Semper Foo- Part 1
By: Foo and Bulldog
"Get your craft out of there, Leftenant! That's an order!"
"Captain, Alpha Squadron is cut off!"
"You have your orders, Leftenant. Do your duty to the Empire while they do theirs."
"I can still help get them out! I've got that experimental auto-turret I can deploy to punch a hole in the insurgent formation."
"You are piloting an expensive prototype that cannot fall into Rebel hands. Now return to the hangar or we will be forced to destroy you."
"Loosen up and give me a minute to get them out!"
"We are activating the failsafe device. If you are not on the deck within the next minute, you will be destroyed."
"Failsafe device? What is that supposed to mean?"
A loud beeping began emanating from somewhere in the bowels of his prototype Reaper...
Foo awoke with a start, sitting straight upright as he gripped his chest with both hands. His skin, clothes, and bedroll were covered in sweat. Through the damp material of his shirt, he felt the racing thumping of his heart.
Off to the side, his alarm clock was assaulting his ears with the same noise that he'd heard in his nightmare. The same noise he'd heard years ago during that fateful mission belonging to the secret explosive device his superiors had implanted deep within his prototype Reaper in order to ensure his compliance.
He slammed his fist down on the device, smashing it to bits that skittered all over the floor.
"Hate the alarm that much, Loot?" Ant asked as he chuckled from elsewhere in the Buccaneer bunk room.
[Toseng Occupation: Day 9]
Bearcat sat in the sparsely populated Vigilant mess hall across from his closest friend and ate the food on his tray with ravenous abandon. It had been days since the food provided to him by the cooks had been anywhere close to appealing to him.
Blue raised an eyebrow at the appetite her companion was displaying. "Hungry?"
"I've missed the ship food," Bearcat replied between bites.
Blue nodded, understanding the point her friend was making. The mess hall on the planet of Toseng was fairly bland and repetitive. She understood that it was likely due to so many of their resources going to the refugee camp that had formed and continued to grow outside of the base, but that wasn't very comforting to her appetite while on the planet. She took a bite of her own food and savored the flavors dancing around her taste buds. "I'll have to let Jado know how much you've missed his cooking."
Blue let out an exasperated sigh. "Am I the only person you talk to on this ship?"
Bearcat stopped eating as he thought for a moment, but just as quickly shrugged his shoulders and nodded before continuing his feasting.
"You're hopeless," Blue chuckled as she took a look around the mess hall. Under normal circumstances, the place would be filled shoulder to shoulder with pilots and other personnel grabbing their meals. Currently, however, they were two of only a handful of people taking in their food. A cold shiver swept up her spine. "Hey, Z."
Bearcat didn't meet her eyes as he continued to spear the bits of meat on his multi-utensil and shovel it into his mouth. He grunted in response.
"Does this place feel... off... to you?"
"No," Bearcat mumbled definitively between bites.
Blue shoved her friend hard in the shoulder, drawing a confused and hurt look from his eyes. "I'm serious. Does this place feel weird?"
Bearcat finally set down his utensil and took a draught of water. Setting his glass down, he finally took a long and thorough scan of the room. After looking at everything, he looked back at Blue with another confused look on his face. "No?"
"You hairball," Blue hissed. She waved her hand around the room. "This place is a ghost town!"
Bearcat shrugged again. "It's empty because most of the Ving is on the planet, Cho."
She slapped her forehead and scoffed. "I know that, you oblivious oaf! But still..."
"Look, Cho, I think you'rrre overrreacting rrright now."
Blue sighed, nodding in agreement despite her face not matching the sentiment. "Maybe it's just weird that the Captain is, well, you know. Who is going to be second in command now?"
Bearcat thought for a moment, then bobbed his head back and forth as he mentally debated what Blue had said, and then finally shrugged again as he felt that he couldn't control what happened next and it wasn't worth being bothered about at this time. He picked up his utensil, but was dismayed to see that he'd already cleaned his tray completely. Inching his eyes forward, he saw that his companion had barely touched her own food. He pointed at her tray with his utensil. "Arrre you going to eat that?"
"Men," Blue grumbled, sliding her tray closer to her friend.
"The thing you have to understand, Leftenant Davis, is that the Empire is a well-oiled machine. Each one of us is a part of that machine, and each one of us has a part to play in keeping that machine operating at peak efficiency."
The haughty Captain stepped closer, smiling in a way he probably thought was kind, but was more like an uncomfortable expression he clearly didn't utilize often. "When we receive orders, it is not our job to question those orders, but to execute them in the fastest and most efficient way possible."
"I'm not done speaking yet, Leftenant," The Captain admonished as he held up a finger. "What you may not know about your orders is that they are always a part of a bigger picture. Much bigger than each pilot or trooper can see from their vantage point in the battle. So when orders are given that may not make sense, you are to follow them to the letter anyway as they are a part of that bigger plan, and any delay in executing your orders could ruin the rest of the plan completely. Understood?"
There were many words Corell wanted to say right now, but none of them were 'understood'. He clenched his jaw as he debated saying some or all of the other words that were coming to mind instead.
"I said, Understood?"
"I don't understand what we gained by leaving Alpha Squadron to the Rebels."
The Captain's nostrils flared and he pursed his lips. "They were necessary to occupy their attention so you and the other prototype pilots could escape, Leftenant. And the next time you address me, you better include a 'Sir', or you'll find yourself busted to the infantry so fast your head will spin. Do I make myself perfectly clear, Davis?"
Foo's eyes snapped back into focus. Suddenly the clean and orderly Imperial hangar of his reverie was replaced with the haphazard layout of the CRS Vigilant's hangar.
"Hrm?" Foo turned around to see a traffic controller standing behind him under the S-foil of his U-wing. "Yes?"
The man motioned with one of his powered-off batons. "Can you please finish debarking so I can park the rest of the fighters that are waiting to land?"
"Oh, yes," Foo replied, embarrassed that he'd been an inconvenience due to his inattention. He hurriedly vacated the area so Gnoizic could land his B-wing, giving the pilot a casual wave as he hustled off the deck. Ahead of him, a group of pilots that had landed previously began walking toward the briefing room. He caught a Loth-Cat smirking at him, and he nodded in response as he joined the back of the group.
His unease seemed to wash away the farther he got from the hangar, but the chill of that memory still stuck with him as he filed into the briefing room and made his way toward the Buccaneer Squadron section of the room.
Ant and Wolvinator were already up to their usual antics of antagonizing each other. The former had managed to fake a light slap to get the latter to duck out of the way only to slam his face into the other hand lying in wait. In return, Wolvinator pulled the lighter pilot into a deep headlock and began to grind his knuckles into Ant's scalp. They both noticed Foo at the same time, and ceased their horseplay. "What do ya say, Loot?"
Foo shrugged, having no idea what had caused the entirety of Renegade Wing to be recalled from the surface of the planet. "No idea, but it's gonna be crowded in here with everybody, including all those naval officers," he said as he motioned toward the beings lining the walls.
"What I wouldn't give for one of Bulldog's room-clearing bombs," Ant said wistfully, but then his eyes widened and he slapped a hand over his mouth. "Too soon?" He asked quietly.
"Yeah, I'd say," Wolvinator replied, slapping a hand on the back of Ant's head. "Can't take you anywhere."
Raptor, Animal and Gnoizic joined the Buccaneers in their area and took a seat. It was telling that all of them had avoided Bulldog's traditional seat, indicating that none of them thought he was a lost cause and would be returning to the unit at some time in the near future.
The last few pilots filtered in, and the lights dimmed. Colonel Vince "Stryker" Rambo strode up to the podium and hooked up his datapad to the display. As if sensing the entire group was going to rise to salute, Stryker put a hand up to stop them. "As you were."
Foo had heard that the CO of the wing had access to the Force, but he hadn't interacted much with Stryker since he'd joined and hadn't experienced it personally. Now, though, having been about to rise and salute only to be anticipated and told not to by Stryker gave credence to the rumors he'd heard. He immediately felt embarrassed at the thought that his walking dreams and recurring nightmare might be broadcast to Stryker. He tried to slouch lower in his seat, wishing that he could just phase through the material and end up on another deck.
Stryker keyed a few buttons and a holographic image of Toseng appeared. It zoomed in to a specific set of coordinates away from the city. As it did so, the jagged outline of the crashed Imperial Star Destroyer Glory dominated the image.
"This is the wreckage of the Glory. We've done flybys and aerial patrols of the area regularly, but the infantry under Colonel Kurlun has had their hands full with all of the refugees and Imperial insurgents in and around the capital to send any meaningful force to secure the wreckage. With it being derelict, securing that area has been a low priority"
Stryker cleared his throat, pausing slightly. "A recent patrol sortie conducted by Corsair Squadron has changed that priority." He pushed a button on his datapad and the image changed. In the area surrounding the wreckage that was once empty now had a bustling cargo operation going on, with crates and other equipment and war materiel now arrayed in the immediate area. "The survivors of the ship have begun gathering all of the equipment they can carry. As best we can tell, they haven't started moving it to any locations on the planet, though we have about four suspected sites that may have outposts of some kind that may have been set up immediately after the crash."
Stryker punched another button, and a series of different turrets scrolled across the screen. "Unfortunately for us, the officer in charge of this mission is competent and doing this by the book. They have set up complex anti-infantry and anti-air defenses around the area to repel any forces that come looking. As Major Krenn can attest, the AA defenses are indeed online, so we have no reason to doubt that the ground defenses are likewise active. The only reason we even have these latest images is due to the Major's superb evasion skills."
Lt. Col. Alrick "Krayt" Durgan's hand shot up. Once Stryker acknowledged him, he rose slowly to his feet, still feeling the after-effects of his own crash a week prior. "So, are we going in to bust this thing up through the air, or covering an infantry force from the base to seize the assets?"
Stryker shook his head. "No and maybe. The current working theory is that the Imperials on the ground are expecting to be picked up soon by some force that will arrive at an unknown time. We believe that time is near, as this operation of unloading their war assets would have happened immediately after the crash if they weren't expecting a ride home."
Animal rose to his feet. "Do we know what kind of taskforce they will send here to retrieve these forces?"
Stryker shook his head. "We do not. As such, we cannot risk our own taskforce by moving them into the most likely arrival vector in the event the Imperials bring a superior force. We will move closer, but still remain a safe distance away in the event we need to back off and await reinforcements of our own."
"What is the plan then, Colonel?" Jalb asked from the Rogue Squadron area of the room. He was still mending a broken leg, but it was clear he was dead set on flying if it looked like it might be a hard fight.
Stryker smiled. "We believe that regardless if their intent is to move the material to hidden outposts on the planet or exfil completely, they will be vulnerable in transit. Renegade Wing will engage the forces that attempt to scatter on the planet, and in the likelihood of shuttles coming to evacuate these assets, we will destroy those shuttles and ruin their ability to run away. This will put the forces on the ground and in space in a difficult situation. The longer either waits around, the better chance we have of bringing about enough firepower to take them out. If those shuttles are destroyed, we believe the retrieval force will retreat."
"Allied ground forces are moving in from the base, but it is extremely slow going. Their role in this will be purely mop-up; prisoner taking, grabbing useful assets, and destroying anything we can't take," Stryker said as the hologram changed to show a column of ground forces moving out on foot.
"What about those suspected outposts you mentioned earlier, Colonel?" Syntax queried.
Stryker nodded and punched another key. The interface zoomed out slightly to include a larger area surrounding the downed Star Destroyer, and four areas were highlighted nearby. "We are sending in a U-wing to each location with a commando detachment to investigate those areas. If there is any sort of outpost, they are to mark it and take a look. If they encounter resistance, they are to retreat until the ground forces arrive with enough force to take the outposts."
"Who will be flying those U-wings, Colonel?" Animal asked as he shot an involuntary glance toward Foo.
Stryker seemed to catch Animal's look and nodded. "Lieutenants Davis, Ninx, Ojima, and Calyse are the best U-wing pilots we've got currently. They will be the pilots conducting this portion of the operation."
"Colonel, my squadron is already short on bodies," Animal protested. "We need Davis and Ninx with us, otherwise we'll be a liability out there."
Stryker held up a hand to forestall any more complaints. "I am aware of Buccaneer Squadron's current staffing issues, Chris. As such, Buccaneer Squadron's portion of the coming engagement is to strike out at the air and ground defenses around the Imperial encampment. Be on the lookout for any of their Walkers that may have survived, as they need to be a priority target as well before our infantry gets there. Since Rogue Squadron is also short on pilots, they and Corsair Squadron will be responsible for any fighter forces that the rescuing taskforce brings to the planet. Spectres, you will have the key responsibility of taking out any shuttle or cargo craft that make a run at the surface." Stryker looked around the room. "Any questions? Squadron Leaders and Executives, remain here a moment. You as well, Captain Callahan. Everybody else, go prepare your ships. May the Force be with us."
Foo rose with the rest of the assembled pilots and began filing out of the room. He shot a glance toward Animal to see what he was going to do without his executive officer present, but the man seemed determined to argue his point about their staffing issues further and didn't make eye contact with him.
Corell set the system to run an automated check for the third time. Satisfied to see the task working, he exited the cockpit and began poking around in the bowels of his ship. He looked around the cargo hold and began poking and prodding various panels. Knowing he was likely being watched by one or more spy devices, he did his best to look like he was making intentional checks and repairs.
What he was really doing was looking for the failsafe device he'd been threatened with the last time he took the prototype out. Intrinsically he understood the wisdom of affixing some sort of explosive device on a prototype ship to keep it out of the hands of the enemy, but that didn't mean he felt any better about it being aboard his ship with him on it.
After a thorough search, he had one panel left to explore. As he approached, he noticed this one was secured differently than the others. A cursory tug at the handle yielded no results, indicating it was locked. He was about to pull out his multitool to pick the lock, but was interrupted by the sound of boots on the passenger compartment above his head. Cursing quietly, he pocketed his tool and ascended the ladder.
"Ah, there you are, Leftenant. I am Colonel Tagge, and I'm running the operation on the ground."
"Sir," Corell saluted, only releasing it when the Colonel nodded dismissively. "Tagge, huh? Famous name. Any relation, Colonel?"
Tagge shot a glare in Foo's direction, but also smirked and nodded slightly. "So this is the TIE/rp, the fancy new prototype ship that's going to revolutionize space combat and troop insertion? Seems... a waste."
"She's a great ship, Colonel. Lots of utility. It's also nice to have shields and life support, too."
"Oh? I wasn't aware that our pilots cared about such things."
The dismissive manner with which the Colonel had referred to Corell and his entire corps of the Navy irked him. Suddenly this seemingly aloof Colonel's mannerisms took on a darker edge, marking him just as evil as the Captain that had ordered him to abandon Alpha Squadron. He began to wonder if there were any high-ranking officers that cared about the actual people they led into battle and death.
Corell realized he hadn't responded to the Colonel's musing. "Well, without that life support, you and your team would need to be outfitted with survival suits for this trip planetside, Colonel."
Tagge nodded. "I suppose it won't be as big of a waste as Tarkin's pet project... nevermind," he said, straightening up. He pulled an odd-shaped tool out of his pocket and held it toward Corell. "I'm told this prototype has some sort of explosive device embedded in it to prevent capture. I have no intention of riding on a bomb. Please use this tool to disable the device immediately."
Corell took the proffered tool and examined it in his gloved hand. He was dumbfounded that something belonging to somebody clearly high up in the chain of command was now in his possession and that it happened to be the very thing he needed. He was doubly stunned that the officer was asking him to do the very thing he had planned to do surreptitiously. He froze in place as he began to hatch a harebrained scheme in his mind's eye.
Colonel Tagge had finished his cursory survey of the cockpit and had returned to the crew compartment. A look of disdain spread across his face as he realized Corell hadn't moved from the spot he'd left him. He coughed loudly.
Foo shook himself back to the present, angry with himself for once again falling into an unpleasant reverie. He put his multitool back in his pocket and patted the pintel-mounted "Roba" M-45 repeating blaster lovingly. He levered himself out of his U-wing and saw a Bothan female with Master Sergeant bars on her black-clad chest. "Yes?"
"Master Sergeant Isk'laa, leader of the Night Train," she said as she held out a hand.
Foo gripped the hand and was surprised by the strong grip the trooper clamped on his own hand while they shook. "Nice to meet you, Sarge. Are you the senior on my ship?"
Isk'laa moved in close. "Unfortunately, we're 'training' the new CO," she whispered. Her hot breath carried the telltale scent of recently consumed spirits, making his nose wrinkle. "Lieutenant Moria will be along shortly, and will be manning the door gun so she can feel... useful."
Foo stepped back and nodded. "Well, I'll do my best to get everybody down there in one piece, Sarge."
Isk'laa laughed. "Way I heard it, you've got the most experience on the ship with craft of this type, going all the way back to the Reaper you stole from the Imps when you defected."
Foo was taken aback. He couldn't fathom how she'd have gotten the information about his past at her rank level. His mouth hung agape as he tried to process this development.
Isk'laa smirked. "You're wondering how I got that intel on your past, yes?" She chuckled, but it sounded like a dangerous purr. "Well, the other senior officer coming along let that bit of information slip."
"Other officer? I thought you said the Lieutenant was the most senior?"
Isk'laa wagged a finger. "I didn't say any such thing, Loot. We'll be carrying one Major Shen'ryu down to the surface as well."
Foo was crestfallen at the bomb Isk'laa had just dropped on him. While he didn't have any personal interaction with Major Thram Shen'ryu aside from the dressing down he delivered to Animal and Bulldog on Toseng when they'd first landed, he'd heard enough stories to color enough to know just how bad this new wrinkle was. He followed Isk'laa's eyes and saw the Major and the Lieutenant walking purposefully toward him. "Stang," he muttered.
Isk'laa raised an eyebrow. "Not a fan?"
Foo winced at his lack of self control. For all he knew, the sergeant was fiercely loyal to the Bothan Major. "I, uh... don't like extra passengers. Especially senior officers. Terrible backseat flyers."
Isk'laa smirked. "Nice recovery, flyboy. Don't worry, I'm not happy about it either." As the Major and Lieutenant approached, Isk'laa took a dramatic step back and raised her voice. "I will gather my squad and be ready to embark in five." With that, she retreated hastily to avoid having to address the senior officers.
Foo stood straighter as the two officers approached, nodding toward the svelte human female lieutenant with a kind smile. "Welcome aboard, Loot," he said as he held out a hand.
The Lieutenant took the offered hand in hers and shook it. "Second Lieutenant Astar Moria, Alliance Army Platoon Leader, 125th. They call us—"
"The Night Train," Foo interrupted with a smirk. "The Master Sergeant filled me in on that bit already."
Moria smiled kindly and nodded. "I don't suppose she said anything else about my experience?"
Foo shook his head, opting to keep the confidence of Sgt. Isk'laa by not outing her disdainful reporting of Moria's dearth of combat experience. "She did mention you were going to be running the door gun. Breath of fresh air to see an officer willing to get their hands dirty," he replied, glaring slightly at the Bothan next to her who was impatiently waiting to be introduced so he could take charge of the conversation.
Moria's smile widened, showing an impeccable set of teeth through the crack in her lips. "Glad to hear you approve." She motioned to the being next to her. "This is Major Shen'ryu."
Foo merely nodded, but didn't salute or offer a hand. Instead, he waved back toward the prepped U-wing. "Well, welcome aboard. I'd be happy to help you get secured on the repeater before we're airborne if you need the assistance, Loot."
Moria pulled her safety strap up and held it out, carabiner open and ready to be affixed to the ship. The other end was already secured to her person at the waist. "I think I've got it under control, but thank you."
Shen'ryu was dismayed visibly by the lack of respect and deference sent his way. He clasped his hands behind his back and stepped forward, eyeing the beat up craft critically. "Do you believe this ship is in the best possible condition, Leftenant?"
Foo snapped his head around, but caught himself and removed the scowl before it had fully formed on his face. The Imperial pronunciation of his rank sent an involuntary chill down his spine, but he recovered his composure quickly and fixed his features into an emotionless mask. "Went over it with a fine-toothed comb myself. The repair crews on the ship are some of the best I've ever worked with."
"Major," Shen'ryu added after a long pause.
"You forgot to use my rank when addressing me, Leftenant," Shen'ryu explained slowly, as if speaking to a child or being of extremely low intellect. "These formalities and honorifics must always be adhered to if we wish to abandon the older... more savage... history of the Rebel Alliance, and ascend to the professional military we strive to be in the New Republic. This is a lesson your own executive officer seems to have difficulty taking to heart."
Foo ignored the jab aimed at Bulldog, but mentally cataloged it. "Well, Major, the ship is in the best shape she can be in. She'll get us down to the planet in one piece."
"I should hope so, Lieutenant," the Bothan replied dubiously as he ran a clawed finger across some recent blaster scoring on the hull.
Foo sighed inwardly, but couldn't stop the words before they came out. "You are more than welcome to stay aboard the Vigilant and monitor the mission from here, Major Sir."
Shen'ryu's eyes narrowed at the disrespectful tone and words he'd been addressed with. He puffed his chest out. "As the head of logistics for the Toseng Peacekeeper Forces, appointed by Colonel Kurlun, I have deemed it necessary to see just how our assets are being allocated. This is a fact-finding mission for me, Leftenant."
Foo narrowed his eyes. "You're coming down with us into a hot zone to see how we're using our ordinance? That seems rather... extreme."
Shen'ryu chuckled, but instead of it being a reassuring sound it came across more predatory and menacing. "You do whatever it takes to get your job done. Something I want all of my subordinates to live by..."
"They're he-eeeere," Wolvinator said in a sing-songy voice meant to emulate the unsettling line from the horror holo they'd watched as a group a few days ago.
The pitch and tone gave Bearcat an involuntary shiver. He hadn't enjoyed the movie whatsoever. The idea that ethereal poltergeists would be able to kidnap living and breathing children and attempt to murder others with clown dolls or even their orthodontia gave him nightmares. "I hate that."
"How are you so good at that?" Ant responded. "I hate that you're so good at sounding like a creepy little girl."
"Takes one to know one," Wolvinator shot back.
"I'm confused," Loth-Cat cut in haltingly. "Six, are you saying you are a little girl, or that Eleven is one?"
"Cut the chatter," Animal interrupted. "Ok, looks like this is as good as we could hope for. Stick to the U-wings and break atmo at the designated coordinates."
Bearcat looked down at his sensors. The Imperial retrieval taskforce had indeed arrived, and the strength looked completely manageable for the Vigilant to move in and either pound them into submission or scare them off. The center of the formation was an older Victory-Class Star Destroyer. Arrayed around it was a mixture of Carrack-Class Cruisers and even older Bulk Cruisers.
"Why isn't the Vig moving in now to engage?" Raptor asked. He was a recent veteran transfer, having just been added to the roster days ago to help fill in their recent slew of vacancies.
"Probably waiting to see if it's a ruse," Gnoizic replied. "Waiting to make sure this is everything before wading in and getting surprised by reinforcements."
"Two's right," Animal agreed. "Either way, that's not our call nor our worry right now. They are launching shuttles and cargo haulers that are diving hard into the atmosphere. We need to bust up those defenses."
Bearcat cycled through the targets on his Combat Multiview Display. A mixture of Zeta-class Cargo haulers, Lambda Shuttles, and Sentinel-class Landing craft filled the screen. On their own, they were sitting ducks waiting to be shot out of the sky. The Imperials knew this, which is why they had a mixture of TIE craft flitting in and around the cargo group to protect them.
"Rogue and Corsair, knock out those escorts. Spectre, bag those shuttles!" Syntax ordered over the main combat channel. Instantly, the X-wings and A-wings of Rogue, Corsair, and Spectre leapt forth to engage their targets. As they rushed in, the capital ships of the Imperial force attempted to screen their pickup force by firing their heavy cannons into the path the Renegades would be taking. At this range, it was an act of desperation to slow their targets down rather than actually hoping to hit anything.
"This is us, Buccs," Animal cut in. "Dive now and hit your targets. Good luck, U-wings!"
Bearcat pushed his stick forward and dove hard into the atmosphere. His shields bled a little bit as they fought against the friction of re-entry, but it was important that he and the rest of the Buccaneer fighters reached the base first so they could pick off the anti-aircraft defenses quickly to make sure Spectre Squadron would be unmolested while they worked on bringing down the shuttles.
He glanced to his left as he saw one of the U-wings nearby. Looking closer, he noticed the telltale Buccaneer paint job on this ship, indicating it was his squadmate Foo piloting the ship. He knew all of the U-wings were ordered to go radio silent the moment they all reached atmo, so all he could do was flash a thumbs up and waggle his wings as they all broke apart. "Godspeed."
Corell fought hard to keep the Reaper level as the wind outside continued to buffet against the hull and the odd configuration of the solar panel wings of the prototype ship. While it made sense on paper for the solar panel to be facing upward on a landing craft, in practice it caused all sorts of atmospheric flight problems when there was a strong updraft present.
"Hear me baby, hold together," he mumbled quietly to himself.
"Is it always this rough?" Colonel Tagge asked as he gripped the entryway with both gloved hands. A look of worry was stuck on his face.
"Got a fairly strong crosswind mixing with a big updraft in this area," Corell replied. "Something the briefing didn't tell me. Either they didn't know, or didn't think it would be a problem for a craft configured in this way. Don't worry, Colonel, I'll get us down."
"One way or the other, I suppose."
After another few white-knuckled moments fighting the controls, the atmospheric conditions evened out and allowed for a smoother descent. The rest of the trip down was smooth enough that anybody with a blindfold on would forget they were even on a ship hurtling toward the ground.
"Touchdown in thirty," Corell called over his shoulder. He flipped a few toggles and deployed his landing gear and activated his repulsors.
"All right troopers, on your feet!" Tagge shouted. "Sergeant, I want them out and setting up a perimeter on the hamlet the moment that door opens."
Corell ignored the orders meant for the stormtroopers he was carrying down. Instead, he focused on putting the ship down as gently as possible in an overgrown clearing. He slapped the button on his console that opened the ramp. He looked out through his viewport and saw a quiet-looking village 500 meters ahead. In the fog, he could barely make out the buildings, though everything he could see didn't look much taller than a yurt. In the area around the buildings, he saw what looked like confused faces of families just standing still as they watched the new arrival that had just landed.
"Go go go!" Tagge ordered. The thundering boot steps echoed throughout the ship. Within 5 seconds of deploying, the troopers immediately opened up with their blasters, sending bolts into the village.
Corell watched helplessly as the fuzzy figures he'd seen standing transfixed earlier were cut down with ruthless efficiency. His mouth hung open in shock as the stormtroopers rushed out and fired as they maneuvered to their positions. He felt sick. He felt angry. He felt helpless. His mind raced as he tried to think of something he could do to stop the needless bloodshed, but no plan came to mind that didn't immediately end up with him being killed for treason.
It didn't make sense. Surely this couldn't have been the plan all along. He heard Tagge responding to comms while he stood on the ramp of the ship. He rose to his feet and hopped down into the troop compartment, and then sprinted to the top of the ramp. At the foot of the ramp, he spotted the man in charge. "Colonel, they're firing on the village!"
Tagge looked up at him with a look of annoyance. "Of course they are, Leftenant Davis. They're Rebel sympathizers."
Corell couldn't believe it. There was no possible way the troopers could have spotted a threat and called it in for permission to fire in the few scant seconds they'd been on the ground. Before he could think of a way to phrase his thoughts in a manner that wouldn't have him thrown in the brig, the comm panel in the cockpit beeped loudly. He remained rooted in place at the top of the ramp for another moment, his hand unconsciously creeping down to his holstered sidearm.
However, after his fingertips touched the handle of the blaster, he snapped out of it with a shake of his head. He bounded back up to the cockpit and slapped the panel. "Rho One here."
"Rho One, it's Hack. Go to encryption Pi."
Corell tapped in the command and waited patiently for his section leader to speak. His mind was moving a kilometer a minute, but he still couldn't make sense of anything. The senseless slaughter going on outside of his ship had short-circuited the logic circuits in his brain, and now he was just working on instinct. He didn't once stop to think about the reason his immediate superior and the only man he'd considered a friend had asked him to go off official comms and utilize their private comm protocols.
"You there, Foo?"
Corell's eyes widened as his mind continued to reel. Only when things were completely private did his section leader refer to him with that moniker. "Yeah, Hack."
"What's going on down there?"
"I don't know," Corell replied truthfully. He had no idea what had caused the troopers to go full scorched earth on the sleepy hamlet. "They're shooting everything that moves down here!"
"Yeah. Look, I need you to get back here now."
"Think of something. Hurry."
Corell killed the connection and walked back to the top of the ramp. Each step he took, he managed to shoot down each idea for why he had to leave. As he reached the ramp, the last choice possible was the only one he couldn't dismiss outright. "Colonel?"
"I need to take the ship back up ASAP. I'm reading a fluctuation in the fuel gauge that shouldn't be there. Rather than get stranded here, I'd like to get it back up and looked at by the techs. It's probably nothing," Corell lied, "but better safe than sorry, ya know? Should be up and back down before you know it."
"Prototypes," Tagge grumbled as he rolled his eyes dramatically and sighed loudly. He stepped off the ramp. He motioned forward another two hundred yards closer to the village that was currently aflame. "When you come back, I want you to set down there. Make it fast, Leftenant."
"Set down there. Make it fast, Loot!"
Foo's eyes sharpened as he suddenly came back to the present. He looked over toward the location Isk'laa was pointing, and nodded. "Can do, Sarge."
The dive down to the planet had gone off without a hitch. He'd pulled out of his dive just above the treetops and had cut out the sublight engines to drift forward on repulsors to reduce the amount of sound his ship made as it moved forward slowly.
As he neared the desired drop off location, Foo boosted his scanners to the max level. The only thing they picked up was what appeared to be ambient life living in the forested area. The clearing he was asked to land in looked innocuous enough, but there was also a fairly clear foot trail that led in the direction of the outpost they were tasked with checking and clearing.
"Skids down in twenty!"
The hold was a hive of activity as the troopers that had been patiently waiting for their turn to take part in the operation. Call outs for gear checks and reminders to keep weapons set on safe echoed throughout the room.
"They're a lively bunch," Shen'ryu mumbled from the co-pilot's chair next to Foo.
Foo recoiled in surprise. He'd somehow managed to forget the troublesome Major was seated next to him the entire trip down. Thinking quickly, a smirk played across his lips as he finished the landing procedure. "You know, it might be helpful if you go down to the comm station and strap in there. If we need to reach the fleet with an urgent report from the troopers, that would be the most logical position to have you stationed. If you think you can handle it, that is?"
Shen'ryu puffed out his chest and his eyes widened at the challenge behind the suggestion. "Of course I can handle it," he replied with a sneer.
The ship touched down gently, and the door slid open loudly. Quickly thereafter, the Night Train squad hit the ground and rushed forward. Foo watched them move quickly but carefully as they moved to find and clear the suspected outpost. As they disappeared into the woods, he gently lifted off and turned the craft again to give the lieutenant at the door gun position a clear shot in that direction in the event the squad retreated with pursuit hot on their heels.
Shen'ryu had attempted to rise the moment the troopers left, but then almost fell to the deck as Foo goosed the ship up to change its orientation. Shooting an angry look in his direction, the Bothan stormed off the flight deck and went aft to strap himself in at the communications station.
Minutes slowly ticked down on the clock without any sight of the team or any sound of activity outside. He heard Lt. Moria at the door gun speaking quietly, and clearly replying to words he wasn't able to hear. Since Shen'ryu was closer to him than her and he hadn't heard the Bothan speaking, Foo assumed she was in contact with the team. He leaned back, but wasn't able to hear any better than before.
"Team's coming back," Moria called out.
Foo tensed and gripped his controls tighter. "Contact?"
"Negative. Outpost was deserted."
Foo relaxed at that news. He continued to scan the treeline and his sensors, alternating between the two. His sensors pinged moments before his eyes saw the black-clad troopers jogging through the trees toward his ship. "I see them!"
Boots thundered in the cargo hold as the team boarded the U-wing once again. Foo waited patiently until all were aboard before looking back. "What's the play?"
Isk'laa appeared in the cockpit. "There was a path leading to the northwest from the outpost. That's where we think they moved."
Something didn't sit right with Foo. "Why move? It's got to be a trap or ambush, yeah?"
Isk'laa nodded. "Yeah, definitely a trap. They left nothing behind and didn't boobytrap anything. They want us relaxed as we follow them."
"I don't like it," Moria cautioned.
"Neither do we," Foo responded. "But it's our job, and this puts us behind schedule."
"Right, we have to go in hot," Isk'laa agreed. "We spotted a few sensors that we'd tripped before disabling them. They know we're coming. Stealth is out the window at this point."
"They know we're coming?" Shen'ryu asked. "Shouldn't we abort, Lieutenant?"
Isk'laa shot Foo a condescending look, which he reciprocated. "It's our job, Major."
"You asked to come along," Foo added, puzzling over the fact that the Major had dropped the Imperial pronunciation of his rank the moment the danger became imminent. Unfortunately, it seemed like the typical Imperial lack of care for the rank and file on the ground wasn't so easily shaken. Rage simmered beneath the surface of his stern facade. "You're welcome to get out here and wait for the infantry to arrive."
An annoyed growl responded to his challenge, but Shen'ryu didn't verbally rise to the challenge beyond that display of frustration.
"No time like the present," Foo said with a shrug. He powered up the repulsors and rose to the treetops once again. Once he cleared the canopy of the forest, he killed the repulsors and jammed the throttle forward. The U-wing roared as it rocketed forward toward the craggy slopes to the northwest. The forest seemed to ignore the increasing elevation as the trees continued to grow up the slope just as thick as they did down at sea level.
The trail was tough to pick up at this speed, but a clearing on the slope drew his attention. Isk'laa seemed to be of the same mind as she pointed at it. "Put us down there in that clearing," she said loud enough to be heard over the wind roaring through the open doorway.
"Copy!" Foo shouted in reply. He scanned the area visually, but the wind from the open doorway made it hard to hear his sensors pinging wildly. Just as he parsed the sound through the interference of the howling wind, his eyes widened as he saw a hail of red blaster bolts reach up from the forest toward his ship. "Incoming!"
"Get us down there now!" Isk'laa shouted as she braced against the doorframe of the cockpit as the U-wing went evasive.
Foo focused on the clearing, keeping an eye on his airspeed. He wanted to spend as little time stationary as possible while the team deployed into incoming fire. He closed his S-foils to narrow his profile, allowing him to squeeze between a gap in the trees to reach the ground sooner. He clenched his teeth as he heard the branches snap against the hull and whip into the open door. Leaves showered the troops within, eliciting angry curses as the troopers were pushed away from the opening to avoid the branches.
Once the gap was cleared, he slammed on the repulsors and hovered a meter above the ground. "Go!"
"Go go go!" Isk'laa shouted as she jumped to the ground below with her troops. Immediately, they began to open fire on the Imperials within the forest. "Covering fire!"
Moria opened up with the Roba, saturating the treeline with fire. Through bursts of fire, she reported on the status of the deployment. "Troops deployed! Take us back up!"
Foo pushed more power into his repulsorlifts to gain altitude. The clearing was too tight for him to get high enough by firing up his 4J.7's, so he had to sit there, extremely exposed, until he could get high enough to gain speed.
"Rocket squads! Eight o'clock!" Moria shrieked as she opened back up with the repeater. "I don't have a clean shot! Bring it around!"
Moria's voice took on a frantic trill. "Spike! Spike spike sp—"
A rocket slammed into the aft end of the ship, slewing it to the side into the nearby trees. Foo fought the controls as his ship shuddered and groaned. "Hear me baby, hold together!" he shouted through gritted teeth. His arms locked out as he attempted to fight the extra vibration suddenly flowing through the controls. Thick black smoke began to shroud his vision. A heavy branch fell on top of the forward-deployed S-foils and dipped the nose downward.
"Bring us back down NOW!" Shen'ryu ordered from the comm station.
"I'll land on top of the squad!" Foo growled, wishing he had a third arm to shove the cowardly Major out of the open doorway. "Not going to happen!"
"That is a DIRECT order!"
"I'll have you arrested!"
The massive branch slid off of the S-foils, crashing to the ground below. Foo hoped it didn't land on any friendlies. His nose rose skyward. Finally seeing an opening, he gunned the engines to life. They coughed and sputtered, but the ship accelerated reluctantly.
Another rocket slammed into the engines. Suddenly, the U-wing was not responding to the controls. It went into a flat spin, pinning everybody against the nearest surface due to the massive centrifugal force of the uncontrolled descent.
"We're going down!" Foo reported as he leaned into the spin, fighting with the controls to regain control of the ship.
"We're gonna die!" Shen'ryu yowled.
Foo grunted loudly as he fought against the spin. Slowly, the ship straightened out, but it was still losing altitude. He coaxed what little bit of engine power he could out of the remaining engine that still functioned. A grinding noise in the back of the ship worried him, but it was the least of his concerns as he tried his best to gain some distance away from the team so he didn't rain shrapnel and wreckage down upon his allies.
"Mayday mayday, this is Buccaneer Ten. We're going down!" Foo reported over the comm. He wasn't sure if it was heard or if his comm unit was still working, but this was one procedure that was hardwired into him. "Mayday, mayday!"
Ahead, a massive fir tree was in his path. He attempted to roll to avoid it, but the ship didn't respond. His left S-foil caught on the thick trunk and spun the U-wing sideways into the massive trees nearby. The sudden arrested momentum slammed Foo forward in his restraints. His head snapped forward, and his forehead smacked against the console. Everything went black.
"Mayday mayday, this is Buccaneer Ten. We're going down!"
Bearcat's eyes widened. He'd been strafing missile emplacements and avoiding groundfire for the past twenty minutes. It had been hard work, but he never felt like he was in danger as the emplacements weren't numerous enough to fight off the short-handed Buccaneers.
"Lead, Ten's going down!"
"I heard," Animal replied grimly. "Stay on target!"
"Ve need to go get him!"
"You picking him up in your X-wing, Five?" Wolvinator asked sarcastically.
Bearcat snarled as he rolled through the air to avoid a turbolaser blast. As he continued to gain altitude, he scanned the area visually as he hoped to glean some clue to where Foo was going down.
"Mayday, mayday!" Foo's voice cut out with a squeal and the sound of rending metal.
"Rrrequest perrrmission to searrrch forrr Ten," Bearcat pleaded as he continued to scan the area with his eyes.
"Denied, Five," Animal responded sternly. "Those shuttles are coming down, and we need to get the rest of these defenses before Spectre gets in range of them! Get back on mission!"
"Rrr5," Bearcat called out to his astromech. "Trrriangulate Buccaneerrr Ten's last comm signal!"
R5 bleated negatively in response.
Bearcat roared angrily as he pitched over into a steep dive, identifying another turret as his target. As he approached, the bodies of Imperials scurried around as they attempted to move or secure materiel. Bearcat unleashed a hail of bolts from his wingtip mounted quad Taim & Bak KX9's, slamming into the base of another turret. After the first two salvos, the metal buckled at the bottom, causing the entire structure to collapse forward. As it fell, a few unfortunate souls were crushed underneath when it slammed into the ground.
He felt no joy as he pulled out of the dive and gained more altitude. Foo's troubles ate at him, as did the orders from Animal to not search for him. He took a wide turn out toward the south, gaining altitude and inverting to allow himself a better view of the area. He hoped that the wreckage would be easily visible, but not in a manner that meant that it was a total loss to all aboard. Seeing nothing, he once again turned off his microphone and looked over his shoulder. "Rrr5, scan the arrrea for Ten's vrrreckage!"
"Z, you're drifting!" Blue admonished. "Get back here!"
Bearcat groaned as he pulled back around. Another series of negative tones from his astromech drew a series of angry and disappointed curses. He rocketed toward another turret. "I'll find that vrrreckage if it's the last thing I do," he mumbled to himself as he squeezed the trigger.