Chapter 5: Padawan Learning
The Triumphant, a Venator-Class Star Destroyer and the flagship of the 104th Battalion, was far more imposing in person compared to the ones Luat had seen as Holos. A massive, triangular cruiser with a protruding wing-like section one each side as well as a pair of command bridges sticking out the top, the ship was a masterpiece of naval engineering. And on it was Master Plo Koon, his Jedi Master.
Luat couldn't help but frown to himself as he approached the ship. Spending time back on the temple with Ahsoka and Jaylen was a very nice way of distracting himself, but once they were called out on their own patrols he was left on his own with only the newly repaired R3 for company. And, looking at the three Venators arrayed majestically before him, he couldn't help but feel those doubts beginning to resurface. Almost unconsciously, he reached behind his head and fiddled absently with his new Padawan braid. The thin, pleated strand was almost hidden behind the rest of his long, dark hair, but it was still a new addition, and the discomfort that it sometimes caused was a pretty accurate representation of how Luat felt.
R3 beeped worriedly from where he was nestled in his fighter's socket, startling Luat out of his thoughts. "I'm alright R3," he said, carefully guiding his fighter into the large chasm in the middle of the ship that served as its hangar.
As he gently set his fighter down, he made out several technicians and other support droids running about, as well as the familiar form of a tall, masked Kel Dor in Jedi robes. Master Plo had come to meet him, it seemed.
The Jedi Master wasted no time in walking over, reaching speaking distance just as Luat climbed out of his fighter's cockpit. "Hello again Luat," he said, his voice muffled by the breathing mask he always wore. Luat couldn't help but start a little in surprise. He'd met the Jedi Master a couple of years ago, sure, but he thought that the Master had all but forgotten him since then.
And then Luat realized Master Plo was still waiting for a response. "Er, yes, hello Master Plo," he said hurriedly, trying to suppress the flush of embarrassment in his cheeks. "I, uh, I'm here and ready to get started."
The Jedi Master's gaze softened, and Luat couldn't help but relax a little as he felt waves of calmness in the Force. Plo must have started projecting, he realized with a bit of awe and no small amount of thankfulness, to help dispel some of his tension.
Plo then turned on his heel and motioned for Luat to follow him as he began walking away. "Come, Padawan," he said. "There is much that we must do before your training begins, and little time for us to see it done." Luat could do nothing other than follow his Master's lead as they left the hangar with R3 trailing behind him.
Their first destination was the bridge, where several non-uniformed clones were running various maintenance tasks on their consoles. One of them in particular was standing over a holotable, observing the fleet's movements and occasionally issuing orders.
This clone was the first to react to their presence, turning to meet them with a salute. "General," he said formally. "All systems are reporting in with no issues." At Plo's nod, he lowered his hand and gave Luat a curious look. "This is our new commander, then?"
"Correct," Plo said. "This is Luat Ceema, my new Padawan learner. Luat, this is Commander Wollfe, leader of Wolfpack Squad. You will not find a better tactician in the battalion."
If Wolffe had any thoughts regarding Plo's praise, he didn't show it as he extended his hand towards Luat. "Commander," he said, face impassive, "A pleasure to meet you."
Luat quickly reached out to shake the offered hand. "The pleasure's all mine, Commander," he said evenly, though he cursed himself internally when his voice quavered a little. It may have been intentional, it may not have been, but Wolffe came off as a very no-nonsense, imposing figure. Though on balance, it probably is intentional, he thought to himself absently. "I look forward to working with and learning from you."
Wolffe stepped back, giving him a short nod before saluting Plo. "General, if you'll excuse me," he said, and at Plo's nod he turned back to the holotable.
"You will be returning here later." Luat looked over to see Plo gazing at him expectantly. "You will be learning from Commander Wolffe and the other clones as much as you will be from me," he said, and Luat looked at him in confusion. Plo must have noticed it, because he put a hand on Luat's shoulder as they exited the bridge. "Consider this your first lesson," his Master said lightly, emanating comforting waves that made him relax despite himself. "Everyone has something to teach you. The men will show you the capabilities and specialties of those under our command, and Wolffe will be teaching you his personal approach to combat so that you can make the best use of this knowledge."
That didn't sound too bad, Luat thought, especially if Wolffe was as good of a commander as his Master said he was. It did sting a little that Master Plo would be more or less outsourcing part of his training, but at the same time he understood a bit of why. Plo was not just a General in the Grand Army, like Master Eerin or Master Kcaj, but he was on the Jedi High Council. He probably had much more important things to worry about, but at least he wasn't going to leave Luat on his own or something in the meantime.
"But that is something to concern ourselves with at a later date," his Master said, interrupting Luat's musings. "There is more to be done first."
Several days later
Luat yelped in pain as the blaster bolt weaved through his defenses, striking him straight in the chest and sending him staggering backwards from the impact. His feet tangled and he tripped, his usual grace absent as he landed hard on his rear. He groaned in pain as cheers and laughter rang out from around him.
Plo Koon was no easy taskmaster, that was for sure. After their tour of the Triumphant, the two of them had spent the next hour reviewing the Padawan's strengths and weaknesses, and developing a lesson plan from them.
Piloting was, surprisingly enough, put on the backburner for now. Their forces had enough clones trained as pilots to make up the difference, and Plo himself was worth five of Luat when at the controls of a starfighter. There would be plenty of time, he insisted, for Luat to practice and improve his skills in that area.
Instead, his Master had focused on training Luat in blaster deflection. This made sense at least, since Luat knew he could only pull it off when focusing all his attention on it, and Plo made a very valid point in that he would have to be giving out orders in the midst of battle. Unless he wanted to be dropping out the fight every time he needed to comm someone, Plo had said, he would only be a liability on a battlefield.
Unfortunately, his Master's idea of remedying the issue followed along the lines of "Do it enough, you'll get used to it." And so, Luat would find himself standing across from his Master, batting a training remote's blaster bolt back and forth between them. All the while, the Kel Dor would quiz him on tactics, strategy, logistics, or whatever reading material had been set aside for him to study beforehand. And if he took too long to answer, Plo would increase the pace of the blaster bolt until either he did or he slipped up.
Their training sessions had quickly gained several spectators in the form of the clones, and Plo had just as quickly started quizzing Luat for information on individual clones, including their nicknames, specialties, and favorite pastimes. "The first step to being an effective commander," he'd said, "Is to know the men you are leading. If you are not able to correctly utilize the capabilities of your troops to their fullest extent, you will rarely find victory in battle."
At least the men are enjoying it, Luat groused to himself as his Master came towards him to offer a hand up. Taking it, the Padawan was easily lifted to his feet, and he quickly dusted himself off. R3 rolled up next to him, holding out a towel and beeping merrily at his maker's plight.
"Yeah, yeah, laugh it up you little rustbucket," Luat grinned. Even though he was getting knocked on his ass more times than not, he could tell that he was slowly but steadily improving.
"C'mon Commander!" one of the spectating clones, Boost according to his hairstyle, called out to him. "I thought you could last longer than that!"
"Sorry Boost," Luat shouted back jokingly, "I didn't feel like letting you make a profit today!" It had become more or less common knowledge that the watching clones were taking bets on his performance, something that both Jedi officially discouraged but in practice allowed as long as it didn't affect their duties.
Plo coughed from where he was standing, and Luat jumped, flushing slightly upon realizing he had forgotten about his Master.
"You have been doing well, Luat," he said. "However, you must be able to release yourself to the Force. It may be difficult, but when you are able to allow the Force to guide your movements unconsciously, that is when you will be at your best."
"Though," he added dryly, "It seems that your situational awareness still requires development."
Luat could only nod uncomfortably as Plo turned around. "I must meet with the Council," he said as he left. "Please continue with your lessons under Commander Wolffe in the meantime."
"Yes Master," Luat replied on reflex, even though his Master was long gone. The watching clones, knowing that their entertainment for the day was over, began to disperse as well. The Padawan sighed to himself as he started to make his way to the bridge, where Wolffe was undoubtedly waiting. He knew that Plo was a High Council member, and in fact one of the senior members that served for life. He undoubtedly had a massive amount of work on his shoulders just keeping the Order running, let alone working as a general in the war. But even so…
It doesn't matter, Luat thought to himself. Master Plo's just busy. We'll have more time later. He made a point of ignoring how those words seemed to ring hollow in his mind.
"... And then I'd order our cruiser groups to split up and try to abuse alternate angles as much as possible, forcing the Separatist ships to split their fire," Luat finished. As he spoke, the holographic array of Republic and Separatist ships in front of him shifted to display the formation he had described.
Across from him, Commander Wolffe frowned thoughtfully. "Not bad," he said with a nod. "Though you have to take into account that our forces are supposed to be defending the planet." He typed several commands into the console, and suddenly the entire Separatist fleet was speeding towards the planet, shrugging off the fire from the Republic ships. "Unless we have a strong defensive front, many Seppie leaders will just have their fleet charge in so that they can make it to the planet, leaving us cut off. Remember, they're a droid fleet. They can take losses more easily than we can."
Luat studied the projected ships intensely. This was what a large part of his studies with Wolffe boiled down to. The clone Commander would construct a battle of some sort, and it was Luat's job to take command of the Republic forces as best he could. Wolffe would then provide advice and critiques for his strategies.
"Then… What if we put the majority of the ships into the standard line formation," he began, "But left a couple of lighter ships to go on flank angles?" The fleets reset themselves accordingly, with several frigates and light cruisers sitting outside the main Republic line. "This way our frontline doesn't suffer too much from the loss in firepower, but the light ships will be able to sow a little chaos and do more damage than they would have in the main line."
Wolffe's reply, however, was interrupted by the beeping of the comm. "Luat," Plo's voice came through, "I am afraid that we must cut your session with Commander Wolffe short. Both of you me at the bridge."
Master Plo was already in the middle of a holocall by the time Luat and Wolffe made it to the bridge. From where he was, Luat could make out the holographic forms of Masters Mace Windu, Saesee Tiin, and Obi-Wan Kenobi, along with several clone strategists. A nudge from Wolffe had him quickly walk forward, and as he got closer he could make out some of the conversation.
"The Separatists simply have more vessels than we do," Master Kenobi said in the calm, measured demeanor that was the cornerstone of his reputation as the Negotiator. "Our forces find ourselves outnumbered because the enemy has more ships that they can afford to lose."
An unfamiliar voice was the next one to speak up. "That's why we're planning on attacking the Separatist shipyards, right? If we can destroy or take over even one of their major facilities, it would be a massive shift in our advantage."
"These worlds would be heavily defended." Saesee Tiin grimaced. "A straightforward assault would only result in heavy casualties with a low chance of success."
"Which means that we will not be taking a straightforward path, correct?" Master Plo asked, nodding to Luat and Wolffe as they walked up to the holotable. Stepping around the table to stand at his Master's side, Luat could finally make out who the remaining members of the holocall were. Standing next to Master Kenobi was the distinctive form of Anakin Skywalker, and next to him was Ahsoka, of all people. She gave him a quick smile as he came into view, before turning to focus on what Master Windu was saying.
"According to our intelligence reports, the most lightly defended of the shipyards is the planet Gwori." An image of the planet in question flickered into existence, along with some bits of supplementary information on its climate and atmospheric conditions. "The blockade here only consists of several Munificent frigates, so a smaller force would be able to keep them at bay long enough for a bombing run on the shipyards. Unfortunately, Republic Intelligence was unable to find the shipyards' exact locations, so a team will have to sneak on-planet in order to transmit us the coordinates."
Sneak onto a hostile shipyard and transmit the coordinates back for a bombing run without dying? No wonder Skywalker was here; he'd literally build his reputation from pulling off impossible missions like this one.
"Further complicating the matter," Master Windu continued, "Is a recent technological development by the Separatists. The droids have begun employing a new kind of radiation-producing scanner in order to detect and eradicate any living creatures on board incoming vessels before they're allowed to make landfall. If we want to get inside, we have to figure out a way to beat them."
"Do we know what type of radiation the scanners use?" Wolffe asked. "We may be able to develop some form of shielding for it."
Master Windu shook his head. "We were lucky to figure out that the scanners even existed in the first place," he said. "Without obtaining one of them, we won't know what kind of radiation they use. Not to mention we don't have the equipment on hand to attempt to block all of the possible frequencies they could use."
Skywalker had been deep in thought through all of this, before his head came up. "What if we were able to bypass the scanners entirely?" he proposed before inputting commands into a console out of everyone else's view. The image of Gwori was replaced by that of an odd block with a figure frozen into it. "If we can put ourselves into carbonite hibernation before entering the system, our vital signs will all be essentially gone. This way, it doesn't matter what the scanners use, because it wouldn't detect or affect carbonite. Just have one of our droids pilot the ship down and unfreeze us when we get there."
There was silence for a moment as the Masters all contemplated Skywalker's plan. Luat spent that moment staring at the Jedi Knight with something bordering incredulity. Freezing themselves in carbonite would leave the strike team completely dependent on the droid controlling the ship, and they'd be helpless if anything went wrong. It was risky, insane on so many levels… and Force help him it had a pretty decent chance of working.
"It could work." Master Kenobi nodded, before adding wryly, "It's something the droids wouldn't anticipate, at least."
"Hm." Master Windu appeared to have made up his mind. "Very well then. Skywalker, Kenobi, you two will lead the infiltration group, while Master Koon and Master Tiin will take charge of the strike force."
As the Masters further debated the minutiae of the plan, Luat took a moment to look over at Ahsoka. She was paying close attention to the proceedings, clearly excited for her part in the stealth mission. Not that he felt any different, even if he was only going to be part of the bombing run. With a quick shake of his head, Luat returned his focus to the call. This would be his first mission alongside his Master. It wouldn't do to disappoint.
And to everyone's surprise, the new chapter is here. As for why it took so long, well, college sucks, graduate school applications are annoying, and video games exist.
This one's a bit of a slow chapter, too, so it was very annoying to write out. Hopefully I'll be able to get another chapter done before the year ends since things are starting to pick up, but don't hold your breath on that one.
But yeah, next chapter is Gwori! Shipyard schemes, sneaky soldiers, and some other things I can't think out good alliteration for. Not really sure if I'll be showing a lot of what happens with the stealth team (I want this to be primarily Luat's story, after all), but we'll see how that ends up. Either way, stuff'll be happening next chapter.
As always, feel free to drop a review or a PM if you've got any feedback. Otherwise, though, I'll see you all next chapter. And as always, watch out for that friendly fire.