She was the only command officer left.
Every soldier standing alongside of her knew that this was a suicide mission. The dome that kept the sea from rushing into the Central Pavilion, the capital city of the oceanic planet Jofa, was cracked. The uprising was expected following the Emperor's decree that all Jofans had to submit themselves to servitude under the newly form Empire but no one expected the scale. The water breathing Jofans could mine ore at depths that were beyond the reach of machinery and humans. They were peace loving and extremely devoted to remaining on their home world with no wish to travel to other planets. Palpatine gave them little choice when he started conscripting them; the more accurate term was forcibly abducting them before indenturing them as little more than slaves. Jofa was no longer a free planet, Palpatine had made it a protectorate of the Empire and today was the inauguration ceremony that would put the chains of slavery on every Jofan.
An extremist group had decided the only way to drive the Empire away was to destroy the undersea city occupied by off worlders who visited Jofa. An explosive device was planted on the thick dome hide that protected the city from the crushing ocean depths and following the detonation caught everyone by surprise. The damage was soon discovered to be beyond the abilities of the terrified engineers to repair and at the rate it was taking for the air breathing population to reach the surface, they would be lucky if the majority managed to escape the city before it was entirely submerged.
Mary Travis, then Lieutenant Commander Travis and the handful of Imperial officers remaining, were well aware of how vulnerable they were in this undersea terrain. Even though their aqua-suits would protect them from oceanic pressures and icy cold temperatures, the suits were cumbersome and ill suited for underwater mobility. Mary was not even sure that it was possible to surface wearing them owing to submitting to decompression. The suits were good for no more than a day's worth of air although Mary did not believe that anyone of them would live long enough to be troubled by that concern.
"Listen up," she called their attention to her.
Although she had never found herself in this situation before, she had to offer some words of advice. She was here because her ship had brought dignitaries to the inaugural ceremonies, celebrating Imperial dominance over the Jofans, she was a bridge officer and accustomed to leading troops into combat like this. However, some of the soldiers before her were raw recruits who never faced odds like this and they needed reassurance. As their leader, she had to instill some measure of confidence in them that she knew what she was doing when in truth, she herself was as uncertain as they were.
"Try not to stay in the open when we become completely submerged," Mary spoke. She could only see them by their helmets bobbing in and out of the water. Submergence would come in a matter of minutes and if the Jofan Swimmers were smart, that was when they would attack. Mary was not underestimating her enemy.
"I know that's not much but it may be the difference between life and death. The Swimmers know that to incapacitate us they have to engage us in hand to hand combat. Stay in corners and make sure your back is to a wall at all points. They can move this environment like they can fly so we've got to limit the directions they can come at us. Try to get as wide a field of vision as possible. We need to see from where they are coming. Do not, under any circumstances, allow them to get close unless you can be absolutely certain of a kill. I don't doubt they'll be using blasters but if they get close they will attempt to compromise our suits or they'll go for our breathing apparatus."
The faces quickly disappearing under the water looked grim. Mary knew they had every reason to be. They were soldiers and they had to protect the civilians trying to reach the surface. It was never easy entering a battle that was already lost but Mary did not think their dying would necessarily mean they would lose. She didn't like to lose.
"Take your positions," she ordered.
"Mary," Alex spoke up, taking this final opportunity. There had been little time to say much to each other in the pandemonium that followed the shattering of the dome but Alex knew as well Mary that time was short and they had to take this chance to have their say because it may not come again later. "Good luck."
Mary took a deep breath, feeling glad and regretful that Alex was here all at the same time. "To you as well Lex. Stay alive, I don't want to give your brother any bad news."
"Likewise," Alex said shortly and that was all the airtime that either of them would expend on their personal issues. There was a battle to fight.
The group scattered and Mary found herself in a tight corner at one of the entrances leading to the tube port. If the raiders were coming then this would be the primary target. There were probably still stragglers in the city and Mary hoped for the sake of those caught in this rising tide that their deaths had been quick. Inside the Aqua-suit she could not feel the cold but when the water had first penetrated the city, the icy temperatures had been the cause of many a death..
The ocean engulfed them as the dome was finally submerged and when Mary looked above her, she could not longer see it. All she saw in its place was a murky blue canopy swirling above her head. The Pavilion's power generator had died long ago. Fortunately the evacuation tubes that took passengers to the surface were being powered from a solar dish from above. She could see the other soldiers scattered around although they were now reduced to little more than obscure shapes in the distance. She could tell them by their lumbering movements in the brine.
Swimmers would be fast.
Suddenly, she saw a flurry of movement in the distance. In the water, the Swimmers gave off a natural luminescence common to creatures who evolving in the depths where there was little light. They moved across the air like mythical sprites, glowing as they approached. As Mary saw them approach, the combined glow of their bodies was like a beacon. She could not even count how many there were but there were enough of them to illuminate the immediate area.
"How many are there?" someone demanded throughout the com units.
"Doesn't matter," Mary ordered. "Take short controlled bursts," she said in growing urgency as the enemy approached. "Aim for the glow!"
The eruption of blaster fire under water was like a row, seismic rumble. She saw streaks of energy moving through the dark water. Some hit their targets. Others did not. The Swimmers scattered in all directions and returned to the water to its almost pitch black darkness.
"Where are they?" Another voice cried out.
The darkness was adding to their fear and Mary had to admit that she was frightened too. In an instant, she saw her proverbial life flashing past her eyes. She saw everything that she had worked for all her life dying in this watery grave. It made her angry. A Swimmer appeared out of nowhere and Mary fired without a second thought. The blast struck the Jofan in the chest and he spun backwards in like a Catherine wheel trailing dark blood as he disappeared.
She saw at least a dozen Swimmers converging on a soldier in the distance.
"There are too many of them! Help me!" His frantic cry came over her head set. Mary began firing at them straying from her position of safety. She watched as he tried futilely to fire at all of them before they overwhelmed him like parasites on a dead carcass. He managed to kill some of them but Mary soon heard him scream when she saw one of the Swimmer's flaying arms connecting to his body. Human blood was more viscous than Jofan and Mary saw of it streaming from his faceplate in thick, oozing globules. The serrated coral knife that killed him was protruding from his faceplate.
Mary swore under her breath and heard similar shrieks of fear and death cries emanating from her com unit. She saw another group of Swimmers conducting the same pattern of attack on another soldier in the far corner of the port. She realised at that moment, she was standing out in the open and fear gripped her then. Moving back frantically, she reached her corner in safety and knew with utter certainty that she was going to die.
"Lex, are you still with me?" Mary asked breathing hard hoping her oldest friend had not become a casualty like so many others around her
"Yeah," came Alex's response after a brief pause. Her voice was ragged and she was panting. "Barely."
Mary let out a sigh of relief. "Hang on please," she pleaded.
"Hey," Mary could not see Alex's wan smile but knew it was there nonetheless. "I've got to be alive if I'm going to be your first officer right?"
It was a running joke since they were at the Academy together. Alex was always content to let Mary play the master of their imaginary vessel because as Alex often said, Mary was better at it. Mary prayed silently that they both lived through this to make that girlish dream a reality.
Mary chuckled. "Yes. You and me on warship, making the space lanes safe for the glory of the Empire."
The glory of the Empire seemed a lot less important when the carnage continued for the next four hours.
Occasionally, they would hear reports from above that the evacuation was almost complete. Officers who tell them they would just have to hold on for a little longer before help could come. Mary listened to these reports with little notice. Like everyone else under water with her, she had other things to concern her. The convergence tactic being employed by the Swimmers was cutting through them with devastating accuracy. It occurred to Mary that the Swimmers did not mind the risk of losing a few of their own just to kill one Imperial uniform.
They hated the Empire that much.
Finally, after what seemed an eternity, a captain informed Mary and the remaining security officers that the entire population was evacuated and that they should leave the area immediately.
"All right," she spoke into her com unit. "Everybody to the tubes!"
"I told you we'd make it!" Alex said gleefully.
"You were always too optimistic," Mary grinned. "Get to the tubes, I'll see you topside."
She saw the few Aqua-suits left, stir from their hiding places. Their number was sickening small but she was glad Alex was among them. She counted no more than a dozen Imperial security soldiers, if that. When this had begun, there had been more than a hundred of them. Mary forced herself not to think of that. They had managed to save the people in the city and the dead would see that their sacrifice had not been in vain.
Alex ushered a few younger officers into the tubes as per Mary's orders and though she had complained, Alex begrudgingly acquiesced to Mary's order that she go up with that initial batch. Mary knew her reasons were entirely personal but she did not care. Steven was not going to lose her and his sister in the same battle. When the second group proceeded towards the tubes to evacuate, Mary saw the familiar glare of luminescent bodies moving towards them at rapid speed.
"Take cover!" she shouted but knew that was not going to be enough.
The Swimmers had given them a short respite in order to call reinforcements and as they closed in on the remaining Imperial soldiers, they intended to overwhelm their prey by sheer numbers. Mary started firing blindly into the glowing school of Swimmers coming at them with blasters and knives. She barely missed being hit by a bolt of stray enemy fire, but fortunately the blasts moved slower through water. The others were screaming and crying out as they went down and Mary kept her finger trained on the trigger, firing at anything that came at her.
Mary did not know if she was the last one standing aware that some officers had made it to the tubes before the final attack but in the end, when their voices became silent, she knew she was alone.
Not without a fight! She thought to herself, gritting her teeth and flexing her fingers around her gun. "Do you hear me! I am not going to go quietly!" she shouted into her com unit even though no one could hear her.
Neither Imperial or Swimmer.
When they came, they came in large number and they swarmed around her. Mary was no longer aiming, she was firing blindly. Her gun was starting to feel warm and with a sinking feeling she knew she would have to stop shooting like this or the weapon would go into overload. There was a moment of clarity, when she saw a white shape swim right up to her. She swung her blaster rifle at him but it was too late. The flash of blade came down just as she pulled the trigger.
The blast sent him spiralling backwards but not before the blade tore into the material of the Aqua-suit and connected with flesh. She felt white hot pain slash through her body. The agony was exquisite and she was conscious of her gun floating from her fingers and a rising cloud of red before her face that was her own blood. Icy water swirled into the suit immediately through the opening. She felt icicles of cold tearing at her flesh as she staggered away, unable to control the pain or stop from crying out.
Mary staggered away in a cloud of blood. She could not see through the murky redness that was her lifeblood. After a second, she dropped to her knees and tried unsuccessfully to seal her breached suit but that too was impossible. Her body was staring to feel numb and the water had forced all the oxygen from her helmet. She closed her eyes as the water entered her mouth and her nose. Her body had enough strength left for her to react to the taste of salt on her tongue. She panicked as it entered her lungs not realising that her life was over already. Her body was simply unaware of it.
Not like this! She thought as the black started to overwhelm her conscious mind.
I DON'T WANT TO DIE LIKE THIS!
Out of the one hundred and nine security officers that remained to protect the evacuation of Central Pavilion, Mary and Alex became two out of fifteen officers to survive was soon known as the Jofan Uprising. She might have been counted as one of the dead too if it were not for Alex who dragged her to the surface when she discovered Mary did not follow her up the tubes. Alex had returned to find only bodies including Mary's own which had been exuding blood clearly enough for Alex to spot her. Fortunately the cold had allowed Mary's life to be saved even though no of the others retrieved could be similarly revived.
For Mary's part in the valiant defense of civilians during uprising, she was promoted to Commander and given a medal. The Imperials, rarely having a bona fide hero in their ranks were quick to seize the good public relations opportunity.
They started calling her the Hero of Jofa.
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