1800 hrs, March 17th 2558 (Military Calendar)/
GAR Staging Area 3SA000
Coruscant System, Coruscant
Marshal Commander Cody (CC-2224) stood patiently at the bottom of the ramp, helmet in hand, waiting at the entrance of the Venator-Class Star Destroyer Guarlara. High General Obi-Wan Kenobi walked down the ramp towards him, talking via hologram with his former Padawan, Jedi Knight and General Anakin Skywalker.
"It will probably turn out to be nothing more than a wild Bantha chase," Kenobi was saying; from the look on Skywalker's face, it was clear that the latter was disappointed that he wasn't coming along for the ride. "I promise I will take care of myself," he said with a smile.
"Don't worry, General Skywalker," said Cody. "I'll hold his hand."
Skywalker, who had usually been moody the past few months, actually managed to laugh. "I hope you do."
"Come on, sir," said Cody, "have I ever let you down?"
"Well, there was Cato Neimodia…"
Cody decided not to point out that it wasn't his fault. "We'll be fine, sir. How is the Kashyyyk battle going on? Are our new allies much use? I've never really worked with the UNSC before…although the intel they dig up is surprisingly good."
"They're actually very good, especially their Navy. Their pilots aren't too bad either, although they're not as good as me."
"I'll bet, sir," replied Cody. Not as reckless, either, he thought, although fighter jockeys are a bunch of snotty little fierfeks.
"To answer your first question, I think we're just about done here. Master Yoda arrived just in time to help that 501st detachment repel the Seperatists from the oil refinery, Delta Squad and Master Vos have arrived on the scene, and the enemy force is essentially in shambles. I'll bet we'll be finished before you get to—oh, right; I'm not supposed to say over open comlink."
"If you're finished that early," said Kenobi, "you might as well help us out later if we do run into trouble…if you can really wrap up things as soon as you say."
"Have I ever let you down?"
"Well," said Cody, "there was Cato Neimodia…"
Skywalker smiled. "Good luck then. May the Force be with you."
"May the Force be with you too, my young friend," said Kenobi, and the blue hologram of the Jedi Knight vanished. He pocketed the comlink. "So Cody, what's the situation exactly?"
"An ALTO Team, designation Sierra-November-One, spotted our multi-limbed friend Grievous on Utapau. And not just Grievous. Almost all the Sep council, too…although we just received a report that indicates they are preparing to move to Mustafar, the actual Sep stronghold; apparently Utapau was just a temporary stop-over. We'll probably be able to bag Grievous only."
"That won't be too bad," Kenobi remarked. "He is their best general, after all. Removing him from play will significantly tip the odds in our favor."
"I thought so as well, sir."
"Who do we have with us?"
Cody shook his head in amazement. "The Security Council and ALTO have deemed this an all-or-nothing mission. They've given us enough forces to take three systems. Third Systems Army, Open Circle Armada, even a detachment from the 501st. The UNSC is also sending its best: detachments from the 105th, 101st and 82nd ODST divisions, units from the 75th Ranger Battalion, four NAVSPECWAR teams, and 1st Fleet, led by Fleet Admiral Lord Terrence Hood himself. ALTO already has a team on the surface, of course, the ones who sent the transmission. That team is made up of four Spartans and a Null-ARC who calls himself 'Jaing'.
"Amazing," said Kenobi. "Is it really true that one of the Spartans nearly killed Grievous?"
"So I've heard," said Cody. "Though I don't know whether to believe it or not. General Zey's ARC trooper, Captain Maze, swore that he saw the Master Chief laser Grievous without much fuss. But you know what I think of ARC troopers, Null or Alpha."
"There is no doubt that the Spartans are skilled," said Kenobi. "How else would the UNSC win such a war as they had had with the Covenant? We'll see how skilled they are soon, at any rate."
As usual, whenever ships left the staging area, people of all ages came to watch, especially children. Because even in a war, there are only a few times when you can watch ships more than a kilometer long lift up with the terrifying and awe-inspiring sound of massive engines and stressed metal, blotting out the sun with their dagger shapes, and rise majestically into the sky. It was truly a sight to behold, because one really took hope from the image of those ready to fight and die for their freedom, ready to take the pain to the enemy. And who was to say it would happen again in their lifetime?
Three hundred ships of the Grand Army of the Republic Navy broke atmosphere and maneuvered to join two hundred vessels of their UNSC allies, and the order was given. Slipspace and hyperdrive engines were engaged and the entire host vanished into the dark of space.
1930 hrs, March 17th 2558 (Military Calendar)/
Republic Security Council Chambers, Senate Building
Coruscant System, Coruscant
Even though the largest fleet yet seen had departed for what was supposed to be the first of the last battles of the Clone Wars, the Security Council was not concerned with that at the moment. A previously unknown group had showed its hand, and the entire group of senators was stunned by the words of Captain Candice Takashi and simulated-sergeant Kal Skirata.
Senator Gigar Tallon spoke first. "Are you serious?"
"Like a heart attack," said Skirata. "How do Palpatine's activities compare with what we know is evidence? You used to be in the Navy's Internal Affairs, Senator Tallon."
Tallon nodded. "I know, but…this is…well, extraordinary."
The Twi'lek Senator Hydar Ban said, "Extraordinary? That's the mildest way to put it. There's no denying the evidence we've seen, and the Force knows we've grilled these two for hours regarding this. But the thought of Palpatine being the head of the CIS and the Republic…considering the current war, it just…blows my mind!"
"What kind of action can we take?" asked a human senator (Kal had no idea where he was from). "It might be dangerous to do anything."
"It will be even more dangerous to do nothing," said Senator Com Fordox of Corellia. "There's only one way to end this."
"And what is that?" asked Senator Ban.
"Contingency Order Sixty-Five."
The entire room was stunned. Order 65 was one of a series of contingency orders. Order 65 was essentially a command to remove the current Chancellor from office, by force if necessary. "Are you mad?" asked Ban.
"Are you?" Fordox shot back. "I, for one, will not allow the Republic to be a puppet in a play for Palpatine's amusement!"
"Not amusement," said Takashi. "Comparing Palpatine's face with tapped transmissions of CIS commanders like Grievous and Ventress communicating with the man called Darth Sidious, we are absolutely sure that Sidious and Palpatine are one and the same."
"And what does that mean?" asked Tallon.
"It means that he orchestrated this entire war. It was never CIS versus the Republic. It was the Sith versus the Jedi. They've done open battle many times previously, and the Sith have learned that they can't win like that. So they've now turned to more subtle methods. Palpatine created the CIS, put a few Dark Jedi to lead the Seps, and set them on the Republic…and the Republic's Jedi protectors. Notice how the Jedi are scattered across the galaxy, with no one else but clones to back them up?"
"Explain," said Tallon.
"You know what Order Sixty-Six is, don't you?"
Tallon was stunned; it all made perfect sense to him now. "With the Jedi spread thin across the galaxy, all the Chancellor has to do is say the word…"
"Yes," said Kal. "All the Jedi die." Kal was especially infuriated; the boys he had trained and raised like sons had been nothing more than a means for some crazed Sith to take his revenge on the Jedi. This was personal for him.
"But what is he waiting for?" asked Tallon.
"I don't know," said Takashi, worry now clear on her face. "And I don't want to wait for Palpatine to make the first move."
"Neither do I," said Tallon. He looked around the Council chamber at the faces of his colleagues. "Do the rest of you feel the same way?" The entire room nodded assent. There was nothing better to infuriate a person than to find out that they were just a pawn in someone else's game. "Very well, then." The senators punched a series of codes simultaneously. Then Tallon, as the chairman of the council, pressed a button that would transmit to all GAR units in the galaxy. He hesitated before he spoke, but then resolve hardened his expression and he spoke clearly and authoritatively. "By the order of the Security Council of the Grand Army of the Republic, the Chancellor is to be taken into custody as per Contingency Order Sixty-Five. As per Contingency Order Five, I, Senator Gigar Tallon of Eriadu, remove the title and privileges of the office of Chancellor from the individual named Palpatine and hereby take the position of Acting Chancellor of the Republic and all the duties that come with that office until an elected official takes over."
Takashi did the courtesy of saluting the new CIC of the Grand Army of the Republic. "Now that Palpatine can't use the Chancellor's office for his own ends, he's going to be pissed. We'll need to transport you all to a safe place."
"Why?" asked Tallon. "The clones will take care of him."
"Remember," Kal warned, "He is a Sith Lord, in all likelihood the most dangerous one, too. And he still has the Covert Operations Legion under his direct command."
"He'll try to kill you," Takashi clarified.
"I can defend myself," said Tallon with a touch of pride, patting his first blaster that he had received as a soldier of the Republic, thirty years before.
"With all due respect, sir, I can't take that chance. Lieutenant Bell here will protect you and the rest of the Security Council while we move you to a safe location."
"And where would that be?"
"You'll see for yourself later," said Takashi. Tallon saw the look in her eyes and decided not to argue.
The Force had told him everything while he sat in his chair. Palpatine did not react visibly, but he was worried. How? How could everything fall apart now? It was a touch ironic that he had been stabbed in the back by his UNSC allies as he had his old Master. And not everything was lost. Not yet. The CIS was still a force to be reckoned with, and there were hundreds of Dark Jedi ready to heed his call, many already on Coruscant. And he could easily make this building into a fortress.
And, of course, his favorite Jedi, one he could have easily called his son. A young, brash—and deeply flawed—man called Anakin Skywalker.
1930 hrs, March 17th 2558 (Military Calendar)/
UNSC Navy BBBG-Class Battle Group 'Tango', Twelfth Fleet
Kashyyyk System, Kashyyyk
Anakin triggered the Eta-2 Actis Interceptor's laser cannons. The Vulture Droid Fighter tried to evade, jinked right…and crossed directly into the gunsights of the FA/S117 Katana Fighter that covered Anakin's flank. The 70mm cannon rounds blasted the droid fighter to bits, and the pilot did a victory roll as he flew through the gas cloud that was left behind. "Nice shot, Knife-One-One," said Anakin.
"Thanks sir," the pilot replied. "Hot damn! But ain't this a turkey shoot."
Anakin wondered what a turkey was, and was about to ask when something came to his attention. "I sense…something." Palpatine. Palpatine?
"Spider-sense tingling again, sir?" The pilot and his fellows didn't think much of the so-called Force.
"I have to go," Anakin said suddenly. He looped his fighter around and accelerated towards the hyperspace ring his ship needed to travel.
"What the hell—?!" Lieutenant Manuel Guitierrez said, racing after the Jedi General. "Sir, you are leaving the battle-zone. Turn around immediately. Acknowledge."
Nothing. The Jedi Interceptor docked with the hyperspace ring.
"Juliet-Five, please respond."
Skywalker didn't reply. The ring's engines glowed in unison with the interceptor, and they suddenly became a ball of light that streaked across the stars and disappeared before Guitierrez could even blink.
"Cońo," Manuel breathed. "Iowa, this is Knife-One-One. Juliet-Five just went AWOL."
"We know, Knife-One-One." The Admiral sounded angry. "What vector was he on?" After Manuel gave him the info, the Admiral sounded even angrier. "Son of a bitch is going to Coruscant!"
1956 hrs, March 17th 2558 (Military Calendar)/
Alpha Company, 82nd ODST Battalion
En route to Pau City, Utapau, Utapau System
Sergeant Major Peter Stacker gazed out of the Pelican's open hatch. The helmet gave him protection from the howling winds, but that didn't prevent him from feeling like a kernel in a popcorn bag. The assault on Pau City was about to begin, and Alpha Company was in the lead…of the UNSC forces, anyway. Leading the GAR assault was the 2nd Airborne Company, made up of clone paratroopers. Stacker, like all other ODSTs, believed that paratroopers, while certainly crazy, were not as good as men and women willing to ride in on pods with only a few centimeters of metal protecting them from the white-hot friction with a planet's atmosphere.
Sadly, the structure of Pau City didn't allow for HEV pods. The surface of Utapau was, as company commander Captain Jeffrey Peng put it, a "pile of ass and wind". Any settlement was located in giant sinkholes, with all the buildings set flush into the sides. An HEV drop would land the ODSTs into an ocean. Instead, they were going in by Pelican.
Platoon Leader 2nd Lt. Greg Paulson put his hand to the side of his helmet. He motioned for Stacker to do the same, and both listened in on the transmission Peng was giving them.
"Paulson, an ALTO team called Sierra-November-One is going after General Grievous. General Kenobi is ahead of them. He's chasing the fucker on a dragon, of all things…anyway, intel's spotted a platform with Grievous's fighter on it. Disable the fighter and cut off his retreat. You'll be supported by 2nd Airborne Company's Parjai Squad. Their leader is Sergeant Barlex."
"What about air support?" asked Paulson.
"All I can give you is a Vulture gunship. Sorry."
"No problem, sir," Paulson replied. "What else?"
"We can't put you directly on the fighter's platform, so you'll be dropped off a few levels below it. Link up with Parjai Squad and punch a hole. The Vulture will follow you."
"Five seconds to dirt," said the Pelican pilot. "Give 'em hell."
"Lock and load," said Paulson. He unlimbered the venerable MA5C Assault Rifle, checked the magazine and flipped the safety off.
Stacker left his SRS99D S2AM Sniper Rifle on his back and instead whipped out the M7 Submachine Gun, a better weapon at close quarters. Many civilians thought the M7 was small, having mostly seen it in the hands of Spartans on posters. While it was certainly smaller than the MA5C, it was still a medium-sized weapon. It fired 5x23mm (or.197 caliber) rounds, but the high rate of fire (900 rpm) compensated. From experience Stacker knew that the M7 wasn't especially effective against the B3 Battle Droids (a larger version of the B2 that was much slower but basically functioned as a walking tank), but B1 and B2 series droids didn't enjoy getting sprayed…as they learned when the crew bay swung around, exposing the Marines to the platform they were to land on. Stacker fired a few bursts at a group of spindly B1s. They went down fairly quick, but it took combined fire from three MA5Cs to kill the B3 that was supporting them. The Marines jumped out of the Pelican, and the dropship flew off, jinking wildly to avoid the anti-aircraft guns.
Another B3 appeared in the distance, and Stacker took out the S2. He aimed right in the center of the massive thing's head and fired twice. The first round destroyed the armored casing, causing it to fall off and reveal the droid's brain which was, conveniently, marked by a red glowing spot. Stacker's next round punched straight through the "brain", and the droid slumped over and fell with a clang.
"Charlie Foxtrot!" said one of his Marines, using the military designation for 'clusterfuck'. She pointed towards a group of dwarf spider droids that had been alerted to 1st Platoon's presence. All three marched towards them slowly, firing all the while. The ground around their feet exploded as cannon rounds slammed into the platform floor. One ODST took a direct hit, and was instantly vaporized. Another was blown off the platform, and his screams were drowned out but the spider droids' fire.
"Cover!" shouted Paulson. "Take cover! Platoon, EMP grenades, full spread! Slow 'em down!"
Ten GAR-issue EMP grenades landed around the spider droids' feet, going off instantly. The droids slowed, but their inner hardware was EMP-hardened, and the effect wore off quickly. They resumed their slow march, firing without pause. Behind them, a squad of B2s formed up.
The COM crackled, and a welcome voice came through: "Ground, this is Vulture. We are on the scene."
Paulson yelled as loud as he could over the mike. "Vulture, take out those dwarf spiders! We can't move till they're gone!"
The AV-64 Vulture-II Gunship is the UNSC's heavy gunship, slowly phasing out the venerable Vulture-I in that role. Although a larger target than its predecessor, the Vulture-II compensates by having one of the heaviest armaments for a gunship of its class. Mounted on either side of the cockpit are two 30mm five-barrel Gatling turrets that fired 3,900 depleted uranium rounds per minute. Built directly into the underside of each wing are two pods. The top ones can unleash a hellish barrage of up to ten 70mm Anvil-III anti-materiel rockets at once. The other two were different loadouts; on the left side were five Scorpion anti-tank missiles, and on the left were four AIM-Jackhammer air-to-air missiles. The mere presence of one was sure to make smart soldiers run, and make dumb ones freeze like a deer in the headlights. But then, droids were never really smart anyway.
The Vulture pilot didn't thing that the three dwarf spider droids, or DSDs, merited the use of his few Scorpion missiles, and opened up with his Gatlings. The loud buzz of the two guns firing was deafening as it was frightening. The 30mm depleted uranium rounds blasted the DSDs apart, shredding their armor to pieces.
The B2s didn't seem to care, and marched on, oblivious. Five Anvil-IIIs smashed them to bits, and the droids assault was over.
"Vulture to ground, we are out of targets. We are RTB to refuel and rearm. We'll be back in five."
"Roger that, Vulture," said Paulson. "Out."
The gunship waved off, soaring towards the looming shape of the UNSC Harbinger (FFG-729). The frigate cast a shadow over the city as LAAT/i Gunships and Pelicans dropped off even more troops, and an additional shadow appeared; RAS Prosecutor, arriving with more Republic troops. The assault on Utapau was in full swing now, and the droids were being rolled over by a numerically superior force, a pleasant reversal.
Paulson waved his hand. "First Platoon, on me!"
It wasn't long before they met up with Sergeant Barlex and his squad. They had hunkered down behind a wrecked AAT tank and turned the ground in front of into into a sea of dead droid. Barlex saw Paulson…and aimed his rifle at him. "Mind your backs."
Pauslon ducked, saying, "What?!"
Barlex fired. A Scavenger droid that had been about to drill a hole in Paulson's head shuddered as the clone sergeant emptied his clip into it. It exploded into tiny bits. "You should also keep an eye on the sky, sir. Frelling Scav droids."
"I…Thanks, sergeant," Paulson said. "Where's the platform with the fighter?"
Barlex pointed up a tunnel. "We should get there fast, otherwise we won't be able to trap Grievous between us and them."
"ALTO Team Sierra November and General Kenobi."
Kelly was finding it hard to keep up with Kenobi's dragon-mount. The creature was fast, very fast. She was the only Spartan that was even close to the chase. The others were following by a Republic gunship, appearing every time the chase took them outside. Grievous was in some kind of one-wheeled transport, something like a Brute Chopper with the seat where the engine was supposed to be.
Suddenly, the dragon-mount made a burst of speed, bringing Kenobi alongside Grievous. Kelly cursed as she gave every last bit of strength she had to catch up with them, watching as the Jedi tried to stab or unseat the cyborg general with a Magna-Guard's electrostaff. Kenobi then jumped off the dragon-mount, landing next to Grievous, and the two grappled with each other while going extremely fast up a tunnel, nearly flipping as they passed a wrecked tank. They vanished from view.
Kelly came to a stop, too tired to run. The dragon-mount walked up to her, making a strange noise.
She eyed the creature. "Mind if I take over?"