Monday, May 14, 2007

Chapter Five

Cap sat on the edge of his crippled LAAT and watched the skyline above Miner’s Rest as the last remnants of the impromptu dust storm died down. His eyes were fixed, waiting for the bright blue flash of atmosphere thrusters that would surely signify his quarry was escaping. Behind him, his men stood, waiting, wondering what their next order would be.
’32 yelled out from his seat in the cockpit; he hadn’t moved since their enforced landing.
“Captain! Transmission from Command.”
The words broke Cap’s mesmeric stare and he slid out to plant both feet on the orange dirt.
“Patch it.”
His helmet link burst into life and he listened to the orders as they were concisely and tersely relayed to him, nodding his head almost imperceptibly as he listened. Twenty seconds later he turned to his squad; his face was expressionless.
“Break out the swoops, we’ve been told to delay them.”
As Cap’s men hustled to follow his order, he contemplated the order that he had withheld. High Command had ordered that any Jedi they found was to be taken alive. As he watched the rear of the gunship open like the giant maw of an Aihwa and then spew its contents onto the ground, he then considered what High Command hadn’t said.

They had told him to take the Jedi alive, but not the Ashes.

“Smoke. You want to explain to me why we’re still on the ground?”
Calz paced to the front of the cruiser and sat in the navigator seat next to his pilot. Carud casually depressed several buttons on the immense console as he answered.
“Well, Sarge. I’m ready to go, but nobody notified the port authorities.” He nodded at something outside the view screen. “If those docking clamps remain in place we’ll be sitting here watching the rest of this death trap break orbit without us.”
Calz peered out of the window. He growled out of the corner of his mouth.
Peko, why are we still clamped in this pit?”
The scout trooper hopped up onto the rusting plateau of the flight deck and joined his sergeant, following his gaze.
“They were deactivated, Sarge, I swear.”
“Well, they appear to be reactivated.” Calz muttered something unsavory involving Banthas and Hutts, and then spun around to face the rest of the group. “Rece, get out there and slice those controls for good!”
“On it, sir!”
As Rece made his way to the central ramp, Scarp suddenly rose and followed him out.
“I’ll watch his back,” he murmured as he followed the trooper into the heart of the ship.
“You do that,” said Calz quietly, turning his attention back to the view screen, and the twenty tons of plasti-steel that held their getaway craft in place.

Digger stood alone at the back of the flight cabin, watching his sergeant seethe, looking for something to keep himself busy with. The flight deck appeared to be cobbled together just like the rest of the ship, something he had noticed as they passed through dim corridors from the storage bay to the bow, and he scanned the cabin, trying to identify where each piece of the puzzle was from. It was pretty obvious that this monstrosity was the offspring of the Corellian Engineering Corporation but, like some secretly birthed abomination, it had been hidden from public view for many years. A precursor to the YT-class freighters CEC built their name upon, this ship had been refitted so many times that it now resembled an abstract sculpture. The seats were definitely Corellian, their Dire-cat hide coverings frayed and nearing retirement. The panel configurations were uniquely Corellian also, but that was where the familiarity ended. Digger could see Nubian support struts hastily welded to the bare inner fuselage, their superior strength disguised by the slenderness of their design. The thick pipelines that ran overhead supplying life support to the cabin reminded him of the interior of a Neimoidian sheathipede class shuttle, and upon closer inspection he could see several delicately engraved connector rings; the unmistakably ostentatious signature of their previous owners. Other close inspections revealed Rendili StarDrive-built quad turret controls and a shielding system that looked so practical, so non-aesthetically pleasing, that it could only have been dreamed up by the calculating minds of Cygnus Spaceworks. Digger marveled at the manner in which these spare parts had been introduced to each other, and now considered themselves part of one big, happy family.
He wanted to meet the ship’s engineer, and shake his hand.

Lig sat cross-legged on the floor of the cramped med room as Virus hoisted Rev onto one of the two beds, brushing aside various tubes and drip lines that hung from the blistered ceiling like grapple vines. Soolad and Janstorr had stayed with Master Pel in the storage bay, now a temporary docking bay for the Ashes’ damaged gunship. They had said they wanted to help him reconfigure the crates and barrels, to make more room. Lig couldn’t help wondering if they were vying for master Pel’s attention, each youngling hoping he would devote his time to them, as Master Scarp did with Lig.
She watched as Virus plugged a thick cable into Rev’s suit, just below the neckline. The cable was made up of two smaller tubes, twisted together like an artificial umbilical, and as Virus tightened the seal he highlighted each tube to his inquisitive aide.
“This dark line is the VS link, it connects to the vital signs monitor up here,” he tapped on a thin screen nestled among the raised plasti-steel blisters on the ceiling that displayed a multitude of digits and colored lines. One of the lines expanded and shrunk with the rhythm of Rev’s heart.
“This clear line is the drip; giving him a steady dose of dream juice. I don’t want him wandering this ship when he should be healing.”
“But, Virus, he’s already healed.”
“I’m sure he feels right to you, Lig, but you don’t know Rev. He’s always first in, last out… who knows what other injuries he hasn’t told me about.”
Lig looked at the man sleeping peacefully on the bed.
“Why is he always first in? Does he want to die?”
Virus smiled and patted Rev’s chest plate the way a hunter rewards his hound, “No. He doesn’t want any of us to die.”
Virus began to investigate the storage units that were fixed to the walls all around him at chest height. As he slid back panel after panel he pulled out a variety of different tubes, boxes and pouches, each one displaying its contents through clear plastic or glass.
“This is quite an eclectic collection,” he mumbled to himself, turning a small vial of Dathomir Fire around in his hand, watching the salve undulate and glow scarlet in reaction to his movement, “quite the collection. Say, Lig, you ever…?” He looked up, but the youngling was gone.
“Great.” Virus flung the pulsating salve back into the cabinet and, giving Rev one last look, stepped out of the med room to look for his new best friend.

“I still say I could’ve sliced it faster…” Rece grumbled as he and Scarp strolled out of the dock authority control room. Behind them through the open doorway, four controllers lay unconscious and tape bound under a wide-spanning desk, and at the rear of the room the central control system for all twenty-two of Miner’s Rest’s docking bays sat forlornly on the floor in a dozen pieces, looking like a giant executive puzzle toy. The edges of the plasti-steel housing for the controls still glowed from the not-so-tender touch of Scarp’s broad saber.
“I do not doubt your abilities, trooper,” answered Scarp, pausing and raising his face to the sky, “we merely required a fast solution.” His face darkened and he took a step out into the expanse that separated them from their docking bay entrance. He and Rece were standing at the far Northern edge of a huge, barren courtyard. Along both the east and west walls were a multitude of metal doors, all of them sealed, all of them leading to their respective docking bays. The Ashes’ newly acquired freighter waited for them behind the far southeast corner door, but Scarp’s senses told him that they wouldn’t reach it in time. Even as he sent a thought to Pel, urging him to ignore the force signs that he was no doubt feeling and to stay with the younglings, Scarp turned his solid face to the large archway in the middle of the south wall, the exit to the center of town.
“Stay behind me,” he said quietly as he swung his saber from its scabbard and ignited it.
“What’s the…?” Rece’s words were silenced by a volley of blaster bolts that peppered the wall behind them; all but the ones that were on target, which Scarp blocked with ease, sending them back into the arched entrance. There was the muffled sound of an impact and fingers of smoke looped into the courtyard, followed by a damaged swoop, the leader of three.

The RMP swoops were bulkier than the normal, sleek Republic speeders. Their larger saddles held two police troopers, one piloting the bike and the other raised slightly behind him, operating the various weapons of suppression, or execution. On either side of the swoop, like giant saddlebags, containment pods connected to the main frame skimmed the ground. Each pod was a big enough transpari-tube for an average-sized human to comfortably fit in, or for anything larger to have a miserable ride.

The three swoops drove halfway into the courtyard and fanned out. Rece could see the captain was operating the cannons on the smoking, lead swoop. He swung his DC-15 up and braced it against his shoulder. Through his scope he could see the faces of the men who had come for him, faces just like his own, troopers he had probably served with before Order 66. His finger glanced against the trigger of his rifle, but he knew that he couldn’t use it; despite their circumstances he could not regard these men, his brothers, as the enemy.
“I won’t make you attack them,” Scarp whispered, sensing Rece’s turmoil, “instruct Sergeant Calz to take off.”
Rece nodded and spoke into his internal comm.

“Put down your weapon, Jedi.” Cap’s amplified voice was calm, “you, and the other traitors, are all under arrest.” The three swoops held their arrowhead formation, bouncing gently with the hum of their repulsors.
Scarp didn’t appear to shout, but his voice still boomed across the space. “You and your men will back down and let us return to our ship.”
For a moment, Scarp thought his coercion had worked. There was a second’s silence before the RMP captain suddenly balled his right hand into a fist and pulled it down. Upon his command the two swoops on either side of him peeled off, rushing towards Scarp and Rece, undercarriage blasters blazing red bolts of energy. Scarp twirled his massive saber with blinding speed, blocking every blast that threatened to take down both himself and Rece, and while the Force guided his hands, his eyes watched the lead swoop slowly creep toward their position.

“Take off?” Calz’s tone was incredulous. “Who the hell does he think he is? That’s one of my boys out there.” He touched his hand to his ear-mounted com-link and barked into it. “Digger, Peko, get out there and bring those two back in.” Then he turned to Carud who was watching the docking clamps fall away from the dull, gray nose of the ship, “Fire this crate up, Smoke. I want to be in the air the minute Rece’s boot hits the ramp.”
“You got it, Sarge.”
Calz watched a whisper of smoke curling over the wall, coming from the central courtyard, and listened to the sounds of Digger and Peko as their boots thundered through the ship toward the exit ramp.

Rece stood frozen, his finger poised on the trigger, knowing he wouldn’t fire, watching in disbelief as Scarp Hed’n ended the confrontation in a little under eleven seconds.
For Scarp, the time seemed much slower.
In mid-rotation he had taken his left hand from the hilt of his saber, and continued to swing it with his right. This required more exertion, but his Force-fueled muscles were more than capable of handling the strain. As he subconsciously connected with each and every laser bolt, sending them flying out into the sky above the courtyard, he focused on the pilot of the swoop attacking from the left. A twitch of his hand and he felt the police trooper’s neck twist and saw his helmet fall to his chest. As the trooper went limp he slid from the saddle, catching in the space between the running plate and the containment pod, hitting the ground and becoming an organic rudder, his armor digging into the dirt and turning the swoop a full ninety degrees sending it hurtling towards the other machine approaching Scarp’s right.

While the pilot of the second swoop adjusted direction to avoid the collision, Scarp turned his attention to the leader who had crossed a third of the distance between them. Time slowed even more and the sounds of blaster fire, screaming swoop thrusters, scraping armor, all receded into the background. Now he could hear the shallow breaths of the man beside him, the sound of Rece’s fingertip brushing the trigger. Scarp could hear the click of a weapon being activated; he watched as the RMP Captain squeezed the trigger on the immobilizer cannon, observed his helmet as it glanced up to confirm the aim, and then he saw the foam begin to spurt from the cannon mouth, already thickening in the air. Scarp had already guessed that a terrible fate awaited any Jedi, but he also knew that his clone compatriots would be considered expendable; so he was to be taken alive then.

Even as the left swoop clipped the nose of the right swoop, sending both vehicles spinning into the west wall, spitting blue armored bodies into the air to land with wet thumps among the exploding wreckage; even as the lead swoop advanced ever closer, the foam jet almost bridging the gap between Jedi, clone and police, Scarp was flying through the air, leaping from a standing position as if he had been launched by a Gungan catapult, the broad saber leaving red and blue streaks behind him, his outstretched palm facing the foam. The sticky stream suddenly halted in mid-air as if it had slammed into a window, then peeled back in a funneled wave and flew over the head of the pilot towards the Captain. Cap barely had time enough to raise his hands in alarm before the foam hit him, solidifying upon contact and cementing him to his own cannon which was clogged and spluttering its last. The RMP Captain could only watch as Scarp landed with both feet on the nose of the swoop and deftly decapitated the pilot, switching off the blades before the pilot’s helmeted head could bounce on the ground. Scarp reached in and flicked off the swoop systems and the machine slid to a halt in front of Rece, who was still pointing his unfired weapon at Cap.
Scarp leaned in and removed Cap’s helmet, dashing it against the side of the main frame and tossing the pieces to the floor.
“This is your only warning. You will call off your pursuit.”
Cap wanted to spit the Jedi’s words back in his face, wanted to tell him how the RMP would never give up the hunt, wanted to tell him that he would now be brought to justice as a murderer, but the foam that had crept up his chest had sealed his lips, and he could only snort angrily through one exposed nostril.

Scarp leaped down from the swoop and joined Rece who was walking in stunned silence towards the door to their bay, his rifle hanging at his side. As Scarp reached him, the door flew open and Digger and Peko burst into the courtyard, rifles ready. One look at the carnage told them they were a few seconds late.
“C’mon,” said Peko, turning and trotting back up the service tunnel, “Sarge is waiting.”
Digger took one last look, and then followed Peko as Rece stepped through into the gloom.
Scarp stepped in and placed one giant hand on his shoulder. “Rece…”
Rece violently shrugged Scarp’s hand off and his walk became a trot as he saw the loading ramp beckon at the end of the tunnel.
“Don’t touch me, Jedi,” he hissed, and he followed his brothers onto the ship.
Scarp paused, stunned. Then slowly approached the ramp. Around him the air shimmered and cooked as eight rows of thrusters fired up; the air smelled of burning meat, sweat and carbon, and as the ramp elevated with Scarp the stench lingered, before the sweet smell of the internal air supply rushed over him.


RJ said...

Continued greatness. The action was very well described, alive. I like the tension between clone and Jedi here. Clone suspicion of the Jedi for killing a 'brother', even one that was trying to kill them. Keep it up!

JediMelindaWolf said...

nobby, this was absolutely fantastic! You have such an excellent way with the written word, painting a beautiful and exciting picture. I was especially captivated by the events at the end. You've done an excellent job of keeping the tension alive! I impatiently ;-) await the next chapter!


jkthunder said...

hey! i just wanted to say that i will catch up on SOS when i can! the art you've created for this is great!! this would make a glorious comic!