The following contains major spoilers for the book Battlefront II: Inferno Squad, as well as the Battlefront II single-player campaign.
Above the forested moon of Endor, a fleet unites against an enemy that is bent on the destruction of the galaxy. Soldiers are deployed to the moon’s surface to finally end a threat that has terrorized countless planets and endangered innocent lives for far too long. The time has come for these fearless heroes to take a stand against the greatest evil the galaxy has ever known: the Rebel Alliance.
For this critical mission the Empire sends its best – Inferno Squad, a team of elite special forces. They work in the shadows. They carry out the orders of their commanding officers and the will of their Emperor. But these soldiers, in their black fatigues, brandishing the circular red symbol that denotes their squad, are more than just lethal automatons. Del Meeko, Gideon Hask, and Commander Iden Versio are also friends. Their bond is their unwavering faith in what the Empire stands for: power is the only path to peace.
So it is on this tiny moon, beneath a clear blue sky punctuated by the branching spires of gargantuan redwoods, that Inferno Squad is sent to determine the magnitude of the destruction wrought against the Death Star’s protective shield generator. Versio, Meeko, and Hask make short work of Rebel soldiers assembled around the remains of the generator’s wreckage. They are preparing to join the rest of the Imperial legion, which is taking the fight to the enemy nearby when the unthinkable happens.
A loud crack in the atmosphere above and the three soldiers look up to see a flash emanating from the orbiting Death Star. A blinding explosion, followed by a shockwave, fills the sky. The squad is stunned. The second Death Star is gone. Their decisive victory against the Rebel Alliance had taken a horrifying turn. On this day, the bad guys won.
Igniting the Fire
Many of the truths we cling to depend upon our experiences but also the ideologies we are taught. If you were born on one of the core worlds of the galaxy during the Empire, you lived a largely homogeneous life. Several of the faces looked exactly like yours (usually human) even though the rest of the galaxy was populated by millions of different species. These were the same species responsible for the Clone War – a time of fear and anarchy that nearly tore the Republic apart. But that conflict was ended and its instigators brought into subjugation under the new system. A bright and prosperous future lay ahead.
You were indoctrinated daily by messages affirming the value of loyalty and duty. Sedition was not tolerated because good citizens of the Empire believed in the Emperor’s vision for the Galaxy. Only people seeking to divide and conquer would question that vision. From time to time you might hear whispers about the suffering inflicted by the Empire upon other worlds. But those were distant worlds. Outer Rim worlds. And they probably had it coming.
The planet Vardos is at the heart of core world privilege. Iden Versio grew up here, among its gleaming skyscrapers draped in banners of the Imperial crest. Trees with distinctive red leaves dot the cityscape. When the leaves fall they “bleed,” turning fountains and canals into rivers of crimson. Vardos is the lifeblood of the Empire where families boast about their service to the Imperial Navy. Iden’s father is a Vice Admiral who was instrumental in getting Vardos incorporated into the Empire. Her mother is a renowned artist responsible for some of the Empire’s most effective propaganda and recruitment campaigns. The Versios enjoyed great rewards for their loyalty to Empire. So when Iden was given the opportunity to join Inferno Squad, the most elite squad the Empire had ever created, she eagerly accepted. This was immediately following the Battle of Yavin and Iden was one of the few pilots who had survived the destruction of the first Death Star. Inferno Squad was her chance to prove to her Father that her survival meant something. She could make the Rebellion pay for what they had done.
The early months of Inferno Squad were not exciting. The team of four, which consisted of Versio, Hask, Meeko and the youngest officer, Seyn Marana, were dispatched as spies on low-level reconnaissance and intelligence gathering missions. But one day they were given a mission more suitable to their name. Inferno Squad was to infiltrate and set ablaze an extremist faction of the Rebel Alliance called the Dreamers, who were a cell of terrorists who had once been members of Saw Gerrera’s Partisans.
Since Gerrera’s death on Jedha, the Dreamers had become even more radicalized. They were a cancerous threat to the safety and stability of the Empire and Iden understood that it would take commitment and determination to bring them down. To do this required infiltration, so Admiral Garrick Versio devised an elaborate plan for his daughter and the other members of Inferno Squad to become Dreamers. The Admiral ordered Iden to publicly denounce the Empire and portray herself as a rebel sympathizer. The plan was to get the attention of the Dreamers so they would approach her and convince her to defect. It worked. But it came at a great cost.
To convince the enemy that you can be trusted you must become one of them. Iden publicly denounced the Empire and was branded a traitor. She lost her status among her friends and comrades and was regarded with disdain and suspicion by Imperials she once looked up to. But nothing hurt Iden more than how it impacted her mother, Keehay. Garrick Versio was committed to making the lie as believable as possible and that required that only he and Iden could know the truth. Garrick chose not to tell Keehay. She learned the news of Iden’s defection like everyone else: through the Holonet. It devastated her. And when she finally reached out and made contact with her daughter, she revealed something that would haunt Iden for months to come. Keehay was dying.
But good soldiers do not question their orders so Iden never told her mother the truth and she spent the remainder of the mission becoming something she despised. She and the other members of Inferno Squad ate, worked, and slept side by side with men and women they considered terrorists. Despite the bonds that formed as the result of co-habitation, all the squad members did their best to remain professionally and emotionally detached from the Dreamers. Their training in covert surveillance allowed them to compartmentalize any feeling of closeness as just another part of the mission. For an Imperial spy, cognitive dissonance is a valuable asset.
It was an asset that the Dreamers employed frequently as well. Their group was made up of a diverse band of individuals, all with redeemable qualities, but they were also capable of ruthless violence and indiscriminate cruelty where their Imperial targets were concerned. Iden, Del, Gideon, and Seyn found themselves telling jokes and dancing around campfires with these people one moment and watching helplessly as the same people tortured and executed an Imperial prisoner the next. Imperials who died by the hand of the Dreamers were not even given the honor of a burial. Instead their bodies were unceremoniously tossed in the jungle for giant rodents to scavenge. From Iden’s point of view, some of these people might have qualities that could be admired, but none of them deserved mercy.
Empathy – The Rarest of Traits in the Empire
Order is maintained through strength. Strength comes from obedience. This is possible through discipline and loyalty to the ideals of the Emperor, who only wants peace for the galaxy. Worlds and races which are inherently inferior or come from chaotic, ungovernable cultures must be subdued and controlled, or in the case of the Partisans, eliminated. Their very existence threatens stability.
To Imperials, honor and duty mean everything. But sometimes conscience gets in the way of ideology. For Del Meeko, the Dreamer he grew closest to was an elder Chadra-Fan named Piikow, who showed an interest in archaeology and science that touched something in Del. If this old being had been born in one of the core worlds, or had been human, his life may have been quite different. Del allowed himself to entertain thoughts of bringing Piikow into the Empire as a defector, if only to give him a chance to realize his full potential. It was not lost on Del that those kinds of opportunities in the Empire were few and far between for beings that looked like his friend Piikow.
Although Del understood the importance of his mission, he felt empathy for Piikow. It’s easier to hate your enemy when you don’t feel a connection to them.
Empathy found Iden Versio in the form of one of the leaders of the Dreamers, Lux Bonteri. Bonteri had fought alongside Saw Gerrera on their home world of Onderon, and Iden found him to be thoughtful and noble, with a conviction of character that set him apart from other Partisans. She was bound by duty to eliminate him. But when she had the opportunity, she hesitated. She made a different choice; one that she kept secret. She had seen something of herself in Bonteri. Empathy allowed her to briefly ignore her training and grant Bonteri mercy.
Bonteri was the only Dreamer to escape with his life. Gideon Hask never allowed himself to feel anything for these people, and he saw to it that every last member was killed. He did so without receiving the order from Iden, who was his commanding officer. His initiative and unflinching lack of sympathy shocked her. But this too she understood. The mission saw the end of the Gerrera’s dream, but it also claimed the life of young Seyn.
When the mission was over, Iden learned the tragic news that her mother had passed away. In another uncharacteristic moment of compassion for an Imperial, Garrick Versio informed Iden that he had shared the details of Iden’s mission with Keehay before she died. She did not die believing her daughter was a traitor. It was a rare moment of tenderness between Iden and her father. But they never spoke of it again.
Ashes To Ashes
Immediately following the Battle of Endor and the destruction of the second Death Star, Commander Iden Versio boards the Star Destroyer Eviscerator and learns from her father that the Emperor is dead. Palpatine stood for might, strength, and stability in a chaotic and savage galaxy. But now he was gone. As an Imperial who would die for the ideals of the Empire, Iden Versio is prepared to do whatever her leaders asked of her in retaliation for this terrible crime. Garrick Versio tells her that the Empire’s response will be an attack on the very foundation of the Rebellion. He asks Iden what that foundation is.
“Hope,” she replies with a sneer.
A sentinel droid approaches Iden. Its domed faceplate flickers and reveals the holographic face of her posthumous Emperor. The message orders her to commence with Operation Cinder. The Emperor’s contingency plan is to punish all enemies of the Empire following his death. Concepts such as rebellion and defiance must be burned from the galaxy forever. And it must start at once. She asks where the first target will be but Garrick informs her that she will know in due time.
Inferno Squad is ordered to Iden’s homeworld of Vardos to extract the headmaster of the military preparatory school on the planet, an Aqualish named Gleb. When they arrive in orbit, they see hundreds of satellites surrounding the planet. Del and Gideon recognize one of the Star Destroyers as the ship which was carrying tech for Operation Cinder, but they can’t explain why the satellites have been deployed above Vardos.
A creeping realization comes over Iden and she leaves to confront her father.
Her fears are confirmed when she speaks with the Vice Admiral. Operation Cinder’s first target is the Imperial stronghold of Vardos. The Emperor’s intentions suddenly become clear: purge the weak and vulnerable. Save only the strong. No one is safe. Vardos must be made an example. If the Emperor is dead then his most trusted worlds failed him. And they must pay the price.
Iden implores her Father: “Vardos is our home.”
He corrects her sternly. “The EMPIRE is our home.”
As Iden watches, powerless, the Admiral orders the satellites to fire. Searing beams pierce the planet’s stratosphere and massive electrical storms erupt within Vardos’ cloud cover. Operation Cinder literally burns the sky and razes cities to the ground using violent storms. The Admiral reminds her that she has but one goal on Vardos – rescue Gleb.
On the planet’s surface, the team makes its way through the city towards the preparatory school. Lightning streaks the sky as storms rage overhead. Terrified civilians run screaming into the streets. AT-STs and stormtroopers stand guard over quarantine areas, keeping the civilians imprisoned within designated blocks, unable to escape. This once beautiful and proud city is crumbling before her eyes. Iden passes propaganda posters, some of which were certainly designed by her mother. They provide little comfort to her now.
Hope. That is the foundation that rebellions are built upon. Iden was beginning to understand that Operation Cinder’s target was not the rebellion of the Alliance but potential rebellion from the core worlds. With the Emperor gone, sedition from within was the greatest threat facing a wounded Empire. Replace hope with shock and awe. Hope would never have a chance to flourish. By targeting Vardos, much like Alderaan years earlier, the Emperor was sending a message from the grave. There is a price to pay for failure. Hope equals death.
Inside the school, Inferno Squad finds Gleb seeking refuge with other civilians and school officials. But Inferno Squad’s orders are only to rescue the protectorate. The others are expendable. The ceiling disintegrates and chunks of duracrete fall on the helpless people below. Del races to the injured as he and Iden share a look. They cannot leave them here. These are their people. They are sworn to protect the citizens of the Empire, not abandon them to suffer under the weight of retribution. The Emperor intended to scorch the faithful, but to what end? Was it a test? To show who would succumb to fear and who would stand with the Empire? Iden and Del make their choice and begin leading the survivors out of the building. Gideon Hask warns them not to violate their orders. He cannot believe the two people he has trusted his entire life would turn against the Empire – against him. But for Iden and Del, the Empire is no longer something they recognize. They realize they have been serving under a lie.
The Flames of Defiance
Gideon Hask points his weapon at Del, stating once again their orders. Gideon believes he is doing the right thing by holding the line for what’s left of the Empire. The selfish cowardice he sees in Iden and Del is something he cannot reconcile. For Gideon, fault lies in the frailty of the weak. Never the Empire. Iden attempts to talk him into lowering his weapon but he will not yield. He doesn’t want to kill Del but he has orders. Good soldiers follow orders. Order is everything.
“Your defiance will be the death of you,” he whispers as his finger begins to pull the trigger, but a flash errupts from Iden’s rifle and Gideon falls to the ground, wounded but alive. As Iden and Del gather the survivors and prepare to escape Vardos, they do so knowing that they have committed treason against the Empire and they will forever be hunted by people they once trusted and loved. But the boiling skies above the city and the screams of terrified citizens fill the air, confirming that they are leaving an Empire that no longer exists.
Perhaps the Empire that once stood for order and peace through strength never existed at all.