A sweep of her gaze tells her it’s clear. Dashing forward, Steela darts from one shadow to the next, her leather-slippered feet propelling her soundlessly across the cobbled roof. Up ahead, the lights of the city begin to peek over the gables, cutting through the dusk with their twinkling shine.
An unwitting smile breaks across her face. Even now, in the throes of Separatist occupation—her city is stunning. But she can admire the lights another time. Right now, Steela has a job to do.
She slows, allowing her tread more time to seek purchase on the patchy surface. One hand hovering over her blaster, she inches down the sloping roof, until at last she has a clear vantage point for the job.
The square sprawls below her, still thrumming with activity even this late in the evening. Merchants hawk their wares to anyone who will listen, one of them selling a large bottle of Corellian brandy to a harried looking Twi’lek woman with three squalling children clinging to her skirts. Across the way, a boy shoves his head in the hood of his broken-down speeder, jumping back with a squeal as it begins belching dark, sweet-smelling smoke. Beside him, a black-clad Bith band pumps jazzy notes into the plaza. And through it all, dotting the crowd like spots of mold checkering a hunk of bread, are battle droids.
Steela counts ten B-1s, traveling in pairs, and three—no, four—hulking B-2s, moving alone. Her stomach drops, and she grimly slings the pack off her shoulder. A well-placed shot can turn any bumbling B-1 to scrap with no problem, but Super Battle Droids? Her rifle is nowhere near powerful enough to blast through their hulls.
She spits out a curse. Her intel never mentioned the B-2s, meaning that either one of their operatives is a bad blumfruit in the bunch, or that the Separatists increased their security after the last few attacks. Either way, she needs a new plan, fast.
She digs through her pack, lips twisting into a grim smile as her fingers close around the cool metal spheres. Droid poppers. One blast of these babies, and the B-2s will be deactivated ‘til the end of the war.
Just as quickly, the smile drops from her face. One, two, three, four— that’s all there is. Just enough for one EMP per droid, assuming Steela can throw them perfectly, assuming no more show up, assuming she doesn’t run into any Destroyers on her escape and get killed instantly, now that she’ll have given up her get-out-of-death-free weapons.
That’s too many assumptions for her liking. But what choice does she have?
Steela considers her equipment. If she’s going to pull this off, she’ll need to be fast, or the droids will figure out what’s going on and she’ll be dead before the Twi’lek even finishes her bottle. Kneeling down, she piles the EMPs in front of her and gets to work unpacking her rifle from its position across her back. A faint smile plays across her lips as her fingers run down the barrel. Oh, how she loves that blaster.
Below, the boy manages to get his speeder working. His triumphant cheer rings through the square as its occupants close for the night. Steela taps an impatient finger against her thigh. A few civilians linger, but she doesn’t have time to wait for them to leave. Hopefully she can get this done quickly and cleanly. And hopefully they’ll have enough sense to run for cover.
Steela takes a deep breath. Steadies her arm. A prayer passes her lips, and she lobs the first grenade.
It rolls right up to the feet of the B-2 and tick-tick-ticks down the waiting period before activating. Steela doesn’t stop to watch; she’s already throwing the second. And the third. And the fourth.
One by one, the tiny devices go off, felling their victims with concentrated electromagnetic pulses: her targeted Super Battle Droids, a few unlucky B-1s, and the boy’s newly fixed speeder. Oops.
The remaining B-1s start to notice something’s amiss. “Up there!” a particularly astute droid yells, its metal hand jabbing toward Steela’s position. Seconds later, it takes a blaster bolt to the face.
A wild laugh bubbles from her lips, even as the rest of the droids turn their blasters to her position. Here, somewhere high, rifle and power in her hands— this is how it’s meant to be. This is where she belongs.
The droids never stood a chance.
When the last one lies in a smoking heap, Steela stands up. The exhilaration’s faded slightly, and even as she surveys the damage, verifying that, apart from the ill-fated speeder, there were no Onderonian casualties, something still niggles at her. Like she’s not quite finished.
Just delayed nerves, she decides, and turns to the direction of camp, far beyond the city limits. If she’s not back soon, Saw will start to worry, and when Saw worries, he’s likely to do something stupid. Like charging in plain sight into an occupied city now on high alert from a recent guerilla attack. Yeah.
Steela blows out a breath, scrubbing a hand down her face. She really does need to get going, but she can’t shake this feeling that there’s something—
The world goes cold.
A whisper of metal.
A shift in the wind.
She jumps out of the way just as the bolt sizzles past her.
Her rifle’s on her shoulder and her eye’s pressed against the scope before she can even consciously react. There, in the square— her stomach drops four stories to the ground below. One more Super Battle Droid, and despite its immobile metal visage, it looks pissed.
Shit. Her hands scramble along her utility belt, but besides her short-range blaster, they come up empty. No more EMPs. No more tricks. Just Steela, her rifle, and one heavily armored droid.
She shoots. The droid’s armor absorbs the blast like it was nothing, then raises its arm and spits one back. Steela dodges, shooting again, six in quick succession. When the smoke clears, the droid still stands.
She ducks behind a chimney, drawing a ragged breath as blaster bolts sear through the air around her. If she ran, she might be able to make it. But no—as much as she wants to, she can’t. Super battle droids are notorious for their mindlessness. If it loses her, it’ll just keep shooting, and there’s no telling how many civilians could get caught in the crossfire.
She hurls her spare blaster to the right. It scrapes and clatters across the roof before settling, and the droid shifts course to fire at the ruckus, giving Steela a chance to get in position and size it up. It must have some weakness, something she can exploit— but it sure as hell isn’t easy to find.
Then she spots something. There. A tiny red circle on the droid’s left shoulder, no larger than a few centimeters in diameter. She has no idea what it is, but she bets if she can hit it, the droid will go down.
That only leaves the problem of hitting it.
She presses her eye to the scope and fires.
The droid, now alerted to her true location, swivels back to her and resumes blasting.
She ducks, rolls sideways, and fires again.
And again. And again.
Steela lets loose a guttural scream, frustration eating away at her focus. If only the target weren’t so small, if only she had more time, if only it wasn’t constantly jerking around and shooting at her—
The world goes cold. Again.
Except it’s not really cold, is it? Something about the feeling, an odd mix of a lack of stimuli with a deep connection to…. something made her classify it as that, but that wasn’t right, was it? It’s more like…. stillness, despite the flurry of movement. Silence, despite the cacophony around her. Peace, despite the storm raging in her nervous system.
She’s not sure what it is. But she leans into it, lets it fill her limbs and steady her mind.
She flicks the scope away. Rests the rifle on her shoulder.
Flames engulf the droid. A moment later, it crumples elegantly into a smoldering heap on the cobblestone, a plume of smoke drifting lazily upwards to stroke her cheek.
It’s the most beautiful goddamn sight Steela’s ever seen.
Her legs buckle from under her. Stumbling, her hands fly up instinctively, scraping against the porous edge of the exhaust port as she catches herself and sinks into a kneel. That blissfully still feeling from earlier has long since withered away, and every missed night’s sleep from the past month makes itself known in the aches of her muscles. Suddenly parched, her fingers close around the small canteen clipped to her belt and she drinks deeply, letting the water slake away some of the weariness in her bones.
Steela’s back on her feet in an instant. The canteen falls away with a hollow clang and her hand immediately shoots to her thigh holster, only to be met with emptiness. Shit. Maybe chucking her blaster ten feet away to distract a battle droid wasn’t such a great idea after all. Undeterred, she flicks the switchblade out of her sleeve and rushes forward as the figure steps out of the shadows, casting off its hood and revealing—
“Ahsoka,” Steela says.
The Togruta lifts an eyebrow. “Expecting someone else?” She nods at the switchblade still poised in Steela’s hand.
Steela stows it away with a shrug. “Can never be too careful.”
Ahsoka doesn’t argue with that.
“What are you doing out here? Saw send you to get me? Because if he did, he and I are
about to have a little chat about boundaries—”
“No, no, I haven’t even seen him,” Ahsoka says quickly. “Rex sent me to take out some clankers on the west edge of town. He said it was just going to be some regular battle droids, maybe a few Supers, but when I get there, just my luck, they’ve got an entire squad of Destroyers.”
Ahsoka shakes her head, fingers tapping unconsciously against the hilt of her lightsaber. “I got em all, thankfully, but still. It was a close one. Thought I’d swing by your position on the way back to make sure they didn’t have any nasty surprises waiting for you, but well…” she gestures to the remains of the Super Battle Droid below. “Looks like you could handle yourself.”
“Yeah.” She’s not sure whether to be touched or insulted that Ahsoka rushed over to help her. The Jedi’s within her rights to worry, she knows, but Steela’s been taking care of herself for years. A Separatist invasion doesn’t erase that.
The commlink on Ahsoka’s wrist beeps and the voice of the clone captain pushes out of its tinny speakers. “Commander Tano,” Rex says. “Status.”
“Targets destroyed,” Ahsoka replies, lifting the device to her lips. “We’re heading out now.”
“Good. Get back here as soon as possible. We’ve got new intel that the Seppies have something brewing on the streets, and you don’t want to get caught up in that.”
“Copy. See you in a moment, cap’n!” Ahsoka finishes with a mock salute before clicking off the device.
Steela stares. “You know he can’t see you, right?”
“I know,” Ahsoka says, stretching her arms over her head. “But it’s the thought that counts, right?”
Steela rolls her eyes.
“Hey—where’s your comm?” Ahsoka squints at Steela’s wrist, her tone flipping back to serious.
“Didn’t bring it,” Steela replies.
“You lot don’t realize how loud those things are— what if I was hiding from a squadron of droids and your Captain Rex decides it’s fine time to check up on me? What am I to do then, huh?”
“Ahsoka, just drop it.” Steela grabs her pack from the ground and slings it over her shoulders, adjusting the straps to distribute the weight evenly across her back. “I got along fine when my only technology was my rifle—just because your Republic showed up with all these fancy toys doesn’t mean I need to use them.”
“I’m not saying that,” Ahsoka says crossly. “But you’re being so—so—”
“So what?” Steela folds her arms.
“I don’t know—stubborn! Stupid! What if you needed backup, those things can save your—”
“Keep your voice down!” Steela hisses. “You want every clanker in the city to hear you?”
“If you would just listen—!”
“I swear, it’s like you don’t even want the Republic’s help—”
“Oh, don’t you ‘Ahsoka’ me! If you don’t want our—my—help, then fine, I’ll just skip back to Coruscant and—”
“Ahsoka, shut up!” Steela hisses, taking the Jedi roughly by her shoulder. “Do you hear that?”
Ahsoka huffs, but lets her voice fall silent. Voices echo from far away: drunks stumbling in and out of cantinas, either ignorant or indifferent of the curfew. And even fainter comes the low buzz of jungle insects.
Steela waits. She’s not sure what she heard, but all her mind screams is danger.
A minute passes. Ahsoka rocks on her heels, eyes drifting. Steela’s on the verge of apologizing when she hears it.
Skittering. Springing. Something sinister scraping across the streets.