“Da shield’s gonna blow!” yelled General Neano as the F-wings continued their offensive against the Gungan army. Smoke had begun to drift from the overheating shield generator strapped to the back of the beam fambaa, and within seconds, it exploded, showering fragments over the troops. With a loud howl of pain, the fambaa collapsed to the ground, the flesh burnt from its back.
The F-wings swooped like vultures as the shield dispersed, exposing the Gungans to the full force of their firepower.
“Ouch Time,” muttered Brigda Nass as the fighters fired, scattering the troops and their kaadus like skittles. A laser blast hit a militiagung only yards from the General, the dying soldier’s scream drowned out by the din of the fighters as he fell. Neano raised his mountain horn and blew. He had no option but to concede defeat.
The army, driven almost to extinction, turned back towards the hills, running for their lives. General Neano, dazed from his narrow escape, caught sight of a trio of gold ships approaching in the distance. He rubbed his eyes in an attempt to clarify his vision. He had severely underestimated Mandalore’s military might.
* * *
“This ship’s well armed,” said Ayo as the stolen Millennium Falcon rocked under yet another assault from its sister ships, “so we’d better make the most of it. Charge up the main guns while I switch the steering to manual.”
Yarua grunted in reply as he set to work. Ignoring the view of the plain ahead, his bruised face frowned with concentration as he became accustomed to the layout of the controls. The fleet of F-wings were visible as they continued to strike at the remains of the Gungan army.
Ayo lifted a flap in the control panel before him and pulled out a pair of joysticks. A targeting viewer dropped before his eyes as he engaged the manual override. ‘Here we go, Yarua. Stand by.’
As Ayo reached out to grasp the joysticks he cried out in pain, snatching back his hand to hug his shoulder as another blast hit its mark. The lights flickered and a red light flashed on the control panel. Yarua roared. They were losing a deflector shield.
Ayo tried to ignore the pain from his blaster wound in the hope that it would go away, but it persisted, a sharp, grating pain that was growing steadily worse. He began to feel faint...
“Ayo!” said an urgent voice in his ear. “Ayo, are you all right?”
Ayo looked up to see Neema standing over him with a look of deep concern.
“I’m fine,” he said, feeling quite the opposite. “Where’s Sarolyn?”
As Neema drew breath to answer, the comm unit crackled into life.
“Millennium Falcon,” said the voice from the speaker, “you are to surrender forthwith or face destruction. Follow course oh-seven, one-zero, five-eight. Any deviation will result in your being shot down. Do you copy?”
Neema flipped off the comm unit. “Bloke’s talking out of his arse,” she said to herself before resuming her conversation with Ayo. “She’s up in the gun turret. Now go to the sickbay and lie down!”
Ayo rolled his eyes in defeat and tutted. With some reluctance, he relinquished the controls and allowed Neema to take his seat. “Do you know what you’re doing?” he asked, unaware of her Force abilities. Neema cast him a sharp glare as he ambled towards the ladder.
“I have flown a ship before, Ayo,” Neema retorted as she steered the ship into the squadron of fighters. She reached forward and activated the ship’s intercom.
“You ready, Saz?” asked Neema as the fighters moved to surround them. The other Falcons swooped around as they strafed their target. “I think they’re getting a bit pissed off.”
Sarolyn activated the turbolaser before her, the cannon and seat swivelling with the dome as one unit. The young Jedi resembled an astronomer in an observatory as she peered down the sights at a targetting grid. The F-wings abandoned the Gungans and turned their attention to the Mill. The sister ships now had support.
“Here they come,” said Sarolyn as the F-wings began their attack. “Draw their fire away from the Gungans.” Sarolyn pummelled the air with the cannon, scoring a direct hit on the Trinity Falcon as it closed in for the kill. The golden ship flipped over like a pancake before exploding into the plain below.
Forward in the cockpit, Yarua cheered as Sarolyn brought down the Trinity. Neema had opened up the comm channel between the Falcons, allowing their crews’ curses to echo around the cockpit each time one of their fighters was destroyed.
Neema pulled the two joysticks towards her, and the Mill soared skyward with a roar of its twin engines. The fighters were close behind.
Below, General Neano squinted as the sky as the two remaining insect-ships led the fighters away. “Eeo an Ya-wa,” he muttered as the fighters disappeared into the clouds. “Deysen saved ussen. Deysen heroes.”
Neano had long since abandoned any attempt to storm Fort Myreion. The air strikes had almost wiped out the army, and those who remained were disillusioned and low-spirited. Mandalore and his army were not Naboo; that much was certain. The Naboo were pacifists, with a tiny army that was only used for pomp. Mandalore, however, appeared to have totally different values. If he were to fall, Neano mused, it would have to be with the help of aliens like those who had saved his army from extinction. They would be honoured.
Surrounded by its fighter escort, the Liberty Falcon continued its pursuit as the ships soared from the planet, glinting in the sunlight of space as they raced towards the stars.
Up in the gun turret, Sarolyn swung around with the cannon as she fired at a passing F-wing. The fighter disintegrated into a blossom of fragments.
“Green Wing, this is Liberty Command,” said the captain of the Liberty Falcon into his headset mic. “Attack in pairs, repeat, attack in pairs. That’ll give you a chance to knock out their shield with covering fire.”
Two F-wings swooped close to the Mill and blasted at its hull. Sarolyn tracked them and fired, hitting one directly and catching the other in the blast. The second fighter cartwheeled and exploded, the pieces spinning back towards Naboo. Two more followed, strafing the ship with a rapid burst of laser fire. One bolt hit its mark.
Yarua roared as the ship lurched, the cockpit lights blinking out as an emergency siren began to whine. The young Wookiee was reminded of his and Ayo’s close escape from Despayre and he shivered. Once was lucky; now they were pushing that luck to its limit.
“I know, Yarua,” said an impatient Neema as she hurriedly flipped switches. “We’ve lost the manual control!” She pictured the securitech droid lying prone in Japhta’s quarters. If she hadn’t been so hasty and burnt out its CPU board, then it could have helped them to escape. They had no technical support and one more direct hit could be fatal.
“Yarua,” asked Neema with concern, “is the hyperdrive okay?”
Yarua nodded and grunted.
“I’m going to try and get us to Despayre,” said Neema as the lights flickered back on. She turned to the intercom. “How’re you doing up there, Saz?”
“They’re coming in too fast!” said Sarolyn as two pairs of F-wings rushed past the turret. She swung the cannon in a wide arc, causing the starfield to streak through the sights as she tracked the enemy ships. Sarolyn fired and one of the fighters exploded, shards of metal careering off in wild trajectories. The largest piece slammed into another F-wing, causing both to vaporise in a cloud of dust.
“Saz, Yarua, stand by,” said Neema as she grasped a large lever to her left. “Despayre, here we come.”
Neema wrenched the lever towards her, causing the starfield to distort as the Millennium Falcon leapt into hyperspace. Naboo was once again alone.Forward to Chapter 38 Back to Chapter 36 Home