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''...today's breaking news – after sixteen years of bloody fighting, the Mandalorian Wars finally came to an end with the victory of Republic forces at Malachor V, a planet in the system of the same name, deep in the Outer Rim...''
''...moments ago Rear Admiral Saul Karath, a decorated hero of the campaign had this to say: The fight was long and hard. The Mandalorians entrenched themselves on the planet's surface, with half of their forces revealed to us and the other half in ideal ambush positions. Their warships in space battling with our own frigates. Both sides sufffered numerous casualties, but thanks to our Jedi strategist, Revan, who organized and lead this battle, our forces prevailed...''
Scars of War
News of victory travels fast. For days the people and soldiers of the Republic celebrated the hard-earned victory against the Mandalorians. There was music and liquor in every part of every Republic ship. The soldiers were laughing, telling jokes, or exchanging some happier stories. For those few hours that took the ships to return to Coruscant, everyone seemed to have forgotten their worries and, most importantly, the memories of war.
After the troops' return to Coruscant a huge reception was made for the commanding officers, covered by all the news networks. Masses of people greeted them as they disembarked from their respective transports, cheering their names and raising their hands into the air with excitement. The galaxy's most powerful politicians welcomed the commanders home. There were even a few grumpy-looking Jedi there, probably awaiting the arrival of Revan and Malak, but they were wasting their time. The two Jedi heroes weren't there, instead they took the remainder of the Malachor main fleet and left for the Unknown Regions to hunt down the last of the Mandalorians.
As for us ordinary soldiers, the staff at Central Command prepared a nice feast in our honor. In addition, we had a great view of the evening fireworks. Some of us continued the celebration, others, like myself, retired to their pre-assigned quarters to rest. I can safely say that I truly needed rest. I've had all the celebration I could handle and bed was a true blessing for me. I needed to rest, for tomorrow would truly be the happiest day of my life. After years on the front, I'm traveling home. After years of battle, I will see my family again.
Dantooine. Its orange pastures soothing to my nerves. The breeze that caressed my face as I exited the transport made me remember why I love this place so much. There were no cities here. This was a farming world, with only smaller or larger communities of cattle, or plant growers.
There were three of us from Dantooine. Gerel, Ilon and I. Word of our return has obviously spread, since the people of our community amassed to welcome us like kings, but what truly made us happy were our families rushing to meet us. My wife, Yelena and my little boys, Dax and Roonie ran towards me, arms open, with huge smiles on their faces. The four of us joined in a big embrace and I noticed my two friends and fellow soldiers embracing their wives too, before tears of joy started to pour out of my eyes.
My first few days at home were the best of my life. I rose early, had breakfast with Yelena and the kids, after which we would all do our part of the chores necessary to keep the farm in business. I had to hand it to the three of them, they did a magnificent job taking care of the farm while I was off battling. I can only imagine how it must have been for them, especially Yelena.
We spent the afternoons resting together, either outside on the soft grass, or in our living room. I would tell them some stories of my experiences in the war and they would listen, the kids' eyes huge with excitement and pride. Yelena enjoyed the stories too, she also felt pride, but in a more mature way. The stories also gave her insight into the trials I was put through and survived. As for me, I enjoyed my sons' excited gazes while I told the stories and my wife's mild smile, but the stories themselves... they brought back a lot of memories.
Sad news marked this day. One of my two friends, Gerel, was found dead at his home. Apparently his wife found him after she returned from her morning walk. Gerel's death troubled me more than it should. I wondered what truly happened. Who would want a war hero dead? I went to Ilon's to find out more.
Ilon, my friend and fellow veteran had connections with the Civil Watch and seeing as how he was an even closer friend of Gerel's than I was, I knew he had to know more. When I arrived he was waiting outside his compound. He appeared deep in thought, but seemed to lighten up a bit when he saw me.
''So Lieutenant, you've heard about it too?'' He asked. He used to call me by name, but during the war the lieutenant thing became a habit and it seemed to have endured even now, almost a month after the end of the war.
''Yes. I can hardly believe it. Who would want Gerel dead?'' I asked my former second in command.
''Actually...'' He leaned towards me and continued more quietly, ''the word from the Civil Watch is that he killed himself.''
''What? Are they sure?'' I was amazed. This seemed even more puzzling, or at least that's what I made myself believe at the time.
''They found his body with his blaster rifle still in one hand. They saw an entry wound below the chin and an exit wound in the middle of where his brain used to be, Lieutenant.'' Ilon added more nervously, ''A Jedi will arrive tomorrow to confirm the findings, but there's nothing left to confirm. He did it.''
''Why do you say that?'' I asked still apparently clueless.
''It's just not the same. We are not the same, Lieutenant.'' Ilon's voice started to tremble, ''The horrors we've endured, the friends we've lost, they might be a thing of the past to the world, but not to us. Haven't you felt it, Lieutenant? The memories... they haunt us still.''
I have felt it. The memories of battle slowly returned during the last few days. I might have even accelerated their return with all my war stories. They weren't as strong and troubling yet, but I fear they will be soon and I believe Ilon fears it too.
Ilon was right. The memories haunt us indeed. Images of battle would appear to me more than five times each day and lately I've started feeling like I was on the battlefield again. Or still. Most of the things I saw started to remind me of the landscapes of various planets and various battlefields.
I haven't told anything to Yelena, or the boys, but I think she's starting to suspect that something's wrong. She is my wife, after all. She knows me better than anyone else. So far, when she would ask, I'd say it was a headache and she seems content with that explanation. At least for the time being.
Things are getting worse. I have started to carry my blaster rifle with me at all times. I didn't know why, but I just felt I had to carry it. I would watch over the cattle and suddenly a memory would creep up and transport me from the calm and quiet pastures of Dantooine to one of many bloody and scary battlefields. I would lose myself almost instantly. With the blaster rifle at the ready I would run like a maniac to meet the non-existing enemy and just as I was about to fire the first shot the battlefield would disappear and I would find myself back in the pastures. Alone.
The only thing that seemed to calm me down and reduce the intensity of the memories a bit was time spent with my family. Whether it was playing with my sons, or helping my wife with something, the time with them made me distinguish the reality from fiction again. But it wouldn't last very long.
Things are going from bad to worse. Tonight I realized it. The memories now haunted my dreams as well and the headaches were getting stronger and stronger. I would wake up in the middle of the night, covered in sweat and breathe anxiously, as if I just returned from a stroll through a volcano. Sometimes I would wake up and still be in the middle of a memory, watching a friend falling into a pool of his own blood, but always waking up from the memory a second before the body hits the ground.
Tonight something else happened. Tonight I didn't wake up. I remembered the battle of Eres III. The Mandalorians ambushed us during the night and decimated the Republic forces. My company was scattered across the battlefield and I suddenly found myself in the company of only one other soldier. He was merely a kid, so as more experienced, I took command. We snuck through the bushes, avoiding the flammable Xoxin fields. Suddenly I heard a shot, ducking in reflex and noticing my companion's body falling lifelessly to the ground, a thick long metal needle running through his head.
I grabbed my rifle and started running. After a while I found the Mandalorian shooter. He was crouching behind a pair of bushes, making himself almost completely invisible in this dark night, obviously scouting his next victim. I took aim and just as I was about to pull the trigger, I heard my wife's terrified voice saying: ''Cisco, what's happening?'' I lowered my rifle, terrified with the knowledge of what might have happened, if she hadn't woke up and saw me.
We went down to the kitchen and I told her everything. She looked at me sadly for a few minutes, still a little shook, but not giving up.
''We should ask the Jedi for help.'' She said finally, ''Surely they can cure whatever ailes you, my dear.''
''No.'' I said firmly.
''But why not?'' She asked, her voice filled with desperation.
''The Jedi Enclave is half a planet away and I don't think I can be trusted to keep my sanity for another hour, Yelena.'' I explained, ''I am losing my touch with reality, my dear. I realize now that if I had told you sooner, something could have even been done, but now...'' I paused for a second, preventing myself from crying for I knew what my only option was, ''I couldn't live with myself if I hurt you, or the kids. The memories haunt me even now, the images of battle filling my mind. Slowly drawing me back into the chaos.''
''What shall we do then?'' She asked, her eyes filled with tears.
''There is only one thing to do.'' I said decisively, ''I have to leave. I must spare you and the kids of the scene Gerel failed to spare his wife from.'' She started to get the picture. ''I know it's not a good solution and it does indeed seem like the easy way out, but I just cannot be trusted anymore.'' I explained. ''Go back to sleep, my dear Yelena. Sleep and remember me as I was in happier times.'' I kissed her gently on the forehead as I finished my sentence and grabbed my rifle. ''You shall not see me again, dear Yelena. Goodbye.'' I said as I escorted her to the stairwell. I could hear her weeping even as I left the house.
I ran during most of the night, trying to get as far away from the house as I could, all the while hoping that some wild Kath Hound would ambush me and save me the trouble of doing the deed myself. I wasn't that lucky.
I finally stopped. The fatigue overwhelmed me. I sat on a stone and waited. The images were getting stronger by the minute. Memories of bombs dropping, guns blazing and soldiers dying. I needed at least a small piece of my mind, if I was to do it.
I remembered my favorite opera. I started playing it in my head. The strong tenor voice and sounds of violins have always calmed me. This is it. I failed to save myself, but I will die knowing that I saved my family from my madness. I didn't allow it to kill them. The tenor in my head arrives to a dramatic finish and I quickly point the rifle at my chin and pull the trigger.