"The Ketbraen Encounter" by Nick Fel

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Date: 47:5:15 (12 years after the Battle of Yavin)

Part One

The Unknown Regions

The orbital weapons platform exploded spectacularly as Flight Lieutenant Kell Rhyder's B-wing blazed away from it, his supply of heavy rockets exhausted. The grandiose Goa'uld war machine shuddered with secondary explosions, coming to pieces as its assailants escaped, debris raining down on the planet below, streaking fire across the sky as it burned.

"Death Gliders and TIEs incoming," Commander Lana Tridon, their squadron leader, said. The fighters were coming from the Imperial Star Destroyer Malice. It had arrived too late and too far away from the planet to save the weapons platform, but the fighters it launched could make sure the victory cost them.

"Copy, One." He linked up his laser and ion cannon systems to deliver a more powerful punch and targeted the nearest enemy, a TIE Interceptor. "Cover me, Six."

The Squint came directly at him, quad laser cannons splashing energy across his forward shields. A head-to-head was almost always a suicide run for a shieldless TIE. Kell shunted his shields forward and kept an eye on the strength indicator as he lined the Interceptor up in his crosshairs and pressed the firing stud once. His blast reached the Interceptor in a fraction of a second, ion blasts dumping useless energy into the fighter's systems and overloading them, right before the lasers slashed into its quadanium steel armour.

"Good shot, Five!"

Kell's ship lurched violently, throwing him against his restraints. A bank of red lights lit up around his weapon controls, and he belatedly evened out his shields.

"Six, a little help here?" He threw the B-wing into a spin and looked at his displays. The TIE on his previously unshielded tail had hit his primary airfoil. Fortunately, the B-wing had tough armour, so his ship was still intact. Unfortunately, it looked like the control lines to his lower ion cannon were gone, rendering it useless.

More lasers splashed against his shields and then, abruptly, stopped. "Got him."

"Thanks, Six. Take…" He stopped mid-sentence as something flashed by his B-wing at an incredible speed. It looked like a TIE Fighter rather than some previously un-encountered Goa'uld vessel, but it was larger, going far too fast, and seemed to have more solar panels than was strictly sensible. "What the hell was that?"

"This is Wraith Leader," Colonel Glantry Fett's voice came over the comm. "We have Brights and Trips in the area."

Kell's stomach tightened. He'd just had his first look at a real live TIE Defender, the Empire's most deadly starfighter. "Five to Two Flight," he said. "Watch out, those things are way too fast for us to handle."

This was not good, not good at all.

"Lead to all squadrons, we have hyperspace co-ordinates. Let's get out of here."

Command Briefing Room, Farpoint

"You can clearly see here," Glantry paused his flight recording and pointed towards an elongated TIE with bent wings, "a TIE Advanced, and here," he paused again, pointing out a large TIE with three sets of wings, "a TIE Defender. There are also unconfirmed sightings of Advanced models over Jannron."

General Nick Fel, commanding officer of Rogue Squadron, nodded in agreement. He and Rear Admiral Mike Burn had both seen at least one as they piloted Doctor Cat Craig's transport away from the planet.

"Mike, does Intel have any leads?"

The Director of Intelligence looked down at his datapad, then back up, glancing around the table. As well Glantry, Nick, Cat and himself, the room was populated by Brigadier Anton Moore, Captain Amaya Karrde, his wife and captain of Ashleigh, and Commanders Sinclair, Fozzie and Zortirk of Hunter, Nirvana and Nemhain.

"Not really," he admitted. "A scout just returned from the system where Steele had his droid TIE factory, but the place is still deserted. Some recent scans of P1Z-985 showed hangar facilities that looked to have been built quite recently. Malice has been sighted there in the past, so it's the best we've got at the moment."

"What can you tell us about P1Z-985?"

"It's one of the few Imperial-held worlds we've discovered, known as Ketbrae by the inhabitants. I think we could insert a team easily enough."

"Then do it."

Stargate Control Room, Farpoint

Major Corry Vrecken stood behind the dialling technicians, watching them operate the system she had helped create. It hadn't been easy, being thrown into an alien military base and told to create a working system with technology she was unfamiliar with, to operate technology nobody entirely understood.

On top of all that, most of the engineers and scientists she worked with didn't speak her language—in more ways than one. They had thought she was joking when she talked about binary.

The dialling technician—an experienced engineer rotated from her team of technicians and wormhole theorists that tended the Stargate—inputted the six glyphs into the computer. Then, he and the other technician on duty inserted their access keys and twisted them simultaneously.

"DHD partially unlocked," the computer announced blandly.

On queue, the computer fed the co-ordinates into the DHD that sat hooked up to New Republic technology between them, lighting up seven of its buttons and setting the gate whirring into action.

"Chevron One engaged." The rotating inner-circle of the Stargate stopped on the first glyph, the twin triangles of Norma, and locked into place.

"Chevron Two engaged," the computer declared as L-shaped Pisces locked in.

"Chevron Three engaged." Orian, the ancient hunter with his belt of stars.

"Chevron Four engaged." The tri-legged Aquarius.

"Chevron Five engaged." The V-shaped Mic.

"Chevron Six engaged. " The hourglass of Canis Minor.

"Chevron Seven locked." The Stargate stopped, locking onto the last symbol, the glyph unique to Farpoint.

The keys were twisted again degrees. "DHD fully unlocked."

Now the hemisphere in the middle of the DHD lit up. The technician reached across and gently touched it. Why on Earth—or more accurately off Earth—they couldn't just use the DHD on its own escaped her.

"Wormhole engaged."

Below them, past an inch of transparisteel, the Stargate exploded outwards and settled into its familiar event horizon.

Embarkation Room, Farpoint

Major Lyarn Platt stepped into the embarkation room, a vast duracrete room much like its counterpart on Earth. The already-active Stargate was located at one end of it, trailing all the equipment needed to dial it manually should the DHD fail. At the opposite end of the room, the control centre looked down over the gate, with a heavy laser cannon beneath it pointed directly at the centre of the gate. A squad of the new SD-10 war droids could be called from behind heavy doors in the walls, and troops and medics were on standby in adjoining rooms on either side. Behind her, another heavy reinforced door led back into the prep room, while opposite her a freight elevator big enough for anything that would fit through the gate led up to the surface and other storage bays.

Behind her trailed her single companion for this mission, Captain Dirk Webber. Most of her team of operatives had been ruled out immediately—they would be the only non-humans on their destination planet, and that was not the way to operate covertly. The only other human members, Lieutenants Merduck and Danners, had been away on long-term infiltration missions for almost a year now. For some reason NRI was reluctant to grant Admiral Burn any more fully-fledged operatives. She had no idea why, but she didn't pretend to know how the minds of the upper echelons of NRI worked. It was possibly something to do with him picking all the loose cannons, but then again, she'd have expected them to love the idea of getting all the renegades far, far away from the Core.

"Ready?" she asked.

"Born ready."

Part Two


The two operatives stepped out of the Stargate onto a different world, both literally and figuratively.

Ketbrae had just recently developed steam-powered machines and was undergoing an industrial revolution. It should have been all upwards from here, their civilisation making leaps and bounds in technology and medicine. The process was basically the same on most planets—the rise didn't usually falter until the discovery of the atom, after which a fair percentage of civilisations bombed themselves into barbarism.

This time something else had quashed their development. And the boot that stamped them down had been made of white plastoid.

"Halt!" the stormtrooper demanded. A fair number of them had assembled around the Gate, black blaster rifles contrasting their armour as they levelled them at the cloaked travellers.

Platt dropped her hood, revealing flowing jet-black hair and a slightly altered skin tone. The mark of Sobek adorned her forehead. "I am Priestess Sha'malk," she said, adopting the regal tone of one who believed she spoke on the authority of gods and was addressing a lesser being.

"Purpose of your visit?"

"My business is no concern of yours, Imperial," she sniffed.

The trooper shrugged and waved them on.

When reconnaissance had revealed the Stargate was not located inside an Imperial facility, Intelligence's analysts had been fairly certain that the planet fell into the same category as two other Imperial worlds they had encountered.

In both cases, Steele and Sobek's forces had found the planet around the same time, possibly even together. The Empire had been allowed to rule the planet as they wished and run whatever operations they wanted from the planet. In exchange for this, the Goa'uld would be allowed to keep a small temple on the planet, for 'spiritual reason' which the Empire was too xenophobic to care about. For other 'spiritual reasons', the Stargate had to be kept in the open, near the temple.

What the Empire didn't know, which Rogue Squadron had discovered after liberating one of the other two worlds, was that the temple was actually a disguised observation post, for monitoring Imperial activity on the planet.

Platt smiled. The paranoia of one's enemies almost always worked to one's advantage.

They slipped around the side of the Goa'uld temple, mingling with the local population in the cobbled streets of the city. Well, tried to mingle. Natives gave them a wide berth, either through fear or disgust, and they received a lot of hateful, contemptuous stares.

"Time for a change of clothes, I think," Dirk muttered.

"Could be right," she replied, casually scanning the populace. "There," she said, indicating a man and a woman about their sizes. The man wore a long brown overcoat over a waistcoat and some kind of high-necked shirt, with trousers that billowed out towards the bottom before being tucked into a band around his ankles. The woman wore a loose, concealing dress, and some kind of bonnet. Seemed to be typical garb for the natives.

They set off shadowing the couple.

* * * * *

"Stop struggling," Dirk said, glancing down at the bound man as he tried to get his unruly hair to look vaguely like the neat styles worn on the planet. "We're not going to hurt you. Have you got a hat?"

The terrified man shook his head, mumbling something incoherent into his gag. At least the Empire had forced them all to learn Basic, which worked to their advantage.

Next to him, Platt ingested a small pill that would quickly return her skin colour to its usual pale tone and tried to calm the woman. Both were tied up near the back exit of a restaurant, away from prying eyes. Judging by the amount of waste in the bins, the back exit was used fairly regularly, so they would be found before nightfall.

They slipped back onto the streets, looking for some way to get to their destination, now that they could pass as locals and not Goa'uld, blending into the population rather than being feared and resented by it. The only transport they had seen so far were carriages pulled by six-legged equine of some kind, and odd mechanical contraptions with four wheels, a seat and pedals. Nothing self-propelled or capable of the kind of speed they wanted.

But somehow they needed to get across the continent to their target. Silently, Dirk cursed their insertion method. The Stargate system, while an amazing and convenient technology, could only put you on one place on the planet.

Which wasn't all that convenient right now.

The narrow streets were busy, bustling with people going about their daily lives. The place stank of oppression and fear, but something in the faces of the locals they passed, the way they looked at each other with misgiving in their eyes, told him something was wrong. Something bad was heading this way.

"Stormtroopers," Platt hissed.

Dirk looked up, seeing the pair of armoured Imperials strutting down the street, stopping passers by and talking to them briefly, showing them a hologram of something.

"They're looking for someone," Dirk said, mind racing for anything they might have done to tip them off. Could they have found the couple they robbed and put together a computer image of them from descriptions already?

"In there!" He pulled Platt hastily through a door, into one of the city's many taverns.

* * * * *

The bar was not crowded, much to their disappointment. Only a few groups of people at the tables on either side of them, and a handful of individuals and couples around the rest of the room. If the stormtroopers came in here, they would be spotted pretty quickly. That was assuming they were even looking for the pair, which was not at all a certainty. Stormtroopers had been known to harass citizens and check papers just to scare them and assert their authority.

"Getting some real funny looks from the barkeep," Dirk muttered after a few minutes, glancing around carefully.

"Think he's noticed we're talking Basic?"

"Think he's noticed we haven't ordered a drink yet?"

"I don't know about him," a strongly accented voice said from behind him, accompanying the muzzle suddenly pressed against his ribs, "but we sure did. No, don't turn around. Stay nice and still."

Dirk did as he was told, watching Platt stiffen as the man at the table behind her jabbed a gun into her ribs too. The man behind her was broad, a full beard covering his impressive jaw. His clothes were well worn, and not as well tailored as the ones they had stolen, missing the high collars and other odd additions. He was suddenly acutely aware of just how out of place their 'inconspicuous' clothing made them look in this establishment. Quite possibly a gang of thieves, he thought, or else honest working men not too happy with the Empire's rule.

"Now, stand up slowly, and walk toward that door there. That's right."

Dirk pushed himself up from the table, keeping his hands in plain sight. No need to make these gentlemen twitchy, he thought. Especially not their trigger fingers.

Nobody in the bar even looked up as they were led away towards the back room—it seemed they were attracting less attention now than they did sitting down talking. A regular occurrence? Or were the other patrons in league with their captors? More likely they were just minding their own business, hoping trouble didn't come their way, Dirk decided.

I have a bad feeling about this…

They were pushed into a dirty, windowless room, inhabited by three more tough-looking men. Imperial-issue glowrods were fixed to the walls, providing uneven illumination. About six men followed them in from the tavern and Dirk finally got a look at his gun-wielding friend.

Slightly more respectable than most of his accomplices, the average-sized man seemed to have taken a position central in the group that suggested he was the leader, as did his calculating, intelligent eyes. A long brown coat covered clothes which, while bearing no insignia, were of a distinctively military origin. The weapon looked to be some kind of handcrafted slugthrower, as did those of the others – simple projectile weapons ranging from pistols to rifles.

A former soldier, Dirk decided. The last of whatever defence this place was able to put up.

"Congratulations on achieving your mission objectives," he said. "You have found the Resistance."

Platt and Dirk stayed silent as their hands were bound behind their backs and their weapons —at least the obvious ones—confiscated. There were too many people and too many weapons in this room for even them to try escape.

"I am Captain Traff," he continued. "And I do hope you aren't in too much of a hurry to report your findings."

* * * * *

"Where's my companion?" Dirk demanded for the second time.

"She's not your problem right now," Traff told him. "You ought to be more concerned about yourself. We're none too crazy about spies."

"I'm not a spy," Dirk lied. He was little else if not a spy, but admitting to it wasn't going to help right now. He certainly wasn't a spy in the sense that the rebel leader meant.

"That's almost believable," Traff laughed. "I would have thought the Empire might have taught its spies the local language. Or are you too stuck up to lower yourselves to our level by speaking in our primitive tongue?"

"We weren't planning on ending up here."

"So you're telling me you walked into the headquarters of a resistance cell accidentally?"

"That's right."

"Don't play games with me, Imperial," Traff snarled. "Because we don't play by your rules around here, and I don't think you'll much like ours."

"I'm not an Imperial either."

"No?" Traff pulled Dirk's blaster from under his coat and slammed it down on the table. "Then would you mind explaining this? It certainly looks like an Imperial weapon to me. Not a Ketbraen gun, I'll tell you that."

Traff leaned in closer. "So I'll ask you again. What are you doing here and how did you find us, Imperial?"

Dirk sighed. "We are offworlders, but we're not Imperials. We have no interest in you, or any other Ketbraens."

"So what are you here for, alien?" Traff said, folding his arms across his chest and standing there, waiting.

"It's a pretty long story…"

"I've got all day."

* * * * *

Traff dragged Dirk back into the main room none too gently, cutting the bindings around his wrists before pushing him down into a wooden chair in front of a beaten table. Across the room, another man pushed Platt in and sat her down next to him. The silent, bearded man from the bar watched over them all, pistol in hand.

"So, agents of the 'New Republic'," he said, folding his arms and looking at them across the table. "How can we help you?"

Platt glared a silent reprimand at him. He got the message: there was no guarantee that these rebels wouldn't become loyal citizens of the Empire the moment they realised there could be a reward for turning the pair over.

Dirk glared right back. He didn't need guarantees to tell a trust-worthy man when he saw one. He'd spent enough time around those he could trust and those he couldn't to tell the difference.

"There's a hangar across the continent, we need to get in it."

Traff nodded to the bearded man. "Kane, get me a map."

Kane opened a wooden cabinet and tossed over a roll of paper, which Traff unrolled on the table. "It's in the Jezbek Province," he pointed to its location on a painstakingly drawn map of Ketbrae's single populated continent. "Which means we'll have to get you through border controls."

"Do the Imperials rule the planet from there? Or anywhere near it?"

"No, they've commandeered the parliament buildings in this city."

"That's good. There'll be less security around the hangars themselves."

"From what we can tell, it's mostly un-manned," Traff explained. "But we've never been able to get in. It has alarms and we can't figure out how we're setting them off."

"There'll be laser beams, heat and motion sensors, pressure pads…" he trailed off when he realised his list was going right over Traff's head. "We can get round them."

"Have you stolen any comlinks?" Platt asked, looking at the glowrods fixed to the wall. "Or stormtrooper helmets?"

"Helmets, yes," Traff said. "We keep them as trophies."

"I'm going to need to pull something out of them. One for each man on the team."

Traff had the helmets brought through and Platt set to work removing and resetting their comlinks, as Dirk and the rebel captain set to work devising a plan to get over the borders and into the hangars.

"By the way, if we were Imperials, we'd have been wired," Dirk said. "Taking us prisoner and admitting to being the Resistance would have brought stormtroopers down on your heads before you could even cock that pistol of yours."

For this, Traff had no reply.

Part Three

Jezbek Province, Ketbrae

Midday sun beat down on them.

Dirk couldn't see it, but he could sure feel it. The inside of the wooden barrel was dark, but unbearably hot. Platt and he were both packed inside barrels, loaded onto the back of a cart full of them, the rest filled with some kind of berry used to make a sweet wine.

The infiltrations specialist had originally vetoed this plan, citing that Imperial border controls would be equipped with biosensors, but Traff had assured them they wouldn't be. Border control was a farce here, a way for corrupt troops to 'tax' merchants by stealing their produce for themselves, or taking bribes not to.

"In the past we've purposefully launched missions in one region which didn't make sense in relation to operations in another," Traff had told him. "Intentionally used different tactics in different places. They think resistance is localised and unorganised. Don't bother to watch for us trying to cross borders."

He had to admit he was impressed.

There was a series of double knocks on the top of his barrel and he unlatched the fastening mechanism. To discourage anyone actually looking in the barrels, the lids had been nailed shut, while these two were made to look as if they had been. The lid was actual fastened from inside, so they could get out easily.

Dirk pushed it off and gasped for air, gulping it down greedily.

He'd been in there for five days, only able to get out once or twice a day when they'd passed through a secluded area, otherwise there would be too much chance of a random patrol seeing them.

"How you feeling?" Traff asked.

"Been better," Dirk said, climbing out of the barrel and gulping down the last of the water in his canteen. Kane, the other passenger in the equine-drawn cart, snorted with amusement at Dirk's discomfort.

He'd developed a distinct disliking for that man.

"Where are we?" Platt asked, looking around the enclosed yard, filled with more barrels and crates.

"Bret, a town just south of your hangars," Traff told them. "This place is where we operate from around here. It's a business run by an old friend from the last civil war. He's put together a team for us."

After a brief conversation in the planet's native tongue through a slot in a heavy wooden door at one end of the yard and then the sound of heavy bolts being unfastened, the door swung open and a stern looking man stepped out, short and rotund, with thinning grey hair and bushy eyebrows that seemed accustomed to frowning.

"Major Platt, Captain Webber, this is Tal Oxus, former General of the Western Confederate Army."

"These are our offworlders?" Oxus asked in Basic.

"That they are," Traff told him. "Hoping for green skin?"

"A little bit," the old man chuckled. "But how can I complain when you drop such a lovely young lady into my lap?"

Dirk tried not to smirk and changed the subject before Platt could say anything. "Is the team ready?"

"Yes. We leave at night fall."

"You're coming?"

"I most certainly am, young man," Oxus said indignantly. "I'll have you know I've been at this longer than anyone else on the planet—including you, I expect."

"Besides," Traff said with a grin that would've been charming if it accompanied different words, "he's the only man who's been to the hangars and escaped with his life."

Imperial Hangar Facilities

Under the cover of a natural night, one untainted by the light of cities and starships, black as space itself, two New Republic operatives and a team representing the best of the Ketbraen Resistance crept across the fallow fields of the Jezbek Province.

The huge box of a building stood alone, a monolithic structure lit by floodlighting on the ground, a bright spot in the dark night, connected to the rest of the world by a single road of fusion-formed soil that led towards Bret. Ketbrae had just six TIE Fighters and this hangar was meant to house them.

Platt had immediately spotted that the hangar was too large by far to house just six TIEs.

"We think the pilots live here," Traff had told them, indicating on the drawing a low building projecting from the side of the hangar. "They only fly patrols by day. Technicians live in Bret, and drive in every morning."

"At night they'll be asleep," Platt had told him. "Alarms will wake them if they're needed."

Other than that, they were assured there were no living beings on base. Just automated security that was more than enough to handle any incursions by local rebels.

But not New Republic operatives.

Traff watched curiously as Dirk hooked up a series of improvised cables to the electric fencing, bypassing one section of the fence before slicing through it with a molecular stiletto and pushing it to the ground.

"Everyone through," he hissed. "Follow me exactly. Don't deviate from the path I take."

He kept low to the ground using the light that splashed off the walls of the hangar to see the grassy ground surrounding the building. "C'mon," he muttered as he crept. "I know you're here. Ah-ha!"

Barely noticeable on the ground in front of him, a square of turf stood slightly apart from the rest, a few millimetres higher and a tone or two darker.

"What is it?" Traff whispered from behind him.

"Pressure pad under the turf. Stand on it and it'll set off alarms."

He found four more in their path, and carefully led the group of twelve—himself, Platt, Traff, Oxus and eight of their best men—around them to the hangar building itself. Silently following the plan, Platt quickly located an air conditioning unit halfway up the hangar wall and grappled up with more improvised equipment, breaking it open and crawling inside to adjust the settings.

"Give it a few minutes and the air in the hangar will be body temperature," she warned Traff. "It's going to be hot, but it'll stop the sensors recognising us."

Four minutes later Platt nodded and Dirk swiftly sliced open the sealed control panel on the side entrance and expertly cross-wired it within thirty seconds, sending the door hissing open and letting a wave of hot air escape the hangar.

This is almost too easy, Dirk thought as he entered the hangar, wishing for infrared goggles.

As with many of the Imperial facilities built in the Unknown Regions, the inside of the hangar looked like it had been mostly ripped straight out of a scrapped Nebulon-B Frigate. The rest of the equipment looked like knock-offs of technology that an Imperial fleet might have carried nine years ago, manufactured in the vast factories of Faiyum or one of Steele's elusive factory worlds.

Right behind the hangar's main door, a pair of TIE Fighters set in their racks, with another pair behind them, and another pair after that, ready to be launched from the racks in twos. Around them was the usual maintenance gear, and after that…

Two TIE Defenders, recognisable by their three sets of wings. Behind them, a vast array of analysis equipment and sealed off rooms that shouldn't have existed in a normal hangar. Everything they needed to reverse engineer the fighters and send plans to Steele's production facility.

Far too easy.

When the trap was sprung, it was Oxus who fell first, a blaster bolt burning through his gut and sending him crashing into a rack of pilot's helmets wearing an expression of surprise that would have been comical in any situation except this one.

Dirk sighed and lifted his weapon, as the hangar's glowpanels switched on, and stormtroopers began bursting from every possible location they could be hidden. Most had come out of the pilot's quarters, but more had spilled from control rooms above them, onto the gangways leading to the TIE racks.

"It's a trap!" Traff shouted. "We've been betrayed!"

Dirk was ready when Traff turned on him, his hand shooting out to grab the rebel's wrist and twist it upwards, his weapon discharging uselessly into the roof of the hangar. His next move landed them both on the floor, out of the way of the crossfire.

"Don't be a fool," the operative hissed. "You have been betrayed, but not by us."

He hauled Traff up and threw him behind cover, before checking the settings on his blaster and starting to fire. They'd been offered projectile rifles, but had politely refused. Their slugs wouldn't pierce stormtrooper armour like his blaster could, but he quickly noted that the Resistance members were crack shots, landing their bullets between armour plates, killing them with shots to the throat, incapacitating them by taking out leg joins, or stopping them firing by hitting elbows.

Dirk wondered vaguely just how long they'd had to practice this, but now wasn't the time to ask.

After a few furious minutes of weapons fire, the Resistance members who'd survived the initial onslaught managed to get into position to cover themselves from all directions, taking out any Imperials who ventured closer before they could line up a shot. They crouched in their hiding places, panting and sweating. Stormtrooper armour had its own environmental unit, so they hadn't needed to reduce the heat. Leaving it up only inconvenienced their enemies. These guys are good.

From her position behind a tool bench, Platt signalled him silently. He nodded.

A harsh filtered voice carried across the hangar: "You are in violation of Imperial law. Lay down your weapons and stand up slowly."

"Bolshavit!" Traff yelled at the stormtrooper sergeant.

"Sorry about all this, Traff," someone else shouted across the hangar after a few moments of silence.

"Kane?" Traff shouted back. "This is your doing?"

"An excellent bit of deception if I do say so myself."


"Money and status, dear Captain," Kane said. "Power."

The bearded rebel stood up and swaggered towards the stormtroopers, waving his surrender. "Here they are! The famous Captain T— "

A single blaster bolt from the stormtrooper sergeant's rifle drilled through the traitor's head and he collapsed limply onto his knees before canting forward, what was left of his face hitting the ground.

"Cover us," Dirk whispered.

Traff nodded before shouting the order, his remaining six men rising up and firing with thunder cracks of combusting gunpowder.

Dirk kept low and unslung his pack, pulling out three metal spheres and rolling them carefully across the ground towards Platt, keeping three identical ones for himself.

He was extremely pleased he'd convinced Traff and Oxus to let them take in the only thermal detonators the Resistance had ever captured. It was best they were used now—he was frankly worried about leaving such dangerous devices in the hands of people who didn't know how to use them. Thermal detonators vaporised anything within a specific radius of themselves, a radius which varied greatly between models. These were low-yield devices, but he'd heard that a single thermal detonator had collapsed an entire palace on Coruscant a decade ago.

He set the detonator to explode on impact and tossed it up towards a gangway, vaporising a junction and two stormtroopers, and sending the rest of the metal frame crashing to the ground, throwing half a dozen troops down with it. Like the professional soldiers he'd come to recognise them as, the rebels didn't stop to cheer for even a second, but kept on firing while Platt lobbed a second detonator, taking out a group of Imperials trying to move around the edge of the hangar where they could get to her.

Four thermal detonators later, opposition in the hangar was non-existent. Those which hadn't been completely eradicated by the explosives were lying on the ground, crushed by falling equipment, or mortally wounded by blaster burns and slug wounds.

"What now?" Traff asked them.

"We need thirty minutes," Platt told him. "Hold off any reinforcements till then. But if things get too hot, run. We can handle ourselves."

Traff nodded, then opened his mouth, looking uncomfortable and closing it again before finally speaking. "If anyone from the New Republic is on Ketbrae again, our cell operates from the Loghad Creek Tavern, where we found you before."

She nodded back. "We won't forget your plight, or the help you've given us. I'll make sure someone contacts you."

With a salute, he turned and barked an order at his men. Carrying their dead and wounded, the Resistance faded into the night.

Platt watched them for a moment before nodding towards the research equipment. "Dump everything you can. I'll inspect the ships."

Dirk hurriedly activated the computer systems and set his disguised datapad working on slicing into the system. After less than a minute it chimed at him with a success message—this facility was so backwater they were using encryption keys Intel had cracked weeks ago—and he set it downloading the computer's memory.

"What've we got?" he asked, walking over to where Platt was inspecting the TIE Defenders.

"Seinar Fleet Systems," she said, pointing to the logo stamped onto various parts of the ship. "These aren't ones Steele's made."

"Most likely delivered by the handful of defectors who came out here looking for him. Hell of a present to bring with you."

"Hope it impresses General Fel as much as it did Admiral Steele," she said with a mischievous grin.

"You can get them flying?"

"They're already prepped, I've no idea why. My guess is they were meant to be launched should the hangar come under attack."

Platt turned her head slightly, hearing weapons fire in the distance, followed by a shrill whistle that meant the Resistance was retreating.

"Time to make our move," Dirk announced, retrieving his datapad and lifting up a toppled rack of flight suits and helmets, picking the one closest to his size and pulling it on. "All ready?"

Platt looked at the readings on his suit's chest panel and nodded. "Heart rate's up though. Sure this isn't getting too much for you?"

"Born ready, remember?"

She nodded again before climbing up into the cockpit of the first TIE. He waited for her to lift off and blow a hole in the ceiling of the hangar before engaging his repulsorlifts and drifting upwards, angling down to launch a pair of concussion missiles which engulfed the relatively flimsy construct in a raging fireball.

Satisfied with a job well done, he gunned up his engines and headed for the clouds.

* * * * *

Two TIE Defenders streaked away from the world of Ketbrae, a world that knew they were leaving, but was totally helpless to stop them.

"Course laid in for Farpoint. Do you think maybe we just did the easy part?" Platt asked over the comm. "There's more of these being churned out somewhere."

"Well, we had slugthrowers pointed at us and were taken prisoner by rebels, we got trapped in barrels for days on end, then ambushed and shot at," Dirk considered. "Definitely too easy for one of our missions."

"Admiral Burn won't be pleased," she told him with a chuckle.

"Not at all," he agreed, smiling under his helmet's faceplate as the two Defenders accelerated into hyperspace and, as far as any physics the Ketbraens understood was concerned, dropped out of existence.