- DRAMATIS PERSONAE:
- Alpha-class ARC troopers:
- A-88, “Enn”, Captain
- A-18, “Jay”, Lieutenant
- A-19, “Norr”, Lieutenant
- A-89, Lieutenant
- A-90, Lieutenant
- A-91, Lieutenant
- Covert operations clone troopers:
- "Natch", Sergeant
- 90th Battalion:
- "Haw”, Major
- Jedi General Jax Low
ARC Captain Enn looked out the window of the modified HAVw A6 Juggernaut turbo tank. He knew that this mission was gonna be tough. The year was 21 BBY. On the planet Prine, a barren desert, the Separatists were apparently building a special factory. This factory was secretly producing powerful tanks, reportedly exponentially heavier than the super tanks they had encountered on Geonosis. Or so Republic Intelligence had said.
Of course, the Republic deployed troopers to combat and take out the factory. They knew that it was located near the deserted and destroyed Republic base. The problem was, they didn’t know where exactly the factory was. So, the 90th Battalion, along with six covert ops troopers and six ARC troopers, was deployed to search for it.
Enn found himself in a convoy of four turbo tanks and ten AT-TEs, traveling through a sandstorm on the planet. The sand was like a blizzard, it was not bright and hot like a normal desert planet, but cold, rough, and dark in the night sky. They were looking for any signs of the factory. While the tanks and walkers lumbered along, carrying the 90th and the ARCs, large floodlights piercing through the tough sand, the six covert ops were walking on the ground, using newer, specialized sensors that were not equipped on the tanks. They were built to detect Beskar, commonly known as Mandalorian iron. This material could withstand lightsabers, and the new Separatists tanks were supposedly made from this.
“Any signs of the factory?” Enn asked Natch, the leader of the ground group.
“Negative, captain. There’s nothing but debris from the destroyed base. I think we might be in the wrong place,” Natch replied.
“No. All of our confirmed data says that it is within this area. We’ve been searching for hours. There’s got to be at least a small signal.”
“I’m sorry sir, but I don’t know what to tell ya. It’s a barren wasteland. Our sensors, even at the full range of three klicks, still haven’t picked up a single beacon. There’s nothing here!”
That was not good. Enn had to report their progress to his Jedi General, Master Low. He walked away from the main hold of the tank and into the cockpit. He found the general standing behind the driver, reading charts to look for a sign of the factory’s existence. The Jedi sensed his thoughts before he even told it.
“What is our status, captain?”
“We’ve got our sensors, both ground troopers’ and tanks’, at full range, but we can’t pick up any sign of the factory. We’re only finding endless debris from the base.”
“It is here captain. I can sense movement foreign of our units, but not where it is coming from. We must continue our search if we are to stop these tanks.”
“Copy that, sir. I’ll see what we can do to boost out speed.”
Enn walked out uneasy. General Low was not a man of many words. He rarely showed much emotion, and in combat he was completely silent except to give simple orders, which he always did via his comlink, never a shout. The general seemed to always be alert, yet his stillness clouded him. He wore dark black robes and he kept his hood on a majority of the time. Enn could never tell what strategy the general had in his mind.
Meanwhile, the covert ops squad was still struggling to find any signals in the sandstorm. They walked side-by-side, carrying large sensor backpacks, their special sensor helmets bearing floodlights to see through the dust. Their DC-15S and DC-15A blasters clutched in their hands, they moved slowly through the thickening storm, only a couple hundred feet from the tanks behind them.
“This is a waste of time! We should be out there, blasting droids, instead of searching for a factory that doesn’t even exist!” Still cried.
Water, who had fallen behind a couple feet, walked up to Still so he could see him face-to-face. “Yeah, but if it does exist, we save hundreds of troopers! That tank armor can withstand lightsabers! How are we supposed to take them out?”
“Why don’t we just do a last resort Base Delta Zero bombardment here? Just wipe out the entire planet!”
“The Jedi leaders hold everything sacred. If we reduce this planet to molten slag, we kill hundreds of possibly sentient creatures! We can’t do that, they’re innocent!”
“Do you honestly think anything lives in this wasteland?" Still retorted.
"You know what happened at Malastare! The Zillo beast lived underground, just as anything here could. It's already a tragedy that that creature is gone! It's needless to have the same happen to another species!"
"Well that’s war! If these Jedi are peacekeepers, why are they even leading the war? Why don’t we get real military professionals to lead us? Some people who actually can do what needs to be done!”
“Cut the chatter you two,” interrupted Natch. “Log thinks he’s gotten a signal.”
The three troopers ran over to Log, who was ahead of the group. Maim was also there. He had been in Log’s Kamino birth cohort, and they knew each other very well.
“What’s up?” asked Natch.
“I’ve got a weak sign on my sensor. It says the factory is right here, right on our feet, but that’s impossible. It’s just sand and dirt here.” Log said.
“Wait…” said Maim. If it's not in front of us, it must be down! Sergeant, what is the material under the sand in the ground?”
“Sorlike,” Natch responded. He always studied before going into a mission, and was always prepared.
“Exactly! It makes perfect sense! Sorlike, when mixed with sand, jams sensors!”
Natch, seeing his point, turned on his comlink and contacted Enn.
“Captain, stop all the tanks. We've got a sign of something. We can't be sure, but it's our first lead in the last seventy-two hours," he said.
"Copy that sergeant!" replied an enthusiastic Enn.
All the tanks halted and several squads of the 90th ran out to set a perimeter up. The covert ops squad moved around the area until they had located the point of strongest detection, just a few meters ahead of where they had been originally. The clone forces made a circle around the spot, with one platoon to each side, as well as walker and turbo tanks spaced around it. The circle was extremely tight, only about a hundred feet in diameter. General Low got out of his tank and walked to the squad. Behind him were the six ARC troops and several 90th clones.
"General," Natch said, "this is the largest lead we've found in awhile, but it's extremely faint. It appears that the factory is not on land, but underground within think layers of sorlike, which would explain why our sensors could not track it."
"Good work sergeant," replied the general, "The signal is extremely weak, which would imply that the factory is nearly three kilometers into the ground, based on your sensor range. Have a full report be sent to the star destroyer in orbit, and then we will proceed with our next phase."
"Very good, sir."
As they sent a transmission out, Major Haw checked in with each of the squads fanned out around the circle. One of the squads with the west-side platoon did not receive. Only static came out of comm. Haw contacted the platoon leader, and the lieutenant said he couldn't make contact either. "Captain, we've got a situation on the west side, I repeat west side," he told Enn. "Copy that."
The ARC took his five men and they proceeded to the west side. He met up with the platoon lieutenant. "We've found nothing, sir. Just one of their blasters. We heard no sound of anything happening. The whole squad is missing."
"Copy that. We'll look into it. Careful out here, make sure your troopers are all within yards of one another. Keep them near the tanks," Enn said, a hint of apprehension in his voice. He drew his blaster pistols and the squad proceeded forward. All of them had their mics on, and everyone was whispering of what they saw. Their vision consisted of, of course, sand, sand, and more sand.
Suddenly, a cry was heard and they saw a single blue blaster bolt fly from their left. "Jay!" they shouted.
They ran over and found a floating, metal sphere-shaped droid with two extending arms from the side pulling their comrade along the sand. "Mayday!" Enn shouted into his comm. He jumped and grabbed Jay by the feet, slowing the sphere's pull to a stop. A blaster popped out from a forward panel and the sphere took shots at them. A red bolt struck Norr in the arm and he fell back. Volleys of blue blaster bolts rained forward from the nearest 90th platoon, rushing to their help. A blue beam ignited from behind them with a buzz and General Low jumped into the air striking a direct hit against the sphere's center.
The sphere continued blasting, and Low Force grabbed the sphere to the ground, Jay still held by it. The ARC grabbed the sphere by a free space within the open blaster panel, and as the droid tried to regain air he ejected a wrist vibroblade and cut into the internals. Sparks flew from the droid and an armor shell blew off. The destroyed sphere fell to the ground. Jay shoved the machine off, and was helped to his feet by Enn. The platoon and the rest of the ARCs gathered around the destroyed sphere.
"What in the blazes was that?" Norr asked. As the trooper was attended by a medic, Low kicked the broken bits of beskar armor.
"Our suspicions have been confirmed. There is beskar, and the base must be down from here for that droid to have come up in such a quick period," the general said.
"General!" a running Natch called. His covert ops troopers were with him. "There was a peak in signal for beskar, but it died down just seconds ago. We were trying to comm you but we couldn't be heard over the open channel."
"Yes sergeant. We just destroyed the signal. It came from this droid, whom we have just disabled. It tried to pull one of—"
"Sir, another peak signal!" shouted Log.
They heard another scream and a full spree of automatic blue gunfire before the blaster dropped. Several men rushed toward the left side, and they saw a trooper sink down, and sphere behind it. All the troops rushed to the area, but there was nothing. The beskar signal died down again. "The droids must have pulled him down into the factory!" Enn cried.
"Everyone, get into the tanks and stay there. Make sure everyone is accounted for. Keep the scanners spread within the turbo tanks. Get those droid scrap parts. Stay sheltered. Move, quickly." Low said into the comm.
All of the troops on the ground ran into the tanks, and soon there were only vehicles surrounding the spot where the highest signal had been.
"General, I have bad news," Haw reported within the lead turbo tank. "In addition to the squad plus the first trooper we lost, it appears that three others went missing as we retreated into the vehicles."
"These droids are much greater in stealth than what we had expected. We'd thought of tanks, but not probes. Let us wait until the storm dies down somewhat. The sands on this world never leave, but a thinner storm and weaker wind would be of great aid to us," said Low.
"Copy that general. I'll tell the men to eat up and check all their gear. Haw out." The major clicked off the comm and went to the mini-armory of the tank. It was small compared to any base. Still, it had racks upon racks of extra rifles, and bucketfuls of explosives. He grabbed a backpack and several concussion grenades. He instructed all of the members of his battalion to get one if they could. Beskar could withstand blasters and lightsabers, but it had one vulnerability: impact.
Back in an turbo tank, Natch was uneasy. Within a matter of minutes those stealth droids had already killed eleven troopers, and almost an ARC. There was no saying what such a powerful unit could do. They still did not know how many there were, how to get within the base, and how to destroy it.