Chapter 7 "When I get back to Carida, I'll have the whole design team killed," Furgan mumbled to himself, as he felt the MT-AT walker stop again. He burst into the cockpit with a shout of, "What is it THIS time?!" "Mister Ambassador, the engines are overheating again. We must allow them to cool before we continue." "What kind of idiot designs a fighting vehicle that has to stop to cool down every two hours?" "Mister Ambassador, these walkers were designed to climb mountains, not sheer, crumbling rock faces. Besides that, they are prototypes. They should have been tested more before entering combat." "Are you criticizing my commands?" "No, Ambassador. I am carrying them out to the best of my ability and more. In fact, I am going to remove you from this control room right now." "WHAT?!" "Official Imperial regulations. Civilians are not permitted in the cockpit of combat transports. You signed the regulation yourself. And you, Mister Ambassador, are a civilian." Furgan turned and left in a state of near rage. He didn't see the pleasure on the MT-AT commander's face. "Blasted ambassadors, think they can do anything..."
*** The assault on Anoth had gone very poorly from the beginning. The coordinates Furgan received from his spy had gotten them to the secret planet, but told them nothing about what to expect. Furgan had brought the MT-ATs in anticipation of this. But the actual landscape was beyond what any ground vehicle could hope to handle. Rock spires jutted up over almost half of the entire planet's surface. And the best indications of humanoid life forms came from the center of the worst of these areas. The nearest spot flat and large enough to even possibly land the walkers was more than 160 kilometers away. Though the walkers could cover this distance in slightly over an hour on flat land, it had taken two days to go 140. A danger even greater than the steepness of the slope claimed one MT-AT almost immediately. In climbing near a gorge, it attempted to find a foothold on a brittle, decayed ledge and tumbled to its doom when the rock gave way. A rockslide claimed a second by the time the force was within 10 kilometers of the target: the hiding place of the baby Anakin Solo. The loss of two MT-ATs left Furgan with four, which he figured should be adequate for the attack on the hidden weaponry that he was sure existed. Still, it was a lot more dangerous than he had thought. Many times he had contemplated returning to the Strike Cruisers that orbited the planet, but the thought of personally carrying the Jedi child out of the hidden outpost won him over.
*** When the walker started moving again, Furgan approached the cockpit. He stopped short, then pressed the intercom button with great disgust. "Colonel Mavin?" The Colonel let out a small groan before pressing his intercom button. "Yes, Ambassador?" "Colonel, check with the cruisers. I want to know if they have detected any ships powering up or weapons deploying." "Yes, Mister Ambassador." It took several minutes to establish contact with the Strike Cruisers, who reported nothing new. Mavin quickly reported back to Furgan. Furgan had started cursing him for taking so long when one of the drivers shouted, "Sir, we're under attack!" The colonel spun around to the viewscreen just in time to see the frontmost walker explode in a brilliant fireball. "Take evasive action."
*** Automated weapons hidden in the rocks came alive, blasting at the MT-ATs through the narrow pass the lead walker had been standing in. The remaining three walkers suffered only grazing hits during their retreat to safety.
*** "Do we have a position on those guns?" "No sir. But it would appear to be an automated booby trap in the pass and not a remotely controlled gun system." "Then check for sensors. Maybe we can eliminate them." "Yes, sir." As the drivers scanned for sensors, Colonel Mavin turned back to the intercom, finding that Furgan was still there, demanding to be informed about what happened. Reluctantly, he pressed the button. "Mister Ambassador, we have come under attack. One of the walkers has been lost. We are now preparing a counter-attack. Please return to your quarters, Ambassador. It will be safer for you there." "Because of your incompetence, they know we're here! They will probably try to escape! Call the cruisers, tell them to capture any ship leaving the planet. And get moving again! We must catch them on the ground if at all possible!" Colonel Mavin realized that Furgan had actually given him a good idea, though not intentionally. The cruisers in orbit, with their planetary bombardment capabilities... "Yes, Mister Ambassador, I will contact the cruisers right away, and we should be moving again momentarily. Now please, for your own safety, go to your quarters." He ignored Furgan's retort and turned to the drivers. "How goes the scan?" "Sir, I've found two sensors, but there may be more. Shall we open fire?" "No, save your energy for later. Hail the cruisers, and get ready to move."
*** In response to the Colonel's signal, the two Strike cruisers opened fire on the automated ambush. Green turbolaser bolts rained down from the sky, pounding the pass mercilessly for three minutes. By that time, the pass was wide enough for all three walkers to go through abreast. Scattered among the smoking rubble were pieces of the heavy blasters that had been waiting for them. The MT-ATs started moving: slowly, cautiously, scanning in every direction for sensors and weapons that could be anywhere. The next narrow pass they came to received a volley of orbital bombardment as the first had, and with similar results. More evidence of traps lay in the shattered rock. But once through the viciously widened gap, the MT-ATs stopped suddenly, as they had come to the edge of a seemingly bottomless gorge. Colonel Mavin checked his coordinates and confirmed what he had feared: the life signs detected from orbit were located inside the large, monolithic tower of rock in the center of the gorge. From what he could see from the walker's cockpit, there was only one way across. And the narrow bridge-like outcropping was guaranteed to be rigged with explosives. Mavin signaled the orbiting ships to find out how it looked from their perspective and ask for another round of bombardment, but the transmission was cut off by electronic jamming. The drivers quickly informed him that the jamming was ground based, and that it was coming from several locations around the gorge. "Contact the other walkers. The jamming must end before we proceed."
*** Aboard the Strike cruisers, the sudden burst of static from the ground interrupted contact with the ground forces. Fifteen minutes later, it was joined by jamming from space. The ships began raising their shields in anticipation of the imminent New Republic attack. But whereas a New Republic force was expected, an Imperial Star Destroyer and an Interdictor Cruiser were not. The three MT-ATs had split up, heading around the gorge to hunt down the jamming projectors. From time to time, hidden guns emerged from their crevasses to take shots at the walkers. But without the concentrated power of the traps encountered earlier, they proved harmless to the armor of the mountain transports, and were quickly dispatched. It took over four hours to find and destroy the last of the jamming devices and regroup near the stone bridge. Colonel Mavin hailed the cruisers, but got no reply. "Ambassador Furgan, we have a problem. The cruisers appear to have left." Furgan insisted that they keep trying, but after a half hour, he accepted the fact that they had been deserted. He realized that the only chance to get off the planet was to get inside the outpost, where there was sure to be some sort of ship or communications gear. He ordered the walkers forward. Colonel Mavin didn't like it, but realized that this time, the Ambassador was right. He ordered the three walkers to scan for any sensors that could reveal their exact locations. He also had them scan for any openings in the rock that someone could watch them through. Sensors that were discovered were quickly eliminated and openings sealed by the MT-ATs blaster cannons. At least now they won't know when to set off their trap, Mavin thought. "All walkers, forward. Anything that moves, blast it. Anything that you think moved, blast it. Anything that you think might move, blast it. Is that clear?"
*** Inside the rock hideout, all was quiet. The Imperial Strike Cruisers had been detected even before they had made orbit two and a half days before, and there was no point in keeping the alarms going all that time. Besides that, the baby Anakin Solo couldn't sleep with all the noise. And distractions like a constantly crying infant and alarms were something Winter didn't need. As soon as the Imperials had landed, she had activated the automated booby-traps set up in the surrounding mountains. They had certainly not performed as well as she had hoped. Three walkers were down, but two had fallen on their own. And there were still three left! Most of the hidden weapons had been intended to fight off aerospace attacks, as the terrain itself should have provided immunity from Imperial walkers. Only repulsor vehicles should even possibly be able to traverse the rocks. The appearance of the new mountain walkers had been quite a shock. Winter had tried everything she could to keep them from getting this far. Even getting them to split up to hunt for the jammers had proved useless. The guns were just too weak to pick them off. Now, with the walkers at her doorstep, she prepared to destroy the rock bridge that spanned the gorge surrounding her base. She watched her monitors carefully, waiting for the group of three walkers to start crossing. She knew that they probably suspected this trap, but there was no other way for them to go. Abruptly, the screen she was watching flashed red and went to static. When she turned to try to adjust it, another went out. On a third screen, she saw a walker fire its heavy blasters, and then another screen went out. Before long, she had no way of knowing where the Imperials were. The MT-ATs rushed across the bridge with amazing speed. Colonel Mavin knew that it was their only chance to make it before the bridge exploded, if it was going to. The MT-ATs were much faster than the older AT-ATs on flat surfaces, and whoever was inside the rock outpost would probably not realize it until it was too late. The third walker was almost off the rock bridge before it erupted in a burst of gravel and dust at its midpoint. No longer supported in the center, the outcropping broke under its own weight, breaking away at the connection with the central rock spire. The walker's front legs were past the fissure, but it wasn't enough. When the rock fell, it was left dangling for a few seconds as the drivers tried desperately to pull their mechanical beast back up. But their actions only succeeded in breaking lose more rock and losing their precarious grip, sending them plummeting to the floor of the gorge, too far down to see from the top. The last two walkers had more immediate concerns than their fallen comrades, as heavy blaster fire suddenly erupted from hidden positions. Though sporadic and obviously without guidance, the sheer volume and randomness made it a serious threat. From his walker, Colonel Mavin ordered one of his drivers to take out the turrets and the other to scan for possible entrances into the seemingly impenetrable hideout.
*** Immediately after detonating the charges, Winter activated the close-in weapons, in case one of the walkers made it. Through the walls, she could hear the sounds of her own weaponry, and could detect the different pitch of the Imperials' guns. The monitor that indicated weapon status instantly recorded each turret's destruction. Winter noticed that guns on opposite sides of the mountain were getting hit, and realized that there must be more than one walker that survived. She entered the computer commands to power up the internal weaponry, wondering how she could have been so far off in her estimate. Once the weapons indicated readiness, she ran off to gather some weapons for herself, in case it came to that.
*** One of the legs of Colonel Mavin's walker had been blown off in the firefight, but his drivers had managed to lay the machine down before it lost balance. Though it couldn't go anywhere, the cockpit section could still move, and the guns still worked. Mavin ordered the walker's stormtrooper detachment to disembark on the leeward side of the walker. "Sir, I've detected a large hollow spot in the rock. But it will need to be blasted open, and we can't hit it from here," the copilot said. Colonel Mavin quickly ordered the other walker to do the honors.
*** The only entrance into the outpost that was accessible to the walkers was through the disguised hangar doors. And they were set at such an angle that the walkers couldn't hit them from below. The only remaining fully functional MT-AT climbed the rock face until it could twist its head just enough to blast the doors in with its cannons.
*** Winter heard the pounding. She had no idea how long the doors would last, but continued her work. She had managed to find one of the two power droids that conveyed energy around the hideout, and was busy attaching thermal detonators to the droid's internal generator. She had just finished wiring in the second explosive when the hangar doors burst inward. Covered by the smoke, she aimed the droid toward the hole and let it walk. She quickly ran up the nearest stairway, out of view of the incoming stormtroopers.
*** As soon as the doors succumbed to its gunfire, the MT-AT climbed into a position that allowed its stormtrooper detachment to enter the mountain through its belly hatch. Troopers poured into the smoky, rubble-strewn hangar, shooting anything they could see or hear. Automatic guns brought down a few troopers before the return fire silenced them. Anything that flashed or made noise was subjected to a volley of blaster fire. From one side, the power droid's robotic noises drew the attention of the Imperials, just before it emerged from the smoke. They quickly shifted fire in its direction. Down below, the crippled walker had just finished destroying the gun emplacements within its line of fire. Colonel Mavin was preparing to leave the cockpit and join his troops outside when an explosion rocked the side of the mountain where the other MT-AT was. He pulled down his command periscope and set it on high magnification. The exploding power droid not only eliminated the stormtroopers near it, but also sent a shockwave into the walker outside. The walker lost its grip on the rock face with its front legs, and tilted back until its back legs let go. It came to rest impaled on a stone spire 300 meters below, with its feet in the air. Mavin exited the cockpit to lead his troops, and ran into Ambassador Furgan, who was waiting at the door. "Ambassador, get out of the way. And get back to your quarters." "No, Colonel," Furgan replied. "I am coming with you." Mavin saw that the Ambassador had pulled two officers' armored vests over his official ambassadorial garb, and held a blaster pistol in both hands. He really looked quite ridiculous. Though about to refuse, Mavin reconsidered. If he gets killed, it'll be his own fault, Mavin thought. But what if he gets my troops killed? The colonel considered this for a moment before speaking. "Ambassador Furgan, you may come along as an observer, PROVIDED you do exactly as I say. Is that understood?" Furgan studied the colonel, and saw he was quite serious. And quite insubordinate. He would have to do something about that. But later. "Yes, Colonel. It is understood."
*** Colonel Mavin led his troops first to the other walker, finding only two survivors. Barely. Mavin quickly asked them about what had happened. The only answer he got was something about a droid that blew up. He pulled out his comlink and contacted the drivers back at his walker, ordering them to come and get the wounded men, and give them whatever assistance they could. Furgan stepped forward and grabbed Mavin's arm. "Colonel, you're wasting time! We must get up there!" "Ambassador, it is best to find out what to expect. Now fall in behind the troops. And no more outbursts! That's an order!"
*** Using cables and hooks, the stormtroopers scaled the mountain. Carefully entering the hangar, they found the expected debris of the explosion: metal shrapnel, broken off rock in all sizes, and the bodies and parts of bodies of the other troops. In un-stormtrooper-like fashion, the new arrivals took covered positions as soon as they pulled themselves up. Colonel Mavin was quite pleased with his troopers' performance. Furgan was another matter. He had wanted to be carried up by the troopers. But Mavin insisted that either he climb like everyone else, or stay below. Grudgingly, Furgan climbed. Mavin was quite surprised when the stubborn Ambassador came into sight in the mouth of the hangar. He had fully expected him to fall from fatigue and the weight of the two armor vests. "All right, Colonel, I'm here. Proceed with the operation. Get your troops out of their hiding places!" "Ambassador, one more outburst, and I will have my men detain you. Now take up a defensive position. We don't move until the forward scouts let us know what's up there." After a brief wait, the first report came in. A shuttle had been found in the back of the hangar, behind another set of large doors. Mavin ordered his troops forward, into the shuttle's hiding place. Furgan ordered the troopers to secure the shuttle and check for traps, even as the words were forming on Mavin's lips. But before the colonel could get around to his threatened actions against Furgan, another scout reported in. "Sir, this is SP 435. I saw someone running, and I..." The transmission ended with the sound of blaster fire. "Alright, men, fall in!" Mavin shouted. The stormtroopers fell into formation immediately. "You two," he motioned at the last pair of stormtrooper. "Stay here and guard the shuttle. The rest of you, move out!"
*** The troopers moved quickly toward the last known location of trooper SP 435. The hallways began narrowing as they got closer. At about 30 meters from the target position, the colonel stopped his troops and ordered them into defensive wall-hugging positions. Ahead, they could see the hallway make a bend. In the corner lay a white stormtrooper helmet. "What in the Empire do you think you're doing?" Ambassador Furgan demanded, as he made his way to Mavin. "Mister Ambassador, you are out of line. I don't have time for your chatter." "You seem to have plenty of time. This is the time for the stormtroopers to charge in, not stand next to walls. I'm taking charge as of now." "Furgan, I am not going to permit my troops to follow a politician into battle." "I'm afraid you don't have any say in the matter, Colonel," Furgan said calmly, as he aimed his blaster at the man. "Ambassador!" "Now you pay for your cowardice and disobedience." Furgan pulled the trigger, sending a powerful bolt of energy into Mavin's stomach. The armored vest he was wearing provided little protection against the close range, direct hit. He fell to the floor, clutching his midsection, amazingly still alive. "Maybe if you're lucky, I'll come back and get you. Or, if you're even more lucky, you'll die before I get back." Furgan pulled out his comlink. "Attention all sentries and scouts. This is Ambassador Furgan. Report to me at once." He turned to the troopers in the hallway. "Fall in! We move as soon as the others get here!" The stormtroopers followed his orders with little hesitation. Good, Furgan thought. They know who's really in charge. I'll have to make some changes when I get back to Carida. We can't have officers like Mavin coming out of the Academy. After all, we have a reputation to maintain. Furgan looked at his gun hand. The cuts, bruises, and blisters from the climb up the mountain were quite painful. That fool Mavin was lucky he couldn't shoot straight with his hands injured like that. But at least the rebels had no way of knowing that. Furgan looked up to see the last of the sentries and scouts arriving. "On my signal, charge!" shouted Furgan. He walked to the back of the formation. "CHARGE!" The Imperials rushed around the corner into a wall of fire, as automated rapid-fire guns lined the walls and ceiling of the hallway. stormtroopers fell left and right, with more than half of the group dead before reaching the door on the other end. Furgan ordered the door blasted open. After a brief pounding, a smoking hole allowed the troopers free access to the dark next room. The sound of a baby crying farther down the way caught Furgan's ear. On the other side of the room, he saw a door close. "Set for stun, but do not shoot the child! Move out!" When they had gotten halfway across, an explosion shook the room. The lead troopers flew into the air, many of them perishing from a combination of shrapnel and impact with the ceiling, walls, or floor. The survivors were subjected to more blaster fire, coming from the direction of the closed door. Furgan ordered them forward, into the fire. Blue energy bursts leapt from the stormtroopers' rifles, impacting harmlessly against the auto-cannons. The forward pair of troopers fell in the time it took to reset the blasters to kill. Furgan followed the line of troopers, using them as a shield. By the time they finished off the cannons and reached the door, there were only two left. Furgan had a brief moment of fear and panic, but this was replaced with a feeling of supreme confidence and invincibility, bolstered by the sound of crying on the other side of the door. He had made it this far. He had survived. He was indestructible. And he would succeed. One of his blasters had fallen somewhere, so he gripped the remaining one in his sore right hand, and used the left to direct the stormtroopers to open the door. Furgan stood against the wall on he side of the door, to let the stormtroopers find out first about any unpleasant surprises. The crying grew louder, but aside from this, nothing else came through the open door. Furgan ordered the stormtroopers to stand guard outside the door, and then strode in, blaster ready. Inside, he saw a white-haired woman holding the baby, trying to calm him down. Furgan saw his moment of triumph was at hand. "Valiant effort, Rebel, but all for naught. I admire your tenacity, but it has turned out to have been a worthless gesture in defiance of the Emperor's will, the true law of the galaxy." Good. A talker. Keep him talking, Winter thought to herself. There was a blaster strapped to a cabinet, out of Furgan's view. If she could only get at it... "It is now time for you to surrender the child to me. Cooperate, and I might let you live." "Why, I must be in the presence of the mighty Ambassador Furgan, himself!" Winter blurted out. "I can see why Carida and the Empire admire you so much! Leading such a successful assault yourself! There aren't many ambassadors who can do that." She struggled to keep a straight face. "You are quite right. I am Ambassador Furgan of Carida. I see my name is well known and feared among you rebels. But that is as it should be. And soon, with the Emperor alive again in the body of this child, I shall become even more powerful." "But why bring the Emperor back? Surely the great Ambassador Furgan can rule the Empire himself." Winter inched closer to the blaster. "Why, the name of Emperor Furgan just brings so many things to mind." Boy, does it ever, she thought. "Perhaps. But I serve only Emperor Palpatine." Furgan seemed to subtly glance around, as if he thought the Emperor's ghost was watching him. "But a man of your obvious intelligence and influence should be a leader, not a follower." She continued gently rocking the crying Anakin, slowly moving toward the cabinet. A little closer. Just a little closer... "Enough! You're trying to stall me. It's time we departed." Just then, baby Anakin Solo started crying even louder. "Keep that baby quiet!" Furgan shouted, making the situation worse. Winter saw her chance. "I'll try." She rocked Anakin, whispered to him, and moved over to the blaster. Once there, she turned slightly, blocking Furgan's view, and shifted Anakin's weight to one arm, allowing the other to reach for the blaster. She turned back to face the Ambassador, the blaster hidden beneath Anakin's blankets. "Never mind," Furgan said, walking closer. "You can quiet him down on the way to your ship. Now come along." Furgan waved his blaster for effect. As quick as lightning, Winter whipped her blaster out from under Anakin and fired, hitting Furgan's blaster hand before he could react. Even before he fell to the floor in pain, the two stormtroopers had turned to investigate the incident. Winter shot them both before they got through the door. Furgan lay on the floor, grasping the burned remains of his hand. Winter set the now screaming Anakin down on a table and approached the wounded Ambassador. She ordered him to his feet. "Whose the failure now, Ambassador?" Furgan ignored the question, choking back tears of pain. "Why don't you just kill me now, Rebel? Like you've killed all my men?" "It is a tempting thought, but I don't kill pathetic, defenseless windbags. Besides, I need you alive." "As a hostage, perhaps? You'll probably need a good hostage to escape the Empire!" "Oh, I kind of doubt that. Actually, I intend to bring you back to Coruscant. There's a certain matter concerning Mon Mothma's health that I think you can help with." "I don't know what you're talking about." "Of course not. Of course you didn't know it was poison you had splashed on her during your trip to Coruscant. And it was just a coincidence that she came down with some seemingly incurable illness soon after." "Ridiculous! I threw wine in her face. The very same I was drinking!" "No, you had two pouches, and you used the liquid in the other one to throw at her. And don't bother arguing about it. I've seen the holovids, and I never forget what I've seen." "Maybe I did poison her. Congratulations, Rebel, you've figured it out. But what you don't know is that there is no antidote!" "It's possible, but you don't strike me as the kind of man who would carry a contact poison on his person without also carrying an antidote. But I'll let Intelligence back at Coruscant pick your brain for better information. Right now, you're going to repair my shuttle. Your troops damaged it, and I want it running properly." "But I don't know how to repair a shuttle! I'm a diplomat, not a mechanic!" "You're not a soldier, either, but that didn't stop you from trying. You'll just have to learn how. I do know a few things about spacecraft repair, and if you try anything sneaky, I'll have to shoot you again. In your foot, perhaps." "Sadistic Rebel scum! I'm injured, and my men are dead. How can you expect me to repair your shuttle?" "You'll just have to do it single-handedly. Now move!"
*** "What is it, Captain?" "Sir, the Star Destroyer Death's Head and Interdictor Constrainer have returned. They have captured two Strike Cruisers," Pellaeon replied. "Excellent. Were there any special difficulties in the operation?" "No, sir. Death's Head transmits that all went well. I have ordered full reports to be delivered to you within 4 hours." "Make it 2. Also, did you find out if Ambassador Furgan was aboard?" "There was no mention of it." "Find out." "Yes, sir." "Is there anything else, Captain?" "Yes, sir, there is. An update on our search for slicers." "Any promising leads?" "There are several, but one in particular." Pellaeon handed a datapad to Thrawn. "Rumor has it that he was responsible for slicing the Delta Source encrypt." Grand Admiral Thrawn's eyes narrowed to glowing red slits. "Then we must invite him to join us. I look forward to meeting him. And I'm sure there will be much he can do for us. Send for him, Captain." "I already have, sir. He should be here within days."