(Continuation of #38.)
“I have not mistaken you, Commander.” Admiral Jensen stood, although her finger hovered over the toggle on the desktop. “You might consider your options, but I believe we both know how you will go forward.”
Commander Wolffe stared at the woman, then at the holoimages still hovering above her desk—and realized he’d had quite enough.
Protocol be damned.
He put up with a lot from the new regime—but hells if he’d put up with this. “Sir, if there is a reason for this conversation, an explanation would be…appreciated.”
“Rather than answer your request, I shall repeat my own,” the admiral said, brushing at a non-existent spot on her grays. “Your working relationship with the Jedi Master Plo Koon was a notable strength and credit to your legion.” Of course it was, but he couldn’t say as much over the grinding of his teeth. The fact that she even spoke the name of a fallen Jedi within the confines of a Destroyer— “Your respect and dedication to his leadership was quite renown, and I must say it took no small amount of effort not to have you reconditioned in the aftermath.”
What? “Sir, I was not aware—”
“No, you weren’t, were you?” Jensen paused and Wolffe realized it wasn’t just her eyes that were gray as stone; her age had crept into her hair, a subtle frosting at her temples and thin threads back to her severe bun. She wasn’t old by any means; for a mongrel, he’d guess her at early forties, but life within the military was not gentle. When she broke his gaze, it was to tap at her desk, likely to bring up even more holoimages.
The admiral apparently had an obsession with memory lane, along with a healthy side of sadism.
“But my request, Commander Wolffe.” A tap, and a dark, grainy holo pulled up between them. It was blurred and indistinct, a rough-shot that made Wolffe think of an old droid cam or rundown private security cam—
Yet the face—the mottled brown, the black eye-covers, the twin-speared mask, blurred, but unmistakable—was one seared into his mind by every fekking nightmare, every memory that refused to be routed out and burned by the fire of empire, like he’d been told to believe by every bit of shiny brass above him.
Including the woman standing in front of him.
This was a trap—he’d survived too kriffing long to be caught in some bizarre trap made by bastard mongrels at the empire’s head—
"With all due respect—" Wolffe distantly noticed the crack in his voice, the deathly chill there. "—this isn’t my division."
"Yet if you were offered the opportunity to…track this particular Jedi, would you?"
"A good soldier follows orders, Admiral."
Surely she knew that command was as imprinted on his brain as the cybernetics of his eye—maybe the mongrels laughed at the irony of it all—soldiers that really were, after everything, nothing more than flesh-droids, programmed to follow one fekking order—
"Just as you followed orders on our last objective, Commander?" Her eyebrows shot up. "I wonder, how are your sabacc winnings?"
"Your dedication to your service to the emperor is matched only by your disdain."
Jensen’s eyes had turned hard again. Wolffe ran quickly through what he knew of the woman, but any motive seemed so far beyond the realm of possible that piloting a pleasure barge through the Rishi Maze seemed more likely.
He had no answer. With a quick flick of Jensen’s thumb, the images disappeared and she took her seat again. “No, Wolffe. You are not a good soldier.”
Her words, stated so casually, with her attention back on the Abregado maps she’d toggled back up, hit unexpectedly hard.
No, he was a damn good soldier. He’d snapped out of an order he knew hadn’t been his own brain and fought on in the middle of the fire, between men mindless in their own fury, brothers turned burned-out shells in the aftermath. He’d patched together an exit strategy when all seemed lost, and before they’d left, still rallied a broken legion into victory.
He’d gathered the burned out husk of that blue and white fighter—what little remained, every charred and twisted shred—and brought it back to Coruscant as ordered.
But he’d rather go to a white tube to nowhere than say the words that should’ve been said—and put more of his own brothers at risk in the fallout. If the war had been complicated from a political point of view, the aftermath—all the bloody ruins of the Republic, strewn beneath the Empire’s footsteps—was a minefield laced with poison.
But then, softly, she added to her statement.
"At least, not a good soldier to the Empire.”
Her arm shifted—this time, he caught her hand over a small device, inset beneath the holoimager, and then another shooting pain snapped through his brain. Vision sparked again in his cybernetic, fuzzy and over-bright at first, then normal parameters, although his stomach roiled in protest.
"Dismissed, Commander." She waved him toward the door. "Any further briefings will occur after the initial stages of the operation."