Chapter 1: The Mandalorian Sergeant

It was unusually cold outside the Jedi Council chambers. At least, it felt that way to Echo, who was standing there with Ahsoka, waiting for Anakin to come out. It was two days after Echo had returned to the Republic, and he was now officially Ahsoka's second in command. He had been quite unsettled when he had learned of what had happened in his absence. It would seem that Anakin and Ahsoka were the only Jedi he knew of that could be trusted. They were the only ones to consistently show good judgment and trustworthiness. The Jedi, generally, tended to be nice enough, usually. But recently, they hadn't shown the best judgment and were rather willing to give in to demands they shouldn't have. It was a disconcerting thought, especially since there now might be traitors in their ranks. The senate was even worse. Almost every senator he could think of was corrupt, incompetent, or both. At least the Separatists were undeniably evil so he could feel justified in killing them.

Ahsoka was very troubled at the moment. Anakin was annoyed at having to repeatedly explain his decision to bomb Taris to the Council. Mace Windu in particular seemed to be on a witchhunt at the moment. But all of that was minor. Ahsoka was really worried about the Sith infiltrators in the Jedi ranks. The council thought it was just Narrisa ranting but Ahsoka hadn't been impressed with their wisdom so far. Anakin and Obi-Wan believed her at least, and had told her a shocking truth. Count Dooku was the man who ordered the creation of the clone army and sabotaged the Jedi archives to hide the truth. It would appear the Sith were even more powerful than believed. Unsurprisingly, the council wasn't doing much about it. It was times like this that she wondered if the Republic was worth saving.

Anakin came out looking rather grim. It seemed that his meeting with the Council hadn't gone well. "What did they say?" asked Ahsoka.

"They second-guessed my decision to bombard Taris" Anakin said frustratingly. "Windu accused me of doing so out of bloodlust, as if that psycho knew what he was talking about. Mundi thought I did so out of panic. And Yoda, as always, was indecisive about his opinion. They haven't taken any action against me or you but they are very unhappy with us. And no, they still aren't following up on the possible Sith infiltrators. They are still telling themselves that it was just Narrisa ranting."

"Of course they are," muttered Ahsoka. "They have somehow gotten even dumber." Since they were duped into turning on her, Ahsoka hadn't been very trusting of the Jedi Council's judgment. Her newfound cynicism had surprised Echo, who had a hard time believing Ahsoka could think that way. Things had really changed in his time away. Of course, after everything that had happened, he couldn't really blame her.

The speeder cruised through the city as Ahsoka piloted it toward Arca Barracks, the headquarters of the Special Operations Brigade. Gregor was going there to be assigned to a new squad and Ahsoka, along with Echo, were taking him there. When they landed they saw a man in Mandalorian armor painted gold. Gregor was clearly surprised to see this guy and walked up to him. "Great to see you're alive, Gregor" said the Mandalorian.

"I nearly wasn't" replied Gregor. "General, I'd like you to meet Sergeant Kal Skirata. He taught me everything I know and is an amazing fighter."

"You must be the famous Ahsoka Tano. I watched your trial on the Holonet, didn't believe anything that Di'Kut Tarkin said. I'm surprised you came back" said Skirata.

"My reasons are my own. I imagine you have your own, considering you are working for the Jedi" replied Ahsoka. She hadn't met many traditional Mandalorians apart from Death Watch.

"I'm here to help the boys I practically raised, survive. I might actually help them get something for their service. I'm not getting much help, considering most Aruutise consider them expendable and few Jedi care about such things," exasperated Skirata.

"The only people I know of who have such views are slimy politicians. The only Jedi I can think of who thought that way was Pong Krell, who was a traitor," retorted Ahsoka. She wasn't in the mood for a lecture on how Jedi supposedly didn't care about how clones were treated. "Are you accusing me of not caring about them?" she asked.

"You and Skywalker have a pretty good reputation regarding how you treat your troops. But I don't think you realize they are essentially slaves to the Republic," replied Skirata. "I also don't think you realize that Palpatine is prolonging the war for reasons only he knows. Few people, Jedi or Politician, seem to."

"I am aware of the Clones' legal status, and so is my former master. Once the war is won, it will change. As for the chancellor, I don't know him that well but my former master trusts him. He is the only Jedi I trust unconditionally, so I will follow his lead until I get a reason to think Palpatine is up to no good," replied Ahsoka. It was true that some of Palpatine's actions had seemed strange to her but so far she hadn't seen anything specific to indicate he was truly up to no good.

"Let's hope you don't get that reason to late" muttered Skirata. He then walked off. Ahsoka came up to Gregor and asked "What's his problem?"

"He doesn't talk about it" answered Gregor. "I've always wondered why he accepted the offer to be a Drill Sergeant on the rainiest, dreariest planet in the galaxy. And I'm pretty sure it goes beyond money. Whatever it is, he has never talked about it. I've always wondered why" said Gregor. Then, an ARC Trooper in red armor walked up and saluted.

"General Tano, I am ARC Trooper A-26, otherwise known as Captain Maze. I am adjutant to General Zey. He has asked that you meet with him. If you would follow me," the trooper said. Ahsoka decided to see what this General had to offer. She followed Maze into the office of Arligan Zey. Zey was a middle aged man with greying black hair who was currently arguing with Kal Skirata.

"I have tolerated a lot of your antics sergeant. I have let you and your private army go across the galaxy doing things I can only guess at. I have let you kidnap, torture, and subsequently murder numerous people who live on Coruscant, including government employees, because you said they were terrorists. When Fi disappeared from the hospital, and was later listed as dead, I let it go. By the time you showed up with the severed head of Ko Sai, I had long since stopped caring what you did in service to the Republic. So I didn't even slap you on the wrist, metaphorically or literally, or even ask how Ko Sai died or how you found her. But if you are going to keep doing this, you will have to do something for me," yelled Zey.

He then looked at Ahsoka and said "General Tano, I have heard the rumors of you saying there are Sith Infiltrators in our ranks. Unlike the council, I don't believe in ignoring potential threats. Since you are between assignments right now, I figured you would be looking into this. As Sergeant Skirata ignores regulations and orders all the time, I thought he might be able to help you." Ahsoka was shocked. This was the first time she had met a Jedi Master apart from Obi-Wan who actually listened to her suspicions.

"Thank you, Master Zey" said Ahsoka. "This is the first time another Jedi apart from my own master actively helped me in something like this. Do you mind if I ask why you share such suspicions?" she asked.

"I have come to realize that there is something unseen manipulating the war for its own ends. The who, what, and why are unknown to me and I have not had much time to investigate. You have found a better lead than most, so I decided to help. I would come myself but there are several operations that require my attention. Thankfully, Sergeant Skirata isn't doing anything right now and is good at investigating shadow conspiracies. He will be helping you with this" explained Zey. Skirata seemed rather annoyed.

"I have better things to do than chase Jedi conspiracy theories across the galaxy, looking for some obscure cult," said Skirata.

"That "obscure cult" as you put it, has ruled over half the galaxy at various points throughout history," said Zey. "It has repeatedly come back to sow chaos across the universe, even after it supposedly was wiped out. And what is so important? Hunting missing Kaminoans so you can butcher them into gloves for one of those psychos you chose to adopt? I think you can do without that for a few months. You have your orders, carry them out."

Skirata grumbled, walked up to Ahsoka, and said "Looks like we are going Sith-Hunting. I'm going to go get my stuff and call a few friends of mine." He then walked off. Ahsoka then looked at Zey and asked "If he really did everything you say he did, why haven't you fired him? My master is the only other Jedi I can think of who would overlook such things."

"Like General Skywalker, I understand compromise must be made in war. Skirata is extremely effective and I know he won't outright betray the Republic, as he has motivations beyond money. He does not let anyone impose their version of right and wrong on him, he just follows his own. If that requires breaking the law or killing a bunch of people, he doesn't care, he'll do it anyway. Which is exactly the kind of person we need to fight a war. The Council might disagree but I think we both know they aren't as smart as they imagine themselves to be." Ahsoka was downright shocked, she never imagined a jedi master to ever say such things, especially to another jedi. Zey must have really gone through a lot in order to act like that.

Ahsoka went back to the speeder and saw Skirata was there. "I've called a few friends from the Cuy'val Dar to help us out. They don't have anything better to do and they love chasing conspiracies along with performing random acts of violence," Skirata said sarcastically. "That is a lie, they don't commit senseless acts of violence for their own sake and I have better things to do myself. But hey, the sooner I get this done I can get back to my true passion."

"Which is what?" asked Ahsoka.

"I could tell you but I just met you. Maybe you'll find out once I have gotten to know you better but not now" responded the mercenary. "Anyway, let's go meet up with them. Keep in mind most of them aren't as tolerant of Jedi as I am."

"Well, given how open minded you are, that doesn't fill me with confidence" replied Ahsoka.

"It's the truth, many of them think even less of the Jedi than I do" said Skirata. "Walon Vau was the best friend of Jango Fett and has never forgiven the Jedi for killing him. I didn't like what Windu did but it was in battle, so I don't hold a grudge. Llats Ward thinks the Jedi want to commit cultural genocide of the Mandalorian people and failing that, exterminate us like the ancient Sith Empire. Vhonte Tervho holds the same views. Unlike them, I know that not all Jedi would go along with it. Rav Bralor also knows better, but like me, she knows the Jedi don't do enough for the clones. B'arin Apma, Mij Gilamar, and Wad'e Tay'haai don't really have an opinion on the Jedi, because they never worked with you people before. And since Dred Priest is a high-end sociopath and his girlfriend Isabet Reau is on the lower end of the spectrum, I'm not bringing them on."

"I'm surprised," replied the Togruta. "I didn't think Jango Fett would hire people like that as drill instructors."

"He made sure they kept a lid on their impulses for most of the time. The one time they didn't they were hospitalized for a month. Shaak Ti fired them as soon as she took over training of the clones. They tried to rejoin Death Watch immediately afterward, but unlike his granddad, Pre Vizsla and his sidekick Bo-Katan Kryze didn't approve of their behavior and rejected their offer. Last I heard they had been hired on by that Dathomirian Zabrak that Kenobi is obsessed with" responded Skirata. "I guess he likes his underlings to be randomly cruel and suffer murderous outbursts on a whim. But whatever, only the ones I trust will be joining us on this mission. I'm also bringing along Mereel and Ordo, the only Null Arcs who aren't otherwise occupied."

"Why are they called the Nulls?" asked Ahsoka

"The Kaminoans thought they were defective" Skirata replied bitterly. "The only reason the Aiwha-bait didn't kill them was because I intervened." Skirata walked toward the speeder and got in the backseat.