Starbird Force

Author’s note: I spent the bulk of my twenties in Army light infantry, both on active duty and the National Guard.  During the Paleozoic pre-beret Era, most scenarios for the light infantry company in a deliberate attack involved what we called the “Death Star” objective.  These were chock full of mines, triple-strand concertina wire, automatic weapons with interlocking fields of fire, trenches, and all manner of joint-twisting pleasantness.  I even saw it referred to as “Objective Death Star” or OBJ DS during planning, because we lightfighters were nothing if not imaginative.  Following my last few posts of speculative Star Wars fan fiction, here’s a go at the deliberate attack, from the point-of-view of the Rebel Alliance’s equivalent of 1990s light infantry.  For the many who’ve previously pointed out discrepancies between my writing and the Star Wars liturgical canon, I can only say, “sorry/not sorry, it’s a story not a concordance.”

Quick missions like this hurt the worst.  They always miss that little detail in the heroic holovids trying to draw recruits for the Rebel Alliance.  Combat hurts; not the pain of being wounded, necessarily – though that can indeed be excruciating – but the niggling pain of not seeing that branch you tripped over, while lugging a mortar’s baseplate; running across an objective with your eyes on an A280 rifle’s scope, not the hole in the dirt that could tear knee ligaments if you fell into it the wrong way; the stress on one’s knees and ankles after tabbing through a temperate forest like Endor one week, a jungle like Naboo the next, and a desert like Jedha the following week.  In the two years I’ve commanded Shafaq Company of the Mobile Infantry, I lost more Rebels to joint injuries than I did in battle.

This was what we’ve always done best.  Infiltrate into a contested area in restrictive terrain, ruin some Imperials’ day in close combat, then melt into the countryside before becoming decisively engaged.  Obviously, the enemy gets a vote, too, which is why our fitness and training regimens are so rigorous.  Barely one in four recruits graduates from the Training Center with the round patch of the Mobile Infantry.  Some gnome from General Rieekan’s staff had tried to add “stability and support operations” to the syllabus, but we laughed him and his slide deck off of Dantooine.  We’re a raiding force.  If you want to secure a planet, or establish a star system’s constabulary, send the regular infantry, or one of those ragtag Middle Rim militias.

“Six, this is Blue.  Yavin, over.”

I pushed the transmit button on the side of my helmet.  “This is Six.  Yavin.  Out.”  My 3rd Platoon had reached Shafaq Company’s first phase line.  To confirm, I looked up at my visor display and saw 3rd’s icon crossing the stream that marked Phase Line Yavin.  Our drop ships had brought us to a landing zone far enough away from the Imperial command center to avoid detection, which meant a long night’s slog through the jungle.  We were only about a hundred strong, but this objective was both lightly defended, and so far in the arse end of the Outer Rim, that we reckoned we could complete the mission and jump into hyperspace before the nearest star destroyer could assist.

3rd Platoon had deployed in a wedge, with one squad forward and two back, looking like an arrow from above.  But with our camouflaged shawls, which also masked our thermal signatures, you couldn’t see us at all – we hoped.  The order of march behind 3rd Platoon consisted of 2nd, then 1st Platoon.  Stolid old Lieutenant Andras and his Weapons Platoon berserkers always brought up the rear.  Andras was out for blood – clone, human, non-human, droid, it didn’t matter much – after having recently missed out on Cassian’s mission to Scarif.  Many of the Pathfinders and infantrymen with whom Andras had joined the Rebellion perished there.  We’d all lost people on Scarif, a hundred years of experience and institutional memory wiped out in one day, but we couldn’t afford to dwell on the loss.  Instead, a grim determination to finish Rogue’s job had taken hold among the Rebellion’s infantry.

We trudged north through a lush valley, towards a mountain with three summits that dominated the southern part of this back-assward planet’s only continent.  From the south, the three summits lay side by side – from right to left: Alpha, Beta, Gamma.  Alpha on the western side was a secondary objective, a mostly automated re-transmission site for Imperial communications; Beta was the primary objective, the banner of an Imperial Navy’s rear admiral flying atop a fifty-meter flagpole; unmanned Gamma, to the east, would be our support-by-fire position.

We had to get there first, though, and that sucked.  Every Shafaq Company trooper was soaked through with sweat.  Our medic droids ranged up and down the company’s column, trying to make sure the troopers stayed hydrated.  3rd Platoon, in the lead, even had troopers with one rehydration IV hooked into each arm.  Every trooper brought six liters of water on this op, knowing that the heat and humidity, not to mention climbing a jungle mountain, would sap their bodies quickly.  As each platoon passed the stream at Phase Line Yavin, troopers refilled their canteens.  The built-in purifiers treated each full bottle in less than thirty seconds.  We would need all of this water for the trek up the mountain.

Our route took us up a draw, between two spurs that led almost to the triple summit.  The chatter of birds and other animals ceased as we passed through.  The night vision displays on the inside of everyone’s visor helped us navigate the jungle, even at night, with minimal sound.  The moons were on the far side of the planet tonight, so we had no ambient light besides what the stars provided.  We could barely even see the stars, since the canopy was almost fifteen meters high and concealed much of the sky.

2nd Platoon had replaced 3rd on point.  “Six, this is White.  Wobani, over.”

“Wobani, out.”

Shafaq Company split up at Phase Line Wobani, where the draw ended.  Weapons Platoon and Andras continued on to the eastern summit, Gamma.  The assault force, consisting of 1st and 3rd Platoons, along with my command group, veered left to climb the spur that pointed directly at the middle summit, Objective Corellia.  2nd Platoon had the longest trek, circling the entire mountain to the northern side; there, they would block the lone road that the Imperials had cleared for their AT-ST walkers.  I made a quick check of the time on my visor: just one hour until the sun would begin to peek over the horizon.

With just minutes left before dawn, all elements reported in, either via voice or text.  Andras had the support-by-fire force emplaced on Gamma, the eastern summit, facing west towards the objective; proton mortars set up on Gamma’s reverse slope, ready to hurl “warheads onto foreheads.”  I’ve never understood mortar humor, never will.  Alas.  2nd Platoon had deployed on both sides of the road on the northern end of Objective Corellia, and had planted anti-walker mines.  As for the assault force, we sat hidden inside the treeline on the southern side of the objective, visors switched from night vision to clear as the sun rose.  I simply looked over at the leaders of 1st and 3rd Platoons.  They nodded, so I sent the planned support request to Thunder and Promise, orbiting high overhead.  A quick text reply: ETA four minutes.

“Six, this is Five,” Andras said.  He was positively gleeful.  “I have eyes on a dozen speeder bikes parked near the south gate, but no activity near them.  No visible patrols outside the perimeter.  A few heat sources from the bunkers and the walker hangar, but no movement.  Looks like they’re asleep.  They don’t even have guard droids on patrol.  Over.”

II flicked the transmit button twice to acknowledge, then gave my final order.  “This is Six.  Execute as soon as the fast movers clear.  May the Force be with us.  Out.”

I looked past the trees at our objective.  Closest to us, on the southern end just inside the electrified wire fence, sat the speeders Andras mentioned.  Sturdy low-slung bunkers with turret mounted automatic blasters dotted the perimeter, connected by a series of shoulder deep trenches.  Further in, we saw two wide single-story barracks for the security force, topped with anti-Starfighter guns that – thank the Force – weren’t manned.  A fifty-meter flagpole that served as a wonderful target reference point sat in front of the three-story glass enclosed headquarters building.  A Lambda shuttle, its white paint already gleaming in the predawn light, was parked on the landing pad just east of the HQ.  Behind all of this, on the northern end, were two hangars, one each for AT-ST walkers and shuttles.  Neither Andras nor I saw any TIE fighter revetments, either during our orbiting recce or in person, so we knew this installation didn’t have air support. 

It started with a faint sound like nails on an ancient chalkboard: an X-wing fighter’s fusial engines.  Then all hell broke loose.  Bombs launched by our mothership Thunder literally fell out of the sky.  They obliterated many of the perimeter bunkers, punched gaping smoking holes in the headquarters and barracks, and damaged the walker hangar.  Concussion blasts from Thunder followed close behind, a twin line of staccato detonations from the speeder bikes to the flagpole, to the headquarters, to the shuttle hangar.  Promise‘s two X-wings then conducted a strafing run from east to west, the sound of their cannon almost overpowered by the alarm sirens at Objective Corellia.  Stormtroopers in incomplete armor streamed from the barracks, many throwing their helmets on while running to their positions on the perimeter.  Several tried to man the anti-Starfighter guns on the barracks roofs, only to be atomized by the X-wings.  The fighters’ final run destroyed the walker hangar and one of the AT-STs that had managed to rumble out.

The X-wings climbed, banked west, then turned their attention on Hilltop Alpha, the communications site and secondary objective.  They made quick work of the comms site and soared away, back into orbit in case an Imperial ship responded.  Andras immediately put his support-by-fire troopers to work.  A sizzling sound, a gray smoke trail, and a blue plume of exploding plasma marked the second AT-ST’s death at the hands of an H12 missile launcher.  Then every automatic weapon on Hilltop Gamma opened fire, deafening even from my position a kilometer away.  Belt-fed M35s, similar to the one carried by Baze Malbus, chattered next to much older D19 automatic blasters that had seen better days in the Clone Wars.  The company sniper team scored head shots from 1,400 meters, using rifles designed for use against vehicles.  Mortars joined the fray, smart warheads tracking and hitting moving targets from directly overhead.

I saw stormtroopers filleted by mortars, ribs sticking out from under charred white armor.  Limbs separated from torsos by automatic weapons.  Traumatic decapitations from direct hits by mortars or snipers.  None of this would bother me until later, in my stateroom aboard Thunder, when my mind would replay it on an endless loop and deprive me of sleep.  In the meantime, every Imperial trooper killed by the support-by-fire element was one less that our assault force had to face.

3rd Platoon’s Lieutenant Arzam grabbed my arm and pointed.  “Captain Torian, walkers inbound!”  I used eye motions on my visor to mark the AT-STs’ positions for Andras.  I only half-joke that Andras is so old, so wizened, that he served on Master Yoda’s personal security detachment when Yoda was a Padawan.  The old warrior’s experience showed, half his guns shifting fire to the walkers, the other half continuing to suppress Objective Corellia.  The guns barely registered against the AT-STs, orange plasma bolts bouncing off their armor, but the fire diverted the walkers’ attention long enough for the assault force to launch four rockets.  Two hit each walker, which crumpled to the landing pad and completed the destruction of the Lambda shuttle.

“All Shafaq elements, this is Six.  Upsilon, over.”  1st and 3rd Platoons, each arrayed in a V formation (2 squads abreast, one in trail), ran from the treeline directly at the southern gate, firing as they went.  Upsilon was the code to begin the assault, but that an explosive breach of the wire was no longer necessary; Thunder‘s cannon had shredded both the southern wire and the generator that had electrified it.  The last mortar round hit the bunker closest to our breach point, and the support-by-fire element shifted fire northward, perpendicular to but still away from our advance.

Another thing the recruiting holovids miss: the plasma of a blaster shot is excruciatingly slow.  I mean, you can track it with the naked eye.  But when you see an iridescent orange bolt coming straight for your head and feel the heat when it misses by mere centimeters … well, now you know what “pucker factor” means, no matter how often you’ve had that sort of “significant emotional event.”  Lieutenant Azram and her platoon sergeant ended the stormtrooper who fired at me, then had to grab me by my body armor and drag me inside the wire because I’d frozen in place.

Once inside, however, I was fine.  I set up a temporary command post under a wing of the shuttle’s smoking remains.  Between communicator reports, text messages from subordinates, and demands for information from the navy captain commanding Thunder, I was nearing sensory overload.  I tracked the ground battle on my visor, and relayed orders through my communications sergeant.  3rd Platoon fanned into the outermost trench and were destroying the remaining perimeter bunkers with thermal satchel charges.  1st Platoon sent one squad each to the remains of the barracks and headquarters, in search of priority intelligence requirements and high-value prisoners.  From hard experience, we knew that no one below the rank of captain would know anything substantive, so we concentrated on unarmored senior officers in dark grey tunics.

A text from Lieutenant Havarr from 2nd Platoon coincided with a raging firefight on their side of Objective Corellia: they were engaging stormtroopers and Imperial officers trying to escape on foot.  Hopefully, 2nd Platoon was only shooting to wound or stun the officers, but I didn’t keep my hopes up considering the volume of fire.

“Six, this is Red,” 1st Platoon’s leader screamed over the company net.  “Omega omega omega, over!”  I pumped my fist, almost weak with relief.  Our last report was that the admiral commanding this system was off-world, but 1st Platoon had somehow bagged him alive.  In the excitement of the capture of such a high-value target, it took me a while to realize how quiet the mountain had become.  All firing had ceased.  Debris and body parts littered the objective.  The shuttle hangar had become a pyre, thick black smoke rising several kilometers in the blue sky, and occasional explosions when fuel cells ignited.

Within five minutes, the entire assault element, plus manacled and blindfolded prisoners, consolidated at the assault position outside the southern gate where we’d entered.  Our medic droids had thankfully been bored since the attack began, with just a handful of minor wounds to treat – and no dead.  The two serious casualties strapped to hovering litters were enemy prisoners, each overseen by a medic droid and a rifle-toting trooper.

“All Shafaq elements,” I said on the company net, “this is Six.  Take up PZ posture.  One zero minutes to pickup, over.”  It actually only took three minutes; amazing how fast drop ships can fly, not just when an objective is secure, but also when escorted by a pair of X-wings.  One lumbering craft landed at Andras’s position, another picked up 2nd Platoon, with the last two for the assault force.  By habit and tradition, my security team and I boarded last.  Once the rear ramp closed, the trip to Thunder’s landing bay seemed like a leisurely joyride in an open-topped landspeeder.

We’re scheduled to refuel and rearm on Alderaan, transfer our prisoners to General Rieekan’s intel pukes, and presumably receive our next mission from Senator Organa.  What happens after that is anyone’s guess.  My one hundred twelve infantry soldiers have heard at least a hundred different rumors on the subject.  Home, Dantooine, would be nice, but we launched the day before Team Rogue’s demise and probably won’t see our families for awhile.  What I do know, however, is that my time commanding Shafaq Company is ending soon.  Lieutenant Andras, who helped found the Rebellion’s Mobile Infantry ten years ago as an already grizzled sergeant, will take the reins.  What I’d like next is a cushy job after crisscrossing the galaxy for much of the last decade.  Maybe I could command Leia’s security detail.  She seems like a smart kid.  I’ll ask Bail when we land.


The Dark Side (of the Rebellion)

Author’s note:  This post can arguably be seen as a companion to this or this, but in all honesty, it was inspired by this brilliant podcast by Angry Staff Officer and Adin Dobkin.  If you don’t already follow them on Twitter, WTH are you waiting for?  Full disclosure: I consider ASO a personal friend, even if he is an engineer officer who turned his back on his prior enlisted infantry past, but I digress.  The former soldier in me had always wondered about what happened with pockets of resistance in far flung corners of the galaxy.  I’ve seen the disastrous second and third order effects of real insurgencies, so in a fit of writer’s extrapolation, I tried to imagine what the insurgency on one planet among thousands of Empire controlled worlds might be like.  Without further ado …

I’ve been leading this contingent of the Lothal Liberation Force for ten years.  Sometimes we number a hundred, as we did six years ago, for our attack on the TIE Fighter factory; more often than not, we operate in two or three seven-man sections.  Sometimes, as today, it just takes a crew of five.  It depends on what we think we can get away with, who might not be missed if they don’t show up at work.  We’re such a motley crew that we don’t rate a Jedi, or even a Padawan, on our home world – we just want the Empire out, and will do everything in our limited power to ensure that outcome.  A prehistoric sage had supposedly said of his ragged band: “We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again.”  Ever since a TIE Bomber incinerated my house, with my wife and children still inside, this is all I know.

I also own a souvenir shop near the Spaceport, and make a minor killing selling fake Rebellion-themed trinkets to the Imperial Forces.  Stormtroopers love the starbird flags we make in the basement, then splatter with enough dirt and nerf blood for verisimilitude’s sake.  I smile as I scan their pay cards, memorize the faces of those not wearing helmets, in the off chance I’ll see them through a scope one day.  The new governor has been searching for us both on the steppe and in the cities, hoping to prove his worth to the Emperor as if his job depends on it.  Which, of course, it does.  No one wants to be Force choked by a Sith.

Unless you were looking directly at us, you would have missed the handoff.  Two men walking in opposite directions, with a split second pause as they exchanged weapons.  The thermal grenades felt heavy, but they were a newer model, I could tell from the heft.  I was dressed like most men in Lothal City, with an untucked tunic over loose trousers and nerf leather boots.  There hardly seemed to be any colors in clothing since the Empire occupied us, just varying shades of brown or khaki.  If anything, that made it easier to blend in.  A few Stormtroopers patrolled the streets in pairs, at regular intervals, some accompanied by an unarmored officer wearing gray.

It was a sparkling new high rise building within walking distance of the Imperial governor’s mansion.  Loyalty to the Emperor and snitching on your fellow Lothalians were rewarded with amenity filled apartments in the Coruscant Glen.  Obsequious droids in each unit tended to every need including cooking, cleaning, and child care – and recorded your every move for the Imperial Security Bureau.  The restaurant on the ground floor of the Coruscant Glen catered to midlevel officers and Imperial bureaucrats – and their families.  It was nice but not too nice, its main feature a sprawling patio with a force field to repel rain, and a moderately priced Coruscanti menu.  These people do love the food of their home world.  I’d eaten there several times on scouting missions, and found the food bland by our standards.  Good selection of Lothalian beers, though.

The patio was packed, as it always was for lunch in the spring.  I used a dead Stormtrooper’s card for a coffee across the street.  Why tempt the ISB by using your own card?  One of my subalterns paid for his meal and left his table by the bar.  Two cooks emerged from a back door, quickly shedding white chef coats to join the subaltern in the crowd walking away from the building.  I looked at my communicator watch and counted down the seconds.  At the last moment, I took cover behind a thick column by the coffee stand.  Four proton grenades exploded simultaneously – one in the kitchen, one at the bar, one under the subaltern’s table on the patio, and one in the restroom.  Smoke and screams filled the air, then sirens as Imperial Gendarmerie hover tanks and speeders converged on the massacre.  The anti-rain force field had contained the  bombs’ explosions within the restaurant’s confines.  The result was butchery.  An armless woman wept over the corpses of her children and husband, an Imperial officer.  Limbs, large and small, littered the patio.  A man staggered out of the restaurant’s interior, his body charred as if he’d escaped a barbecue’s spit, then collapsed dead by the front door.  A smoking head rolled onto the sidewalk.

The first speeder Stormtroopers to respond removed their helmets to vomit on the ground.  A hover tank disgorged its band of troopers at the near corner to search for survivors.   Another hover tank took station on the opposite corner, to my far left.  I sipped my coffee behind the column, gawking with feigned horror as Stormtroopers established a perimeter.  Two black clad Deathtroopers roughly shoved hysterical civilians looking for loved ones.  The rest of the crowd milled around me as I pushed buttons on the grenades in my pockets.  Like many here, I held my wrist up to record the scene on my communicator watch.  With the other hand, I simply dropped the miniature thermal detonators.  They scooted around people’s ankles to autonomously seek large hunks of metal – like the broad bottom of a hover tank.

The subaltern’s thermals went off first, under that hover tank’s soft belly, fused for a blast radius of only five meters.  Anything within those mini fireballs of plasma was incinerated in a tenth of a second.  My own were set to ten meters, since the Stormtroopers here were more widely spread out.  Civilians were caught in this attack, too, but as I’d indoctrinated every member of my band: no sacrifice is too great for our liberation from the Empire.  Kill now, mourn later.  The innocent dead are unavoidable and necessary collateral damage in the pursuit of liberation.  With the sounds of even more screams and sirens building to a crescendo, I took a leisurely half hour walk back to my souvenir shop.


The moon Candra had already risen in the eastern sky, with her smaller sister, Tinne, shining brightly overhead.  Even at the end of summer, it was still hot enough for heat waves rising from the ground to give false readings in our ancient thermal viewers.  But we’d resurrected other ancient lessons, like how to take on a more heavily armed foe without blasters.  An Imperial sensor 20 km away can track a blaster shot’s plasma to within a few centimeters.  Other lessons we’d had to relearn: merchant by day, insurgent by night; close range is your friend; homemade explosives and deeply buried mines can cause heavier casualties than an X-Wing on a strafing run.

“Steady, Raiona.”

“Shut up, Gajari,” I hissed at my number two.  “I’ve only been doing this for all twenty years of the occupation.”  Two two-legged All Terrain Scout Transports – AT-STs – lumbered over the savannah.  A small patrol, thank the Force.  Their heads and accompanying main guns slewed right and left, controlled by the officer in the lead AT-ST.  Bagging these would be fantastic, but we needed bigger fish, and the bait was tramping over the grass covered plateau, interspersed with the bandy legged AT-STs.  About twenty Stormtroopers – were they still clones, and if not, did that even matter? – arrayed in three mutually supporting V’s, heading in the same direction as the STs, from our right to left.  Always creatures of habit, they were following a well used trail that we had helpfully cleared of grass two years ago.  You almost didn’t want to kill their leader, in case he was replaced by someone more tactically and technically proficient by several orders of magnitude.  This long stretch of grassland sat in the saddle between two ridgelines that loomed four hundred meters above us.  There was no cover besides a few folds atop the plateau, but concealment aplenty in the grass.  And the rocks above.

Gajari kept feeding me range information, even though we’d walked the area earlier this morning.  One missileer on each flank tracked the STs through their launchers’ scopes and, like the rest of us, waited.  A red triangle in my scope indicated that the lead vehicle had entered the kill zone.  The green arrows pointing at the STs marked the missileers’ aim points – the soft engine under the command module, where the spindly legs met.  You can’t hardly kill an ST from the front, even with blasters, a painful lesson learned during the TIE Fighter factory battle.

The red triangle flashed, meaning both the STs and supporting Stormtroopers were in the kill zone, a mere hundred meters away.  I raised my hand, because using communicators was an invitation for a squadron of TIE fighters to ruin your day.  This time, we wanted them to use their communicators.  And they would, as soon as I dropped my hand.  The missileers fired.  No one knew anymore how – or even why – these things worked, hundreds of years after production, but they did.  Primitive rockets, guided by the reticles in the missiles’ tracking sights, did yeoman’s work.  A soft thump as air canisters shoved the missile out of the tube, then a low roar as the anti-armor missile’s rocket ignited.  We saw Stormtroopers’ heads and blasters turn towards the sound, but they were already too late.   Gajari hit the detonators, and mines exploded along the entire length of the Imperial patrol.  White armor plates, flesh, a pink bloody mist, and bone fragments flew in a hundred directions.  Then the missiles hit.  Then another missile on each ST, just to finish the job.  Their balancing gyros failed, and they fell helplessly and sideways to the ground.

I pumped my fist up and down next to my head, the signal to disperse quickly.  The men followed my order without hesitation.  Only Gajari and I stayed to observe the kill zone.  Once the explosions’ echoes stopped rippling through the canyons, the ambush site became as quiet as if someone pushed a button.  A faint screech overhead, then another.  But TIE fighters don’t just operate in pairs, they work in threes or a full squadron of twelve.  Tonight they didn’t disappoint.

Three surface to air missiles streaked upwards from the ridgeline to our left.  Three more from the right.  Two TIEs evaded, only to collide in midair, flaming pieces floating down between us and the Stormtrooper patrol.  Missiles struck three more, which left only one, trying to put a ridgeline between him and the SAMs.  Two ion-seeking missiles hit him at the same time.  Even the solar panels disintegrated, likely killing the pilot before he had a chance to eject.

I saw him through my thermal scope, in the top hatch of the first smoking ST.  A colonel, from the rank squares on his chest, a gray forage cap instead of a helmet.  He held a communicator to his face, the strain on his face as clear as daylight.  Blood ran down his face from a head wound – those always bleed worse than they actually are, but make for dramatic news holo-vids.  I turned off my scope, because the fires started by our ambush obviated the need for night vision devices.  Gajari and I gathered up our weapons and equipment, and headed to the kill zone.

Gajari started on the far right, guided by any movement illuminated by the burning STs.  His pistol, another projectile weapon instead of plasma, coughed loudly as he applied the coup de grace to wounded Stormtroopers and AT-ST crewmen.  I did the same on the left, and we met in the middle, where the colonel lay on a bed of bloody sawgrass.  Both his legs were gone below the knee, no risk of exsanguination because the explosions had cauterized the wounds.

The colonel was unarmed.  He tried to raise himself up on his elbows, but I planted a knee on his chest and looked down.  I resisted the urge to remove the clumsy helmet with its cumbersome face plate and voice changer – this one might yet survive, so why risk it?  “Attacks like this and the restaurant bombing last month will keep happening, until your kind dies or leaves.  This our world, Colonel.  Not yours.  If you live long enough to be debriefed, tell them that.”

Two days later, I saw a much different colonel in the shop.  The burns on his face were covered in New Skin, and his trouser legs were empty below midthigh.  This far out in the galaxy, I knew he’d have the schlep all the way to Coruscant to get decent prosthetics.  “How much,” asked the legless man in the hover chair.  I told him, and he let me scan his Imperial pay card.  I placed the fake Rebel Alliance flag in his lap, we exchanged a nod, and he scooted out the door.

“Get some of those rebels, Colonel.  It’s bad for business.”

He stopped and turned his chair.  “I’ll be back, and they’ll bleed.  Count on it.”

I flashed what I hoped was a cheery grin.  “Look forward to it.  See you around, then.”

The war continues.