The Battle of Geonosis:
The Banshee felt crowded for the second time in Neros’ memory. It was not that space was limited, he had carried heavier loads before. He thought back to one smuggling run where he had to hide several tons of ore, much more than he was used to, and ended up placing what could not be stored in the cargo bay in various corridors and nooks of the spaceship. He had to slide on his belly to get into the cockpit, and he gambled that he would not hit a single patrol while in flight, but it was worth the payday. In fact, it paid for The Banshee. Or rather, it paid not to have a price put on his head for permanently borrowing The Banshee.
But the crowded corridors and raw meat smell of the ore was a fond memory as the young padawan learner bounced from position to position within the ship. The boy was not entirely large, but he was an infant either and his energy was damn near bottomless. Neros had an affinity for children, he found their simple hearts and fast pace to be very in tune with his own, but Ker Maktro was a different sort. Neros had never met any child so absorbed within his own pride, his own powers, and his own sense of entitlement. Ker Maktro was not even a child by most standards, already a very young man, but few, if any, would ever call him that. He was unlike any padawan learner Neros had ever met. He had not yet mastered the first step into becoming a Jedi, learning to control one’s own impulses. It seemed as if the growing powers of the Force seemed to only add to the boy’s less desirable characteristics. But Neros tried to push all that out of his mind, he knew that it was in part jealousy. He had been passed over for the academy as a boy, more a boon than a curse, but then he dreamed of being like his uncle Ralios. The nostalgia and disappointment of the past was pushed out of his mind in an instant as Ker Maktro attempted to climb over X5-Y3, Neros’ copilot and The Banshee’s permanent caretaker, to watch as the desert planet of Geonosis came into view.
“I’d get comfy and secure, Uncle.” Neros said as he took over the controls from X5-Y3. Trade Federation ships were already breaking through the hastily built blockade of the Imperial Cruisers, hundreds of star fighters engaged in desperate flanking maneuvers. Laser cannon fire seemed to melt into one plane of blue and red, The Banshee a symphony of the last remnants of various fighters that pinged against it. “I’d get real secure first though.”
“I should fly! I should fly!” Ker Maktro cried as he tried to push X5-Y3 out of the copilot’s seat. The boy could not even budge the droid.
“When you have hair on a body part that you won’t giggle at when I say it, you can fly a ship.” Neros muttered, sharply banking to avoid a strafing droid fighter. To his dismay, Ker Maktro managed to hold on tightly and did not tumble out of the cockpit. “But you’ll never, ever fly my ship.”
“We have to make ground at these coordinates, nephew.” Master Ralios said, floating a small datapad into X5-Y3’s view. The droid quickly entered them into the nav system. “We will be meeting with a commander of sorts and a small squad.” The two were clearly related. Ralios was almost thirty years older, but they had the same nose and round face of the Valhoun family. Their eyes were both a startling pale grey, a common trait in the family, but Neros hair was a deep red, not common at all, while Ralios’ was a greying black.
“Let’s see if we survive this first.” Neros said as he pushed his way through the dog fighting. He wished he had someone on the main cannon, but it was too late to suggest it. He also worried the boy would attempt it and end up ripping apart a piece of The Banshee in the process. Neros relied on the forward guns and X5-Y3’s skills, which were not nearly as impressive as a droid’s should have been. It just had no feel for a dogfight. The Banshee shuddered as two blasts ricocheted off the shields.
“You’re getting hit too much.” Ker Maktro whined. “Let me do it.”
“That’s why we have deflector shields kid.” Neros said, cursing under his breath the entire time. He pushed The Banshee down into a nosedive, using the planet’s gravity to pull it faster and faster. More than a few warning lights began to flash and even X5-Y3 began to clamor on about terminal velocity and the thrusters not being able to correct the trajectory. Neros just breathed deep and focused his mind.
Neros Valhoun was always a lucky man. He had no real skill at gambling, only a natural inclination towards victory. He learned as a child to focus himself, to feel as if luck was just a stream in which he swam, and he learned to swim much faster than everybody else. His uncle once told him that had Neros the self discipline, he could have been a great Jedi. But Neros made a better gambler, a better spy, and a better thief. The Banshee’s hull began to turn a bright red as it was less flying and started more falling with incredible speed. Neros focused everything he had into one simple mantra: I am fortune’s favored son. A sharp jolt sent Ker Maktro flying into the ceiling, Neros always was lucky, as a massive air currents from one of Geonosis’ factories pushed the nose of The Banshee up. Neros pushed the engines to their breaking point, but they held, and The Banshee righted itself, skimming only a few thousand feet from the planet’s surface. Ralios let out a heavy sigh, all his Jedi training focused on keeping his stomach in one piece, and let out a small laugh. Ker Maktro was on the floor, awake but dazed and in no real pain. Neros followed the coordinates and landed beside a small Imperial transport that was waiting. Their target was not more than a few kilometers away, a large depot of some kind, the bright green and blue flares of heavy anti-aircraft batteries surrounding it. Neros was quite glad that they would be walking. Neros kissed the control console of The Banshee and patted X5-Y3 on the side.
“You be good. If things get hot, get her out of here and we’ll meet up someplace safer.” Neros strolled out of the cockpit, careful to stop by the small crew lounge and take off his jacket. It was a fine silk affair, worth more than a few good blasters. His two concealed holsters became clearly visible, but were covered again as he put on a soft brown cloak. Ralios was already outside, clearly annoyed by the padawan as a commander in heavy armor seemed to be explaining the situation. Neros stayed in the distance, more to the fact that he was mostly out of earshot of the kid than any discomfort with the tactical nuances of the mission. Ralios waved his nephew over with a smug yet pitiful look on his face. The pity was for Neros.
“I will go with the commander and his men, attacking from here.” Ralios began, drawing a rough diagram in the thin, sooty dust of Geonosis. “This is will likely be the thickest fighting, so it is only right I be there.” Neros nodded along, quite happy to be out of the direct fight. He was not a warrior or a soldier. He had killed more than a few in his life, but he was about surprise, not a slug fest. Neros did not like chance to be equal, he was so accustomed to it being in his favor. Neros was so involved in his satisfaction at avoiding the headlong assault, he failed to notice the logical progression. “You will take the padawan and try to infiltrate here, to the northeast. You must disable their turrets so that we may call in an air strike.”
“Uncle, have I angered you in some way?” Neros asked seriously. Ralios simply shook his head.
“I don’t wanna go with him. He’s not a Jedi, he’ll just hold me back.” Ker Maktro responded. Ralios led the boy away and the two talked for a few minutes. It was clear that Ker Maktro was doing most of the talking before Ralios quieted him. The child started walking towards his new and unappreciated position, shoulders slumped. Neros bowed to his uncle and sprinted to catch up to the child. The two walked in blessed silence, sweet blessed silence to Neros’ ears, for most of the way. As the hum of battle droids became louder in the air, the odd buzz of the Geonosians moving through the air occasionally joining in, the two began to slowly snake their way through the barren landscape. The kid was not well accomplished at moving silently, on more than a few occasions, he simply held on to Neros.
The depot was larger than it seemed from the air. Five large buildings were surrounded by two different guard towers and several small guard checkpoints. Neros could see that they were loading something into a small transport at the rear of the depot. He could also see his uncle’s forces moving up into attack position. They let loose their first volley, downing several of the battle droids that walked the perimeter and maintained the largest guard post in the depot. Ralios moved forward quickly, deflecting blaster fire with his lightsaber as effortlessly as a child moves a spiderweb from his path. The clones struggled to keep up, two of them armed with heavy blaster rifles that tore huge divots out of the landscape. Neros had heard rumors of a clone army for the Republic, but he did not expect to actually see it. They were fearless, they marched into the barrage of blaster fire with no lightsaber to protect them, only the flimsy Republic armor. He saw one fall to a heavy burst and the others made no sign they even registered their comrade’s death, save for fanning out just a few feet wider to keep their arcs of fire in line. Neros spotted his opportunity and led the kid towards the depot.
“Ok little guy, we keep low and try to make it into the right, lower building. I saw power cables which means their generator is there.” Neros whispered as the two were crouched behind the last bit of scree between them and the battle ahead.
“I’ll destroy it!” Ker Maktro yelled as his lightsaber flashed. He charged headlong towards the building, scattering confused battle droids. Neros let out a small smirk. He knew the generator was in the central building, but now there would be even less issues to deal with. If the kid made it into the building, far less likely he’d be blasted in the random fire of the battle. Neros trusted his Jedi training would be more than enough to keep him safe inside whatever was in the building. He did feel a heavy tinge of regret, if the kid died it would be his fault. He tried to push the issue out of his mind and he carefully but quickly moved through the depot, avoiding the rush of reinforcements that went out to confront the Jedi. Neros took out one of his blaster pistols and aimed a careful shot at the back of a droid’s head. It sparked and fell to the ground, right before it was about to take its clear shot at the kid. Neros moved into the central building, downing two more droids as they rushed by. It was not much of an issue to find his way to the central command room. He pushed several buttons and brought up several confused error messages before he remembered he had no idea how to work such a device. He shrugged, removed several demolition charges his uncle had handed him before they parted ways, and set the timer. He quickly exited, dispatching a few more droids who were all a bit surprised to be shot at from behind. Neros bobbed and weaved around the fire, finding the best cover he could before trying to retreat to the safety of his uncle’s side. He also forgot just how long he had set the timer on the charges and he did not bother to ask what the minimum safe distance was.
He looked over to see his uncle shielding the padawan from fire, although Neros noticed most of the fire was not directed at the boy. The boy looked different. He looked cold. Neros projected his thoughts with his mind, loud enough for his uncle to hear them. Ralios was not extraordinarily adept at reading thoughts, but he had taught Neros enough on how to project them to those sensitive and how to shield himself slightly from those that would seek to use it on him. Ralios dragged the kid by the back of his tunic as the clones laid down suppressing fire. Neros stood up, breaking cover, but he was thrown back to the ground as the central building seemed to simply fall apart in a cloud of black smoke and a deafening roar. Even the clones were knocked prone from the blast, only Ralios stood against the rush of black and gray dust. Neros heard his uncle’s voice booming in his mind and started running.
The return fire from the droids was momentarily stopped by the explosion, but more and more of the neatly stacked droids were active and pursuing. In the haze of the explosion, Neros could only see the outline of his uncle and the padawan, their lightsabers the only guiding light. His mouth was too coated in dust and ash to speak, but he could hear their conversation, yelled to the point of straining, as incoming Republic fighters bombarded the depot
“I heard Count Dooku! He’s right! This is all your fault!” Ker Maktro yelled, his posture aggressive and his lightsaber aimed clearly at Ralios’ chest.
“He’s lying! The Jedi are protectors, not dictators! Open your eyes, boy!” Ralios yelled back, his own blade still in a neutral position.
“No! The Jedi are evil! I know I’m right! I know it!” The boy yelled a final time before spinning into his attack. He fought like all Jedi, with an elegant cyclical nature to the attacks, constantly darting and twirling to avoid counter-attacks. But for all his elegance, he was still a child, and stood against a Master Jedi. Neros knew enough of a fight to see when one side was not willing to end it quickly. Ralios could have killed the boy three times in each exchange of their blades, but his only desire was to incapacitate the child long enough to save him. But to Ker Maktro’s credit, the anger, the fear, the jealousy, the desire in his heart made him far stronger than any padawan had the right to be and he managed to hold off Ralios attacks, even if he could not best the Jedi. But as Neros was known for his luck, the problem was that it often seemed that he had to take other’s to make his work. A burst of blaster fire shot through the haze, one striking Ralios in the leg. He fell to the ground, barely keeping the padawan from delivering the coup de grace. Neros reacted out of instinct. He leveled his pistol and fired two quick shots at the padawan. The first had no intention of hitting the boy, only distracting him from the man on the ground, but the second was meant to take off his hand and the boy’s Jedi training kicked in, deflecting the shot before making a lunge towards Neros. Neros had never been a physical combatant, his brothers all made sport of who could beat him up the fastest, and his sisters occasionally joined in. He did his best to keep his distance from the boy, firing shot after shot, more aimed at cutting off avenues of advance than actually hurting the boy. But even a padawan learner is not to be trifled with and in a few quick movements, Ker Maktro was within striking distance. Neros threw himself to the floor, avoiding a large sweep of the boy’s lightsaber, his pistol falling out of his hand as he hit the ground. He could hear the boy’s disdain as he laughed and kicked the pistol away.
“You never liked me! You never thought I was good enough! Now what?! Now What?!” The boy cackled as he raised his lightsaber high above his head. The first blast caught him in the chest, while the second, much more rushed, hit him outside and low on the hip. The small boy crumbled almost instantly. Neros’ cloak smoked, his holster shredded from the second blaster concealed slightly behind his left hip.
“Now you should have remembered I always carry two blasters on me.” Neros said, no real joy in his voice. The boy, like all living things, was tiny in death. Neros held absolutely no love for the child, other than the fact he was a child. Ralios limped next to his nephew, Neros’ other blaster in hand, and pulled him by the cloak.
“No time to mourn the dead, nephew. Our retrieval team will be hear in a moment.” Ralios’ voice was low. “Take no chances.” The command was simple. Neros fired four more times into the body, his mind blank and his stomach heavy. It was not the Jedi way to give sway to emotions, but it was not an easy sight for Ralios either. Neros holstered his weapons and helped his uncle towards the rapidly descending drop ship, trying to hide his disgust at himself. Several more clones disembarked, laying down a few cursory blasts of their heavy rifles while the surviving members of the team loaded into the ship. Neros watched as the depot was reduced to ashes, several Republic fighters mercilessly laying waste to any structure still standing. Whatever they were loading onto the starship was gone, scattered into uncountable pieces that littered the desolate planet, and Neros was sure that was a good thing. He watched and realized war would never be his element. He watched and thought of the annoying boy that would have no burial, no one to recite words as his spirit moved on to whatever the next veil holds. Neros watched and hoped the noble and the diplomat were alright without him.
Oh the trumpeting call of an elephant to war drowns out the serpent’s protest for peace. But then, it is often the serpent that ends such wars, a quiet venomous bite that goes unnoticed and unsung, but saves the lives of many. The Republic has gone to war, and I as well, in an odd way.
I had heard rumblings for some time of a brewing war, a clone army, and secret and not entirely legal dealings. I knew it meant I was going to be busy, but I did not think I’d be so quickly swept up in these dealings.
Uncle Ralios called me to Coruscant, not uncommon, but very quickly I was dealing with a diplomat and trying to arrange a meeting with Senator Organa. So much could be said about it all, but in the now ravenous twilight of battle and death, I cannot help but be concise and simple. It was a trap. The diplomat was taken and I, along with the diplomat’s daughter and a rather sullen soldier were to recover it.
This is not entirely out of my range, but what scares me the most is evidence of a rogue jedi. Sith was thrown around a bit, a fairytale, but rogue Jedi are not as rare as the Order likes to admit. They seem to be the one pulling these strings. But the Diplomat is gone and it is my duty to take care of the situation. I do hope this pays well, a war makes a person of my various occupations quite wealthy, but war also makes it far easier to shuffle loose the mortal coil.
It could be worse. My partners are not so bad as it were, I’ve had much less pleasant. But now I wonder what can be done. I did not expect to be gone for so long, I have several other engagements that must be taken care of. The money I can lose, but I am partial to my life. I will have to cross those bridges when I come across them.