Episode 5-12: Mutual Enemies
Is your enemy's enemy always your friend? When three mutaully antaginistic groups are brought together in a remote location it turns into a life or death struggle for them all...
No one looked around when Keena Vayal entered the cantina but that was unsurprising. In this part of town people minded their own business just in case their curiosity led to their body being discovered in an alleyway or river. Keena however, was interested in one particular occupant of the cantina who she saw sitting in a corner. The man wore body armour while his helmet and a rifle lay on the table in front of him. Watching the man carefully Keena headed for the bar and attracted the attention of the barman.
“Corrabeer.” he replied.
“Then give me two of those.” Keena said, placing a small stack of coins on the bar, “And you may keep the extra for yourself.”
“Thank you.” The barman said as he exchanged the coins for two bottles of beer. Keena picked both up and headed towards the man in the corner.
“Kenit Durvell?” she said to the man sat alone at the table and he looked up at her.
“Not yet, no.” Keena said and she sat down and placed one of the bottles in front of him while taking a sip from the other herself. The drink was bitter and unpleasant to the taste, but she hid her dislike of it.
“Say your piece.” Kenit said, pulling the drink towards him and taking a much bigger mouthful than Keena would be willing to take, “Then leave.”
“Tharun Verser.” Keena said and Kenit glared at her angrily.
“What do you know of Tharun Verser and his friends then Miss – Miss?”
“My name is Keena Vayal and I have encountered Tharun Verser and his friends. They cost me a great deal of money.”
“If money is all they cost you then be grateful. Tharun Verser cost me everything.”
“So I heard. That is why I am here. Would it surprise you to know that Tharun Verser and his friends have a rather large price on their heads?”
“I’m not here for you.” She hissed as Kenit winced, “This may come as a shock to you, but the price on your head isn’t particularly enticing.” Then she paused briefly and added, “Besides, you’re not the only one at this table who’s wanted by the Empire.”
“You?” Kenit replied with a snarl.
“Let’s just say that although my methods are effective neither the Empire nor the bounty hunting guilds endorse any of them.” Keena replied and a smile spread across Kenit’s face.
“Precisely. Now are you interested or not?”
“That depends greatly on exactly what you are asking.” Kenit said, “You still haven’t said.”
“I’ve figured out a way of capturing Tharun Verser and all his friends but as you noted I don’t think I can do it alone. Help me and we split the rewards down the middle.”
Kenit grinned again.
From the shadows opposite the cantina Marshas Decken evaluated his target as she appeared from inside the building. As a fully licensed bounty hunter he held Keena Vayal in particular contempt for the bad reputation she gave to people of his profession. For years he had been tracking her and now he was closer than ever to apprehending her here on this backwater planet in the Shadow Region. Marshas guessed that she had come to this place to meet with a client and he planned to deal with her when she left. However, when she appeared she was not alone. Accompanying her was a large human wearing military-style body armour and carrying a blaster rifle slung over his shoulder. As a former member of Naboo’s Royal Security Force, Marshas considered himself a professional when it came to combat and part of that included knowing when the tactical situation was not in his favour, such as now. Marshas was fairly confident that he could take out either one with the first shot, but that would undoubtedly alert the other to his presence and ruin the chance of a rapid getaway with a stunned Keena. Holstering his blaster pistol out of sight, Marshas instead opted to follow the pair.
Keena operated a small scout ship designed by the same corporation that had developed the Empire’s line of TIE fighters and therefore shared many features with them, possessing the typical wing-like solar panels and circular forward viewport. But the main fuselage of the craft was bulkier, offering enough room for four occupants for a prolonged period. Most significantly the ship also possessed a hyperdrive, meaning that it was not limited to a single system as the fighter variants were.
“Where did you pick this up?” Kenit asked as Keena sealed the access ramp behind them.
“Oh it belonged to a target.” Keena explained, “He wasn’t in a position to use it and neither was the associate that I’d been able to persuade to give me the access codes. So I thought that it’d be a shame to waste it.”
“Quite right. A ship like this would fetch a good price even on the black market without any registration.” Kenit said.
“But worth more to me for getting around the sector.” Keena replied, “Hitch hiking with a prisoner was difficult.” And she walked past Kenit towards the front of the ship where a single seat was located at a control station, “Now take a seat while I get the ship started.”
“So when do I get to find out the plan?” Kenit asked at the same time as he sat down and began to fasten his safety harness. For now he kept hold of his rifle, unwilling to let go of it until he knew more about Keena.
“This isn’t the first time I’ve hunted the group headed by Vorn Larcus before.” Keena answered.
There was the sound of the ship’s engines starting up and the vessel lifted into the air before Keena continued with her explanation as she piloted it higher into the atmosphere.
“I was able to get aboard their ship and while there I took the opportunity to look around.”
“So you planted a tracking device?”
“No. At the time I wasn’t planning on having to go after them again. Besides, it’s been more than two years now. They’d have found it and removed it by now.”
“So what did you find out that’s going to be so useful then?”
“The prefix address for their communication system.” Keena answered.
“Ah.” Kenit said, “So all we need to do is broadcast a signal including that and they’ll pick it up.”
“That easy. Nothing can go wrong.”
“Lieutenant Larcus!” a voice called out and Kara Larcus turned around to see a bald headed man approaching her down the corridor. This was Colonel Harris Ergard, the Alliance’s senior scout in the sector. Most of his time was spent surveying uninhabited systems but on occasion he had worked with the field team that Kara was a member of.
“Colonel Ergard.” She replied with a smile, “How are you?”
“Oh I just got back from another survey flight of the Spire Worlds.” He told her.
“So any signs of the rakata making a move?”
“No, none at all. Though the Imperial blockade may have something to do with that.” The colonel said, “But look, I need to speak with Vorn.”
“Oh, the boss is on Estran.” Kara said.
“You didn’t go with him?” Harris asked and Kara smiled and ran a hand over her swollen stomach.
“Oh I’m keeping out of the way until the baby’s born.” She replied and then her smile disappeared as she added, ”Which means staying here with the boss’ daughter instead. She keeps calling me ‘mom’. It’s creepy.”
“When I was on my way back I stopped off in the Bytan system and I picked up a repeating beacon from the primary world. It was broadcasting the Silver Hawk’s communication prefix.”
“Who’d be sending that?” she asked.
“Your guess is as good as mine. I thought I better let Vorn know.”
“Well the rest of the gang won’t be back for at least a week.” Kara said. Then she paused, “Can you give me a ride to Estran colonel?” she asked and now it was Harris’ turn to frown.
“You?” he responded.
“Yes me. I know how to find them. There’s only a couple of places they’ll be and I can deliver the message to them directly.”
“What happened to staying here until after you had the baby?” the colonel asked.
“Oh it’s not due for a couple of weeks yet and first ones are often late. You just get me to Estran and I’ll do the rest. I know exactly how to get past customs.”
“We’re in luck.” Kara said as Harris flew his scout ship over the star port, “That’s the Silver Hawk down there. Just drop me off and I’ll-”
“Oh no.” the colonel interrupted, “No way am I letting you wander about alone down there. I’d never forgive myself if anything happened to you. Besides, there’s no guarantee that there’s anyone aboard the ship. If it’s empty you’ll have to come back here so I may as well go with you as sit here twiddling my thumbs.”
“Fair enough. Look, there’s a spare berth right over there.”
While Harris shut down the ship’s systems Kara disembarked to meet with the customs official who approached it. Kara knew that the local customs office had been bought off by a local crime lord that Mace Grayle; the owner of the Silver Hawk had worked for in the past and so knew exactly how to identify herself as someone not to be challenged. Of course this required a pay off, but it was better than having the scout ship searched. Harris watched this through the canopy of his ship and there was a whistling from behind him.
“Don’t worry Sparky.” He said to the R2 unit that rolled into the cockpit, “We won’t be here long. We just need to deliver a message that’s all.” Then he saw the customs agent leaving the docking bay and Kara waving to him, “Just wait here. I’ll be right back.” Harris told the droid and then he got out of his seat and exited the ship.
Now alone in the cockpit, Sparky let out a low tone as the hatch hissed closed and it watched Harris and Kara walking away.
The YT-1300 class freighter Silver Hawk appeared deserted at first glance when Harris and Kara entered the docking bay, but the fact that it’s access ramp was lowered indicated that there was someone aboard it.
“Boss!” Kara yelled at the top of her voice and Harris flinched.
“Warn me next time you’re going to do that.” He told her.
“I’m going to do it again.” Kara replied. Then she repeated her yell,” Boss!” and the colonel still flinched.
“Kara?” a teenage girl responded as she ran down the ramp from inside the ship, “What are you doing here?”
“Really kid? Is that it? ‘What are you doing here?’ No ‘It’s great to see you’ or ‘Come aboard and I’ll get you something to drink’?”
“Oh sorry. Time for introductions.” Kara said. “Colonel Harris Ergard, meet Cass Grayle.”
“Oh he only adopted her a couple of months back.” Kara told him.
“It was the only way to let me stay aboard the ship with the others.” Cass added.
“Yeah, now what about the boss?” Kara asked again.
“Then we better wait inside. Go tell Tobis we’re here.” Kara said and Cass rushed back aboard the Silver Hawk before Harris and Kara followed her. In the ship’s lounge they discovered that although Cass and Tobis were the only human crewmembers still aboard the gold coloured protocol droid owned by Vorn was also still there.
“Caf’s fine for me.” He said.
“Of course mistress.” The droid replied just as Cass reappeared accompanied by a man in overalls and an R5 astromech droid that chirped loudly.
“Yes I was surprised to see her as well.” Jeeves replied to the droid.
“Oh, err, hi lieutenant.” Tobis said, “I, err, I’m not sure when the others will be back. Do you want me to call them?”
“Just don’t tell them about me okay?” Kara added and when Harris looked at her she added, “I want it to be a nice surprise.”
Vorn was the first of the returning group of rebels to walk up the access ramp with Mace close behind him. Then came the final two members of the field team, Tharun Verser and a short woman called Jaysica who at that moment was covered from head to toe in bright blue paint.
“Ah colonel, Tobis said you were-“ Vorn began when he saw Harris.
“Kara.” Vorn responded with his eyes wide, “What are you doing here? Is something wrong with-“
“The little lady slipped.” Tharun commented.
“And now the klutz can’t go near any wroonians without being accused of racially insulting them.” Kara added with a smirk.
“This really itches.” Jaysica added, scratching at her neck.
“If you keep doing that you’ll leave marks corporal.” Mace warned her.
“Don’t worry,” Kara said, “I’m sure Tobis will help you scrub it all off. Won’t you?”
“What? Oh, err, well-“ Tobis stammered.
“So what brings you here colonel?” Vorn asked.
“This.” Harris replied, holding up a mem-stik, “May I use your droid?” and he pointed to Harvey. In response the little droid made a rude sounding noise.
“He is a colonel Harvey.” Jeeves said, “He doesn’t need to ask you first.”
“Err, go ahead.” Tobis said and Harris walked over to Harvey and plugged the mem-stik into a port on the droid’s cylindrical body. Harvey then bleeped and using the holographic projector built into its head it projected the contents of the mem-stik into the air in the middle of the Silver Hawk’s lounge. The hologram showed a repeating waveform and a conversion of this into text in the aurebesh alphabet.
“I detected this signal on my way back to headquarters in the Shadow Region.” Harris explained.
“A ship?” Tharun added.
“Aboard the Primarch.” Vorn said, referring to an Imperial star destroyer that the rebellion had hoped to seize control of when its commanding officer and most of its crew mutinied.
“So could it be a survivor from that ship?” Cass asked.
“No, the Primarch was destroyed in the Luscus system.” Mace said, “I doubt any of the escape pods would have made it all the way down the Spire Worlds.”
“So who knows us well enough to know the code?” Tharun asked.
“Balve.” Mace said.
“Odras Balve?” Kara said, “That no good, low down nerf herder you owe money to? How would he know it?”
“Because I worked for him before I worked for the Alliance.” Mace reminded her.
“But he’s here on Estran.” Vorn pointed out, “No, there’s only one way that we’re going to find out who’s trying to signal us and what they want.”
Harris’ scoutship dropped out of hyperspace just ahead of the Silver Hawk and both ships headed towards the planet Bytan in the system of the same name.
“The signal’s still transmitting. It’s coming from a continent on the far side of the planet.” Harris signalled to the Silver Hawk, “I’m picking up reflections from the first moon. Can you see them?”
“Not yet colonel.” Mace replied, “Our sensors aren’t as good as yours.”
“Then follow me around the other side until you pick them up.” Harris said and his ship suddenly accelerated away, heading around the planet.
“That’s why I’d rather you stayed aboard it with him.” Vorn told her from the co-pilot’s seat, the one right in front of Kara’s, “If anything goes wrong-“
“Boss, if anything goes wrong I’d rather be on the ship that’s got the people I’ve trusted my life to three years now. Well, the people I trust and the klutz.” Kara interrupted.
“So you think it’s a trap?” Mace said as soon as he and Vorn were alone in the cockpit.
“Probably.” Vorn replied, “But the question still remains who’s set it? Who could know enough about this ship to be transmitting our prefix code.”
“Your son the loyal Imperial agent maybe?”
“No.” Vorn said, shaking his head, “He’s only been aboard this ship as a prisoner. He doesn’t know its prefix code. Besides, if he was setting a trap for us it would be easier to do it back on Estran.”
“He tried to catch us on Tarlen.” Mace pointed out, “Almost succeeded as well.”
“Maybe so, but I still don’t think that it’s him. Frankly I’d rather it was.”
“Because then we’d know what we were dealing with.” Vorn said and Mace nodded in agreement.
“Life readings?” Vorn asked.”
As Mace headed to the Silver Hawk’s turret Tobis followed the course laid in towards the source of the signal and before long a cluster of buildings came into view.
“Circle to the right.” Vorn said, “I want to get a good look at this place.” And he produced a pair of macrobinoculars that he then proceeded to use to study the settlement through the cockpit canopy.
From the Silver Hawk’s altitude the settlement appeared totally devoid of life and from the state of the buildings it looked as if it had been empty for some time.
“What have we got on infra red?” Vorn asked.
“Yes sir.” Tobis replied and he turned the Silver Hawk towards the area of open ground between buildings that Vorn had seen. Bringing the ship in low over this, Tobis brought it to a halt and hovered while he lowered the landing gear and then slowly descended. The sound of the Silver Hawk’s repulsorlift engines slowly receded as Tobis began to cut back on their power but all of a sudden there was a loud groaning sound.
“Err, I don’t-“ Tobis began before the entire ship lurched and there was an almighty ‘Crash!’ as the ground under one of the Silver Hawk’s landing struts gave way.
“Err, I think we landed on top of a sink hole captain.” Tobis replied, “I’ll have to go outside and check it.”
“No!” Vorn snapped, “This could be deliberate. We go as a group. Kara and Cass stay inside while the rest of us find out what’s going on.”
Through a set of macrobinoculars the arrival of the Silver Hawk had been observed from a concealed observation post at the top of a nearby hill. But it was neither Keena nor Kenit that watched the ship closely as it landed. Instead it was Marshas. He had followed the other two to this remote place and was still trying to determine why they were here before decided on a course of action. He saw the ground give way under the Silver Hawk and the ship suddenly sink to one side. Then he saw the rooftop hatch open and several figures emerged. Marshas focused in on these figures, studying each one in turn until he came to one he recognised from a wanted bulletin.
“I don’t believe it.” He muttered to himself, “Vorn Larcus the third. Wanted traitor.” Then he quickly got to his feet and put his macrobinoculars away before running all the way back to where he had hidden his own ship, a small Nubian yacht, in a cave.
The rebels climbed down from the Silver Hawk’s upper hull and gathered around where the ground had opened up to swallow the ship’s forward portside landing strut. While the others took up positions to watch for anyone approaching Tobis got down on the ground and peered beneath the ship.
“What’s the story lad?” Tharun asked, “Are we going to be struck here?”
“I, err, I think that there’s a building under the ground here.” Tobis answered, “We landed on its roof and it wasn’t strong enough to support the ship. One of the struts fell through the roof and I think it’s caught. I can’t see from this angle.”
“Err, I don’t know. I’d have to see it from underneath.” Tobis replied.
“Me?” Jaysica exclaimed, “But what if the roof falls in?”
“You’ve got that mouse droid of yours.” Tharun pointed out, “I think the captain means for you to use that to scout ahead and make sure the structure’s stable before you proceed. Right captain?”
“Exactly.” Mace said.
“In the mean time we better get everyone out of the ship.” Vorn said, “If it does suddenly fall then there’s no telling how deep it could end up.”
From a vantage point in a nearby building Keena and Kenit both studied the Silver Hawk through macrobinoculars. As soon as they heard the ship land they had rushed here from the underground structure in which Keena had been able to land her ship and arrived just is time to see the rebels preparing to move out.
“Looks like they’re having a few technical problems down there.” Kenit said.
“Yes they are.” Keena responded, “This entire settlement was built over a previous one and the builders did not expect starships to be landed anywhere other than the designated areas. Hopefully that will keep them here for some time.”
Then Kenit noticed that Jaysica and Tobis were heading away from the ship without the others.
“Only if you want to alert them all to our presence.” Keena reminded him, “Now get going. I assume that you can take care of those other two while I see what the rest do?”
“They aren’t warriors.” Kenit said as he put his macrobinoculars away and picked up his rifle, “I could take them both in my sleep.”
“Whatever.” Keena said as he then left the room.
Vorn reached down to help Kara out through the top hatch of the Silver Hawk and he kept hold of her as she began to walk across the upper hull.
“I’m not an invalid boss.” She said.
Kara smiled and took another step whereupon the ship suddenly shifted slightly and her eyes widened as she struggled to keep her balance.
“Mace,” Vorn said, striding over to where he and Tharun still stood keeping watch, “we need shelter. I’ll take Cass and Kara and check out that building there.” And he pointed to a two-storey structure at the end of a narrow street leading away from the square in which they had landed, “You and Tharun unload the ship. We’ll need the rest of our gear plus provisions and the droids.”
“Got it major.” Mace replied and he nodded to Tharun.
“Okay ladies, if you’d like to follow me.” Vorn then said and he began to walk away, heading for the building he had pointed out.
As the three rebels walked down the street Cass found herself staring at the debris that had been left behind when the settlement was abandoned. Now this was mostly buried by the desert sands that had blown in but here and there something recognisable could be seen.
“What happened here?” she asked as she saw a partially buried landspeeder at the side of the street.
“Well boss, any ideas?” Kara added.
“Oh you know how these out of the way places can be.” Vorn replied, “Someone has the great idea to set up a settlement for one reason or another and it turns out to be a mistake. Eventually either the settlement finds alternative ways of supporting itself or people just move on.”
“Probably.” Vorn replied.
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this, but why do you say probably boss?” Kara said and Vorn looked up at the rundown buildings around them.
“Well despite the condition of the buildings there’s no indication of battle damage so I don’t think that the inhabitants were driven out by war or raiders. But I can’t rule it out entirely. There are plenty of weapons that can be used against the inhabitants of a place like this that wouldn’t inflict any structural damage.”
“Oh, I wish I’d brought my blaster from the ship.” Cass commented.
“We’re there now.” Vorn said as he stopped at the entrance to the building and tried the door, pressing a button on the panel beside it. Then when nothing happened he added, “No power.”
“Really? I’d never have guessed.” Kara responded as Vorn walked along the front of the building until he found a window. It was broken, but there were still pieces of glass around the edge so he bent down and pulled a half buried length of metal pipe from the ground and swung at these remnants of the window pane, sweeping them out of the way.
The inside of the building was littered with upturned furniture, much of it broken and from the looks of it the rebels were standing in the reception area of some sort of business. However, exactly what that may have been was not obvious.
“Down.” Kara said from behind Cass. Then she turned to Vorn while he was going through the drawers of the desk that was the only piece of undamaged furniture in the room and added, “Hey boss, looks like we’ve got a basement over here.”
“And I’ve got someone’s wallet.” Vorn replied as he took a wallet from inside a drawer.
“No, sorry.” Vorn answered and then he came over to see what Cass and Kara had found, “I don’t suppose that either of you brought a glowrod with you by any chance?” he then asked, but both women shook their heads, “In that case wait here while I go down for a look.” He told them and he began to cautiously descend the stairs.
“Tobis shouldn’t we have found an inspection cover by now?” Jaysica said as they continued to search the streets for a way down below the Silver Hawk.
“Err, well, I’d have thought so.” Tobis replied, “Service ducts need emergency access points.”
“Could all this sand have buried them maybe?” Jaysica suggested, looking down at the sand that seemed to cover everything.
“Err, I doubt it. At least some of them would have remained visible. After all there’s no-“ Tobis answered, but he stopped suddenly.
“What? Oh, err, I just had an idea.” He replied and Jaysica noticed that he was staring at the bottom of a wall of a nearby building and he strode over to it and began to brush away some of the sand piled against it with his hand to reveal a small window at ground level, “There, err, there are basements.” He explained, “I don’t think that the Silver Hawk is stuck in a service duct. I think that there’s a building running beneath it and we broke through the roof.”
“So how do we get into the right building?” Jaysica asked.
“Ah. Well I think we’ll just have to keep trying until we find the right one.” Tobis replied and he drew his knife and crouched down to pry open the window, “Starting with this one.”
Harris looked up from his bunk when his R2 unit began chirping loudly from where it had plugged itself into the scout ship’s computer system.
“Kappa-class troop transport.” he said, “Yeah, I see it. It’s heading right for them.” Then he reached for the communication panel, “Silver Hawk this is Colonel Ergard, do you read me?” but there was no reply, “Silver Hawk are you there?” he repeated but again there was no response from the surface. Harris sighed and looked at Sparky, “Well Sparky, I hope they see it coming, because if they don’t there’s nothing we can do to help them from up here.”
Marshas waved at the approaching shuttle and waited as it flew directly at him. The ship came to a halt less than a hundred metres away and as it hovered its wings folded up either side of its tail at the same time as its landing gear was deployed. The shuttle then descended and ramps dropped from either side to allow the occupants to disembark. The first amongst these were white-armoured Imperial stormtroopers, their shoulder mounted pauldrons marking them out as specialist desert troops. Then after them came the individuals that Marshas had been expecting. There was a man and woman, both of whom wore the pale uniforms of the Imperial Security Bureau.
“Agent Larcus!” Marshas called out to the man, “I’m glad you could get here so quickly.”
“We just had to stop off and get reinforcements from the local garrison.” Garm Larcus replied, glancing round at the stormtroopers.
Marshas then turned to the young woman. On every occasion that he had seen her before now she had worn a skin-tight black bodyglove, a garment ideally suited to environments with extremes of temperature such as the desert they currently found themselves in. To see her now in the same uniform as Garm, though with the rank markings of a junior agent, was something entirely unexpected.
“So what’s with the uniform Vay?” he asked her.
“Oh it’s Agent Udra now.” She replied, “My internship was up and I decided to stay on full time.” And then she smiled, as did Garm. He knew full well that Vay’s recruitment to the ISB had been a method to thwart an attempt to have her shipped back to Coruscant but Marshas did not need to know that.
“So where is my father?” Garm asked.
“His ship landed in the settlement over in that direction.” Marshas answered, pointing towards the settlement that was barely visible over the dunes, “But his people aren’t the only ones here.”
“Who else?” Garm asked with a frown.
“Remember Keena Vayal?” Marshas asked and Vay scowled.
“Oh yes, I remember her alright.” She said, “She kidnapped me.”
“I don’t know. Some military looking type. I was tracking her when she met up with him in a cantina in the capital and then they both came here sometime before your father turned up.”
“But there are only two of them?” Garm said.
“Well we brought a full platoon.” Garm said, “That ought to be more than enough to deal with them all.”
The basement that Jaysica and Tobis climbed down into turned out to be part of a network of passageways and chambers running beneath the surface structures rather than just an underground level of one particular building.
“Err, I think we ought to unpack Penny.” Tobis said.
“Sure.” Jaysica responded, kneeling down and removing the backpack from her back. From inside this she took a compact box shaped droid that used wheels for locomotion. While she set the mouse droid known to the rebels as Penny down on the floor and activated it Tobis took out his comlink and datapad and connected the two devices together, “Are you getting the signal?” Jaysica asked him.
“Oh, err, yes.” Tobis replied as he studied the feed from the concealed camera built into the droid’s chassis.
“Okay then.” Jaysica said, getting to her feet and looking down at Penny, “Off you go. That way. We need to find where the Silver Hawk landed.”
The droid chirped in response and then rolled away. Jaysica then stood beside Tobis and they both watch the video feed transmitted by the droid the showed the condition of the structure ahead of them. This subsurface world was darkened, but Penny’s camera was sensitive enough to make use of what little light was available and the processed image on the datapad offered a picture clear enough to be able to pick out the state of the structure.
As well as assessing the amount of structural damage, Tobis used the video feed from Penny to build up a plan of the mazelike network of rooms and passageways. Several times the droid hit either a dead end or terrain that its limited ground clearance could not handle and was forced to retreat and try a different route, all of which were recorded by Tobis.
For the most part there was nothing of interest in this underground world, everything of value having been removed long ago. But as Jaysica and Tobis made their way into one of the larger chambers that they had encountered so far the wide angled beam from Jaysica’s glowrod picked up a familiar shape.
Sure enough, resting on the table was an old pattern clone trooper helmet of a pattern that dated back to the later days of the Clone Wars. But that was not all that was there. As he moved closer Tobis noticed that there was something inside the helmet and he bent down to peer inside. His eyes widened and he let out a brief gasp as he found himself staring at the jawbone and skull of the clone trooper who had worn the armour.
“What’s wrong?” Jaysica asked, noticing his reaction.
“Tobis.” She said nervously and he whirled around to face her.
“How about you put that blaster down before someone gets hurt?” Kenit said and to reinforce his point he twisted the knife that he held against Jaysica’s neck. Slowly Tobis crouched down and placed his blaster on the floor, “Good, now kick it over here and lie face down on the floor.” Kenit ordered and Tobis did as he was told. Kenit pulled the knife away from Jaysica’s throat and then held a set of binders in front of her, “Go put these on him.” Kenit ordered, “Then get down beside him. Oh and don’t get any ideas about trying anything. I’ll have you both covered from here and your boyfriend will be dead before you can do it.”
“Okay.” Jaysica said softly as she took hold of the binders and then headed towards Tobis.
“Anybody home?” Mace called out.
“Down here dad.” Cass replied from the basement and she headed back up the stairs to find him and Tharun standing just inside the now open doorway, “How did you get the door open?” she asked.
“Easy when you know how kid.” Tharun replied, “We just had Harvey power the motor from his own cells.” And then he stepped aside to allow Harvey and Jeeves to enter the room.
“I must say,” Jeeves said, “this place is not doing my circuits any good at all. All this sand is most troublesome.”
“Do you have our glowrods in there?” Cass asked, looking at the bulky holdalls that both Mace and Tharun carried.
“Sure.” Mace told her as he set down the two bags hew as carrying,” We grabbed everything we could.” And after briefly rummaging through one of the bags he found a glowrod and tossed one to Cass.
“What’ve you found there?” Tharun asked her.
Immediately there was an ear-piercing scream and both Mace and Tharun drew their sidearms and rushed to see what was happening.
“What’s going on down there?” Mace asked out loud.
“Kara just found herself centimetres away from a spider when Cass turned on the light, that’s all.”
“A spider? Seriously?” Cass said, grinning.
“Oh you think it’s amusing do you? It was massive. Look.” Kara asked and she reached down to where a piece of debris lay at her feet and used it to scoop up the spider. Then she swung it around so that the spider flew through the air at Cass who flinched and screamed as it landed on her head, waving her arms around try and dislodge it.
“Cut it out.” Mace said sternly as he activated his own glowrod and brushed the spider from Cass’ hair at the same time.
“So what do you think this place was then major?” Tharun asked as he descended the stairs.
“The structure must be interfering with it boss.” Kara suggested and Vorn nodded in agreement before heading back up the stairs to the room above.
“Go ahead.” He repeated, but once again there was just the same rapid electronic bleeping and he looked at his comlink, puzzled. At the same time Harvey chirped loudly.
“Penny?” Vorn replied, “But why would she be signalling me?”
“Something must have happened to Jaysica and Tobis.” Mace said. Then he looked at Jeeves, “Jeeves, can Harvey convert that sound back into video?” and Harvey chirped again.
“He looked at me because he was directing the question to me.” Jeeves told the astromech and Harvey let out another short burst of sound, “Of course I’ll tell him that.” Jeeves said and then the protocol droid looked back at Mace, “Harvey says that he can produce a video image from the audio data, but that it will not be of the best quality.”
“Who is it?” Cass asked.
“That’s the guy who wants me dead.” Tharun replied.
“So I take that he’s the one who set up the transmission to lure us in then.” Kara said.
“Where would he have got the Silver Hawk’s prefix code?” Mace responded.
“What about me?” Cass asked.
From her vantage point Keena watched the building where the rebels had apparently decided to set up their camp. When she saw four of them emerge, one a teenage girl that she did not recognise, she smiled as she guessed that Kenit must have achieved his initial objective. Though not without alerting the rest of the rebels it seemed. Turning away from the rebels she was just about to activate her comlink to contact Kenit when she spotted something in the distance, outside the settlement. There she saw a cloud of dust that suggested something moving across the desert and she raised her macrobinoculars to take a look. Heading directly for the settlement she saw a platoon sized force of Imperial desert stormtroopers and she cursed her luck for having a patrol turn up just at this time. But then she noticed that the stormtroopers were not alone, instead there were three other individuals amongst them and it was these three that she focused in on.
Two of them wore ISB uniforms and Keena scowled as she recognised Garm Larcus and Vay Udra, guessing that they had tracked Vorn Larcus’ rebel field team here and had unknowingly come to take her prize from her. But then she took a closer look at the third figure and recognised his face as Marshas Decken, the bounty hunter that had been tracking her for several years now and it occurred to Keena that it may not be the rebels that they were hunting for at all. It was quite possible that they were hunting for her.
“Kenit.” She transmitted using her comlink.
“What?” the mercenary’s voice responded.
“Where are you?”
“Heading back to the ship. I’ve got the two they sent underground to check out the damage to their own vessel. Why?”
“Well first of all the others know that something’s happened already.”
“We’ve go more company.” She said, “Stormtroopers.”
“Looks like a platoon.”
“So what are you suggesting we do?” Kenit asked,” Leave?”
“I didn’t sign on to fight a platoon of stormtroopers with just the two of us.” Kenit interrupted.
“Maybe not, but if we give up now what do we have. Two low ranking rebels. Think about this for a second Kenit. If we can pull this off we’ll be rolling in cash. Trust me. Now after you’ve secured the two you’ve got, go after the one left in their camp while I go check out these stormtroopers.”
In the passageways underground leading back to Keena’s ship Kenit scowled as he turned off his comlink.
As soon as the settlement came into view the stormtroopers raised their weapons and made use of the optics built into their helmets to search for any signs of hostile activity.
“Then let’s get moving.” Garm said, “We’re too exposed out here and I’d rather not give any of them any warning that we’re on our way.”
The platoon advanced rapidly, weapons still held at the ready and aimed at various locations that the stormtroopers thought likely hiding places for snipers. When they reached the edge of the settlement they too saw the condition of the buildings and the debris left in various places.
Vay’s eyes widened slightly as the spirit of one of her ancestors responded through the Force, but she was careful not to give away any indication of this to those around her. The existence of the spirit of the ancient jedi Lara Udra was something she did not want others to know about.
“I think there was trouble here during the Clone Wars.” Garm replied, “The Separatists raided the Shadow Region numerous times.” Then he looked at Marshas, “So which way now?” he asked.
Garm glanced at the stormtroopers’ platoon commander and right away the armoured soldiers began to advance in the direction indicated by Marshas. They moved in squads, with one rushing forwards while the other three covered them and they paused to wave Garm, Marshas and Vay onwards so as to keep them in formation. All this was apparently done without any verbal commands, though whether they were making use of the communication systems built into their helmets could not be told for certain.
“It’s just up ahead.” Marshas said as they neared the Silver Hawk.
“Have your men spread out.” Garm told the stormtrooper officer as he drew his blaster. Beside him Vay did likewise, though her weapon was a holdout pistol much smaller than Garm’s full sized military style sidearm, “Surround the ship and we’ll make sure no one can escape.”
The stormtroopers began to spread out, using side streets and alleyways to form a perimeter around the Silver Hawk while still remaining out of sight. Only when this was complete did Garm give the order to advance.
“Move in and remember weapons on stun. I want them alive.”
As one the stormtrooper platoon rushed forwards. One soldier in each squad carried a light repeating blaster for support and these troops halted as soon as the freighter became visible, covering the advance of their comrades. The rest of the platoon rushed right up to the edge of the Silver Hawk before they halted. Those on the same side as the ship’s access ramp peered underneath to see whether it was open, while on the other side the stormtroopers helped one another onto the upper hull where they headed for the top hatch.
“Agent Larcus the ship is sealed and appears deserted.” The platoon commander called out from on top of the ship.
“Are there any signs of where they went?” Garm replied as he too approached the Silver Hawk with Marshas and Vay, “Or how long ago?”
“There are tracks leading off in this direction.” Another stormtrooper said, pointing in the direction of the rebel camp. The another one reached down to where he spotted something lay where it had been trampled into the sand.
“Look sir! Droids!” he called out as he picked up a piece that had shaken loose from one of the rebel droids.
“There are more tracks over here.” A third stormtrooper added and Marshas rushed over to him.
“The look to be more than that this way.” Vay added as she inspected the first set of tracks. Then she stood up straight and asked, “So why split up?”
“Well I’d say that they sent two of their number to investigate the damage to their ship from this collapse.” Garm replied as he looked at where the Silver Hawk’s landing gear had fallen through the ground beneath it, “And that means that the rest of them likely headed off to do whatever they came here to do. Meet up with that Vayal woman most likely.”
“Sir, I think you should see this.” One of the stormtroopers said out loud and he approached Garm holding an enhanced communications device that as capable of monitoring more than just standard comlink frequencies.
“What is it?” Garm asked.
“I’m monitoring a subspace transmission sir.” The soldier replied, “A low level repeating beacon.”
“Let me take a look.” Marshas said as he returned to Garm’s side, “That looks like a starship identification.” He said, “The sort of thing you use to send a transmission to a specific ship over interstellar distances.”
“That’s what brought my father here.” He said, “That’s likely where they’re heading.”
“None of the tracks lead in that direction.” Vay commented.
“No they don’t.” Garm agreed, “We’ll have to split up. Vay take a squad and follow those tracks, Marshas you do the same with the pair that went that way. I’ll take the rest of the platoon and see where this signal leads us.
Kenit dragged Jaysica and Tobis into the massive chamber where Keena’s scout ship was located, the access ramp at the rear of the ship still sealed.
“Over here.” Kenit said sternly as he pulled them both towards a set of stairs that led up to a raised walkway. Both the stairs and the walkway were partially corroded and they shook as the three walked up them. Coming to a halt by a narrow doorway Kenit turned and pulled both rebels right up to him. Tobis noticed that a lock had recently been attached to the exterior of the door and its frame while inside the room a chemical light provided illumination.
“Oh Tobis what are we going to do?” Jaysica said, embracing him.
“What is it Tobis?” Jaysica asked him when she saw the expression on his face.
“Oh, err, well, it’s just I’m trying to figure out where this sand came from.” He told her.
“It must have blown in from outside.” Jaysica said, looking down at the floor.
By using Harvey’s sensors Vorn and the rest of his team were able to track Penny’s transmissions into the underground tunnel network and recover the tiny droid.
“Can you track which way he took them?” Vorn asked him and he crouched down to examine the floor.
“What’s wrong with him?” Cass asked.
“Shush.” Mace said and he dashed into the adjoining room where there was a narrow window set up against the ceiling and turned out his glowrod.
The thick layer of dirt on the window combined with the build up of sand in the street outside made it difficult to see much, but Mace was just about able to make out several sets of white boots of a type that he had seen all too often before.
“Stormtroopers!” he hissed, backing away from the window as the others joined him from the other room.
“What the hell are they doing here?” Vorn said softly as he rushed to see for himself. Carefully he reached up to wipe away some of the dirt from the inside of the window and he saw that the Imperial troops had come to a halt just outside. Then he heard a voice that sent a shiver down his spine.
“I thought I picked up something else for a moment.” The stormtrooper replied, “Looked like something on a comlink frequency.”
Vorn backed away from the window at this point, “Check your comlinks.” He cautioned the others quietly, “Make sure they’re off.” And then he turned back to the window.
“There’s no sign of it any more Agent Larcus.” The stormtrooper said, “But I am still getting the subspace beacon.”
“Okay then, let’s keep going.” Garm said and the stormtroopers began to move on.
“Oh great. Now your son’s here as well?” Mace said, frowning.
“At least we know where he’s heading.” Vorn said, “So we ought to be fine so long as we keep away from the beacon.”
“I doubt it.” Mace replied, “The beacon’s supposed to be bait to draw us in. It’d make more sense to stash Jaysica and Tobis somewhere else to prevent them getting in the way.”
“Company.” Tharun said suddenly and he pressed himself up against the doorframe with his heavy blaster rifle raised to his shoulder.
In the darkness he suddenly saw a flash of white and fired, the blaster bolt lighting up the underground chamber. Sure enough this revealed a pair of stormtroopers just as Tharun’s shot blew a hole through one of the them.
“Fall back!” Vorn snapped as he heard a groaning sound and realised what was about to happen. The groan then became a almighty crash as the room between the rebels and the stormtroopers suddenly collapsed, bringing down the structure above it as well.
As Vorn had ordered the rebels fell back away from the destruction before they could find out whether the stormtroopers were able to come after them.
“We need to get back to Kara.” Vorn gasped, “She needs to be warned about this and we daren’t use comlinks.”
Marshas looked at the pile of rubble as the stormtroopers under his command attempted to dig through it.
“Give it up.” He said, “We’re not getting through there any time soon.”
“Really Lieutenant Larcus mistress,” Jeeves said as the droid continued to tidy the basement room now serving as the rebel camp, “the previous inhabitants should have taken more care to leave this location in a more orderly state.”
Kara glanced up at the droid from the datapad she had been reading.
“I think that they had better things on their minds at the time.” She said before adding in a much lower tone of voice, “Though what that was is beyond me.”
“In my experience there is never any excuse for such untidiness mistress.” Jeeves responded, “And it does not help that Captain Grayle and Sergeant Verser merely deposited their bags upstairs rather than bringing them down here to unpack them properly.” The droid then made its way across the room to the bag on the table beside Kara’s chair, “If you ask my opinion-“
“Which I didn’t.” Kara muttered. However, Jeeves continued to speak as if she had said nothing, putting it down next to her to rummage through the bag.
“-our struggle against the Empire would be greatly helped if people would just keep their environment in a more orderly-“ and then Kara simply reached out and pressed the button mounted on the back of Jeeves’ head and shut the droid down.
“Ah, that’s better.” She said as she looked back down at the datapad.
There were no visible signs of life from the building that the rebels’ tracks led to but Vay could sense the disturbance created in the Force by sentient beings so she knew that someone was inside.
“Follow me.” She told the stormtroopers and from under her tunic she slipped her lightsaber before advancing cautiously towards the building.
She paused at the entrance, peering into the wrecked interior and she noticed not only the tracks on the dust-covered floor leading to the stairs to the basement. But Vay was not willing to risk being surprised by any other rebels who may be hiding elsewhere in the building and she waved at the stormtroopers.
“Boss is that-“ Kara began, looking back over her shoulder at the stairs. Then when she saw Vay and the stormtroopers she gasped and dropping the datapad she reached for the bag on the table beside her.
“Agent Udra,” a stormtrooper said from the top of the stairs, “we’ve searched the rest of the building and there are no signs of any more rebels.”
“Agent?” Kara said, “You’re not just playing dress up in that uniform then?”
“No I’m not.” Vay replied, shutting off her lightsaber, “Aren’t you going to congratulate me?” then she looked at the stormtroopers’ squad leader, “Sergeant leave two of your men here with me and take the rest to find out where the other rebels went.”
From a building at the end of the street Kenit watched as the stormtroopers emerged onto the street and spread out looking for tracks. When one found evidence of the rebels’ route he beckoned the others to follow.
Vay stood back and watched as a stormtrooper secured Kara’s hands behind her back.
“Head upstairs and keep watch.” Vay ordered and the stormtrooper nodded before he headed up the stairs.
“Mind if I sit down?” Kara asked and without waiting for an answer she sat back in her chair. Then she noticed that Vay kept looking at her stomach, “What?” she asked.
“You told me that you weren’t involved with Garm’s father.” Vay said.
Vay took a deep breath, doing her best to ignore the unwanted intervention of Lara’s spirit.
Let her go.
“Get up.” She ordered, but Kara remained seated.
“I’m afraid you’re going to have to help me. I seem to be having trouble with my arms right now.” Kara replied.
“No jokes. Get to your feet.” Vay said sternly and she reached down an pulled Kara to her feet, “Now let’s get moving. I’m sure your son in law will want to give you his congratulations as well. Or maybe not.”
As Kenit closed on the building he heard movement and stopped still, dropping to his knees.
Still trying to find their way back to their camp through the underground tunnel system Vorn and the rest of his group felt the tunnel shaking.
“Sounds like a building just came down.” Mace replied.
“But why would a building just collapse?” Cass asked.
“That means that somebody must have done something to make one of them fall down.” Tharun added.
“Oh no.” Vorn said, “Kara.”
The stormtroopers Garm was leading were making no attempt to conceal themselves and this made Keena’s task of following them far easier. Early on it had become obvious that they were heading towards the beacon that she and Kenit had set up to lure in Vorn and his team.
“I estimate the distance to the beacon to be no more than three hundred metres now sir.” The stormtrooper communication specialist told Garm.
“Is it still just the same repeating signal?” Garm asked.
“Very well. Prepare to-“ Garm said before he was interrupted by the sound of a building collapsing and he whirled around to see a cloud of dust rising from behind several other structures. Garm reached for his comlink and activated it,” Vay, Vay can you hear me?” he transmitted, “Vay are you there?”
Vay’s eyes flickered open to find herself lying on the floor, debris all around her. The glowrod that had been set up to provide illumination had been damaged and the light it cast out was irregular. Looking up the stairs she saw that the exit from the basement had been blocked by falling rubble. Then she heard a groaning sound and she looked around to where Kara also lay on the ground.
“Did you get the serial number of that AT-AT that just stood on me?” Kara said as she opened her eyes and looked back at Vay. Then she blinked and added, “What happened?”
“There was blasterfire and then the building fell down it seems.” Vay said.
“And here was me thinking that stormtroopers couldn’t hit the side of a building.” Kara replied.
“Never mind that now, we need to get out of here.” Vay said and she got to her feet and then went to lift Kara to hers.
Kara screamed as Vay tried to lift her.
“I think I’m bleeding.” Kara exclaimed and Vay looked down to the floor beneath them.
“Now you’re not.” She said as she saw the liquid, “I think your water just broke. You’re in labour.”
“Oh I’ve got a very bad feeling about this.” Kara said.
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