Major Frish waited for a response. His patience yielded nothing.
"Colonel, the 1400 check-in, as requested."
Without turning or raising her head from the monitor, Colonel Geswin Polorus held out her hand towards Frish. The major delivered the datapad and remained standing at attention until he was dismissed with a mild "Thank you." Polorus continued to stare at the sonar/radar feed, studying the picture provided by the small viewscreen. Eventually, she rose up and tapped the sonar officer on the shoulder. "Keep me informed of any changes in activity, Sergeant."
Colonel Polorus attempted to gather her thoughts. What the hell are they waiting for? she wondered. The enemy was on their doorstep - both sides appeared poised and ready. It was 'Do or Die' time.
So why hasn't the Republic attacked?
Polorus let out a slow breath, hoping it would ease some of her anxiety. Frustrated, she turned and headed back towards the center of the command room. The entire chamber was a virtual circus of activity - operations officers shouting orders into comlinks, staff personnel running information across the floor, even maintenance droids effecting repairs to the rapidly aging building. As a heavyset woman just past the age of sixty, Geswin Polorus should have stuck out somewhat in a military setting such as this. The truth was, though, the armed forces of Davinich IV were a highly diverse crowd, made up of all varieties of race, gender and age.
Her frizzled gray hair and stern features did give her a presence of authority, though.
The Colonel crossed the floor quickly, noting that every officer in her path moved to the side with a salute. She approached a door on the far wall marked INTELLIGENCE and entered without knocking.
"Anything?" she asked from the doorway.
"No, sir," answered one of the three officers crammed into the small room. "We've recorded plenty of comlink chatter between their soldiers and mid-ship men, but nothing of any significance. And we still haven't been able to tap into their line with the Ogor."
The Ogor was what the soldiers had named the wedge-shaped Republic Assault Ship sitting in orbit around Davinich IV. Its arrival four days ago had been enough cause for concern since its presence alone created a blockade around the small planet. Shipping, importing and even smuggling had come to a screeching halt. Fears began to rise that the GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) would simply play a waiting game and see how long the people on Davinich IV could last without fresh supplies. To the satisfaction of Colonel Polorus and her troops, the Republic had obviously given up on patience and was now preparing to attack. And, since ninety-five percent of Davinich IV's surface was covered in water, that meant the Grand Army of the Republic had to deploy their aquatic vessels.
The invasion path would not be an easy one, though, thanks to the foresight of the Davinich military. Grommeck Isle, the only sizable landmass on the planet, had been heavily fortified with durasteel walls, an energy shield and several long-range turrets that fired antiquated, yet still effective, rounds of Eriadu alloy. Circling the island were one hundred fifty large commerce boats that had been retrofitted with shields of their own, turbolasers and torpedo tubes. And to top it all off, the island's numerous ports had been closed off in favor of one large sea entryway that was protected by a reinforced gate and more than half of the navy.
Still frustrated, Colonel Polorus moved back towards the center of the command hub and stood there, watching the activity around her. With Republic forces less than five klicks away from their location, the apprehension in the room was palpable. Realizing that she too needed a distraction, Polorus scanned the room and found one.
"Lieutenant!" she shouted. "I'm still waiting for your report on the most recent field test of our artillery!"
The lanky officer quickly came to attention and then moved close enough to be heard. Polorus allowed herself a brief smirk upon noticing the awkwardness in the young man's hurried movements. "Sir, our turrets are showing an effective range of two hundred meters or less. My gunnery sergeant believes we can still achieve sufficient accuracy for another fifty meters after that. Our plasma launchers seem to have a tendency to hang-fire if the heavy condensation isn't cleared from the barrels consistently, but they of course are limited to thirty meters or less."
"Very well," the Colonel said. "Return to your station." Polorus wasn't surprised by the man's nervousness. Before the war, she'd been a tough supervisor on the same people now under her command - except then, they'd all been working in the food processing and shipping facilities of Grommeck Isle. Peaceful and productive, the planet Davinich IV had attracted skilled fishermen and other marine hunters from around the galaxy. It was considered an honor to fish the plentiful seas here, which in turn fueled the successful food exporting based on Grommeck Isle. Because you only came to Davinich IV by choice, everyone loved the jobs and homes they'd created here.
And now there were going to fight to protect them.
Feeling better, but still uneasy, Colonel Polorus spotted another victim. "Major! My chrono says 1409 - are you planning to provide a check-in report or simply wait until 1600?"
Major Frish whirled around to attention and gave the Colonel a confused stare. Polorus reciprocated with a stubborn glare of her own until she realized the Major was actually looking at her left hand. Glancing down, she felt a flash of embarrassment upon noticing the datapad she was carrying - the same one the Major had delivered just minutes before. Muttering a curse, she turned her back to the personnel who had witnessed her mistake and reviewed the check-in report.
As her eyes scanned the status of each vessel in the Davinich navy, a single entry caught her attention. Whipping out her comlink, Polorus keyed the operator. "Get me the Innocence Lost."
Eyes shut, Captain Vry Southwick took a moment to smell the sea air. Aromas of salt and deck plates filled his senses. But there was an additional smell, one that triggered the memory of fourteen years of fishing in the Davinich waters. Excitement rippled through his blood and he smiled.
Kortis Algae, he thought to himself. The season's about to start. For only sixty days a year, the indigenous plant would spread like a fire over this pocket of the Northern Ocean. And when that happened, every sea-dwelling animal within two hundred fifty kilometers would show up for the feast. In response, Southwick's boat would work triple shifts, taking in huge catches of grommecks and moopfish that would account for almost half of the entire year's production. It was the annual event that had created an industry on the otherwise unremarkable Davinich IV and a time heavily anticipated by Vry Southwick and the other boat masters. The hard work, the friendly competitions, the celebrations - it was truly a time to feel alive.
Southwick sighed. Too bad that's not why we're here today.
Stepping back from the bow, Captain Southwick looked his ship over with a heavy heart. He barely recognized her anymore. The necessary modifications to go from fishing boat to naval vessel were striking and, in Southwick's opinion, unpleasant to the eye. In some ways, this was similar to the transformation the crew had undergone - the once peaceful fishermen, who couldn't go one hour without cracking jokes, were now serious and dedicated naval officers. So with a touch of sarcasm, the captain had renamed the boat Innocence Lost.
Climbing the ladder to the bridge, Southwick was stopped mid-level by a yeoman no older than nineteen. "Shoreline, Skipper," he said, holding out a comlink. The Captain took the receiver and spoke into it. "Southwick - go ahead."
"Captain, I've just read the ridiculous request you made during the last check-in," Geswin Polorus said. "Permission denied."
Back when Grommeck Isle had housed only the processing and shipping facilities for seafood, there weren't many employees that had been on friendly terms with Old Lady Polorus. That number had diminished further once she had become their Colonel. At the moment, though, Vry Southwick didn't feel lucky to still be a part of that exclusive club.
"Colonel, I understand your objection. May I please point out that the Republic's deployment is now entering its thirtieth hour. We've all been on edge expecting an attack that hasn't happened. My crew is wearing itself down with nothing more than anxiety and nervous energy. I respectfully suggest that having my boat stand down for six hours would be extremely helpful."
"I'll say it again, Captain," Polorus replied. "Permission denied. The GAR is obviously hoping to lull us into some small measure of complacency and I don't intend to give it to them. Now, if you wish to add a fourth watch to your rotation, you may do so. But under no circumstances will you stand down from battle stations. Grommeck Base out."
Southwick handed the comlink back to the yeoman and resumed climbing. In truth, he hadn't expected a different answer from the Colonel. The navy he was now a part of constituted the front line of defense for Grommeck Isle and "down time" would not be practical with the enemy so close. Still, the Captain had hoped his old friend Geswin might find a way to help him.
Ducking through the typically short doorway, Southwick heard the standard "Captain on the Bridge" as he made his way through the interior. Rising from the center chair, Commander Branks nodded to his superior.
"XO, what's our status?" Southwick asked.
"All hands still at battle stations, sir," Branks answered. "Engineering has reported a small flux in Number Three, but doesn't expect any loss of maneuverability. All guns and tubes loaded, and Sick Bay is standing by."
"Good," the Captain said. After a moment he looked back at the Commander, noticing an anxious stare. "Was there something else?"
"Yes, sir. Grommeck Base has confirmed that only ship carriers launched from the Ogor. No fighters or speeders have deployed as yet."
Southwick nodded. Grommeck Isle's shielding, which was currently covering most of the Navy as well, prevented an orbital bombardment. Like Gungan technology, though, it wouldn't hold back physical objects such as smaller ships. The Republic could certainly supplement their attack with a couple fighter squadrons, but had chosen only boats instead.
"So," Branks continued, "given their lack of defense against our own fighters and the fact that we have no Intel on their troop strength, I would like permission to-"
"Stop right there," Southwick interrupted, "because the answer is no."
"Sir," the Commander insisted, "we need reconnaissance on our enemy. This battle will most likely be fought on soil as well as water."
Southwick again looked at his XO, who was actually a few years his senior, and couldn't help but be impressed. Branks was itching to do something other than wait and he was prepared to put his life in jeopardy for the good of his comrades. "I believe your assessment is correct, Commander. But even if we weren't down to only five operable fighter craft, the risk of being shot down is just too high. Besides," he added wryly, "you're not a very good pilot."
The Commander reflexively opened his mouth to argue, but quickly realized he was being baited. Letting the discipline drop for a minute, he glanced around the bridge and then jokingly punched Southwick in the shoulder. Facing the same direction as the Captain, Branks spoke quietly. "You smell the algae out there?"
Southwick let his own eyes dart around the bridge, being certain none of the officers were eavesdropping and answered "Yeah. How many nets you think we would have pulled in by now?"
"One would be enough to feel like a fisherman again...I just talked to Quim over on the Harbor Beast. He says you should be glad the Clone Wars started - it means our boat can avoid being humiliated by them again this season."
Vry Southwick scoffed loud enough for the entire bridge to hear. Lowering his voice even more, he said, "Next time you get Quim on the line, tell him the Moopfish Trophy is mine as soon as we cast again."
Branks chuckled and seemed to consider something for a moment. "You know, seeing's how we're not too busy, I could dig up a net from the hold, cast it over the side. We might even catch a few-"
"Sir!" shouted the comm officer. "Report from Base. The GAR is on the move and headed this way!"
The smile vanished from the Commander's face. Glancing back at the Captain, Southwick favored him with a slight nod.
"Thar she blows."
It was mostly by accident that Davinich IV was now in the war. Absent any real strategic importance, either by location or resources, the planet shouldn't have been on the radar for the Republic or the Confederacy. Nobody had really been certain why the charismatic Count Dooku had chosen to visit the little world four years ago, but the ramifications had been astounding. Having felt the sting of increased taxation by the Republic, the people working on Grommeck Isle had immediately liked Dooku's promise of increased profits and less interference by government. As a result, Davinich IV seceded from the Republic and joined the Confederacy.
There were, unfortunately, other issues to contend with. Davinich's voice is the Galactic Senate, the aging Senator Sipe, had refused to go along with the people's wishes. Insisting that the people living on Davinich IV didn't know what was really best for them, he had refused to remove Davinich IV from the Republic's charter. The result was a politician that claimed to speak for a planet he had actually lost all connection with. For the first few years, this arrangement hadn't created a problem. Davinich IV still dealt with business within and without the Republic, profits were good and everyone was happy for the most part.
Then the Battle of Geonosis had occurred. The food processing employees and fishermen of Grommeck Isle recognized the threat of the Grand Army of the Republic and had responded accordingly. Now, they were a military as well as a business. General Grievous, who commanded the Separatist forces of the Confederacy, had communicated his faith that Davinich IV could defend its borders, but offered no additional support.
And to their credit, the people of Davinich IV had requested none.
"Charges detonating," reported the munitions sergeant. Studying the readout, he then added, "Doesn't look like we got any of 'em."
A collective groan sounded from the officers in the command center. Geswin Polorus stood from her command chair and spoke up. "Let's not get discouraged, people. That ring of charges around the island was more of a deterrent than a defense. Our enemy would have to be very sloppy to lose any boats to it." Looking back at sonar/radar, the Colonel asked, "What's the count?"
"I've got a total of eighty-seven GAR boats on my screen, Colonel," came the report. "The ship carriers are hanging back, though."
"Then our boats outnumber them almost two to one," the Major said, "Little overconfident, aren't they?"
Grabbing the macrobinoculars, Colonel Polorus moved to the view port. Zooming in on the advancing fleet, she stated, "Maybe not - I don't know what kind of boats they're sailing, but they look nasty. No more than a third are attack craft, though. The rest are troop carriers hauling..." she paused while increasing magnification "...clones."
The Major swore under his breath. "Then they aren't here just to contain - they plan to invade."
The Colonel turned to a private standing nearby. "Go find the Quartermaster. Have her team issue blasters to every civilian in the plant able to wield one."
Major Frish moved just within earshot of the Colonel. "It'll be a slaughter if it gets to that point. Our line workers won't be a match for Republic clones."
"You don't need to remind me," Polorus answered without looking at him, "but I'd rather they have an option besides surrender."
"Sir," reported the sonar/radar officer, "we've engaged the GAR."
An explosion followed by a brief shower of seawater erupted off the port side of the Innocence Lost. Alloy rounds fired by the turrets of Grommeck Isle mercilessly pounded the GAR boats. The Innocence's own weapons roared as it squared off with an attack boat just seventy meters away.
"Sergeant!" yelled Captain Southwick. "Cease fire off our starboard bow - your target is already dead in the water. Redirect to our new friend at ten o'clock. And sailor," he added, temporarily forgetting the name of the young man at the helm, "bring us along side that crippled stinkpot. It should provide us some cover until she founders."
For the first ten minutes, the battle seemed to be going well. The Davinich navy was giving as good as it got, which in a conflict of attrition, put their side in the lead. Craft from both navies were now intermixed with one another, creating a confusing melee of fighting and evading. The water's surface was littered with scattered pieces of vessels and their crews.
Glancing back over the stern, Captain Southwick caught sight of a Republic boat spilling its complement of clone troopers onto the deck of the Sea Dream. Her crew was now fighting hand-to-hand which, given the size and training of the GAR's fearsome clones, put his the crew of the Sea Dream at a serious disadvantage.
"XO!" he shouted, pointing towards the Sea Dream. Commander Branks reacted without needing any further orders. Swiftly ascending to the crow's nest, he quickly assembled the sniper rifle stored there. Then, setting his feet and shoulders, Commander "Dead-Eye" Branks, Harpoon Champion six years running, dropped three clones in just over five seconds.
As the crack of rifle fire continued from the crow's nest, Captain Southwick turned his attention back to the rest of the battle. His crew was performing above expectations, sustaining little damage and making every adversary sorry they'd drifted too close.
The comm officer approached Southwick and handed him a datapad. Reading the order, the Captain then announced, "New orders, people! Set us to zero-one-seven, full throttle, Ensign. We've been given a priority target."
As the Innocence Lost moved deeper into the enemy line, Captain Southwick noted that at least a dozen other boats from his navy were also headed towards the same target, a single GAR boat bringing up the rear of the invading fleet. What's so important about that boat? Southwick wondered.
Leveling his macrobinoculars to his eyes, Southwick took a closer look at their quarry. The GAR boat was beginning to swing its bow one hundred eighty degrees, obviously noticing the attention it had just gained and hoping to reach the safety of its carrier vessels only four klicks away. Damn it, he thought, their boats have ours beat for speed. We're not likely to catch her.
Increasing the magnification on the macrobinoculars, Southwick quickly scanned the stern of their GAR boat when he noticed movement on its deck. Shifting his view, the Captain found himself staring back at another individual, also using binoculars. Not a clone, he thought, definitely a woman. Medium build, probably late twenties, strange uniform, single braid of hair...
Abruptly, Southwick spun to his tactical officer. "Lieutenant! Clear all tubes! Launch every fish we've got at that boat right now!"
"Sir," the young officer said, "I need a moment to plot a firing solution..."
"No!" the Captain screamed. "Fire!" The deck rumbled slightly as all four torpedo tubes came to life, putting twenty warheads in the water, speeding towards the escaping GAR boat. "Comm! Radio our comrades in range to do the same! Tell them it's vital we destroy that boat!"
Within seconds, the other twelve Davinich boats had half their payloads in the water. The escaping Republic vessel did a proficient job of stopping several torpedoes with its own weapons, but couldn't possibly get them all.
The first scored hit crumpled the stern of the GAR boat, killing its propulsion immediately. The second hit, less than two seconds later, turned the boat into a brilliant yellow fireball.
Cheers sounded all around the bridge of the Innocence Lost. Smiling broadly, Captain Southwick said "Ensign, take us back to the battle. Comm, get me the Old Lady."
Picking up her beeping comlink, Colonel Polorus thumbed the activator and didn't even bother to read the identity of her caller. "Tell me good news, Captain."
Captain Southwick's voice came through mixed with a million other garbled sounds in the background. "Target down, Colonel. Repeat, target down."
Feeling good for the first time all day, Polorus turned towards Major Frish, currently yelling into his own comlink. "Score one for the good guys, Major. We just sank ourselves a Jedi."
The Major now wore his own expression of jubilation. "Then we've won! We outnumber the clones and they've just lost their commander!"
"Don't jump the gun, Frish. There could be other Jedi on the Ogor." Polorus spoke into her comlink again. "Captain, what's your position?"
Southwick's voice came back, "Bearing one-nine-one, klick and a half out. We're coming up on another target, which seems to be ignoring us. Guess they've already lost the will to keep fi-" Static cut off the rest of his sentence.
Thumbing the comlink again, Polorus said, "Innocence Lost, come back. Did not finish last report. Repeat last transmission."
Still nothing but static. Feeling a rare bit of panic, Polorus said, "Vry, come back to me!"
"Colonel!" the sonar/radar operator suddenly shouted. "We just lost several boats!"
Her panic turning to shock, Polorus sprinted to the sonar/radar and pushed the operator out of the way from the readout. "What do you mean? What the hell just happened?"
Studying the radar and the new blips that had suddenly appeared, the awful truth suddenly become clear to Geswin Polorus. Switching to a broad channel, she screamed into her comlink, "All ships fall back! Retreat! Retreat!"
But it was too late. The GAR navy had appeared to be putting up a rather docile fight, when in fact they were simply moving into a widespread formation. And once they had reached their positions, they attacked - not using with their own weaponry, but the submersibles traveling underneath all the craft. Separate and deadly, their own engine signatures had been masked from the Grommeck Isle sonar by the larger boats they had been fastened to. And in the blink of an eye, the Davinich fleet had lost sixty-two boats.
Colonel Polorus was now frozen. Her navy was literally being shredded, the boat crews completely unprepared for the new targets now attacking from beneath the water's surface. Distress calls filled the command center, mangled screams came over the various channels and her officers scrambled around the room with the mad fury of desperation.
A shoulder bump from a junior lieutenant as he ran past her pulled Geswin Polorus out of her stupor. "We're not finished, people," she announced with as much conviction as possible. "Order Turrets Iota through Pi to lay suppressing fire in the evasion patterns we had them practice. Sergeant, continue ordering our boats to pull back while the turrets cover them. All other towers can choose their targets at random, but I want those plasma launchers primed and ready for a simultaneous burst on my order."
Complying with speed and efficiency, the senior officers of Davinich demonstrated their faith in both their colonel and their comrades. Moving towards the main viewport, Polorus glared at the approaching Republic navy. We won't fall that easy, she thought, so come right this way. I'm ready to play if you're willing to try.
But she wasn't. And they were.
Standing up abruptly from his station, one of the officers swore viciously and slammed both fists on the controls. Moving quickly to his side, the Major looked at the display and had to suddenly support himself to keep from falling. Turning to face the colonel, all color drained from his face, Major Frish reported, "All command codes have been overridden. Our defenses are going to shut down in five seconds."
Any composure still left in the command hub gave way to panic. Accusations of treason could be heard over garbled cries of frustration. Those individuals not carrying weapons scrambled towards the armory compartment while some of the more procedure-oriented officers began destroying their equipment. Action was no longer uniform, with each officer moving from his or her gut, rather than discipline. Such was the confusion that by the time the turrets fell silent, half the command center had already emptied, with some soldiers preparing to make a final stand while others fled for their lives.
Geswin Polorus was moving quickly as well, but with a focus not evident in any other soldier at that particular moment. Knowing the shield would remain up for the next hour thanks to their emergency generators, she began to fly up a narrow stairwell that lead to the closest turret. On her way up, she grabbed a backup generator, hoping she remembered how to connect it to the turret.
Stepping past the wounded soldier who had been operating the turret, she opened the service panel. Crossing wires, the thoughts of Colonel Polorus were actually far from the task her hands were performing. Rather, her quick deductive reasoning was centered on a person - the only individual with access to the command codes of Grommeck Isle who would even consider betraying them all. In short, the traitor that had cost her people this battle.
I will survive this fight, she promised herself as she finished bringing the turret back online. And when I find you, Senator Sipe, I will gut you like a fish.
Fastening a pair of ear protectors and settling into the plush seat attached to the large tri-gun formation, Geswin Polorus scanned for a target and found one immediately - a GAR boat had already reached the shoreline and was preparing to deploy the full company of clones it carried. Flipping off the safeties, she swiveled the meter long cannons to bear on the ship's port flank and opened fire.
"One...two....three," she counted silently as the clone troopers were ripped apart by the massive rounds. Finding no room to maneuver or hide on the ship's open deck, many clones were diving over the side while others attempted to return fire with their rifles.
Holding back a morbid smile, Polorus continued counting as her targets fell. "Nine...ten....eleven." Suddenly noticing a stinging sensation in her left hand, the Colonel risked a quick glance down and was horrified to see two of her fingers missing after a rifle blast had found its mark. Gritting her teeth, she brushed off the pain and tried to force the roaring turret to increase its rate of fire.
A deafening pop registered behind her as little pieces of metal shrapnel bit into her back. Polorus knew the clones were now trying to take her out with their concussion grenades, but again her lust for revenge overshadowed any fear and the count continued.
Darkness took her.
Inevitably, the battle ended.
Stepping carefully between shattered pieces of durasteel as well as the bodies of Davinich casualties, Clone Trooper 34/219 surveyed the damage with dispassion. Distant echoes of blasterfire could be heard as his comrades continued to square off with a few remaining elements within Grommeck Isle. Moving his way to the base of what used to be one of the impressive turrets, the clone looked behind himself and waived over a junior trooper.
"Sir?" the younger clone asked.
"Signal the Redemption and file a status report with this information: Grommeck Isle secured, mopping up remaining resistance. Intelligence concerning enemy strength and tactical abilities were both accurate - the rebellion here was ill-prepared for conventional warfare." As if to accentuate that last point, the trooper used his boot to turn over a Davinich casualty sprawled on the ground. The trooper found the presence of an older, gray-haired woman surprising on a battlefield.
He then added, "And send a private message to General Wixom. Inform him that his padawan was killed in action, though she performed her duty with utmost skill and admiration."
Nodding, the other clone headed towards the GAR landing craft deploying on the south shore. Glancing at the water, the clone noted a single moopfish swim to the surface, obviously looking for food. After a moment of searching, it gave up and headed back to sea.
Original cover by Lyra Luminara. HTML formatting copyright 2005 TheForce.Net LLC.