RtF Bonus Fiction - Baiting a Trap
"Theta, withdraw immediately before they launch their own fighters!" Pell barked his last order to his escorts even as his comm unit fizzled and died, a piercing blast of electromagnetic backwash forcing the Admiral to wince and shield his ears.
The 'Bus' had many perks, not least shields and armour that wouldn't look out of place on a frigate, but she lacked the manoeuvrability to extricate herself from the centre of such a carefully laid trap. The rest of Theta stood a better chance of breaking free of the ambush and making it back to the fleet. Striding to the cockpit, he craned his head around to try and pinpoint his escorts... there! Flight IIIs missile boats, in a tight cluster, had overlapped their shields and were barrelling away from the hulking Interdictor, while the distinctive TIE Advanced' of Flight II burst away like mad hornets, throwing off the aim of the mines limited systems. They had clearly heard his last order and responded like the veterans he knew them to be, wasting no time in questioning orders or fighting an idiotic last stand.
Two of them made it, joining the missile boats in sprinting out of the Interdictor's area of effect. The stragglers weren't so lucky, with Pell forced to look away as first one and then the other were halted by ion blasts and then summarily dealt with by the Interdictor's forward turbolasers.
"So much for our new blood" Schueler reflected, his natural sarcasm failing to mask the cold fury in his eyes.
"It won't be the only blood that gets spilled if they don't back off now." Pell spoke quietly and without emotion, trying to keep a lid on his conflicting feelings. He frowned as Theta suddenly streaked into the distance, entering lightspeed far earlier than they should have been able to.
"Have we got any sensors? Is the gravity well powered?" He leaned over the co-pilot's console and flicked a series of unresponsive toggles and switches, with no noticeable change to the hissing screens.
"Don't think so, you can normally feel it this close - makes your hair stand on end." It was Schueler's turn to frown, reaching the same conclusion as Pell.
"I don't think they can sustain it - they look the part but that Interdictor is missing a few teeth, where are their fighters and the rest of their batteries? Theta shouldn't have been able to slip away with such ease." Pell paused to consider the situation, "It may explain the minefield as well - they can't rely on their batteries or squadrons to keep us pinned so they've resorted to third rate ion mines that are struggling to hit a stationary fighter at a click."
"Didn't save our two wingmen and doesn't mean we aren't stuck right in the middle of their trap." Emrys spoke for the first time in minutes, his few words straight to the point as ever.
"That's very true, I'll admit - but it doesn't look like we're going to have to wait long for an answer." Pell gestured to the Interdictor as its bulk steadily filled the cockpit's field of vision. The ion mines ceased firing with a last stuttering hiccup of cerulean bolts as the enemy capital ship turned slowly to bring her hangar over the top of the drifting 'Bus'. A slight tremor signalled their tractor beam locking on to them and beginning a slow recovery - although even that projected beam felt somehow... wrong. The tremor built and faded like an erratic heartbeat, another subtle sign that their ambushers - their captors - were operating right on the edge of their capability and taking big risks.
Emrys said nothing more as the next few minutes passed, his eyes fixed on the cavernous hangar mouth seemingly swallowing them whole like some ancient void creature of myth. Schueler slipped back into the main hold, calling the names of the vessel's Crew Chief and the pair of assigned gunners and outlining a short but sharp brief on how best to resist their inevitable boarding action. Pell sighed, removing his uniform cap and setting it aside for a moment, reaching for his code cylinders and cracking off their sensitive connectors.
"There's little point at this stage Colonel, we'll achieve nothing more than a waste of lives with a futile gesture. I suspect they're here for me and there's no good reason for you all to suffer for that fact." Pell turned to Emrys, "Start a system wipe if we can, give them nothing - if the system won't stabilise, break the memory cores into shards." Emrys nodded, tapping the console ahead of him for a moment before breaking into the ports and hatches studding its underside. A noise of breaking crystal, memory wafer and plastek quickly followed.
A shudder passed through the ship's hull as the immobilised lander was set down at their destination, the view from the cockpit almost pitch black. The opposite hangar, studded with launch tubes, sensors and lighting on an Imperial vessel, was in complete darkness. Reflected starlight or the shimmer of the magnetic field seemed to hint at dangling cables and twisted metals. Whatever had happened to the Interdictor, it didn't appear to have been caused by old age or neglect - it struck him for the first time that despite its lack of external damage this ship had been fought over and with apparent savagery.
A sparking hiss signalled a fusion cutter slicing into the armoured hatch of the shuttle, cutting rapidly and precisely through the locking mechanisms and seals before the heavy ramp, with a screech, fell under its own weight to the deck below. A final spark of intense light signalled the cutter powering down, leaving Pell with his first sight of his captor and a half dozen of his, heavily armed, cronies.
"If I'm honest, I have no idea who you are - but I suspect you know exactly who I am. Be advised that you still have time to make this right and avoid the consequences of this... hostility."
"Hostility?" A barking laugh was echoed quickly, the figure's men joining their leader in a sycophantic and entirely unconvincing display. Stepping closer, the figure was still no more identifiable to Pell, but he quickly tried to gauge his foe. A male Muun, tall even for that cadaverous species, standing at least two full metres. His pale skin was heavily scarred by what looked like old burns across an elongated face and skull. His long hands were crossed in front of his body, his form largely shrouded beneath a broad shawl of dark leather. "Eh. Imperial talk of hostility amuses me greatly, the hypocrisy... um, delights me." The man's nasal tone dripped with contempt, unusually for a race that prided itself on reserve and appearing aloof to 'lesser' species.
The half dozen guards, a quintet of Weequay and what appeared to be a Devaronian, visibly twitched at 'Imperial' - an interesting response... Pell tagged them mentally as hired muscle, no doubt to keep their master from dirtying his hands. All of them shared a common lack of uniformity, their gear a mix of the practical and the ridiculous, flight suits strung with fetishes and trophies and weapons festooned with slug throwers, sights and a bizarre range of combat attachments. He looked back to the Muun, none of the Imperials having yet moved from the shuttle as an awkward silence fell for a moment.
"Hypocrisy from a banker is a rich insult indeed," Pell smiled, baiting the Muun deliberately and hoping for a response. He'd taken a guess that the cloak was a variation of the traditional shawl that signified a senior member of the IGBC, the Banking Clan of the Muun race. "From an allegedly Imperial world that nonetheless guarantees the currency of our enemy, the same world that spent the Clone Wars backing both sides and trying to wring every credit out of their own dying world?"
The Muun went paler still, rage clouding his features and pulling his scarred face tight as he struggled to control his response.
"I am not, eh, some child to be goaded. You will stay silent or I will take your tongue from your head." A snap of the fingers and an impatient gesture gave clear direction. The raised blasters of the Muun's guards were likewise clear. Hands raised from his sides, Pell carefully and steadily walked down the still cooling ramp of his transport. The men and women crewing his ship followed, before being ushered away by four of the guards. The striding clip of Imperial and mercenary boots faded rapidly. Pell watched them disappear through a main access hatch, on the other side of the dimly lit and largely empty hangar. Gazing around him for a moment he noted the only other vessel - a matte black U-Wing, its cockpit and troop bay open, with S-foils locked forward.
"I'm just impressed to be honest - that U-Wing means there's less than a dozen of you onboard I suspect? I must admit to being intrigued." Pell's tone changed to one of genuine interest, despite himself he couldn't help but be drawn into whatever mad scheme this creature had devised for him for Sith knew what reasons... vendetta, madness, obsession?
"This vessel has served its purpose - a wreck, eh. A discarded hulk barely capable of flight, but with a slaved navicomputer and a few skilled hands, more than capable of laying a trap for you and your arrogant band of criminals." The Muun smiled broadly, its genuine joy beginning to break through its previous contempt - good, Pell thought, his arrogance would give them all time to think and plan.
"The Banking Clan is not short of a Credit or two, but in this case a defaulted loan from a Toydarian junk merchant was more than enough leverage. The loyalty of your own people is equally subject to leverage, our contact informed us of this journey of yours long before you made it. Eh, worry not - your pilots will not be harmed. I will not have it said that we are unjust. They will be locked away and left, if there is a justice to this galaxy they will starve or suffocate as this ship's systems slowly die. Or they will live and the galaxy will find a new way to end them, eh. No matter."
"I suppose that I should be grateful to you for that at least" Pell attempted to remain calm, his imagination suddenly flashing to a vision of his comrades flash frozen or twisted bodies left to rot in this carcass of a ship. Other images and memories from a long career of brutal victories and crushing defeats sprang quickly to mind, to be stifled a moment later.
"Your gratitude, like this ship, has... um... no worth." The Muun smiled again, even stepping closer to Pell before swaying back to his original position. "You have worth however, the bait I need to set a crueller and more subtle trap." He turned as the hangar's hatch opened again, the returning guards now joined by a pair of Ugnaughts struggling to keep up with the longer stride of their Weequay companions. The motley collection of mercenaries quickly stowed their gear back onboard the U-Wing, the Devaronian stepping up into the cockpit and beginning pre-flight checks.
"As we speak, eh, the last spark of life in this ship is failing. In a few hours the last system will cease to function and the hull will cool and become... um... little more than garbage in the void. A fitting tomb I think." The Muun turned with a sweep of his shawl, hands now clasping nervously behind his back. The pair of Weequay still watching him nudged Pell forcefully, pushing him to his knees as the closest guard roughly frisked him for weapons or comms. Ripping his rank insignia and code cylinders from his duty uniform, the guard peered at them with interest for a moment before flinging them away to scatter noisily across the scarred deck. A hand under either arm pulled him to his feet before a heavy pair of restraints were slapped tightly across his wrists. A sharp prick in the neck made him wince, followed by a jolt of agony as the Muun triggered the shock charger that had been slapped onto Pell's exposed skin - a barbaric device usually used to curb savage dogs or feral carnids.
"Your resistance will buy you nothing more than pain. Eh, but we have a long journey ahead and your silence will be most welcome." The Muun triggered the device again, a long lashing spasm of energy driving Pell rapidly into insensibility. He came to for a moment with a vague sensation of passing time, groggy but realising that he had been packed into the enemy shuttle, strapped between two of the Weequay mercenaries. A turn of the head brought the Muun and Devaronian into view in the cockpit, while the Ugnaughts appeared to noisily play some deranged variant of Sabacc. Focusing his eyes on the transparisteel panel opposite his seat he made out the dwindling form of the Interdictor - engines dead and hull dark.
Noticing the waking Admiral, the closest guard snarled to his comrade - as the U-Wing shot into hyperspace Pell saw starlines of his own as the butt of a gaudily modified E-11 blaster slammed into the side of his head, restoring him to unconsciousness.
"Well this is an interesting situation to be in boss..." Emrys chuckled, enjoying the sheer ridiculousness of their situation.
"That long faced bastard is going to regret not killing us, I swear that on every bloody idol and hokey religion in the sector." Schueler, cuffed to a stanchion in what appeared to be a squadron ready room adjacent to the Interdictor's main hangar, cursed. Emrys was in a similar position, between the two gunners - both of them equally unhappy with their current situation.
"This reminds me of the Hammer, about as much life in this hulk and twice the character." The youngest gunner smirked at her older comrade's poor quip, both keen to keep a sense of bravado in the face of senior officers and the impending likelihood of a miserable death.
"Thankfully... she's... about... as well... maintained" Mark's breath burst from his lungs with his last heave on the stanchion to which he was secured, the corroded durasteel fitting suddenly cracking and partially giving way. Slipping his restraints through the now yawning gap, he stretched his arms in front of him and took a moment to look around as his colleagues raised a cheer.
"Old Imperial ship I guess, must have been seized in a raid - all her damage looks to be internal, she looked pristine from outside. Maybe in a yard or in build, that looks like the burn from a breaching charge on the bulkhead." He paused, sizing up several chunks of metallic debris on the deck in front of him. Realising his intent, the other three shuffled apart, allowing Mark to heavily swing a fractured length of structural beam at their own stanchion. After three ringing blows their own restraints slipped past broken metal.
"Em, I know you can pick these so don't play dumb." Mark smiled wryly at his Lieutenant Colonel, knowing full well that nearly 20 years as an Imperial officer hadn't fully erased a childhood pulling scams on the streets of Coronet.
"I'm going to pretend to be insulted that you even had to ask." His cuffs dropped to the deck with a clatter, followed within minutes by three more sets.
"We're just off the hangar - the lazy sods dumped us as far as they could be bothered to walk. Let's go quietly..." Mark paused for a moment as his gunners wrenched open the seized hatch to the ready room with a mix of loud swearing and screeching metal. "Right, now let's try that one again."
Quickly finding themselves in the hangar it was immediately obvious that they had been abandoned by their erstwhile kidnappers. The 'Bus' sat untouched, its yawning ramp spoiling an otherwise normal appearance. Hurrying back onboard, a thorough search revealed no sign of tracking devices, traps or other acts of malice or sabotage. Emrys shook his head at the entirely amateur behaviour of their foes, he supposed that the old adage remained true - you got what you paid for. Confident that they would simply suffocate or expire with the failing ship, they hadn't even bothered to make sure of it by crippling the shuttle. Idiots.
"System restart is going to take 7 or 8 minutes, in that time I want that hatch dogged shut. She's not going to hold a seal, but there's plenty of room for 4 in the cockpit, we can lock it down and get back to the fleet within the hour. It's going to be cold, but we're going to get home in one piece. Mark settled into the pilot's chair and started the cold start sequence, relaxing as the flickering indicators suddenly burned strong, the tell-tale whine of the power and propulsion systems beginning to initiate. From close behind him came the rough hiss of a pneumatic ram as the ramp was hauled up and hurriedly welded shut, the junior gunner expertly wielding a spot-torch from the lander's maintenance bay. The acrid smell of fused armour plate and steel filled the cockpit for a moment before restarting re-circ fans dragged the chemical stink away.
"That should hold tight enough, we're ready when you are boss." Emrys reported minutes later as he and the gunners settled into the other cockpit stations, sealing the rest of the lander behind them.
Mark responded without a word, engaging the repulsorlift and bringing the 'Bus' up off its belly, it's landing gear having never been engaged after she had been dragged into the Interdictor's belly. The capital ship was dark, its magnetic field barely holding integrity as the shuttle slipped through it and no shields protecting the hulk from the cold menace of space. Mark made a point of marking the position on his datapad, Emrys' destruction of the computer and hypercomms unit earlier having made their return trip significantly more complex to execute. But their destination had been Aurora Prime, not a moving base or hidden fleet - rather the jewel of their Empire and a world stored in the navi-computer of every vessel of the TC fleet.
Theta still had a mission to execute - albeit now a message and warning for their Grand Admiral rather than Pell's delivery. As the 'Bus' entered hyperspace another mission sat in the back of Mark's mind - the recovery of their superior and the many ways in which a Muun was about to be made to suffer.