The last thing she saw was the proton torpedo hitting the ground. It punched through the durasteel landing deck, buckling her feet out from under her before blinding her. Although the explosion had been forty feet from Melini Najima, it had done its job. The force of the blast had punched through her white Stormtrooper armor, pummeling her into the air.
She felt as if she was floating. Until her broken body finally hit the alien terrain. Hearing a voice murmuring to her, Melini squinted, trying to see out of her blind eyes. It was her voice. She couldn?t even tell if she still had her helmet on. But she heard the Rebel Alliance X-wings roaring overhead, cleaning up the last of their defenses. So this was how it was going to end. Spiar had fallen to the Rebels. Three years it had taken the Alliance to get organized enough to take the industrial planet from the Empire.
She heard a shuttle touch down through the ringing in her ears. The Rebel grunts were sweeping up.
It hurt to breathe. It hurt to be alive. Melini tried to sit up, tried to move her arm. Her body wouldn?t respond. Breathing out, she winced.
Let this be quick.
Another explosion thumped the ground, this one vibrating up through her shattered spine. Melini Najima didn?t hear it, didn't feel it. Instead she heard voices.
Voices she hadn?t heard in years.
"Melini! Girl, where are you?"
Melini shivered as her father stormed into the small square. Lit in silhouette from behind, he looked like a ghoul. Melini?s breath caught in her throat as his glazed eyes fixed on her. He seemed to dwarf the three story buildings in this part of Temple City.
"Shutup! You?re supposed to be home!" Snatching her arm, the man almost pulled the seven year old off her feet, yanking her towards him. Her playmates mulled around, their Shevek game destroyed. Most of them looked at their feet as Melini?s father dragged her away.
She caught a glimpse of Kamian Nan looking expectantly at her. Sneaking a low wave at him, she watched him smile as she was dragged around the corner into the dark street. Even though Kamian was five, she liked him. Even though he was a boy.
Getting her feet underneath her, she tried to keep her arm from getting yanked out of the socket. The stream of obscenities and insults pouring from her father?s mouth flew over her head. All she knew is she was in for it when they got home.
Melini Najima felt the dull curtain blanket her mind as she was dragged into her first-story home. It always ended. One way or another, it always ended.
Her shattered nerves echoed dull ache throughout her entire body.
Am I dead?
No, she could still feel the base of her spine buzzing, but not much else. Scattered voices screamed to each other. Several weapons reported, followed by explosions.
What little adrenaline she had left pulsed through her as the image of her father became stronger. She did not want to see him again.
Melini clutched the puncture wound on her chest, gritting her teeth against the deep pain. Deep red blood escaped over her hand. Pink gobs of Mern meal were splattered all over the kitchen. Her father stood over her, holding the bladed metal cutter. His eyes had ceased to be human.
"Girl, what?s it going to take? You listen to me!" Flecks of spit flew from his lips onto her face. They felt like acid.
"What do you think you?re a woman now!? Just cause? some boy wants you? You?re nothing!"
Melini looked at the man above her. She saw his mouth moving, saw the veins popping in his red face, understood his body language. She couldn?t hear his voice anymore. The thick blanket over her brain started to thin. Melini felt herself starting to hyperventilate. Her heart was trying to escape its cage of ribs.
Her father?s hand came up again; the curved weapon starting its descent.
Driving her fist up into his groin, Melini heard a roar.
It was her roar. Dropping to the floor of the kitchen, her father sucked in a quick breath, letting out a squeak. Melini jumped to her feet, snatching the blade from the floor where it had skidded. Standing over the squirming man, she looked down at the man on the floor.
"Grrlll.." It was the only word that managed to sneak out of his lips. Melini raised the tool high in her hand, feeling like her arm was on autopilot. Like someone had taken control of her body.
When she had finally stopped hitting him with the weapon, Melini collapsed over his body. Her hair was matted sticky, her clothes stained through. Exhausted, she crawled to her knees, flopping her back into the far wall. She sat and stared at nothing.
Melini could hear her wheezing breath echoing in her helmet. A far off exchange of laser blasts died as soon as it had begun. Trying to smile, she started to panic when her face didn?t respond. She wasn?t sure if her eyes were open or closed. She could feel the blood, on her face, on her body, she could feel it puddling under her back. If she was in this condition, the rest of her platoon must have been killed, probably in the initial bombing run. Melini had been outside of the garrison at the west gate when the attack had first begun. She had been looking forward to a hot shower and a terrible meal.
The sound of another explosion rang through her helmet. She wondered if that was an Imperial pilot hitting the deck, or if they had managed to get one more Reb. As soon as the thought occurred, she knew she would never find out. She knew her entire platoon was dead.
So many things end in the blink of an eye.
Melini shoved the Stormtrooper's helmet down as a red lance of laser fire shot past. Even through her white armor, she could feel the heat wash. The bolt bit into the bulkhead behind them, spraying her squadron with a cascade of sparks.
Melini ducked out from behind the terminal, returning fire down the corridor. Looking back, she saw five more Stormtroopers exit the airlock. One of them was dropped immediately by a Rebel shot. Her helmet lenses polarized as another shot whizzed by her head. Dropping, she slammed her back into the terminal, landing hard on her rear. Checking her blaster's power cell, she clicked on her helmet comm.
"TH-4421! Intel was bulls-eye; this hauler is crawling with Rebels!"
"Copy that TH-4421, sending reinforcements. Hang tight."
The blaster fire stopped, leaving a blanket of silence in its place. Melini cocked her head. Pointing to two of her team, she signaled, waving them past the terminal. Melini expected them to be cut down as soon as they stood up.
She peeked over the terminal. Besides the smoke, the corridor was empty.
"Eyes right, the corridor cuts out twenty meters down. Watch for trips."
The five Imperial troopers fanned out, scanning the floor and ceiling as they slid down the hallway, weapons hefted. Melini followed, her blaster pointed towards the end of the hallway.
Fifteen minutes ago, she had been asleep aboard the DT-419, an orbital check station and her most recent posting. The station had scanned a garbage hauler and detected tell-tale power fluctuations. When the hauler's pilot cut off communications and tried to make high orbit for a hyperspace jump, the station's TIEs had blown out the hauler's engines. Melini had had just enough time to throw on her armor before they were hustled onto the boarding craft.
"Watch the corner," she whispered into her helmet comm, blinking.
The corridor lit up with laser fire. From behind!
One of her men went down in a shower of white armor chunks. They fell back to the end of the hallway, returning fire. The Rebels had taken cover behind the same terminal she had used just moments before.
"They got around us! Where are those reinforcements?"
Melini couldn?t hear the response over the firefight. One of the Rebels came into view. Snapping her weapon up, she fired.
It was Kamian Nan.
Melini felt her stomach drop as his body fell out of sight, gored by her shot. Her troops shot another Rebel as more Imperial armor began to pour through the boarding lock. The remaining Rebels fled down the corridor, firing all the way.
Melini raced down the corridor, falling at Kamian Nan?s side. The remainder of her team joined the pursuit, leaving her alone with her downed target. He was still alive. Her shot had scorched his right shoulder. His chest heaved for breath as he tried to sit up. Looking at her weapon, then her helmet, he laid back down.
"Do it. Kill me."
Melini knew he wouldn?t want to be tortured. She knew that, since he had told her once, in a different place, a different time.
A different life.
Kamian Nan started to shake, the blood draining from his dirty face. He was going into shock.
Craning her helmeted head down the hallway, she made sure it was clear before reaching up to her helmet clasps. Holstering her weapon, she lifted her helmet, feeling the cool air of the hauler hit her face. She felt naked.
Like her first time with him.
Kamian Nan?s eyes widened, rolling up into his head. Had he seen her? Unclipping a small medpack from her belt, she popped it open.
Snatching her helmet, she clamped it back on. She had worked too hard, gone through too much to become a Stormtrooper. She wasn?t ready to give it up, even for Kamian Nan. Snatching a stim-vial from the tiny kit, she jabbed it into his arm. Reaching out a gloved hand, she touched his face.
"TH-4421! Where are you?"
Her brain snapped back to reality. She had a job to do. Hopefully, the stim would give him enough juice to get to an escape pod and get to the planet?s surface. After that, he was on his own. The jungle planet below wasn?t exactly a paradise.
Snapping the kit closed, she started down the hallway, drawing her blaster. Taking one long last look at him, Melini disappeared around the corner.
Kamian Nan hefted his field rifle in front of his chest, scanning the smoking field. Making sure he didn?t get too far ahead of his platoon, he stepped over a twisted sheet of metal, folding it over with his thick boot.
An arm, still clad in Stormtrooper armor, lay smoking five feet away. Kamian shook his head. The X-wing?s strike had been dead on. Other Imperial corpses, and pieces of corpses, lay strewn around the blast crater.
Like rag dolls.
The Imperial garrison had been totally destroyed. Kamian clicked on his comm.
"Nan here. This place has been fragged. There?s nothing left."
Clicking his wrist comm off, he lowered his rifle. Casting a glance to the troops still scanning the field, Kamian winced as a flight of X-wings flew over. The shockwave barreled over the jagged landscape, vibrating his teeth. Kamian Nan wondered how many other Imperial outposts had fallen this way since the destruction of the second Death Star.
He was glad it was over. The war was over. His comm buzzed.
Snapping his head up, Kamian saw one of his platoon waving to him from behind a twisted mountain of smoking metal. Picking his way through two hundred feet of debris, Kamian lowered his rifle as he rounded the metal mountain.
Vennis Haman was standing over the body of a Stormtrooper, splayed out on the ground. The trooper's chest plate, scarred and blackened, was cracked in half. Blood mixed with carbon scoring, covering the white armor with coagulated rivulets of ash.
"Look at this."
Pointing to the gaping crack in the Imperials armor, Vennis shouldered his weapon, kneeling.
"I already checked for traps. These Imps didn?t have time to rig anything. Cool your jets Nan."
Pulling up the cracked plate, Vennis lifted the shattered armor. Kamian Nan looked at the body, shrugging his shoulders.
"Well? You got me over here to strip Imp-"
The downed soldier was a woman. The torn black body glove told them in no uncertain terms.
"Yeah," Vennis Haman smiled," didn?t know they had women inside these things, did you?"
Kamian leaned his rifle against a jagged curl of metal, kneeling beside the dead Imperial.
"I?ll bet brass will be interested in that," Haman beamed, rising to his feet. Turning, he scanned the field, laughing. "I have to find Drammer?that putter owes me a bagful of credits." Vennis Haman disappeared around the jagged metal, leaving Kamian Nan alone with the Imperial. The woman.
Standing, he went to grab his rifle.
His eyes went wide. Blinking, he stared at the scar glaring at him through the torn body suit. The old wound scratched an ugly line in her bloody left shoulder. The woman was still breathing. A voice from the past barreled through Nan's brain.
My father. My father did this to me.
This could not be happening. His head began to ring.
Dropping to his knees, Kamian unclipped the broken helmet, pulling it away from the woman?s head.
Black cropped hair topped the cracked blood that painted Melini Najima?s face. She stirred. Kamian almost fell back. All he could do was look at her. He didn?t want to touch her; afraid he might hurt her, more than she had already been damaged. His breath stopped as he examined her shattered frame again.
Ripping off his glove, he kneeled close to her, his hands shaking. Touching her cool face, Kamian felt his stomach quake uncontrollably. Melini moaned once, her shaky arm trying to move from the ground. Kamian grabbed the cold white armor, stripping off what was left of the white hand guard, peeling away the blood soaked glove. Lacing his fingers in the hand he knew so well, he closed his eyes. Her skin was cold, clammy. Tears mixed with blood. She squeezed, once. Her hand was ice.
"Sorry," she strained.
"No no no," he cried in a whisper," no no it's alright it's alright!" An image of her, drawing a bead on him ripped through Kamian's brain. She could have been any one of a hundred Stormtroopers that had tried to kill him. It didn?t matter now. Nothing else mattered right now. Stroking her face, he drew close to her. She was dying., he knew that. Even if he could get her medical attention in time, why would the Rebellion try to save a Stormtrooper? The only reason they would attempt to save her life was to extract information.
No, sweetness?you have been through enough.
She was dying, and there was nothing he could do. Nothing but drink in her last moments.
"Stay?" she murmured. Kamian?s face twisted with grief. Did he lose her so many years ago just to find her like this? He would have rather never found her at all.
There must be another way.
"Mel?" Dipping his head, he kissed her face. The left side of her face was burned. All he smelled was her sweet smell, the way she had smelled their first kiss. All he saw was her face; no blood, no burn, just long black flowing hair, deep green eyes. Her smile. This was no hardened Imperial soldier in front of him. She was not the end result of a galaxy torn in two. This was his love.
Melini Najima exhaled one more breath. The shaking tension melted out of her broken frame.
Kamian felt the last spark of life slip from her body. She was dead; and with her, a part of him. Leaning over her, he slid one hand under her head, sliding the other one around her gloved body. Just like their first time. Pulling her into him, he breathed her in.
The detonator underneath her beeped once.
Kamian Nan closed his eyes.
Original cover by AgronDyrce. HTML formatting copyright 2004 TheForce.Net LLC.