Chapter 39: Victory?

"It is well that war is so terrible, else we should grow too fond of it."

-General Lee to General Longstreet

"You'll make a slow countdown to zero from twenty and I will withdraw. At zero you will make the jump to lightspeed. Am I understood?"

"I don't see why this is necessary," the Republic officer complained to Maylaine. "We surrendered and you're allowing us to leave. Why not just let us repair-"

"Major Kushi accepted a Republic surrender and he was betrayed and imprisoned," Maylaine retorted. "What can I say? The Republic's word is no Wookie oath."

"Very well, beginning countdown," he grumbled. The countdown went off without a problem and the carrier jumped to lightspeed. Maylaine flew her ship out when the count hit five, joining the remains of the Zeltron defenders. The precious handful cheered. She smiled but felt burdened by grief; worse, Maylaine worried about her friends. "Rogue One, you're in charge. I'm going to check on my friends."

"Roger that Blue One," he replied. "Good flying with you."

"Vulgh," she called over the intercom. "Can we make it to the embassy?"

"We'll make it but that better be all," he replied.

Calhava blinked, his eyes sluggish. He felt exhausted and his hip burned. His helmet lay next to him, near where Battered stood. Even without arms the droid was ominous. A Zeltron medic kneeled over Calhava, his scanner beeping. Calhava discovered he was outside the ion cannon control room. He was lying near a wall with a window above him.

"You're going to be ok," the medic told him. "I used a medpac to stabilize you; although, I'm sure it still hurts. A few hours in a bacta tank will repair the nerves, muscles, and tissue damage done by the-"

"My team," Calhava croaked, his mouth was dry.

"Just rest," the medic parried.

"Afshan's dead." Battered reported. "Tro lives. Captain Serra's assistant is in a tank. Three or four of the Zeltrons survived. The-"

"He doesn't need to worry about that," the medic insisted.

Straining and grunting with the pain, Calhava forced himself into a sitting position. He grimaced and his eyes watered but he rose to his feet.

"No sir, sir! You must rest!"

When Calhava opened his eyes the world spun, so he blinked rapidly until it stabilized. Battered nudged him and Calhava put an arm around the droid's shoulders.

"My helmet," Calhava looked at it on the ground. Battered hooked it with a foot and kicked it straight up. Calhava caught it in mid-air. "Nicely done. Who's in command?"

"I am," a woman in royal guard armor saluted him. "I knew you wouldn't stay down."

"Report. How did it end?"

"Surprisingly well major," she pulled off her helmet and cradled it under her arm. "The embassy battles were the most successful. A few holdout in the Republic embassy but they're no threat. The Republic ship just left our system. The greatest losses were here. I guess we should have consulted you on defending it from a Jedi."

Her words faded away as he stared at the four Zeltrons carrying a stretcher. It bore Pong Krell, the Jedi Master's clothes were burned to tatters, Krell scorched and scarred.

"What happened to him? I only had stun grenades."

"The room was small and enclosed, there was nowhere for the energy to go. It bounced off the walls and caused repeat impacts. Your armor absorbed it but Krell wasn't so lucky."

"Is he dead?"

"No."

"We have to finish him off," Calhava insisted. "If he wakes, he'll kill you all."

"I'm sorry major, that's not my orders," she signaled and twenty guardswomen surrounded Calhava. Battered gently leaned him against the wall. "You're under-"

Battered kicked her and then kicked another guard. Faster than he could be followed, he threw himself out the window. Shattering glass burst outward as he fell. The guards rushed over and screamed, "He survived! He's getting away!"

"Don't move!" Another ordered Calhava.

"I'm not going anywhere," he said with resignation. "How is my friend, Tro?"

The officer winced as she got up, "He's fine, recovering in a bacta tank. He had several broken ribs, two ruptured discs, and spinal damage. Anyone smaller or weaker would have been crushed to death. What is your droid going to do?"

"Honestly, I have no idea," he said as they bound his hands.

"Still no word?"

"No Opia," Kote replied with what he hoped was frustration and not annoyance. He respected her prompt inquiries. They arrived every half hour as she made rounds, checking to make sure every last member (droids included) were healthy and functional.

"Aren't you worried?"

"Absolutely," he said as he looked around the piazza within the Republic embassy.

"What are you going to do about the bunker?"

He shrugged, "Nothing. They aren't going anywhere and there isn't enough to hurt us."

Ten Zeltrons entered the room at a run, coming straight for Kote and Opia. Immediately, they knew something had changed. Opia reached for her lightsaber and her bodyguard turned on his staff, the weapon crackling. Kote shook his head and ordered both to stand down.

"What's wrong?" He asked.

"I'm sorry sir," the royal guard officer said. "We have orders to detain you."

His laughter was booming, smiling to distract them as he turned on his comlink.

"Is this a coup? Are you planning to kill us?" Kote asked.

"We have orders to take you alive if you surrender. Will you come willingly?"

Kote looked at each of them in turn, "No. You've forgotten two things. One is Winded."

"We sent four guards to capture him."

"It wasn't enough," Kote said as the Talz and his bodyguard droid entered the room. They towed four royal guards with them, tied together by binders. Several of the royal guard turned to face them. "Two, you forgot Squeaker."

The spider droid dropped from the rooftop between Kote and the Zeltrons. The guards backed away quickly, rightfully wary of the droid's power.

"Three!" Unbroken, the tactical droid, yelled as the rest of the Separatist droids moved into the room. They quickly surrounded the Zeltrons. "The rest summoned by Kote's comlink."

"Amateurs," Kote patted Squeaker before he demanded. "Drop your weapons or die."

The Zeltrons looked at the overwhelming situation and surrendered. Kote signaled for his troops to gather the weapons.

"Major Kushi knew you'd betray us," Kote explained. "We're going to play a game called 'the first one that talks, lives.' I'll warn you; the Mandalorian always wins."

"Kote!" Maylaine called over the comlink. "Don't kill them, they're worth more alive."

"Maylaine? Are you ok?"

"We'll make it to the embassy," she replied. "I'm going to call in the cavalry."

Calhava watched, "…sullied our day of mourning. Partisans from both sides of this galactic war triggered a battle and threatened the stability of Zeltros. Royal guard assisted local security forces in suppressing them and placed them under arrest."

The queen was stunning, eloquent in speech and dress, though subdued for a Zeltron. She wore a skintight black outfit, revealing without showing an inch of flesh.

"I feel for all my people and I understand how passionately they support one side or another. Still, the majority of you voted for neutrality and I am a servant of the people. Zeltros will remain neutral. I ask that you all join me in prayer, for a swift and peaceful end to this war."

The public holonet terminal in his cell blinked off and he waited. His binders were hooked to the floor, restraining his hands to the ground. His hip still ached but it was fading. They'd removed his armor and now he wore only his bodysuit.

He was so tired he couldn't even sleep, simply that exhausted.

The door opened and Captain Inara Serra entered in a suit of royal guard armor.

"I'm sorry Calhava," she waved to the binders hooked to the floor. "You have a gift for escaping imprisonment and your escape often includes monumental destruction."

A list of responses came to him but he remained silent.

"My people have consistently underestimated yours. Your Mandalorian is holding fourteen of my royal guard in the Republic consulate. Your droid escaped and your ship is at the embassy. Your giant friend broke out of our care and disappeared. Kote has given us an ultimatum: release you or they'll kill the hostages and rescue you. At the same time I received a friendly message from Count Dooku. He says, and I quote, 'a relief ship is on standby should we need supplies after our disturbance'. Is there any reason, I shouldn't consider this a threat?"

"No," he answered.

"I don't like him. One look at him and my instincts scream: betrayal!" She explained.

"He's a politician," Calhava glared. "Treachery and lies are tradecraft just as much as demanding self-sacrifice from others. Of course, you know that quite well."

"That's not fair, major. The queen must do what is best for my people."

"Fair is for children and movies. We live in reality…your majesty."

He could see a dozen denials working its way through her brain. He could also see that she read the certainty in his eyes. "How did you know?"

"Even in mourning Zeltrons don't cover up that much. Removing a lightsaber scar requires surgery and time, you had one but not the latter. Combine that with your guard's concern for your safety…and that nobles always think they're warriors…"

"You should have taken that bath with me." She tried to caress his cheek but he jerked his head away from her. "I'm sorry about your friend; I know you were close. One day this war will be over and I promise I will recognize and reward you for your actions but for-"

"What do you think is going on?" He snapped at her. "A year ago the Separatists met on Geonosia and the Republic invaded it, with an army of Clones and Jedi. It takes ten years to grow and train a Clone. Ten years ago the senate claimed they were out of money; thus, they taxed the trade routes. Where do you think the credits came from for an army of Clones? Don't forget to calculate the cost of cruisers, gunships, and tanks."

"They kept you monsters from enslaving the galaxy," she revealed her true feelings.

"You really believe that," he ridiculed her. "At the hour of the Republic's greatest need, they discover a secret army to save them from evil. What are you a child? That sounds like some bad 'made for holonet movie'. You think I'm doing this for reward or recognition? Is that what you tell yourself to justify what you've done? I'm fighting to save this galaxy from tyranny."

Guards arrived and stood him up. The queen didn't look at him when she said, "We're taking you to your embassy, then you and your forces will leave this planet."