A/N: As always, thanks to those helping me write and plan out this story and checking it for continuality and logic errors.
This chapter was released at least 2 weeks ago to my Pat-re-ons (with them seeing a draft version around 2 months ago) and on the story's Discord server (in GDoc form) about a week ago.
Links for both are at the end of the chapter.
Hopefully, all the little mistakes have been found and removed.
Fanfiction, in their infinite wisdom, has decided to turn off email alerts for chapters with the only mention of this coming on their Twitter account!
Please remember to go into your account and turn email notifications back on if you wish that to start happening again. and remember to do so every 3 months!
It seems email alerts are broken AGAIN! So for those of you who read this and wonder why there wasn't an email, blame FFN for breaking their system once more.
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A/N: This chapter, and the following ones, have multiple POVs to better show events and allow an more cinematic style.
The Phantom Menace 2
(Captain Dofine's POV)
Captain Daultay Dofine sat on the bridge of the Trade Federation vessel Saak'ak trying his best to not let the boredom of this, in his opinion, ill-advised invasion get to him. Apart from Dofine not agreeing with Viceroy Gunray about the need for it in the first place, once the planet was secured – bar the unexpected escape of Queen Amidala – the Viceroy had wastefully insisted that three Lucrehulk transports remain in orbit when one was more than enough.
The Queen's escape had infuriated Dofine as the captain of the transport that the Naboo royal cruiser had raced past hadn't deployed their Vulture droids, instead relying on the massive vessel's turbolasers to disable but not destroy the fast-moving cruiser. A mistake that Dofine had enjoyed reminding that captain of before the Viceroy had demoted them.
Yet while Dofine had enjoyed seeing that captain's demotion, he was still fuming internally at how subservient Gunray acted around the mysterious figure responsible for Gunray's ascension to sole leader of the Trade Federation and the one who'd pushed for the blockade and invasion of Naboo. Darth Sidious appeared to be Human and not particularly imposing, yet the Viceroy seemed to shrink whenever in this supposed Sith Lord's presence.
The prime example of this behaviour came just a few days ago when Darth Sidious contacted Gunray again and demanded that three Lucrehulks remain in orbit. While the information that Queen Amidala was returning to the system was unexpected, Dofine failed to see any military or financial reason why three Lucrehulks were needed to control a docile population or the droids controlling them. Either Vuutun Palaa or the Luuhan could control the nearly half a million droids on the planet with ease as both had been converted secretly into droid control ships. The Saak'ak, which was Dofine's personal ship and one that should've left with the rest if not for Sidious' orders, was one of a handful of Lucrehulks outfitted with armaments surpassing the Ruusan Reformations' limitations, even after the Trade Federation's enhanced permits as agreed upon with the Senate.
The longer the Saak'ak was in a potential combat zone, instead of plying its trade away from any system of current galactic note, the safer the changes the Federation was making would be. That said, Dofine was glad he hadn't been made to transfer his flag to the Vuutun Palaa to maintain orbital control. The Saak'ak was outfitted as a warship should be. Forty-eight quad turbolasers dotted the outside of the massive vessel's rings – all of which could slide into cover if the ship was anywhere the Federation didn't have complete control of – along with two-hundred point-defence lasers covering the ring and the central control sphere. Three hundred Variable Geometry Self-Propelled (Vulture) droids added to that firepower, though it all came at the cost of far lower cargo capacity, to say nothing of the need for more OOM-series droids to manage systems at the cost of around a third of the standard security-variant B1 battle droids a Lucrehulk would normally have. A fact made worse as about half of the Saak'ak's droids were deployed to the planet below along with the droid contingents of the control ships Vuutun Palaa and Luuhan.
Still, according to Sidious' sources, the Queen would return soon and the Sith's apprentice – a Zabrak that Dofine was glad to have never met directly – was already on the planet waiting to capture the Queen and deal with any Jedi that might come with her.
Of course, Dofine had a plan in place to deny the Sith the glory of the Queen's capture, snatching it for himself instead. While he was secure with his place in the viceroy's inner circle, he felt Gunray needed to see that the Federation didn't need the support of these so-called Sith. His plan was why all the Vulture droids carried by the Saak'ak were either on external deployment procedures – attached to the hull – on active patrol or ready for launch. Dofine had also borrowed a squadron from each of the other Lucrehulks. Nominally, it was to relieve some of the pressure on the droid control centres of the Vuutun Palaa and Luuhan, but it was more to ensure the other captains didn't attempt to undermine Dofine's plan in pursuit of glory for themselves.
Still, after five days of waiting since Lord Sidious had informed them the Queen was returning, Dofine found himself growing bored of another shift without reward. He stood, the fine purple shimmersilk of his robes swaying with his movements and leaving his crew in little doubt of his standing. "Dremon," he said as he took a step toward one of the two exits from the bridge, "you have command. Alert me the instant any vessel enters the system and signal Readiness Level Two if the ship is confirmed to be the Queen's."
"Yes, Captain," Jull Dremon, the Saak'ak's gunner, and Dofine's nominal second in command, replied.
Dofine moved toward the door, his robes billowing behind him, almost making him seem twice as wide as he truly was. The large circular doors slid back and as he reached them Dofine hoped he wouldn't hav…
"Captain," Dofine stopped and turned just as he crossed the threshold of the door. "Six ships have just entered the system along the anticipated route." The report came from Tpix Iinvee, the senior sensor officer on duty.
Dofine considered this arrival. Six ships arriving together wasn't entirely unusual as they'd seen such arrivals since the blockade was initiated. Any ship or convoy that had arrived, after it was determined as to why they were here – mainly cargo delivery and the odd passenger liner – had been ordered, sometimes with a squadron of Vulture droids as an escort, to vacate the system. However, since the invasion, no convoy of more than three ships had entered the system and the few that arrived over the last few days had been solitary traders, no doubt looking to make a quick buck trying to run the Federation's blockade. None had attempted that when faced with three Lucrehulks and squadrons of Vulture droids, but the uptick in traffic was something that played on Dofine's mind.
"Identify," Dofine ordered even though he knew Iinvee was already doing that.
"It's the royal cruiser, Captain." As Iinvee said that Dofine was turning. "Five escorts. A combination of Corellian CR70s and DP20s."
Dofine considered that. While those ships were little threat to the Saak'ak or the other Lucrehulks, those vessels were designed for engaging vessels of similar size or fighters. "Launch all alert Vulture squadrons," Dofine ordered, referring to the ten squadrons that were currently stationed on the hull of the Saak'ak. Even with the firepower the Queen had surprisingly managed to acquire, they were no match for over a hundred Vulture droids. Or at least, they shouldn't be. "Ready all remaining Vultures as well," Dofine added as he reached his chair.
As he sat, he pulled up a display of the convoy. The five escorts were forming a ring around the royal cruiser. "Control Officer, concentrate firepower on the royal cruiser's engines and shields. Helm, Bring the engines to power and move us to intercept. I want us ready to tractor the Queen's vessel at the first opportunity. Comms, order the other vessels to remain in position."
The crew entered Dofine's commands into their consoles. While Dofine couldn't feel the massive vessel shift from orbit, he could sense the subtle increase of power as the reactors jumped to full power.
"What of the escorts?" said Sil Unch, the droid control officer.
Dofine considered the matter for a moment. "Force them to break formation. Once done, ignore them unless they attempt to continue the battle. At which point, disable or destroy at your preference." While those ships would have some value that Dofine would normally have wanted, his focus was on Queen Amidala and her vessel. The reward for her capture outweighed anything the other vessels might bring.
With the orders given and relayed, there was little Dofine could do but watch. The Vulture droids closed rapidly on the royal cruiser and its escorts. Analysing their flightpath, Dofine determined they had likely planned to approach Naboo on a parabolic arc, hoping they could side to the planet from the far side. However, since Darth Sidious had informed Gunray of the Queen's intended return, Dofine had ensured the sensors of his vessel were focused on the locations where the connecting hyperspace lanes emerged into the system. While he disliked the Sith Lord and felt the Viceroy shouldn't do as the Human ordered, Dofine could admit that knowing Queen Amidala would be returning had ensured they were ready for this, making it highly improbable that she and whatever mercenaries she had acquired would be able to reach the surface.
"Vulture droids engaging," Unch reported even as Dofine saw that on the bridge's main holo-display. "escorts are shifting to block their attack."
Dofine leaned forward in his chair, a vicious smile creeping onto his face. "Execute attack pattern Fuuhin." As he watched, six squadrons continued forward, rushing into whatever storm of fire those Corellian ships could unleash. The Vultures would give as good as they got, but they were simply a distraction.
The remaining four squadrons broke from their attack vector. Two moved northward – relative to the system's plane – while the other two went southward. With the escort gunships focused on the direct threat, those four squadrons would be able to move over or under the defensive screen and either disable the escorts forcing them to withdraw or cripple the royal cruiser.
"Launch six more squadrons," Dofine added. While those shouldn't be needed, there was something to be said for the overwhelming use of force to acquire an objective. Even if half of the Saak'ak's Vultures were destroyed by the escorts – an unlikely event – the capture of Queen Amidala would more than compensate for the loss of the droids.
Dofine watched with a growing sense of glee as the flanking squadrons of Vulture droids angled toward the small flotilla. As the power levels of several of the escorts fluctuated, Dofine could almost taste the reward that would soon be his.
"Order half the squadrons to concentrate fire on escort Besh," He ordered as the shields on that CR70 wavered. "The moment their engines fail, or they break from formation, redirect fire to the next weakest escort. Peel them off as one would remove the layers of a runefruit."
Unch didn't respond verbally, but Dofine saw the Vulture droids shift their focus. Caught off-guard, escort Besh's shields started flickering. "Escort Besh has lost shields," Iinvee reported even as Dofine saw that from the holo-display. "They're breaking formation."
Dofine's smile grew positively vicious as the droids shifted their fire from the retreating vessel to one of its cohorts. It wouldn't be long until Queen Amidala would be in his brig and the reward for her capture would be his.
"Convoy is shifting vectors," Iinvee stated. "New projections suggest an attempt at a direct approach to the planet."
"Continue Vulture attack patterns. Helm, alter our vectors to block and intercept."
Almost as soon as he issued the order, Dofine watched another of the escort gunships break from formation and withdraw to the edge of the system. A stray thought passed through his mind that the escorts seemed to be breaking easily, but Dofine dismissed that concern. The crews were mercenaries that Queen Amidala hired, and like all mercenaries, and all organic fighters, they couldn't be relied upon to push forward and achieve an objective regardless of the cost. That was why the Federation's droid forces were superior as they obeyed any order given until the very end.
As a third escort broke from the formation, gases trailing from its engine core, any concern Dofine had faded. When a minute later a fourth escort – one of the DP20s – shuddered and turned away after being rammed by a Vulture droid, Dofine could all but smell the sweet scent of rare ingots and succulent meals that his rewards would contain.
"Captain, new vessels entering the system."
The call from Iinvee drew Dofine from thoughts of how he would invest his reward. A series of commands into the control built into the chair and the display shifted. Seven new vessels had emerged from hyperspace. Oddly, they had entered on the far side of the system, and if not for the advanced sensor pickets deployed to monitor arrivals, the Saak'ak might well have missed them.
While the presence of two Corellian freighters might be some cause for alarm given the escorts were all manufactured by the same corporation, the other five were an odd mix of freighters from different corporations, which removed that concern. Another convoy so soon after Queen Amidala's arrival was unusual, and there may be more to it, but Dofine was certain that once the royal cruiser was captured, any plans the Queen may have designed would fall apart.
"Order the Vuutun Palaa to launch two squadrons. Standing orders apply." Those orders were to transmit that the Naboo system was under Trade Federation control and that any vessel not wishing to be impounded for illegal presence should withdraw. Failure to do so would see them fired upon. That had worked on every ship that had entered the system, though some had needed a warning shot before withdrawing.
"Escort vessels are starting to jump away."
"Sir! Another convoy has entered the system!"
Dofine shifted the display again. This second convoy had exited along the same vector as the royal cruiser, which convinced Dofine they were all working together. However, with Queen Amidala exposed and without support, any mercenaries she'd hired would turn tail and run once they saw the battle wasn't in their favour.
"Again, order the Vuutun Palaa to launch Vultures." Dofine brought the display back to the pursuit of the royal cruiser. Five of the escorts had already broken from their mission, with one requiring help to do so. "Ignore the Queen's escorts for now. Once the Queen is secured, if any vessel remains in-system, you may act with your discretion to secure them for profit." Dofine would have preferred to simply ignore them, but each vessel, so long as not too heavily damaged, has a resale value of around a million credits and those that were too badly damaged could be stripped for parts. Since he had no intention of sharing his reward for Queen Amidala's capture with anyone, giving them that thread to gnaw on would ensure their continued loyalty.
"Last escort is withdrawing."
Dofine almost snarled in delight as the Naboo royal cruiser found itself surrounded and harassed by Vulture droids. As instructed, the droids were limiting their fire to the rear of the ship. "Transmit an order to stand down and surrender. Vultures are to assume positions around the cruiser. If it turns, take out their engines entirely."
He waited patiently, wondering just what the young Human queen would do. Her hope of freeing her planet was gone, and if any Jedi were with her, they would advise her to surrender. Because of their presence, Dofine would have to alter standard orders for securing hostile vessels. He did hope it was the same Jedi as before, as it still angered him that they'd managed to not only escape their execution but slip down to Naboo and free Queen Amidala.
"They've surrendered." An almost celebratory mood rippled through the organic crew on the bridge as Tey How spoke.
"Transmit landing vectors with clear instructions that deviation will result in their ship being crippled and towed," Dofine ordered. "Vulture droids are to maintain secure escort positions until the cruiser enters the bay. Afterwards, return them to their standby locations."
A review of the droid numbers showed the equivalent of five squadrons had been disabled, which while slightly higher than Dofine would've preferred, was an acceptable loss. The prize of Queen Amidala had been secured, meaning the crew wouldn't be forced to compensate the Federation for the loss of droids. "I want a squadron of Vultures to support a battalion of B1s to enter and secure the vessel."
Dofine looked at Unch. "I suspect the Jedi who escaped our grasp before are with the Queen currently. If they are, I want no repeat of that debacle." Ordering half the Saak'ak's contingent of security and command droids to detain a handful of prisoners would normally be considered overkill, but given only droidekas had driven the Jedi away the last time, Dofine wasn't taking any chances while he could have ordered the two squads of droidekas to the hangar, Dofine felt safer keeping them closer to the bridge. The odds of the same event occurring again were low, but if it did, he wanted the only droids certain to discourage Jedi close at hand.
Closer and closer the Saak'ak moved to the royal cruiser, like a Kinrath stalking toward prey that had stumbled into its lair. Soon Queen Amidala would be captured, and the bounty promised by the Viceroy would be his.
"Captain! The first convoy is engaging the droids! Second convoy is accelerating."
After punching at his controls, Dofine stared at the holo-display. It was showing both convoys confirming what Iinvee had just said. Or at least the general idea as, while he watched, Dofine saw the first convoy not only engage the Vulture droids but destroy an entire squadron before the droids were able to counter.
As for the second convoy, while they too appeared to be light freighters, they were racing into the system, fast enough that Dofine determined that most had been retrofitted for extra speed, though the weapons this convoy was using were again far heavier than most freighters carried. That made Dofine sneer as he determined who they were. Bounty hunters.
While the Federation did have some bounty hunters and mercenaries in their employ – with several dozen being on Naboo to help with pacification efforts – Dofine, like all Neimoidians, disliked them. They were, even when compared to other sentients, an unruly and unreliable lot. However, as a green ship slipped to the front of the second convoy, Dofine's distaste for hired guns faded, replaced by a growing interest.
"Order the other Lucrehulks to launch all their ready Vultures," Dofine ordered as he shifted the holo-display to focus on the small, green vessel. "Once the Queen is captured, these pirates will break and run, and our droids can pick them off with ease."
Yet even as he gave the orders, Dofine activated a small private holo-display on his chair. There the image of the second convoy appeared before quickly zooming in on the dark green vessel that was leading the convoy toward the planet at an impressive speed.
He watched as it swept to one side, sliding between fire from a pair of Vulture droids and then dove between the pair close enough that Dofine was surprised not to see sparks where the hulls clipped each other. Whoever was piloting that vessel either had unnatural reflexes or had configured the odd vessel's manoeuvring thrusters to grant incredible reactions. Ones that seemed to almost match what the Vulture droids could manage.
As the green vessel banked hard, almost turning on a credit chit, to avoid a trio of flanking droids, he considered ordering the vulture droids there to engage and disable the vessel. Yet as it slipped around a volley of laser fire, Dofine rejected that. A quick mental calculation confirmed that the green vessel would reach the upper atmosphere of Naboo before the vultures could corral it, and that was without considering the other ships. Already one full squadron of Vultures droids had been taken out by the second convoy – with only one vessel in the convoy taking any seemingly significant damage. The other convoy had already reached Naboo, with only four vultures left to stop them.
"Amendment to my last order. Track the flight paths of the two convoys. Have the Vuutun Palaa ready droid patrols to head toward wherever the freighters land and engage whatever mercenary forces Queen Amidala gathered. Elimination of those forces is a priority until the Queen signs the treaty. After which, I want the vessels impounded and their computer cores dissected for information on possible smuggler hubs we can eliminate."
Truthfully, Dofine doubted those ships would have any information, however by capturing the green vessel, he could acquire what appeared to be a unique vessel for himself. While Gunray was busy patting himself on the back for the capture of Queen Amidala, and possibly peddling a story to Darth Sidious of how the Viceroy was the one who'd captured the Queen personally, Dofine would have that vessel brought to him.
Not wanting to appear distracted by the convoys, Dofine returned his gaze to the primary holo-display, shifting the image to the sight of the royal cruiser. He smiled widely as it was guided by the Saak'ak's tractors into the starboard docking arm.
"The moment the cruiser is onboard, secure all hangar blast doors. Any droid that requires repair is to divert to the port arm. Once the blast doors are secure, take us back into orbit of Naboo. However, do not contact the Viceroy. Once Queen Amidala is secure in our brig, I will speak with her personally."
As the crew responded to his orders, Dofine leaned back, savouring his moment of victory. After the events of Dorvalla, he felt he was due one.
I struggled to not laugh gleefully as I guided Raven between fire from a pair of Vulture droids. Those droids could pull off moves other fighters likely couldn't normally match, yet Raven – with the Force flowing through her – was able to seemingly sense their attacks milliseconds before they occurred. As such, we'd danced between droids and blaster fire in a way that likely left anyone watching amazed at us pulling it off.
Oh, some strikes had glanced off Raven's shields, but those were still running at over eighty per cent. A laugh did slip from me as we slipped between the two droids who'd just fired on us, and Raven's sensors confirmed they'd lost their flight path enough that the modified vessels behind us could easily pick them off.
As had been planned, the two convoys made a run for Naboo and appeared, except for Raven, to be nothing more than a hodgepodge collection of light freighters. However, as any good captain would do, those ships had been upgraded and given their owners were Mandalorians, they'd outfitted their vessels with a lot of weaponry that skirted what was technically legal.
"This ship is a true marvel of the Force." That comment came from Qui-Gon. While he was sitting in the co-pilot's seat, he, along with Padmé, was nothing more than a spectator as Raven glided between the Vulture droids towards Naboo. "A fitting ship for a Jedi."
"I agree, Master Jedi," Padmé added before inhaling sharply as Raven rolled along her axis and slipped past another droid so close I could make out the warnings on the hull for technicians. I could sense Padmé's enjoyment at our insane flight, but it was pushed below a sense of unease that was likely caused by how her people were being treated. Of course, you'd never know this as she maintained a regal presence as best she could. "Though I feel credit belongs to both the man at the controls and the vessel."
"That it does, Your Majesty." Raven slipped past the last droid and entered the upper reaches of the atmosphere. "The Force flows through both in a way that I must admit makes me slightly envious."
My smile grew at Qui-Gon's comment, as I knew it was one shared by many, inside and out of the Jedi Order. However, as with the other short bursts of conversation the pair had engaged in since we'd emerged out of hyperspace, I didn't respond. My focus was guiding Raven toward the planet, angling us downward at an angle most would consider suicidal.
My target, and that of the other vessels racing toward Naboo, was to reach the swamp to the south of Theed and the Gallo mountain range. That was Gungan territory, but as the jungle was the closest place to Naboo that provided cover, it was the best place to deploy the ground teams.
As the swamp came into view as we slid through a large cloud, and sensors revealed the droids weren't pursuing us into the atmosphere, I decided to respond. "Careful, Master Jinn. I'm unsure the Council would be pleased to hear someone of your stature express such an emotional opinion."
Qui-Gon chuckled even as my fingers danced over the controls, plotting out the best location for deployment. "The Council and I," he paused as Raven pulled up suddenly, banking to sweep over the canopy of the jungle as closely as she could without hitting anything, and he and Padmé were forced to brace in concern that we'd crash. "We often disagree on many things. A position you are likely familiar with from Master Dooku," I chuckled but didn't respond verbally.
Raven's scanners had located a break in the canopy that while too small for Raven to land, was more than enough for everyone on-board to deploy through. "Right, everyone ashore that's going ashore," I said as Raven closed on the hole.
Qui-Gon stood but stopped and placed a hand on my shoulder. "Will you be able to reach the rendezvous?"
I snorted. "Ignoring the more esoteric Force abilities I enjoy using, Master, I believe I'll be fine. And on the off chance I do get lost, Fenrir will guide me."
Qui-Gon squeezed my shoulder before withdrawing the hand. "After you, Your Majesty."
Even as I heard her stand, I knew her eyes were trying to burn a hole in the back of my head. "Don't worry, I'll be fine," I said without taking my eyes off the controls. That seemed to settle her as a moment later I heard the cockpit doors slide open and then close.
About thirty seconds later, Raven came to a stop over the break in the canopy. The consoles indicated the airlock was opening and offered me the ability to override that. I didn't, a moment later HK sent up confirmation that he, Serra, Bo and the first Mandalorian unit I'd ferried were planet-side. Behind them would come Padmé, her guards, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, and then Simvyl would drop with the other units I'd ferried.
As the confirmation came that the last warrior was down, I closed the airlock and angled Raven away. While I'd already discovered a point to enter the trees to land and hide Raven, I was going to fake two longer deployments at a point several kilometres away. Since the droids hadn't pursued us – or any of the other ships that were deploying teams – into the atmosphere, it was clear they planned to observe our actions and then react. Since Raven was the only vessel that would be landing, I needed the extra fake deployments to hide both Padme's location and where Raven would land.
The other vessels would fake one more deployment before gathering and then heading around the planet before breaking for hyperspace. Once away, they'd circle around and join the ships gathered with the Getala'kara a system away. Those would return once the battles to free Naboo had commenced. Getting a signal to them would be an issue, but hopefully, Asta's team would be solving that issue at this very moment.
After slipping Raven under the canopy of the jungle, I'd need to camouflage her – something made easier thanks to the Force – before heading for the RV location at a point where the jungle met the Gallo mountains.
"Captain, all but one of the vessels from the convoys have entered the atmosphere," Iinvee reported. "The Vuutun Palaa is requesting to send squadrons of Vultures into the atmosphere."
"Denied," Dofine replied. "They are to continue tracking the flight paths of the freighters. Attack vectors can be sent to Vulture droids the moment any lands, but they aren't to launch without my express permission." While not striking at whatever personnel those fighters carried was a risk, engaging the freighters in the atmosphere ran the chance of being observed by a populace that bar a few pockets of resistance, was subdued. Any uptick in resistance might interrupt operation on the surface and disrupt credit flows.
Once Queen Amidala was secured, that resistance, even with the potential for mercenaries to join it, would melt away when she signed the treaty approving the Federation's occupation of Naboo. Those who didn't would be made an example of either by being executed or sold to groups like the Hutt Cartel. As had already happened to over a hundred thousand Naboo who had resisted, or were considered a threat to resist.
The Queen was all that mattered to Dofine, which was why his focus was on the display of the royal cruiser being brought into the hangar. The large blast doors of the docking arm slid shut behind the vessel, joining every other exit from the ring, while laser cannons deployed from the ceiling of the bay. Dofine wouldn't use them and had given express orders that if they were he would personally deliver the responsible party to the Viceroy and insist that their entire family was expunged from Neimoidian culture.
The options to secure the cruiser were solely focused on the large contingent of battle droids that flooded the outer landing zone of the arm. A battalion of B1 and OOM-series droids were gathered in the landing zone, commanded by a dozen command-model droids. Those were supported by a squadron of Vulture droids deployed for ground operations. Dofine was reluctant to use the Vultures as a stray bolt from their cannons could destroy the unshielded cruiser, but Queen Amidala didn't know that and if the Queen or whatever entourage she had on board tried anything, the Vultures would end it before it could become an issue.
"Return Vultures to rest positions. Maintain two squadrons for patrol and four squadrons for ready deployment. The rest are to dock in the port-arm for resupply and repair." The crew snapped to obey and Dofine knew that recovery vessels would be deployed. While those Vulture droids that had been destroyed were likely unsalvageable as complete vessels, sections could be reused and anything that couldn't would be sent for scrapping. Most of their frames were simple and easily replaceable, but several of the components used in the droids' brains were responsible for much of the cost of a droid.
"The royal cruiser has powered down their engines as ordered."
Dofine smiled viciously as he leaned forward. A command in his chair shifted the display to another that offered a clear sight of the royal cruiser's docking ramp. He wouldn't want to miss the moment Queen Amidala surrendered. Nor the chance to, he hoped, capture the Jedi that caused all the issues with Queen Amidala in the first place. While it wasn't confirmed they were onboard, sensors detected over two dozen Humans on the vessel.
"Order the droids to approach."
The order was relayed and Dofine watched as a group of four droids – a yellow mark over the head confirming them as command variants – moved toward the front of the vessel. There was no sound, as such a feature on cameras from the cargo hold was considered a waste of credit, but Dofine knew what the droid was saying. The order was to vacate the vessel immediately and surrender.
While Dofine expected the response to not be immediate, as the clock ticked on, and no reaction came from the royal cruiser, he grew concerned. No, not concerned. Queen Amidala was his prisoner. However, the delay was unnerving even if no doubt driven by the purely emotional need to resist. Yet, even if she had the two Jedi from before with her, there was no chance she could escape. Not with over seven hundred battle droids and a squadron of Vulture droids watching for any movement from the cruiser.
The command droids conferred with each other before one of them moved closer. It would be repeating the order to vacate and surrender. "What is she up to?" Dofine asked no one when again there was no visible response from the cruiser.
A second later, the display flickered. It only lasted for a moment, but Dofine felt a strange chill run down his spine. One he'd not felt since Dorvalla. "What is wrong?" he asked when the display flickered again, this time for nearly a second.
"Unsure," a minor crew member manning the security station responded. "We're getting some unu…"
Whatever was going to be said was cut off as an alarm sounded from the junior officer's station and a second later, the display flickered violently before going dark.
"Report!" Dofine shouted, the cold sensation slowly spreading throughout his body.
"Cameras in the bay are being blocked," Iinvee reported as the cold sensation spread to Dofine's limbs.
He opened his mouth to shout at the officer to restore the signal, only for Unch to cut in. "Captain! I've lost the control signal with the droids throughout the entire arm." As the sensation reached his extremities, leaving Dofine almost unable to think clearly, Unch spoke again. "External connections are also down!"
"Contact has been lost with the Vuutun Palaa and the Luuhan," How added.
"By the spirits, what is going on?" Dofine asked in a voice that lacked all of the confidence and power it had held a mere minute before.
(Command-Variant OOM153's POV)
"By order of the Trade Federation, you are ordered to disembark from your vessel after which we will escort you to processing." The lead command-variant droid vocalized the order as the programming stated it should. Beside it, three other command variants stood, and around the seized cruiser, seven hundred and eighty other battle droids and twelve Vulture droids were deployed.
To Command-Variant OOM153, the delay caused a reaction with its base programming. Prisoners for processing were expected to disembark their craft within ten-point-three-four seconds. After that, the prisoners of importance – which from transmission from Control was the Human known as Queen Amidala along with any potential Jedi – were to be segregated from the others and taken to briefing room Dorn-5.
However, as double the expected time passed, OOM153's programming began processing alternate ways to complete its orders.
"Um, they're not exiting." OOM153 turned to OOM172 and stared at it. OOM172 had a point-zero-zero-three-six variance in its vocal processors that required correction. OOM153 found the variance a disruption to its functionality, however, the creators determined that was an inefficient use of OOM172's time.
OOM153 took a step closer to the starship, separating itself from the other command-variant droids. "By order of the Trade Federation, you are ordered to disembark from your vessel after which we will escort you to processing."
The order was repeated as there was a seven-point-six-nine-two per cent chance that the organics had simply failed to hear the initial order. There was a forty-nine-point-three-six per cent chance that the organics were considering their options for far longer than most organics would. The largest probability that was occurring to OOM153 was that the organics were preparing an illogical move to attack.
OOM153 determined that, based on the crew of the vessel, and the number of droids present in the bay, the chances of such an outcome being successful was less than point-four-three per cent. The only variable of interest was Queen Amidala as orders were clear that she was to only be stunned. If the other organics used her as mobile protection, then their odds of success increased. To four-point-eight-seven per cent.
After triple the expected time had elapsed, OOM153 turned and looked at a platoon of security-variant droids. "Sergeant, advance and breach." This plan was the one with the highest chance of success based on current parameters and known variables.
"Roger, Roger," the security droid replied. It and its platoon lifted their rifles to approach under primary caution protocols. However, before any of them had taken a step, OOM153 shuddered.
Internal diagnostics quickly confirmed the issue was that the connection to the central mainframe had been severed. OOM153 fell back on internal programming and resumed carrying outstanding orders. However, only the other command and security variant droids had such programming. The rest of the battle droids present – representing five hundred and eighty-two – lacked the additional core size to support such programming. Those droids had deactivated, their limbs and blasters falling to their sides.
OOM153 quickly calculated that the most likely vector for jamming was coming from the impounded vessel. The change in droid numbers dramatically altered the chances the organics could escape the forces under OOM153's command – rising it to thirty-seven-point-six-four per cent – however, that number was still within an acceptable range for the standing orders to be carried out without waiting for reconnection to the central mainframe.
"Roger, Roger." The Sergeant led what remained of its platoon forward, though just as they passed closer to the vessel than OOM153, the shared network between the droids in the bay detected movement from underneath the vessel. "Surr…"
The sergeant's order was cut off as the two figures that had dropped from the impounded vessel opened fire.
OOM153's programming activated as the security platoon was struck down by heavy blaster fire. The rifle in its arms was lifted higher, and it along with the command variants in its squad advanced. Their rifles opened fire on the new hostiles even as additional programming activated. Reconnection with the control mainframe now took priority. OOM153 turned to issue orders to other droids, however, the command it directed was blanketed out by the sound of a heavy repeater.
A Vulture droid was blasted in its control centre, with the metal there quickly succumbing to the focused heavy fire. As more combat programming engaged within OOM153, a second Vulture droid fell, two smoking holes through what an organic would consider eyes having taken out the Vulture droid's central processing. One of the Vultures fell upon a pile of deactivated battle droids, engulfing all in an explosion as one of the underslung missiles the Vulture had been equipped with somehow exploded.
As debris was thrown throughout the landing area and OOM153's programming had it duck to avoid a large section of the Vulture droid's wing, its programming shifted again. With armed combatants present, all droids would follow standard operating procedures until such time as a connection to the central mainframe was restored.
It turned to the other command variants with it. "Move t…"
OOM153's order was never completed as its head was blown clear from its frame.
The remaining command variants quickly processed this, and OOM172 was designated the new battalion commander. Yet before any order could be given, a small circular object bounced toward them. "Uh-oh," OOM172 managed to get out once its programming determined what the object was before it and the other two command variants were destroyed. The thermal detonator ensured they and the remains of OOM153 would be unsalvageable after the battle was over.
The programming on the remaining droids again reacted to the loss of the command unit and a new chain of command was established for the battalion. Yet even while that was going on, three more Vulture droids fell, taken apart by sweeping fire from a heavy repeating blaster located on the top of the impounded vessel.
As more droids fell to the effective fire of the small number of organics engaging them, the hiss of the royal cruiser's airlock failed to draw attention from any droid, save those whose visual receptors observed the ramp begin to descend.
(Asta Ordo's POV)
"Go, go, go! Oya!"
The command came from Kal Skirata, leader of Traat'aliit T'ad (Team Two). He, along with Baston Tyri had deployed through the droid shaft to the top of the Naboo cruiser to provide overwatch and sniper/heavy-weapon support for this assault. Two other warriors, Kaan and Aundars, had deployed to the underside via the escape pod hatches – said pods had been removed before the cruiser had entered the system.
The ramp of the royal cruiser deployed a split-second later, and Asta led the rest of her force, totalling twenty-eight Mandalorians, out of the cruiser. Her blaster was already firing before her armoured boots hit the deck of the Trade Federation's massive transport, and she enjoyed watching droids fall.
Her focus shifted to the squad of command droids that had issued the orders for them to surrender. While Asta had expected the order to be given, it insulted her that anyone thought several hundred droids was enough to stop an assault group of Mando'ade. However, the group was already down, having been taken out by a grenade from one of the four that had deployed to form the beachhead.
A red bolt slammed into her armour making her wince at the force, though her HUD reported no damage taken. Still, she turned toward those who had fired and returned the favour. A rocket raced from her gauntlet, slammed into the leader of a squad of red-striped droids and reduced it and its squad to their component parts.
Even as the explosion from her rocket joined the symphony of chaos erupted in the hangar, Asta was moving. Around her, more Mando'ade flooded from the cruiser, engaging the Federation's droid army. The shared Battlenet the Mando'ade used, along with decades of training, helped ensure their bolts flew out, striking different targets.
Vulture droids were targeted by any with heavier weapons as soon as possible. While their cannons wouldn't pierce beskar, the concussive force would knock a warrior from their feet, maybe even kill them. A fact proven as a member of her team, Hox Bruhl, was sent tumbling from one exploding near him. The offending Vulture was taken out by a rocket from another member of the unit even as the Battlenet reported Hox was uninjured.
"Advance," Asta ordered, her rifle singing as it brought destruction to another unit of droids. She moved to a pile of crates near the wall of the landing bay, having to dive as a Vulture near her fell over; its head destroyed by a volley of heavy blaster fire.
Once in cover, Asta examined the layout of the battle. None of her force was down, though a few like Hox had been momentarily knocked over by concentrated or heavy fire. That was a relief as, bar the odd stacks of crates, like the one she was next to, there was precious little in the way of cover inside the bay.
The ceiling cannon had been destroyed. While it had deactivated along with most of the droids, the chance it could power up again and unleash carnage was too great a chance to take to not destroy it immediately after deployment. Only three Vulture droids remained standing, along with around a hundred regular droids. The majority had shut down when the jamming signal had been activated. The royal cruiser was still in one piece, though the hull had been damaged significantly once battle had commenced.
Alor Cameron had hoped to prevent that, suggesting the cruiser could be used if Asta's warriors were forced to simply cripple or destroy the Lucrehulk. Asta knew that if that objective was taken, then departing in the Naboo vessel was unlikely. Ignoring the di'kut lack of weaponry the vessel had, the fact it would be ground zero for this battle all but ensured its ability to withdraw would be compromised. Even if it hadn't, escaping from this vessel in the cruiser was foolhardy. Even without commands from this ship, the other Lucrehulks would deploy their Vulture droids, and quickly overwhelm the royal cruiser.
No, the only option was to achieve the primary objective, and then consider which vessels of the Trade Federation could be repurposed for departure.
As she popped from her cover and let loose another trio of bolts from her rifle, the Battlenet reported Traat'aliit Solus was moving to one of the exits from the hangar. While the other traat'aliite would continue the battle, Team One was tasked with forcing open a set of doors, securing them and then slicing into the massive transport's internal network. Ideally, they'd also gain control of all internal security systems and shut down the droids remotely, but Asta didn't think the Federation was sharal enough to have not avoided that design flaw.
Still, the initial intel Alor Cameron and the Jetii had provided regarding the internal nature of the Lucrehulk had proved to be accurate enough to work with. Asta was still uncertain though as to how Alor Cameron had known details that the Jetii didn't as they, unlike him, had been onboard such a vessel before.
Those thoughts were pushed aside as her HUD warned her of an approaching unit of battle droids. The Battlenet already fed her their locations and approach vectors, so her rifle was up and unloading at the droids before they could process she was aware of their approach. Two droids fell to fire from her rifle. A third fell to a powerful bolt that all but vapourised its head, and it fell to the floor, tripping the last droid. Asta put a pair of bolts into the last droid's head even as she used the Battlenet to send Baston a thanks for his assist.
Yet, as soon as that was sent, her HUD warned of a new group of droids. Asta pivoted, her rifle unloading at the droids that had managed to get close enough she wouldn't need her HUD to make out the components of the droids' fingers. Three droids took blaster fire into their mid-sections, but as one fell its mechanical hand gripped her rifle.
Not wanting to get dragged down by the droid, and thus be taken out of position, she let it fall with the droid. A kick to the falling droid drove it into the legs of the last unit. As it stumbled to one side, generating space between her and it, and ensuring its blaster fire missed her armour, Asta lifted an arm and shot the droid with her gauntlet-mounted heavy blaster.
As the last droid fell, she stepped forward and pulled her rifle from the grip of the other, a pair of bolts from her gauntlet shattered the mechanical limb.
With her rifle, one given to her by her husband Torrhen on the day they were wed, in her hands, Asta checked the Battlenet, seeking another droid to destroy. While around thirty remained, none were near her, nor was a single Vulture droid still standing.
She turned as a notice came through the Battlenet from Team One's leader, Brild Awaud, that they'd secured control of the hangar's door system, along with internal monitors throughout the arm. While not total access to the security systems, it was more than Asta had prepared for, making it a welcome bonus.
"Traataliit'ade, move teams to Taap Solus," she ordered through one channel on the Battlenet. Confirmations came in from five of the other teams, the only one not to respond was Team One as Brild's team was already in position.
As the teams moved around, Asta examined the hangar through the Battlenet. The droids were all down or destroyed, while the five teams shifted to their first locations after the initial assault. Three Mando'ade came toward her, those were her team of Hox Brahl, Mun Xath and Nia Vizsla.
Asta was comfortable having Hox and Mun on her team, as she'd known both for many years as both clans were loyal to House Ordo. Indeed, the Zabrak, Mun, had saved her life during an ambush by Duke Anzur's force during the recent civil war. However, the sister of Alor Pre and the mother of Alor Gar was another matter. Manda, if not for Cameron and Bo-Katan Kryze vouching for Nia – likely as a favour to Naz Vizsla who was close to both – Asta wouldn't have allowed the former Kyr'tsad member on the mission, she may have even made sure she disappeared.
Now, Asta had heard reports of Nia's fighting prowess during the civil war. While she'd not had any position of command as would normally be the case given her experience and relations to two powerful Alor, the simple fact she was former Death Watch meant none could trust her in such a position. However, when the call had gone out from Cameron for warriors willing to fight – be it for honour or reward – at his side, Nia had been one of the first to step forward. Because of Cameron's word in her defence, Asta had allowed her to join the assault force, though due to Asta's distrust, Nia was kept on her traat'aliit.
She shifted the comms of her armour to the secure line for her unit. "Support Traat'aliit Solus." The three confirmed the order and Asta watched as Hox and Mun ensured Nia remained in front of them. Asta shifted the comm channel again. "Traat'aliit Verde, report in."
"Primary exit secured. Local security system overridden." That report came from Brild Awaud, whose team was one of two with a slant toward technical and computer skills. While the other teams had worked to secure the beachhead in the landing bay, Team One had achieved its initial objective of securing an exit.
"Secondary access breached. Local droids neutralized," Kal Skirata, the leader of Traat'aliit T'ad reported. "Working on overriding further controls."
When Asta had learnt that a warrior of Alor Kals calibre had answered the call for warriors, she'd been surprised. While his son Tor had fought in the civil war for Duke Adonai, Kal had generally stayed out of the matter. At least when it involved Duke Anzur. When Death Watch had been involved, Alor Kal had been close to a one-man army – even by Mando'ade standards. Because of his reputation, Asta had appointed him as her second in command, above even Baston Tyri who had served House Ordo for over four decades. Once they were underway to the rendezvous, Asta had asked Kal why he answered the call.
While he had heard of Cameron – from his son, Tor who'd served at the Institute in Keldabe, and others who enjoyed retelling Alor Cameron's verd'goten – and was curious if the Jetii was what some people claimed, that wasn't what brought him along. No, beyond even the credits promised for participating, he saw potential in their people uniting in a common cause. One that would show that while they were still warriors to be feared, they were no longer the reckless conquerors of old.
"We're going to need a new extraction plan," reported Alor Kann Dur who was leading Team Three. Kann was a close friend and ally of Duke Adonai. "Cruiser is too badly damaged for repair, even without considering external enemy forces." Kaan had signed on with his son Thun to fight beside Alor Cameron over the promise of credits. While that wasn't true of many, Asta wasn't surprised by the choice.
Kann had been there during the ijaat'akaanir, so had harboured an interest in Cameron even before the Jetii became clan chief. While Kann had volunteered for this assault – as had every warrior present – his son Thun had chosen to head to Naboo. There, if all went well, Thun and many others – including Asta's son Osto – would fight at the side of Cameron, securing bonds of friendship between them that would carry over to when Thun and Osto assumed leadership of their clans.
"Tertiary egress located. Securing now." Alor Aundars Wren was, like Alor Kann, an ally of House Kryze, and unsurprisingly had almost fought with Kann over who would volunteer first. The pair were very much inseparable, however unlike Kann, Aundars had ensured his son remained behind. That was both because his heir had just welcomed his first child and as people had to stay behind to secure clan and house holdings. While Death Watch was, Asta hoped, consigned to history as a mistake, House Varaud was still present. Duke Anzur wasn't foolish enough to think he could win a new civil war after how badly he'd been beaten by Dukes Adonai and Torrhen, but he was wily enough that he might try to cause trouble for the restored Kryze-Ordo alliance. That was why Asta's daughter Alys and Dorgo Adonai weren't present in any form either, though in the case of the latter it was more because, with the civil war now over, Dorgo needed time to truly grieve for his lost family. That Asta had ensured Alys remained at his side was a small play to see if perhaps something might develop between the pair and further secure the alliances between their houses.
"Bay secured. Primary fuel targets discovered and rigged. Working on pinpointing secondary locations and any potential weapon caches." Jad Spars led Team Five and was the only team leader who wasn't either the chief or heir of their clan. He also was the only warrior in the assault team to have not been born in the Mandalorian sector, having been adopted by his father – Alor Olaf who had command of the Getala'kara – after his birth mother had died defending the old warrior. While he might not have been born within Mandalorian space, Jed was a well-respected Mando'ade as their people placed no stigma on adoption. Family was more than just blood – something Asta had learnt from her brother Tarho, who was Togruta and someone Asta had trusted to protect her children when she and Torrhen had to head into battle.
"Overwatch achieved," reported Baston Tyri. Of everyone in the assault force, Baston was the one she trusted the most. The man had been a battle brother of Torrhen since before she'd met her husband, and Baston had pulled her arse from the fire on several occasions. Something she'd done for him as well.
While teams Zero – her team – through Five would push deeper into the massive cargo vessel, Team Six under Baston's command would remain at the beachhead. The doors to the inner hangar bay were currently sealed and should remain so with Traat'aliit Solus slicing into the mainframe, but if they opened then any droids beyond – which Asta feared was many of the Vulture droids that had escorted them onto the Lucrehulk – would attack. To help with maintaining the beachhead, even if the Naboo vessel was unusable as an extraction vessel, Baston and another member of his team would maintain overwatch while the other two were in the process of bringing two heavy blaster cannons out of the royal cruiser.
With the team leaders all having reported in, and first positions secured, Asta shifted her comms to a force-wide channel. "All traataliit'ade, proceed to Taap T'ad." As every member of the assault force reported in, Asta made her way toward where her team and Team One were.
Hox gave a slight nod as she reached the blast doors that led to the corridor running along the inside of the impressive docking arm. After placing a variety of explosives and mines around the door to the inner hangar, Team Five would join them soon, and the three teams would move forward through the corridors. Kal would take another three teams through the corridors on the outside of the arm. While that path would be longer, in theory, it should be the quieter path.
"How deep did you get?" Asta asked Brild as she moved beside her. At Brild's side, Sunel Gedycs currently had cables running from her gauntlet into a dataport. Sunel's clan was a powerful one that supported Torrhen, and while she'd never worked with Sunel before, Asta had heard of her skill with computer systems during the civil war. Kaan and Baston both spoke highly of her, which was why she'd been assigned to one of the teams deployed to slice into the Federation's systems.
"Internal defences have been disabled, though only for the arm," Sunel replied even as her fingers danced over the gauntlet's interface. "Motion sensors are on a loop while cameras are," Sunel paused for a moment, "overridden."
A new notification flashed through the Battlenet. Acknowledging it, Asta smiled as she was given sight of the cameras that ran throughout the arm. While the camera access only covered the arm, a complete layout of the massive vessel filtered into her HUD. The in-built system began plotting out routes to the bridge, highlighting spots where Asta and her force would pass close to concentrations of droids.
With a command, Asta shared access to the system with Kal and Baston. Baston would use it to determine what was in the inner bay while Kal, like her, would determine his path forward. As they confirmed access, Asta programmed her HUD to monitor the various cameras for movement. While she'd prefer to have the motion sensors, she trusted that Sunel's disabling them was the safer option.
As the HUD brought up feeds of droids moving within the arm, highlighting those with markings for command and security, Asta frowned. The numbers in the arm were far lower than she'd have expected. Even after considering the number destroyed in the landing bay and that most would be deployed to the planet. She wondered if in his haste to secure Queen Amidala, the captain of this vessel had overplayed his hand and deployed what he considered overwhelming firepower to convince the queen to surrender. If they had, then Asta was more than happy to make them pay for it.
Though as she examined the state of the royal cruiser, Asta wondered how Queen Amidala would react. While she'd only met the young queen during the briefings on how to achieve planetfall and, at the minimum, cripple a Lucrehulk, Asta had been impressed with her. There was a fire there, that while buried under a preference for peace – though not to the levels shown by those di'kute who had called themselves 'New Mandalorians' – raged to free her people. Though the queen had been ill-at-ease with using warriors to free her people, or perhaps the death and destruction the coming battles would bring to her people, she'd accepted the situation. Usually after a soft word or two from Cameron.
That and other signs made clear that the young queen had a yearning for the Jetii Mando'ade, but he seemed to either ignore it or miss it entirely. However, Asta had seen that Bo-Katan and Alor Serra were both aware of the queen's feelings. That, however, was a matter for Cameron to handle. Likely once Naboo was free and those in command of this invasion had either surrendered or died for their folly.
Her HUD laid out three primary routes that would lead to the powercore and engine section of the vessel, which pulled Asta's thoughts back to the present. Whichever route they took would take them through at least two locations where the droids that remained could attempt to delay or ambush her force. Yet as she examined those locations while they waited for Team Five, Asta didn't think they'd have enough droids to do anything more than inconvenience her teams. Not unless they deployed their droidekas.
The two Jetii with Queen Amidala spoke of having to fall back when confronted by the droids, which suggested they would be a concern. However, there was no sign of any of them within the arm. Either the Lucrehulk didn't have any or the captain – displaying an odd sense of concern – had withheld them from securing the royal cruiser. Still, unless they had at least two droidekas for every warrior under her command, Asta felt even those droids wouldn't be able to stop them from completing all their objectives.
After Team Five arrived, having finished deploying the various explosives needed to help Team Six, a quick series of signals to and from Kal confirmed his unit was ready. "Advance." The single-word command had her team take the lead down the corridor. Team One moved next with Team Five securing the rear.
Reaching the first intersection, Asta's team advanced slightly down the crossing corridor. Asta scanned the corridor. Even if the HUD and sensor feed from inside the Federation ship showed they were safe, she wasn't taking any chances. Team One pushed on, crossing the intersection and after Team Five had advanced, Asta's team slipped to follow, assuming the rear position.
As they neared the next intersection, the Battlenet flickered with reports. Asta's HUD provided details that Kal's team had engaged a small unit of droids. While not all there had been combat models, all had been dispatched with ease and his unit was pushing on.
Traat'aliit Solus reached the next intersection, and confirmation that they'd engaged a squad of battle droids flashed through Asta's command within the Battlenet. Team Five moved to assist, but even as they reached the intersection, Brild reported it was secure. Team Five thus moved forward, crossing the intersection. Asta's team followed along with Team One now assuming the rear position.
While it was only a matter of time until the Federation regained control of the sensors and camera in this arm of their vessel, Asta had given clear orders that they weren't to push forward too quickly. Doing so resulted in mistakes, and while those with her were the more experienced warriors who had answered Cameron's' call – and thus already knew this – there was never anything wrong with restating common-sense orders. While getting to the bridge before the crew re-established control of the internal defences would be preferred, the sheer scale of this vessel meant that was unlikely to happen. However, if they could reach the power cores first, or at least gain access to the security systems in that section of the vessel, then Asta would consider the initial assault successful.
The third intersection took them parallel with the inner landing bay, or more accurately the middle bay as it seemed the Lucrehulk had three sections for the main bays that dominated the ships' arms. Pulling up camera feeds from inside the middle landing zone, Asta confirmed the presence of two dozen battle droids and twice that number of Vultures. Wanting to give Alor Baston's team a better chance, and avoid the risk that those droids might emerge into the corridors and flank her forces, she inputted a new, immediate objective.
As her team and Team Five secured the intersection, Team One moved toward the doors leading into the bay. While Sunel pulled the cable from her gauntlet to slice into the door controls, Asta sent a command for Alor Kal to have his technical team do the same on their side of the arm.
While Sunel was working, Asta pulled up the map of the Lucrehulk again with her HUD. The critical locations to secure or destroy the vessel had already been tagged and teams were designated for each location. While she would lead most teams toward the bridge and droid control centre, which were located in the central sphere, other teams would move to secure the power cores, external communications control and droid relay command centre. Yet, as she examined the map once more, a new location of interest was flagged by the Battlenet.
The main computer core, while a useful objective, had been expected to be heavily guarded. However, it seemed that not only was that unlikely – or at least there wasn't a dedicated defensive position the droids could hold – but that the hyperdrive navigational core was located nearby. Asta had expected that to be close to the bridge, but either that wasn't the case, or the one being marked by her HUD was a backup.
Regardless of which it was, Asta marked that core as a priority target. Not for destruction, but for downloading. If, like the Mando'ade, the Federation had hidden hyperspace routes throughout the Outer Rim, then that data would be worth a fortune; both financially and tactically. Plus, it would only require withdrawing one of the three teams assigned to the bridge assault to secure and begin securing what charts and navigational details they could.
The blast doors to the middle landing bay slammed shut, and Sunel stepped back. Brild blasted the controls, ensuring the system couldn't be overridden locally. Before she stepped away, she attached a thermal detonator to the walls. On the off chance that the droids somehow managed to force the blast doors open, the corridor would be blocked by the explosion. The pattern was repeated at the next two sets of doors that led to the inner landing bay. Each time the blast doors were sealed, and the corridor mined.
The process wasn't fully repeated with the innermost landing bay, as while there were droids inside, none were combat variants. However, the bay was still locked down after Asta examined the camera feed and determined the Federation was loading statues, sculptures, and other objects of importance to the Naboo into shipping containers. Those objects were of minor importance to the mission, but if the vessel could be secured, and then it survived the coming battle, they could return the objects to Queen Amidala. The financial reward for doing so might be slim, but the potential political value wasn't something Asta was going to ignore.
The element slowed as they moved past the now sealed-off innermost bay. The slicing carried out earlier meant the secure feeds they had access to only reached the point where the arm ended, and the massive power cores and engines were located. While they had schematics, there was no way to know what lay ahead. Plus, this crossover location was one that the Battlenet had marked as a likely ambush location. Given the previously marked locations hadn't had anything like the droids needed to delay the force, Asta expected this to be where the Federation made one of its larger stands.
For Asta's element to advance, they'd have to move through a large open hall, one that fed into a half-dozen locations, including some that had natural elevation to rain down fire on her force. The only upside was that the passage Kal's element was moving down would lead into the same location, allowing the combined assault force to flank and overwhelm any droids present.
Asta sent a check to Kal, which was replied to with a confirmation that he and his element were two minutes out. With that confirmed, Asta ordered Traat'aliit Rayshe'a forward. Jad Spars had only taken a half-dozen steps into the hall before he was knocked back by significant blaster fire.
His team pulled him back, reacting to his falling before the Battlenet confirmed he was unharmed. As Team Five returned to cover, Asta examined the feeds from their helmets.
From what was recorded, over a hundred battle droids were gathered in the hall. While not all were detectable, the vectors of fire that had rained down on Team Five revealed the location of nearly two dozen that were in cover. Based on those locations, Asta marked others as likely points where more droids could be waiting.
Hox and Mun moved to the corner that led to the hall, taking orders from Asta as she inputted cover points. As the two moved forward, drawing considerable fire, which revealed several of the points Asta had marked as possible locations as actual ones, Nia and Siri Trumda moved to the corner.
Those two were the ones outfitted with differing backpacks, and instead of the single rocket most Mando'ade carried, they each carried four. That cost them their jetpacks, but given only two teams had those for this operation, it was a minor change. As they leant forward, programming vectors into their rockets, Brild and Jad moved closer, grenades in their hands.
Like the entire assault force, the quartet about to unleash hell on the droids were enjoying themselves. While Asta was glad the civil war was over, and they could rebuild their space, she missed combat. That feeling was one many gave in to when the call to arms was sent out by Alor Cameron, overriding the desire for credits. Not that they'd turn down the reward as to do so might insult Clan Shan, and by extension Houses Kryze and Ordo.
As the first pair of rockets took off, Brild and Jad tossed their first grenade. A second pair of rockets took off a split-second later, and as the first reached the locations and exploded, Brild and Jad tossed their second grenade.
As the grenades and last two rockets exploded, Asta rushed forward, her element behind her. The closer cover the droids had been using was gone, having been blown apart by the grenades, destroying the droids behind them. The rockets had slammed into four of the locations at higher levels where droid fire had come from. Or at least three had, the fourth rocket had struck the right side of the main droid defensive line.
Blaster fire raced across the area, more fire coming at the Mando'ade than heading out. Yet Asta's warriors could take multiple strikes before being forced back, whereas a single decently placed bolt would destroy a droid. The droids continued to fire at her warriors, undeterred by the losses they'd already suffered. While that was to be expected as droids lacked the fire of the Mando'ade, the spark that granted them, and other sentients, life, Asta knew there was more to the droids' unwillingness to withdraw than just programming.
Beyond them lay the passageways that led past and to the power cores, engines, and other critical systems of the Lucrehulk. If an extended firefight or explosions broke out there, then the entire ship might be destroyed. Yes, the chance of that was low, but given Neimoidians were known to prefer to save their skins over self-sacrifice – a fact that influenced the battle plan for this assault – Asta doubted they'd risk it, not until the ship looked close to being taken.
The advance was slowed when Ella Rang – a warrior from Team Five – took a series of bolts to her side. While the beskarweave there had resisted the first two, the third bolt broke through and she'd fallen to her knees. Her team moved to cover her even as she pulled a bacta patch from her belt. The offending droids were soon gone, blown up by a rocket from Jad's gauntlet.
Still, even though the wound to Ella wasn't critical, it did stop Asta's element. Yet just as the droids started to push forward, their right flank exploded. Rockets that the droids had seemingly not expected had slammed into their lines, followed by Alor Kal's element flooding into the area.
With the droids under assault from two sides, and part of their main defensive line broken, the battle was soon over without another Mando'ade taking a wounding hit. Asta stepped forward and gave Alor Kal a nod of thanks, which he accepted with a nod of his own.
"Taap Ehn," Asta stated over the Battlenet. Her team and Kal's took the lead, pushing through the area into the engine and power section of the Lucrehulk. Behind them, the other teams followed along, clearing rooms as they advanced. A signal from Brild brought the force to a halt, and as Sunel and the slicer in Team Three – Eili Drys – moved to the dataports that had been located, Asta waited. While she could've gone over the next stage of the assault, the plan there required no alteration.
Once security had been overridden, the force would advance toward the neck leading to the central sphere. Along the way Teams Two, Three and Four would break off, heading to secure the power cores, communication suits, engines and other locations of value. While Kal's element had orders to rig the cores and engines for detonation, those would only be inputted if the assault on the central sphere failed.
In Asta's opinion, that section would place them most at risk of failing to secure the vessel. While Vulture droids couldn't enter the handful of bays along the neck, there was a chance, however small, that the captain of the Lucrehulk would choose to abandon the arms and escape with the sphere. It wasn't a function of these massive vessels that Asta had heard of, but Sunel and others confirmed it was a rumoured feature.
A notice in the Battlenet revealed that Sunel had breached the first layer of security for the cameras in this section. While Asta disliked Neimoidians and their beliefs, she could at least respect the smidgen of intelligence they'd displayed in designing their internal security. Keeping the cameras, sensors and whatever else for each section separate, prevented any intruder from gaining complete control of the vessel from the landing bay. That would've made the assault much easier, but Asta was glad it hadn't been the case as she was enjoying the battle. Even if the droids, outside of the Vultures, hadn't been a match for her warriors. That said, the fact they have full deck plans from a single dataport was a flaw, which if the Neimoidians survived the assault and upcoming space battle, Asta expected them to report to their superiors. Of course, her people would have complete plans regardless as altering the internal structure of vessels this size would take time and cost more credits than the Federation may well be willing to afford. To say nothing of the number of Lucrehulks the Federation was rumoured to possess.
A second notification in the Battlenet was followed by a new datafeed into her HUD. Opening it, Asta smiled at seeing the cameras for the engine and neck sections had been secured. A small notice confirmed that internal sensors and defensives were disabled. However, before she could examine the various routes that would lead her element to the bridge, a warning flashed in the HUD. The camera feeds from the arm had gone, along with a warning the internal sensors there had reactivated.
"Blast doors are opening," Alor Baston's voice called over the team leader's channel. "Droids advancing. Secure for now."
"Acknowledged," Asta replied. The doors to the inner landing bay were always expected to be open, but Baston and his team were prepared for it. They couldn't hold out indefinitely, not if enough Vulture droids walked through, but they were secure for now. That said, the loss of the camera feed from the arm meant two things.
First, they had an idea of how long it would take the bridge to override their slice of the security systems in their current section of the vessel. Plus, the Lucrehulk's command staff now knew who had boarded them, or at least who were deployed in the bay. With even a modicum of intelligence, they'd determine the rest of her team were also Mando'ade and adapt whatever security protocols they had. They'd also be working hard to overcome the jamming signal or destroy the royal cruiser as the source of that, which meant securing the communication suite was a higher priority.
Accessing the Battlenet, she shifted the plans for Kal's element to reflect that, and he confirmed the change. "Execute Taap Cuir."
The six teams moved forward, heading for the main elevators that connected the land bay level with the others. Once there, and after securing the room – which was devoid of droids suggesting they'd been part of the company that had attempted to stop her warriors before they left the docking arm – her and Kal's teams moved to different shafts. With the new orders, Kal's team would take the communication suite. Kaan and Aundars' teams would secure the reactor cores and engines along with the auxiliary control centres. From there, they should be able to ensure no external signal was sent even if the jamming device was destroyed.
"Oya, Manda!" Asta's war cry was returned by the others with them, and after a nod to Kal and his element, her team and Team Five entered the elevator. However, instead of moving up, he sent the car down a level. The teams waited there until a signal came from Jad. His team was now in the shaft and moving upward with their jetpacks. After waiting a short while, and another signal meaning Team Five was almost at the deployment floor, Asta programmed the car to rise.
The ride was quick, though it felt like an eternity to Asta. The security systems might be down for this section, but they were still vulnerable. In theory, an override command could send the car hurtling to the base of the shaft, a fall of potentially a hundred levels. That made the moments inside the elevator the riskiest after securing the landing bay.
When the car jerked, Asta's grip on her rifle tightened. While she relaxed as the car indicated they'd arrived at their floor, she maintained a tight grip, expecting some form of resistance when the doors opened. She was the first to step out of the car, her helmet and rifle moving as one as she scanned the intersection. Even while doing this, she moved forward letting the others surge out.
Thankfully, the intersection was clear, which was a relief. While it was unlikely whatever remained of the droid forces would gather here – as there were over two dozen levels her element could've chosen to exit and advance along – the chance was always there. However, since there was no clear and present danger, she felt that any droids that might stop her element from reaching the bridge would be deployed there as no matter which level they used to move along the neck, they had to emerge on the bridge level to take it. The question was if the command crew of the Lucrehulk would do that.
The element advanced along the corridor rapidly. Each intersection or door was examined, secured, and then moved past. The rooms here were quarters, though their lack of extravagance suggested they weren't for the senior crew or important guests. Yet, as they reached the end of the section that contained the quarters, the lead members of the element came under attack.
As Hox and Mun returned fire, the Battlenet reported they were engaged by sentients. The pair slipped back, using the intersection they'd been caught as for cover and fired down the opposing corridor. Team One moved forward to support while Team Five turned and moved to the previous intersection to counter any potential ambush. While that was going on, Asta accessed the camera network for the surrounding area.
A dozen sentients – a mix of Weequay, Humans, and Nikto – were attacking the front of her element. From their lack of common armament and weaponry, they had to be mercenaries, which was odd. With the believed size of the droid army on Naboo, there didn't appear to be much need for hired guns. Well, not unless there were operations taking place that the Federation didn't want directly tied to them, though given they controlled the planet and system, there weren't many such operations that could exist.
The group at the front had deployed makeshift barriers to protect them, which along with the other two dozen moving down parallel corridors to flank her force, meant this was a planned ambush. Either the bridge still had access to the camera feeds she was using, or there was a separate system that was controlled from the sphere. Learning which it was would have to wait, and Asta sent the details of the enemy to her warriors. A second later, a standard battle plan for such situations was sent as well. The simple two-word code was enough that every warrior with her knew their roles the moment they saw the words.
Hox and Mun advanced, Brild's team supporting them. The Battlenet reported bolts striking their armour with a greater degree of accuracy, yet as the lead pair bore the brunt of the attack, Brild and his team supported. A second later explosions engulfed both corridors as grenades thrown by Team Five exploded, shattering the barriers placed by the mercenaries, and tearing limbs from bodies.
As smoke engulfed the intersection, and her warriors began mowing down the remaining enemy, Asta – with Nia at her side – moved beyond the intersection, securing the next section of the passageway. As the blaster fire from the intersection died down, Team Five returned. Asta knew Jad was smirking even as he tapped at his gauntlet and the previous intersection was engulfed in smoke and fire as well when whatever explosives the team had deployed were detonated.
Asta checked the camera feeds, however those closest to the short skirmish were down, taken out in the carnage. However, those slightly further away suggested no movement from either flanking force. While she'd have preferred to ensure the mercenaries were all eliminated, time was becoming a factor.
The element advanced quickly, Asta scanning the camera feeds for another possible ambush. None appeared and she smiled when only two members of the last ambush emerged from the flames. Given both were dragging themselves along the deck, blood trailing behind them along with missing limbs, they'd soon join the others.
The camera feeds were pushed away as the element reached the frames of massive blast doors. Those were a sign the sphere could detach and when they passed beyond the doors, Asta was relieved they'd made it this far without that happening. It had been unlikely and still was, but it was a concern floating at the rear of her thoughts.
A short corridor later, they emerged at a control point with elevator shafts. As Sunel moved to the nearest dataport, Asta opened a channel to Kal and Baston." Report."
"Primary and secondary communication suites are secured. Reactors rigged for overload. Droid control arrays overridden." As Kal's report came in, Asta sighed in relief. Even if the bridge was able to overcome the jamming, or the Naboo cruiser was destroyed, then the captain of the vessel was unable to alert the other Lucrehulks. Additionally, with the control arrays under Kal's control, if they were forced to scuttle this vessel, they could use the ships' Vulture droids to target the other Lucrehulks.
The channel shifted, though the first sounds to reach Asta's ears was that of blaster fire – of a heavy calibre – and something exploding. "Bay secure, for now. Heavy repeaters destroyed. Position at risk of overrun." Baston's voice was calm, but as Asta accessed the datafeed for the team through the Battlenet, it revealed that Ayso Tathiss, one of the heavy cannon operators, was wounded. Not enough that they couldn't fight, but such that the Battlenet reported a discernible decrease in her combat efficiency.
"Acknowledged. Withdraw from the hangar. External comms secured."
"Moving." With that, the channel closed. Once in a corridor, Team Six should be safe from Vulture droids, which were what would be causing the greatest issue. Even if they could slip into the corridors, as soon as two or three were taken out, they'd block the corridor to any other. Once the bridge was secured, shutdown commands would be sent to all internal combat droids. Those outside wouldn't be shut down as that would alert the other Lucrehulks and whatever command structure the Neimoidians had on the surface. No, it was better to leave those active, and then reveal the deception over ownership of this vessel during the major surface and space co-ordinated battle Cameron was considering with Queen Amidala.
Asta's focus shifted Brild spoke. "Can't secure security for the sphere. Appears to be controlled directly from the bridge. Cameras sliced into, but they'll see us coming."
"Understood." Asta pulled up the new camera feed and examined the viable options available. After a quick consideration, she tasked Team One with reaching the Droid Control Centre that dominated the sphere. Even if the bridge took longer to secure than expected, having all internal droids disabled would all but ensure the ship was theirs.
Brild acknowledged the change in orders and moved off with his team. While they'd need to take an elevator to another level, they wouldn't be taking this one, and by moving to another location, it would force the bridge to either split their defences, or risk allowing one unit to achieve its objective unopposed.
As with the previous elevator car, Team Five remained outside while Asta's boarded. The car moved down and remained there until the second signal from Jad Spars, at which point Asta had the car rise. While it rose, Asta was again concerned, as they were exposed, and with the bridge still having control of the security systems, they could theoretically override safety protocols and send the car crashing down the shaft. Thus, when the alert came that they'd reach the bridge level, Asta was relieved.
That relief vanished as the doors opened and she took a step forward. Rapid blaster fire slammed into her, driving her from her feet and slamming her into the rear of the car.
"Droidekas." Nia's voice came over the Battlenet as Asta felt someone dragged her to the side and blaster fire peppered her and what of the car was exposed. She gave Mun a nod of thanks while her HUD confirmed she wasn't wounded. Standing, she pushed herself against the wall, joining Mun on one side of the car while Nia and Hox did the same on the other.
The car began to shake with the volume of fire coming in, and Asta prepped for her team to charge out. While the sheer volume of fire coming toward them in a closed area meant there was a real risk one of them would be wounded, if not killed, there was little option other than a frontal assault as the controls for the car had been destroyed when a bolt had deflected off her armour. Yet there was little other option as droidekas were the ones the Jetii had warned her about, and with them lacking cover, there was no other option.
Yet before she could issue the order, Nia dropped low and swung out. Her armour was battered with bolts of plasma – her helmet taking the brunt of the damage even if she'd be feeling it in the morning – but before Hox pulled her back into cover, one of the two remaining rockets Nia carried launched.
Asta had the urge to scold Nia for her recklessness, but as the car rocked due to the explosion of the rocket, she pushed the urge aside for now. Instead, she rushed forward, using the unexpected chaos to her advantage.
Her rifle flared to life, bolts rushing from the barrel as fast as they could. Behind her, Hox and Mun's rifles did likewise. Normally she was averse to using her rifle like this, but given droidekas had shields, concentrated heavy fire was the best option. Grenades might also work, but given how close the droidekas were to the elevator exit, Asta and her team would be caught in any blast radius.
Asta's fire shifted, guided by her HUD to a droidekas that had been knocked over by the explosion. Its shields were down, and her blaster ensured it wouldn't be righting itself as she blew apart the droid's brain. She slid down behind the wreckage, using it as cover as two droidekas that were upright fired at her. The frame of their fallen comrade took the brunt of their attack as the Battlenet revealed Hox had done the same as her while Mun had reached a support that offered some protection. Nia was exiting the elevator, and while her vitals were low, they weren't critical.
Nia had barely slipped from the elevator before the car groaned loudly. A second later, as blaster fire rippled around the intersection, the car fell away. The sound of metal scraping and crashing into metal echoed through the open shaft doors, which slammed closed an instant later, no doubt due to safety protocols.
While she did that, Nia rushed forward, slamming into a droideka that had just righted itself but hadn't yet activated its shields. The droideka toppled over, and Nia dove over it, using it as cover. A warning in Asta's HUD came as the charge in her rifle's power pack dipped below fifty per cent even as she unloaded into another droideka. Its shields flared at the volume of fire coming even as it and two other droidekas fired at Asta.
She grunted as her armour took over a dozen high-powered bolts, wincing as a trio of them struck her leg. The beskarweave held, but the HUD was reporting it was weakening. Dropping low, she pulled a grenade from her belt and rolled it slowly toward the droids.
She smirked as the grenade rolled through the droideka's shield and exploded, taking out that droid and showering the other two with enough explosive force that they tumbled over. She slipped from her cover, blasting the two downed droids; something Hox also did as the Battlenet reported the weakened opponents to Asta's team.
Destroying three more droidekas was a relief, yet before Asta could target a new droid – or consider Alor Cameron's idea about slow-moving objects slipping through the droideka's shields – she stumbled forward. Over a dozen bolts slammed into her back, and she fell. Adapting, she shifted her weight and landed on one shoulder.
Her grunt of pain was hidden by her helmet, and she rolled over, her rifle returning fire at the droid that had attacked her. A click came from her rifle, and she cursed at realising the power cell was depleted. Scrambling to take cover behind another destroyed droid – even as reports in the Battlenet reported the rest of her team struggling to hold their ground – she yanked the cell from her rifle.
As she slammed a new power cell into her rifle, Asta examined her team's condition through the Battlenet. Hox was pinned down by a foursome of droidekas while Mun had been driven back down one corridor, the structural support she'd used as initial cover now looking like nothing more than a pillar of twisted metal. Nia's armour was reporting a wound on her left arm, limiting her ability to use her rifle.
All in all, even though they'd taken out some droidekas, those that remained were slowly winning the battle.
Asta's mind ran through a dozen plans, looking for a way to extract from the location, yet before she settled on one, the elevator doors exploded. A second later Jad and his team swopped out of the smoke, their rifles singing as they soared into the corridor.
The droidekas shifted fire, regarding the new group as a greater threat. While true, the weakening of fire against Asta allowed her to choose a pattern of attack. As Ella Rang swooped low, slamming into a droid moving to flank Hox, Asta sent the command through the Battlenet. Confirmations came in within seconds and by then Asta was already moving.
Racing to Nia's side, Asta grabbed the other warrior's arm and pulled her to her feet. The pair then turned, blasting at the nearest droidekas even as Hox moved toward them. Down the corridor they were backing toward, Mun held her position, and the droidekas that had pushed her away were caught in a crossfire.
Before they could react, a grenade bounced off their shields and exploded. While it hadn't disabled the droids, the concussive force knocked them over, disrupting their protection as the shields overloaded and Asta's team obliterated the pair with ease. All four used the downed droids as cover, allowing them to concentrate their fire toward the intersection.
At the same time her team had moved, Jad had split Traat'aliit Reyshe'a in half, with two members of each moving down a corridor. The droidekas had split their fire, but with eight targets to engage and thirteen droidekas, they couldn't bring enough firepower to bear against a single target to kill a Mando'ade. Only she, Nia and Pirwe Puto – a member of Team Five – had been wounded in this fight, though Ella Rang had been injured previously. None of the new injuries were anything more than minor. Yet now, Asta's warriors had the droidekas hemmed in.
On her signal, grenades came into the intersection. Some were thrown, some bounced and Asta rolled hers, wanting to see if the trick would work again. Almost as one, the grenades exploded, shaking the intersection and surrounding corridors, and the Mandalorians increased their rate of fire.
As the smoke cleared, Asta stood and moved toward the intersection, surveying the devastation. Only a few droids were still moving, though given those were missing limbs they were quickly put down by blaster fire from her warriors. She reached into a pouch and pulled a bacta patch out. While there was no faint hint of the bacta due to her helmet, she heard the faint hiss of the batch attaching to her leg and injecting healing fluid onto the wound.
Once that was done, she turned and moved. The droidekas had delayed them, but in the end, it hadn't been enough. As she moved, her team and Jad's fell into position behind her. A glance at Nia reminded Asta to speak with the other woman about her reckless actions. Yes, it had helped them escape the elevator before the car fell, but it was a risk a warrior of Nia's age and experience shouldn't be taking.
Yet Asta felt that might be why Nia had done it. Because of her time as a member of kyr'tsad, Nia had lost much of her honour in the eyes of many. Joining this assault, and possibly being ready to die in it, might just be Nia's way of regaining that honour. At least enough that it would no longer reflect on her family. The logic was there, but Asta disagreed with the need for any to throw their lives away in such a pointless manner.
The teams moved rapidly down the corridor, quickly reaching the secured blast doors to the bridge. A signal through the Battlenet had Jad lead his team into another corridor, one that would move to secure the door on the other side of the bridge. As Team Five moved off, Asta turned toward the cameras that monitored the area outside the doors.
"Open the doors," she ordered. "Your droids are disabled, and my warriors control all external communications and the reactor cores. If we must force our way in, then no guarantee for your safety will be given." While there was a chance the frogs might listen and open the doors to prevent themselves from being harmed, nothing she'd seen in this assault suggested the captain lacked that much of a backbone. If he had, then the sphere would've separated and the rings of the enormous, converted transport vessel would've detonated.
A signal in the Battlenet confirmed Jad's team had reached the other door. "Very well." She turned to the door and tapped a button on her gauntlet. Hox and Mun stepped forward, pulling shaped explosives that they'd brought specifically for this.
When she and Alor Kal had debriefed the Jetii, the elder one had revealed that the bridge had blast doors and that they'd almost managed to breach them before being driven off by droidekas. After fighting a concerted force of those droids, Asta understood why the Jetii had withdrawn, even if she might well have not done the same. However, the reveal of the blast doors, and the chance they'd have to breach such doors simply to secure their beachhead, had meant each team brought designed breaching charges.
Once Hox and Mun were finished, the entire team moved back. A signal came to Asta, letting her know Jad's team had deployed their breaching charges as well. A tap of her gauntlet was followed by an explosion that would've vaporised the ears of any nearby, though since her warriors were in armour, they were saved from the worst of the explosion even as they braced to avoid being knocked over by the shockwave that raced away from the blast doors.
Asta stepped back into view of the blast doors, wondering how the crew on the bridge had reacted to that explosion. The lights in the corridor were gone, like some of the panelling, they'd been destroyed by the shockwave, however, Asta frowned as her HUD reported the doors were still standing. As Jad confirmed with a short message the same from his side, Asta moved closer, guided by her helmet's scanners.
The doors had been breached, at least partially. It seemed that the bridge had a dual set of blast doors, and while those were shattered, the charges had forced them inward, jagging into what was probably the base door in such a way that opening it wasn't going to happen without help. The HUD analysed the doors and highlighted several points of weakness.
As she walked away, she transmitted those points to Nia. Grenades wouldn't cut it, so the rocket Nia had left would have to do. Or at least pierce the innermost door enough for a greater hole to be made with grenades. The former Kyr'tsad member moved into the corridor, moving back further from the door than the alcoves where the rest of the team was waiting.
A moment later, the rocket launched, and the corridor was again engulfed in a shockwave. While not as large as before, there was more dust and debris thrown in it, though thanks to the sensors in their armour all Asta's team could see well enough to advance.
Asta rushed toward the door, wanting to slip inside as quickly as possible if it was breached. As she neared, she saw it was, though only wide enough that they'd have to enter in a single file. A tap at her gauntlet let Jed know they'd breached the door and her hand only just returned to her rifle before she leapt through the breach.
Even as she stepped onto the bridge, blaster fire rattled against her armour. That easily held and her rifle moved, guided by her HUD toward the first target. A pair of B1s fell to accurate fire as she stepped into the storm of plasma, her rifle moving to the next target even as the first droids fell to the ground.
Another B1 fell before she slipped into one of the recesses of the bridge. As she used that as cover, Hox slipped through the gap following herself and Mun.
There were droids in the recess with her, but the HUD marked them as non-combatants, so even as she blasted another B1, Asta ignored those droids. However, when the HUD reported a Neimoidian reaching under their station, Asta put them down with a pair of bolts to their chest.
The remaining combat droids on the bridge fell before Nia had stepped through the breach, and Asta stood on the main walkway, heading toward the trio of chairs that dominated the room. The organic crew was all down in the forward recess, hiding behind anything they could find, be that a droid, a seat, or even each other.
"Who's in command?" Asta asked as Jad slipped through the breach, her voice still modulated by the armour. The Neimoidians chose to cower further than respond to her question. One of the droids manning a station fell as Asta blasted it. "I won't ask again!"
Most of the Neimoidians continued to cower, but three of the crew pointed at another. Analysing with her sensors, Asta confirmed that one's robes were of a higher quality than the others. Plus, this one wasn't cowering, instead seemingly glaring at her.
She smirked and dropped into the forward recess. "You!" she said, pointing her rifle at the Neimoidian. "Stand!"
Continuing to glare, the Neimoidian obeyed, though the glare fell when Hox marched over to them and gripped their sleeve. A look of terror flashed over their face as Hox dragged them toward Asta. That behaviour, and the fact the rest of the organic crew scurried away when Hox approached, disgusted Asta. These beings were hut'unne, having less honour or drive than any of the droids destroyed during the assault.
"Name." Asta held her rifle still, aimed at the Neimoidian's gut as he stopped in front of her.
The Neimoidian shivered for a moment before seemingly getting a hold of themselves. With a straightening back, they looked down at her. "Daultay Dofine," the Neimoidian replied, some backbone in his tone. That at least proved he deserved to be commanding the others of his species as he had some fire, pitiful as it was.
"As of now, your ship is under our control," she spoke slowly, wanting there to be no confusion about the situation. "Your crew, be they organic or droid, will obey our orders. Comply, and no further harm will come to you or your crew. Resist and well…" she tapped the barrel of her blaster.
"W-why should we obey? You'll just kill us and destroy the ship when you get whatever you want from us."
Asta chuckled, which due to the modulation of her armour, seemed to terrify the other Neimoidians. "While I could do that, and it is an option, that's not the primary reason why we're here." She slung her rifle over her shoulder, letting go once the magnetic lock was confirmed as secure by the HUD. "However, what we'd prefer to do is take our time, secure this impressive marvel of yours and consider our next move."
"We have nothing of value!" Dofine snapped, again showing some backbone. However, as Asta placed an armoured hand on his shoulder, the barrels of her vambrace blaster aimed at his head, that backbone shattered. "W-we can arrange for a ransom to be paid…"
Asta laughed in his face. "No. While that is certainly tempting, I think we'll be staying. At least for now." She gave him a gentle push and he stumbled away. "Unless, of course, you and your crew wish to die slowly and painfully."
"W-what would you have us do?" Dofine asked; trying, and failing to make himself as imposing as he'd appeared just a moment ago.
Asta turned and walked toward the largest and central chair. She sat down and placed her legs over the armrest. "First, return to your stations and disable all internal defences. Both built-in and droids. However, keep the Vulture droids outside and anything on the planet below active. We wouldn't want your friends on the other ships to get wind of the change in command. That would force me to do something none of you would enjoy."
Dofine held her gaze for a short while before sighing. As his shoulders drooped, he turned to this crew. "Do as they say."
As the Neimoidians slowly stood, some requiring a few helpful gestures from her warriors, Asta leaned back in the chair. While she disliked playing the scoundrel, the longer it took for these beings to realise she wasn't just a run-of-the-mill mercenary out to make a quick credit, the longer they could retain control of the vessel.
The Saak'ak belonged to her and House Ordo now and she had little interest in losing such a valuable asset before its purpose was served.
I slowed as I neared the gathered forces. While most were outside the range of my minimap, I could already detect the sentries that were along my path. I doubted they'd fire on me as I was in my armour – sans the helmet which I was carrying under my arm – and that should connect instantly to the Battlenet, but sudden movement in the jungle of a combat location might make someone jumpy.
Now, I could've just teleported directly to the rendezvous location, but that would've meant leaving Fenrir behind and as he wasn't connected into the Mandalorian Battlenet, there was more chance he'd be fired on if moving alone. His lack of connection to the Battlenet was an issue I'd not considered until we'd gathered on the Getala'kara, so there was little I could do about it now. However, once Naboo was freed, I'd speak with Bo and others about developing a way to at least have him tracked as an ally the next time I was linked into a Battlenet.
I checked my gauntlet again, ensuring there'd been no ping from Raven. While I'd slipped her under the jungle canopy and covered her with vegetation to hide her, I was concerned droids might come looking for her. Every other vessel had dropped their passengers off and then departed, whereas Raven had landed as I wasn't willing to allow anyone else to pilot her. Certainly not when I wasn't on board.
Thankfully, there'd not been any Vulture droids buzzing the jungle, so either the Federation's commander had decided not to risk doing so, and potentially alerting the populace that something was amiss, or that Asta and her team caused enough chaos that the Federation had other issues.
While I hoped they could capture the Lucrehulk they'd landed on, even if they could only ensure its destruction before escaping, deploying most of the more experienced warriors with her would've been worthwhile. The combined fleet waiting a jump away should be able to take a single Lucrehulk, but two was going to be a challenge. Three was just impossible, so if Asta's team failed, then the only way to end the invasion was to capture Gunray.
I was pulled from those worries when my gauntlet flared with a challenge code. Recognising it easily, I sent the correct reply – which out of context, had nothing to do with the challenge code – and received clearance. A light blinked on my gauntlet and a moment later the datafeed from the Mandalorian Battlenet connected with my armour.
A small holographic map displayed the exact location, and I shifted my path to head toward it. Unlike Asta's team, the ground forces were a mixture of forces. Mandalorians and Lokella formed the bulk of the deployed force, though most of those who'd escaped with Padmé had come along. The ones that hadn't were either serving temporarily on a Lokella vessel or had remained on Coruscant with Palpatine.
While the Lokella and Naboo forces lacked the armour of the Mandalorians, I wasn't discounting them as I felt some of the Mandalorians might be doing. The Lokella had been fighting in guerrilla operations against larger and better-prepared forces for years now while the Naboo were fighting for their home. While there were going to be teething problems of getting them to all work together, I was looking forward to seeing how Lokella such as Ferox and Validus worked alongside Bo, Osto and the other Mandalorians.
That said, I had pulled Ferox aside before we'd deployed to the Naboo system as I couldn't in good conscience have him enter a battle before knowing Shmi was with child. He'd thanked me for telling him, though he'd learnt of her pregnancy before he'd departed. The couple had agreed that once Naboo was free, he would step back from frontline combat to help her raise their child. He'd also asked if, should something happen to both of them, I was willing to watch over the child – and Anakin – alongside Validus, to which I'd happily agreed. After, I informed him that I intended to train Anakin in the ways of the Force and Mandalorians after Naboo was free. While Ferox seemed uncertain about the Jedi – understandable given how little the Order had officially done to stamp out slavery in the Outer Rim – he was pleased that Anakin would be trained as a warrior.
It took me about five minutes to reach the gathering, the various guards either ignoring me – as I was connected to the Battlenet – or offering a small nod – as I was the Mtael of the Lokella. "I hope I'm not too late," I said as I moved toward where the leaders of the operation were gathered.
Padmé, Ferox, Validus, Bo, Qui-Gon and others all looked up as I approached. All were pleased to see me, though I could sense some concern from Qui-Gon. I'd sensed the same from Obi-Wan, though it had been stronger, which was likely caused because I was wearing full beskar armour along with my dragon-skin cloak. If not for the lightsaber at my hip, none would even think I had a connection to the Jedi. However, with a fight with Maul coming up, I knew I needed every advantage I could get.
I'd sparred with Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan while the scouts had learnt the Federation's layout in the Naboo system. Obi-Wan had improved his Soresu greatly, but I was still able to pick his defence apart with relative ease. Qui-Gon, though, had beaten me. Oh, I'd tired him out faster than I think he'd expected, but I was still being held back by whatever was causing me problems. I was reasonably sure it was the way the Interface and the Force interacted, and hoped that things would change once I was level 30.
However, since I had to face Maul before then, I knew I needed every advantage I could get. Hence the full armour, and the various additions to my gauntlets. While none of them alone would be enough to take down a Jedi – never mind a Sith trained to kill Jedi – I had various plans to use against the Zabrak that I felt gave me a good chance to defeat him without dying in the process.
"We have been waiting for you, Master Jedi, before settling on our next step," Padmé replied. "Please, join us."
As I moved closer, Bo and Qui-Gon sent me looks. Bo's look was because she and Serra had commented on how Padmé seemed to like me. I'd ignored the teasing, and explained that even if Padmé did like me in the way they suspected, I wasn't going to pursue anything with her since I already had two companions. Bo had reminded me that it was three as I'd bedded Naz, though she had made clear not to expect any other Mandalorians to join me. Apparently, Bo and Naz were outliers in being more open-minded about relationships and having multiple partners. Most Mandalorians were monogamous once in a relationship, which it turned out, was why Bo wasn't as close to Ursa Wren as she'd been when we'd first met.
As for Qui-Gon, his issue was due to Padmé calling me a Master Jedi, which was understandable. I'd explained I didn't consider myself a Jedi Master, and that Padmé was doing it simply to show respect to me for the help I'd arranged. Qui-Gon had accepted that not having sensed any deception in my words.
The Padawan had stated his distaste for Serra being here, especially as she was doing so as a Mandalorian and, in his mind, breaking her oath as a Jedi. So far, it hadn't developed into anything more than a few glares and comments, but if he kept it up, there was a chance I'd step in and educate him.
Just before I reached the holo-map they were all gathered around – one that covered around several hundred miles in all directions from our current location, up to the edges of Theed – I paused and turned.
A few metres away, Serra was looking skyward, apprehension on her face. As I wondered what was wrong, I felt a faint shift in the Force. Not enough to suggest a threat, but enough that something unexpected, and potentially troublesome, was about to happen.
As always, this story is crossposted on Questionable Questing, Archive of our Own, and Royal Road.
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