“Sir. We’re in position.”
The pilot spoke with confidence, his hands moving over various control surfaces to ensure that the ship was exactly where the commander had ordered it to be – gently settled on the surface of one of the largest asteroids in the field. It had taken great skill to manage it, but the pilot was well-trained.
“Power down all secondary systems and activate cloak,” the commander replied curtly.
“Yes, sir,” the pilot responded quickly, his hands moving over the control panel with practiced ease and efficiency.
The ship suddenly felt… more empty, now, since half of his men had not returned from their mission. It had all gone terribly wrong in a hurry, which amazed and frustrated the commander at the same time. The survivors had lived for more than thirty years on the primitive planet, had little in the way of defenses, had depleted most of their stores of blaster-gas, and only had a few remaining functioning droids compared to the thousands they had been carrying three decades ago. The populace should have been too old to fight, or too untrained…
But they had received aid in the form of five mercenaries, and that had obviously turned the tide. Even as Ossnan watched the events unfold – from a safe distance aboard the Deep Dark, he could see that without those five meddlers fighting on the side of the survivors, the mission would have likely been a success.
Instead, Ossnan had lost half of his men, including two speeders, six scout droids, and two Probots. These were all valuable resources, especially in a time when the Empire could use all the resources it could muster.
But the worst part was what Ossnan knew he must do next. Looking at the black metallic chronometer on his wrist for the fifth time in the past ten minutes, he knew it was time to report in, despite his best efforts to mentally will the chronometer to stop or go in reverse. He could not avoid it any longer. If he was late reporting in, there would likely be steep consequences. Very steep.
Calming himself, Ossnan moved to the command console and took a deep breath. He always hated these reports, and he had the distinct feeling that his superior could sense it. The General was… unnerving to him, and Ossnan always tried to keep communications short and to the point. But this call would be different….
This call required him to report his first failure.
Reaching toward the command panel, Ossnan pressed the correct sequence of buttons, and the holo-display came to life. Moments later, a blue-hued holo-image flickered and then came into focus – and there the General stood, still ominous even though his image was only as tall as Ossnan’s forearm was long.
“Sir, Supervisor Liers Ossnan, reporting,” he said, snapping to attention like any good Imperial soldier would when addressing their commanding officer.
“At ease, Supervisor… though I sense that you feel anything but at ease…,” the General’s voice responded. Merely the sound of it, like some sort of alien metallic rasp, always haunted Ossnan, as if the voice itself could do him harm just by listening to it.
“Sir, the survivors of the Sa Nalaor have successfully repelled our attempt to capture the two fugitives Cratala and Harsol. We’ve retreated into the nebula and await further orders,” he said, simple and to the point. He spoke quickly, knowing that if he didn’t, his words might have faltered, and showing weakness of any kind was not part of Ossnan’s personality.
“Failed? You mean a handful of castaways were able to thwart your plan, Supervisor?”
Ossnan felt his temper flare, sensing the General’s subtle but pointed laying of blame directly on his shoulders.
“Sir, I had only a single lance of lightly-armed scout troopers, ill-equipped for the task at hand. If I could have access to but one assault platoon, or even just half a dozen commandos, I could easily seize your prizes,” he retorted, his voice rising slightly.
“You are irritated that you do not have the ‘proper resources’ at hand, Supervisor? Remind me to feel pity for you another time. I need not remind you that there is a war going on, Supervisor, and we do not have the luxury of expecting whatever resources we wish,” the image responded, voice laced with disdain.
“Sir, the survivors also had the help of mercenaries – the ones from The Wheel that I reported previously. Their presence turned the tide.”
The image was silent for a moment before speaking again. “The Togorian, the Gotal, the Cerean, the Droid, and the Human you told me about before… interesting… and an interesting excuse, Supervisor,” the cloaked figure replied.
“If I could acquire reinforcements, I will capture the two fugitives and bring those mercenaries to you in chains, if-…”
“No,” the holo-image curtly interrupted. “You will do nothing of the sort. What is your current status?”
Ossnan cleared his throat faintly before responding. “Half of our platoon perished on Cholganna, though we inflicted significant losses on the survivors. I instructed the troops and droids to avoid firing at the two fugitives. We are currently hidden in the asteroid field inside the nebula surrounding Cholganna, cloaked and on the lowest power settings. Our enhanced sensors have been calibrated to the nebula’s frequencies, allowing us far longer sensor ranges than any other ship in the sector.”
“What of the other… parties… you reported to me earlier?” the holo-image inquired.
“The ship belonging to the Rodian Yivar clan has fled the system. To my understanding, most of their crew were eliminated, so they departed. I believe they are returning to The Wheel to find reinforcements, then will return to Cholganna to explore the wreckage of the Sa Nalaor. The other ship, the Tempest, captained by the human bounty-hunter Dolan, has descended toward the planet’s surface.”
“Ah, apparently to finish the job that you could not, no doubt,” the General interrupted sardonically.
Ossnan clenched his teeth for a moment before continuing. “It is believed he is here to collect a bounty on the head of one of the mercenaries. To my knowledge, he has no interest in the Sa Nalaor itself, nor the passengers that were a part of its crew.”
The hooded figure in the holo-image nodded slowly. “You will remain at a safe distance, simply observing until instructed otherwise, Supervisor,” the voice commanded. “I want to know what they are up to, and how these five mercenaries are involved. If the bounty-hunter removes one or more of them, so much the better. Let him waste his resources doing your work for you,” he said.
Ossnan clearly caught the inference, and straightened. “Sir, if the opportunity presents itself-…”
“No, Supervisor. You will remain at a safe distance, doing what you were trained to do: observe. Report. Spy. It is obvious now that your unit is not up to the task of direct confrontation – or perhaps it’s simply your skill that is lacking.”
Ossnan grit his teeth again to force himself to relax, and eventually nodded. “As you wish, Sir.”
The figure in the image turned its hooded head slightly. “Good… but I sense you have… questions. Speak.”
Ossnan took another breath, momentarily contemplating saying anything else at all, but his own curiosity was weighing heavily upon him. “I am curious about the current state of affairs in the Empire, sir. How are we faring? Are we regaining ground? Has a successor been chosen yet?” After that last question, the holo-image raised a hand, immediately causing Ossnan to go silent.
“Recovery efforts are going well enough. We are regrouping in several key locations, and have retaken several planets in the Vivenda sector. As for a successor… several interested parties have stepped forward, but few have any real claim to the throne. My own claim is proceeding… as planned,” he said, with a subtle hint of confidence.
“That is good news indeed, Sir,” Ossnan responded, trying to appear and sound chipper.
“I am so glad that you approve, Supervisor,” the image responded, its voice a mix of amusement and loathing. Ossnan sensed it immediately, and stood at attention.
“That will be all….,” the voice rasped… and then the holo-image flickered and faded away.
Ossnan clenched his fists, taking a few deep breaths before turning to face the pilot.
“Shut us down. Go silent, except for the sensors. Alert me the moment any ship departs or arrives at the planet,” he instructed, then turned to swiftly depart the bridge.
“Aye, Sir,” the pilot responded.