A Novice Negotiator
The battle may have been won, for now, but the crew of the Resolve were far from safe. Who knew how many New Republic troops still squatted over that ridge? More importantly there were still enemy ships in orbit and, after the latest display of defiance from the Remnant, more would doubtless be on their way. Should the enemy chose the Resolve could be blasted into atoms from orbit once a sufficiently large ship arrived. It was only due to the lack of such a craft that they had not done so before, or so Talon thought. It could have been the New Republic’s pride or perhaps a desire to capture classified data had played some role in stopping them. Now Talon had something more tangible to stop them, hostages. The new Lieutenant Commander found using prisoners of war as hostages distasteful, it was certainly against the old codes of military conduct. But here, in this frozen hell, with the enemy at his gates and rescue a distant prospect those old ethics were something he just couldn't afford.
Talon had struggled long and hard with the decision, if had been several hours since the Republic attack, almost a day. Though X wings patrolled the skies well above the reach of the Resolve's remaining guns, they had not made another move. It had taken all this time to for Talon to wrestle his conscious into line. But his first duty was to the Empire, the second his mission, his third to his crew and his fourth to the ship itself. The ship was lost and none of the other three would be well served by refusing to use the prisoners as the bargaining chips that they were. Now came another, even harder question. How in all of the Galaxy do you go about a hostage negotiation? He had received no training on this topic and what training there was in the Galaxy was usually aimed at improving the performance of the people who wanted to release the hostages rather than the people who already had them. So, he was going to have to improvise.
He had already dispatched Lani to salvage some communication equipment form the disabled Republic vehicle, and tasked one of his engineers with ensuring it was in working order and not any kind of threat to their own security systems. Now, he was staring at that very communication equipment which he had set up in what was now a blind corridor deep in the twisted and battered recesses of the once proud ship. He hated to admit it to himself, and he certainly wouldn't admit it to the rest of the ship. But he was more than a little nervous, even afraid about this. He was more comfortable in the blazing wreck as it tore towards the frozen planet. That he had been mentally prepared for since he first signed up for the academy and he had been drilled time and time again on crash procedures but this, this was well out of his comfort zone. He found himself having to mentally work himself up to the challenge just like the first time he had been ordered to fight a fellow cadet during his training. It was made all the worse for the fact that he knew both the reliable Lani and the ranking Republic officer were waiting for him in a tiny little side room that had once been a decent sized lounge area for some of the NCOs. Now a buckled wall and collapsed ceiling had left it just large enough for two or three men to stand up in. He had his little stage performance all lined up. Now all he had to do was pick up the communicator and try to sound a little convincing.
After a few more minutes of nervous hesitation Talon shot
his hand forward and snapped up the device, as if it were a scuttling spider
about to tear off into the shadows and hide. Putting the business end to his
ear Talon spoke in tones which were surprisingly calm and authoritative given
the nervous wreck he was on the inside.
"This is Lieutenant Commander Talon Rake, commanding officer aboard the Imperial vessel Resolve. I am calling for the Commander Aries of the New Republic vessel Swift." Talon had obtained both the name of the commanding officer and the name of the lead ship from talking to the most senior of his captives. Giving such information was little more than giving name rank and number but the Republic officer had revealed more than he ought. The captive had been labouring under the misapprehension that Talon didn't know the names and classes of the local New Republic ships but Talon knew them all too well. The Resolve had been hunting in this region of space for some time, and evading the local Republic presence all the while. During those weeks the Resolve had picked up quite a bit of information about their pursuers. Protocol stated that when several officers of the same rank had to establish a chain of command the officer with the highest stated authority was at the top of pile. Practically speaking this usually meant the officer with the highest class of vessel at his command. If the Swift was leading the Republic's efforts here then that meant the Swift was the most significant vessel in the skies above and she was only an aging EF76 Nebulon B frigate. Those things had put in good service but like the Resolve they were old and outdated, though not quite as decrepit as the Resolve. More importantly though she was only an escort frigate. Even an old Confederacy Cruiser could turn her into dust. So if an Imperial class star destroyer came to the aid of the Resolve, nothing in the sky above could stop it. But rescue was a distant prospect. For now Talon had to concentrate on just surviving
After a few moments, and hushed muttering a strangely normal
voice came back down the line.
"This is Commander Aries. We know you have hostages, how are they?" The voice didn't just seem normal but tired and perhaps a little fed up. Clearly Aries wasn't at his mental best. Truth be told the New Republic officer had been restless since the failed assault, it had been a shaming defeat for him and now he had to deal with a hostage crisis. It was only a combination of fear and caffa that kept Captain Aries on his feet, a situation not entirely dissimilar to Talon, though Talon did a better job of hiding it.
Talon’s reply was smart and to the point.
"You can speak with one of them yourself Commander." Then, calling out in a louder voice. "Bring in the prisoner." When Lieutenant Mantok, the most senior captive, was once again brought before Talon he seemed just as cowed as before, though now he was less afraid. Talon had been true to his word, the captives were hardly living in luxury but they were warm, safe, fed and those who needed it had received medical attention.
Passing over the communicator to the Republic officer Talon
just lent back on the upturned crate he was using as a chair, steepling his
fingers as he listened to the ensuing conversation.
"This is Lieutenant Mantok speaking."
"Mantok? It's Aries, how are you?" The Republic commander had lost all pretence at authority and impartiality, he was speaking like a concerned friend rather than a soldier. Talon couldn't blame the man. The young Imperial had friends on this ship to, friends whom he would genuinely be concerned about were they in Mantok's position. Talon just thought he would have done a better job at maintaining his calm and impartial aura. Then again, you never know until it happens to you.
The conversation continued.
"I'm fine sir, a little cut up but okay."
"Cut up? Have they..." Suddenly Aries was wide awake, his voice tinged with panic and rage. He had read a little too much into his junior's choice of wards. A mistake Mantok swiftly corrected.
"No no, their commander has acted like a gentlemen. We have been treated well." His words were as calming as they were quick, as if he were trying to settle a nervous man with a gun. Come to think of it that was almost exactly what he was doing. Aries took a long breath to still himself before asking in considerably more level tones.
"How many of you are there?"
"Thirty six men here sir. Six wounded. They have been treated and are as comfortable as can be expected".
There was a pause of contemplation before Aries seemed to
start suddenly and continue his questioning with concern still etching his
"What about the rest of the men?"
"Well I don't know how many we still have sheltered behind the ridge, but I imagine you know that. Aside from we thirty six though sir I don't think there are any survivors. The Imperial gunners were through." There was a few moments of heavy and sorrowful sadness. It was obvious Mantok was thinking on a lost comrade, perhaps picturing the torn and twisted bodies , something akin to that. It was written all over his face. Even the quiet from the communicator seemed loaded with the same emotion. But Aries regained control of the conversation and asked by way of distraction.
"But you are well?"
"Quite well." Again there was that long, dark silence.
But this time it was Talon who ended it as he leaned forward
and gently took the communicator back from Mantok. Glancing at Lani he said.
"Thank you soldier, you may return the prisoner to his men now." With that Lani gently guided Republic trooper out whilst Talon returned to business. "Now then. I've been fair and good. Let us talk officer to officer. Provide me and my men with adequate shuttles to leave the system and I guarantee very prisoner will be handed over to you without harm." It was too much to ask for but Talon didn't know how else to open.
Commander Aries however, knew how to respond.
"No." His reply was firm and definite. "You aren't leaving this system. You aren't even leaving this planet unless it is in our custody. If you hand over the hostages you will be treated well. I might even put in a few words to get you moved to the top of the prisoner transfer list if our two armies ever do a swap but that's it. Truth be told you will likely be spending the rest of your little war behind bars. If you resist you will be spending the war in a labour camp and if you so much as bruise one of my men..." the threat went unspoken but it was all the more potent for it. Talon had not been expecting this kind of confident opposition. After the emotional display of a mere seconds ago he was expecting grudging complicity. Instead he seemed only to have angered Aries.
But Talon was not about to back down either, surrender was
almost unthinkable to him, and he thought it unthinkable to his crew as well.
"You know full well I can't accept those terms. A true Imperial would sooner die than voluntarily submit to capture." This was supposed to be the beginning of some noble speech by Talon but Aries abruptly cut him off.
"True Imperial!" The man sounded offended by the very concept. "This ideal of Empire is a myth, there is no such thing and there are no true Imperials. Your Remnant cling on because they have nowhere else to go. Even in the high times your mob only fought for your own worth. Go on. Ask your crew. See if they would rather die for this corpse of an Empire you cling on to. Or maybe they would rather see their families once this little resistance of yours is finally stamped out! Maybe you dream of a time that never was but they will not follow you. Ask them!"
Some men may have been unsettled by the accusation, provoked into introspection. For Talon however, it only served to further convince him of how ignorant the enemy was, both of the truth and of his crew. He knew that even the storm troopers, for all they may resent him personally, would rather die by his side than hand themselves over to the enemy.
But Talon also knew that this talk was not going his way and
the longer he stayed on the line the worse it would get. Improvising
desperately the man sighed and said.
"I do not believe you are right. But what sort of officer would I be if I did not consult with my men? I agree to nothing but I will do as you ask. I will talk to them and weigh their opinions. But my crew is not insignificant and we are all very busy. It will take me at least a day to speak to them all." Talon was clawing for as much time as he could. He wasn't thinking beyond tomorrow any more, just getting to tomorrow was challenge enough.
The reply that came back was surprisingly accommodating.
"You have eighteen hours Lieutenant Commander. Your men may not thank you for leading them into this mess but they might thank you for getting them out alive. Eighteen hours. I'll need your decision by then."
Talon could have given him his decision now but instead he
said in a fake, small voice.
"Thank you, Rake out." Upon which Talon cut the communication and waited a few seconds to be entirely sure it was off. After which he leapt up, span around in a fury, and kicked the crate he had been sitting on so hard it smashed. It wasn't satisfying enough but Talon was out of things to obliterate. He was losing control of the situation and he did not like it. Thankfully he was alone, so there were no witnesses to the embarrassing display. The man bent over in frustration and gritted his teeth in silent rage, clenching his fists so hard they hurt. He remained like this for about ten or fifteen seconds before he regained his composure and straightened up, breathing heavily but once more himself. Spinning on his heel once more he stalked off down the corridor with a menacing purpose and grim determination. Snatching at his own internal communicator he brought it up to his lips and said. "All senior staff to the command room in seventeen C." Then, adding after a pause. "They come for us in eighteen hours."