Smurths and Smithies Chapter 38 Based on a true story.
With the descent of the Veil of Perfection impending, the last two Smithy fighters retreated, Travis slowing the Omniscient just enough to catch the ejected Ethan. The Smurth shuttles bolted north to keep attention away from the Veil, leaving the forces on the ground to scatter.
Aboard the Smurth frigate, klaxons wailed as the computers calculated the angle of descent was too steep. Sara ordered the shields to be boosted, but Caitlin waved her off.
“I need the power in the stabilizers.”
“Cut life support, transfer that power to the shields. Cut long range sensors. Cut power to internal sensors.”
The delicate balancing act continued, the Veil of Perfection roaring through the atmosphere where gravity truly began to work against them.
“We’ve got the trajectory,” Caitlin gritted. “Gunners stand by.”
The Veil of Perfection was less heavily armed than its sister the Lady of the Night owing to the energy and circuitry needed for its stealth systems, but it did not lack for firepower. In favor of a sleeker hull surface, the Smurth engineers had replaced two rows of three “Hi-Trak” quad lasers with four aft-facing missile tubes. The turbolasers all remained, though retrofitted with shorter, low-profile barrels and calibrated for lower energy drain.
Against a single organic being, even if it was the size of a small office block, the firepower would certainly be sufficient. If they could hit it.
Amidst the ruins of central Mos Eisley, the rancor roared in frustration, all of its prey having moved out of range. It took several steps toward the retreating outlines of the Smurth shuttles before stopping again. In irritation it loosed another burst of energy, collapsing another row of apartments. Within its animal mind, Sam, still in control but rapidly succumbing to madness and the creature’s base instincts, began to wonder just what the retreat might mean. Two distinct pains worked their way into his consciousness and he wondered if the rancor had been poisoned and the retreat was only a short withdrawal. But the pain was not spreading. He ignored it, focusing now on a new sound.
Different than the buzz of starfighters or the deep thrum of the Smurth shuttles, it brought to mind a memory he had not had occasion to recall for years. Once, as a young child on Kuat, he had watched what he thought at the time was a meteor fall into the atmosphere and go burning across the sky followed by a black trail of smoke, moving so fast the sound only began to be heard as the bright point of light flashed and became many smaller points, all quickly extinguished. He had been told later that a new Star Destroyer, likely sabotaged by rebels, had malfunctioned during the testing of its engines and been destroyed on its first, very short, very fast flight.
Happier times, before he had understood anything about the Empire, or the rebellion, or the New Republic. Or the Force.
Laboriously the rancor turned to face south, lifting its undamaged eye. As years before, a bright light was hurling through the atmosphere, though the trail of smoke was thinner. This, however, could only be a threat.
Gathering energy, he prepared to unleash another searing bolt at the approaching Smurth frigate. Steadying himself, he settled back, jaws slightly parted, energy crackling.
A moment before the beam could be released, a series of small explosions stitched their way up the rancor’s side. The beam went wide, hurtling harmlessly off into the atmosphere as Sam sought the source of the attack.
Kelsey had appeared, returned from relative safety to keep the monster from attacking the Veil of Perfection. Tony was there, too, berating the Smurth for leaving cover.
“This is a horrible idea and we’re going to die!”
In one fluid motion, Kelsey, in her powered HuntSuit, caught hold of Tony and flung him away.
“Then go do something else!”
Tony, Force aided, turned his awkward flight into a solid kick-jump off a pile of rubble, returning almost immediately to Kelsey’s side.
“Nah, you need the help.”
“I do not need - ” Both dove forward, rolling to avoid a blast from the rancor. “- your help!”
A piece of duracrete, hurled at the Smurth's unprotected back, was deflected away by Tony’s Force-push.
“Okay, just ignore me then.”
She did just that, turning to fire another round of explosives at the rancor’s knees, actually forcing the beast to stumble. Another beam raked the city, and by chance more than intent, the ensuing destruction blocked Tony and Kelsey’s immediate route. Up and over was the best option, and they set to in a flash, climbing by leaps.
Another explosion, and Tony and Kelsey vanished in the dust and flying rubble as the rancor’s roar shook Mos Eisley. Laboriously it swung back to face the approaching Smurth frigate, already gathering energy to strike.
The distraction has served its purpose. Now in range, the two fore-facing missile tubes had already launched their first salvo. Aboard the Veil of Perfection, Sara fairly screamed the order to reload, though the Smurth gunner needed no prompting. A few moments later the range closed enough for the turbolasers to open up, and they did so with a will.
The gargantuan beast howled and staggered, huge chunks of scaly flesh blown away, but somehow its head remained untouched. Then the missiles struck, homing in on Meryl’s transponders, detonating against the beast’s side and neck. A second salvo streaked from the prow of the craft, detonating only moments later as the distance closed.
As the Lady of the Night neared the point of no return, Caitlin lifted the prow and leveled out. The gunners ceased hammering the rancor, now a smoking wreck in the middle of a blackened crater.
“Life-signs fading,” Amalee reported from the weapons terminal.
“Aft missle tubes, fire,” Sara commanded.
“But you were worried about the Mos Eisley - “
“Wipe that creature from existence! Do it now!”
The command was relayed, and the aft missile tubes spat out their payload. Four missiles streaked in, aimed now at the transponders’ last known location, both having been destroyed in the first strike. In sequence, the missiles sank into the ravaged flesh of the monster and detonated, turning most of it into ash and scattering charred gore across the city.
Sara stared at the view screen. Mos Eisley’s northwest side was in ruins, a long, wide trail of destruction beginning at Smurthwaite's courtyard and stretching east.
Amalee joined Sara at the viewscreen.
“Someone’s going to have to pay for all that.”
“I’ll put in for New Republic assistance, offer to undertake some jobs in return.”
“Can’t we blame it on the Smithies?”
“We can do both, I would think, without any loss of face.”
“Wonderful. I hope you remain in command of the Veil for awhile longer, Sara. You have a knack for it.”
* * *
Auba III… what could be said about it. Jordan Lemmons and I floated in space viewing the planet as I sent a few probing hails to the surface, ostensibly looking for information on getting my ship’s “defensive capabilities” repaired.
“My wife is not going to be happy if she finds out I was here.” Jordan Lemmons summed the planet up nicely.
He had managed to find an old Jedi Agriculture Corp. brief on the planet from a few years before the fall of the Republic. It wasn’t recommended to settlers.
“The population of Tun Aduban, Aduba III’s largest city and only spaceport, is comprised mostly of drifters and unlucky spacers. The city has little to offer beyond cantinas, brothels, and merchants selling illicit goods,” Jordan read to me.
“So it’s Mos Eisley with grass.”
“Pretty much. Have you turned up anything?”
I looked at my screen, showing the results of a scan for live comms.
“I tried all of these, except the spaceport. Got an offer to sell a JS-77B interstellar shuttle… Good price, but definitely not the kind of ship we could use. Hang on, got one more.”
The reply was short: ‘Credits or trade? Identity?’
“Now who out here would be nosy enough to ask for identification?” I wondered aloud for Jordan’s benefit, then shared the exchange on his screen.
‘Credits, some trade as well,’ I replied.
‘Haven’t got one. You?’
No further reply seemed to be coming. We had probably lost the element of complete surprise; whoever was on the other end of the transmission would be on the lookout for strangers, if only to get a visual before approaching for a business exchange. With luck they were just smugglers.
We descended upon Tun Aduban and received landing pad assignments from a crisp droid voice. The droid was out of the ordinary for Tun Aduban, but we had no way of knowing.
Out of our starfighters and headed into the city, I looked to Jordan for direction.
“How do we go about finding a pack of dangerous mercenaries, Mr. Info?”
A female spaceport official with a blaster on her hip gave us a glance as we passed and I gave her a smile. She didn’t return the gesture, eyes back on her datapad.
“Easy,” Jordan replied. “We go get a drink.”
* * *
Tyrell had found himself something to drink, and eat, aboard the ship he could not remember boarding. Sitting in the galley, he thought very hard about how he had come to be there, slowly stitching together vagrant memories. Large holes remained, but he got a few distinct memories together to make a good start, and then he turned his attention back to the ship. Why hadn’t he encountered anyone else?
He found a console and began looking for registration or travel logs. Finding none, he tried communications and finally pulled up something useful. The recipients of an outgoing message caught his eye, and he opened the text, scanning it quickly.
“Somebody’s trying very hard to sell us out.”
The message was directed to a number of New Republic judiciary officials as well as several fleet captains, alerting them to the presence of Smithies on Tatooine who were unlikely to be in any shape to escape or resist. It also laid the destruction of Mos Eisley squarely at the feet of Smith House, not something anyone would particularly care about, unless one were attempting to trump up charges for arrest or imprisonment.
A look at the message's point of entry into the holonet told Tyrell where the ship was located.
'Back on Tatooine. You'd think we could all find a slightly more temperate planet to hover around,' he thought to himself.
Suddenly a icon appeared on the screen with a warning. Hyperspace disturbances, several large ships, small Republic Star Destroyers seemed likely considering the size, and as many escort craft.
"Looks like the message was received," he grimaced. Another screen showed the starships fanning out in a blockade pattern.
Then another warning icon appeared, this one followed by shrieking alarms. A new hyperspace disturbance, it's magnitude far beyond even an Executor-class star destroyer was detected, ripping open space among the New Republic starships.
* * *
Alarms also wailed aboard the Lady of the Night. Lauren, in the middle of trying to establish contact with the newly arrived Republic fleet and the Veiled Perfection, stared out the viewport as what appeared to be a small planet entered real space, dwarfing the Republic star destroyer it struck in the aft section. Several explosions testified to blown engines on the government craft, and the massive ship began to roll listlessly away from the giant rock that had struck it.
* * *
“Tatooine?!” Holden shouted at Crow. “You gave me coordinates to Tatooine?!
“I just selected ‘Home’ on my navicomputer!”
“Why would you drop us anywhere near Smurthwaite?!”
“I thought we were in a hurry!”
"Not in a hurry to die!"
The battlestation disguised as a giant asteroid, the Eye of Palpatine, had exited hyperspace in the middle of the Republic blockade, throwing the entire fleet into chaos. Holden, still connected to the central computer, immediately got a read on the situation and was immediately horrified.
"We hit a Republic cruiser coming out of hyperspace, I count five more, plus escorts ships. Two more frigates, not painted New Republic colors, and a hell of a lot of debris and background radiation, I'm guessing a destroyed ship."
Shawn's voice came over the comm. "Holden, get us out of here!"
Holden immediately began steering the ship in a wide turn. "A destination would be helpful."
Around the Eye, the New Republic captains had reached a unanimous decision in record time, and commenced attacking the giant battlestation. It's total lack of retaliation might have given them pause if they had been any less surprised by it's appearance. Scans revealed hanger locations and two quick-thinking captains despatched troop shuttles already loaded for ground deployment.
The battle of Tatooine had only reached its midpoint.