I wrote this for a fanfiction challenge in the forums for The Old Republic. We were restricted to 3000 words, and I don't do so well with short stories. I just barely made it with 2999, after cutting nearly 400 words out to make it under the cap. My story did not win, but I figure I'll post it up here anyhow. Enjoy!

I do not own Star Wars, The Old Republic or anything contained within.





"They want me to what?" I yelled for two reasons. Firstly, most of what the corporal said was drowned out by blaster fire and the explosions that followed. Secondly, what he had just said to me was almost to ridiculous to believe.

"They said you are to be relieved of command, Captain, and to report to fallback point Sierra to be extracted!" Then the poor corporal added in a sheepish voice, "Please sir, I'm just following orders, don't shoot the messenger."

I couldn't blame him for his concern. This is The Empire after all- his worry was not merely figurative. Still, I didn't like it one bit. "Let me see those orders, Corporal." I growled as I swiped them from his shaking hands.

As I read them, my XO glanced over my shoulder and let out a low whistle. "Ooh, that doesn't look good sir. I've heard that they've been looking for somebody to be the scapegoat for Quesh. I'm really sorry but it looks like it's you."

I have to give him credit; he almost sounded sincere. I have no doubt that his report had been key in identifying me as responsible for that debacle. Fleet intelligence had sent my ground company of light infantry against a battalion of Rebels. We'd been outnumbered four-to-one, and they had better armament, to boot. When the higher-ups told me to go ahead with the attack despite my protests, I knew I was being thrown to the wolves. The XO had family who'd back him up and get him promoted... just like what was happening now. I'd have had some terse words for him if I hadn't noted some discrepancies with the orders I was holding. Some of the wording was off- not your normal military fluff. You learn to spot that sort of thing when you've been in a while. So the wording was a little odd, and some of them were capitalized wrong. Whoever had written these orders was...

An icy feeling crept up my spine as I spotted the pattern. This was a test, and I'd just passed- well, almost passed. I still had a few things to do before I took off. I had to make this look good, after all.

"XO," I called, delivering a salute, "I am being relieved. Orders are for you to take command of the company." When he returned with a sloppy salute I dropped mine and left without another word. I did, however, share some sympathetic glances with the rest of the troops in the room. They'd just inherited a worthless commander and they knew it. I just hoped that he wouldn't cost the unit too many lives. I'd fought alongside a lot of the men on Quesh. I'd almost died there, and the men knew that most of them that made it out of there had done so because I'd deliberately disobeyed orders and tried to keep as many men alive for as long as I could. We'd lost the battle, but we'd taken a bigger bite out of the Rebels than expected, and with far fewer casualties. When the new XO discovered that I'd completely ignored my orders in favor of my own instincts he'd had a conniption. Damn rich kids.

As I made my way out I heard the new commander demand that the plans I had been working on be thrown out and for the command tent to be broken down to be moved farther from the front line. Nothing I could do about it any more though, I was headed to my ride- at point Tango. Oh, I'm sure that if I'd gone to point Sierra like the orders said that there'd be a transport for me. It'd take me straight to my execution-the 'trial' would have taken place on the way. Only problem was, point Tango was on the other side of some areas that were pretty hot at the moment. No worries: I had some frustration to vent anyhow.

I grabbed my stuff from my tent. I always pack lightly and don't drag around too much extra stuff. An extra uniform, some food, assorted survival gear. No pictures of family, nothing from a girl back home wanting to be family, nothing like that. I didn't have anything to remind me of my past. There wasn't enough of it that I wanted to remember anyhow. I didn't have family looking out for me like my old XO. I didn't have any family at all. It makes it easy to pack lightly when you don't have much emotional baggage to add.

I ducked out the back to shake off the couple of privates they'd assigned to make sure I got to my 'correct destination'. Way too easy when you have a stealth field generator that's not on anyone's paperwork. I didn't feel bad for them; the new commander would likely promote them on the spot if they came to him reporting that I'd gone AWOL. I skirted around most of the troops. Stealth generators were fine tools but they weren't perfect. I relaxed a little when I got to the deep woods. To be honest, I've always felt a little more comfortable on my own.

I'd decided to go a little forward of our line of troops. That kept the chance of running into anyone low, since the Rebels had ceased fire when they saw our command unit move back. I guess they figured we were retreating and they were pulling back for a breather. They couldn't know it was due to the new commander's overblown sense of self-preservation. Now I don't mean to sound like I don't care about my own hide. I have a self-preservation instinct just like any other red-blooded person. Or any other color-blooded person for that matter. Anyway, I have skin and I like it to remain in one piece as much as anybody else. I just don't think that the men and women that I commanded up until recently should have to lay down their lives for mine. My instructors at the academy could never understand my sympathy for the 'commoners' as they called them. They couldn't argue with my test scores, but they sure as hell tried to get me drummed out on account of my "abnormal command philosophy." Hell, I never understood theirs either.

I had to stop the introspective analysis for a moment as I rounded a small grove of trees and almost ran right into a pair of Rebel troops setting up a siege cannon. If I went around them I could make a clean getaway, but if I let them be they'd be in a flanking position -a pretty good spot to lay down some serious destruction. There wasn't a doubt in my mind what I was going to do. Since there were only two of them I opted for my knife. Not only was it quieter, it would provide the perfect opportunity for me to take out my ire on somebody.

I had only a minute or so before they'd have the weapon online and ready to go. I silently crept up behind one while they were connecting the power supply. Once the Rebel soldier looked up to check the status lights, I slipped my knife up under the helmet and slit his throat. I can say 'his' now because the gurgling noise he was making was assuredly masculine. The noise alerted his companion, however, and now that I was out of stealth I was quite obvious to the survivor. Too late for them however, as I spun, slipping my blade out of the dead man's neck and embedded it directly into the soft spot between the chest plating and the abdominal protective sheath. I heard a sudden hissing sound as the soldier inhaled in surprise, the sound indicating I'd struck a lung. I pushed the Rebel down and kicked the helmeted face, giving me the leverage I needed to pull my knife out. Either I'd done more damage than I'd thought or the quality of Rebels these days was decidedly lacking, because the soldier didn't move again. I knew better than to stick around, however, and I set the cannon they'd been setting up to overload and then quickly made my escape.

The explosion must have touched off another offensive, because seconds later there was blaster fire everywhere. I took cover behind some rocks and restarted my stealth field. As I was about to move I noticed a lot of the blaster fire concentrated on one area. That meant there was somebody there. My suspicions were confirmed when I noticed some return fire from behind a small pile of earth. That little pile was the only cover for about twenty to thirty meters in all directions. Whoever those guys were, they were pinned down and had nowhere to go. They were in a really bad spot and I was likely the only person capable of getting them out of it. Once again, I could leave them to die or intervene. The choice was just as simple as before.

I quickly scouted the area a little better. There was a squad of seven Rebel soldiers pinning down a pair of Empire grunts, and one of them was already wounded. I sized up the situation and decided I was going to have to use my ace in the hole. While at a formal event up at Fleet I'd been invited by one of the Brass to join him in his office. I discovered once there that he wanted only to ensure that I took very good care of his son, who was about to be entrusted to me in the role of my XO. The current situation was exceedingly ironic, given that the very officer in question had succeeded me in command not half an hour ago. I'd smiled and nodded at all the right parts, and used the opportunity to copy a stack of documents he'd carelessly left on his desk. High Brass loves to talk, and you can use that to your advantage more often than not. The documents were mostly useless, but I did stumble across one useful little toy: The approval code for a narrow-bore orbital bombardment order. I could only use it once since they'd figure out that it was unauthorized afterward, but I was about to leave the planet anyways so what did I care? I flipped open my comm, put in a few lines of code, and settled back to wait.

The wait was even shorter than I'd expected. Only a few seconds after I'd input the coordinates and approval codes there was a bright flash as a trio of lasers closed in on the center of the Rebel formation. No sooner had they tagged the Rebels than a series of missiles bombarded the area, shrapnel and explosive forces making short work of the enemy. It was one of the most beautiful things I'd ever seen in my life. Whatever I was getting myself into next, I hoped that I'd have the opportunity to do that again. "Fat chance." I whispered to myself as I scanned for survivors in the woods. Only the Empire grunts were left.

I moved over to them quickly, hoping that I'd make it in time to help the wounded. I ran over quickly enough that my stealth generator stopped working, which suited me just fine. I didn't want to surprise the bejeezus out of an armed grunt who'd be jumpy as hell after what he'd just gotten out of. He still whipped the barrel of his blaster rifle to bear on me as I approached, but then lowered it when he recognized my captain's insignia. He gave me a questioning look as I finished closing the distance between us and knelt by the injured grunt, starting a scan almost immediately. As the scan began running, I glanced up at my conscious companion. It was Sergeant Torran, one of the soldiers who had escaped with me from Quesh.

"S-sir?" he stammered, unsure of the circumstances at the moment. "Aren't you supposed to be-"

"Shut up, Torran." I snapped, turning my attention back to my not-your-standard-issue medical probe. The wounded soldier- Tarnell, another of my survivors- was in pretty bad shape, but I could at least get him to the point where he would survive until a proper medical unit could get here for him. I started a Kolto infusion, then turned back to Torran.

"Torran, you have to understand, I was never here. I-"

"Is it true you got relieved, Sir? I heard it over comms, but didn't want to believe it! What are you doing here? How did you call in an orbital strike? Isn't that for Fleet offic-" Torran interrupted me with a barrage of questions. No doubt he was still amped up from the encounter with the squad of Rebel troops. I had to get his head back in the game, however, since I couldn't allow anyone else to know I was here.

I punched him across his face to get his attention, then grabbed his collar. "Shut up, Torran!" I bellowed. "Yes, I was relieved of command. The orbital strike was just a coincidence because you did not see me here. It's a good thing that one of the Rebel troops over there had a captured medic-grade field probe with them or poor Tarnell here would have been toast. It's too bad he's unconscious otherwise he'd also tell you that you didn't see me here!" I released my grip on his collar but did not break eye contact.

Torran stared at me for a few more seconds before shrugging his shoulders and grinning. "I got it sir. I don't know what you're up to, but I sure hope it works out. You got any messages that I didn't hear for the boys?"

I returned his grin as my med-probe finished its work and I set to erasing all but the last few minutes of activity- anyone snooping would have no reason to doubt the story that Torran would give later, if he did as he was told.

"Take care of each other," I responded. "your new commander sure won't, so it's up to you guys."

He responded with a nod and when I stood up to leave he saluted. "Take care of yourself, Sir."

I looked at him questioningly. "You don't have to do that, you know. I'm AWOL now, I don't deserve the respect."

He narrowed his eyes at me and replied, "Don't care, Sir. You're the best damn officer I've ever served under and I'll be damned if I'm going to let you walk off without letting you know that." He kept the salute steady the whole time he spoke and from the look in his eyes I don't doubt he meant every word.

"Thank you, Torran." I said as I returned his salute. Without another word, I spun and restarted my stealth field generator. I was glad that for the camouflage effect it provided, since I didn't want Torran to see the wet eyes I was sporting. I may have a distinct lack of past emotional baggage, but I guess I'm still a big softy sometimes.

Leaving my probe behind to help Torran's story, I once again began moving towards my objective. There were only a few more hills to cover and the travel went smoothly. When I arrived I noted that there was a distinct lack of personnel, but there was a ship that I hadn't seen before. I'd seen the specs for it, sure, but I never thought I'd see one up close.

"An X-70B Phantom!" I breathed. Today was an interesting day, for certain. I drew my sidearm as I moved forward, moving from cover position to cover position as I approached the ship. Suddenly I heard someone clapping from the open hatch. I looked up and to my surprise, there stood the corporal that had delivered my 'orders'. I holstered my weapon as I left cover and approached him directly.

"Well done, Captain!" he said with a small laugh. "I was following you the whole way. You've certainly earned what's coming. There's only one small loophole left, and I have just the thing for it. Take off your uniform and change into these." he said as he threw a small bundle of civilian clothing at my feet.

I figured I'd come this far already and there'd be plenty of time for my questions while en route to wherever he was taking me, so I complied, stripping off my uniform and getting into the clothing he'd provided. I'd almost finished when there was a wet thud and a corpse hit the landing pad right next to me. Its face looked an awful lot like mine.

"Put your old uniform on it, then shoot it in the gut with this blaster rifle." the false corporal told me, tossing the rifle down to my waiting hands. "Looks to me like the squad of Rebels you dealt with earlier -very nice, by the way- got a lucky kill in and saved the Empire a few weeks of tracking down an AWOL captain. What do you think?"

I smiled as I followed his instructions, then replied to his query, "I think that suits me just fine. Being dead isn't quite what I'd expected, though."

His smile rivaled my own as he said through a grin, "You'll get used to it. Hurry up, we only have a few more minutes before everybody comes back and the group I left here sets everything up to match the official story."

I finished my work and left what little I owned on the corpse as I walked up the ramp to the waiting 'corporal'. As I passed him he made eye contact with me for the first time. His gaze held untold knowledge and experience. His grin flashed across his face once more as he clasped my hand in greeting, saying

"Welcome, Agent."