Ezra Standish did not believe in endings and he certainly never entered a situation he could not win. Despite their present circumstances, Ezra still believed emphatically that he had things well in hand even if things did appear somewhat urgent at the moment. Having taken the bulk of the Imperial forces away from the fighter pilots whose numbers were being devastated thanks to the overwhelming odds they were facing, Ezra truly believed his gamble would not end up blowing up in his face. Games of chance were the one thing in which he remained absolutely confident, and in this instance, he was never more certain of that fact. Still, considering the consequences if his luck did not hold out, Ezra could have been forgiven if his faith on that point was slightly eroded by fear. Of course a little healthy fear was a good thing. Sometimes, it provided a man with just the right amount of added incentive to stay alive.
At the moment however, neither Ezra nor his crew required any added incentives to stay alive. If anything, their thoughts were singularly focussed on that one point with almost religious fervor. For months they had lived under the bright gaze of Colus red giant and had never given the star much thought. However, now as they found themselves heading straight for it, none of them could think of nothing less but how terribly enormous it appeared on the display screen before them. Across the bridge, emergency klaxons screamed their warnings as the temperature in the room, and indeed the entire ship, began to rise steadily.
"Hull temperature at 1000 degrees," Nathan announced as the ship began to shudder, the tremendous speed and the intense gravitational forces of the red giant was increasing their velocity, far beyond what was considered safe by the ships designer.
"Status of enemy ships?" Ezra demanded, his eyes fixed on the display, focussed on the Purgatorys advance to the giant star.
"Theyre still in pursuit!" Nathan responded a second after acquiring the information from the scanner station before him. "The fighters have broken off however, its just the Star Destroyers."
"Most likely because small fighters cannot tolerate the level of radiation being emanated from Colu," Ezra remarked.
"For that matter neither can we," Nathan added. "At least not for long."
"If we turn back, we will be trapped in their net." Ezra turned to him sharply. "We will maintain course. Inform the engineering section I want more power diverted to our deflector shield. They are to do whatever it takes to ensure we can survive for a just little longer than those enemy ships. We are not ready to make our move yet and we have to survive long enough to make the attempt."
Nathan swallowed and obeyed, aware that Ezra was right despite the fact that his actions seemed suicidal to most. If they did withdraw from the protection, such as it was, of the giant red star, they would find themselves in the same predicament as before; out numbered and certainly outgunned. Besides, Ezras strategy so far had taken the destroyers attention away from the evacuation of the rebel base and in that part their mission, no matter how it ended, would still be a success. Around him, the crews anxiety was apparent but they too had faith in their commander and their cause, thus ignoring the sounds of metal shuddering around them, the turbulence the craft was being subjected to the closer it neared the sun and the steadily rising heat.
Ezra felt beads of sweat under his uniform and knew the temperature would get a lot warmer as they continued their advance. Warning lights were flashing on every console in sight, beseeching the sentient masters of the ships to veer the Purgatory away from the fiery star. Ezra wished he could oblige everyones desire to leave but he could not. They had one chance of turning this into something remotely resembling a fighting chance and he was going to take it no matter how insane the idea might seem. Groans of stress points being stretched to their limits could be heard throughout the bridge as the heat did its worst upon the hull of the warship.
"Ezra, the hull is starting to melt!" Nathan exclaimed. "If we dont pull up now, we may never do so."
"Not just yet," Ezra remarked, studying the readings on the control panel on the armrest of his chair. He was watching the readings, his eyes alternating between the panel and the display before him. He watched the numbers climb and noted that the Destroyers were still in pursuit. He wondered if they genuinely believed the Purgatory could be caught or was it blind stubbornness to admit defeat pushing them on even though it was sheer insanity to do so. He knew what his own ship was capable of and while he was no doubt putting the Purgatory through its paces, he also knew what those Imperial Star Destroyers were capable of doing. They were a heavy battle cruiser, made nearly invulnerable by its thick armor and flexibility as a warship and as a troop carrier, which accounted for their size and their complement of star fighters. However, she was not a maneuverable craft and following the Purgatory into this situation would prove just how inadequate she was for what they were about to do.
"Ezra," Nathan spoke up again, about to warn him that if they did not leave, the gravity well that they would soon encounter if they continued on would rip the ship apart rather than let them go.
"Helm," Ezra responded before Nathan could complete the sentence. "I want you to put all power into reverse thrust and take us out now!"
The officer in charge of the helm was more than happy to oblige and no sooner than the order had been given the massive bulk of the Purgatory came to an abrupt halt. The ship jolted backward violently, throwing anyone that was not prepared for it out of their seat. The air began to fill with the sound of metal straining as the craft was turned around, fighting gravitational forces and solar radiation as its bow veered away from the red giant and began the arduous task of climbing out of the suns intense pull. Ezra dug his fingers into the armrest of his chair as he struggled to remain seated. Nathan had been one of those who had lost their footing during the violent turn away from Colus primary star. The first officer pushed himself to his feet and hurried back to his station.
"Ezra, the others ships are still going!" he exclaimed.
"I expected they would," Ezra responded, not at all surprised by the news. "Please activate the rear view display."
A moment later, the huge screen at the head of the bridge revealed what Ezra had been gambling all their lives on. The three destroyers were trying desperately to pull up with only one of the ships managing to do so with some measure of success. Ezra could see the hull plating on the crafts coming loose, as the metal was superheated and almost red in its heat. The last ship was managing to turn its nose around and escape the fiery death promised by the red giant before them but its two companions were not so successful. Ezra tried not to think that there were almost a thousand people, if not more on each of those ships and when those destroyers met their end, so would they. He could not think that way because they were the enemy and in war, casualties were a fact of life.
The two destroyers continued their spiral into the grip of the star. Through the cackle of static that came from the communications panel, the rebel ship listened in silence to frantic cries of help from the crew of each ship, trying to coordinate some sort of escape even though there was none that could prevent the dying to come. The crew of the Purgatory continued to watch the display, mesmerized in a strange sort of horror as they saw the two destroyers disappear into the blinding color of the red giant, until there was nothing else to see and the voices stopped emanating from the communications panel.
"May the Force be with them," Nathan mused.
"We are far from delivered ourselves," Ezra said quickly. He felt as much empathy for the lives that had been lost but not the cause they represented. Nor was he forgetful of the fact that had it been the Purgatory that had been destroyed, the crew of those Imperials ships would not be feeling this same sorrow but rather wicked triumph. "Might I remind you that there is still one Star Destroyer left and a great deal of Imperial pilots still causing our fighters a great deal of distress. We need to get back to Colu 3 and aid them."
"I know," his old friend nodded sadly. In some sense, Ezra sometimes wondered what Nathan was doing playing soldier. He cared too much about people. He always had. When they were at the Academy together, Nathan's empathy had troubled Ezra a great deal. Mostly because he knew that such powerful compassion and humanity was ill placed in a soldier. When the Empire had first come into being, Ezra had feared what the dark institution would do to an idealist like Nathan. He was, among them, something of an aberration. When he spoke the words about oaths and honor, he truly meant it while others merely used it as a tool to further their own ambitions. Ezra had feared so much that Palpatines dark regime would destroy the inner light of his best friend that it never occurred to him that it was Nathan who was assessing his compatibility with the Empire, not it with him. Even when Ana, Nathan's wife, had been killed by the Empire because she was Jedi born, Nathan had joined the rebellion not for vengeance but rather to keep such tragedies from happening again. "I just hate to see lives lost needlessly."
"It is the way the game is played," Ezra sighed, not able to offer him any more of an answer then that and, frankly, they did not have time for it either. ""What is the status of the remaining enemy ship?"
"It's managed to turn around," Nathan answered a second later, the brief moment of remorse brushed aside for the situation at present. "They're right behind us."
"We need to contact our fighters," Ezra retorted thinking quickly.
"We're still getting interference from the planet," Nathan explained. "We need to move a little bit more out of range of the sun."
Ezra could understand that. A red giant exuded all forms of energy, gamma rays, alpha waves, and radiation on such a high level that it was impossible for communications band widths to not be affected. Once they put some adequate distance between the Purgatory and the star, the interference would decrease. Nevertheless, Ezra wanted to transmit his attack orders as soon as the other ships were capable of receiving him. Since they had broken free of Colu's intense gravity wells, he had been thinking hard on how they would rid themselves of that last ship. His gamble though risky had worked. He had evened the odds.
Now it was time to finish this once and for all.
Most of the time Josiah had a great deal of faith in Chris Larabee.
It was hard not to think a Jedi was infallible. The nature of what they were made them seem beyond the understanding of normal people. Even they strove not to be so removed from their fellow men. Although he had spent his life in the Republic Senate, where he had seen the very depths of capriciousness and avarice even when it was meant to be in the service of a planetary body, Josiah could not help being the idealist when it came to the Jedi. It was no small thing for one as jaded as he to be enamored by the Force and its Jedi Knights. So many found it easy to defer to the judgment of the Jedi and not think for themselves. Since meeting Chris, Josiah had learned how much like the ordinary folk of the galaxy they could be. The Jedi loved as well hated. They mourned and they also avenged. Until he had met Chris Larabee he had never considered that they could be hurt just the same as any being in the galaxy.
Or be killed.
He stood by the remaining cannon units that had not been obliterated by AT ATs and wondered if he was insane for allowing Chris and Vin to try this. It was motivated out of sheer desperation and the arrogant Jedi belief that death to save many was an honorable way to end one's existence. Josiah knew enough about what Chris meant to the Alliance to know that his death could never be honorable if it were uselessly squandered to save even a few hundred lives who had accustomed themselves to dying long before Chris chose to save them from it. Unfortunately, trying to convince Chris and Vin, who was just as stubborn and sometimes even more so, Josiah believed, was more arduous than trying to tame a rabid rancor. As he had found out when Chris had outlined his plans to defeat the AT ATs that were cutting through a swathe of bodies in order to destroy the rebel line of defense.
Inwardly, Josiah knew it was the only chance they had of holding back the voracious ground forces of the Imperial war machine but his heart was not as easy to convince as his mind. Chris' plan had great risk, especially to himself, and Josiah had no wish to see either the Jedi or his apprentice coming to such great harm, even for the sake of the defensive line. However, the wheels were now in motion and there was nothing he could do but carry out his part of the plan or else he would only assure the terrible end he had feared for his friends.
"You know what needs to be done," Josiah spoke not only to the men and women arming the blast cannon that he was standing before but also to the others that were strewn across the makeshift battle line they had formed. "When I give you the signal, concentrate all fire on the walkers and the AT ATs. We need to distract them for as long as it takes for the speeder to make it across the field."
The nods and responses to the affirmative also corresponded with similar confirmations from the other teams and Josiah realized that there was no delaying this any longer. Switching the frequency on the device to another band, Josiah spoke as soon as the cackle of static signaling the change had diminished. "Chris, it's all set. When youre ready, well lay down cover fire."
"Good," Chris Larabees voice returned through the com unit. "Vin and I are ready to come through. Well move when you start firing."
"Acknowledged." Josiah nodded and terminated the channel between them. He did not lower the com set but immediately returned it to its original setting. Taking a deep breath, he spoke into the com. This time his voice was hard and commanding. "Open fire now!"
No sooner had he spoken, than the barrage of cannon fire erupted from the rebel line, streaking across the plains with such furious intensity that the boom of multiple blasts timed to coincide with one another, drowning out all other sounds from the air. The armored walkers seemed to stagger backward as wave after wave of energy bombarded them and while the AT ATs were more or less impervious to the bolts of energy slamming into their hulls, the walkers were just a little more vulnerable. The Imperial troops retreated a little, not expecting this ruthless assault on their armored vehicles and there was an instant where Josiah had hoped that they might consider it ill advised to keep advancing and turn back. However, the moment was fleeting because he remembered that Imperial storm troopers were known for their relentlessness.
Amidst all this chaos, the rebel speeder burst through the line at top speed. Its appearance was so unexpected that none of the Imperial storm troopers fired for the few seconds of its advancement across the field. Through the hail of fire being exchanged, Josiah saw Vin firing at the storm troopers, not utilizing the light saber he was more comfortable with but rather a blast rifle. Prior to his rebel days, the younger man had been a bounty hunter and his sharp shooting skills were the best that Josiah had ever seen. As Chris directed the speeder towards the walker with the least amount of soldiers around it, Vin cleared a path for them with the rifle. They were more than half way across the plain when the Imperials caught wind of what they were doing. By then the speeder had slipped beyond the range of the AT ATs cannon turrets and Chris had more than enough Jedi ability to evade the defensive fire rained down on them from the walkers.
Chris kept his head down as bolts of energy flew past him. Once they got closer to the walkers, Vin abandoned the blast rifle and activated his lightsabre. The glow of the blade was enough to make the storm troopers defending the walkers pause, if not stop entirely. Jedis were rare these days but their legacy still remained in the memory of most, in particular how formidable they could be in battle. When they resumed firing, Vin was more than ready for them. The young apprentice quickly deflected the incoming blasts of energy, sending them streaking elsewhere once they ricocheted of the blade. Vins reflexes, enhanced by the Force, ensured that they made it across the plain safety.
Not so for the Imperial storm troopers Chris slammed into when he broke through the enemy lines. He immediately directed the speeder at the nearest walker and brought it to a halt. The walker was still on the move, unaware of what the two Jedis had planned, and was continuing to advance. Chris jumped out of the speeder just as more troops started to shoot at him, now that he was a momentarily stationary object. Chris glanced in their direction and concentrated a little while Vin kept the energy blasts from him. The contingent that had been firing at the two Jedi soon found themselves flying backwards, slamming into the ground. They impacted hard against the rocky surface, swept aside like rag dolls from a power they could not understand.
More closed in and Chris turned his attention to them. He removed his lightsabre and activated the weapon. The beam of light extended from its hilt and, scrutinizing the numbers against him carefully, he flung the lightsabre towards them. The beam spun around in a circular motion, appearing almost like fireworks as it radiated in its journey. The beauty of it was soon cut short by blood curdling screams as the lightsabre cut its way through metal armor before finally encountering flesh and bone. Chris gaze was towards the walker that was still making its way forward, even though in the back of his mind he was aware of what his weapon had done. Without a second thought, he raised his hand so that the lightsabre could return to him.
"Ill take that one," Chris stared at the walker. "You take the other one."
Vin nodded and both Jedis ran forward, moving so fast that it was intensely difficult for them to be targeted before their running leaps sent them flying towards the walkers. Both Vin and Chris had chosen the angle of their jumps carefully and they were able to find suitable handholds when they landed against the side of the armored vehicle. Vin scrambled up the side of the walker and pulled himself on top of it first. By now the storm troopers had started firing again but they were hampered in their shots because they did not want to damage on of their own. The apprentice kept his head down and scrambled towards the small hatch that sat on the top of the walker, like the blowhole of a large leviathan.
Holding steady on top of the walker, Vin lowered himself enough to twist open the hatch and expose its insides to the light of day. The first thing he encountered as he gazed down was a face staring up at him in surprise. Reacting immediately, Vin slammed his fist into the face of the Imperial soldier. His knuckles caught the bridge of the storm troopers nose and he reeled backwards. However, before he could fall, Vin grabbed him and yanked him through the opening. Still somewhat dazed, he did not react much even when Vin shoved him off the side of the walker and sent him straight to the ground. Vin knew that walkers were usually manned by a duo of soldiers and was expecting to see another when he dropped into the hatch.
The driver of the walker was still at the controls when Vin entered. He made an attempt to reach for his side arm but Vin was too fast for him and the weapon flew out of his reach into Vins hand. The man stared at him in astonishment and growing fear when he saw the lightsabre hanging on the belt of the intruder.
"Get out," Vin said simply.
The driver needed no further incentive then that, and a few seconds later, Vin was pulling the hatch close above him. Securing it to ensure that no one could do to him what he had just done to the original occupants of the walker, Vin slid behind the controls and immediately spoke into the com unit that allowed him communication with Chris.
"Chris Im in," Vin announced.
"Me too," Chris responded. "We dont have much time."
He was right. Vin looked out the cockpit window and saw that the rebel line was too close for comfort. There was no way, the rebels could withstand the close ranged assault from the AT ATs that were moving towards them with surprising speed for their bulk. "What do we do?" Vin asked.
"Target the one closest to the line," Chris ordered. "Go for the legs. If we can damage them, it might be enough to bring it down or at the very least, slow its progress."
The walkers that had been unceremoniously commandeered by the Jedis immediately opened fire on the AT AT of the Imperial ground force. Vin let loose a barrage of deadly fire, using his skills as a Jedi to ensure that every blast met his mark and keeping stray shots to an absolute minimum. The AT ATs continued to move, and with both walkers firing from the rear, the second AT AT was unable to fire back. The AT AT being fired upon continued forward out of sheer stubbornness as more and more energy bombarded the metal struts of its leg. Vin could see the steel superheating, until the dull grey surface had become vibrant with crimson heat. The metal was starting to liquefy and thick rivulets began to run. It would not be long now. Occasionally one of them would have to desist from the firing to defend themselves from the other walkers but for the most part, Josiah was keeping them busy with the coordinated cannon attack.
"Come on damn it!" Vin hissed angrily.
"Patience," Chris said smoothly and Vin wondered how the Jedi could remain so calm when everything depended on them stopping the monstrosity of iron before them.
Almost as if he had known it was going to happen, the AT ATs leg exploded suddenly. Wiring and hydraulics erupted as the metal came apart and the AT ATs leg with it. The destruction of one mechanical limb unbalanced the large armored carrier and its next step forward was ungainly and awkward. Vin saw the other AT AT pause, realizing that its companion was about to become undone. The damaged AT AT tried valiantly to stay upright but its imperative to keep moving had robbed it of its equilibrium, and suddenly its mechanical legs became a clumsy tangle that sent it toppling over. Nothing that big was meant to land that hard and when it did, the sound of its impact was a loud shattering sound not unlike a thunderclap. The noise it made was almost eclipsed by the explosion that followed as a column of fire surged into the air, coughing up a dark cloud of billowing smoke that marked its end.
"YES!" Vin cried out euphorically.
"Dont get too excited," Chris said dryly through the com unit. "We still have to deal with the other one."
However, no sooner than he had said that, the AT AT directly in front of them flared vibrantly with a loud explosion that was soon followed by another and another as balls of amber flames shot out in all directions. Debris flew in all direction as the AT AT dropped onto its front legs, its torso bleeding amber fire in all directions as dark smoke created another billowing marker in the sky. For a moment, neither man could understand what happened when suddenly, a cheerful voice made itself heard gleefully from their com units.
"Sorry Im a little late," Buck Wilmington grinned. "A funny thing happened to me on the way here!"
"Alright Bucklin!" Vin cheered from inside the armored walker. "I love your timing!"
"Thanks," Buck smiled from the cockpit of his own ship. "I thought I could leave things to Raphael and come give you a hand. Weve finished off most of them and whats left got a sudden order to retreat. I think their destroyers are in trouble."
"Ezra must have them on the run," Chris remarked. "No one else could do that to three destroyers." There was almost a hint of pride in the Jedis voice. Mostly because it was Chris who convinced Mary that, while he may deny it, Ezra belonged nowhere but in the command of a warship.
"In that case," Buck retorted. "Lets show these Imperials bastards how we do things in the Alliance."
Chris and Vin were more than happy to oblige.
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