[Originally written by Foln]
Imperial Army Chronicles: The Intangible
Chapter One Ah. The rush of wind. The flowing air battered the crimson speeder as it struck at the vehicle’s guidance fans. Its prototypical sonic engines propelled it with a thunderous drawl, a sound more reminiscent of a space-borne cruiser than a single-passenger ground transport. Only the seldom whine of the transmission synchros could be heard over the engines, marking a shift to a different gear every now and again. No populated community in the galaxy would allow its operation anywhere near residential establishments, but it was perfectly suited for the empty, spacious Geonosian desert. The question still persisted as to why the bug-like people of this planet were completely obsessed with applying concussive sonic technologies to virtually all forms of technological innovation; sure, the devices were easy to manufacture and maintain, and cheaper to operate than ion or more established applications, but blast they were loud. The pilot consoled himself in the fact that he wouldn’t be riding it much longer. The audial dampers in his helmet helped, too. He still pondered why anyone in their right mind would want such a loud and offensive device, and why they were willing to pay top-dollar to have it “acquired” from a Geonosian manufacturing research facility. However, the power of coin is substantial enough to quell even the most curious mind. The prize for delivering this hunk of durasteel well outweighed the inconvenience of operating it for a short time. His ship gleamed in the distance. He could only see a small irregularity among the deserts on the horizon, but he basked in the sight of what he knew to be his ticket off of this rock. He had been here several weeks, formulating a scheme that would yield him the experimental vehicle. Infiltrating a xenophobic culture’s research compound with considerable security in place was no simple or quick task by any means. However, a few forged documents, a couple tranquilizers, a sliced security console or two, and enough preparation seemed to be turning out pretty well. The pilot went over the laundry list of tasks in his head again. Besides getting this speeder to Tatooine, he still needed to deliver that young nexu thing in his cargo hold to his buyer on Nar Shadaa. The thing was harmless enough, and cute to boot, but the fact that its mouth was twice the size of its body (not to mention aptly sized for a man’s head) left him antsy about having it on board. He let it run around the ship a while on his way to Geonosis, and played with it a bit, but he never could get over the whole mouth thing. Thankfully, it should still be in its cage in the cargo hold when he returned, as it probably finished off the food in its cage a few days ago and was bound to be hungry. Then there was the business he needed to finish on Hutta, but that shouldn’t take… His thought derailed as he slammed on the braking controls, reversing the pulse of the sonic engines (which are even louder in reverse) and quickly slowed the vehicle. The speeder turned sideways, and its pilot leaned into the turn to keep the rolling momentum from throwing him off the bike. He took from his belt pack a pair of binoculars and quickly fixed them in the direction of his ship. His suspicions were confirmed. There were about 50 Geonosians crawling over and around his vessel as it sat in the sand. Probably a scavenging crew, he thought, but it may even be some kind of military group. It was always so difficult to distinguish them; these bugs all looked the same, sounded the same, and smelled the same to him. He turned to look back in the direction he had come. It was only a matter of time before the security guard at that second waystation came out of his tranq-induced slumber, and then it would only be moments until they discovered the missing speeder. He couldn’t rightly hide this thing until he could find another way off Geonosis, what with it being so loud and all. These bugs hadn’t picked his ship clean, yet… and there were only about fifty. He checked the charge on his blaster pistols and took in a deep breath. Exhaling, he jammed the shifter down into its first gear and opened the sonic restrictors wide. Massive amounts of raw concussive power burst from the rear section of the slim vehicle as it jumped quickly to speed. Shifting with a precision rivaling a professional racer, the pilot drew closed the gap between himself and his vessel. As he came within a few hundred meters of the Geonosian group, he unbuckled his pistol holsters with his left hand, revealing the Japor ivory wood pistol grips artistically engraved with the words “Litt" and "Nillan”, respectively, under the burning Geonosian sun. Within 200 meters, the Geonosians opened fire in his general direction. He dodged the sonic pulses and blaster beams for a short 150 meters before he again quickly reversed his reverberating engines. Slowing to a near standstill, he allowed his own momentum to carry him over the vehicle’s control arms and roll to a kneeling position. He reached to his tactical belt and felt for his portable shield emitter. Just as the bugs were fully alerted and concentrating their fire, he tossed the device in front of him and a square, impenetrable wall rose between him and his targets. Undeterred, the Geonosians continued to pour blaster and sonic fire upon and around the shield as Litt sat there, crouching. He was calm -still, even- as the projectiles flew around him and collided with his portable barrier. Another breath, another exhalation, and another pause. Then it was his turn. His masked face jerked upright and his entire body contracted as he drew and threw one of the flashbangs from his belt in one fluid motion. He almost seemed to scan the line of bugs some 100 meters to his front through his transparent shield as the canister traveled in its arc over the sands, igniting and erupting in an aura of blinding light that seemed to eclipse the sun in the sky. Litt witnessed the occurrence through his shield, which filtered the short burst of blindage, and then jumped into action. Drawing his pistols from their holsters, he stood up tall and systematically poured plasma in a sweeping wave from left to right across the Geonosian position. Bugs fell left and right, unable to see the adversary who struck them down. They clamored about in their visionless state, running into each other as they attempted to dodge the incoming fire. Some of the bugs in the back remained unblinded, having themselves shielded by the bodies of those in front, and they continued to fire upon Litt's position. Their accuracy at 100 meters, however, was negligible in comparison to their target's; a score and a half of the bugs were struck down in the span of two seconds, whereas Litt remained unscathed. By now, bugs were jumping off the hull of his ship and flying towards him. A few well-placed blaster shots ended the first few, but they were too far spread and too numerous for him to contend with in an extended conflict, as they would soon converge on him. He reached his left hand down to his belt once more and activated his remote hatch operator. The airlock at the top of his ship's ramp hissed open, and Litt bore into a full sprint towards it after picking up his shield emitter. He danced-ran his way through incoming sonic waves, hipfiring and popping off trickshots as he haphazardly navigated the precarious path. He successfully made it under the shadow of the ship's hull and turned around to dispatch a few bugs that had almost caught him. Firing as he backpedalled his way up the ramp, he was nearly home free with the hope of using his ship's guns to finish off the rest and retrieve the speeder. As he continued to step back, however, he tripped on something. By “tripped on something”, suffice to say that a young nexu came running out of the open vessel and tried weaving in between his legs. The man then proceeded to fall onto the ramp, landing squarely on his posterior and throwing off his aim. As the feline ran off and as he tried to re-sight through his viewport on a bug in front of him, he felt something lift him by the back of his collar. Another something grabbed his arms and stripped him of his pistols. The bugs now landing in front of him lowered their weapons, and the somethings behind him turned him about on the ramp so they were face-to-face. “Aww… Y’all were inside my ship, too?” Litt acquiesced to the ugly abomination of insectoid life now holding him in the air. “Well, certainly you saw all the neat stuff I have in there… maybe we can come to an arrangement?” All he heard in response was what he believed to be a crackled Geonosian racial slur. Then another bug hit him across the side of his helmet with the back of its hand so hard that Litt was knocked off the side of the ramp. The Geonosian jumped down to him, pressed his face into the sand while offering more and more disgusting noises that somehow constituted their language, and slapped a pair of bindings on Litt’s wrists. “Well…” Litt thought aloud as they dragged him to his feet, “Seems my Geonosian vacation just got extended.” About half a dozen bugs then proceeded to “escort” him west across the planet’s sandy terrain.
Chapter Two The bugs marched him across the desert for a solid two hours at a surprisingly quick pace. Their strength, comparative to their physical size, was quite amazing to behold, and their environmental durability rivaled in contest for their most impressive feature. It seemed as though their entire species was designed for the sole purpose of effectively dragging a prisoner across a barren wasteland. Of course, it would be in vain to hope that this journey would be the extent of the punishment for his trespass, or that traversing this terrain was their best and only skill. No, something waited for him at the end of this granulated rainbow, but Litt made fit the assumption that a pot of credits was not to be found there. At the close of this sunbaked, arduous, and prolonged venture across the sands stood a gigantic red colosseum. Sprawling out of the sand that supported it, the whole structure mimicked a natural rock formation. Its symmetry alone betrayed its design; a quick scan across the horizon would seem to reveal a slightly mountainous terrain and hide the freestanding edifice of this massive theater. Natural or crafted, the building kept in line with all other aspects of Geonosian culture that Litt had come to assume: It was an ugly thing, and it was certain to be a loud, ugly thing once it was closer. Upon arriving, however, the stone stood still and silent. The bugs took Litt to one of the entrances on the side of the building and led him through it, into a dark passageway that would certainly have rattled had the colosseum been occupied. They made their way down the corridor and descended into the planet, which became increasingly darker with distance from the outside, around a few turns and bends, and onward for about five minutes. Neither party stumbled in the complete absence of light; instead the entourage –bugs and man alike— continued down the hall as though torches lit it entirely. Eventually they came to a stop amid a series of holding cells. One of the guards worked a keypad on the wall and opened a cell door while another coerced Litt inside. The cell door descended and closed, leaving only its tiny window near its bottom to allow the passage of sound. Through it, Litt could hear the garbled speak of the natives as they lingered outside the cell door. He was now separated from the three of them; he noticed no cameras in the cell, and there was no way for the bugs to read his facial cues through the solid cell door. His head jolted slightly to the left, a motion nearly unnoticeable and almost mechanical, and immediately the Geonosian tongue came across his ears as simple, understandable basic. “I’m telling you, I don’t like this one. The fleshling didn’t sweat a drop as we crossed the sands.” “You? Worried by a fleshling? Who knows how long he’s been in our desert. He probably didn’t have the water in him to sweat.” “Alright… Explain, then, how he didn’t fall over or falter once coming down the tunnel? All the other humans do, but this one seemed to see in the dark!” “You superstitious fool… He’s just a fleshling! If you think he’s more than that, you’re crazy.” “Did you see how many of us he killed out there? It’s like he had the aim of…” A loud and pertinent smack interrupted the speaker as another bug struck him across the face with his hand. “He will die at the hand of the Wrath, just like all the other trespassing aliens. Now, if you two are so concerned, stay down here and make sure he doesn’t ‘magic’ his way out of this cell. Got it?” No response followed, but only one pair of feet trod back up the passageway from which they had come. After the footsteps faded off, one of the Geonosians spoke once more. “You’re not worried, are you?” “Hush, he could be listening.” “He didn’t understand us before when the team was shouting at him; I doubt he learned our tongue since then.” “True. I don’t have to worry, though. I’m not the one who has to face the Wrath in the morning.” “…What if this one is stronger?” “Than the Wrath? This one only killed half a patrol. You remember what the Wrath did to… to…” “Yes, I remember.” An uneasy pause hung in the air a few moments as neither guard spoke for a time. “This one will fall, like all the other Fleshlings.” I’m sure that he will… It’s just, something is different about this one.” “Go ahead and rest, brother. I’ll take first watch.” The two fell silent after that. Litt rested his back to the rear wall and reflected on what he had heard. There were many questions pressing at the forefront of his mind –mainly of avenues for escape— but one curiosity ate at him more than most. He had nearly written it off as a translation error, but he wondered what exactly they referred to as “The Wrath”. In the short research he had conducted before coming to this world, he had never heard of such a thing. He knew that this xenophobic species enjoyed dispatching their undesirables in a manner of entertaining showmanship, but their methods normally involved beasts and brutal, deathly tortures. Yet the guards hinted at a similarity between he and this Wrath, and they assumed him to be just a man. The quandary weighed on his mind, and, finding his helmet stifling and his location solitary, reached to remove the leatharis helmet that he wore around his head. Unbuttoning the straps that kept it in place (and the sand of the desert out, for that matter) and separating it into two halves, Litt pulled the facial portion forward and allowed the rear portion to hang free to the side. Lowering it to the ground, he tilted his head back up to reveal a cybernetic right eye cavity, one that was centered around a dim blue ocular implant. Metallic componentry otherwise sat in symmetry upon his face, with oval nodes seated on his forehead and what appeared to be jaw reinforcements reaching backward from the center of his cheeks. Visible, pitted scars rose up the right side of his face, and his right ear appeared to be a different color and texture from his left, but the difference was hardly noticeable. Short, black hair and a downward-reaching mustache gave him a handsome visage, while his organic, brown left eye stood out just a tad from his moderately tan skin. He let his head fall back against the red stone wall behind him. “I’ve gotten out of worse” he said to himself. It was shaping up to be a long night. All he could hope for was that his tomorrow was not short as well.