Semper Foo- Part 2
By: Foo and Bulldog
Corell undid his restraints and was at the bottom of the ramp before it fully deployed. The moment it touched down on the deck, he moved toward the aft of the Reaper and began examining the engines distractedly.
"What seems to be the problem with your ship, Leftenant?" A ground crew member asked as he approached cautiously.
"I'll handle this, Warrant Officer," a woman's voice called out.
Corell and the technician both turned to see a rapidly approaching figure. He recognized the voice, and smiled slightly while he waited for his section leader to get closer.
"What seems to be the problem with the prototype, Davis?"
Corell looked at Hack, and then the Warrant Officer. "Should I say classified information out in the open?"
Hack smiled. "Of course not, Davis. Take me in and show me the problem."
The Warrant Officer was visibly crestfallen at being cut out of the discussion. Clearly he had hoped to get a closer look at the TIE/rp prototype by offering to help. Unfortunately for him, he'd been headed off at the pass by the chain of command. "Well, I'll be around if either of you need assistance."
Corell followed Hack up the ramp. Once they were sure they were far enough away from prying ears, they dropped the act. "Ok, what's going on, Pru?"
Hack looked concerned. "Foo, tell me the troopers didn't just start unloading on that village the moment they landed."
Corell's face fell as he looked at his feet. He couldn't bring himself to say it verbally, but his expression said it all.
Hack pursed her lips. "Very well. We're leaving. Now. We're taking this prototype to the Rebels."
Corell's eyes widened. He held no hate toward the Rebels, but he didn't exactly see them as kindred spirits either. "The... Rebels?"
Hack's eyes narrowed as she grabbed him by the shoulders. "The Empire is not the honorable entity you want to believe it is, Foo. What's happening to that village right now has to show you that. You know it's true."
Corell's shoulders sagged as he felt the truth in her words. He sighed loudly. "Ok, yeah. You're right. We need to leave. But the Rebels?"
"Don't believe all that garbage we've been fed. They aren't child-murdering marauders."
Corell thought back to all of his experiences with the Rebel forces or the aftermath of their strikes. While they weren't the cleanest fighters, they certainly hadn't appeared to be bent on wanton destruction without a care for collateral damage. A sudden chill washed over him as he remembered one particular bit of propaganda footage that had gotten serious airtime throughout his unit months ago. A burnt out village in the middle of nowhere, bodies strewn about carelessly with multiple blaster wounds... His eyes widened at the clear parallels to what he'd just witnessed. Suddenly, he was overcome with rage. He balled his fists and slammed one into his thigh at his own gullibility. "Fine, I'm in."
Hack smiled as she pulled him in for a tight hug. "Ok, so what's the plan?"
Corell's eyes widened as he took a step back and pointed at himself with both hands. "Me? You're the one that initiated this farking process. You don't even have a karking plan?!"
Hack put her hands up in a gesture of surrender. "I had to focus on getting myself off of the bridge in a convincing manner. I didn't have time to think this far ahead!"
Corell involuntarily slapped himself in the forehead. "Great. Just great. I'm gonna have to go back down there and pick up these murderers." He started pacing back and forth, muttering curses with each step as he fumed. In his blind rage-induced wandering, he nearly fell down the hole that led down to the cargo compartment. He slapped a hand against the far wall to steady himself, and he just stared down the dark hole as he bordered on hyperventilation. His eyes widened as the kernel of an idea began to form in his mind.
Hack rushed over and gripped Corell's shoulder to provide assistance. "You good, Foo?"
"Yeah, I'm better than good," Corell replied. "And I've just gotten our plan worked out. The failsafe device. We take it out and leave it here."
"Yeah, but it's in a locked compartment that'll take me most of the flight away to disable," Hack replied sadly as she pulled out her multitool. She positioned herself over the hole and began to step on the ladder.
Corell grabbed her shoulder and smiled. With his free hand, he fished out the key Colonel Tagge had handed him when he first got on the ship. "Try this, Pru."
Hack's eyes widened with shock. "Where did you get your hands on that? There are only two on the ship!"
"Compliments of that scumbag Colonel Tagge," Corell replied with a conspiratorial grin. "Turns out, the valiant upper echelon of command hates flying with a bomb just as much as us lowly plebs. Who knew, right?"
Hack snatched the tool. "Who knew," she said with a wry smile as she disappeared into the cargo compartment. "Be done in just a sec. Where are you gonna ditch it?"
"The fuel tanks," Corell replied. "I called up because of a fuel gauge fluctuation, so it'll just be a matter of you dressing me down loudly that I shouldn't have taken off with so little fuel and that I need to refuel the ship myself to learn my lesson. I'll be in that area, stash the party favor, and then top our tank off with fuel before we go off into the sunset."
The sounds down below ceased momentarily. "Are you sure you want to go that route? It'll cause a lot of collateral damage, Foo."
Corell nodded as his jaw set. "It's the only way to cause enough of a disturbance to slow down our pursuit that will surely be launched after us."
Hack reappeared at the top of the ladder and gingerly held out the bomb that had been stowed aboard the Reaper. "You know, for such a small device to be capable of such destruction just doesn't seem right."
Corell carefully took and stowed the thermal-detonator-looking-device and put it gently into the cargo pocket of his thigh. He then walked carefully to the top of the ramp, testing his gait to find a natural-looking stride while also not jostling the item in his pocket. Happy with what he settled on, he looked back to his section leader and arched his eyebrow. "Ready to chew me out and make me refuel the ship?"
Hack smiled as she immediately raised her voice, calling Corell every dirty name in the book while castigating his abilities as a professional pilot. She marched him down the ramp and pointed toward the fuel tanks as she continued berating him for his lack of thoroughness. The charade drew the attention of almost everybody on the deck, but once Hack leveled her angry glare in their direction, they all suddenly found something vital to do that kept them staring at their feet.
Had Corell not been the one to come up with the plan, he'd have thought he was steps away from being drummed out of the fighter corps and sent to the spice mines of Kessel. As it was, he felt extremely embarrassed anyway even though he knew it was a ruse to reach freedom. Acting cowed wasn't much of an act at all for him the way he currently felt.
As he reached the fuel tanks, he unspooled one of the lines quickly while he looked for a place to stash the failsafe bomb in his pocket. A strange recessed area revealed by the unspooling of the fuel line seemed to be the perfect fit. As surreptitiously as he could manage, he withdrew the explosive and placed it as far into the newly discovered alcove as deeply as he could until it was only visible if somebody got on their hands and knees directly in front of it.
Having offloaded his own cargo, he rushed back to the Reaper with the fuel line and hooked it up. Immediately, the fuel flowed into the tank. Since he'd made sure the tank was full before his mission, it didn't take long for the reserves to be topped back off. He kept the line hooked up for a few more moments to let the ground crew think he'd taken the ship out nearly dry, but each passing moment he became more and more paranoid.
"Get the lead out, Leftenant!" Hack ordered. Seemed that she was also getting antsy just standing around.
Corell pulled off the line and set it down gently. He began spooling it back up, but was stopped by a stern hand.
"Leave it here, Leftenant, so when we get back you can personally immediately fuel it back up," Hack commanded sternly. "Now, take me down to the planet so I can personally apologize to the Colonel for your lack of thoroughness." Hack looked around and pointed at the fuel line as she addressed the nearby crew. "Leave this line where it is, regulation be damned. This pilot needs to learn to carry out proper procedures and will stow it once he returns and refuels his own ship. Is that understood?"
"Yes Ma'am," the nearby crew members chorused as they quickly went back to ignoring the unfolding dressing down.
Moments later, the Reaper was airborne once again. Corell took the ship toward the planet at an oblique angle to make it look like they were going back to pick up the troop detachment he'd dropped off earlier, but the sound they'd been dreading filled the comm.
"Leftenant Davis, you are to place Commander Purcell under arrest and return her to the ship. Bring that ship back to the hangar immediately!"
"No can do, Captain. We're outta here," Corell replied glibly as he broke off from their feigned path and broke for open space.
The tone of the Captain changed once they realized the implications that both pilots were in on the escape rather than just the section leader coercing the pilot into carrying her off. "You have to know that this is foolish, Leftenant. If you do not comply, we will be forced to activate the failsafe device. You should hear it activating now. If you do not turn around, it will detonate the ship and kill you." The Captain paused to allow the fugitives a chance to contemplate the hopelessness of their gambit. "See sense. Return to the ship and we will be lenient with the punishment."
Corell snorted and popped open a carbonated energy drink he'd been holding onto. Taking a long sip, he offered it to Hack while he hissed at the acidity and carbonation as it fizzed down his throat. Hack likewise took a drink before setting it down in a nook on the console. "Get bent, Captain," Hack replied defiantly.
"You leave me no choice."
A nova erupted on their sensors as their previous posting exploded violently. Both Corell and Pru's jaws hung agape as they attempted to suss out the series of events that could just cause the entire ship to wink out of existence.
Moments later, the ship buffeted slightly as the shockwave caught up to their Reaper. The energy drink tilted over and began spilling its contents on the deck at their feet.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
Foo's eyes slowly fluttered open, and then immediately wrenched shut as his vision swam.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
Knowing what he was in for this time, he took a deep breath and once again opened his eyes slowly. The world was upside-down. Well, what he could see of the world, which was basically nothing but his wrecked flight console and controls.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
His arms hung as gravity dictated, making it look like he was raising his hands due to some unheard or unremembered order. He attempted to move, but then became keenly aware of a throbbing headache and dull digging into his shoulders. He looked up toward his chest and realized his restraints still had him pinned to his seat, but gravity was punishing him for the amount of time he'd been suspended this way.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
He fumbled with the restraint clasp on his chest with numb fingers, as a toddler would a shiny new object. Grunting in frustration at the lack of dexterity in his fingers, he flexed both hands into fists, then splayed his fingers out wide. He alternated between the two states of being until he thought his fingers had a more real and less ethereal feel to them, and then brought them back to the clasp once again. This time he managed to solidly punch the central release toggle.
The ceiling of the cockpit rushed forward, and with a loud crack he was once again shrouded in darkness.
Both Corell and Hack were speechless as they both individually attempted to come to grips with the fact that they'd managed to blow up an entire Star Destroyer and damage the support cruisers nearby. There was no pursuit on the sensors. They were an afterthought as the rest of their old taskforce fought to keep their ships space worthy.
"Did... What... How?" Hack asked haltingly as she still couldn't process what she'd just witnessed.
Corell likewise had no words that he could use to make sense of things. He just continued to stare forward, in shock.
"What tanks did you put that bomb under?"
"Ours! The regular tanks we use, I mean!"
"You sure it wasn't one of the Coaxium ones?"
Corell shook his head emphatically. "You know as well as I do that those tanks were elsewhere on the ship."
Hack nodded slowly in agreement. She put her finger to her chin as she frantically reached for any explanation that made sense to her shocked brain. "That explosive... How powerful was it?"
Corell shrugged. He truly had no idea what the payload was on the failsafe device they'd removed. It made sense though that it would have had to be something powerful enough to completely vaporize the prototype to ensure nothing larger than the size of a scorched carbon atom would be recoverable by the Rebels.
Hack fell back to the copilot's seat, her normally pale face even more ashen than normal. Her eyes seemed to be focused on nothing as she just stared into the star-filled void through the cockpit panels.
The two of them sat in stunned silence as they continued to mentally process what they'd done. The can of energy drink continued to slowly spill its contents on the floor.
Drip... Drip... Drip...
Drip. Drip. Dripdripdripdrip
Foo's eyes snapped open once more at the sound. The change in the once metronomic cadence seemed to jar him awake. He turned his head and fought nausea as his fuzzy mind seemed to rebel at the idea that he was laying on the ceiling of his U-wing cockpit. Not seeing what was making the noise, he half-rolled-half shoulder crawled his way forward until he managed to reach the small passageway that led into the main hold of his ship. He fought off the heavy salivation that tended to be a preview for vomit as he focused intently on maneuvering his body toward the source of the sound.
Foo finally found the source of the noise, and he averted his eyes almost as quickly as he'd discovered it.
Suspended by her safety strap still clipped into the floor, Lt. Moria hung as if folded at the waist. Blood had been running down her arm and then leaping off of her fingertips into a rather large puddle on the ceiling of the crew compartment.
Foo finally lost the battle with his nausea, and he managed to get to his knees before unloading the meager contents of his stomach. The puddle quickly ran down toward his console with the slope of the crashed ship, and thankfully was devoid of any chunks that would likely trigger a visual nausea response. He still wretched a few more times, and dry-heaved even more as his body wanted to make sure it was completely dry before he was forced to examine the Lieutenant.
"She's got to be dead, right?" Shen'ryu said coldly as he appeared from the outside of the craft, casting a shadow as he stood there. He had almost a callous look on his face as he looked upon the folded form of the diminutive door gunner.
"We have to get her down and check her," Foo said as he coughed to clear the last vestiges of bile from his vocal chords.
"Hrm?" Shen'ryu grunted, finally setting his gaze upon Foo. "Why? She's clearly dead. Look at this puddle. Surely that has to be most of her blood, considering her small stature and the fact that she's a... human," he said, adding an extra emphasis of disdain on the last word.
Anger coursed through Foo's veins at the dismissal of Moria, and it suddenly jolted his nervous system back into action. He quickly found his feet and stumbled his way toward the two, slipping at the last minute in some of the Lieutenant's blood. The loss of balance sent him sliding into Shen'ryu, who bore the brunt of the collision with Foo's shoulder on his nose.
The Bothan fell back to the ground in a heap, growling in surprise as he rubbed his stinging nose. "You'll pay for that with a Court Martial," he whined.
"I'll get in line," Foo snorted derisively as he took a moment to really examine the hanging officer, searching gently with his hands to move her limbs and uniform to get a full view of her wounds. The blood was still flowing, but it looked like the change in cadence may have coincided with her arm finally falling away from her door gun to hang limply, meaning she could very well have been alive earlier. He put his fingers to her neck and hoped to find a pulse.
"I meant that, Captain," Shen'ryu insisted menacingly as he rose to his feet.
"Do NOT tell a superior officer to 'shut up'!"
Foo whirled around until he was looking down at the Major, who seemed to have naught a scratch on him aside from a small tear in the shoulder of his uniform and a little singed fur in the exposed area. "You get out of this thing with barely a scratch, and you did what, sit out here and wait for somebody to come along and tell you what to do?" He held up a finger to forestall the quick reply of the Bothan and continued his anger-induced tirade. "You didn't immediately come into the ship to check on me or her?" Foo smiled darkly. "I look forward to a Court Martial. I'd be happy to let the Colonel know just how brave his right hand Bothan is." Without waiting for a reply, he spun back around and again attempted to check the Lieutenant for a pulse.
Shen'ryu's knees buckled at the dressing down, and he collapsed to his backside on the warm ground. His eyes seemed to focus off in the distance as he was lost in some sort of reverie that didn't appear pleasant from the way his mouth hung ajar.
Foo rolled his neck to ease his own tension, and was quickly elated to feel a weak pulse in the neck of the Lieutenant. "She's alive, barely!"
Shen'ryu didn't respond. He continued to stare slack-jawed into the distance.
Foo whirled around angrily and shook the catatonic Major. "Hey! I need you here!" After more vigorous shakes getting no response, he let out a sound of rage and shoved the Bothan to the ground, where he continued to lay with the same expression on his face as he stared up at the overcast clouds overhead.
"Fine, I'll do it myself," Foo spat as he gently put a shoulder into the Lieutenant's side to support her weight, and then reached up blindly to unhook the carabiner that attached the safety line to the deck. Unfortunately, his fingers couldn't seem to get the military-grade safety lock to disengage, so he drew his knife and hacked at the strap itself vigorously. With each back and forth motion, he felt rather than saw the painfully slow progress he was making.
He thought he was ready for her mass, as little as it was, but he was sorely mistaken as he fell to his back the moment the line was fully severed. He had the good sense to fling the knife away as he went down so he didn't stab her or himself at least, sending the knife flipping lazily through the air until it embedded itself in the loose dirt near Shen'ryu's crotch.
Foo's vision swam again as the back of his head slammed into part of his ship's S-foil, but he managed to hold onto consciousness and fight through the stinging pain and ringing in his ears. He gently rolled the wounded officer onto her back and examined her more closely.
A mixture of wood and metallic shrapnel had perforated the side of her body, dotting her uniform with blood from those wounds. There was a distinctive stain of blood indicating it had pooled in the elbow of her uniform and slowly bled through, which was the source of the slow drip he'd heard when he woke up. She must have moved her arm, and when it hung loose the blood was able to run freely down her arm and fingers.
Nodding grimly to himself, Foo did a quick examination of the rest of her body, but didn't see anything else aside from some bruising or scrapes from the rough landing. He levered himself carefully to his feet and stumbled into the wreckage of the U-wing and popped open one of the utility compartments, fumbling around the jostled contents until his fingers hooked the strap of a medpack.
Sparing one glance back at the useless Bothan, he took one minor deviation back toward Moria to retrieve his knife near Shen'ryu. "Shoulda been you," he muttered as he bent over to grab his blade by the hilt. Once he secured it back into the sheath, he knelt down slowly and gently tore the fabric of her uniform down the seam. The rips in the fabric from the shrapnel made this easy, and he was careful to maintain the Lieutenant's modesty by tucking the front half of her fatigues into her belt buckle to stop it from fluttering up in the wind.
He tore open the pack quickly and sprayed disinfectant aerosol over the numerous shrapnel wounds. The wounds hissed as the spray reacted with the blood and grime, bubbling and fizzing slightly.
Moria winced, but then her head lolled to the side and went slack.
Foo hurriedly applied a generous helping of bacta salve over the wounds, wincing at the unsterile state of his own hands after he'd done so. Shrugging to himself as there was nothing he could do about his filthy hands now, he ripped open all of the bandages and applied them tightly to her side.
Satisfied with his triage, he checked for a pulse at her neck and was once again relieved to find a weak throbbing under his fingers. He looked around helplessly as he wondered what else he could do.
Just then, a blaster bolt slammed into the wrecked hull near his head. He dove on top of the Lieutenant to cover her body with his and wrenched his eyes shut as more shots followed the first.
The battle was fairly one-sided in favor of the Buccaneers. With all of the missile turrets destroyed, they'd been making short work of the heavier anti-infantry weaponry as well. The few functional AT-AT walkers were prime targets, as were the few that were stationary. The AT-ST walkers proved to be a bit more annoying to get from the sky because of their mobility and smaller target profile, forcing the Buccaneers to get lower to slag them.
The Imperials weren't stupid, unfortunately. As they noticed the New Republic fighters coming closer and closer to the ground to get these two-legged targets, they started setting up ambushes with shoulder-mounted MANPADS. Gnoizic had nearly been the first victim to this tactic, but a lucky accidental activation of his gyro system managed to avoid the missile at the last instant.
Now, the Buccaneers were to go in teams of two for each AT-ST they were pouncing on from above. One ship to get the target, and the other to strafe any area they saw a missile launch from.
Bearcat tucked himself behind Blue's B-wing as she called out her target and dove toward the surface. As he absentmindedly followed her maneuver, he continued to scan the area for Foo's crash site. He'd managed to scan the South, East, and Western areas as best he could before being caught and ordered to return to the battle. There was a particularly promising spot he wanted to check in the north near the mountains next, but first he had to make sure Blue made her run without issue.
"Target locked," Blue reported over the comm, her voice tense. After that first ambush that Gnoizic had triggered, the generally lighthearted banter between the Buccaneers when they struck with impunity had been replaced by the tense, no-nonsense speech pattern more common during their busier battles. "Making my final approach."
"The Captain vould love this," Bearcat mused aloud. "That rrrotarrry cannon of his vould have a field day herrre."
"Amen to that," Gnoizic agreed, and then cursed as he avoided another ambush.
"I saw him, Two," Raptor reported, his voice being overtaken by the sound of his lasers cycling rapidly. "Eliminated."
"Firing," Blue reported.
Ahead, Bearcat watched as her B-wing unloaded three sets of lasers and ion cannons into the AT-ST, saturating it and the surrounding area. Blue sparks played across the metallic surface of the chicken walker while hull plates melted under the torrent of her lasers. After the top of the walker melted inward, another bolt caught the fuel tanks below and set off an explosion.
Bearcat spotted movement from a nearby bush. Without thinking, he nudged his nose over and squeezed the trigger, sending a hail of bolts into the area. Whatever had moved, it definitely wasn't moving any longer unless it was fireproof.
Blue pulled up to gain altitude and to find her next target.
Bearcat followed her maneuver, but subconsciously he found himself drifting off toward the north that he'd wanted to check out. He continued to head off in that direction, hoping his maneuver wasn't noticed soon so he could get to the last area he hadn't yet scanned.
"Where are you going, Z?" Blue asked as she finally realized he wasn't on her wing any longer.
Bearcat cursed inwardly. He began to bank his ship to return to his wingman, but stopped. Somewhere in the forest ahead, he thought he spotted the red flashes of small arms fire. His eyes widened. "I think I found Ten's crrrash site!"
"Get back here, Five!" Animal ordered.
Bearcat couldn't believe that Animal would ignore what he'd just reported, so he said it again to make sure it had been heard clearly. "Lead, I think I found Ten!"
"Heard you the first time. Get back here and do your job."
"Tag it for SAR and get your butt back here before I—" Animal paused and the line went dead.
Bearcat brought his ship back around and began frantically scanning for any wreckage or explosion that could have been his squadron leader, but nothing drew his attention or appeared on his sensors. "Lead? Lead! Anybody got eyes on One?"
"Belay my last order, Five," Animal's voice replied. "Got a priority request from Spectre. Seems one shuttle made it past them, and they want us to burn it down. You're closest, so that's now your job. Eight, go with him in case he needs your firepower. Go!"
"Copy, Lead," Blue replied disappointedly as she broke off from her next attack run.
Bearcat's astromech hummed as it received the data burst from Animal, then tootled as it put the information on his CMD. A white box appeared on his HUD, indicating the last known position of the shuttle.
Bearcat grinned. It would take him very close to the area he wanted to search.
Corell rolled his neck as the console alerted him to reversion from hyperspace was imminent. The entire trip through hyperspace had been spent in silence as Hack continued to be almost catatonic. They'd made two other seemingly random jumps to systems he'd heard were hotbeds of rebel activity either through scuttlebutt or briefings, but they'd both been dead ends.
This third jump took them to the remote system of Horox III, deep in the Outer Rim. He'd chosen it at random based off of what was in range of their last system, reasoning that it might be easier to find aid the farther away from the core they got.
The starlines turned into pinpoints of light as the Reaper reverted to realspace. Almost immediately the collision alarm sounded. On instinct alone, Corell dove the ship hard to avoid whatever was nearby.
The commwaves came alive with confused chatter and curses.
"The hell is that?"
"Is that one of ours?"
"Never seen anything like it!"
"Where did that come from?"
"This is Captain Polk of the Imperial Carrier Squall, please identify yourself."
Corell was stunned. Of all the places to find an Imperial patrol, and one with the capability to carry 48 starfighters that could and would overwhelm them, they'd stumbled upon it all the way out here in the outer rim. He looked for help from Hack, but she was still catatonic as ever.
"Unidentified craft, please respond or we will be forced to destroy you."
Scrambling for any nugget of a plan, Corell decided to respond and string the Captain along until he could come up with a plan. The four TIE Fighters he'd nearly collided with upon entry had retreated to the far side of the larger ship. "This is TIE/rp Prototype Prime. I read you, Squall."
"What in the name of the Empire is that craft? It doesn't show up on any of our databases."
"We're a limited run prototype craft. More than that, I cannot say over the air, even on an encrypted line such as this."
"Please hold position while I confirm. What is your business out here?"
Corell's mind reeled as he slowed the Reaper, but did not come to a full stop. He hoped his attempt to angle away at an oblique path looked casual. He did not wish to get anywhere close to that carrier and the fighters housed within. "Conducting a series of hyperspace tests for accuracy and fuel consumption, Captain."
"What is your current duty station so I may confirm these details?"
Corell hoped he could stall the man for a little longer to get just a bit farther out of range before swinging his aft end around and gunning the throttle. "That information is classified, Captain."
"I notice you haven't stopped fully, unidentified craft," Captain Polk's voice stated icily. "You will power your ship down and wait to be inspected."
"You will need to get permission from my superiors to issue that command, Captain."
"Then tell me who to call, pilot! Power down or be destroyed."
"Boring conversation anyway," Corell mumbled to himself as he sent one more sidelong glance to his still motionless companion. "Any ideas, Pru?" Getting no response, he sighed loudly. He yanked the yoke at the last minute before appearing to power down the ship, giving him a tumbling rotation through space that still put the Reaper out of range of danger in a few more seconds. "Powered down, aye," he said over the comm.
The sensors pinged the flight of TIE Fighters coming out from behind the carrier. Immediately, they took on a box formation and charged forth, closing the distance to the Reaper in short order. They swooped around and around as they attempted to scan the ship.
"I am seeing an all points alert for a stolen prototype TIE variant, pilot. What is your operating code?"
"This must be a coincidence, Captain. We have full authority to execute this series of hyperspace tests from Colonel Tagge himself," Corell said with a wince, angry at himself for giving away a bit of information the Captain could use to track down the true nature of their defection and betrayal. He could only hope that the forces they'd left behind were still in such disarray that nobody could reach them at this time.
Corell saw a pattern to their work where two of the four fighters would come across his forward firing arc on their next pass. Judging that their time playing possum was coming to an end, he put his left hand over the energy management system and gripped the yoke and firing stud tightly with his right. "Come on, keep coming..."
The TIEs did as they were bidden, and two of them looped lazily in front of the Reaper, oblivious to the threat awaiting them.
Corell thumbed the firing stud with his right hand, drilling the first TIE in the center ball of the cockpit with two overcharged lasers. He slammed his hand down on the console to power the ship up fully again, and then gripped the yoke with both hands tightly as he gunned the ship forward. The second TIE was slow to react to his wingman's demise, and was likewise immolated in short order.
The response of the Imperials was immediate. The other two TIE fighters began hammering the Reaper's aft arc shields mercilessly. Corell did his best to fly evasively, but his shields would run out before he would be able to get the ship into another hyperspace-ready jump location. His heart sank as he came to that realization.
The TIEs kept hammering away with their cannons blazing.
The incoming fire seemed to intensify, with more bolts slamming into the dirt around Foo as well as the hull of his now derelict U-wing. He felt the heat radiating from the bolts that traveled so close to the top of his head and shoulders that he dared not even risk poking his head up to even attempt at identifying a target to return fire. Still, his hand slowly snaked across the dirt to his holstered blaster and gripped the hilt. He thanked all the gods in the universe that it hadn't been thrown from its holster during the crash landing.
He turned his head, careful to keep as low to the ground as humanly possible and spied the supine form of Shen'ryu. Aside from his chest heaving, the Bothan appeared to have no reaction to the hail of deadly light filling the air around them. "Hey!"
The Major didn't respond verbally or visually. If it weren't for his rapidly heaving chest, he'd appear to be dead.
"God damn it, you coward!"
There was a cry of surprise from the source of the blasterfire. Heavy footfalls approached as the incoming fire ceased completely.
Foo waited a few thundering heartbeats before he decided to buck up and see what was happening. He slowly poked his head above the smoking S-foil that had been protecting him for the most part, and his heart almost seized as he saw four black-clad figures rushing toward him. He raised his blaster, but his eyes finally identified the figures before he pulled the trigger.
Foo rose to his knees and holstered his blaster. "Nine hells, where did you come from?!"
Master Sergeant Isk'laa knelt down next to him, sweat matting her fur in most places aside from a bit of blood matting the area on her right cheek. "Ambush. We're the only ones that made it out," she said solemnly as he nodded toward the other three commandos. One of the troopers was clearly wounded, favoring his right side as he held his hand tightly to the wounded area.
"You're all that's left?" Foo asked, his eyes wide.
Isk'laa nodded curtly, and then her eyes fell upon Shen'ryu's form. "What's his deal?"
Foo shook his head. "He's worthless."
One of the commandos tensed as he scanned the tree line. "Movement."
Isk'laa immediately crouched down and began scanning the area. "You sure? I don't see any white in those trees."
"I heard something," the trooper replied insistently.
"Doc, Biles, get the Loot out of here back that way," Isk'laa said as she pointed away from the motion, up the slope. "Find cover and stabilize her. We'll be along shortly."
The medic and the wounded trooper carefully gripped Moria's unconscious form by the ankles and shoulders and awkwardly began making their way up the slope. They found a large rock jutting out of the ground near a tree and disappeared behind it.
"Now, let's figure out what to do with this guy," Isk'laa said sarcastically as she pointed to Shen'ryu. She knelt down next to the Bothan and shook his shoulder. "Hey! Wake up!"
"It's useless," Foo mumbled, rubbing his temples while he sat on the ground. "He just can't handle it."
"Maybe we should leave him," the other trooper suggested, grinning as he stood atop the broken section of S-Foil.
Before anybody could reply with a reason why that couldn't be allowed despite their feelings on the matter, the man's body jerked and stuttered as it was riddled with blaster bolts from the direction of the original assault. His body finally fell forward, pinning Foo to the ground.
"Cover!" Isk'laa shouted as she dove to the ground.
Foo's nostrils flared as the smell of burnt flesh filled his nasal cavity. He squirmed and shoved with all his might to move the dead man off of his own body, and once clear he immediately rolled to the side and vomited.
More blaster bolts rang out in their direction pinning them in place.
Corell continued to do his best with the ungainly craft, but it was not meant to be a dogfighter. The more maneuverable TIEs had the advantage, and they knew to stay out of the forward firing arc of the prototype ship. All he could do was attempt to turn into their attacks, but ensure he didn't follow them back toward their carrier, which had launched the remainder of the squadron of TIE fighters.
"I could really use one of your brilliant plans here, Pru," Corell said nervously. A quick glance over showed that his companion still wasn't home inside of her own body.
The ship shuddered mightily as his shield alarm began to whine loudly. One of the TIEs made a miscalculation and broke in front of the Reaper, and Corell hammered it with underpowered lasers and was rewarded with the port solar panel tearing off at the stanchion.
Another heavy thudding slammed into the ship as the last remaining nearby TIE continued to pummel the ship.
The fire coming toward them seemed to only intensify, signaling that there were way more Imperials attacking them now than there were before. Each time it seemed like there might be a lull, it picked back up with even more ferocity shortly after.
Isk'laa popped up from different angles repeatedly to return fire, but her hurried snapshots were no match for the attacking force. "We're going to get flanked soon!"
Foo raised his blaster over the S-foil and fired blindly in the direction he thought they were being attacked from. A near miss singed the hair on the back of his hand, forcing him to pull it back and check it. He locked eyes with Isk'laa as she ducked back behind her own cover. "Can you call for help?"
She shook her head, then popped up and returned fire for a few seconds again before ducking back down. "Our comm guy bought it in the first ambush. Was kinda hoping you'd had a chance to call for pickup from your ship."
Foo cursed. "Ship's busted as far as I can tell."
"I'm coming back, Sarge!"
Foo and Isk'laa looked back toward where the wounded Lt. Moria had been carried, and both of their eyes widened in horror as one of the commandos levered themselves over the rock they'd hidden behind and charged forward, blaster sounding off as fast as it could cycle tibanna gas into the chamber.
"Get back, Biles!"
It was too late. Before Private Biles had made it more than five steps away from the rock he was riddled with so many blaster bolts his entire body caught fire where it stood. His body took a few more steps out of reflex before folding forward and skidding to a halt along the ground. It jerked as more blaster bolts continued to rain down on the smoldering corpse.
"The animals!" Foo growled as he rose up and took proper aim. The sea of white clad bodies through the trees was never ending. He ignored the incoming shots and took careful aim, dropping three troopers with three shots. A near miss rang in his ears, but he continued to take aim.
"Get down you fool!" Isk'laa shouted as she tackled him to the ground. As she lay on top of him, she looked straight into his frenzied eyes with her calm, hardened gaze. "You're no good to me dead, flyboy. Get into that ship and fix the comms! It's our only hope!"
"Get off of me!" Foo howled as he tried to shake her off of him and continue fighting.
"HEY! I need you clear! Get into that ship and fix the comms or we're all dead!"
Foo focused on her calm eyes staring back at him, and ceased struggling almost immediately. He breathed in deeply as he calmed himself. Under normal circumstances, a female pressing her body on top of his would be a welcome development, and the thought made him snort involuntarily before chuckling. "Ok, Sarge," he said after a moment. "Back in the fight."
Isk'laa looked searchingly into his eyes once more to make sure he wasn't lying, and then nodded curtly as she rolled off of him and resumed firing back at the advancing enemies. "Now go!"
Foo rolled onto his stomach and built up his nerve. He knew the hull would provide the cover he needed to work without worry, but the short time he needed to rise up and dive into the ship would provide ample opportunity for the Imperials to target him and adjust fire in his direction. He closed his eyes tightly as he gathered his knees under him, doing his best to stay as low as possible in the process.
"Ready?" Isk'laa queried from farther away, hunkered down behind the extreme edge of the S-foil that could still provide cover. It was clear that her plan was to pop out and draw fire as far away from Foo as possible.
"GO!" Isk'laa shouted, rolling out from behind cover but staying in a prone position to pull fire just a few more feet away. Immediately the dirt was kicked up around her and the air was filled with more bolts that sailed over her head. In turn, she roared as she returned fire as ferociously as she could.
Foo popped to his feet and lunged for the open bay of his wrecked U-wing. The fire didn't chase him at first, but just as his feet cleared the lip of the opening a few bolts tracked him and slammed into the interior of the crew compartment. Thankfully, he was out of harm's way by the time any accurate fire could be levied in his direction. "I'm in!"
"Get that comm up!"
Foo hopped to his feet and began popping off panels with his multi-tool. It was disorienting for him to be doing hasty repairs while everything was upside down. He did his best to make sense of things, but the cacophony of incoming fire slamming into the hull of his ship drew an involuntary flinch.
"Oh shab!" Isk'laa groaned loudly.
"They've got a sniper out there somewhere, and I saw them bringing up an E-web before I was forced to take cover. And they're flanking. I need more fire!"
Foo paused as he held a few wires in his hands. "You want me to come back out?"
"Comms fixed yet?"
"No," Foo replied sadly as he began stripping the covering off of some wires with his multitool.
"Then keep at it. I'm going to wake this coward up!"
"Good luck," Foo grumbled as he began crossing wires together to make new connections. His big problem was a big burnt out circuit board that he had to bypass with unburnt wiring sections, and it was taking more time than he'd like.
"Ow!" Foo exclaimed as he jumped back and sucked on his thumb and pointer finger. One of his new connections had found a working power source and sent a few kilojoules of energy through his body to alert him. As he flexed his numb hand and rubbed his arm with his other, he ventured a glance at the action outside.
Isk'laa had army crawled from her position by the now blackened S-foil and was laying next to the catatonic Bothan Major. She was shaking his shoulders vigorously, but getting no result. "Wake up, you COWARD! Call yourself a Bothan? Just wait till we get back and I'll let everyone back at the academy know how you turned out!"
Foo got back to work, double checking the new connection he had made. The comms console flickered, but it looked like there was still a fluctuation he had to find and resolve before he'd be making any outgoing calls. He reached back into the wires, careful to avoid touching the area that had zapped him last time.
Howling with rage, Isk'laa got to her knees and slapped Shen'ryu across the face, her talons drawing beads of blood from shallow scratches. "Get back in the fight you farking rich boy! I'm going to ram my arm so far up—"
Foo stripped and connected a few more wires, but stopped and waited to hear the sergeant berating the useless Major some more. When she didn't continue, a wave of dread washed over his entire body. "Sarge?" He poked his head out, and his heart sank at what he saw.
The Sergeant had been careless with her last ditch attempt to beat some life back into Shen'ryu, and either a lucky blast or a hyper-accurate shot from the sniper she mentioned earlier had drilled her directly in the back of the skull. The fur had been burnt away, tendrils of smoke wisping away in the wind. She slowly began to slump forward, coming to a rest on top of the Major's chest.
However, it seemed that the scent of burnt hair being poured directly into the nostrils of the frozen Shen'ryu managed to snap him out of his fugue state. He quickly threw the dead body off of his chest and began checking himself for wounds. "Wha? What happened?"
Foo couldn't hold his rage back any longer. "She died trying to wake your farking shebs back up to help fight back, you coward!" Another spark within the panel he was working in startled him, but just then the comm console thrummed to life. His eyes widened as he took a moment to register that he'd successfully repaired what he hoped would be their salvation. "I got it!" He screamed joyously.
"Comms! Keep them off of me for a few more seconds while I call in the cavalry!"
Foo looked around, cursing at the complete and utter uselessness of the higher ranked being. His eyes scanned all manner of boxes and panels in the ship, but a bright light caught his attention near the door. He smiled and pumped his fist. "Get on that door gun and let em have it!"
Shen'ryu paused for a moment, but seemed to find it within himself to fight through his shock and fear to finally take some action. He leapt to his feet and dove into the crew compartment. Just as quickly, he gripped the mounted "Roba" M-45 repeating blaster that Moria had been operating before the crash. Taking a brief moment to steel his nerves, he leaned out and began to unleash a hail of light toward the nearby Imperials that had been rushing forth. All of the stormtroopers that had been out in the open fell in varying degrees of wounded or dead.
At the same time, the E-web opened back up and sent a hail of bolts slamming into the back wall of the U-wing's interior, but they were off target just enough that Shen'ryu wasn't threatened, and he roared as he raked the position with return fire of his own and set the gun ablaze.
Foo was shocked at the sudden transformation from docile to death incarnate that had happened within Shen'ryu over the span of a few seconds. His mouth hung agape as he watched the Bothan fell untold numbers of Imperials as he fired wildly in their direction. He snapped out of it and began punching buttons on the console and wrangled the headset dangling by its wire. "This is Buccaneer Ten calling any friendly forces! We've been shot down and are currently under heavy fire!"
He repeated his call, his voice rising in volume as the incoming fire seemed to intensify. Shen'ryu snarled and returned fire, whooping at his successes. He began catcalling the Imperials, goading them into rushing out and cutting them down immediately thereafter.
"Vigilant to Buccaneer Ten. Relay your coordinates."
Foo almost fell to his backside due to the shock of hearing a friendly voice in his ear. He pumped his fist again and then slapped his hand against the wall. He gripped the headphones with both hands to shut out the sounds of battle going on around him. "Buccaneer Ten, coordinates are..."
He fumbled as he realized he was unsure where they had come down. Without more systems online, the best he could do was approximate. He relayed the best guess at his grid coordinates, but was unsure if Shen'ryu's frenzied howling overrode his voice.
"Vigilant to Buccaneer Ten. Say again. Coordinates and status?"
"Danger extremely karking close! They're all over us!" He again relayed his grid coordinates as best he could estimate.
Just then, a deathly quiet filled the U-wing.
"Vigilant? Did you copy?!"
The console was dead.
An angry snarl from Shen'ryu drew Foo's attention away from the dead console, and then he realized why the ship was so quiet. The repeating blaster was no longer firing. The Major had resorted to slapping the gun with his hand in an attempt to get it back online.
"The power's dead," Foo said somberly, letting Shen'ryu know why the gun was offline.
A look of distress flitted across Shen'ryu's face. "Are they coming to get us?"
Foo pursed his lips and shrugged. A fatalistic fear paralyzed him.
"What do we do now?"
The pit of dread that had filled Foo's stomach suddenly vanished. In its place, he felt a calm resolve radiating throughout his torso and limbs. His eyes became wild, and a slightly unhinged expression overtook his face. He looked Shen'ryu right in the eyes and drew his blaster.
Shen'ryu seemed to understand the wordless message, and drew his own service blaster that had been unused up until this point. He poked his head out, and immediately pulled it back in as incoming blaster fire resumed. He looked back at Foo and nodded solemnly. His lip curled up in a snarl as he leapt out of the U-wing and started returning fire.
Foo followed the Major out, pulling the trigger as quickly as he could at anything that moved. Both New Republic officers roared as they blasted away, kneeling down but otherwise not seeking cover. Stormtroopers that had attempted to take advantage of the M-45 going silent were caught off guard, falling under the relentless fire of the two trapped beings that felt resigned to their fate.
They fired and screamed until their blasters ran dry. Foo looked around at his feet, and he dove to the side to reach Isk'laa's discarded blaster near her corpse. He rolled through the maneuver, coming up on the other side of Shen'ryu and began firing immediately.
Shen'ryu wasn't so lucky. Before he could find the blaster belonging to the first trooper that had fallen at the U-wing, a blast hit the very top of the S-foil he was behind and sent melted durasteel into his face. He howled in pain and immediately fell to his back, both hands tearing at the hot bits of metal stinging his face.
"We gotta get out of here!" Foo shouted as he crawled over to the Bothan as he writhed and rolled along the ground in pain.
Foo gripped him on the shoulder and gave him a powerful shake. "HEY! We have to get out of here!"
Shen'ryu snarled. "I can't SEE!" he roared angrily.
Foo gripped the Bothan's arm and pulled it over his shoulder. "Just follow me!" He grunted with exertion as he stood, supporting the shaky weight of the Major who didn't quite seem to trust him. "Get up!"
Shen'ryu complied finally, getting to his own feet while allowing Foo to support and guide him. The two men made stumbling progress while hunched over to minimize their target silhouettes. The fire tracked them immediately, but they managed to make it out of the clearing before befalling any serious harm aside from a few very near misses that singed skin as it passed by.
The moment they made it into the first part of the treeline, the fire lessened as the trees absorbed many of the bolts intended for them. Foo breathed a sigh of relief, but couldn't pull his breath back in as he suddenly felt a searing pain in the back of his leg. He collapsed immediately and grunted in pain, doing his best to stay as quiet as possible to not give up their position.
"What? What's wrong?" Shen'ryu asked, his voice's pitch rising in lockstep with the level of panic he was experiencing at losing touch with his guide.
Through watering eyes, Foo scanned the immediate area, but saw no stormtroopers. Perplexingly, he also didn't see the source of the shot that got him in the hamstring. He wanted to yell at his companion to keep his own eyes up to scan the area, but the Bothan was blind and relying upon him to spot and evade threats. "I'm hit in the leg," he whispered through clenched teeth.
"Can you walk?"
Foo attempted to rise, favoring his uninjured leg mightily to carry his weight, but the moment he took a step with the newly wounded leg, he collapsed in a heap on the ground. He reflexively grabbed the wound with his hands, but the mere touch on the cooked skin sent lightning through his nervous system to the point where he involuntarily dropped the blaster.
Blaster fire picked up in the area around them. Bolts slammed into the nearby tree trunks and severed the smaller branches, showering the two men with bits of flaming, charred wood shrapnel.
"Get down, you fool!" Foo shouted once he realized Shen'ryu was just bumbling around blindly feeling his way away from combat. It took Foo a moment to realize that the Major was exactly the correct mixture of cowardly and stupid he'd been warned about. Seeing the Bothan bumbling around blindly in the middle of a firefight while leaving a wounded ally behind was exactly what he should have expected to happen the moment Foo got wounded. Still, fear of being left behind overwhelmed his urge to castigate the coward. "Get back here and help me!"
Shen'ryu didn't respond verbally, instead growling in pain as he tripped face-first into a tree. He crumpled to the ground as he rubbed his smarting face.
Something knocked the wind out of Foo, as if something had punched him in the area of his clavicle on his right shoulder. He couldn't look down, but the pain was enough to let him know he'd been hit by another blast. What was strange to him was that he hadn't seen it coming, as all of the other blasts coming in his direction were very high.
Foo cursed loudly. Looking around, he saw the white-clad troopers rushing across the clearing they'd just crossed. He rolled himself along the ground until he was able to grip the blaster he'd dropped earlier, and immediately started firing with his left hand, as the right arm was completely useless right now. Despite each of his shots hitting a trooper, the sheer number of them charging across the field toward him made it clear he wasn't going to kill them all before they reached him. Still he kept firing because there was nothing else he could possibly do to survive. He laughed grimly as he realized that this would be his final stand.
Thok. Thok. Thok.
Foo looked down at his blaster, dreading to see the indicator on the blaster read that the tibanna gas tank was depleted. He bowed his head, laying it down as he waited for the troopers to close the distance and finish the job they'd started on his leg and shoulder. The Major would be captured, helpless as he was, and nobody would know what happened here.
WICK WICK WICK WICK
WHUMP WHUMP WHUMP
The Imperials in the clearing screamed with a mixture of surprise and pain.
Foo looked up just in time to see and hear the whine of an X-wing in green Buccaneer paint come screaming out of its dive as it continued to strafe across the clearing. Each bolt that connected blew chunks off of the armor of the person they hit and pitched their lifeless bodies into each other.
The low thrum of a B-wing followed the X-wing's dive and strafed the survivors, scattering them and forcing them back into the original side of the forest they'd originally occupied during the siege of the downed U-wing.
Before either snub fighter could swing back around, the sky turned red. Foo was confused, but once he realized what was coming, he curled up into as small a ball as he could manage as the first turbolaser bolts slammed into the clearing and the original woodline they'd fought near.
Trees were incinerated by the pillars of red light meant to do serious harm to capital ships. On the ground in the atmosphere, they roared like a massive beast as they plummeted toward the surface. They hit the ground with such force that it rattled the bones of any nearby beings while it deafened them.
Foo's teeth were rattling in his skull with the massive vibrations. It was more forceful and awe-inspiring than a thunderstorm or special event including pyrotechnics that he'd ever witnessed. He would have cheered had the air not been sucked from the immediate area by the multiple blazes that had suddenly started. All he could do was choke on the smoke as it wafted over his position with the wind.
The thundering continued for another minute, and the quieter (relatively speaking) strafing runs of the two Buccaneer craft resumed as they went after the stragglers on the ground.
The rumble of a rapidly approaching craft drew Foo's attention skyward. A new U-wing had finished their approach and was lowering itself to the ground on its repulsors. He finally regained the ability to pull fresh oxygen into his lungs, and he coughed violently as he attempted to breathe through the ash and smoke the U-wing's approach had blown in his direction.
The ship touched down, and black-clad troopers poured out with their heads on a swivel. Two maintained cover on the clearing now littered with motionless stormtrooper corpses while two rushed over to Foo. "Are you ok?" a medic asked as he skidded to a halt and examined Foo. "Is the Major still alive? Any of our first squad personnel?"
Foo still couldn't breathe properly due to the smoke and ash in the area. He nodded through the coughs, and pointed at Shen'ryu to make sure they saw him.
"Scoots, the Major," the medic said with a nod of his head while he pulled a rebreather out of his medical bag. "Ok, Loot. This is gonna help ya clear yer lungs. Deep breaths," he soothed. He rolled Foo over to his stomach and affixed a bacta bandage to his wounded hamstring. He also wrapped another bandage around his shoulder-area wound, and then secured it tightly. "This is a lucky one, Loot. Something got in the way of this bolt and bled off some of the energy before it hit you. Would have probably killed you if it had hit you full blast."
After a few fitful draughts of oxygen, Foo was able to breathe properly. After a few more cycles, he sat up and nodded. "Thanks, Doc," he said as he removed the rebreather. He pointed a shaky finger up the slope. "Over that way you should find one of your medics and your new Lieutenant. She was wounded badly in the crash."
Foo cast his eyes down and shook his head somberly.
The grim-faced medic nodded and then looked over his shoulder. "Scoots, how's the Major?"
"He's fine," the other trooper replied. "Scratches and a little burnt fur as far as I can tell. Maybe a little concussion?"
"Roger. I'm going to check on two possible survivors. Come with me." The medic got to his feet and cast a look back down at Foo. "Sit tight, and we'll get you guys loaded." He whistled loudly, drawing the attention of the two troopers covering the field of now motionless and smoldering stormtrooper bodies. He pointed down at Foo and Shen'ryu, and then turned and moved quickly up the slope to where their other personnel were located.
Foo felt gentle hands lifting him up to his feet, and then supported him under his non-wounded shoulder on the side of his wounded leg. "Thanks," he grunted as they awkwardly made their way to the interior of the U-wing. Taking the hand of another trooper inside the troop compartment, he allowed himself to be assisted.
"It's gonna be a tight fit in here, Loot," the commando with a private stripe on her shoulder said. "Mind if I help you up to the co-pilot's chair for the ride back?"
Foo nodded, doing his best to hop up the few steps to the flight deck with one leg as he did his best to brace against the walls with his hands. After three hops and copious amounts of sweat, he found himself behind the pilot, the blue skinned Pantoran they called Zippy.
"Welcome aboard," Zippy said pleasantly.
"Thanks for the ride," Foo grunted as he gingerly lowered himself into the copilot's chair. While the bandage over his wound provided some relief, the pressure of sitting on the chair didn't help his pain level. "This sucks," he hissed.
A mischievous grin spread across Zippy's face. "If you've got alternate travel arrangements, you're welcome to take them."
The balance of the Buccaneers in the air had linked up with Bearcat and Blue and were strafing targets of opportunity to keep Zippy's U-wing safe during the pickup operation. While it might seem like all eight of the green-painted ships might be overkill, the multitude of infantry targets attempting to retreat through the trees kept them all fairly busy.
After strafing a group that looked to be flanking around the clearing to take another crack at the recovery operation, Bearcat pulled up high into the air to adjust his angle and hit them again. As he kicked over on his wing, he noticed movement far away from the engagement. His eyes narrowed, and then widened when they confirmed his first thought. "Sniperrr team leaving the arrrea, engaging!"
"Belay that, Five," Animal interrupted. "There seem to be a few brave souls trying to flank around the clearing in the woods towards our people. We have to cover our own!"
Bearcat chuffed in frustration, giving the retreating sniper group one last wistful look at the sniper trooper with the bright blue shoulder pauldron and his spotter. "Next time, you'rrre mine." He pulled back on the stick and looped into his assigned strafing run.
"Let's beat feet before that blasted X-wing decides to come back and actually strafe us!"
Imperial Sniper Yreg Ulriku sighted through his scope one last time, hoping there might be one more shot worth taking to take a little of the sting off of what felt like a major defeat. Unfortunately, the area they'd displaced to helped them avoid the strafing New Republic starfighters but hadn't given him much of a sight line to any of the troops he'd been taking shots at earlier. He held his scope to his scout-trooper faceplate and willed the wind to pick up just enough to clear the leaves out of his way to ensure a killing shot. The ability to fire an invisible blaster bolt made his Xerrol Corporation Nightstinger blaster rifle the perfect weapon for a special forces mission, and he was quite confident if the trees would open up a gap for him that he could get one more trooper without giving away their position. His last shot should have been a killing blow to finish off the enemy he'd wounded in the leg, but a branch had moved into his line of sight and diffused some of the energy meant for his target, resulting in another wounding shot. It still rankled at him.
"Yreg, it is time."
The U-wing he'd been looking for targets around began to lift off, but it rocketed away before he could attempt to sight in on the exposed door gunner. Yreg slumped his shoulders as he lowered his Nightstinger and looked over at his spotter, who had already slung his E-11 sniper variant blaster rifle over his shoulder and was urging him forward with his hands. "Yeah, ok Spavs," he agreed, slinging his own blaster. "Where's the evac point?"
"I just got word over the command net before it went down completely. The last shuttle was shot down. We are to break contact and set up guerilla ops until proper reinforcements can come. No rally point given."
Yreg snorted. "Great, guerilla ops. Guess I'd better get rid of this bright blue target," he said as he unlatched the bright blue shoulder pauldron those in his specialist class of the Stormtrooper Corps carried. He thought about dropping it on the ground, but a flood of memories recounting how much he went through to earn his marksman rating and the swell of pride within himself when he'd earned the blue pauldron. Rather than just discard something he'd worked his rear off for, he secured it in his black satchel so it would be out of sight. He then looked over his companion's bright white armor and made a face that was thankfully hidden behind his visor. "Tell me you've got some camo spray for that armor of yours, Spavs."
His companion pulled two spray cans out of his utility belt and held them up. "Enough to do two or three patterns depending on the detail needed."
Yreg nodded. His utility belt likewise carried his paint, as well as some rope and enough nutripaste to keep him alive for a month. Water would become an issue before then, however, as their condenser units were all back at the main encampment that was now crawling with New Republic ground forces. "We'll need to find someplace with some water and stick around it for our operations."
"Already ahead of you, partner," Spavs replied as he knelt down and pulled out a map. He pointed at a location near the main New Republic base.
Yreg's eyes widened. "So close to the enemy?"
"If we can get into the city without our armor, we might be able to purchase a condenser or mini vaporator to eliminate our water troubles, and then this rocky area overlooks the entirety of the base. We will be able to take a few shots with impunity so long as we retreat to this cave I marked. If we get there before they can send a flyover or patrol, we'll be fine. Who knows, maybe we'll find a cache of survival equipment along the way that hasn't been raided."
Yreg shrugged. It was as good a plan as any he could think of. "You're the brains, I'm just the trigger man. Lead the way."
Corell knew they were done for. The other 8 TIE Fighters were almost upon him, and their added firepower would surely finish the job the first four had started. The last TIE fighter from the original patrol had done a masterful job keeping the Reaper too busy to escape the gravity well of Horox III, and now it would take a miracle to survive.
That miracle didn't take long to appear. Out of nowhere, a squadron of Rebel X-wings pounced on the TIE Fighters. Their sudden appearance and attack made short work of the entirety of the squadron, even the one that had been harassing Corell's Reaper. Without hesitation, they formed back up and launched a torpedo spread toward the Squall, which absorbed the first salvo with minimal damage.
Instead of staying to fight, however, the Imperial carrier immediately swapped nose for engines and rocketed away as fast as they could. The Rebels harried them from a distance, but the moment the ship cleared the gravity well it jumped out of the system.
"Unidentified craft, please power down your engines. Failure to do so will result in your destruction."
Corell thought about his options. On the one hand, the fact that the X-wings had chased off the Squall and left them alone had given him enough room to run for a new jump point without them being able to catch his ship.
On the other hand, the whole point of this exercise was to find the Rebellion. He looked at his companion, and the color started to return to her face slightly, but she still wasn't looking like she was able to make any suggestions or decisions.
Corell made a snap decision. He powered down his engines. "Powering down."
The X-wings took up positions near the Reaper but outside of its forward arc. "Now, how's about you tell us who you are and what that ship is?"
"Top secret Imperial TIE/rp prototype," Corell responded, throwing caution to the wind and putting all of his eggs in the honesty basket. "And I am Lieutenant Corell Davis. Also with me is my section leader, and we've stolen this ship and run away."
"Fugitives, huh? Well then, let's have you land at the following coordinates and see how well your stories check out."
Corell followed the instructions of the Rebels and landed in the cave at the coordinates he'd been directed to. Almost immediately there was an insistent knocking on the ramp. He obliged them and triggered the ramp controls. Before it had even touched down, heavy footfalls began rushing into the ship.
"Hands! Show us your hands!"
Corell and Hack were bound and rushed off of the Reaper in a crowd of security personnel. At the foot of the ramp was a weathered woman that had the air of authority about her. She examined the two Imperials with a discerning eye, and then motioned with her hand subtly.
Corell's stun cuffs were removed, as were Hack's. He rubbed his wrists absentmindedly as he looked back at the rebel commander expectantly.
Instead of addressing him, the commander shook Hack's hand vigorously. "It was a brave thing you did, stealing this prototype and making a run for it."
Hack's eyes suddenly focused for the first time since they'd made their first jump into hyperspace. She smiled, and returned the shake vigorously. "I know that prototype inside and out. Once I found an opening, I knew I had to get it into your hands for study."
Corell shot a wry glance at his companion. While she'd been the impetus for their escape, he'd done all the heavy lifting the moment she went catatonic. Now suddenly she was the savior of the Rebel Alliance and had seemingly made it to them single handedly. He held his tongue, however, as he didn't want to rock the precarious boat they were in. He could only hope that whatever happened to them, it was the complete opposite of what the Imperial propaganda teams said about those that defected.
The woman finally took notice of Corell, leveling a wary eye in his direction. "Who might this man be?"
Hack patted Corell on the back. "This is Lieutenant Davis. I was able to nudge him in the right direction regarding our service with the Empire. He just needed a little push to take the leap of faith. I couldn't, with clear conscience, leave him behind when I decided to make my move."
Foo grimaced inwardly. He knew it was too late to contradict anything Hack was saying, as it was clear the Rebel leader trusted her immediately, while she still warily eyed him with distrust. While it may be true that she got the ball rolling on their defection, he certainly was a much bigger part of it than his section leader was letting on.
"Brave, brave thing you did there," the leader gushed. "We're gonna need a lot more where that came from if we want to win this war. Bravery..."
"...Bravery," Colonel Vis Kurlun finished, beaming at his second in command's return. "Surviving a crash landing and rallying the survivors to hold off the enemy under extreme circumstances! Tell me Major, how did you manage it?"
Shen'ryu smiled as his eyes flashed with pride. "Well, Colonel, a good combat leader must keep his wits about him, as you no doubt already know firsthand. I was just able to recover my senses after that horrendous crash at the last instant to rally the survivors."
Foo snorted from where he was in the U-wing. Zippy was helping him down the steps out of the cockpit, and the pilot caught on. "What's up?" Zippy whispered.
Foo nodded his head toward the peacocking Bothan. "He was catatonic for 90 percent of the time after the crash, and now he's the conquering hero."
Zippy shrugged. "You were an Imperial, as was I. You know how these sorts of things usually go."
Foo smiled bitterly. "Yeah, and we both left that outfit in similar fashion if I remember correctly."
Zippy patted him on the shoulder. "I wouldn't worry about it too much. Who wants a commendation from a commander that trusts that idiot as his number two? Besides, I saw how the medic from the first squad looked to you, as well as the wounded Loot you saved before they rushed her off to surgery. The people that matter, they know what you accomplished. That has to be enough."
Foo spared one glance back at the Bothan, who was being hailed by the Colonel as a hero for all in the area as they walked back toward the medical building. He looked back at the troopers from the Night Train as they gathered nearby. The medical team awaited him just outside of the U-wing, ready to rush him off to get his blasted hamstring fixed. As they helped him down, he held up one finger to ask for a moment.
He hobbled over to the survivors of the mission as they secured and cataloged their gear. Nearby, there were numerous body bags on the ground. They stopped as he approached and looked on with blank expressions. He pulled out the blaster he'd taken from the fallen Master Sergeant Isk'laa and held it out. "The Sarge dropped this when she fell, and it served me when my blaster ran dry. It killed many enemies while she used it, and I killed a few more with it after she died. I think she'd like to know that even beyond the grave she was able to take a few of those bastards with her."
"Farking A'," one of the troopers replied enthusiastically. He took the blaster and laid it on one of the body bags gingerly.
"The Major may be getting all of the credit, but the Sarge and the rest of her team are the real reason any of us made it out alive," Foo continued. "I just wanted to let you know that I know who this moment should belong to. I'd fly the Night Train into the field any time."
"Well, excuse us for passing, considering you crashed your ship and all."
Doc stepped forward, elbowing the glib trooper in the ribs. "Likewise, Loot. We know who this victory belongs to. Drinks are on us next time." The medic straightened up and provided a crisp military salute, quickly mimicked by the rest of the Night Train troopers.
It was purely a courtesy and sign of respect since they weren't in the same chain of command. Foo nodded in thanks to the medic from the squad he'd carried into combat, suddenly overcome with emotion. He gave the rest of the Night Train troopers as good a salute as he could manage with a wounded leg and his right arm not being very stable, and then waved as he allowed himself to be lowered onto a hover stretcher by the medical team. As he lay on his stomach, he was glad he could bury his face in the pillow of the stretcher. He couldn't quite place what he was feeling, but for some reason he felt like a great injustice had just been corrected from his past. Tears flowed freely, but they were all caught in the soft material of the pillow.
By the time he'd reached the medical facility, his eyes were dry. He felt a strange feeling remaining in his chest, an almost giddy elation. It was something he hadn't felt in a long time.
As he bobbed in the bacta tank, he slept. It was his first sleep in years that wasn't interrupted by nightmares.