This is the Primer fiction and member entries to the House Hoth Run on Competition for the Proving Grounds event.
[HOTH] Proving Grounds - Run On
Trepus Mining Facility
The large meeting room was dominated by a large table in the center. Edgar Drachen, the newly appointed Commander of the Joint Task Force, sat at the head looking at those gathered around the table. Yuki Suoh and Darro Zhen, in their standard battle armor, sat nearby with Arcia Cortel, the retired Commander, acting as a consultant to the Central Command. Edgar looked at each in attendance and nodded slightly.
“The time has come to set up our satellite operations center on Strokera,” the man said softly. “Prospect zero-zero-two sits on the eastern coast. Your mission is to explore, examine and record what is on the eastern side of the continent… We need to know what the wildlife is like, any current inhabitants, if any, and if any of the flora is deadly. The satellite imagery and recent fly overs have given us a large sense of what’s going on there, but there are still so many questionable sites and features there. So after discussing this with Yuki and Arcia the only way for us to know for sure what is there is to put boots on the ground. Darro, since most of the House as been sitting idle especially the Knights I want you to prepare the Knights and any who wish to join you for this mission.”
The old Mandalorian nodded slightly and leaned back in his chair. “This is a wide area to cover. Are there any specific targets you wish us to focus on? I need to know long will this mission last so I can have the proper supplies prepared to go ASAP.”
Yuki leaned back in her chair and propped her feet on the edge of the table. Her eyebrow raising slowly. “Basic provisions. No more than their standard equipment and any rations each person can carry.”
Darro shot a stunned looked at the younger Human then turned towards Edgar and was about to question the order when the Human shut him off.
“Due to recent events and more importantly the real lack of proper training on this planet outside of Zoya’s rigorous program, the members of this House have yet to be adequately tested in our own backyard. Also, since this is your first command this will test you and your abilities to their limits. You must think on this, how can we pretend to be able to protect Solyiat if we can’t survive anywhere here on the surface. Therefore you and your mission will start in the Askarda mountain range which lies just north of Lake Goline. Your mission will be to travel from that point to zero-zero-two’s coordinates by any means you can muster without killing or seriously injuring the member’s under your command. How you accomplish this, how you get there and how long will be up to you.”
Darro stood and saluted Edgar quickly. “If you will excuse me then, I will go get the members ready.”
Yuki cleared her throat, catching the older man’s attention. “As a reminder, there will probably something in it for those who succeed. Those who fail get a day trip to Zoya’s spa. Keep that in mind as well.”
Darro stepped out of the meeting room and shook his head slightly. This was not going to be easy and there was always a chance for the unexpected. He would have to do his best to mitigate the worst of it, but no one could be everywhere at once.
He touched the comm device on his wrist and sent out a general summons to the members of the House. He walked to the exit of the mine, his thoughts focused on the mission to come. As he stepped out of the mine, he turned toward the training field.
Most of the House milled about the field, quiet conversations filled the air with an audible buzz. The old Mandalorian cleared his throat and spoke in a voice still suited for the battlefield.
“We have been given a mission. We get to go play in the mountains and the forest. If you wish to come, pack a bag. No more than each person can carry. It will be a long trip to pack accordingly. We leave in five hours. Dismissed.”
Darro turned away from them, his own pack requiring attention for this trip.
Darro turned from the assembled members of House Hoth and trudged his way back into the converted mining facility heading for his own quiet little corner of the base to make preparations for the coming mission. It was going to be difficult even for the old warrior. Limited provisions meant they’d probably have to hunt for food and water and with limited intel on the continent that was going to be difficult.
He strode casually through the halls, wending his way to the small private room he maintained in the base. It was spartan to say the least. A small couch and holo screen in one room, a large bed in the next. A small refresher station, much too small in Darros opinion, off the bedroom. And hidden away in the corner a small closet for clothes and the like. A holo-photo of a young woman with bright green hair and caramel colored skin, her arms thrown around Darros neck, beside his bed and a large black banner with a golden scorpion embroidered into it the only decorations.
He picked up the holo and smiled. It was of his daughter Amaya who he’d only met a few years before and thinking of her always brightened his day. Giving it a quick kiss he placed it back on the tale and headed for the closet. One half was devoted to the basics you’d find in any closet. Shirts, pants, things like that but the other held something else. Pieces of heavy armor painted a brilliant gold and a full helmet, its T shaped visor staring out of the dark closet. Piece by piece the old Mandalorian pulled the various plates from the closet and attached them to his body as he’d done countless times before.
With his armor attached he strapped his gun belt on, checked the power pack on the DL-44 and slid the weapon into the old leather holster on his hip. With helmet tucked firmly under his arm he made his way to the armory to take possession of his rifle. The EL-16 was as old as Darro and had seen just as much action but the old girl was still great in a fight and she’d not let him down yet. With weapon in hand he headed for the mess, his heavy boots striking the metal floor with a loud clomp.
As he entered the crowded mess hall he waved to a few of the soldiers he knew and made his way into the kitchen to find a hive of activity as cooks and droids ran to and fro trying to keep up with the constant wave of hungry men and women who made their way in at all hours of the day or night. And in the center of that maelstrom was Gromm Carn the Ithorian head of the kitchen staff. Seeing the old man coming Gromm pushed his way through the crowd, a backpack in hand.
As he held it out Darro asked “Is the sweet bread in there?”
“Of course it is.” Gromm replied from his dual mouths.
Smiling Darro said “You’re a good man Gromm, I appreciate it.”
Waving him off the Ithorian said “My pleasure my friend. Good luck out there.”
Darro made his way back out through the chaos of the kitchen and headed back outside to wait for the LAAT’s that would take him and his team to Strokera and the unknown.
Azha looked at the ground as he approached Darro. He caught the Mandalorian leaving the kitchen. The young Mirialan hesitated, then looked up. The Knight Commander met his gaze.
“I am not letting you out of the assignment,” Darro said, guessing at the detectives question. “It’s bad enough you aren’t around half the time for Zoya’s training, and we have let you off the hook because of your big case. But you are going to come with us.”
“But Darro, if what Keiji and I learned before this was true,” Mos began, his eyes sad.
“Then you would have a trail over four weeks old, and wouldn’t be able to track her,” the Mandalorian replied, his tone soft. “I understand you want to find her, I want you to. But wait for another hint at her location. Until then you are coming on the mission.”
“Sir,” the private detective began.
“That is final,” Darro said. “You will find her, but don’t waste your time grasping at straws.”
Azha glared at his commander but didn’t say anything else. He gave a curt nod, not trusting his tongue when it came to this case. Dammit Mos! He has already helped you out a lot, even told Edgar and Zoya about the case. You can’t keep getting away with not doing what everyone else is expected to do. He may be one of the few commanders here on your side after that stunt at Club Vertica.
The green skined man sighed and looked at himself. His brown vest over his synthweave body armor made him stand out among the soldiers, so he couldn’t just slip away. He had his holocamera, his Synergy WLD-5 blaster pistol, a datapad, and even a set of stun cuffs. Well, hopefully this is enough, he thought to himself.
He walked outside, a few minutes after Darro had. He felt the chill of the arctic air blow across his face, sending shivers down his back. I need a mask for this weather one of these days he thought to himself, glad his hat and body armor shrugged off the worst of the cold.
He looked at the group that had assembled near the LAAT’s and gave a heavy sigh, his breath forming a white cloud in front of his face. He did a quick scan, seeing many people he had never officially met before, having simply seen in the halls, in addition to the one person he actually knew from previous experience. The person stood at an impressive height, in some kind of black armor, montrals sticking out from the top of his helmet.
“Looks like I will have to introduce myself to some new people,” he said with a small chuckle, his hand instinctively on his blaster. “I should hope they don’t gang up on me for missing so much of that mandatory pt by Zoya everyone seems to be exhausted over.”
Keiji stood silently waiting in the frigid cold with his cloak fluttering in the wind. His suit; however, kept him at least somewhat warm. Warmer than some of his fellow clan members at least. So there he waited as instructed by his captain or alor, Yuki Suoh. He was told only to carry his bare needs. That meant all he took was his crimson blade and his twin slugthrowers, Night and Ebony. He kept a small canteen of water on him as well as the training exercise wouldn’t be a short one.
Looking around, Keiji really didn’t recognize many of the faces around. Only recently had he been taken in to this group. The one face that he did recognize held his hand on his gun and started to head towards the group.
“No repercussions from the bar fight?” Keiji asked as Azha came by. He saw the Private Detective laugh. Their “little” scuffle at the club had caught the attention of the higher ups.
“This is my punishment.” The Mirialan said with a frown. Keiji merely gave a chuckle. Azha shrugged and moved on to chat with the others leaving the Togruta to his thoughts.
Not surprising that my alora would have me do this training exercise with the others. Synergy with one’s companions and teammates is an important thing to have, he thought. As he contemplated, he noticed others approaching the LAAT. Small conversations started to become louder now. They were almost ready to head out and begin.
Rebellions, it seemed, drew the strangest of individuals. While he had been told often that the various Clans consisted of anything from smugglers to full-fledged Warlords, the group here seemed to emphasize just what a rag-tag bunch of heroes Lotus had drawn to it. Soldiers, Mandalorians, Jedi, even a Detective if one conversation was to be suggested; it seemed as if anyone and everyone who could stand out from a crowd had thrown their lot in with Odan-Urr’s resistance effort. Then again, he was hardly one to talk.
Clad in the time-worn palatinate armour which had all but become a second skin to him, Tarvitz was hardly about to blend into the scenery any time soon. In fact, should they have needed to sneak up on something, his only contribution would likely have been to draw attention away from everyone else.
“Didn’t you get the message? We were told to travel light,” one, a younger Mirialan, commented as he arrived, approaching the LAAT at a brisk stride.
“This is light,” he laughed, joining the growing band of arrivals “Would you rather I go back and fetch the grenades as well?”
Admittedly Tarvitz’s definition of ‘light’ did tend to stretch credibility. True, there was no battle rifle, no grenades, or longsword this time, but he had spent the last few hours procuring a scout backpack, grappling hook and a set of electrobinoculars from the armory. Normally he would have tried to bring the YT-2000 as well, had the ship’s engines not finally given out a few months back and were that not likely to get him reprimanded by his superiors. Better to have something and not need it than run headlong into a situation and find yourself ill suited to the task, after all. The scarred edges of his bionic eye began to itch at the thought, as if reminding him of the last time he had made that kind of mistake.
Drumming his fingers on the helmet hooked at his waist, Tarvitz situated himself towards one side of the group, mentally picking out anyone who looked as if they had made this kind of trip before. He was barely given time to consider before the gunship’s armoured doors slid back and the order was given to board the vessel. Clambering inside the ship, he worked his way towards the back of the spartan passenger compartment, quietly wondering if any Clone Trooper had ever complained about the lack of chairs.
Azha took a seat after speaking to the strange armored man. At least Keiji has a cultural reason to carry all of his gear, he thought as he pulled out his datapad. I should be out there looking for her. Not boxed up. Nevertheless, this should be taken as seriously as any case.
He heard the doors to the LAATs close and smiled. The familiar hum of a ship’s engine soon greeted him. Losing focus of the people around him, Azha found himself deep in the thrall of the holonet, finding several cold cases on Coruscant which he booked marked for further reading. Moving through several documents, he saw the message indicator on his datapad light up. The blinking red light was as distracting as always, drawing him from the page he was reading. He pulled up the message quickly, not wanting to get on the nerves of anyone sitting near him.
Hey Mos, found something. You said you were heading to Strokera right?
The Kaist Police Force just announced that a bank robbery was held in one of their cities. Six are dead. The robbers supposedly just crash landed somewhere on Strokera.
I am sending you the images of said robbers. They are attached at the bottom of this message. See if you can’t pick them up. There is a 1,500 credit reward on them, and I want my damn HK unit body.
The detective smiled as he read through the crime scene report, and subsequent chase report on these criminals. Well, looks like this trip won’t be a waste of time. Three men, one woman it looks like. This woman…
Closing the message, he pulled up a three year old file. Azha scrolled down quickly, his heart beat quickening.
Arias Case Suspects
Was within one kilometer of the abduction sight. Has criminal history of kidnapping, assault, battery, murder, petty theft, grand larceny, and possession. Current Location: Unknown. Last Seen: Boarding a shuttle with several figures that could not be identified by camera.
Azha smiled, and tried to keep a laugh in. He couldn’t believe his luck. Or is it luck Mos? another part of his mind questioned. Finding Nahr here, of all places, while you are flying to Strokera. It is likely a coincidence. Or worse yet, it is a trap. Be careful, the Club was a stroke of luck. This could be a balancing act.
Several seconds passed for the detective, his hand unconsciously slipping to his blaster. “One step closer,” he muttered quietly to himself. “Thank you Edgar and Darro.”
When it appeared that nobody else would be joining them Darro signalled the pilot through the transparisteel shell of the cockpit that they were ready to leave. As the engines fired and the repulsorlifts lifted the old craft from the ground Darro sat himself on the edge of the troop bay, his legs dangling over the edge. As the continent of Trepus zipped by beneath him Darro turned to look at the volunteers who’d joined him on the exercise.
Azha was young and enthusiastic but prone to runoff and do his own thing. The exuberance of youth Darro thought to himself. There was the Togruta Keiji. A mountain of a man almost as big as Darro himself but an unknown to the old Mandalorian. This trip would certainly show what he was made of. Then there was Ka Tarvitz. He seemed to have a good head on his shoulders and was steady in a fight. And of the three men who’d come along he was the only one who appeared to have come prepared for the journey that was to come.
Looking back down at his feet the old man saw that the ground had disappeared and that they were now flying over a dark roiling ocean. Waves crashing left and right sending spray thirty or forty feet in the air, the smell of sea and salt filling Darros nose. On the horizon he could see dark clouds lit by lightning, too far off to hear the crack of thunder and said a silent prayer to whatever deity might be listening that the storm didn’t hit Strokera.
His mind began to wander as the flight continued. He thought of his daughter. His family and home, all gone now. That night almost twenty years ago when most of his team were wiped out. Never again he thought to himself. The ocean once again gave way to land as the LAAT flew low over a mountain range and Darro was brought out of his revery by a voice emanating from the comm unit on his head.
“Two minutes to drop zone.” called the pilot.
“Copy that.” Darro replied before shouting over his shoulder “Two minutes people!” as he pulled his helmet on.
The LAAT dropped down the face of a steep mountain into a thick grove of trees, landing in a wide clearing. The trees bent and waved as the shuttle touched down, dead leaves and dust kicked up by the ships engines flying through the air. The quartet leapt from the LAAT, the old Mandalorian tossing a casual salute to the pilot as it lifted off and disappeared into the canopy. The old man pulled off the pack on his back and went rummaging around for the map Edgar had given to him before they’d left.
Giving it a quick scan he said “We head south, follow the river until we get to the lake. From there we’ll turn east and head for the coast. Keiji, you’re on point, let’s move out.”
Chris had been dropped off on location about two hours prior to the main team, as per request by the current Knight-Commander, to make sure that they weren’t dropping into anything too dangerous for the non-combative types that would, most likely, be participating in the exercise. He had donned his armor and brought the bare minimums for surviving out here, Darro and him could probably finish the trek in one to two days, but he wasn’t so sure about the others being able to keep pace. When he heard the dropship fly overheard he knew that they were in comlink range. Slipping his helmet on Chris touched the datapad on his wrist and opened up comms.
“Darro this is Chris, do you read me?” Within a second he got a reply, “Yea Winchester, I hear you. What’s it looking like down there?” A second after Darro stopped talking Chris began, “It ain’t the prettiest of sights, but it’s safe. I recommend getting on the Eastern bank of the river before you descend the mountain, it’s about a kilometer wide at the thinnest point and pretty deep, I don’t want to find out just how deep. I’m just at the base of the mountain, already have a small camp set up and a fire going. There are some predatory animals around, if one of the Jedi came with you just get them to use their glowbat, should scare it away.”
Darro didn’t reply but just chuckled causing the three others with him to look at him confused. “Alright, our scout just gave me a general rundown of the area so we’re going to adjust the plan. We need to get on the Eastern side of this river before we can get off this mountain so lets move.” They adjusted their direction but kept the formation as they had when they started moving. Keiji was in front, followed by Azha then Ka and Darro was in the rear.
Azha sighed as he got off the shuttle. You should tell someone about this Azha! I mean honestly, you will need backup to apprehend her.
“Darro…” Azha started. “I…”
“Mos, get your camera,” The human replied. “We want to make sure that we have pictures for new locations for a base. In addition, any new species of animal would be helpful.”
“Of course, but there is something else,” the detective said with a nod. He pulled out his holocam taking several pictures of the area around them. “Lloyl just informed me that there was a crash somewhere on the continent. This is from a burglary on Kaist. One of the perpetrators happens to have been a suspect in the Arias Case…”
Darro stopped mid stride. “Stay with us. It will be safer. Plus if we run into the suspect you won’t be alone. We don’t want you dead.”
“Yes sir. I will get pictures, this place looks good, though I’m sure we will find much better locations as we move on.”
This could be tough Azha. Be careful. You are out of your league. I mean look around you, three soldiers, and most likely a fourth that we will meet up with. If that is it.
“I knew what I was getting into when I asked to join House Hoth,” he muttered to himself.
“What was that?” Darro asked, turning.
Azha looked around noting that all three of the men were looking at him. “Nothing,” he said. “just, part of me feels out of my league. I mean look at the four of you, all of you are soldiers. I’m just a detective. I mean, I get I need to make up for my lack of training with you guys, but I don’t know if I am really fit for this mission, or this war. Heck, I still don’t understand what is really going on.”
“Soldier?” Tarvitz smirked “Well, that’s a new one. Detective, I have been called many things, most of them insults, but ‘soldier’ has never been on that particular list.”
“In any case,” Darro interrupted, nonplussed at the tattooed Mirialan’s distractions “You’re not here to fight. You’re here to pick out anything we might miss, anything which could be vital to establishing a base here or a threat to the clan. Leave the rest to us.”
There was an air of finality to the Knight Commander’s voice and, never mind the fact it came from both a superior officer and a battle-scarred giant of a Mandalorian, it was the sort of tone you did not argue with. The remaining two members of their group were smart enough to simply leave it at that, and continue on in silence despite Azha’s evident reluctance. Much as he wanted to think otherwise, Tarvitz did wonder just why he was here at any rate. A detective was always a useful asset when unraveling a murder mystery or even to piece together the events of a crime scene, but experience had taught him those skills rarely translated well to bushcraft.
Advancing southwards, the group moved out of the shadow of the mountain and deeper into the forest about them. Away from the small clearing, the greenery seemed to close in about them, and the constant chittering of nearby life could be heard echoing among the trees. It was nothing Tarvitz could make out, much of his time over the past years had been spent largely between worlds rather than on them. Yet, he could not deny there was something odd about this place. Despite himself, he kept giving some of the more oddly shaped examples each a cursory look, trying to pick out signs of life of any kind from the bark.
“Anything of interest?” Tarvitz heard Darro’s voice speak up as he momentarily paused to examine a particularly gnarled example rooted between two rocks.
“Nothing immediate, apologies Knight Commander,” Tarvitz nodded, rapping his knuckles against the trunk “Just personal curiosity more than anything else. That and satisfying some paranoia.”
The man ahead of him, Keiji he believed his name was, gave him an odd questioning glance as he maintained point. He didn’t say anything, but that might have been due to Darro voicing his own thoughts a second later.
“Worried one might take a swipe at us once we’re not looking?” he said, sounding more bemused than anything else. ‘Paranoia’ had probably not been the smartest choice of words.
“More worried that something living in them might do that,” Tarvitz admitted “Or something they’ve evolved to guard themselves against. This isn’t exactly my forte, but the bark looks oddly smooth, almost armoured i’d say. Watch.”
Unsheathing the hunting knife mounted on his belt, Tarvitz lightly tossed it in his hand before stabbing it point first into the tree. As he pulled back, what should have been a splintered gash was little more than a pinprick across its surface.
“I can only speak from rough generalizations,” Tarvitz admitted as they started moving again “But plenty of predators across quite a few worlds have this tendency to rip open trees; marking their territory and all that. I’d hate to meet anything which could do that to one of these.”
As if to underline his point, something issued a shrill howl far off into the distance. Something which was answered by a dozen similar yells, their cries reverberating against the mountain and echoing across the land.
“Noted,” Darro said with a curt nod “But let’s focus on regrouping first. I’d like to talk to our scout before we try to predict which predators are lurking in these forests.”
They marched onward for some time after this, each offering only the occasional comment or remark, and more aware of their surroundings than before and paying heed to the sounds of animal life nearby. It wasn’t long before a new tone cut through the buzz of insects and constant crunch of fallen leaves underfoot however, as the growing sound of rushing water could be heard getting closer with every passing step. Before long the forest began to open out once more, this time parting to allow the glimmering broad waters of a river to rush between its glades. They were on the right path at least.
Mos took a few pictures of the trees before moving along with the group. That man appears to be right about the trees. Though he isn’t that reassuring about my place. Still, I’m here.
He quickly made the ground back up, keeping pace with the others. The rush of water seemed to have a visible calming effect on him. That howl… interesting. If I see what made that its getting a holo, he thought to himself. Then again…
The detective reached into the Force, attempting to sense the presence of others around him. More specifically for those animals, or what ever made the howl. For a second there was a flicker in the distance, but aside from that all he could sense was the group. He drew his focus back into the physical world. “What ever made that sound isn’t close enough for me to sense. But I wouldn’t count on that meaning we are safe,” he said, his hands held tightly on his holocamera.
“Lets focus on one thing at a time,” Darro replied casually. “We have a river to cross soon.”
“But,” Azha started. “I don’t think we should…”
“One thing at a time Azha,” the Mandolorian replied. “Can’t have you exhaust yourself.”
“Mos,” Keiji called from up front. “You can swim right?”
“Yeah,” the detective replied.
“For how far?” the Togrutan asked. “And how well?”
Mos took another look at the river. It was wide, wider than he had expected. It also seemed to have a strong current. Dammit Azha, way to get in over your head.
“I’m not good enough to cross that,” he said regretfully.
“Alright then,” Keiji replied, moving toward a large rock. He pulled out a grappling hook, and began to aim at a fallen log on the other side of the river. “What are the odds that that has the same type of armor?” the large alien asked to know one in particular before firing.
The grappling hook sailed across the river, slamming into the trunk. There was a sharp snap, and Keji pulled on the line, though nothing seemed to move. “Good enough,” he said again, before moving to tie the remainder of the line around the rock he was near. “I’ll go first. Mos should follow, for safety,” Keiji replied. “Though I wouldn’t try to test having more than one person on the line at once.”
Keiji went into the water, holding onto the grappling hook line as he slowly made his way across. The large alien didn’t seem phased by the water at all, and was across after thirty minutes. Azha sighed and grabbed the line before touching the water. The first three feet across were absolutely fine, the water resting just bellow his waist. The next step almost sent Azha flying down the river as the water went above his waist. The river was fast, a lot faster than he first thought, and for a few seconds it was all he could do to not let go.
Calm down Azha! Quit panicking you are making it worse!
Following his own advice Azha slowed down his breathing, though his heart was still beating out of control, and continued pulling himself across. After a while his feet could no longer touch the bottom, and his arms began to be sore, moving across became more difficult as he had to hold his head above the water. He closed his eyes, focusing at the task at hand, and just kept moving.
Time began to seem much longer than it probably was, and soon his arms were aching, almost begging to let go. He continued on as best he could, right arm first, then left. Constantly moving and keeping the pattern. Right, left, right, left, right, left, right, left, release. His eyes snapped open as his arms let go against his will. Water rushed into his mouth as it opened in surprise, and he found himself underwater. Then a rough pair of hands grabbed him by the vest, and yanked him out of the water.
Mos coughed up liquid, trying to catch his breathe. Dammit Mos!
“Almost made it detective,” Keiji said with a smirk that could almost be heard. “Only took you forty minutes.”
Azha laid on the ground as the rest of the team made it across, and he saw Tarvitz move to inspect the tree. “Same type of armored bark. Though far more rotted,” the man said.
Darro approached Mos. “Get up,” he said kindly. “We have to move again. This is taking to long and we have someone waiting for us.”
The detective nodded, and pushed himself up. His arms were sore, but he didn’t want to fall behind. He pulled his holocamera out from its case, and once again began to take pictures on the way down. Aside from the trees they didn’t run into much. The rest of the trip down was much easier for Mos than the river had been. They made it down to the base of the mountain as the sun began to set. As they did Mos saw a man in the distance moving towards them.
“Hello,” he called out. “You sure did take your sweet time.”
Keiji’s hand instantly went to his crimson blade. He didn’t recognize the man before him, and better to be prepared than to not be. Darro laid a hand on his shoulder.
“No need for that Keiji,” The Old Mandalorian chuckled as he passed the Togruta. Keiji stared at the human before him for a moment more and then allowed his hand to come off the hilt. Chris cocked an eyebrow at him, but soon paid him no mind.
“Sun is setting folks. As much as I would enjoy running in the night that seems like a poor idea. You got tents pitched?” Darro asked Winchester. The man gave a quick nod.
“Who is up for taking first shift?” Darro questioned to the team. No volunteers raised their hand. Keiji kept quiet. He would be of better usage on the later shifts. The Commander sighed.
“Fine Azha and I will take First, Keiji and… Tarvitz take second, Chris… fine someone to take with you when you take third,” The Weapon Specialist commanded. Keiji claimed one of the tents further from the fire pit that the Scout had made. The Professional unclipped and unholstered his weapons and laid them down next to him. Keiji forced his eyes closed and went to sleep.
“Hey, Keiji,” Azha semi whispered to the sleeping giant. Quickly the Hunter bolted up and grabbed a hold of the closest weapon he could grab. Seeing that it was Mos, Keiji chuckled to himself. He holstered the gun he grabbed and gathered the rest of his gear.
Exiting the tent, he saw Tarvitz leaving his roughly the same time. They gave each other a curt nod, and each positioned themselves near the fire and looking in opposite directions. A quick flick of a switch and Keiji’s view turned thermal. Blues and greens coated his visor.
Roughly an hour went by before he noticed something. A quick flicker of red in his vision. One hand slowly drew a pistol, while the other pressed the button at his wrist. He kept his gun pointed in the direction of where he saw the flash of heat. Red means something producing heat. Something living. Keiji reasoned. A flash of light appeared on his wrist. A quick glance more blips than just the party he was in.
“I’ve got something over here Tarvitz. Not sure what, but there is a few of them.” Keiji called out. More flashes of red appeared on in his vision. Whatever it was, there was more than one.
Tarvitz felt a chill run down his spine at those words. ‘Something’ rarely translated to anything especially good, not when you were a part of a small group on a relatively unexplored alien world in the middle of the night. This was the sort of things horror stories were made of, and as he turned about to join Keiji, he unfastened the holster at his waist.
“How many and where, roughly?” Tarvitz asked quietly, squinting into the impenetrable wall blackness past the flickering halo of firelight.
“Two hundred meters,” Keiji answered, making slight adjustments to his vision as he looked on “Three, four… Six I think, perhaps a bit more, just over there.”
Tarvitz nodded and reached for his pack, pulling free the bulky set of electrobinoculars he had procured for this very situation. While overly large, expensive and electronically temperamental in extreme conditions, they were worth their weight in nova crystals when it came to scouting out any position. As the miniature screens in each eyepiece buzzed into life, waves of static briefly passing over his vision as he brought them up to his eyes, Tarvitz homed in on the location Keiji had specified. At first, he saw nothing. Even as the optics adjusted for the extreme darkness, all he could pick out were the distinct angular shapes of splintered trees and dense foliage quietly swaying against the light wind.
Then, something moved. Followed by several other somethings. Worse still, Tarvitz knew exactly what they were.
He had never seen one up close, not in the flesh or outside of a holovid, but there was no mistaking them. The earthy red hues of their skin hid them remarkably well against the green of the forest as they lumbered forwards in an almost simian gait. With the larger of their two sets of arms supporting their claw-tipped legs, they snapped and snarled at one another with exaggerated, fanged maws, leering into the night about them.
“Gundarks,” Tarvitz said quietly, “Odd looking ones, i’ll give you that, but definitely Gundarks.”
“Are they heading this way?” Keiji answered, “If they’re being drawn to the fire-”
“No, I don’t think they’ve seen us,” Tarvitz quickly hissed “I’m not even sure they’re hunting at the moment.”
“Then keep watching, i’ll wake the others.”
Moving with remarkable stealth for a man clad in blackened armour, Keiji headed towards the two small tents and out of sight. Tarvitz slightly nodded, a few moments too late for the other man to see, and not taking his eyes off of the brood. Better to rob everyone of a few minutes of sleep and have the local predators pass by without incident than be stuck with half their group unconscious during an assault, after all. After a minute or two, there was a crunch of leaves as the latest member of their group - Chris, as Tarvitz recalled - stepped alongside him.
“You’re sure they’re Gundarks?”
“See for yourself” Tarvitz said handing him the electrobinoculars and pointing “They’re right over there, on the river bank further up from us.”
The other man was silent for a few moments as the optics hummed with energy, searching for the roving predators before evidently locking onto the group. Even with half of his face concealed behind the lenses, Tarvitz could see his confusion.
“I don’t get it,” he muttered “I spent the better part of two hours looking for any sign of hostiles before you lot were dropped down here. There were no fresh kills, no egg nests, nothing to suggest-”
He stopped momentarily, and then slowly raised the electrobionculars upwards, looking towards something near the treetops.
“Is that a good ‘Ah’ or a bad one?” Tarvitz answered, already knowing the answer in his gut.
“I didn’t find any signs of them because they’re not native to this territory. Something much bigger and much nastier drove them here.”
Tarvitz was about to ask what he meant, when one of the Gundarks roared as if sighting prey, joined by several others, before it was cut short with the sound of splintering bone. Something thundered in the distance, striking the earth with enough force to send tremors through the ground around them, and sending leaves tumbling from the trees overhead. They were given the momentary glimpse of something sailing through the air, silhouetted against the midnight sky, before it crashed to the ground at the edge of the firelight. lying there in a pile of shattered limbs and torn flesh. It was one of the Gundarks, but where there should have been a snarling head there was instead a bleeding stump of a neck.
“They’re fleeing,” he said, tossing Tarvitz the binoculars before shouldering his rifle as the tremors thundered through the earth, now accompanied by the crack of falling trees “They’re running towards us. And so is whatever’s after them.”
“Get into the river!” shouted Darro over the commotion.
“What?” said Tarvitz.
Pointing to whatever it was that was crashing through the forest after the gundarks Darro asked “Do you wanna be here when whatever the hell that is gets here?” When nobody replied the old man said “I didn’t think so, now grab what you can and jump. We’ll meet downriver somewhere.”
While Chris, Tarvitz and Keiji went about packing what they felt was most important Azha stood before the fire frantically looking from one side of the camp to the other. Noticing the young Mirialans reticence to move Darro walked over to him. Placing a large calloused hand on the young man’s shoulder Darro said “We need to move.”
“I…I know, but i’m worried about jumping into the river.” replied the teenager, his head hung low.
Looking around Darro said “Wait here.” before trotting off into the darkness. There was a crack followed a moment later by a muttered curse in Mando’a before the Mandalorian once more emerged from the darkness a large piece of wood tucked under his arm. “Tarvitz,” he called “you got any rope in that pack?”
“Ahhh,” the Jedi said as he rummaged around in the pack “yes.”
Darro motioned for him to throw it over, snatching it from the air in one deft movement. The old man pushed the log against the Mirialans chest and said “Hold this.” Azha did as he was told and held the heavy piece of wood in both hands as Darro tied a series of strong knots around one end. He looped the rope around the teenager several times fastening the log to the young man’s body before tying a knot on the other end of the wood.
“That oughta keep you floating. If you get in trouble shout out and one of us will help. Understand?” said the old Human.
Wth a look bordering on panic the Mirialan stammered “Ye…yes sir.”
“Good.” he said before snatching up his rifle and shouting “Everyone in the water now!”
One by one the five men leapt into the fast flowing river with Darro the last to go. Just as he jumped a gundark, all claws and gnashing teeth erupted from the darkness, it’s eyes wide with fear. But before Darro could see whatever it was that pursued the creature his head was underwater and he was fighting to stay afloat. For who knows how long he rode the river fighting to keep himself alive as rocks, hidden beneath the surface, battered his old body. Again and again he crashed into them and couldn’t help but think he’d made a terrible mistake that had just got his whole team killed.
With that thought rolling around in his head the old Mandalorian began to fight against the current trying to reach the shore. It was a struggle encased as he was in heavy armor, his rifle dragging behind him, but eventually he made it to a calm section by the bank where he could find his feet. As he waded through the chest deep water he felt something, like a pin prick or needle, stab into the muscle of his left arm an inch or so above where the armor ended. Thinking nothing of it he brushed it aside and dragged himself out of the water. He lay there for several long moments taking in great lungfuls of air while staring up at the ever brightening sky.
“Better go see if anyone survived.” he said to nobody in particular.
Rising to his feet he took off downstream at a steady pace occasionally scanning the other side of the river for any signs of life. After an hour of searching he finally stumbled across his men. Soaked and tired but still very much alive. With a smile he removed his helmet and was about to say something when he was suddenly overcome with a wave of nausea.
“I don’t feel so good.” he mumbled before vomiting and collapsing.
Some time later….
It was dark when he regained consciousness, his left arm feeling like it was on fire. “What happened?” he asked.
The four men rushed to his side though it was Chris who said “You vomited and passed out. There’s something wrong with your arm.”
“What?” he asked as he tried to sit up to look. Seeing he was struggling the big Togruta Keiji helped him up so he could see. The sight that greeted him was not a good one. His already sizeable limb had swollen up, the skin so taut it seemed ready to split. A large black bruise, bright crimson at its edges, had covered most of his forearm and was slowly creeping its way further up towards his elbow while a strange clear liquid slowly wept from two small puncture marks at the bruises centre.
“Cut it off.” he said matter of factly.
“What?” came the reply.
“You heard me. It’s killing me so either you cut it off and give me a chance or I die slowly.” Darro replied through gritted teeth.
“Are you sure?” Cris asked.
“DO IT NOW!” screamed Darro.
With a nod Chris looked to Keiji and said “Help me hold him down. Tarvitz use your lightsaber, no higher than the elbow.”
“Understood.” the Jedi said as he removed the hilt from his belt and activated the weapon. Its orange blade joined with the small campfire to illuminate the small clearing they found themselves in. He looked at Chris who hesitated for a moment before giving a slight nod. Tarvitz brought the blade down in one quick fluid motion, the smell of burning flesh and hair filled the nostrils of those gathered around the old man as a roar of pain escaped his throat and split the quiet night before he once again fell into blissful unconsciousness.
Tarvitz watched as the Mandalorian’s body fell limp, drifting into unconsciousness as pain overwhelmed him. Looking down at the lightsaber, he quickly deactivated the blade, hooking it back onto his belt as Chris checked over the other man quickly.
“He’s not gone into shock,” Chris said after a few moments, his reluctance still evident in his voice “And for what it’s worth it looks like a clean cut.”
“Thanks for small mercies,” Tarvitz muttered, helping Chris check over him for a few moments, just to be certain only the arm had been struck “We had best hope that was the worst of it.”
“And to stay out of the river from here on,” Keiji agreed, turning away from where they were standing and looking once more back towards the previous camp. While they had recovered quickly from the abrupt flight, the swordsman had taken it upon himself to stand sentinel, watching for any sign of pursuit from either the Gundarks or their predator. It didn’t seem to be out of shame of some failure so much as an innate sense of responsibility, just to ensure the same thing did not happen to their second encampment.
It was a far cry from their previous site though. Little more than an open fire in a clearing, they had been forced to abandon most of their heavier equipment along with the tents, leaving them with little more than a handful of weapons and the clothing on their backs. Tarvitz had just been thankful that, no matter their respected expertise, each of them had sense enough to keep their equipment within arms reach.
“Think we can move him?” Azha piped up after a few moments, nodding towards the fire “Or fix him up at all?”
“Not unless you’ve got a medipack to spare,” Chris answered with a shake of his head “And even then there’s not much more we can do besides bandage it.”
Tarvitz didn’t answer. His own knowledge of the body was limited more to where it was best to shoot someone, not to heal them, and even with the benefit of the Force he could do little more than heal himself.
“Then, do either of you have a flask to spare?”
Raising his remaining eyebrow, Tarvitz looked back at Azha in confusion, but then slowly nodded.
“There’s a couple of small phials I have on me,” he admitted, procuring one of the glass cylinders from a belt pouch and handing it over “I was saving them for samples of anything we might need.”
“That will do nicely, thank you,” Azha said, examining and then opening the container. For a moment Tarvitz thought he was about to head back to the river, perhaps to take drops of water to test for infections. Instead the Mirialan picked up Darro’s severed forearm and, with no small amount of care, tipped it upside down before pressing the phial against the puncture marks.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Chris said, as he recovered from his initial astonishment.
“We cant catch the creature which bit him,” Azha explained quickly, sounding like someone trying to end an argument before it began, and who was trying to ignore the fact he was holding a comrade’s severed limb “So our next best option is to take some of its venom. If we’re lucky, perhaps someone can research an antidote so this doesn’t happen again.”
“And unless someone wants to carry Darro’s rotting hand all the way back to base, I can’t think of a better option,” Tarvitz agreed. Ghoulish as it was, he could at least follow Azha’s logic. “The question now is if you want to wait it out until first light, or try and make a break for our destination carrying him with us. Given how close the Gundarks were, I don’t see a good option here.”
Thus ends Part One of this run on. Part Two will commence soon.
Trepus Mining Facility
Yuki stood in her office looking at the screens that showed real time progress of the mission on Strokera. The room was dominated by screens along an entire wall and a large blackwood desk which the Corsair leaned against casually, a single eyebrow raised as she watched. The events unfolded slowly, but the team was progressing along expected parameters. The small Seeker droid, however, had remained undetected for so long, the woman began to despair that they would ever notice it. Before she decided to summon her little spy back, activity exploded in the forest near their bivouac. Shift, what Yuki called the droid playfully, panned over to see a small herd of gundarks charging the site with something coming behind them.
The team dove into the river, escaping notice for a moment until Shift found them once again. The scene the droid came upon was that of the Knight-Commander getting his arm removed by his team and falling unconscious. Yuki touched the small commlink on her desk as she sighed.
“Colonel Cortel, please report to my offices. I need your assistance,” she said sharply. She did not like Arcia very much, a point she had made known to Edgar on several occasions. The woman was unfriendly, uncouth and far too sure of herself. Yuki always hated looking into mirrors. But, the situation on the ground was getting out of control and something had to be done.
Arcia stepped into the office and looked around, gauging the woman by what she surrounded herself with. Any hint of the woman’s thoughts remained unknown as she turned to look at Yuki. “You summoned me?”
The Corsair pointed at the screens and growled. “That needs someone with a particular expertise and you are the only one I have available to send. I need you on the ground to assist and take command if the situation requires. Yes, I know you’re retired, but this cannot be allowed to become any more devastating that it already is. The Knight-Commander has already lost an arm for some reason.”
Arcia looked at the screens again and nodded slowly. “I see. I will leave immediately.”
On one screen Yuki could see Azha take up the Knight-Commander’s severed limb and press a vial against part of it. He then capped the vial and placed it in his camera bag. The woman noted he was moving his left arm less than his right. She then saw him take several holopictures of the surrounding area, and it seemed he was speaking into a concealed audio recording device. Taking a closer look after noticing that, Yuki saw he was missing his blaster, as it was neither in his hands nor in its holster.
The Corsair turned and shouted at the adjoining room, “Gresee! Get in here!”
The slight woman who stepped into the office wore a haggard expression. The long hours of the medical staff still had not improved since they landed on Solyiat. There always seemed to be one more person needing to be stitched back together.
Yuki pointed at the door, her voice slightly strained with impatience. “Join Colonel Cortel. You are to assist in the evacuation of the wounded Knight-Commander. See that he gets back here alive and treat him on the way back if you can.”
The Ranger nodded and quickly departed to get her belongings from the medical rooms just down the corridor. Yuki looked back over to Arcia, a single eyebrow raised. “Are you still here?”
The Colonel departed, leaving Yuki to continue watching the screens. She definitely did not like what she was seeing. Not even a day into the mission and there was a rapid retreat, a serious injury and that schutta-born investigator had lost his weapon. This mission was turning out marvelously.
“Maybe Cortel can whip them into shape,” she muttered darkly at the screens. “Shift, continue surveillance.”
The vessel landed carefully in the clearing, the rear hatch opening to allow Arcia to exit followed by Lu’aisha. Within moments, the still unconscious Knight-Commander was being loaded into the ship and attached to a small medical table set into the hull.
En Route to Prospect 002-Alpha
With the heaviest of sighs, Colonel Cortel stepped out of the shuttle, her boots sinking into the moist dirt. The air was damp and the mood low. She scanned the surrounding area as Darro’s unconscious body was taken into the passenger bay, noting that most of his arm was removed and bandaged. Her fellow passenger, Lu`aisha Gresee, wordlessly rushed past Arcia and began attending to the man to ensure he was stable for transport. The Colonel brought two fingers to her left temple, already feeling a migraine coming on, but she redoubled her resolve and took a deep breath.
The woman looked around her, assessing, judging. The site was hastily thrown together, the few tents that had managed to be erected were leaning haphazardly, but seemed sturdy enough for a single night. The information she had received from the Subcommander was not nearly enough to prepare her for what she now looked upon. The chaotic bivouac had a tone of dejection, of seeming failure. This, more than any one thing, set Arcia’s teeth on edge. The air felt like they were giving up before there was any chance of success. She turned quickly, singling out one person she knew more than the others.
“Winchester! Report. Maybe you can explain why I was recalled from a very nice stay at ‘somewhere other than here,’” she ordered, not caring that she was no longer in command of the JTF. Arcia was sent here for a specific reason, and the Command Staff would not have given her orders if she was not needed.
The armor clad man that had served as Knight-Commander during her tenure approached dutifully. He came to a stop to her left side and stood at rest, attribute to his military upbringing. “We’ve run into some hazards along the way. Gundarks scared about something. We haven’t identified the true threat yet. Retreated through the rivers, where the Knight-Commander was bitten.”
Cortel’s eyes narrowed into icy daggers as she looked to the younger man, noting his reserved tone. “You do not sound very confident.”
The sniper shifted his weight on his feet and looked around. “We shouldn’t have given up our position so quickly. I feel the dive into the river wasn’t the best course of action when we could have just adjusted our position and stayed downwind. That’s just my opinion on it, ma’am.”
You have got to be kidding me… Cortel groaned to herself.
“Fine. Scout the perimeter, if you have not recently. Give me a report once you have returned. I will speak with the others.”
Winchester nodded and almost saluted, but Arcia’s scowl stopped him just in time. He secured the rest of his gear and departed the group as Cortel approached the others. She was not sure what information was given to them before her arrival, but she was also not completely up to speed, so they would be on level playing field: something she never liked.
To her left, the Mirialan, Azha Mos, was tinkering with a holocam, obviously lost in his own world. Not far from him, Ka Tarvitz, another Human, was watching her intently. The corner of her mouth twitched slightly as she approached him. He straightened his posture and crossed his arms before she stopped before him.
“You seem to have a level head on your shoulders,” Cortel hissed. “What is the meaning of this disarray? These tents can blow over at any point. Also, did no one offer any alternative courses of action before everyone simply ‘jumped ship’ into the river? Everyone could have been swept away by the current.”
Cortel hardly gave the man a chance to respond before she continued bombarding him with more and more. “I do not want us here for very much longer. As soon as Winchester has returned from his perimeter check, we will be packing up and leaving. Correction, you all will already be packed up and ready to leave at moments notice. I hope you are all rested. Give the orders.”
As if ignoring her own statements, Arcia turned to the rest of the bivouac and cleared her throat. “Secure yourselves, Hoth! Give your reports to Tarvitz in five minutes!”
Once again, she told someone to do something and did it herself. She sighed internally, leaving an obviously confused Tarvitz in her wake. This was going to be a long trip. On a more happy note, if Cortel could ever be happy, she did know that the native Zoya and her older brother Renard were supposed to be on the east coast of Strokera. Perhaps they could be conscripted into their little venture party if the need presented itself.
As the Colonel made her way back towards the shuttle, she noticed Gresee exit, wiping her hands clean of Darro’s blood. Cortel didn’t know much about the girl, other than she was a native Tythonian. A twitch pecked the corner of her mouth as she stopped in her tracks, just watching the girl as the shuttle’s engines roared to life not far from her, carrying it away. The two had much more common than she had thought, but there would be time to speak to her later. All Arcia needed now, was for everyone to perform to their best of their abilities, and beyond.
Once Chris had all his gear safely stowed away, he slid into the bushes disappearing from sight and sound to those in the camp, however, he lacked the ability to mask himself from the Force users, which annoyed him to no end. Touching the datapad attached to his right forearm, he pressed several of the buttons on the touchpad which caused the display of his HUD to change from the normal light spectrum to infrared, causing his world to be cast into shades of blue and red. Chris slowed his pace and began to move with the natural sway of the undergrowth around him, slipping through the paths, keeping the disturbance of the foliage to an extreme low. He made it so even the best of trackers would find it difficult to follow his path, let alone discovering his current location. While this method was slow, it was methodical, and kept him from being detected.
During the initial patrol, he saw a plethora of birds swooping through the trees and in their nests, rodents on the ground, and squirrel -like creatures roaming above. It was a beautiful sight of different shades of red and yellow on a backdrop of blues and purples, but nothing that would pose any serious threat to the group. During his patrol along the outer path, however, he spotted a rather large bear-like creature heading to the South-West, away from their path, and several large deer-like creatures as well as a pack of wolves. He didn’t actually see the wolves, but rather heard the howl and assumed. They didn’t seem to be interested in the camp, most likely because of the shuttle that had just taken off.
After the sniper confirmed that the immediate area was safe from any hostile creatures, sentient and primal alike, he set off towards the objective. His plan was to find a reasonable path through the forest that would allow even the detective to move rapidly through it without any injuries, and making sure there wasn’t anything that would slow them down; terrain, predators, or hostile sentients alike. Unluckily, the only path that he could find was an old game trail that appeared to have been abandoned by the fauna for some time, but even then, it was still the clearest around. After a three hundred meter trek, Chris finally reached the edge of the forest and found himself staring at the large plains biome that made up most of the continent. Judging by how bent the grass was, to the East, he knew that traversing it would be a pain just from the wind alone, not counting the lack sufficient cover to find shade in during the day when they would be forced to rest.
During his initial scan, he saw something worrying towards the West. In the infrared spectrum, it simply displayed as a giant purple spot in the sky, causing Winchester to key in the command on his datapad to revert back to the visible spectrum. He lowered the macro-monocular on his helmet and looked at the anomaly. What he saw caused him to sigh in annoyance: a massive cumulonimbus cloud was moving towards them, and it was going to make their day even worse.
With his analysis of the surrounding area complete, Chris keyed his communicator and opened a channel. “Colonel, the area around the bivouac is clear and I’ve found a path to the edge of the forest. The plains appear to be void of all hostilities from what I can see. Be advised we have a massive storm coming from the West. I’m returning to basecamp now.”
After hearing Winchester’s report, Arcia became slightly less aggravated at the initial mention of it being clear, but not by much and it instantly worsened the moment she was informed of the storm. She was still extremely irate that Yuki had ordered her to go into the field in the first place. The group had already packed their gear and would have been sitting around waiting had she not been staring daggers at them, forcing them to keep moving without having to say a word.
The Colonel approached Ka Tarvitz. “Winchester just reported in. The moment he returns, we are moving out. If someone is not ready I will leave them. So make sure that does not happen.”
Before he could reply she raised her voice, turning to the others once again. “Winchester is on his way back, if you are not here and ready to move by then you will be left. Move it Hoth.”
Few words were exchanged as the group hurried to pack away what remained of their equipment. While their abrupt retreat into the water had cost them the larger, more cumbersome, items among their arsenal, they were fortunate enough to have retained the majority of their equipment. There was, admittedly, a distinct shortage of tents among the items listed off, but no one was foolish enough to risk trekking back to the previous camp to retrieve what little had been lost.
“It’s not the lack of tents which worries me,” Keiji had said as the subject was brought up, “It’s what the predator back there might be doing with them.”
“Given how tough Gundark meat tends to be, I’d rather not guess,” Tarvitz answered, earning him a sour look from Togruta. Admittedly hardly an undeserved one, it had been a poor attempt at a joke.
“I was referring to our scent,” Keiji continued, looking northwards again as if expecting to see falling trees heralding its approach at any second “If the Gundarks don’t satisfy it, we could be left with this thing hunting us all the way to the forest’s edge. Perhaps even beyond it.”
Tarvitz had been considering the same thing since they had dragged themselves clear of the river, and only Darro’s weakened state had kept him from insisting they press onward. Gundarks were typically the apex predators of most worlds they were found on. Anything which was capable of tearing through a whole brood of them was unlikely to show much in the way of caution before chasing down its next meal. Not unless there was something even nastier than it slightly further up the food chain. He almost immediately regretted that last thought, and quickly pushed it to the back of his mind.
“If that’s the case there’s not much more we can do besides outrun it, and keep a close eye on anything behind us,” Tarvitz answered, nodding to the third member of their group nearby “Azha, could you come here for a moment?”
Having long since packed away what little had been left of his equipment, the detective had taken to sitting by the dwindling fire, staring into the flames as the burned away. Seemingly wrapped up in his own thoughts, and with little reason to interrupt him, the others had let him be as they finished up with the rest of their gear. As his name was mentioned though, he his head jerked about, blinking several times as he drifted back to reality.
“Sorry, yes?” he asked, easing himself upright and quickly heading over to the others.
“I have a favour to ask,” Tarvitz said, withdrawing the electrobinoculars from his pack and pressing them into Azha’s hands “Keiji and I agree there’s a chance the thing we spotted might follow us. Given you seem to have the best eyes here…”
The detective looked down at the optical scanner for a moment, weighing them in his hands before slowly nodding. “So, keep an eye out for anything large, violent and covered in Gundark blood?”
“Much appreciated,” Tarvitz said, with a friendly slap to Azha’s arm, then reached for the pistol holstered at his thigh, holding it out grip-first for him to take “And take this as well since you seem to have lost yours. Can’t say if it’ll be a worthy replacement, but at least the water didn’t short it out. Normally I would do this sort of thing myself, but something tells me i’ll be busy with the Colonel from here on.”
“Good luck with that,” Azha answered, in the sort of tone which made it clear he didn’t envy the other man’s task.
“Yeah,” Tarvitz sighed, trying not to sound disrespectful of the officer “Well, if she can get us home without anyone else losing an arm i’ll have no complaints.”
Turning away to let the others finish packing what little what left about the camp. Tarvitz headed over to join Cortel on the camp’s edge. For some time now she had been carefully watching the dense flora about them and occasionally glancing down at the datapad containing their brief reports. Not that there was much to be found on it of course, each listed off almost the exact same information: They arrived, joined up with their scout, and then everything promptly to hell. His own one had said so in almost as many words.
“Ma’am,” Tarvitz said with a respectful bow.
“Tarvitz,” she answered without looking up.
“All remaining equipment is being finished up, and we are ready to move on. I have also req-”
“Did I ask for a second update?” she said, quickly cutting him off.
“Ma’am, you-” he began, suppressing a sigh, knowing exactly where this conversation would go.
“No, ma’am, you did not.”
“Indeed,” she looked up at him, giving the Jensaarai an icy glare. There was certainly something strange about her gaze to be sure, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it. “I gave an order, and expected you to be ready on my command. I do not need you to constantly update me on your progress. Especially orders you should be able to handle me approving your every action. Now, carry on.”
“Understood, ma’am,” he said, before making one final effort to mention the task he had asked Azha to carry out, before being cut off by another curt “Carry on” from Cortel.
Thankfully, they were not left waiting long for Chris to return. As the day turned towards noon, the scout emerged from the treeline, offering Cortel a brief salute as she turned towards him. Barely a word was exchanged between the two before they were on the move once again, leaving the camp and the river behind them at last. With Keiji taking up the rear of the group, one hand now firmly resting on the hilt of his sword at all times, Azha and Tarvitz took up center positions while Cortel led them from the front. Seemingly unwilling to stay with them for long, Chris disappeared into the forest ahead once more, remaining several hundred meters ahead of the small band.
Woohooo! Something I can do easily he thought as he took the electrobinoculars. It’s just like a stakeout. Only walking. And looking for some kinda scary Gundark murdering beast. In the air… I wish I found a way out of this mission
Azha moved forward, keeping his eyes to the sky. It was easy enough for him for several feet as the group moved along the edge of the tree line. With Chris off scouting, they moved along at a comfortable pace. This isn’t all that bad. Sure it will take a few days, but all in all this is relaxing. The clouds are awesome to look at and… What was that?!
Something had quickly flown by his field of vision with the electrobinoculars. He only caught a quick glimpse, though it was either something very large, or something very close. Tarvtiz was right to worry. I should tell them what I saw. Or try to get a better look at it.
“Dangerous,” he said quietly to himself. “We already lost Darro…”
A firm hand clasped around his shoulder, and a long shadow was quickly cast over him. Looking up, Azha noticed that it was Keiji.
“What is dangerous?” the Togrutan asked.
“Whatever it is that took out that gundark. Good thing I got my eye on the sky,” he laughed.
“Oh? Can you see it?” the large man replied casually.
“Nothing confirmed. Seen a few bird though. Pretty neat if you ask me,” Mos replied honestly.
“Mos, Suoh!” Arcia called from the front, sending a death glare to the pair, though Mos noticed she seemed uncomfortable addressing them. “Focus on your jobs!”
“I guess we are in trouble,” the detective told Keiji with a smile. “You should do well as a rear guard. You are imposing enough to send a baby into a fit of tears.”
“You are full of sithspit,” the Togrutan replied, falling back into place. “Let us know if you spot anything.”
“Cloud… Cloud… one of the suns…” Azha said merrily, trying to keep the mood of the group up.
Up ahead Arcia stopped. “Mos, knock it off and focus on your job!”
Mos lowered the electrobinoculars, and met Arcia’s glare with a smirk. “Why if you fully turn around and face me you may see I, infact, am doing my job madam. But what good is a several day march without some conversation and enjoyment.”
Cortel turned rigidly, giving Mos a glare that could have killed a rancor. “We are on a mission. Do your job.”
“Yes we are, and I am,” Mos replied, leaving out courtesy. “So let me do it my way.”
For all their fears of the mysterious predator’s return, the group’s journey throughout the forest went without incident. Besides the occasional glimpse of it awaiting amid the clouds, it seemed content to remain largely out of sight, keeping its distance from these new arrivals within its territory. Whether it had merely had its fill already or was sizing them up for a later kill none could say, they were merely thankful it had opted to avoid conflict for at least the time being.
Passing through dense clusters of twisted trees and glades alike, their world became one of vibrant greens and browns, filled with chirps of various insects and birds alike hidden within the ever thickening canopy of leaves overhead. Some were species which had found their way to a thousand worlds, having been introduced through the foolhardy mistakes of spacers or seeded in some effort to acclimatize the dense wilderness. Others still were far stranger breeds, unique to this world, and alien even to the most experienced among them. Bulbous shelled insects drifted against the light gusts bustling through the trees, propelled only by a set of thin winds at their abdomen and held aloft by another force. Small multi-armed rodents, curious enough of the group not to flee from their presence, watched them from lofty branches with clusters of almost a dozen eyes; a set which ran in a single line, from cranium to tail.
Tarvitz couldn’t help but smirk slightly at the sight of one scuttling among the trees, rapidly disappearing into the upper branches. Even in a universe of Sarlaccs, Squollyhawlks, and Voxyn, it was somehow heartening to know that there were small quirks of evolution which could surprise him. Knowing that life still retained a few inexplicable genetic oddities, unique to a single world among billions, reminded him of how large the galaxy truly was; and how much he had yet to see even after all this time.
“Something funny?” Azha asked, evidently catching sight of the grinning Jensaarai.
“Just entertaining a few thoughts,” Tarvitz said, still looking up into the trees about them “Mostly about the things which live here, and any surprises which they might have in store for us.”
“Well, which ones are poisonous, which ones are violent, which are territorial,” he shrugged “Which ones are tasty?”
“That’s what comes to mind as you’re typing away at that thing?” Azha answered, equal parts bemused and astonished as he gestured to the datapad in Tarvitz’s hand “Which ones will look good on a barbecue?”
“We all have to eat something here,” Tarvitz laughed “And who knows, we might get lucky. Perhaps a hundred-eyed-rat-monkey will taste delicious when slathered Burnout Sauce.”
The expression the Detective made in response suggested he didn’t agree.
Such pauses in their relentless march rarely lasted long. The moment anyone seemed to become talkative, Colonel Cortel would order them onward, or Chris would complain that they were wasting time. These were also among the exceptionally few times their Scout would actually emerge and converse with them for even a brief moment. While on the move, he was little more than a shadow all but invisible against the trees, seemingly preferring to stay as far ahead from them as he could. Yet, in those moments, Tarvitz was given a fleeting sense of some poorly concealed emotion hidden beneath his stone faced exterior. At first he had mistaken it for hatred, but there was far more to it than that. It was an intense feeling of distrust, almost contempt, boiling away within him when he was anywhere near Tarvitz. It was hardly the sort of quality you wanted in a guide leading your group through potentially hostile territory.
As their long march continued through, Tarvitz found himself beginning to regret Cortel’s command. Direct and commanding as she was in keeping them on track, her actions allowed for few real deviations. The few times he had truly stopped to examine some oddity - notably one unique element from their environment; a creeping plant which seemed to have vampirically latched itself onto a tree for sustenance - she had called him back, berating him for straying from their intended path. He could not wholly blame her for such an action, she had hardly asked to be here after all. With the slow, constant breeze gradually picking up as the predicted storm closed in upon them, some speed was certainly essential. Yet, he he was hardly about to deny the mistake of not even briefly noting the stranger elements of their new home’s ecosystem, or even recording them for further inspection. Tarvitz had learned a long time ago that what you did not know could very easily kill you after all.
The group only came to a halt at long last as Chris stopped somewhere ahead of them, holding up his hand for them to pause.
“Report,” Cortel stated with her characteristic bluntness.
“This is as far as I came before,” he said, sounding more confused than anything else “Only that wasn’t there last time.”
He pointed Eastward, out towards the open plains. Even against the greying thunder of the approaching storm, the telltale smoke of several campfires could be seen rising into the air overhead.
Mos gave another glare to Arcia. She does pull rank on you Mos. Hey did anyone ask you me? He smiled at the signs of fire. After all, he could deal with people, not snake beasts whose poison spreads quick enough that Darro needed to get pulled off the mission. One was simply far easier to shoot if need be. Plus the snake being something in that damn river gave Mos chills.
You idiot, Lloyl would kill you if he found out you are about too be in the middle of a storm without shelter. Probably not as much as that time with the rakghouls.
“Well if ya ask me miss,” Mos said loudly, doing his best to annoy the person he could only assume to be a bureaucrat out of her element. Seriously, who is that neat with a suit. “We should avoid the fires and keep going. A little rain can’t kill anyone… unless anyone here is allergic to fresh air and water.”
“No one asked you Mos,” Arcia replied curtly, though angrily. “You are not in charge here.”
“Yeah cause your so great,” the Mirialan said with a glare, trying to fully size up the woman. “We could just cut around and…”
“Do you have any idea how long this trek is going to be?” Arcia said turning around, a cold fury in her eyes. “Or do you just delight in annoying your superiors Mos.”
“A few days,” the detective replied with a shrug as his comrades stood by watching this.
“It is a 1500 kilometer survival trek which you have already screwed up on. I am here to ensure that does not happen again. Speak up again, and I will see that you are marked as failing and getting in the way of your commanding officer.”
Mos resisted the urge to talk back. She is right you know.
The group continued, moving away from the fires, and stopping in a wooded glade to set up shelter from the storm. For once Mos was silent, and his mind not focused on a case. Arcia had him that time, and he couldn’t think straight. He moved robotically, simply doing what the others told him, and not processing what was going on. Several times he had to be physically pulled back before he went off to far. The storm raged for hours, and Mos spent most of it out of the shelter the team had put together, trying to get his mind back together, but what Arcia had said about failing threw him off.
Am I really that out of my depth?
When the storm passed, he found himself in the shelter, drying off. He didn’t remember how he got there, nor why. The team picked up again, and Mos that it was quiet, though he couldn’t tell. I can’t be that out of my depth… can I?
Yuki made her way down to the small hangar that was actually in the upper portions of the mine. These hangers were used by the mining executives when the mine was in full operation. This gave the many VIP’s a more private, secure access to the Executive wing of the facility without having to land at the transfer station and use the rail system with workers.
Since Hoth took over, these hangers were converted and were used by the Command staff of the House as their personal hangers, any VIP’s and since they did not need nearly as much space as the glutinous mining executives a portion of the hanger was set aside for emergency personnel as well.
At that particular moment, Yuki was intent on getting to hangar bay as quickly as possible. The Commander of Hoth, Edgar Drachen, was on final approach. He was returning from his tour of the wookiee village in Pokora and, according to his story, a business trip to Baime to help plan for the reception for the new rollmaster in a couple of weeks. Those plans went fine and Yuki was also sure to keep the young Seer up to date on the progress of the training mission. Which she had to listen to a lecture on what should have been a simple and quick mission had ended up with his battle team leader losing an arm and the team so hopelessly lost in the woods.
She knew he was displeased and Edgar had ordered her to send Arcia out to the team to get their act together and see to it that if someone else gets hurt or killed it was by the former commander’s hands and not some woodland creature. So to say the next few hours would not be intense would definitely be an understatement, but she was determined to catch him in private. She knew he left the Village early and she knew he met someone on a nondescript island before going to Baime.
He had been hiding things from her and that was unusual even for the emotionally well guarded young man she has known for quite some time now. He was also able to tell her things, but this time he had frozen her out. That was not like him and she had seen it only once before. He was like this right before he took the mission that Edgar lost his ship and the only people she knew he cared about. Yuki even swore he was dead, but somehow he survived and refused to talk about it to this day.
She now worried he was about to do something on his own that might be too much for him to handle and she was determined to stop him or at least force him to accept her help. Finally reaching the landing platform just as Edgar was landing, she waited patiently for him running through the many arguments he may have against her help, but she was determined and she knew the downward spiral he took and the extremely changed person he became when she saw him after thinking he was dead for so long.
The young commander opened the cockpit to his T-16, the “Tranquility”, Edgar seeing his Lt. Commander immediately yelled to her. “Yuki! You saved me the trouble of calling for you. I want you to bring up the latest report from Arcia and tell Darro to report to my office immediately.” Barely wasting any time disembarking he was already moving at a quick pace towards Yuki and with no signs of slowing down the woman physically grabbed Edgar and pulled him to a stop “You and I need to have a discussion, Drachen. You have been secretive, ignored direct intrusions of the system and had a clandestine meeting on Maziel. A place, I might add, we are should steer clear of. What’s going on?!”
Edgar just stared at her and looked deep into her eyes, he saw the fire in her eyes and he also knew she sent her droid to keep an eye on him. Placing his hand over her own, he squeezed them gently off him. Without breaking eye contact, he spoke calmly, but sternly. “Get me the latest reports and get Darro to my office ASAP. We need to discuss the status of the team first. Then, we will talk.”
With that, he just walked off in a quick a determined pace to his office. Yuki opened a comm link to the Knight-Commander. “Darro, I know you are in the middle of getting used to the new hand, but Edgar just got back and he needs you in his office now. So get there on the double.”
“Well, I guess I was to expect this. It’s not bad enough I lost my arm out there but now I’m going to get my ass chewed out for it too. I’ll meet you there in ten minutes. Just finishing a workout.”
“Well, hurry up. He is in one of his moods.”
It took Yuki a few minutes to gather the required updates directly from Arcia. By the time she got to Edgar’s office, Darro was waiting outside the office for her. Being a battle hardened warrior, having to describe losing your arm in a training mission wasn’t something he was prepared for.
Following Yuki into the office, Edgar was already going through the daily reports and logs from the mission and normal day to day base operations. Looking up to see his two unit commanders, the young man instructed them to sit and before either one of them were able to speak he spoke quickly and firmly to each of them.
“Darro, I have read your reports and your debriefing. I have also studied Yuki’s and Arcia’s reports on the condition and progress of what should have been a week to two week mission. To say I’m shocked is an understatement and this disturbs me to the core.”
“Sir! If I may…,” Darro tried to interject but was cut off by the Hoth Commander almost immediately.
“It disturbs me because I didn’t realize we were this badly out of training and that will end immediately. There are things on the horizon that will require this House and the clan to be at it’s peak. So therefore I’m sending you back out into the field and you will carry a message to the team. The mission objectives have now changed their original mission was to reach the coordinates given to them and meet the rescue craft to take them home. Now those coordinates are occupied by a hostile force that they will need to either subdue or work themselves around to reach the new extraction point.”
“Wait what?! Sir, the team has been out there with little provisions and gear for far longer than they expected! How do you expect them to accomplish this?” Darro questioned.
“That’s not my concern they had their chance and failed but you can tell them that they will now face the rest of the Hoth Forces and it’s now their job to make the impossible possible. My suggestion to you is gather a bit more supplies and get on the transport it will leave in two hours and if you’re not on it they will be walking into a trap. You are dismissed!”
Staring at his commanding officer Darro eyes were met with his and any thought of a rebuttal was quickly dashed as he knew the Seer was dead serious. Standing up he took his leave and left the room leaving the two old friends in the room alone.
Yuki, still seeming a little stunned at the display and drastic change in plans knowing full well that Arcia will not be happy about the new orders, smiled a little at the joy that brought to her thinking about Arica fighting in the mud. The Corsair was about to make a joke when she noticed Edgar staring at her emotionless. Instead, the woman simply raised an eyebrow expectantly.
Edgar looked at his friend and smiled. “It seems my contact slipped through the security systems to get to me. Instead of coming to you, they contacted me directly. It is time that you are brought up to speed on things.”
Days had passed as the group trudged through the land. Arcia had been keeping a firm grip on the group, and Mos had not recovered from what she had said to him. Numerous variations on the armored trees and other creatures had been cataloged by his camera, though he had done so with no emotion. The emotion and communication had broken down in the group, everyone merely focusing on moving forward. At least that is what Mos thought as he isolated himself from the others.
Arcia stopped the group, with a furry burning in her eyes. “It looks like our Quaster has determined the group unfit to continue. We are supposed to meet Darro, who is waiting at a confluence half a days trip from here.”
Mos nodded without a spark of emotion. Of course we are an unfit group. I am here. I’m just a useless detective on a survival mission.
Chris merely nodded, while both Tarvitz and Keiji looked visibly upset as they had already come all this way. Yet they remained silent. Or if they talked Mos didn’t pay attention. He just looked down. What are you even doing here!
The group moved forward once again, and Mos thought he heard Keiji and Ka talking, but he didn’t bother to check. Afterall, they were probably just talking about how they agreed with Arcia. It didn’t matter anyway the trip was ending. The reached the confluence without any sign of danger, and Mos saw Darro standing there, his new arm almost gleaming from the light. Its my fault. Darro tried to help me and it cost him his arm.
Mos looked into the water, and noticed a small white fish that’s scales appeared to be in a feather pattern. The fish was trying to escape a larger fish, moving side to side. Mos watched as it was eaten, and sighed. I guess there is no place for someone out of their depth.
He passed by Darro, bumping into him, them moving out of the way. Darro saw how Mos was acting, and gave a glare to Arcia moving over to her. “What did you do to one of my Knights?”
Yuki finished scanning the horizon a task that she had done every few hours for the last week waiting for signs of the exploration team to make some sort of effort to breach the defenses they had set up for them. It had been two weeks since Darro was sent to rejoin the team and they have still yet shown up at the objective.
She took one last look through the quadnoculars and turned around. Yuki started to walk back to the command tent in which she knew Edgar would be waiting her report. Sighing, she tapped on her comlink.
“Shift, have you found the team?”
Audible beeps came back and LT Commander read the droid’s report and stopped in her tracks.
“Are you kidding me? They haven’t moved from that spot in 24 hours!?”, she grunted loudly. Yuki quickened her step in what was clearly an annoyed pace. Upon reaching and entering the tent, she caught the end of a conversation Edgar was having.
“Furthermore, once you arrive back at base, you will tend your wounds, get a full meal and tell the team to expect to be seeing a lot of Zoya for the foreseeable future. She has a lot to teach you about navigating Solyiat. Do I make myself clear?” Edgar was speaking in a very aggressive tone.
“Understood, sir. We will be awaiting transport in this location. Is there anyth… ” With a flick of a switch, Edgar turned off the comlink and turned to see his Aedile standing there.
“I just received our daily report from Mr. Winchester detailing the difficulties they are still having. I took it upon myself to call this operation over and will be sending out the Golden Taxis shortly to go pick them up and bring them home.” The Commander of the Hoth JTF said in a angry but more relaxed voice.
“I just got news from Turel saying a big mission is coming up and by the looks of things they weren’t going to make it. They will return home and they will get a crash course in survival before the mission comes up. They will be ready, they have to be ready we are getting close to finally being able to strike back at the iron throne.”
Yuki nodded in agreement, but she did feel the need to interject. “The team has been through alot is it wise to give them to Zoya? You know she will probably kill them?”
The Hoth Commander though for a moment and agreed “Zoya will have them for only a couple of days, but I want you to meet them back at base and make sure you let Mr. Winchester know that due to his constant reports he will be rewarded with a 48 hour pass and he is excused from the extra training as well.”
“You want me to do that in front of the rest of the team?” Ms. Suoh questioned while biting back saying something more pointed.
“Yes I do, as much as I like the daily reports the one thing I don’t like is a snitch in the in the ranks. This I hope will solve that problem.”