|Artwork by Pablo Hidalgo.|
Qinto Braxun signaled to his friend Robicheaux to stop, the pale blue light of one of his lightsaber blades illuminating his expression of concern. “Hold up, Chinuah's trying to catch up.”
The mystic and the fledgling Jedi both turned to see the silouhette of their Ewok friend materialize from the shadows. Chinuah took a moment to attempt to shake the water off his bare feet. The two men chuckled quietly at their little friend's comical jig. “Kyuka! Aahkhee!” Chinuah exclaimed in disgust.
As if in response, a low rumble echoed through the aged hall. Vibrations from disturbances several levels below filtered up beneath the three would-be rebels' feet and dust trickled from the ceiling along with more water droplets. Chinuah rubbed his nose furiously. Would this irritation never end?
“So when and where are we to meet our contact,” Robicheaux asked, assuming a one-legged stance while leaning on his quarterstaff. The young man, a Guardian of the Whills, studied his surroundings with a healthy dose of skepticism. Though many heroes had come from humble beginnings and places, he had not heard of any starting their journey in such a place as this.
Chinuah studied Robicheaux's posture a moment and then tried to emulate it, but his legs were too short. The little Ewok had been a part of the group ever since they found him wandering the streets of Jedha City alone. Taking him in, Qinto and Robicheaux taught him all they could about civilization at the Temple of the Whills. At the time, Chinuah had attempted to educate them on his given name – Etchutu – but he just couldn't make them understand. They, in turn, named him Chinuah, after one of Robicheaux's favorite mentors in the temple.
Those days had been a light in the dark times that followed the Clone Wars. When the shadow of the Empire engulfed Jedha, the Temple of the Whills was plundered for the precious kyber crystals and the monks were driven out. The three fled in the dead of night to prevent Qinto being discovered as a Jedi padawan. A decade prior, Qinto fought alongside his master, Ido Shintora, and the clone armies of the Republic. After Order 66 and the purge, the fledgling Jedi Knight arrived at the Temple of the Whills seeking sanctuary. Now that sanctuary was nothing more than smoking ruins – the result of a massive mining accident if the newsnet broadcasts were to be believed.
“Soon. The room is just up ahead. The sooner he can get us aboard a ship and away from here, the better,” Qinto said quietly. “C'mon.”
The trio moved quietly and quickly down the side corridor of the mine. Being a played-out lidium mine, Mesa 291 was far from a Core Worlds resort, but it served its purpose well. It was abandoned, out of the way, and hopefully under the Empire's sensors.
Robicheaux stopped and nudged a derelict mining droid with his quarterstaff. It listed a bit, then slowly slid sideways to lie down with a clunk on the dusty stone floor. “Such waste. Droids such as this could have been reassigned to other sites. Instead the Empire leaves them to rust here,” the mystic lamented.
“Quiet!” Qinto whispered harshly. “We don't know who – or what – is in these caverns with us! It's bad enough we have to wander around in here without a map...”
The young Jedi quickly glanced around a corner into a small, circular chamber. “All clear. Let's go!” he ordered.
Robicheaux raised an eyebrow and asked, “Are we early or is our contact late?”
“With our luck, probably both,” Qinto smirked. At least being on the run from the Empire hadn't affected his sense of humor... much.
Chinuah concluded that he would cast the deciding vote as to whether they stay or continue. The little warrior walked forward and with a deft leap, sat himself down on top of one of the crates. Looking pleased with himself and his initiative, the Ewok leaned his spear against his durasteel throne and prepared to crack open one of the smaller containers sitting next to him.
Before he could do so, he was surprised by a low whistle from the hallway opposite of the trio's entrance. A black and silver R2 unit cautiously rolled into the room and looked the three over before beeping in confidence to itself. There was a slight “click” as the droid's holographic projector came to life.
The three gathered around the little droid as a small hologram of Tiree appeared and greeted them from atop the small container nearest Chinuah. Amazed, the furry explorer tried to capture the tiny man only to have the image flicker as his hands passed through it. “Welcome to Mesa 291,” the image said. “I'm sorry I can't greet you myself. Somehow, the ISB – Imperial Security Bureau – tracked me down. They must have your names, too, so you can't turn back now.”
Chinuah growled at the mention of Imperials; the whiteshells were no friends of his. Qinto and Robicheaux threw each other a knowing look. Things were quickly going from bad to worse. “It may only be hours before they catch me, and they'll come after you next,” the hologram continued. “I'll lead the Imperials away as long as I can to give you time to escape. I left some equipment and weapons for you. I hope you won't need them.”
“What we could really use is a ship,” sighed Qinto.
As if it were the real Tiree, the hologram responded to the young Jedi's request. “The shuttle is in a cavern on the next level down. This astromech droid, R2-D0, knows the way there. I hope you can fly the craft, because I might not make it back.”
“That might be a problem...” Qinto sighed.
Robicheaux leaned on his staff. “Indeed.”
“Tuckhcha,” Chinuah agreed.
The hologram flickered slightly and concluded its message. “Deo holds the navigation and hyperspace coordinates to a rebel base. You must not let this droid fall into Imperial hands or they'll learn where it is. If you have to, destroy the droid. Good luck – and may the Force be with you.”
The hologram faded out and Deo jumped, surprised by the mention of his possible destruction. The little droid gave a loud series of beeps and rolled back toward the doorway he came through. From the depths of the mine, a new noise filtered into the trio's range – the clatter of weapons and armor, and a harsh new voice.
“Weapon team, secure the entrance! First squad, check the branch tunnels. Stay alert, these rebel scum may be armed!” the voice exclaimed.
Chinuah, his curiosity about the boxes briefly reignited, lifted the lid of one of the boxes to discover some shiny, silver fruit. But they didn't smell like fruit. He picked one up, licked it, and decided it obviously wasn't ripe enough to eat. None of them were, in fact.
“Whoa there, little one,” Qinto cautioned, picking one of the grenades up. “These aren't food. Watch!” He then mimicked priming the grenade and throwing it. Looking into the distance at an imaginary horizon, he then pantomimed a big explosion.
Chinuah raised a furry eyebrow and thought a moment. His big friends had shown him many things since they met on Jedha. Food that came in boxes, thick rings of sticky stuff, and even magic grubs that dispensed medicine. Evidently this was something like the eggs the whiteshells threw at people they didn't like. He would see how the whiteshells liked a taste of their own medicine. “Echuku! Eegah!” he said, nodding enthusiastically as he grabbed the egg back from Qinto and then stuffed three more in his satchel.
The trio quickly moved from crate to crate, unveiling a trove of equipment – medpacs, flight suits, headset comlinks, syntherope, glow rods, blaster pistols and ammo packs, and more grenades. Qinto bundled three of the small first aid kits into Chinuah's bulging satchel. They may be necessary and oddly enough, the Ewok was well-versed in healing to some extent. At least it makes up for his miserable cooking skills. Qinto chuckled inwardly.
“Though I prefer not to use them, these may prove beneficial to our escape,” Robicheaux said, dropping four smoke grenades into one of his belt pouches.
“These too,” Qinto sighed, sticking a blaster pistol in his belt opposite the one in his holster. Grabbing a trio of blaster packs, the young Jedi looked at the cartridges thoughtfully. “I have an idea. Chinuah, can I use your duraflex?”
The furry warrior pulled the roll of heavy-duty tape out of his satchel. “Chukka,” Chinuah said, shoving it into his friend's hands. He didn't want the stuff, especially after what it did to him. Just looking at it made the shrinking bald spot on the back of his right hand itch.
“Clumsy and random,” Robicheaux said of the blasters. “Nowhere near as elegant a weapon as a living being who is one with the Force.”
“Same can be said of these,” Qinto replied, patting the hilt of one of his lightsabers. “Still, there's more than one way to use a blaster. Commander Rune taught me that.” Pushing the thought of his former military mentor out of his mind, the young Jedi dropped several blaster packs in one of his belt pouches and then took four more and bound them together with a strip of duraflex. He then quickly slid one of the crates over near the doorway and set the cluster of blaster packs against a rock on top of the crate.
Quickly tying one end of a length of thin wire around a formex and durasteel beam opposite the crate, Qinto ran the line to the cluster of blaster packs. He then looped and tied the other end to a hole in a small flange atop one of the charges before turning the flange several times to loosen the charge's damper. A faint, whistling whine emanated from the blaster pack as Qinto set the makeshift bomb under the rock. Chinuah, not wanting to be left out, quickly took the box of blaster packs, and emptied the remaining ammunition in a pile around the ominously whining bomb.
“Okay, let's get out of here!” Qinto said urgently, tossing a glow rod to the mystic and grabbing one for himself.
“What of the other supplies?” pressed Robicheaux.
“No time. They're almost on top of us!”
The group bolted from the chamber with Deo in the lead. Behind them there came a muffled blast and shouts of pain and surprise. It was quickly followed by a volley of blasterfire and an electronic shout of “Clear!” through a helmet comlink.
In the dust, smoke, and rubble of the chamber, several Imperial stormtroopers hefted the body of a dead comrade over to the side of the doorway. The left side of the trooper's armor was scorched black where the blast had penetrated it. The body's lack of a left leg and left forearm spoke of the explosion's fury. A gray-suited ISB agent pushed his way past two others outside the door and stepped through, doffing his combat helmet. “I want these insurgents alive. I'm going to enjoy making an example of them like I did the others,” he said grimly.
“Yes sir,” responded one of the troopers.
“Barezz to weapon team,” the ISB agent spoke into his comlink, “maintain position and fire on any rebels you see entering the main tunnel. Drive them back into the side tunnels where we can box them in.”
“Roger that,” came the reply.
* * *
The shadows of the cavern retreated as Qinto and Deo led the way, glow rod and worklight blazing the trail. As the group pushed on, a fluttering noise behind them caught Robicheaux's attention. “Did you hear that?” he whispered, trying to mentally pinpoint and identify the source.
The disturbance was not lost on Qinto. “Yeah. There's something here. I –” The young Jedi was suddenly interrupted by a cascade of blue sparks from the ceiling, followed by the descent of two shrieking shadows.
Qinto cursed his luck as one of the beasts flapped about him in a mad attempt to latch onto the glow rod. “Mynocks... Why does it have to be mynocks?”
The little astromech droid screeched in fright as the other scavenger draped itself over his head and started to feed. Chinuah quickly moved in for the kill and ran the parasite through with his spear. It dropped to the ground with a gurgling squawk.
Qinto battered his fleshy attacker to the ground and dispatched it quickly with a stab of a lightsaber. Meanwhile, Chinuah examined his kill in the dim light. It smelled terrible and looked like a demon out of his village shaman's stories. Regardless of this conclusion, the Ewok folded the creatures wings over itself and stuffed the mess into his satchel. Maybe cooking it would improve its smell and looks.
Qinto cursed as his glow rod flickered and died. “It appears the creature had a last meal after all,” Robicheaux smiled wryly.
“No, it didn't come close to it. Ah, here's the problem,” Qinto said, showing his friend a crack in the handle before tossing it away. “The thing's got a manufacturing defect. At least I still have this.” There was a snap-hiss and the pale blue of Qinto's blade brightened the dim lighting.
Deo warbled shakily and wobbled toward his new friends. Chinuah steadied the little droid and looked at Qinto and Robicheaux in a pleading fashion. “I don't know about you, but I know little to nothing about droid maintenance,” sighed Qinto.
“I knew a Revwien initiate back on Jedha who was writing a book. 'Tyia and the Art of Droid Maintenance', I think it was called,” replied Robicheaux. “A pity he and the book are now lost.”
Chinuah ignored his friends' banter and thought back to his time on Jedha. This was a droid, and droids didn't eat food like regular people. Then an image flashed through his mind – he had seen a droid being plugged into a power coupling by its owner! Looking around frantically, the Ewok found a severed power line. Being careful not to touch the exposed wires, he lugged it over toward Deo.
Now all he had to do was figure out where the droid's mouth was so he could feed it.
Searching for the best way to lend aid to the droid, Chinuah accidentally touched the wires to the droid's leg. Tendrils of blue lightning played across Deo's surface, causing him to rock from the jolt. Squawking indignantly, Deo extended an electroshock prod. Chinuah backed up, holding the power conduit ahead of him like his own weapon.
Deo tilted forward as if to joust with the target of his ire, but instead made contact with the power conduit's exposed wires. There was an actinic spark and an acrid smell as more blue lightning washed across the droid's features. Deo let out an accelerated cacophony of beeps and whistles as all his manipulators and tools popped out of their various compartments. With a wilted, rusty groan, the droid toppled over backwards.
Chinuah looked at the little droid with a mix of fear and remorse. He hadn't meant to overfeed his new friend. As Qinto and Robicheaux looked at the scene with concern, the Ewok tossed the power cable aside and went over to see if his new friend were still alive. Poking the droid in the leg and in one of his glassy photoreceptors elicited no response. Chinuah looked up at Qinto and Robicheaux mournfully with a pained moan.
Before the three could formulate their next plan of action, there came the sound of tiny motors running. Deo's various tools, sensors, and manipulators began to retract into their compartments, sealing themselves in with a variety of hisses and clicks. Now Chinuah was not only mournful, but mortified as well. He had seen dead animals before when he hunted in the forest, but never a dead droid. Was this what happened when they died?
A couple of lights flashed on Deo's head and his photoreceptors began to wink on, one by one. The little droid turned to look at Chinuah with an electronic burble. Elated, Chinuah immediately struggled to help his metal friend upright. “Yub nub! Yub nub!” he chattered gleefully.
As Qinto helped Chinuah stand Deo up, he said, “Alright, he's back from the dead. We've got to keep moving. Which way, Deo?”
Deo took stock of his surroundings and then began rolling the main tunnel. Halfway there, the group came across an elevator door. “Hold up – we need to go down, so let's get down there,” Qinto said, pressing the flickering call button. The door jerked open to reveal the ruins of an elevator car filled with debris. “Or maybe not,” the padawan backtracked.
Deo burbled smartly, happy that he had not been overridden by a raw recruit. As the little droid neared the exit to the main tunnel, he slowed down in trepidation. He took a moment to process and then made ready to lead the group into the open.
* * *
At the entrance to the mine, the waning sunlight bathed TK-2874's armor in golden-red hues. Just newly promoted to the Coruscant Guard, the trooper was relishing being back out in the field for a time. Still, he couldn't wait to don the crimson armor of his new unit once again.
Staring down the main tunnel, he caught a flicker of movement. Adjusting the visual sensors on his helmet, he magnified the activity. “Hey, we didn't bring any droids with us, did we?” he inquired of his fellows.
“Nope,” said TK-1015, who was manning the power trunk on the repeating blaster.
“I'd have remembered a droid,” concurred TK-411, who was standing at the gun's controls. “Charge it up, it's time for some target practice,” he said, widening his aim. TK-1015 obliged him and the power trunk thrummed to life.
“Weapon team to Barezz, have spotted rebels entering main tunnel. Beginning suppression fire,” TK-2874 announced through his helmet comlink.
* * *
Back down the tunnel, Deo cautiously rolled out into the open. Without warning, a golden-red bolt flashed across the droid's path. Screaming an electronic profanity, the droid quickly backed up, nearly bowling over Qinto. The smell of ozone hung in the musty air as the Jedi blinked away the flash blots in his eyes. “Can't go that way. Anybody got any ideas?”
As if to answer, decaying speakers throughout the complex crackled to life. Barezz's cold and heartless tones sedately spelled out his expectations. "Hello, rebel scum! This is ISB officer Mar Barezz. I hold Imperial warrants for your arrest on charges of treason. Surrender now and the Imperial courts will go easy on you. Resist, and we'll hunt you down like womp rats."
“Meaning they'll give us blindfolds at our execution.” Qinto commented grimly. “How many of those smoke grenades do we have?”
“Four,” counted Robicheaux.
Chinuah held up one of his own silver fruits. “Tuku eekah! Gyeesh!”
Qinto outlined the plan of attack with grim resolution. “Okay. Here's what we're going to do. We're going to provide our own cover with those smoke grenades. We roll one out, and start running – quietly – toward the mine entrance. Once we hit the edge of the first smoke cloud, we pop the next grenade and toss it ahead. That way they can't fire accurately. Once we're close enough, we start yelling and close to disable the crew and gun. Got it?”
“Gyeesh!” Chinuah said, offering one of his silver spheres a second time.
“No, you hold onto that. We made need it later. Robicheaux is going to use his grenades now.”
Slightly disappointed, Chinuah put the grenade away. He looked in his satchel and saw that the dead mynock hadn't gotten any better in smell or appearance. Now it was coating everything with a layer of sticky slime and greasy blood. The Ewok quickly tossed the dead thing onto the ground and stabbed it with his spear. Maybe, just maybe it would work as a decoy or as an effigy to scare the whiteshells away.
* * *
TK-2874 focused his attention down the tunnel, trying to guess the enemy's next move. It came with a puff of billowing smoke. “Fire another couple shots down there, make 'em keep their heads down,” he ordered.
TK-411 complied, sending another pair of heavy blaster bolts screaming down the tunnel. Neither came close to the advancing rebels, who were now nearing the edge of their first smokescreen. Robicheaux pulled the pin on the second grenade and tossed it ahead. The grenade sparked and began spewing smoke on cue.
Another two shots. This time there was a response over the comlink. “Check your fire! Check your fire! You almost hit us!” TK-2874 raised his hand, confirming the order for his men.
A third obscuring miasma was now spreading down the length of the tunnel. Chinuah was running alongside Qinto, his rapidly deteriorating effigy flopping about in the smoke at the end of his spear. It was working! The whiteshells hadn't hit them yet!
“Now!” Qinto yelled as one last barrage blazed past the group. Robicheaux threw the last smoke grenade as far ahead as he could. It clattered off the wall and hit the ground, bursting into a massive veil of lung-stinging cover.
TK-2874 and his gunnery crew were taken aback by the unfolding assault. Without warning, two men, one armed with a quarterstaff, the other with a pair of lightsabers emerged from the miasma, both screaming as if they were a legion. Behind them followed an Ewok carrying something dead on his spear tip and an R2 unit broadcasting a bluestreak of vituperative noises.
The fight was short-lived with the monastic warriors slamming into the gunner and leader. Chinuah quickly raced past them to confront the gunnery tech. The point of his spear glanced off the stormtrooper's armor as the mynock left a smear of blood and slime across the chestplate.
Robicheaux's opponent quickly drew his sidearm and fired, but the shot went wide. The trooper was swiftly beaten into submission for his efforts. Qinto body slammed the lead trooper backwards and quickly destroyed his blaster with a deft stroke of his lightsabers. TK-2874's head hit the ground shortly after the remains of his blaster did.
Having had no luck in piercing the whiteshell's armor, Chinuah took a new tack in his fight – making his enemy run away. Unnerved by the Ewok's perseverance and ferocity, all of TK-1015's shots had gone wild. The monstrosity at the end of the warrior's spear dominated what little of the trooper's field of vision hadn't been obscured by slime. Then the trooper took one step back too many – and fell screaming off the edge of the cliff. Chinuah peeked over the precipice to see the trooper lying dead and shook the dead mynock off his spear. It landed with a satisfactory splat on the Ewok's vanquished foe.
Dispatching the third trooper with a stab through the chestplate, Qinto quickly moved on to destroy the repeating blaster. There was the liquid hiss of molten metal and the cannon's barrel hit the ground with a metallic thump. Deo looked around at the triumphant rebels. Maybe these rookies weren't so bad after all.
“No time to celebrate, let's get to that shuttle,” Qinto pressed, dashing back down the tunnel toward what he hoped were some operational elevators. As soon as he reached the first door, a wild blaster shot sparked across the elevator housing. In the distance, he could see several more stormtroopers and Barezz headed straight for him. Qinto jabbed the call button several times and the door slid open. “Hurry!” he yelled to his friends.
Robicheaux scooped Chinuah up as Deo raced along, fire extinguisher creating one last obscuring mist for the group.
“Stang!” cursed Barezz. “Back this way, there's another elevator. We can cut them off!” The officer and troopers dashed back toward one of the branch tunnels and to the only other working elevator in the mine.
The ride down was quick, but no less nerve-wracking. The elevator opened up to an ore train turnaround area. On one track sat a repulsorcar that had seen much better days. The droid driver was slumped over to one side, its head caved in by one of several rocks that were scattered around it in the vehicle. Qinto and Robicheaux looked at one another. Clambering aboard, they pitched the mine droid's useless husk out and hefted Deo into place, followed by Chinuah.
Deo rolled up and immediately connected to the interface socket. After a few seconds, the repulsorcar hummed to life and lifted itself from its resting place. “Punch it!” Qinto ordered. As the aged vehicle sped along its track, the trio was greeted by a grim sight. Barezz and five stormtroopers were taking aim at them from down the tunnel.
“Mow through them!” the young Jedi exhorted. Deo cranked the speed up as much as he could, but there was only so much the repulsorcar's regulator would allow. Blasterfire whizzed past the rebels' heads and a couple of shots blasted smoking craters in the front of the vehicle.
Eager to get in the fight, Chinuah figured now was as good a time as any to use one of his silver fruits. He primed the grenade as Qinto had shown him and pitched it over the front of the railcar. Unfortunately, his throw did not have the intended effect. There was a muffled thump as the grenade exploded beneath the railcar's repulsor pad. The repulsorcar jumped from its rail and nearly came to land on the parallel rail.
Deo attempted to regain control, but the dying railcar's repulsors cut out, causing it to bounce, spin, and then tumble, spilling the droid and the three recruits out onto the tunnel floor. Without a pilot, the railcar continued to roll down the tunnel as Barezz and his troopers blazed away. Brushing themselves off, the three rebels raised Deo to his wheeled feet and ran headlong down the nearest branch tunnel.
Quickly consulting his internal compass and the plans for the mine, the little droid regained his bearings and began leading them through the corridors. Deep below, a subterranean explosion reverberated, causing dust and crumbling rock to rain down on the quartet. The group stopped momentarily to ensure they were in no danger, then began their rush to find the shuttle Tiree promised.
Without warning, Barezz's voice again assaulted their ears. “You're too late, rebel scum!” the agent gloated over the speakers. “We found your escape craft and destroyed it. Continuing this game of hide-and-seek is pointless. Surrender and face your destiny!”
Qinto's resolve doubled as he followed behind Deo. If the Imperials had destroyed the shuttle, their only hope now lay in capturing the Imperials' own vessel. The Jedi was so focused on sorting out his conflicting emotions that he nearly tripped over the little droid as it hesitated near a t-junction. “C'mon, this way,” Qinto directed, motioning the group away from the main tunnel.
The group moved cautiously into the new branch tunnel, only to find themselves staring at Barezz and his stormtroopers approaching at a cautious pace. “It's them! Blast 'em!” yelled one of the troopers.
The four made a mad dash down the corridor, but not before Chinuah tossed another grenade back toward the Imperials. The charge clattered along the floor and came to rest at the lead trooper's feet. “Look out!” he exclaimed, putting himself between the grenade and Barezz. The blast knocked them all senseless for a moment.
Barezz came to in a flash of pain and found the squad's medic running a medscanner over him. Thanks to the intervening trooper, his wounds were minor. The trooper in question was not as lucky.
The medic turned his attention to the prone trooper and pulled his helmet off. Barezz instantly recognized the dying man with a mixture of anger and fear. It was none other than Moff Caedius' youngest son. The ISB agent quickly shifted his focus back to the mission at hand. “Leave him. Our first priority is capturing the vermin who did this.”
The medic attempted to intercede. “But he's the Moff's son! He saved –“
“He died a hero of the Empire,” Barezz interrupted. “Let's make sure it wasn't in vain.” For all our sakes, he concluded internally as he and the rest of the squad stepped over the trooper's body. The medic reluctantly put away his medpac, grabbed his blaster rifle, and followed his fellow troopers.
Meanwhile, Deo had led his fellow rebels back to the main tunnel. The group raced ahead and within a few minutes found themselves staring down into a fiery abyss. Across the chasm was a landing and beyond that the blast doors to what had to be a chamber containing the escape shuttle. “I'm thinking that syntherope would have been a good idea,” Qinto said with regret. There was no use lamenting the group's lack of equipment. Even if it had survived the blast, there was no time to run back and get it before Imperial reinforcements arrived.
The young Jedi suddenly felt a tug on his pants leg. “Uchuka! Neeka!” Chinuah encouraged, handing him a length of rope that led back to a large coil along the wall. Looking about, Qinto found a suitable hydrospanner and tied it to one end of the rope. He twirled the makeshift grappling hook and let it fly, but it fell short of the beam he was aiming for. A second try secured it as the hydrospanner wound the rope around and caught itself in some reinforcing rods.
Robicheaux and Qinto immediately began readying the little droid for his trip across. Unfortunately, Deo was having none of it. The little droid warbled in fear and tried to back away. “We must, little one. There is no other way,” chided Robicheaux.
Having secured Deo to the rope, the two motioned for Chinuah to climb aboard, instructing him as best they could that he was responsible for helping the droid across. The Ewok looked first at Qinto, then Robicheaux with skepticism. It seemed crazy, but so far everything they had done was far from sane. Chinuah clambered atop the droid and held onto the rope tightly. The two men quickly rolled the droid toward the precipice.
With a combination of Ewok chatter and electronic squawks, the two were propelled across the chasm. At first it appeared they wouldn't quite make it, but Deo solved that with a burst from his jets. The pair crash-landed but quickly righted each other. As Chinuah sent the rope back to his compatriots, Deo went to work on the blast door's controls.
“You go next,” Qinto said to Robicheaux.
“No, we go together,” the mystic countered.
“Somebody's got to hold them off, and I can't see you deflecting blaster bolts with your staff,” Qinto snapped.
“If you insist,” Robicheaux said, tying the rope around his waist. A blaster bolt exploded against the wall as he completed the knot. As he took a running start, the young guardian repeated a mantra. “I am one with the Force, and the Force is with me... I am one with the Force, and the Force is with me...”
Barezz strode forward purposefully, blaster pistol trained on the Jedi standing before him. “Stop right there,” he snarled. “You can't escape. You, your friends, and that droid, are coming with us.”
“I disagree,” Qinto responded serenely. Igniting both his lightsabers, he crossed the blades, closed his eyes and reached out to the Force.
It was then that Robicheaux's flight incurred some technical difficulties. As he hurtled toward the landing, Chinuah enthusiastically moved to catch the mystic. Unfortunately, the Ewok had forgotten his human friends were larger than him. Grabbing onto Robicheaux's pant leg, he found himself making a surprise trip back toward the other side of the chasm.
A flurry of blaster bolts lanced out toward Qinto. Time slowed as the young Jedi moved to counter the shots. The Imperial soldiers scattered and ducked for cover as the reflected volley wreaked havoc in the corridor. One shot was particularly fortuitous, causing a small cave-in.
With his mission of distraction accomplished, Qinto turned to see his friends come screaming back across the chasm to him. Extinguishing his lightsabers and tucking the hilts in his belt, he dashed toward the pair, leaping up to join them. Above, the syntherope groaned as it neared the end of its life. Cracked and frayed, it began to stretch and twist.
Unsure his own mass would provide enough momentum, Qinto reached out once again and pushed off through the Force. As the howling trio neared their destination, there was a sudden snap and the rope went limp. Tucking and rolling, the two warriors came to rest against the door as Chinuah picked himself up from the landing.
Deo swiveled his head around to scrutinize the recruits. Dealing with Tiree's recklessness was bad enough; with these three added to the mix he had to deal with four times the insanity.
Qinto quickly assessed the situation and made an offer to the droid. “Let me help,” he said as he plunged a lightsaber blade into the thick durasteel door. As he moved to continue the cut from one blast door to the other, there was a scream of metal on metal. Sparks bounced across the stone floor as the doors dragged themselves across their tracks one last time. For a moment, the section Qinto had cut free stood alone, then toppled inward.
A blast of heat washed over the victorious rebels as they surveyed the wreckage of the shuttle.
“Kerebast,” Qinto muttered. “We're dead.”
“It took you guys long enough,” a pained voice grated from near the door. The three turned to see crumpled form of Tiree sitting against the ruined door panel. Part of his flight suit was scorched and blood trickled down from a cut in his scalp. His face was whiter than the hologram that had greeted them.
Chinuah quickly moved to help, pulling a slightly slimy medpac from his satchel. Opening it and grabbing the medscanner, he began to run it across the rebel agent's body. Tiree regarded the fuzzy medic with pained concern. “Is he really allowed to do this?” he coughed.
“Trust me, it's better if he does this than either of us,” Robicheaux answered.
“What happened?” Qinto added, nodding toward the wrecked shuttle.
“Losing the TIEs was easy. Getting past the walkers was a problem,” Tiree grimaced. Chinuah looked at the medscanner screen, rummaged through the medpac, and pulled out one of the little metal grubs. He flicked the cover off its green tip and pressed it into Tiree's leg. There was a hiss as it dispensed its medicine. He then pulled another with a blue tip and did the same thing.
Chinuah looked encouraged by the medscanner's readings and instructions. “Uchu uchu!” he chirruped, showing Tiree the screen.
“Yeah, great,” he grated. The pain had faded quite a bit but it was still weird being treated by a furball.
The two looked around urgently, then Qinto caught sight of a familiar shape; Deo did as well and raced toward the same shape. Pulling at a camouflage tarpulin, the Jedi and droid uncovered an unexpected miracle – a Y-Wing starfighter!
The young Jedi turned and quickly pulled the covers from another sleeping warship. “There's just one problem,” Qinto cautioned. “We don't know how to fly these things!”
“Help me up,” Tiree grunted as Robicheaux pulled him to his feet. “Deo can help one of you and I can help the other. Let's get out of here.”
Deo immediately rolled up a ramp situated near the first Y-Wing and dropped into the astromech socket. Chinuah quickly followed, clambering up the ladder and planting himself in the pilot's seat. The littlest warrior made a comical sight as his feet didn't even reach the control pedals. “In back, short stuff,” chided Qinto as he climbed in and donned the flight helmet.
Robicheaux helped Tiree slide into the gunner's seat of the second fighter and took the pilot's position and helmet. “What do we do first?”
“Prime the capacitors and begin the ignition sequence,” the agent directed. “Those two switches there on the left side of the console, then hit that button once it starts flashing green.”
“Uhhh,” Qinto said in hesitation.
Chinuah thought back to his first time on one of the flying metal boxes. He recalled the man who drove it flipping some switches and pushing a green light. “Agu taka-tak! Hep hep!” he instructed, pointing over Qinto's shoulder at the switches.
“Thanks,” the fledgling pilot said, eyes widening in disbelief. Not only was his primitive little friend a medic, but now he was a flight instructor as well.
* * *
As Barezz and his troopers stumbled toward the chasm, they could hear the scream of the starfighters' engines. There was no choice. While he might not track down the location of the rebel base, he could still stop the rebels cold. “Walkers 451 and 136, the rebels are attempting to escape the mine. Bring that cavern down on top of them! Fire at will!” he shouted into his comlink.
* * *
There was a solid thump as the walkers' first volley struck the entryway of the cavern. Dust and small rocks pelted the fighters as the pitch of their engines rose substantially. “It's now or never, boys! Switch your deflectors on to double front and let's go!” Tiree shouted, his voice cracking with renewed pain.
Qinto pulled back on the flight yoke and opened the throttle wide; Deo compensated for the young pilot's lack of experience and the Y-Wing rocketed out of the cavern. Robicheaux's fighter followed quickly. Ahead, the two AT-ATs continued their ponderous advance, raising their heads to aim at the escaping rebel ships.
Red blasterfire splashed across the fighters' shields as they rapidly closed the distance. Qinto flipped open a trigger guard on the flight yoke and jammed his thumb down on the red button. The twin laser cannons spat brilliant lances, cutting away one of the lead walker's legs. “Wahoo!” the young warrior exulted as the metal titan pitched forward to break its neck on the ground.
The second walker ground to a halt as the two fighters peeled off to either side and escaped the planet's atmosphere. As the sky faded from blue to a star-speckled black, Deo transmitted the coordinates of their ultimate destination to the other fighter's nav computer. The stars transformed into a field of silver streaks as the ships accelerated into hyperspace.
* * *
It was 0245 hours and General Bryn Mawr was already in a foul mood. It was bad enough they had lost contact with Tiree for over 24 hours, but now his sleep was being interrupted by a sensor operator's panic over what was probably nothing more than a couple meteors streaking through Tierfon's orbit.
“What have we got, lieutenant?” the general grunted, running his fingers through his salt and pepper hair.
“A couple small ships just came out of hyperspace in our orbit. They're not Imperial, but they're not flying under standard Alliance flags either,” the deck officer replied with a furrowed brow.
“You're sure they're ships and not meteors?”
“Without a doubt. IFF flags come up as... 'Outrider Shipping'?”
General Mawr chuckled at his deck officer's puzzled expression. “Outrider Shipping's a shell corporation Alliance Intelligence uses to fly under Imperial Intelligence's pointy noses.”
“General, I'm picking up a transmission from one of the fighters,” the comms operator piped up.
“Let's hear it,” Mawr ordered.
“ – Outrider One calling Tierfon Outpost. We are non-hostile, repeat, non-hostile. We have an injured agent aboard, transmitting recognition code now.”
A series of characters ran across the communication screen. “Code Aurek-Resh-Seven authenticated. It's Tiree! He made it!” Cheers erupted throughout the command center at the comm officer's announcement.
A few moments later, the Y-Wings were flanked by a pair of X-Wings and shepherded into the rebel base's hangar. A mixed group of techs and armed soldiers surrounded the Y-Wings, cautious of any potential tricks. As the canopy of the lead Y-Wing opened, Robicheaux stood with empty hands raised. “Don't shoot! We need a medic! We have a wounded man here!”
Qinto slid down the ladder and pushed his way through the crowd to help Robicheaux carry the limp form of Tiree down to the deck. A ramp was rolled over to the first fighter and Deo rolled down from the back of the ship to accompany his master to the medical bay.
“We're in your debt for returning Tiree to us, even if he's a bit worse for the wear, gentlemen.” General Mawr said clasping Qinto's shoulder warmly. Acknowledging a tug on his jacket, he looked down to find a furry face staring up at him quizzically. “Gentlebeings, I mean,” he corrected himself.
“It's been quite the ride, general,” said Qinto.
“Indeed. I'm sure you've got quite the story to tell us. But for now, let's get you set up in some quarters so you can rest,” replied Mawr as he signaled to the quartermaster to take over. “And welcome to Tierfon!”
|The best laid plains of mice and GMs often go astray...|
GAMEMASTER'S NOTES: "Rebel Breakout" was the introductory adventure in the first edition rulebook (SW1E) and I've run it a number of times over the years. Despite this, I find it a fitting intro to the Star Wars RPG. As players are wont to do, they rode the adventure off the rails and every which way but loose. On the map to the right, you can see the route the PCs took, which meant a lot of the encounters were bypassed. Still, it wasn't boring in the least. Circles indicate all the encounters that took place in the adventure as we played it. I do confess to fudging some rolls and winging it with some of the rules, but we had a blast (which is the point of a game) and I'm looking forward to running my next session on Feb. 12th. Character stats for Chinuah, Qinto, and Robicheaux are forthcoming...