[Written in response to Chuck Wendig’s 1/26/18 Flash Fiction Challenge: Travel Woes]
“Two years stabilization. They said you had two god damn years of stabilization, Dak.” Smithfield’s voice trembled. “You said you’d talk to your commander, get the orders changed. The Imperial Reserves need to fix their god damn mistake and send someone else.”
“I know what we said.” Dak’s voice faded as he lowered his gaze, unable to match the intensity of his partner. He’d barely said a word during dinner. “I just — .”
“We talked about this. We agreed, Dak. We agreed.” Tears swelled as Smithfield reached across the table and took Dak’s hands in his own. Pleading now: “I get it. You don’t want to put someone else at risk. That compassion is one of the things I love so much about you. But you don’t have to do this. You’re just starting your private practice and we’re just starting our life together.”
“I just don’t think I can turn down the opportunity,” Dak said as he withdrew his hands to his lap. “I might not get another chance.”
“Another chance at what?” Smithfield said as he clinched his now empty hands into fists. “Being blown apart trying to bring order to some forsaken garbage heap on the edge of the galaxy? Why do they even need human surgeons anyway? Droids do all the critical work.”
Dak’s jaw clinched at the mention of surgery droids even though he recognized the comment for exactly what it was — a desperate attempt to knock him off balance. “It’s a six-month combat deployment, Smith. Not two years on some remote moon like last time. You don’t realize the importance of the opportunity. If I turn it down, my Army career is over.”
“Army career?” asked Smithfield, wiping the tears from his cheeks. “What about your career here on Coruscant? What about your life here, with me?”
“It’s just six months, Smith. The Empire needs six months. It’ll be over before we know it,” Dak said reaching back across the table.
“No.” Smithfield jerked his hands back to his chest. “I can’t, Dak. I just can’t do it anymore. Either you tell them to fix the orders or you might as well go back to active duty because there won’t be anyone for you to come back here to.”
“I already spoke to my commander, Smith.” Dak stood up from the table, as a service droid moved in.
To the droid: “I’ll cleared my own damn plate.”
To Smithfield: “Shuttle picks me up 0700 tomorrow morning. I’m sorry, Smith.”
Centralized Imperial Army Deployed Individual Augmentee Processing Center, Coruscant
Most Imperial soldiers deployed as part of a standing unit. Units would cycle through a deployment, a recovery period, and then a train up period ahead of the next deployment. If a unit suffered high levels of combat losses, they would accelerate the replacement process and another intact unit would cycle in to replace them. But generally speaking, there was plenty of notice for soldiers that deployed as part of a unit. If, on the other hand, a unit remained mostly intact except for a few key positions — typically professional and administrative roles — the Imperial Army would activate reservists and deploy them as individual augmentees.
“Fall In,” a protocol droid barked as Dak and seven other passengers from his transport fell into a makeshift formation in the processing center’s main corridor. An MSE-Series general purpose droid started scanning the augmentees as the protocol droid spoke. “Welcome to the Coruscant Deployed Individual Augmentee Processing Center. Over the next 23.5 hours, you will be issued all equipment necessary for your destination and you will receive core combat competency training. Transports to in-theater processing centers depart at 0600 tomorrow. Follow this MSE unit to your next station. That is all.”
The droid led them to a warehouse where each augmentee was issued three sets of temperate weather uniforms, plastoid composite body armor and helmet, and an SE-14R light repeating blaster. Next, they were sent to a small classroom where they were subjected to 12 hours of mind-numbing lectures collectively referred to as Core Combat Competency training. Dak decided that the ‘training’ designation was unearned, but he wasn’t overly concerned about it. After all, he thought, if an Imperial Army surgeon was donning his armor and pointing his blaster, it was probably already too late.
When they were finally released to their temporary quarters, Dak looked at his chronometer — 2215. Smithfield should still be awake.
Dak dumped his duffle on the bed and went straight to the Star*Link monitor above an austere corner desk. His fingers trembled as he nervously punched Smithfield’s code.
A message: “Smith. I miss you. I leave tomorrow morning for the Forest Moon of Endor. I’ll try again when I can.”
In Theater Army Deployed Individual Augmentee Processing Center, Forest Moon of Endor
“Orders?” The request came from a repurposed F-series droid.
The solder ahead of Dak, an engineer from the planet Lianna, swiped frantically on her datapad. “Ah, here we go. I knew I didn’t come all the way our here for nothing.”
The droid scanned the order barcode and waved her forward.
Dak’s datapad displayed his orders, but the droid’s eyes turned red after scanning it. “Alert. Possible rebel forgery.”
Two storm troopers materialized behind Dak: “Come with us, Captain Harbane.”
Dak sat trapped in a small interrogation room for hours. Occasionally, a scanner in the ceiling would sweep the room until it located him, at which point it would perform a fully body scan before going quiet again.
Eventually, a Colonel from the Imperial Security Bureau came in to explain the situation. The door remained open behind him. “I apologize for the confusion Captain Harbane. It appears the surgeon assignment on the Vigilance has been recently filled by a 2–1B series. Your orders were cancelled accordingly. Unfortunately, it seems you were already in route.”
“Are you kidding me? A droid? I put my life on hold to come out here to the middle of nowhere because the Empire said they needed me and now you’re telling me that I’ve been replaced by a god damn droid?”
“It seems so, Captain Harbane.”
“Okay, so the position on the Vigilance isn’t available. I saw two dozen or more star destroyers and that huge battlestation as we approached. Surely one of them can use a human surgeon. Surgery is as much an art as a science, you know. Human surgeons have better survival rates after some types traumatic blast injuries. Did you know that?”
“No, I did not know that. Regardless, there are no positions available for you.” A mouse droid scurried into the room as the officer continued talking. “This MSE-unit will escort you to the dining facility where you can help yourself to a meal. The next transport back to Coruscant leaves in two hours. You will be on it.”
“Can I use a Star*Link to let my family know I’ll be returning?”
“I’m afraid not, Captain. Outgoing transmissions are not possible. You’ll be back with them soon enough.”
Dak hurried to the apartment, carelessly tossing his bag inside the foyer.
“Smith. You here?” Dak shouted as he made his way toward the bedroom.
There he saw Smithfield’s closet emptied and an envelope on their bed.
The droid was gone, too, it seemed.
Dak sat on the edge of the bed, unable to open the letter.