Chapter 2: Death before Dishonor.

The sand. Traversing through the hellscape of destroyed star cruisers, exchanging blaster fire with Republic troopers, and fighting both hunger and exhaustion but on top of it all? The sand. Why did it have to be sand? "Ward, what's your status?" Chief Daar has been the lifeblood for the forty-nine others now under his command. Roland lay prone against a dune looking over a clearing where a CR90 Corvette had crashed.

"It's a mixed unit, twenty-three Republic troopers and eight traitors. They seemed to have repaired one of the single turbolaser turrets."

"Do they have the supplies we've been chasing?"

"Affirmative, all four crates along with three others."

"Excellent Captain, we're on the move."

Roland lowered his electrobinoculars and rolled over onto his back. He raised his E-11 blaster to check the power cell, unfolded the stock and toggled the safety off. He rolled back over and levelled his rifle on the edge of the dune. "Holding position, maintaining overwatch." He kept his right hand around the pistol grip. Finger on the trigger. He brought the electrobinoculars up to his helmet's viewports and watched the enemies down below. "They're unaware, there are eight that are on casual patrol routes around the wreckage."

"Affirmative Ward, one minute out, stay sharp." It all changed so quickly, a week ago he was an Imperial pilot, a Captain, assigned one of the last four TIE Defenders in the Imperial fleet. Now he was an acting Sergeant performing the duties of a Scout trooper. The Empire was gone, the Galactic Concordance was signed six days ago. Rumours of other Imperial loyalists forming Remnants groups in small corners of the outer rim had reached him and the others from those enemy troopers that survived the small engagements. Initially. Once the villain had said all they could say someone in the company executed them. Some of them were even ex-imperials. Roland couldn't do it the first time, executing another who was on his side only days before. The look in the trooper's eyes, Roland knew he will never unsee them. It had never been so hard to pull a trigger. It wasn't for his Empire or a friend. It was over a water canister. Killing a fellow Imperial over something so primitive as water. This is what the Republic calls peace? Now in the wreckage filled clearing below among the Republic swine are eight more traitors. The symbol was to be helmetless. To let the sand in the wind scratch your face and dry your eyes. Let the burning sun scorch the top of your head. They are like animals and Roland knew he would slaughter them like animals.

Republic ships still remained in orbit above. Providing support to the ground forces. They won't stop till the last Imperial was dead. The crates below where water and food rations, at least one of them was tools for repairs and construction. If their intel was true and with any luck, one might just be the power cells to grant them the time they need to repair a Sentinel-class shuttle and the rest of Roland's TIE Defender.

Daar's voice came over the comms. "For the Empire!" To the enemies on the ground, the Death Trooper's helmet distorted it into what was something of a guttural war cry. The rest of Daar's Imperial Remnant stormed into the clearing! Daar, himself lead the charge as the other twenty-eight Stormtroopers around him opened fire on the unsuspecting Republic ants. Roland dropped the electrobinoculars to his side and lined up his rifle, unleashing a ruby bolt wide across the clearing into the upper chest of a traitor moving into cover behind a melted support beam. The victim collapsed and Roland lined up another. It was so easy now.

Roland's second shot maimed another in the leg, the Republic dog tripped into the sand making it easy for a Stormtrooper to finish them off with a pair of two more blaster bolts. "Chief, the turbolaser is powering up."

"Affirmative Ward! Plisken! The launcher on the turbolaser! Immediately!" The Stormtrooper was already prepared, the rocket exploded on the right side of the turret, it continued its twist toward the invading Imperials and unleashed a blast at a pair of them behind a chest-high wall. The kinetic force of the blast sent the two of them into the air to crash into the ground at bone dusting speeds. A second rocket from the launcher falls short and explodes along the port side of the corvette. Roland squeezed his own trigger, capping a traitor who was laying down suppressive fire. Another blast from the turbolaser unleashes an explosion destroying a wall of wreckage, killing another Stormtrooper. The third rocket then detonates under the turret's cannon causing a chain reaction that blows out the corner of haul the turbolaser was connected to in an aggressive orange fragmentation burst.

"Yeah!" Roland tells over the comms. The rest of the Imperials charge forward.

"For the Empire!" Is screamed as each Stormtrooper ascends down, blasting through the rest of the resistance. The remainder of the combat wrapped up in moments, none of the Republic dogs survived for questioning this time.

"Sector clear! How does it look, Ward?" Daar asked Roland after turning and looking up towards him from the clearing.

"Clear Chief!"

"Affirmative, get down here and inspect these supply crates."

"Yes, sir!" Roland pushed himself up into a crouch and attached his electrobinoculars to his waist. Lifted himself into a stand and folded his E-11's stock forward and worked his way down the twenty-two meters of the dune into the battle site below.

Trooper Gaz was treating Sergeant Paos' wounds alongside side the other three wounded Troopers. Four dead and four wounded. Not bad for dropping thirty-one. Roland walked past four troopers exiting the corvette "Chief, three more dead inside otherwise nothing else to report."

"Thank you Captain Kov," Daar responded. Roland approached the first crate, they were standard Republic hard-crates, cubes one meter tall and one meter wide with the edges reinforced. Roland put in the code a Republic officer gave them two days ago into the first of the crates' keypads. A soft click and the keypad turned green.

"Chief Daar, these are our crates." A few sighs of relief came from the Troopers around him if these are the supplies they all were told they were they and the others would eat well again for at least a week. He pulled the lid off. Roland smiled under his helmet. "Full to capacity, we got food and water!" Cheers rose from the Stormtroopers.

"Excellent Sargent Ward." Daar patted him on the back and went on to check on the wounded. Roland moved on to the next crates, the second was two thirds full with more rations. The third had multiple toolsets that would assist in speeding up the repairs, the final crate as reported was the sets of power cells to run the tools. "The convoy will be here in three minutes."

Roland moved to where another trooper was handling the extra three crates. These crates were not Republic but Imperial. He kneeled down in front of the keypad and began cycling the standard codes. The trooper got his crate open. "Code Zulu, Ward."

"Affirmative." The first was half-full of more rations, Roland's own was storing E-11 blasters.

"Ward, take a look at this." The third crate was about half the size of the others. It was matte black and around the scale of a tall footlocker, dead center on its top was a crest very similar to that of the Galactic Empire. Only this crest used straight angles that all lead to sharp points. A hexagon, it was a deep red and compared to the Empire's Crest it had the same six points at the same angles jetting from the center only ending in arrows. The colours were inverse too.

"This an old Republic crest?" The trooper asked. Roland stared at it.

"I don't think so, looks more like ours or the Galactic Republic's." Roland kneeled down and reached out to touch it. It was as warm as the other crates in the sun but he couldn't shake a feeling, he shivered. Roland continued to stare at the crest, its likeness to the Galactic Empire was uncanny, yet completely different. Roland looked for a switch or handle to open it but it seemed completely solid. He traced the outer edges of the crest with his hand. "Why is it red?" He shivered again as he completed the second circuit around the crest and began the third.

A sudden pull on his shoulder broke the spell. Roland shook his head and stood back up. The trooper gave him a nod.

Chief Daar spoke up over comms. "Convoys here troopers, let's load up and head out." Roland and the trooper followed their duties and loaded up the crates onto the Troop Transports. He was careful to make sure to not only load the unique crate himself but to also get in the same transport. The crate itself was loaded safely on the inside of the transport while Roland was riding on the outside in the middle right side rack. He couldn't get his mind off it, the red symbol scratched at his brain. He had to find out what was inside. He will find out.

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