The sounds of the oncoming soldiers grew louder. In the distance, Aeryn could hear the rush of the airlock opening. She closed her eyes for a microt, steeling herself for the fight that was about to occur. Her mind quickly flicked to John and the others, already stationed elsewhere, ready to attack when the moment came.
Crouched in position, she looked across the hallway to Solo. His face was serious and his blaster was unholstered, trained towards the door. I hope he's as good as that frelling ego, she thought. If she was being honest with herself, though, she suspected he would prove useful. That wasn't to say she trusted him – not for a microt! But he clearly had seen his share of battle. Aeryn opened her mouth to confirm as much when the sound of shouted voices from within the transport hangar ended all other thoughts.
Their visitors had arrived.
"They're gonna blast in the door," Han muttered from across the passage.
Aeryn's head snapped towards him. "Are you sure?" But without waiting for confirmation, she ducked out from her position to one further from the door. She lifted the pulse rifle from her hip and aimed carefully.
They didn't have to wait long. The shouts got louder and suddenly, a sickening BOOM shot through the corridor, sending smoke and shards of Moya's internal structure blasting outward. Aeryn ducked her head, shielding her eyes against the debris. She could feel the Leviathan shudder violently beneath her, no doubt in agonizing pain over the attack. Silently, Aeryn willed Pilot to keep her strong for them – to keep her from being any more frightened.
But suddenly, the smoke began to glow from the discharge of Imperial blasters. The noise of the explosion morphed into shouted orders, cries of pain, and the din of laser fire. It was then her training kicked back in. Without another microt's hesitation, she fired her pulse rifle into the fray. She saw several white-helmeted troopers drop to the ground in a heap of singed armor. As the smoke started to clear, the attackers stood out against Moya's warmly colored halls. Well, that's a convenient target. Who the frell designed those uniforms?Out of the corner of her eye she could see Solo following her lead, picking off soldiers as they rushed through the door.
Coughing against the smoke that still hung in the air, Aeryn tugged at the comm on her vest. "Crichton!" she called over the noise of laser fire. "Crichton, are you there? Are you in position?"
Their plan was a shoddy, patch-work one at best. Aeryn and Solo were the first line of defense, trying to thin out the troopers as they came aboard. D'Argo and Chewbacca were the second line, stationed further inside Moya, protecting the command from being taken. And then came Crichton and Chiana's job. Using Moya's vast network of ducts and crawl-spaces, they were to make their way back into the transport hangar and attempt to disable the main airlock. It was a dangerous plan, filled with holes. But with options spread thin, they decided all that could be done was hold them off as long as possible. Under any other circumstances, Aeryn would have shot the idea down as quickly as it had been suggested, but they were worryingly low on choices…
"Aeryn!" John's voice crackled through the comm system. "We're almost there. How you guys holdin' up?"
She fired her weapon at a charging trooper, turning back to the comm as he collapsed to the ground. "We're fine for now, but I'm not sure how long we can hold them. There may be too many!" As she spoke, she ducked around the corner, narrowly avoiding a hail of blaster fire.
"I'm gonna take a wild guess and say you guys can take 'em," John called through the comm. "These Storm Trooper fellas aren't exactly famous for their aim!"
Aeryn frowned and opened her mouth to ask what the frell he was rambling about. But Crichton cut her off.
"Just hold in there. Me 'n Pip almost got it. We'll be all locked up in no time!"
She suspected he was being overly optimistic. The cheer in his voice sounded almost forced, like he knew what odds he was facing. As ridiculous as the human often was, she'd known him too long to doubt his judgment when it mattered. They may not succeed for long in keeping the Imperial troops at bay, but she knew they'd all rather die trying than simply roll over. They had fought too hard for survival for that…
But her train of thought was interrupted when a shadow passed over her head. Aeryn's eyes snapped upward just in time to see a trooper raising his blaster to her chest. She had only a microt to respond. Grasping her pulse rifle in a vice grip, she slammed the butt of it into the side of her attacker's head, knocking him to the ground. Frell me, that was close.
Her comm crackled again. "Aeryn, you there? We got lockdown!" It was Crichton again. He and Chiana had sealed the airlock. They'd bought them a little time. "You guys need a some backup?"
"Any you can give us!" she replied, ducking another round of laser fire, before sending a pulse blast of her own. "We're barely holding them." A glance at Solo told her he was having the same difficulty. His jaw was set in determination as he fired round after round. For every trooper they took down, it seemed like two more appeared in their place. "D'Argo!" Aeryn called into the comm. "Is command still secure?" There wasn't a response immediately, but she could hear distant blaster fire from the Luxan's end.
"Yes," came D'Argo's voice. "These frellniks have barely made it this far! We will have defeated them in no time!" His statement was punctuated by the sound of a pulse from his Qualta Blade.
A vague – and largely unfamiliar – sentiment began creeping over Aeryn then. It was something akin to hope. They were holding them off. Barely, but better than she had anticipated. Perhaps Pilot would have time to devise a way to break free of the tractor beam, after all… It was a slim chance, but suddenly not so impossible. She was about to ask for Pilot's progress when suddenly it dawned on her that the firefight had stopped.
The short-lived feelings of hope evaporated instantly. Why had the attack stopped? There were still troopers coming through when she checked in with the crew. There was no possible way they would have simply given up – their paltry defense was only a temporary hindrance. She realized then that neither Crichton nor Chiana had provided the back-up they'd promised. That wasn't like them. There's no way this ends well. Aeryn raised her pulse rifle again and peered down the corridor towards the half-destroyed remnants of the transport hangar doors. She met Solo's eyes from across the passageway and her instincts were confirmed. The same concerned look was written across his face. He knew these people. If he was worried, they all ought to be.
She took a few cautious steps towards the transport hangar when a sudden chill filled the corridor. She stopped dead.
A large figure flanked by Storm Troopers stepped through the destroyed entry hatch.. He was tall and covered head to toe in black. His face was hidden behind a dark helmet and mask. Aeryn didn't recognize him, but she knew one thing for certain:
They were frelled.
The command deck of the Imperial Star Destroyer was cold, sterile and nearly empty. Officers were at their posts below the raised walkway, eyes determinedly focused on their screens. The same massive figure who had strode onto Moya an hour earlier stood staring out at the ships in the star field - the mysterious Leviathan and unwieldy Command Carrier. The only sound on deck was the heavy, mechanical breathing emanating from his mask.
The doors at the other end of the command opened with a soft whoosh. Another darkly clad figure stepped in, but this one's face could be seen. It wore a triumphant smirk beneath a heavy coolant suit, hybrid features clearly pleased with the direction the day's events had taken.
Scorpius made his way slowly down the walkway toward the larger man. He was content to make him wait. After all, he did not appreciate being summoned in this way. He was not under Imperial command! He would not subject to their orders. This agreement between them benefited all sides, but his motivation was what it always had been: John Crichton and his wormhole technology.
"Lord Vader," he said smoothly, his annoyance hidden beneath an expertly crafted façade. "You wished to speak with me. I can only imagine it is to hand over your part of our… little bargain."
Vader turned to face him, but said nothing for a long moment. When he finally spoke, he ignored Scorpius' question. "We have the crew of the Leviathan in custody. Their pathetic attempts to defend the vessel were easily crushed. They will be interrogated immediately. I intend to see to it personally…"
"Yes and I'm sure your methods are… thorough," said Scorpius. "But I must insist you hand over Crichton to me now. I require his mind intact in order to obtain the information I desire." A twisted smile spread across his face, baring his grey, jagged teeth. "Do with the others as you please. But I assure you – my own methods are veryeffective…"
"That is impossible," Vader replied, his deep voice filtering eerily through the mask. "I'm afraid the terms of our agreement have changed. Our intelligence tells us you have repeatedly failed to capture this Crichton. I will not allow this important task to be left to someone of your incompetence. I will keep Crichton. Our scientists will obtain the technology. We may perhaps share it – should it prove valuable."
Scorpius fumed. No. This was not possible! "The Peacekeepers will not stand for this!" he said through gritted teeth. "They will not accept this Imperial dominance in –"
"They have already agreed to the plan." Vader interrupted. "It seems your personal desires mean little to your commanders. Not when a strategic alliance is at stake." With that, Vader brushed past him and strode down the walkway, cloak billowing behind him. "Guards, see that he is returned to his vessel. We are finishedhere."
Scorpius growled at the guards as they approached, but he knew he had little choice but to return to the Command Carrier. For now. He would not stand for this betrayal. He cared nothing for Moya's crew. But he would have John Crichton. Imperial alliance or no, wormhole technology would be his.
At whatever the cost.
NEXT TIME in FarWars #7: Time for a good old-fashioned prison break!