The Siege Of Phaeda
The supply run of a single Galactic Alliance hauler is the only thing between an embattled Imperial garrison and complete destruction, as the Yuuzhan Vong siege of Phaeda enters day 136.
OUTER RIM. IMPERIAL REMNANT SPACE [CONTESTED].
PHAEDA. DAY 136 OF COMBAT OPERATIONS.
The venerable old hauler lurched back into realspace. Nem Erkon immediately checked the sensor screen again. Nothing. The fighter escort was late.
A single bead of sweat dropped down the human’s forehead. This was the seventh supply run to Phaeda, moving guns and spare parts from the Galactic Alliance base on Irrani IV to the Remnant forces trying to hold on to the liberated planet.
He didn’t have time to panic.
“Alright.” He muttered. He flicked the internal comm on. “We’re holding position above Phaeda.” He looked out at the dusty, barren world filling the viewport as he thought about what else he could possibly say. “These supplies are needed on the ground. We can’t wait here forever… We can’t turn around. Not with people down there counting on us.” He paused. “Look. I never thought I’d be risking my life for Imperials. But that garrison down there is the only hope the people of Phaeda have. And we’re the only hope the garrison have. We’ve going to wait ten minutes. Then I’m going in.” He flicked the comm off. “Fighter escort or not…” he muttered to himself.
Erkon had been a transport pilot for Twin Suns Transport Services for most of his career, hauling freight and cargo – and staying far clear of the rump Empire left in the galactic north. He’d retired the year before the Vong arrived and fragged Sernpidal. Some retirement.
His longtime boss, Emon Azzameen, had sold Erkon his old ship at mate’s rates – a beat-up LAAV called the Showy Schlepper – letting him take his old girl off on retirement with him. Within a few years Coruscant had fallen. Erkon had been running refugees off the planet in the last days before the fall, and he’d been pressed into Galactic Alliance service shortly thereafter, ferrying blasters, droid parts, grenades and all manner of supplies to myriad worlds cut-off after the invaders had cut the Holonet.
He mopped his brow, and kicked the air cycler, busy spewing hot air into the cramped cockpit: I’ve got to get that replaced. Once a powerful assault transport, the Schlepper had long since been stripped of her weapons, and was equipped instead with cargo lifters and a bulked-out storage bay. Her hull was a motley rust-brown and faded orange, the only fresh paint being an incongruous Galactic Alliance starbird logo printed on her hull by the zealous shipyard techs at their Irrani home base.
The cockpit door opened with a groan and he turned – half-expecting to find a mutinous crew – but instead his foreman Alarz. “What? Come to turn us around?” Erkon demanded.
The Nikto grunted. “We drop supplies. Plan is good.”
“Right,” Erkon said. “Plan is good.”
The Nikto nodded, baffled at the human’s strange repetition. “No fighter?”
Erkon looked to the sensors and shook his head.
“Imperials overrun?” Alarz suggested.
“No. Not if I know Meera…” Erkon replied.
The Nikto laughed and beat his stomach. “Human turned red.” He laughed again.
Erkon shook his head. “Stow it. The laughter and the cargo.”
Alarz shrugged again and turned back, returning to the bay and his work-gang and GA technical crew.
Erkon held his head in his hand, his eyes open and fixed ahead on the viewport. No. Meera was alive. She had to be. She wouldn’t have given up… And she’s counting on me. He looked once more for the escort, there was still no sign, and then he looked at the chrono. Six minutes. Four more until…
He saw it before the sensors beeped. Incoming.
“Schlepper, Schlepper… this is Zeta-09…. escort…… reading…. Over. Schlepper this… 09, your escort. Are… reading? Over.”
Thank the Force. “Zeta-09, this is Schlepper. We hear you. We thought you’d…”
“No time Schlepper. Need to bring you in right now. Put your… ines to full thrust. Do you copy?”
“Full thrust. Copy. Coming in.” Erkon slammed the stick down and pushed the thrust to full, then turned to the internal comm: “We’re going in hard!”
The LAAV lurched into a motion that looked impossible for the blocky craft, and Erkon moved the ship towards Zeta-09, underneath the severed central spar of a Nebulon-B frigate lost from the Imperial landing force that put troops on the ground three months prior, and watched the dial as they closed in with their escort. The sensors ID-ed the ship at 50 klicks as an A9 Vigilance, and once they reached visual range Erkon saw two wing-mounted rocket pods slung under the slight interceptor’s thin frame. The craft had clearly been diverted from its proper role as a space-based fighter, and used for ground attack – it’s hull was filthy, scorch marks and burned hull panels blackening its once white frame. Things must be even worse than last time.
“Are we good 09?” Erkon said, as Phaeda filled his viewport. The northern regions had been remade in the image of the Yuuzhan Vong, and purple coral-forms predominated, making their way southwards until a deep, long burn along the planets equator, where Chiss chemical agents had been used to sear a fire-break into the world’s crust, preventing the infection from spreading.
“New Vong squadron arrived last… been making things… ult. Worried they… scramble and make a run on you… epper.”
“Copy.” Erkon wiped the sweat from his brow once more, and kicked the cycler until it stopped. To himself he added, “We’re coming Meera.”
The A9, to conserve fuel, had lingered just above the planet’s atmosphere – not coming out to meet Schlepper at its exit coordinates. The threat would come from the planet’s surface: the Vong fleet had long since moved on from the backwater of Phaeda. Leaving two almost abandoned garrisons behind to fight it out.
If we don’t make it back… will anyone even remember the battle here?
The Schlepper followed her escort into the drab grey morass of the forlorn world’s upper atmosphere, diving deeper towards the planet, until the moons faded from view and the Collo Fauale mountain pass could be made out with the naked eye. The transport grumbled as the atmosphere burned away another layer of her outer hull. Erkon grimaced. “Hold it together old girl.”
The 09 wobbled ahead, juddering in the atmospheric eddies – the Vigilance’s usual steady balance upset by the rocket pods welded to each wing.
“Schlepper, we’re going in low. It’s going to be tight.”
“Copy,” Erkon said. He gripped the control stick tight and followed the nimble little fighter into a wide canyon, weaving as fast as the old transport could, struggling to keep up… But the Vigilance could only go so slow, and it kept falling out of sight as it raced ahead, before being forced to loop back round to keep formation. “I’m losing you 09. I’m going to try and…”
“Contact! Schlepper, stay low, bug out if you can!” The pilot’s voice was alive with terror, the transmission finally clear enough to make out the man’s voice.
Erkon saw two hostile signals closing – and fast. 09 had broken off to intercept, and Erkon watched helplessly as the two Coralskippers came into view. “09? Where are you?” The craft had vanished behind a mountain. The Skips were closing, closing… “09? We need…!”
Out of nowhere the interceptor streaked into the enemy flight element, a blast of green laser shots tearing the lead Coralskipper in half. Erkon watched in astonishment as the front of the ship and its canopy smashed into the face of a cliff, before remembering he had a job to do. He turned his ship to port and pushed the throttle down, hard. It was still 300 kliks to the Remnant base. He watched the battle unfolding behind him on the scope.
Then he realised the Skip had broken off. “They’re chasing us…” He turned to the comm. “Hold on, enemy contact, enemy contact!”
“Schlepper, you have inbound. I’ve been hit, my weapons are offline. Trying to close…”
“Bug out 09. There’s nothing more you can do here.” Erkon threw the Schlepper into a steep lateral dive, but the Skip was too fast. A blaze of molten coral shot ahead of the canopy.
“Schlepper – come back around. Bring him to me.”
“But what can…”
“Just do it Schlepper!”
Erkon turned the lumbering craft around. “Come on, come on, just a little more…”
The Skip was filling up the viewport, the enemy pilot had them dead to rights… and then the Vigilance swerved into view… “09, don’t…”
The Vigilance smashed into the enemy fighter, instantly obliterating both of them. Erkon looked on in horror as a single wing, empty rocket pod still attached, descended. The Schlepper was showered in debris, and it took the engine malfunction alarm to bring Erkon back to the controls.
“We’ve got to land.” He turned back to the Imperial base, and once more begged his faithful craft to save him. She obliged, just, and they moved spluttering over the barren landscape, until at last the ruins of Phaeda City came into view. A once thriving settlement, it had been destroyed during the Yuuzhan Vong invasion three years earlier, and it was now nothing more than a husk, in which the Imperial garrison had laid its fortifications.
As they closed in, Erkon could make out turbolaser towers tracking their approach, concealed in the ruins of apartment buildings, and then as they began their final approach, the dark shapes of Imperial troops moving through the ruins. “I’m here Meera,” he whispered.
Erkon brought the Schlepper down in the wreckage of a long-abandoned sports stadium, now used as the landing site, and flight crew ran out from concealed positions to make her safe and begin unloading.
The pilot had seen death before. A lot of it. But not like that.
Sickened, he stayed silent in the cockpit, until at last Alarz buzzed him to come and unload. He stood falteringly, grabbed his cloak and sidearm, and powered down. The cargo bay was already a hive of activity, with Imperial work crews and civilian militia unloading the pristine crates of GA kit. At the aft of this ship a dim natural light was admitted, and he headed down the ramp after exchanging words with his Nikto colleague. The grim and foreboding city was even blacker than usual, the once colourful structures now charred beyond recognition. The three moons had come into alignment and soon it would be night. But then, heading towards him, he saw Meera – trench-coat thrown around her Naval uniform, and a couple of Army Troopers in scavenged armour flanking her.
“Erkon,” she said, an official handshake betrayed by a most unofficial smile. “Thank you. We need these more than ever. The Vong managed to get in a supply run last cycle; they have new fighters and new biots. They’ve been pressing hard at the outskirts.”
“Meera… I’m sorry. Zeta-09,” Erkon realised with self-reproach that he didn’t even know the pilot’s name… “He didn’t make it. We were intercepted. His weapons were down. He crashed his ship into the Skip. He saved all of us.”
Meera closed her eyes, the briefest moment of grief she could allow herself for a force commander who had already suffered 60% losses. “He might have saved all of us too,” she said at last, looking on at the precious cargo. “Come, let’s get these inside.”
She rolled up her sleeves and began working with her men passing crates down to Erkon who gave them on to a row of labourers and soldiers working together. The first time there had been ASP droids to do this. But the power supply was gone, and the droids themselves cannibalised for parts or else used as sentries for the worn-out perimeter forces. Once a captain of the Imperial Navy carrying out labour duty might have attracted attention – and praise or condemnation – but nobody thought anything of it now.
Erkon wiped his brow and looked around. Medics carried rifles and bandoliers of ammo. Engineers with no parts to repair equipment were serving as infantrymen. Meera’s garrison had been 2,000-strong once, a Naval Infantry force supplemented by detachments of Army Troopers and Stormtroopers, and aided by the local guerrilla forces who’d survived in the basements of the city during the long years of Yuuzhan Vong occupation. Most of the Stormtroopers had died months ago, and their kit had been distributed to the surviving front-line units who wore a hodgepodge of cannibalised armour. As he looked around, Erkon couldn’t see a single regulation-looking uniform. Meera was closest, her rank badge she had kept pristine, but her boots and uniform were caked in the mud that clogged up the whole city.
Two TIE Fighters sat on the other side of the sports arena, both ruined, one missing a wing and propped-up with rubble from a ruined structure, the other stripped for its weapon systems to build an improvised anti-vehicle gun. Erkon had seen that work three trips ago.
That was the first time he and Meera had spoken. Really spoken. Not as officer and representative of allied government. Not about supply requirements and requisitions. But really spoken. About Chandrilan wine. The Holofilms they’d both watched as children. About life before the war. About life after…
They proceeded through the shattered base, through a cantina now used as a med-bay, down into the cellar, through which earth-works had been cut to produce a system of underground tunnels. They reached her dug-out and, checking that they unobserved, she said at last: “Erkon, my love, how are we to survive this? I don’t know what to do.”
“You do. You’re doing it.”
She bit her lip, and slowly, gradually, she nodded. “Fight them until we can’t.”
They embraced again, and for a few precious moments the war was gone.
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I loved that! Hope they both made it somehow through the war.
Gotta finish NJO now and dang love the work yall are doin.