It was one big hallway with not much to use for cover and different entry points for enemy reinforcements to slow them down. Ordo’s thermal det had cleared half a dozen men - not his brothers, he didn’t see these soldiers that way anymore - and now they had the alarm calling all units down to their position.
He stood guard while Fi worked on a package against an elevator shaft. There were three more all designed to detonate simultaneously.
“Just two more minutes,” he said in a relaxed tone.
Ordo raised his rifle in direction of the hall ahead of them, expecting the next back-up teams. Their elder counterpart Zanim faced the opposite direction, heaving dramatically but much like Kal’buir he could hold his own.
“I can hear movement,” Ordo signaled.
“And they’re up for a surprise,” Fi added and readied his weapon. “There, let’s blast out of here.”
“Or shall we leave before you decide to blast anything…”
He admired Fi’s ability to remain upbeat after what had happened to him only a few years ago; brain trauma was the worst that could happen to a soldier. Arms and legs could be replaced with bionics, but not the brain. He had gone from a vegetative state to a full motor and mental recovery thanks to his friends and Bardan‘s Force healing. That was nothing short of a miracle, he thought.
They moved swiftly down the corridors until they reached an armored door, there were no other exits on the map, this meant ambush, going out of ammo and energy packs, surrendering. He saw a terminal in a wall panel.
“Sweet, more obstacles.”
“Let me rig this console to abort the security lockdown.”
He shouldered his Verp and started working on bypass commands and hacking procedures.
“Uh… isn’t that going to take a lot of time?” Fi objected. “This new imperial coding is fairly new from what I gathered.”
Ordo turned his helmet around. “I have a translator.”
“Just do what you have to do.” It was Zanim. Ordo hadn’t heard his voice for the last ten minutes, he sounded exhausted. “Jusik, we‘ll be out there a little later than what we planned. Are you in the clear?”
There was a crack in the comms before they heard Bardan’s voice.
“Copy that, Biran. And yes, we’re in a secure medical room.”
“Good job, ad’ika. Can you say how many bad guys are left on this floor?”
A pause. Ordo finished entering his command sequence and pressed the “execute” key.
“Two groups of five heading your way from the south and east halls.”
The unlocking mechanism clinked and the door opened, even the alarm stopped. In ten minutes’ time the emergency back-up recovery would seal everything off again.
They met with eight, then ten troopers on their way to the stairwell.
“Bardan,” Ordo called in his comm while providing cover fire. “We’re approaching the emergency exit. Security systems are down, prepare to move.”
“This could be a great blasting opportunity.”
“Hit it, Fi!”
He pressed the remote detonator and the entire floor shook. The enemy targets now dazed and distracted couldn’t dodge fire and so they fell easily. Fi rejoiced with a high pitched cheer then praised the qualities of a new brand of explosives. With troopers out of their hair they met the rendez-vous point at one end of the medical aisle: Bardan appeared in the hallway, still supporting Runa who was holding her right side, looking beyond tired. Ordo thought internal injuries in addition to her beaten state: half of her face was bruised, she couldn’t open her right eye, and her left wrist certainly did not look all right.
“A few flights of stairs and we’re out of here,” he told them on the amplified channel, motioning towards the emergency door with his gun.
Climbing up stairs with almost half his weight in armor and equipment, and with a partially incapacitated civilian at your side was no easy feat. Ordo couldn’t help Bardan go any faster so all he could do was keep an eye on his six until they reached ground level and found their way out.
The base seemed abandoned because they’d drawn a lot of attention down in the detention block. Fi’s work on the elevators afterwards had locked most of them below but there were more around the buildings ready for them if they didn't hurry up.
It was night time, seeing the sky was always a good sign - for Ordo it meant looking out for a lift, mostly in the form of a LAAT/i gunship like in the war. Now they had to find another way to leave because walking or running three miles with an injured prisoner was out of the question. He spotted one at the docking bay.
“Ori’jate!” cheered Fi. “And we so lack the credentials to commandeer this thing.”
“It gets the job done.” A Lambda class T-4a certainly did, it could carry three times their number and even had weapons systems.
Ordo headed in first clearing every corner until he reached the cockpit. There was a young man dressed in a black uniform sitting at the controls. He was in his twenties or less, reading something on his data pad. He turned around, stunned, but was too slow to pull out his pistol. Ordo shot him in the chest and dragged his body down to the boarding ramp while Runa stopped on her path to watch him do so.
“Ship comes with accessories,” Ordo explained awkwardly. “He got in the way.”
She nodded hesitantly while Bardan waited for her. Of course it was always easier for civilians to accept casualties when they couldn’t see their faces, or when they all dressed the same and looked a little older. Then they’d stop and wrap their minds around one who looked a bit different to imagine what it’d be like if he had survived, if he could’ve become their friend.
Ordo punched the boarding ramp mechanism closed and went inside the cargo area while the engines started screaming.
They made it. Jusik repeated it to himself again as he watched the rear viewport cam feed seeing the outpost growing smaller and smaller below. They received a hit from the turrets but most of the shots flew by, flashing red light inside the cockpit. He took the shuttle to a low altitude and flew different directions before heading home, a basic evasive strategy to discourage possible pursuers. A few minutes later and he could breathe, pulling his helmet off to brush his face clean of the sweat that built up during the action.
“Are you okay there, Bard’ika?” it was Ordo’s voice sitting next to him on the co-pilot’s seat. “Look, I got you a new ship. You won’t have to do your groceries in that ugly Aggressor now.”
“Thanks. Now I get to choose what kind of conspicuous I want to go with.”
“Special ships for special people,” he placed his helmet on the command frame and sat back, enjoying the ride. His face was closed though, Jusik felt his concern. “Runa will be fine, vod’ika. She’s gonna need time to heal those bruise and tough up, thanks to you of course.”
He felt his throat swell and he couldn’t answer for a moment. Her father was looking after her in the back of the ship and that was for the best, Jusik didn’t feel like facing her right then.
“I did this to her,” he managed to say. “Her brother’s gone and she got tortured, because I asked them to help.”
“Udesii.” Take it easy, Ordo said. “It was their decision, you remember when they were the ones insisting to do this. What other choices did we have?”
“We don’t have much left now.” He lowered the shuttle into a clearing in the woods near his house. “We destroyed an imperial base, released their prisoner and stole their property. The chain of command won’t be long to take repressive action against the entire planet.”
It was the biggest osik he had ever been in; making it obvious to any survivor from the attack that there was a Jedi in the lot of Mandalorians, word would spread and he’d have a priority bonus added to his bounty. He began to make a mental list of the places he’d qualify as “safe”.
They walked home, and in the darkness of the night it felt like going on another field operation. None spoke until they arrived to relative safety and just sat down in the main room, getting back to the usual here-and-now. Life went on after combat and they needed the quiet transition.
Ullia got to see her daughter for what seemed like the first time in years and Jusik watched the somewhat partial family reunion with bitter envy. Runa was now half disfigured and crippled by her injuries, she hugged her mother and collapsed into tears. Both her parents were together now, and that was one good thing coming out of the tragedy.
Jusik retreated to his room to give them some space and he tended to his armor, changed to plain clothes that he used as fatigues then unloaded his blaster. He hadn’t fired one round that day. He unclipped his belt and took the lightsaber off of it, clenching it tightly. Could he remember the faces of the people he killed with it? Or even their number? He dropped it in a drawer, refusing to look at it because it wasn’t the weapon, it was the one who wielded it that appalled him.
He sat on his bed and breathed in deeply, trying to relax and maybe find some kind of relief if he could cry as well. The tears just wouldn’t come, all he felt was anger and guilt. His mind wasn’t conditioned for self-pity, only preparation and learning from the mistakes he’d done. He recalled every moment when he had to make a decision that implied putting others at risk, asking himself what if and trying to find a better way to live with the consequences. And there was now an entire family who could blame him for the missing of their son and brother, not to mention what happened to their daughter. She had trusted him and she received pain as a reward.
This all reminded him of why he left the Order and the conditions in which he had to cope with responsibility in the war, only this time it wasn’t hundreds of clone troopers but friends and family. There was no running away from this ever, he’d have to live with it no matter how bad it hurt.
Later in the night Ordo and Fi had gone to their wives and he was left with the Zanim’s, treating Runa’s injuries and letting her sleep in his room since the dormitory was no longer suitable. Seeing Devik’s abandoned belongings was also a cause of distress to all of them so he helped Ullia packing them up.
“He always traveled light,” she said thoughtfully, “whenever he’d come to visit me he’d leave things behind.”
She picked up the black and bronze trimmed helmet and peered at it for a while. Jusik paused feeling his heart sink at her blank expression before she stashed the piece of armor in the carry-all bag.
“We’ll find him,” he said wanting to sound reassuring. “And he’ll try to contact us, sooner or later.”
“I know, dear. I believe in my children, they’re strong like their father.”
When she was done filling up the sack he offered to carry it across the room for her.
“I don’t mean to pry,” he said, “but what made you divorce Biran?”
“Ah,” she sighed with melancholy, “the same reasons why I married him in the first place. He was a good husband and father, but he was still the same man over the years while I made more sacrifices as a mother.” She affectively patted his cheek as if she’d scared him. “You seem alright to me, darling.”
“I still make mistakes.”
“Better now than when you have children depending on your every move.” He followed her in the hallway. “That’s when you’ll have to be the best person you could ever be. But, try not to rush into that too soon, okay? As much as I’d love to have grand-children, Runa could live like a child herself for a little longer.”
He stared at the door behind her and knew that they could be heard quite clearly in that room. Thoughts flew through his mind and he couldn’t decide what to reply to Ullia and make a statement that mattered at the same time.
“How is she doing?”
“We got her on pain medication, but why don’t ask her yourself?”
The room was dark when he entered. Having a house built underground made that there were no windows or viewports to get natural brightness. He reached out for his bed and felt her laying on one side in fetal position, Jusik switched the headlamp on and inspected her face as she woke up, squinting at the light.
“Your eye is looking better,” he said, then noticed a stain of blood on his pillows.
“New makeup,” she answered weakly. “Are you checking in on me or am I on the wrong side of the mattress…”
He pointed at the blood stains. “Gross.”
“What? Oh.” She sat up and touched her lips to find where that came from. “With all these pain killers I feel like a giant blob.”
“You still have broken bones though. I can make you heal faster if you’d like.”
She shook her head. “It’s no big deal. Save it for the more serious stuff.”
He thought about Fi’s condition when he first saw him and as far as more serious went it was bad enough to say there were no chances of survival. Jusik had worked his healing skills on a shape-shifting Gurlanin as well, without knowing anything at all about their anatomy. Each session had been productive, but at a price. Runa’s answer was a blessing.
“So, how about I help you sleep through meditative hibernation.”
He sat on the other side of the bed and took his boots off. “It’s actually a way to rest while still being aware of our surroundings, sort of a stand-by mode for the brain. It’s practical during hyperspace travels.”
“Is that like a coma?”
“No,” he chuckled. “It’s like sleeping.”
“Okay then. I could use that… There are these dead people that I keep seeing again and again. Bodies don’t scare me but this… It’s making me restless.”
That feeling of guilt flared up in him. “Is it because we killed them, or because you couldn’t save them?”
Runa brought the blanket up to her shoulders as if to hide. “I don’t know I just feel so new to all of this, and anything that goes wrong seems to be my fault.”
“We all equally share the responsibility.” He knew she wasn’t talking about the dead anymore. “But some things are out of our control and you’ll learn to deal with it.”
He switched the light off and slid under the sheets letting her rest her head on his arm. This wasn’t how he’d imagined his first physical contact with a female, especially not the one he was falling for: injured, tired and compelled to provoke slumber using a Jedi technique. The most excruciating in that was keeping a lid on his primal instincts triggered each time he felt aware of her body so close to his.
He stuck his forehead against hers and brushed his hand on her cheek and neck, monitoring her pulse as he began the meditation ritual and she synchronized her breathing with his after a few seconds. Her heart rate was still fairly high, he knew why and it made him agitated.
“Try to relax,” he whispered.
“I am relaxed.”
“I mean try to sleep.”
Obviously that wasn’t her priority anymore. She was medicated and drowning in a mix of emotions and he couldn’t blame her. So he let her wrap herself in his arms and he even let his control down. Because it was pointless holding out on her or saving himself for that “right time” that might never come.
The next morning she stayed in bed while he washed off and got his beskar on. Kal had left him a message that he read on his console and that meant that he knew about the new situation. It was time for a general assembly in order to decide of the next steps for the clan to take.
“What time is it?”
He turned around to see her with the sheet over her head. “Zero seven hundred. You need to get up.”
She grumbled and complained before reaching for her clothes on the floor. He caught them for her since the painkillers seemed to have worn off. “How did you sleep?” he asked curious.
“Fine, I guess.” She paused, for a long time. “But I think something happened before that, didn’t it?”
He smiled and nodded. “We’ll have to be more cautious in the future.”
He didn’t feel like drawing her the picture; perhaps she hadn’t noticed but he wasn’t going to take any risks with pregnancy issues and he remembered what her mother told him about grand-children.
“We’re using shields next time just so we’re clear.”
“Oh... Oh.” She reached out to him so he could sit beside her. “I guess this seals the deal between us.”
He would’ve wanted to skip all of the nervous awkwardness of the moment to just enjoy being around her as who he was now and not the one he was the other day.
“I only regret not doing it any sooner,” he said grabbing her knee. “This is distracting.”
She gave him a wide smile. “I’ll keep wearing my buy’ce then.”
They kissed and he felt revolted at all the rules and frustrations he’d lived with and realized he was living his own life, he was ready to share it with someone that mattered to him regardless of what was right or wrong.