Supply and Demand
Cold, so cold, so very cold. At least this was the single, penetrating thought going through most of the storm trooper's heads. There was no appropriate snow trooper gear in the wrecked remains of the Resolve. As a result the men were cold, very cold. Their normal suits could do something but only so much, so in order to try and compensate the troopers had improvised as best they could. Sheet after sheet of grey, standard issue, Imperial bedding had been ripped away by the storm troopers and wrapped around them like a child's blanket. They had even wrapped it around their heads like a Tusken Raider may in the desert. Several troopers had even taken jackets and trousers from dead crewmen and tried to wear it over their armour, with limited success. The armour, of course, made them much more bulky and so the clothes were too small or even ripping in some places. But every layer was a precious one. They presented a ramshackle, even humorous, sight. But anyone exposed to the icy embrace of this world would not laugh.
They may have looked a shambles but you could still tell they were storm troopers, some of the Empires finest and accompanying them were a small number of scout troopers, devoid of speeder bikes, who were similarly wrapped up against the cold. It had been a while since the briefing with Talon and the now half frozen Jan had taken an even greater dislike to his new Lieutenant Commander. Talon had been in charge less than a day and already he was sending people to their almost certain deaths, or so Jan thought.
Jan would survive of course, he always did. You did not get to live this long in the storm troopers without being as hard as nails and having the luck of the devil. Jan doubted Talon could last a day as a trooper. His anger at his new commanding officer helped to keep him warm. But the majority of Jan's mind was taken up with concern for his men. As tough as they were he doubted that they could hold up in these conditions for long and they had already been out here for a very long time. Jan was thoroughly impressed with his scout troopers, often derided as wannabe troopers, they had been out here for even longer, had moved faster and lain eyes on a small town, to which the group was now heading in force.
"How much further is it Lani?" Asked Jan to the
scout trooper next to him. Lani was a short soldier, though not comically so,
and walked with an almost cat like softness. The trooper looked as though they
should have be stalking animals in a wood rather than trudging through frozen
tundra with high wind chill.
"Not far sir, just over this hill sir." Replied the young soldier in chipper tones, seemingly unaffected by the cold or possibly even enlivened by it. Some people were strange like that.
"Good." Replied Jan, in gruff and grumbling voice that was less than enthusiastic. He was still bitter about the mission. But more pressingly he was concerned about the town. This was Rebellion territory, Jan refused to lend the New Republic any credibility by calling it anything other than the Rebellion, how welcoming would the locals be? Worse still would they be capable of defending themselves. If so they would be crossing a wide expanse of open ground against what might be a prepared position. This was of course, not good.
When they eventually reached the top of the next, shallow hill Jan raised a hand to stop his men whilst he took a long look at the town. He was trying to take it all in when another scout trooper popped up from the frozen earth less than ten meters away. The man had been lying in a little dip in the ground and had spread his sheets over him to conceal his body. This combined with the small amount of snow which had settled on him and general dirt and grit from rolling around on the tundra had made him look like a part of the earth.
Jan was almost surprised at this but he had seen scout
troopers hide before, they were good at it, the sneaky devils. This second
scout walked up and gave a little nod to Lani before addressing Jan directly,
mustering a quivering salute as he did so.
"Sir I….." The scout gave a little stutter and shiver, he had been laying in these deathly temperatures for quite some time and he felt like an ice cube, he was likely going to need medical attention. But, regaining his composure he continued. "I have been watching the town and they do not seem aware of our presence. News of the crash will have spread but no one will be expecting survivors. They seem to have no form of meaningful defence."
Jan nodded and patted the scout on the arm saying
"Fall in." Before turning to Lani and adding. "Civilian target. Unprepared. Unaware. Armed men likely restricted to law enforcement and game hunters. They should offer no resistance. Still….there may be radical Rebel zealots present. Lani, take you scouts and move across the field to screen our advance. Stop just short of the town. My troopers and I will follow and take control of the town itself." You could tell from his orders and manner that he had done this before.
Lani nodded and began waving the troops forward, spread wide across the field and moving cautiously, checking for traps as they went. The town itself was very small. It seemed to be made primarily of isolated, very low buildings but this was not surprising. To aid insulation settlements in these conditions were constructed almost wholly underground. All they could see of the town was the top most stories of the buildings. Even these were partially covered by a small sprinkling of snow and were painted a dull grey, blending in with the equally dull and equally featureless surroundings almost perfectly.
Jan sat down on the cold hard ground and watched, trying to ignore the gently creeping loss of sensation spreading out from his buttocks after they hit the ice and grit. Lani was taking plenty of time to go forward but things like this could not be rushed. Jan's men were also taking the opportunity to rest, sitting down and curling into balls, knees tucked up against their chest, in an attempt to keep warm. Several were rocking back and forth whilst one or two were jumping up and down on the spot or preforming jumping jacks. Anything to fight off the chill which felt as though it were crystallising their skin.
Eventually a hand signal from Lani prompted Jan to spring up
"All right boys. Up. Up! Get across that field, move quickly and do not bunch up! Move!" The storm troopers entered a flurry of well-practiced activity. They moved across the open expanse just like they moved across the training ground. With people stopping and giving cover whilst other troopers advanced beyond them and then repeating the process over and over again. Eventually they passed Lani and the scouts and got to one of the building entrances. As you would expect the door was thoroughly sealed but that was little obstacle to storm troopers.
Without so much as an order one of the men moved forward, placed a charge on the door and retreated a safe distance. There was a pause for a few loaded moments before the small blast blew the door clean off of its bolts and sent it hurtling inside. Following it came the troopers, only a few at first with their blasters set to kill just in case. This was all done smoothly and swiftly, a well-oiled machine at work. They found themselves advancing down a narrow flight of stairs, descending into the planet. At the bottom of these stairs was a single man behind a desk who suddenly panicked and reached under the table.
Assuming he was going for a gun the lead storm trooper ran, hell for leather, towards the man. Wanting to avoid the noise of gun shots this threat was going to be dealt with hand to hand. The trooper got their just as the man began to straighten up. Not waiting to see what was clutched in the guard’s palm the trooper threw a punch across the desk which connected with his opponents jaw, staggering the foe. Still the trooper attacked, grabbing his dazed opponent's head and slamming it down into the desk before yanking the head back up again and punching him between the eyes three times. Again this was done smoothly, and without hesitation, suggesting that not only had the trooper been taught to act like this but that he had done it several times before. Jan's men were experienced at it was starting to show.
The man went limp and fell back with a gentle groan. The man was not dead but had lost consciousness. His nose was crushed and broken, oozing blood and judging by the little trail of red coming from his mouth he had lost a tooth as well, perhaps even suffered from a broken jaw. But hey, it could have been a lot worse for the man. Especially since it was now clear that he had not been going for a gun, but rather a short range communicator, doubtless trying to alert the rest of the town.
A few other troopers went by before Jan walked up calmly,
holding his E 11 blaster casually at his side.
"Bind his wrists and bring him with us, we may need him." Ordered Jan before he walked on, his tone devoid of all sympathy for the prisoner, clearly concerned only with the business of the day. It was quickly becoming apparent that the various buildings here were linked primarily via underground tunnels and the few buildings up top were the entrances and emergency exits to and from this tunnel system. The troopers spent some time wandering the corridors with no opposition but they also achieved nothing. What Jan needed was a map, thankfully after some time running aimlessly around they found a map painted onto the wall with a helpful key and a convenient "you are here" arrow to boot. It was a like a map you would find in a shopping mega complex, but it would do.
Looking over it for a few moments Jan jabbed his finger
against the wall declaring.
"Here. Medical. Trooper, lead the way." He gestured at a nearby faceless drone. Carrying out his orders the trooper started jogging down the corridor with the rest close behind. The storm troopers were not interested in holding this town, only getting their supplies and so they did not bother with the myriad of doors they passed on the way, which presumably led to private dwelling houses.
When the group eventually reached the small hospital in this back water settlement they passed through the main doors with no opposition. The team burst into a pleasant reception room which had been tastefully decorated with flowers, soothing pictures and pleasant, mellow lighting. A pair of women, doubtless receptionists, were behind the front desk and were understandably alarmed at the storm troopers tearing in. One just started screaming and screaming and screaming. The other, with a little more spunk to her, reached for the nearest heavy thing she could find, a potted plant, and hurled it over arm at a storm trooper.
The pot smashed against the storm troopers helmet, but a mere potted plant was not going to do much against a plastoid composite helmet. Many men, even some imperial storm troopers, would have shot the woman for that but these troopers stayed calm.
"Get on the ground!" Order Jan loudly, bellowing with a combination of rage and authority, but neither of the women obeyed. One just kept screaming whilst the other was running to another nearby heavy object. "Get on the ground!" He demanded again but still he was ignored. The room was crawling with storm troopers by now, weapons raised and ready to fire. Jan gestured at the fiercer willed woman prompting a storm trooper to holster his weapon and calmly advance on her as she threw another projectile, this time a small chair, which thankfully missed the man.
The trooper got to the woman and delivered a single strong
punch to her head, sending the receptionist sprawling onto the ground where
upon the trooper instantly knelt on her back and stated to restrain the woman.
The other woman was still screaming prompting Jan to say in a tired but also
annoyed tone of voice.
"Someone please shut the woman up!" Another faceless trooper happily obliged and walked up to the shrieking receptionist before smacking the butt of his blaster rifle straight into her forehead with great force, knocking the woman out cold and making her fall like a rag doll, bouncing off of the desk as she colapsed. "Thank you." Was Jan's only reply, a hint of frustrated relief in his tone.
They were about to press deeper into the tiny hospital when
a man ran around the corner holding a first aid kit, clearly having thought
that the screaming indicated some form of accident. But upon seeing the
troopers a worried look set upon his face and this latest arrival instantly
turned around and ran back in the direction he had come from.
"Catch him!" Order Jan and a pair of troopers gave chase.
The man was tearing deeper into the tiny hospital when he eventually arrived at a desk, leaning over it he opened a draw, drew out a blaster and turned to fire on the troopers. Unfortunately for him the troopers were faster on the trigger and proceeded to put three blaster bolts into him, throwing his body back across the desk where it then lay. Unfortunately it was now impossible for anyone in this tiny hospital to not know that they were under some form of attack.
"Round up and restrain the people!" Cried Jan. "Bring them here and seal the door! We can expect to be besieged by the local militia soon!" Rounding up the people took some time, several of them were hiding, one or two fools even tried to put up a fight but eventually they were all gathered in the reception area and on their knees. Some of them started to beg, others whimper, most waited for what seemed inevitable in dignified silence. Jan holstered his weapon and stood in front of the row of prisoners calmly saying. "Which of you is the chief medic?" Silence reigned, no one willing to speak up. "Who is the chief medic?" He asked again, in more urgent tones, ones slightly edged with threat.
After yet more silence one man eventually said.
"You killed him." His voice was filled with hate and loathing, it was more of an accusation than a factual statement. Judging by his clothing he was clearly a medical man himself.
"Ohh you make a very poor liar." Replied Jan with a smug, quiet and threatening tone. He turned and advanced on the medic menacingly. "That man was far too young. You though, you look about the right age. And you are very keen to protect these people, you are the chief."
"He was old enough to have a family." Replied the man with righteous venom in his voice, but also avoiding the issue.
"He was old enough to have a gun!" Came Jan's snappy and somewhat angry reply. "I do not have to justify the actions of my troopers. You just have to do what I say!"
"No." Stated the doctor in a very calm but very definite voice.
This answer was surprising to Jan, not that it stopped him
"No?" Questioned Jan. "You little…" Reaching for the Doctor Jan pulled him up by his arms, crumpling up his sleeves as he did so and revealing a little tattoo. This caused Jan to give a little snort and toss the man back on the ground with a little bit more force than was nessecary. The tattoo was a little series of numbers, an imperial prisoner code. This man was an ex-convict and more to the point, the last number in that code showed he was a rebel or at least a rebel sympathiser. Jan had not been anticipating a welcoming population but for the lead doctor to be a rebel, that threw a spanner in the works.
Jan had to take a moment or two to think of a solution,
during which time the doctor piped up with.
"Why can't you accept that you are beaten? Your…." The doctor was clearly about to press on when Jan delivered a sharp boot to his face, sending the doctor sprawling to the floor with a ringing in his ears.
"We are not beaten!” Declared Jan, almost bellowing the words. “Worlds may have been lost, casualties may have been sustained and our original leaders may have been killed. But the Empire is greater than any of that. We may have retreated but soon we shall reclaim the galaxy. A galaxy which is only safe, prosperous and peaceful under Imperial rule. Whilst self-important, self-entitled parasites such as you jealously and greedily tear at all which is great!" Jan's words had a sense of hate to them that was palpable and though it was impossible to see under that helmet it sounded like he was frothing under there.
"You…" Again the doctor was going to make a point
and again he received a boot to the face.
"Shut up! You will get me the medical supplies on this list. You can do it faster than my men, but do not think you are in expendable, we could do it ourselves eventually. My men will check the supplies as you deliver them. For everything which has been tampered with and for every minute you take over fifteen I start taking bits off of these people. Your bleeding rebel heart cannot withstand that." Handing the list over Jan also gestured for the doctor to be cut loose so he could get on with his work.
The man just stood up with hate in his eyes.
"You bastard!" The doctor spat. "You utter…" But Jan cut him off.
"Get to work traitor! You three troopers, escort him." He passed a copy of the list to the doctor and watched the man being ushered off. Jan was not a man devoid of mercy or common human decency. He took no pleasure in threatening the lives of hostages but he needed results quickly. Plus it seemed that this settlement was sympathetic to those that had torn down the Empire and in Jan's mind such people needed to be punished. As for actual Rebels, well. He would gladly put them all up against the wall. An execution was a kindness compared to what they deserved.
Moving behind the reception desk Jan flicked on a holographic communicator. It took some fiddling with the controls and the pre-sets but eventually Jan managed to contact someone else in the settlement. The flickering blue hologram of a man looked stunned to be confronted with a storm trooper and started shouting something at people who lay out of view. Jan however, wanted this man's undivided attention.
When Jan spoke he spoke in a way which may have seemed
respectful but which was so heavy with implied violence that the man on the
other end of the screen could not help but fall into attentive silence.
"Sir. I do not know who I am contacting but I have a message for you. I am a ranking imperial officer and I have prisoners. I will forward you a list of materials I require. Contact who you need to in the settlement, get the supplies loaded onto a shuttle craft with a crew ready to fly it. This must be done within fifteen minutes. Prepare to receive data." Jan fiddled with a copy of the list for a moment, editing out the medical supplies before transmitting the list to this hapless civilian. The man looked very confused for a while, unsure what to do in this situation but Jan did not give the man the opportunity to ask questions. "Message ends." He said, cutting the transmission off but keeping the device on so he could be contacted if the town wanted to negotiate.
Gesturing at one of his men Jan ordered.
"You, patch us into their security network. I want to see what they are doing. I would not be surprised if the dogs tried to arrange some sort of trap for us." But as things turned out, he had no need to worry. Some minutes later the communications flickered into life and a new man presented himself over the holographic communicator. By way of introduction he said.
"Imperial troops. This is Gregor Falltam. I represent this small community. Please, do not harm the medical staff and patients. We need them for this town to survive. We will do the best we can to get your supplies. If the Empire is coming back to this part of space we don't want trouble."
Jan could not tell by the man's voice if he was not bluffing
or laying a trap, he was however, genuinely scared and concerned. So be it, if
fear got Jan what he needed then fear is what he would use. He would rather
they acted out of duty to the Empire and respect for the troopers, but fear did
for now. Pacing over to the communicator Jan stated in a voice which was
declaring a matter of facr rather than laying out a negotiating position.
"I regret to inform you one of your own is already dead. He attempted to kill some of my men. We have several other prisoners some of which we will release on receiving the goods, some after they are inspected and the rest when we are aboard a shuttle loaded with the supplies which we are sure is fit to fly. We also need a reliable pilot to fly this vessel. Do you understand these conditions?" There was a brief pause before an uncertain voice replied.
"Yes we….we understand. Just don't hurt any more of them."
"Good." Said Jan before unceremoniously flicking off the communicator.
Turning to a nearby trooper he ordered.
"Signal Lani and the others, tell them to enter the settlement and oversee the assembly of the rest of our supplies." Whereupon a faceless trooper set about executing the orders. For Jan now there was not much more to do aside for waiting. So that is exactly what he did, wait, standing over the hostages like a great spectre of doom.
After some fifteen minutes the communications flickered back
into life and the town leader presented himself again. Walking over to the
holographic projector Jan stood in front of it and simply said.
"Yes?" Demanding an answer by his question.
"We have the supplies you asked for. We have assembled them in the shuttle bay ready for you. Your scout troopers have been watching over us most thoroughly. There is no way we could have tampered with the goods." The man sounded even more frightened than ever, possibly because there were now loyal imperial troops with blasters standing around him. Jan had taken a disliking to this spineless man but the advantage of a spineless man was he did what he was told.
For now Jan needed to keep up his intimidating pressure on
this little weasel of a creature.
"I will decide whether the goods are of sufficient standard. You will withdraw any armed personnel you may have between here and the shuttle bay. We are on our way." Flicking off the communicator Jan started barking at the hostages. "Up! Up you dogs. You two, carry your unconscious friends." Jan pointed at two randomly selected members of the group who then silently picked up the still unconscious guard and the limp form of the formerly shrieking woman.
More or less at this moment the doctor also re-emerged with
a trolley loaded full of supplies, flanked by three troopers.
"Fall in with the others!" Ordered Jan before turning to one of his men and saying. "Get the door open." Low and behold a few moments later and the door slid noiselessly back. Not only that, but there was no opposition on the other side. Temporary barricades had been put up and other pieces of haphazard cover had been made from storage crates, house hold furniture and other bits and bobs but the men manning the barricade were long gone. It seemed that the town was cooperating but the troopers were unwilling to trust the town's people just yet.
The group advanced along the blank, tight corridors in a cautious fashion. Their guns were raised ready to fire and they were permanently checking all about them. The tension in the place was so thick you could cut it with a knife. Eventually though the team did make it to the hanger. There the rest of the supplies had been neatly stacked next to a large transport shuttle. Lani and the scout troopers were also standing around as well as the town leader himself and a small team of people who had clearly been finding and preparing the supplies.
True to his word Jan turned to his troopers and ordered.
"Cut a third of them loose." And promptly the order was obeyed. Desperate hostages, now freed, ran over towards their friends, a combination of fear and relief over whelming them. But things were not over. Waving a few troopers forward his men started to inspect the boxes of supplies, making sure things had not been tampered with and were of an acceptable standard. Walking up to Lani, Jan asked in hushed tones.
"Have you had an opportunity to look over the ship?"
"Yes sir." Was Lani's smart reply.
"Good, is it of a propper standard and do you suspect any foul play?"
"No sir, everything seems to be fine. Even the pilot seems square, if a little nervous."
Jan gave an approving little grunt and a gentle nod of his head before. They might just all get out of this one alive.
Turning now and
sauntering up to the town leader Jan declared.
"You seem to be keeping your end of the bargain, have no fear I shall keep mine." Jan gave a little chuckle and patted the cowering leader on the shoulder with such force it made the little man's knees bend. "We are not monsters. We just know what needs to be done for the good of the galaxy. I hope you will remember this." The stick had worked thus far, now he needed to use just a little bit of carrot.
At more or less this juncture several troopers, who had been
inspecting the supplies, gave thumbs up signals to show all was in order. When
the final sign of approval came in Jan turned behind him and further ordered.
"Cut the next third loose!" Then turning to the town leader he gave a smaal laugh that was both reassuring and mocking. "See, you are doing well. No need to be so scared. However, I will have to ask you and all your friends to leave. Don't worry, I will not fly away with the hostages." The little man nodded hesitantly but said in stuttering tones.
"Yes, yes, all right. We will leave. Just please….." But Jan cut him off.
"I know, I know. I would do the Empire no favours by damaging her reputation and breaking my word and I am sworn to act in the Empire's best interests. Your men are safe. Now off with you." He gave the man a gentle little shove away. The poor devil was scared enough and the fear of losing men was more than adequate to get him to comply. There was no need to terrify him anymore, even if Jan disliked him, it may sow the seeds of hate in his heart.
As ordered the civilians filled out, leaving only the
troopers and the final batch of hostages behind. The troopers began to ferry
the supplies on to the ship whilst Jan looked on. The doctor was still being
held as a prisoner and Jan wanted to kill that man. He wanted to kill that man
so desperately it hurt. He had been a rebel, or so Jan believed, and all rebels
deserved to die in his mind. But Jan had given his word, his word as a soldier
and an officer. He was torn between his desire for justice and retribution and his
honour as a soldier. He was still thinking all of this over when Lani
gracefully slid up behind him and said.
"Umm sir…we are ready to go sir." As if trying to gently wake a man from a day dream.
Jan gave a little shake of his head to jolt him out of his
ever darkening thoughts and return his concentration before saying.
"Good, good. Get the last of the men in the ship. I will join you shortly." Lani nodded and gave a sharp click of the heels before dashing off to the ship. Jan meanwhile saw to rest of the hostages and gathered them a safe distance away from the shuttle. When he eventually got to the doctor Jan drew his E 11 and placed it against the man's head. "As for you, you low down piece of filth." There was then a long paused before Jan drove his blaster harder against the man's skull. "You will survive today. Just so the world can know that we have honour. Whilst you worthless Rebels have only greed and envy."
He drew his blaster away but gave the doctor a sharp kick in the kidney for good measure before stalking off to the shuttle and clambering in. Inside it was packed, there was barely enough room for the supplies and men and almost no one was properly seated. Jan watched the doctor, with narrowed eyes underneath his helmet as the loading ramp closed. A few moments latter there was a sudden jolt as the engines fired and the ship blasted into the sky, ready to deliver the lifesaving supplies to the needy Resolve.