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Ashes of Bandit

By: Bulldog (with inspiration from Jalb)

Word Count: 4606

The CRS Liberty reverted to realspace just as suddenly as it had left it hours ago from Sullust, finally reaching the terminus of the entirety of the Rebel fleet's objective. All personnel aboard were eerily quiet as the situation appeared tranquil at first before devolving into all out chaos.

The rebel fighters began reporting in by squadron as they all approached the seemingly defenseless second Death Star. The comms coming through were orderly and calm, but the underlying edge of stress and nerves was evident in even the most hardened pilots as they flew into the unknown.

Suddenly, the Millenium Falcon peeled away as the general piloting the ship shouted about the shields being up. Throughout the cacophony of hurried warnings and traffic management to avoid collisions, one line from the supreme commander of the fleet, the Mon Calamari Admiral Gial Ackbar, came through loud and clear. "It's a trap!"

"Sithspawn! Look at the size of that thing," somebody from the local Liberty comm system swore as the target appeared in their view through the magcon hangar. The leader of that squadron shut down that pilot's nervous declaration, but many more came through from other pilots in the wing sitting in their cockpits awaiting the order to launch.

Lieutenant Migazz "Spectre" Murg sat in his cockpit toward the far end of the massive hangar. He and his squadmates in Bandit Squadron were not prioritized for launch, as the other squadrons of Renegade Wing were to launch into the fray first.

Nerves threatened to get the better of him. His hands felt clammy, which was generally normal for his Quarren biology, but this was extraordinarily different than his baseline. He closed his eyes and forced the gill-like auditory receptors shut to block out the noise. While not a perfect solution, the only noise reaching his brainpan now was a dull din as opposed to the sharp cacophony that combat communications always devolved into.

He breathed, centering himself as best he could, but the enormity of the situation overwhelmed his usual routine. His eyes shot open just as something was happening inside the hangar.

"Launch them all!" Admiral Ra'kaat's voice shouted. The normally pleasant flight controller cut in next, but her calm tenor was replaced by an almost feral shriek. "All squadrons- deploy!"

"That's it, Bandits!" Captain Nirinla "Teal" Brua ordered. "We're back of the line, and our job is to hold close to the ship and keep her clear! Wait until the Blues are gone and push it to the firewall!"

Murg nodded as he double-clicked his mic, noting that the comm system was quickly being overwhelmed by the localized prioritization hierarchy of communications. Theoretically, you could pick up every piece of speech on the main channel, but it would drive any pilot mad if it came all at once in an unintelligible mess. Instead, local comms took precedence, with the command hierarchy getting higher priority over pilots.

The problem with the system was that you could hear a pilot's death scream across the battlefield if nobody in your squadron or direct chain of command was talking, leading to even more confusion as you weren't sure if one of your friends just bought the farm or it if was some nameless number far off on the other side of the engagement.

"Warheads coming in!" Brua shouted. "Seven, take Two Flight on heading Zeta Four-by Alpha Five. Three Flight, make sure they aren't harassed by any TIEs!"

"Seven copies," Murg said into his mic as he cycled through the sensors to find the incoming warhead threat. He kept his throttle maxed as he took on the ordered heading, still scanning the sensors for his assignment and coming up empty. "This place is full of hostile targets!" he snapped aloud in frustration.

"Eyes on the target!" Bandit Five shouted. "Sharing telemetry now."

Data flooded through the space of... space, and immediately filled Murg's tactical screen. The enhanced visual capabilities of his sensors showed a cloud of proton torpedoes zeroing in on the Liberty from one direction. Behind them was a second salvo that had just been launched by the TIE Bombers still on approach, not even making an attempt to vary their angles.

"They're confident," Murg said with a derisive snort. "Not even changing up their angle of attack. Everybody call out four targets and then keep going to the next grouping, and the one that will be launched after that. Kill the bombers when in range of your missiles!"

A chorus of double clicks responded, and in the absence of them or any of their squadmates talking, the supremely calm voice of a pilot filled the empty air. "Cut to the left, I'll take the leader."

"How in the Sith is that man so farking calm?!" Bandit Six wondered aloud.

Murg noticed the range to his target shrinking and gripped the stick tightly.

***

Ten Minutes Later...

Murg was sweating. While he generally pushed the cockpit atmospheric controls to maximum humidity to make himself more comfortable, for the first time in his Quarren life he felt like he should dial it back due to the stress-induced sweat pooling inside of his flight suit at the small of his back. If his suit ruptured, it would surely flood the entire cockpit.

The furball that was Endor was harrowing, especially more so since he and his squadron were tasked with holding in extremely close to the Liberty to keep the seemingly never ending waves of Imperial fighters off of his mothership. While being close to a friendly capital ship for support was usually a relief, the point defense turrets were firing wildly enough that more than once he and his squadmates had taken an inadvertent glancing blow while the gunners had been targeting a TIE nearby.

Sure, Corona, Blue, and Yellow had been around for about two minutes before everything went to hell and everybody got scattered about on different assignments. The moment the other three squadrons left to accomplish their own goals, Bandit was ordered to hold the line to the last.

"The fighters are really starting to thin out around here," Flight Officer Airess "Zuma" Karuma observed aloud to nobody in particular.

"Indeed, Eight," Brua replied in her gravelly voice. "Seven, do you have any contacts on your scopes?"

To any outside observer, they'd have thought the leader of Bandit Squadron was a grizzled man. To the trained Quarren ear of Murg, the intonation of her speech made it obvious she was a female Mon Calamari pilot. The history between their people was long and acrimonious, but he'd quickly learned that she was not nearly the conquering shallows-dweller his elders had led him and his generation to believe. He'd come to respect her authority in short order and trusted her judgment implicitly.

"Negative, Lead," Murg replied. "I've got clear skies in all sectors."

"Should we go hunting for more prey?" Karuma asked hopefully.

Murg chuckled. The youthful human was always champing at the bit to get into a furball. His mood quickly soured as he realized that so far Bandit had not lost a pilot during the battle, but statistically they were the outlier. He'd heard the death cries of many of his compatriots in Yellow, Blue, and many of the other rebel flyers in the thick of the battle.

"No, Eight," Brua replied. "We have been tasked with keeping the Liberty safe. If we fail in that task we have no home to go back to."

Murg nodded in agreement, and was about to chime in with a more heroic way to frame their rearguard duty when the comm came to life once again.

"Control to Bandit Squadron, you are to return to the hangar for a warhead swap ASAP."

"Warhead swap?" Murg blurted involuntarily. After a moment, the only reason for such an order dawned on him. "We going after bigger game?"

"Bandit copies, Control," Brua replied, her tone clear that she was not happy about Murg breaking comms protocol. "Should we rotate by flight to keep fighters in the sky?"

"No time, Bandit. Get everybody into the hangar at once! A flight from Corona is returning to take up your position."

"You heard them, Bandit. RTB," Brua ordered. Her tone made it clear that while she knew the reputation and skill of Corona's pilots from firsthand experience, she felt that one flight was not an adequate replacement for her entire squadron. Still, the consummate professional within her complied with the command as she kicked her ship over and headed back to the hangar.

Murg watched as the X-wings of Bandit all broke their patrols and made a beeline for the hangar. He waited a tick, doing one more thorough sweep of his sensors before turning his back on any lurking enemies. Seeing nothing within 5 klicks of him, he stomped on his rudder and fell into position at the end of the line of X-wings streaming into the hangar.

***

Murg popped his cockpit and felt instant relief as the dry, chilly atmosphere of the Liberty's hangar immediately took care of the copious perspiration on his brow, mouth tentacles, and neck. He stood, nodding briefly to his wingman nearby as they made eye contact.

Karuma nodded back, shaking her hair loose as she removed her helmet and climbed down the ladder a tech had attached to her ship. Her raven locks flowed effortlessly about her shoulders and back, relaying that she was not nearly as stressed as Murg had been during their opening action.

Murg likewise removed his helmet, feeling even more relief as he removed his own covering and the chilly air removed the beads of perspiration from his head crest. He climbed slowly down his own ladder and began jogging toward his Mon Calamari squadron leader as she stood off to the side. All around them, ground crew were doing the complicated dance of removing any unused concussion missiles from the magazines of the X-wings and began reloading them with the new, experimental proton torpedoes. His tendrils curled in surprise as he saw the new ordnance.

Brua noticed his expression and nodded. "Yeah, we're getting one of the first loads of those fancy new protorps," she said, hanging her mouth open in the Mon Calamari approximation of a conspiratorial smile.

"So we're definitely hunting bigger game?" Murg replied hopefully.

"Yeah, Spectre," Brua replied, using his callsign. "We're going to show Blue that we know how to pop some cap ships too."

The large hangar appeared even more cavernous as the space usually taken up by the other squadrons housed on the ship were vacant. Off on the far end of the hangar, a U-wing, two captured Alpha-class Xg-1 Star Wings, and a Y-wing lifted off and rocketed out into the void.

"I wonder where they're going?" Karuma asked as she watched the odd assortment of ships that had just left in a hurry.

Murg shrugged. "Not our concern. We're certainly throwing everything we've got into the field though."

Brua nodded sagely. "It's do or die time, that's for certain."

"5 minutes, Captain!" Chief Rafi Ramirez, the eclectic human lead mechanic of the Liberty, shouted above the din of the reloading operations.

"Smoke 'em if you got 'em," Brua said. She began doing an elaborate stretching routine to loosen up. The other pilots of Bandit likewise shook loose their limbs that had tightened up from their first brief taste of combat in this system.

Murg stepped a respectful distance away from the others and stood stock still, as was his ritual to center himself. He slowed his breathing as he closed his eyes and began his relaxation meditation. He cleared his mind of all thoughts as he attempted to relax.

A buzzing voice jarred him from his ritual. "Doing ok, Spec?"

Murg's eyes snapped open, and his mouth tentacles shook in mild disgust as he looked upon the oblivious Ithorian pilot that had intruded upon his temporary solitude. "Doing fine, Barraken. You?"

Lieutenant Pwirr "Barraken" Nhehl nodded anxiously. "I'm ok. Hoping we win this thing here and now so I'll know everyone back home is safe, ya know? Speaking of, how is that brother of yours? Still flying?"

Murg nodded. "As best he can. A neuro-virus has reduced his flight capabilities, sadly. Last we spoke, he was thinking about transferring out of the cockpit and going into intelligence."

"A what?" Barraken asked, his eyes narrowed in an Ithorian approximation of confusion.

Murg sighed. "Some sort of virus that is bacta-resistant is affecting his motor function. He's developed a tremor in his hands. Hard to hold a stick steady now."

"Ok Bandit, gather round!" Brua shouted, bringing a timely interruption to Murg's uncomfortable side conversation. He and his brother were relatively private people, and he didn't particularly like spreading his brother's troubles around.

Murg feigned an apologetic look toward the nosy Ithorian and quickly joined the rest of the Squadron. He shifted himself slightly once again as the oblivious being joined the group and stood shoulder to shoulder with him. Some beings just had a hard time taking a hint, but Barraken tended to take that to the extreme at times.

"Reloads are almost finished. We're being tasked with taking on the..." she trailed off as she looked at her datapad to find the bit of information that had slipped her mind before continuing, "Pride of Tarlandia. Word is that it's a big communications hub for the Imps. We pop that balloon, and their coordination goes poof. Get to your ships and be ready to take off on my command."

Murg gave Karuma a confident nod as he jogged back with her toward their now reloaded X-wings. The techs were pulling their munitions carts away at the safest yet fastest possible speed to clear the area.

One tech remained with a hand on the ladder. He gave Murg a curt nod. "Knock em dead, Loot," he said.

"Bet on it," Murg replied as he donned his helmet and secured the strap. He clambered up the ladder and sat quickly down in his cockpit, taking one last wistful look around the hangar as if he knew he wouldn't see it again.

"Bandit, report in by numbers," Brua ordered over the comm.

Murg listened to his squadmates calling out their readiness in order, taking in a deep breath as he waited for his turn. He knew that they were all about to go back out into the maelstrom, only this time they'd be flying directly into the teeth of the Imperial beast rather than staying close to home as they had been. He knew that some of the people he heard counting off wouldn't return, and there was also a chance he wouldn't survive the coming engagement either. He hoped that didn't come to pass, but just in case pulled up his latest message for his brother and scanned it briefly with his eyes. He'd forgotten that this latest note included quite a bit of sideways humor at the expense of the situationally annoying Ithorian squadmate and wished the possible final message he was sending to his brother was more poignant and deep. Sighing sadly, he shot out a brief message to the Alliance message queue for his brother in the event of his passing.

He chuckled as his tendrils curled. If he were to go down today, at least Moggaz would know through his usual dry wit and sarcastic humor that he really disliked this one particular individual. At least, he hoped his brother got the deeper meaning of his words. Come to think of it, his message may have come across more effusive than sarcastic. He shrugged. "Nothing to do about it now," he mumbled to himself.

"Bandit Five, let's kick the tires and light some fires!"

"Bandit Six, ready to r-"

The entire universe exploded around Murg. All around his cockpit, the Liberty was engulfed in flames. Before he even had a chance to react, the wall of fire reached his ship.

He didn't have time to scream. The flames rushed closer, kissing the outside of his cockpit before melting the transparisteel panes and filling his cockpit with the heat of a thousand suns.

***

10 Weeks Later...

Lt. Col. Alrick "Krayt" Durgan wound his way through the only safe route through the damaged walkways of the CRS Vigilant. Having just narrowly avoided an ambush that almost certainly would have destroyed the ship had the other strike forces not been pulled out of hyperspace right on top of the interdictor cruiser trapping them in the system, the ship surely would have perished and taken all aboard her down with it. As it stood currently, there were so many holes in her that there were only a few viable pathways to get from one end to the other while the Vigilant limped her way back toward drydock for extensive repairs.

The circuitous path gave him time to gather his thoughts. He had a plan, and was dedicated to that singular purpose. As he neared the makeshift meeting room, he took a few calming breaths to compose himself. After a moment, he felt completely centered and ready to accomplish his task. He took a few more steps and entered the room confidently as the door whooshed open automatically.

Seated at the small conference table were Lt. Col. Chris "Jalb_k" Reynolds, Colonel Vince "Stryker" Rambo, Lt. Col. Bill "Jedi" Morrison, Captain Terak Quelle, and one other entity he hadn't banked on being in attendance.

"Major Murg," Krayt greeted the Quarren intelligence officer with a salute, turning slightly to show the gesture to his direct superiors in attendance.

Stryker returned the gesture casually and gestured toward the open seat at the table. "At ease, Alrick. What do you have for us?"

"Right to it then," Krayt nodded, licking his lips in anticipation. He pulled out his datapad and plugged it into the port at his place at the table. Another moment of clicking and tapping later and a crude sketch of an X-wing with a gray and almost electric blue-green paint job appeared on the holo display at the center of the table. Nobody spoke for a long moment, and for the first time since he'd thought up his plan he felt doubt creep into the back of his mind.

Jalb broke the silence. "I don't recognize this paint scheme."

"Nor do I," Quelle agreed with a shake of his head.

"I should expect not, Sirs," Krayt replied quickly. "It's a new design of my own making."

"Is this for... the support staff ships?" Jedi asked with uncertainty, referring to Krayt's current posting as the head of the Renegade Wing Support Staff that included all non-squadron ships.

Krayt sucked in a deep breath and held it for a moment. He nodded slightly to himself as he let the breath out. "I would like to stand up a new squadron."

"Absolutely not," Stryker objected immediately with an emphatic shake of his head. "We just took some serious losses out there yesterday and we're barely limping back home. We've got some severe holes to fill before we can even think about standing up another squadron."

"I'm sorry, Alrick," Jalb said with a kind smile on his face to match his earnest gaze. "We just don't have the manpower to do something like this. Skull, Rogue, Corsair, and Buccaneer all took some heavy losses. We'll need to get more pilots to fill those holes before we even think about something like this."

"Sirs-" Krayt began, but was cut off by a wave of Stryker's hand.

Murg coughed slightly, but it was enough to grab the attention of all in attendance as they stopped talking. They all looked toward the mysterious Quarren intelligence attache expectantly.

"I would like to know what the role of this new squadron would be," Murg said quietly as he clasped his hands on the table in front of himself.

Krayt straightened his back, seeing the opening in the wall he was looking for. "Recon-"

"Corsair," Stryker interrupted.

"Interdiction-"

"Rogue," Jalb said quickly.

"Capital-"

"Buccaneer," Jedi interjected.

"Escort-"

"Is that not what Skull does already?" Quelle asked in confusion.

Krayt nodded. "Yes, but I was envisioning more of a long-range escort. Skull sticks close to the taskforce. This new squadron would be available to escort ships away from the taskforce."

The rest of the men in attendance nodded thoughtfully at that last point, but Stryker was clearly still unconvinced. "You've basically created a jack-of-all-trades squadron, Durgan. Seems like it's a redundancy for Rogue squadron."

Krayt snorted. "Is that necessarily a bad thing? Look at their roster currently, Colonel. We need another X-wing unit on the ship to alleviate the stress that's being thrust upon the Rogues. I was a Rogue, once, and I know just how stressful that can be."

Jalb nodded slightly in agreement, clearly not wishing to provide any objections for Stryker to latch onto that would shoot down his longtime friend's idea. "He's got a... point."

"Might lead to the Rogues lasting a bit longer if they aren't constantly being pulled on operations because nobody else can do everything at once," Jedi agreed.

Murg shook his head and coughed again to grab the attention of the room. "While I believe that goal would be admirable, I tend to agree with Colonel Rambo that there are just too many holes to fill if that is the purview of your new squadron idea, Lieutenant Colonel. I would not advise standing up a new squadron under those terms and duties. I'm sorry."

Krayt felt deflated at that news. He slumped in his chair slightly, but he decided to throw up his hail mary as a last ditch argument to get his way. "I also think it would be a good idea if this new squadron had a minor focus in covert intelligence gathering missions." He held out his hands to forestall the objections clearly written on the faces of Stryker and Jalb. "I'm not talking about going with a full on commando-pilot outfit. I am fully aware that Rogue Squadron is capable of that work. But I think this unit would be best served with stealth in mind, and give the taskforce another arm to strike out with. Covertly." The entire argument felt like it had come out of his mouth with one breath, so he sat back and attempted to pull in oxygen quietly and maintain his outward appearance of calm.

"Huh," Jalb said, breaking the silence. He shook his head from side to side as he had a mental debate.

"Didn't there used to be an X-wing squadron based with the wing on the Liberty named Bandit Squadron? Lost at Endor?" Murg asked. "Dead to the last man if I remember correctly?"

Stryker likewise was clearly working through some things mentally. After another moment, his eyes lit up and he raised a finger. "You know, we've been looking for a reason to re-raise Bandit. While I have misgivings about our current staffing levels of the other squadrons, I suppose we could work with this and bring Bandit back into the fold so all of the 'old' Liberty squadrons can be reunited once again."

Jedi nodded in agreement. "Might be just the sort of shot to the arm this place needs for morale, all things considered."

Krayt paled slightly at the mention of Bandit Squadron. Jalb likewise had a spooked look on his face. Their reactions were noted instantly by Quelle. "What? I see how the two of you reacted to that name. What is it?"

Jalb coughed into his hand slightly. "Well, Captain, Bandit is kind of... cursed?"

"Cursed?"

"It's true we had them with us at Endor," Krayt replied. "As I went AWOL from sickbay with the miniature strikeforce of reinforcements being sent out, I saw them all return to the Liberty and land in the hangar."

"And?"

"Well, they never left the ship," Jalb said quietly. "Before they took back off, the Death Star destroyed the Liberty."

All in attendance nodded in understanding. "I see," Quelle replied as he bowed his head. Everybody likewise bowed their heads in silent prayer.

"I had a brother in Bandit," Murg said finally, breaking the silence once again.

"You did?" Krayt asked as he mentally tried to recall all of the pilots in the squadron, but was coming up short.

Murg nodded. "I did. Never did know what happened to him aside from the standard 'killed in action' and 'your family member was a hero' line. Until now."

"I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news," Jalb apologized sadly. "Had we known about your familial connection, we certainly would have told you."

Krayt nodded. "And I'm sorry for bringing back the memory of your brother."

Murg nodded thankfully, but shook his head. "No need for apologies, gentlemen. He was a pain in the backside at times, but he was family. His last message really drove home the fact that he was amongst his new family, and it brought me comfort in knowing that he likely died with them around him. He was particularly fond of an Ithorian pilot that went by the callsign 'Barraken'."

"What was your brother's callsign?" Stryker asked somberly.

"Spectre."

Something struck Krayt deep within his being at the name. It was as if something in the universe was telling him that Spectre was the name he should utilize for his proposed squadron. The other part of his brain, however, was unsure if he should propose that idea. Murg seemed to be the only nominally amenable supporter of his idea, and he didn't want to burn that bridge.

Jalb saved him. "Spectre, the avenging ghost rising from the ashes of Bandit," he said with a conspiratorial grin. "I think that could work, don't you, Colonel?"

Stryker nodded uneasily, clearly reacting to some sort of unseen force in the same manner that Krayt had just felt. "Sure, yeah. Spectre. With your blessing, of course?" he asked as he looked at Major Murg.

Murg nodded slowly. "I'd say my brother would like the idea that he and his friends were a part of the nightmares inflicted upon the Imperials still fighting and harming the innocents of the galaxy."

"It's settled, then," Stryker said as he clasped his hands. "Lieutenant Colonel Durgan, you have permission to begin recruiting within the wing for Spectre Squadron, to be commanded by yourself. You must limit your recruiting to 3 people per active squadron, though, as we can't have your new squadron completely deplete any of the already active squadrons."

"And my XO?" Krayt asked, attempting to hide the elation he felt in accomplishing his goal.

"Up to you. Get your proposed roster to myself and the rest of the command staff by 1300 tomorrow. Any remaining open roster slots will be filled with recruits as we deem fit. Dismissed."

"Roger that, Colonel," Krayt replied quickly. A torrent of names flooded through his mind as he thought about his roster and possible second in command. He stood and made to leave the room in a hurry, but caught himself at the door just before he left. He spun on his heel and saluted smartly. He looked Murg directly in the eyes as he held his salute. "Spectre won't let you down, Major."

Murg returned the salute, his hand free of tremors as he did so. "Of that point, Lieutenant Colonel, I have no doubt."

The End