“Metre breach!” yelled Braill amidst the heat of the battle. The recently wetted mud flew across my face as I heard the warning. A 'metre breach' meant that the enemy was only a metre's reach from breaching the trench. The ground shuddered as another Mandalorian artillery battery relieved its load on our trench. The noise that surrounded me had somehow gotten familiar, almost welcoming.
The first Mandalorian dropped into the trench and spent no time in releasing the energy in his rifle. More dropped soon enough and all hell broke loose in the two-metre wide trench. Realizing my situation, I pulled down the visor from my helmet, which was blinking my objective – an injured soldier outside the trench.
Stepping across bloodied bodies coated in mud, I tried to navigate myself to the body. I took three steps and came face-to-face with a Mandalorian who dropped in at just the moment. He was much taller than me, his height probably augmented by the huge Mandalorian armour he wore. I stood stunned for a while. He took the opportunity and rammed me with his rifle.
The blow was powerful and I fell back, only to get back in mere seconds, while he cocked his rifle and pulled the trigger. His lack of aiming meant that the laser flew past me. I fired some shots of my own, which struck and blackened the plates on his leg. When I looked up, I saw his helmet spin away and his body slump as a sharpshooter had struck his head at just the right moment.
After a few seconds, when the sight had left my mind, I hurried my way to the jute ladder that adorned the walls of the trench. I took a deep breath and looked around – the trench was a full-fledged warzone now – Mandalorians dropping in like rain and firing mercilessly at my comrades. I lifted myself and crawled above, to the surface.
An artillery shot struck the ground several metres from my position, creating a momentary fountain of clay and mud. I crawled to some speeder wreckage, where the victim had taken refuge. My body was completely brown when I reached him. I wasted no time in assessing his injuries. He had taken a direct hit to the chest and the right shoulder, and my visor revealed that his right wrist and both ankles had somehow fractured.
The victim, whose name tag read Preeces was moaning and grunting. I called out for a stretcher on the comm., but got no response. There were stretchers at one end of the trench. I decided to take him there. “Okay, I’m taking you to the stretcher, Preeces.” I calmed him and lifted him over my back. Taking a moment to pray I don’t get shot down, I carried the limp Preeces towards the trench across the slippery ground.
Unknown to me, a piece of the trench wall had been knocked off by an artillery hit, creating a grotesque crater. I was concentrating on my visor, searching for the stretchers and too busy to notice the crater. I slipped into it straight, stumbled and fell. I bashed my knee on a rock jutting out of the ground and sprung up and twisted in reflex. When I came to, I realized I had dropped Preeces.
Preeces lay on the ground next to me now, moaning even more loudly. I cursed my clumsiness and took him back on my back. We were in the trench now. As my visor advised, I turned around and saw a Mandalorian shoot down a Republic soldier. He turned back and spotted me. I loosened Preeces’ grip on me and grabbed my rifle to shoot, but the Mandalorian wasn’t firing – he was just standing there, amused.
I fired nonetheless and the Mandalorian came to life. He stood only four feet away from me and sudden lunge and a carefully choreographed chop of his rifle had me flying and bashing myself against the wall. My rifle flew elsewhere. “I’m a medic! I have to look after him!” I cried out, pointing at Preeces, who seemed to be agitated, but helpless.
The Mandalorian had his rifle cocked, but he didn’t move. I didn’t realize that it was worth wondering why he had struck me physically when he could have shot me. A comrade of his came to his aid and inspected Preeces. “What are his injuries?” he asked me. “Two fractures, two wounds and probably a lot more.” The Mandalorian thought upon that for a second. “Can he fight?” he asked.
“No, he can’t. Not until he spends at least a month in rest.” I responded obediently. A quick scan revealed that I was the only surviving soldier in the trench – the visor showed empty and the only Republic uniforms I could see were on dead bodies. “Keep the medic, kill the other guy.” The second Mandalorian suggested, and his words brought me to protest. “No!” I yelled and rushed to his help, only to be stopped by a cocked rifle. Another rifle delivered laser fire into Preeces, whose long, wailing cries were the most agonizing sounds of suffering I have ever heard.
A stun gun knocked me out unconscious and when I came to, I found myself in a rag-tag shack made of bamboo. It was a makeshift prison of some sort, and I had a feeling I was the only one. My cell was tiny – one metre in length, half a metre in breadth. It had no bed or lavatory, so it was probably only a holding cell for convicts. I didn’t spend very long, either. It must have been several hours before a Mandalorian came and relieved me from the cell.
He led me past the camp, into the commander’s base. As I crossed the camp, I saw Mandalorians chatting, joking, checking their equipment, sparring and glaring at me. My Republic uniform was extremely dirty, I noticed. The commander’s shack wasn’t unlike the prison, except there were no cells there. Portable machinery adorned the walls and some Mandalorian technicians were working with it.
“Sir.” My guide reported to the commander, who turned his attention to me. He was in full red armour, wearing his helmet as well. “State your rank.” He ordered me. “Corporal Mancer, 40th Ranger Battalion, Corellian Division.” I dutifully responded. “Serving as Medic, with a Grade-One SRT.” I added. The commander issued an order to one of the technicians in Mandalorian, before turning back to me. He studied me for a moment.
He then turned to the Mandalorian who had accompanied me and nodded at him. The latter took out a device out of his pocket that looked like some sort of an ugly bracelet. It was more of a large metal ring, with some sort of a device attached. He rolled up my sleeve and attached it to my right arm. The ring clasped tightly, but not tight enough to break the blood flow. He stepped back.
“That ring is a detonator. It’ll blast you. We can destroy you anytime we like with this ring, and I reserve the power to do just that. The blast won’t be a thermal detonator, but enough to ensure that you aren’t living. If I want, you can be dead right here,” The commander explained, “But we are running short of skilled medics and command is not sending me any. We could use someone with a Grade-One SRT. I take it you wish to join the Mandalorian Clans?”
I was shocked at the proposition. Is he insane? He is trying to convince a Republic Soldier to betray the Republic?
I did not answer him. He pored into me for a few more seconds. “Last chance – that bomb will blow in seconds.” I’m going to die.
“I’ll do it.” I heard myself say, and at the same time could not believe my words. “Good.” The commander snappily responded.
Going back to war after a short while of peace is a disappointing moment. But going back to war when you’re on the enemy’s side is as intriguingly bizarre as it is unthinkable. Any moment I could have just turned back and fired my rifle into the Mandalorian ranks. And every moment the durasteel bracelet embraced my arm.
After a long march, we took up positions to engage a direct frontal assault with a Republic fortress outside the great city of Banus Hills. I didn’t fight with anyone by my side. I was alone and ignored, completely dressed in thick Mandalorian armour. The visor was supposed to have medic functions, but I couldn’t read the Mandalorian letters and using the visor meant guesswork was supreme.
The siege of the fortress was in full swing. Mandalorians firing, running, crouching and waging complete war with their bodies. The Republic was no less, utilizing rockets, thermal detonators, mounted repeaters and an array of snipers set across the fortress’ highest battlements. It was unpredictable and unforgiving. I was surprised to not see any injured signs on my visor (which, I had been instructed would pop up in a yellow cross).
I reasoned that either the battle was so lethally fierce that there was no room for non-lethal injuries, or the Mandalorians, with all their pride and honour couldn’t report their injured status to their commanders. As I took cover behind a boulder, I got my first yellow cross, which was directly in front of me. I could see a Mandalorian where the cross directed – he was limping mildly, but he never gave up firing.
There was something inspirational about his gait – the way he lingered on persistently, not wasting a second to fire. He was firing at the high repeaters one moment, then firing at one of the ground soldiers, then covering a comrade – he was like a droid. He beckoned him over and he noticed me. He asked me something in Mandalorian quickly, which I couldn’t guess. I patted my leg, as a sign of his injury. He nodded and took a step towards me. He stopped firing for that one second. Suddenly his body crashed against the ground as if a missile had crashed into his body. He had been sniped.
I shuddered and sprinted to another boulder for cover, thanking the crossfire that gave me a lethal shelter. Am I a soldier first or a medic first?
I fired a few shots nowhere to show that I am alive and fighting. Do I kill first, or heal first?
It was odd that such a rhetorical question struck my mind alone, while many of the warriors around had their utmost concentration in killing the enemy. Do I fulfill my duty of healing life, whatever form it may be? Or do I fight like the soldier I am?
I noticed Mandalorians staring at me. There was probably some mark on me that told them who I am.
This can’t go on.
I looked up at the Republic soldiers – all of them proud men and women fighting with every breath they had. They weren’t fighting for the fun of it. They weren’t fighting because they wanted to. They were fighting because they had no choice. Am I fighting because I have no choice?
I thought of my family. Will they accept me if the Mandalorians win? Will they accept me if the Mandalorians lose? Will they ever accept me again for betraying the Republic? Betraying it against the fear of death?
I turned around and fired some shots, before the repeater began firing near my location and I took cover again. Why am I afraid to die now? Was I afraid when I enlisted in the army?
I aimed my gun at a Mandalorian, who was too busy firing in another direction.
My finger was a second away from pulling the trigger. I could be gone in just one burst of the detonator on my arm. At least my family will know I did not fight with the enemy. At least they will know I died fighting. I died fighting the Mandalorians.
Closing my eyes for two seconds to clear up my mind, I pulled the trigger and let him have it. The Mandalorian probably never realized I killed him. But others did.
Guns were drawn towards me, though most who noticed were too busy fighting the Republic. I fired a rocket from the wrist-mounted launcher. I ran in full speed, firing grenades and shooting randomly. I felt like the Mandalorian who had died before me. Full of energy. With every deafening blast of one of my grenades, I felt an unholy satisfaction in having killed two or three Mandalorians. At least they will know I died killing Mandalorians.
I saw lights flash on my visor, telling me that my armour was struck. The Mandalorians had landed a shot in me. I was surprised that the detonator hadn’t gone off yet. That’s when something struck me. I rolled out thermal detonators hid hem in my armour. It had to be done in a split second. I placed them in every hole I could find in the armour. I couldn’t walk anymore. I just stood and fired. At least they will know I did not die healing the enemy.
If the detonator on my wrist goes off now, it will set off the thermal detonators on my armour. It will kill everyone in a thirty-metre radius, at least.
I felt amused for a second as to how I, with my medic training – one who had sworn to protect lives no matter what had come to a point where I wanted to take as many lives as I could. I laughed at the bleak irony and not long after, I felt a shuddering in my arm. It lasted for a minute fraction of a second, before I found myself enveloped in a white flash. At least they will know I died.