A Cold Reception
It had been over an hour now since the crash and the Resolve was not in a good way. Nothing remained of her engine ports and whilst the hyper drive and main power generators were still largely intact the feeds to the engines had been ripped open. Fuel and other dangerous substances had leaked out from this mess of oozing pipes and though the torrents had now been brought under control there was a very large and very toxic pond steaming away towards the rear of the ship.
Much of the craft’s nose had also been torn away, leaving little house sized remenants of ship scatted along the huge trench in the earth that the Resolve had created during her landing. Other holes, from the battle and the colossal explosion, pocked the upper surface of the vessel and in some cases small sections had been entirely blown away. Other portions of her had been dented and crushed and the entire vessel was covered in burn marks.
Even worse was the underside of the ship, well to describe it as having any underside was perhaps being a little generous. Almost all of her ventral armour had been stripped away and huge swathes of the Resolve's lower most deck were gone, ground away by the force of the impact and the slide across the frozen tundra that made up the majority of the planet of Melvor.
Inside the ship things were barely contained chaos. Several vital repair crew and technicians had been lost when the prow of the ship was torn away. Others had been injured by being tossed around inside the ship when they hit the surface of the planet. This meant that an understrength repair team were desperately trying to keep the ship in order. A ship which had far more faults of a far more radical nature than any repair team could ever have been expected to deal with. There was no way that this ship was ever going to be truly restored. For the moment they were just trying to stop various toxic substances leaking out or preventing the reactor from slowly overloading. Right now anyone who could walk and hold a spanner was being drafted in as emergency repair crew.
That was anyone who could walk, hold a spanner and did not have medical training. Anyone who had so much as taken the most primitive of first aid courses was currently in and around the medical wards. The wounded and dying could no longer be housed in the sick bay and were being laid out in the already cramped corridors and placed in the mess hall. The medical supplies on board were not enough to deal with injury on this scale and power had failed to a lot of medical equipment. To make matters worse the doctors had to assume they would be stuck on this wretched planet for some time and were therefore trying to ration medical supplies, expending them only when strictly necessary.
This resulted in emergency surgery being conducted without proper anaesthetic, or in many cases without anaesthetic at all, and sometimes with improper tools. People were being strapped to tables to stop their violent writhing and desperate attempts to escape the surgeon's knife. Some were lucky enough to be put under, but most just had to do with screaming.
To make matters still worse the temperature outside was approximately minus thirty degrees Celsius and the great many holes torn in the ship allowed a lot of this cold just to pour in. The wind would occasionally gust down the corridors of the ship, wailing like a ghost and making lose debris rattle. Scuttling down the freezing passages and stealing all warmth from any person who happened to cross their path. But at least things could not get any worse. Right?
In the medical bay proper Talon walked in. The cold was getting to him, he was shivering and breathing great clouds of steam. He felt chilled to the bone and his naval officer's uniform was not providing proper insulation. His hands were covered in grease and his face was dirty from crawling around engine maintenance shafts as he assisted with repairs. He had been summoned here by the chief medical officer, who coupled with the chief engineer was managing the disaster. Talon had no clue as to why he had been summoned, he just knew his presence was immediately required.
"Mr Rake." Came a familiar voice from somewhere in the chaos of the medical bay. "Over here young Mr Rake. By the broken droid." Following the sound of the voice Talon located his Commander. Aeron was in a bad way, a very bad way. They had managed to stop the bleeding, more or less but Talon wished they had not, it just made his wounds all the more obvious. A piece of shrapnel had clearly hit the man in the head. He had a colossal and deep cut running diagonally across his face. The man's right eye was clearly badly damaged, perhaps beyond repair and the lower half of his nose had ripped away, presenting an ominous and gory display. His jaw also seemed badly damaged and was being held together by some form of primitive metal cage. The Commander's left shoulder had also been pulped resulting in what was left of the man's left arm hanging from him by strained sinew alone, the bone crushed beyond all use.
The Commander's voice was very weak but even now it was calm and controlled. "Mr Rake. The Lieutenant Commander is dead and soon I will be of no use. I may even join him. I am field promoting you Lieutenant Commander. Central command will have to confirm it later but we need someone to be in charge. There are older men than you here, who were next in line for promotion but this is a dire hour. We need an officer to meet it….." The Commander seemed about to expand on why he had picked Talon but a sudden wave of pain racked him and the Commander hissed in anguish before calming down. He seemed almost embarrassed by his discomfort, as if to show pain here somehow lessened him.
Cutting his story short he said in muted, subdued and yet
still commanding tone.
"Don't let me down Talon. Don't let the crew down." Even now the Commander’s first thought was for his ship and the men who served under him.
"I will not sir. I will carry out my newly assigned duties to the standard you and the Empire expect." Replied Talon in the formal tones he always used around superiors, his voice far stronger and somehow still less weighty than the Commander’s. The Commander however, seemed to simply smile at Talon’s words and give a little laugh, or it could have been a cough from the blood in his lungs.
"The naval officers will follow you but you…you need. You need Jan on your side." Talon was going to ask more questions of his mentor and his commanding officer but at that moment the surgeons came.
"I am sorry sir." Said one of the surgeons in a worryingly casual and matter of fact tone. The man how performed dozens of operations in the past few hours and it would appear this had caused his bedside manner had been one of the casualties. "We must operate at once, the Commander will not be fit to receive visitors for some time." Without waiting they started to wheel the man away to who knows what fate. Talon did not care to contemplate it. The sight of the broken and incomplete bodies around did more than enough to fuel his imagination. The newly appointed Lieutenant Commander instead quickly made his way to what was left of the bridge, hoping to get a better idea of the situation as he puzzled over just what to do next and who this Jan person was.
Talon was still no closer to working out the identity of this mysterious figure when he eventually arrived on the bridge, thank the stars the turbo lifts still worked. Making his way to one of the few working computers, down in a now abandoned crew pit, he started to flick through the crew manifests, browsing by rank. It was a while until he found the name Jan and it was not where he thought it would be. Talon was expecting the man perhaps to be an engineer of sorts, or perhaps related to a powerful or influential family in the Empire. Talon would have been more at home if the man's record presented the tell tail signs of an undercover Imperial Intelligence officer.
But no, Jan was instead a ranking officer. Equivalent to a lieutenant he would have, until recently, had technical superiority over Talon. This man was in charge of the small cadre of storm troopers aboard this vessel. Storm troopers were something of a mystery to Talon, he never quite connected with them. He had no idea what they did to enemy moral but the scared the life out of him. Hoping he was wrong Talon kept on searching but this Jan Frieda was the only Jan on the list, aside from a low level cook and it could not have possibly been him.
So with a sigh of resignation and mild worry Talon set about getting the ship in order. He was about to descend the turbo lifts again when something made him stop and turn around. Staring down towards the main view window he looked at the battered corpse of his predecessor, the old Lieutenant Commander. He had been a stoic man and a tad distant from the men but he had discharged his duties well. Gently pacing over to the corpse Talon rolled it on its back and reached down, his hand hesitated for a moment before he gently prized away the man's rank badge. It was five blue rectangles and one red rectangle in a single line, Talon removed his own ensignia and put this one in its place before taking the two code cylinders off of the corpse and tucking them into his breast pocket so one was at each end of the badge.
This might have seemed a little macabre, even disrespectful but in Talon's mind it was necessary. He had been taught to obey the rank, not the man. In theory every man on this ship was supposed to do the same, so he needed the rank badges to exercise his new authority and get the obedience he would doubtless require.
Now, with everything he needed, Talon made his way back to the turbo lifts and went down back into the bowls of the ship. He was prioritising the needs of the crew and the Resolve itself in his mind as he descended. Firstly, most of the engineering teams needed to keep repairing and stabilising key ship systems. Secondly they needed to procure either more suitable clothing or to plug the various holes in an area of the ship large enough to house everyone warmly, in these conditions hypothermia was a very real risk and whilst it was warmer in here than it was out there it was still far too cold for comfort or health. Thirdly, they needed more medical supplies so they could stop rationing what little they had. Fourthly they needed to prepare for an attack. It would be a while, but the New Republic would come for them. The small frigates and patrol ships would descend on this world and though they lacked the firepower to bombard the site they would have fighters to strafe them and troops to land and launch a ground assault. And of course linked to all of this was the need to get a distress signal back to the Empire and be rescued from this death trap of a world. All in all, quite the to do list.
Now back in the cramped and twisting innards of the ship
Talon made his way to the nearest available, empty room. It had been an
officers quarters, who knew if the officer was alive or dead? Personal
possessions, family pictures and other knick knacks had been strew left and
right across the place from the impact. The bed had been torn from its mounting
in the wall and had smashed in to the other wall at the back of the room,
creating a worrying dent. Reaching for his internal communicator Talon
"The chief engineer, the chief medical officer, the chief gunnery officer, the communications officer and the commander of the storm troopers are to report immediately to officers' quarters 17 C. That is all."
It would be a few minutes until they all arrived and Talon spent the time trying to clear away some of the mess so as that they could all fit in the tiny cabin. The gunnery and communications officers were the first to arrive. Both were lieutenants and both wore the same olive grey uniform to Talon, although the communications officer had lost his hat in the commotion. Next came the chief engineer, named Horton, who had removed his tunic and hat all together, displaying a grey shirt underneath. He was covered in grime, oil and other gunk inevitable in the repair process. He even had a few cuts and scrapes, either from the landing or from injuring himself as he crawled around the jagged and broken belly of the ship. Next to arrive was the chief medic, who wore a white apron over his clothes and looked more like a butcher than a doctor. He was covered in a worrying amount of blood and other fluids and he had rolled his sleeves up to reveal equally gore soaked and also very hairy forearms.
Last to arrive was Jan, or at least Talon guessed it was Jan. The all encasing white armour made it hard to tell but why else would a storm trooper just wander in? Besides, the orange shoulder pauldron was a clue to his senior rank within the corps. Jan was a big man and his stature would have been imposing even outside the armour. He held himself in a confident manner but not with the ridged uniformity Talon displayed. Rather he stood in a more casual fashion, but not a sloppy way, rather he just oozed natural confidence and control.
"Very good gentlemen." Talon began. "Now that you are all here we can begin. I will start with you." He gestured to the crimson stained medical officer, who seemed to be gently dripping a viscous, dark ichor on the floor. "So as that you can return to your urgent work." Passing the medical officer a data pad which had been lying on the ground and had previously been used as a diary by the officer who lived here Talon ordered. "Please make a note of all the medical supplies and equipment you need, in order of priority. You may then return to your work." The medical officer shot Talon an odd look, this exercise seemed pointless to the man and he might have argued but that would just have taken more time, time the man could be spending in surgery so he just set about making notes as hastily as he could.
Turning to the engineer Talon was about to press on when he
was suddenly interrupted by Jan.
"Why are you giving us these orders lieutenant? The chief engineer has held his commission for longest, he has superiority." The question hung in the air like a bomb. It was rare for any Imperial officer to have to suffer such a direct challenge to his authority in public. But Jan thought he could get away with it, after all Jan had also held his rank for longer than Talon held his old one so until mere minutes ago even Jan could have ordered Talon around in a crisis.
Talon’s response was short and to the point, in what he
hoped would be a decisive end to the conversation.
"I am your Lieutenant Commander. I hold superiority here…" Once again Talon seemed about to press on when Jan cut him off once more.
"Oh really? No disrespect but as I recall the Lieutenant Commander is dead." The situation was edging towards dangerous now. Some Imperial commanders would have had Jan shot for that but Talon was not that sort of a leader. Besides he was mindful of Aeron's advice to get Jan on his side. But it was proving more difficult that Talon had hoped.
Exercising restraint Talon explained
"The old Lieutenant Commander is certainly dead. I have been made up to Lieutenant Commander in order to replace him and serve the interests of the crew."
"The interests of the crew?" Jan replied, obviously both doubtful of the truth of Talon’s words and dismissive of the man himself. "The Commander is a sensible man, he would not have made up a man as inexperienced as you in this crisis. Certainly not if he was of sound mind." Jan was starting to get to Talon, you could see it in the sudden ferocious stillness of Talon's expression. Talon could not afford to lose this encounter and forsake any respect, authority or command his new rank gave him. Everyone knew promotions made by people not of sound mind were invalid, Jan's accusation was a serious one and precedent showed that people on the brink of death often acted irrationally and could not be said to be of sound mind.
Talon was forced to shift his ground, and go on the
"You would think the Commander's judgement so easily clouded?" Retorted Talon, everyone on the ship respected the Commander, he was a good leader with long experience, sound judgement and remarkable resolve. Anyone who had the approval of the Commander instantly got a good deal of respect from the crew. And those who questioned him instantly lost respect. "Very well." Continued Talon. "The chief medical officer is in a position to assess the Commander's state of mind. How was he before his surgery?" Asked Talon, posing the question to the blood soaked man beside him.
The good Doctor paused before answering, why was anybody's
guess but Talon thought the man was making up his mind as to whether Talon
should or should not be in charge. After all the entire issue now rested on
this man's word. After some consideration the mildly irritated surgeon came out
"Whilst the Commander was certainly in pain he was coping with it remarkably well. Nor had we given him any drugs which would affect his ability to reason. Also his general behaviour reflected someone of sound mind. I see no reason why the promotion should be invalid on medical grounds."
Silence reigned once more but as far as Talon was concerned it was a triumphant one as he allowed his victory to settle in. Everyone else was waiting to see how Jan would react, they knew him better, they knew he was not a man you wanted as an enemy. Jan had the capacity to break a commanding officer. He would not attack them, shoot them in the back or brazenly disobey an order. Nor would he take a dislike to an officer on the grounds of personality or any other petty reason.
No he only opposed commanders who he thought would get his men needlessly killed. He would break them through disrespect. Jan commanded the absolute loyalty of the storm troopers, scout troopers and similar personnel on board. He also commanded the respect and loyalty of most of the junior crew, people who would never interact with the most senior officers but who dealt with Jan quite often. Jan even went to great lengths to eat with the junior crew, socialise with them and work with them. He was to the lower ranks what the Commander was to the officers. So if you did not have Jan on your side it was bad news.
Keen to get away the medical officer finished writing down
the list, passed it to Talon and silently left to get back to his busy work.
Shortly afterwards Talon meanwhile pressed on with the business of the meeting.
"Chief engineer Horton. You, unfortunately have a lot of work to do. Once the vessel is no longer at risk of detonating, collapsing in on itself or suffering some other catastrophe you are to cannibalise parts of the ship which have fallen off or are of no use and patch as many of the holes in the hull as you can. No need to make the Resolve space worthy, just try to keep out the cold. However, I also need you to give over one or two crew men to the communications officer here." He said, gesturing at the man. "He will direct your crewmen in the creating of some form of distress beacon or better yet re-establishing full communications. Do you understand?"
He looked at both of the men and both of them nodded. Talon then turned to the gunnery officer and continued in a matter of fact but still friendly way. "Unfortunately we can expect the New Republic forces to reach us before an Imperial rescue team. I doubt they have cruisers in the area so we will not need to worry about orbital bombardment. However, we will likely have to face attacks from star fighters and ground assaults, possibly supported by light armour. I want you to assess what guns we can bring back online and what we will need to do it." Then, passing the man the data pad Talon added. "Write down the needed materials here." Then glancing back at the communications officer and the chief engineer, Talon added. "You two gentlemen, also write down in the pad what materials you will need. Oh, and if possible try and bring the shields back online, at least partially. I know it is awful lot to ask chief engineer Horton, so put it at the bottom of the priorities I just gave you."
Finally Talon turned to Jan, momentarily unnerved by that
intimidating white helmet, but he did his best not to let it show. Taking a
step towards the storm trooper he gently prodded him in his chest piece and added
in a slightly lower tone.
"You…..can just wait."
"Yes sir." Came Jan's reply, dripping in poorly concealed hostility and disrespect with a healthy dollop of contempt. The various other officers in the room kept on chatting for a while, passing the data pad between them and making various entries. When they were done they handed the pad back to Talon with a few nods of silent confirmation.
"Thank you very much gentlemen, you may return to your duties." With that said they all sidled out, all too eager to get away from the dangerous mix of Talon and Jan. With them gone Talon waited for a moment or two. He was considering giving the storm trooper a very serious dressing down but he could not bring himself to yell at that helmet, it was too unsettling, too intimidating. Plus he was still aware of the Commander's advice, to get this man onside.
So instead Talon took in a little sigh, tossed the data pad
in the air and deftly caught it between two fingers before proffering it to Jan
in one smooth movement.
"We know that this planet is not uninhabited. Supply ships come in every now and again, there may not be many settlements but there will be some. Unfortunately we are not in possession of any up to date maps. I need you and your troopers to go out there, find a settlement and get me my supplies. I know you don't have all the gear for this weather but you must do what you can. You and you teams can take any spare equipment, clothing and so on you see fit. Just get the supplies."
There was another moment of deadly silence in the air before
Jan slowly reached out and took the pad.
"Yes sir." Was his only reply.