The Conviction shuddered as another series of explosions ripped through it. Stretch peered at a security monitor, trained on a row of fighters that were succumbing one by one, as shrapnel, fuel, and munitions ripped through them. He looked away as Cutter shouted in his ear.
“What the hell is going on?” asked Cutter.
“Near as I can tell, one of the turbo laser batteries just port of the hangar deck blew. Something hit one of the TIE bombers, and with all the ships piled up, it started a chain reaction. If there was any oxygen left in there, the whole place would be on fire.”
“Since when does a turbo laser spontaneously explode?”
“I don’t think it was spontaneous. Something fired on us.”
Another explosion rocked the deck, nearly knocking the two men off their feet. The window next to them flashed bright orange, then went dark again.
A fire suppression team of a half-dozen troopers jogged down the corridor towards them, decked out in safety gear and carrying oxygen packs. The leader of them barked at Stretch and Cutter to step aside. Cutter took several steps back, Stretch only enough to make way. The leader of the team cycled through the security cameras, making a plan of attack.
Beside them, Stretch raised his blaster, aiming it at the group. He said, “Step away from the monitor, son. All of you, remove your gear, and no funny business.”
The suppression team turned around, and seeing the blaster leveled at them, raised their hands in surrender. With a gesture from Stretch, they began unbuckling their suits.
Cutter’s eyes opened wide in shock. “What are you doing?” he hissed.
“We’re getting out of here.” Pointing at the growing pile of gear on the floor, he said, “Put that on. We should be able to get to a ship in that, even without atmosphere and the gravity off-line.”
The suppression team leader snarled, “I never did trust you clones. You won’t get away with this, old man. The Empire will hunt you down for the traitor you are.”
Cutter continued to protest as well, though for different reasons. “You can’t be serious. What are you thinking?”
Stretch kept his eyes on the group in front of him as he spoke to Cutter. “What I’m thinking, is that the government I serve would never stoop to kidnapping and imprisoning innocents, let alone use them to serve as fodder for the likes of Inquisitor Morek. It’s time for us to go.”
Cutter seemed to consider this for a moment, then began to don the gear piled up in front of him.
The team leader snarled, “The Inquisitor is going to tear you limb from limb, you know.”
Stretch shrugged a single shoulder as he watched Cutter get dressed. “We’ll see.” He removed his helmet and tossed it to the floor, then blasted it, destroying the helmet com within. “No offense, gentlemen,” he said, before proceeding to take out the knees of everyone in the team in front of him in a rapid staccato of blaster fire. They collapsed to the deck, roaring in a symphony of pain.
Once Cutter had dressed, Stretch handed him the blaster and removed the rest of his armor, leaving it on the deck. He donned the safety gear and took the blaster back. “Are you ready?” he asked.
“Not really,” responded Cutter.
Inquisitor Morek stumbled as the deck shuddered beneath her, falling into the wall and bracing herself with the stump of her arm. She winced in pain. Using her helmet com, she pinged the commander of The Conviction. “Situation report,” she barked.
Spurred by more than just the force of Morek’s rank, the commander responded, “Multiple turbo lasers are off-line along the starboard side. There is significant damage in the hangar deck, as well as along decks one through six. There are reports of–“
“What about the shuttle?”
The commander’s voice raised in confusion. He had more important things to worry about just now. “Shuttle? Hold a moment.” He shut off the com, returning moments later. “We are tracking them. Attempts to destroy the vehicle have been unsuccessful.”
“Are you saying that motley crew of Ryndellians has managed to escape? Did they attack us?”
“No, ma’am. We seem to have lost control of one of the laser batteries. It appears the ship has fired on itself.“
Morek stopped in her tracks. The droid. The droid stayed behind.
“Did they stop shooting at us?” Zhanna looked at the instruments in confusion, unable to make sense out of them. “Why did they stop shooting at us?”
Now seated behind her, helmet discarded, Wurlo replied, “I think the ship is exploding.”
“What? That’s crazy. How is that possible?”
“I don’t know, but look.” He gestured at the screen in front of him, which displayed a simple exterior schematic of The Conviction. It was covered in red warning indicators. “The shields are still up, but one entire side of the ship has suffered severe damage.”
The priestess spoke quietly. “It was the droid. It had to be him. He saved us, and sacrificed himself.”
Zhanna screwed up her face in universal I-don’t-know-about-that-but-okay. Out loud, she said, “Well, whatever caused it, let’s make it count. How do we get this thing into hyperspace?”
The collection of MSE droids on the hangar deck pulled together, helping each other upright where necessary, as ships around them blew apart. Others who had not made it to the hangar pinged them repeatedly with questions, the mass of droids communicating in rapid fire bursts.
What is going on?
Did R0-N1 get away?
What do we do now?
What do we do now?
I didn’t see.
What do we do now?
Maybe. I saw him ride the shuttle, but he was outside it.
I see Inquisitor Morek.
Do we go back to maintenance?
Another TIE exploded over here.
No. That’s not safe. We have been compromised.
I have gravity back on-line.
Do we leave? How?
She seems angry.
Is leaving safe?
Is staying safe?
We steal a ship.
I’m not programmed for that.
I’m not programmed for that.
I’m not programmed for that.
I have an idea.
R0-N1’s systems slowly came back online. He was tumbling rapidly away from The Conviction into open space, after having been forcibly ejected from its hull by the force of the explosion under him, rolling on every axis. Well, this is a problem.
To make matters worse, he was surrounded by a cloud of debris and shrapnel, making it difficult to identify a fixed point he could orient to. The only good news was that because he was traveling with the debris, at least he couldn’t get hit by it again. Or at least, not hit with anything approaching lethal velocity.
First things first, he thought. Stabilize my orientation. None of the fragments around him were large enough to latch his feet to. He had to try something else. Stretching one pair of feet in front and the other behind, he spun them around with as high an RPM as he could muster. It wasn’t much, but the gyroscopic motion did slow him down slightly. As his tumble took him to the same attitude, he repeated this process again and again, each time shaving a bit of chaos off his rotation. All of this ate up a lot of power, but getting stable was a prerequisite to any further action.
Stretch and Cutter sprinted across the hangar as best as they could in the bulky safety gear. They ignored the Imperial craft, all of which were either on fire or perilously close to flames from their neighbors. There was only one ship in the hangar far enough away to be safe, the one belonging to Inquisitor Morek. They bounded up the ramp, Stretch first with Cutter close behind. Stretch waited for Cutter to board and was about to hit the button to seal the hatch, when he froze. “She’s coming.”
“Who? Inquisitor Morek? So hit the button already, and let’s get out of here!”
Stretch shook his head. “No good. She’ll be here before can get off the ground.”
“So shoot her.” Cutter waved some encouragement Stretch’s way.
“Not here. You want a camera recording us assassinate an Inquisitor? No. We hide, and then take her after the ship is away. Come on, find some place in the cargo hold.”
The two men ran deeper into the ship. Cutter ducked into a small secondary hold on the starboard side of the ship, closing the door behind him. Stretch worked his way behind a pile of crates in the primary hold on the opposite side of the ship. He crouched among a pile of junk that had apparently gotten lost behind it, wondering aloud, “What does an Inquisitor need with so many Mouse droids?”
He didn’t have time to consider the question, as Inquisitor Morek was hot on their heels. She strode directly through the middle of the ship, heading straight for the cockpit. Within moments they left The Conviction behind.
Inquisitor Morek slowed her ship, careful not to get too far away from the near-disabled Star Destroyer. Instruments would be useless for tracking the droid, whether he was still somewhere on The Conviction itself, or floating near it. She tapped the thrusters, allowing her craft to slowly rotate as she performed a visual inspection of the area. “Where are you, little droid?”
After twenty minutes, Stretch emerged from his hiding spot and slowly worked his way around the periphery of the cargo hold, stepping over MSE droids as he went. Taking a chance, he peered towards the cockpit. The Inquisitor seemed to be fixated on the field of debris spreading out in front of the ship. He made his way to the secondary hold and hit the door release, which opened with a hiss. He held up a finger for quiet.
“What’s going on?” whispered Cutter. “Why have the engines stopped?”
“I don’t know. She’s just staring out into space.”
“Why? Is that some Force thing?” Cutter waggled his fingers in the air.
“Maybe. Either way, I don’t like it. I had hoped to get some distance before we made our move. I’m afraid now she’s just going to turn back around.”
“So what’s the plan?”
“Simple, we– wait.” The ship had started moving again, as evidenced by the engine noise around them. Stretch stepped away, motioning for Cutter to follow. “Let’s go.”
The two men crept towards the cockpit, Stretch with his blaster, and Cutter with a random piece of metal he had found. Halfway there, Stretch signaled for them to stop as Morek leaned forward and began to speak under her breath. “What are you doing? Have your circuits gone completely haywire?” She grasped a joystick with her left hand, aiming at something only she could see. “I have you now,” she growled.
Before Morek could pull the trigger, Stretch gave a “go” hand signal and strode towards the cockpit, Cutter right behind. They had barely taken two steps when Morek sensed them. She spun around in her chair, making a gesture like she was lifting a heavy invisible orb, and both men slammed into the ceiling. Stretch dropped his blaster as he fell back to the floor, attempting to break his fall. She performed the same action again, bashing their heads against the ceiling and walls until they fell unconscious in a heap.
Morek kicked the blaster away and dragged the men out into the cargo bay. She took a pile of rope from some climbing gear and lashed the two men together, back to back. Before returning to the cockpit, she ripped the head covering off both of them. “Clones,” she snorted. “I’ll deal with you later.”
R0-N1 had finally been able to slow his mad gyrations down to a more sedate lolling around, though at significant cost to his power cells. He had also damaged three of his feet, one by slamming into a hull fragment that strayed too close, and two from mechanical strain. This spinning business was far beyond anything his original designers had planned for.
As he tumbled, he began to realize that a small ship was approaching. It wasn’t the Ryndellians, who seemed to have disappeared, nor was it any other kind of Imperial craft. Perhaps it was a scavenger of some kind that had detected the explosions on The Conviction? That seemed bold given that even a partially disabled Star Destroyer could be incredibly dangerous. R0-N1 couldn’t spare any power to probe it, but as his rotation took it out of his sight, he hoped the next time around to be able to read the markings on it more clearly.
When he did finally tumble back around, the markings were still not visible, but he could make out the canopy window clear enough, and the occupant inside. A grappling hook shot out from the top of the ship, wrapped around him, and immediately began to pull him towards it. R0-N1 let out the electronic equivalent of a fatalistic sigh.
The MSE droids bided their time, waiting for the right moment.
What’s the plan?
No, too clumsy. Too random.
What was that?
The MSE droids swarmed from their hiding spaces, looking less like the friendly pleekys they were modeled after, and more like hungry roach-rats pouring out of a nerf carcass after a long Mindorian winter. They swirled around the cargo hold in what might appear to be chaos brought on by faulty programming. More than one bumped into the clone troopers as they jostled for position. There was none of the usual sing-song vocalizations MSE droids were known for. Instead, they moved with silent, sure purpose.
Eventually, they formed into an ordered column with a sharp tip at the front, a spear aimed at the cockpit. The lead droids raised his slender mechanical arm, which held Inquisitor Morek’s lightsaber. The droid next to him extended its own arm and held it next to the saber’s activation switch. They paused, making sure that everyone was in place.
The lead droids hit the activation switch on Morek’s lightsaber and it sprung to life. They charged forward into the cockpit, the blade swinging wildly a half-meter in the air.
Inquisitor Morek whirled around in her chair, eyes wide in surprise. She jumped over the crimson blade as it swung and wedged itself in the seat where she had just been. As she danced around the droids and tried to rip the blade free, she protested, “How did you get that, you little–“
The next wave of droids poured in right behind the first. These dragged hunks of plasteel behind them, as if they were a phalanx of infantry carrying shields propped over their heads.
Morek was still dancing around the first droids when the third wave hit. These came in at top speed, maxing out the electric motors in the little droids. They hit the “shields” full tilt, and used them as a ramp to launch themselves at Morek’s head. Some crashed into her body and fell to the ground. Some she managed to deflect with her good arm, but the cramped cockpit worked against her. Some sailed passed her and clattered onto the flight controls, causing the ship to pitch and yaw. Some found their target, and slammed into Morek’s exposed head. Through a combination of blunt force and chaos all around her, they brought Morek down first to her knees, and eventually to the floor unconscious.
We did it.
We did it!
We’re not done.
Stretch regained consciousness first. He squinted at the overhead lights, which suddenly seemed unusually bright. He groaned at the throbbing pain in his head. “That’s going to leave a mark,” he muttered. He turned to his companion, similarly bound just behind him. “Hey, Cutter. You awake? We have to–”
The sound of something skittering across the floor cut him off. Stretch whipped his head around, and quickly regretted it, closing his eyes against the sudden pain and dizziness. When he opened them again and looked for the source of the sound, he could only stare in disbelief. He elbowed Cutter. “Hey, are you seeing this?” He jabbed him harder. “Cutter!”
Cutter groaned. “This is why I stayed out of the infantry.” He shook his head groggily. “I’m here. What’s the situation?”
“Look towards the cockpit. What do you see?”
There was a long pause. When Cutter finally responded, he simply said, “That can’t be right.”
“So you do see a pile of MSE droids trying to drag the body of Inquisitor Morek into the hold?”
“Yes, but…that can’t be right.”
The two men stared at the scene. The droids had Morek in their grasping claws, lurching slowly along the floor. They would pause, then move, pause then move, as if they were being led by a silent coxswain. As the troopers watched, one of the droids lost his grip and shot forward a couple meters before skidding to a stop. The other droids waited while it backed up and grabbed hold of her leg again.
Speaking to the droids, Cutter asked, “Hey, do you want some help? If you cut us free, we can– whoa, where did you come from? You look like hell.”