Fourteen hours later the entire squad was aboard Scat, waiting on the countdown for emergence to real space. Aleph team was suited lightly for pursuit; they all carried their minimum load and little else. Bezel team, however, was set to pro vide support and was armed to hunt Krayt dragons. After arguing that Snyder should be with Bezel on any assault and demonstrating her flying skill on the simulator, Jade had taken the copilot's chair. Gray occupied his usual place at the pilot's seat on the left. Snyder hovered back and forth between the cargo bay with the others and the doorway, ready to toss Jade into the back if she showed the least ineptitude.
"All units, return to real space in thirty...mark," Devestator Ops announced.
"Thirty seconds, gentlemen," Gray announced over the squad comlink, not bothering with a reply to the control center, which expected none. "Are you ready to access that satellite?"
"Max is set to link the moment we reenter and get a signal," Terrance answered.
Gray exchanged a glance with Jade; if the rebels were at all competent, those plans were long gone by now. There was a slight shudder as the Devestator emerged from hyperspace.
"Recon, launch. Shuttle Scat, launch at will."
"Devastator's sensors are tracking...nothing terribly special yet..." Terrance provided a running commentary while he and Nichols sampled the electromagnetic and chromatographic spectrums of Toprawa. "No vessels in sight...wait a minute, one of the controllers just pinged a far side relay and found an unauthorized Corellian Corvette."
"That's ours," Jade exclaimed. "Let's go."
"Right," Gray agreed, toggling the release clamps and nudging the accelerator. "Shuttle Scat, departing forward bay on bearing 335, down 10." He cut his turns closely and accelerated out of the flight pattern early.
"Sith! You're worse than I am," Jade scolded.
"Just get me a vector," Gray replied, knowing better than to ask if she wanted to fly this thing.
"Scat, Corellian Corvette Tantive IV, target zero zero one, is receiving a transmission from the surface," Captain Needa's voice sounded over the comm, confident in his element. "We are working a triangulation; your orders from Lord Vader ar e to eliminate the ground station. We shall neutralize the Tantive. Recon One will cover you."
"Scat, wilco, groundside coordinates locked in," Gray acknowledged. "Recon One, hold short of the objective until we strike, then provide air cover high. Watch for Plexors."
"Devestator, does Lord Vader want prisoners?" Gray queried.
"Negative, Scat, no prisoners. We'll have a ship full of prisoners up here."
"Roger, Devestator," Gray replied dubiously.
Mara gave him a hard look. "Don't tell me you're a conscientious objector."
"In my experience, you shouldn't kill your prisoners before they concede."
"If you say so," Jade returned skeptically. "Devestator, that's a huge footprint you've given us to search.".
"They are using a tight beam scrambled transmission; we're working on it."
"Those coordinates cover over fifteen square kilometers," Jade grumbled to Gray, hand over her comm pickup, as they entered atmosphere and two TIE fighters joined off their right wing. "Please tell me your guys can do better than that."
"LT, guess what?" Max piped up conversationally. "That satellite ain't talking no more. It's completely gone."
"It took you this long to find that out?" Gray grilled the droid.
"Yeah, well, it could've just been in a bad mood," Max defended himself on the way out, obviously miffed and not deigning to honor them with his presence. "Haven't you ever tried to comm an old girlfriend before?"
"No," Gray replied snappily enough to elicit a glance from Jade, who studied him for a moment before realization dawned across her face. He ignored her, hoping she would just go away. Or at least shut up. "Terrance, Nichols, access the loc al satellite relay and try a side-lobe triangulation."
"Way ahead of you, LT."
Jade covered her comm pickup and regarded him, chin in hand, from the copilot's seat. "Problems with the social life, Andrew?" she taunted impishly.
Gray looked askance to notice the winning smile she archly displayed, taking obvious pleasure in the pursuit of annoying him. "Nothing I'd care to discuss over tea and Rebels."
"Oh, but I would," Jade replied smugly. "It'd be enlightening, not to mention downright entertaining, to know why a stormtrooper has such difficulty with women."
"You draw some bizarre conclusions," he rebuffed with only a slight hesitation, "considering that I've never demonstrated any trouble dealing with you."
He had intended to make the comment harsh to finish the conversation, but she just laughed and leaned across the low nav console separating them.
"Not as another soldier," she agreed, leaning further to brush her forehead against his helmet and whisper in his ear, "but as a woman? I wonder."
"Just another seven seconds, LT!" Blue Max announced, choosing that inopportune moment to trundle back into the cockpit, affecting complete oblivion to the games organics play. "You know, LT, I've been reviewing these Death Star plans, and I have never seen a more slipshod construction in my life! Did they build this thing with slave labor, or what? You'd almost think that--"
"Max?" Jade interrupted, returning smoothly to her perch with obvious glee at having raised the lieutenant's pulse sufficiently to cause a flush, however slight. So he wasn't as cold as he pretended after all.
"At your service, Ms Jade. May I--"
"No. Your seven seconds are up. Where are my coordinates?"
"Oh yeah, uh, damn. Who remapped the file architecture on this tub?"
"You got a problem with it?" Snyder demanded, magically returning from the cargo area at the besmirching of his ship.
"Only that it makes no prijg'n sense whatsoever," Max complained. "What were you drinking anyway? Oh, wait, I see. You put in new crystals."
"No? Do tell."
"The coordinates, Max?" Gray prompted edgily. Their ETA was under two minutes, and that Corvette had been soaking up data for at least seven minutes now, not counting however long they had been receiving before they were caught.
"Tactical display, LT," Nichols announced. "Got 'em nailed right down to the floor in red, everyone."
"Right, gentlemen. Looks like a typical hot vertical assault," Gray responded. "On my mark Aleph, north and west; Bezel, south and east. Clear in under thirty. Primary mission is to halt transmission; secondary is to read that boot log.
We have TIE's on high. Roof in forty. Questions?"
The Zarros Commercial Building along the Ladre boulevard of Toprawa City was a large, imposing structure that once dominated the city itself. From the huge granite slabs ornately carved in pre-Republic architecture to the huge multi-paned fl oor-to-ceiling glass windows, the Zarros building was a testament to the creativeness of its age.
Once towering over lesser structures, the Zarros building was now just another lesser edifice dwarfed by the giants that repulsor-lift and subatomic particle bonding technology had made possible. The only reason the building had not been raz ed to make room for a more imposing structure was the result of two apparently unrelated causes. First was the local hearts-and-flowers group that had managed to have the building declared an historical monument. Secondly, the place was built so so lidly that clearing the lot would have been more trouble than it was worth. With the outbreak of the Rebellion, everyone seemed to forget about the unused building. The first riot against the New Order on Toprawa left the walls blaster-scorched and not a window intact. That area of the city never recovered from the riots; nobody paid much attention when someone finally sealed over the windows.
Forrest Kegan was an unsettled man, to say the least. Four years ago, his fledging resistance group had "renovated" the building against future need. The first thing they had done was cover the broken windows with cheap white plasteel that would let out no light from the inside. Next, they provisioned the building for a siege, routed cables to comm nodes to allow easy patching into city systems, and installed a cheap ground-to-orbit secure relay to access Netnews. It was the same rel ay that Kegan hovered over now, furiously chewing his cigar.
"Any sign yet, Levy?" he growled to the young tech sitting at the console, reading a novel on a data pad. The young partisan's ability to distance herself from what was happening aggravated Kegan somewhat. How anyone could keep their cool w ith the information they were sitting on was beyond his capability to reason. The original plan had been slipshod enough, considering that the entire acquisition of the plans had been entirely by chance and partisans had literally jumped over backwa rds to get them somewhere safe. It was good tactical sense to send the plans as far away from the intended destination to throw Imperial hounds off the scent; but the truth was that the plans had come this way more from a succession of mistakes and obstacles than from any forethought. Even in the short time that he had been involved, the relay sending the data and the ship that was supposed to physically transport the data had both fallen through and required fast footwork to correct. Now the y were waiting on their alternate emergency backup plan to show up.
Levy finished the screen before offering Kegan a long-suffering glance as she keyed for the next page and continued reading. Her nerves were so worn that if she hadn't read this space opera twice before, she didn't think she would have been able to follow the plot.
"Tree, this set may not be much, but it will let us know when it has something," she offered, gesturing vaguely at the quiet equipment. When stowed, the entire assembly fit conveniently in Levy's rucksack. Even the subspace antennae folded into a pouch of the ruck. This was quite fortunate, because the upload that they would soon be transmitting would take about fifteen minutes even at the incredibly fast burst rate of the comm unit. Fifteen minutes was plenty of time for the Imperi al garrison to lock onto the signal. Even with the electronic clutter of the city, Kegan figured that the Imperials would pinpoint their location within twelve minutes of lock-on. They always had in past ops. He figured another ten minutes to get troops to the site, based on the response time of the new Imperial platoon. The transmitter did have a mode that could send the uplink in carefully-spaced bursts so as to not allow the Imperials enough time to lock-on to their position. Unfortunate ly, the ship they would be transmitting to would probably be in a big hurry to get out of the system before a Star Destroyer happened upon it. After all, this had been a restricted system for the last few years, namely due to the project that the da ta files directly concerned. There were five others guarding the approaches to the room and another fifteen in strategic posts surrounding the building. But it wouldn't take long for a determined assault to punch through their defenses. Kegan reca lled the fate of the Ithorians who had gotten them the local Imperial response times the hard way and shuddered.
Still, the information was time-critical, and there simply wasn't time to try running the data through Imperial customs. Besides, that was even more dangerous, and Kegan's group intended on vacating the premises long seconds before the local garrison troops arrived.
Kegan jumped reflexively when his comlink crackled, but then glanced at his chronometer and noticed that it was time for the lookouts to report in. Kegan listened to the reports, all negative except for one report of a civil disturbance acro ss town. Kegan grinned around his cigar at that--the disturbance wasn't as random as the garrison commander probably thought. Kegan didn't transmit confirmation back to the lookouts. It wasn't likely that the Imperials could or would track the sig nal back to the Zarros building, but he didn't want to take the chance with this mission. His lookouts understood.
To stretch his limbs, he went to each of the five partisans in the building guarding all entrances. When he finished that, he headed back to the comm unit to find Levy tapping a flurry of keys. She explained cryptically:
As soon as the Tantive IV dropped out of hyperspace dangerously near Toprawa and regained her bearing, Captain Antilles began transmitting the tight-beam recognition code to the planet's surface. He instantly received a pulse-coded response, to which his comm unit replied readiness to receive. The display jumped alive showing the progress of the compressed digital transmission. As he opened another encrypted channel to the surface to verbally confirm receipt, he turned to his passenge r.
"Your Highness, we're receiving."
Princess Leia Organa nodded silently.
Kegan was so engrossed with watching the indicator showing the progress of the transmission that he let out a startled yelp when his cigar burned all the way to his lips.
"There, look--90% done, this'll take no more than another minute or two." Levy responded to Kegan with an arched eyebrow. "You should really--"
A tremendous CRUMP! of plasteel exploding into the building smothered the partisan's advise, knocking both of them sprawling across the floor. Two of the five long windows of the corner room exploded inward with a brilliant flare of liquefie d metal. Before the smoke began to clear, stun grenades flew through the gaping holes, deafening and disorienting everyone in the room. Figures in dark camouflage and partial body armor flew into the room immediately behind the grenades.
By the time Kegan had regained his senses enough to grab his blaster from the floor where the blast had knocked it, he had time to notice four things.
Levy was dead.
The subspace antennae was wrecked.
The trooper who killed him had a face.
The transmitter had placed itself in standby mode. It was awaiting new instructions after having completed the transmission.
Standing on the edge of the open cargo bay door, Sergeant Cross commanded a good view of Toprawa City sprawled beneath him and could feel the residual heat of the shuttle's skin from an orbital reentry so fast that the shields had barely held . The wind tugged at his gear and made him strain for every breath. When the shuttle suddenly dropped within a hundred meters of the of the skyline and seemed to slam into a brick wall, Cross braced himself and prepared to jump as they decelerated. Seconds before the Zarros building roof appeared below him, he heard Scat's forward cannons fire a short burst. Cross dropped to the roof and ran at a crouch, weapon at the ready, to the north side of the building, Hawkins in close pursuit. Terra nce and Schlamp took off for the west side as planned in Cross's long thirty-five second assault briefing to Aleph Team. Two TIE fighters screamed by overhead, spitting green laserfire. Cross wondered what they were shooting at, going that fast, as he popped over the low lip long enough to spot a rather obvious sniper in the opposite building, ducked back behind cover, rolled to a new position, and emerged to place four shots into the sniper's position.
By then Hawkins had fired a piton into the permacrete roof and was looking to Cross for approval. Cross nodded satisfaction as he yanked the ultracable from his harness and hooked onto the piton. Hawkins followed suit and they both leaped o ver the edge of the roof. With an ease born of long practice, Cross swung down within three meters above his intended entry point and locked his legs against the wall. Hawkins slid past, face red in embarrassment from taking two bounds to get there , slapped a detonator to the plasteel window cover, and bounded left to get away from the blast which seared the plasteel into a puddle. He counted to three and tossed a concussion grenade in just after the detonator blew.
When Cross felt the blast strike his hindquarters, he bounded off the wall, released a length of line, then on the return arc sailed into the opening Hawkins created. He felt the after-affects of the concussion blast rattle his visor as he s truck the floor of a huge empty room that seemed to span the entire floor and toggled the quick release on his ultracable. His first three shots went into the transmitter array, followed by the two people at the computer as he ran across the room ma king himself a hard target. By the time he swept right, Hawkins had eliminated the other targets.
"Clear!" Hawkins called into the comlink, taking a moment to grin at Cross. He was followed closely by calls from the rest of the squad.
"Transmitter secure," Cross called out after one more quick check around the room.
"Roger all clear," Gray returned, landing atop the roof and activating Scat's automated security systems. "Consolidate on the transmitter and establish a perimeter. Slicers, get me those codes ASAP."
Cross was about to call asking Terrance how long he was going to take to get his ass in gear when he heard a thump against one of the "windows " to his left. Almost immediately the plasteel blew inward, and Ratcliffe swung neatly into the ro om.
"Sith, didn't you guys save me anything?" he griped.
"What were you doing out there--waiting for an invitation?"
The answer became self-evident when a charred Sergeant Lane swung into the room, blaster blazing wildly on auto. All three troopers hit the deck for cover as Lane slammed into the ceiling at apogee and swung back out the window. The next ti me he swung in, blaster still blazing, he managed to gain a foothold and succeeded in hitting the computer before apparently realizing there were no more bad guys.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Cross yelled at Lane, knocking his blaster away. Lane gave him a stupid look and Cross would have killed him outright if it weren't for the presence of his soldiers. "I don't know what game you're playing, Lane, but I don't give a damn," he growled low enough for just the two of them. "It was annoying in training, but now we have a mission. Get your act together, buddy."
"What is this?" Terrance cried out upon running into the room and immediately noting the wrecked computer.
"Who's the idiot who can't shoot straight?" Nichols demanded, right on Terrance's heels. Then he noticed Cross spitting into Lane's face. "Shit."
"All right, that's enough," Cross ordered, spinning away from Lane. "Get to work on that computer before the LT gets here, and let's setup some goddam security already."
"Son of a Sith," Nichols muttered absent-mindedly. "I haven't seen anything this bad since Hawk tried hookin that Ubrikian power supply to Rat's microscope."
"Six, one-two. We need Max down here," Terrance called over the comlink as he started probing the smoking wreckage of the computer.
"What do we have?" Gray asked in person, striding into the smoky room, closely followed by Jade and Max.
"The computer was shot," Cross explained.
"I thought I heard you call the transmitter secure?" Gray prompted, quickly surveying the damage.
"It was," Cross replied with an edge of irritation.
"I see. In that case, give Jade a hand searching the bodies for anything else useful. I want to be out of here in five," Gray ordered. "Devestator, Scat." He received no reply despite persistent inquiries.
"What's wrong?" Jade asked.
"They've jumped after the Tantive; we're on our own. Talk to me about this computer."
Terrance was just carefully extracting a diminutive cube, which he held up to the light. "Fortune favors us. Root is a Stargate source. Max, see what you can do."
"Right away boss! Geez, this thing is toasted! Tastes like charcoal...okay, initialization sector is largely intact...interpolating bad clusters....and here we are." Max lit the complete decoded security log on the only wall not scored by blaster fire.
"Wait just a damned minute!" Nichols protested. "You did something wrong, rust bucket."
"I did not," Max returned petulantly. "I oversampled three times."
"What is it?" Jade asked, abandoning her search of the bodies.
Gray waved at the top lines of the log. "These files were never on the Death Star."
"What? But how--" Jade cut herself short as she saw for herself. "Coruscant? You mean to tell me the plans were never stolen from the Death Star?"
"That would be the obvious conclusion," Gray agreed. "Time, gentlemen. Give me sixty on the shuttle. Aleph first, Bezel covers." He started back for the roof and Jade followed. "Someone on Coruscant had a security breach."
"But that doesn't necessarily mean the Death Star plans weren't copied as well."
"Right, we'll have to check the station; we may be dealing with multiple thefts here. We'll have to check each of the computers from that log as well, but I think our best bet for now is to secure the source."
"Right. I recognize the GSSP. Senator Callahan offices."
"And he is?"
"Consular, representative, and grand poomba of all things Byss on Coruscant. I believe I'll pay him a visit."
"We will pay him a visit," Gray corrected. "But Coruscant is your field, and you look like you have a plan."
"As a matter of fact, I do, if you think you're up to it."
Back in hyperspace they paused to determine that the Devestator had indeed plotted the Tantive's jump vector and was in pursuit. Max postulated that the ship's captain was in for one hell of a surprise when he found that a Star Destroyer had abandoned its assigned patrol to pursue him. Vader seemed unperturbed with the development and concurred with Gray's decision to proceed to Coruscant, warning him only that he not notify anyone, thereby alerting his prey. Thanks to the fact that Toprawa was on the edge of one of the galaxy's spiral arms, they were able to plot a nearly direct course to the Core, cutting their expected transit time from fourteen days to ten. Scat, however, was an assault shuttle designed for close combat ope rating out of a nearby base of operations, not multiple-day hyperspace runs, especially not when the shuttle is crammed with ten soldiers, their support gear, and a recently appointed Emperor's Hand.
Normally coordinating for Navy support was a cumbersome, time- consuming process. But with the panic over the stolen plans and Darth Vader's name to encourage cooperation, Cross was able to coordinate for no less than a late-model Lancer-clas s frigate to meet them on their second day. In the meantime, they put up with the close confines of Scat's diminutive cargo bay.
For the first day Jade remained as aloof as one can be aboard a shuttle with nine other people. But after having witnessed the squad in action and as Gray drew her out in developing her concept for securing the leak on Coruscant, Jade's cool ness gradually wore into a grudging respect vaguely resembling casual familiarity and acceptance of their help on "her" mission. Gray, of course, still considered it very much "his" mission, but could not in good sense deny the value she brought to his squad with her in-depth comprehension of all things Coruscant. And although he had occasion to wonder whether they paid such rapt attention to her information or just to her, he concluded that it did not matter.
The plan was sound, beautiful in its simplicity, and well- rehearsed. Still, he wondered just how well Jade would handle discovery of that surface mapping he had stumbled across in Max's archives. He hoped Max had the good sense to delete al l copies of that file when ordered to do so.
Between briefings and rehearsals for the upcoming mission, they exchanged information and techniques vociferously. Jade provided insight in one-on-many combat, stalking, and smuggling in exchange for the squad's collective expertise with com puters, small unit tactics, various toxins, and Sabaac. Before the Lancer reached Coruscant, even Ratcliffe could successfully pick a pocket on their jury-rigged sensor equipped dummy, and Jade could use the door code reader Gray had given her to ch ange her Sabaac hand. They discussed holding a summit to study the merits of various alcoholic, fermented, and fizzing concoctions upon mission completion.
Despite her best prejudicial resolve and a clinging sense that something was out of place, Jade found herself reevaluating the troopers of STRC. From their initial impression of Jade as another idiot "external resource" forced upon them by h igher headquarters, the soldiers also changed their views of Jade as well. As a whole, they accepted and treated her as one of the guys. Still, each of them subconsciously viewed her on a deeper level.
She reminded Sergeant Cross of his sister, and he couldn't help but wonder if she kissed as well.
To Specialist Terrance she was a breath of civility and poise in the turmoil of the squad's crass crudeness. He considered how well she would fit on his arm attending to Coruscant social circles after the Rebellion.
Schlamp admired her ability to improvise, adding one and one to get three when she needed two and a half. He pondered how he might convince her to appear in Galactic Smuggler or some other similarly disreputable skin mag.
Hawkins was amazed at her ability to immediately comprehend machinery yet also human physiology enough to postulate great ways to kill those physiology's. From what Nichols had told him, he was extremely jealous of his lieutenant.
Lane barely new she existed, but when he saw her he was awed at the knowledge that she was a representative of the Emperor himself.
Snyder recognized another con artist when he met one. And the facts that he enjoyed a shoot-em-up as much as any of the others and that she was a damned good pilot did nothing to alleviate his soreness at getting bumped from the right hand s eat of Scat. He was still skeptical of her purposes hanging around with the squad (and sincerely hoped that she would not be stealing any glory from him on any other missions), but unlike the rest of the squad did not assume that she and Gray were s wapping saliva. If she didn't stop flirting with the LT and invite him to her quarters soon (he suspected she enjoyed bubble baths), he might have to take matters in his own hands.
Nichols wondered at her amazing speed in learning computers, and felt somewhat threatened by her annoying ability to defuse anything he constructed. She brought out the hidden philosopher in him, which was a persona he loathed. Mainly to po nder whether sex with her would be existentially esoterical (like her ability to actually scientifically discuss her explosives) or more wildly passionate (like her explosions themselves).
Ratcliffe doted on her for actually listening to his wild theories and ability to actually see what he showed her. He sort of hoped she would get shot so he could get a chance to see what her DNA code looked like.
Blue Max followed the Emperor's Hand like a dutiful apprentice, despite her continual put-downs. He was building quite a library of new colorful phrases.
Scat barely felt her presence. When Gray was at the controls, the assault shuttle felt every inch the muscle-bound aggressor, unashamed of and not afraid to exercise its power. But Jade's touch made the shuttle feel nimble and smooth, as if it were a sleek, daring racer out for a joyride. Completely unlike Snyder who, on the other hand, made it feel like it had a hangover.
When the squad managed to entertain themselves, Gray and Jade found themselves engaged in discussions of politics and philosophy. Jade almost invariably defended the more radical changes of the New Order without question, while Gray insisted on a more systematic examination of what was and was not effective or right. More than once their discussions turned into shouting matches which invariably ended only when they ran out of unique insults for the time present.
On the third day, aboard the Lancer, Schlamp casually alluded to his opinion of Jade's potential for success in the mass (or would that be trash?) media market, and Nichols remembered the surface map Max had worked up back on the Devestator. He performed a remote login to avoid alerting the nosy (and talkative) droid, mapping the display to a small holoprojector originally intended for use as a landing beacon for incoming ships.
Schlamp was immediately excited with the possibilities for mischief and profit. "Do you have an image editing programs?"
"Yeah, why?" Nichols responded, surprised at Schlamp's mounting enthusiasm. Sure, the mesh of curves was fun for a laugh or two, and maybe a little more detailed than even he considered good taste, but Schlamp was acting as if he'd just foun d the Maker's Stone. "What the hell for?"
"Load it up. Come on, just do it....Okay, PrefectPaint, I've seen this before."
Nichols leaned back and crossed his arm, watching wonderingly as Schlamp took on the pose of an artist, with sophisticated emphasis on the last syllable.
"First, we have to get rid of all this junk," Schlamp began, readying his finger in virtual eraser mode. "What is this? Looks like a wrist holster..."
"Have you guys seen--whoa! I forgot about this," Ratcliffe intruded upon them. "Why are you putting holes in her?"
"Patience, Rat. You'll see," Schlamp intoned mystically. "Whaddaya think--is this a vibroknife?"
"He's removing all the weapons from the image," Nichols explained to Ratcliffe, who nodded assent that this was a perfectly reasonable endeavor and pulled up a seat. "I don't know. Could be a blaster cartridge," Nichols continued, leaning f orward to fiddle with controls. "Why don't you try tightening the point coincidence? No, that's the wrong way, you idiot! Make the filter smaller to tighten the resolution."
Ratcliffe murmured appreciatively at the effect. "Definitely a knife. There's another on her calf."
"Holy Tyderium Monks!" a voice called from the doorway. The boys were too involved with their work to pay much attention to Hawkins' entrance. "That's a lot better than I remember. Heck, you can see--hey, what are all those holes?"
"We're looking for weapons, and Schlamp deletes their nodes from the mesh," Nichols explained absent-mindedly.
"Look at that there," Ratcliffe pointed out indiscreetly. "That's GOT to be uncomfortable."
"Maybe she's just deformed," Hawkins pointed out taking a seat himself, former task forgotten for the moment.
"In the shape of a push dagger? I don't think so," Ratcliffe returned. "I've seen some weird stuff before, but nothing like that."
Schlamp removed the item and sat back to admire his work. The mesh was rife with holes where deadly artifacts and their holsters had once been. "I think that does it. Time to mesh 'em back over."
Another fifteen minutes had the mesh whole again, and they all sat back to admire the work.
"Just a few more touches," Schlamp murmured, switching his eraser finger to a virtual coloring tool. "Let's see...this looks about like the right color hair, whattaya think?"
"Naw, it's not quite right somehow," Nichols sat up in interest, finally seeing Schlamp's intent. "Wait, I've got a better idea." He took over control of the projector, momentarily switching away from the Jade mesh.
"I hope you saved that first!"
"Geez guys, chill out. I know what I'm doing." Nichols accessed the droid's memory remotely again, this time for recent images of Jade. He chose a still that wasn't particularly flattering, but possessed good coloring. He brought the Jade image up alongside the still. "Okay, now we can get to work. Anyone know how to wrap a color map onto a surface?"
"What, something you don't know?" Schlamp taunted.
"I take it you don't either? Well who the hell ever messes with graphics?" Nichols returned, beschmirched. "Where's the damn help icon?"
"What about that dance review holo you--"
"Just shut up, Rat."
"I can't find--oh, here we go." Schlamp swatted at the icon. "What the hell is this 'Full help available upon registration' crap? Ya know you haven't registered this shareware yet?"
"Yeah, well maybe I never got around to it."
"Sith, says here the trial period is sixty days, and this software's two years old!"
"I've been busy," Nichols defended himself. "prijg, we don't need instructions. Let's see, how 'bout if we do this?"
The mesh of Jade distorted, melting before their eyes into a 1 meter tall, 400 kilo Huttese monstrosity.
"Undo, undo!" Hawkins and Ratcliffe yelled horrifically.
The mesh wobbled nauseatingly for a few moments before Nichols got it back within normal biped range.
"Hey, wait a minute," Ratcliffe interjected. "Can you do that selectively?"
"Probably. Didn't even know we could do it 'till now. Why?"
"I dunno," Ratcliffe looked to the others for support. "I just sort of thought that, you know, she isn't very well, you know, endowed." He gestured aimlessly with his hands.
"Well we can take care of that," Schlamp decided, randomly pushing and pulling on the nodes of the mesh.
"No, no, that's way too much," Hawkins insisted. "You know she's still got to fit through a TIE hatch."
"Good point," Nichols agreed, reshaping Schlamp's over-enthusiastic modeling. "There, that's still plenty. Anything else? Okay, coloring now."
In less than seventy minutes, the Jade mesh was occupying nearly 150 gigaflops of space, almost as much as the Death Star plans themselves. But then the squad was stumped.
"I don't know," Terrance mused, watching the slowly rotating work, green lines of mesh now completely covered in an explicitly detailed gouraud color map. "Something's just not quite not right."
"The eyes?" Hawkins suggested.
"Naw, that was a pretty good still we had to work with for that," Schlamp countered.
"Well what about that?" Hawkins gestured vaguely. "Shouldn't it match colors with..." He cut himself off and turned red when he noticed the others had that smug look they normally reserved for his more inexperienced mechanical questions.
It looked as if their work had been for naught, lacking that final touch that made it real. Schlamp was about to decided that it was, after all, a very compelling piece of work, even with whatever it was that was still missing.
"I've got it!" Ratcliffe announced with excitement, taking the controls himself after having watched the others. He began spraying a few sputtering splotches of red from her neck down her chest.
"What the hell are you doing!" Schlamp exclaimed in horror, suddenly unable to remember when he had last saved the model.
Ratcliffe stepped back with a flourish.
"Freckles," he announced unnecessarily.
And then they were content, and nodded with great satisfaction in a job well done by their fellow soldier. For they saw the freckles, and they were good.
When the Lancer reemerged from hyperspace in the Coruscant system, they were all stunned by the news erupting from the grids.
"How can a planet just blow up?" Cross demanded. "That would take more firepower than the entire fleet."
"Yeah, but you're not listening," Nichols returned. "The press release says that a weapons experiment went bad."
"Oh really?" Terrance asked sarcastically. "Have you ever been to Alderaan?"
"No, but I can tell a bad bomb job when I see one."
"I've been stationed there, and they are decidedly not the bomb- building type."
"Yeah, I've been there too," Snyder backed Terrance. "Shoot an Alderaani, and he'll offer you his coat if you shiver."
"Well, all the more reason for them to blow themselves up," Nichols persisted. "People who don't know how to handle explosives are just that much more likely to mess up. The question is why they were experimenting with stuff that powerful i n the first place."
"Who knows. Paranoid?" Cross suggested.
"When you're paranoid you build a shield, not bombs," Hawkins posited.
"I wouldn't hold to that," Ratcliffe cautioned. "Most biologicals, even on a microscopic scale, defend themselves through killing their enemies. Passivity only gets you killed."
"Yeah well, the Alderaani culture never figured that one out," Snyder returned. "They don't even eat meat. Yet they've done very well for themselves."
"What, so you think someone purposely blew up Alderaan?"
"Why would anyone do that?"
"Impossible. Can't be done."
"Well, somebody did it, whether purposefully or accidentally."
"You're all paranoid. It was probably just a supernova. These things happen."
Having nothing better to do until they reached the release point, the squad broke into a vociferous commentary on the various ills of society and the state of stellar phenomenon prediction. Gray noticed that Jade, who had made a habit of obs erving from the sidelines until someone made the effort to pull her in, retreated into the cockpit. He left the soldiers to puzzle things out on their own and went forward. He found her toying idly with the navigation controls, gazing out the viewp ort into the busy spacelanes visible through the magnetic lock. Gray took a seat next to her and waited in companionable silence.
"The Empire, for all its size and strength, is always balanced precariously between peace and anarchy," Jade said softly, as if reading from a script. "Sometimes we must take extraordinary precautions to prevent the devastation of anarchy." She fell silent again for a moment. "Did you ever research the prime weapon of the Death Star, Andrew?"
"A laser," Gray replied, wondering where this was all leading. Capital ship turbolasers had been around for a long time, and possessed well-understood limits in size and power.
"No, it's not just an ordinary laser. Imperial engineers found a way to merge multiple lasers into one and finely tune the resonance."
Gray looked at her suddenly and grabbed her arm. "What are you saying?"
" 'Fear will keep the regional governments in line; fear of this battle station,' " she quoted, looking him in the eye. "It was supposed to be a deterrent, Andrew. It was never supposed to be used!"
"Does the Emperor know about--"
"Of course he knows! Who do you think ordered the station built? It nearly bankrupt the Empire."
The comm interrupted with their clearance to depart and transit the planetary shield, and she suddenly looked away and turned in on herself.
"Forget it, Lieutenant. Let's just get those plans."
Whatever other problems existed in the stormtrooper corps, reputation for power was not one of them. Even in the jaded aisles of Coruscant, Imperial citizens parted with trepidation before the white- armored Aleph team bearing heavy blasters. Jade had been adamant in not wearing the detested armor, but Gray had been just as adamant that no civilian would accompany them to the Byss consulate. The ceremonial Byss guards at the grand portico made a show of stopping them, but Cross's men p aused only long enough to stun them all before hurrying to catch up with Jade.
Once inside, Jade fired a short burst from her assault rifle into the ceiling to announce their presence as Aleph secured the doors spread out in the lobby to block alternate exits.
"In accord with New Order Directive 1029, this building is sealed for suspected insurgent activities," Jade declared with her amplifier set nearly at maximum. "Where is the ambassador?"
Gray mentally cringed at Mara's opening scene. Just how long would it take for someone to realize that Directive 1029 required a court order? But they needed the illusion only long enough to spook the real spy. As Aleph worked to secure al l avenues of escape, Nichols jacked Blue Max into the receptionist's computer terminal.
"We're in, LT."
"Stang! Binary Bochi!" Blue Max spat in distaste. "Am I supposed to be a prijg'n archaeologist, or what?"
"What, can't hack the basic stuff, silicon brain?" Nichols taunted, poking slowly at the antiquated alien terminal. "Hell with this." He paused to his rout his own VR system into an empty port.
"Binary Bochi just tastes bad," Max retorted. "But at least I know better than to try learning Byss through a keypad. Beat you. I'm in."
"East wing secure," Terrance announced over the comlink.
"Yeah, you're in--the way. Move it." Nichols swatted the entity representing Blue Max out of the cyberway and brought up the security systems and sysadmin controls for the old building. "We've got activity already, LT. Third level, south c orridor, room 315, we have a terminal that suddenly died."
"Could just be an inept accountant," Gray replied evenly. "Map us the grid. Cross, Hawk, go with Jade. Schlamp, status on the west wing?"
"Moving," Cross responded to the highlight that suddenly appeared on his three dimensional building map as he motioned Hawkins to follow him after Jade, who shoved her way past the newly-arrived ambassador.
"West wing secure," Schlamp finally announced. "Thought I had something, but it was just a paranoid protocol droid dealing spice."
"Roger. Alternate routes, any activity?" Gray requested. Lane, Snyder, and Ratcliffe responded negatively from their respective posts.
"We have a smoking 'puter and a runner, LT," Cross reported from above. "We had to stun him, no collateral damage, maybe you--Sith! LT, you'd better get up here, something's happened to Jade!" Cross suddenly exclaimed over the comlink.
Everything had been going by the numbers as Hawkins was examining their prisoner until Jade suddenly tore her helmet off and convulsed once. Cross went to her immediately but was thrown off by the stab of pure evil that glinted from her eyes , normally green but now a sickly yellow. After regarding Cross malevolently for a fraction of a second, she hurried to fling Hawkins aside and clamp the prisoner's head in her hands, forcing the unconscious Byss to face her. The prisoner's eyes su ddenly fluttered open, locked with Jade's; his face contorted in a scream, but no sounds emerged from his mouth.
Although Cross had no clue what was going on, Hawkins had dug into his medpack for a hypospray and was looking at Cross expectantly.
"Do it, Hawk."
The medtech assertively planted the hypo beneath her high black Neutex collar and triggered the combat sedative. Jade reacted by glancing at Hawkins and pursing her lips as if to blow a kiss at him. The force of the blow slammed Hawkins thr ough a nearby wall. The prisoner finally uttered a gargling moan, blood draining from his nose, ears, and eyes. When he died, Jade convulsed again and lost her breakfast before passing out at Cross's feet. Cross checked on Hawkins, gratefully find ing him merely unconscious. When he returned to the other room, Jade was awkwardly rising from the floor. Cross brought up his blaster, prepared to shoot, but the eyes that looked across the weapon at him her green and confused, not aggressive.
"I've been recalled," she announced suddenly. "Tell Andrew they're on Yavin IV."
Without another word, she bounded from the room. Confused, Cross just watched her go and nearly unleashed a torrent of blaster fire at a sudden sound behind him.
"What the hell happened?" Gray demanded, taking everything in at a glance.
At his post watching one of the four escape routes they had left open on the expectation that they were concealed enough that the guilty party would announce himself by using one of them to escape Aleph, Snyder observed Jade emerge dressed on ly in the black Neutex jumpsuit, her white armor inexplicably missing. Even from this distance looking through a magnified visor setting, he could tell that she was extremely pale and not at all well. Vader's interest in Jade rang ominously in his head. Making a quick decision, he rappelled to the ground, accosted a cloak from a passerby who was understandably eager to assist the well-armed soldier's defense of the Empire, and followed her.
"LT, on target green, rigged for silent running," Snyder reported over the comlink, hoping Jade hadn't had the presence of mind to pull the comlink from her helmet to take with her and that Gray would understand.
"Roger. Go discretionary," Gray responded cryptically, granting Snyder approval to use his own judgment, still trying to puzzle out the events Cross had related to him. His encounter with Jade in her temporary quarters aboard the Devestator kept demanding his attention, and he suspected he knew where Jade was headed. "All units, mission accomplished. Consolidate on Scat." He turned to Cross as the sergeant shouldered the still-unconscious Hawkins. "Yavin IV, she said?"
Cross nodded. "Damnedest thing I ever saw, LT."
"Right. Let's get out of here before the real stormtroopers show up and we have to fill out the damned paper work. Max, get me a link to Vader. I don't know, can't you find him yourself?"
Despite his iron discipline, Sergeant Lane finally admitted to himself that he was bored. And ticked off.
The fact that Gray had assigned him to watch the exits rather than help on the assault had not passed beneath even his notice. Everyone else was inside, likely shooting and interrogating people, and he was stuck out here watching all the ped estrians and occasional speeder. This unit sucked.
His only consolation was that Snyder was out here watching the damned exits as well; Lane wondered idly what Snyder had done to annoy the lieutenant, supposed it probably had something to do with the Emperor's Hand (he couldn't quite bring hi mself to refer to her by name, even in the privacy of his own thoughts). In his musings, he glanced over to the position occupied by Snyder, to find that it wasn't occupied. What in the corps was that all about? He hadn't given Snyder permission t o quit his post, and he hadn't heard Gray give him permission either. In fact, he hadn't heard a damned thing over the comlink since they left Scat, now that he thought about it. Must be more of that radiation silence stupidity the lieutenant had t hem do every so often, and nobody had bothered to tell him so he'd speak up and look like an idiot. It didn't occurred to him that the little gray square he had broken on the top of his helmet might conceivably have been an antennae. His head still ached slightly from his helmet's latest unplanned encounter with Scat's cargo ramp bulkhead. But he was starting to get used to those inevitable minor concussions.
A slight commotion in the crowd drew his attention, and he caught a glimpse of his errant soldier flinging a cloak over himself before he wandered off into the crowd. That was the final straw. Enough was enough, and he had certainly put up with enough stupidity from this squad. He hated to disappoint General Patik, but he could take no more and was bugging out, heading back for Carida on his own. STRC could do whatever the prijg they wanted now, as far as he was concerned.
He had actually headed in the opposite direction when it occurred to him that if Snyder had quit his post, knowledge of where he had gone might be worth something to someone. Maybe enough to get him reassigned out of this lame unit, especial ly if the lieutenant actually did have a hand in this somehow. And even if it Snyder was just wandering off on his own, even the lieutenant would then certainly be forced to realize what a poor soldier Snyder was, and stop treating him like his favo rite. Snyder was a large destabilizing force in the squad, quick to talk back when the others might have just grumbled to themselves and just gone along. Now that he thought of it, the mere fact that Snyder had cloaked himself to hide his armor and insignia proved that he was up to nothing good. If he could discredit Snyder, force the lieutenant to kick him out, he would be willing to give the squad another chance at becoming a real unit.
He broke into a fast trot to catch up with Snyder. He didn't like the fact that people could see his face, and when the crowd started looking at him funny, he drew his blaster and carried it across his chest to show that he was after someone . People stopped staring at him, at least until after he had past. He was beginning to worry that he had lost Snyder and was gazing all about when he slammed full speed into a stupid Wookie slave bearing some lord's or lady's luggage. Lane almost blasted the behemoth in his fury and embarrassment, but strangely the lieutenant's scathing rebuke for his loud shooting on Darlac IV floated into his consciousness, and he realized that if he made too much noise, Snyder might hear and run away. Smu gly using the lieutenant's own reasoning to bring about his favorite soldier's downfall, Lane opted to just kicking the bottom case from the Wookie's grasp, toppling a huge conglomerate of luggage onto several nearby pedestrians.
When the Wookie's owner shocked it with a Keeper, the massive form's growl turned immediately into a yelp of pain as it forgot Lane, stooping instead to retrieve the luggage. Looking over the Wook's bent back, Lane caught a glimpse of Snyder 's crimson blue cape. Without further thought, Lane abandoned his previous route and took off down the new street at a more leisurely pace, just keeping Snyder in sight. All this running had started to wind him, and he weighed the risk of being so far back as to maybe lose Snyder against his desire to not have anyone see him breathing heavily.
Snyder had the worst time trailing Jade. Not that she seemed overly concerned with being followed, she was in way too much of a hurry for that. His problem was that the further she went, the more security he ran into. Although he could hav e made it through nearly all the initial checkpoints she went through, he was forced to find ways of bypassing them to avoid calling attention to himself. His concern grew in direct proportion to the closing distance between them and the palace, unt il it became apparent that the Emperor's Palace was indeed their destination.
He finally lost her on the Palace grounds themselves, as if she had disappeared in thin air. He cursed to himself the full ten minutes it took for him to find the hidden entrance she had used. His microcharge analyzer gained him entrance, b ut by then he had completely lost the trail, being able to follow her footprints only so far in what turned out to be a maze of hidden corridors. On a hunch, recalling Gray surreptitiously demonstrating the finer uses of a microcharge analyzer to J ade during their coreward jump, Snyder activated an obscure comlink countermeasure. Concerned that the enemy, or worse yet other stormtroopers, might accidentally acquire the little black boxes, Snyder had convinced Schlamp to build a simple beacon call into the devices. They had never had cause to use the recall feature before, but when Snyder activated the routine, the bearing and range to a nearby microcharge analyzer lit up reassuringly on his visor. Snyder wasn't certain that even the ex otic microcharge analyzer had gained his LT access to Jade's bed, but at the moment he decided Gray had made a worthwhile investment anyway.
"Set your course for the Yavin system," Vader interrupted without prequel yet another of Grand Moff Tarkin's preparations for a meeting aboard the Death Star.
"Lord Vader, won't you join us?" Tarkin eyed him calmly, indicating a chair next to young Motti, who was presenting the results of the final design review. "Our probes indicate that the Millennium Falcon has not yet reemerged from hyperspa ce."
Vader remained standing at the door, disappointed that Motti glared, but made no effort to argue with him. A pity; he had looked forward to an excuse to extinguish the vain man's life. The Imperial Navy was certainly in dire straights if it s officers were broken so easily and placed such faith in unproved technology. But that matter could wait for another day.
"Never underestimate the Force. Their destination is Yavin."
"Very well," Tarkin agreed edgily, as always uncomfortable with this dark lord the emperor had seen fit to saddle him with. "Commander, are the repairs complete?" The superlaser had done a fantastic job reducing Alderaan to an asteroid fiel d, but the explosion had been more violent than expected, causing quit a bit of hull damage, and unforeseen resonance's had nearly overwhelmed the targeting array that focused the multiple beams into one powerful force. "Not acceptable, Commander. I suggest you double your efforts, and plot a course for the Yavin system. I hope you're certain of this, Lord Vader."
"Do not presume to fear for your career, Tarkin. The Emperor has entrusted the Rebels to me; you need only fire where I direct."
"You want to break in where?" Nichols demanded heatedly. "Are you out of your--"
Terrance slapped a hand over Nichols' mouth. "Jade?" he queried, eyebrow raised at Gray.
Gray noted the expectant glances from his soldiers, and supposed that they suspected Jade for all the wrong reasons. But at the moment he doubted that he could care less.
"Are you saying it can't be done?" Gray demanded.
"No, but...LT, you just can't waltz into the palace."
"What do you need?"
Snyder was surprised to hear voices when he cracked open the concealed door; he immediately shut the door. When the voices continued uninterrupted, Snyder eased the door open just enough to slip the head of an optical sensor around the corne r. The scene depicted on his visor surprised him; the proud Jade was actually taking a knee before a figure in a voluminous black cloak.
"I hear, master."
"Mara, Mara. Why do you still fight me?"
"I don't understand. I did everything you said."
"You resisted my questioning of that traitor. Why?"
"It...feels wrong. It....hurts, master."
"Hurts? Feels wrong? What know you of hurt? I feel you are hiding something." Palpatine pinched her chin painfully and forced her to look at him. "What are you hiding from me, Mara?"
"Nothing, master. I--"
"Tell...me...child..." The words were soft, but their Force power was devastating. She felt them pressing inexorably about her, battering her in a whirlwind. She threw up every barrier Palpatine had taught her, and some she had learned on h er own. Palpatine tossed them aside with laughter. "Do you harbor feelings for the others? Yes, I see you do. Yes."
Mara wrenched her head from his grasp, looking away with shame at the relief that overwhelmed her in being held given attention by him.
"You were foolish to hide it. What have they done to merit your affection? Nothing! Did you think I would not find these feelings and purge them? I am your life, Mara. I created you. I own you." Palpatine had raised his arms in his glo rious gloating. But he paused and lowered them, turning back to the shivering Jade in contemplation. "And yet, I sense that you expected this....no, that you wanted this. You wanted me to find these feelings? Ah, you wanted to distract me...from. ..What is this? Alderaan?"
A shivering Jade took the Emperor's true surprise and lessened Force grasp to speak in her defense. "It wasn't supposed to be like this, killing all for the wrongs of the few."
"Traitors, all of them!" Palpatine fumed. "They would all have rebelled, given the opportunity."
"But we killed them for something they only might have done!"
"Such insolence. You say the words but you do not understand, child. You will understand!" Palpatine grabbed her head with both gnarled hands, and even from his vantage Snyder could see ripples of blue fire rippling over them.
Enough was enough for this stormtrooper. Snyder flipped the safety off his assault blaster and charged through the door. Three bolts blasted unerringly into the black cloaked figure as Snyder slammed onto the floor in a roll. An unearthly howl of rage and surprise pierced the calm, shattering every piece of glass. A white cloud of raw energy boiled through the room, tossing everything in its path. Snyder's visor dimmed at the brightness, and when he risked a glance around the pillar he had chosen for cover, he saw Jade crumpled on the floor. But what shocked him was the sight of the man in black still standing. The deep cowl had fallen, and Snyder had the distinct impression that he should have recognized the man.
"Who dares attack me in my sanctuary?" Palpatine croaked, the weakness of his voice belying his strong words. "It matters not. You see, Mara, none can stop me." She was struggling to rise, and Palpatine lashed out with blue lightening fr om his fingertips, just enough to knock her back down. "Any who try are doomed to failure."
Snyder was amazed. Couldn't this guy take a hint and die? And what was the deal with that blue lightening nonsense anyway? Who in the Seven Moons of Tinian did he think he was--some Jedi Master from the old holovids? And he was extremely pissed that anyone would think Dan Snyder might die so easily. Maybe he had just thought he had hit the guy.
Snyder set the blaster to its maximum armor power and chose continuous blast. Considering how they had rerouted the original restrictors, he figured he would get about a five second blast from this cartridge. But that blast would be enough to blow a hole through eight inches of solid duranium. Should be plenty for an almighty Jedi wannabe.
Snyder whirled into the open, targeting the diminutive figure in black as he walked sideways toward his next cover position. By the time he reached the next pillar, the continuous beam sputtered into nonexistence, leaving him only a hot blas ter and the heady satisfaction of seeing that tinpot little dictator literally smoke. In one continuous motion, Snyder hit the release for the magazine and deftly inserted another in its place. He paused when he noticed that he couldn't detect the smell of burnt flesh that should have been commensurate with roasting someone on an antiarmor laser.
A pitiful roar filled the room with impotent rage. "Who are you? Show yourself!"
Stang, Snyder thought to himself, here comes another damned light storm. He looked down at his blaster, remembering its earlier apparent lack of effectiveness. But this time, the light storm was less powerful, and still didn't bother Snyder very much. Blaster charged and another magazine ready to load, Snyder crawled to a new vantage and leaped into the attack.
When he popped out behind the disgruntled man in black once more, he fired and reloaded continuously as he walked right up to the obviously unarmed man.
But this time, Palpatine merely shrugged off the blaster fire and whirled on his attacker, hands raised to stab bright blue lances at the stormtrooper. Snyder flinched, but charged on when the blue fire seemed to do nothing more than make hi s visor automatics dim to shield his eyes from the annoying glare. Snyder reached within spitting distance and noted dismally that even at that range, the blaster was having no effect.
Ever the practical man, Snyder tossed the blaster aside, drew his combat knife, and shoved it through the old man's throat. For good measure, he spun on his left foot to deliver a crippling head blow with his right.
"Okay, buddy, what do you have to say about that?" Snyder demanded smugly of the mess of robes lying collapsed on the floor below him.
"Mara, help me," the crumpled form below mumbled. "Mara."
"Oh come off it, and die already!" Snyder hollered, selecting a thermal detonator from his vest. To his wonder, Mara, looking much worse for wear than the last time he had seen her, laid a hand on his arm to stop him and locked eyes with him.
"Don't." Mara shifted to face the Emperor. "You used me, Palpatine. You gave me nothing I didn't have already. I can feel the Force myself, now, and everything is clear. But you were right about me; I would have rebelled if I had known."
"Hello! Excuse, me--did you just call him 'Palpatine', as in 'Palpatine, all powerful Emperor of the New Order'?"
Ignoring Snyder, she composed herself and was enveloped momentarily in a harsh green light which exploded weakly in the Force, yet strongly enough to wash what was left of the Emperor into oblivion. Without further ado, she smiled at Snyder and collapsed to the floor.
"Stang! Everybody thinks they're a Jedi today."
As Snyder stooped to sling Jade over his shoulder and retrieve his blaster, the ground around him began to erupt in poorly aimed but enthusiastic blaster fire. Stormtroopers! Snyder dove behind cover, pausing only long enough to toss a stun grenade before breaking for the concealed door from which he entered. He belatedly considered his comlink.
"Snyder, LT; go ahead."
"Uh, I'm with Jade. Can you meet us somewhere? I think you'd better bring Scat."