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The robes hit Tirzah in the chest before falling to the ground. Crossing her arms she frowned at him for a moment before waving her hand in front of her face. "Don't throw things at me. It isn't nice," she scolded, stooping down and feeling for where the garment had fallen. She was still getting used to processing her new way of seeing and some of the visual data that came through the Force was still confusing. "And don't we have to pay for these?"

 

She pulled the robe over her head and felt somewhat claustrophobic with the fabric against her face, but somehow forced herself to remain calm. "I don't see how anyone could dance in these things. Nor why they'd want to sing."

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...why are the pretty ones always the most hazardous to your health?

May the Forth therve you well...

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"This is your plan?" Jaina asked incredulously, looking down at the heavy fabric in her hand. She had impersonated many species and professions in her time, but dancing gypsies was a stretch even for her. She much preferred to do her dancing with a starfighter, or with a lightsaber in hand. With a reticent grimace, she pulled the lengthy charcoal-colored robe over her head and secured it with a long braided belt. Retying the braid that held her hair out of her face, she tucked it down the back of her robe and pulled the cowl over her head. A thin veil of black that tied across the bridge of her nose left only her eyes visible.

 

Tirzah and Celedon were similarly clad, though the girl's grumblings made her disapproval abundantly clear. "They'll have to send us an invoice," Jaina quipped amusedly at the set of bulky robes that was her daughter. "I didn't exactly expect to be taking a shopping trip."

 

The three of them made their way out into the mottled brick square, keeping their heads down as they passed through the dwindling crowds, though it was hardly necessary in the growing darkness. As they approached the fenced perimeter of the grounds surrounding the Regional Tower, Jaina paused in an alley behind one of the buildings that gave them direct line of sight to the gate. The teenagers filed in behind her, and Jaina turned an eye to Celedon.

 

"So how, exactly, do you propose to get us inside? Even with Jedi powers of persuasion, I don't know if I can convince them to let one of us in, let alone three. And I am not pulling any more dangerous diversionary tactics right now," she finished with an apologetic smile toward Tirzah.

53bzzl2.png

...why are the pretty ones always the most hazardous to your health?

May the Forth therve you well...

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Cameron wasn't exactly sure how to respond to Jaina’s audible doubts of the plan. In truth, he wasn't sure if the plan was going to work. It was the best he could do on short notice, especially given his current predicament, not that more time would have made a difference on breaking into an Imperial tower.

 

As usual, however, failure wasn't an option. He wasn't going to die dressed in blankets.

 

The group followed the perimeter of the tower. Over time, a faint rhythm began to echo around the surrounding walls. The rhythm gradually grew louder as they traced the edge to a clearing in the thick urban infrastructure.

 

Cameron came to a sudden before the edge gave way to the giant opening. He positioned himself so the others could clearly see the action happening in the square.

 

A crowd of people had gathered. Large open flames rose up in the center of the square with throngs of dancers circling around. Several soldiers clad in the Empire’s signature white armor stood in the crowd, sticking out like dots in a mix of natural tones.

 

Cameron pointed over to the far side of the square. A series of force fields hummed in the dim light attended by two guards.

 

“That's where we need to go. If we distract the guards, one of us can operate the gate controls.” He said.

 

Without waiting for a reply, Cameron entered into the crowd and slipped through the moving mass. His small stature had some advantages at times.

 

After a couple of moments, he arrived to the outer edge of the crowd. He stopped for one final check in, “Okay, someone needs to dance. I’ll sing. The third one finds the controls. Go!”

 

Cameron slowly walked out from the mass and approached the two gate guards. In an angelic, high pitched tone he began to sing, “Ah ah ah ah pu wohs god roop eht llac eht ot dnopser slrig eht dna. Oy, iy, eippiy, nillac eman eht trats, sallef eht llet i. Oy, iy, eippiy, oh, hah llab a 'nivah ydobyreve dna. Oy, iy, eippiy, yeh 'nipmub saw ytrap eht, ecin saw ytrap eht nehw….”

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[The Order: Serving Il Cane Del Diavolo since May 15, 2002]

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A particularly exhausted looking Galactic Postal Droid appears with its repulsor engines whining away. It approaches Jaina Jade Skywalker and drops off an incredibly heavy looking package. It looks at her with squinty looking photoreceptors, mimics a human cough, and seeing no tip offered zips away muttering about poor single mothers in ghettos.

 

The package when opened contained:

 

 

One large upset baby Ronto with a saddle encrusted with Bespin Fresh Corusca Gems. Very likely intended for the daughter. (With feed for the ronto)

 

A pink metal package containing forty thousand credits in small domination credit chips. Some are suspiciously covered in dried blood. If traced back they were last used before the destruction of cloud city by the SCORPION crew.

 

A single pair of fluffy pink handcuffs.

 

A key to the Senator Suite on the Black Sun Cloud City resort Hotel and Spa.

 

A stuffed child ewok holding a wilted rose. (The stuffing was pure uncut glitterstim)

 

A package that contained cookies from the Intergalactic Girl Scouts.

 

And a long form letter from Delta proclaiming his love and adoration for the Jedi Jaina Skywalker, and asking her to the Coruscant/Alderaan formal ball. Which was to take place in a month’s time.

 

"Dear Jaina, I heard you know how to handle a saber now. So like lets go out. And we can spar. And...whatnot"

 

DELTA.gif.707cf0cd519d165f06fd4fb7032e6de8.gif

 

Ca'Aran

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No sooner had she formulated a trajectory in her mind based off of Celedon's plan as he disappeared into the throng than a postal droid deposited an ungainly package at her feet. A cursory scan of its contents told Jaina three things: one, Delta had a strange and wildly inaccurate concept of her interests, two, she probably needed to check her comlink for a tracking device, and three, she needed to look up galactic restraining orders. With a heavy sigh, she reached out in the Force and pulled the postal droid back to her side. A succinct reprogramming and a comm to Delta later, and it whizzed off in the direction of the spaceport to deposit its payload on the ship, but not before Jaina pocketed a handful of credit chits from the pink case, thinking they might come in handy if their ruse were to fail.

 

Celedon's voice broke her concentration, the opening strains of his song drawing the crowd into a variety of synchronized movement like some previously rehearsed and intricately choreographed performance. Fascinated, she resisted the impulse to simply watch the spectacle as it unfolded, wondering at the nature and cultural genesis of the ritual. Celedon was right about one thing: he had indeed observed these rituals a time or two. But it was time to move. Sending an illiterate girl whose vision was questionable to work a computer seemed a terribly idea, so she pushing Tirzah toward the throng with a hand on the small of her back, whispering, "Reach out with your senses. Let the Force keep you one step ahead."

 

Making herself nigh invisible in the Force and in the minds of the stormtroopers who stood guard, Jaina slunk along the edges of the throng until she reached the control console. It was outdated and clunky machinery, but, as she expected, encrypted with old Imperial-style codes. She worked feverishly to hack her way into the system, but even as she made her way through the encoding of the first several menu options, a sharp prod from her danger sense made her look over her shoulder. The pair of stormtroopers that had been standing apart from the crowd were making their way to her with determined and purposeful steps and blaster rifles cradled in their arms. Apparently, they had noticed that this gypsy was not following the ritual. She estimated she had about forty-five seconds before they reached her.

 

Like lightning, her fingers moved over the display, until she finally arrived at the forcefield control. Between the helmets of the approaching troops, she spotted one gate on the far side of the square; an entrance to the rear of the tower which was largely blocked from view by the surrounding buildings. Deft taps quenched the shimmering blue light out of existence, and satisfied she had accomplished the task, she logged out of the terminal and disappeared back into the masses before the troopers could identify her as being any different from the assembled gypsies.

 

Gritting her teeth, Jaina let the Force direct her steps, giving the movements of her body over entirely to its direction. The swirl of colored fabric ebbed and flowed, and as the waves of Force energy kept her choreography in step with the stony-eyed gypsy population, she made her way rhythmically through the crowd towards where she could feel Tirzah and Celedon.

 

It's done, let's go, she announced through the Force to their minds.

53bzzl2.png

...why are the pretty ones always the most hazardous to your health?

May the Forth therve you well...

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Cameron tried to peek through the breaks between the guards as he squeaked along with the song. The song was one a few he knew off the top of his head. Fighting for scraps each day and night didn't leave much time to learn the latest galactic crazes in music. Instead, he had to settle on a song that loosely referred to dogs being let loose (who, who, who, who, who?). It wasn't authentic, but since the guards only spoke Basic, Cameron felt confident it would do the job.

 

The mob began to draw closer to his position while he sang. He eventually lost sight of Jaina behind the guard perimeter. Tirzah was out of his visual field, which meant he was alone for the time being.

 

He kept singing, hoping one of the local gypsies wouldn't call him out on his performance. A few of the locals joined in with some gentle movements. One dancing individual caught his eye; a figure wearing the same torn robes he had given Jaina earlier. She was swirling back towards the main crowd, trying not to draw any suspicion from the guards.

 

It's done, let's go. A voice rang through his head.

 

The voice sounded like Jaina's, but it lacked any source of direction in his mind. It simply echoed, invading the inner privacy of his mind.

 

He broke and paused from the song for a moment, then quickly regained his composure. A quick glance at the gate confirmed Jaina's mental statement: she had succeeded.

 

After finishing the song, he blended back into the crowd and found the shrouded forms of Jaina and Tirzah. The two looked like carbon copies of each other, albeit with a noticeable difference in height. Cameron motioned for the two to follow and began navigating through the cracks in the crowd. Eventually, they came to the other side of the guard gate. The mass of people had drawn the guards closer to the other side, leaving a small gap open between the physical barriers to squeeze through.

 

He took one last look, then made a run for the primary opening in the tower. The journey was a short dash, no more than a few seconds. As he neared the entrance, he took a brief glance back to confirm the guards were still occupied. Then he entered.

 

Once everyone was inside, he tossed the robes aside with an ambitious haste, "Okay, I've done my part. Now it's your turn. Where do we find this friend of yours?" He asked....

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[The Order: Serving Il Cane Del Diavolo since May 15, 2002]

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"Wake up Mr. Vortex. We have a busy day ahead of us." The voice spoke again.

 

Tares felt the weight of his eye lids pressing down, blurring his view of the room. Distorted shapes walked around him. They were all small, much smaller than the droid he had encountered on the shuttle ride.

 

"What do they say, 'Time is money?' I'm sure you can appreciate the schedule we have to keep." The voice said again.

 

His vision began to clear; the distorted shapes grew in resolution. The voice was coming from the direction he faced. It no longer belonged to the droid, but a man dressed in a grey Imperial uniform. Tares tried to speak, but found the muscles in his face immobilized by some invisible force.

 

"Don't worry, Mr. Vortex. You won't need to say anything for this procedure. You just remain there and try to relax. It will all be over soon."

 

He gave up the pointless attempt and closed his eyes once more. While his body remained unmoving, he found his senses in the Force to be present. Unfortunately, he found himself in a sea of life. The presence of atleast a thousand individuals, each one the same as the others. It was a common feeling for an Imperial facility.

 

Why the Imperials? He thought to himself. Unless the Remnant was acting against its public word, it didn't make sense for them to do this. Most likely it was a rogue faction, an organization operating on their own in the Unknown Regions without oversight.

 

He continued to search through the Force. The feeling remained the same until he stretched out to the furthest point he could. Then, a spike of familiarity hit him square in the center of his perception: Jaina and Tirzah. Their presence shone bright in the Force.

 

They were close by. They were coming. They were in danger....

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As if in response to Celedon's question, Tares' presence touched her mind. Although faint, it nevertheless gave Jaina something to latch onto, like a bloodhound gathering the scent of its quarry off of a discarded article of clothing. He was awake, he was alive, and he was in the tower above them. She could not detect any consciousness that held an outright hostility towards them. Not only that, but the sentient complement of the tower was eerily sparse. They should be be able to pass through undetected, retrieve Tares by whatever means necessary, and escape before they drew any attention to themselves.

 

But for some reason that she could not effectively put a finger on, something felt utterly wrong here.

 

"We need to find a turbolift," she directed succinctly, grasping at Tares' presence through the Force as her feet propelled her into motion. "He's at least a few floors up. Stay close and stay alert." The central desk in the reception area of the tower had been fortuitously empty, though it gave Jaina pause as they quickly discarded their robes and moved silently up one of the twin ramps that ascended the tower on both sides of the lobby. As quickly as could be expected from two teenagers and a wounded Jedi, they made their way through the hall in search of a lift. The first several patrols that passed their way were old, outdated battle droid models, clunking through the halls without any subtlety to speak of, and heard far before they were seen, allowing the trio to duck into niches and corridors in evasive maneuvers each time.

 

When finally she spotted "Turbolift" printed in faded Aurebesh lettering over a door, Jaina scurried toward it. They filed in, Jaina giving a final glance down both directions of the hallway to ensure they had not been spotted. As the lift rocketed upwards, she kept her senses trained on Tares. The guiding influence of the Force was her eyes and ears beyond the walls of the turbolift, and she knew with sudden precognition which floor she would find him on.

 

They exited the lift to find another deserted corridor, with one caveat. The wing in which the Force told Jaina she would find Tares was barricaded by a identification lock requiring either keycard access or handprint scan. "Dammit," she muttered, casting a furtive glance around. Times like these made her wish she had been able to locate either her or Andon's astromech droids, or that she had somehow managed to bring Tares' floating assistant along. She pulled her comlink out and keyed it to life, but even as she did so she felt the futility of her attempt.

 

"Atlas?" A low-frequency hum was the only response. Returning her comlink to her pocket, she sighed. "Transmissions in and out of the tower must be jammed."

 

Her mind scanned quickly through their options. Without any way of knowing which tower personnel had access, trying to incapacitate a guard or official or steal a keycard became incredibly unlikely. She could break open the panel in an attempt to hotwire it, which was risky on a number of levels. While she was equal to the mechanical task, such an action would likely either draw attention to their whereabouts from any security systems which might be in place or she would be unable to complete it before the next patrol came by. They could try to find an alternate route if one existed, or take the old-fashioned Jedi way and create their own.

 

"I've got an idea," she murmured. "This way."

 

Her senses stretched out through the Force, looking for an unoccupied side room adjacent to the sealed wing of the tower. A few meters down the hall, she pressed the control for a room that felt uninhabited, but as the door slid open and they filed in, Jaina let out a gasp. Inside was a fully-equipped medbay with an operating theater, but even that would not have surprised her in a facility such as this.

 

But the room also held a fully-functional cloning chamber. Foreboding grew in the pit of her stomach.

 

"What is this place?" she turned harrowed eyes to Celedon. Suddenly, his likeness to Tares made that much more sense. "What do you know?"

53bzzl2.png

...why are the pretty ones always the most hazardous to your health?

May the Forth therve you well...

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Their time spent inside the tower felt like a wild chase. As he fell in line behind Jaina, it seemed as if each twist and turn was random. A part of Cameron even doubted if she knew what she was doing.

 

The interior of the tower was stale and barren. The surfaces of the walls were spotless. The ceiling had nothing but the periodic light that unnaturally lit the halls. It was a stark contrast to the dirty, almost ruined environment outside.

 

They eventually arrived at a locked door. Jaina seemed to be lost in thought. She stood and observed the door lock. She could possibly hack into it, but Cameron assumed that would likely trigger an alarm. Where there was an alarm, there would be troops soon after.

 

She would have to give up. Accept the fate of her friend and move on, that would be best.

 

His nose crinkled in disappointment as she moved from the locked door towards another. This door was unlocked. Jaina proceeded through and then stopped short of the room's center. Cameron followed, unable to see the interior unlit he managed to squeeze past the other occupants.

 

"What is this place? What do you know?" Jaina asked.

 

It took a few seconds for Cameron to realize she was speaking to him. He had no answer, nor reason for why Jaina would be asking him.

 

The room was sterile, far cleaner than anything Cameron had ever seen. The dirt on his arms seemed to stick out against the white backdrop.

 

It was all foreign to him. Jaina acted like he should be able to comment like a tour guide. "What do you mean? You're the supposed doctor. Shouldn't you know what this stuff is?" He asked.

 

Before either of them could continue the conversation, the white in the room became bathed in red. An alarm klaxon began to ring out through the halls.

 

Cameron looked around and back towards the door, "What did you touch?" He asked over the piercing noise....

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[The Order: Serving Il Cane Del Diavolo since May 15, 2002]

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Gritting her teeth against the earsplitting whine of the alarm, Jaina groaned audibly, "Not again!" Yanking both teens fully into the room, she slammed and sealed the door shut behind them and yanked the saber off her belt. "That wasn't me this time. Either that, or they found the hole in their fence outside. Stand back, both of you."

 

With a belching sizzle of fried ozone, violet light erupted into the room. Tightening her grip, she plunged the saber through the far wall up to its hilt, and dragged it like a branch upstream in a passable approximation of an oval big enough for them to climb through. Kicking out the plug she had cut from the wall, she ducked out of the eerie blue glow of the cloning equipment into the next room.

 

Immediately, she wished she hadn't. While her senses were correct in detecting a lack of sentient presence in this adjacent compartment, she had unwittingly walked into a hive of the outdated battle droids. By rough estimate, Jaina counted approximately forty. She pressed herself against the wall, blocking the path of the two teenagers. Her danger sense was spiking. She had to keep them out of harm's way.

 

"Hey, you!" The closest one called in its programmed monotone. "You're not supposed to be here."

 

Jaina smiled weakly, mentally scrambling for a clever retort, but then concluded that anything she might come back with would be cheapened by the blazing sword of light she brandished. "Oops," she said simply, punctuating with a shrug.

 

Then the world exploded into light. Jaina rehearsed the steps that she had performed in the brick-laid square, but this time the rhythm of her dance turned deadly. It was as though the song Celedon had belted in the courtyard had seeped into her bones and exploded out of her like a missile, tearing robotic limbs asunder and destroying processor cores. She had made it to the far side of the room, leaving the piecemeal bodies of at least thirty of the droids in her wake. As if in slow motion, out of the corner of her eye, she spotted Tirzah beginning to climb through the hole in the wall. Several of the droids were swiveling their bodies, beginning to take aim in the dark-haired girl's direction, and Jaina's heart dropped. "WAIT!" she yelled, but in that moment that she knew she had lost her advantage of momentum.

 

A trio of blaster bolts collided with her body in succession: one in her already-injured right leg, one in her left bicep, and one slamming with full force into her upper abdomen. It was all she could do to keep her lightsaber from clattering out of her hand. Her nerves screamed out in agony as the floor came rushing at her. With the last burst of energy she had, she flung her saber in a spinning arc around the room as she fell, watching as it neatly decapitated the seven remaining droids. Then both the hum of her lightsaber and the crackling fire of the blasters fell silent.

 

Splayed on the durasteel, panting, she stared hazily at the flickering fluorescent light of the ceiling, only one thought on her mind as she attempted to draw on the Force: don't black out, don't black out, don't black out...

53bzzl2.png

...why are the pretty ones always the most hazardous to your health?

May the Forth therve you well...

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Battle droids. It had to be battle droid. This was the reason Cameron should have refused the whole thing: Jaina’s deal, breaking into a military installation, all of it. His short life would quickly be over by the fire from a mindless automaton.

 

When the chaos erupted in the once quiet, sterile room, Cameron immediately took cover behind a table to avoid the stray blaster fire. The droids immediately reacted to Jaina’s defensive presence. She moved with a blurred sense of purpose. Each step was meaningful. He almost lost his head just trying to peer beyond his protective barrier.

 

And then, it was all over. Jaina let out a scream and three bolts hit their mark. Once the silent returned, Cameron allowed a few beats to pass. Nothing. Even the alarm klaxons had gone silent, leaving only the flashing red hue.

 

Tirzah was walled off in a hole. Jaina had collapsed onto the floor. In a weird way, he felt alone in the room.

 

This was his chance. A quick dash to the door. He could find a ventilation hatch to escape out. Once he was out of the tower, he could slip into the evening crowds and try for the spaceport on the morning.

 

What about the other two? Could he leave them?

 

Yes. This wasn't his fight. He was smarter than this. He didn't even know if Jaina was alive.

 

What about Tirzah? She could escape.

 

No. She'd slow him down. She'd stick out and draw attention.

 

He had to go alone.

 

Ducking out from behind the now battered table, Cameron stood up and looked around the room. He eyed the door, then checked the floor where Jaina had fallen.

 

Her eyes were open but sliding under an invisible weight. She slowly heaved to draw in her breaths. A small column of smoke rose from her abdomen.

 

She was finished. It was time to go.

 

Cameron took several steps forward until he was parallel with Jaina. He wasn't making the dashed he had hoped for. He drew another step forward and then stopped once more.

 

What was wrong?

 

“Sith spit.” He muttered under his breath.

 

His gaze shifted from the door to the breadth of the room. Eventually, he caught sight of some medical supplies he proceeded to grab on autopilot. Then he dashed down to the floor near Jaina’s side.

 

The first aid container flew open under his light press. Bacta patches flew all over the floor. His hands reached out for the few that landed within his short span.

 

He had been in this situation before: frantically covering fresh wounds with something, anything to control the damage. During his first months alone on Acrid, back when his survival instincts were more direct and danger, he had learned how to cover the cuts, hide the wounds.

 

With the same frantic pace, he slapped patch after patch onto Jaina’s wounds. The columns of smoke ceased and dissolved into the air.

 

“No, you can't fall asleep.” He said with a broken tone. He pressed with a greater force against the wounds to accent his words.

 

Whether he liked it or not, Jaina was the only chance they had of making it out alive.

 

He dragged himself a half body length across the floor over to one of the battle droids and grabbed a blaster. The barrel was still comfortably warm. Worming his way back to Jaina’s side, he clutched the blaster and looked down at her, “We need to get out of here. More security guards are on the way. When they get here, we are dead.”

 

Crouching onto his feet, Cameron slung the blaster around his shoulder, then grabbed onto Jaina’s forearm. He began to push against the floor in an attempt to slide Jaina up from his position. His small frame strained under the tension.

 

“Help me!” He screamed behind him towards Tirzah direction.

 

The effort proved to be futile. The force he yanked with nearly sent him flying onto his back when his grip finally gave out.

 

Catching his footing, he impulsively yelled, “Damn it, get up!”

 

The momentum carried him all the way to the main door of the room. The metal shell slid open into the hallway, releasing a series of staccato, artificial steps pressing against the floor. He turned to see a line of battle droids clad in heavy arm approaching. A periodic white storm trooper moved on the opposite side.

 

Cameron brought his rifle into his grip once more and knelt down against the door frame. The weapon was heavy, but the press of the trigger was surprisingly effortless. Red bolts began to spray out into the direction of the security forces without much aim.

 

His worst fear had become a reality. Death was coming in a tight, blaster resistant formation down the hall.

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[The Order: Serving Il Cane Del Diavolo since May 15, 2002]

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His physical senses were gone now. Blackness took him when his eyes became too heavy to keep open. The last strands of sound his had taken in had been slight rumbles echoing in the room. The sound effects seemed as if they were coming from an other room. Eventually, those too faded away.

 

His connection to the Force was also fading. The bright silhouettes of Jaina and Tirzah had dimmed. They were too faint now to even stand out against the lifeless outlines of the room.

 

His brain was feeling sluggish as well. Self-awareness had given away to a general sense of being. He could remember his last thought of awareness, being suspended in an unknown space being spoken to by that mysterious voice. Questions filling is head about the particulars of his situation.

 

Now, all that was gone.

 

His connection to the Force was now just a thread. The outside world was gone. Only a tendril of awareness remained.

 

Jaina...

 

Then the tendril faded as well. Nothing was left.

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  • 2 weeks later...

No, you can't fall asleep!

 

The words echoed distantly through Jaina's mind, calling her out of the healing trance into which her body had slipped instinctively. Her eyes refused to open, her nerves electrifying her mind with the sharp pain of her wounds. A smell like something burning filled her senses and Jaina fought against the nausea that rose up in her at the realization that it was her own grilled flesh. The voice of a young man reverberated, but any reaction it might have prompted was dulled as a fresh wave of pain rocketed up from her charred leg and invaded every process of her mind. A sense of urgency lingered in the pit of her stomach, though for what purpose Jaina couldn't seem to remember. The distinctive smell of bacta was detectable in the mix of zapped ozone and seared flesh, and her fingers crept to the edges of the smoldering wound in her stomach. Several hastily applied patches covered the wreckage, and the image of the silver-headed boy drifted into her thoughts.

 

Cold fingers, smaller than her own and trembling, brushed her right forearm and she felt the cool metal of her saber press into her hand. Without even trying, Jaina could see the beacon of her daughter shining in the Force. Feebly, she reached out to Tirzah, and felt the girl's panic. Shh, shh, don't worry, I'll be fine, she thought as her thoughts began to turn dark. I just need a minute...

 

As though an invisible hand peeled back a curtain in her soul, a sudden brightness jerked Jaina to full consciousness. Tirzah's hands loosed a spiral of frigid healing that soothed the angry burning through Jaina's limbs. For a handful of moments, she blinked in dazed wonderment up at her daughter. The girl's savant power was more than Jaina could have expected. Such capacity was beyond nearly any hopeful and even most Knights. Perhaps it was just the dire circumstance that prompted such an ability, but she could not help the pride that welled in her at Tirzah's mettle. And yet, something in the periphery of her awareness was not quite right.

 

Then the whump-whump-whump of a blaster rang out, and with a knowing look and a squeeze of her frightened daughter's hand, Jaina answered the call to battle.

 

The instant healing wrought in her wounded abdomen would not hold against such acrobatics as she was used to, but Jaina made the best of it. Pulling Celedon back from the door, she leaned up against the inside wall of the room, sending her saber whizzing down the hall on its own. With a great outpouring of what little energy she had left, Jaina gave herself utterly to the waves of the Force, clairvoyance directing the motion of her mind as she became a conduit for the current. A weapon without a wielder, melting through the center of droids like a deadly dart: it whistled down the hall, decapitating and detaching limbs from its prey. Surprised yells from the troopers in the hallway did not deter it; her saber served as a barricade rendering the hallway impassable. Sibylline and efficient, it twirled in a dance of violent reckoning until her performance piece lay silent. Only when the saber flew back to her hand and Jaina relinquished her mental death-grip did she open her eyes to behold the adolescents before her.

 

"Everyone okay?" she coughed a handful of times, swiping at a droplet of blood that appeared in the corner of her mouth with her sleeve. "Someone's bound to have heard that, we should move on."

 

A whisper through the Force shattered her thoroughly, driving a stake of desperation into her heart. Jaina...

 

Then Tares was silent, muted in her mind, the brilliant silver light of his presence reduced to a cold and empty bowl of glass, like a light fixture blown out in a power surge.

 

"NO!" She doubled over with the strength of the outburst, clutching her left arm across her wounded abdomen, as she stood. Shambling down the hallway frantically, she clung on to Tares' location as though he might disappear entirely. They were close now, but something in her spiked with dread at what she would find. Slowing to a stop outside one of the bulkhead doors, she ignited her saber and slapped at the door control. Hold on, Tares, she demanded, whether or not he could still hear her. I'm coming.

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...why are the pretty ones always the most hazardous to your health?

May the Forth therve you well...

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A message came racing into Jaina Jade Skywalker's commlink like a Gamorrean into a buffet.

 

 

Hey how u doin? Ill be on the bothan homeworld for some siteseeing if you want to come have a date, ill pay.

 

 

Also hope all is well in jedi land

 

 

Also I wont randomly die on you like all your other love interests

 

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Ca'Aran

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Cameron felt a harsh tug against his shoulder that propelled him back into the room. The rifle in his hands flew away and ended with a loud clunk.

 

A blur of motion swept his vision that vaguely looked like Jaina. A flash of her lightsaber erupted in the doorframe before disappearing into the hall. Screams from the living security guards mixed with the sound of metal melting into slag.

 

“Everyone okay?” She asked once the commotion had died down. “...we should move on.”

 

Cameron got to his feet and searched for the blaster he had taken before. The tower was no doubt on full alert, which meant they would run into more security at some point. He eventually found the rifle then joined the other two outside of the hallway.

 

Jaina led them down the corridor. Cameron looked over the pile of metal and body parts Jaina’s saber had left. He had to step carefully over the debris to keep himself from tripping.

 

Eventually, Jaina arrived at a bulkhead and stopped. A loud “no” rang out from her direction and she began to slash at the door control with her lit lightsaber. Smoke began to rise from the panel from the molten trails the saber left.

 

Cameron approached the door while looking around for signs of trouble. Suddenly, the door hissed open and the action stopped. He took a few steps forward and moved in front of Jaina. The doorway was wide open.

 

Peering in, he caught sight of a man strapped to a vertical bed frame. The man looked lifeless, slumped into his restraints with his eyes closed. His hair looked to be a similar shade to his.

 

“Is that your friend?” Cameron asked….

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[The Order: Serving Il Cane Del Diavolo since May 15, 2002]

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"Tares," her voice rasped, seemingly coming from outside of herself. She closed the distance between the doorway and the rack where he slumped, suspended, in nearly a single bound. Her hands cupped his face. He was still warm, still breathing, and it was still certainly him--but his presence through the Force was muffled, muted. Not gone, like it would have been under the effects of ysalamiri, but quiet, like the throng of average citizenry outside the tower walls. Her heart sank. While he did not appear outwardly injured, his mind felt sluggish through the Force, and the flame of his spirit was smoldering. What had they done to him?

 

Tirzah's voice came from near her shoulder. "Mom, is it... is it actually Tares? It doesn't feel like him."

 

The girl's observation mirrored her own, and with it, Jaina's concern increased. "Yes, it is," she said hollowly, marking every detail of Tares' features with sharp eyes. "But something's wrong."

 

Jaina scanned the technical readouts of the complicated equipment surrounding him, but she had no way of making heads or tails of any of it. Frantically, her hands moved to release him, tugging on the straps and restraints before her shaking fingers held no more strength and she opted to simply slice through them with her saber, catching the limp form of her friend with her own frail body. Their momentum carried Jaina to her knees, where she held Tares' head in her trembling hand, her arm around his waist, suddenly oblivious to the egregious pain of her wounds.

 

"Tares, wake up," she pleaded, trying to blanket him in the Force's invisible energy but feeling her control slip away at the edges of fear that began to creep in. His features remained stony and still. Drawing his limp head to rest on her shoulder and pressing her cheek against his to hold it in place, she reached out a hand to Celedon. "Help me carry him," she instructed, struggling to stand under her and Tares' combined weight.

 

"How are we getting out of here?" Tirzah piped up, a note of dread in her tone. "Back the way we came in?"

 

In answer, Jaina looked toward Celedon. "Kid, you said shuttles run in and out of here all the time, right?" Setting her jaw, Jaina hoisted Tares up onto her back, lifting him as best as she could given her weak legs and the fact that he was a good six inches taller than she. "We need to find the shuttle bay. That's our way out."

 

One of the computer terminals was still active and logged in, and it did not take Jaina long to find the map layout of the tower station. The shuttle bay was only two units away. It was slow going through the halls, struggling to manage the unconscious form of Tares, but there were even fewer patrols, and the klaxon of the alarm had since quieted. If there were still forces here searching for them, they had switched to observation mode rather than engagement. The whole thing felt like rats had deserted a sinking ship. I have a bad feeling about this, she thought somberly to herself, as they approached the bulkhead door.

 

Peeking into the shuttle bay, she observed three shuttles docked, each the same nondescript variety that had carried Tares away from the surface of Altyr V. A handful of Imperial troopers were stationed at the bottom of each docking ramp, but curiously, a handful of non-troopers were also milling about the hangar: some in white medical coats, some in business clothes, some in the outdated garb of Vader-era Imperial officers, and two in oversized cloaks whose faces were hidden by the patterns of light and shadow formed by the flickering fluorescents overhead.

 

"Any bright ideas, Vortex?" she whispered jocularly to Tares' limp form as she had done on Altyr, desperately hoping for a response with a depth that surprised even herself. Though she was trying to show more confidence than she felt for the benefit of the teenagers, in all likelihood, Tirzah could probably see through to the uncertainty and desperation she felt. Normally, Jaina would be driven by her curiosity to figure out what kind of an operation was being conducted within these white walls, but the hot knife of worry twisting in her gut overruled any delusions of embarking on an investigation. The only thing that mattered was getting Tares to safety and figuring out what the kriff had happened to him.

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...why are the pretty ones always the most hazardous to your health?

May the Forth therve you well...

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The trio entered the room, causing Cameron to take a closer look at the man strapped on the table. Jaina seemed distressed at the site, ignoring his question and instead approaching the man slowly. Cameron held back near the door and looked to the hallway. So far, they remained alone.

 

Jaina and Tirzah conferred with each other about the man. He was this Tares they had been looking for. Judging by the man's current state, they were too late. He looked deader than a dead bolt.

 

Somehow, Cameron found himself carrying the feet of the man as Jaina decided to make a break for the hanger bay. Stealing a shuttle wasn't a terrible idea, except for the loads of security that were bound to be in place. He was fairly sure a few anti-air placements would also make things difficult.

 

Cameron quickly felt the sweat forming down his arms under the weight of the man. The man had a tattered business suit on which hid the bulk of his frame. They slowly took his corpse out of the room and moved to the hanger.

 

The hanger was full of security. A few shuttles sat idly around with a couple guards stationed at the base of each one. Cameron waited for Jaina to leap into the blurry, saber fueled action she had displayed before, but she remained stationary in their cover. "Any bright ideas, Vortex?" She asked the corpse.

 

Cameron sighed and looked around. The closest shuttle was only a few feet away. The guards had their backs turned to them. They had the element of surprise.

 

"I have one." Cameron stated, "If you can lift or throw your friend towards that shuttle, I would do that." He finished while raising his rifle.

 

"It's time to go." Two blaster bolts rang out of his rifle and flew into the backs of the soldiers. A couple more stray bolts unintentionally followed into the back of the hanger. Cameron watched the rest of the guards leap into attention before moving from their cover and towards the open ramp of the nearby shuttle....

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[The Order: Serving Il Cane Del Diavolo since May 15, 2002]

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"Oh, not good," slipped out of her mouth before she could recall it. The ring of blasterfire echoed in the small hangar, and Jaina thanked the Force that Celedon evidenced that his ability to fight went beyond his barbed tongue. The troopers nearest them crumpled to the ground instantly. Rallying shouts began to echo with the sound of Celedon's blaster bolts, and Jaina considered for a moment trying to recall the reckless teen from his doomed mission. But the weight of Tares grew ever-heavier on her back, and even the sustaining power of the Force was beginning to drain from her weakened muscles. Utterly sapped by the day's ordeal, she took the boy's advice. It was time to go.

 

Hoisting Tares up the open ramp of the nearest shuttle and dodging the crossfire as they did so, she and Tirzah maneuvered him efficiently to the rear of the shuttle, where they laid him gently on one of the crew bunks. Brushing a lock of silver hair off of his forehead, a knot grew in Jaina's stomach as she paused fractionally to assess his condition. His face was pale and hollow, his expression grim and cold. Her breath caught in her throat.

 

"We need to get him out of here," she rasped to Tirzah. "Keep an eye on him and if he moves or changes in any way, call me. I'm going to start the engines."

 

"Mom, he's gone," Tirzah's statement stopped her in her tracks. "Whatever this is, this isn't Master Tares. It doesn't feel a thing like him."

 

Tears welled up in Jaina's eyes, but she refused to turn around, punching in the requisite preflight checks as she shouted over her shoulder. "It's him, Tirzah. They've done something. I don't know what. We'll find out, we'll fix it."

 

"IT'S NOT HIM." She was shrieking now, a note of hyper panic in her words that caused Jaina to stop in her tracks. "You can't fix this! Stop pretending you can fix everything! You can't! You just make things worse! Master Tares is gone, you're going to die, and so is Celedon, and then I will too!"

 

All remaining moisture disappeared from her mouth as Jaina stared at her daughter. Tears were streaming down the girl's cheeks and her limbs were shaking uncontrollably. The only sound in her ears for a handful of moments was that of her own pulse as wounded heart took in blinded eyes. You're in shock, she thought. You don't know what you're saying.

 

But in her heart of hearts, she knew that Tirzah was halfway right. Best pilot and mechanic in the galaxy or not, there were some things she could not fix.

 

"But it doesn't mean I can't try," she said aloud to her daughter, crossing the shuttle's floor in a pair of strides and gripping Tirzah's shoulders, gazing into the eyes that only saw with the vision of the heart. She shrugged off her jacket and tossed it across the girl's back, unable to meet her eyes any longer, and as the engine roared to life beneath them, she turned back down the ramp.

 

Violet light illuminated the hangar as she emerged in the hangar, saber held at guard before her, hoping to draw the fire away from the silver-haired child. "Celedon!" she yelled, as the boy with the rifle ducked out from behind a large stack of crates and let loose another volley of bolts at what seemed like an endless stream of troopers. "Now or never, kid!"

 

As soon as they got clear of the hangar, she could signal for Atlas. They just had to make it that far.

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...why are the pretty ones always the most hazardous to your health?

May the Forth therve you well...

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  • 2 weeks later...

The kid had made short work of a handful of advancing troopers, but his luck had run out. When Jaina emerged from inside the shuttle, she saw him propped up behind the crate where he had taken cover, afflicted with what appeared to be a blaster wound to the shoulder. Her protective instinct spiked, and regardless of the high level of resting pain she endured, she was determined that he would make it out alive. Holding her palms facing out, a wall of energy proceeded before her, serving as a shield against incoming blaster bolts and rippling outward to knock the advancing troopers off their feet. When she had done so, she turned a worried eye to where the silver-headed teen lay.

 

"Come on, kid," she said gravely, hoisting him over her shoulder in a fireman's carry much as she had done with Tares, and rushing back up the ramp. Slapping the control with her free hand, she laid him on the bunk opposite Tares' and turned to her daughter with solemn eyes.

 

"I know you're frightened, but listen to me. You need to put bacta patches on his wound and stabilize him. I'm getting us out of here." Tirzah's wide eyes met hers, and Jaina saw the flicker of responsibility echo behind the shock the girl obviously displayed. She tilted her head, horrified, in a fractional nod. Jaina reached out to stroke her cheek gently with the backs of her blackened fingers. "I know you can do it," she said quietly.

 

Turning away from the girl, she swung herself into the pilot's seat of the shuttle, firing up the engine's thrusters. In mere moments, they were darting away from the tower. While there were anti-aircraft emplacements, as Celedon had implied, they were not programmed to fire at anything leaving the tower. By the time they had been activated by sentient control, Jaina had taken them nearly out of range, only needing to jink a handful of shots.

 

"Atlas," she called into the comm, "this is Jaina. I have him. Be ready to leave when we arrive at the spaceport."

 

A double-click of affirmative was all the reply she needed. This whole excursion had been an exercise in playing against the clock. If they got wind of the escape and somehow closed down the spaceport by the time she arrived, there would be a whole lot of bloodshed in order for Jaina to escape. And, she thought grimly, given the state of her injuries, she would not like her odds if it came to a firefight.

 

But the worry was unfounded. The base was slow to mobilize, and the shuttle put down next to the Ferro Re with no inhibition.

 

Powering down the shuttle, Jaina pushed herself to her feet, the agony pulsing through her limbs as they threatened to give way. Tirzah had done as she asked, tending to the boy, and had now gone one step farther--thrown Celedon over her shoulder as her mother had done, though she appeared unsteady under the boy's weight. Jaina mirrored her action, and together the two of them staggered down the ramp toward the safety of Tares' ship.

 

Mere moments later, the Re shot through Acrid's atmosphere, Atlas at the helm. Though possessed of a less nimble touch than Jaina, the droid nevertheless carried them through the asteroid field without incident, and its complement of passengers slipped safely into lightspeed toward Corellia and Solaris HQ.

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...why are the pretty ones always the most hazardous to your health?

May the Forth therve you well...

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  • 5 years later...

The towering stone walls of the shadowy fortress seemed as if they would fit in better in a b-grade horror holo flick than where it sat atop the highest steppe in the area. In it’s shadow sprawled the slums; homes of hundreds of thousands of humanoid-esque beings. Each of them seemed to sport an evolutionary variety of extra growths that ranged from vestigal wings,  sensory organs, growths, fur, fangs and more. They lived in squalor eeking out an existence subsiding on the meager amounts of food the cold poor soil could yield. Hunting seemed to be their main subsidy of survival. Those who could trekking across the barren treeless on month-long hunting trips to bring back food and water. They were allowed little more than primitive tools, leather armor, and medieval steam-punk technologies. Those few pieces of advanced technology were held with reverence and secrecy, lest their oppressors, the Imperial Empire, enthroned in the ancient fortress above, discover them. Those found with som much as a glowlamp were harshly punished, their children carted off to the yawning blackened moat-spanning bridge into the castle. Most were never seen again. Those few that were, were found wandering the steppes, their minds broken and their bodies mutilated; never to be the same again, babbling about incomprehensible magics and tortures.

 

The Nusp-Ashla Nest which occupied the fortress were an outcast Nediji family that had for generations rules over vast swathes of the planet with impunity. Their enforcers donned stolen Imperial equipment and carried arms ferreted from galactic shipments the galaxy over; stolen from thieves of purchased on the black market. To the locals, they were the Empire. They had no way of knowing any different. The Nest was wealthy and wanted for nothing. The highest ranking members never left the solitude of their towering gargoyled spires and state of the art laboratories. They ate extravagant meals and entertained only the most select clientele within their walls.

 

Even then, guests were closely monitored. They were escorted by armed soldiers. Their movements were monitored  and controlled so that they would never see the squalor and suffering of their test subjects that lived outside.  Business was done cash-in-hand. Once business was complete, any clientele, bound by iron-clad non-disclosure agreements and knowing that their purchases would invite scrutiny from the Imperium, Sith, Rebellion, Republic or whatever force happened to be in control, were taken to the single small landing strip on the far side of the fortress where they were whisked by private shuttle to a third-party location where they were returned to their craft. Delivery of serums and purchases would be done elsewhere in the future by agents of the Nest.

 

The rest of the planet was comprised of windswept deserts. The small tribes of men that moved about the world survived by hunting and herding. They gave a wide berth to the fortress in the north, a place they referred to in their native tongues as Munstroen Jauregia, The Palace of Monsters. The people that live in the shadows of the fortress were known as the Accursed; their mutilated and mutates bodies ravaged by generations of experimentation until they were barely recognizable as what they had once been.

 

Hunting parties from the nomadic tribes were pitied, and kills left for the Accursed to ‘discover’ beneath the scrub.

 

The Nusp-Ashla Nest ruled, unchallenged by any but their most foolish vassals. Hordes of stolen Imperial tech supplemented their own bio-engineered adaptations. Rumors whispered about dying fires the world over spoke of creatures, demons, failed experiments that were entombed within the deepest bowels of the fortress. Legends tell

of hellspawn bursting from the earth to devour entire tribes in a cacophony of wails and gnashing of teeth late in cloud covered black nights.

 

A pair of Ho’din missionaries somehow managed, by a stroke of luck, to completely bypass the sensory blockade that lurked within the rubble-strewn asteroid belts that encircled the world. They were some of few who had ever done so and the first to have done so completely by accident. More importantly, they were the first to manage to get off world before being apprehended by Nest Imperial agents racing across the landscape in Imperial speeders and walkers.

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Even as the Galactic Alliance began its first pattering steps into galactic rule, its soldiers and pilots still carried its wil into the farthest reaches of the galaxy. Exerting justice where there had been none, and enforcing rule of law in lawless territories that had not seen galactic influence in decades. One such world was Acrid. Once holding a Jedi order operations complex, some three decades before, it was now a facet of galactic entropy. Where once there was peaceful order, now there was chaos and slaughter. A world that had fallen into disarray and destruction, a dystopian vision of what the galaxy could become. 

 

So the Galactic Alliance, in its infinite wisdom, had decided to reach out its magnanimous hand and free the people of Acrid from their indentured servitude. For even here, on the remotest frontier of the galaxy, sentients deserved a chance to strive against the evil that oppressed them. 

 

As such, twelve modern X-Wings, straight off endurance test flights from the Kuati manufacturers, were hurtling towards the planet on afterburner.  Followed by a single U-Wing gunship which held the majority of the well trained operatives. Such a primitive planet did not need the might of Imperial Star Destroyers, and a small special operations group would be enough, or so the experts hoped, to topple this ‘Imperial Empire’ and pave the way for peaceful rule. 

 

And Templar squadron would answer the call. 

 

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Andromina

Rebel Alliance Fleet Command - Lieutenant

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The modified U-wing, a Rebellion held ship since back when the Empire and Rebellion went toe to toe, now held what could have been an unfathomable cargo. A squad of four of the Imperium’s more eclectic scout troopers, cowboys as noted in several official reports. A new galaxy, new alliances, the same fight; for the cause of good. The ship was old, well maintained, but her age showed. It was apparent in the wear on the rounded edges of railing, faded leather straps, scratches from a myriad of equipment and soldiers loaded and offloaded more times than one could count. She had it where it counted though and right now, in addition to the four speeder bikes that were mag-locked to the decking, she was packing a highly specialized frequency jamming system. Electronic warfare in it’s compact finest.  Ten thousand plus frequencies, overwhelmed to the point of ineffectiveness. In a word, radio silence, scrambled by an ever changing onslaught of electrical feedback and pinged super-charged empty communications. The entire system was nestled deep within the hull of the ship, wired directly into the comm relays of the U-wing. It would make use of the ship itself to broadcast a sweeping net of silence across what would be a relatively primitive world. 
 

Unfortunately, such a specialized system necessitated the removal of the ship’s laser cannons; lest they overwhelm the energy core. Not wanting to be completely unarmed, even with the fabled Templar Squadron at their back, the men of Trill Scout Squadron, under the command of Gunnery Sergeant Benjamin Wood, were excited to tote out a pair of Imperial Heavy Repeaters and cases of metallic bolts and concussion grenades. All three of the men were smiling. It had been a while since they had done a tactical insertion; even linger since any of them got to hang out a gun port and pepper away from the upper atmosphere. Even Steve’s serious emotionless mouth struggled to maintain the smile pulling at the edges of his mouth.
 

Sure the nature of this mission was serious. Yes, this op was going to be risky. Disabling an entire base of operations with close air support. Right now though, the anticipation of the unfolding mission brought on some pre-op jitters. It was going to be trying. It was going to be a challenge. “The fun kind. Fast and fiery” Christoph had described it when they first received their new orders after leaving  Nar Shaddaa. 
 

Dropping out of hyperspace with the X-Wings, the ship’s pilot, a veteran TIE pilot and survivor of the Siege of Nar Shaddaa, Flight Leader Jason Q. Riggs ‘Queens’ ‘s voice drolled over the speakers and comms, “S-foils locked back.” The servos within the ships hull whined and those aboard could feel the gentle lock of the wings locking backwards. The ship was shaped like an arrow, narrow and pointy. Looking back over his shoulder, he nodded his helmeted head at the scouts, “Better buckle up boys,” he commed as he looked at them. “Intel wasn’t kidding. Asteroids around the whole planet.” Nobody had to ask. They knew what that meant. It was going to get rough. Scans of the field were severely limited at best. They were going to be flying in all but blind. As soon as they fired up the comms jammer, if they didn’t see it with their own eyes, it didn’t register. It’d be like flying a podracer in, well, an asteroid field.

 

 

“Trill Five,” Queens called out over his radio, “Templar One. On your lead.” 
 

The U-wing would stay in formation with the X-wings as deep into the field as possible. Eventually they would have to break apart to navigate the field without being blown to smithereens. If contact was made, Rags and Christoph knew to fire up the jammer as soon as humanely possible. Given the reports from

the missionaries, there was little worry beyond the asteroids. If they had made it in unmolested, surely trained military pilots could do it easily. Unless, of course, it was by blessing or pure luck. The Nest had small teams of droid interceptors stationed on the dark sides of several of the larger asteroids. Who knew if there were mines or anything else. 
 

Pulling his harness down over his torso, Rags smiled before plopping his bucketed helmet onto his head and digging an elbow at Steve’s side. “Keep your helmet in your lap kid. I threw up on my first hot asteroid run.”

 

The Chiss’ eyes narrowed. “Har har. I’ve been on hot intakes before corporal.” He droned back dryly  as he thunked his own helmet on his head before clicking his own harness into place and pulling it down snug.

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Benjamin Wood

Ragnar Kran
Christoph Sokol

Krilst’eve’nuruodo

 

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Whatever lay in front of them, likely hidden within the tower, or perhaps some kind of air or land based defense force, the objective remained the same. Stay within the envelope. Stay within the invisible jamming cloud of the U-Wing, inside that comfortable pocket that hid them from nearly everything except the visual scopes some defense forces employed. Useless for direct fire, and even more useless for hypersonic missiles of the kind a planet surrounded by an ever shifting asteroid belt would employ.  The only difficulty would be the quick dash from the asteroids to the surface, and staying within the V shaped formation the Templars were flying. 

 

They had extended their own S-Foils in case something lurked in the asteroid belt, but it was unlikely. Tin pot dictatorships like the kind that ran Acrid did not normally expect an outside threat to their sovereignty, nor could they afford an adequate countermeasure. Preferring to torture their own populace under the cloak of restricted holonet access, and flying under the suspicions of the outside galaxy. 

 

But someone had kriffed up, let the torture and slavery leak out, and some Galactic Alliance commander had decided in turn to lay out the corpse of the Acrid Government as a warning to the outer rim. Nailing their hides to the galactic fence to scare off the little sector governments from thinking themselves safe from the hand of justice. And what was the cost of two SOG squads and a few dozen concussion missiles to the potential results? 

 

Plus, Templar squadron needed a win. After the disaster at Nar Shaddaa, a blue milk run of a coup would be enough to bring morale back to where it needed to be. Or at least that was what was running through Beth’s mind as she gently eased her X-Wing into a dive towards the planet. Atmosphere was only ten minutes out, and there was only a little bit of asteroid to go. 

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Andromina

Rebel Alliance Fleet Command - Lieutenant

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“So far so good.” Lance Corporal Christoph Sokol whispered. His soft voice seemed to shatter the silence that filled the ship as it wove a path through the asteroid field. He was met with several disapproving looks from behind a trio of helmeted faces. Still the creak of his comrades’ armor as they leaned against their harness and their body weight adjusted spoke clearly. What was he thinking?

 

”Heh.” Queens chuckled softly. He wasn’t one to believe in superstitions, but he had appreciated the dead silence the scouts had unsolicitedly offered him as he wove the Alliance craft through the rapidly tumbling ever-changing maze of destructive stonework that was the asteroid field about Acrid. He was right, Christoph, after all, so far, things seemed to be going along swimmingly. Given the chance of encountering Imperial tech in the hands of what amounted to little more than slavers or pirates, the pilot had honestly expected more. When one had the toys of oppression, one usually

liked to show them off. Although . . . 
 

the twirling wreckage of some sort of hacked up freighter that passed uncomfortably close overhead as the U-wing pitched downward at a sharp incline was probably testament enough. 
 

“Approaching the inside rim of the asteroid field,” Queens droned almost robotically. So far so good indeed, if there was going to be any sort of engagement, the TIE pilot preferred more open space to a gravitationally strewn field.

 

In the hold, the excitement was almost palpable. The silence having been broken moments before, the commander of their little group, Gunnery Sergeant Benjamin Wood nodded as he checked the blaster connections of the heavy repeater nestled in his lap. “No going back now boys. Only way home is once we secure our objective and make sure this filth’s bio-labs are blown back to Xim’s final stand.” 
 

As if on cue, a single red beacon flashed in the hold. In the cockpit, it was accompanied by a telltale mechanized whoop. “Whoever it is, good guess them birds know we’re at the front door.” Queens radio’d as his scanners picked up the planetary scans of their ship. Somebody had spotted them. “Trill Five is going dark.”

 

”That’s our signal, lets light this Life Day cake,” Riggs laughed, excited for what came next, “Just don’t get us shot down, this coffin is packing multiple

friendlies.” He chided the pilot as he slapped the activator to the frequency jammer. 
 

A bulbous gelatinous sound seemed to emanate outward from device itself as the entire ship was engulfed in a rapidly expanding field of millions of frequency overriding signals. “Yeah, yeah.” Queens waived off the comment, but even his helmet comms were jammed, bathing  the entire ship in an eerie silence sage for the dull throbbing of the engines that one could almost feel more than hear.

 

About the same time swarms of interceptor droids detached from the backsides of the spinning asteroids, launching themselves with a fury towards the planetary bound squadron of craft.  Triggered either by the sensor ping or the sudden frequency jamming, the droids did what they knew best. Their little computerized minds focused on whatever was not a known friendly and they attacked, launching themselves with reckless abandon at the X-Wings and U-Wing. True, they were less coordinated than they may have been, several even crashed into one another in their fury to attack, exploding in plumes of silent electrified debris; still, it was like a horde of goblins giving chase. Goblins armed with Clone War era buzz droids that is. They could not lock on, that would have made them even deadlier. No winder so few ever made it. By sheer number and continued computerized sef-adjustments, the swarm closed in.
 

The flash of two buzz droid-laden interceptors colliding caught Queens’ attention. The fact that they had gotten so close was a concerning testament to the pilot’s general dependence in the technology he so expertly commanded. No sensors had alerted him to the asteroid-birthed defensive measure that cut them off from the outside world and sought to cut them to pieces. “Evasive maneuvers.” He called into his dead comm unit. Not like anyone could hear him. It was more force of habit than anything. Verbalize you actions, slow yourself down just enough to think, act on thought and instinct.

 

Remaining in formation, the U-wing accelerated with the others, clear from the field. Perhaps speed was to be their friend already.

 

 

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Benjamin Wood

Ragnar Kran
Christoph Sokol

Krilst’eve’nuruodo

 

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The squeal of alarm that came bursting into her almost silent cockpit, made Bethany’s blood run cold for a millisecond as she scanned her readouts for signs of damage. But the shrill whistle from the R9 astromech that was perched a half meter behind her in the fuselage was enough to tell her what they had accidentally run across. Dimitri, in the way only Astromechs could, told her that there was in fact, a cloud of buzz droids coming after them and the U-wing. An interesting layer of unforeseen defense, but not one that was particularly dangerous as both the X-wings and the modified assault transport carried heavy shields. But was that something they could risk? 

 

A look at the visual scopes that showed a glowing mass of the droids coming up quickly on their rear was enough to confirm the very real danger if all of them managed to get within range. Another glance at her readouts gave her another, if slightly nastier idea. 

 

“Dimitry, activate warheads on missiles one and two. Set engine burn for two seconds, detonation after five.” 

 

A simple squawk of resignation came over the intracomm, and she pushed down on the left rudder pedal slightly, bringing her to the portside of the U-wing. And as soon as the display burned green, she depressed the firing controls twice. Click click. Rocket motors fired, and two SR-3 concussion missiles blasted out of the launch bays on the the X-Wing. The engines fired for two seconds, long enough to clear the fuselage, then the missiles began to tumble. Losing their momentum and falling back towards the formation, tumbling beside the U-wing’s long extended s-foils, their internal computers ticking down the miliseconds until they committed a fiery suicide. Adding the remaining fuel in their reservoirs to the detonation of the concussion warhead. Swallowing the majority of the hand sized droids that followed the formation in a massive dual explosion. 

 

Though that might have alerted elements on the ground, they could now safely make the dash to the planet’s surface.  

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Andromina

Rebel Alliance Fleet Command - Lieutenant

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Following tightly behind Templar One, the explosions of fiery fuel and warheads enveloped a majority of the swarm. As they approached the outer edges of the planet’s atmosphere, Queens hoped reentry would burn the remainder of the devil-droids.

 

The ship shook slightly as it entered the atmosphere. The shields of the craft buffered a majority of the heat as the atmosphere peeled past. The armored exterior easily took the rest. Below them the sweeping deserts and steppes of the world unfolded before the fleet. Small nomadic villages sparsely dotted the landscape, darker splotches against the bright sands; all a significant distance to the south, far from the castle of the Nusp-Ashla Nest. The castle stood darkly overlooking the sprawling slums beneath it. For the moment, it was still out of sight beyond the horizon, beyond the curvature of the globe the team descended towards.

 

But still, an explosion in the asteroid fields would garner attention from the authorities that commanded the nest; had they known about it. For the moment, those inside the nest were simply scratching their heads and tapping at their consoles. Something was amiss. Was it possible an entire sector of satellites could go down at the same time? Or, was it an equipment malfunction? Sending lackeys into the bowels of the castle, hopefully they could figure it out and before their next client arrived. If it was a satellite issue, they would need repaired. That would cost credits. They would need to increase their prices. The idea of an attack, well, that was purely laughable. Nobody could get past the asteroids.

 

And then, one by one, sensor suites began to blink back into existence. Meanwhile, others began to malfunction as if they ceased to exist.

 

And they kept getting closer. The birds may have not been the smartest in the galaxy, but they knew a thing or two about a thing or two. Something was inbound. “Scramble the fighters!” The cry went out as an obnoxious squawking alerted the castle to assume their battle positions. It was something that had not happened in a long time, not for an emergency at least. A show of force for the highest levels of

clientele, sure, that happened from time to time, so every Nediji made sure to slip into a cleanly tailored uniform before half-scurrying towards the VERY large guns atop the walls and towers. Two squadrons of TIE Interceptors launched from within the courtyard. Their engines spun loudly as they swooped low over the ghetto of experiments that lived to serve their mad machinations. Tools of fear.

 

Following along with the Templars, the U-wing began to drop lower than the others. When they got closer, the ship would land and offload the speeders and Trill Scout Squadron.

 

On the horizon, the black splotch of the castle atop the steps began to formulate, a black blob against the skyline. The slums and ghettos sprawled outwards like a greasy stain.

 

Even if they felt invincible, the Nest was paranoid, highly. Maybe that was why they stayed alive for so long away from their initial homeworld. So when the communicators, from handheld walkie talkies to interplanetary relays, went dark; scrambled as if they were being overloaded and unable to respond or transmit, the paranoia went into overdrive. In addition to being paranoid, the Nest was highly wealthy. Not a good combination, because that wealth only served to be utilized in pursuance of overpowering any perceived threats from revolts to discovery by their own coming to punish them. In the chaos of the galaxy, that wealth bought lots of stolen goods. A half dozen Clone War era SPHA-Ts, two dozen Riot Control Walkers, and a squad of All-Terrain Defense Pods made up one of those purchases; money spent to keep suppressing the people, to display their power; and occasionally, keep nomadic barbarians at bay. Crews scurried towards the walkers. They would move through the crowded streets, parting the masses, and destroying anyone or anything that might stand in their way. Whatever was coming, a show of force might be enough to dissuade them. Surely someone had managed to arm up the nomads. They would pay for that, but first, the usurpers would need put down, publicly.

 

The U-Wing began to slow. “Whatcha doin Queens? We got a hot drop to make. Can’t even see the enemy yet.” Rags snarled playfully.

 

Queens shook his head, he could barely hear what was being said. He knew enough to know it surely wasn’t words of encouragement. He did not need to respond. The massive turbolaser blast from the self-propelled heavy artillery ripped through the air. It would have struck the U-Wing head on had Queens not jerked the yoke hard downwards and to the left. “That wasn’t very nice.” Queens muttered as he pointed the nose towards the ground, pulling up with a squeal of metal as it protested the gravitational forces that pulled at it. They skimmed along, mere feet above the ground.

 

”Guess thats our signal,” Benjamin shouted, hefting his heavy weapon to Steve as he unstrapped himself and knelt to plug the weapon into the external power source. On the opposite side, Christoph gage an excited and altogether primitive war whoop as he grabbed his own heavy weapon and threw open the hatch. 
 

“Strap in first there skippy!” Rags grunted as he slapped a restraint strap to the Scout’s belt line as he leaned out the opening and sent a volley of cannon fire at a forward angle towards the wall of armor that seemed to be forming up at the edge of the ghetto.

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Benjamin Wood

Ragnar Kran
Christoph Sokol

Krilst’eve’nuruodo

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

The X-wing’s fuselage began to vibrate horribly as they began their dive through the heavy atmosphere towards the planet’s surface. The S-foils created a great deal of drag as the X-wing did its best to speed through the atmosphere, causing turning to become much more sluggish, and the forward shields to begin to take the brunt of the friction heat exchange. It was a brilliant experience, and required most of the flying to be done by instrument only, as the heat made the starfighter’s forward shields almost an opaque white as the quad generators embedded in the hull tried their best to keep up with the friction. The controls bucked heavily in her hands as the fightercraft fought its way through, and an equally concerning whistle sounded from her astromech. 

 

Not the whine of structural problems, or that the fuselage was disintegrating, but the low whistle of potential enemies. And the matching long lists of red that scrolled past her visual scope told her all she needed to know. 

 

Comms were now open. And at this range, there was not much more good jamming would do. 

 

“One through Six. Engage large ground targets with standoff munitions, sort by size, Seven through twelve engage fighters.”

 

Now the X-wing would prove its versatility. Most of the squadron had grown up in the shadows of the Caridian flight academy, learning every trick and maneuver the TIE series of fighters had to give. Bethany herself had not switched from the venerable TIE Defender to the new model X-wing until a few short years ago. A few short years of a sortie every single day, dozens of kills, missions, and lost wingmen. The TIE interceptors had a great many disadvantages in atmospheric flight compared to the Alliance X-Wing, and this battle would likely show every single one. 

 

The large Solar panel arrays that made up the barrel like wings of the TIE interceptor provided so much drag that turning was a beast, mixed in with no countermeasures, and no missiles? It would be an old fashioned Ronto shoot. More akin to a rancher putting down a unruly bunch of womprats than an actual fight. 

 

Her Astromech whistled in her ear and Beth let the reticle settle over the heat signature of the cadmium/mercoxit core of the SPAAT that had just fruitlessly fired an artillery round at the U-Wing. She depressed the trigger and white hot jet of exhaust followed a brief trajectory towards the ancient walker, so did a great many other missile from her wingmates. And a brief second later, the stillness of Acrid was shattered by the thunderous explosions of Concussion missiles and detonating submunitions.

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Andromina

Rebel Alliance Fleet Command - Lieutenant

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The rat-tat-tat of the heavy cannons rattled about the ship as the wind screamed pst the open doors. It was like an old war holovid in real life. Not that that occurred to most of the crew; although Rags chuckled to himsef at the realization.

 

The Scouts’ comma crackled to

life. It was a shock in and of itself. A string of unprintable curse words flowed from Queens mouth as he jabbed at several buttons and switches on his console. Apparently the old boat was showing her age. Where the velocity of decent and the forces gravity had not been enough to dislodge whatever wire had inevitably rattled loose the sheer momentous power of the near direct artillery hit was enough to shut down the jamming system. “Did one of you sit on the switch?” Queens snarled angrily.

 

Steve stared down the barrel of his weapon. Blasts of molten hot laser tore through enemy targets with accuracy and ease. The young Scout did not say anything. If anything, the Chiss member of the squad had entered a near state of meditation as he put everything else from his mind but hitting his targets. Even if he was a tactical operator, he had absolute trust in his fellow soldiers to do their job, so there was no sense worrying about it. Such desiccation allowed Benjamin the chance to spin about to the intricate hamming system.

 

The leader of the squad flicked several switches. He even kicked the contraption for good measure causing it to fizzle for a moment. “Nothing on this end.” He growled into his comms with a hint of frustration knowing full well how much more difficult things had become.

 

The resulting wall of explosive fire rattled off by the X-wings consumed the wall of Imperial armor from view, at least for a moment. Some of the aged equipment was unable to stand up to the barrage, succumbing to the concussive blasts that flattened nearby shanties and  bursting into flames. Other armored pieces showed their Imperial craftsmanship and weathered the assault with no obvious ill effect. 
 

With the sudden opening up of comms, the front line defenses were able to relay the sudden assault on their livelihoods. In the castle, a new sense of urgency overtook the place. It was all hands on deck. This was no drill. Quickly the roof mounted anti-aircraft batteries roared to life. Another purchase of near top tier defensive power.

 

The U-wing pulled back, hard as Queens’ white knuckles gripped the yoke of the rattling craft. “We’re gonna have to put down a little further back.” He snarled as he arced upwards and around in a wide loop, a single blast from an anti-air cannon rattling the teeth of everyone aboard. Thankfully the shields held, but nee klaxons began to blare.

 

Rags and Benjamin yanked Steve and Christoph back into the hold, the doors slamming shut against the onslaught. They all fell in a heap at the back of the hold, liked against the magnetized speeder bikes. “Hey!” Christoph chortled. “The rest of us aren’t wearing seatbelts back here!”

 

”Sounds like a you problem,” Queens retorted as a smile creeped across the edges of his helmeted face. This was where the fun started.

 

”Ugh.” Rags groaned as he shoved Stege off his lap. “Hey. Just cause you got a death wish don’t mean we do!” He shouted toward the cockpit. The comms worked fine and everyone winced as he whispered “Stupid coffin jockey.”

 

”Hey Rags,” Benjamin waved as he tapped his helmet where his ear and comm speaker were

 

Oh. Oooooooh Rags realized. “Well don’t kill us.”

 

”Better buckle up cowboys. Its gonna get bumpy.” The pilot drolled in an almost sing-song monotone as he pulled the u-wing up at the last possible moment with a protest of struts.
 

Leveling out the ship tore away from the direct assault, slowing a short distance from the ghetto of shadows beneath the castle. Eventually the ship came to a stop and Queens spun in his seat. “Front row seats to the balcony fellas. Pop flares when you’re ready for pickup and I’ll show you what us coffin jockeys can really do.” He smiled. That was fun.

 

The four scouts grabbed their gear and hurried to release the maglocks on their bikes, guiding them down the descending ramp.

 

”Alright boys. You know the drill,” Ben smiled tiredly. “In and out. Ten fingers, ten toes. Steve, you got the stuff?”

 

Steve patted the satchel slung about his shoulder and gave a thumbs up.

 

”Lets blow this popsicle stand!” Rags whooped as his speeder bike roared to life and he tore towards the zig-zagging walkways of the shantytown.

 

The other three Scouts quickly followed suit and soon the group was in their element, white-knuckled and relaxed as they tore at breakneck speeds through the slums. The chaos of the assault seemed to unfold around them. Stormtrooper armor wearing goons ran through the streets blasting at anyone that got in their way, local, experiment, or foe alike. It did not matter. Even more armor rolled into sight, the masters within their fortress fearful of even more attackers materializing for an all out assault.

 

TIE fighters launched from their hangars. Their signature twin ion engines breaking the usual still skies as they invoked mass panic in the streets below. Of course, none of that was helped by the random strafing the TIEs subjected the defenseless people below too.

 

 

Steve snarled instinctively he veered hard to the left. An entire city block was vaporized. Beneath his armor, he felt the heat as his comm crackled ineffectively in his ear. Separated from the others for a moment, the Chiss focused on his task at hand. They had to get into the castle. They had to detonate the main power core.

 

”Sarge!” Christoph cried into his comm. “We mighta lost Trill Four!” He exclaimed as a fireball erupted behind them driving the bikes forward even faster.

 

”Stay on target.” Benjamin reassured them, his heart growing cold at the thought he might have lost another brother. “He’s too tough for a little fire to cook.”

Edited by Trill Scout Squadron

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Benjamin Wood

Ragnar Kran
Christoph Sokol

Krilst’eve’nuruodo

 

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  • 3 weeks later...

The X-Wing’s fuselage rocked as it sped through the remnants of concussive blasts, the lower half of the shield screen becoming an opaque green-white as the shield generator worked to catch the hail of micro shrapnel that came spitting up from the ground as armoured vehicles detonated. How many years had those vehicles been kept in service by loving mechanics and crews? Dutifully polishing the crests of long vanished empires and republics. Centuries and Decades of loving care turned to molten durasteel. Variable antiques turned to death traps for the noble crews. Liquid metal and fuel, burning crew alive as entire vehicles combusted into gouts of white hot flame. 

 

But the Alliance pilots did not have time to think about the consequences of their torpedoes and strafing runs. Their objectives were to clear a corridor for ground ops, then keep the enemy off them long enough to do their duty. But by the look of the projected target board, the X-wings of Templar would be busy for quite some time. Beth pushed slightly on her rudder pedal and nudged the yoke around and put the X-wing in a long banking turn that took her around the central tower and allowed her to send another volley of concussion missiles into a trio of hover tanks that were charging towards the Alliance ground operatives. 

 

She didn’t see the explosion as she was forced into another short banking turn to avoid one of the old model anti aircraft towers that had sprang to life. Chattering long beams of green energy that cut through their formation like a knife. Templar three seemed to stumble in the air as one of the beams intersected the fuselage where cockpit and cowling met. Conversation about target acquisition turned to a short high pitched scream, then static, as the eighteen year old Caridian pilot of Three died in her seat alongside her astromech. The now pilotless X-wing turning to cartwheel through the air before falling like a discarded toy into the city below. 

 

The tower took its own quadruple blast of energy from Templar 6’s Taim & Bak Laser cannons. Falling silent as its crew laid in their own coffins of slagged durasteel. But now it was time to engage the swarm of fighters, and Beth brought her X-wing around again for another pass. Her thoughts turning dark.

Andromina

Rebel Alliance Fleet Command - Lieutenant

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