The sounds of battle were everywhere in the city of Iziz: the spitting whine of blasterfire; the screams of the dying, the pounding of concussive shockwaves slamming into walls and floors. Smoke drifted through the corridor as a squad of soldiers in white, red and black armor stacked up along the near wall. Deep inside a Mandalorian-held strongpoint, the din was a cadence that gave voice to the grim business of war.
“Come on, just around the bend!” the officer yelled in order to be heard over the racket.
“Ma'am, we've got Mandalorians on all sides!" one soldier pointed out. "We'll never make it without support!”
“If we make it, Corporal, we won't need support!" the officer bellowed back. "We destroy this power generator, the defense turrets go dead and the whole Mando line collapses!” The officer gripped her blaster with purpose, then turned back to the junior noncom and the remnants of her unit, her countenance grim. “We're dead if we leave, but just as dead if we stay! D'you want those dogs to sing songs about how they gunned you down?”
The combat-reduced squad of Republic Marines, their armor chipped and scorched by shrapnel and blasterfire, their faces stained with blood, sweat, and grime, looked at their officer one more time. The eyes of each man and woman spoke of many things: fear, admiration, pure unbridled grit and determination, as well as an overwhelming sense of trust. They knew that, whatever happened, they were serving and fighting alongside brothers and sisters. Barely a moment passed as their commander asked for, and got, their assent to one last, grand effort. As one the soldiers raised their weapons, prepared themselves, and leaped through the accessway into the inner control area.
For their officer, it was her last leap, as a Mandalorian grenade tore into her chestplate...
“Commander Reyolé did everything right, more than we could have asked for.”
Malak paced the command center, walking back and forth between Revan's chair and a wall-sized holodisplay. Both Jedi were still clad in their warrior attire; the former wearing his customary high-necked orange greatcoat and robes, the latter in subtle dark grays over matte armor plates, his cowl up to partially conceal the mask he had taken to wearing. The two Jedi Knights, leaders of the Republic war effort against the Mandalorian Neo-Crusaders, looked upon a readout of the assault on Onderon, displaying in excruciating detail the aerial recon from before, during and after, on three separate sections of the huge panorama. As Revan keyed for a close-in view of the moment that everything shifted in the Republic's favor, Malak continued his missive.
“Finding the intel, scouting out the best route, even ensuring that the mission succeeded. We might not have been able to liberate this world from the Neo-Crusaders if it weren't for her.”
Revan took a sip from a cup of plain water at his side. “And you think it worth all this trouble to bring her back?”
“The Republic has been developing this kind of technology in secret for decades, Revan,” Malak replied. “The problem is that they're squeamish; the first attempts were failures, and even after they got it right, they don't want to tackle the ethics of reanimating a body. Not even the body of one of our best soldiers, one of our best combat leaders.”
“And yet, they'd clone us an army based on her DNA if we asked them to,” Revan agreed, taking another sip of water. “If what you suspect about her is true, this might be well worth our while.”
Malak turned to face Revan and folded his arms across his chest, his expression contemplative. “None of us had ever been able to sit down with her to confirm this. She always distrusted Force-users, and made no attempt to hide that fact.”
“Despite her attitude, would you trust this woman with your life?”
“Having seen her in action, I would.”
Revan rose from his chair, plunging the room into darkness as he dismissed the holodisplay with a wave of his hand. “Then get it done.”
A dense haze smeared the landscape, making it blossom with light. Trees shimmered in the shine of an impossible sun, leaves splashed with light like liquid as a light breeze tickled their tips. The ordinary glass, set in the ordinary windows of the ordinary residences in this colonial neighborhood, seemed to have become mirrors to a beautiful landscape. Even the stones of the pedestrian path seemed to sparkle, giving the appearance of flowing water.
But not a sound permeated the air; all was as quiet as the vacuum of space.
For Laera Reyolé, this wasn't of much concern. She couldn't explain why, but then, she had no inclination to do so. Everything seemed perfect, as it should be, without interference from the outside world. Better yet, free from the outside galaxy. The young woman stared at her home for a brief moment—or several centuries—before investigating further. Everything was good and proper, exactly as she had left it...to go where?
The memory seemed to have vanished, somehow, but even this did not give Laera pause. She picked up a still holo of her parents—at least, she thought it was of her parents—and examined it. Her mother was tall, leggy, with blonde hair and brown eyes and a visage that conveyed constant good cheer; her father, by contrast, was somewhat dour-looking, considerably shorter than his wife, his crown of auburn hair balding in the middle. His blue eyes sparkled with an inner curiosity that belied his ordinary appearance, and seemed to dart into and out of trouble on a minute-by-minute basis.
Laera smiled at the holo. As she did so, it vanished, as did the idyllic neighborhood that had held it in secret. Even the starshine seemed to shift; instead of an opalescent blue-yellow, it shone with a fiery orange, obscured by billowing clouds of acrid smoke. The young woman, who had inherited her father's hair and eyes but her mother's buoyant features, looked up, suddenly despondent, though she couldn't remember why. Her expression shifting to bemusement, she wandered about the wreckage of the planet that had given her life, almost as though she were in a dream. Not a nightmare; they always came with some sense of dread or loss or catastrophe. This felt different, somehow. More like...watching someone else's life.
As she batted at a flying piece of debris, the scene changed yet again. An older Laera stood in the landing bay of a starship, accompanied by armored and helmeted figures in the livery of some unknown force or garrison. As though by someone else's volition, her body moved, giving signals to the armored men and women around her; smartly and with good pace, they boarded a medium-sized assault transport. Laera followed them, as though on autopilot, and secured herself at the head of the passenger compartment. After issuing a series of instructions that she could not hear herself give, she began to don her own helmet.
A single, solitary breath. Followed instantly by the powerful urge to take another. And another.
Gasping; a human desperately grasping for purchase on a nitrogen/oxygen atmosphere.
More sounds. The steady beeping of a monitor, the drone of ventilation equipment, the soft, slippered footsteps of sentient beings.
Laera took all this in as though she were listening to an audio recording of someone else's fight for life. Her unseeing eyes allowed her brain to maintain an odd sort of disconnect with the surrounding environment, even as the muffled voices of strangers responded to these new and intriguing sensations. Inwardly, she wondered what sort of holodrama was being played for her benefit; after all, she was supposedly oblivious to outside stimuli.
The breathing grew more desperate; the monitor pinged more urgently, and an unpleasant beating sensation began to hammer at her awareness. As Laera attempted to reconcile these new events, something hissed nearby. Silence and numbness once again filled the realm of her consciousness, such as it was.
It wasn't so much a noise as it was a feeling, of a soft, weighted instrument striking her knee.
The feeling had shifted now, this time striking her other knee just below the joint. Two more thumps announced the fact that she had elbows; the sudden jerking that followed in turn gave substance to the arms and hands that they were connected to. Dimly, Laera realized that the two earlier bumps had resolved themselves into legs and feet.
A rubbery slapping noise caused Laera to shift her consciousness; in doing so, she realized that she had a head, and that it rested against something. This contact radiated out into the rest of her body, and she was suddenly cognizant of her wholeness. A bright light, partially occluded by some sort of membrane, shone down upon her. In opening them, she discovered that she possessed two working eyes, which fluttered in the brightness.
“Welcome back, Commander,” a smiling Twi'lek announced in dulcet tones, meeting her upward gaze.
Laera continued to look up at the man, taking in his gray-green skin, pink eyes, broad needle-toothed grin, and shoulder-wrapped lekku. She recalled dimly that she'd always liked the natives of Ryloth; they had had a noble warrior spirit that nonetheless bore a pragmatic side to it that she could empathize with. As she continued to gaze upon the alien, he continued his work of testing her reflexes and muscle strength. As he was checking her fingers, Laera became aware of the fact that she was naked. She attempted to raise her head to say something, but the doctor gently laid a reassuring hand on her forehead to discourage her.
“Not quite yet, Commander,” he soothed, his tone mildly reproving. “We'll get you some clothes soon enough.”
The doctor returned to his ministrations, checking and gently probing here and there. Satisfied that all was well, he left after having pulled a blanket over Laera's still immobile body. Time seemed to pass by in fits and starts as Laera continued to explore herself. As best as she could figure, the sensation was not unlike being liquefied to the consistency of fruit preserves and poured oh-so-gently into another form, only to be solidified around some new framework. Her sense of continuity thrown out of whack, it seemed an eternity before a medical droid arrived. Beeping and humming to itself, it began to bombard her with a series of audiovisual stimuli. The exercise seemed to help her come back to herself, somehow, and for this she was grateful.
When the droid left, a human orderly entered the ward, carrying a stack of boxes. As he entered, Laera noticed, for the first time, that the whole ensemble bore the unmistakable marks of being a military operation. No hint was given whether this was aboard a ship, planetside in some secret bunker, or even tucked away in some Core Worlds ecumenopolis. The thought made her chuckle inwardly; she'd always wanted to visit Coruscant.
Still bemused, Laera turned to acknowledge the orderly, who had been gesturing toward the fiberplast boxes that he had set beside her low bed. She remembered how to nod an acknowledgment, and the young man turned to a nearby faucet to draw a glass of water. The sound triggered a new feeling in Laera's mouth, which she was able to recognize as thirst, and she greedily accepted the cylinder of liquid that the orderly offered her. Eyes closed in delight, she sucked the water down, then flashed a grin that was all teeth. It took a minute to remember how...
“Thank. You. For. This,” Laera managed to stammer, in a voice she recognized as being rough, as though it had atrophied from lack of use. The orderly nodded and returned her smile.
“These are your personals, if you'd like to look at them,” he said, gesturing again to the packing boxes. “Dr. Shak thinks you're ready to finish coming back to life...”
She had been a warrior, a leader of beings, an expert in infiltration, reconnaissance, sabotage, and a skilled sniper. She had been decorated for valor on no less than three occasions—the third being posthumous—and had been vetted for promotion before her untimely death on Onderon. Even the Jedi General Malak had acknowledged her prowess in battle.
Outwardly, Laera took this in with dispassionate eyes, but her mind was racing as she read her own service history. As she ticked off each citation, each record of contact with the enemy, each assignment, fragments of memories associated with each began to reactivate. It was rather unpleasantly like watching the recap of an episodic series of holodramas before the final installment, where the cast of characters revolved around one central protagonist. Laera had never liked that kind of drama; she'd always preferred the sort that involved an intrepid crew of adventurers who find friendship during the trials of space travel.
Laera put the flimsi with her service record away, and was about to draw out the one listing her personal history, but decided against it. She wasn't going to let some scrap of paper serve as a link between her first life and her second; if there were things worth remembering, she would remember them, or else be reminded in good time. With a surge of defiance, she balled up both flimsis and threw them into the recycler with such force that the lid bounced.
Opening the largest of the fiberplast boxes, she found encased within a brand-new set of Republic Marine assault armor, its collar bearing not the symbol of commander, but captain. Apparently that promotion had gone through despite the minor inconvenience caused by her death. She pulled the armor from its box and stacked the components neatly on the other side of her bed in the small military hospital room she'd been given. The box was not yet empty, though; underneath, there was a set of neatly-pressed dress reds, bearing all the appropriate badges, ribbons, and bric-a-brac of a decorated Marine officer of command rank. And yet, underneath that, were three sets of the standard Marine brown-gray-green mottled battle-dress uniforms that she had always preferred to wear when aboard ship or in garrison.
Unpacking these last items, Laera hurriedly threw off her blanket and donned one of the uniforms. It was light, comfortable, and warm, just as it always had been. Mutely, she patted herself down, making sure all the creases were aligned, all the buttons arranged as they should be, and her boots neat and tidy. The ritual was a touchstone, and flashes of pleasant memories permeated her psyche: that time she and her team had played hide-and-seek in the belly of a Centurion-class battlecruiser, ostensibly as an exercise in intruder detection and apprehension; the time Jarko had smuggled a mawkren aboard their ship, only to have it made the unit's mascot; the massive ration-fight in the mess hall when Bimm had transferred in from the 83rd Assault Division.
The memories petered out, leaving Laera alone with two more unopened boxes. Before attacking them, she took some time to muster her feelings. It was at that moment that the realization that she had died finally hit her. She had died...a Mandalorian grenade had slashed through her armor before she could even level her blaster carbine. With all her might she tried to muster the memory of the precise moment of her death, but came up with nothing. All she could recall was charging into the control center with her men behind her, several armored figures rising up on the wall opposite, and then everything popping out like a blown glowpanel.
And then the dreams.
But were they dreams, or the afterlife? Laera didn't know, and that scared her. She was used to fear; fear kept a soldier on her toes, kept her attuned to her surroundings, lest she miss some crucial moment or detail, and kept her alive despite seemingly impossible odds. But this kind of fear...it was cold, insidious, invading her from within, sucking the warmth from her and the room beyond as it sought to consume her. It took every ounce of strength she possessed to grasp hold of that frozen sickness and force it out and away. “I...am...alive!” she bit out hoarsely.
The pronouncement of this fact suddenly burned white-hot within her, as though her heart were aflame with the passionate truth of her own survival. A silent affirmation of life shot through every part of her, puckering her flesh and raising the hair on the back of her neck; her heart pounded, beating a triumphal staccato against her ribcage. Laera sucked in deep, affirming breaths, working her diaphragm as though preparing to shout orders at the top of her voice. “I AM ALIVE!” she bellowed, louder than she could ever recall having done before. “I AM ALIVE!”
The rest of the day passed in a blaze as, unbidden, the memories of her old life came flooding back. Laera accepted them, let them roll around like rocks within her, letting her mind pound them together into sand as they intermingled and smashed against one another. In great waves the fragments bonded together, gradually rebuilding Laera into the woman she had been before. However, even as this process took place, she knew, with ironclad certainty, that she would—could—never be the same. It was the beginning of a new life, a new chapter, for her, filled with possibilities. She drifted off to a dreamless sleep, confident that she would awaken the next day with the ability to choose her destiny.