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Thread: Star Wars: Tapestry, Volume III

  1. #241
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    A Glimmer

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    Fire poured relentlessly from the turbolaser banks of the two star destroyers, their escort ships, and scores and scores of TIE fighters. Captain Amur cursed under his breath, a guttural chuffing sound in his native language. Although they were already outnumbered, the rebels had been able to hold their own against the initial onslaught, but with the battle now joined by the much-larger Imperial-class star destroyer, the position of the rebel fleet had slipped from tenuous to doubtful, and seemed to be moving quickly down the road to hopeless.

    Three TIEs close on his tail, Amur swung his X-wing around in a corkscrew to avoid a rapidly expanding cloud of plasma where the Allusis had been. Two of the TIEs were not as quick to maneuver, and added their own wreckage to the glowing debris cloud. Amur kicked back hard on the throttle, skipping the X-wing high to vertical and dropping suddenly back down. Amur hadn't actually seen the last TIE fighter blow past him in space, but he was confident enough of his position that as he dropped back down onto his original course, the TIE was directly in his sights. A quick squeeze of the trigger, and Amur was alone in space.

    "Alpha two, I could use a wingman over here," Amur growled into the comlink. He paused, awaiting from Alpha Two that did not come. "Korren? Slade? Hotchi, do you read?"

    In his efforts to evade the TIE fighters and the hail of turbolaser fire from the star destroyers, Amur had drifted out toward the battle's edge and toward the planet. Bringing himself about, Amur suddenly had a clear vantage point of the entire scene of devastation.

    "Alpha fighters," he ordered hopefully, "report in."

    "Alpha four standing by," came one reply.

    "Alpha six standing by," came another.

    More replies continued to trickle in: "Alpha seven, I'm right in the thick of it!" "Alpha ten. I've lost my port engine. Sorry, I'm gonna have to break for base." "Alpha five standing by." "Alpha eight standing by."

    "Ten, just get out of there," replied Amur as he checked his scope. "Eight, can you cover him?"

    "I got him," replied Eight. "Come on, Bannen, don't you die on me."

    Amur continued to review his scope. No sign of Alphas two, three, nine, eleven, or twelve. A wave of grief and loss washed over him. Those were some of his best friends who had gone down. Nearly half his squad, and the battle had just begun. But Amur shook his head, the ripple cascading across his furry shoulders. The time for grief would come later. Besides, maybe some of them were not lost, but had managed to eject in time. There were plenty of locator beacons on Amur's scope, as well, but no time to check them now.

    Coaxing the fighter back up to speed, Amur started making his way back toward the battle proper when a new blip appeared on the scope behind him. "Alpha leader, this is Jackal...er, thirteen, I guess," hailed the new fighter. "Looks like you boys could use a hand up here."

    "Reil!" exclaimed Amur. "All the help we can get, Thirteen. Form up on my wing, and we'll see if we can't rendezvous with the rest of Jackal Squadron."

    "Show me the way, boss," replied Reil. "And let's see how many TIEs we can vape along the way."

    Amur smiled at the other pilot's brashness. Maybe things weren't quite hopeless yet after all.

  2. #242
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    The Waiting

    The rock Kenlan had just thrown clattered into the pool beneath them with a small splash. He followed it up with another, and then, a few seconds later, another.

    "What are you doing?" asked Fi, a slight tone of irritation in her voice. She was sitting against the wall of the cavern, her knees pulled up underneath her chin, and her arms wrapped around her legs. Jyll sat behind her, one arm draped around the smaller woman's shoulders.

    "Waiting," growled Kenlan in reply, standing up from his crouched position near the center of the tunnel. "What's it look like I'm doing?"

    "Well...stop it," insisted Fi.

    "Stop waiting?" asked Kenlan. "Love to. When are you going to make something happen?"

    Fi snorted. "Right. Could you just...do something a little less annoying to pass the time?"

    "What, should I dress up like a bantha and dance like a Twi'lek?" asked Kenlan. "Or maybe grab one of those X-wings we saw up there and spin it around on my finger like a hoverball. We don't all have girlfriends to canoodle with down here to pass the time."

    "I'm sorry," replied Fi. "I'm just nervous. And scared. I guess it's making me a little edgy. It's not helping that we haven't been able to get ahold of anyone on the surface since we came down here."

    "Yeah, there's mithricite ore in these caverns," explained Kenlan. "I noticed a vein of it in the rock as we started down. Bouncing around the subspace signals. We'll probably be out of touch the whole time we're down here. And we're all a little nervous. It's bound to make us a little edgy. Waiting's always the hardest part. I'm scared, too, you know."

    "I just figured you'd done this before," said Fi.

    "What, waited?" asked Kenlan.

    "For a Jedi," explained Fi. "That's what that was all about, back when all this started, right? What Koro and that creepy Jedi ghost thing said about you betraying them. You were a Jedi hunter, weren't you?"

    "I've been a lot of things, Fi," admitted Kenlan. "But yes, from time to time, I have helped the Empire track down Jedi."

    "And murder them," snapped Fi. "Is that why you want to get Tam down here?"

    "Tam was different, Fi," insisted Kenlan. "Tam was always different. It was never supposed to be like this. Tam wasn't a target - I didn't even know he really had Jedi potential! He was supposed to be a quick means to an end. I just had to get off this planet."

    "Well, we're back here now," noted Fi.

    "I've made a lot of mistakes in my life," recalled Kenlan. "I've done a lot of things I'm not proud of. And this whole mess with Tam...well, it's made me realize that this isn't how I want to live my life. I've done a lot of wrong, and I want to make things right."

    Fi looked away. "I just wonder sometimes what my life would be like right now if I had never met you or Tam," she said.

    "Probably a lot more boring," conceded Kenlan. "You wouldn't be sitting in a damp cave right now, but you probably wouldn't be dating one of the most famous actresses in the galaxy, either."

    Fi snorted, but there was a bit of a smile on her face.

    "We can only play the hand we're dealt, Fi," said Kenlan. "And who knows? Your life may not turn out so badly yet."

    "Now you're turning into a philosopher," said Fi.

    "Am I?" asked Kenlan. "I must be getting soft in my old age."

    The immediate tension released, a quiet, nervous stillness hung in the air. Kenlan paused a moment before continuing. "Fi, there's one more thing," he added.

    "I'm already spoken for, Kenlan," joked Fi. "Now isn't the time to profess your undying love. And I don't want to hear about your daddy issues, either."

    Kenlan laughed. "No, it isn't that," he countered. "Besides, if I started in on my daddy issues, we'd probably be here for a month."

    "I certainly don't doubt that," replied Fi.

    "So, yeah, no, it's not that. It's just that...well, there's a guy out there that owes me a lot of money. Name's Olli Saishel. I gave him some work to do back when we were on Mimbos, and I never got a chance to collect. But it's millions of credits he owes me, Fi. Millions and millions. Enough that, well, if I don't make it out of here..."

    "Kenlan, don't talk that way," interrupted Fi. "We're all going to make it through this."

    "If I don't make it out of here, Fi," repeated Kenlan, "I want you to track him down and get the money. You could live comfortably on it, Fi. You and Tam both. And Jyll. And probably Zealos and Cali, if they wanted to."

    "I do pretty well for myself, Kenlan," interjected Jyll. "And Fi's got a very bright future of her own. I think we could do all right for ourselves."

    "Well, it isn't charity," explained Kenlan. "And you can do whatever you want with the money. Keep it, spend it, give it to charity, I won't be around to care anyway. Just...look him up for me, okay? I don't really want Olli to keep it."

    Kenlan paused and looked around awkwardly. "Besides, it's not like I have anyone else to give it to, so how's that for daddy issues?"

    Fi and Jyll both smirked, but made no other reply.

    A sound at the far end of the tunnel drew Kenlan's attention. Instinctively, he reached for the lightsaber still clipped to his belt. "I think I hear someone coming."
    Last edited by Ubiqtorate; 06-15-2013 at 12:42 PM. Reason: Syntax

  3. #243
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    Jyllis Tromso listened carefully as she raised her blaster, while Fi did the same.

    "That's more than one pair of feet," the actress whispered. "Can't tell how many, but definitely more than one."

    It was only then that the trio fully appreciated just how dark it was in this section of the cave. Weighing the options, Kenlan decided that blowing their element of surprise was preferable to near-total blindness, and with a hiss of releasing energy, ignited his lightsaber and held it aloft. The blade filled the damp chamber with an eerie orange glow.

    They all stood nervously, feet planted in determination while Mr. Mace fluttered nearby, and waited.

    They didn't have to wait long. The source of the sound rounded a bend in the corridor at full speed, towering above them and approaching rapidly on its four multi-hinged legs. The yellowish, four-legged arachnoid shape, a native kinrath, screeched chillingly as it launched itself at Kenlan As-Buka, who stood in the centre of the tunnel.

    Fi and Jyll opened fire immediately, peppering the vile creature with blaster bolt after blaster bolt while Kenlan backed up, leaving the girls room to fire. Weakened and surprised, the kinrath stopped still and staggered somewhat, not expecting this kind of resistance. After a couple more shots from the girls, Kenlan sprinted forward and ran his lightsaber through the stunned creature's chitinous chest.

    Its life draining away, the hulking kinrath fell forward and, as it did so, its fangs caught in the folds of Kenlan's tunic, leaving the dead creature's front end to hang there. Dropping his lightsaber, Kenlan grunted as he tried to lift the dead weight that was now attached to his clothing.

    "Little help, here?" he grunted, back straining.

    Jyll and Fi rushed forward, grabbing the dead kinrath by its shoulders, and with much effort, the three of them were able to extricate its fangs from Kenlan's shirt. They dropped the dead beast to the cavern floor, where it hit the ground with a wet slapping sound.

    "That was pretty gross," Fi remarked.

    "If anyone's nearby, they'll certainly have heard that racket," Jyll said.

    Kenlan retrieved his lightsaber from where it lay beside the creature. "Shall we continue on?"

    "Better than hanging around with this thing," Fi agreed.

    With As-Buka's lightsaber activated just in case, they continued on up the tunnel.

    When are you going to make something happen? Kenlan had said.

    Make what happen?

    It was interesting to see Kenlan in action, Fi thought, after all this time. To see him put his money where his mouth was. He'd always had much to say, but suspiciously little to show, since she'd first met him.

    Him and Tam.

    That first awkward meeting, aboard the Ravenstar. That young boy was so lost and alone, having just escaped a tragedy not far from this very spot. They'd set themselves up on Mimbos, Tam bussing tables in a ballroom where Fi entertained, until a bounty hunter and the irritatingly tenacious Koro Bolera had forced them to flee that world. Then to Burista, where strange planetary chemistry compelled Fi to act on impulses she might not otherwise have been aware of. The awkwardness that followed, with Fi and Tam's mutual attraction right out on the table.

    A fight on a Star Destroyer, and the distraction of Ququor space and the mysterious 'Others'. Tatooine, and Fi and Tam's mutual decision to part ways. And, by the Force, didn't they find each other just a few short weeks later on Ryloth? Further temptation in an ancient Sith academy on Gamorr. Then Rothana, and Fi's ill-considered decision to leave Tam for good, without a word. That was probably the beginning of the end, right there. She'd done it to 'protect' him. But hadn't that been the problem all along? An endless parade of well-meaning buffoons trying to 'protect' the boy?

    Time apart. She came to grips with her decision, and hoped he was okay. Then Mull Station, and a surprise visit from Damon Aligeri wherein Fi learned that Tam was likely imprisoned aboard a nearby Star Destroyer. Her daring attempt to rescue him, only to discover his cold lifeless body on a steel gurney. He'd come all the way there to find her, sensing her in the Force, only to be tracked down and tortured to death at the hands of Inquisitor Tremayne.

    The long period of misery and hopelessness that followed. Then Cloud City, and Jyll, and Zealos Reil's revelation that Tam was indeed alive, but more dangerous than any of them could have imagined or feared.

    And now he was here.

    "What's that tune you're humming?"

    "Huh?" Fi asked. She wasn't aware she'd been making any sound at all.

    "That tune," Jyll repeated. "One of yours?"

    "Oh, yes," Fi remembered. "It's a... a piece I wrote for Tam. I've just been calling it 'Tam's Theme', for now."

    "I like it," Jyll smiled. "Does it have any lyrics?"

    "No, no..." Fi shook her head. Even if she wanted to write words to the piece, that would be premature. This story wasn't over yet.

    "Well, it's nice," Jyll replied nervously, looking at the darkness beyond the orange glow of Kenlan's lightsaber. "Hum it some more."

    Fi did as she was asked, and remembered.
    Last edited by I. J. Thompson; 06-17-2013 at 05:52 PM.
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  4. #244
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    “. . . and from there we came to Ord Mantell, where, well, I came under your custody,” Luis continued, hoping that he didn’t look as wretched as he looked—unshaven for half a week now, in ill-fitting clothes, and his hands bound behind his back. At least they had allowed him the courtesy of ten minutes in a ‘fresher before he was marched out along with the ground team. “We had planned to track down a contact who could crack the encryption.” From what he could tell the first wave had cleared out the surrounding area and infiltrated into the countryside, securing the forward command center they were standing in.

    Doule’s eyebrows, which had continued to climb up his forehead throughout the conversation, threatened to disappear into his receding hairline. Clearly he was enthralled at the retelling, just not enthralled into the way which Luis had been hoping for.

    “Your tale is entertaining, but you’re beginning to try my patience,” the captain said, a dry chuckle at his lips. “If you had any way of verifying your story . . . but I’m sure that isn’t possible, is it?”

    Sighing, Luis tried to gesture with his hands, an attempt which he quickly abandoned. “With the situation and resources currently available to me, no. But I can—”

    “A custom-built TIE which crash landed on Vaal, containing a cylinder with top-level encryption and which so happens to mention Dawncaller,” Doule repeated sardonically. “That’s not just a big katarn story, it’s asking me to swallow that you just happened to be in the system at just the right time, just happened to be captured and transferred to the Inun, all the while just happening to be transporting ‘authentic’ intel on Tam.” He spread his hands and smiled mirthlessly. “I’d be a fool to believe you.”

    Believe me, captain, I have a hard time believing everything that’s happened to me this past year too, Luis thought, clenching his hands behind him. But I’m going to try and put this one thing right.

    “Captain, consider something with me. That cylinder was not a routine data cache; it took our best men weeks to uncover the little that we did. Frankly, I’m surprised that you were able to retrieve its authorization codes so quickly.”

    Doule looked away and tugged at the neck of his uniform. “Indeed.”

    I thought so, captain.

    “But if this were an elaborate rouse and a cell had managed to replicate that encryption code, why would we waste it on Tam? In all honesty, neither you nor he is that important. We would have aimed higher.”

    Luis walked over to one of the reinforced windows of the pre-fabricated outpost and leaned against the side. They hadn’t been exaggerating, Tam and Fi; this was a beautiful planet, like a scene out of the vids. But he wondered if it was the last world he’d ever see. “And if you insist in believing that I possess the power to have set up these events, which I assure you I don’t, then why not just kill me now?”

    Before Doule could reply an alarm sounded above them. “Sir, a hostile team has breached the perimeter!” shouted a helmeted officer, peering through a pair of binoculars.

    “Where?” Doule demanded, scooping up a helmet of his own. Three blasts against the durasteel wall answered.

    Doule took the binoculars and took a look for himself. “Where is Dawncaller?”

    “On his way sir.”

    Luis flinched and took to the floor as a blaster bolt impacted the window he had been standing next to. All things considered, this wasn’t the worst thing that could happen. Something’s kept me in Doule’s good grace so far, he mused, trying to crawl to a more sheltered space like a giant inchworm. He hoped whatever that was managed to keep him alive a little longer.

  5. #245
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    Though there was no outward indication, Admiral Harmod reveled in the glory of battle. Even with flawless muffling in the bulkheads of the Edacious, it was as though he felt the relentless beat of staggered turbolaser fire and the flashing reverberation as ineffectual enemy fire was absorbed by the star destroyer’s shields. This was a machine of war, the harbinger of the might and glory of Imperial power. It mattered little to Harmod that his own command ship was dwarfed by the larger and more powerful ISD Pulsar alongside it. The Pulsar, commanded by a General Santiago who, for some undisclosed reason, had an interest in the prisoner aboard the Inun on the planet below.

    So it came as no surprise that, when the combined firepower of the two star destroyers punched through the shields of an assault and cracked it in half, Santiago hailed him on the fleet communicator. “Admiral, my forces are prepared for descent to the surface. I’ll be leaving the Pulsar in the capable hands of my subordinates as I begin the ground assault.”

    “Very good, General. Happy hunting.”

    Indeed,” said Santiago, “and may the Force be with you.”

    Harmod waved to the comm officer to cut transmission. He chuckled at the archaic naval sendoff. If only Santiago had seen the things Harmod had seen, felt what he had felt when he gave himself to the will of the mysterious Tam Dawncaller and his command of that unfashionable Force. Even now, without that all-inclusive synergy, Morning Star Squad was performing admirably. Elation threatened to fill Harmod’s eyes with tears as he watched the aft section of the assault frigate tumble through the void, like the fluke of a great whaladon, spilling fire and fluids and crewmen…



    Keeping his head below the waves of incoming blaster bolts, Captain Doule placed the datapad in his belt pouch. He’d never be able to get to the bottom of what he had discovered on Luis Santiago’s code cylinder if he took a blaster bolt to the head. In the next gap of enemy fire, Doule peered above his cover. There was no obvious Rebel contingent; no mass of forces. Guerilla warfare, then. It wouldn’t be long before they had blasted every last army trooper the Inun had, and all the Imperials would have to show for their efforts would be a few casualties.

    That is until Tam arrived. With his skills in the Force he would probably point his finger cryptically into the forest and elicit screams of fatal agony from the hostiles, or at the very least marshal the remaining troops to victory. Where was that boy? He was the one who had been so eager to reach this planet, even with only minimal repairs to the Inun and the rest of the squad. He was the one who led them right to land at this ruined homestead…

    A stray blaster bolt exploded into sparks on one of the landing struts. That was the last straw for Doule. Hardly heeding the blaster fire, he bounded up the boarding ramp and into the belly of his ship. “Lieutenant,” he said, shouting into his comlink, “where is Dawncaller right now?”

    Stand by, sir.” A moment later the officer responded. “Shipboard sensors tracked him going into the Nexus Room.

    That news relaxed Doule a little, but it did nothing to slow his pace. Rushing into the Nexus Room, he saw that the centrally located sphere was closed. “Tam, I know you can hear me in there. We’re under attack and we won’t last much longer.”

    When the boy didn’t respond, Doule ascended the catwalk stairs and slapped at the controls to open the sphere. “Tam, we’re dying out there!”

    Doule stopped shouting, for the Nexus Sphere was empty…

  6. #246
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    Desperation

    "Defense" had never been a particularly viable part of the Rebel Alliance's military strategy. The fundamentals of Rebel military doctrine were clear: approach undetected, strike hard and fast, and fade before reinforcements had time to arrive. It was less a matter of strategy and more a matter of survival: when facing an enemy with vastly superior resources (and the enemy always had vastly superior resources), it was critical to conserve one's own resources.

    The battle above Dantooine was quickly becoming a war of attrition, and the longer it dragged on, the worse it became for the Rebels. Alphas five and seven had been shot down, leaving Amur with just five fighters left from his original twelve, including himself. Jackal squadron had been hit similarly hard, with the two combined now making up less than a full squadron together. The Allusis had been destroyed, but it had taken two of the Strike-class cruisers and one of the Corvettes with it before it had gone down. The Glorious had been caught in a heavy firefight with one of the Interdictors, and both had limped off to lick their wounds.

    In the middle of it all, however, were the two Star Destroyers, each seeming virtually invulnerable as they had dealt death and destruction to any who had been foolish enough to venture near them. It was becoming clear to Amur that unless something were done to level the playing field, the battle would soon turn into a massacre. "Jackal leader," he stated into his subspace com, "Commander DiMarco, do you read?"

    "Loud and clear, Alpha Leader," replied DiMarco. "We're all gonna get fried if we stay out here much longer, though."

    "My thought exactly," replied Amur. "Commander, do your fighters have any torpedoes left?"

    "Torpedoes?" repeated DiMarco. "It's been more of a dogfight up here, Captain. Most of our guys probably still have a full load. There's not really much up here for a bombing run, unless you were thinking...oh, Sith. Tell me that's not what you were thinking."

    "Between the two of us, we still have nearly a full squadron, Commander," confirmed Amur. "And we have done it before."

    "Yeah, in simulations!" protested DiMarco. "You're not seriously suggesting we can take down a Star Destroyer with an X-wing, are you?"

    "For what have we trained, if not for this?" asked Amur. "If we succeed, it will be our finest moment." He gripped the control stick of the X-wing resolutely. "If we fail, it may still be our finest moment."

    "All right," conceded DiMarco. "What did you have in mind?"

    "I suggest we start with the Victory-class," replied Amur. "They are notorious for a weak spot on the ventral side, just forward of the ionization reactor. If a pilot could approach from beneath and target the reactor..."

    "Hold on, you'd have to knock out the deflector shield generators before you'd even have any approach from beneath," countered DiMarco, "and even if you could, you'd have to approach from head-on - directly in line with the ventral turbolaser batteries."

    "Leave the shield generators to me," insisted Amur. "Keep my squad covered while we destroy the shield generators, and we'll cover you while you deliver the package."

    "All right, but even with covering fire, it's gonna take a precision shot to deliver the torpedoes to where they can take out that reactor," warned DiMarco.

    "I think you have just the pilot for the job..."
    Last edited by Ubiqtorate; 06-22-2013 at 07:01 PM. Reason: Formatting

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    Phazer One, Phazer One. This is Phazer Two. Ready with sitrep. Over.

    “Phazer Two, this is Phazer One Actual. Proceed with sitrep. Over.” Mith pulled a small cable from his datapad and plugged it into his headset. The cable would allow the datapad both to record and produce a dictation of the incoming situation report from Phazer Two.

    Phazer One Actual, I confirm one Imperial vessel is Galaxy Delta. Galaxy Delta--phonetic for GD, meaning “Gear Down”. It was the term to indicate that a spacecraft had in fact touched down. Imperial craft matches description of the Inun, which intel indicates is likely the ship containing our HVT. It also matches the description the orbitals gave of a ship that executed an in-system hyperspace jump recently. I don’t know what they hell they’re talking about, but it’s here now. Mith had heard the report of a ship that had vanished, and the various guesses as to where it had gone. Phazer Two’s report made it apparent that, whatever the ship had done, it was now on the ground on Dantooine. How it had done that wasn’t Mith’s concern. Phazer Two continued with his report. Resistance is light. Troop strength is minimal. A few dozen, at most. They’re dropping faster than Jawas on a bottle of Corellian whiskey. Armor contingent is two Potty Trainers. Mith gave a brief smile. Imperial AT-PTs were often referred to as Potty Trainers by commando and other surface units. Part for the obvious reason that the name contained the letters “PT”, but also because, due to their relatively heavy firepower, they became quick targets for neutralization. Usually, when a PT made its appearance on the battlefield, most weapon fire would automatically redirect to eliminate it quickly. The PT’s light armor made it rather easy to destroy. The joke amongst the groundpounders was that the Imperial driver likely defecated in his skinsuit when enemy fire suddenly focused on him. We are currently delivering harassing fire from a nearby wooded area with a dozen remotes and a handful of locals. Spotter reports an Imperial captain was seen on the ramp, but quickly returned to the ship when a local’s fire got a bit too accurate for him. No sign of the HVT as yet. Please advise at your convenience. Over. Mith stopped to think for a bit. He peered over at Bolen and Galen, who had also been listening in on their headsets. Bolen spoke first.

    “Not sure what to make of this, Mith,” he began. “Sounds like they didn’t expect any resistance, if they brought such a small landing party.” Bolen was right. Considering the vessels currently in-system, the Empire had a lot more in the way of firepower that they could have brought with them.

    “Are there potentially different factions involved here?” asked Gavin. “Maybe this kid’s rogue, or something. This....could get complicated.” Mith rubbed his eyes.

    “It’s possible. But we can’t make judgment calls without more info. For now, we kill Imperials. If there are factions, we do our best to play them against each other and let them kill themselves. Whatever we can work to our advantage.” Mith stopped, took a deep breath, and continued. “Gavin, are you still able to track that comlink in the caves?”

    “For the most part, yes,” replied Gavin. “The mithricite ore is interferring, but the comlink signals still cause resonation off the mithricite molecules, like a tuning fork. I can track the resonation, but it’s not as accurate as tracking the comlink signal itself.”

    “Ok,” responded Mith. “Keep track of the resonation, but we’re not going to go into the caves as I had originally hoped.” Bolen raised an eyebrow.

    “Bottlenecks and winding caves are a force-multiplier, Mith,” he said. “Could give us a big advantage.”

    “Yes, but we need to get a vector on this battle,” answered Mith. “We don’t know exactly what’s going on, and I’d rather not be in those caves if the Imperials decide to target them from orbit. The only advantage we’ll have then is that no one will have to dig our graves.” Mith looked around at the other men of Phazer 1, Able Squad, arrayed around him. He knew they hated indecision. He hated it, too. They’d all rather be working on the mission rather than waiting around. But Mith needed to wait and react to the enemy. They had a small number of commandos, and he didn’t know if the Rebel infantry that was supposedly inbound would make it in-system in time for the impending battle. (Or if they’d even make it to the surface--there was quite a battle going on topside.) There was a fairly extensive network of rebel sympathizers on Dantooine, but Mith had no way of knowing if they would be any use in combat. We need to wait, he thought. Mith had hoped his reunion with Able Squad would be a bit happier and more relaxed occasion. That would have to wait. “Alright. Let’s get ourselves positioned to buy time for this group in the caves, but keep ourselves from getting pinned down somewhere. We need to stay flexible. Get the locals ready to mobilize, and familiarize yourself with the established killboxes. Things could change very quickly on us. Our main objective is to harass and slow down the enemy.” Mith knew Phazer Two was still waiting for his response. “Phazer Two, Phazer Two, this is Phazer One Actual. Over.”

    Phazer One, go ahead. Over.

    “Orders are as follows: continue killing Imperials, but don’t kill any kids. Monitor and report changes in situation. Over.”

    Copy that, Phazer One. Phazer Two out.

    Mith shook his head. Don’t kill any kids. That much was obvious, but Phazer Two knew what he meant. Mith felt the familiar gnawing inside. A reminder that his brother’s murderers were likely still alive somewhere. It was like an itch he couldn’t scratch, and it made him angry. Good, he thought. That anger would serve him well.
    Last edited by DogSolitude; 07-07-2013 at 08:54 PM.

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    Changing the Map

    Doule dashed from the Inun’s boarding ramp just in time to see a lone speeder bike peel away, widely avoiding the main field of combat. The boy piloting it managed to shake off a brief volley of blaster fire, but was otherwise ignored.

    Biting his tongue to keep the invectives at bay, Doule detached another 74-Z model from its wall perch. Taxiing forward, he noticed Luis Santiago below, carefully working to squeeze free of his binders. “You hop on the back,” he said to the prisoner, “and I’ll take off those binders.”

    “And where are we going?”

    With a finger toward the horizon, Doule said, “Tam just took off that way.”

    Luis wasted no time in clambering up to the top of the wide boarding ramp. Careful to make sure they were well clear of stray blaster fire, he held his wrists out to Doule. After the captain had removed the binders, casting them aside, Luis ventured to ask, “A blaster might be handy too…”

    A sudden ache blossomed in Doule’s chest, the memory of an old wound he’d received the last time he’d allowed a prisoner the use of a sidearm. Still, he reached into a small satchel slung over the back of the bike, producing from within a respectable holdout. “So long as you keep it pointed at Rebels and not at my back…”

    As Luis settled onto the back of the speeder, Doule fired up the power cell, experimentally ran the steering vanes through their paces, then punched the throttle to full and darted out from under the Inun. Once they had clearance, he pressed the altitude pedals for maximum gain and soared above his fighting men.

    A new pain filled Doule’s chest now, but different from the phantom ache of remembered injuries. It was guilt now. The Inun’s forces were being slaughtered. These Rebel soldiers, motley and ragtag as they doubtless were, showed great skill and tenacity in their hit-and-fade strategies. He would have to remember to instruct his men to adapt to that in the future.

    If any of them even had a future...

    “Hey!” Luis shouted, getting Doule’s attention. He pointed skyward. “Friends of yours?”

    From the ground, a Star Destroyer doesn’t look like much, really just a bright spot in the sky that hardly conveys its iconic triangular shape. But when that bright spot emits a shower of meteors that arc downward and resolve into landing shuttles, troop ships, and walker barges, the limitless might of the Empire is demonstrated to spectacular effect. “Yes,” Doule said, unable to suppress his smile, “they’re friends…”

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    The first volley tore down through the sky, clapping like bolts of green thunder as they rained onto the battlefield below. Whipping his head around, the doctor saw a cluster of the blasts bury themselves around the Inuns perimeter, sending white-clad and camouflaged soldiers alike diving for cover. The term “acceptable losses” comes to mind, Luis thought bitterly as he tore his eyes away.

    Without warning Doule threw the speeder into a steep dive, presumably after Tam’s own 74-z, sending Luis’s stomach somewhere around his shoulders. He wrapped his arms tightly around the captain’s waist, squinting into the blinding wind.

    “Where is he?” Luis shouted, barely able to hear his own voice.

    Doule, who had the sense to don a pair of goggles at least, shot him back a questioning glance.

    “Tam!” Luis shouted again, this time right into the officer’s ear. “Can you see him?”

    The imperial nodded, pointing toward their 2 o’clock. Half-shielding his eyes with one hand Luis could barely make out a speeder-shaped blur traveling across a bigger gold-brown blur. “Where are you going, kid?” Luis asked himself, “Where would he—”

    “Hold on!” Doule roared. Luis clamped his arms around the captain again as the speeder began to buffet back and forth. He heard two blaster bolts from under him and flinched as tiny bits of gravel and dust bit at his face. Up ahead a gold-brown blur materialized into a cliff face barreling toward them.

    “Captain!”

    Doule yanked at the controls, sending the speeder into a barely-controlled skid before gunning the throttle. Luis could hear the engine screaming in protest as the speeder fought to right itself. Yelling, Doule heaved the speeder back on course and the tiny vehicle shot forward on an upward incline.

    Feeling the speeder losing speed, the doctor loosened his grip and watched as the ground fell away from below them. Speeders could gain altitude, but it left them so exposed that there was usually no reason to unless . . .

    “Did you see where he went?” Doule demanded, pulling them around in a lazy circle about ten meters above the ground. The “cliff” had been a large outcropping of rocks, one of many which lay in the valley in front of them, like gargantuan pebbles strewn by a giant. To their right there were large field of some sort of crop while the terrain to their left climbed up toward a small mountain.

    Luis squinted. He couldn’t have gone far, though it would be easy to keep relatively hidden in the rocks. Besides, this was Tam’s home turf; he’d know where to run.

    “Bring us forward, I think I saw something along the edge of that field,” Luis said, gesturing toward one of the outcroppings, perhaps three-hundred meters distant, dotted with small, brushy trees. Scouring the area as they drifted closer, Luis did a double take as one of the trees began to sway and then crept down the rock face to a new position.

    Luis reached back and wrapped his fingers around the holdout’s tiny grip. “Sir, we have contacts.”

    “Where?” Doule asked, looking back over his shoulder. Luis gestured toward the outcropping again, pointing with his blaster. Doule swore. “I see them,” he said, easing the speeder slowly to a lower altitude.

    Suddenly the bike stopped descending. “Wait!” Doule said, hunching over the speeder’s controls.

    Three of the trees had leveled what looked suspiciously like long-barreled blasters toward some target to their left. Lining up their sights, in all likelihood, and hopefully not on what Luis thought they were aiming at. Holding his breath, Luis grimaced as he made out the unmistakable whine of another speeder bike further down the valley. The three trees seemed to tense as the 74-Z came into view. Its rider, smaller than what the speeder was designed for, was clad in black and Luis could make out a flash of sandy blonde hair on his head.

    Doule revved the engine, kicking the speeder forward. “No. . . no!”

    The doctor gritted his teeth, waiting for the three shots to sound.

    They didn’t come.

    Seconds after surging forward, the imperial pulled the bike to a stop and the two watched Tam’s speeder scream past the distant outcropping untouched.

    “Why didn’t they shoot?”

    Doule glanced back, nodding at Luis’s drawn blaster. “I don’t know. Let’s go find out.”
    Last edited by Fingon; 08-05-2013 at 02:31 AM.

  10. #250
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    Coda

    The grotto was… different. Not in any physical way, of course. No tectonic activities had shifted walls or opened new cracks, at least nothing obvious from the cave’s small, damp mouth. No, the difference was something beyond this physical. This cavern was… tight, as though the air was thick, pregnant with the metaphoric humidity and adrenaline crackle of destiny. It was as though a living beast swallowed those inside and propelled them onward with peristaltic inevitability.

    The rain had made the steep ramp dropping into the darkness muddy and treacherous. Several footprints broke up the smooth, wet surface, long paths indicating where those who had entered had slid downward. The tracks continued inward until the mud gave way to bare rock and they were no longer visible. Three pairs of feet were clear, but that didn’t mean that more couldn’t be somewhere in the cave as well.

    Deeper within the cave, a new sensation insinuated itself upon the environment: the stench of kinrath. They were no doubt more active at this time, when outside storms tend to drive animals to seek shelter in caves like this one. The massive arachnoids were no threat of course, and at a single exercise of will would keep them far enough away.

    But there was another sensation in the air as well, wafting through the tunnels as a smell does, but more ephemeral in nature. This was the residue of mounting excitement, a flurry of fear and aggressive action that resolved into regret and disgust. However briefly, battle had happened down here.

    And that. Right there. A sound echoed through the tunnel. A hummed melody, strangely familiar even though Tam had never heard it before…



    Fi finished her melody and slowly opened her eyes. Jyll had sat on the ground. Her eyelashes had grown thick and heavy with tears. Kenlan had backed up to lean against a rocky table jutting from the wall, and had propped the still ignited lightsaber on his lap so he could rest his arm and take in the music. Nobody said anything about the beauty of Fi’s composition; nobody had to. They let the spirit of her music hang in the air, holding back the fearful darkness as effectively as did Kenlan’s saberlight.

    “There’s room for a coda,” Fi explained, “but like I said, I don’t know how it ends yet.”

    “My vote is for a major chord,” said Kenlan. “You know, something with a happy and satisfying resolution.”

    Fi smiled. “I hope so.”

    Jyll rose to her feet. “Well, so long as we don’t see any more of those—AAAGGH!!”

    Fi and Kenlan leapt to their feet as well, spinning to see what it was that had caused Jyll to shriek and point like a frightened pylat. It was not another Kinrath, but a humanoid, still boyish and gangly in build despite his obvious growth spurt.
    “Tam…” The word hung in the air, dashing away the warm glow that the music had brought as Tam Dawncaller stepped into the pallid orange light…

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    Alive!

    Of course, Fi had learned days ago that Tam was alive. And she'd understood this, logically, to be true. What reason would Zealos Reil and Cali Bellum have to lie? But she had never realized, until this moment, how much difficulty she'd had in reconciling that information with the unshakeable image of the boy's cold, lifeless face... his chilled body lying on a table in the bowels of Inquisitor Tremayne's Star Destroyer, Interrogator.

    And now, the young orphan from this remote world, Dantooine, appeared to be commanding Star Destroyers of his own. He even wore clothing reminiscent of the Imperial uniform. He wore it well. He was taller now, and fuller, though still boyish in form. What was not boyish was his stance, stiff and menacing, and his face, upon which was an expression of barely-contained fury.

    But under the fury, something more. Like mistrust, but... different. It was as though he thought, as his eyes burned holes into Fi's, that he might be looking at some sort of facsimile.

    An impostor.

    "Tam," Fi said again, trying to smile, and failing. "You're... you're alive..."

    The boy stood in tense silence for a moment as he took in the trio. Then, he opened his mouth and inhaled to speak.

    But before he could do so, a small, round puff of white fur flew toward him, chirping excitedly...
    Last edited by I. J. Thompson; 09-03-2013 at 12:33 PM.
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    Tam's eyes softened as the chirping fabool floated toward him. "Mr. Mace!" he exclaimed spontaneously. "How did you...no." The eyes hardened again as he stared down the tunnel at Fi. "This is another trick. But that won't happen again this time. You won't deceive me again. I'll make sure of it!"

    "Tam, what are...what are you talking about?" stammered Fi.

    "I killed you!" seethed Tam. "I killed you once before, and I'll do it again!"

    "I can't allow that to happen, Tam," interjected Kenlan. "If you want to hurt her, you'll have to come through me first."

    "You!" screamed Tam, recognition setting in for the first time. "Is that it? Is this all your doing?"

    "Tam, you don't understand..."

    "I understand enough!" insisted Tam. "I understand you abandoned me on Temen III. And I should have known I'd find you here with her. But that was your plan all along, wasn't it? You turned her against me! And now...now I can destroy you both!"

    With a flash of red lightsaber, Tam charged. Red met orange as Kenlan parried the first blow with agility that belied his advanced age. Tam swung again and again, raining down a flurry of fiery blows that were deflected with ease.

    Stepping back into a slight crouch, Tam surveyed his opponent carefully. "I sense nothing of the Force in you," he concluded. "Nothing! You're not a Jedi! You never were!"

    "Tam, I'm sorry," admitted Kenlan. "I never meant to harm you. I should never have deceived you."

    "You took everything from me!" cried Tam. "You should have left me here in these tunnels. Is that why you brought me back here? So you could remind me that I was a weak little boy. Well, that's not me anymore. I have the Force, and that makes me stronger than you. I hate you!" With a primal scream, Tam unleashed a fury of electric fire from the tips of his fingers, hurling the bolts at Kenlan.

    Kenlan stood at the ready, his raised lightsaber absorbing the bolts harmlessly. Tam released another volley, which the lightsaber again absorbed.

    "How are you doing that?" asked Tam.

    "You have a lot to learn, Tam," replied Kenlan. "You have talent, yes, but you'll find that's no substitute for wisdom and experience. Had you stayed with me..."

    "What could you ever have taught me?" scoffed Tam. "You're just an old man who can't even feel the Force."

    "You could have learned patience, at least," quipped Kenlan. "There is more to being a Jedi than simply abusing the Force. Instead you chose the quick and easy path."

    "I chose power!" countered Tam. "I chose to learn from those who could actually teach me something more than cheap tricks and parlor games. With the Force, I can destroy a hundred of you. A thousand of you!"

    "And yet, here we are," replied Kenlan.

    As Tam glared, Kenlan looked back with just a hint of a smirk. Tam charged again with furious blows from high above. Kenlan kept his own saber raised high, parrying the hammer blows again and again. Slowly, Kenlan pushed Tam back until his heel struc a rock. The slip in balance was enough for Kenlan to deliver a swift kick with his booted foot into the center of Tam's chest. The kick sent Tam reeling onto the floor of the cavern, his lightsaber clattering harmlessly into the dirt a meter or two away.

    "Tam, come back," pleaded Kenlan, the tip of his lightsaber pointed at the boy's chin. "Remember who you are. Remember what your life was like before you came into this cave. It was the Empire who took everything from you, not me."

    "Tam died in this cave that day!" retorted Tam. And yet there was a flicker of doubt in his voice. After all, Master Kenlan had a point. The massacre at the homestead, Tam fleeing into these caves to seek shelter...that had all been the Empire's doing. "No matter," said Tam finally. "I can start it all over, right here where it began. I erased Owara, and I can erase all of you. And then when I come out of these caves, there will be no more Tam Dawncaller. I'll say Tam Dawncaller was a weak little boy who died in a cave. And when I emerge from this cave, I shall be known as Darth...Victus." Reaching out with the Force, Tam pulled the lightsaber back into his grasp. Brushing Kenlan's lightsaber aside, he leapt to his feet and again charged the man, death raining down from the sky.

  13. #253
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    Fiola Shaku unconsciously holstered her blaster as a terrified Mr. Mace fluttered into her right hand and trembled there, while her left arm was gripped by an equally terrified Jyllis Tromso. Had Fi expected a martial display such as this? She didn't know. But she certainly hadn't expected a Tam so changed, so enraged... so frightening.

    Owara?

    'Darth Victus'?


    The names were alien to Fi. As alien as the blue lightning that had erupted, like magic, from the boy's fingertips. And, along with them, three more alien words:

    I killed you!

    Tam had believed she was dead? Just as Fi had believed -had known!- that he was dead. And now Tam was an agent of the Empire. Through the terror and confusion there in the cave, there was only one common link that Fi could see.

    Tremayne.

    "Tam," Fi croaked timidly.

    Jyll gripped Fi's arm desperately, forcing the musician to look at the actress.

    "Fi, love, be quiet! Don't provoke him!"

    Fi looked at Tam, the boy's rage augmenting his strength exponentially as he hammered away, lightsaber in hand, at the increasingly exhausted Kenlan As-Buka. She felt Mr. Mace, terrified, tremble in her right hand.

    "Tam," she cried out, "we've been tricked! Betrayed!"
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    Cue Imperial March

    With a well placed kick, Tam put some distance between Kenlan and himself so he could spit words at Fi. “You don’t know the half of it!” He swung his lightsaber until it pointed at the man who was picking himself up off the cave floor. “This man offered to help me! He planted ideas in my head! Just like everyone else has! It was all just a long con and…” Tam’s eyes widened with realization, his energy blade now accusingly angled at Fi, “…and you were part of it!

    “I see it all now. The Imperial attack, the slaughter of my parents: that was all to flush me out. To make me vulnerable. Then you two…” Again, Tam waved his lightsaber between the two people he had loved most in the galaxy since his parents had died. “You were both there to catch me when I fell.”

    “That’s right, Tam,” Fi insisted, her eyes welling. “We just wanted to help you.”

    Shut up! The words erupted from Tam, erupting with crackling hatred that was more physical—more real—than lightning itself. Undirected, it disappeared harmlessly into the walls of the cave. “Ever since that time, people have been trying to teach me, to use me, to harness me, to ‘help’ me. Only now do I realize that you were just the first.”

    “That’s not it at all, Tam!” Fi clutched instinctively to Jyll and Mr. Mace. Her words were a hair shy of a sobbing shriek. “We loved you, Tam. I loved you! I still do!”

    Heedless of the woman’s pleading, Tam gazed down at her, his eyes wide and glistening. “I don’t know if that Fiola Shaku holo I saw in New Garang was planted by you and Kenlan to ensnare me, or if you just took her form to charm me. It doesn’t really matter any more.”

    Kenlan, on his feet now, took a step forward. “Tam, what holo? We don’t know what you’re talking about.”

    Tam spun around to face him. “I may not have realized it then, but I’ve sensed deception in you from the first word you said to me. You’ll hold your lying tongue now or I’ll rip it from your mouth with a gesture!

    “This ends now.” Tam turned back to Fi, approaching her with slow, deliberate steps. “The long con is over. The chrysalis of pain and deceit must be cast away, and the dark tapestry that’s weaved around poor little Tam Dawncaller will swaddle a newborn Lord of the Sith!”

    “No, Tam!” Fi’s tears flowed freely now. “This is all Tremayne’s work. He’s twisted your memories so they work against you. I don’t know what he’s told you, what promises he’s made, but you have to see that he’s betrayed you.”

    “Yes,” said Tam, yellow fire evaporating the tears from his eyes, “he’s betrayed a trust, but not mine. I never gave him any trust in the first place. It’s you he betrayed. I don’t know what he’s told you, or the promises he’s made to you, but I’m sure he never told you this would be your reward.

    “Look at you, clinging to that fabool like you cling to my desecrated childhood.” A wicked smile split Tam’s face. “It’s almost as if you still think you can fool me!”

    “I killed you once, Fiola Shaku—or whoever you are—and I will kill you again!”

    Raising his blood-red lightsaber, Tam finally brought it down with a lethal slash…



    The Rebel starfighters had proven to be a devastating force. Admiral Harmod had shouted orders, both to his bridge officers and to the captains of the rest of the squad—sometimes only moments before those captains were vaporized in their ships’ explosive death throes—but now he was done. All the stratagem had fled from Harmod’s mind, and he could only watch dumbly as these upstart insurgents chewed away at those under his command. Even Santiago and the Pulsar seemed too preoccupied with ground actions to notice that the rest of Imperial forces were being routed.

    “Tam, where are you?” Despite himself, Harmod had to admit that the desperate words that escaped his lips were sincere. He longed for that feeling when a young mystic wrested his mind and used it as a weapon. If the boy didn’t return from his business on the ground soon, he may not have any more weapons at all here in orbit.

    “Admiral!” A communications officer demanded attention amid the din of the bridge. “We’re receiving a transmission on Imperial military channels.”

    “What is it?”

    In answer, the crewman got to his feet and pointed to the bridge’s portside viewport. There, from some extra-dimensional direction, emerged a great wall of hull plating, turbolasers, and missile batteries. Harmod gazed in awe, wonder, and a renewed sense of triumph as an eclipsing shadow spread over the embattled ships.

    The premier command ship of the Imperial Navy—Darth Vader’s new personal flagship—had arrived…

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    In hindsight, Jyllis Tromso couldn't really be blamed for not knowing what a lightsaber was capable of.

    Indeed, her sudden, uncharacteristically selfless impulse to protect her friend and lover, though ill-advised, was to be commended. But there would be no medals, no speeches. As the actress flung herself across Fiola's trembling frame, Tam Dawncaller's lightsaber entered the left side of her thorax, beneath the arm, with a sickening hum. The young man, realizing his mistake, yanked the glowing red blade from Jyll's body with lightning reflexes before it could complete its fatal swing and cleave the woman in two... but the damage was done.

    There wasn't a scream. Just a sad, resigned exhalation as the holostar, her instantly-cauterized wound smoking grotesquely, crumpled into Fi's lap and lay still.

    And then there was silence, there in that cave.

    Dawncaller, Darth Victus, looked on in confusion... his anger still present, but sent spinning in unknown directions as he beheld his grisly handiwork. Kenlan As-Buka, for his part, lowered his head in sympathy. The fabool, Mr. Mace, instinctively retreated into the darkness.

    And there was Fi.

    There emerged a sound, there, in that cave. A vocalization, technically, but nothing like the boy, the old man, or the fabool had ever heard. It was a subterranean, guttural growl that grew in volume, pitch, and intensity into an anguished, wailing shriek. It came not only from the girl, from Fi, but from the galaxy itself. From what might have been, and what should have been. A wretched wail of utter regret and loss.

    It was quiet, after, for a time. Until,

    "Tam," Fi sobbed. "Tam... you've killed her!"
    Last edited by I. J. Thompson; 10-09-2013 at 05:45 PM.
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