Apocalypsa had always thought that Balmorra would have been a beautiful planet, were it not for the war trenches and military installations that scarred the landscape. Home to some of the galaxy’s most advanced weapons manufacturers, the world had been heavily fought over by the Galactic Republic and the Sith Empire.
When she had first arrived on the planet during the Great Hunt, there had been an Imperial base where she was standing. Now, the crashed hulks of downed walkers and half-collapsed pre-fabricated buildings served to hide Apoc and the others from view as they peered into one of the impromptu shipyards the Republic had set up.
“There it is.” The Mandalorian woman pointed past the tall fencing. Just visible over the round hulk of a Corellian freighter was the triangular wingtip of the BT-7 Thunderclap they were there for. “Right smack in the middle of the yard.”
“Figures.” Mako’s dark eyes were trained on the datapad in her hand. “I’m having trouble with the coding for the fence.”
“What do you mean, trouble?” Apoc raised a slender eyebrow.
“Patrol.” Torian’s quiet warning caused Layne to press himself up against the walker leg. Mako sighed in frustration as the datapad she held beeped softly.
“I can’t get the override.” She looked up at Apoc. “They’ve implemented some new security measures.”
Apocalypsa grit her teeth. The three-man patrol was getting closer. She could hear them talking to each other as they marched along the outside of the electrified fencing. Taking a deep breath, she drew her twin blaster pistols.
“Is it still possible, or are we going to have to do this the messy way?”
“Apoc.” Torian’s voice was low, so low in fact, that she would not have been able to hear him if he had not been speaking over the private communication link built into their helmets. “Company.”
He was right. The trio of soldiers had seen something – a shadow, the dying light of the setting sun shining off of her beskar’gam
, Layne’s boot sticking out from beside the walker leg. She shook her head. It didn’t matter what they saw, they were headed straight toward their hiding spot.
“The messy way it is, then.” She stepped out from behind the walker. Layne would have followed, but Torian’s arm reached out to hold him back.
“Wait.” Layne could hear a soft chuckle from beneath Torian’s dark helmet.
Layne’s pale eyes followed Apoc as she sauntered toward the trio of soldiers, who had drawn their weapons but seemed confused by the confident figure in the jet-black beskar’gam
. He heard one of the men challenge the bounty hunter.
“Halt! This is Republic territory.” Apoc smiled under her visor as the soldier, a tall man with chiseled features visible under his open-faced helmet, stepped forward with his blaster rifle pointed at her chest.
“I was just looking for the nearest cantina.” Her fingers tightened around the blasters in her hands as she brought them up and fired. Sky-blue bolts of pure energy screamed through the air, scattering the soldiers as they dove to the ground.
!” Torian’s battle-cry erupted from his throat. He leapt out from behind the walker, pulling the two-meter long phrik alloy staff from his back in one smooth movement.
The air suddenly seemed to be full of blaster bolts. Apoc’s pistols whined as she squeezed the triggers again and again. She twisted and spun as the soldiers returned fire, the verdant energy lancing out toward her.
Several hits scored marks on her armor, but the Mandalorian woman didn’t even flinch. Activating the jetpack built onto the back of her armor, she flew several meters into the air, firing over and over. Her laughter filled the air as she rained death on the men beneath her.
Torian’s leap carried him to the soldier closest to the walker. The man looked up only to see the knobbed end of the mercenary’s staff come down toward him. Staggering back, the Republic trooper brought a hand up to his ruined face, staring dumbly at the blood trickling down his fingers before falling to the ground.
Layne saw his moment to act, and scrambled out from behind the walker just as Apocalypsa released several missiles from the miniature launcher attached to her gauntlet. The rockets collided with the ground, exploding into clumps of grass and soil that flew through the air.
He stumbled, and nearly went down as the ground shook from the impact. From within the fenced-in shipyard, alarms began to sound. He heard the scream of blaster bolts heading his way, saw them fly past his shoulder to dissipate in the air.
Layne’s goal was in front of him, the durasteel fencing surrounding the shipyard humming with the energy that ran through it. From his belt he pulled a small, round thermal grenade. From the corner of his eye, he could see one of the soldiers lift his rifle to release another shot.
Silence descended in Layne’s mind. In an instant, his vision seemed to focus, throwing everything into sharp relief. The emerald energy bolt flew toward him, and he dropped to his knees, skidding across the ground as he twisted his body back, watching as the shot meant for his gut soared just over his face.
His arm went back, then came forward. The grenade flew from his grip, sailing through the air to land at the base of the fence. He rolled his body, covering the back of his head with his arms as the grenade detonated. A wave of heat washed over him as the fencing melted, leaving a gaping hole in the middle.
The ground beneath Apocalypsa shook as her feet came back in contact with it. She felt the world lurch, and went tumbling forward, losing her balance. She landed, face first, at the feet of the large soldier who had first challenged her.
He drew his foot back, aiming a hard kick at the prostrate woman. As fast as he was, she was even faster, her hands coming forward to wrap around his ankle. One massive tug, and he was on his back, with Apocalypsa scrambling up over him, straddling his chest, her blaster pointed directly down at his exposed face.
She stared at him through her visor. His breath was raspy and weak as the weight of the fully armored Mandalorian threatened to crush his ribcage. His dark eyes were full of fear as they stared down the barrel of Apoc’s blaster.
“You could have just given me directions.” She squeezed the trigger. The smell of burned flesh wafted through the air as the man twitched several times, then lay still. Standing, Apoc brought her blaster to bear on the remaining soldier.
He dropped his weapon, throwing his hands into the air. Apoc sneered at him under her helmet, gesturing toward the fence with her blaster. “Take us in.”
The man looked from her to the hole in the fence and back. His mouth opened as if to say something, but nothing came out. From the corner of her eye, Apoc could see Mako move out from behind the walker and hurry to check on Layne, who was lifting himself from the ground.
“Move!” She aimed her blasters at the ground before the man’s feet, firing off several shots in rapid succession. The soldier gulped and nodded, running toward the fence and through the gap. Apoc and Torian hurried after him, followed by Layne and Mako.
As they moved into the yard, they could see another half-dozen soldiers heading their way as the alarms continued to blare. Sprinting forward, Apocalypsa grabbed her hostage, making sure all could see that she held her blaster to his head. Behind her, the others fanned out, their weapons all held at the ready.
“Mako, get ready to override the Thunderclap’s security.”
The dark eyed woman nodded at Apoc’s command. “Already worked it up.”
The starship’s white and gold paint gleamed pink under the crimson hue of the sunset. As they reached it, the approaching soldiers halted. Reluctant to fire with one of their own being used as a shield, Apoc could see the frustration each wore on their faces.
One of the troopers, a bulky man wearing a captain’s insignia, stepped forward. His deep voice boomed across the shipyard. “Stop, Mandalorian!”
“Sorry, I need this ship.” She nodded her head toward the Thunderclap. Mako edged around, datapad out. Pressing a button, she gave a little giggle of triumph as the doors opened with a hiss. She scampered aboard, followed by Layne.
“Go.” Apoc nodded at Torian, who moved up the ramp. She turned her attention back to the captain. “Let’s everyone stay calm and Private Wuss here stays alive.” She cocked her head to the side slightly. “Though you might want to get him a bath. I’m pretty sure he wet himself.”
She felt vibration under her feet as the Thunderclap’s repulsorlifts engaged. Backing up the ramp, she stood in the open doorway of the starship. Turning her head, she shouted toward the ship’s bridge. “Layne, go!”
Spreading her legs apart, she braced herself as the engines kicked on. Wind whipped at her, threatening to suck her out of doorway. Beneath her, she could see the Republic soldiers standing open-mouthed as the ship gained altitude.
“Hey!” She yelled down at them, then grinned as she lifted her foot. Planting it in the middle of her hostage’s back, she pushed with all of her might. “Catch!” With a short-lived yelp, the man flew forward and down, plummeting into the middle of the collected soldiers, bowling several of them over.
The door hissed shut, and Apoc’s boots thundered across the metal floor as she ran toward the bridge. Finding Layne behind the pilot’s chair, with Mako next to him, she stared out of the viewport at the massive anti-aircraft gun as it began to track toward them.
“Get us out of here, Layne.” He nodded, rotating the ship to orient its bow away from the shipyard. The sound of the anti-aircraft battery firing its massive energy bolts was a piercing whine that cut through the sound of the engines. Bright red energy beams splashed against the Thunderclap’s shields.
“Shields won’t hold for long.” Mako’s eyes were trained on the computer readout. “Good thing they fixed them though or we wouldn’t have any.”
Suddenly, the sound of firing turbolasers was much closer as the Thunderclap shot back, Torian in the dorsal turret tracking fire down toward the ground. His shots told, as the AA gun slowly whirred to a stop, its tracking ability fouled by Torian’s expert blast to the sensor array.
Several of the soldiers on the ground opened fire, but their shots were ineffective. The Thunderclap angled for space, and Apoc sank down into the co-pilot’s chair, heaving a thankful sigh as they punched through the atmosphere.
Now they just had to break into the Incarcerator
Lieutenant Raia Jesses sat at the computer terminal in her small quarters. Her honey-colored hair was braided into many small plaits that fell around her face, just dusting her shoulders. Her amber eyes, once warm and full of life, now stared dully at the screen before her.
This is the fourth time I’ve tried to write to you, and it’ll probably be the fourth time that you don’t reply. I’ll keep trying, though.
I know there aren’t any words that can take away the pain I’ve given you. I know that you blame me for the deaths of Elias and of Master Ortain.
She looked away from the monitor for a moment, brushing a tear from her eye. Next to the terminal, a hologram of her and Elias on their wedding day shone with a dim light. Her husband’s warm gaze stared at her, full of the love and hope they had felt when they started their life together. Sighing, she returned her eyes to the screen.
I can’t take back what happened, and I won’t blame you if you hate me forever. I wanted you to know, though, that I love you, and I really am sorry that you’ve been hurt so badly.
I feel like I owe you an explanation. I know I owe you an explanation, even if it might make you hate me even more. Raia, so many things have started to come clear for me, I don’t even know where to begin.
After Mom and Dad died, when I joined the Academy, I was so angry at the Empire and at the Mandalorians who killed them that I didn’t even question it. I just wanted revenge, and the Academy seemed the best way to get it.
Imagine my surprise when I started studying Mandalorians and found I actually liked them! Their tactics, their tenacity, their enjoyment of every moment life has to offer. Their quest for a challenge, their love of battle.
The more I studied them though, the more I wondered. In all of the things I read, they had never done something as dirty as blowing up a medical facility full of civilians, not once. They were described as cold, arrogant, or greedy, but never as cowardly. It made me think.
And then I was assigned to Requiem Squadron. I was happy that day, Rai, because it meant I got to be with you, and with Elias. But I was confused too, because it meant that I would be hunting down and killing Mandalorians, and I wasn’t sure they were the real culprits behind our parent’s deaths.
So I used the clearance that I was given to look up some old records. And I found out I was right. Mom and Dad didn’t die protecting civilians in a hospital, Raia. They died protecting a secret chemical weapons facility with a hospital as a cover.
It dawned on me then, Rai. It wasn’t the Mandalorian’s fault. It wasn’t even the Empire’s fault, really. It was the Republic. It was the military I had sworn to serve. They put those people in the line of fire. All those civilians, dead because of a lie. The Mandos didn’t attack a hospital. They attacked a chemical weapons facility.
The next day we landed on that forest world with Master Ortain and the rest of the squad. Nicke, Trace, and me went to find Apocalypsa. And we did. And then terrible things happened, Raia, things that changed everything.
I watched Trace die a horrible death. I saw Nicke gun down Apoc after she saved him from that same fate. It didn’t matter to him that she had saved him, that she had kept him alive. The only thing that mattered to him was that she was his enemy.
That was it. I think that was the moment I really knew that I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t be who I was trying to be, because that just isn’t who I am. I saw Torian kill Nicke, and when he turned to come at me, all I could think of was the sight of Apoc falling over the edge of that cliff, and what a terrible waste it was for someone like her to die that way.
But she didn’t die, and Torian didn’t kill me. I stood there and watched as she challenged Master Ortain, even though her shoulder had just been hanging out of its socket moments before. He accepted, and as we walked back to the ship, Apoc told me about other times she had fought warrior’s duels, and what an honor it was for her to be able to fight Jedi Masters.
And you saw that fight, Raia. You’ve seen her fight. Can you deny the beauty of watching that deadly dance? As I watched it, thoughts just kept bouncing around in my head, smashing together and making a terrible mess.
All I could think was: How beautiful. How terrible. How awe-inspiring. Blasters versus lightsaber, Force versus a warrior’s skill. When Apoc stood over Ortain at the end, I felt as if I would never let out the breath I was holding, waiting for that final shot.
And then… then you told Elias to shoot her. To shoot her in the back before she could claim her victory in an honor-bound duel. I couldn’t let him do it, Rai. I just couldn’t. Not after everything I had learned, everything I had seen.
So I called out to her. I gave her a warning. I didn’t know Apoc would shoot Elias. I guess I thought she would just dodge his shot and kill Ortain and it would be over. But that’s not what happened. And that, Raia, I am truly sorry for. My heart broke for you.
But I’m not sorry that I saved Apocalypsa. I’ve learned so much since being with her. One of the things she’s taught me is that telling the truth is one of the most important things that we can do, even if it hurts the ones we love the most.
She’s the one that told me I should tell you what really happened to Mom and Dad. She said you should know, that I wasn’t really protecting you by not telling you, but that I was protecting myself from having to see you hurt any more.
I don’t know if you’ll even read this, but I had to try to tell you the truth. I had to try to tell you why I did… what I did. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of you, and hope that you’re alright.
Mako (that’s Apoc’s code-slicer) tells me that I’m just about at my data limit for this transmission. So I guess I’ll just end this by telling you that I love you, Raia. And I hope that one day, you’ll be able to forgive me.
Raia’s eyes welled with tears once more, the lids closing to spill those tears down her cheeks. Opening her eyes again, she furiously stabbed her finger down at the delete button before her. Layne’s message disappeared, replaced by the emblem of the Galactic Republic.
She stared blankly at the screen for a moment before her attention was diverted by a voice coming over the comm system in her quarters.
crew members. We will be coming out of hyperspace in ten minutes. All off-duty personnel are reminded to be prepared to return to duty if we encounter hostiles.”
Sighing, Raia stood and moved over to the small cot that rested in the corner of her room. Laying down, she stared at the ceiling as the massive ship hummed around her. As she slowly drifted off into a light sleep, Layne’s face loomed, unbidden, beneath her closed eyes.