Scarp knelt by his fallen brother, one hand cradling Pel’s head, his other hand gripping the bars of the wookiee cage for support as the ship roiled first one way and then the other. One of the captives, a light gray, his fur clumped in red patches around his legs, hooted softly. Scarp looked up into the mighty creature’s blue eyes. “I’m afraid I don’t speak shyriiwook, my friend, but I understand your concern,” he turned his attention back to Pel, feeling a growing lump on the back of his head, “but my brother needs attention. We will return to release you shortly.” With that Scarp hoisted his limp brother over his shoulder, as easily as a child would gather up her doll, and carried him out of the holding cell.
The cramped flight deck of The Matted Pelt was stuffed beyond its capacity, and Calz’s troopers found themselves weaving through battle droids and an angry twi’lek to maintain their stations.
Lig watched, absorbing everything, as the clones went to work. Virus and Rev were already on their way to the med-bay with Rece, Carud fluttered over the nav-console like a geonosian scatter-gnat, and Peko and Digger monitored the scanners. To their credit, the two droid bouncers squeezed themselves into gaps between the panel housings and tried to look inconspicuous, but the same couldn’t be said for Preela. The green-skinned captain was beside herself with fury and it took all of Saach’s strength to hold her in place against the back of an unoccupied bucket seat.
“My ship!” she screamed at no one in particular, wriggling against Saach’s bonds.
Calz strode past her to join Peko and Digger, tilting his head at her slightly as he passed, “Our gunship was still stowed in the Rancor, Preela, you’re not the only one to lose their ride.”
“That ship was my life, you son of a solution, and now I’m an accomplice. The Republic will hunt me down.”
“You can have this one when we’re done with it, now pipe down before I make you.”
“Try to make me you damn tuber! I’ll…” Preela didn’t finish her sentence as, for the second time in an hour, a blow to the back of the head subdued her. Calz nodded to the tusken.
“Thanks. Get her out of here would you?”
Wordlessly, the tusken female dragged her captain off the flight deck, and the clone sergeant looked directly at Lig and the other two younglings. “Am I going to have any more trouble?”
Lig shook her head, and Soolad blinked his big eyes. Jan’storr met his gaze, and spoke with more maturity than Lig had ever heard from her before. “Do your job, Sarge, you won’t get any interference from us.”
Calz almost grinned, and then joined his men, clasping a hand over each of their shoulders.
Lig twisted her head, which was a challenge against the confines of the straps holding her down, and looked at Jan’storr. She probed with her mind, but was met by nothing but a gray haze. Since when had Jan’storr learned to block her thoughts?
“Jan’storr?” she began, but a terse look from the nautolan severed the line of communication between them. Somewhat shaken, Lig turned her attention back to the troopers, and could at least still detect their emotions. She didn’t like what she felt.
“Run that by me again?” Calz peered at the screens that Peko and Digger were poring over.
“Six plasma-tips, incoming,” answered Peko, “and a full wing of ARCs.”
Digger frantically punched up his data. “The ARCs are in attack formation ‘Nexu Claw’, ETA three minutes, the missiles are… are going to miss us by several marks. Whoever the gunner is on that destroyer is a lousy shot.”
“They’re not for us!” Calz yelled, turning to his pilot, “Smoke, put some space between us and Maltor!”
“Way ahead of you, boss,” answered Carud, coolly, “we’ll be out of blast range in a couple of seconds, but getting this hyperdrive up to speed ain’t a walk on Naboo. Those fighters are going to be on us before we can jump.”
“Then we’ll have to hold them off until you can.” Calz was already walking to the back of the deck as he spoke. “Peko, what are we packing?”
Peko brought up the ship schematics and a quick glance told him everything. “This can’s built for trouble, we’ve got four blister turrets, one dorsal, one front and one on each pec-plate. We got a comp-beam mounted in the rear and enough rockets to start our own war. Everything’s charged, and ready for some serious aggravation.”
“That’s what I wanted to hear,” Calz flicked on the ship’s comms and swiftly barked out his orders,” I want every trooper who isn’t unconscious or flying this wreck to get to a turret, and maintain com-link contact – we’ve got blue flies!” The sergeant then stormed out of the cabin, closely followed by Peko and Digger. Carud craned his head back and addressed the younglings, “Sit tight, little jedi, we’ll ride this one out.”
Lig looked over at Peko’s abandoned station and watched, as a mass of glowing red dots on one circular screen grew larger and larger.
The ugnaught Glak turned away from the Drop’s sensors, his beady eyes as wide as they would stretch. “Maltor! We got incomings!”
Maltor struggled with an array of creaking levers as he snapped back at his second in command, “Tell ‘em were closed for the evening! I got more pressing problems!”
“They ain’t ships…”
“Deal with ‘em, Glak! Can’t you see I’m trying to get my station upright?”
Glak squealed a short resignation, and then reached for a bottle of zabraki brandy, “Always wanted to try this stuff…” he snuffled. He popped the cork and drained the amber liquid in one.
Maltor grunted angrily, “That stuff costs five thousand a case! That’s coming outta your…” his high-pitched whine broke off when he finally noticed Glak’s sensor readings. A series of digits sped towards a row of zeros. Behind him, a trandoshan stirred. Maltor suddenly recalled one perfect day, lounging in the mud baths on the high beach of Umgul, and then his world turned to light and heat.
Delnan Jja’s observation window threw up its automatic filters as the refueling station blossomed in a blinding flash, it’s fiery petals stretching out momentarily and then disappearing in the vacuum. A million tiny pieces of metal twinkled in the light, and then were gone, drifting on their own paths to new destinations. Jja watched, impassively, and then spoke into his com-link. “Status report, Commander.”
“Our fighters have engaged the renegades, sir.”
“Good. Bring us about. I wish to witness their demise for myself.” Jja flexed his neck, cracking the small bones at the base of his skull, and smiled as he returned to his desk.
Scarp felt his brother’s forehead, and could sense the shades of his injury lifting. Beside him, Saach tended to Preela, sponging cool gel onto the crown of her captain’s lekku. On the far table Rece lay still, his breathing slow, his vital signs fluctuating. Virus and Rev had left moments earlier, pulled out by the sergeant, and now the trooper needed care. Scarp reached out with his mind, to the only other healer he knew.
The flight deck of the Matted Pelt was strangely quiet now. Carud worked silently, twisting the controls as if he were trying to pry them loose while simultaneously prepping the rocket launchers. The two droids had decided to stay in their alcove, and both had folded down to crash positions. Lig, Soolad and Jan’storr sat quietly gripping the edges of their seats. Suddenly Lig snapped her head to the side, “Master Hed’n needs me.” She popped the release on her straps and jumped down to the deck, scurrying to the exit.
“I’m not staying here!” proclaimed Soolad, undoing his own restraints and chasing after her. Jan’storr watched him leave, and then turned her attention back to the screens. If the blue shape in the middle of the display was their ship, and the red dots were the ARC-170 fighters, then they were surrounded.