Author’s note: I spent the bulk of my twenties in Army light infantry, both on active duty and the National Guard. During the Paleozoic pre-beret Era, most scenarios for the light infantry company in a deliberate attack involved what we called the “Death Star” objective. These were chock full of mines, triple-strand concertina wire, automatic weapons with interlocking fields of fire, trenches, and all manner of joint-twisting pleasantness. I even saw it referred to as “Objective Death Star” or OBJ DS during planning, because we lightfighters were nothing if not imaginative. Following my last few posts of speculative Star Wars fan fiction, here’s a go at the deliberate attack, from the point-of-view of the Rebel Alliance’s equivalent of 1990s light infantry. For the many who’ve previously pointed out discrepancies between my writing and the Star Wars liturgical canon, I can only say, “sorry/not sorry, it’s a story not a concordance.”
Quick missions like this hurt the worst. They always miss that little detail in the heroic holovids trying to draw recruits for the Rebel Alliance. Combat hurts; not the pain of being wounded, necessarily – though that can indeed be excruciating – but the niggling pain of not seeing that branch you tripped over, while lugging a mortar’s baseplate; running across an objective with your eyes on an A280 rifle’s scope, not the hole in the dirt that could tear knee ligaments if you fell into it the wrong way; the stress on one’s knees and ankles after tabbing through a temperate forest like Endor one week, a jungle like Naboo the next, and a desert like Jedha the following week. In the two years I’ve commanded Shafaq Company of the Mobile Infantry, I lost more Rebels to joint injuries than I did in battle.
This was what we’ve always done best. Infiltrate into a contested area in restrictive terrain, ruin some Imperials’ day in close combat, then melt into the countryside before becoming decisively engaged. Obviously, the enemy gets a vote, too, which is why our fitness and training regimens are so rigorous. Barely one in four recruits graduates from the Training Center with the round patch of the Mobile Infantry. Some gnome from General Rieekan’s staff had tried to add “stability and support operations” to the syllabus, but we laughed him and his slide deck off of Dantooine. We’re a raiding force. If you want to secure a planet, or establish a star system’s constabulary, send the regular infantry, or one of those ragtag Middle Rim militias.
“Six, this is Blue. Yavin, over.”
I pushed the transmit button on the side of my helmet. “This is Six. Yavin. Out.” My 3rd Platoon had reached Shafaq Company’s first phase line. To confirm, I looked up at my visor display and saw 3rd’s icon crossing the stream that marked Phase Line Yavin. Our drop ships had brought us to a landing zone far enough away from the Imperial command center to avoid detection, which meant a long night’s slog through the jungle. We were only about a hundred strong, but this objective was both lightly defended, and so far in the arse end of the Outer Rim, that we reckoned we could complete the mission and jump into hyperspace before the nearest star destroyer could assist.
3rd Platoon had deployed in a wedge, with one squad forward and two back, looking like an arrow from above. But with our camouflaged shawls, which also masked our thermal signatures, you couldn’t see us at all – we hoped. The order of march behind 3rd Platoon consisted of 2nd, then 1st Platoon. Stolid old Lieutenant Andras and his Weapons Platoon berserkers always brought up the rear. Andras was out for blood – clone, human, non-human, droid, it didn’t matter much – after having recently missed out on Cassian’s mission to Scarif. Many of the Pathfinders and infantrymen with whom Andras had joined the Rebellion perished there. We’d all lost people on Scarif, a hundred years of experience and institutional memory wiped out in one day, but we couldn’t afford to dwell on the loss. Instead, a grim determination to finish Rogue’s job had taken hold among the Rebellion’s infantry.
We trudged north through a lush valley, towards a mountain with three summits that dominated the southern part of this back-assward planet’s only continent. From the south, the three summits lay side by side – from right to left: Alpha, Beta, Gamma. Alpha on the western side was a secondary objective, a mostly automated re-transmission site for Imperial communications; Beta was the primary objective, the banner of an Imperial Navy’s rear admiral flying atop a fifty-meter flagpole; unmanned Gamma, to the east, would be our support-by-fire position.
We had to get there first, though, and that sucked. Every Shafaq Company trooper was soaked through with sweat. Our medic droids ranged up and down the company’s column, trying to make sure the troopers stayed hydrated. 3rd Platoon, in the lead, even had troopers with one rehydration IV hooked into each arm. Every trooper brought six liters of water on this op, knowing that the heat and humidity, not to mention climbing a jungle mountain, would sap their bodies quickly. As each platoon passed the stream at Phase Line Yavin, troopers refilled their canteens. The built-in purifiers treated each full bottle in less than thirty seconds. We would need all of this water for the trek up the mountain.
Our route took us up a draw, between two spurs that led almost to the triple summit. The chatter of birds and other animals ceased as we passed through. The night vision displays on the inside of everyone’s visor helped us navigate the jungle, even at night, with minimal sound. The moons were on the far side of the planet tonight, so we had no ambient light besides what the stars provided. We could barely even see the stars, since the canopy was almost fifteen meters high and concealed much of the sky.
2nd Platoon had replaced 3rd on point. “Six, this is White. Wobani, over.”
Shafaq Company split up at Phase Line Wobani, where the draw ended. Weapons Platoon and Andras continued on to the eastern summit, Gamma. The assault force, consisting of 1st and 3rd Platoons, along with my command group, veered left to climb the spur that pointed directly at the middle summit, Objective Corellia. 2nd Platoon had the longest trek, circling the entire mountain to the northern side; there, they would block the lone road that the Imperials had cleared for their AT-ST walkers. I made a quick check of the time on my visor: just one hour until the sun would begin to peek over the horizon.
With just minutes left before dawn, all elements reported in, either via voice or text. Andras had the support-by-fire force emplaced on Gamma, the eastern summit, facing west towards the objective; proton mortars set up on Gamma’s reverse slope, ready to hurl “warheads onto foreheads.” I’ve never understood mortar humor, never will. Alas. 2nd Platoon had deployed on both sides of the road on the northern end of Objective Corellia, and had planted anti-walker mines. As for the assault force, we sat hidden inside the treeline on the southern side of the objective, visors switched from night vision to clear as the sun rose. I simply looked over at the leaders of 1st and 3rd Platoons. They nodded, so I sent the planned support request to Thunder and Promise, orbiting high overhead. A quick text reply: ETA four minutes.
“Six, this is Five,” Andras said. He was positively gleeful. “I have eyes on a dozen speeder bikes parked near the south gate, but no activity near them. No visible patrols outside the perimeter. A few heat sources from the bunkers and the walker hangar, but no movement. Looks like they’re asleep. They don’t even have guard droids on patrol. Over.”
II flicked the transmit button twice to acknowledge, then gave my final order. “This is Six. Execute as soon as the fast movers clear. May the Force be with us. Out.”
I looked past the trees at our objective. Closest to us, on the southern end just inside the electrified wire fence, sat the speeders Andras mentioned. Sturdy low-slung bunkers with turret mounted automatic blasters dotted the perimeter, connected by a series of shoulder deep trenches. Further in, we saw two wide single-story barracks for the security force, topped with anti-Starfighter guns that – thank the Force – weren’t manned. A fifty-meter flagpole that served as a wonderful target reference point sat in front of the three-story glass enclosed headquarters building. A Lambda shuttle, its white paint already gleaming in the predawn light, was parked on the landing pad just east of the HQ. Behind all of this, on the northern end, were two hangars, one each for AT-ST walkers and shuttles. Neither Andras nor I saw any TIE fighter revetments, either during our orbiting recce or in person, so we knew this installation didn’t have air support.
It started with a faint sound like nails on an ancient chalkboard: an X-wing fighter’s fusial engines. Then all hell broke loose. Bombs launched by our mothership Thunder literally fell out of the sky. They obliterated many of the perimeter bunkers, punched gaping smoking holes in the headquarters and barracks, and damaged the walker hangar. Concussion blasts from Thunder followed close behind, a twin line of staccato detonations from the speeder bikes to the flagpole, to the headquarters, to the shuttle hangar. Promise‘s two X-wings then conducted a strafing run from east to west, the sound of their cannon almost overpowered by the alarm sirens at Objective Corellia. Stormtroopers in incomplete armor streamed from the barracks, many throwing their helmets on while running to their positions on the perimeter. Several tried to man the anti-Starfighter guns on the barracks roofs, only to be atomized by the X-wings. The fighters’ final run destroyed the walker hangar and one of the AT-STs that had managed to rumble out.
The X-wings climbed, banked west, then turned their attention on Hilltop Alpha, the communications site and secondary objective. They made quick work of the comms site and soared away, back into orbit in case an Imperial ship responded. Andras immediately put his support-by-fire troopers to work. A sizzling sound, a gray smoke trail, and a blue plume of exploding plasma marked the second AT-ST’s death at the hands of an H12 missile launcher. Then every automatic weapon on Hilltop Gamma opened fire, deafening even from my position a kilometer away. Belt-fed M35s, similar to the one carried by Baze Malbus, chattered next to much older D19 automatic blasters that had seen better days in the Clone Wars. The company sniper team scored head shots from 1,400 meters, using rifles designed for use against vehicles. Mortars joined the fray, smart warheads tracking and hitting moving targets from directly overhead.
I saw stormtroopers filleted by mortars, ribs sticking out from under charred white armor. Limbs separated from torsos by automatic weapons. Traumatic decapitations from direct hits by mortars or snipers. None of this would bother me until later, in my stateroom aboard Thunder, when my mind would replay it on an endless loop and deprive me of sleep. In the meantime, every Imperial trooper killed by the support-by-fire element was one less that our assault force had to face.
3rd Platoon’s Lieutenant Arzam grabbed my arm and pointed. “Captain Torian, walkers inbound!” I used eye motions on my visor to mark the AT-STs’ positions for Andras. I only half-joke that Andras is so old, so wizened, that he served on Master Yoda’s personal security detachment when Yoda was a Padawan. The old warrior’s experience showed, half his guns shifting fire to the walkers, the other half continuing to suppress Objective Corellia. The guns barely registered against the AT-STs, orange plasma bolts bouncing off their armor, but the fire diverted the walkers’ attention long enough for the assault force to launch four rockets. Two hit each walker, which crumpled to the landing pad and completed the destruction of the Lambda shuttle.
“All Shafaq elements, this is Six. Upsilon, over.” 1st and 3rd Platoons, each arrayed in a V formation (2 squads abreast, one in trail), ran from the treeline directly at the southern gate, firing as they went. Upsilon was the code to begin the assault, but that an explosive breach of the wire was no longer necessary; Thunder‘s cannon had shredded both the southern wire and the generator that had electrified it. The last mortar round hit the bunker closest to our breach point, and the support-by-fire element shifted fire northward, perpendicular to but still away from our advance.
Another thing the recruiting holovids miss: the plasma of a blaster shot is excruciatingly slow. I mean, you can track it with the naked eye. But when you see an iridescent orange bolt coming straight for your head and feel the heat when it misses by mere centimeters … well, now you know what “pucker factor” means, no matter how often you’ve had that sort of “significant emotional event.” Lieutenant Azram and her platoon sergeant ended the stormtrooper who fired at me, then had to grab me by my body armor and drag me inside the wire because I’d frozen in place.
Once inside, however, I was fine. I set up a temporary command post under a wing of the shuttle’s smoking remains. Between communicator reports, text messages from subordinates, and demands for information from the navy captain commanding Thunder, I was nearing sensory overload. I tracked the ground battle on my visor, and relayed orders through my communications sergeant. 3rd Platoon fanned into the outermost trench and were destroying the remaining perimeter bunkers with thermal satchel charges. 1st Platoon sent one squad each to the remains of the barracks and headquarters, in search of priority intelligence requirements and high-value prisoners. From hard experience, we knew that no one below the rank of captain would know anything substantive, so we concentrated on unarmored senior officers in dark grey tunics.
A text from Lieutenant Havarr from 2nd Platoon coincided with a raging firefight on their side of Objective Corellia: they were engaging stormtroopers and Imperial officers trying to escape on foot. Hopefully, 2nd Platoon was only shooting to wound or stun the officers, but I didn’t keep my hopes up considering the volume of fire.
“Six, this is Red,” 1st Platoon’s leader screamed over the company net. “Omega omega omega, over!” I pumped my fist, almost weak with relief. Our last report was that the admiral commanding this system was off-world, but 1st Platoon had somehow bagged him alive. In the excitement of the capture of such a high-value target, it took me a while to realize how quiet the mountain had become. All firing had ceased. Debris and body parts littered the objective. The shuttle hangar had become a pyre, thick black smoke rising several kilometers in the blue sky, and occasional explosions when fuel cells ignited.
Within five minutes, the entire assault element, plus manacled and blindfolded prisoners, consolidated at the assault position outside the southern gate where we’d entered. Our medic droids had thankfully been bored since the attack began, with just a handful of minor wounds to treat – and no dead. The two serious casualties strapped to hovering litters were enemy prisoners, each overseen by a medic droid and a rifle-toting trooper.
“All Shafaq elements,” I said on the company net, “this is Six. Take up PZ posture. One zero minutes to pickup, over.” It actually only took three minutes; amazing how fast drop ships can fly, not just when an objective is secure, but also when escorted by a pair of X-wings. One lumbering craft landed at Andras’s position, another picked up 2nd Platoon, with the last two for the assault force. By habit and tradition, my security team and I boarded last. Once the rear ramp closed, the trip to Thunder’s landing bay seemed like a leisurely joyride in an open-topped landspeeder.
We’re scheduled to refuel and rearm on Alderaan, transfer our prisoners to General Rieekan’s intel pukes, and presumably receive our next mission from Senator Organa. What happens after that is anyone’s guess. My one hundred twelve infantry soldiers have heard at least a hundred different rumors on the subject. Home, Dantooine, would be nice, but we launched the day before Team Rogue’s demise and probably won’t see our families for awhile. What I do know, however, is that my time commanding Shafaq Company is ending soon. Lieutenant Andras, who helped found the Rebellion’s Mobile Infantry ten years ago as an already grizzled sergeant, will take the reins. What I’d like next is a cushy job after crisscrossing the galaxy for much of the last decade. Maybe I could command Leia’s security detail. She seems like a smart kid. I’ll ask Bail when we land.