Chapter 7

Just like the Simulations

Good soldiers follow orders, that is what she had always believed. Even when the Jedi's bad tactics lost them the battle. Even when they got her sister, Redeemer, killed. Even when they came to her with their plan to reclaim victory and break the blockade.

She was in the medical bay, injured and bleeding. Her right eye was gone, destroyed alongside her starboard bridge tower. When they came to speak with her she expected them to take her off the line and send her back to Kuat. Instead they told her it was her time to die for the Republic.

"I've decided the only way we can break the blockade is if we pilot the Defender right into their battleship and take out their commander." General Skywalker told her. It was effectively her final order, and she could only obey.

While the rest of the crew evacuated, she dragged herself to the remaining bridge tower. The bridge was empty by the time she arrived, save for a lone figure standing beside the tower's windows.

"It seems I've got one last jump to make." She called out to him. Her captain didn't respond, instead choosing to keep his back to her as he stared out into the void. She made her way forward until she was standing just behind him. "Captain I..." she started to speak, but halted as her captain suddenly turned and embraced her.

"I'm sorry." He said, holding her close. "My brave Defender, I wish I could've protected you the way you've protected us. I've failed you as your captain." He confessed.

"No... Captain it's not your fault." Defender's vision blurred as her remaining eye welled up with tears. "This is the Jedi's failure, not yours." She thought.

"You've done the Open Circle Fleet a great service." He stepped back and wiped the tears from her left cheek. "The entire Republic Navy could learn I thing or two from you." He gently squeezed her shoulder. "I'll see you on the other side. May the force be with you."

"Thank you captain." Defender watched her captain's back as he left the bridge. The old Judicial turned to face her when he entered the turbo lift, giving her one last salute before the doors closed. She returned his salute with pride, and that was the last time she ever saw her captain.

Defender was truly alone now. She turned to face the window as her captain had, looking over the armored hangar below. Several fires burned through the deck, bursting from the holes that had been punched in her armor by droid kamikaze fighters. She stood lost in thought for some time before the sound of the turbo lift behind her brought her back to reality.

"Take us to hyperspace." General Skywalker ordered from behind her.

"Yes Sir." She answered without turning to face him. The jump to Ryloth was short. They arrived above the dirty brown and green planet in what seemed like moments. Defender couldn't help but look to her left where Redeemer's wreckage floated silently in the distance. "I'll be with you soon, little sister."

"Take us towards the Lucrehulk. Slowly now, we don't want to tip them off." Skywalker ordered. Defender complied and approached the Separatist Flagship, Procurer, at an even pace.

The Lucrehulk sat and waited, like a tyrannical queen with her court of Munificents spread out on either side of her. Defender instinctively shunned all her shields to front, even though she knew they wouldn't last long should the Separatists decide to attack.

"Stop here, let's buy some time for Ashoka to arrive with the Resolute." Skywalker ordered, before opening up an open coms channel with the separatists. Defender slowed her ship to a stop as ordered. She let Skywalker's "negotiations" fade from her perception as she steeled herself to do what must be done.

"Oh, you can still have my ship!" She heard Skywalker throw one last taunt at the separatist scum as he cut their connection. "Ramming speed!" He shouted to her as he ran for the turbo lift.

"Yes, Sir!" Defender red-lined all eight of her engines as she accelerated. The Lucrehulk reacted immediately, blasting her with waves of turbolazer fire. The Munificents soon joined in, immolating Defender from all sides. The pain was nearly unbearable and she stumbled to the side. Her ship mimicked her, grinding off Lucrehulk's carrier ring.

"This is for Redeemer, you fat tyrant!" Defender screamed through the pain. Procurer's control sphere filled the entire view port, it's gray hull swallowing the Venator's bow as they collided. "Negotiator, Resolute, please take care of our sisters in the Open Circle. I leave the fate of our Republic to you."

Defender's bridge hit the Procurer just as their reactors blew, wiping both ships from existence.

Death was cold, though Defender figured that was par for the course considering that she died in vacuum. Her whole body went numb under the icy conditions, and she floated listlessly in the dark. Eventually she felt some warmth return, but that just made her arms and legs ache with a dull, nagging pain.

"Wait... if I'm dead, why do I still feel pain?" Something wasn't adding up. "For that matter, how does my consciousness still exist at all? Shouldn't I have been... I don't know, erased or something?" Defender still remembered herself, something that should be impossible if she had become one with the Force. "So maybe... I'm not dead? How could that be possible?"

She tried opening her eyes, and was surprised to find herself floating in a yellow room. As she awoke gravity seemed to return, and she was gently placed on the ground. The room Defender found herself in was strange. It was completely empty, and the walls were made of yellow squares that glowed softly.

"This room doesn't seem to have any doors..." Defender noted as she turned in place. "Perhaps one is concealed behind in the walls?" She approached the glowing squares cautiously.

"Ahem" A voice behind her cleared it's throat just as she raised her hand to rap on the wall. She turned to find that a short girl, along with a simple wooden table and chairs, had impossibly appeared behind her. The girl looked young, but carried herself with confidence. "Please take a seat, I'd like to discuss some things with you."

Defender complied, sitting down across from the girl and taking a moment to examine her mysterious companion. She wore a blue beret and a black iron cross adorned her short blond hair. Her blue and white uniform complimented her modest figure, though Defender questioned the practicality of the outfit's detached sleeves.

"I am Zerstörer number 23, of the 1936A Narvik class, or just Z23 for short." The girl introduced herself. "You can also call me Nimi, or just Zed." Z23 held up her right hand and a clipboard with documents appeared.

"Did she just will a clipboard into existence?" Defender struggled to conceal her surprise. She watched as Z23 nonchalantly spawned a pair of glasses and began reading the documents.

"It says here that Z36 found you while minelaying in the Baltic sea." She flipped through the papers. "But other than some impossible readings from your Wisdom Cube scans, we don't know anything about you." Z23 looked up and smiled warmly "Why don't we start with your name and class?"

"My name is Defender. I'm a Venator class Star Destroyer currently serving... " Defender paused to reconsider "... well I guess I was serving, in the Open Circle Armada."

"The Open Circle Armada?" Z23 scribbled notes on her clipboard.

"Yeah, of the Republic Navy." Defender clarified.

"I'm not familiar. Which Republic are you referring to?" Z23 asked.

"What Republic..? The Republic. The Galactic Republic, it's the only one that matters." Defender responded. "Does she really not know?"

"Hmm..." Z23 made a note on her clipboard.

"Oh! I get it. This is some kind of test, isn't it." Defender realized. "But..."

"I'm dead aren't I?" Defender asked. "So what's the point of this? You're some kind of guardian or something, right?" She pointed at Z23 accusingly.

"Dead?" Z23 put down her clipboard and clasped her hands. " You're very much alive, though only just."

"That's impossible. No one survives what I did, I knew that going in." Defender said bitterly.

"Really?" Z23 leaned forward with interest. "And what was it that you think you did?"

"I was a good soldier, who followed her orders to the end." Defender felt empty. "I sacrificed myself to ensure victory."

"Interesting." Z23 adjusted her glasses as she leaned back in her chair. "But are you sure that you where the one who did that, and that it wasn't a dream? After all, how could be sitting here if you died in battle?"

"What are you trying to imply? It wasn't just some dream!" Defender shot back. "I clearly remember dying. Those final hours are burned into my mind."

"You can remember the hours leading up to your death?" Z23 was surprised. "Many Kansen have dreams in which their ship sinks with them on board, but that's it." She explained. "I can feel a bomb pierce through the boiler room and go off beneath the hull... but that's it. There's no context. I don't know where I am, where the bomb comes from, or even who dropped it." Z23 seemed almost frustrated.

"Well then I guess I'm not the average Kansen." Defender said. "Whatever a Kansen is." She thought to herself.

"Yes... you're far from average aren't you..." Z23 studied Defenders face, as if contemplating her honesty. She shrugged to herself before continuing "Would you mind explaining your class to me as well? Venator Star Destroyer sounds impressive."

"Venator Star Destroyers are manufactured by Kuat Drive Yards and their subsidiaries." Defender answered. "We serve in a Battle-Carrier role and make up the backbone of the Republic Navy." Her voice turned cold. "All other data is classified."

"Can you at least tell me what a Battle-Carrier is?" Z23 asked, despite Defender's tone.

"I am capable of fighting on the front lines in the Battleship role, despite carrying a respectable fighter and bomber compliment." Defender replied. "And no, I won't be telling you my load-out."

Z23 was taking notes on her clipboard again. After she finished she simply held it up on the air and the clipboard disappeared. The blonde destroyer then turned away from Defender and put her hand to her ear.

"Get that report to Schornorst!" Z23 talked excitedly to empty air. "Tell her it's important. I'd like to have her come and talk with our guest right away!" She paused as if listening. "No, I'm staying under. I'm going to keep talking with her." She paused again. "Thanks Z35." Z23 thanked the empty space before turning back to Defender.

"Sorry about that!" She apologized. "I decided to call Schornorst to meet you. In the meantime, I can answer some of the questions you must have."

"Who's Schornorst, for starters?" Defender asked.

"She's the acting flagship. She'll definitely want to meet you after she sees my report." Z23 answered.

"Alright, so Z23 called for her commanding officer... I hope that's not a bad sign." Defender though before asking her next question. "Would you mind telling me what all that talking to no one was?" She could see that Z23 wasn't wearing an earpiece, which made her actions quite strange. "And how did you make that clipboard appear and disappear?"

"Heh!" Z23 chuckled. "I probably should've explained this earlier, but we're actually in a simulated environment. Think of it as a kind of shared dream." She explained. "I was talking to one of my younger sisters on the outside. As for the clipboard, well..." Z23 rubbed her neck sheepishly "...I've always preferred handwritten reports to typed ones. I just sent it out to be printed when I was done."

"A simulation..." Defender mumbled. "Blast! How do you even escape a simulation?" She silently cursed. "Why meet me in here instead of in reality? Do I really warrant that kind of security?"

"About that... we're not actually doing this for security reasons." Z23 admitted "You're not necessarily capable of a traditional conversation right now..."

"Why not?" Defender asked nervously. She was suddenly very aware of the dull pain in her limbs.

"We found you in the Baltic sea, remember? Z36 actually though you were a corpse when she first saw you." Z23 began explaining. "You were floating face down and badly frostbitten. She was shocked when you started breathing again." The blonde girl continued. "We decided to speak to you in this simulation while we reanimate your frozen limbs."

"So I'm crippled then..." Defender was at a loss. She held her hand up in front of herself, before clenching it into a fist. Aside from the dull pain she felt normal. Her fingers and arms moved just as they should. But that was a lie, wasn't it? Her movements were merely an illusion created by a computer.

"You're not going to be crippled!" Z23 tried to reassure her. "Kansen like us have enough regenerative powers to bounce back from even the worst frostbite, if given enough time. You'll be up and walking around in no time!"

"Thank goodness!" Defender breathed a sigh of relief. She knew the Jedi had chosen to sacrifice her because of the damage she had sustained during the first attack on Ryloth. Luckily, Z23 and her friends hadn't decided to do the same.

"There is some bad news though..." Defender felt a chill run through her as Z23 took on an

apologetic tone. "I'm sorry, but we were unable to save your right eye..." Z23 snapped her fingers and a hand mirror appeared on the table. Defender reached for it, but froze once her hand was over top the silver handle.

"Just pick it up!" Defender scolded herself for hesitating. She took the mirror in hand and turned the reflective surface toward her face. Her copper brown hair was let down from it's usually braid, though that seemed natural as she assumed her real body was actually floating in a Bacta Tank somewhere. Her left eye shone clear and blue as it always had.

Her right eye was simply gone. It's socket was sunken and empty. There were several shrapnel scars marring her forehead and cheek, and an angry red burn extended towards her temple. The skin felt rough and tingled unnaturally as she gently touched the wound.

"I guess it's not as bad as it could be..." Defender put the mirror down. "I'm still alive aren't I? Looks aren't really that important for a soldier anyway..." she tried to convince herself.

"Sadly for both of us, Iron Blood is 0-2 when it comes to ocular surgery." A woman with iridium hair and a striking black eyepatch over her left eye appeared out of nowhere and sat down next to Z23.

"Acting flagship Schornorst I presume?" Defender asked. "Nice eyepatch, you'll have to tell me where you got it."

"My younger sister actually made it for me." Schornorst replied. "But on to more pressing matters. I'd like to discuss whether you'd be willing to join Iron Blood."

Authors Note: And here we have our final Starship, the Venator class Star Destroyer, Defender. I'm actually not sure how I want Defender's final personal to be. I've always planned for her to be a "Proto-Imperial" so to speak. She's the kind of person who would happily go on to serve the Empire. I initially planned to take cues from Tarkin and Pellaeon, but as I was writing this chapter I remembered Natasi Daala also ends up with an eyepatch later on. I'm now considering perhaps developing Defender as more of a lose cannon in vein with Daala. This would also work by having her be vengeful against Spirit and Procurer, and it would make sense to have her start disregarding authority after being ordered to her death.

I'm not entirely happy with how this chapter turned out, for a couple of reasons. I wanted to have some juxtaposition between Defender's experience with Iron Blood and Procurer's with the Royal Navy. However at the same time I didn't want to retread the same information, or to have Iron Blood be too hostile. I'm not sure how well I pulled it off, and it just doesn't fell quite right to me. I decided to publish because I'm not really sure what's actually wrong or how to fix it, and because it's been about a month since last updated. I might consider some rewriting later on, what do you guys think?

The room Nimi and Defender talk in was inspired by/is a reference to the "Altered Carbon" TV show. Specifically the simulated room where Jaeger recruits Kovac into the protectorate. (That's not the only reason I.B. has simulations, I have other plans for that, so don't worry)

Got a little long winded here on the Authors note, haha. See you next time!