Like a well oiled machine, Shen Squad moved deeper into the catacombs. They had been pressing inward for nearly an hour, tracking at least 2 clicks of tunnel that they had traveled so far, with plenty of resistance along the way. Strangely enough, it seemed that they hadn't run into any hardened enemy fortifications. This worried Dice, Shen's slicer. He lived by the motto 'P for Plenty', but this was just too easy.
"You guys get the feeling there's something off about how easy this is? How come all the bugs we've seen so far don't look like the holos Intel sent us?" he asked to no one in general as the group came to a halt.
Odds, the demolitions expert, stepped in something with an audible squish, and let loose a long stream of curses, "I dunno," He said, trying to wipe the foul substance off, "maybe those were just drones; workers maybe. Who cares? They're bugs, we squash bugs. Simple. Don't think so far into it."
"If you two are done contemplating your places in the galaxy, would you mind getting this door open?" Flack said, gesturing to the door in front of them. "I'm beginning to think we need to have a nice knitting session to discuss the finer parts of life."
The rest of the clones chuckled, "Plenty of time for that when we're dead," Neg rumbled, placing a detcharge on the door as Dice moved to the control panel next to the door.
Several seconds later, Dice spliced the holocam feeds from the next room into his helmet's HUD, and linked it so the rest of Shen Squad could see. The next room looked like a long hallway, slowly transitioning from a Geonosian hive tunnel to a more uniform, durasteel hallway leading to a large magnetically sealed door on the far end; presumably the entrance to the droidworks they were after. As the holocam panned the room, several Geonosians appeared on the screen, standing not too far off from the door the clones were about to blast apart. Their gaunt forms twitched and relaxed as they gestured, apparently talking to each other.
"Well there's your missing bugs, Dice," said Odds, bringing up the image Intel had given them prior to the invasion. "All checks out too; bigger, got wings, and check out those spears. Bet those'd hurt if they caught you across the jaw."
"Door's charged. Alright Shens, lets show 'em how much we can make them hurt!" came Flack's voice, and with the singular motion of a predator, the four commandos moved into position around the door. Dice pulled a flash-bang grenade from his clip and primed it, Best save the thermal dets for when we run into real resistance,he thought, counting down the seconds until they would all spring into action.
Three…two…one…Now! He tossed the grenade in just as the doors began to slide apart, catching a glimpse of two Geonosians with a look he could only guess was surprise before everything went white.
East. Through the worker catacombs. Now North. Use the access tunnels that lead into the factories. You are just behind the clones. The information was transmitting so fast that Oorvo was beginning to feel as if the queen was merely using him as an extension of her will, like a long-reaching finger or wing that she could command at a simple thought. It didn't worry him, however. He was an extension of his queen, and delighted in that role.
He had just managed to pull himself up through the access hatch and move several meters when suddenly, the orders ceased. Oorvo waited a few precious seconds before another order came; Wait.
Oorvo obeyed, freezing his movements, and taking a good surveillance of his surroundings. He was now in a maintenance tunnel leading from the Geonosian catacombs into the droidworks closer to the surface. The dim red lights lining the tunnel did little to assist his vision, but just a few meters ahead light poured in from the floor of the tunnel. Judging by its placement, Oorvo figured it was another access hatch; a grated section of the tunnel floor, probably leading to one of the factory rooms, allowing worker drones easy access to systems and settings. He crouched there, as frozen and unmoving as one of the great dome mounts near his hive. He waited, listening for any sounds outside the usual whir of machinery or distant clicks of worker drones. It hardly took several seconds before he saw the sudden flash of light and heard the accompanying low rumble from much further down the tunnel, as well as some high trills from some of his hive brothers.
Then, the orders came again, Go. Warriors ahead dealing with clones. Travel ahead of the conflict, and wait for my signal.
Oorvo quickly began to scurry forward, clicking in annoyance each time his sonic blaster clanked against the wall of the metal tunnel. He heard the sounds of a fight below him as he got closer to the hatch, but the sounds quickly died away as he got closer…dying away like he knew his fellow warriors were dying below.
"Fierfek!" Odds cursed, wiping the goo from a recently stabbed Geonosian warrior off of his chestplate, "Why is it that I'm the one who always gets crud splattered on his armor?"
"I dunno, Odds," Neg said, eyeing the commando's sullied armor, "That shade of bugsquash-orange suits you; really brings out your visor."
Dice chuckled, then kicked at the spear one of the dead Geonosians was still clutching, "Hey, how much do you guys think these things would fetch on the bl—," his sentence was cut short by the sudden scurrying noise above them. All four commandos immediately snapped their weapons up, four DC-17m rifles aimed up at a single access hatch jutting out a bit from the ceiling of the hallway. There was just a moment of silence before another quick scuffling sound, and the briefest glimpse of a Geonosian behind the grated hatch.
Flack was the first to react, "Light 'em up Shens! They're in the kriffing maintenance ducts!"
The access hatch and surrounding maintenance tunnel was immediately doused with a withering amount of blasterfire, first simply blackening, then denting, and finally perforating the durasteel. Thinking quickly, Dice switched his DC-17 to the grenade launcher attachment, and fired through the now gaping hole in the hatch. He hoped the blast from his grenade would ensure the bug's death, otherwise, it would alert the factory, putting the entire place into lockdown and making their job that much harder.
Oorvo trilled in panic as the blasterfire began to puncture holes around him, scrambling to try and dodge all of it; moving back, then forward, then back again. After what seemed like an eternity of waiting, he saw the blasterfire finally blow the hatch wide open. This was his chance. Backing up a few inches more, Oorvo dove for the other side of the hatch, and towards the safety of the droidworks beyond. As he rocketed forward, he heard the distinctive tink of a grenade behind him, before being thrown towards the next access hatch by the blast. He felt an intense burning sensation against his back, worse than anything he had ever felt before, but didn't let it slow him down as he undid the hatch and dropped to the cold metal floor of the droid factory entrance. Realizing that the burning sensation was still there, he quickly rolled back and forth on the floor until it seemed the flames had been put out. On closer observation, however, he saw that his wings were burnt. The thin delicate membranes were now nothing; burned to a cinder right down to the wing housings along his shoulder blades.
Oorvo managed a low curse as he pulled himself up. As he eased his charred back into a standing position, he remembered his queen's last order, Wait for my signal. He hardly had a moment's rest to ponder this order before there was a sudden shaking of the ground. The tremors didn't feel like they were from above, but from far away. As he paused to guess at the source of the quakes, a single word from his queen assaulted him like a chorus of screams, all resonating in his and every other Geonosian's mind, bouncing between all of them as the word shook them to their core:
Oorvo's mind was suddenly on fire. Confusion. Rage. And…fear. Oorvo felt the waves of emotion pulsing through the hive mind, threatening to throw him into a panic as well. He was just wrenching himself back into reality when everything around him rumbled again with another wave of tremors. He steadied himself when suddenly the ever present thoughts and feelings of his hive went silent. For the first time since hatching, Oorvo heard silence.
Then the mental scream came again.
The pain this time was palpable, causing him to slump to the floor as he felt the wailing of every member of the hive cry out, his high trill joining them. The indomitable spirit that had kept this sector of Geonosis' people tactical and efficient against the cloned armies shattered, dissipating just as slowly as the mental scream did. Oorvo knew what had happened now: His queen, the mighty Vreefa the Grand, was dying. He felt his consciousness begin to ebb, as hers would for eternity. Dragging himself towards the door panel, he tried to lock it down, one last duty for his queen. Darkness faded in from all sides, but he fought it. He would not be denied this last service. Mustering up the last of his strength, Oorvo Glikk reached for the droidworks lockdown panel as he wondered if the other queens would survive…
With the second string of tremors, Flack tried to raise anyone on Republic channels through his helmet's comlink. His low expectations were met with the ubiquitous static for a while, until a voice broke through the static, "This is AT-TE Division Aurek, we read you Shen Leader."
"Aurek, what the krif is going on out there! We've still got men down here, and it sounds like they're bombing the same kriffing facility we're in!" Flack yelled, venting his frustration on his fellow clone.
"Calm down, vod. I'm sure you're having just as hard a time as the rest of—" Aurek's attempt at placating Flack was quickly cut off by the latter's voice blaring over the comm.
"I don't need any of your karking merc slang! I need intel on whats happening topside!" Flack barked.
There was an audible sigh of exasperation from Aurek's end of the line, then after a moment of silence, he answered, "Let me get a data uplink from FCP Gamma. Then I can give you an idea of things out here, OK?"
Regaining his composure, Flack replied, "Alright, and thanks…vod," he said, trying out the word sheepishly.
There was silence on the other end of the comm, during which all four commandos shuffled quietly before Aurek spoke again, "Looks like the 127th Gunship Wing has been ordered to perform bombings on several high-profile Geonosian structures. All of the targets were at least several clicks away from where I'm tracing your signal now, though." He paused, then scoffed, "Apparently I'm supposed to relay a few orders to you from the FCP. Sounds like they've lost touch with your communications engineer."
"Probably got picked off by one of the bugs we missed," muttered Neg, more to himself than anyone in particular; Odds grunted in agreement.
Aurek apparently thought this as well, judging by his somewhat somber tone, "Either way, there's a priority-one order to capture all indigenous across this entire sector of the planet…something to do with those bombings apparently."
An audible CTHUNK-tssssssss from the nearby door cut off any response Shen Squad had to Aurek. Odds cursed, muttering something about the magnetic locks being sealed, and Flack sighed, "Hold that though, Aurek. I think we've got our first capture of the day."
The magnetically sealed door was just as much of a hassle as Dice had figured it would be. For several precious minutes, he attempted to hack into the door's console, trying to at least deactivate the magnetic locks. The only thing that kept him going was that he knew the Geonosian on the other side of the door was just as stuck as they were; locked in the room beyond. Having the whole facility under lockdown was an unfortunate turn of events, but it did have its benefits. He sighed after his fifth attempt at slicing the door's controls, only to have them reset their security code in response.
"Ya know," Odds said over his shoulder with a definite sense of sarcasm, "I hear a Jedi's lightsaber can cut through anything. Sure would make this door a lot easier to get through."
"Shut it, Odds," Dice snapped before sighing again, "I wish we had a droid for this kind of work, or at least a good doormaster slicing unit. They never give us the proper kit." As he finished his last sentence, the wire splice he was working on suddenly sparked, and the door indicator went from lockdown-red to standby-green.
"Looks like we may have to cancel ordering that lightsaber, Shens." Neg said, mocking Dice's previous statement. The rest of the squad chuckled as they moved into place around the now-functioning door. The commandos grew silent, slipping into their individual roles as they prepared to enter. Odds and Neg took position on either side of the door, with Dice and Flack guarding their flank. Flack gave the countdown signal before waving his hand for Odds and Neg to storm the room. The clones burst in, sweeping the narrow hallway with their blasters as they cleared the room before Flack came in as well, followed by Dice who backed in, checking for anything behind them. When all of Shen squad was in the room, Dice closed the door behind them, and turned to see the other three commandos staring down at something. He moved up next to them, and saw that it was the Geonosian warrior that had been in the ducts above. Judging by the singe marks along its back, and the scorched areas where its delicate wings had once been, he knew he at least managed to hurt it, but silently prayed that it wasn't dead.
Odds bent down to check if it still had a pulse, pulling the emergency first-aid kit from his pack, and applying bacta salve to some of the more grievous burns. "Yeah, he's alive, but barely," Odds was saying as he applied the salve. "You really did a number on him Dice. Even so, this one'll be a lot easier to transport since he's weakened. I wouldn't want to be the clone assigned to grabbing a battle-ready bug for the lab techs to poke."
Neg pulled out a set of stuncuffs and attempted to shackle the Geonosian's limp arms, but noticed the limbs were simply too boney, and resolved to binding him with some fibercord from his pack. "Hey boss-man, mind getting AT-TE Division Aurek back on the line so we can send off our little 'package'?" He said, turning his head in Flack's direction.
The other nodded, "Sure. Just make sure you get the postage right. We don't want him sent back to the Seppies." The rest of the squad laughed, then went silent as Flack waited for a connection. There was only a slight pause before the connection was established again.
"This is Aurek, is that you Shen Leader?" came the voice.
Flack answered, his tone obviously much more enthusiastic this time around, "The one and only. We have your package; one Geonosian warrior all ready to go. Is FCP sending someone to come get it? We have yet to complete our primary goal."
There was a short pause as Aurek communicated with Command before he replied, "Seems you boys are heading spaceward to accompany your bug. They're sending a larty to come collect you. FCP says RC-1138 and his Delta squad commandos will be taking over from here."
Even as Aurek finished speaking, the low regular thrumming of a Republic LAAT/i—or larty as the clones called them—could be heard somewhere outside of the confines of the corridor that Shen squad now occupied. A new voice, similar in sound but different in tone broke in, "This is Republic Low Altitude Armored Transport -slash- infantry; callsign Supa-fly. Please stand away from the East wall—it's gonna be gone in a few seconds anyway."
The Shens obeyed, dragging the limp Geonosian out of the way, only moving back once a gaping hole was formed as a portal to the outside. The LAAT/i was waiting for them, cargo doors open. With one look back, Flack silently cursed the planet before boarding the vessel, and listening to the comforting sound of the engines lulling him into a trance.