Chapter 20

Location: Wookiee Colony, Vivyis-12

The Wookiees here did not mess around when it came to establishing themselves. This was the first thing that the Republic Senators, their guards, and the Republican Guard commandoes and lone pilot noticed when they arrived. The colony was built along a wide river leading over a waterfall, giving them superb defensive positions out towards the way they had just come. The smoke of their destroyed ships and the burning forest was still visible on the horizon as the Wookiees took the group into their homes and began caring for the wounded. The massive trees were perfect for Wookiee settlements, as the numerous lodges built on the huge trunks and interconnected walkways indicated.

They were on both sides of the river, with long rigid bridges connecting the little villages on each tree to one another. It was fairly well-fortified as well, with Wookiee laser cannon and missile turrets dotted around the perimeter on top of a wooden and stone wall twenty feet high and twelve feet thick. The Senators were told that they would be evacuated by the soonest ship to land, which was going to be the Caridan reinforcements in their Kappa-Class Shuttles which would take their bodyguards with them and any wounded Caridans, another would take their dead.

So as they waited and prepared to leave, sitting quietly in a Wookiee tavern with fresh herbal teas provided by the old grandmother of the tavern. It had been a fairly rough day for them, a lot had happened. As they sat quietly, Major Myec walked in along with a pair of his Commandoes helping Captain Abya back from the local medical center where she'd had her leg bandaged up and had a bacta cast put on to improve healing.

"Fellas, hope you don't mind the company, but she's gotta head back to a hospital ship," Myec said with a chuckle, and looked at the ragged group, "Damn you boys look like hell."

There were a few isolated glares from the guards as Padme smiled at them.

"The Senators are Grievous' hostages," Captain Typho mumbled, "We tried to save them."

"You tried," Myec nodded, "But you failed."

Typho stood immediately, ready to fight on instinct, "We gave everything we had, good men died doing their duty!"

"But it wasn't enough was it? You were caught in the open, outgunned and outmanned with VIP's to protect."

"You insult the dead!" Captain Antilles snapped as well.

"No, I'm giving you a lesson Captain. The lesson is this, don't ever assume that you can always win. Believe in your ability to win, but never assume it. Sometimes the enemy will beat you if they are smart enough, big enough, and lucky enough. Today they were the latter of those two," Myec explained, "Your Senators did what they thought had to be done to protect you. It's not their fault Grievous has no honor. But when we get them back you will remind them of that fact. Never trust negotiations, trust the man beside you, trust your charges, and always trust your blaster. But never, trust words," Myec said and turned to leave, "Words are what started this war. I'm just left to pick up the pieces of your Senatorial charges."

"You speak of war as if it's a reasonable means to solve conflict," Typho chastised him, "But how many of soldiers on both sides die every day to win a war that cannot be ended by them? We protect people like Senator Amidala and Senator Organa because we believe in them, we believe they can help end this war and solve the problems that started it."

"The problems that started it were created by words, on Carida we have a saying, words cause problems, actions cause problems, words solve none of them. The belief that the Senate can fix the problems that started this war is delusion captain. But holding this blaster," Myec pointed out, holding up his A280, "This is no illusion, I've solved more problems with this and others like it than the Senate ever has. War is civilization's way of cleaning the slate. And we intend on wiping it clean, just like the soldiers of the Republic that fought the Sith and the Mandalorians."

"War tends to leave only the seeds for the next war," Antilles replied sourly.

"Not this time," Myec responded firmly.

"How? How would you do that?"

"Kill them captain. Kill every last one."

Myec walked out after that and left the bodyguards and Captain Abya alone again. As the lone Republican Guard officer there she knew she'd have to say something. Needless to say the Caridans saw things very differently than she and many others did. Such was the nature of a diverse military like theirs.

"He doesn't speak for the whole Guard," Teela quietly said.

"I would hope not," Typho mumbled.

"The Caridans see things differently than many others. Caridans see this as a war of rebellion in which all traitors must be killed. Anaxes isn't much different, but they don't see killing as the end goal. Kuat just sees this as a challenge to itself and destiny and all that jazz. Corellians…we're trying to just help end it so we can go back to the way things were."

"Can you say that for certain?" Typho grunted.

"Not really, but we're not Clones. We actually contemplate why we're fighting. At least most of the Guard does, guys like him…fighting is just what they feel they have to do. In a way they're worse than the Clones as far as that goes," Teela sighed, fiddling with the cast on her leg.

"We can understand," Typho nodded, "Security means you have to fight to protect someone or something. But them, soldiers, they seem to think they're fighting for something bigger."

"And it kinda depends on who you ask. Caridans say something different than Anaxes, Corellians say something different than Kuatis, and so on. Me, I volunteered to fight because I didn't think I had really much else to do. A lot of Corellians are just in it for adventure and glory."

"And now?" Antilles asked, noting that she said it as pest tense.

"Now I'm fighting for my friends and squadron-mates. And they're fighting for me. I hear that's why you guys love Amidala."

"I remember when the Trade Federation overran us on Naboo," Typho sighed, "We were outnumbered, outgunned, and without options. It was bad for a while, then the Queen returned and she led us back to retake our home. She fought her way into the very teeth of the enemy, and it was amazing. A near-teenage girl, leading men into battle, I've never seen anything like it. But it worked. We…rallied and fought and won our city back because we knew she was there, fighting right there with us. That's why she'll forever go down in history, and is why so many of us died for her today."

"That leadership is why we'll always follow our leader, even if he is a Core-born Kuati officer who has more in common with the aristocracy than me and others. But we follow him because he leads us. He doesn't sit in a command center, he's been there with us, taking us to victory time and time again. As long as we do what he says we all believe we'll turn out alright."

"Sounds like a helluva commander," Antilles nodded.

"You have no idea."

Location: Dreadnought Basilisk

"Exiting hyperspace now sir," the pilot of the CR20 Troop Carrier called out as Anakin and Obi Wan stood behind them in the bridge of the ship.

The ship dropped into realspace immediately after the word was given and the GAR troop transport dropped in amongst the large fleet preparing for battle in what was commonly-named "Dead Space" with no planets, no planetary bodies of any kind. It was a common type of massing point for the Republican Guard. These were points created by the Kuat Defense Fleet, and were known only to them and the Republican Guard for safety against betrayal. For security the locations were only kept on the navicomputers of the Mandator-Class, Praetor-Class, and Revenge-Class, which then had the locations given out to their fleet of escorts and then deleted all references in the banks of the escorts deleted once the location was left. It was a solid system, which meant that in order to get these locations an enemy would have to capture one of the most powerful ships in the galaxy and their crews of tens of thousands.

The troop carrier broadcasted its clearance codes, and was escorted into the formation by a flight of four F-Wings. Obi Wan and Anakin carefully examined the sheer power that seemed to have been amassed in preparation for the fight to come. It was very different from motley assortment of cruisers and corvettes that they'd witnessed over Kuat. This fleet was something else, it was not a collection of patriots, eager to prove themselves. This was the Republican Guard.

"Bring us in to dock lieutenant," Anakin ordered the pilot before sighing, "I certainly hope this will be enough master. There's a lot more ships out there facing us."

"I'm all too aware Anakin, we'll have to trust in the Grand Admiral's plan to engage Grievous and defeat him."

"His ships and plan, our expert knowledge," Anakin smirked, "We can't lose."

The ship continued until it docked within the belly hangar in the middle of the ship's massive hull and they waited at the entrance. The beep came and the hatch opened up, and standing at the end of the hallway was a young Lieutenant Commander, Wain Kuat, one of Drexel's personal aides. The young officer bowed instead of saluted, a Kuati trait signifying the Core's dismissal of the Jedi Order's promotions to Generals and Padawans to Commanders. To them the rank of officer was something earned, not given.

"Master Jedi, I'm Lieutenant Commander Kuat, the Grand Admiral is waiting for you, please."

"Right, shall we?" Obi Wan nodded, offering the same type of open handed gesture that Kuat did to them.

From behind them the young Ahsoka Tano joined her master, right alongside Obi Wan.

"The boys are all prepped Master," she said firmly.

"You'll find preparations underway in the hangar Padawan," Kuat said, "The Lieutenant here will see them there."

In behind the two Jedi came their Clone Commanders, Cody and Rex. The blue and orange decorated suits of armor signified that elements of both the 212th and 501st were present on board the troop carrier, there to aid in the rescue of the two Senators. The group of four followed Kuat out of the hall and into a busy thoroughfare of crew, officers, and marines. The Clones and Jedi were very much used to a single face or the face of a helmet. But here, were many different faces that looked at them in very different ways. There was dismissal, whoa, and anger from all over the crews and officers. It took them by surprise, as the Jedi were treated quite well by the Clones and their few biological officers and vice versa. But here the atmosphere was very different.

"Forgive me for noticing Commander, but…I sense we aren't all that welcome here," Obi Wan said as they entered a turbolift bank off of the main hall.

"You'd be correct Master Kenobi, there are many of us who think we're better suited to this mission," Kuat replied without much change in his even and level tone.

"I believe the term is General sir, Commander," Cody corrected the young boy.

"I don't think so Commander," Wain shrugged off.

"And why would that be?" Rex growled, not appreciating the perceived disrespect.

"I think there's a 'sir' missing from that sentence, Captain."

"I don't think you're hearing right Commander, you were asked a question," Ahsoka challenged the taller human male.

"Hold up your hand for me please," Wain instructed, and Ahsoka did so, and then held up his hand with his class ring on it, "Do you see the difference between them?"

Anakin and Obi Wan looked at one another thoughtfully, knowing the point that the Kuati was driving at. It was one that they'd heard many, many times before.

"You have a ring, so what?" Ahsoka shrugged.

"This ring signifies that I have completed four years of training and study in the art of war. We've earned the right to command. As far as military regulations see it, you and the other Jedi have not. War is not something that you simply step into, you prepare, you study, and you train. Your Clone Commanders know this, their discipline and fealty towards you prevents them from pointing this out to you."

"And yet, here we are, leading the Clone Army. She in particular has proven herself in command," Anakin countered, "We broke through the blockade at Ryloth because of her."

"After diving headlong at a battleship with one squadron of fighters and leaving your forces open to counterattack," Wain reminded him, "You were lucky that all your ships weren't destroyed."

"Our tactics are evolving, war is not something the Jedi wanted, and so were unprepared for. But we couldn't sit out this fight any more than you could. So despite our lack of similar training we have held our won and are winning out there," Obi Wan replied, "Training or no."

"The difference between us Master Kenobi, is that we win because of our training, you win because of theirs," he motioned to the Clones, "and despite yours. I mean no disrespect. You asked me why you don't feel welcome, and among the officers at least, that is, in layman's terms, the reason why."

"And the Clones?" Anakin asked.

"Our soldiers and crews don't even like each other outside of battle. So not liking Clones is simply systematic of ingrained unit and planetary pride," Wain smirked, "You'll find that to be far more prevalent in the Guard than in the Grand Army. You're luck you're not on an Anaxes ship, or one of their Knights would've challenged one of you two to a duel," Wain warned the Clones.

The turblolift arrived and the young aide signaled for them to go on ahead.

"The CIC is waiting for you," Wain nodded.

The group silently boarded and the lift closed. After a second of silence Rex asked Anakin a question.

"A duel sir?"

"I'm more than familiar with Anaxes, he's right," Obi Wan answered.

The turbolift then arrived and beeped pleasantly. They'd arrived and when the door opened they were greeted by the sight of four A280-armed red-uniformed crewmen, Guard Marines. Their gold-tinted goggles over their eyes and their long helmets were identical to their other comrades but with black stripes. They had DH-17 Heavy Blaster Pistols in holsters and collapsible batons on their shoulders. They guarded the entrance to the CIC and opened the door after two of them put in their keys and handprints from either side of the door.

In the middle of the CIC was a large circular depression in the floor with rows of seats and a handrail on the main floor with two sets of stairs going down to the large holotable below. There were more than twenty senior naval and army officers assembled there. Their old faces were hardened into those of focused and hard military men and women. They were mulling among themselves quietly until the turbolift opened and their saw the figures of the Jedi entering the room.

"Attention on deck!"

The CIC of the Basilisk full of senior officers snapped to attention, out of instinct for the command. Once the group saluted they returned to at ease without a word being said by the Jedi. Only junior officers were did this with enlisted men. From their numbers Grand Admiral Drexel walked out to greet them.

"General Kenobi, General Skywalker, welcome aboard the Basilisk," Drexel nodded as he extended a hand to the two in turn.

"Good to be aboard Grand Admiral," Obi Wan said, and held a hand out, "Shall we get to the business of giving the good General Grievous a proper defeat?"

"Yes we shall."

Location: General Grievous' Flagship, CIS Massing Point near Zeltros

"General, we have confirmation, Generals Kenobi and Skywalker have been ordered to the Commenor System. They should have rendezvoused with the Republican Guard by now," Dooku said to his cyborg commander through a holo transmission.

"Good, then their offensive shall begin soon," Grievous replied, clasping his hands together.

"I warn you General, we have underestimated these forces before, do not make the same mistakes," Dooku glowered at Grievous.

"My plan is already underway," Grievous offered confidently, "They have reinforced their forces on Vivyis-12 with a large number of special forces. It is obviously a ploy to draw in reinforcements that the Jedi will intend on ambushing and drawing us in. But it is I who is laying the trap. I will do as they expect, but I will overwhelm them, splintering their formations and destroying them from all directions. When their ships come to the rescue they will meet a similar fate when I slam the door shut behind their bait with my reserves. And each force shall be crushed in its pocket one by one by my capital ships, they shall see defeat crashing down upon them."

"They will anticipate such tactics," Dooku warned, "You must be mindful of your opponent. Remember Skywalker and Kenobi also face you."

"Their predictions are what I am counting on. I shall create a buffer around their forces that will be impossible to fight through. In the middle of this bubble shall be my battleships, annihilating them one by one as I ensnare each formation with my numbers. And the Jedi will be forced to push towards me, driven by their need to rescue their poor Senators, and I will be waiting."

"A well-designed plan," Dooku nodded, "I will look forward to your results, General."

"As do I," Grievous chuckled.

The message ended and Grievous stood up and moved to a holomap table where he was keeping tabs on his armies movements on Vivyis-12. They were approaching the enemy lines, and would be in contact soon. He didn't expect much. The droids were in dense wooded terrain against an entrenched Wookiee force that knew the land far better than even a surveyor droid could. And there were three hundred Republic special forces operators on that planet, ready to strike who-knew-where. But he wasn't concerned, he had need of their success to make his plan kick off just right to prevent arousing suspicion. Part of that also rested on his acting ability and the strength of enemy listening posts to sell the idea of him sending a token force to reinforce his droids on the ground and crush the Republic militia and special ops troops there.

Location: Dreadnought Basilisk

Once the briefing ended on the operational plan the Grand Admiral and the Jedi and Clones were left alone. The back and forth of advice and counter tactics took a while, but they'd come up with something to take on Grievous. They were outnumbered two to one, and heavily outgunned by enemy battleships and carrier/destroyers. The fight would be hard, and many lives would doubtlessly be lost. This was something that Ahsoka found a little hard to just accept, just sitting there listening to these people plan everything, knowing the losses that would be incurred.

"Your method of rescuing the Senators is bold Master Jedi," Drexel sighed as he sat down, memorizing the plan on the board, "Quite bold, quite risky. Are you sure you don't want to reconsider?"

"It is the only way to get close and catch Grievous by surprise," Anakin replied.

"He won't see it coming, we are indeed confident in that," Obi Wan agreed.

"And we'll keep him occupied," Drexel nodded.

"Master if I may," Ahsoka piped up, her tone stressed.

Anakin and Obi Wan nodded.

"Go ahead child," Drexel offered for her to continue.

"You're risking your entire force to rescue the Senators, with only victory or complete disaster as the options. I don't understand how you can be so calm about it."

"Your fairly new to command are you not Padawan Tano?" Drexel inquired.

"Yes, I-I am," Ahsoka shrugged.

"There is one thing I always taught my students at the Anaxes War College from day one. To be a good leader you must love the people you lead. To be a good commander, you must be prepared to order the death of the thing you love. Without that, there is no risk. Without that, there is no victory," Drexel explained very clearly.

"And them? The average soldier, pilot, crewman? How do they go about fight this war? With us Clones I don't have to wonder because I know nothing else," Rex now asked, his own internal questions coming to light, "But them? They had a choice, and they're here. How do you do it?"

"You don't expect yourself or your family to truly understand why, you just hope that they accept it. And that whenever you come home, you can pick up, right where you left off. And when you're gone, you live by a code, everyone does, it's your shoreline, it's what makes men fight so dearly for one another, it's what guides you home," Drexel sighed and looked down at the floor, "And trust me, you're always trying to get home."

"And that's why your men fight so hard, so viciously," Anakin surmised, remembering the footage of the desperate hand-to-hand fighting that occurred in the RVC trenches on Harrin as droids poured in on top of the troopers holding their ground.

"Stand between a man and his life, he'll fight you with every fiber of his being. The weakness of the droid army is its lack of fear. It makes them easy to predict and fight. Fear, is what fuels men to extraordinary and unpredictable things that they themselves would never imagine. Sometimes the lengths are less than savory, but soldiers don't care so long as they survive."

"And you Grand Admiral? Why are you doing this? You could be retired, enjoying life comfortably I imagine," Obi Wan now asked.

"The man who tutored me as a young officer was that the worst thing that could happen to a man was to no longer be seen as dangerous. We in the Kuat Defense Force all held this true to our hearts and minds, because deterrence is the greatest asset we have. But…to be passed over by the Clone Army to me…it felt as though I was being told that I was no longer useful, my days done as a military man. I felt that I was no longer seen as dangerous. Me, I'm here to show that we still have that badge of honor of being dangerous."

"Why?" Anakin asked.

"Because if a man sees you as more dangerous than himself he won't fight you. If he sees it the opposite way, he will fight you, and no one truly wins in the kinds of fights that I have trained for. Only those that benefit from your side winning but never fought themselves are the real winners."

"We always lose something in ourselves," Rex nodded.

"Exactly, which is why defeat is no option for us. We win, or we lose everything."

Meh, short chapter, some character development, I'm happy with that. Hope you guys are too, and I will look forward to seeing you all soon as school approaches and I move into my apartment for the next year of trial by classes. As usual if you have suggestions, recommendations, or anything else to say let me know.

As a side note I am preparing a pair of stories for writing one day, a Game of Thrones fanfic with the level of technology bumped up to the Age of Napoleon, muskets and cannons. I'm curious to see how I do with that. The other is a Star Wars fanfic with the date set into the future about a hundred years after Yavin and the fall of the Empire with a setting to be explained once I've fleshed it out a bit more.

Next Chapter Preview: The battle of elite leaders begins.