After the final squad of stormtroopers boarded the transport, Captain Hacker looked up to see the technician on the catwalk giving him an all-clear thumbs up. He nodded and took a quick glance around the star destroyer’s hanger once more, taking in all of its cold lighting, the sounds of marching feet, and the zipping of a cleaning mouse droid nearby. He closed his eyes to try and save all these for later, then after a deep breath, stepped on the ship and began closing the ramp.
“We’re all clear to go,” Hacker said to the pilot through the comm in his helmet. After a moment, the ship began to fire up and lurch to life. He felt the ship begin its slow course out of the hangar, then twist and accelerate to the planet below. Troopers began doing a final check of their gear, making sure their blaster was set to lethal, they had grenades, and they weren’t missing anything else. A little late for that, Hacker thought, but he knew they were just killing time waiting for him to start giving them a final mission briefing.
Hacker walked over to the wall and punched a few buttons on a terminal to dim the lights slightly. A holoprojector kicked on and the projection of a moon took up a large space between where the stormtroopers sat. They all turned to address the holo, then the captain, ready to hear the briefing.
“Alright, men,” Hacker said, addressing all the troopers before him. “If none of you have been to Veras before, you’re in for a treat. There’s no water anywhere on the moon. Nothing to give birth to any kind of life; no known animals, plants, nothing.” He paused to notice some troopers hang their head or throw them back, obviously preparing themselves for hostile environment. He punched a few more buttons to zoom in on a specific point on the moon. “No life of any kind except one, of course.” The hologram projected the image of a fortification of some kind built into the side of a mountain. “Rebels. Ship traffic and intercepted transmissions suggest this military compound has been in rebel control for the past few months. We’re going to be setting down here and clearing the compound, and our orders are to use lethal force to kill anyone inside. The admiral would like any dissident officers brought back as prisoners for interrogation, but understands if the situation calls for deadly force against them. Are there any questions?” Hacker turned to make sure the stormtroopers were all paying attention. Everyone seemed to nod or give some kind of agreement to show they were clear of what was to be expected. “Good,” he said. “Let’s make Veras lifeless again.”
After returning the lights to normal and shutting off the projector, Hacker stood by the loading ramp and produced a small holoprojector to study the pictures of the rebel base once more. The base looked old; metal had rusted and worn down, no doubt due to the hostile conditions of the planet. Hacker knew them first-hand, as he had been to Veras many years ago. It was so long ago in fact, that he couldn’t remember why he was there. He figured it was so long ago it might have been one of his first assignments as a stormtrooper back in his infantry days. But the more he tried to think about it, the more of a headache he got trying to remember. Veras was just a hazy memory for him, and he wasn’t sure why. It didn’t matter, Hacket thought, and continued looking at the holo. Whatever the rebels are doing here was about to be snuffed out. There’s no place for the rebels to hide, no surprises, this was all going to go by the book.
The ship began setting down a decent distance from the base, ensuring no rebels would be able to sneak to their transport and leave the stormtroopers stranded. It did give the troopers more distance to march to the compound, but with no real activity on the outside, approaching on foot didn’t seem to be an issue. The ship’s docking ramp extended, and Hacker ordered the troopers out of the ship. Stormtroopers quickly poured out of the ship, quickly scanning the horizon with their blasters to secure their landing site. Hacker quickly followed behind them, taking in the familiar sight of Veras. White sand and dust as far as the eye can see, whipping up in what would be awful conditions if not for their armor. The field of dust before them was littered with the occasional sun-bleached boulder, providing a few places for cover on their approach if they needed it. Hacker turned his gaze from the landscape to see scouts who were already scanning the base with a pair of electrobinoculars. He approached and the troopers turned to greet him.
“Captain,” one stormtrooper said, handing him the electrobinoculars. “We aren’t reading any immediate life signs. We should have an easy approach to the base.”
“Good,” Hacker replied, taking a look to verify the report. It was true, no life signs were appearing on his scan. He saw the hangar door he was expecting rebels to be pouring out of when they arrived still closed. He was surprised to discover that there weren’t any life signs coming from that; seemed like where your defensive force should be stationed. To Hacker, that just meant the rebels weren’t prepared for any kind of attack, and they were going to completely catch them by surprise. “Should be a walk in the park.” Hacker handed the binocs back to the trooper and turned to face the group. “Let’s move it! We can still catch them by surprise if we go now.” The stormtroopers quickly acknowledged and began closing in on the base.
About halfway between the ship and the base, Hacker noticed the hangar door starting to open. Squealing of rusty metal scraping on rusty metal could be heard echoing across the whole area. It hesitated at first, but slowly began forcing itself open wide enough for troops to be able to exit. Hacker turned to the men and pointed forward.
“Here they come!” Hacker shouted. “Fire as soon as you have targets!” He quickly raised his own blaster to contribute, but as soon as he saw what came out of the hangar door, he froze. It wasn’t rebel soldiers pouring out and taking guerilla-tactic positions like he expected. What came out was marching in formation; perfectly spaced apart and approaching in waves of even lines. They weren’t even rebels; they were battle droids. Machines made by the old Trade Federation for the Clone Wars. Hacker stiffened as he saw the droids marching out dozen by dozen out of the hangar, firing back at his troopers. Several stormtroopers were shot down by the sheer mass of fire coming towards them, unable to get out of the way.
“Those aren’t rebels!” A stormtrooper shouted the obvious, not sure what else to do while he fired back. Hacker finally shook himself out of the trance he was in and quickly gave an order.
“Fall back!” he barked. “Find some cover!” The stormtroopers all did so, slowly pedaling backward to cover their retreat behind large rocks in the field. Hacker began breathing heavily and collapsed behind one of the rocks, clutching his head in pain. He was trying to focus and assess the situation before all was
lost, but his head just kept hurting. He turned to watch as stormtroopers continued dropping against the full might of the droid force advancing on them. Everything was falling apart. This wasn’t what was supposed to happen at all. Usually Hacker was able to adapt to major changes in battle, but he was just lying there, shocked and in pain. A stormtrooper stopped firing around the edge of the rock next to him and turned to see the Hacker lying down, still moving.
“The captain’s injured!” the stormtrooper shouted. He leaned down and grabbed him by the shoulders to lift him up enough to lean him seated against the rock. “Captain Hacker! Can you hear me? Are you alright?” Hacker kept trying to find words to say and just kept breathing heavily. He tried nodding, but wasn’t sure if it read as just his head twitching shakily. “Just take a breath, Captain,” the stormtrooper said. He stood back up and continued firing, but quickly took a shot to his shoulder and dropped to one knee in pain.
Then suddenly, all at once, Hacker remembered why Veras was so familiar to him. He hadn’t been here as an infantry soldier, an officer, or even as a stormtrooper at all. He was last on Veras when he served the Galactic Republic; back when he was CT-3791. A clone trooper serving the Republic, fighting battle droids just like these alongside his clone brothers. And the Jedi. The thought of the Jedi caused even more pain in Hacker’s head, but he tried to shake it off and refocus. The Republic was gone; reformed into the Empire now, and had been for so many years now. But their enemy right now were battle droids; which meant the compound that the rebels had taken must have been an old droid factory they managed to start back up.
All these memories of the Clone Wars overwhelmed Hacker at first, but after a minute, he began to refocus and recompose himself. He was probably the key to the Empire’s victory now. Who among all the stormtroopers on this mission could know how to fight these droids better than the one who was born to do it? He shook his head and grabbed the stormtrooper next to him who helped him before.
“My turn, trooper.” Hacker said, getting back up to his feet. He took his E-11 and peeked around the edge of the rock at the droids advancing on them. It was a huge force, thankfully the front few lines had been gunned down by the stormtroopers already. He quickly fired off a few precision shots that dropped a few droids from their line, and ducked behind the rock right as the droids began their returning volley at him. Hacker knew how these battle droids worked; he just had to use his old tricks. He turned and barked at the stormtroopers behind another rock. “Troopers! Draw their fire away from us!”
“Copy! Drawing fire!”
The stormtroopers began unloading wildly at the droid force advancing, which granted them a focused returning fire from the battle droids. When all of their focus was turned towards the other rock, Hacker dashed towards the droid’s opposite flank, advancing on them and gunning them down in their blind spot. In that forward dash, Hacker felt for a moment like he was in the Clone Wars again. The droids now, much like they did back then, were completely blind-sided by Hacker’s strategy, and were quickly overwhelmed while they spun around trying to figure out where the main threat was coming from. Quickly, the droids were dispatched, falling to the ground and leaving broken scraps and metal in the dust.
“Take that clankers!” Hacker shouted; something he never thought he was going to shout on the battlefield again. He put a leg up on one of the droid’s torsos and turned back to the stormtroopers while pointing towards the base. “Let’s go, boys! Move it!” He shouted back as if he were expecting a group of clones to call back a ‘Sir yes sir’, but instead saw stormtroopers, still motivated to begin the charge with their captain, but not the brothers he was thinking about. Shaking the thought, Hacker turned back to the base and began an all-out charge forward, accompanied by stormtroopers doing the same. It still felt very much like the Clone Wars, but Hacker had to remind himself it wasn’t.
As if to blur the lines together completely, a second force came pouring out of the hangar; a mix of battle droids and rebel troopers alike. The droids marched forward in lines while the rebels used them like mobile cover. An interesting tactic, but it wouldn’t save them for stormtroopers now prepared to take on both opponents. Hacker quickly dove behind a rock and prepped a grenade, waiting only a second before throwing it hard towards the droid line. The grenade exploded in a huge cloud of dust and sand, blasting droids up in the air and knocking several others over. The other stormtroopers quickly followed the idea, tossing their own grenades out onto their front lines and quickly dispatching of the droids.
The blasts from their grenades had formed a huge dust cloud that covered the remaining rebel forces, blinding both sides from each other. Hacker dashed forward, taking advantage of the moment to advance on their unsuspecting opponents. Running in behind him, the other stormtroopers leveled their blasters in preparation for the dust to settle. After a few moments, rebel silhouettes began to be more clear in the dust cloud, and the stormtroopers opened fire. By the time the dust actually cleared, Hacker and the stormtroopers were the only ones still standing. They marched on the base, now stepping over both rebel corpses and scattered droid parts. The hangar door, still ajar and probably locked that way due to its poor state, invited the victorious soldiers inside to lay waste to the remaining dissidents.
As the stormtroopers poured in through the hangar door, several rebels looked to be fleeing deeper inside the base while some quickly dove behind crates and began firing back. Now on the offensive drive, Hacker’s forces swiftly moved in and took the hangar with little resistance. One by one, rebels were shot down, causing others to try and flee, but not make it very far before getting finished off. After pressing through most of the room, Hacker spotted a group of technicians and officers all raised their arms in surrender. The stormtroopers quickly advanced and surrounded them, blasters at the ready to execute them at the first sign of resistance. More stormtroopers arrived to back them up, but Hacker turned to address them.
“Start moving into the base,” Hacker ordered. “Don’t let anyone escape.”
“Yes, sir!” The stormtrooper responded back. They began funneling into the doorways that the rebels had fled through, blasters at the ready to kill anything they saw move. Hacker turned back to address their prisoners.
“In the name of the Galactic Repub-,” Hacker stopped and cut himself off. He took a breath and remembered the hangar of the star destroyer they came from and corrected himself. “In the name of the Galactic Empire, you’re under arrest.”