What we die for...
What we die for...
The shuttle docked with the cruiser Camirodorn. The pilot, an SP class clone turned toward the rear. He had never seen such a disreputable Jedi in his life. The fact that his entire life from tube to pilot was less than seven years didn’t change his estimate. In the standard year since the war had begun, he had shuttled dozens of Jedi.
But the Kamino had done their work well. Even if he didn’t think much of this one, the man was still technically a
General, and you gave him the respect the rank deserved, not the man.
Larin Devron snorted, then suddenly awoke. He was a lanky man all of 18 years old. Barely old enough for the designation. Sandy colored hair fell across his eyes, and he flipped it back with an unconscious gesture. The Padawan-learner’s braid spun like a whip. “Uh, yeah?”
“Your command, sir.” the SP reported.
“Oh, right.” Larin stood and brushed his robes but nothing could have made them neater except for running them through a medical sterilizer and having someone else wear them. The Jedi picked up his carry bag, and stuck out his hand. “Thank you, uh, what is your name?”
“We don’t have names, sir. We have designations.” The pilot turned back toward the controls. “I am designated unit 1174 batch 8 Sp specialty.”
“Must put a crimp in your sex life.”
1174 grimaced. One of those types. “I wouldn’t know, sir.”
Larin suddenly realized he was carrying both sides of a rapidly collapsing conversation. He walked down the passageway to the hatch, and stepped out onto the deck. Camirodorn was a new CEC model 1121. The model was so new in fact that Larin wouldn’t have been surprised if there was still packing foam stuffed into the ship somewhere. Another clone stood on the deck, perusing his checklist.
“You must be General Devron.” He said, scanning the list. “Your quarters are on B-deck, compartment B-21V. General Consta wishes to see you as soon as you have settled in.” The clone handed him a pad with directions to his quarters.
“Thank you- uh, let me guess, no name, just a designation, right?”
“Yes, sir. Unit 104 batch 9 CS specialty.”
“Combat Support. Knowing what each unit needs, and making sure they have it in combat. Since the human crew is busy, I was assigned as boat bay rating of the watch.”
“Oh.” With the same face to repeated ad nauseum when he took command of his squadron, Devron looked for a designator of some kind on the man‘s uniform. But except for his rank tabs and a security wand, the clone had nothing. Maybe he’d work it out before someone got killed.
It took a hectic twenty minutes to find his quarters, jettison his gear, and change before he headed off to meet his superior officer, Padawan Consta.
Ruki Consta was at her desk, going over the reports from the two squadrons assigned to Camirodorn. Her hair was iron gray, but the unlined face suggested that it was her natural color not age. She looked up, waving him to a chair, and leaned back. “According to what Master Kasil reported, you haven’t served aboard a cruiser yet, or with a Snub fighter squadron. Why were you assigned here instead of a Home Fleet unit?”
“I asked for a combat assignment, Padawan.”
“Please.” She waved her hand as if the air was filled with smoke. “I was a simple Guardian for almost forty years before this mess began. I am a General as are you only because without a specific rank, we are Nulls to the Clones.”
“One of their own terms. It means we have no place in their neat and orderly lives. A Null cannot complain, or give them orders. A Null is either a target or an ancillary piece of equipment not in their TOE. That separates us from Norms, which are normally birthed humans. We belong on the ship if we‘re Nulls. Norms is just all of us lumped together as ‘not cloned‘.”
She sighed. “Never even read the old war stories, right?” He shook his head. “TOE is table of organization and equipment. Follow?” He nodded.
“All right, you are taking command of our second squadron, Squadron 421. You have a full complement of clone pilots with the new ARC-170 fighters. You have your own Delta-7 Aethersprite of course.”
Larin nodded. The Delta-7s were hot craft, and only the Jedi had proven to use them to their full potential. But the ARC-170 was supposed to be as good if not a little better. “So what do I do from here?”
“Well, General,” She grinned to take the sting out of the tone, “You should go down to the berthing area assigned to your squadron, and introduce yourself. Make the usual speech, get with your flight leaders and see if they have any problems, you know the drill.”
“Actually, I don’t know the drill.”
She sighed. A pad flew across the desk, and he caught it as it bounced off his chest. “Small unit commander’s guide, just the Squadron leader’s edition, thank you very much. Wait until you have to go through the bloody Wing Commander’s version. Now go before I think of something else for you to do.”
Larin escaped with his life, looking at the pad. He flipped it on and was horrified to see that it was almost 400 tightly typed pages. Well first he’d see the men. He started to walk, then took out the pad he’d gotten on boarding. “Location of Squadron 2 berthing area?” He asked. Obligingly the pad produced a map. Watching it carefully, he started off.
Unit 4511 Batch 19 SFP specialty looked over the newbies assigned to his squadron. He knew that with the attrition so far there weren’t a lot of the original SFP specialties remaining, but some genius had noticed that SP ASP and LAAT specialties could easily handle the upgrading training, so he’d gotten them instead.
Not that it mattered. Clones were considered as spare parts, and would probably remain so when the damn war was over.
He spoke to each as he walked down the line. To an outsider, someone that wasn’t a clone, it would have been gibberish. Questions and answers were short. All of the clones had been through pretty much the same training when it came to their specialties. Hell, half of what Norms used for small talk between a soldier and a CO was redundant.
“Unit?” He asked.
“Interceptor 1121.” The clone replied.
4511 nodded, and moved to the next when he felt a sudden chill in the air. He turned slowly, and there was a Norm standing in the hatch leading into the passageway. His eyes raked up and down the man. Too small to have much chance in a hand to hand brawl, too young to be an officer. Definitely not one of his. He would have ended up in the recycling bin.
“May I help you?” He asked. The tone suggested, like the cold looks from the other 20 clones, that the answer was no.
“Larin Devron. I am the new Squadron commander.”
“Ten-Hut!” 4511 snapped. The Clones snapped to attention, eyes gazing off into the distance. 4511 had turned so that he was facing the man as he barked the command, so his eyes were locked on the young Jedi.
Larin was stunned. First was the cold hatred, then suddenly the obedience. He waved in a confused manner. “No need for that. Just, I don’t know, relax.”
“Parade, Rest!” The men’s legs snapped out, now shoulder width apart, hands clasped behind their backs. Still they were just statuary to Larin’s eyes.
4511 took pity on him. “At, ease!” The same stance, but there was a subtle relaxation. heads turned, looking toward him.
Larin walked through the following gazes like a fighter tracked by 40 gun turrets. He wasn’t sure what to do. “You are?”
“Unit 4511 Batch 19 SFP specialty, sir.” the man with the loud voice replied.
“Do we have everything we need, 4511?”
The clone considered. The problem with these damn Jedi officers was that like most Norms outside the original military, they knew Jack about what a squadron needed. He felt an urge to trick him, if only for a brief amusement. “Well sir our fighters need a good supply of Relative Bearing grease, but supply said they don’t have any.” He could feel the amusement from the other clones. “However I am sure that either Engineering or Squadron 2221 has some and just won’t cut some loose for us. Now that we have our own General, maybe you can handle that, sir?”
“I’ll see what I can do, 4511.” Larin felt that he was being toyed with, but wasn’t sure why. “Well I am supposed to give a speech, but for the life of me I can’t think of anything to say. So let’s just consider that a long and stirring speech about how we’ll work together splendidly has been given and duly noted. Okay? I would like to see the flight leaders in my quarters in about an hour. First I am going to see about that grease.”
Once he had gone, the Clones dissolved into laughter. “Kitten.” One said.
4511 led the other three flight leaders to the cabin, and one of them pressed the annunciator. “Come.”
They marched in, snapping to attention. Larin waved toward the seats, but none of the clones
moved. “Gentlemen, please sit down.” There was a moment of confusion, then they sat. Not that it helped. They sat at attention.
“All right, I have been going over the training syllabus. We have the simulators from 10 hundred tomorrow until 16 hundred. 4511, how many newbies do you have?”
“No, sir. Home Fleet had first call on reinforcements. We got SP, ASP, and LAATs instead.”
“How many are up to speed?”
“Most of them. The LAATs are already hot dogs. The ASPs just need to get used to space. The SPs just need to get used to something faster.”
Larin nodded. “Have you already scheduled them?”
“Good. Mind if I sit in?”
“If you want.” 4511 knew that a request from a superior was an order.
“Thank you. I will see you all at 10 hundred then. 4511, could I have a word with you privately?”
As if the Clones wouldn’t know what he would hear half an hour later. “Of course, sir.”
When the others had left, Larin leaned back. 4511 still sat at attention. “I understand that clones only have designations, but I am not comfortable with that.” 4511 shrugged. It wasn’t like they weren’t called a lot of things, most of them not polite. “Would your men mind if I gave them names for my own comfort?”
“No they would mind, or no they wouldn’t like it?”
“We follow your orders. If you want to order us to-”
“No, 4511. I am not going to make it an order.” Larin rubbed his face. “The only thing different about your men and one of us is that no one decided what we would look like or be good at. Someone threw the dice with our genetics, and we turn out like we do.” He considered. “Do you know history?”
“Not especially, sir. No specialty for it required for combat.”
“Back when it was just the human race on one planet, they had atmospheric fighters. To save time, everyone was given a call sign, a name that meant them and no one else. Would your men accept that?”
“Of course sir.” 4511 replied. After all, a request from a superior...
“Oh, and by the way, I scored ten cases of Relative Bearing grease for you. It’s down in your Squad bay.”
4511 was confused. When a new kid entered a Norm unit, they had a hazing ritual that the Clones had seen and accepted for their own use. You asked for something that no one would even carry, and the names of the items were such that anyone who knew anything about ship-board operations would immediately know that the sufferer was being sent on a wild gundark chase. The guy was supposed to spend a couple of hours wandering the ship in a vain quest.
The idea that any one would have a grease to determine the compass bearing of another vessel in relation to your own (Or relative bearing) was absurd. However 4511 couldn’t actually come out and say so. “Yes sir. Thank you, sir.”
Five minutes later, looking at the ten cases of lubricant used for rectal thermometers, 4511 had to admit that Larin may have been young, but he wasn’t a kitten.
Kudos to you! Good read, the writing style was smooth and enjoyable. Keep it up!
Maybe you might like to give me some pointers? ...my fic isin't that great.
Either way have fun :)
Glad to help.
Since I am looking (And reading) fic from three sites right now, I haven't looked at yours yet. If it isn't posted, send me an e-mail of some of it.
“Break right!” 4511 ordered. He groaned as the newbie, an SP did so, but slowly. Damn it, fighters could bank a lot harder than that! Before he could comment, the fighter flashed with multiple hits and exploded.
He stormed across toward the simulator. From the outside it looked like an egg laid on it’s side with a black upper cover. As the cover lifted, 4511 leaned in glaring. “Status?”
“Fighter, not shuttle.”
4511 nodded. He walked back to the control panel. “Result?”
Unit 742 Batch 5 shook his head. “Pathetic.”
“Fix or die.”
4511 turned, and started to shout. Only Larin’s quick motion of negation stopped him. The Jedi had picked up some Clone patrol sign from somewhere. He walked over, looking over 742’s shoulder. “Is there a shuttle simulator?”
“Yes, sir.” 742 pointed toward a larger egg off in the corner.
“Have that one join me in it.” Larin pointed at the simulator where Unit 3120 Batch 15 had just been killed again.
Larin walked to the shuttle simulator, and sat in the command seat. a moment later the clone joined him. “I know you’re taught to fly smoothly, and carefully through narrow spaces in a shuttle. But you’re going to be flying a fighter. You have to forget some of what you’re taught.” The hood slid down, and before them they could see a docking bay. Larin slid on the headset, and began the standard warm-up sequence. “Dek, give me a dockyard.” There was silence. “Dek can you hear me?”
“From now on your call sign is Dek. Clear.”
“Sir.” Before them they could now see the KSC shipyards above Coruscant.
“All right, Cat. Show me what you got.”
“Yes. If you use alpha numeric code, 3121, your letter designation would be cat. So Cat is your call sign. Show me.”
“Sir.” The newly named Cat took the controls. The flight was smooth and uneventful for about five minutes. Expertly he wove through the maze of ships under construction the spider webbing of the empty docks the moving pods and cargo vessels.
“Stop.” The scene froze. “Dek, take us back to start. Give me two Vultures that will kill me if I fly straight and level ten seconds after departure.”
At the control panel, The newly designated Dek, shrugged. “Do it.”
On the screen, the blip that was the shuttle took off smoothly. Ten seconds later, the two Vultures came over the ‘ship’ that had launched it. In real life, this was where the shuttle pilot would be killed.
So much for real life. The shuttle leaped into full power, and made a turn that made the viewers think the shuttle was trying to fly up its own butt. The Vultures rolled, coming back as the shuttle ran not for deep space, but for the same maze of docks.
It spun on a wing between two braces that were barely wide enough for it, then shot upward as the Vultures split to run past the dock toward where the shuttle should have been. An instant later it popped up behind them, now running toward a string of barges. It slalomed through the string, and the Vultures tried to follow. One flew into a barge, and shattered like a toy. The other flew over, but now the shuttle was running into an occupied dock. The massive warship being built was a warren of crevices and gaping holes, surrounded by pods busily moving more parts in. The shuttle flew through a pod and the ship, then outside of another pod, then back in again, running down the trench where the lateral array sensors would eventually be installed. The fighter followed, but when the shuttle litterally flipped end for end, and ran under it, the Vulture rammed the end of the trench trying to pull out.
“Amazing.” 742 said.
The shuttle simulator opened, and Larin stepped out. “Now Cat, maybe what you need to do first is learn what a shuttle can do, not what is procedure or recommended. Godbee, reset, same scenario. Run him through it until he does it right.”
Assuming he was Godbee, Unit 742 reset.
“How are the others?” Larin asked.
“Good so far.” Dek replied.
“How many still to go?”
What are you damn copies doing hogging the sims?” A voice roared. A flight lieutenant stood in the doorway. The Clones stiffened. “Damn it the real pilots need the sims! Clear out!”
The Clones started to move but Larin’s voice cut through. “Stand fast.” He walked around the console, facing the flight lieutenant. “Name.”
“Cono Landis. Who the hell are you?”
“I am General Larin Devron, Lieutenant.” Landis slammed to attention. Larin looked at the chrono on his wrist. “We have the simulators until 1600. There are four hours remaining.” He pinned the older man with a glare worthy of Mace Windu. “So who the hell do you think you are?”
”Sir Squadron 2221 doesn’t have any copies-”
“Any what?” Larin asked with a dangerous purr in his voice.
“Copies. You know, sir.” Landis cocked his head toward the Clones. “Clones.”
Larin walked around the man, looking him over as if he’d never seen the like. “Do you have any siblings?”
“You know. Brothers or sisters.”
“Uh, no sir, I am an only child.”
Larin stopped in front of the man, and met his gaze levelly without anger. “Then I would suggest that if your parents wish to have a child next week, you refrain from insulting my men. Because while your parents are supporting population control back home by having one child, these men, these ‘copies’ will be dying for them. At the rate we’ve been losing pilots, you’re Simon pure squadron will be ‘copies’ before the years is out. If I hear the word copy from your mouth again, assuming you are not talking about reports filed in triplicate, I will turn you over to my ‘copies’ for some re-education. Do I make myself clear?”
“Uh, yes sir.”
“Then by all means come back at 1600 when you are scheduled for the simulators, and we will obligingly clear the way. If you or any of your fellows thinks differently, come and see me.”
“Dismissed.” As the lieutenant scurried for cover, Larin turned to his men. “Dek, I don’t care if everyone heeds to learn how to fly every damn piece of equipment in the inventory. We keep this room until 1600. Clear?”
If someone listened to the small talk in a Clone religiously, he’d be bored within an hour. Each man in the bay knew exactly what he needed to do, who he was doing it with, and what the others had been through. But tonight the small talk, while Clone succinct, was flowing fast and furious. It had been a week since the confrontation in the simulator bay.
“Assessment.” The clone now call signed Coot asked.
“Crazy.” Dek replied, then shrugged. “Good man.”
“Unlikely.” Call sign Dag growled. “Just Jedi.”
“Yeah.” Call sign Bob said.
“No.” Call sign Free disagreed. “Something new.”
“Maybe.” Dek agreed. But what?”
“No idea.” Free admitted. “Watch, learn.”
A few decks above, another more flowing argument was going on.
“My men need the simulators more often than those damn copies do!” Flight Captain Pondi roared. He was a larger man almost twice Larin’s age, and he literally towered in his rage.
“It is interesting to me that the ship has been in service for a month working up for operations, and this week was the only time my squadron has been allowed their full allotted time on the simulators.” Larin replied. “Every time they have been scheduled in this last month, one of Captain Pondi’s Norms has ordered them out.
“It is even more interesting than none of my men has a rank above 2nd class petty officer while the lowest ranking man in his unit is a chief.”
“Copies don’t care-”
“My men may be clones but anyone with a brain can see differences when they are together.” Larin replied with a cool voice that still burned. “As for copies, your parents made a botched job of it.”
“Why you pup!”
Consta stood. “Enough!” She looked at both men. “Padawan, how many hours have your men had in the sims?”
“In the last month, or the last week?”
“In the last month 75. In the last week, 42.”
“I don’t see what-”
“In the last month they averaged 250.” Larin supplied. “In the last week, 42,”
Consta looked at both of them. “So you are saying that 250 hours in a fighter they have never flown is not enough for your men.” She pointed at Pondi. “While less than a hundred is more than sufficient for his?” She pointed at Larin.
“We don’t have everything hardwired like they do.” Pondi snapped. “We have to learn everything from step one.”
“Squadron 2221 has been in service since the start of the war. It has seen exactly four combat mission and sustained 30% losses.” Larin supplied. “The last six months they have been assigned to Home fleet. My squadron was formed at the same time. They have seen fifteen combat mission, had a 400 percent turnover from losses. The senior man in my unit is the only survivor of that original squadron. Every other man in my squadron was seconded from squadrons that had taken equivalent losses. My seven newbies have never been in a fighter in their short lives, and need all the time they can get. Part of the reason for those disparate losses among the clones is that every idiot in charge of a Norm squadron they have been with has taken every second of simulator time they could steal by ordering the junior ranked clones out so they can get it. Captain Pondi here has clocked over a thousand hours in the last six months.”
“We cannot stint on training because your parents were biological, Captain.” Consta said. “If your men are so hopelessly outclassed, perhaps I can assigned them to shuttles?”
“I will not take-”
“Unless you are going to go over my head to fleet operations,” Constas said, “You will obey orders.”
Pondi snarled, then stormed out. Consta shook her head, then looked at the languid Larin. “Do you have the same effect everywhere you go, Padawan?”
“No, ma’am.” Larin said. “I just think we should treat the Clones as if they were real people, rather than knocked off spare parts.”
“You’re right, of course.” She sighed. “The fact that they have been cloned bears on the minds of too many of the military minds around us, though. When you have a ready source of replacements that you can plug and play, you tend to forget that they have feelings and lives.” She looked at the pile of paperwork on her desk. “Dismissed.”
Camirodorn came out of hyperspace ten planetary diameters from the planet Tyche. She ran along the outside of the perimeter as her fighters raced in. The planet was worth little or nothing to either side. But the Confederacy had placed a deep space scanning array here, and it had to be destroyed.
Gold Squadron as they were calling 2221 spread out in a wide Vee as they closed. Behind them, in a more compact arrow was Red, squadron 421. The fighters bored in until suddenly guns opened up from the planet.
“Crap!” Gold squadron broke into separate units as one of the fighters became a fireball. “Command, we have three times the guns intel reported. Give me a minute to figure this out. Red Squadron, start clearing the guns so we can go in.” Pondi’s voice ordered.
“Negative Red squadron Larin’s voice cut in. “Dek, Pattern flywheel. We go for the array.”
As the same time that Dek’s voice replied ‘Rog.” Pondi screamed.
“Do what you’re told, copy!”
The clones ignored the scream. “By flight numbers, clock.” Dek ordered. The tight arrow suddenly became a circle, then dived in from all sides of the planet. Guns spun, and tracked, but the fighters had become weaving maniacs that defied prediction. Even with their evasion two fighters exploded. The survivors screamed down into the atmosphere, targeting only guns in their paths as they ran for the sensor array. Torpedoes punched down, and a cubic kilometer of the planet lifted as the charges punched down into the planet and detonated.
A second later 8 fighters clawed their way out of the maelstrom of erupting rock.
“Who’d we lose Dek?”
“Godbee Mack Lev and Stu.”
“Too many.” Larin growled. “RTB.”
“But my squadron was tasked with that mission!” Pondi complained. “Red squadron was supposed to fly flak suppression.”
“The mission was assigned by you, Captain.“ Larin’s voice was starting to rise as he let some anger into it. When you couldn’t find your butt with both hands, we did what you were supposed to.
“The guns weren’t a target on this mission beyond you’re wanting my men dead.”
“I will not stand here and be insulted like this!”
“Where would you prefer to stand?” Larin snapped back.
“They disobeyed my orders Pondi screamed.
“They obey mine.” Larin replied cooly. “The last time I looked, Captain, a General ranks you.”
“A real general maybe!” Pondi snarled back. “Not some jumped up priest barely old enough to shave!”
“Enough.” When Pondi continued his diatribe, Consta stood and roared, “I said enough!” She glared at the two men. Larin seemed incapable of standing at attention, but Consta wasn’t willing to complain about that. Except for the rare exception that came from military families, none of the Jedi were much when it came to blind obedience.
“We were ordered to take out the sensor array, it was taken out.” She growled. “That will be all, Captain.”
“That. Will. Be. All.” Consta snapped. “Dismissed.”
Pondi stormed out. Consta looked at the young man. “We can’t keep doing this, Larin.”
“With all due respect, this is our second mission and so far his squadron has taken three casualties.” Larin replied levelly. “Mine has taken 9. Every time the odds are a bit too one sided, who gets thrust into the meat grinder.” He tapped his own chest. “My people.”
“It isn’t just this squadron, it’s every one like it in the fleet. If there are two squadrons and one is made up of Normal people, guess which one goes in for the hard jobs.” He shook his head. “How can we expect them to fight and die for a cause when the people they are fighting for treat them like dirt?”
She sighed. He had brought it to her attention after the first argument with Pondi. She had been stunned to see that he had been correct. When they had left Coruscant Squadron 421 had been made up of remnants of seven other squadrons. All of those others had been reconstituted from scratch. Now after two weeks of hit and run raids, it was beginning again. Of those survivors, only three remained.
The Kamino had done their jobs too well. Every one of the clones had the same attitude and capabilities as their pattern Jango Fett, but the ’reprogramming’ that made them obedient to orders of any superior gave them a push through at any cost mentality. When the job had to be done they did it regardless of cost. What it meant was that even when survival was an option, they fought on holding positions just because they were ordered to or charged in fearlessly when it just meant they died. The fact that a lot of the men and women leading them were lackluster in their own capabilities, Jedi among them, didn’t help matters. How many had died needlessly because a Jedi that had never even thought of fighting was giving the orders? How many had died needlessly because normal humans treated them like spare parts?
“I understand that, and have so informed the Jedi council.”
“Finally? How many reports do you think other Jedi had sent?” She asked sharply. “I was informed that over a thousand reports have been filed on this subject alone. The sticking point is the military. They like their new toys too much in my opinion.”
“So what’s next?” Larin asked. “We stand by and do nothing?”
“The Council is arguing with the Senate Military committee even now. We however have other fish to fry. Briefing at 2100 hours two days from now. We’re not the only ship going in this time. We’re to rendezvous with the 475th task group.”
“The planet Corridu.” Consta said, standing in front of the hologram. The pilots looked on silently. “The Confederacy has taken it, and we’re taking it back.” She paused as the hologram went from a system map with one highlighted planet to a view just of the planet and the nearby asteroid belt. “The enemy order of battle is supposed to be made up of Genosian ships with fighter barges deploying Nantex class fighters. The ground units are four droid divisions with a detached Trade Federation command unit located on planet.
“100 of our ships against fifteen.”
“How many ground troops?” Larin asked.
“One hundred thousand droids. The fleet is carrying almost 10 divisions of clones.”
“Scrap and copies.” Someone commented.
“I will not listen to this any more.” Consta snapped. “Clones may be copies, but we’ve already lost 200,000 of those ‘copies’ trying to protect planets you people couldn’t hold for yourselves.” She glared at the assemblage. “Pursuant to the directives handed down by Fleet command, the clones are to be integrated fully with the fleet and have the same rights as any citizen. The next man who uses the word copy in my hearing will be before a court of inquiry for conduct unbecoming. Do I make myself clear?”
There was grumbling, and not a few of the normal pilots cast angry looks at the Jedi seated with them. The clones merely watched the podium with single minded intensity.
The briefing went on. Larin looked down, and noticed that one of the clones wasn’t watching the podium. Dek was watching him.
The fighters launched from Camirodorn, taking up picket duty as the other ten squadrons bored in toward the planet. The command center on the planet had been taken out by a quick strike by the clones of 877 squadron and the invasion was going quietly. Larin would have expected grumbling from 2221 but their net had been silent. Perhaps the idea of being sent up for conduct unbecoming was worse than he thought.
“Sweep complete.” Dek reported. all of the survivors of squadron 421 were up at the moment, and they curved around in an arc missing the asteroid belt. Larin nodded, then replied. “Understood.” P7L9 his droid gave a whistle, and he looked at the scanners. There was one part of the belt that wasn’t reading right according to the droid.
The Delta 7s sensors weren’t modernized yet. The ARC170 had a much better sensor suite, but...
“Dek, I am going to sweep toward the belt. P7 has picked up an anomaly.”
“Sir.” Two fighters broke from the chain to weld themselves to his wings, and he sighed. The clones had taken to watching over him like a newly nested bird. He resisted the urge to shove the throttle full forward, the Aethersprite was faster than the Arcs.
As they came over the top of the belt, his scanners cleared. Dozens of Xi Char droid fighters were there, and behind them a Lucrehulk command ship. If they launched the 1500 fighters. the ship could carry in one massive strike, the fleet was doomed. That was more fighters than the entire fleet. As he watched another trio took off. He had caught them while they were launching.
“Dek!” There was no reply.
“Jamming.” One of the fighters replied. Cat.”
“Cat head toward the squadron, get passed the jamming.”
“Sir.” The fighter dived toward the belt as Larin rammed the throttle to the stops. Joh, the other pilot did the same, though the smaller fighter began to outdistance him.
A dozen fighters dove after Cat. The clone looked back, then smiled as he reached the cluster of asteroids. Instead of slowing, he punched the throttle full forward.
“Something.” Coot reported. He sent the feed automatically to Dek, who looked at it, frowning. There were flashes of light in the asteroid belt, but still there was nothing on his scanner. He flicked to the fleet channel. “Red squadron to fleet. Anomalies in the belt. Will investigate.”
As one the seven fighters rolled out and headed toward the flashes. Suddenly a blip became clear. It was an Arc170, wings singed, being chased by three Xi Char droid fighters.
“Report. Lucrehulk launching strike.” a voice came across. Dek recognized Cat’s tones.
“Throat.” Dek felt a chill. The Jedi had charged into the fray alone. Well, except for Joh. He repeated the report over the fleet channel, and behind him the attack runs of the fighters were aborted as they clawed to protect the fleet.
“Red squadron, report.” A voice called.
“Red squadron enroute to support our squadron commander.” Dek replied.
“Negative. All fighter return to the fleet.”
For a moment, Dek fought inside himself.
On the command ship if the Republic fleet, the course of the fighters didn’t change. Instead they boosted to full power. Admiral Sanji walked to the hologram, glaring at the recalcitrant squadron. “Red squadron, obey orders.” The fighter were already at the asteroid belt. “Damn you copies, do what you’re told!” He screamed.
Dek ignored the voice. His fighters howled over the belt, right into a swirling dogfight. A lone ARC170 was leading a daisy chain of enemy fighters through the edges of the belt. Beyond them...
“Red leader, turn back.” He said.
Larin ignored the call. He knew that as long as the Lucrehulk’s command center was working, the enemy would have all they needed to run their side of the battle. He had worked it out in his mind how to kill a battleship like this one. As he flicked the switches to arm his missiles, he considered that he had never worked out how to do it and live. “Keep them off my back, Dek.”
“Sir...” The tone told him it wasn’t just an acknowledgement.
“For once do as your told.”
The Nonsequitor confused the clone. He always did what he was told.
The weakest point in the enemy ship’s shields was directly along the axis of the fighters being deployed. Larin aimed himself into the growing stream, and punched through it, causing fighters to veer into collisions. He aimed his concussion missiles and fired. The blast ripped into the shields, and for a fatal few seconds, they were clear.
One of the fighters behind him fired, and the Delta staggered. His weapons panel went crazy as every weapons system shut down. “P7-” The order was aborted as another blast took the top off P7.
Dek had been watching the fight on his scanner as he killed the fourth droid of the day. Only 100 had been launched so far, but his men were hard pressed. When he saw the telltales, he keyed the mike. “Commander, fall back.”
“Negative. I have one weapon left.”
Dek looked at the scanner, then at the Lucrehulk as the Delta7 rammed the central pod at full speed. He saw the sphere bulge, then come apart. A small dot had ejected right before the crash, and he tagged it as he went back to the battle.
“Where is he?” Admiral Sanji screamed. Consta stood before the admiral calmly, watching the screen. Thanks to Red squadron’s destruction of the control pod on the Lucrehulk, the droids below and in orbit had been disabled. The troops were busy clearing the detritus for scrap, and the fighters in orbit had made short work of the outer donut of the ship and it’s fighters before it could flee.
“His fighter was destroyed in the fight, Admiral. Red squadron found his pod and a shuttle is bringing it in even as we speak.”
Well once he’s here, you can send him back to your damn Jedi Council! I won’t have someone who talks down to better officers every time they open their mouths!”
The shuttle broke from the asteroid belt, and threaded it’s way through the fleet to the flagship. It landed, but as the Admiral approached the door stayed firmly closed. “Now every damn person is disobeying orders!” He flicked on his com. “Shuttle open your hatch.”
“Orders.” The pilot replied. “I am to await arrival of Red squadron officer.”
“Damn it there is only one officer in Red Squadron and he is aboard your damn shuttle. Now this is Admiral Sanji. Open. The. Hatch!”
As he was screaming, a fighter came aboard. It had been badly damaged, probably a write-off where it sat. The canopy opened, and a clone leaped down running toward the shuttle.
“Pilot. Dek here.”
“Rog.” The hatch dropped. As it did, the clone shoved aside the admiral, running aboard.
“Get that unit’s designation. He’s on sanitation patrol from this moment on!” Sanji stormed up the ramp.
Inside four clones stood silently around the pod. It had been holed by a hail of shrapnel from the collapsing sphere of the Lucrehulk, and Sanji couldn’t see how it held any air. Then he noticed the opened hatch. The body had been laid out, and as he watched, the clones took the ends of the litter. They walked toward him with a grim pace, then stopped, setting down the litter. Dek saluted. “Sir, survivors of Squadron 421 request permission to escort our commanding officer off the shuttle.”
Silent Sanji stepped aside. The clones lifted the litter, and marched off the shuttle.
“Cruiser Camirodorn this is shuttle 4453 coming aboard.”
“Roger, 4453. Commanding officer awaiting them in the squad bay.”
The shuttle settled to the deck, the hatch opening with a hiss. fifteen clones came down the ramp. Four clones stood waiting for them.
They formed into marching order, and were marched down to the squad bay. Then they snapped to attention. Dek, bearing the rank of Flight Captain looked them over.
“This squadron has a rich history.” He said. “We’ve fought for the last two years, and we’ve bled alongside the Norms. We fight because that is why we were made. But that-” He pointed toward the wall beyond, “Is why we die. Look, remember. Dismissed.”
He turned as the new pilots walked over and looked at the wall. It was bare except for one portrait. It was a young Norm with a faint smile on his face. Beneath it a simple plaque.
Who saw that coming? No one! Nice job! :)
Excellent work, really gets you into the clone mind.
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