Chapter Nine: The Battle
After undoing the latches of the footlocker before him, Grek was able to retrieve his prize from the molded casing within: a customized two handed heavy repeating blaster. More than a meter from tip to tip, the bulky device weighed more than 40 kilograms. The cylindrical body was supported by two handles: a forward leaning vertical handle containing the firing mechanism at the rear, and an upright looped handle at the weapon’s midpoint for keeping the repeater steady.
Unable to be wielded by any of the other Imperials, the monstrous blaster resembled a black turbine that spewed red death from its single barrel. The end tapered just enough that it didn’t resemble a starship cannon, though it was possible that an armored troop transport somewhere was missing it’s turret.
Grek circumvented his felled footlocker with heavy repeater in tow. He was paused by his commander before entering the mess hall. Sliding slightly away from the doorway, Aurek beckoned Forn to take his former position, and Cresh would stand in the hunter’s previous spot.
With a nod and a deep breath, Forn fired a quick bolt into the dining area before sprinting to the other side of the gap. Republic soldiers stood from their cover, taking steady aim at the fleeing Imperial trooper. Their aim was interrupted as a new target entered the fray.
Time slowed once more as the Imperial juggernaut walked into the mess hall baring his heavy blaster, dominated by emotion just as before. But this time the feelings were not those of unsettling uncertainty, but of duty and pride. The Republic soldiers found themselves stricken with pause at the stunning sight.
Grek managed to saunter in and pull the trigger before the first shots had even been fired. The silence was broken by a sharp click. A soft hum emanated from the repeater as its internal mechanisms warmed up. Just then, the order to fire was boasted by the Republic commanding officer. The troopers in the mess hall complied. All of them.
His left side forward, Grek began sweeping the room with blaster fire. Sharp pins of red energy shot out of the repeater at a rate to ten bolts per second. Caught off guard, Republic soldier began falling one by one. But even as five combatants fell, their compatriots directed ample amounts of blaster fire toward the hulking aggressor.
The soldiers were surprised yet again when they found their own projectiles reflecting off of the invading Imperial. Bolts struck the surrounding area, and even some of their own troops, forcing the Republic soldiers into cover to escape the now combined barrage of blaster fire directed toward them. The defenders resorted to the same blind-firing techniques the Imperials had used against them, exposing the bare minimum from cover, but the single bulky target proved an easy mark.
Grek’s shield reserves and weapon energy levels were slowly depleting, but luckily a thick layer of smoke had begun occupying the space near the Imperials, and even spread to reach behind the Republic soldiers’ cover. Spending his weapon’s last breath, Grek opted to shoot the ground preceding him in a wide arc, tossing more debris and smoke into the air. Looking up from their cover, the defending troopers could no longer see their target, and further blaster fire directed at the spot in which he stood seemed to pass right through into the hallway behind him.
Turning to each other, the soldiers soon found themselves unable to see more than a meter's distance away, their vision inhibited by a thickening white cloud. Adjusting their helms, the Republic troopers began scanning for energy signatures. Green outlines marked each friendly soldier, alleviating some of the stress caused by the invasive cloud of smoke.
Suddenly, a Republic soldier was dropped by a single red blaster bolt implanting itself into the soldier’s helm. His neighbor yelped a warning but was cut off mid-sentence as he was shot in the chest. The remaining Republic troopers began firing toward the sources of blaster fire, but found no evidence of hitting their intended target.
The Imperials’ electronic systems should have been showing up on the defenders’ visors, but no red marks presented themselves. The defenders began to panic as two sources of red blaster bolts rapidly appeared to their left. Focusing of them, their right flank was fired upon by two sources of their own. The two sides fired at each other through the haze, though only the Imperials possessed the knowledge of whether or not their blows actually landed.
Two sources of blaster fire struck against the defender’s left and middle ranks. A single source now handled the right flank. Unable to foresee a chance of winning this battle, the Republic commander turned and made his way for the back exit, only to find the door had somehow shut behind them.
Turning back towards the unseen scene of carnage, the commander could have sworn he heard a soft whisper. In truth, it was the slight hum of an activated vibroblade sweeping itself across his neck. Crumbling, the commander fell to the presence of a pair of stark black boots that stood before him.
Silence fell on the mist of battle. Behind the various assemblage of stacked furniture and soft glow of the impromptu energy barriers, over twenty soldiers lay felled. Aurek signaled the all clear and beckoned Grek and Besh to enter the area.
Even through the electronic red-shift of their visors, the smoke still proved an impermeable barrier to the senses, but heavy artificial outlines marked each trooper on their heads-up-displays. Having placed his weapon back in its case, and the case upon his back, Grek used his arms to support the recovering Besh.
“Squad, check in,” Aurek calmly ordered across the white haze.
“Status is normal… Aurek,” Forn announced near the back exit.
“I’m fine over here,” Cresh admitted as he hopped the waist high barrier towards Forn. Two quick clicks from Grek’s comm signaled everything was okay on his end.
“Yeah, yeah,” Besh woozily offered as his response. With everyone checked in, the squad made its way toward the mess hall exit. As they moved through a gap in the Republic soldier’s established cover, Grek accidentally walked Besh into some of the furniture, provoking a low groan from the sniper.
Grek offered an apologetic wave of his free hand towards the injured trooper but was unsure if it was received past the fog and growing ire clogging the soldier’s vision. With the squad regrouped near the back exit, the troopers could continue their journey back towards the shuttle.
“Dorn. It’s Aurek. Are you still locked out of the system? Can you at least confirm that the lift ahead is still functioning?” Aurek asked over the comm.
“Still locked out,” Dorn answered, “but monitoring is still up. From what I can see the lift is still operating. If it stops working however, don’t count on me being able to remedy the situation.”
“Ugh. Why couldn’t there just be a simple set of stairs to use,” Aurek lamented.
“Oh. Right. Stairs… Didn’t even think of stairs,” Dorn stated with a tone of epiphany. A long sorrowful pause struck each of the troopers.
“Kidding,” Dorn confessed, much to the half-delight of the squad.
“He’s certainly been spending too much time with Esk,” Aurek softly remarked. “Alright squad, let’s move out.” Ceasing communications, Aurek waved his squad forward.
With a brush of the neighboring control panel, the single door opened revealing the smoke-less hallway leading to the lift. First to step out of the room was Aurek, meaning he was also the recipient of having two blasters directed toward his face.
Two Republic troopers, fully suited in armor, stood to the left of the door, in the hallway running along exterior of the mess hall’s back wall. Aurek stood alone, his allies not interfering, with his arms firmly by his side, carbine held loosely in his right hand. The minute tremors in the Republic soldiers’ hands, as their weapons shook ever so slightly, betrayed their feelings.
The closest white-clad trooper ordered the invader, albeit in a rather irresolute manner, to drop his weapon. Aurek complied. A hint of surprise could be gathered from the faux-authoritative officer’s body movements. There was a hesitation as the defender thought of what course of action he could possible take. The Imperial troopers had just passed through a room occupied by over twenty aptly suited and armed Republic soldiers. What hope did he have in halting these mobile bastions of the Empire.
Thoughts raced, forestalling judgment as they competed for attention. Self-preservation and common sense had begun to chip away at the weakening foundation of patriotism and duty. All this and the Imperial had not even turned his head or raised a hand. Yet.
The Republic trooper attempted to issue a second order, but was interrupted by the hostile introduction of an armored gauntlet into his face. The blow caused the soldier to tumble to the ground, his helmet knocked loose, and his blaster flung from his hands. The accompanying white trooper could do nothing but look on in frightful awe as his ally lay unconscious on the floor.
His eyes locked with the cold, featureless visage of the invader. About to raise his weapon, the trooper discovered the same hand that felled his ally was now gripping the rifle’s barrel, impeding its motion. The Imperial stood unwavering as the blaster pointed directly at his chest.
“Take it from someone who’s attended his own funeral, you’re no use to your Republic dead,” Aurek stated. The tranquil words sprang from the invader’s helmet before they promptly gripped the Republic soldier’s ears and refused to let go. The defender croaked an inaudible reply, but it went unheeded by the dark soldier.
“Let go. Of your blaster. Of your feelings. Of your feeble notions of obligation. And let me and my squad pass.”
The chilling words cut deep into the wavering trooper, loosening his hand’s grip ad forcing him to drop to his knees.
“Tend to your wounded,” Aurek softly advised as he retrieved his weapon and waved for his companions to follow.
The defeated soldier sat on his knees, hands to his side and head hung in utter defeat, as the five Imperials passed him without a second glance.