Episode 5: Freedom of the Kwol
The second of two split-party adventures. 

PLAYER CHARACTERS (and what we know about them so far).

Asti : Woman with good knowledge of droids. Quiet, cool-headed and sensible.
Stoge : Brash Pilot.
*Straun Solarwind: Polearm-wielding farmboy. Searching for his father's fate.
*Dar : Muscled black native. Prefers the ways of his people to technology. Uses an ornate sword with his great strength.
Karlos Trialeki : Eight-gun slinger. Deadly with firearms. Running from his past.
*Surge : Knowledgeable man, good shot with a blaster.
*Menarggrah : Strong, intelligent Wookiee.

*Only asterisked PCs played in this adventure.

Though the room was spacious, the term was relative. To Dar the room was cramped, he felt constricted aboard the Usurper even now. He had lived all his life in places without limits, without walls.
Casting away the feeling, he closed his eyes and drew his ornate sword (still favoured over his vibroblade), spinning it around his body as he moved through complex routines. In his mind's eye, he was on Agost again.
Straun, elsewhere on the ship, could have used his help, but he realised the value that the warrior placed on his times alone. He struggled with the three large backpacks until he found a droid who helped him carry them to his ship in the Usurper's docking bay. To his surprise, the slicer he'd hired had already finished decoding the ship's third name.
Many ships feature a dedicated transmitter that broadcasts their identification at a certain frequency. It was not uncommon, then, for ships of less than legitimate business to have many names, identities they used in certain situations. The mysterious ship that turned up in response to Straun's slave unit had three; Statis Belle, Aurora Sloop, and a third that had been heavily encrypted. Straun had suspected that it had been the ship's original name, and had utilised the services of a Rebel slicer to decrypt the elusive title. As Straun dropped the three backpacks at the feet of Surge and Dar, the slicer approached him smugly.
"It was tricky, but not as bad as some codes I've cracked in my time.." began the slicer. Straun stopped him before a detailed history followed, and asked him what the third name was.
"A simple one," he answered. "It's called the Slave II."
"AAAGGHHH!!!" Straun, Surge and Menarggrah panicked momentarily and ran in little circles waving their arms. After they had composed themselves, Surge consoled Straun by saying that there was little chance that the ship he had belonged to the most famous and deadly bounty hunter in the galaxy.
"The Snap-3s are in here," Straun indicated the backpacks. "They've sawn off the butts and disassembled them for easier transportation." The blaster carbines, found in a smuggling compartment aboard the Slave II, had been bought from Straun by the Alliance (covering the cost to repair the ship after its ionisation, plus giving Straun some needed cash) and had become their next mission. Karlos, Asti and Stoge had left the day before on a diplomatic mission to Perodeen, leaving only Straun, Surge, Dar and Menarggrah to deliver the weapons to Imperial slaves in the Fo system.
Surge left hurriedly, almost running into a passing welder-wielding Jawa, as he left the docking bay to find Dar. Menarggrah still didn't know where Surge went while the rest of them were training in their various fields, and hadn't tried asking him.
{Where..other?} he asked Straun. They were all beginning to understand the Wookiee, but communication was still very limited.
"You mean Adro?" Straun named the tech that was to accompany them. "He's over with the fighters," he waved a hand toward a Y-Wing some distance away, and Menarggrah left to get him. Straun carried the Snap-3s into the ship.
The large room inside the main lock was apparently some sort of conference or audience room, flanked by many comfortable G-chairs and sporting a large holoprojector in the middle. Over the last few days Surge had been playing his holodisc 'Love is Waiting' almost constantly until they were all sick of it and Straun ejected it out of the Usurper's airlock. Straun sat on one of the G-chairs, opened a backpack and began to assemble and disassemble one of the blaster carbines, mainly because if he forgot how then their forthcoming journey would be for naught.


The Slave II flashed out of hyperspace inconspicuously, as was the idea. The jump had been carefully calculated so that they would appear on the other side of the planet to the Imperial base (thought to be a stormtrooper training facility under construction).
"Cool," Surge commented at the view out the cockpit window. Fo's light and heat were provided by a dual-sun system, a standard sun orbiting a red giant. The combination produced some erratic weather patterns, resulting in the barren, dry climate of the world that was their destination. The entire surface of the planet was composed of mesas and canyons, undulating and joining like some bizarre puzzle. The Slave II headed for it with purpose.
"I'm picking up some signals," Straun read the sensor readouts. Since his ship had arrived he had learned the basics of its operation, but left piloting to the more capable Menarggrah.
"With those readings there must be a settlement down there," Adro pondered aloud.
"Unless," contributed Surge, "we're on the wrong side of the planet and that's the Imperial base."
No TIEs, communications, or turbolaser blasts came their way, so they assumed it to be another settlement of some kind. Dropping to near the surface, Menarggrah kept the Slave II at low altitude and they sped over the planet. The exact location of the Imperial base was unknown, but Alliance Intelligence had narrowed it down to within a hundred square kilometer area.
Menarggrah kept the ship above the mesas and canyons until the estimated base's horizon came in sight, then kept low to foil Imperial sensors while searching with their own.
The sensor screen flickered. "Transmission," informed Straun. "Over on our left, low intensity emanation. A comlink?"
Menarggrah attempted to bring the ship into a canyon and performed what may have been the single worst act of piloting in his life. The Slave II collided with the edge of a rocky mesa, tearing off the forward sensor ring with a squealing of metal. Most of the rebels were thrown from their seats, and through the cockpit window they could see the horizon spinning, the bottom of the cannon yawning at them like a gigantic mouth. Straun attempted to gain control with the copilot auxiliary and smashed them into the canyon wall again. The Slave II dropped like a stone.
Adrenaline coursed through Menarggrah, and thus inspired, the Wookiee performed what may have been the single best act of piloting in his life. Repulsors whining, the ship sagged downward against the upward thrust, then halted its plummet mere meters from the canyon floor.
Visibly relieved, the Wookiee carefully eased the ship into a cave-like overhang lined by stalagmites and stalagmites, which the group was surprised to discover was not, in fact, a giant mouth. Menarggrah shut down the ship's gravity and a heavy weight seemed to settle on them all, weighing them down and restricting movement.
"A heavy G world," Dar commented with interest.
"Perfect for a stormtrooper training base," considered Surge.
They donned the backpacks, checked their weapons, and set out in the direction of the signals. Dar led the way, slipping into the shadows wherever possible and studying the ground for tracks. After a few minutes of working their way along the canyon floor, Dar held up a hand and they stopped.
"Two large beasts of some kind have been this way, less than an hour ago," he pointed to what Surge saw as a bare section of rock.
"Really?" said Straun. "I was wondering what dropped that." He pointed ahead of them to where a large dollop of dung lay on the ground.
After some tracking the cautious Rebels heard some sound, and Dar, Menarggrah and Straun crept forward slowly, keeping to the shadowed walls. Two large lizards stood placidly far ahead, and through the macrobinoculars they could see that two stormtroopers were talking to each other, mounted on their dewbacks. They moved off, and after collecting the rest of the team the group followed them.
"It's no use," Dar said eventually. "I've lost the trail." The others searched the surrounding area but didn't pick it up again.
Adro unslung his climbing gear. "Give me the macros. I'll climb up and look around."
"Stay out of sight," warned Dar. Adro nodded and began to climb the jagged face next to them.
After a slip or two he reached the summit of a mesa. It was slightly lower than the surrounding ones and while he could get an excellent view of their immediate surroundings, there was no sign of the dewbacks or the base. A thin rock wall led from the mesa and stretched up to a tall spire, and Adro started toward it.
The wall was thin, and it utilised all of the tech's climbing skill. He had made his way two thirds of the way to the spire when he heard approaching engines. Turning to let the party know, he slipped and fell down the other side of the wall to them.
Hanging on the edge, Adro heard a speeder bike flash past below him on his side of the wall. Just after it passed him, the bike began to slow its speed.
Desperately Adro hauled himself up and threw himself over the other side of the wall.
"That guy's crazy," voiced Straun as Adro appeared, dangling above them. The speeder bike reached the other side and its pilot looked up to where he thought he had seen something. Shrugging his shoulders, the trooper sped off again.
Adro carefully regained his footing and, creeping along the rest of the wall, reached the spire. Once at his summit, he unslung the macros and took in the breathtaking view.
Under the twin-sun system, the undulating jigsaw pattern of mesas stretched before him. Less than a kilometer away, The large octagonal shape of an Imperial garrison jutted from the top of a mesa, light glinting from the metal. A small fenced area was adjacent to it, what Adro guessed to be the slave compound. On the near side of the mesa a large elevator disappeared into the canyon below, and a reinforced covered bridge stretched to another mesa, on which was located a launching pad (occupied by a stormtrooper drop-ship). The garrison itself, only one story high at the moment, was obviously incomplete, as was the towered death fence that only covered the near side of the mesa.
Wide-eyed, Adro began to climb back down.


Straun studied the twinkling stars again. For many nights on Agost he had studied the constellations above and wondered which glittering speck was hiding the truth of what had happened to his father. Now, it seemed, every night showed a different set of constellations, an everchanging crystal kaleidoscope.
Only the longing stayed the same.
Menarggrah was considering a different set of lights, the search-lights that periodically swept the canyon floor ahead of them. His sensitive nose twitched, smelling the hint of garbage and reminding him of their adventure on Gaarla. From in front of him, Dar tapped him on the arm, and the Wookiee passed the signal on. Dar arose from his crouch and, patterned in dull grey warpaint, led them toward the mesa.
Running low to the ground, they threaded their way between the lights and over to a deep crack in the side of the mesa.
Adro slung the climbing gear over his shoulder and smoothly chimneyed up the crack. Straun followed, grunting and straining, awkwardly struggling with his Eguale prod. The rock was slippery and in some places covered with some type of moss, the only native life they had seen so far on Fo. The climb wasn't very high, but with the increased gravity a fall could be fatal. He reached the top where Adro was in a secure hold, and was about to pass him when the tech stopped him and pointed upward, slightly to their left.
A short pole jutted upward from the top edge of the mesa, shining a dull metallic grey in the moonslight. Atop the pole was an orb around which a small red light rotated, apparently scanning the area.
"Great," Straun commented to Adro in a low whisper. "We go past it and we're seen, we blow it away and they're onto us."
"Unless," offered Adro "we take it out and make it look like an accident, like shorting it out or something."
Straun lifted the Eguale prod. "This baby zaps a few thou. Where do I put it?"
Adro studied the electronic sentry above them. "That bit looks well grounded, so put one electrode on the casing and the other on the bit where the light passes."
Straun carefully did so and pressed the button on the handle of the polearm. There was a <kzzzt> as the electricity was discharged, and the red light went out. Adro cautiously poked his head up and noted that more of the poles were evenly spaced along the unfenced sections of the mesa, and the ones to the right now appeared inactive. Sequentially hooked up, he thought
to himself. Straun grinned in the darkess and tugged on the rope.
Soon the group were all at the top. When they faced in the direction they had left the Slave II, they now could see the hulk of the unfinished garrison ten metres to their right. Straight ahead, past the garrison, lay the slave compound, bathed in searchlights. On the other side of it the death fence ran around the far end of the mesa. The lift and landing pad were somewhere on the far side of the garrison.
They advanced along the side of the garrison wall, stopping at its far edge and looking at the sporadic searchlight pattern before them. The slave compound's building had a large shadowed doorway inside which they could see the indicator lights of an electronic access system.
"Looks like I go first," said Adro, who had a good knowledge of security systems. He ran across the open space between the two buildings..
..and was caught in a searchlight beam.

Time seemed to stop. Surge drew his blaster and prepared to fight their way out. Straun expected Adro to dive for cover from the volley of fire that must surely come from the guard tower, but the tech seemed frozen, unmoving.
Adro was a logical man, perhaps due to his chosen profession. He reasoned that the garrison was far from complete, which meant that there would be fewer personnel and perhaps less efficient security (they had seen no guards, for example).
Which meant that they may have been using motion-sensitive armaments.
But if he was wrong, he was a sitting Hoska.
He froze, gritted his teeth, and waited.
After a few tense seconds the searchlight moved on. Adro ran for the doorway and crouched in its shadow, breathing heavily. Turning his attention to the electronic lock, he produced a small toolkit and set to work.
Being careful to disable any alarms, Adro settled for deactivating all power to the door and struggled to open it manually. He had it half open and was signalling for Menarggrah to come over to help when a black, clawed hand clamped over his mouth and he disappeared inside the building.

Darkness ruled with silence as Queen.
The Queen was obliterated when Adro heard the first hiss. Reptilian and hostile, it was joined by another, and another. Soon the whole room was filled with a hissing like nothing he had ever heard.
The door grated open as Menarggrah strained with the metal. The flicker of passing searchlights reflected through the doorway, enabling Adro to behold the unexpected.
Patches of red seemed to float before him in midair. The tech could occasionally see a white flicker somewhere indistinct in the darkness, but couldn't be sure what. When Surge stepped through the doorway and activated a glowrod, they could both see the Kwol.
They were lizard men, averaging slightly over six feet tall, and featuring jet black, scaly skin and long tails. A patch under their throats was red, and they pointed clawed hands at the two while adopting what the rebels assumed was a fighting stance. The large room was full of them, and Surge estimated that there were over sixty present, standing on the floor, lying in makeshift bunks or hanging from the ceiling.
"Peace," Adro held up a hand. "We're Rebels. We were sent to deliver some weapons." Unbuckling his blaster, he offered it to the nearest of the beings as a sign of trust.
As the rest of the Rebels ran over to the slave compound safely, the Kwol all relaxed visibly, and Surge watched with fascination as the patch on their throats changed colour from red to white. Some still eyed the Rebels with distrust, and Menarggrah noted that their throats were orange.
Surge suddenly pushed his way through to the rear of the room where two wounded Kwol lay on bunks, moaning and thrashing in pain. One of them had deep gouges in his back, and the other's tail had been horribly mutilated and hacked off. Both Kwol had grey throat-strips. Surge was horrified at the atrocious Imperial treatment of the slaves, and immediately set to work.
Although he had never encountered the species before, his anatomical knowledge and surgical skill enabled him to clean and close their wounds, stabilise their conditions and ease their pain. Soon both wounded Kwol were sleeping peacefully, their throat-strips an off-white colour. The group of Kwol then seemed to trust the rebels completely.
"Kwom musst have made it," a few of them muttered to each other. One stepped forward.
"We are the Kwol, and I am Kwargge. You are welcome among uss."
The three backpacks were deposited on the floor in front of the assembly. While Menarggrah closed the door, Straun opened a backpack and started assembling a Snap-3, showing the Kwol how it was done. Dar talked with Kwargge.
"Our orders were to take these to you and then take it from there. It's your decision whether you want to go offplanet or try to just get out of the compound and start up some sort of guerilla campaign. We weren't expecting so many of you, so if you want to go offplanet we'll have to capture a ship."
"The decission iss not mine to make," the reptile replied, and asked the opinion of all the Kwol. Many wanted to join the Alliance, some wanted to steal a ship and escape, others wanted to escape the compound and live on Fo, as it was similar to their homeworld. Kwargge held up a hand and they were silent once more.
"If we cannot decide, we will conssider the wissdom of he who saves lives." He turned to Surge, who suddenly felt very self-conscious.
"Uh.. both of these arguments are worthy pursuits.." he said.
"Easy way out." Straun mumbled to Dar.
"..but if you stay on Fo the Empire will hunt you down sooner or later. If you try for a ship it is likely that many of you will die, but if you escape this planet you will be truly free, and the Rebel Alliance can use spirited sentients like yourselves." The fact that slavery had not broken the will of the Kwol impressed Surge, as he had seen Imperial slaves before..
There was some murmuring among the reptiles for a few minutes, then some of them talked with Kwargge, nodding eagerly.
"We go for the sship," Kwargge announced, then a frown crossed his face. "But before it could leave, ssomeone must desstroy the tractor beam insside the garrisson. Ssomeone of great bravery and sstealth."
"I'll go." Dar stepped forward in total humility, not proclaiming himself to be brave and stealthy but rather accepting himself as the best choice.
Kwargge gave a warm grin that showed his pointed teeth and made his throat-patch turn yellow. "Exccelent. My sson, Kakarr," -a young Kwol made his way through the reptiles- "has sslipped insside before. He can get you in by a ssecret way."

Dar didn't think much of the secret way.
Kakarr had led him down the side of the mesa and into a large pipe through which the garrison's garbage was ejected into the canyon. They crawled their way through the slimy pipe in the darkness, Dar quietly accepting the fact that for the second mission in a row he had to go into the garbage. The pipe opened into a trash compactor, and from there they climbed a set of rungs to a small shaft. Some delicate work on a grate, and the two were inside an Imperial garrison.
Dar glided along behind Kakarr, who had noticed that the warrior's warpaint was now green and smelled awful. Making almost no sound, the pair crept through corridors, ducking under the occasional window that streamed light, hiding whenever their senses detected armoured footsteps on flooring.
The strange, quiet journey ended in the middle of the garrrison where the tractor beam generator hummed in an octagonal room. It appeared to be a temporary rig, and Dar guessed (rightly) that it would be permanently located in one of the upper levels when they were completed.
He studied the controls for a moment, then drew his vibroblade and, activating it, cut deep into the wiring. Dials sparked, components gave way under the power of blade and muscle, and the machine fell silent. Dar kept cutting, making sure it would never be of use again.
Eight doors rose into the roof all around him, and suddenly Dar was ringed by stormtroopers. He turned, vibroblade raised, looking for a means of escape that didn't exist. An officer looked at the wreckage of the tractor beam, then turned to Kakarr and shouted.
"You mindless lizard! you should have called us earlier!"
An icy tingle ran up Dar's spine.
The Kwol child looked frightened. "Doess thiss mean you won't lets daddy go now?"
The officer smiled. "That depends on you. You said there were others, bring them to me. Then we will let your father go."
Kakarr scampered from the room. The officer barked an order as Dar started moving, then the stormtroopers closed in, firing.
The first bolt of stun energy was shrugged off, unfelt, as Dar downed a trooper and started for the officer. He disappeared behind the tractor beam as the troopers swarmed in.
Dar jumped toward a doorway, screaming a war cry. Muscles bulging, he swung a mighty blow that cut cleanly through one stormtrooper's chest and buried itself in the midsection of a second. Dar tore the vibroblade free as he started up the empty corridor toward an intersection, taking another stun shot in the back.
Then more troopers appeared ahead, and the blue concentric rings that struck his body became black with the rest of reality.

The officer scratched his chin as the stormtroopers lifted the unconscious figure. "Who is he?" he wondered. "A miner from the other side of the planet, perhaps? hmm, it matters not. Soon he will tell us."
Soon, he added to himself, he will tell us everything.


"..Pop-up sights here, powerpack ejection switch here, and this is the safety catch, but don't rely on it with this or any other weapon. Now we'll try some sample firing with powerpacks out." The Kwol eagerly ejected the units from their weapons and went through the motions with Straun. He was teaching them some hand-to-hand techniques with the blaster butts when Kakarr arrived, tears streaming down his face.
"The big man's captured!" he cried, sniffling.
Shocked hisses ran through the room at the news. Menarggrah howled sadly, kicking a wall in his sorrow, and Straun suddenly realised how close they all had become to Dar. He voiced the obvious.
"We must rescue him!"
The rebels instantly agreed, telling the Kwol to await their return. Kwargge decided to accompany them, representitive of his people. He declined Straun's offer of one of the blaster carbines, pointing out that there were not enough for all the Kwol and that he had more than a passing knowledge of his people's martial arts.
Picking their way through the searchlights, the small group of Surge, Straun, Menarggrah, Adro, Kwargge and Kakarr disappeared into the darkness.


"Has he talked?"
"Not at all, Lieutenant. His resistance to pain is.. considerable. He only screamed the first time and then went silent. Look at this."
The junior officer picked up a small metal probe and inserted it between Dar's clenched teeth. After applying some pressure, he withdrew the probe, now bent at an angle.
"And he isn't even conscious."
"No matter," the Imperial touched a control, and the torture rack drove Dar down onto the electrodes once more. "He's barely softened up yet." As the endless loop drove Dar back and forth onto the agony-inducing spikes, the officers left the room.


The infiltration was a difficult one, yet the group that entered the garrison were (for the most part) no novices to action. They sneaked, hid, waved each other into cover, signalled the all clear, overpowered a lone guard. A tense moment occurred when a patrol was heard approaching. They hid in a darkened room and avoided the patrol only to hear snoring coming from somewhere in the darkness. Gingerly, they continued.
Kakarr's excursions had served him well; he knew his way around most of the complex. Before long another door led them to the prison cells. Silently creeping along the corridor, they could hear someone screaming.
Dar had regained consciousness but was unaware of his surroundings when they found him in a thin-walled torture room, his weapons tantalisingly just out of his reach. Surge ran to the controls and was puzzling over them when the thin walls disappeared into the ceiling with a metallic <whissk>.
Surrounding them were over forty stormtroopers with readied blasters and three officers with gleeful smirks on their faces. Straun was beginning to get a bad feeling about this. Surge already had one.
"Rebels, I knew it," an officer snarled.
The group was at a loss for a course of action. The odds were totally overwhelming. Surge considered the Imperial treatment of prisoners and weighed that against being shot forty times at short range. Dar and Menarggrah considered going out in a blaze of glory, Menarggrah reaching for the thermal detonator he had drawn from the Sacred Bag of Treasure. Straun wondered how they knew they were coming. Kwargge hissed angrily.
"Will you let daddy go now?" Kakarr asked one of the officers.
"You've served your purpose," the officer said, and shot him.
That's when the air ducts above them burst open, and black figures streamed down with Blastech Snap-3's spitting energised defiance at the Imperials.

It seemed the whole room was in motion. Menarggrah tried the old oh-no-its-a-bomb trick, throwing the (deactivated) thermal detonator toward a group of stormtroopers, then diving for the officers. The troopers scattered from the metallic orb, some throwing themselves prone. Surge and Straun sought cover behind the torture rack controls, and began to blaze away. Adro shot wildly. Kwargge slashed out at a trooper with both claws in succession, catching the Imperial in the throat, then spun and swept his legs out from under him with a sweep of his tail. Retrieving the trooper's blaster, he joined the firefight.
Only ten of the Kwol had joined them, indicating that they had split into groups, or only some had come to help, or the rest had been killed on the way. The lizard men, though relatively unskilled with their weapons, were fighting at short range and began to take their toll on the better trained stormtroopers.
Menarggrah bashed in the helmet of a trooper and the head inside it, then flung the body at some others. The officers scrambled behind the troopers, trying to escape the rampaging Wookiee, and Surge noted that one had a spreading stain on his uniform. Straun and Surge took out a trooper each. Three Kwol were cut down.
And through it all Dar was raised and lowered, raised and lowered on the electrodes while blaster shots flashed around him.

In a couple of minutes the tide of battle was apparent. Though they had fought fiercely, all but three of the Kwol had been killed, the superior training and tactical ability of the stormtroopers showing through. Straun had been hit a glancing blow but had recovered and was still shooting from partial cover. Kwargge backed to where Surge was struggling to free Dar and spoke.
"We have what we came for, we musst esscape!"
Straun knew that he told the truth. One of the officers had fled through a door, and in moments the whole garrison would be upon them.
"Menarggrah! we are LEAVING!" he shouted, as Dar collapsed, freed of the rack, into Surge's arms.
The Wookiee threw aside two troopers in disgust and scooped the thermal detonator from the floor. Backing away firing, they headed for the door they had come in from, Straun snatching up Dar's weapons.
"Get back!" Adro shouted as they passed through the doorway. He punched the door button, closing it, then pointed his blaster at the panel and blew it up in a shower of sparks.
This caused the door to open again and stick.
Adro gaped for a second, then they turned and ran, firing all the while.
They raced through the garisson corridors, abandoning stealth in favour of speed and closing doors behind them where possible. The base was in a basic octagonal shape and Straun, who had a good sense of direction, led them toward where he hoped the main doors would be.
Klaxon alarms rang throughout the garisson, spurring the Rebels to greater speed. Dar had recovered quickly and was now running with them. They passed an adjoining corridor and could hear firing coming from the other end of it. One of the Kwol told Surge that of the thirty armed Kwol, two groups of ten had entered the garisson to look for the rebels while the third was covering the main Kwol group's escape to the landing pad.
They entered a large room, bigger than a hanger. To one side were tall doors behind which they could just make out the tops of three AT-ST scout walkers. Ahead of them were the main doors, guarded by a squad of stormtroopers. The four rebels and three Kwol fired a volley and cut down all but one.
The remaining stormtrooper charged.
The white armoured figure ran at them and swung his blaster butt, which connected with Surge's jaw, driving him back with a grunt.
"What manner of warriors ARE these?" Dar exclaimed as he cut the remaining trooper down with a powerful swing. They then heard the sound of the AT-STs activating their motors, and Dar dispensed with idle thought about the fanaticism of the Imperials.
Then they were at the doors. Straun worked the lock and the huge gate clanked upward. The Rebels and Kwol slipped under it.
Outside the near-darkness showed the bridge ahead of them and beyond it the landing pad, on which the stormtrooper dropship sat placidly in front of a huge transmitter dish. To their left they could see the large elevator they had seen earlier which led down to the dewback pens. To their right, the main force of Kwol had rounded the garisson on the other side to the manned death fence and were making for the bridge. The stormtroopers in the fence towers were hampering their escape with light blaster cannon fire.
A shot suddenly flashed out of the elevator and struck Menarggrah. Bellowing in pain, the Wookiee was flung backward into the garisson wall. He slid to the ground and lay still.
In the large elevator hovered a speeder bike, its rider giving another burst from the heavy cannon that missed. Behind it was another scout trooper on foot.
Straun returned fire, the shot <pfss>ing into the elevator door. Surge dropped to one knee, took careful aim and shot the bike rider in the head.
As the scout trooper toppled backward off the bike, his foot nudged the accelerator momentarily. The bike gave a short burst of speed and then stopped, halfway between the other scout trooper and Straun. They both ran for it, Straun unslinging his Eguale prod.
Surge knelt beside Menarggrah, opening a medpack. Blocking out the raging battle around him, he set to work.

Adro and Dar followed Kwargge toward the bridge. They fired a few shots at the troopers manning the fence towers, but they were too well protected to hit.
Straun and the trooper reached the bike at the same time. Straun slashed at the Imperial with his Eguale prod, but the elite trooper ducked the whistling blades and threw a solid punch with an armoured fist that failed to connect as Straun sidestepped the blow.
Surge jabbed Menarggrah with a stimujec as he completed dressing the wound, and the Wookiee regained consciousness. He climbed shakily to his feet and, nursing the wound and feeling somewhat groggy, ran with Surge toward the bridge.
Behind them, the massive door started to rise.

Straun thrust at the trooper, who nimbly spun to one side, completed the spin and smashed Straun in the jaw with an armoured backfist. The rebel staggered back, and was about to attack again when a blaster bolt hissed past him and wounded the trooper in the chest. Without hesitation Straun struck, killing the Imperial with a final blow, then turned to see Kwargge give him a toothy grin and return to firing at the towers.
Straun jumped on the bike as the first AT-ST strode mechanically through the main doorway and opened up on the Kwol.

Menarggrah, Dar and Surge scrambled over the bridge, Kwargge covering the Kwol who were mere steps behind them. The three Rebels reached the landing pad as three flight crew rounded the side of the dropship. One was instantly cut down by Dar, another torn apart by Menarggrah, and the third managed a hasty shot before Dar's blade found his heart. Adro then pointed before them, to where the giant transmitter dish loomed ominously. With barely a pause, Menarggrah threw the thermal detonator to Dar, then raced into the ship and fired the engines.
Adro scrambled into the ship as the first of the forty Kwol ran up to the landing pad. With the rest of the group in a ragtag stream over the bridge, Surge knew that at least half would be cut down by the walkers before the ship was prepped.
But the three AT-STs weren't firing on the Kwol, they turned and fired at the ground in confusion as a lone speeder bike swerved among them, cannon firing ineffectually, giving the Kwol time. Straun smiled grimly as the last of the lizard men ran over the covered bridge to the dropship.

Dar ran to the transmitter dish and selected the thermal detonator's TIMER-MAX switch, about forty seconds. Jamming it into the supports, he ran for the ship.

Straun thought he had the AT-STs thoroughly perplexed until one of them crouched in front of the bridge with its chin cannons pointing along it, covering Straun's only means of escape. Menarggrah, hovering the ship over the pad, swung around and fired the ship's cannons, damaging the crouching walker before the combined fire of the other two drove the ship back. Seeing his chance, Straun swung the bike around, lining it up, and opened the throttle.
He blurred past the walker and, with a poor act of piloting, hit his forehead on the metal bridge covering with the equivalent of falling twelve meters facefirst onto concrete. The bike skipped along the inside of the bridge before exploding violently against the launching pad.
Straun only blacked out for a few seconds, and when he came to, he wished he hadn't. Apart from the painful head wound, there was the problem of the approximately eighty stormtroopers streaming through the main door. The walker behind him had stood up and loomed over the Rebel as he lay helpless on the ground.
The chin cannons pivoted down to point directly at him, then the blaster cannons on the left side of the walker pointed at him as well. The right-side concussion bomb launcher also swung down to cover him indecisively.
Inside the walker, one of the pilots shrugged.
The huge foot of the AT-ST lifted up as the thing moved to step on Straun. The Rebel saw the antipersonnel spikes on the front of the foot, the tripwire-cutting blades, every rivet of his forthcoming death. He thought distantly that he would now never know of his father's fate.
That's when the heavy dropship cannon bolts hit the AT-ST with a deafening thunderclap, blasting the walker onto its back. Straun raised himself painfully to his feet and staggered along the bridge, finding that Menarggrah had eased the hovering ship down so it was just above the pad, and Dar and Surge helped him up the ship's ramp as a terriffic blast went off behind the ship.
As the dropship lifted again, the transmitter dish began to topple. Narrowly missing the fleeing ship, it fell over the edge of the mesa and hit the canyon floor with a crash of twisted metal.
Menarggrah didn't allow himself the luxury of celebrating. He remembered Telthra IV all too well, and his intuition was confirmed when the remaining two AT-STs swung around and fired concussion bombs at them. The first missed by more than twenty meters, sailing into space. The second hit them amidships, throwing the passengers in random directions. Menarggrah checked the indicators. The energy shielding had been totally blown away but the hull was undamaged.
They rocketed over the surface of Fo, pausing only to pick up the Slave II.


Meanwhile, in another system..

The Rebel spy was triumphant. Though he had told them a good deal of information, he had not mentioned the datastick or, more importantly, Ilgin the Stroo. Victorious, he allowed himself to die.
The corpse slumped forward on the rack, and the torture droid disengaged mechanically, gliding into the corner and awaiting further instructions. Osann left the rack controls and addressed the tall, menacing figure that was the dominating presence in the room.
"It's no use, Lord Vader. We retrieved some useful information, but nothing about the Emporer's message. It must be in Rebel hands by now."
"Then it is a race," the Dark Lord of the Sith turned to two Imperials standing near the doorway. One wore the uniform of an officer of the Empire, the other was hooded and dressed in dark grey robes. Vader spoke, his rasping voice not threatening, merely instructing.
"This matter is in your hands now. You will not fail me."
The two bowed in obedience, and left the room as Vader issued new instructions to the torture droid- concerning Captain Osann.

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