Chapter Eight: “The Return”
The rescue squad had completed its primary objective, now all that had to be done was the simple task of returning to the shuttle and departing Freedom’s Runner. A straightforward undertaking, but complications were never far away from even the most simple of tasks.
As Besh lastly exited the armory, the five troopers were completely reunited once more and readied themselves for the task at hand. Aurek had seized a standard issue Republic blaster rifle from his room of confinement. Unable to sync it with his armor, the squad leader just hoped for the best. His companions stood at attention, eagerly awaiting something resembling a plan of action.
“Shall we return the way we came, or…?” Aurek casually queried.
“That may prove difficult. Grek had to perform a manual override on the lift much like the one used on the armory door. Plus Forn took a stab at the thing’s control panel to get the lower level doors to open. It’s most likely out of commission,” Besh explained. Aurek began stroking the chin of his helm, as if lost in deep thought.
“Why is it when I shoot a control panel, it seals a door… but when Forn stabs one it, it opens,” Aurek mused. The squads’ collective heads dipped when they witnessed their leader divert his attention to the mundane. After some more moments of intense pondering, Aurek re-opened the channel with Dorn.
“Dorn. It seems our return path is blocked. Can you patch me a path to another set of lifts?”
A progress bar popped up in the lower corner of Aurek’s visor. When filled, the cruiser’s schematics uploaded to his heads-up-display much like they had for the other squad members.
After being reformatted into the usual mini-map configuration, Dorn began to trace a line through the ship’s interior that would eventually lead to another set of lifts resting closer to the ship’s bow. The path winded and featured many abrupt turns, even cutting through some of the ship’s larger rooms.
“This is the best I can do,” Dorn explained. “They’re rapidly regaining control of their systems. Locking doors. Shutting off pathways. This is the clearest route I can get you. And it might not even last that long.”
“Then we’ll have to hurry,” Aurek admitted, still lacking any sense of endangerment. “Alright squad, let’s roll out. Form up two by three.”
The troopers began their quicken pace toward their objective, entering into formation as they went. Aurek and Besh, side by side, lead the charge. Behind them, Cresh and Forn, shoulder to shoulder. Once again guarding the rear was Grek. Generally, formation orders considered Grek as two bodies.
The soldiers made their way toward the operational lifts uncontested. Rapidly they rounded corners, but still there were no Republic troopers to be found. Most odd of all was the sudden withdrawal of the various sirens and signals that had been blaring before.
Lockdown lights no longer flashing, the Imperials finally witnessed what a stroll through the corridors might have been like on any other day. The signature white walls with various warmly colored adornments continued to haunt the Imperials’ vision.
An eerie silence flooded the halls, broken only by the clamoring footsteps of the few invaders. A terrifying serenity. Thoughts began creeping into the troopers’ minds. Where were all of the ship’s inhabitants? Why had the warning alarms been redacted? What was this feeling inside that persisted step after step?
Finally on a straightaway, the squad marched towards a set of doors at least four meters wide. The only way past this section of the ship was to cut through the sizable mess hall. Beyond its borders, rest the prized lifts. The troopers increased their pace, refusing to submit to the unknown feeling brewing inside them.
That feeling, however, reached a crescendo, as the doors ahead of the squad began opening far before the automatic sensors would have picked up the approaching Imperials. Time slowed to a crawl. As the doors opened, more and more Republic soldier were revealed with each passing moment.
Twenty meters beyond the rooms threshold, the Republic troopers had entrenched themselves at the opposite end of the mess hall. Fortifications built up to the waist out of furniture, supplemented by mobile energy barriers of the same height provided primary means of cover. The tables and chairs had been brushed to either side, providing a clear line of fire toward the Imperials.
Ten soldiers, clad in pristine armor, knelt behind the barrier, blasters drawn and aimed. Ten more stood behind them, sighting down the group of invaders. To their side, one soldier stood at an angle, resolute, holding an open hand above his head.
Before terror, came realization. The feeling from before was perfectly clear. They had been heading through a tunnel. Silently, the lead soldier’s hand fell. Still in mid-sprint, the Imperials had little hope of altering their path.
Blaster fire rang out, leaving no area of approach unscathed. The Imperials had no choice but to press on. They each attempted to get to cover behind either side of the door, but the narrow hallway didn’t widen for some distance.
Red-orange bolts of energy pelted the approaching troopers and surrounding area. Their black armor flashed when hit, shields absorbing the impact. Sparks flew and smoke emanated as blaster fire stuck the walls to either side of the squad.
Warning after warning flashed across each of the Imperials’ visors, shields reaching critical levels. Aurek dashed for the safe haven left of the door, and Besh attempted the same with the right. Aurek successfully make it to cover. Besh did not.
Two repeated bolts to his left hip were enough to make it past the shield and land a hit on an area unprotected by heavy plates. The injury sent the sniper spiraling to the floor, carried forward by his forward momentum.
Cresh and Forn immediately slid to his side and pulled him to safety, right of the entrance. Grek ducked to the left, taking his position by Aurek’s side. The squad leader eagerly peered across the doorway at Besh, who was being cared for by Cresh.
“Damn it, no wonder this was the only clear path. Can you do anything Dorn?” Aurek sounded off into the comm, as he blindly fired his procured rifle around the corner. The haphazard shots only provoked more retaliation from the numerous Republic soldiers ahead.
“I wish I could, but I am completely locked out of the system,” Dorn hastily admitted.
Aurek let out a heavy groan as the comm fell silent. Forn left Besh in the care of Cresh as he stood to provide shots of his own from his side of the door. Even with the sights synced with his helmet, Forn had trouble fully controlling the carbine while maintaining cover. Shots were returned by the Imperials, but none seemed to successfully hit a target. The Republic formation broke as the previously standing soldiers sought cover of their own.
Besh sat leaning against the wall between Forn and Cresh. A large area between his upper right thigh and abdomen had been scorched. Where the bodysuit had been breached, blackened skin presented itself. Cresh took a tubular vial from his belt and shook it before moving it closer to the sniper’s wound.
As the trooper applied pressure to the ampoule it began to spray a thick mist from one of its ends. The milky liquid covered Besh’s injury and slowly began to congeal. The infusion of kolto would start the process of healing the wound, the mix of stimulants and pain-killers would ensure his ability to made it back to the shuttle, and the sealant would cover the breach of skin and armor. Besh offered a woozy thumbs-up for the assistance.
“Got Besh patched up. The paralysis will take some time to wear off though,” Cresh bellowed over the comm, hoping to overcome the incessant sounds of blaster fire.
“Don’t think we have to worry about going anywhere anytime soon,” Aurek replied with a matching volume, not ceasing his haphazard shooting. At least, not until the weapon decided to stop firing itself. Aurek brought his weapon closer for a quick examination before promptly tossing it to the ground with a curse.
“Who stocks an armory with weapons lacking adequate power cells?”
“How many times did you shoot that door panel?” Forn joked, finding happiness through his stoicism as he continued firing around the corner into the mess hall.
Before Aurek could respond he received a gentle tap on the shoulder from Grek. The squad leader hadn’t even fully turned to face his companion before finding a carbine shoved into his arms. Aurek accepted the weapon with hesitance. Grek confirmed his decision by pointing to the carbine, tapping his helm, then pointing to Aurek’s visor.
The squad leader offered an appreciative nod as he re-synced the blaster to his own armor. Renewed, Aurek resumed firing into the mess hall, this time finding a target. Three defenders fell from the combined assault of Aurek and Forn, causing the Republic soldiers to rescind their all-out fire.
Utilizing their abundance of cover, the defenders kept the invaders at bay with more protective tactics. Monitoring the room through their scopes, the Imperials noticed a new soldier enter from the back door and join his compatriots behind cover.
“At this rate, we may never get through,” Aurek commented.
“They are stalling… they may attempt to sneak a group behind us,” Forn added.
Aurek paused to examine the entirety of the situation. Besh sat against the wall, silently recovering. Cresh crouched beside him, attention divided between triage and battle. Forn stood by the mass hall entrance, watching… waiting. Turning toward Grek, he was greeted with the sight of a soldier subtly nodding and awaiting orders.
Aurek became entrenched with thought, diverting his attention to the straight hall that had led them to the dining area. Scorch marks marred the surfaces of the walls where blaster fire had missed the soldiers. In their wake, a thick layer of smoke permeated the area, generated by the collective bursts of energy impacting against the solid walls. Noticing this brought on a revelation.
“I have a plan,” Aurek calmly admitted to his squad. They in turn ceased all action and become devoted all attention to their squad leader.
“If we’re going to push through his room, we’re going to need some cover. Grek, that means you’re going to have to lay down some suppressing fire.” The trooper nodded, took a step away from the wall, and placed the footlocker from his back onto the ground with a large thud.
“You sending Grek in alone?” Cresh asked.
“Yes. At first,” Aurek admitted. “Grek,” he continued, turning toward the now kneeling trooper, “I need you to configure your shield to reflect rather than absorb. That’ll make them last a little longer and should generate a cloud of cover with enough blasters bouncing into the surrounding area. Take out as many as you can and kick up enough smoke to fill the room. After which, I will signal for the entrance of myself, Cresh, and Forn to enter and begin taking out as many soldiers as possible as you back out and tend to Besh.”
“I’ll cover the rear,” Besh spoke up, having regained his voice. The sluggish sniper had his rifle sandwiched between his right arm and right leg as he sat against the wall. Each Imperial nodded, understanding their role.
“Alright team. Adjust your visors.”