Chapter 42, Part 3

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Ben ducked his head to avoid a dip in the ceiling and moved forward with alpha team. Specialist Ronk was in front, Aro following close behind. It was hard to see the two of them due to the crampedness of this tunnel. It barely allowed two people to walk next to each other, with a closeness preferred only by lovers.

The tunnel walls here were rough, with an old powerline hugging the left wall, which often slumped where it had fallen loose from brackets that had secured it in place. Crystalline formations were surprisingly common, which dripped water and formed small puddles on the floor, making it harder to keep quiet, even with gripfoam on their boots.

Ben glanced up at his HUD and watched the team's drone feeds. The fly droids zipped across the walls and ceiling, repeating information to each other before passing it on to the soldiers on a narrowcast, radio network. The map in his right field of vision told Ben that they weren't far from a shaft, which they'd have to descend, and they hadn't seen more da phelu yet. Could he hope that the mission could stay this uneventful?

It was time to check in with Gamma team. "Sergeant Icol, how we doing back there?"

"Just enjoying the patterns the mineral veins make on the walls, Commander Kenobi."

"And how about you, Specialist Kharn?"

"Locked and loaded." Kharn responded, a bit too excitedly. Ben had heard that excited voice before, and checked Kharn's vitals. Sure enough. Ben opened a private channel.

"Specialist Kharn - the levels of tetrameth in your blood are within regulation, but stay off the juice for the rest of the mission."

"Yes, sir. Didn't sleep so well last night between the sims, keeping it together for the team. Hail General Trajan!" Kharn responded.

Hail to the Republic, Ben corrected in his mind. General Trajan inspired his troops, which was a good thing. Far too many Republic Generals relied on the stature of their office to instill loyalty. Trajan spoke to his troops on a regular basis, taking a genuine interest in their welfare. His men trusted him to win wars. Yet, too much of a good thing could be dangerous.

"Alpha team," said Sergeant Chalmers, that fireteam's commander. "We've got visitors. Get in position."

Kharn's vitals on Ben's HUD disappeared and were replaced by a drone feed. It showed two shadowy figures approaching, one hunched close to the ground, sniffing, as it lumbered forward.

"Ronk, Aro, can you take a shot?" Sergeant Chalmers asked. "Let's see if we can deal with them quietly this time. I don't wish to fight hordes of da phelu if we can help it."

"Negative, sir," said Ronk. "Can't see them clearly enough from here."

"Then you're not looking hard enough," came Aro's voice. "Adjust your visual filters. I can spot a throat on the one to the left."

"Well, the other one's head is to the ground. A little harder, 'kay?"

"Ronk, you're on point," said Chalmers. "If you wait much longer, they'll see you. Fall back if you need to."

"I got it, I got it."

"They're close," said Aro. "Do I need to switch to stun?"

"There. I've got the left one marked. Sheez."

"Shoot in sync mode and light 'em up," Sergeant Chalmers ordered. Two blaster rifle bolts graced the air simultaneously, but hit the creatures in slight succession due to relative distance. The da phelu toppled over and Ben winced. While they were great shots, and not a sound escaped the da phelus' mouths, the fall of flesh to stone was loud. It wasn't something they could control.

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