Target Practice

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Halomek
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Target Practice

Post by Halomek » Thu Aug 26, 2010 11:06 am

13 ABY

“There it is,” Officer Radna reported. “The distress beacon is still active, but I’m not getting any response to my hails.”

Colonel Hagan nodded stoically as he looked at the sensor data. They had found the Empire’s lost ship, the Parana, and that should have filled him with satisfaction, but he felt only apprehension. The Parana was a Rendili StarDrive Light Corvette that had been an unremarkable customs vessel patrolling the Core until very recently. Only a day ago it had sent out a brief distress call before the transmission was cut off. Very little had got through; something about a killer on the loose before the com officer had let out a death cry and the message ended.

Now they had found it and remarkably it looked like it was still docked with the last ship it had captured - some beat up Corellian freighter, but Hagan couldn’t imagine any common smuggler eliminating an entire crew of a light corvette. Somewhat unsettlingly, the viewports on both ships were dark. Perhaps whatever had caused the apparent massacre on the Parana had suffered a mortal wound in the process and was also dead.

“Any lifesigns?” he asked.

Radna shook his head. “I’m sorry, sir, but electromagnetic radiation in this part of space makes it difficult for more precise scans. It’s why smugglers often travel through here.”

Hagan nodded again. “Begin docking procedures with the Parana.” He looked over at the stormtrooper captain on his right. “Captain Mazik, prepare your troopers for combat. If whatever caused this is still on one of those ships, then I want it taken alive for questioning - however, if it proves too troublesome, then you have permission to eliminate it.”

Mazik nodded before saluting and turning to assemble his soldiers. “Yes, sir.”

***

On the Parana a lone figure was seated in a blaster burned command chair. He watched with detached interest as an Imperial retrieval squad began their docking procedures. They were piloting a VT-49 Decimator, which was a quality Imperial transport: well armed, well armored, and quite fast for its size. It was a better prospect than he had been expecting to attract and for that he allowed himself a smile. The expression quickly faded as he picked up his helmet and fastened it into place.

He had read that the Empire’s stormtroopers were once based on a Mandalorian template from one Jango Fett. It was such a foolish thing to do. Copies were never as a good as the originals. Just as the stormtroopers were undoubtedly inferior to Jango, Jango had undoubtedly been inferior to the original Mandalorians. With such serious flaws in the stormtrooper design, it was no wonder they went down so easily. He could appreciate their professionalism in battle and the loyalty they routinely displayed for their Galactic Empire, but that was all he credited to them.

The helmeted individual stood as he heard the clamp of metal that indicated the ship was about ready to open the docking hatch. There would be at most six stormtroopers on the VT-49. This would be quick.

***

Hagan clutched his destroyed shoulder and tried to fight the urge to black out from the pain. He had to slump against a bulkhead as he stared at the armored individual standing before him, blaster leveled. He wore what appeared to be at first glance the armor of the fabled Mandalorian supercommandos, so Hagan had thought it might be Boba Fett or perhaps Cadden Blackthorne.

But no, that wasn’t quite right…

The black and blue armor was different in ways that were mostly subtle, but one distinct feature stood out above all others. The T-visor that was so emblematic of the Mandalorians was not featured in the helmet. Instead this Mandalorian warrior had a visor that resembled an upside down triangle with all the sides curved inward. Hagan had never seen it’s like before.

And he knew it was the last thing he was going to see before he died.

His blaster arm was shot - literally - and he was the last of the crew still breathing, so Hagan decided his last act would be to die without any lingering questions. He wouldn’t beg for mercy and he didn’t think this individual would grant it to him anyway. “Who are you?” he asked. “Why have you done this?”

The figure seemed to pause just a hairsbreadth from pulling the trigger. A long second passed before he spoke. “I am Solan Phota,” he finally answered, “and this is merely target practice.”

All Hagan saw next was a bright flash and then eternal dark.

OOC: OOC thread can be found here: viewtopic.php?f=2&t=9530

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Re: Target Practice

Post by Halomek » Fri Aug 27, 2010 12:43 pm

14 ABY

The war with the Xen’Chi started off as a surprise and quickly began to go sour for the galaxy. No one could have expected the intergalactic invaders to attack with such force or with such numbers. The denizens of the galaxy quickly found a reason to curse their name, but Solan had found it amusing. What’s more, he had looked forward to the chance to engage them in battle, and though there had been more than enough opportunities, he forced himself to wait for something specific before he engaged them.

Late in the year of 14 ABY, the thing he waited for so patiently finally manifested itself: a call out to all available mercenaries to fight the Xen’Chi - for money. The call came from the Empire, no surprise there. The Empire was usually the more steady employer for people like him and they were receiving the brunt of the invasion. Really, the only thing that surprised Solan was how long it took the Empire to place the job.

The number of mercenaries who responded to the Empire’s offer had been surprisingly large. Solan had seen passion in a lot of their eyes, the passion that came with loss. The Xen’Chi were indiscriminate in their attacks. More bloodthirsty and savage than even Palaptine’s Empire had been at it’s peak. More importantly, unlike the Empire, there was never any negotiating with the Xen’Chi.

All of the mercenaries who took up the Empire’s offer became grouped under a project codenamed Operation Bad Neighbor. There were about a hundred mercenaries in all, grouped under the direct command of one General Teron Helstone. He was a big man with thinning black hair with a hook nose. One glance was all anybody needed to know that Helstone had seen his share of action. There were no visible scars, but the general exuded a certain menace that could only come from the coldest of killers. Solan was familiar with a little of Helstone’s military record; this was a man who didn’t let ethics or notions of honor find their way onto the battlefield. This was a man who would gladly crush the throat of a child beneath the heel of his boot if he thought they were the enemy.

A good man to have in a war. A man who thrived in the company of death.

He was also not a man to mince words. “You’re all scum,” he opened his speech. His voice rough, like auditory sandpaper. “If this comes as a surprise to any of you, then maybe you should have joined the bleeding heart Republic when this war started so you could pat yourself on the back and call yourself noble. You didn’t. That fact that you’re here now, only fighting to save this galaxy so you’ll get paid, means you’re scum.”

“I also don’t care that you’re scum,” he continued. “As long as you know how to fight, follow orders, and can give me victory, you can be Sith in disguise. Those three principles are what I care about. Any man, woman, or thing that breaks them under my command will be broken in return. Nothing gets in the way of our victory. You only retreat when I say so.”

He suddenly pointed out into the crowd at Solan. “You, Mandalorian, I know your kind has a code of honor. If the only thing between you and victory was a Xen’Chi with a knife at a hostage’s throat, what would you do? Are you going to let honor get in the way?”

“Victory brings honor,” Solan replied without hesitation. “I’d shoot the hostage and then I’d shoot the Xen’Chi. The hostage gave up the right to life the moment they decided to become a victim.”

“And what if I was the hostage?” Helstone asked.

Solan shrugged almost imperceptibly. “I see no reason to answer differently. Death is a better fate for a commander than being in the hands of the enemy.”

Helstone smiled. “That’s what I like to hear.”

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Re: Target Practice

Post by Halomek » Mon Aug 30, 2010 8:40 am

Rattatak

The weeks that followed Helstone’s speech saw all participants of Operation Bad Neighbor transferred to a secret Imperial base on the barren world of Rattatak, in the Outer Rim. Rattatak barely had the facilities for supporting space travel and their constant backwater wars made it an undesirable location for most. Their brief period of peace was long forgotten after the disappearance of Asajj Ventress during the Clone Wars.

It was the perfect cover for a base. The few natives who ventured too close were instantly and mercilessly destroyed by superior Imperial firepower. Outdated blasters and scrap landspeeders were no match for Imperial walkers and tanks.

Their reason for being at the Rattatak base instead of being sent immediately into the war was so Helstone could organize them into a coordinated fighting force. Through drills and other exercises meant to test their skills, the various mercenaries were being grouped by Helstone into squads of varying size.

Solan found himself reporting to the general’s office after two weeks of this training.

The interior of Helstone’s office was austere; all sharp edges and barren walls. Helstone sat behind a metal desk. Aside from the one chair the general occupied, there were no other places to sit, so Solan was forced to stand.

“I’m impressed with your abilities, Mandalorian,” Helstone said to him. “I thought you might be one of the troublemakers after you refused to remove your armor for the physical inspection. If you were an enlisted man, I wouldn’t have stood for such insubordination, but for you I let it pass. Do you know why I allowed you to keep it on?”

“I was curious about that,” Solan admitted. “I didn’t expect a man of your reputation to agree to my stipulation after so little trouble.”

Helstone grinned coldly. “Since I think it goes without saying that you’re a man who knows how to keep a secret, I’ll let you in on one: Operation Bad Neighbor is largely a farce. Most of the mercs out there are expendable gutter trash. If you had failed to live up to the expectations that armor implies, you would have been labeled the same as them. So you see, it didn’t matter all that much if you were insubordinate or not. Either you’d be a warm body for the meat grinder or you’d be skilled enough to earn the right for an eccentricity or two.”

“You plan to put most of these mercenaries on the front lines to soften up the Xen’Chi for your forces,” Solan guessed. “This training was simply a way for you to separate the truly skilled from the braggarts.”

Helstone didn't deny it. “The Xen’Chi will be doing the Empire a favor by eliminating all this scum and the scum will be contributing to a worthwhile cause for once in their miserable lives. It’s win-win as I see it.”

Solan nodded in understanding. “And you tell this to me… why? I can keep a secret, as you say, but that doesn’t guarantee that I’ll keep your secret. What makes you believe I won’t rally the other mercenaries as soon as I walk out of this office and have them raze this base to the ground?”

Helstone didn’t look worried. “Because I can see right through that armor of yours, Mandalorian, all the way into that black hole where your heart should be. I know a like-minded individual when I meet one. You don’t care about those people any more than I do. All you care about is proving yourself on the battlefield. While I have no doubt you would enjoy trying to take this base down, you know I can offer you far worthier challenges. More importantly, destroying this base won’t get you paid.”

“More importantly,” Solan corrected, using Helstone’s own terminology to drive home his point, “I never quit a job once I take it. I signed on to kill Xen’Chi for money. As long as you still intend to follow through on that, you could group me with those designated for the ‘meat grinder’ for all I care. It actually sounds more entertaining than what you’ve described for me so far.”

“Oh, you’ll have your fill of combat, I promise you that,” Helstone assured him. “You’ll meet the rest of your squad in bunker 47. Get to know them well, because you’ll be leading them from now on. Dismissed.”

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Re: Target Practice

Post by Halomek » Wed Sep 01, 2010 11:19 am

Bunker 47 was just like every other bunker on the base. Squat, trapezoidal, and otherwise built to withstand all kinds of punishment in case of attack. The windows, if they could so be called that, were barely more than slits spaced at even measurements. The walls were so thick that they even dulled the thermal imaging function of his helmet. All he could tell was that there were warm bodies inside the bunker, but he couldn’t tell how many or even where inside the bunker they were.

So it was with more than a little surprise that he felt himself get grabbed by large muscular arms and forcefully hauled inside as soon as he opened the door. Before Solan had much time to register what had just happened, he realized that he was trapped in a tight squeeze against the large body that held him tight. He was turned outwards, away from his assailant, with his arms trapped tightly against his side by the hold. His attacker was apparently so tall that the hold lifted Solan completely off the ground.

He tried to free himself, but discovered that whoever had him was much stronger than he was. He couldn’t budge an inch. Without hesitation, Solan slammed his helmeted head backwards in the hopes of smashing it into the unknown attacker’s face. He felt the satisfying clank of a hit, but it didn’t seem to faze the person holding him. Undaunted, Solan tried again and again, snapping his head back harder and harder in the hope of stunning this person, but the hold held strong.

“It’s no use, Mandalorian,” a female voice said to him. “You could do that all day to Akron and all you’d have to show for it would be a sore neck. Rolani are quite resilient.”

Solan focused his attention back to the front to see an athletic looking blond woman glaring at him and pointing a slugthrower at his face. She wore a tan jumpsuit that fit her well. Her hair was cut short in a style that suggested she didn’t like it to get in her way during combat. Around her neck was a black choker.

But the most distinctive feature about her was something she was missing. At first Solan had assumed it to be a trick of the light, but as the woman moved closer he could see that she clearly lacked a mouth of any kind. There was simply nothing there. No hint of anything resembling a mouth, just smooth skin.

“I’m hardly without options,” Solan retorted, keeping the surprise out of his voice at her lack of a mouth. He was sure the voice had come from her, but how was that possible without any apparent vocal organ? “And you’re deluding yourself if you think that antique will pierce my beskar'gam.”

“Mandalorian armor is well designed and manufactured, but it’s not without it’s vulnerable spots,” she retorted as she shifted her aim to his neck. Solan took note that the voice he heard before emanated from the choker she wore. “I can assure you that masters of Mokurai-tsu never miss their targets.”

Solan was contemplative for a moment. Mokurai-tsu sounded vaguely familiar, but he couldn’t place any of the details. Regardless, he wasn’t in the best position to test this woman’s claims. He was reasonably certain she’d be able to hit her mark at her current distance. He stared at her, looking for some weakness he could exploit, but her eyes and posture gave nothing away and her hands were incredibly steady. If she was bluffing, she was doing an incredibly good job of it.

Finally he spoke: “I suggest you explain just what it is you think you’re doing before things get ugly.”

“You’re to be our squad leader, isn’t that correct?”

Another surprise. “Helstone has already sent word?”

“An educated guess,” she corrected him. “You can thank Dirzen for putting the pieces together. All you did was confirm them.” She gestured with her free hand to an alien that stood in the crowd that had gathered behind the woman.

The man in question was built like most typical humanoid male species, but his face removed any doubt of him being Human. His eyes were black ovals without any apparent iris. The left one had an eyepatch covering it. Dirzen’s hair was styled in long dreadlocks. When he smiled at the mention of his name, he revealed a mouth full of pointy dagger-like teeth.

“Hisrol,” Solan identified the species. “Natural masters of intuition. That explains it.”

“So you know of my people,” Dirzen stated with something akin to bemusement. “I am impressed. We’re not very numerous off of the homeworld. I must admit that you, my friend, are quite the mystery. Your helmet design first caught my eye, but it was your refusal to remove your armor that really got my interest. You didn’t even take off your helmet. That’s peculiar behavior for most Mandalorians. Only Boba Fett is as cautious. I would almost venture that you’re him in new armor, but I’ve noticed several little things you do that don’t fit with Fett’s behavior.”

“Time enough for your dissertation later, Dirzen,” the woman said sarcastically. Her eyes had never left Solan. “Right now our new leader is going to explain just what Helstone is really up to.”

“Dirzen again?” Solan guessed.

“Let’s just say that he came to the conclusion first,” the woman said. “I’m not too bad at reading people myself though. Helstone is definitely hiding something. There’s a lot about Operation Bad Neighbor that is starting to stink.”

“What’s your point?” he asked with a little irritation. Akron’s grip on him hadn’t slackened in the slightest and he was getting tired of being trapped. If this went on too much longer, he was going to have to try something. “Everyone is hiding something here. I’m sure Helstone is too. Why would this come as a surprise to you?”

“I didn’t get this far by blithely ignoring warning signs,” she retorted. “I signed on to do a job – not whatever Helstone is really up to.”

“Want me to crush him until he feels like talking?” Akron asked with a deep-throated baritone.

Solan spoke up before the woman had a chance. “You’re making this more complicated than it needs to be. If you don’t like how things are going, then leave. I won’t stop you. I’ll even help you go. I don’t need cowards in my squad. You’ll just be liabilities.”

“Cowards?! Liabilities?!” Akron growled. “I’ve killed people for less than that!”

“Akron, please…” the woman cautioned and at that moment her aim shifted slightly.

That’s when Solan made his move. “Ke’gyce solus!” he uttered in Mando’a. With the verbal command given, the repulsorlift integrated into his armor suddenly activated sending both Solan and Akron flying upward until their brief flight was stopped by the connection of Akron’s skull to the reinforced ceiling of the bunker. That proved to be enough to finally loosen the Rolani’s grip for Solan to break free.

Akron fell back to the floor. Solan landed a second later with his boot pressed against Akron’s neck, ready to break it if the other man tried anything. He had a wrist gauntlet pointed squarely in the woman’s direction.

“We can continue this fight if you want,” Solan said to her, some part of him looking forward to the idea, “or we can lower our weapons now. Your choice.”

The woman glared at him, and for a long moment Solan was certain she’d push the issue, but finally she sighed and holstered her weapon. “I should have shot you.”

“Probably,” he agreed as he lowered his arm. “Since you didn’t, I’ll tell you that as far as I know Helstone still intends for us to fight Xen’Chi. The second that changes, I’ll be the first to leave. I’m only in this as long as I get paid.”

“A true mercenary, eh?” she stated with a nod. “Well, I can trust that more than I can trust Helstone’s word anyway. At least I know where you stand.”

“And where do you stand?” Solan asked. “Are you staying or going?”

“For now… staying,” she decided. “At least until I know what Helstone’s game is.”

“And the rest?” he asked to the assembled crowd. There was a general murmur of acquiesce and a gurgle from Akron which Solan took to mean the same. He nodded in satisfaction and finally took his boot from Akron’s neck, allowing the Rolani to stand back up.

“My name is Solan Phota,” he finally introduced himself, “and I will be your squad leader. Anyone who has an issue with that should make it known now. I’ll gladly settle the matter with you.”

Most of mercenaries seemed fine with it. Akron rubbed his neck and glared at him, but said nothing. Dirzen smiled with delight. The woman seemed impassive.

“Good,” he grunted with satisfaction. He looked squarely at the woman. “And you? What is your name?”

“How rude of me,” she said in a tone that was hardly repentant. “You can call me Syla.”

“I’ll remember that.”

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Re: Target Practice

Post by Halomek » Tue Sep 07, 2010 8:27 am

As it turned out, there were only twelve people in Solan’s squad, not including himself. For some apparent purpose by Helstone, the squad was almost evenly divided between male and female mercenaries, with Solan adding just one more to the male side to make them the majority. As such bunker 47 had been partitioned off into a male side and a female side.

That was apparently just for looks, since it seemed that a lot of the mercenaries on either side had no qualms about slipping to the other side for some evening fun. It was quite clear that Imperial restraint was not one of the lessons the mercenaries of Operation Bad Neighbor would be taking away from the venture.

Solan even found himself getting propositioned by a female or two, but he turned them all down without a second glance. Instead he selected a bed next to a corner, pushed it all the way against the walls, and laid down to get some rest. He was a light sleeper by the necessity of his chosen profession, but he knew how to get the most out of a little sleep.

“Intriguing,” Dirzen’s voice said to him.

Solan looked over to see the Hisrol on the bed closest to his, apparently quite focused on him. He had a feeling about what captured Dirzen’s interest. “You find it odd that I would turn down companionship?”

Dirzen shook his head. “Not really. While it makes good sense in our line of work to take pleasure where we can find it, it’s not a requirement. I figured you would be the type who wouldn’t be tempted by diversions of the flesh. No, what I find fascinating is that you choose to sleep in your armor. Again, you don’t even bother to remove your helmet. That can’t be very comfortable.”

“I’m used to it,” Solan answered him. “My armor is my life. I take it off only when I feel it is safe to do so.”

The Hisrol laughed. “I’m familiar with the Mandalorian way of life and their code, but you seem to have a different angle on it than most Protectors.”

“Never group me with them,” Solan warned him, his voice actually going up an octave. “Those aren’t true Mandalorians. Willingly choosing to call themselves ‘protectors’ is just their most obvious failing. They’ve fallen far.”

Dirzen raised an eyebrow. “Really… So you consider yourself a ‘true’ Mandalorian then?”

“Of course.”

The Hisrol leaned back against his pillow, arms behind his head, and chuckled. “I can’t speak for the others, but I know I’m glad you’re here, Solan. The more I learn about you, the more mysterious you get. I think it’ll take me some time to figure you out.”

Solan didn’t feel inclined to respond, which was just as well since his words would have been lost as soon as the alarm sounded inside the bunker. As the other mercenaries in his squad rushed to get ready for battle, Solan simply stood up, grabbed his blaster rifle, and exited. He looked around for the source of the alarm, using his helmet’s enhancements to see through the darkness of night.

The bright red lances of anti-aircraft fire directed his gaze upwards to a battered transport streaking right towards one the base’s perimeter walls. It was already on fire from multiple impacts of laser fire, but it didn’t take a master tactician to see that the pilot wasn’t planning on slowing down to land. This was a suicide run.

He watched dispassionately as the transport hit its apparent mark and exploded with far more force than could be accounted for from a vessel of its size. With the extra explosives that Solan could only guess had been packed inside the transport, the reinforced wall crumbled from the explosion, leaving the base vulnerable to a ragtag, though sizable, Rattataki army on the other side.

By now the rest his squad had joined him. He heard Akron crack his knuckles eagerly before speaking up. “So the Rats decided to get bold, eh? Good, I was getting bored waiting around here.”

“We’re not going anywhere,” Solan stopped him. “Fighting Rattataki isn’t what we’re getting paid for.”

“So what!?” Akron demanded. “It’ll be fun!”

Solan turned to face him. “In my squad you follow my orders. Is that clear? If you have a problem with that, we can resume our earlier fight right now.”

Akron looked ready to do just that before Syla put herself between them. “He’s right, Akron. You should know better than anyone that effective squads require cooperation from every member.” She looked back at Solan. “He’s the one Helstone designated as the leader, so we follow his orders. At least for now.”

The Rolani grumbled something unintelligible before spitting contemptuously to the side. “Yeah, alright. For now.”

“We fight the Rattataki only if they get close enough to be a threat,” Solan said, raising his voice so that everyone could hear him. “Until then we wait here to see what Helstone will do.”

“I get it,” Dirzen spoke up next to him quietly. “You want to see Helstone in action. You’re studying him.”

“I want to see how competent he truly is,” Solan agreed.

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Re: Target Practice

Post by Halomek » Thu Sep 09, 2010 8:49 am

Although the battle started off on a high note for the Rattataki with the destruction of the perimeter wall, it quickly turned sour for although the ragtag army was numerous and eager to fight, they were no match for Imperial firepower, technology, and discipline. Helstone knew how to command his soldiers and did so with the ruthless efficiency so often ascribed to him.

When the Rattataki fighting force broke ranks and started retreating, the Imperial forces only followed just far enough to keep the Rattataki out of range of the base. That was when Helstone unleashed his battle-ender. Down from the heavens destructive green energy rained upon the regrouping Rattataki and decimated them. It reminded Solan of a judgment from the Mandalorian god of destruction, Kad Ha'rangir, but was in reality a bombardment from Helstone’s Star Destroyer, the Pitiless.

“Remind me to thank our host for the lovely fireworks,” Dirzen said, amused. “Quite entertaining.”

“Sucks all the fun out of it,” Akron complained, “but at least we know now that Helstone is everything he’s rumored to be.”

Syla’s gaze was distant. “No question.”

Solan didn’t feel like contributing to the commentary, which worked just as well since he ended up receiving a com message. The ID labeled it as coming from Helstone. He held up a hand to the side of his helmet, activating a feature that would mute his voice to all outside listening. “This is Phota.”

“You and your squad have your first mission, Mandalorian,” Helstone’s rough voice announced. “You’re to immediately head out and eliminate any Rattataki that survived the bombardment.”

“That’s not what you’re paying us for,” Solan reminded him. “We're here to-”

“I know, blast you!” Helstone interrupted him. “This is related to Operation Bad Neighbor. I want to see how well your squad operates. The mercs in your group are the best out of everyone who joined up. This should pose no problem for them. Consider it a preliminary test before the real missions.”

“Understood,” Solan agreed. “We’ll leave now.”

“Good. Don’t fail me.”

If Helstone’s parting words were meant to be intimidating, they were lost on Solan. As soon as he signed off, Solan explained their mission to the rest of the squad.

No one had any objections, but Akron looked disappointed. “Anybody who survived that isn’t going to provide any good sport. The base’s regular troops could handle this job.”

“You’re missing the bigger picture, Akron,” Dirzen said to him. “Unless I miss my guess, that army belonged to Geliak Otorook. He’s rumored to know the lands around here quite well and is something of a strategist. Odds are that he has some reserve troops stashed away. They’re probably heading for the blast site too in order to look for survivors.”

Akron grinned. “Well… that changes things. What are we waiting for?”

“We’re not,” Solan said before addressing everyone. “Grab whatever gear you need and report back in five minutes. We head out then with or without you.”

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Re: Target Practice

Post by Halomek » Wed Nov 24, 2010 10:12 am

The terrain outside of the Imperial base was rocky and barren, with craggy and broken outcroppings jutting out of the earth at seemingly random intervals. It was treacherous ground, teeming with plenty of potential hiding spots. Solan privately wondered why Helstone would build his secret base in a place that allowed plenty of spots for spies and scouts to easily hide out. Surely there were more defensible places on the planet.

Unless…

Unless it was just a ploy to cause any potential invading force who came upon the base to become overconfident in attacking it. The large smoking crater they were headed towards seemed to be a testament to that; lure them in and then blow them away into nothing when they made their move. If that truly was Helstone’s line of thinking, Solan found himself appreciating the tactic on a certain level. While he would have preferred a more conventional battle, a sign of a good commander was how well one could control the battlefield and there was no doubting that Helstone had effectively caused Otorook to lead his troops to slaughter.

Solan stopped his musing as he held up a hand to halt their advance. The heat from the blast crater was still too great for his thermal imaging filter to be much good, but he didn’t use technology as a crutch. Warrior instinct told him that they were headed for an ambush. Solan changed filters as he tried to locate where the ambushers might be located, but if they were indeed out there, they were hidden well.

“It is a good place for an ambush,” Dirzen agreed to Solan’s unspoken statement as he walked up next to him. “This is where I shine. Allow me.”

Solan looked at him as the Hisrol nodded towards the bag slung around his shoulder. Five remotes suddenly floated out before the little spherical droids disappeared into the night with hardly a sound. “You’re not the only one with a trick or two,” he explained as he tapped his eyepatch. “I lost this eye not long after I was expelled from the homeworld, but I believe that with every tragedy comes opportunity. I replaced my eye with a cyber-cortical implant that links directly to my brain. It allows me to do a host of things, including operating those remotes solely by thought. What they see, I see.”

The whine of blaster fire suddenly filled the air. Dirzen smiled. “They are a full extension of my consciousness. You can scratch one survivor.”

“Impressive,” Solan said, and meant it, as more sounds of blaster fire were heard from different areas; more enemies being downed. To manipulate so many remotes at once with nothing more than willpower and still remain fully cognizant had to take an exceptionally skilled brain.

A flash or two of red bolts shooting into the sky caused Dirzen to frown. “Well, it seems they’re on to my little trick.” He pulled out a holomap of the area and began manipulating it, placing markers at certain portions of the map. “I’ve spotted the enemy at these markers,” he explained before manipulating the map further with more markers of a different color. “I’d venture to guess that we have more hiding out in these areas, but the remotes can’t get close enough for a visual confirmation.”

Solan nodded. A guess from a Hisrol was nearly the equivalent of a certain answer from anyone else as far as he was concerned. He turned to face his squad. “We split into three groups. Kylani, you’ll lead Higgs, Roanaka, and Nua and take the enemies on the left of the crater. Makan, you take Baxar, Gruer, and Vizzi and go the right.” He looked at a Corellian with a burn scar across his face. “Joraz, that leaves you with Akron, Syla, Dirzen, and myself. We’ll go up the center.”

“Wonderful,” Joraz grumbled, “I get stuck on the most dangerous path.”

Solan was about to reprimand the Corellian before Akron beat him to it. “Is that a problem, little man? Would you rather run back to Helstone like a hound with it’s tail between it’s legs?”

“Nothing scares me,” Joraz retorted, tensing his body in preparation for a fight, “certainly not a slab of meat like you.”

Before the two could go at it, Solan interposed by firing a shot from his blaster rifle into the ground between them. They both stopped to glare at him. “If you have a problem with my orders, you take it up with me,” he calmly explained to Joraz. “This is a poor time to settle it, but I won’t hesitate to put you down before you become a liability.”

Joraz didn’t flinch. “As I said, I’m not afraid of anything, but going up the center is sure to be suicide. Thanks to Dirzen’s little show, they know we’re here and they’re going to be ready for us! Don’t let Helstone’s order go to your head, Phota! The only reason you’re in charge is because he’s paying us to follow you!”

“Wrong,” he corrected the other mercenary before looking at the others. “You’re following me because I’m the best. The moment that changes is the moment one of you proves otherwise.” He centered again on Joraz. “Now either make your move or fall back into line and obey my orders.”

Joraz stayed where he was, his eyes flicking to Solan’s blaster rifle and back. Solan smiled behind his helmet as he slung the rifle back over his shoulder. “There, I’ve made it even easier for you, Joraz. Now, what will it be?”

Joraz gritted his teeth and stared at Solan for a long moment before lowering his head and taking a step back. “There’s a fine line between bravery and stupidity,” he grumbled.

“I’m glad to see you don’t confuse the two,” Solan answered with satisfaction. “Now everyone, sync your maps up with Dirzen’s and move out!”

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Re: Target Practice

Post by Halomek » Mon Nov 29, 2010 12:19 pm

As Jolsk Makan and Kylani’s respective teams departed towards their respective areas of the battlefield, Syla unslung a sniper rifle from her back. “I’ll cover from the rear and take the enemies on the high ground.”

“No good,” Solan said with a shake of his head. “Ordinarily I’d have you up on high covering us with that, but with all these outcroppings, you’ll never have a clear line of sight for more than a minute or two before an outcropping gets in your way. You’re better off staying with us and using your pistol.”

Syla raised an eyebrow. “Who said I was going to remain stationary? I plan to stay with the rest of you the entire way.”

“We’re not stopping anywhere for long,” Solan argued. “You’ll never have enough time to line up a shot with that before we move to the next position.”

“I told you before that a master of Mokurai-tsu never misses,” she replied with a little annoyance. “Let me worry about what I can and can’t do with my own weapons.”

“Syla can manage it,” Akron spoke up for her. “Trust me.”

Solan was doubtful, but didn’t feel like arguing about it any longer. He nodded in acquiescence. At the very least it would be instructive to see if Syla could live up to her claims. “Fine. Akron, you and I will take the point. Joraz and Dirzen, you’ll take the rear with Syla.”

Akron grinned as he gripped his heavy blaster rifle in anticipation. “Now you’re talking! We might get along after all, Mandalorian.”

Solan said nothing, simply hefting his blaster rifle and moving towards the blast crater. Akron was quick to follow him, with Syla, Dirzen and Joraz close behind. The night was half over, so the sky was at its darkest, however the blast crater was finally starting to cool, allowing his thermal filter to be more effective. The rocks hid the survivors well, but not completely. As soon as one of the enemy poked their head around an outcropping, it lit up on Solan’s visor display as clear as day.

The first shot came from Syla however. A loud crack split the air, distinctly different from the familiar report of blaster fire, as her rifle discharged a slug. A second later, one of those distinct thermal readings plummeted from up high and crashed to the ground, the body heat dissipating as all bodily functions stopped.

The first kill seemed to create a cascade effect as Rattataki popped up from their hiding places at once and opened fire. Rather than head for cover right away, Solan opened fire on the nearest target, downing him with a well-placed shot to the chest before ducking behind a rock. Somewhat surprisingly, Akron had done the same, but had stayed out in the open long enough to shoot down two targets before seeking shelter.

Solan glanced at him and found Akron staring back, the Rolani’s expression one of exhilaration. “It’s a shame they fire those weapons like drunken cadets, this will be over too quickly!” He then vaulted over the rock he was hiding behind amidst a rain of blaster fire and loosed several more shots as he moved to the next position.

Solan took a moment to smile at Akron’s enthusiasm and couldn’t help noticing as he did so that the enemy fire was quickly diminishing. Every shot from Syla’s rifle found its mark without fail and Dirzen and Joraz weren’t doing so badly either. Solan also noticed with some chagrin that, unlike the rest of them, Syla was doing phenomenally well without the aid of any kind of apparent visual enhancement to see in the dark. Whatever this Mokurai-tsu was, Solan was growing more interested in it.

Focusing once more on the enemy, Solan darted out from behind his cover and shot down another Rattataki as he rushed to catch up with Akron’s position. The Rolani had advanced further than Solan had anticipated. Clearly a Rolani’s lust for battle mirrored that of a Mandalorian’s.

As Solan and his team moved through the natural passageway towards the blast site, it became very clear that the Rattataki were severely outmatched. They had numbers and an admirable enthusiasm for battle, but most of them lacked any true skill. They were thugs in the guise of soldiers and nothing more. Cleaning them out proved to be disappointingly simple.

Kylani’s team was already at the crater waiting for them by the time they made it through; however Makan’s team was several minutes behind and missing two members. The reason, it turned out, was worthwhile.

“Gruer found a tunnel,” Makan reported with a harsh guttural voice. Jolsk Makan was an Iotran, a species that valued order and military service above all else. Solan had picked him as a team leader for precisely that reason. “Initial scouting appears to indicate that it leads directly towards Helstone’s base. I left Gruer and Baxar behind to do some more reconnaissance.”

Solan nodded in approval. Vogar Gruer was an Ebranite and Baxar a Ranat; both came from species that would be at home in tunnels. “Perhaps Otorook is more cunning than Helstone has given him credit for,” he surmised.

“The surface attack could have been nothing more than a diversion,” Dirzen agreed. “Most of the surface attackers were vaporized by the orbital bombardment, so it’s impossible to tell now what kind of numbers he fielded up here. Depending on how large that tunnel is, Otorook could have his main forces down below.”

It took mere moments for Solan to get in touch with the General and explain the situation, but Helstone’s response was one of amusement. “I know all about Otorook and his tunnels. We’ve had seismic sensors recording his tunneling activity for months. Your mission is done, Mandalorian. You see, I’ve been doing a little tunneling of my own. Otorook’s tunnels are now mere inches away from being connected to a deep underground reservoir. At my signal, explosive charges will connect the two and drown him and his people like the scum they are.”

“I have two people down there,” Solan replied.

“Then you’d better get them out quick if you want them to live,” Helstone said to him. “I’ve been waiting for the bulk of Otorook’s army to assemble before blowing the charges. You’ve got thirty seconds before that happens.”

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Re: Target Practice

Post by Halomek » Tue Nov 30, 2010 10:13 am

Solan wasted no time. There wasn’t a doubt in his mind that a man like Helstone would blow those charges precisely when he said he would. Without knowing where the entrance to the tunnel was or how deeply inside the mercenaries were, it would be a fool’s errand to try and warn them on foot. The only chance the two had was through comlink. Based upon Helstone’s reference to blowing the charges, he had to work on the assumption that the tunnel wasn’t too deep underground to block com signals.

“Baxar, Gruer, this is Solan! Get out of the tunnel immediately. Helstone set a trap for the enemy!”

A harsh guttural voice answered him. “Baxar already fled! Somehow he knew. I took him for a coward and continued alone.”

“Gruer, can you get out? You’ve got-” he glanced at the chrono display on his visor, “-fifteen seconds left and counting.”

There was a brief silence before Solan got a reply. “There’s no way, Phota. I’m in too far. It seems my time has come. Tell Helstone I’ll be picking my teeth with his bones when I meet him in the next life!”

“When death comes for you, face it without hesitation,” Solan answered. “Perhaps you will at least give it pause.”

Gruer’s response was swallowed up by a series of muffled explosions. Solan glanced at his chrono display again and wasn’t surprised to see the time elapsed since he’d ended his conversation with Helstone had been thirty seconds exactly. The sounds of rushing water filled the comlink on the other end for a minute before it went dead.

“What was that tremor?” Syla asked him. “What did Helstone say to you?!”

“Helstone knew about the tunnels. Otorook and the remainder of his forces are dead. Gruer too. Possibly Baxar as well,” he reported without any trace of anger or regret before looking at Jolsk. “Tell me where this tunnel was located.”

***

Using the repulsorlift in his suit, Solan arrived at the location Makan had indicated before any of the others. There he found the diminutive Baxar hunched over, soaking wet, sputtering and coughing as rushing water licked at a hole in the ground next to him. The Ranat glared at him as he landed.

“When we get back to the base, I’m going to gnaw Helstone’s face off!”

However Baxar’s anger at Helstone was quickly forgotten as Solan drew a blaster on him. “How did you know it was a trap?”

Baxar tensed. “What are you doing!? What are you talking about?!”

“I spoke with Gruer before he died. He said you fled because you knew.” Solan’s finger tightened on the trigger. “Tell me how you knew when the rest of us didn’t.”

“I didn’t know we’d stumbled into Helstone’s trap until you announced it over the comlink. I ran before that because I have what you could call a sixth sense. I just know when my life is in danger and that feeling has saved my hide enough times that I never ignore it.” Baxar seemed to relax a bit. “Just as I know now that you’re not going to kill me.”

“You’re sure of that?”

“Reasonably so.”

Solan kept his blaster leveled at Baxar. “I won’t suffer cowards who run from danger.”

“There’s a difference between running from a fight and running from certain death,” Baxar countered.

“You can tell the difference?”

Baxar nodded. “It took me a few years, but yes I can.”

After a contemplative noise, Solan reholstered his blaster. “Make certain you’re not shy about informing us if you get this feeling again. You’re fortunate Gruer told me you had tried to warn him, otherwise I would have shot you for deserting a teammate to die.”

“I’m not known as Baxar the Lucky for nothing,” the other mercenary agreed with a smile.

“So it seems.”

***

When they made it back to base, Solan headed directly for Helstone’s office. While he didn’t disagree with Helstone’s actions in detonating the bombs, and felt nothing from Gruer’s death, there were plenty of his squad members who were literally up in arms about what had happened. Syla in particular looked ready to put a slug through Helstone’s head the moment she saw him.

If he was going to pacify his team, he needed to at least hear from Helstone the answer to the one nagging question he had: why hadn’t they been informed? Gruer’s death could have been easily prevented. It had been a needless loss.

Helstone’s reaction was anything but repentant or apologetic. In fact it was downright dismissive. “Perhaps I’ve misjudged you, Mandalorian. I would have thought you would know better than to ask stupid questions. I was under no obligation to tell you anything about my trap. It’s my job as the commanding officer to know everything that happens in battle and it’s your job to follow my orders.”

“We did.”

“No,” Helstone corrected him with a scowl, “you exceeded them. You were told to eliminate the enemy that had survived the blast. You were not told to explore those tunnels. If your squad wants to punish someone, they should punish Makan for acting beyond his authority. He never even called it in before unilaterally making his decision.”

Solan felt his eyes widen as he realized Helstone was completely right. Gruer’s death had been unnecessary, but the blame was not with the Imperial, it was with Jolsk Makan, and with himself for not recognizing what Makan had done. “I understand.”

“Good,” Helstone said as his anger simmered away, “let Gruer’s death be a lesson to you about what happens when you don’t follow procedure. I expect you to explain it to your squad so it doesn’t happen again. You aren’t lone operators. You’re part of something much larger now.”

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Re: Target Practice

Post by Halomek » Wed Dec 01, 2010 2:18 pm

Bunker 47

“That is simply…” for a moment Syla seemed at a loss for words after what Solan had relayed about what had happened in Helstone’s office. She balled her fists and seemed to shake with anger as she finished her thought. “…it’s unacceptable!”

Solan glanced at the other gathered mercenaries. He could see from some expressions that a few others agreed with her. He could also see many who realized the truth of what Helstone had said. Syla, however, was quickly proving herself to be a catalyst. She seemed to have a lot of sway with the other mercenaries. Whatever happened in this encounter would have reaching consequences. If Solan failed to make Syla see reason, then he could expect her and a few others of his squad to leave.

While that could possibly make things easier for him, he didn’t want to lose someone of Syla’s skills - at least not until he learned more about the art of Mokurai-tsu that she practiced.

Solan wasn’t used to offering sympathy or comfort and didn’t bother to try. “You don’t have to like it,” he said to her, “but that’s the reality of the situation. Helstone had every justification for his actions. Jolsk should consider himself fortunate that he wasn’t punished for acting without orders.”

“That doesn’t make it right!” she argued. “Jolsk was following the spirit of his orders. He was thinking ahead! He shouldn’t be punished for that! Gruer shouldn’t have died for it.”

“Enough!” Jolsk suddenly interrupted her. “Helstone is right! Phota is right! Gruer’s death means nothing unless I learn from my mistake.”

She turned to look at the Iotran. “Jolsk…”

Akron placed a hand on Syla’s shoulder. His expression was surprisingly gentle. “You’ve lost, Syla. There’s nothing to be gained by continuing this fight.”

Syla seemed ready to try anyway, but then placed a hand on top of Akron’s. “Helstone’s day is coming. I just hope I’m there to see it.”

“I presume you’re staying then?” Solan asked.

She nodded.

The door to the bunker suddenly opened. Solan turned to face the new arrival. He had been expecting Helstone to send up someone to replace Gruer, but not so soon, and not the person who arrived. He wore black from head to toe, leaving only his face uncovered. His species was one Solan couldn’t identify, with a vaguely avian body, hands and feet that ended in talons, and a flattened face that seemed to share more aquatic traits than avian.

Solan knew immediately who he was. He had made it his business to know. Among the hundred or so assembled mercenaries for Operation Bad Neighbor, he had been one of the standouts; someone Solan had made a note to keep an eye on.

Someone he had been surprised was not part of his squad from the beginning…

“Trucido Severus,” the new arrival introduced himself as he surveyed the group before focusing on Solan. “You’re Solan Phota. I’m to be a member of your squad.”

Solan took a datapad that Trucido offered him that had Helstone’s order on it. He glanced over it briefly before nodding. “Welcome,” he greeted him. “I’ll make this quick: in my squad you follow my orders. No exceptions. If you ever feel you can lead better than I can, then you’d better be prepared to prove it to me. Those are my rules.”

Trucido nodded. “That’s agreeable. I have two rules I follow.” He held up a single finger. “The first is never kill someone without a reason.”

That struck Solan as an odd rule for a mercenary when killing was usually such an integral part of any job. Perhaps he had misjudged the kind of being Trucido was. “And the second?”

Trucido held up a second finger and smiled. “You can always find a reason to kill someone.”

Quite despite himself, Solan found himself smiling back at the response.

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Re: Target Practice

Post by Halomek » Sat Dec 04, 2010 10:30 am

Pitiless

It was only a few days after the attack on the base that they pulled out of Rattatak. The Xen’Chi were relentless and continued to pound on the ever-shrinking borders of the Galactic Empire. There was no time for a proper training regimen; only the basics. Helstone and the forces under his command were too vital to the war effort to be out of action for long.

Helstone’s office aboard his flagship, the Pitiless, was somehow even more austere than the office at his base. Solan found that to be an interesting reflection into the man. It made sense not to have any decoration at the base since Helstone probably didn’t use it as often as the one on his ship, but to not have anything here either only reinforced what Solan had come to know. Helstone was a no-nonsense and highly professional soldier with no hint of sentimentality to give him a conscience.

“I just got word that High Admiral Ton and the 6th fleet were ambushed and destroyed after their victory at Ord Mantell,” Helstone said to him. “Losing one of our most powerful fleets, the Cleansing, and Ton all in one blow places us in a precarious position. It’s caused Thrawn to rethink his strategy in fighting this war. He’s going to reach out and work more with the New Republic.” He shook his head in disappointment. “I never thought I’d see the day.”

“War makes for unexpected situations,” Solan remarked. “There is an ancient saying that says: ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend.’”

“I’ve always hated that saying,” Helstone growled, “I’ll work with the upstarts, but I’ll never consider them friends.”

“A wise provision.”

Helstone simply nodded before he activated a holodisplay in the middle of his desk. “You and your squad are going to be sent to Contruum. According to information that New Republic Intelligence has shared with us, the Xen’Chi have set up some kind of detainment facility there and are holding a number of Imperial and Republic prisoners of interest. These prisoners are apparently scheduled to be moved deeper into Xen’Chi territory within a matter of days. Thrawn and Organa-Solo want them rescued before that happens.”

“Xen’Chi strength in this area of space is particularly strong, so a straight-on battle is out of the question at the moment. My forces, as well as those under Republic command, will stage a series of hit-and-fade attacks designed to draw enemy forces away from Contruum.” He pointed at Solan. “You’re to take Squad 13 and meet up with a Republic Special Forces team known as Flare Platoon and rescue those prisoners.”

Squad 13; it was the designation Helstone had assigned to Solan and his people. Either Helstone had a hidden sense of humor or it was just an ironic coincidence. In any case, it seemed to fit.

A thought suddenly occurred to Solan. “Flare Platoon is already on the surface?”

Helstone nodded. “Apparently they’ve been waging a guerilla war with the Xen’Chi on Contruum for some time now. Their commander is Lieutenant Clara Molariou, a woman who has gained a certain amount of infamy within their ranks for taking on impossible missions. The files we have on her can confirm this.”

“Then she won’t have trouble keeping up,” Solan decided. “Good, that will make things simpler.”

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Re: Target Practice

Post by Halomek » Tue Dec 21, 2010 6:26 pm

Contruum

With a few exceptions, every battle against the Xen’Chi in the war so far was a losing one. However at least Helstone’s battles staged against the Xen’Chi to draw their forces away from Contruum were losses with a purpose. With Imperial and Republic fleets staging hit-and-run attacks against nearby occupied worlds, they were able to draw out the Xen’Chi forces as planned.

Towards the end of this initiative was when Solan and Squad 13 began their infiltration of Contruum. They took an Imperial freighter specially designed for stealth. Tira Vizzi, a female Human of Chalactan origin with short brown hair, had tested as the best pilot among their group and proved it by ably slipping past the few Xen’Chi ships still in orbit above the planet.

Contruum itself hadn’t fared well under Xen’Chi hands. As Solan looked out the viewport he saw that the capital city had been reduced to bombed out ruins. The only structure still standing was a squat, somewhat organic looking building that served as the Xen’Chi detention center.

“It’s going to be a tight squeeze to get all those prisoners on this ship,” Syla remarked next to him.

“We’re only being paid to retrieve the Imperial prisoners,” Solan said to her as Vizzi brought the ship down for a landing in a forest clearing designated as the meeting place with Flare Platoon. “The Republic can worry about getting their own transportation.”

Syla looked at him before sighing and turning away. “Of course. I shouldn’t have expected anything less from Helstone or you.”

“I’m sure I don’t need to remind you what happened the last time we exceeded Helstone’s orders,” he replied, matching her stride as they headed for the landing ramp. “I would prefer the people who die under my command to do so in battle and not through poor communication.”

“You should prefer them to not die at all,” Syla said as she hit the button to lower the ramp.

“That’s not realistic.”

“It doesn’t mean you can’t try.”

He let Syla have the last word as he turned his scanner towards the woods. There were several lifeform readings, but nothing that would register as anything but a wild animal. Solan wasn’t convinced though. Even taking into account their recently landed ship, the clearing seemed too quiet. Too still…

He gripped his blaster and strolled down the ramp. Syla followed him, keeping a grip on her slugthrower but refraining from drawing it. Akron and Trucido were close behind, also gripping weapons.

“They’re out there,” Tira suddenly spoke up from inside the ship, “I can guarantee it.”

“She’s right,” Syla agreed. “They’re probably using camo stealth netting to hide themselves from scans.”

Solan thought about asking the two women how they were so sure about it, but before he could, another woman, this one wearing light armor that resembled the surrounding foliage stepped out of the woods and into the clearing. She had short red hair and wasn’t shy about pointing her blaster rifle at them.

“Before I decide it’s better to drill the lot of you full of holes, I’ll give you one chance to explain who the frip you are and what the kriff you’re doing here.”

Thanks to Helstone’s briefing, Solan recognized the woman before them as Clara Molariou; their New Republic contact. “We’re the Imperial team sent to help you free the prisoners.”

Clara gave a rather unladylike snort. “Yeah, right. Tell me another. You don’t look like any Imps I’ve ever seen.”

By now the rest of the squad had gathered by the ramp. “That’s because strictly speaking we’re not Imperials,” Solan explained to her. “We’re mercenaries hired by General Helstone to help fight the war. He sent us instead of soldiers.”

Clara gritted her teeth as she swore to herself and lowered her weapon. “That fripping son of a Sith! Even though we’re supposedly on the same side now, I should have known that the Imps wouldn’t send any real soldiers. Instead all I get to work with is Triangle Man and his band of misfits!”

“The name is Solan Phota-”

“I don’t really care,” Clara interrupted him. “I don’t need a bunch of mercs slowing me and the platoon down. Judging by the amateurish way you walked into this clearing, you might as well go back now. I could have had you sniped from a dozen different positions.”

Solan was about to reply and clear up Clara’s misconception about them being amateurs, but Syla got to it first.

“You mean like this position?” she asked before rapidly drawing her slugthrower and firing into an apparently empty tree. What she got was a yell of surprise before a body crashed out of it, hitting a few branches before falling to the ground.

A little to Solan’s surprise, Clara’s blaster rifle was trained back on them before he even realized it. She was fast. That much was for certain.

“If that man is dead, you die next,” Clara promised.

“He’s fine,” Syla assured her. “All I did was startle him. The bullet was aimed at the tree, not your sniper.”

Clara didn’t take her eyes off of them as she called out to her teammate. “Hey, Longshot! You okay?”

There was a grunt as an average-sized Human male, who also had red hair, walked out into the clearing, picking leaves out of his uniform. “The only thing that’s hurt is my pride, Flare,” he answered her. “Oh, and my back. That felt just… wonderful.”

Clara smirked a bit, some of the tension leaving her expression. “Well next time you fall out of a tree, make sure you actually get shot first.” She looked back at Solan and lowered her weapon. “Okay, color me somewhat impressed. Is everyone in your party as good as Mute?”

Solan tilted his head just a bit in confusion. “Mute?”

“Flare has a habit of giving people nicknames,” Longshot explained. “Believe it or not, Longshot isn’t my real name. I’m Sergeant Sol Rovann.”

Solan barely paid heed to the soldier’s evident sarcasm. “I figured that much out, but Clara’s nickname for Syla barely makes sense. She’s not mute.”

“Get used to it,” Sol advised him. “Sometimes they only make sense to Flare.” He looked at Syla. “That was quite a shot, Girly. How could you be sure you wouldn’t have hit me?”

“Masters of Mokurai-tsu never miss,” Syla answered him indignantly. “If I had wanted to hit you, I would have shot you and not the tree.”

Clara held a hand up to keep Sol from responding. “Alright, Longshot, she got you fair and square. We’ve got work to do. Get the Flares to work covering up this ship in the camo netting before a Xennie patrol spots it.”

Sol nodded before letting out a high-pitched whistle that called the other members of Flare Platoon out of hiding. As he left to issue orders, Solan took the opportunity to speak up to Clara. “To answer your question, yes, all of my people are that good. We’re the best mercenaries Helstone has.”

Clara eyed the group dubiously. “You’d better be. Trust me; the Xennies will make short work of you otherwise.”

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Re: Target Practice

Post by Halomek » Mon Jan 31, 2011 9:24 am

After the two teams had been properly introduced to each other, they headed to a small shelter Clara and her team had set up. It was camouflaged to blend in with the forest and had sensor dampeners placed in a perimeter to obfuscate scans. By the look of the place, it was designed to be taken down and moved at a moment’s notice. No doubt it had been moved many times before in order to stay a step ahead of the Xen’Chi patrols.

It was decided to wait until dark before beginning the attack on the holding facility. As near as any intel could conclude, the Xen’Chi had no special ability to see in the dark, which would give the combined Republic/mercenary team the advantage. Clara’s team all had nightvision goggles and Solan knew everyone on his team had a method for dealing with lowlight situations.

With some time to kill before the attack, Solan decided to move to a corner of the compound and get some rest. By virtue of his chosen profession, he was a very light sleeper and rarely slept long enough to dream. Usually to rest his brain he would reflect on his past experiences, either calling on a specific memory, or letting whatever drifted up from his subconscious to take prominence. He found it to be a good method to stay sharp, for those who forgot history were doomed to repeat it.

As he waited for night to fall on Contruum, Solan found himself thinking back to one of his earlier memories, to a man he had come to call vod. It was the Mando’a word for comrade.

It was also the word for brother.

The man’s true name was Kotkarta, which translated to “strong heart” and was an apt description of him. Solan had yet to meet another who had the same force of will as Kotkarta. He was a warrior’s warrior. No situation, no matter how dire, seemed to faze Kotkarta. According to him, as long as there was a will for it, there was a means for victory - one just had to be strong enough to reach it.

Solan had first met Kotkarta as his instructor. He would never forget his first encounter…

***

“So, they tell me you’ve picked the name of Solycan for yourself,” Kotkarta said, frowning. He was dressed only in a jumpsuit, having placed his armor aside for the purposes of the training session. “It’s a solid name, if perhaps a bit dry.”

Solan was wearing even less, dressed only in a pair of shorts. “It suits me. Just as I’m sure Kotkarta suits you.”

The other man smiled. “Well put. And I see you know who I am. Good. I assume you know why I’m here too.”

“You’re here to test me.”

“Indeed I am,” Kotkarta confirmed. “Mand’alor is very interested in your progress. I’m told you know our culture, our language, our history, and our method of battle - but knowing it and living it are two different things. Being Mandalorian means you must choose it as a way of life. Every second of every day, you must be Mandalorian. You must strive to be the epitome that all others look to for guidance and inspiration when they meet you. That’s as true for you as it is for me, as it is for the guard down the hallway, as it is for Mand’alor herself.”

“That’s a contradiction,” Solan said as he crossed his arms. “We can’t all be the best. Some of us are naturally better than others. Why look to those who are less skilled for such things?”

Kotkarta chuckled. “For all your knowledge, I see you still have much to learn. When it comes to Mandalorians, you should be especially cautious of those who have less natural skill, for they are the ones who should never be underestimated. Victory is always a goal that should be strived for, but it doesn’t teach a warrior nearly as effectively as defeat. Intelligence and willpower are more effective on the battlefield than straight martial skills.”

Solan nodded in understanding. “I see. A warrior’s skills are not a one-dimensional concept, but are rather comprised of multiple layers. No one can be the best at everything.”

“You learn quickly,” Kotkarta confirmed with an appreciative tone. “The ideal Mandalorian utilizes their mind as much as their body to win battles. Too many forget this simple truth.”

“I have a very good memory,” Solan assured him with a smile of his own.

“Good, because there’s one other thing I want to make clear to you before we begin the tests,” Kotkarta said to him, his expression turning more serious. “In spite of your origins, it is not in the nature of our people to force someone to join us. You must want to do so on your own free will or not at all. Do you understand? You can leave if you so desire.”

“Enough talk,” Solan answered him as he fell into a combat-ready position. “I know the choice I’ve been given and am grateful for it, but I don’t intend on going anywhere. I can’t earn the right to my beskar’gam by standing around talking. I’m here to be tested.” Solan flashed a daring smile. “So test me.”


***

Solan snapped out of his reverie at the sound of footsteps approaching him. He opened his eyes and noticed first that the sky had darkened considerably and second that Clara was walking towards him. “Up and at ‘em, Triangle Man! Time to familiarize those Xennies with the business end of a blaster.”

Solan got to his feet with a nod. “I would prefer that you address me as Solan.”

Clara shrugged indifferently. “And I would prefer to be on the gold beaches of Corellia sipping a strong drink, but that ain’t happening either. Deal with it.”

“I doubt that.”

Clara looked at him. “What do you mean by that? You going to challenge me over a nickname?”

Solan shook his head. “No, I mean I doubt you really want to be relaxing on Corellia. I think you actually prefer to be here, in this situation.”

She gave him an odd, if thoughtful look before turning around and walking off. “A girl would have to be nuts to want to be in this situation. Stick to fighting, Mando, and leave the psychology to the analyst droids.”

Solan didn’t reply and simply followed after her, a smile hidden under his helmet. It wasn’t hard for him to identify a fellow warrior.

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Re: Target Practice

Post by Halomek » Sat Jan 21, 2012 8:38 pm

Solan and the rest of Squad 13 moved through the ruins of Contruum’s capital city slowly, using the bombarded remains of buildings and rubble piles to keep out of sight from Xen’Chi patrols. News of the brutality of the Xen’Chi had spread quickly through the galaxy, but one could never know for sure how much of the news was exaggerated until they witnessed it in person. From what Solan saw, it reminded him of the ruthlessness of the Mandalorian Crusaders of old. He felt a slight tingle of anticipation go down his spine at the thought.

Since Clara’s Flare Platoon had about four times as many people as Squad 13, it had been decided that they would undertake a frontal assault. However, it would be up to Squad 13 to use the city’s sewer system to sneak in underneath the compound and open the way for them. While Solan didn’t much care for the idea of sneaking in, he had to admit that it made sense from a tactical standpoint for Squad 13 to do it.

“Here it is, right where you said it would be, Dirzen,” Baxar said quietly as he carefully scrapped away the last of the debris covering up a manhole cover.

Dirzen smiled. “You’d be amazed how many cities across this galaxy of ours use the same kind of design scheme.”

“I’ve been in more than enough sewers to confirm that,” Baxar agreed with a grunt as he lifted the manhole cover and set it aside. “After awhile they all kind of look the same. It’s like once a civilization discovers indoor plumbing, they stop looking at ways to innovate it. As long as their waste is out of sight, it’s out of mind.”

“Fascinating,” Syla cut in dryly. “Are you going to go down there or not?”

Baxar’s whiskers twitched a bit. “I’m having a little bit of déjà vu, that’s all. The last time I went down a dark tunnel, I barely got out alive.”

“Helstone isn’t here to blow it up this time,” Syla reminded the Ranat. “And the longer we stand around here, the higher our risk of getting spotted by the Xen’Chi.”

“I know that,” Baxar replied indignantly as he started to descend down the ladder. “I just don’t like the idea of drowning. It’s not the way I want to go.”

In short order, the rest of Squad 13 descended down into the sewers after Baxar. Solan was the last one down as he had decided to keep an eye out for patrols. Much to his disappointment, none came before it was his turn to head down and reseal the manhole cover.

“It’s times like this that I wish I had no nose instead of no mouth,” Syla commented as she waved her hand in front of her face in a futile gesture to clear the air.

“You non-Ranat are so picky about smells,” Baxar said with a shake of his head. “I’ve got a better sense of smell than anyone here and I don’t see what’s so bad about it. You wouldn’t believe the kind of information you can learn from the smells of a sewer.”

“Enough,” Solan interrupted them, though he was silently thankful for the filters on his helmet keeping the odors out. He turned to Dirzen. “You’re up. Lead us to the compound. Baxar, you're next after the remotes because you know this kind of environment better than the rest of us. Let us know the second something feels wrong.”

Dirzen nodded as his remotes flew out of his backpack and hovered down the sewer line. “I estimate it’s only about 100 meters to the north.” He gestured politely to the Ranat. “After you, Baxar.”

Baxar grinned at being given the lead before scampering after the remotes on all fours. As the rest of the team followed, Joraz made a sound of revulsion as his boot stepped in something squishy before he looked over at Dirzen. “Hey, what’s that Hisrol mind of yours tell you about the Xennies and sewers? Think we’ll run across any of their patrols down here?”

“Doubtful,” Dirzen answered him. “The Xen’Chi aren’t too hard to figure out. They’re concerned primarily with conquest, not exploration. I think this place disgusts them as much as it does us – well, everyone except Baxar. I’d say at most we might run into a few traps, but we’ll probably have more trouble from the things that like to live in sewers than from whatever the Xen’Chi might have prepared.”

“I can’t tell if that’s a comforting thought or not,” Joraz remarked sarcastically.

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Re: Target Practice

Post by Halomek » Sat Nov 22, 2014 5:00 pm

Traversing the sewers proved to be rather anticlimactic. Aside from the usual vermin like rats and insects, the team only encountered one “threat” in the form of an opportunistic dianoga that was quickly sighted by Trucido and dispatched by a swift stroke of his sword. They encountered nothing that indicated that the Xen'Chi had any kind of presence in the sewers; no patrols, no monitoring devices - nothing.

Solan couldn't decide if he liked that or not. It had all the signs that they were walking into a trap, but then again, the Xen'Chi had reportedly shown a narcissistic belief in their own superiority. Outside of battle they approached conquest with all the finesse of a mythosaur trying to play hide-and-go-seek; which was to say clumsy and obvious. Their doctrine to their conquered subjects of “obey or die” was effective but ultimately shortsighted in his opinion. True conquerors learned the value of the worlds and people they took and adjusted their rule to incorporate rather than exclude them.

Though that was neither here nor there.

As they reached the coordinates that Dirzen had indicated, they soon found out why the Xen'Chi hadn't bothered to do anything about the sewers: they were completely sealed off. “I was afraid of this,” Dirzen remarked as he consulted his portable scanner. “There's a solid foundation of whatever the Xen'Chi equivalent of duracrete is above the manhole. I've sent some of my remotes ahead to check out other possible entrances, but the readings I'm getting back indicate that the same is true all over.”

He looked over at Solan. “Which would seem to indicate that this is merely a temporary holding facility. Our prisoners might not even be here anymore.”

Roanaka let out a dismayed Wookiee cry at the speculation, though whether she was sad for the prisoners or the thought of not getting paid was unclear.

“No... they're still there,” Tira reassured everyone. “I can sense that much. It's easy enough to differentiate them from the Xen'Chi.”

“Then we proceed as planned,” Solan decided before gesturing to Higgs. “Use your plasma torch to remove that manhole cover.”

The Dressellian nodded before ascending the ladder and getting to work.

“It'll take forever to cut through the Xen'Chi foundation with that,” Dirzen pointed out. “It's too thick. Unless someone brought a lightsaber with them, nothing short of explosives is going to get us through it in a timely matter.”

“I know,” Solan agreed. “That's why we're going to use them to blow a hole in their floor.”

“Oh good,” Joraz remarked as he crossed his arms. “If by some miracle you don't cause this place to collapse on top of us, you're going to alert every Xen'Chi in the area that they're under attack.”

“The alternative is to join back up with Flare Platoon and try a frontal assault,” Solan countered. “You've seen how well fortified this place is. By the time we could manage to breach their defenses, they would have more than enough opportunity to transfer or execute the prisoners and call for reinforcements.”

“That's unacceptable,” Jolsk spoke up. “We are not sacrificing prisoners just to take down a Xen'Chi base. Their safety is the top priority.”

Solan nodded. “I agree. We're being paid to retrieve them and I always see my missions through to completion.”

Joraz didn't look happy, but waved off Jolsk and Solan. “Fine, fine! At least we'll have the element of surprise working for us. What about the charges? I'm not looking to have the final moments of my life being buried in rubble at the bottom of a stinking sewer.”

“There won't be any debris,” Higgs called down. “I use shaped thermite charges for breaching. They eat through pretty much anything and the explosion will be facing away from us. Thermite leaves very little mess. Shouldn't affect the structural integrity of the sewer.”

Joraz scowled at Solan as Higgs tossed the manhole cover into the sewer water and began fixing the shaped charges.

“You knew he had those this whole time, didn't you?” Joraz accused the Mandalorian. “How?”

“It's my job as leader to know, Joraz,” Solan said to him. He looked around at the rest of the group. “I had Helstone give me a complete dossier on each and every one of you. A true leader needs to know how best to utilize the skills of the troops under him.”

Although Solan saw a few of the mercenaries bristle at the idea of being subservient to anyone, no one objected to it. He had already made his position on leadership quite clear.

To further illustrate his point, however, Solan nodded up towards Higgs. “Higgs is a former freedom fighter back from the days of the Rebel Alliance, skilled in precisely the kind of guerrilla tactics we're using now. He breached numerous Imperial bases and installations in an attempt to free his homeworld during the Galactic Civil War. As such the Imperials had quite a lot of information on him and his methods, including his preferred tools.”

“Fine, I get it,” Joraz said with a disgruntled sigh before shifting his attention to the Dressellian. “So, Higgs, if you hate the Empire so much, why are you working for them?”

Higgs slid down the ladder before answering. “Could give you a lot of justifications for it, but the truth is I discovered that I just like fighting and the Empire usually pays better than the New Republic. Once my planet was liberated, went freelance. Don't get me wrong, I've never taken a job from the Empire that would have me at odds with the Republic; not eager to see the Impies occupying Dressel again; thankfully the Xen'Chi are hated by everyone.”

He turned to Solan. “Charges are set to trigger when you're ready.”

Solan nodded. “Then this is the plan: once we breach we split into three teams. Dirzen, take Higgs, Jolsk, and Joraz and get the front gate down for Flare Platoon. Higgs, if Dirzen can't slice into the door controls, do you have enough explosives left to blow it up?”

“Hard to say,” Higgs responded. “Not real familiar with the Xen'Chi yet. Don't know what kind of reinforcement materials they might have used. Sure I'll figure out something.”

Joraz rolled his eyes. “I'm filled with so much confidence right now.”

“Just keep me covered,” Dirzen said to him. “I can figure out their systems.”

Solan resumed his speech as he looked to Tira, the former Chalactan Adept. “Tira, since you're able to sense where the prisoners are, you'll be in charge of the second team. Take Kylani, Baxar, Roanaka, and Nua with you to locate and secure them. Don't move them unless absolutely necessary. They'll be protected in their cells once the shooting starts.”

“I'll keep them safe,” she assured him.

“So that just leaves Syla, Trucido, and myself to do... what exactly?” Akron demanded. “If you say 'guard the exit to the sewer', I swear I'm going to deck you. No way you're keeping me out of this battle.”

Solan smiled. “You can fight me later if you want, but for the present I think you'll enjoy our task. We're to be the first to go through the breach. Once we've secured the area our job will be to cause as much havoc as possible and draw the Xen'Chi away from the other teams.”

Akron chuckled. “Now you're talking.”

With the orders given, everyone got back to a safe distance and Solan gave the signal to Higgs to detonate the charges. The area was rocked by the vibrations of the explosion, but true to the Dressellian's word, the sewer did not collapse on them.

Solan rushed forward with the rest of his team behind him. The thermal imaging on his visor told him that the breach had been successful through the smoke and dust and he activated his repulsor pack to shoot him through the hole. Finally the moment had come. Finally he could put these Xen'Chi to the test and see how they fared...

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Re: Target Practice

Post by Halomek » Mon Nov 24, 2014 10:09 pm

As Solan shot out of the hole he noticed that they had entered a large open room. There were several tables placed equidistantly from each other with plates of food in some spots. A few Xen'Chi that had been unfortunate enough to be under the explosion were down on the floor – some badly burned or in pieces. Others, at tables further away, were already in the process of reacting to the disruption by grabbing for weapons. Not one of them looked to be heading for an exit to retreat.

Solan grinned. He found that encouraging and almost felt inclined to give them long enough to prepare themselves properly.

However now was not the time for indulgences. He had a job to do and prisoners to rescue, that meant every threat to their safety had to be eliminated. While still in the air, he grabbed his heavy repeater and readied the secondary setting, the grenade launcher, before taking aim at a cluster of Xen'Chi and firing.

To their credit they did seem to realize what he was doing, and even actually started to rush towards him. It was a bold tactic, but also easily countered. Solan simply adjusted his aim to where they would be and fired there for his next shot. The grenade found its mark and made short work of the trio that had tried to rush him.

A bolt of white energy suddenly flew by his helmet, causing Solan to turn and spot a group of Xen'Chi that had overturned a table; their weapons aimed at him. He responded by lowering himself back to the ground and was about to answer with another grenade before the report of Syla's guns sounded and took them down in succession. Each fell with a slug through their head.

By now the other members of Squad 13 had made it out of the hole and were finishing off the remaining Xen'Chi in the room with a frightening efficiency. They were supposed to be the best mercenaries Helstone had and they were proving it now. The mess hall was quite literally a mess by the time they finished.

Of course Solan didn't expect the ease of their first blood to last. The Xen'Chi had been taken by surprise, but his helmet was picking up the sound of what he had to assume was an alarm. Better armed and better prepared Xen'Chi would be on their way very soon. Dirzen and Tira had already left with their teams to accomplish their objectives, which left his team to do his.

Akron walked over with a Xen'Chi caught in a headlock between one of his massive arms. The warrior was yelling at the Rolani in a language that Solan's helmet had no translation for as it tried to get Akron to release him with jabs to the midsection and kicks to the legs that should have felled an ordinary human. Akron stumbled a bit, but didn't appear to feel any of it before he suddenly grabbed the Xen'Chi's head and jerked quickly, snapping the alien's neck.

“I like these guys, they're feisty,” Akron said with a laugh as he dropped the body. “I thought we might get one of them to tell us where the control room is, but then I figured we probably won't have time to play with him. Maybe one of the others will be more cooperative.”

“Doubtful,” Solan answered as he set his helmet to scan. Although he was unfamiliar with Xen'Chi technology, he should still be able to locate areas of the base that were drawing more power than others. One of them was likely the control center, or at the very least it would be a vital location for the holding facility.

“I agree,” Trucido spoke up as he approached and stepped around the body Akron had dropped with a certain amount of distaste. “The reports I've read indicate that the Xen'Chi will fight down to the last soldier. They must have a very fanatical warrior mentality. Did anyone else notice that none of the ones in here ran?”

“Of course,” Syla answered. “It was one of the first things I noticed. I'm not used to seeing that.”

“That's because smart soldiers know when to retreat from a battle they can't win,” Akron added. “These guys might be good fighters, but tactics don't appear to be their strong point.”

“The state of the war would disagree with you,” Trucido argued. “The Empire and the Republic are losing on all fronts. The thing about fanaticism is that it takes a dim view of the minions thinking for themselves. What we just encountered were probably the lowest rung of their society – the muscle to the Xen'Chi leaders that give them their commands.”

Syla made a distasteful expression. “What a horrible way to live.”

Solan had been half-listening to the conversation as he studied the readings he was getting back. He was expecting to be attacked again at any minute by Xen'Chi reinforcements, but so far nothing indicated that any Xen'Chi were coming for them. In all likelihood the Xen'Chi were being drawn away by the other two teams, which meant he had to decide on a target quickly if they were going to refocus the Xen'Chi's ire back on them.

“I have a target,” Solan said as he picked the most likely candidate for the control room. “This way.”

The others followed after Solan as he dashed out of the room and down a hallway. There was plenty of evidence of fighting along the way. The rest of Squad 13 were acquitting themselves well. Solan noticed plenty of dead Xen'Chi, but so far no signs that any of the members of his team had been killed.

Solan almost didn't notice as Trucido stepped up his pace to run beside him. “What is your thought on our enemy, Solan? Do you think this is the best they have?”

He was a little surprised to see Trucido ask a direct question. The man had kept mostly to himself since being assigned to the squad. He wondered what had spurred the sudden initiative, but regardless Solan had an answer for him. “It would certainly be a poor reflection on the rest of the galaxy if it was. There has to be more to the Xen'Chi than what we've seen so far.”

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Re: Target Practice

Post by Halomek » Wed Nov 26, 2014 12:19 am

Dirzen and his team had made it to the guard station at the front of the holding facility complex, though not without incident. The Xen'Chi were relentless and had been waiting for for them with a barricade when Dirzen's team had managed to make it to the guard station. If not for Dirzen's remotes, they might never have made it through. As it was, the remotes had been able to fly over the barricade and disrupt the Xen'Chi behind it long enough for the team to take them out.

Unfortunately, Jolsk had taken some kind of Xen'Chi blade in the shoulder and as a result his left arm was unresponsive. If not for the Iotran's skills and training, the blade likely would have found its intended mark a little higher up and been plunged into his neck, but he had been able to dodge at the last second.

Currently Jolsk was using his one good arm, along with Higgs and Joraz, to keep another group of Xen'Chi at bay while Dirzen focused on slicing the door controls. The barricade initially erected to keep them out was now being used against the gray-skinned aliens for the same purpose.

“They've become more cautious,” Jolsk noticed as he fired off a few shots. “I wonder why they're not trying to rush us like before?”

“Who cares?” Joraz answered back as he dodged behind the barricade to avoid some incoming plasma shots. “Once we get those doors open then the Reps can deal with these guys all they want!” He looked over at Dirzen. “Aren't you done yet?!”

Dirzen seemed distracted. “I think I've just about got it. The system is surprisingly easier than I expected it to be. You'd think that coming from outside the known galaxy their base design philosophies would be vastly different than the galactic norm, but other than their more organic aesthetics, it's not all that different than-”

“I don't care!” Joraz interrupted him. “Get that damn thing open!”

As if on command, the front doors to the facility groaned open. “There, it's done. I've also sent word to Flare Platoon that the way is open.”

Clara and the rest of Flare Platoon didn't take long to enter the building. She sent her troops ahead as she stopped to talk to Dirzen. “Where's your leader? Where's the mando?”

“Solan is running interference deeper in the base,” Dirzen answered her. “Why?”

Clara shook her head. “We don't have much time. While we were waiting for your people, we intercepted some Xennie transmissions. Seems as though you've got their full attention. They have reinforcements inbound – a lot of them.”

Dirzen's face was grim. “I'll get in touch with him right away.”

***

Reaching the prisoners was easier than Tira had been expecting and she knew she owed a lot of that to Roanaka. The Wookiee was a martial arts master, wielding double ryyk blades and using all of her great strength to her advantage in the tight corridors of the holding facility. With either herself or Baxar able to provide warnings when Xen'Chi were approaching, it gave the team plenty of time to prepare for an assault.

And while Roanaka was racking up the largest kill count, there was no one in the team who wasn't pulling their own. Even Baxar, who Tira had personally doubted would stand his ground in a true fight, had proven to be a capable warrior – using his shorter stature to his advantage to dodge incoming fire. It just went to show her again that she couldn't trust preconceived ideas.

Of course Roanaka's killing spree didn't go by without some trade-offs. By the time she finished decapitating the last Xen'Chi standing guard in front of the prisoner section, her armor was pockmarked with blast marks and her exposed fur was matted with blood from cut marks from the blades that the Xen'Chi liked to carry with them.

“More are coming,” Baxar commented nervously.

Tira nodded, she felt it too. “We've only got minutes at best. Who's good with door locks?”

“It doesn't matter,” Kylani replied as she pointed a scaled finger at the control panel. “One of them jammed their blade into the controls. It's busted.”

Tira frowned. It had been done, no doubt, to stall them long enough for more Xen'Chi to arrive and deal with them. That didn't leave them with many options.

“I can probably rewire it,” Baxar said as he walked over and pulled out the blade. It disappeared somewhere in the Ranat's robe before he tore off an access panel. “It doesn't look too complicated.”

“There's no time,” Nua said with a shake of her head. The Southern Nikto leveled her assault rifle at the doors. “Stand back and I'll blast it open with a grenade.”

Baxar squeaked in alarm and was about to retreat before Roanaka stepped in front of him, placing herself between the Ranat and Nua's weapon. She roared something defiant that made Tira wish she spoke Wookiee, but the meaning seemed to be clear.

“We might harm the prisoners if we blast our way inside,” Tira said to Nua. “Besides, without those doors, we'll having nothing to prevent the Xen'Chi from charging inside until back-up arrives.”

Nua sighed in annoyed resignation before lowering her weapon. “Make it quick, Ranat. If those doors aren't open by the time more Xen'Chi arrive, I'm blasting it whether you're in the way or not.”

Baxar nodded as he hurriedly got to work.

Nua then proceeded to reach into a satchel and pull out several small octagonal devices before moving a little distance down the hall towards some prone Xen'Chi bodies and affixing them. Tira moved a little closer to see what she was doing before Nua put up a hand to tell her to stop.

“HX2 antipersonnel mines,” Nua explained. “These bastards won't know what hit them. Once they get within range: boom. Goodbye reinforcements.”

Tira knelt down. “That's great and all, but how are we supposed to get the prisoners past that if the Xen'Chi don't take the bait?”

Nua shrugged. “I'll throw a grenade or something. Should set all the mines off.”

“That's going to be messy,” Tira commented with a grimace.

Nua gave her a dismissive glance. “This isn't a lifestyle for someone with a weak stomach.”

“I know that-” Tira started to reply indignantly before Baxar interrupted her with a yell.

“I got it!”

Tira got back to her feet in time to see Baxar trigger the door controls. Unfortunately the blast doors only separated about an inch before stopping. The Ranat's whiskers twitched in confusion. “Wait... I know I can do this...”

“You had your chance,” Nua shouted back as she started to stand and grab her gun. “Now we do it my way!”

Once again Roanaka intervened as the Wookiee stood before the door and placed her hands in the crack. In spite of her injuries, she growled with effort as she used her prodigious strength to force the doors open wide enough for the team to make it through.

They moved inside quickly before Roanaka forced the doors closed again. It wouldn't stand up to any real concerted effort to get in, but it would stymie the Xen'Chi for a little bit. Without wasting time, Baxar immediately got to work on the interior access panel to see if he could seal the doors.

Tira meanwhile looked over what they had to deal with. The prisoner cells were divided into four large holding areas which used energy fields to keep everyone locked inside. There was no apparent effort made to separate the Imperial prisoners from the Republic prisoners.

There was a lot of commotion inside the cells as the prisoners noticed that Tira and her team weren't Xen'Chi. To forestall a lot of questions, she took the initiative and spoke up. “My name is Tira Vizzi. We're part of a joint Imperial-Republic operation to free you. Until our backup arrives, we need you to stay in the cells for your own safety.”

That seemed to quiet most of them down, probably a benefit of their military training.

Nua walked up beside her. “There's something I don't understand about all of this,” she remarked just loudly enough for Tira to hear. “Why are the Xen'Chi taking prisoners at all?”

Tira looked at her. “What do you mean? Why wouldn't they?”

“Think about it,” Nua urged. “The Xen'Chi consider themselves the superior race to the point of blind arrogance. That much is clear. Why take so many prisoners if they believe us to be inferior? I could see capturing a few high ranking officers to get intelligence, but beyond that... I don't get it.”

“Slaves, probably,” Tira guessed.

“You take civilians as slaves,” Nua pointed out, “not military. Soldiers are harder to break. They're not as fearful.”

“Perhaps the Xen'Chi just think everybody is that weak compared to them.”

Nua didn't seem convinced. “Maybe... This still feels off to me.”

The conversation was interrupted as one of the Imperial prisoners made his way to the front of one of the cells. “Excuse me, Chalactan! Are you the one in charge here? I need to speak with you. It's urgent!”

Tira walked over to him. “Listen, we don't have a lot of time-”

“Look, I'm guessing you're Republic, but I don't suppose you know who the Imperial commander is by any chance?”

Tira let out an annoyed grunt, even though she could guess why the Imperial automatically assumed she and her team were Republic. “Actually, we're a mercenary team working for the Empire. We were sent by High General Teron Helstone.”

The officer looked disheveled and weary, but his eyes widened with hope at the revelation. “Helstone? Good... that's good to hear. I'm Lieutenant Commander Felak Nomada, I was a bridge officer aboard the Cleansing before it was lost at Ord Mantell. I was one of the few lucky enough to escape. Whatever happens here, you need to make sure I reach General Helstone safely. I have information that is vital to the Empire that he needs to hear.”

Before Tira could answer, she heard the muffled sound of explosions on the other side of the door. Nua laughed at the noise. “Looks like they fell for it. Scratch a few more Xen'Chi.”

Tira could still sense more Xen'Chi on their way. Nua's bomb trick might have slowed them down, but it didn't kill all of them. She started moving towards the door, before stopping and turning to look at Nomada once more. “We're being paid to get you all out of here alive and that's what I intend to do. You have my personal guarantee that I won't leave anyone behind.”

Tira was about to talk to Baxar about the door before her comlink started buzzing. “This is Tira,” she answered.

Solan's voice responded over the tiny speaker. “We're moving the prisoners now. Get them to the sewers and as far away from this place as possible. Dirzen just informed me that a large number of Xen'Chi reinforcements are on their way as we speak. Soldiers from Flare Platoon should be there soon to help you.”

“Understood. We'll get them out safely.”

Apparently satisfied, Solan cut the connection without any formalities.

Nua looked at her, having overhead the conversation. “What did I tell you? Why send so many reinforcements for mere slaves?”

Tira hefted her blaster, feeling a little uneasy at Nua's words. “Let's not wait around to find out.”

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Halomek
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Re: Target Practice

Post by Halomek » Fri Nov 28, 2014 8:56 pm

Much to Solan's chagrin, the power readings he had followed had not in fact brought them to the control room, but instead to some kind of laboratory. When they arrived it had been all but deserted by the Xen'Chi. Whatever they had been working on at this facility was not evident as the place was spotless, so rather than waste time trying to find out, Solan had been about to lead his team to his second best guess as to where the control room might be before he received Dirzen's message.

The news of reinforcements changed his plans considerably, but it also gave him an idea. He issued orders to have Dirzen and Higgs meet up with him at the strongest power source while sending Akron, Syla, and Trucido to help Tira secure the prisoners. He was reasonably certain that the strongest source of power would be the reactor for the facility.

As he arrived at his destination, Solan was a little relived to see that he had guessed right this time. Dirzen and Higgs were already there waiting for him, but unexpectedly so was Clara. His question was obvious, but spoken anyway: “What are you doing here?”

Clara smirked. “Listen, Faceplate, this is as much my op as it is yours, so I'll be damned if I let some Imperial mercs outshine Flare Platoon. I overheard you giving orders to your buddies and I've got a pretty good idea of what you plan to do. Blowing up the base with the Xennie reinforcements inside is right up my alley.”

Solan nodded, appreciative of Clara's intuition. It was no wonder her forces had survived for so long on Contruum without backup. “You guessed right. Higgs, I need you to find a way to rig the reactor to blow. Dirzen, I assume you've made some headway translating their systems, provide assistance to Higgs if he needs it.”

Dirzen nodded as the two mercenaries got to work.

Solan looked over at Clara. “Faceplate? What happened to Triangle Man?”

Clara waved it off. “Let's just say you've earned yourself a more dignified nickname after the way you and your team made a mess of the Xennies.” She jerked a thumb that was vaguely in the direction of the facility entrance. “Anyway, I left some spotters outside before the rest of the platoon charged inside. They'll let me know the moment they see any activity on the horizon.”

They waited for a tense couple of moments as Clara kept in contact with her spotters and the rest of the platoon. Finally she looked over at Solan. “They've been sighted. Five of those round little pillboxes they like to call assault transports coming in fast. I know from personal experience that just one of those things can carry up to fifty troops. My guys have already evacuated with the rest of your team into the sewer, so the time to do this thing is now.”

“Agreed.” He turned to Higgs. “What's your status?”

Higgs grinned. “Can't do anything fancy. No time. Best I was able to do is set the reactor to overload. Maybe a minute, minute and a half at most, before it explodes.” He indicated a display panel with a red button. “All set to go. Press the button to trigger it.”

“Then that means if we're going to maximize the casualties someone needs to stick around long enough for the Xennies to enter the base before activating it,” Clara surmised.

“We're here to rescue prisoners, not kill Xen'Chi,” Solan argued. “It doesn't matter how many of them we take out. This is mainly to cover our tracks.”

Clara jabbed a finger at his chestplate. “No, you're here to rescue prisoners. Flare Platoon is here to fight a war. The more of these guys we take out now, the fewer of them my comrades will have to face later. It doesn't matter what you say anyway, I was going to insist on being the one to do it. Take your people and get moving. I've got this.”

Solan didn't try to talk her out of it, though his appreciation of Clara did go up a little more. He assumed she knew what she was doing, and that there was a chance she wouldn't make it out, but Clara was still prepared to try anyway just to inflict maximum damage on her enemy. It was a worthwhile sentiment in his eyes.

With Dirzen and Higgs in tow, Solan bolted towards the sewer hole. The base had been fairly well cleared out by Flare Platoon so they didn't encounter any resistance on their way. They managed to meet up with the assembled group further down in the sewer at what was hopefully a safe distance from the explosion.

Sol Rovann was waiting for them, or more accurately waiting for Clara, since his first question at not seeing her was: “Where's Flare?”

“Stayed behind,” Higgs answered. “Wanted to kill as many Xen'Chi as possible.”

A second later the entire area shook as the sewer tunnel was filled with the deafening sound of an explosion. Hot smoke and debris flooded the tunnel; more of a distraction than a danger since the sewer water cooled the air and the smoke was already rising through the grates above.

“You Hutt slime just left her to die!” Sol accused as he took an ill thought out swing at Solan. Even if the blow connected, it was bound to do more damage to Sol's hand than Solan's helmet.

Regardless, Solan dodged it and countered with a right cross that sent the SpecForce trooper toppling to the ground. Sol glared at him as he started to get back up, his lip bloodied, but still more than willing to continue the fight. Solan was glad to oblige him since he had a feeling words would be lost on the man.

However the fight was interrupted by Clara's voice echoing down the sewer. “Cool it, Longshot! I'm fine!”

A moment later, Clara emerged from the gloom, dirty and scratched-up, but otherwise seemingly in perfect health. She was grinning from ear to ear. “Now that was satisfying!”

Sol grinned too, his relief evident. “You lucked out, Mando.”

Clara laughed as she approached and threw an arm around Sol. “No, I'm pretty sure you did. Faceplate here would have mopped the floor with you.” She wiped the blood off of Sol's lip and flicked it away. “You're a good man, but that temper of yours makes you fight like a drunk ronto. I'm touched you tried though.”

Sol seemed a little exasperated. “Uh, yeah. No problem.”

Clara looked at Solan. “Don't mind him, he means well. What do you say we get these prisoners to safety?”

The situation defused, Solan nodded. “Of course.”

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