I wrote this a year and a half ago, from a shorter idea that's been in my head for a few years now, but didn't really know what to do with it until today when I finally polished it. I've broken it into 3 parts, I'll post the next parts tomorrow and the next day after, respectively, just to make it a little more Star Wars serial-like (plus this was supposed to be a MUCH shorter story). Also, I didn't really know what to title it until I really did a final finishing pass on it, so forgive that too. Anyway, here is...
An explosion just off to the side of the small squad of Clones threw fire and dirt into the air, cutting off the squad's retreat. Five troopers scattered, while their hovering support speeder-tank rocked from the impact and twisted violently. Out of control and running haywire, the tank dug into the ground, causing the craft to bend and flip over, slamming its turret hard into the ground. The troopers outside of the tank stumbled about trying to shake off their haze. Trooper "Savi" tore off his helmet, slowly swinging his head side to side as his ears rang and the world blurred in his vision. He could make out the bodies of two downed troopers, then saw the tank's condition: upside-down, trapping their commander and crew within. More explosions shredded the air around them as several patrols of the advancing Confederate forces drew closer, the marching of their feet growing louder and louder in the distance as they loomed ahead of the Clones, their numbers increasing as more and more squadrons fell into the lines.
The Republic squad, acting as advance scouts, had stumbled right into the enemy's staging area. With the Clones out of the way, the Confederacy of Independent Systems' ground army - with its simple battle droids, more advanced droids, and even a few contingents of live foot troops made up of mainly hired mercenaries - would easily sack the mining colony before the Grand Army of the Republic could finish getting their defenses in position.
"Clones! Find your feet! We have to free any survivors and get word back to the colony. Now!" Savi barked as he took temporary command of the remainder of the squad.
The four other troopers quickly surveyed the situation and, without any higher ranks, started arguing about what the next move should be: hold position and attempt to salvage the tank, grab the tank's mobile comm unit and run to high ground, or fall back immediately before checking to see if any of the tank crew had survived.
"The turret slammed into the ground first, the commander was in the turret, there's no way he survived that impact. We need to go!"
"We need to wait for reinforcements here, and that tank and its equipment are all we've got to do it."
“How are we going to get word to reinforcements to even find us?!? Holding here will get us killed long before they even know we're down! Let's get out of here.”
"No! Pay attention! This is what we're doing: You two, post up wide ahead, create a defense point – everybody else, give them your grenades and extra mags so they can repel the enemy while we check the tank. Be prepared to fall back quick when I call it out,” Savi pointed sharply with every order to the men he was addressing and each direction of their tasks. “Pense, you have a cutter, right? Get over there to that hatch, try to get in through there. We're going to try to lift up this end and see if anything's accessible. Get moving!" Savi's decisiveness caught the other troopers' off-guard and they snapped into action.
The plains between the CIS landing site and the colony didn't look formidable, but the soft earth of the area made it difficult for large forces to sack the vital, materials-rich mining colony. Heavier repulsor vehicles would dig in, the green grass plains would give way to loose dirt and mud, even ground forces had to spread out to avoid bogging down. The CIS army had planned for this by keeping regiments spaced apart, using only their smaller tanks while leaving the larger carriers behind at the landing site, and hiring a legion of battle-hardened "peace forces" - mercenaries, bounty hunters, and other scum who had no regard for civilians that might get in the way of their paychecks - to march with the army and think on their feet creatively (something the CIS droid forces lack in their strategies) to make up for the precious leadership that usually stay hidden in their heavier vehicles and would at bravest be taking up rear positions in an assault such as this.
The two troopers tasked with defending the squad moved up the gentle slope standing between them and the earliest wave of CIS forces. Taking position just below the top of the slope, the troopers crouched down and started firing and tossing grenades, being careful to pace themselves so as to not use up their limited munitions too soon. The slow, determined pace and hunkered position just below the crest of the slope let the Clones pick their shots, making more hits while enemy fire went mostly well over their heads or in the dirt. The gathering CIS lead patrols still had a bit of distance to cover before they got close enough to overrun the Clone's position, the droids were lousy shots and mainly won battles through sheer number alone. The Confederate tanks were further back, struggling with the difficult terrain, firing almost aimlessly in the Clones' general direction.
"Savi, come in. From our position up here, I'd say you guys have ten minutes before the enemy gets close enough to cut off our escape. We're sawing through these first patrols, but there's too many even on their front lines for us to make a dent in those main forces. We're taking them down a few at a time, but we're basically just confusing them into slowing down. Will let you know if details change. Over,"
"Copy that, Caj. Keep it up. Out," the makeshift leader responded into his wrist comm, then focusing his attention back to getting his squad-mates out of the tank. "Ok, let's get in there!"
The troopers had given up trying to lift up the tank, but the cutter was just about through the hatch that had been compromised by the blast. Trooper Pense moved the panel free, Savi dropped down and slowly pulled himself into the twisted hulk's main cockpit. It wasn't terribly cavernous within, but was dark and full of smoke, only the faint glow of the few remaining working control panels visible. Savi brushed something and an arm suddenly dropped from above, the elbow-pad of its smoldering armor loudly clattering down, causing Savi to jump. The trooper squinted to make out the tank's gunner, dead, his body twisted and burned from the hit, upside-down, still anchored into his chair by the seatbelt.
“Nobody survived that! Come on, let's get out of here before it's too late!” Pense said, having pulled his head in and seen the dead gunner.
Savi, still tense, was startled by Pense's words, then brusquely responded, “No, we need to find the commander!”
Checking the driver's seat and seeing it empty, Savi called out and heard a groan. He followed it and found the driver crumpled behind the seat on the tank's ceiling, now acting as its floor. Savi checked the driver: alive, but nearly unconscious.
“Help me get the pilot out.” The other two troopers got into the tank and pulled the driver out, their progress slowed by their armor plates snagging all around them.
“You get him back on his feet and then get up to the defense point. Pense, give me your cutter, the hatch to the turret is almost certainly jammed, I'm going to try to get to the commander,” Savi ordered, his words barely audible over the cacophony of scraping armor.
The temporary leader crawled towards the back of the tank, found the hatch, confirmed it was indeed stuck, and pounded on it loudly, hoping for a reply which didn't come. The smoke was thicker in the area; once Savi got the cutter going, the air was nearly unbreathable and he started to choke. Turning his head, Savi cursed at leaving his helmet - with its air scrubbers - out on the battlefield.
Savi's wrist comm screeched to life, “Six minutes at the most. We're holding out up here, but just barely. Come on, clones, let's go.” barely audible through the sound of blaster fire and a grenade going off.
Caj's report was short and to the point, Savi was running out of time, the first wave of droid patrols was nearly on top of their position. Savi pulled himself up and de-focused the cutter beam to cover more area as a last-ditch effort. Suddenly, the hatch broke out where it had been cut, the commander kicking it from the other side.
“Commander Foll? I'm cutting my way in! Can you see from in there where the hatch is stuck?”
“I can't see a damned thing, clone, pitch black. How bad is it out there?”
“It's Savi, sir. We've got less than five minutes before our position is over-run, but I'm getting you out first.”
“Savi, our intel needs to get to the colony, that's priority! Leave me!”
“Sir, there's only 6 of us left out here, including the wounded pilot! Getting you free increases our chances of returning alive! Now shut up so I can concentrate on getting this damned hatch freed!”
“Yes 'sir'!” Commander Foll sarcastically replied, having seen the wisdom in his subordinate's argument.
The commander kept kicking out the panel when Savi's cutter cut through the hinge, causing the hatch to suddenly burst open, knocking both the commander and trooper forward to the ground as the smoke swirled violently around them and rushed to fill the turret compartment. The commander started inching his way forward on his stomach, while Savi twisted around trying to get upright.
“Soldier, let's get going.” the commander yelled, adrenaline shaking him more alert to the dire situation.
“Sir, yes sir! Anything we should salvage from the tank first?”
“Good thinking, clone! There should be a few ammo belts and rifles somewhere around here. I'll find them, you grab the RPS in the compartment up above your left.”
Savi opened the compartment, and out fell the meter-and-a-quarter-long box. He pushed it past Commander Foll, then poked at his wrist comm. “Troopers, pull the line back, we're withdrawing! Move!”
Foll busily maneuvered the RPS-6 box through the main hatch into the hands of another clone, then he and Savi followed it out. Both trooper and commander coughed and squinted as they readjusted to the air outside. The injured tank driver was sitting on the ground propped up against the hull, rubbing his shoulder, a fog still over his eyes. Blaster fire was filling the air overhead along with the occasional tank blast.
Savi craned his neck to see three of his men at the top of the slope, frantically going through their ordinance.
“Boys, get back here now! We're leaving!” Savi called to them.
“Situation report,” Foll barked at Pense.
“Commander! Enemy patrol's tank fired a blast onto our position, two of ours' down. Blast struck your tank, killing the gunner and causing the tank to dig in and flip. Three of ours are up at the top of that ridge holding off the enemy patrols. The pilot here is dazed, I've sealed and wrapped his injuries. Less than four minutes before enemy overruns us. At last look: dozens of light tanks, a couple regiments of CIS droids plus a number of Confederate fleshies – angry mercs. They've jammed our longrange comms.”
The commander pursed his mouth in frustration. “Damn, no way the seven of us are going to hold that off for even a minute. Savi, get your men back here! We need to get this intel to command back at the colony defenses or they're gonna get overrun before reinforcements can arrive. Pense, get that man back on his feet and find him a weapon!”
Trooper Caj fell back first, running down the slope towards the crash site while the other two troopers up there covered his retreat as they slowly withdrew backwards.
“Pardon me, sir,” Caj mumbled as he ran past the commander.
Caj slid to his knees, flipped open the RPS-6 box and quickly pulled out the shoulder-mounted rocket launcher and the first two of its dozen rockets. In one fluid motion, Caj spun around, stood up, started running, loaded the first rocket into the launcher as he slung it over his shoulder, and tore back up towards the slope.
“Good to see you back on your feet, commander.” Caj commented to his leader as if without a concern in the galaxy, along with a salute that involved banging against his helmet the second, unloaded rocket which Caj had just dropped from under his arm into in his left hand, all while rushing back up the shallow hill.
Commander Foll's eyes opened wide in surprise from the exchange, then put his own helmet back on and took a moment to watch the speedy trooper make the crest of the hill and fire the launcher, spin on his heels, and start back down the slope - again in a single, fluid, almost carefree movement. Two beats later, the sound of a Confederate tank exploding filled the air, instantly followed by a bright orange fireball over the slope's horizon.
“Sir, all present and accounted for. Let's get the hell out of here, sir,” Savi reported to his commander, standing at attention to signify his relinquishing of command.
“Alright Mern Squd, withdraw, double-time! Clones, you don't have to go home, but you can't stay here!” Commander Foll ordered.