Redemption: Part 3
By Bulldog, Guardian, Shadow, Silence, and Zippy
ISD Victorum Bridge
The minutes spent waiting for repairs to fix the issue and reinforcements to arrive dragged on slowly. With each passing second, Bulldog's anxiety level crept higher. He listened impatiently as Silence's team attempted to troubleshoot the issue.
"Just how many shots did he get off?" the Kupohan commando known as 'Torch' asked.
"What do you mean we didn't bring any engineers?" Silence ignored the first man. She seemed to be arguing with Bex. "Why would you? Because we're in Engineering? Well, sure, it was working when we got here, but— Never mind."
"Talk to me, Si," Bulldog asked hopefully into the comm.
"What about, Captain? The weather on Coruscant? Probe droid vulnerabilities?" Silence replied sarcastically before ignoring him as well. "Someone find some tools! And some spare wiring. We're going to need a welder."
Bulldog pursed his lips, avoiding unloading all of his nervous frustration on her. One of the commandos on the bridge snickered at her first response, which drew his ire as well as a glare from the team lead.
"Answer the question, Lieutenant," Gorlund replied stiffly, still staring daggers at the commando that had laughed at her nonchalant response.
Exasperation was clearly evident in her tone. "What do you want me to tell you? We had someone start blasting shots all over the place in an area crammed with delicate bits. Who knows how much damage was done. We have 12 bodies to examine this entire assembly. Bodies that aren't technicians by nature, and oh yeah, it would be nice if we could still secure this place so we don't get ambushed while we're patching up the damage we can find."
"Grid it off and search by sections," Torch suggested.
Bulldog nodded in agreement adamantly. "Yeah, divide and conquer."
"And just hope you get lucky," Shadow chimed in from the other team.
Silence's long, drawn out sigh told them all how helpful their advice was. "Yeah. Thanks."
"This is not good," Guardian said from his position at the navigation console, sitting bolt upright in the chair out of discipline.
Bulldog sidled over and nodded in agreement. He looked around through the various viewports, examining the wreckage around them more intently. The jumble of materials could be anything from broken ships to a shattered space station left to rot in space. "Where are we?"
Guardian tapped a few controls, but after a few more harder presses, he balled his fists and slammed them on the sides of the console. "Blast it if I know," he hissed. "What I do know is that we didn't leave with enough technical staff to make sure things like this didn't happen. One more U-wing full of techies would have gotten us moving by now."
Bulldog's heart seized in his chest.
"What is it, Toon?" Gorlund asked cooly, looking over to one of his team that had taken up by a sensor board.
The Duros looked up and gestured frantically. "We've got more Imp carriers, launching fighters!"
"Shields up!" Bulldog shouted, having finally recovered his senses. He activated his comm device. "Engineering, we've got problems. Put a rush on it!"
Silence offered only a noise of frustration.
"TIE Bombers and Fighters inbound!"
"Dov, blast them out of the sky," Guardian ordered coolly.
Bulldog watched as the guns fired wildly in the direction of the fighters. Without the dedicated crews at each gun, the turrets had to rely on system-guided aiming, which was much less accurate even when the systems were fully crewed by trained and competent officers. As it stood, only two blasts connected with incoming fighters. The Duros at the improvised control station did his best to adjust fire patterns, but the cross-fire still only caught one more fighter before the TIE Bombers managed to close in close enough to start dropping ordinance.
Starting at the tip of the Star Destroyer, the bombers began unleashing ion bombs in a slow and methodical pattern, ensuring a hit with each bomb dropped. The first few from the bombers hit the shields, erupting in explosions of electric-blue light.
"Shields down to 23 percent," Toon warned ominously from the operation station. His Duros brow furrowed. "We can't take another salvo without losing systems!"
True to the trooper's prediction, the next salvo imploded the shields and started deactivating electrical systems where they impacted the hull. Turrets nearby instantly went dark, making more holes in their defensive coverage. Bulldog felt helpless at his position on the bridge, knowing he couldn't do a damned thing to change the situation. Even if he ran back through the possibly hostile hallways to his U-wing, he'd likely only get one or two of the bombers before the fighter escort ended his token resistance. Even if all three pilots made it back to their ships, they'd all still likely die without freeing the ship of the threat, not to mention any future waves those escort carriers surely had aboard.
Still, he prepared to order that exact thing. He opened his mouth to get Silence and Zippy to join him outside of the ship when the sensor officer interrupted him.
"New contacts aft!"
"What is it?" Bulldog asked hurriedly. "Friendlies?"
"Looks like... two A-wings, a Y-wing, U-wing, and X-wing!"
"Vanguard squadron!" Guardian clarified with a fist pump. "Finally."
Cautious relief flooded through Bulldog. He changed the channel on his comm to address the cavalry as more bombs took out more of their electrical systems. "Vanguard, good to see you again. Think you can keep those bombers off of us?"
"We're on it Victorum, sit tight," the female squad leader replied.
"Victorum, these bombers are coming in fast. You must activate turbolasers," another pilot added.
Gorlund snorted. "Do they think we're children incapable of basic life functions?"
Bulldog smacked his hand on his forehead, agreeing with the commando leader that he felt like it was a dumb thing to say. Still, though, he managed a diplomatic reply. "No can do. Their ion weapons knocked out our systems. We were defenseless until you arrived."
"Understood, we'll put an end to their bombing runs," the previous pilot replied.
The two A-wings leapt out and unleashed a torrent of laserfire upon the bombers, catching them off guard and destroying many of them in the first pass. The Bombers reacted slowly, but they attempted to pull around the bridge tower as well as the ventral surface of the hull to continue disabling the ship.
"Five's all over these bombers!" one of the Vanguard pilots cheered in jubilation.
"One of them is making a run on our power system!"
Bulldog looked over Toon's shoulder and watched the staticy vid-feed showing a bomber lumbering inexorably toward their exposed power system. Without that system, they'd be dead in the water and this mission would be a bust.
"Fire the turbolasers down there in that bomber's path!" Guardian ordered.
The Givin commando known as Dov shook his head from the weapons station. "No can do, Cap. They're still disabled."
"Stang!" Bulldog cursed, nervously watching the slow craft's progress. In a few more seconds it would be right above their exposed Power System and able to drop ion ordinance, destroying it. The feed cut out, going completely into a staticy snow on the console screen.
"Last bomb disabled the exterior cameras," the commando sighed sadly. All of the beings on the bridge braced for the telltale rumbling that would indicate the bomber accomplished his mission and stopped their mission dead in its tracks.
"All bombers destroyed."
The skeleton crew broke out into a joyous uproar, pumping fists and slapping hands in celebration.
Bulldog mirrored their joy, but knew they weren't out of the woods yet in the bigger picture. Still, he felt it was necessary to show gratitude for their saviors. "Great, just need time to restart our systems!"
"Work fast, Imperial shuttles headed your way!"
The mood shifted yet again, and instead of happy cheers, the room was filled with all manner of colorful curses. One commando broke into a loud despair, complaining about how cursed they were.
"Stow that griping, Private!" Gorlund cut in, restoring order. "Act like a professional."
Bulldog clenched his teeth as he felt similarly to the lamenting Private, but waited a moment for the feeling of hopelessness to pass before speaking into the comm. "Hold them off. If even one Imperial shuttle reaches us we'll be overwhelmed!"
Torch snorted and shot Bulldog a condescending look.
"What?" Bulldog asked, holding his hands out in confusion.
"One shuttle couldn't overwhelm us. What do you think we are, zoomies?"
Before Bulldog could take offense and retort, the leader of Vanguard Squadron interrupted the exchange. "You heard him Vanguard! Intercept those shuttles. We should split up to take them down."
Bulldog watched out of the main viewports as the five New Republic fighters jumped forth, splitting their attention so they could take down both inbound shuttles as well as tackle the TIE Fighter escort. The Lambda-Class Shuttles split up and attempted to use the ample amount of debris to mask their approach, but the slow craft were unsuccessful. Splitting up, the A-wings each weaved through the rubble to pounce upon the wallowing craft. After one pass, both shuttles erupted in flames and crashed into nearby obstructions.
The crew, not consumed with tasks, cheered once again. They were stuck waiting for the other teams to bring their systems back online, so they were spectators like Bulldog was for this phase of the mission.
"Two more shuttles launched!" Guardian called out from his command station, drawing curses once again from the team.
Bulldog keyed the comm once again. He was sure Vanguard's flyers had likely identified the new shuttle launches, but he took a little joy in treating them as incompetent as the one pilot had done to them when they'd arrived. "Detecting 2 more Imperial shuttles. They're trying to flank us!"
ISD Victorum Engineering Department
Silence didn't like it. No one bit. Neither did Doc Jobber, whose replusorlifts whined from the stress of carrying an entire person more than they were engineered for.
She sat on the metal dome, clinging on with her knees as she tried to focus on splicing the melted wiring... and not on the sickening void below her. It was filled with machinery, so it wasn't all that empty as far as voids go— which just meant it provided ample objects to break her neck on if she slipped.
Below her, some of the more handy commandos were fixing the damage that lay within reach of the catwalks.
Over the comms, Silence heard constant reminders of how perilous the rest of the situation was.
"There's only one shuttle left," Vanguard Leader finally called out.
At least the pilots were making progress. Out there in space. Where pilots belonged. Silence ground her teeth. She was hardly a hyperdrive tech. She'd repaired droids for a while, but that wasn't exactly a resounding qualification.
"One shuttle is all they need," Bulldog replied, cutting short any thoughts of relief. "If they get a boarding team in there—"
Bex didn't say anything over the comms, but Silence heard him on the catwalk below, grumbling about how one boarding team couldn't stand a chance against his team. She kept her mouth shut, hearing another bout of blaster fire off in the distance. She hoped the shots didn't go wild again and cause more havoc.
"Quickly! That shuttle's right on top of us!" Bulldog's stress levels didn't help Silence's mood. "Shadow, get your team to the hangar bay to intercept!"
Doc Jobber shifted slightly, sending a jolt of alarm through Silence. She nearly dropped her wire cutters. "Stop moving!"
"My systems are overheating," Jobber complained. "Maybe you should stop stuffing your face with midnight snacks."
"If you call me fat one more time today—"
"Not fat, per se." Doc's smooth, female voice interrupted. "But a proper regimen of diet and exercise never hurt anyone."
"Tell that to my sore muscles from the last time I listened to you!" Silence twisted and clamped another broken cable back together. Something hummed back to life, but she knew her work wasn't done.
"Imperial Transports are done for," an almost reptilian voice reported, sounding pleased.
"That's the last of those blasted shuttles," Vanguard leader added.
"Just in time." Bulldog's relief was unmistakable. "Systems are up. Time to fix the hyperdrive."
Silence didn't activate her comm. Instead she rolled her eyes. "You don't say! What do you think we've been doing down here! Doc, scoot over to the next spot, will you?"
ISD Victorum Auxiliary Bridge
While the shuttles were indeed gone, the carriers still remained in the system and could be a big threat with their stolen ride still on the fritz. He was about to remind all of the cheering voices that the job wasn't done yet, but he was beaten to the punch.
Bulldog's voice continued over the general frequency as he continued to address their saviors. "Take out the Empire's carriers to buy us some time!"
With that being addressed, Zippy tuned out the drama as he quickly began cycling through his security feeds once the power was fully restored. He began to rest easier as each door appeared to still be locked with his subroutines still in place. It was a mercy of galactic proportions that the ion bombing they'd sustained hadn't completely purged the systems of his and Hellcat's hacks.
"Looks like some Y-wings just hypered in and are bombing those carriers!" Hellcat reported from his view of the external cameras. "Look at them go!"
One of the Imperial ships exploded under the massive bombing run, shattering into massive pieces of shrapnel. While some TIE fighters attempted to wheel around on the New Republic bombers, the fighters of Vanguard Squadron executed a solid enough screen to stop them from getting any shots to land.
"That's one carrier down!"
"Great start." Bulldog's voice responded. Before the Buccaneer could offer any sort of suggestion for taking out the other target, it also blew up after the Y-wings finished their run.
"And the second carrier goes up in flames," the gravelly-voiced Vanguard pilot reported.
"Beautiful work Vanguard. Hyperdrive is almost ready. Can you buy us just a bit more time?" Bulldog asked.
"Don't worry. Vanguard has you covered," Vanguard leader replied. "Squadron, take down the rest of these TIEs."
Sighing with relief, Zippy resumed flipping through his security feeds and re-checking his locks. After four feeds showed nothing but bored Imperials lounging in their seats awaiting the order to go back to their posts, the fifth feed made his blood run cold. He quickly keyed his comlink and brought it to his mouth.
"The door from earlier, it's open."
"The turret didn't fire," Shadow responded. "I would have received an alert."
As if on cue, that alert chimed. The whump whump whump of rapid blaster fire sounded down the hallway. Zippy looked back at his feed and saw a few Imperial corpses just out of the doorway, caught unaware by the auto turret Shadow's team had set up down the hallway from their door. The troopers within began to blindly fire around the corner, but a few more hands were blown apart when the turret hit the blasters themselves and cooked off their gas cartridges. Zippy didn't need to have the audio feed activated to know what kind of screams and curses were filling that corridor.
"We're on our way to that location," Shadow reported.
"That'll keep them pinned until Shadow's folks can get there," Hellcat cheered.
Zippy was annoyed that Hellcat was watching his feed rather than paying attention to his own sectors, even though he was guilty of being distracted by the exterior space battle earlier. Taking it upon himself to look, he swapped over to Hellcat's feed and saw one of the auto-turrets protecting one of the approaches to their location had been knocked over on its side, likely jostled during the ion bombing run earlier. "Pay attention to your feeds!" he admonished the ex-Rogue, pointing at the downed turret.
"Ah, crap," Hellcat replied, punching a few more commands to run back through his own sectors. After a rapid channel surf, that downed turret appeared to be the only thing amiss. "We need to get that thing back upright."
The diminutive Asogianan croaked out some words in his language as he checked his weapons. As he unlocked the door, the Kalleran translated. "Private Gambana is going to fix the turret." Without any other words, the brown-skinned trooper opened the door and padded down the hall. No sounds of blasterfire were heard nearby, indicating that it likely was just the bombing run they'd sustained that had jostled the turret over, as opposed to any sort of Imperial interference from within.
Zippy nodded, but an uneasy feeling washed over him as he began to do a mental calculus. Without the private in the room with them, their defensive capabilities were cut down drastically. Sure, that turret being operational would provide more security down the hall, but if something were to happen to Gambana while he was outside, they would be at a severe disadvantage in the bridge.
"Keep an eye on Gambana," Zippy said to Hellcat as he pointed at the other man's console.
Whump whump whump!
Bringing his attention back to his own console, his eyes widened at a macabre sight. The trapped Imperials had resorted to using the bodies of their fallen as a shield to absorb the incoming fire from the turret. The bodies of the wall jumped and twitched with each bolt, but only one managed to find a way through and strike one of the troopers behind the wall, violently pitching the man back with a neat shot through the eye socket.
Zippy began uttering another string of Mandalorian curses as the wall of corpses reached the turret. The smoke from the flaming cloth and flesh began to fill the corridor, but it didn't obscure the feed completely. Just as the wall appeared to be set completely aflame, the Imperials behind it heaved the smoking bodies into the turret, knocking it over off its tripod.
"They're completely free now!"
ISD Victorum Security Outpost
"Please, no," the supine man gurgled through broken teeth and a blood-filled mouth. He raised his hand feebly in defense.
The black stock of an E-11 blaster rifle crashed down again.
A wet cough was the only response.
The stock came crashing down again, this time on the crown of the man's head. A wet cracking sound followed. The gun came crashing down again, and again, and again. The hand fell to the ground, twitching. Near the dying naval trooper lay the smoldering corpse of Figilan. She'd been on point when the Imperials decided to spring their ambush early. Had they waited with any sort of discipline, they might have gotten most of the squad. As it was, the entire squad of Imperials nearly immolated the poor human before she even had a chance to register the danger.
Shadow sighed heavily and took a moment to survey the skirmish going on around him. Urek rushed from behind his concealment and tackled another naval trooper, stabbing his vibroblade into his attacker's chest with all his might, lifting the man off his feet a couple of times as he rammed it further each time. Ourudo put his blaster to the back of another trooper's head and pulled the trigger, freeing up Gim and Yol to rush another of the ambushing squad of Imperial fleet security. The two massive humans tackled him and started pummeling him.
As Urek turned to join another fray, he was staring down the business end of a BlasTech SE-14r blaster pistol. He froze. The black-clad trooper grinned, and his finger visibly tightened on the trigger.
The trooper pitched forward into Urek, knocking them both to the blood-slicked floor. Zoban nodded curtly, holstering her smoking slug thrower and stepping forward to help the young Bothan up.
Symban screamed in pain as a stormtrooper shoved her to the ground and took aim with his DLT-19. Shadow reached for his spare clips and noticed they'd taken a blaster bolt meant for him. While lucky, it meant that his gun was out of ammo and he was too far away to save his squadmate with his axes. His mouth opened to shout.
Before the Imperial could fire, Ourudo grasped the barrel of the rifle and pulled. The blaster went off, the bolts peppering the wall to the right of Symban. The stormtrooper attempted to continue the barrel's momentum and aim at the Twi'lek's chest, but the commando stepped in closer and delivered a vicious elbow to the trooper's unprotected larynx. The rifle remained in Ourudo's hand as the Imperial dropped to his knees and gasped for air as he threw off his helmet and grasped at his throat.
The retreating clatter of booted feet on tile drew Shadow's attention away from the slowly diminishing skirmish. He took one glance back, seeing that everything was pretty much handled here and charged on. "Hurry up, they're getting away!"
He broke into a fast sprint, rounding a blind corner and noticed another coming up. As he neared his turn, he caught the dull vision of something on the blind side of the corner in his mind's eye. Knowing that he was going too fast to stop, he hunched over and kicked off his left foot, launching himself to the right as he reached the corner while drawing one of his vibroaxes in the process. A vibroblade came slashing around at head height, missing Shadow's head by mere centimeters. He twisted while in the air, allowing his momentum to roll him when he hit the ground.
His vibroaxe sailed away in the middle of the maneuver, clattering against the wall he was heading for. Without thinking, he rolled to his feet. The glimmer of a knife blurred through his field of vision, attempting a slash across his midsection that would spill his intestines on the floor.
Going into close-combat mode, he leaned his upper body forward, forcing his waist back. The slashing knife passed harmlessly through the air millimeters from his stomach. Another knife was stabbing towards his face, faster than the first. Shadow spun to his left, away from the attacker's slashing hand. The stabbing knife nicked him in the ear, sending a sharp jolt of pain through his nervous system. The sensation quickened his movement, taking him two steps out of the ambusher's reach.
The naval trooper didn't quip. Instead, he took two darting steps forward, bringing him back into striking distance of the beleaguered pilot. The knives flipped and twirled with dazzling speed and precision in the assailant's hands while his arms were a blur of motion.
Shadow's right hand shot down to the small of his back, unclasping and drawing his remaining black-bladed hand-axe in one fluid motion. Seeing another right-handed stab coming toward his midsection, he spun the axe in his grasp so the dull side faced forward and the blade faced down in an ice-pick grip. He swept his arm across his body.
The sharp CLANG of metal colliding with metal rung out as blade met blade, followed by the buzzing grind as both weapons activated their vibration functionality. The attacker's stab was deflected, causing it to fly off to the left of Shadow's body. Without missing a beat, the trooper brought his left hand forward, knife blade horizontal and heading straight for Shadow's jugular.
Seeing the glint of the sharp edge being thrust his way, he did something rash. He kicked both of his feet back, dropping him into a short free-fall to his knees. As he fell, he felt the attacker's knife cutting through the loose locks of his hair. Once his knees touched the ground, he threw his upper body forward into a shoulder roll taking him behind his opponent. As he finished his roll, his left hand snaked down to the shiv in his boot sheath. He drew the short, reserve blade as he rose to his feet and whirled around.
The wind was knocked from his stomach as a booted heel found purchase in his gut. The blow from the kick propelled him backwards as his body was lifted slightly off the ground.
Another side kick was coming his way, but this time Shadow saw it coming. He swept his left arm down, his forearm meeting shin. He pulled his arm up, sweeping the blade of his second knife across the side of his opponent's calf. The sound of fabric being cut filled the hallway, shortly followed by a muffled curse.
Before Shadow could grin at cutting his opponent, two knives were coming toward him in a scissor motion. He hopped back to avoid the attack and bounced off the wall. The wall thwarted his chance at a clean dodge, keeping him in range of the knife slashing left to right. His right hand shot up as fast as he could muster, spinning the shiv in an upright grip as he brought it up.
The sound of metal grating against metal deafened him. He felt a burning pain quickly followed by a warm, wet trickle above his left eye. He pushed his right arm forward, forcing the knife currently cutting his forehead away.
The assailant spun 360 with the momentum and sent a stabbing knife at Shadow's sternum. The blood had begun trickling into his left eye, clouding his vision. He didn't see the attack in time to parry and counter. With only one option left, he spun along the wall away from the driving point.
He felt the paralyzing shock of pain shoot through his entire body as the knife penetrated his Latissimus dorsi, and tore its way free with his spinning motion. His left arm fell to his side, unable to contribute to his defense, though his vice-like grip held onto his axe stubbornly. He gritted his teeth and struck out with a left-side kick of his own, throwing his attacker against the wall. He moved in to press the attack when he heard noises behind him in the direction he had been heading in the first place.
"Hang on, Griff. I'm coming!"
Shadow cursed. On a good day he knew he could take two men in a knife fight. Unfortunately, these men were obviously trained in close combat and he was without full use of his left arm now. This particular moment in time, a two on one blade fight boded poorly for him.
Griff's arm shot out in another same-sided stab and kick combination. The steel-toed boot made contact with Shadow's ribs as he simultaneously parried the knife with an upstroke of his shiv. Instead of continuing the upward motion of his parry, he immediately stabbed downward, plunging his blade deep into his opponent's thigh. The man screamed in agony and crumbled to the floor clutching his leg. Shadow knew he was out of it, noting the entry point being right above the femoral artery.
"NO!" The new arrival shouted from extremely close behind.
Shadow reached his right hand over and pulled the hand axe still clutched in his useless left hand as he whirled around to face his new opponent. He cursed again. Instead of one man, there were three charging his way.
"You're DEAD!" The first one shouted, raising his machete as he charged ever closer.
Shadow started back-peddling, concentrating solely on the first man who was waving his machete across his body alternating high-right to low-left then high-left to low-right. Shadow bobbed his head back and forth to match the blade's movements.
As the man got into attack range, he let loose a high-right to low-left diagonal slash. Shadow dipped his body forward to the right to dodge the crushing blow. As he did so, the second man in line darted through the opening and let loose a flurry of stabs and slashes with a jagged Tehk'la blade and sharpened M8 Combat Knife.
Shadow thrust his head back as he continued to backpedal, avoiding the initial salvo of attacks. He parried a left handed knife thrust with his axe, forcing the man's balance to Shadow's left, blocking the machete-wielding trooper. Before the second man could recover, Shadow planted his right boot heel into the man's flank and pushed forward with a front kick. Both men stumbled back slightly while Shadow used them to propel himself further back down the original direction he had come from.
"Where the kark did he go?" Urek's voice carried from the main atrium.
"Little help!" Shadow shouted as he realized his mistake. The third man slid under the two he had tangled up with his kick and gripped his axe arm in both hands and pulled him back down the hallway, away from reinforcements.
Shadow gritted his teeth and willed his nearly useless left arm into action. It slowly swung in a tight arc toward the third man's neck, gripping the back of it on impact. He locked his arm out, his injured Lat screaming in protest.
The smile on the man's face faded to a look of horror once what Shadow was planning dawned on him. Before he could remedy his situation, Shadow flung his left knee forward, catching the man in the groin and allowed himself to finally give in to the man's pulling. His axe buried itself in the third attacker's chest, sliding neatly between the ribs and impaling his heart as the vibration kicked on to rend the flesh easier.
Shadow saw the glimmer of metal out of the corner of his vision. Without thinking, he ducked behind the impaled man and lifted his lifeless body upward.
The machete blade entered the shield at the neck and buried itself in the thorax after breaking through 3 ribs.
"Scot! Stang!" The man howled as he began frantically tugging at his weapon, an action of futility as it was firmly entrenched between sternum and the rib cage.
The man's head pitched back in a simmering spray of gray matter and smoldering skull fragments.
"FREEZE or DIE!" Symban shouted from behind Shadow.
The remaining attacker stood stock-still, his shoulders falling with the dawning of his imminent capture.
"Thanks guys." Shadow sighed, putting his boot against the lifeless corpse and giving a strong tug to free his hand axe. His arm was soaked with blood up to the elbow, and his face was spattered with blood; his and his unfortunate shield's.
Delicate hands grabbed his shoulders gently. "Lieutenant, let me have a look at those cuts," Zoban said gently as she got to work dressing his wounds.
Shadow allowed the defacto medic to do her work while he keyed his comm. "Sweeper team ran into contact. One KIA. Survivors on the move, and we're in pursuit. Out," he hissed as the Devaronian rubbed a disinfectant patch over his torn muscle, and then secured a bacta patch over the wound. More thorough medical interventions would have to wait until the mission was completed.
ISD Victorum Bridge
"That's the last of them," Vanguard Leader reported.
Bulldog sighed in relief at the news that the Imperial Carrier threat had been nullified. He ambled along the bridge walkway to look over the sensor station's screens to confirm for himself that there were no more threats lurking in this ship graveyard. "How's it look?"
Toon looked up from the station, smiling widely. "All clear."
Bulldog nodded, activating his comm system again. "Your timing couldn't be better! We're almost done."
"Our bombers are outta here. Thanks for the backup!"
Bulldog grumbled about the bombers leaving under his breath, apparently loud enough for Guardian to hear him.
"Yeah, they shouldn't leave until we're back underway," the veteran replied with a healthy amount of disdain in his voice.
"Shoot, if that had been Buccaneer, it wouldn't have taken them so long to take down those carriers," Bulldog responded wistfully, looking out of the viewport toward the reinforcement bombers as they winked out of the system one by one.
"They wouldn't have left until the ship was moving, either," Guardian sighed as he tapped a few commands into his console.
"Lead, we think we've got the problem just about sorted. We're just going to run a few more tests to make sure," Silence's voice reported over the comm. A ragged cheer rose up from the commandos on the bridge.
Bulldog smiled and patted Guardian on the shoulder, drawing both a sharp look as well as a sly smile from the all-business veteran. "That sounds great, Si. Keep me in the loop," he said as he switched frequencies to report to their escort. "We're doing our final test, Vanguard. Spread out and keep watch."
ISD Victorum Engineering Department
Silence watched as green lights glowed to life on the control panel, one after another. She allowed herself a huge sigh. It felt like the first breath she'd taken all day. Ever since the briefing, she'd been subconsciously dreading the moment she screwed up and got everyone killed.
Somehow, it hadn't happened. Yet.
She activated her comm. "Lead, hyperdrive's up. For now."
"What do you mean, ‘for now'?"
Silence opened her mouth but was spared having to explain her lack of confidence by a clattering and splashing sound, followed by Bulldog's scathing outburst. "Karking son of a bantha!"
"Sorry, sir!" someone mumbled in the background. "I'll clean that caf right up!"
"Hey! Who's buzzing our bridge!" Bulldog cursed again, ranting something about A-wing pilots showing off.
She cleared her throat. "Uh, sir. The hyperdrive?"
"Right. Good job." The reminder of the good news seemed to sooth Bulldog's temper. He switched to the broader channel. "Hyperdrive's operational, Vanguard. What do you say we get out of here?"
"Regrouping on your position, Victorum," Gunny replied.
ISD Victorum Bridge
"Ok, Team Two, what's going on in your sector of the ship?"
"Shadow is still roving around on the prowl, chasing some loose Imps," Zippy replied.
"Nothing amiss outside your door though?"
The comm crackled, the Vanguard flight leader interrupting the internal discussion. "All right Victorum. We're in position. Where are we headed?"
Bulldog looked at Guardian questioningly, but the man shook his head sharply and pointed to his ears and then waved around the rest of the ship with his free hand. Bulldog nodded after a brief moment of puzzlement, his eyes widening at the implication of either listening devices still actively monitoring them, or some hidden device on the prisoners they'd kept trussed up in the corner of the bridge.
Guardian punched a few buttons on his navigation console. "Comms, send the destination over digital, top level encryption."
Torch waved in response as he constructed the message with his free hand. As he hit send, he gave a thumbs-up with his free hand.
"Somewhere classified. Just sent you the coordinates." Bulldog reported aloud after seeing the gesture from the Kupohan commando.
"Got 'em. Punching them in now," a different pilot responded.
Bulldog looked around one last time, seeing that all hands were prepared to go. Taking a deep breath to center himself, he held it just long enough to feel his lungs burn slightly. Releasing it and taking in more oxygen, he opened his mouth. "Jumping to hyperspace in three... two... one," he paused briefly, looking at the helm. "Punch it!"
The stars stretched as the ship ramped itself up to speed to reach hyperspace. The entire complement of commandos on the bridge held their breath as they waited to see if the slapdash repairs from the engineering detachment were successful.
A curse rose from one of the men as they frantically started pushing buttons at their console. Almost immediately after, the ship lurched back out of pseudomotion and came to a juddering halt about 6.5 km from their previous position. The entire bridge lost power momentarily, bathing them all in darkness.
"What the Sith just happened?" Bulldog cursed as he regained his footing after the jarring, abortive jump.
"Prepare for door assault!" Gorlund shouted, reminding the door guards to keep their eyes open in case this was a prelude to the Imperials attempting to regain control of the ship.
"There's nothing moving in the hallway, Captain!"
"Don't let your guard down. Something stinks here," The commando leader responded grimly.
The lights flickered momentarily, and then finally clicked on fully. The Duros at the jury-rigged central console was a flurry of activity as he began the work to suss out the cause of their latest batch of problems.
"All systems reset!"
"What was that, Toon?" Guardian asked, similarly looking intently through his console's directories.
Guardian sighed dejectedly. He looked up to Bulldog from his console chair with an exhausted look in his eye. "Better tell Vanguard what happened."
Bulldog keyed on his comm device with a shaky hand, his nerves beginning to get the better of him. "I don't know what happened!" He shouted in reply to Guardian. "Everything was fine... and then our systems just... shut down!"
ISD Victorum Auxiliary Bridge
"Sounds like your mauvine nullifier is blocked. Run a system flush, then restart. It should be fine," one of the Vanguard pilots suggested.
"Confirm that it wasn't any sort of electronic sabotage," Zippy said to Hellcat as both men began checking their datapads and punching up commands. "Can't rule out mechanical from here, though," he said as he activated his comlink. "Team Three, suggest you see if you have any company that might have mucked with your equipment. We're looking into electronic intrusions."
"Easier said than done," Silence's exasperated voice replied.
"What's going on?" Gerzem asked nervously. "Where's Gambana? He should have been back by now." The commando began fidgeting with his blaster, unsure if he should go out and look for his partner or stay behind and guard the room.
Zippy quickly finished his check, finding nothing in the system that appeared to be any sort of sabotage he could identify. The issue with the ship likely was mechanical, and quite possibly whatever that Vanguard pilot had suggested. He glanced at Hellcat, and saw the man still feverishly punching commands into his own rig. Deciding to let the man work, he pulled up the feed of the surrounding area. The turret had been placed back upright, denoting that the commando had accomplished his mission, but sometime after that had been done and now, the trooper had completely vanished from the feeds.
As he continued to shuffle through feeds to solve the mystery, a loud banging on the other side of the door jarred all three men's attention. After a few bangs and a shouted interrogative that was muffled by the thick durasteel hatch, no more sound was heard.
"Was that Gambana?" Hellcat asked hopefully.
"Sounded like basic to me," Gerzem replied dourly. "Asogianan's can't speak basic," he added ominously.
Zippy agreed with the commando, but pulled up the feed of the hallway outside the door to check. His jaw dropped as he saw the multitude of Imperials stacked in the hallway, taking up defensive positions at the intersection as well as a separate group huddled around the door in preparation of storming the auxiliary bridge.
As if they'd known he was watching them, a black-clad fleet trooper rushed toward the camera and bashed it to bits with the stock of his blaster rifle, causing Zippy to wince involuntarily. He slapped his hands angrily on the console at having been blinded to the other side of their door, but then something he'd seen in the background flashed back into his mind's eye and he pulled up his console.
"What is it? What's out there?" Gerzem asked nervously.
"An entire squad of fleet troopers trying to break in," Zippy mumbled grimly as he continued to tap away. Sure enough, after a few more moments his suspicions were confirmed. One of the troopers was attempting to slice the door lock.
"I can hold him off," Hellcat said, seeing the same intrusions on his own console. He began tapping away, changing the passcode every few seconds to throw off the Imperial slicer's programming. He didn't trust leaving the job to a script, as a competent slicer would look for such a scrambler script and hijack it. He cracked his knuckles and rolled his neck, then settled into his seat fully as he got to work.
"Leave me a port open," Zippy replied.
Hellcat's eyes widened as he stopped his work and looked up. "What? Why? They'll be able to back door us through it."
Zippy shook his head. "No, I'm going to use it to try and fry his equipment. Don't worry, I'll put my own security in place on it. I just don't want our attempts to hinder each other."
"Right, got it," Hellcat replied, punching a few more keys. "Port 21 is all yours."
"What should I do?" Gerzem interjected, feeling useless.
"Set up some defenses in here in case they get past us," Zippy replied. Almost absentmindedly, he added, "and set up explosives to blast this place to hell and give me control of the deadman switch. Can't let them have this room if we lose it."
ISD Victorum Engineering Department
"And here we go again." Silence closed her eyes, allowing herself two seconds to breath and refocus. She brought up the system flush menu. "Everybody say a prayer to the machine gods."
Jobber lurched off the catwalk where he'd been resting his repulsors. "Incoming forces detected!"
"What's he talking about?" Bey whipped her head around, scanning the various access points of the massive room.
"He's got hearing like a bazillion times better than ours." Silence crouched as low as she could get while still being able to reach the controls.
"Spread out!" Bex gestured to his troopers. There plainly weren't enough of them, but they repositioned themselves as best they could.
Jak cursed. "Care to tell us which direction, ya upturned salad bowl?"
"Sure, just let me point! With my perfectly-formed and functional arms that someone never gave me!" Jobber zipped towards one of the doorways.
Troopers piled into the doorway. One of them took a knee, hefting a rocket launcher onto his shoulder.
"Down!" Bex bellowed. "Open fire!"
"Oh, for crying out loud!" Silence hit the deck face-first. "If you blow up my hyperdrive, I swear to the—"
Jobber bounced off the trooper's head. The trooper fell over backwards as Bex's people slagged the position with blaster fire. The rocket launcher fired straight into the ceiling of the hallway, which spewed out a fireball and then oozed smoke. No more troopers appeared.
Silence pulled herself upright and bolted up the stairs and along the catwalks. "Jobber! Doc!"
"Lieutenant! Wait!" Bey snatched at Silence as she ran past, but failed to catch her.
Choking on the smoke and gagging on the stench of charred flesh, Silence pushed through the doorway. She tripped over the armored bodies, landing on her hands and knees. Her right hand plunged into something wet and slimy. She recoiled, trying not to think about it. "Doc! Jobber! Where the frak are you?"
"Right behind ya, boss." Jobber's smug voice cut through the smoke. "Did you see me? I should get a medal for those heroics!"
Silence got her footing and turned around. She stared at the dome and its orange lights. And then she slapped him, hard. "You idiot!"
Immediately, she grabbed her hand, whimpering. Striking metal was never a wise choice. "Ow, ow, ow."
The droid's light flickered to purple. "Oh, my goodness! Rosk, your hand needs urgent medical attention! You've lost so much blood. Medic!"
"You are the medic," Silence grumbled, hugging her slick hand to her chest.
"I can only provide advice. I have no means of performing any medical procedures."
"Yeah, yeah, I get the message, alright?" Seeing the concerned commandos heading her way, Silence shook her hand, flicking blood across the catwalk. "Don't worry. It's not my blood."
"Team Three, how's it going?" Bulldog's voice reminded her of the task at hand.
"Sorry, Lead. Ran into some company." Jogging back towards the control panels, she made a face at her sticky fingers. "And that's way more literal than I'd like."
"What were you thinking!" Jak growled at her in passing. "If any of them had been left alive, you'd have been a goner!"
"And right now, you're the last person we can afford to lose," hissed Bey. "Get over there and don't move. Whatever happens, we'll cover you."
"Anyone can do a system flush," Silence grumbled, unwilling to show her appreciation for their concern.
"Area's too big to secure with a team this size," Bex added as blaster fire broke out near another chokepoint. "We sure could use some backup if you got any to send."
ISD Victorum Bridge
Bulldog pursed his lips, feeling helpless as he listened to the threats his teammates were facing while he was stuck on the bridge. Both Zippy and Silence needed help, but he had nothing to spare in their direction. Or did he?
He ran over to Gorlund. "Say, can we send some troops down there to help out the aux bridge?"
The commando shook his head and looked up to him. "We're stretched thin here as it is. The other teams are just going to have to hold out."
"There are a LOT of troopers outside my door!" Zippy called out nervously over the comms.
Bulldog glared back at Gorlund as he grabbed his blaster. "Look, either you go or I go. I'm not afraid, but I think we all know who has a better chance of not being a liability out there."
Gorlund mumbled to himself angrily as he mentally debated the situation at hand. He looked around the bridge at all of the troops doing vital work at their stations, stretched to the breaking point doing the job that five-times their number would be doing if the ship were fully staffed. Each one was a flurry of activity as they bounced from terminal to terminal in their own stations as they attempted to repair or automate systems, tying Toon's mobile control units even deeper into their assigned systems.
"Ok, I'm going," Bulldog said, misreading Gorlund's expression. He drew his blaster and turned to make his way out of the bridge.
Gorlund grabbed Bulldog by the shoulder with a firm grip. "No no, I'll go. We both know you'll get lost," he said with a chuckle. "Pick, Brute, Riot, you're with me. Wonderful, keep this place locked up tight! Anybody other than me pokes their head out in that hallway, you give them a new mouth!"
"I'll go with you." Guardian stood, shouldering a rifle. "If it's as bad as it sounds, they may need more medical help. Bulldog's got everything up here under control, anyway." The former Buccaneer looked at Bulldog, red eye gleaming. "Keep everything calm, and keep everyone posted. We'll be back."
Gorlund nodded, then the small squad slipped out of the cuts in the door and vanished down the dark hall. A scowling Wonderful began barking orders, rearranging the sentries at the doors.
Bulldog holstered his blaster and stepped over to the navigation console Guardian had been working on and began examining the coordinates and controls. Thankfully, it looked easy enough for him to engage the hyperdrive once the repairs concluded.
"Karking Schuttas!" Toon spat.
"What was that?"
"Captain, more Imperial forces have just arrived!"
Bulldog looked out the viewport and bit back his own curse. Arrayed off their bow were four Quasar-fire Class carriers. The moment they changed course, they began disgorging TIE Bombers and TIE Fighters. After a moment of stunned silence, he snapped back to reality as he charged along the bridge walkway. "Get our shields back up, now!"
"Almost there, Cap!"
"Doing the best I can with what I've got back online, sir," Dov replied
Bulldog rubbed his chin as he wracked his brain for more solutions to their problems, but came up blank. He keyed on his communicator, but his voice came out a little less confident than he'd have liked. "Can you hold them off a little longer?"
"Didn't come this far to leave you hanging," the Vanguard Squadron leader replied.
Bulldog watched helplessly as the five Vanguard fighters made an effort to repel the forces arrayed against them. While they seemed to be adequate pilots capable of doing the job, he still felt naked without the likes of Rogue Squadron out there watching over them.
Thankfully, the Imperials seemed to be disorganized and green, launching their assault fighters in waves that charged in rather than waiting to form up their entire squadrons. This allowed the Vanguard fighters to overwhelm them and destroy them in detail, but even the best pilots would get tired against these odds.
All he could do was wait and see what happened outside while his team got the ship fixed enough to get them all out of here.
ISD Victorum Engineering Department
Shadow's chest heaved as his adrenaline came back down as the skirmish ended. The fight in the Engineering department had been brutal and fraught with danger as every nook and crevice could hide an enemy intent on doing them harm. His squad had taken two casualties in the fight: Corporal Tretz had been brained by a hulk of an Imperial wielding a massive wrench, and Corporal Ost'shen had been garroted from behind as he passed a blind corner.
Others had suffered close calls, himself included. He rubbed the dent in his chestplate absentmindedly as he recalled the blow he'd received from a similar attack that had taken poor Tretz out. His glimmer of intuition had warned him of the coming attack, but he'd thought the attack would come at his legs so he had decided to jump over the coming blow, only to take the head-high strike to his chest.
He was sure a rib or two were cracked, but the plate had done its job otherwise and kept him alive. After blowing the man's throat out with a quick-draw shot from the floor, he crawled back to his feet unsteadily and continued clearing the rest of the area with his team.
Captain Udigg had reset their perimeter and set up a few more motion sensors that they'd cobbled together. With the added manpower of Shadow's remaining troopers, they had as good of coverage of the section as they were going to get. Unfortunately, it meant he was the only one available to mount any sort of rescue attempt for the personnel in the besieged Auxiliary Bridge. He checked his weapons and equipment and prepared to leave, but a conversation between Silence and her droid companion drew his attention.
"You can stop fussing. I said I'm fine." a few commands on the main engineering console she was parked at. "Ugh, who designed this interface? Lowest bidders, clearly."
Her cobbled-together floating automaton hovered nearby. The feminine persona was in charge, as her voice was the one that responded in a pleasant tone. "I do apologize for Jobber's reckless behavior. If he hadn't—" Before the thought could be finished, the male persona took over. "Just admit it. I saved everyone here! Get out of my way, you insufferable nurse-bot! I've got an engineering bay to defend. This Star Destroyer shall be mine!"
Silence snorted, but otherwise ignored the more warlike personality. She pulled her comlink up to her mouth. "Lead, flush has been started."
"Initiating system flush. How long should this take?" Bulldog echoed over the comms as he relayed the message and added his own question to the Vanguard fighters that had saved them.
"Longer than I'd like," the voice that had suggested the fix replied.
Shadow shrugged at the response. The time the repairs took didn't have any bearing on his next course of action. He needed to get moving back to his original objective and clear out the squad of fleet troopers that was attempting to wrest control away from them. If it fell, the entire mission was at risk. He rolled his shoulders and drew his slugthrower, carefully making his way back through the labyrinth of girders and pipes to avoid jostling anything vital to the repair effort.
ISD Victorum Bridge
Bulldog ran over to the sensor station, hope bubbling within his chest. "Ours?"
"Negative," Toon replied with a grimace. "Raider, theirs."
Bulldog unleashed a string of curses until he was blue in the face and out of breath. He stood there, doubled over with his hands on his thighs as he breathed in rapidly to regain his breath. After a moment, he stood back up and pursed his lips.
The Duros looked on with a wry grin. "Feel better?"
Bulldog barked out a sharp laugh and nodded curtly. "Yep, part of my process. Tell me you've got some good news to share?"
"They sent one A-wing to go take out that Raider."
Bulldog made it about three-quarters of the way to a full-blown facepalm, but managed to catch himself before he did any physical trauma to himself. "One eggshell against a Raider? That's suicide!"
"Maybe this guy's good?"
Bulldog snorted. Months ago, he'd encountered a Raider with a few of his wingmen and a hodgepodge of support staffers and reserve pilots in Alpha-class Xg-1 Star Wings and Y-wings on the dark side of the second Death Star at Endor. Back then, the ship took every bit of the pounding they'd all inflicted, and even survived long enough to destroy his wingman's A-wing with a missile during their escape. He gazed out of the viewport as he shuddered with the chills of his memories, and watched a lone A-wing break off from the dogfight and start its joust with the Imperial Corvette. He sucked in his breath sharply as he watched the lone fighter start weaving to avoid incoming fire. "Let's hope this guy's good enough."
The stressed voice of the pilot that had suggested the system flush broke through the comm. "There's too many fighters!"
Bulldog tore his gaze away from the viewport to avoid being overwhelmed by the feeling of helplessness threatening to paralyze him. He swapped comm channels and walked back toward the navigation post. "Si, tell me you've got some good news. What's the status of that flush?"
"It's going, Captain. Somewhere between start and finish," Silence replied sarcastically.
Bulldog looked back and saw Dov in the gunnery station waving him over. He crossed the distance quickly. "Report."
"We've got guns coming back online!"
Bulldog fist-pumped in place. "Good," he said as he pointed at the Raider bearing down on them, barely being harassed by the lone Vanguard A-wing that had gone to harry its approach.
"Targeting system is gone thanks to those guys at Yavin," the Dov said sadly as he pointed out toward the Vanguard fighters tangling with the TIEs. "We're going to have to eyeball it."
"Do it," Bulldog nodded as he cycled his commlink again. "Turbolasers are back online! Hyperdrive's nearly ready!"
ISD Victorum Auxiliary Bridge
"How much longer?" Vanguard Leader replied to Bulldog, stress levels in her voice rising with the difficulty of their mission.
"How long, Si?" Bulldog asked, his own stress coming through in the tone of his question. "Give me some good news."
"Flush finished, and we're realigning the trans-something now."
"Transpacitor," the female voice of Silence's droid companion clarified.
While that internal exchange took place, Zippy gave up on his own counter-intrusion efforts. Every idea he could come up with to scramble the Imperial's equipment had not worked, and he'd nearly been reverse-hacked on two occasions that he barely halted in time. He'd locked down his port completely and returned his attention to the comwaves.
"Realigning the transpacitor now!" Bulldog echoed to Vanguard Leader.
"Speak basic," Vanguard Leader replied.
Zippy nodded approvingly at the terse and condescending tone of reprimand; the lax comms discipline had been irking him as well. Turning his mind back to his duties, Zippy began thinking about any other tasks he could do to make himself useful. Hellcat's shifting passcode scheme was still miraculously holding up, so they weren't in any danger of being blasted to bits from within just yet. Though, the Imperials outside of the ship were intent on doing just that apparently. A glimmer of an idea popped into his mind.
With precise purpose and laser focus, he sliced through the shield systems until he found the emergency lockout that had disabled them after the destruction of the first generator dome above Yavin. Many times, this occurred when one of the generators was destroyed to avoid all of the system power flooding into the second dome and causing it to melt down. He ensured that only half-normal power would be supplied to the system to ensure no overload would take place, and then disabled the lockout.
With defenses improved, he swapped over to the weapons systems and noted that the warhead launchers were offline due to the lack of the targeting system. It didn't mean they couldn't be manually aimed and fired, however...
Tapping a few more commands, he forced the topside missile launchers to shift their aim for the incoming Raider. While he couldn't get a precise targeting solution, he got as close as he thought, and smashed the fire control. Lances of flame burst out from the tubes as they launched their payloads as fast as they could cycle. The result was instant, as the Raider was peppered with missile impacts, opening up huge rifts in the hull as more missiles dug deeper into the superstructure until one touched off the reactor, making the entire ship go nova.
A cheer erupted from the team on the bridge over the commando comm channel. Apparently nobody had noticed their shields, but one of the Vanguard pilots did. "Victorum's shields are operational again!"
"Blast it!" Hellcat exclaimed.
"That guy figured out my scheme. Working on a different lockout script!"
"Can you hold it?" Zippy asked as he activated the deadman switch that Gerzem had rigged to blow the room. He gripped it tightly as he drew his BGL-77 and aimed it at the door, taking cover behind his console.
Hellcat didn't reply as his brow furrowed with sweat. He hunched over his console and rapidly punched in more lines of code.
"Come on in, little Impies," Gerzem mumbled from his own defensive position. "Papa Gerzem has a crinking surprise for you..."
ISD Victorum Middle Decks
"You sure this is the way?" The barrel of Guardian's rifle swept nervously along the side of the corridor, pointing at each adjoining entryway to the group's left in turn, waiting for something - anything - to leap out at the squad from the shadowed darkness that the originator of Imperial architecture seemed to love. Most of the darkened alcoves immediately dead-ended into a set of blast doors, but occasionally a hallway stretched away further into the destroyer.
"I'm not," muttered Gorlund, his gun mirroring Guardian's on the right side. "But he is, and I trust him." The SpecFor lieutenant nodded at the Rodian who was leading their little party, studying the datapad where he'd downloaded the ship layout. Guardian had learned that "Pick" had been shortened from "Lockpick," and the green-skinned alien served as one of the Kintan's experts at getting past closed doors.
Next to Pick lurched "Brute," a hulking leathery-faced Nikto who had slung a light repeating blaster that he kept pointed down the way the squad was moving. The extra firepower was nice, but Guardian kept worrying that Gorlund had attached too much to this sortie, and they'd have to scramble back towards the bridge to help the troopers they'd left with Bulldog.
Guardian risked a look over his shoulder at Riot. The Twi'lek was almost gliding down the corridor behind them, silently stalking in her drag position, rifle tucked into her shoulder and ready to snap up at the first sign of danger. As quiet as she was, she was still there, looking almost bored. Guardian shook his head and returned his focus to his assignment.
The team prowled down the hallway they were in, ignoring the echoing sirens from elsewhere in the destroyer, following Pick as he twisted and turned their alternate route towards the auxiliary bridge. Another turn into an alternate hallway, and they came to a sealed blast door.
"This is it," the Rodian wheeled, tucking his datapad away and moving to the door's controls. He laid his rifle beside him, then began rummaging through a pouch on his belt for his tools. Guardian shifted towards an alcove with another closed door on his left, while Brute and Gorlund drifted slightly to the right of the hall. Guardian turned towards Riot again, noting the Twi'lek woman's bored expression as she watched the corridor behind them.
He heard the blast door give and began to open, and the hair on the back of his neck immediately went sharp as he heard Pick exclaim "I didn't..."
Riot reacted first, rifle coming up and firing through the clearing blast door. Guardian got his head back around and pushed to his left, throwing his body into the alcove and some cover as the first two white-shelled stormtroopers on the other side of the blast door caught Riot's shots chest-high and staggered backwards and down. Return fire began from the Imperial side of the door, one blast catching the edge of the sliding metal before slapping into Pick's shoulder. The Rodian had been rolling to his left, and the blaster bolt spun him, his foot lashing out and kicking his rifle into the middle of the hallway.
Then the repeater opened up, matching Brute's Nikto battle cry as he and Gorlund went right. Guardian ducked away from the hallway as blaster fire splattered against the lip of the alcove. There was more yelling now, most from the far side of the open blast door. Cries of pain and anger and excitement and revenge. Over those, he heard the Rodian's pained wail. Guardian grit his teeth and risked a quick glimpse. Pick was slumped in the corner of the hallway, his upper body sheltered by the now-open blast door. Scarlet blaster beams flashed through the doorway each way, looking for soft targets on either side.
Somewhere behind him, Riot's rifle spat and another Imperial collapsed. Over to the right, Brute's repeater laid down a steady stream of energetic death. Gorlund was directing the fire and adding his own, then ducked away from the hallway where he and Brute had taken cover.
"Fall back, we'll find another way!"
The repeater shifted, and Gorlund ducked away and back towards Riot, slipping into the next alcove. The lieutenant set up, then covered as Brute copied his maneuver, harried by blaster fire.
"What about Pick?" Guardian called, adding a few shots of his own to the firefight.
"Leave him! Not the mission!" Gorland waved his arm again, getting ready to shift away again.
Guardian grit his teeth. "Not your mission," he growled, stepping up against the leading edge of his alcove, concealed from the Imperials. He reached into his satchel and removed a long cylinder, a device he was glad he packed as part of his usual kit. It had been a while, but like riding a speeder— with enough practice it had become second nature— his hands activated the grenade, and he counted the first three seconds of the timer before he stepped and tossed it towards the blast door opening.
It didn't land precisely where he'd wanted it to— he'd need to get some more practice— but in the confines of the destroyer hallway, it was close enough. Blue smoke began billowing from the grenade, spewing a thick glittering cloud that expanded to fill the corridor. The Imperial fire increased, but the beams that slid through the other side of the swirling mass looked thinner, more depleted, and their impact against his cover was less pronounced.
The dampener aerosol was working.
Guardian took a deep breath, then scrambled forward towards Pick. He slid to a stop next to the Rodian, thudding hard into the corner of the door's sleeve. "Pick, we need to go," he hissed to the stricken techie, sticking the business end of the stim he'd prepped into the Rodian's neck. "This'll help you feel better, but we need to move."
Pick's huge blue eyes lolled for a moment as the stim took effect, then he shifted to sit up straighter. Guardian grabbed his arm and yanked him to his feet, then threw the limb across his shoulders and began to help the Rodian stagger away, back towards the cover fire from their squad.
Guardian felt something hit him in the leg, his good leg, but it wasn't a blinding pain and he didn't stagger. The aerosol had saved him, but as he hauled Pick away he noticed he couldn't hear the canister dispensing, and the destroyer's filtration system was kicking on.
By the time they had reached the last cross-corridor they had come from, the blue cloud was gone. The blast door was rumbling shut, the Imperials on the other side having had enough with the unexpected meeting. Riot gave them a few parting shots for good measure.
Guardian braced Pick down against the wall, easing the wounded man's kit back far enough to see the damage the blaster shot had done.
"How bad?" grunted the Rodian.
"You'll need a bacta bath, and probably some therapy to get the shoulder strong again," Adam replied, easing a medical patch over the burnt flesh. "But it should heal. Unless there's something I don't know, probably a full recovery."
Pick caught his wrist. "Thank you," he whispered.
Guardian nodded. "You're welcome. But we need you on your feet— can you walk?"
Pick winced, then sighed as the painkillers from the patch seeped into his wound. "Yeah, help me up."
Guardian stood, and then Riot offered a hand and they both pulled the Rodian to his feet. Riot gave a nod and a flick of her lekku to Guardian as Gorlund stormed over. "What do you think you were doing?"
Pick shook his head, looking to Riot and then Guardian. "I was getting set..."
"Not you, Corporal," the Lieutenant hissed, pointing at Guardian. "You."
Guardian blinked. "...me? I was getting a wounded—"
"You were disobeying a direct order from the field commander of this operation," Gorlund continued. "Rank doesn't make any difference here, zoomer. This is a ground operation, and if I tell you to do something, you need to get it done. Do you understand?"
Guardian felt a new wave of adrenaline surge through him, and his biological eye narrowed. "Now wait just a minute, Lieutenant..."
"Na tooa," Riot barked, shouldering her rifle and stepping back to the opening of the corridor. The blast door was rumbling back open, metal grinding against metal.
"Later," hissed Gorlund, waving Brute around the hallway's opening to brace the repeater. Guardian noticed the officer followed the larger gunner, leaving him, the wounded Rodian, and Riot all on the same side of the corridor.
Guardian pressed his rifle into Pick's hands, then pulled his pistol and set up behind Riot. The Twi'lek grimaced, practiced eye searching through her scope for a target... and then she swore, again in Ryl, again a mutter.
Guardian watched the sniper's expression go from steady to confused. He swallowed, forcing down the bile rising in his throat, and tried to ask her in her native language. "Sa eitha?"
If she was surprised, she didn't show it. Her rifle began moving faster, looking more hurriedly for an Imperial to shoot, and then she stopped, blinked, and lowered her gun. " Juunga rill. Dargrenga hool."
Guardian's brow furrowed; it'd been more than a bit the last time he'd used the Twi'lek language regularly. He couldn't place the phrase... so he stepped around her, into the hallway, to see what she was seeing.
And saw Shadow, covered in blood and black, slipping a slugthrower back into its holster on his belt. Connall was looking down the hall with a grin. "Thanks for softening them up for me."
ISD Victorum Engineering Department
"We got two more Raiders incoming."
Silence sighed as the news came in. "It never ends, does it?"
"Let ‘em try!" crowed Jobber. "I'll take ‘em!"
Silence rolled her eyes. Jobber's one lucky victory in the fight had gone straight to his ego. "Do you even know what a Raider is?"
"They raid stuff. And they'll never get past me!"
"I think your database needs to be updated." Shaking her head, Silence finally found the diagnostic software for the system and told it to run. "Lead, I think we're close. I'm just now running a diagnostic on it to make sure everything's good."
"Copy that." Bulldog regurgitated the update to the broader channel. "Almost there. Running a diagnostic on the alluvial damper."
She slouched against the console, mentally and physically exhausted. The display was smeared with sticky blood, and her arm and uniform were positively gory. She was an A-wing pilot. Not a U-wing pilot. Not an engineering tech. Certainly not a commando. Why was she even here?
Behind her, true to their word, Jak and Bey stood vigil, their backs towards her as they scanned for threats. It had been quiet for a little while, and while still alert, they seemed more relaxed now. Jak's left hand reached out and rested itself on Bey's head. The Balosar shifted slightly closer to the towering man.
Silence hid a smile. If they were selling their relationship as purely platonic, she wasn't buying it. But she wasn't going to tell anyone. It did her heart good to see a spark of happiness, and after today's events, her heart needed all the help it could get.
The control panel beeped and glowed blue. Finally! "Lead, all diagnostics are clear. We're good to go."
ISD Victorum Bridge
"That's the news I wanted to hear!" Bulldog cheered in reply to Silence's report.
A commando in one of the pits nodded as he moved from console to console, doing the job of multiple Imperials by himself. He flipped a thumbs up without tearing his eyes away from the last screen. "Confirmed on my console, looks good."
"Powering up hyperdrive systems now, Vanguard," Bulldog shouted as he keyed the commands into his own console. The ship rocked under the combined assault of the Imperial carriers, TIE Bombers, and remaining Raider corvettes still on approach. Each hit made him wince as he focused on his task, though he was worried that something would get through their paltry defensive screen and vent the bridge. While he wanted nothing more than to leave, he had to be sure they were ready to go this time, initiating one last navigation diagnostic check.
"Shields are down, Cap!" Torch reported. "Wherever we're going, let's get the Sith out of here!" The ship rocked violently, jarring all of them to the side.
Another commando began laughing raucously.
"What's so funny, Toon?"
"They just vented the mess hall, where a lot of the Imperials were being held!"
The rest of the team cheered at that news, but Bulldog was focused on his last diagnostic test. As the simulation ran painfully slowly, he refused to tear his eyes away from the display. The percentage ticked up as the ship rocked violently again, and he tore his eyes away from the task to see a geyser of flame farther down the dorsal surface of the ship. His eyes widened, as realized he'd never been on an Imperial Star Destroyer while it was being destroyed, and often an eruption like that was the first in a series of death knells when he and the Buccaneers were assaulting one.
Toon saw the worry in his eyes and shook Bulldog's shoulder vigorously. "We're fine! Just surface damage!"
Blaster fire from the doorway startled him, drawing an involuntary glance in that direction. His hand fell toward his blaster as he tensed up in case he needed to blast any intruders that had taken out their guard.
The sniper at the door that was charged with keeping them safe waved without looking. "Just gave an Imp a new mouth like the Loot said," she replied laconically.
Bulldog looked back down at his screen and saw the task was giving off a full board of green status reports. "Yes! It works! We're ready to go!" Bulldog watched the Vanguard fighters all immediately break contact and race behind the ship, out of his sightline. "You have the new jump coordinates, Vanguard?"
"Affirmative. See you on the other side, Victorum."
ISD Victorum Auxiliary Bridge
The doorway juddered up about three inches before a string of curses from Hellcat covered his expeditious tapping. It lurched another inch up and then halted again. The ex-Rogue began roaring as he attempted to work his way around the Imperial slicer on the other side of the door to halt his intrusion, but it appeared to be a losing effort.
Zippy tightened his grip on both his blaster and the deadman switch, ensuring he didn't accidentally loosen it and prematurely blow them to smithereens. He eyed the slowly growing gap between the deck and the bottom of the door, and saw the booted feet just outside. He took one last look at the sensor picture, and what he saw made his jaw drop. 3 Imperial Star Destroyers, 6 more Carriers, and 2 more Raiders just appeared in the system and were rapidly approaching. They were dead in the water if they didn't leave soon.
Gerzem roared and slid across the deck on his shoulder, his fin-like folds on the side of his face scraping along the pristine surface of the auxiliary bridge. As he came to a stop, he unleashed a hail of blaster bolts into the gap, causing a cacophony of curses from the Imperials as they had their feet and ankles blasted apart. As the bodies fell away, more appeared and made themselves targets.
The door rose another 6 inches, and Gerzem again sent another hail of blaster bolts at the shins he saw, garnering more angry curses as those hit fell to the side and those unharmed took cover. Return fire came through the crack, but the angle was still high enough that they fell short of the commando's position. "That the best you can do?!" he laughed haughtily.
In response, a hand appeared near the edge of the doorway. Zippy didn't quite see what it was holding, but Gerzem had.
"Grenade!" the commando shouted, scurrying on all fours until he managed to lay on top of the explosive the Imperials had rolled into the auxiliary bridge. Seconds later, a muted explosion filled the room, launching what wasn't immediately immolated of the Kalleran's corpse all the way into the ceiling in a rocket of red, pulpy mist.
The door opened even more, and Imperials bent over and looked inside. They were met with accurate fire from Zippy's blaster pistol and Hellcat's repeater. Trooper bodies were pitched back into their brethren with new smoking holes in their chests and faces. However, the withering fire had the desired effect. No new foes appeared in the gap.
After a moment of shuffling outside the doorway, a voice called into them. "Surrender and maybe we'll let you live, Rebel Scum!"
"Counter offer, you surrender and I promise to kill you slowly and for my enjoyment!" Zippy shouted back, enjoying the grim banter.
The response drew a chuckle as the door slid upward another few inches. The Imperial spokesman broke the silence again. "Come on now, Rebels. We caught and killed that short brown friend of yours, but he didn't speak anything close to basic. There can't be more than four of you left in there by my guess. What's to stop us from just flooding in?"
"The ten blasters we've got trained on that gap!" Hellcat responded before Zippy could say anything wittier, though the confirmation of Gambana's demise was saddening.
"That new voice confirms there's only two of you."
Hellcat cleared his throat quietly and tried to modify his voice a few octaves deeper in pitch. "Crawl through that gap and find out."
"Yep, two of you," the Imperial replied drolly. "Ok, we're coming in."
"Please do, this entire room is rigged to blow," Zippy loudly retorted, readying his blaster and preparing to release the deadman switch once Imperial bodies began flooding into the room.
This news brought a pause to the commotion outside in the corridor. After a few muted conversations, apparently a consensus was reached. "We think you're lying. That room is as important to your operation as the main bridge."
"Come die then, the more the merrier!" Zippy yelled. His last ditch deterrent wasn't going to stop them from rushing the room, and he and Hellcat would surely perish the moment they did and he let go of the deadman device.
"Yep, we've decided. Last chance to surrender peacefully, Rebels."
Zippy and Hellcat looked at each other, and both set their jaws at the same time and returned their gaze to the gap at the door. The silence was palpable as the two remaining New Republic personnel holding their position prepared to take as many of the Imperials with them as they could manage before being overwhelmed.
The squeak of a booted foot on the deck signified the beginning of the end, but before any bodies could attempt to force their way through the gap the loud report of blasterfire from further down the hallway erupted. Shouts of surprise from the Imperials punctuated their own return fire, but the entire event was over almost as suddenly as it had started.
An Imperial thudded into view, and both Hellcat and Zippy unloaded on the man the moment he appeared. Their combined fire set the man's uniform alight. After a moment, no other Imperials appeared in the gap.
"Phwoar!" Zippy cursed as his heart seized. He had almost dropped the remote detonator due to the shock of the Imperial's sudden appearance, but he quickly recovered his senses and gripped it tighter than ever.
A familiar voice broke the silence. "Clear outside!"
"Report your status!"
"We're clear!" Zippy replied, joy buoying his voice to the point of cracking with happiness.
"It's now or never!" One of the Vanguard pilots shouted over the general frequency.
Shadow poked his head through the gap in the door, with Guardian and another commando he wasn't familiar with in tow. "Looks like you guys had a helluva fight."
"And you finished it," Zippy countered. He quickly holstered his blaster and turned off the deadman switch he'd been clutching with white knuckles. His hands only shook once despite the adrenaline quickly draining from his system.
Before anybody could say anything else, they felt the deck lurch beneath their feet as the ship jumped to hyperspace.
ISD Victorum Bridge
Bulldog spent the trip through hyperspace in a state of constant anxiety. He doubled the door guard to ensure that none of the remaining Imperial forces sure to be lurking in the bowels of the ship would be able to ruin their plans. He'd ordered the rest of the teams to similarly hunker down and prepare for any sort of last-ditch sabotage attempt.
Thankfully, no hostile contacts were reported, and each team checked in at the regularly scheduled times to avoid any confusion or cause to send out a patrol of their own to weaken the defenses of their vital hardpoints.
A chime sounded from the navigation station, pulling him out of his anxious fugue state and back to reality. He took a moment to read the screen, and then breathed a sigh or relief. "We're getting wherever we're going in thirty seconds," he said aloud to his team. Before waiting for their cheer to die down, he keyed on the comm and relayed the same information, hearing similar cheers in response.
Bulldog stepped away from the console and walked down the main walkway of the bridge until he was at the very front. He wanted to selfishly be the first person to see their top secret destination. He wanted to know what was so worth him and his friends and all of the commandos chosen for this mission, for what they had risked their lives to accomplish.
Hyperspace gave way to starlines, and then everything looked normal again, except instead of open space or a planet, he was flying toward an asteroid field. The massive one in the center seemed to be hollowed out in places with bits of girder and other industrial tools littered about. Habitation domes were sprinkled in here and there, likely to house the base staff. There were landing pads of some sort that looked to be large enough to handle a Corellian Corvette or something of similar size.
"Woah, there's got to be like four Star Destroyers here," the Torch commented from nearby, having abandoned his weapons console.
"Look over there," Dov said as he pointed in another direction. "They're breaking these apart!"
"Seems like a waste," Bulldog scoffed. "Why not just fix 'em up and use them against the Imperials?"
"You're guess is as good as mine."
Tinny voices caught Bulldog's attention, and he realized he was still tied into the Vanguard Squadron comms. He brought his commlink up to his ear to hear better.
"That's why we've been gathering Imperial ships. To build this."
"Build what?" Bulldog asked aloud, not seeing anything special from his vantage point as the ship slowly drifted off to the side of the installation.
A strong female voice he couldn't quite place chimed in next. "We call it the Starhawk. And it's going to help us end this war."
"General Syndulla," Vanguard leader replied with clear deference.
"Hera Syndulla is here?" Toon replied excitedly.
"Who is that?"
The Duros snorted as he looked back toward one of his comrades. "Hey Torch, get a load of this guy. He doesn't know General Syndulla!"
"Hello, Vanguard. Welcome to the Nadiri Dockyards," Syndulla continued. "I'd give you the tour, but the Empire knows we're up to something now. They'll be looking for us... Which means we have work to do."
Bulldog waited to be sure he wouldn't be interrupting anything important from the General. When it seemed like nobody else was going to talk, he keyed his comm on. "Uh, so... how do we get back home from here?" he asked nervously.
"Who is speaking?" Syndulla questioned.
"The guys that did all the work to get you this ship, General."
"All the work?" Vanguard leader asked wryly.
General Syndulla laughed heartily. "Not lacking confidence, are you...?"
"Captain Clark of Renegade Wing, Ma'am," Bulldog replied, finally relaxed now that they were relatively safe. "And no, you won't find a lack of confidence here. We're the best unit in the New Republic."
Hera laughed again, filling him with a warm feeling of pride. "Well now, I think Vanguard or Alphabet might have something to say about that, Captain. In any event, you will hold position until security teams arrive and take over security of the ship, and grab any remaining prisoners still onboard. Then you can shuttle over to the Starhawk for refueling and repairs while you all catch some well-deserved rack time."
Cheers erupted from the bridge team around him, as well as the other teams via comm. He waved the team to quiet down so he could respond. After the joyous uproar died down sufficiently, he replied. "Starhawk? What is that?"
"Look out your starboard viewport, Captain, and take a look at the next evolution in New Republic naval might."
Bulldog looked where Syndulla had indicated, and his jaw dropped. The sheer size of the thing, still partially obscured by the girders and other parts of the asteroid base completely awed him. Hangar bays that looked like they could fit multiple CR90 Corvettes comfortably lined the decks of the vertical portion of the massive battleship.
One of the commandos whistled in appreciation, quickly followed by awestruck curses from the others.
"I hope there's something stiff to drink onboard, General."