Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Chapter Ten

“Peko! You wanna tell me how much time we’ve got?” The sergeant’s voice blasted out of the comlink as Peko desperately made multiple calculations using the Pelt’s scanners. The controls were positioned for the wide-spaced claws of the ship’s previous owners, and he had to use two hands instead of one for even the most simple button configurations. He grimaced and shouted back, “’bout ninety seconds, Sarge!”
“Stay there,” answered his sergeant, “we’ll be with you in thirty!” The line cut to static.
Digger trotted onto the flight deck, followed by Scarp, Pel and the younglings. “Sarge does know there’s a piece of moon rock coming at us?”
“He knows,” Peko reached over to transfer the rock’s image to the central view screen, “we ready to fly, Smoke?” ‘Smoke’ Carud busied himself with a final systems check, nothing in his disposition suggesting their doomed situation. “One hundred percent.”
“What can we do?” boomed Scarp, his face dark as thunder. Digger slapped him on the shoulder and grinned, “Unless you folks can turn it around, we hold tight, wait for the Sarge and then race the rock.”

The body language of the jedi and their younglings was the polar opposite of the three troopers. Where Scarp and Pel paced, and the three children held each other, wide-eyed and frightened, the three troopers were the picture of calm inevitability. Digger looked at his brothers and, despite their outward appearance, he could detect stiffness in their movements.
Some said clone troopers were bred to die. Some said it, but not the clones.

Calz and his gang of brawlers watched as the lounge emptied in the flash of an eye. The ithorians, the dugs, the shadowy humanoids, all ran to separate doors leading from the central area, back to the docking arms that held their sanctuaries in place. Maltor was wailing now, a high-pitched squeal that threatened to burst every eardrum in the room, until Preela slapped him to his senses. “Quit screaming, hog,” she yelled over the noise of the alarms, “get us out of the way of that rock!”
Glak scurried forward, screeching as loudly as his companion. “It takes five minutes to get the thrusters up to strength, this ain’t no skipray you can dance around in, lady!”
“We have one minute,” barked Calz, turning to his men, “even if we did get our ships, the blast from this station would take us out before we had flown a meter. Suggestions.”
Rev looked at the ugnaughts, “Armaments?”
“Nothing powerful enough to stop a projectile of that size,” wailed Maltor.
“Damage limitation?” The suggestion had come from Virus, and Calz smiled. Trust a medic to come up with that thought. “How do we limit the damage, Virus? This station is unshielded.” “Put something in the way, Sarge.” Calz inhaled sharply through his teeth and turned to Glak. “How long to power up the rotational thrusters?” The ugnaught caught on quickly, and made his way to a control panel behind the circular bar, “They’re powered up already, Maltor likes to rotate to keep the sun out of his office window.”
“Give them full power, put something between us and the rock!” shouted the clone sergeant, springing over the bar counter to watch the monitors with the stumpy aliens. He looked at Preela and Saach, “Go with Virus and Rev, get to the Pelt and ready yourselves.” He looked at Rece, “Rece, contact the ithorians, tell them to get off their tug.”
“I ain’t going nowhere,” Preela began. Calz looked at Saach, who promptly scooped her twi’lek captain up and carried her, screaming obscenities, towards the Pelt’s docking arm. “I’m glad one of you has got some sense,” muttered Calz as he watched Virus and Rev run after them.

“You feel that?” Soolad was frantic now, and squeaking with every shudder and bounce from the trandoshan ship.
Carud tilted his head back, “They’re turning the station, putting it between us and the rock,” he glanced at a monitor and then added, “all the same, it’s gonna hit big. I suggest you strap yourselves down, tight.”
“We’re on it,” answered Pel, as he and Scarp planted the children into the oversized bucket seats of the slavers, pulling the restraining straps tightly across them. Jan’storr sullenly looked at the thick, leathery straps as Scarp tightened them across her lap. “Why don’t we just blast off?” “Quiet, youngling,” hissed Scarp, but Peko had heard her.
“No one is left behind, especially not the Sarge,” said the scout trooper, no anger in his voice, but firmly enough for his point to be well taken.
Digger suddenly looked to the rear of the cabin. “We need to warn the wookiees.”
“They’re not off ship yet?” moaned Peko, “what the hell have you been doing back there?”
“If you’d ever tried to fusion cut a trando cage, you’d know why, Peko. Without the codes they’re stuck in there for more time than we’ve got.”
“I’ll tell them,” shouted Pel, jogging to the rear door, “how long have I got?”
Carud looked at his display, then answered grimly, “’bout twelve seconds.”

Calz shouted into his comlink while Maltor and his crew scurried around his feet like headless nunas. “What do you mean, they won’t leave?”
Rece’s voice blasted back, equally agitated, “Captain Kal said no self-respecting tug captain ever abandons his haul!”
“He’s dead then.” Calz uttered this statement matter-of-factly, his soldier’s experience telling him when to give up on a lost cause, especially when time was pressing. He knew that Rece was in the tug’s docking arm; he couldn’t make it to the Pelt without passing through the lounge first. “Get back in here, Rece. Find something to hang onto!”
“See you in a few seconds, Sarge!”

Suddenly a commotion in the doorway behind him forced Calz to look away from the monitors, all of which showed a steadily growing hunk of moon rock. His faced dropped as the two security droids barreled in, followed by Preela, Saach, Rev and Virus.
“What in the name of Mustafar’s – “ he began to shout.
“Sorry, Sarge,” yelled Virus, skidding to halt and flinging himself under a card table, wrapping his arms and legs around the central support strut, “but we got a third of the way along the arm, and realized we weren’t going to make it,” he looked at Preela who was being subdued by the tusken female beneath a couch, “plus, she’s pretty persuasive.”

Calz watched, fuming, as Rev flung himself under another table and the two droids folded up into compact, shockproof cubes. A tug at his pant leg made him look down, and he saw Maltor, Glak and three other ugnaughts twisting themselves into the liquor hoses. Glak was the one with his hand on Calz’s pants. “You better strap in, trooper!”
Calz took a last look at the monitors, which showed nothing but white craters and dust, and flung himself to the ground, covering his head with his arms.

From his forward cabin hanging beneath the bridge of The Dogged, Delnan Jja watched as the seismically hurled moon shard neared the end of its grim journey. “Why haven’t they abandoned the station, Camm?”
“They know that would be pointless, sir,” replied the clone commander behind him, “they’re trying to ride it out.”
“Ride it out?” spat Jja, incredulation raising his voice a full octave, “they’ve rolled over and died!”
“They’re definitely rolling, sir,” murmured Camm, “that tug wasn’t there before.”
Jja’s huge, crimson eyes grew even wider as he watched the ice hauler rotate into view, just as the rock hit.

Captain Kal and his loyal ithorian crew were killed instantly as the moon rock slammed into the flank of the Wind in the Leaves, crumpling the colossal ship like a paper cone. The force of the impact rammed the tug back onto its docking arm, which folded up in a shower of plasteel and metal, gouging into the side of the station. As the ithorian ship ruptured from within, a series of massive explosions tore through what was left of its hull, destroying several ships on either side including the Sulking Rancor and the ugnaughts’ shuttles, and spinning their twisted carcasses off into space.
The remnants of the moon rock continued on their slow path, striking the lower stabilizers of the station and tilting it almost horizontally. The remaining, unscathed ships resting on the opposite side from the impact threatened to tear from their docking arms, but then several fire balls reached the tug’s cargo, vaporizing the ice crystals instantly, and expelling huge jets of scalding steam away from the station, which slowly righted Maltor’s Drop like a super balancing thruster. As the initial impact dissipated through the body of the station the shockwaves vibrated the ancient structure, causing one of the solar panels to break loose and float away with the rest of the debris. It spun languidly, reflecting the carnage below like a cheap holo-vid screen.

On the flight deck of the Matted Pelt, violet emergency lights winked on and off as the engines whined and sections of the hull creaked alarmingly. Peko shook his head, trying to dislodge the dull ache that had settled there after he had been thrown to the floor. He looked up and saw Carud checking his instruments as if nothing had happened. The pilot cocked his head back as Peko rose, and spoke calmly and slowly.
“Hey, Peko. Tell the Sarge that now would be a good time to leave.”
Peko let fly with a short laugh, and thumbed on his comlink. “Sarge.” There was no reply. “Sarge?” he repeated more urgently, watching as the huge jedi and his younglings unruffled their robes. Scarp suddenly snapped his head to the rear of the cabin. “Pel’s in trouble!” he roared, and he took off in the same breath. Peko turned to the younglings who were looking at each other anxiously.
“Stay there!” he barked, before returning to the comlink, “Sarge!”

Sergeant Calz slowly unwound from the tangled mess of hoses and pipes that held him secure beneath the bar counter and looked at the chaos around him. The ugnaughts were already on their feet, grunting and squealing as they cursed their luck and trying to bring the fueling station back under their control. Both Maltor and Glak were hanging from the thruster controls, working simultaneously to minimize the threat of leakage. Calz stood and peered over at Virus and Rev, who both signed that they were ok. He then turned his attention to the booth couches where Saach was slowly unraveling, dragging a stunned Preela up by her lekku.
Calz looked to the rear of the lounge and was shocked to see that the entire back rotunda had been caved in by the impact, as if a krayt dragon had been ramming the walls from the other side. He searched for the door that led to the tug’s docking arm and saw that it was folded in two, ready to collapse at any second. His thoughts turned to Rece and he ran over to the stressed metal, ignoring the ominous groans as the structure continued to buckle.

Before he had reached the collapsing wall, he saw the armored legs of his trooper sticking out from behind a pile of loose stools, and ploughed into the wreckage, pulling Rece clear. The clone looked the worse for wear, his eyelids fluttered and blood seeped from his left ear, pooling in the shallows where his chest plate met his neck. Calz pressed two fingers to Rece’s neck and felt for a pulse; it was slow, but steady. Slinging the injured man over his shoulder, he jogged to the opposite side of the lounge, collecting his entourage along the way.
“Want me to take a look at him?” volunteered Virus as he saw Rece’s limp form.
“Back on the Pelt,” answered Calz. He turned to his strong man, “Rev, scoop up any other survivors and bring them along, we’re leaving.”
“What about them?” Rev nodded his head toward the still sleeping trandoshans who were now tangled in a scaly knot under the bar.
“They can stay there, we don’t need slavers on board.”

Saach was already at the docking bay door. She opened a side panel and twisted the manual opening lever, all the time holding tightly onto Preela. The twi’lek was starting to come around, and she groggily looked up as her first mate carried through towards the Pelt.
“We going back to the Rancor?”

As the tusken disappeared into the darkened hallway, the two battle droids straightened themselves out and looked around. Bolts assessed the situation quickly.
“In what?” answered Slim, surveying the destruction before him, listening to the sound of ships surrounding the station as they blew apart or tore free from the structure.
“In their ship,” replied Bolts, heading after Saach and Preela, “it’s every droid for himself.”

Calz watched the two droids take off after Saach and Preela and shook his head, then turned to Virus. “Give me hand with Rece.”
As Virus ducked under Rece’s other arm and began helping Calz carry him to the docking arm, the sergeant turned back to Rev, “Don’t be long.”
“I don’t intend to,” growled Rev as he scoured the remaining booths. Nothing else seemed to be moving in the lounge save the frantic ugnaughts. He trotted over to them and leant over the bar. “Time to go, boys.”
“Save yourself, bonehead,” shouted Maltor as he struggled with a writhing lead that shot sparks all over the ale-stained floor, “we didn’t salvage this station just to see a rock finish her off! The galaxy needs us!”
Rev shrugged, content that he had made an effort, and ran after his departing sergeant as the ugnaughts continued their struggle to bring the station back under control.

Rev caught up with the others as they neared the end of the docking arm. He could see Digger helping Saach and Preela through the airlock hatch, and then grinned as Digger balked at the sight of Slim and Bolts.
“Stand down, they’re with us now!” yelled Calz as he and Virus dragged the ailing Rece onto the slaver ship. Digger grimaced as the droids stepped through, followed by Rev, who patted him on the shoulder and laughed, “It’s been a funny old day, eh Digger?”

The airlock door slammed shut and hissed as the seals took effect, and then seconds later the Matted Pelt peeled away from the arm of the crippled fueling station.

Delnan Jja scowled as he watched the trandoshan craft spiral away from the catastrophic mess that had once been Maltor’s Drop.
“Commander Camm.”
“Yes, sir?” came the reliable voice from behind him.
“Launch the 170’s, blow them out of the air.”
“Yes, sir.”
“And destroy that station.”
“Are you suddenly deaf, trooper? I want a full spread of missiles - target the main fuel tanks, they are now collaborators and will be punished.”
The lack of a response made Jja spin on his heels to glare at his commander.
“You have your orders!”
Commander Camm looked at him for one second longer, his true feelings barely masked by the helmet he wore, then he snapped off a sharp salute, “Yes, sir!”
He wheeled around and marched from the cabin.
Jja watched him leave, a sneer splitting his face.
When all this was over, some examples would have to be made.