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Change of Command

By Gremlin
Contributions from Wolf, Shadow and Jalb

Colonel Vince "Stryker" Rambo leaned back in his comfortable chair, resting his elbows on its nerf-hide padded arms and steepling his hands in front of him. As Commanding Officer of Renegade Wing, he was entitled to a desk and chair commensurate with his rank, his seniority and the size of his office aboard the CRS Vigilant. It also helped to emphasise his stature as the Wing's senior officer - though his Mandalorian beskar'gam also played a part. He regarded the pilot steadily; she looked back at him, outwardly calm.

"You're sure you don't want to be considered for this role?"

"Yes, sir!" Her answer was clear. "Not at this moment in time. I'm ." There was a momentary break in her emotional state; Stryker's eyes narrowed, but she recovered to add, "I'm not ready yet." Her voice was naturally husky, but it hid another layer of distress.

"And yet," Stryker pretended to glance at his datapad, though he had already committed her details to memory, "you've been flying with the Rebellion, now the New Republic of course, for four years. You've been a long-term flight leader with Red Squadron; a training officer - however briefly - for Blade Squadron," she tried to hide her flinch; he ignored it, "and now XO of Spectre since shortly after it was formed. With Lieutenant Colonel Durgan's move... out of Combat Operations, you would normally be considered as a potential OC for the squadron. Yet you're turning this opportunity down? Why?"

Her skin flushed a deeper shade of red. "Permission to speak freely, sir?"

Stryker waved one hand in the air. "Go ahead."

Captain Gemilan "Gremlin" smiled, a tilt of her lips which bordered on mocking. "I'm not turning it down forever, Colonel. Chances are, at some stage in the future, the role will come vacant again and - if I'm alive - hopefully I'll be ready then. But not now, sir." Her smile faded. "I know myself well enough - it's not the right time for me. But the new OC, whoever they are, will need a strong XO and I can be that person."

He eyed her. Everyone in the Wing knew Gremlin: the purple-haired Zeltron was an exuberant force of nature aboard the Vigilant, not to mention an excellent pilot. He also knew that her last few missions had been uniquely challenging. Stryker nodded once. "Fair enough. Your reasons are accepted. Thanks for your candour, Captain."

"Any time, sir." It wasn't the appropriate way to respond to the Wing's Commanding Officer, but Gremlin clearly considered she was still speaking freely.

"One more thing ." The Colonel raised a finger, arresting her obvious desire to leave. "Why did you ask Lieutenant Colonel Reynolds to not have the new OC come from the ranks of Rogue Squadron?"

This time, her smile was more natural. Stryker felt his body respond to the flood of pheromones she must have released instinctively as she relaxed. He tried to keep his expression impassive - Zeltrons were empathic, after all - but she didn't seem to notice.

"Several reasons, sir. Rogue Squadron has been hard hit recently - they've even had to borrow the Buccaneer OC and XO for some missions - and weakening them further by pulling another pilot away to command a squadron doesn't seem like the best use of scarce resources. There's a lot of pilots in this Wing who are strong leadership condidates, but who may not make it to Rogue for whatever reason - are we going to ignore them?" She gave a one-shouldered shrug. "That's why I think either Shadow or Wolf would be great for Spectre's new OC. Assuming they're on your shortlist, of course, sir," she added, trying to sound like there was a possibility they weren't.

Stryker raised his eyebrows. "I would ask how you know this, Captain, but I'm assuming you have several above-board reasons for sharing this insider knowledge."

"Of course, sir!" Gremlin sounded surprised he'd even ask such a question.

"Then - as Spectre XO - could you give me your opinion of which one you'd prefer to be in charge?" Stryker leaned back, steepling his fingers again, but he kept his gaze fixed on the young Zeltron.

"No, sir. I could not." Gremlin drew herself up and took a deep breath. "I respect and value them both. I'd be proud to work with either of them as Spectre Lead - assuming they'd want to keep me in the XO role, of course. I can't and won't choose between them. I hope you appreciate why I'm saying this." Her expression was closed, even severe.

Stryker let the silence stretch for a couple of seconds before nodding. "Thank you, Captain. I'm sure you appreciate that discretion is necessary here. I'll call you when I'm ready to send my decision to General Firth. You are dismissed."

***

Major Myke "Wolf" Krenn, currently XO of Corsair Squadron, sat in a smaller, somewhat less comfortable chair on the other side of Stryker's desk. He knew why he was there - Rogue Lead had given him a heads-up - but facing the Wing's Commanding Officer was still an intimidating experience and knowing that you were in the running for an OC's post was even more challenging. He willed himself to relax and answer Stryker's question calmly.

"I see Spectre at something of a crossroads, sir - at the moment, it's a group without much of an identity. I'd start by getting a feel for how the pilots themselves feel. Where they're at, how they feel about Spectre as a whole and how they see the squadron fitting into a long history like Renegade Wing. It's a youngster trying to punch its way into a room filled with old, proven names. It needs a spirit and a way forward."

Wolf leaned forwards, sounding more sure of himself. "I propose two things. The first is that Spectre doubles down on its multi-role capability and shows its all-round worth. At the moment, they end up running assist with just about every other squadron, allowing a broad range of missions and interactions yet not quite standing out on their own. This should become their key capability - they may be the first in, able to hold off any job until a more specialized squadron arrives, or they may be the reinforcements, capable of handling any situation another group finds themselves in."

"The second is a continuation of the role they've carried out before - Close Air Support and destruction of static defenses. They pave the way for Sabre to land ground troops or rescue a downed pilot. They're the ones you send it to destroy gun towers, missile defenses, anything that would threaten ground troop transports or even carry out attack runs. This is more specialized, more unique and stand-out ... but it's teamed with their more general, multi-role approach." He nodded twice in emphasis, then sat back again. "I think if they can achieve that, Spectre will be able to take its full place in the Wing."

Stryker caught Jalb's eye - Rogue's OC was involved in these discussions as a matter of course - and gave a bland smile. "Thank you, Major. That was very interesting. We'll let you know our decision as soon as possible."

***

Captain Conall "Shadow" McKenna was slightly older than Wolf. The pilot, callsign Spectre 9, sat on the edge of his chair, his back ramrod straight as he responded to Stryker's questions. He, too, touched on Spectre's identity and the challenge of integrating a new squadron into the wing; it was clear that both potential OCs had already put some thought into the issues that would confront whoever eventually was assigned to the post.

"A lot of the pilots in Spectre have ground mission experience - all the former members of Red Squadron from our SpecOps days, not to mention TP and Damak - and there's a great deal of depth in piloting too, both from the more experienced pilots and the newer members like FLATTOP and Wildcard. It makes the squadron's multi-role capability stronger and gives us much to build on. I'd also like to see how each individual wants to progress and advance in the Wing - I've been speaking to Talon, for example, and I know he has Rogue aspirations; I'd like to see what I can do to help people figure out these goals and reach them." Jalb and Stryker exchanged glances at that and Rogue Lead made a mental note of young Edwyn KalDan's ambitions.

Shadow was still talking. "I'm pretty invested in helping Spectre work out, It's got some great people in it and it is the first new unit to be introduced to the Wing - we have a lot to live up to, but I know we can make an impact." He stopped to draw breath, then decided that it was a good place to finish.

Stryker nodded. "You've given us another interesting perspective on Spectre Squadron - thank you, Captain. We'll let you know our decision as soon as possible."

After Shadow had saluted and left the room, Jalb came to take the seat he'd vacated. "Well?"

Stryker looked across the desk at his long-term friend. "We have a lot of thinking to do!"

***

For operational security reasons, Spectre's XO had been tasked with taking the documentation to Fleet HQ; none of the Vigilant's command staff wanted to risk it being intercepted in transmission. The packet contained recommendations from Syntax and Krayt, the current OCs of Corsair and Spectre, and the final decision of Stryker and Jalb; Gremlin was all too aware of the importance of her duty. It was a two-day round trip and the Zeltron looked somewhat dishevelled as she reported to Stryker's office immediately after touching down on the familiar flightdeck.

"Orders, sir, courtesy of General Firth." She handed over the sealed datapad, saluted and turned to go.

"One moment, Captain ." Stryker used his code cylinder to break the seal, read the document and looked up, his expression impenetrable. "Please assemble Spectre Squadron in the briefing room at 17:00 hours. Dress of the day, it's an important occasion but we all know Renegades don't stand on formality."

"Yes Sir!"

***

The pilots of Spectre Squadron were in the briefing room well before the appointed time. As the chronometer clicked over to 17:00, Stryker and Jalb entered with the two OC candidates following them, accompanied by Krayt and Syntax. Gremlin called the squadron to attention and led the salute.

"At ease - take your seats, pilots." Stryker waited for the group to sit. He didn't have to call them to order; they were silent and attentive, a good sign, he thought. Of course, the Wing scuttlebutt would have kept them abreast of the main developments. The only question-mark was over which pilot would lead the squadron in the future.

The Mandalorian raised his voice. "As you know by now, Lieutenant Colonel Durgan has moved on from the Wing and into..." he looked over towards Jalb who shrugged, almost imperceptibly, "New Republic Diplomatic channels." Jalb ducked his head and smiled. "We thank him for his hard work in shaping Spectre into the squadron it has become, but we need to choose a new leader to take you forward into the future. Both Major Krenn and Captain McKenna are worthy candidates, but only one can become the OC of Spectre Squadron." Briefly he paused, then announced, "By order of General Firth, Starfighter Command, effective immediately Major Myke Krenn is appointed Officer Commanding Spectre Squadron! Captain Gemilan shall retain Executive and I expect all personnel to provide their full support to the Squadron leadership going forward."