The two stormtroopers did not turn to the sound of their squad leader’s voice nor the approaching steps of their comrades. Instead, their eyes remained solidly fixed on the ‘abandoned’ landing platform where Dicer had been forced to divert his badly damaged craft towards.
It was unremarkable by most respects; four walls with a pair of forward guard towers, built into the curve of a valley side. Without proper rappelling equipment; the only way forwards was through the front door.
But as for why the two men had decided to hunker down over 300 meters away as opposed to rushing in to wait for the landing ship was obvious to the newcomers as they came over the rise and saw the bright lights and shadows of activity emanating from the platform.
“Why can’t intel ever be correct?” griped Kaz as he shook his head.
“Look on the bright side… at least there is a landing platform. Knowing the first class intel we’ve been getting tonight, I was half expecting the bloody carnival” replied Exton.
Arand tuned his helmet’s visor onto the platform and frowned; there were two guards in the towers overlooking the only road in and two more standing by a major durasteel door that blocked the way within. To make matters worse, one of the guards in the tower was very clearly armed with a heavy weapon mounted on one of the railings; something which would undoubtedly claw the group should it catch anyone within its sights.
“How long till Dicer gets here?” asked Jarael as he peered into the distance.
“Less time than I’d like… We need to let him know to slow his descent” replied Arand to which Exton held up an empty evacuation flare.
“Took care of that already… I think he got my message; but there’s no way to know for sure”
“Then we have no choice… We’ll need to take that pad directly and quickly” said the Talz’s vocabulator as the hairy alien patted Fritz, a salvaged super battle droid that had been disabled during the weather center raid. Unfortunately for the droid, it wasn’t doing too well in the open ion storms and was clearly suffering for it.
“Easy for you to say. I see a grand total of two rocks between us and the pad, which means we’ve got no cover for our approach” retorted Jarael as he glanced back. Even now they could see the very faintest hint of the drop ship rocketing towards them; an engine leaking a plume of bright red smoke and fire in its wake.
“Lets split up then; Jarael, Romo, and Kaz on that rocky outcropping to the right, Exton take left and stay quiet. If things get bad, you’re on sniping duty while Kaz draws fire with the Z6”
The troopers nodded and began moving for their positions, which left Romo and Jarael to look at the squad leader with an odd glance.
“… What, your idea for an advance is to sling ourselves at them until they run out of ammo or something? That’s over 60 meters of open ground from the rock to the door; and there’s no way we’ll be able to advance on that while that repeater is in place” said Romo with a blast of exasperation as he pointed at the tower.
“Both of you get to your assigned spots… I’ve got a plan” replied the squad leader as he slipped off his helmet and turned his all-weather cape so that it covered most of his armor.
Romo shrugged and with that the two aliens reported to their assigned spots by Kaz.
“That’s his plan?! He’s going to get bloody slotted and then we’re going to have that base on top of us” cried a beleaguered Talz as he stole a glance from around the outcropping.
No sooner had the two aliens gotten in place had the lone squad leader marched up the road, his arms wrapped around his sides and a look of absolute terror wretched on his face.
“Don’t worry; the boss knows what he’s doing”
“You may want to think about finding a new leader… I think you’re going to be short one very soon” pointed out Jarael with a smirk.
“Hey, cut the chatter… He’s almost within visual” scolded Exton’s voice over the comlink.
The squad leader was almost up to the edge of the wall’s ambient lighting when he suddenly froze, his entire body seemingly caught in the spectacular stillness of a photograph.
“Is that part of the plan?” asked Romo as he peered at his absolutely still body.
“… Not sure… Exton, you got a visual” replied Kaz.
“I think… Oh for xendor’s sake… Looks like they mined the road” began Exton before swearing.
The plan had been simple; get up close and gather the guards attention; and then hopefully be at the door and within the gun’s dead zone giving Arand the opportunity to either chuck a grenade into the tower or at least give the others a major distraction.
That was of course until the sound of a metal click went off causing his entire body to freeze instinctively. Had it not been for the storm and the soldier’s natural reliance on his helmet’s upgraded visors, Arand may have noticed the landmine a little earlier; but at the least he had noticed it soon enough to stop himself from causing a very bad mess with his lower body.
Arand knew his armor would be able to absorb the brunt of the mine’s force; but there was little doubt that it would alert the garrison in a most hostile manner that something had gone wrong.
He felt around his utility belt hoping for something that he could use to disarm the mine; but without actually knowing what he was doing or having anything more delicate than the blunt side of his blaster; Arand decided to go for the unconventional.
He began to cry.
“… Oh yeah, totally has a plan” groaned Jarael as he watched their squad leader burst into tears and wail for help. A moment later a tower spot light shined on him, negating any cover of darkness he once had.
A trooper approached him gingerly and the group listened to Arand as he blubbered about how he had fled into the desert after the invasion and had thought to take refuge at the platform.
“Alright… well, don’t worry friend, just keep your foot down and don’t move a muscle. I’ll see about getting this thing disarmed” calmed the soldier as he dropped to one knee and glanced at the landmine that the trooper’s toe was resting upon.
“I just… I was so happy to see that the platform wasn’t abandoned and then… and then this?!” blubbered the man who nobody would have ever mistaken for a squad leader.
The soldier pulled out a set of tools and began to work, his hands gently twisting and prodding certain parts of the landmine.
Arand rubbed his eyes and took stock of his options. His mind raced as to what he could say to get closer to the wall, as his right hand tightened on the blaster pistol beneath the cloak. He had become so engrossed with his plan when he noticed that the soldier had just said something that he’d missed.
“I said; which town were you from? Never quite heard an accent like yours before”
“Kamten… I’m from Kamten” replied the squad leader after a long moment of thinking, trying to recall something he’d seen on the news reels while sitting in the station.
For a long moment the soldier said nothing and gazed at the officer.
“No way… I’ve got a cousin in Kamten, maybe you know him? Jilek? Big guy who works in trucking”
The squad leader let his heart beat again as he gave a random answer and let the soldier get back to work. It had been a close call and one that nearly me-
“… Plastoid boots? I don’t think I’ve seen those since the clone wars…” said the soldier suddenly, his hands frozen on the landmine as he noticed the solid armor.
The trooper began to draw back, his hands reaching for the rifle on the ground as Arand decided that everything was about to go south and that he had all but one option left to him.
A plume of fire and smoke blew apart a chunk of the road flinging the squad leader upside down as Exton opened fire on the heavy gunner. The man in the tower was wearing heavier armor than his companions and it showed as the shot jostled the man’s aim as he let loose a burst of bright blue blaster fire that peppered the ground around Arand.
The next few moments were a blur as Kaz opened up with the repeater to blanket the wall while Jarael took off down the road; sprinting down the precise path that Arand had taken only moments ago in order to avoid any other surprises that had been laid.
Two quick blaster rounds left Romo’s pistol as he moved up the right flank, his ability to see through the darkness a major asset as it allowed him to close on the wall without having to hesitate about other landmines that may have waited for him. While imperfect in its aim, it did distract the man by the gate from aiming at the approaching doctor or whatever was left of Arand who laid on the ground unmoving.
A burst of sniper fire from the western tower bounced off the rocks which Kaz was hunkered behind causing the trooper to pull back for a moment.
“Get that guy in the left tower; I’ll deal with the repeater”
“The gunner’s got some heavy armor on him; I don’t think you’re going to be able to knock him out from where you are” pointed out the sniper as he pulled around the corner and placed the sniper squarely within his scope. The man was young for his trade, but the stormtrooper didn’t hesitate as he squeezed the trigger and sent him into the next life.
“Who said anything about the gunner?” joked Kaz as he darted out once again and unleashed a fury of shots that reached out into small bunker where the repeater was housed. Like a bright ribbon of bright blue liquid, the arc splashed across the walls of the tower before a shot struck the side of the repeater’s housing causing it to explode in the gunner’s hands.
“Keep me covered!” shouted Jarael as he dropped to his knees, skidding along the weather beaten road beside Arand’s body. Blaster fire continued to erupt from Romo’s blaster pistol at the guard by the door as he moved up the right flank beneath the spray of fire from Kaz’s rotary cannon.
Tired of trying to shoot a target who refused to stand still in the night, the guard turned his blaster from Romo to Jarael only to be knocked off his feet by a shot from the Talz. The sickening smell of his own flesh being cooked by the heat of the blaster round overwhelmed his senses as he collapsed to the ground and dropped his blaster.
The soldiers quickly appeared from their positions of cover; blasters drawn and trained on the bleeding guard by the door.
“I surrender?” choked the man, as he raised his arms into the night.
“That’s nice” was the only reply Exton offered as he drew his pistol and pulled the trigger casually.
“Was that necessary? He could have had information on him” said the Talz as the man slumped the ground wordlessly.
“You think he would’ve done any different had it been us on our knees?” replied Exton as he holstered the pistol and covered the towers.
The talz shrugged and went to the door panel, pulling out his tools for the task ahead.
“How do you feel?” said Jarael’s voice as he tapped the syringe from his medical kit twice to dispel the excess fluid.
Arand tried to talk but found his chest too tight to choke out any part of a sentence.
“Excellent” muttered the scholar before plunging the syringe into the side of the soldier’s neck.
“What do you mean excellent?” asked another voice, this one belonging to Kaz.
“Means he can still feel and his organs haven’t failed. He’s lucky the concussion didn’t turn his insides to jelly” said the doctor whimsically as though he almost wished it had happened so he’d have the challenge of trying to put him back together again.
The squad leader winced in pain as he felt the syringe go through, but was almost immediately relieved of the tension in his chest that was making it difficult to breathe.
“You shouldn’t say that about him… Man’s a hero for drawing all that fire off us” replied Kaz curtly as Jarael continued to find move more things from his med kit back to Arand who was still coming back from the brink.
“Oh I completely agree… This is precisely what happens when you try to be a hero” replied the doctor as he snapped a synthetic flesh dispenser over an open wound on the Arand’s forehead.
“Will you please stop talking about me like I’m not here” groaned the squad leader as he moved back into a seated position. Kaz gave him a hand and helped move the soldier into a seated position.
“Couple more seconds and you wouldn’t have been” replied the doctor as he snapped the armored plate off the trooper and looked at the large black and red bruise that was quickly forming across the injured man’s torso.
“Does it hurt when I do…” began the doctor as he laid a hand on the soldier’s side. His sentence was never finished as the squad leader yelped in pain.
“I’ll take that as a yes… Two broken ribs at the minimum but at least your nerve functions are intact which means your kidneys are probably okay” continued the doctor as he administered a muscle relaxant and began to wrap the soldier’s midsection with a large cloth.
“Door’s ready to come in fifteen seconds; we ready?” reported Romo’s translator through everyone’s comlinks.
Arand groaned as he was helped back to his feet after snapping his chest pieces back into place. As odd as it was to have been so close to death’s door, Jarael had not only kept him from going over the brink but had brought him back to something close to fighting form. He had certainly seen better days and his insides felt like they were on fire; but everything responded the way it was supposed to and it didn’t feel like his heart would seize up whenever he turned or moved.
It almost saddened the squad leader to think how many more men he had seen in a state better than his who had died because someone like Jarael hadn’t been around.
“Think you dropped this…” said the doctor as he held up the squad leader’s helmet. There was a large crack along its frame, but the visor was still operational and felt sturdy in his hands.
With a quick flip he pulled the helmet over his head, finding an odd sense of tranquility and peace as his forward visor sprang to life.
“… We’re are now”