Escape and Evasion: Part 2
Lieutenant Hurst and the rest of his squad were still making their way back to base when the sound of a muffled explosion was heard in the distance. He and the rest of the squad came to a stop and turned towards the direction the sound had come from. Slowly, black smoke started to creep upwards into the sky, the top of the plume being taken westwards by the light breeze. Hurst activated his suits comm unit. "Control, this is HT747, come in."
"Go ahead HT747."
"Control, there's just been an explosion from the direction and possibly the area that you gave me for the downed Rebel ship. Requesting a flyover from one of our airborne units." Hurst was still looking at the climbing black smoke which seemed to have gotten slightly thicker.
"That's a negative HT747, all available air assets needed to defend the garrison," came the curt reply.
Hurst could feel his cheeks flush red with anger. "Control, four of my troopers are out there investigating that area because you told them to, now get one of our TIE's to overfly the position and report to me what they see! Is that understood?"
"Wait one, HT747," was all that the operator answered with. After a minute, the man came back on the comms. "SK-4 will overfly the area and report their sightings to you directly, HT747. Control out."
The link with the garrison was terminated. It was replaced with a link to the approaching TIE/sk 4. Hurst spoke first. "This is HT747 to SK-4, how copy?"
"Reading you loud and clear HT747. I'll be over the area shortly and let you know what I see."
The sound of an approaching TIE filled the air as it flew towards the area where the smoke was coming from, Hurst watched as the Striker rose up higher and started an orbit around the area where the smoke was rising.
"HT747, this is SK-4. Looks like the remains of a ship burning. I think I can make out two bodies nearby as well—no movement at all."
"Copy SK-4, thanks for the flyover." Hurst switched back to the main frequency. "Control, this is HT747. Requesting a troop transporter along with MTV-7's and AT-ST's to my location at the double."
There was a brief pause before the reply came. "Lieutenant Hurst, this is Lieutenant Stec in Control. We can give you two MTV-7's and one AT-ST along with the troop transporter. The garrison has been hit and additional personnel are needed here. Units will be with you as soon as possible. Control out."
Hurst turned to speak to his squad. "It looks like we've possibly got dead and wounded at the Rebel crash site. We've got a troop transporter coming to our location along with two MTV-7's and an AT-ST for support and back up. When we get to the site, I want a clean deployment from the transporter and be ready for anything."
The shoretroopers all responded in unison with an enthusiastic "Yes sir."
Krayt pulled back on the hyperspace lever with a sigh as his X-wing slipped back into normal space, ahead was the Vigilant. He activated the fighter's comm unit. "This is Spectre Lead. I need all available Spectre pilots to scramble, and I need a SAR bird and a hot rearm and refuel for my fighter. We have two pilots down on Torrad." Without waiting for a reply, Krayt started the landing cycle for the X-wing and steered the fighter towards the Vigilant's main hangar.
Through his canopy, Krayt could see ground crew getting ready to refuel his X-wing. The alert klaxon had sounded, followed by an announcement ordering all Spectre pilots to their ships. More deck crew started making fighters ready for launch; power cables were unclipped, and fuel hoses were disconnected from the waiting X-wings. He watched as pilots from Spectre Squadron entered the hangar via the turbo lifts and started sprinting towards their fighters, and then settled into an anxious holding pattern as his ship touched down and the ground crew got to work.
Several minutes later, Krayt's X-wing was refuelled and rearmed and all available Spectre pilots were in their fighters. The SAR U-wing, Mercy One, was also powered up and ready to go. "Listen up, we've got two pilots down on Torrad, with a good chance that both of them are still alive and currently not in the hands of the Empire. Our mission is simple: provide cover for the SAR bird while it lands and picks up our pilots to bring them home. The enemy's air cover has already been reduced but not destroyed, and the same goes for the bases defences. We've already lost two ships, so let's not add anymore to the list. Questions?"
There were none.
"Form up on me as we leave the Vigilant. Once we're clear I'll send you the coordinates for Torrad. Let's go get our people." Krayt powered up his X-wing on the repulsors and pivoted the nose of the fighter so that it was aimed towards the hangar's exit. Once lined up, he pushed the throttle forward and raised the landing gear as the X-wing sped through the magcon field.
Once all ships were clear and formed up, Krayt sent the coordinates to the others. He got acknowledgements from everyone. "Let's do this." He pushed the lever forward, and his X-wing jumped to lightspeed. The other X-wings and U-wing did the same.
Lieutenant Hurst heard the two MTV-7s over-revving as they fought to keep up with the repulsor-sled trooper transport over the uneven terrain. The three vehicles were lined up abreast, hurtling toward the crash site and his possibly wounded troopers. He could also just about hear the clomping of the AT-ST managing to keep up with them at the rear.
The driver broke into Hurst's thoughts when his voice came over the squad frequency. "Lieutenant, we're approaching the crash site."
"Copy that," Hurst replied, and then tongued over to his squad frequency. "Standby to disembark. Make sure you cover your quadrants."
The pitch of the engine changed as the transporter slowed and then came to a stop, and the doors on both sides opened instantly. The Shoretroopers sprinted away from the vehicle, some taking a kneeling position, others going prone. The two MTV-7s had taken up two flanking positions that gave them good overlapping fields of fire if needed. The AT-ST had come to a stop at the rear of the group, a gunner was half out of the top hatch, scanning the area, his finger on the trigger of the mounted repeater rifle.
Lieutenant Hurst stood up from his kneeling position. "You two, come with me, the rest of you keep us covered and be ready." Covered by the two Shoretroopers following him, he walked towards the smoking wreck that had once been an enemy fighter. Ahead he could see the remains of two, maybe three bodies. As he got closer he was left in no doubt that the remains were that of his people, as the distinctive armour that Shoretroopers wore was now readily apparent.
Hurst activated his comms. "Sergeant Lexon, report." There was no answer. He felt a growing sense of anger building up within him. He had lost troopers before in combat; this however felt different. Hurst spoke to the rest of his unit. "Spread out and search the area. One of our people might have been injured in the blast and could have wandered off wounded and confused." The troopers got to work immediately, splitting up into small groups. Hurst directed the two troopers with him to return to the troop transporter and get the fire suppressant equipment and extinguish the burning remains of the Rebel A-wing.
It was several minutes later until the fire was being brought under control. A group of Shoretroopers discovered a set of tracks heading away from the crash site, every now and then some blood could be seen on the ground. "Sir, this is HT2956. We've located a set of footprints leading away from the crash site—looks like one of them is injured as we've also got a blood trail."
"Copy HT2956, I'll be at your location shortly," Lieutenant Stec's strained voice replied.
Lieutenant Hurst made his way over to the smouldering remains of the enemy starfighter. The remains of a body could now be seen in the cockpit. He studied the body for a moment before taking a step back. "Control? This is HT747. I can confirm that all four of my troopers are KIA. The Rebel pilot is still alive and is being helped by at least one other person."
Lieutenant Stec replied. "HT747, this is Control. We have received further information that another enemy fighter was also shot down. It is possible that the pilot from that ship is helping the Rebel your squad was initially sent after."
Hurst had to clamp down on the anger he felt inside him before he spoke. "Control, why am I only hearing about this now? This information would have probably saved the lives of my people!"
Lieutenant Stec let out a sigh before he replied. "As I said earlier, Lieutenant, the base has been hit and things are pretty chaotic here. As we gain information, we're passing it on to assets in the field."
"Copy that, Control. In light of the new information, I am strongly suggesting that a TIE Fighter be assigned to me to assist in the tracking and capturing of the Rebel pilots." Hurst managed to maintain his composure as he spoke, just barely.
"Confirmed HT747. Two fighters will be assigned to your group to help you capture the enemy pilots and to provide your group with CAP. Control out."
The noise of two TIE Fighters could be heard off in the distance. The sound was faint, but seemed to be getting slightly louder. Gremlin looked back in the direction of Rogue's crash site. "I can't see any smoke anymore."
"There's a good chance they know that we're still alive and those TIE's are now looking for us. They'll start a standard search pattern as soon as they reach the crash site—work their way out from there trying to locate us," Rogue said as they still headed in the general direction of Gremlin's X-wing. The pain was getting worse. Whatever damage had happened to him was bad and needed treatment sooner rather than later. As if to emphasise the point, he started coughing; the pain crawled over his chest, leaving him short of breath and spots swimming in front of his eyes. With the last cough, a large phlegm of blood came up. He spat it out and wiped away the blood around his lips, leaving a thin red smear on the left side of his mouth.
"How bad is it?" Gremlin asked, the expression a mixture of worry and concern.
"It's not good, that's for sure," Rogue replied dryly. "Listen, have you had Leo transmit the distress beacon and our location?"
"No, I was worried that it might be detected by the Imperials if I did it too soon."
"I think that's a risk we're going to have to take. They're already looking for us now anyway."
Gremlin pulled out her comlink. "Leo?" A few moments later there was a reply in the form of a few whistles and beeps. "I need you to activate the distress beacon with your location." There were a few more beeps and whistles. "Rogue and I are on our way to you now, just hang in there and hopefully you'll have the ship ready to go by the time we get there." There was a more mournful whistle this time. "Just do your best Leo—we'll be there as soon as we can." Gremlin closed down the comlink before pocketing the device.
"Sounds like your X-wing is fragged," Rogue said as he looked up at the two TIE Fighters carrying out their search trying to find Gremlin and him. "We've just got to hope our people are quicker than the Imperials. How much further?"
"Probably just over a klick," Gremlin replied.
"I think I've got that left in me. Let's push on then." Rogue suppressed the pain that shot through his body as the pair of pilots started walking again, their pace a little quicker now that they knew TIEs were in on their pursuit.
"Sir, I'd say that one of the escaped Rebel pilots is wounded. Looking at the tracks, I can see that they're both walking. If both were in good health and shape the distance between each footstep would be greater. By my estimation, I'd say they have no more than thirty to forty minutes advantage over us." The shoretrooper stood up and unslung his E-22 blaster rifle after giving his report.
"Good work Corporal," Lieutenant Hurst replied. "Brief the two MTV-7 pilots and get them heading out in that direction, and then get the rest of the unit back onboard the transporter."
Lieutenant Hurst contacted the two patrolling TIE Fighters. "SK-3 and 4, we have new search coordinates for you to scan, we will be focussing our search along these parameters and need you to provide aerial cover and support. How copy?"
"This is SK-3, reading you loud and clear. Confirming new search coordinates and altering course now. Will contact you if we see anything. SK-3 out."
Lieutenant Hurst was the last to board the troop transporter. No sooner was he aboard, the vehicle moved off. The AT-ST powered up and started following the transporter; the gunner in the top turret held on to the repeater rifle to steady themselves as the AT-ST surged forward. Up ahead, the two MTV-7's sped off ahead of the transporter, and the AT-ST followed the route given to them by the Corporal.
Gremlin watched as the two Imperial fighters changed direction and headed away from the area they had taken shelter. "That was too close."
"They'll probably overfly us on their next circuit and direct the Imperials to position, if they don't vape us outright that is," Rogue replied grimly as he watched the two enemy fighters temporarily disappear from sight. The howling of their engines faded slightly, but not enough for comfort.
Gremlin pointed towards an area ahead of them. "My X-wing is just over there. I guess that's as good a place as any to make a stand."
"Sounds like a plan to me. Besides, I don't think I could go much further anyway." Rogue started moving off in the direction Gremlin had pointed. He looked over his shoulder as Gremlin caught up to him and started walking besides him once more. He reached into the right pocket of his flight suit and pulled out the thermal detonator he had taken from the Shoretrooper, passing it to Gremlin. "I can't throw for spit at the moment so it makes sense for you to have it."
Gremlin took the thermal detonator and stuffed it in one of her pockets. "Thanks. A few more minutes and we should be there."
About ten minutes later, they arrived in the clearing where Gremlin had managed to set her X-wing down. In the distance, Leo could be heard whistling excitedly upon seeing Gremlin and Rogue approaching.
Rogue pointed to a rocky outcrop not too far away from the nose of the X-wing that had dug itself into the ground. "We'll make our stand there. It should give us some cover when the shooting starts. Get Leo out of the droid slot and grab any gear you don't want left behind—and the med kit from your fighter. I'm going to rest up and get comfy."
Gremlin jogged over to her ship, doing a quick mental inventory of any items she may want to recover from her downed ship as she approached. "Time to abandon ship Leo. Get out and head over to where Rogue is and take cover."
Leo beeped and whistled, clearly nonplussed with the only method available for the droid to extricate itself from the grounded ship without ground crew and a crane.
Gremlin shrugged sympathetically. "I know, but there's no other way and I can't get you out of there myself." She took shelter underneath the fuselage of her X-wing and covered her ears in anticipation.
A mechanical clunk echoed throughout the area, followed by the brief roar of a rocket firing, and the screaming droid found itself rushing toward the ground due to the ejection sequence it had triggered. The crunching of branches and bushes sounded the end of the harrowing ejection for the droid. Leo let out another seemingly expletive-laden burst of binary once the crunching had ceased.
Gremlin opened up the cargo hatch of the X-wing and grabbed the gear she had stored in there earlier along with the medkit. After dogging the hatch once more, she moved quickly to help Leo right himself in the bushes he'd landed in. Once the astromech was upright, she jogged and Leo rolled over to where Rogue had taken cover.
Gremlin passed the medkit to Rogue who opened it up and rummaged through it until he found what he was looking for: a cylindrical tube which he jammed into his left side. There was a slight hissing sound as the contents of the tube were injected into Rogue's body. A few seconds later he hissed, and then it trailed off into a slightly less-pained sigh. "Damn that's better. I should be able to function now for a while longer." Rogue tossed the empty tube aside and leaned the E-22 heavy blaster rifle against the rock he was leaning against.
Gremlin unslung the bandoleer of spare power clips and placed it on the ground next to her along with the thermal detonator Rogue had given her. "I guess all we can do is get comfy and wait."
Rogue didn't answer. He tilted his head slightly to the left and closed his eyes for a few seconds. He opened them once again and looked over at Gremlin. "TIE's are coming back. They'll definitely see your X-Wing when they fly over this time."
Gremlin looked at her fighter. "They're going to scragg it aren't they?"
"I would," Rogue replied flatly.
The pilot whose designation was SK-4 saw something that stood out against the landscape as they flew their search pattern. He used his tongue to activate his comms. "I've got something on our current vector—looks like a fighter, X-wing class."
The other Imperial pilot scanned ahead, until he was drawn to the distinctive silhouette of the X-wing. "Confirmed, I have your target. You're cleared to engage enemy fighter. SK-3 to HT747, we have located an enemy fighter on the ground and are attacking now."
Lieutenant Hurst's voice replied, having been listening in on the report. "Copy SK-3, send exact coordinates and let me know if you spot any movement in the area of the enemy ship."
The howling of one of the approaching TIE's changed as it pitched its nose down and towards Gremlins X-wing. Seconds later, the distinct sound of TIE weapons split the air. The first two shots landed just short of the X-wing. The next few shots found their target and burned through the fighter's armour and drilled deep into the ship. One of the green laser bolts made contact with a proton torpedo and the resulting explosion consumed the X-wing and the foliage in the immediate area.
Gremlin and Rogue felt the blast wave just before the sound of the exploding fighter reached them. "Kriff!" Gremlin swore.
Rogue shouted out to Gremlin to be heard above the cacophony of tumbling branches. "Stay still, they'll be looking for any movement!"
Gremlin watched as the two TIE's began a lazy turn around the immediate area of the destroyed X-wing. Smoke began rising up into the sky as the remains of the fighter burned fiercely on the ground.
"SK-3 to HT747. No movement in the immediate area—we will continue a search pattern from this area."
"Copy SK-3, let me know if you see anything." Lieutenant Hurst contacted the two Stormtroopers driving the MTV-7's to head directly to the sight of the destroyed enemy fighter and report back as soon as they arrived. He then ordered the driver of the troop transporter to increase speed and get to the same location. The transporter started pulling ahead of the AT-ST.
The two MTV-7's slowed their approach as they headed towards the burning X-wing. Gremlin had moved next to Rogue and was prone on the dirt. She was tracking the lead vehicle using the sight on her E-22 heavy blaster rifle, the cross hairs just slightly ahead of the Imperial operating the vehicle. "Got the lead vehicle in sight," she murmured.
Rogue was using one of the rocks to rest his E-22 on and was managing to track the second vehicle. Keeping his sights on the second MTV-7. "Ready?"
Gremlin took in a breath and slowly let it out before replying. "Ready."
Rogue let his right index finger move from the trigger guard onto the trigger itself. "Send it."
Gremlin squeezed the trigger, and a red energy bolt sped towards the Stormtrooper driving the lead MTV-7. The bolt hit the Imperial in the right mid section. The force of the impact knocked the Stormtrooper from the vehicle and sent them crashing to the ground, a smouldering black impact mark visible on his white armour. The MTV-7 no longer had anyone at the controls and came to stop several feet from its dead driver.
Rogue's shot hit the second MTV-7's armour just below the Imperial's mid section. The driver of the vehicle was already reacting; turning towards the direction the fire had come, increasing speed and green laser bolts from the single weapon spewing forth. Rogue shifted his aim and sent out several shots towards the approaching enemy.
Gremlin had already shifted her aim on to the second vehicle and was also shooting at it. The first few bolts hit the front of the MTV-7, sending a shower of sparks flying or energy bolts ricocheting away. It also caused the Imperial to swerve, meaning the incoming fire directed at Gremlin and Rogue went away from them. Two laser bolts hit the Stormtrooper, one in the chest the other in the throat, killing the Imperial instantly. The Stormtrooper's hand remained on the control that operated the vehicle, sending the vehicle careening into a tree. The Imperial slumped forward due to the collision, and his hand fell from the control.
"The rest won't be far behind these two," Rogue said.
Gremlin pushed herself up and moved back to the cover of the rocks where she had been earlier. "How many do you think?"
"More than we can handle." Rogue looked at Gremlin. "I can buy you time—you can run. I'll take as many of them with me as I can."
"Not an option," Gremlin immediately replied.
"Gremlin, I'm not going to make it. My internal injuries are bad—really bad. No point in us both getting killed. This way you have a chance. A small one, but still a chance." Rogue took in a breath before coughing again, once more splattering some blood on the rocks he was resting on.
Gremlin looked at Rogue, seeing the blood flecking his lips. "I guess you're hearing is messed up from the crash. We're sticking together and seeing this thing through, no matter what. Clear?" She forced as much determination into her words as she could manage despite understanding that Rogue was probably right.
Rogue wiped his mouth with his sleeve. "Whatever, you're the grownup here so you get to make the final call. Just make sure you put it in your report when you write this up."
Gremlin smiled. "That's what junior officers are for."
"Well I'm definitely not coming out of this alive then if that's all I've got to look forward to," Rogue joked dryly.
Lieutenant Hurst spoke directly to his troops. "We've just lost contact with the two outriders. There's a good chance they've been wounded or killed by the Rebels. This will be a hot deployment—expect enemy contact as soon as we leave the vehicle.".
The Shoretroopers answered as one. "Sir, yes sir!"
The noise of the troop transporter's engine changed pitch as the driver started to slow down. The gunner in the seat next to the driver was using her controls to scan the area with the turreted blaster cannons on top of the vehicle. She shouted back into the troop compartment. "No hostiles spotted! Stand by to deploy!"
The vehicle came to a stop and the doors opened on either side of the vehicle. Lieutenant Hurst sprinted out of the right side of the vehicle followed by other Shoretroopers. On the left side of the vehicle a similar scene was being repeated. After sprinting for five seconds, Lieutenant Hurst dived to the ground and brought his rifle up and scanned ahead of him. Around him other Shoretroopers were doing the same. From his position, he could see the remains of the still fiercely burning X-wing. To the left of the enemy fighter was one of the MTV-7's, undamaged and not moving, the body of its pilot lay on the ground about twenty feet away. "Anything on your side HT2956?"
Lieutenant Hurst had a slight dilemma. Did he stay in position and wait for the AT-ST to catch up and advance ahead to see if the Rebels were waiting to ambush him and his troops? On the one hand, if the Rebels had already moved out then they would have a higher chance of evading capture and possibly finding a rescue. On the other hand, ordering his troopers to advance in order to capture the Rebels might be ordering them to walk right into a carefully laid trap.
There was only one correct answer, and it was the only answer he would be able to defend to his superiors. "All units, advance. Proceed with caution."
Gremlin watched as the Shoretroopers started to rise up from the ground and started moving out, their E-22's aimed forward and sweeping the area as they advanced. She looked over to Rogue; he had told her to move further away from him as having both of them so close together made them easier targets. He was aiming through the scope of his E-22, but was so deathly still that a trill of worry flashed through her mind. He had told her to wait for him to open fire first before she let loose with her own E-22, but if he had finally succumbed to his injuries, their agreed-upon signal would never come.
Shaking the grim thought from her mind, Gremlin focused her sights on one of the Shoretroopers and tried to steady her breathing. She picked out a bush in the distance and mentally told herself if her wingman didn't open up by then that she would assume the worst and start the party herself.
Sparing one more worried glance to her friend, she saw the slightest of movements as his body shivered and his teeth gnashed. Relief flooded through her body, but it was short lived as she noticed his breathing stop, indicating a shot was coming soon. She quickly looked back through her scope and sighted in her target.
Rogue's first shot hit the Shoretrooper centre mass, lifting the Imperial off his feet slightly and knocking him backwards before he came crashing down to the ground.
Gremlin pressed the trigger and her rifle spat forth a red laser bolt that hit the trooper she had targeted in the faceplate, killing the Shoretrooper. Before the body of the Imperial had even hit the ground she was switching to another target and firing as her crosshairs landed on another Shoretrooper. Her follow-up shot slammed into the trooper's left hip, sending them spinning before they dropped to the ground and started screaming.
Return fire from the other Shoretroopers near Hurst started heading out in the direction they were facing. Several dropped down to the ground, others dropped down onto their knees in a firing position. "HT2956, report!" Lieutenant Hurst shouted. "HT2956, answer me."
"He's dead sir!" The reply came from one of the Shoretroopers. "He was just—"
The abrupt loss of transmission told Hurst that another of his people had just been killed or wounded. He opened up the comms to the transporter, "Locate where the enemy fire is coming from and lay down suppressing fire."
"Copy that." The gunner used her console to scan the area again, looking for any weapons fire coming in their direction. She saw a laser bolt head towards a group of Shoretroopers but not the exact origin, so using her best guess she started firing in the general direction she believed the enemy to be. The troop transporter vibrated as the twin cannons fired several bursts.
Gremlin shrank back as the laser bolts from the troop transporter impacted near the rocky outcrop she was sheltering behind, chunks of superheated stone flew up into the air in every direction. Although it was close, the weapons fire was not being aimed directly at her position. She was about to fire at another Shoretrooper when she noticed three Shoretroopers close together. She placed the E-22 on the ground and picked up the thermal detonator that Rogue had given her. She hurriedly armed it and then hurled the explosive with all her strength.
The thermal detonator landed just in front of the lead trooper before it detonated. The explosion blew apart the lower body of the Shoretrooper, and the blast wave ruptured all major organs in the man's torso. The other two troopers were hit more with the blastwave than any of the explosion itself, however both were effectively taken out of the fight; one with severe injuries while the other was concussed.
The gunner of the troop transporter must have seen where Gremlin threw the thermal detonator from as the incoming fire shifted and started impacting really close to her position. She grabbed the bandoleer with the spare energy clips for the E-22 and started to crawl away from her original firing position to another area she had chosen. Several Shoretroopers also directed their fire towards the area the troop transporter was targeting, bathing the entire area in deadly energy.
Rogue was too busy taking cover himself as incoming weapons fire from the Shoretroopers impacted near him. Setting his rifle steady on one of the rocks as he moved back into position, he squeezed the trigger on his E-22 and kept it pressed down, sending a steady stream of blaster fire towards the Imperials.
One of the bolts hit a Shoretrooper in their right thigh, causing the trooper to let out an agonising scream and start rolling around on the ground as they clutched the wound. They were dragged to cover by two comrades. The gunner on board the troop transporter noticed the new enemy weapons fire heading towards friendly units and adjusted her fire to the area.
Rogue hunkered down to avoid the return fire, wincing as the heat from a near miss singed his hand.
Gremlin used the opportunity created by Rogue drawing fire to get herself set up and start shooting at the Imperials again. Her first shot slammed into the shoulder pauldron of her target, spinning the trooper to the ground. She sighted in another target, but the crashing of trees drew her attention elsewhere.
It was at this moment the AT-ST arrived on scene. The gunner in the turret directed the pilot to fire at the same area the troop transporter was while he started firing at Gremlin's location with his turret.
A blaster bolt hit the rock Gremlin was using as cover as she fired at a Shoretrooper. A fragment of superheated stone slammed into Gremlin's left cheek, piercing her skin and sticking fast. For a second the wound only stung until the heat from the fragment of rock started to burn. She reached up with her left hand and pulled the fragment out and chucked it away, giving her fingers a slight shake because of the heat. The burning sensation was soon replaced by pain once more, and also a wetness as blood started to flow freely from the wound.
She slapped her hand to the wound and let out a sharp curse.
Rogue painfully crawled away from his firing position as the surrounding area was taking heavy combined fire from the troop transporter and the AT-ST. The rock that he had been using for cover was slowly being blasted to pieces, and then a large explosion from a concussion grenade launched from the two-legged vehicle obliterated it completely.
Rogue was showered with stinging debris of the sharp and hot variety as he did his best to cover his head with his arms. After the air cleared and the sound of falling rocks subsided, he dragged himself as far as he could before the pain became unbearable. He rolled on his back and let out a long and painful breath, but he managed to compartmentalise the pain once more and reached for his weapon to find it was no longer there.
He looked around frantically and realised that he had left the E-22 on the ground when he had to move, and now the small fragments he could see were shattered and useless. Rogue drew his DL-44 heavy blaster from his holster on his left side, wincing as he hit his broken left arm. He felt the familiar weight of the gun in his hand—it brought with it a sense of reassurance and familiarity. Sitting up as quickly as he could, he quickly fired off a quick volley of shots. Most missed by a wide margin due to the hefty recoil, but one hit a Shoretrooper in the mid section causing the Imperial to double over and fall to the ground.
Gremlin ejected out the spent power cartridge and slid in a fresh one from the bandoleer. The gunner in the hatch of the AT-ST stopped firing to see if he had neutralised the target. She didn't waste the opportunity. In one fluid motion, she had pivoted and aimed at the gunner. In less than a second two shots had been fired. Both hit.
The first bolt hit the Imperial on his left bicep, and the second one right in the centre of his face. The energy bolt only stopped when it impacted his helmet through the back of his head. His body slid back down into the cockpit of the AT-ST.
Gremlin took cover as more fire came towards her position once more. Her eyes widened as she heard the AT-ST's head pivoting to track her position.
Rogue heard the troop transporters engines kick in. Stealing a quick glance, he saw that the vehicle was moving steadily forward with the Shoretroopers filing in behind it and using it as cover from his and Gremlin's blasts. "Kriff," he swore. He fired off several shots towards the transporter—all hit and bounced off, leaving scorch marks on the thick armour.
He saw Gremlin firing at the target as well, but one of her shots went wide and luckily managed to hit a Shoretrooper in his leg. The Imperial went down clutching where the laser bolt had hit.
Taking another hurried look at the situation, Rogue's face fell. It wasn't going to be enough and he knew that their positions were about to be overrun with them probably both dying in the process. "Kriff it. I'll take as many as I can with me," Rogue said to himself as he waited for the inevitable.
He attempted to slither farther away from Gremlin to draw fire from a new position, taking the attention away from her and offering her a slim chance at escape. Pain threatened to overwhelm him at each reach in the dirt, and his progress was slow.
Rolling away from her position to avoid another salvo of fire from the AT-ST, Gremlin spotted Rogue attempting to move away from her. She immediately knew that he was moving in a direction that would make him a prime target for the Imperials, and in some vain sense of duty he was trying to give her a chance to save her own skin.
"Not happening," she spat to herself. She wasn't going to let her friend pay the tab while she skulked off. Staying low, she crawled as fast as she could to reach her friend. Seconds later she was next to him. "This is it. We could surrender, get you treatment." She looked at Rogue, almost imploring him to take her suggestion, hoping it would lead to immediate medical treatment and him surviving this ordeal.
"No deal," Rogue coughed. "Besides, we've killed too many of their people. They're past taking prisoners now—suits me fine as well," he replied as he got his blaster ready for the first Imperial to stick their head either over or around the rocks he and Gremlin were sheltering behind.
"I offered, but I figured as much. You got the right?" Gremlin asked as she mentally readied herself for the end.
"Got you covered," was all Rogue managed weakly.
The incoming blaster fire and the noise of the AT-ST and troop transporter got louder as they drew closer. Gremlin drew in a breath and held it, her mind running through all of the things she had still planned to do and the people she planned to do them with.
The noise of the inexorable Imperial advance was suddenly replaced with a deafening explosion and a blast wave that rolled over both Gremlin and Rogue. Before either of them could react, there was another explosion, just as loud followed again by another blast wave.
The air had been forced out of Gremlin's lungs by the blastwave. Gasping to replace it, she finally managed to get control of her body. "What happened?" She asked Rogue.
Rogue holstered his blaster and simply pointed a bloody hand skyward.
Gremlin followed the direction Rogue was pointing. She saw and then heard the familiar noise of X-wings coming in at full military power. Two of the ships flew directly over their position. She only managed to get a quick glance, but made out the distinctive markings of Spectre squadron. They had come back for her and Rogue.
She watched as a U-wing came screaming in, its wings folding in and the side door opened. The door gunner began pouring fire towards the Imperials before the ship had even touched down, scattering them with deadly accuracy. Excitedly she yelled out. "We're saved! As soon as they've touched down, you, me, and Leo are going home!"
She watched as the U-wing's landing gear lowered and touched down about thirty metres away. "Let's go," she grunted as she got into a combat crouch and scanned for nearby targets. It was at this point she noticed that Rogue had been silent and not moved since pointing out their saviours had arrived. Looking at him closely, she saw that his eyes were closed and a line of blood was coming from his left nostril and had started to drip off his chin. "No!" she snarled.
Hyl had jumped down and was sprinting towards Gremlin and Rogue. Overhead, the sound of X-wing laser fire could be heard as they engaged the two TIEs that had been carrying out the search pattern followed by the sound of a TIE going into a death spin and hitting the ground and exploding in the distance.
Gremlin looked up at the new arrival. "Rogue's down!"
Hyl quickly checked for a pulse on Rogue's neck. "He's got a weak pulse and he's still breathing. Help me get him to the ship!"
Gremlin helped Hyl get Rogue into a position to be moved and dragged to the waiting U-wing. Leo was already at the ship and being loaded onboard. The two of them ran as they dragged Rogue to the ship. Zippy, who was the door gunner, reached down and hoisted Rogue into the U-wing. Gremlin pulled herself in followed by Hyl.
Zippy shouted to the pilot. "All aboard Tattoo, punch it!"
Tattoo kicked in the repulsors and lifted the U-wing off the ground. As soon as the gears were up, the wings opened up and Tattoo pushed the throttle to maximum. "Mercy One is airborne and precious cargo is onboard."
Krayt keyed his comms. "All fighters form up and protect Mercy One. We're going home. Tattoo, what's the status of precious cargo?"
Tattoo called out to Hyl. "Spectre Lead wants to know the status of precious cargo."
Hyl shouted up. "One battered and bruised the other possible KIA—working on him now!"
Tattoo relayed the message from Hyl to Krayt.
"Copy Mercy One. Do everything you can. Everyone, stand by to jump to lightspeed on my signal. Three, two, one, jump." The white lines stretched and soon became the blue and white of hyperspace.
Gremlin watched as Hyl and Zippy worked frantically on Rogue, feeling helpless and wanting to do something to help her squad mate. Not wanting to get in the way of more experienced hands, she found a medkit for herself and began treating the wound on her face, not taking her eyes off of her friend's lifeless body.
The two SAR operatives cut open the top of Rogue's flight suit, exposing his chest. Hyl quickly placed two medical sensors on Rogue's chest and then reached for more items in the medkit.
The sensors started working and transmitting information to a display pad that Zippy was holding. He quickly read through the text that appeared. "He's got a tension pneumothorax, several bleeds from internal injuries, and his heart looks like it's going into VF!"
"He's crashing!" Hyl shouted. "Charge and stand by to shock on my call."
Zippy moved slightly back from Rogue. "Charged and ready."
Hyl stopped working on Rogue and pulled his hands away. "Clear."
Zippy's thumb pressed down on the pad. There was an audible click from the two devices on Rogue's chest and his body went slightly stiff for a second before relaxing. Zippy frowned as he examined the readout. "No change in VF rhythm, increasing charge."
Gremlin felt herself getting angry. They had managed to survive everything only for this to be happening now once they'd been rescued. It wasn't right or fair.
Noises started to register in his mind. The blackness started to slip away, to be replaced by greys, then slowly to a bloody pink until he managed to open his eyes. The harsh white lights of the medical bay's ceiling forced him to squint as the light was painful at first.
The medical droid noticed that the patient was starting to regain consciousness. It canted its head toward the other occupant of the room. "Sir, the Lieutenant is starting to regain consciousness."
The man that the medical droid had addressed came over just as the patient on the bed started to push themselves up. He placed a hand on the man's chest and gently pushed him back down into the medical bed. "Easy Lieutenant, you're in no condition to be sitting up just yet. You're not that long out of the bacta tanks."
The man stopped trying to sit up and relaxed back onto the bed. "What happened?" he croaked.
"You're lucky to be alive. You crashed twice—once on the way here and once while they were operating on you here."
The other man waited for his words to sink in, but otherwise remained in contemplative silence.
The authoritative man continued. "You lost your right leg just above the knee. Part of the troop transporter sliced through you when it was destroyed by the attacking Rebel reinforcements. As I said, Lieutenant Hurst, you're lucky to be alive."
"What about my troopers?" Hurst asked, the glimmer of memory returning.
"There's a total of seven survivors from the troops that went out with you today. Four of them are in critical condition and currently in the bacta tanks. Two have minor injuries and should be discharged from the medical facility this evening, and the other one—not a scratch on them."
The words of the Imperial Commander sank in and hit him harder than anything had done before. The anger rose up in Hurst and threatened to overwhelm him. "What about the Rebels we were hunting?" he asked through gritted teeth.
The Commander pursed his lips before responding. "Rescued, their condition is unknown. There's more—Command has seen fit to order us out. The base is being decommissioned and evacuated. They feel that it is no longer viable and too costly to repair and replenish our losses. You and the other injured will be transferred to the medical frigate Curandero tomorrow. Once all the wounded are gone, the base will be closed down and the engineers will set demolition charges. By the end of tomorrow the Imperial presence on Torrad will be no more." He paused again to let the finality of his words sink in, hoping that his tone was sufficiently sympathetic to let his wounded trooper know that he was not happy about the news he was delivering. "Get some rest Lieutenant, I'm going to need you and your troopers fighting fit as soon as possible."
"Yes sir, you can count on us," Hurst replied as laid his head back down on the pillow, watching the Commander walk out of the medical facility. He focussed on what he would need to do to get himself back to fighting fitness and the price he would make any Rebels pay once active again.
Angel was sitting at the foot of Gremlin's bed, looking at her sleeping friend. The medical droids had done a good job of treating her wounds; there was still a bacta patch on one cheek, but otherwise she bore no visible injuries. Angel's lips compressed as she recalled Krayt's order to scramble Spectre and the accompanying realisation that something had happened to Gremlin. When the U-wing's SAR crew had brought out the first antigrav stretcher—its occupant swathed in lifesaving equipment and surrounded by worried medics—Angel had, for a few seconds, feared it was her secret lover.
As if she was aware of Angel's scrutiny, Gremlin sighed, returning from sleep to a world of subdued medical noises and antiseptic scents. She blinked fuzzily, then smiled as she realised who was waiting. "Hey..." Her fingers twitched towards Angel's but she stopped, unsure if anyone was nearby. Over the past seven weeks, they had taken great care to ensure that nobody suspected their friendship had tipped over into something more.
Angel, however, had already scoped out the location and sat with her back to the cubicle's door, giving them a small semblance of privacy amid the busy medbay. She curled her hand around Gremlin's quickly, fingers interlacing, but kept her voice light in case someone was listening. "Hey, you. Don't ever do that to me again, you hear? You know I hate a scramble." The quick squeeze of her fingers against Gremlin's was more eloquent than her words.
The Zeltron's smile was lopsided, pulled out of alignment by the bacta patch. She returned the squeeze, a silent promise of what would come later, and matched Angel's tone. "Yeah, Krayt said he had the squadron under way within minutes of getting back here. Sorry I forced you to get into the pumpkin suit so fast." They shared a smile, recalling a joke from an earlier time.
"So how are you?" Angel let their hands fall apart as she leaned backwards, allowing Gremlin to push herself into a sitting position.
"I'm fine. No, really, I am," she insisted as Angel gave her a sceptical look. "The medics say I'll be discharged later. A quick dunk in bacta and a night in here for observation—that's all it'll take." Gremlin touched the patch on her cheek. "They don't even think this will scar." Not physically, anyway. Both she and Angel knew that other types of scars were all too common.
"Well, when you're ready, the Spectres will be waiting for you in the SSD. You've a forfeit to pay, remember, for losing your X-wing?" Angel's smile grew dazzling. "Double forfeit, actually, because it was destroyed on the ground."
"Hey, no fair! We were still fighting the Imps, even though we weren't in space!" Gremlin's breath hitched as she flashed back to vivid memories from the firefight: screams, explosions, Rogue's bloody body on a U-wing crash couch.
Seeing Gremlin's expression change, Angel fell silent, aware subliminally of her friend's emotions. The diminutive pilot spoke quietly. "Rogue's alive. Badly injured, of course, but you knew that anyway. He'll be in a bacta tank for a while longer, the medics said. But he'll be flying again soon."
Gremlin took a long, shuddering breath. "I—I thought he'd ... in the U-wing, his heart had stopped. They worked so hard to save him ... without them, he'd've... " She pushed the mental images away, forcing a wobbly smile. "I should've known he'd pull through."
Angel's smile in return was both an answer and a promise. "We'll save his forfeit till he's fit enough to pay for it. Knowing Rogue, that won't be too long."
"Yeah." Gremlin relaxed back onto the pillows. "It won't. We both know that it won't!"
Two days later, Rogue was sat up in one of the many beds in the med bay aboard the Vigilant. The curtains around his bay were still closed offering him and his visitor some privacy.
Krayt passed a data pad to Rogue followed by the data drive. "It was exactly where you said it would be, the left shoulder pocket of your flight suit."
Rogue just grunted as he slotted the data drive into the datapad. The device registered the presence of the device, and a prompt for an encrypted password appeared on the screen which he entered. Once the password had been inputted and accepted, he selected a certain file and the whole of it was transferred. "You'll have the whole recording of the base waiting for you in your private mail box, but I doubt it'll be any good now."
Krayt raised his eyebrows slightly. "Why do you say that?"
"Our recon flight turned into more of a minor strike against the facilities, and you and Gremlin managed to inflict a lot of damage. I'm guessing when you came back, more was inflicted."
Krayt nodded. "A few of the squad did a run at the base and managed to shoot down the remaining enemy fighters as well. Doesn't explain why you think the Imperials will pull out though."
"Sure it does. That base is no longer viable. For starters, we know about it now so that makes further strikes a definite. Secondly, the Empire is not the Empire it once was; it no longer has the resources it once had or the manpower. Actions like this, even against a minor repair facility, hurt it a lot more now than it ever would in the past. I'll put money on them having evacuated and destroyed the base."
Krayt looked at Rogue for a moment before speaking. "You know you died on Mercy One, right? You come back with powers or something?"
"Not my first time dying either, but that was another lifetime ago," Rogue answered simply.
Krayt shook his head slightly. "You've been out of the bacta tank for less than an hour. Apart from the medical droids and me, no one has spoken to you—certainly not debriefed you—and yet you're on the mark with your assessment. Command ordered an overflight yesterday. All Imperials gone, base razed completely ... all that's left is rubble and twisted metal. I'm going to put you up for an award."
"Save it. Give it to Gremlin, she saved my arse on more than one occasion. She deserves it, not me, I just got dragged along and bled. I told her to leave me and she ignored me, putting herself in more danger. She's earned it, not me," Rogue replied earnestly.
Krayt smiled. "Rest up. MD's say you'll be out of here in another two days and back on the flight line in three." He turned and parted the curtains and left Rogue. As he was walking away he heard music coming from Rogue's cubicle, it was something he didn't recognise but the tune sounded slightly ominous.
Rogue leaned back into his pillows and closed his eyes as he listened to the song he had selected.
Oh, Father tell me, do we get what we deserve?
Whoa, we get what we deserve
And way down we go
Way down we go
Say way down we go
Way down we go
You let your feet run wild
Time has come as we all, oh, go down
Yeah but for the fall, ooh, my
Do you dare to look him right in the eyes? Yeah
The curtain parted and Lock and Gremlin came in together. Rogue stopped the music playing from the datapad.
Lock was first to speak. "See I told you that they couldn't work miracles—he's still ugly."
Gremlin sighed and gave Lock a playful slap across the back of his head, resulting in a yelp. She looked at Rogue. "How are you feeling?"
"Like I was used as a Rancor's chew toy and then thrown away," Rogue replied dryly.
"How's the arm?" Gremlin nodded towards Rogue's left arm, still covered in speed healing cast.
"Feels almost as good as it was before I nosed dived into the surface." Rogue moved his left arm through a full range of motion.
"Zippy said you technically died while they were working on you," Lock added as the silence lingered.
"You need to work on your small talk," Rogue answered with a half smile. "Yeah, as I told Krayt, it wasn't the first time dying either, but instead of heading off into the light I knew I had a score to settle with you. Also, you owe me money. I don't intend on going into the next life without collecting from you."
Lock laughed at first, then grew serious. "Wait, what do you mean you have a score to settle with me? I thought you said to forget paying you back."
"Doesn't sound like something I would say, does it? Oh you thought I didn't know about you using my fresher, did you? You better keep ‘em peeled as you'll never see it coming!" Rogue said with an evil glint in his eye.
Lock feigned shock. "I resent such scurrilous accusations against my good character."
Gremlin barked out a laugh. "Good character—that's rich."
Lock did his best to look wounded by Gremlin's comment. "Savages, the pair of you. I shall take myself away from you both to others that know the worth of my presence." Lock's demeanour suddenly changed and he spoke to Rogue, looking him straight in the eyes. "Don't cut it so close next time, hey? Glad you're still here, shipmate. See you on the flight deck soon. Catch you later." With that, Lock walked out and closed the curtain as he left.
Gremlin sat down on the foot of Rogue's bed, mirroring how Angel had sat on her bed the other day. "I was worried so much when we were rescued ... that I would make it but you wouldn't."
"These things happen, Gremlin, even to the good guys," Rogue replied plainly. "If it's my time, it's my time no matter what. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad to be still here though." he said through a half smile.
"That doesn't make it any easier for what I went through ... seeing you like that," Gremlin replied with a little bit more of an edge in her voice.
"Wasn't a blue run for me either shipmate, I can assure you of that," Rogue said, sensing the pain behind the anger in Gremlin's words.
"Don't dismiss me with that druk Rogue, I'm serious." Gremlin almost snarled her reply and used the back of her right hand to wipe away a tear that had managed to escape her right eye.
Rogue spoke softly to Gremlin. "I get it, I do. It's more personal when it's like that. In a cockpit when we lose someone it still hurts, but it's just different. This was a different kind of intensity for you—and before you say anything I know you've seen your fair share of ground combat, but not as personal as this I'd wager."
Gremlin sniffed before she answered, some of the fire ebbing away from her. "I don't know, you might be right. Just don't put me through anything like again, you hear me?"
"Count on it. I'm never flying one of those target magnets ever again," Rogue replied, referring to the recon A-wing he'd flown and subsequently crashed. "Oh, changing the subject entirely, when are you and Angel going to be official?"
The question was so far from what Gremlin was expecting that it caught her completely off guard that she couldn't stop or hide the colour change in her cheeks. "I—I don't know what ... you're talking about," she stammered.
"You know you can see when you're in a bacta tank, right? Also, seeing a Zeltron blush is the one of the funniest and most guilty acknowledgements I've ever seen. You make a lovely couple, Gremlin, and you shouldn't hide it ... but that's both your business not mine," Rogue said with a smile as he leaned back into his bed.
Gremlin crossed her arms and attempted to put on an air of aloofness to her features. "I'm certain I have no idea what you're talking about. You're obviously tired and need your rest. I'll leave you to it," she said as she hurriedly stood up to leave.
"Yes, you're probably right. Mind and close the curtains as you go. See you soon shipmate ... and stay out of trouble, at least until I'm back anyway," Rogue said with another half smile on his face as Gremlin quickly exited. He picked up the datapad and started the music again, closing his eyes he was soon sound asleep.
You want to know what 3 songs Rogue was listening to? Take a guess, and then highlight the hidden text below to see if you were right!
"To Be A Lover" by Billy Idol
"Angel" by Sepultura
"Way Down We Go" by KALEO