THE RENDEZVOUS Vexta Belt, Carrion sector 89 days after the Battle of Endor
This wasn't the first time the asteroid base was emptying out. The hollowed out space rock, nearly a kilometer in diameter, carved with barracks and armories, atomespherically sealed with ray shielding, and disguised to look almost like any other space rock, was nearly devoid of its regular 4000 occupants. Everything that could be moved from it, all of its personnel, the portable equipment and precious consumables, had been moved to the five capital ships docked outside. Only the command center, a fortified room at the core of the asteroid, was still lit and occupied. Inside, the commanders of Scarlet Moons huddled around a holo-table, blue shimmer danced across faces.
It had been two hours. The main Rebel taskforce was suppose to jump in two standard hours ago. Their advanced platoon arrived three weeks prior, though the cell structure of the Rebel Alliance meant the two groups had little knowledge of each other. That advanced platoon, led by a Zabrak captain and flown in a hyperspace-capable shuttle, had integrated reasonably well with Scarlet Moons. However, these were just fifty some troops. Alliance General Airen Cracken promised half dozen starships, one of which was a mighty Mon Calamari star cruiser.
At just short of three hours past the scheduled rendezvous, a hyperspace blip registered outside of the asteroid belt. The Scarlet Moons' commanders all perked up from their seats. A single vessel registered on the holo-table. Then, nothing.
"That's no Rebel fleet..." Someone murmured.
The excitement in the command room began to fade; tension quickly took its place. Eyes were fixed to the holograms, waiting for the clearance code. Sure enough, the lone vessel broadcasted the Rebel code.
"Identify yourself." Colonel Stormcaller spoke to an open comm channel.
"This is Mapfo, commander of the Sphyrna-class corvetteH6." The vessel hailed back. "I'm part of the Alliance taskforce to the—wait, are you..."
The signal wasn't very clear. It was expected, as only a backup transmitter was still left in the asteroid base. The people in the command room looked at each other with various degrees of worry; all of them silent for Stormcaller's reply.
"Colonel Stormcaller, Scarlet Moons." The Kaleesh answered. "Where's the rest of your fleet?"
"There's some, how do you say it, complications." Came Mapfo's reply. "I can explain if you clear me for docking, and tell me which one of these 500 rocks you're hiding in."
For some reason, Major Thiena Thel always pictured the typical Rebel officer as a Mon Cal. She never saw many of them, but their spacefaring reputations were legendary, especially after the Battle of Endor. General Cracken didn't tell her which specific commander was coming to their aid. She just assumed they looked like Admiral Gial Ackbar in those propaganda holovids, not some...
"...dolphin boy!" As Stormcaller just said. Commander Mapfo was a Herglic (and wearing a puffy blue jumpsuit, instead of the Alliance's khakis).
"Excuse me, colonel?"
"Are you kriffing deaf, dolphin boy?" Stormcaller yelled. If it weren't for that mask, his furious expression would be quite frightening. It's hard to blame him; Stormcaller spent the last three months planning for this operation. He believed it was the culmination of the quest his god-hero had given him. "I said—"
"Whale, actually." Mapfo held up a whale-like fin-finger thing. "We Herglics are—"
"Yeah, great; I don't care!" Stormcaller threw up his arms. "So you're telling me that you lost five out of six capital ships, including an MC-75 cruiser, to raiders!?"
"It was a trap!" Mapfo shrank back; his black and white skin slowly reddening. "Like I just explained, we ran into their hyperspace mines, then they hit us with ion torpedoes, boarded our ships and slaughtered the crew. Only my vessel escaped."
"Sounds like standard RRS tactics to me." Thiena chimed in.
"Yeah, that's what they called themselves; something like Relgim Rescue and Security." Mapfo nodded. "Didn't seem like any rescuing or securing to me."
"And your crew's just, gone?" Major Yunus Dimet asked.
"Can't blame them." Mapfo's shoulders sagged. "We took a couple of hits and one reactor blew up when we came out near Entralla. All four engineers died. The crew mutinied. I tricked them into the cargo hold and vented those traitors into space."
"Clever." Dveerah Euphonid smirked. "Must've Mace windowed two dozen of them. I bet they're human; only brainless monkeys fall for that." Dimet sighed.
"Mace what?" Mapfo rubbed the top of his big cetacean head, a puff emerged from his blowhole. "Uh, anyway, I still have all the droids. The H6 is fully repaired and operational."
"This is not good enough!" Gun Chuqu had been fidgeting with her uniform, and now she looked ready to bolt for the closest escape pod. "You only brought one Hammerhead corvette; it only has three guns! We are no match for the Imperials. This operation's doomed!"
"No, no! No!" Stormcaller stomped his feet. The room fell silent again, save for the murmuring of the holo-table. "We analyzed the defenses at Ord Thoden; only one star destroyer. The existing five ships have enough firepower to destroy it, if we can hit it from the flank."
"My corvette has advanced targeting systems." Mapfo produced a datapad. "The H6 is the advanced scout of—"
"It better, dolphin boy." Stormcaller marched up to Mapfo, raising his as if to strangle the Herglic. Instead, Stormcaller removed his mask, showing Mapfo the sneer on his reptilian features. "Slave your systems to my flagship, Sweet Revenge. We're jumping in an hour. We've come too far to fail now."
"By the stars," Gun Chuqu groaned, "we are all going to die."
Forty minutes later, Thiena was back on her ship, the Nebulon-B frigate Evergreen. The first thing she noticed was how crowded the corridors were. Troops of all species, and of all specialties, ran, slid and even flew from place to place. Thiena's pretty sure that this amount of people was well beyond what the frigate's manual recommended. Nevertheless, the had to cramp every single being of the Scarlet Moons onto their ships. They were loaded for a full-scale planetary assault.
The inspection of the cargo bay was a little dicey. Some soldiers from Prisma Battalion and Captain Ortega's platoon were transferred under her command. They would be seizing a space station, so that Stormcaller's elites could attack planetside. So far, several dozen had set up cots in the cargo bay, between stacks of (dangerous) crates (and despite the stale air and poor heating). Talking to them revealed no officers between them; they seemed to low ranking members, as the officers had already helped themselves to spare cabins. By then, the ships were jumping to hyperspace. The trip would be just under eight hours, the troops would get five and half hours of free time, followed by briefing and prep.
Thiena decided to delegate the cargo bay problem to NED. There's no better individual to sort out administrative mess than a droid's mechanical processors, and hopefully in getting the troops some better accommodation, they would get used to following the orders of a bot. After checking in with the bridge, Thiena went the officer's lounge and summoned Cleomenes Ortega and Arosha Tye there, to inform them that their space superiority had been "simplified".
Major Thiena Thel had just assigned Lieutenant NED a very important mission. Administrative work was the backbone of any large scale operation. Forty three soldiers had found themselves homeless in the cargo bay. Accomdations such as this were insuffecient, and it was up to NED to solve the issue at hand. With no officers to direct them, the soldiers had done the best they could, respectfully placing themselves in the cargo bay in order to avoid issues with the rest of the crew. But there were eight hours left until the upcoming planetary assault, and an organic lifeform needed space to breathe and relax. No one could suffeciently prepare themselves for the trials ahead in these conditions.
NED, as Major Thiena Thel knew, was a droid. His imposing, wide-shouldered form stood at six feet tall. Unlike most droids, the metallic lieutenant chose to clothe himself with the official officer fatigues of the Scarlet Moons. Atop his bald head was an officers cap that rested slightly crooked as it pressed itself around the various ridges that lined his temples. Custom made boots suffered as they attempted to contain the weight and pressure of his feet. Indeed, he looked like a droid playing dress-up. Nonetheless, he carried himself with confidence and competence.
The door to the cargo bay was open, and several soldiers had scattered out into the corridor. NED was holding a digital pad for tracking and storing information. Some of them looked up, curious, amused, or both, at the strange sight making his way down the hallway. With a small wave to those who were milling about in the corridor, NED stepped inide the cargo bay. The dark, horizontal slits of his eyes scanned the room, counting heads. His index finger tapped out the information in the beginnings of a comprehensive graph. Chatter, mostly complaints or idle talk, filled the cargo bay. Some of the more agile species had acquianted themselves with the tops of the crates, but most remained on the floor. The people in the hallway watched the back of the droid officer, and those nearby inside the room slowly began to take notice of the out of place figure.
"ATTENTION!" He declared loudly, breaking his silence. His voice carried, bouncing off the walls of the cargo bay. Few were startled by his sudden volume, but much of the chatter ceased as people turned to observe the source of the noise.
"ATTENTION!" He declared again. Now all eyes were on him. Some began to move into attention, noticing that this droid was, infact, a superior officer. That didn't matter, NED just needed everyone to pay attention to him before he could start talking.
"It's become apparent to the commanding officers onboard the Evergreen that you soldiers have inadequate housing." NED began, to the jeering approval of some of the more distant figures.
"My name is Lieutenant NED, and I will be assisting you for now. It's my duty to make sure that all of you are making use the living space available. If everyone could gather in six approxamately vertical lines in the center of the room here, we can begin. Gather your things aswell, many of you will be moving." NED informed the crew. The reaction to this was mixed- everyone was happy that more space was to be made, but most of them had just settled in, even if their space was cramped and uncomfortable. A short amount of time passed and everyone was roughly organized infront of the droid officer. Diligently, he counted everyone and made the necessary calculations to find out how many people could fit in a room.
"Right. The two rows furthest from left are going to stay here in the cargo bay." NED announced. Those people began setting their things back up. "A commanding officer will be assigned to you all shortly. This is the beginning of a new unit, so I recommend getting to know your new comrades." He offered helpfully.
"Everyone else, please follow me to your new quarters." Most of them were still weary about the droid giving them orders, but NED could easily just be a vessel for an organic being's commands, so there was no potential harm to their ego's for following the orders of a bot. Even if he was a lieutenant. "Stay in your vertical lines as you follow me. Don't mingle with other lines too much, or else I'm going to have to do a bunch of math again."
NED walked down the hallway, and dozens of soldiers followed him in long line with three gaps of those who gathered earlier. "You are all doing exceptionally well, thank you for being so patient." He reassured them as he navigated toward the barracks. Many people carried their compact cots and supplies on their backs, and the native crew had to stand aside as the parade passed by.
Arriving at one of the entrances to the barracks, NED stepped inside ahead of those following him. "ATTENTION!" He called out, and since most of the people inside knew of NED, the conversations stopped more quickly as they listened to a lieutenant. "Many new people are going to be joining you all in the barracks today until the planetary assault. They are your comrades, treat them with as much respect as you would with those already onboard the Evergreen. Remember, we are all Scarlet Moons, and all of us have chosen to be here. Thank you."
With that being said, NED motioned for two of the remaining lines of troops inside. "Please make yourself at home. Try to keep the central corridors clear for ease of access. Lay your cots against the walls or in the corner, or take advantage of some of the extra dormitories." He said this on repeat as the two lines passed by him one soldier at a time. Eventually, they all passed inside and NED closed the door behind them, scanning over the two remaining lines with his eyeless eyes.
"I do believe I can work out something special for the rest of you. Follow me, please." NED told them this as if he was letting them in on a secret. It was a longer wall this time, but eventually NED came to a stop outside an officers cabin. After a brief pause of staring at the door, he pressed the button. A moment passed, and a Duros Lieutenant appeared in the doorway. He looked unimpressived at NED's appearence.
"Greetings, Lieutenant Dray, sir. Major Thiena Thel has ordered me to make accomodations readily available for the newly transferred troops. I've come up with the idea of having them share the ample space inside the officers cabin with you and your fellow officers."
Lieutenant Dray sneered for a moment before peering past NED to the various soldiers behind him. "Well..." He sighed. "I suppose that would be fine." Relenting he stepped aside. The soldiers gave a little cheer and went inside. Once several were in, NED stopped the others from continuing inward. Lieutenant Dray shot daggers at NED, but the droid's face was unreadable.
This process continued on for a while. Upon hearing of Dray's reliquence, the Major's direct orders, and perhaps moral responsibility, all of the officers allowed the troops to set up their cots in their cabins. Eventually, the last few troops came to NED and Arosha's room. The door opened and NED stepped inside. "This is Lieutenant Arosha Tye and I's room. You all can stay with us if you so please."
Standing in the corner after offering his own "bed" to one of the soldiers, NED sent a mission debief to Major Thiena Thel, reporting everything he just did in regards to the transferring troops. Satisfied with his work, he folded his hands together behind his back and considered the future.
Cragdor was one of those chosen to bunk with the enlisted troops. It wasn’t much, but it was at least better than the cargo bay. He was used to sleeping in less than ideal places; throughout most of the Galaxy, Trandoshans were not often looked upon favorably by other species. Maybe it was their reptilian appearance that caused people, Humans especially, to feel a sense of fear and discomfort. Maybe it was their reputation for ruthlessness when it came to hunting and killing. Or maybe it was the smell; Cragdor had been told before that his people carried a distinctive odor, though that might just have been an attempt at insult rather than stated fact.
No matter the reason, Cragdor had found himself more often than not spending the greater part of most starship journeys in the cargo hold. This place was little different, though at least in this case, it was not done with malicious intent. There was simply more bodies than there were beds, which from a certain point of view was a good thing. At least the Scarlet Moons tribe was growing.
Cragdor had taken no offense. There had certainly been worse places he’d slept over the years. At least the cargo bay was dry, and there weren’t any tiny creatures waiting in the darkness to eat his flesh after he’d fallen asleep (at least none that he’d noticed). He had a blanket and a pillow too, which was always a bonus. Above all, he had the protection and favor of the Scorekeeper to keep him warm at night... at least, he hoped he did.
Cragdor watched as the NED lead the other soldiers out of the crew bunks, and a prickle of annoyance ran up his spine. A soulless machine masquerading as flesh and blood didn’t sit right with him. The Scorekeeper rarely cast her eyes towards droids, reserving her favor for the living beings. Droids that tried to act as a mockery of living beings always disturbed Cragdor on some spiritual level.
Despite his biases, Cragdor listened to what the droid had to say. Major Thiena seemed to trust the machine enough to make it a Lieutenant, and seeing as how Cragdor himself was only a Sergeant, he really had no choice but to follow it’s orders. He was not so foolish as to break the chain of command.
Once everything had settle back to normalcy, Cragdor returned to his ritualistic grooming. As part of his daily routine, he periodically took a knife to his dead flesh, scrapping away the flaking scales on his arms and legs. A nasty process, one that the rest of the crew no doubt hated, but a necessary one in order to achieve peak combat efficiency. Left unattended, the scale rot would begin to itch terribly, and he would not risk that distraction during a crucial mission.
Zed was no stranger to spending time aboard cramped spacecraft, but the cargo bay of the Evergreen was almmost standing room only! If they expected them to stay in here for the next 8 hours, and get any rest, they were delusional. She had found an air vent to stand next to and it still was getting unbearably stuffy. Not to mention she swore she could hear some critter or another running around in the vent.
It was a relief when the droid came in to show them to their proper quarters. It was odd that the droid had been given command over them, but it was clear that its authority was respected. She grabbed her bag and lined up to the back of the middle line when a Zabrak shoved her out of the way with a grunted "Move, Imp." His glare was enough to back down.
Zed sighed and moved to the next line over to the last line to be formed, on the far right. The lines had finally settled down when she finally could make NED's voice out again.
"Right. The two rows furthest from left are going to stay here in the cargo bay. A commanding officer will be assigned to you all shortly."
Zed glared daggers at the back of Zabrak's head as he followed the rest of the group. But she had to admit the cargo bay was now much more bearable. Some of the other troops had already started to move crates around for makeshift tables and chairs. Another group had taken the chance to lay out sleeping bags and blankets to rest on during the trip. The stink eyes she got when she tried to sit down with them were enough to make her look elsewhere to sit for now
Sighing, she went back to her spot near the vent, and took off her jacket. Spreading it out over the ground and pulled out her pistol and datapad. Secluded in the corner, she passed the time practicing field stripping the weapon, using the manual on the datapad as a reference as she waited for something to happen. Turning the blaster over in her hands, she thought back to the night she escaped, and smiled. Sure, she might be about to spend the next few hours wedged in between two boxes, on the cold ground, flying into battle, but felt as light as a feather.
OPERATION: INCALMO Ord Thoden Orbit, Dynali sector 00:00 Operation Time
"Entering realspace in three, two, one."
The blue shimmer gave way to the darkness of vacuum. The Evergreen flew in right behind Sweet Revenge. Behind them were the decelerating figures of four more capital ships, along with several hyperspace-capable shuttles and starfighters. Thiena stood on the bridge of the Nebulon-class frigate. She had briefed the assault force 30 minutes ago, and they should be assembling in the shuttle bay at this moment. Before that, she did some research on Commander Mapfo. The information was scarce, but there were several contradicting threads. She didn't have the time to dig further; they didn't seem likely to Thiena, and she certainly hoped none of them were true.
"Stormcaller here." The masked Kaleesh appeared on the holo-screen, "Sweet Revenge is ready to engage. Fleet, report."
"Evergreen's taking point for the assault." Thiena keyed in.
"First to Fight is in formation to support." Came the response of Major Dimet.
"Palpatine's Bane here, green light across the board."
"Mad Anooba reporting in; we're in formation."
A moment of awkward silence, then Mapfo appeared on the feed. "Uh yes, H6 is ready to go too, but-"
The check-in was interrupted by a message from the other side. No face accompanied to message, only the Imperial crest.
"Right, unknown spacecrafts, this is Imperial Customs." A distorted voice spoke. "Let's give you the benefit of the doubt, and say you entered into this restricted system by mistake. You have 90 seconds to make exit preparations; after that-"
"Spare us the pleasentries, Imperial." Stormcaller shot back. "We both know what is going to happen, and that is your death!" With that, the transmission was cut. "Scarlet Moons, battle stations!"
Thiena left the frigate operations to the bridge officer. She made her way down to the shuttles next. Each of the four shuttles carried around 30 troops, along with boarding equipment. They were divided into two pairs, assaulting different entry points of their target. The said target was a space station known as the Crown. It was a top-shaped construct in synchronous orbit over Ord Thoden. The Crown was over a kilometer in radius, at its widest, and had a height just under half of that.
Or that's what the datapads reported. Thiena had seen the space station before, but never set foot on it. It was constructed a century ago, when it was tethered on top of a skyhook. The outbreak of the Clone Wars saw the skyhook cables dismantled, in favor of more efficient shuttles. However, the purpose of the station remained similar. It was named in honor of the old monarchy of Ord Thoden. The top ten stories formed a massive domed garden, that was only accessible to the ruling elite (and their wealthy friends). The lower sections, formerly royal retreats and vaults, were converted into headquarters for Imperial Customs of the sector. The Imperials also expanded the docking rings, which...
"Major Thel," Gun Chuqu patched into her comms, "we're only detecting one enemy vessel, Victory-class, along with just one TIE squadron. We'll draw them away from the Crown, while your units move in to board."
"Copy." Thiena replied.
"Wait," Yunus Dimet added himself to the comms as well, "make sure your troops have breathing masks and grav attachments for their boots; Imperial stations can release dioxis and cut gravity in case of hostile boarding."
"Fun." Thiena grumbled.
Sure enough, like any other operation of this kind, the troops didn't have everything they needed. There were a couple of prepared (or paranoid) soldiers that brought both grav boots and breathing masks. Many did not, and a Sullustan private even questioned the usefulness of breathing masks "in space".
"Space is not the point." Thiena told them. "We're not stormtroopers; we don't have a vacuum-sealed body glove. You're dead if you get sucked out of an airlock. The problem is inside, when the enemy gasses us."
The private's reaction was a mix of shock and horror. This KNB'll soon be a KIA, Thiena figured.
The approach from the hyperspace egress point to the Crown would take twenty minutes. The boarding shuttles left the frigate ten minutes in, allowing time to maneuver while denying the defenders time to prepare. The shuttle interiors were dark, with power diverted to engines and shields. Some troops glanced anxiously out of the viewport, while others stared at parts of the durasteel cabin. Thiena herself monitored her datapad, where the tactical map displayed various vessels in space. As anticipated, the TIE squadron hovered around the station, primarily near the star destroyer.
"No fighters intercepting us, Major." The Evergreen bridge reported. "One turbolaser emplacement coming in firing range now. Commencing suppressive fire-target destroyed."
"Good shot." Thiena confirmed. There was a wave of relief and cheer within the shuttle. "Anything else in our way?"
"Negative." Reported Evergreen. "Our other ships and fighters are engaging the TIEs, on the other side of the station. Scan shows the star destroyer only partially powered up; we must've caught it in a maintenance cycle."
Flashes of light in the distance verified this. "Let's hope our luck sticks today. Moving in for boarding."
Detaching quietly from Evergreen's cover, the two shuttles split into pairs and headed in opposite directions. Two shuttles went to the docking bays on the outer ring of the Crown, while the other two attached themselves to the bottom sections of the station. Thiena was with the latter pair, and unlike those going into existing dock bays, her shuttles had to cut their own holes into the station's hull. Thankfully, tue shuttles had built-in fusioncutters for this exact sort of mission. The shuttle airlock also sealed nicely with the new door it made, making EVA unnecessary.
However, the shuttle pilot docked in reverse orientation of the Crown's artificial gravity. The first enthusiastic soldier in, after a preliminary scan showing all-clear on the other side, fell straight up.
"Aaaahhh!" The agonizing wail was heard loud and clear.
The first "casualty" of Operation Incalmo was the Sullustan private that asked about breathing masks earlier. He was crumpled upside down on the station floor.
"That doesn't look good. Should I reorient the shuttle?" The pilot asked.
"No!" Thiena shook her head. "We'll lose the airlock seal and he'll get sucked into space."
And so those that entered after had to do so in an awkward manner. They had lie down on the airlock, brace themselves upward and scoot into the space station. Thankfully, there was no armed defenders on this part of the Crown, yet.
"Help! I can't move; can't feel my spine!" The Sullustan private was still screaming when Thiena and twenty others went in. They were in the middle of a smoky and dimly-lit corridor, with no cover except for a few crates. It's only a matter of time before the enemy gets the jump on them.
"Get him up and back in the shuttle, Coporal D'orel." Thiena ordered. "Someone give D'orel a hand, the rest of you take cover and watch both ends of this corridor."
Sure enough, the shuttle scanners picked up life signs approaching from the starboard side of the corridor. A squad of Imperial navy troopers and customs officers emerged from a sliding door on the side. The Imperial officer leading them was still checking his datapad when the Scarlet Moons shot first. Thiena and her troops got the upper hand; the Imperials were shot down with little chance for return fire. Even better, the Imperial's datapad contained a detailed map of the station.
"Alright, looks like everyone's in one piece, for now." Thiena assessed the situation. It appeared that the Imperials came from a turbolift linking to the upper levels.
"Lieutenant Tye, stay here with the shuttles." Thiena told Arosha.
"The rest of you, split into five squads. One for the databanks, one for the power plant, one for crew quarters, one lock down the escape pods and the last one to take the command deck." These were the critical objectives, judging from the station map. Thiena tried to confirm with the other pair of shuttles at the docking bay, however, their signal was jammed. "And I need one of you with me to the docking bay."
When NED came in, whom Ren recognized vaguely from time spent around the base, the former resident of Nar Shaddaa had already set up a cot in one of the far corners of the bay and had made a makeshift punching bag out of his duffel upon which he was already practicing his strikes. He turned, however, when the Lieutenant called them all to attention, he did as he was asked. Even as a Sullustan and a Weequay nearby quietly made jabs at him and made unseemly comments about his parents.
Now Ren could typically brush the pair off and move on with his day, especially as NED took his lines out of the cargo bay, which was now a lot less crowded as a result of the droid’s presence and mission in the cargo bay, but these two were especially persistent. “Look you two, I get that you had a bad experience with Imperials, but I’m not Imperial, or even former Imperial.” The Weequay sneered.
“One of you monkeys is bad as any other, ain’t that right Jirm?” The Sullustan nodded in agreement.
“Can’t be sure you won’t turn on us first chance you get!” Ren sighed as he turned to return to his corner.
“Tell ya what, when this whole operation is done, how about I buy you drinks of your choices? Bring a couple of your friends if you want. And I’ll bring Cragdor along.” The Trandoshan was a good friend of his and had a reputation for not taking kindly to anyone attempting to hurt his little buddy. And while the human did everything he could to combat the anti-human sentiment that permeated the Scarlet Moons, he wasn’t foolish enough to think that the moment he and these two and their friends were alone, they wouldn’t try and maim him, if not worse.
“Well if you’re paying and it’s not just us three alone, why not?” The Sullustan uttered much the same and the pair left Ren to his training. He resumed with a left hook and continued, thinking of if he could get the officers to approve more than drinks back on the asteroid.
Ren had, of course, not really brought anything that it was revealed that the soldiers would need and he made a mental note to pick up one when they had more down time. Nar Shaddaa, and a job on Nal Hutta once, should have taught him that having one when conditions were unknown never hurt. Course, a few of the KNBs questioned the need for masks and grav boots, with another Sullustan asking why they’d need them “in space.”
Of course, the Major set him straight, while Ren set to making sure his NFBs would at least get on the station in one piece. How many would survive...the Corporal glanced around and silently sighed. He’d been with the Moons long enough to know their fatality rates were and the odds weren’t in favor for this group of poor souls. Boarding the shuttle he was assigned with the Major and several others, he pulled his carbine free of its place on his back during the short trip to the station. All Ren could do as the Sullustan called for aid, saying he couldn’t feel his spine, is shake his head.
“Poor bastard…” was all the CQC specialist had time to mutter before a group of Imperials came through one of the doors. The firefight was short between the ill-preparedness of the Imperials for a sudden fight and the fact that most of the troops here had already been prepared for a fight. With the Sullustan back on the shuttle and a map of the station thanks to the Imperial corpses nearby, mission parameters were set and Ren knew exactly what he was doing.
“I’ll head out with you, Major, if you’ll have me. Those other shuttles probably found more heat than us and could use a flanking maneuver to take off some of the heat.”
NED stepped carefully out of the shuttle. Sparing a passing, eyeless glance towards the first casuality of the battle, he raised the barrel of his weapon toward the ceiling. He was wielding a DLT-19 light machinegun in his two steel hands. A bandolier of extra ammo was slung over his shoulder and he had a belt with satchels and holsters attatched to it for extra storage. Stomping out into a clearing, he raised one hand.
"I am going to the Station's bridge. Nine of you will join me." He barely acknowledged the shortlived firefight that involved unprepared troopers getting gunned down in their unpreparedness. The droid was singularly focused on his objective. With newly acquired knowledge of the station's layout stored in his memory, he would make an effective leader navigating up to the bridge.
After gathering his squad, the droid began to make his way first down the hallway, leading the soldiers from the front. "Everyone stick together. Beware of opening doors, and the two at the back keep a watchful eye on our six." He reminded his soldiers. He walked at a fast and steady pace, holding his machine gun level and low infront of him. They turned a corner and there was a locked portal infront of them. He had brought explosives with him, but that would make a lot of noise. Announcing their presence to the Imperials was not something he wanted to do.
"I'd like to get through this door without making too much noise, Scarlet Moons. Does anyone have any suggestions?" He turned to face the squad following him. One of them, a light-blue skinned Twi-lek, raised her hand.
"Yes, Private Dasiv?" NED looked toward her patiently.
"Uh, I'm an okay splicer." She shrugged.
"Excellent," Keeping his gaze on her, he pounded his fist on a nearby control panel, popping the thing open. Then, he stepped aside. "If you would, Private Dasiv," He said, gesturing to the now exposed control panel. Dasiv approached and began to work on it, occasionally glancing over at NED.
"Don't mind me, Private Dasiv. You are the expert here," He said after the third glance. The droid was focused on a life scanner device infront of him, scanning a few feet on the other side of the door for approaching Imperials. Standing front in center at the door, if anyone opened it the first thing they would see was NED. Most of the other troops were leaned up against a wall or behind some of the supporting pillars that emerged from the walls of the station.
She smiled nervously. "I'm no expert-"
"Eyes on the control panel, Private Dasiv," He reminded her.
Nodding, she worked her fingers across some of the wires. Just at that moment, NED detected movement just a few feet infront of him. "Pay attention everyone. There are Imperials on the other side of this door."
Dasiv gulped. "Okay, I got it."
"Open it." NED commanded.
The doors slid open. On the other side was an imperial officer, fiddling with a keypad on the other side of the door, accompanied by a few storm troopers.
"Bad luck," NED commented sympathetically to the surprised Imperials, raising his machinegun with one hand and firing. There was a hail of lazfire and the imperial troopers fell with smoking holes in their bodies. The droid stepped over them and continued his march to his current destination- an elevator. It would take far too long to walk to the bridge. If they were to be united with the squads approaching the bridge from other angles, they would have to be quick.
"Well done, Scarlet Moons." He flatly praised his squad, rounding another corner. Finally, they had found the elevator.
"Okay, Private Dasiv. Splice this elevator so we may stop in when we please. I have no plans on our elevator doors opening to a squad of Imperials lying in wait. We are going to stop the elevator just short of the floor we desire. I'll use a maintenance panel to climb onto the roof of the elevator, apply a breaching charge to the elevator doors, climb back down into the elevator while keeping the maintenance panel open. The breaching charge will detonate, creating a sizeable smoke screen. Then, I will throw a thermal detonator through the open hole of the maintenance panel, bouncing it so it will explode anyone waiting for us on the otherside. Then, you will ascend the elevator, open the doors slightly, and we can engage the foe from there."
Private Dasiv and the other squad members blinked. "Uh-" she began.
"Stop the elevator when I say, rise the elevator when I say. Trust me, Private Dasiv," He reassured her. Dasiv nodded. The elevator doors opened to an enemy, featureless room save for the command panel. Popping that sucker open, Dasiv quickly acquired manual control of the elevator. NED pointed to square imprint on the ceiling in the back corner of the elevator. That is the maintenance panel he knew had to be there. Jumping up, he pounded his fist against the panel and broke it open. Then, he jumped higher, rising through the newly created hole. With a shuddering thud he landed ontop of the elevator. He looked to the staggering height of the Crown's elevator shaft above him.
"To the bridge, Private Dasiv." He said, his voice echoing far above. With that, the elevator began to rise, the droid standing on top. Unorthodox breaching plan in his mind, the droid had little to think about except the battle ahead. Hopefully, their mission would succeed. This would be an excellent victory for the Scarlet Moons. Taking out the Crown and liberating Ord Thorden. His homeworld. It was a long time coming. Failure on this day would be unfortunate. Ord Thorden would be free one day, but NED would prefer he would be lucky enough to be involved in it's final liberation. He and his squad rose to the challenge. It would not be long before they reached the same floor as the bridge. They would be one of the few Scarlet Moon squadrons attacking the Crown's bridge. Success was necessary.
After climbing out of the awkwardly oriented shuttle, Cragdor looked down at the screaming Sullustan. Despite himself, Cragdor couldn't help but feel a twinge of sympathy. Even a small, unlikely creature like this one deserved a chance to fight for his cause. The fact that he had been removed from the battle before it had even begun was no doubt shameful to him. Had Cragdor been in such a position, he would not have allowed D'orel to drag him away in a broken heap. Cragdor would rather plunged his blade into his own heart before facing the disgrace of becoming a cripple.
Well... MORE of a cripple.
There was little time for pity or self reflection though, as shortly after, the Scarlet Moons were awarded their first firefight of the day. It was disappointingly brief, but it at least got Cragdor's blood pumping. Looking over the remains of their 'welcoming party', Cragdor shouldered his E-5 blaster and hissed in approval.
While the Major gave her orders, Cragdor did a quick head count of the dead. He'd managed to score a kill shot to a customs officer, and he winged one of the naval troopers, but failed to finish him before one of the other Scarlet Moons took him down. No points in wounding an enemy, but the officer might be worthy enough pray for now. Cragdor would consider this first bout as an appetizer; a small taste of the battle to come.
Once Major Thel had laid out the objectives, Cragdor's Human friend, Ren, had volunteered to help take the docking bay. There was sure to be a lot of enemies there, and Cragdor found it commendable that Ren, thoguh unloved by his piers, would still risk himself to come to their aid. Commendable, and perhaps a bit foolish. They would not do the same for him. In fact, Cragdor knew a few beings who would have celebrated finally being rid of their token Human.
Cragdor stepped forward to address Major Thel. "With your permission, I will lead a squad to the crew quarters. We will hunt these Imperials in their dens, and ensure they cannot mobilize against us."
Fibu doubted he would ever really feel ready for a battle. There was something so surreal about loading into a shuttle, surrounded by men and women armed to the teeth and ready to kill. And then there was Fibu, bulbous eyes flitting around the interior of the shuttle and nothing but a blaster pistol for protection, scanning the faces of the men and women who were about to risk everything for the Scarlett Moons. Most of them were so young. Fibu said a silent prayer for them all; with any luck he would not be a busy man on this mission. There was a lot going on around him. Major Thel was talking to command on the comms and the soldiers around him were muttering to one another nervously.
Fibu remained focused on the task at hand, rummaging through his pack to make sure for the umpteenth time that he hadn't left any valuable equipment back on the Evergreen. As expected, and just like the last six times he'd checked, he had everything he thought he would need. Fibu jolted out of the trance he'd fallen into as the shuttle locked into place on the underside of the Crown. All of a sudden a hush fell over the troops. There was a faint hiss as the fusion cutters built into the shuttle sliced an entryway into the hull of the station for them to breach through. Everything went silent. An airlock sealed. A moment's pause as a scan checked for Imperial troops on the other side...
And then a piercing scream. The first unfortunate soldier through quickly discovered that the shuttle had docked upside-down, and had just fallen vertically on his head. "Get him up and back in the shuttle, Corporal D'orel." The gears were already turning in Fibu's head, and by the time Major Thel shouted her orders at him the Bith medic was already halfway across the shuttle. He dismounted more carefully than the first soldier had, landing softly next to the man. He was young, a Sullustan with the crest of a private sewn messily onto the shoulder of his uniform. It could have even been his first mission for all Fibu knew.
Fibu clicked a small green control on his wrist, and within seconds a small circular droid was circling the casualty. F1-X was scanning the boy as he lay there screaming, trying to determine the source of the problem. Fibu collected the man's blaster rifle and passed it to another nearby soldier. "Listen to me, listen." He spoke softly to the screaming Sullustan, who now had a vice grip on his uniform while he shouted incoherently about his pain and his spine. "Listen." The Sullustan stopped screaming for just long enough for Fibu to actually get a word in. He checked the readout on his wrist for a scan of the young private's body.
"You've damaged several discs in the upper half of your spine." The man began to sob. "It's nothing we can't fix back at base. I'm going to give you something for the pain. If you don't like needles I suggest you look the other way." Fibu retrieved a small capsule from a pouch in his belt and attached it to a hydraulic syringe, pressing it to the man's arm. The pain seemed to subside almost immediately. Fibu went about wrapping the man's midriff in a fast-hardening plastic cast to stop him from squirming and potentially causing irreparable damage in the process. "I'm going to leave this syringe here with another shot of Ceramol and a few Symoxin tabs. If the pain comes back hard, get someone to put the Ceramol straight into a vein. If it's more bearable, the Symoxin will do."
Fibu rose to his feet. F1-X was still floating around in small circles running diagnostics, but at the press of a button landed gently back into Fibu's outstretched hand. He clipped the droid to his belt with a sharp click. Two soldiers moved closer ready to move the private, who seemed to be calming down at last. The sound of blaster fire made Fibu spin where he stood, fearing the worst. Instead, he saw a row of Scarlett Moon troops holding raised blasters with smoking barrels, and a parallel row of fallen Imperials. "Alright, looks like everyone's in one piece, for now." Thel was starting to give out orders.
Fibu strode over and checked the Imperial corpses for a pulse. Nothing. "Lieutenant Tye, stay here with the shuttles." Thel was addressing a tall Togruta with remarkable coloured lekku. "The rest of you, split into five squads. One for the databanks, one for the power plant, one for crew quarters, one lock down the escape pods and the last one to take the command deck. And I need one of you with me to the docking bay."
“I’ll head out with you, Major, if you’ll have me. Those other shuttles probably found more heat than us and could use a flanking manoeuvre to take off some of the heat.” It was the human who replied first.
"I am going to the Station's bridge. Nine of you will join me." NED, one of the lieutenants, was going to take a little under half of their forces on their mission. Sensible; the bridge was likely to be heavily guarded.
"With your permission, I will lead a squad to the crew quarters. We will hunt these Imperials in their dens, and ensure they cannot mobilize against us." A lanky Trandoshan with a deformed arm volunteered next. Fibu was only just starting to notice quite how interesting his brothers and sisters in arms were.
Fibu felt he may as well jump in. "I'll go to the power plant and disable the defences." He motioned to three other soldiers, one of whom he had passed the Sullustan's rifle to earlier. He took the rifle back; four people with rifles was more likely to force a surrender than three. The four of them gathered up and checked their weapons. Fibu double checked his medical supplies one last time.
On the way out he stopped by Lieutenant Tye. "The Sullustan on the shuttle. I gave him painkillers. If he starts screaming again, inject them into his arm and it'll keep him quiet for a bit longer." He wasn't really sure how he was meant to address her. He saluted awkwardly before heading off with the three other troops, wondering exactly what the Crown would have in store for them.
"Stop the elevator please, Private Dasiv," NED ordered camly. She had already done so by the time he finished his sentence.
"So, what are you doing again?" A young man asked skeptically.
"If we open the elevator doors to a firing squad, we are all going to be killed very badly, Private Klosu. I am taking preventative measures." Not quite convinced, Klosu leaned back. Nodding at Private Dasiv, NED jumped out through the whole he had created in the roof of the elevator. Pulling himself up, the ceiling now his floor, the closed elevator doors were before him. Getting out his scanner, he detected there was no one directly on the other side. Not particularly helpful, though. They could be standing farther back, or even behind particularly heavy cover that the scanning rays can't get through. It would be best to go through with breaching procedures. Thus, NED procured a breaching charge from his large satchel and attached it to the doors.
Landing in the elevator with a thud, his metallic head swivelled left and right at the 9 people in the elevators with him. "Cover your ears, Scarlet Moons." Some of them did, and he detonated the satchel charge. Not a moment later he activated a thermal grenade and threw it through the hole, bouncing it off the elevator shaft behind them and sending it ricocheting into the room above them. It detonated. Silence.
"There's no one there," Klosu observed.
NED shushed the private with a raised finger. There wasn't anyone there. Instead, the sing song sounds of a chirping bird could be heard. NED grabbed onto the hole in the ceiling and raised only his head. It was true- no Imperial fighting squad was waiting for them on the otherside. Instead, there seemed to be some kind of arboretum. Vibrant greens, pinks and blues filled the incredibly large room before them. It was a greenhouse of grand proportions, made even more impressive by the station being in space.
Pulling himself up, he stepped inside, glancing around with his scanner. No one. "Bring up the elevator, Private Dasiv," He beckoned his squad mates up. The elevator rose, the doors slid open, and nine Scarlet Moons spilled quickly into the arboretum. Most of them glanced around, awestruck.
"Stars! What the Hell is this place?"
"Some kinda garden?"
"Sure does smell nice."
"Which way to the bridge?" Private Dasiv asked, stepping up next to NED.
NED paused a moment, considering. "That way," He pointed. The large domed ceiling had support structures and rafters. There were four main support beams along the dome that vanished into the ground. NED was pointing to the northern one. They acted as a sort of compass.
"Stay together, Scarlet Moons," NED said, slowly making his way foward. "There may yet be an ambush lying in weight." His life form scanners would be useless here. Birds, insects, even large plants, would create a blip on the short ranged radar. So he hooked the device on his belt and held his DLT-19 in both hands, leading the way. His squad nodded and formed up. Unfortunately, their path options were limited. There was no outside circular path, the thick plants and trees blocked line of sight. There was even an artificial hill in the distance, and atop sat another greenhouse structure. Redundant, NED thought.
There were a few moments of tense quiet. Birds chirping. Insects buzzing. Anxious breathing and muffled footsteps.
Private Kluso held up his dark red hand. "You guys hear that?" He whipsered harshly.
They all paused. No one else did. "Sounded like...somethin' moving. On our three o'clock." He gestured his blaster towards a wall of thick branches. They all backed away and pointed their guns where Kluso had indicated the noise. Everyone froze as the sound of something large moving through the shrubbery made itself apparent. Kluso's yellow eyes widened as he caught sight of a large creature. As long as five men at least, low to the ground and with four stubby legs. Overshadowed. In the distance, barely visible.
"...Mother of Moons..." He exclaimed quietly in disbelief.
"What do you see, Private Kluso?" NED had stalked up beside the observant soldier.
"Th-there's somethin' huge back there, Lieutenant," He reported nervously.
"Ten, fifteen meters long? Low to the ground. Some kinda predator," He shout-whispered. The other soldiers exchanged worried looks.
"How many legs?" NED inquired.
"I dunno. Four, I guess."
"Did it have a long tail?"
Rustle, rustle. Everyone went quiet. The distant sound of crackling could be heard. More steps back. ZAP! A spark of electricity ignited. One of the soldiers was almost hit by a stray bolt of what looked like lightning. It scarred the ground black and the soldier danced away. Everyone began to fire blindly into the shrubbery. Red lasers lit up the trees and then went dark as they collided against the dirt, a tree, or a rock.
"What in the blazes was that!?" Someone called out.
"One of the apex predators on Ord Thorden. A Swamp Dragon, villagers call it. It generates electricity out of it's mouth and then attempts to direct it toward its prey, incapacitating them and making for an easy kill. We warded it off with a hail of blaster fire. For now. It will most likely strike again now that it nows our appoximate strength and numbers." NED reported factually.
"Why the hell are they keeping a monster onboard this damn ship?" Dasiv shouted.
"...I don't know," NED replied.
"Well, how do we stop it!?"
"Everyone, please remain calm. Stay close together. If you see it, shoot it many times. If it grabs one of you, everyone else chase after it. If I do not return in three minutes, continue onto the bridge without me. While I am gone, Private Dasiv is in charge." NED turned and stalked off into the artificial jungle.
"What in the blazes?" Dasiv exclaimed.
"Yeah!" Said Kluso. "I should be the one in charge."
"Not that, laserbrain. I'm talkin' about why the hell the Lieutenant is going to wrestle that damn thing by himself!"
"We should just leave while he's gone."
"No way," Dasiv shook her head. "If you do, I'll shoot you myself. Besides, three minutes isn't that long. Just cool it. I'm sure NED knows what he's doing."
"Cheep, cheep, cheep, cheep, cheep," NED cooed, walking into the jungle.
"Cheep, cheep, cheep, cheep, cheep,"
Rustle, rustle. NED paused, his head rotating behind him.
"Cheep, cheep-" CRUNCH! The thing wrapped it's powerful jaws around his leg and began to drag him to the ground. NED held firm, digging his heavy heels into the dirt. NED was most likely far heavier and far more steady than it anticipated. It readjusted his grip and tried to drag him down. It succeeded, and NED fell onto his back with a thud.
"Cheep, cheep, cheep," He continued, unphased. The thing realised it wasn't tasting any blood. It pulled. Nothing. NED was not panicking or flailing, or screaming. Or bleeding! NED smelled like rust and oil. After a moment it detatched, beginning to charge up it's electricity again. NED knew that the Swamp Dragon could only discharge electricity so often. When it realised that it's prey wasn't of flesh and blood, it would give up for a while. The taste of metal was capable of killing one's appetite.
"Cheep, cheep, cheep," NED cooed, pulling himself up to one knee. He pat the creature on it's snout. It growled, disappointed. NED had done this a few times before. It was something Nathaniel had taught him to do. This method was easier than fulling the thing full of holes. Rarely did a Swamp Dragon ever venture out of it's territory, and the stringy humanoids in the Scarlet Moons or in a village weren't nearly enough to fill it's high voltage belly. Plus, humanoids had a tendency to shoot lasers everywhere when bitten. NED ran his mettalic fingers under the jaw of the creature and began to scratch it.
"Cheep, cheep, cheep," NED said. "I am sorry the imperials have trapped you on this station," NED apologised. Then, he bopped the thing hard on the nose. It growled and bit at him. This time, NED jumped away, the jaws snapping at thin air. It hissed, following him slowly as he backed away.
"Cheep, cheep," NED taunted. Soon, he was out of the jungle and back onto the pavement. "Cheep cheep," The beast snapped at him again, and NED leaped further back. The creature was intent on chasing the invader away. This was a contest of pride, now, not one of hunger. NED was walking backwards up the artificial hill, his feet moving with precision up a staircase as he kept his eyes on the beast infront of him. He rounded a corner of the staircase. His back was against a sliding glass panel, now. They were unlocked, but he spotted a panel that could potentially lock them. He slid the door open and stepped cautiously inside. The beast followed, jaws crackling with energy. He took a few steps inside, and then, much to the beasts surprise, leaped! Leaping over Swamp Dragon, he dashed out of the door. The Swamp Dragon, being large, low, and with short stubby legs, began to turn after him. It hit its nose on the side of the greenhouse. Opportunity seized, he pressed the button to lock the greenhouse door from the outside. It could not be unlocked without the proper passcode. Some high ranking gardener must have left the greenhouse unlocked before leaving in a hurry.
Having spotted another door on the opposite end of the greenhouse, NED quickly rushed over to that side and checked to see if the door was locked. It was, fortuntately. The Swamp Dragon was now trapped inside. With no arms or legs, the only way to generate enough force to even begin to crack the glass was to ram it's snout full speed into the window. Have you ever tried to headbutt your way through a wall? NED hasn't either, but it can be assumed to be quite the unpleasant experience.
Satisfied with his work, NED tromped his way through the jungle and reunited with the rest of the Scarlet Moons.
"So?" Dasiv asked.
"The Swamp Dragon has been isolated within the greenhouse." NED reported cheerily.
Dasiv blinked, and one recruit handed fifty credits to another. With that, the way to the bridge was clear.
"Why didn't you just shoot the damn thing?" Kluso asked as they ascended the brief steps up to the final hallway before their destination.
"Swamp Dragons have a tendency to violently explode when they are killed with plasma fire." NED responded.
Kluso barked out a laugh. "Oh, great. Cool. And that thing is just in the glass box, now?" He asked.
NED paused and turned around, making sure the door behind them was relocked after Dasiv spliced it open. "Potentially."
Now, it was time to take the bridge itself. The going was about to get tough.
The command to hold back was given and Arosha nodded, holding herself and her squad back as the rest of the squads and their leaders set out, watching them with mild interest as she prepped her rifle and chose a few of the stragglers to stay with her. Ten in all including her. It wasn’t too bad, a perfect mission for a squad. The place they were told to hold wasn’t too large or spacious, though the way the corridor was set up in relation to the shuttle did pose a bit of a problem, but she could handle that.
Once everyone else had left the shuttle, she turned to her men. “Right, we don’t have a lot of cover here,” she said, “we better make some. I imagine the others are going to take their sweet time with things, so we better get comfortable.”
They nodded and began getting to work. Arosha stepping in to help them move the boxes around. Thirty paces from the entrance on either side to make a sort of bluff of hard-shell boxes as cover. But because the place was so damn empty and nearly devoid of anything worth using as cover, they had to get crates from within the shuttle. Emptying them and placing them behind the boxes or around them. It took them a while, and while they were working, Arosha had two men stand guard and keep an eye out.
“Three on that corner over there and another three there,” she said pointing the positions out, “privates Lianlin, Carohai, and Darran with the shuttle.”
“Yes, sir,” they said in unison and began getting into position. Arosha herself stayed in the center of it all, her A280 blaster rifle in hand, wearing her black and grey combat suit with her custom-built Togruta helmet, visor drawn up. She looked around, her sensors picking nothing up. And nothing for several long minutes. That was the thing with battles and war. Lots of waiting and lots of lounging around. It reminded her of her days back on her home world, waiting in ambush for the storm troopers and invaders.
Funny how they were the invaders now. Funny how fate worked like that. But she was glad she was in this. Doing this work – not standing around the shuttle – but with the Scarlet Moons. Fighting back against the tyranny. But damn could it get boring sometimes. She moved several paces back so her back was against the wall next to the shuttle and looked over at her squad mates. They all looked just as bored as she felt, some of them taking out their rations and eating, a couple playing cards with a stack of credits on the side.
“I hate this,” she heard one of them grumble. Brones, a private with dark hair and green eyes, tanned skin. “All this waiting around. You’d think storming a base would be more interesting than this, but instead we’re stuck on guard duty of all things.”
“It’s not exactly fun, but it’s important work,” Carohai said from where she was sitting. “What if we need to make an emergency evac, or things get dicey and everyone needs to haul ass back to the shuttle. Could be the stormtroopers set something like that up. Could be they set themselves up to wait at the shuttle.”
“Reminds me of a mission I’d been on in Ithor,” corporal Joenis said, “had to root out an imperial base that was launching attacks on our position. Go in under cover of night, stealth our way into their base and set up a load of bombs to go off at the right time. Sergeant got hasty, left only a couple men to watch the ship and an imperial patrol passed by. Decided they’d wait around the ship and see what comes back. Invited some friends over with them too. It wasn’t a particularly fun night for us.”
“How’d you get out alive?” Darran asked.
“I legged it with a few others. Hid in the nearby forests and lived off the land, hiding everyday from trooper patrols until we managed to call an evac our way.”
A few of the others piped up with stories of their own as they waited, Arosha listening to their tales while also tuning into her sonar every now and again to see if anyone was making their way towards their position. It seemed no one was, and eventually a lull settled over the squad once more, everyone going back to doing their own thing. A lot of bored looks.
Which quickly changed when the sounds of blaster rifles going off sounded from the other levels of The Crown. Everyone, including her, turned from bored to alert in an instant and from alertness to restlessness. The sound of combat and their friends and comrades potentially going down while they waited in the back wasn’t exactly great for morale, she imagined. She saw the eager faces of her squad, the frustration that she shared with them of not being able to go out and help. To potentially save some of them.
Arosha wanted nothing more than to send her squad forward, clearing out the halls and providing aide. But she had her orders. And she’d stay put. The fighting continued for a while longer, almost becoming a constant drone above and below them when she suddenly picked up movement from her montrals and stood alert.
“Positions everyone,” she ordered, “movement ahead.”
They dropped whatever they were doing and whatever conversations they were having and began maneuvering themselves to get into cover. Rifles and pistols at the ready. Arosha moved up, getting into cover behind one of the crates, feeling several figures approaching from ahead, hearing their footsteps clanging on the metal floors. She signaled their number to the squad. Six.
A second later something was thrown and clanged a couple of times as it approached them. “Brace!” Arosha called out as she ducked behind cover. A soft blast followed with a plume of smoke going up. Then blaster lasers started coming out from the other side. Hitting the boxes, crates, and the wall behind them.
“Return fire!” Arosha commanded, and peeked out of cover herself to fire a few rounds.
Capturing the server room was easy. The handful of technicians had fled the moment the squad started cutting through the door, and their one officer and a pair of navy troopers had been gunned down in a brief firefight that the breaching team had finished before she had even raised her own blaster.
It was a fairly typical server room, nine glowing server racks arranged in a square from a central control console. Unfortunately for her the central console had been where the soldiers made their last stand, and the displays had been fried.
"This will take a moment," she said. After stepping over the still smoking Imperial officer, she used a knife to pry open one of the cases. As the rest of the squad fanned out to sweep the room, she let out a little sigh of relief as she found the motherboard still had a working port, which she quickly plugged into. "Strider, I'm in and downloading the files," she called to the Sergeant.
The Snivian looked back and gave her a thumbs up. "Good job, I feel like a sitting mynok here." He called out. "Tank, Doubles, go stand outside the door to make sure we're not snuck up on."
"Shouldn't be long, just a matter of time to let the slicer program run," she said. Her datapad showed the download was going quickly, and she took a moment to relax. The radio chatter had died down for now, though the station creaked with the occasional explosion, but with how deep inside they were it was very much muted. It was the muted beep from her pad that caught her attention, a new message displayed that simply said:
Bio-metric Authentication Required. Please Provide Thumbprint to Avert Security Alert
"Ah Kriff," She muttered "Gotta drag that officer over here". Then a visible countdown started under the message. "Ah Kriff!" She shouted, rushing over to the dead officer. Looking around, she shouted, "Heads up, I'm trying to stop an alarm from triggering!" Strider and a weequay private rushed over to help her drag the officer over to the scanner and she pressed the dead man's hand against the scanner. With just one second left, the countdown stopped to the relief of the trio. Then another message popped up.
Life Sign Check Failed. Activating Security Protocol.
Strider stood up and shouted out "Everyone, the alarm has been activated, get ready." He turned to the doors, only to watch them slam shut in Tank and Double's faces, the pair pounding on the door. Shouting into his radio, Strider tried to hail them to no avail. He gave Zed a pointed look. "Arrow, deal with this."
A few moments later, a droid voice announced "Intruder Detected." A few blaster shots echoed from the far corner of the servers, with the yelp of pain from her fellow squad-mates.
Both within moments Zed had ducked behind the control panels, searching for a way to deactivate the droids. This was a procedure that only was done with installations with a much higher level of security. This one seemed to be home-made. Normally she would take the chance to admire the ingenuity of how the used the general battle alert to trigger the flag to activate the—
"Arrow! Watch out another one is coming your you!" Zed jumped as she heard the mechanical footsteps of another droid approaching her. She popped her head up to look around, and nearly got it blasted off as a large dark KX Droid shot at her with a bloodied blaster. Letting out another swear, she ducked back down, another set of blaster shots coming overhead, going both ways. "Get them shut down now!" Called out Strider.
Zed shook her head out and went back to her task. "On it sir!" Soon she was surrounded by the few remaining squad-mates in the room, some of them already sporting nasty blaster wounds. Hands shaking, she searched for a way to override the alert, while her squad mates drew fire from the droids. The bio-metric 'lockout' just activated an alarm, and she was able to gain access to the program that had sent the droid. With some more shouts, the other KX droid joined in the fight, flanking the dwindling squad. They were pinned down, unable to return fire without risking getting shot. A few more seconds of slicing, and she had gained control of the program. She hammered the shutdown command.
The droids stopped dead in their tracks, their arms going down to their side as her Squad quickly destroyed them. Strider stood up and looked around. "Everyone's that still alive sound off!"
The surviving squad mates regrouped on them, Zed taking the time to finish the data transfer and lifting the lock-down. Standing up, the servers had been blasted to hell, but the redundancy of the Empire had saved ensured that she was able to get the files off them. Doubles and Tank burst through the doors as they opened but were quickly told to stand down. They and Zed were the only members of the squad to escape unscathed from the fight. Most only had minor wounds, burns and scratches when the servers they had been using for cover had been shot, but the poor trandoshan that found the droids had gotten a chest full of blaster bolts.
Pulling out a rag and wiping her sweat off her face, Zed had to lean on the wall to steady herself, still shaking. "Arrow, did you get the files?" asked Strider.
Zed nodded, and held her data pad up. "On this. What now?"
Strider shrugged. "I'll call this in and wait for orders. For now, take a moment to relax but stay sharp."
Cragdor gathered a group of nine soldiers, though the entire process was like pulling teeth. Of those gathered with him in the hanger, only three of them readily volunteered to join him; two Hassk brothers and a Weequay. The others simply shifted their feet and tried their hardest to avoid eye contact. Some even drifted closer to the other squad leaders, as if hoping to be picked for their mission instead. Licking his lips, Cragdor surveyed the remaining group, then pointed a gnarled claw at six others he believed would be suitable to follow him. To his annoyance, many of those chosen reacted like sighs and grumbles, dragging their feet to join his team. Granted, Cragdor wasn’t expecting them to be enthusiastic, but he at least expected them to follow orders in a prompt manner.
Taking his rifle in hand, Cragdor began to make his way towards the far doors, hoping his new team was close behind. The wolf men and the Weequay were at his back, and the others followed shortly after, albeit with less pep in their step. “Come now. Let us not waste any more time. We have imperials to route, and points to tally.”
“This is a mission, not a hunting trip.” Grumbled one of the soldiers. Cragdor half turned, recognizing the voice as that of a Bothan by the name of Koff Kothe. He was short for his race, and compared to others in the Scarlet Moons, he was rather fresh faced. He didn’t look much like a fighter; more like a scout or assassin. The kind of being that stabbed his enemies in the back rather than look them in the eye.
Cragdor shook his head. “They are one in the same.” He slipped down the hall, signaling the team to move quietly. “As a quiet killer, Kothe, you should be aware of how predicting your enemy’s movements and finding their weaknesses can improve the chances of success. That is hunting, whether you no it or not.” The Hassk brothers, whose names were Geri and Freki Vargr, agreed with his sentiment. The others mostly exchanged glances. Koff Kothe, thankfully, made no reply, though he made no attempt to hid his displeasure.
The halls were surprisingly quiet. The main patrol groups must have been distracted by the actions of the other Scarlet Moon squads. Cragdor was thankful for that. It allowed for him to focus almost exclusively on reaching his own target in a timely manner. He was already weighed down by the 9 soldiers lagging behind him. Needless confrontations would serve little more than a distracted an minor bonus points.
It was not long afterwards that there came the sound of marching boots from down a nearby passage. The team members readied their weapons, excited to finally engage some Imperials, but Cragdor waved them down. “No no, friends. Let these small prey go. We draw close to their warren. Killing these troopers will give away our presence too early.”
Gari Vargr bounces on his feet. “Oh, come on, boss. We hunger for violence. We smell their sweat. Let us hunt as you hunt.” His brother, Freki agreed, also hopping and rubbing his furry belly.
Cragdor smiled. “Deny your hunger for now. When we reach the barracks, you will gorge yourselves on man flesh.” The Hassks cackled quietly, shushing each other like sneaky children. The Weequay rolled his eyes, but did not suppress a smirk. The Bothan, Koff, looked disgusted. Cragdor continued to hold the group until the sound of footsteps had faded, then he waved for them to follow him once again as he crept towards the barracks.
Even before the living area of the Imperials came into view, Cragdor could tell he was drawing close. Not because everyone studied any maps or recognized any layout plans. Be knew because he could feel the life in the air. Over the years, he had developed a sense for such things. He was naturally attracted to places were creatures gathered, and he often used it when hunting his prey. Cragdor always chalked it up to his own animal instincts; a sort of predator sense. Even in a cold mechanical place like this, his senses led his way.
The Hassk brothers seemed to sense it too, became they began to cackle to each other. Freki whispered loudly, “I smell meat!” He rubbed his paws together. Geri sniffed the air and licked his chops. “Cooked hot meat! Red Nerf steak! Grilled Numa! Fried Chuba!”
Koff Kothe shushed them both. “Quiet! You idiots will give us away!” He smelled the air himself. “We must be close to the cafeteria. I’m surprised the Imps serve real food. Usually it’s just ration cubes and nutrition paste.”
Cragdor payed them no mind as he sank into his on thoughts, trying to plan o how best to go about taking the barracks. If they could somehow find a control panel, they might be able to lock the area down. Then they could prevent the Imperials from reinforcing their comrades in other locations on the station, and it would also allow Cragdor to more easily hunt them down. “Anyone good with computer? I’ll need a skilled slicer, or at least a competent hot wirer.”
Nobody got the chance to answer. As Cragdor turned to fill his team in on his idea, the Hassk brothers bolted from their cover. Whatever hunger they had been fighting, both for blood and literally food, had overpowered their better judgement. They dashed down the hall before Cragdor could stop them, giggling like hyenas.
As they threw open the doors to the caf, the small group of off duty stormtroopers jumped to their feet, caught by surprise by the two wolf men who immediately jumped onto the tables and began shoving meat into their muzzles. Cragdor rushed in just in time to see Freki pounce onto a young officer and begin making a meal of his face, causing the remaining Imperials to flee. Cragdor quickly blasted each of them before they could earn their comrades. The screaming of the officer was enough to wake the Emperor from his grave, and it took all of Cragdor’s strength to tear the Hassk away and slam him against the wall. “You feral beast! I’ve known hunting dogs with more control...”
A blaster bolt wizzes past Cragdor’s ear and struck his shoulder, causing him to end his scolding prematurely. A squad of stormtroopers, fully armored, had appeared at the far end of the cafeteria, and were wasting no time in opening fire on the rebels. Geri took a shot directly between the eyes and toppled off the table, a Numa leg clutched in his hand. Cragdor barely managed to roll under a bench, clutching his sizzling shoulder. Outside the cafeteria, he could hear the panicked voices of his squad members as they rushed to counter the Imperials.
It was too late. Cragdor knee they had lost the upper hand. They were now trapped in the anooba’s den, trapped on all sides and outnumbered. There was no escape; no retreat. The only option was to hold his group, kill as many Imperials as possible, and hope to escape with enough of his squad to make it worth it. But if he died here, at least he had a score worthy of a reasonable place in the afterlife. Nothing too spectacular; nothing close to what Uncle Oshka has. But it was enough. The Scorekeeper would accept him.
But Cragdor was not planning on tallying his final score yet. Cocking his blaster with his good arm and his teeth, he rolled into his stomach, took aim at the nearest stormtooper, and fired.
Despite the imminent danger of armour-clad stormtroopers rounding the corner at any second and gunning Fibu and his small squad down, the Bith found something oddly comforting about the corridors of this station. Everything was clean and smooth, almost clinical. To some degree it reminded Fibu of his practice back home. All it needed was a bit of greenery and some medical posters on the wall and he would have been tempted to find a quiet side room and set up shop.
“How much further?” The sergeant in Fibu’s squad spoke at last, having ignored most of the idle chatter that had been going on between them for the past ten minutes or so. The station was something of a maze. “Det?” Fibu looked over his shoulder at Detevi, a young Zabrak private. She was jostling with a holomap, rotating it to try and make sense of it and muttering curse words under her breath every few seconds. She was barely an adult, with as smooth a face as Fibu had ever seen and bright, excited blue eyes. A ring of stubby horns circled the crown of her head and faint tattoos accentuated the sharp lines of her face. Her hair was so dark brown that it was almost black, pulled back into a neat bun and contrasting with the pale brown of her skin. Form the look of her, Fibu suspected she had lied about her age when she signed up.
“Uh… not much further, sir. By my reckoning, if we take the next left it should only be a few minutes until we reach the control centre.” The sergeant gave a nod and a grunt as response, adjusting the stock of his rifle into his shoulder and checking it was loaded.
“It’s quiet,” the other private chimed in. His voice was shaky; Fibu could practically smell the fear-induced adrenaline coursing through his system.
“Which means only two things,” Fibu responded. “Either we are walking straight into a trap, or things have gone seriously wrong elsewhere and that’s where all the stormtroopers are.” He paused. “My money is on the first one, knowing my luck.”
“Great. That’s really reassuring, thanks doc.” The male private was obviously dissatisfied with the Bith’s answer. He too adjusted his rifle, his eyes darting from side to side as if the walls were going to open up to reveal hundreds of Imperial soldiers.
“We’ll be fine, private.”
“With all due respect sir, that really doesn’t make me any more relaxed.”
Fibu chuckled to himself. “What’s your name private?” He was older than Detevi, but still a youngster. A duros, with smooth aqua-green skin and fiery orange eyes.
“And is this your first mission?”
“It is sir.” His voice was hushed, almost embarrassed.
“What did you do before you joined up with the Moons?” He hoped that if he could take Malcan’s mind away from their current situation the boy might get a few minutes of mental peace before they were all potentially shot to bits.
“I worked on my dad’s freighter. Just loading and unloading. Nothing exciting.”
“I bet you’ve seen some incredible places.”
Malcan shrugged. “A lot of planets look the same under the Empire. Grey, industrial, lifeless.” Fibu nodded his agreement. “Silence. This is it.” The sergeant cut through the conversation. They had already rounded the corner and walked on a few minutes, and now they faced an enormous grey blast door. “Malcan, open the door. “Det, Fibu, on me.” The three stacked up. He wasn’t sure if the sergeant was aware that Fibu would never pull his trigger, but if not, he was in for a nasty shock. “On my signal, Malcan.” There were a few seconds of tense silence. Everyone looked nervously at each other, lined up with rifles pointed directly at the door. “Now!”
With a hiss, the doors slid aside and made way for Fibu’s team to enter. They were met by a squad of startled engineers, clad in grey uniforms and not a single blaster between them. “Don’t shoot!” Fibu shouted. The whole squad turned and looked at him. “They’re unarmed.” The sergeant glanced back at the engineers, then fixed his gaze on Fibu.
“Bind them, take their commlinks and anything else on them and lock them in the supply closet at the back.” Fibu audibly released the tension in his stomach with a loud sigh. He took his earplugs out, now safe from the prospect of imminent blaster fire. “Malcan, get those doors sealed and make sure they can only be opened either from the inside or with enough firepower to sink a star destroyer. Det, help Fibu bind the Imps.” Fibu and Detevi went soldier to soldier, stripping them of their commlinks, any pouches on their belts or anything that could possibly be used to construct an escape. Using whatever they could find, mainly the engineer’s own belts, they bound their wrists tight behind their back and ushered them into the empty storage cupboard. Detevi shot the internal door controls as the doors shut, ensuring their safe capture. “Prisoners secure, sir,” said Fibu.
“Good. Malcan, try to raise anyone else on the comms. See what we can do to help out from here. Detevi, Fibu, get on the consoles and try to work out what’s what. If we can control the Imperial defences from here, we might be able to save a lot of our guys.” Fibu took his seat, finding himself gazing at power distribution readouts and camera screens. He uttered a silent prayer under his breath, hoping everyone else had found things just as simple and his skills weren’t being wasted sat in a chair at a console.