And the Rebel crew's first mission…

(For those who aren’t in the know, the Rebel's in our Age of Rebellion role playing game is about to take their first step into a much bigger world; the jungle world of Onderon to be specific. Their mission? To take the secret base from the Imperial Moff Dardano, to wring every bit of intel possible from the base and the nearby Imperial occupied city of Iziz, and then return to the Rebellion as heroes…)

Chapter One

 Holding Back Screaming 

Arkhan, finding himself rather pensive, mutters under his breath… “Not my finest moment.”

    

Melting in the jungle heat, sweat matting the fur against his skin, the oppressive heat of the jungle weighing upon him with every breath, he takes another step through the jungle. A few meters behind him, Arkhan hears the gasping of Tendaar as the Bith struggles to keep up with the Bothan and Duros members of the crew. Vendri is of course making no noticeable noise, and Arkhan can only pick up on the Duros’ movements if he strains to hear them over the jungle clamor. But there are more pertinent matters at hand than listening for Vendri. Slashing down full force with the combat knife clutched in his right hand, a large frond from the short but sturdy palm in front of Arkhan falls to the wet, dark mud underneath. With  a combat boot equipped foot and without a second thought, Arkhan crunches his foot down on the frond, stepping out from the jungle’s claustrophobic presence. Bringing his hand up to shade his eyes from the blindingly bright sky, he finds himself at the division between the fertile jungle at his back and a wide, lifeless, duracrete platform leading to the garage bay entrance of Whisper Base.

The breeze across Arkhan’s face is barely a relief, as it brings nothing but hot, moist air moving more swiftly through his whiskers than the hot, stale air that proceeded it in the dense jungle. The quiet shuffle of combat boots immediately behind his position indicates the location of Tendaar, and he assumes that Vendri finishes up the small crew’s arrival at Whisper Base. It’s a smaller crew than he had been promised. Zal hadn’t reached the rendezvous on time. The small company of Rebels had waited as long as their tight schedule had allowed, but they had been ordered to press on towards Whisper Base, with or without Zal.

 

The missing member does nothing to calm Arkhan’s nerves as his eyes fall upon the features of Whisper Base, now physically in front of Arkhan for the first time, instead of just images and video viewed during the mission briefings. He absorbs the grey duracrete walls of the base that fade into the rock wall the structure has been built into. The open garage bay blast doors are mistakingly welcoming, with the cool white light of the station a pleasant color compared to the yellow and green surroundings; a station that was most definitely air conditioned and comfortable compared to the overbearing heat of the humid jungle. Black, opaque windows built into the comm station’s duracrete walls hang high and to the left, just a hair’s breath from being out of sight and at just the right angle to make the Rebels nearly invisible along their intended path to the garage. ”Unless someone behind those windows is paying attention.”, thinks Arkhan.

Without speaking, and with a well rehearsed motion of his right hand, Arkhan indicates to Tendaar and Vendri to move forward towards the garage entrance. With a surprising quickness for those that had just tumbled out of a three klick hike through an uncomfortable and dangerous jungle, the two beings jump forward and onto the duracrete ground heading towards the garage entrance. Arkhan takes a knee, and raises his heavy blaster pistol to shoulder height, covering his fellow Rebels approach to the garage. “I’m sure that anything is welcoming after those last few kilometers; I’m probably going to sprint too.”, thinks Arkhan, waiting for his moment to traverse the large open entrance to the garage.

Vendri and Tendaar move in a crouch their backs flat, blasters primed in their hands as the duo comes to a halt just before the garage’s blast doors, feeling an invisible rush of cold air pouring forth f the base. Both Rebels silently take a knee at the left edge of the blast door; Tendaar cautiously peering around the duracrete and durasteel in front of him to asses the situation inside of the garage while Vendri raises his blaster rifle to monitor the wide open area that the duo just crossed. A double click from Tendaar behind Vendri’s back indicates that the garage is clear. Satisfied with the relative stillness of the jungle surrounding the base, and the silence of the path Arkhan will traverse to reconnect with his teammates, Vendri raises his left hand. A wave of his open palm twice in quick succession indicates to Arkhan that the coast is clear and that he will cover the Bothan as he makes his way to the garage. Vendri returns his hand to the trigger of his blaster rifle, and raises its scope to his eye.

“There’s the signal from Vendri. Time to move.”,  thinks Arkhan. Lifting himself from his knee while at the same time dropping his heavy blaster pistol to his side, his left foot comes free from the jungle mud to meet the flat duracrete floor of Whisper Base’s garage entrance. The thudding of his feet matches the thud of his heart and he notices the distinction. It has usually been a helpful talent; the ability to synchronize two apparently disconnected items together. But sometimes it was an annoyance, an annoyance that distracted him from the task at hand. And as the soles of his boots thud along the approach to the garage, he becomes momentarily distracted; just long enough to catch a small divot in the ground with the tip of his boot.

 

With a loud thud, Arkhan falls. Landing heavily upon his left shoulder, the momentum from his quick dash to the garage pushes him almost a meter before he comes to a full stop. The pain is instant and recognizable. Who hasn’t fallen unexpectedly and had their body remind them that for no reason is this a welcome way to have yourself meet a solid surface? A quick squint of pain in his eyes, but with the sudden realization that the pain isn’t nearly bad enough to slow him or to cause him to stall the mission, he rolls his way on to his back, ready to lift himself up and get himself out of the danger imposed by the open entrance, but…

There. For just a second the sight at the very limit of his vision brings him to a jarring halt.

“Star Destroyer? Just at the edge of atmo? But why would… we were just there…” Arkhan’s thoughts are cut short as the Star Destroyer shoots away at a speed only explained by hyperspace travel, and with the seldom heard but still recognizable, barely audible, sound of a ship entering faster than light travel with just enough of an atmosphere to facilitate the sound. “Blast…”

With a swift and fluid movement, Arkhan spins, his right palm planting itself into the solid ground beneath him as his left foot finds purchase against the duracrete and gives traction to the movement pushing him towards his team. His right foot catches up with the movement of his body and before he can breath his second breath he finds himself at the left shoulder of Vendri, still holding his blaster rifle at the ready to cover Arkhan’s approach.

“What was that commander?” Vendri asks with barely a hint of humor in his voice. “Can’t keep even your feet in line?”

“Of course he will find humor in a life threatening situation like this.” Arkhan thinks to himself.  Out loud, Arkhan informs the rest of the crew, “We’ve got an issue. That fall of mine was bad luck, but I saw something interesting. Star Destroyer, just low enough to see in atmo. Was only there for a breath before it jumped to hyperspace.”

Vendri’s response is silence, but it’s clear that the humor that was present a half-second before is now gone. A Star Destroyer that close to where the team had just covertly made its entrance out of hyperspace to be dropped off for a secret mission, just hours before? That didn’t seem good news or, at the very least even, coincidental. This seems to resonate silently between the team’s commander and the team’s spy-turned-scout. Arkhan recognizes that Vendri would know that the situation was no longer on the level.

 

“Let’s move quick then.” mutters Vendri.

“Agreed.” responds Arkhan. Moving quickly and deliberately, Arkhan moves past his Duros companion and towards the Bith currently covering the garage, peering past the large head of the being in order to gain a clear view of the garage. Keeping his eyes fully open, so as not to concentrate on any one detail inside the garage, he surveys the area. A row of eight speeder bikes hover in wait across the length of the garage, storage crates clustered at each end of the garage’s main entrance as though they had been placed quickly and almost haphazardly; not yet stowed properly. Along side the opposite edge of the blast door are canisters housing the fuel for the speeders, and a singular tank behind them houses the fuel for the two AT-STs that are standing passively at each end of the garage, their heads lowered as though they are slumbering. Otherwise clear, and with a secondary approval from Tendaar’s consistent silence, Arkhan moves forward. Tendaar reaches back with his left arm and taps Vendri on the right shoulder, but stays in position for a moment as Arkhan pulls inside the garage and to the left. Making his way to the ramp that hugs the wall and leads upwards to the walkway running nine meters high to allow access to the AT-STs. Alongside the right side of the garage is a matching AT-ST and walkway that mirror the AT-ST that Arkhan now finds himself at the foot of. With military swift movements, Vendri meets up with the second AT-ST as he makes his way through the planned ingress stratagem, taking cover at the foot of the placid AT-ST. A quick glance between Arkhan and Vendri, an understanding between two operatives, and the mission has met its point of no return.

“Clear.” Arkhan says. The statement is not loud enough to be an order, not quite quiet enough to hold back any of the intensity of the situation.

“Copy.” comes the excited tone of a Bith engineer that has made his boredom with the trek through a jungle apparent, obviously delighted with the prospect of a more technical objective.

“Clear.” comes the emotionless tone of the Duros spy that has made it his duty to perform his mission without distraction, obviously intent with keeping his team alive for the mutually assured survival that objective provides.

“Copy.” A confirmation marking the end of the mission's introduction. “Tendaar, make your way to the communications line at my six. Vendri, cover him while he cuts the comm line.”

 

“Copy.” Another emotionless validation of cover provided.

Snapping to his left in a quick 90˚ turn, Tendaar finds himself with a quick jog to a large, magnetically sealed cable that has been run from the ceiling, looped once in the corner of the garage, and then run through a large data coupling in the garage’s wall that must  be routed into the ground beneath the base, leading to what the crew knows is the remote communications tower that provides off site communications to Iziz and the Grand Moff Dardano himself; off planet and incorrectly under the assumption that the fledgling Rebel Alliance has no idea as to the whereabouts of his secret base.

A lightly audible snap as Tendaar’s vibroknife’s blade is extended and with well rehearsed actions of an experienced engineer begins strategically cutting into the high gauge cable’s shielding. The Bith makes quick work of the mainline between Whisper Base and its communication tower. A few crackling hisses of positive and negative lines connecting via the knife’s metal slicing into their spun pairs, a few giggles from an overtly excited Bith insurgent, all culminating in one last spark as the vibroknife cuts through the last vestige of shielding and copper. Tendaar turns to throw a large Bith smile to Arkhan, and a ‘thumbs-up’ gesture. The Charlie 4 team has rendered Whisper Base without a means to communicate the presence of the three Rebels currently infiltrating the base.

“First hurdle down…” Thinks Arkhan.

Tendaar’s voice breaks the silence. “Guys, I can hear feet. Imperial guard feet, I’m assuming. Coming down that hallway.” With long skinny fingers extended towards the main floor's left side hallway entrance of Whisper Base, Tendaar indicates the doorway that his extra-sensitive hearing has singled out.

Arkhan’s large furry ears twitch towards the door. Suddenly he too hears what Tendaar had heard a few moments earlier; the quiet recurring clanking noise of boots on a metal floor, progressively growing in a crescendo as the footsteps move towards the garage. Arkhan’s gaze snaps back to Tendaar, and with a silent gesture indicates for Tendaar to take cover, with a quick motion towards Vendri as well. Tendaar sheathes his vibroknife, and with a glance to the ramp leading to the catwalk above, begins to make his way up the ramp. Wondering what notion the Bith may have gotten in his mind, Arkhan back steps towards the ramp to follow, keeping his heavy blaster pistol trained on the garage bay entrance all the while. Out of the corner of his right eye, he sees the blue blur that is Vendri sprinting silently up the ramp at the opposite side of the garage towards the same catwalk. “Glad that we’re all on the same page.” Arkhan thinks to himself. Satisfied that the team will have just enough time to make their way up to follow Tendaar’s lead without being caught, Arkhan drops his pistol to his side and sprints up the ramp towards his team members.

The group meets on the garage’s second floor walkway at the entrance point to the AT-ST. “What’s in your head, Tendaar?” Arkhan asks his engineer.

“Well, I’m getting into the AT-ST. I’m sure that I can control an AT-ST. I’ve read all about them. I‘ve been studying these Kuat walkers for essentially the last 4 years. They’re actually pretty ingenious, cause you’d think that they’d be ter…”

“Tendaar.” Vendri whispers from behind Tendaar, quiet but forceful.

“What?!”

“It’s locked!” Vendri responds with a hint of exasperation at the absentminded Bith, and with a quick motion throws his blaster rifle onto his back, pushes past the engineer and kneels down on the AT-ST hatch to reach its digital lock. “We don’t have much time but… ah, there we go!” With a snap hiss, the top hatch of the AT-ST pops open, and the heavy handle extends upwards just enough to allow the Duros to wrap his blue fingers around the handle and lift the large hatch open. “Lucky that I’m great with these old Imperial locks. Get in! No time!”

With a push from Arkhan’s left hand, Tendaar stumbles toward the hatch, catching himself just before falling haphazardly through the open hole in front of him and is able to bring his feet in first, falling deftly into the AT-ST. Without hesitation and just behind Tendaar, Vendri slides through the hatch, Arkhan bringing up the rear and doing his absolute best to close the hatch as quietly as possible as the voices rolling in through the viewports of the AT-ST’s ‘face’ begin to reach his ears.

“…what they think we’re going to do about it. We need a technician here, not a guard detachment.”

“Follow orders, and keep your mouth shut, Jorin.”

“Copy that, sir.”

“I don’t hear anything, sir. I also don’t see anything out of the ordinary. Unless something is hiding under these parked speeders, then there’s nothing to cause a stir here.”

“Well, as much as I hate to agree with Jorin, this is a poor allocation for a guard detachment. But unless you’d like to go back to training or trying to hunt tee-muss that are stepping through the perimeter, than let’s take a second to milk this communications hiccup and take a moment, eh?”

A slight chuckle is heard through the AT-ST viewport, while Tendaar quietly moves into the pilot’s seat of the AT-ST. With the Bith’s sharp, almost delicate, fingers quickly moving across the AT-ST’s console the light’s of the walker’s warmup sequence begin to blink on.

“I ask again; what is in your head, Tendaar?” Arkhan whispers, almost to the point of growling at the Bith.

 

“I told you! I can pilot this walker! That surely also means that I can properly manage the weapon system and blow these guards out of our way! We’ve got a job to do, right? We most definitely don’t have time to sit here and discuss what to do with three guards just sitting right in fro…”

With a hand swiftly thrown across the back of Tendaar’s bulbous head, Vendri quickly stops Tendaar mid-sentence.

Just before Tendaar yells back at the Duros, Vendri mutters “Not. Yet.” And in a quick motion, the Duros spy reaches above his head, grabbing the hatch lever and silently pulling it down to release the internal lock, and with barely a sound he pushes the hatch upwards. With a singular silent movement, he lifts his body from the control center of the walker, leaving nothing but a soundless hole in the ceiling.

“Well that was direct… stay here, Tendaar.” Arkhan mutters, and with a leap unbecoming of his size towards the ceiling of the walker, pulls himself through the hatch after his teammate. Just ahead he sees Vendri beginning to silently make his way down the ramp, blaster rifle already trained on the guards standing at the entrance to the garage. As they look out upon the jungle, they are completely unaware of the danger they currently find themselves in. A breath in and with an intent to tell Vendri to slow his movement, Arkhan holds the order back in his throat and with a low growl instead, pulls himself completely free of the AT-ST and quickly follows the Duros. “This is a moment that may break the mission. Keep this team together.” Arkhan’s thinks to himself. “Keep it together, even if it means pulling this scout back right now…”

Catching up just moments after the blue-hued being crouches behind a storage crate for cover, Vendri throws his right shoulder into and his blaster rifle over the crate, ready to take advantage of his cover to mount an attack at the guards, Arkhan slides along the floor next to him and pulls Vendri back down into cover..

“Vendri, I need to know what your intent is.” Arkhan half-barks, just quiet enough for only the two Rebels to hear. His anger at a teammate’s reckless direction is outwardly apparent, regardless of which member decided to act without commander approval.

“Take out the Imperial scum in front of us. Gain the upper hand without them knowing we’ve done so.” Vendri pauses for barely a second, locking eyes with his Bothan commander. “That’s your intent as well, correct? Commander?”

Utilizing his own deep breath for contemplation, his lips tightly gripped together in anger, Arkhan ponders the situation. “This works out for both of us now,  but what about next time?”, he wonders…

“Take your shot, scout.” Arkhan orders.

One movement, quick and without drama, Vendri lifts himself up from his crouch so that he rests on one knee. His right elbow falls to the top of the storage crate, and his eye focuses down the double magnification sight mounted to the Rebellion issued heavy blaster rifle. The shot that he had lined up just before he took cover was still apparent, and with barely a moments aim, his left trigger finger tightens, firing a singular shot from the rifle. The loud kerang of the rifle creates echos throughout the garage, and the blaster bolt provides the surrounding air with the smell of superheated ozone.

Turning slowly and deliberately, Arkhan peaks out over his cover of storage containers and sees three Imperial guards standing lackadaisically at the entrance to the garage, peering out upon a violent jungle. Two of the Imperial guards are standing side-by-side behind the third, who stands two steps ahead of the others with his fists resting on his hips in a relaxed fashion; almost jokingly awkward. Without preamble, the two Imperial guards behind the third fall as dead weight to their backs; a clean, cauterized hole burned cleanly through both of their necks clearly visible as they fall. With a loud, sickening thud, both bodies hit the ground, causing the third Imperial guard to spin on his heel, his eyes falling upon  the gruesome scene of his now deceased comrades.

“Freeze.”

The icy cold voice of a Bothan cuts through the cool conditioned air swirling with the moist jungle atmosphere being pulled into the garage. The Imperial guard reaches for his blaster reflexively, but quickly thinks better of the thought when his eyes slide back to the two lifeless bodies in front of him. Blaster raised and aimed at the head of the Imperial, Arkhan slowly stands from his crouched position. Next to him, Vendri’s blaster rifle is unflinchingly aimed at the left temple of the enemy in front of him, finger resting tightly against the trigger.

“Kriff, that was AMAZING!”

The palpable tension of the situation breaks as Tendaar, trying to keep his voice a loud whisper but having apparent difficulty with the task, exclaims from the top level of the AT-ST. Arkhan twitches slightly, not allowing the ever-so-erratic Bith’s outburst to break his aim. One step to his left, and Arkhan is out from around his cover and begins stepping towards the Imperial Guard. Arkhan can hear the scuffling of Tendaar scrambling from the AT-ST to make his way down to the group, but keeps the barrel of his heavy blaster pistol aimed at the eyes of the guard now staring back, red faced and furious. Sweat is beginning to run from under his Imperial issued navy blue hat, gliding in rivulets down his rough skin. Arkhan couldn’t tell if the heat waves in the air were from the jungle itself, or from the guards own palpable rage.

“You pathetic Rebel scum, what do y-“

“What’s your name?” Arkhan interrupts the Imperial guard.

Stumbling on his own words, not expecting to be asked anything even so personal as his given name, the man falls silent for a moment before responding. “Jorin. My name is Jorin.” Quickly he regains his composure. “And that’s all you’ll get from me, Bothan scum.”

“Hey now. Not the way to speak to someone that has a rifle pointed between your eyes, is it?” The question is apparently amusing to Vendri, a smile forming on his lips as he continues to aim his blaster squarely at Jorin’s temple.

“I can speak however I wish to aliens like this filth.” Jorin’s eyes, full of anger, don’t seem to register the blaster aimed at his head. His cold grey irises are locked upon Arkhan’s calm and passive golden eyes. “You have no right to aim your weapon at an Imperial Guardsmen, much less shoot the two that you already have. Do you have any idea what you’ve initiated by killing these men? Soon, you will be fo-“

Jorin suddenly falls silent as Tendaar, who has been running quickly down the ramp, rounds the corner of the crates that Vendri is using for cover and slides to a stop at the two fallen Imperials. With a quick glint in his eye, he begins to look over both dead men’s helmets, looking for what? Only Tendaar knows.

“You disrespectful, planetless scum, how dare you tou-“

“Shut up.” Mutters Vendri, clicking the trigger without firing, but clearly sending a threat to Jorin that is effective enough to make the human close his eyes for a moment, as well as his mouth. “I don’t like to hear that kind of language out of anyone, much less an Imperial brat like you.” Lightly resting his finger back onto the trigger of the rifle in his hands, Vendri bites back the string of angry remarks that he had almost let out and instead revels in the satisfaction of holding the blaster to the specieist’s face. “Now let Arkhan here ask you a few questions, and then we can decide how to let you go.”

“Let me go and I will jus… what do you mean let me go??” With a slight quiver emerging in his voice, Jorin finally comes to the conclusion that he is most definitely not in control of the situation that he finds himself in. His mind is racing, wondering who may be watching the garage’s closed circuit vid cams while the three guards that would normally do so were in the garage itself, and two of them would never be returning to their post. How long would it take for the quiet base’s crew to realize that they had not checked in? How many stormtroopers could get to the garage, and how quickly? None of the answers leave Jorin in a state of relative ease, and he quickly decides that he’ll have to run out the clock, but that the clock is going to be running for some time longer than he has available. “What do you want to know?” Join asks with a slight growl overcoming the fear in his voice.

“Where’s Sarev?” Arkhan asks coolly. “Exact locations are always best.”

“Sarev? I am the lowest tier of Imperial Guard here, I don’t have the current location of the Lieutenant at all ti-“ With a small jerk, Arkhan makes a sudden and intimidating thrust towards Jorvin, just enough to stop him mid-sentence. “Okay! Okay! He’s only ever in the command center or in his quarters! I don’t ever see him anywhere else.” Jorin not only flinches from Arkhan’s physical threat, but is clearly trembling now. “He’s not exactly a social guy. He likes to smoke his cigars and brood in his quarters when we’re not active.”

Arkhan twitches an ear in the direction of Vendri, wondering if he will have any input on this information, but before he would have a chance to speak Tendaar stands back up, now wearing one of the dead guards helmets.

“This will do nicely!” Tendaar proudly declares, putting his hands on his hips, just above his heavily laden tool belt. “I was wondering why I didn’t get a helmet from Rebel command anyways. I’ve got a larger head than the rest of you!” Arkhan’s ears flatten back along the sides of his furred head in a clear sign of annoyance. “Don’t worry, I’ll take good care of it, Jorin."

Slowly, and deliberately, Arkhan turns his head to look at Tendaar. Locking eyes with the Bith, he stares in exasperation for a moment before asking, “Tendaar, did YOU have any questions for Jorin?”

Stopping to think for just a second, Arkhan snaps his fingers and points at Jorin. “Yes! Where is your code cylinder and your comlink?” The Imperial helmet on his head, not made to fit a Bith skull, rocks slightly back and forth.

With a twitch of anger in his eye, Jorin stands straight and proud. “I’ve answered enough of your questions. I will no longer aide you in your tasks. You can have my code cylinder and comlink over my dead body.”

“Strip him.” Vendri says without hesitation. “Jorin, start taking your uniform off. Right down to your skivvies.” Standing straight for the first time since he had taken down the two imperial troopers, Vendri brings himself around the crates and makes his way cautiously towards Jorin; a human man that no longer looked angry and contemptuous, but is now looking frightened and shocked. Vendri’s contempt for a specieist Imperial such as Jorin is not hidden upon his Duros face.

Even Arkhan himself is taken aback, looking to his right at Vendri, surprised at the Duros’ idea. “What? Why? Vendri? There’s no need to use his uniform as a disguise. The Imps aren’t going to think that a Duros, Bothan, or Bith are welcome in the Empire.”

With a sudden spark back in his eyes, Jorin feels a burst of courage. “Damn straight, you’re not welcome. Not only are you Rebels, but you’re alien scum. It will be the downfall of your pathetic insurrection against our glorious Empire, whether I live to see it or not.” And with his small outburst not quite finished, Jorin spits at the feet of Arkhan.

Slowly, and with obvious deliberation, Arkhan turns back to Jorin. With a slight tilt to his head, he says, “Alright.” Returning his finger back to the trigger on his blaster, says, “Strip.”

With a sudden, cold rush of sweat, Jorin’s slight resurgence of courage disappears. With a slight tremble, his eyes darting between all three Rebels standing imposingly before him, his eyes belying an  attempt to find a viable solution to his current situation with his available time running short. His hand slowly raises to the buttons of his Imperial uniform, and Jorin has clearly come up with no viable options. One at a time, he unbuttons his upper jacket, and then continues to strip down to nothing but his underpants.

“There they are!” Exclaims Tendaar, currently rifling through the pockets of Jorin’s pants that have been tossed haphazardly to the garage floor, coming back up with a code cylinder and a comlink in one hand. 

“Now. Get walking.” Vendri grumbles, his eyes still never having left the sight of his blaster rifle. “Actually, since you’ve been such a specieist with us here today even while we’ve been so accommodating, I’d suggest you run.”

“R-ru-run?” Like any man would if he had a blaster rifle and a pistol aimed in the general location of his brain, Jorin stumbles on his words. “Run where?” A sharp indication from Arkhan as he motions with his pistol towards the jungle behind Jorin. “But… but the jungle would be certain death, a violent and slow death. I thought that you Rebels were above such brutality!”

“There are consequences to the paths we choose and the choices that we make.” Replies Arkhan as he lowers his blaster pistol just low enough to meet Jorin’s eyes unobstructed. “In your past the path you travelled was that of an Imperial, and I can’t fault you for having different ideals than my own. But today you chose to be a specieist pile of bantha poodoo.” With an intimidating step closer, Arkhan brings himself nose to nose with the Imperial Guard Jorin, and growls under his breath, “Now get running.”

As the three Rebel infiltrators turn to make their way deeper into Whisper Base, an Imperial guard runs haphazardly into the jungle, meeting his fate head on, cursing the name of the Rebellion during the short sprint into the foliage.

A moment after the nearly naked man disappears into the trees, ferns, and shrubbery, an Imperial Lieutenant by the name of Antonin Sarev turns to look out upon the jungle surrounding Whisper Base. The dark greens of the trees are punctuated with the muddy browns of decaying foliage and light splashes of chartreuse as they grow anew. A large cut of deep royal blue through the greens indicate the path of the Darrastead river; named after the local town of indigenous peoples, splitting the jungle down a winding center line. Equidistant across the river from Whisper Base looms a large, volcanic mountain protruding from the bright greens and yellows surrounding it. A slow rolling tower of heat, steam, and ash indicates the active nature of the volcano, while also drawing the eyes to the distant horizon where the artificial towers of the city of Iziz stand in stark contrast to the natural jungles surrounding the city, all lying under the deep blue of the Onderon atmosphere. The beauty of the view undercuts the natural ferocity of the surroundings themselves.

Rarely does Sarev ever take the time to look upon the jungle. To say that he appreciates his current post would be giving too much credit to the tall, skeletal human male’s ability to be content with his current status. To hold the position of command in the Empire was already a draining enough experience the majority of the time, but to be thrown into a post where his primary modus operandi  is to manage the petty feud between a Grand Moff and an Imperial Admiral is insulting to the Lieutenant, to say the least. And then to add insult to injury, the Grand Moff has chosen such an awkward and nearly useless location in the dense jungle of Onderon, and has apparently picked up the location second hand after being built by an imbecile. Sarev finds himself questioning the layout of the base under his breath whenever passing through its halls, or in this case? When the connection to the comm tower is broken and for some reason it was designed as a satellite tower nearly three kilometers away from the base proper. Shaking his head with annoyance Sarev takes a breath, and looks out upon the jungle, telling himself again that this is just a stepping stone to his next promotion. Maybe a transfer to Coruscant? Maybe the command of a Star Destroyer? One can only hope.

Looking down at a sudden movement seen just at the edge of his view, Sarev sees the jungle’s edge sway and move. The point of movement seems to be just at the perimeter of the base’s garage entrance, where the duracrete meets the jungle. It seems to be the trees and ferns and shrubs themselves moving back and forth, as though there was a  jungle beast romping around the jungle just out of sight. Probably a large boma that had gotten through the sensors.

Making a mental note to chastise the Darrastead villagers for not keeping up on their security maintenance work, Sarev curses the jungle for what feels like the millionth time after he has arrived on Onderon.

“I despise this jungle.” Sarev mutters under his breath as the motion of the jungle’s edge slowly returns to its normal, deceptively quiet state. Sarev turns away from the viewport and returns to the problem at hand…

“I’m just saying that we can’t leave the bodies here.” Vendri tells Arkhan as they walk side by side towards the garage’s exit into Whisper Base. “They’re not going to take long to send another group of guards after the first, and probably put the base on alert when they do.”

“I realize this Vendri. But I plan to have the base under my control by the time that they are looking to reenforce their guard. Or at the very least have the Imps too distracted to worry about their lowest tier guards.” Arkhan and Vendri reach the opposite side of the garage, and stand in front of the exit door. Pausing to look each other in the eyes while they discuss their current disagreement, Arkhan, keeping his pistol drawn and primed in his right hand the entire time, presses the button to raise the garage’s blast door with his left thumb. “They’re not going to be worrying about that foolish Jorin character if they’ve got a malfunctioning shuttle, an infiltration in their troop training area, or three Rebels forcing their way into the control center.”

 

“Did you say, “Into the control center”, beings?” Asks the digitized voice of a droid.

 

Vendri and Arkhan’s heads simultaneously snap to the door that they’ve just opened. Vendri begins to raise his blaster rifle in a habitual reaction to the sudden appearance of anything Imperial, but Arkhan throws out his left hand just quickly enough to halt Vendri’s motion.

 

“We were planning for any possible outcomes that may arise for the base. We are not doing anything otherwise. What are your intentions, droid?” Arkhan asks, taking full advantage of his commanding demeanor.

 

“This unit needs to complete the sanitation of this garage bay, and then file its weekly report on the contents of the chamber. Please move aside, unfamiliar organic individual, so that this unit can finish its mandated tasks.” The BX droid in front of the two Rebels begins to take a step further into the garage. The BX droids were battle droids; mainly seeing combat in the Clone Wars, but having been used for mainly private protection ever since. Their tall, skinny bodies are meant to be agile while their armored torsos were meant to soak up blaster fire, but there are obvious flaws in their armor that indicate that they were designed on a budget. This particular BX droid looks as though it has seen its fair share of battle, and probably quite a few rebuilds to boot.

 

“Hold on there, BX droid.” Commands Arkhan, placing his hand on the metal chest of the droid and only barely stopping its advancement. “We have another job for you. You don’t need to clean this garage bay, we need you to go to the mess hall, and clean up a large spill there.” Vendri winces noticeably at the attempt to bluff the droid, and glances at Arkhan. He can see that even Arkhan isn’t impressed with his own story. “Now turn yourself around, and take that bucket and mop with you. On the double, droid!”

 

Vendri closes his eyes in obvious exasperation, a quiet sigh sliding through his lips.

 

“Sanitation protocols dictate that this unit must cleanse the garage bay first. This bay is extremely untidy. So long as this unit has its restraining bolt, it must obey sanitation protocols." Responds the droid, making yet another effort to push past the Rebels. “If you will not let me pass I will be forced to report this incident to Base Command. Please step aside.” This time, Vendri lowers his rifle back down to his side and places his hand left hand on the BX droid’s chest, trying his best to match Arkhan’s demenaor.

 

“You must let me pass. If you will not I will now begin a report to Bas-SKXCHSK.” With a snap, the droid’s eyes dim to black and his arms fall to his sides in a standby mode. Vendri and Arkhan look at each other in surprise, and Vendri lifts his hand off of the chest of the droid to see if it was his own action that had powered the droid down.

 

“Didn’t think that it would be a great idea for him to go and inform Base Command that we were here in the garage terrorizing the janitor droid or anything.” The voice of Tendaar comes from behind the BX droid. Peering around the decommissioned droid, Tendaar’s fellow Rebels find him crouched with his datapad plugged in to the droids maintenance port under an inconspicuous spot in the droid’s rear armor plating. Arkhan would never have known it was there. “Figured it would be a better idea to just power him down, and I’ll write into his code that we’re meant to be here in the base. That way he can clean up after us, and we won’t get sold out either. And I’m sure that this will keep the Imps from getting suspicious. And who knows! We might need a droid down the line. I’m sure he’ll come in handy.”

 

“You can program that quickly?” Asks Arkhan, an evident tone of disbelief in his voice.

 

“A few minutes, that’s all.” Without looking towards Arkhan or Vendri, Tendaar throws a thumbs up towards his fellow Rebels, and the Bith begins typing into his datapad. Arkhan and Vendri quickly take a support position, with Vendri covering the garage, and Arkhan taking his first good look down the hallway behind the BX droid and Tendaar. A brilliant white light emanates from the upper reaches of the walls on both sides, lightly reflecting off of the dull metal walls, ceiling, and floors of the hallway. There is maybe a meter separation from the garage exit and the hallway leading from the garage, allowing Tendaar and the battle droid to not be seen from Arkhan’s left, where the hallway runs parallel to the garage. The only other viable pathway is straight ahead, a hallway ending in a T-junction maybe 10 meters away. No movement or sound is noticeable in the hallways except for the calm sound of an air conditioning system struggling to fight against the heat of the base’s surroundings, quietly pumping out air from a series of vents along the tops of the hallway’s walls. For the moment, the group is in the clear.

 

“Arkhan?” Calls Vendri. “I’m going to prepare our possible quick exit with a booby trap. Approve?”

 

“Approved.” Responds Arkhan, appreciating the proactive Duros while simultaneously hoping that there was no need for a quick exit. The mission is to take the base for the Rebellion, gather information, and sow as much confusion as possible before the Grand Moff’s forces inevitably try to take the base back. A quick exit would mean that something went wrong during the capture of the base. “Here’s hoping…” thinks Arkhan to himself, as he brings his pistol up just a bit higher to keep the sight where he has the best chance of a quick headshot if a stormtrooper comes around any of the corners ahead of him. “Hurry up, Tendaar. We need to be quick about this.”

 

“Working on it!” Tendaar responds, obviously gleeful at the prospect of hacking the BX droid in such a tense situation. “Just a bit more…”

 

Stepping around the droid and past Tendaar into the base, Arkhan cautiously peers around the corner to his left to peer down the hallway. Maybe 15 meters down the hallway, another hall leads off to the right and deeper into the base. 30 meters down and to the left, Arkhan sees the garage’s second exit from its opposite end. And 40 meters away, ending with another hallway leading off to the right just before it, is the entrance Arkhan recognizes from the mission briefing as the base’s control center. Arkhan knows that this will be the eventual destination for the Rebels but that it would be foolish to rush inside without clearing the base first. Straining his large ears to hear anything, he steps back from the hallway, resting his left shoulder against the wall just before the hallway. Dropping his pistol back down to his right hip, but keeping both hands tightly around its grip, he lightly kicks back at Tendaar.

 

“We’re clear for now Tendaar, but this is starting to take longer than a minute.”

 

“And… done!” Exclaims Tendaar, louder than he should but Arkhan doesn’t hear anything down the hallways in front of him. Nothing to indicate that any Imperial forces heard the loud Bith.

 

“I’ll need to have a talk with Tendaar about his stealth abilities.” Thinks Arkhan, as the sounds of the BX droid booting back up meet his ears.

 

Tendaar stands up and slides around to the front of the droid, meeting its bright LED eyes. “Alright, “Toor”, what do you think of us now?” Asks Tendaar, holding his hands out parallel to the ground and fists clenched, in an obvious invitation to fist fight. The posing was a little less effective when it was a skinny and top heavy Bith wearing an awkwardly fitting Imperial guard helmet, goggles gripping his bulbous forehead and an overpopulated utility belt… but it was obvious nonetheless.

 

*SKXCHSK*-”BX-2R is now back to full operational cleaning mode. Sir Tendaar, I need to clean the garage of any organic matter, regardless of how it would appear that it got there. I will do nothing but clean the garage and then return to my docking station, Sir Tendaar.” With a slightly less fluid motion than would be expected from a well kept droid, which the droid now affectionally named Toor was clearly not, Toor moves around Tendaar and makes his way into the garage.

 

“”SIR” Tendaar?” Arkhan asks, a smile creeping in at the edge of his lips.

 

“Yeah, well.” Replies Tendaar, placing his fists on his hips. ”I thought it would be a nice parting gift to myself.” And while Arkhan is still watching the hallway for stormtrooper or Imperial guard action, Tendaar reaches down and grabs a singular mop thread from the passing droid, sliding it into his pocket. “Yup. That’s just for me.”, thinks Tendaar to himself with a secretive smile. A smile cut short with a terrible frightening slap on the back. Barely stifling back his scream of terror, Tendaar looks over his right shoulder, where the hand of Vendri currently rests.

 

“Good job, Tendaar. Now let’s move.” Bringing his blaster rifle back up to his shoulder, Vendri moves away from the Bith engineer and into the hallway with Arkhan. 

 

“When did he get behind me?!” Tendaar asks himself under his breath, his eyes still wide and shining form surprise.

 

A quick glance to his left shows the empty hallway that Arkhan had been covering a moment before. Sidestepping his way down the hallway leading directly from the garage, Vendri makes his way to the T-junction directly in front of the Rebels, Arkhan following quickly behind him and Tendaar cautiously following behind Arkhan. The soft click of their boots against the floor was something that they could do nothing about, but they will have to push through.


Reaching the T-junction, Vendri places his left shoulder against the left wall directly before the perpendicular hallway, Arkhan laying his back flat against the wall to Vendri’s right. Vendri can see that the hallway leading to the right is short, with another hallway breaking to the left before ending 10 meters away with a sharp turn to the right. This would be the entrance to the main generators, built into the rock foundations that Whisper Base itself was built into. With a quick glance around the left corner, Vendri sees two stormtroopers, 15 meters away. Casually standing at the entrance to what Vendri recalls as the base’s armory, the stormtroopers are chatting about something just out of Vendri’s earshot. Quickly pulling himself back before giving the Stormtroopers the opportunity to see him, Vendri turns to Arkhan and Tendaar.

“Two troopers at the armory doors. Should we just start blasting? It’s about time that the base figured out we are here.” Vendri asks quietly.

 

“No. Not yet. There’s still more to do, and it will be better the more quietly we can get it done.” Arkhan’s response is delivered with a hint of durasteel in his voice, indicating that he is clearly not in the mindset of arguing this point.

 

“If we can get them riled up maybe they lose their composure!”, comes Vendri’s response. “This base didn’t even know we had any intel on them, much less that we’d be here taking the base with such a small group. Let’s cause some panic!”

 

“I’m not of the mindset that we will be any better off with this base in high alert than we will be if the stormtroopers are alerted to our presence!” Replies Arkhan, becoming more agitated with the Duros scout. “As much as I appreciate your creative thinking skills when it comes to these kind of situations, I believe that you’re going to get us killed if you start blasting anymore than you already have!”

 

“My blasting kept us alive in that gar…” Vendri’s eyes glance back over to his right and away from Arkhan. “Where’s Tendaar?” He asks, quietly.


The blast door to the garage behind them had remained open, and there is no sign of the Bith anywhere in the hallway that they have just come from, or in the garage itself. For just a second, there is silence, and then the soft whir of a droid’s moving joints begins to tickle the inside of their ears. Stepping into a defensive position, side by side at the end of the hallway, both Vendri and Arkhan raise their blasters to aim at the entrance of the garage, unaware as to what may come forth from the garage. And as the sound approaches, they tense to fire.

From inside the garage comes Toor the janitor droid, stepping into the entrance hallway. Arkhan and Vendri lower their blasters by just a hair, but raise their weapons back to a ready position in tandem as they realize that the droid is holding its mop in a more aggressive manner than it had before.

 

“I must clean all armor, immediately.” The droid exclaims to the two beings in front of it before moving without quickly to its left down the hallway towards the command center. As it steps out of site, they hear the droid say, "Stay out of my way, organic meat bags. I must clean."

 

The two Rebels pause for a breath, and then lower their blasters to look at each other with a confused expression on both of their faces, just a moment before Tendaar walks confidently into the hallway from the garage, absentmindedly playing with a mop thread. “Don’t worry, I got this.” Tendaar says quietly as he comes up to his counterparts. “Just wait for it.” The wide smile on his face is almost jolting to Vendri and Arkhan who are just coming out of their disagreement. But both Rebels flinch when they hear a commotion beginning  behind them and down the hall.

 

Peering out from around their corner, Vendri and Arkhan see Toor. His mop handle raised in an aggressive cleaning stance, attempting to clean the two stormtrooper's armor at the entrance to the armory.

 

“What are you doing, droid?! Get off!!” Yells the stormtrooper being actively cleaned.

 

“I have my programming. I must clean all armor, regardless of current deployment status.” Responds the droid emotionlessly, pushing ever harder with all of its battle droid weight against the stormtroopers resisting force. The second stormtrooper grabs ahold of Toor’s shoulders from behind, trying fruitlessly to pull the droid from his fellow trooper.

 

Pulling themselves back into the hallway, Arkhan and Vendri look back at Tendaar, smiling widely. “Not bad…” mutters Arkhan. “Not bad at all, Tendaar.”

 

Before Tendaar can accept the Bothan’s praise, Vendri intercedes. “No time for pleasantries, you two. Let’s move." Spinning on his heel, Vendri turns and quietly runs down the T-junction to the right, away from the armory. With a quick glance left and a motion to his right, trying his best to ignore the growing sounds of the cleaning commotion behind him, he sees a 20 meter hallway leading past the entrance to the mess hall on the right, and ending in a left turn that Vendri knows leads to the communication center and eventually the shuttle bay. Stepping into the empty hallway, he signals for Arkhan to follow, and then Tendaar as Arkhan moves quietly past his right shoulder.

 

Tendaar moves into the hallway next to Vendri and Arkhan before stopping. “Wait, how about ANOTHER distraction?” he asks, his large bulbous black eyes reflecting the white light from the hallways illumination. “What if I disrupted the main generator as well? We could have it cut power entirely right now! We could rig it to blow if we get caught! I can do just about anything with anything and I’m willing to prove it what do you think?”

 

“Keep your voice down, Tendaar.” Arkhan growls. “Your excitement is going to tip us off to the Imps.” With a deep breath, Arkhan catches his breath, ruffling the fur down his spine to calm himself. “But that’s a good idea and we’re here at the generators now, so let’s do it. You make your way into the main generator room and we’ll stay here and cover you. Let’s start with killing the power immediately, with as little fanfare as possible. That will add to our element of surprise, and throw the Imperials out of their comfort zone.”

 

The excitement is evident in the Bith as Tendaar spins on his right heel to take a look back down the armory hallway, confirming that his previous distraction was still in play. With a blatant confirmation in the way of absolute chaos at the end of the hallway, Tendaar’s grin grows and he jauntily makes his way into the main generator room, feeling no fear at the prospect of being found by the stormtroopers at the far end of the hallway. They’re clearly distracted.

 

The sound of the main generator whirring away with a secondary redundant generator behind it brings physical calm to the Bith, soothing Tendaar’s soul. With a deep breath of warm air, the smell of lubricants and machinery center his spirits and calm his mind. This! This is where he loves to be; surrounded by machinery that he understands at comprehensive levels, that he can fix and improve upon however he sees fit. Still pulling on and spinning the mop thread that he had snagged from Toor, Tendaar steps forward towards the generator controls. Or, two generators? Where did that come from? The unexpected sight of a secondary redundant generator is a bit of a pain, but nothing that Tendaar can’t handle.

 

“They must have installed the secondary generator after the Rebellion had gathered its intel on Whisper Base.”, thinks Tendaar as he places the tips of his long bony fingers on the keyboard of the control panel. The plan to have the main generator blow if the Rebels were caught would no longer be a viable option with a secondary generator installed, but he’s confident that he will come up with something once he is past the generator’s security. Maybe just run the generator at a higher rate than intended, until it over heats? Melting itself and causing a hiccup in the power but then rerouting to the secondary generator that he will program to perform the same meltdown? “No, the Rebellion wants the base functioning. I need to remember that.” Rolling his eyes at the the prospect of melting down two generators revoked just because the Rebellion has other plans, he lets his fingers fly over the keys.

 

“Bonk.” The sound from the small piezo electronic speaker inside the console’s monitor indicates a failed attempt to bypass security; blatantly mocking Tendaar's intrusion attempt.

“Bonk? Bonk?!” Asks Tendaar of the control station. “You don’t get to BONK at me! Why aren’t you taking the credentials we were supplied?” With another quick flourish of off-white Bith fingers, Tendaar tries again.

 

“Bonk.” Here’s the sound again, ignoring Tendaar’s questions altogether and continuing on with its programming.

 

“Bonk again?!” With a grumble Tendaar’s space black eyes glare angrily at the screen as his fingers angrily jab out yet another set of credentials, but just before submitting them, Tendaar pauses. Slowly, he looks over at the secondary generator. Obviously a second hand generator, but clearly recently installed and without the accumulation of dirt and grime that old generators always carry. It sits whirring away, probably managing a small low power backup system that will kick in if the main generator fails. Cleanly installed…

 

“Oh, kriff.” Tendaar mutters under his breath. “They updated the firmware for the generators when they installed the new secondary generator.” Thinking back to the last time that he had worked on generators of this type, he closes his eyes and tries to remember what the default  credentials are for generators of this model. It had only been a few cycles ago… “Right!” Tendaar shouts, not worried about being heard over the loud whir of the generators. Looking back at the keyboard he quickly removes the credentials that would have been his final attempt and instead drops in the credentials he remembers from the last time that he had needed them. “Thank the Force that they keep these credentials standardized for us engineers.” Tendaar says smugly as he taps the submit button.

 

“Bonk.”

 

“WHAT?!”

 

“You have attempted to enter into the development only mode of the Sut-6577 main power generator. If this was done in error, please enter the credentials for the main administrator. If you have performed these actions in error, but do not have proper secondary clearance please notify your system administrator for secondary approval of development access. Otherwise, all systems will proceed with temporary developer access mode in 30 standard minutes. You will not be able to generate power while in developer access mode.”

 

“Oh, blast!” Mumbles Tendaar, kicking the side of the generator with the toe of his boot. “I got what I wanted anyways, you hunk a junk!” And in a bit of a huff, Tendaar begins to move away before stopping suddenly to look back at the console. With a quick motion, he lays the mop thread down upon the keyboard, and with a quick pluck of his boney finger tips, he pops the ‘F’ key off of the keyboard. Pocketing the key, Tendaar spins again and heads out of the generator room, throwing a rude gesture with his hand towards the computer terminal behind him as he slides quietly into the hallway.

 

“All good?” Asks Arkhan, the Bothan chuckling lightly at the scene still playing out down the hallway.

 

“Yup!” Replies Tendaar quickly. “Power’s going to shut off in 30 minutes.”

 

Both Vendri and Arkhan’s heads spin to look at Tendaar. “What?” Asks Arkhan quietly. “How is that going to help us?” All amusement is clearly gone from Arkhan’s voice.

 

“I didn’t have much of a choice!” Tendaar explains quickly. “They’ve upgraded their infrastructure here and we had incomplete intel!”

 

With a low growl, Arkhan turns to Vendri. “It might not be all that bad.” His dark brown Bothan eyes look down in a moment of concentration, playing through possible outcomes. Looking up at his fellow Rebels, he says, “Let’s move quickly.”

 

“Agreed.”, says the Duros, and without a second thought he makes his way up the hallway. He throws a shoulder into the right side hallway wall just before the mess hall entrance. Peeking around the corner he finds an empty mess hall, devoid of any military personnel activity. Motioning with his left hand, Arkhan hurries forward. The Bothan’s mane is tight against his body with the events of the mission being laid in front of him in a still unpredictable course. The end of the corridor comes quickly, and his left shoulder lands into the left hallway wall, listening for any of the usual sounds brought about by Imperial military activity; the clank of Stormtrooper boots, the casual chatter of lower ranking officers, the overtly stiff tone of a high ranking officer barking orders.

 

Nothing. Nothing but the sound of silence. Peering around the corner, Arkhan sees the hallway with his own eyes; a hallway that he had only viewed on a mission prep map. The comm room lay to the left, its door sealed shut. Directly in front of that door, and to Arkhan’s right, lay the truncated hallway to the launch pad where the Lambda class shuttle The Nilos was supposed to be docked. The hall continues in front of Arkhan, on to yet another T-junction, but no Imperial is in sight to the Bothan’s eyes. With a quick wave of his right hand, Vendri moves past Arkhan’s right shoulder making his way directly to the short hallway that will lead to the launch pad, and he quickly and silently stations himself at the entrance, Tendaar slowly and tentatively making his way past Arkhan and towards Vendri. Bringing up the rear, spinning with his heavy blaster raised to cover his 6, Arkhan moves into the hallway to meet the others.

 

Just as he slides next to Tendaar, Vendri is already pulling his head back from around the corner. His deep red eyes are serious, and his finger comes up to his lips to indicate the immediate need for silence. Vendri then holds up two fingers to indicate the number of Imperial guards that are around the corner. Bending himself slightly closer so as to reduce the volume required to speak to his comrades, Vendri whispers, “They’re inattentive. We’ve got the jump.”

 

Arkhan looks at Tendaar, Tendaar stares at Vendri. The Bith asks, “If I get them to look away, can you take them out before they have a chance to react?”

 

Vendri smiles. “Of course. What do you have in mind?”

 

Tendaar pulls out the “F” key that he had pulled from the generator’s console. With a start, the Bith moves toward the hallway junctions, listening intently to the Imperial guards breathing at the entrance to the launch pad. A quick estimation of distances based on the maps that he had been shown during prep for this mission, and with a quick motion Tendaar throws the key at a calculated angle down the hallway. Bouncing at first off of the left side wall, impacting with considerably less force off of the right wall, the key lands dead center between the guards and just a meter before the launch pad door. Before the guards have the time to even contemplate the minuscule surprise in front of them, two subtle movements can be heard as a Duros throws himself sideways onto the hallway floor, onto his left shoulder and followed by a Bothan sidestepping his way behind the Duros. Both beings have their blasters drawn and with two shots criss-crossing across the hallway, both Imperial guards fall to the ground. Their eyes are still locked on the bright white lettering of the keyboard’s key on the floor in front of themselves, although the irises are no longer focused.

 

“Others may have heard that. Let’s move.” barks Arkhan, rushing forward to check the launch pad hallway. To the left will be the training facility, and to the right will be the secondary entrance to the mess hall. Taking a solid breath, Arkhan motions to the crew. He does not hear enemy soldiers moving from either direction, and they just don’t have the time to double check when they’ve created this much noise. Tendaar steps right past the two fallen Imps, picking up his “F” key while he walks, making his way to the launch pad’s door controllers. Vendri moves to take a knee to the two guards, confirming the two kills with a light touch to the neck of both bodies. Confirmed: two kills.

 

“They may have upgraded their generator equipment, but they left the rest of the system untouched.” Remarks Tendaar calmly as the blast doors for the launch pad slide open. “Intel for the rest of the base should still hold up.”

 

With a nod, Arkhan confirms the assessment and moves quickly into the launch pad, blaster raised and ready for an Imperial mechanic or pilot to be present. Before him rests The Nilos on its landing struts. An off-white Lambda class shuttle, pocked with blaster burns, hull dents, and other signs of heavy use. A quick glance to the left before dipping to his knee to get a better vantage if someone had been hidden under the shuttle to his right, Arkhan gives the all clear. “Bring the two guards in with you. We shouldn’t leave them in the hallway.” His order to Tendaar and Vendri quiet but clear, he spins again on his knee to bring himself to his final position guarding the two Rebels as they drag the guards onto the launch pad. With a grimace he realizes that the group had not checked the communications room, the entrance of which is clearly visible behind the two preoccupied Rebels. Either the Imperial guards manning the comms were blissfully unaware as to their two dead comrades outside, or the entirety of the base was about to learn of the infiltrators currently on the Imperial launch pad. As Tendaar and Vendri pull the corpses onto the launch pad and drop them stiffly onto the floor, Arkhan keeps his eyes locked on the seam of the comm room’s door. He perceives no movement until Tendaar’s fist punches the launch pad’s blast door controls, sealing the launch pad shut.

 

Letting out the air that he had unintentionally been holding in his lungs, Arkhan stands. “Alright, I’ll take that from here, Tendaar. You get to work immobilizing The Nilos while Vendri and I take care of stowing these bodies.” Tendaar bounds towards the shuttle ahead of him as though it is a resort spa after a trek through a jungle, and for Tendaar it is almost definitely comparable. Arkhan steps slowly towards the corpse in front of him, holstering his blaster while he moves. Bending down to grab the hands of the human male guard that is no longer amongst the living, he pulls the corpse’s limp arms upward to reduce as much friction as possible between the dead weight and the floor.

 

“We missed the comm room.” Vendri says bluntly. “Do you think there’s anyone in there that heard our blaster fire?”

 

“If they had, we would have heard sirens by now. Or… there will be a pack of stormtroopers pouring through those bay doors in less than a minute. We’ll know soon enough. Might as well get these bodies behind those storage crates before they get here, so we can at least attempt to bluff our way out of it.

 

“If it comes to that.” Vendri replies, mimicking Arkhan’s actions with the other dead guard.

 

And with that the two beings drag the lifeless bodies across the launch pad…

“Alright, I’ve taken some liberty with disabling the ship.”

 

“Liberty?” Asks Arkhan. “Explain.”

 

“I’ve removed the power cells from the main engine’s ignition system, pulled the passive connections to the turbo lasers so that they still appear installed but can’t be engaged, I’ve changed the loading bay lock codes after accessing the main system based off of information that we garnered from the code cylinders we grabbed, and then to finish it all off I’ve rerouted the foil lock positions so that the main system doesn’t know which position the foils are in and will always set them backwards.” Tendaar’s quick fire response reveals again the excitement that he finds in working with electronics and engineering, proving how he had become so talented in the first place.

 

“You did all of that in 15 minutes?” Vendri asks from behind Arkhan where he is kneeling, rifling through the dead guard's uniforms; seemingly enamored in what seems to be a quickly forming stash of vibroknives.

 

Tendaar’s reply holds none of his pride at bay. “Of course! These were all subsystems that I had deduced would be easiest for me to disable, difficult to pin down in the chance that an Imperial pilot did manage to escape with the shuttle, and would be simple enough for me to reverse in case we needed to make our own getaway in the shuttle! They weren’t even all of the available options I had to disable the shuttle!” The greatest extent that a Bith can push its facial structure to physically resemble a smile is easily achieved on Tendaar’s face. “Could’ve done it quicker but I was trying to be stealthy!” When the Bith speaks the word “stealthy”, he holds out both hands and crouches slightly, seemingly imitating the crouch of a Kage Warrior.

 

An extended moment of silence, broken with a single word. “Impressive.” With that, Arkhan quickly turns and walks away from Tendaar and past Vendri. “Let’s keep our momentum up. We’ve not heard from any Imps while we’ve been active in the launch bay. They must not have anyone in the communications room, or the Imps in that particular room were so distracted that they missed two blaster shots firing off directly outside of their door.” The Bothan reaches the launch pad’s main entrance and peers through its small transparisteel viewport. “The halls still appear to be clear, and we should check the comm room for safety’s sake before making our way to the control center. Vendri’s rigged a trap if we need to set off the garage, and Tendaar has disabled The Nilos. There’s no escape for Sarev if he somehow eludes us.” With a forceful bump of his fist, he activates the blast door release and the segments of the door pull apart. “Let’s move.”

 

Standing quickly while sheathing one of his newly acquired vibroknives and drawing his blaster rifle, Vendri quickly makes his way through the launch pad blast door, raising the rifle to the ready and checking down each hallway before moving straight ahead to the comm room door. Tendaar, moving a bit more reluctantly, stows his datapad and draws his pistol, moving to follow Vendri. Closing the blast door behind him, Arkhan moves past the now defensively positioned Rebels towards the comm room’s entrance. Peering once again through a transparisteel pane, his breath catches in his throat, shocked to see two Imperial communications officers sitting at two of the many comm portals. Their backs are turned towards the doorway, apparently lost in thought, each with a set of headphones over their ears. With a subtle glance back towards Vendri, Arkhan jerks his head towards the comm room, indicating that there was indeed a threat that will need to be dealt with.

 

Vendri nods and steps to the door controls, blaster raised in his left hand…

“What do you mean they haven’t reported in yet?” The disbelief in Sarev’s voice was undercut by the sharp guttural growl in his delivery. “It’s been nearly half a standard hour since they were sent to the garage and you’re telling me that a team of three officers hasn’t had the chance to check in yet?!” The growl has become nearly a scream as Sarev’s mind runs. Knowing that a disconnect between Whisper Base and it’s comm tower already meant something out of the ordinary, and that a loss of three guards at the location of the necessary connection between Whisper Base and it’s comm tower… well, the coincidence was too much for Sarev.

 

“Sir. This is within the boundaries of Imperial procedure. We currently have no rea…”

 

“Stop.”

 

With a vicious growl that was almost inaudible but still conveyed its brutal nature, Sarev halts his communications officer mid-sentence.

 

“Don’t… speak… another… word…”

 

Sarev is looking down at the ground. He has no use for dramatics, but he is incapable of looking at the officer that has snapped at him. If he does, he will not be able to control the anger boiling inside. “Do not tell your superior officer that the current situation is something to be ignored.”

 

Sarev raises his eyes toward the crew he considers more pathetic than ever. The officers see a man with cold chilling eyes. The eyes of a man that as of late seems more explosive than usual. A man who is at the end of an emotional threshold, who has an anger within those cold irises that means he could kill without thought if any one of the officers in front of him spoke again.

 

With a loud snap and the whirring of power being siphoned from any available source until it was entirely divest, the lights in Whisper Base dwindle to an empty black.

“Not a bad idea, Tendaar.” Arkhan says as he checks his blaster’s power pack level. “Clearing out the garage bay logs should help with keeping us discreet for at least a little longer.”

Vendri stands up from where he was crouched next to one of the dead Imperial communications officers, an orifice created in the back of the officer’s back from Vendri’s blaster still delicately smoking. In his hand is the officer’s belt, which he straps around his waist. “Now that we’ve got the extra time, we should get moving. No need to waste it.” Vendri says, moving towards the room’s door. His finger presses down upon the door control, and the lights around the Rebels fade to black. The door, only midway through opening has frozen in place with just enough room for a small being to squeeze through.

 

“Well.” Arkhan and Vendri hear Tendaar’s voice in the darkness, just a whisper. “There goes the generator. And we should get emergency power back… now.”

 

Right on cue a dim, blood red light begins emanating from the light installations around the room and down the hallways. The door resumes its motion until it is completely open, albeit slower than it had moved before.

 

“Move. Now!” Shouts Arkhan. The Bothan’s mind is racing, trying to pick apart his memories of the base’s infrastructure that he had studied during the operations planning. As Arkhan’s figure clears the comm room’s doorway, moving at top speed to the left, his mind weighs the difficulty of fighting through the armory or the training facility. “How many stormtroopers were left after the two armory guards had been dispatched?” He approaches the T-junction, realizing that at the time they had moved into Whisper Base the stormtroopers should all be in the training facility. He corrects his course, slamming into the wall to his left just before the T-junction, and turning to cover his two compatriots as they sprint behind him.

 

“We’re going through the armory!” Arkhan exclaims. “We already have a distraction in place, the other troopers should be in the training facility. Vendri, you lead. I’ll follow, and Tendaar can hold the rear.”

 

Silence meets Arkhan’s orders. Silence, until Tendaar poorly attempts holding back an outburst of laughter. “Sure, commander!”, exclaims Tendaar, as a rare, slight smile reaches the edge of Vendri’s lips. “I’ll hold that rear.”

 

“Move.” Replies Arkhan, cold and steely. The humor from the moment vanishes as Vendri snaps back to his usual self, raising his rifle’s butt to his left shoulder and moving around the corner sharply to provide an element of surprise to his hallway entry. The humor of the previous moment has been replaced with determined resolve, and then suddenly replaced again with unmitigated shock.

 

As Arkhan sees Vendri’s eyes widen, he swings himself into the hallway to help bolster his fellow Rebel, and sees the origin of the shock in Vendri’s eyes. In the dark, blood red tint of the emergency power lighting, a stormtrooper lies on the ground with an unmistakably broken neck, while the other armory guard continues to grapple with BX-2R the cleaning droid, and failing horribly.

“I do not believe you understand the extent of my orders, stormtrooper.”, says Toor, attempting to hold the stormtrooper by its neck while simultaneously attempting to clean blood from the armory’s blast door. “The armory must be cleaned, and you are making it inexcusably difficult for me to follow my subroutines.” With an extra stretch to attempt a very low spot upon the door, Toor’s mop finds its mark as a loud crack and a gargle emits from the stormtrooper in the droids grasp. With a start, Toor activates its mechanical neck actuators in order to spin its head around to look at the motionless stormtrooper, who’s neck is still wrapped in his mechanical arm. “This is an unfortunate outcome. Similar to your fellow stormtrooper I see that you have expired before you could understand what my ultimate function is. This is disappointing. I will now have to clean you as well, accounting for at the very least another 8 standard minutes of time that I, for one, consider a waste.” And with a thud Toor releases the tension caught in his finger’s joints, releasing the stormtrooper and letting it fall limply to the floor.

 

“Tendaar?” Asks Vendri quietly. “What did you program that droid to do?”

 

Catching up with his fellow infiltrators, Tendaar sees the sight in front of him and smiles. “I programmed him to clean the armory. With no exceptions.”

 

“It worked.” Arkhan mutters. “Let’s allow him to continue cleaning, shall we?” And with a step forward, he walks cautiously towards the armory entrance.

 

“I’m going to step through the officer’s quarters…” says Vendri quietly, still keeping a wary eye on the droid, now laying out the second stormtrooper’s corpse in an orderly, parallel line with its fallen comrade; ready to clean the blood running out from under their helmets. “Maybe there’s something useful to pocket…”

 

“Don’t take too long.” Responds Arkhan. “We’re in a precarious position now that the emergency power has raised the base’s alarms.”

 

With a quick motion, Tendaar follows Arkhan’s lead toward Toor and the entrance to the armory while Vendri steps quietly to his left, never letting his attention leave Toor until the doorway to the officer’s quarters slides open, allowing him access. A deft spin, as he examines the room he is about to enter down the barrel of his blaster rifle, only content to enter once he is confident that the room holds no surprises. Lowering his blaster rifle to his side but keeping his finger on the trigger, the Duros’ eyes fall upon the details of the quarters. Lacking in any hospitable features, the room is small and featureless. A basic military bunk built into the left wall, a refresher just to its right. A set of plasteel cupboards and a sink are built into the right wall, and nothing else. The room is seemingly uninhabited, altogether unremarkable.

“Blast.” Vendri mutters, stepping to the secondary exit doorway between the refresher and the sink, walking out into the now familiar hallway that Vendri and his fellow rebels had peered down earlier. The base was beginning to feel like a maze, even to the holographer turned Rebel spy. But as he peers right he makes an effort to skip over the wild scene playing out between Arkhan, Tendaar, and Toor directly above two dead stormtroopers… “No, we’re here to help clean, Toor.” Arkhan says, as Toor defensively replies, “You are not permitted to clean me, Bothan intruder.” Moving quickly past the scuffle he believes could occur at any moment between a tweaked military janitor droid, a Bothan, and a Bith, Vendri slaps his hand on the control panel of the doorway immediately across the hallway from the quarters he had just exited. With a chuckle, he remembers a joke that sounded similar to the scene he had just slipped past. A sign of amusement on his lips, Vendri’s eyes fall upon the room as he steps inside. A well kept bunk, sanitary items neatly lining the sink to his left, and a glistening transparisteel enclosure housing row upon row of cigars of multiple colors and sizes, all kept dry with a dehumidifier attached to its right. The compact nature of the room indicates how much its owner cares about the cigars, considering the amount of space the case occupies.

“Yup.” With a hint of glee reflecting off of his red Duros eyes, the red orbs land upon a matte black lighter lying upon the metallic counter next to the cigar case. It was just what the Duros spy had been looking for, and with a quick motion the lighter is stowed in his pocket and he’s on his way out of the room’s secondary doorway, finding himself looking to his direct right at a military droid turned janitor stepping into the armory in front of itself. Inside of the armory proper, he could hear the high pitched voice of Tendaar. With a smile, Vendri moves towards the armory door and past the cleaning droid.

 

KERANG-CRACK

 

Out of pure instinct Vendri drops into a roll, falling through the armory down and to his right. Using the momentum at the end of his roll, he pulls himself up into a defensive position. Bringing his head up, he sees Arkhan establish his own defensive position at the entrance of the armory. The Bothan peers around the doorway and fires a few blind shots down the hall. Vendri hears the digitized scream of a stormtrooper’s as Arkhan pulls himself back into the armory and two laser bolts fly down the hallway he had just been occupying.

“Only two stormtroopers now,” Arkhan shouts over the blaster fire. “I’m convinced that they know we’re here, crew.”

 

Another set of blaster bolts flash down the hallway; one landing too close for comfort in the door jam directly at Arkhan’s back.

 

“Commander, let’s move to the control center!”, Tendaar shouts above the din. “We can lock the armory, avoid the confrontation, and hold that position!”

 

With a visible sign of confrontational thought on his brow, Arkhan pauses for a moment before hitting the armory’s blast door controls, slamming it shut. “Let’s move, Rebels.” He says, in the sudden quiet of the armory. “Grab what you think may help, and check your corners as we move through the barracks towards the command center!”

 

In true commando fashion, the Duros and the Bith break towards the armory’s secondary exit. The exit leads past six barrack rooms, three to the right and three to the left. But to the left of the barrack's far exit was an opportunity laid open before them to capture the Lieutenant and the base; to hold their position until they could formulate terms between the remaining Imperials and themselves. But just before they step out from the armory’s secondary exit, all three Rebels skid to a halt. Ahead of them, three stormtroopers rush down the far hallway at the end of the barracks, their destination clearly a defensive guard duty for the command center.

 

“Blast,” mutters Arkhan.

 

A loud crunch from behind the group breaks the stunned moment. Turning simultaneously back into the armory, they hear a shout from the opposite side of the door, “What are you doing, droid!? Stand down! Gah!!” Without a second thought, Arkhan jumps for the blast door that he had just closed, snapping it back open. Once more in front of them, the droid Toor stands with his back to the armory, his apparent obsession with cleaning the armory being waylaid by yet another pair of stormtroopers, both of which the droid is grappling with. The three are so close and entangled, that all Arkhan can see is Toor's left hand around a stormtrooper's neck, the troopers hands gripping and swinging wildly at Toor's arm to relieve the pressure on its neck. Toor's right is gripping the other stormtroopers blaster carbine and keeping the trooper from aiming. Trying to find a target in the scuffle, Arkhan sees the left stormtrooper release his grip on the right arm of Toor and bring it back to his blaster carbine to raise it towards the only Rebel in his vision not obstructed by the body of Toor: Vendri.

 

But Arkhan, not being distracted by a rampaging janitorial droid, is faster. The Bothan’s heavy blaster pistol fires, landing square in the stormtroopers left chest and throwing the stormtrooper back into the hallway wall behind him. The second stormtrooper has not the capacity to break away from Toor, and instead decides to take to the offensive. With a sharp twist the trooper breaks its carbine free from the droid’s hold, jamming it underneath the droids armor on its right side.

 

“No!” yells Tendaar. His knuckles whiter then normal under the strain of the moment. The Bith instinctively fires the blaster pistol that he’s been holding ready in his hands since the stormtroopers had started raining laser bolts down upon the Rebel group. His blaster finds its target, sheering clean through the cheekbone of the stormtrooper’s helmet, leaving a nearly perfect circular hole in the laminate armor. The blackened hole ignites for just a moment as the overwhelming heat of the laser bolt ignites the flesh underneath just before the heat dissipates and cool as the stormtrooper falls backwards. With an unhealthy jerk, the stormtrooper’s fall is halted by Toor, now holding the trooper’s left arm tightly, and Tendaar is left to look at the stormtrooper’s hanging body.

 

“No.” He mutters quietly to himself.

 

“Quickly now,” says Vendri, walking past Tendaar and patting his fellow Rebel softly on the shoulder.

 

“Yes,” Arkhan confirms. “We know that there are another three stormtroopers at the command center. Let’s not allow them to prepare for our arrival.” Stepping forward, Arkhan slides past Toor to check the hallway corners. Tendaar continues to speechlessly stare at the hole in the stormtroopers cheek until Toor snaps his mechanical hands open and the body falls unceremoniously to the metal ground, dramatically lit by the deep red of the emergency lighting. Arkhan’s boots slam out across the base’s floor, louder than usual to the Bith, snapping him back to clarity. Tendaar looks up just as Arkhan moves to the right and into the hallway. Vendri follows quickly through the exit, crouching to grab and pocket a handful of grenades from the armory’s lockers on his way. With the near silence of the armory falling upon Tendaar’s sensitive Bith ears, he pulls in a deep breath of recycled air. Before him, Toor slowly rotates around to see the armory, strewn with armor and weaponry, the last remnants of a burnt ozone haze left by the blaster’s bolts.

 

“Sir Tendaar, I need to clean the armory. Please exit immediately.”

 

Letting the digitized voice flow past him, Tendaar finds the ground for his emotions and lets himself smile at this awkward moment. He stands and makes his way to the door, keeping as wide a berth as possible from the janitor droid, all the while thinking that it is a little more than awkward that the droid stares directly into his eyes while Tendaar moves out of the armory…

The sound of boots clink outside the blast doors and come to a jarring, silent halt. Every single officer in the control center is staring at the blast doors, sealed together tight enough to hold back anything that the universe could throw at them. But the tension in the room makes it apparent that the officers are terrified of what may lie beyond those impenetrable doors, regardless of their reputation.

“Back to your stations; back to your duties!!” Screams the voice of Sarev, breaking the terror-struck energy hanging in the room. The silence outside of the control center helps reassure the officer’s, and for just a moment they return to monitoring their stations. The red light is not nearly as comforting as the silence, but for the good of the Empire and Sarev, they will persevere. It’s what will help to keep the balance of the universe, they are told.

 

KERANG-KERANG

 

“Don’t leave your posts.” The clear order from Sarev is unforgiving and as unsympathetic as every order had been in the weeks prior. “From the moment I have left, stay at your posts and fulfill your duty to the Emperor.”

 

Sarev walks to the wall that houses the blast door entrance to the control center. A few meters to the right of the blast doors, his right hand reaches out and presses against a subtle brushed metal actuator that is cleverly hidden from the casual eye.

 

BOOM

 

Outside of the control center, an explosion rips through Whisper Base’s hallways.

“Three troopers. They’re on alert,” Arkhan’s whisper is barely audible over the rustling sound of Toor cleaning the armory merely three meters away. “We’re not going to have any opportunity for surprise. It’s going to be a firefight to break through to the control room.”

 

Vendri’s blue hands tighten around his blaster rifle, and his eyes shrink as his determination grows. “I don’t believe that I ever asked for surprise.”

 

As a smile forms across his face, Arkhan rests his shoulder back against the corner of the hallway that leads to the triplet of stormtroopers and then to the control center. Holding in a last breath, he rolls across his shoulder until his head has cleared the corner and his right eye falls down the barrel of his pistol, aimed directly at the stormtrooper in the center of the trooper group. The shots land wide, missing their target but drawing the sights of the other two troopers. Arkhan pulls back instinctively just in time to shield himself from the blaster bolts that land heavy and loud into the wall just before his cover, sailing down the hallway if they fly wide. Vendri rushes past the bolts in a moment of reprieve, moving to the far left of the hallway, firing down the barrel of his blaster rifle as he lightly sidesteps. One shot burns through the left gut of the the stormtrooper to Vendri’s right, throwing the trooper to the ground but not out. A second shot from Vendri’s rifle lands solidly against the blast door behind the troopers, just close enough to will the far right stormtrooper into cover. Blaster fire again rages from the stormtroopers, now compensating for this new threat that is a sharp shot Duros in the hallway in front of them. Their shots fly wide as Arkhan pulls himself back into the hallway to fire again, this time landing a shot square into the center stormtroopers chest.

 

Vendri reverses his sidestepping to slide back into cover, shouting over renewed blaster fire, “I can’t confirm we’ve taken any of those stormies out, and we don’t have time for this.” He pulls one of the grenades from his pocket, and flips the electronic arming pin. “Tendaar, how about you replicate that distraction from earlier. Still got that junk on you?”

With a bristle at the word “junk”, Tendaar pulls the “F” key he had used as a distraction before. “Of course. Let’s see if this trick still works.” With a quick step, Tendaar walks out and into the hallway seeing the left stormtrooper pulling himself up to his knees while nursing his left side, and the right stormtrooper peering around its corner to aim from cover. The middle stormtrooper is no longer moving, splayed across the ground in front of the control center’s entrance. With a quick underhand toss, Tendaar lets the “F” key slide from his fingers and into the air down the hallway. A blaster bolt from the right stormtrooper sails past Tendaar’s left shoulder, pinging into the wall just behind him, then a shot at the key flying down the hallway. The Bith sees just out the corner of his eye a blue hand reach around the corner and let a grenade fly, while the stormtroopers are seemingly still concentrating on the small black object sailing at them.

 

As quick as he can, Tendaar spins to his left, dropping to his knee and throwing both hands over his ears. He hears a muffled, digitized shout, before…

 

BOOM

 

The heat of a contained explosion rips down the hallway of Whisper Base and throws Tendaar forward onto his chest. The heat is overwhelming as it flows up from the floor and over his back, and he thanks The Maker that he had the wherewithal to cover his delicate ears before the blast had ripped them apart. Even with the modest protection, a ringing sound begins bouncing around his large domed skull as he looks up towards the fellow beings in his crew. Arkhan is rushing into the hallway, blaster pistol raised in the crimson emergency lighting, swinging left and right to cover the hallway as best possible. Vendri slides next to Tendaar and begins to lift him up.

“You okay?!” Vendri shouts, pulling on Tendaar’s shoulder to help the Bith up. “No shrapnel wounds?”

Struggling to pull himself together, Tendaar gathers his focus and replies, “Yes! Let’s move!” And then nearly falls as Vendri slaps his shoulder in a show of solidarity as he sprints down the hallway towards Arkhan. The Bith stands to his feet and follows Vendri just as his eyes see a small piece of plastic at his feet; an “F” key from a keyboard, now slightly melted on one side and its white lettering now a light brown. As he bends to pick the key up, his sensitive ears hear a voice from down the hallway, digitized and thin as though it was coming from a small security speaker.

“Theta squad, this is Control Room! Report!”

Silence. Too much silence. After an explosion like that, the command center officers are clearly shook, and the lack of a response from the stormtrooper detail outside the blast door is less than reassuring.

 

“Report!”, Teinin screams again into the doors comm panel. The officer has always seemed on edge, but the explosion has clearly thrown him past his comfort zone. Bureel, the commanding officer under Sarev, lets his eyes slide from the crazed look in Teinin’s eyes, made all that more outlandish under the emergency lighting. He instead lets his gaze wander towards the hatch left open by Sarev as the Lieutenant had taken advantage of an exit strategy unbeknownst to the rest of the control center’s occupants. Bureel’s faith in Sarev had been waning over the past few weeks, but this is unacceptable and a signal to the commander that the Lieutenant has become unfit for his position. He will need to report this offense to Moff Dardano…

 

“Open the doors! We have three intruders making their way to the command center and they’ve taken out five of our fellow troopers! Open the doors now!!” Teinin’s hand jolts towards the blast door’s control panel.

 

“Stop!” Shouts Bureel. “That was not the voice of a stormtrooper, you fool.” Moving quickly towards the doors and the wide eyes of Teinin, Bureel forces the younger officer away from the comm panel. “Rebel scum, if you’d like to enter this control center you’ll have to put on a better performance than that!” Letting his finger off of the communication panel, Bureel bristles with energy and takes a step back. Still staring at the blast door’s comm panel, an object that had brought him closer than he had ever been to a Rebel, he takes a deep breath to calm himself. A short silence meets the Imperial commander’s resolve for a few moments before a scuffle seemingly plays out on the other end of the communication link.

 

“Get out of the way, I can convince him to open the door!”

 

“He already knows we’re not stormtroopers!”

“Because your Duros accent sounds nothing like a stormtrooper!”

“And you think that your Bothan voice is any better, Arkhan? Stormtroopers don’t growl!”

“Don’t say my name!”

Rolling his eyes and stepping forward, Bureel places his thumb back on the comm panel. “You’re still transmitting through this comm panel, you Rebel morons.”

 

“Tendaar, what are you doing, anyways?!”

With a loud snap hiss, the actuators in the control center’s blast doors activate, pulling the doors apart to reveal the interior of the control center.  From deep within the blood red darkness filling the control center, the officers peer out into the hallway to see a trio of non-human beings standing on the opposite side of the entrance. There is a Bothan and a Duros nearly face to face as though they had been arguing just moments before, but who’s eyes are now turned towards the control center and the Imperial inhabitants within. And to the left of the entrance, barely visible around the door’s edge, a Bith kneels with his longs arms deep in the control panel of the blast door. A panel which has been removed haphazardly and is hanging from its wires.

“I’m hacking open the door,” replies Tendaar quietly in the near silence of the moment, just before Arkhan and Vendri return their hands to their blasters and move quickly as a duo into the control center.

 

“Blasters down!” shouts Arkhan, keeping his eyes intently on the Imperial commander directly in front of the door, while keeping a wary side-eye on the seemingly squirrelly officer behind him. Vendri moves quickly to the left of his Bothan commander and surveys the dark room before him to confirm that the Imperial officers are following their new Rebel orders to disarm.

 

Tendaar stands, and quietly looks at the hallway behind the crew. Blackened and burnt from the grenade’s blast, the remnants of three stormtroopers lie broken in front of him as he steps backwards into the control center. His eyes fall upon the horror of death forcing its way into his existence in the span of just a few minutes. Before letting it grasp his conscious, he reaches out with his left hand and presses down on the actuator controls, slamming the blast doors down upon the scene laid before him.

“Which one of you is Sarev?” asks Arkhan, stepping forward with his blaster rifle imposingly aimed at the commander’s forehead. With little emotion in his voice, he informs the commander, “There’s not much in between your answer and me pulling the trigger, so answer quickly.”

With a shake of his head, the Imperial commander lifts his right hand and points towards the open exit hatch, barely visible in the red light. The look in the Imp’s eyes tells Arkhan everything that he needs to know, and he drops his blaster pistol to his side.

“Vendri!” He shouts, causing the Duros to spin. “Down the hatch! It must be an emergency exit strategy! Sarev fled that way!”

The Duros silently nods in recognition before throwing himself towards the secret escape hatch.

“Tendaar, move out. Now!” Arkhan yells, moving towards the control center exit as the blast doors open again at Tendaar’s command. As Arkhan steps through he spins on the balls of his feet to face the control center’s officers.

Struggling at what to tell the Imps in his midst, Arkhan simply orders, “Don’t move until I get back.” With a flourish, Tendaar makes his way through the blast door, and slams his white knuckled hand against the door’s controls, slamming them shut in front of the Bothan’s nose. “Move!” The Bothan spins and lowers his blaster pistol to his side as he sprints towards the nearest garage entrance on his right, the same entrance that three Imperial guards had walked through to investigate a broken communications line in the garage; in what feels to Arkhan like weeks ago. His feet pounding down the hallway at full tilt, the palm of his hand slams against the garage’s blast door controls. Throwing himself through the doorway before the doors have time to open entirely, he slides to a stop and brings a hand up to shield his eyes from the bright flash of a blaster bolt flying lengthwise across the garage, landing against the front facial armor of the AT-ST now far to the left of Arkhan and Tendaar. Turning to see where the shot had originated from, Arkhan sees Vendri with his lower half still inside of a hidden panel in the wall, his rifle dropping to his hip as though he had just fired.

 

“Blast!” Vendri yells. The Duros looks to see Arkhan and Tendaar at the blast door. “He’s in the AT-ST! We need to follow! Now!” As though Sarev believed the crew needed further proof, the start sequence for the AT-ST completes with a large mechanical knock, and the hum of its engines grows to a consistent thrumming. Slowly, its head raises, as though it’s casually threatening the beings that had fired upon it. A shot rips from its chin canon, landing two shots against the wall just above Vendri, throwing the Duros back into cover in the hidden passageway. Satisfied with the offensive position garnered over the invading Rebels, the AT-ST begins its lumbering walk out of the garage’s open blast doors.

 

“Move!” Yells Arkhan to Tendaar as the Bothan begins sprinting once again. “Tendaar, pilot the other AT-ST! Vendri and I will follow on speeders!”

 

“Copy!” Comes the affirmative response from Tendaar as the Bith moves quickly towards the ramps leading to the AT-ST cockpit’s hatch, Arkhan sprinting towards the speeders still parked on the main floor of the garage. To his right, Vendri emerges at full speed from his cover and heading towards the speeders, the order Arkhan was about to yell rendered unnecessary. The AT-ST being piloted away from Whisper Base by Lieutenant Sarev has already reached the edge of the jungle and with no noticeable hesitation, launches a grenade at a fallen tree blocking the overgrown path into the jungle. With a brilliant  explosion ripping a hole open into the dense jungle, the AT-ST marches through into the darkness.

With a slight bump of their repulsers, two speeders are thrown slightly out of their order as the Duros and the Bothan land into their seats. Quickly snapping through the toggle switches required to bring the speeders to life, the two Rebels hear the echo of Sarev’s AT-ST’s mechanical knock and hum to the Rebel’s own AT-ST as Tendaar finishes the startup sequence.

A flash as Arkhan jams his accelerator handle down and his speeder flies from the hanger, followed by the lumbering of Tendaar’s AT-ST. Just before Vendri punches his own speeder’s engines, the snap-hiss of a blast door to his left catches his ears, and he turns to see four Imperial scout troopers sprint through the blast door towards their own speeders bikes. A moment of surprise as they freeze, finding before them a smiling Duros on one of their very own speeder bikes, a cigar lighter in his left hand. With a mocking wave Vendri casually wills the speeder forward, igniting his stolen lighter and dropping it into the puddle of AT-ST fuel that he had prepared at the outset of the Rebel’s infiltration of Whisper Base. Without further hesitation, he guns his speeder bike towards the jungle entrance that Arkhan and Tendaar disappear into moments ahead of him. Vendri casually glances back to see two trailing speeders reach the threshold of the base’s garage.

 

BOOM

With an overwhelming surge of energy, the two speeders are engulfed in flames as the explosion blows their pilots clear of their seats and across the entire length of the garage. With the sudden extreme high temperature from the explosion, the speeders onboard fuel tanks overheat and follow suit. As the fuel tanks rupture in their own fierce fire, they add to the fireball ripping across the entrance to the garage and cracking the base’s support wall for the garage’s blast doors. A sizable chunk of wall begins to fall as Vendri smiles at his successful boobytrap, and he turns his attention back towards the jungle ahead, flying quickly into the dense foliage.

As the damaged wall of Whisper Base's garage burns, a large chunk breaks and falls to the duracrete ground below. The flames flare up as the debris pushes a wave of air into the fire, just as two speeders shoot through the dissipating fireball and after the Rebels.

“Whisper Base communications tower, please respond!” Screams Sarev into his AT-ST’s communication panel. “Respond immediately! This is Lieutenant Sarev of Whisper Base proper!”

With a static buzz and a digital snap as the line disconnects, the communications equipment quietly and patiently await a response from any encrypted radio communication on the same frequency. Rage builds in Sarev as the silence screams back at him, so he blasts another tree out of his path to vent his anger. Attempting to keep his AT-ST at its maximum speed without leaving any ground to be gained by the Rebels behind him was turning out to be more difficult than he had expected. Bringing his hand back to the communication panel’s control, Sarev balls his fist and readies himself to scream at full volume into the microphone once again. The stormtrooper stationed at the base’s communication tower, the stormtrooper that should have replied within mere moments, is not meeting Sarev’s high expectations.

 

KRIVAASSSSK

 

“This is Whisper Base Communications tower awaiting Lieutenant Sarev’s orders.” Replies the digitized voice of a stormtrooper.

Letting his fist unclench, Sarev's vision dims to a slightly lighter shade of red. “I’m making my way to you at full speed. I’m being pursued by at the very least one Rebel infiltrator, although I assume there are more. Please be ready to send an encrypted message to Moff Dardano when I arrive, and ready yourself for combat.”

“Copy that, sir.” And with yet another electronic click, the line disconnects immediately. Sarev assumes that the stormtrooper is beginning to prep the communication tower with haste. Maybe he isn’t quite as useless as Sarev had initially thought.

 

CRACK

“Nice shot, Tendaar!” Yells Arkhan into his comlink as the AT-ST behind him finds its target with a blaster shot  landing directly into Sarev’s AT-ST’s right leg knee. With a shudder, Sarev’s AT-ST gains a noticeable limp, the joint is blackened slightly by the blaster canon’s bolt. “That will give us what we need to catc-“

 

KERANG

 

Two blaster shots fly close enough to Arkhan’s head that he can smell burnt fur, landing heavily into the trunks of the palms directly ahead of him. Letting the hand holding his comlink fall to his side while allowing himself a quick glance back, Arkhan sees Tendaar’s AT-ST continuing its pursuit of Sarev unaware of the two speeders behind it firing upon the group. With a shock of surprise, Arkhan notices Vendri just a few speeder lengths behind his own speeder, smoke beginning to swirl and spin in the wake of the Duros’ speeder. With a jolt, Vendri snaps to the left, flying off the rough path being hewn through the jungle by Sarev’s AT-ST. In mere moments, Vendri is no where to be seen and there’s little to nothing left between Arkhan and the trailing Imperial scouts.

Turning back to the path ahead, Arkhan returns the comlink to his lips to yell, “Vendri! Are you still with us!”

 

“Still here, boss,” Vendri’s voice is calm although the tense underlying tone in belies some of the danger he must be in.

The sound of two more blaster bolts rip through the air. One of the bolts soars past Arkhan’s right, but he hears the second land into the metal of the AT-ST behind him. “This isn’t going to work…” he mutters to himself. “Tendaar! Report!”

“Took a a hit, Arkhan. But the hull is still just fine,”  Tendaar’s reply, just before the sound of another bolt landing into the chassis of the AT-ST echos through the comlink. “A little less than fine now.” He mutters.

 

“I can’t stop, they’ll just follow me,” Replies Arkhan. “But you’re closer than I am, and they’ll have to react quickly to get out of the way. Come to a complete stop, now!”

“Affirmative,” Tendaar replies, his voice followed by the click of his comlink closing its transmission.

With a heavy strain on the AT-ST’s knee joints, its left leg falls to the moist jungle ground and slides a meter before it forces its forward momentum to dissipate into the ground. The AT-ST’s cockpit turns ever so slightly to the right as though it were the head of some frightened being, turning to see what was approaching from behind.

The scout trooper racing in from the right turns away from the legs of the AT-ST, but not quickly enough. With a scraping noise, the rear end of the speeder connects with the lower leg of the AT-ST’s right leg, noticeably denting and bending the AT-ST’s leg as it throws the speeder wildly off of its course. That course proves uncorrectable as the speeder is crushed against the large trunk of a jungle palm. The scout trooper continues his forward motion as though he had never been riding the speeder to begin with, soaring into the foliage and out of sight at a speed that was most certainly going to end  quickly and fatally. The left side scout trooper and his speeder succeeds at clearing the obstacle that Tendaar has created, and without a dip in speed continues on towards Arkhan, albeit a bit more wildly than a moment before as the trooper attempts to correct his own course.

Arkhan takes a moment to confirm his current course, and finds just a second to pocket his comlink and draw his blaster pistol. Measuring the danger of looking away from the path ahead against the danger of being shot in the back by the speeder trailing him, Arkhan takes a deep breath. A breath preparing for a risk, a breath cut short by yet another blaster bolt’s searing path, close enough to cause the commander to flinch away instinctively and his speeder to veer to the left as a consequence. Immediately throwing away the mental risk assessment,  Arkhan brings his right hand up and back, following it with his right eye as he aims back at the scout trooper behind him. The fraction of a second it takes to aim down the barrel at the trooper, barely noticing the AT-ST piloted by Tendaar now further back and limping as it begins to move once more, time freezing as the forest’s browns and greens flash past at deadly speed, the Bothan’s finger tightens on the trigger.

 

KERANG

 

A bolt flies out from the forest and into the scout trooper, finding its mark in its left upper chest. The blast throws enough force into the scout to throw it free of its saddle and roughly to the ground with enough momentum to keep its body rolling for a considerable distance as the speeder, now completely unencumbered, lifts into the air a meter more than intended, before turning sharply to the left and roaring into the jungle. Less than a second later, Vendri emerges at full speed from the trees, still trailing smoke, as a sudden explosion rips from the jungle in the direction of where the pilotless speeder disappeared into the jungle. The explosion snaps Arkhan back to his task at hand, dropping his blaster pistol back into its holster and returning his hands to the controls and his eyes to the AT-ST that has gained a considerable lead due to the scout troopers’ distraction.

A break in the trees is now visible in the distance, a break that Sarev’s AT-ST moves through the middle of. Bringing his comlink back out of his pocket, Arkhan speaks to the team, “He’s at the bridge. We’re getting close to the communications tower, and we don’t have much time.”

With an unsettling whoosh, the jungle and its cacophony of noises is gone. The bright sunlight from Onderon's sun Prael shines blindingly upon the large durasteel bridge laid out in front of Arkhan, Vendri, and Tendaar as Sarev is just finishing the bridge crossing and moving back into the jungle at the opposite end of the bridge. Hundreds of meters high, the Rebels find themselves in the wide open of a bridge spanning a huge chasm carved by the jungle river far below. The repetitive rush of the bridge’s cable supports flying past is almost soothing as Vendri and Arkhan simultaneously push their speeders further past their engine’s safety limits in a mad rush to gain ground on the bridge. Closer, and closer, and closer comes the darkness of the jungle; the path on the opposite side of the chasm barely large enough to fit the speeders, much less Sarev’s AT-ST. The signs of the All Terrain-Scout Transport’s forceful entry are apparent as the cacophony of the jungle slams into the ears of the two rebels surging back into the jungle’s dense foliage. Behind the two, they can hear Tendaar’s AT-ST wheezing mechanically as it returns to the jungle.

The Rebels collectively know that Sarev is getting dangerously close to the communication’s tower. The trees are even more dense on this side of the bridge, if that is even possible. But the foliage is noticeably causing more trouble for Sarev; slowing his AT-ST’s steps and causing it to lose momentum every time larger trunks blocking his path require a surgically placed grenade. Arkhan and Vendri both land two blaster shots into the back of the machines cockpit and legs in quick succession, slowing it even further. And with a smile, Arkhan knows the Rebels will catch the AT-ST; just before the smile is gone. With a dramatic crash, AT-ST is through the jungle wall and into the clearing that contains the communications tower.

“Blast!” yells Vendri,

“I’m not in range, I can’t hit him from here!” comes Tendaar over the team’s comlinks, the sound of the AT-ST’s degraded state apparent even over the comm channel.

“He’ll need time to get the message out.” comes Arkhan’s voice over the comm, calm and reassuring. “Concentrate, and let’s finish this mission.”

Losing sight of Sarev’s AT-ST for just a matter of moments feels like a lifetime to the Rebels. Threading the needle that is the jungle exit to the clearing happens in less than the thought of a blink of an eye, and suddenly Vendri and Arkhan are free of the literal tunnel vision caused by the jungle trail. Sarev’s rusted AT-ST stands smoking and steaming to their right, slumped in a large grassy patch surrounded by the muddy earth leading up from the overgrown jungle perimeter. Just 30 meters ahead of the idling AT-ST is a large communications dish, littered with organic waste from its jungle surroundings and looking a bit worse for wear, evidence that it was never intended to be installed in such a harsh climate. To the left of both the AT-ST and the communications dish lies the communications tower, a stout 2-story building with a singular entrance spanning the entirety of its southern wall, an entrance that Sarev is sprinting towards at a full sprint. Reaching the outer control panel just as Vendri fires three shots from his speeder towards the lieutenant, the bolts splashing across the tower’s blast door just moments before they split open to welcome the lieutenant. Arkhan jumps from his speeder at full tilt, his feet pound across the overgrown duracrete ground, heart pounding and the air searing his lungs with every breath, he ducks to the left but keeps sprinting as Vendri fires off another round of bolts in an attempt to get through to the interior of the communications tower.

With a low scrape, the blast doors halt their outward movement. For just a moment they are frozen in place before reversing their outward motion; moving towards their closed position. Blaster bolts snapping from Vendri’s speeder land again against the blast doors as Arkhan sprints faster than he ever has in his life. With a last ditch effort, the Bothan dips into a slide across the duracrete towards the shrinking separation between the blast doors.

 

BOOM

 

Just as the soles of Arkhan’s feet meet the sealed blast doors, a heavy blaster cannon’s bolt hits the blast doors square in the center. Arkhan instinctively covers his ears and head with his hands as he rolls to see Tendaar’s AT-ST, smoking and limping out of the jungle, aiming its cannon at the communication tower.

 

Bringing his comlink back to his mouth, Arkhan yells, “Stand and he yells into the comlink again, “Actually, that’s an order! Get down here, now! We don’t have time!”

“Trooper!”

 

Sarev is limping from where he landed too heavily while exiting his AT-ST. His uniform is unkempt and he has begun to sweat through its fabric. His footsteps land heavy and sharp in the room when compared to the light hum of the communications gear installed throughout the tower.

 

“I need the holocomm. Now!” screams the lieutenant, walking directly towards the stormtrooper turning away from a communications panel set against the far wall, its lights blinking in dull yellows and bright reds.

 

“Sir, the communications systems were set into a standby mode when they lost connection with Whisper Base. I’ve been bringing them all back up since, but we’re still a few moments away from when you’ll be able to transmit.”

The anger rises back up inside Sarev, an anger that turns his face shades of red and purple. The last months of embarrassment, being stationed in this pathetic backwater, being ignored by the Moff; all begin to surface like they haven’t before, and Sarev finds himself with his blaster pistol extended towards the stormtroopers heart, his finger on the trigger.

“Don’t toy with me trooper,” Come the tense words from Sarev; words dripping with contempt like the sweat dripping in rivulets down his forehead and cheeks. “I told you to have the comms ready for my arrival. And if you haven’t followed my orders, tell me now so that I can blow you out of my way.”

“Sir, I don’t believe you heard me. I’ve been bringing the comms back online ever since they went down! This was out of my con-“

 

SNAP

 

HISS

The blast doors to the comm tower begin to slide open, and the Rebel infiltration team turns to move towards the entrance. Stepping around the blast door the moment that it's wide enough to allow the Bothan through, Arkhan takes a step into the communications control room and raises his blaster pistol. His Bothan ears twitch as he strains to hear anything that will give away his enemy’s position, anything to ready himself for the firefight that is about to begin, just as the blaster bolt from Sarev’s own pistol lands into his chest.

Vendri’s blaster rifle is raised before he enters through the blast doors, and he reacts to seeing Arkhan fall to his back by dropping to his own right knee, tracking the path that the blaster bolt materialized from. There, an Imperial officer and a singular stormtrooper. Two quick shots leave the barrel of his rifle with deadly precision.

Tendaar pulls himself back from the control panel, hanging by its wires from the wall it had recently lived in. He turns to see Arkhan lying on his back. The war is now in front of Tendaar in the form of a blaster bolt wound, blackened, charred, and smoking. Dropping the wire snips that he held in his long Bith fingers, he sprints towards his fallen commander, descending into a slide across the worn duracrete to a sudden stop at the side of his fallen commander, his black annular eyes wide.

Raising his head up to see Vendri’s blaster bolts land into the neck and the right eye of the comm tower’s resident stormtrooper, Arkhan brings his blaster pistol up and aims at Lieutenant Sarev. With a pull of the trigger a blaster bolt flashes from the muzzle of his heavy pistol, and lands into the chest of the Imperial Lieutenant before the human male has another chance to fire on his Rebel crew. 

 

And with that, Whisper Base is taken for the Rebel Alliance by the Rebel infiltration crew Charlie Four.

 

With an extended exhale, Arkhan lets his fall limply back to the ground.

With that, the Rebels have completed the first step of their mission on the jungle planet of Onderon! Hope you enjoyed that trek. I'm trying to think of new ways to deliver the chapters of this novel, since it can be a bit hard to prepare and edit and publish on the site, and so I may have downloadable versions of the chapters available soon.

The next few chapters are already written, I just need to move them over to the site. More coming soon!

Thanks everyone!

CeeDubH

Call to Arms

Recently, the world feels like it's falling apart. When I say the world, I really mean America and my little world inside of it. The worlds of many others have felt this way for generations; whether you're dealing with racial injustice every day in America, dealing with a lethal regime in South Eastern Asia, oppressive sexist governments in the Middle East, brutal warlords in southern Africa, ignorant dictators in Southern America, and everything in between.

I wrote years and years ago that we all had to take our time to deal with the darker side of this world, and that a good majority of the time we needed to say "I'm Selfish", before ignoring the life threatening issues of others. Maybe if I didn't have that opinion all of those years ago, maybe if myself and others had spoken up… maybe we wouldn't be where we are today. Maybe (most definitely) this is our fault.

I stand unapologetically with Black Lives Matter. I have listened and learned from communities of color and from those that are disenfranchised. They need our help, they need us to never again say, "Their problems are theirs".

Please protest in support of Black Lives Matter, please donate when you can, and please listen to those that are unable to find Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness due to the knees that are placed upon their necks.

This is not a shout out; this is a call to arms. Stand for what's right, stand for those that are shot down when they stand up for themselves.

Helpful info:

blacklivesmatter.com

blacklivesmatter.com/whatmatters/?link_id=4&can_id=48b0f1cd20b9e0328a5136d042a54f70&source=email-heres-what-you-need-to-know-to-keep-yourself-safe-if-youre-heading-out-to-protest-firstname-sanitize-default-friend-2&email_referrer=email_822630&email_subject=watch-community-organizing-in-south-bend
 

Pod Save the People: https://bit.ly/2U5YiQr (Brittany Packnett Cunningham @MsPackyetti, DeRay Mckesson @deray, Clint Smith @ClintSmithIII, Sam Sinyangwe @samswey)

And Akilah Hughes has also been great: https://bit.ly/36YONrE

How to be an Antiracist: https://bit.ly/3cxb6pv

LifeHacker List for ways to donate: https://bit.ly/2Xq0AvQ

Call your Mayor: 8cantwait.org

And stay safe while practicing what you preach: https://bit.ly/2TZSOH5

 

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