces and auras of her squadmates stopped her short before the word reached her lips. These men actually wanted to spend time with her. She earned their respect, and didn't want to disappoint them like Luay did.

"You bet, sir!"

"Ayeeeeeeeee!" Oka shouted, "drinks with the Jedi!"

Chapter Text

The group all started walking towards the entertainment module, conversation flowing among them.

"A nice Juma Juice would be refreshing right about now." Brax rubbed his chin, imagining sweet tastes dancing on his tongue. "Or maybe a fruit wine."

"I just want some beer. And tons of it." Jimny announced.

"You always drink beer, sir. Try something new, maybe you'll like it," Brax suggested.

"What do I look like, some kinda hippie? Drinking girly, fruity drinks? Like some kinda girl?" Meku and Oka chuckled.

"Zabrak beast-killers drink fruit wine before a hunt. You calling them girly?"

"I been all around the galaxy and ain't never seen a 'Zabrak beast-killer.' Maybe if they was more manly, there'd be more of 'em on the ship." Jimny gave a teasing smile. "All we got was a," he gestured to Brax, "a killer in the kitchen." Brax rolled his eyes while Oka laughed. Meku stayed quiet, just listening to them hurl good-natured insults at one another. Eventually, the conversation turned to her.

"What about you, kid," Jimny asked, "what're you having?"

"Uh…" she smiled nervously as she tried to come up with something. "I think some of that juma fruit sounds good."

"Juma fruit?" Meku was acutely aware that she said the wrong thing, and she could feel her face turning red again.

"Maybe she means fruit wine," Brax opined.

"Yeah, yeah, that!" She quickly tried to cover up her mistake, but the boys had caught it.

"Oh really now?" Oka got a mischievous smile on his lipless face. "So what's your favorite brand?"

"Uhhhh…" Meku was so bad at this. "I don't really know the brands all that well, and, uh…"

"You…" Jimny stopped dead in his tracks. "You never had a drink before in your life, have you?"

"I have!" She crossed her arms and stared indignantly sideways at him, bearing the excruciating pain in her neck out of sheer spite. He was totally right, though. But part of her wanted to never admit that.

"I call so much nerfcrap on that."

"I have drank!"

"Yeah, and my own ass got elected to the Senate." Jimny repeated the age-old joke. The rest of the boys just laughed at this exchange.

"I'll show you! I'll drink just as much as you, any night!" The boys whooped in laughter. Meku was by far the youngest member of the squad, and her youthful bombast was showing.

Brax wasn't laughing, and got a concerned-father look on his face. "Okay now, okay. I believe you, but leeeet's not test that." He laid a hand on her shoulder. "And I'm glad you're having your first drink with us."

"No, she drinks like a pro! She said it!" Oka shouted.

"You know what that means, kid?" Jimny got an evil smile on his face. "We're gonna turn you into a man." He paused a second, realizing that sounded kind of wrong. "I mean, a female man. I mean, like a real tough man, even though you're a girl, you'll still be a man. I, uh, I mean…" he stopped again before abandoning that train of thought entirely. "Meku, you're gonna drink some Lighter Fluid." Meku cocked her head, having no idea what that even was.

"She will not!" Brax shot Jimny a shut-the-hell-up-before-I-strangle-you look.

"What's that?" Meku asked, innocently.

"It's a rite of passage, young apprentice." Jimny clasped his hands, pantomiming a stereotypical Jedi Master.

"No," Brax protested, pointing, "it's cruel and unusual punishment!"

"Oh ye of little faith," Jimny responded, still pretending to be a Jedi.

"I wouldn't wish my worst enemy to drink that swill, you're gonna feed it to this…" he trailed off as Meku sensed the word he stopped himself from saying. "Child."

"...soldier!" Jimny cut in. "If she can handle bucketheads, she can handle anything. Including some cheap drank. Ain't that right, Jedi?"

"Yes, sir! I can handle that easy!"

"Stop it, you're only gonna make it worse for yourself!" He turned back to Jimny. "Shame on you for doing that, you irresponsible halfwit."

"No, I want it!" Meku protested, having a defiant look on her face.

"You do not!" Brax had his horned head in his hands. "That'll set your insides on fire, especially if you're not used to liquor."

"She said it man, gotta let her do it," Oka cut in, eager to see what would come of this night. "Learn her lesson herself."

"N'stop whining, Durachef. She'll be fine."

"Yeah, I'll be fine!" Jimny's smile grew even more evil.

Brax said nothing at first, just letting out an exacerbated groan and slowly sliding his hands down his face.

 

 


 

 

As they walked through the Entertainment Module, Meku saw a lot of places that seemed like fun. A movie theater, a gym, several shooting ranges, and, of course, the bar. It, like most things on the Hearth, was tiny, designed to take as little space as possible, making room for guns, fighters, and equipment.

There was a counter, a handful of tables, a dance floor, and a holographic band playing near the floor. It was dim, with Jizz music flowing from the speakers, making normal conversation difficult. It was pretty full, many soldiers were here still celebrating their victory. Some were dancing, trying not to bounce off each other on the cramped floor. A few were playfully flirting with the holograms. The phrase "Fire, water, air, and Hearth" was painted on the wall, but was fading and chipping.

Some of them noticed the Jedi and shouted their encouragement.

"Hey, the Master Jedi's here!"
"Thought we lost her down there."
"Is that really the hero of Randon?"
"Swear!"

Jimny led the squad to the drinks counter. Meku was taking in all the sights, sounds, and smells. The bartender spoke up.

"Welcome to the EM Bar, heroes!" He spoke with his voice slightly raised, to be heard over the music. Meku smiled nervously, unsure what to say. She didn't feel like a hero. Hell, she was just trying not to fall over from all her hobbling. "Well, one hero, and four ugly sops walking with her."

"You always been jealous of my rugged good looks, Keevo," Jimny chided.

"Yeah, sooo jealous I don't look like I got spat out by a rancor."

"No one's laughin'. See how many people're laughing? That's zero. You gonna serve us a drink or you gonna keep making dumb jokes?" The two laughed, they had a history.

"For you, Master Jedi, first round's on the house. Everyone else, ehhhhh," he trailed off, looking at Jimny with a teasing smile. "What'll you all have?"

"I'll remember this next time we get boarded."

"Orange Hydrospanner, keep 'em coming," Oka gave his order.

"Uh," Brax scanned the shelf behind the bar for anything that seemed appetizing and tasty. After being sorely disappointed with the scant choices, he sighed, "I'll take a Juma."

"I'll have the usual," Jimny said.

"A Corolla Lite and Forestwood Bourbon. Ya never change."

"And for this one," Jimny laid a hand on Meku's shoulder and paused for dramatic effect. "Lighter Fluid."

"Ha ha, very funny. What's she really want?"

"That is what I want, sir." Meku spoke with bravado. She was already committed. She sensed Brax making don't-do-it gestures behind her. The bartender hesitated. "That's what I want!" She hardened her expression. He shrugged in surrender.

"When you wake up tomorrow and your stomach is on fire, don't come crying to me."

"That's the funnest part though," Jimny retorted, as the bartender wordlessly shuffled a few bottles around and reached to grab something from the back. Meku widened her eyes in concern at the thing he pulled out.

 

 

Nearly all the liquor bottles were glass, with tapered necks. Not this one. It was a fat, gallon-sized opaque plastoid jug. It looked like something that would contain a household cleaning product, not anything drinkable. "There's no way..."

As she feared, the bartender set the jug down with a heavy thunk. It seemed mostly full, like no one drank out of it. He opened it, and held the heavy jug carefully as he poured clear liquid into a shotglass. He sighed and shook his head before he slid the glass to Meku. Before she even picked it up, the mere smell of it opened up her sinuses and made her head feel fizzy.

"Take a nice, good sniff," Jimny said, with a mischievous grin, "s'the good stuff." Meku brought the glass up to her nose and sniffed. The fumes were worse than a leaky speeder's engine! She coughed, hard, exacerbating the pain in her sore body, neck, and lungs. A few drips spilled onto her fingers.

After she regained control of herself she asked "what the… is this even edible?" Her voice was hoarse.

"Shore is," Jimny responded.

"If you like being on fire, maybe." Brax rolled his eyes as he spoke.

"Hey, that'd be a vacation compared to… to…" Meku tried to sound jocose, but she just trailed off, her eyes staring into the distance. Her body started to tense up and her heart started to pound faster. She was beginning to relive those memories. She could almost feel the mud all over her face, Vibroblade's hands around her neck. Jimny had seen this look on many a soldier before, and knew what was coming.

Whap!

A slap to the back of the head snapped her out of it. Meku couldn't even get a word out before he said something distracting enough to take her mind off it.

"He just gave you a drink on the house, you gonna stare at him like a fish, or you gonna thank him?"

"Oh! Tha… thank you, sir!"

"No worries, hero." The bartender gave a knowing smile. He'd also seen that expression too many times. His eyes played out countless memories of troops who came here to drown that expression in as much booze as they could swallow.

"Now, the moment you've all been waiting for. Drink up, soldier. Y'earned it."

All eyes were on Meku. Everyone was frozen, wondering if she would even do it. She looked down at the drink in her hand. Her Force-senses warned her of great danger from that tiny glass, especially to her stomach. She closed her eyes and raised the glass to her lips. The pain made it difficult for her to even lift her arms, but she managed.

Everyone watched in sheer silence. She took a moment to collect herself, then downed the drink in one gulp.

"Hm, this isn't so ba - OH DAMN, IT BURNS!" She felt as if she'd taken a shot of starship hyperfuel, it burned her mouth, tongue, and throat as it traveled down into her stomach, where it burned fitfully there as well. She bent over and coughed again, sending pain shooting up her back. Meku's eyes started watering from that evil drink. She shook her head like a wet kaadu. She could barely do it, having to make small, twitchy movements because of how stiff and painful her neck was.

After a moment, she stood up straight again, composure regained. Everyone was wide-eyed, dumbstruck, and lost for words. She spoke up. "That is… so smooth!" She blinked away the wetness in her eyes.

All at once, the rest of them cheered or laughed. Oka quipped, "damn, she is tough!" Her spirits lifted.

 

 


 

 

A few hours later, Meku and the squad were in a booth. They were several drinks in, having even danced for a while. Well, the squad danced, but Meku remained a wallflower, like always. They had their drinks in front of them. All were sharing a big platter of something greasy and bready.

Astoundingly, Meku had insisted on drinking Lighter Fluid for the rest of the night, although Brax convinced her to water it down with a lot of fruit juice. Also astoundingly, she'd drank as much as Jimny had. They were talking, laughing, eyes heavy, feeling loose.

"So then, like, like," Jimny continued telling his old story, "this fraggin' smuggler gets on the PA and he's all, all like 'muahahaha! You meddling fools will never have a chance.' Now at this point, three of us are knocked out, self-destruct is in T minus 90 seconds, and I can't even figure out how to get out of the kitchen. And, I still can't find my other boot. And I'm just like aw, daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaamn." He spoke very slowly, his eyes droopy, his gestures flamboyant and exaggerated.

"No way!" Meku was excited, watching the memory play out in the man's mind. The squad was perked up - for all his crudeness, the 25-year veteran knew how to tell a story. Even if his slurring made him sound like a Trandoshan. "How'd you get out of that?" He stopped to take a sip before continuing.

"Oh man. Oh man. Ooooooh maaaaaaaan. Maxine, I mean, I mean, Foster, she was all like, 'you take the sleepers back to the shuttle, I'll get the smuggler! And that's an order!' I loaded the three of 'em on a food cart and, and, fraggin, and, booked it back to the shuttle. We're flying away and, annd, BOOM! Ship blows into smithereens. I was thinking, oh shit! Ma- Foster's gone! I'm all sulkin' back to the cargo hold, and who do I see there but her, and she's got the smuggler in cuffs, and my boot in her other hand. And she's all, all like, 'what took you losers so long?'"

Oohs and aahs reverberated from the rest of them. Oka started going off on another tangent, but Meku excused herself to use the refresher. The pain had been numbed by the copious amounts of booze. Still, balance was difficult. Everything was spinning around her. "Why can't this damn room stay still?" And for some reason, she found everything funny.

As she walked back to the table, she was stopped by a large, muscular, burly man. His scarlet fatigues didn't match the red-and-black of the rest of the soldiers. "Hey there, soldier. You're looking sexy in that uniform there."

"Uh," even if her mind wasn't dulled by all the drink, she wouldn't be sure of what to say.

"Why don't I get you a drink, get to know you a little better. Come on, what are you having?"

"I, I've already got a drink, thanks."

"It's cool, why don't you come share a drink with me?"

"Actually-"

"-I got lost, you see," he cut in. "I'm new, and these ships are so confusing. You seem like a friendly sort, maybe you could guide me to my room and we'll share a drink in there."

Meku hesitated. She stepped back and crossed her arms, her body language became guarded. She sensed something wrong here, but didn't want to be impolite. "I, I'm new too. I, I," All this drink made words difficult. "I don't think I'll be a lot of help."

He grew a smouldering grin, and she sensed danger, a hunger behind his eyes. "Maybe we can find our rooms together? What'cha say?"

Before she could respond, a hand was laid on the man's shoulder. "You got a damn problem?" Jimny's voice was unmistakable. She could see him standing behind the man, with Brax and Oka on his sides.

"No problems here, what'cha gettin all crazy for?"

"Don't nerfcrap me man, I been around the block. I know what you're trying to pull. Go back to your monkey friends, 'fore we teach ya a lesson."

"You wanna try something right now?" He puffed out his chest.

"I'll stomp your ass with one finger! Also, you'd better watch yourself." He gestured to Meku. "She's a Master Jedi, and she'll smoke you like an overloaded rifle. Now piss off, credsucker."

The man cut his eyes at Jimny, then at Brax and Oka. Meku could sense the gears in his head, trying to calculate if he should escalate this into a fight. A few moments went by until the man exhaled, and nodded his head. "Well, I was just leaving. Not even trying to make any problems. Sheesh, I didn't even do anything. Why you gotta be such an ass for?" He continued mumbling as he walked away.

"Sorry 'bout that, kid. Can't trust those types." Jimny's fists were clenched.

"Those types?"

"Mercs." He stared across the bar. There, the man sat with a group. "Navy's been hiring 'em left and right to shore up our numbers."

"If they're all like him, then we're better off without that scum," Brax added. She sensed rage inside him, and he glared at the mercenaries as they walked out of the bar.

"Have to do something 'till the fresh batch of recruits comes in from training," Oka helped Meku understand.

"I'd rather have animals than mercs. Hell, I'd rather have droids than mercs. Violent credsuckers, all of 'em. Almost as bad as the bucketheads. No good in a fight, and they always cause problems with real soldiers."

"You'd think they'd at least be good at combat, right?" Brax showed his greenness, not knowing much about military affairs.

"Pff." Jimny's expression grew disgusted, as if Brax vomited all over him. "I'll tell you somethin'. Someone who fights for duty, honor, loyalty, whatever, will always win someone who fights for money. Those cowards won't fight unless they know they can win. What good's a fat paycheck if you ain't around to spend it, right?"

Meku sensed the aura around the table change. Where they were in high spirits, laughing and telling old stories, they were now embittered and smouldering towards the slimy mercenaries. Meku didn't want to end this night on a bad note because of what happened.

 

 

"Hey, let's not make this a bad night. We won, right? Let's have another round before we go!"

"One more round might let us catch the start of the Ylesia race…" Oka added.

"Wait, you like podracing too?" The booze let Meku's excitement bubble to the surface.

"Marvels of engineering, I tell you!" And just like that, the mood lightened up again.

As Meku and Oka talked pods, the conversation started flowing again, and the smiles and laughs eventually returned. Jimny cut into Meku and Oka's conversation about which racer would rack up the most points in this heat.

"So wait, so wait a minute. Why don'cha show us some cool Jedi tricks?" Meku didn't say anything at first. "C'mon, Jedi, show us some tricks! Make some shit levitate!"

"Why start small? Go bigger, sir," Oka suggested, his cup in front of his smiling mouth.

"Oka, I known you for five years, and you ain't had a good idea till now. Yeah, mind trick me, Jedi!"

"Hang on a minute, Sarge," Brax said, "Maybe that's like, against her religion or something."

"Psh, so? If I'm serving with a Jedi, I wanna see some cool. Force. Stuff." Jimny stabbed the table with his finger to punctuate his demand.

"Meku, if you aren't comfortable with that-"

"-It's not that…" Meku was a little perplexed. She'd been trained on discipline and ethics her entire life, but no one ever taught her what to do when someone asked to 'mind trick me.' "Hmm…. the Order's rules say we can only use our powers for knowledge and defense, never for attack."

"What do they say about using your powers to entertain some Marines?" Brax gave a sheepish smile.

"It says, uh," she looked off into the distance, "nothing."

"So do some mind tricks on me then." Jimny gave her a challenging smile.

"Nah, Jedi can't do that. Just something from movies, isn't it?" Oka gave a confused look.

"It's real, son!"

"I've heard it's just a legend too," Brax added. "I've never seen a Jedi do one. Well, except in movies."

Meku was shocked at how little these people knew about Jedi. She thought it was common knowledge. Everyone knew about Jedi powers, didn't they? She never realized how insular her people really were.

"Well, s'it real?" Jimny's pointed question broke her out of her train of thought.

"Yes, sir, it is!"

"Then why ain't'cha doing one already?"

 

 

Meku was going to say it only worked on the weak-willed, but stopped herself short. That'd probably be a bad look. She instead brought up her hand and gave a subtle wave to catch Jimny's attention. Simultaneously, she said "you will spill your drink upon your lap," with a calm, yet forceful tone, as she'd been trained.

"Hell no, I ain't doing that! What do I look like, some kinda stupid?"

"Told ya it was fake, Sarge, see?"

It didn't work. Meku didn't realize how difficult all this was when she was drunk. The alcohol numbed her Force abilities just like it numbed everything else. She took a deep breath and tried again, changing her tone, charging it with the Force, remembering her Master's instructions.

"When you do a mind trick, it's not a command. It's a fact. The way you say it is the same as saying 'it's cloudy outside' or 'my lightsaber is purple.' Be so sure that they've got no choice but to agree."

"You will spill your drink upon your lap." It took all her concentration to keep her tone right and to charge her words with enough Force energy to overcome Jimny's willpower. His face, hardened in a challenging expression, became totally blank.

"I will spill my drink upon my lap," Jimny said, monotone, before picking up his glass, full of beer, and upturning it directly onto his crotch.

The other three burst into a fit of uncontrollable, gut-heaving laughter. Oka banged on the table. Even Meku guffawed, causing her to nearly hack up a lung. The noise and the cold liquid startled Jimny out of his Force-induced trance and his eyes widened in surprise. "What in the flamin' hell just happened? Who spilled this on me? Report!"

"Sir, you did it." Brax had to sneak words in past his giggles, tears coming from his eyes. "You're even holding the glass."

"Don't you tell me no lies!" He pointed an accusatory finger at Brax, still unaware his other hand was holding the empty glass.

"Look at your hand!" Jimny looked and, sure enough, was holding a tall glass upside down, right in front of him.

"The fraggin' hell? How come I don't remember that?" Meku knew mind tricks caused their subjects to go into a trance and not remember anything they did while tricked.

"You was right sir," Oka added between fits of laughter, "Mind tricks are real!"

"Well stop giggling like a bunch of schoolgirls and get me a damn towel! You useless idiots!" His slightest hint of a smile was the only sign that he knew this was a joke, and he wasn't really mad at them.

Brax stepped out of the booth and got a towel from the bartender. He tossed it over. Jimny was ready to catch it, but Meku made a subtle gesture with her hand. Midair, the towel suddenly flung itself to Jimny much faster than before. He was too slow and was smacked in the face by the towel.

"Ow! Learn to throw, you moron!" The rest of the squad was absolutely hooting. He tried to grab the towel off his face. Before his hands reached it, the towel suddenly levitated off his face and hovered a few inches above him. Any time he tried to grab it, it moved. The other two boys were wheezing now.

Meku had to squint her eyes in concentration. It took everything in her power to keep the towel where she wanted it. All the liquor was making her movements blunt and inaccurate. Why anyone did this to themselves was only a mystery to her.

"Very funny Jedi, lemme clean up my pants." Jimny was still grabbing - well, flailing, for the towel.

"Sir, I'm not even doing anything. You've prolly just had too much." She gave a teasing tone.

"Wanna scrub latrines for the rest of your life?" A very unamused Jimny paused grabbing for the towel to give her a 'try me' look. With that, the towel drooped in midair, almost like a sad person drooping their shoulders. Jimny swiped it and started scrubbing his lap while Brax and Oka came down from their fit of laughter. He muttered something about being "surrounded by flamin' morons" while he scrubbed.

With their bellies full of food and booze, their bodies loose, and smiles on their faces (and beer on one of their crotches), the squad staggered back to their quarters for sleep. When she collapsed on the bed, Meku felt something hard on her belly. She reached down there, and felt her datapad.

"Oh, that's right! I was supposed to HoloChat Sak." She pulled the 'pad out and noticed several messages from him.

"Holo tonight?"
"Hey Meku, done with duties?"
"Hang on, gotta run an errand for Master Risan. Gimme a few minutes."
"Back. Ready for Holo?"
"Hello?"
"Is everything okay?'
"I'm up watching some movies haha. I'll be here for a few hours. Just lemme know."
"Meku… it's been a couple days. Everything alright?"

Her tired body read the messages, but she passed out before replying.

The next morning, she was awoken with the Navy's reveille. She was still sore and in pain, but now there was a pit of fire in her stomach and a sledgehammer to her head on top of that. As she dragged herself out of bed, she thought, "this is gonna be a looooooong day..."

Chapter Text

A week later, Meku stole her way up to the Observation Deck again. Her schedule had been extremely busy; their losses at Randon meant many squads had to do double shifts. The Hearth had been involved in a small skirmish with a Mandalorian task force, but it was over as quickly as it started. Meku didn't get to see any combat, that battle was purely ship-to-ship.

She was exhausted, having to pull a double shift for the last four days. But the squad had tomorrow off and decided to catch a late-night Holo movie. She made the excuse that she was tired, but she snuck off to the O-deck, as the Navy types called it. She hadn't talked to Sak since before Randon and felt she could really use a friend.

The familiar figure projected itself from her datapad. He was beaming with pride, she never saw him stand so tall in his life. He was missing his Padawan's braid.

"Meku!"

"Sak!"

"Guess who just earned his Knighthood?"

"You're joking." She made a mock-shocked face. "Sak Jonen, the goofiest guy in the Temple, is now a Jedi Knight. Who woulda guessed?"

"Well, even the Council couldn't resist the power of the Sauce. They had no choice but to accept my greatness." He brushed his shoulders off in mock arrogance.

"Lies!" She pointed an accusatory finger. "You probably bribed them with a good stew."

"Hey hey hey, how I earned it doesn't matter." They smiled at each other. "Maybe you're just jealous you don't have my Sauce-powers."

"The Sauce is with you. Also, it's on your robes, you should get those washed."

"Wh- really?" Sak looked down frantically while Meku guffawed.

"I was joking, you dolt!"

"You little-"

"Fell right for it, suckaaa!" Sak crossed his arms.

"Really Meku, really? Stain on my robes? What are we, younglings?" She just laughed. Meku was hardly aware of how much sharper her wit became after spending a few weeks with Jimny and his squad. "But really Meku, isn't this just awesome?"

"I'm so proud of you Sak. You finally made it." She and Sak were known to be late bloomers. Meku fingered her own braid, a little jealous. She wondered if she'd ever attain Knighthood now that she'd disobeyed the Council.

"So, I've heard about some battles on the news. Were you in the fight on Eres III?"

"No, that was another fleet. I fought on…" she paused, the memories coming back to her, "on Randon."

"I heard that battle was hard-fought."

"It was," she replied blankly.

"Well I'm sure the Mandalorians took one look at you and started running!"

"If only…"

"Heck, you musta killed hundreds of those monsters."
Killed. That word brought back the acrid smell of Vibroblade's flesh sizzling on her lightsaber. His head rolling away, and his body flopping lifelessly to the floor. She had, for the first time ever, ended someone's life. Her stomach churned, remembering that smell, reliving that moment.
"Well? You're quiet. What happened?" She snapped out of it. "Don't tell me those bureaucrats stuck you doing paperwork the whole battle!"

"Oh, no, I was on the ground. I…" She relayed what she could remember, and what she could bear to talk about. The Basilisks' ruthless pursuit of her shuttle. The close-quarters fighting in the rock formations. Almost being killed by Vibroblade and, in return, killing him. The total void of memory between Vibroblade's death and ending up in the control tower. And how so many people called her a hero now.

"That sounds like an epic fight. You are a hero!" Meku was taken aback. Epic fight? It didn't feel epic, and she didn't feel like a hero.

"I don't think so, Sak."

"What do you mean? You helped the Republic beat off those invaders. That's like, textbook heroism right there."

"Maybe, but I didn't feel good about it. Aren't heroes supposed to happily do their duties?" She stared off into space. "And heroes don't... dwell on it."

"What'cha mean?" Sak tilted his head at her strange, cryptic phrase. Meku buried her head in one hand.

"I… it's hard to explain. I get nightmares. The battle was just a week ago and I've had three nightmares about it. Wait…" she counted on her fingers. "Four. Four nightmares. It's hard to sleep, I toss and turn. Sometimes, I space out, and I'm back on Randon. And that Mandalorian, the one with the Vibroblade, he's right there. And… and…" She shook her head quickly to clear that image from her mind.
"The other Marines say 'that happens to the best of us,' but I don't know. Heroes don't get nightmares about that, do they? I mean, he attacked me! Why do I get nightmares about defending myself? I just-"

"Meku, they're wrong."

"Hm?"

"You should know better than this." His voice had a condescending tone, like he was speaking to a child. "You know what they taught us here. How strength of will is crucial to a Jedi's life. If you had more strength of will, you wouldn't have these problems."
Meku's head shot back in disbelief. "Is he really saying this? This isn't the Sakett I know."
"Maybe it's 'cause you left too early." All those words sounded too familiar. "If you had stayed with us and learned more, you wouldn't be so shaken up by this. It's actually kinda silly." She reached out with her senses. She could feel more and more of his Master in him.

"You don't mean that, do you?" She had to be dreaming. This wasn't Sak. It was a figment of her imagination, like Vibroblade showing up in her nightmares.

"You said it yourself. You were defending yourself. So why would you even get nightmares? That's just silly, it makes no sense. There's only one logical answer - you are too weak-willed." He'd become a puppet, with Vrook and Risan at the strings. She couldn't help but suspect his Jedi Trials had been more of a loyalty test than a trial of his actual skill. Meku didn't realize her jaw was nearly on the floor.

"My squadmates said-"

"Your squadmates are idiots if they think that's normal. Your squadmates don't have any training in the Force. They wouldn't know a strong will if it hit them in the face. I thought you were stronger than this, Meku. Honestly, I think you're becoming lost out there."

"You don't know what it's like, Sakett!" Meku raised her voice at him for the first time, completely insulted. Her hands were balled into fists. "You don't know what it's like to be there. You weren't there when it happened, you," she gestured with her hands, trying to grab the right words from the air in front of her, "if you were there, you'd... get it."

"I don't have to be there, my teachings guide me. And I'd never let any situation change that."

She cut her eyes at him and furrowed her eyebrows. "I can't believe you."

"Because I speak the truth?"

"You son of a- no, no. Relax. Maybe we can change his mind. Let's try to get him on board." She took a deep breath.
"Sak… are you even listening to yourself? I thought we'd always support each other. Why are you being like this? I needed a shoulder, not..."

"No, Meku. You're lacking in will and you need to be stronger so you don't fall to the darkness of this war. I am supporting you, by snapping you out of this pitiful state you're in."

"You know what, I gotta go." She stared off into the distance, trying not to let the tears escape her eyes.

"I'm trying to help you. I don't mean to offend or anything, I just think you need to-"

"-I've had double duties, and I'm very tired. I've been working nonstop to keep our Republic safe. And…" She pointed an accusatory finger at him, but decided not to hurl insults. She curled the finger back into her hand and lowered the arm back to her side. "I need rest."

"Okay." He rubbed the back of his neck. "Well, maybe we both need some rest. Catch you tomorrow?"

"I don't know. Goodbye, Sakett." Her voice cracked when she delivered the last word.

She didn't even let him say bye before hanging up. She sniffled and breathed sharply. Her heart sank into her stomach and she swallowed a lump in her throat. Tears flowed down her cheeks. He was her rock. She sat against the wall and buried her head in her hands. She thought they understood each other, and he'd always be there for her, no matter what. It was a slap to the face to realize he didn't understand her at all. Not now. Not after what she'd been through.

Meku wiped the tears from her cheek with her forearm. She looked down at her wrist-timer. She'd only been up here a few minutes. If she was fast enough, she might be able to catch the movie before the trailers ended.

 

...

 

The tiny theater was already dark, the first scene was playing. She didn't need light, sensing her squad and walking right up to them. She plopped down next to Brax, laying a hand on his shoulder, as if saying "I'm here." Meku was thankful for the dark, hiding her watery eyes and the redness in her cheeks. When they realized it was her, their surprised smiles lit up the entire theater.

Chapter Text

"This is a dream. Wake up."

The mud sucked at her boots.

"Wake up!"

She went through all the motions. Charging out of the shuttle. Fighting the enemy in the rocks. Learning to flank.

"This isn't real, we've already done this. It's fake. Just wake up. Please."

Despite her pleas, her body continued acting out what happened on Randon. She drew the snipers' fire, helping her comrades kill them. Foster led her men on the mad dash to the comm tower. They depended on her to flank the enemy.

Meku's conscious self started to feel more and more fear. She knew what was coming, and knew that she couldn't avoid it. Her stubborn body wouldn't wake up. She was going to have to live through this again. She steeled herself, trying to prepare.

As in reality, she sensed the rocket hurtling towards her. Vibroblade followed on his jetpack, smashing her with his landing. Picking her up by her long hair. "Why do I even keep my hair this long? So stupid." Throwing her into the deep mud puddle. Kicking her in the face.

"No, no…"

Vibroblade straddled her on his knees. He wrapped his monstrous hands around her slender throat and squeezed. Meku couldn't breathe. Even in reality, Meku struggled in her bed, unable to draw breath.

"You can breathe! This is just a dream! Nobody is choking you for real!"

Conscious-Meku's cries fell on deaf ears as Dream-Meku's vision faded to black. She was reliving this moment, where she skirted the edge of death.

Flick.

Vibroblade's jetpack activated, shooting him into the unforgiving wall. This part should have relieved her, but it only made her more anxious because she knew what was coming next. She stood over Vibroblade, watching him pull the rocket from his shoulder pack. But something was off. He didn't have pale skin like her. His skin was dark and earthy.

"No…"

Dream-Meku didn't seem to notice, holding her lightsaber over her head, wavering. Unsure. As he loaded the rocket into his wrist launcher, she swung down and beheaded him with a bloodcurdling shriek. She could see the head that rolled away. It was Sakett's. Meku shook her head quickly, as if that movement could somehow change her vision. She looked again. The head was her own. It spoke.

"Congratulations, hero."

 


 

Meku sprung out of the covers with a scream. Her chest was heaving, she was in cold sweats. Almost instantly, she covered her mouth. She didn't want to wake her squadmates. Looking around, it seemed like she was mostly successful. Jimny and Oka slept like hibernating Reeks, snoring away. Luay slept silently.

Brax was sitting up in his bed, watching with concerned eyes. He was still wearing his sleep-cap; all Zabraks wore them to prevent their horns from ripping apart their pillows. Meku backed away until her back was to the wall, and then brought her legs up to her chest, cradling herself in her arms.

"Bad dream?" His voice was soothing. Meku said nothing, just trying to stop herself from shaking. Brax nodded back. "I understand. I'm so sorry."

"I should be sorry." Meku's voice was trembling. "I probably woke you up."

"Pish posh. I'm a dad, remember? Waking up in the middle of the night is nothing new to me." Meku nodded again, unsure what to say. Why did words always come so hard to her?

"Here, this might help." Brax turned in his bed, letting his legs hang off the side. He reached into his supply pack and pulled out a massive candy bar. "Is it okay if I walk over and give this to you?" She nodded.

Brax walked over slowly, gingerly. He extended his arm, holding the behemoth candy. Meku hesitated for a moment before taking it. "Thank you, Brax."

"I'd have those dreams too, you know. When I had my first really bad battle, a few months ago. I've been in that dark place. No one should ever go."

"I wish it didn't happen. I wish I was stronger."

"Nonsense. Everyone goes through it. Strong or weak. I'm sure even tough-as-nails manly-man over there has had his share of nightmares." He gestured to Jimny. Meku nodded, she could sometimes see the terrifying memories play out in his head, and feel his mind's efforts to suppress them again. She inhaled deeply, trying to center herself.

"This bar is delicious. You know how to pick 'em."

"I sure hope so. If I can't find a good candy bar, what kinda cruddy restaurateur would I be?" Meku giggled. She was thankful for him. For all of them, even the obtuse Jimny. She looked up, into Brax's eyes.

"Thank you. I mean that from the bottom of my heart. Thank you for... thank you."

"It's nothing, Meku. I'm happy to-" He didn't get to finish the sentence before Meku planted a hug on him. He embraced her. His embrace was the warmest she'd ever had. They held each other for a while, Brax also resting his hand on her head. "You should get some rest," Brax suggested.

"You should too. We've got patrol tomorrow."

"I will, after a little while."

"A little while?"

Brax gave a mischeivous smile. Meku sensed that he was up to no good. She cocked her head, prompting him to explain himself. Brax didn't say anything.

 

 

"Well, what is it?"

"You have to promise not to tell."

"Sir, yes sir," she punctuated her words with a salute. Brax smiled, rolled his eyes, and walked to his bed. He rustled through the covers and pulled out something delicate and dainty-looking. Meku had to strain her eyes to make out what it was.

"A flower crown?"

Brax looked very closely at Jimny before whispering back. "Been up making it. Gonna glue it to his helmet. See how long it takes mister manly-man to notice he looks like an Alderaanian schoolgirl on a summer holiday." Meku giggled, covering her mouth.

"You evil, evil man you." she shook her head in mock disappointment.

"Hey, he started this." Brax pointed an accusatory finger at the loudly snoring lump. "He put a tizronfruit in my back pocket once. I didn't notice and sat down, splat! My butt smelled like citrus for a week." The frustration was evident in his voice, and Meku could hear the echoing laughs of the squad grating in Brax's head.

"At last, you shall reveal yourself to the enemy. At last, you shall have revenge," Meku chided.

"Oh, I'm getting him back, that son of... an ion engine." Meku chuckled. Despite being in the Navy for months, Brax still censored himself like he was around his daughters.

"He's gonna kill you for this."

"Maybe, but he'll kill me while wearing flower crowns and that might just be worth it."

"Well here," Meku got out of bed, "you're tying it like a doofus. Let me see."

The two of them spent a few minutes putting the crown together, and sticking it to his helmet. Meku munched on the candy bar the entire time, talking in furtive whispers about where best to put it so Jimny wouldn't notice on his morning routine.

Meku slept much better the rest of the night.

 

 


 

 

The next morning, the squad donned their armor. Sergeant Jimny, in a hurry, didn't notice the crown when he donned his helmet. The rest of the squad kept quiet about it, eager to also see his reaction when he found out. Their first assignment was to investigate a theft of some liquor at the bar.

"The hell is that on your head, Jimny?" Keevo, the bartender, had a perplexed look as the squad approached.

"You drinkin' your own supply? Ain't never seen a helmet before?"

"No, you got flowers ON your helmet. Supporting some kinda pacifist cause or something? Fundraiser I haven't heard of?"

Jimny froze, his face furrowed in confusion. He took off his helmet while the rest of the squad held in their laughter.

"WHICH ONE OF YOU USELESS WOOKIEE-KISSIN' BOZOS DID THIS?" The squad and Keevo erupted into uncontrollable laughter.
"Oh, funny ain't it?" Jimny fumed. "All of you 'funny' gizka-brains are gon scrub latrines till they bury you! Laugh now, but you'll never see the outside of a bathroom again! Y'all get plenty of time in there to work on yer crappy comedy."

His body movements were huge and bombastic, pointing fingers and waving enraged fists in the air. His sheer rage just caused the rest of them to laugh even harder, some even coughing and banging their fists on the bar. After a good bout of laughter, and many more threats to send everyone to latrine duty, the squad stepped back and tried to resume the investigation.

 

 

"So, you saw the guy run off with the bottle?"

"Yeah, he grabbed it off the counter when I turned around to get the mixer."

"Can you describe what he looked like?"

"Yeah, he-" Keevo paused as Jimny held up a hand in a 'stop' gesture. He and Meku were getting a signal on their comms. Commander Foster's voice crackled in their ears.

"Squad leaders and Jedi, report to briefing room immediately."

"36 here, ma'am," Jimny replied, "We're on patrol duty and investigating a theft. Is this critical?"

"Affirmative. Report forthwith."

"Copy." Jimny turned to Oka and pointed. "You take charge from here. She and I gotta report to Foster."

"Yes, sir!"

 


 

"As you can see, the 16th is on its way to Duro." Commander Foster's voice boomed in the briefing room, she was comfortable speaking in front of a crowd. The squad leaders sat or stood around a large HoloProjector, showing the planet and its orbital cities. The Holo zoomed in, and dozens of Republic ships were in orbit, barely holding off against a much larger Mandalorian fleet.

Meku looked around - the room was sparse. There should have been 80 squad leaders for the ship's 400 marines; there were less than half that. She noticed Neff with his flight leader. She hadn't spoken to him since before Randon, but he was always hanging around his fellow pilots anyway. "Just like me, I guess." She also noticed a few mercenaries, sitting in the back and looking at Foster with cold, calculating eyes. She sensed bloodlust and greed, and could hear "this is gonna be a nice, fat paycheck" in their minds.

She turned back to her commander. "The 9th and 11th fleets are engaging the enemy force, but they're overwhelmed and need reinforcements." She used a blaster's cleaning rod to point out the positions of the fleets. "That's where we come in," she pantomimed the direction of travel on the hologram, "we jump into sector 7-33. Marines, you'll be boarding an enemy ship."

Meku could feel Jimny's hot excitement, an animal straining at the leash, betrayed also by the slightest smile on his face. He was eager for some action. Meku's heart sped up a little as well, remembering the danger and intensity of Randon. Could someone truly learn to enjoy this?

"Our last intel report said this Kyramud-class battleship was cut off from the rest of the fleet." She zoomed in and pointed at the demonic-looking vessel. "Its marines aren't on board, they left to invade an orbital city. It should have minimal crew and they should be caught off guard."

Meku had a bad feeling on hearing that. She felt it wouldn't be an easy job in the slightest.

"It's imperative that we succeed. Revan is bringing in a second task force after we arrive, with fresh troops. If we can soften 'em up, Revan can destroy the fleet more easily and relieve the civilians. Clear?"

"Yes, Ma'am," the officers responded.

"Your objective will be to capture the battleship. Failing that, try to scuttle it. But get out alive; one enemy ship isn't worth the loss of 150 troops and a Jedi. We still need you to help stop the ground forces after you get off. Clear?"

"Ma'am, yes ma'am!" The reply came automatically.

"Pilots!" Her voice was now aggressive and angry, she could tell Foster was bitter at having lost two Jedi and so many troops thanks to their recklessness earlier. "You are to escort the boarders. Do not get distracted, understood?"

Neff and the flight leader replied with quiet, humiliated tones.

"Bomber pilots, you've been armed with long-range Ion Torpedoes; go ahead of the boarders and hit that ship, disable its point-defense systems so they have a clear way in. Got it?"

"What about interception," the leader of the bomber squad asked.

"Intel tells us all enemy fighters have launched and are too busy dogfighting with our own. The path will be clear."

Meku put one hand on the top of her head. There was still so much to learn. "Scuttle? Point-defense? Dogfight? Why didn't they teach us these words in the Order? Why did they only teach us stupid things like philosophy and history? And how in the blazes are we supposed to take over that ship?"

If the hologram was to scale, that thing was massive, easily twice the size of the Hammerheads it was fighting. It looked like a hard-shelled insect that was hunched over, with a front head poking out from the abdomen. It bristled with weapons and other attachments. Armor plating, sensors, and antennae, all jutted out haphazardly from the ship, making it look cobbled-together.

"Everyone clear?" She paused to allow everyone to respond. "Then get to battle stations! I want pilots ready to launch and all marines in shuttles, we need to be ready to go the moment we jump in. Well? Get going!"

 

 

Meku and Jimny briskly jogged to their quarters to get ready. Soldiers were discouraged from running full speed in non-emergencies, to save their energy. Jimny radioed ahead to warn the squad of the situation. Meku let her curiosity get the better of her.

"Sir?"

"What?"

"What's 'point-defense' mean?"

"Ships' got two kinda lasers. Turbolasers are the big guns, they hit enemy capital ships. Point-defense cannons're for fighters, bombers, small fast stuff."

"What about 'scuttle?'"

"Means 'blow up,' kid."

"Why don't they just say 'blow up,' then?"

Jimny's face went blank. She always asked hard questions. "Ionno, it's just what we say. Why'd you put flowers on my helmet, you little nerf-herder?"

Meku had to suppress a giggle, but couldn't stop a big, stupid grin on her face. "I don't know what are these flowers of which you be speak."

"Yeah yeah, comedian. When we board, don't expect me to get you outta no hairy situations. If there's a buckethead straddlin' you like on Randon, I'm just gonna be like, 'good luck flower girl!'"
The goofy smile was wiped from her face in an instant. Jimny's face cringed, and she could hear his thoughts of "Shit! No, waaaay too soon to make that joke!" She decided to tease him a bit, by growing a sullen look on her face.
"That was a joke, come on," Jimny backpedaled.

Meku's face grew an even more sly smile. "Maybe I should start deflecting blaster bolts at you. Promotion would be nice, you know."

"You!" Jimny realized it'd been a tease. "I like ya. But don't get too cocky. Don't forget I had to save your sorry ass down on Randon."

"I saved you too, sir, if you remember."

"Want latrine duty?"

"Shutting up, sir."

"Smart girl."

The squad threw their armor and gear on, and armed themselves before heading back to the hangar bay. On the walk back, Sarge briefed them on the situation. Luay put his video game down for just long enough to listen. Once the statement was over, he curtly nodded and went back into the game as he walked. Meku couldn't help but smile in endearment as he buried himself in the game.

"Maybe he has the right idea..." she was nervous enough that she had to stop her body from shivering. Luay never seemed fazed by anything. She was never one for video games, but perhaps keeping a good book on her would help calm her before battle.

Chapter Text

Ships were scattered above the dry, polluted planet, all of them maneuvering with the desperate air of beasts fighting for their lives. Massive turbolasers fired their punishing volleys at weakening shields. Explosions dotted space, stars with second-long lifespans. Fighters buzzed around, hunting for enemies. The ships maneuvered, trying to get the best position and cut off enemies. Caught in the middle of all this were several orbital cities. Basilisks rained down on them like meteors. Meku sensed ground battles just as desperate on them.

The Hearth and its battle group jumped out of hyperspace, behind the Mandalorian lines. The enemy had been caught by surprise! No ships were even turned in their direction; they were focusing on decimating the weaker defense fleet. Leading the Mandalorian charge was a massive dreadnought, double the size of the next largest vessels, and four times bigger than the Hammerheads it was facing off. Only the Inexpugnable-class leading the Republic fleets was comparable in size. The dreadnought looked animalistic, like the rest of Mandalorian technology. It sort of looked like a fish with no fins, or a torpedo.

On the upside, that straggling battleship was still cut off from its allies, farther out. It was trying to retreat back to the rest of its fleet, but three Hammerheads blocked its path. That was their target, then.

Meku barely had any time to take in the view before she was herded onto a shuttle. Officers barked out orders. The controlled chaos hyped her up, and her heart started racing. Crewmen waved the fighter escort out first, then the bomber wing. The Ministry shuttles were only okayed for takeoff when the path was assured to be clear.

Learning from their prior mistake, the shuttle's escorts stuck close by. No enemy fighters came along though, they were stuck in dogfights on the front line. Meku looked around the shuttle. Luay was playing his video game. Meku gave a little smile; he was probably relishing these last few minutes before he had to risk his life again.

Brax and Jimny tried to distract Oka, who hid behind a blank expression. He was a Duros, and this was his home planet. She could feel the pain in his heart with every Basilisk that landed in the cities. He gripped his blaster tight, feeling a mix of sadness, anger, and bloodlust. His heart was in pain, and he was going to make the Mandalorians pay for that pain.

For some reason, Meku couldn't shake the feeling that this was too easy. Something was wrong here, her senses warned her. But she had no idea what. She looked out the shuttle's window. Around them, she could sense the Aurek escort, and ahead she could see the Chela bombers bearing down on the Mandalorian battleship. Then it hit her.

The bomber wing was in danger.

Without warning, Meku ran over to the cockpit. She could barely hear the confused "kid, where you going?' from Jimny as she jostled past all the other soldiers crowding the inside space. It took her awhile to finally emerge. The confused pilots didn't even get a word out before Meku spoke.

"Tell those bombers to back off! They need to switch places with the fighters."

"Wh - what?"

"You heard me! Those bombers are in danger, tell them and the fighters to switch places."

"Those bombers have to go ahead." The pilot was nervous, wondering what got this Jedi so frantic. She leaned on the orders to avoid having to make a decision that might get her in trouble. "We've been given our commands."

"The bombers are dead if they do. Trust me on this!"

The pilot and co-pilot hesitated. They outranked Meku, and didn't have to take orders from her. And disobeying orders might land them in the brig. But she was a Jedi, and they knew she had that mysterious sixth sense.

And if Meku was right, they'd lose the bombers. If the bombers were lost, they couldn't knock out the battleship's systems with their long-range ion torpedoes. If those point-defense systems were still online when the shuttles approached, they'd be sitting ducks, dead in seconds.

The pilot breathed deeply, "Here goes nothing."
"Escort, new orders. Danger close, bombers and fighters are to switch positions immediately."

Meku could sense the effect of those words, danger close. They were carefully picked to make them act without questioning these new "orders." Even now, she could sense the fear and perk-up of the pilots, scanning for the danger.

"Copy that, shuttle."

The Aurek fighters zoomed ahead, and the bombers slowed down, taking positions around the shuttles.

"What's going on here?" Jimny walked in, a perplexed look on his face.

"Your Jedi is really something else. She says the bombers were in danger, and had me order them to switch places with the fighters."

Sarge gave Meku a curious gaze. She could see the gears turning in his head, wondering how to take this. Then, he remembered what happened in the reactor control room on her first day of patrol. Jimny turned to the pilot and smiled. "Well, if she senses danger, then there's danger. Her senses are sharper'n anything, I can witness to that."

"I don't see any danger." The copilot gestured out the window. All she could see was the battleship, slowly getting bigger and bigger. Meku's face flushed red. What if this wasn't her senses? What if she was just nervous and let her fear get the better of her? What if those fighter pilots died because they got too far ahead, and were cut down by point-defense guns? What if…

"Well, I trust her." Jimny's words were confident. Meku gave the slightest smile, knowing he had her back.

"What about the orders, Sergeant?" The copilot was highly concerned about getting in trouble.

"You know better'n that. Orders ain't set in stone. If we get new info, we change our plans." He spoke in a way that was almost scolding. "Jedi said she sensed danger to the bombers. There's our new info."

"Yes, sir."

Moments later, Meku's senses spiked. The danger was coming now. The copilot's next words confirmed it.

"Spot new bogeys, eleven Davaab fighters incoming."

"Incoming from where," the pilot responded.

"Just launched from the battleship. Engaging!"

The pilot's face froze for a second. Meku could read what was going through her head. "That makes no sense. This battle has been going on for some time. Why wouldn't the ship send out all its fighters when the battle started? Were they broken down, or... Oh."

"Looks like we had us a trap, didn't we?" Jimny gave a cocky, "told-you-so" smile and patted Meku on the shoulder. Meku looked out the viewport. Far ahead, the Mandalorian fighters were dogfighting with Neff and the Republic pilots. They'd reached each other in seconds. If the bombers were up there, they would've been shredded.

The pilot focused on her controls, not daring to make eye contact. Jimny nodded and Meku smiled, happy that she'd been taken seriously for once. The two soldiers left the cockpit to allow the pilots to do their work. Meku furrowed her eyebrows though, wondering how in the blazes the Mandalorians could spring such an effective trap.

"How did they even know we were coming? And usually fighters are the ones that fly ahead, how did they know our bombers would be in front this time?"

Meku shook her head and decided to focus on the task at hand. She was going to fight, and needed every ounce of focus she could muster. She found a spot by the doors, sat down, crossed her legs and meditated, gathering her strength. Meku could feel everything around her.

The Aurek pilots were able to keep the Mandalorians too busy to attack the bombers. And, as soon as they were in range, the bombers knocked out the battleship's systems. The shuttles danced around the dogfighting starfighters, and landed in the enemy's hangar bay. Sensing this, Meku woke herself from her trance.

 


 

She could sense the soldiers, ready to charge out the loading ramp, too high on adrenaline to even feel fear. Mandalorian lasers pinged off the shuttle's armor. Meku quickly stood. "Everyone behind the Jedi!" Jimny's shout prompted her to activate her saber. The pilot counted down the doors opening.

Meku stretched out with her senses, trying to feel the hangar's layout, and where the Mandalorians were. The hangar was the size of a stadium and oval-shaped. A few starfighters and Basilisks lay in disrepair. One starfighter was close to their shuttle, and some troopers could take cover behind it. The hangar had two decks. The first was where they were; the floor. Several doors led into the rest of the ship. The upper deck was like scaffolding, with conveyor belts and walkways near the roof. This was probably so supplies and men could cross without disrupting the starfighters.

She sensed many Mandalorians on the upper deck, all ready to snipe them from above. Not only that, but the ground level was crawling with those bucketheads as well. They'd have to be very careful, they'd be under fire from multiple directions.

"Ready, Jedi?" She nodded, feeling Jimny's eager smile behind him. Further back, she felt the sheer wrath of Oka and other Duros on the shuttle. The enemy would pay for this in blood. "Then give 'em hell!"

Meku charged out of the opening ramp, being met instantly with blaster fire, especially from above. She jumped, twisted, and danced around. She had to use all of her agility and skill to deflect bolts back at the enemy. All the while, soldiers and mercenaries sprinted into cover or stayed behind her, taking potshots from safety. Many got behind the broken-down starfighter, and the smarter ones got under its wing, to be safe from above.

They were supposed to have caught the Mandalorians by surprise. Foster informed them the hardened soldiers were down on the orbital cities, so it looked like only the crewmen remained, and they'd have no idea boarders were coming. But something was off. There were many enemies in the hangar, more than what she expected. Not only that, but they were all ready to fight - full armor, charged blasters, defensive positions all over the hangar. It was like the bucketheads were waiting for them. She couldn't tell if these were crewmen or soldiers waiting for them. With Mandalorians, even the janitors and cooks could handle a blaster artfully, and were all clad head to toe in that miraculous armor.

Meku shook off her thoughts, there was no time for it. Republic soldiers were getting hit left and right, the fire from the upper level was too much. She had to do something. She ran out of cover with lighting speed. The Mandalorians now focused fire on her, but she was too fast. They couldn't get a good shot, and now her troops had a little extra breathing room. But it wouldn't be enough.

"Use the heavy weapon, take those weaklings down!"

She looked up, seeing a particularly large walkway. This must've been the main path joining the bow and stern sides of the hangar. Several dozen bucketheads were on it, using their high ground to snipe and kill her comrades. One had a large rocket launcher. He was aiming it at the many soldiers crowded behind the broken starfighter. "Not my men, not on my watch!"

He fired, but she extended her free hand, straining to call power from the Force. The rocket arced in a U-shape, right back at them. She smiled a bit as she could hear "WHAT?" In the enemies' minds. As the rocket hurtled towards the scrambling men, she flicked three fingers, and armed grenades on three of their belts.

It was timed perfectly; the three grenades went off at the same time the rocket impacted, creating a truly immense explosion, frying several of them in their armor. It also caused that walkway to collapse, and the dozens of Mandalorians on it fell several stories, screaming, landing onto the unforgiving durasteel. Republic soldiers cheered, and Oka shouted "now there's a soldier right there! Take 'em out! Kill 'em all!"

"Don't get too cocky," Commander Foster retorted into the comm, "We need to get out of this hangar! We're sitting ducks in the open."

Meku stretched out with her feelings, trying to feel where was best to go. She could sense a massive amount of enemies coming from… the right. The stern. That was where the crew quarters must've been. "Left, Ma'am!" Meku shouted, pointing with one hand while deflecting blaster bolts with the other. "I'll cover your approach, go!"

"You heard the Jedi, go that way! Move, move move!" Brax stood out of cover and laid down a tidal wave of shots with his heavy repeater. The squad followed suit, Meku right next to them. She sensed a sniper on a smaller bridge, above. He was drawing a bead on Brax, ready to fire right at his head. She stepped forward and deflected the bolt right back into his T-visored helmet.

"These blast doors are locked," Foster shouted. Meku stretched out with her senses again, and she could feel the ship's commanders on the Bridge. All ground-level doors in and out were locked; they intended to trap the boarders and kill them all here, in the open. No matter how good they were, Meku and her comrades couldn't stand up to a battleship full of Mandalorians. Not in the open like this.

"All of them are, we have to find another way through."

"Oka, get over here and slice this terminal!" Foster pointed to a terminal next to the door. "Everyone, cover him," Foster barked. Oka, frustrated that he couldn't kill more enemies, ran at full speed, supercharged with adrenaline. Meku ran right next to him, deflecting shots away. He didn't slow down, instead slamming into the wall with his arm.
"Smart, he used the wall to slow his momentum so he could stay at top speed."

Oka inserted a card into the terminal and his fingers began flying across its keys. The enemy could see what he was trying to do and focused fire on him. Meku's saber became a propellor, deflecting shot after shot. This gave her comrades more room to attack the enemy, but not much. In the background, she could hear Oka's thoughts.

"Hmmm, strange encryption, straaaaaange encryption. Buckets, they're smarter than I thought, may need another comp-spike. Move this line of code here, what happens? Ahhh, I see. So that one corresponds to that one, must mean..."

The Force diverted Meku's attention upward, and she could see several enemies putting a heavy turret together. It'd mow down dozens of her men. But there was still a flood of bolts being aimed at Oka, and she couldn't do anything about it for fear of him getting hit.

"Sarge," she shrieked, "turret on the rafters!"

Jimny perked up from his cover behind a broken starfighter. He scanned the upper deck and found the turret, nearly done setting up. He frantically shouted a few things at Brax and Luay.

After a few moments, Brax and Luay simultaneously popped their heads out and started laying down cover fire. Jimny had pulled two grenades and lobbed them, one after the other. The round projectiles sailed across the hangar, the first one landing right at the feet of the turret. The turret was set up and ready to fire; its gunner took aim.

Skrrrrrr!

The grenade blew, but instead of exploding in a fireball, it coated the turret, the walkway, and several men with quick-freeze ice. The second grenade landed shortly after, and went off. For a split-second, it silenced everything in the hangar before making a loud pwaaaaaaahng! It was a seismic grenade. The soundwaves shattered the ice, which blasted apart the turret, the walkway, and all the guns the enemies were holding. Several of them fell to the ground.

"You ain't cool, so get on my level!"

Meku's jaw dropped in astoundment, and she nearly missed a blaster bolt. Not only did this man have insane skill, but he cracked jokes while people were fighting and dying around him. Jimny was… something else. She couldn't help but have a confused respect for someone like that.

"Got it," Oka announced, "it's open!" Several doors opened, giving the troops an escape route. One of the mercenaries saw his chance and sprinted to the nearest door, shoving aside a soldier. A blaster bolt went straight through the back of his skull, and he collapsed to the floor.

"Blast! Keep your damn discipline!" The rage was clear in Foster's voice. "Retreat pattern four, go!"

Meku had no idea what "retreat pattern four" meant, so she stood by the door, deflecting shots away while trying to watch and learn. Pattern four entailed some sort of leapfrogging. Soldiers further back laid down cover fire, while those closest to the enemy ran back and found cover. Rinse, and repeat. Some soldiers were wounded and had to be carried by their comrades. Many others were just dead, left behind.

Everyone seemed to execute the retreat well, other than the mercenaries. They just ran straight into the doors the moment they had the chance, leaving the soldiers hanging dry. "Cowards!" Now she understood Jimny's contempt for them.

Commander Foster and Meku's squad remained outside the blast door, covering everyone's retreat. The soldiers' retreat was infuriating the Mandalorians, and Meku could feel their red-hot anger. Her senses could hear their frantic comms to command; "They're retreating to the bow! No, they unlocked the blast doors, sir. What? I don't know HOW. They outnumber us and have a Jedi. We need reinforcement, unlock the blast doors on the stern-side!" Meku smiled in satisfaction.

 


 

After a few minutes, the last of the soldiers ran or were carried in. Meku was the last one in, and the blast door sealed right behind them, Oka furiously working a terminal on the inside. "Magnetically sealed, and rogue firewall in the system. Gonna take 'em some time to get this sucker open again," Oka exclaimed, beaming with pride. Republic troopers were leaning on the wall, trying to catch their breath.

"You download the ship's schematics?"

"In my sleep, ma'am. Already beamed to everyone's datapads."

Commander Foster wordlessly pulled her datapad and studied it for a quick moment. Meku looked at it too, and her Force-senses filled in the hallways and corridors with bloodthirsty enemies. What was most relevant was the path to the bridge. It was a short way; the hangar was a lot closer to the bridge than it was to the stern and engines.

There were three main paths to the bridge. The middle one was a big, central hallway. Meku guessed this was where officers and crewmen walked to the bridge from crew quarters to begin duties. The one on the left led to a Quartermaster's warehouse, where lots of supplies and consumables were stored. She sensed heavy enemy presence on both of these paths; the Mandalorians were trying to guard what was most important to them.

The path to the right led to a repair shop, where broken droids, blasters, and other things would be worked on. Those three paths made a fork-shape, and were connected to each other by several smaller hallways. At their end, the three paths converged into one. This one path only went on for a few dozen feet before ending at the bridge's doors.

"That's the most direct way to the Bridge," she pointed the central hallway out to Meku.

"No, ma'am, we can't take that way," Meku responded. "Enemies are setting up a heavy defense perimeter there. It'll be suicide."

"You can sense that?" Brax wore a face that was impressed and flabbergasted.

"Yeah…" Meku could feel almost a hundred Mandalorians in that hallway, entrenched in cover, with all their gun barrels pointed right where the Republic soldiers would come in. She could feel the thoughts and bloodlust. She could see the red mist in their eyes, their hearts pounding at the opportunity to just shred the enemy without mercy.

"Aint'cha glad she's on our side?" Jimny looked proud.

"Quiet, you. Let me figure this out," Foster reined him in. "So Master Jedi, where is least heavily guarded?"

Meku pointed to the right path. "There."

"Looks like a… repair shop." Foster read the words on her screen. "Through there?"

"Yes, Ma'am."

"Makes sense," she rubbed her chin. "They don't care about a bunch of broken droids." She typed something into her datapad before turning back to the resting troopers. "Back on your feet, now!" Foster's yell even scared Meku, who was standing normally. "We need to press forward. I've beamed the paths to your datapads, let's move!"

Chapter Text

The large Republic force sped through the battleship's halls. True to Meku's word, the path they took was very lightly guarded, and they only encountered a handful of enemies. Every single terminal they passed, Oka sliced into. He would seal doors and open others to reroute the enemies pursuing them. He filled the shipboard comm channels with white noise, preventing the Mandalorians on the ship from talking to each other. At one point, he even overloaded some electrical systems in a nearby holding cell, frying the dozen Mandalorians waiting for them.

In a short time, they were almost to the bridge, having taken very few casualties. They were in the repair shop, and the men had been given a short time to scavenge it for anything they could use. Oka was on another terminal, working his magic.

"Whoa, whoa, I almost got locked out! Someone hand me another spike, quick!" Another Republic soldier handed him the spike, and he quickly inserted it, giving him an advantage to hack into the ship's systems. "Was close, that. I think there's another slicer somewhere in the ship trying to counter my hacks." He smiled, eager for the challenge to his skill. "It's time for a fight!"

"How do two slicers fight each other?" Meku knew what slicing was - essentially hacking into computers and droids to reprogram them. But she'd never heard of two slicers "fighting" each other. She always felt in over her head around these people, and again cursed the Order for not educating her on these things.

His fingers became a blur as he furiously worked the computer terminal, "Quick-draw match. Both slicers hide their location from the other, at same time, also try to find the other slicer. Find the other guy first, you win."

"Win?"

"Can do whatever you want. Lock him outta the system, even overload his terminal, fry him to death. That's my plan, anyway." She could hear the next words spoken in his head, "They all deserve to die, slow." The words in his mind were primal, guttural, as if spoken by someone with a knife in the teeth.

"If he finds you?"

"Won't. 'Nother spike, quick!" Nearby soldiers patted down their pockets, searching. Meku could sense the mercenaries; they had spikes, but didn't want to give them up. Spikes only cost a few credits to buy, but their greed was so powerful, they couldn't even give that away. "C'mon, needa spike! Want 'em to find us in here?"

After a moment, one merc rolled his eyes and tossed Oka a spike. He sighed, as if the inconvenience of losing a few creds was as bad as losing his life to the Mandalorians. Oka stuck the spike into the terminal, pressed a few final buttons, and sighed in relief. "Found that SOB. Engine cooling room. He's ash now, though. Good slicer… almost had me."

"Good job, Oka." Foster patted him on the shoulder. "Now let's make our way into the bridge. See if you can't open a couple blast doors."

Before Oka could respond, Meku had a bad feeling. "Ma'am, stop. I sense something."

"What is it?"

"That huge force guarding the main hall, the one we avoided. They're getting suspicious. They might be rerouted to us if we don't do something." Foster's eyes widened; if that many enemies tried to attack, her force would be lucky to even get out alive. Especially if they were sandwiched between the bridge guards and the pursuing Mandalorians, who had finally bust through the hangar doors and followed them.

"Is there a way we can kill 'em? Hack into their turrets or something?"

"They're not auto-turrets, they're manual. Can't control 'em with these terminals," Oka responded, not looking up from the screen.

"And I'm guessing none of these junk-piles are in working order." She pointed to the black-painted battle droids.

"A few, but not enough to make a difference."

"How long do we have till those bridge guards leave?"

"I'm not sure…" Meku could feel the suspicion rising, like steam in a pot. It hadn't boiled over, but it would soon. "Not long."

"Shit… we'll make a fighting retreat then."

"What!" Oka was enraged, and looked up from his terminal for the very first time. "After we've come this far?"

"There's no choice."

"We need to slaughter these animals for what they've done!"

"Think rationally."

"I can figure something out! I'm sure of it! Just give me a minute," Oka pleaded.

"Fall in line, soldier. That's an order."

The air was pregnant with tension. Oka had an intense desire for revenge. The Mandalorians were ravaging his homeworld as they just stood there. And if he couldn't take out one of their battleships, he'd be damned if he didn't die trying. But if he defied Commander Foster, he'd be thrown in the Brig. And all the Hearth's soldiers would die. They remained silent, and Meku eyed the handful of functioning droids. They were human-shaped. Painted black. Black… just like the fatigues on the Republic soldiers. There were five of these droids.

"Take off your vest and helmets!" Meku shouted at no one in particular.

"Jedi.. what?" Foster's face was confused, but Brax and Jimny just smiled and gave each other a knowing look.

"Well, thanks to Oka, they don't know where we are… yet. If we put our battle armor and helmets on these working droids, they'll look like Republic soldiers… kinda. We activate them, and send them running on…" she pulled out her datapad and pointed out a smaller, winding path, "this way. They'll run into the pursuers from the hangar. The hangar pursuers think they've caught our rearguard. The droids will lead the hangar pursuers on a wild Bantha chase to the Quartermaster's area, opposite of where we are. Bridge guards will be rerouted and head there instead of here. We put smoke grenades on these droids so, when they get shot, poof, all smoke all over. Once the Mandos are tricked into the QM's, they shoot the droids. Smoke everywhere. Both forces are blind, and we magnetically seal them in there. That gives us time to get to the bridge and commandeer the ship."

"Private Sakaroto, you're a crazy woman…" Without finishing the sentence, Foster began barking out orders at lightspeed. She had a squad take off their body armor and put it on the droids while Oka scrambled to reprogram each one. Many soldiers frantically strapped smoke grenades to the droids. Brax put his helmet on a droid, and Jimny had the creative idea to put some comms on the droids and have them on max volume, to make it sound like they were talking.

To avoid getting consumed by nervous thoughts, Meku knelt and meditated, feeling for any danger or movement. Thankfully, the Mandalorians were being diverted in circles by Oka's mastery with the terminals. And they were running into many obstacles, from reprogrammed auto-turrets to locked doors to venting of toxic gas.

After several tense minutes, the droids were sent on their way. A vanguard of the Republic's force slowly approached the bridge, taking care not to take attention away from the droids. The rest stayed in the repair room. Oka stayed on a terminal, watching the droids' progress.

"They spotted the Mandos from the hangar, quick, say something."

Jimny wore a massive smile as he spoke, "Enemy contact! We gotta warn the rest of the force!"

Meku could feel the payoff in the pursuers' minds; after all this time of being trapped, sabotaged, and attacked by the automated systems "on our own flamin' ship," finally they caught the bastards that did this. They recklessly pursued the running droids.

The plan worked without a hitch. The running droids ran down that winding path and into the Quartermaster's. The bridge-guards were finally diverted, most of them running to the QM's, lusting to kill their enemy. The droids ran into the QM's and were killed by the force guarding it, smoke clouds filling the large storage area. The pursuers ran in shortly after.

As a pleasant surprise, the bridge-guards and the pursuers even fired on each other in the chaos of the smoke.

When most of the Mandalorians had crowded in the Quartermaster's warehouse, Oka magnetically sealed its doors. He overloaded the terminal on the inside, so they couldn't open the door from in there.

"They're sealed in!"

"Then let's move!" Foster gave the command and the force, ready to go, charged towards the bridge.

Chapter Text

In moments, the boarding party reached the bridge's doors. Meku's squad and Foster's elite guards would bust into the bridge. The rest of the troops stayed behind to ambush the remaining bridge-guards from behind, and clear a path for retreat. Oka sliced the terminal to allow them into the locked bridge.

"Formation, door entry, pattern 1," Foster ordered, "except you, Jedi." Foster tossed her a grenade. "You toss this in the moment the door opens. When it blows, you go in. We go behind you. Got it?"

"Yes, Ma'am." She caught the grenade, and looked down at it, unfamiliar. She'd never thrown a grenade but hey, how hard could it be? She only sensed dozen or two in the bridge, and most of them were focused on piloting the ship. None were suspicious. She saw the squads taking position on either side of the door. They looked at her, impetuous. "Well, now or never." She ignited her saber and nodded to Oka, who opened the door with a whoosh.

Meku stood straight in front, and tossed the grenade inside at the surprised Mandalorians. "Now get in cover!" Jimny beckoned her to get away from the opening. Meku was confused. "I can deflect their shots, right? Why would I need to -"

Pop!

The flash grenade went off, blinding Meku and making her ears ring. She instinctively bent down, averting her eyes from the flash.

"Dammit! She's stunned. Move, move, move!" She could barely hear Foster's commands over the ringing in her ears. She had to move forward. She couldn't disappoint them. Meku, her eyes closed and ears ringing, was only guided by the Force. A few of the Mandalorians recovered quickly from the blast, and fired at her. Without thinking, she deflected the blasts with her saber.

"Easy, just like when I was a youngling!" She remembered many a practice session blindfolded. Meku could sense the soldiers around her. Jimny, Brax, and Luay stayed by her, while Foster's squad sprinted forward, taking cover near computer arrays, controls, or anything they could find. They fired relentlessly at the Mandalorian crew, who were taken completely by surprise.

However, it only took the enemy a few moments to recover. Several had been killed by the surprise attack, but the ones remaining fought back with dogged tenacity. Meku's ears were still ringing, but she could at least see now. One of Foster's commandos peeked out of cover for a second too long, cocky that the Mandos were still blinded. He was shot in the shoulder, dropped his weapon, and fell out of cover.

Meku had to stop herself from running straight to the soldier, shielding him from further fire. Jimny and the rest of them were still behind her, and she'd leave them in the open if she went to his aid. Meku cringed as he was riddled with blaster bolts, and the smell of sizzling flesh reminded her of Randon. Another man in Foster's squad dragged him by the ankles back into cover, but it was too late. He was dead.

"Jedi, we're pinned down over here. A little help would be nice!"

Meku was frozen though, unsure what to do. She thought about flanking them, but an equal number of enemies were firing at her and Foster's squads. And really, that was the only trick she knew. Other than, well, charge at them and slice them up with her purple laser sword. But that would leave her squad open, just like saving Foster's guard would have. What in the hell was she supposed to think of?

"Sarge?" Jimny always had a plan.

"Get close to the wall and start advancing on them. You're our cover. Men, ready vibroblades."

She complied, walking towards the wall. Jedi and soldiers together were a force to be feared. Meku was essentially a moving, invincible, one-way cover; she would block any shots at her comrades, but they could fire freely from behind her without fear of getting hit. A Mandalorian realized this and decided to change the stakes a little.

"Protect the Captain, I'll handle her." He flicked a button on his wrist, surrounding him with a blue aura, and then drew a double-bladed vibrosword. "For Clan and Honor!" He charged at her, full speed.

"Smart buckethead..." By engaging Meku in melee, he would stop her from protecting her comrades. Even if Meku killed him, he'd buy his comrades time to shoot and maneuver. And he'd be able to buy them a lot of time; the blue aura around him was a personal energy shield. That plus his armor would make it punishingly hard on Meku to take him out.

The squad tried to blast him, but the shots were absorbed harmlessly by his shield. He'd be on Meku in seconds.

"Fall back, find cover," Jimny ordered.

"Wait!" Meku drew her hand back and shot her palm out, Force-pushing him. But her feats in the battle earlier exhausted her. She meant to send Double-Blade flying, knocking him into his remaining men. Instead, she just knocked him on his back. An agile warrior, the man used the momentum to roll backwards and land on his feet. He charged at Meku again. She was going to have to duel him, sword-to-sword.

"Fall back, find cover," she cried.

"I just said- ah, space it!" Jimny and the squad ran to a nearby computer terminal and took cover. Meku braced herself as the Mandalorian charged at her. He swung relentlessly with his double-blade, while the remaining enemies fought off the Republic's soldiers. In the window, three Hammerhead cruisers were firing at the ship.

This one was fast, much faster than Vibroblade was. She could sense his mind, working faster than what should be possible. He must've been hopped up on stimulants; Mandalorians were known to use them to enhance their already-fearsome abilities. His reflexes were almost Jedi-level. Almost. Meku feinted high and right, as if she was going to swing down and cut off his arm at the shoulder. Double-Blade brought his sword above his head to block, and she quickly changed direction, spun, and swung from the lower left, bending down to chop his leg off at the knee.

He was too slow to block, and her saber made contact with his knee.

And gave her a slight shock as the shield easily deflected it. "Son of a!" He took advantage of Meku's surprise to knee her in the face. In one fluid motion, he grabbed her long hair, lifted her up, and brought his sword up to stab her in the guts. Meku had a split-second do to something, anything.

She couldn't swing at him; the energy shield wasn't depleted yet, and he still had that nigh-magical armor. His grip was too strong to wriggle out of, and she couldn't do enough damage with a kick or punch to help. There was only one thing to do.

She flicked her wrist and cut her hair short in one swift slice. She fell to the floor, twisting her body to avoid the blade aimed right at her guts. It missed her by millimeters. She landed on her feet and used the twisting momentum to her advantage. She twisted around and hit him in the ribs, hard, with her lightsaber. She smiled in satisfaction as his wrist sparked. She'd overloaded his shield.

She was going to swing again, upwards from his rib, and take his arm off at the shoulder, between his armor plates. But the Force warned her of something. An intent to kill, moments before the finger pulled the trigger across the room. She pivoted around to deflect the disruptor bolt tearing towards her, and Double-Blade took advantage of this, pressing forward, swinging with unbelievable speed.

"If you could wait just ONE second!"

She blocked swing after swing, looking for any opening. But he was good. He had been trained from birth to fight, as had many Mandalorians. His technique was tight, and the stims made things even better. Meku tried to dance around and use her long blade's reach to her advantage, but he knew this too. Double-Blade kept close to her. Every time Meku stepped back, he ruthlessly pressed forward, matching her steps inch for inch.

Meku reached out with her feelings, trying to see if her comrades were able to help. They were too busy fighting off the rest of the Mandos, she was alone. "Channel your inner Jimny. Think outside the box… Think of something… anything… Damn, he's relentless, why won't he just hang on and let me think- Wait. Hang on. That's it!"

She gestured upwards, and Double-Blade flew towards the ceiling. His sword buried itself in the durasteel, and he hung there, trying desperately to yank it out. With the other hand, she threw her lightsaber, and it buried itself between his chest plates, running him through. His body drooped, his grip on the sword relaxed, and he fell to the floor.

Before Meku could will the lightsaber back to her, she sensed more fire coming from the enemies. "One at a time guys, please!" She jumped and dodged around, and finally brought the saber to her hands. Thankfully, her comrades took advantage of the Mandalorians' attention being fixed on her. Jimny's squad drew vibroblades and charged at the remaining buckets, while Foster's squad laid down cover fire.

Meku noticed the captain had his helmet off, and Brax ran right at him, screaming at the top of his lungs. She could sense inside his head, he was amped up because Meku was in danger. He became more courageous and reckless, swinging relentlessly. The Mandalorian blocked a couple of Brax's hits, but wasn't able to block his head. Brax headbutted this one with his unforgiving horns. Whap! The Mandalorian bled from his eyes and face, and blood dripped down Brax's face, giving him a demonic look as the enemy fell to his knees.

Jimny too, was showcasing his masterful skills. He held a vibro-dagger in one hand and a pistol in the other. Stab, shoot, headshot. Mando still alive. Swing, dodge, kick, shoot, neck-shot, stab, finished him off. "Better luck necks time!" Next enemy, shoot, stab, dodge...

"No sense just watching." Meku screamed the best war cry she could manage, and charged into the melee. She ran at a bucket who had managed to disarm Oka, knock him down, and was about to bisect him right through the chest. "No you don't, buckethead!" She stabbed this one right in the back, but missed the mark slightly. Instead of slipping smoothly into the gaps between the armor, her saber was deflected by the Beskar backplate.

The Mandalorian turned around and extended her arm and fist, like she was going to fire a wrist-rocket. Meku tensed up, ready to jump out of harm's way. Instead, lightning came out of the enemy's wrist, and Meku used her saber to block. The Mandalorian then charged at her, vibrosword above her head, ready to kill.

Now, Meku was defenseless. If she moved the saber, she'd get shocked by thousands of volts. If she stayed still, she'd get sliced by the vibrosword. All she could do was back away, until that Shock Arm ran out of energy. But Meku sensed something coming towards her

Jimny was fighting another buckethead nearby. He took a split-second to throw Meku his extra blaster pistol, and scream his order, "shoot that scow!" She caught it with her free hand and pointed it to the advancing enemy. She fired, but the shot arced up and hit the ceiling. She cursed, and shot again, but this one went harmlessly into a nearby HoloScreen.

"I said shoot HER!" Jimny was skilled enough to tease her, even with his vibro-dagger buried under another Mandalorian's chin.

"I'm fraggin' trying!" She shot again, and actually hit the enemy, but this shot was absorbed by the her chest armor. It didn't matter though. Only a few seconds more and the Shock Arm would run out of energy, and Meku could finish her off with her lightsaber. But no such luck. A blaster bolt coursed through her helmeted head, and the Mandalorian dropped dead. Luay stood to the side, and quipped, "you're welcome."

"Thanks, Luay." Meku looked around, but the rest of the Mandalorians were dead. Or, what was that euphemism the Navy liked to use so much? Eliminated. That's right, 'targets eliminated.' Meku's shoulders heaved as she tried to catch her breath.

Foster's men "sweeped" the room, searching for hostiles that were hiding. Luay helped Oka off the floor. Jimny, bleeding slightly, gestured for his blaster back. Meku tossed it over, her face red out of embarrassment. She could hear him think, "needa train that stupid idiot how to shoot a damn gun. Who in the galaxy don't know how to shoot a blaster?! Stupid idiot."

Meku giggled though. "We, we did it guys!" She exhaled sharply and giggled again, the adrenaline giving way to a natural high.

"Shape up, Jedi," Foster killed her buzz. "We won't have done it 'till we're back safe on the Hearth." Meku nodded and suppressed the giggles. Before she could say anything, the ship rocked underneath them, and one of the computers made a new noise.

"What's that mean?"

"Shields are down. Oka, set up a comm with those Hammerheads, before we're casualties of friendly fire."

"Ma'am," he ran over to a nearby comm terminal and sighed in relief when he found out it wasn't shot. He prodded a few buttons and, a minute later, a voice was hailed over the speaker. Meku could sense his confusion at being called by the enemy ship.

"Captain Vox of cruiser Teamster's Pride here."

"Commander Maxine Foster, of cruiser Hearth's Marines, sir!" She stopped what she was doing to stand at attention. Even though the Captain couldn't see her, the habit was as ingrained in her head as a basic instinct. "Our forces have taken over this Kyramud battleship, and we're on the bridge now. Please cease fire, or you'll kill hundreds of friendlies. There's a Jedi on board!"

"Foster, how do we know it's you?"

Foster growled. "I'm going to have the ship stop firing." she turned to Oka. "Go divert power away from all weapons systems." He gave a curt nod before sprinting to the other side of the bridge and working the controls for Main and Auxiliary Power. After the guns were powered down, Foster spoke. "Do you believe us now?"

"Copy that, Commander. You've done well; both us and the Prospector were out of shields and taking damage. Thanks for the save."

As Commander Foster and Captain Vox spoke, Meku looked out the massive windows. She could see the battle raging on, further out. The Mandalorian Dreadnought was still leading the charge, and the defending fleet was being absolutely wrecked. Even the titanic Inexpugnable-class was disabled from heavy damage.

She knew Revan's reinforcements were coming in soon, but it may not be soon enough. Perhaps there was a way to tip the scales before he got there… but how? "Just 'cause you can fight, doesn't mean you can war." Being unpredictably creative was key, and she tried to think of something that'd help.

"Jedi, hello? Sakaroto, can you hear me? Meku?"

"Oh!" She snapped to attention at Jimny's confused face. "Sorry sir, just spaced out there for a minute." "Heh heh… spaced out."

"We're gonna head out, soon as Oka's done working his magic."

"What do we do with this battleship, sir?"

"Oka's gonna disable the weapons systems and divert power away from the shields. We'll wreck all these controls, and those three Hammerheads are gonna hit it with everything they got, blow this ship to hell and gone. And we make a mad dash for the hangar, get out before we get vaporized."

"I've got a better idea." Foster had to stop herself from smiling. Meku's plans bordered on the insane. She pointed out the window. "That dreadnought. Let's ram it. Take out two mynocks with one stone."

Foster spoke up, "It's useless, Private. We're too far away, they'll have plenty of time to divert course."

"Exactly! Someone hand me a datapad." Meku closed her eyes, and Brax handed her his 'pad. Eyes still closed, Meku searched the Force for her answer, before typing it in. "There. Point the ship to those coordinates. It's a miss."

"A miss?" Everyone in the room was now thoroughly confused.

"I've foreseen what the Dreadnought will do. It'll see this battleship barreling toward it. It won't calculate the specific trajectory; too busy fighting. It'll just assume we've plotted a crash course and move out of the assumed path. It'll move to those coordinates. And be hit."

Everyone had their eyes wide open, mouths agape.

"You've… foreseen this?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"Kid, can you foresee the lottery numbers too? Stock market, maybe?" Jimny had a big grin on his face, and some soldiers chuckled.

"Shut it, Devore," Foster ordered. "I'm taking a leap of faith on you, Jedi. Oka, plug in those coordinates and divert all power to sublight engines. Everyone else, start breaking everything. Don't want 'em to take back control once we scram." The remaining soldiers scattered about, dutifully wrecking all the controls. Except Luay, who pulled his datapad out. Meku smiled and had to repress a chuckle; even now, he was trying to sneak a little video gaming in. Before he could even unlock it, Jimny intervened.

"LUAY!" Jimny grabbed it out of his hand. "Put that blasted thing back, now is not the time!"

"Sorry sir," Luay looked down as he was handed the 'pad back.

"If I see it again, so help me, I'm spacing you'n that damn thing out the airlock. Got it?"

"Yessir, sorry sir." Jimny responded with an exacerbated sigh before he marched off and continued blasting controls. She smiled at Luay's carefree abandon.

Meku walked in front of a big panel of screens. It looked expensive, and important. She shrugged, activated her saber, and had at it. She swung wildly at the thing, slashing through it several times. It smoked, sparked, and fizzled. She kept going until she seemed sure it was totally unusable. "That was kinda fun!" She smiled, and the ship started to move. It would soon be time to go.

"I see that smile, kid." Jimny pointed at her, teasingly. "Always a fun day at work when you get to break shit!"

"Truly a shame we don't get to do it more often," Brax agreed, taking a Mandalorian disruptor and blasting another bank of controls until it was scrap.

"Leave the comms alone, though," Jimny ordered, "I wanna send 'em a... special message." With that, he sauntered over to the comm controls and plugged in a new frequency.

"Admiral Kol'ra here. I notice you're headed our direction. Have you repelled those boarders? And we still see those three Hammerhead cruisers there, have you disabled them?"

"Well heeeeeeeeey there." Jimny spoke with the most mischievous smile Meku had ever seen. "Hope y'alls doing good over there. Just your friendly neighborhood boarders here, giving you a little call." Oka was nearly done, and the rest of the equipment was all but destroyed. Meku and Brax stood by Jimny to listen; they knew this was gonna be good.

"Scum!" His rage was apparent through the loudspeaker. "Don't think your small victory will earn you anything. You'll all be dead soon. You taint the might of a Kyramud battleship with your pathetic excuse for warriors. We will wipe you out."

"Weaklings!" He gave a hearty laugh. "You should quit and be a comedian, man, you're too good. I think I'm standing on the bucketheaded weaklings I just killed. And Key? Kira-class? Kyramud-class? Ugly-ass name for a battleship, prolly uglier than your own face. Ain't that why you wear them buckets over your heads?"

"Laugh now. I swear to you, we will avenge this. We will slaughter you, and take back our mighty ship."

"Oh, no no no. No need for that, big guy. We gon' give it back." Oka was done now, just arming a bomb on the power controls he was messing with. Foster was making several 'let's go' gestures, but Jimny was having way too much fun to leave.

"Give it back?"

"Yeah, it's too ugly and, uh, weak for us mighty Republic soldiers. Y'can have it back. Emergency docking procedure, we'll say. It'll be a hit!" Commander Foster hardened her gaze and made a more firm gesture.

"How DARE you-"

"Aaaaaanywho, yeah hey, good chat, good chat, but I gotta go. Enjoy the emergency docking procedure, it'll be smashing good fun!" With that, Jimny pulled his pistol and blasted the comm controls.
"Sheesh, how rude. No welcome wagon. Ain't even invite us over for a beer."


Aboard the Kandosii-class Dreadnought, Admiral Kol'ra turned to one of his navigators. "Tal'ad. A Kyramud-class battleship, I need its trajectory."

"Sir, it's headed right for us."

"Dammit! That Republic weakling wasn't bluffing. But they're stupid, the ship is too far out. We've got plenty of time to move."

"If you give me a minute, I can calculate the specific trajectory, down to the meter."

"No time, we need to track all these ships we're fighting. Fire boosters, move the ship. Forwards and slightly starboard. Try and cut off that corvette before it can screen our Basilisks. And let me know if the Tal'ad diverts course."

"Sir!"

Chapter Text

Thanks to their cleverness, the path from the bridge to the hangar bay was nearly unguarded. But Meku could sense several hundred enemies in the hangar, furious, ready to kill. They may have to sacrifice themselves to take out that Dreadnought. Meku didn't feel scared, though. Strangely, she felt at peace.

She'd been confronted with her own mortality so many times, just today, that she accepted the very real possibility that this day would be her last. She looked around at the soldiers with her. Jimny, Brax, Luay, Oka. They were her comrades. She'd only known them for a few months, but already she felt a bond to them stronger than she'd ever felt to anyone in her life. Stronger than to Master Kunas, and stronger than with Sak. If they were with her, she was okay with dying today.

After all, there was no way she and the weary Republic soldiers would be able to fight through the horde of Mandalorians that awaited them. But, Meku felt they wouldn't have to. Yes, some presence was nearby that was going to take care of them.


The hangar was utter chaos. Three Aurek fighters had flown into the hangar bay and switched to hover-mode, and were relentlessly mowing down the Mandalorians with their heavy laser cannons. The bucketheads' blasters were no use against the fighters' shields, and no one had brought any heavy weapons or rockets. Parts of the hangar were aflame, sparks were flying. Some Mandalorians ran for cover, some tried to fight back, others just stumbled over each other in the ruckus.

Neff was one of the pilots, and Meku could sense the blood on his hands, and staining his teeth. He was enjoying the wanton slaughter, just like Meku enjoyed smashing that screen. His hunger for revenge was finally being sated.

Behind the fighters came Ministry transports. Foster screamed orders for the men to board, but Meku barely heard. All that was occupying her mind was Neff's sheer rage. And more than that… his smile.

Meku could hardly register anything else. Neff's smile overtook all of her senses. She was almost in a trance, as if she was walking in a dream. The smile. Neff was enjoying this. His teeth were stained in blood, he was a predator that had bitten into its kill. By now, the enemy had already scattered and were in full rout. No one was even shooting the Republic's soldiers; that should have been enough. But no.

He took absolute joy in the slaughter. Vaporizing Mandalorians left and right. The horror in their hearts fueled him, made him want more, made that smile absolutely ooze blood. "Run, you insects. Scream in fear. Call yourselves warriors? Pathetic! You deserve this. You all deserve this for what you've done! This is payback!"

Pain from Vanquo and other massacres at the enemy's hands filled his mind. He was allowed to enjoy this. They weren't people. They were insects, worthless things who slaughtered and pillaged. The darkness emanating from Neff's fighter clouded Meku, to the point where she could barely even see.

She didn't even register Brax, who grabbed her by the robes and dragged her onto the shuttle. Long after the troopers retreated, Neff's fighter was still there, blasting away. And that smile was all she could see in the darkness.


Admiral Kol'ra had a bad feeling. "Navigator, calculate the Tal'ad's specific trajectory."

"Yes, Admiral." A silent minute passed by before the navicomputer spat out the coordinates. "Um, sir…"

"I don't like the sound of that."

"It's headed right at us."

"What!? How could they know to aim the ship here? Why didn't they aim it where we were? There's no way… we could have moved in any direction, at any distance, and it's gonna hit us dead center."
"Can we move again? ETA to impact?"

"36 seconds, sir!"

"Shit!" Even his lifetime of training couldn't stop him from losing his composure now. Admiral Kol'ra raised his voice, his next commands bellowing across the bridge. "Divert all power to port-side shields! Brace for impact!"

It was too late. The battleship smashed into the side of the Kandosii dreadnought at full speed. Its shields, weakened from the Republic's barrage, couldn't protect the ship. The torpedo-shaped dreadnought's hull cracked, like a mountain hit by a meteor. The insect-shaped battleship continued on at full speed, its frantic crew unable to get the bridge controls working again. Inside both ships, crewmen were knocked over, slammed into walls, and turned into meat by the sheer, astronomical force of the impact.

A few seconds later, the shockwave from the collision overloaded the battleship's overclocked engines. A chain reaction ensued, causing the battleship to explode into a massive fireball, cracking the dreadnought's hull in half. The weary crews of the Republic ships cheered as the two pieces drifted away from each other. The force of the impact and explosion was too much for the hull, and the remaining pieces were slowly shearing apart.

Meku sensed the screams of terror as the thousands of Mandalorians aboard both ships died. On the other side of the coin, she could feel the spirits of the Republic crewmen lift, their eyes seeing hope for the first time since the battle began. But, overpowering all that still, was Neff's bloodstained smile. She couldn't get it out of her head. "Insects. You all deserve this for what you've done."

"C'mon Meku, this is war, people die. You have to be okay with it… right?" She tried to focus on something positive. Hope. Yes! The hope of the Republic soldiers, now that the dreadnought was destroyed. But even that was not as satisfying as she thought. It was fading fast, as reality set back in. Duro's defense fleet, even with the reinforcements from the 16th battle group, were still outnumbered. Many ships were out of shields and badly damaged. Mandalorian vessels were outmaneuvering them, cutting them off from each other, picking them off one by one. All that work may have been for nothing, if Revan took too long to arrive.

As if by cue, Meku saw several dozen ships jump out of hyperspace from the shuttle's windscreen. They jumped out at exactly the right position, poised to fire at the enemy's vulnerable flanks and rear. Fighters launched from hangar bays seconds after jumping out. Revan's fleet was absolutely massive! It was full of ships; not just Hammerheads and Forays, but new types she'd never seen before. The childish wonder in her came out, and she gave a surprised "whoa!"

"Beautiful, ain't they?" Jimny smiled, full of pride. Today was a good day, and this was the icing on top.

"Look at the size of them!" Brax too was jostling to view the new fleet.

Jimny pointed at a new capital ship shaped like a shark's head, with its maw open. "Interdictor-class cruiser. 600 meters long, quadruple the tonnage of an ordinary Hammerhead, with even more firepower'n that." He pointed to another new ship, this one dagger-shaped. "Centurion-class battlecruiser. That's the new command ship."

"Thought the Inexpugnable-class was our command ship?"

"Meet its replacement. Half the size, yeah, but faster. More firepower. Stronger hull. Better shields. Other'n carrying capacity, a better ship in every way."

"You know a lot about this stuff, Sarge," Meku used her fascination at these new ships' design to distract her mind from that horrifying smile.

"Ain't nothing cooler than military hardware, tell ya what. Plus, just look at those beauties! WE built those!" He pantomimed wiping a tear from his eye. "Makes me proud to be part of this Republic."


Aboard the Legatus, a Centurion-class, Revan observed the chaotic field of battle. Through his immense power in the Force, he could feel the battlefield as if he was seeing a game board, and began thinking on where to place his pieces to best annihilate the enemy. But something was off. An enemy piece was missing, an important one. The Mandalorian dreadnought, it was nowhere to be seen.

Could it not be here? Were they holding it in reserve, hoping to ambush the ambushers? No, that made no sense. Intel reported the dreadnought was leading the charge. It would be foolish to retreat one ship when surrounded by enemies. But Revan knew the keys to war very well. Not strength, firepower, or numbers. The keys to war were information, deception, speed, money, and will to fight. A side with all five was almost guaranteed to win, no matter how powerful their enemy was. And Revan would get his information.

"Admiral Karath, hail the defense fleet's command ship. We were told there would be a dreadnought here, find out where it is."

"Yes, Commander Revan." After stellar performance in the first few battles, The Revanchist was promoted to Theater Commander. Charmingly, his military comrades shortened his name to Revan, just like they shortened damn near every word. He was still getting used to that. He loved hearing 'Commander Revan.'

It felt good to be in command. The title felt as good as the starstruck, blind faith his comrades had in him. Hope filled their eyes every time they laid eyes on him and his ironic Mandalorian's helmet. It lifted him up, spurned him to do better and better every day. These people were counting on him.

Admiral Naelsom, aboard the defense fleet's Inexpugnable-class, responded seconds later. "Admiral Karath, Commander Revan. It's an honor! What is your command?" He was a Duro, his flanging accent filling the speakers.

"Karath here. No command to give yet, but we inquire as to the location of the Kandosii dreadnought." His phrasing and upper-crust Coruscanti accent betrayed a man whose life was handed to him. He came from a wealthy family. A lifetime of education, training, and culturing produced him. Revan did like him, however. He may have lacked that primal fire of one intimate with struggle, but he was smart, well-trained, and loyal. "Intelligence informed us it was here."

"It was, sir. A strike team from cruiser Hearth boarded a Kyramud battleship, took control, and destroyed the dreadnought by ramming! Apparently it was the doing of a Jedi, who was with 'em. Your Jedi are really something, sir!" The excitement was palpable in Admiral Naelsom's voice; he was bowled over by the feats his heroes were capable of. Karath looked to Revan, who nodded, indicating he'd heard.

Yes, it made sense now. He felt an echo in the Force where the dreadnought should have been, like thousands of voices screamed in panic before being silenced in one swift stroke. But Admiral Naelsom failed in understanding; "In war, it doesn't matter the strength of your force, so long as you have the five keys. A good leader would win the war with zero Jedi. But," he conceded, "good soldiers help. A lot."
"Remind me to commend that Jedi."

Revan approached a massive HoloProjector, which took center stage in the Legatus' Bridge. It displayed the planet of Duro, its orbital cities, and all craft in orbit. Everything, from the titanic Inexpugnable-class to the snub fighters and Basilisks. It was modern, beautiful, allowing him a full view of any battle he commanded. It was an indispensable tool for a key to war, information.

Additionally, he could manipulate the holograms, physically moving ships, fighter squadrons, and flotillas to where he wanted them to be. He considered everyone's positions before reaching forward and moving the ships to his desired locations. Officers got on the comms and barked out orders, trying frantically to keep up with Revan's movements on the projector. "Like playing a board game," he mused.

"Weapons ready and charged, Commander!"

Revan pointed to another Kyramud-class battleship that had advanced forward, splitting the defense fleet. It was critical for the wounded ships to remain together. When they were split, they could be picked off easily. "Concentrate fire on that one."

Karath handled the more specific orders. "Dip the bow twelve degrees and fire at will, full auxiliary power to turbolaser batteries!"


Red and green lasers streaked across space, slamming into the weakened enemy hulls and shields. The ships couldn't handle their punishing barrage, some were eliminated within seconds. Most were unable to fire back, having the enemy caught behind them. Meku, Brax, Jimny, and Oka all jostled for a better view out of the windscreen. They did not heed the annoyed pilots, who asked several times not to be crowded.

"That's right," Oka shouted with fire and rage in his heart, "kill those slugs! Wipe them out!"

"Best firework show I ever seen."

Meku sensed the fear in the Mandalorians' hearts. Only minutes ago, they could taste their victory. They outnumbered the Republic, had outmaneuvered them, and even managed to hold off the 16th's reinforcement. Now, they were being shot in the backs, and the predator became prey. The fearsome Mandalorians would retreat.

True to Meku's prediction, ships started turning around while preparing lightspeed engines. Even on the orbital cities, Meku sensed them getting back onto their transports and Basilisks, riding off into space to escape the slaughter that was coming. Several ships were destroyed in the attempt to retreat, and scores of ground troops were killed as they tried to get away. Many soldiers and crewmen shared Neff's smile as they demolished the enemy. They burned hot with the fire for revenge. "All this time you've been killing us, now it's time to kill YOU."

"Buckets, getting into retreat position," Oka observed.

"S'the beautiful thing about the Interdictor."

"What's that," Brax asked. The talk snapped Meku out of her thoughts. Thankfully.

"C'mon, dummy, look at the name. Interdictor." Blank stares from Meku and Brax caused him to explain. "Means it can pull enemy ships outta hyperspace, and prevent ships from jumpin' away."

"I didn't even know that was possible!"

"Cutting edge, a revolution in warfare, that." Oka smiled, in admiration at the engineering that went into such a device.

"So they're sitting ducks," Meku asked.

"Yeah, 'less they surrender."

"Mandos are too proud for that," she noted. "If they can't retreat, they'll fight to the death. It's their warrior culture. Better to die a thousand deaths than surrender for a second."

"Warrior culture, my ass. Ain't gonna help 'em now."

True to Meku's word, the remaining ships re-positioned themselves when they realized they weren't going to be able to jump to lightspeed. They made a flower-shaped formation, purely defensive. They knew they were dead, and this was their last stand.

Meku's comm crackled, it was Foster. "New orders, we're going to an orbital city. Our mission is to mop up all enemy forces remaining."

"Sir," she turned to Jimny, "what does 'mop up' mean?"

He smiled and growled. "Means kill 'em all."

Meku looked down at her lightsaber. Her hands would be stained with blood. Something about this felt wrong. She knew it wasn't logical. They had the choice to surrender, but the damn bucketheads still fought. They were justified in "mopping up." But something about it felt dirty. It was Neff's damn smile. It ruined everything.

"Now is not the time, Meku. You must be strong. Just because he enjoyed it doesn't mean you have to. Do your damn duty! And, c'mon, is it really wrong to enjoy a victory?" She looked down at her lightsaber. The shuttle maneuvered onto an orbital city. Meku sensed a Jedi, a handful of Republic soldiers, and some of the braver civilians were fighting dozens of Mandalorians whose shuttle had been disabled.

"We're gonna land right behind 'em!"

"This is for them. This is for every life they've taken. This isn't wrong. This isn't wrong. This ISN'T wrong." She told herself over and over again. She stretched out her feelings to the Mandalorians.
She sensed an inner peace in them, and she remembered feeling that only a few minutes ago, in the mad dash to get off that battleship. They weren't scared. They accepted their deaths, some even making jokes or uplifting their friends. It shocked Meku to feel something in common with the enemy. They were always painted as heartless butchers. "But this is war. They should've surrendered. It's not my problem. I don't enjoy killing… but this isn't wrong. I'm doing the right thing." She gripped her saber tight. "I'm doing the right thing."

It was time.

The shuttle landed and Meku led the charge. Blood stained her teeth.

Chapter Text

"Kid, getting old is hard." After a long, hard day doing patrol, Jimny loved nothing more than teasing. "But you ain't gotta take it sitting down, I'm sure they make some product that'll help ya."

"Hey!" Meku put her hand on her head in embarassment. "Not funny!" Her slice during the fight with Double-Blade may have saved her life, but it massacred her with insults. Jimny, especially, had a habit for calling her 'male-pattern baldness' to rile her up. In the battle, she'd sliced her hair right at the top of her head, leaving the sides and back long. Not to mention the singing of her tips from the saber was't a good look either.

"Push comes to shove I'll plant seeds on your head or something. Yer a fashion catastrophe, kid."

"You're one to talk, you look like you got spat up by a Gamorrean."

"Your mother ain't did no such thing to me."

"True, she was too shocked she found a being in the galaxy uglier than her." Her wit was a lot sharper since when she first joined.

"Self-burn, nice. She got you, Sarge," Brax looked up, untying his boots and wiggling his smelly toes. "I'd rather kiss a Hutt… with all due respect."

"Hurrrrr. And your cooking smells worse'n a Hutt." He turned back to Meku. "No, but, for serious though. Let's hit up the ship's barber. It ain't a good look, seriously. Am I right, guys?"

"Can't relate, sir." Oka gave a goofy smile. "You humans and your head-fur. Makes no sense man, why you keep that nasty stuff on your head."

"Brax?"

"She'd look better with horns. Can the barber do that?"

Jimny sighed and rolled his eyes. "Luay? You got great hair, I know you're with me on that one."

Luay took several seconds to even register. After a wait, he looked up from his 'pad and said blankly, "what?"

"Oh for the love'a gosh. "Y'alls some stupid people... Kid, you're coming with me to the barber. 'Sides, after that, we're gonna do something you need."

"What's that, sir?"

"Ima train ya. You're good, but you can't shoot for shit, and you're rough 'round the edges. We really needa fine tune."

Meku's shoulders drooped a little; she was looking forward to relaxing, reading her books, maybe catching some podracing later. Plus, the squad trained all the time. When they weren't on duty patrol, they were training. In the past few weeks, Jimny showed her a lot of "patterns" for door entry, retreat, attack, flanking, and others. They'd also work out a lot, to have the strength and endurance to last in battle. Beyond those two, though, Meku trained separately from her squad. While they'd train with blasters, grenades, and the like, she would meditate, practice Force powers, and train in saber technique.

But he was right. She thought back to the fight on the battleship's bridge. Her missed shots could easily have hit one of her teammates. It wouldn't do for her to be a danger to her own squad. Plus, knowing how to use a blaster would be crucial if she was ever separated from her saber again. "You're right, sir. Let's go."

"Wasn't a request.. I also recommend the rest of you ladies get in the gym."


Sarge had to put considerable effort into hiding his shock.

In the beginning, it was normal, just like training any wide-eyed recruit. Aim with both eyes open, don't lean into the shot, stand like so, and no, hold it like this, y'idiot. The shock came hours later. Meku was learning fast. No, that was an understatement. She was learning at lightspeed.

In their few hours of training, Meku made more progress than most recruits did in months. As more hours passed, she was hitting consistent bulls-eyes with shotguns, pistols, rifles, and everything in between. Even moving targets were not safe from her barrages. "Kid's a fraggin' miracle."

"How'd I do, sir?"

"Eh. Decent. Y'need more practice." She gave him a skeptical look, he had to pretend he was deep in thought to not smile at her. "Thing is, good against holo-targets and remotes is one thing. Good in battle, well that'sa whole new thing. And I seen you in battle, you get too nervous. Sometimes you even miss with your lightsaber."

She paused to rub the back of her neck. Sarge could tell she was embarassed because she was so eager to impress him, and he couldn't help but feel a pang of pride at that. "How do I train for that?"

"Can't train for it. S'just something you get used to, the heat of battle. Comes with experience." She nodded, understanding. "Like the cut?"

"Way better than before, sir. It's not all over my face all the time and I don't have to tie it before battle. I don't know why I didn't do this before." They didn't have to wait long for the haircut; the starstruck barber let Meku cut in line. As such, they had much more time to train. The barber had shaved the sides of her head, and left the top long enough to comb sideways, barely reaching her ear. Her hair was boy-short now.

"Good. You look less like a teenager now. More like a soldier. Suits you. Now, let's keep training." He adjusted the remote droids' settings. "We'll simulate people actually shootin' at'cha this time."


Meku trained as best she could. She let the Force flow through her, guiding her hands and keeping her aim true. She trained harder with Jimny and the boys than she ever remembered in the Temple. She thought back to her younger days.

Group training with other younglings, learning how to wield the lightsaber for the first time. Learning to recite the tenets of the Jedi, and committing the code to memory. One of her very first memories involved the Jedi Code; a three-year-old Meku reciting it to her eager Master.

"...Deow is no case, deow is hammony. Deow is no death, deow is the Force" She couldn't even pronounce 'chaos,' 'harmony,' or even 'there,' but still knew the Code by heart. Her Master, then a young, virile Knight, nearly shed tears of joy.

"That's it, Meku, that's it! You learned it! Now say it again!"

Meku dutifilly recited the Code while her Master tried to calm his emotions. But with every line she spoke, he became even more excited. Her toddler-self thought he was just happy that she did a thing. It took her years to realize she was his pride and joy, and that everything she achieved meant the galaxy to him.

Once she had it by heart, no one in the entire Temple couldn't get her to shut up. She'd recite it in the shower, while getting dressed, while eating (and dribbling food down her chin), and recite it to everyone she met. There was many a time where Kunas would run into another Jedi, strike up a conversation, and Meku would tug at the other person's robes. When the other person said hello, she'd clear her throat and recite them the full Code.

Many times, she'd drive her Master up the walls by knocking on his door in the middle of the night to recite him the Code. She chuckled at the thought of her frazzled, sleep-deprived Master calmly telling her he was proud, but really, she must go to sleep. Although inside he was thinking, "GO TO SLEEP YOU MONGREL CHILD COULD I PLEASE JUST GET ONE NIGHT'S REST UNINTERRUPTED OH MY WORDJUST. ONE. NIGHT. OF SLEEP. TOO MUCH TO ASK?"

It took her years to start questioning the Code and her teachings.

"There is no passion, there is serenity. But shouldn't we get passionate about some things, Master?"

"Meku, passion is a path that leads to darkness. If you are too passionate about something, you become attached. And if you are too attached, you will go to any lengths to protect that thing. And you'll find yourself on a path of evil, thinking you're doing good. All because you become too blinded by passion."

"But Master, if there's no passion, why are we even here? Shouldn't we be passionate about protecting peace and justice? Shouldn't we love the people we swore to protect?"

"No! Absolutely not. If we allow even a hint of passion in, then we let our passions rule us, then we end up harming the very things we swore to protect."

In the Temple, she went through the motions. She excelled in her training, but only because she wanted to please Master Kunas. But it always seemed fruitless, because she frustrated him with so many questions. Things were so different now. Every morning she woke up, the gem of hope, and the passion to keep that gem alive, invigorated her to excel without needing to please anyone. She made a good impression because she wanted to do her best, not the other way around. She was doing this because she cared, not because she was told. How could it be wrong?

She looked to Jimny, and her heart swelled with pride. She had underestimated him before. She thought him a crude, uncivilized, dumb brute. But he was smart, despite speaking like a Reythan turd-farmer. He could outwit nearly anyone, and his ability to be unpredictably creative bested any pompous Alderaanian painter. And his years of leadership made him a great teacher as well… even if he did cuss a lot more than Master Kunas did.

Hours later, they quit training. On the walk back to quarters, Meku felt her hair. Her whole life, she'd almost never cut it. She even left her Padawan's braid on; the last reminders of her Temple life. It was gone now too. In battle, she wore Jedi robes, since they augmented the wearer's force abilities. But everywhere else, she mostly wore soldier's fatigues. She was even learning to speak in the strange gobbledygook of the military. But for some reason, it didn't bother her. She kind of liked it, even.

When they came in, it was late. Most of the squad was asleep, except Luay, who was up playing. She smiled. Meku was glad her braid came off, and she was glad to just… be a part of this. And, for once, she knew she was making a difference. She wouldn't trade this for anything. She showered, brushed her teeth, changed, and collapsed on her bed for a well-earned night of sleep.


"That thing is amazing, and I am so proud of you. You have no idea."

Meku blushed in response. "Master, your guidance helped me to build it. I wouldn't have anything if not for you." Meku was again dreaming about the time she'd built her lightsaber.

"Meku, you've taught me more than I ever knew." He sighed. "Let's not get too caught up in our feelings about this. You know we must not let ourselves get overcome with emotion."

The feelings were a little different now, after all she'd been through. Still, Meku allowed herself to smile at this happy memory. She was a soldier now, but the Temple wasn't all bad. And she did love her Master, no matter what happened between them.

"Goodnight Master. You're the bestestest."

"Goodnight, little one. You're the bestestest." Meku turned over to sleep, chest swelling with pride.

Her door opened again. This time it was Vrook, standing menacingly at the door, chest heaving from exertion.

"Grand Master, is everything okay?" Vrook remained silent, only breathing heavily. "G - Grand Master?"

Vrook ignited his lightsaber. "Die, traitor!"

Again, she bolted upright. "Master! Master, please! Help! HELP!" But her Master didn't come. Instead, she could sense multiple people on the other side of the door. And she smiled real big when someone shouted "formation, door entry, pattern 3!"

The door whooshed open and in burst five people. Nineteen-year-old Meku led the charge, wielding her purple lightsaber. Behind her came Brax, Jimny, Oka, and Luay, sweeping the room with the barrels of their blasters.

"You ruffians back down, this is none of your business!"

They didn't hear him, and continued on their mission. Brax, Jimny, and Oka got between Vrook and young-Meku, ready to protect her with their lives. This enraged Vrook, who screamed and called everyone traitors. Luay and older-Meku faced Vrook, ready to attack. And young-Meku felt safe, secure.

Then Brax made a raspberry sound. Meku found this strange, was he taunting Vrook? He then made several spitting sounds. What was going on? Then, he screamed, "WHAT THE BLAZES?"

...

This startled Meku out of her dream. She looked for the source of the noise, a part of her preparing for danger. There was no danger; Brax was upright in his bed, his face and upper body covered in tiny feathers. He kept spitting and raspberry-ing feathers out of his mouth.

Jimny and Luay were also awake, watching Brax. Oka was stirring. Brax looked around, still half asleep. Something clicked in his mind, and he felt at his head. His eyes shot open when he realized he wasn't wearing his sleep-cap. "Oh, for the love of all that is sacred!" Jimny paused for a silent second before laughing hard enough to fall off the bed. Oka also guffawed, clapping his hands.

Meku couldn't help but giggle either, covering her mouth to prevent busting up. Someone must've removed Brax's sleep-cap in the night, and his horns tore up the poor, innocent pillow. It was well-stuffed with teeny feathers, smaller even than a fingernail, there must've been thousands all over him. He looked like a big, silly, furious, bird. Jimny, meanwhile, was rolling on the floor laughing. Even Luay threw his head back and hooted.

"A little birdie, you! Ca-caw, ca-caw!" Oka spoke between laughs.

"Oh very funny." This just garnered more laughter from everyone, and even Meku threw herself on the bed, heaving and cackling. Brax tried to pat off the feathers, but they clung to the fabric of his pajamas.

He grabbed a handful of feathers and threw them at Jimny, but they just scattered about and didn't go anywhere. "Where's my sleep-cap, you wookiee's dingleberry!"

"He gave his pillow head'n it exploded," Jimny chimed in.

"Shut. Up!"

"Head game sharp," Meku added, laughing so hard she couldn't breathe. She felt a boost in confidence as her little comment inspired a new round of laughter.

"C'mon, where's my cap?"

"Maybe I used it to plant some… flowers?" Jimny gave a mischievous, vengeful grin.

Brax grunted, grabbed his pillow, and got out of bed. "Very well, carpet bombing incoming!" He walked over to Jimny and shook out what was left of his torn-up pillow all over his Sergeant's bed.

"Hey hey hey hey!" Brax gave a smile as Jimny started scrambling to stop the bombing run of tiny, itchy feathers targeted at his bed. Jimny grabbed at Brax's wrist, but he had a tough time with the latter's large, strong frame and heavy weight. "Lose some weight, fatboy!"

Jimny couldn't overpower Brax, but he didn't have to. He was thinking tactically, and Meku could see the plan forming in his head. He used one hand to grab a blanket and throw it over Brax's face. Brax was blind for a crucial few seconds, and Jimny quickly swept behind him and shoved him onto the bed. The plan backfired, because Brax just ripped the pillow in half, dumping feathers all over Jimny's own bed. "Oh, y'little-"

Brax got up, raised the pillow's battered remains over his head, and made a noise like a Tusken Raider, "Urrrrrrk, urk urk urk!" Jimny responded by grabbing an armful of feathers and tossing it at Brax. For mischief's sake, he galavanted around the room and threw some feathers at Oka, Meku, and Luay.

"Oh Sarge, starting a war I see!" Oka rubbed a few feathers off his face before grabbing a handful of feathers from the floor and throwing them around. The room looked like a damn snowstorm. Meku spat out a feather from her mouth; Jimny got a lucky shot when she yawned.

"Did someone saaaaaaaaay… WAR?" Meku raised both hands, and a whirlwind of feathers started forming in the center of the room.

"You blithering fools," Luay yelled, "look what you started!" A part of Meku noticed this was the most emotion (and words) she'd heard from the man in a while. But, most of her was distracted by making her feathernado.

"Men, battle stations! She's got a weapon of mass des-fluff-tion!" The men pantomimed taking cover behind a bed while the tornado grew in size.

"I'm on the Jedi's team!" Brax stood behind Meku and shouted with spite.

"Traitor! We will capture you for treason against the Republic!"

"Hey hey, hehe, hey, she's, hehe," Oka struggled to speak between his laughs, "she's got us pinned down!"

"What?" Jimny gave a confused look.

"Down. Like… feathers? Down!"

"Forget it, flank her!"

The squad had their little play battle. Their hearts were light, although Brax was still peeved that he had no pillow to sleep on. The room was absolutely covered in feathers, though, and the squad had to spend a lot of precious sleep time cleaning up. Meku didn't know how stuffed Republic military pillows could be, but apparently it was enough to coat the entire darned room. They all yawned while cleaning, they knew tomorrow was going to be a long day. Still, they were all smiles. Well, except for Brax.

Chapter Text

Meku tried to shower herself as best she could. She and the entire squad had been called. They weren't told anything else other than that they'd be meeting with Captain Abel on the O-Deck to be "commended," and to be dressed to the nines. Which was hard, of course. Meku rarely felt clean after the showers here. Like everything else, the Hearth's showers were totally different to what she was used to.

For one, the shampoo and soap straight-up sucked. It was cheap, plasticky, it hardly lathered and didn't have any nice fragrances. It was like rubbing a slippery block of plastoid on skin. It was difficult to even tell if the stuff was working. And even when it was rinsed off, it still felt like there was a soapy film on her skin.

She only got one thin towel, making it difficult to dry her hair, back when it was longer. She had to hold back her disgust one time she saw Jimny dry off his nether regions, and then scrub his face with the same part of the towel (he'd also had no qualms about reaching into his pants and deeply scratching). And there was very little water pressure. The shower head didn't really spray, it dribbled like a pinched hose. Finally, of course, sharing the one pathetic refresher with four other marines meant showers couldn't be long at all. Especially when they were under a time constraint, which was always.

While getting ready, Sarge explained that 'commended' usually meant a private sit-down with an authority figure in the fleet, where they'd congratulate a serviceman for a job well done. Often times, it'd be accompanied by a recommendation for a medal, which was normally awarded by a Senator or the Chancellor when the ship found its way near Coruscant. But having to dress up meant there'd be a medal ceremony here, on the ship itself. Which rarely happened, even in his decades in the military.

The men dressed in their "fidoos," Formal Dress Uniforms (FDUs). Meku wasn't issued one (she made a mental note to request one from the QM), so she stuck with the nicest set of robes she had. It was the first time she'd ever seen someone wear them. They were clean-pressed, starched stiff, and had sharp creases. This was opposite their fatigues, which started off with pressed lines, but became baggy after being broken in. The squad all looked stellar, even the ugly Jimny. Well, except his face. There was no fixing that, she mused. Also, several medals adorned his chest. Oka and Luay had a couple, Brax and Meku had none.

She stretched out with her feelings, trying to listen to the stories behind each of those shiny medals on Jimny's chest. Behind some she heard whispers of reckless heroism and great adventure. Behind others, nightmarish trauma. Her sergeant carried his twenty-five years of experience as he walked.

Brax, on the other hand, walked much differently in spirit. He walked with purpose. He had his family on his mind, always. Every morning he rolled out of bed, every time he clicked on his helmet, every adrenaline-fueled charge out of the shuttle's loading ramp, was in their name. He may have been soldiering for the Republic, but he was fighting for them.

Oka didn't seem like he knew what he wanted. He repressed a lot of his history, keeping it out of his mind. She sensed great attachment to Jimny, and a willingness to follow him to the ends of the galaxy. Luay, charmingly, always thought about that video game. He was like a youngling in that way, single-mindedly obsessed with his hobby. She rarely sensed anything else on his mind. Meku directed her feelings back to Jimny's chest, trying to feel some more of his stories. That would stop her from being nervous about what was to come.

She didn't have a lot of time to do that, though. They had to rush to the O-Deck; they'd been held up interrogating a soldier who was using some illegal spice, trying to find out who his dealer was. They had to rush back to their rooms, clean up, and throw on new clothes. Plus, fidoos took a lot longer to put on than their standard fatigues. When they arrived, they saw several other of the Hearth's crewmen and Marines. The room beamed bright with pride. A junior officer ran over to them.

"About time you showed up."

"Took care of a few things." Jimny was not nervous at all about being here, and spoke like he was totally used to it. "Ceremony started yet?"

"No, we wanted the Jedis to be front and center."

"Front and center?" Meku hated being the center of attention.

"S'your special day, kid. " He pointed. "No time to waste, there's your spot. Best not to keep the Captain waiting."

On the O-Deck stood many crewmen and Marines, they looked to be off-duty. They stood in formation, but not at attention. They were just talking casually between themselves. They formed two squares, like an audience at a theatre, leaving an aisle between them. At the back end of the aisle was a group of Marines and pilots, also talking. Meku recognized a few. On the other end of the aisle was Captain Abel, Commander Foster, and a few junior officers helping with random tasks, including setting up a couple HoloProjectors.

Meku walked to the group at the end of the aisle. Oka walked with her. Jimny, Brax, and Luay found spots in the audience. Meku was beating herself up for being late to this, especially if she was going to be the 'center of attention.' She turned to Oka and joked, "whose getting married?"

He chortled. "You, kiddo! Now where's my grandkid, been asking for one forever."

Meku almost snorted in laughter "Not in a million years, Oka."

"Be almost as old as Sarge then."

They shared a chuckle. Meku's stomach was churning. What would this be like? Was she expected to give some sort of speech? She hated public speaking, and she never even prepared anything. Curse the Navy for always having her on a time crunch! It seemed she was always so busy doing something that she could never stop and just catch her breath. She felt like she was never ready for anything around here.

"Relax!" Oka laid a hand on Meku's stiff, tense shoulder. "No buckets here, promise."

"Honestly, I'd rather face off a battalion of buckets right now."

"Kiddo, you earned this. Your special day, this. Try and enjoy it, 'kay?" He spoke in an encouraging, almost-fatherly manner. "Deep breaths. It's your day." Meku took his advice and breathed in deeply, almost trying to breathe in the pride that emanated off the people here. Neff was with the small group of servicemen to be commended. He stood at the very front, and beckoned Meku to stand by him. Oka stood behind them, with the rest of the soldiers.

"Fancy seeing you here," Neff quipped.

"We've missed a lot of debriefs, haven't we?" He almost snorted with a surprised laugh.

"To be honest with ya, think I missed them all." They smiled nervously. Since Jan's death and Rula's injury, she and Neff were the last 2 Jedi on the Hearth. Neff would spend time with the pilots, Meku with the Marines. Both of them were learning to be more like soldiers, and less like the monastic monks they were before. They stood around awkwardly, not sure what to talk about.

"So do they expect us to link arms or…?" Meku noticed she was telling a lot more jokes now, where before she'd just retreat into her own head when things got awkward. She blamed Jimny for it.

"There better not be a holy man on that other end, I tell you."

"What, can't handle me?"

"Hey… from what I hear, you're a terror on the battlefield, Meku. Mandos will be telling their kids Jedi boogeyman stories, thanks to you." Neff nodded in approval. Meku tensed up a bit. She didn't like that word, terror. She was trying to protect the Republic, right?

Her mind drifted to that bloodstained smile Neff wore, as he relentlessly mowed down the enemies in his starfighter. The satisfaction in his heart with each kill, like squashing a pest insect. "You're a terror on the battlefield." She remembered that final charge on the orbital city, "mopping up" the last of the defeated enemy. Terror.

"Psh," she tried to play it off and be humble. "I still can't fly for jack. Besides, you became an Ace in your first battle, I could never do that."

"I've gotten way more than one ace wing now," he boasted. Meku knew that a pilot needed a certain number of confirmed enemy craft killed to be called an Ace and receive an "ace wing," the adornment on their uniform.

"Well there you go. I can barely pilot a speeder. I'd probably crash a shuttle, even."

"I could teach you to fly one day." He then chuckled, "if we ever get free time, that is."

"Yeah, who knows if we'll ever get a day off."

"Especially us Jedi." She was nervous being near him, ever since that smile. Although her statement was true, the military leaned heavily on their new warriors. At this point, Meku stayed quiet. She tried to take in the pride her comrades felt, and tried to gather herself for what came next. She took deep breaths and tried to clear her mind. Another hand laid on her shoulder, this one warm. Oka picked up on her discomfort.

"What'd I say about relaxing?" Oka's flanging, choppy accent was a welcome sound to break her out of the cycle of nervous thoughts.

"To not to?"

"No, to do to!"

"Ohhhhhh," she feigned a sudden understanding with a smile. "I just don't know how this works."

"Gotten a couple before, never on the ship though. They play music. March down the aisle, stand before the highest-ranking officer. Gives you the medal. You stand off to the side, wait for everyone else to get their medal. Then, have to make a speech, gotta be at least 5 minutes long."

"WHAT!?" Her heart nearly stopped as Oka bent over laughing.

"Jus, just kiddin!' No, no." He tried to explain between giggles, "Pumped-up Senator gives a speech. Very long, very boring. Try to stay awake. Then you go home, yay. Then it's done."

"Okay… that helps." She gave him a playful backhand to the shoulder. "Jerk face."

"You were all like - " he pantomimed a histrionic scream with his hands clutching the sides of his face. She shoved him, making him almost lose his balance, then started laughing with him. She didn't notice the laughing helped calm her mind and ease her tensions.


"Atten, HUT!" Meku didn't even have to think about it anymore. After months in the Navy, it was instinct for her to snap her feet together, throw her shoulders back, chin up, and stand tall. Everyone else followed suit. The HoloProjectors booted up, and a few figures appeared. One was the 16th Battle Group's Admiral, Remus. Another was Saul Karath. The third was Revan himself.

Meku's heart skipped a beat upon seeing him. For a second, she finally understood how it felt to be a normal soldier when she and the other Jedi first joined. Revan was so much more than just a person. He was a beacon, who lit up the entire galaxy with his light. He was power, so much so that Meku could feel his pull even over the Holo. On Duro, she could sense his presence long before his fleet even jumped in. Before him, Meku felt like a small ship before a star. His bright, hot fire protected the gem of hope within all the Republic's citizens.

Her heart swelled with pride, that "hell yeah, this is our leader! Eeeeeee!" It took all her discipline not to flail her arms and bounce in excitement like a child. Revan was a hero to everyone in the Republic. Children aspired to be him. Parents admired him as their savior. And the soldiers, of course, respected his prowess in battle. He was nigh-unstoppable in a fight. Even more important was his mind; he was the most brilliant tactician the galaxy had ever seen.

Revan's strategic genius earned his promotion to Supreme Commander after Duro. In a matter of months, he'd gone from a nobody Jedi to the highest-ranking person in the entire military. Even Admirals and Generals saluted him. And though everyone in this room was at attention, they were cheering in their minds.

"At ease," Revan spoke. Music started playing, a proud song that made the heart naturally swell. "Comrades - no, no. Brothers. We are here today to commend the brave men and women who have gone above and beyond their duty." Revan may have just been a hologram, but he felt bigger and more real than anyone in this room. His charisma was undeniable.

"War is the beast that tests the strength of a people. In conflict, a people's truest colors are revealed. And war, of course, is the most intense conflict of all. The Mandalorians believed us to be stagnant. Lazy. Weak!" He spat those words out, worthless insults. "But we banded together. In this war, we showed them who we really are. The Republic has a long history. Most of it peaceful. Yes, we may be a nation of harmony. But if we are attacked, we unleash all the wrath of the deepest pits of hell. And unleash hell we did!"

The soldiers cheered, some had tears in their eyes. "Victory in war requires good soldiers. Time and time again, our enemies, enemies of the Republic we love, held a knife to its throat. And every time, exceptional men and women step up. Those who not only do their duty, but go beyond it. And every time, we unleash hell! Every time, our enemies realize this peaceful Republic can become a nightmare. And every time, we crush our enemy!" He pounded his palm with a fist. "The bravest people in the galaxy wear Red, Gold, and Black! And brothers, I will bleed to keep those uniforms red!" He stuck a fist in the air, his signature move.

The crowd was in a frenzy now, screaming, cheering, and waving their arms. Even Meku, the reserved woman she was, screamed at the top of her lungs. Revan was like a star. No, that was wrong. A star only influenced a piddly solar system. Revan, one man, was changing the shape of an entire galaxy. Meku never felt more pride than she did now, to just be a part of this. And she never felt more like she had a purpose until she became a part of this.

The men cheered for several minutes before quieting down. "I will be awarding the first two medals before signing out. The remainder will be awarded by Admiral Remus. The first goes to Private First Class Mekumi Sakaroto."

Meku froze for a second upon hearing her name. "Oh shit, that's me!" All eyes in the room turned to her. She paused for what felt like eternity, too starstruck, surprised, and just awkward to remember how to make her feet move. She remembered Oka's words; march to the front, stand before the highest-ranking official, get your medal, and wait for the long, boring speech.

Meku marched forwards, keeping in mind to march with the proper form, standing straight and tall like a good soldier. She walked down the aisle, and all the audience stared. Their gazes emanated pride and awe, like they had for Revan. Despite being an awkward, thin teenager, she was a savior.

She stood in front of Revan's hologram, at attention, waiting for her medal. He watched her. Despite him being light-years away, his powerful senses were here, sensing her, even probing her. She didn't get a chance to wonder further, when Commander Foster cleared her throat. She looked over, and saw her gesturing to "get over here, fool!" Captain Abel was holding the award.

"D'oh!" The word came out without even thinking, Meku consumed by nerves. She covered her mouth in embarrassment, hoping her cheeks didn't flush red in front of all these people. "Of course, you moron. Revan is the highest-ranking, but how's a holo gonna hand me an award!" She could sense the Supreme Commander smile, charmed, behind his mask.

She stood in front of them and saluted. Abel nodded and smiled, and Meku put her arm down, remaining at attention. Foster made a "turn-around" gesture, and Meku turned to face the audience.

"Sakaroto, you were only a Padawan when you left. But your talent for war is clear from your first two battles. On Randon, your raw strength showed, when you single-handedly flanked a Mandalorian division and helped your fellow marines clear the comm tower. On Duro, your strategic mind showed. You hatched a plan to fool the enemy, allowing your force to take the bridge, destroying a dreadnought and a battleship in one stroke. Your tactical and leadership abilities are budding. Thereby, I am proud to present to you the Senatorial Medal of Honor, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life, above and beyond the call of duty."

Captain Abel lowered the medal, on a necklace, over her head. It was heavy, and felt like it was charmed by a magic. She felt electrified and giddy the moment it rested on her chest. "You will also be promoted to Corporal, with all the duties of that rank, effective immediately. Keep it up, Sakaroto, and you will end up in high places." The crowd cheered for her, "We love you Revan, and we love you Master Jedi!"

She was so caught up in it that the rest of the ceremony was a blur. She had to stop herself from just staring at it. The Order would never have awarded her such a thing. For one, she asked too many questions for the Council to ever commend her like that. And for two, the Jedi disliked any non-religious or non-traditional "adornments." A ring, necklace, or anything like that was frowned upon, and would even result in punishment for habitual offenders. Although a blind eye was turned to powerful or influential Masters, such as Lucien Draay. Here in the Navy, on the other hand, they'd hand you a chunk of gold for doing a good job.

But she didn't care what it was made of, more what it did to her heart. It, like many other things, gave her purpose. More and more, Meku was starting to feel she was doing something worthwhile with her life. As time went on, the Hearth felt more and more like home. And her fellow soldiers, especially her squadmates, felt more and more like family. The Order was becoming a memory, as this started to feel more real to her.

"Lance Corporal Oka Krono." Meku's heart welled up as Captain Abel called her comrade's name. "This is for your stellar abilities displayed aboard Battleship Tal'ad. Your computer-slicing talents would put any droid to shame, and using it, you kept your entire boarding party alive through insurmountable odds. Thanks to you, over a hundred Marines were able to return to their Hearth. For that, I am proud to award you the Naval Roundel, for distinguishment in action by extraordinary heroism in combat."

Most of the audience clapped as the medal lowered over his head, but Meku cheered, loudly. She couldn't help it, she was proud of him like a sister would be for a brother. Before she could get self-conscious about her volume, her cheers were joined by Jimny, Brax, and Luay. Jimny even made finger-guns and pantomimed shooting at the ceiling. Meku and many others laughed at this.


After the last of the awards were given, there was no boring speech ("'cause there's no worthless fraggin' politicians here," Jimny theorized) and the men were excused to go about their duties. Since the squad's shift was now over, they could just relax. Meku had trouble just walking around, she was too distracted by her medal.

Jimny put a hand over her shoulder. "You did it. First medal ever. And the highest one too!"

"Highest?"

"Kid, that right there is the Senatorial Medal of Honor, the highest decoration in the whole military. And that was your first!"

"You're joking. You're messing with me, aren't you?"

"Not today." He smiled like a proud father. "You're really something, y'know that? Feels good, don't it?" Meku just nodded silently. She was giddy, and felt like she could just float along. "Just don't let it get to your head. You're only a Corporal, and y'still take orders from me."

Meku's eyes opened wide as she realized something. She had been promoted! Her cheeks became red; she knew she was gonna have to ask another embarrassing question.

"Um… Sergeant, sir… how do the ranks work? What's a Corporal even do?"

"Balls, I spoke too soon. Yer still just as useless as when you walked in here." He gave a teasing smile, and then scratched his head as he tried to put all of this in words.

"I thought it was supposed to be in your enlistment video," Luay added.

"It was, but I forgot." They gave her a look that said seriously?! She shrugged. "It was such an info-dump, I couldn't take all of it in. All I remember is that I was the lowest rank and so I had to take orders from everyone. Wasn't much more to it than that."

"Ever stopped to think that you might get promoted one day," Brax asked.

"No," she replied flatly. She didn't believe in herself enough then to think that. She didn't have all that much confidence in herself now, either, despite improving in that department some. Not to mention, back then she wasn't thinking that far ahead, mostly occupied with how her life changed, and her break from the Jedi.

"Y'know, lotsa people wanted all Jedi to automatically be Generals when they joined." Oka was also fingering his medal, although he was less starstruck than Meku was.

"That'sa stupidest idea I ever heard." Jimny was never one to not speak his mind.

"Why not," Luay asked, "we all know they're the most powerful fighters."

"Sure, Jedi can fight, but that don't mean they caaaaan…"

"...war, sir." Jimny smiled in pride as Meku finished his well-known saying.

"Exactly! Jedi got no experience with, supply lines, chain of command, requisitioning, intelligence, counterintelligence…" Jimny listed off several more things a general should be intimately familiar with. Meku's face grew more frightened with each new thing on that list. Despite her being here this long, she didn't know anything about any of those things. He may as well be discussing the intricacies of Neimoidian real estate law.

"And that's why they can't be Generals." He corrected himself when he looked at Meku. "'Least, not straight out the gate. They'd just look at it like a straight fight, and throw all us into the meat grinder. There's so much more to war'n that."

"What about Revan, sir?"

"Revan's an exception, he's special…" Jimny's eyes grew starry in admiration. "I dunno who taught him, or Mastered him, or whatever. But whatever made him like this, do more of... that stuff."

Meku thought to Arren Kae again; she was Revan's master. Had she been the one to teach him how "to war?" Or was it something just inside him? It made sense that someone with her wisdom, fire, and fierce independence would produce a leader like Revan. But she also knew the Force blessed certain people with different talents. She pondered whether Revan was born this way, or was shaped into the leader he is now. By this time, the squad had gotten back to the room and were changing out of their fidoos.

"Hey, isn't Revan a woman?" Brax furrowed his eyebrows in thought.

"Get your eyes checked, idiot, Revan's definitely a man."

"We got a Jedi right here, just ask her maybe," Oka rolled his eyes to stop this from becoming an hours-long argument, which Jimny was well-known to get into.

"Well?" They turned to her in curiosity.

"Guys… I still don't know what my rank means."

"Right, right," Jimny waved to Brax as if to wave the discussion away.

"Okay, here's how it all works. At the very bottom of the food chain, there's Privates. Privates are the rank for folks straight outta blaster camp. Dumb as a box of rocks.

Then you have Private First Class, like you were. Private and PFC both get bossed around by everyone else. Not really much difference between 'em. I guess the top brass decided Jedi were good enough to get PFC without havin' to earn it.

Then there's Lance Corporal. Higher rank than private. But really, no different from Privates either. They don't get special duties, usually, and don't get leadership roles either. A Lance becomes squad leader when their Corporal dies."

"So a Corporal is a squad leader?"

"Sometimes. Corporal is really where officership begins. Most corporals are squad leaders. Or leaders of other groups on the ship."

"Other groups?"

"Like, the crews of tanks, or walkers, or turbolasers. Most tanks and walkers have crews of 4. Or, one heavy turbolaser's got a crew of 6. Corporal leads those."

"Got it."

"Corporals have a lot of duties, them and Sergeants are the most versatile ranks. They do a lot of the jobs on the ship. Sergeants are like Corporals. They're officers too, just higher. A Sergeant always leads a squad, sometimes they lead a whole maniple."

Meku nodded, remembering the organization of Republic Marines. Five men to a squad, twenty squads in a maniple, ten maniples in a legion.

"But you're a sergeant right, why are you-"

"It's flexible, kid. Sometimes Corporals lead squads, sometimes Sergeants do. Just depends on whose available." He rubbed the back of his neck. "We been having a lotta casualties... not as many bodies around as there used to be."

"Sir," she nodded.

"Then you got Staff Sergeants. They're like regular Sergeants, but instead of leading men in combat, they have leadership roles in other areas of the ship. They're in charge of the departments that make sure we're fed, supplied, and that the ship and our stuff is in tip-top shape. So, mess hall. Engineering. Entertainment. Maintenance. That kinda thing."

"…okay."

"Above Sergeants you have Commanders. Commanders are in charge of maniples or Legions. Foster's our Commander, she's in charge of all the Hearth's Marines, 400 men."

"But that's 4 maniples, sir, shouldn't there be 4 people reporting to Foster?"

"Yes and no. Since the Hearth is so small, all 400 men report directly to Foster. On a bigger ship, no. Like the Centurion-class has a complement of 7,400 Marines. That's how many legions?"

"Seven plus change."

"Eight, yeah. The 400 extra are a smaller, reinforcement legion. So on that ship they'd be divided into 8 legions, each led by a Commander. 74 maniples, each led by a sergeant. And the 8 commanders report to a General. We don't do that on small ships like Hammerheads, would make chain of command too complicated. We try'n keep things simple around here.

"You call that simple?"

"Kid, when you're commanding, feeding, and supplying an army of millions, that's as simple as you get. Plus, we ain't even gotten to the difference between commissioned officers and noncoms." Meku's eyes widened in realization.

War wasn't about fighting. Fighting was maybe a tenth, or less, of actual war. The best warriors just keep the damn military running. Feeding and supplying millions of people on the other end of the galaxy. Shipping them food when they can't live off the land. Shipping parts and replacements for all sorts of equipment; from overheated blasters to walkers with rocket damage to rusty spoons. Healing injured soldiers, replacing dead ones. Moving millions of men on thousands of ships to the most effective place to win battles. Then moving them again if the enemy decided to attack somewhere else.

All this while facing an enemy who is trying to stop you from doing all those things, and will sabotage all those things, and by the way, will also kill you. Having to not only win your enemy in battle, but dupe him, deceive him before then. And having to pay for all of that. It all made sense now, especially Jimny's saying that money was what won wars, rather than guns. "Just because you can fight, doesn't mean you can war." That saying made more and more sense the more time she spent here.

"So then you got Generals, in charge of armies. Armies have multiple legions in 'em. On the Navy side, you have Captains, who are in charge of one ship. And then Admirals, in charge of a whole fleet."

"Yes, I know those ones."

"Then, when you mix the two, you get Theater Commanders."

"Theater Commanders? Is the army into fine art?"

"A Theater Commander is in charge of all ships and troops in a certain theater, or, uh, area of the war. There's two theaters in this war, Northern and Eastern."

Meku nodded, visualizing a galactic map in her head. "Yeah… North, for Taris, Ithor, and Serroco. That area. And East, through Eres, Randon, and Duro. The Corellian Trade Spine."

"Exactly. Then, of course, you got the Supreme Commander. In charge of the entire Republic Military. Usually, that'sa Chancellor, but she can give that position to someone else."

"And she gave it to Revan."

"Eeeeexactly. Becaaaause…"

"...He can war, sir."

"Good job."

Meku scratched her head, her brain felt like it was frying on a cooker. So many things to keep track of… Lance Corporals, Corporals, Sergeants, Staff Sergeants. Commanders, Theater Commanders, Supreme Commanders. War was so much more than swinging your laser sword. It was a miracle anyone could even fathom it, much less manage it on a day-to-day basis. Her admiration for Revan exploded, knowing he was dealing with this every single day.

"So what're my duties, sir? Do I get to be squad leader?"

"No." The reply was flat and abrupt. "For one, I'm still here, and I still outrank you. And for two… you ain't ready."

Meku looked down, abashed that he didn't believe in her. Sarge lay a reassuring hand on her shoulder.

"Buuut, you ain't stupid. You just lack knowledge. You can't fix stupid. Y'can always learn knowledge." Meku looked up, her gray-blue eyes locked with his brown ones. They were hard, but supportive. "You'll be my second-in-command, and I'll show you the way things work 'round here. And, if you learn, you'll go high places in this Navy. High places."

"Yes sir, I'll learn whatever you have to teach me. I'll do you proud."

"Well, today you relax. We're off-duty, savor the free time while y'can. Tomorrow we'll get back to duty."


At this point, the men were changed into their fatigues and doing their own activities. Brax was reading a book on business practice. Oka and Jimny were playing Dejarik, while Luay played his video game. Meku was about to read, but decided not to. If the Navy was her life now, she may as well get to know all of her squadmates.

"What game are you playing there?"

Luay seemed almost startled. "Uh, Malastare Podrace Champions, Vol. 32."

"I love Podracing." She sat down next to him. "Mind if you show me the game?"

"Uh, sure, I mean, yes, Ma'am." He rubbed the back of his neck, his body was stiff. Meku wondered why he was so nervous, but smiled. His antics brought back memories of Sak. She wished she could tell him about this Medal and her (sort of) command position. About how she killed a dreadnought and a battleship in one stroke. But he didn't care. No, it was over. He was too loyal for them to reconcile.

But it was totally charming for Luay to be very shy and awkward like Sak was. It surprised her too, he seemed handsome enough to win over any woman he pleased. "Guess it's what's on the inside that counts."

"So how does it work?"

"Well, uh, you pick your pod, and then race it."

"Really? I thought it involved playing the drums with your nose."

"You asked..." his expression grew bashful.

"So teach me how to play." She smiled, warm, inviting.

"Well," he shifted to give her a better view of the screen, "here's my garage so far. I'm almost to the top level, so I unlocked all the pods, except the super-secret ones." He handed her the 'pad and instructed her how to scroll through the different models, and see their stats.

"I don't need to see stats, I know aaaaaallllllllllll about these pods." She smiled, in her element now. She scrolled through a couple. "No way, they have the Efini 7-RX!"

"Oh that's not even the best one there!" For the first time, maybe ever, he was finally letting his guard down and speaking with excitement. She was glad they could find something in common. "They even have the LaFezza LP-740 SuperVelocity."

"Bes Lettev's pod?"

"You bet, and it's the fastest ever built."

"You seem to be forgetting someoneeeeee." She gave a knowing smile.

"Oh, you're not one of those guys, are you?"

"You know the Serpentine ACR-640X Venom is the faster pod, for someone who really knows how to race."

"The Venom's a widowmaker. I'm surprised Anis Notyra hasn't killed himself yet, piloting that crazy thing."

"Yeah, but the SuperVelocity is too neutered. Any rich playboy can pilot it."

"That's just the excuse Notyra fans are gonna give when he eventually kills himself on that ridiculous thing. No safety in that pod. And it will kill him one day, I can tell you that much."

"For the uninitiated or the impatient, yeah, the Venom will kill you. But with practice and absolute self-control, the Venom is the best pod out there. With the right pilot, it can destroy anyone. Even the Stugenbaumer P18."

"Now you're talking crazy talk. The P18's not even legal."

Gearheads knew the story well; the P18 came out last season. Painted a distinct blood-red, it was easily the fastest pod on the circuits. It had an illegal droid brain to aid the reflexes of the driver, making it totally unfair against any organic pilot. Not to mention it was the most powerful pod by far; Team Stugenbaumer was unafraid to add gratuitous power because the droid brain could compensate for it. The team lied about it, and was only caught when the droid brain failed one race and the out-of-control pod killed its driver and a spectator. Suspicious race officials confiscated the pod and found the droid brain. Still, there were some who claimed the Venom ACR, with the right pilot, was even faster.

"Well, I guess I'll have to show you the errors of your ways, young one. Have you unlocked the Venom?"

"You betcha. But I never use it."

"Cos you're too scared. Where is it, where is iiiiitt," she scrolled, looking for her mount. "Aha! Color… purple on gray, as the Force intended, of course."

"If you can make it through one race without crashing, I'll give you a year's pay."

"Yeah, right. Don't gamble with what you can't lose, boy!" The screen showed a starting grid. "Now, how do the controls work?"

Luay walked her through it. Meku, eager and impatient, took the controls as soon as she felt she got it. And she proceeded to crash into the wall before even crossing the starting line. Luay tried to keep a straight face, but busted up after a few seconds.

"Shut up! That was just practice! Where's the reset button on this thing?"

After restarting the race, she crashed and crashed again. She could hardly make it past the first couple of corners without slamming the pod into a wall. Luay was laughing himself blue, and even the rest of the squad got up to watch Meku flail, and fail.

"I'm glad you ain't got selected for pilot duty, s'all I can say," Jimny teased.

"This is not like real life, okay?" Her voice was frantic, tring to get past at least two corners without exploding the pod. "In real life, you can feel what you're doing. I can't feel anything going on with the pod."

"And the sun's in your eyes, right?" Brax smiled.

"Don't you have a pillow to pick up from the QM's," Meku retorted.

"Someone butthurt they keep losing," Brax teased back.

"Meku, think you supposed to avoid the walls. Just sayin.'"

"THANKS, OKA. BECAUSE I TOTALLY DIDN'T KNOW THAT BEFORE."

"Plus," Brax replied, "didn't you say you barely knew how to fly a speeder?"

"Whose side are you on here?" Meku furrowed her eyebrows in frustrated focus.

"I dunno, I'm just glad I'm not anywhere near those walls." Brax sighed, "'Cos I'd be dead."

"This game is SO unrealistic. Why can't I just use the Force like I do in real life? This is nerfcrap."

"Maybe you should try a slower pod? The BeezleBuggy 1.2v?" Luay smiled, BeezleBuggies were designed for children and novices, they were slower than most landspeeders.

"NO."

"Think walking would be faster," Oka said.

"Yeah, what'cha even doing? I don't think spinning in circles is gon' get'chu anywhere." Jimny wore a big, goofy smile. It was nice to see the Jedi be humbled a bit.

"I will Force-push you all into the wall!"

The squad all had a great time, at their new superior's expense. Meku was thoroughly unamused, having picked a pod way above her experience level, and having too much pride to go down to anything slower. Luay convinced her after hundreds of crashes to go with the BeezleBuggy, and from there she built up some skill. She even was able to finish a lap.

The rest of the squad took a turn playing, but they mostly just enjoyed watching her trying to figure out this strange new skillset. But they were all smiles. Well, except Meku. She was more frustrated than a Hutt on a diet.

"I finished a race without crashing, see? I told you I could do it!"

"Woooooow, congratulations," Luay dripped with sarcasm.

"I believe you owe me a check, Mr. Khain."

"You didn't do it with the Venom ACR. Plus, you're last."

"YOU NEVER SAID ANYTHING ABOUT WINNING."

Chapter Text

Meku and the boys had looked forward to this day for a long time. After fighting long and hard, it'd finally arrived. Their first day off in ages. There was still a shortage of soldiers, and the newest wave of recruits was still in blaster camp. They were graduating soon, but they'd not shipped out yet, so most everyone on the Hearth was still pulling double shifts.

This morning, the squad would be doing their own thing. Brax would HoloChat with his family. Luay, of course, was going to play some video games. Oka had left early for the repair shop to pick up some scrap parts. Jimny went to work out. The squad was going to get together for lunch and then catch a movie or a few drinks after.

But, for now, Meku would be on her own. She'd downloaded 2 new books; a mystery and a poetry collection. She decided to curl up in the O-Deck with some snacks. She'd have a lazy morning.

Meku shared the O-Deck with plenty of crewmen and marines, also trying to enjoy themselves. They played board games, ate, tossed around sport-discs, laughed, or just stared out while making conversation. Brax was there too, HoloChatting his family. The Hearth, with the rest of the 16th, was in orbit over Bespin for resupply and repairs. The orangey-brown gas giant and its many moons was a gorgeous backdrop. No artist could match the natural beauty of space.

It would've been a perfect setting to read, but Meku had trouble getting into her book. It was great, the pages had a pull like gravity. But something else was pulling her attention. She kept looking out the window, and stretching out with her feelings. Bespin. Millions called it home, and prayed every day that the ships in orbit could protect their homes. Their families.

"That's it." Home. Family. She could feel its pull. She felt it in the planet's inhabitants, who shook in fear at the thought of losing home and family. She felt it in her fellow soldiers, who wistfully remembered home and family. Who fought with steel in their hearts, to defend home and family. And who looked forward to returning home, to family. She stared out at Bespin, and space behind it. Her mind wandered, completely forgetting the book.

Where would she go if all this was done? "Well, If I live, anyway." She shuddered, thinking about Jan and Rula. Could she go back to the Temple? Would she even be welcome? Sak and Master Kunas might accept her, but what about those actually in charge? Vrook and Atris would probably rather drink acid than let a Revanchist back into the Temple.

She felt the metal walls of the Hearth. Surprisingly, the walls were usually warm. Oka taught her that most of the ship's wiring, power lines, and the like were underneath the metal walls. This saved space for guns, fighters, troops. And it also made the metal warm, almost inviting. "Maybe I'll pull a Jimny," Meku pondered staying in the Navy for life.

But no sooner had the thought crossed her head than she dismissed it. She was accepted here, yes, but it wasn't really the life for her. But what was? Meku abandoned the only life she ever knew. As much as she liked being here, she wasn't sure if this was where she wanted to grow old. Although the camaraderie made it livable, war was a demon that she had to beat away. Not a creature she wanted to grow old with.

"I'll have to start from scratch. Make a new life, from the ground up… how do I even-"

"Meku!" Brax smiled ear to ear, his heart swelled. Just seeing his family gave him a little skip in his step.

"Mr. Au'Manar!" She wore a smile, trying to push her melancholy thoughts aside, "don't you have a family you should be chatting with?" She stood up from her corner. Even when standing, she was barely at chest level to this huge man.

"It's early morning over on Alderaan. Kids hadda go to school, wife had work. So I'll chat 'em again in eight hours when they're back home."

"Oh…" Meku forgot that most normal people worked in shifts. The Temple never really prepared her for any of this.

"Duh! That reminds me." He smacked himself on the forehead, being careful to avoid his horns. "I gotta introduce you to 'em! They'll be so excited to meet a real life Jedi."

"Oh, no, c'mon."

"I insist." She could sense the pride inside him. He was eager to show her off. Not in an ego-boost way, but simply that he was proud to have such a great comrade, and maybe friend.

"Well, -"

"You'll make me so sad if you don't. Wolla," he used a word in Zabraki, "I'll be insulted. My family would love you. My daughters would look up to you. C'mon."

"Alright, alright, I'll do it." His smile grew even more, she could hear the little boy inside him say "Yesssss!"
"Only because of your daughters. If it was just for you, ehhhh."

"Oh shut it, tree nut." He gave her a playful shove, his huge mass pushing her a few inches. "Where would you be without me?"

"Couple inches that way."

"Smart alec. Hey, guess what!"

"What?"

"Mail's come for me!"

"No way, and?"

"Well, my wife told me. She saved up a bit and shipped over some fresh ingredients for a Vanquian-Zabrak fusion dish. Plus, a couple other things. She didn't tell me what else, though. Supposed to be a surprise," He beamed with pride, to have someone he loved at home that'd ship him fresh food from across the galaxy.

"Wait, how're you gonna cook it? They gonna let you use the kitchen?"

"Well… no, that's where Oka comes into play."

"Ohhh, right!" He'd went to the repair shop to pick up a few scrap parts, hoping to make a stovetop cooker for the dish. "Gonna burn the whole ship down, I see."

He rolled his eyes while chuckling. "Have a little faith in me, yeah? Least we'll have something to enjoy on the escape pods. Plus, could be worse. Could be Jimny doing the cooking."

"Oh goodness!" Meku put her hand over her mouth at the ridiculous thought. "He'd blow up the whole ship. He'd, like, just throw a grenade at the food."

Brax snorted with an abrupt laugh, "and he'd see nothing wrong about that."

"Wus' wrong with'at?" Meku contorted her face, posture, and voice to imitate her Sergeant. "Yew some kinda wuss, can't enjoy a real maaaaan's cookin'?" This garnered a thigh-slapping, bent over guffaw from Brax, and Meku joined, unable to keep a straight face.

"You've come outta your shell Jedi, y'know that?"

"Is… is that a bad thing?"

"Ohh, no. We're glad you're finally not so stiff anymore."

"...stiff?"

Now it was Brax's turn to mock. He stood straight up and adopted the most posh pose he could and spoke in an upper-crust accent. "Oh lookit me, I'm Meku, I eat tiny bites. I never speak unless I'm reading your mind, ho ho, oops, embarrassed myself. Now I'm red, I'm gonna shut up for three days now."

"Bastard!" She punched his chest, with an embarrassed yet genuine smile.

"Just sayin', the strong silent type thing gets old after a while. Like Luay, almost."

"I think I can open him up," Meku's reply was hopeful. She remembered his smile and laughter as she made an utter fool of herself on the virtual racetrack.

"You Jedi are something magical, y'know? First, you beat back the Mandalorians. You kill two ships, get the Medal of Honor. And now you get the most shut-in squaddie to say more than five words."

Meku shrugged. Everyone always praised her supposed talents, but she never felt like she had any. She was too hard on herself, she always felt she was not good enough. She always felt like her accomplishments could be accomplished by anyone, that she wasn't special. Commendations were a nice, but temporary reprieve.

"Ionno, everyone says I'm good with emotions. But anyways, you gonna cook us dinner?"

"That's the plan. I know you've got the books there, but I'm gonna get my ingredients from the mail, wanna come with?"

Meku looked down at her datapad, and the book's words on the screen. She looked over at Bespin, and back up to Brax. His aura was warm, inviting, like an extended hand. She knew she'd be swimming in her thoughts if she stayed up here.

"Sure, but only if you can teach me a thing or two about cooking. I can't cook for jack."

"You kidding? I'd love to! And, well, you'd be way easier to teach than Sarge."


Meku had to get used to command. Since she was a Corporal now, many would stand at attention when she walked into a room, or salute as she walked past. On top of military jargon and how to actually command, she had to teach herself to tell people "at ease," all the time. The mailroom was no different; the Private working there snapped to attention the moment he saw her, before she waved him down. Meku had to get used to all this new authority and respect she was getting all of a sudden. She'd been on the bottom of the ladder in the Order, and this was a total 180.

"Please sign here, Private Au' Manar," the Private working the mailroom seemed more relaxed. When out campaigning in enemy territory, mail didn't reach the Hearth often. When it came, it was on one massive shipment that came every so often with supplies. But on Bespin, which was well inside friendly space, mail came almost every day in small, easily digestible shipments.

"Sure thing." Once the package was signed for, the Private took the package from the droid that'd retrieved it, and handed it to Brax.

"That's a heavy one. Enjoy whatever that is, haha. And of course, it's an honor to see you, Master Jedi, ma'am." Meku just nodded at this, unsure what to say.

Brax took the package to a nearby shelf. His smile was huge, his heart skipping beats. He was so excited, he couldn't even wait to get back to quarters to open it.

"You're like a youngling on his birthday," Meku quipped, smiling. It was a bittersweet moment. She was happy for him, but also wished she'd get packages shipped to her from across the galaxy. It was a reminder that she was all alone in the universe, the only people she had were her squadmates.

"My birthday came early this year," Brax replied as he tore apart the packaging. When he finally got the box open, the first thing out was an envelope.

"Handwriting? What are we, cave-dwellers?"

"We're a little old-fashioned sometimes, okay?"

It read "To: Daddy. From: Aisida, Qadeen, Yalix, and mommy." He smiled, a fire burning in his heart for them. She could sense how dearly he missed them, and how sweet it would be to finally be back home once this was all over.

Meku looked the other way as he read the letter, giving him time with his thoughts. She just observed the few people coming and going from the mailroom. But she could feel the happiness radiating from him. She felt like a stray, outside at night, looking into a home's window. There was a fireplace only feet from her, keeping the family inside warm. But she got none of its warmth.

"Hey, you can look with me, y'know."

"I was just giving you your privacy. Plus," she resorted to a joke, "who knows what kinda lewd stuff your wife sent you."

"Oh, it's clean. Not that kinda package, Meku."

"Well, what'd you get?"

Brax pulled out a bunch of ingredients. Beneath them was a book on money management for restaurateurs. Beneath that, a cookbook for traditional Echani food. Meku gave him a confused look, and he rubbed the back of his neck, a little embarrassed.

"I... I talk about you a lot. I mentioned you're Echani, and that maybe I'd like to try cooking some Echani food. The wife must've surprised me with this. I, uh, I kinda forgot how often I talk about you, I guess. Hope that's not weird to you."

"No I'm… I'm kinda flattered."

"So the letter said there was a surprise beneath the cookbook," he rummaged through the packing foam in the box, "let's see, let's seeee…"

He pulled out a small package, engulfed in his huge hand. It was amateurishly wrapped, and had with it another small piece of paper. "This must be what she's talking about." Meku could sense he was remembering something in the letter: "by the way, Yalix made you a little surprise, it's beneath the cookbook. When I told her you were off in the war, she made it and enchanted it to protect you. She says it's magical now.'"

After reading the paper, he opened up the wrapping and found a little pasta necklace. Brax teared up, clutching the necklace tight and holding it to his chest. He leaned on the table, breathing deep, silent tears flowing down his face. Meku looked away, unsure of what to say; she'd never been used to people showing this much emotion. It was foreign and made her slightly uncomfortable.
She glanced at the paper, and it read in a youngling's rough writing, "fore u to nevr get died in the wor."

He took a while to regain himself, wiping the tears from his face. "Did you read that note?" Meku just nodded. "Cutest thing ever, isn't it?" He smiled bittersweetly, "she's, she's just so adorable." Brax carefully brought the necklace over his head to wear it.

"Does it feel enchanted?"

"Oh absolutely, I feel its powers protecting me already. Think it works."

"That means you can't take it off now. You never know when an ambush will come."

"Oh, I never will." He fingered it, taking solace.

"Well, you said you'd teach me how to cook. Where's the teaching?"

"Okay, well here's the basic thing…"


Brax went through different types of tastes, and what worked with what. He then showed Meku the different ingredients, which tastes they had, and how to match certain tastes with others. "It's a funny thing. Cooking is this weird middle ground. Some things are super mechanical. So if you learn the formula, you can do it easy. Like changing microlube on a speeder. Others are… not. Like, you can't learn it, you can only just do it by feel and learn with experience. Cooking is kinda both."

They spoke in the mailroom for a while before going down to the repair shop. There, Oka showed Meku a little about building, repair, and basic engineering. What the different tools were, how to repair basic things, and how to scrap something together in a pinch. He walked her through every part he was getting for the makeshift cooker, why it was important, and how it all fit together. Meku focused on these lessons from her comrades, it helped calm her wandering mind and runaway thoughts.

The three of them walked back to their quarters to put the cooker together, and eat. Luay played video games, and Meku built the cooker with Oka's instructions. Jimny met them there, soaked in sweat from a long, hard workout. As he showered, Brax started prepping the ingredients, walking Meku through it as well. They offered Oka to help, but he refused, saying he'd just make a mess of it. "But I will chop! I like to chop, I shall… chopchopchopchop, choooooopppppp." And finally, she and Brax cooked. Jimny was out of the shower by this time, and started talking smack as usual. The five of them talked, laughed, ate, and enjoyed each other's company.

They also caught the podrace over dinner, propping up Oka's datapad so they could all see. Bes Lettev was favored to win. If he won this race, he'd have enough points to win the championship, and it'd all be over. Anis Notyra, the upstart in the "deathtrap" Venom ACR, made a surprise comeback and jockeyed with Lettev for first. Their battle was was one of the most intense the galaxy had ever seen, but Lettev made a mistake (Meku chalked it up to his arrogance), causing him to nearly crash, and finish last. Notyra won the race, and now he had a shot at the championship. The galaxy was shocked by this, everyone was sure Lettev had it in the bag.

"Well boys, that was a helluva race." Jimny wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and smacked his lips, before leaning back with a long, satisfied grunt. He'd had three heaping portions, hungry after a workout. Everyone ate heartily, there were zero leftovers.

"Didn't I call this?" Meku looked smugly at Luay, who wore a peeved expression.

"Pff," Luay replied, "I still say it was luck. Lettev shoulda won that, and you know it."

"There's no such thing as luck. There's a reason for everything," Meku repeated an age-old Jedi adage.

"Yeh," Oka added, "sometimes, reason is you're an idiot, mess things up for yourself."

"There's still a few races before the championship. Lettev's got this." Luay crossed his arms, steadfast in his belief.

"We shall see. Wanna bet on it?" Meku smiled, hoping to bring out more of Luay's personality.

"No."

"Boys, boys, listen. Night's still young. What say we go to the EM, catch that movie. Aaaaaand, a few drinks after?" Jimny got a mischievous smile; Meku knew he rarely meant it when he said a 'few' drinks.

"I'll join you for the movie, but I'm gonna hit the O-Deck after," Brax replied, checking his wrist-timer. "HoloChat the family. They should be getting off work and school pretty soon after it ends."

"Yeah yeah, right. Rest'a you?"

"I'm going with Brax for this one, he wants me to meet his family," Meku said. Jimny sighed, a bit annoyed, while Oka grew a sullen look. Meku sensed a pang of hurt, like he had no family. "Hey, at least I'll be there for the movie, yeah?"

"Yeah, yeah. S'all good."

"I'll go with ya, Sarge," Oka said.

"Good man, Oka. Luay?"

"I'll stay in, sir. Next time."

Jimny rolled his eyes. "Whatever, droid."

Oka and Jimny left to secure some tickets and good seats. Luay stayed on his datapad, while Brax and Meku cleaned up the food. Meku was excited to meet Brax's family.

Chapter Text

Meku couldn't shake a bad feeling. She followed Brax to the movies, but excused herself because she forgot something. On her way back to quarters, she couldn't even remember what she was supposed to get. Her senses were consumed by a vague warning; "danger! DO something!" Her mind went through a million possibilities, and she grew concerned for Luay, until she reached the door to quarters. She didn't open it right away, taking some deep breaths and trying to draw from the Force to sense inside the room. Her eyes shot open.

Her bad feeling was right.

Meku busted into the room and shouted, "put the datapad down, now!"

"Gah-what?" Luay's heart skipped ten beats.

"I said put it down, Luay."

"Wha," his eyes darted back and forth, his adrenaline flowing, his body in fight-or-flight mode. "What're you talking about, Meku?"

"You heard me. Do it."

"What's your big problem," he regained his cool. "I'm just playing my game? What's wrong with playing my game?" Meku tried to search his mind, but all his thoughts were on the damn game. She was going to have to figure this out the hard way.

"Luay, I'm giving you an order as your superior. Drop the 'pad."

"What's got you all crazy for? I have no idea what you're going on about, I'm just playing my game like always. What's got you all parano-"

Meku activated her saber and literally cut off his sentence as she held it to his neck. "Drop. The. Pad. This is your last warning."

"Damn, alright, alright." He hit a couple buttons and put it down. Without speaking, Meku willed the datapad to her free hand. Her saber remained pointed at his throat. Her suspicion became stronger as she held it.
"Can you tell me what this is all about?" She didn't reply, instead unlocking the pad, searching through it.
"Meku, you're starting to freak me out here." Still nothing. "Hello?"

"Not a word, Khain."

Meku looked around, checking his messages, his HoloNet search history, and his various programs. It all looked normal. Video games, there were lots of those. Landspeeder payments. Flirtatious messages to potential lovers. Nothing out of the ordinary. But her senses weren't lying. She had to find this danger.

"Meku, it's me, Luay. Your squaddie. Are you okay? What's gotten into you?"

A few silent moments passed by before Sergeant Jimny walked in.

"Kid, what's takin' so - whoa, holy Rakghoul!" He'd just walked in to quite the scene, and stopped dead in his tracks like he'd hit a wall. Luay was on the bed, arms crossed, wearing a concerned and fearful expression. Meku stood with one hand holding his 'pad, the other holding her saber, which was still at his throat. "Kid, what's going on here?"

Luay cut in, wanting to get his word in first. "She just busted in and went crazy, sir! Something's wrong with her. She's crazy, she's seeing things."

"Meku," Jimny asked.

"Sir," she looked him dead in the eye with a straight face, "Luay Khain is under investigation for treason."

Jimny stepped back as if he'd been shoved. "No... there's no way..."

"I can sense it. He's hiding something."

"Well, did'ja find anything?" Jimny scratched his head, his forehead wrinkled in confused disbelief.

"No, of course she didn't. And she'll never find anything, Sergeant, sir. She'll never find any proof! There is no proof! She's crazy or something. You've seen how she gets. She needs to be seen at medbay." Luay made accusing gestures, his palms sweaty. He softened his voice for the next sentence. "Something's gotten to her. She needs help, sir."

"I asked her, son."

"Well, no sir," Meku replied with embarrassment. "But the proof is in here, I know it. I know it!"

"I think it might be a mistake. He's served with us for two years. Served with distinction. Saved my life more'n once. Yours too."

"It's in here, sir!"

"We can send the 'pad over to lab for full analysis. But maybe your senses are, I dunno, tryna warn you of somethin' different?"

"Dammit Sarge!" Meku let her emotions get the better fo her.

"I'm sorry you're like this, Meku. I'm sorry this happened," Luay kept his voice soft, caring, "but she's seeing things. She needs help. They can help her at medbay."

"You keep out of it," Jimny pointed at him, "you are under investigation, and you'll let us figure this out!"

Jimny exhaled, rubbing his face, trying to regain his cool. Treason. The word was strong; the most serious crime one could commit. A large part of him wanted to dismiss the notion and recommend Meku get some mental help. He knew Luay to be a good soldier, and a good man. He also knew that Meku had nightmares and strange trances ever since Randon. It was certainly possible she'd entered into some sort of psychosis or anxiety attack. And who knows how that magical Force affected those things.

"But if it's true," he pondered, his mind envisioning Mandalorians raining fire on Republic worlds. If it was true, and he ignored it, he'd never forgive himself. Jimny was a man of duty and, if there was a reasonable suspicion of treason, he had to investigate. Like a good soldier should. And Meku's senses had never failed him before.

"Meku, can't y'read his mind? Sense the truth in him?"

"I'm trying sir, but all I can sense in him is that damn game. It's all he can -" She paused mid-sentence like she'd just been slapped. "Wait a minute, that damn game! Malastare Podrace Vol. 32." She looked Luay straight in the eyes. He started to fidget with his hands.
"You don't mind if I peep around the game files, do you?"

"N-no, I've got nothing to hide."

Meku turned to Jimny. "Keep an eye on him, sir, please? So I can focus."

You bet'cha," Jimny smiled weakly. He then turned to Luay. "Can't believe I gotta say this to you, but, you have the right to remain silent. Anything y'say can be used against you in court. You have the right to an attorney..."

Meku put her saber down, sat, and spent several minutes going through the game. She selected several characters, racetracks, and pods, reading their stats. She tried to find hidden or secret menus. No luck. She looked at Luay again. Sitting silently, he had a thin sheen of sweat, and was breathing quick. She could tell he was nervous, but that wasn't proof enough. Anyone would be nervous when a Jedi just held a weapon to their throat.

She tried to sense inside his mind again, to try to find something, anything. He was thinking about the game, purposely, obsessively. He thought about pod stats; power, weight, thrust, lift, downforce, drag, on and on. He imagined installing different upgrades and how exactly they'd change each stat. He imagined track layouts, braking zones, apexes, and elevation changes. She closed her eyes and tried to delve deeper into his mind. His thoughts were a blanket, covering up something else inside. But what?

He was good, and his constant thought left his mind no room to wander to the thing he was hiding. He must've been specially trained. Meku had to take a different path. She couldn't lean on the Force for this, she needed to just think critically. She listened to his thoughts, trying to pick up on a pattern. It took a long while, but she realized something. He'd thought about nearly every aspect of the game, even the credits! But he never once thought about the game's settings.

Meku picked up the pad again and went to the main menu. There it was, "Settings." She opened it and peeped around, looking at volume, graphics, and the like. She tried sub-menu after sub-menu until she got to "Leaderboards."

This menu ranked the people who played this game on the 'net. The #1 spot, the galactic champion of this game, was a user by the name of TakumiSpeedStar_AE86."

"Hmmmm, interesting."

"Breakthrough?" Jimny's inner conflict played out on his face. He was pained to do this.

Meku didn't answer, instead walking over to Luay, observing him for any change in demeanor. Nothing, other than his natural signs of nervousness; sweat, playing with his hands, shallow breaths. He was good. Meku was going off a total hunch, and would look crazy or paranoid if this didn't pay off. Sarge already doubted her, and Luay would look like he was right about her seeing things.

"See, I don't really play video games, I'm more at home in a book. But I do know pods really well. And I know the number one on the leaderboards is Qodi Marak, his UserTag is MisterRegular. He's actually met the champion racers and got to go on the track. I've never heard anything of his being usurped by this... 'Takumi Speed Star.' Let's look at his stats, shall we? Do you mind?"

"I already told you," Luay's voice cracked, "I got nothing to hide."

Meku, wondering if this would go anywhere, it "Stats."

Her heart stopped.

There were messages. Thousands of them. She opened a few up. They contained maps. Positions. Fleet movements. Supply line locations. Instructions for sabotage. "Force be with us..." she clutched her heart in disbelief.

Kid-"

In one swift move, Luay had drawn his blaster, wrapped one arm around Jimny's throat, and held the blaster to his temple. Jimny was so conflicted about this, he'd not even searched and cuffed the suspect.
"Hand me my datapad or he dies."

"So you are a traitor," Jimny growled. He burned inside with disbelief and rage that he'd been duped for two years by a man he could call a brother.

You got me, sir," Luay spoke with cocky, satisfied sarcasm. "Now you heard me, hand the 'pad over."

"Belay that!" Jimny had steel in his voice. "Kill me, I don't give a damn. Just don't let this insect get away."

Meku was in such disbelief, she blanked. She couldn't even formulate a thought on how to resolve this situation. "Luay, you, you saved my life," she thought back to the battleship, "how could you?"

"Couldn't blow my cover, Jedi." He smiled, venom in his voice. "Now, you heard what I said. Put your laser sword down, hand me the datapad, or he dies. And don't even think about any mind-tricks. I so much as see your hand move, he gets it.

"You're not gonna get away with this. Just think about it. Take one second, please, and just think about it."

Finally, some of Meku's training in the Temple was coming into play. She'd been taught extensively on how to teal with hostage situations. She kept her saber; laying one's weapon down was the absolute worst thing to do. Negotiation was key. If you could get the bad guy talking, his mind would come down from the adrenaline high. The longer the bad guy talked, the more likely to defuse the situation, and have him give up without a fight.

"Don't start with me."

"Seriously, Luay. C'mon. Go ahead and kill him. You know what'll happen. If you kill him, then I kill you. You have nothing to bargain with."

"You won't let me kill him, it;s not the Jedi way."

"You're right, you're right. It's not the Jedi way. But even if I hand you the pad and put my weapon down, what're you gonna do? Where are you gonna go? You're on a ship with like, 400 people on it. There's cameras. Plus, Brax and Oka are at the movies wondering what's taking so long. They could be on their way back right now. They probably are coming, right now, as we speak.

Meku tried to make her expression and tone friendly, almost like she was on his side or helping him. The more friendly you were, the more you could defuse the situation. "Someone is gonna investigate. Know what I mean? And it's not gonna end well for you."

"You keep talking, I'l pull this trigger. Don't fragging tempt me, Jedi. I'm not afraid to kill him."

"You're not afraid to, but you're a Mandalorian, okay? You're a Mandalorian. That means-"

"-you're a sun of a schutta, is what that means," Jimny spat. "Can't believe I thought you were my brother."

"You'll be a corpse if you don't cooperate." Luay pressed the blaster's barrel deeper into Jimny's temple.

"Luay, you're smart. You're smart, okay? You had to be smart just to get here, right? I mean, hiding your espionage in the game files, that's smart. Thinking about the game, playing the game, 25/7, to hide your thoughts from Jedi. Before we even joined the war! That's smart. Being an undercover agent for two years, that takes smarts. So you're smart enough to know that, the way things stand, right here, right now..."

She purposely used a lot of words to try and flood him with information. Like an infomercial; the more she spoke, the more he listened, the less he'd try to think on his own. "Right here, right now, as things stand, you should really know. There's no viable way out for you."

"You think you've got me figured out. You don't understand me at all, Jedi. I'm willing to die for the cause. If I die fighting my way out, so be it. I'll have died with honor, serving the Mando'ade. My honor is intact."

"Yeah, okay, but we have stun settings too. How much honor do you think you'll have then, if you really think about it-"

Meku was interrupted by the ship's alarm. After being in the Navy so long, she learned to recognize the different alarm tones. This one was bad; Mandalorian forces were jumping in from hyperspace! Frantic voices spoke over the PA. She reached out with her senses.

Most of the 16th's ships were completely unprepared. Weapons weren't charged and shields weren't even up. Boarding ships were on their way and, in less than a minute, there would be Mandalorians on the Hearth's decks.

"Saved by the bell. You're right, Meku. I am smart." He smiled smugly. I'll just walk over and rejoin my clan now. You can't stop us. You can't win. I'll change my name, enlist somewhere else, far away, and start chipping away at your weak Republic agai, landuur."

"Weeak, eh?" Jimny gave a cocky grin, "last I checked, the Republic is still kickin' bucket ass." He would never pass up an opportunity to talk trash, even at a time like this.

The tone of the alarm changed. Boarding craft had landed.

"Aaaaaaaaaaaaand there's my ride. It's been nice, really, but I've got to go. I do have an offer, though. Honestly Jimny, I like you. You've a passion for battle. You fight with honor and strength. Join us! You'd make a great Mandalorian. Same with you, Jedi."

"You're gonna die, roach. I'll kill you if it's the last thing I do." His voice was guttural, primal. Meku had never heard so much darkness in a voice before. But, if she was honest, she absolutely agreed. She wanted nothing more than to see Luay lying in a pool of his own blood. No, that wasn't enough. He had to hurt. He had to die in excruciating pain. He was closer to them than a brother, and he used their trust to stab them in the back. He deserved nothing but hell. And Meku wanted to be that hell.

She knew these thoughts were dangerous, and tried to push them away. "I need to focus. I need to stop him. I need to save Jimny."

"Shame." Luay shook his head, disapproving.

Meku could sense inside Jimny's head. He was planning; he knew Luay would shoot him, but was willing to sacrifice his life anyway. That would've been convenient for Meku, but it wasn't right. She didn't have much of a choice anyway. If she made a move, Jimny would be dead. If she did nothing, Jimny would be dead.

She froze, trying to work out the best solution. There was none. Someone was going to die.

"You'd have been a stellar addition to Clan Kelso. Anyways, you can keep that pad if you like, Jedi, I'm-"

Jimny swung his head back, knocking Luay in the nose. Meku, at 100% alertness, noticed his blaster's barrel shift, just barely forwards, away from Jimny's temple.

She was seeing things in slow motion. A split-second would spell the difference between life and death. She Force-pulled Luay's arm, pointing it forwards. Luay's reaction was lightning-quick. He shot, the bolt going harmlessly into Brax's bed, singing Jimny's nose ever so slightly. If she was any slower, the bolt would've blown straight through the front of Jimny's skull.

Jimny was quick too. He grabbed Luay's blaster arm with one hand, and elbowed his face with the other. He then headbutted him, and kicked as hard as he could, right into his groin. Luay dropped the blaster and doubled over in pain, his face being met with Jimny's knee. Luay stumbled back, and Jimny door-kicked him, sending him sailing back, hitting a wall before collapsing on the ground, clutching his groin.

"I told you to just kill us both!"

"He was no good to us dead," she replied coldly.

Meku Force-pulled Luay's blaster to her, while Jimny found some handcuffs, then rushed over and cuffed the traitor. Luay was bleeding from the nose and groaning. "You're headed to the Brig, insect." He turned to Meku, "Kid, you gotta go."

"Don't you need me to escort?"

"I got this handled."

"But sir-"

"-They need'ja out there! If those boarders win, we all die, and he gets away anyways. Meku stretched out with her feelings. He was right.

The Mandalorians had caught them completely by surprise. Most of the crew didn't have armor or blaster rifles, just their measly service pistols. Many were even in pajamas. They'd scrounged together a defense line, but the battle-hardened enemies were breaking through. The men were overwhelmed, and a second wave was soon to arrive. They'd all be slaughtered, unless the enemy could be held off long enough to get the rest of the crew battle-ready. Meku had to help.

"Go!"

Chapter Text

The Hearth was in absolute chaos. Even on the bridge, far away from the boarders, the crew was hectic, fearful, and completely off-guard. The massive Mandalorian fleet had jumped in close. Most of the 16th's ships were still being repaired and resupplied in drydock. This included the Regalia, their Inexpugnable-class command ship. The ships that weren't in drydock had shields down and weapons not at the ready. Several were destroyed within a minute. The Regalia took damage to its bridge, knocking out Admiral Remus.

Abel was the acting Admiral now. He scrambled to get the rest of the 16th into formation and counterattack. Thankfully, shields were brought up before the Hearth suffered serious damage but, for some reason, the turbolasers would only charge to 50% power. Abel suspected sabotage, but he couldn't rule out wear or shoddy maintenance. The back of his mind made a note to question the maintenance crew, if they survived. But no matter; the ship would have to make do with half-powered weapons, then. He continued trying to rally his fleet while the ship rocked and bucked underneath him.

It wasn't working.

The enemy used this momentum to push forward and pick off the vulnerable ships in drydock. A small part of their fleet stayed to engage Abel's group, and prevent them from rescuing the helpless.

"Why didn't we detect them incoming?"

"Long-range scanners were shut off, sir."

"Shut off?" To destroy a long-range scanner would bring a lot of attention, but to just shut it down would go unnoticed until a vessel jumped out of hyperspace. Abel's eyes widened in realization. There was a saboteur among them. Thanks to one small person, an entire fleet would die, and the Mandalorians would have a path to the Republic's unguarded rear. "Not if I have anything to say about it."

Abel firmly believed the deepest pits of hell were reserved for traitors and backstabbers. Thanks to some cowardly saboteur, he'd be paranoid about his entire crew. The suspicion would eat away at him, and he wouldn't be able to trust his own men. If he couldn't trust his men, the fleet would be completely useless. "Now isn't the time to think about that. We must beat them back. We'll find the rat later." He turned to a junior officer.

"Do we still have comms?"

"Yessir."

"Set for long range and hail all fleets, Republic and Planetary." Planetary fleets were independent navies owned by individual planets. Wealthier planets often had them to protect themselves from pirates and raiders. The fleets were usually small and outdated, but Abel would take any help he could get.

"On it, sir."

Abel then turned to the weapons crew. "Rotate ship 74 degrees on X-axis and fire on their frigate for maximum effect!" For now, there was no way they could relieve the ships in drydock, so Abel's ships were just fighting for their lives. He hoped that, if he could pick off smaller, weaker ships, it may buy some time for engineering to get the turbolasers to full power again. They'd fought hard battles before, but he didn't see any way they'd make it out of this one.


"Ave, Ave, wake up!"

"Leave him, he's dead. Get into cover, Romi!"

Landers dropped off several dozen Mandalorians in the hangar bay. They wrecked a few starfighters in there, preventing a few from launching. Neff and a few others got out, and were hunting Basilisks and other craft headed for the Hearth. The enemy then blasted their way into the halls, slaughtering everyone they could see. It seemed like they were on a warpath to the Main Reactor, to try and scuttle the ship.

Many soldiers were in the halls. Most were in fatigues or pajamas, with no armor, trying desperately to make a defensive line and hold the enemy off. Even Foster was here, barefoot, in pajamas, trying to rally her men and keep holding the line. But they were dying left and right, barely holding on. They could barely poke their heads out of cover without getting them blasted off. If Neff and the fighters failed, even more reinforcements would come in, overwhelming them.

The many mercenaries were, of course, nowhere to be seen. They'd take their sweet time getting their gear on, waiting for the soldiers to soften up the enemy before charging in and pretending to save the day.

"By the Gods, they killed Ave..."

"Will you return fire!? We're getting overrun!"

But the Private had frozen at the death of his friend. He wanted to move, but his muscles were simply unable to.

"Is that a flamethrower?!" Another soldier cried out in shock.

"Use a goo grenade," Foster ordered, "Hold him in place before he gets close!"

The men were losing hope, and the defensive line would soon break. Foster could see the private completely frozen, huddled over his friend. His hopelessness would infect the rest of the men, like the rotten fruit in a barrel.

This was bad. She needed to hold them off long enough for the rest of the Marines and crew to get in battle gear, and bring out heavy weapons. If the defensive line broke now, the ship would be lost.

"Cover me," she ordered to one of her commandos. He popped out of cover and sprayed shots, to keep enemies from hitting her. Foster sprinted to the private, and didn't see her commando get hit.

"On your feet, soldier!"

"Ave... they killed... they..."

"If you don't shape the hell up, we're all gonna end up like Ave! This ship is your home. If you don't defend your ship, all your brothers will die. You can be stronger than this."

Before he could react, Foster noticed movement. A group of six Mandalorians was rushing them with vibroswords drawn. They were sick of taking potshots, and were intending to hack through the defenders.

"Focus fire on the chargers," Foster shouted, getting in front of the private and shielding him with her body. She and several others fired, but most shots pinged harmlessly off their armor. The enemies behind the chargers were firing, giving their men cover. One shot hit Foster in the shoulder, and she was knocked back, clutching her wound. Protected only by pajamas, the bolt tore straight through her, rendering her left arm useless. The chargers would be here in seconds.

"So be it. This is a good way to die." Foster leaned against a wall, aiming with her good arm. If she was going to die, she was going to die fighting, dammit. She fired, and hit one! Strangely, after being hit, all six chargers spontaneously exploded. "What the-?"

From behind, Meku charged in, shrieking at the top of her lungs. "Come on, men, we'll beat 'em back!"

Meku had seen the six chargers, and she knew she couldn't duel all of them at once. She used the Force to arm every grenade on their belts, blowing them to smithereens. No one else new that, and all grew terrified at the sheer destruction she now seemed magically capable of.

"Whooooooooooooeeee!"
"The Master Jedi's here!"
"Then we can do this!"
"Return fire, send those bucket bastards packing!"
"Yeah, we can do this!"

Where they were about to break and run, the troops now held firm and fought. Foster was shocked to witness the frozen private take deep breaths, wipe the tears from his face, harden his expression, grab his rifle, scream, and fire.

Meku's heart swelled and she smiled, knowing she could be such an inspiration. She could even hear the fear in the bucketheads' voices upon seeing her.

"Is that a Jedi?"
"So what? Kill her."
"Are you kidding me, Akanto Squad just, they just, they just blew up! She's the grim reaper!"
"Act like a Mandalorian! Remember your training. It's just a person. If you shoot it, it'll die."

Meku relished the fear in their hearts. She noted that fear could win battles without a shot ever being fired, and subconsciously filed that away for future use. Time to scare them some more, then. With one hand deflecting, she raised the other in an upwards motion. The vibroswords levitated from the corpses of the chargers. She then made a throwing motion, and the six swords streaked at the enemy with speed. Only two hit their mark, but that was good enough.

"Fall back to sector 3B, we'll form a defensive position there!"
"Copy, we'll cover your exit."

A few enemies laid down cover fire while the rest ran down the hall. Meku already knew where they were going and she smiled, her heart full of rage. She was going to teach these invaders a lesson. She barked an order, "Pursue them! Give 'em no rest." The soldiers pressed forward while Meku ran with Force-speed in the opposite direction. She could sense the confusion in their hearts, along with the eagerness to wipe the enemy off their ship.

Meku cut across several different hallways. After being on the ship this long, she knew it better than any Mandalorian. Guided by her senses, she turned a corner at the exact right spot, dead in front of the retreating bucketheads.
"Going somewhere?" They all stopped in their tracks, and she could sense the terror and confusion in their hearts. Fueled by rage, she smiled, blood staining her teeth. It was time for payback. It was time to squash these damn insects.

"The grim reaper!"
"Shut up and -ah!"

Meku took advantage of their surprise and Force-pulled their blasters. Six enemies lost their weapons, and the rest started firing. With one hand, Meku deflected their shots. With the other, she levitated the six blasters and used the Force to fire them at the enemy.

Meku was unaware that she was giggling while ruthlessly killing them. The fear had infected the enemy, causing them to lose their discipline and make mistakes. They fired wildly, not taking the time to properly aim. They didn't think tactically enough to flank or use special weapons like rockets or shock arms. These warriors, almost all trained from birth for battle, were frightened out of their minds by a waifish Jedi who had only been soldiering for months. She didn't have time to ponder the irony of that.

After a few moments, the Republic soldiers caught up and started shooting the Mandalorians in their backs. Meku's blasters were not as accurate as she'd liked, many bolts missed the enemy and tore into her own comrades. She'd have to practice this technique more. Very well, then. With a flick, the six blasters dropped. She changed her stance slightly, leaning on her back leg to ready herself.

Using her back leg like a spring, she Force-pounced on the enemy leader, distinguishable by his dull yellow armor. She landed on him like a jungle felinx, planting both her feet on his chest, stabbing him in the neck with her saber, and knocking him in the back. With a swift move, she sliced through his collarbone and entered a crouched stance, cutting her eyes to survey the enemy.

Without their leader, the remaining enemies were more confused and disorganized. A couple turned and ran, while the rest fired haphazardly. Meku pounced at another, slicing her legs off through the thigh-gaps in her armor. She used one hand to levitate the body in front of her like a shield, and used the other to Force-pull the running enemies with all her strength. The flailing runners were knocked into their comrades at speed. Her human shield screamed in agony as she was being shot, flailing her arms and leg-stumps in hysterics. "Help me! Someone please help!" She continued screaming and flailing until Meku, annoyed, beheaded her from behind.

One courageous Mandalorian drew a sword and rushed Meku. "Smart. Try to distract me. But not smart enough." She Force-pushed the levitating torso at him. While the rusher was distracted dodging the corpse, she swept at his ankles, knocking him off his feet. He landed on her blade, impaled. His body went limp, and Meku Force-flung his vibrosword at the last surviving enemy, burying itself between his chest-plates. Meku deactivated her lightsaber, allowing the rusher to flop to the floor. She straddled him, undid his helmet locks, and kicked the bucket off his stupid head. She got close to his face.

"You really are the grim reaper," he smiled. "It's an honor... to be... killed... by someone as... powerful... as you." The fear had given away to pure exhilaration. She knew the Mandalorians fought for honor, to test themselves, and for the sheer thrill of it. "Thank you, Jedi." He closed his eyes and accepted his fate, dying a few moments later.

She was taken aback. She didn't know what to expect when removing his helmet, but it sure wasn't this. Maybe she expected Vibroblade, or some other grizzled, hateful monster. This was just a young man, Meku's age or younger. The same age as most of the soldiers on the Hearth. And he thanked her, of all things. Meku was snapped out of her rage by this. Meku silently got up and turned to her men, who were both inspired and terrified by her. Commander Foster followed, much slower, clutching her shoulder.

"Commander, you're hurt." Meku instinctively reached into her belt to pull the first aid kit, but realized she never brought it. In the chaos, she never even took it from quarters.

"I can... I can still fight."

"Commander!"

"I'm gonna defend this ship if it kills me."

"Foster. You're smarter than this, ma'am. If-"

"Another word and you're getting demoted, Corporal." Foster gritted her teeth and scrunched up her face through the pain. She growled, "anyone have an adrenal stim?"

"Right here, ma'am." A soldier tossed it over, without thinking that her free arm was useless. Meku levitated the stim to prevent it from whacking her Commander in the face.

Foster nodded in thanks, then glared at the idiot soldier who tossed the stim instead of handing it to her. She handed her blaster to the nearest person and grabbed the stim from the air. She pulled off the safety lid with her teeth and stuck the exposed needle into her forearm, inhaling sharply through clenched teeth. The chemicals worked their way through her body, numbing the pain, overclocking her adrenaline, quickening her reactions, and sharpening her senses. She exhaled slowly, feeling the effects wash through her.

"Jedi, the squad leaders have been in touch. Men are in full kit and ready to go."

Meku shook herself out of her concern and returned her mind to fighting. "No time to waste, send them to deck M5." The boarders had split into three groups. They'd just taken out one. "We're going to engineering."


Meku lay in wait in a powered-down reactor core. It was large enough to fit the dozens of marines waiting with her, eager to kill the invaders. Meku was tempted to just confront the boarders head-on, but channeled her inner Jimny for this plan instead. The core had no windows or viewpoints, so she had to reach out with her feelings to monitor the plan. It was almost time.

She gave a signal to her soldiers, and they readied themselves; charging blasters, drawing vibroblades, and passing around stims.

"Now!" Meku opened the reactor core and charged at the Mandalorians, followed by her marines. As planned, they were at the enemies' backs!

Earlier, she decided to split up the troops. The ones with no armor would confront the Mandalorians, while the rest would wait in the reactor core. The "pajama squads" would look weak and make a fighting retreat into Engineering. They'd lead the enemy into a narrow deck where Meku and the marines hiding in the core would ambush them from behind.

Meku was completely unused to command, and was stuttering and stumbling over herself as she explained the plan. But none of the troops questioned her. They'd seen what she was capable of, and had faith in her. Most of them were so in awe of her, they'd be willing to follow her off the edge of a cliff. Even if she did stumble over her words like a moron.

If her adrenaline wasn't flowing, she'd have been beating her head against the wall of the reactor.

The plan worked, although the pajama squads had taken serious casualties. It didn't matter, so long as the boarders were crushed and the Hearth was saved. The soldiers' faith in Meku was paid off as they descended upon their enemy. Meku had a harder time with this fight. She was thinking about that young Mandalorian again. Only subconsciously did she realize killing them was easier when she imagined them to be insects instead of people.

Chapter Text

"Sitrep, Captain. Boarders eliminated." Abel smiled, and thanked the Force for the Jedi.

Thanks to their quick efforts, Engineering was able to get the turbolasers back to full power, and the Hearth was leading the fleet against the invaders. The 16th had taken heavy losses. Many ships were destroyed, and even more were heavily damaged. Some just floated in space, either too damaged to function, or having their entire crew abandon duties to hold off boarders. More boarders had successfully overloaded reactors on another ship, destroying it from within.

The fleet could retreat and cut their losses now, but Abel wouldn't allow it. Bespin was critical to the war effort and, without its Tibanna gas, ammunition would be in short supply all over the galaxy. Already, the Republic had to ration it to civilians. Not to mention millions would die, and the enemy could attack any number of important worlds in this sector. No, they had to be stopped here. Even if the 16th was destroyed, they'd have to take as many ships with them as they could. Perhaps a local planetary fleet could handle the rest.

The problem was, even that seemed impossible. The 16th was outnumbered from the beginning. The losses weren't helping. Abel could only envision being crushed. His only hope was to kill as many buckets as he could before the Hearth went supernova. The nearest fleet was Gerrenthum's planetary fleet, too far away to save them. Still, he couldn't lose hope. Abel was experienced enough to know a new perspective might help him.

"Order the Jedi to the bridge." He'd seen her creativity over Duro. He didn't really understand the Force, but he did know that those who wielded it could seemingly make miracles from nothing. He hoped she could come up with a solution that wouldn't end in a suicidal last stand. If anyone was capable of that, it was her.

Meku was taking stock of the heavy casualties when she received the order. She and Commander Foster arrived as quick as they could, and were briefed on the situation by Captain Abel, who would constantly interrupt himself to give frantic orders.

"Have you - transfer shield load to front-starboard side, over the turbolasers! Agh. Master Jedi, have you any insight?"

Meku just rubbed her head, unsure. It didn't seem like there was a way out of this. She gazed out of the viewport. The Mandalorians decided to focus most of their efforts on the Regalia, trying to demoralize them by taking out the biggest and most important ship. The handful of ships engaging the rest of the 16th were even winning, thanks to the sabotage. Once the Regalia was destroyed, it'd all be over. The bulk of the enemy fleet would wipe them out with ease.

"I..." she didn't want to admit that she didn't know. More than that, she didn't want to admit they were essentially doomed. They couldn't be. There was a way out. There had to be. She joined to save the Republic. How could she save the Republic if she couldn't even save one planet? One fleet? No there, was a way, and she was going to find it. "If I may meditate on this, Captain?"

She could sense his discomfort. The fleet was on the knife's edge of death, and couldn't afford to buy time. So far, buying time was the only option, so sayeth the Jedi. "Very well." She could hear the words spoken in his mind, "but hurry the hell up. Bloody Jedi think we've got hours to just kick around. Can't believe this... what's the condition of our shield generator?"

She used as much power as she could muster, to feel everything going on over Bespin. She stripped away the ships, the weapons, the tangibles. She just felt the aura of the battle. The thoughts, feelings, hopes, fears, plans, and reactions of everyone in this chaos created overarching currents, like raindrops forming streams on the ground. She tried to tap into these currents, to feel which direction the battle was going, and to see if she could change that direction at all.

Meku had studied this before. Being able to sense currents in large-scale led to many other powers. The first was Battle Meditation. Once a person could feel these currents, they could actively interfere with them, the same as damming or diverting a river. It would boost morale, stamina, strategy, and overall battle prowess of allies, while doing the opposite for enemies. Some Jedi were born with this talent, but most took decades of chronic training to even have a basic grasp on it. Revan was reputed to be a master at it.

Feeling these currents could also reveal a Shatterpoint. They were named after Corusca Gems, which were nigh-indestructible. But even a slight tap on its shatterpoint would splinter the gem into smithereens. All situations had shatterpoints, crucial points where fault lines intersected and one action could change the entire outcome. Hitting a shatterpoint could change the subject of a conversation, or it could change the fate of the galaxy.

The Order didn't like to teach Battle Meditation, viewing themselves more as peacekeepers than soldiers. Kunas did teach her about shatterpooints. Because of Meku's exceptional ability to sense others' emotion, she was good at finding shatterpoints in saber duels. But she'd never tried these powers on such a scale.

There were nearly a hundred thousand people between the two fleets. All of them feeling, thinking, calculating. Not to mention the white noise in the background; millions of people on Bespin, scared out of their minds. Meku exerted herself, trying frantically to filter all this out.

She started small, infecting some gunners on a nearby Mandalorian battleship with enough self-doubt and distraction to make them miss their shots. It worked, but it took a lot of energy, and she could sense this wasn't worth it. A handful of gunners weren't going to save Bespin.

She turned back to filtering the sea of emotions, looking for a shatterpoint. Something caught her attention. Yes, this could be helpful. The crew on the Regalia were desperate, more so than usual for a ship being blasted away by enemies. Why was that? She followed this fault line, seeing if it'd lead her anywhere useful.

They were docked, being repaired. If the ship was destroyed, it'd destroy the dock as well. But why was that so important? A drydock could be rebuilt. This wasn't a major shipbuilding world, like Kuat or Corellia. She followed the fault line further, feeling the auras of the people on the dock itself. That's when it hit her.

It wasn't just a drydock, it was a full-blown space station. Not only could it repair ships, but it also housed a sizable Tibanna gas refinery and export facility. It was basically an orbiting city, with thousands living on it. That is why the crew was so desperate; if the Regalia was blown to bits, it'd kill many civilians. It was a bad outcome, but it was not useful for winning. Damn!

Meku tried searching elsewhere for fault lines, but something was still nagging at her from the space station. She went back, and focused her energy on the civilians there. A group of them was stabilizing refiners and venting the Tibanna into space. Aha! There was more here. The station's refineries were dumping Tibanna into space. Tibanna, the ammunition for blasters, turbolasers, and other weapons across the galaxy! Highly volatile, if not properly stabilized and contained. And this space station was particularly dangerous. Why?

She went farther along this fault line, hoping for a breakthrough. She had to steel herself, as another Hammerhead was destroyed. She was thrown off track by the cry of fear, the sudden silence, and the Echo in the Force where all that life was suddenly vaporized.

"Focus, Meku! Why is that space station so important?"

The refinery was ramshackle, added hastily to the orbiting shipyard when the war began. The refineries on Bespin's cloud cities wouldn't provide enough product for the war effort's massive needs, so refineries were built in orbit to increase production. If the Regalia blew up, and the Tibanna wasn't stabilized or vented out into space, it could cause a catastrophic chain reaction that'd vaporize the entire station, killing several thousand.

It all was coming together, and explained why the Mandalorian ships were so reckless, so close to the station. They probably thought it was just a shipyard. It also explained why the crews were so desperate, trying to prevent this chain reaction. Meku dug deeper into this fear. "How catastrophic could this be?"

By itself, the explosion would damage several enemy ships. But, if the refinery blew up at the same time as the Regalia, and if the enemy ships stayed that close... yes! That was their concern; that would create an explosion massive enough to vaporize the station, the Regalia, and most of the enemy! The 16th would be hard-pressed to beat back the remaining ships, but those few would be a lot easier than the entire enemy fleet.

So, two shatterpoints needed to be hit simultaneously. The Regalia, and the refinery. If the two explosions could be timed right, the battle could just be won.

Meku opened her eyes and stood up. "Captain..." she trailed off and stared blankly. "Is... is this worth it?" She was so excited to win the battle, that she hadn't thought about the moral consequences.

Shatterpoints were notorious for changing, shifting, and disappearing. If the gas was fully vented or stabilized, the shatterpoint for this battle was gone. But still, she froze. The Regalia had seven thousand people on it. More still lived on the space station. Her next words could essentially be a death sentence for 20,000 people. Was there any other way? Meku could sense none, other than retreat. And the time was getting near.

She exhaled, trying to stop herself from shaking. She killed several Mandalorians today, but they were enemies in war. She even shot some of her own soldiers with the floating blasters. But those were accidents. Could she kill this many innocents? Her sheer rage had worn off, and Meku was now consumed by her thoughts. Wondering if she should finish saying the plan. If she even could.

She didn't even notice Abel and Foster repeatedly asking her, "hello? Hello? Jedi, hello? Corporal Sakaroto, report! Hello?" She was only shaken out of her thoughts by Foster grabbing her shoulder.

"Jedi, if you have a plan, now would be a really good time for it!"

She opened her mouth to speak, but there was a wall between her throat and lips. "Meku! Don't be an idiot!" She steeled herself, trying to force the words out. "Yes, people will die if you do this. How many more will die if the buckets take over Bespin? Countless more lives hang in the balance of this decision. You have to do it. You HAVE to. There's nothing wrong about it."

"Captain," she spoke numbly, as if reading her own eulogy, "order the Regalia's crew to overload their main reactors. Also, order," she closed her eyes, as if to physically brace herself for the coming words. "Order the civilians on that space station to stop venting Tibanna gas into space. Have them destabilize and overload the refineries. The explosion should be big enough to knock out the enemy fleet."

Abel's face was one of shock. He exhaled, the weight of this decision pressing on his shoulders. He could never have thought of this. Most shocking was this plan came from a Jedi, of all people. Weren't they supposed to be merciful and avoid death at all cost? He wasn't sure if he was wrong about them all along, or if something fundamental changed in this white-haired recruit he met all these months ago.

"I can't." he covered his mouth with his hand. "I can't order so many people to commit suicide."

"With all due respect, Captain," Foster interjected, "you can't be serious! What's your plan?"

"Fight them off 'till the last. Soften them up, before Gerrenthum arrives."

"Both fleets can't win with those odds!"

"Perhaps."

"Perhaps? Perhaps? What's that even supposed to mean?"

"I cannot, in good conscience, give that order."

"The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few!" The crew watched with raised eyebrows as Foster yelled at her superior. "If we don't do this, millions will die. Millions! You won't sacrifice a few thousand for that?"She gripped her injured shoulder and gestured with her good arm, gritting her teeth through the pain.

"Master Jedi," Abel turned to Meku, "is there another way out?" Meku held her head in her hands. Her heart hurt. She didn't want to make this decision, and regretted ever speaking."

"Retreat," she responded.

"Will it work," Abel asked.

"You don't need Jedi senses to know it won't," Foster said. "The insects will kill or enslave millions. Or they'll jump somewhere else and start killing on other worlds."

Meku envisioned the rippling effects of this decision, like a rock dropped into a pond. Foster was right; if they didn't hit this shatterpoint, chaos would ensue in the short and long term. Many would die here and on other worlds. Not to mention, the Mandalorian fleet would tear into every space station and cloud city on the planet, leaving none alive.

More long-term, the war effort would be handicapped without that Tibanna. The hordes of ships being built by the Republic's titanic manufacturing base would be neutered without ammunition, and the enemy knew that. More battles and worlds would be lost. On Bespin, refineries would have to be rebuilt from scratch. People would have to be re-hired and re-trained. That would take time the Republic just didn't have. This one decision could turn the tide of the entire war.

"Is that right, Jedi?"

Meku nodded, weakly.

"Well," Abel turned to a junior officer, "you heard her. Open comm channels with the Regalia and the space station." He spoke with resignation, his head hung low.

Meku couldn't bear to look out the viewport, looking instead at the floor. She could hear the Regalia's Officer on the comm. "...understood, Captain. It's been an honor fighting alongside you."

She sensed the aura as the orders were passed along the line. The Regalia ordered a full evacuation, voices over the PA yelling to "abandon ship!" Her crew tried desperately to get to escape pods, but they had only a minute or two. Most would not get out alive. Some panicked, hoping and praying not to die. Many just accepted their fate, sharing the same calm Meku remembered so well from Duro. They told jokes, reassured each other, or sent last-minute Holo messages to their family. When death was a certainty, the body stopped fighting to live, and was at peace.

"This was for the Republic's sake. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. This is a sacrifice for the greater good." Her words didn't help as much as she liked, and she was still completely numb.

Something else caught her attention; the plan had hit a snag.

"We can't do that, Captain Abel, uh, sir." The governor of the space station was on the comm, and tried to sound respectful. "We just can't."

"I've given a direct order."

"I'm sorry, but these are my people. I can't follow that order."

"Please-" Abel was cut off by Foster.

"You are interfering with our defense of your planet! Stand down."

"No." The voice on the other end was firm, and Meku could sense he wouldn't back down. "I can't, and won't kill my people. I hope you understand, Captain." Foster whispered in Abel's ear. He nodded. "...Captain?" Abel's silence made the governor fearful and nervous. "You understand, right? There must be some other-"

Foster cut off the comm, and looked to Abel. He gave her order with a sober, defeated tone. "Fire on the station."

"Yessir." The Hearth now directed its guns past the enemies in front of it, aiming at the space station full of civilians, and fired.

Meku never noticed Brax and Oka walking in, asking for further orders, and then standing around awkwardly as she just stood there. Her senses were consumed. The reactors began to overload. The Regalia felt like a beast in its death throes. Simultaneously, the refineries on the station also overloaded, not being built to withstand turbolaser fire. The chain reaction had begun. They'd hit the shatterpoint.

That was the strange thing about shatterpoints. They were impermanent, changing all the time. But one this was permanent about them: when struck, there was no going back. After a shatter, the most skilled jewelers in the galaxy couldn't put a Corusca Gem back together. Both the ship and the station overloaded at the same time, the energy released by each augmenting the other. Moments later, both exploded.

It didn't look like the usual fireball from turbolaser blasts. It looked like a star going supernova. The blast was so bright, the crew had to shield their eyes from it. Despite being so far away, the Hearth shook. In that moment, 20,000 people lost their lives. One second here, the next gone. Meku could hear the Force's Echo.

Any loss of life massive enough produced one. It was a literal dead spot on the Force, making it difficult or impossible for a Jed to even feel anything. There would be tiny, impermanent ones when a ship was destroyed or a large building collapsed. This one was far worse, causing her chest to physically hurt, as if she'd been stabbed. "And it's all your fault."
"There was nothing wrong with it. It was this or worse. What else can we do? What else could 
have done?"

As the flash faded, the crew could see their victory before them. There was no sign of the Regalia or the space station, both had been completely vaporized, along with the Mandalorian ships that had been at "knife-fight" range. Other ships that hung further back were turned into husks of themselves. The crew filled with hope as they realized they could actually win this.

The remaining enemy ships reformed into a retreat position. Since the 16th hadn't received any Interdictor cruisers, they couldn't stop the retreat.

All Meku could hear was the echo. She had to do something, anything, to get her mind off of it, before it actually injured her. She turned to her squadmates and asked, "where's Jimny?" Brax and Oka had no idea what was going on.

"We thought he was with you," Brax replied.

"Left the theater, looking for you," Oka added.

"He's probably in the Brig, then." Her eyes widened, more alert now. "Luay." Interrogating him would take her mind off this. She turned heel and stormed toward the Brig while her squadmates followed, utterly confused. When they asked what was going on, she told them, bluntly about his betrayal. Both of them stopped in their tracks.

"Gotta be kidding me!" Oka's jaw was nearly on the floor. "Luay? You sure?"

"I saw the messages in his datapad. He's been a buckethead since the very beginning. "And he led the insects here. He forced our hand like this."

"It makes so much sense now," Brax opined, "why he was always into that thing. I just thought he liked video games. My middle kid's obsessed with them to, I, I just..."

"Can't believe it. Was right there with us, all the time," Oka finished.

"We'll make him pay for this," Meku spoke with iron purpose, a fire in her eyes. Yes, he would pay. For stabbing them in the back. For the havoc and carnage he brought. For everything, he would pay.

Chapter Text

Ordinarily, the Brig had one or two bored, armed guards at the intake area to wave people in or out and check clearance. Now the guards were on high alert, standing behind the intake desk like cover.

"Master Jedi, Ma'am! Thank the stars it's you."

"Which cell is Luay Khain in?"

One of them got a confused expression and said, "your squaddie?" Meku nodded somberly. He gave a facial expression that said "geez, I'm sorry."

"He's not here, ma'am," the other guard reported.

"There's no way. You'd have seen him. Sargeant Devore brought him in just today. After we'd been boarded. Check the computers or something."

"No-one's come in or out of the Brig today, ma'am. Plus, with all due respect, Master Jedi. We'd have definitely remembered if Jimny dragged Luay in here." The Brig guards were very familiar with her squad; one of the top teams at ferreting out shipboard crime.

Meku furrowed her eyebrows as her frustration turned to anger. She set her comm channel for Squad-Only. "Sarge. Sarge, respond."
She waited, but no reply came.
"Sarge, do you copy?"
Still nothing
"Do you read," her frustration was replaced with concern.
"Jimny?"

Meku ditched the comm and stretched out with her feelings instead. Everything became suddenly clear. "Squad, follow me!" She sprinted down the halls, Brax and Oka struggling to keep up with her.


They found him lying face-down, just barely outside their quarters. "Oh, no..." Meku's heart filled with despair.
"I've lost so much, just today. I've lost so much. Please please please, for the love of the Force, please don't let me lose Jimny too." She laid her hand on his forehead, the Force giving her his diagnosis. He was unconscious, but alive. Barely. "Thank the stars. Barely alive is better than nothing."

She became confused as she listened to his cells. It seemed his unconscious state came from an overload to his central nervous system. She could feel tingles of electricity in his cells' memory. "Squad, go to quarters and get my medkit. Now. Be careful, the traitor could still be anywhere."

"Ma'am," Brax curtly responded as they drew weapons and ran inside. Meku couldn't understand it. Luay had been thoroughly searched before being cuffed, there was no way he could hide a shock arm anywhere. Was it possible the boarders made their way here, knocked Jimny out, and rescued Luay?

No, that made no sense. The insects would've just killed Jimny. Plus, shock arms output thousands of milliamps, easily enough to kill a human. Strangely, he was bleeding from his right arm. Brax handed her the first aid kit, Meku gloved up and cut through Jimny's sleeve to reveal, of all things, a bite mark.

"What the blazes?" She studied the mark. It wasn't in a spot where Jimny could bite himself, so she ruled out the possibility of self-infliction. Someone else bit him. She could see electric burn-patterns on his arm and, strangely, the shock all appeared to originate at the bite wound. Meku touched the wound, confirming her suspicion. When exposed to electrical current, most species would suffer severe muscle contractions. Meku felt the most contraction was right at the bite, with the muscles being less contracted the further from the bite they were.

"So... the bite shocked him? But how? Does that mean Luay had some kind of shock arm in his... teeth?" It was outlandish, but it made sense; it'd be a masterful secret weapon for a spy.

"Oka, hail security and get me the footage of this hallway from since the boarding started." Meku then changed her comm frequency to contact the Bridge. "Sakaroto to Bridge. I need to know if any escape pods were jettisoned during this battle."

"Copy that, ma'am," the officer on the other end responded. "Just one."

"Which deck?"

"M deck, pod #46." Of course, the pods nearest by.

Meku's datapad chimed; she'd gotten the video from Security. She played it, Brax and Oka watching over her shoulders. Sure enough, Jimny was behind Luay, escorting him out of quarters with a tight grip on his upper arms. Luay squirmed enough for Jimny to lose grip on one arm. He turned quickly and sunk his teeth into Jimny's right arm.

Sarge lost control of his functions, spasming, while Luay kept his teeth dug in. This continued for several seconds, and Meku could see the life slipping away from him. In an astronomical display of willpower, Jimny struck Luay in the groin. Luay let go and doubled over, preventing Jimny from dying seconds later.

After being let go of, Sarge immediately fell down, unconscious, spasming, droooling. Luay shook the pain off, wiped his mouth, and fished the binder's keys from Jimny's belt. He then unlocked himself, grabbed both his and Jimny's blasters, and ran back inside quarters. He came back out with his datapad and ran off in the direction of M Deck's escape pods.

"No..."

"Meku?" Brax's eyes were concerned.

"He got away," the rage built up in her heart. "He got. Away."

"We'll catch him. Maybe the pod's still in orbit, we-"

"He got away!" She pounded the floor in anger.

"Meku-"

She got up and kicked the wall as hard as she could, supercharging the kick with the Force. "GRRAH!" She caused a massive dent in the durasteel. She drew and ignited her lightsaber. Brax and Oka backed away from her in fear.

She stabbed the wall. It felt good to just let it out. She removed the blade and sliced the wall, severing wires and other things beneath it. Brax and Oka just watched with trepidation, hearts pounding, unsure what or who she'd take her anger out on next. She sliced several times more before pausing.

"Ma'am-"

"-WHAT?" Meku swiveled around, her face contorted with rage. Brax didn't step back, and held firm.

"Sarge's still unconscious. He still needs your help. You gotta make sure he's okay."

This shook Meku from her rage. She closed her eyes, exhaled deeply, and centered herself in the Force. She could feel the fear from her comrades. She'd gone out of control, and was thankful for Brax. She turned off and dropped her saber, going wordlessly back to her Sargeant. "What kind of Jedi are you? Can't do anything right." Jimny's heart was so contracted from the shock that it was beating less than 30 times per minute. The BPM would lower as time went on, and he'd die of blood starvation and deoxygenation.

She wondered how long he'd been sitting here, heart rate ever lowering. "What a hero you are." She knelt down beside him and rifled through the kit for a muscle relaxant. If she could get his muscles relaxed, his heart would start beating normally again, and he'd make it through this. She got to work.


A/N: I know this is a short chapter and I haven't updated in a while, work has been a bit crazy for me. I'm sorry and thanks for understanding.
Also, I think you guys are gonna like the next arc. We can see Meku slowly slipping down the slope, and I'm having fun writing that gradual pull to the dark. I hope you have as much fun reading it.
To save the best for last, I want to thank everyone who has followed, favorited, and especially reviewed! It always makes my whole week to even see one review. Thanks for reading and reviewing guys. Keep your hands inside the cart, cos it's gonna be a hell of a ride.

Chapter Text

The room was tiny; no windows, a small table, and two chairs inside. Meku recognized this room from dozens of interrogations. The "hard interview" room in the Brig. She sat in the chair usually reserved for the suspect. Across from her was Jimny.

"Why'd you do it?"

"Do what?"

He unrolled his sleeve, showing the bite mark and electrical patterns. An angry, blameful look followed. "That."

"Sir... Luay did that..."

"No. You let it happen!"

Meku's posture shifted as she tried to sink into the chair. She'd seen many suspects make that same pose when they were uncomfortable. "But-"

"-no buts. You were being an idiot! What do you have to say for yourself?"

"I'm sorry."

"Sorry ain't gonna cut it. Luay was a traitor. What stupid excuse for a Jedi are you? He was right under your nose this whole time. And you're so worthless, you couldn't even sniff'im out. You failed me."

Meku scrunched her eyes closed. Her cheeks were red, she could feel the heat radiating from them. Her stomach churned, as if she was punched. From day one, all she wanted to do was protect people. To help. And she couldn't even protect Jimny, one man.

"This should've happened to me. Not him. Not anyone else on the ship. This whole ambush was my fault. He was right. If I wasn't worthless, I'd have sniffed him out. I'd have stopped this."

"You failed," a different voice spoke. Several more people were crammed into the room. Vrook, Atris, Master Kunas, Sak, Jurtha, her boys, Jan, Rula, Alek, Abel, Foster, Revan. Several soldiers and civilians she'd seen on the battlefield, or in visions.

"That's all you are. A failure," no voice in particular spoke.

"It should have been you," spoke a deep, foreboding voice. Meku looked to Jan and Rula. "Not them. They deserved to live. All we got was you."

"I was trying to help!" She was shivering now. Flashbacks of battles started coming. She felt her air stop, like Vibroblade's hands were around her neck. She tried desperately to breathe, to escape this.

"You failed us all. You've done more harm than good."

"You failed in being a Jedi Knight," spoke Kunas.

"And my friend," Sak added.

"You failed to save pop," Jurtha said.

"You weren't strong enough to keep us safe."

Meku tried to scream, but her airway was completely blocked by Vibroblade's phantom grip. She opened her mouth, but no words or sounds came out. Then came the echo of 20,000 lives. Each with stories, dreams, secrets, friends, plans, flaws, and hopes. Snuffed out in an instant. It physically hurt, like a stab to the heart. Tears streamed down her face as her Force-senses were overwhelmed with the horrifyingly empty sound of that echo.

She gasped for breath but still got no air. She looked up to see all the people were gone again. She was surrounded by fog on a dark, starless night. The only sound was that echo. In the distance was a vague figure, but she already knew who he was. She could sense him from miles away.

Luay.

Meku grabbed her lightsaber and gave chase. She was too slow to catch him, it felt like she was slogging through knee-deep mud. He always remained just far enough to be a vague figure. Being unable to catch him intensified her anger, and she still couldn't breathe.

"This is your fault, scumbag!" Yes, she failed to sniff him out. But he was the spy. He sabotaged the long-range scanners and HE brought the wretched enemy to Bespin. Giving in to her rage didn't make the echo go away, but it made her faster and stronger. She was getting closer, able to make out his features and his Beskar armor. Her head was getting light from a lack of air and from the exertion of running.

"I'll kill you, insect!" He remained silent, just running. She finally caught up to him and deftly sliced through his exposed neck. His head rolled away and, strangely, the body continued running.

The echo was deafening now as she looked at the rolling head. Coming out of the helmet was long, white hair. The helmet spoke in her own voice, "you failed."


Meku shot upwards, gasping for breath. She was unfamiliar to her surroundings. Things started coming back to her as she caught her breath. She was in medbay. Nurses, doctors, orderlies, and droids scurried about, trying to treat the heavy casualties. Most were working overtime and had seen very rare sleep or breaks since the ambush, two days ago.

Meku was lying on the floor next to Jimny's bed, who was still unconscious. Meku and her squad had also been working almost nonstop, thanks to being understaffed. They didn't even have time for normal training. She came to check on Jimny. She must've taken a seat to meditate but, in her exhaustion, just passed out on the floor instead.

She rubbed her chest, her heart still in pain from the echo. She'd been hearing it on and off, every day, since the ambush. At first she tried to ignore it, hoping it'd go away. She also didn't want to take valuable time and resources from people who were injured worse than her. But the days rolled by and the pain worsened. Meku tried to get a quick scan, but the staff had no explanation. She thought back to that conversation.

...

"I'm sorry Master Jedi, but the preliminary scans came back negative."

"I know what I'm feeling, Doctor. My chest fracking hurts."

"Perhaps it isn't a physical ailment. You show no sign of blunt-force trauma, burns, or any other sickness or injury. Other than your pain."

"Most sentients, humans included, are known to feel physical injury from severe emotional distress," a medical droid chimed in. "It is theorized that Force-Sensitives tend to have these symptoms exacerbated due to their unique condition. However, research on Force-Sensitives is sparse and data is insufficient to make an accurate diagn-"

"-yeah yeah, whatever. Very helpful."

The doctor sighed and walked off, shaking her head. The droid dutifully followed.

...

Meku thought back to her dream and, a second later, decided she didn't want to think about it. Any thought of Luay felt like a slap to the face. She hated him, more than anything. They were always within feet from each other. They shared a room, saved each other in battle, and even played video games together. It was all fake to him, Meku was suckered for it, and thousands paid in their lives.

She stretched, then walked out, heading to the training facilities. She was too weak to sniff out Luay. She was too weak to defend Bespin. She was too weak to protect Jimny and everyone else on the Hearth. Never again. She'd defend the Republic by herself, if that's what it took. She was taking deep breaths, drawing raw power from the Force, stoking the burning fire in her heart. Yes. She'd never be too weak again.

She meditated for several minutes, increasing her power as she directed her fury to the Mandalorians. They were murderous, vile insects, good only to be squashed. Meku flicked her fingers, activating the training simulation. She ignited her saber and opened her eyes, filled with resolve.

Ten remote droids floated to altitude. They were programmed for "hard" difficulty, scampering about, taking cover, and firing full-power stun bolts at Meku. She deflected with one arm, taking all of her concentration to aim the five blasters levitating around her. Envisioning the remotes as Mandalorians helped to evaporate her distracting thoughts.

The blasters missed a lot, she would need to spend time perfecting this technique, especially when she split her concentration between deflection and manipulating the floating blasters. Still, it gave her so much flexibility. The blasters were like another squad, able to flank, ambush, or herd enemies where she wanted them. Her mind thought of all the possibilities. Any fallen enemy's rifle was like a new ally. She thought to the ambush, how she used the legless Mandalorian as cover. Even dead enemies could be played like puppets.

Her power became more potent and focused as she fantasized about the fear she'd strike in the buckets' hearts. The way they'd die at her hands. Millions were butchered, kidnapped, and burned by them. She'd make sure the insects got a taste of their own medicine.


Hours later, Meku was sweaty and thoroughly exhausted from several training sessions. She went back to quarters and tried to stay quiet, as not to wake anyone. Brax was already up, reading his business book. He looked somewhat dorky; wearing his sleep-cap and the book engulfed in his huge hands. Meku sensed distraction and worry in him, he couldn't focus on the book.

"How's Sarge?"

"BPM's normal now, but he's still unconscious. They say he'll make a full recovery and wake up sometime soon."

"And you? Chest okay?"

"No. Still hurts like hell. But the quacks have no idea what's wrong."

"I'm sorry."

"It's alright, I'm fine. I just stayed up training, so I'm fine."

"With all due respect, ma'am, I call so much nerf on that." She tilted her head, confused. "Meku. We've been working nonstop for the past two days, almost. I can see it in you."

Meku resorted to getting her clean clothes together, trying not to look at him. She could sense his concern for the past few days, but they were too busy with duties to ever talk about it.
"I... I'm fine.:

C'mon Meku," his expression was warm and inviting. "I'm here for you."

"I know."

"Soooo..."

"Sooo, I'm fine." She looked down at her clothes, and fumbled with the towel.

"We lost a lot in this ambush."

"Yeah, but we'll make them pay. That's for damn sure."

"I'm not worried about that right now, I..." he hesitated, but she sensed the words he cut off, "I'm only worried about you. I want you to be okay."

"I don't want to talk about it."

"I understand. I just, if you wanna talk about it, I'm here, okay?" He smiled genuinely, his expression an open embrace she didn't want right now.

"Yeah. 'kay." She turned heel and closed the refresher door behind her. Meku showered, kicking herself for pushing him away. Brax only wanted her to be okay, and for some reason, she didn't care. He was closer to her than anyone, but she still brushed him off. It felt like all the good she was trying to do was getting thrown in her face. Everything seemed to be collapsing around her.

After drying herself with the pathetic towel, she came out. Brax was still reading, concerned, distracted. He looked up.
"Before you say anything, I'm not gonna pry." He held up a massive, delicious-looking candy bar and gave a teasing smile. "But you can't refuse this, I know it."

"Pff." Meku rolled her eyes and tried to harden her expression, but a slight smile escaped. She couldn't help it.

"Is it okay for me to walk over and give this to you?" Meku crossed her arms and looked down, but nodded. Brax got up and walked over, sure not to make any sudden moves. He kept his demeanor friendly and approachable. She snatched the bar. Famished from the workout, lack of sleep, and constant work, she tore into it with gusto. Her Jedi's etiquette training had eroded. Brax stood awkwardly near her.

"You want to, mm" she was a muffled with some bar still in her mouth. She swallowed before continuing, "you want to give me a hug, don't you?"

"Okay, that's still really weird." He chuckled nervously; it was difficult to get used to someone being able to peer inside your head. "Can't even be safe in my own brain. Aaaaaaghhh..." he rubbed the back of his neck.

"I wish. Couldn't even read Luay's mind when he stood right where you stood."

Brax didn't move, making sure not to overstep the line or do anything that'd trigger Meku. She sighed deeply; all she could sense from him was care. She leaned slightly to the right, resting her shoulder on Brax's upper belly. He wrapped his tree-trunk arms around her.

She felt safer, but not nearly safe enough. She couldn't help but look over at Luay's empty bed and burn inside. It reminded her that she wasn't safe. She'd never be. She'd always have to be on guard from all directions. But with the delicious bar, the protective hug, and the warm aura, things were better. Slightly. She wrapped one hand around his belly and rested her head on his chest.

Chapter Text

Meku tossed and turned that night. Brax helped with his candy bar, but the bad feeling was always there, scratching at the base of her skull. She couldn't top thinking of Luay. She'd wake up in the middle of the night, afraid he was back. She was paranoid he'd sneak the Mandalorians back onto the Hearth and kill everyone she cared about. She'd wake up and see her squadmates dead before her.

The squad's sleeping didn't reassure Meku. The room felt silent without Jimny's loud snoring, grunting, and rustling as he shifted in bed. She could hear mouse droids, passing patrols, engineers, and the like outside. And once she came to, she'd feel shame at her inability to stop it. The burning of shame added to the stabbing of the Force's echo in her heart. She'd then eye Brax and Oka with suspicion, wondering if they'd betray her too.

It didn't make any sense. She'd worked almost nonstop and absolutely knackered herself working out. She should have slept like a rock swallowed by a hibernating reek. But she kept waking up. Her body was exhausted, yet her mind worked on overdrive, thinking and calculating. Wondering where the next blow was coming from. How to prepare for it. How to steel herself from death and betrayal. How to protect her Republic.

She shook her head and rubbed her temples, grumbling beneath her breath. This was the fourth or fifth time waking up. She thought to read, or watch some podracing commentary. She decided against it; not only did she not want to wake her squadmates, she also did not want to think about pods right now. Instead, she put her boots and fatigues on and hobbled over to the O-deck, hoping the natural beauty of space would slow her mind from hyperdrive.

The O-deck had some crewmen on it, trying to enjoy their rare downtime. Several recognized her, "Master Jedi, ma'am! Good to see you!" She waved them down and smiled weakly back at them.

There was also a group of loud, inebriated mercenaries speaking to an exhausted patrol squad. The patrolmen were saying something about being drunk and disorderly. "Please return to quarters so we don't have to get the Brig involved. C'mon guys..."

Meku watched the situation with the mercs, wondering if they'd start something. Thankfully they complied and went back to quarters, loudly bellyaching about how the patrols here were "a buncha fraggin killjoys! Waaaaaay stricter than the last ship we was on, hell. Can you believe this, Remur? Un-fraggin-believable."

She found a nice, isolated corner and leaned on it, slowly sliding herself down the warm walls and onto the floor. She nestled her head into the corner, trying to get comfy, and stared out of the large windows. The Hearth was in hyperspace. The Mandalorians had been spotted somewhere between Anoat and Hoth, and what was left of the 16th was pursuing them until reinforcements could arrive. The blue-white background of the hyperspace dimension was soothing. That, plus the movement of the ship, was helping lull her to sleep. But every time she felt sleep coming, her body shook itself awake, making sure to keep an eye on the people here. She growled in frustration.

She shifted her weight to the left. Without sleep, she'd be less watchful, less mindful, less powerful. Less able to protect her people. But how could she sleep if she always felt unsafe? Meku stretched out in the Force, opting to feel the ship around her.

The Hearth felt exhausted, a beast that had been fighting for its life with no rest. It was at the end of its rope, and would not be able to go on much longer like this. She was wounded and hungry; being last in line to be repaired and resupplied over Bespin. Because of the ambush, repairs and resupply didn't happen. Her crew was weary and low on morale. All had lost comrades and friends in this battle.

"Focus on the positives, Meku." She felt for the hyperdrive, being soothed by its rhythmic humming. After what felt like ages, she dipped back into sleep.

"Corporal Sakaroto, ma'am." Meku opened her eyes, scowled, and furrowed her furious eyebrows at this new person.

"There better be a damn good reason for this." She was just about ready to unleash every ounce of wrath she had against the brain-dead Ewok who had the nerve to wake her. It was a junior officer, older than her. She could tell he was nervous and hesitant to wake her, but could also sense an important motive in his mind.
"What. Is it."

"Y-y-you, uh, maam, Abel and Foster require your presence at the bridge, ma'am." She could hear him thinking "please don't be mad, please don't be mad, please don't be mad, pleasepleasepleaaaaaaase don't be mad. Damn the blasted Captain for waking her up!" Meku's furious expression became curious. She thanked the officer and made her way up.


Meku, Abel, and Foster were hovering over a holo-map. In it was the planet Hoth. "A vacation liner sent out a call for service over this planet. They said they saw what looked like a small warship, heavily damaged, crash-land on surface." He sighed, the concern well-defined on his sleep-deprived face. "No Republic or Planetary ships are near Hoth, to our knowledge. We think it's a Mandalorian ship that crash-landed."

"Could be a trap," Foster opined.

"I agree, it is a highly unusual situation," Abel replied. "Even though we knocked out most of their fleet, even the remaining ships could take us. I don't think we should just dive in. But at the same time, they could have some information. If there are any bucketheads down there, anyway. If we don't do anything, the enemy can rescue them and we'll never learn what they know. Do you have any clairvoyance for us?"

"I don't think so Cap- Admiral, sir." Meku nearly forgot Abel was now the 16th's Admiral. Well, what was left of it anyway.

"Seriously?" Foster interjected, hand on hip. "Your Force can help you see all kinds of crazy stuff. How could you tell where the dreadnought would be to ram it, but you can't tell us anything about this?"

"With all due respect, Commander. The Force isn't magic. It's just another sense, like vision. You could have the best vision in the galaxy, but you can't see through a mountain. I can't sense any motives from where I stand."

"Wooow, what a help you are!" Foster sighed in frustrated regret. Abel brought his hands to his lips. The tension was palpable around the map. Most of the fleet was wiped out from their pyrrhic victory. Those that remained were damaged and low on supplies. Exhaustion, vengeance, stress, and anger was taking its toll on everyone here.

"It's too risky, then," Abel concluded. "If it's a trap, we may lose the rest of the 16th."

"And let them get away!? After what they've done?" Foster gestured angrily with her good arm. Her injured arm was still in a sling and would need weeks at least, to heal.

"Commander!" Abel's anger bubbled to the surface. He was getting very tired of his subordinate challenging him.

"I agree, sir!" Meku stood by Foster and faced her now-Admrial. "Think about the knowledge they may have. They could know where the rest of their friends are. How they got this deep into Republic space without alerting anyone. A new hyperspace lane, maybe, that we haven't charted yet."

"And if we lose the 16th?"

"The 16th is all but lost. We have six ships now. Six." Meku gestured out of the viewport. "That's less than a quarter of our original strength. What more can we lose?"

"Six ships is what. Six ships can make a difference. I've given an order."

"Sir, with all due respect, I disobeyed orders to be here." She paused to let it sink in. "I defied the Council to do the right thing. In the face of danger, they were too weak to do the right thing. I didn't stand for weakness, and neither did Revan. Will you?"
This was true, but Meku didn't want to admit the other, main reason she'd wanted to do this. There was a chance, however slight, that Luay was on that ship. She wanted, no, needed to find him. She needed to make him pay. She needed to make him suffer.

"She's right. If they get away, and ambush another fleet, their blood is on your hands," Foster added.

"Further insolence, Commander, and you get demoted and thrown in the Brig!" Abel pointed aggressively, making a conscious choice to crack down on Foster instead of Meku. "We at least need some reinforcements. I'm not going to throw the 16th away on some fool's errand!"

"Then we don't have to throw all of the 16th away." Meku's face lit up, as if a light went on in her head. "Just send the Hearth. She's on her last legs, sir. We barely even have a crew. Losing one ship is way better than losing six."

"And one ship will draw a lot less attention than six," Foster said. "Not to mention, we could have Gerrenthum's fleet high-tail it over here. If it is an ambush, we can hold 'em off long enough so the rest of the 16th, plus Gerrenthum, can ambush the ambushers."

Abel paused, wrestling with what to do. Meku sensed the two sides in his head fighting each other. He had six ships, and all lives on board, in his hands. All he wanted was to protect people. Meku used this against him.

"Plus, sir. The Mandalorians are still roaming around this sector. Having the Hearth here will focus their attention on us. Wouldn't you rather they attack us than innocent civilians? Without us to attack, they'll probably loot and pillage their way back to their space."

Abel remained silent for several minutes.

"Fine." He shook his head, defeated. He didn't want this, but the thought of civilians burning at the Mandalorians' guns pushed him the other way. He couldn't even stand to look at the two women before him, looking out the viewport instead. "I don't like this. So it'd better bloody work. Come back here with some useful information. Otherwise, you'll find staying on Hoth to be preferable to returning here. Now get the hell out of here, and sin no more."
Foster and Meku saluted and marched away, choosing not to sour Abel's mood with more words. Abel turned to a junior officer. "You! Hail Gerrenthum's fleet and make sure they're at the following coordinates. I need them to be there yesterday, get going!"

Meku smiled as she marched with Foster. She would lead the charge, and butcher every single buckethead she found. And when she found Luay, he would get exactly what he deserved. This was going to be good.


What little remained of the Hearth's Marines were already in a shuttle when the ship jumped from hyperspace. Aurek fighters zoomed ahead, scouting the enemy's position. Their intel soon came in; a light frigate had indeed crash-landed at sector SR20. No other enemy presence found. The Mandalorians had not set up camp, only a handful of them were spotted outside, patrolling. Meku guessed the buckets wanted to stay out of the elements. They'd also run into some Basilisks, and were going to engage.

Abel sent a communication demanding the Mandalorians surrender, disarm their weapons, and be rescued as Republic prisoners. They replied with one sentence; "You can rescue our corpses."

The shuttle launched from the Hearth while the starfighters on the surface engaged the Basilisks and blasted the ground forces patrolling outside. Meku stretched out with her feelings, searching for Luay, trying to drown the echo. She could not tell if he was there, but she could feel the enemy.

The Mandalorians would be ready for them. She didn't need Jedi senses to know they'd fight harder than anyone else in the entire galaxy right now. There was no other option. If they ran, they'd freeze to death. If they surrendered, they'd face a lifetime of shame and neglect from their brethren; a fate worse than death in their culture. They'd fight tooth and nail for every single inch.

Meku looked around her, sensing the aura of the marines. There weren't enough of them to even fill one shuttle. They had to be supplemented by several battle droids that had been hastily picked up from Bespin. Compared to the buckets' gritted teeth and readiness to fight to the bitter end, her comrades inspired zero confidence. Meku was having second thoughts.

Most times like this, her troops were pumped up, full of adrenaline. Not now. Completely exhausted, sleep-deprived, and demoralized, many leaned on walls or their rifles to support their sore, drained bodies. They didn't make jokes or say chest-thumping phrases. The shuttle's interior was eerily silent. Many marines just stared off blankly, dreading the Mandalorians and the blistering winds of Hoth biting into their skin. Despite wearing heavy jackets, facemasks, and winter pants, they knew they wouldn't be warm enough for the icy planet.

Brax was concerned, unable to stop fingering his little necklace. His mind was flooded with the very real possibility that he'd never see his family again. That he wouldn't die a proud old man, surrounded by his daughters, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. That his last moments would be experienced in pain, facing the loathsome bucketheads, on this frozen rock. That he'd be shipped to his family in a box. No more restaurant, no more late-night holo-movies after the kids slept, no more costumes and silly impressions at the girls' parties.
No more, "sorry I'm late picking you up, oven #3 blew up again."
"Again? Babur, oven 3 always blows up."
"I know. You shoulda seen the look on the new guy's face. But you can help me fix it after homework, okay?"

Oka was doing some last-minute repairs to a battle droid. It was obvious he was trying to keep his mind off this, but he could barely even focus on what he was doing. He'd grab a wire, then instantly forget what it was for and why it was even in his hand. Open a compartment, then realize he already fixed the circuits inside. Close the compartment again. Open the compartment again. Rub his forehead in confusion, let out a frustrated growl. Close it again.

This was bad. Meku wanted to say something to boost their spirit. She lamented Jimny being injured; he had an uncanny ability to inspire men and ease their tension. A skill Meku sorely lacked. She was in charge of the pitifully small task force, since Commander Foster and Sargeant Jimny were still injured. Still, she had to say something. If the men went into battle feeling this down...

"Everyone listen." The soldiers turned to look at her. Most didn't look at her, but more through her, as if they were spacing out. Brax stared with concern. He was worried about her, in the same way he'd be worried about his own daughters. She had to make this good.

"We, uh. We lost a lot over Bespin. They, the bucketheads took a lot from us." She had to steel herself as she thought of Jimny and that echo again. "Those damn insects, they could only do that by being underhanded. They were faceless cowards and ambushed us. And this is payback. Today, we'll avenge our fallen friends and squash the insects We can beat them. We're stronger. We can do it, and, uh, yeah..." she trailed off.

Some marines smiled, others put their fist up in solidarity. Most kept their hopeless attitude. "That was pathetic. We're screwed, aren't we? We're all gonna die."
"No Meku. You are stronger than this. You've been training for this. This is revenge for Bespin. This is revenge for Luay. Go before them. Show them your strength and, if you are strong enough, the troops will follow."

Meku got up and walked to the cockpit, which only had one pilot, the smart-alec from Randon. Her co-pilot's seat was empty. Meku observed Hoth's white surface. In the disatance, the wreckage loomed overhead like a small, craggy cliff face. The frigate was not "upright," rather it was laying on its "side." This would make things disorienting when they got inside. A few Aurek fighters whooshed over the ship, firing on it; most chased Basilisks across the tundra, making sure they didn't interfere with the ground assault.

She had to formulate a plan. They were about even in numbers; the crash landing had killed many buckets. Still, that was not helpful enough. If they tried to charge head-on, they'd be decimated by the better armed, armored, and more confident enemy. They couldn't deploy outside the frigate, they'd be shredded as they slogged across the snow. They had to deploy within the ship. Probably in a small place where numbers would matter less, and Meku could make a bigger difference.

It was imperative, then, to deploy in the ship's brain. If they got into the bridge, they could control other ship systems, just like over Duro. "Pilot, hover us by the bridge." She pointed to the front of the frigate. The bridge's transparisteel windows had shattered from the impact. It would be freezing in there, but no matter. It was time to toughen up and fight through it.

"Yes, ma'am." She'd often have to reach over to pull a lever or work a control that the copilot should've handled.

"We're sitting ducks out in the open. We need to jump straight from the shuttle into the open viewport. Do you think you get us close enough for that, uh..." Meku tried to read her nametag.

"Vanci. My name is Vanci. And of course I can." The experienced pilot was confident in her ability. Meku nodded and marched to the doors. She'd be the first one out, making follow-me gestures to Oka and Brax. She was silent, breathing deeply, embracing her sheer hatred for Luay and the rest of his ilk. She used this hate to increase her strength, compensate for her exhaustion, and drown out the echo. It was the only way she could win this. It was the only way she could protect the Republic, and the 50-odd people under her command. It was the only way.

As they got closer, the whisssshoooo of the fighters became audible in the cabin, as were their laser cannon blasts, and the impacts they made on the snow or the frigate's durasteel. She sensed an enemy at the bridge's window, readying a rocket launcher. That was the priority; he could potentially destroy the entire shuttle.

With the door still closed, Meku reached out with one hand and made a choking motion. The enemy with the rocket started to cough and hack as his airway and neck arteries closed. He tried to aim his rocket, but was dizzy and lighthearted from the lack of oxygen to his brain. Meku remembered that feeling very well, smiling in satisfaction.

The shuttle doors opened while still hovering. Everyone knew how cold the planet was going to be, but were all still shocked by just how freezing it was. Many yelped. The loading ramp was only a few feet away from the bridge - Vanci was good. One hand remained in the choking motion while the other activated her saber, ready to deflect. Thankfully, the shuttle's shields were easily able to soak up the small-arms fire. Her comrades behind her started firing back.

The Mandalorian with the rocket launcher was moments from passing out. His lightheadedness caused him to miss wide. The rocket went harmlessly into the snow as he collapsed, falling out the viewport and into the white. Meku then made a pulling motion, and a handful of other buckets were yanked out of the bridge's window, falling to the ground.

"All but 2 squads, draw vibroblades and follow me! The rest, stay here and lay down cover fire. Come in when it's clear!" The men complied and Meku leaned back on one leg, cocking herself for a jump, like a catapult. When she sensed her troops were ready, she shouted "NOW NOW NOW!"

Meku screamed her best war cry and Force-flung herself into the bridge, like a bullet. She landed on a buckethead, slamming her shoulder into his chest, and shoving her saber inside the his T-visor.

Thanks to the ship lying on its side, the battlefield was strange and disorienting. The "ground" was narrow, only able to fit 4 or so men across it. Well, it would, if it were flat. Pillars, HoloScreens, comm arrays, and various other hardware jutted out from it and the right "wall." It'd be really easy for them to lose their footing. But this was good. The narrowness and difficulty of the terrain worked as a bottleneck. Meku, filled with rage, was going to be an unbreakable spearhead here.

Several remaining enemies tried to shoot her, but it was too narrow. Two more creative buckets clambered into a war-map table-projector jutting out from the wall to get a better vantage point. One nearer by got a vibrosword, ready to swing. Meku's comrades came in now, shrieking their own war cries.

Brax especially, was now pumped up. "NOBODY touches Meku, and there's no way in hell I'm dying on this rock!" He door-kicked the Mandalorian that was going to swing at Meku, and swung at another nearby him. Several buckets charged into the melee. Meku and Brax fought side-by-side, spearheading the assault. She could hear the repulsor engines of the shuttle and the chatter of her other comrades.

"I can't get a clear shot in, I don't wanna hit our own guys!"
"Yo pilot, can't you hover this thing a little higher?"
"Move that droid, Remur!"
"Acquiring target, re- re- re-targeting," the droid spoke as it was shoved by the mercs. "Target acquired."
"Two are climbing, take 'em out before- WHOA! That almost hit me!"

Great. The drunk mercs decided to stay in the shuttle. Meku's subconscious focused on blocking the blows of the buckethead in front of her, as she turned her attention to the climbers on the projector. They'd be able to fire down on her men, and their armor was absorbing any shots the cramped Republic marines, mercenaries, and droids could get.

She thought of Force-pushing them, but that wasn't good enough. They'd just have to be dealt with later. No, they'd have to be taken care of permanently. But she couldn't get enough focus in the Force with this Mandalorian in front of her. She had to get a little breathing room.

"RAH!" She force-pushed him back, slamming him into his cramped comrades, and used the second of free time to extend her hand. She telekinetically grabbed the wrist of one of the climbers, twisted it so his blaster pointed at his chin, and pulled the trigger. Limp, the buckethead fell on his own friends heads.

Then, the Mandalorian was in her face again, swinging wildly. He wasn't on stims, just on the natural adrenaline high of one staring death in the face. "Come on, Jedi, COME OOONNNN!"

"Let's handle you, tough guy." She was not as strong as him, and he was impressively able to hold his own against a Jedi in melee. But she felt she could trick him. Meku feinted low, like she was going to cut his leg off. The enemy predictably brought his arm down to block her with his vibrosword. A simple flick of her wrist changed the direction of the saber, and cut his hand off at the wrist. He screamed in pain, but his years of warrior training served him well. He used his other hand to draw a pistol. A slice to his neck stopped him from executing this plan any further. Meku then levitated his vibrosword and flung it at the remaining climber, who was freely taking potshots.

The sword buried itself in the climber's armpit, exiting at her shoulder. Miraculously, the climber didn't let go, instead hooking the useless arm to the table and firing with her good arm. She truly had an iron will. Blood sprayed out of the wound, getting on the combatants from both sides. She sensed one of her men die, hit in the head by the climber. Before she could do anything, one of the mercs in the shuttle sniped again and again at the climber. She finally died, also falling on her comrades. Meku was pleasantly surprised the inebriated merc could hit anything, but he did at least help.

Slowly but surely, the Republic soldiers were making progress, pushing the Mandos back. The shuttle squads even dismounted and joined the melee, leaving Vanci to park somewhere safe. A new challenge now faced them.

A large bank of computers, extending up at least 3 feet, presented a big obstacle they'd have to climb. Two Mandalorians were between Meku and the computers. The buckets standing atop it had a high ground to fire at her men. She sensed them getting shot, injured and dying. The deaths of her comrades filled her with even more drive and power. Her mind was working on overdrive, trying to think creatively like Jimny would.

"Get ahead of me, get ahead of me," she ordered Brax and a couple other soldiers. They complied and got past, dueling with the two Mandalorians in front of the computers. Meku stretched her arm out, pointing it to the heavy-looking table-projector. She ripped it off the wall and dropped it on the enemies atop the computer banks, crushing them.

She turned back to the two Mandalorians between her and the computers. Brax was tired, and one of them kicked the vibroblade out of his hands. The enemy raised his sword to deliver the killing blow when snap!

Both of his legs bent backward, like a swampdwelling stondibird. He collapsed, shrieking in pain. Brax drew his pistol and blasted the buckethead in the neck, putting him out of his misery. "THAT'S what happens when you mess with Brax." She turned to the other one, lifted her hand, and nonchalantly flicked her wrist. His neck snapped and he dropped dead. She smiled, thirsty for more. Despite spearheading the assault and fighting nonstop, she didn't feel tired at all. She was spurned on by her burning rage.

"Spiders," a nearby voice shouted, "we got spiders incoming!"

"The hell are spiders?" Meku didn't have to wonder for long. A metallic toktoktoktoktok noise came from... above? She looked up and saw droids scuttling across the ceiling.

They were the size of Kath Hounds, maybe waist-height and eight-legged. Their two front legs were very large, almost the size of their entire bodies, giving them gorilla-like proportions. They had big, square heads that were rounded off at the edges. Their "faces" were dominated by two huge optical sensor-eyes, with two smaller ones just above. Four other eyes were on the side and back of their heads, which appeared to give them 360 degree vision. Blasters protruded from their "abdomens," ready to mow down Meku's men.

"When I said we were gonna squash insects today, I didn't know we were being literal." She turned to the back, "fire at the spiders!"

"Copy," Oka replied. "Take some of this! And some of that! And how 'bout that!" Several others joined him, but most missed. The spiders had lightning-quick reflexes, and could dodge the bolts.

In sync with the spiders' entry, the remaining Mandalorians clambered over the table-projector and started firing down. Her men couldn't take much more of this barrage. She could smell the cooking of flesh as blaster bolts hit her men.

"Dammit, just die already!" She made a shoving motion with both her hands, and the table-projector shot back, running over several enemies like a landspeeder into a crowd. That'd buy them some time.

"Climb up, move forward," she ordered. "You and you," she motioned to Brax and Oka, "boost the men up. I'll handle the spiders."

"Ma'am." Brax and Oka got into position, boosting their comrades to climb the large computer array. Meku then squatted down as she eyed the three spiders on the ceiling. She readied herself for another leap, braced her saber with both hands like it was a lance, and launched.

To her shock, her senses warned her that the target was no longer where she was aiming. Meku had to adjust her body to slam her shoulder into the unforgiving ceiling, rather than have her lightsaber be buried in it. Her shoulder went numb and tingled as she dropped back down. The spiders' reflexes were unbelievable; they could dodge a leap from a Jedi!

Very well. As she fell back down, she Force-pushed one clear out the window. It screamed "niiiiiiiiiiiiiiii," as it careened off into the horizon. One down, two to go. She used the Force to rip the turret off one's abdomen, and slammed the turret several times at speed into the face of the other. One was with no weapon, while the other was partially blinded. Shots from her comrades finished the blinded one off.

The gunless spider then did something that surprised Meku; it extended its front legs and pounced at her. She dodged it, barely. Thankfully there was enough room to dodge, as several men had climbed over the computer bank and were fighting the enemy further ahead. The droid leapt at what seemed like lightspeed - one second it was there, the next, boom! Gone. It looked more like teleportation than actual jumping. Had she been a millisecond slower, it would've tackled her.

"Not just tackled," she realized. The front limbs had claws, buzzsaws, and blades attached to it for melee. It pounced at her again. In one fluid motion, Meku dodged the second leap and twisted her body, trying to slice through the spider's abdomen.

Again, she was shocked when she realized the droid's exoskeleton was built of Beskar and her lightsaber simply glanced off it. "They even build their droids out of this stuff? Where do they get all this magical armor? Can I have some? The hell!" She'd have to treat this like a much smaller, faster Mandalorian warrior, then. Go for the gaps in the armor.

By this time, Brax and Oka surrounded the droid, waiting for it to make a move. The spider eyed Oka and readied a pounce at him. Thinking quickly, Meku Force-tripped Oka, and he fell to the ground just a moment before the spider leapt. Oka grunted as he hit the floor.

"Hit it now," Brax shouted, "it takes a split-sec to recover-"

But no sooner had he said that, the droid leapt at Meku. She bent backward, and the spider barely passed over her chest, landing near Brax. He quickly grabbed the spider by one of its forelegs and used his ample strength to slam it into the wall, then the floor, then the floor again, and again, and again. Despite having Beskar armor, the spider droid seemed vulnerable to blunt-force trauma. It sparked and smoked as it tried to hobble back onto its feet. Oka finished it with several shots to its eyes. Its legs curled inward as it powered down, dead.

"Jeez," Brax was out of breath, "the hell are those things?"

"Open one up, find out."

"Not now Oka." Meku still wasn't tired, and was now even more bloodthirsty. She stretched out with her feelings, trying to figure out where best to go. She could hear and sense the chaos just ahead of her.

"Readying shock arm, sir!"
"Skraaaaaah!"
"Hostile eliminated!"
"That all you got, Republic weakling?"
"I'm just getting started, insect."
"Nitto's down! Pick up his flamethrower," a Mandalorian ordered, "burn the weaklings while they're bunched up!"
"Damn, I lost my weap-aaaaaaaagh!"
"Where's his flamer-fuel?"

She had to get back into the fight before they found this flamethrower that they were shouting about. She leapt upwards, front-flipping and, as she came down, shouted "make way, make way!" A few soldiers quickly backed up and Meku landed between the Mandalorians and her men. She bared her teeth like a mother Kath protecting its young. She quickly scanned for the flamer. He was read to shoot, and had his wrist pointed directly at her.

"You're gonna burn, monster," he thought. Meku could sense he was young and impressionable. The poor fool must've been brainwashed to believe the Jedi were monsters.

Meku smiled. "What's that behind you?" Right as he fired, she flicked her wrist. He turned around, spraying his own men with flames. Simultaneously, she raised her other hand, and several blasters from the dead levitated and started firing on the bucketheads.

"Fall back to the armory!"

The remaining Mandalorians ran back in fear from Meku's power. The blasters followed them, still under Meku's control, and still firing. The flamer remained, with Meku having a stasis hold on him. He squirmed, trying to get out, but it was no use. She sauntered over, laid a hand on his shoulder, and stood next to him, as if admiring a sunset with a friend. The sounds of blaster fire, running, and screaming echoed along the halls.

"You couldn't be more wrong. We're not monsters. You and your wretched people are. All you are, are heartless butchers. And we'll cleanse our peaceful Republic of your filth. She held her saber to his neck and sliced.

She turned to her troops, who were as fearful of her as they were of the enemy. "Men, form a perimeter for any potential counterattack. Oka, get some people together and try to commandeer some of the ship's systems. The rest of you, check the wounded with me. Also, clear the dead bodies out before someone sustains a trip hazard."

Chapter Text

"This victory was too easy," Meku's bad feeling warned her as she surveyed the frozen landscape. The runny-nosed troops around her shivered as the adrenaline high wore off. The bitter cold tore through through their clothes and penetrated their bones. Meku furrowed her eyebrows, trying to find the source of the bad feeling.

The enemy was returning. And they were confident.

"Man the doors, buckets are coming back!" The soldiers, mercenaries, and droids all scrambled to find defensive positions on Meku's order. For some reason, another warning was tugging at her mind. Strangely, it was coming from outside. It felt... big. Powerful. Like an apex predator. She knew this aura.

Meku instinctively put her hand on her saber and scanned the horizon. The men were tense, wondering when the enemy was arriving. She then heard the bassy, burbling sound. There was nothing over the horizon, but her senses warned that the predator was much closer than that.

To her left, Meku saw the Basilisk tear toward her, hugging the ship. It was covered in snow; it and its rider must've been buried, waiting to ambush the Republic. And of course, the other Basilisks had lured Neff's fighter squadron somewhere over the nearest mountain. Dammit all.
"Hearth marines to air support! Ambush, we have a Basi- aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaggggghhhh!"

She was cut off as the hulking beast landed by the bridge window, reached its claw inside, grabbed Meku, and flung her into the snow. At this point, the remaining Mandalorians counterattacked. It was a well-coordinated trap, and she'd fallen right for it.

"Open fire," Oka yelled, having to physically stop Brax from diving out the window behind her. "Don't let them through!"

Meku flew dozens of meters. She would've lethally bashed her head on something if she'd not used the Force to slow her fall. She still crash-landed, nearly buried in the hip-deep snow. She rolled and slid several more meters before finally stopping. She stumbled back up, disoriented, dazed.

Her clothes were covered in snow now. Meku's skinny frame did not insulate her well. She wore a standard-issue winter coat and winter pants over her robes, but they didn't help. Even her ample adrenaline couldn't stop her from shivering as she ignited her saber and faced her new enemy. Flakes sizzled on the blade. She could sense the smile of the Basilisk's rider.

All this time, the Jedi had been nigh-unstoppable, and he was savoring the fact that he would be the one to kill a Master Jedi. Meku didn't have the raw strength to stand up to a Basilisk. Most tanks didn't. The Basilisk fired its heavy laser cannon. Meku sensed the intent to kill long before, as it originated in the rider's mind and fired down his synapses to his trigger finger. By the time he shot, Meku had Force-jumped away, and he left a big, smoking crater in the snow.

Meku ran at the enemy, slogging through the snow, saber raised, shrieking a war cry. "If I can get under it, maybe I can make something happen." He fired another shot that she front-flipped over, and hit the ground running again. She was close enough to hear the whirring of the servos. Before she could reach him, though, the Basilisk simply readied repulsor engines and took off.
"You little - come back here!"

The Basilisk circled like a vulture. Its rider was carefully planning how to take the slippery Jedi out. She sensed great fear in him. He'd heard stories. Rockets arching back and hitting the men who fired them. Shots deflected straight back into T-visors with frightening accuracy. Grenades exploding on friends' belts. He didn't even bring grenades for that reason. He was going to be cautious. This gave her a little time to think.

Sadly, she wasn't able to come up with a plan, because her senses alerted her of an all-new danger. There were enemies sneaking around to climb up the ship, enter the bridge's viewport, and slaughter her soldiers from behind. She looked at the ship, but could see nothing.

"Wait!" She remembered several briefings and conversations about this. Elite Mandalorians were known to use Stealth Field Generators; belts that rendered the wearer invisible. They'd be undetectable if they moved cautiously enough. She focused and, sure enough, could see tracks in the deep snow, but no figures making them. She'd have to come up with something, quick. She couldn't bear the thought of losing more soldiers. She nearly lost Jimny, and she would rather die a painful death than lose Brax and Oka too.

Danger! Her senses alerted her that the Basilisk fired a torpedo. The droid remained flying; she knew its rider was going to try and evade the torpedo if it was Force-flung back at him. Meku waited for just the right moment to dodge it, but the rider knew what she was thinking and fired his heavy laser cannon too.

Meku jumped upwards, hovering in the air, narrowly avoiding being vaporized by the laser. To her shock, the torpedo followed, arcing upwards. "Oh frack oh frack oh frackfrackfrack fraaaaaaaaaaaaacking hell!" The torpedo would hit her in mid-air in less than a second. With nothing for it, she Force-pushed the torpedo downward. it missed her so narrowly that she could read the paint on it: "LOAD THIS DIRECTION." The projectile sailed behind her for hundreds of yards before impacting into the snow.

By this time, the first of the invisibles were climbing up their frigate. Meku hit the ground running (well, slogging), trying to keep between the Basilisk and the invisibles. If she could time it just right, she could use the Basilisk's fire to take out the invisibles. But the rider figured out this plan too, and strafed sideways to prevent this.

Meku searched frantically for a shatterpoint. Fueled by adrenaline and rage, she searched her own feelings, and the feelings of those around her. She thought first to the invisibles. If she charged over there and got into melee with them, perhaps - no. That wouldn't work. The rider was fearful enough of her to fire on his own men, if it meant killing Meku. Not to mention, if he was thinking clearly, he'd just land his mount and rip her apart with its claws.

Danger! Meku's senses served her well and she side-flipped over another shot. she had to end this quick; the invisibles were almost halfway to the viewport. She kept going through ideas for potential shatterpoints, but realized the Basilisk rider would ruin every plan - wait! The rider! He is the shatterpoint!

The Basilisk was not a highly intelligent droid - its CPU mimicked that of a pack animal, like a Beo-Wulf. The one making all the plans was the rider. if she could take out the rider... but how? The first invisible was nearly to the bridge window. Then she realized. She found the hammer that'd strike the shatterpoint.

The Basilisk, still flying, fired another shot. Meku again leapt to the side. While in mid-air, she stretched her arm out and made a fist, Force-grabbing the lead invisible. She then made a throwing motion, and heard "wuuuuuuaaaaaaaaaaah!" as the invisible was flung away from the window. If she calculated this right...

Whack!

The invisible slammed at full speed into the rider, who was so focused on Meku he didn't even notice the screaming woman hurtling toward him. The impact was so fast it sounded like a landspeeder accident. The two of them fell for several seconds before impacting on the cold ground. Meku's heart skipped ten beats in shock, excitement, and adrenaline.

She could feel the aura of the Basilisk. It was so well-programmed, it was almost indistinguishable from an animal's thoughts. It felt confusion and, strangely, sadness that its rider was gone and appeared dead. It was so overcome with sadness, it stopped attacking Meku and landed on the ground to check its rider. The hulking beast gently prodded the limp body, and actually shrunk down when it realized he was dead. The Basilisk lowered its head, slowly, laying it atop its rider. Its shoulders drooped. if Meku were nearer, she'd be able to hear a faint whimpering.

"I don't have time for this." The invisibles were surprised when their leader was flung off the ship, and that paused their progress for a moment. But now the second person was nearly to the viewport.

"Come on, you beast!" Meku had been taught to use the Force to influence animals' thoughts. Animals were much more in tune with the living Force than sentients, whose sapience clouded their natural connection with the mystical energy field. This is why animals regularly exposed to Dark Side energy, like on Koriban, were hyper-aggressive and ultra-territorial. Animals regularly exposed to Light Side energy, like the critters kept in the Temple's nature preserves, were friendly and blindly trusting.

Meku charged her words with every ounce of hate she could muster, hoping the droid was animalistic enough for this to work.

"Hit me! COME ON, you filthy beast!" She spread her arms out in a challenging pose before thumping her chest hard enough to make her ribs hurt. "HIT MEEEEE!" He face contorted with rage. Her teeth were bared like a predator's. Spittle flew from her mouth.

The Basilisk turned to her, grief-fueled rage in its circuits. It fired two torpedoes before charging at her. Meku smiled; she was at just the right spot. At the very last moment, she jumped over the projectiles. They coursed into the bottom of the frigate, causing a massive explosion, and vaporizing all the invisibles. The ground shook as if hit with a severe earthquake. Both Mandalorian and Marine lost their balance and were knocked into walls, computers, and each other.

Meku now had to take care of the Basilisk charging at her, ready to rip her apart. She got into a combat stance with her saber, but felt a new presence. A friendly one. She heard the signature whoosh of a Ministry-class orbital shuttle. She could see it now, close enough to the ground to cause bird-tails of snow behind it.

"Dun da da duuuuuuuuuuun! Chaaaaaaaaaaaaarge!" Vanci's voice over the comm made Meku grin like an idiot. The shuttle slammed into the Basilisk, knocking it several hundred yards. The shuttle's particle shield shimmered, taking the brunt of the impact.

"Vanci, you crazy woman!"

"Someone had to save your skin," Vanci laughed, "and those flyboys are never where we need'em!"

"Can the fighter pilots finish off the droid?"

"Yes ma'am, they say they're a minute out!"

"I gotta help the troops! Thanks for the save, I owe you one."

"You better help me fix my shuttle!"

Meku ran towards the frigate and leapt through the viewport. She levitated herself up, saber ignited, so all could see her.
"Expecting someone else?" She laughed, sensing the surprise and terror in them.

"Dammit! F-fall back!" The Mandalorians again broke and ran, terrified by her. She faced off, and killed a Basilisk War Droid, of all things! Most tanks would be ripped apart by one, and she killed it by herself! Then, she had to get through a dozen invisible commandos just to get here. This was not a real person. She had to be supernatural. A ghost, or demon. A nightmare.

She sensed their leader order them to take a defensive position and make a last stand in the Main Reactor.


A few minutes later, Meku was ready. A lot of things in the bridge had been wrecked, but the shipwide comm systems still worked.

"Ready, ma'am?" Oka looked up at her. Meku nodded and approached the comm.

"Attention all worthless bucketheads. I know exactly where you are." She paused, reaching out in the Force. "Main Reactor, section 4A-GE. You have 60 seconds to leave the Reactor and go outside with hands up. Do so, and you'll be taken as Republic prisoners of war, and treated well. Do not and, well, uh, you know." She had to stop herself from blushing. She made a mental note to work on her public speaking.

Thirty seconds passed. Nothing. Meku turned to Oka. Oka noticed a strange look on her face. She looked... satisfied. If he didn't know any better, she almost looked - dare he say it - she almost looked glad they didn't surrender.

"Oka, turn all power off."

"Copy." He prodded a few buttons and switches, and the entire ship went dark. he sirens, heaters, and other systems all went quiet. it was eerie. Another thirty seconds passed.

"Everyone listen up!" Meku addressed her troops. "I'll take point. No matter what you do, stay behind my lightsaber. I'll keep you safe through this. Just stay behind my lightsaber. Understood?"

"Ma'am, yes ma'am!"

It was time to bring this suffering to an end.

Chapter Text

Lappah of Clan Kelso was a young warrior. Sometimes, his elders playfully picked on him for his age ("leave me alone, di'kuit! I'm almost fifteen!") Like all born into a Mandalorian Clan, he'd been trained from birth to fight. He started off with basic plastoid armor, only earning Beskar when he passed his combat trials and became an adult at age thirteen.

He was hoping to earn a Basilisk one day too. Lappah took as many flying lessons as he could, when he had time outside of his duties and side-job. All Mandalorians were warriors first. Their professions were important to society, but always secondary to war. Hence, they called their professions eso'bora, side-jobs. Lappah's side-job was in the law, helping mediate disputes between fellow members. He apprenticed under a fair, yet firm Clan Elder who had died died when their frigate crashed into this snowball.

Overall, Lappah was well-recognized as a talented, albeit green warrior with potential to become something great with time. In his almost-fifteen years, he had dueled hundreds of people one-on-one. He participated in the Outer Rim Conquests, as his Clans built up their strength to fight the Republic. And he'd been in the front lines in the war against the Republic, the greatest enemy the Clans had yet faced.

In all his battles, Lappah was concerned and even shook up at times. But never in his life had he been terrorized like when he laid eyes on that Jedi. He could see it in her eyes. It was almost like she wasn't a person. She seemed more like a Ras'griz, a demon.

He was actually shaking, not even able to hold his gun straight. The Main Reactor had no windows and was pitch-black from cutting the power. All they could see was in the thin beams of their blaster- or helmet-mounted flashlights. The various pipes, wires, and other contraptions looked unfamiliar when sideways in the dark. Every creak or noise was the Jedi coming to kill them dead, dead, dead.

"Come on, Lappah. Death before dishonor. Defend Clan and Family. If you die here, so be it. There's nothing wrong with earning a warrior's death.  There's nothing wrong with earning a warrior's death.  There's nothing wrong with earning a warrior's death. "

He told himself this over and over again, but he didn't want to die. Not like this, anyway. Death was supposed to be glorious, earned in a hard-fought battle with a challenging enemy. This didn't feel glorious, or honorous. It felt like murder.

Ries'la, his best friend, was behind him. He was a hulking, huge man, unlike Lappah with his small, toned frame. His heavy repeater looked small in his muscular arms. Ries'la laid a comforting hand on Lappah's shoulder. He wasn't alone. He was here with his clan, his friends, his family.

"IF she kills us. We can do this. I'll see the rest of my clan again. Buir and Buiri will be so proud their son survived against a Jedi." He steeled himself, trying at least to stop his hands from shaking.

Lappah had a bad feeling, as if someone was directly in front of them. Strangely, the eerie silence remained. The Main Reactor's entrance was very narrow, and the shape of the halls made it quite a drop to get to where they were. They holed up here by design; the entrance to the hallway was an absolute killzone. Anyone who tried to come in would be vaporized. Even someone with a stealth generator couldn't get to them without making a racket and being riddled with bolts.

Still, Lappah's gut told him otherwise. He gripped his blaster tight, taking deep breaths, trying to make his shakes go away. "I can do this. I'll make it back home. I'll learn to fly. I'll get a Basilisk. I just have to survive. I can do it."

Without warning, the narrow entrance was lit by the purple glow of a lightsaber.

"Fire at will!"

Everyone fired at the saber, some yelping with fear and surprise. The dark didn't serve them well and the saber easily deflected most shots. The remaining coursed into the wall behind the Jedi. Moments later, blasters started firing behind the lightsaber.

Lappah noticed something strange; the way the saber was moving, it was almost as if no one was holding it. And some of the shots that weren't deflected missed close enough to the saber that it definitely should've hit the Jedi. Yet they continued traveling behind.

"Come on, come on!"

Pidu'bal, a sharpshooter, decided to quit shooting the saber and fire at one of the soldiers blasting them. Lappah again noticed, his shot should have hit the soldier holding the blaster. But it just went through where the soldier should have been. As if there was no soldier.

"There's nothing attached to those weapons," Pidu'bal shouted.

"You're seeing things, it's a trick of the dark," an elder replied.

Another comrade, Sokkar, drew a vibrosword and charged at the saber, growling a war cry. It didn't parry any of his swings and moved unnaturally. It was clear now, to everyone in the reactor. The purple of the saber illuminated Sokkar just fine, but there was nobody on the other end. In seconds, it had bisected and beheaded Sokkar.

"Demon! Ras'griz!"

"Shut up and return fire! Aim for the - kck!" Before the elder could finish, Sokkar's vibrosword was flung directly into his throat.

In seconds, another comrade fell, blaster bolts hitting him in the T-visor. The saber buried itself into another Mandalorian's gut, exiting his side, causing his body to flop over like a tree that had been axed.

Next to Lappah, a clan elder grabbed at his throat, coughing and hacking, before being forcefully pinned against the wall, levitated so his feet weren't touching the ground. He dropped his weapon, flailing, struggling for breath, kicking, scratching at his neck. His body went into convulsions from the lack of oxygen to his brain.

"The grim reaper's come for us," Lappah thought.

Another brother was tripped, fell flat on his face, and was dragged away. He scratched at the durasteel walls, trying to stop his progress toward the demon.
"Help me! Someone please help! Help me!"

Lappah tried to run to his aid, but he was shoved with massive force, face-first into the unforgiving reactor's walls. He was able to shield his face with his arms in time, but he could hear and feel the cracking of his ribs from the blunt-force trauma. His chest was on fire, it even hurt to breathe. His nose bled from the impact, getting all on his mouth and chin, and pooling near the bottom of his helmet seals. All Lappah could do was watch his clan-brother get dragged closer and closer to the lightsaber. The clan-brother's vibroblade was unhooked from his belt, and levitated above him.

"Please, no! Please, no! Please-" He was cut off as the vibroblade slammed down, pinning him to the floor like a dart. His arms flailed trying to remove the sword from between his back-plates, but he wasn't flexible enough. The blade twisted, with no purpose other than to make him shriek in agony. The shriek devolved into wet gurgles as his blood pooled across the floor and dripped out of his helmet.

The Reactor was filled with the sounds of torture. The searing sound of blaster bolts burning flesh. The thwack of a disruptor bolt hitting Beskar armor. Gurgling, choking, hacking, and screams of sheer terror. Some of these hardened, lifelong warriors even cried for their mothers, "Buiri! Buiri!" Burning flesh from lightsaber and blaster wounds filled Lappah's nose, strong enough to even pass through his helmet's filters. The only light came from the flashlights, the lightsaber, and the fast-moving blaster bolts. Lappah had never thought too much about Hell, but he knew that, no matter how bad it was, it couldn't be as bad as this.

"Someone please make it stop! Oh Gods!"

Lappah fought through the pain to stand back up, aim his blaster rifle, and fire. He didn't even know what to shoot, just hoping a stray bolt would somehow find its way to the Ras'griz.

Further back, Ries'la had kept a cooler head. He decided to look around. There was no person attached to the lightsaber, or any of the blasters. But the Jedi had that magical Force power, and he remembered from earlier that they could control weapons. If he could find the Jedi, he could make all this hell stop. His clan and family were getting massacred. He had to protect them. Ries'la swept his gun-mounted flashlight back and forth behind their position. He could hear his best friend weeping as he blindly fired.

His flashlight caught the tiniest glint, almost like a predator's eyes at night. Before he could bring the flashlight back around and double check, his neck snapped, and his body went limp. He lost all feeling below the neck, and knew he had only a few more seconds of life left. He tried to think happy thoughts of clan and family, but strangely, he didn't feel in control. He felt like there was an unwelcome guest in his mind.

He knew who this was. The puppet master. Ras'griz. Those predator's eyes were inside him now. The sheer horror was feeding it, sustaining its considerable strength. Blood stained its teeth, dripping out of its mouth, but it craved more. He could hear its craving, just the same as he heard his brothers screaming in pain and horror. More blood. More blood. MORE!

Ries'la faded into death, not even given the mercy of peace in his own mind.

A flood of bolts started hitting Lappah's clan. Strangely, it came from behind. He turned around and saw his best friend firing nonstop at his clanmates. Lappah didn't notice Ries'la's head as hanging down, below his shoulders, like he was asleep.

"Ries'la, what are you doing!?" Lappah's tears mixed with the blood on his face.

"Return fire," another shouted before being hit in the shoulder.
Some Mandalorians turned and fired at Ries'la. He didn't make any attempt to dodge, and was hit with several bolts. He didn't even notice. It was like he was suddenly incapable of feeling pain.

"Ries'la, brother, please! Please stop this!" Lappah's begging fell on deaf ears. It was now that he noticed something was off. This wasn't the Ries'la he knew. He didn't stand, walk, or wield his blaster like Ries'la. As more blaster bolts coursed into him, he remained limp, but still fired. No, it wasn't his best friend. Ries'la was a puppet of the demon.

A vibro-spear pinned two clanmates against each other, before bending to entangle them. The two dying men were then flung into another female, knocking her over. The two entangled men levitated and slammed into her over and over, the blunt force turning her into meat.

"Please stop!"

Most of them were screaming or weeping, firing wildly, not aiming or even thinking. Others had frozen in fear, completely static, minds incapable of handling the shock. Rak, who was Lappah's age, had gone into a full panic attack. He'd shrunk into a wall, dropped his gun, and collapsed. He was shaking uncontrollably, hyperventilating, whimpering, and rocking back and forth. People continued dying, left and right, all around them. They had a frigate full of people when this started. Now they were less than ten, and quickly dwindling.

Lappah had to make this hell stop. All Mandalorians lived by the Resol'nare, the Six Actions, core tenets that guided all of Mandalorian society. #3 was to defend oneself and one's family. Perhaps defending Lappah's family, his clan, didn't mean fighting to the death. Perhaps it meant just making this hell stop. There was nothing else he could do, it was the only thing occupying his fear-frozen mind.

"We surrender! We surrender! Stop, we..." Lappah raised his hands over his head, gritting his teeth through the pain of his ribs. He dropped his blaster, and it clunk-clunked to the floor. "We surrender."

The hell stopped. Everything hung still for several long moments. His clan-brothers stopped fighting, unsure what to do. The Ras'griz was the first to act. Ries'la's corpse dropped to the floor, along with several blasters and vibroblades, and the entangled couple. The silence was eerie before a comm crackled and a female voice spoke.
"Lights on."

It was still pitch black, but Lappah could tell somehow, the voice was that of the Ras'griz. A few moments later, the lights came on. His helmet's auto-dimmers meant the sudden light wasn't blinding to him, and he was still able to see what was going on. Directly behind their position was that skinny, white-haired Jedi from earlier, on her knees, in a meditative position.

Somehow, she'd managed to sneak through a killzone, get completely behind a position well-fortified by dozens of warriors, and remain there without detection through an intense firefight. Any mere mortal would have been shredded in a millisecond. Hell, even a Basilisk would have. She was no mere mortal. Lappah realized, if all Jedi were like her, then his people stood no chance. She was the puppet master. The demon. His terror was joined by a respect for her abilities.

She stood up slowly, as if savoring the moment. She extended her arm, and her saber's long handle willed itself to her hand. Lappah saw only a handful of Republic troops, with more dropping down into their area. The vast majority of the blaster fire came from levitating guns controlled by her. It remained eerie, the silence only broken by Rak, still stricken by his panic attack.

"Men," she ordered, "search and detain."

"Copy," a huge Zabrak replied, taking off his facemask. As he approached, Lappah could see the sadness in his eyes. The Zabrak and several others patted down the remaining survivors, removing their weapons and cuffing them.

"Kneel." She didn't wait for the Mandalorians to comply, instead gesturing. Lappah felt something powerful grab his body and bring him to his knees. The Jedi sauntered over to an Elder, the ship's captain. He was promoted from First Mate when his superior died in the crash.

He was a Taung, the original species of Mandalorian. He had green skin, a head punctuated by fish-like fringes, and tentacles instead of hair. Taung were nearly wiped out in the Exar Kun war, and they were a rarity even in the Mandalorian Clans. The clans were majority-human nowadays.

"Captain. Name."

"Esio of Clan Kelso."

"You're going to tell us where the rest of your fleet went."

"Absolutely not, aruetii." Outsider.

She gestured with her hand, and Captain Esio was forced onto his back. The Jedi stepped on his throat. "I don't have time for this. You are evil scum. Talk or die slowly."

"And betray my clan? Pah! I'll take the second option." His voice was hoarse from the Jedi's boot.

"Is that so? Didn't seem too willing to die just a few moments ago." Esio reacted by shooting Lappah a contemptuous look. Lappah looked down in shame. Maybe they should have died here.

"Try me." He stared right into the Ras'griz's eyes, which had a slight hint of yellow in them. They locked eyes for minutes. Lappah knew he meant it. They may have surrendered, but they'd all gladly die in great pain before betraying their Clan.

The entire time, Rak whimpered and hyperventilated. The Republic soldiers spoke softly, "Relax, relax. It's over. C'mon bud, just lemme get you in these cuffs, okay? It's done."
Their words didn't work. Rak continued shaking and rocking, saying "no" and "devil" every so often.

The Jedi then removed her foot from Esio's neck, grinned, and squatted down. "Well I admire your strength of will. Really, I do. But we're gonna stop wasting my time." She held her hand in front of his head, and Captain Esio gritted his teeth.

"What... what are you doing?"

"Shhh, shhhhh," she whispered in a soothing, motherly tone. Somehow, this was even more terrifying. "Relax."

"Gah! Aaaaaagh! Get- get out of my head!"

"You're a brave one, Captain, but your thoughts betray you. Not so strong, are you, great warrior?"

"I said get out, landuur!" Weakling.

"Aaaaand..." she made a motion like she was catching something, "Thank you. That's all I need." The Jedi bent down, inches from the Captain's face, and smiled smugly. "All that showboating, for nothing. You can't hide your thoughts from me, insect."

Esio tried to headbutt her, but the Jedi held her hand and stopped him in mid-air. Filled with rage, he growled at her. "Face me and give me a warrior's death!"

"Oh, happily. But there's plenty more I'd like to talk about before then." She turned to her soldiers. "Now take them away, and relay the following coordinates to command. Also," she pointed at Rak, "shut him up."


Jimny awoke in a cold sweat. He had a nightmare. It was weird; he was in some sort of battle. He noticed Hammerheads fighting Interdictor cruisers in the skies. Strange, both were Republic designs, why would they fight each other? The Interdictors were different too; they were painted plain silver rather than the brick-red-over-white of the Republic.

On the ground, he was standing with his squad, facing the enemy. But they weren't Mandalorians, it looked like he was fighting a mirror image of his own squad. Well, mirror image was the wrong term. The copies had paler, gray skin. They wore shiny silver armor, and Meku had bright yellow eyes. Enemy-Meku smiled sadistically as she reached for her saber's long handle, between her shoulder blades.

He rubbed his head, hoping everything was alright.

Chapter Text

"Oh my word..." Admiral Abel exhaled in disbelief as he read Meku's after-action report. "During omp-up opeations, t he Mandalorain forces surrendered. Apprehended an ddetained the final four survivors. Names as follows: . . . "

Meku hastily wrote it on the shuttle ride up to the Hearth, so it was full of grammatical errors. Other than this haste, Meku wrote exceedingly well; all Jedi were trained in literature and composition. They were also expected to write reports for the Republic Judiciary when they acted as peacekeepers. In yet another realization that fighting was only a tiny part of war; for every minute spent fighting or solving crimes, Meku had to spend at least ten or twenty minutes writing about it.

"She's lightning in a bottle, isn't she sir?" Foster chose her words, tone, and expression very carefully. She was extremely lucky that she hadn't been punished for how she talked to him earlier.

"The Mandalorians have never surrendered to us. Never. I... I don't even believe it."
Foster said nothing, but inside she was as smug as a Wookiee who had won a game of pazaak. Her expression remained neutral, but inside she thought "I fraggin' told you so, didn't I?"
"We'll divert the reinforcement fleet to the new coordinates," he continued.

Gerrenthum's planetary fleet was still coming, but so was something bigger. In his desperate bid for help over Bespin, Abel had sent for any fleet available. Fondor, a shipbuilding world in the Core, had reported that they'd just built a handful of brand-new ships, and they were incoming. They were much too far to save Bespin, but would probably arrive in time to destroy the Mandalorian survivors.

"We'll need 'em. The men aren't in much condition for another fight."

"No rest for the weary, Commander." He smiled, weakly.

"I'm just shocked they're still so deep in our space. I thought they woulda high-tailed it back home after..." she dared not say the word Bespin. The pain and guilt was evident in his eyes already. It was eating away at him. "After, y'know. Sir."

He just nodded, not even wanting to talk about it. All that played in his mind was watching his guns fire on a space station full of innocents.

"Well, uh..." Foster rubbed the back of her neck. "I'll get down to the hangar, make sure everything's in order with the prisoners. I'll check on Engineering for you too, make sure we have all systems in good working order." Abel nodded, she saluted, and curtly walked out.


The slightly-crumpled shuttle landed in the hangar bay, followed by its fighter escort. Despite being swamped with work, the Hearth's crew actually stopped their duties to see it land. They had to see it for themselves. The officer on deck ordinarily would have cracked down and made them get back to their duties. But this was a huge moment, and they deserved a celebration. After all, everyone on the ship firmly believed the Marines were being sent to their death. Yet, this phenomenal Jedi brought them back, and even got the Mandalorians to surrender.

When the shuttle doors hissed open, Meku led. She exited slowly, almost savoring the awe. Behind her, four prisoners in cuffs, escorted at gunpoint by distrusting soldiers. They had been stripped of their weapons and armor, which were being carried by the battle droids and a few other people. Upon seeing this impossible sight, the elated crew cheered.
"Holy Bantha! D'you see this?"
"Hero!"
"You got 'em, Master Jedi!"
"This can't be real. Pinch me, Simi, pinch me. This is a dream."
"Legend!"
"Hell yeah, Master Jedi!"

Several crewmen also taunted their new prisoners.
"Not so tough now, are you, insects?"
"Eat shit, roaches!"
"Enjoy your cells."
"How's it feel to lose, huh?"
"No mercy, no quarter. Give 'em a firing squad."
"Whose the weaklings now?"

Some of the soldiers and mercs smiled, raised fists, and whooped back. Other stayed silent. They looked sullen, like they'd been shaken to their core.

The officer on deck then cracked down and shouted, "Stop standing around, you mynocks! Ship's falling apart."

Meku told Oka to lead the prisoners to the Brig, and she'd catch up to him. She then approached the fighters' berths, making a beeline straight for Neff's. He decorated his fighter with sharp teeth in the front, and outlines of his kills stenciled on the side. Neff climbed out of his cockpit and plopped down in front of Meku. He wore a cocky grin, hiding his nervousness.

"Neff." Her firm voice had undertones of rage.

"You are officially skilled, Meku. What a killer. Taking down a Bas-" his compliment was interrupted by a Force-push. Unprepared, he fell back sideways, clocking his face on his fighter. Meku then got close up to him, aggressively pointing her finger in his face.

"Do you call that escort? We all almost died down there, and where were you? Huh? Where the hell were you?" She was inches from his face, baring her teeth like a beast. Despite being so short, it was clear she was the one towering over him.

"Look-"

"-I don't wanna hear it! This isn't a damn movie and you're not the Red Baron. When you're running close-air support, you do that damn job!" Her next line was quiet, menacing. "You better shape up."

Neff held his bleeding nose. He furrowed his eyebrows in aggression, and was about to strike her back, but he shrunk away from that idea. He was indignant, having been humiliated by mud-slogging infantry in front of his fellow pilots. But his fear of her overpowered that.

Meku radiated raw power. Neff had never felt this much power in a person before. He could also sense the sheer darkness in that frigate as he flew over. It was like sensing a hurricane's power. For once in his life, he actually felt bad for the bucketheads. He bit his tongue and softened his expression.

"Yes, I'm sorry."

"Sorry isn't good enough. When you're assigned escort, you actually escort us. You don't run off on every wild bantha chase you see. Do I make myself clear?"

"Yes!"

"Yes, what?" Meku didn't know if she outranked him or not, and she didn't care. She just wanted to put this hotheaded fool in his place.

"Yes, ma'am!" He snapped to attention.

Meku growled and stormed away, taking breaths to calm herself.

Oka was still in the hangar, talking to Foster. The rest of the soldiers, mercs, and droids stood awkwardly behind him. Meku approached and spoke to Foster.

"Commander."

"Jedi!" She proudly clutched Meku's shoulder. "I didn't believe you at first. But looks like you caught us a couple buckets, eh?"

Meku didn't know how to respond, and her exhaustion was setting in. She just nodded before catching herself and using the proper respect. "Yes, ma'am."

Foster inspected the prisoners. As expected from a warrior culture, they were in peak physical shape. There were only four of them, but it took double that many beings to hold all their equipment.
"Geez, one of you is equipped like a batallion."
Their faces were pained. Foster believed it was humiliation. She didn't know it was fear.
"Any complications you foresee about this? Security concerns?"

"No, ma'am. We were very thorough in our search."

"I can see that. You gotta be, with these buckets." Foster spat out the last word like an insult. "Well, you know how to book someone into the Brig by now. No need to hold your hand. Take as many guards as you need, and get some rest after. Dismissed!"

"On it." Foster patted Meku's shoulder again, like a proud parent.

Lappah wanted to have a look around the ship. The area was vaguely familiar, since he'd once co-piloted a transport dropping off a boarding party. As an aspiring Basilisk rider, he had a fascination for all sorts of starships, and could spend all day reading about them. He'd studied Hammerheads, and had a lot of respect for the workhorse that had been in service for 300 years with no sign of being retired. The swift Aurek fighter was interesting as well, especially its locking S-Foil technology. He wondered what they were like to fly. But he dared not look at any of them. He kept his head down in shame and fear.

His clan-brothers were nearby. They could've died in battle, as a Mandalorian should. Instead, they were captured. Stripped of their weapons and armor, completely naked. It was like shaving, declawing, and detoothing a Nexu.

Lappah had second thoughts, but it was too late. They were already at the Republic's mercy. Worst of all, they'd probably be questioned by the Ras'griz. No place was safe from her, not even his own mind. They had to come up with something.


"What in the san hill d'ya mean no discharge? I'm walkable, ain't I?"

"Yes, but sir, you must remain under supervision of medical staff." The medical droid's vocabulator had subsonic undertones to help soothe its patients. It did not understand why that wasn't working on the obtuse man. "We must observe for any complications from-"

"Hell no. choose when I get discharged. No way in hell I'm taking orders from a fraggin' tin can."

Foster leaned on the door to medbay, having overheard the exchange.

"But sir, if a complication appears, it is imperative you be in medbay to receive prompt treatment."

"I am fine. There's people in there worse'n me. Worry about them. I needa check in on my men and get back to the fight."

"But sir-"

"One more 'but sir' and I space you outta the airlock. Wanna get thrown out of the ship's butt, sir?" He was joking, of course, but droids always had a tough time telling.

"Very well, Sergeant Devore. Please know you will be marked as having been discharged AMR: Against Medical Recommendation."

"Sure thing, tin can. Also, mark me as IDGAF: I Don't Give A-"

"Quit harassing the poor droid, Devore," Foster spoke up. She had a tough time not laughing, and made sure to keep a straight face before piping in.

His neck stiffened and he turned to her. "Maxine!" He grew a cocksure smile. He wore only a tight-fitting shirt and some shorts, complimenting his toned, well-defined muscles. He crossed his arms. The electrical patterns were burned into his right arm, almost like an extra layer of tattoos.

"Come to enjoy the view? I know I'm quite the specimen, so - Holy Rakghoul, what happened to your arm?" Jimny's face switched instantly from cockiness to concern when he saw Foster's arm in its sling.

"Shot. Fraggin' buckets can't aim worth a damn."

"Are you okay? D'ya need anything?"

"I'm fine now. I fought through it. Unlike you, I didn't need to lay around in bed like a lazy-ass for three days."

He retorted quickly, "I was sleep. Even in my sleep I can kill buckets better'n you, but I didn't wanna make you feel bad. Getting showed up by your subordinate. Y'know y'can't compete with this," he pointed at himself.

"Whatever, tough guy. Pretty sure I can handle a bite."

"Why not test that?" His cocksure smile came back. "I'm sure it's been a while."

"Yes it has, Devore." She used his last name intentionally, as if saying "those days are over, okay?"

"C'mon Maxine. We both know-"

"-Stand down, Devore." She sighed, conflicted. "And... are you okay?"

"Never better. Ain't nothing getting me down." He surveyed his arm. "This is just another souvenir. Cooler than a trinket from a gift shop, eh?" He was about to push his luck again when an unwelcome voice interrupted him.

"Sir, if you may sign this AMR release for our records?" Jimny grunted deeply.

"There, it's signed. Now leave us the hell alone, tin can."

"Be nice to the droid. He's doing his best."

"It's just a tin can. Got no feelings, no nothing. I don't needa be nice to any of those junk-piles."

The droid drooped its appendages for a split second before quickly recovering its poise and saying "have a nice day, sir," and leaving.

Foster growled and rolled her eyes. "Why are you like that to them? You are something else. And speaking of something else. That Jedi of yours... wow. What're you teaching her?"

Jimny tilted his head, unsure if this was a compliment or if Meku had gotten herself in trouble. "What'd she do this time?" His gut sank as his mind went to the worst thing. "Did... did we lose Bespin?"

Foster's eyes popped when she realized the man had been completely out for three days. She brought him up to speed on the events, punctuating her story with, "and now, she's booking the buckets in the Brig."

"She surrendered a Mandalorian?"

"No. Four Mandalorians."

Jimny's mouth was nearly on the floor. His face beamed with pride. She was coming into her own, not just as a soldier, but as a leader.

"It was all me. I was the one who taught her everything, y'know." Foster rolled her eyes, smiling to herself. "But for serious, she's got all that inside her."

"You are a good teacher, Sarge. The best... Don't underestimate yourself." Foster's eyes played memories of her early days in the Navy.

"Eh. I taught her regular soldiering stuff. Some people don't got it, no matter what you teach 'em. She's got the gift."

"I agree. I thought the Jedi were gonna try to hug it out with the Mandos, or something. You know Jedi types."

"Pff, yeah. Flowers and rainbows and shit."

"Exactly!" Foster was letting her guard down now. "I'm glad the Revanchists aren't like that. I'm glad they're willing to do what needs to be done." She thought of Bespin. The Republic would surely had lost the battle without that sacrifice. And maybe the war with it.

"Kill a thousand to save a million. Those decisions suck to make. But you gotta be strong enough to make 'em. Glad she is."

"Agreed. She needs some fine-tuning, but the foundation is there. I can see her going high places here. She'll become really something."

"That's what I'm tryna do. Give her the guidance she needs."

"Careful with that. Can't let her get too much like you."

Her face showed regret as soon as she said that. She turned and walked off. Jimny tried not to dwell on their past. He decided to make his way to the Brig, since it seemed like that's where the squad were. He needed to check in on them and some other guys he knew. He didn't get very far when a familiar voice cried out to him.

"JIMNY!" He turned to see Meku running full-speed at him. For some strange reason, his nightmare was the first thing on his mind when he saw her. She jumped and embraced him, nearly knocking him over. This evaporated the bad dream. She buried her head into the crook of his neck. He smiled, embracing her.

"Hey, hey," he tried to keep his cool demeanor, "relax kid, relax." She could tell he was acting like he was too tough for this. "C'mon now, let's keep it, uh, arm's length..."
She simply squeezed tighter.
"Alright, you kraken, get off." Jimny chuckled and jokingly waved her off.

"I'm so glad you're okay. I'm, I'm..."

"C'mon Meku, you should know me better than that. I've had worse shocks from shorting HoloProjectors. How'sa squad?"

"Great. Minor scrapes and bruises, but healthy. They're finishing the booking process over at the Brig. I rushed over here to check on you. I wanted," the smile ran away from her face. "I just, I'm sorry, sir."

"For what?"

She looked at him like the answer was obvious. "For..." she looked away, too ashamed to look at him when talking about it. Her elation was replaced with guilt.

"For what," he replied a little more firmly.

"I should've known. I should've been able to sense him, sir. I should've stopped him. I let him. I let him do this."

"Listen kid, he was the traitor. Not you."

"I should've been stronger!"

It was surprising to see such a clammed-in person like Meku have an outburst like that. Jimny liked her. Not just for her phenomenal ability in combat, not just for her creative mind. But because she always took responsibility. Even when it wasn't her fault that something went wrong, she put the burden on her shoulders. This wasn't always good; it led to burnout and other unhealthy coping mechanisms, Jimny knew that well.

But it also meant she would never shirk responsibility. If something needed to be done, she'd do it. She'd never ignore something that "wasn't her department," which some soldiers (and especially mercenaries) often did. Not to mention, she had a fire inside her that burned furiously hot. He didn't know about the rest of these monks, but Meku was a gift.

"I wasn't able to sniff'im out either."

"But you're not a Jedi." He cocked an eye back, and Meku backpedaled. "Uh, with all due respect, sir. Not trying to make myself, uh, not saying, uh. I'm not better than you, Sarge. I just, you don't have the Force senses I have."

"I know what you meant," he replied sternly.

"Sir, I-"

"-Stop."

"But-"

"-shababababababa." He wiggled his hands. "Stop."

"Sir-"

"Ssssshhhhhhhhhhhutup. Don't be annoying." He put his fingers over Meku's mouth. "If you're expecting me to tell you it's all gonna be okay, that you didn't do nothing wrong, or some other sunshine-and-rainbow nerfcrap, you're gonna be disappointed. I ain't gonna sugar-coat nothing to make you feel good. You made a mistake in not sensing him. Because of that mistake, we damn near lost Bespin. Lots of people died."

Meku just nodded somberly, the echo still in her heart.

"I didn't notice him either, and he was my squaddie for years. We all make mistakes. It's inevitable. What separates good soldiers from bad is learning from 'em. Not making the same mistake twice. Can you do that?"

Meku nodded again.

"So, how are you gonna take responsibility?" She looked at him, as if waiting for permission to speak. He had to stop himself from chortling at her awkwardness. "Yeah, you can talk now."

"I need to learn about whatever mind-blocking technique he knew. I'll do some reading on it."

"And?"

"Once I read about it, I can find ways to beat it. So it doesn't happen again."

"Good. And?"

"Maybe I can even track Luay down, and kill him. Make him pay."

"Ooooookay, you got the right spirit. Is there a better way to make him pay?"

She furrowed her eyebrows, having to think long and hard. It seemed hard for her to fathom a result other than just killing him. Jimny knew why. She was overcome with a sea of emotions. She wanted vengeance and, deep down, he did too. Jimny recognized how dangerous that could be, in a profession that required as much discipline as the military did.

"Well, maybe, maybe capturing him would be good. Make him spill the java and confess any other schemes he's got his hands in. He may know other spies or something."

"Now you're talking! You gonna stop there?"

"Stop there? What else could I do?"

"Lemme ask you a question, wise Master Jedi. How many systems are in the Republic?"

"Oh, well over a million!"

"And how many systems are in Mandalorian space?"

"Um, something like 30 thousand?"

"How big is the Republic Military?"

"Hundreds of thousands of ships strong, sir. Millions of volunteers."

"Oh, it's bigger'n that. And the Mandos?"

"Smaller than us, I know that."

"So, y'think he was the only spy in the whole Navy?"

Her eyes widened. "Force be with us..."

"Exactly. Who knows how many other Luays are out there."

"We should get on the comm right away! No, we should go straight to Revan, the whole military has to know!" She began to bolt off when Jimny calmly grabbed her fatigues. She was jerked back.

"Slow down. We gotta go through the proper channels. Let's talk to Captain Abel, maybe he can set up a comm with the Supreme Commander."

"Right!" Her excited face flushed red with embarrassment. "Also, he's the Admiral now, sir."

"He's what?"

Meku gave him a confused look before realizing. "Uh, Remus was killed over Bespin, sir."

Jimny sighed and she felt bitterness and disappointment from him. Before she could ask, he said "Alright, let's go talk to the Admiral."


"Let me make sure I have this straight. There was a Mandalorian spy in your squad. He committed several acts of espionage, using his datapad for all sorts of related purposes. He hid his data and messages in the game files. And..." he paused, taking in the weight of this revelation, "he was able to block his mind from your senses by obsessively thinking about this video game."

"Yes, Supreme Commander." Meku's face and voice were composed, but inside she was all fireworks. She always was when she saw Revan. Only Jimny was with her; Revan didn't even allow Abel to sit in on this top-secret meeting. "My written reports have the full details."

"I've reviewed them. Well-written. Thank you. Anything further to offer, Sakaroto?" The fireworks became even more explodey now. Meku had to stop herself from bouncing in excitement.

"Thank you, sir. Nothing else to offer. The files I reviewed were not very helpful." Admiral Abel used his high clearance to let Meku read some confidential military files on the subject. Mind-Blocking was a technique developed in ancient days, when the Jedi weren't a trusted, core part of the Republic. It took years of practice for a non-Force Sensitive to learn. No detail beyond that. Not how to do it, how to counter it, nothing.

"I've seen many a holocron filled with ancient secrets. Once the Jedi and Republic allied, they did everything they could to wipe that idea from the galaxy's consciousness. It would be dangerous to the Jedi, should it become common knowledge."

"But the Mandalorians know how to do it, Supreme Commander," Jimny spoke. He was much more composed and professional than normal. "I believe it's prudent to spread the word. If they know how to do this, then it is safe to assume they have more spies like him, in other places."

"Leave that to me," Revan retorted. "We've been thrust into an extremely delicate situation. Spreading this information too liberally could be just as dangerous as not telling anyone. It must be disclosed to only the most important, trusted people."

"Yes, Supreme Commander." Jimny's thoughts betrayed him, "the hell's wrong with everyone knowing that? I sure wouldn't mind havin' that trick up my sleeve, just in case."

"Other than Abel, have you told anyone else of your revelation?" Before they could answer, Meku's head started to feel strange. It felt as if a million tiny snakes were slithering in her head, touching every single crevasse of her mind. Searching her memories, making sure the truth was within her. It was well-known (to her, at least) that Jedi had the power to feel people's thoughts. But she'd never felt such a powerful probe as Revan's, and he was halfway across the galaxy. Jimny's face twitched, he could feel Revan inside his head as well.

"Not about Mind-Blocking, sir, no," Meku said, trying to keep a straight face.

"The whole ship knows he's a rat, though," Jimny added.

Revan gave a slight nod in satisfaction. "Then you must swear complete secrecy until given further orders by me and me only. Do you understand?"

"Yessir," Jimny replied automatically. Despite disagreeing, Revan was his superior. He was given an order and that was that.

"I know you don't like it, Sargeant Devore. That you sure wouldn't mind having that trick up your sleeve, just in case." Despite his decades of putting on a Pazaak-Face for his superiors, he couldn't hide his shocked expression. "It is imperative that the spread of this information be strictly controlled. Otherwise it could doom our war effort. You already know you can't hide anything from me." The snakes returned to their heads, almost like a warning. "Understood?"

"Yes, Supreme Commander," Meku replied. "We won't tell anyone."

Jimny, panicking inside, tried to say something to save face. "Sir, hey, listen. I um, sir, I'm, I'm, um, I'm a man of duty, and um, uh, well, y'see..." he was not doing well.

"Relax, Sargeant. I know your heroics. Both of you. I know you are good soldiers and will do anything to protect our Republic. This is critical to the Republic's safety. Do not fail me. Understood?"

"Yessir."

"And relax! Also, keep your head out of the gutter." Jimny's eyes widened to saucers before Revan chuckled. "Just joking, Devore. We'll speak later. Please bring in Admiral Abel."


"Understood, Supreme Commander."

"Do not fail me. Revan out."
The comm shut off. Alek was in the same room, but out of range of the HoloProjector.

"How in the galaxy did the Mandalorians learn that? I thought the Ancients wiped out any knowledge of Mind-Blocking over twenty thousand years ago."

Revan waited to speak, just removing his mask and putting it down on a dresser. Revan turned and gave a mischievous smile, "way back when Vrook was only middle-aged."

Alek laughed deeply, from his belly. "Before he had that stick shoved up his loading ramp, hm?"

"Stick? More like a wroshyr tree growing in there." Revan looked at the mask while he disrobed, mind drifting away. He always planned and looked for new angles. He did it without even thinking.

"So Revan, do you have an actual plan, or more smart-alec remarks?"

"You know I have an infinite supply of those, Squint." Revan called his best friend by his childhood nickname. On the other hand, the Supreme Commander was so encompassed by his cause, even Alek called him by his new name. "You can never defeat me in a battle of wits."

"You're blessed with such sharp wit only because you're cursed with such horrific ugliness. You wouldn't need that humor if you had a peak physique like mine." Alek flexed, showing off his monstrous muscles. He was proud of his best friend, and somewhat jealous, even. Revan had a smaller, more toned body. He didn't care much for physical strength; his power was in his mind and Force abilities. Alek was easily the better swordsman and stronger combatant, one-on-one.

The problem? Alek would flex all day if you let him. Revan decided not to rise to the bait.

"Why else do you think I wear the mask, you fool?" They both shared a laugh at this. Many in the Republic thought Revan was a serious, stoic commander. He knew Alek since they were younglings, and they were comfortable and jocose, even in a warzone.

"Sounds like you still don't have a plan, my brother."

"That's where you're wrong. I have four already." Revan pulled up a datapad and started typing. "We need a list of people we trust. Jedi and non-Jedi alike. That is step one. Off the top of my head, I can think of, hmm. General Surik. Captain Elaina. Any others?"

"How about this for an idea? We crush the Mandalorians into dust and melt the crusts of all their planets. Vaporize every databank they have. Scrap every droid. That'll stop the secret from getting out."
Revan gave his best friend a look that said "Really? Reeeaaaaally?"
"What? That would be the surest way."

"You have such a lack of subtlety."

"Who needs subtlety? We overpower and crush the enemy."

"That's why I'm the Supreme Commander," he paused to let it sink in, "and you're not."

Alek held his hands up in mock surrender. "You've always been smarter than me. Perhaps I have more to learn. But I'm not giving up my strength. That's all I'm saying."

"That's what worries me. You lean too much on it, brother. Anyways, let's get back to the plan at hand." Revan's tone changed and got what Alek dubbed the 'serious voice.' "We need names."

 


 

A/N: Sorry for the wait guys. Work has really picked up and I have to arrange a family move to a new state. Updates will come but will probably be slower for the time being. Maybe once every two weeks. Still, I'm working at this story! Thank you everyone who follows, reviews, and reads. You inspire me to keep going!

Chapter Text

The squad washed up and tried to unwind from their near-nonstop battles and duty. Unlike before, it was awkward and silent. Meku would look at Luay's empty bed and be filled with many different emotions; sadness, guilt, rage, bloodlust, and resolve, to name a few.

She couldn't help the numb feeling she got when she looked at her squadmates. She knew it was wrong and now, of all times, they needed to be close. But a warning nagged in the back of her mind, "Trust no one."

"I can't think like that. These are my brothers. Luay was the bad guy, not them." Still, her heart filled with suspicion. She imagined them scheming against the Republic, the Hearth, and her. Her stomach felt strange, she wasn't hungry and felt somewhat sick. Her limbs moved numbly, like a puppeteer was moving her body. Her head was spinning, memories disjointed and fragmented. She thought a good night's sleep might fix it, but she knew it was not likely to come. The 16th and its reinforcement was hurtling towards the Mandalorians' location.

Jimny had a sixth sense about what was on his men's minds. He tried to make some small talk to distract.
"Going to fix Vanci's shuttle?"

"Yessir," her reply was cold and from autopilot.

"What in the san hill did'ja do this time? Can't leave you alone for two seconds before you break the whole world." He gave a teasing smile. Meku gave a brief, weak half-smile at him and continued organizing her things.

"Should see the Basilisk, Sarge," Oka cut in. "Way worse shape."

"She broke a Basilisk with a shuttle?!"

"Well," she didn't want to take credit. "Vanci did, not me."

"Pff, I thought I taught you better. I can crush a Basilisk with two fingers, and I don't have to damage Navy property to do it." He playfully jabbed Meku's ribs with his elbow. "That's amateur hour, Master Jedi."

A smile just barely escaped from Meku's lips as she rolled her eyes. Sarge had his own special charm. "Riiiiight, and your other hand is carrying the grateful, leggy babe you're rescuing, right?"

"Whoa whoa whoa, relax child, that is not appropriate," Brax cut in.

"I'm not a child, I'm nineteen!"

"That's a child!"

"She's a maaaaaan, Brax. 'Member? She drank lighter fluid and killed bucketheads and everything."

"She's a destructotron," Oka replied, "an unstoppable badass.

Brax stiffened and shuddered at hearing that. Images of Hoth filled his mind.

"Badass or no badass, Vanci's gonna be ticked," Jimny noted.

"Hey hey! She chose to ram the Basilisk."

"Word of advice, kiddo, not gonna care. Pilots are a funny breed," Oka said. Meku cocked her head to the side in confusion. "Love their ships more than their kids, more than their wife, more than themselves, even."

"And that's sayin' a lot. Pilots love themselves so much, I mean, it's crazy. Their heads're bigger than Mastocoids, I tell ya," Jimny added.

"Bigger than who what now?"

"Bigger than Sando Aqua Monsters."

"Is... is that a real thing? Are you messing with me?"

"Oh for Forcesakes, they got big heads, okay? Pilots have big heads, jeez." Meku's heart warmed a bit as she chuckled at her Sargeant's frustration. "All that education and you don't even know what a Sando Aqua Monster is. What do they even teach you on Coruscant?"

"Not cooking, that's for sure," Brax teased.

"Well, Sak could cook..."

"Who the hell is Sack? That some kinda lewd joke?" Jimny's question made Meku realize she hardly ever talked about the Temple with them. Despite coming out of her shell a lot, she still almost never talked about her prior life. She tried not to even think about it too much. She knew she was doing the right thing, but it was difficult not to miss it a little. She especially felt guilty about Master Kunas, she left without even telling him goodbye. Before she could get too deep into thought, Oka spoke.

"Guys, guys, guys, we're getting distracted here." Oka knew Sargeant Jimny could easily segue from a topic with the slightest push.

"Right right, yeah, so pilots. The one thing they love more'n themselves is their ship," Jimny clarified his original point. "Just be prepared for it. Anyway, wanna go for some drinks after?"

"With all due respect, sir, we've been awake almost the entire last four days. So we pass. Uh, I pass at least." Brax spoke.

"I'm pretty tired too, sir," Oka agreed. "Let's go after we kill the buckets."

Sarge nodded solemnly, having been in their shoes many times before. They were at the end of their ropes, so teasing was probably inappropriate. "Alright. Sleep first. Squish insects. Then drinks."

"Works for me," Meku had fire in her voice.

"Well first, gotta fix the shuttle, kiddo," Oka corrected.

"Right! I can do that!"

"Ohhhh, can you? What's wrong with it?"

"It smashed into a Basilisk, that's what," she replied with bravado.

"Deserve a promotion to Captain Obvious for that. So tell me, what part of the ship did the Basilisk break? Scanner core gasket? Misaligned the pitch sensor? Flux capacitator could need to be recalibrated. Impact coulda misaligned the hypermatter injectors. Go ahead, what is it?"

Meku paused for several long moments. "Okay, I know you made some of that up."

"You got much to learn, young apprentice." Oka patted her shoulder with a knowing smile. "Anyways, let's get going. You guys need anything from the scrapyard?"

"A hot date," Jimny replied, not missing a beat.

"I'll see if there's any blind girls in stock. And deaf. And with no noses." Oka pantomimed pinching his nose and gagging at a horrendous smell.

"No insubordination!" Jimny smiled as he barked.

"Yessir."


As they walked through the hangar, Meku sensed a hateful gaze from the fighter bay. She saw Neff just eyeing her. His expression was neutral, but his aura told much more. The old Meku would have looked away and minded her own business. Not now. Meku locked her eyes to his, as if saying "try something."

One of Neff's fellow pilots caught his attention. He put on a fake smile and they started chatting. Satisfied, Meku looked forward at the shuttle. Vanci was squatting by it, talking with a maroon and minty green astromech droid, pointing at something. The shuttle was landed funny, being leaned completely forward. Only the rear landing gear deployed, so the shuttle looked like it had tripped and fallen on its chin. Vanci must have been incredibly skilled; the landing felt no different than before.

"Well there's your problem. You can't fly for jack, can't even park the dang thing!"

"Hey guys!" Vanci got up and smiled at them, nearly tripping over her own feet. "And no, by the way. The front landing gear didn't deploy. I used my immeasurable skill to park it like this." They'd only met Vanci for seconds and she proved Jimny's theory about pilots already.

"Mmmmmmhmmmmm, suuuuuure," Oka rolled his eyes and smiled.

"It was clearly the Jedi's fault for her little Basilisk stunt. She was dumb enough to take it on alone, I had to come in and save her."

"I could've taken it alone! Plus," her voice softened, "I didn't have a choice. The droid kinda yanked me out of the window."

"Excuses," Vanci teased back.

"Still, dumbass fighter pilots weren't doing their jobs," Oka said.

Vanci facepalmed before gesturing in agreement. "I know, right! Damn hotshots. Don't know why they're so bad about that, it's the second fraggin' time."

"It won't happen again," Meku said firmly, her face hostile.

"It better not," Vanci was oblivious. Neither she nor Oka had seen Meku's confrontation with Neff.

"I reviewed her after-action report," Oka explained, "Abel should be giving those idiots an earful."

"It won't be Abel that straightens out that reckless fool," Meku thought.

"He needs to. Imagine if I wasn't there," Vanci exhaled sharply, "you'd be toast."

"Would not!"

"Just admit you needed me." Vanci's expression was cocky.

"Sorry Vance, I'm with the Jed on this one. She's unstoppable." Meku reacted by looking at the floor, trying to stay humble.

"Maybe next time I won't save your mudslogging booty then. But I like you. You definitely have some stones, I'll give you that."

"Yeah," Oka added, "plus she's here to fix the damage from her stupidity."

"Which is good, 'cos my mechanic died in the ambush." Vanci grew a pained expression, chambering a joke to cope. "So it was just math. If I save you, you can work on my ship. Win-win."

"No," Oka's expression became shocked. "Efodi? Efodi is gone?" Vanci just nodded. Oka's expression went from shock to sullen.

"I'm, I'm sorry," Meku said. "We'll avenge them."

"It's fine," Vanci waved her hand, trying to blow off the comment, but she had to scrunch up her face and breathe deeply to prevent tears. Her mind drifted to her mechanic, her copilot, and several other friends lost in the ambush. 
"We knew the risks coming in, y'know? Right?"
Meku tried to come up with something to say, to comfort them, but Vanci steered away from the subject.
"Aaaaanyways, let's get working. Had T2-I8 run some diagnostics while I waited for you guys. What's the verdict, T2?"

The maroon-and-mint droid let out a series of beeps and whistles. Binary was one of several languages Meku learned in the Temple.

"Three areas of malfunction," Vanci translated, not knowing Meku could understand. "First is the front landing gear - well, I knew that already. I had to park the damn thing like this, you rust-bucket."

"Wooooo..." T2 replied sadly.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I didn't mean that."

More sad Binary followed.

"No, you're not a rust-bucket."

Hopeful beeps.

"Yes, I promise."

Inquisitive Binary.

"Yes yes yes, I promise I promise. You're a good droid, T2. The best droidededed, yes you are!" She spoke to the droid like it was a baby pet.

Happy Binary!

"Yes, yes you are." She gave a little chuckle. "So, let's go on with the diags."

"Meku listened. Although she could understand the droid's language, all the mechanical terms were still like gibberish. The second broken thing was, as Oka predicted, the hypermatter injectors for Engine #2. Also, the navicomputers were having some unknown issues and were not responding to diagnostics. Oka and Vanci nodded, taking it all in.

"That makes sense, there was a definite power loss right after the impact. Although I thought it was for sure the cooling system."

"No, wouldn't have lost power if it was the cooling system," Oka explained. "May have never made it up here, though. Prolly woulda gotten stuck in space, if heat sinks were too damaged. Hypermatter injectors, for sure." 
Meku nodded sagely, as if she got it. She didn't got it. She was embarrassed; for the first time since she joined, she felt like she finally got a hang of all this soldiering stuff. Never to be outdone, the Navy always found a way to make her feel like a total idiot who knew exactly nothing about nothing.
"I'm just surprised that's all that happened."

"Shuttle's got great particle shields. Thank goodness they were at 100% when I rammed it. Otherwise it would've been scrap."

"Good point. Sienar's are of the best in the business. So Master Jedi," Oka put his hands on Meku's shoulder. "Go ahead, tear apart engine #2, find out which hypermatter injector is damaged, and why."

Meku's eyes went wide as plates. "Uh... how..."

Oka started to laugh. "Jus' kidding! Nah, we'll start you on the easy job. Let's open up the nose panel and see if anything's jamming the landing gear. Then we go from there."

"Soooo, how..." Meku shrugged in confused surrender.

"Oh, for Force's Sake. The war will be over by the time she fixes it." Vanci's aura was that of a concerned parent with her child.

"Relax, antsy-pantsy," Oka reassured her. "I'm here, and I actually know what I'm doing. We'll get this bird flying again, don't you worry." He turned to Meku. "So, remember about putting together the cooker?"

"Yeah."

"'Kay, same basic principle. Just on a bigger scale."

"So, use a hydrospanner and unbolt the panel, the skin. That'll show all the parts inside."

"First step, yeah. 13 millimeter hydrospanner, looks like. Maybe 14 mil. But yeah, take the skin off, just like with the cooker."

"My shuttle is not a cooker!"

The three of them got some ladders and set to work unbolting the panel, while T2 went inside the shuttle to try to "talk" to the navicomputer. The size of the panel meant all three of them had to work on the scores of bolts holding it in place. Vanci seemed like a bit of a klutz, she nearly overextended herself and fell off the ladder a couple of times.

When they were down to the last few bolts, they had to coordinate lowering the huge panel off the shuttle's body. Already, this was more complicated than the cooker.

"We gotta all be holding on when we remove this last bolt, otherwise it'll fall and squish us."

Meku realized something that she wished she thought of several minutes ago. 
"Oka, just unbolt it, it's fine."

"Kiddo, you don't understand, this is a heavy panel."

"I get it Oka, just undo the bolt."

"Meku-"

"-will you just undo the fraggin' bolt? I got this."

Oka sighed and shook his head before getting into a position where he could easily get out from under the panel, should it fall. Only then did he undo the bolt. To his surprise, the panel stayed in place. Then, it gently came off the shuttle and was placed down as Meku gestured. Of course! How could he forget that Meku could levitate stuff?

"That makes our job easier," Vanci admitted. "Can you use the Force to fix the shuttle?"

"I'm not sure about fixing it. I can probably levitate the hell out of it, though."

"Hey hey, levitate the front end, so it doesn't look like a moron parked it," Oka chortled.

"You best watch it, fool. I'll 'accidentally' land on you next time."

"Not if I have my destructotron here flip the ship on you first!" He confidently put his hand on Meku's shoulder.

Before Vanci could reply, T2 shrieked an angry retort from inside.

"He's kidding T2, we're just joking."

Nervous beeps.

"Yes, nobody's gonna flip the ship with you inside it, or squish anyone with the ship."

Further beeps.

"I promise I promise."

Meku chuckled at the childlike nature of the droid before clambering into the exposed nose. Oka leaned in close to Vanci's ear and spoke.
"Sounds like he needs a memory wipe."

"No way. I like T2 this way. It's kinda cute."

"Whatever you say, Vance. Abel's gonna be pissed if you're not keeping up routine wipes on Republic property."

"Abel's got bigger things to worry about than one little droid. He's developing a little personality, so what? I think it's harmless."

"Wipes are important to keep droids in tip top shape. But whatever. Your droid." Oka turned to Meku. "Do you see what's wrong with the landing gear?" He paused for a moment before sighing. He'd have to take this slow for Meku. "Do, did you find the landing gear?"

"Uhhh, there's a lot of stuff in here. It's the thing that looks like a leg, right?"

"I guess?" Meku clarified by pointing, and Oka nodded. "Yeah, that leg thingy, that's it." Vanci just facepalmed, wondering if they'd break her shuttle more.

"So what about it," Meku asked.

"You tell me." He could already see the issue, but wanted her to figure it out for herself.

"I dunno."

"Figure it out. Imagine if you were stranded without me. Basic repair is a skill you need to have."

"Alright..."

"Just play with it. See what moves, what's stuck, and where."

Meku focused. This leg was supposed to extend down. She tried to push it down herself, and she could clearly tell it was blocked. The landing gear was connected to articulating arms that lowered the "leg" into place. One of them looked unnaturally bent. She had no idea what shape it was supposed to be, but it was a start. When she tried to push the leg down herself, her suspicion was confirmed. The bend blocked it from going down all the way.

"I think I got it! This rod doohickey is bent. I think from the impact."

"Good eye. Only took you nine years," Oka replied. "What's the solution?"

"New rod doohickey?"

"No. Republic's not gonna replace an item we can repair. Plus, new parts will take forever to get in."

"Unbend the rod?"

"Much better. Let's get the rod off and find a way to bend it back into shape. Also, a hint for you. Look up the service manual on your datapad. It's got all the directions, diagrams, videos, and stuff. That'll be a big help."

"I've disassembled the cooker like five times. I'll read the diagrams and it should be a piece of cake." She pulled out her datapad and looked up the Ministry-class shuttle's Technical Service Manual, finding the section on 'How to Remove Front Landing Gear."

It was not a piece of cake.

"Why in the blazes is this stupid thing so fragging stupid? Okay the diagram says I have to remove this bolt, but this damn ass dumb cone thingy is in the way! 'Sensor Cone.' WHY do they put the sensor cone RIGHT in front of the thing I have to remove? I gotta take off this cone thingy before I can remove the landing gear. And then I gotta make sure these, what are the stupid things called? 'Hydraulic fluid lines,' gotta make sure they aren't caught up in the landing gear otherwise they may come undone and spill all fluid all everywhere. Why is this so damn hard? Grah! I'd rather face off a ton of bucketheads!"


Meku had taken too long to figure out how to remove the landing gear, so Oka and Vanci left to work on the engine. Vanci put some music through the shuttle's PA. Meku took a break from her frustration to help levitate the engine cover for them.

She went back to the shuttle's nose and, after rereading the diagrams and replaying the how-to video about a million times, she was finally able to remove the sensor cone and undo the landing gear's bolts. She used the Force for these tasks, shortening the work time considerably. T2 saw the mechanism gently lower itself to the floor, and his head span.

"Weeeoooooooaaaaw," he exclaimed.

"No, it's not that great. Everything okay with the Navicomputer?"

Explanatory Binary.

"Processor was dislodged from the who what now?"

T2 repeated himself, but his explanation flew way over Meku's head. She just patted him on the disc-shaped head and said "Well, good job buddy. You are awesome." He replied with happy, satisfied beeps.

Meku and T2 made their way to the engine. Oka and Vanci were standing over it, talking.

"That's a big problem."

"No kidding. The force of the impact musta knocked injectors #4 and #7 out of their mountings. See how the hypermatter is pooling above the annihilation combustor?"

"Yeah, it's even dripping down to the vent valves. That's gonna be bad."

"Not as bad as you think. The valve filter is designed to filter hypermatter from both sides, for this reason specifically. Still, good thing we caught it before it pooled enough to blow your engine or something. That coulda been a catastrophe. Especially if people were on board."

"Lovely."

"Injector mount brackets were designed for hard cornering, explosions, and stuff. Not ramming."

"They should fix that though! You know how much the Mandos like to land their Basilisks on our craft."

"Write to Sienar systems, then. For now, gotta find a way to fix these. Injectors themselves look fine. The mount brakcets, though, looks like no. See," he held his palm up with little shards in it, "totally shattered. See if the QM has any spares, or if we can pull any from damaged shuttles. Otherwise, gotta improvise." He grew a mischievous smile. "The brackets look kinda the same shape as a shot glass."

"Very funny."

"If we can't find spares, we gotta order 'em from Sienar. We'll have to shut down annihilators 4 and 7 till they come in. You'll be down on power by 1/8, but at least you won't have to worry about exploding your shuttle."

As they talked shop, the words just flew completely over Meku's head. It was like they were speaking Huttese. "Whatever you do, keep Oka around. If you break a ship, you're gonna be stuck there forever. Might as well make it your new home."
"Hey guys," she called from below, "it'd be nice if you could speak Basic!"

"C'mon up here, I'll show you how it works," Oka encouraged. Meku Force-leapt, landing on the crook of the shuttle's wing. She took a place next to them and squatted down to get a better look at the engine. "These are the annihilation combustors AKA hypermatter annihilators, this is how the ship makes its power. What's important to know is..."


They worked for hours, listening to Vanci's music. Meku tried to learn as much as she could about the complicated machine. She would need way more practice. They'd borrowed a loader droid, and used its strength to bend the rod back into shape. Meku reinstalled the entire landing gear assembly while Oka and Vanci went to the Quartermaster to try to find spare parts. He'd check over her work when he returned.

Putting it back together was harder than taking it apart, but Meku used the Force to hold parts in place and tighten bolts. That made the job easier than before. At least, so she thought. She rubbed her scalp in confusion when she ended up with some parts left over. "Shit!" She reviewed the diagram again. "Where do these go?"

T2 shouted some encouraging binary from below.

"Right! Thanks, T2."

She had to take the entire thing apart and put it back together because she missed the, what was it called? The 'Extension Pump Connector.' Still, the chore was eased up by T2's company. He was nice to talk to, like a very intelligent youngling. He also helped make sure she put it back together correctly this time. 

After she was done, she sat in a meditative position, trying to center herself and take in the million things she learnt just today. Her exhaustion took over and, in only a few seconds, she was fast asleep. 

A series of frantic beeps and whistles startled her awake, and Meku snapped her eyes open, looking for danger. She only saw Oka and Vanci returning from their trip to the QM. She whispered to T2, "Thanks, little buddy. I owe you one." She patted his head and stood up. 
"About time you guys showed up. Fixed the landing gear eons ago, where you been?"

"Trying to find parts like we were supposed to, you cocky sop," Vanci replied.

"Did you find them?"

Oka shook his head, "QM doesn't have any spares. We called around to other ships in the 16th, see if any of them did. No luck. And we're not allowed to pilfer parts from other shuttles either, since they're all in working order still."

"So, we gotta disable the annihilators?" Meku tried to hide the fact that her eyes were burning, getting used to the light after being closed so long. 
"How long was I out for? I must've needed it." She realized she'd been up for almost four entire days. 

"Sadly, yeah. The sooner the better. Being down on power, even a little, is dangerous." Meku nodded in agreement with Vanci; she remembered just how close the Basilisks' torpedoes got over Randon.

"Alright kiddo, let's show you how it's done. We're getting some real work in today," Oka laughed.

Chapter Text

Despite seeming more complicated than upper-crust Gerrenthene mating customs, Meku liked the idea of using the Force to work on machines. Her physical body was never the best, but her power in the Force was considerable.

In the Order, Jedi would be trained according to their personalities and greatest skills. Those with physical prowess became Guardians, honing their saber and combat technique to be the best swordsmen and front-line brawlers the galaxy had ever seen. Most Jedi were Guardians. Sak, despite being socially clumsy, was an adroit swordsman.

Those with great intellectual leanings would be Sentinels, who learnt many "civilian" skills (such as mechanics, programming, or psychology). They augmented their mental acuity with the Force. Neff was a Sentinel, spending hours of every day training in flight.

Those with the deepest connection to the Force would become Consulars, whose powers made them semi-dieties. The most powerful Consulars were rumored to change the weather, bring ships down from orbit, and sense people's thoughts from light-years away. Arren Kae was a Consular, and Kunas encouraged Meku to go down that path as well.

Part of why Meku had not yet been Knighted was because she was not sure which path to choose. She was certainly not physically adept enough to be a Guardian, that was for sure. Master Kunas told her she was smart enough to be a Sentinel, but too in tune with the Force for such a "grounded" or "realistic" career. She had enough connection to the Force to be a Consular, but was too logical to let go and give herself to the mystical energy field. Until the Mandalorians arrived, making that choice was the biggest challenge in her life. Now it all seemed so petty and useless.

Her thoughts dwelled on Kunas. Meku missed her Master. She had left without even saying goodbye. She thought about messaging him on the HoloNet. Just to check in. Let him know she was still alive. He may even be proud to know that she had been promoted! Her heart fluttered at the thought. Before she pulled out her 'pad, she hesitated.

"He probably doesn't want to know. He probably doesn't care about some traitorous Revanchist." She remembered how Vrook described Revan's followers. And how Kunas had just blindly followed. Kunas would be ordered to forget her. She was sure.

Meku hardened her heart, and looked to Oka. One grease-stained hand carried a small toolbox, the other brought a snack bar to his mouth. Her hands were stained just like his, the grease getting under her fingernails. She didn't need Kunas. She had better people to look up to. This was her life. She was a part of this now, and she was okay with it.

She thought back to the shuttle, distracting her mind. Using the Force to work on mechanical things seemed like a great way to marry her two tendencies. She set a goal for herself. One day, she'd take an entire shuttle apart, bolt by bolt, then put it all back together, all while meditating in another room. Using the Force to do it from beginning to end. That'd hone her intellect, skill, and Force abilities. "Now that's a goal!"

On their way back, Meku noticed a difference in the crew's aura. All eyes were on her, and all were thinking of Hoth. They were divided.

Many of them looked up to her with approval and admiration. She did the right thing. The insects murdered, kidnapped, and burned worlds. They ravaged and raped a Republic that stood for peace. They deserved every iota of pain that she could inflict on them. Oka was in this camp too. She could feel his pain from Duro, and she could feel the satisfaction and pride radiating from him with every Mandalorian she slaughtered. The more brutal the better.

Others gave an aura of disdain. The Mandalorians were people, after all. Cruelty wouldn't win the war. The Republic stood for peace and law, and treating enemies this way was antithetical to its core values.

Whether it was positive or negative, everyone who laid eyes on her felt the same emotion: Terror. Meku's abilities on Hoth seemed godlike. They may have been her comrades, but they were more scared of her than they were of the enemy.


Oka showered first, while Meku got her clothes and things ready. She tsked as she realized her robes were ripped badly, and in several places. She'd have to get these repaired somewhere.

Jimny was deep asleep, snoring. Brax was laying in bed. He'd been tossing and turning. Meku was on his mind. He sat up.

"Meku..."

"Yes, what's up?" She made her voice seem casual, neutral.

"I, I just want to talk."

"What about?" Their conversation played to the background of the shower, Jimny's snoring, and the hubub of the crew outside their quarters. They spoke in muted tones, careful not to alert Jimny or Oka to their conversation.

Brax sighed, looking down at the ground. He didn't want to say the word, and barely eked out, "Hoth."

"A victory. We got out of there alive, minimal casualties. Can't say the same for the insects." She couldn't help a smile. When she first joined, they seemed like unkillable demigods. It was a sweet taste in her mouth to learn they were just people, with their own weaknesses. That even the mighty Mandalorians could be made to crumble beneath her boot.

"And I'm glad we won, don't get me wrong. You protected us, and thank you for that. It's just," he shuddered, thinking about the hellish massacre. "I have some concerns."

"Go on." Meku crossed her arms and looked pointedly to him. Brax couldn't look back at her. She felt terror from him.

"What you did down there it, it, it scared me. Scared a lot of people." Meku cocked her head, confused.

"It's war, Brax."

"I'm not talking about just war. You know what I mean. It was, it was, brutal." His voice cracked with the last word, like a teenager's.

"So?"

"So, I just want to talk about it. Doesn't it concern you?"

"No," she replied abruptly. As if he was trying to tell her Coruscant was a small town with a well.

"C'mon Meku. I'm on your side. I just think talking about it might help. Help heal something in there, or, or something."

"Well? I'm talking about it. Go ahead, what do you want to know," she challenged.

He sighed, almost like pressing a reset button. "I don't want to beat around the bush, so I guess I'll ask you straight out. Did you enjoy it?"

"I was protecting our people. So many would've died if I'd not done that."

"That's not what I asked."

"I was doing the right thing."

"That's not what I asked, either."

Meku remained silent, staring off. In her mind, she wore a bloodstained smile. He was right. It felt oh so good! The blood in her mouth was a sweet nectar.
"Why do you care?"

"Listen," he tried to defuse. "I have faith in you. And I always will, 'till the end. I'm right here with you. And I get it, y'know. Winning feels good. Protecting your home feels good." He paused long and hard, carefully choosing his words. "But, there's a line. And I feel like you crossed it."

"You're talking nonsense. I killed a hostile force that refused to surrender."

"I could feel it down there, on Hoth. There was pain." He was full of disbelief. He didn't think he'd ever say this about a woman he saw like his own daughter. "You didn't just kill them you... tortured them. And I feel like you liked it. I could see it on your face. I've never been more scared than seeing your face right then. Never in my life."

"They deserved it! Haven't you seen what they've done to us? To our families? Vanquo, Serroco, Duro. Shit Brax, just four days ago, on Bespin! They killed our friends, our family! They damn near killed Jimny."

"Just 'cause they did it, doesn't mean we have to. We should be above them, stick to our morals."

"Hell no. We need to survive, morals be damned. And they need to be taught a damn lesson. If we crush them, it'll end this war quicker than playing nice."

"I don't buy that. And if you enjoyed it, that scares me, Meku. You're scaring me."

"So what if I enjoyed it? I'm protecting our people, what the hell are you doing?"

"I'm trying to help you. It's not right to torture them like you did."

"You're a sap! You don't have the stomach for this fight."

"I was in this fight before you were!" Brax raised his voice for the first time tonight.

"Now that I'm here, I'm actually gonna win it."

"I'm just concerned that-"

"-that what?" That I actually have the stones to do what needs to be done? To protect our Republic, like we signed up for? That's what I'm doing, Zabrak. I'm doing what needs to be done to protect our damn people. Peace offerings haven't worked. Fighting clean hasn't worked."

"All people have a right to fair treatment. Even in war."

"These aren't people, they're insects. They don't comprehend fair treatment or the rules of war. There's one thing you do with insects; crush 'em under your boot. They enslave. They kidnap. They don't play by the rules. Why should we?"

"Because it's the right thing to do."

"Easy for you to say. Get taken prisoner, see if they extend you the same niceties that your bleeding heart thinks they deserve. And you'll be begging me to come save you. Moral or not."

"Are you even listening to yourself? Meku, you-"

"-no! I'm sick and tired of it! I'm doing my best to protect my people and you're over here second-guessing me! I'm fracking tired of it. I'm helping win this war in the only way that works. I should be allowed to enjoy that." She growled and rubbed her forehead, letting her frustration out.

"I'm sorry." His thoughts were clear as day. He was even more concerned that he heard her words on the matter. He still had faith in her, but was plagued with fear about this person he cared for.

"Whatever. I'm gonna go for a walk."

"Wait," Brax reached into his pack, "before you go-"

"-no. Bye." She turned heel and stormed out. Brax pulled out a massive candy bar, but too late. Meku was already gone. Brax sighed, his eyes sad. He cradled his head in his hands.


Meku was brooding, mumbling under her breath. Her anger was intense. Brax was a liability who would betray the Republic with his cowardice. He didn't have what it took. Meku did, she reassured herself. She'd go to any length to defend her people. No matter the cost. Just like Revan, or any real hero. The music faintly filled her ears as she got close to the EM.

As she walked in, all eyes were on her, as usual. She learned to get used to the fame of being a Jedi. She didn't address anyone, just going straight to the bar. Strangely, Keevo was not around, despite this being his usual shift. It was some new guy. Young, her age.

"Master Jedi, it's an honor, how are-

"-Save it. Where's Keevo."

The new guy grew a sad expression, looking down at the counter. "He... left us. Over Bespin."

"I'm sorry," she replied abruptly.

"It's okay. Nothing we didn't sign up for. I just.. it's hard. He was teaching me how to do things around here so I could take the swing shift from a guy who retired. I don't know what to think. I should've expected people to die, but it's different when it happens. Master Jedi, I know you're wise. Do you have any guiding words for me?" She stretched out, reaching into his mind. She sensed malleability. He was young and idealistic, still developing his worldview. She saw an opportunity.

"Let me ask you this one thing, uh, what's your name?"

"Shay."

"Shay, let me ask you this. Whose fault is it?" She paused before continuing. "Who killed Keevo?"

He visibly winced at her last, pointed question. "The Mandos."

"Do you know what we do with criminals? Murderers?" He looked at her, wondering if he should answer. Meku answered her own question. "We punish them. Take them to the Brig where they're locked up, discharged from the Navy, even executed."
Shay remained silent, staring at the counter.
"That's what we have to do," she continued. "We don't let people get away with hurting and killing. We punish them. We make them pay. That's justice."
He just nodded sagely. Meku sensed a close bond to Keevo.
"The truth is, life and death are one and the same. Different stages in our consciousness with the Force. Nobody lives forever, but nobody is ever really gone. The point isn't to live forever. It's to make life worth living, and death worth dying. To have a purpose."

"Yeah, I guess." Meku was reciting wisdom she'd been taught her entire life. But she never knew what it really meant because, until now, she never feared loss so bitterly. Although her words were true, there was no way to apply that wisdom. It was just a fortune-cookie Jedi phrase. She needed to apply this to the real world, for Shay and for herself.

"He's gone, Shay. But you're still here. And you can't let his death be in vain." She pointed aggressively at his chest. "You have a purpose now that Keevo is dead. You make things right. You avenge him. You punish those bottom-feeding roaches and make them pay for what they've done to our people, our worlds, our Republic. To Keevo. You can mope around, or you can make him proud. Pick one. The choice is in your hands."

He finally looked up from the counter, a dark fire in his eyes and cold steel in his heart. "You're right, Master Jedi. You're so right. Why didn't I see it before?"

"You're gonna make this right, aren't you?"

"I am. Now that he's gone, I know what I have to do. I have to avenge him. It's justice. It's justice."

"Good boy." She smiled at him, dark undertones in her eyes.

"It's true, you Jedi are always so wise."

"We're just people, Shay, like anyone else."

"And so humble too. Why don't - ah, what am I saying? I'm working!" He quickly shook his head to reset himself. "What can I get you?"

Meku looked at her wrist-timer. If she wanted to get any sleep before confronting the enemy fleet, she'd have to make this quick. "Lighter fluid. Three shots."

"Are you sure? You know what that-"

"-I'm sure."

He paused a moment, thinking, "this woman can't be real."
"You got it, Master Jedi. Wanna open a tab?"

"Open a who now?"

"A tab...?" Meku just looked at him with a confused expression. "If you wanna keep drinking, I open a tab for you, so you can pay at the end of the night. That way, you don't have to pay for each drink as you order."

"Oh..." she had to stop herself from facepalming. She went from wise sage to idiot monkey in 5.2 seconds. But of course, she never frequented a bar until the Navy. "Yeah yeah, I know what you mean. Just, uhhhh, just called it something different and., uhhh... I'll just pay now, thanks."

Meku tried to play it off, and acted nonchalant when she paid with her debit chit. She was issued it upon joining, but never really knew how much was on it. In the Order, Knights and Masters were given expense cards, but were never paid. She'd never even checked or asked if the Navy would give her a salary, or how much was on the card, or whether she ran out of money, or anything. Finance was one of many real-world things she'd never been trained in.

He slid the shots over to her before putting the huge jug back. Meku looked at them, inhaled deeply, and downed all three, one after the other. Unlike her first time, she enjoyed the burning feeling down her throat, the pit of fire in her stomach, and the lightheadedness from its fumes. Shay turned around, stopped dead in his tracks, and his eyes became saucers. "I only turned by back for a moment! The hell? This woman is NOT real."

Before he could say anything, Meku stood, nodded curtly, and said, "Thanks, Shay." She then walked off.

He awkwardly replied, "Uh, you too?"


Oka and Jimny were asleep. Brax sat in bed, his head hung, guilty. He fidgeted with his hands, his business book lay at his side, tossed aside when he couldn't focus on it. Meku could sense the guilt and conflict inside him, that had only been festering as time went on. Her hostility to him melted away. She couldn't stay upset with him. He was her squaddie, and someone she had to protect. Plus, she could sense that he only wanted the best for her. He was simply... misguided about what the "best" thing was.

"I'm sorry, Meku."

"For?"

"This was so the wrong time. We should've talked about this after cooling off some. Not now, when things are so tense. I was stupid. You needed someone on your side, not someone beating you over the head."

Meku's expression softened. "I forgive you. I shouldn't have said what I said either. I overreacted too."

"It's okay. People disagree. It's what we do." He looked to her with hope in his eyes. "Just know I believe in what's in your heart." Meku didn't know how to reply, so she just nodded. An awkward silence ensued before Brax added, "and I left the bar on your bed. You can take it. If you like."

"That's not even a question." she willed the bar to her hands and tore into it. She sat on the edge of Brax's bed and leaned on his broad shoulders, facing out. Subconsciously, she was always alert, always looking out. He wrapped his arm around her, and she once again felt warmth. They sat for minutes as she ate. She rested her head on him, embracing the warmth.
"Thanks, Brax. For, for..."

"I know."

Chapter Text

"Enemy fleet incoming, sir!"

The Admiral scanned the viewport as dozens of ships jumped from hyperspace. They just kept coming. He had no idea how the enemy had found their coordinates, nor did they realize how many ships the enemy fleet had. This was... unexpected. He scanned the map projector, trying to see if there was a way to outwit or outmaneuver the enemy. No, they'd never be able to win this. Retreat was the only option.

"Don't even engage them. All auxiliary power to shields, prepare for jump to hyperspace."
He was hoping for a victory here, but it looked like the enemy was better-reinforced than he knew. Damn! They had done well, and he wished he could finish the enemy off.
"Have we heard back from the scouts sent to Hoth?"

"No, Admiral."

"Right. Order them to retreat as soon as possible. Let's get out of here."

The enemy fleet deployed its fighters, and they zoomed in to engage. It was no matter; they'd be past lightspeed in only a few seconds' time. Admiral Skir of Clan Kelso was confused, his mind occupied as to how the hell the Republic found his force here. It was a long-abandoned mining colony in an asteroid belt far outside Alluyen, a tiny backwater. There was no way they could've been detected by Alluyen's systems, he'd made sure of that before planning this stab into the Republic's underbelly. The possibilities flashed through his mind - tracking, betrayal, or just good luck. Another red flag pulled at his attention.

The jump was taking way longer than expected.

Could it just be adrenaline, stretching a short moment into a longer one? His suspicion was soon confirmed.

"Sir, we're unable to jump."

"What do you mean? We got here. Hyperdrive should be functional and fuel reserves should be optimal." Skir would be a poor Admiral if he didn't know his fleet like the back of his hand.

"They are, sir. No fuel leaks or malfunctions reported."

"So what's the problem?"

"It's the weirdest thing, sir. Our sensors say we're within a gravity well. But we're well out of range of Alluyen, or any other celestial body."

Skir cocked his head. This was new. "Something wrong with the sensors?"

"Diags are all reading fine."
Skir looked down at the subordinate's screen, which read "CHECK CONTROL OK."
"There's a gravity well stopping us from jumping. There's, uh, there's a planet here, even though there's no planet."

A gravity well or "mass shadow" was the radius of a pull of gravity from a large body in space, such as a planet or star. Gravity wells interfered with hyperdrives and, to reach hyperspace, a ship had to be clear of the well.
"This can't be. It's impossible."

Mandalorian High Command suspected the Republic was experimenting heavily with artificial gravity wells and mass shadows. The speculation about the end result was endless; a superweapon, a source of energy, interference with jumps, or any number of things. The project was kept under close wraps by Revan himself, and Mandalorian spies were not yet able to infiltrate it.

Now it all became clear. The Republic succeeded. They had been the first to manipulate mass shadows. That was the only explanation for the inability to retreat. Most of High Command believed it to be impossible, on the same level as alchemy.

"Can we escape the gravity well?"

"The range does appear to be limited, but their ships are faster than ours. Other than our corvettes." Mandalorian capital ships were known to be slow bruisers.

"Then be quick! Send all essential personnel to the Corvette Tracyn. That means him as well. Beam all our intel to it, it'll run this blockade. We'll just hold them off." Skir raised his voice, booming through the bridge. "Naga'so fleet, battle stations! Get into formation and hold the line! Scramble all fighters and Basilisks!"

He surveyed the map. The blasted Republic had gotten a massive headstart in this battle. Skir's fleet wasn't in the proper formation, and they'd be at the mercy of the Republic's fighters. This would be rough. There were twenty-eight Republic ships to his eleven. He wondered which ship was creating the gravity well, but that was an academic curiosity. His priority now was to survive. At least, long enough to let the Tracyn get away. His heart beat with pride and excitement. He could die here! He smiled, excitable goosebumps on his skin. His name, and that of his fleet, would be cemented as fierce conquerors who died in a glorious, honorable last stand. It was the best way for a Mandalorian to go. His crew got into their rhythm, letting their decades of training take over.

"Shall we prepare boarding parties?"

"They'll get shredded out there, we need to screen their fighters first. Try to push in through this corridor, sector 22b."


It was a satisfying feeling to finally outgun the fearsome Mandalorians for once. The 28-ship fleet now included brand new hardware. The fighters and bombers swarmed over the unprepared enemy fleet, while the Capital ships lined up turbolaser shots. Meku was in the Hearth's bridge. Jimny, Foster, and Abel wanted her to learn as much about command as she could.

"What'cha think we should do next?" Sarge posed his question to make Meku think tactically, and engrave into her head an instinct to always do that from now on.
Meku observed the battle on the map projector. The Republic fleet was split in three. Centurion and Interdictor-classes, the heaviest cruisers, formed the middle group. The two flanking groups each had a "wolfpack" of four to six Hammerheads. The buckets focused their fleet into a dense fist. Both sides dispersed corvettes among their capital ships to screen enemy fighters and bombers. Meku could see the more reckless fighter pilots getting picked off by the corvettes. The smarter pilots made sure to stay out of range, or attack in such a way that the corvette couldn't hit them, like having a capital ship between themselves and the corvette. Bombers hung back in wait, eager to shred a capital ship when there was a clear shot.

"Well, um," she felt embarrassed to be put on the spot. She wanted to impress them and not seem like a moron, but had no idea what the right thing was to say. She went with her gut.
"Their fleet's in this real dense formation. I'm not sure about splitting our fleet up, they could just punch through one of our flanks."

"Could they punch through our center?"

"I don't think so. We've got some pretty heavy ships there."

"So what is the plan?"

"Probably attack from three sides to overwhelm them. But that's my worry. They'll just punch through one of those weaker flanks and get behind us."

"How do we stop that?"

She stopped to think. There was a reason the fleet was formed up like this.
"What if the middle section sort of, held them in place?"

"Good! If we engage them with the middle first, we lock them in place. Not to mention we can literally keep smaller ships in place with tractor beams. When they're locked, they can't turn around or else we'll shoot 'em in the rear. They'll be in a vulnerable position, and we can crush 'em from all sides. Now, the most important question: what would you do, if you was in charge of their fleet?"

"Does it matter? I'm not in charge of their fleet."

"Hell yeah it does! The best leaders know how to win on either side. You gotta be flexible, able to work with any number, equipment, terrain, whatever. It's the greatest skill in your arsenal. If you can't change with different circumstances, you'll be shit in this job." He pointed to the Mandalorian flotilla on the map, advising, "one day you'll find yourself in command of a group in that position. Or worse."

Meku's eyes widened. She never thought of it that way, and it actually felt foreign to her, to have to put herself in the Mandalorians' shoes and try to win with their fleet. She had no idea what to say.

"C'mon, Admiral Bucket! Your men're dying, your ships're awaiting orders. What does your fleet do?"

"Maybe aim for one of the flanks and try to knock them out."

"That's a start. Why?"

"You always tell me that we should play to our strengths and the enemy's weaknesses. Their strength is in the power of their ships. If they sacrificed a small part of their fleet to hold our center and left flank," she pointed to a few enemy cruisers that were well-known to soak up damage, "they can use their heavy-hitters to punch through our right and maybe get behind us."

"Good girl. And how do we avoid that from happening?"

"Attack from one direction?"

"We're going backwards, you were doin' so well."

"I'm not sure, sir."

"Discipline, kid. The flanks need to be disciplined enough not to charge into the fray 'till our center has firmly locked them into place."

"How do you know so much about this? I mean, wow." She rubbed her head, trying to take it all in. "I thought overwhelming them would be easy with more numbers."

Jimny sputtered a short laugh. "Oh, if only you knew. A smaller force has beaten a larger one countless times in galactic history. Numbers are a little important, but not nearly as much as people think. Which reminds me, new exercise for you; remember how I said money was what won wars?"

"Yeah."

"A big part of that is being able to replace numbers. Industrial capacity." Meku's expression had him explain further.
"Wars are literally the most expensive thing a people can ever do. People and stuff needa be moved all over the galaxy; and constantly replaced when they die, get wore out, whatever. A government that can afford all that is gon' be more likely to win a war than one who can't."

"If that's all it takes, we'll win. The buckets have nowhere near the money we have." It was common knowledge that the Republic had the most titanic economy in the entire galaxy. Being a warrior society, the Mandalorian economy was weak compared to the Republic, or other governments such as Hutt Space.

"That's faaaar from all it takes. Don't get too ahead of yourself. Big-picture, what's the buckets' strength?"

"Their stuff, sir. Soldiers, ships, and equipment. Their armor is straight-up magic, their ships are powerful, and many of their troops are raised from birth to fight. Some say a Mandalorian Crusader is on the same level as a Jedi," she spat the last phrase out like an insult.

"Yes. As the Mandos, how do you counter our big economy?"

Meku had to think for several minutes, running through scenarios in her head. The Mandalorians didn't have the capacity to replace destroyed ships, broken things, eaten food, dead soldiers, and the like. Not at the same rate the Republic did.

Although their trained-from-birth Crusaders were fearsome, it took at least thirteen years to actually get one from cradle to battlefield. That was significantly longer than the 13-week blaster camp that produced Republic Marines. Even Republic Commandos went through a rigorous 46-week program. As a result, many Mandalorian warriors now were brainwashed verd'gaan ("volunteers") taken from conquered worlds. The Volunteers had nowhere near the training or élan of the Crusaders. The longer the war wore on, the more Crusaders would die, and the more would be replaced by subpar Volunteers. Ships would die without being replaced. The tables would continue being turned against the invaders.

"Aha!"
"Speed."

"Tell me why." Jimny remained calm, but he was excited inside. She was getting it!

"Well, all that economy works better in the long run, not the short term. If the Mandos could win the war fast enough, all that money doesn't really matter, right? Even, look at how they've been fighting so far. Going after major shipyards like Duro. And major economic worlds like Taris. They've been lightning-quick. They've made a nonstop thrust into the Core without ever stopping to consolidate themselves."

"Exactly. They may be buckets, but they ain't stupid. They played to their strength. They been hyper-aggressive, tryna force us into a surrender before we can gear our economy to war." Meku heard the phrase that Jimny was too prideful to say out loud, "And if the Jedi hadn't joined, they woulda done it." The Republic hadn't fought a war in a hundred years, they had been walked over.

"I had no idea that's what it all boiled down to, sir."

"Well no, kid. It's a gross oversimplification. There's waaaaay more to this war than just money and speed. We barely scratched the surface. But now you know."

Meku wondered how a man with his knowledge wasn't commanding a fleet already. Before she could ask, something caught her attention. On the map, the fleets were engaging each other. Behind the Mandalorian fleet, a small, harpoon-shaped corvette had turned around and took off. Further analysis showed it had full power to sublight engines.

"They got a deserter, looks like."

"One corvette is unimportant," Abel responded, having noticed Meku's analysis. "We need to wipe out their fleet."

Meku would agree. It was a tiny ship, but something was off. She reached out with her senses. "Oh, no. Of course. Of course! Clever bastards."
"Admiral, with all due respect, the traitor is on that corvette!"

"Nothing we can do about it now, our main force is already locked against the enemy." The flanking forces were maneuvering, waiting for the right time to strike the enemy rear. They made sure the damaged ships were on the flanks, to minimize risk.

"We have to do something, we can't let him jump away!"

"He can't jump with our interdiction fields."

"He's getting out of range of the fields. Can we send just one Hammerhead after it?"

"Hammerheads are quick, but that 'vette is quicker," Jimny explained.

"Another corvette, then. A Foray?" Meku's voice cracked with desperation.

"I believe we can spare one, but I doubt it can work," Abel responded. Corvettes were designed to combat starfighters, freighters, shuttles, and other small craft. Their lasers did very little damage to anything larger than that. The orders were passed along the line, and a Republic Foray corvette was dispatched and in pursuit. The enemy already had quite the headstart.

"Can we send any fighters after it? Snub bombers?" Starfighters would definitely be fast enough to quickly catch the ship. "All we need is to take out their engines! We can't let them get away!"

"Any fighters will be shredded. Even an ace squadron would have trouble facing a corvette with no support," Abel explained.

"Neff can do it." She had no idea if she could, but she didn't care. She had tuned out the entire battle and hyperfocused on Luay, not letting him get away. "He can outfly those guns, let him try."

"And risk losing another Jedi?" I've already lost two. Absolutely not."

"You had no problem sending me into a battleship full of those damn insects! You're gonna tuck tail at one tiny corvette!" Meku's rage started rising.

"Intel reported that ship was nearly empty."

"He probably fed you that bad intel!" She gestured to the escaping craft.

"Even if I wanted to send Neff Vollmar, he's assigned to guard the Interdictor cruisers. If their Basilisks get through, we risk destruction of the Gravity Well Generators and the entire fleet gets away. I'm giving you a direct order. Stand down, Corporal." He paused to sigh before trying to get Meku on board with him. "I understand you don't want the spy to get away. But there's simply nothing we can do."

"Neff can do it. Have I ever been wrong about these kinds of things? I've always given you good advice."

"Thanks to your advice, I killed twenty thousand people. No. The answer is no."

"Admiral-"

"Stand. Down. I've already had enough of your insolence over Bespin and Hoth. I won't tolerate any further. Not another word from you. You can either observe the battle from here or show yourself to the Brig."

Meku fumed. She thought about calling Neff directly, on the Jedi-only channel. But she knew he wouldn't listen to her. She had just humiliated him for failing to be a good escort. There was no way he was going to leave the Interdictors unguarded. That was exactly what got him in trouble the last two times.

Meku and Jimny went back to discussing tactics, talking about where next to move ships, and which enemies to attack first. Only half of Meku's attention was on the battle. The other hald was on the corvette.

The flanking maneuver was well-executed, and the enemy was being obliterated. It didn't matter; that was their plan the entire time. They had fallen prey to the enemy's scheme like idiots. Dammit! Meku watched as the corvette got further and further. The Foray had caught up to it, but hadn't been able to even penetrate the enemy's shields before it got out of range and it jumped to lightspeed. Luay was gone. She failed. She failed!

No.

Not yet. There was still another way.


A well-executed pincer, wouldn't you say?" Abel, Foster, and Jimny were huddled around the map projector, replaying footage.

"Yessir," Jimny answered his Admiral.

"Jedi," Foster spoke up, "let's go through this and see where we could improve on - Jedi?"

"Where has she gone?" Abel crossed his arms, clearly frustrated with her.

"I know exactly where." Jimny bolted out of the bridge.

Chapter Text

Lappah's clan-brothers hadn't spoken to him since his disgrace. The dead silence wore at his resolve. He was so sure that surrendering had been the right choice. But every day, they had been silent and ignored him, like he didn't exist. If they ever looked at him, it was with venom in their eyes. He had to earn his honor back, but he had no idea how. Or if they'd even let him.

His life had gone completely to hell. He always felt cocooned, warm, safe in his armor. He, like most Mandalorians, even slept in it. The thin prison jumpsuit was like wearing rags, and it let the cold air of the cell onto his weathered skin. The brotherhood between him and his clan had dissolved the moment he announced their surrender. His only conversations now were in Galactic Basic, to the guards. He missed the feel of Mando'a on his tongue, the way the language flowed.

All his life, he'd followed the Resol'nare. He could recite them in his sleep.
1 - wear one's armor.
2 - speak Mando'a.
3 - defend self, family, and clan.
4 - raise one's children as Mandalorians.
5 - Contribute to the clan's welfare.
6 - Obey Mand'alor and rally to the cause when called.

He thought for sure surrendering was in line with the Resol'nare. It seemed so senseless the way they were being slaughtered on Hoth. They couldn't even see the enemy, much less fight as proper Mandalorians. It was just a slaughter, like they were livestock. He thought he was defending his clan and contributing to its welfare. Apparently not. Now he lost everything that made him who he was. His armor, his language, and now his clan. He had to share this box with his clan-brothers, but he never felt so alone in his life. He should have died down there. They'd be better off.

All he could think of, all day, every day, was a way to get his honor back. To be part of the clan again. To be family again. He was home in his armor, and in the camaraderie of his brothers. He wanted that home back. He'd gladly die to be accepted again. He thought of facing the Ras'griz, being killed by her. Busting his brothers out of their cell. His mind continually planned. It was also a good way to keep his mind off the nightmares and flashbacks of Hoth.

His thoughts were interrupted by heavy, angry bootsteps. Speak of the devil! A particle shield served as the door to the cell. Standing on the other side was none other than that white-haired Jedi. She shut off the shield and made a beeline to Captain Esio. Seeing an opportunity, Lappah charged at her, screaming "I'll destroy you, dem-aaaaaagh!"

Lappah was shoved back and pinned against the wall by some invisible force. So were his other two brothers. Esio remained seated at his cot, looking coldly nonchalant to the Jedi.

She Force-shoved him back, slamming him into the wall. Pain spasmed through his body, and she used that opportunity to levitate him. Esio clutched at his neck; she must have been using her powers to choke him. Try as he might, Lappah could not escape the wall, it was as if he was sealed there with carbonite. All he could do was watch.

"Where. Did. They. Go." She spoke gutturally, like an animal.

"I, I don't... don't... know... what... you are... saying." Esio had to eke out every word as the invisible fist closed around his windpipe.

"Liar!" She threw him against the ground, hard. Blood spattered from his face, across the floor. She levitated his head, which was met with the bottom of her boot. He whipped backward, but was levitated again.
"I'm not playing with you, scum."

"I've been," he coughed and hacked, "I've been... in a box... this... whole time! I don't... know!"

He shot backwards into a wall. Lappah heard bone crack. Esio writhed and groaned in pain. She radiated power, like something sent from the depths of hell itself. All Lappah could do was watch. He was frozen in fear now, not even trying to fight the invisible hand pressing him against the wall. He tried to do something, anything. Even speak. But he could not. His body was not listening to him as the scene unfolded.
"Dammit! Stupid! Move, di'kuit! WHY WON'T I MOVE? I'm useless!" He was a disgrace and this only proved it. A real warrior could do something about it.

"Don't play stupid. Where is your rendezvous? How did you insects get here?"

"Kill me, aruetii."

"You won't get the satisfaction." She flicked her wrist and Esio's arm was positioned behind his back. "Now tell me!"

"Do your worst." His arm went behind his back and upward at an unnatural angle. A few more inches and it'd snap. Esio screamed in pain.

"I'll break you like a splinter. Talk!"

"Break every bone in my body. You won't get an answer from me."

"You're so right," the Ras'griz softened her voice, sounding almost friendly and caring. Esio dropped to the floor like a sack of Java beans. He clutched at his arm. "Physical pain is barbaric. No bodily harm can match the fear your mind can imagine."

She then lifted her hand up, looking like she was forcing her way into his head again. Nothing happened for a few moments. Suddenly, Esio froze. His eyes shot wide open.
"No! No! Nooooooo!"
Esio screamed and backed away, huddling into a corner. The Jedi slowly walked toward him, arm outstretched, fingers slowly dancing. She wore a horrific smile. She was enjoying every second of this. Esio clutched his head, screaming in raw terror.

"Your brain is just chemicals, Captain. I can manipulate these chemicals, did you know that?" He didn't reply, rocking, screaming. The Jedi had to talk over him. "But that's not important. What is important, is this is the easy part. We have two ways to do this. You tell me what you know, now, or I turn the spigot up and show you the true power of the Force."

He continued screaming, howling, kicking at thin air, talking nonsense to things that weren't there. He swiped at nonexistent things near him, like he was under attack. The Jedi made a downward motion and it, whatever the hell it was, stopped. Esio whimpered, catching his breath.

"Talk."

"I swear I don't know!" His voice cracked and shuddered like a child.

"Remarkable strength of will to lie when your mind is flooded with fear. Guess I need more practice on this power. And I have four dolls to practice on. Let me show you some true horror and see how you feel about your wretched lies."

"No no no wait! I'm telling the truth! Please-" Esio was interrupted and stopped his train of thought to scream again. He pressed himself into the corner, almost trying to sink into the metal to get away from the devil in front of him. When he realized he was stuck, he just rocked back and forth, whimpering, catatonic. Tears streamed from his face.

"I'm letting up now. Go ahead, talk." She spoke in her terrifyingly gentle tone again. There was no response, he just whimpered and gasped for several moments. She stormed up to him and got in his face. "Talk!"

"A-a-a," his voice shook and he stuttered the words, "Alluyen was our rally point, that's all I know."

"I don't care about Alluyen! The hyperspace route, Captain. How did you roaches get here from Mandalorian space?"

"I don't know!" She held up her arm again, but Esio interrupted her. "I don't know, I swear on the Gods! Idon'tknowIdon'tknowIdon'tknowIdon'tknoooooooooww! The hyperlane was only known to top staff. Captains didn't get to know it, it was even purged from the navicomputers. Please, please, please don't do that again, please! Please don't put me through that again!" Their gruff, stubborn leader had been reduced to a blubbering pile, cowering before the Jedi on his knees, sobbing, begging for his sanity.

The Jedi cocked her head to the side, seeming confused. Lappah knew Esio was telling the truth. Nobody on his entire ship knew the hyperlane. Not to mention, he had no reason to lie. The Jedi was clearly able to pull the truth from his head.

"Then you have no information. That means you're all useless to me."
She savored those last words, and Lappah realized this was probably going to be his last day alive. She kneed Captain Esio in the face. Lappah heard bone crack again. She wouldn't let up, beating him down, Force-slamming him into walls and objects.
"You did this! You brought this on yourselves! Murderers! You did this! Evil scum! You did this!"

She continued beating him mercilessly, and Lappah felt he had to say something. It took all his strength to will his mouth and vocal chords out of the catatonic state his body's trauma had put him in.
"Unhand him! You're not strong enough to fight fair, you barbarian! You're just weak inside. That's why you do this. Demon!"

She turned and locked eyes with him. There was no doubt he was going to die now. But he stood firm. Lappah was at peace, his body was relaxed, his mind was clear. He was okay with dying today. She approached him, ending his hold onto the wall. If he died fighting the Ras'griz, it was well worth it. His body unfroze. Lappah bladed his body into a martial arts stance.

"What are you doing," a voice cried out from around the corner. The Jedi didn't seem to hear, and continued advancing.
"NO!"

An ugly soldier rounded the corner, grabbed the Jedi by the back of her robes, and threw her out of the cell. She slammed into the shield opposite their cell. The stasis field holding Lappah's brothers failed, and all of them went back to the ground.

"You all stay back!" The soldier's voice was so commanding that Lappah felt himself hesitate and obey for a split second. Lappah then sprinted at the Jedi, intending to throttle her if it was the last thing he did. But it was too late. The soldier ran outside the cell and the shields had come back on. Lappah slammed into them, but they didn't even flicker.


Jimny dragged Meku to the nearest wall and pinned her to it with one hand. She didn't resist.

"Corporal, what the fuck was that?"
Meku didn't have a good answer for him, or for herself. She felt like she wasn't herself, like she'd made some transformation and and was just now sobering up. She tried to remain cool. She was still in the right. Right? She had to be. These were the very monsters who slaughtered thousands over Bespin just a few days ago. They deserved it. They did this.
"I asked you a question."

"I was interrogating them, sir. Trying to find their hyperlane."

"Back down!" A million things were going through his head and he didn't know what to think, or do with her. He didn't even really know what to say.

"Don't you understand, Luay is getting away! The fleet can follow him."

"Will you get your head outta your ass and stop thinking about Luay for one fragging second?"

"It's not just about Luay, dammit!" Which was only partially true. She wanted, needed his blood to be spilled. "They have a backdoor to Republic space! If we find it out, we could get a fleet through there and even end the war!"

"You are way out of line, Corporal. You know there's a process for interrogating prisoners. And I saw what you were doing in there. Y'damn near committed a war crime!"

"And?"

"What, are you kidding me? You would disobey the laws of the Republic?"

"To protect it? In a heartbeat. And since when did you become the Jedi Council? I wasn't born yesterday. I know about EITs." Enhanced Interview Techniques, the Republic's euphemism for interrogation by torture.

"There are very specific procedures you have to go through before you can do that. It's reserved for the worst of the worst, and only if nothing else works. And it doesn't really work, compared to the other shit. It's against the rules to treat people that way. And it's just wrong."

"They're not people! People don't do what they do! They're roaches, and they brought this on themselves, sir."

"Well thanks to you, any chance they woulda talked to us willingly is gone. They hate us now. People who hate won't ever cooperate."

"I don't need their cooperation. I can pull answers from their brains. All they deserve is pain, sir. I don't understand why you don't agree."

Jimny just stared. He had no idea what to say, it was like Meku was another person. This wasn't the wide-eyed recruit he mentored. It couldn't be.

"Don't get dramatic, Jimny." He calmed himself. He could still hear the whimpers of the Mandalorian Captain in the cell, and his comrades trying to bring him back to reality. That meant they could hear this conversation. This was not the place, nor the time. Both of their emotions were too high right now. People who hate won't ever cooperate.

"You will respect the orders of your commanding officer. Cease this interrogation forthwith and return to quarters, that'sa order. You're on latrine duty for the next month. We'll talk about this, Corporal." He could speak formally when he wanted, but it still threw Meku off.

"Yeah." She walked off, brushing his shoulder as she passed by. His blood boiled at the disrespect. She was clearly testing him.

"Two months. Address me with respect."

"Yes, sir," she spoke, not turning around.

He waited for her to turn the corner before leaning into the wall and putting his head into his hands. This was bad, really bad. But he wasn't going to give in to despair. He'd been doing this far too long, and knew that moping never fixed shit. Action fixed problems. He needed a plan. He wouldn't lose Meku to this war.

Chapter Text

Meku had hardly slept a full night since Bespin, nearly four months ago. She was always tossing, turning. If it wasn't horrible flashback-dreams, it was some imagined danger or suspicion of Luay's return. With heart pounding, she'd bolt awake in the middle of the night, wondering where the danger was. But the only people around were her sleeping squadmates.

The worst part was the lack of trust. She never saw her squadmates the same, nor anyone else on the ship. Everyone was a potential traitor. She knew it made no sense, but her instincts didn't care about logic or reason; only survival. Her mind always insisted she check this and that, always paranoid that something was being broken, sabotaged, or compromised. Sometimes, she'd trek all the way to check on the Main Reactors. This got Foster and Abel's attention, and they commended her for "vigilance and commitment to going above and beyond."

Meku rubbed her eyes and growled. She already knew it was useless to try sleeping again, so she got up. Her mind was still frantic, insisting there was danger somewhere. She stretched and softly toed to Brax's bed. She checked his datapad, a part of her thinking "He's always HoloChatting his family. A likely story." She thought of Luay as she scrolled through his messages. She hated this new part of herself.

Of course, there was nothing incriminating, just messages to his wife and kids. HoloNet search history returned mostly results for recipes, business practice, good places in the Mid Rim to open restaurants, and a few random ones. Like, "how to stop rash inner thighs republic marine," "best underwear for marching rucking republic marine," and "horn care for long term on ship Zabrak."

Meku sat up in her bed, staring at the ceiling. "Why am I doing this?" A Jedi was supposed to be above these feelings, but one little man had shattered a ship's trust in each other. And she still blamed herself.

The worst part was that, today, the Hearth and the tattered remains of the 16th Battle Group would be docking at Kuat for their much-needed repairs and resupply. While docked, they'd finally be replenishing their numbers with almost entirely new recruits, fresh from blaster camp. That set off a massive red flag - every one of those recruits was a potential spy. There was also another issue.

At full capacity, the Hearth should have 715 people on board. It now had less than 150. The vast majority of its crew and marines would be fresh-faced recruits. The initial phase of the invasion was an absolute slaughter; most of the military was heavily bloodied and gulping down new recruits. Revan's genius and the Jedi's intervention helped, but the military was full of holes the Republic was trying desperately to fill. Chancellor Shepherd and the Senate had passed massive tax breaks and other incentives to get people to join. Rumors were going around that conscription might happen for the first time in the Republic's 25,000-year history.

On a more practical note, people would be filling positions they weren't really qualified for. The veterans who would teach them were mostly dead. Meku remembered Shay and Keevo. Despite his enthusiasm, Shay was still bumbling and learning the ropes. He still didn't know how to make a lot of drinks. If Shay was messing up that badly at a "non-crucial" job like bartending, she wondered how this would affect people in engineering or cannon targeting.

This was not the time to think about it, though. Her body wasn't going to sleep, but Meku could meditate. It was not nearly as effective as sleep, but it calmed her and there were no awful dreams. Plus, sometimes her exhausted body slipped into sleep once she'd relaxed herself meditating. She tried, but interrupted herself to check Oka's datapad. Nothing. Of course there was nothing.

She knelt on the bed and meditated again, feeling the aura of the ship's crew. They were exhausted, but hopeful. They were eager to be replenished and go back to just one shift and a (somewhat) normal sleep schedule. A recent string of victories filled them with confidence and hope. Their saber-wielding heroes had renewed them, spurned them to work harder, smarter, faster. "We can do this. Through the blood, sweat and tears. We can do this!"

That made her smile. Even as a Jedi, Meku never thought she'd have a real impact on the galaxy, on people's lives. She never saw herself as that important. But here she was, a beacon of hope for people. It was difficult to believe, but their hope calmed her spirits, and she slipped into sleep.


"Sheesh. Y'ever seen a sorrier gaggle of goofy window-lickers?"

"Eh?" Meku was still tired, rubbing her eyes and yawning.

"Look at 'em. Soft, pathetic. Can't win the war with them pudding-faces."

"Wait wait wait," it took a minute for the words to register in her mind, "window-licker?" Meku thought she knew all the slang, but Jimny never ceased to confuse her with more.

"Every time you stick FNG's in a shuttle, it's always the same thing." He pantomimed pressing his face and hand against a window, like someone wistfully looking out of it.

"Can confirm," Vanci added. "You Jedi were especially slobberful. Copilot and I were cleaning windows for hours," she teased, smiling.

"All recruits do that," Jimny continued.

Meku flushed red as she remembered her first trip to the Hearth, and realized that yes, she was indeed a window-licker.

"Even you were like that, Sarge," Brax defended his red-faced friend, "one day."

"EvEn yOu WeRe LiKe ThAt, SaRgE," Jimny mocked. "What part'a all recruits do you not understand? Jeez, Durachef. I thought I knew how dumb you were, but somehow you still surprise me." He pranced on, "Durr hburr, I'm Brax, I'm so retarded I don't know what words mean, hurrrrrr."
Brax rolled his eyes while Oka, Vanci, and Meku busted up laughing. After a hearty laugh at Brax's expense, Jimny returned to groaning about the recruits.
"They ain't even fit to be stitch bitches."

"Rather they target turbolasers?" Oka replied.

Meku actually knew this term. All Marines were given secondary jobs on the ship. Some, like Meku's squad, were assigned patrol. Others worked in entertainment, like Shay. Others cleaned, cobbled, cooked, repaired machinery, or were sewists, who made and repaired clothes. Nearly all these jobs could be performed by droids, but the Navy preferred to keep its troops busy.
"Idle hands make use of the tools of Darkness," she recalled the old Jedi proverb. Strangely, Jimny repeated that proverb when he explained why these jobs existed.

In the military, trash-talking was very much the norm, and Jimny was no exception. Most took it in stride. Sewists were stitch bitches, mechanics were grease monkeys, soldiers were mudsloggers or shitsloggers, pilots were flyboys or airheads, engineers were eggheads (or bird-brain or shit-for-brains whenever something went wrong), etc. Jimny used the term all the time, to the sewists' faces. At least, until his uniform was torn. Then they were "buddy," "boss-man," and the like.

Meku returned her attention to the recruits, and basked in their aura. They were filled with wonder, everything they took in was a fascinating part of this brand new journey of theirs. Thoughts like "wizard," "whoa, a real Aurek fighter," and "wait... is that a Jedi?" played in their heads. Meku loved it, it relaxed her and filled her with joy. She remembered feeling that way, what felt like a lifetime ago.

She also basked in the inspiration they felt from her. Meku made sure to wear her robes to be easily distinguishable. "Lead by example and you'll inspire your troops. Inspired troops will move planets for you, easy," Jimny told her earlier.

Her usual brown Padawan's robes had been torn to tatters over various battles, so she helped the sewists make several sets of black robes, with red or gold highlights, to match the fatigues and armor of the Republic soldiers. Her sleeves, shoulders, and shins were armored in a prototype, full-body armor given thus far only to commandos. It was painted gray. She was still thin, but her small frame had been augmented by stringy, toned muscle. She exuded much more of a presence than the scrawny, awkward apprentice who first joined. Meku could feel the pride emanating from Jimny, who played a great part in shaping her into this.

"Look! I told you we'd see a Jedi!"
"You gotta be kidding me, Maleth."
I joined for you, Master Jedi," another recruit shouted.

"I didn't do it by myself, boys! I had help," Meku patted Jimny on the shoulder as she replied. His pride glowed even more at that. The white-haired Jedi was not the arrogant, snot-nosed punk he thought she was at the beginning. She and the other saber-swishers had proven themselves, and some. Still, it was amazing to get some recognition.

Underneath the swelling heart, Meku noticed cold undertones to his aura. That hadn't changed since she tortured the prisoners. He didn't hate her, or treat her any differently, but his heart didn't lie. He had his suspicions about her and was highly concerned at times. She didn't understand it. They were the enemy; who cared how they were treated?

She shook her head, as if to clear the thought from it. Sarge never confronted her on it (too busy, she guessed) and she would let sleeping Kaths lie until something developed. Plus, it was time to inspire the troops, and she couldn't do that while staring blankly like a fish. She waved at a new group of recruits, and basked in their awe.

All these newbies had just been sworn in before leaving blaster camp. She remembered taking that same Oath in then-Captain Abel's office. Jan, Neff, and Rula stood by her, waiting their turns to speak.

"I, Mekumi Sakaroto, do hereby swear to defend the Republic and its people, to uphold its Constitution, laws, and values, to serve justice, and to obey commands. And above all, to act in the interests of the Republic in thought, word, and deed. And to uphold these values at all costs, including my own life. This I swear."

"Welcome to the Navy, Jedi. Please sign here."

She kept the small placard with the Oath inscribed on it, confirming she would lay down her life to obey it. Some soldiers hung it up, while others just tossed it in a drawer somewhere and rarely looked at it. Meku was in the former camp; she hung it up with pride and its words inspired her every movement.

"You think you'll get a new squaddie?" Meku's memory was interrupted by Vanci's uneasy voice.

"Nope. Read the requisitions already. Think Foster's cool with the way things are now," Jimny reassured.

Vanci nodded. Inside, she thought, "thank the stars."
She and T2 had been hanging around with them a lot, and they had gotten very close to the squad. Pilots had their own quarters adjacent to the hangar bay, to more easily get to their craft. Sometimes, Vanci would stay with the squad and sleep in Luay's cot. Meku slept a lot easier those nights; Luay's empty bed haunted all of them.

"Sucks, being down a member," Oka observed.

"We got a Jedi. That's like, a whole army right there," Vanci responded.

"Don't overestimate the Jedi. They ain't Gods. They're just people. And the cocky ones're getting killed off out there. Unlucky ones too," Jimny retorted.

Meku nodded back, not too prideful to admit the truth in his chilling statement. She'd nearly died on Randon, Duro, and other times since then. Jan was dead. Rula's comatose body was transferred to a proper hospital, with no news about her recovery. Even Neff, the stellar pilot he was, had many close calls. He even had to eject in a recent skirmish.

The squaddies continued talking, but Meku's senses perked up. One recruit stood out. A young girl. Very young. Meku stretched out to feel the girl's aura, and red flags went up everywhere. She was anxious to get caught for something. Her mind was flooded with worries of getting arrested, discharged, and shipped to the home she were trying to protect. Meku needed to talk to this girl. She pondered if she should talk to Jimny first, or take matters into her own hands.

The moment she thought of going behind her Sargeant's back, though, memories of a horrid stench came back to her. She shuddered with the thought of the shit-stench that clung to her clothes and skin, unable to be washed off no matter how vigorously she scrubbed. For several weeks after completing her Ass Assignment (another charming Navy term), the stench was still on her. She suppressed a gag. No, she would talk to Jimny first.

It was so strange, his reaction. Both her and Jimny had broken rules just to be in the Navy. Rules had to be broken to do the right thing sometimes.

Right?

Well, she'd talk to him about it. He was a practical man.


The final race is coming up, y'know," Oka said. The recruits had long since shuffled off to their postings.

"Notyra has got this in the bag," Meku replied. The humble Notyra, in the purple-on-gray Venom ACR, had made a shocking comeback against Bes Lettev, the favored champion in his white-on-blue LaFezza SuperVelocity.

"But Lettev could still take it, as much as I don't want him to," Vanci opined. "It's still anyone's game, so we can't get too cocky." Nobody rooted for Lettev anymore, since he was Luay's guy. 'Lettev' was basically a curse word now.

"That's the problem," Meku replied. "Lettev is too arrogant. He thinks he can't lose. He goes out and womanizes instead of learning the track like Noytra does."

"Still," Oka added, "Lettev's smooth. Much smoother than Notyra."

"Notyra's new, he'll get smoother with time," Meku defended her favorite. "Plus, Lettev is too, oh what's the word. He lacks that courage, that... aggression Notyra has. He's too... complacent. Too worried about his hairdo to try anything crazy."

"Could just mean Notyra is too reckless," Vanci said. "Everyone says he's gonna crash that thing."

"It's podracing! Just doing it is reckless, so who cares?" Meku was gesturing incredulously. "Plus, he hasn't crashed yet."

"He will," Jimny said.

"And even if he does, so? Crashing's a part of racing. All good racers have crashes."

"I'm sure glad you're not a pilot," Vanci chuckled.

"Oh, come on!"

"Y'know," Oka interrupted, "Team Stugenbaumer is coming back next season with a P19. Supposed to be just as fast as the P18, but no droid brain. They're focusing on better aerodynamic design and more sensitive repulsors to make up for it."

"I doubt it," Meku replied. "Stugenbaumer lies. No mortal can handle that much power in a pod. I bet you a million creds they just spend the whole budget hiding the droid brain better."

"Maybe. Be interesting, see how those three giants go against each other next season."

"Well, we can catch the Final in a few days. Then go to the EM after, or something," Brax suggested.

"Still have that Holo laying around," Oka pointed, nodding. "Shame the EM has no screens yet!"

"We gotta fix that," Meku agreed.

"I can talk to Shay, see about requisitioning something." Jimny gave a cocky smile. He was a master at pulling strings. That was how he'd gotten Meku the prototype armored sleeves and greaves.

Brax gave Meku an anxious look, pointing to his wrist-timer. Meku nodded, understanding.
"Alright guys, Brax and I are going down to the O-deck. Meet you guys at quarters?"

"Sure, family man. I'll get in the gym then, ladies. Show these FNGs a thing or two 'bout how a real man puts work in."

"Eyeroll!" Brax exclaimed.


"Hey lady! I actually ordered the fried Bua thigh, not the grilled!"

"I'm so sorry, we're really swamped today! I'll put in an order for fried Bua."

The person grunted in frustration. "And wait another half hour. Ugh. Forget it. Can't even get my order right. Sheesh, what the hell do they pay you for here?"

"I'm really sorry about your experience. We are so crowded, it's been a bit crazy recently, so I must've just missed it." The restaurant was completely jam-packed. Every available seat was filled. People were standing outside waiting for space. Every employee and droid was overwhelmed, having to weave their way through tables, people, and the occasional mess.

"Whatever. Also, it's really disrespectful to keep looking at your wrist-timer when you're supposed to be serving us. That's probably why you got my order wrong." The lady was gesturing with her head, pointing square at the waitress.

"Just counting the seconds 'till I don't have to deal with you anymore."
"I don't mean to offend you, miss." She finished laying the food down.

"Just get out of here and let us eat, before you mess up something else," she waved off like batting away an annoying insect. The others in her group had awkward, pained faces, ashamed at their elegantly-dressed colleague who was berating their waitress like this.
"A lazy ref, I bet you," she told them.

Reina, walking away, stopped dead in her tracks. It took all of her self control not to storm back over there, dump the Bua in this jerk's lap, and kick her the hell out of this establishment. But she couldn't; she'd lose her job. This was nothing like the restaurant she used to own in older times. "And Alderaanians are supposed to be nice people!"

Maybe they were tourists. The Podracing Championship Final was on Alderaan this year, and (of course) in the same city Reina was working. She didn't really care for pods, but it was all over the news. In normal races, the team was only present for a weekend. In the Final, the teams set up shop a full week before the race to learn the track and get their drivers accustomed to the day-night cycles of the planet.

The downside of that was now the city swelled with racers, staff, tourists, and groupies. And all of them seemed to want to cram themselves "right into the damn restaurant while I'm on shift!"

Reina kept looking at her wrist-timer. She was supposed to get off shift twenty minutes ago, but the dinner rush didn't end when it was supposed to. Reina didn't say no when her manager asked her to keep working. She could use all the overtime she could get. Even if she didn't need it, she still wanted to help. Goodness knew they needed it. She was regretting that now, though.

"I should've been home by now, and getting us ready to Holo with the Jedi." It had been a long time coming, thanks to nobody's schedules matching up. She really didn't want to miss this. She sighed, her shoulders drooping as she carried her tray back to the kitchen. She didn't get a second more to think when another table flagged her down, "so sorry to bug you, but could we get a dessert menu over here, please?"

"Oh, for the love of-"
"Be right with you!"
As she walked out to the table, she was stopped in her tracks by the new boy.

"Rei?"

"Oh hi!"

He'd been working here for about six months, but he and Reina had gotten close in that time. She'd taken a maternal liking to the human. He was in his late teens, but he had muscles like a pro athlete. He was so brawny, he often had trouble tying his apron behind his back.
"Like now," she chuckled.

"What're you still doing here, Rei?" There was genuine concern in his voice. His fingers fumbled as he spoke to Reina, the ropes of his apron falling a couple times. His parents, bless them, must've been very serious about sports. It sometimes made Reina insecure about the little rolls on her ribs and the flab on her tummy. She was not in her twenties anymore.

"I couldn't leave with the place like this!"

"I thought you had a Holo date with your husband?"

"Yeah, but - wait, what are you doing here?" Reina furrowed her eyebrows. "You got off hours ago!"

"Eh, I wasn't doing nothing," he shrugged. He had a funny accent that Rei couldn't place, but there were millions of worlds in the Republic. "Plus, when I heard some of the race teams might be eating here, well, I just had to meet 'em. You know me and pods."

"You're something else. Don't you have a social life by now?"

"No..." he rubbed the back of his neck, uncomfortable. Reina nodded, understanding. They were both refugees; Alderaan and most places in the Republic were full of them nowadays. Even other governments, like Hutt Space and the Chiss Ascendancy, were seeing a huge influx.

"You have a good head on your shoulders. I'm surprised you don't have a hundred friends already."

"Excuse me Miss," the table called, "that dessert menu, please?"

"I'll handle it, sir! Just a moment, please!" He spoke before Reina could respond. He turned back to her, giving her an assuring look.
"Rei, the situation here isn't gonna get any better. Go clock out, okay?"

"But-"

"Go see your husband." He held her shoulders, staring her in the eyes. "You earned it."

She nodded, looking down. "Thanks, Esio."

"You betcha. Now go!" He turned heel and marched back to the table, "may I recommend our triple-fudge Teka Caldera? My personal favorite, it erupts with sweet flavor!"

Chapter Text

 

"Got off work late, but you can get started with the girls." Reina hit 'send,' and sighed heavily before walking briskly back to her tiny apartment. She was not going to have time to look presentable. She ordinarily wouldn't care - Brax was her husband of decades. But wollah, they were going to meet a real Jedi! She didn't tell the kids so to keep it a surprise. But she couldn't be looking like this. She still even smelled of breaded nuggets and all sorts of other things. Gah!

It was so difficult. She lost so much when they left Vanquo. Friends and family were a total mystery; there was no way to communicate with people behind enemy lines. They could be dead, kidnapped, or safe, but there was no way to know. Now, she was on a foreign planet with no one. No friends, no network, no nothing. To make things worse, there was a growing movement against refugees.

"They come here and bring their problems,"
"Crime rates go up with refs. The statistics don't lie,"
"It used to be really nice before they started showing up,"
"They're so dirty,"
"Come out of the woodwork and eat all our food, like Antwoords. Maybe they should make Ref Spray, heh heh,"
"How do we know they aren't sneaking Mandos in with them,"
"They make it so crowded here. They use all our services but they don't pay! And you expect me to shell out my hard-earned tax creds to just give them handouts? I had to work for what I have. They should work too, or get out,"
"I would only trust them as far as I could throw them,"
"There's no room for you here,"
"You're a breach in our security,"
"We should have quotas,"
"Get out."

She had to resist every impulse to strangle every ignorant fool who spoke like that. She knew very well violence wasn't the answer, but damn, they made her blood boil! "Me and Brax did work hard! We were normal! It's not our fault a war rolled in and took everything we had! Space off! You don't know what war is like! You don't know what it's like to lose everything you ever had."

Well, not everything.

Thank the stars she talked Brax into going on this vacation. If they had not... she shuddered, not wanting to think about it. She'd heard stories. Starting over was a small price for the family to be safe and (mostly) together. That's what mattered, and she'd start over a thousand times before she lost them.

But it was damn hard to. Things were so different here than on Vanquo. Their restaurant, their three landspeeders, their comfy little house above the business. Their network of friends, their extended family, the good schools they had maneuvered so cleverly to put the kids into. The kids' friends. Trips to parks, zoos, and holo-screenings, parent-teacher meetings, playdates (and in Adisia's case, real dates! That was a big scare to daddy). It was all gone now.

In its place was a hard life filled with crushing uncertainty, hard work, and hostility from the occasional anti-ref bigots. They used to make good money and live comfortably, since the girls worked the restaurant after school, reducing the cost of employees and droids. Now, even Reina and Brax's combined income was less than the restaurant made. Adisia looked for work but had no luck, so she took over household duties once Brax was shipped off to blaster camp.

Still, Reina understood well that she was extremely lucky. For one, she got out of Vanquo. Those who couldn't were dead, kidnapped, brainwashed, enslaved, destitute, or living off the wilderness.

She was also well ahead of the refugees who could get out. Reina and Brax always believed in carrying a substantial amount of cash wherever they went, and their Alderaanian vacation was no exception. When their local bank went up in smoke, so did their life's savings. Between Reina, Brax, and the kids, they had enough cash to put a deposit on a small apartment. They decided to do that instead of live in a refugee camp.

Chancellor Shepherd passed into law that all refugees had a right to shelter and food, so planets in the Republic were ordered to build "shelter" for those displaced by the war. Most refugees on Alderaan lived in hastily-erected camps well outside of the actual cities. This was unappealing; Reina and Brax wanted the kids to go to good schools, in a more peaceful area, and were afraid of being attacked by anti-refs, since the camps seemed to present an easy target. Not to mention, there was always the fear of being robbed by their fellow refugees who had nothing. So apartment it was.

Alderaan was one of the best planets for a refugee to be on; despite the occasional bigotry, it was much worse elsewhere. On some planets, refugees were treated as second-class citizens. They stayed in ramshackle slums built from tents, cargo boxes, and old buses. The food handouts Chancellor Shepherd ordered were begrudgingly given. Rumor had it, some areas didn't follow this law, and left the refugees to starve. Yet other places were worse.

Many refugees had run to planets that were simply invaded later, like Onderon or Cato Neimoidia. Those who had run to Hutt Space were often abducted as slaves or pets by the cruel slugs. Sleheyron was especially infamous for this. And that was for the refugees who even made it to another planet. Many refugee ships were raided en route by pirates, slavers, and mafia. These types were emboldened, knowing the Republic's Navy was too busy to stop them.

Reina hoped the war would be over soon, but that would be the least of their problems. Even if the war ended tomorrow, there was always a question pestering her; "Then what?" There were so many options, all of which pointed to an uncertain future. Stay on Alderaan, trying to make things work? Go back to a devastated Vanquo? Go somewhere else entirely? Would they open another restaurant, or look for another line of work?

They weren't the only ones with this problem. Over a billion refugees now existed. All these people would be shuffling about, looking for work and safety. The Republic would rebuild, but that would take years. Brax and Reina would be competing with every one of them for every job, apartment, credit, and scrap of food available. Not to mention, they had to figure all this out while feeding three girls. Adisia was sixteen and very independent, but Qadeen was eleven and Yalix was only five.

Reina didn't make any big purchases, because she wanted to always keep enough cash saved up to buy a ticket offworld in a pinch. The family walked or took public transit, since even a rickety, used swoop bike was too risky of a purchase to make right now. This was not how Reina thought her life would pan out.

The sheer stress of it all was going to make her hair fall out and her horns yellow and cracked. It was also a thirty minute walk to the nearest place that sold Zabrak hornpaste. She found herself having to buy that in bulk. The HoloChat was supposed to make it better, but Reina still was stressed since she looked like a Bantha's cheek.


"Wife said she was gonna be late, but to just call anyways."

"Awesome, I don't mind meeting the girls!" She bouncd with excitement, eager not to think about Navy stuff for a while.

"Now stand off to the side," Brax focused on his 'pad, making sure she was out of view. "Yeah yeah, right there. Ready to make the call?"

Meku fixed her hair and straightened her robes. "As I'll ever be."

"Relax. You got this," Brax smiled encouragingly. Meku replied with a skeptical face. "They're gonna be so excited to meet you. This'll make their whole year."

"Oh you shameless flatterer you. I'm not that great."

"If only you knew," he thought, shaking his head before calling.

After a few moments, a hologram of three figures appeared. Meku had seen enough photos and videos of them to recognize them as Adisia, Qadeen, and Yalix; Brax's kids. All were very tall, just like their father. Adisia, the teenager, was lanky. Eleven-year-old Qadeen and five-year old Yalix had their father's thick build.

"DAAAAAAAAAAAADDDDDDDDDDDYYYYYYYYY!"

"Oh my little volcano! How are you, my wrathful little lava monster?"

They exchanged his and greetings before Brax asked, "So Yalix, have a good day at school?"

"No school today, silly!"

"It's a holiday, dad," Qadeen clarified.

"D'oh! Right. I kinda forgot about weekends and holidays now that I'm on a ship. Guys enjoy your day around the house then?"

"Well I was stuck with them all day, so..." Adisia sighed.

"Oh trust me, it was no better on our end," Qadeen responded, rolling her eyes. "Woe is me, I'm Adi, I can't get a date, I'm gonna sit in my room and listen to angsty music all day, bleh bleh blehhhh."

"See what I mean, dad?" Adisia pointed an accusatory finger at her sister, "see!"

"Oh, what a horrendous punishment. I feel so sorry for you, you must have the hardest life in the galaxy." The sarcasm dripped from Brax's voice.

"Well y'know what, I cooked a Loof and you can't have any, so hmph!" She stuck her tongue out at him.

"Oh you break my heart."

"Well, that's what you get for being a smart-alec," Adisia smiled, "tree nut."

Meku smiled at their exchange. Again, she felt like a stray. She could feel the warmth of love radiating from them, a warmth she never really let herself have. She loved her Master, but the Jedi would never allow her to express it. The dynamic between Brax and his family, the raw feeling that seemed to overwhelm her senses, felt foreign to her. But she wanted it.

"...well Adi, I hate to one-up you, but I've got one better."

"I call nerf. What's better than a Loof?"

Brax made a 'come hither' gesture with his finger. Meku stepped into the frame, in all her robed and armored glory, and stood by her friend. A reverential hush fell about proceedings; the astonishment was painted on all their faces. They looked like they were in the presence of a God. Meku tried to ease the tension by sheepishly waving hi.

"Are you..." Adi started but was interrupted.

"It's the JEDI! Wow wow wow WOW WOW WOW WOW WOW WOW WOW WOW WOW!" Yalix was jumping with so much exuberance that she was phasing in and out of the holo.

"Calm down now volcano, let's not wake the neighbors," Brax lowered the volume on his speakers as he replied.

"I can't believe this is real! It's, uh, it's um, I mean, uh," Adi searched for the right words, completely floored by the seemingly-divine being before her.

"It's a great honor to make your acquaintance, Master Jedi." Qadeen seemed to be the best with words. She bowed her head and clasped her hands in respect.

"Oh, you don't have to get all formal with me," Meku didn't like being treated like a God. She was just a person. "You can just call me Meku."

"Master Meku?"

"I'm not a Master. Just, just Meku."

"Can you show us your lightsaber? How 'bout some cool Force tricks? Can you lift my daddy? How many bad guys did you killed? Do you have a shiny cool spaceship?"

"Hey hey hey, relax," Brax tried to calm his youngest, who was spewing a constant stream of questions even a datalogging droid couldn't keep up with.

"Yalix, shush! You're annoying the Jedi," Adi hissed.

"No, it's fine-"

"-But I never seen a real Jedi!" Yalix interrupted Meku.

"One at a time, please!" Meku tried to be the intermediate.

"Yalix, go ahead, ask the Jedi one thing. Whatever you want. You go first. Just one though!" Brax knew to sate his impatient youngster early.

"Hmmmmmmmm," Yalix wanted to make her turn count. "Can I see your lightsaber?"

Meku smiled slyly. She whipped it out of her back-holster and did a few stylistic flicks of her wrist before igniting it in a fighting stance. Yalix's eyes became supernovas, and Meku made a little show for her. She tossed the saber, did a few cool flips, slashes, and other moves before extinguishing the long blade. Brax trusted Meku and stood where he was, right by her. He was not even singed as the hot blade swept inches past his body. If Yalix was bouncing before, she was absolutely off the walls now.

"Cool your lava there, volcano," Brax cooed. It didn't work and Yalix remained the excitable ball of energy while the other sisters tried to ask questions.

"What's the Na-" Qadeen tried to ask, but she was interrupted.

"Wait wait I want another question!"

"No my volcano, we wait our turns. That's what good people do, remember?"

"Okie daddy," she sighed with resignation, still bouncing on the balls of her feet. Adi guided her to a nearby toy to distract her hyped-up sister.

"So," Qadeen continued, "what's the Navy like?"

Meku had to pause at that question. She wasn't really sure how to answer. She was so caught up in the day-to-day that she never stopped to step back and form an opinion on what the Navy actually was like.

A huge part of her wanted to say it was the worst decision she ever made. She hadn't slept well since she joined. She got nightmares, flashbacks, and irritability, now that trauma had sunk its hooks into her mind. There were so many obstacles to doing her job. Her body felt triple her actual age. She'd randomly get aches, stiffness, crunching in her joints, and other maladies. The medical facilities on the ship could probably help her, but she never felt she had the time to go. Speaking of time, there was never a middle ground here; it was either crushing boredom with nothing to do or whirlwind days of over sixteen hours work, nonstop. And of course, people like Luay never made things better.

An equal part of her wanted to say it was the best decision she ever made. She always felt a sense of purpose; protecting her people from a brutal aggressor. She thought to Jurtha, and the hundreds of civilians they'd rescued since the Revanchists joined. Their gem of hope was etched into her very soul, their thankful looks would never be forgotten. The way her very presence inspired the men made her want to be the best she could possibly be. Every morning she woke up, she knew she was making the galaxy a better place. Not to mention an unbreakable bond with her new friends. Jimny, Brax, Oka, and Vanci were all closer to her than anyone ever could be.

Brax looked at Meku. She'd been silent for a while, staring off. He threw a little softball to help her.
"Are you interested in joining, Q?"

"Not me. Adi might, though."
"Because you're doing it, dad," went unsaid.

Adi rubbed the back of her neck, slouched, and closed up her posture. "It would bring mom some extra money. Help the family and everything," she quickly justified her opinion. The moment became awkward; Adi had not yet told her dad. The conflicting emotions were painted on Brax's face, and were broadcasting right to Meku's senses.

On the one hand, he absolutely disapproved. He wanted to protect his oldest daughter, and would gladly die in her stead. Having her shipped off to the meat grinder would go against every parental instinct in his horned head, and he'd never forgive himself if she died on the battlefield. On the other hand, he was proud that Adi wanted to serve her Republic, protect her people, and provide for her family.

"Weeelllllllll, it's uh, it's not for everyone." It was Meku's turn to fill the awkward silence now. "It's a hard life. I haven't slept a full night in forever. And oh man, if you ever have to do latrine duty! Let me tell you..." she got into a rhythm and started to talk about the little things here and there about navy life as they popped up.
"What I'm saying is, it's a tough decision, and not one you should make lightly."

Qadeen and Adi both nodded. It wasn't a simple answer, but it was honest. Adi then spoke. "Meku, how is it working with our dad?"

"This guy?" She wrapped an arm around his huge torso and gave a wide, genuine smile. "He's one of the best things about being here. He's taught me so much, and his cooking is more fire than a proton torpedo. And man oh man, the way he talks about you guys. He lights up the ship like a supernova. This guy is a hero, and my friend." Brax's smile lit up the O-Deck more than Kuat's star. "I'll keep him safe for you. He'll come back home. Promise."

Adi had to blink hard to stop tears. There was a lot of blocked-off emotion behind her smile.

"Daddy's a hero?" Yalix, now holding a Jedi figurine, was perplexed.

"He's the most heroic one on the ship," Meku responded.

"No way!" Yalix did not believe her.

"Way."

"Meku lies, we all look up to her." Brax put his palm on her head. "She's the inspiration for us. I just follow her light."

"See, I was right," Yalix insisted, "can I be a hero like you?"

Meku smiled. "Search within yourself, young one. Anyone can be a hero. You just have to do the right thing when the time comes." She hammed it up a bit for the little girl.

"Like you did, going against the Council to join the war." Adi was pretty insightful.

"Yes, or like mommy does every day when she works and provides for what you need," Brax added. It didn't take Jedi senses to see the admiration he had for his wife.

"Just working make you a hero?" Yalix was in disbelief. Only saber-swishing, quick-witted Jedi were heroes, right? How did just going to work make you a hero?

"Mommy's a hero just like we are. She works so you are well-provided for and don't have to live in a camp. She does that so you can have nice things, go to the best school, and be safer. She'd give herself for you any day."

"He is right," Meku added

"You'll understand when you get older," Adi said.

"But she doesn't have a lightsaber," Yalix was clearly unimpressed. "Can you do another cool trick? Can you can you can you canyoucanyoucanyoucanyoucanyou?"
At that point, a clack could be heard in the background and the girls turned to look at the source of the noise.
"Mommy!" Yalix ran off-holo to embrace her mother.

They all said hi before Brax's wife stepped into view, holding her youngest. She was as tall as Brax was, but lankier, like Adisia. She was composed and confident-looking, smiling at the projector.
"So, you must be the amazing Jedi Master we keep hearing about."

"I'm just a soldier, Miss," Meku replied. She sometimes felt she had to carry around a big sign that said 'NO, I AM NOT A MASTER.'
"You can just call me Meku."

"A beautiful name. I'm Reina, Brax's better half." She gave Brax a teasing wink and a smile with a few... hungrier undertones Meku was not sure about.

"She's jealous because I'm the beautiful one in the relationship," he teased right back, returning the smile.

"Suuuure, sweetie. You tell yourself that. But I hear you make a mean Fhond, Meku."

"No, he did that, I just helped." She looked away, wishing she was as poised as Reina was.

"Pish posh," Reina waved her off, "he's told me about it. I just hope it wasn't weird that I sent you guys an Echani cookbook."

"Not at all! I was flattered," Meku replied.

"He talks about you a lot," Qadeen added, "like a lot."

Meku imitated Brax's voice to take a little jab at herself. "Lemme tell you about this idiot Jedi I work with. She's a total embarrassment."

"Hey! No!" Brax playfully shoved her shoulder. "Not true. You only embarrass me when you read my mind in front of everyone. Otherwise I don't mind."

"I don't mind that at all, embarrass him more, will you?" Reina teased.

"Evil!" Brax crossed his arms and looked away in mock indignance.

"Just teasing," Reina stuck her tongue out. "Anyways, no, it's all good things. We love hearing stories about your little escapades and troublemaking."

"Us, make trouble? No way," Brax chaffed.

"Yeah, till you mind trick your Sergeant into spilling his beer all over his lap." The girls giggled at the memory Reina relayed. Meku turned bright red, she'd tried her hardest to forget that. Something deep inside her didn't want to believe her leader was so weak-minded.

"Or put flowers in his crown," Adi said between giggles.

"Hey hey hey, why's everyone attacking me all of a sudden? Brax has told me stories too, y'know."

"I call nerf," Reina goaded.

"Like the one time Adi built a small repulsor in the restaurant. So how 'bout that, Gravity Girl?" Meku rested her fists on her hips, feeling triumphant.

"YOU TOLD THE JEDI ABOUT GRAVITY GIRL?!"

"We just had a laugh about it," Brax stared off, wistfully remembering the Gravity Girl incident.

"DaaAAad!"

"What's the matter? I thought you didn't mind me telling the Gravity Girl story."

"Yeah, but... she's a Jedi."

"I'm just a soldier, like your dad. It's okay, I won't tell the Council. Promise. Plus, you should've seen the way he told it. Your old man was so proud of you for being able to build something like that, so young."

"I was proud... after we cleaned up all that mess, anyway. Legend has it Woro's wallet is still somewhere in the ventilation ducts," Brax said.

"You must be quite the engineer," Meku continued. "Are you planning to do that? Maybe take over the restaurant?"

"I dunno." Adi became closed-off.

"Oka's pretty good at mechanicky stuff. Maybe I'll talk to him about school or something. If you could build a repulsor at what, nine? Then who knows what you could be building in a few years."

"Repulsors are easy to build. It's not that great." Adi was full of self-doubt.

Meku couldn't help but smile warmly. She saw so much of herself in this girl, but also grew frustrated. "Don't cut yourself down like that! Building anything like that is amazing! Why would you doubt yourself when you are clearly super-talented? Oh... by the Force, is that what I sound like all the time? Jeez..."

"Don't talk like that. It's an incredible feat, Adi," Reina spoke Meku's thoughts in a much more reassuring way.

"Yeah, I guess."

It made sense to Meku that she didn't believe her parents. All parents were convinced that their kid is a little genius. Adi would need to hear the encouragement from a different role model. A cool one, with a flashy lightsaber.
"They're right, you know. Don't doubt yourself. That's an amazing feat of engineering you accomplished. You could do all sorts of things with that skillset. Build pods, starships, droids, shields, computers. The stars are the limit!"

"Especially after this war is over," Reina added, more pragmatically. "We'll have to rebuild. If you can get an engineering degree, you'll never want for work."

"The whole Republic will be seeking your skill during the rebuild," Meku clarified.

This made Adi smile, wide.
Brax simply made a pose that screamed "I JUST said that! Oh but fine, believe the Jedi, not your dear old dad, I see how it is."

"If it's really what you want, of course. Heck, I'd challenge you to build a pod faster than the Venom ACR. If that's even possible," Meku said.

"I'm not really into pods. I'd like to engineer starships. I've drawn up a few designs already."

"We'll show 'em to Oka, maybe some guys in Engineering too."

"Thanks, Meku," Adi said.

"We know you wanna be a hero," Meku spoke to Yalix, and then turned to Qadeen. "What about you?"

"Take over the restaurant, of course." It wasn't even a question. She didn't mention that the restaurant was probably long gone by now. She indulged in the slightest hope that maybe it was still standing, and they could go back to a normal life after all this was over. Meku was attuned to this and made sure to play along.

"Can you cook?"

"There's so much more to restauranting than cooking," Qadeen repeated a saying Brax often said when talking about his business.

"So, no?" Meku teased back. She loved how comfortable she felt with Brax's family. She felt... at home.

"Oh my my, when you try my Porcha, you'll have to quit the Navy and live here to have my cooking every day. I make it a little different than they do."

"I'll hold you to it. Watch me. When this war is over, you're gonna cook me a, whatever that is."

"Porcha."

"Yeah, that. I'll be the judge if I'm impressed. 'Cos your dad can make some magic."

"Challenge accepted." It was hard for Meku to believe these two were sisters. Adisia was so shy and self-doubtful. Qadeen was poised, confident, and ever so sure of herself.

"What about you, babe? How have things been with you," Brax asked his wife.

"Buuuusy. The race teams are here for the Final and it's crowded everywhere. Work's been nuts because of it."

"That must be so exciting! I love pods," Meku announced.

"Who are you rooting for," Reina asked.

"Notyra, of course."

"Oh, great," Reina spoke with politely feigned interest in a subject she knew almost nothing about, much less cared for. Meku caught this in her voice.

"You'd like him if you met him. He's a real nice guy, I hear."

"That's what the new boy says too. Esio's super into pods. You two could probably chat for hours about that."

Meku froze completely. Did she mishear? She turned to Brax, his face also frozen in surprise. He had noticed it too, but had quickly turned his expression neutral and listened attentively to his wife. Meku's Jedi training came into play as she suppressed the shock and went back to listening.

"I'm sure she could. She'll get lost in the world of pods for hours, this girl," Brax said, cautiously neutral.

"Well maybe I'll meet him one day. Hopefully he's as nice as you say. Some of the 'nicest' people turn out to be anti-ref." Reina turned to her husband. "Speaking of; they've only gotten more extreme since you left, Marine. I think the Final made them more bold. They know they can get more attention with their protests and attacks. There's been more of both in the last few weeks."

"Those bastards," Brax cursed. Meku could sense the anger and hurt rising within him. Brax was always so calm, happy, and collected. She wasn't even sure he could get angry at something. It actually put her off.

"And what in the galaxy is an anti-ref?"

"Ref is short for refugee, sweetheart." Reina must have read her confused expression.

"And there's a lot of people in the galaxy who don't like us," Brax continued, sadness and defeat in his voice. She could sense a deep, deep guilt within him.

"Seriously? Why in the blazes would they think like that?" Meku grew a bewildered expression.

"They see us as a drain on their resources, and as a security risk since they think we're all sneaking in Mandalorian spies." Reina rolled her eyes. "Not our fault the war came in and destroyed everything we had."

"The nerve! You have to be joking. Please tell me you're joking," Meku said.

"I wish I was," Reina's expression grew angry. "A lot of them want to kick us out, cut our housing and food assistance."

"That's pathetic! I don't believe it. The Mandos are the bad guys here. We, we can't even support our own people through this dark time?"

"Exactly. I wouldn't be draining their precious resources if my planet wasn't invaded. How selfish of me."

"What the hell?! So they'd just leave you to starve?"

"Not us," Brax cut in. "Rei and I work, so we could still eat and live. Well, unless they force us offworld. I dunno if Alderaan's government would let that happen. But anyway, most refs don't work, or can't. So they would starve. Join gangs, even sell themselves to the Hutts, if they had to."

"That's just evil. They treat you like you're the ones who invaded them. The Mandos invaded our Republic. All you wanted was a safe haven. I mean, how much worse could people be!" Meku's hands were in the air now, her confusion and anger being translated by her hands.

"It does get worse, sweetheart. Some refs get attacked. I bought a blaster for the first time in my life." Reina sighed deeply as she dragged her hands down her face, still not really believing it. "Can you believe that, hon? Me, a blaster!"

"You taught the kids how to use it properly, right?" Blaster safety was of extreme importance in the military, and Brax of course wanted his family to be safe.

"I had to learn first, so Esio taught us all on an off day. He's really good with blasters, that kid. Nice boy though, really nice boy. Fellow ref, so he gets it."

There was that name again. Meku kept thinking as Reina spoke. Brax's wife was working with an... Esio? That was definitely a Mandalorian name, if Captain Esio was anything to go by. Was it a common name in other cultures? Meku wasn't aware of any cultures with that name, but it was a big galaxy. Was he a spy? She had heard something about the enemy massing near Alderaan. She needed to investigate, and tell Sarge.

"A ref? Where from," Meku used her patrol and Jedi skills to ask the seemingly-innocuous question.

"Randon, I think? I don't really remember. You could ask him."

"Oh, I will."
"Yeah, just curious. I'm glad you learned how to use that thing though."

"It's an important skill to have, love," Brax added. "For all the family."

"I would've disagreed with you until Homer got beat." She turned to Meku to explain, "He's a classmate of Adi's. Big ref sympathizer, he put on a lot of pro-ref protests and signage at the school. Six thugs caught him on the way home and beat him to a pulp." She shook her head with fear and disgust. "So now all three kids know how to shoot it. Adi keeps the gun. I'm saving up for another, for me."

Again, Meku felt deep guilt radiate off Brax. "I left my family. I left them. But what the hell! If I didn't join, we couldn't have afforded the apartment. But now I'm not there to protect them from those anti-ref bastards. Damned if I do, damned if I don't. Stupid! Stupid, stupid, stupid!"

Meku put her hands on Brax's shoulder, as if to say, "you did the right thing." His guilt retreated with her touch. She was a pillar to him, despite his fatherly instinct to be the one that protected her.
"Those thugs deserve to rot. I'm so sorry," Meku's voice was filled with fire.

"We thought Alderaan was a peaceful place," Qadeen mused.

"It is, mostly. Most of 'em are so great," Adi countered. "It's just this small group of anti-ref SOBs ruining it for everyone else."

"Language," Brax warned, "but I agree."

"Doesn't make it any better for Homer," Qadeen retorted.

"That's not what the Republic stands for. We should- we will protect you. We'll deal with anti-refs once we deal with the Mandos who brought you there in the first place. It's disgusting that our people can turn on their own like that," Meku spoke with conviction.

"We know you can do it, Meku," Adi said.

"She's right though. They're mostly good, and help you out, and don't judge. It's just hard to remember that when the anti-refs are so loud." Reina sighed, looking down.

"Anyways," Brax clasped his hands and exhaled deeply, not wanting to talk about such a sore subject. It was rare when he could see his family, and even rarer for them to meet a Jedi. He didn't want to spend this precious time festering in anger or guilt. "Adi, tell me about your ship designs. I'm curious."


They spoke for hours, just getting to know each other. Meku loved the fireside-like warmth she felt when with Brax and his family. She felt guilty for even feeling that though, remembering bitterly how the Jedi would have her deny those feelings. She didn't feel she belonged because of that guilt, but she still enjoyed it. Maybe she could get used to it, even.

She also was filled with resolve. She was going to end this war quickly, no matter the cost. After victory, hopefully the Republic's fleet would bring order to the savage thugs who kicked their fellow citizens when they were at their lowest point. She'd gladly participate in that. As bad as the buckets were, at least they stuck together. Speaking of buckets, it was also crucial to find out about this Esio. It could very well be nothing but... if it wasn't... she would never forgive herself. She needed to talk to Sarge about both that and the new girl she saw earlier.

Meku walked into quarters needing to relax. She'd come out of her shell a lot since the Order, but social interaction still drained her. Oka and Vanci were here, Brax followed her in.

"Heeeeeeeey, Jedi's back! How was hanging with mister family man," Oka asked.

"Great! I loved it!" Meku seemed to glow with happiness. "What were you guys doing here?"

"Playing Battlestars," Vanci replied. "Can you believe he thinks he can beat me? The nerve! The bare-face cheek and effrontery!" She made bombastic hand motions.

"Did beat you, Vance. Twice." Oka kept a straight face and looked down at his display as he spoke nonchalantly.

"I was just warming up. Anyways, wanna join? Or watch me cream this fool?"

"Not right now. Sarge around? Gotta talk to him about something important."

"In the 'fresher," Oka pointed, "was getting ready for a shower. Just barely walked in. If you're quick, y'might catch him before he undresses."

"I woudn't risk getting scarred for life. You Jedi are chaste, right?" Vance smiled.

"Ha, cute. So, so funny," Meku deadpanned. She made her way to the refresher, and was stopped dead in her tracks by Jimny. He was wearing only underpants and had a hand inside, deeply scratching his nether regions, grunting with the effort.

"The hell, Jedi?" He grew a bewildered expression, but notably did not stop scratching.

It took Meku a second to respond, trying not to recoil in disgust. "It's important, sir."

"Damn, it better be, for interrupting me at such a time."

"S- sir, I have some news, but, uh," Meku took a lot of concentration to lock eyes with her leader and not just stare at his errant hand. "I guess it can wait."

"Go ahead, since you've interrupted me in the Force-damn 'fresher."

"One of the recruits..." Meku trailed off as Sarge took his hand out of his underpants, brought it to his face, and took a deep whiff of his fingers.

"One of the recruits what," Jimny asked, well aware of Meku's discomfort.
Meku retched, unable to respond, and actually had to look away.
"What? Smells like bread."

"That is disgusting, sir! Did you grow up with Kowaks or what?"

"Nah, kid. Undercity of Taris. Way worse." He did not stop sniffing.

"You gonna keep sniffing your crotch like a monkey, or can I actually, like, tell you what it is?" She crossed her arms, finally having her gut under control. Barely.

"Go ahead, kid."

"Sir, the news is, uh," she grimaced. "I, I can't. I'll wait. Go ahead and use the shower. And for Force's sake, use your other hand to open the door!"

He laughed evilly. "If I forget, I'll clean it off with yer toothbrush."

"Not. Funny."

"It is, though." Sergeant Jimny reached for the shower handle with his funky hand.

"Don't you dare!" Meku pointed as she shouted.

"Or what?"
Meku used the Force to move his hand to the sink, turn the water on, and scrub soap all over his hand.
"Unhand me, y'fool! Lemme be dank n' dirty!"

"No! You will not contaminate the 'fresher!"

"Special tactics!" Jimny used his free hand to squeeze a shampoo bottle, getting it on her face. "HA! Hit'cha with the money shot!"

"Blech!" Meku spat and rubbed her eyes, hobbling back. Her concentration was broken and her Force-hold on Jimny's hand and the soap ended. "Agh, it burns my eyes!" She kept spitting and wiping her face. "Unfair! Why does it smell so sweet but taste so horrible! Plegh!"

Jimny was too smart to rush her right away. He knew she didn't need eyes to see, so instead he picked up a water cup for gargling and threw the contents at her face. He was deadly accurate, but Meku was seeing with the Force. She dodged it, but he used that moment to rush her. She tried to step away again, but slipped on the water. From the floor, she was lifted over the short man's head.

"Buululululululuuuuuu!" Jimny yelled a random war cry.

"Ew ew ew ew! You got your nasty hand on my robe! Unhand me so I can burn it! Blech," Meku spat the foul-tasting shampoo out as she yelled and slapped at Jimny's head. He threw her onto his bed, and she yelped with the impact.

"Y'can't defeat my genius tactics. Just admit it, I'm way too fly for ya."

"You think you're fly? Let me show you fly!" She used the Force to levitate Jimny's mattress as a flying platform, out of his reach.

"The enemy has air support, I need backup! Flying carpet incoming!"

"I'm on Meku's side!" Vanci, Brax, and Oka shouted.

"Muahahahahahaaa!" Meku used his pillowcase to wipe the shampoo off. Jimny gave her no rest and threw a fallen pillow. It impacted harmlessly on the ceiling, so he ran to his utility belt on his uniform, still in the refresher. The rest of the squad watched intently.

"Hey sir," Oka pointed out, "she's wiping her money shot on your pillow, heh heh heh heh."

"The hell is a money shot," Meku asked. Brax, Oka, and Vanci took a second to all look at each other in astonishment, but then busted up laughing. "Well? Tell me!"

Jimny used her distraction to fish a grappling hook from his utility belt and come out of the 'fresher. Right as he exited the door, another mattress flew right at him. He was knocked back onto the floor, but quickly recovered, aimed the grappling hook, and fired at Meku. She dodged it, and Jimny grinned. Just as planned. The hook and its cord wound around the flying mattress, and pulled itself taught as the hook found the cord again. The grappling hook was now wrapped around the mattress like a lasso. Jimny then yanked, hard. The mattress flipped to the side, flinging Meku into a wall.

She exclaimed with impact, "wak!" as she slid down to the floor.

"Stand down and fall in line, Meku. I'm your superior for a reason, and it ain't just my stellar good looks."

"I shall never surrender! I shall fight the good fight! For peace, justice and hygiene! I shall fight you until you wash your hands of your sins!"

"Yeah yeah yeah. Wash your hands of this!" He flung a sheet at her, but she was good, stopping it in mid-air. She then charged him. Thinking quickly, Jimny put his hand up, like he was Force-pushing her. At the last minute, Meku realized she was going to run directly into his janky hand and stopped short.

"Go wash your hands, dammit!"

"I'm still waiting for you to make me. Now don'cha see why I'm Sargeant and you gotta listen to me? Even with all your magical powers, y'still couldn't get me to do something as simple as wash my hands." His arms were cross and his face wore a smug grin. Meku looked humbled, but then her face grew just as smug as Jimny's was.

"You're right sir. Or... are you?" She gave a subtle wave. "You will wash your hands."

Jimny got a straight face, dropped his arms to his sides, and spoke in monotone. "I will wash my hands." He turned heel and made his way to the 'fresher.

"And you will wash them thoroughly."

"And I will wash them thoroughly."

"Good boy," she whispered under her breath. She surveyed the room, and everyone had a shocked expression, collectively thinking "daaaaaaaaaaaaamn! She showed him UP!"

Meku used the time to wipe the last remnants of shampoo off her face and eyes. This reminded her, though. "Guys, seriously, what's a money shot?"
All three onlookers got a real serious, wide-eyed look on their face before looking around awkwardly, not wanting to answer the question.
"Guys? C'mon, I know you know."

"You, uh, you..." Brax struggled with the words. She was like his daughter, after all, and he was not comfortable discussing such a topic with her.

"You don't wanna know," Vanci piped in.

"Yeah, exactly," Brax agreed.

"C'mon, guys, loth's out of the bag. Just tell me."

"Ehhh, I think you're better off not knowing," Brax replied.

"Whatever, I'll just look it up."

"Oh lord no!" Brax immediately got up and sprinted at Meku, but tripped over one of the fallen mattresses.

"Just let her go, man. Gonna find out eventually," Oka said nonchalantly.

"Never," he shouted back as he got back up and ran to Meku again. She simply put one hand up and Brax started floating, unable to do anything.

"Stop this! Put me down."

"You're a floating boy and I'm not."

"Put me down, right now young lady!"

"You're literally a floating boy and I'm not. I can't hear you from way up there, floaty boy," she smiled as she finished typing in the query to her datapad and hit 'enter.'

Brax sighed in defeat as the results loaded. He was dropped to the floor as Meku's eyes widened.

"WHAT IN THE-"

Chapter Text

This chapter is a couple days late, but thanks for your patience and understanding all. I'm hoping to get the next one out on time. A million thanks to TimelessFolly and PurelyLoved for beta-ing my work. And thanks to all of you for your reviews, they make my day!


RNV Hearth:

Her workspace was absolutely tiny, the size of her old closet back home. A cabinet to store supplies, a desk to work at, and some other equipment and things lying around. There were two doors, one that led to the Quartermaster's depot, where people brought in their clothes, and the backdoor leading to a hallway. A window let her see the QM's. Mea sat quietly at her desk, repairing a Marine's torn pants.

Movement caught her eye. People went in and out all the time, but this one caught Mea's attention. It was a patrol unit - no, it was the patrol unit. Everyone in the fleet knew about the squad with the black-clad Jedi. She was the only one in the 16th now. Her heart started to race and her skin prickled. She skipped a breath. They couldn't be looking for her, could they? She hoped that one of them just tore a uniform. They talked to the guy at the intake desk.

She paused a few moments, hoping she wasn't sweating. "It's not worth the risk to find out. I'll just step out. I'm running low on red thread, I'll just run out back, take a few laps, then go into the QM and request it. Hopefully they'll be gone when I get back. I can't get caught. I can't I can't I can't!"

Mea put her equipment down and walked out the back door, trying to keep her head down and act natural. She wished she could put her clammy hands in her pockets, but they drilled that habit out of her in blaster camp. "Nothing's wrong. They don't know."

But Jedi knew everything! At least, that's what all the legends said. They could read minds, tell the future, and see through lies. That's why it is important to stay away from her at all costs. Even if the Jedi wasn't planning on interrogating her, she could just reach into Mea's mind and sense what she was hiding.

"I can't let that happen. It'll undo everything I worked so hard for. I can't let that happen." Mea turned a corner, and came face-to-face with the Jedi.

"Let what happen?"

Mea's heart nearly burst out of her chest as she jumped and gasped. She may as well have bumped into a hungry Ackalay. "N-nothing, ma'am." She backed away, slowly.

"Let's go 'head and have a word, now," a more soothing voice spoke behind her. It was the Jedi's squad leader, standing right behind Mea. She had nowhere to go.

"A word? I mean, um, I have to go to the QM, this is pretty important. What's going on? Can it wait, sir?"

"Why'd you take the back door? You coulda walked straight into the QM's," the Jedi pointed out the hole in her hastily-crafted excuse.

"I, uh, I, I like to get a breath of fresh air, y'know," Mea responded.

"Just relax, son," the leader responded. "We just wanna talk."

"I'm not sure I'm the right person to talk to. I'm just a recruit," Mea dodged.

"No, you're the one," the Jedi spoke matter-of-factly.

"Shit! Do they know already? No no no no..."

"Private Mea Vokloe? That's you, isn't it?" the man asked.

"Yessir."

"Then yeah, you're our guy. Uh, girl. Anyway, I'm Sergeant Jimny DeVore. This here is Corporal Mekumi Sakaroto. You prolly already knew that though. Let's talk real quick."

"What about?" Mea smiled, trying to defuse the situation. Her heart was pounding against her ribs, her thoughts racing at lightspeed.

"We're just curious about you," Sakaroto spoke slowly. It felt like she was savoring this nervousness.

"Is it that important? I'm sure you guys are busy and have a lot to do."

"Just relax," DeVore said. "We don't bite. We're just tryna figure out what's going on."

"Going on with what?"

"First, lemme do this real quick. This is just a thing, we do it when we talk to people about stuff like this, you know, just routine. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can be used against you in court," he continued as he activated his HoloRecorder, something the squad routinely did when interviewing people.

"Tell us a little about you. Maybe that'll help calm you down," Sakaroto said.

"Ummm..." she stopped, touching her fingers to her lips. She was sweating. "Well, I'm Mea Vokloe. But, uh, you already knew that." She nervously laughed. "I, I just got out of blaster camp. I mean, what do you want to know?"

"Where are you from, Mea?" Sakaroto stared into her eyes. Mea felt small.

"Corellia."

"Why'd you join?"

"Corellia's next in line for a Mandalorian attack. I need to protect my home, my family." She wiped the sweat from her brow and shuffled her feet.

"You have family over there?" The Jedi had taken charge of the conversation.
Mea nodded, just staring off.
"Tell us about your family."

"About my family..." Mea wiped the sweat off her brow again, straightened her fatigues out, and shifted the weight on her feet. She didn't answer.

"Please answer the question," Sgt. DeVore spoke.

"If something's the matter, I don't want to get them involved."

"Why would something be the matter?" Asked Sakaroto.

"Nothing!" Mea spoke very quickly as she fixed her belt. She couldn't stop fidgeting. "I don't understand why you'd even ask that."

"You're real nervous," DeVore tried to explain. "We're trying to put you at ease here, but it's not working. And alls we want is for you to be straight with us. Please."

"I am! I'm not hiding anything, not at all! All I have in my pockets is my wallet and some sewing stuff. I swear on the Force, I'm not doing anything immoral. I'm a good soldier."

Meku could easily see the signs of Mea's evasiveness and dishonesty. Her mind was giving this away too, but Jimny and Meku agreed that it was smart to learn non-Force interrogation too.
"Oh, I'm sure you're a good soldier. You seem like one. If I thought you were doing something wrong, or immortal, you'd be in the interrogation room. But you're here in the hallway. Please understand, Private Vokloe, we're asking some simple questions and we're not getting a lot of answers. Like, when we asked about your family." Both Meku's senses and her conventional training showed the biggest spike in nerves here. "You didn't want us to involve them, didn't even want to talk about them. Tell us about that."

"No reason for it, ma'am. It's just, they have enough to worry about. Corellia could be attacked and I don't want them to also worry about me over here and what I'm doing."

"And what are you doing?"

"Just trying to be the best soldier I can be. That's all. Nothing else."

DeVore cut in again. "Let's step back a little here. I want you to be straight with us, and we'll be straight with you. Got it?"

"Yes, sir."

DeVore looked at Sakaroto, who continued. "So, to be straight with you, we've done a little investigation. We have reason to believe that you may not have been completely honest with the recruiters when you enlisted."

"What! I was! I was honest! I'm a good person, I even volunteered at the food shelter before I joined. Who said that about me? Who-"

Sakaroto held up her hand in a 'stop' gesture. Mea was silent. "Let us finish. You don't seem like a punk, or a criminal. Like we said, you do seem like a good person, and a good soldier. So maybe you just made a mistake, or something. No big deal. That can be handled.
But we want you to be honest with us before we start doing background checks, talking to your family, other things like that. We respect honesty here. Being honest will get you way farther with us than hiding the ball. I want to trust the things you say. But maybe you made a mistake on the forms, maybe you misread something, and I want us to tease that out before we conduct a big investigation.
Now tell us, if we conduct an investigation, do you think there will be anything fishy with your background? 'Cos you told us, you said you wanted to protect your home and family. But on your enlistment paperwork, you said you had no family. You didn't even list an emergency contact. Is there anything you want to tell us about that? Because, if you tell us, it can be fixed more easily than if we find it ourselves."

"I... I do have a family."

"Very good. Thank you. And why didn't you list them on the paperwork?"

"Because I ran away from home to join."

"Why?"

"I'm..." she looked down, resting both her hands behind her neck, and sighed.

"Go on," DeVore coaxed.

Meku could sense Mea's angst. It hurt her to admit this.
"I'm not of age. I'm only fifteen standard. I wanted my parents to sign the age-waiver, but they said no. I couldn't stand by while Duro burned and Corellia was next on the chopping block. I wanted to protect my family. They didn't understand. So I left for blaster camp and haven't spoken to them since."
Meku could clearly sense her pride, her desire for Meku's acceptance. Mea looked up to Meku, and the youngster was influenced by the Revanchists' decision to walk out of the Council in much the same way. After a few moments, the emotional weight of the situation finally hit her. Mea put her head in her hands and sobbed, her chest and shoulders heaving.
"I miss them so much, but, but, they didn't understand. I had to do the right thing." She spoke between sobs. "Please, I beg you. Sir and madam, please don't court martial me. I need to protect them. I need to!"

Meku could finally sense the truth in Mea's words. She was sure of it; Mea's aura felt nothing like Luay's mind-blocking. But this was... unexpected. She had been fully prepared to make another arrest for treason. Jimny's blaster was already armed and set to stun. His holster was unlocked. Meku was ready to draw her lightsaber at a moment's notice. Brax, Oka, and Vanci waited around the corner, prepared for a full-on firefight.

Jimny looked at Meku. After being a team for so long, they needed only the slightest glance to communicate. He gave her a look that said "do you sense the truth in 'er?" Meku nodded. Jimny turned off the recorder and put his hand on Mea's shoulder.

"I am so sorry." He felt for her, having done the same thing decades ago. "This is technically a dischargeable offense."

Mea's eyes widened. "Oh, Force..."

"But, y'did the right thing. I'm more a... spirit-of-the-law kinda guy. I was in your shoes once, y'know. But the difference is, I didn't have a family to run away from. They's prolly worried sick about you. Whether y'give em a call or not, that's your decision. I don't know jack about being a family man, but I bet all they want to know is that you're safe. We won't say a peep to anyone. Just stay out of trouble, is all. If you do that, we'll look the other way."


Alderaan:

". . . aaaaaaand here's your juice. Ready to order?"

"I can't decide. Any recommendations?"

"Of course, sir. My personal favorite is the Meona filet, it's cooked in an oil that comes from a vegetable local to this county, actually, and we garnish, ah..." Esio trailed off as his eyes caught two people walk into the restaurant; a man and woman. Brown robes. The male had a prosthetic arm, and lightsabers rested on both of their belts.

They talked to the maitre-d, who pointed them directly to Esio's bewildered face, across the restaurant. His heart was racing. He couldn't even hear his guests saying "Garnish what? Hello? Hellloooooooo?"

"Why are they here? What did I do? Are they going to kill me?"
"Remember what Feena said; that's not the Jedi way. Maybe they want to question me. I have nothing to hide, so why not?"
"Don't be naive! I know what they're capable of when pushed!"
"They probably think the same about me. But have faith. I changed. I'm not a monster. They won't be either."
"And if they are?"
"Then I die. If I run, they'll catch me. I don't have my jetpack, armor, nothing."

"Awfully sorry," the maitre-d spoke to Esio's table. "Looks like our new boy has some honored company. I'll get you guys another waiter."

"Thanks, sir. We'll take it from here," the woman replied, smiling. She was middle-aged, with brown curls and eyes. She seemed like the one in charge. The male, in his thirties, sort of tagged along. He had a cover on his eye, and a scarred face. It looked like he had been through a lot.
"Esio, right?"

"Yes, Master Jedi." He stayed respectful, but short and to the point, trying to feel them out.

"Come outside, please." He walked behind them, silently, until they got in the parking lot. His mind went through countless possibilities as they walked.

"So, I'm Elaina, this is Warron. Hello."

"Good afternoon, sir and madam," Esio replied.

Elaina knew this was going to be a difficult one. That's why she and Warron were assigned this task rather than local police. All the information they had was that someone with a Mandalorian name was working in this establishment.

They had to do some background checking on this Esio before conducting the interview. He listed no family on his paperwork. He claimed he came from Eres III, but went by a last name that did not match with anyone living on Eres III, according to the last census data. It wasn't convincing proof, but it was better than nothing. It was enough to warrant a conversation.

They made a stellar team. Elaina was a Consular, whose good-natured personality hid a ruthless pragmatist underneath. She could put people at ease while probing into their minds. Warron, a Sentinel, was well-trained in the art of reading people. Even the most subtle, nonverbal signs of deception didn't slip past him.

Elaina would do the talking, she was best at that. Warron would enter what he called SHAS mode: See, Hear, And Sense. His eyes and ears would observe anchor-point movements, overly specific answers, qualifiers, and any other sign of deception. His senses would pick up on the slightest blips in the suspect's mind. Not to mention, he was one of the only Jedi in the galaxy to learn and be able to defeat mind-blocking.

They would need it. According to Cpl. Sakaroto's reports about this 'Luay Khain,' Mandalorians had agents who were masters at mind-blocking. They both prepared themselves for the long haul.

"Esio, why do you think we're here talking to you?" It was Investigation 101 to start with such a question. The suspect would be wondering how much his interviewers knew. That, combined with nerves would often elicit a much more incriminating answer than asking a more pointed question.

He paused for a moment, as if considering his options. He then exhaled, relaxed his stance, and said, "It's because I'm a Mandalorian."

"That was way easier than expected," Elaina thought.

"Whoa, that was easy," Warron let slip with a scoff.
Elaina gave Warron a shut-up-before-I-kill-you look. He nodded quickly, recomposed himself and turned back to Esio. He found no signs of deception. Nor was the suspect mind-blocking; his senses were not running into the signature wall of a mind-blocker.

"Thank you for telling us that. It's very courageous of you to admit such things." Another well-known interview technique; always thank the suspect when they admitted something they tried to hide. You were essentially training the suspect; reward good behavior so it would be repeated.
"So, you are a Mandalorian. What else are you, young Esio?" Elaina charged her words with the Force to soothe the suspect. A comfortable suspect was more apt to confess than someone who mistrusted or hated his interviewer.

"A refugee. I'm here trying to do right."

"And tell us about that."

Esio closed his eyes. Both could sense great pain in him.


Eres III:

This was amazing! The adrenaline coursed through his veins as Esio whooshed through the atmosphere, yelling Mandalorian sayings with his clanmates. All were absolutely fired up, ready to kill.

This wasn't his first battle. As all Crusaders, he had been doing this since age thirteen. Now, at seventeen, the sheer thrill of it did not subside at all. Experience taught him to be calm and collected in battle, but the rush was still better than anything life could provide.

"How could it get any better than this?" Esio and his squad were stuck to the side of a Heavy Basilisk, a different variant used for bombing or light transport. It zoomed toward a Republic airbase neighboring a sizeable mining town, accompanied by a few transports, Davaab fighters, and other Basilisks.

"Remember the mission, vode," Elder Raka, their leader, crackled into Esio's ear. The wind necessitated comms.

"Rah!" they responded.

"Vode an!" Another shouted.

"Naastar aru'e Republic landuur an!" Destroy all Republic weaklings, Esio added.

"Raaaaah!" Everyone roared in agreement.

The Basilisk took jolting twists and turns as anti-aircraft guns targeted it. Esio felt the shockwaves from the explosions in his chest. It was time.

"Jii jii jii!" Now now now, Raka shouted.

Esio positioned his feet, took one last breath to collect himself, and deactivated his special, magnetized armor. His legs launched him off the Basilisk and into free-fall. He never felt freer than this. The wind rushing over his armor, only a few centimeters of Beskar shielding him from the blaster bolts and flak shells bursting in air.

He took in the moment, then activated his jetpack. He hovered for a second before following the rest of his brothers and sisters. They powered through the air, and the enemy was caught by surprise. The squad hugged the sides of buildings and took unpredictable flight patterns to avoid being shot out of the sky. As he got closer, he could barely hear the ringing alarms over the whooshing air and the jetpack's thrusters.

"Red alert, enemy incoming. This is not a drill, I repeat, this is not a drill," Esio could not hear the voice blared over loudspeaker.

Esio surveyed the land. He saw several Aurek fighters. Most of them were parked. They were much more effective than flak guns, and would make short work of the Basilisks if they could take off. Some were already off the ground, flying routine patrols. They were dogfighting the Mandalorian Davaabs, which kept their attention off the Basilisks.

Their objective was to destroy the remaining fighters. Several pilots sprinted to their craft. "Neeeeeeeeope. Good thing we're early for this party."

"Cover my approach, Tev!"

"Got it," Esio's clan-sister exclaimed. After fighting together essentially since birth, she already knew what Esio's plan was. Tev strafed, firing bolts at the soldiers and drawing their fire. In the background, a Heavy Basilisk landed, dropping off ground troops. They screamed war cries as they charged.

Esio aimed a wrist rocket and fired at the running pilots. The rocket exploded, vaporizing some pilots and throwing several more. They were finished off with well-aimed blaster bolts. Four pilots escaped the blast and kept running. Esio hovered, setting his blaster rifle for 3-round burst and aiming.

Pw-pw-pwok! One pilot went down, rounds going through his upper back, neck, and skull.
Pw-pw-pwok! Down went the second, the lasers shredding through his knee, thigh, and hip. Two down, two to go. Esio lined up his scope to kill the third.

"Look out!" Esio fired, but at the same time was hit by a Republic sniper's blaster bolt. It was absorbed by his shoulder armor, pushing him a few inches back and making him drop his weapon. Esio's shots missed, impacting on the ground inches from the pilot's feet. The pilot tripped and fell.

"Stop hovering in one place, d'kuit!" Esio chastised himself as he dodged, scanning for the lucky sniper. He was interrupted by his helmet tweeting at him. Missile lock. "These guys aren't playing around!"

Another soldier fired a rocket before dipping back into cover.
"Flank around that hangar and take out rocketman," Elder Raka's order didn't really register in Esio's head as he zoomed off. The missile was tracking the heat from his jetpack. Beskar was good, but that rocket could probably take down a starfighter.

"That's it!" Esio shut off the jetpack and went into freefall again. He watched the ground intently, making quick calculations as he plummeted. The missile, heading for the sky, changed course and went down in a gentle arc. "Not yet, not yet... now!"

He turned his jetpack to full power and hovered, his toes touching the ground like a ballet dancer's. A millisecond longer and he would've broken both legs. His body was an adrenaline spigot as he shot forward, parallel to the ground, now watching the missile. Shots missed him, he was too focused to fire back. If he timed this right...

He flew behind a starfighter as its pilot was clambering in. The missle impacted on the Aurek. Its shields were down and it went up in smoke, frying the pilot within. Esio was knocked backward onto the ground. His jetpack's failsafes kicked in and shut off thrusters. He got on his feet and sprinted to cover behind and engine out for maintenance.

He didn't even have to think about it. Having done this his whole life, these split-second tactical decisions were as instinctual as breathing. When he got behind the engine, he realized two soldiers had the same idea. They'd taken cover but were pinned down by the fire from Esio's squad.

Esio reacted first. He kicked the soldier nearest him in the groin and sidestepped to avoid the blaster bolt from the second. The first soldier doubled over in pain. Esio then shoulder-checked him. Esio's muscular mass sent him flying into his comrade, knocking them both down. A quick draw of his pistol finished them both off.

He then surveyed the landscape. It was a massacre; his squad was very mobile on their jetpacks, complementing the heavy ground Crusaders. They could easily outmaneuver the ground-bound Republic soldiers. The anti-air cannons couldn't target them as they darted between buildings, making sure to stay out of open ground.

Then, something caught his eye. The pilot he missed had, miraculously, made it to his fighter without being shot. He was strapping himself into the cockpit and activating shields, making sure not to make the same mistake as his blown-up friend.

Esio couldn't let that fighter into the sky. It'd shred his men, and several Basilisks. They only had a few Davaabs running escort, and those were already occupied dogfighting. The canopy was closing, there was a short window of opportunity. Esio climbed to the top of the engine and pounced forward. His jetpack sent him soaring on a crash course.

Esio landed in the cockpit before the canopy closed. He didn't have a snappy one-liner. He didn't like them. The pilot gasped in surprise, but he was good, drawing his pistol with surprising speed. Esio's wrist-gauntlets sprouted blades. In one swift motion, he sliced the pilot's wrist open and then sliced his neck. The pilot got a shot off, but it hit the controls. Blood spurted all over his armor.

The Aurek's failsafe activated and the sealed canopy blew itself open, followed by the ejection seat. Esio took off. Objective 1: neutralize all fighters, complete. Objective 2: neutralize the anti-air cannons. Objective 3: retrieve the holocron stashed here. Then, we get the hell out.

...

"Field Marshal Fett, Clan Kelso's strike team is being pushed back at sector 2JZ-GTE."

"That's Sotl airbase. Pull up the map." Cassus Fett spoke calmly. He had been in command so long, a catastrophe was no more daunting than a cold meal.

The holo-map zoomed in on the airbase. Fett raised his eyebrows, impressed. For a nation that had not seen war in so long, the Republic's response to this attack was well-coordinated. Airspeeders, walkers, and ground troops were reinforcing the base at the same time. Notably, multiple Jedi were on the ground. Comm chatter was patched through.
"Nobody told us there'd be glowsticks here! We're getting killed!"
"I can't flank 'em."
"Is there one on my tail? Watch my six!"
"Look out for that walker, Tev!"
"Remember the objective, brothers! Commandeer the flak guns and try to take down their fighters!"
"Jedi approaching, sh-aaaag!"
"Damn glowstick took the holocron!"
"I can't get a clear shot, she's getting away!"

The decision to invade the base was much more costly than, say, blasting it from orbit or ignoring it. But Fett wanted the holocron, as did Mandalore himself. Whatever information they contained was worth thousands of men, easily. Last one they found, decades ago, taught the lost art of mind-blocking; an immeasurable tool against Jedi interrogation. holocrons were durable, but not enough to survive a turbolaser blast. Thus, he was willing to sacrifice men to get it.

But it only counted as a sacrifice if they could get the damn thing. The comm chatter and the map gave him no hope. Suddenly, an idea came into his head.
"Hand me those planetary surveys."

"Right here, sir."

He skimmed the report quickly before finding what he was looking for. "Aha!" The plains here were full of Xoxin, just beneath the topsoil. Extremely dense and flammable, it was often used as a primitive fuel source or incendiary weapon. It could burn for ages. This is why he'd ordered the attack group not to use flamethrowers and other fire-weapons.

For some reason, blaster bolts didn't activate Xoxin, but flame did. According to the geological surveys, the topsoil was thick enough to withstand, say, a crashed aircraft. But he didn't want to risk it. At least, not then. After a quick cross-check, he confirmed his theory. The risk was seeming more worth it now.

"A holocron can't survive a turbolaser blast, but it can survive fire. Order the Basilisks to switch to incendiary payload and fire on the surface. Everyone in the Xoxin plains must retreat."

"Are you sure, sir? That'll kill most of our potential recruits in the cities."

"Did I stutter? Like on Serroco, the cowardly Republic forgoes honor by building its base so close to a civilian center. And these Eresians are fools for building cities on plains of Xoxin. Teach them all a lesson. Let the cleansing fires purge the spineless, leaving only the strongest for us to test ourselves against. Do it."

"Understood."

...

Esio was pursuing the Jedi who killed Ogul and took the holocron. She was fast, easily matching the jetpack for straight-line speed, and more maneuverable when cornering. He'd been nearly killed by stray blaster bolts and rockets. Only because of his skill with the jetpack was he still alive. "Almost got you, glowstick." He armed his wrist-rocket.

"Fall back, I repeat, fall back!"

Esio growled. He had her right in his grasp. But orders of the Elders were not to be questioned. They knew what they were doing. Heavy Basilisks landed and picked up Crusaders. He and his squad changed course to retreat, heading for a Basilisk to stick to. Still, he watched the Jedi. She was getting into a Ministry-class shuttle.

The holocron would get away. Yes, he had orders, but Esio also had his honor to think of. The praise he'd be showered with when he came back with that thing.

Before he could make a decision, the Heavy Basilisk they were headed to fired missiles and lasers. Strangely, they were just firing at empty ground. They opened huge craters in the ground. Then a new volley was fired. Esio's eyes widened in realization.

Upon impact, a chain reaction begun. Like falling dominoes, the fire spread from the impact sites, shoving topsoil up like a tsunami. It moved surprisingly quick. Within moments, the base was engulfed in flame. It would take mere minutes for the fire to reach the horizon.

Clan Kelso's retreat was not yet complete. Republic troops and Crusaders alike would burn alive. He had to stop himself from shuddering at the thought and looked to the Jedi again to distract himself. Her shuttle had taken off safely, but was hit by a Basilisk's laser cannon. It was losing control and headed into a city. Esio changed course again.

"Where are you going?"

"The holocron's on that shuttle! Just wait here, I'll be back," Esio's reply was full of confidence.

"We can't wait, this whole place is ablaze! There's still fighters in the sky!"

"Keep that Basilisk waiting, please? C'mon, Elder Raka. You know I got this."

"You're nuts," Raka trailed off.

Esio darted toward the city, following the trail of smoke from the shuttle. He checked the fuel reserves in his jetpack. They had impressive range, but he couldn't escape if they didn't wait for him. He could see nothing but flame in all directions. It was like an ocean of fire with small, shrinking islands of topsoil or buildings. "Please wait for me." Even at this high altitude, it was getting hot and smoky. Esio thanked the Gods for the filters in his helmet.
"Focus! Eyes on the prize, Esio."

He diverted his attention back to the shuttle. It was headed directly to what looked like an apartment building. Yes it was - he could make out balconies, houseplants, and decoration as he got closer. His experience was somewhat sterile. He was getting hot in his armor, but he couldn't smell smoke or hear the screams.

Moments later, the shuttle crashed into the side of the building, partially burying itself within. He could see the tail end sticking out.

The architecture seemed somewhat resistant to Xoxin, but the flames were slowly making their way through the city. Esio didn't have much time. Beskar was heat-retardant, but the squishy human inside would be cooked alive long before the armor eventually melted. Esio hovered a story above the crash site and landed on a balcony.

Everything hit him all at once.

The sudden loss of altitude and noise meant he could hear everything. People were screaming, being burned alive. Some were yelling for help. Others were just wailing, gargling, coughing, and hacking. The high-pitched shrieks of children were distinct from the deeper adults' voices. Even his helmet filters couldn't block the smell; burnt meat. But these were people. Esio doubled over, retching.

"Don't do it. Keep it down! Whatever you do, don't take your helmet off for anything!"

He felt the vomit making its way up his throat, and he swallowed hard. If he took his helmet off, the smell would be even worse. He was like this for several minutes, forcing his gut to comply as the flame spread.

"Remember your honor, Esio. This is war. This happens. Don't be weak!"
"But civilians? Mandalorians are great warriors. We only fight the strong. It brings us no honor to fight the weak and helpless. We don't needlessly kill civilians."
"It's not needless. We needed that holocron. This is... collateral damage."
"No! That's not right and you know it! We don't just set fire to a whole region!"
"Shut up and get the Force-damned holocron! That's why I'm here in this..." he didn't even want to think the word: Hell.

He forced himself to stand straight and commanded his gut not to empty itself. He had spent too long doing this. The force of the crash and the sheer heat was affecting the building's structural integrity. The balcony shifted beneath him, tilting at a near-vertical angle and nearly coming off the apartment. Esio slipped, free-falling several stories. He landed right on his jetpack with a crunch. Ribs cracked.

It hurt to breathe, but the jetpack absorbed most of the impact. He disconnected it and forced himself up. He coughed as the acrid smoke overwhelmed his filters. The fire burned low to the ground, in patches where the Xoxin pushed through the topsoil and pavement.

He could see - Oh Gods.

He could see people.

Many were dead, bodies burned to the bone, the disgusting smell of their cooking flesh making his gut uneasy again. Some were alive, hiding on non-burning patches of ground. Their skin blistered, bubbling, boiling from the heat of the air. They almost didn't look human. The heat would cook their skin, like vegetables in a steamer. Their lungs would burn and fail. The lucky would suffocate before the flames reached them.

A mother held her infant close to her chest. The infant was screeching uncontrollably. The mother tried to make cooing, calming sounds, but her voice was too gravelly from the heat and smoke.

His entire body felt sick. He didn't want that holocron anymore, but he seemed to move automatically, hobbling slowly to the apartments. The crunching of his boots made the mother look up. Esio would never forget the look on her face, as long as he lived. It was engraved into his very soul.

It seemed like everyone was looking at him now, even the corpses. He was the devil incarnate to these people. He turned their homes into a literal hell. As they burned and died slowly and in great pain, he walked through it seemingly unaffected, armor covered in blood.

"It'll get better once you get home. Get back to Clan and Family. You'll forget this," he lied to himself.

As he made his way inside, his survival instinct reminded him to hurry up. He had minutes to live before his body was cooked in his armor. Part of him didn't mind, he somewhat enjoyed the idea of sharing this grisly fate with the innocents here. He deserved it. His people did this.

His subconscious didn't agree. Responsible for his survival, it pumped him full of adrenaline. He entered the lobby and climbed up to the shuttle in any way he could find. He tried not to notice the corpses. A nonmoving couple spent their last moments in each other's arms. A moaning man huddled next to his pet. A baby's crib on fire, parents nowhere to be seen. A man buried under debris.

Esio kept climbing. He would be a hero.

He was a villain.

The holocron was lost. He would bring it back.

He didn't want to bring it back.

He kept moving.

He would be the one that did the impossible, walking through the flame to do his duty to his people. The knowledge within would aid the Clans in their war effort.

He didn't care. He didn't want to aid the war effort, if this is what happened. Everything about him felt wrong. The honor he had pined for all his life felt disgusting now. He didn't even know who he was.

The building shifted again, creaking with the strain. A large part of the ceiling gave way and, with it, fell the shuttle. Esio leapt out of the way, landing on the floor. He narrowly avoided getting crushed. Still, a large piece of duracrete landed on him, pinning him. He was strong, but he couldn't free himself.

He was nowhere near full strength anyways. The oxygen in the atmosphere was scant, the scorched air burning his lungs. The weight of the duracrete restricted him to shallow breaths.

Esio laid his head down. It felt good, peaceful. This was right somehow. He'd be the sacrifice that would show these people how wrong this all was. He closed his eyes.

It seemed like he had been sleeping for hours when the weight was lifted off his chest. He looked up to see none other than the Jedi, the same woman who took the holocron. Her skin was only lightly blistered, totally unlike the rest of the people here. Sweat, blood, and pus were on her robes. She gently let down the levitating duracrete and extended her hand to him.

"Up, friend. I'm here to help." Her voice wasn't gravelly. The smoke and heat had no effect on this superhuman? Was this even real, or just a dream his dying mind was producing to calm him?

Esio paused, looking at the extended hand. He could kill her easily. Draw his pistol and blast her. She was defenseless, lightsaber resting on her belt. But he could see it in her face.

There was no hostility. This was not the fierce beast he'd been taught the Jedi would be. Her expression was as gentle as a mother's. Esio's hand met hers. It hurt his ribs just to extend his hand, and the Jedi's yanking him up hurt even worse. He groaned with the effort.

"Thank the stars for Breath Control, eh?" She smiled and tried to make light of the situation, but Esio was too confused to even understand the reference.

"People... on the streets... survivors." Simply talking felt like he was gargling coins. It felt like he hadn't taken a drink of water in years."

"They're dead now. I helped as many as I could. Evac is coming. You're lucky to be alive, young one."

"How does she know how old I am?"

"It's your aura." Esio just nodded, not knowing what to say. She put his arm over his shoulders and moved impossibly fast. She must've been a master at Force Speed. The two of them ended up on the ceiling.

There were a dozen or so survivors. Mostly civilians, another Jedi, a soldier, a pilot. All but the Jedis had cooked skin, varying from mild to horrific. The other Jedi, a skinny, balding male, held his hands straight up to the side. As Esio and the female Jedi stepped nearer, he realized the other Jedi was making some sort of shield, keeping out most of the heat and smoke. He was shuddering, growing weak with the effort, using every last ounce of strength in him. It didn't help that the building was also shaking and quaking.

Esio could instantly see the hateful looks everyone wore, everyone but that female Jedi.

"Why is he here," a civilian graveled.

"So we can kill him. Slowly," a soldier spoke.

"You're a goddamn monster," another civilian pointed accusingly. "You should be burning!"

Esio wanted to say everything. He wanted to say how sorry he was. That he didn't even fire the missiles. That he knew only a monster could give such an order. That he was ashamed of his own people for it. That he thought he was a monster anyway. That he wanted to, no, wished he could burn with the dead.

But he couldn't move, nor speak. He looked down at his own feet, the pilot's blood spatter still staining his boots.

"You all stop." His rescuer spoke with a commanding tone, "he's just a scared boy. He didn't make any of this happen. It's not his fault."

Esio couldn't help but disagree. He blamed himself.

"He's still one of them," a civilian growled.

"He's a person, just like you." She removed his helmet seals and exposed his face. All they saw was a scared boy. Just like them, he was shellshocked, beaten down, struck to his very core with horror.
"He is not a monster."

"War makes monsters out of men," someone tried to moderate.

"No," she corrected. "War is the monster."

"Feena, I hate to crash this lovely conversation," the balding Jedi could barely eke out the words. "But, what's the ETA again?"

The other Jedi, the one he called Feena, checked her wrist-timer. "Two minutes, Eron."
She turned back to Esio and whispered in his ear, "Lay down your weapons, friend. Show them we're right." Esio paused. A Mandalorian was never without a weapon. "Please."

Esio took the pistol from his thigh and threw it over the side of the building. It clattered on the ground seconds later. He removed the rocket launcher and blades from his wrist, tossing them too. A vibro-dagger in his boot. A shock arm on his belt. Four grenades. And finally, a small, ceremonial, non-vibrating dagger given to him at infancy. He cherished it over the years, clinging tightly to it before tossing it too.

Everyone seemed to relax, though some still harbored hate.

True to Feena's word, in two minutes, another Ministry shuttle hovered over the top of the building, opening a hatch and dropping a ladder. The male Jedi, Eron, kept the shield up long enough for everyone to get in. He was helped up last, collapsing on the floor of the shuttle. With him, went his shield.

Even with it up, it felt like they were in an oven. With no shield, it felt like an inferno. Thankfully, they only had to endure this for a few seconds before the hatch closed and the shuttle took off. Several medics were aboard and started treating everyone. They even treated Esio without hesitating or asking a single question.

Feena sat by him. He turned to her, his voice weak. "Thank you... for... believing... in me."

She smiled warmly back at him. "Of course. You have good in your heart. May I know your name, young one?"

He had to stop and think for a while. A medic made a comment about lack of oxygen affecting the brain, but it didn't register. He almost forgot who he was. He was a Mandalorian, monster, insect, enemy, roach, invader, devil.

Esio. That was his name. Esio.

Named after his Taung grandfather, serving in Clan Kelso's navy. His parents found him as an infant, abandoned near some drug-den in the outer rim. They adopted him and brought him up as a family, teaching him the ways of the Mando'ade.

"Esio."

"Thank you Esio, for believing in us. Thank you for your trust. And know that I'll always trust what's in your heart."


Alderaan:

"They questioned me after I healed. I don't think I had much use for them. Feena released me from the POW camp. I didn't really have a plan, but it seemed like she just... knew. So I booked the first ticket I could find. I had to get away."

Warron and Elaina looked at each other. The Force allowed them to see clearly into his heart. With a glance, they shared their revelation. He was just a boy.