This story was requested by my brother “Domingo”, who also chose the title and provided a good many details of military tactics. As per his request, the main character is named after Robert E. Lee. I’m not sure where Part 2 will take me yet, but… I’ll let you know just as soon as I do.
N.B: Rayvor Abbey is a real place, but it is spelled, in this story, as a Yorkshireman pronounces it.
CS-943008, Clone Sergeant Lee, was widely reputed to be a mild-tempered man. That was why he was assigned to the 313th: General Kenobi had very deliberately selected the most sensible and level-headed clone officers available. Only one man in the entire battalion had actually met the legendary General, though, and Lee, with his fellow NCOs, was given to understand that an important part of their duties would be explaining to the men, as often as necessary, how it came to be that their official commander was conspicuously elsewhere.
“But you do not say one word against General Kenobi!” Clone Major Storm warned for the tenth time. “The colonel won’t stand for that.”
Although the colonel, an intense, serious Jedi Padawan of seventeen, was entirely unconcerned with protocol – and had been known to laugh on being addressed as “Sir… ma’am… Colonel, miss” – she could yell like a drill sergeant, and, if you spoke slightingly of General Kenobi, would. It hadn’t taken Lee long to learn that complaints about being commanded by two children were more safely voiced to the lieutenant-colonel, Padawan Ben Kenobi.
They were at Dantooine when it happened. Colonel Threeb and a squad of nine men had landed in the deserted city near the equator to investigate a rumored Separatist document cache. 313th was assigned simple missions.
Moving cautiously into a lofty hall, the largest building in the area, Lee held out one hand, signaling the others to wait. Blaster raised ready for anything, fully alert, the sergeant made his way into the hall, under arches carved from massive stone blocks.
Suddenly, voice tight and wary, Colonel Threeb snapped, “Stop! This place is all wrong. I can feel it.”
Lee had a great deal of respect for a Jedi’s “feelings” and stopped dead, frozen like a statue. It saved his life. Bare meters ahead, the great stone arch crashed to the floor, triggered by a sound-sensor. As the blocks of masonry fell, hitting against each other, the carven capstone of the arch exploded, shooting sharp slivers of stone about the hall. Lee flung himself automatically to the floor, relying on his body armor and helmet for protection. Finally, the last chip of stone clattered to the ground, and the ringing in Lee’s ears died away.
Activating his helmet microphone, he whispered anxiously, “You guys okay?”
Eight affirmative replies. Lee sighed. “Colonel, miss, you all right?” There was no answer. He shrugged. Probably that silly little whisper-mike she used had broken again: the colonel never would wear a helmet. “One of you check on the Jedi,” Lee ordered, and began to crawl back to the doorway.
A trooper replied nervously, “Sir, I think she’s bad hurt, sir.”
Lee permitted himself a Kaminoan profanity which he had been holding in reserve for just such a time as this. What Major Storm would have to say he could only guess.
In slightly shocked tones, a girl’s voice rasped, “Language, Sergeant, please!”
“You Jedi,” Lee laughed in relief. “I told you you ought to wear a helmet.”
Out in the open air again, he could see how the trooper had reached his conclusion. A flying shard of masonry had cut the girl’s scalp to the bone, and vivid purple blood spurted from the wound, staining both her Jedi tunic and the body armor of the clone helping her out of the collapsed hall. A much larger stone had fallen across one leg, which now seemed to be broken, for she could put no weight on it without gasping in pain.
Wincing slightly in sympathy, Lee unclipped a long-range comlink from his belt, to call the battle station. “Sergeant 943008 to 313th, do you copy?”
“This is Major Storm. Go ahead, Lee.”
Oh… kriff, Lee thought despairingly. It would be him. “Uh, Major, the colonel’s wounded. We’re going to have to abort the mission, repeat, aborting mission, sir.”
Colonel Threeb scowled and held out her hand for the comm. When Lee reluctantly handed it over, she said coolly, “Major, it’s me. I’m fine; we are not giving up on this just for the sake of a little blood.”
“Very well, Miss Nasriel.”
Triumphantly, the girl officer handed back the comlink. “We go on,” she said firmly.
They searched every building that looked large enough to hide the volume of documents General Kenobi’s contact had hinted at, all to no avail. By late afternoon, all nine clones were tired, and the one Jedi looked pale and exhausted. She had helped in the search, albeit leaning heavily at first on Lee’s arm and later on a makeshift crutch one of the troopers had procured from an empty house.
“We go on,” she insisted. “Pair off, check the smaller buildings.”
Lee compressed his lips to avoid snarling out something about stubborn Jedi who couldn’t see when they needed a break, but obediently paired off the men. While he couldn’t talk his young commander into giving up the search, he could and did convince her to sit down on the base of a statue in the main square, and rest.
The sun was sinking and the sky darkening to green when his comlink buzzed with a call. It was Major Storm again. “Lee, word from the 501st: you’re all to get back up here now, to leave for Unamtab immediately. And I hope Miss Nasriel’s all right, or I’ve just spent five minutes lying through my teeth.”
Sergeant Lee could not suppress, though he tried, a smug smile of satisfaction. “Colonel, sir – miss – we’re to return at once.”
“Very well,” she acceded gracefully. “Call the others.”
Back on the station, Major Storm said all that Lee had expected, and then some. “You karking fool! Why didn’t you tell me? Kriffing chizzk, Sarge, you had me lying to Obi-Wan Kenobi! Miss Nasriel,” he said sternly, “I am going to call and say we are off this mission because you need to go back to the Temple. We can’t take this with our C.O. out of action.”
“Ben can command,” she replied impatiently. “He’s capable. I’m not surrendering to Vokara Che over a cut head; that’s ridiculous. And Master Obi-Wan has got quite enough to worry about. Set course for Unamtab.”
Unamtab was not quite a desert, nor quite a Separatist stronghold, but it was close to the one and in grave danger of becoming the other. Three Sep leaders had been traced to the world, and a Jedi Sentinel stationed there to watch them reported that their main activity seemed to be trying to win over the Unamtabi rulers to the Separatist cause. Because the mandate of the Sentinels was to observe and advise, the advice which the Council received – and passed on as an order – was to neutralize or otherwise remove the Separatists before they did too much damage. After giving the location where the infiltrators were based, the Sentinel had tactfully left Unamtab and traveled on.
Sergeant Lee tried not to look disdainful, at least not in front of the children, but… it was an absurdly easy mission.
Ben thought so as well. “Look, Major,” he explained, tracing a route on the map-projector, “we swoop in, nab ’em, and swoop out again. I can do it with just four guys – a fire-team. As Master Muln would say, it’s a piece of cake.”
“Take two squads,” counseled Storm cautiously, “and for kriff sake be careful, sir.”
On the way to Unamtab, they were kitting up in the hangars, preparing to deploy on arrival. Ben was nervous and jittery. This being his first important mission in sole command, he didn’t know what to expect and could only hope not to mess up. Shaking slightly with keyed-upness and nerves, his fingers reached for an extra canteen of water. This had gone far enough, Lee decided, and laid a restraining hand on the boy’s arm.
“You’ll not need that. We’re only out for a few hours at most, and it’ll be night down there. With all due respect, lad, calm down. It’s not helpful to anybody if you act like this – and anyhow, there really is kriff-all that can go wrong.
Soberly, Ben nodded, hands instantly rock-steady. “You’re right. Thanks.”
Two squads of clones – twenty men and the two officers – fit fairly comfortably into an M-1911 light landing craft, but Storm and Ben agreed that actually landing would be too conspicuous. Under cover of darkness, then, two hours after midnight, the men were dropped onto the city walls of Unamtab’s capital, with the plan that, by daybreak, they would be waiting with three Separatist prisoners, in the rough scrubland to the south of the city.
Ben took an instant dislike to the city walls. Entirely apart from being so narrow as to necessitate creeping along single file, with a three-meter drop onto a cobbled alley to the right, and a meter-and-a-half parapet to the left, the walls twined irregularly along the line of a hill. Every corner was marked by a watchtower, every tower manned by a sentry, and every clone therefore had to be as silent as humanly possible while passing the towers. They had to go along crouched, not to be silhouetted against the starry sky, silent, not to be heard from the watchtowers above or sleeping houses below, and without light, to rouse nobody.
Finally, they reached their target.
Crouched like carrion-seeking vishal birds on the edge of the wall, overlooking a dark sea of rooftops, Lee and Ben waited. Along the wall, other clones had vanished into the blackness, to surround the house where the prey slept unawares. As he had been taught, Ben waited five minutes from confirmation that his men were in position. His men. Dear Force, he was only fifteen.
Five minutes for stirred sleepers to decide it was nothing, for guard animals to relax again, and, most valuable, for the clones to take careful stock of all the possible hindrances around their positions.
Slipping away into the night, the five minutes were up. Ben slowly raised one hand to check the connections of his earpiece and whisper-mike, and said one word, very quietly.
Below him, he knew, twenty valiant soldiers of the Republic were moving stealthily to form a close ring about the house built onto the city wall. Not for nothing had every man memorized the plans of the building. Even as the four small rooms of the ground floor shuddered with the tramp of heavy boots and heard, three times repeated, the whispered comm message, “Room clear,” four clones swung from the roof in through the windows of the large top-floor room and Ben took the stairway window that was too narrow for a clone. The steep staircase and the landing above it were empty, and Ben was about to activate his mike and say so, when the comlink channel exploded in a confusion of shouts.
Through the earpiece, but also loudly enough to be heard through the floorboards, a trooper called exultantly, “Got them, coming up!” but from the next room, Lee yelled hoarsely, “Abort, abort, abort – get the kriff out!”
Not stopping to find out why, Ben took a running dive back through the window, landing on the other side of a narrow alley, behind the low parapet of a neighboring roof. Sprawled safely there, he saw the men who had formed the perimeter guard sloping furtively away from the house.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Ben hissed into his microphone. “Get out of there. Get out. Meet on the city wall.”
Risking a glance across the alley, he sucked in a startled breath through his teeth. The upper room was alive with battle droids, but he could not even try to count them, for the only light in the room flickered dim and sporadic: blaster bolts. After hastily ensuring that the perimeter men were clear, Ben radioed urgently, “Lee, get the guys out of there!”
“Little bit busy right now, sir!” There was an explosion within, and Lee added, “Coming now, sir.”
Before Ben could reply, there was a commotion farther up the wall, which died away in a few seconds and ended with a clone tapping him apologetically on the shoulder.
“Beg pardon, sir, but this bloke was trying to raise the alarm. So we stopped him,” he added, indicating a civilian watchman kneeling on the stone pavement of the walkway, between two clones. “What’s to be done, sir?”
“Cuffs and a gag and ditch him in the alley,” Ben ordered.
Because the unfortunate sentry had left his tower unlocked, the six perimeter men slipped inside, so as to be concealed while they waited for Lee’s team to arrive. Arrive they did, in some disorder and great haste.
Lee reported breathlessly, “Four down, sir. But…” he gestured to the knot of men crouched on the wall, “We’ve picked up three extra. Now, can we get the nine-sith-hells out of here and make for the RV?”
Unfortunately, the agreed rendezvous with the shuttle was fully four kilometers south, over rough ground, and Lee lost no time in explaining the exact situation. “Sir, I figure there were forty clankers in that one room. There’ll be more elsewhere in town, so we can’t really just rock off to the pickup, and we sure as spitting can’t hide in the city.” For an instant, he raised his head above the parapet. “See down there, sir, there’s a massive great ruin, y’see? We could lay low in there for a while.”
Ben looked, and replied at once, in horror, “We can’t fight in there! That’s Rayvor Abbey – it’s a holy place!”
“Your choice, sir,” said Lee heavily, “but after all, maybe eighteen live men are more valuable than one dead abbey.”
Frowning, the Padawan considered the question. Which was worse: to desecrate a place once as sacred as the Temple, certainly by bringing conflict within its grounds, and probably by bringing corpses, or to lose valuable assets of the Republic? No! It was more than that: to carry war into an ancient haven of peace, or to kill living men by being superstitious?
“You’re right,” he admitted. “Let’s go.”
It was the work of only a few moments to reach the ground. Over the parapet, hang for an instant by one’s fingertips, then drop to the steep hillside below and allow oneself to roll, absorbing the impact. As he tumbled down the hill, Ben’s thoughts shimmered one into another: This is stupid. Why am I here? I’m fighting for the Republic by falling off a wall?
“That’s bought us…” Lee glanced at his chrono. “About one minute. Clankers don’t climb walls. Now, boys – run!”
The great chapel of the abbey was immediately at the foot of the hill, but the once lime-white northern wall, nearest the city, crumbled back to the arches, allowing the clones to hurry unimpeded between the weathered pillars. Halfway across the presbytery of the chapel, Ben paused to look eastward toward where the altar had once stood, and bowed slightly, in respect for past hallowedness or helpless apology for present conflict – he wasn’t sure which.
Lee grabbed his arm, pulling him nearly off his feet. “We’ve no time for Jedi niceties,” the clone said firmly. “Move your Force-sensitive rear, boy. Run or die, your choice, but choose now.”