A massive thank you to TheRighterzPen for betaing this story. Without her feedback and oodles of help, this story would not be what it is today. Thanks also to MasterFeign and Darkwinter999 for helping out with the action sequence.

Disney owns the Star Wars franchise.

Chapter 1 – Fire fight

There were civilians caught in the crossfire. Their screams and erratic movements stood out from the usual cacophony of blaster fire: a painful reminder of the wrongness of the situation. Jud supressed a shudder and tried to focus on his mission instead.

The base was about to be overrun. The Separatists had rolled up the defences on both sides in a classic pincer movement, droids materialising out of the trees that ringed the forest clearing. It was a lost fight and once again, he wasn't on the winning side. They were on the wrong end of the fire fight. The other troopers on the perimeter were dying one by one; endless iterations of his own death.

Over the comms, Jud heard that larties were inbound, but still a few minutes away. At this rate there wasn't going to be anyone left to evac. Beside him, Hops was busy laying down cover fire, cutting down B1 droids left and right. The dumb tinnies just kept marching straight into Hops's line of fire. Jud wondered why the designers had gone for a humanoid shape. Surely, there were better designs out there, ones that didn't have so many vulnerable joints.

Jud squeezed the trigger; once, twice, three times. Three spindly droids toppled to the ground in a tan heap. Three less droids for the civvies to worry about. That was his job: keep the civvies, civilians in proper Army jargon, alive and the landing zone clear until the gunships arrived to pull them all out of this hellhole.

It was a dumb idea to have landed on this planet, this non-Republic planet, in the first place. Yet another great brainwave from the Jedi Commander, ignoring basic military sense in favour of some nebulous moral code; the enemy of my enemy is a potential ally, yada ya. To Jud's way of thinking, if they weren't Republic citizens and they weren't hostile then they weren't his problem. However, the Commander had been adamant about getting the locals to safety, away from the Seppie droid army. Now the Jedi was nowhere to be found and it was up to Jud and the rest of Typhoon Company to get the job done.

"Nice. Three from three." Hops flashed him a thumbs up.

Behind his bucket, Jud grinned broadly. "And that is how it's done!"

Hops just laughed. "Like you'd know, ya shorn barve!"

Jud gestured rudely in Hops's direction and got another laugh in return.

Metallic crashes heralded the arrival of three super battle droids—supes—their dull grey, neck-less bulk looming suddenly behind him. The burly clankers, true to their nickname, had stumbled into one of the many piles of crates that ringed the landing zone. Jud, Hops, and their motley crèche of civilians were completely exposed. For a horrible instant no one moved, both sides taken aback by the other's presence.

"Clankers! Get down!" Hops yelled at the civvies.

His voice broke the spell. People started screaming as the droids opened fire. One of them was cut down instantly, several shots lancing into his torso, as Jud and Hops dove behind a nearby larty wreck.

Jud peered over a warped shard of metal that had been twisted off the larty's hull like a breakfast fruit peel. Most of the other civilians had managed to scatter to safety. The droids were standing around bodies of the slower civilians slumped at their feet. Stupid machines didn't seem sure which group to pursue first. Jud popped off a couple of shots at the droids to draw them away from the civvies. He recognised one of the dead and felt a pang of regret. The man had broken down in tears earlier when his wife had bled out at the aid station.

"Sit rep?" Hops asked.

Jud updated his brother on what was happening. "Three supes. Civvies are lying low. We've got to take those droids down."

"Agreed." Hops leaned out from behind the LAAT/i and started firing at the tinnies, his decee spitting out blue streaks.

Jud sprinted to the other end of the wreck. The tinnies were focusing their fire on Hops, red laser bolts skittering across the metal hiding his buddy. Skidding to a halt, Jud crouched down and drew a bead on one of the droids. He was in the perfect spot to catch them in the crossfire. In amidst the action, Jud smirked behind his bucket. Just like the drills, the instructors on Kamino would be so proud.

"Hops?" he asked calmly.


"Supe on the left; firing in three, two, one. Take!"

Two bolts of blue plasma tore into the unlucky droid and it toppled forward in slow motion, arms still outstretched. The other two continued firing at Hops for a moment before they realised they were dealing with two enemies. One of them swivelled towards him

Jud kept firing at the sweet spot on the droid in front of him; one hit, two hits—another should overload the damn thing. Click click. He let rip a stream of expletives—his decee was out of juice. Typical Republic crap! He ducked down as the tinnie lined him up and a hailstorm of red plasma erupted above his head. The thin spar of metal he'd been peering over just a moment before was shredded as if it were a sheet of flimsy, hot metal landing in Jud's lap. Kriff! Jud swiped at the fragments before they could burn into his body glove. From the other end of the larty, Hops quickly glanced towards him, unsure why he'd stopped firing.

Jud gestured at his decee in frustration. "Karking thing is out of juice!"

Hops acknowledged with a quick nod and went back to taking pot shots at the advancing droids.

Jud checked out the area around him, there were no other weapons nearby. He'd used the last of his grenades a few minutes back to take down a rollie. Great, he was out of everything except his bare hands.

"Hops, you got anything you can spare, buddy? I'm out."

"Hold up." Hops fished in his belt one handed. "Last one—make it count," he warned before he lobbed Jud the grenade. "I'll draw their fire. Don't you dare be slow or so help me, I will bury my foot so far up your shebse that you'll need Dale to get it out for you."

With that charming comment, Hops sprinted out from behind the larty firing wildly at the tinnies and dived behind a tower of crates. Predictably, the battle droids opened fire, gouging great score marks into the durasteel crates as they clanked towards their target. Jud peeked out, just to make sure they weren't paying attention to him, before he flicked the arming switch and hurled the grenade at the two supes.

A tremendous wave of pressure, heat and sound hit him, blowing him back onto the ground. Jud hit face first. Even with the dampeners in his armour and glare shields in his bucket, the blast seemed to shake his skin loose from his body, every bone ached. Hops had given him a kriffing thermal detonator, instead of the droid popper he was expecting. Not helpful, Hops!

Jud tried to shake off the bleary feeling that permeated his senses. His head felt all fuzzy. The dull thump of a nearby blast focused him. Looks like my hearing is fine. He tried to open a comm channel to Hops, just to let him know he was in one piece, but his HUD was busy running diagnostics and wouldn't respond. Not important now, find a weapon. Protect the civvies, if there are any left.

He pushed himself up onto his forearms. There. About thirty meters to his right was a decee lying in the open beside the body of a brother. He peered around. No clankers were on top of him so he pushed himself up and in a shambling, half-crouched run, he wove his way as quickly as he could to the weapon. With a quick change in direction, he grabbed it and dove behind the downed LAAT/i again.

"So you are alive," Hops exclaimed as he popped up from behind his crates. "Nice of you to let me know." Jud could just hear the scowl in Hops's voice.

Jud rubbed his aching neck. "Well, if you'd given me a popper instead of a det, it would've helped some."

"Got the job done, didn't it?"

Jud bit back a snarky comment; they had a job to do. He checked the decee's safety was off and cautiously approached the inert droids. Where the grenade had landed, nothing was moving. The supes wouldn't be bothering them again—not with parts strewn over a ten-foot radius, but Jud wasn't sure how many civilians had been killed in the fracas. So much for trying to keep the civvies in one piece. Regret briefly pierced him for their deaths.

A high-pitched wailing cut through the battle—that was good. At least someone is still alive and kicking, he thought as he went to check on the still forms beside the droids.

Hops ran past him. "I'll grab the others!"

"These ones are gone," Jud said. He knelt down and closed the eyes of the man who had lost his wife. It hadn't been this man's fault that the clankers had come to his world. Secure the area, secure the civvies and take down any clankers that get in the way. His orders repeated endlessly in his mind like a corrupted sound bite, leaving a sour taste at the back of his throat. So that's what guilt tasted like.

A gaggle of people went past, Hops bringing up the rear. He paused beside Jud and laid a hand on his spauldron, pressing it gently into Jud's shoulder. "Come on, vod, now's not the time."

Jud noticed that he and Hops were the only troopers moving around the LZ—not so good. All around them hummed the characteristic whine of clone blaster fire, but he could also hear the clankers closing in. He sighed. "Right. Let's move."

Bodies were scattered around the landing zone, clad in the white armour and the dull greys and browns of civilians. Two smoking LAAT/i hulks added to the general impression of carnage. Underpinning all the battlefield noises was the chonk-chonk of droids advancing. It was one plus side of a mechanical foe – you never had to worry about them losing it in the heat of battle and suddenly charging.

Hops often joked you could almost set a chrono by the pace of a tinnie advance. Jud waited for the inevitable quip, but none came. Instead, Hops was busy herding the locals towards better cover. A few civvies, faces pale, stared at him as they passed by.

Another civilian, he couldn't tell if it was a man or a woman, was kneeling in the open, cradling an unmoving blood-smeared form. Jud went and dragged them away. His charges seemed to be dropping like flies despite his best efforts and he wasn't about to add another person to the casualty list.

Jud checked the power pack of his newly acquired DC and looked at the small group of people depending on him for survival. Hmm, maybe this wasn't the best spot to cover them? He was trying to pick a better spot when the noise of the battle changed abruptly. A dull thrumming and the high-pitched whine of rotary blasters joined the discord. The larties had arrived.

I can't say this enough, but please let me know what you think. This is the most complex story I've written to date so I'm more than a little nervous about it. Feedback would be amazingly appreciated! I really hope that you enjoyed meeting Jud and Hops.

Next week: Jud encounters several small problems.