Note: What follows stems from an idea I had a few years ago, only recently have I got round to writing it.
Summary: Months after the battle of Endor, a Scout Trooper finds themselves drawn into the schemes of an ambitious Imperial officer, all the while they are pursued by a Rebellion Captain with a personal vendetta.
Somewhere on the lush, rolling plains of Dantooine, a rare albino kath hound settled on its haunches and proceeded to rest in the shade of a boulder. A gentle wind blew, and the long grass across the plain swayed accordingly, to-and-fro, a swishing noise breaking the relative silence present in the region. A backwater world at best, Dantooine was located far in the Outer Rim, covered in lush greenery and crystal blue oceans. A paradise, even, certainly so in the eyes of ST-1199, who lay prone on a nearby hill, concealed amongst the long grass, sheltered under a wide, disproportionate tree. The branches curved at strange angles and the leaves were wide and golden-brown, each light gust of wind rattling them.
The sun was at its highest point, although the temperature sat comfortably in the mid-range. Somewhere far in the distance, over the horizon, a large winged creature flew, flapping its great wings slowly, gliding along the air currents. Somewhere nearby, the sounds of running water could be heard. A stream, clear and clean, winding its way between rocks. There was one sign of civilisation here: a simple stone bridge, one that crossed the stream and connected to a worn gravel path that disappeared into the eastern plains. This went towards the settlement, even if it was still miles from here.
The white armour of ST-1199 was stark against the earthen green-brown of the landscape, but the kath hounds grouped at the far end of the plain did not notice. The albino one was large, bearing upon it a set of horns that would have served it well as a form of battering ram. Those with it, about half a dozen or so, were smaller and dark brown in colour. They milled about in the way animals often did, when not on the pursuit for food or caring for their young. ST-1199 shifted themselves slightly, the helmet of their Scout Trooper armour concealing their face entirely. To an outside viewer, the black visor might have been intimidating, providing a faceless force in the form of a highly-trained soldier who served as little more than an extension of the Empire's will. A will that had, in recent times, suffered an almighty blow to its resolve.
ST-1199 had mounted a rifle on the ground before them. A DLT-19X, a once rapid-firing blaster converted to a much more powerful pulse weapon capable of nailing a target a kilometre away, perhaps even further if the wielder's aim was true. To the left lay prone another Scout Trooper, a set of macro-binoculars raised to their visor, as they surveyed the cluster of native wildlife gathered about three hundred metres from their present position, near the base of the incline they were situated upon.
"That should make a good trophy," ST-2225 said. "The white one. Never seen one like that before."
"I'm way ahead of you." ST-1199 peered through the scope on the rifle. It was a weapon the trooper had used many times during their years of service, and it continued to prove its value in a number of situations. Hunting, for one, which promised a possibility to acquire food far better than anything available back at the garrison.
Hunting, something that ST-1199 had done many times in the past, especially when young. When an ageing man had put a rifle in her hands at the age of eight, he had taken her to the far end of their property, where a ridge had looked upon the edge of the forest. The same man who had taught her how to fend for herself and had instilled within the young girl that the world, and the galaxy at large, was a very harsh place indeed. Looking through the rifle's scope, she was always reminded of what her father had said back then, always remembered him barking at her as she struggled to lift the slug-thrower to her shoulder, her eight-year old body somewhat shorter than the weapon itself. And then the hesitation, upon seeing the strikingly human-like eyes on the face of the four-legged beast she had aimed at, the way it had turned its head in her direction, as if it had sensed what was coming.
The albino kath hound stood upright then, and the nostrils upon its snout sniffed the air, as if it had detected something. ST-1199 did not waste any further time, and with one gloved finger upon the trigger, fired the weapon. The noise was subdued, audible across the plain, certainly, but more akin to something metallic striking something similar. A green beam lanced forth, leaving in its wake a light vapour trail that dissipated rapidly in the air. The albino kath hound fell onto its side, a hole burned through its neck, its life snuffed out in an instant. The other animals around it scattered, emitting startled yelps and barks upon the death of their pack-mate. Right away, ST-1199 was on her feet, and she started jogging down the incline towards the fallen kath hound. The other ones were well away now, having stopped by the stream some distance away, looking about cautiously, their ears perked up and alert. If they noticed the Scout Trooper, they did not react, and appeared to revert back to their previous relaxed state. The loss of a member of their pack was a regular occurrence, even on a tranquil garden world like this one.
ST-1199 stopped by the dead kath hound. Slinging the rifle around her shoulder, she looked down at the lifeless beast, her eyes going over the scorched hole that was left on the side of its neck. The shot had gone straight through, burning through the flesh as if it were paper. Such was the power of even the most standard of energy weapons these days.
Behind her, ST-2225 approached. She pushed ahead of her a repulsor cargo lift, a hovering platform that was rectangle-shaped and a few metres wide. Perfect for transporting a heavy creature such as the kath hound.
"For once, I might actually look forward to dinner," the trooper remarked. ST-1199 nodded her head in agreement, but her mind was elsewhere. It often was now, having spent weeks on this planet with little else to do but patrol. And there was only so much to see around here, and very little for their patrols to respond to.
"We should get back," she said, finally. "We've broken enough rules as it is."
The garrison on Dantooine had taken up one of the older estates on the settled region of the planet, dating back from some of the earliest settlers. It was a large building, comprised of several interconnected domes. There had been a powered fence running along its perimeter and droid security guards, but the Imperials here had introduced some significant changes to the property. The fence was now only one of two, with another much sturdier one situated further from the perimeter that continued around the property and served as the first line of defence against intruders and ground attack. With it were guard towers and automated turrets, although the actual presence of guards was light, with one stormtrooper at each flank and two watching the main gate. ST-1199 had always considered this to be incredibly lax, and she had said as much to the garrison's commander. In typical fashion, nothing had been done to improve security.
Riding on her speeder bike, she was followed by ST-2225, who towed behind her own bike the repulsor cargo lift carrying the dead kath hound. The pair of them brought their speeder bikes to a halt at the rear gate, and here the lone stormtrooper on guard pulled a lever within the guard booth. The gate slid open, squeaking in its housing as it did so, and the pair of Scout Troopers scooted inside, passing through an open section of the powered fence before entering the speeder bike garage.
The garage was down a slight ramp, putting it partly underground. It was large, a result of the previous owner of the property having numerous employees who had required speeders in order to get around. A few of those speeders were still here, although they had since been cannibalised for spare parts. Shelves were at the walls, covered in all manner of parts and general scrap. An Imperial technician was here, outfitted in a tan coloured uniform as he worked at a data-pad, ticking off what ST-1199 assumed was a manifest of what was being stored here.
She powered down her bike and dismounted, before pulling off her helmet. She was of an average height for a human woman, with dark blonde hair that was wavy, cut into a manageable length so that at its longest, it fell just over the back of her neck. Her eyes were a light blue in colour, her skin fair, the result of spending so much time contained in her armour. She had had very little opportunity to receive a tan, and as such she carried a strikingly feminine appearance despite the nature of her work and the muscles she had developed from years of intensive training. Again, her armour concealed those. She was twenty-seven, still young really, yet older than most of the regular stormtroopers here.
"Lieutenant," the technician turned to her, and he have her a curt salute. His eyes fell upon the dead kath hound, and he frowned slightly. "Is that someone's dinner?"
"You're free to have a piece, if you want." ST-2225 spoke then, as she dismounted her own bike. She took her own helmet off, revealing a somewhat older face, with dark brown hair and equally brown eyes. Unlike the Lieutenant, the Sergeant here was thirty-six, despite being of a lower rank.
"I think I'll pass, ma'am." The technician nodded towards the door. "I heard that the Commander wanted to speak to you, Lieutenant." His gaze fell back upon ST-1199. "I don't know what about."
"Thanks." Lieutenant Lyssa Rayne had a feeling she knew what it was about, not that it made a difference. She did not like speaking with Commander Bralin, for a number of reasons. The most prominent one, to her, was that the man practically emanated incompetence. Not in the sense she was used to, where she was forced to take orders from some uppity young aristocrat fresh out of the Academy, but in the sense that Bralin had developed an almost defeatist attitude concerning the garrison as a whole. As the second-highest ranking soldier here, Lyssa might have expected the Commander to at least heed her advice, but he never did, and she got the impression that he did not care enough to want to.
ST-2225 must have detected the doubt on her face, as she took a step towards her and spoke in a low voice, so that the technician was unable to hear.
"I think he might disapprove of our jaunts," the Sergeant said.
"We did our patrol. He can't complain." Lyssa was hardly in the mood to speak to the man, but she prided herself on doing what she was told. It was part of the reason she had risen through the ranks like she had.
ST-2225, otherwise known as Sergeant Alvera Carvan, had been part of her squad for five years, and the pair had come to rely on one another. It was the kind of reliance only being together in life-and-death situations could create. Alvera may have been her elder, but she followed her orders and respected her superiors. Even the ones like Bralin, who were trying at the best of times.
"I could join you, when you speak to him?" Alvera suggested.
"Not necessary." Lyssa returned her attention to the technician. "Did the Commander say when I had to see him?"
"Just when you'd returned," the technician replied. "Didn't say much else."
"Of course." Lyssa nodded her head. "I guess I'll find out what's going on when I see him." She glanced to Alvera. "Take care of our dinner here, Sergeant. I don't know how long I'm going to be."
"No problem, Lieutenant."
Lyssa left the garage then, taking herself through the sliding door and into the corridor. It was not the ordered greys and stark utilitarian designs of Imperial architecture within this estate, rather the walls were finished with deep brown glazed timber, and the floor underfoot was neatly tiled with a mix of plain beige and patterned blacks that formed triangular shapes at intervals. It was a change from the usual accommodations, whether that be on an Imperial star-ship or Imperial base. A welcome change, Lyssa thought, as was the change of scenery on the outside. Dantooine was a genuine backwater, but it was at least a pleasant-looking backwater. She could still not entirely work out why she had been stationed here, although she suspected that it had something to do with what had happened at Endor. Scouts like her were supposed to be the Empire's crack troops, yet the defeat at Endor had done a thorough job of ruining their reputation.
No one said as much out loud, of course. She was still respected by the regulars, but as for the command staff? Something told her that few of them were willing to put reliance on Scout Troopers like they used to. The Empire she had served for so long was falling into disarray, yet Endor had been only a few months ago. Perhaps longer, the days here on Dantooine had a habit of blending into one another, compounded by the monotony of her work here. The uneventful patrols, broken up by the occasional jaunt into the main settlement, Sandratale, where she, among other Imperial troops, worked to keep the local population in check.
Traversing the corridors, she passed a few stormtroopers, as well as a handful of technicians. A few of them nodded her way, acknowledging her at the very least. The atmosphere within the garrison was subdued at best, and a soldier of her experience could tell when morale was beginning to suffer. Stationed in the back-end of nowhere, with what she could only assume were other mostly unwanted soldiers of the Empire, it was no surprise that morale around here was sorely lacking. Hence the kath hound meat dinner to liven things up a little.
There had to be something like two hundred personnel here, a mix of stormtroopers and support personnel. Small, really, only just enough to maintain order at the settlement. It was her and the Sergeant who stood out, being what they were, and it was just further proof that maybe someone higher-up had sent them out here so that they were not a problem in more important locations.
Commander Raxus Bralin had his office in what was essentially the very centre of the estate's main building, where the previous owner had had their own office. It was past a large circular atrium of sorts, with a skylight set into the ceiling high above and lush green native flora in planters at the walls, all surrounding a stone water fountain. Lyssa entered the atrium now, taking note of the pair of stormtroopers standing guard by the double doors ahead. Bralin's office was through there, once the office of an enterprising settler who had long since left the planet for whatever reason.
Standing by the reception desk in the atrium was a silver protocol droid, an Imperial model, the droid's chrome finish gleaming in the natural light from the skylight above. The droid's eyes were comprised of a large black visor of sorts, and a small antenna jutted from one side of the mechanical's head. The droid, a 'he', given its choice of voice, turned to look at the Lieutenant as she approached. She set her helmet upon the desk, before she offered the droid a light smile.
"Is the Commander inside?" She asked him. The droid tilted its head slightly, before it used one hand to motion towards the doors.
"Good afternoon, Lieutenant Rayne," the droid replied, in its warbling synthesized voice. RA-5E, otherwise known as 'Fivey', was an older model Imperial protocol droid whose responsibilities in the garrison tended to be more administrative duties. Lyssa had always felt, from her interactions with the droid, that there was something off about him, but she could never really work out what that was. Nonetheless, he was helpful, unlike most protocol droids she had met over the years, and he seemed to respect her. He had to, really, it was in his programming. She was his superior, both because of being a human, and because she was a non-commissioned officer.
"Commander Bralin is inside, and I suspect you know already he would like to speak to you." RA-5E might have offered her a customer-service friendly smile, if his mouth was more than a mere slit on a slightly protruding chin, on what was an almost insectoid-looking head. "How was the patrol?"
"Nothing happened, if that's what you're wondering," Lyssa said.
"Of course it didn't, Lieutenant. This is Dantooine, and I've been here much longer than you have. Nothing ever happens here." Even the droid sounded bored. Maybe he was, Lyssa could only guess at just how much of a human personality he was coded with. If he did act as human as she did, then surely he could feel things such as boredom and monotony?
"Don't speak too soon. Trouble has a tendency of showing up when you least expect it."
"Oh, Lieutenant, I'm always expecting trouble. My position here forces me to be on top of things."
"Whatever you say, Fivey." She started for the doors then, and the way the droid's head jerked towards her suggested that he did not appreciate the shorthand.
"How many times do I have to tell people?" He said aloud, although Lyssa paid him little mind. "It's 'R-A-5-E', and it's a designation I've always carried with pride. Shortening it only hurts the lustre of the title…"
The double doors slid open as Lyssa approached, and she stepped into the Commander's office. A spacious affair, it was adorned with all manner of natural décor, among them potted plants, carved wooden statues of native wildlife, and a display case at one wall that contained a stuffed horned kath hound. All things the previous owner of the house had left behind, no doubt someone who had fancied themselves a hunter, and a mildly successful one at that.
Bralin was no hunter. Rather, he was a thirty-something year old man who had landed a position in the back-end of nowhere, running a near-forgotten garrison on a backwater world. It was understandable that he was a little annoyed by the position, and Lyssa suspected that some wrongdoing in the past had got him transferred out here. Seated behind the wooden desk at the far end of the room, he was bathed in the natural light from a skylight above, which shrouded much of the office in a pleasant yellowish glow.
The man himself was dressed in the standard grey officer's uniform of someone of his position, complete with peaked cap. He was mulling over a data-pad when Lyssa walked in, and his hazel eyes looked up from his work to regard her. His hair was dark and short, and his face carried a weary look to it, one that made him appear at least ten years beyond his actual age. To Lyssa, it was the face of a defeated man.
"Lieutenant," Bralin said. His voice was level, lacking any real sternness one might expect from a commanding officer.
"Commander, if this is about hunting the native wildlife…"
Bralin shook his head, and he held up a hand to signal her to stop. Lyssa did just that, and even though she did not like him much, she did what her superiors told her to do. She was an obedient soldier, and one did not get far in the Empire without being obedient.
"It's not that." Bralin narrowed his eyes. "You're the second-in-command here, Lieutenant. You need to be a good role model to the soldiers here, and you're doing that well. What the issue is, however, is the fact that we have had no word from any Imperial forces for the last three weeks."
"Commander?" Lyssa cocked an eyebrow, unsure of what Bralin meant.
"I checked in every few days to high command," Bralin explained. "Usually twice a week. Routine, really. More of an acknowledgement that we're not alone out here."
"And are we?"
Bralin seemed to pause then, as if he were carefully considering his reply. It was enough to tell Lyssa right away that something had gone wrong, and she interrupted him before he had a chance to speak again.
"It did, didn't it? We're cut off, aren't we?"
"That would appear to be the case," Bralin said. "As you know, I reported to Moff Reffara, who served as the governor for this sector of the Outer Rim. We're far from any Imperial worlds here on Dantooine, and Reffara was our one link to the heart of our Empire. And he never forgot to check in, being the stickler for routine he was."
It was Lyssa's turn to frown. She had a feeling where this was going.
"We've lost contact?"
"Not so much 'lost contact'," Bralin said. "More a case of being able to call them, but no one's picking up. We've been out of touch for three weeks, and I might have suspected communications problems, but after the first week I ruled that out."
"You didn't tell me then?" Lyssa could see now why Bralin looked so worn out. He had been sitting on this information for three weeks, and the implications that came with it had done a number on him. It was no wonder, then, that he had been spending so much of his time locked away in his office.
"I knew how you would react."
"Like I am now?" Lyssa's anger spiked then, and she stepped towards the desk. Bralin visibly flinched as she brought a fist down upon its surface, hard, enough to send a resounding thump through the office. "Because you should have told me at the first sign of something being out of order. That's why I'm here, Commander. I'm here because we can't just have you running the show."
"What do you suggest we do?" Bralin asked.
"You want my advice now?" Lyssa took a breath, as she stood upright and regained her composure. Outbursts like that would not have flown with any other officer, but with Bralin she was able to stretch the rules of etiquette somewhat. Especially now, when it was clear that he had no one higher-up to report to.
"You haven't listened to me yet, Bralin," Lyssa added. She clenched her jaw, doing what she could to rein in her anger. Sometimes, officers like Bralin told her all she needed to know as to why the Empire's military had been having a hard time the last few years. "If we're alone out here, then it's only a matter of time before the Rebellion arrives. Dantooine may be remote, but as soon as someone, some civilian somewhere, gets word out that there's an Imperial presence here, then we'll be on the receiving end of a trademark Rebellion 'liberation' force."
"But surely they won't devote so many of their resources to here?" Bralin sounded worried, and his level voice had started to waver. He rubbed the bridge of his nose with the thumb and forefinger of one hand, as if the whole situation was giving him a headache. It probably was, and Lyssa figured she might get one too, if things continued the way they were.
"They won't, because they won't need to. A cruiser, maybe. A couple of frigates, most likely. They'll overwhelm us, and they'll probably turn the local population against us too. You know we can't maintain control of the settlement with our numbers, if the people there decide to revolt." She paused for a moment, as she considered their options. Bralin might not have been convinced, but Lyssa had run into the Rebellion enough to know how they operated.
"If they do come here…"
"They will, Commander." Lyssa eyed him carefully, her expression severe, as the reality of the situation became known to her. "Unless we somehow get reinforced, which we won't, because we have no point of contact to the rest of the Empire, then this garrison will stand little chance. We're undermanned as it is. Dantooine is not of any real strategic importance."
Bralin took his cap off then and sat back in his seat. He had certainly known all of this, but he had no doubt been in denial about it. A once comfortable, if dull, posting was quickly turning into anything but.
"I've tried all channels available," Bralin said. "It could be days before anyone replies, and that's if they do." He looked up at her, one hand ruffling his close-cropped hair. "What do you think? Should we evacuate?"
"Evacuate?" Lyssa swallowed. Turning tail and running for it was not a strategy she would normally consider. Even now, she refused it on principle. "We can't do that. No way. Our job here is to hold this world for the Empire, and that's what we'll do."
"You cannot be serious." Bralin's eyes widened slightly. "You just said so yourself. We don't stand a chance."
"Then we'll fight to the end. It's what we were trained to do." Lyssa spoke with the conviction she felt, which was genuine. She had faced death before, overwhelming odds even, and she had come out of it a better and more mature person. Bralin, on the other hand, had likely never fired a shot in anger and had spent his years working for the Empire in comfortable support roles, commanding soldiers from behind a desk while the shooting took place far away from him. Their current predicament was about to bring it all a lot closer to home for him.
"The Rebellion has promised decent treatment to Imperial personnel who surrender peacefully," Bralin said. "They've said as much in their broadcasts."
"Broadcasts?" Lyssa might have remarked on the fact that it was against regulation to listen to enemy propaganda broadcasts, as Bralin had obviously been doing, but she felt that the situation had moved well beyond that kind of complaint.
"They've been bouncing off comm buoys across the Outer Rim. Our techs down in communications picked them up. The same repeating set of messages, but they seem sincere. To be honest, Lieutenant, I feel that it might be in our best interests to surrender." Bralin had obviously thought about this for some time, and it occurred to Lyssa that he had likely heard other news besides these promises of 'decent treatment'. News pertaining to the war that was in progress, the one that Lyssa had been sitting out on for about two months, having been stuck out here through no fault of her own.
"They're winning, aren't they?" The words left her mouth much quieter than she intended. The thought that the Rebellion had been able to cripple the Empire so thoroughly was one that even she had difficulty acknowledging, and she had always considered herself a realist.
"They say they are," Bralin said.
"Lies, most likely. They cut Imperial communications and start putting their propaganda through the airwaves. It's something—"
"We'd do," Bralin interrupted, and Lyssa was unable to stop herself from scrunching up her face upon hearing this. Maybe the Commander was right, but the fact that he was actually considering their offer angered her to the core. She had spent well over ten years fighting for the Empire, and she would not have it all end because of a cowardly officer. She needed to do something, likely drastic, if she were to improve the situation.
"We can't surrender, Commander," Lyssa said. She spoke slowly, sternly, and she made sure that Bralin heard each and every word she uttered.
"What would you rather do? Fight and die? Over this backwater?"
"I would rather we do what we were trained to do. If the Rebellion is gaining ground, as you believe they are, then what would be the point in giving them further gains? We hold the line here, no matter what it takes, and we make them pay for every piece of ground they try and claim."
"I knew you were a brave woman, Lieutenant, but I never thought you were delusional." Bralin let out a sigh, one that Lyssa thought may have sounded somewhat conflicted. No, she realised, that was not confliction: that was resignation. Bralin was indeed a defeated man, and Lyssa was certain then that something truly drastic needed to be done.
"Are we finished here, sir?" She spoke the last word through gritted teeth, and it took even further effort to salute the Commander. Bralin must have seen her distaste for him, it was plain as day on her face, but if he did he did not remark upon it. Maybe he simply did not care, defeated as he was.
"Yes, Lieutenant." He did not push the subject any further. Lyssa turned and left the room then, and she made sure to pick up her helmet from the reception desk.
She moved with purpose now, assured of what she needed to do. She hardly even shot a look at the stormtroopers who saluted her, or the friendly greetings from the two technicians repairing a droid recharge station down the hall. Her mind was on much more important things.