munnin: (Red Mist)
[personal profile] munnin

Title: Hugin Chronicles. Chapter 5: Plans and fortifications.
Fandom: Star Wars – Clone Wars.
Verse: Joe Hogan’s Red Mist Squad.
Disclaimer: No ownership, no profit and no offence meant. Everyone is of the age of consent in their country and period of history
Author’s notes: This ‘verse and its characters belong to the talented Joe Hogan. Individual characters were inspired by members of the Celebrations Rogues. The verse has been hijack by me with the consent of all involved.
Summary: The meeting on Malastare leaves everyone asking What’s next?

“I’ve read your report, Captain Fordo.” The holo of Master Kenobi stroked his beard thoughtfully. “What happened on Malastare was… regrettable. But no fault of yours. Such violent upheaves are unpredictable and dangerous. I’m glad you and your men weren’t injured.”

“Not injured, sir.” Fordo answered cautiously. “But a little rattled.”

Obi-wan raised a questioning eyebrow. “After what you faced Dathomir I can’t imagine anything rattling you, Captain. Not even a riot.”

“It wasn’t the riot, sir. During the mission my lieutenant recognised an individual the crowd. And individual his heads-up display identified as CT-3050.”

“That was Hugin, wasn’t it?” Obi-wan frowned, clearly searching his own memory. “The trooper you lost on Kamino?”

“Yes, sir. We searched for him afterwards but were unable to find any trace. He was declared MIA over a year ago.”

“And yet he was spotted on Malastare?”

“Yes, sir. In the company of two unknown civilians.” Fordo let the sentence hang as Master Kenobi considered that information.

“And you’d like permission to renew the search for him?”

“Yes, sir. We… have reason to believe he may have the other datachip. The other half of data that was retrieved from Kamino before the facility was destroyed.”

Obi-wan nodded slowly, eyes lowered as he stroked his beard again. “Yes. Yes, I believe that’s a reason I can sell to the council. They were close, Crispy and Hugin?”

“We’re all close, sir. But Crispy was with Hugin on Kamino. He took the loss hard.” The understatement was left hanging. The post mission debrief had been heated to say the least. Crispy had not in a good frame of mind.

“Then this must be doubly hard for him.” Obi-wan nodded. “Very well, Captain. You have my permission to pursue the missing data chip.” And your lost man. The words hung between them, all the clearer for being unsaid. “But stay in contact. In case we need to call on your services in the meantime.” He nodded respectfully. “May the Force be with you, Captain.”

***

Fordo came back to the waiting squad. “We have the go-ahead to search for the missing data-chip.” He turned sharply to meet his lieutenant as Crispy surged to his feet. “And that search starts with Hugin.” He cut across the protest rising to Crispy’s lips.

He looked around the room, taking in his squad. “Right. I’m sure none of you waited for permission to start planning. So, tell me what you’ve got.”

Gleeb and Ridley looked at each other before nodding to Linc. “We’ve been searching through the available footage.” Ridley explains, as Linc started sending data to a display screen. “There’s not much. The Malastare government are in disaster management mode and are making only guarded official statements. What we have been able to get hold of is hand-held footage taken by people in the crowd. Most of it had been spilt onto the network and is being snatched up by the Republic media.”

Linc projected a sort clip, cut to the relevant section. It was little more than a few seconds of the individual believed to be a figure in a half mask, running through a crowd, carry a red-headed girl on his back. The image was blurry, clearly enhanced to the very limit of the technology they had on-board.

“That’s him!” Crispy straightened. “That’s Hugin.”

“We don’t know that for sure.” Jatt spoke up, flinching a little as Crispy spun and advanced on him.

“What do you mean? It’s Hugin. I know it is. I saw him. My heads-up display recognised him.” His voice quivered, on the edge of anger.

Wrathor sighed. “Your HUD register the data call-sign in his bucket. We can’t be sure it was Hugin wearing it.”

“He’s right.” Jat went on, trying to curb the explosion threatening behind Crispy’s eyes. “What we can confirm from your bucket’s data is that it ID’d Hugin’s equipment. And that that equipment may be damaged.”

“No handshake?” Gleeb asked, looking to Linc for confirmation.

Linc nodded and picked up the thread for the others. “The recognition systems in our squad’s armour is programed for a digital handshake. When one recognise another, they both emit a tight beam burst data package, heavily encrypted to our frequency. Telemetry, life-signs, that sort of thing.”

Ridley shrugged. “Gleeb and I have the handshake on our buckets customised, to share intel at speed. Several bursts on rotating frequencies rather than just the handshake and return.” He glanced over to Fordo, “But it didn’t happen when Crispy’s armour connected to Hugin’s?”

“Exactly.” Linc went on. “Crispy’s package was sent but there was no acknowledgment of receipt. And there was no handshake in return.”

“What does that mean?” Crispy demanded. “I saw him. I know it was him.”

Linc shrugged. “It could just mean the electronics in his bucket are damaged. Given most of it appears to have been cut away.” He glanced worriedly at the pacing lieutenant.” But it could also mean the cut-down job was done by someone who didn’t understand the circuitry. And Hugin did.”

“Does.” Crispy growled, correcting the past tense. “It’s Hugin, I know it.”

Linc held a placating hand out. “I’m just playing Sith’s advocate here. We have to consider every possibility.

Crispy was on the brink of exploding when Frodo called them back to order. “Enough.” The one word was enough to stop them all dead. “For now we work on the assumption it was Hugin. And if not, whoever it was is our best lead to finding out what happened to him. Now, focus on what we do know.”

Gleeb stepped up. “We know when Crispy saw him, he was heading north with two human female civilians.” Linc brought up a map of the ground, “That tallied with the location markers on the footage we found.”

Two bright markers light up on the map.

Skate unfolded his arms. “We think they were heading for the hanger here, hoping to get off-world.”

“Why don’t you think they were locals?” Wrathor asked, leaning against the far wall next to Rezz.

“Local traffic was shuttled in from more distant hangers.” Jat explained. “The Malastare government provided a free shuttle service from outer ports to keep the stadium airspace from becoming too congested. It’s one of the reasons we had to park so far away. Everything closer would have been booked out months before we landed the assignment.”

Fordo mused, tapping his foot. “What does that tell us? They weren’t locals.”

“Or if they were, they were well connected.” Rezz pointed out.

“Possible but unlikely.” Skate shrugged. “We tracked over fifty ships launching from that hanger over the half hour after Crispy’s alert. All of them broke atmosphere, and either shuttled to larger ships or dropped straight into hyperspace. We have last known trajectories for all of them but no idea which one to follow.”

“We’re running registration IDs on as many of the ships we can.” Jat explained. “But we can’t get access to info on ships registered to Separatist held worlds, or anything register to the local system. The Malastare officials have more pressing problems than running down ship IDs for us.” He sighed. “And of the ones we’ve identified, at least a third are rentals.”

Ridley’s eyes widened. “Why is that a problem? Rentals are good. Rentals keep records, records that are more up to date than your average ship’s registration.”

Gleeb nodded. “Yeah, yeah. And rentals indicate a certain profile of person – a good credit rating but not the means or need to own a ship. They travel, but not frequently.” He gestured to the screen and the frozen image of the two women. “Their clothes are good, not the latest style but not so out of date it shows. The shorter one, she’s wearing business attire. And neither of them are wearing team colours from what I can see. I doubt they were there for the race. They were there on business.”

“The Hutts then?” Wrathor asked, his tone reproachful.

Linc shrugged. “Not all their business is inherently criminal. For all we know, they were interviewing for a new catering contract, or buying art.”

Fernie, silent till then, tilted his head at the projected image of the man they hoped was Hugin. “This.” His finger traced the line of red down the man’s arm. “This is quality skin-painted. It’s become more popular over the last few years. A lot of back alley practitioners. But this was done by an artist. If we can get a clearer image, that might help but track him down.”

Linc nodded. “More footage keeps being uploaded. I’ll keep sifting.”

“Good.” Fordo stepped up, moving to stand at the front of their half circle around the screens. “Pursue every lead you can find. Jat, Skate – stay on the ships. Track every hyperspace exit you can. Ridley, Greeb – follow up the IDs as they find them. Track down ship rental company as they come up. The two women are distinctive, people will remember them. For now, we’re assuming he’s with them. Linc, keep searching the footage, keep us updated. Fernie, follow up the skin-artist angle. Wrathor, Rezz – fuel up, stock the ship. We need to be ready to leave as soon as a lead pans out.”

“And me?” Chrispy demanded, sounding resentful.

“I need you to have a plan.” Fordo ordered. “Of what we do when we find him. Worst case scenario and best.” Crispy would be fixating on it anyway, best to channel that anxiety into something useful. “Submit them to me as soon as you have them.”

He looked around the room, meeting each of their eyes. “I’m not saying we’ll get Hugin back, if this is him at all. But we have a duty to our brother to find out. Now get to it.”

***

They waited till they got back to Silvestri VII to get Rebec medical help. Her injuries were stable and pretty minor, all things considered. The hospitals on Malastare would be overflowing with far worse cases and they all needed to get as much distance as they could.

“I haven’t thanked you yet, have I?” Eva said softly, setting herself down in the waiting room chair next to Tahl.

Tahl didn’t answer. In gesture or sign. Just stared into the murky depths of the caf he hadn’t drunk. Watching light reflect of the surface with unfocused eyes.

“You haven’t talked much, since we left Malastare.” She observed, sipping her own poisonous bitter, machine made and mildly burnt caf.

He raised one laconic eyebrow. Mute jokes? Really?

“Not that.” She rolled her eyes at him, resting her head on the hard back of the chair. “I mean in yourself. As soon as we entered hyperspace, you crawled inside your head and stayed there.”

He shrugged minutely and went back to staring into the caf. A skin was forming over the surface.

“I saw him. The clone who shouted at you.” She kept her voice low, just between them. “Did you know him?”

Tahl shook his head. Or at least he moved just enough muscles to indicate a negative.

“He knew you.” She went on, undeterred. “You were one of them. The armour you sold me. It was yours.”

None of it was phrased as a question, so Tahl didn’t answer.

“Will they come after you?”

Tahl turned to look at her finally, his deep brown eyes worried. His hand moved slowly into the sign for I don’t know.

“Will you go back to them, if they do?”

His chest lifted in a measure, controlled breath. There was so much in his eyes, in the tension of his shoulder. A storm of anxiety held together in a cup of caf.

“You don’t want to. But you’re worried. About us. About putting us in the cross-fire.”

Not a question but he nodded anyway.

She nodded and took a sip of her horrible-but-I’m-still-drinking-it caf. “We’ll be fine. They won’t take you against your will. And if they try, they’re in for a fight.” There was a concrete finality to her words and Tahl found himself wondering what she would have been like as a general.
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