Long Journey’s End

Joseph McCormick was thrown forward, then back against his restraints in a whiplash motion as his small Tie-Advanced starfighter reverted back to realspace. Looking out across the vastness of space Joseph could see the giant orange sphere Corell, which stood watch over the whole of the Corellian star system. On the right side of his transparisteel cockpit sat the planet Corellia, the destination of his long journey.

          Looking across his controls, making sure all the instruments had endured the hyperspace jump, Joseph noticed a small light above his communication system, indicating an incoming comm. message.

          "... requesting your IFF beacon. Repeat. This is Corellian System Control to unknown ship, requesting your IFF beacon."

" I copy CSC, activating beacon now," Joseph replied as he quickly toggled the IFF switch above his display.  Silence followed on the comm. system until the CSC controller verified the beacon.

          "Beacon confirmed independent starfighter, please head towards the in-system bound shipping lanes now, and welcome to Corellia."

          "Thanks control, en route to lanes now. Starfighter out." Joseph responded as he cut his comm. Bringing the sleek Tie-Advanced engines up to 70%, Joseph began navigating his way towards the distant shipping lanes.  Leaning back against the soft padding of his flight chair, Joseph closed his eyes and fought the recurring memories of what had driven him from his home world to this distant star system.

          Since an early age Joseph had planned to join the Imperial Navy mostly due to the fact that his father was one of the leading starship designers aboard the Gryphon, the primary of the Imperial's three massive shipyards orbiting the planet Rendaii, his home.

          Roughly a week before Joseph was about to ship off to the Imperial Academy on Corulag; Imperial Intelligence learned that someone on Joseph’s father’s research team had been leaking starship plans, weapon designs, and other secret information to Rebel spies. The Imperials, having pinpointed the team that the intelligence leaks were occurring from, decided the best suite of action was to execute the entire team and their families in a system-wide, public execution, to forestall any other "rebellious" activities. No trace of  the traitorous influence would remain.

          At the time the official decision concerning the research leaks came down, Joseph had been out piloting his personal Advanced Tie-Fighter his father had designed, polishing his skills before he finally departed for the academy the next week. That's when he saw the system-wide broadcast of the “traitors” execution.

          Shock and anger filled Joseph's entire body, his most core beliefs and values of Imperial righteousness had been stripped away. Pure, hot fury raged through him as he fearlessly threw his starfighter towards the nearest Imperial shipyard. Releasing a volley of missiles Joseph managed to destroy the unshielded hanger bays of the Shipyard Orion, and all the fighters that were inside.

          And as suddenly as his fury had come, his common sense, and tactical mind took control once more. Realizing the better part of valor, Joseph decided that now was not the time to die. He had too much to do. Avoiding the swarms of fighters that had begun launching from the other shipyards, Gryphon and Poseidon, Joseph quickly set course for the distant Corellian system where he would start a new life. 

          A brief warning chime withdrew Joseph from his past as he realized his starfighter was preparing to enter the Corellian shipping lanes. Glancing at his sensors, Joseph located a long procession of freighters, corvettes, and assortments of other space-faring vessels that were on their way towards Corellia. Joseph moved into line with the other starships and prepared for what Corellia had to offer him.

                            

**********************

 

          Joseph let out his breath that he'd been holding for the majority of his descent through Corellia's atmosphere. Though he had logged countless hours of flight-time, all that had been in the orbit of Rendaii, he'd never made a powered descent through an atmosphere. And it had been more difficult then he'd have ever believed.

          "Oh well." He thought, as he chuckled to himself. "At least I'm in the docking bay, and not stuck in the roof of someone's house."

          Smiling at that thought Joseph popped his top hatch and moved to meet the slow approaching landing official who’d come to meet him.    

          As the man approached, Joseph noticed he was perspiring heavily, and quite out of shape. On the man's shoulder was a small patch with the letters CSC, standing for Corellian System Control, written in bold blue letters.

          The official glanced at Joseph, then to his starfighter, then back to Joseph. Shrugging slightly to himself he looked down at the datapad he held in his hand. "Name and affiliation?" the dock official said in what had to be the most bored voice Joseph had ever heard.

          "Joseph McCormick, Independent," he replied in an equally uninterested voice.

"Purpose of visit?" continued the official.

"Business" answered Joseph.

          The official made a few small notes on the datapad, and without looking up, asked, "How long will you be renting the docking pad?"

"About one day."

          The official made one more note, and looked up again at him. "Alright, I'll take payment of the rent for the docking bay now. 30 credits." Joseph noticed almost a certain gleam in the man's eyes as he pulled three ten-credit pieces out of his jumpsuit pocket and tossed them to the official.

The official quickly stuck the money into his pocket and made a small, mock bow. "Have a pleasant stay. Sir," he added in a surly tone and then turned and began to saunter away. 

          "Just a moment." Joseph said before the man got too far away.  The official turned back around quickly apparently annoyed.

"Do you know of anyplace nearby that local merchant skippers would be?"

          "Um." the official said as he scratched his head as a momentary look of thoughtfulness crossed his face.  "Try the 'Fighter's Fury Cantina', that’s where most of the freighter and merchant captains who are stopping through like to relax. It's right near Docking Bay 12, in the commons area.

Joseph made a small nod at the official and then turned around and made his way back to his starfighter. The official huffed to himself as Joseph left and then shuffled away, muttering something about hotshot pilots.

 

*************************

 

"Colonel Holland, you might want to take a look at this."

Colonel Samuel Holland of the Imperial Navy Presence based in the Corellian System turned to look at the young man who had called his name. Walking slowly he came behind the communication officer's station. "What do you have Ensign?"

"Message coming in from Rendaii sir. Looks pretty urgent."

"Hmm." Holland said softly to himself. "Transfer it to my console. I'll take it from there."

"Aye sir."

Sitting at his command console he began reading the message as it scrolled across his screen.

 

                                                Incoming Message...

 

To: Imperial HQ based in Corellian Star System

From: Imperial HQ based in Rendaii Star System

Sent: Via Imperial Holonet

 

To commanding officer in Corellia HQ, be on alert for a renegade Imperial pilot. He was last seen to have hypered out of Rendaii on a direct course to Corellia in an Advanced Tie-Starfighter two days ago. Apprehend alive if possible, deadly force is authorized however. Following this message is the fugitive's history, name, and description.

 

                                                Message Ends.....

 

          Colonel Holland leaned back in his chair thinking deeply, and contemplating the message's contents. Finally he called out to his communication officer who had received the message.

"Ensign, forward this description to CSC, see if they had anyone looking like this come through the area. Tell them to run a check on his name as well."

"Aye sir," replied the ensign as he set to work contacting CSC.

                  

***************

 

          After his meeting with the docking official, Joseph had returned to his fighter and withdrawn the rest of his money—which wasn't much in the first place since all he had was contained in his wallet—and to get his small holdout blaster from his fighter's survival pack.

          Sliding it in his Jumpsuit leg pocket, Joseph headed off in the direction the official had indicated for the cantina. After fifteen or so minutes of walking around the spaceport, Joseph finally spotted the Fighter's Fury Cantina.

          Stepping through its archaic swinging doors, Joseph heard the sound of half-dozen alien languages, and some equally strange music being played by the cantina's band. His appearance drew one or two looks, but the patrons soon disregarded him and went back to their business. Stepping up to the bar-counter a middle aged human bartender turned to greet him.  

"Welcome son, what can I getcha?"

"Um." Joseph said as he thought for a second. "Corellian Ale will be fine."

"Excellent choice, be right with you."          

          The bartender soon returned with his drink and said, "Can I get you anything else sonny?"

"Yes actually," Joseph replied. "I was wondering if you know of any of the merchant skippers around here who would be looking to hire an escort?"

          "Well sure there's a couple around here. Looking that is. But the one that pays the best probably is old Captain  Turagon," he said as he pointed to a grizzled old captain sitting in the corner looking at a datapad. "He owns a corvette or something or other." The bartender stopped talking abruptly and motioned for Joseph to lean forward over the counter.

          "Word is," continued the bartender in a whispering voice, "That he runs supplies for the Rebels. That's just a rumor though."

Joseph leaned back in his seat and the bartender shrugged at him.

          He thanked the bartender, paid for his drink, and downed it quickly. Taking a deep breath Joseph moved over towards where the ominous Captain Turagon was sitting, placing himself in the chair on the far-side of the table from the Captain. The captain made no move and continued looking down at his datapad, studying it carefully.

Finally Joseph cleared his throat and the Captain looked up slowly. Joseph noticed he was in his early fifties probably and had several scars on his face, one unusually bad one went from his chin up along the right side of his face to his ear.

"What can I do for you son?" he asked in a steady voice.

          "I'm Joseph McCormick, a fighter pilot." Joseph replied and offered his hand to the Captain. Turagon took it and gave it a quick shake.

"Looking for work, eh?" The Captain said with a suspicious gleam in his eye.

Joseph nodded slowly. The aging man  took a long, slow, draught of his drink and then leaned forward towards Joseph. He asked him, "So what's your story sonny?"

And Joseph told him.

 

******************

 

          "Colonel, message coming in from CSC." 

Colonel Holland looked up from his paperwork at the Ensign. "What is it?"

The young man looked at the message for a moment and then looked at the Colonel and said, "Looks like we got lucky sir, the runaway pilot did use his real name. CSC has tracked his ship and his identity to the civilian docks in the city of Cor Vega."

The ensign paused for a second and then continued. "Docking bay 52 sir."

Colonel Holland walked over to the Ensign's console and studied the message for himself.

          "Alright. Looks like we have him, ensign. Inform the Cor Vega garrison, tell them to send a squad of troopers to his docking bay A.S.A.P. Also make sure the patrols of fighters in that area are on their toes."

"Aye sir!"  The young ensign  replied enthusiastically, and went to work with his communications system.

 

                                                *****************

         

"And so that's how I ended up here." finished Joseph.  Captain Turagon looked at him for a long time. He'd been silent through the whole story.

          "Well..." the Captain said after a long silence. "If I was the Imps, I'd have tracked your hyper signature here from Rendaii and be hot on your tail." He paused for a moment and Joseph nodded.

          "But as long as you didn't use your real name when you checked in with CSC they'll have a hard time tracking just your description. You didn't use your real name did you?" The captain asked expectantly.

          "Um." Joseph said as his face turned slightly red. He looked down at the table studying it. Captain Turagon put his hand over his eyes and rubbed his temples for a several seconds as if he had a bad headache.

          "Alright, you'd better get back to your ship then, and fast." he said finally. Joseph looked up again and nodded as he spoke, "Yeah, I believe your right."

          "Ok then it's settled, I can't have my ship affiliated with a runaway, but I need you as an escort. So this is what were going to do." Joseph leaned forward listening intently as the Captain continued.

          "Get to your fighter and bust out of Corellia as hard and fast as you can, make a quick jump to Selonia. You can rendezvous with my ship, the Corvette Jadestone in Selonian orbit. We'll pick you up there."

"So that's it then." Joseph said and he stood up. The captain stood up also and replied with a laugh, "That's it? You've got your work cut out for you sonny."

Joseph smiled in return. "Yeah I guess I do." 

"Well, good luck, and make it to Selonia in one piece."

"Yes sir." Joseph said and tossed up a mock salute.

After the Captain had returned it, Joseph took off at a quick jog out of the Cantina. Captain Turagon chuckled to himself as Joseph left and then settled himself in his seat again to finish his drink.

 

*******************

 

          Joseph broke into a sprint as he exited the Fighter's Fury. Running along past several other pedestrians he easily navigated his way towards his distant docking bay. As he ran along corridor after corridor, Joseph mentally kicked himself for being careless enough to use his real name with the CSC official.

          "Oh well." he thought, "The best thing I can do is get outta’ here hard and fast, just like Turagon said."

Taking another right turn, Joseph recognized his surroundings and realized he was closer to his fighter than he thought. Just another 100 meters or so.

           Leaning against the rock wall behind him, Joseph wiped beads of sweat that had begun appearing on his brow and closed his eyes for a short breather. And then beyond the sound of his breathing he could barely make out a distant, but fast approaching sound. 

*clink* *clink* *clink* *clink* 

Stormtroopers.  

The word came to Joseph with a sudden burst that made his eyes jump open. He noted to himself how much surprise and fear the word put into him when he thought about it. Stormtroopers had always stood for order and justice until hardly two days ago. Now they stood for nothing but terror. Joseph grimaced slightly to himself. How things could change in such a short time.

          Crouching against the corner of the nearby wall, Joseph ventured a look back the way he had just come. Roughly 25 meters away, a squad of eight Stormtroopers in a V formation was making its way towards him at a quick trot, the ever-so familiar clinking of white armor declaring the troopers  presence to all.

          Joseph stood up quickly from his crouching position and took off down the last corridor towards his waiting fighter with no hesitation. Turning the last corner into Bay 52, Joseph hopped aboard his fighter's port solar array and popped his top-hatch. Jumping inside the hatch as soon as it opened, he landed on the padded pilot couch behind his view port.

          Skipping as much of his pre-flight checks as he possibly could, he soon had his repulsorlifts humming to life. Then the stormtroopers arrived.

          Filing into his docking bay the troops began firing relentlessly with small blasters at his fighter and surrounding it. His cockpit was flooded with light as shot after shot flared against the blast shielding of his view port.

          Joseph continued coaxing his repulsor lifts to life and began glancing at other key systems. His hull seemed to be holding for the moment, but even combat armor had its limits against such relentless fire. Finally Joseph activated his repulsors and felt his ship begin to pull away from the confines of his hangar bay, and the stormtroopers.

He shunted more power to his engines and shot away from the hangar with the signature wail of twin ion engines. Glancing behind him he saw the shrinking shapes of stormtroopers still firing at him.

          Joseph brought his sensors online as soon as he cleared the spaceport. He immediately picked up a patrol flight of three Tie-Fighters moving to intercept him from starboard. He also spotted a full squadron of  Tie-Interceptors launching from one of the stations in orbit dead ahead.

          "Unknown starfighter, this is Imperial Control," his comm said as it crackled to life. "Bring your fighter down at the nearest area for questioning. Comply now or you will be fired upon."

As testament to the last statement the patrol flight of three Tie-Fighters had gained on Joseph's position and had solid laser locks on his starfighter.

          "Copy Imperial control. Bringing my fighter around now." Joseph pulled back slowly on his pilots yoke and rolled even more slowly on his port solar array until he was facing the Tie patrol that had come up on his stern.

          Obviously he was going to slide past the ties and continue towards the ground where he would be "questioned". Obviously.

          Joseph threw all power into his engines and pushed his pilot yoke as far down as it could go. The force of sudden acceleration and the near ninety degree descent pushed him back into the confines of his pilots chair and made the edges of his vision gray out. Fighting the G-forces Joseph brought his shields on-line and directed them towards the rear of his ship. Just in time.

          The three tie-fighters had been expecting a trick of some kind and twisted their fighters around with a certain amount of expertise that put them right on Joseph's tail. Their first shots went wide, but the follow-ups scored hits on the still diving Tie-Advanced. The blasts splashed harmlessly off the fully powered shields.

          Joseph put his fighter into a series of corkscrew turns and continued diving towards the city of Cor Vega that he had just left. The fighters behind him continued firing lances of green lightning towards him.

          His fighter shot out of the clouds over the outskirts of the city. Hanging extremely close to the terrain he juked back and forth attempting to lose the bothersome ties. Skimming the rooftops of the spaceport facility, he spotted a vast array of communication towers.

          Sliding his ship onto its starboard array and chopping his throttle back to 1/3 power he began working his way in and out of the towers. Dodging left and right, the towers flew by at a blinding speed. And then he was past them heading towards the main part of the city. Joseph evened out his fighter and looked behind him to see how the less aerodynamic ties had fared.

           The lead Tie-Fighter dodged the first few towers with ease, but then ran dead into another one that ripped right through the center of his craft. The broken Tie exploded in a huge ball of fire. That explosion threw the Tie to its port into a deadly spin that carried it away from the towers and towards the main spaceport control tower. The pilot pulled up as hard and fast as it could, but it's starboard wing clipped the tower and was brutally torn away. The final Tie-Starfighter slipped through the towers and continued firing at the jinxing Tie-Advanced.

Juking his ship in a series of random movements, Joseph managed to avoid the majority of bolts by a narrow margin.

          Joseph suddenly stopped his random movements and pulled back hard on his stick aiming the nose of his fighter towards the sky and cut his throttle to zero, sending his fighter into a quick stall.

The Tie-Fighter shot past his immobile starfighter and quickly realized its mistake. But not quickly enough.

          Bringing his engines back on-line, Joseph settled in right behind the sole remaining fighter. A single, quad-linked shot melted right through the center of the Tie-Fighter's ball cockpit, killing it's pilot instantly. The shot also set off the starfighter's twin ion engines igniting fuel tanks and sending small shards of the armor raining down on downtown Cor Vega in a brilliant explosion. Breathing a sigh of relief, Joseph gunned his engines, skimmed over the city, and angled up towards space.

          Joseph finally broke through the atmosphere and made his way towards deep space. Giving one last look towards Corellia and the still pursuing Tie-Interceptors that had launched earlier, Joseph engaged his hyperdrive and was on his way to Selonia.

 

******************

 

After the extremely short hop away from Corellia and to Selonia, Joseph spotted Captain Turagon's ship, the Corellian Corvette Jadestone. Orbiting the giant blue form of Selonia, the Jadestone had several small shuttles and freighters docking with it delivering supplies.  

          Joseph activated his comm. system and said, "Tie-Advanced starfighter to Jadestone. Requesting bay clearance."

A deep bass voice replied, "Clearance granted starfighter. Glad you got here now, we were about to head off."

"Appreciate you waiting Jadestone." Joseph replied with a smirk. "Lining up for docking procedures."

"Copy starfighter, Captain Turagon arrived just ahead of you. He'll meet you in the Docking bay. Jadestone out."

          Ten minutes later, Joseph set his Tie-Advanced down slowly onto the deck of Jadestone's hanger with a thump. Stepping out of his starfighter, and hopping down to the deck off his starboard solar array, Joseph looked around the hanger with apparent curiosity.

          Across from his fighter were parked three Z-95 Headhunters that had seen alot of wear and tear. A few mechanics huddled around the Headhunters looking them over and tuning different parts. Joseph also noticed a few other mechanics and crewmen of the Jadestone giving him and his Imperial fighter a hard stare.

          Joseph was withdrawn from his personal thoughts when a heavy hand landed on his shoulder.  Turning around he saw the smiling, scarred face of Captain Turagon.

          “Well son, glad to see you made it. After you left I heard from a friend a squad of stormies was heading towards your ship.”

Joseph leaned back against his fighter, crossed his arms across his chest and replied, “Yeah, I managed to give them and a few Tie's the slip on my way out here.”

Joseph pointed to a long black streak of a laser bolt that creased the solar array he was leaning against.  "A Tie-Fighter's handiwork."

          "Good to know you’re up to the challenge. We seem to run into quite a few Imps and pirates on our runs." Turagon paused for a moment, then turned and swept his arm, displaying the rest of the hanger to Joseph. "But for now let me show you around my beautiful ship."

"Lead the way, Captain."

 

<"See?" Hellcat said to Icestorm. "You haven’t even been here that long, and you’re already being treated to a tale."