Maintaining Position Over Mucenic
Tarthos, Orian System
After speaking with Armad, Locke headed to the hangar. Along the way, he stopped in the armory. The Krath already wore his lightsaber and DL-44 blaster pistol at his belt, but he would need more firepower for this battle. From his locker, he retrieved the AXM-50 rifle he had come to prefer. Nicknamed the “Blast and Smash”, it boasted the ability to both fire as a rifle and as a micro-grenade launcher, making it a versatile weapon. Locke shrugged as he gently put the rifle’s strap around his shoulders, checking to make sure the throwing knife hidden under the back of his shirt was in place. He also checked the cuffs of his flightsuit, feeling the two hidden in his sleeves. Locke had recently taken training in using the weapons, after thinking that it might be good to have a way to kill from a distance without discharging a loud weapon.
Next, Locke headed down into the hangar, looking around slowly as everyone got ready. One of Cresh Battery’s AT-ST crews already knew to expect Locke. Their walker was being loaded into a drop pod at the moment, which would have to be attached to an overhead rack that could position it over the gap in the ship’s ventral hangar prior to the drop, so Locke knew he had a few minutes. Even with the rush and sense of urgency, he took his time. Somehow, he had found himself giving a speech at the beginning of this mission, and if he was doing that, soldiers might be looking to him for an example. Thus, he would force himself to stay calm and in control of his surroundings.
That thought lasted only a few seconds before Locke’s eyes set upon a particular unique individual. There was no mistaking that warrior’s gait, that hair that could best be described as a dark mass above the man’s head, but there was something different. He remembered that man, from an encounter years before.
Usually, Locke would not approach a deadly enemy, but in this case, he found himself shocked. He reached out, grabbing the man’s shoulder, distantly surprised that the move had not been met with violence.
“Tsainetomo?” Locke said when the man turned around. Anger welled within Locke, but he crushed it and soothed it. There was a battle coming; it would be a waste to let it affect him here.
The man simply looked at him, lips twitching slightly, brow furrowed as if remembering something. Was that a smile? “That is the man I once was, Sonjie.”
“And who are you now?” Locke answered, voice ice. How had the man gotten onboard? Last Locke had seen him, he had been carving a path of destruction out of the Cenota prison on Gamuslag. After that, he had disappeared.
“Shi Long,” the man said, that twitch in his mouth becoming a grin. Why was he grinning.
For a moment, Locke did not know what to say. Thoughts piled upon each other in his mind. He had mixed feelings about the Longs. They had fought him when he became Consul, but then his Proconsul had joined them, shortly before disappearing. They could have been a powerful force for the Clan, if not so volatile, unpredictable, and focused on their own goals. Was he being truthful? What was this one’s goals? He had been Keibatsu, was he still? One did not simply severe blood ties, although at the moment Locke found himself unable to recall the other man’s connection to the family. Battle would begin soon and Locke was not sure how easy he felt with this man in it.
“Why are you here?” Locke found himself asking.
“Why not be here?” the apparent Long said. “There is battle here. This was once part of my home.”
Locke sensed that he wasn’t entirely sincere, but for now, he would have to allow it. He couldn’t very well begin a duel right here on the cusp of battle. Even if he did, Locke thought he could sense the man’s strength. They had come closer in power, but there was still that gap. Locke would not assault him unless absolutely necessary.
"We will see, " the Krath said. As he headed to his AT-ST, Locke heard the other man chuckle behind him.
After entering the AT-ST inside the drop pod, Locke busied himself with studying the controls and speaking to the crew, questioning them about tactics and various issues relating to the machine. He wasn’t a walker crewman by any means - having spent his entire career with the Alliance on foot or in starfighters - but Locke always felt it was good to know as much about his and his troops’ equipment as possible. Besides that, he had always wondered what it would be like to crew one of these, or one of the Alliance’s hover tanks. He needed to keep his mind busy, to not worry about Tsainetomo, or whatever the man called himself now.
Finally, one of the pilots let Locke know that he would want to strap himself in for the drop. He did so, thanking the man, not knowing how long they had been talking. Some more time passed, the crew already maintaining radio silence. Then a red light lit up on the Walker’s center console and Locke heard and felt a jolt, as if something was released.
There was silence for a time. That silence stretched for what felt like dozens of minutes. Locke relaxed, closing his eyes, feeling the Force. There were others around him, distant pinpricks of life energy that must have been the other pods descending. Aside from that, there was nothing, and Locke knew that void must have been empty atmosphere or space.
Finally, there was another light, this one yellow.
"30 seconds, " the pilot said.
One last breath. Locke knew what he had to do as soon as they landed. The enemy would likely be upon them soon, if not immediately. They would be positioned just on the outskirts of the grounds at Mucenic.
Then there was a green light and a constant, solid ringing sound.
"Down, " the pilot said, “opening pod door in 3…2-”
“Now!” Locke shouted urgently, shoving his palm against the release that would trigger the door. It burst outward, bathing the three men in bright, natural light. As their vision adapted, he saw a slope covered in soldiers - but not their soldiers. “Fire, fire, fire!” Locke yelled, standing up. He didn’t wait to see if his command was obeyed. Instead, the Krath summoned the Force, pushing the top hatch open with inhuman speed. He had the AXM rifle in his hands a moment later as he steadied himself against the hatch threshold.
Then, as the first beams from the walker below him began to lance out at the enemy group, Locke fired the rifle, aiming at the closest enemy soldier. The two forces were right on top of each other, and worse yet, Locke could see enemy walkers among the throng of soldiers, including a couple of AT-ATs and groups of AT-STs, painted a dull green color, probably to differentiate them from their enemies. It was going to be a busy day.