Prologue

The sound of a woman and a child laughing was swept across the plain by the wind, echoed off of the small clusters of trees that surrounded the bastion. A moment later it was joined by the indistinct voice of a man, maybe a vod, maybe not. Levet couldn't tell.

He took a hesitant step forward, the loose soil shifting slightly beneath his boots, taking a deep breath in the way of a man who can't quite believe he is free. Manda'yaim wasn't like he had expected, but maybe that was for the best. The sky was hopeful enough, in its own way, a bright shade of teal that seemed incongruous with the galaxy at large. Levet didn't think he would have too hard a time adjusting to it. It was ... nice.

Levet headed in the direction of the laughter, the voices slowly becoming clearer as he went. He thought he recognized at least one, but couldn't place it. He knew it was important, somehow, but couldn't think why.

Within a few moments, he got his answer. Another clone in dark armor held a infant in his arms, and a familiar mess of tawny hair settled in a repulsor chair beneath the shade of a sturdy cluster of veshok trees just in front of the main building.

So General Tur-Mukan had made it. He found himself strangely pleased. After all, he quite liked the woman. She was a tough little thing beneath that tiny frame, all durasteel and wild compassion. She was hard not to like.

"Kad'ika," the man said looking bemused at the distracted little boy and then glancing at the woman in the shade for an explanation, "Whats gotten into you ad'ika?"

"We have a visitor, Darman," General Tur-Mukan replied, shifting her chair so that she could see Levet. She had one arm in a sling, and most of her left leg was hidden in a steriplast cast, but seemed otherwise okay. She smiled when she saw him. Darman went to stand beside her and settled the baby- her son, Levet realized, the child she had been pregnant with on Qiilura- carefully on her lap before gesturing for to Levet to join them. Kad'ika looked on with wide eyes and a wide grin.

"Good to see you made it out, ma'am," Levet said carefully, "I heard things got a little nasty on Kashyyyk."

"I'm glad you made it out, too, Levet. It must have been hard."

You have no idea.

True to his name, Levet tactfully said nothing. Darman held out his hand, and the commander shook it slowly. The former commando- Levet recognized him as one of Omega, now- seemed utterly at ease.

"Commander Levet, is it? I'm Darman. My brothers and I served with the 35th at Gaftikar, but I don't remember meeting you."

"It was a big battle."

"No kidding. Lots of osik hitting the fan at once," Darman paused for a moment, giving Tur-Mukan a quick glance before he continued, "I wanted to thank you, though. Etain says you looked after her on Qiilura. I'm grateful."

That made Levet a little uncomfortable, though he didn't know why. The General had needed a lot of looking after. Even pregnant, she couldn't bare not to serve alongside her men, and at times it had made him want to rip his hair out in frustration. Like in the minefield. Especially in the minefield.

Hoping to rid himself of the slight awkwardness, Levet changed the subject.

"So how'd you make it out, ma'am, if you don't mind my asking?"

General Tur-Mukan looked down for a moment at her child, who was currently amusing himself by playing with her hair, She gently removed the small fist's grip, and the child babbled happily at her.

"No, no Kad'ika."

"Etain?" Darman gently prompted, and she turned her gaze back to Levet.

"It's a long story."