Amongst Stars: The Dawn Eclipse
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01.08.2013 , 11:47 PM |
Amongst Stars: The Dawn Eclipse
This story can also be read on Fanfiction.net
Episode One: “Pilot”
There was a darkness. An emptiness. A creeping chill. Something a spacer would usually call home. Not this time.
Within the pilot’s chair of a darkened vessel, a man stirred from unconsciousness. Blood streamed down the Human’s face as he groggily panned his gaze. The vessel’s viewports showed nothing but pitch black. Control panels lay powerless and cracked. As he pulled himself from his seat, the battered figure struggled to keep his footing. Stumbling through the darkness, he realized the ship’s flooring was slanted, dipping toward the cockpit.
Slowly, he ascended the slope toward the rear of the vessel, nearly tripping when his foot collided with a mysterious object. Looking down, his eyes had not yet adjusted to the darkness, but he knew what it was. A leg, attached to a lifeless corpse. The lone survivor continued, stepping over yet another corpse, until he stood in front of an emergency hatch.
Steadying himself, the man drove his elbow into the hatch’s release button. A sharp hiss rang out as the door cracked open, withdrawing into its side recess only a sliver. A harsh beam of light shined through the crevice, blinding the man, and eliciting an equally harsh grumble. Gripping the door’s edge, the survivor forced the hatch open as he pulled with all his might.
The man stood in the open doorway, leaning against the vessel’s frame as he was bombarded with a bright light and scorching heat. An endless ocean of sand stretched toward the distant horizon. The twin suns above illuminated the figure’s battered visage. Beneath the stream of dried blood rest a man in his late twenties, eyes sharpened not only from the light, but from an enduring, internal pain. A pain born not from physical wounds. It was the snarl upon his lips that spoke of those wounds.
The survivor stepped down from the vessel and onto the flowing sand, collapsing to his knees. His fists clenched, grains of sand slipping between his fingers. Woozily, he lifted himself and began to trudge away, boots of his flightsuit sinking slightly with each step. The gray freighter remained buried headfirst in the dunes, pillars of smoke rising from its husk.
The lone survivor walked. And walked. And walked. His longcoat wafted in the wind as sand battered his grizzled face. He ran a hand through the half of his short, brown hair not matted with blood, before it was called away by a sharp pain in his gut. Clutching at his stomach, the man was forced to take a knee, almost falling over as it sunk and offset his balance. But he managed to endure. Standing and continuing his path to nowhere, the survivor scratched the stubble that graced his chin. A wetness accompanied the scratch. Looking at his hand, the man stopped dead in his tracks at the coating of fresh blood. Panning his gaze down, a redness had overtaken much of his flightsuit’s midsection. Upon closer inspection, there were small tears in his gut where metallic shrapnel had passed through.
How could I have missed that?
The man fell to his knees, arms by his side. He looked ahead, the waves of desert heat dominating his blurring vision. Suddenly, a blotch on the horizon. Some structure. Or some vehicle. Approaching. Departing. Maybe even stationary. The anomaly would receive no further study as the survivor fell forward, his beaten and battered body lying prone in the sand.
A few hours prior…
Orbiting the desert planet of Tatooine was a lone privateer ship.
‘Dusk Eclipse’, a CEC brand XN Assault Freighter. High cargo capacity and modularity. High armor rating and offensive capabilities. 80 meters from stem to stern. Chassis described as if someone leaned how to sharpen a brick. A cult favorite amongst pirates and smugglers who desired an extra kick to their craft.
Within the vessel’s cockpit, two men oversaw the upcoming operation, gazing upon a holo-display that emanated from the freighter’s primary control panel. One a Human, the other a Rattataki. One the captain, the other his first mate. On each side of the display, the ship’s pilot and co-pilot sat, leaning on their elbows against their respective consoles, consumed with boredom. Behind them, the two men continued to eye the array of information that flashed upon the central holoprojector. Ship status. Coordinates. Time references.
“Your man does plan on telling us when the ship leaves the starport, right?” the Human asked in a jovial yet gruff tone. His entire body below the neck was encased in a reinforced civilian flightsuit.
“Don’t worry. He’ll report in,” the Rattataki answered with a smooth, chilled voice. The first mate was garbed in non-specialized mercenary gear. Thick trousers, heavy vest, and an unknown number of pouches and holsters lining his sturdy frame. Black tattoos of various hooks and barbs graced the man’s pale, white flesh, wrapping around his arms and dominating the man’s bald head. The chaotic markings seemed at odds with his face’s naturally serene expression. “We’re not off schedule yet, Captain.”
Arok. Twenty eight years old. Fourteen spent off Rattatak. Two spent as the second in command of the Dusk Eclipse. A brilliant fighter and a strong tactician.
“We only get one shot at this,” the Captain declared. “If we can’t lock onto the ship’s vector, we may miss our chance at disabling it before it jumps to hyperspace.”
“I’ve got it covered,” Arok plainly stated, maintaining his utterly calm demeanor. “This whole thing was of my devising, remember? Look, the Exchange is losing its hold in the sector. Its people are getting sloppy. A single vessel carrying some illicit tech as its cargo won’t give us any trouble.”
“They’re almost making it too easy,” the Captain replied, cracking a smile.
“Almost. But I say if you can’t enjoy the easy jobs now and then, what can you enjoy?”
“Still, I don’t like that Tren didn’t report in this morning.”
“Probably passed out somewhere from last night’s drinking. You know how he is. If we waited for him we’d miss this ship, which is exactly what we don’t want to do. We’ll go back for him once we’ve got a full cargo bay,” Arok suggested.
Suddenly, a bright ping flashed on the holo-display, the image of a small freighter appearing soon after. It was the target.
“See, told you my guy would come through.”
“Well, I guess you were right for once,” the Captain joked as he stepped away from the display. “I’ll prep the assault team, keep me posted.”
“Aye aye, Captain.”
The Captain offered his crew a respectful nod as he ducked out of the cockpit. The man walked down the narrow corridor, following the spine of the ship with a tempered haste. The vessel was no pleasure cruiser. Every metallic fiber of its being was utilitarian and without any graceful flourishes. Wires and cables lined the walls of the hallway, a mix of rustic metals making up the panels and frames that composed the bulk of the ship.
Further down the corridor, the Captain saw two similarly garbed crewmen preparing for the coming assault. From head to toe they were sealed within pressurized flightsuits. One of the pair possessed an atypical helmet, the fully-encapsulating gear possessing added room for the crewman’s dual headtails. The other had the usual get up, along with a second helmet held firmly within his hands.
Lero and Durn. Along with Tren, they made up the primary assault team. Durn the breacher. Lero the enforcer. Tren the coordinator. Someone had to fill in for Tren. Seemed like a good idea at the time.
As the Captain approached, Lero the Twi’lek offered a respectful salute while Durn tossed the commander his helmet. The Captain offered an appreciative nod before donning the mask. A soft whistle of air signaled the suit’s completion and proper sealing. The completed garb acted as an armored enviro-suit, protecting its user from blaster fire as well as the vacuum of space.
A series of racks lined the walls near the three men, holding a full stock of blasters and equipment. One rack occupied by extra flightsuits held a particular item near and dear to the Captain. His longcoat.
Retrieving the garb, the Captain slipped the oversized gray garment over the exterior of his flightsuit. The Twi’lek pulled and distributed a number of blaster pistols from a nearby rack, whilst Durn occupied his belt with an array of gadgets. Holstering the compact weapons at their hips, the trio had finished preparations.
“Assault team suited and ready,” the Captain said into his comm, finger held against his helm near the ear. “Where’s our target?”
“On the way, and on schedule,” Arok’s smooth voice rang out in the assault team’s ears.
“Understood. Start charging the cannon, we’re moving into the transfer bay,” the Captain directed. The team leader stepped through a nearby hatch, his crewmen following soon after.
Back in the cockpit, the pilots stirred from their lethargic states, darting their hands across their control panels. Sensors blared as they locked on to the Exchange vessel exiting Tatooine’s atmosphere.
“Target approaching fast. Deviation under two percent,” the left pilot called out.
“Cannon primed and locked,” the right one followed.
Siru and Brey. Human siblings. Twins. Pilot and co-pilot. Together, they controlled every mechanical facet of the Dusk Eclipse. Siru focused on the internal, Brey the external. Siru made things go. Brey made them stop.
“Alright. You may fire when ready,” Arok calmly directed.
Atop the Dusk Eclipse sat the vessel’s prime armament. A single cannon. An ion cannon. One with a barrel half as long as the ship it was attached to. Modified for precision and accuracy, along with a subsystem dampener to shield its host from errant ionization. Could shut down anything smaller than a cruiser in one shot at full charge.
A crackling bolt of ionized energy released from the cannon and surged forward through the vacuum of space. From within the cockpit, Arok intently eyed the holo-display, which presented a simplified representation of the two ships on a strategic map. The target vessel was beset with a flashing reticles, and a countdown signaled time until impact. The ship’s first mate took a deep breath, not exhaling until the display signaled a direct hit.
“Shot connected!” Brey exuberantly called out. “Sensors read total systems failure. The target vessel is powering down.”
“Alright, bring us around,” said Arok. Pressing a button below the holo-display, the first mate opened communications with the assault team. “Assault team, the target has been disabled. On route for interception.”
“Excellent,” the Captain said back. “We’re ready for transfer. Sound off once we’re in place and have matched velocity.”
“Understood. Estimate five minutes until we’re in place,” Arok detailed.
“I copy,” the Captain declared, ceasing further communications.
The assault team had taken positions in an empty, unfurnished chamber. A cargo bay, the wall opposite the room’s entrance was actually composed entirely of an exterior hatch. Two slabs of metal, divided by a single crease running from floor to ceiling at the midpoint.
Patiently waiting for their cue, the assault team waited, leaning against the interior walls without an ounce of unease in their stances.
“Arok seems rather calm,” Lero chatted, voice distorted by the encompassing helmet. “Seems to have taken the news rather well…”
“Wait, the news?” Durn spoke up. “You mean you actually made a decision?”
“That’s right. We’re done going after underworld targets,” the Captain revealed. “The conflict between the Republic and Empire is heating back up. Government wants every available ship going after military targets.”
“Not to mention they’re trying to court the Hutts,” the Twi’lek offered. “Can’t have people like us disrupting their trade in the name of the Republic.”
“Well, I suppose it’ll make resupplying easier if we don’t have to avoid every pirate den in the Outer Rim,” said Durn. “Think the rest of the crew will go along with the transition?”
“I’m sure there will be opposition. We may have to do some restructuring,” the Captain regretfully admitted. “Imperial targets are high risk, high reward. Some may not be up for it.”
“We’re with you till the end, Captain,” Lero firmly stated, Durn offering an agreeing nod.
“Appreciated. The change will take time. We’ll still hit the occasional target where we can while we wait for a new letter of marque,” the Captain explained.
“If anything, the news seems to have sparked something in Arok,” the Twi’lek said. “We usually don’t get ops he suggests to run this smoothly.”
“He’s likely trying to convince everyone that we should stick with underworld targets,” Durn replied. “If we get a good haul from this ship, the crew might hesitate to alter course.”
“He objected to the change at first, but I think he’s come around,” the Captain admitted. “ I think he just wants to get in one last ‘hurrah’ against the Exchange before we formally rebrand ourselves.”
There was click in the trio’s helmets as the internal speakers kicked on.
“Captain, we’re alongside the vessel,” Arok’s voice rang in their ears. “Assault team ready?”
“We’re ready. Opening the hatch,” the Captain declared.
The Captain turned his attention to the wall near the bay’s entrance. Lifting a panel, he revealed a large handle surrounded by a series of warnings in five written languages. He offered one final glance to his team, receiving two nods in return, before pulling the red handle. The lights in the ceiling began to flash and a siren sounded. The outer hull began to part, sliding into recesses to the left and right. In its place, a thin magnetic barrier separated the chamber from the void of space. Through the slight haze of the weak magnetic field, the assault team saw the drifting Exchange vessel a short leap away.
Breaching Maneuver: ‘Slicer’. Always a good one.
One of the target’s airlocks was lined up with the bay of the Dusk Eclipse. With a running start, Durn leapt through the barrier and collided with the target’s hull a moment later. Magnetized gloves and boots held the crewman in place as he latched onto the surface next to the circular airlock. Detaching one of his hands, he began running his fingers along the hull, methodically searching and prodding the craft’s hardened exterior.
The ‘Slicer’ maneuver was efficient because it overcame the two major complications of breaching a powered down ship. The first was the vacuum transfer. This is a problem for all raiding styles. Any starship is designed to protect its crew from the dangers of space. Upset that protection, and it’s bad for defenders and attackers alike. Breaking the seal directly at the cargo bay, and you risk your loot being jettisoned. Breach a hole in the hull and you have to think about that chamber and every one that connects to it. Best choice it to use the ship’s systems against it.
Durn released a hearty pump of his fist as he found what he was looking for. Beside the circular hatch, a square panel lay hidden amongst nondescript gray hull of the Exchange vessel. Unclipping a plasma torch from his belt, Durn went to work cutting into the surface of the ship with the repurposed piece of mining equipment. Running the laser around the panel’s edge, it soon detached, revealing the hidden control panel beneath.
The second obstacle to overcome is unique to ionization raids. An ion cannon is capable of utterly crippling a target, but it also shuts down every electronic system within that ship. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got the best slicer in the world if there’s nothing to slice into. Most vessels, commercial or otherwise, have a control panel that allows them to be opened from the outside. But they’re of no use without power.
Returning the cutter to his belt, Durn reached around the other side to unclip a small rectangular box, from which sprouted a number of wires and cable. The upward face of device lit up like a datapad as the breacher input a command. Rooting around beneath the exposed control panel, the man went to work connecting the box to the depowered series of electronics.
Of course, if helps if you’ve got an external power pack and a slicer who knows how to operate isolated systems.
After a few moments tapping away at the screen, the target ship’s airlock began to depressurize. As the exterior hatch opened, the waiting members of the assault team were greeted with the sight of an empty airlock, and their comrade providing a quick thumbs up. Carefully disconnecting from and sliding away from the hull, Durn was the first to pass the threshold of the Exchange vessel. He offered a quick wave, and the pair on the other ship leapt through the Dusk Eclipse’s magnetic barrier, crossing the weightless gap that separated the two airlocks.
The men continued to float as they surged forward, bobbing off the target chamber’s surfaces until they managed to firmly plant their feet on the floor. The vessel’s artificial gravity had been lost alongside every other system, none of which the vessel’s crew seemed to have managed to bring back online yet. Durn removed a panel beside the airlock’s interior hatch and began breaching the system once again.
The airlock’s exterior hatch began to close behind the assault team, and once it finished, the chamber began to pressurize. The crew was ready to continue. Durn and Lero took their places on either side of the interior door, whilst the Captain stood in the middle, pistol out and at the ready. A short series of nods later, and the door began to part.
Lero and Durn readied their weapons and stepped past the airlock’s boundaries, directing their weapons down opposite sides of the hallway beyond. Still nothing. The trio began to cautiously walk, their magnetic boots keeping them firmly gripped to the vessel’s floor one step at a time.
“Where is everyone?” Durn asked, rather baffled.
“Durn, cockpit. Lero, cargo bay. I’ll sweep behind Lero,” the Captain relayed. “Move out, with caution.”
Every op has the capacity for surprises. The best solution is to not let them affect you. Your team stands around chatting back and forth with the home ship, it gives your target the chance to counterattack.
Lero slowly advanced toward the rear portions of the sip, the covering his flank. The Exchange vessel was dark, only the dullest of emergency lights having recovered from the ion blast. The ship’s interior turned from gray to black amidst the shadows. It had the make-up of a more standard line freighter. A central hall with evenly paced chambers on the left and right ran up and down the shop. The walls and framework were smooth, adding a visually pleasing form to industrial function.
Advancing, Lero moved beyond a pair of rooms while the Captain stopped to investigate. Checking the door, automatic sensors were still offline, but so were any security measures. Placing his hands on the flat of the door, he managed to secure a magnetic grip on the flat of the hatch and slide it a sliver into its recess. Looking through the crack there was an empty crew quarters on the other side. Empty shelves. Empty walls. Empty bunks.
“Captain,” Durn called out over the team’s comm. “None of the ship’s primary systems seem to be coming back online.”
“Understood. Monitor the cockpit and keep us posted,” the Captain said back.
“Captain, could use a hand over here,” Lero stated. The Captain turned to see the Twi’lek trying to get his grip on a sizable bulkhead door at the rear of the vessel. The assault team leader joined his enforcer, the two of them attaching their gloves to the flat of the door.
Cargo bays and bulkhead doors. The kinds of things every spacer has some story about. Whether it be spending hours on end trying to get them open or finding nothing but an entire crew armed and ready within. You learn rather quick to keep an eye out around them.
The two privateers secured their magnetics grips. Looking to one another, they both initiated a series of silent nods, and initiated an equally silent countdown. At zero the pair pushed and slid their entire bodies, slowly bringing the bulkhead door along with them. As the opening to the cargo bay widened and widened, the Captain broke off his grip and slid into the newly created gap. With the quick draw of his blaster pistol, he was ready to face whatever or whomever rest beyond. But again, there was absolutely nothing. Only this time, the fact felt much more disconcerting.
“Damn it!” the Captain muttered. “Durn, this crew wasn’t hauling scrap!”
“Uh, I don’t think this ship had a crew,” Durn hesitantly shot back. “Looking over the setup here in the cockpit, it seems this ship had a slave circuit tacked on.”
Slave-rigged. Remote controlled. Lots of beneficial applications. Lets military squadrons coordinate multi-ship hyperjumps. Lets spaceports land your vehicle for you. Lets experienced programmers signal an unmanned vessel to pick them up. And of course, it lets pirates steal a ship without ever boarding assuming they can crack the slave circuit’s code.
“Why would-“ the Captain began to ask.
“I think I can answer that question for you,” Arok’s voice interrupted, sounding off over the team’s comms. “Turns out, the Captain and I agree, it was time for us to stop going after underworld targets. Unfortunately for him, someone managed to make a much, much greater offer than the Republic ever could.”
“Arok, what do you think you’re doing?” the Captain barked over the comm.
“I don’t want to call it a mutiny, but…” Arok coldly teased. “The Cartel offered us more than a fair sum of credits to work for them instead, on the condition that you were never to be heard from again.”
“Captain… you may want to head to the cockpit,” Durn murmured over the comm. The Captain and Lero rushed to the front of the vessel, where they saw through the viewports that the Dusk Eclipse had repositioned itself in front of them.
“Arok… you want to kick me off my own ship, fine. But don’t drag my crew into this!” the Captain shouted.
“I’m sorry, but you don’t have a crew anymore,” Arok proclaimed. “Everyone who would remain loyal to you is on that vessel. Well, not counting Tren. He had to be taken care of back on Tatooine. Siru. Brey. Xirn. Muri. They all stand behind me on my decision.”
“We could of parted ways. It didn’t have to end like this!” the Captain declared. Off comm, the Captain began relaying a series of hand signals to his team. Durn began removing panels beneath the cockpit’s control consoles while Lero rushed toward the aft.
“I’m sorry, but it did,” Arok taunted. “You think people just forget when someone strolls along and steals from them? You’ve got a lot of enemies, pal. If I didn’t kill you, someone would eventually. I’m just making sure those of us who don’t want to throw our lives away against the Empire can still make a living after you’re gone. Not to mention the Cartel really does admire your ship. Well, my ship now. All these years we’ve served the Republic, and for what? A handful of credits and a pat on the back? They don’t value us. We’re just pirates they managed to trick into going after their own kind. Well not anymore. From this day forth, the Dusk Eclipse is-“
“Sir!” Brey interrupted. Arok removed his finger from the communications console to focus on the co-pilot. “Some of the vessel’s systems are popping back online!”
“Oh ho, very clever,” Arok muttered to himself as he scratched his chin.
Back in the Exchange vessel, the assault team was frantically moving about the inner working of the ship, trying to make repairs. The most integral systems had only been knocked offline by the ion cannon, requiring a manual reboot once power was restored. Lero went to work on this vessel’s generator, managing to get it up and running, albeit at severely diminished capacity. Durn routed and rerouted electronic systems that had been fused by the ionization. Propulsion was firing up. Shield were coming online.
“A valiant effort, but it will do you no good,” Arok relayed over the comm.
Disengaging communications, the new captain of the Dusk Eclipse stared out of his ship’s viewport at the weakened Exchange vessel.
On the command of his captain, Brey locked on to the Exchange vessel with the Dusk Eclipse’s more lethal armaments, a compact, dual-barreled, point-defense laser cannon mounted beneath the vessel’s bow. The cannon released two red bolts that streaked toward the target vessel and impacted against its cockpit. The energy flashed and dispersed as the bolts were absorbed by the Exchange freighter’s shields.
“Damn it!” Arok barked. “Keep firing! Bring them down!”
“Sir, should we use the ion cannon?” Brey asked.
“It’ll take too long to charge and lock on! Just keep firing!” Arok commanded.
Within the cockpit of the target ship, the Captain took his seat in the pilot’s chair, Durn laying upon his back at he tinkered with the ship’s electronics systems.
“Artificial gravity reinstated. Shield’s up and at 45%... make that 42%,” Durn relayed.
“They won’t last long. Divert them. Double front,” the Captain commanded. “Lero, can we get this thing moving, yet?”
“Hyperdrive’s completely offline. Even if I could get it working, we’d never escape Tatooine’s gravity well before being scrapped,” Lero explained.
“Sublight engines! Do they work?” the Captain shouted.
“Barely!” Lero shouted back.
“Then we’ll make do. Durn, prepare to divert all shields to our rear on my mark. We’re landing this thing,” the Captain declared, placing his hands on the ship’s controls. The vessel’s engines lurched to life as its pilot spun the freighter around, back toward the desert planet. “Mark.”
The Dusk Eclipse released a continuous volley of cannon fire as it pursued it fleeing target. Each connecting shot dispersed against the ship’s shields, but the blast shook and rattled the weakened vessel. Slowly but surely, the ship’s defenses were waning. An exasperated grunt emanated from the man tinkering beneath the cockpit’s central console.
“Damn it,” Durn growled as he began gripping at the seal around his neck. Tugging his helmet, the crewman managed to pull it over his head and toss it to the floor, revealing his youthful Human visage. “If I’m going to die, I not going to do it half-blind.”
Removing a hand from the ship’s controls, the Captain gripped the seals at his neck and did the same, tossing the discarded helmet down the central corridor.
The best thing about the ‘Slicer’ maneuver: it left you with an air supply to enjoy.
Flying toward the surface of Tatooine, the ship had no chance of outmaneuvering the fast-tracking point-defense turret of the Dusk Eclipse. The cannon designed for downing starfighters was slowly chipping away at the shield of the fleeing Exchange freighter. Shields were about to go offline, and the person occupying the pilot’s seat could still see the entirety of Tatooine’s curvature from their vessel. The Captain knew their chances were growing slimmer.
The entire vessel shook at the last series of bolts impacted against the rear of the vessel.
“We’ve lost shields, Captain,” Durn informed, his voice without all sense of urgency. In its place a morose realization.
Another series of hits wracked the ship’s aft.
“Sir, they scored a direct hit on our engines!” Lero shouted.
“Are they all offline?”
“No sir, we’ve still got a few,” Lero clarified.
“Then we still have a chance,” the Captain declared. “There’s nothing you two can do. Find a seat and strap in.”
“Negative, sir,” Durn stated. “You keep flying this thing, we’ll keep it going as long as we can.”
“You too, Lero?”
“Should have known better than to expect you two to respect the chain of command,” the Captain said as he forced a smile..
“All things considered, it’s been an honor serving under you, sir,” Durn commented from the floor. The vessel shook again, more violently than ever before.
“Damn it! That’s it, final engine offline,” Lero declared.
“We’ve momentum and gravity, we can do this,” the Captain proclaimed. “Just got to stay in control.”
“Sir, I’m sorry, there’s no coming back from this,” Lero commented. “Goodbye, Captain. It’s been a pleasure.”
The ship was drifting closer and closer to Tatooine, the formless orange ball being given definition, mountain and ridges coming into view.
“That’s enough, Lero. We’re going to survive this. We’re going-”
The entire ship rocked forward, driving the Captain’s head into the vessel’s dashboard. Things began to grow dark and cold. Durn slid forward and impacted against the solid foundation of the cockpit’s console. Lero flew down the vessel’s main hallway toward the ship’s bow.
“Sir, that’s it. They’re done for,” Siru relayed to his superior. The Rattataki gazed intently out the Dusk Eclipse’s viewports as fire and smoke emanated from the Exchange vessel before being snuffed out by the vacuum of space.
“Let the desert consume them,” Arok stated. With that the Dusk Eclipse began to pull away as the battered husk of a ship plummeted toward the surface of Tatooine.
Passing through the desert planet’s atmosphere, the smoking vessel fell toward the Dune Sea with no one at its helm. Nothing but the flowing hills of sand stretched below them in all directions. The Exchange vessel howled as it headed for impact. Finally touching the planet’s surface, the speeding freighter skimmed its bottom against a highly piled dune before dipping and driving itself into the next. Kicking up an explosion of sand, when the particles settled, the vessel was buried face first in the middle of the Dune Sea.
The ship lay stilled, defeated, as the wind passed over it, carrying away the smallest amount of sand. Black smoke rose from the battered rear end of the ship, forming a charred pillar that stretched ever higher as time went on.
A few hours later…
The pillar of smoke emanating from the downed vessel had managed to catch some of the locals’ attention. From beyond the horizon, a vehicle had traveled to investigate. A mobile structure. A crawler. The angled block of a vehicle stood taller than a standard cargo freighter and traveled upon belted treads.
The sand crawler parked itself a short distance away from the ship’s wreckage. Settling itself, a large bay began to open, and ramps descended upon the shifting sands. Small humanoids wrapped head to toe in brown, hooded cloths exited and began surveying the scene. Scavengers.
As the majority of the small beings investigated, a small detachment stumbled upon a man half-buried in the sand. Turning him over, the man was garbed in a gray longcoat over a reinforced flightsuit. Upon closer inspection, he was unconscious, but alive.
As more and more of the scavengers poured over the intact wreckage, a couple began to drag the unconscious pilot by his arms back to their crawler.
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