Zandro sighed, surprised at the amount of work that seemed to be crossing his desk recently. His volunteering to do some work with the Contract Bureau wasn't exactly making life easier for him, but he still found that he was enjoying the work...sometimes.
Here he comes, let's get that contract out for him.
Zandro's half brother was a miasma of intermingling emotions through the Force, the feelings exacerbated by the Force Bond that the pair shared. Grinning and shaking his head, the younger Erinos found the datapad with the information about Sashar's upcoming mission and levitated it through the Force, indulging himself in a bit of fun to break up the monotony of the work that he had been hacking through. Sashar burst through the door and almost walked into the hovering datapad. Snatching it from the air with a grimace, Sashar began to scan his orders before looking at his brother incredulously.
Zandro laughed, his eyes twinkling with menace.
“Seriously. No body count and do try not to get seen. These scientists are good, even if they are currently on the wrong track, make it happen ner'vod.”
Sashar twirled on his heel and stalked from the office, anger slipping through the Force bond and causing Zandro to laugh once more.
Ever the killing machine Sash, let's see if you can get through this one without wasting any resources. Now, work.
We have received intelligence that a group of Selenian scientists are currently working on a top secret project that is not sanctioned by Arcona. Some sort of toxin is said to be being worked on deep underground in a supposedly secret research complex on the Southern Continent of the planet. The co-ordinates are attached to this message.
Your mission is to infiltrate the facility, destroy the toxin they are working on and all notes pertaining to this research. Also, please leave them a little note reminding them that Arcona knows all that goes on within it's domain, and we politely remind them to do the work we assign and nothing extra, else they may face repercussions.
Do NOT kill any of the scientists, they work for us and have been instrumental in many recent inventions that have helped Arcona to gain an edge over our opponents in various fields. They may be a bit wayward here, but they are far more useful to us alive.
Good luck Brother, I eagerly await your report upon the mission's successful completion.
On the surface, it looked tricky. An underground installation, military-controlled and defended, was bound to have innumerable fail safes, and simply walking through the one and only door would be an instant Mission Failure, given that there was no way for someone of even Sashar’s considerable talents to sneak past the myriad security systems undetected. However, the Elder didn’t plan to go in personally.
He was sat in the Aediles’ office with his feet up on Wuntila’s desk, absently flicking through various schematics of the facility. Sashar had seen them before, obviously, when he’d been Consul and approved the construction of the facility in the wake of the Yuuzhan Vong war, but he hadn’t been trying to break into the damn place then. The Aedile was out, currently attending a meeting at Torbai Garrison with various military heads of department and it’d proved child’s play to break into his office and access the files. Sashar didn’t need to; he simply liked to keep up practice. Satisfied that he had the information he needed, the Mandalorian went through the desk drawers until he found Wuntila’s cigarettes, pocketed them, and left.
“This is General Erinos. I’m requisitioning an AIC and a pilot for the next 24 hours. Have it ready to depart in fifteen minutes.” He commed down to the Citadel’s hangar, setting off at a brisk pace. He didn’t need any specialist equipment, well, none that he didn’t carry with him at all times.
The southern hemisphere of Selen, Sashar decided, was very, very pleasant. It’d taken them a few hours to get there from the Citadel, but the rolling plains, light forests and seldom hills lent itself brilliantly to potential farm-land.
“That is, if we could persuade the di’kutla farmers to migrate. They’re all too concerned with being near Giletta spaceport and the Citadel so they have defence and an escape route if the Vong show up again.” He thought to himself bitterly, adjusting the Concussion Rifle’s strap on his shoulder.
“We’re beginning our descent now, Sir.” The pilot reported, a Flight officer by the name of Barusk. A native of Selen, he was barely into his twenties and had yet to see active combat, only coming of age since after that nasty Cannibal business.
“Once we’ve landed, I want you to power down and get some shut-eye. It’ll be a good hour or two before we can leave again.” The Mandalorian suggested, staring out at the late evening sky. Boral was nearly full, glistening down, providing little cover of darkness.
Sashar paid it no heed and let his mind’s eye drift into that familiar construct he’d created in the force. He was in the chamber of Oblivion. Blackness stretched out around him, fogged by a suffocating grey/white haze of smoke. Semi-ephemeral faces, Strangers, drifted about him, their melancholy screams making the hairs stand up on his neck. Not shrinking from the Strangers, he instead focused on the noise they emitted, trying to find his own screams.
He seized it, calling forth his Force Wraith that represented his innate creativity; the Runt.
It coalesced into reality before him, a squat, ugly little creature that sat crouched on large, powerful legs designed for jumping. Each of its fingers and toes were tipped with suction cups, its mouth was filled with razor teeth, its spine marked with spiky quills, and its eyes were duplicates of Sashar’s own unique eyes. Its skin constantly shifted different hues of black, brown and purple, all mottled and kinetic. Looking at it gave one a headache. Sashar’s own eyes were closed, and he immediately let his consciousness fully embody the Runt and found himself staring up at his original body.
He turned the Runt around and propelled it through the closed door hatch and out into the field. With another titanic leap, it crossed a good twenty meters before landing again, its elongated tongue flitting in and out of its oversized mouth, as if tasting the air. In no time at all, the Runt had reached the facility’s main entrance; a disguised bunker with a pair of guards standing in its shadow, one smoking.
The Runt leapt over them, landing on the hillock disguising the Bunker’s roof.
“What was that?”
“What was what?” The other guard asked, yawning.
“Didn’t you see something move?”
“Well, I did.”
“Call it in, then.” The second guard suggested, calling his co-worker’s bluff.
“…Naah. You’re right. It was probably just my imagination.”
The runt’s eyes scanned the top of the hillock, and soon spotted what it was looking for; a setion of the grass was blowing a different direction to the gentle breezes nudging the grass in the rest of the air.
Sashar’s avatar approached the anomalous grass and parted it, peering down the disguised vent cover, looking for any motion-sensitive security measures. There weren’t. Going ephemeral once again, the Runt slid through the grating and dropped down into vents.
Rugger had never excelled in anything. He’d sidled along through life happily coasting the middle road and had not made his parents proud. It didn’t much matter what they thought; they’d died during the Yuuzhan Vong invasion. Some misplaced sense of family loyalty had pushed him, on an impulse, to sign up to the Arcona Armed Forces. He’d survived basic training and not displayed a particular aptitutde for anything, and as such had been assigned to glorified police duty in Estle. Not fond of crowds, he’d requested a quieter assignment and landed what he felt to be a particularly cushy posting. His room and board was free, he got paid a decent wage to basically sit around and drink caf, his friends weren’t bad sabacc players, and nobody would waste time attacking a small, out-of-the-way scientific outpost. Hell, the scientists weren’t working on anything particularly dangerous, so there was next to no threat. All these factors added together made Rugger even more nervous when he leaned forward, staring at a holocam at an impossibility. On monitor five, crawling along the ceiling was a ghost. It came up close to the camera and leered at the screen, its blue eyes blazing eerily through the electronic medium, making Rugger’s skin crawl.
“Uhhh, Jans, I’m reading an….anomaly in the archives. Can you send a team down to investigate?” He asked into the com-channel, his voice shaking.
“Roger that, Control. I’m sending Flick and Anson down. What sort of anomaly?”
“Err, There’s something blocking the cam. I think a rodent got in the vent. It’s big, too.”
“What? Requesting a com-check, control. I think there’s a malfunction. It sounded like you said there was a rodent on the ceiling.”
“I did say that. Wait, it just jumped down. What the…? Jans, get up here. The rodent’s working on one of the archive consoles.”
“If you’re pulling my leg Rugger, I’ll have you put on report.”
“I’m serious! Get up here and have a look!”
Sashar’s Runt’s hands writhed across the data terminal at the speed of a seasoned slicer. He cut through the various firewalls and electronic locks until he found the restricted research section, segregated away from the part of the archives that were linked to the Arcona Defence Network, saftely tucked away in private partitions. They detailed extensive research on a toxin only listed as ‘L28’ – a compound that could be released into the air as it had no smell, taste or colour. It was a modification of the compound Arcona’s subsidiary genertic research companies had come up with to remove the Vong threat, only this one was targeted at species with insectoid heritage, such as the Verpine, Vatrix or Kilik. A virus was uploaded from Sashar Erinos’s personal mainframe space back at the Citadel, and the private partitions. The virus then spread to the rest of the Research Facility’s mainframes, causing a catastrophic shut-down. In moments, the lights flickered off, the generators shut down and the main computer failed. The Mainframes themselves started sparking and hissing as they overheated. One even caught fire. Satisfied that his work was done, Sashar willed the Runt to jump back up to the ceiling and wait.
“Jans? Hello?” Rugger called into the comlink as he fumbled about in the locker next to his console, looking for a glow-rod. He eventually found one, but nobody replied on the comlinks. This far underground, they’d need a receiver relay to boost their signals, and if that shut down, communications in general were down.
“The backup generator will kick in if the air circulator’s down for more than five minutes…” He reminded himself, drawing his side-arm and aiming it at the door whilst crouching down behind a chair, every nerve in his body urging him to just dive under the desk and cower.
There was a bang on the other side of the door. He flinched. Another bang, followed by the hiss of hydraulics protesting. The doors opened slightly and fingers presented themselves, lit by the light of the glow rod he’d left on the desk to draw fire. He pulled the trigger and shot at them. There was a shout. He kept firing at the opening in the doorway, screaming as went.
Flick was first through the doors, her rifle sweeping about the chamber. A small fire from one of the mainframes was still smoking, offering an ominous light to the surroundings. She stuck to one wall and started making her way through the room, checking each row of mainframes in turn to confirm there was nothing there.
Something shot between the aisles before her glow-rod beam, too quick to get a good look out.
“Anson! Row three!” She shouted, chasing after the blur.
Her squad-mate appeared at the other end of the aisle, his own rifle tracking back and forth. Nothing was between them.
A surreal cackle, cancerous and inhuman emanated above them. Flick was almost too afraid to lift her rifle’s aim up. Slowly, Anson and she did just that. The cackle escalated abruptly into a banshee-like shriek, the sound of metal rending and she caught sight of a nightmare hanging above her.
It’s freakishly large mouth opened and a prehensile tongue lashed out, knocking her rifle’s aim off, breaking the glow rod. There was a rush of something past her, and a thud. She turned, firing blindly, but nothing was hit. Anson was running, trying to beat it to the door, but the creature made it there first and was gone down the hallway before either of them could get another shot off.
“What…what was that?” She asked, adrenaline making it hard for her to talk.
“I have no idea. I’ve never seen anything move like that before. And that noise! What the hell was up with that?” Anson asked, his eyes wide.
She shuddered. “You know the worst part? We’ve got to hunt that thing down.”
He clicked the safety off on his rifle, and grinned. “We’ll hunt it down, all right. And we’ll kill it in the face.”
Sashar hadn’t needed to wait for the doors to open. The Runt could’ve simply passed through the closed ones, but he wanted the scientists at the facility to have the fear of god put into them. “No, not the fear of god. The fear of the Dark Side.”
A little theatrics would be perfect for that, however, his main mission objective still remained: destroy L28.
The main lab wasn’t hard to find. He simply followed the signs, not at all hampered by the lack of light; Sashar’s ayumarka eyes could see in the dark, after all. Passing through the doors, the Runt set to work.
“You absolute moron! I should brand ‘terminally stupid, keep clear’ on your sloped forehead you Rodding Gammorrean! Slice!” Rugger’s commander shouted at him, cradling his injured hand in the dull light of a glow rod.
Rugger had managed to shoot off three of his fingers when the Base Commander Ghent had come to check on him. He wasn’t happy.
“I’m sorry, Sir.” He replied redundantly.
“Sorry won’t cut it. Go find out why backup power hasn’t kicked in yet.”
“A-Alone?” He stammered, his brow breaking out into an involuntary sweat.
“Of course alone! I don’t want anyone else nearby if you start firing at whatever the hell is making that godawful noise. What is that?” He glared out the doorway. A shriek was echoing down the halls, and had been almost continuously for almost ten minutes. It was really, really shitting up the base personnel. The sound was akin to metal bending past breaking point and a rodian being burned alive, no wonder it had the guards scared.
“Uhhh, I don’t kno-“
“Get out of my sight and don’t come back without the backup generators coming back online.”
Rugger threw a hasty salute and exited, feeling that he was safer with that banshee than he was with the Commander.
A crash dragged Flick and Ghent’s rifles towards the laboratory doors.
“I don’t like that…” Anson muttered.
“Mhmm. C’mon, let’s get this over.” Flick murmured, holding her pistol in one hand, her other wrist bracing her aim, holding a spare glow rod. They approached the doors where the screaming and banging emanated, jimmied them open a crack with a hand-pump and then yanked the double doors open, falling back either side as they did so. A glass canister shot out and smashed on the floor behind them, causing both guards to flinch.
“GO!” Anson bellowed, spinning around the doorway as he went, firing blindly.
Flick followed suit and sighted the monstrosity on the far wall, from all appearances urinating on the wall, writing something. She didn’t hesitate and shot it in the face as it turned around to regard her.
Her bolt was the best shot of her life. It caught the creature between the eyes. In response, it screamed even louder and went for her. She screamed back and fired blindly, but the bolts just passed through it as it leapt, landing on her, knocking her over. Then it was gone, bounding down the corridor. Anson’s fire tracked after it, but either missed or passed through it once again.
Shakily, she stood, checking herself for injury, but there was none. “Headshots don’t kill it. They just piss it off.” She muttered to Anson, who helped her up.
“Uh-huh. Let’s try to shoot its [Expletive Deleted] off next time.”
“Does it even HAVE a [Expletive Deleted]?”
Rugger stopped dead when the screams stopped. He could’ve sworn he’d heard blaster fire, but couldn’t be sure. He’d reached the backup generator room and had flicked it back on, but nothing had happened. Rugger wasn’t a technician, in fact his technical scores hadn’t been great. He glanced up and spotted a shorted out transistor.
There was the sound of running feet and shouting behind him, so he quickly pulled out the transistor and plugged the wires trailing from the generator directly into the next transistor along, then toggled the switch once more. A whir of machinery and the generator kicked in.
Turning, he nearly filled his pants. The thing he’d seen on the holocam was bounding towards him. It let out a howl and leapt. He didn’t remember firing from the hip, but red bolts poured out from his pistol and two caught the creature in its stomach. It yowled and disappeared before his eyes. An eerie silence followed.
“Slice, Rugger, you killed it.” Jans muttered, leaning against a wall to catch his breath. The lights slowly started flicking on.
“Yeah. Nice work. You just saved the entire installation.”
Rugger smiled, mollified. Maybe Commander Ghent would stop shouting at him now.
Sashar’s eyes opened slowly, and he grinned.
“Okay Barusk, we’re good to go. Let’s head home.”
“Copy that, sir. Mission accomplished?”
Sashar grinned tightly. “Yeah.”
He loved his job.
Half an hour later, Commander Ghent, who’d had to shake Rugger’s hand (with his uninjured one) stared at the far wall of the lab with the Chief Scientist, Dr. Talbin. The data archives had been a loss, and the lab was destroyed. All samples of L2 had been contaminated with that mysterious black acid which’d burned into the far wall. Flick and Anson had claimed that the creature had urinated, but Ghent didn’t believe them.
“Don’t [Expletive Deleted] with us. We’re always watching.” Was the message.
Ghent wasn’t happy. “So, Dr. Talbin, what research were you conducting, precisely?”