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Star Wars Republic Commando:
Triple Zero

an extract from the novel
by Karen Traviss

Triple Zero by Karen TravissFleet Ops HQ, Coruscant, 0600, 368 days after Geonosis:
the first anniversary of the battle.

There were still ninety of the men Skirata had trained from small boys on active service, and he worried about them, too. But Omega Squad had become as much his closest family now as the Null ARCs. He would move the galaxy for them if he had to.

The gold-veined marble fountain in the center of the plaza beckoned to him. He stopped as he walked past it and simply leaned over and plunged his head in the icy water, holding it there for a few painfully refreshing moments before jerking upright and shaking the water off like a mott.

A couple of early-morning pedestrians stared at him and he returned the stare until they looked away. It was rare for anyone to even notice him: he made a habit of being inconspicuous.

But today he didn't care. Did they have any idea what was going on around the galaxy on hundreds of battlefields? He resisted the urge to grab them, shake them, and make them listen to what was happening in their name.

It was the first anniversary of Geonosis. Nobody seemed to be marking that.

Ordo walked up behind him. "You should get some rest, Kal'buir."

"I'll sleep when you sleep."

"I have more good news."

"I could do with that."

"Darman's explosives profile. The reading from the prisoners matches up with the manufacturing characteristics of at least a quarter of the devices detonated so far. We got a break."

"Good work. And good old Dar." He smiled at Ordo, reminded again of how well his boys had turned out. "Tell you what, Ord'ika, fancy some breakfast while the system gets on with unpacking that data? They do a disgustingly greasy fry-up in the Kragget. It's not the Skysitter, but it sets you up for the day."

Ordo shrugged and tilted his head in a conspicuously self-conscious glance down at his spotless white armor. "I don't think we're the Skysitter's type of clientele, anyway."

Skirata couldn't see the expression behind the visor, but he knew Ordo was amused. It was good that a man who'd had an unimaginable nightmare of a childhood could find anything funny. "They have napkins. And I'll try not to splash sauce over you. Deal? Just to celebrate the fact that we're both still here a year on."

Ordo started walking. "What were you doing a year ago today?"

"Wondering where all my boys had gone."

"Sorry, Kal'buir. It was a very rapid deployment. I should have woken you."

"You did fine. I should have shaped up and realized you had a job to do."

"We certainly accounted for a number of enemy positions," Ordo said.

"I never said good-bye to the lads who didn't come back, that's all. I lost nine out of my batch."

"But the last time you saw them, you left them feeling confident, respected, and loved. That's enough for any buir to achieve."

"Thanks, son." How did he ever grow up this normal? "Let's enjoy ourselves for a change, shall we?"

For a few brief hours Skirata and Ordo did what normal civilians did and took an EasyRide to the city's lower levels to have a dangerously unhealthy but comforting breakfast.

Skirata had never used public transport with Ordo in tow before, and the reactions of other passengers fascinated him. They sneaked sideways glances. Ordo's custom holster with its twin blasters probably focused them somewhat. The ARC trooper armor was spectacular even in a city jaded by the everyday presence of a thousand exotic species.

Skirata regularly forgot how few of the capital's civilians had ever seen a clone soldier face-to-face. Apart from the heavily publicized display of massed GAR battalions boarding assault ships at the military staging area a year ago, the vast majority of Coruscanti had no contact with them whatsoever.

And never without their helmets.

"Ord'ika," he whispered. "Do me a favor. Take off your bucket, will you?"

Ordo paused for a moment and then popped the seal on his collar and lifted off his helmet. Skirata kept an eye on the other passengers' reactions. It was a revelation. Some looked blankly surprised. Others went a little farther.

"Oh no, they're human!" one man whispered. "And they're so young!"

Did anyone know how young? He hated using Ordo like this, but it had to be done. Skirata, tired and permanently irritable, bit back his retort and became a diplomat for a few moments.

"No sir, the war isn't droids fighting droids," he said. "May I introduce Captain Ordo?"

Ordo nodded politely at the man in the seat across the aisle and extended his hand; Skirata had taught his little Nulls to act like nice boys when they needed to. The man hesitated and then reached across to shake Ordo's hand, surrendering soft pale civilian fingers to a black gauntlet. The look on his face said clearly that he hadn't expected to find flesh and blood inside the droid-like shell, or to retrieve his hand uncrushed afterward.

"My pleasure, sir," Ordo said.

It was unusually quiet in the EasyRide after that. At least the reality had registered on them. Skirata nudged Ordo to get off when they reached the Kragget level, and the ARC replaced his helmet.

"You like to shock," said Ordo.

"I like to educate," said Skirata. "Sorry, son."


© Karen Traviss 2005, 2006.
Triple Zero was published by Del Rey in February 2006.

Triple Zero by Karen Traviss

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