Friday, September 28, 2007

Uninvited Guests

They kept pace with each other, thrusters maintaining equal burn all the way through the ionosphere. As an primeval world with a fairly young life cycle, its air envelope was remarkably thick, causing most of their thermal shielding to slag into vapor within seconds of fiery contact.

The first barrier to pierce was the upper cloud layer, dense and wet with coalesced hydrogen from the tectonically heated geoplates below. With so much water in the air, the clouds were nearly solid walls at the speeds the metal twins had achieved. They slammed through them with only minor damage, secondary defense systems glimmering as their integral force fields absorbed the majority of the kinetic shock.

The lower weather band was much lighter but, in its way, more difficult to breach. These clouds were dark and active, moving at high speed from the twin powers of turbulence and electrical discharges. Both hurtling orbs were struck dozens of times by lightning, voltage crackling over their surfaces, scoring deep lines of ionic etching across their barrier plating.

But still they pressed on, shooting groundward at ballistic pace. The electrical flares blinded them temporarily, making landing a matter of automated systems, predetermined coordinates and the vagaries of fate.

One of them slammed into the upper crust of a dormant volcano, shattering both the stone shell and its armor before plunging into the mountain's unforgiving cauldron.

It melted instantly.

The other came down a few hundred yards away, devastating a swath of jungle trees and undergrowth before finally grinding to a halt at the end of a long, charred scar. The ground cover around it ignited from the temperature of its outer hull, grasses burning to ash within moments.

One plate fell off, clattering to the ground in a half-melted pile of glowing detritus. Then another. Then another. Layers of resilient shielding broke away, shed like silvery onion skin until what lay beneath was completely exposed.

From the outer wreckage, something dire was born.

It unfolded, legs shifting to move beneath it as its repulsor engine fired and raised it on a translucent column of white-blue force. Mostly spherical, it opened its five optics, each one placed radially around its rotating upper half. The lower half was also active, extending a gun ports, a sensor array and three manipulator arms. Each arm silently tested its onboard tools, including its vibro-claws. Finally, its concealed turbocannon turret rose from an irising bay.

All systems online.

After five minutes spent failing to establish contact, the droid concluded that it was on its own. A nanosecond ticked by before it decided to continue with its mission instead of aborting and using its Endgame charge, a proton warhead capable of atomizing a two kilometer radius. Its sensor array went active, sweeping the immediate area for signs of its prey.

It was a Consortium stalker droid, charged with hunting down the only real threat to the Separatist movement - the Jedi. This one and its ill-fated cohort had been dispatched to track communication signals originating from a vessel called the Maelstrom. After homing in and following a shuttlecraft assigned to that cruiser, the droid had calculated a 78.125% chance that the survival pod the shuttle launched to this world contained its quarry - a Jedi General.

The droid took less than seventeen seconds to pinpoint the Republic escape pod's landing zone. It would scan the impact site.

It would find an trace of biological occupants.

It would track survivors relentlessly.

And when it found its prey...


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