Azrith Etsu remained on the floor, panting with the exertion of the fight and his numerous injuries, seething with rage but also a sick sense of accomplishment. He hadn’t killed them, true, but he wouldn’t return to the Justicar empty handed. He’d flicked a small tracing beacon at the fleeing Taldryans, much like he’d done with the armored warrior he’d fought on Ortega, and would track them back to the Taldryan fleet once again. He reached for the com on his belt and issued orders for the Taldryans to be allowed to escape, but only just.
Vodo loped along behind Mortetior and Alexander. They retraced the trail of bodies and parts that led back to the hangar, occasionally fighting off small patrols of Legionnaires as they came across them. When they reached the access to the hangar they were surprised to see the crumpled forms of ship personnel and Iron Throne Legionnaires littering the deck around the Karufr Knight.
“The people we rescued sure did a number here, eh”, Xander’s voice was full of wonder and strangely chipper.
Vodo glanced over at the former Praetor and then Mortetior, “We need to get moving. Etsu won’t let us merely leave.”
The three sprinted across the hangar floor to the ramp of the Knight which lowered at Vodo’s approach. He flew up the ramp, encountering two muzzles pointing his way at the top. The Warlord gently nudged the blaster barrels aside with the Force, his eyes boring into the two, and was grateful they did not fire on him. The two Taldryans moved aside and helped usher Mortetior and Alexander aboard, keeping one eye out the hatch for anyone else coming or attacking. The ramp closed up behind them and the sound of repulsors began to whine as the drives cut in. Vodo cut a b-line for the cockpit and seated himself in one of the plush G-couches.
Vodo stared at the control panel before him for a moment; he knew how to fly the shuttle, of course, but his knowledge was rudimentary. It was why he’d paid the cost for the capable droid pilot brain but that droid wouldn’t be sufficient to fly them to safety whilst perused by the Vengeance and its fighter wings. Alexander poked his head into the cockpit and saw Vodo’s hesitation.
“You’re kidding me-- You can’t fly your own ship?”, He plopped into the other G-couch without invitation.
Anderson’s hands flew over control panels and switches and in moments the shuttle was rising from the deck plating. The shuttle jolted to a stop in the air, apparently tethered by a tractor beam that had engaged to grab the escaping Taldryans. Vodo called up the weapons controls and started working blaster fire around the hangar bay. Cargo boxes exploded, wall paneling warped and disintegrated, and smoke began to fill the expanse of the bay. Within seconds Vodo had nailed the tractor emitter and the Alexander had the throttles rammed to their stops.
As soon as the shuttle left the atmospheric containment shielding the acceleration began to gently push Vodo into his seat until the inertial dampers could adjust. His screens came alive with alert messages soon after. He counted four TIE Fighters, Defender models, launching in pursuit of the Karufr Knight as the massive bulk of the Vengeance shifted to pursue as well. Flicking a switch Vodo activated the shipboard com.
“Mortetior, jump on the rear turret. We’ll have company soon”, Vodo looked over his shoulder at Alexander, “How long until you can get us into Hyperspace?”
Alexander’s lips pursed, “Not before they’re on top of us.”
“Activate the Electronic Warfare Suite; we can at least keep them from talking to each other.” Vodo’s hand played across his own controls preparing to activate his one other trump card.
The Defenders screamed in at the Shuttle, breaking off into pairs so they could attack from either side. Mortetior fired at the pair approaching the starboard side from his place in the turret. The few shots that struck home fizzled against the superiority fighters’ shields. As they returned fire Vodo activated his trump card; a special generator began to hum loudly and the shield output strength tripled. The impacting laser bolts hardly rattled the Karufr Knight at all. Vodo could feel the surprise of the pilots outside and was pleased when he felt one of them wink out of existence.
“Got one”, Mortetior’s raspy voice announced over the com.
“Don’t get cocky, we need 30 more seconds to get to hyperspace”, Alexander said through gritted teeth.
Vodo deactivated the special shields, returning power to the drive thrusters and hyperdrive, as the Defenders overshot them and came about for another run. One crossed before his field of fire, to that pilot’s misfortune, and exploded in a ball of flame as the shuttle’s four primary canons opened on him. Mortetior claimed one more before the shuttle jumped to Hyperspace with a hoot of celebration. Vodo relaxed into his G-couch and took a deep breath.
“Alexander”, his voice was low.
The man looked over at him expectantly, “Yeah?”
Vodo stood and made to leave the cockpit, “Thank you”.
Vodo joined Mortetior and the rescued Taldryans in the lounge. There were only five of them there, not counting the body of one more laid respectfully in the corner. Each of the men and women thanked him profusely, clasping hands with Mortetior and Alexander as well. They told their story, how they’d left the detention block with their weapons and had made for the hangar as they’d been told. No one had heard from the two who had gone off on their own and they’d lost a few more during the firefight to get into the Shuttle itself. Dresson, the dead Miraluka on the floor with his face covered by a dinner cloth, had suffered a shot between the shoulder blades as he’d run up the ramp and had died shortly after they’d sealed the ship again. Vodo listened solemnly and made sure each of his Clanmates felt his sympathy.
“How did you know to find us, Master Biask?”, one asked him.
The Rollmaster put on a serious face, not that anyone could tell the difference, and told them of the Inquisitor’s holonet threat, “Rhylance was resolute that Taldryan would do nothing. He committed himself, and the Clan, to watching each of you tortured to death. I argued with him at great length and, I suspect more to be rid of me than any great wish to see you all return alive, gave me leave to lead a mission to rescue you.”
The survivors, Mortetior, and Alexander stood there in stunned silence. None of them would know that Rhylance had given him permission at once, that there had been no debate, but it would play into Vodo’s hands nicely if every person here returned with a chip on their shoulder, “I’m proud of each of you for your valiant attempts to strike out at the Justicar and to avenge Taldryan, don’t let anyone take that fire in your heart from you. As an officer of the Clan Summit I cannot condone your activities publically but know that you act with my support and well wishes. You are Taldryan’s Old Guard: you are the defenders of its flame, its glory, and its honor. Of your friends that still live, feel them out, and bring them into your trust. Act with secrecy and keep your actions secret from even each other, lest we be used again against one-another.”
Vodo was now pacing pensively before his small, ad-hoc audience, “I will pardon your actions, the ones that got you caught, and plead before the Consul on your behalf. I promise you all: I will not leave you behind. Ever.”
The survivors cheered, clapping each other on the back, shaking hands, and generally celebrating their good fortune. Vodo stood stoically before them, ignoring the rather amused looks on Alexander and Mortetior’s faces. Mortetior had pledged himself to Vodo’s cause and had done well in proving himself in their short acquaintance but it would be a long time before he could bring himself to trust the man. Alexander was more of a mystery to him and he would need to keep an eye on the man. There was something strange about him that Vodo couldn’t quite put a finger on but he was grateful for his own rescue.
“Everyone get some rest. We’re going to take the long way home to make sure we don’t endanger the Fleet”, Vodo gave each of the Taldryans one last look before he walked to the aft of the lounge toward his personal cabin.
As he strode he accidentally tread across the sleeve of Mortetior’s over-robe, he’d taken it off moments earlier to stretch, and didn’t hear the small crunch of an electronic bug breaking.
END PRESENT ARMS - An Old Guard Run On