Sorry for the re-upload. Something went wrong? I'll transfer the story to its proper home in a bit.
"Is it still alive?"
Captain Suhl traced the jagged lines of the crystal shard, skeptically, his eyes struggling to pick out the obscured shadow of the lifeform within. Super-cooled vapor rolled lethargically off the ten meter tall shard of ice, flowing around the four yellow hydraulic arms holding it in suspension to billow across the floor like a living curtain. The officer's eyes flicked down to the black cloaked figure sitting cross-legged, yet hovering a full meter off the durasteel deck he himself stood upon.
"It is. She is." The Sith hovering before him answered in gravelly voice that seemed laced with the slightest hiss. The Dark Jedi did not bother to look back upon his visitor as he continued. "To have survived for so long… Strong she is. The Master chose well."
"I am frankly surprised we found her to begin with." The uniformed man cocked his head as his attention returned to the study of the shard. The old man stepped around his floating ally and up to the immobile crystal for a closer look. His legs from the knee down felt the chill from the vapor boiling around the base of the artifact now. Suhl turned back with a doubtful look, his gaze settling upon the hooded Sith. A scalloped, reflective mask stared back as he expressed his missive. "This has been a rather costly expedition, you realize?"
"You doubt the wisdom of the Master?"
"I merely question." The senior officer sidestepped the overt threat with a passive shrug and returned to the captive shard. Now that he was closer, he could pick out the distorted shadow of a female silhouette somewhere beneath its multi-faceted surface. "One of the many reasons your master hand selected me for the mission, no doubt."
Silence followed his observation and the slightest edge of a smug countenance found its way to his face, unseen by the Sith at his back. Still, it was best not to antagonize the Dark Jedi that technically outranked him if push came to shove. He schooled his expression to aloof detachment. "Questions aside, it would appear to have borne fruit regardless. You're certain she's alive within?"
"The ice is unnatural." The floating man growled lowly, his attention divided between the conversation and his efforts. "It is resisting my efforts to dispersion."
"Indeed." The captain frowned, taking a step back with the advisement. He glanced back over his shoulder. "If she's still alive when you're done, I would highly suggest a decontamination—"
Suddenly, the bright lights illuminating the cargo bay around them flushed red, interrupting the man's thoughts as a rancorous klaxon echoed through the space. The shard refracted the new shade of illumination through its many facets, glowing blood red as a voice sounded off over the ship-wide intercom.
"ACTION STATIONS." A cultured female voice stated calmly. "ALL HANDS PROCEED TO ACTION STATIONS. REPUBLIC FORCES HAVE BEEN DETECTED. THIS IS NOT A DRILL…"
"Well, then. It would seem we have company." Captain Suhl frowned, straightening the black jacket of his uniform in an official manner. He stepped past the Sith at a brisk pace. "I'm afraid I must leave you to… Whatever it is you are doing."
No reply was given, nor did the Captain really expect any as he proceeded to the cargo bay's exit. Sith were Sith, after all, and this one was no exception. He, on the other hand, had Republic forces to squash if this little expedition of theirs was to be considered a success. The Captain shook his head as the pressure door sensed his presence and opened with rapid hiss.
'Twenty two hundred light years out of our way for a chunk of ice.' Suhl's cheek twitched, glancing back to the floating Dark Jedi and the suspended crystal beyond with an edge of disappointment marring his facial features. Surely the Tumlt and its picket of escorts could have been put to more effective use elsewhere…? The Captain shook his head, exiting the bay as the crew of his ship hurried to their stations. Quick salutes were offered as he stepped fully into the corridor. 'And for some frost bitten native, no less.'
The door hissed shut, sealing the floating Sith and his shard of ice within.
Minutes slipped into a blur and the calls of the outside world forgotten as the masked figure concentrated on his goal. In that, the Captain of the Tumlt was mistaken. The artifact before him was not a shard of ice. It was a construct of will manifest. How, the levitating Sith was uncertain, but dominating that will would be necessary to further his master's goal.
'Or to be used against him,' The Dark Jedi's lip turned a slight smile of cruelty unseen beneath the mirror finish of the mask. Regardless, the will within the shard was proving to be… difficult. His probes were turned aside. His hatred toward it stymied. The vapor roiling away from the shard represented progress, but he would exhaust himself long before the unnatural ice dissolved, at this rate. Sith Apprentice Dukat directed another spike of Force-born fury into the construct. The curtain of cooled air buffeted chaotically for a moment, but failed to affect any appreciable—
The world around the Dark Jedi rolled violently, forcing him back to the waking world. The rolling of the deck subsided for several long seconds until being upset again. This time, thunder and shrieking metal accompanied the next violent shift of the metal plating he floated above, demanding the Dark Lord to reassess his environment. The ship wide communications network helpful provided the context he required in the form of a frantic announcement.
"…I REPEAT, STAND BY TO REPEL BOARDING PARTIES! DECKS TWENTY-ONE, FOURTY-EIGHT, FOURTY-NINE…"
The Sith growled his discontent, recovering from his cross-legged position to actually stand on the deck. The black robed figure returned to height, pulling a silver hilt with a curved black talon pommel from his utility belt. The gleaming mask turned back to the shard, lashing it with metaphysical discontent before turning to the pressure door in order to address the more pressing nuisance—The Republic trash boarding their vessel and thereby threatening his mission. Dukat raised his wrist to face level, keying the gauntlet of technology he wore with a single gloved finger.
"We will meet them on Deck Twenty-One." He ordered testily as the pressure door parted for him automatically. The Sith didn't even bother waiting for a response and stepped out, his black cloak flowing behind him with menace.
The hatch dutifully closed in his wake.
The ship rolled violently again as status reports and orders to action continued to be announced through the ship's communication network. There was no longer anything within Cargo Bay Eight to receive those orders while the shard of ice it housed rocked, its jostling dampened by the four industrial clamps securing it. Minutes past before the next upheaval, but it, too, was within the hydraulic arms' ability to compensate for. The crystal swayed peacefully.
They were not, however, rated to Turbo laser fire.
Half a dozen Republic energy bolts cut into the Tumlt's outer hull with the next salvo, stripping its surface of anything that would impede the inbound assault craft. One in particular strayed left of the turbo laser emplacement it had targeted, raking the lesser armored belt and punching into the weakened superstructure of the ship. Supports and structural plating splintered as they absorbed the energy of the turbo laser, effectively blowing a portion of the light cruiser's insides out.
Several compartments and their crew were instantly vented to space as their integrity failed with the shock, either superheated or ripped apart as damage control protocols sealed them off from the rest of the ship. Cargo Bay Seven shuttered violently on the edge of that destruction, yet survived. Mostly. Sparks blazed away from its systems as uncontrolled power surges ravaged banks of equipment before dying, blowing out the door even as the ceiling gave way, caving in as a mass of steel framework and sundered power conduits. The crystal resisted one heavy hit, then two, cracking as durasteel glanced off its surface. The right hydraulic arm finally gave way as well, losing its grip on the shard as it collapsed. Like a giant tree cut at the base, the crystal tilted and fell, shattering in a cacophony of symphonic death. Jagged shards tumbled across the compartment and with them, a redheaded girl in a ragged tank top and ripped black pants.
The unconscious teen remained curled up awkwardly on the deck as steam seemed to boil away from her body, completely still for several long seconds before shaking violently.
"AHHHHAAAGHHHH!" The redhead spasmed gasping violently as she attempted to fill her lungs with oxygen. Every involuntary movement was accompanied by a spike of pain as her nervous system fired its agony up her spine and into her brain. The teen contorted uncontrollably, thrashing violently until she flopped onto her side, trembling uncontrollably with her eyes wide open.
Ranma Saotome, heir to the Anything Goes School of Martial Arts panted, her breathing running the ragged edge of hyperventilation as she watched a shard of crystalline ice smolder and evaporate before her very eyes. The rest of the world was sideways; a post-apocalyptic blur of fire and wreckage that wildly diverged from the last thing she remembered. It was too much to take in and once and the redhead scrunched her eyes shut to concentrate on her breathing even as the very room seemed to roll beneath her body.
A foreign language tried to gain notice over the claxon alarm that seemed to reverberate through the air even as Ranma finally managed a slow, deep breaths, willing calm into her system. Her slow, clumsy roll up into a sitting position was every bit as painful, but this time she was in control of her own muscles. The martial artist made another attempt to scrub her vision clear and the more she saw, the more it looked like a bomb had been set off in the room she currently occupied.
"What… What the hell?" She mumbled to herself as she pushed herself upright, leaning on what looked to be a giant mechanical arm for support. Her legs wobbled slightly as she propped herself against it, only to feel the steel below her feet tremble violently once more. She scanned the wreckage again only to come up with a single conclusion. 'An… earthquake?'
Like her body, her memories were a hazy mess with the last thing of note being… Martial arts? Ranma winced as she attempted to stand on her own, her very bones feeling molten even as she tried to reconcile her circumstances in the here and now.
Still, she was relatively certain her last memories hadn't taken place in doors during an earthquake, prompting the redhead to scan the devastated warehouse-like space for an exit. Beyond the twisted wreckage of support scaffolding she found it- the portal's door already conveniently blown out. It was also her only option and thus began to trace her way through the mangled remains while sparks showered her from the ceiling.
The world beyond the door wasn't much better.
The door emptied out into a hallway that looked just as ravaged as the warehouse she had just left. To the right the corridor got increasingly worse, scarred with fire damage, structural failure and open power lines that crackled with lethal promise until ending in a pair of heavy steel doors illuminated by red lights. Blocky foreign script in a language she didn't understand featured prominently on its surface and it didn't take a rocket scientist to determine she probably didn't want to find out what was on the other side.
'Ain't goin' that way,' The martial artist decided as the floor wobbled beneath her feet once more. Or maybe it was her own body expressing just how shitty it felt. An overhead speaker blared once more in a calm voice completely at odds with the destruction surrounding her. Its foreign language was still lost on her, however, and she continued in the opposite direction until the hallway split into a 'T' junction with personnel in uniforms rushing back and forth at a hurried pace.
Answers. She needed answers.
"Excuse me…" She beckoned at a passing man in gray jump suit. He kept his pace while staring at her oddly, but failed to stop. He was past her, leaving the redhead with a putout expression for a moment until picking out a new target. "Um, hey, what's going on—"
The black haired woman bearing a large piece of equipment in hand stared at her as if she had a disease and picked up her pace, talking into the small headset wrapped around her face as she passed. The frown on Ranma's face returned as the others in the hallway did the same, giving her a wide berth.
"Yeah, thanks a lot." The martial artist huffed and chose a direction at random even as people rushed around her in both directions. She looked around at the people staring at her as they passed, rolling her eyes. "Hey, don't mind me. I'll find my own—"
"Nalkriuk ayh lat?! savop!" A digitally enhanced male voice hollered over the incessant klaxon echoing up and down the halls and the people passing her suddenly scattered. Ranma turned, watching as what looked like a person layered in dark gray slabs of futuristic armor rounded the corner, pointing a rifle of some sort at her. A similarly gray helmet covered the entirety of his head with little more than a black void where his face would, leaving Ranma to wonder how the man could even see, let alone aim the weapon he was pointing at her. Face or no face, he continued to bark intelligible commands. "Poshat par avhe leck ko!"
'Whatever.' Ranma pushed a cheesy smile to her face, trying to look as innocent as possible. The female body she now wore was definitely good for that and on any other day she would just rush the soldier, but today her bones felt like they were made of jagged glass. That pain was slowly dissipating, but for now she would play the insufferably cute redhead and let him get closer.
"Jiak ukaid poshat par avhe leck ko!" The trooper's voice reached a new, urgent pitch even as two more appeared at the other end of the corridor, their rifles already up and trained on her. "Don'av ka!"
"Just great." The teen muttered, recognizing the critical level of tension in his voice and the imminent violence that would soon accompany it. Luckily, there was a martial arts tenant that fit just this situation—Do unto others before they did unto her.
Ranma pushed through the wall of pain and lurched forward into the first armored trooper, profiling left even as his trigger finger twitched. The red bolt of power and an associated whine of energy surprised the redhead, but not enough to affect her years of martial art discipline. One hand slapped at the soldier's grip, sending the rifle tumbling while she twisted around behind his back, locking him into a chokehold and kicking his left knee out. The armor meant she wouldn't be depriving him of oxygen, but it made for an excellent control hold…
…At least until his compatriots cut loose with their own weapons fire in response, bathing the hallway in red streaks and explosive impacts that send sparks rebounding through the air in spite of the girl's close proximity to their ally. Three violent impacts reverberated through the armored body in quick succession as she turned her opponent into an unwitting human shield, dragging the man's larger frame back toward the corner while keeping him interposed between herself and the red lines of death.
"Shit! Shit, shit, shit!" She exclaimed as the fire in her direction gained accuracy, punching into the soldier she was pulling backward with greater efficacy. Each new impact was accompanied by a curse as she wondered if the gray plating her soldier wore would hold for the last few meters. A blaster bolt rebounded near her head as the teen finally found the next corridor, pulling the solider back with her. One look at the mangled carapace of his carbon scored chest piece told her the soldier wouldn't be walking it off.
"Sorry, man." She offered lamely, her guilt heavily mitigated by the fact that they were trying to kill her. Instead of brooding over his death, she considered her tactical options. The new corridor looked just as anonymous as the last, but in better repair. Better yet, there weren't gun-toting soldiers ready to blow her face off with their space guns. The how and why concerning the space guns was its own nagging mystery, but one that would have to wait until…
'…Right about now.' Ranma's grim smirk marked the arrival of the other two soldiers. The muzzle of the first peeked around the corner and the redhead grabbed the barrel, yanking it around to her side. Her assailant predictably declined to relinquish his hold and her monstrous strength pulled him around with the black rifle and into the open palmed punch to his face even as his trigger finger twitched, sending a lethal red burst of energy into the deck.
The trooper's helmet survived the punch, but negated little of the kinetic energy she had put into it. His head snapped back, stunning the man inside the armor as she curled inside the radius of his reach. This time she didn't bother disarming her opponent and moved directly for the weakness most hard armor shared—The joints. Ranma's hand moved from the rifle to secure the forearm while the other snapped out like a piston. The soldier's electronic scream punctuated the arrival of the second soldier as he rolled around the corner abruptly, trying to draw a bead on the girl through the maneuver. Her leg snapped out, plunging her foot into his helmet while multitasking the first soldier. His shoulder was the next joint to be compromised, producing another scream as she pivoted around, sending him stumbling into his partner.
The fact that they were both still conscious presented the martial artist with a problem: Their armor. As much as it limited their mobility, it was actually good at protecting their vital areas short of overkill on her part. That fact was considered as the pair tried to untangle themselves from one another, giving her all the time in the world to kick the second trooper's space rifle away and grab the chin of his mask with a hard yank.
The man's tattooed face was revealed with a startled gasp, allowing Ranma a fraction of a second's worth of analysis. He was Caucasian, or vaguely Caucasian with angular tattoos tracing up the right side of his face. The look of surprise was the last thing on his face before taking the uppercut, instantly rendering him unconscious. The first trooper barely managed to make it upright when she kicked both kneecaps out in rapid succession, causing him to collapse in a groaning crumpled heap. The redhead admired her handiwork, brushing her hands together theatrically.
"And that's the end of today's—"
"Atigat iav iuk!" A new voice cried out as one as one of the adjacent hatches slid open. Three more armored troopers burst into the corridor, already pulling down on the triggers of their weapons.
"Seriously?!" Ranma squawked indignantly as she rolled back around the corner under a hail of blaster fire, abandoning the pretense of grace just to stay ahead of the vaporized metal showering her with sparks. The whine of energy fire continued even after she had taken cover in a bid to suppress her position. Ranma Saotome ground her teeth down in spite of the pain coursing through her body, cracking her knuckles one at a time. "If that's the way you want to play it…"
Their fire slackened for a moment and the girl bolted, charging into melee range as a frightening blur.
"Hard contact in three, two, one."
"Cutter! In position!" Second Lieutenant Talia Starrunner snapped as the deck beneath her boots bucked with a jolt, forcing the blond to retain her hold on the overhead rail as the voice in her headset counted off zero. A soldier in white plated armor similar to her own immediately rushed to the pressure hatch she was stationed next to and began to flip the switches in order to power up a massive robotic arm. An equally large radial emitter hung from the end of the arm that in turn anchored a number of thick cables.
Its servos jerked slightly as power was applied while the trooper himself took hold of a pair of thick handholds, guiding the barrel of the emitter to face the hatch. He glanced back to his superior through the armored helmet's visor, nodding to her. She nodded back and picked her own helmet off a nearby rack, donning it as she turned to her own panel of controls. Her thumb actuated a button on one of the larger handles and she pulled down, instantly causing a blue force field to snap into place in front of the hatch itself.
"Stand by!" She yelled, her voice not only digitally enhanced, but now carried across her squad's secure commlink. Talia looked back into the hold where another twenty suits of armor stood, braced for combat. The 'T' of their visors stared back at her with weapons charged and ready. "Listen up, hominids! This is a Sith cruiser and we're outside of treaty space! What are my rules of engagement?!"
"Laz it and blaze it!" One of the soldiers volunteered enthusiastically even though every last armored trooper knew it was a rhetorical question going in. His suggestion was met by raucous cheers as their Lieutenant confirmed their course of action.
"Damn right!" She yelled, smacking her armored gauntlet against a glowing red button on the panel she had already once operated. The hatch behind the blue force field snapped open with a hiss, revealing another armored slab within arm's reach emblazoned with the number '08' across a pitted gray primer surface. "Forty-Six is moving on the bridge while Forty-four runs interference! We're going down the spine to bounce engineering, got it?!"
"YES MA'AM!" Twenty voices confirmed in unison.
"Quarter will be given, but remember, these are Sith bastards. They'll stab you in the back in a heartbeat. Two-man fire teams!" The group confirmed her instructions once more and she nodded, glancing back at the trooper riding the giant robotic arm. "STAND BY TO BREACH!"
The soldier next to her pushed the emitter's barrel into the corner of the second hatch just short of the force field and flipped his left thumb up the safety rocker, exposing a red button. The man pressed down and an ominous whine filled the hold. Talia gave the order.
The trooper's trigger finger twitched and suddenly the compartment was filled with the deafening screech of energy as a blinding neon blue rays strobed the rest of the squad. Their helmets compensated for both instantly, muting the noise and darkening their visors while the trooper himself had finished the first line of slag along the perimeter of the hatch in just under two seconds. He shifted the angle, cutting through the base with ease before sliding up the opposite side to the ceiling while Tali herself manipulated a half sphere of technology, turning its apex counterclockwise. A red light began to rapidly flash at its center.
Her subordinate pulled the cutter away, sparing only a few centimeters of the corner from certain immolation. As soon as the device was clear, their Sergeant deactivated the protective field and slapped the half-sphere directly over the number eight with a magnetic thunk even as two more troopers lined up adjacent to the portal, bringing their long barreled heavy rifles to bear.
Talia Starrunner jabbed her thumb into the red sequencers, and a new line of glowing red lights rapidly began to trace clockwise around the circumference of the device even as she reactivated the blue wall of energy. The lights on the device traced a circle around the ring, completing its path around the circumference in ten seconds. The button at the center to blink rapidly. Her final advisement went out for the rest of the squad.
"FIRE IN THE HOLE!"
The photon charge abruptly went critical, unleashing a violent, bright orange fireball contained within the space between the force shield and the hatch, but only for a split second before being reflected into the Sith cruiser. The door shatter into molten durasteel shards, funneling down the newly opened corridor like a maelstrom of superheated death. Talia yanked down hard on the force field lever, deactivating it.
The two Republic troopers arrayed against the sundered hatch pulled down on the triggers of their heavy blaster rifles, pouring streamers of red death into the cloud of fire and debris. A handful of blaster bolts answered in kind, blindly firing back through the smoldering cloud. The pair of assaulters didn't even flinch as the stray bolts bounced off the nearby walls, showering them in sparks. In fact, the random fire only served to highlight the defender's positions and the pair of rapid fire auto-cannons bracketed their origins. While the accuracy was lacking, their quantity had a quality all of its own. Fire in their Republic breacher's direction slackened and the Lieutenant raised her fist for the rest of the squad, waving them through the hatch with knife edge of her hand.
The shuttle's troops rushed into the hallway, adding more fire to the already charged atmosphere even as the atmospheric ventilation struggled to dissipate the thick curls of black smoke they waded through. More blaster fire met them at the corridor's intersection, representing the first substantial resistance since entering the Tumlt.
"Det out!" One of her troopers yelled, snapping a thermal detonator off the magnetic clasp of his belt while simultaneously fingering the initiator. He tossed it around the corner where it bounced with several times off the steel deck into the barely visible defenders, who instantly scattered as it rolled into their position. The fusion catalyst went critical seconds later, setting off a blinding explosion that briefly rivalled that of a small star and immolating anybody who hadn't retreated quickly enough. The squad followed it up with another volley of suppression fire as they moved, catching two of the ships' crew retreating. Red blaster fire tore into their bodies, dropping the minimally armored men instantly.
Their bodies were quickly forgotten in the push forward. A First Republic soldier rushing into the intersection was instantly stitched by several coordinated rounds, throwing him off balance before tumbling to the deck. His chest plate absorbed two bolts and the and his thigh one, but the sheer volume of fire he had walked into penetrated multiple points with lethal results. The trooper was dead before he hit the floor, serving as a breaker to the Republic advance. Another white clad soldier sidled up to the intersection to peek around the corner. His face was nearly shot off. Sparks blazed away next to his helmet as he jerked back, turning to his superior to relay his observations.
"Fully fortified, ma'am; hard barriers and portable shield walls." The soldier reported, causing the similarly clad trooper to nod.
"How many?" Lietenant Starruner asked, almost wanting to look for herself but unwilling to risk a blaster bolt to the head.
"At least a dozen." The enlisted man continued, gesturing with a nod back to the cooridor. "Mostly ship's company, I think; a few regulars in plate at the front."
"We don't have time to pry them out of position." Talia frowned from insider her helmet, then turned to the rest of her squad arrayed along the wall. She focused on one trooper in particular, his right shoulder pauldron marked by a pitted blue line. "Pentat, anchor and keep them bottled up here. Raxel, Mazer, Orion will support. The rest of you, on me. We're going to find a way around."
The Lieutenant stepped up to one of her breaches and took possession of his autocannon, trading the long-barreled weapon for her shorter blaster rifle. The trooper she had nominated to command the rest of the squad turned, pointing to two nearby soldiered. "Flash and suppress."
The designated soldier nodded, already pulling a small cylinder off his bandolier to be handed to his counterpart. The new squad commander palmed the device in one hand and held his other out with three fingers displayed, dropping them one by one in silence. He thumbed the plunger of the device as he closed his other hand into a fist, then tossed it into the hallway. The light metallic sound of metal on metal was heard briefly before shrieking across the electromagnetic spectrum, briefly deafening anything capable of electronic reception and biological hearing. The world flushed white for several long seconds as the shrieker melted down, allowing four barrels to level off before the defenders even knew why their sight had been blighted. The Lieutenant could almost hear the smile in her troopers voice as it echoed through the comm.
"Burn the bitches down!"
Talia Starunner didn't bother to judge the effectiveness of her soldiers' diversion as she waved the other troopers in behind her, sprinting into the open and through the uncoordinated blaster fire to the opposite corridor. They were across in seconds as the shrieker died into molten slag, having expended itself. Pentat's squad quickly found the cover of the corridor's corner as defensive fire resumed while she ensure her own element's integrity.
"Lex, take point. Stang, cover our ass." The Lieutenant outlined as she organized their formation of fifteen soldiers. "Everybody else, eyes up. We're bound to run into some Sith sooner or later."
"Priority targets." Another female voice sneered and Talia couldn't help but to nod her agreement. Technically, every crewmember on the starship they were kicking the shit out of was Sith by nationality if not genetics. There were even real Force be Damned Sith out there, though those weren't the ones she was referring to. The ones they cared about carried light sabers and killed with the Force. Every last one of her troopers knew to vap them on sight.
They cleared two junctions without contact as she consulted the holographic layout of the ship from her wrist projector. They were taking the long way, but—
"Contact!" The word was immediately followed up by the whining chatter of her point man's blaster rifle as he rounded a corner and fell to prone as a volley of red streaks blazed overhead. Lieutenant Starrunner cleared the corner herself with the long barrel of her borrowed auto and leveled it off as her helmet overlaid its digital sights onto her targets- Three humans: one woman and three men holding an intersecting corridor. She pulled down on the trigger, instantly bathing the white hallway with massed blaster fire in return.
"MOVE UP!" She ordered and her troopers rushed around her, adding to the density of red death.
It almost wasn't even fair.
They were ship's company, probably technicians or some other mundane rating that helped keep the light cruiser operational. The blaster pistols in hand represented their only defense, while the fabric of their uniforms afforded them no protection whatsoever against the advancing energy fire. Talia Starrunner felt the briefest pang of guilt before adding more pressure to the trigger of her auto.
"For Coresant, Rankor-shit," She growled, zeroing in on the corner they were using as cover. Plating heated and buckled under the brilliant blaze of sparks. The wall held for another second before being penetrated outright, allowing her to run one of the crew through with blaster fire even as his cohorts scattered. One tried to dive for the other side of the corridor and was cut down by a flanking trooper. A uniformed woman- clearly an officer according to the mass of insignia hanging from the breast of her jacket -stepped out from around the corner and squared up, raising her own light blaster to fire.
She was dead before she could even trigger a single round.
"Secure that intersection, Troopers!" Talia stepped over the officer's smoldering corpse, sweeping the barrel of her heavy auto blaster from left to right for more targets. As soon as the rounded the corner they found one, huddled against an unmarred section of deck plating curled in a defensive ball begging for them to spare his life.
Her armor's head's up display dutifully bracketed the crewmember in response to her finger resting lightly on the trigger of her blaster. The world faded out for the sergeant as her finger grew heavier.
Talia blinked, glancing over to the visored trooper that had broken the trance. From within her armored shell, she frowned, shaking her head mentally before answering the trooper's unspoken question. "Quarter will be given. Bind and shove him in one of the side compartments. We don't have time for prisoners."
"Bind this trash up!" The trooper bellowed to his compatriots even as his superior switched channels from the controls on her wrist.
"Talk to me, Pentat."
"Slow going, Ma'am," A gruff male voice reported through her comm. "They're giving ground but not willingly."
The whine of a close proximity blaster bolt through the comm punctuated his statement and Talia nodded, as if he were in her very presence. "Keep the pressure on them. Watch that their retreat doesn't turn into an ambush."
"On it." The voice crackled back before closing the line. Satisfied that the enemy was still bottled up, she tapped a key on her wrist link to conjure a diagram of the Tulmlt once more. Their objective lay another three hundred meters and two decks below their current position. The lifts were more than likely locked down if the bridge crew was even halfway competent, but that didn't mean they still couldn't be useful.
"Master Sergeant, secure the shaft," She ordered, directing her subordinant down the hall with an armored white gauntlet toward a hatch on her right, then turned to the rest of her squad. "Rig for repelling ops."
The troopers instantly began to pull gear from the packs, securing thin monofilament wire to their armor even as the Master Sergeant worked the key pad controlling the lift. He connected another clip to bridge an internal circuit, inciting the panel to blow out in an angry gout of sparks. The hatch opened a moment later with Talia sidling up next to it. She glanced up, then down, noting no lift in sight.
"We're moving. Lander, Macciato; cover while the rest of us feed in," The Second Lieutenant designated two of her troopers to secure the passageway while the remainder began to access the transit tube, anchoring fusion pitons to the walls of the shaft. Their leader consulted the holo map emanating from her wrist once more. "Two decks down, Troopers. Then the real fun begins."
A series of chuckles met her ears through the comm as the Republic soldiers disappeared into access tube one by one, beginning their decent in a series of hops as they repelled off the plated walls. Starrunner's covering troopers were the last in even as her lead elements had already dropped a full deck.
"L-T, got movement below." One of the soldiers called out and Second Lietenant glanced down the long, dimly lit shaft to zero in on what had attracted the man's attention. "Looks like they're running a lift."
The Lieutenant nodded as she examined the oblong shaped car for herself, noting its vertical climb toward them. Assuming it didn't stop on its way up, they had about fifteen seconds before the lift reached them. There was, however, a more important detail to consider. "No IFF transponders from inside. Nuke it."
"Yes, Ma'am." The same trooper acknowledged, detaching a thermal detonator from his belt. He thumbed the red trigger and held the metallic sphere outward into space, glancing down at the lift. "See you in hell, bitches."
With that, the trooper let the detonator drop into free fall even as the mag-car climbed to meet them. Talia glanced around, securing her own footing against the vertical wall as she issued a new order. "Brace for shock."
The metallic pitch of metal-on-metal contact echoed up the shaft for a moment before being replaced by the thunder of a micro sun igniting. The dark access shaft illuminated with brilliant hellfire, ripping the lift apart in a maelstrom of super-heated fury. The chances of anything inside surviving the initial blast were small, but their chances were reduced to zero as the emergency couplings gave way, freeing the mag-car of its mechanical anchorage. Its tonnage plummeted downward into the Tumlt's artificial gravity well, shrieking sparks as it rebounded off the walls around it and out of sight. Its impact coincided with the rise of smoke and fire upward, bathing the anchored troops with flame as the spent shockwave buffeted their position.
Their white armor spared them most of its fury, while the Lieutenant checked to make sure their number was present and accounted for. Satisfied with her mental count, she pushed off the ledge in order to slide downward along her line. "Move it, bipeds!"
The other troops followed her lead and likewise began their descent even as the tactical channel opened in Talia's ear. "Forty-Five, be advised; Forty-Six has taken the bridge. Expect the remaining defenders to consolidate their forces around engineering. We're rerouting Forty-Four for support."
"Forty-Five copies, Ascender." Second Lieutenant Talia Starrunner confirmed, then switched back to the unit's tactical channel as they gathered around the wall of a hatch emblazoned with the number 'X501'. She turned back to her waiting squad to brief them. "Ascender Actual reports Forty-Six has the bridge locked down, which means Engineering is going to be a frag-fest. Forty-Four is inbound, but you know how that goes…"
"…Fashionably late." A female voice remarked with sarcastic mirth, to which Talia nodded.
"Expect to be ass deep in it by the time they arrive." She continued. "We go in hot, boys and girls. If it moves, burn it down." She glanced at the same Master Sergeant who had opened the last hatch. "Do it."
The trooper bounced over to the panel and ripped the fire seared access panel open, exposing the glowing circuits within. Even as he worked, two more troops anchored themselves on either side of the door, weapons leveled off at it in anticipation while the rest of Assault Team Forty-Five waited. The Sergeant's attempt produced a small electrical fire this time, but the end result was the same. The door slid open and—
Talia's eyes widened as a thermal detonator bounced off the deck and into close proximity from the newly opened hatch, then watched in bewilderment as the blinking explosive fell down the service shaft. She barely got the words out in time.
Another small sun ignited, blasting away the shaft's darkness as the thermal detonator flared in free fall some twenty meters below. Just like before, the confined shockwave raced to meet them, then scorch their armor with fire. That was the extent of the damage however. The device had exploded too far down to be a direct threat, but if they had been in a lift...
'…They were expecting a lift!' The thought crystalized in the squad leader's mind even as the remaining fire dissipated. Smoke billowed out the open hatch and a feral smile formed on her lips as she pulled her own thermal detonator from the magnetic clasp of her bandolier. Her helmeted gaze glanced over to the Sergeant who had breached the door and nodded. He pulled his own detonator in response and pushed down on the plunger. Talia wound her arm back.
"Det out!" She exclaimed and threw the device blindly into the corridor. Her Sergeant followed and they swung out of the way of the two gunners already in position. The chrome orbs bounced across the deck and abruptly went critical. An angry plume of fire rolled through the open hatch and had barely abated when she gave the command.
"GO! GO! GO!" The Second Lieutenant ordered, and the door gunners pulled down on their autos, bathing the immolated hallway with blaster fire even as the other troopers swung into the door, rolling prone to avoid the blind fire that responded to their entry. One of the entering troopers took a bolt to the chest and staggered sideways, but her team continued to flood into the passageway as the smoke cleared. Even as the ventilation struggled to purge the smoke, the effectiveness of her counter-ambush became clear. The Sith choke point that had been set up to intercept her squad was now little more than molten slag that offered just as much cover as she had; that was to say almost none.
Another Republic trooper went down in a hail of red blaster fire but she returned the favor, bracketing Sith in full military plate with the long barrel of her auto. Talia depressed the trigger and it screamed vengeance even as she yelled out her own commands.
"Moving overwatch!" She yelled into her comm, cutting down the black armored Sith soldier. She swung the heavy auto-blaster toward another cluster of ship's company and they scattered, taking blaster fire to the back while her squad began to move up. "Three-man fire teams! Don't let them regroup!"
More Sith troopers in field plate tried to hold the corridor from the corners but didn't have the same weight of fire the Republic boarders had access to in the moment. Another suit of black armor went down as Talia's troops saturated their position with fire, forcing them to withdraw or be defeated in detail. The Second Lieutenant gave a quick glance back to her fallen, cycling through their vitals using the wrist com.
"Moab, stabilize Aeris if you can," She ordered, leaving the other fallen for dead. They would collect their bodies later assuming the pricks in engineering didn't blow them all to hell. "Let's move, Forty-Five. Scuttling this piece of shit is probably looking pretty good to somebody right about now."
The squad moved down the corridor on her order toward the only outlet available, a large orange hatch pot-marked by blaster fire. While she couldn't read the blocky script that labelled it, Talia was all but betting it was Sith for 'Engineering'. Her team stepped over the defenders' bodies as they arrayed themselves around the double doors, keeping steady aim on it even as her tech moved up toward the access panel. It was opened within seconds, but he hesitated, cocking his helmeted head while examining the circuitry.
"It's already unlocked." The man stated. Talia couldn't see this expression, but the suspicion was evident in his voice.
"Goddamnit." His superior fumed, likewise looking upon the opened panel with the same level of doubt. It was like an open invitation to walk right into engineering, except the Sith weren't exactly known for their hospitality. She shook her head and switched communications channels. "Forty-Six, this is Forty-Five. We're getting ready to kick open engineering. What's your ETA to flank?"
The chatter of blaster fire blaring in her ear was the only answer she needed, but a male voice supplemented the details regardless. "Heavy resistance on deck five, Forty-Five! They're putting everything they've got into delaying us. Fifteen mikes, at best!"
"We'll all be atoms by then," She shook her head mentally and keyed another channel. "Ascender, this is Forty-Five. We're going it alone. Request external fire support on standby."
The comm link remained silent for a moment before replying. "Forty-Five, confirm? External fire support will be one hundred and fifteen cee turbo lasers. Things might get… messy."
"It's going to get messy one way or the other." The Second Lieutenant confirmed and began to issue silent hand signs to her troops. Her men and women began to array themselves around the orange hatch to form interlocking fields of fire. "Keep them hot, Ascender."
"Ascender fire control copies; one-fifteens hot."
She glanced back to her troops who were already in position. "Forty-five, STAND BY!"
The ship rocked beneath their boots, yet the silence was all but deafening save the high decibel whine of energy weapons priming. Talia held out three fingers next to the door and dropped them one by one until only a fist was left. Her Sergeant keyed the hatch and the orange doors slid open with the hiss of hydraulics.
Assault Team Forty-five rushed the compartment like a well oiled machine; it's heavy auto blasters covering at the doorway while the other troops rushed into… Nothing. Their squad leader pushed herself into a stanchion for cover even as her squad found similarly bulky equipment to hide behind, yet the compartment was completely devoid of life. The Lieutenant peeked out from her support, noting only crackle of electrical discharge arcing between high energy capacitors and at their center, the glowing core of the ship's drive. There was no resistance, no frenzied last-minute activity to scuttle the Tumlt. As impossible as it seemed, the compartment appeared to be entirely abandoned.
"What the…" One of her troopers whispered over the comm, voicing her very thoughts as she stepped out of cover in a low crouch.
"Formation Alpha three, on me," Talia spoke softly as she swung her auto across the compartment, looking for targets. "Keep an eye on your fields of fire and don't think for a moment they'll just let us have it."
Her troops formed up, likewise scanning the multilevel chamber for anything that appeared even remotely living, yet the only things that seemed to reside in the hold was inanimate technology. Talia Starrunner's mind was racing in near panic now as it conjured scenario after scenario as to why their opponents would simply leave a key area of the ship abandoned. Her on-board com wasn't registering lethal radiation. No explosive charges had been sighted so far. She opened a channel to the Ascender as they moved deeper into the compartment.
"Ascender, this is Forty-Five. Engineering appears… empty." She reported, noting she sounded doubtful even to her own ears. "No charges, no resistance. Can you get a read on the core itself?"
"Stand by, Forty-Five." The male voice advised in her ear even as she signed two of her troopers to check behind a cylindrical array of photon compressors. A response came back a minute later. "Tumlt's output looks nominal, Forty-Five. Are you secure for technicians?"
Even as her mouth opened to answer, the distinctive hiss of energy being deployed met her ears and she froze, turning to where the sound had emanated from. Her cheek twitched as she sighted its source at their back, a black cloaked figure wearing a scalloped chrome mask. The length of a red lightsaber emanated from the barbed hilt in his hand as he stood by seemingly alone. The lieutenant took the moment to answer the operator's question.
"No, Ascender. Engineering is definitely not secure for technicians."
Her troops turned around, sighting the sum-total of the squad's firepower on the lone Sith when the whispering hiss of another lightsaber being deployed was heard. And then another. And another. Soon they were overlapping as Talia's head jerked from one side of the compartment to the next, watching as the Sith seemed to step out of every shadow, bathed in the red menacing glow of their lightsabers. Her head snapped back to the original dark Jedi who seemed to simply stand in the doorway before lifting his lightsaber, pointing the buzzing energy sword at her squad as if to call them out. There were eight to her thirteen in an environment that would react somewhat poorly to misdirected weapons fire.
Second Lieutenant Talia Starrunner allowed a derisive chuckle to slip past her lips and braced the heavy auto before issuing her last order.
"Assault Team… Stand by for close quarters combat."
Author's Notes- I posted this on Space battles and somebody was wondering if it was going to be posted here as well. Sure, why the hell not? Don't expect the wall to wall chapters you got out of Weapon of Choice, but I have a bit more to drop in the next day or so. The setting, in case it isn't obvious is The old Republic, while this fic competed with the possibility of an Honor Harrington-verse idea. Harrington, sadly is way too much trouble to write for and my methods for getting Ranma from here to there are about the same for this fic, that is to say limited. Hope you like it :)
The Force: - Yeah, this is going to be a fun one. The Force is messy concept due to the conflicting mechanisms it employs. It is purportedly a field generated by all living things, spanning the galaxy. That sounds straight forward enough until you add in the existence of midichlorians, without which life would supposedly not exist. They also serve as a gauge of Force potential and quasi-intelligent, Virgin Mary dues ex machina if you want to take some of the canon literally. I'm a simple man, however. The force is a universal field that is part of or acts upon the laws of physics. Midichlorians are the interface to that field. If you want more than that, feel free to dig through the circular chicken/egg bullshittery like I did, have at it, but the movie franchise seemed to work just fine paying the barest nod to it.
The Force II – Ranma's view of the force is obviously flawed and won't get any better until it's explained to her. Keep in mind any observations she makes are from her POV, not actual fact.
The Force III – Ranma is Force barren.
Tongues – Thanks to Plot no Jutsu, Ranma can speak fluently with the rest of the universe.