Chapter 29: Plans within Plans

"The Seven Ps. Proper prior preparation prevents piss poor performance."

-British military adage

"…and you're certain they can't defend themselves?"

"Don't get me wrong Count Dooku. The Zeltron are not as undisciplined and oblivious as they portray themselves. I believe they encourage that image to create overconfidence in their adversaries. A world as libertine as Zeltros is a magnet for crimelords and groups like the Hutts; yet, it remains independent and relatively crime free. I believe their royal guard doubles as a secret police. That said, spies and assassins are not soldiers. They'll never withstand a full-fledged invasion by battle-hardened Clones."

"Wouldn't a pre-emptive strike save time and resources," Dooku suggested. "Wouldn't the end result be the same?"

"If we strike first, it will validate everything the Republic has done. They have built a political fortress of glass. When we defeat their attack and save Zeltros, what we say about the Senate and the Republic becomes fact. If we lose, our ranks will swell with inner rim volunteers and Zeltron partisans. Regardless, the mid and inner rim will swing to the Confederacy."

"When General Zurskur informed me of your destination, I sent the remains of your forces. I thought you would appreciate some familiar faces. Tell me, how did Zurskur know?"

"It seems that the queen and Zurskur were lovers," Calhava explained. "By combining Zeltron intelligence with our own, he put the pieces together."

"General Zurskur is a Trandoshan, a reptilian species, and they were lovers?"

"That's correct my lord." He winced, "The queen over-shared that part of their history."

Count Dooku smiled. Then he openly laughed at Calhava, "I expect a great victory major. Don't disappoint me, you know who the Jedi sent to Zeltros."

The holo blue disappeared, leaving the room dark. Calhava took a moment to center his thoughts before leaving. Beyond the communication center was a briefing room within the Separatist consulate. His companions sat around the table except for Battered, who stood off to the side, plus two additional members.

"Have all of you introduced yourselves to Captain Inara Serra and her assistant? Good," Calhava motioned to the immaculately dressed Zeltrons. Instead of their distinctive armor, they wore the revealing clothing common to Zeltros revelers. "The queen has loaned us her royal guard but they can't support us in an official capacity. The illusion that the Separatist embassy came to Zeltros' rescue must be absolute."

"…otherwise it will appear that Zeltros has seceded," Captain Serra added.

"Wouldn't that be better anyway?" Kote asked. "Then they'd have a fleet for protection."

"I agree," Maylaine threw a look at Kote and grimaced. "Unfortunately. What's to keep the Republic from pulling another regime change in a week or a month?"

"Uncertainty," Calhava answered. "If their scheme became public, it would be disastrous. This isn't some backwater like Ryloth that no one cares about. This is the inner rim. If the Republic dares to subjugate Zeltros, then what's to keep them from doing the same thing on Balmorra, Neimoidia,…Corellia?"

"This cost a great deal of credits," Captain Serra added. "With nothing to show for it, the intelligence services will be embarrassed and forced to explain the losses."

"How do we secure a whole city?" Tro stood up and carefully pushed buttons with a single clawed finger. The table flashed and an image of the capital appeared. "We're too few."

"Choke points," Calhava zoomed in on three places. "We focus on the royal palace, the spaceport, and the embassies."

"Wait," Opia looked at him suddenly. "That's where our tour took us."

Afshan smiled, "You thought you were on vacation?"

"Basic planetary tactics," Battered hummed.

"That's right," Kote gave the droid a surprised look. "The initial attack is to secure the spaceport for unloading troops and equipment. It's followed by capturing government facilities and any strongholds like the embassies."

"You were already planning?" the assistant demanded. "How dare you? You tricked her majesty into giving you access before you had any right to."

"Correct," Calhava said calmly. "Time was of the essence and the queen knew it too. She knew the Republic was coming which leads to the question, 'why was she playing stupid'? If she wasn't, she wouldn't have brought us to the palace. I know she'll do whatever it takes to protect Zeltros. So, what was her angle?"

"How dare you accuse the queen of duplicity!"

"Enough," Captain Serra silenced her assistant with a look. "The queen will declare a day of mourning on Zeltros, for all those lost in the war. That'll keep the streets and skies clear. She moved to an undisclosed location and the royal palace is empty. What of Senator Lawise?"

"He's leaving Zeltros right now," Calhava answered. Captain Serra and her assistant shared a look of dissatisfaction. "What did you expect? Strength of character, commitment to his cause, he's a politician. Of course he fled."

Calhava hit a button and the royal palace faded from the image. An image of the Republic's consulate replaced it. A traditional square building with a wall surrounding it appeared. Then it moved back to take a position along with the spaceport.

"The spaceport is our primary objective, everything else is secondary."

"What about the Republic battleship?" The assistant asked.

"First off, it's not a battleship, it's a carrier. It transports troops, equipment, and fighters. Zeltros fighters do not have the weapons to punch through its shields. Our vultures can but there are only six of them. That means we have to depend upon the ion cannons from your spaceport. The carrier won't come close enough for the ion cannons, unless we force it to protect the gunships. It'll release the gunships beyond the ion cannon's range. This is where the fighters and vultures will come in. Maylaine, I want you to lead our vultures, are you ready for this?"

"Yes," she said after a moment. "Yes, I am."

"You and Vulgh will dismantle one and add the weapons to the Maka. Take the droid brain and hook it up to the turrets. Then even without gunners, the turrets can still shoot.

"It'll take time," Vulgh warned him.

"Then don't waste it here, either of you," he nodded towards the door.

As both of them left, Captain Serra said, "We'll secure the spaceport with a combination of royal guard and security forces. Royal guard are always present at the port. How will you counter their attack on your consulate?"

"The Republic wants deniability. They won't send troopers in clone armor. We'll be facing Zeltron thugs and Clone commandos, possibly surgically altered to look like Zeltrons. They'll play it off as unrest, resulting from the expulsion of their embassy."

"A political protest that got out of hand?" Captain Serra asked.

"That's what I'm thinking," Calhava nodded.

"You said we'll face mortars and rockets," Opia pointed out. "How could anyone mistake that for a 'spontaneous protest'?"

Afshan hissed, "The Huk enslaved my people and the holonet called us terrorists."

"You'd be amazed what people believe, when the government controls the media." Calhava hoped it didn't sound that bitter. "I sent the Zeltron security guards home for the next few days. Some of them might have been compromised and I don't want to force them to choose between their own people or us. We'll wait until the protesters break the gate and rush the consulate. Then we'll crush it."

"You make it sound so easy," Captain Serra remarked. "What's your plan?"

"We'll identify the Republic's agents and the positions of the mortars. Then cannon fire and grenades will disperse the crowd, combined with snipers to eliminate the organizers."

"Most of the crowd will be unarmed, dozens will be killed!" Captain Serra exclaimed. "These are our people, you can't expect us to support a slaughter."

"The consulate is CIS territory, they are intentionally violating that territory at the behest of our enemies. If their lives meant so much, they should have thought of that before taking Republic coin. They choose their side; they choose wrong."

Her assistant's eyes widened, "You're a monster."

Calhava's temper rose, "Either you're ready to do what must be done or you're not! I will not risk my team's lives for tenderhearted idiocy. You want to do this your way? Then I will take my people and you can negotiate with the Clone troops. Make your decision!"

"…" The captain turned to her assistant before she looked at him. "Her royal majesty supports you Major Kushi. I hope that faith is not misplaced."

"Kote," Calhava turned to the Mandalorian. "The royal guard has weapons and equipment suitable for a security force, not battle. Take them to the consulate armory, I need an inventory of what we have and what they need."

"Ok," he nodded and headed for the door. "Come on, we don't have all day."

After they left, Opia began, "I don't feel-"

Calhava stopped her with a raised hand and checked to be certain the Zeltrons were gone. Then he motioned them for the door. He crossed the hall to the adjacent conference room and waved Afshan, Opia, Tro, Battered, and winded inside. Then he closed the door behind him.

"The royal guard are secret police. They might have bugged the room."

"We can't just kill these people," Opia beseeched him and Winded shook his head. "Some of them are innocents, in the wrong place at the wrong time."

"I'm no butcher!" Tro rumbled.

"You're too soft for this," Battered replied.

Tro growled, the sound raised the hairs on Calhava's skin, he quickly stepped between the two. "I never said what kind of cannon or grenades."

Winded growled and gestured. Opia nodded, "Yeah, why didn't you just say that?"

"We can't trust the royal guard, they're spies and assassins. There's more going on then they're telling us. Until we know what it is, we have to keep our guard up, and them off balance. I've been betrayed too many times to risk your lives on it."

"Is that why you sent Battered with me?" Opia asked quietly.

"Yes," she frowned and he squeezed her shoulder. "Of all of us, you're the most innocent Opia. I'd like to keep you that way as long as I can."