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Republic Commando: Phi Squad

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Two Years Before the Battle of Geonosis, Tipoca City, Forest Environment Simulator

 

Things were starting to go south fast. The four-man squad had already run out of ration cubes, and they still had five weeks to go before their training sergeant, Rav Bralor, turned off the sim and unlocked the door.

Eight had forgotten where the door was after he crawled through nerf guts at the entrance. That would disorient anybody. His HUD wouldn’t even give him a compass bearing like it normally would. In fact, all the helmet’s systems seemed to be acting up.

The HUD suddenly flashed a red battery warning and blinked off. He was alone, with only his squad for company. It was a good thing Bralor had taught them what plants were edible and how to hunt and fish with their bare hands. The tech was good, but it would do them no good after a few weeks in a jamming field. Obviously. The battery was already dead.

Eight shifted the weight around on his back a little. They had already been hiking for five hours, and the forty-kilo pack was beginning to weigh on his shoulders and hips. “We’ll set up camp here,” the sergeant declared.

“What did you say, thirty-six oh-eight?” Six asked, his voice amplified enough for Eight to hear through his helmet. “Your comm’s out.”

Eight unsealed and slipped off his helmet. “Dead battery,” he explained, turning to face his comrades. He had the face of Jango Fett, and close-cropped hair like the genetic donor.

All four of them were wearing identical grey-white Katarn-class armor. It wasn’t ideal for camouflage in the pine forest environment.

“This looks like a nice place to set up camp,” Three suggested, slipping off his own helmet. The crew-cut hair and brown eyebrows on his head wouldn't survive the night.

Eight quietly clenched his teeth. “That’s what I just decided,” he said, trying not to sound testy.

“Oh. Well, good choice,” Three replied, unbuckling his survival pack from his back armor plate. He pulled a two-man tent off the bottom of it, taking it out of its tube and unrolling the fabric. “Zero, the poles?”

Zero, the last one in the line, unbuckled his own pack, electing to keep his helmet on. He pulled three telescoping tent poles out of the side of his pack. “Here you go, thirty-three.” The medic tossed the poles to his squadmate, who caught them easily. “Should Three and I start collecting wood for a campfire tonight?” Zero asked his leader. Three already had the tent well under control, everything but the rain fly taken care of.

Eight unclipped his own pack, sliding out the poles to his and Six’s tent. “Go ahead. Just remember the low impact rules and don’t light the trees on fire. Don’t give away our position, either.”

Zero trotted off to find some dry wood to burn, followed after a few seconds by Three.

“Seventy-six, do you want to set up the tent tonight or should I?” Eight wondered.

“I’ll do it,” Six answered, grudgingly. “As long as someone else guts the fish tonight. I can’t get the smell out of my helmet.”

“That’s why you don’t use your bucket as the cutting board,” Zero replied from the edge of the forest. “Use the shabla arm plates, or the survival pack, or something else.”

Six groaned grumpily, shrugging off his backpack.

“Something the matter?” Eight wondered. “You seem a little… moody.”

Six glanced around, noticing Zero was tucked behind a tree. “It’s this place, Eight. I don’t like it here. And... Zero’s getting on my nerves a bit, and Three won’t shut up about his kit.” I don’t know why I’m telling you this.

“Their enthusiasm will die eventually, if eight years together has taught me anything,” Eight consoled. “Or is it sixteen? I know we age twice as fast as normal humans.” But none of them remember being born. I still remember the view from my growth jar.

Zero poked his head around the tree, his fist full of sticks. “Tent isn’t going to set itself up, you know.”

Eight glared at him, his frown saying more than he cared to.

Zero ducked back behind the tree, correctly interpreting the gaze.

“See what I mean?” Six said, slumping back down into a heap.

Eight realized the tent wouldn’t be getting put up unless he did it himself. He began extending the poles, glancing over occasionally at the heap that was Six. As he put one end of the pole into the tent, he realized the best thing Six could do for himself. What he could do for Six.

Eight tossed the other pole to his squadmate. “Grab that other side for me, would you, please?”

Six didn’t catch the pole, but picked it up off the ground with a bit of a sour expression. He attached the pole to the tent, not changing his expression or saying a word.

Eight adopted the muted demeanor, unrolling the rain fly in Six’s direction. Six got the hint, picking up his side of the fly and attaching it to the tent. When that was done, Eight threw him some stakes. This time, he caught the materials thrown to him.

That made Eight smile. He knew that he had done the right thing to help his brother.

Three was returning, his arms full of large-diameter wood. It was time to start the campfire.

He yelled, “Zero, you got the kindling?”

Zero replied by walking out of the forest, displaying both arms, which each held bundles of smaller sticks.

“Sweet,” Three said, setting down his woodpile next to a good candidate for a fire ring. The area was free of tree branches above, and no grass or bushes were growing for at least three meters in any direction. It was perfect.

Six quietly crawled into the tent he had helped Eight set up.

Eight walked over to the future campfire ring, and found a nice log to sit on.

Three started arranging sticks for the fire, and set a blasting cap in the middle. That was how he would light the fire. No matches for the demolitions expert.

Eight noticed the strange lighting method, but said nothing. Three had had the same training as him, but with a special emphasis on explosives. He trusted the expert’s judgement, but grabbed his bucket from nearby just to be safe.

Zero set down the smaller wood right where Three was kneeling, then retreated to a safe distance. He had noticed how things tended to explode when Three was involved.

Three heaped the sticks on top of his blasting cap, calling it good enough to get the fire going. Then he pulled the detonator out of his belt, beginning the countdown from three.

“Fire in the hole, three… two… one.”

Three clicked the button, and the blasting cap went off, lighting some of the kindling, but mostly spraying it upwards and towards Three’s face. A lighted stick drew a neat gash across his forehead, lighting his eyebrows and his close-cut black hair on fire. The gash extended from where his left eyebrow had been to where his hairline should have been. The flaming stick was so hot that the wound didn’t even bleed; it was already cauterized.

Three’s hair burned, singing his scalp all the way through. The top of his head became one large third-degree burn. It would take several weeks of intensive bacta treatments to make it heal, but even at that, he would never be able to grow hair again.

The burns were so deep that Three didn’t feel any pain. He just collapsed, buckling under the heat.

Zero, being the squad medic, rushed over, grabbing the medkit from his pack and opening it. He would have to use a cravat bandage over a thick layer of bacta gel to cover all the burned area. It was bad. Really bad. Worse than any holo Bralor had ever shown him—and she had shown him some pretty gruesome things.

The worst part was that this was his brother. This was someone with whom he shared a face, a life’s story. It was like he was operating on himself.

****

Bralor watched in horror as Three collapsed, his scalp a charred crisp of what it should have been. It was a stupid mistake. How had Eight let this happen under his nose?

No, she reminded herself, this wasn’t his fault. It was hers. She had never thought to tell them how not to start a campfire. She had thought it would give them ideas.

Ideas they would come up with on their own. She sighed, knowing this was her failure and that she could do nothing about it.

Well, there was one thing…

No. This isn’t life-or-death. They have to learn that the mission goes on, even when somebody gets hurt. I’ve seen people survive similar injuries. I won’t stop the training. Not for this.

****

Eight felt rotten. He had let Three do an incredibly stupid thing, and now look at what happened. The demoman’s scalp was burned beyond repair and he had a gash that would probably become a scar.

I should have said something, Eight scolded himself. I knew it was a bad idea and I brushed it off like it was nothing. This is completely my fault.

Noticing a rumbling in his stomach, Eight took it upon himself to build and light the campfire. Soon, there was a small, calm blaze where there had been chaos moments prior. Now all they needed was something to cook on it. That part could wait a while.

Zero had gotten Three into a sitting position, and had finished bandaging the other’s head. “There,” he said, patting his brother on the back, “all finished.”

Three shivered, not from the cold so much as from embarrassment. “Thanks, Zero.”

“You know,” Zero said, sitting cross-legged next to the fire, “I’ve always hated that ‘nickname.’ It feels dehumanizing, especially the fact that I’m called Zero. As in zilch. Nothing. Besides, all the other commando squads have real nicknames for each other. Like Scorch, Darman, Fixer, and Atin.”

“Well, let’s think about it over the campfire,” Eight suggested. “We can think of names for each other right now.”

“I’ve got one for Six,” Zero chuckled. “Ca’ad.”

Eight raised an eyebrow. “Child of night? What makes you call him that?”

“Ever notice how he always tries to duck into that tent as soon as it’s up?” Zero pointed out. “And besides that, he keeps trying to get us that black night ops armor.”

“Fair point,” Eight conceded. “Six, what do you say to being called Ca’ad?”

“Sounds better than being called ‘Six,’” he replied, his bored and melancholic tones floating out of the tent.

“Ca’ad it is, then. Oh, and get out of that tent and join us. You have no reason to mope alone,” Eight ordered. “Three, how about we call you ‘Buckler,’ since ‘Scorch’ is already taken.”

“Why ‘Buckler?’” Three wondered, noticing Ca’ad slinking over to their fire.

“Well,” Eight answered, “you tend to make things bend out of shape. You buckle when you’re in intense pain, like just now. And… I mean this in the nicest way possible, but… you kind of collapse under pressure.”

“I like it, except for that last part,” Three remarked. “Buckler. It’s got a nice ring to it.”

“Ooh, I’ve got one for you, Eight,” Zero declared, excitedly. “Ajax. Remember when Bralor told us about the ancient Taung chieftains?”

“Yeah, I do,” the squad leader remarked. “Ajax was the strongest and bravest. You flatter me.”

“Hey,” Zero brushed off, “I just call it as I see it. Honest. Mandalor as my witness.”

“That just leaves you, Zero,” Buckler said. “What do we call you?”

Zero thought for a moment. “I don’t know. Maybe…” the thought trailed off. “No, that’s a dumb idea. Let’s sing some songs. That ought to give me something.”

“‘Vode An?’” Ajax suggested.

The other two murmured in agreement. Then Ajax began to tap out the drum rhythm on his leg. One, triplet, three, triplet…

Kote!
Kandosii sa ka'rta, Vode an.
Coruscanta a'den mhi, Vode an.
Bal kote, darasuum kote,
Jorso'ran kando a tome.
Sa kyr'am nau tracyn kad, Vode an.

Kandosii sa ka'rta, Vode an.
Coruscanta a'den mhi, Vode an.
Bal...
Motir ca'tra nau tracinya.
Gra'tua cuun hett su dralshy'a.
Aruetyc talyc runi'la solus cet o'r.
Motir ca'tra nau tracinya.
Gra'tua cuun hett su dralshy'a.
Aruetyc talyc runi'la trattok'o.
Sa kyr'am nau tracyn kad, Vode an!”

**********

Translated, the chant is:

Glory!
One indomitable heart, Brothers all.
We, the wrath of Coruscant, Brothers all.
And glory, eternal glory,
We shall bear its weight together.
Forged like the saber in the fires of death, Brothers all.
One indomitable heart, Brothers all.
We, the wrath of Coruscant, Brothers all.
And...
Those who stand before us light the night sky in flame.
Our vengeance burns brighter still.
Every last traitorous soul shall kneel.
Those who stand before us light the night sky in flame.
Our vengeance burns brighter still.
Every last traitorous soul shall fall.
Forged like the saber in the fires of death, Brothers all!

**********

“Still not getting any ideas,” Zero reported. “Let’s try ‘Ka’rta Tor.’”

“Fine by me,” Ajax said. He began tapping the same rhythm on his leg plates.

Kandosii sa kyr'am ast,
Troan teroch jetiise a'den,
Duraan vi at ara'nov.
Vode an, ka'rta tor.
Kote.”

**********

As ruthless as Death itself,
The pitiless face of The Jedi's wrath,
Let us look down on all who are before us.
Brothers all, one heart of justice.
Glory.

**********

“That’s it!” Ca’ad exclaimed. “Your name.”

“Kote?” Zero asked. “I don’t think a concept like glory makes for a very good name.”

“No, no, no,” Ca’ad corrected. “Ka’rta. Heart. You’ve been at the center of this team since the very beginning. You suggested we take names instead of just our numbers. You started us singing around this campfire. It was your idea to have a campfire in the first place. You care about each of us on the deepest level; you are so full of empathy. You are the beating heart of Phi Squad.”

“I like that. I like that a lot.”

“Ajax, Buckler, Ka'rta, and Ca’ad,” Ajax said. “Phi Squad. Here’s to a new day.” He put his hand in the middle of the circle, and the other three followed suit.

“A new day,” they repeated, four voices becoming one. They released their hands from the circle, again, for a time, becoming individuals.