Part I: Chaos
Outskirts of Kiast System, Outer Rim Territories
Commander Edgar Drachen had given a call for aid, only to be answered by his second-in-command that help would be provided as soon as their own problems were taken care of. The Rapid Response Force had come under attack the moment they began their approach on the suspected Collective Headquarters in their system. Simultaneously, on Solyiat, Quorahi forces had assaulted the Royal Security. When members of Hoth prepared to leave their base to assist, it was only to discover that an unidentified number of Collective soldiers were waiting.
And that was just the start. According to reports, there was fighting all over the inhabited areas of Solyiat.
The Rapid Response Force of the Joint Task Force Hoth, along with Commander Drachen, would just have to hold their position and survive until help arrived. Some reinforcements, in the form of the Idiot’s Array, was en route. More would follow as soon as the situation on Solyiat was stabilized.
“What is that thing Edraven likes to say about coincidences?” Drachen queried wryly, managing to find some morbid humor in their current situation. Tucked behind a piece of cover as blaster bolts flew overhead; some mineral within the rock the members of Hoth had taken cover behind caused blaster bolts to easily ricochet or fly right back.
The planetoid that the Collective forces had chosen was a barren, harsh terrain. The Vatali Empire had never deemed it necessary to give it a name. An expedition had been deployed nearly a thousand years earlier to survey it and found it to be not worth the effort. Black sand, sharp rocks and volcanic glass deposits, crevices that proved too dangerous to explore and impact craters from asteroids. According to those long-deceased explorers, every mountain was an extinct or dormant volcano. What had originally been assumed was a massive crater on the other side of the planet had been discovered to be an extinct supervolcano, the caldera measuring roughly forty-three by fifty-nine kilometers.
The final cataclysmic eruption had left a lush, jungle moon into the inhospitable nightmare it was today. Millenia had passed since this eruption, yet the signs of new life were slowly returning. Outside of the area they were in, the surface was buffeted with high winds and constant storms with poor visibility.
“I do believe it is along the lines of ‘They take a lot of planning’, sir.” Tarvitz replied after a moment of thought.
It had been his own decision to take part in the ground assault. Regrettably, he’d fallen right into Rizal’s trap. The Collective forces had waited until Hoth’s Rapid Response Force had begun landing their troops before they attacked. The enemy had months of preparation and were dug in; natural looking mounds were gun emplacements.
The second wave of the landing force had been pulled into a retreat when several of the ships had been struck by an ion cannon. Only a small number had crawled from the burning hulks.
“Commander Drachen. This is Admiral Ateres. Do you read? Over.”
It took a second for the Gray Jedi to realize that the voice was coming through his comlink and not someone using telepathy. “I read you loud and clear, Admiral. What’s the situation?”
“Simply put, FUBAR.” The Admiral replied wryly. It was clear from his voice that it was taking everything to speak calmly. “We cannot risk sending more of our forces in until that ion weapon is out of the equation.”
Drachen sighed, running a hand down his face, unintentionally smearing a small amount of blood and black sand along his cheeks. “Understood Admiral Ateres. I’ll see what I can do. Drachen out.”
“What’s the word, Commander?” One of the Non-Commissioned Officers nearby questioned.
There was no way to say this in a sugar coated manner. “The fleet admiral won’t risk sending anyone else in while that ion cannon remains operational. We’re on our own without resupply or reinforcements until that happens.”
There was about a minute of silence. Or as close to it as possible when taking fire. Suddenly, Tarvitz spoke up, gaining the attention of the others.
“Do you have any slicers amongst your men? And those who are good at infiltration?” As he spoke, the Jensaarai started fiddling with his cybernetic eye.
The Officer glanced at Edgar for approval, only to be met with an impatient gesture. “Indeed we do. Why do you ask?”
Tarvitz finally managed to disconnect the power supply to his cybernetic. The pale green orb winked out as he gave a grim smile to the others. “I have a plan. It will do damage to the Collective soldiers and remove the threat of the ion weapon at the same time.”
Government Complex, Is Brea
Ihera Continent, Solyiat
That was what faced the combined forces of the Vatali Royal Guardsmen and the Odanites. Sabers clashed and blasters fired, but eventually the group came to their destination. They stood outside the Governor’s Office; ornate doors embraced by delicate tapestries on either side. The hall filled with the stench of burnt ozone—and others they didn’t care to imagine the source of—wafting in the nostrils of those that survived. The cost they paid was great, and they had hoped their efforts would amount to something, a victory after such bitter circumstance.
When they reached the door, they could hear a voice but only barely. It sounded as though it were bragging, perhaps reminiscing of past deeds. A Guardsman reached forward and tried to open the door, only to find it refused to budge. He tried with a hard shove, and still found no purchase. His commanding officer shoved him aside—spewing an insult at his masculinity as he did so—and kicked the door as hard as he could. The door splintered at the force, the frame cracking and allowing the door to be open.
“Sir, it’s the Vatali Royal Guard. We’re coming in.”
The subtle, quiet voice didn’t change it’s message. No response.
The forces rushed in and secured the room, noting two windows wide open as well as makeshift ropes draping from them aiding in a quick getaway. What remained in the room, however, was what was worrisome. The image of Kopchak flickered on his desk, his projection sitting in a chair while sipping a drink. It talked about past deeds that Kopchak had done, talking to whoever was recording the message. It was the tail end of the message, when Kopchak finally ceased what the group realized was a confession, that they realized what they were watching.
As the image played out, the group saw behind the projector. Saw the man in the image sitting at his desk, his drink spilt from his cup as it fell to the floor. The cadaver stared in horror at them with eyes scorched away by blaster fire. When a Guardsman approached, he noticed the last insult given to their Governor. His tongue, ripped away from Kopchak’s mouth, had been delicately wrapped around the holoprojector.
“Rewind it,” ordered the leader of the Guardsman. “I want to see this.”
They fiddled with the projector until they were told to stop, and the message began to play back. Kopchak stopped his story, slowly placed his drink down and adjusted his hair.
“Now, please, no need to be that way.” said his projection.
Just then, his two bodyguards come into view with blasters drawn. With deadly accuracy, they blasted the Governor away. Their bolts decimate Kopchak’s eyes and his screams practically overload the projection. They last only a moment, however, as the projection shows one of them grabbing the Governor’s tongue and ripping it from it’s home. With the tongue in hand, the bodyguard looks into the recorder.
“Empress of the Vatali. Our request is simple. Revoke your support of the Jedi or your Empire will fall.”
The image rests only on the corpse for a moment, then flickers away.
JTF Hoth Base of Operations
Trepus Continent, Solyiat
Corporal Nathaniel Bodhi had joined the Odanite military only a matter of months before. Whilst he had originally believed the training to be absolute hell, the reality of war had redefined his view of that term. From the terrorist style uprising from within their own ranks on the orders of Rath Oligard to fighting on the deceptive surface of Nancora Prime, Corporal Bodhi had learned a lot.
What he had not learned was how useful the hand-to-hand and improvised weapons training would be. When the human had joined, the idea of using a blaster rifle as a blunt weapon had left him flabbergasted. Now, as a hulking Collective soldier battered at Bodhi’s lackluster defense with an electrostaff, he was never more thankful for that training.
As the hulking figure stepped back, moving into a powerful overhead strike, the right side of his head appeared to distort before blood, bone and brain matter erupted out of the opposite side and splattered across the ground. A moment later, the sound of a slugthrower rifle discharging reached their ears.
The Corporal dropped to his knees, fighting down the urge to retch. His buddy, who had been knocked aside moments before, placed a hand on his shoulder. “Where the frac—”
He was interrupted by a lightly accented voice coming from his comlink. “You’re welcome, Corporal Bodhi. There are a group of our boys that could use yours and Sergeant Resnik’s assistance. They’re pinned down and under fire by a group fifty yards from your position; I cannot get a clear shot. There are at least four of them to your 1035. A frag will take them out, but ion grenades are equally effective against their cybernetics.”
Bodhi swallowed; now was not the time to fall to pieces. “Who the hell was that, Resnik?”
His buddy gave a small smirk as he scanned the horizon. “Sounds like Lt. Commander Edraven is on overwatch. And it’s a damn good perch; I don’t see him anywhere.”
“Perhaps you should spend less time standing like a pair of di’kutse waiting to be used for target practice and follow the orders you’ve been given?” The voice, now clearly that of the half-Echani, purred directly into their minds in a silky manner. To anyone who had sparred with the man, it was recognizable as the tone Celevon used right before the kids gloves came off.
Despite having spent enough time around the Okami Mandalorians to know he had just called them idiots or imbeciles, the duo set off to get their comrades out of a sticky situation. The telepathy had allowed them to feel his lack of patience.
From the roof of their base, the sniper shook his head as he chambered another round in the slugthrower rifle. Remaining unseen was the point; it was why the scope of the Oathbreaker had electrical tape over a majority of the lens. It reduced the chance of giving away his position by a glint of reflected sunlight. Mercurial eyes resumed scanning for potential targets.
A Collective Stalker attempting to sneak up on a small group of his soldiers was quickly put down with a slug between the shoulders. A deft motion had the spent shell out and a new round chambered.
A single beep from within the ear piece had Celevon answering the comlink. It was an incessant, grating sound. “Edraven.”
Command Center, Hoth Base
Rowena Magnuri, Celevon’s twin sister, had been given temporary command as she was more knowledgeable of the two when it came to strategy. He had only been taught the basics, since his training had revolved around getting into position without alerting others and providing support or intelligence.
Additionally, it would have been impossible to coordinate actions on the field whilst firing a rifle through a small opening on the floor of what was once the mine overseer’s tower.
Her lips twitched at the clear irritation in her brother’s voice. “Giving you an update on the situation. The Quorahi have ceased their attacks and surrendered after a Jedi by the name of… Liam, I think, crashed their ship.”
“That’s good. He’s highly capable and a member of the Council. One of the few Jedi that survived Order Sixty-Six and the purges.”
Rowena jumped at the harsh retort of the rifle across the communications link. “The intelligence we received was correct. Pius Kopchak is dead. And there’s a holo-recording of him bragging about his numerous crimes, including treason; apparently, this Commander Rizal ordered for the bodyguards to execute him. At the end of the holo is an ultimatum for Empress Anasaye—”
“What does it entail?” Celevon asked quickly. She had jumped again and cut herself off at the sound of him firing the slugthrower.
“It boils down to ‘Remove your support of the Jedi or die’.” The female zoomed in on the interactive table that showed their surrounding area. “By the look of things, the situation with the Collective soldiers is almost under control; there are only a few more—”
A loud beeping from the console cut her off. “What the hell is that, Ro?!”
“It’s an emergency transmission from Admiral Ateres. I’m patching him through!”
Bridge, Rohlan’s Vision
“Commander Edraven, this is the holorecording that Commander Drachen ordered us to send on to you.” The Admiral’s voice was a pleasant baritone despite the grim curve of his brows. He pushed a button on the console before him, which replaced his image with that of Edgar Drachen.
“Cel, I’ll keep this relatively short because there isn’t a lot of time. The Collective are heavily entrenched within a base that is part of an extinct volcano. They have an ion cannon that is preventing our troops from receiving resupply or reinforcements. Myself and a small group will be going in and forcing it to overload… I don’t think we’re going to make it out in time.” The translucent recording of the human visibly took a breath at that. “Once the ion weapon explodes, gunships will come in and exfil our ground troops from a rendezvous point. Admiral Ateres disagrees, but I believe a retreat is necessary. This is not a fight we can win without help. I am transferring command of the Joint Task Force to you; under no circumstances are you to organize a rescue mission. If I die in this task, it will be a worthy sacrifice to save the lives of our people and continue to fight another day. Good luck, Commander. I have the utmost faith in you.”
There was a moment of silence as the transmission ended. Ateres cleared his throat. “Orders, Commander Edraven?”
“Carry out the orders that Commander Drachen specified, Admiral Ateres. Get our people out of there once it is safe to do so,” Celevon replied sharply.
“Sir, with all due respect, we do have nuclear warheads that we can drop on the target once our people are out. No matter how well-fortif—”
“Absolutely not!” Ateres stumbled back as the growl the crew heard through the transmission echoed within his mind. When the half-Echani continued, it was clear he had regained control of himself, though his voice was as cold as interstellar space. “Commander Drachen and his team are unlikely to be killed by an overload of an ion weapon. We will not rain nuclear hellfire on a position where our allies still breathe to win a war. You may well imagine what horrors our friends would endure, see their blood on your hands in your nightmares. I remember New Tython.”
“Menat Ombo. Seven years ago. Nuclear bombs dropped on the city, killing everyone indiscriminately. Friendlies. Noncombatants. Children.” There was utter silence whilst Celevon paused. “I was just outside of the city when the first was dropped. You think dreams of someone you failed are bad? Imagine the screams of thousands lancing across your mind, their bodies vaporized and souls scorched before suddenly going silent. We will not allow ourselves to fall to such measures. Never again. Am I in any way unclear, Admiral?”
“Un… Understood sir. Commander Drachen’s orders will be carried out.” Romulus Ateres had to clear his throat to reply. The split-second glimpse he had seen as the half-Echani’s mind connected to his was terrifying.
A ship flying over the city in New Tython, something falling in the distance before he had been blinded. Beyond agonized screams piercing his being. Complete and utter annihilation.
The Admiral turned to the crew as the translucent figure vanished. “Well, what are you waiting for? You heard the Commander. I want ships primed and ready to get our people out of there posthaste!”
To Be Continued in Part II: The True Price Of Freedom (a.k.a. What happened to Edgar?!)