The Astraeus slipped quietly from the hangar of the ISD Ascendancy, its external lights disengaged and its non-critical systems shut off. Dacien sat alone in the dark cockpit, relying primarily on years of pilot training and familiarity with his Upsilon-class shuttle to guide his hands over the controls. He set the ship on a course away from the main body of the Ascendant Fleet, which was rapidly closing on the local Collective Battle Group. If all went according to plan, the fleet would blast a path through the enemy and then attempt to funnel an invasion force through that hole. The Astraeus would make its own way, running silently and hoping that the Collective forces didn’t look too hard in their general direction.
Dacien keyed the ship’s intercom: “We’re in position away from the fleet, awaiting the signal. Everyone and everything should be strapped in securely now. Once we get the signal, things will get a bit…bumpy.” Dacien cut off the intercom with a slight grin on his face, knowing that none of them would really be prepared for what was coming. He closed his eyes and waited.
Only a few minutes passed before the shuttle’s sensors starting spitting out alerts. The fleet had engaged the Collective Battle Group and the landing craft were deploying for their harrowing assault on the surface. That was the signal. Dacien turned a knob to the left of the control stick, spinning up the main thrusters for one powerful blast. Then he keyed the intercom again and gave a simple warning: “Nobody throws up on my ship. Hold on.” He disabled the intercom and instantly pushed the throttle to full power.
The Astraeus jolted forward from a floating stop to its top speed in a matter of heartbeats, pushing Dacien back into his seat and forcing the air from his lungs. His head pounded from the pressure, his vision grew faintly reddish. The shuttle rocketed along its course, aimed directly at the planet Nancora. Dacien kept the same vector for several seconds, before making a slight adjustment to ensure they would track close to their target landing site in the Badlands.
After just ten seconds of full-power, Dacien cut the main thrusters entirely, leaving only maneuvering thrusters and life support functional. Silence reigned as Nancora loomed ever-larger in his viewport. Dacien reached out with the Force to feel the contours of the battle raging nearby. He could sense that it remained a pitched contest, neither side having taken decisive advantage yet. Good, he thought, they’re too busy to pay us any attention.
Suddenly the door to the cockpit slid open and Gaius walked in, taking a seat in the co-pilot’s chair and securing his straps. Dacien stared at him, eyebrow raised in expectation – they had all been warned about entering the cockpit without his express permission. Gaius gave him an acknowledging nod and perfunctory fist-to-chest salute and then sighed. “They bicker like children even though one of them is as old as dirt.” He scrunched up his face and continued without a breath. “And Brimzilla? What does that even mean? Will that strike fear into the hearts of our enemies?” He glanced over at Dacien and saw the Adept’s smirk.
“I don’t know, it has a certain ring to it,” Dacien offered.
Gaius stared at him flatly, then shook his head and turned his attention to the viewport in front of them. “Look, all I’m saying is…” a deep sigh, another shake of the head, “in my day the Sith were fearsome. They all had scary names and terrifying faces. Now they’re blue and give their droids funny nicknames.” He glanced back at Dacien and added, warily, “Not that you aren’t terrifying, my lord. You’re quite intimidating.”
Dacien grunted, then smiled and said, “Prepare to be terrified.”
He jerked the control stick hard to the left, then began firing the maneuvering thrusters seemingly at random while moving the stick through complex emergency maneuvers. With the main thrusters off and all stabilizers disabled, the combined effect of the erratic piloting was to send the Astraeus into a violent tumbling spiral towards the surface. Within minutes, they had hit the upper atmosphere, the shuttle continuing to fall seemingly out of control as the air around them ignited into the fire of re-entry. Now ensconced in atmosphere, the ship’s chaotic descent made a thundering roar clearly audible inside.
Dacien glanced over at Gaius, who was white as a sheet but had managed to keep his lunch down despite the constant rolling freefall. “If you’re wondering,” Dacien shouted over the din of their re-entry, “we look like fast-moving debris. That’s how we can get past them unnoticed. We’ll just sort of fall to our dooms, except, hopefully, I can regain control at the last second.”
Gaius slowly turned, his hair whipping wildly about his face, and stared incredulously at the Adept. “Hopefully?”
“I’ve never tried this before.” He shrugged. “Should work, I have a good feeling about it.”
The shuttle grew increasingly hot as they fell, the molten plasma outside baking the ship without any active shields to protect it. Dacien, sweat streaming down his face, continued to pilot the shuttle in spasms of motion, doing his best to make random adjustments to throw off enemy sensors. Suddenly the plasma disappeared, the heat beginning to abate – though slowly, given the roasting heat of the local star – and the landscape of Nancora becoming visible ahead of them.
Dacien knew he had only a small window to arrest their fall. He waited until the Force screamed at him that it was time. In that instant, he reactivated all systems, and rapidly toggled the maneuvering thrusters in an alternating pattern that swiftly stabilized the ship into an upright position. They were still rapidly descending, however. Dacien shunted extra power from weapons into the attitude thrusters, and pulled back slightly on the stick to redirect some of the reactivated main thruster energy into reversing their downward momentum.
It was a painfully slow few seconds as the surface ripped towards them. A mere 100 meters above sand-blasted desert, the Astraeus finally reached equilibrium, its thrusters overcoming the force of gravity and holding that altitude. Dacien reduced their forward speed as well, so that they were essentially hovering, and quickly checked his sensors. They were only slightly off-target, having come down about half a klick from their designated landing site. Dacien released a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding, and then gently set the shuttle down, its landing gear sinking slightly into the sand of the Badlands.
He looked over at Gaius, grinning, “Shall we?”