She had participated in countless similar ambushes before - take the enemy by surprise, inflict as much damage as possible, then escape. If the situation allowed, scavenge equipment, rations, and maps from the enemy, perhaps take a few stormtrooper uniforms for use in infiltration missions. Rig booby traps in the area if possible for later visitors.

Aster Faldon knew the role well, better than most. The tall, slender brunette human female was the Phoenix's second in command, and like most of the troops, a victim of the Empire's fury. Her husband had been murdered on Dantooine months ago.

She was as deadly as she was elegant. Aster had gone through commando training with the best of the Rebellion's infantry, and had more than held her own. She was intimately familiar with guerilla-style warfare, had an intimate knowledge of the applications of explosives, was an excellent marksman with a blaster, and trained in various forms of deadly hand-to- hand combat. Her sharp tongue masked an even sharper mind, and her ability to get a job done, no matter what the odds, made her an excellent second-in- command.

At the moment Aster crouched next to her commander behind a fallen tree. The position overlooked a small winding gouge in the forest floor carved by flowing rainwater. The Imperials were using it for a patrol route. A force of two hundred was deployed in two groups on either side of the path, concealed behind the thick vegetation. Two men with a rocket launcher were deployed in a nearby treetop.

Along each side of the path at the edges, in front of the soldiers, they placed a half-dozen scythe mines. A scythe mine was a deadly anti-infantry weapon, a box-shaped device with three hundred durasteel pellets in front and an explosive charge behind. She held in her hand the remote detonator, which, when pressed, would detonate the weapons, spraying hundreds of pellets out in fan-shaped patterns, shredding anything in their path.

Utterly silent, she soon heard the enemy approaching, the sound of boots crunching dead leaves and dry twigs, and a high pitched mechanical whine sounded further in the distance.

As they came around a bend, Aster saw they were in platoon strength, moving in pairs with wide intervals in between. They looked alert, moving deliberately, helmeted faces sweeping the terrain, carbines held ready. Two dozen meters behind tramped a pair of AT-ST scout walkers ready to provide fire support, the commander of each alert, his upper body visible protruding from the top hatch.

She waited, each second seeming much longer, as the first group of men drew even with her position. She willed herself to remain motionless, except to glance over at her commander. The armored helmet nodded almost imperceptibly.

Aster punched the detonator switch for the mines.

The vegetation erupted in a roar and brilliant flashes of fire. A moment later, the Rebels rose from cover and opened fire, the shriek of blaster bolts adding to the chaos. Stormtroopers fell everywhere or lie motionless, those escaping the mines caught in a vicious storm of small arms fire. Some fired back or tried to find cover, but it was futile. The walkers, however, wasted no time in joining the action, chin blaster cannon began spraying fire at muzzle flashes and glimpses of movement.

A streak of fire and smoke rushed from one of the treetops, the rocket's warhead punching through a walker's thin top armor and exploding inside the cabin.

Aster raced forward towards the other walker, then crouched behind another fallen tree, waiting for the machine to pass by. Moments later, a metal foot slammed down less than a meter away. She removed a demo charge from her belt, flicked the arming switch, and lunged forward, jamming the charge in a small gap in the joint where the foot met the lower leg, then threw herself flat. The walker's leg came up, and the charge exploded, severing the foot entirely. Unbalanced, the AT-ST heeled over, the cabin smashing into a massive tree trunk, smoke pouring from the hatches.

"Good job"

Aster turned around to see her commander approach.

At that moment, the Phoenix slumped forward, hit in the shoulder by a blaster bolt. She cried out in pain as her other hand flew to the wound. Aster looked around frantically, and saw to her left a squad of stormtroopers advancing. She crouched down, pulled out her blaster rifle, and opened fire, sending the Imperials rushing for cover. They were going to be outflanked if she didn't think of something soon. Aster pulled out her comlink.

"Riassk, get over here NOW!"

She took a moment to fire a few more shots at the stormtroopers, then drag her wounded commander to safety behind a tree. There was blood on her right shoulder, the armor plate having been knocked off by the blaster bolt. Yet after a moment's examination, Aster could tell that the armor had also taken the force of the shot's energy, and the wound was relatively superficial.

Riassk, a huge male wooikie with a flamer strapped to his back, came rushing up behind her.

"The General is wounded and we're being flanked," Aster said. "Give us some cover."

Riassk growled in acknowledgement as he hefted the flamer's nozzle, igniting the weapon and sweeping it in a broad arc, the stream of fire igniting vegetation and melting stormtrooper armor.

Aster threw a grenade over the flames toward the enemy for good measure. The wall of fire, growing in intensity, became a barrier between them and the enemy. "All units, fall back," Aster ordered via the comlink. Riassk grabbed the wounded Phoenix with deceptive ease and threw her over his shoulder. They turned and ran towards the rally point as the inferno grew behind them.