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All soldiers age.

"How much of this can one person take? Before they become less of themselves, and more of a monster?"​
-Lieutenant Konrad Harris, First Ranger Special Tactics Unit.​

Colonel Calderon rounded another corner at Silver's Rest, dodging a pair of rangers in a set of identical blue-and-grey BDU's to those that Valkren was sporting now, the only difference being the rank insignia on Valk's shoulder.

The two rangers were quick to offer salutes, Valkren returning the same to the pair by bringing his hand in a knife-manner to the brim of his patrol cap. It was the sort of half-assed salute he would have expected from a colonel in his early twenties. Although, still rocking at the age of thirty, he was beginning to pass the life expectancy of someone in his profession.

Many would still consider this young, perhaps even teetering on the line of middle-aged, but not Valkren. For Valkren, he had been fighting since the age of eighteen. For half of his life, he had seen both sides of a battlefield, and the horrors to come with it.

The sad part? He couldn't walk away from it.

Combat was a lifestyle for him and his men, and after his transition from regular infantry and the marines whilst in the republic, to the special forces sector, he had much more freedom with how he operated and who he operated with.

That didn't make it any easier, though.

Technology was advancing, and so were the way soldiers were operating. During his constant deployments, Valkren had seen a growing number of soldiers- no, not even soldiers..More of monsters, rip through platoons of rangers with ease. He had seen them take several bolts to the chest, and then continue to move into more engagements for hours on end until they finally crumpled from wounds.

Men like this were the reason why he was here, walking through silvers rest in his BDU's instead of on some hostile planet somewhere in his Katarn armor. For Valkren and the Quick-Reaction-Force he was apart of, every moment spent not in combat, was vital moments in which someone somewhere needed help.

So he had to make this quick.

He stopped outside of an all-too-familiar office, one with many features that reminded him of someone else's..When he was first recruited into the Silver Jedi and Antarian Rangers.

Valkren removed his cap, waving a hand over the door console to alert the owner that he was there. He'd raise his voice, so either the occupant inside could hear him, or the door's console would pick up his voice and transmit it.

"Got time for a chat with a friend that's really not supposed to be here?"

[member="Jyoti Nooran"]
The Golden Rule
Time back at the at the Rest for Jyoti was supposed to be well...a time for rest. However, she couldn't sit idle for long, involving herself in admin work or instruction. She always had to be working on something.

Today, it was reviewing refit packages for the Spacy. Weapons and technology employed by the Mandalorians during their latest incursion into Silver Space had prompted upgrades of the fleet to contend with a potential adversary on their doorstep.

A chirp from the door alarm broke her concentration on a computer display, a holopane appearing to show the person on the other side. It was Valkren.

She rose from her seat as she issued a mental command for the door to slide open, then smiled as he entered.

"That was never a question. If anything, I could stand to see you around more."

Things had never been quite right between Jyoti and Valkren since her activation, but she liked to think they had gotten through the worse of the awkwardness. She missed her friend.

[member="Valkren Calderon"]
The door slid open, prompting the colonel to enter. After doing so, he'd take the warm welcome and return Jyoti's smile with a smile of his own. The nature of their relationship was a strange one, at least that's what Valkren always thought. He could never quite grasp his head around what had happened only days after Arisa's passing.

Yet, now it almost seemed like she had never left.

Most of this confusion had been stowed away after Jyoti's activation, as he assumed he should probably remain professional in the eyes of his peers in the Antarian Rangers.

"Not getting tired of the rangers yet, yeah?" He asked humorously. The rangers under his command and under Silver command's reach were definitely a different breed of warriors. They hailed from all corners of the galaxy, maintained some of their own cultures still, but were still easy to pick out as soldiers.

"Sometimes I feel like my boys can get too rowdy for ya'll Jedi." A slight drawl came through, one that was very hard to recognize though. Valkren looked about Jyoti's office for a moment, then chuckled to himself.

"Well, I guess there are the Jedi I see in the pubs though.." Even with the smalltalk that Valkren had started off with right off the bat, it seemed obvious that the colonel was trying to dance around whatever subject he actually came to speak to her about. Calderon looked over his shoulder at the door he gained access through, awaiting its closure before he continued on.

[member="Jyoti Nooran"]
The Golden Rule
"Oh, I don't know about that. We've both worked with the Dragoons and Berserkers, and they can take the cake when it comes to being rowdy."

The races that made up those units were the Valkyri and Yinchorri, respectively, two species of big aggressive sentients that relished in mortal combat. While a handful to manage, it was a good thing that they were on the Silver's side rather than the Sith.

"Your Raiders do know how to have a good time, though. Nothing wrong with that."

She could fondly recall her last outing with Valkren and some other Rangers at the local base catina. He had even got her to take a few shots. While things were fine now, she couldn't lie and say she didn't miss those days where she could be herself.

Valkren was kind of everywhere talking to her, going from the Rangers, to mention of the Republic Jedi, like he was just beating around the bush.

"I know you didn't just hit me up during office hours for some idle chit chat. I can't recall any other time you've been in my office, in fact. Is there something on your mind?"

[member="Valkren Calderon"]
Valkren moved to the closest seat after glancing about her office for a moment.

Jyoti had cut straight to the point, giving him complete deja vu of similar encounters with Arisa, both with the Galactic Republic and the Silver Jedi. Valkren blinked for a moment, seemingly sorting out details in his head before he went forth and blurted them out to the Jedi across from him.

His hands gripped at the edges of his seats' armrests, taking what seemed to be an exhausted-sigh before speaking up.

"I've been doing some research lately.."

He'd stop himself, bitting his lip slightly and looking down to consider if 'research' was the correct word. He soon looked back up to Jyoti before continuing with a more accurate statement.

"I've been receiving casualty reports from ranger units deployed to hostile areas of the galaxy, and a few select bases that infantry and special forces unit are usually stationed at."

The colonel shifted his position in the chair, gulping before he continued.

"What I've found, from those reports was not surprising..At all, really. The Antarian Rangers were designed to be a support unit and attachment for Silver Jedi forces, usually lone operatives or small teams acting with our groups of biots and combat droids alike. At least that's what I heard."

It was true, the rangers were already a pretty big part of the Silver Jedi's organization before he was recruited by Arisa. Now though, due to an influx of non-force users from changing factions and even a few force users, the rangers were becoming a full fledged military force to be reckoned with, acting as the backbone of the Silver Jedi's frontline forces.

"Since the formation of new units, and new mission opportunities, casualties are bound to rise when platoons are sent on their own to certain areas without previous recon. Those units are usually without a Jedi attachment." Valkren only stopped himself for a second after this statement, kicking himself for just going around in circles again. It was time to get to the point.

"Look, the rangers deserve to be on the front line. I'd trust my life with the third infantry and the first marines on Kashyyyk's shores any day. But there are strings of mission that smaller units of rangers are throwing their lives away on due to lack of recon and firepower. Lack of recon like Barataria."

The colonel reached into his pocket, pulling out a small usb-like device. He held it up in front of him for a moment before handing it over to Jyoti.

"I know hot zones with little recon will always come up, after twelve years of combat..I realize their are situations you just can't avoid not losing people. But, I think we can start to avoid losing as many through this." He nodded toward the USB, before moving to explain it.

"On that are the files of eight rangers, men and women. The perfect candidates for a new program, and a brand new unit. A program with training that covers several fields, and new and better equipment..I need a program that goes to -every- length to assure that these eight soldiers are some of the deadliest out there."

He wasn't sure if he was conveying what he wanted properly, as he went to catch her facial expressions to see what the reaction was like to his request. Really, it wasn't so much of a request, as it was asking for help.

[member="Jyoti Nooran"]
The Golden Rule
Jyoti nodded along, agreeing with everything Valkren was saying. The mission and scope of the Antarian Rangers had expanded greatly since the fall of the Galactic Republic. Where they had once been used as a support unit of peacekeepers in service to the SJO, they were now expected to function like a professional army. This shift had come with its growing pangs, and she and Valkren had been there to see them all.

She reached out, for the flash drive, holding his hand for a moment as her expression softened. She cared about every lost Ranger, going so far as to craft their doctrine around ensuring minimal casualties. It kept up morale among the Rangers when they knew they weren't considered just a cog in the machine.

"I wholeheartedly agree with you. We could do more to improve the survival of our Rangers in those situations."

She studied the flashdrive for a few moments before slotting it into her computer to read. Once the drive booted up, it only took her a matter of seconds to review it all, flicking through document after document at inhuman speed. However, she tried to look natural reading it all, so she didn't spook Valkren with her cyborg ways.

After a few minutes, she looked away from her monitors back to Valkren.

"Even at first glance, this is quite an ambitious proposal, but an impressive one at that. Let's call it what it is - the creation of super soldiers. In the past, we've dabbled with some projects, like the Heralds, but at present we don't have any operational units to field today. I'd like to change that."

"What exactly do you need to get this project rolling, and what kind of timetable do you have to make it happen?"

[member="Valkren Calderon"]
Her agreement with the subject at hand relaxed Valkren, and the master soon moved on to inquire about what was needed for the program to get in motion. Calderon honestly was surprised that the decision to go through with this was accepted so quickly.

Perhaps the Jedi master was still testing the waters with this question.

"A facility dedicated to the project, built somewhere off the grid. A team of researchers, scientists and engineers assigned to each of the candidates in the program. Top instructors in every field we can think about."

He'd lean forward in the chair, emphasizing the next part with a definitive index finger on the table as he spoke.

"High security clearance for all of them. This kind of stuff needs to be under the radar. As for the time table, we'll have to see..I still need most of these operators in the field up until they're required to be under constant surveillance. Which I assume would be needed during the middle of the program, so to say."

Valkren would pause for a brief moment, almost expecting to be stopped. But before he could let a word come from his friend's mouth, he blurted out another demand.

"And - I want my name added to the list of candidates."

[member="Jyoti Nooran"]
The Golden Rule
As he explained what he wanted, Jyoti could see why he had come to her directly about the proposal instead of just pushing it up the chain through the Antarian Rangers. What he was proposing was a black project.

If it had been anyone else asking for that, then she would have been hesitant to grant them such resources, but it was Valkren and she trusted him with her life.

However, the thing that actually bothered her was his request that he too be a candidate in the project.

From a purely objective standpoint, she had little doubt that he would excel, but on a personal level, she liked him being normal. Someone firmly grounded by their fragility, which in turn kept her anchored to the world. If he became just like her, then she may lose that dynamic with him.

She was conflicted.

"As a distinguished member of the special operations community within the Antarian Rangers, your conditions are reasonable. However, if I would make one change, it would be that the whole project take part on some mobile platform like a stealth ship. Much easier to hide away."

"On your candidacy...are you certain about this? There's no turning back."

[member="Valkren Calderon"]
The colonel only nodded. She was right, a mobile base of operations for the program would be much more useful than a stationary facility on some planet. This way they could stay on the move if anyone caught wind of their doings.

"I can get with that."

The second question was one that he had expected when he brought up his own candidacy. However, it still tugged at the heart strings that Valk had worked so hard to cover up while on duty.

No turning back

He had no idea how the program would affect him physically, or mentally, and the thought of it affecting the relationships he held currently with his friends and family haunted him. He had pondered for awhile before actually starting the research into such a task, if he could really have the life that he wanted after the procedures and changes were done.

Marriage, a family, his friendships, could he really have all that and continue to fight this war?

Someone had to do it.

"I've made my decision. I'm not going to let any of my people go through something like this without their commanding officer at the forefront. You know that." There was slight strain in his voice, obviously it was a tough decision, how could it not be?

He gulped, before speaking once more.

"Jyoti. I've been fighting a long time, much longer than my father and brother would have liked me to..I'm sure that momma' and that little brat of a sister want me home too...But I don't think I can stop, not now at least. Not when so much is still at risk."

This was the very first time in which his number one concern aside from a looming fear of PTSD, came up in conversation. Most rangers turned war junkies within their first few deployments, and with the increasing number of rotations for Antarian Ranger units to more forward operating base and combat theaters, there was plenty of adrenaline to go around. His excuse for the sticking with the adrenaline happened to be the fact that so many knocked at the Silver's front door. That meant that his friends and family were still at risk, and he couldn't settle for that.

He felt as if he needed to do this, even being conflicted himself.

[member="Jyoti Nooran"]
The Golden Rule
Jyoti sat back in her seat in silence, still mulling over Valkren's choice. From a commander's perspective, he was the idea candidate, but as a friend, she found him to be the worst choice ever. Their top soldiers were expected to engage in the most dangerous assignments along with their Jedi counterparts, where casualty rates were high.

But she knew Valkren, and it would be hard shutting him down if he really pressed for it. There was no good reason in a professional sense to deny him.

She leaned forward and sighed, resting her chin on her hands. "You really don't need to do this, Valkren. You're a colonel, you could be sitting back in headquarters directing the action all day long. But, if this is something that you really want to do, I won't stop you. While you may not have our abilities, you are as valiant as any Jedi I have ever known."

"You are approved...but under one more condition. For the duration of the project, you'll be reporting directly to me. This is now a Shadow initiative."

If she couldn't stop him, then she could at least watch over the project and make sure no one screwed up.

[member="Valkren Calderon"]
A shadow initiative..

Valkren wasn't sure how he felt about it. He knew Jyoti meant well, and would tend to everything he requested to the up-most of her ability. With her watching over the program, how far could he take it? Would she stop them if the soldiers began to push too far?

It was a bridge they'd have to cross once they arrived at it.


Three weeks later
Location: Undisclosed Vessel.
The gene therapy wasn't exactly fun. Wasn't exactly bad, either. It just seemed boring to the colonel. In a life so fast-paced, participating in a newly established program that was slow to progress meant time was much slower for Valk. During a lull between their operations, his select group of candidates, and a few extra added by pick from the top of the Shadows, had arrived on their 'ghost' ship once again for the next step in the program.

Valkren walked along the corridors, with fellow Raider member Specialist Jim Lowder beside him. His tag on his 'program uniform' simply read 'Johnny,' while the colonel's rightly read 'Valk.' They both had a set of duffles cast over their shoulders, carrying them along on their way to the rooms they'd occupy during their current stay.

Who knew what the next few days would hold for them for the next phase, he had just hoped that all of the candidates would be returning from the gene therapy. If everyone made it through until the end, they'd have a much larger fighting force than Valkren had initially expected.

However, that was best-case scenario.

[member="Jyoti Nooran"]