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Johanna Bryce

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  1. Salute, salute returned; then Bryce allowed her eyes to flicker over the other Rebel officers who had answered the summons to the briefing. It was an eclectic bunch, almost as diverse as any strike team from the Bad Old Days of the Rebel Alliance; she and her Talons--an extraordinarily tall Bespinian, a Togruta, a Duros, and a Corellian--an Imperial Knight complete with the standard-pattern lightsaber of his order, the trim Imperial officer, and… a droid of unknown configuration. All that the shock trooper knew of its design was that the deck plates were flexing very slightly under its armored stride. The shock trooper studied the hologram of the space station before them and pursed her lips. “Aye, sir, I think I understand. Not quiet, not subtle, but fast and furious. If I can make a suggestion, me and my Talons have training in null-gee sapping, to make entry into a ship or station from vacuum. Our armor has its own source of propulsion. If the Imperial Marines run into problems--say, a Sith Lord--we can blast our way in and outflank them.”
  2. Marathon, despite what her name might have implied, was not a particularly swift ship. It was old, creaky, leaky, and prone to making suspicious noises when making a hyperspace jump. Moreover, she was operated by a skeleton crew, barely enough to keep its engines running and pointed in the right direction. When the groans of ancient durasteel and suspicious chunk-chunk-chunk sounds from the engines were not keeping Johanna Bryce awake, the ship was otherwise silent, without any of the endless announcements and overheard conversations that would be present on a modern battlecruiser. Eventually, the DP20 Frigate popped out of hyperspace--with an alarming growl from her engines--and dispatched a single shuttle containing Johanna Bryce and her fireteam of Talon shock troopers. Allowing her comrades to handle the piloting, the tall Bespinian hunched over the communication console and signaled the Mon Calamari air traffic control. “Mon Cal control, shuttle Leth-Vev-Four-Two-One requesting direction. Passengers are elements of Fourth Fleet, assigned to Vice-Admiral Kolchak.”
  3. Several days later, Johanna Bryce was summoned to a briefing room with Admiral Klatchka. This was a meeting that the Rebel Talon had been dreading; Naboo had been lost, several of her men had been slain with no hope of their bodies being repatriated. Worse, her action at Theed had accomplished little for the loss aside from the destruction of several troop transports and a single naviputer that had not been wiped by the shuttle’s crew. Her shoulder still aching as she took a deep breath prior to entering the briefing room, she knocked and was surprised to find three of her Talons along with the middle-aged Admiral Klatchka. While the Mon Calamari seemed to be in a grim mood, the solemnity did not seem directed at the commander of his ground troops. “Captain, glad to see you up and about.” He waved a webbed arm towards the round table in the center of the room. “Sit. We have little time. The situation has become dangerous for the Rebel Alliance. With the loss of Naboo, the Sith have gained a safe staging ground to launch further attacks into the Outer Rim. Nar Shaddaa is now within the grasp of the Sith.” “So we are to redeploy to Nar Shaddaa? Sir?” The Mon Calamari fixed a single pale eye on the Talon. “Wrecking Machine and most of the Fourth Fleet will lie in reserve in preparation for such an attack. That said, our special forces must secure a base of operations for withdrawal in the event of failure. I draw your attention to a space station in the Galactic Core, known colloquially as ‘Outer Heaven.’” A holograph of the space station appeared before them. Unusually for an isolated space station, the hull if the station appeared dominated by a vast cityspace. It almost appeared as a miniature Coruscant, albeit significantly more run-down. A miniature Nar Shaddaa, perhaps. “Despite its reputation as a den for mercenaries and less savory scum, the staton does boast many of the facilities required to maintain larger vessels. More importantly, it has never been under significant threat by either the Sith-Imperial or Republic militaries. We can expect it to be a softer target than the typical Imperial fleet. We have prepared a dossier on the station, but you will receive a full briefing upon your arrival at the rendezvous point at Mon Calamari. Good luck, Captain. I hope you won’t need it.” Several minutes later, the four Talons boarded the DP20 Frigate Marathon and were dispatched into hyperspace.
  4. Johanna Bryce


    Fifty thousand meters above Theed, a squadron of A-Wings were blazing downwards through Naboo’s atmosphere at a velocity that some meteors would have envied. In a frightening feat of precision flying, the twelve starfighters were flying so closely together that their overlapping sensor signatures might have caused some sensor relays to misidentify the interceptors as a falling meteor. The superheated gases glinting off of their hulls would have certainly caused any casual observers to dismiss them as a meteorological event. The A-Wings were continually buffeted from side to side by the turbulence from their own airfoil vortices, the tiny interceptors within such a close range that their pilots could have communicated by hand signals rather than the narrow-band line-of-sight comms that they used to avoid detection. “ No diversions from Theed. Looks like we might make it through undetected.” “I can’t even see it. All I see is smoke and--” “That is Theed. Remember, protect your wingman, hit fast, hit hard and do not stick around for a fight. We’re here to give the knuckle-draggers some cover. Esk-war up on my mark. Five, four, three, two, one--mark!.” At that moment, the pilots simultaneously triggered the jammers on board their equipment, filling the nearby atmosphere with interference that would play havoc with comms and sensor transmissions. Of course, the enemy would instantly realize that something was on its way, but from where--and what--could only be confirmed by the mark one eyeball. _____ “Go Lead, before they… pos…” “Repeat, Aurek--repeat.” Bryce growled as the Talon rained down semiautomatic blaster fire down the Palace Promenade, spattering sparks against the turret of one of the Sith transports. Static was all that answered her--the turret swiveled around to face her position and she fell prone to the polished floor.. In the next second, her hearing was blown out by the shriek of shattering glass and crumbling walls. Rubble and glass rained down all around her as the laser cannon opened up on her position, causing the entire wall and part of the floor to cave in. For the moment, all she could do was to try and protect her head from the wreckage. Once the impacts stopped landing, she triggered the repulsorlift in her armor, causing the rubble to blast away from her in a miniature explosion as the thrusters tried to push against the obstacles. Bryce shook her head and tried to collect herself. The roar of laser cannon fire seemed to have died down. Nothing seemed to have been broken, but she had lost her rifle in the collapse and a warm liquid was leaking down her face. Somehow, the cave-in had caused her to fall down to the ground level of the promenade. Seizing her vibromachete, the Talon began to rush own the debris-strewn steps of the once-proud Royal Palace, to join in the firefight against a final unseized troop transport. The crew hadn’t seemed to realize that two of the other transports had gone silent and were seized by her soldiers… but as her boots sprinted down towards its landing struts, the whine of its repulsors took on a higher pitch. They were preparing to take off. Cursing under her breath, Bryce redoubled her pace and jumped onto the retracting boarding ramp--a chrome-plated Sith trooper nearly jumped in shock to see the Rebel marine lift her machete in a double-handed grip--a pair of bolts went wide and showered the keel of the transports--she brought the machete down in a hacking blow on the soldier’s shoulder. The Sith trooper collapsed to the deck, his weapon falling to the deckplates of the transport. His gauntlets rose as though attempting to protect himself from a second crash of the blade--then shock and blood loss set in and his hands fell to the floor. Bryce only took a second while stepping over his body to slam an armored palm against the controls of the boarding ramp. She charged towards the cockpit. An officer of some description stood from his position at the comms unit to pose some meager resistance with a light blaster pistol--Sophia tucked her head down in imitation of a shockball player’s tackle and felt burning heat against her left shoulder as a blaster bolt found plastoid. Her tackle rammed the officer into the corridor wall--a distinct crack resounded as the officer fell, and the man did not attempt to rise from his supine position. Finally, the cockpit. It was a simple layout, just two seats surrounded by control boards. Bryce lifted her vibromachete in preparation for another overhand chop and roared from a core of visceral rage that astonished her. “Take this fracking ship down! Take it down or I will fracking chop you two up right now!” She could not quite hear the response of the pilot, but it appeared to be a terrified squeak. More relevant was the fact that the deckplates sank under boots as the transport returned to the ground, allowing the remainder of her Talons to board and take control of the vessel. A pair of her men dragged the gunners out of their turrets, and another pair held sidearms to the pilots heads and shoved them into the passenger compartment. “Take us out, Cegt. Any direction…” As the adrenaline began to subside, Bryce began to lean heavily on the co-pilot’s seat. Cold was beginning to creep up her fingers, and blood began to ooze between the gaps of her pauldron. As the four seized transports lifted from the ruins of Theed and into a hostile airspace, the sensor boards reported that multiple Acklay fighters were vectoring to intercept their escape. At that moment, the A-Wings of Geist Squadron struck, dumb-firing their missiles into the Sith fighters. That fire was largely inaccurate and only two of the missiles found their targets, but the exhaust trails streaking past their cockpits undoubtedly threw them off their quarry. The grey-painted A-Wings then swooped around, spraying fire from their blaster cannons as the other half of the squadron began their own attack run on the grounded Sith forces around Theed. At that moment, Johanna had collapsed from a mixture of blood loss and exhaustion. A medic fell upon the Rebel Captain, peeling away armor plating and shoving bandages into an ugly blaster wound at her shoulder. It had nearly severed her the subclavian artery, and she was in danger of bleeding out while they made their escape. Bryce would later have no recollection of screaming out of shock and pain as the bandages were packed into the wound. She certainly had no recollection of the hysterical laughter that issued from the copilot as a pair of the grey A-Wings formed up just in front of the cockpit, giving the transport an acknowledging wag of their fuselage before breaking off to embark on another strafing run. Johanna did, however, distinctly remember the jolting landing as the transports set down in the hangar of Wrecking Machine. It stirred her into attempting to rise despite the firm pressure of the medics who held her supine, and she instead mumbled plaintively: “Men? My men? Where are my men? They make it? Tell me--need a headcount, let me up, gotta--” Those were the last intelligible wounds that she uttered as the marine was lifted onto a gurney and the Rebel fleet made its escape into hyperspace.
  5. Johanna Bryce


    “Hit the deck!” Cried a soldier at Bryce’s right. One of the gloriously polished Naboo shuttlecraft, this one a sleek, needle-like yacht the size of a medium freighter, had just lit its sublight engines and was rushing at the four Talons at the entrance of the hangar. The marines fell prone to the deck and a wash of wind and searing heat swept over Bryce’s armored back. The rush of exhaust blasted the marine off of the deck and sent her into a battering halt, bouncing her against the waxed surface of the hangar deck until the collisions finally depleted her momentum. “No joy, Talons.” the Bespinian groaned as she staggered to her feet. Nothing seemed to be broken, aside from a cosmetic crack in her faceplate. However, a brief scan confirmed that the hangar was now quite empty, aside from a pair of the slim starfighters favored by Naboo Royal Starfighter Corps. Even those were two-seater spacecraft, marked with bright blue at their wingtips: unarmed training craft, most likely. No escape would be found for her men from the Queen’s starfighter corps. “Repeat, no transports are available at the Royal Starport.” “Lead, Dorn. Several transports remain in the Palace Plaza. Plenty of space for the company, only…” “Only?” “Lot of infantry, wide open spaces. We’ll be a sitting duck for those starfighters.” The tall Marine made a circling motion with the fingers on her left hand, signaling the remainder of her platoon to form on her lead. The formation jogged out of the hangar and towards the waterfalls directly under the Queen’s palace. “Copy, Dorn. We’ll need to risk it. Lay down some suppressive fire and we’ll hit them from the opposite side.” At the edge of the waterfall, Bryce made an easy hop and gave the jetpack a brief burst. The Sith were now growing wise to their airborne attacks, and small arms fire was now beginning to track her flight despite her attempts to weave unpredictably. A streak of heat stung at her leg--a reflexive glance caught the crimson streak of a near-miss from the streets. The marine veered in her course, diverting from the jade-roofed towers that overlooked the promenade and towards the tall windows that lined the sides of the royal palace’s upper halls. “Brace for collision.” Bryce uttered seconds before the repulsorlift-powered glide sent her crashing through the glass, spraying shards onto the polished floors and the startled Sith occupants below--a dozen crashes tore the air to her sides as the remainder of her squad made a similar egress. Both sides equally surprised by the forced entry into the chambers of the evacuated Queen, the Talons rained blaster fire onto their exposed foes. Blaster bolts streaking through her torn belt-spat and creasing her pauldrons as her glide descended, Bryce simply focused on landing fire on the exposed chests and heads of the Sith troopers as they scurried for cover. “No time for prisoners, just stun ‘em.” Bryce growled as her feet touched the polished stone floors. A pair of stun blasts silenced the groans of the wounded Sith occupiers. Two of the marines shouldered the weight of one of their own wounded. Glass cracking under her plastoid boots, the Bespinian jogged towards a set of tall windows overlooking the Palace Promenade. Through those windows, she could watch as several of the angular Sith troop transports were being harassed by blaster fire and rifle-grenades from the remainder of her soldiers, their turrets sweeping back and forth to rake the rooftops with blaster fire. “Go, get Javs out first. Take the nearest transport and move down the plaza. I’ll provide cover fire.” Bryce smashed a hole in the window with the butt of her carbine. She snapped the weapon up to a check weld, taking careful aim on a pair of Sith soldiers using the landing pylons of a transport for cover. The rest of the squad battered a man-sized breach in the glass and made a gliding egress towards the rubble-strewn flagstones of the Palace Promenade. They were so close...
  6. Johanna Bryce


    Two minutes after the Gungan submersibles had descended into the darkest depths of the Naboo Abyss, Bryce refused to look through her bongo’s canopy and just stared into her lap. As a denizen of Bespin, she was a creature of open skies, far horizons, and free winds. The journey through the planetary core was one of impenetrable darkness, claustrophobia, piloting by instrumentation, and eldritch sea creatures with teeth larger than an interceptor. Yuusan continued to boast about the honor of the Gungan Grand Army--centuries of tradition, never backed down from a fight even against a technologically-superior opponent--but the Talon’s discipline failed her. But she was still a soldier of the Galactic Alliance, and a veteran of the Third Death Star, Coruscant, and Dark Sun Station. She had long developed coping mechanisms in confronting abyssal horror--most of which revolved around keeping calm and busying herself with work. “Bryce, comms check.” “Four by five, Captain,” came an answering voice from her Chiss executive officer. “It’s a little staticky this far down.” “We’ll make do, sergeant. Open up your holomap of Theed. I’ve an idea. We have a direct route to Theed from the Abyss… one of the tributaries of the Solleu opens up to us. Depth is about twenty meters, give or take. Is that sufficient for navigation, General?” “Disa bongo travels just fine. Da transports… risky.” “We’ll have to make do. Unless… our packs carry their own oxidizer. They’re vacuum-sealed. They’ll work just fine at that depth.” “Bit slow until we clear the water.” “True, but the last thing that they’ll expect is an airborne insertion carried out from submersibles. Two bursts should get us to the palace hangar. The opening to the Virdugo Plunge will be perfect for entrance. From there, we can gain transport and exfil. Targets of opportunity are grounded shuttles. Remember, Talons, this is not a fight we will win if we get stuck in. The best we can hope for is to surprise them, blast as many targets as we can on our way to exfil, and get out while they’re still trying to figure out where we hit them from. No heroics--and especially nothing stupid like trying to take on a Sith Lord. You see red lightsabers, you put on the fuel and run, understand?” “Understood, Captain,” was the general response from her soldiers. ____ “Sorry about that, General. I… feel better now.” Bryce apologized to Yuusan, after having defiled the Gungan’s submersible with seasickness. The Gungan, however, seemed to find her response to the final, hairraising maneuvers Thirty minutes later, the bongos began their final ascent from the Naboo Abyss and began to rise towards the Solleu River. Somewhat shaky after having expunged her seasickness from the final, hairraising maneuvers onto her boots, Bryce lifted a canteen to her lips and apologized. “Sorry about that, General… I’m not exactly suited for amphibious operations.” The Gungan, however, seemed to find the defilement of his submersible hilarious. He burst out into massive, jolly, jowl-shaking laughter, taking his hands off the yoke to pound one of the control panels. “Birds not so good at water maneuvers, eh! Ha! Now, weesa ready! Depth tenska meters! Go and maken big messen. Ouch-time for deh Seeth.” Bryce stood to her full height and clamped her helmet onto her head, the airtight seals hissing into place. The hydrostatic bubble canopy retreated and water flooded into the crew compartment--the warm air of the compartment was replaced by cool, stale air from her armor’s air supply. The Talon looked upwards, at the glimmering surface of water above her. She and one hundred shock troopers kicked off from their transports and triggered their jetpacks simultaneously, turning their bodies into sapient missiles that rode a stream of exhaust and bubbles towards the surface of the Solleu River. The water was far from an ideal medium for their jet packs--acceleration was slow--but they soon cleared the surface of the water and streaked unimpeded to rooftop level above the surface of Theed. Or it would have been rooftop level, had a squadron of transports not been blasting the city into rubble from turbolasers. Muttering a curse, Bryce gave the jetpack another burst of fuel and kicked in the repulsorlifts, causing her to glide above the smoke and rubble from a vantage point. Her head on a swivel, the Talon scanned from side to side in search of grounded transports. “Multiple targets in that plaza to the left, take them. Boom and zoom, Talons.” Two platoons of Talon Company veered towards the open boulevard that led to the palace complex, while the other half continued their glide towards the hangars that rested on the cliff face at the very edge of the city. Another troop transport had touched down at the entrance of the domed hangar complex--she and four soldiers in her squad cut their repulsorlifts and fell upon the grounded vessel, landing hard on its dorsal surface. “P for plenty, Rashik.” Bryce muttered to the Chiss, who thoughtlessly planted a sequencer charge just in front of the sublight engines. She and the other Talons blasted freely at a squad of the chrome-plated Sith troopers, forcing them to scatter and take cover until the charges were set. A heavy pat on her pack confirmed that the explosive charge was in place and ticking down. Without a word, the five shock troopers gave their jetpacks a microburst of thrust to escape and sprinted along the roof of the hangar complex. Far in the distance, a series of explosion rumbled and dark smoke began to rise from the Place Plaza, signifying the success--and retreat--of the rest of her soldiers.
  7. Johanna Bryce


    The next several minutes felt like hours. As Johanna paced the edge of the lake, splashing the cool waters against her ankles, the Rebel marine reflected that perhaps the reputation that the Gungans had for perpetual tardiness was perhaps warranted. In her experience, there was never a moment that she could afford to lose. And yet, the amphibians also had a reputation for being The next fifteen minutes felt like an hour. As Bryce paced the edge of the lake and waded into the cool waters up to her ankles, the Rebel marine reflected that perhaps the reputation that the Gungans had for perpetual tardiness was somewhat warranted. In her experience in the armed forced, there was never a moment that she could afford to waste. And yet, the amphibians also enjoyed a reputation as unlooked-for allies: their society existed separately from the Human Naboo and had a somewhat isolationist perspective… yet they had sacrificed entire legions of warriors in times of crisis. Rather than being allowed to dwell on this wasted time, the Talon’s comlink buzzed on her bracer. It was a direct line from Admiral Klatchka, who hovered above her armor as a miniature Mon Calamari. “Captain, major Sith fleet units have emerged from hyperspace. Naboo is under invasion. We can’t hold these forces back. We must withdraw.” Bryce grimaced. “Sir, and my soldiers?” “You’ll have to make do on the surface. I’m sorry, Captain. May the For--” And that was the end of the transmission--terminated midsentence, doubtless to enforce comms discipline as all outgoing transmissions needed to be kept at a minimum as the ships “went dark”. Johanna suspected that the fleet units were withdrawing to the planet’s star--probably making use of solar flares or other phenomena to mask their presence--but that meant that she and her two hundred Talons were going to be cut off from evacuation and stranded in hostile territory. She exchanged a glance with Alpha’s platoon sergeant, a Chiss whose expression remained impassive. At least, Bryce hadn’t yet learned out to read Drell’s facial expression… but if his thoughts were mirroring her own, then he also knew that all two hundred of them were likely to be dead at the end of the day. A bubbling cauldron of lake water stirred Bryce from her distraction. A loose-limbed Gungan came swaggering up from the opaque water, clad in dripping leathers and a bearing an unusual, staff-like weapon with a hollow at its end. “Capitan Bryce, Bombad General Yuusan. Weesa welcome you to Naboo.” “General, sir.” The marine saluted; the Gungan held his weapon-bearing hand to his breast. “I’m afraid that our timetable has just been moved up significantly. Our ships have detected major Sith fleet elements--enough that they need to withdraw. The planet is under invasion.” Supposedly the Gungans also had a reputation for advertising their every emotion on their face, of gawping wide-eyed, of frothing at the mouth, bashing spear against shield, and spitting defiance at their enemies; this one’s expression may as well have been carved from wroshyr. The Gungan warrior just blinked, nodded, and intoned slowly, “And whatsa yousa being doing about dis?” “Well, sir… it occurs to me that this invasion is not likely to stop with Theed or the other Naboo cities. This Sith Empire has not exactly shied from executing genocides against species that have opposed it in the past. The reports of what they are doing on Mon Calamari are… frightening. A similar scenario is likely to occur here. However, my men are not a garrison or a Cresh-Besh unit.I propose that we join our forces to launch an immediate counterattack.” Feeling her spine attempting to melt away under the unyielding stare of the Gungan General, Bryce forced herself to rise to military-spec height and straighten her shoulders. “Talons strike, sir. ” Now the Gungan reputation for being emotive was redeemed. Obviously amused by this display of esprit de corps, the fat Gungan erupted into massive, booming laughter--and continued laughing even Bryce’s jaw tightened and her expression grew serious. “Oh! Hohoho! Weesa like dees one! Ohoho!” The Gungan slapped his knee out of amusement. “Yes, yes, okie-day. Yousa want to keel and die, weesa happy to help. Longo comprends da thrrreat ahf da Seeth. Weesa--weesa long sheds mui blood to them.” Still chuckling, the Gungan began wading into the waters, which began boiling with the hulls of dozens of clamshell-shaped transports. “Pleasa! Comen Capitan! Comen! And yousa warriors! Weesa provide transport! And when da time comen, weesa fights and dies with you. But for now, yousa shares yous plans. Oh-hoh! Disa be hot.” Glancing at the formation of shock troopers behind her, Bryce just shrugged and signaled her men forward to the Gungan transports. In a few minutes, they were all under the waters, cold, sopping wet, abandoned… and determined to make this a long and miserable day for the Sith Empire.
  8. Johanna Bryce


    Two Rebel officers surveyed the blue-and-green jewel of Naboo from hundreds of kilometers above in its orbit. The younger of the two officers, an impressively tall human woman, was frowning down at the planet, lips moving in silent calculation as though trying to make sense of the peaceful world. From a slew of sensor operators and air traffic controllers, the fleet’s Admiral disentangled himself to join his marine commander at Wrecking Machine’s viewport. “The planet doesn’t have a solid core? It’s hollow? And the Gungans have it mapped out?” “Most of it. It’s a conglomerate of rocky bodies and fresh-water tunnels. Geologically stable, but otherwise quite hazardous to traverse, seeing that there is so little submersible traffic between Theed and Otoh Gunga.” “Respectfully, sir, you sound like…” Bryce tilted back an invisible flask in her hand. “That can’t be mathematically possible. How can the planet even have a magnetic field without a metallic core?” The fleet’s Mon Calamari Admiral fixed the marine in a single black eye. “Bryce.” “The planet should have been sterilized by its own star billions of years ago--” “Captain, you hail from Bespin.” “Sir, that’s completely different. The planet is a gas giant. Most of its atmosphere is unbreathable--wrong mix of gases, wrong air pressure… it’s only habitable in a very thin slice of altitude--therefore the repulsorlift cities. If it weren’t for the tibanna, Bespin probably never would have been settled in the first place.” “Whereas I find the exclusively terrestrial existence of most humanoid species a bizarre evolutionary dead-end. However, as fascinating as the conversation may be, we have a mission--to prepare this planet for a potential invasion. Those… mathematically impossible tunnels may be key to the planet’s defense. There is not a moment to lose. Captain.” “Aye, sir. Contact with the Gungans. I suspect they’ll be properly motivated once they realize the threat facing them. Force be with you, sir,” Captain Bryce offered and received a snappy salute as she departed, belt-spat swaying from her hips as she swaggered from the battlecruiser’s bridge. Several minutes, she and the company of Talons--plus their Bothan liaison--departed in a half squadron of assault shuttles. The glow of their sublight engines converged on a location that was all but uninhabited by either of the world’s sapient species. It was a wilderness at the edge of Lake Country, where the hardwood trees began to give way to irascible, stubborn mangroves at the edge of the Gungans’ deep, dark waters. When the shuttles finally set down on the boggy, saturated soil, Bryce stood under the wing of her LAAT/i and began to pace anxiously. There was no sign of their Gungan contacts…she also knew that meant nothing, if the Gungans were waited for their arrival under the surface of their waters.
  9. The next several days were spent surveying the highlands surrounding Drev’starn. Under normal circumstances, Captain Bryce would have found the thin air and fierce winds of the mountains refreshing--almost like the platforms that were suspended in the upper atmosphere of her homeworld, Bespin. However, these circumstances were while carrying a heavy load of communication gear--even heavier than her typical combat load of twenty kilograms of armor and weapons--and surveying positions to protect Bothawui’s anti-orbital emplacements. In no less than eight crags of the Kurual’grast Mountains, the Bothans had already fortified their capital city with planetary turbolasers. Bryce shouted orders to four of her Talons to deploy their MANPADs not at the peak of the nearest hill, where there was a risk that their position could be silhouetted against the horizon even in spite of the tree line, but just slightly under it. The Bothans’ sensor arrays in these mountains would provide valuable targeting data even in absence of line-of-sight. Sweating under a load of communications gear, Johanna took a moment to breathe and studied the turbolaser emplacement behind and about fifty meters below her on the rocky trail. The massive, cylindrical cannon resembled the W-165 cannon developed by Kuat Drive Yards--perhaps too closely to have been obtained through legal means. It was likely a stolen design, she reflected. At two more locations closer to the enormous cannon, the fleet’s engineers were building small bunkers of durasteel-reinforced plastoid for repeater emplacements--as were the Talons and Bothan marines at the other seven turbolaser cannons. Captain Bryce sighed and returned to a jogging place up the side of this particular mountain, scattering gravel and dust down the trail below her. This communications gear was intended to synchronize the entire defensive operation, to share tactical data between Bothawui’s orbital platforms, the local sensor arrays, and the multitude of portable missile batteries that were being emplaced all over the mountains. Their position would not be unassailable--this terrain was treacherous and the mountains were riddled with hundreds of goat paths so narrow that only a single person could walk through at a time, as Bryce was discovering as she trudged up this mountain. No position was unassailable--and she and her Talons only had a few weeks, or even a few days before the notice finally arrived that contact had been made with the Sith. But it would be costly to attack these batteries, and would force the Sith into directly assaulting Drev’starn. ____ The notice came at midnight that day and took the form of an urgent pound on her cabin door. Groaning at being awoken from recovering from several days of nonstop activity The notice came at midnight and took the form of an urgent pound on her cabin door. Groaning at being awoken from recovering from several days of sleepless activity, Johanna rolled over with all the grace of a sleep-deprived bird of prey and stumbled towards her door, blindly donning a shirt. She attempted to growl a pithy complaint at her rouser, but it merely came out incoherent and mildly obscene. “Talons are diurnal animals,” was what she thought she said as the door to her cabin opened. “Sir!” The Talon followed with a crisp salute, upon realizing that her visitor was the cream-furred Bothan colonel. “Get your gear, Bryce. We know where the Sith are going. Koth Melan will leave the moment that we are on board.” Ten minutes later, Bryce’s squadron had fled into hyperspace.
  10. For the next few hours, Koth Melan and a host of escort spacecraft were descending into the upper reaches of Bothawui’s atmosphere. Not that Captain Bryce could see the fourteen vessels that were preparing to receive their transports, as the ships were hundreds of kilometers above them. She and Colonel Dun’nosu stood over the bleached walls of the military base, looking over the roofs and towards the snowcapped peaks of the Kurual'grast Mountains to the east. “For our own part, we’ve made substantial progress in our lighter units--especially coordination between our corvettes and fighter-bombers. The new Senth-class corvette from Naboo is death on interceptors--excellent firing angles over a very broad flying wing. Unfortunately, the Sith have made their own advances. In particular, there’s a new class of Star Destroyer with upgraded turbolasers that our fleet has had quite a bit of difficulty with. We’ll be sending you its specs… for mypart…” Bryce turned a half-circle, displaying the mass of a light jetpack module that was attached to her armor. “We realized after our raid on Kuat that our capabilities in zero-gravity operations were significantly lacking. My Talons were tasked with disabling a Golan platform… we took higher casualties than necessary because the hangar was seriously damaged on our approach. Solution: develop zero-gravity sapping and assault maneuvering units, as you see here. We found the heavier jetpacks favored by other units unnecessary and excessively heavy--and maneuvering in zero-gravity is a matter of planning your moves, and firing in short, disciplined bursts.” The Talon Captain turned and focused on a distant rooftop at the periphery of the base. “Standard fuel mix for the primary engine--but we’ve added a microrepulsor array for making fine adjustments in flight. We equip soldiers with heavy weapons and demolitions with more powerful units, obviously, but the controls are otherwise identical.” The Bothan Colonel stroked his cream-colored beard. Or whatever the Bothan equivalent of a beard was, considering that the species was covered from head to toe with short fur. “These new capabilities in extravehicular sapping would obviously synergize with our new stealth technologies.” “My thoughts exactly. If you’d like a demonstration…” “By all means.” Bryce took a deep breath and donned her helmet. As the atmospheric locks engaged and she began to breathe recycled air, a head-up display appeared with pertinent information for flight: fuel and atmosphere supplies, atmospheric temperature, pressure, wind speed; distance markers to vantage points and watchtowers surrounding the base; ammunition reserves and a miniature map which would normally display the locations of her squad. It was a lot of information for a green soldier to manage, but zero-gravity was not a notoriously treacherous environment to fight in. That data would keep her alive during maneuvers. The tall Bespinian set off across the bleach-white roof at an easy trot. As she neared the edge of the room and nearly fell into the street traffic of the base, Captain Bryce triggered her thruster unit with a sharp burst, propelling her nearly fifty meters into the air. After she reached the apex of her thruster-assisted leap, she was essentially guiding, drifting towards a vehicle depot on the gentle propulsion of the unit’s repulsorlifts. But merely making a leap of a hundred meters and returning would be a mediocre demonstration of her unit’s capabilities, she decided. Halfway through the jump, she altered course in a sharp ninety-degree turn, instead making for a slender communications tower at the center of the base. Her boots instantly magnetized upon contact with the slender steel-and-fiber tower, and although the entire structure swayed a few centimeters upon landing, the shock trooper remained fixed to its side as though she were welded to it. Her push-off sent her gliding over the base and towards a collection of parked cargo speeders--several of the Bothan mechanics were glancing up from her work and pointing curiously at the armored figure drifting in their direction. A second micro-burst gained another ten meters of altitude, and the Bespinian used the extra space to return to Colonel Dun’nosu, drifting from side to side over the rooftop until she finally touched down. She removed her helmet and realized that had been grinning throughout the entire demonstration flight. “As you can see, our lighter design lacks the speed and endurance of the heavier units you might be familiar with, those favored by the Mandalorians, for example. But our goal wasn’t long-distance flight; it was short bursts for rapid redeployment--or maneuvering in null-gravity.”
  11. It took all of thirty minutes for it to become clear why Captain Bryce and her Talons had been dispatched to the Outer Rim. Upon setting foot on Bothawui and being shepherded to a fortified room about ten meters below the surface of Drev’starn, it took all of thirty minutes for it to become clear why Captain Bryce and her Talons had been dispatched to the Mid Rim. It was an enclosed, hermetically sealed chamber in which she received her briefing from a Colonel Dun’nosu. But it was more than the sound-proofing and hermetic seals that secured the chamber. The shock trooper felt strangely… buoyant on her feet, and every step seemed to require a moment of calculation. She allowed herself to wonder how else this briefing room might be secured--perhaps suspension in a vacuum by miniaturized tractor beams? But that was speculation regarding the stereotypical paranoia of the Bothans, and the fact that the cream-colored hackles of the Bothan Colonel were raised suggested that her liaison was almost terrified at the prospect of imminent invasion. “You see, Captain, there has been a significant build-up of Sith fleet elements in the Arkanis sector for some time. Personnel transports and escorts have recently gone missing from this staging, leading us to believe that an invasion of the sector has begun.” “If I remember correctly, Geonosis and Tatooine sit on the intersection of the Corellian Run and Triellus Trade Route.” “Accurate. Despite the poor development of those two systems, they command a dominant position over that sector’s trade. And from there, the Sith have easy access to Ryloth. Or Naboo. Rodia. Bothawui. And even Nar Shaddaa,” Dun’nosu stated with a knowing look on his long face. At least, that was the approximation that the human imagined. “Well, last on my update, the Galact--the Rebel Alliance had made significant strides in blunting the Sith advance through the Core Worlds. They’ll need to divert resources least they risk losing control there. We may have time. Before our situation becomes untenable. My lads have some unusual specializations that may help break up the Sith advance here--zero-gravity maneuvers, capital ship sapping.” “Our own developments have advanced along these lines. Once your Galactic Alliance fell apart, we were left to defend our territories without heavy capital ships--your MC90s and Star Destroyers, for instance. We have had to become somewhat adaptive in our own fleet elements. For instance… our Koth Melan-class Stealth Cruiser.” The holoprojection between the two officers disintegrated and bloomed again into a hazy image of the bulky, blocky Bothan Assault Cruiser. However, this particular vessel had been stripped of most of its armaments--most notably the array of proton torpedo tubes that made the ships so dangerous in a close-quarters brawl--and had been festooned with a forest-like array of comms antennae. Johanna squinted at the ship. To her untrained eye, those rails and towers had almost no value at signal reception--they were almost entirely transmit-only. The jutting bridge superstructure of the Bothan Assault Cruiser was also shortened and the armor plates on its flanks were replaced by thin skirts of an unfamiliar design. She leaned forward and examined the side skirts. They were composed of thousands of linked holoprojector cells. “You… you made a stealth hacking cruiser?”
  12. “We’re sending you and a platoon of Talons to Bothawui. Choose well, try to pick soldiers who you trust to be on good behavior.” They had said two days ago. “They” being Admiral Klatchka himself--the old Mon Calamari had actually considered it necessary to speak to someone as far down the chain of command as the captain of a below-strength company of airborne shock troopers. It had taken Johanna a few seconds to recover her wits, which had gone searching for an escape pod the moment that she had learned that the Admiral needed to speak to her personally about an important matter. Once they had finally given up the search and consigned themselves to going down with the ship, the potential import of this briefing had gotten her attention. The marine immediately perked up and sat up in such a posture that she appeared to have been surgically implanted with a durasteel girder in her spine. “Sir? Didn’t the Bothan only just join the Rebel Alliance…” The marine was busy ticking down the days, which could be numbered in the single digits. “Ongoing incorporation, Captain, yes. We’re hoping that your Talons can make progress in that regard while we formally bring their territory and military into the Alliance. Part of those efforts is an officer exchange--a few of our top soldiers for a few of theirs, a corvette for a corvette. Demonstration of each side’s capabilities. The goal is to look smart, look tough, and in the name of the Force to stay out of trouble while the diplomats finish with the microprint.” The salmon-skinned Calamari fixed the Captain with a single side-viewing eye, making the taller woman feel as though she were at least a foot shorter. “Feeling up to it, Captain?” A Talon did not turn down a challenge. “Aye, sir! We’ll give the Bothans a show, sir.” “Good. You and that former marshall--Colonel Howlster--will be working together. There will be a packet of secondary objectives to achieve. But whatever you do, Captain,” again, the Mon Cal fixed the marine with a single eye. “Do not anger the Bothans. You may go.” _______ Which was how, two days later, Captain Bryce found herself on one of The Red and Black’s larger docking bays--one of the platforms capable of servicing a corvette or even some of the smaller frigates in the Alliance. One of the new Senth-class Picket Ships rested as an enormous flying wing on the deckplates, unpainted but nonetheless ludicrously polished in that mirror-like finish that the Naboo Royal Engineers invariably used to decorate their starships. Johanna and the forty Talons that she had hand-picked were somewhat less polished. An entire day had been spent scrubbing out the blaster creases (and occasionally a direct hit) from the last month of almost-constant fighting; the inevitable dents of combat maneuvers were similarly hammered out. Although the plastoid plate wasn’t polished or waxed or treated with any other ludicrous embellishments, they almost looked presentable for inspection. More notably was a new addition to their armor; they had recently been issued with the Alliance’s latest attempt at hypermobile combat--a light jetpack clung to each of their backs and they each wore a black, blast-resistant belt-spat that was so fresh from the assembly lines that they still reeked of the chemical treatment. The cost to the new gear was that some of their heavier weapons, like the E-Webs in the heavy weapons squads, would need to be left behind. The engines on the jetpacks simply couldn’t accommodate the extra weight. The belt-spat was, however, a very nice touch, a surprising mixture of ceremonial and practical. It would protect against the backplast of the jetpacks… and Johanna found herself standing just a little straighter so she could feel the weight of the garment against her legs. Captain Bryce waited while her Talons boarded the corvette and Howlster’s men arrived. She found herself sweating--it was a warm day for Nar Shaddaa, and she’d been told that Bothawui was warmer.
  13. “I hate desert worlds. All this… dust.” For the first time in the mission, Bryce was quietly grousing, picking at the sleeves of her bodysuit. She had removed her gauntlets during the hyperspace jump and was pulled at the seals around her wrists. Grains of sand occasionally spilled out. “Ugh. It’s everywhere. It somehow got under this bodysuit. I grew up on Bespin. You know what’s great about Bespin? It’s clean. Whatever mess we had to clean up, we made ourselves. Oh, coming out of hyper in five, four, three…” Ticking down the remainder of the journey on her fingers, Bryce pulled back the levers to reveal the concrete-clad moon of Nar Shaddaa. The descent was routine, aside from a pair of old TIE Interceptors that followed obnoxiously close as their escort into Nar Shaddaa’s atmosphere. A few minutes later, however, the U-Wing settled at a landing pad near The Red and Black and the Exorcist, the Jedi Master, and the Rebel Talon were finally safe at home.
  14. The dust cloud of an approaching speeder bike grew larger as the two Jedi returned to the U-Wing. Peering over the receiver of her carbine, Bryce watched through a set of electrobinoculars, trying to determine whether its riders were friend or foe. Gradually, the image resolved itself out of the heat haze and dust, and the Rebel Talon made out of the image of a tiny Jedi Master with blonde hair--with a Padawan braid. She let out a sigh of relief and stood to wave, her gleaming plastoid silhouette reflecting clearly against the matte surface of the gunship. By the time that the Jedi had pulled up alongside her speeder, Bryce had climbed down and was hauling her own speeder bike into the shuttle. “Please,” she said, taking the steering vanes of the bike into her gauntlets and bodily hauling the vehicle onto the gunship. “I can’t wait to shake the dust of this blasted world off my boots.” A few buckles was all that kept the flimsy bikes from bouncing against the walls of the gunship. Bryce stowed the ysalamir at the aft of the passenger compartment in the hopes that at least one of the Jedi would be outside its influence. Once the ship’s start-up sequence was completed, Johanna tapped in a short sequence into the ship’s console, activating the pulse-wave sensors that had been scattered in the vicinity of the Sith praxeum. The activation of the sensors likely would not go unnoticed--although the scanning sequence would only take a few seconds, it would be impossible to miss the fact that the gravel around its grounds was periodically rattling as though the Valley was experiencing a minor earthquake. That was no major concern, however, for once Bryce lifted the U-Wing off of the planetary surface and kicked in the sublight engines, it was only a matter of minutes before they cleared atmosphere, escaped the planet’s gravity well, and escaped into hyperspace for a five minute microjump. Their next jump would take them the rest of the way home.
  15. For the first few minutes, all Bryce heard was the whistling of the wind in her ears and the gentle whine of the repulsorlift engine as she coasted from pillar to pillar on the badlands. Her sensors had been placed and all that remained was to get enough distance from the Sith Praxeum before they were triggered. However, even with the ysalamir behind her back protecting her from the watchful eyes of the Sith Lords, the Rebel Talon felt as though some distant, malevolent presence was looking over her shoulder and she kept pausing in her flight to glance behind. Each time, however, there was only heat haze of the clay of the Korriban badlands, the glare of its star, and the wisps of desiccated dust that choked her at each gust of wind. Pausing once again to scan the horizon for a glimpse of a metallic reflection, Johanna glanced down at a miniature datapad affixed to her left vambrace. With a single press of a button, she could trigger the pulse-wave scanners and map the bulk of the Valley within a few seconds… but the combined energy output of the sensors would likely alert Korriban’s security forces to the presence of malign forces on their world. Johanna closed down the datapad and shook her head. She decided to wait at least until the two Jedi had returned to the U-Wing before triggering the sensors. The Bespinian blasted away on the speeder bike, this time not sticking to the comparatively stealthy withdrawal at a mere 100 klicks, but at the full roaring 400 kilometers per hour that the loaded vehicle was capable of. Though much faster, the shriek of the repulsor engine would be audible from nearly a kilometer away and the dust cloud swept up by her wake would be visible from an even greater distance. Her eyes glared from side to side, scanning the horizon for familiar landmarks—a many-fanged set of wind-eroded pillars, a shadowy den in the cliffs that she dared not investigate, a boulder that Bryce had used to hide one of her warning bells. The datapad on her arm vibrated firmly, warning her of her own intrusion. She was close The speckled tan of the U-Wing’s camouflage gradually resolved itself into metallic mechanisms and the gentle fluttering of a camouflage net, and Bryce killed the speeder bike’s engine to coast the rest of the distance to the transport on an unpowered vehicle. A glance into the transport’s cabin revealed that neither Jedi had returned. It was just her. Johanna muttered a quiet curse. The Rebel Talon clambered onto the fuselage of the U-Wing transport with her carbine, lay down, and waited for a sign of someone’s approach. Whether she responded with her carbine or her comlink would be determined by whether it was one of the Sith, or one of the Jedi.
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