[Odan-Urr - Team of Awesomesauce]
Nancora Major System
It had been beautiful once, an epoch ago, a blue and green gem floating in the unbroken quiet of space. Plant and animal life had teemed on the surface, drinking in the life-giving warmth of a generous star.
Times had changed.
Now Nancora was the color of a dead leaf, and wispy, anemic clouds half-heartedly tried to hide the vast wastelands of the surface. From space, the planet was a speck of dust in the eye of Nancora Major. The star itself seemed malevolent, like a jungle insect bloated with stolen blood. Today even the peaceful quiet of Nancora’s orbit had been shattered by war.
The naval forces of various other clans had already engaged the Collective when the Odanites arrived. They were scattered and uncoordinated, individually no match for Battle Group Orias. But they were still seven clans’ worth of ships, and were overwhelming their enemies by sheer weight of arms. The forces of Taldryan, of Naga Sadow and Arcona, Sith, soldiers and mercenaries, had come here for blood. They were lashing out against their fears. Rumor had it that Nancora hosted a secret weapons program, or a hidden cache of Sith artifacts, or that Rath Oligard would be here and vulnerable while the bulk of the Collective’s cyborg army was elsewhere.
For the moment, the Brotherhood’s forces were winning the battle, beating back Orias and hurling transport after transport full of soldiers at the planet’s surface. The beings on these vessels rejoiced at the first taste of victory, but the wise among them knew that Orias was only one among eight equally deadly battle groups under Oligard’s command.
Whatever prize was waiting for them on the surface, they would need to seize it quickly.
MC80 Star Cruiser Solari
Six hours earlier
“I’m sure you’ve already heard the rumors,” Alethia Archenksova began. Despite the Solari’s size, gossip spread through the vessel as quickly as in any small town. The holoprojector in the center of the table flashed to life, projecting a ghostly blue image familiar to everyone in the room. The square-jawed figure of Rath Oligard stared back at them, frozen in the midst of the speech he’d projected across Odanite Expeditionary Forces and SeNet frequencies a few days earlier.
“Rath Oligard,” Alethia continued, her gaze focused on the man as though he were some alien curiosity in mid-dissection. “The Iron Navy’s personnel records indicate that Fleet Admiral Oligard went absent without leave under unspecified circumstances six years ago, presumed dead. Obviously, this is not the case.”
“I’m sure you all saw his little stump speech, so I needn’t go into the details of their ideology, though I will stress that everyone in this room is on the Collective’s death list.”
Archenksova’s audience was a motley assortment. Three Jedi — one called himself a ‘Jensaarai,’ though she was still unclear on the doctrinal differences — two O.E.F. personnel and a mercenary they kept on retainer for situations like these. Tamashi sat closest to the display, looking pensively up at Oligard. Aura furrowed her brow a bit, her gaze less righteously furious than Alethia had come to expect. Tarvitz and the father-son pair of soldiers, Len and Ken, were stone-faced per their training. Yuki leaned against the bulkhead, arms crossed in real or feigned indifference.
“However, Oligard’s particular fixation is with the Jedi and the Sith,” Alethia continued. “What we’ve been able to gather suggests that the Collective is or has designed a biological weapon that targets the midichlorians concentrated in Force-users’ bodies. Our medical experts estimate the results would be fatal.”
“That’s… not good,” Aura muttered.
“Not particularly, no,” Tarvitz agreed. “Excuse me, Councilor, but I suppose you have a plan to deal with this?”
“Indeed.” The holoprojector flickered and the image changed to the a dusty planet seen from orbit. “The only place we know of in Collective-controlled space that could house the necessary facilities is this world, Nancora. We have a suspected site, and the O.E.F. will be hitting it as hard as they can. But we’re not certain of success, or even that the site houses all of the materiel we need to destroy.”
“So, where do we come in?” the Zeltron asked.
“Research on midichlorians was never particularly widespread, and the Empire destroyed most of what was publicly available. The Collective was forced to turn to alternate sources of information for their research.” The holoprojector flickered again, this time to the image of a gaunt, stooped man, narrow face frozen in a scowl. “Avitus Oligard. We managed to reconstruct some of his activities and discovered that he bought a number of old Sith scrolls and holocrons off of various collectors. All of them are attributed to a Darth Plagueis, supposedly the galaxy’s foremost expert on midichlorians. We believe these documents form the basis for the Collective’s research.”
Tamashi nodded, stroking his chin. “That makes sense. And you think these scrolls will help us find a cure in case we can’t stop them from releasing the bioweapon?”
“That’s the plan, yes.” Archenksova met the Pau’an’s gaze. “But we’re hoping you can assess that. We can burn the rest of it.”
“Huh,” Yuki snorted. “I was wondering why we were bringing a cripple along. I doubt the Collective cares about keeping the battlefield handicap accessible.”
“I’ll manage, Ms. Suoh. But thank you for your concern.” If the Jedi took offense at the comment, he keep it concealed.
“If there’s no further commentary on my choice of operatives,” Alethia said with a note of finality, “I will see you in the hangar at 1800 standard time. Dismissed.”
The Corsair looked at the others in the room and shook her head almost sadly. The worst part of the group consisted of someone who wanted so badly to do the right thing, a cripple and a man who seemed to straddle the line between bully and do-gooder. She had worked with all of them at least once before, but trust was a tricky thing to Yuki. She had spent time among the Sith, time among the Jedi and time with the disenfranchised that had been put down by both sides. It bothered her sometimes to take money from a group that was also part of the problem, but they paid very well for her services. As she moved to step out of the room, Len touched her shoulder gently and spoke in a volume only she could hear.
“Come with me, we need to talk.”
The Chiss led the woman down the corridors to another room and opened the door. “This whole mission doesn’t sit well with me, Yuki. We don’t have enough information.”
The Mercenary stepped into the room, strode to a nearby wall and leaned against it. “You are correct on that, Iode. We are going into this somewhat blind, but we have to trust that Alethia knows what she is doing.”
The Loyalist nodded carefully and closed the door behind him. “I’m certain that Councilor Archenksova has a plan, but do you think it will be enough?”
Yuki’s amber eyes focused on the Chiss long enough to make him squirm under the weight of her gaze. She did not say anything more, but her eyes said more than enough for the fellow soldier in the room. He was not afraid of her, but he did know what she was capable of when provoked. The Corsair did not need to be intimidating to be absolutely terrifying.
Len opened the door and stepped out, knowing full well that more planning needed to be done on his part as well.
A few moments after her friend had left the room, the Corsair also left only to find Tarvitz and Aura deep in conversation between each other. Her eyes lit up for a moment and then darkened again as she picked up the conversation.
“—use their own techniques against them,” the man was saying.
Aurora looked at Tarvitz, her eyes wide and bewildered. “We can’t stoop to their level, Ka! Even thinking about it is a path to the Dark Side. We must destroy these scrolls in order to save what we can of the galaxy.”
Yuki moved towards the two, her eyes like pale yellow fire. “Aura, you cannot simply discount an idea because it might be wrong. We have zero hints on this other than these scrolls might be the answer to stopping whatever they are building. We do not even know if they are still building it. It could be completed and that would spell disaster for all of you.”
The Corsair turned on Tarvitz. She knew him as someone who would do what it took to ensure there was not an unwholesome number of deaths. “Ka, do you think you can do it safely without harming those who did not deserve it?”
The man blinked his organic eye and nodded. “If I can’t then I am fairly certain someone from my Order can, Yuki. But you are the last person I would expect to care about collateral damage.”
The small woman shrugged and shook her head. “The means you are talking about using cross several lines for me. We are not genocidal; we will leave that to the Collective. But we must survive which means there are some things that we must do. Even if it brings more nightmares.”
She looked at Aurora for a moment, her eyes conveying more than meaning between the two of them as she gently brushed the two of them aside as they continued to argue the finer points of morality and which lines were able to be crossed.
Yuki shook her head as the two moved out of earshot and Tamashi came rolling out of another doorway. The Corsair looked down at him and raised an eyebrow. “Are you going to get lost again?”
Tamashi, seemingly unperturbed by the woman’s callous demeanor, simply smiled up at her and shrugged. “I will try not to be late to the party if that’s what you mean.”
Before Yuki could respond Alethia came over the comms, her voice carried its usual crisp, cold tone. “All members of the strike force report to the hangar.”
Tamashi grinned, his eyes watching Yuki closely. “Care to give me a hand?”
The Corsair growled and stormed off, muttering dark curses about Jedi.
Nancora Major System
The scene visible from the Solari’s bridge viewport was lit up like a Nar Shaddaa billboard. Vessels of all sizes, backlit in crimson by Nancora Major, hurled green and red plasma at each other. Explosions blinked out across both space and the surface, and the warped shrapnel of destroyed warships glinted in the red light.
Turel could only wonder how many gray hairs this day was going to give him.
The bridge crew, under the capable oversight of Admiral Cortel, barked out the usual stream of targeting solutions, sensor readings, and status updates, but the two councilors by the far forward viewport weren’t listening.
“Are you sure about this? We’ve got plenty of people used to frontline operations. There’s no need to risk your life for a combat mission.”
“Plenty of Jedi, you mean.” Alethia smiled to take some of the bite out of the remark, but comments like this had become no joking matter. “No. I will lead the operation personally. The Jedi need those scrolls. And I need to be the one to deliver them.”
The high councilor nodded. The Force-users in Odan-Urr had been looking warily at their colleagues — Turel had heard a few refer to themselves as “normal people” — since Oligard’s transmission. The symbolism of the Council of Urr’s most prominent non-Jedi delivering a possible defense against a Collective bio-weapon was too important to pass up.
“Do you have your team assembled?”
Alethia nodded. “There was some trepidation about using Sith research, but I trust my people to get the job done.”
“I have to admit I’m not crazy about the idea either.” Turel turned his gaze back to the battle raging outside the viewport. “We’re almost engaged. They’ll be waiting for you to launch.”
“Of course, High Councilor.” The woman turned to leave, but halfway to the lift she heard Turel’s voice call out to her.
“Alethia? May the Force be with you.” His tone was beleaguered but sincere. Archenksova enjoyed the inherent rebuke of the Collective, even as she wondered if it was intended for her as well.
“Thank you, High Councilor.”
Only a scant few minutes passed before the assault force departed from the Solari’s hangers. Shrieking out into the space beyond, two full squadrons of X-Wings took the fore, followed by a full flight of imposing Mandalorian Aja’jor shuttles and sleek arrow-headed A-Wings. By rights, any standard commando raid would have eschewed numbers in favour of stealth, but this was a special case. Odan-Urr needed to ensure that the Collective would not seek to turn the galaxy’s sins against them ever again. They needed to be made an example of. At least that was the argument which had finally swayed Admiral Cortel into parting with such a considerable number of fighters while her fleet engaged the enemy Dreadnoughts.
As they exited the MC80 Star Cruiser’s armoured hanger doors the snubfighters held back momentarily, falling into echelon formations about the lumbering assault shuttles. In any standard situation it would have been a perfect military formation, save for the battered and war-torn exceptions which had taken point several kilometers ahead of them. Outlined against the bleached dead atmosphere of Nancora, the hammerhead build of an N-1 starfighter, a previous generation T-65B X-Wing and the asymmetrical disc of a YT-2400 plunged down towards the world.
“Raava Leader to allied ships,” the voice of one X-Wing pilot crackled through the com. “Fall back into formation, we’re trying to be professionals here.”
“Will do,” Tarvitz answered as he adjusted several controls, bringing the fighter’s weapons online. “Just as soon as we’re inside the atmosphere. The longer we delay, the more of a chance they have to dig in before we arrive.”
“Or for someone up here to waste our time trying to kill us,” Yuki’s added, her vocals subtly distorted by the background energy of her ship’s engines. “Try to keep up.”
There was something halfway between an exasperated sigh and a whispered curse as Raava Leader closed the link. Thankfully no one else spoke up to object, either keeping their thoughts to themselves or seeing the logic in a rapid strike. That or they were simply hoping that their determination to fly in first would draw the attention away from the other ships.
Behind the small flight, the long dance of ranged engagements could be seen playing out. The Solari and the smaller vessels alongside it roared their challenge, spitting bolts of emerald into the void. In the distance, hundreds upon thousands of kilometers away, the first of the Strike cruisers moving to intercept them rocked as their shields bore the brunt of the opening assault. Small explosions could be seen between them as torpedoes found their mark and the fighters borne into battle by the larger ships met one another in a series of high-speed duels. No matter the outcome, the conflict would likely reap a bloody toll on both sides.
As he watched the battle, wondering how many of the pilots with them were itching to rejoin the fight and how many were glad to be momentarily excused from it, Tarvitz almost missed the warning screech by the astromech locked into place behind him. He frowned for a moment, waiting as the readout translated Ratchet’s binary bleeps and whistles, before twelve ruby icons blinked into existence on the N-1’s sensor display.
“To anyone listening, scan ahead to 6-5. Can you confirm the targets, please?”
“Z-95 Headhunters,” another pilot piped up after a few seconds, likely one from Valkyrie squadron. “They’re hitting the upper atmosphere and moving at full speed. Probably something from Axio’s spaceport moving to join the battle. They might not know we’re here yet.”
“Whatever the case, they’re in our way,” Alethia’s voice crackled through the speakers, “And the fastest route down is through them.”
“Understood, Councilor,” Raava Leader confirmed, “Avengers, Raava, on me.”
Several icons blinked on the display as one squadron of X-Wings powered up their weapons, locking their S-Foils into attack position as the A-Wings shot ahead to join them. They were still some distance behind the two lead ships, and as Tarvitz watched he started to make out several pinpricks of light from the world ahead of them. Wreathed in flames, the enemy squadron was breaking through the upper atmosphere, clearly straining to reach open space before the Odanite force could meet them.
“Yuki, Ken,” Tarvitz asked, patching through on a private channel to the two nearby ships “How experienced are you when it comes to shooting down others?”
“Probably better than you from what I have seen so far,” Ken answered, putting his X-Wing into a brief roll as if to emphasise his point. “I could fly rings around these clapped out Clone Wars has-beens.”
Despite himself, Tarvitz couldn’t help but smirk at that. “Good. If we wait for the others, we’ll miss our chance down a few of them before this really begins. Yuki, are you with us?”
There was no immediate answer from the other pilot, but the YT-2400 began to power up, accelerating to attack speed as it bore down upon the ascending squadron. Streams of red bolts burst forth from the upper turret as she targeted the lead fighter. Seconds later her efforts were rewarded with a bright flare of a Z-95 dissolving into storm of burning wreckage.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we’re just going to keep them busy for a few minutes,” Tarvitz said, flipping the communications channels open again “Please feel free to join us when you have a second.”
Several more curses answered him, but Tarvitz ignored them, pushing the N-1’s engines to their upper limit and rapidly closing the distance with the ascending Z-95s. The targeting computer plugged into his cybernetic eye whirred as the world melted away before him. In its place, woven through the battlefield ahead a network of targeting grids, listing range estimations and technical specs of the vessels blinked into existence. Adjusting his ship’s position, Tarvitz drew a bead upon the yellow diamond marking the nearest Z-95 and opened fire.
Several bursts of emerald screamed through space, splashing against the other fighter’s shields as it breached the atmosphere. Already taxed by the rapid ascent, it resisted briefly, trying to turn away from the sudden attack before a bolt struck its port engine. The entire intake blew out in a ball of flame, spitting forth shards of broken durasteel as its entire wing split from the hull. The fighter rolled for a few moments as its pilot fought for control, before the firestorm turned inwards and found the ship’s fuel tank, blowing it to pieces.
Tarvitz didn’t pause to celebrate, already adjusting his aim for the next ship and opened fire. It attempted to break away, pulling up just as it reached orbit, and flew directly into a concussion missile launched by Ken. Tarvitz doubted that the enemy pilot was given a chance to comprehend his error. One moment he was there, the missile closing in, and the next his entire ship had been split open in a burst of crimson energy. Another died moments later, struck by the debris of his comrade. A third exploded as Ken swooped in, cannons blazing away as he rounded on target after target. By the time the Z-95s reached open space, they had been reduced to six ships.
“All fighters,” Raava leader spoke as the Odanite squadrons closed in, “Break and attack!”
As ordered, the escorting squadrons broke away, chasing down one fighter after the next as the Collective pilots attempted to recover from the attack. A few pulled away, trying to chase after the attacking fighters only to be caught by precision missiles from the A-Wings, while most made a single desperate attack toward the shuttles. None came within firing range before Raava Squadron reduced them to clouds of low orbit shrapnel. With their task complete, the escorting fighters pulled back, moving to rejoin the orbiting battle as the task force descended towards the polluted world below.
“I believe we are all clear,” Ken reported with a grin under his helmet. “Told you we could make short work of them.”
“Indeed,” a mildly surprised Tarvitz responded. “An excellent display on your part.”
The Imperial guided his fighter just off Tarvitz’s wing. “You’re no slouch yourself. We should…”
“Can you two cut the piloting bromance?” Yuki quipped. “We are approaching the drop zone and I will need to concentrate. Make yourselves useful and clear out the anti-aircraft.”
Ken shifted in his seat and cracked his neck. “Next stop ground floor. I’ve got you covered Tarvitz.”
“Right then.” The Jensaarai pushed his fighter’s control stick towards the ground. “We’ll clear the ones out on the approach.”
The two fighters gracefully dropped altitude and accelerated, leaving the shuttles behind slightly. As they got closer to the surface, more detail of the rough terrain to come became visible. The reflected yellow-brown light bathed the cockpit interiors, occasionally broken by the craft passing through thin and wispy clouds. In the distance the two pilots could see one of the sealed cities. Finally, leveling off at around fifty meters above the rugged surface, Ken’s warning alerts started going off. Throwing some switches, the Ace brought up his built-in targeting display which revealed a small outpost he had missed on their descent.
“Kark. They have a lock on me, launcher is at point 0-3. Master Jedi?” I must be getting old, Ken mused internally.
“I am on it.” Tarvitz pulled up about ten meters above his wingman and banked to the right.
A rapid beep beep from the computer confirmed what Ken suspected. “They’re firing.”
The veteran pilot pulled up on his control stick and pushed the throttle to maximum. The sudden acceleration along with gravity rammed the man back into his seat. It was a feeling he was used to: this maneuver was one of the basics at the Academy. The missile indicator arrow in his helmet told the missile was right behind him, since it was struggling to pick a direction to point to.
Ken jammed the control stick forward completing the roller coaster arc; as he did he briefly saw the missile tracking him on delay.
Come on, hit me or don’t, the irritated pilot thought, flipping his shields to double rear. One of the few things the pilot liked about the Rebel craft he owned: shields. Sure he did not need them most of the time, but times like this reminded him why he liked them. The shield status display switched to two half-circle lines on the rear. Looking back up the pilot saw an outline the computer had identified as another anti-air defense base. He was coming right down on top of it.
“Tarvitz, I’ve got this one. I’ll meet you at the next position.”
Ken felt almost weightless in this nose dive. Passing through a light cloud, he glanced at his altimeter which read 2500 meters and rapidly counting down. His velocity was 650 meters per second; he quickly calculated time and fired two missiles of his own. The first was intercepted by the anti-air’s attempt to shoot him down, but the second hit home, sending a shockwave across the plain. Pulling out of the dive, the Human smiled as his incoming fire alarm shut off. Glancing out the window, the missile lost its exhaust trail and plummeted, impacting just outside the defense base and exploding.
“Make that three,” his wingman replied a smile evident in his voice, “Yuki, you are clear for approach.”
Len glanced at his scanners, the YT-2400 blasted past the fighters heading for the LZ.
“Keep up, slowpokes.”
Aura held on tightly to her safety belt, the quick deceleration of Yuki’s YT-2400 pressing her back into her seat and into the TDUC commandos next to her. Armor clinked against armor as the ship made a sharp jerk and settled onto the planet’s surface. The Zeltron, wearing robes reminiscent of the old Jedi Order, followed the armor-enclosed commandos out of the craft, lightsaber at the ready just in case. There was no one there, yet. The commandos busily established a basic perimeter while Aura reached out to the Force around her.
For meters in all directions, all one could see was the sun-bleached surface intermittently broken up by partially unearthed wreckage, which seemed to consist of all manner of craft. Cruel winds kicked the sand below her feet into frenzied spirals, which blew across the landscape in an almost picturesque manner. Unfortunately, the stripped ships around them told the ugly side of a sand storm, all paint long gone with metal slowly eroding with time. Of note, a central spire stood tall in the distance surrounded by what looked like even more wreckage. It was, in short, nothing less than a desert junkyard.
“Any company yet?” asked Yuki.
As if on schedule, the remaining shuttles parked nearby, flinging dust and dried dirt at their company. Aura pulled her hood around her face, jealous of the troopers’ armor as she felt the sting of the debris. She could sense the Corsair’s frustration already, even though her face was hidden behind her Mandalorian armor.
“Nothing out there yet, though that spire in the distance tells me we probably won’t be alone for long. Our friends are here now though,” half-jested Aura.
“Funny. Let us stay on task. We have some skulls to crack,” replied Yuki.
“That we do. Yuki can’t have all the fun,” interjected Len as he got off the shuttle’s boarding ramp, closely followed by Tamashi’s hoverchair.
Yuki snorted in derision. “I bet I could take them on single-handedly, Len.”
“Now now, don’t get too attached. You have to share, per Alethia’s orders,” reminded Len.
Yuki raised her eyebrows sarcastically and was about to speak, but Alethia interrupted them.
“I don’t care who kills who, as long as we can grab the scrolls and get out of here.” She turned to one of the O.E.F. troopers nearby. “Sergeant, form up the strike force. We move out in one minute.”
Aura watched everything around her from behind her hood, a small frown on her face which she hoped no one could see. The landing group secured their defenses, ready to defend their escape route with their lives. The strike team laconically checked their gear and arranged themselves for their coordinated assault on the Technocratic Guild’s compound to the west. The soldiers of the group such as Len and Yuki bantered over who would get more kills, though Aura thought she heard a joking tone to Len’s voice. Tamashi simply hovered near the back, waiting for it all to begin so he could finally get his hands on the scrolls. Alethia moved from group to group, issuing orders as her KX droid dutifully tromped along behind her.
Aura simply breathed in and out as she connected with the Force, giving herself a few precious moments for inner reflection. She dearly wished recent events didn’t have to come to such violence. Unfortunately, the Collective didn’t leave her that option, but she didn’t have to enjoy it or humor her fellow companions like some of the others did. What was worse some wanted to protect these scrolls for the sake of knowledge itself, knowledge she doubted was meant for Jedi if the rumors were true. If the information wasn’t going to help save lives, she would have to destroy them, whether Alethia liked it or not. Fortunately, Archenksova couldn’t read her thoughts right now.
Tamashi tilted his head towards a larger dune before saying, “We’ll have resistance coming in soon.”
“Move out strike team!” shouted Alethia.
The unit moved out at a pace of a quick jog, heads on a swivel. Once they were far enough from the landing site, it split into two staggered groups, hoping to prevent one explosive charge from taking them all out. With a wall of sound from their left, the battle had begun. Blaster fire broke out, lead by Len Iode and Alethia. Tamashi hung back and focused, using his battle meditation for support. Aura grabbed the smaller debris around her with the Force, chucking it at the invading forces as a distraction. She grabbed a corrugated corner of something that looked especially sharp and hurled it at a Collective soldier pinning down their troops. It lodged nicely into his firing arm, allowing her own troops to shoot him dead. As they kept them occupied, Yuki surged ahead, opportunistically slicing into them and using their dead bodies as a shield.
Yuki drove her blade into another Collective soldier as blaster fire continued to rain down around her. Each staccato step of her lethal dance moved her forward, killing fury evident in her eyes. She lived for this, needed this to be complete. As the rest of the world began to fall away, her trained senses started to take over.
Blood sprayed across the barren wastelands to be consumed by the ever-thirsty landscape. The Corsair was one with her blade and as yet had found no true equal. Each aimed strike landed true, each parry expertly performed. Yuki felt as though each movement was being directed in ways that she could not see or understand as each opponent fell. Tamashi sat almost serenely, tendrils of the Force reaching to each of the members of the strike team. The man bound to the hoverchair used his abilities to their fullest as he mentally helped guide his companions to work cohesively as a team. It was as if each member danced in perfect step with each other’s movements, their effects compounding on each other in devastating ways.
The gathered Collective Forces seemed almost disheartened by their conflict with the Odanite strike team. Tamashi focused intently on the forces before him, directing his attention to giving his allies any advantage he could. The team advanced quickly as the small conflict in the Badlands seemed to come to a close.
The heavily armored Mercenary sprinted forward away from the group, caught completely within her own bloodlust. The Corsair whirled like a demented dervish, single-minded and intent in her killing fury. Her movements stopped suddenly as she saw a Twi’lek off in the distance, who stood calmly as she looked down from a small cliffside at the Odanite whose breath came in near audible heaves.
Gwyndolyn “Sparks” looked for a moment at the red-haired human and grinned. The Twi’lek’s face contorted with hate-filled glee as she yelled. “Light it.”
Tarvitz shot down his current opponent and disengaged for a moment before he keyed his comm and shouted. “Everyone fall back!”
Beneath their feet, the Odanites felt the ground shudder and begin to ripple as an underground explosion set off a chain reaction under them. The strike team began to scramble back the way they came with Yuki trapped on the far side of the explosion with the Collective general. The tremors beneath them grew more frantic as the Corsair spat several choice epithets at the Twi’lek and bolted across the sand to her Clanmates.
Collective soldiers stepped in her way and she adroitly dodged around them, knowing full well what was coming from underneath. As she reached the origin point of the explosion, Yuki felt the ground begin to crumble beneath her feet and forced herself to sprint even faster, covering more of the separating distance to her teammates.
Len looked at the cloud of debris and sand chasing the red-haired woman and groaned. “Not again.” Aura took a step forward only to be stopped by Alethia. “She knew the risks of being separated from the team. She’s on her own now.”
Aura grimaced as she stared into Alethia’s eyes for the briefest of moments before self-preservation kicked in. She followed the group’s retreat, hoping that Yuki would make it out alive as she ran to safety. Walls of dirt and sand exploded upward around them all like cresting waves, the light-brown sediment sparkling under the glare of Nancora’s sun before they collapsed into small dunes. Some Odanites cried out for help as the sand bogged them down, the blasts relentlessly following their retreat. The rest of the group forged on, tuning out their comrades for the time being until the blasts stopped. Finally, the last charge went off, followed by a short spray of dirt. The Odanite strike group looked at Alethia, an uncomfortable silence thick with an unspoken request as several looked back towards the fallen.
“Be quick,” Archenksova ordered as she frantically tapped away on her SeNet scanner.
The group rushed to pull out those that asked for help, their feet slipping in the crumbling earth as they grunted with effort. With each person they recovered, they gained another willing volunteer to help grab the others. The group’s medics ran from group to group, skillfully applying medkits to anyone who had sustained any burns. Eventually, all that remained lost were two troopers no one could find, Yuki, and dead Collective soldiers. Len picked up a comlink from a dead Collective soldier. As he inspected the item it received a transmission.
“Reinforcements deployed, hold position till we arrive.”
“Command this is Shan 2. We are still missing three,” the Chiss pushed his emotions back, “More than likely they are buried too deep to retrieve.”
“Understood, Shan 2. All teams, regroup at the rally point.”
Everyone scanned the horizon one last time. They saw nothing but dust shift under a brisk breeze, unsure if it was friend, foe, or simply nature. With heavy hearts, they rushed back to the rendezvous point and waited for Alethia’s instructions, hoping the trio left behind would find their way back to them.
Badlands Camp, Nancora
The surviving commandos and Jedi of various inclinations gathered at the rendezvous point, establishing a makeshift camp using the shuttles to establish a perimeter and easy exit if they were discovered again by the Collective forces. Alethia, Aurora, Len, and Tamashi were gathered around a holoprojector showing a map of the Badlands.
“Ken and I are completing aerial reconnaissance now. We will transmit what we have when we are done.”
The Deputy Councillor nodded and spoke. “Understood. Report in if there is any immediate danger.”
“Roger that, Tarvitz out.”
The Chiss of the group leaned in towards the map which displayed the area the explosives had been set.
“The explosives were buried at just the right depth to create a quicksand effect.” Len sighed, “I hope the two commandos didn’t suffer. They must have fed false information to our assets.”
“Or our assets are double agents.” Tamashi mused.
“Possibly, but this is not the time for that kind of talk,” Alethia said as if she were stomping on lit fuse. “What are our options?”
The Executor looked at the former Director. “If this was a setup, then they may not even be in possession of the scrolls. This could all be a ruse.”
Aurora rubbed her chin. “We still can’t risk them holding onto the scrolls. Even if we think they may be ruse, we need to verify their presence.”
The Chiss crossed his arms. “We don’t have any leads on the true location. My father and Tarvitz can only cover so much ground per hour. We could redirect a squadron to assist, but it would take time and reduce our front line force.”
The Pau’an looked to his datapad, a smile growing across his face. “I may be able to help with that.” He keyed a sequence, the display zoomed out giving an birds-eye view of the Badlands.
“I took a page out of Madam Councilor’s book. I instructed my droid, JJ-8BRAMS, to do a flyby scan for energy sources in the area of operation.”
The map changed to show highlighted paths with flow arrows away from where the team had been ambushed.
“His analysis wasn’t done until now, but I think we have the destination pinpointed.”
Recentering, the display showed roughly 40 branches converging into a circle around a fallen spire.
“That’s a lot of power for one area.” Aurora mused.
“Indeed. Analysis indicates that power is being drawn from various generators from wrecked ships and other smaller civilian power sources in the dune seas. Based on the magnitude of the EM field I estimate, with 70% certainty, the draw is on the order of gigawatts. Something enormous must be located in that area.”
“A command center.” The Rollmistress’ eyes widened. “A big command center.”
Len stroked his chin as he thought.
“That much power probably not just a regular command center, a well defended command center.” He smiled at his colleague’s work. “Well-defended means something to keep safe.”
“Like the scrolls.”
Alethia smiled proudly and keyed her comm. “Tarvitz, this is Archenksova. Redirect to the following coordinates. We may have something.”
As Alethia briefed the pilots on their discovery, Len looked out to where they had been. Clouds of dust and sand were starting to pick up, all the signs of a sandstorm. His attention returned to the group as the former Director received confirmation the coordinates were in the pilots’ hands.
Archenksova turned her attention back to the group before her. “Alright. We will split into two teams. Len, take half of the commandos, you will head directly for the spire once the enemy presence is confirmed. You will then draw the forces away from the spire. Be creative. Tarvitz and Ken are already on route. The three of us and the remaining commandos will infiltrate the spire. Questions?”
Len looked back out once again. “Looks like a storm is coming, we need to move.”
Wind whipped across the seas of sand, burying the bodies of the Technocrat soldiers who had repelled the Odanites. A sandstorm was coming. Repulsorlift engines hummed in the distance; the reinforcements meant to augment the now-lost company of troops were closing fast. The first heavily modified speeder bike came to a halt just at the edge of what had been the inner ring of explosives. The commander surveyed the scene. Approaching one of the fallen soldiers, he could see evidence of explosives buried in the sand which had taken several of his own. The commander’s stomach felt ill briefly before being replaced by a feeling of neutrality, spurred by one of his numerous implants. It was clear this was not the work of the Clans, but of one of their own.
Suddenly, a sword burst through the sand in front of the bewildered commander followed by a woman’s upper body wearing sand encrusted Mandalorian armor. The last glimmers of light glistened off of the blade as it angled down to strike the senior Technocrat, slicing the man’s natural leg and artificial leg off. Screaming as blood and hydraulic fluids poured from his wound the commander fell to the ground. The sand kicked up by the fierce winds was now on top of the men, obscuring their line of sight. The soldiers opened fire attempting to kill the assailant, but the target had found her safety hiding in the sand once more. Holding their fire, two closed in around their commander, his pleas now silent. One of the soldiers grabbed the legless man and started to drag him, but his attempt was cut short when he felt a wall of sand cover him before sharp steel met flesh, nerves, and blood vessels. Once again the soldiers fired at where the sound came from. The second soldier tried to run back. He slipped on a shifting piece of metal on the sandy surface, only to be met by Yuki and her blade, a wild grin invisible beneath her helmet. The group was now engulfed in the storm. The Corsair pointed her blade at the soldier as if it were an extension of her left arm.
Sweeping over the charred remnants of the badlands, Tarvitz and Ken flew in a search pattern, hunting for any signs of movement. Each was flying low, barely above the pillars of broken metal and burned metal skeletons of lost vehicles which dominated so much of the Badlands. It was a trying manoeuvre even for a skilled pilot, but for Tarvitz it was proving to be especially disconcerting. He winced, more out of discomfort than true pain, as his vision swam briefly. The electronic neon lines of the targeting computer plugged into his implant flickered and died yet again, fading away before the system completely reset itself. That marked the ninth time since they had started.
Between the metalwork strewn throughout the Badlands and residual energy from the previous battle, almost any scan was reduced to garbled nonsense or bounced directly back at him. He would have had an easier time landing the ship and raking through the sands by hand than this. With a grunt of irritation, Tarvitz pulled back on the controls, lifting the Naboo starfighter back into the open air.
“I’m going to hazard a guess you didn’t see anything either,” he said, momentarily glancing back at Ratchet.
The R3 unit gave a low warble in response, and the scrolling lines of aurebesh translating the droids words confirmed that he hadn’t.
“Well, it was worth a shot,” he said, opening up the com. again to the nearby Odanite members “Ken, any luck at your end?”
“I can tell you that some of these blast markings are more recent than others, but not much else. We’ll be here all day if we try to go through them one by one. Len?”
“I heard,” the Chiss answered. His voice was dispassionate, and he hardly bothered to hide the note of resignation as he continued, “We’ve done all we can. Head to the coordinates Alethia sighted. I’ll follow when I can.”
Len quietly watched as the two fighters swept through the air, pulling a tight turn before flying off in formation toward the supposed stronghold they had detected. As he did, Len tried not to think of the other soldiers they might lose, least of all his adopted father. He was familiar enough with death — any lifelong soldier came to quietly accept loss as an inevitability no matter how hard it hurt — but that rarely ever made it easier.
Still, Yuki? Given her typically unstoppable nature, it seemed almost impossible to think she had been felled by so cheap an attack. He had lost count of just how many times she had strode through blaster fire, abandoning any pretence of a battle plan in favour of sheer ferocity, and emerged without a scratch. A part of him was still trying to comprehend this fact. Len kept expecting to see her striding out of the sand dunes at any moment, too furious to care about any wounds the Collective had inflicted in that last fight.
Len looked back to see one of the commandos standing to attention behind him, his face hidden behind an opaque helmet.
“We’re ready to move out sir,” the commando continued, “Just so soon as you give the order.”
Len said nothing in response, and simply inclined his head in acceptance. They still had a mission to complete. Yet, as the commando turned away, he couldn’t help but feel a sense of responsibility somehow. If Yuki was alive, if she had somehow endured a blast which could have levelled most buildings, she would never forgive him for abandoning her in the wastes.
As the others prepared to leave, Len withdrew a small datapad from a pocket, his fingers gliding over the keys as he typed out a few details. Simple directions, a location, and what to expect from those they found there. Enhancing the screen’s luminosity until it was practically glowing in his hands, he stepped towards the nearest wrecked vehicle, placing it up high enough for it to look out over the sands. It wasn’t much, but there was little else as he could do now.
Without another word Len turned and headed back towards the soldiers already starting to move out, hoping that whatever luck they had lived by had not run out just yet.
Technocratic Guild Badlands Fortress “The Spire”
The small task force quickly crossed the desert, closing in on the “spire” that they had detected. The ever-present rush of wind and rising tide of earthy blackness on the horizon served as a reminder of just how fleeting their time was. To become caught in the sandstorm after or, worse still, during the fight would only have invited death. A chance for the Collective’s larger military to close in and pick them off, turning them into examples for all who crossed them. They only had one shot at this, but each of them had faced worse odds before.
As the Odanites closed in on it, the “spire” rose up out of the sands before them. A blackened twisted product of warped technology, more akin to a semi-buried black skeleton than a structure worthy of its grandiose label. Seemingly sculpted to blend in with the wrecks which littered the desert, few would have spared it a second glance. Alone and without the forewarning of their sensors, the Technocratic Guild’s compound would have seemed like little more than one more burned out derelict amid a sea of dead metal. Instead, the Guild had opted to meet them in force. A multitude of armoured turrets had been arranged about it, each scanning the horizon for targets while the rounded armoured carapace of a humming shield generator lay only a scant few meters from the spire’s base. Surrounding it and patrolling the nearby grounds, chrome plated figures patrolled the nearby area. Each of them, visibly augmented and upgraded, scanned their surroundings for threats.
The Technocratic Guild had an entire fortress to its name. Its soldiers were covered by a shield, guarded by heavy laser cannons and outnumbered their foe a dozen times over. Any possible advantage they desired was theirs. They stood no chance.
The first the cyborg infantry were aware of the assault team’s attack was the sudden shriek of ion engines as Ken’s X-Wing hurtled over the dunes. The sunlight flashed upon its wings as he opened up the S-foils into attack position, drawing a bead upon his first target. Collective forces dived aside, panic overriding discipline as the attack fighter hurtled past almost directly over their heads. Too low to pick out by sensors and too fast for the guns to react, the X-Wing approached its target unopposed, firing two missiles into the spire’s shield generator before breaking off. Both struck home, punching through the outer casing of the complex machinery before detonating. There was a flash of energy followed by an explosion, scattering fragments of metal over the nearby area. Panicked voices filled the Technocratic comm systems as they reacted to this sudden attack. The spire’s shield had fallen before it could have ever been raised, leaving them exposed to the lone X-Wing.
Each of the defensive cannons mounted about the spire slowly swung about, their gunners tracking the agile target before blasting bolts of superheated plasma into the sky. Most barely managed to get their first shot off before two exploded, speared by green energy bolts as a battle-scarred N-1 strafed the compound. The fighter performed a steep dive, firing shot after shot into the armoured fortifications before peeling off as the other guns hastily swung about as they fought to coordinate a firing solution against the two attack fighters.
All eyes followed the fighters as they began rapidly orbiting the Technocratic facility, weaving between the hurried shots fired into the air. The X-Wing suddenly swung about, and another missile screamed free of its hull, and another turret quickly fell silent in the bright flash of an explosion. Other Technocratic soldiers were dying as well now. As they rushed to rejoin their squads, several stumbled and fell dead, each caught by the pinprick beams of sniper weapons. From the opposite direction, clinging low to whatever cover they were granted, a host of Odanite commandos began advancing on the facility. Each maintained disciplined volleys of blaster fire as they advanced, covering one another and pushing the cyborgs back with the sudden assault.
Under the abrupt assault many fell, but the Technocratic units were quick to recover. Those outside began to take up defensive positions, hiding behind the wreckage of destroyed turrets as they began firing on the inbound troops. Not to kill them, but simply to stall their advance.
As the scale of the threat seemed to dawn upon its commanding officers, the spire lit up with activity. Like a hive of enraged insects, squad after squad of cybernetically enhanced troops rushed to reinforce those holding back the commandos. Dozens backed them as a full half-company of troops swarmed forth to drive back the small assault time, relying as much upon their technological enhancements as sheer numbers to overwhelm their foe.
Behind the canopy of his fighter, Tarvitz watched the sight and calculated their positions. The spire had thrown everything they had at them, hurling the bulk of their strength at the commandos who were already withdrawing from their brief assault. As the cyborgs pressed forwards, attempting to outflank the Odanite troops, they abandoned cover and advanced out into open ground. He couldn’t have asked for a more perfect target.
“Tarvitz to all units,” he said, pulling back on the stick and lining up for an attack run, “Incoming fire.”
The N-1 broke away from the compound, pulled up into the air and then plunged into a steep dive. As it screamed through the air, he pulled the trigger eight times. The small fighter bucked as its entire payload of missiles hurtled down into the amassed troops, crashing between the squads and exploding in a storm of blue energy. Ion charged lightning crawled across the desert, spearing one cyborg after another as it curled about their implants.
The impact of violently disabling any implant was painful. The delicate network of nerve clusters woven into circuitry was remarkably easy to disrupt, and shorting out a part carried both the burning pain of cauterized flesh and the sudden psychological vertigo of physical loss. Tarvitz had seen hardened soldiers freeze up in the face of such losses, even from residual ion energy. Yet nothing compared to what had been inflicted upon the Collective troops.
Any shielding they might have retained against handheld weapons was quickly overwhelmed by weapons powerful enough to cripple attack fighters. Each of them fell, screaming to the ground as they were burned from the inside out. Men died as their mental implants exploded inside their skulls. Others collapsed in agony as their bodies went into spasms, their artificial limbs almost tearing themselves free from their sockets. Those with replacement organs, or adrenal enhancers, were driven into shock as lightning pulsed throughout their bodies. In the space of a few seconds, the triumphant counter-charge was brought to a standstill.
Tarvitz tried to force the sight from his mind, quietly thankful that the cockpit blocked out the sound of a hundred men and women screaming as their bodies turned in upon themselves. They were the enemy, and he still had a job to do. Banking the ship around in a tight turn, he passed over where the commandos were pressing their attack and thumbed the release switch for the canopy. The wind howled about him as he disconnected the targeting computer from his eye and slid his helmet into place with a hiss of pressurisation.
“All yours,” Tarvitz said as he gave a thumbs up to Ratchet, “I’ll be back in a minute.”
Ratchet whistled his approval, and Tarvitz vaulted over the side of the ship.
Plummeting down through the air, the twin thrusters attached to his boots fired, rapidly slowing his descent as he dropped into the ongoing battle. Cutting out barely a meter above the ground, Tarvitz landed heavily in a half crouch, one fist slamming into the ground before him.
“Nice work,” Tarvitz heard someone yell over the din of blaster fire and malfunctioning electronics, “Thanks for the forewarning before you did that!”
About them, the commandos were pressing their attack. Picking off the few cyborgs fortunate enough to have been caught on the edge of the attack run, They threw thermal detonators into the nearest units, cutting down as many as they could before few elements of the army capable of recovering did so.
Tarvitz nodded, standing upright and unclipping the lightsaber from his belt. He pressed the activation stud and the amber energy blade hummed into life. “Your orders?”
“We’ve got their attention,” Len answered, shouldering his rifle “Let’s keep it that way.”
Freerunner, Delta 1
Just above Collective Compound
The infiltration team jumped off the transport and immediately got to work, setting a charge on the roof’s access hatch. After the small grenade went off, the troopers immediately slid down the ladder and started clearing the room, the sound of blaster fire escaping from within the building itself. The quartet above, consisting of Alethia, Aura, Tamashi, and the Councillor’s KX droid waited, as planned.
“All clear!” shouted one of the soldiers.
Aura ignited her saber and stabbed it into the ground, cutting a wide square for the Pa’uan’s wheelchair. Alethia ignited her own, apparently a gift from her boyfriend, and assisted in the cutting operation. Finally, their blades met in the middle, the chunk of metal groaning as it finally snapped out and fell below. Aura deactivated her weapon and simply jumped on top of it, waiting for the rest of her party. Alethia merely rolled her eyes and climbed down the ladder, followed by her droid.
Once Tamashi hovered down with his chair, the teams split up, the soldiers going with the Pa’uan while the the two women took the droid. The former set off for the command and control room, while the latter started their descent. Alethia jammed a control spike into the now empty security off next to them.
“JJ-8BRAMS, you’re on. Get control, confuse the enemy and tell us where to go. Report when ready,” ordered Archenksova.
Aura reached out to the Force while she waited, feeling for concentrations of life forms.
“Can’t we just—”
“No. I am not relying on ‘the Force’ to keep me alive,” replied Alethia.
Aura could hear an affirmative beep from her comlink, signaling the go-ahead. Archenksova kept the comm channel open, and readied her blaster. Aura activated her saber, waiting for JJ-8BRAMS.
“Straight then left. Stay low. Automated turrets set to go off waist height and above.”
The Zeltron took point, keeping her head on a swivel. As the reached their first junction, she spotted a Collective soldier, deflecting his shots with her saber. Alethia quickly followed up with a headshot, silencing the threat. Another popped up, but the pair made quick work of him. Aura turned off her weapon and got on her hands and knees, crawling down the hallway with Archenksova and her droid. Rapid-fire blasters went off overhead, missing both women. The Zeltron tried not to think of Alethia’s probable smirk as she went down the convenient ladder to the level below.
“Archenksova, this is Tamashi. I’m in position, about to employ Battle Meditation,” the Pau’an said.
“Roger. Excellent work,” replied the councillor.
The pair of woman looked down the end of a long hallway, “level 3” painted on its side near the level.
“Right and then left. You’ll have some opposition at the end of the hallway, but that is the most direct way down.”
They met little opposition on their first turn, but the moment they turned left all chaos broke loose. Aura’s saber flashed to life as she chaotically stabbed and slashed the air around her, batting away blaster bolts.
“Hold them here, I should be able to surprise them from the other side,” forewarned Alethia, beckoning her droid to follow.
“Hurry!” replied the Zeltron.
Archenksova blasted a stray soldier who took a wrong turn and rushed to the other end of the room. She double-checked her droid’s flamethrower and grinned as she kicked open the door.
“Hasta la vista, baby,” yelled the KX droid, who she begrudgingly called Buddy. The droid let loose a 9-meter uninterrupted stream of fire, efficiently sweeping it over the assembled troops and setting them all ablaze. They screamed in pain as the flames ate away their flesh. The councillor took out her pistol and calmly shot the survivors in the head. Aura shook her head disapprovingly, but couldn’t deny their intent to murder the trio.
“Can we not murder everyone!” the Zeltron asked.
“Perhaps you should speak to the Collective about that,” replied Archenksova. “I’m sure they’d be delighted to hear your thoughts on the matter.”
Aura sighed and followed the councillor and Buddy down the next ladder, wondering when this would finally be over.
“Recovery, hurry up!” chimed what sounded like Len’s voice.
“Almost there, don’t worry,” replied Alethia.
Technocratic Guild Badlands Fortress “The Spire”
For a moment, the Chiss was transported back to the days he had read of the Old Republic. The Jensaarai stood before the squad of commandos, amber blade blazing.
“Push forward about 20 meters, then fall back.” Several blaster bolts slammed into the destroyed turret the soldier was using as cover. “We’ve got you covered.”
Tarvitz nodded and leapt forward, sprinting with unnatural speed towards the enemy line. Almost immediately, Len and ten of the commandos began emptying their magazines at the enemy positions, keeping their blasters pointed away from their amber-bladed comrade. The soldier hated wasting bolts, but the idea was to make the enemy believe there was a larger force plus a Force User, enticing the Technocrats to follow them. Hopefully this would make the infiltration easier.
From the very front of the enemy lines a distance away, the Executor could hear the panicked calls for reinforcements followed by the sound of lightsaber passing through metal. Quickly he dropped behind cover and replaced the energy cell on his A280, springing back up to see a soldier trying to flank Tarvitz. Len lined up the shot, aiming at the center of mass, breathing on and squeezing the shot off, with a follow-up shot quickly behind. Both hit as the Chiss inhaled and the Technocrat soldier crumpled to the ground.
“Tarvitz, fall back to us. TDUCs, be ready to fall back to Phase II. Iode,” Len felt odd referring to his father by their last name. “Be ready up there if we need you.”
Tarvitz, Len and the gathered commandos moved as a single body, each covering the man beside him as they proceeded to the next phase area. Soldiers of the Technocratic Guild began to follow cautiously, eyes and sensors all following the Odanite forces.
Len looked at Tarvitz and gave a small, almost sad smile. “I hope this is all worth it. I would hate to die on a dead planet for nothing.”
Tarvitz raised his eyebrow at the man and shook his head. “We won’t die here, Len. The Force is with us.”
Len laughed shortly and shook his head. “I would rather have faith that someone real would give us a hand.”
Against the harsh, dead terrain the red and black armor seemed to shimmer in and out of focus in the failing light. It had taken the warrior longer than expected to deal with the enemy forces and escape from the wall of sand that had engulfed the battlefield. She paused near the light of the datapad and tilted her head slightly. She ran a finger over the screen and behind the mask a feral smile lit up the woman’s face.
“I can always trust him to leave a path,” her voice sounded harsher from behind the mask, colder, more violent. “He thinks too much though.”
The helmeted woman turned to face the direction of the spire, her specialized HUD displaying all necessary information. The weather was only going to get worse and she needed to get to her team sooner rather than later. The Corsair tapped the screen a couple of times and uploaded directional coordinates to her viewscreen. Yuki then sheathed her blade and shook her head as she started down the dusty, barren path toward the new objective.
Technocratic Guild Badlands Fortress “The Spire”
Several Hours later
Darkness had fallen over the commandos and their commanding officers, Len and Tarvitz. Small fortifications had been built from the scrap created by the initial assault of the two starfighters who had continued to harry the Technocrat soldiers in order for the walls to be built across hallways and against doors. Len looked at the Jensaarai and shook his head. The two were beginning to flag from the near-constant state of combat the Collective was putting them in and even the TDUC commandos had begun to show signs of battle fatigue. It had been several hours since they had begun buying time for the recovery team to find the scrolls and the waves of opposing forces seemed nearly limitless. They had barricaded themselves in a large room to have a bit of rest and a mouthful or two of rations before they had to begin the fighting again. The delaying tactics Len had placed in the hallways comprised of explosive charges to keep their opponents heading down specific paths to lead them further and further away from the other team led by Alethia.
Len keyed up his com and opened a channel to his father. “Iode, come in. We need you to proceed to the extraction point and secure our way out.”
“Understood, Commander. Proceeding to extraction area.” the voice responded.
Len shook his head again as he looked at Tarvitz. Even the Jensaarai had started to see an inevitability in their actions. The Jedi turned away and finished another bite of food, trying to bolster his own fading energy. Len touched his com again and raised Alethia. “Iode to Archenksova. We are preparing for a last stand. If you are going to complete your mission, now would be the time.”
Alethia’s soft, usually cold voice came across the com with a hint of sadness. “Understood, Executor. May the Force be with you.”
Len switched his com off again and stood slowly, gathering his weapons and checked the power levels in his A280 before he looked at the commandos. “Let’s get ready to move again. Our job isn’t finished yet.”
Tarvitz and the commandos nodded one by one; each seemed to accept the idea of a last stand. Len motioned to two of the troopers to clear away the barricade while the rest took up defensive positions in the event the Collective waited outside.
The barricade came down in fairly short order and the door opened slowly to reveal an empty corridor. The Havok Team exited the room, each man taking his position to guard a direction of the corridor. The Odanite forces had barely gotten out of the room and in position when a rain of blaster fire came from behind the impromptu fortifications they had placed in the hallway before their retreat into the room. Len growled something in Cheunh, his red eyes flat as he dove behind the waist high wall of durasteel and rubble. The commandos also took positions behind the wall, focusing in the direction of the blaster fire.
Tarvitz stood almost calmly and smiled. It was a confined space and their enemies only had one path to get to them from that direction. Everything seemed to be going their way when he pointed down the hall. “Take cover!”
The men took shelter behind the wall as a brilliant white light exploded several yards away as the Jensaarai made an obscure gesture in that direction before he looked away to protect his own sight. Once the light faded, he looked back down the hall. The blaster fire had slowed and became more erratic. “Light ‘em up.”
The coldness in Tarvitz’s voice emboldened the TDUC soldiers and they popped out of cover in turns to fire down the hallway, being rewarded with howls of pain and surprise. From behind the Odanites came a lone blaster shot that embedded itself in the back of a commando. He fell limply on the wall, unmoving and silent. Several of the soldiers turned to also fire behind them where they had no cover to provide some sort of suppressing fire.
Yuki stopped at the entrance to the spire and looked up at the small Seeker droid that floated beside her and whistled a few notes at her. The Corsair’s helmet hissed as it depressurized and she reached up to remove it. Long red hair fell loosely down her back and she smiled up at the small droid. “I have a job for you, Shift. Go find the others and report back where they are.”
The Seeker beeped a few times and Yuki shook her head. “Shift, just go do it. I will be more than fine. Nothing here is actually going to serve as a problem. They are a lot less formidable than initial reports dictated. Their only real talent was shock and awe. They wanted us afraid and struck like cowards when we were busy. Forcing yet another coward, this Darth Pravus, into hiding.”
The droid beeped again and then floated away, clearly getting the last word in with its owner. The woman glared at the retreating machine and shook her head. “I am going to make you nothing but parts when we get home.”
She continued pulling off chunks of armor and placed them gently on the ground, making sure that no sound escaped as each piece touched the floor. Once she was done, the Corsair smoothed down her clothing and pulled her shockgloves from the pouch attached to her armor. The blade was strapped to her waist and the gloves pulled over her hands. Yuki looked down the hall and touched the small com device at her waist to allow Shift contact. A sharp, muted whistle came from her waist as the droid acknowledged the contact. Several sounds came across and Yuki stalked off down the hallway, following the directions given to her by the small droid.
Another blaster shot sang through the air and struck Len’s right shoulder with a more than glancing blow. The smell of burnt flesh filled the air as the Chiss collapsed against the back of the wall, swearing in his native tongue. Several more blaster shots sang through the air before a thunderous detonation filled another corridor. Thick tongues of flame roared down one of the hallways behind the Odanites and loud screams quickly cut off as thick, inky black smoke began to fill the hallways. Len finished bandaging his shoulder and quietly thanked his father for turning back to assist.
Yuki stormed down the smokey hall and grabbed the arm of a Collective soldier, her eyes flat and full of battlefury. She placed a foot at the base of the soldier’s shoulder and began to pull on the cybernetic arm. Shrill screams came from the dying man as the absolute strength of the Corsair began to rip the man’s cybernetic implants away from the living tissue. With a wet ripping sound, the implant came away and covered the Mercenary with hot, red blood. She looked down at the man in disgust and brought the heavy elbow joint down with devastating force into the soldier’s head halting his screams of agony. She turned down the hall and looked in the direction Shift indicated over the coms and grinned. Blood ran in thick rivulets down her face and arms, giving her the image of a small demon as she started down the hallway violent intent oozing off of her as she stalked toward her enemies.
Yuki stepped from the black, mobile shadows and looked down at Len, her eyes curious as she held out the implant. “Need a hand?”
Len blinked for a moment and shook his head. “Even death can’t stop you from being in this fight?”
“Of course not. Did you miss me?” the Corsair said teasingly.
“You know I always like seeing you, Yuki. But, I have only one question. Why the frak did you stop to take off your armor?!”
Yuki shrugged and climbed over the small wall. “It was too confining.”
Len just looked at her as she dropped the arm and flexed her fists. Electricity arced from the contacts on the shockgloves. “Cover me.”
Len and the commandos stood quickly and began to provide covering fire as the small woman moved with a purpose down the hallway. Tarvitz vaulted over the wall and caught up with the woman and looked down at her for just a moment. “How are you not dead?”
Yuki shrugged. “I am just lucky, I suppose. It happens. Especially if you can breathe inside your armor. You just have to dig your way out.”
Tarvitz shook his head and ignited his lightsaber again, the yellow blade giving the encroaching smoke a sickly tinge.
Inside Collective Compound
Aura, Alethia, and Buddy the KX droid reached level 2, but there was a small problem. It was a single room about 15 meters long and it was full of Collective soldiers all pointing their guns at them.
“JJ! You didn’t say there was this much resistance on this level! Reroute, immediately!” ordered Archenksova.
“Sorry, Councillor. The database was incomplete. There are several air-ducts you could use if you wish, but your droid might not make it.”
The Zeltron ignored them completely, her lightsaber a blur as it deflected shot after shot.
“Will you stop yammering and start fighting? This would be a great time for some fire about now,” suggested Aura.
Alethia nodded to the droid and said, “Take out as many as you can.”
The Zeltron stepped forward to give him some cover while Archenksova fired her pistol as a distraction. The KX droid stepped in front of them, igniting his flamethrower once more and spraying it outward, fire engulfing anything within nine meters. Blaster bolts quickly ripped into the droid’s metal body, despite Alethia’s attempt to provide cover. Eventually, the loyal KX fell to the ground, the fire already gone.
Aura felt the Councillor’s concern in the Force, but the woman didn’t show it. Most of the room was dead, but they still had a fight ahead of them. The Zeltron took up a defensive position, blocking whatever shots came her way while Alethia blasted potshots whenever they became available. They took several out, but eventually they were forced to back up to their original position.
“Vents?” said Aura.
“No. Too confined. We make our stand here,” replied Alethia.
The Zeltron wasn’t sure how much time passed, but at some point her arms started to tire, the sweat beading down her face.
“Look, this is taking too long. Take your boyfriend’s saber and cut us an opening. This isn’t working,” yelled Aura over the blaster fire.
“We won’t know what we are getting into!” replied Archenksova.
“Then ask JJ!” the Zeltron retorted.
“Already here, Master Jedi. There are two sentients immediately below you. If you can take them out, it is a relatively secluded closet off the main room.”
“Do it! I can’t keep this up for long!” responded Aura.
Alethia cut a rough circle with her saber, already hearing alarmed screams. As she made her final cut, she stepped back, blaster fire shooting upwards. The Councillor popped a smoke grenade down the hole and waited for it to dissipate.
“Trust the Force on this one. Move,” yelled Aura as she pushed Alethia down it with her foot.
The woman yelled in surprise as she fell, Aura not far after her.
Alethia rolled as she hit the floor, trying to dissipate as much of the force of her fall as she could. It was unpleasant, but she managed to avoid any injuries worse that a few bruises. Reactivating her lightsaber, she swung the blade in a full circle around her. Her efforts were rewarded with a yelp of pain.
Aura simply landed on her feet and darted forward through the smoke to the other soldier, hacking the barrel off of his carbine before slamming him into the wall with the Force.
“The door!” Alethia shouted. The Zeltron took the hint and ran for the door’s exit, with her Human colleague on her tail, following the blue glow of Aura’s lightsaber. A pair of dull, metallic thuds echoed behind them.
The two women barely got the door closed behind them before the grenades exploded, the sound muffled by the few inches of durasteel between them and the shrapnel. Alethia plunged her lightsaber into the control panel, piercing through the apparatus on both sides.
“That should keep them from following us that way,” the councilor said, clipping the deactivated lightsaber back to her belt and readying her blaster. “JJ, which way?”
“Approximately 50 meters to your right. The patrols have all be ordered to the upper levels, but the troops you just encountered are active on the comms channel.”
“Well, it seems you’ll get a bit of a break,” Alethia remarked to Ta’var.
“It won’t take them long to get down here,” Aura replied. “Smash and grab?”
Archenksova nodded. “I’d prefer not to be pinned into a single-exit room when the enemy realize where we are.”
As the pair made their way down the corridor, JJ’s synthetic voice crackled from Alethia’s comlink.
“Councilor, the Collective’s security forces are converging on our location. Please advise.”
“Keep a datapad in front of Tamashi’s face and get out of there,” Archenksova responded. Aurora was slowly dragging her lightsaber through the thick durasteel of the final door between them and whatever had lured them here.
“I will not be able to advise you without a physical connection to a terminal.”
“We’ll make do,” the woman hissed, activating her own blade to help. “Move out.”
Aura snapped her leg up, pushing her weight forward and popping a smouldering circle out of the door.
“We’re in,” Alethia said into her wrist link as she pulled out her datapad and started recording. “Eyes open, Delat. I’m patching through video. What do we need?”
“Councilor, it’s difficult to evaluate the value of—” the Pau’an began.
“While you’re being shot at, yes,” Archenksova cut him off. “Your best guess, then.”
“Holocrons, anything on paper… wait! Master Ta’var, do you sense anything from that shelf?”
Aura, who had been keeping watch with her head sticking out the door, turned and hustled over to Alethia. “I keep telling you, Tamashi, I’m not…” she started, trailing off with a frown as she extended her senses over the collection of shining black scroll cases. “Nothing good.”
“Can I get a better look at that symbol?” Tamashi asked, wincing as a blaster bolt streaked past his head.
Aurora reach out, but hesitated, her hand hovering over the scrolls. Alethia reached around her and grabbed on, holding the sigil in front of the datapad camera.
“Yes! That’s it. That’s Darth Plagueis’ seal.”
“Excellent. Get out alive.” Alethia cut the channel and slipped the datapad into one of the pockets of her cloak before doing the same to the scrolls. “Ta’var, get as much as you can carry and cut open anything sturdy. I don’t want anything to survive the detonator.”
The Zeltron’s eyes lingered on the scrolls for a moment as Archenksova tucked them away, but she did as she was told.
The two women grabbed a small batch of holocrons and darted out the door, Alethia tossing a thermal detonator back into the room before slapping the door’s control panel. Running at full sprint down the corridor, they heard the fire alarm klaxons first, then a hiss as the fire suppression system kicked in and started spraying everything with water.
“Is your makeup going to be ok?” Aura asked with feigned concern.
“I’ll live,” Alethia shot back. “We’re almost to the turbolift.” Alethia had barely gotten the words out of her mouth before the Zeltron grabbed her and yanked her to one side as a door to their right opened to reveal a truly gargantuan Devaronian.
“Leaving so soon?” he bellowed as he took a wide swing with a riot baton. Aura moved to intercept the blow, but the sheer force of it nearly ripped the lightsaber out of her hand. The Jedi just barely scrambled out of the way of the follow-up strike, which left a handsome dent in the wall behind where Aura’s head had been.
“We don’t have time for this,” Alethia muttered as she leveled her blaster and opened fire. Three crimson blaster bolts hurled through the air, ripping into the Devaronian’s organic right arm and shoulder. Kerwin Drake howled in pain, the deep bass of the noise seemingly reverberating through the very building itself. He staggered back as a cadre of cybernetically-enhanced soldiers tried to shove past him, blasters at the ready.
Neither woman needed instructions to retreat, and the pair sprinted down the hall to the lift. Aura batted away the Collective’s blasterfire as the pair stumbled into the welcome embrace of the turbolift.
Kerwin slammed his metallic fist into the lift’s door as he staggered up to it. Growling, he jammed a finger into the call button and waited.
Technocratic Guild Badlands Fortress “The Spire”
“Something tells me that there’s more to that story than you’re letting on,” Tarvitz said to Yuki, raising the lightsaber to deflect a bolt aside “I suppose it can wait until we’re well on our way out of here.”
The group of Technocrat soldiers opposing them had reacted like clockwork at the sudden attack, most taking cover under the massed covering fire as Yuki sprinted down the corridor towards them. With an audible click, several thermal detonators bounced down the corridor in her path. Tarvitz had been half expecting this, and as they bounced across the floor he made another gesture, opening his palm and pushing outward. Each skittered backwards as they were gripped by an invisible hand, hurtling directly back toward those who had thrown them. There was a very short scream, and a desperate attempt to yell orders, both of which were quickly lost in a cascade of fire and shrapnel. An electronic panel blew out along one of the walls, throwing up a veil of acrid black smoke between the two sides.
Yuki was momentarily lost as she charged headlong through the smoke, seemingly heedless of the threat to herself. There were a few panicked screams accompanied by the electronic buzz of shockgloves connecting with something solid. What little remained of the blaster fire aimed towards the commandos suddenly faltered. Several people screamed, followed by another explosion, and Yuki began yelling a stream of colourful profanities in Basic, Mando’a and somehow Binary.
“Form up!” Len ordered, wincing uncomfortably as he hefted his rifle in both arms, “Send them running or send them to their graves!”
There was a ragged cheer in response as the commando unit began to advance, a few remaining behind to cover their rear as they charged the short distance toward their foes’ position. Taking point, Tarvitz kept his blade raised, ready to deflect any sudden barrage which might have been sent their way. Yet, as they dived headlong through the smoke generated by the explosion, they were met only with chaos. Tarvitz almost stumbled over a corpse, one of eight lying crumpled on the ground, his skull reduced to a bloody ruin by some powerful impact. Yuki stood over them, a manic grin fixed across her features, seemingly lost to her own adrenaline. Her left arm was coated in blood up to her elbow, drops slowly forming a puddle on the floor beneath her. She downed a ninth soldier as they approached, stamping on his neck and ending his life with the crack of splintering bone.
A few meters away, the Collective soldiers were backing off. One among them, a brute whose right arm had been replaced by a grossly oversized claw, was barking at those nearest to him. It was something halfway between an inspiring speech and threatening anyone who attempted to flee, trying to force them to open fire once more. Reaching out with the Force, Tarvitz picked him out from among the soldiers, ripping him from the ground and dragging him through the air towards the commando unit. He slashed once and the man died, his head falling separately from his body. Tarvitz kicked his decapitated head back toward the Collective troops, allowing it to fall near their feet.
“He died in fear,” Tarvitz bellowed, pointing the lightsaber before him in a challenge, “Does anyone here wish to share his fate?”
Like all fanatics, the zeal of some faltered when their faith was tested. There was a momentary pause before several dropped their guns, turning and fleeing from the figures before them. A few more peeled off toward the back of their group, fleeing for their lives, at the armoured roaring figure who had decapitated their leader. Most of those left faltered, even as a few raised their weapons again.
Tarvitz raised his hand again, pushing out with the force this time and flattening the first among their number. Then, in answer to an unspoken order, the commandos opened fire. Several fell quickly, others taking longer as their cybernetic implants held them upright for a few moments under the concentrated fire. Just long enough for Yuki to sprint forward and get within arm’s reach, quickly cutting her way through their faltering lines. Under the renewed assault others began to run, with some trying to retreat for a superior position, but most simply fled for their lives. Those who stayed died one after another, either to the bloodsoaked maniac or the disciplined rounds loosed by the commandos. They barely lasted a minute under the onslaught.
“They’ll likely be back once someone shames them into fighting again,” Tarvitz warned, glancing both ways up the corridor “I wouldn’t want to be here when that happens.”
Len nodded, signalling for two troopers to begin moving out, as their rearguard planted mines just within the smoke still issuing from the blown panel. Nevertheless, there was something odd about his look.
“What?” Tarvitz asked after a few moments.
“‘He died in fear’?” Len repeated, “Really?”
“Nothing better came to mind,” Tarvitz laughed slightly, “And I’m afraid that was my best impression of Darth Vader. Better to give them a reason to run than inflict an unnecessary slaughter.”
“Hardly necessary,” Yuki cut in, clenching and unclenching her one hand as electricity sparked off of her glove, “It made sure any reinforcements they have left will be sent right after us. And why yes, never felt better, thanks for asking.”
Tarvitz turned to face Yuki, ready to remark upon the Corsair’s apparent invincibility, but any laughter died in his throat as he caught sight of her. The blood on her arm wasn’t from some unfortunate enemy. In fact, there wasn’t much of an arm left at all. It was a ragged mess of charred meat and bone, ending in a bloody stump just above her elbow. As they watched she slumped slightly against the nearby wall, her face notably pale.
“Electrical charge from the panel hit the glove. It blew out the capacitors,” she explained through gritted teeth. “Can you heal it?”
“No,” Tarvitz shook his head, “Not that kind of wound and not here. On the ship perhaps but the best I can manage is staunching the bleeding.”
“Right,” Yuki nodded in acceptance, “Someone bandage me up then. We still have plenty of Technocrat fodder to keep busy.”
“Yuki, you’re in no state to-” Len began as she tried to wave him off. He stopped briefly but persisted “For the love of- You lost an arm! You’re lucky you didn’t lose your life!”
“I still have the other one,” Yuki managed a savage grin, “Besides, someone was kind enough to donate a perfectly good replacement.”
As the medic accompanying the commando unit arrived to examine the bloody limb, Yuki gestured to where another soldier was carrying the cybernetic she had liberated. Len shook his head in response, torn between admiration and astonishment. In either case, he didn’t bother to argue the point any further. His attention was instead drawn to the sound of a voice bellowing a familiar rhetoric through the spire’s internal speakers, demanding their troops stand and fight. Whatever brief respite they had earned was certain to be short-lived.
“Finish up with those charges,” Len turned, ordering the two setting up mines behind them “We move out the moment you are done.”
The Technocrat soldiers made few attempts to oppose the commandos as they withdrew. Save for a handful of ill-fated ambushes - which were quickly driven back with the liberal use of grenades - their enemy did little to hinder their progress. There was no sudden rush of soldiers, no massed charge to bar their retreat, simply the distant panicked yells of others. Clearly the impression left by their latest defeat had encouraged a far more cautious approach when dealing with the Odanites.
Tarvitz and a small group took up the rear, pausing occasionally to lay down mines to shake of any further pursuit. Len and Yuki were at their fore, moving as fast as they dared in a rapid withdrawal back to the spire’s exterior. While visibly suffering, the Corsair managed to keep pace with the other soldiers. Driven either by lifelong training or a bloody-minded refusal to collapse until their job was done, their pace barely slowed until they emerged out into the open air.
They were greeted by the sight of burning wreckage surrounding the Collective stronghold. The broken remnants of towers and cyborgs alike littered the sand, and as they watched the familiar sight of an X-Wing dive out of the sky. It opened fire, bolts stitching across the ground as it ripped through a Collective squad who had sought shelter behind one of the ruined turrets.
“It’s about time you got back here,” Ken’s voice crackled through the unit comlink “Ready to pull out?”
Technocratic Guild Badlands Fortress “The Spire”
Yuki looked at Len, her pain-wracked face becoming stony. “Are we ready to pull out? Tell that nerfherder of a father you have to clear us a path.”
Len shook his head, his own features showing pain and a haggardness from exhaustion. He relayed the Corsair’s message verbatim to the pilot and was awarded a sharp barking laugh in response before the comm went quiet. At the same time, another door shot open, releasing Aurora and Alethia into the light of false dawn. The mission, it had seemed, was no walk in the park for the other members of the team that had entered the Spire.
Aurora looked over her shoulder for a minute before she turned back to her comrades and shouted. “RUN!”
The commandos that had assisted Len, Yuki and Tarvitz took up a rearguard position as the Odanites dug deep and pulled every last bit of strength they could from within. Behind them, a heavy door was ripped away from the building as Kerwin Drake stepped out from inside. His face twisted into a malicious smile as he pointed at the retreating party.
His words were drowned out as Ken Iode turned his X-Wing and strafed the line of Collective soldiers with brilliant crimson destruction. The shots from the starfighter were true, vaporizing soldiers and eliciting explosions on impact. The members of Odan-Urr stood in stunned silence for only a moment as the shots razed the courtyard of the fortress before they turned en masse to flee towards their own waiting vessels.
The Freerunner hovered nearby and lowered its ramp, Tamashi sitting almost serenely at the top as he focused on the courtyard behind them. The N-1’s cockpit opened quickly and Tarvitz jumped into his ship, initiating the start up sequence. The X-Wing continued its harrying attack on the courtyard to allow the ground forces time to make their escape. Yuki stumbled as the stims the medic had given her began to wear off, but Len quickly grabbed her waist and helped her into the waiting ship.
The Nabooian ship roared to life and took off as Tarvitz, once again in control, turned his ship to rain emerald blasts on the decimated courtyard. The small team ran up the boarding ramp of Yuki’s YT-2400 and Len took her directly to the small medbay that had remained intact after the Corsair had remodeled most of the ship to fit her lifestyle.
“Foresight in keeping this room?” the Chiss said sourly.
The woman gave a soft laugh before she became deadweight in the man’s arms. Len winced as the Corsair lost consciousness and called out for help. Aurora ran into the compartment and stopped, her eyes taking in the scene and fixating on the missing arm. Only a moment passed before the Zeltron rushed over to help Len get Yuki onto one of the small beds that lined the wall. She sat at the bed and her face showing signs of worry as an unnaturally shiny medical droid came shambling from the corner.
“This unit will need another to keep the master still,” the droid said in a bland, monotone voice.
Aurora nodded and remained by the bed. “I’ll stay to help. Len, get us back to the fleet. They have better facilities.”
The droid turned its head slightly and droned on again. “Yes, the master does not keep adequate supplies on hand. I estimate that if she does not reach the fleet soon, she will expire with a ninety-seven percent surety.”
The Chiss nodded and ran from the room, once again leaving his friend and comrade behind. He reached the cockpit and looked at the droid who sat still near one of the control panels. “Get us out of here, Pilot. We need to get to the fleet as fast as we can.”
The droid turned its head and looked at the man who had just burst into its domain. “Oh, very well. It should not take us very long to reach the fleet.”
Len nodded once and turned to leave. He knew what this droid was like and hated it. He touched the door as the droid began to speak again. “Unless, of course, they have retreated.”
Len growled softly and took a step out of the cockpit only to hear the droid finish the thought. “Or have been destroyed. These are both possibilities.”
When she woke up, the Chiss was going to have a serious conversation with Yuki about the demeanor of every single droid she owned.
Alethia and Tamashi sat at the large table in the cabin of the YT-2400 and looked at the scrolls laid out before her. Nothing good ever came of allowing such things into the open, but she, for all her coldness, could not allow genocide. She was not above doing what was necessary, but this was taking things too far. She looked up as Len entered the room and took everything into account with one sweeping look.
“How is she?” the woman asked.
Len shook his head and spoke plainly to Alethia. “I don’t know. She’s unconscious and Ta’var is with her to do what she can.”
Alethia nodded slowly. “We are en route?”
The Chiss nodded and turned to leave after a brief dismissal from the Human.
Ken and Tarvitz flew through space flanking the Freerunner and the freighter that carried their companions and the mission’s objective. Tarvitz opened a channel to the X-Wing, a grin on his face that was evident even across the comms.
“That was some pretty fancy flying down there. I wish I could have seen the Devaronian’s face when the blast engulfed him.”
A laughing response was all that followed.