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    •  
      CommentAuthorNylad Mazzic
    • CommentTimeMar 26th 2011 edited
     

     

    Velocity Rising

     

    Impact in seventeen. Sixteen. Fifteen.

     

    The temperature in the small compartment continued to rise, almost as fast as the dial on the bulkhead that indicated speed.

    Nine. Eight. Seven.

     

    Organic beings would have been uncomfortable with temperatures this high. Probably with speeds this high as well.

    Five. Four. Three.

     

    But they would have been dead in the landing that followed.

    GRUNSHKKK!!

    N-AK-5 felt the mag-restraints activate just as his audio receptors were filled with the sound of grinding metal. As the sound gradually died, so did the sensation of half of a ton of weight pressing against his shoulders. The pod unlocked automatically and N-AK-5 crawled out into the Bansaren night.

    The other occupants of his landing pod, also droids, stood next to him, checking their blaster weapons. They were shorter in stature, but just as prepared for combat.

    The attack had begun.

    ***

    Clone trooper CT-1147 ran along the covered walkway that stretched from one corner of the building to the next. He stopped next to a sentry who was bent over the railing, with his white helmet pressed against a pair of macrobinoculars. Both troopers wore white armor and helmets, the standard attire of the clone army of the Republic.

    “See anything?” the first trooper asked.

    “Not a thing,” The watchman replied without looking up. “I’m starting to wonder if those were actual meteorites.”

    A series of high-pitched, percussive sounds rang through the night air. The watchman stiffened slightly, but still didn’t look up.

    “Guess not,” the first clone said as he started to leave. He stopped at a word from his fellow soldier.

    “Hey Forsev,” the watchman said, never taking his eyes off the distant trees. “Get me in on this one.” The first clone, known as Forsev, knew that the only way the sentry could leave his post was if it was truly necessary.

    “I’ll see what I can do,” Forsev replied. With that he rushed off in the direction of the conflict, his blaster rifle held securely in both hands. Forsev understood the sentry’s desire to get into the action. He could see no purpose in staring at bushes if his comrades needed his help.

    Forsev came to one of the duracrete bulwarks that protected each corner of the building. The bulwarks jutted out from the building at forty-five degrees, granting the troopers inside a clear view of two sides of the building.

    “Sound the alarm!” the gunner yelled as Forsev entered the fortification. The clone gunner was looking through the narrow firing window that went all around the barricade at shoulder height. In his hands he gripped the firing controls of a long barreled dc-24 repeating rifle. These guns were nicknamed “droid rippers” by the men who knew their capabilities, and they rarely disappointed in combat.

    Forsev reached for the alarm box and yanked the red lever. The alarm was not meant for the clone troopers, who were fully prepared for battle, but for the weapon designers inside the building, who were doubtless still poring over a schematic of some new weapon system. Forsev hoped for their sakes that they remembered what to do in the case of a droid attack.

    Forsev peered out of the narrow firing window of the barricade at the other corner of the building, where seven or eight clones had gathered. They were huddled behind the duracrete bulwarks, firing whenever they saw something move.

    The gunner of the dc-24 repeating rifle next to Forsev fired a few rounds into the bushes. Forsev could not see any enemies, and he assumed the gunner was following the other clones’ blaster shots, just trying to add a chance of hitting something. The blue bolts from the dc-24 rifle left deep scorch marks on the trees and tore through the shrubs like tiny unstoppable comets.

    These droids were like none Forsev had ever seen. They moved like cats, smoothly and quickly from tree to tree, only letting the clones squeeze off a few shots before they were hidden again.

    Forsev saw the shadowy form of a droid appear from behind a tree. The droid showed himself for more than a second and was instantly punished for it. The dc-24 of the barricade opposite Forsev hit the droid in the left arm while fire from the clones’ blaster rifles lit it up from several different angles. Most shots missed, but a few volleys hit their mark. The droid staggered, but somehow didn’t fall. It dove behind a bush with low, wide leaves. Bad idea, metalhead. The bush was gone in an instant, its leaves and stalk torn apart by the mounted gun. The droid took another volley from the repeater and then fell motionless. At this point Forsev was seriously wishing that better lights had been installed on the roof of the building; it would have made this job much easier.

    Suddenly the rest of the attack force appeared on the edge of the clearing. Apparently they had been sneaking in as their compatriot was being perforated. They raised their weapons to metal shoulders and fired relentlessly, moving forward as a unit. The gunners, who could now see the droids all too clearly, unleashed two constant streams of blue blaster bolts and took down another droid with some difficulty. The droids’ armor seemed to somehow resist the blaster bolts. They were still affected by the force of each shot, reeling backwards at the strength of the repeaters, but they were not torn apart like any other droid would have been.

    Forsev noticed that the dc-24 next to him had stopped firing. He looked to his right and saw that a blaster bolt must have found its way through the narrow firing window and taken out the gunner, who had fallen without a cry. Forsev took control of the blaster, feeling its familiar recoil as he bore down on another droid at the front of the pack. The droid fell, but it didn’t seem to matter. There were plenty to replace it.

    The metal soldiers used only blasters until they were close to the defensive structure opposite Forsev’s position. The droids each drew grenades, which were attached magnetically to the droids' waists. The metal orbs glinted in the dim light as the droids threw them at the bulwark. The grenades clanged against the wall of the building, and then bounced inside the structure. Every single grenade found its mark, landing directly inside the battlement. Two clones jumped onto the walkway, where they were both shot down by the droids anyways.

    None of the clones in the barricade survived. The grenades exploded and turned the entire corner of the building into a bright inferno for a few seconds, lighting up the clearing and the trees around it. The flames burned down quickly so that all that was left was a heap of crumbling duracrete and a bent piece of metal that used to be the repeating blaster.

    Forsev ceased fire and yanked hard on his gun, pulling it off its mountings. The weapons were made to be mounted to a solid object, but a clone trooper could still wield it, though it may be cumbersome. He backed around the corner, not wanting to join in the fate of the other clones. Forsev realized he had forgotten about the sentry who had wanted to join the fight. He looked down the walkway and called to the sentry, motioning for him to come over. The gunner of that barricade happened to be watching also, so he came as well.

    As the clones came to him, Forsev peered around the corner. He watched as the droids reached the side of the building, jumped, and pulled themselves over the railing with their untiring metal hands. He ducked behind the corner again and noted that the other clones were waiting for his lead. I’m in charge. How odd. He rallied his men with a shout and jumped to the doorway.

    He almost fired a volley down the walkway, but stopped himself. Impossibly, the droids were gone, and the only being on the walkway was another clone, coming from the barracks. He looked just as confused as Forsev felt. The four clones converged on the walkway.

    “Where did they go?” said the newest clone.

    The droids were probably headed for the barracks, which contained the entrance to the building. The new clone obviously had not run into the droids as he was coming from the barracks.

    “If you didn’t see any droids, and we didn’t see any droids,” the sentry said, verbalizing what Forsev was already thinking.

    “Then…”

    “They’re on the roof,” Forsev said, cutting the other man off. “Let’s move, men!”

    The clones heard an explosion as they picked their way carefully through the smoldering remains of the destroyed fortification. As they rounded the corner, they saw smoke roiling out of the barracks. It was painfully clear that the droids had made it to the barracks first.

    ***

    N-AK-5 stepped from the smoking barracks into the weapons development building. A pair of debris-strewn tables took up most of the space in the room. Correction: not debris. Parts. N-AK-5 recognized a rifle stock that looked like a TC-22 and a schematic for some sort of sniper rifle, both partially buried in a stack of power packs. He was calculating the amount of destruction one could cause with that many power packs when he heard blasterfire behind him.

    He turned around just in time to see one of his droids fall to the floor, multiple blaster holes in its metal chest. Four clone troopers stood in the doorway, weapons blazing.

    The droids returned fire with brutal efficiency. N-AK-5 shot one clone, who fell with a shout. One of the other clones was hit in the arm by a blast from another droid.  The last three defenders retreated partially behind the doorframe of the barracks.

    N-AK-5 took the last grenade from his belt. He activated it and lobbed it over the heads of the troopers. They reacted exactly as they were supposed to.

    “Grenade!” one of the clones yelled. They all jumped in the only direction they could: straight toward the droids.

    The grenade damaged nothing more than the doorway. As the clone troopers tried to escape, N-AK-5 whipped between them and punched one the clones in the chest, pinning him to the wall with a cracking sound. N-AK-5 spun, slamming his elbow into the back of another clone’s neck. The droid then punched him with enough force to knock him back through the doorway.

    The last clone raised his repeater rifle and fired once, a shot that hit N-AK-5 in the leg. Thanks to his advanced armor, the bolt left no permanent damage, just a small scorch-mark.

    N-AK-5 kicked the clone’s weapon to one side before he could shoot again. The clone trooper seemed to realize that hand-to-hand combat against an opponent made of metal would be hopeless. He tried to reach for his gun, but he was too slow. The droid punched him under the jaw, knocking his helmet off. Before the clone could recover, the droid took him by both shoulders and slammed its metal forehead into his. With a loud crack, the last trooper fell to the floor.

    Then there was silence, save for the crackling of the fire in the next room and the groans of an expiring soldier. N-AK-5 and the droids continued inside, having quelled all resistance.

    •  
      CommentAuthorCurly Que
    • CommentTimeApr 2nd 2011
     
    This inspired me to get out a game and kill some droids. :)
  1.  

    Agreed. Where's the rest?

  2.  

    haha, excellent. The rest is... Com... Ing... Sloooooooowlyyyyyyyyyyyyy........ Eeeeeevennnnnntuuuuaaaaallllllllyyyyyyy....

    •  
      CommentAuthorNylad Mazzic
    • CommentTimeMay 28th 2011 edited
     
    Chapter 2

    A small landing craft lowered to a circular platform. It hovered there as the door opened. Ralin Trikado, A young man in his early twenties, and a slightly older man jumped from the ship. They landed easily on the platform, their traditional Jedi robes swaying lightly.

    The pair turned and watched as the craft lifted off, its door sliding shut. The ship accelerated through the heavy Coruscant traffic, heading for the Venator-class cruiser in orbit above the city planet.

    “Well that was... Unceremonious,” the older man said. He turned and grinned at his companion. “You just might think they would have a little more respect for heroes such as us, eh Ralin?”

    The younger man, Ralin, returned the smile and played along.

    “Oh, certainly. They wouldn’t dare neglect two such legendary warriors as us, Master and Apprentice, returning from our battle with the wicked property holders of the planet Ord Zeuol.” He snorted, and then fell in step with the older man as they walked from the landing platform to the adjoining walkway.

    “I thought those two factions would never come to terms,” Ralin said.

    The older man nodded, and they were silent for a moment. A speeder whizzed noisily overhead. Finally the older man spoke.

    “Now don’t tell anyone I said it, but I think this mission just might earn you the rank of Jedi Knight.” He raised his eyebrows. “What do you say to that, eh? You just might get a mission of your own and see some action!”

    Ralin’s feelings of pride and happiness were suddenly tinged with anxiety. He wasn’t sure he was ready for that level of responsibility. In fact, he was sure that he wasn’t  ready for that. Leading his own missions? He frowned.

    “What is it?” his master asked simply. He could always tell when something was bothering him.

    “I’m not ready for this,” Ralin said slowly. The words hurt, but he couldn’t lie to his master.

    “Good, good,” his master said quietly.

    Ralin turned to face him, completely bewildered. His master was gazing absently at the spires of the Jedi Temple, the building they were approaching. Finally he took notice and smiled at Ralin’s confused expression.

     “If you were ready –or thought you were ready– it would mean you over-estimate yourself. Or the rank was given to you far too late. You can’t be ready at this point, not yet. If you ask me it’s part of the fun. When you get to be my age nothing surprises you anymore and it’s just not as interesting.”

    He winked at Ralin, who stared at him, then turned away.

    They walked in silence for a few more steps until they were approached by another Jedi. Ralin thought his name was Whie, but he couldn’t be sure.

    Whie, if this was him, had long, dark-blond hair combed back behind his ears, and he had a confident expression on his handsome, young face.

    “Congratulations on your safe return,” Whie said, bowing slightly to the Jedi Master. Ever polite. Ralin had always been surprised at the younger Jedi’s tact.

    Turning to Ralin he continued, “Master Yoda would like to speak with you in his chambers.” Ralin nodded and thanked him. His master had been right. Whie smiled at him, one Padawan to another. He had undoubtedly guessed the significance of this meeting also. Whie nodded to them each in turn, then hurried back up the stone steps to the Jedi Temple.

    “What did I tell you?” Ralin’s master grinned at him. “Nothing surprises me.”

     
    * * *

    Nemisk Virade stepped through the charred doorway, his green eyes taking in everything. He noted that the droids had secured the facility at the price of less than a third of their number. Not bad, considering the building’s defenses.

    Now if his special advanced commando droid had been destroyed, he would have been truly upset. No, he thought, he would have been more surprised than upset. If a single squad of clone troopers could take out his specially modified droid then he would want to hire them instead, and give up droid programming forever.

    Virade eyed the piles of weapon parts lying on the table. Probably nothing good here. The weapon designers had locked themselves into one of the adjoining offices, and Virade was betting they had saved the best of the prototypes with them in their tiny, defenseless office. These were artists here, who would probably be loath to give up their best works. The commando droids didn’t have orders concerning the designers, so they left them alone for now.

    Virade pointed at two of his droids and motioned for them to open the door.

    They nodded silently and walked up to the metal surface. These droids were highly superior to the standard, unprofessional B1 battle droids, who were often given over to idiotic responses to situations and commands. It seemed to Virade that the programmers of the B1 series droids focused too much on the droids’ vocabulary and speech functions and not enough on their tracking mechanisms and targeting computers.

    One of the commandos rapped on the door, testing its thickness. Apparently they decided it was thin metal. The pair backed up, and the droid closer to the door brought back its arm, planning to punch right through.

    Without warning, the door opened. The commando droid punched, striking the edge of the door and bending it with a sharp grinding sound. A humming noise became audible and grew for a second. Then there was an incredible cracking noise and both droids were knocked backwards. One staggered, and the other hit the floor. They shuddered as electricity arced from their open wounds. The weapon, whatever it was, had punched holes right through the droids' reinforced armor.

    “Extraordinary!” Virade said aloud, not bothered by the fact that he had just lost two more of his troops. Any weapon as powerful as this was worth a thousand droids. Now for those pesky designers. He’d show them he knew a few dirty tricks too. He took a grenade from the droid next to him.

    The door tried to slide shut, but it was thwarted by its dented edge. It whined as it pressed against the doorframe, then moved back and tried again.

    Virade yanked the door open, careful not to expose himself. He tossed the grenade into the room without setting it. Wouldn’t want to damage the weapon, after all.

    After he heard the requisite screams of horror, Virade drew his pistol and walked in.

    • CommentAuthorMetamorph
    • CommentTimeMay 29th 2011
     
    Excellent, excellent! I love the sly jab at the B1 droids "who were often given over to idiotic responses to situations and commands".

    "Roger, Roger", anyone? :D

    Tiny bit of editing... "wershuddering as electricity"

    Can't wait to read more!
  3.  
    Excellent! *rubs hands together gleefully*
    •  
      CommentAuthorNylad Mazzic
    • CommentTimeJun 1st 2011 edited
     

    Oh yes, the mysterious "wershuddering." Strange, I thought I got rid of that...

    Thanks!

    •  
      CommentAuthorNylad Mazzic
    • CommentTimeJun 5th 2011 edited
     

    Chapter 3

    In orbit, Taun We’s ship, The Esteemed, was beginning its descent into Bansaren’s atmosphere. The designers here at the ADGAR building –formally known as Arms Development for the Grand Army of the Republic– were supposed to be finished with the operation manuals for their latest weapons, the weapons that the Republic forges were soon to begin mass producing. Lama Su, the leader of the Clone production facilities on Kamino, did not trust long distance communications for things of this importance. He sent his fellow Kaminoan Taun We to collect the manuals herself.

    The pilot of The Esteemed picked up the wired comlink on the control panel.

    “ADGAR building, this is The Esteemed.  Requesting permission to land. Over,” He said into the comlink.

    Long pause.

    The pilot lifted the comlink again.

    “ADGAR, this is The Esteemed. Requesting permission to land. Over.”

    Still no reply. The pilot turned to Taun We. “Sir?”

    “Give them time,” she said in her musical voice. “Perhaps their communications are… Malfunctioning.”

    She knew that neither of them believed it for a second.

    ***

    N-AK-5 tapped the controls on a small, flat, datapad, copying several more documents. His master had left him here with one of the other droids, to see what other plans and information could be gleaned from the various disks and datapads that the designers had used. So far, nothing was found that was worth much more than a battle droid’s core processor, as his master would say. Not much, in other words.

    L45791, the other droid, was hard at work on the holotable, trying to access the data storage unit without initiating a system wipe. The designers had been careful to protect their plans, but with enough time, everything could be uncovered.

    “ADGAR, this is The Esteemed. Requesting permission to land. Over.”

    N-AK-5 pinpointed the source of the noise in a microsecond. A beaten-down comms array slumped in the corner of the room. Someone was going to land here. The voice sounded like a clone.

    Without replying to the message, N-AK-5 used the comms array to contact the Holonet-enabled computer mainframe owned by his master. He requested all information available on a ship by the name of The Esteemed, in connection with the Republic Army.

    All he could do now was wait. The mainframe was probably sorting through dozens, even hundreds of results. Undoubtedly there were many ships by that name.

    L45791 walked up as the voice came a second time, with the same message.

    Finally, a response came from his master’s computer mainframe. Inferior connection speeds today.

    The Esteemed, according to the mainframe, was a vessel privately owned by Lama Su, Assistant to the Prime Minister of Kamino. Either that or a trash-hauling dreadnaught that was once employed by the Republic, one of the two. N-AK-5 estimated the garbage output of this facility to be low enough that the first option was more probable.

    There was not enough time to contact his master about this change of circumstances, so he deliberately went over his mental list of resources.

    After deciding on the best plan, he turned a small dial on his own neck, then picked up the communicator.

     “Esteemed, you are clear to land,” the droid said in an exact replication of a clone trooper’s voice, as though spoken through a helmet.

    “Acknowledged,” came the reply.

    A flawless deception. Master will be glad when he hears of this.

    ***

    The horizon brightened with the sunrise, as Taun We and the clone pilot stepped from The Esteemed. Taun We walked gracefully, as all Kaminoans seemed to. The clone pilot had to take large steps to keep up with her long stride.

    Taun We stopped before they reached the door. There was a strange sense of absence, like something was missing from this scene that she couldn’t place. She looked around more precisely. A long-barreled dc-24 repeater rifle was mounted on the walkway above the door. Good model, resistant to overheating. She shifted her gaze down the length of the building and noticed that a heap of rubble was all that remained of an entire corner of the building. Alarmed, she looked at the mounted gun more closely, realizing that it was unmanned.

    “Get back in the ship,” she said, slowly turning around.

    A lithe looking droid stood over the limp body of her pilot.

    She drew her pistol, fired three shots. They all glanced off the droid’s armor. The droid walked towards her, unharmed. Suddenly she felt a sharp pain on the back of her neck. Another droid, behind her. She staggered, fell. Heard a non-droid voice, hazily.

    “Be careful, fool! We don’t want to kill her!”

    Then everything faded to black.

    ***

    Ralin stepped from the turbolift onto the bridge of The Arbiter. Through the transparisteel viewports he could see the mesmerizing blue vortex that denoted hyperspace travel. Closer to the turbolift, four men stood around a blue-glowing holotable: an officer, a clone captain, and two pilots.

    The officer glanced up and motioned Ralin over. The officer was a tall man with sharp, blue eyes and a graying mustache. He stood straight, with his feet apart and one hand behind his back.  

    Ralin joined the group around the table. He still wasn’t used to this business of being included with the people in charge.

    Above the holotable hovered a landscape, glowing blue. A mountain range formed three sides of a rough square, in the center of which was a small town.

    “Alright men, the droid barracks is here,” the officer said, pointing out the town in the center of the mountain landscape. “Our scouts indicate that there are fewer defenses on this side near the mountains.”

    He zoomed in on the town, showing the clearing between it and the mountains. “If we could land our men there, the base would be ours. Unfortunately, they have some heavy anti-aircraft emplacements that would prevent any ships from landing.” The officer zoomed in still further on the town, until every street and building was visible. He pointed out the anti-air emplacements, four batteries in all, placed near each other in the north-western sector of the town.

    “This is where your squad comes in,” the officer said, nodding in Ralin’s direction. “Trikado and his men will land on the opposite side of the mountain range in a civilian craft, to avoid the anti-aircraft guns. They will cross the mountain range here, break through the defenses at this point, and take out the anti-air batteries,” said the officer, pointing at the three locations.

    Ralin swallowed. Difficult, maybe, but still possible. The officer wasn’t done yet.

    “It will take a while for the men to land, so you and your men will have to find a spot to hole up until the main force arrives. When they do, you can sweep through the town, looking for anything that looks like it might be holding prisoners. Remember, this is a rescue mission: watch the explosives. If Taun We is really here, we don’t want to blow her up.”

    The officer gave the two pilots their exact landing coordinates, and the clone captain asked if the intel shown here was recent. He was assured that it was by the officer.

    Ralin was still staring at the holotable, surprised by how large his part was in this plan. At least he was working with clone commandos here. Supposedly they’re the best you can ask for.


  4.  
    Oooh, we're getting close to more big action! Yay!
    •  
      CommentAuthorNylad Mazzic
    • CommentTimeJun 12th 2011 edited
     

    Chapter 4

    Ralin felt a growing sense of confidence as he walked down the ship’s passageway. He just might be able to do this. General Trikado. He wasn’t sure if he completely agreed with the convention of giving any Jedi who has limited combat experience the rank of General.

    He was going to the hanger to meet up with his squad, the men he would be working with on this mission. Apparently everyone hangs out in the hanger en route.

    Another door, then a left turn… No. Now he was sure he was lost. Again. And this was only an Acclamator-class assault vessel. Ralin couldn’t imagine how anyone ever got used to finding their way around on the larger ships. After another few minutes, he found himself in the engine room, a place he was fairly sure he was not supposed to be. He stopped meandering and sheepishly asked directions from a maintenance droid. Two more passages, left turn, take the turbolift.

    Right.
    No, the droid insisted. Left.
    Whatever.

    Finally, Ralin stepped onto the platform of the main hangar. He was amazed by the size of everything, the hangar, the ships, the equipment. Arc-170 fighters were lined up, wall to wall. He saw LA-AT landing craft also, like the one that dropped him and his master on Coruscant. Literally.

    Ralin spotted it in the corner: an old, well-made freighter. This one had to be the one. No military insignia on it anywhere. Blocky design, looked like it couldn’t outrun a Gizka. Perfect. Four heavily-clad forms were gathered around the ship, their helmets off. Clone commandos. They didn’t seem as impressed by the ship’s appearance.

    “I’ll bet this thing can’t even get past point two in sublight,” one said, scratching something off the viewscreen.

    “No weapons to speak of, unless you count ramming,” Another said, coming around from behind the engines.

    The clones seemed to be positioned so that at least one man’s peripherals always covered any given direction. A habit, Ralin supposed. One of the clones noticed Ralin approaching and made an effort to sound more positive. “At least it will hold all our gear.”

    The other three clones glanced up, noticing the change in tone.

    “Sir.” the first clone saluted. The others did the same, standing up straight.

    “Are you Oberon Squad?”
    “Yes sir.”

    “Names?” Ralin asked. “Not numbers, but your actual names,” he added, before they had a chance to spout off a bunch of numbers that he would never remember.

    The clones seemed slightly uncomfortable, but they complied.

    “In that case, I’m Graf,” said the first clone. This was the Sergeant, Ralin could tell, just by how he stood, like he was used to taking charge.

    “I’m Bracken,” said the next clone in line. Ralin tried to disregard differences in appearance, since these would be lost as soon as the clones put their helmets on. Using the Force, he sensed that Bracken was very alert, ready for conditions to change in a moment. An excellent trait.

    The other two men hesitated, so Bracken finished the introductions. “That’s Dez, and this is Rinder,” he said, indicating the two men in turn. Ralin analyzed them both, almost mechanically.

    He could sense that Dez was trying to keep something funny to himself. He had a perfectly straight face, but Ralin still sensed hidden mirth.

    Rinder seemed like he was already looking forward to killing something. He’d be easy to pick out in the middle of a fight. Follow the aggression and the droid bodies, and there’s Rinder.

    Ralin nodded, mentally storing each of the names, along with their differences.

    “And I am Ralin Trikado, Knight of the Jedi Order,” Ralin said. Was that too pretentious? Maybe. Still better than “General.” Can’t stand formal ranks. The clones continued to stand at the ready.

    “Um, dismissed,” Ralin said, feeling uncomfortable. Another salute. That could get old. The clones continued what they were doing before, milling around the ship.

    Oh, the armor! Ralin smiled with the realization. Each of the clones had a different color of highlights on his armor. Now that will make things easier.

    ***

    The panels on the ship’s interior rattled. Leaning back from the cockpit, The pilot spoke to Ralin and his squad.

    “Alright boys, strap in tight. You never know what these old ships are going to do.”

    Ralin tightened his restraints and watched a sea of trees approaching through the viewscreen in the cockpit. The ship lowered gently to the planet’s surface. The sharp outline of the mountain range was visible nearby, and below that a town. Ralin was planning to hire a guide before crossing these mountains. They were dangerous to navigate for those who were not familiar with them. Plus, the guide could show them the fastest way over, rather than a trail that went the wrong way.

    The humming of the ship grew louder for a moment. Ralin’s seat vibrated incessantly. Then he was jolted against his restraints, and the humming dissipated. The pilot came back to the cabin and opened the hatch.

    The group stepped outside. Cool night air. Much better than the air in the ship, which smelled faintly of old fruit. The pilot wished them well and closed the hatch. Lifting off slowly, the ship disappeared into the dark sky, the only sign of its presence the flare of its engines.

    Ralin adjusted the straps on his backpack and started walking. The clones fell in step.

    “One thing, sir, that needs done.” Yellow lines. It was Bracken. “We do a lot of our talking over the comm, so it would work best if you wore this,” Bracken said, holding a tiny headset communicator in his thickly gloved hand.

    “Thanks,” Ralin said, taking the headset and putting it in his ear. “Can you hear me?”

    “Loud and clear,” Bracken said. It was uncanny to hear his voice coming only through the headset, when moments before he could hear it normally. Ralin guessed that toggle came in pretty handy sometimes.

    With that exchange, the group moved on.

    The town was made up of a single main street, connected to a smaller road nearer to the mountain. On either side of the road were many buildings, multiple taverns, judging by the signs, a pair of hotels, and a shop. Finally they saw a wooden sign with a full color depiction of an unfortunate traveler being eaten alive by lizards. Apparently this was to warn against the dangers of hiking without a guide, a scare-tactics advertisement. Must be the place. The group walked past a hotel and one of the taverns.

    A man flew unexpectedly from one of the doorways, raising a cloud of dust as he landed in the street. He got up, beating the dust out of his thick jacket.

    A Rodian yelled something from the doorway. Ralin didn’t speak much Rodian, but he was pretty sure that it wasn’t an invitation to come back for free drinks. The man in the street was rubbing his knuckles, breathing hard. He licked his bleeding lip and continued down the street to the next tavern, paying no attention to Ralin and his squad.

    “Nice place,” one of the clones said over the headset. Ralin thought it was Rinder.

    The party continued down the street. Ralin knocked on the door under the morbid lizard sign. He was amazed at the amount of wood used in everything here. There was only one building made of modern materials, which he guessed was the jail.

    The door opened to reveal a Duros, his blue skin and solid red eyes looking eerie in the backlight of the room.

    “Yes?” he said, head cocked to one side.

    “We’re here to hire your services,” Ralin said, “We need to cross the mountains.”

    The Duros scrutinized the group, looking first at Ralin, then at his companions. “Come inside,” he said at length.

    The inside of the house was somewhat cramped and smelled like wood chips. A stack of cages stood precariously on one side of the room. Apparently they were well kept, or else the smell of wood chips would not be most prevalent. Inside the cages a variety of creatures slithered and skittered. In one glass cage was a small lizard. Ralin gathered that it was the creature referenced on the guide’s sign.

    “So what are Republic troops doing out here on Drulaan?” The Duros asked, fixing his eyes directly on Ralin.

    Ralin glanced briefly at Graf.

    “May as well tell him,” Graf said over the comm.  

    “We’re the beginning of the invasion force.” Ralin said. No point in trying to say it otherwise. If he was going to help them, he’d better know the trouble they might get into.

    “Do you know of the town just over the mountains?” Ralin asked.

    “Yes…”

    “That is our target.” Impossible to say how he’s going to react. Supportive? Neutral? Ralin could only hope for one of those two.

    “I know some folks who would really like to see those droids out of here,” the guide said slowly. “As for me, I couldn’t care much either way. Business is about the same. Not many people wanting to go for a hike these days. ”

    “So… You’ll take us?”

    “Sure. Otherwise you’d probably have to kill me because I know too much.”

    “Either that or bribe you into submission.” Ralin smiled, hoping the Duros had been joking. He was fairly sure that was a joke. Hard to say, though; it was kind of monotone.

    The guide stared at him, stone-faced. No joke.

    “Hmm, well, I mean…” Ralin tried desperately to qualify or correct his statement somehow.

    The Duros covered his mouth with his hand, his shoulders rising slightly. Laughing. Some beings are confusing.

    “You boys just go get a room at the hotel down the street. Not The Quiet Log, the other one. Ole’ McRaely never has paid me back for that time I helped him catch his feather-rays. Scars to prove it, too. Sorry Bill, no business for you!”

    The guide chuckled to himself, then seemed to realize Ralin and the clones were still there. “I assume we’ll start in the morning?”

    “I was hoping we could start now,” Ralin said, wondering again why they came at night. Something about stealth and logistics.

    “No hiking at night. That would be a bad idea. You’ll see what I mean in the morning. Well, goodnight.” With that the guide ushered the group outdoors.

    “Okay, that wasn’t quite according to plan,” Ralin said. He looked at the clones.

    Dez shrugged. “Not much we can do about it.” Then they started down the street for whichever hotel was not The Quiet Log.

  5.  
    Very nice! Only one question. Is it The Quiet Log or the other one? The guide sent them to The Quiet Log, but they are looking for the other one.
  6.  

    That is an excellent question. Maybe they're being openly rebellious. Or maybe I should proofread more. But that's what you're all for!!

    • CommentAuthorMetamorph
    • CommentTimeJun 14th 2011
     
    Bravo, bravo!! Edit more! I'm already voting for a sequel, come November, so if you want a break you better hustle. ;)
    •  
      CommentAuthorNylad Mazzic
    • CommentTimeJun 20th 2011 edited
     

    Chapter 5

    Ralin stood at the base of the mountain. Sunlight waved through the branches of the trees that were sprinkled sparsely over the stony surface.

    “You boys ready?” It was the guide. He’d said he had to enlist a friend to take care of his pets until he returned.

    Ralin said they were ready. The guide walked up to Rinder, eying his Katarn battle armor.

    “You sure you want to climb in that?”

    “Well I sure don’t want to climb without it,” Rinder said. It was clear that he was proud of his armor.

    “Unless your equipment can’t hold this much weight,” Bracken added.

    “Shouldn’t be a problem,” The guide said, shaking his head. “But how much does the armor weigh?”

    “twenty kilograms,” Bracken said, “But we brought some, ah, extra, so closer to twenty-five apiece.”

    The guide nodded, eyebrows raised.  “Right. If you have trouble with them we could haul them separately. I’ll show you what I mean at the top of the trail, where the real hike starts,” The guide said almost ominously.

     

    With that they were off, the guide in the lead. There was a narrow, well used path that the guide said continued to about a quarter of the way up. From there it would get more difficult; they would be using cables to get past smooth faces of rock that were surprisingly hard to climb.

    Ralin walked behind the clone troopers, watching the trail curve back and forth up the face of the mountain. He saw birds perched in the few trees that grew here, swift-flying and bright-winged.

    “Why are there so few trees?” Ralin asked, truly curious as to the want of growth on the mountain, while the valley had too many trees to count.

    Then Ralin got a sick feeling in his stomach and heard a deep rumbling, the source of which he could not detect. The mountain shook. Gravel fell from above and the guide motioned that they follow him quickly. They crawled behind an immense outcropping of rock, which protected them from the debris falling from above. Ralin watched as a tree was uprooted and thrown down the mountain. It shattered against a boulder. “Oh.”

    “That’s one reason,” The guide said, wiping dust off his jacket. “That was a small shake, we’ll see worse before we reach the other side, I’d guess.”

    “Do quakes happen that often?” Ralin asked, amazed.

    “Oh sure,” The guide said, “it makes the climbing that much harder. Let’s move on.”

    The group walked back onto the path and continued their hike. The end of the trail wasn’t far ahead, Ralin guessed, by the way it was growing narrower and narrower. Sure enough, after another minute of hiking the trail seemed to say, “That’s steep enough, I quit!” It disappeared completely, leaving its charges to take whatever direction they pleased.

    “All right, now I‘m going to climb first,” the guide said, shifting his crimson gaze to each of the men in turn, “And when I toss the cable back down, one of you will hook it into your belt like this,” he said, indicating with a loop of the cable what he meant on his own harness.

    “Make sure the rope is feeding through as you climb, or else the harness won’t do you much good at all. Folks can get a nasty case of whiplash for leaving just a meter or two of slack.”

    The guide went first, climbing up the face of rock. His foot slipped once and Ralin was afraid he would fall, but he caught himself and carried on. Before long he made his way to the top of the rock slab. He looked around and soon found what he was looking for: a tree. He wrapped the cable around the tree, looping it carefully through itself. Then he tossed the other end of the cable down to Ralin and the clones.

    "Who's next?" the guide asked.

    Ralin and the others stared at the cable for a moment, then Dez grabbed it and hooked it into his belt.

    “Oh, right,” The guide said, remembering one more piece of advice,” If a shake starts and the tree comes up, you’d better get that cable unhooked fast. Otherwise it’ll drag you down the mountain, probably crushing you to death along the way.”

    “Charming,” Dez said quietly, beginning to climb. He climbed well, despite his load, sometimes clinging to the rocks and climbing in the traditional sense, other times climbing the rope with his feet braced against the rock wall. Climbing with the cable appeared to be much easier than without.

    As Dez made it to the top, the guide told them how lucky they were to have belaying harnesses. Some people had to go without. Of course, they presented some problems of their own, he said. Then he told a frightening tale of one of the climbers he had helped, a real jokester who somehow managed to get the cable caught around his own foot. The guide came climbing back down to him, where he cut the cable with his knife before it could tear too much into his leg. Fortunately he had been pretty close to a flat spot, or the fall could have killed him.

    Graf made it to the top and received a slap on the back from Dez. Just as Bracken started to climb, the guide yelled, “Don’t move!”

    Bracken froze, scanning all around for the threat. He was clearly unsure of what the guide was warning him of. The guide drew his long knife and threw it.  Ralin jumped back instinctively. He had to steady himself on Rinder, who looked equally puzzled. The knife hit its mark with a curious thwacking sound. Ralin looked at the ground next to him for the first time and saw a small, six legged lizard like the one he had seen in the guide’s home. It was now impaled by the guide’s knife. The lizard struggled a moment longer, then was motionless, clearly dead.

    Ralin thanked the guide and reached to pull the knife out of the reptile, but the guide yelled again, emphatically, that he should leave it there at least another few seconds. These lizards, he explained hastily, had remarkable healing powers. If they weren’t quite all the way dead, they could recover fast enough to attack you before a minute had passed.

    Ralin complied, giving the lizard a good long time to be dead. Then he picked up the knife, noting that it had stabbed easily into the solid rock.

    “That’s a nice knife,” Ralin said, truly impressed. “What’s it made of?”

    “One of the miners gave it to me,” the guide said.

    “Miners?” Ralin echoed.

    The clone troopers had all climbed the wall. Ralin hooked the cable to his harness, as he had been shown.

    “Yes. I believe you met one of them last night in front of the Golden Feather Saloon,” the guide said. Ralin remembered the brawler from the night before.

    “Ivan is really a nice guy. I don’t know why you didn’t stay to chat with him,” the Duros said, smirking.

    “What do they mine?” Ralin said, interested.

    “The metal is called Phrik. It’s pretty hard stuff, as you just saw,” the guide said.

    “What do they use it for? Besides knives?”

    “You sure have a lot of questions. You should have just talked to Ivan and he’d have sorted it all out with you.”

    Ralin found another handhold and replied with his teeth gritted, “Well, it could be important.”

    He pulled himself over the edge, onto the same level as his compatriots.

    “Good climb, men,” the guide said, “We may only have to do this fifteen more times today.”

    “Fifteen more times?” Ralin was surprised. Secretly he had hoped that they were getting close to halfway.

    “At least. Most of them will be longer than that one, too. Trees are hard to find sometimes.”

    They edged along their small platform, and the guide finally found a good place to climb. It was a rocky area where one wall met another, a relatively easy climb. The guide said that they wouldn’t need their belaying gear, but if they had trouble they could use it. If they made it all the way to the top before dark, he said they would get to experience one of the best tourist attractions of the planet: a mountain top view of the sunset.

    Spurred on by this incredible incentive, Ralin was sure that they all climbed much harder.

    Ralin had to eat his own thoughts when they reached the top, however. It really was incredible. The sun lowered gently, huge and orange against the mountains' grey surface, which soon turned to a black silhouette. The clouds lit up like fire and the sky turned bright pink. From the top of the mountain it all seemed so much closer, and yet still impossible to reach. It was only a few minutes before the sun disappeared completely, and Ralin helped set up camp.

    •  
      CommentAuthorNylad Mazzic
    • CommentTimeJun 26th 2011 edited
     

    Chapter 6

    “My crew has been in here for two weeks!” Arben yelled, outraged. “You can’t just take the entire mine!”

    “We already have. Now take your men out of here, before they start interfering with our operations,” the battle droid said, waving a rifle towards a pile of rough shale behind Arben.

    “I’ll show you interference,” Arben said fiercely. He stepped toward the droid, but was stopped by a sturdy hand on his shoulder.

    Arben turned to see who had stopped him. Short dark mustache, angular chin, sad grey eyes: Jamie Mur. He was a fellow miner and Arben’s close friend.

    “Arben, we can’t win this one,” Jamie said.

    Arben shook the hand off his shoulder and took another step forward. “I don’t care. This clanker will sound nice in the grinder,” he said vehemently.

    Jamie stepped in front of him and glanced around. The droid was already walking away.

    “We can’t make our move yet,” Jamie said quietly. “But soon.”

    Arben reluctantly turned away from the droid. He knew Jamie was right, but he couldn’t stand to let such a rich vein get away from him just like that. Some of the men were finding two, three kilograms of Phrik in a single day’s work, all in the mineshaft that the droids had just seized. Now the miners would be stuck starting a new shaft, and if they found anything good in it the droids would take that too.

    Arben glanced over his shoulder. The miner droids were already rolling in, big bulbous machines with a dozen different arms and attachments for extracting Phrik metal.

    “How soon?” Arben asked, lowering his voice.

    A tremor shook the mountainside. Rocks fell from the roof of an open tunnel to Arben’s left. Quakes were a miner’s curse. Many beings died in quakes smaller than this. Dangerous work. Pays well, though. Except when someone keeps stealing your claim.

    “The shipment should arrive in three days,” Jamie answered. He rose from a wary crouch as the tremor subsided.

    Arben nodded, rubbing his jaw. And when the shipment came, he would send that clanker through the grinder.

    * * *

    Ralin woke up the next morning feeling stiff. He climbed out of his thermal bag and stretched, watching the edge of the horizon brighten gradually. He looked around and saw that the clones were already awake and in their armor. It was strange: he didn’t remember seeing them take it off to sleep, and now he was wondering if they did at all.

    As the group broke camp and had a meal of rations, the guide said, “You’ve probably guessed that climbing down a mountain is easier than climbing up it.”

    Sounds right.

    “Well, I’m happy to inform you that this is not true.” The guide said. He was smirking, not even trying to hide his amusement.

    “Today’s climb involves not getting boiled alive. Hopefully,” he said with a grin.

    He then explained how in addition to the dangers of earthquakes and poisonous lizards, the back side of the mountain was covered in geysers that sprayed boiling water at irregular intervals.

    “Not a problem. This stuff can take it,” Dez said, rapping on his knee pad. The other clones nodded.

    The guide raised an eyebrow. “Sounds like we’re the only ones who need to worry, Ralin.”

    Pleasant prospect.

    The clones were the first to move, starting to hike down the shallow incline. This side wasn’t as steep as the other side, and the rocks here looked smoother. Not many loose rocks, either; everything seemed to be attached.

    They came to the edge of a network of deep holes in the smooth, rounded rock. Ralin thought they would make excellent footholds, until he saw a four-meter stream of water blast out of one these “footholds.”

    “Fall in a crack, boil off your back,” the guide said grimly.  “Who wants to be first?”

    Bracken stepped onto the first ridge, packing his rifle away onto his back.

    “Stick to this wide part here,” the guide said, pointing at a ridge of stone without very many holes near it.

    “Couldn’t we use the cable again?” Ralin asked. He felt vulnerable, a sensation he didn’t enjoy.

    “Nothing to tie it to. Except each other.” He tilted his head thoughtfully. “I’ve never understood that method.”

    “Don’t you have any of those pegs you hammer into the ground?” Ralin asked, not wanting to do this the hard way if there was an alternative.

    “What, pitons?” The guide shook his head. “I’ve never trusted them too much. Especially not here. You could bust open another geyser and be in worse trouble than you started.”

    The guide noticed his hesitation and said, “there is always the quick and easy way. Just run straight down and hope you don’t get hit. Some have done it. Others, well, weren’t so lucky.”

    A geyser went off under Bracken’s right foot. He staggered, recovered his footing, then lost it again, scrabbling on the wet stone. He slid down the mountainside, hands and feet sprawling. Finally he dug his wrist-mounted vibroblade into the rock, making an impressive grating noise. Another geyser spouted and sprayed him full in the chest.

    “Whew. Warm in here.” Bracken stood up, completely unharmed.

     
    ***

    The day’s hike was long and rough, at least for Ralin and the guide. The clones found it easy, except when the rocks were wet. Every time a geyser spouted, the entire party jumped, even the guide, who was looking back to be sure that Ralin wasn’t burned.

    They were doing okay until the battle droids came. Ralin was balancing on a rock, soaked with steam when he heard a buzzing whine. Two battle droids flew over, standing on narrow, vertical STAP speeders. Ralin grabbed his lightsaber instinctively. The clones armed themselves also. They leveled their blaster rifles towards the first droid that flew over.

    Having found their quarry, the droids came around for another pass, firing this time. The crimson bolts blew rock chips from the mountainside. Ralin dodged the volley that was aimed at him, leaping in front of the clone troopers to protect them as well. He was careful to stay away from the geysers, all the same.

    The clones hit the first droid, knocking it completely off its speeder. The STAP continued aimlessly down the mountain without its driver. Ralin jumped towards the second droid and swung his green saber through the droid’s midsection. He landed hard, and his left foot came down on empty air. His arms windmilled, and horror gripped at his throat as he fell. His extended hands met with stone, slid a few centimeters, and finally stopped his descent.

    Ralin realized that his eyes had been closed since he landed. That was the strange thing about the Force; sometimes you didn’t know completely how much you were depending on it.

    Ralin opened his eyes and found himself staring into the largest geyser he had seen all day.

    • CommentAuthorMetamorph
    • CommentTimeJun 26th 2011
     
    Ooh! Sounds.. dangerous! Go, Ralin! Also, meant to comment on the previous chapter too, it's funny! "We may only have to do this 15 more times today." :D
    •  
      CommentAuthorNylad Mazzic
    • CommentTimeJul 3rd 2011 edited
     

    Chapter 7

    Ralin’s hands braced him against one side of the pit, his feet against the other. While wondering how long he could stay in this pose, he sensed the guide at the edge of the fissure. He also sensed something else. Something threatening, something that hit him like a punch in the gut. He tried to focus on the feeling and got a clearer result. Jump! His instincts screamed.

    A deep rumbling vibrated through Ralin’s bones. Then the entire world shook violently. His feet slipped on the stone and he barely recovered. the ground beneath him split. The danger he sensed grew into certainty, something tangible he could almost taste.

    “Get back!” Ralin yelled at the top of his lungs. “Stay away!”

    He couldn’t be sure if the guide obeyed, or if he even heard.

    Then Ralin began to feel like he was inside an oven. Steam, his Force senses told him. He could already sense it, somewhere deep inside the crevice.

    He concentrated, trying to visualize every particle of boiling water dividing around him. He could still feel that awful heat, he knew it wouldn’t be enough. He decided to change tactics: Shielding. He imagined a simple shield of energy, wrapped around his entire body. He concentrated, and his shield grew more powerful, deflecting the heat.  Then the water blasted out of the crack all around him, a stronger force than he could have ever imagined.

    To the others of the group, it looked like their leader had just died. Ralin was engulfed in the largest geyser they had seen yet. To Ralin it looked like an upside down waterfall and felt like sun-bathing on Tatooine. Just at that temperature that it might not kill you. Might.

    The boiling water flew all around him, and he couldn't trust his shield to hold out much longer.  Then the geyser lifted him with inexorable strength, tossing him free of the crevice.

    Finally the jet of water gave out, and Ralin landed on his back, his breath completely knocked out of him. He gasped for air a few times like a stranded fish, then finally got some. He took long slow breaths, trying to calm himself down. His hands still stung. He looked down, saw blood. Rocks aren’t so smooth after all.

    Ralin closed his eyes as the guide and the clones surrounded him. Apparently the guide had made it away safely after all. Ralin was lifted, carried someplace else, slightly downhill.

    The clones set him down on his back and looked him over for burns. He was remarkably well, for someone who just rode a geyser. There were a few minor burns on his arms and legs, but otherwise he was virtually unharmed.

    “Never seen that before,”  the guide said, eyes wide. “How do you feel?”

    “Just… Tired,” Ralin said. The effort had seriously drained him. He was proud though, that was the best use of the Force he had ever done. All the exercises he did in the Jedi temple seemed fake by comparison.

    Danger! He sensed something again, more vague this time, hard to pinpoint. Ralin got into a sitting position, already regaining some of his energy. He got back to his feet, steadying himself on the guide, who helped him up. He scanned in every direction for the possible source of danger.

    A rumbling whine filled the air, louder than the high pitched buzz of the STAP speeders. The other clones turned now as well. A blurred form came into view, moving fast. A droid starfighter whizzed overhead, caught sight of them, and zoomed in for a firing pass.

    ***

     “We have to get out of the open!” Rinder yelled, “Those guns will tear us apart!”

    They were still a good sprint’s distance away from the tree line, the only clear hope for cover. And that would mean sprinting straight over about a dozen different geysers.

    “You two go on,” Graf said, addressing Ralin and the guide. “We can give him trouble from right here.” He turned to the clones and yelled, “Men! Take cover!”

    Graf jumped into a geyser, bracing his feet against the wall of the crevice. The other clones did the same, and Ralin stumbled to his feet and ran, as he was instructed. His lungs complained, and he felt a headache brewing. He heard the fighter come in close to the ground behind him. He looked back. Blasterfire lanced out of three different geyser holes, spraying the sky around the starfighter.

    Blaster bolts flew all around Ralin and the guide. Turning around, Ralin brought up his lightsaber to deflect the droid’s fire. He knew it wouldn’t be long before the droid corrected for their motion, or simply sprayed back and forth until they were both dead. A geyser went off in front of him, blasting steam into the air. The vapor obstructed the droid’s view, and the droid stopped firing. Then the ship emerged from the steam, coming too fast to change course. The fighter whizzed overhead. With reckless abandon, Ralin and the guide charged downhill, geysers blasting on either side of them. As they cleared the geyser field, they each jumped behind a large tree.

    The buzzing of the droid starfighter became quieter, until it couldn’t be heard at all. The clones came to the edge of the forest, realizing the threat was passed.

    “Now they’ll know we’re here,” Bracken said. His armor steamed lightly in the afternoon sun. Ralin couldn't help but envy his invulnerability to the elements.

    A blur of motion caught Ralin’s eye just off to his left. He turned and saw that the ship had returned from over the peak, and it had fired a spread of missiles. His first instinct was to run like a madman, but he suppressed it. If the group couldn’t take out this ship here and now, it would just strafe them constantly, eventually killing someone.

    Ralin couldn’t help feeling a little unnerved as the missiles streaked towards him. He concentrated, lifting each of the missiles upward, finding that he had trouble lifting more than three at a time. He changed their course gradually, just a few degrees was enough. This would be the hardest part. He carefully directed the missiles upward in a long arc, giving the starfighter time to catch up. He lost track of three or four missiles on the downward part of the arc, and they smashed into the forest, knocking over several trees.

    The droid starfighter detected the missiles as they came in closer. It rolled one way, then the other, trying to lose the missiles. Ralin was losing his concentration, more missiles slipped out of his grip as the fighter juked back and forth. Following wasn't working; he spread the missiles out like a net.

    One of the projectiles hit the fighter, setting the rest off with it. The ship was instantly transformed into an incandescent white ball of fire. With a resounding crash, the flaming debris fell to forest floor.

    Meanwhile, just inside the tree line, the clones encountered trouble of a more incompetent sort. A squad of B1 battle droids had set up an ambush. Graf was the unfortunate being to walk behind a specific clump of bushes, and found himself surrounded by the metal soldiers. If the droids had waited another two seconds they could have surrounded the entire group, but as it was, the rest of the clones hadn’t even been seen.

    Ralin caught up with the rest of the group just in time to see the droids threatening Graf.

     “Drop your weapon!” said the leader of the droids. Graf hesitated, buying time.

     “I’ll take the two on the left,” Bracken said. “Dez: get the two with their backs turned, Graf will get the two next to him. Rinder: two on the right. The rest, Sir, are all yours,” Bracken finished, addressing Ralin.  Ralin counted: Bracken had left him two droids. Hmm, can’t complain.

    “On my mark,” Bracken said quietly. He circled around another tree, getting the best angle on his marks. Ralin fingered the firing stud on his lightsaber, watching Bracken. He was impressed with the clone’s instant planning skills. The entire discussion had taken less than ten seconds.

    Bracken signaled with his left hand, then moved and shot the head clean off one his marks. Ralin ignited his lightsaber and charged, not feeling as tired as he had a second ago. Two droids fell to Rinder and Dez, Graf hit the one next to him with his vibroblade, chopping off its arm. Ralin cut one of his targets in half, beheading the other droid with a buzzing flourish.

    The remaining droids returned fire, and Ralin deflected two shots, one into a droid.

    The last three droids turned to run. Two were blasted by the clones and fell. The third got a good distance away when something sped towards it and stuck into its side. The droid fell to its knees, remained there a moment, then fell on its face, disabled.

    Puzzled, Ralin and the clones walked towards the droid. The guide stepped from behind a tree, walked over, and pulled his knife out of the mechanical soldier.

    “You forgot about me,” he said, looking pleased with his kill. The guide was right; they had completely disregarded him, at least from a combat perspective. He could do more than hike and talk about lizards.

    “I think this would look good mounted on my wall," the guide said, holding the battle droid's head.

  7.  

    rofl Mounting a droid head on the wall .. that's great.  :-D

    I'm loving it so far, the action is very well-written and the whole story is carrying me forward.  Keep it up!

    Roflenome

    •  
      CommentAuthorNylad Mazzic
    • CommentTimeJul 10th 2011 edited
     

    Chapter 8

    “Alright, I need one det and three charges. No, make that four. That wall must be thick. I’d hate to only make it halfway through,” Bracken said. Ralin pulled the required explosives out of the clone’s backpack. Bracken was the demolitions expert in the squad, so Ralin trusted his judgment.

    Ralin flipped the detonator over in his hands. "Okay, let me get this straight," he said, "Dez will draw attention on one side, then the other three of you will feint to the other side, killing the guards that are facing us."

    "Correct."

    "Then I plant the explosives, we regroup, blow the wall, and charge in." Ralin said, pointing to the wall of the barracks. He received a nod. “Sounds simple enough.”

    “Now let's go. Rinder's all ready to kick some clankers,” Bracken said.

    With that the clones melted into the forest on either side of Ralin, leaving him alone. The guide had left earlier, hiking back in the direction of the mountains. Ralin had assured him that the Republic would not forget its dues, realizing that he had no money to pay him with. Hopefully they wouldn’t forget.

    Blasterfire to the left, then a strange yell. They did say Dez was good at causing diversions. Ralin could almost feel the focus of the entire barracks shifting to the one side. Of course, you can't distract a droid forever, and they certainly will not leave their post for no reason.

    Then the other clones’ attack came. The droid sentries disappeared around the corner. That was Ralin’s cue. He jumped down the hillside and just ran as hard as he could. He jumped over a stubby bush, watching the wall for sentries. He got to the wall and his hands shook as he removed the adhesive sticker on the detonator. He planted it, activating it with two button presses. Then he planted each of the four charges around it on the wall. He looked back uphill at the scrubby trees the group was hiding in. He jogged back up the hillside, looking for the clones.

    Somehow, the clones were already waiting for him at the edge of the trees. He was amazed that the plan had worked, he thought for sure he would be seen. Then a volley of red blasterfire lit up the rocks next to his leg. He drew his lightsaber and swirled it in front of him, heart racing. That was a big gun, whatever it was. He looked for something to hide behind. He crouched behind a small boulder, watching the clones. Bracken waved to him, then  took out his wireless detonator switch and pressed the button.

    The barracks wall imploded on itself, a huge ring of debris spreading to the sky. Bricks and heaps of stone fell to the hillside slope.

    The clones found their way down the hill to where Ralin was. Whatever was shooting at Ralin had stopped, probably buried in debris.

     "I guess we used enough," Bracken said, nodding at the remnants of the wall. With that they were off again at a jog, straight into the gap. Ralin’s lungs complained, so he slowed down slightly. He jumped over a huge brick, realizing that he was in the lead. He stepped into the gap, waving his lightsaber. The green light reflected weirdly off the smoke.

    Red flashes to the left: blaster bolts. Instinct took over and Ralin blocked a volley that would have hit him in the face. Graf fired into the smoke, spraying back and forth. The red flashes stopped.

    "Left at the tree," Rinder said.

    "Tree?" Ralin didn't remember any tree on the map. There it was in the smoke, though, looming dark and tall. Ralin turned left.

    "Two buildings and here's ours," Rinder said. The turret was plated with durasteel, and it was mounted on a rotating base. Bracken stuck a pack of charges inside the rotating mechanism of the tower and they moved on.

    "From here we go downhill to that low wide building, then it’s on the right," Rinder said.

     Ralin remembered this part. The map of the barracks did not do this place justice. For one thing, It didn't show that the entire place was built on a slant, and all the buildings were crammed together, sometimes on top of each other.

    Bracken said, "All clear?" followed shortly by an explosion. All must have been clear, Ralin mused. One tower down, three to go.

    A group of droids was milling around the second tower, so Dez lobbed a grenade. landing it right in the middle of the group. The grenade bounced once on a droid foot, and only took out two of the mechanicals.

    "Downhill, Dez. Don't overthrow," Graf said, jumping down a trio of steps. The droids opened fire. Ralin deflected a few shots, stepping back behind a round building for cover. The clones were split on the road, two on each side.

    "We have to keep moving!" Rinder yelled. "We get pinned down and we never come out!"

    The clones blasted three droids, and Ralin jumped out and charged, a yell coming unbidden to his lips. The first droid was taken down by deflected fire from Ralin's saber. He slashed two with one swing, and deflected another blast. Ralin summoned any force power left in him and tossed the two remaining droids downhill. They clanked on the narrow road, and were taken out by precision blasterfire from the troops.

    "I'll set the charges here, you keep going!" Ralin yelled. He was feeling rushed. They had to take out the rest of the turrets before the entire force of this barracks could get to them.

    "Sir, we can't split up. If one of us is separated–”

    "I'm right behind you, just go!" Ralin said, slapping the charges on the tower. The clones hesitated for a microsecond, then acquiesced. "Try and keep up, Boss."

    With that they disappeared behind the corner.

    Ralin turned his attention to the explosives in his hand. Same buttons as before. Armed. He walked around the corner and ran right into a super battle droid.

    "How did you get there?" Ralin asked as he stabbed the droid in the face. The droid punched forwards, smacking Ralin in the gut. Pain lanced through Ralin’s body, making him dizzy. He staggered forward as the droid stepped back. It raised its arm to fire, but he sliced its hand off at the wrist, then another slash through the middle and the droid fell.

    Ralin ignored the growing pain in his stomach. He stepped into a narrow alleyway between two crumbling brick buildings. The alley curved in the wrong direction, so he came back and took the other route. Alright, who's idea was this? Mine. Listen to the commandos, they have experience.

    Now he was separated from his allies with no way to… Wait. Ralin remembered his comlink.

    “Alright, which way did you guys go?”

    At any rate, a good direction to go would be away from the explosives. Now where was the third tower? to the south... Which way was south?

    “Where are you?” came a clone's voice.

    “Left or right at the broken repair bay?” Ralin stopped at the corner, trying to recall the map. South is that way.

    “Through. Go through the repair bay, then you’ll be able to see the tower,” One of the clones said.  Sure enough, there was the third tower, with its armament bristling from the top.

    Ralin dodged fire from a droid on one of the rooftops. There! It should be right around this corner... Ralin skidded to a stop in front of a solid wall. He looked up, and chanced to see one of the clones looking down.

    "Bad intel, boss! The whole base is on a hill." It was Graf, and he was right. The scouts should have known this, how could they not see it?

    The clones lowered a line down, and Ralin took it. He turned off his lightsaber, feeling exposed. He heard a dull roar in the distance. That would be the second tower going down. Ralin dared to look down when he was halfway up, and he saw five, no, six destroyer droids rolling downhill to where he was.

    He almost grabbed his saber again, but changed his mind.No way could he deflect fire from six of those things while hanging by a cable. He climbed fast, feeling again how tired he was.

    Graf pulled him over the top, and Dez and Bracken came to the edge, holding the anti-armor variation of their rifles. The droids were gone, they had never stopped. "Too bad. I'd rather take ‘em out now than later."

    Rinder was finished arming the explosives on the third tower, so the squad continued downhill, towards the last target. The clones were incredibly versatile. Every clone in this squad could play the part of any other clone, though they did still have specialties.

    The droids started coming thicker as the group approached the last turret. Five destroyer droids appeared in front of them in the narrow street, already changing to attack form.

    “Destroyers! Get down!”Rinder yelled.  He pulled open a large door, blocking some of the fire. Everyone else ducked inside the building. Ralin jumped in last.

    “Parting gift!” Rinder yelled, tossing an ion grenade into the cluster of droids. He slammed the door behind them. Outside could be heard a buzzing explosion, followed by a dull crackle, as the droids’ shields shut down and their circuits overloaded.

    Ralin found himself in an impressive sized room with cracked tile floors and dusty walls. He walked down a hallway that probably looked nice at one time. The clones fanned out, searching for a backdoor. Ralin saw the last tower as he walked past a window. There it was, just a few streets away. So close!

     “No other doors on this level. Who builds a house with one door?” Dez said, coming up to Ralin. The other clones stood behind him.

    “We’ll have to make one then,” Bracken said. He sounded like he was smiling. He placed a single detonator on the wall, just under an old light fixture. He took a few steps away and blew the charge.

    The wall crumbled easily. Dusty bricks scattered over the tile floor. Ralin waved the dust out of his face and looked out the hole. He jerked back quickly as a volley of blaster bolts flew past his head. Those shots came from below.

    “We’re higher than the road!” Ralin said, exasperated. This entire town was messed up.

    “We can rappel down,” Rinder said, pulling out his cable.

    “Or…” Ralin was thinking hard.
    “Or what?”

    “Give me some explosives. Enough to take out the tower.” He took the bombs from Bracken, lifting them into the air with the Force. Just then the door behind them exploded inwards, sending hunks of scorched wood across the floor. He dropped the detonator, igniting his lightsaber instead. Two super battle droids stepped over the threshold, blaster bolts jumping from their wrists.

    Ralin blocked a few shots, but they were coming too fast.

    “Upstairs!” He yelled. That would buy them some time. A group of B1 battle droids entered, and Graf tossed a grenade. One of the supers went down, and all of the B1 droids were engulfed in the blaze.

    Ralin jumped up the stairs, taking a right at the top. The clones followed him into what used to be a bedroom.

    “I’ll handle the explosives, you guys just keep the droids off my back, okay?” The clones understood. Graf switched his rifle into sniper mode, adding the extended barrel and clip. The sniper model seemed to be Graf’s favorite. The other clones reloaded and drew a few more grenades.

    Ralin turned his attention to the explosives in his hand, lifting them into the air. He concentrated, sending them out the window, and they floated easily over the street. He noticed for the first time that there was a large group of droids surrounding the last tower. They know what we’re up to. If there was one thing droids were good at, it was recognizing patterns. The explosives had almost reached their mark when the droids noticed them. One of the battle droids pointed at them, and all the rest opened fire.

    “Ready with the trigger!” Ralin yelled. The clones were engaged at the moment, but he was sure they heard.

    Ralin spun the charges around in the air, setting them down at the base of the tower. He’d been careful to activate them before sending them away, so that he wouldn’t have to do that now with the Force.

    “Now!” Ralin shouted. The droids were just starting to get a closer look at the bombs when they exploded, engulfing the tower, the droids, and the surrounding buildings in flame. The tower shook, then fell, crushing any droids who might have survived.

    Ralin turned from the window. “Done! Well, except for the surviving part. We’re good at that, though, right?” He joined his compatriots at the doorway, back in the fight.

    •  
      CommentAuthorNylad Mazzic
    • CommentTimeJul 18th 2011 edited
     

    Chapter 9

    The guide walked back through the woods to the edge of the geyser fields. They were spouting much less frequently now. Must be time to go. Sigh. Back to his little house. Quiet. His pets would be glad to see him. It would be late at night. He would sit down in his hand-carved chair for a while, then make himself dinner. Probably meal-grain. Then he would feed his pets, then maybe drop by the tavern and pay Archie, the miner who was taking care of his pets. Then life would drop back into its regular, calm, boring routine.

    Or…

    That was all the convincing he needed. He turned around and started back towards the town. He was not going to miss out on any action, even if he was just going to watch. The sun went behind a cloud, and he wondered if it would rain. There in the sky. A ship. One of those Republic ships, what do they call that kind? He knew he’d heard it before. Who knows, they had so many ships in this war, even a true enthusiast would have a hard time keeping up. Is that what he was, a war enthusiast? Pshaw.

    A quake started, and the guide jumped from the geyser he was standing on. There was something different about this shake though, some deeper concussive force. The quake stopped after a moment, short-lived. Then another came, identical in strength and duration. But that sound, that was no quake.

    He looked back to the sky, drawing his macrobinoculars from his pack for a better view. The ship was still there, but something was different. The guide’s keen eyes picked out several points that somehow looked wrong. As he watched, another small, dark spot appeared, then another. Holes! Glancing at the mountains around him, the guide chanced to see a few thick streams of smoke coming from behind the mountain peak. As he watched, a flaming streak of orange appeared, first blooming outwards, then shrinking back to grey smoke. He put the pieces together. Some sort of land-to-space defense was blowing holes in the Republic ship. Why doesn’t it just fly away? It must be trapped somehow.

    This really wasn’t his affair, he tried to convince himself. He didn’t really need to involve himself in the battles of the Republic and the Separatists. But there was that quiet nagging doubt that told him that it would be wrong for him to walk away from this situation unscathed while his charges were captured, probably killed. If they were captured, they wouldn’t be able to pay him. That decides it then.

    He turned around, finding himself face to face with a very hostile looking human. She had bright brown eyes and a blaster pistol of curious design. The former were glaring at him and the latter was pointed at his head.

    “You were with the others,” She stated simply.

    “Yes,” the guide said slowly. “They hired me to take them over the mountain.” He left out the detail of leading them directly to the barracks, although he wasn’t sure how she would react at this point.

    “But you didn’t take them just over the mountain. You led them directly to our base.”

    “Base?” the guide said, trying his best to look confused. “What base?”

    “Right, nice try. You will come with me.” The last was said with such force that the guide almost believed it for a moment.

    “I don’t think so.” The guide’s knife was in his hand before the spy could react. He wasn’t going to let anyone order him around like this unless they were paying him.

    “Drop your weapon.” She said with her teeth gritted.

    “Yes ma’am.” He threw his knife down, aiming for the woman’s foot. She jumped away and the blade grazed the toe of her shoe. He grabbed her wrist, applying pressure to her elbow at the same time. Howling, she dropped the weapon. The guide snatched the gun, then his knife, then he took off running.

    Second run this week and I don’t have my chrono handy. Too bad. The guide glanced over his shoulder. She was still following at a run, death in her eyes. Might’ve motivated her too well. She’ll feel the mountain air by now, then the higher gravity will start to wear on her muscles. Then I can make it into town and warn the Jedi.

    The guide kept dodging behind trees, just in case this person had more weapons. He hadn’t noticed any on her, but she could have a hold-out blaster, or something similar in size.

    There’s the wall of the base.  Almost… There…

    He jumped through the opening, shooting behind him at the same time. The guide assumed that the strange woman would stop when she saw the possibility for ambush at the hole in the wall. So he kept running.

    Now where would those clones and that Jedi be? Down this hill, Over there. Whoa. Maybe they’re in that one.

    A few blocks away a line of droids was filing into a building. They kept walking in, and none ever came out. Circle around back maybe.

    A squad of super battle droids jogged past as the guide ducked into an alley. They were paying no attention to him. He made his way to the back of the building, which was upraised from the street by a distance of about ten meters. No good. Wait, there’s a hole in the wall. That could help. If he could just get on that roof there…

    The guide stepped inside the building adjacent to his target. Dust waved lazily in the sunlight as he disturbed the air. He made it to the roof, unhooking his cable from his belt. Where can we hook this? Right there, through that window. For that to come lose the whole house would have to come up. He tied the cable to itself, effectively strapping it to the building.

    Next step: the throw. The spire on the adjacent building had looked closer from the ground. He swung the cord a few times, then tossed it over the spire. He barely caught the end as it swung towards him.

    Next: jump. The guide inched his way to the right. He had to get this swing right or else he would smack into the wall. He jumped, lifting his feet beneath him. He barely cleared the corner, grazing his right sleeve. He turned, and on his way down he planted his feet against the corner of the building. This part was just climbing. Easy. The guide climbed sideways until he came to the breach in the wall. He peered in, then jumped and swung inside. He could immediately hear the blasterfire, punctuated with explosions. He walked down the hallway, peeking cautiously at the droids who were crowded around the front door.

    No way to get to them from here. He needed a different entrance. The room they were in probably had a window…

    The guide walked back to the hole in the wall. He grabbed his cable from where he'd left it and started climbing straight up the wall to the roof. Pulling himself over the top, he noticed the Republic ship in the sky. It wasn’t looking good. Chunks of the ship were coming off, leaving clouds of debris in the sky. Better hurry.

    Cable in hand, The guide peered over the edge. Yes, there was a window. He instantly started climbing down, glad that he had found them. He could still hear blasterfire, so that meant that someone was left to put up resistance.

    The clone troopers were crowded together in the doorway, firing down the stairs. The Jedi wasn’t in sight, but he was probably around.

    “Hey! You!” The guide tried to remember the name of one of the clones, something to call out. A blaster bolt whizzed past his head from below, then another. He looked down to see a few battle droids below. He climbed in the window.

    “Bad news, men. That ship of yours won’t be landing troops anytime soon.”

    One of the clones looked up, evidently surprised that there was someone else in the room. Ralin appeared from between the clones. He had a few burn marks on his clothing and he looked exhausted. “What is it? What are you doing here?”

    “I could show you,” The guide said. He walked over to the window and pointed into the sky.

    •  
      CommentAuthorNylad Mazzic
    • CommentTimeAug 18th 2011 edited
     

    Chapter 10

    Virade sat in a small office space in a comfortably padded chair. He knew that the clones and the Jedi were currently fighting off droids in the old building. He knew also the constant drain of troops they were killing. That became expensive. His long fingers gripped the armrests for a moment, then relaxed.

    “Bring them to me,” Virade said to his modified commando droid.

    Anak nodded once, and walked out. The droid was capable of the task. The clone commandos had pitiful weaknesses, and the Jedi would be in for a few surprises as well.

    Virade shut off the display in front of him. The image of the Republic Star Destroyer flickered out. It was sinking towards the atmosphere, riddled with holes. Flickering out. He smiled.

    ***

    Ralin stared, closed his eyes, then opened them again. There in the sky was The Arbiter, falling to pieces. His mouth went dry, his lightsaber fell on the floor. He stared at the ship, dazed.

    “Boss, we could use a hand here!” Rinder said, shaking him back to reality.

    Ralin tried to speak, but no words came. He licked his lips and tried again.

    “We won’t be receiving any support,” Ralin said. The final realization came with the words. There would not be two companies of troops charging down every alley, wiping out the droids as they went. And they still had not found Taun We.

    Dez answered first. “Could you clarify that statement, sir?” He didn’t sound like he was in the middle of combat, even though he was.

    “I meant exactly that. The Arbiter is destroyed. We need to get out of here.” Ralin stood up, the weight of command firmly on his shoulders now. If Ralin's master was here, Ralin could have just trusted that he would somehow take care of it all. But now that was his job. He had to solve this somehow. And he couldn’t.

    The guide walked over to the window and grabbed a cable that was hanging there, the one he must have used to get in. “This way,” he said.

    “Whoa, I’ve got something big here,” Rinder said over the comm. “It’s got some kind of armor, it’s not going down. I think it must—” Rinder’s voice cut out with a burst of static.

    “Rinder is down, That thing is—” Graf’s voice disappeared after a yell.

    Ralin ran to the doorway. Rinder and Graf were sprawled out on the floor, either unconscious or dead. Dez peered out of the doorway opposite Ralin. On the stairs was a huge mechanical form, taking slow, deliberate steps. Reaching for his lightsaber, Ralin found it missing. It was still on the floor. He turned to grab it and felt an intensely burning jolt in his leg. The electricity spread through his body. He felt it jolting his entire nervous system, tugging on his consciousness. It pulled him down into the black, deep into the abyss, and he was gone.

    ***

    The guide saw the Jedi and the last two clones fall to the floor. It looked like they were hit by some kind of stun weapon, if that was possible. The guide stepped closer to the window, an unpleasant fear growing within him. He didn’t want to tangle with anything that could take out a Jedi and a squad of clone commandos. He stepped on something round, removed his foot. There was the Jedi’s lightsaber. Much good as it was doing him now. He admired the chrome plating for a moment, then stuffed it into his pack and clambered out the window.

    As he gained his footing atop the building, the guide automatically felt safer. Being on top of tall objects was somehow comforting to him. He started coiling up his cable, moving toward the shorter building that he had started on. His mind was racing. What could he do to help them?

    Some movement caught his eye to the left. Down through the alley he could see a limp clone comando, carried by a super battle droid. Not what it was made for, couldn’t be a comfortable ride. The first disappeared as another walked past, then another, each with a similar load. The droids walked down an alley to a small door, then proceeded inside.

    Good, this was good. Now how would he get in?

    ***
     

    Taun We blinked passively as the door creaked open. Four men were shoved inside, straight down the stairs. Their hands were cuffed, and they stumbled groggily down the steps, barely staying upright. She could tell they were clones at a glance; she was very familiar with that face, the same face as every other clone in the army. Then she realized that the clones did not have their armor. Irregular.

    The clones were followed by a super battle droid, then a man dressed in robes; Taun We took him to be a Jedi. He had short brown hair, slightly singed, and tired eyes that were ringed with dirt. They were all followed in by their captor, who was smiling, and not in a friendly way. The droids in the room shoved the prisoners into separate metal-barred cells.

    “Now I know you’ll want to discuss your plans of escape as soon as I leave, but first we really need to talk. And then you’re all going to die. Well except for the grey-ish one over here. She might still be useful.” He laughed then, an awful barking noise that could’ve made a Wookiee cry.

    “I do believe I’ll sit in on your little discussion, just to see what you come up with. Escape plans, anyone?” He said as he shut the door behind him. Virade pulled a chair away from a desk and sat down in it, sighing as he did so.

    “If you’re not going to say anything, then I’ll start the first discussion point,” he said. “Just what were you planning to do while you waited for your troops to land? Really. Tell me how you intended to hold off an army of droids with only five men?”

    Virade rubbed his hands together. “And then you realized that you were alone. Your ship was falling apart in the sky, torn apart piece by piece, your only hope of escape destroyed by the emblem of the separatists! And you were trapped.”

    Virade’s face grew less pleasant. “Completely alone…”

    He stood up, waving his hands. “You’re not saying anything! Don’t you have plans? Don’t you want to live?” The group answered with silence.

    “Fine,” Virade said. “I’ll return the threat of death is more motivating.” With that the man walked up the stairs, his droid following closely behind. He went out and slammed the door behind him.

    The room fell silent. The two super battle droids shuffled to either side of the stairs.  The Jedi sat with his back to the crumbling stone wall, and the clones stood uneasily in their own cells. They had come all this way to quit? Taun We couldn’t believe them.

    She was about to admonish the clones for their inaction when something caught her attention. A humming sound, somewhere overhead, distant. Then a sharper buzz that continued for another moment, then a dull whump. This cycle was repeated twice, louder each time. Finally a white-hot pinpoint of light appeared in the ceiling. The light grew brighter and started moving, describing a rough circle in the surface of the ceiling. Then the entire circle slipped out easily and fell with a whump to the floor.

    Round edged flooring boards clattered away as dust sifted down from the ceiling. There in the newly formed hole was a bright, green-white glow. It disappeared, and a humanoid form lowered itself down from the edge of the hole, revealing that it was a Duros.

    The Duros dropped easily to the floor. He walked up to the cell holding the Jedi, who was staring open-mouthed. They were about to speak when the door slammed open and Virade stepped into the room again.

    “Ha! I knew you would try something! You pitiful excuses for intelligent beings!” Then he noticed the Duros, who had just stuffed the lightsaber under his jacket. “What are you doing here?”

    The Duros glanced at the floor where the round of ceiling was, then up at the ceiling where the hole was. He muttered something about intelligent beings, then pulled the lightsaber out of his jacket and tossed it through the bars of the cell—straight into the hands of the shocked Jedi Knight.

  8.  

    Chapter 11

    Ralin ignited the lightsaber, enjoying the presence of the green buzzing blade. He had missed his saber, he realized, in his short time without it. He slashed easily through the bars of his cell, first at head height, then at ankle height. The metal bars scattered across the floor, their tips still glowing red.

    Ralin slashed two battle droids, then force-tossed their blasters to the clones. Hopefully they would be able to take out the super battle droid he had left. Then the Jedi ran straight towards Virade.  The commando droid jumped between them, throwing a punch at Ralin’s face. Ralin ducked the blow, adrenaline surging through him. He slashed at the droid’s neck, hoping to take off its head and have it done with. The droid grabbed Ralin’s lightsaber blade with a bizarre sizzling noise.

    Somehow, the lightsaber didn’t cut through the droid’s hand. Ralin felt vaguely impressed. The droid yanked on the saber, sparks flying, trying to twist it from Ralin’s grasp. Rather than fight over it, Ralin extinguished his blade, leaving the droid holding nothing but air. Then he re-ignited it, right into the droid’s midsection. The droid’s armor still resisted the lightsaber, and the blade jerked to one side, never completely cutting through the metal.

    While the bodyguard diverted Ralin’s attention, Virade escaped outside. As soon as he closed the door behind him, his bodyguard disengaged and followed. Ralin let the droid go; he wasn’t looking for extra trouble with it.

    The guide was working on the lock to Taun We’s cell, without much success. Ralin slashed the bars out of each cell, just as he had with his own. The clones stepped out, two of them already armed. Dez walked over to the fallen super battle droid, probably hoping to salvage it’s blaster somehow.

    “No time for that, Dez,” Rinder said, picking up a bar from the floor. Unhappily, Dez armed himself similarly.

    “They’ll be waiting for us outside,” Ralin guessed. “We’ll have to get out another way.”

    He jumped and caught the edge of the hole in the ceiling. His muscles burned, his feet swung forwards. Finally he got up past his elbows and pulled himself over the edge. The clones followed, barely able to reach the hole. Taun We could nearly reach the hole without jumping.

    After everyone was up, Ralin rolled over on his back, noticing the hole in the ceiling of this room as well. The guide had been very regular with his holes; Ralin could see the sky through them.

    Ralin stood, glancing around the room. A Small table slumped in the corner with only three legs. A door leaned against its frame, off its hinges. The glass of the window to his left was still intact. This would be the correct direction to leave in, if the droids were outside the other side of the house. Ralin grabbed the window edge, finding the catch. The small lever clicked out of place and the window ground open. Barely quieter than breaking it.

    Ralin glanced briefly at each of the faces. Graf was determined, brow furrowed deeply. Bracken looked like he was plotting something, And Rinder was eyeing Graf’s blaster like he was having second thoughts about his choice of weapon. Dez shouldered his metal rod and looked straight back at Ralin. Taun We always looked calm, from the short experience Ralin had with her. And at the moment the guide looked… Impatient.

    “Right,” Ralin said, shaking his head briefly and stepping to the window. He glanced down the street in both directions, then stepped over the sill. The gravel crunched as the group followed him into the street. They walked quietly until they reached a crossroads, but there they stopped.

    Somewhere in the house behind them, a door could be heard, then several metal objects bouncing around on the floor. Ralin turned to look at the window of the building they had left, still not cognizant of the threat. Half a second’s silence, then orange flames expanded from the window, visible between every board. The walls gave a moment later, scattering ragged pieces of wood at high speeds.

    Everyone hit the dirt at about the same time. Ralin got whacked by a board in passing, nothing serious, but it still stung. The sound died to a dull rumble, and flaming slivers of wood stopped flying everywhere. Ralin got to his knees, already feeling a huge splinter in his arm. He’d get it out later. The group got up, a bit worse for the wear, but still alive. Now they could get out of here and contact the Republic.

    Gravel crunched loudly and rhythmically. Just around the corner Ralin could see a squad of battle droids, and they were running in his direction. Didn’t look like they’d seen him yet. The clones picked up on the noise and crouched behind the corner with Ralin. Taun We and the guide stood with their backs against the wall, waiting. Ralin checked the other roads. A group of super battle droids was approaching from the south, but they were coming from downhill, so they wouldn’t have a clear shot until they were over the ridge.

    The first squad of droids grew closer, then closer still. The first head appeared around the corner, and the first head was chopped off by Ralin’s saber. He dove straight into the group of droids, sweeping through half a dozen of them before they had a chance to move away. Finally they reacted, backing off and firing. Ralin sliced another, then blocked a few blastershots. The only problem was that now he was surrounded. The droids moved just out of lightsaber range and started firing constantly.

    Ralin was prepared for this. He jumped straight into the air, letting the mechanicals blast each other in his absence. Two droids fell by their own hands. Ralin landed next to a few and rolled behind them, slashing their legs out from under them as he got up. Now that he was no longer surrounded, he could deflect the shots of the rest much more easily.

    Ralin finished off his group, turning around to face the clones. Dez was gladly picking up a blaster from one of the droids, as did Taun We. Behind the group strode a mechanical figure, the commando droid from earlier. It was walking stealthily up behind Rinder, arms poised to strike.

    “Rinder!” Ralin shouted. Instantly, Rinder turned and swung his metal pole, already aware of the threat. His rod struck the droid in the waist, bending around the stronger alloy. He drew it back to swing again, but the droid caught it with both hands, wrenching it out of his grip. The droid stepped back, taking a moment to bend the pole back into a straight line. As if satisfied, the droid swung. Graf tried to jump away, but he was smashed in the chest by the droid, landing on his back. The other clones opened up into the droid, but its armor either absorbed or deflected every shot. The droid advanced quickly, twirling his new found staff in front of him.

    Taun We had picked up a blaster and was shooting at the newest group of battle droids that were approaching. She had incredible aim; she shot one droid in the neck, causing the rest of the droid, bereft of its sense of sight, to stumble around, firing in every direction, usually into the ranks of its allies.

    Ralin was surprised by a blaster bolt flying over his left shoulder. He turned, ready to deflect. Deflecting blasterfire was one of the first things that young Jedi were taught, and Ralin was no exception. Self defense was automatic. He stepped back, getting a better position, and something solid hit him in the back of the right knee. He felt his balance escape him as his right leg went in front of him. He landed on his back with a whump! He had just about shaken all the stars out of his head, when he saw the commando droid standing over him. It stared down at him for a moment with glowing, expressionless eyes.  Then it swung its metal pole at his head.

    •  
      CommentAuthorNylad Mazzic
    • CommentTimeSep 11th 2011 edited
     

    Chapter 12

    Ralin whipped his lightsaber up to parry, slicing the metal rod in half. The droid’s half stuck into the ground with the force of its swing. It would have hit Ralin had he not rolled to one side. He jumped to his feet. The commando yanked its pole out of the dirt, flourishing it with both hands. It feinted to Ralin’s waist, then his head, then the real blow came at his feet. Ralin jumped and slashed beneath him, cutting the pole into another segment. The droid looked over Ralin’s shoulder, then turned and ran. Confused, Ralin looked around. Nothing there. No, there was something, another presence. Concealed. He decided to dwell on it later.

    “Let’s get out of here!” Ralin yelled. For the moment, there were no droids in sight. No whole droids, that is. The clones and the guide ran in the direction of the gate as Ralin and Taun We brought up the rear. Ralin charged down a flight of pebbly, hewn steps, trying not to slip on the gravel. The path turned abruptly to the left, and somehow they were on the main street again. That wouldn’t matter; soon they would be gone.

    Ralin winced as he passed another intersection. He could already tell there were droids here. Sure enough, two squads of super battle droids marched rapidly toward the intersection, still a block away. Now they would only be a few steps behind.

    The gate was a massive construct of various metals, held in place by a pair of solid stone columns. Ralin checked the gate for a mechanism he could control easily, but found nothing external. The walls to either side of the column were much lower. Ralin thought this would be their best chance for escape. He looked around for something to prop against the wall; it was too high to reach by jumping. A landspeeder hovered quietly beside a small mountain of tools. Evidently it worked well enough.

    “Would you give me a hand with this thing?” He called to the clone troopers. Together they pushed the speeder into place next to the wall.

    Dez was about to climb onto it, when an elongated beam of light struck the speeder’s edge. Bracken gasped and then said something like, “getoffgetoffgetoff!” He leaped from the speeder into the dirt. The other clones evidently understood, so Ralin jumped off as well. Seconds later, another bolt hit the speeder and it exploded violently. An entire section of wall crumbled, then fell. Shrapnel landed in a large radius, pinging sharply on the rocks.

    “Power cells were right there. Sniper was aiming for ‘em,” Bracken explained.

    “Which gives us another problem,” Dez added, creeping away from the main street. “Everybody stay down out of sight,” he said.

    The measured step of the droids was audible now, growing closer every second. Two choices here: Wait here and get pinned down by supers, or play chance with a sniper?

    He crouched near the building edge, eyeing the crumbled wall. Suddenly he received a force warning that felt like a slap in the face. He ducked just as another crimson bolt whizzed overhead.

    “You okay?” Rinder asked.

    “Yeah, fine.” Ralin replied. He focused on a large chunk of metal from the speeder, raising it vertically. It might be just large enough to hide behind. He pulled it to himself. The clones understood, and silently nominated Bracken to take the first run. The clone took his place behind the shield and gave Ralin the thumbs up. Blaster shots hit the panel with an even staccoto as it hovered around the corner. Only one sniper then; two wouldn't be so well timed.

    Bracken made it across the street, then escaped outside the wall.

    The panel received harsher treatment on the way back. Apparently, the super battle droids had arrived. Rockets exploded against it, heavy fire hammered away at it.  Halfway back, the metal came apart completely.

    Fine. New plan.

    “Graf, go make us a new hole,” Ralin said, passing his lightsaber to the clone. Then he motioned to the others to follow Graf.

    “Oh, and Dez. I might need a few of those,” Ralin said. Dez turned around, holding half a dozen blaster rifles from fallen droids.

    “These?”

    “Yes, Dez. Maybe three or four.”

    Reluctantly, Dez handed him four of the rifles.

    “I can’t shoot more than two at once anyways,” Dez said, grinning.

    Ralin picked up two of the rifles and checked that the safeties were off, then used the force to lift them into the air around the corner. He opened fire. He couldn’t see anything, but the mob of droids would be hard to miss. Two guns was easy enough, so he lifted the other two as well, spraying back and forth.

    Click.  

    One blaster was out, muzzle smoking. Ralin dropped it. The droids appeared around the corner, struggling under the heavy fire. The clones behind Ralin opened fire as well. Ralin tried to focus his fire on one droid at a time, dropping them one by one. Not the most ammo efficient method, but effective.

    Click.

    Two rifles down. Ralin started to back away.

    “Graf! You done yet?” Ralin dropped another empty gun.

    “Almost, Boss!”

    “Close enough! I need my lightsaber!!” Ralin dropped his last empty rifle and turned his back to run.

    Graf had finished three fourths of a circle in the wall. He pulled the lightsaber out of the stone and extinguished it, tossing it to Ralin. Ralin tugged it out of the air, lighting it on the way. He realized momentarily how much he had just done, and he felt tired already.

    Ralin had to finish the wall, but he felt so weak he wasn’t sure he could. He concentrated, using every ounce of strength he had left. His face twisted, a crack appeared. It grew, perforating the unbroken stone. Graf backed up and slammed into it with his shoulder, breaking it loose. Good enough. The clones ushered Taun We through, then the guide.

    Ralin’s vision was shrinking, a growing darkness at the edge of his sight.

    The others were away safely now, so he turned and ran also, deflecting one particularly well aimed shot that would have hit him square in the back. When he reached the hole in the wall, he dove straight through, rolling clumsily as he hit the ground. When he got up, the others were already running toward the tree line. Ralin was breathing hard, but still breathing.

    They reached the forest and ducked into the trees. Ralin’s vision was swaying strangely, but he soon realized it was only his body that was swaying. He sat down carefully thinking he would never stand up again. Physically, he was tired. Mentally, he thought was about to die. Could you die from using too much of the force? He wasn’t sure, but he’d never heard an account of it.

     They sat panting behind a huge tree trunk for a few moments before Bracken said, “We need to contact the Republic! The next thing they will do when they don’t hear anything from The Arbiter is send in more ships. And those ships will just get slaughtered by whatever killed The Arbiter.

    “The droids are still on our trail,” Dez said, trying to bring everyone back to the moment.

    The guide smiled strangely. “Who wants to get lost?”

    •  
      CommentAuthorCurly Que
    • CommentTimeSep 17th 2011
     
    Very nice! I think Ralin should work on his force stamina though. :D
  9.  

    haha, maybe so. Thanks. :)

    •  
      CommentAuthorNylad Mazzic
    • CommentTimeSep 19th 2011 edited
     

    Chapter 13

    The group walked as fast as they could through the forest, the guide leading the way. He took them all around trees to a formation of rough slabs of slate where he said they could hide for a while. The formation was part of an old mining shaft, and a hole gaped between the rocks. The guide stepped inside the cave, followed by the clone troopers, Ralin, and Taun We. After a few meters, They came to a tumbled heap of boulders, a wall of rocks formed by a cave in.

    “Now,” The guide said, “We close the door.” He gripped a rock on the side of the tunnel. It was clearly very heavy, so Ralin helped him lift it into place. The outside of the door was stone, but the back was fused with metal. A small locking mechanism clicked into place.

    The cave was overflowing with poor man’s stealth gear: untouchable darkness.

    “Oh, that’s right. You can’t see, can you?” The guide’s level voice pierced the black. Ralin remembered: Duros had vision that dipped into both the infrared and the ultra-violet. They were practically born to be scouts.

    “I could, if I had my armor on,” one of the clone troopers said. Ralin was not sure which clone was speaking, since they had nearly identical voices, but he thought it was Rinder.

    “And I wouldn't be all beaten up,” said another clone voice; Ralin guessed this was Dez. It was uncanny to hear them talk within the same time period; it sounded as if someone was talking to himself.

    “If you'll all stand back so I don't impale you, I'll turn my lightsaber on,” Ralin said.

    He heard some shuffling of feet on the gravel floor as the others moved away. Ralin swung his arms out in front of him to be sure, then he ignited his green blade. It’s glad buzzing echoed in the close confines of the cave. Now they could see, though everything was tinted green.

    Ralin took a moment to turn his lightsaber down to a training setting. He didn't want anyone to trip and lose a limb.

    “How did you find this place?” Ralin asked the guide. He realized that for all this time he never knew the guide's real name.

    “I led quite a few miners from a few places across the mountains to this mine,” the guide said. “This was a real favorite among the miners. You could get rich quick in here, they told me.”

    “So what exactly is the metal?” Ralin asked.

    “It’s called phrik, like I said before, and it’s harder than most other metals. What makes it so valuable, though, is its energy resistance. Not many things can get through refined phrik metal.”

    “Virade’s bodyguard droid,” Ralin said, making a connection.

    “Yes. I get the feeling that’s not the only thing he’s been doing with it,” the guide said, crossing his arms. “He came here with some purpose, I’m sure.”

    Ralin thought he felt something touching his head. He ignored it.

     “What did the Separatists have to do with these mines?” Graf asked, curious about the designs of the droid army.

    “Rather than just hiring the miners to go in and get the metal for them like a civilized business, they sent their droids in to get it themselves. And they kicked the miners out,” the guide said, kicking the wall with his booted toe. A flurry of dust rained from the ceiling, and everyone started coughing.

    Outside the cave Ralin could hear the droids running past. He motioned everyone to be quiet, just in case. If he could hear the droids, the droids could probably hear him.

    The footsteps receded.

    Ralin was sure he felt something dripping on him this time. He wiped his hair, then looked at his hand. His fingers were sticky with blood.

    “Hey, are you okay?” Rinder asked him.

    Ralin started making a mental assessment of his health, making sure that he was not wounded more than he knew. He hated those injuries that you don’t even notice until you see the blood.

    I’m fine,” Ralin said, stepping to the side. He looked up at the roof of the cave, lifting his lightsaber to get a better view.

    “Ugh. Do yourselves a favor and don't look at the ceiling.”

    The clone troopers actually didn't look, until they understood him completely. Ralin was amazed. That was discipline. Receive order, Execute order.

    The dripping came from the jaws of a strange scaly beast, who was finishing up eating some hapless animal who had wandered into his cave. The monster had four long, plated looking legs, a flat head with a very large mouth, and a midsection that didn’t look strong enough to hold together if its legs ever rebelled in different directions. It was using its front pair of legs to stuff food into its mouth while its back legs clung mysteriously to the rock.

    The entire group backed away into the entrance of the cave, which began to feel very cramped. The creature took no interest in them, while it was eating. It crushed the last of the animal with its strong jaws, chewed twice, and then swallowed the rest of it.

    “It’s an armored telbrock,” the guide said in hushed tones, examining the beast closely. “See how its back feet dig into the rock like that? The tips of its feet are actually encased in phrik metal. They lay their eggs in ore-rich cave walls, and the eggs slowly absorb particles of phrik metal from their surroundings. They’re amazing,” the guide concluded. “If only I could capture it for my collection.”

    “I don't think that's an option right now,” Ralin said, alarmed that the guide would consider such a vicious creature for a companion.

    “It is incredible,” Taun We agreed in her musical voice. Ralin was surprised. She hadn’t said much of anything since they escaped. Kaminoans were known for their respect of life forms that worked towards self improvement, but Ralin was not sure how this thing fell into that category.

    “Are the droids gone yet?” Graf said as the creature wiped its mandibles with its front legs.

    “I hope so,” the guide said, “because as soon as Mr. telbrock here decides it likes the look of us we'll be in serious trouble.”

    Ralin opened the door halfway. “Over here,”  said a droid voice. “I saw something move.”

    Ralin's pulse beat in his head as he struggled to move the stone back into place slowly. He heard the droids' feet approaching as he clicked the door into place.

    The armored telbrock was already moving in their direction as well.

    “Well gents, death by droids, or by telbrock? I'd vote droids, myself, but I don't know the final wishes of the rest of you.”

    “This rock is the one that moved!” the droid outside said. Other droids came to investigate as well. One of them was standing on the panel, judging by the increased weight. The old metal latch creaked. Ralin glanced back. The telbrock was moving towards them, sniffing. Evidently it wasn't satisfied with its latest meal and wanted more. Ralin switched his lightsaber from “shiny plaything” back to  “dangerous.”

    The telbrock pounced. The clones dove out of the way, and the creature's feet dug into the walls of the cave. The latch on the door cracked once more and gave way. A surprised battle droid fell into the cave with a shout.

    “Whoa! They are in here! Get them!”

    The metal door slammed into the wall of the cave, bringing another shower of dust.

    The telbrock pounced on the battle droid, impaling it with clawed feet. It hissed and tried to chew on the droid's head, easily crushing the weak metal with his strong jaws.

    The rest of the group moved discreetly into the back of the cave. At the entrance, the other droids had recognized the animal as a threat and were shooting at it. The telbrock hissed, the sound rising to a nasty whistle. It jumped out of the cave, and judging by the screams of the droids, commenced attacking them violently.

    Ralin rushed to the entrance, peering out between the rocks. The droids were in full retreat. The creature pounced from one to the next, stabbing through their metallic forms with its terrible claws. The others of the group crowded up behind Ralin, and he turned around, motioning them to be quiet. They kept pushing though, and Ralin noted for the first time a look of wild horror in the eyes of the clones.

    “There's another monster in there!” Dez said.

    Ralin got out of the way.

    The second creature came toward them, hissing through its teeth. It stabbed its claws into the ground a few times in front of the cave. Then with more hissing, it climbed the wall of the cave, and backed slowly away from them into the inky darkness.

    “Well, that was an up close look inside the lair of a wild armored telbrock!” the guide said. “You're lucky. I would probably charge others extra for such an amazing experience,” he said. He was clearly glad they had escaped unscathed. “Now we’d better get out of here before the other gets back.”

    • CommentAuthorMetamorph
    • CommentTimeSep 21st 2011
     
    "poor man’s stealth gear: untouchable darkness." <<I LOVE this! Also, "She was still following at a run, death in her eyes. Might’ve motivated her too well." :D :D

    Mini-edits - Chapter 7 "His lungs complained, and he felt a headache brewing as .hHe heard" (very much liked the description of being inside the geyser.)

    - Chaper 12 ¨Blasterfire evenly timed blaster shots hit the panel as it hovered around the corner.¨

    Very nice! I was behind, so had a nice couple chunks to catch up on.
  10.  

    Aha! I'm not sure how I missed those. 
    Thank you!   :D

  11.  

    Chapter 14

    Commander Clenson watched the streaks of color and light flying past in a whirling, dizzying blur. He would arrive in realspace in twelve seconds at a point in the outer rim where a pair of Republic warships had been caught off guard by a hostile ambush. Clenson wasn’t sure what type of “ambush” it could be; there are not many ways you can sneak up on someone in extra-planetary warfare.

    The ship swirled back to realspace, and the conflict was not immediately visible. The Republic ship Reliant was under heavy fire. From what, Clenson couldn’t be sure. There, behind those asteroids. That was where the turbolasers were coming from.

    “Orders, sir?” a thin man asked behind Clenson.

    “Launch the fighters! Tell every gunner to watch his zone.” The commander yelled. Within seconds, The fighters whirled out of the ship's hangers, their objective vaguely behind the asteroids.

    “Shubar! Ask the Reliant what in blazes happened here. They’ve lost their counterpart, and we still don’t know what’s done it,” Clenson said, noticing the huge chunks of ship-like debris floating among the asteroids.

     “The Reliant’s communications array is damaged,” the Mon Calamari comms specialist declared, shaking his fishy head. “Their message keeps cutting out.”

    “See what you can do.”

    “This is brilliant!” said one of the men. Clenson turned. Younger man, wide eyes, expression of anticipation. Clenson remembered this one. He had very high intellect reports, but he was proud, which gave him a dangerous share of false self-confidence. In short, inexperienced.

    “Kaden, close your mouth. You seem so much smarter when silent.”

    The younger man’s brows furrowed, but he did shut his mouth.

    “Better. Now tell me when you get a scan on these other ships,” Clenson said, gesturing toward the asteroid field.

    New recruits. At times, they were hard to manage, but Clenson enjoyed watching them improve. Most Republic vessels had a bridge crew made up of clones, pre-trained and ready. Clenson could barely stand how uncreative the clones were at times, so he had hand-picked his own bridge crew. Despite this, the clone pilots still stepped forward as the best brave pilots of the ARC-170 fighters.

    “Something strange is going on here, sir,” Kaden said, turned in his chair.

    Clenson walked over, glancing at the scanning display.

    “I’m picking up readings on those asteroids, and they’re not acting like asteroids. Sir.”

    Clenson leaned over the controls, checking the readings. His brows furrowed. That was abnormal, why would an asteroid have any energy signature? Unless…

    “These are no asteroids.”

     “That was my thought, sir.”

    Clenson saw it all clearly now. Their foes were not behind the asteroids. They were the asteroids. That would constitute an ambush. He rushed back to the viewing port. Another turbolaser blast, and he became sure of it. The bolt had come straight from the side of the asteroid, not from any ship lurking beyond view.

    “Patch me into the fighter’s channel,” Clenson said, stepping closer to the transparisteel.

    A wash of chatter filled the air, pilots giving orders, discussing approach vectors, declaring squadron formations. Clenson reached for the console, taking up the microphone headset.

    “All squadrons, this is Crimson Steel. Watch your tails out there; the asteroids are the enemy. Get up close and find a weakness, but stay alert.”

    “Orders received,” the squadron leaders chimed in.

    The ARC-170 fighters zeroed in on their targets, starting with a few cursory attack runs, testing the defenses of the strange spacecraft. The asteroids shifted slightly, rotating as though surprised. A few of them fired huge, red bolts, but none were able to accurately target the fighters.  

    What are we dealing with here? A band of pirates with ships disguised as rocks? Or something deeper? The energy readings were faint on these ships; they had some type of concealment, which denoted organization and planning. Not the traits of your average gang of pirates.

    The asteroid-ships seemed to realize that they could not rid themselves of these comparatively tiny attackers, and they ceased fire, orienting themselves to escape. Small hatches opened in the ships’ hulls to reveal the engine compartments, dilating, silver cylinders that glowed a faint orange as they warmed up.

     “Target the engines!” Clenson bellowed. “All guns, focus fire!”

    Crimson Steel’s guns came within range and opened up into the nearest asteroid’s engines. Two asteroids made the jump to hyperspace, then three more followed. The targeted ship, however, stayed where it was, drifting helplessly as its comrades disappeared into hyperspace.

    Well, we got one. The other ships disappeared, escaping into the quasi-dimensional realm of hyperspace.

    Now to pick it clean.

    Clenson enjoyed going through the enemy's ship and taking anything of importance. Looting was one of the rights of conquest, he always said. Crimson Steel’s holds were already stacked with other spoils of war, some fine things that Clenson knew would be useful someday. Or perhaps valuable, to the right being.

    “Send out the scavenger teams,” Clenson said, pulling thoughtfully on his earlobe. The scavengers had good priorities. They would take whatever was valuable. In this case not much was even damaged; they should find some nice things.

    “What news on the Reliant?” the commander asked, cracking his knuckles.

    “They’ve switched to a frequency that seems to work better for them. Onscreen,” Shubar said.

    The head and shoulders of a young man appeared on the display. His face looked relieved, but he kept nervously tugging at his collar. “Thank you for the assistance, Crimson Steel. We came out here on some vague reports of piracy, and they jumped us when we came through the asteroids. We have just received further orders to carry out, albeit with the loss of the Drifter, our frigate complement.” the captain said worriedly. “Speaking of which, would you please collect the escape pods from the Drifter? I would do it, but we really have no time to hunt them down.”

    “Very well, my scavengers won’t miss them. Where are you bound?”

    “An Acclamator cruiser has gone ‘missing’ over Drulaan, and we are the closest Star Destroyer. We will investigate the disappearance, which will probably mean more belligerence,” the captain said, not looking pleased with the prospect. “And you?”

    “We will be wherever there’s a fight to be had,” Clenson answered. And the loot that follows. “Contact us if you need a hand over Drulaan.”

    “Of course.” The captain nodded, and the transmission cut out.

    Clenson walked back to his chair and sat down. He rarely used it, he preferred to stand. He drummed his fingers on the armrest and watched the salvage teams approach the inert asteroid ship.

    •  
      CommentAuthorNylad Mazzic
    • CommentTimeOct 11th 2011 edited
     
    Chapter 15

    The party hiked through the forest for the rest of the evening, making their way to a still-active mining town that the guide knew of. They arrived just as the sun was setting. The guide led them into the nearest hotel, opening the door with a creak. They stepped inside the lobby, if you could call the room they entered such. It looked like it doubled as the dining room, with a small divided area as the kitchen as well. A lone table stood in the center of the room, surrounded by a few tough looking beings of various races.

    Off to one side of the room sat a Rodian behind a desk. Apparently, he recognized the guide on sight. He walked out from behind his desk and crossed his arms.

    “Now just what kind of owner would I be, if I let someone the likes of you into my building?” he said sternly, nodding directly at the guide.

    The guide bowed his head, twiddling his blue thumbs.

    “That’s right. Now you just go out into the cold night and you just die under a rock somewheres, ya hear?”

    The guide turned around silently, shoulders slumped. He took three steps to the door, broke into a wide smile, then turned around. The Rodian laughed strangely and grabbed the guide in a friendly embrace.

    Ralin and the others watched this interaction with growing perplexity, lessened only slightly by its conclusion.

    “Where have you been, you rascal? Finding some new pets, I’d imagine?”

     “Yes, good to see you too, Horatio! Listen, we need a room or two.”

    “Can do,” the Rodian said. He smiled at the group and produced two sets of keycards from behind his desk.

    “As you can see, we’re just finishing up our weekly Dejarik tournament,” Horatio said, gesturing toward the table, where the blue-glowing board was visible. Two of the beings at the table were playing the strategy game, the rest were watching.

    “I see. And what are the stakes tonight?” the guide asked, crossing his arms.

    “A vibro-pick sharpener and three nights of free meals,” Horatio said, smiling broadly. Sitting down at his desk, he clasped his hands behind his head, looking pleased on all counts.

    “Pardon my interruption, but do you have any long-distance communications equipment that I could use?” Graf inquired suddenly. He phrased it politely, but it still sounded forceful.

    Horatio looked surprised, then nodded slowly. “Why yes, I believe I have just what you’re looking for,” The Rodian said. “I’ll be right back.”

    The Rodian left through a small door at the back of the room. He soon returned, rolling a bulky, metal-plated box in front of him.

    “Here you go. I knew I would use it again someday.”

    The piece of equipment was covered in dust, and the paneling had long since fallen off. apparently it had been years since its last use.

    Graf looked over the machine and thanked the Rodian.

    “Dinner's in half an hour, right here. You won't want to miss it,” Horatio said. Still smiling, the Rodian returned to his desk in the lobby.

    “Well, Dez, do you think it will work at all?” Graf asked quietly. Dez was already crouched over the machine, inspecting the wiring from the screen to the internal parts.

    “This thing is older than Coruscant!” Dez muttered. “There’s nothing obvious missing, though, so it should be enough. Who will you contact?”

    “Do you remember our mission to Cato Neomodia?” Graf asked.

    “I do. Unfortunately. Couldn’t forget that.” Dez said, tilting his head slightly.

    Rinder shifted uncomfortably. “You don’t mean that ship, do you?”

    Graf nearly smiled. “It’s the only reliable contact code I can remember,” he said.

    Bracken looked uneasy as well. “They’re so… Unprofessional!”

    “Which is exactly why the codes will not have changed,” Graf said. “Now if you will all excuse me, I have an important call to make.”

    ***

    Clenson’s salvage teams, after twenty minutes of work, were unable to get into the asteroid ship at all. The only openings, for the weapons and the engines, had closed over, leaving a near-perfect imitation of an asteroid. Clenson could only be sure they were going after the right one by the scanners, and soon even those could not distinguish the ship from the other asteroids. Apparently it had a low power mode, harder to detect.

    A remarkable disguise, and a difficult nut to crack. The hull of the ship resisted each and every tool the scavengers tried, from the harsh, green light of the Jeron fusion cutters to the jolting blows of the industrial strength duracrete hammer. Clenson even tried a few careful strikes from the ships cannons, enough firepower to blow a hole in any ship, but to no avail. The small ship was knocked a short distance away, its hull glowing faintly, but it didn't seem to have sustained any further damage.

    Clenson was fairly certain that he could destroy it, if he just synchronized every cannon on the ship to fire at once, but he didn’t want to vaporize it. This ship made him curious, and now he wanted to find its secrets. How? How could it withstand all this?

    “Load it into ‘D’ hangar,” Clenson said quietly, the tone of defeat. There was enough space in ‘D’ hangar for something much larger than this, and with the right energy field dampeners the ship wouldn’t be able to try anything audacious.

    Just then, the communications officer reported an incoming message. It was unencrypted, but on a tightbeam frequency. The commander accepted it. The holodisplay buzzed to life. The face of a clone trooper filled the screen, obscured by horizontally travelling bars of static.

    “Commander Clenson, We have an emergency situation. The Arbiter has been destroyed over the planet Drulaan. We don’t know exactly how, but we need you to contact whoever is coming to investigate, or we fear they will be destroyed in the same way.”

    The commander didn’t quite catch all of that because he was trying to remember where he had seen this clone before. He furrowed his eyebrows. Then he remembered. “Cato Neomodia. That was it, wasn’t it?”

    “Yes sir,” the clone said uncomfortably.

    “Which one were you? Yellow stripes?”

    “Blue, sir.”

    “Of course,” Clenson chuckled, remembering it all very clearly now. “Are you still afraid of heights?”

    “Please, sir. This is an emergency,” The clone said, irritated.

    “Very well,” Clenson replied. “How do you suggest we approach?”

    “Don’t come here, just contact whoever is coming here so they can stay away. Whatever they have here is big enough to take down a cruiser. We will send further word when the threat has been nullified.”

    “Very well. Is there anything else that you need?”

    “That is all. Out.”

    The clone disconnected. Didn’t think he’d be that sensitive. I thought they were better disciplined than that. Ha.

    The commander turned to the communications officer and said, “Find out which ship is going to Drulaan and contact it immediately.” As he spoke, he realized: he knew the captain going to Drulaan.

    “Yes sir,” the Mon Calamari said slowly, confused. “Did we not just meet the very captain--”

    “Yes, yes. Just contact him.”

    Clenson watched the asteroid drift slowly toward his ship, drawn inexorably by the ship’s tractor beams. A fascinating ship. He would inspect it shortly, indulging his curiosity.

    Laden with various items and parts, the scavenger ships returned. They reported their findings: Seventeen unexploded turbolaser rounds, three escape pods from the Drifter, still with living passengers, and a variety of useful pieces, from fighters and the like.

    No other escape pods were found, so business in this sector was completed.

    After a few minutes, the communications officer said, “No reply, sir. They must already be in hyperspace.”

    The interdimensional form of travel known as hyperspace blocked out any possibility of conventional communication. Perhaps we can catch them when they stop.

    “Program the navicomputer with coordinates for Drulaan,” Clenson said, pacing. Due to the nature of the galaxy, navicomputers could rarely, if ever, find a perfectly straight route, having to plot around stars and black holes to arrive safely. If he planned carefully, Clenson could still notify the Reliant before it arrived in Drulaani space by contacting them the instant they came out of hyperspace at one of these stops.

    “We still have the standard, updated model, correct? Now how many stops does that route have, and when?” Clenson asked, staring into space.

    The navigations officer understood his intentions, plotting the times carefully to find exactly when the Reliant would be in realspace.

    “They’ve made three stops already, sir, and they will stop twice more before they arrive. The last stop is directly inside the Hapes Nebula, making communications extremely unreliable. But at the previous stop they will be available for approximately forty seconds.”

    “When?”

    The officer took a moment to check the ship’s log for the exact departure time. They could only hope the Drifter was following standard travel patterns. “Eight hours, forty-one minutes, and ten seconds from now.”

    Clenson stood. “Very well. We will be ready. Shubar, man the bridge. Keep Kaden in line,” he said, stepping into the turbolift. He had to inspect his latest treasure.

    •  
      CommentAuthorCurly Que
    • CommentTimeOct 13th 2011
     
    I can't get the "thanks" button to work for me, but I've been enjoying this. Thanks!
  12.  

    Hmm, I just tried to "thanks" your comment. No dice. (It does not say anything! hehe spanish joke.)
    Glad you've enjoyed it though! :)

    • CommentAuthorMetamorph
    • CommentTimeOct 15th 2011
     
    I say thanks too! I don't know how I'm going to wait 'till December for another chapter though! :o

    This sentence, "The hull glowed slightly, and the ship gained a considerable distance away from the Crimson Steel." feels like it could use something. I know what you mean, but it needs a word more or less or something.

    Very much enjoying the story!
  13.  

    Hmm, you're right. Something about "gaining a distance away" is kind of weak.
    Thanks for the feedback!

  14.  

    I am really enjoying this!  Ralin and the clones, plus their other companions, are growing quite nicely in character and relationships.  Keep it up.  :-)

    Oh, by the way, does 'The rest of the group moved discretely into the back of the cave,' mean that they moved back quietly and unobtrusively (discreetly) or in separate pieces (discretely)? 

  15.  

    Thanks!
    Oh, good point. I missed the spelling variation, haha. I did in fact mean discreetly.

    •  
      CommentAuthorNylad Mazzic
    • CommentTimeJan 21st 2012 edited
     

    Chapter 16

    Dinner was the only food Ralin had eaten in a long time, which automatically made it seem like the best meal he had ever eaten. Hearty portions of heartier stew filled the men’s bowls, while crisp, brown bread stacked in the center of each table. Ralin couldn’t identify the exact ingredients of the stew, but it tasted delicious, whatever it was.

    A few more beings came in to eat at the hotel, mostly miners by the looks of them. The guide knew one of them and talked with him for a long time.

    After dinner they retired to bed. Ralin wouldn’t have remembered any details about the room, he practically fell asleep on his feet.  

     

    He awoke the next morning to find the clones awake, alert, and energetic. It seemed they could get by on less than the average human in every respect. The guide was nowhere in sight; he had left quietly before anyone was up, Rinder said.

    The clones were looking better today. They had each received some bacta for their injuries, though it was clear they still missed their armor.

    Ralin had thought dinner was amazing, but he decided breakfast was even better. They had impressive servings of sweet breads and sliced fruits, along with scrambled eggs and Narl-root growths, which ended up tastier than they looked.

    More people showed up for breakfast than had for dinner. The miner who had talked to the guide was present; apparently he was a regular customer. He was conversing with another being, a Nautolan, who looked somewhat out of sorts. Ralin couldn't help but overhear some of their conversation.

    “It doesn’t make any sense!” the Nautolan said, dark eyes narrowed. “Why would they want to cover half a mountain-top in formex?”

    “Probably just running drills with their stupid gear boxes. Some joker in charge needed a parade ground.” the first miner answered. He wore a thick jacket, dusty trousers, and the expression of a man depressed.

    “There’s one more thing,” the Nautolan said, leaning closer, speaking more quietly.

    His curiosity piqued, Ralin walked over to their table and stood to the side, surreptitiously sipping his cup of stimcaf. The conversation stopped instantly.

    “Morning,” Ralin said.

    “Morning,” the others said in unison.

    “I couldn't help but overhear-”

    “Well of course you overheard,” the human said. “Dagurk here just talks too loud. Doesn't know how to keep quiet.”

    “What were you gentlemen talking about a moment ago?”

    The miner's eyes narrowed slightly and he leaned back in his seat. “Why?” he asked, sizing Ralin up with a glance. “You with the Seps? Come to enforce some of your new policies in person?”

    “No sir,” Ralin said firmly,  though slightly confused. What kind of policies were the Separatists enforcing?

    The miner scrutinized Ralin a moment longer. His eyebrows relaxed, and he sat back again, thoughtfully. “You may as well tell him. It’s not like he wouldn’t find them himself.”

    The Nautolan shrugged. “Well you see, I was hiking just the other day, getting around to Marline’s fruit shop under Crane Ridge. You been there? Hmm, suppose not. She grows the best Starberries anywhere, says she does it underground. Not a soul knows why. They say she does it with—ow!”

    The human miner had kicked him in the shin. “If you’re gonna tell the story, just tell it.”

    “I am telling,” the Nautolan answered testily, folding his arms. “Anyhow, on my way there I see something different about this one peak I go past every time. Used to be you could almost see a face in it. This time, though, it was gone.” The Nautolan gestured like a magician making a credit chip disappear. “So I say to myself, I said, 'Dagurk, you need to look this over. It could be something big.' So I came up and looked it over. Looked like somebody just swiped a clean cut—just chopped the top off it—and then flattened it all out with fusion-formed soils, maybe formex.”

    “Ah,” Ralin said, “interesting.” He started to migrate back to his own table. Some new landing pad for the seps would not hold the clues he needed.

    “But the strangest part was the cracks on top. Just straight lines, like a hexagon with lines going to the middle. Almost looked like they were different pieces completely.”

    Something about that phrase caught Ralin’s attention, he wasn’t sure why. He visualized a hexagon with lines going to the middle, trying different numbers of lines until he realized that lines from the corners would create the emblem of the separatists. That would make sense. Still, something about it just didn’t seem resolved; his mind wouldn’t let go of the details.

     “And where exactly is this?” Ralin queried, seeing their next objective in this.

    “Just head out west. Heh. You’ll see it.”

    Ralin nodded, thanked the miners, and returned to the other table.

    The clones were eating voraciously. This was probably the best food they had ever eaten. Ralin had seen the tiny, tasteless cubes that were standard nutrition among clones in the field.

    Ralin explained the situation, and the clone troopers agreed that this was their best lead. They finished up breakfast, and the guide returned.

    “What was that about, sneaking out early on us?” Graf asked. He sounded casual enough, but Ralin could tell he was gauging the Duros’ reaction before he even answered.

    “Had a few things to arrange with an associate of mine,” the guide replied. He didn’t look suspicious to Ralin, but then he never had been the best at gauging expressions.

    At this point Rinder looked like he wanted to press the matter further, but Graf shook his head slightly, almost unnoticeably, and Rinder backed down.

    The guide knew where they needed to go, and the group spent the rest of the morning climbing up to the general area.

    “Sure enough,” the guide mused aloud as they neared their goal, “The peak is just… gone.” He shook his head, clearly distressed by something.

    This was the Guide’s home, after all, Ralin figured. He tried to imagine how he would feel if someone came and sliced out part of the Jedi Temple, say, just a few rooms. The absence would be unnatural.

    The guide reached the peak first, helping each of the others up to the top. Ralin stepped up last, breathing in sharply at the sheer size of the platform. The entire paved area was roughly ovoid, a perfect cutout of the peak it used to be. It stretched far enough from side to side that one would have to yell to be heard all the way across it, large enough for a more than reasonable landing area.

    Ralin commenced walking around the perimeter while the clones walked straight across.

    “Still looks like a landing pad to me,” Ralin said when he got to the other side.

    “No, that wouldn’t make any sense. Why would they want a landing pad on top of a mountain?” Graf said, gesturing down into the valley. “There’s plenty of empty space down there. Flatter too.”

    “Right,” Ralin said. “So what is—wait a minute.” A single set of tracks snaked down the side of the peak, disappearing out of sight behind a bank of trees.

    “Where do those rails lead?” Ralin asked no one in particular.

    The guide came over, pulling out his macrobinoculars. “That would be about where the separatist Phrik refinery is.”

    “Why would that be connected to this?”

    “Stay low!” Bracken said suddenly, ducking out of sight.

    Ralin saw it a second later. He leaned back lower, barely peering over the edge.

    Over a rise whizzed a cylindrical cargo lifter, clinging to the monorail track as it sped back and forth up the mountain. The vehicle was smoothly pointed at one end, with a large hatch on the back. It hummed straight up to the group’s location, not slowing even as it drew closer, flying directly into the side of the platform.

    Ralin hung his head over the side of the platform and caught a view of the thick door slamming shut behind the vehicle, leaving a dull ringing in the air: metal striking metal. A few seconds passed, and the door opened again, barely admitting the transport before slamming shut again. The transport hummed back down the mountain, the back hatch revealing an empty central cavity.

    “Transporting ammunition,” Taun We said, making the connection.

    “To a landing pad. They must be shipping it off world. That would make sense, really.” Ralin paced the top of the flat structure. Still, something about it didn’t quite add up. He scuffed his toe on one of the crevices.

    Crouching down, he peered at the crack, noting a metal rod running along the length of it, until about halfway to the outer ring, where it met with a slightly larger shaft. The smaller was set inside the larger one, which implied a hydraulic adjustment system, perhaps to support an onsite crane or cargo lifter.

    But maybe it was for something else. Something about the placement of the hydraulic tubes was tugging at the back of Ralin’s mind, like something he’d seen recently—or something he’d heard? Then he remembered.

    Your only hope of escape destroyed by the emblem of the separatists.

    That was what Virade had said, declaring the group’s hopeless state back to them in the town lock-up.

    Ralin stepped back, and almost fell off the edge of the platform. “This is the weapon!” he said. The rest of the platform would fold out of the way, while the six rods would support the cannon’s barrel.

     “That wouldn’t make any sense,” Graf said, “Planetary based projectiles would never be able to make it through any ship’s shields. Even if they could aim a turbolaser from down here, that wouldn’t take down the Arbiter.”

    “It seems to have worked pretty well for them somehow,” Ralin said. In his mind he could still see The Arbiter, drifting toward the planet, everything on board dead or dying.

    Taun We stood there motionless. Her eyes had a glazed look, and she nodded slowly. “We must destroy this before the rest of the fleet arrives.”

    The guide appeared to be thinking hard. He rubbed his blue chin with his hand and shifted his weight from one foot to the other.  “If we could get some explosives from the miners, then we might be able to take it out,” the guide said.

    “Or…” Ralin jumped off the ledge. Landing on the railway, he drew his lightsaber. “We just force entry,” he said, pressing his green blade against the large door.

    Sparks scattered from Ralin’s saber like scared civilians from a grenade. He pressed harder, and still didn’t make any visible gains on the metal, just a dark scorch mark. He thought that somehow his lightsaber was at a training setting again, but he checked and it was at full power.

    “Might take a while. They’ve plated everything with Phrik,” the guide said. “We’ll need to get on one of those cars to get in. Blow it from the inside. I think I know just what we need.”

     

    At the guide’s suggestion, the group continued down the mountain to the headquarters of the resisting miners to ask for some assistance.

    “I don’t need my men getting killed over problems that don’t concern me,” the leader declared. “I will need every miner available when we make our move. The equipment we need is still on the way, and our men are waiting for my mark. I can't help you. Not yet.”

    A miner ran into the room, followed by another just behind him. “The droids attacked! They just shot up four miners in the west caves!” the first miner yelled.

    The second miner waited for the first to finish speaking before saying, “Our shipment is here, sir. The materials you sent for have arrived intact.”

    The leader, Arben, furrowed his eyebrows. After a long pause, he said, “Fine. We're ready. The droids have made the first move, and now it’s our turn.”

  16.  

    Oh, and Virade actually did say that. It was there all along. You just didn't remember. *mind trick hand wave*

    •  
      CommentAuthorCurly Que
    • CommentTimeJan 22nd 2012
     
    What do you mean I didn't remember?! :D
  17.  

    Perfect. My powers exceed my expectations...

    •  
      CommentAuthorNylad Mazzic
    • CommentTimeMar 11th 2012 edited
     
    Chapter 17

    That afternoon found Ralin and three of the clone troopers crouching in a hovercart among piles of stone-encased ore. The hovercart jolted to the side, and the framework of metal over their heads groaned under the weight of all it held up. It was actually the metal chassis of an ancient labor droid, flipped on its side so that Dez, Rinder, Graf, and Ralin could fit under it and still be able to crawl out between the rocks. If the base metals of the old droid diluted the purity of the Separatist’s Phrik reserves, all the better.

    Ralin hoped they would be able to climb out easily, preferably before being dumped into a bucket of molten metal. He had been assured that the cart stopped for a good thirty seconds next to a convenient platform, so he tried not to worry.

    The cart stopped once, but Ralin could tell they were still outside, so he stayed down. He heard an old mechanical door grind open, and the cart hummed inside. The roof appeared over them and they were in.

    “Let's go!” Ralin said, getting to his knees. He pushed the metal grate aside and let the three clone commandos climb out between the chunks of slag. After they made it, Ralin started to clamber up through the stones. As he grabbed the edge of the bucket, it began to tip. Adrenalin rushed to his head. No way was that thirty seconds. More like ten.

    He gripped the edge of the bucket with both hands as the cart dumped all of its rocks into the smelting pot. Swinging to his left allowed him to catch his foot on the side of the tilting bucket, and he climbed aboard just as it inverted as far as it would. He stepped off the cart, reflecting that no one had specified whether the cart stayed upright for a full thirty seconds at the platform, only that it stayed that long.

    The rest of the group arrived in the next cart, and they made it out with help from the ones already there.

    The guide took the lead, and they jogged onto a wide network of walkways and beams. They passed through a wide door into the center of the building, and the dry, hot air filled Ralin’s lungs, smelling of scorched dirt and industrial chemicals. He looked down at the impressive smelting pot that held the chunks of rock. Massive burners and flares blasted all sides of the container as it crawled slowly along the magnetic track, and Ralin wondered what the pots were made out of that they could withstand the heat. He found it strange to watch all the metal and stone melt. These were things you thought of as unchanging and solid, and now they were melting into orange goo at the bottom of a bucket.

    They walked past the final stage of the refinery, where the metal was poured into the precise molds. The metal, as far as Ralin could tell, was only used on the outside of each projectile. Ralin thought this might be because the outside would take the most hits from the effects of air pressure, the stresses of leaving the atmosphere, and, ultimately, the hull of a republic ship.

    “This looks promising,” the guide said finally. They stood on a balcony overlooking a single conveyor belt, which stuck out of a hole in the wall like some bizarre motorized tongue. A rough metal hatch—the mouth of this tongue—opened, and the bright, new bullet moved slowly out. Apparently it was the only one created during the time the group had been here, using all the metal they had come in with. It drifted along the conveyor, which would load it into one of the railcars neatly organized on the factory floor.

    Ralin started climbing down the ladder to the ground floor, just as the projectile reached the end of the conveyor. He could already see that if they didn’t stop it, this bullet would steal their ticket and go off without them.

    The ridges on either side of the conveyor belt made it a little harder for Ralin to force push the bullet off, but he was able to rock it back and forth enough to build up the required momentum.

    Kwang.

    The bullet landed heavily on the floor, and the empty railcar started complaining with little flashing lights, followed by a verbal declaration of some technical failure. Speaker boxes on the walls took up the chant, recommending a high priority visit to console twenty-six for diagnostics.

     “See if you can get the doors open,” Ralin said to Dez, who headed for the control array on the balcony.

    Ralin turned his attention back to the railcar. He’d noticed something on the way in: The pod would be a little cramped for a Duros, four clones, a Kaminoan, a Jedi, and however many miners were waiting on the other side of those doors. They would need some adjustments. He pulled one of the empty railcars to the center of the room for inspection.

    Dez saw the droids coming just as he found the button for the doors. He slammed the controls and ran for the ladder, sliding all the way down by pressing his feet and hands on either side of the vertical bars.

    A second later the droids reached the balcony and opened fire.

    Ralin force-pulled another railcar pod to the center of the room, providing mobile cover for the rest of the group so they could stay together. The clones took turns firing over the pod at precise yet unpredictable intervals, an impressive system they had clearly practiced before.

    The miners were just outside the opening doors; their blasters traced several colors of bolts across the droids on the upper walkways.

     “Everybody in!” Ralin yelled, motioning to the pod already set up on the rails. He made eye contact with one of the miners, who nodded.

    Ralin heard a few yells from behind, then saw a pair of projectiles flying up to the balcony. The droids cried out in an automated equivalent of fear. A quick pop-pop! charged the air as the ion grenades went off, arcing destructive energy across every droid present. They writhed and rolled about until their circuits shorted, leaving a mass of defunct machinery on the balcony, with a few metal limbs hanging twitchily between the bars.

    In this brief quiet, the miners ran for the railcar, and Ralin moved the second car onto the rail, back-to-back with the first so that both hatches opened onto each other. Now how could he attach them together? He opened both doors to ninety degrees and puzzled over them.

    The guide saw the problem, looked almost pained for a few seconds, and then handed Ralin his cable.

    “I don’t think that will be enough,” Ralin said, only half-watching as he blocked enemy fire. A new wave of droids had crawled over the first, keeping up the assault.

    The guide said nothing, wrapping both hatch doors in the cable, all the way to the last centimeter. He ducked an imaginary blaster bolt, fiddled with the settings on his own blaster, and turned the power down as far as he could. Yanking the trigger,  he blasted the cable to a bright red in one place, then another. The cable turned quickly to a web of glowing metal running across both doors, and the guide seemed content.

    “Right. Let’s get out of here,” Ralin said. “Dez? Where were the controls for launching the rail cars?”

    Dez materialized from the mass of people in the railcar pod long enough to tell him: around the top right corner of the panel. Two levers and a few dozen buttons, all unidentified in specific purpose.

    Ralin clambered into the pod as he found his target. One of the droids was feeling brave, climbing down the ladder to the ground level. Focusing, Ralin re-routed the droid’s movement, lifting it carefully back upwards, stopping in front of the control board. He let the droid stand a moment while he strategized.

    “On my mark, drop something hot on the control panel. We won’t get far if they can turn us off,” Ralin told the mass of beings in the car opposite him. The mass took heed, and the grenade launcher soon protruded from the car’s hatch like some group-run appendage.

    Ralin waved his hand, and the droid’s face slammed against the control board. The sirens stopped, leaving a blessed silence. Must’ve found console twenty-six. Not quite his objective, though. Ralin skittered the droid up to the right, and the lights went out. Still not quite. He tried again, and this time the doors started to close. No! Ralin waved the droid frantically, and finally felt it catch against a lever. Something hummed through the railcar, and Ralin shoved the lever up as far as it went. The cars sang, and he gave the signal.

    A single projectile arced from the grenade launcher to the upper control panel, and the car took off before Ralin could see the result. The attached railcars shot out of the building, scraping through the stubborn grip of the closing doors. Ralin braced his feet against the open hatchway. He could only wonder how far beyond the warning marker he had shoved the speed control.

  18.  
    I love mine scenes where they race the carts ... like rollercoasters! Wheeeee! Dizzy Anemone
  19.  

    Chapter 18


    “We have a very limited window of time, Sir, before the ship will be out of comm-space. Don’t you think it would be a good idea to be on the bridge during the transmissio--”

    “I know what I’m doing, Mark. Make yourself useful and hand me that chip coder.” The commander perched on a wheeled stepladder beside the asteroid look-alike ship, staring fixedly at an array of blinking lights, the only part of the asteroid now showing any sign of technology. He leaned back to receive the device. “Incidentally, how long do we have?”

    “Minutes, Sir. I suppose we could handle it without you, it is only a message. But if something went wrong or something… Unexpected happened…” The man gazed a moment at the wall of the hangar, then turned back to the Commander, as if he’d proven his point by acknowledging possibilities outside his control.
    “Fine, I’ll be there.”

    The man stood the same, evidently not convinced.

    “Look, I’m climbing down, I’m walking…” Clenson jumped carefully to the floor, leaving his tools on the small ledge. “You happy?”

    The officer turned slightly red, but indicated that he was more confident in the Commander’s return.

    The two walked past a variety of ships to the turbolift, where Clenson suddenly stopped in thought. “That was one wiring combination I didn’t try…”

    “Sir…”

    “I know, I know. I’m just thinking out loud,” Clenson said. He arrested his next step suddenly at the sound of clanging metal.

    Both men turned around. One of the commander’s tools had fallen off the ledge where he had left it.

    “Vibrations,” the commander dismissed it, stepping into the open turbolift.

    ***

    Ralin resisted screaming for the better portion of the ride up the mountain. The slap-dash train hauled around the corners of the track tighter than a professional swoop racer, and almost as fast. The track was made for one car at a time, so two hooked together was a little tight on some of the turns, grinding the metal of the doors against the outside frame of each.

    The cars hummed over a small rise, and Ralin could see the door into the mountainside cannon, closed resolutely. As the door sped closer, Ralin began to wonder if it would open at all. He braced his feet, fighting the urge to jump out. Without a meter’s leeway, the door flicked open to admit the first car, and just as quickly it clamped down on the second, hammering a ring of dents into the outer frame.

    The jolt of the stop proved too much. Cables twanged, hinges snapped, and the occupants of the second car flew out in a mass of thrashing bodies against the floor.
    After a brief and unintentional aerobatic display, Ralin finally settled to a stop feet-up against a huge coil of some type of cable. He felt a thick cloud of dust already settling on his face, and more sprinkled out of his hair when he moved. Groaning, he rolled over and assessed the health of the group. Sounded like bruises, mostly.

    Free of its partner, the first car moved down the small loop of track, dumping its contents hastily on a pile of cannon ammo and moving back to the entrance. The door loosened its choke hold on the second car for just a moment. In that moment the track accelerators fired, sending the first car, now empty, smashing into the second, now free of the door. The two sped outside, the door jogged shut, and the room fell to darkness.

    Ralin put his feet back on the floor, rubbing the back of his head. He could already feel the beginnings of a good-sized lump. But no blood; that was probably good.
    “I say next time we take the stairs,” said Dez from somewhere in the black.

    Ralin lit his blade, standing up gingerly. Oversized shadows jumped and skittered across the paneled walls as the group got to its feet again. All members were present and accounted for, if a bit shaken.

    The room they stood in seemed to be in a state of abandoned construction. Battery-powered hand tools littered the sides of the floor, along with stacks of wall panels, worklights, and the huge roll of cable that Ralin had discovered. None of it seemed old, or as if it had been left alone for long. It was as though the entire work force had suddenly given up.

    “In any case, we made it inside. Let’s blow it,” Graf said.

    Dez tried the only door in the room. The electrical wasn’t working, and the door stayed shut. The guide jammed his knife in the crack and pried it open the old fashioned way. Not even the hum of a single light tube broke the stillness as they entered, only the creak of steel grates against the stone floor.

    “Seems like no one is home,” Bracken said as they followed the passageway. The hall beyond the door revealed more of the same: paneled walls, cluttered floors, and no light. Tiny magnetic metal shavings covered one side of the hall, jumping to anything made of metal that came close enough, so that the group's weapons and equipment soon looked like they'd grown a layer of metallic fur. 

    The hall turned, ending abruptly at a waist deep pile of stones. Ralin climbed the pile, looking at the ceiling. It appeared that some type of explosives had been used to shatter a small portion of the stone, not enough to blast through to the surface, just enough to cause a nice crater and a pile of rubble below.

    “Why were they excavating up here?” Ralin asked aloud, pointing out the telltale signs of explosive use to Dez and the other clones.

    “Maybe they weren’t excavating at all,” Rinder suggested, pulling aside a few stones from the floor. The brief search revealed a small trapdoor, just large enough for one person at a time.

    “Now why would they want to bury this?” Ralin pried the hatchdoor open with his fingernails. The hum of technology echoed up from below, replacing the cold silence of the passageway with the murmur and hum of a bank of computers. Apparently they had found the computer panels running the accelerator cannon. Ralin leaned over the side of the hatchway, lighting up the inside with his saber. What he saw made him withdraw as fast as he could. Lizards covered the walls of the chamber, layered on top of one another in a single living mass, their patterned skin blurring together. Even in the first glance, Ralin knew they were the same species as the poisonous lizard the guide had killed on their way up the mountain. They hadn't responded yet, but Ralin closed the hatch, just in case any got curious.

    “Well, we've found some circuitry, so if we can blow that, it should take down the whole cannon.” Ralin turned to the guide. “Pelago lizards nest, don't they?”

    “Not that I know of...” his eyes suddenly widened. “Do they?” The guide crouched quickly, opening the hatch and peering inside. With his natural night-vision, he didn't even need a light. The Duros stared into the chamber for a long moment, and then laughed out loud. “They live in nests! I've never seen a nest!” He closed the door, then opened it again, as if to see if they were still there.

    “Aren't those poisonous? And fast?” Ralin asked. “Maybe you shouldn't be fanning the door when we're all so close.”

    “Yes, most are deadly! Others will just knock you out,” the guide closed the hatch again, standing up. He took Ralin by the shoulders and hugged him. “You've found it! I don't believe it! And with this many in one place, one of them just might choose me to...” The guide trailed off as he saw Dez and one of the miners preparing a few explosive charges. His joy faded, he set his teeth in a grimace.

    “If we don't take out those computers, another ship will be destroyed, and thousands of people will die,” Ralin felt the guide's conflict. He knew somehow that the guide had spent a long time looking for an opportunity like this. But why? Why such interest in these poisonous lizards?

    “You will NOT kill this nest!” the guide said through gritted teeth, stepping back onto the platform, placing a hand on his dagger.

    “Weigh the alternatives,” Graf said, sounding impatient. “Your lizard friends or another one of our ships? ” He faced the Duros squarely, not backing down.

    The guide shrugged. “You know what? I don't even care if another one of your fool ships goes down in flames. Kill another thousand clones. I don't care. These lizards will stay.”

    Insulted, Graf locked an icy gaze on the Duros.  “If you resist, you know how this ends.” Graf said, tightening his grip on his rifle.

     “I know, but do you?” the guide asked with a grin. He drew his knife with a flourish, catching it by the blade.

    “Graf, I'm right here! For crying out loud, stand down! We're not killing anyone. Let's talk this out.” Ralin pushed the trooper's rifle to point back at the floor, motioning for Dez to stop wiring the explosives already. “We do need to shut down the computers, but maybe we can do it in a way that doesn't endanger the lizards.” He walked slowly from one side of the tunnel to the other, turning his attention away to relax the all-against-one intensity of the conflict. He trusted the Duros not to do anything rash, and he didn't want to go against his wishes if he could help it. Especially if the guide was serious about putting his life on the line.

    “Could we draw them out somehow? Maybe I could just slash up the computers with my saber and we'd call it good.”

    The guide began to think now, relaxing somewhat. “If this passage has been blocked all this time, there must be another exit from their chamber to the outside. They would need to get in and out to hunt.”

    “Well, there's something. On that note, how are we getting out of here? Rinder, you and Bracken go check the room we started in for any other passages we might have missed. Check the panels for controls to the doors and the railcars, too. If too many of these things get out of the crawly crypt we might need to make a quick exit. Failing that, Dez, you can take the miners around and check for weak spots in the wall, same purpose. When I'm done here we'll need some way to get out, so we may as well have one ready. Graf, take Taun We and the others to the room we started in. Shut the door. I'll  see if I can chase the lizards out of here long enough to cut the power to the computer systems. Ideally without getting poisoned. I'll join you when I'm done. Good?”

    The guide looked grateful for the compromise, but also a bit worried. “How do you plan to survive down there?” he asked bluntly, sheathing his weapon.

    “Well, I've never done it before, but I figure it's the same idea as when I was inside the geyser. Just a shield. In this case, though, it'll be more like the effect of bug repellant. I heard about some Jedi doing it a long time ago. I'm sure it's possible. I'll figure it out.” Ralin tried to project an image of confidence, but he realized he was just jabbering.

    The rest of the group moved down the passage to the railcar loading area, but the guide stayed behind as Ralin tried to mentally prepare himself for what he was about to do.

    “Do they attack in swarms?” he asked.

    The guide shrugged. “I have no idea. I've only seen them one or two at a time before.”

    Ralin nodded, exhaled a long, deep breath. He had been told that if you stay relaxed around an animal, then the animal is more likely to stay relaxed around you. He wasn't sure if that applied to poisonous swarms of lizards, but it couldn't hurt.

    Beyond just keeping himself calm, Ralin knew he would need a little help from the Force. Like any Jedi, he had practiced influencing the thoughts of simple-minded beings, sending mental messages through the force. This would be a little bit different, since it was hundreds of minds at a time, but Ralin was pretty sure he could figure something out. They were only animals after all.

    He opened the trapdoor. Still no sound but the computers. Ralin checked down the ladder, making sure the steps were clear. It looked like the creatures were layered mostly on the computers, probably for the warmth of the circuits. The ladder was empty, and the floor held only a few patches of lizards. Ralin took a reading of the mood of the room: the lizards were relaxed. Every few seconds one or two would climb over each other to get to a new position, but other than that they stayed where they were. Ralin tried to send out reassuring thoughts, projecting general feelings more than any specific image. He placed one foot on the ladder, then the other.

    The guide watched, his expression changing slightly. “You know, maybe we should find another way... ” The guide shifted his weight, looking with concern down the open hatch.

    Ralin paused on the ladder. He was gaining confidence in his mental projection the more he used it. He extended his aura of calmness to the guide for a moment, sending him the same mental message. Chill...

    “I'll be fine,” Ralin said, starting to believe it himself. He continued down the ladder, one step at a time.

    As Ralin moved to the next rung, he felt something jab at his internal calm. Danger.

    Seconds later, an explosion rocked the entire mountaintop. Ralin lost his footing and fell to the cave floor, landing flat on his back. He just barely had the presence of mind to keep his head from slamming into the floor below.

    In that moment, the entire nest of Pelago lizards went wild. They fell to the floor in piles, and soon they were jumping and skittering across every available surface. He tried to stand up, but the lizards engulfed him, swarming across his body, their disgusting feet sticking strangely to his skin.

    Ralin's calm was instantly replaced by panic. He waved his arms, trying to scare them off. A fiery pain jabbed into the left side of his jaw; one had finally driven a fang or two home on him. This was it. He was down. He looked up to the hatchway, realizing that the swarms of lizards were about to make their exit.

    Ralin could feel a dull, burning ache spreading quickly along his face. The bite gave him an odd sense of peace, of a sort, that comes with resignation. He looked at the scenario his team was in without considering his own welfare, seeing that if the lizards escaped, everyone could die.

    Drawing on this peace, Ralin found enough strength to close the hatch door with the Force, just before any of the fallen lizards could escape.

    With that, he realized his body had gone completely numb. He couldn't feel anything outside of the Force. No skittering feet across his chest or face, although he was sure the lizards were still there. He couldn't even see, in the normal sense, although he could still sense many things through the force. The hatch was shut. His team was safe. At this point that was what mattered.

    Soon, through whatever strange channel that links body to mind, he felt his mind begin to numb as well, drifting slowly, peacefully away.

  20.  
    Oh noes!