Chapter Eight

 

 

 

†††† "My first command." Thought Carek as he went to talk with his friends. "I know that Captain Arkin doesn't think much of my friends and I, but its time he learned what we are capable of doing." Carek Argonaut was one of half-a-dozen castaways of a rebel cell that had been based out of base station Heracles. While the team was on a mission to Alderaan, base station Heracles had had to evacuate. The cell was thought to have been killed when Alderaan was destroyed, thus the base commander left the cell no clues as to where they had relocated.

††† The cell-after a long roundabout way-had managed to reestablish contact with the rebellion by contacting a ship of the Alliance fleet. The commander of the Corellian corvette Apocalypse, Captain Arkin was of the old school when it came to how his ship was run. Arkin considered Carek and his friends little more than brigands; they were undisciplined, disorganized, and completely unacceptable.

††† Once Captain Arkin was certain that the cell members were not Imperial spies, he had to find something for these "ragmuffins" to do. Captain Arkin had received information that the Empire had taken over a botanical research facility in the Lahara system. Figuring the cell to be expendable, Captain Arkin called Carek to the bridge.

††† "You wanted a chance to lead, now you've got it. Assemble a strike team and report to the hanger bay. The Empire has taken over a botanical research station and I need to know why."

††† When the strike team met in the hanger bay, it included: Leland Archimedes, Halasa, and StJohn Hawk as the team's pilots, Kyle, Lazarus Maxenties, and Roberts as the team's weapons specialists. Rathbone Loegin as the team's engineer. Carek even allowed twelve year old Andre Trelldouwigan to come along in a specially designed R2 shell that Andre could hide inside. Carek wasn't exactly sure what function Andre would perform but it seemed to be all too ingenious an idea to let it go to waste. When Captain Arkin questioned the wisdom of allowing a child to be on a strike team.

††† "One never know's when a skifter in the hole can come in handy." He answered, for Carek was determined to show Captain Arkin that everyone in the cell and the three shanghaied smugglers were a force to be reckoned with.

††† Captain Arkin's briefing was short. "The Apocalypse has just rendezvoused with a stock light freighter, the Spectre. The Spectre has been modified and does not have any known affiliations with the Alliance this should enhance your chances of success. The Spectre is carrying holocrystals, foodstuffs and other trade items to provide you with a plausible cover. The Apocalypse will wait here in the sun's shadow until you return." Turning to Carek, Arkin continued. "Here is a comlink and a set of coordinates. The comlink has our command frequency and has been modified so that you will be able to contact us even while we are in the sun's shadow. The coordinates are to our rally point in case you have to bug out in a hurry. Good luck. You have fifteen minutes before you depart."

††† The team boarded the Spectre.

††† "Well at least Arkin was right about the 'modified' part." Said Rathbone after a five minute check of the ship's systems. "This ship has got better guns, better speed, better maneuverability, and has armor and shields to boot."

††† "Armor and shields?" Said Leland. "I hate to say it," He continued quietly. "but this ship is even better than the Bantha."

††† There was kind of an awkward silence for a moment before it was shattered by the PA.

††† "One minute to launch."

††† "Well lets show them how they do it at Heracles." Said Carek, turning to the ship's communication panel. "Acknowledged Apocalypse. Spectre standing by."

††† One minute later, the Spectre pulled away and entered the system's asteroid belt from a direction that would protect the Apocalypse's position. When the Spectre broke though the belt, Carek began hailing the station.

††† "Free trader Spectre to Lahara station. Request landing instructions. Over."

††† There was no answer. Carek began scanning frequencies.

††† "Spectre to Lahara station, come in please."

††† Still no answer.

††† "I don't like this," Said Leland. "it smells like a trap."

††† "I'll check what the sensors can tell us." Said StJohn.

††† The sensors were as empty as the comlink.

††† "The sensors show no signs of life!" Said StJohn.

††† "That can't be," Responded Leland. "there's got to be somebody home."

††† "It may not make much sense but the sensors are showing no signs of life." Said Carek from over StJohn's shoulder. "We might as well make the most of it, cause we'll never get another chance this good."

††† The station had a simple central command section with three arms that enclosed the landing pads. As the Spectre approached, the hanger doors on pad one opened.

††† "At least the automatic docking program is still working." Said Leland as he landed in between two full squadrons of TIE fighters. Rathbone who had come to the bridge started suddenly.

††† "Those fighters are TIE/ins, they're the Empire's latest design. I had heard that the Empire was starting to deploy them..." Rathbone's voice trailed off while he was thinking, finally he continued. "The Force only knows what the Empire is doing here, but if they've put TIE/ins here they consider this to be a very important piece of property."

††† Once the Spectre was down, the whole team fanned out to try and find what was happening. Passing through decontamination the team found itself in center of the station. There were three doors leading to the three hangers, three doors leading to the officer's quarters, the enlisted quarters, and to the arms/training room.

††† A search of the hangers found a total of sixty TIE/ins and an Imperial interplanetary shuttle. The living quarters were all empty, but yielded a personal diary of one of the Laharan scientists. The locals were working on gene altering and bioengineering. When the Empire arrived and took over the project, the focus was redirected into bioweapons. The arms/training room contained a dozen suits of stormtrooper armor, and three dozen blaster carbines. There was however no sign of life or even a struggle.

††††† "I'm going to put on one of the suits." Said StJohn as he ††† began suiting up. "If we run into any Imperials, I'll pretend to have captured you."

††† While the team was searching the lower level of the station there was a major power fluctuation. The emergency lighting came on for a few seconds, then the main power came back on. The team split up when they took the turbolift up to the upperdeck. Leland, Halasa, StJohn, and Roberts took one lift and found themselves in main engineering. Carek took the rest of the team in the other lift and found that it opened on the main bridge.

††† The bridge and engineering were as deserted as the rest of the station.

††† "This is starting to get spooky." Said Andre, who had climbed out of his R2 costume.

††† Rathbone tapped into the main computer and found that every thing was in order.

††† "This shows that the Empire took over twelve days ago, the last entry was three days ago and it sheds no clue as to where the station's crew had disappeared to."

††† Rathbone tried to get specific information on the bioweapons, but the computer stated that, "That information was only available in the laboratory."

††† Rathbone was able to call up a schematic of the station. Once the team had this information they split up to check out the rest of the base. While the team searched for clues there were three more power fluctuations.

††† "I've run a diagnostic of the main power," Said Rathbone. "according to the computer, there's nothing wrong with the core. In fact the computer isn't even logging these power swings."

††† Leland in main engineering went to open the door the power core, and jerked his hand back from the access panel.

††† "Youch!" Cried Leland. "That door must be 500 degrees. Lets get your lightsaber over here Carek."

††† "I doubt if that is a good idea, if its 500 degrees in there, that door is probably the only thing containing the heat, so lets just leave it for now." Carek then went to check the main sensor array.

 

††† "That ought to do it." Said Kyle, as he over road the security lock out to the sensor bay. "I'm going over to security to see if there are any monitors. If I can tap into the stations's monitors, maybe I can find out where everyone's gone."

††† Carek entered the sensor bay and found the body of a crewman. Carek spoke quickly into his comlink.

††† "Roberts, StJohn report to sensors on the double."

††† While waiting for his friends, Carek examined the body. The human was about forty, was wearing engineer's coveralls, and there was an empty canister of liquid nitrogen lying next to the body. When Roberts and StJohn arrived, Carek said. "Take him to sick bay and see if you can see what killed him."

††† As the body was being taken to sickbay, Carek turned back to examine the sensors and the main communications station. Carek found that the station was sending an automatic distress signal. Carek went to shut the signal off, but misreading the label in the local language, he boosted the signal from one narrow band signal to a broad band all channels signal.

††† "Oh brother," Thought Carek. "now I've really done it." Grabbing his comlink "Rathbone. On the double to sensors. I need some help here."

††† Rathbone arrived and shut the signal off.

††† "You know I never try to act like a Jedi," He said. "Why is it you think you can act like an engineer?"

††† "I'll try and remember that." Said Carek sheepishly. "Uh, while your here, do you think you can take a look at the sensors and see if they tell you anything."

††† Rathbone grinned and said. "Sure Carek, no problem."

††† Rathbone's fingers flew across the controls.

††† "Sensors show no signs of life beyond the nine of us. I also took a look at the communications logs as well, and they don't show anything out of the ordinary either. I want to try and isolate that narrow band frequency, as the rebellion could use that information."

††† "Do what ever you can, I'm going to sick bay to see if they've found out anything."

††† When Carek reached sickbay, Roberts and StJohn were just finishing up their examination.

††† "Looks like he died of an old fashioned heart attack," Said Roberts. "there's nothing else out of the ordinary. Nothing."

††† Before Carek could respond, Kyle reported in from security.

††† "You can tell that the Empire hasn't been here long," He said. "there are no monitors on the station at all. We still have no clue where everybody went."

††† "Well that leaves the lab." Said Carek. "I want everybody together when we go into the lab, if they were trying to make bioweapons here, maybe they got more than they bargained for and I want to be as prepared as possible."

††† "I think I know of a way to even things up a bit." Said Kyle. "I saw something in security that might be of help," Kyle turned to Halasa and continued. "but I'm going to need your help." Halasa growled his consent and they both departed. Five minutes later they returned. Kyle had discovered a tripod mounted medium repeat crowd control stun blaster-normally a crew served weapon for humans-that Halasa could carry like a sidearm.

††† The team sent up in front of the door to the lab. StJohn in his stormtrooper armor stepped up to the panel and unlocked the door. The result was an anticlimax. The lab was vacant too. The team searched both physically and with the Force, aside from two lab animals in cages there was nothing to be found. Rathbone tapped into the lab's computer and down loaded his findings to his R2 unit. There was a log entry by one of the Laharan scientists that alluded to an experiment that showed so much intelligence that he thought it might be sentient, but there were no other clues. The station's crew was gone and that was all there was to it.

††† Once the files from the lab were down loaded the team mission was complete. Carek said. "I know this isn't part of our mission, but opportunity as giving us a chance we can't pass up. Rathbone I want you to set the station to self-destruct. We can eliminate sixty TIE/ins as well as what ever they tried to do here. Everybody lets prepare for departure."

††† "I think that we can make the more of this opportunity than you realize," Said StJohn. "you're over looking the fact that we can take one of the TIE/ins and fly it out to the Apocalypse."

††† Halasa growled something. "You can take that shuttle too." Leland translated.

††† "We can take their blasters too." Kyle added.

††† Overwhelmed by this logic Carek said. "You have as long as it takes Rathbone to program the self-destruct to grab whatever you think is important."

††† As StJohn, Kyle, Leland, and Halasa took a turbolift down to begin gathering equipment, there was another power fluctuation. The lift lost power and began a free fall down to the lower level, fortunately it was only a one level drop and no one was injured. Rathbone had his R2 begin programming the self-destruct sequence as he went to check the station's brig. When the doors to the brig opened, Rathbone found his way blocked by a pair of security droids. Rathbone impatiently pulled his blaster and took a shot at one of the droids.

††† Unknown to Rathbone the station was equipped with a rapid response program that was backed up by four additional security droids. One of the conditions that activated the response program was if the droids in the brig were fired on. While the droids in the brig were returning fire at Rathbone-who had decided that he was in over his head and had turned to run-the four security droids were bearing down on the four team members that were in the process of extricating themselves from the damaged turbolift.

††† When blaster fire was heard from the brig, Carek, Roberts, Lazarus, and Andre all ran to see what was going on. Rathbone almost bowled everyone over as he ran from the droids.

††† "What in the blazes is going on." Demanded Carek.

††† "Security droids in the brig." Said Rathbone.

††† "Lazarus. Roberts. Follow me." Snapped Carek.

††† Lazarus and Roberts opened fire as soon as the door to the brig opened. One droid was destroyed immediately, the other was only damaged and managed to return fire and stun Roberts. Carek leaped over Roberts and cut to second droid in half.

††† The rebels in the lift were in a fierce firefight with the four security droids.

††† "Security droids have us pinned in the turbolift." Said Kyle as he tried to hold a droid at bay with the lightsaber that had once belonged to the Dark Jedi Maldamon.

††† "We're on the way." Responded Carek as the rebels on the upper deck raced to help their comrades. Rathbone decided that he had done enough damage and that he would be better utilized by staying behind to free the prisoner.

††† By the time Lazarus, Roberts Carek, and Andre arrived at the top of the turboshaft, there were only two droids left. The droids were programmed to fire stun blasts until they were able to close to melee range then subdue their target physically. This program did not include what would happen if one of the targets happened to be a Wookiee. Halasa showed the droids that while they might be perfectly capable of subduing a human, they were sadly lacking in tensile strength to go toe-to-toe with an enraged wookiee. Halasa had disabled two of the droids, when Carek dropped down the shaft and cut the last two droids apart.

 

††† With the station's security subdued, the rebels began prepping for departure. Rathbone continued to program the computer. Kyle and Roberts began loading blasters onto a repulsor lift and loading them on the Spectre. Leland and Carek prepped the Spectre, StJohn prepped a TIE/in, Halasa prepped the shuttle, while Andre, Lazarus, and the freed rebel from the brig searched the Spectre to make sure that whatever had wiped out the crew of the station had not hidden aboard the Spectre.

††† The Spectre and the TIE launched at the same time. Halasa was standing by to pick up Rathbone after the self-destruct was activated. Carek was the first to see the two Imperial customs frigates as they exited the asteroid field. Leland accelerated away in hopes of drawing the frigates away from the station and Halasa's shuttle which had just launched. StJohn signaled the lead frigate.

††† "I am the sole survivor of the station in pursuit of the rebel freighter."

††† This ploy seemed to work for the next signal was from the lead frigate. "We are responding to a class one distress call. State the nature of the problem."

††† Before StJohn could respond, the station self-destructed. The frigates then decided to take the initiative by splitting up, the lead followed the shuttle, the second followed the Spectre. The second frigate signaled.

††† "Stock light freighter shut down your engines and prepare to be boarded."

††† Carek hoped that the smaller ships would be able to evade the frigates in the asteroid field, but the frigates were apparently used to chasing smugglers through asteroids and easily closed on both the Spectre and the shuttle. With no choices remaining, Carek contacted Kyle and Roberts in the gunner's seats.

††† "Fire at will." He then signaled the Apocalypse. "Mayday. Mayday. Spectre pursued by two customs frigates. Friendlies in TIE/in and Imperial shuttle. Mayday. Mayday. Mayday."

††† The fight was on.

††† The Spectre lived up to her name as Leland ghosted between asteroids and the frigate's fire.

††† "How do you want to play this." Leland shouted to the gunners.

††† "Let them get close," Said Roberts. "we've got a big surprise for them."

††† Leland slowed enough to allow the frigate to get into short range, then Kyle and Roberts sprung their surprise. The frigate never knew what hit them, one second all was as it should be: the freighter was trying to run, but had no chance of escaping the massed fire of an Imperial customs frigate, the next second, the freighter began spewing laser fire like they had a strobe setting. The frigate was so severely damaged by the sudden burst of fire from the Spectre, that they were forced to break off their pursuit and signal the lead frigate that they were out of the fight. Halasa and Rathbone however were in trouble, the shuttle had been heavily damaged and despite the frantic maneuvering of Halasa through the asteroids, they could not shake the frigate.

††† Rathbone signaled the Spectre. "Guys, we need some help here."

††† "On the way." Carek responded tersely from the astrogation station where Carek was plotting the course to the rally point. "Halasa needs our help Leland."

††† "The only problem with turning directly towards the shuttle is we'll have to go right through the damaged frigate to get there."

††† "How long if we attack off the parabolic plane?"

††† "About twenty seconds, which is about fifteen more than they have."

††† "All right then, that decides it," Said Carek. "we go right through them. Kyle, Roberts, Look alive, it's about to get real bumpy. StJohn, I think that TIE's a little too tender for you to risk getting too close to a frigate. I want you to head straight for the Apocalpyse."

††† "Roger your last! Good luck, StJohn out."

††† The frigate made things easy for the Spectre by deciding that they had had enough. There was a token exchange of lasers as the ships passed, but the frigate made no real attempt to impede the Spectre. The lead frigate detected the Spectre's intercept course and broke off pursuit of the shuttle to turn and fight.

 

††† Halasa yowled something that sounded triumphant. "Yeah they got them off us," Rathbone responded. "I just hope they haven't gotten themselves in too deep. Lets get out of here, I won't feel safe until we're aboard the Apocalypse."

 

††† When the lead frigate turned away from the shuttle, Leland yowled something that sounded triumphant too, as he pulled the Spectre around in a tight loop and headed for a dense section in the asteroid field. The lead frigate however, was the Surveyor. She was the flag-

ship of this sector's customs fleet. It was heavily modified with massive shields, increased speed and maneuverability, and it had the best crew in the sector. It closed on the Spectre with the same confidence that the first frigate did, knowing that a stock light freighter could not be a threat to the flagship of the sector.

††† When the Surveyor closed into medium range, Kyle and Roberts unleashed the same storm of Force guided laser fire that had broken the first frigate. The surveyor was a much better ship and was able to absorb the withering fire. Leland used the Force to frustrate the gunners of the Surveyor. Only one shot managed to find the Spectre and Andre was able to get the shields up in time to prevent any damage from getting through.

††† Kyle and Roberts freely used the Force to continue the steady pounding of the Surveyor, by the time the ships had cleared the asteroid belt, the Surveyor was as severely damaged as the first frigate. The Surveyor was unable to keep up with the undamaged Spectre due to engine damage, allowing Leland to accelerate away and break contact.

††† Carek completed the instinctive astrogation plot and-as soon as he heard that Halasa, Rathbone and StJohn had been picked up by the Apocalypse-jumped to hyperspace. The Spectre rendezvoused with the Apocalypse at the rally point. Captain Arkin met them in the hanger bay of the Apocalypse. Carek came to his best parade ground salute and barked.

††† "Sir! Team Bantha Reporting: Mission accomplished! Sir!"

 

††† Captain Arkin was a little stunned when he read the team's debriefing. The team had a full copy of the original research of the station, why the Empire had taken over and what the Empire had done with the original research. They had rescued a rebel POW, and had taken advantage of the absence of the station's crew to destroy the station and all of its accumulated data. They had crippled two Imperial customs frigates and they had captured a TIE/in fighter and an interplanetary shuttle. And all this had been accomplished with a nine man team that had not even taken any casualties. The only piece of the puzzle that was missing, was what had happened to the station's crew. There was no answer, and there would be no answer.

††† "I have clearly underestimated these people." Thought Arkin as he closed the report. "My only question is what am I going to do with them now?"

††† To that Captain Arkin had no answer.

 

†††† Later that night Andre asked to speak to Carek privately. ďIím not sure how to say this but, the time in the cloud has really effected me. I learned that I could see the Force and I want to know if you will teach me to be a Jedi?Ē

†††† "I do not know if it is right for me to try to teach someone how to use the Force when my own training is so incomplete," Said Carek. "but I can sense that you are serious Andre, and I will watch you during our next few missions. If you can learn to live by the Jedi code, I will teach you."

†††† Andre beamed. "Thank you Carek, I will not let you down."

††††† After Andre departed, Carek lay in his bunk, thinking. "I hope I know what I'm getting into, I have to find a way to keep him from the Dark Side. If I can do that, he may actually earn that which I desire most, the title of Jedi Knight." With that last thought Carek went to sleep.


 


Chapter Nine

 

 

 

††† The early morning chatter of the briefing room ceased when the severe woman with the rank tabs of a commander entered the room. The lights dimmed on cue when she reached the podium.

††† "Your mission will be a supply run to Tatooine." Said Commander Challis.

††† "Tatooine again," Muttered Carek. "I had hoped I would never have to see that dust ball again."

††† Commander Challis's head snapped toward the sound. "Is there a problem Lieutenant?"

††† "Uh, no sir. No problem at all." Carek said aloud, to himself he thought. "And to think what we went through to find this woman." Carek used a Jedi meditation technique to absorb the commander's briefing subconsciously while allowing the greater portion of his mind to wander over the events of the last few weeks.

††† After investigating the Imperial presence at the Lahara station, the team from Heracles continued to operate with the Alliance corvette the Apocalypse. The team, less Carek had been sent to find an exotic dancer that was a Force sensitive and in extreme danger from the Empire. The team posed as the retinue of a pair of ambassadors while they were aboard a passenger liner. The ambassadors turned out to be working for the Empire and the team narrowly escaped with the dancer by stealing the liner's shuttle.

††† Carek missed out on this mission because he had been promoted to Lieutenant and had to attend the Alliance officer's course. Captain Arkin insisted on following the book when it came to his men's training. So while the team was out looking for the dancer, Carek was busy learning Alliance regulations. When the team departed they had been given a set of coordinates to a rally point once they had found the dancer. When the Apocalypse went to meet the team, they found that the coordinates were to an inhospitable world named Planeris, that it also was the main headquarters of the Rebel Alliance.

††† The team and the Apocalypse found that this was where the rest of base station Heracles had fled to. After reporting back in and being debriefed, the team was reassigned to Commander Challis. The base was in a jubilant mode as the battle station that had been responsible for the destruction of Alderaan had been destroyed, and the victory at Yavin had encouraged many more planets to join the Rebellion. The Empire was reeling from the loss of the Death Star, but it now considered the Rebellion to be a threat and was bearing down hard, which had forced the Alliance fleet into hiding.

††† "Are there any questions?" This last from Commander Challis who was just finishing up her briefing, brought Carek back to realtime. "Good. You depart in one hour. Dismissed." As the team started to disperse. "Lieutenant Argonaut, I would like to speak to you a moment." Carek cringed for he knew that whatever Challis was going to say, itwould not be pleasant. "During your separation from us you have grown in the Force Carek," She said. "but you seem to have forgotten everything you ever learned about military discipline. If I catch you not paying attention to one of my briefings again, I will personally see that your next assignment is cleaning the Tauntaun pens. Is that clear Lieutenant?"

††† "Yes Sir!" Barked Carek. "Perfectly clear Sir! No excuse Sir!" "Good," Challis then came as close to a smile as she could get and said. "I would hate someone with your potential not being utilized properly. Dismissed."

††† The team met aboard the Spectre which they were still using since the loss of both the Wandering Bantha and the Carthesian Hawk had left them without a ship, Challis having made the necessary arrangements for the Spectre to be assigned to the team.

††† "We thought you were bantha bait." Said Leland the team pilot as Carek arrived. "I know she's on our side, but she gives me the creeps."

††† "Challis is hard to get to know," Agreed Carek. "she has so much rage, I only hope we don't lose her to the Dark Side."

††† "That 'Dark Side' thing is really a problem for you Jedi-types isn't it?" Said Lazarus Maxenties one of the team's weapons specialists.

††† "The Dark Side is seductive, and once on that path it is hard not to fall astray. A large part of Challis's personality is because she is constantly fighting the Dark Side."

††† "If you guys are finished with your wiffordil out there, we're ready to go." Said Rathbone Loegin the team's engineer leaning out of the Spectre's airlock. "Andre and Kyle are already aboard, I just got word that Challis is sending Roberts, Halasa, and StJohn to the officer's course, so it'll just be the six of us."

††† "Great, there'll be some extra room for a change." Said Leland.

††† The Spectre lifted and jumped to Tatooine without mishap. The arrival and landing were equally without incident. The team unloaded their cargo at Mos Eisley and Kyle went shopping for droids to replace the ones lost on the Bantha, finding an EMD-1 Med droid to replace Ohonebeenine lost on the Bantha, a EMD-1 was a poor replacement for a O1B but it was a start. Kyle also picked up a modified protocol droid named SM3PO ("Please sir you may call me Sam.").

††† While Kyle was shopping, Carek went to look for Dag Caltare just to see if he had any interesting information. The team was waiting to meet with Dag in a seedy tavern that was one of Dag's favorite haunts, when four hardcases walked up to the table and after casting a contemptuous look at the team the thug's leader spoke.

††† "You named Kyle."

††† "Who wants to know?" Replied Kyle.

††† Without further debate the thugs went for their weapons. Kyle seemed to be the only target they were interested in, and that was their last mistake. Leland dove for cover as Lazarus, Andre, and Kyle returned fire, while Carek deflected the thug's shots. All four were down before they could hit anybody.

††† From the bar there came the sound of one person applauding. The team turned and saw a stylishly dressed man of indeterminate age. "Bravo. Well done. You will do just fine."

††† Leland was on his feet and across the room before anyone else could move.

††† "Just who the hell are you? And what in the hell is going on here?"

††† In an infuriatingly calm voice. the man said. "My name is Barr, and I was just testing to see if Kyle would make a worthy contestant."

††† "What kind of contestant?" Said Kyle. "I don't know you and I have no idea what you are talking about."

††† "But I know you Kyle," Said Barr. "and that is the only thing that is important.

††† "Have you ever heard of the Game of Death Kyle?"

††† "No."

††† "That's not surprising. The game is relatively new here in Mos Eisley and I don't think its had a chance to migrate off planet yet-never the less-the Game of Death is a sort of chess, you might say the ultimate game of chess. Each of the 'Kings' chooses his pawns to do battle with the opposing players and..."

††† "What do you mean 'play-ers' there should only be one other king." Interrupted Rathbone.

††† "Ah, that's what makes the Game of Death so interesting my inquisitive friend, there can be any number of kings in the Game of Death. In fact if there aren't at least four kings then the game loses most of its appeal."

††† "You still haven't told me what all this has to do with me." Said Kyle, who was starting to get visibly angry.

††† "I was getting to that part when I was so rudely interrupted by your friend here." Barr said as he fixed Rathbone with a evil stare. "Once the pawns have been chosen, the kings inform the pawns who the other kings pawns are and then sits back to see if his pawns can defeat all the other pawns. Whichever king's pawns eliminates all the other pawns is the winner. If you should win Kyle, I will pay you five thousand credits."

††† "I'm not interested." Said Kyle. "Lets go."

††† The team headed for the door.

††† "You don't have a choice." Said Barr with a wicked grin. "I have already informed the other kings who my pawns are and the game has already started. If you walk out that door you will be fair game to the other pawns and you won't even know who is trying to kill you."

††† This last brought the team up short. Leland was the first to reach Barr. "What do you mean 'trying to kill you.'"

††† "Itís not called the Game of Death for melodramatic reasons my hot tempered young friend, the pawns fight to the death, the survivor is the winner."

††† "I'm nobodies pawn and you are nobodies king." Raged Leland. "You are dead buddy, absolutely dead." Leland made a move to unholster his blaster.

††† "I would take a look around the tavern before I tried that my friend." Leland did look around and found that there were at least thirty armed men training their weapons on the team.

††† "This is my establishment and these are my men," Said Barr. "Now, if you would like to see who is going to be trying to kill you, belly up to the bar. The drinks are on me."

††† With no room to maneuver or to negotiate, the team recognized a fait accompli when they saw one. Leland however was still fuming. "This is not over, not by a long shot buddy. Not over at all."

††† "Be that as it may these are your opponents." Said Barr as he activated a small holocrystal. "The first pawn is named Darekk. He is a human bounty hunter, he wears special body armor and is considered to be very formidable. The second pawn is named Filberrg. He is a Gammorian, long on brawn, short on brains. The third pawn is named Wutega. He's a Wookiee, enough said. The fourth pawn is named Irwin Scratch. He is human and a wizard with droids. The fifth pawn is named Kali Whisper. She is a human exotic dancer, you would do well not underestimate her.

††† "That's the lot of them. If you win bring their bodies back here to collect your five thousand. Good luck. Now if you excuse me I have some business to attend to." Barr rose to leave.

††† Leland spoke again. "I will be back and you will answer to me."

††† "I'll try and keep that in mind." And Barr began to laugh. Leland lunged for Barr with murder in his eyes, but Carek managed to intervene.

††† "I know exactly how you feel Leland, but let it go for now, just let it go." Leland relaxed and the team departed.

††† "I refuse to take part in any blood sport." Said Carek as team Bantha left the bar. "Even if I weren't a Jedi, I would not kill just to amuse somebody else, its just wrong."

††† "I've seen and caused my share of grief," Returned Kyle. "but even though I get paid to hunt people, I have never taken a contract that required I hunt someone down and kill them just for fun. As you said its just wrong."

††† "The only way to beat Barr is to just not be his 'pawns' and leave immediately." Said Lazarus. Leland jumped on the thought. "Yeah, Lazarus come with me, we'll go and get the Spectre ready for take off."

††† As Leland and Lazarus left, Carek Said. "We'll be there in a few minutes. I still want to check in with Dag to see if he's heard anything and if he knows about this Barr character."

††† The team found Dag in the famous Mos Eisley Cantina.

††† "Carek! Over here." Dag shouted to be heard above the din of the crowded cantina.

††† Carek spoke without preamble. "What do you know of a thug named Barr, and have you ever heard of the 'Game of Death.'"

††† The Twi'lek's tentacles coiled into knots and Dag choked on his drink.

††† "Ba...Barr? He's about as dangerous as you can get. He doesn't have Jabba the Hutt's off planet resources, but he's a serious threat here in Tatooine. Don't tell me he's got you involved with the Game of Death?"

††† "It wasn't our idea," Said Carek. "and we aren't going to play. We're leaving as soon as we finish talking to you."

††† "That's a good idea."

††† "Before we go, what do you know about these people?" Asked Kyle as he showed Dag the holos of the 'pawns'.

††† "I've never heard of Scratch, Filberrg, or Wutega. Darekk is supposed to be bad news, but that's all I know. The woman Kali Whisper works at a club five blocks from here, but I don't see how she can be involved in the Game of Death."

††† "This guy Barr said not to underestimate her." Said Kyle.

††† "That's all I know for certain Kyle, but itís not uncommon to have non-combat types mixed in with the combat types just to keep you guessing. However I do know this: if your going to skip out on Barr, you are making a fearsome enemy and I would advise against coming back to Mos Eisley anytime in the next millennium."

††† "Thank you as always Dag, I'll see you next time lets go guys."

††† The team bade Dag farewell and departed for the hanger. When Dag was sure that the team was gone, he added quietly. "If there is a next time."

 

††† While the team was taking leave of Dag, Leland and Lazarus were arriving at the hanger where the Spectre was parked. "Barr is not going to get away with this." Said Leland.

††† "Yeah, I know Leland, 'He can't do this.'" Replied Lazarus. "You've got to get...Look out!"

††† Both the rebels dove for cover as the whip-crack of laser fire smote the stillness of the hanger.

††† "There he is over by those crates." Said Lazarus as he returned fire on the dimly seen form of their attacker.

††† "Cover me." Said Leland and ran for the Spectre. The attacker cut Leland's rush short with a burst of accurate laser fire. Leland pinned down reached for his comlink. "I've got to get some help, this guy is bad news." Fumbling his comlink open, he screamed. "Carek! Carek! We need help here!"

 

††† Carek and company were two blocks away when Leland's frantic call for help came over the comlink, before Leland finished speaking, Carek was already sprinting. "Lets go guys, Leland needs our help."

 

††† While Andre, Kyle, Rathbone and Carek were running to help, the hanger was alive with blaster fire. The attacker had moved to where Lazarus could see him clearly. "Darekk!" Hissed Lazarus, recognizing the bounty hunter from Barr's holocrystal and as he snapped off another shot. "I know I'm hitting him, but it looks like that armor he's wearing seems to have some form of force field that not only absorbs energy, it redirects it to that laser he's firing. I've got to find a way to take that laser rifle out of the picture."

††† "Give me an X-wing and point me at a dozen TIEs any day." Thought Leland as he worked his way towards the hanger door. "If I can get to a vehicle, any vehicle. I might be of more use." Searching around the immediate area, Leland spotted a group of teenagers crouching for cover by their swoops half a block away. "A swoop! That's just what I'm looking for."

 

††† At that moment, Lazarus found a way to neutralize Darekk's laser rifle.

††† "Take a deep breath." Thought Lazarus as he braced for what was going to be a difficult shot. "Let half of it out..."

††† Larazus had spotted a cable that ran from Darekk's armor to his laser rifle, and had guessed that it was the power conduit. Reasoning that the laser would be useless if the cable were cut, Lazarus decided to try and cut it with a well aimed blaster bolt, thus Lazarus had slipped into an old marksmanship technique.

††† "and squeeze!"

††† Darekk was targeting the pawn by the doorway when a blaster bolt severed the power lead from his armor to his laser. "What the..." Thought Darekk as the power lead arced and shorted out. "Oh yes, I'm going to enjoy killing this one."

††† As Darekk reached for his heavy blaster pistol, Leland used the distraction to make his break for the door.

 

††† Running at full speed Leland reached the swoops just as Darekk began firing furiously on Lazarus' position. "Hey buddy how much for your swoop?"

††† "You want to buy my swoop? Now?" Stammered the throughly confused teen.

††† "Yes now. Look, I'm a little busy right now, I'll give you two thousand credits right now for the swoop."

††† "You'll give me two thousand creds, for this swoop, no questions, right now?"

††† "Yes for Deity's sake, have we got a deal?"

††† "Done."

††† Leland shoved the credits in the gaping teens hands and roared off for the hanger.

††† "That was one disturbed individual." Said the now recovered teen. "Come on letís get out of here before he can change his mind."

 

††† When Carek and company turned the last corner to the hanger they were nearly run down by a group of celebrating swoop riders.

††† "That's all we need," Thought Kyle as they reached the hanger with weapons at the ready. "is to be killed in a traffic accident." When they looked into the hanger, they saw: Leland dive a swoop at Darekk, Darekk dodge to one side, Leland careen off of some crates and crash into the landing gear of the Spectre. Leland went flying across the hanger and slammed onto the loading ramp of the Spectre.

††† Kyle shocked at Leland's crash none-the-less opened fire on Darekk. Andre and Rathbone ran for the Spectre, while Carek closed on Darekk. Darekk turned to fire on the newcomers, but before he could fire Carek used his newly learned power of telekinesis to snatch Darekk's blaster from his hand. Disarmed, Darekk ran for the Spectre. Leland stunned by his spectacular crash saw Darekk running straight for him, staggered to his feet and tried to block Darekk's bid for the Spectre.

††† "Not on my ship you don't!" Slurred Leland as he tried to shake the stars dancing before his eyes.

††† Darekk extended knifeblades from the forearms of his armor and took a stab at Leland. Leland dodges the attack and grabbed Darekk from behind. Before Darekk could break free, Carek arrived.

††† "We don't want to harm you idiot!" Said Carek as Darekk turned to fight the greater threat of a lightsaber at his back. "We want to stop this madness!"

††† Darekk stabbed at Carek, who neatly parried and his counter strike cut the blades from Darekk's armor. Now completely unarmed Darekk blasted clear of the Jedi with his jetpack, landing on the catwalk ten meters overhead.

††† Rathbone had reached the turret of the Spectre just as Darekk landed on the catwalk.

††† "Now I've got you!" Said Rathbone as he fired. "Then again maybe I don't." As the shot missed Darekk and blasted away a ten meter section of the catwalk. Darekk staggered back from the turret's shockwave and was hit from behind by the bolt of a bowcaster. Darekk was knocked form the catwalk and hit the ground with a heavy thud. Andre ran over to the stunned bounty hunter and began pushing buttons on his armor in an attempt to turn Darekk's force field off. Kyle seeing that hand weapons were of little use against Darekk's field, he ran aboard the Spectre and grabbed the medium repeat blaster that had been captured from the Lahara station. Kyle could not fire the weapon without the tripod as Halasa the wookiee could, but with Carek providing telekinetic help he could just barely manage the awkward weapon.

††† Before Andre could switch the field off, Darekk managed to sit up and take a swing at Andre. Andre's little pet lizard leaped from Andre's shoulder and wrapped itself around Darrek's head. Carek raced over and slashed at Darekk, but found that his saber could not penetrate the field. Before Darekk could take any action he was hit square in the chest by a medium repeat blaster bolt and finally knocked out.

††† "One down, four to go." Said Kyle as he swung the repeat blaster around to fire on the wookiee that could only be Wutega.

††† When Wutega appeared and fired on Darekk, Leland and Lazarus ran out the door to try and out flank the wookiee by coming up the outside stairs. Wutega heard them coming and stunned Lazarus as soon as he entered the door. Lazarus was knocked backwards and fell down the stairs to the first landing. Leland managed to dodge the falling Lazarus and return fire. Lazarus crawled back up the stairs and hit Wutega while he was firing on Leland. Wutega lost his balance and fell off of the catwalk. As he lay stunned, Kyle knocked him out with the repeat blaster ending the fight. As he powered the repeat blaster down, Kyle said. "Two down three to go."

††† "We've got to get out of here." Said Leland "If we hang around, we'll just end up having to fight the rest of them." The team was loading the two captured pawns onto the Spectre while Rathbone patched up Austin with a medpac, and were arguing about Carek's decision to try and talk to Kali Whisper.

††† "I don't like this anymore than you do," Replied Carek. "but, I still want to try to talk to this Kali woman, maybe I can stop this insanity."

††† "Your not dealing with people who are used to talking Carek." Added Kyle. "They have been set to do a task that I believe they enjoy and they're not about to stop the game to talk about how immoral it is."

††† Rathbone appeared in the hatch. "Looks like he'll be okay, he was very lucky. Kyle, I took a look at your droids and that 3PO had got some interesting modifications."

††† "What sort of modifications?"

††† "Hard to say exactly. Carek, while you out looking for this Kali woman, I'm going to stay here and find out exactly whats been done to that droid."

††† "I'm staying right here and keeping this ship ready to lift," Said Leland.

††† "I'm going to help Rathbone." Said Lazarus.

††† "Good, I don't want all of out on the street anyway. Said Carek after hearing the concern in his friend's voices. "Kyle, I want you to come with me."

††† "I want to go too." Said Andre.

††† "No this..." Started Carek.

††† "Is exactly what you leave me out of all the time. How am I ever going the learn anything about the Force if you leave me behind every time you go into a situation where you might use it? Stumped by this logic Carek replied. "I guess your right. All right then Kyle and Andre will go with me to talk to Whisper."

††† The three rebels arrived at Club Cosmos fifteen minutes later. The front door had a large bouncer and a weapons detection sensor grid guarding the front door.

††† "I think I can shut the grid off," Said Carek. "Give me a minute." The bouncer was looking the rebels over when the grid powered down. "Whats going on with this thing." Said the obviously non-technologically inclined bouncer. When the bouncer turned to inspect the grid, Kyle used the moment to try to enter.

††† "Wait I have to search you manually the grid just went down."

††† The bouncer may not have known much about the grid but he did know a lot about hiding weapons and quickly turned up Andre's and Kyle's blasters and Carek's lightsaber.

††† "What's this?" Asked the bouncer.

††† "Small cutting torch. I don't mind checking it. Tell me my good man, has Kali Whisper started yet?"

††† "You better hurry her numbers just about over."

††† "Kali Whisper is why we came." Said Kyle as they rushed to find seats. "Thank you very much."

††† The bouncer never even noticed Kyle's holdout blaster nor did he notice when as the three patrons walked away the "Small cutting torch" floated out from behind the counter to rejoin its owner.

††† The woman known as Kali Whisper was just taking her bow and heading backstage when the rebels entered.

††† "I guess we go back stage." Said Carek.

††† "I guess." Replied Kyle as they headed for the stage door.

††† "No Patrons allowed!" Said the thick necked bouncer.

††† "It's okay, Kali Whisper wants to see us." Said Carek in what he thought was his most reasonable voice.

††† "Everythingling and his gentlesire thinks Miss Whisper wants to see them sir. No patrons allowed."

††† Kyle jumped in. "Say there what does a bouncer make in this sector? I'll bet they don't get anywhere near what they're worth. In fact I'd go so far to say that, if shown how much a doorman gets tipped at a fashionable club in...lets say Imperial City on Coruscant, he would be kind enough to allow some of Miss Whisper's biggest fans to have a few minutes to talk to her."

††† Kyle fanned out three hundred credits. The bouncer's eyes tried to move independently for a second or two before he palmed the credits and unlocked the door.

††† "Thank you good sir," Said Andre as they slipped through the door. "who said good help is hard find?"

††† Carek stopped his companions short of the door. "That was rather easy," He said. "lets make sure that this isn't a trap."

††† Carek used the Force to sense for lifeforms in the room, and detected one human. "Well she's alone, but remember Barr said not to underestimate her."

††† Carek knocked on the door. A tall lithesome woman with waist length black hair and mischievous green eyes opened the door. She slowly looked the three men up and down and spoke in a breathy voice.

††† "Tell me fellas, when did you fall off the repulsor truck?"

††† Carek spoke. "Look we know about the Game of Death and that youíre a pawn just like us. We have no intention of playing this stupid game and if you are as smart as you look you won't play either. I think the only way to end something as immoral as this twisted game is to turn the tables on the so-called "Kings" and either not play or go after the kings directly."

††† "I have no idea what you are talking about."

††† "Fine have it you way. We tried to warn you." Carek turned to leave. Kali watched them walk down the hall.

††† "Talk about your amateurs" She chuckled and closed the door.

 

††† Rathbone pulled back from the open access panel. "I wouldn't have thought that you could put that much detonite in a 3PO."

††† "Detonite? Oh dear my previous owner was such a flamboyant human." Wailed Sam. "I don't think I can stand knowing that there is a bomb inside me. What are you going to do master Rathbone?"

††† "I am going to remove it."

††† "Are you sure that's a good idea," Said Lazarus. "Challis will not be very happy with you if you get the Spectre blown up."

††† "I am not going to 'get the Spectre blown up,' I should think that you know me better than that Lazarus."

††† "Okay. Okay. Lets do it."

††† Rathbone was correct about not blowing up the ship. It took him and Lazarus only fifteen minutes to disarm the booby trap. Once the bomb was defused they found two data chips hidden inside Sam.

††† "What sort of work did your previous owner do, Sam?" Asked Lazarus.

††† "I'm not exactly sure, he never really tried to be very friendly you know, he just had me talking to various people and machines, without so much as a by your leave or thank you. I remember once I was..."

††† "Never mind Sam, it isn't that important. What's on those chips Leland?"

††† The team's pilot was hunched over the main computer and looking over at the nav computer every couple minutes. "One chip is a set of coordinates to someplace that's not listed in the nav computer. The second one is coded and will take some time to break. Oh well," He sighed. "I guess we've got the time."

††† Just then the Spectre's comm board lit up.

††† "Spectre, we got big trouble and do we need a lift!"

††† "On second thought it looks like we're going to be a little busy."

 

††† "You know she could be telling the truth Carek," Said Andre as they exited the backstage area. "Dag said that they sometimes put non-combat types in the game."

††† "You might be right young Andre let's watch the show and see just how harmless this woman is."

††† Kyle whooped. "That"s the best idea you've ever had during a mission Carek, I don't like to say this but you usually are little stiff when it comes to having fun."

††† "Well this isn't 'fun' Kyle we are staking this woman out just in case she is in danger."

††† "Yeah Carek, whatever you say."

††† The rebels found a seat just before the show was about to start. Kali Whisper and three other girls wearing nothing but strategically placed veils, began their seductive dance. Kali Whisper pulled loose one of her veils as she danced over to where the rebels sat and tossed the veil so that it looped around Kyle's neck. She then looped the veil around Carek's neck and then Andre's. There was something about her that warned Carek to ignite his lightsaber and cut the veil before she could pull it tight.

††† With her monofiliment veil severed, Kali dropped all pretenses andscreamed. "Attack!" She attacked Andre, while one of the other dancers attacked Kyle, and despite the glowing lightsaber, the other two dancers attacked Carek. Kyle stunned his attacker then came to Andre's assistance and stunned Kali. Carek interposed his saber between himself and the two dancers in an attempt to ward them off. The dancers attacked from two directions at once, forcing Carek to parry their vicious kicks.

††† "NO!" Screamed Carek as one girl pressed her attack right into the coruscating blade. As Carek watched the girl die from massive injuries, the second girl kicked him savagely knocking him to the ground. The dancer grabbed a chair and swung, but the chair was sliced in two when Carek managed to parry. Kyle saw Carek fall from the corner of his eye, wheeled, fired and stunned the last dancer.

††† Carek staggered to his feet. "I'll get Kali." He said as he put deed to word and slung Kali onto his shoulder.

††† "I'll guard the rear." Returned Kyle as they started to head for the door. Andre grabbed his comlink.

††† "Spectre, we got big trouble and do we need a lift!"

††† The bouncer and the bartender slow to respond drew their blasters.

††† "Stand where you are!" Yelled the barkeep.

††† "Freeze or we'll shoot!" Said the bouncer when the rebels kept moving. "Alright, have your way." He added as he opened fire.

††† Kyle's return shot at the barkeep went wide, but both the bouncer's and the barkeep's shots were right on target. Carek tottering under the load of Kali and from having been kicked, knew that neither he nor Kyle would be able to dodge the incoming blaster bolts. "There's only one thing left to do."

††† Carek's lightsaber flashed twice, guided by the Force he deflected the bolts away from their intended targets and back at the shooters. The bouncer was caught off guard and was hit square, going down hard. The barkeep was forced to dive behind the bar to avoid a similar fate. With the path now clear, the rebels ran out the bar and almost collided with Leland, Lazarus, and Rathbone crowded in a beat up two seat landspeeder.

††† "Well Carek when you finally decide to break down and go pick up a girl," Laughed Leland. "you really go out and pick up a girl."

††† "Very funny Leland, do you by any chance intend to crash this into the Spectre too?" Returned Carek as he loaded Kali in the now very crowded speeder.

††† "Hey that's not funny. It was a good idea, it worked on Cypryn 4 you know."

††† "That's all well and good Leland, but it doesn't solve the current problem of how we're going to get seven people in a speeder designed to carry two.

††† "I have a solution," Said Rathbone as he hopped out of the speeder. "but it might offend your Jedi code."

††† "What is it?"

††† "I see that there happens to be an unattended speederbike parked over there. I'm sure that the owner won't mind us 'borrowing' it for a few minutes."

††† "We don't really have a choice. Go ahead."

††† Rathbone quickly hotwired the bike.

††† "Now who's going to ride where!"

††† "I'm on the bike." Said Kyle.

††† "Can I go with you?" Pleaded Andre.

††† "No choice Kyle, someone's got to ride with you and Andre is the smallest"

††† "Good enough. Lets go."

††† The heavily overloaded speeder groaned and slowly headed for the hanger. "This thing is a real pig," Leland groaned as well. "I wouldn't want to have to evade someone in this."

††† "You mean like that T16 Skyhopper that's been tailing us for the last three blocks? Said Lazarus. Leland snatched the speeder's rearview mirror and turned to see in the direction in question.

††† "Yeah exactly like a T16 Skyhopper. Hold on guys we got company!" Leland gunned the speeder and took off at best speed.

††† The Skyhopper pilot now certain that he had been spotted, swooped down and open fire. Leland had to use all of his abilities to evade the Skyhopper's fire. Outrunning the airspeeder was impossible, and Leland was running out of room and ideas. When the airspeeder opened fire Kyle and Andre veered down the first available side street.

††† "What are we going to do Kyle?" Asked Andre.

††† "We are not going to do anything. I have an idea for something that I am going to do, so shut up so I can concentrate."

††† When the Skyhopper passed by Kyle's hiding place, Kyle gunned the speederbike and came up along side the blind side of the airspeeder. Kyle, pulled his lightsaber and a grenade from secret compartments of his armor and trusting to the Force, he sliced a hole into the side of the Skyhopper and tossed in the grenade. He slammed the speederbike into reverse to get as far away as he could from the impending fireworks. The pilot never really knew what happened as the Skyhopper was completely consumed in the resulting fireball.

††† Leland bearhugged Kyle fiercely after The team arrived safely at the Spectre. "Good job Kyle!" He said. "That looked like something I would think of!"

††† "Now that scares me," Kyle laughed at the crestfallen look on Leland face. "I must have been around you too long."

††† "That goes without saying." A friendly voice added.

††† The team whirled on the sound and found Dag Caltare standing on the Spectre's loading ramp. "I must say that whenever you come to call it takes Mos Eisley a couple weeks to pick up the pieces."

††† "What are you doing here?" Said Carek.

††† "I have located the one known as Scratch, and I thought that you might like to know where to find him."

††† Kyle spoke first. "We've taken down four out of five without meaning to. We might as well finish the game. It might give us a chance to talk to Barr again."

††† "I have already told you what I think about Barr, and will not offer any more advice on that topic." Dag handed Carek a data chip.

††† "This is where you will find Scratch. Dag turned down the ramp.

††† "Good Luck." He added over his shoulder as he strode away.

††† Kyle said. "Well, let's end the game."

††† The address that Dag gave the rebels was to as nice an apartment complex that could be found in Mos Eisley. Lazarus, Kyle, and Carek rode over in the 'borrowed' landspeeder. The building had an old door droid that asked. "Good day, gentlebeings. Whom do you wish to see?"

††† Kyle turned to Carek. "I think the time for subtlety is over, let's just knock on this guy's door and get it over with."

††† "Normally I would say that we should still be subtle, but I'm tired of this stupid game and trying to convince even stupider opponents that we mean them no harm, go ahead Kyle tell him who's come to call."

††† Kyle addressed the droid. "Tell Mister Irwin Scratch, that Kyle is here to see him."

††† The droid turned to his internal switchboard for a second. "Mister Scratch says to come on in, apartment number three two seven." The rebels dismounted the speeder and entered the turbolift.

††† "I still want to try to take this guy alive." Said Carek. "Just because we've given up on being subtle, doesn't mean this guy has to die for our impatience."

††† The turbolift opened, the rebels crossed the foyer and found the corridor that lead to Scratch's apartment. when the rebels turned the corner they saw a concussion missile flying straight for them.

††† "Challis found out the hard way that you can't deflect one of those things with out it detonating!" Thought Carek as he ignited his lightsaber. "I've got to do something!"

††† Thinking furiously Carek tried a desperate ploy. "This has got to work!" He said as he called on the Force to telekinetically deflect the missile.

††† Irwin Scratch watched the missile close with lightning speed, then just before it's terminal homing program could lock-on, the missile deflected away from it's target and continued down the corridor for another fifteen meters exploding against the foyer wall, showering the three men with debris.

††† "A man portable particle shield?" He said. "That's impossible!"

††† When the missile suddenly missed them and continued down the hallway, Kyle found that he was holding his breath.

††† "And to think that I didn't believe in the Force," He said as he spotted the two assassin droids that were the source of the missile and watched Carek leap into contact with the droids.

††† "When we get back to Planeris, I'm going to have check into this Force thing more closely."

††† "There is no fear," Thought Carek as he cut through the first droid and turned on the second. "There is the Force!" He said as his lightsaber cut into the second droid leaving it severely damaged, before he could hit again, a blaster bolt destroyed it. Carek spared a quick glance back and saw Kyle's wink. Turning to face Scratch's door, Carek realized that he had been wounded when the missile hit the foyer.

††† "Well, it's better than being hit by a repeat blaster."

††† There were two more assassin droid in the room with Scratch. Carek dodged a second missile which went on to blast a large hole in the corridor, he rolled onto he feet and destroyed the droid that had fired on him. Kyle and Lazarus dove into the room avoiding the missile as well and blasted the last droid apart. Stripped of his droids, Scratch surrendered.

††† With all the pawns now neutralized, the rebels returned to Barr's watering hole. The rebels entered the bar with weapons at the ready.

††† "Oh you've won." Said the bartender as he eyed the group's weapons.

††† "Where is Barr?" Demanded Leland. "I would like to speak with him about life and the joy of helping your fellow man."

††† "Barr is not here, nor is going to be here anytime in the immediate future. You can dump their bodies over there." Pointing to the dumpster in the alley behind the bar.

††† Carek spoke up. "You seem to be confused. These people are not dead. We told you we would not kill for you and we haven't."

††† "Tell that to Filberrg."

††† "We regret that, we did the best we could to take him alive, but he was too well armed."

††† "Doesn't matter one way or the other. It was a good game, here's your money."

††† Pulling a stack of credits from behind the bar and pushing them toward Kyle. Leland snatched the credits and yelled at the barkeep.

††† "You tell your boss that we will be back! And don't forget the name is Archimedes."

††† "I'll be sure to tell him the next time I see him. Good day."

††† "Let's go Leland," Said Carek. "there's nothing we can do now, but I agree with you, this is not over and we will be back." Leland hesitated for a second and said. "Yeah, let's go."

††† The team lifted for and jumped to Planeris without incident, but for the first time everyone was hoping that somebody would try and start a fight.

††† "Now I fully understand why the Dark Side is so seductive," Thought Carek as the Spectre entered hyperspace. "I don't think I've ever met someone so devoid of humanity as Barr. It would be easy to try and justify giving into the rage, if it was to exterminate so evil a being. It's a good thing that I've had a chance to meet Challis and see first hand what its like to have to resist the temptation of the Dark Side after having tried it."

††† Later when Carek was laying in his bunk in his cabin, he smiled to himself as he thought of what Leland had said about Challis.

††† "She may be creepy now, but that's nothing compared to what she would be like if she ever decides to continue on that path."


 


Chapter Ten

 

††† The team's next mission was to investigate the coordinates on the data chip found inside SM3PO. Rathbone had cracked the code on the second chip and discovered that it was the log of Sam's previous owner, Terris Occam. The log described Occam's encounter, after a misjump, with an alien lifeform that he called a space whale. The team immediately recognized the creature as the subjugated aliens used as spacecraft by the race of slavers encountered by the team, also after a misjump and again on the zombie planet. The team was authorized to take three Y-wings and the Spectre during their investigation, as the chip implied that the Empire was aware of these coordinates and would probably investigate the space whales as well.

††† As the team prepped the fighters, an Imperial shuttle with a two X-wing escort landed in the hanger bay. The shuttle was carrying a defecting Imperial naval captain and some rebel POWs that the captain had rescued during his escape. The team assisted in securing the bay, just in case it was a trick. The shuttle's airlock cycled open and out came the Imperial captain and the rebel POWs. The POWs limped into the open and team Bantha got a good look at them, men were Rex the smuggler and most impossible of all Ardent Belial Mo'duaglozen!

††† The team stood open mouthed for a few seconds, until Carek let loose a whoop of pure joy, leapt up the shuttle's loading ramp, and bearhugged Ardent tightly. Carek was so overjoyed, that he swung Ardent around and around the hanger bay, all the time laughing like a mad man.

††† It took nearly half an hour to re-establish decorum, the members of team Bantha had a million questions, but time was pressing and they had to wait. There was no question that Ardent and Rex were going on the mission. Andre, however was too young, and had to remain behind.

††† The trip to the Occam's coordinates was straight forward. Halasa, Leland, and StJohn piloted the Y-wings with Carek, Ardent, and Rathbone as tail gunners. Rex and Melia piloted the Spectre, while Roberts, Kyle, and Lazarus manned the Spectre's guns. The system had a high level of background radiation that obscured sensors, but did not hide the Nebulon-B frigate that held the space whale in a tractor beam.

††† The team had to fight through the frigate's two TIE squadrons to reach the ship. When the last of the TIEs were destroyed, the frigate dropped the tractor and tried to run. As the frigate fled, StJohn fired a perfectly aimed proton that completely destroyed the frigate. The space whale escaped the second the tractor was dropped. Once again the team had failed to establish contact with the space whales. However they had prevented the Empire from turning the space whales into ships, which was a victory enough. After returning to Planeris, the team celebrated long into the night; celebrating the return of Rex and Ardent, StJohn's amazing shot, and the miracle of Ardent's survival.

††† Ardent explained that he had been saved by Imperial intelligence. The Imperials wanted a member of the Wandering Bantha so badly, that they had Ardent put in suspended animation until cybernetic replacements for his damaged organs could be fabricated and Ardent revived. Survival was no blessing for Ardent as he was tortured daily for information about the team and the Rebel Alliance. Ardent resisted the interrogations, but the ordeal had changed him. Ardent somehow managed to retain his sense of humor, but he was now cynical and even more driven to destroy the Empire. However changed he was, the team rejoiced at his return.

††† The next morning the team was assigned to the Apocalypse.

 

††† The Rebel Alliance fleet had been forced into hiding by an enraged Imperial Navy furious over the loss of the Death Star. The Empire was leaving no stone unturned in its attempt to locate and destroy the upstart rebels and their fleet.

††† The Rebel Alliance High Council however, would not accept a purely defensive role in the fight against the Emperor. The order went out that small raiding forces would conduct raid and fade attacks wherever they could do maximum damage and escape before Imperial forces could respond.

††† As a part of the ordered raids on the Imperial trade lanes, the Apocalypse and her Four Riders: Death, War, Famine, and Pestilence. The four heavily modified B-wing fighters that formed the core of the Apocalypse's firepower had been behind Imperial lines for twenty-six tense but uneventful hours, when after dropping out of hyperspace the Apocalypse was rocked by heavy thudding against the hull. A quick sensor scan showed that the Apocalypse was moving through the debris of two Victory class and an Imperial class star destroyer.

††† "What in the twin purple moons of Nimbus could do that to three star destroyers?" Asked Lieutenant Elias the ship's navigator.

††† "I don't know," Said Captain Arkin commander of the Apocalypse. "but sensors also show that there's an unusual power source on the fifth planet in the system and I've got just the people to go find out what it is." Arkin toggled the PA system and said. "Team Bantha to the briefing room. Team Bantha to the briefing room."

††† Five minutes later the loosely organized team was assembled. On this mission the team would consist of Carek Argonaut, Lazarus, and Kyle as the team's Marine contingent, plus StJohn and Rathbone as the team pilot and engineer respectively.

††† Leland Archimedes the team's usual pilot had finally gotten his wish to be assigned to an X-wing, however he had been sent on raid and fade attack and was not available. Halasa had been sent on detached duty as a personal pilot and bodyguard to an Alliance official, while Rex had been sent to officer's school. Andre had left the Alliance after discovering that his older brother had survived the Imperial raid that had killed the rest of his family.

 

††† "What do you think took out those destroyers Carek?" Said Lazarus.

††† "Your guess is as good as mine, but I'm certain that we'll be the first to find out." The door opened. "Here's the Captain."

††† "Your mission is threefold," Arkin as usual, spoke without preamble. "One, I've got to know what that power source is on the planet. Two, how it destroyed those three ships. And three, can we establish communication. If we can get these people to join the Alliance, considering their obvious firepower, we will finally be able to meet the Imperial fleet on equal terms. I have decided to have Commander Skeror shuttle you to the surface in the Spectre, as I can not allow there to be any chance of them capturing the Spectre and learning the location of the Empire or the Alliance.

††† "They have shown the ability to destroy the best the Empire has to offer, if they prove to be completely hostile, or if they seem inclined to ally with the Empire, then the Alliance must be protected and the destruction of the power source is to be considered an 'all costs' objective. You will contact us by coded comlink when you know something. Any questions?"

††† Kyle raised his hand.

††† "Yes Lieutenant?"

††† "What do we do after lunch?"

 

††† The Spectre dropped down through the overcast. The PA barked. "One minute to LZ." Said Commander Skeror the diminutive pilot of Death, the lead B-wing of the Four Riders of the Apocalypse. Team Bantha waited by the loading ramp as Skeror flew low over the verdant landscape.

††† "One last thing before you all go," Said Skeror. "I hate all of you. I just wanted you to know that in case you don't come back."

††† The team looked at each other.

††† "What's with him?" Said Rathbone.

††† "Haven't a clue." Said Carek as he adjusted his pack.

††† Skeror continued. "I think you're all a bunch of over rated windbags. We did just fine without you, and with any luck you won't be coming back from this one." The Spectre settled and the ramp opened. "Now get moving."

††† The team dismounted in a small clearing in what was otherwise a huge forest that seemed to go on forever. Kyle had been given a positional tracker that kept track of where the team had been dropped in relationship to the power source they had to investigate. They had been dropped only five kilometers from the source, but that was through very heavy forest on a planet rated at 1.3G.

††† "Come on," Said Lazarus. "lets get this over with."

††† As the team climbed a slight rise near the top of a small gorge, Kyle spotted something. "Hey guys, there's someone caught under that rock slide down there."

††† "I'll go with you." Said Carek. "Ardent you better come too."

††† The three rebels descended carefully, trying not to cause another slide. When they reached the bottom, they found a severely injured female pinned from the waist down. Her skin was so white that it was translucent and she appeared not to have any body hair, but she was otherwise human.

††† Kyle said after checking the woman's pulse. "She's still alive, quick move these rocks."

††† As the other the rebels started down the gorge, the three that were already there, attempted to move the rocks pinning the young woman, but with the higher gravity they couldn't make any progress.

††† "I have a better idea," Said Carek. "You two keep lifting and let me concentrate." Slowly with the aid of the Force, the key rock that pinned the woman started to move, by the time Rathbone and StJohn reached them the woman was free.

††† "She's hurt pretty bad," Said Rathbone. "but this medpac will fix her right up."

††† After a few minutes Rathbone said. "Well, she's stable but she's still out of it, there's nothing more I can do."

††† "I think I can help." Said Carek as he bent down and put his hands on

her brow. Less than a minute later the woman's eyes fluttered open.

††† "Wh...Who are you?" She croaked in a non-Basic language that was surprisingly close to Ardent's native tongue.

††† "We are friends," Ardent answered. "where do you live?"

††† "Who saved me from the land of the dead?" She insisted.

 

††† "That would be me." Said Rathbone shyly.

††† "Then you are a wizard of great power, the chief will want to meet you."

††† "Which way to your village?" Asked Carek. The woman pointed in a northwesterly direction.

††† "That's on the way to the power source Carek." Said Kyle after consulting the positional tracker.

††† "Okay then, we'll be glad to meet your chief. Please lead on." Said Carek.

††† It took only an hour to reach the woman's village, which was built on platforms in the trees. The woman called for the elders and explained that she had been gathering berries when the rockslide had "killed" her and sent her to the lands of the dead. Then the next thing she knew, the great wizard called her back from the lands of the dead and restored her to the lands of the living. The tribesmen seemed to take heart in the story and cheered loudly. That was until the woman announced her decision to perform the Ma'tu'ath ritual with the wizard.

††† The Ma'tu'ath ritual was explained by the chief as a ceremonial mating of a great honor.

††† "What did he say?" Cried Rathbone.

††† Ardent clearly enjoying his friends embarrassment, chuckled. "He said that it looks like your about to get lucky with yon fair skinned, and I do mean fair skinned, maiden."

††† "Now just a minute I am not going to mate with someone I don't even know." Said Rathbone.

††† The chief spoke to Ardent briefly then Ardent turned to Rathbone. "He says that if she is rejected, it means that the wizard has found her unworthy and that to appease the great wizard for being so insulted the tribe will stone her to death."

††† Rathbone stood silently for so long that Ardent was about to nudge him, when Rathbone turned to the chief and said in a fairly passible rendering of the local language.

††† "I fine this one to be perfectly acceptable and am greatly honored by her invitation to participate in the Ma'tu'ath ritual."

††† The chief grinned broadly and announced the wizard's decision to the crowd, who were delighted and began to chant and dance.

††† Ardent continued to translate for the members of the team that could not follow. "The chief says that there is to be a feast while the two prepare for and perform the Ma'tu'ath." Suddenly there was a commotion in the crowd as a small man pushed his way through the crowd. "Uh oh, it looks like the little guy is the chief's son," Ardent continued. "and he wants to challenge the wizard for the right to participate in the Ma'tu'ath."

††† "That little guy?" Asked Rathbone. "I admit I'm nobodies brawler, but I think I can take him."

††† "There seems to be some misunderstanding, not the little guy, that guy over there." Ardent pointed to a man that was so muscular that even Kyle cringed when he saw him.

††† "That's not just one guy is it?" Said Lazarus.

††† "Yes it is," Said Rathbone. "but I think I can appeal to the man mountain in his own tongue." The chief's son listened, and when Rathbone was finished speaking, he smiled broadly and walked away. "There you go," Said Rathbone. "he actually seemed rather reasonable."

 

††† "Uh, I got bad news for you," Said Ardent watching the crowd clear a space and the chief's son begin to limber up. "you don't speak the language as well as you think you do. You just accepted his challenge and wished him good luck."

††† "Wh..Wh.. What!" Stammered Rathbone.

††† "You have just accepted..."

††† "I know what you just said. I meant I can't fight him."

††† Ardent shook his head sadly. "Yes you can. Its not like you have a choice, the way you accepted was a ritual acceptance that binds your honor and his. Now you had better get ready."

††† Rathbone looked around him desperately and for a second looked like he would bolt, when he bowed his head and seemed to accept his fate.

††† "I'll give what help through the Force I can." Said Carek as Rathbone moved into the clearing.

††† "Gee thanks Carek," Said Rathbone not trying to hide the sarcasm in his voice. "I don't know what I would do without you."

††† The chief clapped his hands and his son rushed Rathbone. Rathbone tried to dodge, but in the heavy gravity he didn't stand a chance. The chief's son punched Rathbone square in the face and knocked him out in one punch.

††† "Oh brother, I better do something." Thought Carek as Rathbone folded to the ground. When the chief's son turned to the crowd and raised his arms in triumph, no one was watching the wizard or his friends. Carek reached out with the Force to bring Rathbone back to consciousness and telepathically said. "You know your going to have to learn to duck better than that, if you plan on winning this thing."

††† "I'm working on it," Slurred Rathbone. "he's just faster than I thought he would be."

††† "Don't forget that the gravity is no hindrance to him and you'll be alright, now get in there and keep your guard up."

††† The crowd and the chief's son stood with slack jaws when Rathbone staggered to his feet, and renewed the challenge. This time, Carek aided Rathbone and after a couple minutes of sparring, they were able to coordinate their attack and throw the chief's son hard enough to knock him senseless. The reputation of the 'wizard' was now set, there would be no further challenges to the Ma'tu'ath ritual.

††† As locals took Rathbone and the rescued woman to the special chamber, a large curtained room carved into a tree, while the chief himself hosted the feast on the main platform built between half-a-dozen of the largest trees in the village.

††† The meal was of roasted lizard meat and was surprisingly good. The feast was festive with many a crude gesture and comment pointed both at the Ma'tu'ath chamber and at the chief's sulking son.

††† The feast was well on its way, when the nonoccupied members of the team heard a sound approaching that was impossible for the stone-age natives to understand.

††† "Those are repulsor lifts!" Said Kyle as he jumped to his feet and tried to see deeper into the forest.

††† StJohn grabbed his macrobinoculars and Carek used the Force to magnify his vision giving both the same view.

††† "Four armed grav sleds." StJohn said tersely. "Non-Imperial."

††††† "Each has four lizard-like crew," Said Carek as he ††† shut down the Force magnification. "and they're headed straight for the village."

 

††† The team cleared for action as the sound got louder. Soon the sound was plain to all and the chief spoke to Ardent.

††† "He wants to know what's going on." Before anyone could answer, the sleds burst into the clearing and opened fire. The chief may not have comprehended by what means his village was being attacked, but he understood enough to call for his warriors and organize the defense of his people.

††† "What's that the chief keeps saying?" Carek asked Ardent as the team opened fire on the lizard men.

††† "He's talking too fast, I can't understand much, but he keeps calling for the warriors to bring 'firestones.'"

††† At that moment, the lizard men grounded their sleds and dismounted. Eight of them-detecting the high tech weapons-engaged the team, the rest of them began searching the village. The lizards did not carry any weapons and rushed at the team to get into melee range. The team found out two things right away.

††† First, the lizards were hard to stop with blaster pistols. Kyle unleashed a storm of fire that cut down three of them as they rushed the common platform, but had to fire on them twice each to do so. StJohn following Kyle's lead fired twice to stop the one rushing him.

††† And second, their blood was corrosive. Lazarus discovered this when fired on his attacker at point blank range, was sprayed by the lizard's blood, and fell to the ground mortally wounded.

††† "What the..." Carek's half formed thought of Lazarus' psychic scream was interrupted by a pair of lizards rushing him simultaneously. Trusting to the Force, gave Carek the fraction of a second he needed to glance at the lizard standing over the fallen Lazarus. "If I don't get to Lazarus in the next few seconds he's not going to make it."

††† Unfortunately, the lizards were fast enough to take advantage of Carek's distraction and forced him onto the defensive. Carek's lightsaber flashed twice in parry and both lizards fell. Carek was doused in the acid of both of them but thanks to the Force he was unharmed. "One more to go." Said Carek as he leaped and cut down the lizard that had felled Lazarus. "Hang in there buddy," He said as he placed his hands on Lazarus' brow. "help is here." Carek reached deep into the Force to tap into the energy that surrounds everything and transferred some of that energy into Lazarus to put him into a form of suspended animation, thus stabilized, Lazarus could hold out until somebody could get to him with a medpac.

††† When Carek looked up from Lazarus, he saw Ardent fighting the last lizard with his vibroblade. As he watched, he saw the lizard slip under Ardent's guard and rend him severely. Ardent was knocked from the platform to fall to sure death.

††† "NO!" Carek cried as he used the Force to catch Ardent and pull him to land safely near where Lazarus lay. Kyle saw Ardent fall and blasted the lizard, thus finishing off the eight that had attacked the team.

††† Meanwhile in the Ma'tu'ath chamber, Rathbone had struggled to his feet and his pants as soon as he heard the blasters. Before he could find his boots, the curtain was thrown open and a lizard man entered the room. Armed only with a hold-out blaster, Rathbone tapped some unknown reserve to fire on and hit the lizard three times. The lizard folded up and dropped from the tree.

††† The seven remaining lizards sensing that the tide of battle had changed, began retreated back towards the sleds. From his position, Carek could see that the locals seemed unsure of how to advance.

††† Leaping to his feet Carek called to the locals. "To me. To me. They are beaten and can be routed if you keep up the pressure. Be not of faint heart, they can and will be routed." His words had an electric effect on the locals and did lead to a rout of the lizards.

††† The lizards made it to their sleds and began blasting the supports of the common platform, but before they could escape one of the warriors fired a sling at a sled causing it to burst into flames, killing the three lizards. "So that's what the chief meant by fire stones." Thought Carek as the weakened platform shook and dumped both him and StJohn towards the forest floor below. Carek managed to catch himself and he used the Force to steady the wounded. StJohn landed heavily and was wounded in the fall.

††† The last four lizards tried to use the confusion to escape. Kyle and Carek ran for one of the sleds and took off in pursuit. The sled was armed with a crude blaster. Carek missed with a couple shots before turning to Kyle. "Get us in close and I'll take care of them."

††† "You got it Carek." The lizards now aware of pursuit, fired their blaster as they dodged through the trees.

††† The team members had an encounter of the too close kind when to evade one of the lizard's shots, Kyle scraped a tree.

††† "Save the bark collecting for another day Kyle." Said Carek through clinched jaws as he deflected another blaster bolt.

††† "If you think itís easy to dodge these trees, their fire, and your bloody lightsaber, then you're welcome to try it."

††† Eventually Kyle managed to get in close enough for Carek to hit and the lizard's sled disintegrated in a ball of flame.

††† "Let's hope that's all of them," Said Kyle as they landed in the village. "we got pretty beat up, for fighting guys without blasters."

††† "Well, considering that they bleed acid, are fast as blazes and know how to use those claws of theirs," Carek returned as they walked to where Rathbone was waiting. "I think we got off fairly lightly."

††† "Lazarus and Ardent are inside," Said Rathbone. "they'll be fine but they aren't fully healed yet. StJohn was only lightly wounded so he's okay now. The Chief said he had never seen anything like these lizard guys before so no info there. Our biggest problem is a lack of medpacs if anyone else gets hurt."

††† "We'll just have to set a guard in case they return before Roberts gets here tomorrow." Said Kyle.

††† "The chief's already set that and a couple other things up already."

††† "Now what?" Said Carek.

††† "Nothing bad Carek, we have to participate in another ritual. Our defense of the village has made us members of the village. However in order to consummate our status as a villager, we have to consummate with a villager.

††† "You don't mean..."

††† "You got it, we all get to do the Ma'tu'ath."

††† "Well, When in Imperial City. Do as an Imperial. I guess." Said Kyle.

 

††† The next morning, the Spectre landed just long enough for Roberts to off load, and then it was gone. Roberts looked the village up and down.

††† "Typical, typical."

 

††† "Any word from our loving leader?" Said Lazarus still recovering from his acid bath.

††† "Nothing beyond the 'I want a report from those boneheads by sundown or they'll all answer to me.' sort of stuff. What happened to you."

††† Lazarus updated Roberts on the status of the mission as the team was preparing to leave the village. The chief had decided to give his 'darkskinned brothers' a guide to aid them find the Wyrm's Maw where a mountain had dropped from the sky two days ago. The location of the Wyrm's Maw and the power source coincided and was only three kilometers away. The biggest disappointment came when Roberts reported that he only had two medpacs, this meant the group would only have three and considering the lethality of the aliens encountered the day before, team Bantha was-for the first time-worried. However having no real choice they set off to explore the Wyrm's Maw.

††† Team Bantha reached the Wyrm's Maw with the help of the guide and the positional tracker in only three hours, which was unheard of by local standards. The Maw was a huge gouge a hundred kilometers long ending in a large clearing. It looked like a knife had been drawn across the planet's surface and was very reminiscent of the scar that the Wandering Bantha had left when it crashed on the planet Tosca. What set the Bantha's crash site and the Worm's Maw apart was the hundred meter tall stone spire in the center of the clearing. The team's guide became very exited and began to speak rapidly.

††† "What's he on about?" Said Lazarus.

††† "He said, 'That is the mountain that flew through the sky two days ago.'" Translated Ardent. "He remembers what it looked like exactly, because while most people in the village fled or cowered from the great flying mountain, he was rooted in place by his fear and saw it clearly as it passed over the village and that if he lives to be a thousand he will never forget what the mountain looked like."

††† Kyle consulted the positional tracker. "That spire is the power source we're looking for and to make the sabacc pot sweeter, that clearing is the best landing spot for hundreds of kilometers."

††† Carek had been standing quietly during this exchange, for he had been using the Force to examine the stone spire. "Look near the top, He said. "there are four repulsor sleds with our lizard friends flitting around the and it looks like they're doing something to the spire."

††† Before anyone could respond to Carek's observations, they all heard the now familiar sound of an approaching sled.

††† "Quick take cover!" Shouted Kyle.

††† The team spread out into the available cover, but not fast enough. Ardent tarried too long making sure that the guide was hidden and was spotted by the crew in the sled. The sled's crew was so intent on Ardent, that Kyle and Roberts were able to blast both of them so quickly that they didn't have time to call for help. The sled heavily loaded with barrels landed on its own roughly fifteen meters from the team.

††† "Quick Roberts get the to the sled and get it out of sight." Said StJohn.

††† "On the way." But before Roberts was more than half way to the sled another sled appeared. "Typical, typical." He said as he dove for cover.

††† The team fired on the second sled, but this time the gunner lasted long enough to try to get his weapon to bear. Kyle killed the gunner before he could take an aimed shot, but this caused the gunner's shot to go wide and hit the barrels of the first sled. A massive explosion ripped through the forest as the cargo and the sled burst into flames. This proved to be too much for the guide who took this moment to flee.

††† "So much for the quiet diplomatic approach." Said Carek as he watched the four sleds peel away from the spire and race toward them.

††† "Rathbone!"

††† "Over here."

††† "When the team opens up, make a break for that little gulley. We're going to work in close to the spire and check it out."

††† "Why do I get the feeling this is a bad idea?" Muttered Rathbone as the team began firing and he followed Carek down the gulley.

††† "Okay Roberts," Said StJohn as Carek and Rathbone waited for their cue. "on three we blast the sled on the right."

††† "Is that their right, or our right?"

††† StJohn found himself turning to look at his comrade to see if he had suddenly taken leave of his senses, and found Roberts grinning ear to ear.

††† "Got ya."

††† "It's a good thing we're busy right now, like I said on three."

††† Roberts and StJohn were the first of the team to fire. The lizard's sled proved to be of relatively weak construction as StJohn's fire brought the sled down, killing one lizard and wounding the other three. Two sleds flew past the team to disappear into the ever present woods, the fourth sled landed and unloaded its crew of four.

††† "I'm not in the mood for an acid bath today fellas," Said Roberts. "so I guess there's only one way to handle this."

††† Trusting to the Force and taking careful aim, Roberts proceeded to blast all three of the lizards that survived the crash of the sled as well as the four that landed safely. However the lizards had already proved to be very hard to kill, and three lizards survived the combination of crash and blaster bolts to rush Lazarus and Roberts.

††† Roberts blasted the one lizard heading for him, as Lazarus took out one of two lizards rushing him. Kyle jumped in and blasted the second. Which had unfortunately gotten close enough to Lazarus that he was splashed with acid again and incapacitated. Roberts caught in the act of moving to support Lazarus, was close enough to be wounded by the spray.

††† "That was what I was hoping to avoid." Groaned Roberts as rolled to his feet.

††† "Sorry," Said Kyle. "that's what I was trying to avoid too. I..."

††† Kyle stopped in midsentence, and snapped off four shots from his heavy blaster. Roberts wheeled around and saw Kyle's fire had killed two and wounded two of the eight lizards now approaching. Taking advantage of the lizards momentary distraction, Ardent with vibroblade at the ready engaged one of the lizards, which in turn bared its formidable claws and the two joined battle.

††† "I'm going to try and get one of those sleds." Said Roberts as he limped forward hampered by the painful acid burns and the heavy gravity.

††† "Start from the right, our right, and work your way in." Said StJohn as he moved up to help Kyle.

††† Kyle had just spotted the first lizard to be wearing something other than a blue vest and tool belt. "Fine with me, but I've got the guy in gold."

††† "Fair enough."

††† Both men trusted to the Force and easily cut down the five blue vested lizards advancing on them, but the gold lizard continued to advance despite being hit three times.

††† "I think we've got a problem." Said StJohn.

††† "This is one time I wish the Jedi were here." Replied Kyle.

††† Meanwhile Ardent had finally broke through the lizard's guard and wounded him. The lizard grunted sharply and laid Ardent low with a vicious backhanded slash.

††† "Not again!" Kyle groaned as he saw Ardent fall from the corner of his eye. he ignited his jetpack, blasted the lizard twice while on the fly, landed next to Ardent and slapped a medpac on him to stabilize him, and fired twice on the gold lizard to boot.

††† The gold lizard stood his ground and responded by firing blue bolts of energy at Kyle. StJohn found cover and joined Kyle in firing on the gold lizard.

††† While StJohn and Kyle fought the gold lizard, Roberts had just reached a sled when the gold lizard noticed him and hit him with one of his bolts of energy. Unlike Kyle who was protected be the energy shield captured from Darekk, Roberts took the bolt square and was incapacitated.

††† As the rest of the team fought with the gold lizard, Carek and Rathbone finally reached the base of the spire.

††† "We've got to find a way inside this thing." Said Carek as he scanned the spire looking for an entrance.

††† "Are you really sure you want to do that?" Responded Rathbone. "I don't think they're just going to let us waltz aboard their ship."

††† As Carek considered this, the crew of the spire let it be known that Carek and Rathbone had been detected during their approach by extending half-a-dozen laser turrets.

††† "I knew this was a bad idea."

††† "Never mind that, run for it!"

††† Carek and Rathbone only covered half the distance to the woodline before the spire opened fire. Fortunately capital ship weapons are not designed to engage man-sized targets and the lizard's weaponry was underpowered by Imperial standards, but nothing could save them from the fact that they had been very nearly hit by a weapon designed to punch through shields and heavy armor. Both men considered themselves lucky that they got away with only being wounded by the near miss.

††† As Carek and Rathbone beat a hasty retreat from the deadly spire, StJohn and Kyle had finally found a weak spot in the gold lizard's defense. A lucky break had caused both Kyle's and StJohn's to hit the lizard in the same leg at the same time which had finally wounded the gold lizard.

††† "Did you see that," Said Kyle as he recoiling from the lizard's energy bolts. "Did you see the way Goldies' shielding wavered for a second when we both hit him in the same place."

††† "Yeah, I caught that. On three."

††† Kyle and StJohn fired simultaneously and hit the lizard in the already weakened leg. The result was immediate and catastrophic, the lizard in gold exploded.

††† When the gold lizard exploded, the spire apparently had no further reason to remain on the planet and took off with a thunderous roar that stunned everyone on the ground. Team Bantha struggled back to their feet and began to patch up the wounded. Carek was moving through the wounded doing what he could to control his comrade's pain when his comlink call tone sounded.

††† "Lieutenant Argonaut."

††† "This is Lieutenant Elias, I am inbound to your location, ETA two minutes. That energy source of yours has attacked the Apocalypse and things are jumping. If you all aren't aboard the Spectre two minutes after I land, you better like it here, because you'll be a resident. Elias out."

††† "Doesn't anybody on that tub have a sense of humor." Muttered Carek. "Okay everybody, we got us a quick dustoff coming. Kyle grab Laz. StJohn get Roberts. Lets look lively, the Spectre will be here in two minutes."

 

††† The Spectre landed exactly two minutes later and to Lieutenant Elias' surprise, took off less than one minute after that. The Spectre pulled three Gs during Elias' full power liftoff. When the ship made orbit, the rebels found the Apocalypse and her riders fully engaged with the lizard's ship and taking a severe beating. The Spectre raced in to assist, but it was too late for the B-wing known as Famine, which

exploded from a direct hit.

††† "Apocalypse to Spectre! Apocalypse to Spectre! Request ETA!" The comm panel of the Spectre barked, Mott Davies, the Apocalypse's communications officer's, voice had the strident sound of a man on the ragged edge of panic.

††† "Elias to Apocalypse. ETA fifteen seconds to rendezvous. Hang in there Mott, we've got you covered."

††† "You don't intend to fight that thing do you?" Said Carek.

††† Elias turned to Carek, but the Spectre's course never wavered. "I intend to assist my shipmates in any way I can, is that a problem? You pathetic excuse for a Jedi!"

††† "No sir." Said Carek as he left the bridge. "I have complete confidence in the gunner's of this ship to assist the Apocalypse."

††† When Carek was certain that Elias was too preoccupied to notice he Lazarus and Rathbone began loading the wounded into the escape pod.

††† "I just don't have as much confidence in you," Said Carek to no one in particular as he loaded Ardent into the pod. "and there may not be enough time to save the wounded if we get hit later."

††† In the fifteen seconds it took the Spectre to reach the Apocalypse, the B-wing Pestilence was destroyed and the Apocalypse took three solid hits causing severe damage. The Apocalypse and the two surviving B-wings, Death and War scored several hits of their own that left the spire just as severely damaged. StJohn, Kyle and Roberts opened fire during the Spectre's approach in an effort to draw the lizard's ship away from the now reeling Apocalypse.

††† The spire curved away from the badly battered Apocalypse, giving her a much needed respite, to engage the remaining fighters and the Spectre. Lieutenant Elias took advantage of the now widening gap between the spire and the Apocalypse, to press home the attack. Kyle and Commander Skeror in the B-wing Death, bracketed the spire with a well aimed series of hits that left the spire dead in space. Commander Skeror then fired all his remaining protons and blew the spire apart.

††† As the crew of the Spectre began to relax there was a desperate call over the comm panel.

††† "Apocalypse to all ships we need immediate assistance!"

††† "By the twin purple moons of Nimbus!" Said Elias as turned toward the Apocalypse and saw the reason for the distress call. "The spire had dropped antimatter mines before she turned to fight us! So that's how that one ship managed to destroy three Star Destroyers." Activating the PA he said. "Gunners, new targets bearing 143 mark 19. Fire at will."

††† The two surviving fighters and the Spectre managed to destroy the mines before they could make direct contact with the Apocalypse, but could not prevent the ship from being crippled by the mines that exploded in close proximity from the rebels pinpoint fire.

 

††† "Bridge to Engineering, damage report!" Said Captain Arkin from the smoke choked bridge.

††† "Not good Captain." Said the Chief Engineer. "Any system you care to name is either offline or completely destroyed. We're running on reserve power for the life support."

††† Captain Arkin surveyed the damage he could see and said. "This may just be the Apocalypse if we can't get the drive online."

††† "I'll call you back when I know more. Engineering out."

††† A crewman approached the captain. "Casualty report sir."

††† "How bad?"

††† "Thirty-six KIA, twenty-two WIA, only seventeen able, sir."

††† "Doesn't anyone have any good news?" Muttered Arkin.

††† "Team Bantha was recovered with three WIA and four able, sir." The crewman offered.

††† "I said good news, not more bad news." Arkin pinched the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes, to the crewman he said. "Very good son, dismissed."

 

††† At that precise moment Death, War and the Spectre docked in what was left of the ship's hanger bay.

††† "Don't just stand there," Said Commander Skeror. "there's too much work for you to be standing around looking anymore stupid than you already look."

††† The team and the rest of the crew snapped out of their shock and split up to assist wherever they could be of the most use. Rathbone, Kyle, and StJohn went to Engineering. Ardent, Lazarus, and Roberts went to sickbay as patients. Carek went to sickbay with the wounded to apply the Force to control pain and to accelerate healing.

 

††† After three days of twenty hour shifts the Apocalypse was still not ready for hyperspace travel. The sublight drive was back online to provide power and mobility. Three of the ship's weapons were functioning, but only the port side shields were online.

††† Most of Team Bantha was working in Engineering to splice a by-pass to the starboard engine's hyperspace motivator. StJohn was working in the hanger bay trying to patch up some damage to the B-wing Death, when the general quarters klaxon sounded.

††† "Red alert! Red alert!"

††† The Apocalypse lurched to her now greatly reduced top speed, but no further commands came from the bridge. In fact the ship did not seem to be maneuvering or firing.

††† "What are they doing up there?" Said Kyle as he walked over the intercomm. "Engineering to Bridge. You want to give us a clue what you're doing up there?"

††† There was no answer.

††† "I'm not sure what's going on, but something is very wrong." Said Carek. "Rathbone you take charge of Engineering. The rest of you follow me."

††† Carek and company reached the bridge and found a charnal house. The entire bridge crew was dead at their stations, burned beyond recognition. Arkin, Skeror, helmsman, navigator, everyone. Out the viewport, coming around for another pass, was the ship that had killed them.

††† "Saurian raiders!" Yelled Carek as he manned the helm. "Laz help me on the bridge. Kyle, Roberts, Man the guns." Turning to the intercomm. he said. "Rathbone bring the shields online we've got company."

††† "Don't you mean bring the shield, as in singular shield, online?"

††† "You know bloody well what I mean. Get that shield up now!"

††† The Saurian raiders lanced in for the kill, the Apocalypse turned like a drunken tauntaun, but somehow Carek was able to get the shielded side turned toward the attackers. When the raider's ship flashed past the Apocalypse, there came the comforting sound of turbolasers firing.

††† "Good work guys!" Thought Carek as the Saurin ship shuddered from a direct hit.

††† The door to the bridge opened and StJohn entered.

††† "What in the blue blazes is going on here?" He said.

††† "Saurian raiders, here take the helm."

††† "Got it, where are you going?"

††† "There's one more turbolaser back there that needs a gunner. Keep the port side towards them."

††† Carek ran back to the port midship turbolaser, and quickly eased the weapon through its start up sequence. By the time the targeting screen was up, the Saurian ship was right on top of them. Carek had no time for anything other than a snap shot. The half aimed shot struck the Saurian raider squarely in the engine room, there was a small flash as the atmosphere superheated, then the Saurian's ship exploded.

††† The casualties from the Saurian attack had reduced the Apocalypse to thirty, with only twelve of them able. The worst losses had been among the officers. The senior officer was the Weapons Officer, but she was too seriously wounded to command. Carek and StJohn had to take command of the Apocalypse. Rathbone now the senior engineer, was able rig the hyperdrive enough that he was reasonably sure that they would take them to Planeris.

††† Carek-by virtue of the Force-was the most qualified astrogator and it was he who laid in the plot. It took the Apocalypse forty hours to limp back to Planeris. Once the crew was debriefed, team Bantha was summoned to fleet headquarters.

††† "Do think they found some secret memo from Arkin ordering our execution?" Said Lazarus as the team walked to headquarters.

††† "I wouldn't be surprised if they did," Responded Kyle. "The Force knows, he didn't like us."

††† "'Didn't like us' is putting it mildly at best," Said Roberts. "I got the feeling that we were pretty lucky he didn't dump us out the airlock the first time he saw us."

††† "I don't think he would have actually thrown us out an airlock," Added Carek. "but his dislike for us was unmistakable. Well here we are." Carek came to his full height before the admiral's aide-de-camp and said. "Team Bantha reporting as ordered."

††† "The admiral is finishing a briefing," The aide said. "he will be with you in just a moment. Please have a seat."

††† Five minutes later the intercomm buzzed. The aide spoke briefly and turned to the team.

††† "The admiral will see you now."

††† The 'admiral' turned out to Fleet Admiral Ackbar himself.

††† "Good to meet you all at last." He said. "Your most recent exploits have reached the attention of the Alliance High Council. To get right to the point, you are all to be decorated, promoted, and when the Apocalypse clears the repair dock, you will be reassigned to her command crew under her newly promoted Captain Challis. May I add my personal congratulations for a job well done. If you continue to display the kind of heroism, and results that your record shows here, you might just find yourselves commanding one of our star cruisers. Dismissed."

††† The team walked back to their quarters in silence, they were that dumfounded.