Bubbles in the Force
by Vornskr22
Chapter 5

The squad made good time cruising along in the commandeered freighter. While it was neither the fastest nor most tactical of transports, it beat the prijg out of marching. Gray was beginning to feel that the mission was back on track when T errance and Nichols approached him.

"LT we have a slight a problem," Terrance began, showing Gray a notepad. "Good news: we have the coordinates for the physical origin of that net address. Bad news: rebels have already coordinated with some pilot in Skofje to lift Zorlman."

"Yeah, either that or reality took a wrong turn," Nichols confirmed.

Terrance slapped his cohort upside the helmet. "What sort of excuse for a metaphor is that?"

Gray called a map to his visor. Skofje was at least another hundred kilometers past Okefre.

"Departure time?" Cross queried, having checked the map as well.

"Unknown. Were I them, I would clear planet as soon as Zorlman boarded," Terrance answered. "They could easily raise ship within two hours."

"LT there's no way this thing will get us there in two hours," Snyder pointed out.

Gray was about to reply when the noisy engine of the hovercraft sputtered. After a few wracking coughs, the engine died completely.

"Definitely not now," Cross stated the obvious.

"I told you that was a fuel gauge!" Schlamp exploded from the front passenger seat. He and Hawkins had asked Nichols' computer for a random number to decide which one of them was to drive the hovercraft. Hawkins had won.

"Well Lord Wrenchturner, it's too bad you didn't notice that sooner than ten prijg'n' minutes ago," Hawkins retorted, although he had to agree with Schlamp, now that they were dead in the road.

"I'm open to suggestions," Gray called out even as he began searching for alternatives.

"I've got one," Snyder piped up. "I for one don't intend on marching to Skofje when there's an airfield five kilometers northwest."

"Yeah, there's got to be something there we can appropriate in the name of the Empire," Cross readily voiced his opinion.

Gray nodded agreement. "Very well. Sanitize this hauler and let's move out."

Within two minutes, the squad had cleared the hovercraft and started their short march at a run. Schlamp launched their drone to scout the area ahead--it was easier than carrying it and he did not have the heart to leave it after all it had done for them. Hawkins nudged Schlamp in the right direction whenever Schlamp became overly involved with piloting the craft.


Thirty-seven minutes and they reached the airfield. They secured the locale in a rushed version of the fuel station assault, intent on getting in and out quickly. An overflight by the drone indicated that the objective was deserted. While that made taking it simple, they were concerned that none of the equipment would be operational.

Gray split the squad into three two-man teams to search the field for appropriate transportation, leaving Sgt Lane and Spc Ratcliffe on the ridge overlooking the airfield to provide security.

Ratcliffe was relieved to be left behind on this search; he could think of about sixty-one things he would rather do than hunt around a dingy airfield looking for a craft that was bound to reek of coolant and hydrostatic fluid. The observati on point Cross had sent them to offered great observation of the valley below them; Ratcliffe kept a sharp lookout for new and unusual flora and fauna while watching for rebels. Never knew when some four-legged critter might turn out to be sentient enough to shoot you in the back. Or better yet, bite you in the back and impregnate you with its young. Those were the cases to live for, the alien biochemistry that defied all known precedence.

He had one such case secured in stasis back on Carida. On one of their training missions he had found a new strain of a peculiar leech which secreted a nerve agent that actually induced pleasure in the host. Ratcliffe was intent upon determ ining the chemical composition of the nerve agent, completely positive that it would do wonders for pain relief. He was extremely close to a solution, and was eager to return to attempt recreating the chemical; he had made a few friends at the biow eapons research center on Carida Minor, the small airless rock caught in Carida's gravity well. In fact, he had only one problem to overcome: the agent's slight yet eminently annoying side effect.

In addition to stimulating pleasure sensations in the nervous system, the chemical was also highly toxic, much to the dismay of their instructor. Well at least the late Captain Nadladia had gone out with a smile on his face....

Just as Ratcliffe felt that he was on the verge of determining a solution, a beautiful creature bounded across a clearing below. I looked like a cross between a nerf and a yarmulske, and Ratcliffe immediately wondered whether it was predator or herbivore. The long tusklike teeth made him think predator, but the huge dangling appendages that were probably udders made him think twice about that. He raised his blaster to shoot it, but then thought back to how furious Sgt Cross had been w hen Lane had opened fire back at the station. He sighed and decided to let the creature go, consoling himself with the likelihood that it probably had no poisonous glands or strange reproductive system.

"Hey, Sarge," Ratcliffe whispered suddenly to his quietly brooding squad leader. In fact, the sergeant leaning against the tree next to him was mumbling to himself so incoherently that Ratcliffe momentarily wondered if the man were asleep on his feet.

"Ugh?" Lane responded, looking up suddenly.

"Why was Cross so upset about shooting that guy?" Ratcliffe wanted to know.

Lane looked at Ratcliffe hard for a moment, trying to determine if the soldier had been eavesdropping on his thoughts. The troopers in this squad were all too smart for their own good.

"I suppose he was afraid someone might hear," Lane finally responded. "But that makes no sense."

Ratcliffe looked confused. "It don't? I thought the LT said we had to keep hidden until--"

"Specialist," Lane interrupted with the weight of innumerable years of service backing him up, "one thing you have to learn is that our lieutenant has some strange ideas, and Sergeant Cross feels obliged to follow him. In all my time in the corps, I have never seen stormtroopers slink around so afraid of being seen. It's downright shameful for us to hide like this. Why, time was when the sight of stormtroopers just walking down the street made the riffraff of the universe fall in line ." Lane shook his head wisely. "Now with our good lieutenant running things..."

Lane suddenly realized he was defaming an officer and suddenly froze. During his stormtrooper indoctrination, a soldier could be sent to the detention center or worse for contradicting anyone of higher rank. Lane wondered if Gray had put Ra tcliffe up to this, trying to trip him up; he just knew that the lieutenant was after them all. He knew that all Gray's insistence that his soldiers come to him with problems was a setup; the lieutenant must be keeping track of these offenses and wo uld one day drop the hammer. Lane intended to be nowhere beneath that hammer.

"How would you have done this mission, Sarge?" Ratcliffe interrupted Lane's thought process again.

Lane hesitated, but Ratcliffe sounded genuine enough that Lane decided now was a good time to train him in some of the real art of the stormtrooper.

"Well, we could have assaulted the capitol, taken the planetary leaders and their families hostage, and demanded that they bring the scientist to us. Every hour that went by, we could have killed one of their kids, or tortured some of their leaders on tri-D, until they gave him up. It's a method that's always worked well enough in the past."

Ratcliffe thought about it, but he was still somewhat confused. "Why didn't you just say so back at base? If that's the way your supposed to do it, the LT might not know about it. If you'd told him, he probably would've at least listened. Heck, he let Sgt Cross spend half an hour trying to talk him into dropping an AT-ST with us."

Silence permeated the ridge for several moments, broken only by sounds of nocturnal creatures scurrying about their business.

"Specialist, I heard something over there. Go check it out"

Lane hadn't thought about that. But, no, it didn't matter, the LT was still keeping track of the smartadders in the squad, and Lane was fixed on doing the job he was trained at no matter how the LT might try to trick him with fancy words and tactics.


Ironically enough, Hawkins again found a craft he recognized from his homeworld.

Gray and Snyder were the first to join Hawkins and inspect his discovery. Gray was bewildered by the aircraft, and somewhat perturbed that Hawkins had called them for...this. Snyder had just about convinced Gray to appropriate a sleek turbi ne powered aircraft. By comparison Hawkins' choice was a monster.

It was as aerodynamic as a Star Destroyer. The fuselage wide and bulky, the wings thick and stubby. The tip of each wing carried what appeared to be a turbine. Most irregular of all were the huge blades sprouting from atop each turbine.

"All right, a VTOL!" Snyder exclaimed, slapping Hawkins on the back. "There might be some use for you yet. Does it work?"

"It looks intact," Hawkins replied guardedly, tossing a thick book to Snyder. "This is the flight manual. I already checked--the fuel gauge is pegged on full. Hey, LT what's the matter?"

"What the in the name of the Emperor is a...Vee Tall?"

"LT this is one incredibly old VTOL--Vertical Take Off and Landing- -concept," Snyder expounded, quickly walking about to inspect the aircraft. "Without repulsors, about the only efficient way to take off straight up is to spin those blades, called rotors, really fast. Think of them as small wings. Once you get into the air, you tilt the engine pods forward. Then you have a high-speed transport that can take off and land anywhere without a runway. Manual here says it can cruise at 65 4 kmph."

Gray was impressed. "Then we can catch Zorlman."

"Any chance it's spacegoing?" Hawkins wanted to know. He had seen them fly before, but had no idea what they were capable of performing.

"Yeah, you wish. Aerodynamics work real well in vacuum," Snyder snorted sarcastically as he started the preflight inspection in earnest. "LT give me fifteen minutes to check this bird out for you and we can be airborne."

Gray gave him a strange look.

"You're the flyer, LT" Snyder insisted. "Hey, don't worry--it has gyro-stabilization. Should be like flying an underpowered Lambda class shuttle."


"Yeah, by about 50%," Snyder elaborated. "I'll copilot since I haven't logged as many hours as you. Besides, didn't you say you could fly anything with thrusters?"

"Yes, but--"

"No sweat; those blades are just big thrusters."


"This is gonna be fun," Hawkins commented in glee.


It took another twenty minutes just to figure out how to start the thing. Gray was initially overwhelmed at the complexity of the controls. The power-up sequence in a modern shuttle involved hitting a switch to initiate the computer-managed start sequence. With Hawkins' VTOL, they had to manually flip circuits open, start fuel pumps, fire up auxiliary power units, uncage gyros, and that was just the beginning. But upon consulting the manual, they found that basic flight controls were similar to those in any modern spacecraft.

Footpedals controlled which direction the nose pointed.

A sliding stick on the left controlled the power and something the book called "collective", which apparently changed the blades' pitch to make the aircraft go straight up and down. An oversized switch on the left stick was supposed to tilt the blades forward for "high speed" flight, which was barely a crawl compared to a real shuttle.

The "cyclic" stick on the right controlled the aircraft attitude. In vertical flight mode, pushing the cyclic was supposed to fly the aircraft in the same direction the pilot pushed the stick. In high speed mode, pushing forward made the ai rcraft go down, pulling back made it go up. Gray skimmed this all from the manual Hawkins had found while Snyder went through the startup checklist he had discovered on the instrument panel.

"Ready," Snyder announced on the comlink, grinning madly from the right seat. If not for the helmet comlink, Gray would not have been able to hear him over the high-pitched whine of the rapidly spinning blades. Gray fervently hoped the viol ent vibration of the aircraft did not mean it was about to fly apart.

"This is smoother than the ones back home," Hawkins confided from the jump seat behind Snyder. "They must have better machining capability."

Gray was both reassured and appalled that the shaking was within acceptable limits.

"Crash positions, everyone," Gray announced more lightly than he felt, tightening his grip on the throttle/collective and pushing it slightly forward.

The noise increased proportionately. The blades whirled faster until they were visible only as a blurred disk. Gray experimented with the cyclic control stick before increasing throttle, the aircraft leaning in response to his inputs. Much to his surprise, he found that it acted very much like a shuttle. With more confidence, he slid the throttle gently forward.

With the throttle at 50%, the tachometer showing nearly 3000 revolutions per minute on the blades, it seemed the noise could not grow any louder. With another nudge on the throttle, the aircraft lumbered into the air. Gray found that keepin g the thing in a stationary hover required considerably more concentration than even Scat after that time Schlamp accidentally shorted out the stabilizers. Nonetheless, he now felt entirely confident that he would not kill them all. Unless one of t hose blades flew loose.

The aircraft gently bobbed about a meter off the ground. Gray pushed the control stick forward to exit the hangar and received his first surprise.

The nose angled down, pointing the blades' thrust aft and pushing the aircraft forward as Gray had intended. But the aircraft also began sinking toward the ground since some of its thrust was pushing back instead of straight down. Gray shov ed forward on the throttle, arresting the descent before the nose could hit the ground. The VTOL continued climbing, darting straight for the door beam. Gray pushed further forward on the cyclic, angling the nose to point for the exit. The aircraf t sped up quickly and cleared the hangar roof by less than a meter, shooting out the opening entirely too fast for comfort. As Snyder hollered for him to slow, Gray pulled back on the control stick to curb their forward movement.

He received his second surprise.

The VTOL shot up eighty meters before Gray realized they were going fast enough for the wing to start adding lift. He slid the throttle back drastically to slow the ascent. But by then his pulling back on the control stick had reversed the aircraft's forward movement. Now going backwards, the wing immediately stopped lifting. The aircraft lurched back to the ground. Gray leveled out just in time to keep from backing into the ground. The aircraft bounced heavily on its sturdy landin g gear.

"Okay, okay, I have it now," Gray announced before his squad could say anything about the near-crash. He applied power with the throttle until they were in a stable hover and stomped on the pedals to point them in the appropriate direction.

That was when he met his third revelation.

The aircraft spun about its axis two and a half times before Gray stopped the dizzying ride. By then his passengers were all ready to jump ship. Gray grinned over at Snyder, who was clutching the control console for dear life. Gray sorted out the controls and placed the aircraft into a sedate climb.

"I've never seen anyone fly like you, LT" Hawkins murmured in awe.

"Hawk, that's the understatement of this eon," Snyder grumbled as they sped toward Skofje. "LT I think we were safer on the reentry shields."


They made the transition from vertical to high-speed mode without further drama, except a slight tendency to nose up before Snyder read the book and figured out how to trim the aircraft. When Gray felt confident that he could recover the air craft from any unusual attitudes, he let Snyder take control.

"Just keep it below 150 meters," he warned, calling up the same visor display he had used on the parachute ingress and overlaying a map that tracked their progress. "We do not want anyone to spot us on their tracking systems. If we stay low , the hills should hide us."

Gray busied himself studying a digitized layout of the Skofje spaceport, occasionally giving navigation directions to Snyder. Snyder seemed to be enjoying himself trying to make the rest of the squad sick by skimming barely over the tree top s of the hilly terrain. Halfway through the flight, Gray was broken from his study as the aircraft violently pitched up, shooting skyward over 300 meters before descending back to tree level.

"Building," Snyder explained sheepishly, never taking his eyes from the terrain outside.

Eventually Gray decided that it would be safest to land outside the spaceport. Attempting to land an aircraft they had just learned to fly without knowing what clearances local air traffic control would want seemed a suicidal option at best, especially with the local military apparently on alert.

"Terrance, Nichols, you have anything more?" Gray probed over the comlink when he had a basic plan in mind. Terrance replied first after a long silence.

"We managed to slice into the spaceport terminal at Skofje," the slicer announced smugly, finally leaning back to rest. "They have a freighter by the name of Sunshine Express inbound with clearance to land at pad 5A in forty minutes. There is a notation stating that the Express has the option to depart within an hour after landing, without clearing customs. Since there are only two other ships at the port, on pads 9A and 9C, and they have no clearances filed, I assume Sunshine Express is our bandit."

Gray glanced at the time-to-target displayed in the lower right of his visor. Thirty-four minutes. This called for a change in plans.

"Snyder, if we lack full speed, put us there now," Gray ordered. "Okay gentlemen, we'll have to do this quick and dirty. I will set us down with the ship at 9A between us and 5A, assuming spaceport defenses allow us that close. Bezel team will deploy first to provide cover. Aleph team will then scramble across the port to pad 5A; you will apprehend Zorlman, neutralize anyone else, and take control of the ship. When Cross sends the all clear, Bezel will move to 5A and we will make ou r way out. Each squad keeps their Plexor missile. If we cannot leave quietly, target the control tower. I'm with Aleph. Cross, you control the apprehension--I will concentrate on getting into that ship. Snyder, when you board, join me in the coc kpit and setup lightspeed calculations.

"Remember, we want Zorlman alive."

"LT aren't you making a big assumption that nobody will try to stop us from reaching orbit?" Cross ventured with some concern.

"Of course," Gray agreed immediately, calling his map up and checking the AS-17 locations. "Terrance, Nichols; can you deactivate the AS-17's by remote?"

"No can do, LT" Nichols answered. "They're all completely autonomous."

"Schlamp, can you reload the drone?"

"I think we have three more EMP's left," Schlamp replied.

"Do it. Your targets are the two AS-17s east of the port, on the edge of the shield. Drop the cargo hatch and launch within six minutes. Schlamp, give your Plexor to Nichols so you can concentrate on the drone."

Cross and Lane repeated their orders as they understood them and then laid out specific tasks for their commandos. Gray reoriented himself to the terrain around them and put his hands on the controls. He noticed the gray horizon indicative of approaching sunrise and switched his night vision off.

"I have the aircraft," he announced to Snyder, who reluctantly gave up the controls.

"Not to criticize your takeoff, LT" Snyder announced, stretching in his seat, "but could we land without breaking anything?"


Three hours of repairs were enough to put the Dullaby back into service. Sniffles M'tus conveniently happened to have exactly the right repair parts already on board. He explained to the port authority accident investigator that he had the parts because last year something similar had happened to a friend of his with the same YT-1300 modifications. Along with fifty credits, the official bought the story.

While Kilos began prepping the ship for the Ouika nuts, Sniffles went off to meet the contractor at a local watering hole Aves, one of Karrde's assistants, had mentioned. The shady nut dealer told him that the cargo was actually at Skofje, a nd it was really only one nut, not a whole load. The contractor seemed to find his own comment humorous. He gave M'tus a small package and left. Sniffles finished his drink and shambled back to the Dullaby.

"We're ready," Kilos announced. "When do we load the nuts? I'm hungry."

"There's only one nut, and it ain't here," Sniffles replied. "Lock everything down, we're flying to Skofje."

"Skofje? Did Aves screw up again? Why would Karrde have us land here if the cargo's at Skofje?" Kilos demanded, sore at not being able to get a decent planetside meal quite yet. "And why are we making a short surface hop instead of blastin g out of here before those stormtroopers come looking--"

The shiny new credit voucher Sniffles waved before Kilos' quivering lips silenced the old Sullustan's questions.

"Well, when you put it that way, what are we waiting for?" Kilos demanded.

Sniffles sheepishly told air traffic control that he had mistakenly landed at the wrong port and requested a vector to Skofje. Since nobody else was in the air that early in the morning, they received clearance immediately, along with the ad monition to check that their heads were securely fastened to their shoulders.

The Dullaby landed at Skofje without further ado. When Sniffles lowered the main cargo hatch, he saw that there were three people, two humans supporting one Mon Cal with some sort of leg wound, already moving toward the ship. He grinned as he finally comprehended the nut contractor's earlier comment about there only being one nut. Obviously, one of the approaching three was in some sort of hurry to get off Darlac quickly and quietly.

He was about to call out a greeting when he heard an odd high pitched throbbing from the opposite side of the spaceport. As he watched, the strangest looking aircraft he had ever seen in his life materialized from the gathering morning light . At the edge of the field, the aircraft's wingtip engines rotated to point straight up. The engine thrust blew up twin clouds of dirt and debris as the aircraft came screeching to a rough landing that collapsed the landing gear. Before the engine noise died, people with the unmistakable manner of soldiers poured from the aircraft.

Sniffles drew his blaster and hollered for his passengers to move it or get left behind.


Lieutenant Gray did not transition to vertical mode until the last possible moment, landing the VTOL in what amounted to a semi-controlled crash behind the ship on pad 9A. Bezel team was out of the aircraft before Gray hit the emergency stop on the engine control panel. Before the blades stopped turning, Gray joined Aleph team and started toward pad 5A. Gray heard SGT Cross curse.

"LT we've been duped!" Cross yelled as Gray joined Aleph team charging toward pad 5A in bounding movements. "That's no Sunshine Express."

With a sinking sensation in the pit of his stomach, Gray realized they were too late. The Sunshine Express of the spaceport computers was in fact the Dullaby, and Gray could see figures already moving toward the ship. Stepping up his visor magnification, he could see that one of them matched the description of Zorlman. Aleph was still over a hundred meters out of position.

"Set for stun, take them out!" Gray yelled into his comlink, dropping into a prone firing position with his body hidden behind a bulky cargo container. He carefully sighted on the group and fired just a moment before the rest of his squad, e xchanging shots with Sniffles M'tus. But he was at extreme range for stun, and he hit one of the humans before the ship's captain hauled Zorlman aboard. The squad's fire hit the ship to no effect, Kilos having already raised the shields. As the Du llaby's cargo door sealed shut, the ship rose into the air and pivoted away from them.

Gray had to make a split-second decision. His orders had been to keep the Rebels from picking Zorlman's brains. Well, if the Empire could not have Zorlman, nobody would.

"Nichols, Plexor, now!" Gray ordered with only a moment's hesitation. "Snyder, fire if Nichols does not ground him."

Nichols had anticipated the order and fired before Gray finished speaking. With a brief explosion of compressed gas, the Plexor missile shot from the Specialist's shoulder. Thirty meters in front of the squad, the main rocket motor fired an d the missile streaked after the Dullaby, slicing cleanly through the early morning mist. A moment later, Snyder's missile roared overhead, Snyder taking into account the fact that the Dullaby's shields were already up. He was not certain if even t wo Plexors could do the trick.

The Dullaby visibly shook from the first Plexor explosion. Blue electrical discharge danced over the hull, but the ship remained intact, the force of the Plexor explosion actually helping to accelerate the ship away from danger. But before the rear shields could dissipate the energy absorbed from Nichols' Plexor, the second missile fired its shaped concussion blast within a meter of the first missile's impact. The Dullaby's rear shield generator flashed brilliantly in the dawn light. The remainder of the second Plexors body, rocket motor still blazing, slammed through one of the Dullaby's cargo doors which had been weakened by the earlier stormcommando insertion stunt. Resultant aerodynamic and vibration stresses dragged the Du llaby to a fiery crash.

The dazzling explosion momentarily rivaled the morning sun in lighting the space port.


Once the squad had jumped to the safety of hyperspace, Lieutenant Gray held a quick squad after action review.

After stealing the freighter from pad 9A and blasting their way through AS-17 sites under the shield with Schlamp's drone, the squad was surprisingly casual about having just flouted an entire planetary defense system without any outside help . Gray attributed it to their fatigue and kept the review short. They did not bother reviewing how things were supposed to have gone since everyone knew that; they also knew that nothing ever went completely according to plan. However, they did sp end nearly an hour listing things that could have been done better, or just differently, next time out.

For instance, Gray decided that they might have had better results if they had tried to figure out a way of legally landing nearer pad 5A, then storming the "Sunshine Express".

On one thing the entire squad, even Lane, agreed--they had done the right thing in killing Zorlman when clearly they would not be able to rescue him. Gray himself lacked certainty on the issue.

Sgt Cross established a duty roster for the watch and Gray began recorded a preliminary report to send Brigade after he and Snyder plotted their return course. They planned several jumps, sometimes recrossing their tracks, to make it difficu lt to track them, thus making their mission deniable if the Emperor wanted it so. Gray sent his report in a tight encrypted blast to the nearest Imperial communications beacon for retransmission to Carida. He made no apology for the results, but cl early delineated his reasons for the squad's actions. After a quick meal from ships' stores, Gray dropped into a fitful sleep in the captain's seat.


When they arrived in the Carida system, Colonel Madine contacted Lt Gray immediately. Snyder was in the copilot's seat and raised an eyebrow. Gray shook his head, signaling that the sergeant could stay. Snyder settled in for the show.

"Welcome back, Lieutenant," Madine began with a carefully neutral expression. "Division headquarters and the senate military oversight committee is highly perturbed with the way you handled this mission."

Madine paused as if waiting for a response. Gray gave him one.

"Sir, I know I should not have eliminated such an important technical asset to the Empire. However, he was out of our reach. The Rebels would have had him by now."

Madine looked almost disillusioned for a moment.

"No, it isn't the loss of Zorlman; Division and the committee could not care less about a scientist," Madine explained. "They're just upset about the course of the mission--the way you ingress, your deviation from the itinerary, failure to ge t approval for changes to the plan, and such. They don't care that he's dead, they're just annoyed that you did not wait for approval."

"But Zorlman would be chatting with Mon Mothma before I could have obtained approval to--"

"Easy, trooper," Madine interrupted, finally allowing himself a slight smile. "Grand Moff Tarkin says that at this point he can get along without Zorlman on his project. What you did took initiative. Any other stormtrooper unit would have charged in with blasters blazing and been wiped out before even reaching the landing zone. At least now the Rebels do not have Zorlman."

"Why was Zorlman so important, anyway?" Gray risked asking, although he expected no answer. In this business, you rarely knew the big picture.

"He was working on a secret project for Tarkin and Lord Vader. You will be briefed in full when you land," Madine explained conspiratorially. "With this mission, you've made great strides in proving our concept of a small unit unbound from tight headquarters supervision. In fact, Lord Vader is highly pleased with your handling of this mission. Upon your return, STRC-24 will leave Carida to work directly for Lord Vader. Report to HQ when you land."

After Madine signed off, Gray continued staring at the comm panel, somewhat overwhelmed. He had expected a severe reprimand at best, a court- martial at worse. But now he was going to work for the Lord of the Sith himself, undisputed master of black projects and secrets at the vanguard of protecting the Empire. Rumor had it that officers under Vader led short spectacular careers, but Gray was unconcerned; he suspected the rumors were merely idle gossip. He looked forward to convincin g his squad they had earned reassignment to Lord Vader's command instead of the Kessel spice mines.

"Did I just imagine that exchange?" Gray queried Snyder as they initiated the reentry checklist.

"LT did I ever tell you my uncle's philosophy on a job worth doing?" Snyder replied thoughtfully, relishing the chance to stalk about with Lord Vader and investigate some of Tarkin's secret projects.

Before Gray could reply that he had heard Snyder quote his uncle's entire philosophy at least a dozen different ways, Snyder went ahead anyway:

"The reward of a job well done is more jobs. Of course, he also once said that if you can't fix something, get a bigger hammer...."

That, Gray pondered irreverently, would be us.