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Some years before the events of episode 4

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.......

Dusk near the Senate Rotunda - Coruscant


Darth Vader strode out into the plaza in the deep shadows to south of the building, he moved slowly, the force coursing through him like a rapid. Scanning the surrounding area carefully, there were thousands passing through as the day neared its end. A few meters behind two members of the 501st now sporting stormtrooper armor moved to opposite sides flanking Vader, weapons loose in their grip. Captains Case and Tgor scanned the crowd obsessively constantly comparing faces to the image on their heads up displays. The sandy haired boy was a Padawan who had escaped Order 66, he was out here somewhere, it was almost certainly a trap but Lord Vader still had not allowed them to call for reinforcements.

In just under a minute, Case thought to himself, they could have Alpha Company on hand, three full assualt shuttles and three gunships for cover. Case signaled Tgor, it was his turn to remind Lord Vader. Tgor grinned inside his bucket, "Lord Vader, we could more efficiently cover the plaza if we bring in Alpha Company". The only response was silence, the constant reminders were indeed irritating but Vader was no fool and quickly dispatched those he found in his employ. Case and Tgor were indeed correct and would have been remiss in their duties if they did not remind him of this simple fact. Logically, tactically they were indeed correct, call in Alpha Company, cordon off the Plaza and conduct a thorough sweep. Darth Vader's elite commanders were however force blind, the boy was here and purposefully drawing Vader out. Allowing himself to be felt in the force but only just so much, baiting him in a dangerous game of cat and mouse. Jeten Rodair as the boy was known had grown stronger, more sure of himself in the years since the Purge. They'd dueled during Operation: Knightfall, the purging of the Jedi Temple, the boy had escaped his blade on that day. Rodair had fought remarkably well for one so young, he'd been tenacious but had opted to escape rather than face his destiny at Vader's hands. There was no escaping it, Vader smiled inside his helmet despite the pain it caused him, today there would be no escape for him. Today Jeten Rodair would become one with the force. There was great relish in the moment, a worthy adversary at last, Vader knew he would not be disappointed, he had forseen it. The question remained however, why now? Why come out of hiding after so many years? Fleetingly the thought that the boy had chosen simply to pick his own time and place occurred to him.

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501st marches on the Jedi Temple

Darth Vader knew better though, the boy was certainly ready to meet his end but this was a distraction, a preamble to something else. The force roared at him in warning as a sulphur blade sprang to life amidst the crowd, fifty meters away, as the doomed young Padawan opened himself fully to the force. In just a few seconds a corridor had cleared between them, now the crowd paused almost as one. They were given a wide berth, Case and Tgor both opened fire as the Padawan leaped forward. Vader still had not even unclipped lightsaber from belt. The force sang with his opponents intentions, Vader simply watched as the boy took two force assisted leaps toward him.

The yellow blade flashed here and there sending the blaster fire back at his attackers, Tgor and Case had handled Jedi before, they fired and moved avoiding their own deflected fire. Rodair landed just two steps from Vader, the force a gale in the plaza as light met dark in a furious clash. Vader's crimson blade finally sprang to life, he feinted forward already pitching his weight back as Rodair sailed overhead. There blades met in a thrumming roar, Rodair dancing around never standing still, denying the troopers a clean shot and keeping Vader on the defensive. Rodair could feel Vader's grim smile beneath the skull like mask, he knew his momentum was rapidly diminishing. Destiny approached but his death would not be in vain.

Three hours Ago...Coruscant - Lower Levels - Andrute' TapCaf

The bar area was smack in the middle of the place and a sea of people moved about it, each patron it seemed clamored in a different tongue or ,with and in, several in many cases. Two droids simultaneously took orders and made drinks using multiple appendages, it seemed like chaos, the desired effect, but was in fact a very ordered process. Each spot at the bar had an ordering station which consisted of cash/credit collection and a single large unlit button. First you put your credits in via the chip reader or if you had cash by dropping it into a receptacle just below the chip-reader. Credits, gold, gems, just about anything of value could be deposited, items would be identified and value assessed according to the Galactic Blue Book, a decidedly shady resource but this wasn't the Senate District. The cheapest drink available on the premises was ten credits, putting anything in the cash scanner worth less than that was grounds for immediate ejection from the premises. When the button lit up you either spoke your order or transmitted it to your ordering station then press the button, just don't try to order more than you have credits to pay for, a handy LCD mounted next to the chip-reader keeps your running total.

Coruscant at night

Coruscant

Just walking into this place was a huge gamble for him, this place was owned by a Hutt, which meant that a good portion of its patrons would be local thugs for hire and of course, much more dangerous to him, bounty hunters. The three Mandalorians occupying the dimly lit corner booth were exactly the sort he should be avoiding but it was directly to these men that the force had led him. Directly to a group of heavily armed and armored mercenaries for hire who had a special death reserved just in case they ever came across a Jedi. Jetten Rodair would die at the hands of Darth Vader, it was his destiny he knew, long had he quested through the force for a way to make it count. Coming around the furthest end of the bar from the armored trio, Rodair drew in a deep breath and decided it was best to just jump in head first. Then a surprising thing happened, two of the Mandalorians rose from the table, they passed to either side of him without a backward glance. Reminding himself that he was about to deal with a sworn enemy of the Jedi, he stayed on course for the table. For a moment Jetten detected something familiar as the Mando merc looked up at his approach, it was often hard to tell with helmeted figures but he could feel the eyes staring back at him through the T-shaped visor. Some of them, it was said, had 360 degree vision in their helmets, buy'ce as they called them. Rodair had learned a fair bit of Mando'a in preparation for this meeting, once he'd gotten past the surface he'd found much to admire in their culture.

Mandalorian wedding

Mandalorian wedding

Now just a step from the booth, every sense peaked on adrenaline, Jetten watched as the Mandalorian flipped a datapad down and slid it across the table. A hand resting lightly on the blaster beneath his cloak, Jetten took a seat and received another surprise. Expecting to see himself displayed on the datapad, he was surprised to see an Imperial Execution Order for one Bardan Jusik. Jusik had fought in the clone wars then to the surprise of many had left the Jedi Order. The rumors were that he had taken up with a group of renegade clones who had left, what was then the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR).

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Grand Army of the Republic


3 Days Later...

The murky green liquid dimmed his vision, he looked around trying to remember how he'd ended up here, it returned slowly to him. The renegade Jedi had attacked Vader in the Plaza outside the Senate Rotunda, his reactions had been pure reflex. Combat was pure instinct, combat was good because it forced one to focus only on the present, distraction meant death. He'd been bred for combat, grown in a vat from the cells of the greatest warrior in the galaxy, Jango Fett. Case had been among the last of the original Fett clones , grown in the murky vats on Kamino, still in service to the Empire. The only remaining pure Fett still serving in the 501st, Vader's Fist, the most elite combat unit in the Empire. Since the dissolution of the Republic other clone templates had been put into service, there were still some Fett clones in general service but he didn't know any of them, they hadn't come from Kamino, there was no kinship despite the shared genome. All his brothers were dead now, how often had he prayed for death? Daily it seemed, especially lately with the ever intensifying nightmares. To the wider galaxy he just a faceless stormtrooper, an instrument of order and death, the last person any sentient creature would stop to help. When citizens of the Empire saw him coming they scrambled out of his way and silently hoped he wasn't coming for them. Floating in the tank, his last concious thought of the fear he inspired, Case slipped slowly back into unconsciousness. The oblivion of sleep had long ago stopped bringing him any comfort, when he slept he dreamed, his dreams were far from pleasant. Case was a man not a machine, he'd slaughtered men, women, and children in service to the Empire and these things haunted him. Struggling against sleep was pointless but it was a reflex now, like so many others he had learned.

Kamino

Perpetual rain, the cloning facility stood silent and unmoving against the crashing waves. The first wave of drop ships carried the vanguard of stormtroopers that would take down the orbital energy shields, they skimmed in low, under a hundred meters and still getting soaked. Case was torn, many of his brothers felt as he did but no one said a word, duty first. The Kaminoans were attempting to build another clone army to challenge the Empire. This could not be permitted, Boba Fett himself was among the men ready to assault their old home, Case took the participation of a Fett as holy writ despite his misgivings, his anger settled into a cold knot as the first of the assault shuttles started taking fire.

Sterile and dry inside, a place that inspired a bit of dread in most feeling beings, a constant torrent of rain on the outside, waves rose and crashed in a searing rhythm of randomness, the skies and seas populated with all manner of strange creatures. They were the most conundrumic of them all, the finest cloners in the galaxy, a perfection of the art seemingly achieved without feeling. The Kaminoans were all dry sterility and it was reflected in their sterile, overly lit environment, a place were everything was ordered for maximum efficiency. There was no concession to feeling anywhere, they were as cold inside as out, they seemed like soulless creatures, everything in clean efficient lines, no wasted room or effort. An instinctive dedication to their craft, a fineness of purpose only found in the most devout disciples. So cold though, so flat.

Cattena

stillness...

"Thirty seconds", Case casually announced, one by one the members of his platoon rattled off their readiness in various ways, a quip, a name, a syllable of Mando'a. The ritual of terrified men prepared to do their duty. The assualt shuttles cruised in at top speed, the clone pilot dropping into hundred meter high waves in a desperate dance with turbolaser fire screaming into his HUD, Shiner was all confidence. The numbers ran down then he cut all thrust and ramped the repulsor coils into the red. The shuttle jumped skyward, Shiner was on automatic, thrust and cut repulsors, he hauled the nose up and dropped ramp. The crashing waves were just visible past the descending ramp, they rose almost as one and before the shuttle had even touched the deck they were dropping onto the landing platform below. The first few seconds were always the worst, their initial losses would likely be high, Case was first out, the air around him detonated as anti-infantry batteries opened up taking out several members of his platoon before they had time to settle onto the deck. A hundred meters away Case spied Boba Fett, his troops were already organizing around him and taking their platform, laying down a withering hail of return fire as another assault shuttle screamed in over their heads. Case bit back his fear, started barking orders and broke toward the ramp that led up towards the cloning facility. One, two, three they fell to his blaster fire, his brothers, deep down in a place he refused to acknowledge he berated himself. What was he doing? He never stopped though, never slowed as he maneuvered his men up the ramp, the now empty assault shuttles providing covering fire. A curious detachment settled over him, watching the inevitable, his body fought out of reflex even while his mind revolted against him.

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Kamino


Several hours had passed and finally the cloning facility was cut-off, all the platforms taken, they'd breached the facility at three points. It came down to blade work as Case started the laborious process of clearing the facility, his brothers fought hard. They made him proud, his heart swelled with it, for an unthinkable moment he considered changing sides. How many would follow him? Then he was buy'ce to buy'ce with Fett, and against the tortured revolt of his soul he led his men forward, side by side with Fett. Case lost himself in it, the bloody screaming murder filled him with rage and it fed on itself, he would immolate or be immolated, his lost brothers deserved no less now. They had believed in the GAR, they had spent their lives for it, it had ultimately failed them. They were just automatons to them, bred for war, no one cared about clones except other clones. They fought on anyway, that was what people never understood about Jango Fett. The Grand Army of the Republic hadn't been so loyal in spite of sharing the genome of Fett but because of it. Deep down whatever else you might say about the man he understood duty, that was one gene that hadn't required tweaking. He could pretend detachment but no matter which side of the line they were his brothers. The only family he'd ever known.

It was the Kaminoans who'd forced him into this position, so when ever he found one he used his knife instead, Fett himself had given the order. "Don't waste ammo on Kaminoans, gut them. Still a lot of fighting left to do." It would be the only words he'd ever hear Boba Fett say, brutal efficiency, this was in their bones. That much at least was apparent now, he never allowed the swelling hatred to overtake him when he happened across one of the cloners, a single well placed knife stroke was all it took to kill the rebellious cloners. Its all they would get from him, a cold passionless death, detachment ruled once again, to their credit they never begged or asked them to stop. Kaminoan pride did not allow for that, not that it would have done them any good. Then the cold precision was replaced with the hazy coat of anger again as he turned to kill more of his brothers.

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Band of Brothers


'Smoke drifted and bodies lay but no smell penetrates the buy'ce...'

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Buy'ce


The air was cool and crisp against his eyelids, he could feel the bacta residue on his skin but couldn't move. It was not quite consciousness, a sort of fugue dream state that spun in on itself to reveal a dimple in time, four grains, one at each point of the cross which spun in his mind's eye. The babble of a firefight, the soft, almost comforting echo of a stun grenade, then the wails of the dead, the ash choking his helmet filters till he had no choice but to take it off. It was an empty hollow blackness, what would it say if he just shrugged it off as the fortunes of war. Death would have been a reward but death was for those who had honor, those who believed in something, he was a pit of indifference who had long ago ceased to believe in anything. Loyalty bought nothing but pain and yet he could not be anything else. The death filled smoky swirl filled his nostrils, no HUD now to tell time, temperature, and air composition just a pair of perfect copies and the smell of his charred flesh. Then he was drifting in the tank again, a shadowy form reached out to him it seemed, five tips on the tank that promised refuge if he would just reach back. It seemed such a long way and then it was another time again.


Shakedown - Lieutenant Case Personal Log

The kilometers long Super-Star Destroyer was nearing full operational status, we were arriving just in time for the first shake down cruise. Lord Vader was taking it out personally, rumour had it the shakedown with full crew and complement was to be anything but typical. It didn't matter the 501st stood tall and proud, gleaming in their newly minted stormtrooper armor. We'd been the last unit in the Empire to shed the GAR armor, I still had mine squirrelled away. A minor clerical error by all appearances. Lord Vader was simmering that day, taking young officers to task, his reputation as a deadly enforcer was acknowledged with fear by all. These crewman represented the absolute finest the Imperial Navy had ever produced. Some were cloned, some were exceptional applicants hand picked by his agents from the recruitment pool.

Stormswarm

Vader's Fist

We weren't worried one way or the other, every member of the 501st was fiercely loyal to Vader. Lord Vader led from the front, he didn't scoff at getting his hands dirty. Many horrible things could be said about the Dark Lord of the Sith but he was as loyal to his men as they were too him. Vader's Fist, as our legion was known didn't have supply problems or second rate gear. The absolute deadliest military force in the Empire. I was laying in my bunk when word came down, the newly minted Executor was hitting a mercenary base in the deep core, they were suspected of providing aid to GAR deserters.

Deep Core

The Executor had jumped in alone, its massive bulk eclipsing the systems primary, its shadow cast a deadly force into the void. Disgorging from its bays TIE fighters, assault shuttles and gunboats. Their arrival had caught the mercenary band unawares, six ships hung over the hollowed out asteroid. Three old Republic gunships and three modified Corvettes, there seemed to be several ships docked in the hangar.

As in all things the advantage cut both ways. The Executor's sheer size did not permit it to get close enough to effectively use its massive turbolaser batteries but every path to freedom led within range of its guns. The mercenary ships didn't try to run, they threw themselves head first into the attacking force even though they had to understand the overwhelming odds. A motley assortment of craft were leaving the cover of the hangar deck, to a ship they moved to cover the gunships and corvettes. Space exploded around them as the TIE fighters and gunboats moved in ahead of the relatively slow assault shuttles.

Case's anger grew as his shuttle careened into the hangar bay trailing smoke, two full shuttles lost in the approach. The cold knot of resolve settled over he and his men. They fought for every inch of ground as they stormed the hangars, the bolts of green, blue, and red, criss-crossed leaving only smoking ruin behind. It was in the move up one of the parallel corridors leaving the hangar, Case dove for cover as a mini-rocket skimmed past his shoulder exploding in the chest of the trooper behind him, his HUD told the tale, as Goteg's icon flashed red and dimmed. Rock was next to meet his end, they'd been together for so long, there were just a few of them left now, sons of Jango. Dead. There would be no funeral, no one but Case would notice or mark their passing, the Empire would happily grow replacements for them. The smoke and bodies were piling up in the corridor, breaking into another side passage Case spied a small armored figure just ahead, it noticed him as well and fired. It was a child clad in Mandalorian armor, the sight gave him the slightest of pauses, a child? By the time Case berated himself for allowing the distraction the child's full grown counterparts leapt into the corridor behind a grenade. The HUD ignored the smoke and dutifully outlined his attackers, Mandalorians, they flooded the corridor with blaster fire, Case fired almost blindly, the child fell as two bolts flashed into his chest and set him spinning down the corridor. The adults never paused, never looked back, they came hurtling forward a battle cry on their lips, "Kyr'am", death. Their fury drove the stormtroopers back, then they hit the front rank and Case was once again bucket to bucket with a Mandalorian. Their blasters vomited a red hail, one of the mercs went down but even as Case went to step over him, he reached up and pulled him down. They struggled, more mercenaries showed up to hit them from behind, everywhere was anarchy as they forced the stormtroopers to go hand to hand. The Mandalorians seemed to be few but they were clearly the better warriors, they never hesitated, never paused to consider the fallen, they came on with unabated fury. The passion that drove them, the rage they allowed themselves to feel, the calibrated stormtrooper could not comprehend. The situation was coming apart fast, finally Case got his opponent pinned, his arm rose as he prepared to drive his blade into a seem in the armor. Then a small armored missle caught him full in the chest, a miniature version, the fury of the adult packed onto a smaller frame. The child pounded into him with everything it had, Case knocked the kid back and grabbed a blaster off the floor. The child's adult companion was closing with him again, he fired but the bolts glanced off the beskar'gam not even appreciably slowing him. When they met again Case was ready, his blade moved on its own, pure reflex, as he found the seem in the armor, felt the blade bite flesh, the energy leaving his enemy as the body sagged to the floor. He pushed the body away, a callous gesture devoid of feeling, he banged off the bulkhead, crashed to the floor, his bucket popped off.

Now everything slowed as his own dead eyes stared back at him. In a brief respite the corridor was clear, just him and the child, the little warrior was shaking, but he didn't hesitate to hoist a grenade launcher off his dead companions armor. At this range the detonation would kill them both, the little guy could barely lift it but he didn't seem to care as he swung it up, the launcher was bigger than both his arms. Case was all into it now, the thoughts of all his fallen brothers staring back at him, the rising muzzle a threat to be extinguished, his body was just coiled instinct. The blaster spat spinning the child around, the launcher fell to the floor, sent a grenade arcing into the far end of the corridor. Anything, he would have given anything in this moment to die but here again his body betrayed him, diving for the deck.

The smoke rose all around him, his armor charred but still intact. The sounds of more fighting could be heard in the distance, it was slow going as he rose to one knee, reflexively grabbing his rifle off the deck and checking its charge. The HUD was rebooting, it masked all sound and smell, it was maddeningly silent inside the buy'ce now. The comm chatter and HUD were old friends that had ceased to be, nothing was left of his brother's head but the eyes continued to stare at him. Case felt a twisting in his guts as he moved to exit the corridor in the direction of the hangar bay, saw that the explosion had tossed the child's body clear to the other end. Staggering forward he tripped over the kid's helmet, pitching forward he saw the body burnt and broken lying in an unnatural position. The impact with the deck wasn't felt, he caught sight of the child's horribly burned face, it was unrecognizable except for the eyes. It was always the eyes that haunted him, they never slept. What have I done?

'Better than half the Mandalorian force had escaped that day despite the overwhelming odds. Lord Vader was brutal for weeks following the debacle.'


Bardan Jusik - http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Bardan_Jusik

- Bardan Jusik, later known as Gotab, was a Human male Jedi Padawan to Master Arligan Zey. He was also a Commander at the time of the Clone Wars and aided in briefing clone commandos before a mission. He was against the creation of the Grand Army of the Republic and even addressed his negative ideas to the Jedi Council. He was later promoted to Jedi Knight and became a General in the GAR. He later abandoned the Order to join the Mandalorians, saying that he couldn't fight for a Council that approved the slave labor that was the GAR.

"So how do we justify what we are doing now? Breeding men without choice, and without freedom, to fight and die for us? When do the means cease to justify the end? Where is our society heading? Where are our ideals, and what are we without them? If we give in to expedience in this way, where do we draw the line between ourselves and those we find unacceptably evil? I have no answer, Masters. Do you?"

―Bardan Jusik, as a Jedi Knight, addressing the Jedi Council on the matter of clone troopers.[src]


The smoky blackness parted in one long vision of the horrors he'd committed and the ones he'd turned his back on. It could have been any city in the middle of nowhere, the orders were disturbingly familiar. Suspected rebels. They went in hard and fast, they killed a dozen or more, the rest of the small town was cowering in fear. There had been some resistance, but it had been pretty easy over all, nothing to get worked up over, not that there ever was. Case was jogging forward pleased there hadn't been any heavy resistance, it was their first op with a dozen new men in the unit. Different template, different breed, sloppy. He caught sight of it in a side view, a pregnant woman, one of the aruetii as Jango's sons called the other clone template in use, something in the set of his shoulders. The comm crackled, some other annoying detail required his attention. In the end it had been Heron that brought it to his attention. The aruetti had raped the woman, the child was dead. Heron had taken matters into his own hands, he'd beat the trooper to within an inch of his life. Everyone thought that would be it but then Heron had put a blaster bolt through his head. The remaining areutti had slapped Heron in cuffs and wanted him executed. Case had been beside himself, what was this? Troopers raping women and killing children. What were they becoming? In the end Vader had said nothing about having to get twelve replacements so quickly, fortunes of war.

'There was no place to hide anymore...'

Each curtain of smoke parted only to reveal more horror and pain, eternal blackness, there was no place left to run. We gave them everything. What have they done to us? All the faces of his dead brothers swam before him now, an unending sea of possibilities. Each a unique life, each with its own cares and worries, casually snuffed out and for what? There was no honor in this, there never had been. The fools of the galaxy wallowed in themselves and then sought to use others to fix their problems. Animals. He'd fallen in with them, what had he done?

'From somewhere it descended into the blackness, first just a shadow among shadows, then it began to burn.'

It had seemed just another horrible dream then the burning tips had descended on him. A comforting hand, a soul as full of pain as his own, he struggled against the void that held him down. Desperately he tried to reach back, to close the never diminishing distance, then it was there a whisper in his soul, "Easy ner'vod, I'm here."

There were shapes now, not quite clear but definite shapes. Dead brothers, an old man, a Jedi, a woman, a child. The faces of his brothers were easy to distinguish, clones could always tell other clones apart, the others were strange unknowns as yet. Then others arrived, the crowd began to grow and the feeling came over him that they wanted him to speak. Staring out over the gathering faces before him, a beat began to gently play in his mind.


Dusk near the Senate Rotunda - Coruscant

The red and yellow blades continued to cross, both participants ready to play their parts. There was no hesitation in Rodair now, he was the burning brand and he would set his brother free, his conscience would be clean. Now the resignation was finally gone and the joy of his purpose being fulfilled was upon him. Vader would take his life but it would be a fair trade. A lightness lifted him now, his blade flashing with an ease he'd never known. The understanding came to him now, this is what Yoda had so often spoken of, the force. No colors separated it, it just was and now so was he.


Flashes of tomorrow but always a return to darkness...

Standing before the multitude he understood that they had simply gathered too pass judgement. They had created him with their complacency, their lack of compassion, now they revolted against him because their innermost fears were reflected in his visor and they did not like what they saw. They had wanted a beast to keep the monster from their door, they had starved it, beaten it until finally it revolted against them. They would not acknowledge their own hands in the destruction he'd wrought in their name, raised to serve the empire, raised to serve their vanity, now he would raze them. All the bottled up anger, all his dead brethren, all the women and children they had helped to immolate, they were all complicit in the acts, they had ceased to care and now they would pay for their blindness. They filtered all around him, picking at his armor, then his flesh, no kind word, nothing given in return. They picked his bones clean till there was nothing left to give them but his rage. A lifetime of servitude, all the years of fighting for them, they abolished slavery where ever they found it, except right in front of them. A pain racked soul was all that was left of him, he could not take, he was to give his life for the empire that was the oath. Nothing left but pain and like the loyal son he was he gave it to them.

'Well he's awake and out of the tank, for whatever that's worth.'


Orbit around Rusaan

800px-Ruusan with the Three Sisters

It felt good to be flying again, it seemed so odd that he was here now and free to do as he liked. After all he had done, they had still come to set him free, someone had cared. Death would have been fine with him but they had risked everything to bring him home. There was a retirement fund for him, set up by Kal Skirata and his sons, brothers every one. The real question was what now? Case would never want for anything again, he was pleased that so many of his kin had gotten away and started new lives. Farmers, some of them were farmers, some of the galaxies deadliest warriors were farmers, accountants, weapon smiths, engineers, the list went on. They were a network, they knew how to find one another and they were everywhere. What now? How to best give back all he had taken in the service of the Empire?

Mandalorian. That was his stock. What did it mean? Siha had told him it was his to define by keeping to his own truth, the one he'd felt in his heart all those long years. Siha. Family was a Mando truth. She was beautiful and strong, a soft touch but a warrior at heart, she made him smile. Women. There hadn't been much time for women in his career, there was alot to learn but he was willing. Case was getting ahead of himself again, he'd come up to get away from it all for a bit, stare at the stars. Well it was time for action now, let's see what she can do.

The old ARC-170 had been headed for the recycler when he'd spotted it. The reminder had been instant, the Battle of Coruscant, carving a path to the enemy flagship, the Invisible Hand, so Kenobi and Skywalker could get aboard and rescue the chancellor. It had been in the cockpit of a 170 that he'd first really understood how badly he'd wanted to be free, they sacrificed so others wouldn't have to, it had all gone horribly wrong though, now to start setting it right.

ARC170s BFIIcover

In the dim shadows of the cockpit, soft lights in a rainbow of colors lit his visor, hands moved smoothly as he brought the engines to full power. The refurbished 170 was ready for her maiden voyage, hurtling forward, twisting and turning, checking responsiveness. Normally a crew of three would operate a fully loaded ARC-170, there was still room for passengers but he'd had to automate quite a bit, a task made easier by the addition of a custom designed astromech, AJ10R, beskar'ad. The roll of bomber wouldn't be needed, Case liked to get up close and personal, it made the craft quite a bit lighter and more manueverable than it would otherwise have been. Krahe he'd christened her, it meant crow in some outmoded form of basic now little used in the galaxy. Case did a final visual check of all the monitors despite AJ10R having given the green light, old habits die hard, he smiled to himself as he read the translation of the astromech's little tweetles and toots. An amateur programmer, in what little spare time he'd had, Case had written the basic framework and initial AI algorithms himself. Initially he'd planned on replacing the operating system in his armor with it but when he'd suddenly found himself in need of an astromech he had been unable to find one he liked so he'd built his own. As most astromech's tended to do, AJ10R had developed a personality all his own, Case had designed AJ10R to be entirely independent and self correcting. AJ10R had almost entirely rewritten his own programming, tweeting and toodling all the while about amateurs. Case hadn't found any reason, aside from pride, to complain. In every category AJ10R was smoking all the standard benchmarks without seriously stressing his systems at all. Case activated the armor link to AJ10R, now every thing that passed within his field of vision, which in the armor was 360 degrees could be transmitted back to AJ10R for later review and he could also receive images and data directly from his "co-pilot". Everything was ready for a field test, he had two targets in mind, a pirate base and one of many corrupt Imperial senators. The pirates were in the slave trade, it was all he needed to know.

A flicker of psuedomotion, the Krahe and her Mandalorian vanished into hyperspace. It was a two day trip to the pirate base, located in an asteroid field on the edge of Hutt space. Case slept as well as he could but disturbing dreams were still a fact of life, when awake he spent his time flexing his muscles to keep them limber and going over the operational details. The planned approach was straight up the middle, they were expecting him after all. One assassin for hire, it was the pirates in fact who had been looking for someone to take out an Imperial representative from Kuat. Apparently he'd done something to piss off the Vengari pirates, now they wanted to send an unequivocal message, don't mess with the Vengari pirates. The pirate leader was known as White Eyes, rumor had it he had some minor force abilities, it hadn't given Case any pause, he'd killed Jedi Masters. White Eyes' little pirate band dealt in the usual assortment of low-life activity, drugs, weapons, and slaves.

The job had been circulated around the usual haunts, it had been a god send amidst the turmoil Case constantly fought against, to him it was the first step toward doing his best to make up for the atrocities he'd committed and witnessed. Siha had been quite upset with him when she'd found out, it seemed AJ10R wanted to play his conscience and had dropped a dime on him. Her fury had only increased when he'd admitted he planned on killing the stinking lot of them. Case had been a bit confused by her reaction, they were the scum of the galaxy, what was the big deal. She'd lectured him for an hour and left in a huff. He'd been slightly hurt but he found he understood her point of view but it hadn't changed his mind. Case was doing the galaxy a favor, couldn't she see that? Apparently not but she had said she'd see him later so he figured he hadn't crossed the line too far for her, well not yet. It was a compulsion he couldn't deny, he'd spent all his life practicing the art of war, farming just wasn't in him. Too many demons to exorcise.

The approach had been easy, a pair of blastboats challenging him and then escorting him in once he'd provided his credentials. The asteroid base was small, just a single hangar with a motley assortment of odd ball craft and a few low-lifes lounging against the walls as he set his ship down in the first empty space he could find. He instructed AJ10R to keep her ready to fly, this wasn't going to take long. Popping the canopy he pulled himself up, grabbed his blaster rifle, slung it over his shoulder and made the short drop to the deck. A pair of guards approached, a human and a quarren, strutting up like they owned the galaxy. Case was an intimidating sight in his black and red beskar'gam, he could see the fear in their stances, the set of their shoulders.

"You'll have to remove your weapons, we'll watch them for you", the human said. The quarren reached for Case's holstered blaster and found himself meeting the hangar deck. Case could have drawn his side arm but didn't, he just wanted to make a point. The human quickly snapped his own blaster up but didn't fire, Case didn't flinch, the beskar'gam would protect him. The quarren tried to stand and got a kick in the gut, which sent him rolling back toward his companion. Clearly the pair were used to inspiring fear but when you'd witnessed a Dark Lord of the Sith choke the life out of someone without lifting a finger, well there just wasn't much that would give you pause afterwards. It was like a light breeze on his mind, it told him to remove his weapons and armor, he laughed out loud and made a quick change in plans. All these violators were going get it in the face right here and now, to hell with subtlety, it had never been his speciality anyway. Two days in hyperspace had given him ample opportunity to make several contingency plans. Using his tongue he depressed a button inside the buy'ce. AJ10R responded immediately by dropping the newly installed auto turrets beneath the ship. Now he saw the rest of the wallflowers start to fan out around the ship, it was a stalemate or so they thought. The thought of dying didn't really affect him, he'd rather stick around and rid the galaxy of scum but what the hell, the grim reaper knocked on everyone's door sooner or later. The human and quarren had pulled themselves together now, both had blasters drawn and hands to their ears as they received their instructions via comlink.

"You can't win assassin, your out-gunned." the quarren said through a labored breath. Case had their comm-links cracked before he'd even gotten out of the cockpit, they really were as stupid as they looked. Tapping a button on one gauntlet, sent a high-frequency shriek through their comm-links, most of them hit their knees immediately, AJ10R opened up with the belly cannon. Case unslung the blaster rifle and set to work, the hangar deck was clear in under twenty seconds, about a second per pirate was all it took. Case now turned back to his ship and opened a panel in its side, he had a special load out in a backpack stowed there, the hangar speakers crackled. Case jacked into a computer terminal and quickly grabbed a layout. Now he told AJ10R to seal the place up tight and transmit him a new access code. They'd get around it soon but not soon enough.

250px-KelkoRodianFringer

Rodian

"Your finished assassin! Do you hear me!!" That must be White Eyes. Ordering AJ10R to slag every ship in the hangar, he walked toward the exit, "Then", he told his astromech, "Go take care of the escorts and make sure no ships leave this place." AJ10R was tweetling like mad at him but he heard the explosions in the hangar as entered the side corridor. So maybe it was a suicide mission but he'd passed the point of caring, here were nothing but a bunch of low-life scum who were about to get exactly what they deserved. The armor he wore was as good as money could buy and as good as only a Mando weaponsmith can outfit. Bringing up the floorplan on the HUD he made a few quick guesses, the base was only one level and not very big at all. He found the access tube without meeting much resistance, a couple a of Rodians and a few Gran. Keying the hatch open he then deployed a small surveillance droid. It rose quietly into the tube and relayed the images back to the HUD, they'd have an emergency bolt hole no doubt.

Gran AA

Gran

Once the small probe droid found the external hatch and another intersecting access tube, Case knew he had a direct line to the pirate leaders. The rough coordinates were transmitted to the Krahe, the hatch would be unusable in short order. There was no escape now.

Z95headhunter egvv

Z-95 Headhunter

The pirate command center was located in the center of the floorplan, inside watching on the monitors was White Eyes a fat human male with grey curls and two others. They were cut off from escape, sealed into their small chamber. It had a single entrance, a half dozen guards wobbled nervously on either side, their eyes moving from the door - on which all had their blasters trained - to their trio of nervous looking leaders. For indeed two other humans sat next to White Eyes, another slimmer grey haired man and an older woman, known only as the Hag. Rumor had it the woman was from Dathomir, which made her a Nightsister by all accounts[1].

She hid her ugly face behind a visor and cowl, she was usually pretty sure of herself but drops of moisture rolled down the back of her neck now. The monitors showed a single Mandalorian, single-handedly and methodically working his way through the small complex, blaster fire bounced off his armor plate and he rarely needed more than one shot to kill her guards. Indeed the remaining guards were breaking before him, he didn't seem to be in any hurry as he strolled corridor to corridor, room to room, eliminating everyone he found. The slimmer man beside her gasped as he watched the merc draw his beskad[2], a short sword made of beskar like his armor, and with a single stroke decapitate another Gran hunter. Whoever he was he wasn't showing an ounce of mercy, he didn't even pause to admire his work like so many assassins did, this was most unsettling. All that was visible was the shell but all three could feel the simmering anger beneath the surface, they'd expected him to enjoy it for this is the cloth they were cut from and could conceive nothing else. That a man would risk his life for no gain did not fit into their thought model. The slimmer grey haired rat wore spectacles, he had a high opinion of himself but now all he could do was stare in growing horror as death stalked all around. The three of them were minor force users, the spectacled rat the weakest of the three, it was all he could do to keep from quaking like mad.


Some of them tried to beg but Case wasn't listening, he just eliminated them one by one. All his pain was channelled into his actions, he didn't hurry, he wanted them to know the end was coming and that there wasn't anything they could do to stop it. They fled before him now, he unslung his grenade launcher, using the HUD he aimed and fired an incendiary into a side corridor where he saw a trio of frantic guards trying to get a blast door open. Their screams echoed down the corridor behind him as they burned alive. It wasn't for pleasure, it was for duty, for all the innocents sacrificed by the fat progressives and regressives. The rebels would undoubtedly someday succeed in overthrowing the empire, just so they could raise their own corrupt organization to replace it. Case didn't care, they were all equally vile to him, cowards hiding behind lofty ideals and sacrificing innocents all in the name of the greater good. They all thought they were so high and mighty, Case had no qualms with what he was, a killer plain and simple. There was no right or wrong, the better motivated army won and wrote their own version of events, who painted themselves as evil? According to AJ10R a Marauder Corvette was moving in with an accompanying squadron of Z-95 headhunters.

'Running the belt'

AJ10R hadn't had much trouble with the blastboats, they were of better use against capital ships than they were on sentry duty. The arriving Marauder and its accompanying squadron of Z-95 headhunters were going to be a problem however. The rough coordinates transmitted for the topside airlock were off by ten meters by his calculations, once again tweedling about amateurs, the Krahe dove for the hatch with all her guns singing. A few hits was all it took to render it useless, then the headhunters were on him, the shields holding but not for long if the Krahe wasn't steered for some cover. The only cover was the rest of the belt but that would interfere with communications and the loyal little astromech was sure an extraction order was on its way. Sending a quick burst transmission to Case, AJ10R wove into the belt, the Z-95's hot on his heels. Only a single flight went in pursuit of the Krahe, the remaining eight fighters patrolled the area immediately around the asteroid as the Marauder Corvette moved in, unbeknownst to AJ10R, with an assualt shuttle full of troops right behind.

Marauder-class corvette SofG2007

Marauder Corvette

In the twisting and turning through the random tumble of the asteroid field, two of the Headhunters had been destroyed by collisions. AJ10R could have outflown the whole squadron but now he sought a quick exit from the belt, open space was what he needed despite the advantage it would give to his pursuers. Breaking out of the asteroid field, the comm unit immediately lit up and the little genius of an astromech sent his transmission, then he turned on his attackers as the Krahe set her great guns singing once again. Siha would hear, she would come, it was arranged. Now with that done, AJ10R dove back into the belt and cut as direct a line as he could for the pirate base, at the same time he did a quick calculation of the odds and just as quickly dismissed them, he would not leave Case to die alone. Even if his code was really hackish.

'Dusk near the Senate Rotunda - Coruscant'

Yellow and red, the two blades at their core were the same, the difference just a superficial trick of the eye caused by a gem stone in the hilt. In the end the bite of each blade was equally deadly. Rodair knew his moment was approaching, he was filled with joy because each moment he distracted Vader brought his brother one moment closer to freedom. Then his blade was batted aside, the moment had arrived. The wind sang through the plaza a final time, the drop of toe and heel sounded sharply in his ears. There was no time now to raise any defense, Vader's crimson blade was inside his guard, so Rodair spread his arms and smiled. Victory, he thought to himself, today not one but two men would be free, he smiled as he felt the energy blade bite into his chest, the stench of his own burning flesh floated into his nostrils, it smells like victory he thought, then the plaza exploded and he knew no more.

'Apocalypse Now'

Case had planned for any contingency and the unexpected arrival of the Marauder meant that more troops were on the way. There wasn't really any concern, he'd laid the path behind him with booby traps, it would slow them down enough so he could handle them alone in the narrow corridors. There was however now the distinct possibility that the pirate leaders might escape, he could track them down again if need be but he thought in the end a little self sacrifice would serve him better, after all the evil in the galaxy was truly never ending and always came back no matter how hard you fought it. He made his way to the small reactor room, it wasn't a huge reactor but combined with the explosives he'd brought, it would easily vaporize the entire complex. It took just a few minutes to set the charges in place then he rigged the reactor for meltdown. Now he prepared to send a signal to the Krahe, it was hard-coded into the ships computer systems, they were also independent from AJ10R and once he sent the signal she'd break off and run for hyperspace. Case was quite fond of his ship and astromech, he wouldn't see them needlessly destroyed. Siha would find a place for them, they'd be well taken care of, he had no doubt.

Now he rounded the last bend, the area before the doors had been fortified, several repeating blaster cannons set-up, they stood unmanned behind the small barricades. The door opened as he input his code, as he entered he saw that his small probe droid had done its job well, releasing the knock out gas. All the guards lay unconscious, they would remain unconscious and not feel a thing when the moment arrived. The three pirate leaders were cowering behind an energy shield, staring daggers at him. Their lips moved but apparently they didn't realize he couldn't hear them. Case disabled their shield and heard them babbling away, even while they tried one last time to influence his mind. A blaster bolt went into each of their guts, then he turned his back on them. Now though their agonized moans did not change in pitch or volume Case didn't hear them anymore, he depressed a button on his gauntleted wrist, sending the evac signal to the Krahe, cutting the HUD link to AJ10R. The timer rolled down in the HUD, "Ninety seconds" Case casually called out.

A genuine smile creased his features for the very first time in his life. Removing the buy'ce he set it down and quickly stripped off the rest of his armor. Now he stood as he had at the beginning of his journey, naked and alone, but this time there was no disorientation but elation. The smile on his face now consumed him entirely and he began to sing :

Kote!

Kandosii sa ka'rta, Vode an.

Manda'yaim 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.

Manda'yaim a'den mhi, Vode an.

Bal...

Motir ca'tra nau tracinya.

Gra'tua cuun hett su dralshy'a.

Aruetyc runi solus cet o'r.

Motir ca'tra nau tracinya.

Gra'tua cuun hett su dralshy'a.

Aruetyc runi trattok'o.

Sa kyr'am nau tracyn kad, Vode an!


His fist pounded into his chest a final time

His smile was a mile wide

In the distance only a small astromech noticed the final flash of light

Then the Krahe jumped to the speed of light


THE END

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