I have to hand it to the guy (or gal) who invented rapid blast shield activators. I mean, when you need those things, you need them, and a millisecond or two really matters. So, my hat (if I wore one) is off to that particular engineer. It's probably Krom's great-uncle or something. But I'm getting ahead of myself again.
We were spread out all over the ship, Krom back in primary engineering looking as inconspicuous as a green-skinned alien can in an Imperial Navy flight engineer uniform these days. Zero had found himself a hidey hole and was busy strapping on his body armor and charging up his shock gloves. And Keena had moved forward to take my spot at the passageway to the first cargo container, the one that the bored sailor had told me contained Wookiee slaves.
Which meant I had time to get myself to the bow to see how close I could get to the bridge.
Turns out it was pretty far. I took the lift up five levels, past the gym, mess deck, galley and crew quarters and into the black deck plates that signified officer country. I was wearing my original flight uniform with the 173rd Special Operations patches removed so I blended right in with the rest of the crew. My rank insignia meant that the enlisted crew passed gave me a half salute but otherwise ignored me, while the few officers I ran into didn't deign to notice a mere sublieutenant once they were sure my own salute was crisp and quick.
Despite being an "undercover" civilian vessel, the ship's company went about their business pretty much like any other in the Navy and nothing jumped out at me except for a small group of TIE pilots sitting in an ad-hoc ready room. Since a ship like this didn't have a hangar bay, a fighter crew seemed a bit odd. I passed that bit of intel on to the rest of the Valencia's crew and moved towards the front of C deck.
And that's as far as I got. Apparently a shuttle officer sublieutenant didn't rate entry to the CIC, since I was curtly told to back off by a stormtrooper clad in mirror-polish black combat armor. Black armor meant ISB stormtroopers – which the rank-and-file had nicknamed Death Troopers. I counted at least four of them. Not my favorite bunch after what I had seen them do in Westhills. This being the end of the line for now, I pulled out a datapad I had stolen from the mess and made myself look busy at an avionics junction box while keeping one eye on the troopers and one hand on a handhold, waiting for Krom to work his magic.
Turns out that my friend had been slicing through the ship's computer like a trid star. Not only had he figured out a safe way to drop us out of hyperspace without turning the ship inside out, he also discovered that the ship had four TIEs docked at the bow disguised as escape pods. So now the fighter jocks lounging around made sense. Since we didn't want the fighters making our life more difficult after we appropriated the ship, Krom rigged the TIEs to launch just before we dropped from hyperspace. Sounded like a solid plan to me.
The "pop-pop-pop-pop" I heard shortly afterwards was my signal that the TIEs were no longer attached to the ship and that the bantha fodder was about to hit the rotating oscillator. And then all hell broke lose, the ship shuddered hard and most everybody went flying as the artificial-G strained (unsuccessfully) to keep us all glued to the deck. I nearly pulled my shoulder out of its socket holding on and the datapad went bouncing down the hallway in 1/5G.
The klaxons started sounding and I saw the threat boards in the CIC light up fast. Despite being dazed and bloodied, crewmen everywhere started reacting with their training top of mind – battle stations and damage control parties to their rally points. I comm'ed Krom to get up to the bridge and didn't hear anything back. And Keena radioed she was "still working on" our hairy distraction but it might take a while. Just then the lift arrived carrying an armored and pissed-off looking Trandoshan so it was time for our part in this little play, Wookiee distraction or no.
I had watched a squad of Death Troopers take flamethrowers to a group of surrendered farmers back on Lothal. I'm not sure if these were the same bastards, but there aren't all that many of them so maybe Lady Luck was with me. I tossed Zero a flash bang grenade in case he wanted to make a big entrance and pulled my Dragoneye from its holster. I'm pretty fast on the draw. I put a nice smoking hole in the neckplate of one of the troopers and triggered a couple more blasts into the other one before he could react. I'm not sure I yelled "Westhills" out loud or just in my mind, but it didn't matter at that point – two down, two more to go.
And then the sons-of-Gammoreans triggered the CIC lockdown and a force field slammed down, cutting us off from the bridge.
I hadn't counted on the Imps modding a civilian ship quite so extensively, but I guess the escape pod TIEs should have been better indicator. So Zero and I were left pretty exposed with a well armed elite group of troopers on one side of a forcefield they could drop at any time, and who knows what security forces waiting to come up the lift. And me without my flight engineer to rid me of this meddlesome field generator.
It turns out that Keena and Krom were dealing with problems of their own, although less of the "impenetrable force-field" type. While Krom's nifty TIE fighter detachment/hyperdrive overload routine had worked, he also managed to short his engineering panel in a puff of burned electronics, which left him looking mighty guilty to the rest of the nerds in the engineering department. One of the watch supervisors hit the alarm and called out for security, so Krom- taking a card from my own sabacc deck – just ignored them and calmly walked out of engineering. Sometimes my friend remembers to wear his tritanium ones.
Unfortunately, the Imperials weren't just going to let him go – as Krom was heading towards the bow to help Keena, a couple sailors up the passageway spotted him and took off in hot pursuit, blasters barking. To hear Krom tell it, it wasn't much of a gunfight. He dropped one of them with a shot over his shoulder and then took the other one out of the fight after finding a little cover to shoot from. And then he was back up the p-way, heading towards the bridge.
Meanwhile, Keena had taken out the sailor "guarding" the passage to the expected Woorkiee slave-filled cargo container and had started cutting open the airlock with her light saber like a giant crystal-powered can opener. Why she didn't just use the sailor's ID to open the lock I guess we'll never know. But regardless she made it through and ran up against the biggest form of scum and villainy in the galaxy - scientists. Scientists, with their white lab coats and all of their experiments and blood samples and prodding. It makes me sick just thinking about them. And rather than cutting them into tiny scientist bits right away, like any rational person would do, she hesitated and gave the scum time enough time to open a few of the slave cages. And the next thing you know out come a pair of huge Wookiees with glowing green headbands, roaring in rage at my Twi'lek astrogator.
While Krom and Keena were messing about and not handling their part of the plan – namely creating a Wookiee-flavored diversion – Zero and I were fighting off pretty much the entire ship's company and trying to figure out a way into the CIC. Zero tried bypassing the power shunt, but didn't get much for his effort other than some serious voltage reflux that left him a bit stunned. The troopers on the other side of the field took advantage of the short to send a few blaster bolts our way but otherwise the stalemate continued. We knew the Imps were working on plans of their own, as we saw them help a well-armed Trandoshan (does everyone have a giant lizard these days?) climb into a duct – whether to make our lives miserable or for safekeeping we didn't know.
I had blasted and flash-banged a half-dozen security types into unconsciousness before Zero remembered he had his ion blaster in his gym bag. Senility is upon him, I'm afraid. And one thing ion blasters are really good at is messing up electronics – say, like a force field generator. As we approached the CIC to give it a shot I could hear the snap-hiss of Keena's lightsaber over the commlink so I knew she was still in the mix. Krom came on shortly afterwards saying he was opening the second cargo container to (finally) free a few hairy allies.
And then the force field dropped in a shower of sparks and ionized air and we were back on. The troopers were in good cover but planning screens and CIC workstations don't provide much in terms of armor. With the actuator mods that Krom had put into the Reaper, I just shot right through their cover and put them on the deck. Zero batted a few of the regular security troopers into unconsciousness with his shock gloves and the rest of the command staff either decided to surrender or make a run for it. After I put a few shots through the faceplates of all the Death Troopers (turned out there were five) we had the CIC secured. Time to see about the bridge.
Zero and I climbed the ladder and ran into a more conventional problem – a closed and locked blast door. Not like I expected a welcome mat, but we were on a bit of a timer so I held out some small hope that they felt safe behind the field generator one deck below. But I'd had to open a few of these before when I was trying to score a case of Corellian brandy some stormtrooper captain had stupidly bragged about back on Ord Mantell so I thought I'd see if I still had the skills.
Near as we can figure it, that's about when Krom had freed his second set of Wookiees and was heading full speed back into the engineering spaces this time at the head of a hairy army. And Keena had finally stopped screwing around with the lab-coated freaks and done away with them (or I guess technically the furious aliens didn't like being mind controlled so much) and was making her way forward with a few freed slaves along for extra muscle.
I heard some sort of commotion a few decks below – the sound of blaster fire and then a lightsaber and growling Wookiees. So we knew Keena was close by (turned out she had run into the fighter jocks – bad news for them). But I could barely hear Krom over the commlink due to all the roaring and bellowing and other assorted Wookiee noises – something about the hyperdrive being back online. Time to work faster.
I got the door open in record time and Zero and I made ready to breech the entrance. But it turns out my Mirialan friend is even faster on the computers. The bridge was in full panic mode – captain in his command chair barking orders, crew working frantically to get status updates, stablize systems and get back into hyperspace. And standing there without much to do was some big Trandoshan who didn't much care for Zero and I entering the room.
One of the crew members was shouting something about the hyperdrive being offline again, which made my grin even broader. Good ol' Krom working his magic. A glance at the DC console showed me they had the emergency beacon out and squawking on all channels, but I didn't expect to be hanging out here for long anyway. The captain pointed his Navy-issue DH-17 my way while Zero and the other Trandoshan hissed at one another and started brawling like their lives depended on it. Which they did, so I guess that made sense.
The captain and I traded a few shots, but it was obvious the old man hadn't earned his stripes for marksmanship. He knew his position was an unwinnable one and ordered his XO to rig the ship for self destruct – just as I squeezed off a shot that caught him in the side of the face. The idiot Imp actually triggered the reactor overload which lasted a hot second before Krom squashed that from engineering. I shot the Imp in the head just for being that suicidally stupid.
Zero and his dance partner were still doing a bit of a two step, and although both of them had taken a few nasty blows, I had a large stack of credits on my crewmate. But there were still quite a few Imp bridge crew around and I didn't want them getting any ideas so sent a few blasts their way to remind them who was in charge and slid into the pilot's seat to get us moving in the right direction.
That was about the time that the other Trandoshan took a runner and pulled out a thermal detonator, threatening to blow us all to atoms.
Now, I don't take kindly to thermal detonators on the bridge – just ask Krom about that one time near Endor. So I commed the Valencia's crew to hold onto something and killed the artificial G as I spun this unwieldy beast of a ship in a high thrust spin. Most of the crew when bouncing off the bulkheads like I'd intended. but unfortunately the Trandoshan was made of sterner stuff and managed to toss the detonator towards the front viewscreen, where it promptly blasted a hole in to the front of the ship.
Explosive decompression in space isn't fun. Your ears blow immediately with the drastic pressure change, and through broken eardrums the only sound you can hear is the screams of panic and air rushing past you. The same air that is trying to push you out of the same hole it wants to escape from. I saw a few Imps get sucked out of the breech, followed by the idiot alien who caused this mess to begin with. I was thanking my lucky stars I had remembered to strap in when I first sat down. Up until the point where the belt failed and I went flying headfirst towards hard vacuum.
I'm normally not one to praise Imperial Navy protocol. But sometimes there are exceptions. With all the mods they did on this civilian ship to make it more Navy shipshape, someone had decided to put in the normal command aisle. The walkway that senior officers can pace while they look over the shoulders of their subordinates. And they usually have handrails – one of which I managed to grab on to just before my feet reached the deep black of space. And then the pressure drop stabilized as the forward blast shield closed over the breech and through my bleeding ears I heard the sound of emergency air being pumped into the bridge.
And Krom had already programmed the navicomputer for the rendezvous point. Win one for the good guys.
During the hyperspace jump it got a little – messy. The Wookiees were not in a particularly forgiving mood, and they didn't leave very many survivors among the ship's company. The way their species is treated by the Empire I can't say I blame them much, but it's tough to stomach watching a man get his arms torn off. But with nearly a hundred Wookiees on our side, the ship was completely ours and we re-entered normal space right where we were supposed to – in the middle of a messy fleet that screamed "Rebel Alliance."
The med techs they sent aboard seemed a bit overwhelmed at how to deal with Wookiees, but they made do. And despite not being able to hand over the double agent (turns out he blew himself out the front of the ship), we delivered the rebels a bit more firepower in the form of a undercover and upgraded cargo ship.
So as far as I was concerned we had done our bit for Queen and country. We had done our bit for ancient religious fanatics. Could we please do a bit now for my credit balance?
Probably not. Krom is such a bleeding heart