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The Republic Star Destroyer Redoubt surged forward through the blackness of space. An 1137-meter long dagger-shaped vessel bristling with turbolasers, laser cannon batteries, and proton torpedo launchers, Redoubt pointed towards its target, the Outer Rim planet of Boz Pity. The warship was one of the lead vessels of a sizable armada that had been dispatched by Supreme Chancellor Palpatine to break through the Confederate blockade of Boz Pity. A Venator-class Star Destroyer, its primary role was that of fleet flagship, providing orders to the rest of the fleet while lending its heavy firepower and large complement of smaller craft and ground troops to the fray. Alongside Redoubt, other vessels of various classes, ranging from medium cruisers to tiny single-seat starfighters, all bearing the insignia of the Galactic Republic, similarly approached the planet, preparing for what awaited them there.

It was the third year of the galaxy spanning Clone Wars, and the Separatist navy was in orbit over Boz Pity in full force. The world, a temperate, pleasant planet long known among galactic archaeologists for its strange formations, ruins, and monuments, was soon to become the next major battleground between the Republic and the Separatists. Having been used as a staging area by the Confederacy, the Republic now sought to deny its use to their opponents while eliminating some of the key leadership of the Confederacy, rumored to be sequestered on the surface. However, their goals would not be easily accomplished. Over one hundred Separatist warships of various types and sizes were assembled over the planet, waiting for the approaching Republic ships in a clash of steel titans.

On the bridge of the Redoubt, a lone figure, clad in simple brown and white robes, paced up and down the metal deck, separate from the uniformed crewers. Selusda Kraen, Jedi Padawan, was preparing for his first real pitched space battle of the Clone Wars. Normally known as Selu, he was rather average in stature and height for a human, his coppery skin still largely smooth and unscarred from youth and inexperience. There was nothing impressive about him physically; most Jedi his age towered over him and outweighed him. Nor was there anything special that many saw in his face, framed by black hair, pulled back behind his head, or his brown eyes. He had been too young to accompany the group of two hundred Jedi led by Master Windu to Geonosis in the opening engagement of the war. Now, at the tender age of nineteen standard years, he was drawn into battle. As klaxons blared across the ship, he headed for the massive hangar bay of the Venator-class Destroyer. Scrambling into the cockpit of his Delta-7 Aethersprite starfighter, he ran through his checklist as the bubble canopy sealed over his head. The wedge-shaped craft whined to life as Selu brought it to full readiness. Both the repulsorlift and sublight ion engines responded well according to the built-in astromech droid, while his shields and laser cannons similarly lit up green on their respective readouts on the console. He was ready, or so he hoped.

“Control, this is Commander Kraen. Checklist complete- permission to launch?”

“Commander, this is Control. You are cleared to launch.”

Easing the craft up on its repulsorlifts, Selusda deftly brought the fighter out of its hangar, and maneuvered it into position alongside his master Plo Koon’s craft, ahead of the Star Destroyer. Despite his lack of distinction among Jedi his age, Selu was fortunate to have Plo Koon, a Kel Dor Jedi Master and member of the Jedi Council, as his master, and he constantly sought to show himself worthy of such a prominent mentor. Kicking the sublight drives into full power, master and apprentice flew in tight formation towards the planet. Already, the opposing capital ships had started trading ranging shots, sending streams of colored energy back and forth between them. In the distance from their viewports, tiny specks that soon resolved into the ominous shapes of Vulture droids and tri-fighters, the standard Confederacy front-line starfighters. Hurtling along at high speeds, the pair weaved and spun through the neatly symmetrical droid formations, lasers flashing, leaving scattered pieces of war machinery behind.

“Break starboard, Padawan,” called the Kel Dor Jedi as he put action to words.

“Yes, Master,” replied Selu, yanking on the control yoke and veering his craft to starboard.

Behind them, clouds of Separatist droid starfighters engaged in furious dogfights with Republic clone and Jedi pilots while the lumbering capital ships and nimble gunships re-enacted similar maneuvers on a larger scale. As the Republic fighters cleared a corridor through the blockade towards Boz Pity, another Star Destroyer winked into existence, startlingly close to the two Jedi pilots.

“Whoa! What destroyer is that?” queried Selusda.

“The Intervention. It’s all part of the plan.”

“But why did they come out of hyperspace so close to the planet? That commander must be insane!”

“It was Anakin Skywalker’s doing. He is in command of that ship.”

The new arrival became the immediate target of Separatist intervention as streams of massed turbolaser fire and salvos of proton torpedoes began heading towards the destroyer. The beleaguered ship answered with its batteries even as it broke through the blockade towards the surface, spitting out its own cluster of smaller craft even as its hazy blue shields flickered from the many hits they were sustaining.

“They won’t make it, Master.”

In his cockpit, Plo Koon signaled the captain of the Redoubt.

“Captain Wessex, you are in command of the Redoubt. We are going to assist General Skywalker. Engage hostile forces at will.”

“As ordered, Master Koon. Wessex out.”

Spiraling his fighter into a sharp evasive maneuver, Plo Koon wove a complex pattern through the Separatist blockade. Selu saw what he was doing, and, allowing the Force to flow through him, mimicked the maneuver closely, firing upon targets of opportunity. With the precognitive abilities and ultra-keen reflexes afforded to Jedi pilots, the Master and Padawan penetrated the blockade in the wake of the rapidly disintegrating Intervention. A pair of Vulture droid starfighters, vectored in by their droid brains, followed them closely, sending starbursts of laser fire past Selu’s cockpit. Several glancing hits by the automata sent up warning lights on Selu’s shield console.

“Master, I’m hit.”

“Hang on Selu. I’ll deal with these nuisances.”

In his cockpit, Plo Koon tapped into the wellspring of power that was the Force to the Kel Dor Jedi Master, funneling it into telekinesis. Reaching across the bounds of time and space with invisible tendrils of energy, the Jedi Master sent the two droid fighters careening into each other, resulting in a rather desultory explosion as they impacted.

Farther ahead, Selusda saw another Jedi fighter in its own oddly beautiful Force-assisted path of laser fire, explosions, and debris. Saesee Tiin, considered an expert pilot even among Jedi, was blazing a path through the droids alongside the Intervention, even as massive turbolaser bolts rippled into still-intact shields, melted hull armor and blasted chunks of the ship open to space. His wingmate, the equally adept Jedi Master Adi Gallia, similarly burned a streak of destruction and droid parts, punctuated by the flash of lasers.

Selusda was startled from his brief reverie by the streak of a massive proton torpedo across his bow, heading for the Intervention. Flipping the Aethersprite on its side and turning hard to port, he triggered his dual laser cannons three times, connecting with the missile on the second burst. Reuniting with Koon, Selusda and his master vectored off of the massive Star Destroyer, which under the constant punishment it had received, was starting to break up. Their comm boards lit up with a signal from Anakin Skywalker.

“All escape pods and fighters launch. This is Skywalker. My ship is breaking up- we’ll meet on the surface. Any cover you can provide would be welcome.”

“Copy that,” Plo Koon and Saesee Tiin called.

As the small craft, laden with crew, troops, and infantry fled, the Intervention began its plunge into the atmosphere. Even as the battle continued in space overhead, a new front was soon to be opened on the surface of Boz Pity. The quiet world, mostly grasslands and hills pockmarked with ruins, was soon to be covered with a new surface feature as pieces of war machinery landed on the surface.

As the escape pods and other small craft began descending towards Boz Pity, Selusda and Plo Koon wove through the clear blue sky, intercepting droid fighters. As they spread out to engage the scattered droids harassing the descending troops, Selusda suddenly noticed a trio of landers being harassed by a group of tri-fighters. Giving chase, he rolled onto the tail of one fighter, and fired a series of laser blasts, scoring the war droid heavily along one side. The damaged fighter, trailing smoke and fire, fell through the atmosphere, eventually gouging a fiery crater in Boz Pity’s verdant surface. However, as Selusda blasted the second fighter, its programmed mind put it through a series of evasive maneuvers. Then, linked by coordinating computerized attack programs, it dove towards one of the landers, firing its main lasers, with Selu hard on its tail. As it finished the attack run, the droid vectored to port. As Selusda followed, two more tri-fighters swooped up from behind and started firing on him.

“I have a bad feeling about this . . .” Selusda muttered as he desperately tried to evade their fire.

He was preparing to throw all power into sublights and try to out-turn the droids when he noticed another pair of droids descending on an already-damaged lander. Tapped into the Force, he had a flash of precognition—those droids would destroy the lander and dozen-and-a-half crew on board if they were not stopped. Continuing his evasive dance, Selusda brought his craft on an intercept vector and began firing at maximum range. He was rewarded as both the droids blossomed into fireballs from his lasers—until he looked the damage readout on his fighter and the accompanying red lights. The chasing tri-fighters had also been scoring hits, and the Aethersprite was falling apart.

Fighting the sluggish controls, Selu desperately tried to pull out of the steep dive, but the engines and repulsorlifts had been damaged, so he managed to pull into a somewhat shallow dive through the atmosphere. At 2000 meters altitude, he began to ease the canopy open, only to find that it was stuck, the control lines shot away. Taking one hand off the control yoke in a risky maneuver, he concentrated, thrusting the free hand towards the cockpit in an attempt to shove off or break the canopy. Selusda softly cursed his lack of control as he continued to focus, although a cynical voice inside him reminded him that even a Jedi Master might have some difficulty using the Force while piloting a burning wreck. 700 meters…600 meter …still stuck! …500 meters, and then with a jerky motion, the wave of invisible Force energy pushed the canopy off. At the scarce altitude of twenty meters, Selusda tossed a small pack out of the cockpit and jumped out. On his way down, he used the Force to slow himself and call his pack to him. Upon impact, he tucked into a ball and rolled to lessen the shock, though the wind was still driven out of him. A few dozen meters away, his starfighter crashed and exploded in an orange fireball.

As Selusda slowly got up, he realized two things: he was going to be incredibly sore the next morning, and that he was alone, behind enemy lines. As he reached for the comlink on his belt, another realization reached him: His comlink, hastily clipped on, was missing. All around him, endless stretches of green grass-covered plains and darker colored rocky slopes were evident, dotted with the occasional ancient stone ruin protruding from the landscape off in the distance. He was alone, with no way to summon rescue.

Elsewhere on the planet

On another one of Boz Pity’s many grassy slopes, a somewhat battered escape pod was being unloaded by a group of crewers from the Intervention, while a small knot of white-armored soldiers with blaster rifles and full helmets made a small defensive perimeter and the rest of the personnel prepared to transfer their gear and supplies to a recently established forward outpost.

One of them, distinguished from the others by the shoulder pauldron and kama, in addition to the much more battered and scratched armor that marked his position, was an ARC trooper, the elite branch of the Grand Army of the Republic. Though known officially by the designation Alpha-28, the trooper had earned the name Spectre for his mastery of stealth and ambush tactics. A chime sounded in his helmet, indicating that he was receiving a holographic comlink message. He tapped a button on his left gauntlet, and a miniature version of Jedi Master Plo Koon appeared.

“Captain Alpha-28 reporting for duty, General Koon.”

“At ease, Captain. I have a mission for you and your group. My Padawan, Selusda, is missing. I believe he crash-landed somewhere near you.”

Inwardly, Spectre snorted. Jedi apprentices had become notorious in ARC minds for causing all sorts of trouble, especially having to be rescued or getting themselves killed. But, orders were orders.

“Is the general sure he’s still alive?”

“Yes, I am certain of it. I would have felt his death.”

“Where was he last seen, General?”

“He crashed within a hundred kilometers northwest of your position.”

“Begging your pardon, sir, but what was he doing up there? That’s closer to Separatist positions and far from the main landing zones.”

“I’m not exactly sure. Last I saw him, he was engaging some fighters threatening some of the other landers.”

Spectre’s level of appreciation for the “Jedi brat” was elevated a notch or two. From the viewport of his own transport, he had seen the starfighter intercept the harassing tri-fighters, but hadn’t seen the result of the outcome. More than likely, despite the vaunted Master’s Force skills, it had been a noble self-sacrifice at the cost of the Padawan’s life. Jedi. Still, it was his duty, even if that meant tracking down a corpse.

“All right, sir. I’ll find him.”

On the other end of the link, Plo Koon was momentarily taken aback by the ARC’s resolve to venture alone, but he remembered that they worked better alone anyway.

“As you wish, Captain. May the Force be with you.”

Alpha-28 grabbed some extra rations, water, and a clip of spare blaster packs and shoved them into a field pack. Slinging it over his shoulder, he appropriated a pair of macrobinoculars and, finally, a belt of grenades. Satisfied with his WESTAR-M5 blaster rifle, DC-17 hand blaster, and the rest of his kit, he turned command over to the next highest in rank among the clones, a sergeant, and headed off in the general direction. It would be a long, hard, lonely search, riddled with battle droids, headaches, and whatever unpleasant flora and fauna were on the planet, but Alpha-28 was an ARC. They craved challenge and thrived on impossible missions.

Three days later

Selusda pulled out his small flask of water and held it to his mouth, draining the last few drops inside. He had been hiking through fairly rough terrain constantly, and had not found any sources of water. He’d run out of ration cubes the day before and wasn’t exactly sure what native plants were edible. Looking up at the sky, he noticed the increasing cloud cover and felt the steadily increasing wind. It was going to be a cold day. Pulling his cloak tighter around him, he continued hiking through the knee-high grass that was ubiquitous on Boz Pity. However, he was not lost. It was a rare day when he was, and even rarer if he actually forgot something. Selusda smiled, thinking of the number of times his incredibly high memory retention rate had helped him in his relatively short life, and marched on. At least the Separatists hadn’t sent their irritating droids after him yet.

A few hours later, as the sky continued to darken, the danger sense afforded to him by his Jedi training began tingling. Stretching out with his senses, he felt the vibrations in the earth caused by repulsorlift engines. Squinting, in the distance, he spotted four slender vehicles heading his way. Running the image through his memory, he identified them as Single Trooper Aerial Platforms, or STAPs. Crewed by a battle droid and armed with a decent-sized pair of blasters, they were fast, deadly reconnaissance craft.

As the droids approached, Selusda yanked his lightsaber off his belt, and set himself, right leg forward, knee slightly bent, with his left leg swept behind him and to his left. His lightsaber was held in a two-handed vertical grip, with the hilt held close to the right side of his body. Thumbing the activation trigger, he held the dull gray hilt steady as a column of coherent green light appeared from his weapon.

The droids closed rapidly, firing their blasters at the Jedi Padawan. Selusda worked his blade through a series of rapid motions, sending the scarlet energy bolts bouncing off his energy blade. The droids circled around him, preparing to overwhelm him from two sides. Not good, but not untenable. It was time to go on offense. As the droids broke into pairs for a second pass, Selusda called on the Force and vaulted into the air towards the pair on his right. The droids traversed their weapons and fired at him, but he was moving far too fast and unpredictably as he flew, which was fortunate, for he had little hope of deflecting any of their shots while occupied in controlling his descent. One of the shots singed his left shoulder, charring his cloak and leaving a nasty trail of slightly scorched flesh, and then Selusda landed directly on the foremost STAP. With a sweep of his green blade, he sliced the top half of the speeder and its droid pilot off. As the speeder fell, Selusda threw himself into another Force-assisted leap, spinning and twisting in the air to avoid the second droid’s fire. This short leap, scarcely two meters long, landed him on the ground right below the second STAP. As he landed, he finished his horizontal jung su ma rotation with a wide sweep that took out the craft’s engines, bringing it crashing down. A short stab later, and the droid pilot was sparking scrap.

Meanwhile the second set of STAPs was now firing at him, more spread out to avoid being caught in the same trap as the first set. Selusda deflected a few more of the blaster bolts, but, as the droids approached, he decided to use a different weapon. Drawing on the Force, he felt the moving metal shapes that comprised the STAPs and sent one of them hurtling into the other in awkward mimicry of Plo Koon’s earlier move against the droid starfighters. The resulting explosion as both of them crashed into the ground was not very impressive, but reassured him that the attack was over. Unfortunately, Selusda knew that more droids would come. And since the briefing he remembered with perfect clarity had mentioned a strong possibility that General Grievous, the dreaded droid commander and Jedi killer, was on the planet, Selusda knew that a lone Jedi would be of especial importance to Grievous, who reportedly killed Jedi for fun and collected their lightsabers as grisly trophies. Selusda quickened his pace, hoping to reach someone, anyone friendly before more droids came. He had no desire to duel Grievous, knowing he would lose and quite badly at that. The Separatist menace had defeated numerous Jedi more skilled than he, a fact Selu knew well. As evening approached, Selusda knew that even Jedi couldn’t run all day without sleep. Settling down for a long, hungry night, he extended his Jedi perceptions to sense any disturbances headed his way and, wrapped in his cloak, tried to fall asleep.

Lying on the cold, hard ground, his mind strayed out of its physical realms, hurtling along the surface of Boz Pity. He felt the deaths of clones in combat many kilometers distant, engaged in combat against mindless droids, felt the glimmer of his Master’s presence in the Force. He sent him a mental reassurance, but then his mind flashed by the bright spot in the Force that was Plo Koon. He sensed the brilliant aura of Anakin Skywalker, the determined mind of Obi-Wan Kenobi. Suddenly, his consciousness was pulled away from Boz Pity into the murkiness of space. Thousands of worlds, with millions and billions of inhabitants flashed through his mind. Time lost all significance.

His thoughts swirled, finally coalescing into the sights of Coruscant, to the temple that had been his home as long as he could remember. As Selusda watched, he saw the Jedi Temple, burning, darkened, invaded, violated, desecrated. The smell of fresh blood and ozone was heavy in the air, and little fires burned in the majestic pillars of the main hall. Jedi were being betrayed, being killed, being slaughtered by white-armored clones. Horrified, he saw himself standing in the library, lightsaber still at his side as a clone trooper came around the corner, blaster rifle raised, his finger pulling the trigger. Suddenly, the vision was gone, triggered by some twitch in the Force, and Selusda’s eyes flew open to see the helmeted visage of a clone trooper kneeling over him, blaster ready.

“Nooooo!!!!” Selusda screamed. He had no chance of drawing his lightsaber before the clone shot him, so he punched the trooper with the Force as hard as possible, sending him flying, and jumped up, blade lit and ready for battle. However, the trooper, though he slowly got up, made no move to fire at him, and Selusda’s senses returned to him. He deactivated his saber.

“Who are you?” he demanded tensely.

Somewhat slowly, the clone responded.

“ARC trooper Alpha-28, Grand Army of the Republic. Commander Kraen, I presume?”

“Yes, that’s me. What are you doing here?”

“General Koon sent me to find you. My orders are to conduct you back to the forward base camp.”

“Oh.”

Taken aback, Selusda realized that his Force push had thrown the trooper several meters and had probably bruised him.

“Sorry about that. You surprised me. Are you hurt?”

“No sir. I’m fit to fight.”

Selusda suppressed a smile, recalling the briefing he had received about the clone troopers and their ranks. According to several reputable sources, ARCs would say that even if they had just been attacked by a pack of angry neks.

“You’re a captain, aren’t you?”

“Yes, sir.”

“What’s your name, Captain?”

Despite the soreness he knew he felt and would feel the next day from the Force shove, Alpha-28 smiled inside. Jedi, of all people, treated clones the most like “normal” humans. Not that Alpha-28 thought of himself as normal.

“Spectre, sir.”

“Well, Captain Spectre, it looks like we’ll be spending some time together. So, you don’t call me Commander. I’m Selu.”

“As you wish, sir.”

“I just have one other thing to ask you, Spectre.”

“Yes, sir?”

“Do you have anything to eat or drink? I’m starved.”

Spectre chuckled and passed Selusda a couple ration cubes and a spare flask of water as they stopped for a brief respite before continuing their march. They passed through wide expanses of rolling plains, intermingled with rocky ridges studded with boulders that allowed them to see for kilometers in any direction, always careful to stay under cover from any patrolling droids. If there were any sizable fauna on the world, they stayed clear of the two humans. As the sun set in a glorious riot of purples, oranges, and crimsons, the ARC and Padawan settled in for a brief snatch of sleep before continuing the inexorable rhythm of their march through the wilds of Boz Pity.

2Edit

Two days later, in the early morning mists, Spectre rose early, as always, and consulted his wrist computer.

“We’re approaching the location of one of the army’s new forward outposts. It’s a perimeter warning signal and launching point for scouting missions. We should be in range of the local comm network by sundown.”

“Excellent,” replied Selusda, “I’ve no great desire to be caught out on the plains of Boz Pity by myself by the droid army.”

As they walked, Selu, thoroughly bored of reviewing tactical briefings, organizing his thoughts, Jedi mental exercises, and counting his steps, decided to ask Spectre a question that had been on his mind for some time.

“Spectre, why do you fight for the Republic? The Jedi have sworn an oath to defend it, but the clones fight for the Republic without question. Why?”

The ARC pondered the question for a minute and replied, “We are the Grand Army of the Republic. We were created to serve, born to fight and defend the Republic. In a sense we have no choice, but it is our purpose in life.”

“But doesn’t it ever bother you that you’re seen as a number on a datapad somewhere in Coruscant? That no one cares for you?”

Jedi though he was, Selusda thought of the Order as a family, whose members cared for and looked out for each other.

“My brethren and I look out for each other. We are the Grand Army of the Republic. That is who we are.”

The rather tight-lipped, automatic reply signaled that the ARC had no desire to continue to conversation to Selu, and for hours they marched through the knee-high vegetation—mostly thick grass—of Boz Pity in silence, each concerned with his own thoughts, yet keenly aware of their surroundings.

Selu’s thoughts traveled back to Coruscant, to the Temple, to the possibility of his becoming a Jedi Knight. He was nineteen standard years old, a somewhat young age for Jedi Knighthood. However, in this time of war, with the Order strained and depleted, the masters might be willing to grant him a chance to take the trials. He let his mind travel back to the lessons he had learned before leaving. One memory in particular caught his attention, a training duel he had fought against Anakin Skywalker shortly before leaving for Boz Pity.

He had squared off against Skywalker knowing, expecting, realizing he would lose. If the Force flowed through him like a stream, it flooded through Anakin in a raging current. Selu had settled into the double-handed vertical opening guard for Ataru as Anakin casually assumed the ready stance of Djem So, a form noted for its sheer power. As expected, Anakin struck first, his blow full of the Force and his own strength, in a downward slash. Selu had jumped over the blow, and for several minutes, he had whirled and spun, swung and stabbed, matching his green blade against Anakin’s brilliant blue weapon. Skywalker had easily parried his attacks, driving Selu back with a powerful combination of counterblows. With one parry, he had planted his feet and batted Selu’s lightsaber down to the ground, but held off the finishing stroke that would signal the end of the duel.

His confidence was understandable—Anakin had survived duels with powerful Dark Jedi like Asajj Ventress and Count Dooku—surely a Jedi Padawan of no special talent would be an easy match. Anakin had taken this sparring session only because he was bored with looking over battle data, and in his mind, it was already over. After being nearly knocked to the ground by an impressive series of counterattacks from Anakin, Selu had vaulted up onto one of nearby ledges in the Temple training area, holding the high ground, hoping to gain a respite. However, he had been disappointed as Anakin jumped over him to land behind him, and before he had landed, his blade was already descending towards Selu’s neck. Only by throwing himself backward onto the floor he had just left had saved him, but Anakin hadn’t been finished. Summoning the Force, he had extended his hand and ruined Selu’s landing with a Force push that had sent him skidding across the polished floor. As Selu, sweaty and panting, had scrambled to his feet, Anakin had casually jumped down, a smirk on his face.

“I’m not sure what you were hoping to get out of this match, Padawan, but if it was victory, you’ll be sorely disappointed.”

Anakin’s words had spurred Selu into action, and he had leapt towards Anakin, swinging his blade in a stroke that, if he had intended to actually hurt the Jedi, would have cut a line in him from right shoulder to left hip. Anakin had parried the blade downward and away from him, but Selu had turned his body and snapped his wrist, turning the downward slash into an upward angled stab headed straight for Anakin’s torso. But even this move was anticipated, as Anakin simply had taken his right hand off the lightsaber and shoved Selu downward while Selu’s lightsaber slid away from its intended target courtesy of a quick left-handed block with his saber. Selu, realizing that with such an opponent it was best to have several attacks at once, had shifted all his weight to his right leg and pivoted to the right even as he snapped his blade into the stab. While pivoting on his right foot, he had brought his left knee back up to his body in preparation for a side kick into Anakin’s solar plexus. He had a fair amount of confidence in the move, as he hadn’t tried to kick Anakin earlier, but several things went wrong with his plan.

First and foremost, Anakin’s shove had propelled him downward onto the floor and loosened Selu’s grip on his saber. Second, Anakin had finished his block by flicking the blade out of Selu’s grasp with a twirl of his blade, sending it flying. Thirdly, the resulting shove had done nothing to stop Selu from executing his side kick, but had caused him to shift his point of impact downward, catching Anakin fifteen centimeters below the belt. He had heard Anakin’s cry of surprise and pain, but when he looked up, Anakin was still standing, his left hand holding a brilliant blue blade three centimeters off Selu’s neck. Selu knew he was defeated and was amazed that Skywalker didn’t even betray the slightest hint of discomfort.

“I yield,” he had said.

Anakin had switched the blade off and had reached down to help Selu up.

“Nice trick, Padawan. I wasn’t expecting the kick.”

Selu had felt somewhat vindicated, but still, the look he had seen in Anakin’s eyes had finished the thought with “But I still beat you.” He had taken Anakin’s hand to pull himself up, and bowing, had returned to his quarters for a sonic shower, smarting with humiliation and just a bit of soreness. He had envied Anakin for his ability to shunt off pain and his saber skills. Not that he would ever achieve that level of skill, he had thought sourly as he trudged back to his quarters.

Now, walking through the grasses of Boz Pity, Selu recalled the defeat with great clarity, remembering the cool gaze of several Masters that had stopped to observe the defeat. No, at this rate, the war would be over before he would be a Jedi Knight. So far, in first action of the war, he’d only managed to get shot down and need retrieval by an ARC trooper who, he was sure, would much rather be taking his chances shooting at battle droids and blowing things up. So much for Selusda Kraen’s grand entrance into the war. Then again, if Master Yoda had picked up on that notion, he would have been in for another lecture on Jedi not craving adventure. And Yoda would be right, as always.

Meanwhile, Spectre’s thoughts were a constantly churning plan of activity focused on one goal: how to finish the mission. How to destroy the enemy. What lessons he could apply from previous training and combat missions to help complete the mission. Or at least, they should have been. Trifling though they were a few minutes ago, part of Selu’s questions were still niggling in the back of the ARC’s mind. Spectre muffled an internal flash of annoyance at being so easily distracted and his mind returned to planning and tactics. Even as he marched, he could see the schematics for Separatist droid types known to be on Boz Pity in his mind and mentally reviewed himself on their weaknesses while at the same time gauging how he could best return to base and find some mission other than nursemaiding a Jedi Padawan.

Spectre again suppressed a flash of annoyance at the relative inexperience of one who possessed more actual standard years than he did and was supposed to have been well trained by the Jedi, as he noticed Selu standing on a completely exposed position surveying the landscape ahead. Probably better not to say anything though, or face a lecture on the power of the Force. Spectre was probably as Force-sensitive as the average rock for all he knew, but he’d seen Jedi in combat and had a healthy respect for their abilities. If only it didn’t make them so blasted arrogant. There was nothing for it though, and Spectre continued to march along through the grass of Boz Pity. At least this particular chore would be over soon.

Late in the evening, exhausted, the duo reached the outpost. It was a small affair, housing perhaps fifty to a hundred troopers and comprised mostly of either dugouts or prefabricated temporary shelters. A small command building marked the center of the station, while crude earthwork trenches lined the perimeters, manned by vigilant troopers. Selu contacted his master immediately while Spectre went to go find food and be de-briefed. Having finished his discussion, Selu picked up a ration pack and sat down on a rock next to Spectre, who had pulled off his helmet and was also eating. After a few bites, Selu looked up from his meal over to Spectre.

“Does this taste as awful to you as it does to me?”

Spectre looked up.

“Yes, but I’m hungry enough not to care.”

“Well, I suppose I am too, but it’s hard not to notice. I’ve seen some of Master Yoda’s meals that look more appetizing than this, and you don’t want to know what his food smells like.”

“I see. Did you get in contact with your master?”

“Yes, I did. Master Koon will be sending a gunship for me in a couple days to meet up with him.”

“Very good, sir.”

“Hmph. I think I’ve had about enough of this meal.”

Standing up, Selu pulled out his lightsaber, realizing that he hadn’t had time to practice his saber skills since meeting up with Spectre. Igniting the blade, he set himself into the guard stance and began training velocities and drills, slowly increasing the speed of his movements. His green blade swirled through the air, and as he became more and more tapped into the Force, he began to add the Force-assisted acrobatics that were the benchmark of Ataru, spinning and leaping in all three axes at the same time, lunging, dodging, striking, all in breathtakingly fast motion. After several minutes of motion, he lost control of his lightsaber, and it flew out of his hand in a high arc. Rather than call it back to him, Selu merely switched the blade off with his mind, let it tumble through the night air, and continued his drills unarmed, using the same motions, but using his body where the blade had been a moment prior. Finally, having finished his drills, he brought himself back to a stop on the ground, panting with the effort. Looking up, he saw Spectre looking at him with something like admiration in his eyes.

“I believe you lost this, sir.”

The ARC extended a hand and returned Selu’s lightsaber to him.

“Thanks, Spectre.”

“Pardon me for asking, sir, but . . . can you show me some of how you did that?”

“What’s that?”

“Those moves you were executing. Would you show me how to do some of them?”

Selu paused, thinking. On the one hand, he couldn’t sense any latent Force sensitivity in the clone. On the other, there was no real reason not to show the ARC a few exercises. Selu recalled having heard about Master Kenobi and Master Fisto showing some clones the Jedi Flow exercise on a mission anyway.

“All right. I’ll see what I can do. First of all, executing those moves is not the purpose of the Jedi, nor how we gain our strength. It’s the Force that guides us, centers us. It’s an energy field, a guiding influence, and a conduit for a Jedi’s actions. Some people are more in touch with the Force than others, and with training, they can learn great abilities and insight from the Force.”

Selu paused and looked at Spectre, and while the ARC was paying attention, it was clear the lecture on the nature of the Force was going nowhere. Time to change approaches.

“Think of the Force as a current of water, and you’re sitting in the middle of it. The current brings you information, tells you things, can refresh you if you’re thirsty. At the same time, you can harness the power of the current by channeling it, using to move things, you know.”

Seeing more understanding on Spectre’s face, Selu continued on with his discourse, wincing at the thought that Master Yoda or Master Windu would surely find something wrong with his points.

“However, in order to use the Force, you’ve got to be receptive to its currents, be in balance. The stream of water won’t do you any good if you’re flailing around in it. Part of the Jedi’s power is in synchronizing the entire body to work together. Your breathing, your motions, your thoughts; when they all flow together, you’re more open and receptive to the Force and more in tune with yourself. For now, uh, let’s just work on the breathing and getting your senses synchronized.”

For several hours, the ARC and Padawan worked together, training their senses and breathing rhythm to work as one. They progressed to basic stances and motions, then combining them to flow together. Finally, panting and exhausted, they slapped each other on the back and returned to their respective quarters.

“Thank you, Commander Kraen.” Spectre called as he turned towards the barracks.

“You’re quite welcome, Spectre.”

“Can we do some more of this tomorrow, sir?”

“Sure thing.”

Selusda smiled as he headed back to the field tent that had been set up for him. Over the next two days, Selu worked with Spectre on Jedi Flow exercises. The ARC was a quick study, and seemed to thrive on training. In between sessions, Selu would explain some of the tenets of the Jedi philosophy to Spectre. To help out the outpost commander, the two also took BARC speeder bikes, fast, lightly-armed repulsor-powered craft, on long three-hour reconnaissance trips around the outpost. In exchange, Spectre showed Selu the finer points of shooting a hand blaster and lobbing a grenade. Both Jedi and ARC found that they enjoyed learning from the other, and that their respective differences and strengths complimented each other. As they trained, sweated, scouted, the Jedi and ARC grew to develop a new respect for each other. The two took their meals together, and quickly developed a camaraderie not often seen between Jedi and clone trooper.

However, the war waited for no one, and as he finished his morning warmup on the third day after arriving at the outpost, Selu knew his gunship would arrive any minute now. As the distant rumble of the repulsorlift engines on the LAAT/i was heard, Selu turned to Spectre.

“Well, this is it. I’ll be heading off to rejoin Master Koon. And you?”

“I have orders to investigate reports of a Separatist airbase several hundred kilometers away.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Oh, and Spectre, I have something for you. I realize it’s not much, but here it is.”

Selu reached into his belt satchel and pulled out a small disk of metal that once been part of a broken BARC speeder control. On the surface of the disk, Selu had etched the image of the Jedi Order- a loop enclosed two upswept wings with a blade between them and on the reverse side, the initials Senth and Krill. Gazing at the gift, Spectre fingered the disk and slipped it into a pocket on his armor.

“I have something for you also, Selu.”

Spectre unbuckled something from his belt and handed Selu a holster with a pistol inside.

“This is a DC-15s hand blaster, commonly favored by clone commandos. It’s a little smaller than the DC-17 repeater I like, but you’re not as big as I am and the 17 has a lot of kick to it. Here’s hoping it gets put to good use.”

Taking the blaster from Spectre, Selu buckled the holster onto his belt and sighted down the barrel.

“Thanks Spectre! This is a good weapon. Where did you get this?”

Spectre just smiled.

“Fine then—keep your secrets. Well, the ship’s here, so I’m off.”

Selu took the ARC’s hand and shook it as the repulsorlifts on the approaching gunship drowned out all other sound as it landed in a cloud of dust.

“May the Force be with you, Spectre.”

“110 percent, Selu.”

Turning, Selu shouldered his pack and boarded the waiting gunship. Signaling the pilot to lift off, he turned and waved as the craft rose into the air and remained looking back until the outpost was almost lost to view.

Back at the outpost, Spectre had returned to his duties at the camp and was currently packing a BARC speeder with the equipment and supplies needed to destroy an airbase. He had just finished loading up when he heard a rumble in the distance. Slightly confused, he turned towards the sound. The LAAT/i shouldn’t be returning, not unless Selu had forgotten his lightsaber or something.

Coming in fast and low, three droid gunships soared towards the outpost. It had been detected by the local airbase commander, who decided to destroy it with a flight of the lethal droid Heavy Missile Platforms, unmanned and ungainly craft that could easily lay waste to an entire armored column. Three gunships should be more than enough to turn an entire Republic outpost in a pile of smoking ruins and seared clone flesh.

Spectre was jolted into action as a clone called out a warning on the comm net, sending soldiers scrambling frantically to battle positions. However, the small outpost was not equipped with many heavy weapons, certainly not of the caliber needed to down heavy repulsorcraft.

In the initial run, a computerized signal in the gunship’s droid brain traveled along to the gunship’s missile tubes. Six high-speed missiles ignited and launched, smoke trails blossoming from the tubes as they headed towards the outpost. As the gunships closed the range, turrets on the chins of the otherwise disk-shaped gunships opened up with laser cannon fire.

Even with clones shooting down two of the missiles, four was more than enough to turn an ordered outpost into a fiery hell. Equipment and buildings were blown apart by the explosions and the concussion hurled clones and parts of clone dozens of meters. The gunships flew over the target, sending even more destruction raining down to pulverize what the missiles hadn’t. Red lances of death scored the ground heavily, ripping through armor and human flesh when they hit a clone. The Republic response was piecemeal; of the two missile tubes in the base, the first was destroyed instantly by a missile strike, blowing it and its operator into a thousand pieces. The second missileer fired a single rocket at a gunship and was rewarded at seeing the missile hit and damage the engine, but that immediately drew the gunship’s attention. Swinging around for a second pass, its lasers chewed up the ground near the clone, stitching a pattern of blasts that ended midway up the clone’s torso, or rather what had been the clone’s torso. Now it was charred ruin. As another clone leaped for the launcher, the ammunition exploded, throwing him back with a smoldering faceplate. Scattered blaster bolts sparked towards the gunships, but this only served to incite them, and the number of bolts decreased in the next pass.

In the midst of all this chaos and destruction stood Spectre. Concussed by the first pass, he had recovered quickly and grabbed a Cip-Quad repeating blaster, a heavy anti-vehicular weapon. Throwing the weapon’s harness on and ignoring the strain on his back, he staggered out into a firing position and began pouring blasts into a gunship. Blue fire blazed from his weapon into the shields, weakening them and stitching a score mark across a gunship from stern to bow. One of the laser turrets, impacted directly, exploded and the gunship veered to get out of the line of fire. Other clones, seeing the ARC’s example, began searching for blaster rifles, Cip-Quads, anything that could conceivably take down a gunship.

However, as Spectre continued to fire from his exposed position at the first gunship, the two others banked and oriented themselves for a lethal strafing run at the annoying clone. Spectre turned, saw them lining up and pointed the blaster back at them, and again the Cip-Quad rocked as it spit out blue bolts of energy thudding into the gunships. The gunships prepared to return fire, when two blue streaks hit one of them in the rear, penetrating the shields and causing it to explode in mid-air. The second gunship corkscrewed into a violent evasive maneuver as another missile narrowly missed it, exploding harmlessly into the ground as an LAAT/i roared overhead.




Several minutes earlier, while looking into the cockpit for ways to pass the time, something on the sensor board caught Selu’s eye.

“Pilot, what’s that?”

“I’m not sure, sir. Could be hostiles.”

“Well, they’re headed for the outpost. Turn the ship around.”

“Sir, our orders from General Koon . . .”

Selu cut the pilot off.

“Not now. They’re in danger. They need our help. Turn the craft around.”

Examining the sensor board, the clone pilot looked at the incoming craft.

“Sir, those are three droid gunships. We’re outnumbered and outgunned.”

“Pilot, I gave you an order. Turn the kriffing ship around. We’re going to help them. Come in fast and low, and they won’t pick us up.”

The pilot had banked around and brought the craft back to the outpost as the droid gunships finished their second run. With a quick lock-on and firing at point-blank range, four air-to-air missiles had streamed out of the firing tubes into the gunships, but the second pair missed their intended target. As the clone pilot continued to pour laser fire into the second ship’s climbing stern, Selu noticed the third gunship lining up for another pass at the camp. Horrified, Selu realized that it was heading straight for an ARC persistently firing a Cip-Quad at it. Realizing that there was only ARC at the outpost, Selu gathered the Force to him and jumped out of the LAAT, sailing through the air as only a Jedi could do.

However, about half way there, he realized he wasn’t going to make it to the gunship and would instead hit the ground some three hundred meters below him. Yanking a length of fibercord and a hook off of his belt, he flung the cord at the gunship, snagging the hook onto one of the laser cannon barrels. The added weight caused to gunship to jerk, and its aim was thrown off momentarily. In that time, Selu swung upward, blade lit and extended. His quick three slashes sliced through control circuits and repulsorlift engines, causing the ship to wobble and abort its pass, engines failing. On the next swing, Selu planted a concussion grenade into the slot he had carved, which exploded as his momentum carried him to the other wing of the gunship. Without its repulsorlifts, the HMP was about as aerodynamic as a cross between a droid tank and a large rock. Selu grinned, triumphant, when he realized that he was still swinging from the underside of the gunship.

Wincing at the prospect of being crushed under tons of metal, Selu vaulted over to the laser cannon barrel on the other side of the craft. Clambering up and around it, he pulled himself onto the top of the craft and began trying to slow it with the Force, a feat that proved increasingly difficult since the Force was best tapped into when one’s mind was relaxed, and plunging through the air atop a crashing gunship was hardly a calming setting. Still, Selusda managed to control its horizontal wobbling until the gunship was half a dozen meters over the ground in a steep glide, and then leapt off.

As he jumped, some detached part of his mind thought, “Aren’t you tired of jumping out of spacecraft?”

Landing hard, he scrambled to his feet just at the LAAT/i blew the last gunship into pieces. Selu scrambled back to the smoldering outpost, hearing the screams of clones, the cries of men torn in half. Wreckage and charred dwellings greeted him as he entered. Around the site, clones were helping their injured brethren, extinguishing the fires, and applying battlefield medicine. Selu quickly went in search of Spectre, but the cries of a clone pinned underneath a heavy beam were too much for him to pass up. Turning to the soldier’s aid, he heaved against the beam, trying to lift it, but it was too heavy. The soldier’s chest was being crushed in slowly, and he was powerless to stop it.

The unfairness of the situation filled Selu at the wanton destruction and death around him, empowering him. Letting go of the beam, he opened himself to the Force and let it rush through him, focusing it into telekinesis. The beam lifted off of the soldier and Selu set it down next to him. Rushing up to the trooper, Selu pulled off his chest plate. A quick examination revealed multiple compound rib fractures, and while Selu knew some about battlefield medicine, he was no medic. Pulling a pair of syringes from the clone’s belt, Selu administered a powerful dose of antishock and painkillers to the clone while trying to draw some of his pain away through the Force. The former approach had more effect than the latter, as Selu felt the clone’s pain exploding through his own chest. Blinking away tears, he called for a medic, and was amazed by the ragged quality of his own voice. Realizing that he couldn’t do anything else for the soldier, Selu straightened up and pulled out his comlink.

“This is Commander Selu Kraen, calling on any nearby Republic forces to come to the assistance of Outpost Krill-39. We have suffered heavy gunship attack and need medical assistance and evacuation. Situation untenable. We cannot, repeat, cannot survive another assault.”

Switching the device off, Selu tracked through the ruins in search of Spectre. Finally, he found the ARC lying on the ground next to an overheated Cip-Quad, one hand on his leg, where a black scorch mark darkened his thigh armor. Looking at the wound, Selu realized that the scorch mark was actually roasted flesh still smoking from a laser cannon graze. Dropping to the ARC’s side, Selu again administered pain killers and antishock. Delirious, the ARC called out for water. Selu pulled off Spectre’s helmet and, with trembling hands, pulled his water flask out. Dribbling some of the water into the ARC’s mouth, he fought to control his hands, but ended up spilling most of the water. Spectre’s eyes fluttered open.

“You . . . you saved me. Saved us.”

“Don’t speak, Spectre. Save your strength. Help is coming.”

The ARC grimaced.

“It already has.”

Succumbing to the painkillers, Spectre’s head lolled back and Selu frantically checked his pulse to ensure he was still alive. Confirming that he was, Selu went about the camp, doing what he could to ease the suffering of the clones. The Force had felt like explosions from all the disturbances created by pain, so he shut off his access to it. Dazed, bloodied, and utterly bedraggled and exhausted, he barely noticed when several more LAAT/is arrived, disgorging fresh troops.

“Commander Kraen, Commander Kraen.”

Turning his head, Selusda faced a clone sergeant approaching him as other new arrivals helped carry the wounded to the gunships and unloaded supplies.

“Yes?”

His voice was a harsh rasp, his face streaked with sweat, grime, and tears. Another clone had just died literally in his hands.

“Link up to Master Koon, sir. He wants to speak with you.”

The last thing Selusda wanted right then was to speak with his master, but he couldn’t refuse, so taking the proffered comlink, he tried to compose himself, which was about as successful as a Geonosis fishing expedition.

“I’m here, Master.”

“What happened, Padawan? Are you injured?”

“No Master. I was heading to meet you, when the outpost came under attack. I turned the ship around and stopped the droids, but they’d already destroyed and killed many.”

“I see.” Realizing the distraught state of his Padawan, Plo Koon sought to calm him. There would be time for analysis and lessons learned later.

“They’re dying, Master! They’ve been torn apart and blasted and they just lie there and take it. They had no choice but to fight in this war, and now they’re dying for a system that’s never given them anything.” Selu suddenly stopped short. His circumstances were no excuse to launch into a tirade at his master. His head dropped.

“I’m deeply sorry, Master. I should not have done that. Please forgive me.”

Plo Koon was silent for a moment, no doubt contemplating how to reprove his distraught Padawan without totally fracturing his emotional state.

“I forgive you, Padawan. I’ve arranged for the evacuation of the wounded and for you. I’ll meet you back at the command base.”

“With all due respect, Master, I’m staying here until the last trooper departs. Their commanding officer was killed and they’ll need me here.”

Plo Koon’s tone was somewhat stern as he addressed his Padawan, but his response was surprisingly lenient. Perhaps he too had been through a lot that day.

“Very well. After they bring the wounded back, your four gunships should be enough to bring everyone back. Be careful, in case more droids return. They should be occupied, as we’re pushing into their main headquarters now.”

The Kel Dor Jedi Master paused again briefly, then added one final comment.

You did well today, Padawan.”

“Thank you, Master.”

“Plo Koon out.”

As the last wounded soldier was evacuated, Selu looked around at the forty-odd clones who remained. He hadn’t even gotten a chance to say goodbye to Spectre before the medics had rushed him off. Wrapping his cloak around him, Selusda tore into a ration pack hungrily, ignoring its taste, and prepared for a long wait. He had been fortunate to get such quick response when he called for support earlier, but with a major push underway, there was no way that the Republic troops could expect air support anywhere other than the main battle line until morning. Meanwhile, around the battered outpost, the wind blew, and the grass rustled. Boz Pity, it seemed, was immune to the sufferings and woes of the sentients walking its surface.

3Edit

As Boz Pity’s sun’s rays first poked above the horizons over the ragged gray horizon, Selu Kraen awoke. Sitting up in the swatch of grass he had fallen asleep in, he ignored his bedraggled, singed appearance. His neck was incredibly stiff and he was sure he had grass all over him. He hadn’t slept well, tormented by dreams of being in a maelstrom of bodies exploding, burning, being blown apart. Selu grimly reminded himself that Jedi didn’t have nightmares. The disturbance in the Force from yesterday’s attack still hung over the encampment like a dark cloud of smog lying low over the smeared grass and bits of detritus left by the attack.

Several of the clones were still awake, and they had formed a loose perimeter around the makeshift camp, the first rays of the sun glinting off of their battered white armor. They were watching for more droid aircraft, though Selu didn’t know what they could do if the Separatists sent more gunships after them in force. The outpost was left with only a pair of Cip-Quads and no missile launchers. Soon, the entire group of troopers was awake, eating rations, cleaning equipment, doing whatever they saw fit to do to prepare themselves for a long battlefield day. Forty-two clones, moving and acting in eerie military rhythm with each other. As new as he was to the ranks of Jango Fett’s progeny, Selu found it somewhat disconcerting.

The rumble of repulsorlifts could be heard. Selu straightened up, his hand automatically going to the place on his belt where the dull gray of his lightsaber rested.

“It’s all right sir.”

“Huh?”

Selu turned to see a trooper standing next to him. His helmet-filtered voice had startled Selu.

“The repulsorlifts, sir. They’re ours. You can tell by the sound they make.”

“Oh . . . thank you, trooper.”

“No problem, Commander.”

Selu was still marveling at the attentiveness and recall of the trooper when the four gunships set down, their cargo bays empty, ready to haul their cargo of human bodies and supplies back to a main base. As he passed bundles of equipment down a line of troopers, Selu watched as the clones carefully loaded the craft down the supplies, arms, and then piled in. As the last scuffed white-armored boot was pulled into an LAAT, Selu climbed aboard as the gunships lifted off. As the outpost receded into the distance, Selu realized that in a couple years or so, no one would remember the attack on Outpost Krill-39, except those who had fought in it and maybe a historian or two. The deaths of 35 humans were hardly significant in the grand scheme of the Clone Wars, a mere footnote even on the overall battle for Boz Pity.

The grassy landscape of Boz Pity flowed underneath the four craft as they traveled back to the base. Passing over rivers and streams, rolling slopes and flat prairies, and the strange monuments and graves that pockmarked the planet’s surface, the four craft journeyed along, skimming a few thousand meters above the surface, until the sun was halfway through its ascent. Finally, built along the side of a grassy slope, a loosely organized jumble of pre-fabricated buildings was visible. The craft set down in a landing area marked for them, disgorging their passengers and gear.

Selusda walked briskly over to the base communications center, having flagged down a trooper to get its location. Surely, Master Koon would want to hear from him. Entering the hastily constructed bunker, Selu approached the officer in charge and requested a communications channel with Master Koon. Having established the link, the officer stepped away, allowing Selu to converse with his master. As the Kel Dor’s hologram shimmered into view, Selu spoke up first.

“Greetings, Master. All the clones and equipment have been evacuated from the outpost.”

“Good work, Padawan. We’ve been a bit busy over here, but we’ve finally captured the main Separatist medical center and captured Asajj Ventress. Count Dooku fought Master Windu, but both the Count and his butcher Grievous had fled. In short, we’re victorious.”

Despite the good news, Selu noted a hint of sadness in the Kel Dor’s voice. It wasn’t easily noticeable to someone who didn’t know Koon that well, but to Selu, it was obvious as if the Kel Dor had sprouted a third eyeball.

“What’s wrong?”

“There have been many losses in the battle, including Jedi.”

“I’m sorry to hear that Master. This war has already claimed too many lives—it’s just so wrong.”

“Yes, it is, but death is merely another part of the cycle of the Force. When we return to the Jedi Temple, Adi Gallia will be properly remembered as the great Jedi she was.”

“When are you returning to the forward base, Master?”

“Right about now.”

Selu turned, startled. The voice had come from both the hologram and behind him. He whirled to find Plo Koon standing behind him, somewhat weary and battleworn. Koon had concealed his presence in the Force, since, as he was talking with his Padawan, he had been in a transport en route to the forward base.

“Master Koon! You startled me!”

Koon chuckled.

“Good to see you again too, Padawan.”

“I wasn’t expecting that at all.”

“Then I’m pleased to know that I can still surprise my sharp-minded Padawan.”

“And what if I had been expecting you?”

“I would have been pleased at your skill at perceiving my mind and actions,” Koon replied.

The two spent the rest of the day together, mostly in quiet conversation; master and apprentice discussing their experiences in the battle. Koon told Selu of the main push of clones and Jedi that had captured the medical center, despite the casualties inflicted on the first wave by Grievous. Selu in return told his master of his journey across Boz Pity, the attack on the outpost, and the horror he experienced upon seeing the carnage.

“It’s not fair, Master. All the pain, the death, it’s just so wrong.”

“I know, my apprentice. But death is a natural part of life. That’s why we Jedi must lose our attachments to things, people, even our loved ones, and our own life.”

As he spoke, Koon’s thoughts traveled back to his own Master, Tyvokka, long dead at least twenty years ago, killed in the Stark Hyperspace Wars.

“In that case, I have a question,” Selu said.

“Ask it.”

“If we are supposed to lose all attachments to everything, how can we continue to serve the Republic? Aren’t we supposed to be detached?”

“The Jedi Order is a servant to the Galaxy as a whole. The Republic, with its democratic ideals, is to the Jedi a means to accomplish an end. We are symbionts and help each other for the greater good. Sadly, this war has diminished the line between Republic and Jedi even further, though it did not used to be so. I wish that it were not so.”

Selusda paused, reflecting. And then a memory struck him, and hesitantly, he made a confession.

“Master, after the gunship attack, I was trying to rescue a trapped clone trooper, but I couldn’t lift the beam. It made me angry, so I used telekinesis to pull it off of him, but I’ve never lifted something that large that quickly before. I think I was using my anger to power my actions. That’s wrong, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is. Anger is of the dark side—it leads to hatred, which will in turn only lead to more suffering. When we return to Coruscant, I will address your questions more and instruct you further in the ways of the Force.”

Selu sensed that the last sentence was an indication that the conversation was at an end for the moment, but he persisted with one final question.

“When are we returning to Coruscant?”

“In a couple days. We’ll be traveling back on an Acclamator-class assault ship with some of the wounded and a few thousand other troopers who typically serve under me. Our work here is done, and I imagine that we will be given a short break and assigned to some other world or some other part of the Republic cause.”

“I see. Never a dull moment.”

“No, the Jedi are needed in too many places in these times of war. But for now, I want you to rest yourself until evening. Meet me back here once it grows dark.”

“Of course, Master,” Selu said, intrigued at what his master might have in mind for him.

By the time evening fell, Selu felt rejuvenated, his energy replenished quickly thanks to the vigor of youth. With food, meditation, and sleep, he had let the cares of the war fall from his shoulders until he felt ready for anything again. Walking over to where Koon was waiting for him, Selu followed silently as his master led him to an open area, the grass trampled by booted feet, lit faintly by glow rods at its perimeter.

“What did you have in mind?” Selu asked.

“I want to see how your saber skills are coming along. Something tells me you haven’t practiced as much as you need to, despite your combat experience.”

Standing, the Kel Dor doffed his cloak as Selusda followed suit. Marking a rough twenty meter circle on the grass, the two Jedi bowed to each other and each went for his lightsaber. Selusda grabbed the hilt of his blade, and ignited it, assuming the double-handed balanced ready stance of Form IV, the Ataru form. Plo Koon’s blade practically flew into his hand, a bar of brilliant blue sprouting from the hilt as he readied himself in the opening stance of the counterattack-driven Shien form. For several minutes, the two sparred back and forth, Koon’s style more power-based, with wider swings and jarring counterblows, while Selusda incorporated fast, rapid attacks and Force-assisted acrobatics. Their strikes fell at several blows per second as they feinted and lunged, the Force guiding their movements.

The next day also held more training for Selusda, with meditation, physical training, and practice with various skills of the Force all parts of the day’s workout. Often, Koon would combine some aspect of his training with the base’s activity, such as having Selu help load crates of supplies into a ground transport or help fix a speeder engine. His master had insisted that Selusda not only learn how to use the Force and be attuned to it, but also have practical knowledge in areas such as mechanical repair or first aid. Suffice to say, the day went by in a blur, as Koon was an old hand at keeping energetic apprentices moving. In between tasks, Selu found time to practice with the DC-15s and his grenade throwing, using rocks to simulate the explosives. Another effect of the business was it kept Selusda from reflecting too much on the losses of the battle, and the previous night’s sparring had helped him come off of his adrenaline high. The galaxy was moving at a fast pace, and Selu Kraen had no choice but to keep up, Plo Koon reflected.

His apprentice was dedicated, and although not phenomenal in any area of the Force, he was usually willing to learn and cooperative. His skill with a lightsaber was testament to at least three hours of practice he put in with the weapon each day he was at the Jedi Temple. All in all, Koon felt Selu had done well in his combat experience on Boz Pity.

As he sat in the shelter allotted for the pair that evening, Plo Koon relaxed, sitting in a cross-legged meditation stance. Closing his eyes and cutting off his senses, he relied on the Force for all his information. For Koon, it was like jumping into a refreshingly cool lake on a hot day and being refreshed. The Force told him his apprentice was mirroring his actions. It told him that a clone trooper outside was cleaning his rifle, that overhead a pair of birds were going through a mating ritual. Then, his perceptions moved beyond the tiny sphere of Boz Pity into the galaxy, and Koon saw much that passed through his mind in a rapid blur. He sensed a dark cloud over Coruscant—the dark side of the Force was still clouding the Jedi’s perception, and even as he saw other planets, he knew his vision was not what it once was. However, tonight, he had a different focus for his meditations. Focusing his thoughts, his perceptions centered around his apprentice, trying to peer into his future. For a moment, the Force was blurry, and then Plo Koon achieved clarity and Selu’s emotions were laid bare before him. The apprentice was completely aware of the probe, but made no effort to deflect it, figuring correctly that Koon was testing him.

Suddenly, like a beam of light passing through a prism, Plo Koon’s vision was refracted, no longer on Selu’s current self, but catapulted into the future. Koon’s mind’s eye sharpened, and saw Selu alone, beset by vague dangers, in peril. And then Plo Koon knew. The Force had spoken through him as clearly as if it had been an audible voice. Selusda Kraen, as young as he was, had been tested by fire and the dark side, and had passed both. He was ready and, Plo Koon felt sure, needed to take the Jedi trials when he returned to Coruscant. Something, just beyond his mind’s eye, was in store for his apprentice.

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