[Sentinel-Lead operation is a go. Drop in T-minus five.]

"Roger that, Dominus. Sentinels, check in by number, biologicals then droids."

[Sentinel-3, check.]

[Sentinel-5, ready.]

[Sentinel-2, 4, 6 are operational with no errors detected, Sentinel-Lead.]

"Good. Let's run the operation through one more time, I know you lot would be a Jedi's worst nightmare, no brain or sentient mind to dupe."

[That's harsher than a Ryloth sandstorm, Sentinel-Lead.]

"Doesn't make it any less true."

Sentinel-Lead, a grizzled and towering veteran that a Wookie would have mistaken as shaved kin, brought up the holographic display in his helmet's display and fed the image into his squad's optical sensors.

"The city of Bartan is under assault by a sizable Rebel force, intel suggests at least eight platoons with three mechanized infantry columns, fifteen vehicles total. The local garrison has tied up two of the mechanized and five mobile platoons, the rest are assaulting this building here-"

At his command a sprawling industrial complex was expanded upon, appearing more like an academy than it did research building.

"-a Sienar testing division working on a new TIE variant. Rebellion already got away with the new Incom blueprints, we're not about to let them get these as well."

[So why doesn't Dominus just land a few good turbolaser shots? That'd solve the problem real quick and it's not like the regional Moff gives a soggy Womp Rat's arse if a few civvies get toasted.]

"Bartan is a bit too productive to warrant that kind of collateral, Sentinel-3. And we're meant to safeguard Imperial lives and interests, not cause them."

[Tell that to the Tarkin Doctrine.]

Shaking his head Sentinel-Lead shrank the image to show more of the map, highlighting three locations before explaining, "We'll be inserting in these spots, encircling the Rebel forces and wiping them out in the crossfire. Keep a rotating formation, ensure no less than fifteen meters distance from your partner at all times and don't kriff this up. We clear?"

[YES SIR!]

"Good! Dropping in T-minus one, get ready for a rough insertion, Sentinels!"

[That's not what the Twi'lek dancer said last night, Sentinel-Lead.]

[Grow up, Sentinel-3. And keep this line clear.]

Resisting the urge to sigh as less than perfect military discipline was once again the standard operating procedure for the mismatched members of Sentinel team the male instead relaxed within the confines of his armor, knowing that the coming turbulence would be anything but.

Drops never were, but then again Imperial high command didn't send out the word for a squad of Dark Troopers unless the situation had gone from bad to kriffed up beyond recognition. There simply weren't enough of them left since the Arc Hammer kicked the proverbial bucket.

But an all out assault by a sizable and organized Rebel force definitely warranted such a response, the organization almost unilaterally preferred small engagements or hit-and-run tactics...charging in like this was definitely something new.

[Drop commencing in three...two...one.]

The pod shuddered as sublight engines kicked on, an almost unnoticeable shift in gravity hinting at the tremendous acceleration the 'vessel' was undergoing as it deported Dominus's cavernous hangar bays.

Inertial dampeners were working at peak efficiency, thankfully. Sentinel-Lead had the dubious pleasure of undergoing a drop one time with a one percent reduction in dampener efficiency and had bruises for weeks afterwards.

When you were flying towards the surface of a planet at thirty-two kps even a mild reduction in the gear that kept you from being splattered all over the inside of your armor could have major consequences.

This time everything seemed to be in working order, the pod beginning to rattle and shake as they finally hit atmosphere, nothing but the sound of slightly elevated breathing coming in over the comms as even Sentinel-3 didn't have any quips or comments.

Seconds passed, ambient heat leaking through the pod's shielding and the suits environmental controls making things a tad uncomfortable-

-and with a final rattle the worst was over, sensors clearing now that their atmospheric breaching maneuver was complete and showing the three pods of Sentinel team all roughly where they should be, no more than a few hundred meters out of position which was quickly corrected by bursts of the built-in maneuvering repulsorlifts.

A swift scan of their target arrival area and connection to the local Imperial tac net painted an ever grimmer picture of the situation on the ground than had initially been suspected, actual numbers and vehicle designations being provided in a rush of information.

The entrance of the Sienar testing complex was more rubble than it was intact, a platoon of Imperial Army regulars with a squad of Stormtroopers dug in amongst the wreckage while a pair of AT-ST walkers provided what cover fire they could, one of them barely balanced atop of a crippled leg.

The Rebel forces were far better equipped than initial intelligence suggested with almost a hundred foot soldiers armed with a variety of military-grade blasters and anti-armor weapons slowly advancing on the entrance, three E-Web crews providing covering fire as they hosed down the Imperial positions. But without a doubt the most dangerous force multiplier were their vehicles. Three T2-B tanks zipped around the battlefield on repulsorlifts, making use of their shields and light cannons to ensure Rebel infantry could cross open patches of terrain safely. Additionally a heavy T4-B tank and old AT-TE walker with Rebellion insignia painted onto its hull were keeping the AT-ST crews pinned with superior armor and firepower, slowly closing in on them with their more ponderous treads and armored feet.

But the truly worrying part—and one that hadn't been reported during the initial briefing—was a lumbering MPTL-2a artillery crawler that was carefully guarded by the Rebel forces, its proton torpedo launchers targeting the crippled AT-ST and sending a wave of missiles at the walker, nearby infantry scattering before the salvo turned the metal vehicle into flaming scrap.

[Am I the only suddenly wondering if there should be more of us?]

"We're scarce enough as is, Sentinel-3. We'll make do. Missiles on the AT-TE, Sentinels. Droids, you pound the infantry and take out those E-webs first, then focus on anti-armor units. I'll take out the artillery platform."

[YES SIR!]

Any traces of levity or minor discipline breaches were left behind as Sentinel team made their final approach, sensors chiming as a pair of Rebel starfighters—old Z-95 models—peeled away from where they had been cautiously dueling with the local TIE garrison to target them instead.

None of them panicked, calmly waiting as the snubfighters drew within firing distance-

-and before they could fire a shot the insertion pods blew themselves into a dozen different pieces, shrapnel and metal components rocketing all across the sky in a hundred different directions as the Rebel air cover visibly wavered, confused as to where they should direct their fire.

Sentinel-lead grinned at their hesitation, long familiar with such a response.

One of the final steps during Dark Trooper training had been to make an orbital insertion, overcome a planned mechanical failure and then subdue a base of hostile dummy targets using live ammunition.

One of the key portions of this exercise was to show the troopers—in a recording of the entire battle they would view afterwards—just how confusing a Dark Trooper insertion was to the intended target. The pods were laced with reflective metals, flares, chaff and a dozen other tricks that would throw any conventional sensor suite into a panic attack and make hitting the actual trooper an astronomically small chance.

It was an important learning experience because hanging around in the sky, with no weapons and little maneuverability could make even the staunchest of veterans nervous if they weren't aware of how little danger they actually were in.

Danger was reserved strictly for when they touched dirt.

"Sentinel-2, clear the area around the MPTL."

[Understood, Sentinel-lead.]

The pods closed to two hundred meters above the surface-

-and a harsh impact that was barely mitigated by inertial dampeners rocked his body as momentum was roughly arrested so they didn't end up as Imperial shaped smears on the ground.

That would have been an embarrassing way to announce their presence to the Rebellion.

Instead the last layers of the pod broke away and Sentinel-lead rotated his body so that the phase-III armor was oriented upright, companion crash seat shattering and revealing the automated phase-II armor that took aim with its assault cannon, allowed approximately one second to pass as targeting algorithms picked out targets of opportunity and threat assessment values...and commenced firing.

Sentinel-2 laid on the trigger of its assault rifle, plasma packets and dumbfire rockets landing in a perfect semi-circle around the Rebel forces and decimating them before they could react, a perfect arc of destruction that allowed Sentinel-lead to land unopposed directly in front of the Rebel artillery piece.

A split-second of planning passed through the troopers mind, a calculation of angles and forces...and with a push of the Phase-III's servomotors and jump pack the armored suit smashed through the transparisteel windows of the vehicle, rolling to a stop amidst the startled bridge crew as they gazed at the towering figure with open mouths or alien orifices.

Sentinel-lead didn't give them a chance to recover, activating the hand-flamer stored in the suits right arm as he swept the bridge clean of life in a deluge of fire, only the briefest of shouts or screams emanating from the crew before falling silent amidst the roar of burning organic and synthetic material.

The hand-flamer could double as a light anti-vehicle weapon in a pinch, unarmored people didn't stand a chance.

Pausing only long enough to toss a thermal detonator further into the reaches of the artillery track Sentinel-lead leapt free of the flames, armor beginning to warm amidst the blaze despite its toughness.

A distant CRACK of the detonator going off coincided with the vehicle collapsing in on itself, Sentinel-lead taking another brief second to survey the surrounding area and its happenings before deciding on the next course of action.

The AT-TE, per his orders, had just finished collapsing in on itself with smoke pouring out of its right side, a volley of plex missiles courtesy of Sentinel-3 and Sentinel-5 eliminating its turret mount and legs, the side hatches cycling open and allowing a squad of Rebel soldiers to come stumbling out.

Right into Sentinel-lead's volley of blaster fire, the repeater built into the armor's left arm tearing them apart as a second thermal detonator was tossed into the vehicle's compartment, just to ensure none of the anti-personal cannons could spring any nasty surprises.

A final CRACK and the AT-TE was down, Sentinel-lead glancing around the battlefield and taking in the state of the conflict, barely twelve seconds after they had touched down.

The artillery vehicle and walker were neutralized, a good fourteen Rebellion footsoldiers right alongside them...but they had been spotted, the attacking forces showing remarkable discipline as they shifted priorities and firepower with commendable swiftness, correctly judging that the Dark Troopers were the more dangerous threat.

"Sentinels, close the net! Tighten and reverse every five!"

[YES SIR!]

Servomotors hissed to life and jump packs rumbled, the collection of six Troopers moving as one and began laying on the triggers, sending packets of energy and shrieking missiles into the Rebel forces at a furious pace, returning fire not faltering in the slightest as the opposing side didn't falter in the face of the onslaught.

The landscape in front of the Sienar complex became a tangled web of darting Dark Troopers, entrenched foot soldiers and roaring vehicles, each facet strung together by almost solid lines of volleyed blasterfire and conventional munitions.

It was a chaos that Sentinel team was used to.

Within the armor of his Phase-III cocoon Sentinel-lead allowed all of the tac-data on his display to flow through his brain, experience efficiently cataloguing threats and targets of opportunity, troopers with normal blaster rifles ignored as their shots uselessly dissipated against the phrik armor plating with barely noticeable impacts while vehicles and enemies with anti-armor weaponry were targeted for destruction.

A destruction that came in many forms. Assault cannon firmly grasped in right hand sent plasma packets into organic targets wielding rocket launchers that were blown to ashen pieces even on glancing impact, left arm sweeping back-and-forth with the howling repeater keeping concentrated groups of Rebels pinned so that his compatriots could easily wipe them out with dumbfire rockets from their own cannons.

"Mark!"

At five seconds Sentinel-lead dug his armored boots into the shattered ground of the cityscape, jump pack flaring and arresting the soldiers significant forward momentum on a credit's edge, leaping forward a good ten meters with a single bound before retracing his steps in the opposite direction, an action reciprocated by the other members of his squad as they slowly hemmed in the Rebel forces like an armed and armored noose.

Standard Dark Trooper tactics. Inbetween their superior mobility and protection they would gradually encircle and close the distance between their target, taking fire and shrugging it off while dishing out their fair bit of damage, the rapid and brutal advance keeping the enemy pinned and unable to escape, the directional change every five seconds meaning the enemy would never be able to get a solid read on their position and concentrate fire.

At least that was the plan, until Sentinel-2 blew apart in an impressive display of snubfighter-class weaponry and a concussion missile for good measure as a pair of Z-95s—likely the ones that had originally targeted them—streaked overhead, a cheer leaving the Rebel forces at the air cover as Sentinel-3 cursed rather colorfully.

[We gotta take out those fighters, Lead!]

"Agreed. Sentinel-4 and 6, get situated on those buildings and next pass hit them with everything-"

WHAM!

A sensation not too unlike getting stepped on by a Ronto cut off Sentinel-lead's orders, damage chimes incessantly blaring within his helm as instinct took over, rolling the toppled suit to its feet and returning fire at whatever targets were visible on the display, sense returning to his brain as stim shots were injected by the armor to keep him alert and dangerous.

"Wonderful. Looks like that T4-B finally joined the battle."

A single direct hit from the heavy tank's laser cannons had caught Sentinel-lead full on the chest, the phrik armor smoking and glowing with heat but still intact...nothing to be done about the transferred kinetic force, though.

Leaping to the side a volley of missiles and cannon fire from the tank tore apart the ground Sentinel-lead had been standing on, the vehicle's turrets tracking him as heavy laser fire and staggered missile launches hounded his steps.

[Lead, you still there?!]

"Still mobile, are 4 and 6 in position?!"

[Unable to achieve elevated position, Sentinel-Lead. Enemy fire is pinning this unit and unit 6 down.]

Cursing under his breath as his assault cannon ran dry and the missile rack clicked empty Sentinel-lead had to waste a few precious seconds reloading, eyes snapping to where the rest of his team was and scowling at what he saw.

The T2-B hovertanks had joined up with most of the Rebel infantry, hosing down the rest of Sentinel team with unceasing laser and missile fire. While the light tanks may not pack nearly the same punch the T4-B did their weapons were heavy enough to stagger and eventually burn through phrik armor, clearing the way for the foot soldiers to make use of their missile weaponry to land killing blows.

Worst of all his helmet's audio sensors picked up the rumble of returning snubfighters, Sentinel-lead grimacing as he expected to lose another trooper on this next pass-

-and the familiar howl of a TIE engine cut across the sky, a single Imperial fighter laying on the trigger and forcing the pair of Rebel ships to respond to its presence as they rolled away from the barrage of fire, hurling themselves into pursuit maneuvers as the TIE threw itself into a breakneck series of rolls and dives that were clearly designed to distract the Rebel ships for as long as possible before the pilot blacked out or was simply destroyed.

[Hah, that brave son of a blaster! Guess who's getting a line written about them in the after action report?]

"Focus!"

Despite his harsh words Sentinel-lead couldn't help but feel a small grin tug at his lips, the momentum now shifting back into the Dark Trooper's favor as they could turn all of their attention to the ground forces.

Besides, he'd finished reloading his assault cannon.

Bolts of plasma splashed against the T4-B's hull while unguided rockets detonated and scarred its armor in a staccato volley, the tank slowing its rate of fire as it no doubt tried to locate his position through the blinding display of firepower.

A fatal decision as Sentinel-lead planted his suit's feet, deployed the plex missile array located in the Phase-III's shoulders and sent a volley of heavy rockets on their way.

Sentinel-lead smirked, leaping past the ruined remains of his target as it belched flame and smoke, weapon mounts destroyed by guided weaponry and engine silent.

The rest of his team had found their momentum with the departure of the snubfighters, leaping around and trading fire with the tanks and infantry, the repulsor vehicles standing strong as their shields flared with released and deflected energy, a better showing than the unarmored troopers who were being torn apart.

A lucky rocket shot took out Sentinel-4 but then Sentinel-lead was combining his assault cannon's barrage with his squadmates, burning down one T2-B as its shields failed and light armor melted, the final nail in the proverbial coffin arriving in the form of the one remaining AT-ST and stormtrooper platoon that had survived the initial assault flanking the Rebel position, earning their own form of payback as they surprised the enemy forces with their presence and blasters.

Then Sentinel-lead was among the enemy position, spinning in an arc as his flamer set huge swaths of the landscape aflame, assault cannon blazing as yet more Rebel vehicles were destroyed, shouts of panic and pain emanating from the invading troops as their morale finally broke-

-and after another few seconds of furious retribution from the Imperial forces there really wasn't anything left to shoot, a few TIE fighters roaring overhead as they took control of the skies.

"...Nice work, Sentinels. Take up sentry positions and wait for further orders."


[I think this whole 'rule through fear' thing isn't working out all that well.]

[You never think anything works right, Sentinel-3. And that's a statement that'll get you hauled up in front of a COMPNOR jury. Or a firing squad.]

[What, having eyes and a half-working brain carries the death penalty these days? And I'm not saying the Empire is poodoo or that I want to join the Rebellion—I did just smoke a Hutt sizedportion of them, you know—but facts and examples are facts and examples, 5.]

Sentinel-lead remained quiet, calmly overlooking the city from his concealed perch as emergency vehicles darted across the sky and fought fires, evacuating or treating the wounded while removing wreckage that was blocking the busiest of traffic lanes.

The conversation between his squad had been a familiar one for the past few months.

[C'mon. This wasn't a bunch of academy younglings fresh out of ideal school or a clutch of university dolts with more time on their hands than common sense. These guys and gals were trained soldiers or mercenaries. Discipline that a GAR veteran would have approved of and pretty decent aim, never mind their kriffing gear. This is an army of people that are willing to go to war over what they perceive as a system of injustice. An army of good quality like this one doesn't come together because they're bored, 5...they truly believe the Empire is corrupt and needs taking down. And I don't think you need a professor with forty years of Galactic politics under their belt to tell you it's the Tarkin Doctrine and Alderaan that's causing the issue.]

A scoff came over the coms, Sentinel-5 dismissively asking, [And what's your solution, then? If you're so enlightened? Why be a Dark Trooper and not a Moff or something? And, as you said, you did kill a bunch of these people. Hard to take your words seriously when you're so eager to commit small scale genocide.]

[Easy, it's because I'm a Dark Trooper that I smoked enough Rebels to feed a family of Rancors, because I'm an Imperial soldier with a duty to protect its citizens. I can do these things and still make note of why they're wrong, 5. Sithspawn, let's not even get into the fact that I would very much like it if I didn't have to wipe out entire platoons of guys and gals just looking to fight for what they believe in.]

Sentinel-five grunted, responding, [Bold of you to assume these were good, righteous people and not guns for hire.]

Sentinel-3's words carried a definite hint of amusement and pride.

[Mercs and soldiers of fortune don't stare down a Dark Trooper insertion and decide to stick around and earn that paycheck, 5. But as for my solution? Well for one thing I'm from a family of durasteel plant workers, not exactly high levels of education. Attaining an officer's position—despite what the recruitment posters tell you—was way out of reach. So bearing in mind this is just the uninformed thoughts of a dumb grunt with dirt levels of intelligence...we need something like the Jedi Order back.]

Sentinel-lead chuckled, Sentinel-five dryly stating, [When COMPNOR is kicking down your door I'm telling them it was all your fault.]

[Hear me out, will you? Yeah, the Jedi went all bad and corrupt just like the Senate and I'm totally on board with the purge that followed...but read a history book, 5. Thousands of years of Jedi doing a pretty ok job. An organization outside the Moffs and military that can respond to threats and disputes without having to operate within those very same structures of power is the way to go. Ideally they also won't go around wiping out entire planets in the process and causing hundreds of worlds to think the Empire is a psychotic dictatorship.]

[Yeah, I'm sure the Emperor will sign off on that organization that exists outside his authority. That won't be like the very trouble that ended up with the Jedi purge having to occur.]

[Never said that that it has to be outside the Emperor. I think ol' Creamy Sheev is doing a pretty okay job. It's the moffs—the lousy ones—that are the trouble.]

Sentinel-five huffed, asking, [Fine, I'll bite. Why are the Moffs the problem?]

[Because they're abusing their power, duh. The Emperor can't be everywhere all the time. That's the point of delegation and regional governors. Once you're done reading that history book look up galactic news feeds about Imperial productivity and economies across the various sectors. Sectors with low productivity—once you account for relative productivity of worlds, resources available for export and other factors—typically have high levels of Rebel activity...a sign that the people there think their lives are nerf droppings and want to change that. Regions with good Moffs have little Rebel activity and high productivity, people are happy there. See what I'm saying? An outside organization that isn't part of the Imperial hierarchy except for the Emperor could put a stop to that stuff.]

[Or abuse its power just as much as the Moffs supposedly do. I thought you said you were stupid, what's with all this higher education talk of galactic economics?]

Sentinel-3's tone was sheepish.

[Wanted to be an interplanetary merchant, did a lot of independent studying for it. Then I realized I couldn't afford a license, let alone a ship.]

[So you became one of the most highly trained and exclusive Imperial soldiers there are instead?]

5's incredulous tone was answered by 3's indignant response of, [Hey, I'm good at what I decide to do. What about you, Lead? You got an opinion on all of this?]

Smirking beneath his helmet Sentinel-Lead responded, "Sure do. Clearly you two need additional drills and discipline reinforcement. Debates in the middle of a combat zone? I think an extra four hours in the full-contact simulators will do the trick."

A few choice curses emanated from his squadmates, Sentinel-5 grumbling, [Nice going, 3.]

[Hey no one forced you to reply to me!]

[You wouldn't have stopped talking otherwise until I did, as past experience proves.]

"Six hours."

They wisely fell silent after that, Sentinel-lead chuckling as he resumed his own observation of the slowly recovering city, a heavily scarred and damaged TIE limping in for a landing at one of the nearby landing pads, waggling its wings as it did so, Sentinel-lead sending it a brief blip of communication that passed for a greeting among special forces who were supposed to remain unobtrusive.

Somehow, by the star's grace and nothing else, the crazy pilot that had drawn off the pair of Rebel fighters survived the ordeal.

He was of the humble opinion that they should give up piloting and play the stock market with luck like that.

This wasn't the first time Sentinel-3 had asked Sentinel-lead to offer his views on things and, as always, the burden of command meant he had to remain separate from their musings.

Privately, however?

The kid was right, things as they were would only beget more conflict and ever escalating battles as a dictatorship tried to repress a galaxy that was still too young to have forgotten the freedoms of the Republic, however corrupt it had become.

But in the meantime Sentinel team would do as they were commanded, protecting Imperial citizens and interests as duty dictated.

Safety, Security, Justice and Peace...at the end of an assault cannon.

The Dark Trooper credo.


So this was a quick oneshot I wanted to do after recently getting back into some older Star Wars games, namely Dark Forces, Battlefront and a bunch of mods for Empire at War.

Games where the dark troopers are awesome and freakin' brutal. Still have that old Dark Horse comic hanging around somewhere where the Dark Trooper gets into a scrap with a swoop gang...