This is posted for possible credit towards promotion. Hope you all enjoy!
“60 seconds,” said a voice over the intercom.
This is it. This was what Lieutenant DeCicco Ehne lived for. There were few things more exciting…or terrifying…than jumping out of a dropship at a hundred thousand feet into the jungles and night of Dromund Kaas. He and the rest of his six-man squad sat on opposite sides of the tiny dropship, sitting in the red light that filled the compartment.
Their mission was a training exercise. They were suppose to jump out of the dropship, activate their stealth generators (these particular models not bending visible light rays, but everything from infrared down), and activate their single-use jetpacks just a few hundred feet from the ground. This temporarily nullified the stealth generators, but the heat flash would be be so suddenly there and gone, it would imitate a golfball-sized meteorite crashing down on any sensors. Even visually one could not accurately tell what the flame would be if any using the jet-packs were just a few kilometers away. Once on the ground, the team would dismantle the jet-packs, creating a specialized recon rifle and a tactical pack. On a normal mission, any remaining fuel would be stored in orbs with an ignition fuse on the side. Primitive, but an effective and easy-to-make incendiary grenade. The squad would then trek their way to a mock republic base, encountering ‘difficulties’ along the way. Secure the base, grab the ‘intel,’ and get out without raising an alarm. The entire exercise was also timed. If so much time passes, the squad fails. If in incredible amount of time passes, a search team is dispatched to find the lost squad. DeCicco’s squad never failed, and they certainly did not get lost, through rebellious intentions nor ignorance.
Time was passing by both too fast and too slow. The lieutenant wanted the jump now. So did Knight, the squad’s sniper, Exile, the squad’s heavy munitions commando, Crystal, the squad’s medic (and eye candy for the mostly-male squad), and two trainee’s pulled straight out of the academy to tag along and see how the pros do it. All the squad mates stood up and did final checks on all their gear, each and every piece in matte-black.
“Hey Hawk!” Knight called out, addressing DeCicco, “How 'bout we say last the one down buys the next round at Crimson 87?”
“I don’t think you have enough creds left for today, Knight,” DeCicco remarked and flashed a smile at Knight.
Knight replied, “I will once I take your spot as squad leader! All I need do is wait for you to forget not to be bolt fodder again!”
“Now boys, play nicely,” said Crystal, all the gear betraying no indication she was different from any of her male companions, but anyone listening to that sweet voice couldn’t help but let their minds wander into a fantasy of courting the lethal woman.
DeCicco wanted the count to be over already, minute traces of adrenaline already surging through him. The natural drug was an addiction really; the more adrenaline that got released, the more DeCicco craved it when it was gone.
“5 seconds.” And with that, the rear doors opened and the squad put on their oxygen masks. At a hundred thousand feet, air was extremely thin, and one wouldn’t want to hold their breath all the way down. DeCicco took point.
“Green light! You’re cleared for jump!” the pilot said over the intercom. The filling light in the cabin went from red to green. A sergeant at the rear of the dropship was yelling through the comms on his breathing mask “GO! GO! GO!” and one by one they jumped.
The metallic taste of adrenaline… his heart pounding in his ears… the thin air rushing past his body… this was what he lived for.
Everyone had cleared the dropship. Several hundred feet later, a shockwave went through the air. It was subtle, but it was there, like standing in a control tower and having a large fighter fly past. DeCicco flipped over and looked up through his mask. There was a fireball in the sky and the dropship was in pieces falling on a different path than the squad.
This was not part of the exercise, and now the adrenaline dumped unwelcomely in DeCicco’s system. Now was the time to stop just living. Something had gone wrong and now was the time for surviving.
Exile’s voice broke the silence of the comms in freefall. “Geez, look at that…”
Knight was the next to chime in. “Suppose anyone made it out?”
Exile replied, “Not a chance.”
DeCicco flipped back over and opened his long range infantry comm. “Breaker! Breaker! Emergency code niner-zero-niner! Emergency code niner-zero-niner! This is Lieutenant Ehne, Seventh Battalion, Second Stealth Infiltrations Unit. Training exercise gone critical! My team is freefall, but dropship AX-157 Black Beauty has just exploded! No signs of extravehicular personnel! Please respond! Emergency code niner-zero-niner!..”
This took a few minutes to get a response, and by that time, the squad had already fallen sixty-thousand feet. “Lieutenant Ehne, this is Tac-Command, Kaas. We have received your distress call. What is your location?”
“Thirty-Five thousand feet above intended destination of Point Bravo for training exercise eighty-seven!”
“Confirm Point Bravo.” DeCicco confirmed the location. “Stand-by.” And with that, long range comms went silent.
“Standby, that’s real reassuring,” said one of the trainees. “Just roast us on a spit, why don’t cha…”
“Naw, they’ll just let us drop. Already put the effort through,” replied Knight.
DeCicco snapped at the trainee, “Keep your mouth closed, Corporal! Squad, prepare for jet-pack landing! DO NOT activate the stealth generators, we want to be found.” Ten thousand feet, DeCicco started the pre-ignition sequence on his jet-pack. In truth, the device had been activated since before the jump; too many accidents happened when someone jumped from high altitude and was unable to cold start his jet-pack before he met the ground.
Eight thousand feet. “I got a problem!” It was the other trainee. DeCicco spied the private falling in the sky through one of the many camera feeds at the top of the lieutenant’s HUD, the indicator on DeCicco HUD said that the private’s jet-pack was still cold.
Seven thousand feet. “Private! You have to start up your pack now!!!” The private gave a negative filled with panic. DeCicco opened his arms and legs to slow his descent and allowed the panic-filled private to catch up. Everyone had more than enough room to pass him.
Five thousand feet. DeCicco reached the private, he yanked the soldier closer to him and tried to interface with his wrist comm. It also had the controls for the jet-pack, but was not responding to any of DeCicco’s commands either. DeCicco was pounding buttons furiously. After that didn’t work, he started pounding the private’s pack.
Two thousand feet. The damn thing simply wouldn’t work. “Just fire! You piece of…” When DeCicco pounded it next, a panel came loose, and all the innards of the pack came flying out. The weren’t so much as parts on a fuel-propelled rocket system as they were random pieces of metal. DeCicco had the immediate suspicion that the explosion of the dropship wasn’t an accident, but a setup.
Five hundred feet. This was the recommended height at which the jet-packs were supposed to be fired and that was for one person. Both DeCicco and the soldier whizzed passed the rest of the squad. He hooked himself to the soldier and yelled through the intercom “Hang on!” He ignited his jet-pack at three hundred feet. He felt the violent yank of the jet-pack wanting to go up and the soldier wanting to be claimed by gravity. It was a fight to keep them from flipping and tumbling through the sky. The canopy was coming fast, far too fast. Their descent had slowed but they still hit the ground pretty hard. And that’s when the lieutenant’s vision blackened.
For a moment, DeCicco was back in Crimson 87 on academy grounds. It was a late night and most the patrons had left the exclusive officers club. He and Crystal were finishing their drinks when DeCicco asked, because one of the previous nights, if Crystal wanted to take things further. He said he wanted to get to know her, the kind of deep things that friends just can’t share. A high pitched whine, like a battery in a taser charging, became audible. She hesitated before looking back and saying that it was just one night, and that maybe they shouldn’t have done anything. DeCicco asked what she meant by that. A great pain filled DeCicco’s chest…
…as he convulsed and came to from the electrical charge Crystal had just given him. It was incredibly painful as all the receptors in DeCicco’s nervous system all fired at once. He collapsed on the ground and stared up at the star-filled sky through the foliage that hovered dozens of feet above him. He looked over at Crystal, who had her helmet off and her red hair pulled back over one shoulder, kneeling and leaning over him.
“How many fingers am I holding up?”
“Two, your thumb doesn’t count, sweetheart.”
“What’s the last thing you remember?”
With a smirk DeCicco said, “Well the first thing that comes to mind…”
She got a puzzled look on her face and said, “What?”
DeCicco just flipped his eyebrows twice, still holding the smirk.
“Men,” she said, rolling her eyes now producing a slightly annoyed face. She and Knight helped DeCicco on his feet. Knight had a perplexed look on his face, curious as to the silent conversation the squad’s leading officer and the squad’s medic just had. DeCicco gave him the look which conveyed I’ll fill you in later.
Nothing felt broken. He didn’t even feel disoriented. Just hurting all over with a slight headache. Nearby was his helmet, a nice crack running down the right side of it, along with some blood. DeCicco touched his forehead through his glove and felt a very thin bandage on it. Must not have been bad then. The jet pack was worse for wear, but all the necessary components for making the rifle was already pulled out and assembled, so it relatively survived the crash. The private, Ducat the lieutenant believed his name to be, was several feet away with the cross Exile. Ducat looked quite shaken, and he awkwardly made his way to DeCicco.
“Good to see you’re back on you feet sir, we were-” and he was cut off when DeCicco’s hand shot out and grabbed the private’s throat. Ducat’s eyes went wide as the officer’s eyes went into a glare.
“Next time your stupidity gets you in trouble, I’m not saving your shebs, understood? You damn near got me killed and you will not have a second chance, di’kut.” Lieutenant Ehne didn’t know any Mandalorian other than the handful of curse words, but cursing at someone with a foreign impression normally got the point across and left little room for a verbal counter. The private nodded quickly, and his throat was released.
DeCicco checked the systems on his wrist comm, they also appeared to be functioning. Pretty lucky considering the circumstances. Both Knight and Crystal were standing off to either side of the lieutenant as he opened his comm. “Lieutenant Ehne to Kaas Tac-Command, come in Tac-Command.”
The external speaker on the wrist comm came to life, the signal fuzzy, but strong. “Lieutenant Ehne, this is Admiral Kaad at Tac-Command.” Things were always bad when you had the brass contacting you. “You are to proceed to Point Bravo and secure the site for immediate exfil.”
“Sir, with all due respect, the training exercise has gone critical.”
“This is no longer a training exercise, Lieutenant, a rogue Force-adept is loose in the area and it is estimated he has at least thirty troops that has joined his cause, you are to proceed with extreme caution.”
That last transmission got everyone’s attention. DeCicco replied, “Sir, say again your last. Sounded like you said we have a rogue saber-jockey with guns to back him up.”
“You heard correctly, Lieutenant,” said the admiral, “You are to intercept and destroy if possible. Too dangerous to try to capture and all other targets are expendable. Contact me at 0200 when you and your team are within a klick of Point Bravo. Admiral Kaad out.”
And that was that. “Talk about going in blind,” said Exile, now standing with the rest of the squad. “Hawk, this was just supposed to be a pre-mission exercise for the war on the front lines. We don’t know anything about what we’re going into now.”
“Not entirely, we have the layout of Point Bravo from the initial training schematics, assuming not much renovating has been done,” said Knight. “Our good admiral said there were thirty men plus one saber jockey. Let’s assume sixty and figure out just where they might be in the outpost.”
“I agree,” said DeCicco, “We have our weapons, our stealth generators, the cover of night, and our comm systems. With the kit, the darkness, and we play our cards right, their numbers will count for nothing. Exile, I know our initial mission didn’t want incendiaries, but uh…”
Exile flashed a grin, “I got twelve stashed away, Hawk.”
“Good man. Everyone, activate your stealth generators.” DeCicco called up a small hologram depicting the topography of the surrounding area on his wrist comm. “We will make our way to this cave here. It’s on the way. Close enough to deploy quickly, and still far enough away to do what we please.” The lieutenant took a quick look around for the sixth soldier of the group, having temporarily forgotten him while the transmission from the top came through. “Before we get on our way, can someone tell me where the corporal went?"
Knight replied, “Probably dead, his pack didn’t appear to be working either, and we all guessed he crashed somewhere between here and Point Bravo.”
That didn’t set DeCicco at ease at all. Two jet-pack malfunctions? The same malfunction? With soldiers outside of DeCicco’s regiment? That plus the explosion and the rogue…
…DeCicco looked over at the private, his eyes ducked and staring at the ground.
With a hushed voice, DeCicco said to Exile, “Keep an eye on Ducat, things are adding up to a number I don’t like.”
The squad reached the cave with relative ease. It was in a cliff face overlooking Point Bravo that either had to be free climbed up or down to reach the mouth of the cave. It was relatively close to the top, so hooks were embedded in to make going in and out easier, not that there was a need other than safety concerns…
Deeper in the cave were DeCicco, Knight, and Crystal sitting around the faint light of a glow lamp. All the jet-packs were converted into their regular pack forms, never going to see sky again. A variety of weapons were laid out next to the packs. There were several blaster pistols, blaster carbines, blaster rifles, the twelve incendiary grenades fueled by the remainder of the squad’s jet fuel, and an old-styled projectile sniper rifle to satisfy Knight’s nostalgia.
Projectile weapons hadn’t been extensively used since before the Great Hyperspace War, but Knight would argue that it’s still an extremely effective weapon for a sniper who didn’t want to be found. Laser bolts can be seen, and therefore, tracked, even if they are silenced. Projectiles on the other hand typically cannot be seen, and a silencer on the rifle can also be effective in hiding the muzzle flash. Unless a guard knew exactly where to look, the sniper can stay hidden, especially if he’s astute enough to move positions after each shot.
DeCicco got up and checked all the equipment he had on him. The tactical knife and the small medkit he had survived the fall. His wrist comm had several days left on its charge, and that was if all the displays and components were active. He went over to the weapons stockpile, picked up a pistol plus a couple power packs, and started heading to where Exile was to see how he was doing. Before he left he made the comment of not wanting to come back in on Knight and Crystal at an awkward moment. The sniper gave smirk to the lieutenant, but the medic glared at both of them. Knight still didn’t know about that one miscellaneous night between DeCicco and Crystal, but still the joke was that, a joke. Crystal however was getting more annoyed with how close DeCicco kept getting to just spilling out and just saying it. When DeCicco left he heard them go back to small talk in the dim light.
Exile around the bend and thirty yards away from the mouth of the cave, he held his blaster rifle in both hands in the at-ease-slightly-pointing-down-and-to-the-side stance. DeCicco gave out a double whistle through his teeth to let Exile know a friendly was coming up behind him. “How’s our guest doing, Exile?” DeCicco referred to the figure of Ducat standing practically at the mouth of the cave, him looking down at the dim lights of Point Bravo just a klick away.
“Hasn’t moved much, Hawk,” the spec-ops squad member replied, “He’s just been staring down at the outpost the entire time. Scratched his nose once and adjusted his stance against the wall a few times, but otherwise just being a creeper staring at the guards down below.”
“Well you’ll be pleased to know we contacted Admiral Kaas and the plan is on schedule with several exfil plans laid out.”
“We going after the rogue?”
“Yes, and we have a name. The saber-jockey’s a flunkie from the glowstick school in Kaas, calls himself Verick, and he’s a self-proclaimed Darth after killing one of his instructors” said DeCicco.
“Self-Proclaimed Lord of the Sith?”
“Yup, yet another ‘fantastic leader’ wanting to overthrow the Emperor,” Lieutenant Ehne looked back to Ducat. “Want to switch out? Let me play stalker a little bit?”
“Naw, still my turn,” said Exile, still holding the professional look like a spotter staring at a target for a sniper partner. Decicco knew he meant well, even if he got tired of the constant professionalism.
DeCicco started his walk back to Knight and Crystal and addressed Exile as he started the short trek back, “Ever get tired, let me know, someone’ll take over and have their chance of pushing him off the cliff.”
There were different, smaller glow lights on the way back. Red meant left… blue was right… blue again… and then blaster fire, coming from near the mouth of the cave, echoing on the walls. DeCicco pulled his blaster pistol and ran back to Exile’s position. Exile wasn’t there, there were a few scorch marks where he was along with the rifle. He rounded the corner and stared at Ducat holding a small hold-out blaster to Exile’s head, blood running down Exile’s side and a scorch mark on his right shoulder. Ducat must of taken Exile’s knife cause DeCicco couldn’t see it on Exile’s leg.
How? This was for all practical purposes impossible! The commando was watching his target the entire time, weapon ready!
“Darth Verick sends his regards, Lieutenant,” and with that, Ducat pulled his hold-out blaster’s trigger. The short whine of DeCicco’s blaster pistol while it was being raised to the ready-fire position foretold DeCicco’s intention of revenge against the traitorous soldier.
Exile’s now lifeless body fell from Ducat’s grasp and slumped against the cave wall. Ducat then began his thirty-yard run to the cave’s exit, moonlight now filling the rocky corridor, firing behind him to cover his escape. DeCicco took cover behind one of the adjacent cave walls, furious at Ducat’s cowardly tactic. He then heard sharp whisper of Knight’s projectile rifle followed by the painful scream of Ducat. DeCicco left the cover of the adjacent wall and aimed his blaster pistol down the corridor. Ducat was crawling on the ground, his left leg having a gruesome wound at the knee, leaving a trail of blood. His hold-out blaster having slid several meters in front of him.
DeCicco closed the distance and stomped his foot on Ducat’s back, keeping his pistol aimed at Ducat’s head. The lieutenant was then hurled into the relatively low cave ceiling and was dropped. He landed on his feet in a half kneeling position and looked up at Ducat, the private having a grin on his face. Ducat then made a gesture with his hand, and several loose and hefty rocks came flying at DeCicco. Lieutenant Ehne and Knight, closer now to provide backup to DeCicco, both hugged the corridor’s walls to avoid the makeshift projectile’s.
When the boulders had passed and dropped, Ducat began to make another gesture. DeCicco pulled his blaster pistol once again, but before he could fire a shot off, Knight had already sunk another projectile into Ducat, this time the right knee. He gave out another cry of pain. DeCicco holstered his blaster pistol and pulled his tactical knife, activating the vibroblade. Pinning one of Ducat’s hands, he sunk the knife into the private’s wrist and the blade sunk into the rock floor.
Fear now filled Ducat’s face. Knight kept the sniper rifle trained on the fearful private’s face while DeCicco frisked the man, recovering Ducat’s and Exile’s blades and a small datapad, no bigger than the screen on DeCicco’s wrist comm. The lieutenant then got up and walked over to the hold-out pistol that had slid, picked it up, and seemed to examine it.
"Darth Verick has several things to answer for, and so do you, Private,” Lieutenant Ehne said, his back towards everyone, the aggression in his voice ominous.
“It’s the Empire that has to answer for its crimes!” Ducat said in a panic filled voice, far more terrified and probably more legitimate than after the free-fall.
DeCicco with the hold-out pistol in hand walked over to where Ducat laid and put a blaster bolt in the private’s uninjured hand. More than anything he just wanted to kill him now for causing Exile’s death. DeCicco yelled down the corridor, “Crystal! Pack the gear!” Chances were, the hide-out cave was not safe, any stray transmissions coming from the private could have called for an enemy patrol to converge on the cave’s position.
“What can you tell me that’s not on this datapad?” DeCicco asked.
“I’m not saying anything!”
“Then I will guess, shall I? You and the corporal are the reason the dropship exploded, quite possibly from the components in your jetpack. Then while you use the broken jetpack as a ruse to kill me and heroically sacrifice yourself, the corporal lands unharmed and gives first rate intel to your Master as to the rest of the team. You didn’t count on me saving both you and I and to make up for it while saving your skin, you kill Exile to regain what little ‘honor’ you have left for your failure. As for what’s on the datapad, I can only imagine with a little bit of virtual breaking and entering, I’ll be able to find the comm frequencies of anyone who is willing to pick you up. Am I mostly right?”
Ducat’s face went pale. Whether it was from fear or the loss of blood, DeCicco couldn’t be sure, but he had a feeling it was the former considering Ducat was now sweating and not saying a word.
“You know what I also think? You’re expendable. A liability.”
Ducat’s gaze shot up at DeCicco. “No! I am a valued servant of Darth Verick!”
“You’re a washup that can do a few magic tricks, that’s it. And trust me you’re worth less now that you’ve killed Exile.”
“Darth Verick will rule! My actions today have gained me honor!” Ducat kept yelling at DeCicco while the lieutenant pulled Knight off to the side, having since lowered his rifle considering Ducat’s only good now for complaints.
“I’m done, do what you wish with him, Knight. Ask questions, have fun, whatever. I have what I need.” DeCicco said in a hushed voice.
“Just one thing I want to do,” Knight said. Crystal came back with three packs, one on her back, one in each hand, all most likely filled to the brim with equipment. “Crystal, hand me one of the incendiaries.” Crystal put all three packs against the corridor wall and complied. Knight handed her the rifle and began to walk over to Ducat, removing the ignition mechanism from the grenade. He then took his knife and stuck it in where the ignition mechanism used to lay, puncturing the fragile casing. Pouring the jet-pack fuel over Ducat and then shoving the orb in the private’s mouth, he held it there for a couple seconds. When he let go, Ducat spat the orb out and began coughing, the fumes burning his insides and unable to turn with DeCicco knife still pinning his left hand to the rock floor. Knight then activated the ignition mechanism in his hand, sparking rapidly. “You deserve worse, murderer,” said Knight. Keeping the renegade soldier’s chest pinned with one knee, used both his hands to pry open the man’s mouth and dropped the sparking switch in.