Pandorum, Hanger Bay
Cyphor sat in the cockpit of his NovaSword running last minute checks on its systems after the Verpine engineers had fixed up its landing gear earlier in the day. Around him the hanger bay was busy with pilots and flight crew running back and forth preparing two squadrons of HLAF fighters and the Pandorums three shuttles for launch. Two squads of clone troopers were in the process of stowing their equipment on the two Flarestar shuttles while a squad of commandos moved through to the dropship bay and the Nightclouds Reward.
"You sure this is a good idea?" He heard a voice call out to him. Without stopping his checks Cyphor responded to the enquiry.
"You know as well as I do that that gas could turn us a tidy profit, but beyond that they're using slaves to harvest the gas. What good is having our resources if we can't do some good with them." A moment later the head of his captain appeared over the side of the cockpit.
"Oh I'm all for a little profit and liberation, I'm just not sure this mad plan you have of me taking my ship in alone is such a good idea." She said . Cyphor now finished with his checks, chuckled, locked the controls and started climbing out of the fighter.
"You won't be alone, I'll be leading your reinforcements personally should things go sideways."
"And in the approximately 10 minutes it will take you to reach me from the systems edge, what am I supposed to do in that time?" Hayle retorted. Cyphors response was preceded by one of those knowing smiles of his that Hayle had come to hate seeing over the years she had known the Bothan Jedi.
As Cyphor walked away to make other preparations for the coming assault Hayle could do little but shake her head and make her way to her ship. If this did go sideways the Reward could do with a few tune-ups to its engines.
Edge of the Kril'Dor system.
The Pandorum dropped out of hyperspace on the edge to avoid detection, after all if all went we she wouldn't even be needed for this particular operation. From her hangers deployed the HLAF fighters, the three shuttles, Cyphors NovaSword and the Nightclouds Reward. The intel the Bothan network had provided detailed their opposition as 1 Action IV bulk transport, modified to be armed beyond what one would usually expect of such a vessel and 2 Zygerrian slaver ships. It was possible they had backup somewhere close by but that information was not concrete. Cyphors plan was for Hayle to slip into the system with the Nightclouds Reward and a squad of commandos and do some prepwork such as disable the tibanna platforms communications. With careful timing the clones would blow the comm array and attempt to rescue the slaves before attempting to take the Action IV and its tibanna shipment. The fighters and shuttles with additional clone troopers aboard were on standby incase things did not go according to plan. Of course the entire first leg of the operation hinged on Hayle being able to bluff her way past the pirates and land un-suspected on the platform, a task she herself was not particularly optimistic about.
"Alright then, lets get this started." Cyphor heard over his comms as Hayle fired up the Rewards hyperdrive engines for a short hop in system.
"Hayle, relax, this will work." Cyphor said over the comms moments before the Reward made its jump.
Minutes later the Reward emerged from hyperspace in orbit around Kril'dor and Hayle started her approach to the Tibanna platform in the gas giants upper atmosphere. Behind her she could hear the commandos gearing up and heard they commander call out that they would be ready by the time they touched down. Assuming the did touch down Hayle thought to herself. They were only about a minute from the platform when the comm panel started flashing, indicating that she'd been spotted and the pirates running the platform wanted to talk.
"YV-100 freighter, Who are you and why are you here?" the voice said over the comm.
"Freighter Nightclouds Reward I've been sent by the Boss to pick up a small shipment of Tibanna for a personal client of his." Hayle replied, wishing she actually know the name of the Boss she was referring to.
"We've had no notice of such a pickup..." the obvious suspicion in the Pirates tone clear over the comms.
"This client values his anonymity, the Boss wants this one off the books." Hayle sad as she watched the laser cannons on the now visible Action IV swivel towards her.
"Alright then, if this is a legit pickup the Boss would have given you the Passphrase." The pirate wasn't going for it, of that Hayle was certain. Killing the audio on the comm momentarily she called out to the clones to get ready for a bumpy ride and a quick drop before switching the comms back on and trying one more time to make the bluff work.
"Boss told me I wouldn't need it, said the shipment was only small and to be kept quiet, you don't want to displease the Boss do you." Hayle said with as much confidence as she could force into her voice. The comm channel closed and the only response she received was in the form of laser fire from the Action IV.
"Well I guess its time to be creative then..." Hayle muttered to herself before hitting the comms again, this time on the channel that would link her to Cyphors fighter. "Trying to be creative here, would appreciate a hand, this isn't exactly a starfighter I'm flying here." She said as she started making evasive manoeuvres and headed for the platform to drop the commandos. she could see the two Zygerrian ships were powering up their systems in an attempt to flee, she shouted this information back to the clones moments before a laser blast grazed the hull.
On the edge of the system Cyphor ordered the deployed craft to make the jump and ordered the Pandorum left under the command of Cha'alla to prepare to bring assistance. If the pirates backup arrived and it was more than they could handle with the fighters Cyphor didn't want to be stuck there with the Pandorum still a half dozen minutes away. as it was the jump into the system would take a couple of minutes, the fighters and shuttles needed time to enter the atmosphere of the planet and reach the platform adding to the time Hayle would need to be on her toes.
On the platform Hayle managed to avoid taking anymore hits from the Action IV and dropped the commandos who's first objective was to take the two Zygerrian ships. Of this they were only partially successful as the moved in one the two ships one had already closed its hatch and was gunning its engines for a run to orbit. With only the one target the commandos made quick work of the small group of slavers on the second ship, redecorating the interior with the slavers corpses. as the commandos made to move on their secondary objective, the Action IV which had still yet to undock from the platform the squad was pinned down at the Zygerrian vessel. Their commander silently thanked whatever higher beings might be listening for the structure of the platform blocking any shots the Action IV turbolasers might make on the captured vessel. Unable to move from the Slaver vessel a few of the commandos began freeing the slaves, the humanoids and a few Bothans picked up the blasters from the fallen slavers while the Wookies shouted warcrys and rushed the surviving pirates that pinned the squad. With some regrettable casualties the pirates were overwhelmed and the commandos began moving to take the Action IV once more.
In orbit the fighters and shuttles lead by Cyphor were making a run into the atmosphere the Starrunner shuttle had strafed the escaping Zygerrian vessel with fire from its ion cannon and successfully disabled the fleeing ship before returning to the rest of the assault force. with the ship disabled in orbit Cyhpor called the Pandorum to come in and pick the vessel up.
"Hayle," Cyhpor called over the comms as the assault force started their approach to the platform. "We're on our way and we caught the one you lost. How are things down there?"
"Well its about bloody time, We've got the platform pretty much secure, but that Action IV is making a run for it, nothing we can do from down here." .
"Alright we'll intercept the Action IV, I'll sent the shuttles down with the clones to help you tie up any lose ends and get those slaves off the platform. Get what you can off the platform and get out of there, we'll take care of the rest." Cyphor switches frequency and broadcasts to the rest of the assault force. "Flarestars, get down to the platform, Starrrunner, turn your ion cannon on that Action IV, the rest of you, follow my lead."
The Starrunner shuttle makes a bold run on the approaching Action IV, dodging several turbolaser blasts before a lucky shot catches it directly down its centreline coring the small vessel from stem to stern. The few shots it got off with its ion cannon failing to slow down the bulk freighter.
"Damn!" Cyphor swore as the shuttle exploded. "All fighters, aim for weapons and engines, that ship is not going to get away from us." He said over the comm as he pulled the NovaSword into an attack run on the Action IV. As the fighters chased the freighter knocking out the occasional weapon and losing a few of their number in the mean time they still failed to stop the fleeing ship. As it broke orbit and gunned its engines for the edge of the gravity well Cyhpor was pleased to hear the voice of his Padawan over the comms. Ahead of the freighter the Pandorum came out of hyperspace and turned its ion cannon battery on the vessel overwhelming its meagre defences and disabling it in short order.
"Looks like we made it just in time Master" Came Cha'allas voice over the comms.
"It would seem so, tractor the disabled Zygerrian ship into the dropship bay quickly, they have backup incoming and I'm not sure quite how far away they are or what they are, our intel suggests its not more than an escort but lets ere on the safe side."
"Bringing it in now Master, Also that backup just arrived. Correlian gunship, DP-20 class, looks like its barely holding together and its concussion missile launchers seem to have been replaced with ion cannons." Cha'alla said clamly over the comm.
"Alright, get that ship aboard then get out of the system, I'd rather avoid further conflict." Cyphor told his padawan.
"Its only 4 minutes out, we may not have the time to escape."
"Very well then just do what you can." Cyphor said, cutting the command ordering the fighters back aboard the Pandorum.
Back on the platform Hayle and the clones had finished organising the slaves and anyone that was getting off the platform was now aboard one of the two shuttles, the captured Zygerrian ship or Nightclouds Reward. With everyone loaded the 4 vessels made for orbit and headed out to the edge of the gravity well away from the inbound gunship before making the jump to hyperspace themselves.
On Pandorum's bridge Cha'alla watched the incoming gunship before looking over at the disabled Action IV. It seemed a waste to leave the vessel behind when they had lost lives to stop it from getting away.
"We're much larger than they are you know." Came a young male voice nearby. Cha'alla turned her head to look at the young padawan beside off to the side of the bridge.
"Size isn't everything Nikan, we're not as well armed as a vessel of this size usually is." She explained to Nikan.
"But they don't know that." He said with a grin not unlike the one Cyphor used frequently. "If they're as beat up and outdated as they look what are the chances they can't tell how many weapons we have on board."
"Ma'am, the Zygerrian ship is aboard and secured as are the last of the fighters." one of the Pandorum's crewmen informed her.
"I suppose it might be possible Nikan, but it might be a little risky their weaponry could hurt us in a direct engagement, not to mention Master Cyphor ordered us to leave once the craft were aboard."
"Cyphor also doesn't like being called master, yet you insist on doing so anyway. I don't believe that ship will stick around if we take the initiative, they've already failed to protect their charge and now they're facing a vessel that should be able to tear them to pieces as easy as a lightsabre through durasteel." The young Padawn insisted. "Besides, you don't want to leave that Action IV there any more than I do."
Cha'alla thought about that for a few moments, the gunship really didn't look in very good condition, the Pandorum's shielding would be strong enough to protect it for a while ever with those ion cannons and the Pandorum did outgun the gunship.
"Alright but if they don't turn tail and run I'm following the Masters orders to get out of here." She said as she turned back to the crew. "Helm put us on an intercept coarse for that gunship, fire control, open up with everything we have on them."
As Nikan predicted when the Pandorum moved to engage the Gunship it kicked its engines to full burn and headed for the edge of the gravity well to escape. The two ships exchanged fire briefly with neither doing any serious damage to the other before the Gunship reached the edge and jumped away.
"So who's idea was it to contradict my orders?" Cyphor said as he entered the bridge. Nikan looked a little sheepish off to the side but Cha'alla didn't bat an eye at the question. She recognised it for what it was a simple question, so long as the reasons for an action were thought out and reasonable Cyphor didn't mind his orders being questioned or ignored if the results came out well.
"Nikan came up with the idea Master, he believed that the pirates would run rather than stay and fight if we looked like we were going to engage them. He deserves the credit Master"
Cyphor smiled warmly at the response. "There is no reward without risk, I was ready to cut our losses and make do with what we had. But now we have the time to board and take that freighter. Quick thinking young Nikan." Cyphor walked over to his youngest padawan and placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder before facing Cha'alla. "You lead the boarding action Cha'alla, take a squad of clones with you and see that we get the ship under our control quickly, I don't want those pirate returning with a bigger friend while we're still docked."
"Yes Master." Cha'alla said before quickly making her way to the turbo lift that would take her down to the docking airlock.
Pandorum, Docking Airlock
About 5 minutes later.
Zane approached the airlock with the squad of troopers selected for the boarding action, Ahead of him Cha'alla waited, ready to lead them over as Cyphor had ordered.
"Zane, I wasn't aware you were leading the troops over." She said cautiously.
"I'm not, you are. Since I wasn't deployed to the platform I felt like getting my hands dirty, this seems like it will be my last opportunity on this operation." The clone commander said as he reached the airlock.
"Very well then, just so we're clear, I want to keep as many of them alive as possible, they're already beaten we don't need to kill them." Cha'alla replied as she unhooked her sabre from her belt.
"Working with Cyphor and you these past few years I can understand that, some of them won't want to give up though, a few deaths may be unavoidable." the Clone said as he waved a trooper with a hacking console over to get the airlock on the Action IV open.
"But we must give them the option none-the-less." Cha'alla said as she moved to into the airlock and readied her sabre Zane and the troops preparing to follow her through as soon as the door was clear.
After a few moments of beeping as he hacking console did its work the airlock opened slowly with the familiar hiss of atmosphere. No blaster bolt flew towards the door from the pirate vessel so Cha'alla moved through the airlock and stepped onto the other ship. as she cleared the doorway the clones started coming through and securing the corridor they found themselves in.
"Two of you stay here and make sure none try to slip aboard Pandorum, six of you head that way to the cargo hold and make sure you give the crew the opportunity to surrender. The rest of you follow me to the forward section." Cha'alla said as she started moving towards the vessels crew quarters and bridge.
They hadn't gotten too far in when the first blaster bolt flew toward them from the doorway of a bunkroom. Igniting her sabre and blocking the few shoots in fluid quick movements Cha'alla stood in the centre of the corridor and called out to the pirates. "We have no wish to take your lives, Surrender now and you will be treated fairly." As the freighter was running on backup power Cha'alla's sabre blade cast an eerie purple glow around her and after a few moments the sound of blasters hitting the deck and being slid into the corridor could be heard.
"We give up." said one of the Pirates as the small group of 5 started coming out into the corridor. A gesture from Cha'alla had several clones moving forward with restraints as she continued towards the ships bridge with three of the clones on her heels. As she reached the door to the bridge the clones took up positions to either side so that they would be in cover when the door opened and waited for Cha'alla to lead them in.
When she opened the door three blasters immediately opened up on her forcing her to block furiously with her sabre as she moved into the bridge so that the comes could get clear shots off. "Surrender, you don't need to die here." She said as she moved behind a console not far from the door.
"I'll never give up my ship." came a gruff voice Cha'alla took to be the captain from further back on the bridge. One of the clones made a dash from the doorway to crouch by the console beside her, a few moments later another clone made for a console on the other side of the doorway followed closely by the third trooper. The captain and his two loyal crew took the opportunity to open fire again, and a heavy blaster bolt struck the third trooper in the chest just before he reached cover.
"NO!" Cha'alla shouted as she vaulted over the console and rushed the nearest pirate moments before the bolt struck. She was too late to deflect the killing shot, but she was not about to let the same mistake happen twice. Slicing the first pirates blaster in half she kicked him hard against the bulkhead as the remaining two clones opened fire on the other crewman o the far side of the bridge. The only remaining pirate was the captain who snapped off several quick shots from his blaster the last of which Cha'alla deflected back at him with her sabre, the bolt took the man square in the chest and sent him backwards over the console behind him. Ignoring the fallen captain Cha'alla quickly moved to the downed clone, hoping it wasn't to late. Probing his with the force however she realised he had been dead the moment the blaster hit him. Even the healing technique she had been researching couldn't bring one back from the dead.
Back in the cargo hold Zane had lead the remaining troopers in and all but two of the crew their had surrendered when given the chance. and were now being restrained and taken over to the Pandorum under guard. Zane and four of the clones remained to inspect the contents of the hold. Zane was away from the other four inspecting the small amount of tibanna that was in the hold, a much smaller amount than they had expected, evidentially the freighter had not had enough time to load up before they were interrupted.
"Hey, why's this inner airlock open?" Zane heard on one the clones ask from the far side of the bay.
"Leave it alone Cat." Another said.
"Shouldn't be open, its a potential risk, I'll just close it okay." The curious clone said.
"Alright fine Cat, just hurry up."
"There's something just inside the door here." Cat said as he reached for the device.
"Just close the air-"
The clone was cut off as a small explosion erupted in the airlock breaching the outer door and pressurising the bay in the process. Cat was half vaporised by the explosion itself the clone that had been talking to him was sucked out the airlock moments later as the atmosphere began venting. Even across the bay Zane could feel the pull as all the air rushed to escape the bay the other two troopers were much closer and were pulled rapidly towards the airlock alone with a few small bits of loose cargo. Emergency locks had closed the doors deeper into the freighter as soon as the cargo began venting so Zane had some small comfort in knowing the others on board would be safe. carefully trying to grip as much of the secure cargo as he could he made his way closer to the breach. a loose bit of cargo struck one of the two remaining troopers in the head and he was dazed enough to be sucked out the airlock as well before Zane was halfway across the bay. the last of the four was clinging desperately to the inner doors trying to reach the emergency closure button on the inside and pull himself back in at the same time. Zane picked up the pace and soon found himself a the edge of the door himself. He was however moments to late, as he reached out to take the last troopers hand the trooper lost his grip and was sucked out into space. With no other recourse Zane slammed his fist into the emergency close button sealing the door and the breach.
"Damn." Zane swore. Not one trooper lost on the platform only one lost in taking the ship and now they lose four due to a damn booby trap, not the right way for a soldier to go.
A dozen hours later the Pandorum and captured Action IV emerged from hyperspace in the space around Yexn we'Be Cbetabin. The loss of life in the operation was regrettable but the gains had made those sacrifices mean something. While the Tibanna haul have been small they had rescued a number of slaves and while damaged and in need or repairs the Action IV would prove to be a valuable asset in the days to come.