Satisfied he had some direction, R0-N1 stopped rummaging through his memory archives and looked around. The stone should be…yes, that way. He started down the path and immediately collided with a pair of white armored legs.
The stormtrooper he had barreled into took a step sideways and barked, “Watch it! Where do you think you’re going, anyway? Just stay put, will you? We’re leaving.”
R0-N1 checked his internal clock— it had taken him longer to parse through is old memories than he had anticipated. The droid looked around, realizing that while he had been doing that, a group of troopers and Ryndellians had gathered around him. There were a couple dozen of the latter, including a woman dressed in the same style of embroidered tunic that Baohu had been wearing. The rest appeared to be a random assortment of ages and genders. Stretch was there as well, holding his helmet at his side and pacing in agitation. R0-N1 queried, Why are we leaving? Did the containment here finally fail? Is this a rescue?
Stretch waved at the astromech to be quiet. Bringing a com link to his lips, he said, “We’re in position, but I don’t like being kept in the dark like this, Commander. How are we supposed to get these people to the transports safely with that atmosphere out there?”
A voice crackled in response. “Just be patient. They should be coming through, any time now…”
Stretch jammed the helmet back on his head, clearly annoyed. He took his position near the head of the group, clipping the com link back on his belt.
A short time later, the first chunks of rock began falling from the ceiling in the center of Alqassar, as a series of holes were bored into it from above. The holes were spaced a few meters away from each other, surrounding the amphitheater where the Parantua Stone lay. Troopers in dark grey armor descended through the holes on thick bundles of cable. When they hit the ground, they connected the cables from each adjoining hole together, and similarly bound another set to a central disc. Once all the individual strands were connected together, they rose up through the ceiling once more. After the troopers disappeared, the cables and disc were pulled tight against the ceiling. Stretch looked up to gauge where they had drilled the holes, and muttered, “You have got to be kidding me.”
The woman in the embroidered tunic watched all of this in horror, and tried to protest to Stretch. “What are they doing? We can’t survive if–“
Stretch held the woman at bay, and said, “Step back, priestess.” Raising his voice, he continued, “Cover your ears, everyone. I think I know what they’re going to do.”
The words had barely gotten out of his mouth when the charges began going off. One after another after another, the ring of cables seemed to explode, then disappear into the ceiling where they exploded again and again. With each explosion, dark grey clouds of dust and smoke billowed downward. Finally, after nearly two minutes of this, the explosions stopped. There was a pause, followed by a deafening crack of thunder, and the entire roof over the amphitheater sagged, held only by the hub and spokes of supporting cables. The torn roof swayed, and then slowly rose, barely visible through the thick cloud of stone dust.
The cloud was still dissipating when a pair of shuttles descended through the roof and sailed into Alqassar, settling in a plaza just a short distance from the amphitheater.
Stretch stepped forward and signalled for everyone to follow. “All right. That’s our ride. Let’s go.”
Althea was frozen in place, too stunned to move. Her mouth moved, but no sound came out. A stormtrooper jabbed her in the side with his blaster. “Come on, we don’t have all day.”
The jab knocked her out of her fugue, and she turned on the stormtrooper, furious tears streaming down her face. “Do you know what you’ve done? We have lived here for hundreds of years in peace. We’ve done nothing to you, and you—”
The stormtrooper clubbed her across the head with the butt of his rifle, cutting off any further accusations. She fell to the ground in a heap. The stormtrooper pointed at two of the other prisoners. “You and you. Carry her. We’re not going to wait.”
Moving forward now, the group headed for the waiting shuttles. As they got closer, a man ran ahead of them carrying a small child. He shouted at the troopers waiting next to the landing ramp. “Please, you have to take us with you! We can’t repair—“ One of the troopers raised his blaster and shot the man square in the chest. He fell to the ground, dead. The child, who had already been crying, began wailing even more loudly as she fell to the hard ground, skinning her knees and hands.
Stretch scooped up the child and picked up speed, marching to the trooper who had killed her father. “That man was no threat. Why did you shoot him?”
The trooper shrugged. “How was I to know he wasn’t carrying a thermal detonator?”
Stretch shouted, “He was carrying his child!” Jabbing a finger at the trooper, he said, “We will discuss this later.”
As everyone boarded the shuttle, R0-N1 took one last scan of Alqassar. The dust cloud had mostly dissipated by now, and it was drizzling into the amphitheater. Around the perimeter of the hole cut in the ceiling, thicker rivulets of moisture were also pouring in. Further away, R0-N1 could see the inhabitants of Alqassar huddled together in small groups, holding their arms across their faces to keep from breathing the toxic atmosphere. No one else tried to board the shuttles, and he hoped that someone would return for them before the city succumbed to the toxins pouring into the city.
Behind him, a boot clanked against R0-N1’s rear leg. “Come on, you bucket of bolts. In or out.”