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Imperial Special Projects: The Seven

STAR WARS: The Old Republic > English > Community Content > Fan Fiction
Imperial Special Projects: The Seven

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RulithBarakis
03.28.2012 , 07:42 PM | #11
So far, from all that I've read... this story is amazing. Just wanted to be the first to comment and let you know!

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Osetto
03.28.2012 , 08:06 PM | #12
Chapter Ten: The Alert

The five Imperial troopers departed the cylindrical lift on their intended level, scanning the ensuing hallway for any signs of danger. Ahead, perpendicular to the squad’s approach, was the familiar spine of the cruiser, albeit further from the hangar than the last encounter with it. As the soldiers approached the hall, things took a turn for the worse when suddenly the ship fell dark. Silent blackness filled the halls of the ship, only broken by the few emergency lights that lined the floors where they made contact with the walls. The once white interior was now forced to bask in the yellow-orange glow of the substitute lighting.

More disturbing than the shift in mood lighting was the immense, but brief, shake that rocked the entire cruiser, nearly tossing the troopers to the ground. Almost immediately after the trembling subsided, the emergency lights shut off and the ship seemingly returned to its normal status.

“Before y’all even ask. That wasn’t me,” Esk preemptively stated over the team’s comm. Aurek nodded his head as he readied the second question in his mind.

“Dorn?” Aurek peacefully requested.

“Well, uh, I’m not entirely sure, but-”

“WARNING!” The cruiser’s auditory alert system had sounded off. “SELF-DESTRUCT SEQUENCE INITIATED. EVACUATION IS ADVISED.”

“-but the ship might be self-destructing,” Dorn finished.

“This damned ship is trying to kill us,” Besh commented, now standing under his own weight, but still drifting slightly from side to side.

“This complicates things,” Aurek admitted. “Listen. Dorn. Esk. If we take too long getting back to the hangar, I want you two to take the shuttle you came in for yourselves and escape. Our team will just commandeer the Republic shuttle and leave that way.”

“Uh, Aurek? What Republic Shuttle?” Cresh hesitantly asked.

“The one that brought me onto this ship up from planetside in the first place,” Aurek answered. “The one that should still be in the hangar.” The combined shaking of heads by his accompanying squad forced the squad leader to lower his own. “It’s not in the hangar is it? Damn, must have left for the surface for reinforcements once I escaped.”

“Is the ship self-destructing… or not?” Forn interjected. “Because standing around talking… leads me to believe… that you don’t think so.”

“Good point,” Aurek remarked. “Dorn how long until this place is done for?”

“Doesn’t say,” Dorn replied almost immediately.

“Rude ship…” Besh observed.

“What about escape pods?” Cresh inquired.

“They are launching as we speak,” Dorn replied. “They’re practically adjacent to the bridge for easy access by high priority personnel, so you guys are better off making your way back to the hangar.”

“Then let us do that,” Forn insisted. Aurek concurred and wave the squad forward. Once aligned with the cruiser’s spinal hallway, it would be a straight dash toward the hangar bay. It would be, if the series of doors between the squad and their destination weren’t on complete lockdown.

“How intent are they on killing us today?” Aurek said to himself.

“We must have angered the ship…” Besh further commented.

“Dorn, I pray that you aren’t still locked out of the system,” Aurek remarked over the comm.

“I am,” Dorn replied. Aurek’s closed fist slammed against the locked door before him in frustration. “Don’t worry. I am not a slicer without a few tricks. I have a security spike that can overload the entire system.”

“Why couldn’t you have just used that before?” Cresh impatiently asked.

There was a silence over the comm before it was broken by the electronic crackling brought on by Dorn implanting a literal spike device into a receptacle of the hangar control panel. As a result, the doorway blocking the squads path opened. As did every door ahead of it. Eventually, Aurek could see Esk standing in the distance, waving towards as it marked the first contact they had since the squad leader’s capture. Just as he was about to step forward, the door promptly shut in Aurek’s face. The trooper was confused even further when the door re-opened, and shut once again.

“Okay, question redacted,” Cresh admitted.

“Great, now the ship is trying to eat us,” Besh rambled.

“What was in that medicine you gave him?” Forn directed toward Cresh, who offered a general shrug of the shoulders.

“Alright, squad!” Aurek interrupted. “There doesn’t seem to be a steady interval here so… just try and do your best to get back to the hangar. It’ll require a bit of luck, but given the recent turn of events… okay, never mind. Just try and do your best.” And with that Aurek leapt through the opened barrier before it closed behind him.

The rest of the squad followed, with only one or two soldiers per segmented piece of hallway. A jump, and a pause. No looking back. No hesitation. Running on instinct, the troopers slowly made their way back to the hangar. Amazingly, Besh proved quite successful at wandering past the cruiser’s clutches in his state of medicinal stupor.

Towards the midpoint of their venture, the soldiers learned the consequence of failure as Aurek’s carbine got caught in the closing maw of a sturdy doorway. Crushing, and later splitting, the weapon into two crumpled pieces. Offering a quick apology toward Grek, Aurek and his squad pressed onward.

With the squad fast approaching, Esk waved for Dorn to disengage from the control panel and make his way back onto the shuttle. The slicer quickly disengaged the link between the console and his datapad and matched Esk’s hurried pace as he began his descent from the forward platform. The demolitionist retrieved the now empty box of explosives from the foot of the shuttle ramp before promptly entering the craft.

Dorn made his way up into the Imperial shuttle, swinging around the struts supporting the lowered ramp as he made his way into the ship’s cockpit. The trooper picked from the myriad of switches and began flipping on essential systems, one after another, not even bothering to sit in the captain’s chair whilst doing so. The back end of the bulky black block of a ship elicited an awkward azure glow as the engine ignited.

A quick look out the port-side windows of the room revealed the rest of the squad had finally made it through the gnashing teeth of the haywire cruiser. A flashing indicator drew the pilot’s attention back toward the shuttle’s instrumentation. A inbound shuttle was making its way toward the hangar bay.

“Uh, Aurek? I think that shuttle you mentioned is on its way back,” Dorn informed over the comm. The squad leader checked back to confirm that the entirety of the squad had safely make their way into the hangar.

“Let’s go, we don’t want to be here when reinforcements arrive,” Aurek rapidly notified his squad mates.

Taking a pause, Aurek ensured that he would be last to board the shuttle as his companions rushed past him. Grek unfastened the encased repeater from his back and slid it under his assigned seat as he boarded the shuttle. The others made their way aboard, those who still retained their weapons not bothering to properly stow them in the cargo hold. As Aurek finally ascended the ramp, he notified Dorn to begin the launch, joining him in the shuttle’s cockpit.

“Alright, just got to back out and we’ll be on our way,” Dorn updated as he manipulated the actual shuttle controls rather than operate the ship with his datapad.

“No time,” Aurek hurriedly advised, standing adjacent to the seated trooper. “Just press forward through the starboard hangar entrance.” Heeding the squad leaders orders, Dorn finished retracting the landing equipment and gunned the shuttle onward. Toppling the crated perimeter Grek had set up, soon the transport had escaped the confines of the Republic cruiser.

“I don’t have any programmed hyperspace coordinates along this vector-“ Dorn tried to explain.

“Forget about that,” Aurek ordered. “Just get us as far away from the cruiser as the sub-light engines will go.”

The shuttle shook as Dorn pressed the shuttle forward, knocking Aurek back and into the door leading to the passenger area. The door automatically opened by his presence, sending the trooper backward. Luckily, Aurek was able to get a hand on the door’s frame, swinging himself into an empty spot on the nearby bench.

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Osetto
03.28.2012 , 09:28 PM | #13
Epilogue: The Aftermath

The hangar floor lay static, a still frame of the events that had previously transpired. The scene was only disturbed by the introduction of a white Republic shuttle passing through the hangar’s port magnetic barrier. The miniaturized version of the traditional gully jumper transports gently settles on the hangar floor before opening its front boarding ramp.

A squad of seven Republic troopers exited the craft, gun raised and scanning the room. The dismaying scene that greeted them forced a drop of the heavily armored troopers’ resolve. It took a moment before the squad even noticed the alarms blaring over the cruiser’s communications array.

“Sergeant, that’s the warning for self-destruction,” the squad’s engineer informed. The front-running trooper quickly snapped his attention to his following squad.

“Damn it, I’m not to give up on the Runner!” The squad captain barked. “I made a pledge to the Republic, and I’m not going to see a vessel and its crew needlessly thrown away. Now… anyone thinking of evacuating can do so. Meanwhile, I believe we have a ship to save.”

“Yes sir, Sergeant Kier!” The squad responded in unison.

“Good. There should be a maintenance hatch under the aft hangar platform. We can follow that to the emergency override near the reactor. Let’s move out.”

The Republic squad marched forward at a sprinting pace. They were forced into a single file line as they squeezed behind the stacks of crates occupying he underside of the aft platform.

Eventually, the lead soldier came to a hatch, noticeable only by the thin lines that marked its borders and two inset pockets to grip it with. The squad leader hastily removed the access panel and set it aside.

The first step into the dark passageway of exposed wiring and framework was an awkward one for the soldier. Taking a step back, the trooper realized he had stepped onto an irregular disk attached to the flooring. Only after it began blinking with an angry red light did he realize his mistake.

Two explosions followed. One was indicated by the Esk’s loss of the signal connecting his helm to the perimeter defenses he had set up. The other was indicated by the immense fireball of a detonating starship that was quickly consumed by the vacuum of space.

----------

The squad was back together in its entirety once again. Aurek had been rescued from his purposeful imprisonment. Besh had successfully lead an operation as acting commander. Cresh had managed to beat the odds and survive his first combat mission. Dorn had gone the entire mission without being shot at once. Esk had the privilege of detonating a variety of explosives. Forn had kept himself sufficiently entertained with the on-board combat. Grek had lived up to his standard of responsibility of duty. Today was a good day for the Seven.

“So wait… does that technically count as leaving evidence?” Cresh asked, adopting a rather smug veneer.

“Well, it was a self-destruction,” Aurek admitted. “So, if it works toward the Project’s goals, we triggered it. If it works against us, they triggered it. That or we blame it on Esk.”

“Hah, I almost feel like taking credit for the detonation under any circumstance,” Esk boasted with a trademark chuckle. All the squad members seemed in his spirits, all except Besh, who seemed to be focusing on his wound.

“First aid wearing off, Besh?” Aurek inquired. The sniper replied with a confirming nod. The adjacent Grek offered the injured trooper a comforting pat on the shoulder. “Once we’re through to the home base we’ll send word to prep the med bay for you. Although I must say I’m relieved. After what I said during the interrogation I would have felt really bad if it was Cresh who had been shot.” Besh offered only a glare from behind his visor.

“Who said I was going to get shot?” Cresh queried, almost dropping his jocular attitude.

“Statistically speaking, Cresh has the lowest track record for… well, survival,” Aurek hesitantly admitted.

“Statistically speaking… your boasting of statistics is what stuck us with this mission in the first place,” Forn chimed in with his familiar stoic tone.

“Statistics are what the Seven are all about. This is the third cruiser sized ship we’ve infiltrated and destroyed.

“Yeah, but this was the first one to actually have any meaningful opposition aboard,” Esk noted.

“Is that a good or bad thing, Esk?” Aurek inquired.

“Doesn’t matter to me. I’m just the demo-man.”

“Yet everyone always seems to get lumped together for blame when something spontaneously combusts,” Dorn interjected as he exited the shuttle’s cockpit. “Hopefully the Director won’t be too riled up by this little explosion.”

“She shouldn’t be. No actions during the operation conflicted with the Treaty of Coruscant. The Empire was retrieving a capture prisoner. The Republic was defending itself against armed aggressors. Simple as that. With no off-site reinforcements, each side can sufficiently say they were within their rights. Each side equally at fault for any investigated grievances. No territory lost or gained. Just one of the many quarrels that pop up and go unnoticed by the galaxy at large. Only difference is information regarding this operation will be spread to just the right people.”

“Aurek, the path back to base should be clear for hyperspace,” Dorn interposed, still standing in the doorway between the two rooms.

“On to home, then.”

----------

So concludes The Seven: Episode One - "Assault of Freedom's Runner"!

Stay tuned for the squad's next assignment: "Crusade on the Dune Sea".

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Osetto
03.28.2012 , 09:31 PM | #14
Quote: Originally Posted by RulithBarakis View Post
So far, from all that I've read... this story is amazing. Just wanted to be the first to comment and let you know!
Many thanks for the kind words! I always welcome comments, questions, and feedback, especially now as the 'episode' has been concluded.

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Osetto
03.29.2012 , 06:05 PM | #15
Intermission


Aboard the Ulterior – Part One

The lines of stars across the cockpit’s viewports returned to their normal dotted arrangement as the Imperial shuttle exited hyperspace. The shuttle had arrived at its destination, amongst the blackness of space, with nary a noteworthy chunk of rock anywhere near it.

Instead, a single Imperial battlecruiser lay dormant, showing no intention of heading toward any sort of destination. The wedge-shaped capital ship merely floated amongst its surroundings, waiting. As the shuttle approached the ship at a speed much lower than what its engines were capable of, Aurek casually strolled into the cockpit. A quick look out the shuttle’s viewport was followed by a his index finger continuously pressing one of the many buttons the lined the area.

“Ulterior, this is Aurek of The Seven. We are returning from the successful completion of our assignment, and heading toward Hangar C to dock,” Aurek stated in a rather monotonous tone.

“Acknowledged,” a voice responded after a moment’s pause. “The Director will want to confer with you after you have boarded. The rest of your team are to return to their private quarters.”

“Understood,” Aurek said with every sense of proper protocol. “However, we have one wounded. I request that you prepare Med bay S2-1 for his presence.”

“Request granted. Will he require a means of mobility assistance?”

“He’s capable of walking, but a single escort would be beneficial.”

“Acknowledged. Orders stand for the rest of your squad. You are clear to land.”

“Thank you.” Aurek finally released his finger from the communications grid and returned to the passenger area of the shuttle. To his right, he could see Besh slightly bent, covering his wound with his gloved hand.

“Got medical set up for you when we arrive Besh.”

“Sounds good,” Besh admitted through exhausted breaths. “Don’t suppose you managed to secure me a hoverchair on arrival?”

“Sorry Besh, you know the Director doesn’t like the ship’s crew seeing us as vulnerable. Going to have to walk it off. As for the everyone else, your orders are to return to your private quarters for the time being. I gotta talk to the Director about the mission and what have you. I’ll see if I can’t arrange us some leisure time in the mess hall. Sound good?”

The various squad members bobbed their heads in agreement.

The shuttle made its way to the capital ship’s starboard hangar, becoming more and more miniscule by comparison as its approach continued. Beyond the ship’s magnetic barriers, cold dark panels and fixtures greeted the shuttle, providing a much more suitable atmosphere than the Republic cruiser could offer. Lowly officers and service droids darted from one side of the hangar to the other.

The shuttle set down amongst an array of Imperial starfighters as the hangar staff swarmed the new arrival. The processes of refueling and maintenance were underway before the shuttle’s entrance ramp had even deployed. Once it had, the shuttle released a soft grunt as the various pistons began to extend. The noise signaled the exterior workers to immediately part ways from the exiting path.

Aurek was the first to disembark and was greeted by two Imperial officers a short distance away from the shuttle. The leftward officer was a male human and dressed in standard Imperial Navy regalia. The numerous lines across his badge as well as his face detailed his many years of service to the Empire. The rightward officer was female human, garbed in a lighter uniform with various patches designating her as one of the on-ship medical personnel.

Before either of them however, was a hangar mechanic standing beside a rather large, but empty push-cart, staring ahead trying not to make eye contact with the armored warrior.

As the other member of the squad disembarked from the shuttle, they placed their various spent weapons and tools on the worker’s cart. The worker jumped with a bit of fright as Grek placed his footlocker on the cart with a rather audible thud. As Dorn lastly exited the shuttle, he was replaced by one of the many mechanics making his way up into the bowels of the shuttle.

As a group, the seven troopers walked forward toward the awaiting duo of officers, with no apparent arrangement other than Besh being surrounded by the less visibly injured. Aurek met the two officers with mutual salutes, directing the medic toward Besh before continuing with the other.

“Captain,” Aurek said nonchalantly.

“Aurek,” the Captain replied with equal levels of enthusiasm. “The Director is waiting in the main conference hall.”

“I take it you are to accompany me?” Aurek asked.

“Correct,” the Captain replied.

“Wonderful,” Aurek responded, faking any semblance of eagerness.

Conversations between Aurek and the Captain rarely permitted more than short, brunt questions and answers, and this one was no exception. The trooper glanced to his squad one last time before accompanying the Captain into the ship’s innards. With Besh in the caring hands of a medic and his other squad mates delegated to a bout of isolation, there was nothing for Aurek do to other than begin his silent trek toward a conference with the Director.

Five of the seven soldiers made their way toward their specialized on-board residences. The Seven were intruders to the Ulterior, with the Project commissioning the capital ship as a temporary base of operations. Not temporary enough for many of the ship’s denizens.

Whilst the Seven were away, the Ulterior’s compliment of crewmen and solider were forced to cease operations until their return. Such cessations were tolerable should the squad’s outgoing missions last one or two days, but on longer assignments, the ship’s natives were forced to bear an intolerable wait as they were forced to submit to the ambiguously rank-less, yet somehow authoritative, Special Projects soldiers.

Each member of the Seven possessed their own quarters, in a hall that was void of any of the ship’s usual denizens. Any form of monitoring was forbidden in the trooper’s personal lodgings. In each room there existed a large, mechanized chamber that granted each squad member their only means of existence outside their armor.

From its interior, each chamber would offer a personalized means of solitude, bearing libraries of holovids, holobooks, and music. The size of a regular soldier own quarters, the chambers were just another added layer of security in regards to protecting the identities of those within the Seven.

Getting past the front door would prove difficult. Breaking into the private chamber would prove next to impossible. All the matters of nutrition and hygiene that would be hampered by an all-encompassing suit of armor were alleviated within the confines of such a place.

Whilst the healthy troopers split into their various lonesomes and Besh was busy tending to the crippling pain in his gut, Aurek was well on his way to the meeting in which he would disclose the events aboard the Freedom’s Runner with the group’s direct superior.

Aurek stood in silence as the Captain operated the security panel outside the ship’s main conference room. The quick jabs of the officer’s fingers against the touchscreen correlated with the stern visage currently occupying the Captain’s face. The Captain could be considered one of the Ulterior’s denizens who weren’t too keen with the Seven’s continued stay aboard, a fact that he made readily apparent to Aurek when he could.

Beyond the now opened door laid a grandiose circular room, bearing no inhabitants but an equally grand rounded conference table and a lone seated individual. The sculpted wood of the piece provided a sense of regality amongst the surrounding dark palette. At its center rested an technological emitter meant for holographic communications. A single female sat in one of table’s many lining chairs, nearest to the room’s exit. As she turned as stood from her seat, she greeted the two guests with a smile.

The Director. Human. Female. Instead of the uniform of any enlisted officer, she bore light robes more reminiscent of a politician. Light brown hair was restrained in a rear bun, revealing a soft face of someone who couldn’t have been past their late twenties, the usual impressions of a life of battle completely absent. A genuine smile graced her lips, lacking any of the negative connotations generally assumed of a ‘pleasant’ Imperial, let alone a ‘pleasant’ politician. Leader and spokesperson of the Seven Project. Tactical savant.

“Aurek,” the Director began with a warm, inviting tone, “Always a pleasure to see you return safely. Here. Take a seat. Captain, you may return to your duties.”

With one hand she beckoned the armored trooper, whilst the other promptly shooed the perturbed naval officer. Aurek took a seat neighboring the Director, ready to divulge the details of the Seven’s most recent mission. He began with the original capture, recounting the event to eager ears.

The Director digested the information with genuine interest, her gaze locked in her own reflection across the troopers black facemask. And so it was that Aurek continued his story, and a story it was. It was no report. Reports were useless at this stage. A loose sequence of events, rough numbers, a beginning, and an end. That was all the Director required. And that was what she got.

The ‘distress’ call planetside, the ‘capture’ by the nearby Republic outpost, the ‘imprisonment’ aboard Freedom’s Runner. The intrusion, the reunion, the emission. The defenders, the offenders. The white walls and silent halls. And most importantly, going out with a bang. A hint of hesitation graced Aurek’s words when he finally mentioned the self-destruction of the cruiser, but the Director’s face bore no sense of disapproval. Instead, she couldn’t have happier.

“So that’s how it went down… excellent work,” the Director congratulated. “I had feared that the more uncalculated parameters of the mission would have led to some dire complications, but even with limited intel and a separated group you and your team performed more than adequately.”

“Well, if you ignore the wounded man and narrowly escaping an exploding vessel, I’d be more than happy to agree with you,” Aurek stated, trying his best to instill some humility.

“You know how many squads would kill simply to walk away with only a single wounded soldier?”

“I would hazard a guess of… all of them, considering the nature of their occupation,” Aurek joked.

“Semantics,” the Director joked back.

“And if there’s one thing you know, it’s semantics.”

“It would be an insult to my craft to simply think that my talents lie in mere badinage and wordplay.”

“And what of your talents? I take it by your gleeful reaction that the mission was considered a success in more than the traditional sense.”

“Correct. A single squad extracting a prisoner from and then detonating a Republic cruiser makes for great material. And with Republic evacuation protocols being what they are, there are sure to be plenty of accounts of the events surfacing in the coming days from the survivors. We will monitor the usual channels and broadcast our own version when the proper time comes. In the meantime, you and your squad have earned some rest. For the best, considering the condition of Besh.”

“Hmm. And here I thought you’d just chuck him out the airlock and give us a new sniper,” Aurek commented, voice laced with a healthy dose of sarcasm.

“Do not think of the Seven Project with such simplicity. Replacement is a primary concern. But cohesion takes precedence. I don’t just need a squad of heavily armed and armored troopers. I need a team.”

“A team… of heavily armed and armored troopers…”

“Get some rest Aurek,” the Director advised with a grin.

The two stood and shared a nod noting the meetings cessation. Aurek followed with an obligatory salute before making his way out of the conference room. At the door, Aurek turned toward his superior once more.

“By the way, I told the guys that I’d ask for some time in the commons…”

“Alright, but not until Besh has completely recovered. You need the full set before you can go out interacting the with regular soldiers.”

“Understood. Thank you Director.”

“No problem Aurek.”

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Osetto
03.30.2012 , 05:12 PM | #16
Aboard the Ulterior – Part Two

Aurek passed a very dissatisfied looking Captain as he vacated the conference room. The trooper offered a half-hearted salute before making his way toward the medical bay, sauntering away as the officer slowly shook his head. Traversing the brightly lit but darkly colored halls of the Ulterior, Aurek managed to find his way to the med bay with only a few uncalculated misdirections.

Passing through the automatic doors, he was met with a sense of sterility that almost matched his personal quarters. Various beds and tanks of medical supplies lined the sides of the sizable room. A short distance away, Besh was the lone injured occupant, sitting over the edge of a bed, being tended on all sides by a motley assemblage of medical personnel.

“Besh!” Aurek gleefully announced his entrance. With a soft lean to his side, Besh looked past the nurse in front of him to see his squad leader, much to his delight. That is, until he realized bending to the side at the waist did nothing to soothe the wound at his hip. A few soft shoos later, and the medical staff dispersed, allowing him to stand up from his bed. Besh walked toward Aurek with only a barely noticeable change in his gait. A little more noticeable, though, was the large square patch covering the break in the trooper’s underlying bodysuit. Luckily it matched it in color.

“Aurek! How are you?” Besh asked during his approach.

“Come on Besh, I’m the one who should asking that,” Aurek admitted, fixing his gaze upon Besh’s patched wound. “Looks like the doctors did a good job fixing you up.”

“Got Cresh to thank for that. His treatment kept the wound from getting any worse,” Besh informed.

“Well, you’ll have the chance to thank him in a bit. Got us all some free time in the commons,” Aurek updated.

Besh would be banished to his personal quarters as long as the suit was undergoing repairs in the future, so Aurek’s news of free time in the commons brought a nonstandard sense of positivity. The female medic that first tended to Besh on arrival discharged him from medical care and the two troopers walked to their barracks to round up the rest of the Seven.

The duo received curious looks from the various denizens who walked the ship’s halls as they made their way to their comrades. A technician might look up from a chart only to see the troopers and hastily avert their gaze. Some of the on-board military personnel would meet the faceless visages with subtle approving nods. Others with arched brows and veils of contempt. It seemed as if no two people possessed the same opinion of the Seven. And that’s just how the Director would want it.

The chatter and bustle of the halls drastically declined once the duo reach their private sector of the ship. Walking down an empty, unforgiving hallway, Aurek and Besh couldn’t help but relive the events aboard Freedom’s Runner in their heads. Wounds seemed to resurface. Some physical. Some mental. But they pressed on without a word, sure that once they were all together again, their recent troubles would melt away.

At their intended destination, Aurek and Besh separated themselves to either side of the hall. The rooms lining the corridor were moderately spaced, but far more than one could expect from military accommodations. One by one, the two walked down the aisle, pressing their hands upon a room’s exterior panel before moving on to the next one. A quick ringing of the doorbell was all that was needed to stir the rest of the Seven from their quarters. Almost immediately after each trooper received their signal, they vacated their room into the hall, fully armored as always.

Eagerness emanated from the released members of the Seven, each of them looking forward to their time in the commons. Each of them bore nothing but their armor, except for Grek, who held a small, boxed, container by its handle in his right hand. The troopers shared their various greetings, but mostly spoke toward Besh and his well-being. After basic pleasantries, the Seven made their way toward the mess hall in regular formation.

At their destination, they were greeted with a large expanse filled with numerous set of tables and chairs. At one end of the mess hall, food was being served. The rigidity of military scheduling had lessened since the Seven’s arrival. Coupled with the countless variations in shift schedules and work hours, the cafeterias always bore a significant population of the ship’s denizens, soldiers and mechanical staff alike.

There was a lull in the static conversation of the room as the Seven entered. Even though they possessed armor aesthetically similar to that of the regular troopers, their presence and identities were instantly recognizable by those who met them. Each of the mess hall’s inhabitants would glance up from their plates to catch sight of the Seven, and then promptly resume their eating.

The Seven made their way to one of the empty tables and sat down. The durasteel supports of the chairs couldn’t help but let out a soft whine at the added weight of the armored troopers. Each of the Seven waited patiently as Grek placed the box he had been carrying on the table. Undoing the latch, and folding the top backward, one could see an assortment of cards, arranged in decks of various sizes. It was time to play some Pazaak.

Each trooper let out a soft cheer with the reveal of the cards. After the removal of the main decks, the box was passed around the table for everyone to remove their personalized side deck. Months of play and exchanging of cards meant that no two side decks were the same in quantity or composition, factors that spoke of their owner’s skill. Besh possessed upwards of thirty cards, whereas Esk barely owned the ten necessary to constitute a deck.

“So what rule set are we using? Senate? Council?” Besh asked, engrossed in thumbing through his cards.

“If you want a little extra fun we could always try Nar Shaddaa rules,” Esk offered with a chuckle.

“Ignoring, for the moment, Project Protocol… no one here wants to see you naked Esk,” Aurek responded.

The demolitionist’s positive outlook stuttered for a moment as he realized the insinuation that he was incapable of winning.

“I say we just try to have fun and waste time for now, so Senate rules. Last thing we want is our free time cut short because Besh has won all of our cards.”

“I dunno,” Dorn interjected. “Besh might still have some of that experimental medicine swimming around in his system. Now might be the best opportunity for some high-stakes playing.”

“That reminds me,” Besh uttered, his attention directed toward finding a specific card in his hand. The rest of the squad watched in silence as the sniper eventually plucked a card from his deck and tossed it across the table to Cresh. “Thanks for the assist back there.”

“Oh… no problem Besh,” Cresh stated as he hesitantly picked up the card. ‘Plus or Minus 1’. Not the rarest of cards, but quite useful considering the Seven were isolated from outside sources. “So… who’s playing whom?”

“Well, considering someone just insinuated that I might not be operating at peak efficiency, I think I’ll have a nice little game with Dorn.”

“And considering we’re playing for fun, I doubt Forn is too keen on participating,” Esk suggested, jutting a thumb toward the cross-armed trooper.

“The prospect of victory… is spoils enough,” Forn admitted. “That is, of course, assuming I had a worthy challenger. I’m content to watch for now.”

“I’m playing with Grek, so Esk and Cresh will be the third pair,” Aurek announced as he and the others repositioned themselves to be sitting across from their opponents.

Harder than any of the missions the Seven had been assigned, was the prospect of wasting time. The isolation for extended periods of time proved tolerable only for the members who had become content with their own thoughts. These breaks in the mess hall provided the greatest sense of entertaining and camaraderie the Seven could hope for. They never ate, for that was business intended for the confines of the chamber.

Instead, they would pass the time with games of Pazaak, discussions, or challenges against the other denizens of the ship. To this day, the ordinary soldiers still hadn’t figured out the Seven. They were far more approachable than they had any right to be. And yet always there were barriers between them. Physical and mental. Some perplexed at the merriment that seemed at odds with the stories they had heard. Others held spite toward the fact that they were forced to inaction while Seven played their little games.

But in the minds of the Seven, the only thing that mattered was the activity at hand. Pazaak. Closest to 20 wins. Cards drawn from the main deck, numbered from 1 to 10, were presented to the player and added up over time. The player could bolster or hinder the progression with the cards from their personal side deck. Knowing when to stop was a matter of skill, luck, and the ability to know what your opponent was planning to do themselves. Some of the Seven embodied these matters. Other’s weren’t so lucky.

“So, Aurek, would you say the last mission raised or lowered your expectations for the Seven,” Besh chatted, able to hold a conversation without hindering his focus toward his game against Dorn.

“Well, I had always wondered how we’d function in a ‘real’ mission. I was pleasantly surprised,” Aurek admitted, never averting his gaze from his cards.

“There were plenty of surprises. I don’t know if I’d call them pleasant,” Besh countered.

“What? Your wound?” Aurek asked, turning toward the sniper for but a moment.

“Somewhat,” Besh began, ”but more so the narrow escape from a terminally exploding vessel.”

“In the end, I had no doubt that we would succeed in our mission,” Aurek divulged. “Each step along the way just cemented my thoughts. My escape. My rescue. Our escape. Each sequence connected with each other in such a fluid way that I couldn’t see a negative outcome.”

“Come on Aurek, there’s positivity, and there’s delusion,” Besh countered.

“No, honestly. We have assembled, what I think, as close to the perfect team that one could get on our budget,” Aurek confessed.

“We have a budget?” Esk interjected.

“I mean, there’s always going to be a better group of soldiers, but look at us. For seven guys with a fancy set of armor and tools, we do pretty well. And going into the future, I can’t help but see good things,” Aurek admitted.

“If you say so, Aurek,” Besh unbelievingly conceded.

“Look. Each one of us embodies an essential aspect for our line of work."

“Grek: Strength. I mean, beyond the physical capabilities, I have never met someone so ready and able. Strong body. Stronger heart.”

“Forn: Dexterity. Flexibility incarnate. I could pick ten weapons at random from any armory and he would be proficient with nine of them. And the tenth one he could just bludgeon you with."

“Esk: Constitution. If there was ever a man who refused to cease, it would be you. How many firefights, tussles, and explosions have you walked away from the center of with nary a scratch.”

“Dorn: Intelligence. The man who is capable of creation something from nothing. Capable of thinking of new possibilities at each turn, with a specific program to carry out those possibilities."

“Besh: Wisdom. What he doesn’t have in raw smarts, he makes up with the ability to utilize the information he’s given with unparalleled insight. Perceptive. Disciplined. And blessed with the gift of common sense I wish more possessed."

“And then there’s me: Charisma. The guy who weaves together the patches that were thrown away long ago into a work of art. I’m not the strongest, fastest, or smartest, but I can understand and predict people in ways you can’t with just facts and data.”

“What about Cresh?” Besh asked. Cresh attempted to mask whatever feelings his body motions may have portrayed by engrossing himself in his card game.

“Well, considering he’s still with us: Luck. That last, unseen element that you never knew you needed or even wanted until the moment where it finally presents itself, proving its worth all along.” Cresh’s shift in posture revealed that he was content with the sentiment. For a moment, anyway.

“Wait, why is it such a big deal that I survived?” Cresh questioned. “How many Cresh’s have you guys gone through?”

“Two,” Aurek clarified.

“Only two? You know how many squads would kill for a track record that good?” Cresh chastised.

“People should really stop using that expression. Besides, we lost the last two back when we were still doing dreadfully easy missions,” Aurek clarified. “Every-step-in-its-entirety-planned-out type mission. Less-than-a-two-percent-chance-of-failure type missions. We’ve lost two Cresh’s and a Dorn along the way.”

“Does Project Protocol even allow the discussion of our past selves,” Cresh inquired.

“It’s a gray area,” Aurek admitted. “So long as we don’t uncover cold hard facts about each other identities, there shouldn’t be a breach. However, some things can be circumvented with… ‘assumptions’.”

“Assumptions?” Cresh probed.

“While we cannot learn of whomever is resting under each of these suits of armor, we are allowed some general ‘assumptions’. And so long as we don’t outright confirm each other’s ‘assumptions’, we’ve done nothing wrong. For example, I ‘assume’ that the majority of us are Human. Me, Besh, you, Dorn, Esk. Whereas with Forn, I ‘assume’ he is an Iridonian Zabrak, who at some point in his life joined up with and then left the Mandolorians for Imperial employ.”

“That’s a lot of assumptions,” Forn stated with a hint of positivity in his voice.

“Indeed,” Aurek playfully responded.

“And how exactly do you make these ‘assumptions’?” Cresh questioned.

“Like I said. Charisma. I’m the people person,” Aurek explained.

“Is it me, or is declaring yourself to be charismatic conditionally uncharismatic?” Esk joked. The squad shared a laugh, with Grek offering a soft repeating nod.

“Then what about Grek?” Cresh asked.

“What about Grek?” Aurek countered.

“I mean, if you’ve figured out the rest of the squad…”

“Grek is a curious case. His size and silence make it a little hard to determine his species. But even if I did figure it out, it wouldn’t be my place to disclose such information,” Aurek declared. “He is a man of deeds. Not words. He doesn’t want preconceived notions of his lineage to alter the perception of his actions. Isn’t that right?”

Grek offered a slow approving nod as he placed a card on the table in front of him. Cresh couldn’t help but stare at the large trooper.

“I’ll assume he didn’t outright tell you this…”

“You’ll assume correctly,” Aurek commented. “I like to think that Grek and I have a respect for one another, and I would betray that trust were I to constantly attempt to uncover his identity. I’ll leave that to Esk.”

“What do you mean?” Cresh questioned.

“He’s talking about how every so often, I’ll shout out a species name from across the hall to see if it gets a reaction out of Grek,” Esk explained.

“Get anything out of it?” Cresh asked.

“Nope,” Esk and Aurek simultaneously answered.

“Honestly, ‘ve never even heard of half of them,” Besh reminisced.

“But I think of it as more of a game than me prying at the guy, right Grek?” Esk asked, leaning forward to catch his nodding response.

“What makes you think Grek is a guy? Assuming a rather alien lineage, Grek could be female or sexless,” Besh proposed.

“Or a droid,” Esk offered.

“Speaking of droids,” Dorn interrupted. “You guys know Esk want to replace me with an astromech?”

“The logic is sound,” Aurek admitted after the entire squad had fallen silent.

“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” Dorn muttered.

“Hey, if Grek is in fact a droid, I’d say that’s a damn good display of the results they can deliver,” Aurek confessed.

“Yeah, but if he were in fact a droid, you’d think he’d be better at Pazaak,” Besh offered.

“What makes you say that?” Aurek questioned.

“Well, all you’d need a the right program and it just becomes a series of numbers and probabilities,” Dorn interjected. “A machine just has to follow a set of instructions and it will always choose the best course of action.”

“Oh how I wish that were true,” Aurek commented.

“Okay, what makes you say that?” Besh asked.

“Well, what are we but not machines?” Aurek inquired. “A machine is just something that performs a function. It need not be made of metal, or be given programming, and yet we qualify for both those things. Even machines are capable of fault, misinterpretation, misjudgment, unexpected change. We’re just machines made up of gooey bits.”

“And how do you take this designation?” Besh queried.

“Surprisingly well, “Aurek admitted. “It is not something that is exclusive to us. It’s not even something that’s exclusive to soldiers. It is what makes up all life. Just a bunch of tiny machines doing conflicting functions across the galaxy. But so long as I am still moving, still performing some function, I know that I’m still alive.”

“Oh, have you ever found yourself unsure if you were alive or dead?” Besh asked.

“Yes,” Aurek bluntly stated. Without words, the rest of the squad seemed to look up from their cards, deeply entrenched in thought.

“I suppose I know the feeling,” Besh stated.

“Aye,” Esk responded, with the rest of the rest supplying their own nodding heads. And with the same silence that had preceded them, the troopers returned to their card game.

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Osetto
04.01.2012 , 12:18 PM | #17
On the next episode of The Seven: "Crusade on the Dune Sea"

----------
“Gentlemen, this is Tatooine, a desert world in the outer rim and location of your next mission. Your task will be the elimination of a particular cult of former Sith.”

“Whoa… like… Imperial Sith… or Sith Sith?”

“Force-sensitives.”

“What makes them ‘former Sith’?”

“They’re not exactly exiles as they left of their own accord. Rogues would be the proper designation. The leaders we’ve identified as having belonged to the Sith Academy on Korriban at some point in the past. But they have denounced the Empire in pursuit of their own goals.”

“And what might those be?”

“The basic goals of any cult. Power. Recognition. Control.”

“So Sith… but not our Sith.”
----------
“I’ve already died for the Empire once. I don’t wish to do it again.”
----------
“What about scatterguns? We got any of those around here?”

“Those aren’t a part of the standard armory stock, sir.”

“Bleh.”
----------
“Do you have a name?”

“Do you?”

“Aurek.

“Sebastus.”

“Is that a real name?”

“What is real, Mr. Aurek?”

“Isn’t it your job to know?”

“Isn’t it your job to not?”
----------

Tune in next episode, when the Seven are removed from their controlled environment, when the limits of superior technology are put to the test, and the worlds of reality and myth collide.

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Osetto
04.01.2012 , 06:45 PM | #18
Episode II

Crusade on the Dune Sea


Prologue: The Dispatch

A week had passed since the Seven’s last mission and the entire squad found themselves seated in the main conference room of the Ulterior. Besh had completely recovered and his armor was completely repaired. Now, the seven armored warriors sat patiently around the grandiose conference table adjacent to one another, awaiting the arrival of the Director. When she finally entered the room, the Seven immediately stood at attention.

“Good to see you all,” the Director proclaimed. “Take a seat.” The troopers followed her order without hesitation. Making her way toward the table, the men saw her intensely eyeing the datapad held within her grasp. With a few taps of the device, the holo-emitter in the center of the conference table ignited, displaying a brilliant model of a sandy brown planet. “Gentlemen, this is Tatooine, a desert world in the outer rim and location of your next mission. Your task will be the elimination of a particular cult of former Sith.”

“Whoa… like… Imperial Sith… or Sith Sith?” Dorn questioned.

“Force-sensitives,” the Director clarified.

“What makes them ‘former Sith’? Besh asked.

“They’re not exactly exiles as they left of their own accord. Rogues would be the proper designation. The leaders we’ve identified as having belonged to the Sith Academy on Korriban at some point in the past. But they have denounced the Empire in pursuit of their own goals.”

“And what might those be?” Esk jeered.

“The basic goals of any cult,” the Director explained. “Power. Recognition. Control.”

“So Sith… but not our Sith,” Esk joked.

“In a way,” the Director conceded. “Normally a group of this size and caliber would be of little importance and warrant little effort at removal, but they have begun to impact Imperial operations in the area.”

“And just how might this task have happened to have fallen to us?” Aurek asked.

“I offered your abilities in rectifying the matter to the higher ups.”

“Doesn’t exactly seem like one of our usual operations,” Aurek continued.

“No, not exactly. I’m afraid that due to the nature of the circumstances presented, I was forced to accept the assignment rather hastily lest another department be assigned to it. So I’m afraid we won’t have our usual level of intel and preparation.”

“We seem to be making a habit of that,” Esk chuckled.

“Do you think we’re prepared to go after such targets?” Aurek questioned.

“The lower ranks of the group should be mostly comprised academy drop outs and uninstructed Force users,” the Director admitted. “You should only be troubled by the elites.”

“And how many of those might there be?” Besh asked.

“Our sources indicate no more than ten,” the Director answered. “The main threat is the pair of moderately powerful darksiders leading the cult. Take them out, and the group should eventually fade away of its own accord.”

“Do we have equipment for taking out Sith?” Aurek inquired.

“You’ll have your normal assortment of blasters, accompanied by some specialized vibroblades that should give you a chance in melee combat. Your armor is combat ready against the occasional lightsaber strike and blast of Force Lightning,” the Director detailed.

“What about the pushy, grippy aspects,” Esk asked accompanied by fanciful hand motions.

“Your armor has built in procedures for handling bursts of kinetic energy. That should translate to Force manipulations,” the Director explained.

“Even the choking?” Esk persisted.

“I’m afraid the only defense to that is organic. Either overpower the urge or receive assistance from one of your squad mates,” the Director advised.

“Well, that’s all I need to know,” Esk admitted.

“Really? How about intended targets, areas, or anything resembling a plan?” Dorn casually berated.

“Don’t sweat it, Dorn. Last mission went great, and this time we’re running with a full party,” Esk reasoned.

“We almost blew up,” Dorn reminded him.

“When don’t we?” Esk retorted.

“He’s got a point,” Aurek joined in. “Anyway, I’m fine with a little uncertainty. Besh?”

“Our plans rarely hold up for any meaningful amount of time,” Besh admitted. “So I should be able to strategize just as well during this mission.”

“Cresh? You’ve been rather quiet,” Aurek continued.

“Uh… I don’t know. I guess we’ll be alright,” Cresh predicted. “I’m pretty confident in our abilities.”

“Dorn?”

“As long as we get as much information as we can before we reach Tatooine,” Dorn proposed, “I’ll have no problem.”

“Esk?”

“You know I’m up for anything,” Esk reminded his squad leader.

“Forn?”

“Are these guys… actual Sith? Not just young academy rejects?” Forn asked.

“So it would seem,” the Director answered. “While most of the cultists left the academy, it was of their own accord and after years of training therein.”

“Then I’m good to go,” Forn admitted.

“Grek?” Aurek concluded. The giant offered an assuring nod. “Well, we’re all in agreement then. When do we head out?”

“We’re prepping your shuttle for launch,” the Director disclosed. “So you’ll have a few hours to retrieve your tools from the armory and make your way to the hangar. Since you may be needing an extended stay on Tatooine, we’re installing some backup power cells for your suits. The last thing you want is for your cooling systems to go out in the middle of the desert.”

“Understood. Thank you Director,” Aurek stated, rising from his seat. As the director offered a gracious smile, the rest of the squad rose and vacated the conference room. On their way to their personal armory, the Seven bore a gait of hesitance. Besh was the first to voice his concerns.

“Aurek, you realize this is different from anything we’ve ever done.”

“Are you having doubts?” Aurek asked.

“I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t,” Besh responded.

“You don’t think us capable of this kind of mission?”

“It’s hard to measure capability with our track record. There is no precedent for an extended Sith hunt with limited preparation. We’ve never been first into a large scale conflict. We’ve never operated in a venue that wasn’t isolated from exterior forces. We’ve never faced opponents who had anything resembling an advantage. Everything about this mission is wrong, and goes against what the Seven have been up to this point.”

“I think it’s very within the goals of the Seven. Our purpose is to prove our superiority, allowing our name to gain influence.”

“No, it is the Director’s purpose to prove our superiority. Our purpose is to complete easy assignments which give the spin doctors something to work with.”

“So I take it you are against the escalation we’ve been seeing as of late.”

“I’ve already died for the Empire once. I don’t wish to do it again.”

The Seven continued toward the armory in silence, no other trooper opting to voice whatever concerns dwelled within them. Arriving at their destination, the group was greeted by an armed guard standing at attention in front of a locked door. The guard was suited in a full set of standard issue Imperial Infantry armor, like a slim brother to the members of the Seven.

Noticing their approach, the guard removed a hand from his rifle’s grip and placed it to his ear. With a nod, the guard stood aside, before beating twice against the door behind him. With access to the armory granted, the Seven proceeded to its interior to pick through the plethora of weaponry.

Along the walls of the sizable room, racks of rifles and side arms lay ready for the common soldiers. Further back however, a set of racks and crates distinctive from the rest were tended by two technicians. Upon witnessing the Seven’s entrance, the officer immediately shot to attention, each snapping off a salute. Aurek calmly waved for them to go about their business. Beside the Seven’s personal armament, a push-cart bore the spent weapons from the Seven’s last mission a week ago.

“Officer,” Besh spoke, directing his attention toward the cart and then to the nearest technician, “have these weapons been maintained since our last mission?” The two technicians looked at each other for a moment before one spoke up.

“I’m afraid not sir. The weapons there were listed as low priority.”

“But that is my favorite rifle…” Besh lamented.

“That’s what you get for bringin’ it on a Carbine load out.” Esk joked whilst trying to choose his weapon from the functioning stock.

“What about Grek? His repeater’s on the cart as well.” Besh reminded his squad mates. Grek offers a softly dismissing wave as he search for a weapon alongside Esk.

“Grek doesn’t want sand clogging up his pride and joy,” Aurek clarified.

“Makes sense,” Besh admitted. “Officer, can you find me a BG2-SA?” The technician darted off to search the many racks lining the walls for Besh’s specified model.

“I guess we don’t have a planned load out for this mission,” Dorn commented.

“Correct,” Aurek responded. “Pick whatever your most comfortable with. We’re hunting Sith here, so we need to be at our best.” The nearby technician visibly stirred at the squad leader’s comment, before finding himself drug by the elbow by Esk. Turning around, the officer found the stout trooper holding two weapons with a pondering glance between the two.

“Which do you think would be more effective for taking down a Jedi type?” Esk questioned. “The DA-O or the DA-2? The ‘Two’ is faster, but I’m a bit nostalgic for the ‘Oh’. Then again, I’m not exactly familiar with lightsabers, so the quicker firing rate could be a detriment. Any experience in that field?”

“Uh… I’m afraid not, sir.”

“What about scatterguns? We got any of those around here?” Esk continued.

“Those aren’t a part of the standard armory stock, sir.”

“Bleh,” Esk grunted, returning the weapons to their place on the rack. “Forn. I hear you’re pretty good at killing things. Any recommendations?”

“Lacking any… truly specialize weaponry… just grab a rifle and some explosives,” Forn recommended, whilst retrieving a pair of vibroknives.

“You planning of taking some on in melee?” Esk asked, pulling a standard infantryman’s rifle retrofitted to compliance with the Seven’s armor systems.

“Absolutely… and it seems I’m not the only one,” Forn admitted and he turned toward Aurek, who was examining a full length vibroblade.

“Really Aurek?” Esk bantered.

“What? I’m trained in single-edge swordplay. I’d rather have it and not need it than… you know.”

“Uh… guys?” Dorn intruded. “I’m not… I mean… I guess I don’t really know what I should get. I mean, you don’t really need a slicer for hunting Sith. Has Tatooine even advanced to the point of electronically locked doors?”

“If all else fails, you can jam a security spike into their eyes,” Esk joked. Dorn could only dip is head toward his compatriot.

“You’re the best pilot and machinist on the team, two skills vital to an extended mission such as this,” Aurek consoled. “Your engineering and Cresh’s medic training could be important now more than ever.”

“He’s got a point,” Cresh admitted, pulling two pistols from a wall panel. “We’ll be on our own down there. No one to take care of our armor, weapons, or bodies except ourselves.”

“At least now I’ll know who to blame for not keeping my rifle maintained…” Besh stated, slightly raising his voice. The technician had returned to the eager sniper with a rifle in hand. Almost exactly the same as Besh’s previous weapon, only a master of the craft could detect the differences in minutia.

“Sir, I found a BG2, but it’s a T-B instead of an S-A…” Besh offered only a long dry stare as his response.

“Besh, there’s practically no difference. Just take the damn rifle,” Esk demanded.

“How would you like it if I started giving you advice about your explosives?” Besh offered.

“Y’all give me advice about my explosives all the time!” Esk countered. Silently, Besh snatched the sniper rifle from the officer. “Honestly, you don’t hear Forn complaining about not getting his favorite weapon.”

“One, that’s because we barely hear Forn at all,” Besh stated. “Two, he’s specifically trained to be an expert with any weapon he picks up.”

“It’s true… I could kill that technician… with his own datapad.” Forn joked. The officer couldn’t help but shiver with fright.

“I, on the other hand, am trained for accurate and precise marksmanship,” Besh informed. “To be at my best, I need to be more than familiar with my weapon. At which point, I’m much more deadly than a pair of blades.”

“Want to test that?” Forn offered.

“Sure, let’s put a kilometer between us and see who can hit who first,” Besh proposed.

“Sound like fun,” Forn admitted.

“Have you guys always been like this?” Cresh interjected.

“Don’t worry,” Aurek advised, “we all know it’s not serious. Just playful words to motivate and inspire.”

“Wasn’t always that way if I recall correctly…” Besh bluntly stated.

“Should’ve know better… than to antagonize me that close to a cliff,” Forn responded.

“Well at that point none of us knew you were some testy Iridonian…” Besh reasoned.

“Officially, we still don’t know that,” Dorn reminded.

“And we’re all about being official,” Aurek stated, turning away from the weapon racks. Born upon his back was a blaster rifle that appeared to be the scaled-up version of the carbines the team had used to rescue him from Freedom’s Runner. Sandwiched between the gun and his back was a secured vibroblade. The one handed vibrosword measured 1.5 meters in length, was composed of darkened materials to match the bearer’s armor. “Gentlemen, if you’re done chatting, gather your gear and meet me at the shuttle.”

“Wait… the same shuttle as last mission?” Dorn inquired.

“Correct,” Aurek confirmed.

“Isn’t it a little… compact… for an extended stay planetside?” Dorn continued.

“It’s what we’re getting. The Director is making a few modifications to it though.”

“At least I won’t have to update my flight algorithms…”

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Osetto
04.02.2012 , 07:35 PM | #19
Chapter One: The Arrival

Exiting hyperspace, the Seven’s personal shuttle began its journey toward the dusty surface of Tatooine as the system’s twin stars radiated their divine glow across its flank. In the cockpit, Dorn fiddled with the occasional switch and dial as Aurek initiated the communications system. Under his visor, the squad leader watched as his helmet synced with the shuttle’s broadcaster.

“Calling Mos Ila spaceport, this is Captain Orhjinn requesting permission to land,” Aurek casually spoke.

“Ah yes… Captain Orhjinn,” the ship’s speakers responded after a pause. “You’ve been given a private dock for your ship and crew, as per your ‘employer’s’ wishes. You are free to approach and land in hangar eighteen. Have a nice day and enjoy your stay in Mos Ila.” There was a soft click as Aurek disengaged the communications grid.

“I guess even while on an entirely different kind of mission, the Director’s knack for disinformation is not left behind,” Dorn commented, now more thoroughly engaged in the shuttle’s controls.

“Not entirely the Director’s doing. Believe it or not, Tatooine may be dry, hot, and all but abandoned, but it is still contested. Mos Ila is safe for Imperials, but it’s always safe to take extra precautions with audio transmissions,” Aurek explained.

“I hear yah,” Dorn stated. “Interception was a bit of a hobby of mine before joining the Seven.”

“Enlisted or freelance?”

“Freelance. Ended with my conscription into the army in lieu of punishment.”

“Careful now Dorn, wouldn’t want to reveal anything that would allow me to uncover your true identity,” Aurek offered in a lighthearted tone.

“Don’t worry,” Dorn replied with a chuckle. “There were a plethora of other slicers who met the exact same fate as I.”

"I wouldn't say 'exact same fate', now would I?"

The cockpit returned to relative silence as the shuttle continued its approach to the planet’s surface. Finally within Tatooine’s atmosphere, vast stretches of sand and rocky crags plagued the landscape outside the shuttle’s viewports. The occasional structure emerged from the blasted lands, but true settlements seems few and far between.

Dorn took the shuttle down and docked in one of the smaller private hangars of Mos Ila’s spaceport. Looking out the front viewport, the bedraggled droids that made up the hangar support staff made their way to the floor surrounding the shuttle, keen on prepping the ship for its extended stay.

Aurek ordered Dorn to power down the ship and the two proceeded to join the rest of the squad in the sitting area. Walking through the door, Aurek saw five of the Seven sitting patiently, unsure of how to proceed.

“So. I guess this the first time we’ve had a mission like this,” Aurek relayed to his compatriots. “Our objective is to eliminate the rogue group of force-users currently hiding out south of Mos Ila.”

“Where south of Mos Ila?” Besh interrupted.

“Not sure,” Aurek admitted. “Our first day on this planet will likely be spent gathering information from the locals. This group cannot operate out here without supplies. Chances are we’ll pick up some reliable intel from the local business men.”

“I can track them… assuming we can find a reliable staring point,” Forn acknowledged.

“Any hostile forces we have to worry about aside from the Sith?” Besh questioned.

“I’ve gone through the Director’s report on local happenings, and destabilized is one of the first words that come to mind,” Dorn informed. “For one thing, both the Republic and the Empire are starting to show renewed interest in this forsaken dust ball. Emperor knows why. ‘Pub’ territory is far north of us so we shouldn’t have any run ins with them. Mos Ila used to be a Jawa trading post before the Exchange kicked them out and took over. Criminal element kept a firm hold on the local populace until the Empire came in and ran them out. The Exchange is supposedly falling on hard times, causing them to become somewhat desperate and reckless. Czerka used to have a profound presence on the planet long before the war. Eventually pulled out due to native quarrels, but they’re interested in something enough to have returned.”

“Who’d think so many groups would be so concerned about bunch of sand?” Esk mused.

“It’s what under the sand that’s so intriguing,” Aurek concluded. “The first outlaws who came here sought and found relative security from the galaxy at large. Influential force-users are born here, trapped here, brought here. This planet is a curious place.”

“It’s true,” Besh conceded. “Think of how many stories you hear of Jedi or Sith coming here and miraculously finding something of significance amongst the vast nothingness. Artifacts. Fonts of power. That sort of thing.”

“Think that’s why the rogue cult came here?” Cresh inquired.

“They certainly found a place to hide,” Dorn admitted.

“There are better places to hide,” Forn reminded. “They are not here… without purpose.”

“I guess so,” Dorn confessed. “If I simply wanted to hide, I’d go somewhere less hot. Less dry. And with less Sand People.”

“Whoa, wait. Sand People?” Cresh interrupted.

“Natives,” Aurek explained.

“Right. Sort of forgot of them earlier,” Dorn apologized.

“Could you try forgetting the things that don’t represent a particular danger to us?” Esk jokingly asked.

“To be fair, you interrupted my briefing,” Dorn defended himself.

“Got me there,” Esk conceded.

“What are their capabilities?” Forn probed.

“They aren’t too sophisticated,” Dorn detailed. “But generally regarded as savage humanoid sentients. Wrapped in head to toe in desert cloths. Tribal social structure. Rarely sedentary. They’re able to piece together reliable melee weapons and rifles with salvage and scrap.”

“But how dangerous are they?” Besh wondered.

“They are the most often attributed reason for any established group deciding to leave the planet.”

“Great,” Besh sighed.

“For now we need to meet up with our contact. An agent from the Ministry.”

“Someone from Imperial Intelligence is here and we still have to do the investigating?” Esk lamented.

“The agent was on Tatooine for other business, and was in the process of returning to Dromund Kaas before our business delayed his. He is merely acting as a brief envoy to get us locally situated,” Aurek explained.

“Oh, great. Nothing an agent likes more than having his business interrupted by some of us troopers,” Esk joked.

“Don’t we have closer connections to the Ministry than the Imperial Army?” Cresh wondered.

“Doesn’t matter. We manage to piss off whichever group we come into personal contact with,” Esk revealed.

“Stop saying that like it’s mandatory!” Besh exclaimed, uncharacteristically emotional. “People have no reason to hate us if we didn’t give them reason.”

“When have we ever given the other soldiers a reason to hate us?” Esk replied. Besh merely stared at the demolitionist in silence. “Hey, they instigated that fight!” The sniper could only sigh.

“It was just mashed potatoes. Did you really have to flip out over such a thing?” Besh interrogated.

“I was on edge that day. Still hadn’t gotten over losing Dorn,” Esk admitted, bearing some semblance of a solemn tone.

“Look,” Dorn began, “let’s not make our contact wait any longer. And I’m sure a terrestrial stretch of the legs will do us all some good.”

“Good idea, Dorn,” Aurek commended. “Everyone grab your standard load out and we’ll make out way into town.

The troopers made their way into the aft cargo room. The modifications to the shuttle left little of the storage space that was present in the mission before. Instead, every soldier had the barest of their equipment stored in a minimal area. The rest of the cargo bay had been stocked with overnight recharging stations for the suits of armor. Retrieving the their chosen weapons from the Ulterior’s armory, the squad vacated the docked ship.

The cavalcade of service droids buzzing around the shuttle quickly dispersed as the Seven lowered and descended the shuttle’s ramp. A single technician feverishly eyeing a datapad stood a short distance ahead of the squad.

“Uh… Mister Orhjinn?” the technician barely muttered.

“That’s me,” Aurek declared. “This is my ship. These are my associates. We are here on business of a mercantile variety. Our docking fees have been paid for, with a little extra thrown in to cover security… and discretion.”

“Of course sir!” the technician replied.

The Seven walked out of the dusty halls of the Mos Ila spaceport and into the town itself. The squad was stricken with pause as the amalgam of population and desolation that seemed to make up the planet’s motif. Whitish blocks rose from the hard ground in the form of buildings. Large sheets of canvas supported by tall pillars danced in the wind, providing shaded areas for the streets below. If they could be called streets. Mostly dirt alleyways of varying sizes were all that separated the structures and prompted pedestrian travel.

The streets were far from bustling. At midday, there was little transit between the local shops and homes, only the occasional resident could be seen drudging to their unseen destination. As a unit, the Seven made their way toward the local cantina. Aurek paused at the open entrance to the unassuming establishment.

“I’d think it’d be best if I meet the agent alone,” Aurek revealed. “Places like this don’t react well to the intrusion of groups like ours.”

“You’re embarrassed of us, aren’t you,” Esk commented with faux-heartbreak.

“If I was, I wouldn’t be giving you free reign to move about the town until we reconvene,” Aurek reassured.

“Which will be when, exactly?” Besh asked.

“Don’t know,” Aurek answered. “I’ll signal via the team comm when I’m done with the meeting. Until then, look around town, acclimate yourselves to the local culture, stock up on supplies. Try and do something productive, and I’ll see if I can’t do the same with the Agent. Dismissed.”

Osetto's Avatar


Osetto
04.03.2012 , 04:29 PM | #20
Chapter Two: The Investigation

Aurek entered the Mos Ila cantina unaccompanied by his squad mates. The trooper was pleasantly surprised that the cantina didn’t match the dark and gloomy ambiance he had come to expect from similar outer rim establishments. Instead the brightly lit rooms and coloration seemed to beckon him forth.

As Aurek descended a nearby stairway into the underbelly of the cantina, he saw that the inhabitants didn’t exactly match the architectural style. Gangsters of all sorts watched the entertainment in the form of a staged band and exotic dancer. The denizens gave a curious look toward the descending Imperial, as the entirety of the cantina seemed to skip a beat when he touched down on the floor.

In silence, Aurek offered a dismissive waft of his hand to signal he meant no harm. Whether the gesture was truly accepted was unknown, but the gangster seemed keen on returning to their business. Across the way, a humanoid figure signaled for the trooper to approach. When Aurek was closer, he saw that it was in fact a human, garbed in dark clothes of seemingly tactical significance. A thick outer coat hid the assortment of belts and tactical pouches that wrapped themselves around the figures belt, as well as the blaster pistol resting at his side. The face was familiar enough in form, bearing the standard posh-ness that Aurek had come to expect from Imperial Intelligence field agents. Taking a seat upon the adjacent stool in the bar area, Aurek engaged the agent in conversation.

“So what brings the agency to Tatooine?” Aurek warmly asked. The agent sat in silence as he focused on his drink. He stirred, with seeming precision, the clear liquid that filled the glass with the thin straw he currently grasped betwixt his gloved digits.

“You know how it is. Eliminate a threat here, further a goal there,” the agent calmly stated in an almost sardonic manner, never taking his eyes off of his drink.

“Do you have a name?” Aurek inquired. The agent offered a quick chuckle as his immediate response.

“Do you?”

“Aurek.

“Sebastus.”

“Is that a real name?”

“What is real, Mr. Aurek?”

“Isn’t it your job to know?”

“Isn’t it your job to not?”

“Heh, it sure feels that way sometimes. I’m told you have some information for me and my squad.”

“Ah, yes. The illustrious Seven.”

“We prefer The Seven.”

“Your… Director… contacted my people. Thought you could use a little help. Something about a cult of Sith that needs to be eliminated.”

“That’s correct.”

“At least when the Sith interfere with your business they’re overt about it.”

“We’re in the same business. Imperial Intelligence wants these guys dealt with, they just want to make a show of it.”

Agent Sebastus finally drew his eyes up from his drink.

“So how does the Seven actually come across a mission such as this?”

“The Director told the ministry we’d handle it. Had to jump on the opportunity in fact. With a lack of preparation, you can understand why we might seek the aid of an agent who has information about the area.”

“That… I can understand. So what have you been briefed on so far?”

----------

At the local bazaar, the other six Imperials looked upon the local wares and merchant stands, scouring for anything of interest. While mostly interested in goods, occasionally a trooper would dutifully ask a shopkeeper if they had any information regarding the cult of Sith. Grek of course gave up trying to retrieve information through hand gestures, and just browsed whatever items were for sale. The merchants seemed rather ignorant of any local happenings outside the city limits. After a while, the squad regrouped in the middle of the marketplace.

“You guys find anything out,” Besh asked the group. The others each offered their own version of the word ‘no’.

“This investigation business is harder than we thought,” Cresh admitted.

“Hopefully Aurek’s time with the agent is fruitful.” Dorn commented.

“With Aurek’s penchant for conversation, we may not hear from him for a while,” Besh concluded. “Maybe we should head back to the cantina.”

“Can we wait a while longer?” Esk pleaded. “I think I found a weapons shop I want to check out.”

“One of the stands?” Besh inquired.

“No an actual workshop,” Esk answered.

“I might like… to see this place as well,” Forn chimed in.

“Alright, let’s try it,” Besh said, gesturing for Esk to lead the way.

A short distance away from the open marketplace, Esk delivered the squad to a rather simplistic looking building that seemed to blend in with the surrounding environment. A sign next to the door displayed ‘Weapons’ in numerous languages and scripts ranging from Basic Aurebesh to Huttese.

Esk pressed an archaic buzzer next to the shop’s heavy locked door. As the squad waiting for the door to rescind, they group heard the muffled crash of metallic bits from the depths of the room beyond. When the interior of the building revealed itself, the squad looked in to see a male Devaronian casually leaning against a counter situated in a large circular room. The horned humanoid looked to be trying his best to look casual as he welcomed the Imperials to his shop.

“Welcome. Welcome. Always glad to have forces of the Empire walk in my shop.”

As the squad entered the threshold of the establishment’s main room, the group saw the number of small arms that populated the circular wall that wrapped around them. Where the wall and floor met rests numerous pieces of scrap and small crates of unknown contents.

“We’re procuring supplies for a field mission,” Besh commented.

“Well, I don’t know what I could offer Imperial soldiers,” the merchant stated. “Most my stuff is just for the locals looking for a little self-defense or problem-solving capabilities.”

“Is this your full stock?” Esk candidly asked.

“When the Imperials took the settlement from the Exchange and kicked them out, they imposed a few measures on weapon’s dealings. As in independent dealer, it would be foolish of me to sell any black market items,” the merchant explained with a sly wink. With the advent of this information Esk offered a simple nod to Besh.

“Well, as enforcer of the Empire, we have a duty to remove blacklisted items from the public trade,” Besh coldly explained. “As such, we have the authority to grant a sum of credits to any good-minded merchants who might want to turn over some banned items they may have come across for any of the numerous justifiable reasons.”

The merchant’s smirk widened as he took in the sniper’s words. The merchant maneuvered his hand below the counter to activate switch, and the grinding of mechanical gears built into the walls could be heard coming to life. Previously unseen panels lifted themselves from the wall, folding up toward the ceiling. The pistols and rifles that the squad had previously be looking at were replaced by a wide assortment of powerful and heavy ordinance.

Esk became giddy, and Forn looked impressed in as subtle a way as possible. In silence the squad examined the revealed special stock. Holdout blasters, disruptors, a battledroid, an assault cannon, explosives of all varieties. Feverishly examining the stock, Esk apparently found his sought after prize. The demolitionist picked up the bulky weapon before placing it on the merchant’s counter.

“How much for the scattergun?” Esk bartered. The weapon resembled a bloated rifle, possessing twice the volume of his current weapon and a secondary stabilizing handle closer to the end of the weapon’s large barrel.

“Well, credits are good, but trade is better.”

“Whoa, hey, I don’t think we can just trade in our equipment,” Dorn admitted.

“What does Project Protocol say about it?” Cresh inquired.

“Technically nothing,” Besh answered. “All our limitations generally involve the armor or intelligence. Our weapon’s may be good, but they aren’t unique.”

“But should Esk be trading in his rifle for a… shotgun?” Dorn pondered.

“All the guy said is he preferred trade,” Besh reminded. “Doesn’t mean Esk is going to trade in his rifle.”

“I’m trading in my rifle,” Esk admitted. Besh was forced to cover his visor with the palm of his hand.

“Tactically speaking it is a good choice… for Esk at least,” Forn informed. “He’s never been one for accuracy. He’s something of a scrapper… so a slugthrower with a wide spread would suit him best for a force-sensitive combatant.”

“Ah, but this is no mere slugthrower my well-informed friend,” the merchant interrupted. “While it uses manually loaded shells, it possesses an internal power pack capable of wrapping its bullets with energy, exacerbating light wounds or paralyzing foes. It accepts solid-slug as well as packed-pellet shells, both of which I have a large supply of. It is of the utmost sophistication in archaic design.”

“Esk, you haven’t been officially trained in its usage, you have to reload it constantly, its unorthodox…” Besh began listing.

“Sir, is that a BG… 2 series rifle?” the merchant inquired, gesturing toward the sniper’s weapon. Besh nodded. “I suppose that’s a fine model, for the right job, but might I interest you in this?”

The merchant pointed to a slender rifle placed upon a decorated placard directly behind and above the counter. Besh gazed upon the weapon with intrigue.

“This here, is the Czerka Bolt-Cycler Prime. The epitome of Czerka’s personal weapons manufacturing.” The merchant retrieved the sizable rifle from its mount and carefully handed it to Besh. The weapon stood almost as long as it’s wielder was tall.

“Long ago, Czerka tried to deal with the native sand people in a number of fashions. This rifle was manufactured and refined to the point of perfection, to be given to a local chief as a sign of appeasement. Centuries old, yet still state of the art, with countless kills to its name as it’s changed hands over the generations. Sophisticated scope and targeting systems. Extended barrel conditioned for utmost accuracy.”

“What does it shoot?” Besh inquired.

“Anything you can lay eyes upon,” the merchant chuckled. “It’s a slugthrower like your friend’s. The ‘Bolt’ in the title actually comes from the bolt-action mechanism. Slow re-fire rate, but in the hands of a skilled marksman, a truly devastatingly powerful weapon.”

“So how much for the scattergun, rifle, and ammunition?” Besh asked. Esk clenched his fists in excitement.

“Well, what are you willing to part with?” the merchant bartered. Besh looked to the rest of his squad mates, studying the situation.

“My BG2-T-B, Esk and Cresh can offer their rifles.”

“I can also throw in some grenade,” Esk offered.

“Whoa, wait, my rifle?” Cresh interrupted.

“I know you prefer pistols and that you’re better skilled with them,” Besh commented. “With the situation we’re getting in, I’m not going to have you sacrifice your talent because standard procedure says to use a rifle.”

“Three weapons for two… but my weapons are of much higher value,” the merchant remarked.

“These possess special diagnostic and integrations systems, capable of improving the wielders abilities or allowing them to be placed under automation. Plus, we’ll through in a small sum of credits.”

“That deal... is reasonable,” the merchant admitted.

“Excellent,” Esk stated. “Did you see anything you wanted Forn?” The hunter gave a quick surveillance of the surrounding armament.

“Not much of a selection… for melee combat. You ever heard of a beskad?” Forn asked, directing his attention toward the shopkeeper.

“A what?”

“I thought as much. I’m good for now,” Forn admitted.

“Then let’s get this transaction underway.”
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