Author’s note: This post can arguably be seen as a companion to this or this, but in all honesty, it was inspired by this brilliant podcast by Angry Staff Officer and Adin Dobkin. If you don’t already follow them on Twitter, WTH are you waiting for? Full disclosure: I consider ASO a personal friend, even if he is an engineer officer who turned his back on his prior enlisted infantry past, but I digress. The former soldier in me had always wondered about what happened with pockets of resistance in far flung corners of the galaxy. I’ve seen the disastrous second and third order effects of real insurgencies, so in a fit of writer’s extrapolation, I tried to imagine what the insurgency on one planet among thousands of Empire controlled worlds might be like. Without further ado …
I’ve been leading this contingent of the Lothal Liberation Force for ten years. Sometimes we number a hundred, as we did six years ago, for our attack on the TIE Fighter factory; more often than not, we operate in two or three seven-man sections. Sometimes, as today, it just takes a crew of five. It depends on what we think we can get away with, who might not be missed if they don’t show up at work. We’re such a motley crew that we don’t rate a Jedi, or even a Padawan, on our home world – we just want the Empire out, and will do everything in our limited power to ensure that outcome. A prehistoric sage had supposedly said of his ragged band: “We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again.” Ever since a TIE Bomber incinerated my house, with my wife and children still inside, this is all I know.
I also own a souvenir shop near the Spaceport, and make a minor killing selling fake Rebellion-themed trinkets to the Imperial Forces. Stormtroopers love the starbird flags we make in the basement, then splatter with enough dirt and nerf blood for verisimilitude’s sake. I smile as I scan their pay cards, memorize the faces of those not wearing helmets, in the off chance I’ll see them through a scope one day. The new governor has been searching for us both on the steppe and in the cities, hoping to prove his worth to the Emperor as if his job depends on it. Which, of course, it does. No one wants to be Force choked by a Sith.
Unless you were looking directly at us, you would have missed the handoff. Two men walking in opposite directions, with a split second pause as they exchanged weapons. The thermal grenades felt heavy, but they were a newer model, I could tell from the heft. I was dressed like most men in Lothal City, with an untucked tunic over loose trousers and nerf leather boots. There hardly seemed to be any colors in clothing since the Empire occupied us, just varying shades of brown or khaki. If anything, that made it easier to blend in. A few Stormtroopers patrolled the streets in pairs, at regular intervals, some accompanied by an unarmored officer wearing gray.
It was a sparkling new high rise building within walking distance of the Imperial governor’s mansion. Loyalty to the Emperor and snitching on your fellow Lothalians were rewarded with amenity filled apartments in the Coruscant Glen. Obsequious droids in each unit tended to every need including cooking, cleaning, and child care – and recorded your every move for the Imperial Security Bureau. The restaurant on the ground floor of the Coruscant Glen catered to midlevel officers and Imperial bureaucrats – and their families. It was nice but not too nice, its main feature a sprawling patio with a force field to repel rain, and a moderately priced Coruscanti menu. These people do love the food of their home world. I’d eaten there several times on scouting missions, and found the food bland by our standards. Good selection of Lothalian beers, though.
The patio was packed, as it always was for lunch in the spring. I used a dead Stormtrooper’s card for a coffee across the street. Why tempt the ISB by using your own card? One of my subalterns paid for his meal and left his table by the bar. Two cooks emerged from a back door, quickly shedding white chef coats to join the subaltern in the crowd walking away from the building. I looked at my communicator watch and counted down the seconds. At the last moment, I took cover behind a thick column by the coffee stand. Four proton grenades exploded simultaneously – one in the kitchen, one at the bar, one under the subaltern’s table on the patio, and one in the restroom. Smoke and screams filled the air, then sirens as Imperial Gendarmerie hover tanks and speeders converged on the massacre. The anti-rain force field had contained the bombs’ explosions within the restaurant’s confines. The result was butchery. An armless woman wept over the corpses of her children and husband, an Imperial officer. Limbs, large and small, littered the patio. A man staggered out of the restaurant’s interior, his body charred as if he’d escaped a barbecue’s spit, then collapsed dead by the front door. A smoking head rolled onto the sidewalk.
The first speeder Stormtroopers to respond removed their helmets to vomit on the ground. A hover tank disgorged its band of troopers at the near corner to search for survivors. Another hover tank took station on the opposite corner, to my far left. I sipped my coffee behind the column, gawking with feigned horror as Stormtroopers established a perimeter. Two black clad Deathtroopers roughly shoved hysterical civilians looking for loved ones. The rest of the crowd milled around me as I pushed buttons on the grenades in my pockets. Like many here, I held my wrist up to record the scene on my communicator watch. With the other hand, I simply dropped the miniature thermal detonators. They scooted around people’s ankles to autonomously seek large hunks of metal – like the broad bottom of a hover tank.
The subaltern’s thermals went off first, under that hover tank’s soft belly, fused for a blast radius of only five meters. Anything within those mini fireballs of plasma was incinerated in a tenth of a second. My own were set to ten meters, since the Stormtroopers here were more widely spread out. Civilians were caught in this attack, too, but as I’d indoctrinated every member of my band: no sacrifice is too great for our liberation from the Empire. Kill now, mourn later. The innocent dead are unavoidable and necessary collateral damage in the pursuit of liberation. With the sounds of even more screams and sirens building to a crescendo, I took a leisurely half hour walk back to my souvenir shop.
The moon Candra had already risen in the eastern sky, with her smaller sister, Tinne, shining brightly overhead. Even at the end of summer, it was still hot enough for heat waves rising from the ground to give false readings in our ancient thermal viewers. But we’d resurrected other ancient lessons, like how to take on a more heavily armed foe without blasters. An Imperial sensor 20 km away can track a blaster shot’s plasma to within a few centimeters. Other lessons we’d had to relearn: merchant by day, insurgent by night; close range is your friend; homemade explosives and deeply buried mines can cause heavier casualties than an X-Wing on a strafing run.
“Shut up, Gajari,” I hissed at my number two. “I’ve only been doing this for all twenty years of the occupation.” Two two-legged All Terrain Scout Transports – AT-STs – lumbered over the savannah. A small patrol, thank the Force. Their heads and accompanying main guns slewed right and left, controlled by the officer in the lead AT-ST. Bagging these would be fantastic, but we needed bigger fish, and the bait was tramping over the grass covered plateau, interspersed with the bandy legged AT-STs. About twenty Stormtroopers – were they still clones, and if not, did that even matter? – arrayed in three mutually supporting V’s, heading in the same direction as the STs, from our right to left. Always creatures of habit, they were following a well used trail that we had helpfully cleared of grass two years ago. You almost didn’t want to kill their leader, in case he was replaced by someone more tactically and technically proficient by several orders of magnitude. This long stretch of grassland sat in the saddle between two ridgelines that loomed four hundred meters above us. There was no cover besides a few folds atop the plateau, but concealment aplenty in the grass. And the rocks above.
Gajari kept feeding me range information, even though we’d walked the area earlier this morning. One missileer on each flank tracked the STs through their launchers’ scopes and, like the rest of us, waited. A red triangle in my scope indicated that the lead vehicle had entered the kill zone. The green arrows pointing at the STs marked the missileers’ aim points – the soft engine under the command module, where the spindly legs met. You can’t hardly kill an ST from the front, even with blasters, a painful lesson learned during the TIE Fighter factory battle.
The red triangle flashed, meaning both the STs and supporting Stormtroopers were in the kill zone, a mere hundred meters away. I raised my hand, because using communicators was an invitation for a squadron of TIE fighters to ruin your day. This time, we wanted them to use their communicators. And they would, as soon as I dropped my hand. The missileers fired. No one knew anymore how – or even why – these things worked, hundreds of years after production, but they did. Primitive rockets, guided by the reticles in the missiles’ tracking sights, did yeoman’s work. A soft thump as air canisters shoved the missile out of the tube, then a low roar as the anti-armor missile’s rocket ignited. We saw Stormtroopers’ heads and blasters turn towards the sound, but they were already too late. Gajari hit the detonators, and mines exploded along the entire length of the Imperial patrol. White armor plates, flesh, a pink bloody mist, and bone fragments flew in a hundred directions. Then the missiles hit. Then another missile on each ST, just to finish the job. Their balancing gyros failed, and they fell helplessly and sideways to the ground.
I pumped my fist up and down next to my head, the signal to disperse quickly. The men followed my order without hesitation. Only Gajari and I stayed to observe the kill zone. Once the explosions’ echoes stopped rippling through the canyons, the ambush site became as quiet as if someone pushed a button. A faint screech overhead, then another. But TIE fighters don’t just operate in pairs, they work in threes or a full squadron of twelve. Tonight they didn’t disappoint.
Three surface to air missiles streaked upwards from the ridgeline to our left. Three more from the right. Two TIEs evaded, only to collide in midair, flaming pieces floating down between us and the Stormtrooper patrol. Missiles struck three more, which left only one, trying to put a ridgeline between him and the SAMs. Two ion-seeking missiles hit him at the same time. Even the solar panels disintegrated, likely killing the pilot before he had a chance to eject.
I saw him through my thermal scope, in the top hatch of the first smoking ST. A colonel, from the rank squares on his chest, a gray forage cap instead of a helmet. He held a communicator to his face, the strain on his face as clear as daylight. Blood ran down his face from a head wound – those always bleed worse than they actually are, but make for dramatic news holo-vids. I turned off my scope, because the fires started by our ambush obviated the need for night vision devices. Gajari and I gathered up our weapons and equipment, and headed to the kill zone.
Gajari started on the far right, guided by any movement illuminated by the burning STs. His pistol, another projectile weapon instead of plasma, coughed loudly as he applied the coup de grace to wounded Stormtroopers and AT-ST crewmen. I did the same on the left, and we met in the middle, where the colonel lay on a bed of bloody sawgrass. Both his legs were gone below the knee, no risk of exsanguination because the explosions had cauterized the wounds.
The colonel was unarmed. He tried to raise himself up on his elbows, but I planted a knee on his chest and looked down. I resisted the urge to remove the clumsy helmet with its cumbersome face plate and voice changer – this one might yet survive, so why risk it? “Attacks like this and the restaurant bombing last month will keep happening, until your kind dies or leaves. This our world, Colonel. Not yours. If you live long enough to be debriefed, tell them that.”
Two days later, I saw a much different colonel in the shop. The burns on his face were covered in New Skin, and his trouser legs were empty below midthigh. This far out in the galaxy, I knew he’d have the schlep all the way to Coruscant to get decent prosthetics. “How much,” asked the legless man in the hover chair. I told him, and he let me scan his Imperial pay card. I placed the fake Rebel Alliance flag in his lap, we exchanged a nod, and he scooted out the door.
“Get some of those rebels, Colonel. It’s bad for business.”
He stopped and turned his chair. “I’ll be back, and they’ll bleed. Count on it.”
I flashed what I hoped was a cheery grin. “Look forward to it. See you around, then.”
The war continues.