And just like that, it was over.
After two weeks of living and fighting alongside the Sesseh, Commander Lylin declared that our work was done. To this day, I’m not sure I completely agreed with him – we had supplied the primitive Sesseh with weapons more powerful than anything they’d ever had access to and trained them in their use, there was no telling how this would affect their local politics and culture. Still, our part in their history was over, and once they had finished clearing their world of the imperial mining operations they would become a valuable part of the Alliance.
Our days with the Sesseh had been an eye opening experience. Their conviction and dedication to their world and to each other had awakened in me a certainty I hadn’t felt since my mother died. I knew without the hint of a doubt that I was exactly where I needed to be: fighting for freedom alongside people who believed in the cause as strongly as I did. But I had seen a darker side to the dream too. I had witnessed firsthand the pain, the fear and the loss that came with every battle. For every victory won there were a dozen tiny defeats. Each soldier lost was so much more than one fewer gun in the fight, and though they died fighting for what they believed in that was only a small consolation for the families and friends they left behind.
Everything I’d seen and felt had hardened my conviction. I had felt the fear of facing an overwhelming foe, the helplessness of seeing your comrades shot down with no way to save them. And for the first time in my dubiously charmed life I had felt the pain of battle. The blinding flash of light and complete sensory oblivion that enveloped me, stole me momentarily from the darkness of the Imperial base and left me floating face down in the cold river. The sudden awareness that no matter how quick I was there, there would always be something quicker: it wasn’t an easy thing to realise. Self preservation had never been high on my list of priorities because I’d never truly felt threatened – I had always been the quickest and most aware in any situation, not to mention the best shot. Fights were something that happened around me – If someone needed shooting, I shot to wound; kept myself out of trouble and protected whoever I was being paid to protect. I’d seen colleagues shot (I don’t think I ever considered them friends, even back then), even killed, but it had always been through a fog of detachment. I knew that I didn’t belong, those petty brawls and fights over territory were nothing to do with me, save for the extra money I was earning. It was a job, no more than the days I had spent in the mines, and I somehow convinced myself that my conscience was clean.
I was going to have to deal with that one of these days.