The Gormanth screeched out of hyperspace half a click from the New Republic prison transport Betan IV. Its turbolasers pivoted sharply to lock on to the rectangular ship, then began spewing a hail of green laser fire at the defenseless ship. Despite the scarlet blasts of returning fire from the prison ship, they made quick work of the shields. As the Betan IV attempted to adjust course, the blue bolts of the Gormanth's ion cannons made short work of the engines and its other systems. While the Betan IV drifted lazily in space, two troop transports exited the hangar and made their way towards the disabled ship, snugly docking with the docking hatches on the left and right of the ship's topside.
As the teams of stormtroopers and death troopers spilled forth into the dimly lit hexagonal hallways minutes later, the mechanical security droids marched in pairs down the lengthy corridors to meet them, blasters raised.
"Team One, move up!" said the lead black-clad death trooper into their helmet comm as four stormtroopers with heavy shields moved forward to create a defensive line.
"Imperial forces," buzzed the first of the two blocky security droids marching towards them. "You have three seconds to lower your weapons and surrender or we will—"
"Open fire!" called the lead death trooper. A hail of scarlet bolts from E-11 and other heavy blasters surged towards the two security droids as the death and stormtroopers behind the ones with shields rose from their crouched positions. The two droids collapsed in a heap of smoking metal, the exposed circuits and wires sparking and snapping wildly.
"Move forward," ordered the lead death trooper. They did so as one, and as the next pair of security droids rounded the corner, this time opening fire immediately, the squad repeated the same maneuver.
The team had made it thirty feet further down the hallway before the blast doors behind them closed. Directly ahead, two pairs of security droids rounded each of the two corners, the blast doors closing behind them as well. They were boxed in.
"Hold position!" called the trooper as heavy blaster fire slammed into the shields of the first row of troopers. "DT-784, DT-791!"
"On it," said the left-most trooper as he unfastened a ball from his belt. The second trooper did the same, and almost as one they rolled the metallic balls between the shields of the front troopers towards the security droids, blaster fire continuing to pin them down. Within seconds blue-white electricity bolts rose from the metallic balls and began surging through the bodies of the security droids. All four collapsed into a smoking heap on the ground, the electricity and subsequent blaster fire from the troopers making short work of them.
"DT-784," said the lead trooper, "blast doors if you please."
The left-most death trooper moved towards the control panel and began the slicing procedure. It may have been thirty seconds at most before the blast doors hissed open again.
"All too easy," came DT-784's raspy voice over the comm system.
"Team Two," said the lead trooper, pressing two fingers to their helmet. "What's your status?"
"Almost at the bridge, Commander" came the response. "E-T-A — one minute."
"Good. DT-784, DT-791, get the rear blast door open," said the trooper, turning to the two black-clad troopers. "We're going to need an exit path. Everyone else, with me."
The squad continued making its way down the maze of corridors, dispatching any other security droids that they encountered with ease. It wasn't long before they reached the detention cells on the third level, each filled with several Imperial officers or personnel each. Calls began to rise from the cells as the occupants beckoned to be freed. The squad moved forward, however, until they reached their quarry. At the end of an adjacent corridor to the main path lay a cell with a single occupant.
"DT-908 to lead," came a voice over the comm.
"Bridge is secured. Pilots activated a distress signal. New Republic reinforcements are on their way."
"Then we'll need to act fast. Can you override the security systems for the cell doors?"
A faint clicking sound came from the door ahead, as did several behind them.
"Get the personnel back to the ship," said the lead trooper turning to the squad. "I'll deal with this one."
As the troopers dispersed and the cell door slid open, it revealed a solitary figure sitting on the bed facing the door. She was wearing a New Republic prisoners outfit, and her raven-black hair had grown and was slightly unkempt.
"This is most unexpected," said Brynna Gaspra as she stood up.
"I come bearing an offer," the trooper said, holding up a holo puck. Activating it, the holographic figure of a thin-faced man with short hair and a pencil-thin mustache shone to life, awash in blue. He was wearing the uniform and rank insignia of an Imperial Moff.
Gaspra's mouth half-opened, her eyebrows raised in surprise.
"Brynna Gaspra," said Moff Gideon's meticulously calculating and firm voice. It was clearly a recording and not a live message. "My informants have been keeping tabs on you since we discovered you and your crew were captured. While the loss of the Monarch is ... regrettable," Gideon continued, "it is my understanding that you are a competent and capable officer of the Imperial Navy. And I am in need of such officers.
I'm prepared to make an offer that Commodore Barand cannot." Gaspra continued to watch intently as Gideon's message continued. The trooper reached inside a large side pouch on their utility belt and produced a blue-and-red Imperial Captain's insignia placard. "If you join me, you'll be fully reinstated as a Captain in the Imperial navy. The ship sent to rescue you and your crewmates will be yours until such time as you can be given a new ship. And you will once more serve a higher purpose and order." The trooper held out the placard, and Gaspra looked at it with great interest. "If you decline ... well, given that my troops have been ordered to disable the prison ship you are on, I'm sure you can imagine what the New Republic will do. I trust that you'll make the right decision." The blue hologram of Moff Gideon faded into oblivion.
Gaspra rose and slowly walked over to the trooper, taking the insignia. She held it in her hands momentarily, admiring the status symbol and what it meant.
"I take it you'll make the right decision," the trooper said.
Brynna looked up at the trooper.
"Who are you?" she asked.
Looking cautiously behind her to make sure that no other Imperial troopers were in the nearby area, the trooper turned around and removed their helmet. The figure had gold-white hair and icy blue eyes. Eyes that Gaspra knew.
"Someone who cares," came a female's voice.
"Kalith?!" Gaspra exclaimed in surprise.
"Hey sis," said Kalith with a smirk. "Long time no see."
Captain Nidalee Supriya moved about her quarters, organizing and gathering her belongings. The foot-high blue holographic figure of a man with short hair wearing civilian clothing watched intently.
"I swear, Nidalee," he said with a sigh, "if you make that room any neater the cleaning droids will find themselves unemployed."
Nidalee gave a small laugh as she finished packing one of the container cases with her belongings.
"Honestly, Micah," she said, looking at the hologram. "I'm not that bad."
"The last time we were together on shore leave, you had your uniform iron-pressed three times. Consecutively."
"Those wrinkles were hard to get out," she said, walking over to her closet. She reached in and removed a hangar from the rod inside. Moving back over towards the hologram she held it up against her body. "How does this black dress look?"
Micah seemed dumbfounded for a minute, and a bit abashed, too. Nidalee seldomly showed her feminine side while in uniform or during their calls to one another.
"That, uh ... that ... I'm sure I could give a better opinion if I saw you with it. In person," he said, stumbling over his words.
"And if you want to see me in it tonight then you need to behave and stop teasing," she said.
"Yes, ma'am!" he said with a quick two-fingered salute to his brow.
"Did you get the tickets for Bestine's?" she asked as she neatly folded the dress and put it in the medium-sized container.
"Sure did. Dinner and a nice walk on the waterfront, followed by fireworks..." Micah began.
"And dancing?" Nidalee asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Yes," he huffed with a sigh, "we can also do dancing."
"Wonderful," she said with a smile. "I'll see you at eighteen hundred hours."
"Love you," Micah said.
"Love you, too," Nidalee said, blowing him a kiss before the hologram switched off.
Nidalee continued to organize the last few items in her quarters before she left. As she straightened the items on her desk, she picked up a framed photograph of her and Micah from a few years earlier. They looked younger then, before the war had really gotten started. It was a sentimental gift from Micah, and an expensive one considering that paper and printed photos weren't commonly used throughout the galaxy anymore. But she appreciated it all the same, the two of them posing on vacation with tropical birds on their shoulders during one of their first dates. She had enjoyed that day immensely.
Placing the photograph back on her desk, she closed the lid on her container and snapped it shut. Picking it up, she made it to the doorway and was about to step through when the communicator in her room chimed. Giving a sigh, she set the container on the floor and moved over to her console.
"Supriya here," she said.
"Apologies, Captain," came her first officer's voice. "But an urgent priority message from General Grasri has come in. He needs to speak with you directly."
"Put him through, Glenn," she said as she sat down in her chair. Suddenly the blue holographic image of a squat Mon Calamari man appeared, seated in the captain's chair of his ship.
"General Grasri," she said, "what can I do for you?"
"Apologies for interrupting your shore leave, Captain Supriya. I understand how important downtime is for all officers and personnel. But an urgent matter has come up."
"If it's urgent, General, I'd be happy to help. What's the situation?"
Grasri took a breath before speaking again.
"Captain Gaspra has escaped New Republic custody." Nidalee stared at the General, taking every word in carefully, her face growing serious. "Shortly after thirteen-hundred hours today, the prison transport Betan IV was attacked by an Arquitens-class Imperial Light Cruiser, the Gormanth. The pilots managed to send a distress signal before the ship was disabled and they were, regrettably, killed. We are unsure at this time if Barand or another faction is responsible for this.
What you should also know is that that transport was carrying not only Gaspra but some of her top command staff and other personnel. I can't stress how important it is that Gaspra and her crew be taken back into New Republic custody."
"She's too dangerous to be left to her own devices, General," Supriya said, "and given her experience with the Imperial navy and Commodore Barand, her escape only makes her more dangerous — especially if Barand is involved. I would like to add, however, that most of my crew has departed for shore leave, including Jade Squadron. I'm operating with a skeleton crew."
"I wholeheartedly agree, Captain. Regardless, I need you and your crew to prepare for departure immediately and meet us at the rendezvous point. I'm pulling every available ship that is not engaged in direct operations to search for the Gormanth. We need to find her, and your assistance will be invaluable."
Supriya looked momentarily at the picture of her and Micah again. She hated to rush into danger and ignore him, but she knew he'd understand. Or hoped he would anyway.
"Very well, General. We'll disembark immediately."
"Excellent. Grasri out."
Keying some buttons on her console, Supriya opened a ship-wide announcement.
"Attention, attention. This is the captain. All remaining personnel are required to report to their stations immediately. Repeat, all remaining personnel are required to report to their stations immediately."
[Light Cruiser Gormanth — 14:30 hours]
Captain Gaspra stepped onto the bridge of the Gormanth. She took in the sight of the bridge crew working busily away, several officers giving her a salute as she moved forward. Her sister Kalith and a small squad of death troopers in their jet-black armor flanked her, as did her bridge officers from the former ISD Monarch, adding to her air of authority. The new and crisp Imperial uniform fit her perfectly, and the welcome weight of the captain's insignia on her chest tunic made her feel complete again.
"Report," she said as she stepped up to meet the Gormanth's first officer at the viewport window. She was a young woman with pale skin, green eyes, and red hair tucked neatly underneath her cap and tied into a tight bun
"Repairs are underway, ma'am," she said. "Though engineering says it will take another hour before the hyperdrive system is properly flushed and engines two and three are repaired."
"How fortunate it was of Moff Gideon to rescue us," Gaspra said, "and how unfortunate it is that it has to be on a ship that is not up to Imperial standards for repairs." She stepped forward to look out at the nebula in front of her, a hazy mist of purples, violets, and blues.
"Regardless of the needed repairs," the first officer said, "there is little doubt that New Republic forces are searching for us at this very moment."
"I wholeheartedly agree, Commander... ?" she said, raising a gloved hand to her chin.
"Elanna Amarillo, ma'am," said the young woman.
Gaspra weighed the options before her. Any Imperial reinforcements this deep in New Republic territory would take time to reach her, and should they engage would lead to a loss of life and valuable ships. On the other hand, if they couldn't get their engines and hyperdrive back up in time, they risked discovery and recapture by the New Republic.
"Commander," came a voice from one of the nearby consoles. "Zeta flight is reporting ready to launch for defensive formation. Shall I give the order?"
Before Elanna could reply, Gaspra cut in.
"Belay that order. Do not launch those TIEs."
"But, ma'am," Elanna began, taken by surprise, "we'll be—"
"Perfectly fine," Gaspra finished, turning to face Elanna. She chose the best option available to her. "Lieutenant," Gaspra continued, turning to the officer at the console. "Order the TIE pilots to be on stand-by in their craft, but not to launch until ordered to."
The lieutenant looked from Commander Amarillo to Captain Gaspra a few times, unsure of what to do or whose orders to follow.
"You'll have to beg pardon, ma'am," Amarillo said. "Much of the crew has served together these past two years. With the untimely demise of Captain Horvath a few weeks ago, the crew has become accustomed to orders from me as their Acting Captain."
Gaspra took a moment to consider this new information and how to best use it.
"I should like to inform you, ma'am," Amarillo continued, "that my orders do come from Moff Gideon himself. While he did offer you the captainship of this vessel, I am not to formally relinquish my command until we reach safe port."
"Is that so?" Gaspra said finally.
"Yes, ma'am," Amarillo said. "I have the orders right here," she said, holding out the datapad in her hands.
"That won't be necessary, Commander," Gaspra replied firmly, brushing the datapad aside. "As the ranking Imperial Officer here, I will take command of this vessel. You are also relieved of duty. Commander Vax'thoro of the former Star Destroyer Monarch will assume command in your place," she finished, nodding to the dark-haired officer with graying wingtips at his temples standing a few feet behind her.
Suddenly, several nearby stormtroopers raised their blasters, pointing them at Brynna Gaspra and her personnel. The death troopers raised theirs in return to protect Brynna despite being outnumbered. Stormtroopers, bridge officers, and other personnel exchanged glances, waiting for a silent signal or wondering if this would descend into a firefight. Amarillo held her ground, arms now folded behind her back, while Brynna surveyed the scene carefully.
"While I do recognize your Captainship," Amarillo said firmly, "my orders from Moff Gideon are clear. I have also earned the respect of this crew." As she finished, numerous personnel rose from their stations and stood at attention, silently signaling their loyalty to their Acting Captain.
Gaspra had to give the girl credit — she knew how to stand her ground. A loyal crew could be a boon for any Captain or Commander. Though Gaspra privately knew that she would have to find a way to deal with this insubordination effectively.
"I can appreciate an officer who has the loyalty of her crew," Gaspra continued after a moment, choosing her words carefully. "It makes for a well-run ship. I very much prefer a ship that follows a proper chain of command. And," she continued, looking around and addressing everyone present, "with the New Republic no doubt bearing down on us, a firefight on the bridge is counterproductive to reaching port safely." Gaspra turned to meet Amarillo's stone-faced glare, matching it. "I'll order the death troopers to stand down if, and only if, you recognize my Captainship and take orders from me — as a valued first officer would. Once we reach port, the proper channels will be used to transfer command and personnel accordingly. If you choose not to...," she trailed off.
Amarillo stared at Gaspra for several seconds before giving a nod of assent.
"As per our orders, that would be agreeable, ma'am," she said.
"Excellent," Gaspra said. "Commander, stand down and return to your stations. Await further orders,"she continued, looking at her sister in her armor.
"Yes, Captain," said Kalith as she and her squad lowered their blasters, then began moving towards the bridge exit.
"Commander Vax'thoro," Gaspra said, turning to her first officer, "until such time as your services are needed on my bridge, I relinquish you of your bridge duties to me. In the meantime, I would like you to spearhead repairs to the Gormanth by working in tandem with the chief engineers. Have any personnel with us who have engineering and technological knowledge from the prison ship assist the repair crews as needed."
Vax'thoro gave a simple nod, pivoted, and exited the bridge with a handful of other officers in tow. With a nod from Amarillo, the stormtroopers who had their blasters raised finally lowered them.
The Lieutenant at the tactical station spoke up again.
"The TIEs, ma'am? Shall I launch, or hold?"
"Do as the Captain ordered, Lieutenant," Amarillo finally said. She turned to face Gaspra.
Captain Gaspra walked deliberately past Commander Amarillo. "What type of nebula is that?" she asked.
"Class Four, ma'am," Amarillo replied as the bridge crew returned to working at their stations.
"Have the helm set a course to put us inside that nebula," Gaspra ordered.
Without missing a beat, Amarillo stated what Gaspra already knew. "The gas particles will interfere with our sensors. It will be impossible for us to see anything, or use our weapons. We'll be blind and defenseless."
"That we will," Gaspra said, staring at the swirling gas clouds and tendrils. "But any New Republic ship that enters will be equally disadvantaged. So long as we're in there, we'll be safe until the engines are repaired."
Seeing Gaspra's point of view, Amarillo turned to the pilots at the helm. "Helm, engage sub light engines. Take us into that nebula."
The Gormanth's sub light engines came to life once more, and the ship began its slow but measured course into the wisping tendrils of the nebula ahead. Gaspra smiled.
"I'm glad we are on the same page, Commander," she said.
"As am I, Captain," Amarillo responded.
[New Republic space — 15:00 hours]
Captain Supriya stood at the tactical console with her first officer, poring over maps and tactical information. The holographic figures of the other ship captains ringed around the table. Pressing a button, the map switched once more to the current position of the ships in the hastily cobbled together task force. Supriya's modified corvette, the Emerald Crown, inched across the board as quickly as it could for a ship in hyperspace. Several other corvettes, freighters, and a Nebulon-B2 Medical Frigate, the Batoth, held position or were actively searching for the Gormanth. On the fringes of the maps were a handful of flights of A-wings from the Batoth.
"I say we deploy the rest of your A-wing and X-wing squadrons, Captain Chitani," said Captain Markesh, a dark-skinned human. "It widens our net and the ability to locate the Gormanth."
"While also leaving us open and vulnerable to a counter-attack," said Captain Chitani, a light-skinned Twi'lek with decorative markings running down her lekku. "I can spare the rest of Skybolt Squadron," she said, crossing her arms, "but I won't risk Thunder Squadron when we need protection."
"Might I suggessst," piped up Captain Katosh, a trandoshan male, "that we dispersssse our ships further ssso that we can cover more ground?"
"If we make our net any wider, it puts us at a disadvantage in being able to respond to each other should something happen, or if we in fact engage the Gormath," said Captain Stylla, a female human with ringlets of hair spilling past her shoulders. The image of General Grasri appeared next to her.
"How goes the search?" he asked.
"Disorganized and fruitless," piped up Captain Rey'lanth, a male Bothan.
"My ship is en route," he said as the image of an MC-75 appeared on the tactical display. Its complement of three starfighter squadrons would certainly aid in the search, but with the Republic's Hand being almost half an hour away, every minute they spent arguing or not searching increased the chance of Gaspra getting away. "I'd be interested to hear what Captain Supriya makes of the situation."
Supriya could feel all eyes shift to look at her, even if she continued to stare at the tactical map. Most of the terrain was open space, but there were a few vectors that Gaspra could have used to make her escape. Directly ahead of the task force was a small asteroid cluster. To the right-north of the map was a gas giant and several orbiting moons of varying shapes and sizes. To the far left of the board was a nebula. Everything else was open space.
"Gaspra could have used any vector to make her escape. Without knowing where any other Imperial ships are, should there be more involved, it makes it difficult to know where Gaspra is headed. Any one of these locations would provide sufficient cover to mask hyperdrive jumps. It's also entirely possible she's half-way across the galaxy."
"All likely possibilities," said General Grasri. "Based on your interactions with Gaspra, what do you think is most likely?" he asked.
"The asteroid cluster would provide sufficient coverage, but it isn't large enough to effectively hide," Supriya said.
"It's still worth checking out," said Captain Stylla. "I can take my corvette there if Captain Chitani could divert a flight of A-wings to help."
"That's agreeable," Chitani said with a nod.
"As for the others?" General Grasri asked.
"Nakada Major and its moons provide the most complex area to search, and perhaps the best location. Any moon or the gas giant could be used to mask the signal of the cruiser. It also offers the opportunity to make micro jumps or have access to several other hyperspace lanes," Supriya continued.
"We'd need a lot of ssships to patrol that area," hissed Katosh. "The General's might be best to do so."
"No," said Supriya. Captains Markesh and Chitani exchanged glances. "Respectfully, General, your ship and its squadrons would best be suited in a centralized location. It would have the ability to respond in any of these three locations."
"I concur, Captain Supriya," said General Grasri. "What about the nebula?"
Supriya shifted her gaze to that.
"Given that it's a Class Four, it could be the best choice. Interferes with sensors and targeting, making it easy to avoid detection while masking ion trails for hyperspace jumps. Captain Gaspra is cunning and could use any or none of these to make her escape. What I do know is the more time we wait and don't act, the greater chance we have of losing her."
"My ship is closest to the nebula," growled Captain Rey'lanth. "I am sure we can effectively search the nebula and the surrounding area."
"That's risky, even for one ship," said General Grasri. "I'd prefer you to have some cover."
"If you wish," Rey'lanth huffed.
"It's settled then," Grasri said. "The Republic's Hand will take up a central position in sector L-47. Captain Rey'lanth will explore the nebula with Captain Supriya providing support. Captain Chitanti, take your frigate and remaining fighters to Nakada Major with Captains Markesh and Katosh. Captain Stylla, investigate the asteroid cluster with any A-wings in the area."
"Yes, sir," the captains chimed together. One by one their holograms faded.
"Captain Rey'lanth," Supriya said before his holographic figure disappeared. The bothan looked back at her. "Be sure to keep channels open, and report anything you find. We'll be at your position as soon as we can."
Rey'lanth gave a quick snort. "A game of cat and mouse? This is child's play," he said dismissively.
"Gaspra is not one to be underestimated, Captain," Supriya said. "You don't know her like I do. She's dangerous."
"And easy prey if she thinks she can outsmart me. Rey'lanth out."
Supriya shook her head as the hologram faded into nothing.
"That went well," Glenn said.
Supriya leaned her hands against the table. Flicking a switch, she opened a channel to the engine room. "Chief Engineer Scathy," she said.
"Aye, Cap'n?" came the response of a thickly accented voice over the intercom.
"I need you to divert more power to the engines. We need to get to our destination sooner rather than later."
"I'll see what I can do, Cap'n," said Scathy, "but the engines are operating at full capacity as is. I don't know how much more they can safely take."
"Just do what you can, Scathy. Supriya, out."
Glenn exchanged a querulous glance at her.
"Looking to turn him into a miracle worker?" he asked.
"A good ship needs a good engineer who can work his — or her -- magic. Scathy's one of the best. He'll find a way to get us there in one piece." Supriya turned to leave the room. "I'll be on the bridge. Keep me posted."
[Class Four Nebula — 15:30 hours]
Captain Rey'lanth's corvette, the Eamon's Pride, exited hyperspace half an hour later. The gaping maw of the nebula lay ahead. A ribbon of electricity sparked across a length of gas and dust, followed by another several seconds later.
"Nebula dead ahead, sir," said one of the pilots. "Holding position."
"Negative, pilot Sartega. Plot a course and put us in that nebula," Rey'lanth said.
"But sir," he said, turning back in his chair to look at the captain. "Our orders...."
"I'm aware of our orders," Rey'lanth said, crossing his arms and staring ahead. "But the longer we wait for others to catch up, the greater chance our quarry has of escape. Gaspra is a fool if she thinks she can hide from me. Now," he said with a low growl, glancing down to look at Sartega, "plot a course."
Sartega exchanged a worried glance with the other corvette pilot, then swiveled back around to the console.
"Aye, sir," he said.
The corvette slid forward, and was consumed by the nebula within minutes.
[Class Four Nebula — 15:45 hours]
"Captain Gaspra!" called the tactical officer from across the bridge. "Look!"
Brynna Gaspra, in mid-discussion with her communications officer, stopped and turned to look out at where her tactical officer was pointing. Several other crew members temporarily halted their work and looked out the viewport window as well. There, in the distance, a Corellian Corvette was inching its way from right to left across the horizon.
"It's a New Republic Corvette by the look of the markings," Commander Amarillo called, a pair of binoculars raised to her eyes. She lowered them and turned to look at her. "Your orders, ma'am?"
Brynna considered the options before her. She could order the ship to go further into the nebula. But if there were other New Republic ships in the area, that could lead to them being discovered. On the other hand, a calculated tactical risk could give them the upper hand.
"How much longer until the engines and hyperdrive are repaired?" she asked.
"Thirty minutes at most, ma'am."
"Have all missile and torpedo tubes loaded. Helm," she called, "declination zee-axis one-hundred and fifty meters. Bring us about so that we are positioned behind the corvette, but do not engage until I give the order." She turned to face Amarillo once more. "I want you to lead a boarding party."
"M-me?" Amarillo sputtered, surprised at the order. While it was not unusual for commanding officers to lead away missions, most of the heavy legwork would be taken care of by stormtroopers first when boarding an enemy ship.
"Yes, Commander," Gaspra said. "You. We can use this opportunity to our advantage."
"May I ask how, ma'am," Amarillo asked, still processing the order.
"Think about it, Commander — we could simply destroy the ship, ridding us of a threat. Or, we could use it to give the New Republic a bloody nose and black eye for daring to pursue us."
Gaspra watched as Amarillo mused over the plan in her mind.
"A bait and switch then, ma'am?" she asked. "Capture the ship and use it to distract the New Republic?"
"Exactly," Gaspra said, "and, if I might add, a commendable observation. I have no doubt that there will be other New Republic ships on their way. If we capture this one, we can use it to attack others and draw them away from our position, thus causing more confusion."
"We'd need a sizable force to detain the enemy crew," Amarillo noted.
"It wouldn't," Gaspa countered. "A precision strike and a skeleton crew could easily do the job with the right equipment, similar to your earlier operation."
"I see your point," Amarillo said. "It could take time to get the ship up and running again if it sustains too much damage."
"It could — but given that it will take time for the other New Republic ships to find us should they arrive, I am sure it won't be a problem. And just think: if we — you — pull this off and give the New Republic a bloody nose, it would certainly impress Moff Gideon." Gaspra watched Amarillo's face, looking for a reaction. Everyone aspires to greatness, Gaspra thought. Amarillo is no different. "So much so," she added thoughtfully, "that he might even give you your own ship and command."
Gaspra watched as Amarillo's face changed ever so slightly at the amusement and desire of the last statement. She had said the right words to motivate the young woman.
"Select your best stormtroopers and command crews to be part of the boarding party," Gaspra said. "We'll take care of the rest if you follow my instructions carefully."
"Very well, ma'am," Amarillo said. She nodded to one of the other senior officers on the bridge. Stormtroopers and other personnel began to file out, signaling the need for other officers and junior deckhands to take up their new posts.
The last thing Gaspra did was to send an encrypted message to her sister. She had to work fast if she wanted everything to fall in place.
[CRV Eamon's Pride]
Captain Rey'lanth stood inside the bridge of his ship.
"Adjust heading one-one-three-eight," he said, watching as tendrils of gas and particles snaked and swirled in the sea ahead of them. "She's in here somewhere."
A chime came from the communications console. Flicking a button, the image of Captain Supriya materialized.
"Have you found anything yet, Captain Rey'lanth? What is your position?"
"Not yet," he said. "But she won't escape us. Current position is difficult to determine, but we entered heading two-seven-mark-zero from vector Tee-Oh-Eight."
"We're en—er—ng the neb—la now. I'd like you to keep the ch---el ope—en," Supriya said, static beginning to garble her transmission. "Th—e's n----elling what she---do."
Suddenly, the hologram blinked away.
"Supriya," he said. "Captain Supriya, come in." Nothing but static filled the airwaves. "That's odd," said Rey'lanth. "Nothing should be interfering with our communications." Rey'lanth turned to an officer next to him. "Check communication systems and status of the main dish. Reboot the system if you need to. I want communications re-established immediately."
"Damned time for communications to go out," Rey'lanth mused. "I keep telling Command to upgrade our dish but—".
Before he could finish his sentence, several blasts rocked the hull of the corvette causing Rey'lanth to lose his balance. He reached out to grab the back of one of the chairs.
"Helm, adjust heading to point two-three-eight. Bring us about. Gunners," he called into the comm system, "open fire as soon as you have visual. I want whatever hit us blown out of the sky!"
Another explosion rocked the ship. Klaxons began to wail, and steam began to hiss intermittently from one of the pipes in the corner of the bridge.
"Captain!" said one of the pilots. "Shields are down. Flight controls are giving minimal response. Engines two through six and eleven are not responding. Engineering reports the main reactor has suffered damage."
"Dammit," cursed Rey'lanth under his breath. "They knew exactly where to hit us. Do what you can, pilot. Have engineering initiate repairs. We're not going down yet."
Something else rocked the ship, as if they collided with an object. No, Rey'lanth thought, not collided. Secured to. He reached up and grabbed the microphone, switching it to a ship-wide channel. With the other hand, he reached and took a firm hold of the repeating blaster he kept for just such occasions on the adjacent panel. It wasn't standard issue, but Rey'lanth wasn't always one to follow conventional rules.
"Attention all personnel, attention all personnel — battle stations!" he bellowed into the microphone, cocking his repeating blaster with his free hand deftly. "We're being boarded!"
[M/CRV Emerald Crown]
"Captain Rey'lanth," said Supriya into the communication system. "Come in, captain. Captain, do you read me? Captain, come in?"
"That channel's been dead for a full two minutes, ma'am," Glenn said as he stepped through the door and onto the bridge. "It's possible the nebula is dense enough to interfere with communications. I think we should assume the worst."
"How much longer until we reach the nebula?" she asked the pilots.
"We're still several minutes out, ma'am," one of them said nervously. "And we're already going at maximum speed." The deck plating underneath her feet had begun to vibrate gently due to the extended strain on the engines.
"Scathy," she called into the comm system to the engine room.
"Aye, Cap'n?" came Scathy's voice.
"I need you to reroute more power to the engines. Reroute auxiliary power if you have to!"
"Cap'n," Scathy said in a concerned voice, "if I give the engines any more power, they'll either overload the systems or we'll fly apart at the seams. I don't think we can do it!"
"Fly her apart then!" Supriya called sternly. "I want us there as soon as possible."
[CRV Eamon's Pride]
The New Republic security team took up staggered positions down the long, narrow corridor of their ship. Some fit in every nook, cranny, and open doorway to find some sort of cover, or not immediately be in a direct line of fire. Blasters raised, they nervously watched as the cutting line finished its path along the main entry door that led to the docking tube.
As it exploded, shrapnel shot forward, injuring some of the closest troopers. They fell or double-over, clutching their appendages in pain. As smoke rolled into the cabin, they saw Imperial troopers begin to emerge. But these weren't any troopers.
"Death troopers!" called one of the senior officers from behind. "Open fire!!"
Scarlet laser bolts poured forth from the clusters of New Republic troops, but they were largely ineffective against the durasteel shields that the forward troopers were carrying. The troopers behind them ducked and rose, ducked and rose, firing strafing shots and taking out as many New Republic security personnel as they could. All hell broke loose as the troopers with shields produced small hand-held blasters in between the shields and began shooting as well. Somewhere from behind, another death trooper rose and fired a rifle blast towards a nearby Republic trooper. He disintegrated, his vest and shirt floating casually towards the floor after being launched with pressured force towards the ceiling.
"Aw, shit!" said one of the New Republic officers. "Fall back! Everyone fall back!"
A few managed to get away, but most were cut down as they tried to retreat. Two more personnel were hit with disintegration rounds.
As the Imperial troops rounded the first corner, keeping pace as a well-organized unit, they were met with ineffective blaster fire from the second line of defenders. Immediately they began to fall one by one. Just as the trooper with a rifle was about to stand up and fire another disintegration round, a powerful weapons blast hit his body from one of the side doors, slamming him into the adjacent wall. Momentarily shocked, the troopers just ahead of him turned in surprise to see a Bothan male cock his weapon.
"Hello there," he said with a grin, then squeezed the trigger.
The two troopers in front of him didn't stand a chance and were knocked forward into the troopers with the shields, who fell in a tangled heap of arms and legs.
Whatever momentary reprieve that Captain Rey'lanth had bought came to an end as a fresh batch of troopers rounded the corner.
Cocking his repeating blaster again, Rey'lanth did what he could to unleash hell on his attackers.
[M/CRV Emerald Crown]
The Emerald Crown exited hyperspace, its engines glowing from the power that it had been emitting.
"Cap'n," came Scathy's voice over the comm. "I've managed to stabilize the engines, but the hyperdrive has been cooked. We won't be making any quick exits until I can repair them."
"Do what you can, Scathy," Supriya said. "I want our hyperdrive up on the double."
Ahead of them, the colors of the nebula swirled and mixed together, a beautiful and electrifying maw waiting to consume whatever ship entered.
"Send a message to the task force," she said to her first officer. "Tell them we've arrived and are proceeding into the nebula."
"Yes, ma'am," he said.
"Helm," Supriya said. "Bring us into that nebula."
"Shouldn't we wait, ma'am? For reinforcements?"
"Time is of the essence. The longer we wait—"
"But Captain," replied the pilot, "whatever happened to Captain Rey'lanth could easily happen to us. I think—"
"Grannix, you have a choice," Supriya said sternly, looking down at him. "You can either follow your orders, or I can have you sent to the brig. Which will it be?"
The pilot looked at her for a moment, surprised. He had never seen her this cold before.
"Plotting a course for the nebula," he said after a moment.
As they approached the edge of the swirling gases, A-wings from Skybolt Squadron began to trickle into the sector. The first team raced off to cover the far-left side of the nebula in case Gaspra's ship decided to exit that path. The second team, arriving a minute later, took a high position and entered near the top of the nebula.
"Message from General Grasri," her first officer said as he entered the door again. "He's instructed us to wait for reinforcements."
"It'll take at least another fifteen minutes for his ships to get here," she said to him.
"Ma'am," Glenn said. "If she's in there with Rey'lanth, she's not going anywhere soon."
"And if she's in there with Captain Rey'lanth, we should assume the worst, like you said.."
"Captain — Nidalee," Glenn said. "I implore you to wait and think about this rationally. Let the Skybolt teams scout the nebula first. Locate her position and—"
"I will not wait another minute longer," Supriya said tersely. "Gaspra must be stopped."
"At all costs?" he asked, a pained and concerned look on his face.
"She's a monster, Glenn. You know this."
"I do, all too well," he said. "But rushing into danger isn't the best way to stop her."
"Captain, we're entering the nebula," said Grannix from behind her.
"Maintain course," she said without turning around, not breaking contact with Glenn's eyes.
"I hope I don't live to regret this," he said finally.
[Light Cruiser Gormanth]
Kalith Gaspra clutched her side as she hobbled down the ramp of the troop transport. She'd lost several troopers in the boarding, but they had been successful. The skeleton crew was aboard the Eamon's Pride, already rigging the ship to work as functionally as it could. Other troopers began to disembark, some helping others while medical teams carried a few others on stretchers.
"Everything alright, Commander?" one of the medics asked as he stepped next to her.
"Nothing—ah—nothing a few hours in a bacta tank won't fix, Jerroc," she said. "Some bastard was wielding a repeating blaster. Caught part of a round as I took cover in a side door. But I got him good when his blaster jammed," she finished, wincing in pain.
"Glad that you did, but I think the deck crew would appreciate it if you stopped bleeding all over the hangar floor," said the medic. "Have a seat and hold still."
She could feel the sweat trickling down her face from inside her helmet, but she didn't remove it. She'd been through worse, and what air she breathed through the filters in her helmet would have been better than the stench of oils and fumes from the hangar.
The medic used a small bacta spray container to treat her wound. While the bacta would be effective, it wouldn't heal the wound completely — just stabilize her enough until she could get to a bacta tank in the med bay. For the rest he pressed a large gauze pad against her side, fixing it with tape to her exposed skin.
"How's that?" he asked.
"Better, Jerroc" she said with a weak smile. "But don't think this will get you a date anytime soon."
"Wouldn't dream of it," he said with a wink.
[M/CRV Emerald Crown]
Supriya watched as tendrils of gas and particles moved about ahead of the ship. The bridge was quiet, everyone intent on looking for any sign of the Gormanth or Rey'lanth's ship.
"Adjust heading two-seven-three," Supriya said. "Bring us about."
"Aye, ma'am," came the response.
"Skybolt Three to Emerald Crown," came a voice over the comm. "I think we've found something."
"Go ahead, Skybolt Three," Supriya said into the comm.
"Looks like an escape pod. I'm going in for a closer look."
"Copy, Skybolt Three. What is your position?"
"Hard to say," came the voice of Skybolt Four. "Radar isn't given a clear reading. Launching chaff to mark our position."
"Skybolt Three reporting. Escape pod appears empty. Repeat, the escape pod appears empty."
"Copy, Skybolt Three. Hold position until we find you."
It took about a minute for Supriya to notice the timed chaff bursts from one of the A-wings.
"Reduce speed," Supriya said. "Skybolt Three and Four, proceed heading three-two-five. Keep an eye out for other escape pods."
It wasn't long before they found a second escape pod, also empty.
"I don't like this," Glenn said. "Why would they jettison the escape pods without personnel?"
"Only one way to find out," Supriya said. "Have the gunners ready for action."
"Captain, look!" said Grannix as he pointed ahead. Supriya and Glenn looked out the viewport window to see Rey'lanth's ship, the Eamon's Pride, exiting from a thick plume of gas maintaining a slow course.
"Open a hailing channel," Supriya said as she watched the ship slowly work its way towards them.
"No response, Captain," said Teeklo, the other pilot, after a few tries.
"Looks like their main dish is destroyed," Glenn said, having picked up a pair of binoculars to get a better look. "And ... I see carbon scoring." He turned to look at Nidalee, concern on his face. "I don't like this."
"Maintain current heading," Supriya said. "Take us in alongside her. I want a better look. Glenn," she said, turning to look at him, "have the crew go to full alert."
With a nod Glenn reached for the comm system and relayed the order through the intercom.
"Found a third escape pod ... and a fourth ...," came the voice of Skybolt Three a minute later.
As the Emerald Crown pressed forward, Glenn saw something else attached to the topside of Eamon's Pride. He raised his binoculars once more to get a better look.
"Hull's heavily damaged topside," Glenn said. "And there's ... an Imperial probe droid attached to the hull."
Karabast!, thought Supriya to herself. There goes our element of surprise.
"I think I see something," said Skybolt Four. "It looks like ... OHMIGOSH!" came the pilot's voice. "I—I think I'm going to be sick."
"Skybolt Four, what is it?" Supriya asked. "What do you see?"
"It—It's the crew!"
Before the Emerald Crown could proceed any further, there was a brilliant flash across the viewport. Several shocks impacted the hull, and both Supriya and Glenn were thrown to the floor while the pilots were knocked out of their seats.
[Bridge — Light Cruiser Gormanth]
"Repairs are still underway, ma'am," said Commander Amarillo's small, blue holographic figure. "But we've secured the ship as ordered."
"And the crew?" Gaspra asked as the bridge crew busily worked away at their stations.
"Disposed of, as per your orders."
"Excellent and efficient work, Commander," Gaspra said with a small smile forming at the corner of her mouth. "I'm sure Moff Gideon would be pleased with your success, as I am."
"Thank you, ma'am," Amarillo said, beaming at the recognition given her. "I should add, however, that the engineers are still trying to stabilize the main reactor. It was damaged during the initial barrage. Energy levels are spiking, and we're doing what we can to keep them low."
"Captain Gaspra!" called the tactical officer's aid from the bridge window, holding a pair of binoculars. "Two A-wings, and a corvette above us, ma'am."
"All stations on stand-by," Gaspra ordered. "Commander," she continued, turning back to the hologram, "do what you can with the reactor. Be prepared to move towards the corvette on my signal."
"Of course, Captain," Amarillo said.
"Helm," Gaspra called, "keep us low but within range of those New Republic ships."
The pilots gave their reply, giving enough of a berth so that they wouldn't be initially detected unless the A-wings decided to dive downwards, which was unlikely.
Gaspra returned her attention to her command console, pressing some of the red, white, and blue buttons. This would allow her ship to send a ping to the ship that Amarillo was on, notifying Amarillo to proceed with the mission and not have their communications be outright detected. Within fifteen seconds of the ping being sent, Gaspra watched as the Eamon's Pride emerged from its hiding position and made its way towards the Emerald Crown.
"Ping received," Amarillo said. "Shall I open fire?"
"Wait until they make a pass at you," Gaspra said. "Then give them a full broadside. They won't know what hit them."
And neither will you, Gaspra thought as she watched the two corvettes neared one another. Keying some more buttons on the console, she switched the next ping to go directly to the probe droid. As the two corvettes began to pass one another, she pressed the button to send a ping once more.
"Gunners," she heard Amarillo say, "prepare to open—".
Within seconds, and before Amarillo could finish her sentence, the Eamon's Pride exploded into a brilliant flash. Gaspra watched as Amarillo was startled by the explosion, raising an arm to shield her face before her small, blue figure faded into oblivion. The explosion engulfed part of the other corvette, and several pieces of debris and red-hot slag slammed into the ship, knocking it off course.
The bridge crew of the Gormanth, partly in shock about the sudden explosion of the ship, stood or sat frozen at their posts. Murmurs from a few personnel asking what had happened began to creep across the bridge.
"It would seem," Gaspra said, walking slowly and intently up the walkway, hands folded behind her back, meeting the eyes of as may bridge personnel as possible, "that while Commander Amarillo's team were successful in securing the ship, they were unsuccessful in maintaining the energy levels of the ship's reactor. A tragic loss, to be sure."
The bridge crew exchanged glances with one another, then looked at the commanding figure of Gaspra.
"Helm," Gaspra said, "bring us about and raise our zee-axis to bring us in attack range of that ship." She turned her head to speak to the lieutenant who was but a few feet away from her now, his mouth still open in shock and awe at the burning wreckage in front of them. "Lieutenant, have Commander Vax'thoro come to the bridge. I'll be in need of a First Officer."
[M/CRV Emerald Crown]
Nidalee Supriya picked herself up off the cold, metallic deck plating of the bridge. Holding her arm, she leaned against the back wall, taking a moment to collect herself.
"Report," she said as sparks sizzled and splashed from an adjacent wall panel that had broken open.
"Shields are gone," Teeklo said. "Main shield generator is offline. Hull integrity is down to eight-four percent."
"Adjust heading three-seven-five," Supriya said, moving away from the wall. She leaned against the back of Teeklo's pilot's chair.
"You're injured," Glenn said as he stood up, seeing her clutch her arm.
"I'll be — ah — I'll be fine," Supriya said, wincing at fresh pain as she slowly moved her arm.
"No," he said, "you're bleeding." He moved to find the first-aid kit. Supriya reached up with her good arm and rubbed at her forehead. Pulling it away, she saw and felt fresh, bright red blood on her fingertips. "Here," he said, removing some gauze from the kit and pressing it to her temple, "you need to sit down." Sitting down in one of the free chairs, she held the gauze to her head where the blood was slowly trickling down her face. He was about to spray a small vial of bacta on her wound when his attention turned to the viewport once more.
"By the Force," he trailed off.
Ahead of them, the bodies of a few dozen troopers and other personnel floated in the cold of space, expressions of horror and shock on their faces, some clutching at their throats for want of air.
"I told you she's a monster," Supriya said. "This was a precision strike. We were set up and fell right into her trap. Same thing probably happened to Rey'lanth."
"But how?" Glenn asked. "Their targeting sensors should be down like ours."
"Unless they somehow got close enough," Supriya mused. "Used visual scanning. Surprised them and attacked from behind without even knowing it until it was too late. Perfect opportunity for disabling and boarding a ship."
The voice of Skybolt Three came over the radio. "I think I see something moving in the clouds. Four, with me. Be careful and check your—"
Before anyone else could react, a TIE Fighter screeched down from the gas cloud above and ahead of them, firing a single plasburst shot at Skybolt Four. The A-wing exploded into a ball of fiery death.
"Kriff!" said Skybolt Three. "Going evasive! Four is down! Four is down!"
"Skybolt Three, stick close to us. We'll cover you," Supriya said.
"I-I don't have visual. Heading back!"
"Fire a few shots to give him cover," Supriya ordered. "Skybolt Three, look for our canon shots and watch your six."
"Copy, and — oh shit, he's on me! He's on me!"
Supriya watched in horror as green bursts of laser frantically shot past the A-wing as it approached. The pilot was desperately trying to avoid falling into the TIE's sights while also avoiding the lasers of the Emerald Crown.
"Hurry up, Emerald!" the pilot called. "Get this guy off—"
The A-wing exploded like a bowl of eggs into dozens of pieces as a second TIE Fighter screamed up from below, nailing the A-wing's underbelly. Supriya watched as the scarlet laser bolts from her gunners tracked the TIEs in vain, failing to hit them. They retreated just as quickly as they arrived.
"She's nearby," Supriya said, turning to look at Glenn.
"The question is — where?" he asked.
[Light Cruiser Gormanth]
Captain Gaspra watched as the final A-wing exploded and the TIEs retreated towards the Gormanth as ordered. The ship was lined up perfectly to fire shots at the modified corvette.
"Hyperdrive and engines are repaired, ma'am," said Commander Vax'thoro as he entered the bridge. "Recommend we leave now while we can."
"I agree, Commander," she said, then turned to look at the Emerald Crown. There was no mistaking the markings on that ship. She knew that Supriya was on board. "But I think a little payback is in order before we go. Communications, open a general channel. Voice only."
"Channel open, ma'am," said the officer at the console a moment later.
"Captain Supriya," she said methodically. "It's so wonderful to see you again. Have you come to seek revenge?"
"Only you could be so cruel, Brynna," came Supriya's voice over the comm.
A small smile spread across Brynna's face.
"Oh, come now, my dear captain — you do want it this way, don't you? Captain versus Captain? One final battle to determine my fate?"
"You'll pay for the lives you've stolen today, Brynna."
"Please, Supriya, the galaxy has already paid enough for your pathetic insurrection. Law and order will always triumph over rebellion." Gaspra looked over to her tactical officers, giving the lead one a nod. Turning in his chair, he activated his console and manually put in the commands to launch a warhead at the Emerald Crown. With the targeting systems not functioning correctly due to the nebula, it was a best guess shot. But since the Emerald Crown couldn't see the partially concealed Gormanth, that gave them the advantage and element of surprise.
The first warhead missed, but Gaspra watched in satisfaction as the second missile hit one of the rear engines of the corvette. As the explosion washed over the hull, the engine flickered and died. A third hit a section of the hull housing gun emplacements. The Emerald Crown immediately began taking evasive maneuvers.
"Gunners," Gaspra barked, "target their remaining engines. I want that ship dead in the water."
[M/CRV Emerald Crown]
Supriya braced herself as explosions impacted and rocked the ship. There were no traces of green laser fire, and she could only assume it was a missile.
"Guns one and two are down," Glenn said, looking at the damage report. "Hull down to seventy percent."
"Show yourself, you monster," Supriya snarled.
"Me, a monster?" came Gaspra's voice of feigned shock. "After all the millions of lives that your rebellion took with the Death Stars?"
"How about the billions your Emperor killed to maintain so-called peace across the galaxy? Countless planets and races subjugated? Alderaan destroyed?"
"Traitors to the end," Gaspra said as another blast rocked the ship. Supriya and Glenn were both thrown off-balance once more.
"We can't keep this up," he whispered to her. "We need to retreat, now."
Supriya shook her head, determination in her eyes.
"We can beat her!" she hissed.
"You're not being a good sport, Nidalee," Gaspra called. "You're a mouse caught in my trap."
"Adjust heading six-mark-five-zero and bring us about," Supriya said. "Set engines to full impulse. Try to outmaneuver her."
The pilots did as she commanded, but the ship strained to turn.
[Light Cruiser Gormanth]
Brynna watched as the Emerald Crown tried in vain to locate her ship, firing in random directions to try and score a hit or find her. Any shots of scarlet laser fire that hit the Gormanth were easily absorbed by the shields.
This is all too easy, Brynna thought. She motioned for her communications officer to temporarily mute the comm so Supriya wouldn't overhear her plans.
"Helm, adjust zee-axis heading plus two-hundred metres. Tactical, get ready to fire further missiles. Have turbolasers one through four ready to fire on my command."
When the ship had reached its position, she watched as two more missiles lanced out towards the corvette. The first one missed, but the second slammed into the lower main turret, turning it into a twisted mess of carnage and flame.
"Marvelous!" she exclaimed.
[M/CRV Emerald Crown]
"Direct hit to bottom turret!" Glenn called. "Hull down to forty percent integrity. Engines two through seven damaged."
"Adjust heading mark one-seven-nine," Supriya said.
"That's it," Glenn said. "I must formally protest. If we stay out here much longer, you're going to get us killed. We need to take cover in one of the gas clouds and get the hell out of here."
"And that's exactly what I'm doing," Supriya said without missing a beat. "Trust me with this, Glenn."
As the corvette limped forward into cover, Gaspra's voice filled the bridge once more.
"Running away, Supriya? That's not very sportsman-like of you."
"If you want to catch this mouse, you'll have to find me first," Supriya retorted.
Gaspra's response was full of mirth. "Gladly."
[MC-75 Republic's Hand -- bridge]
General Grasri sat in his captain's chair, the nebula ahead of him. He had given the order to hail the Emerald Crown for the third time with no response.
"Try them again," he said. "And keep trying until they respond. We have to find out what's going on in there."
"All squadrons reporting in, General," came a lieutenant's voice from behind him.
"Good. Have Thundercracker and Hurricane Squadrons break off into mixed flights. Formation Grasri Theta One. Have Nighthawk Squadron maintain formation with the Republic's Hand."
Grasri watched as the last of the task force ships exited hyperspace. The remaining A-wings from Skybolt Squadron had taken up positions ahead of them, ready to enter the nebula.
"Still no response from the Emerald Crown, sir," came the voice from the comm station.
"Very well then," Grasri said with a sigh. "Open a channel."
"Channel open, sir."
"This is General Grasri. All ships prepare to enter the nebula. Stick together with your flight elements, and report anything of interest immediately."
A string of affirmatives washed across the comm system.
And may the Force be with us for this one, he thought to himself privately.
[M/CRV Emerald Crown]
Supriya watched carefully as they entered the thick clouds of the nebula, putting distance between herself and the Gormanth. After traveling for some time, she gave the order to cut their engine speed, and lower their z-axis declination by two-hundred and fifty meters. She watched as the ship sank gracefully into the clouds below.
"Cut power to the main systems now," Supriya said.
"But we'll be sitting ducks," Glenn said.
"And they also won't be able to see the light from our engines or other systems," Supriya answered. We'll be safe."
"I hope you know what you're doing," Glenn said.
As the lights died on the bridge, she took a seat and waited carefully.
It was several minutes before anyone saw the Gormanth sail a few hundred meters overhead.
"There!" she said, pointing to the ship.
"I see her," Glenn said. "Looks to be in good shape. I don't think we can take her on. I recommend we wait for reinforcements. Strength in numbers."
"We have a chance to disable her here and now," Supriya said. "Activate main power. Have remaining weapons and missile launchers on stand-by."
As the ship came back to life, she was just about to give the order to fall in behind the Gormanth when a chime rang throughout the bridge.
"Message from General Grasri," Teeklo said.
"General," Supriya said as the image of the Mon Calamari appeared on the projector.
"Thank goodness we've gotten ahold of you, Captain. What's your status?"
"We've taken some damage, sir. Captain Rey'lanth's ship and crew have been destroyed. No survivors. We're currently in pursuit of the Gormanth. Going to try and disable her engines."
"What heading did you make? We'll join you and do so together."
"No time for that, sir," Supriya said. "If we don't act now, she has a chance of getting away."
"And if we don't act together," Grasri said firmly, "we run the risk of having more casualties. Can you tell us approximately where you are?"
"We're in range," Supriya heard a pilot say as they leveled off with the Gormanth.
"Get ready to fire weapons and missiles on my command," Supriya said.
"Captain, stand down. Do not engage that ship — that is an order."
"I'm sorry sir, I have to—"
"Captain, look!" Grannix said.
Supriya looked up and saw that the Gormanth was changing course — turning to head directly back at them.
"Come now, my dear Captain," came Gasrpa's voice. "Did you not think I wouldn't consider you trying to pull this maneuver?"
Supriya gave the order that sealed her fate.
"Engines at full power," she said as the Gormanth rotated towards them. "Prepare for ramming speed."
Grannix and Teeklo looked at each other. Seconds later, they engaged the remaining engines at full. The corvette lurched forward, stuttering its way towards the Gormanth.
"You will do no such thing!" Glenn yelled. "Pilots, belay that order."
Nobody listened. The few remaining laser cannons poured their energy forth towards the Gormanth, and a trickle of warheads followed suit. Those that hit splashed mostly ineffectively against the Gormanth's shields.
Although the Emerald Crown did its best to charge forward towards the bridge section of the Gormanth, she was too slow. The Gormanth lowered its z-axis declination to position itself below the Emerald Crown. Green laser fire lanced forward, raking the underside of the corvette as it sailed past the light cruiser.
The ship rocked under the impact of cannon blasts, and the deck plating shook violently. A deafening explosion came from another part of the ship.
Checking the damage report, Glenn shot Supriya a look of disgust. "We're dead in the water." Reaching for the radio, he set the frequency to give a shipwide communication. "All hands, this is Commander Glenn Adaire — abandon ship, repeat, abandoned ship."
[Light Cruiser Gormanth]
Brynna savoured the moment as she watched the turbolaser cannons rip holes in the underside of the Emerald Crown. Fire plumes began rising from the ship's hull. She knew that victory was at hand.
"I'm disappointed, Captain," she said as the Gormanth sailed past the Emerald Crown. "I thought you would have put up more of a fight."
Silence filled the intercom system.
"Oh, come now, Captain. I thought you would want to have the last word. Cat got your tongue?"
Silence spilled across the intercom once more. Then...
"I admit, you beat me this time, Brynna. But you won't win."
"Nidalee, my dear," Gaspra laughed, "how very gauche of you. I have beaten you before. And I've beaten you again."
"Captain, look!" Commander Vax'thoro called. Brynna looked out the viewport window to see a mixed squadron of Y-wings and X-wings emerge from the gas clouds. She knew it wouldn't be long before they were on top of the cruiser. She signaled once more for the communications channel to mute temporarily.
"Helm, set a course to get us out of here," she said. "Maximum speed. As soon as we clear the nebula, go to light speed. Tactical, fire a volley of proton torpedoes. I want that ship reduced to slag."
Gaspra signaled once more for the comm systems to open.
"I'm afraid that this is goodbye for now, my dear Nidalee. Assuming you don't go down with your ship as an honorable captain would do. Should you happen to survive — I look forward to our rematch."
With that the Gormanth shifted its course and circled around the Emerald Crown one final time. A volley of torpedoes streaked towards the ship as escape pods shot from its body. Some missed. Others didn't.
Brynna was satisfied as she watched the ship go up in flames and break apart, knowing that she had once more beaten her opponent and claimed victory.
Clutching her wounded arm, Supriya watched in disappointment as the escape pod slid from the frame of the Emerald Crown. The crew had successfully evacuated the ship, but at great personal cost. Those in the escape pod with her, including Glenn, sat not saying a word. The silence was deafening.
She saw the Y-wings and X-wings race by the wreckage of her ship — the second one that she had lost to Gaspra in less than a year. As the X-wings' S-foils snapped into attack position, she knew that they wouldn't be able to catch up with Gaspra in time. But it didn't matter anymore. Nothing did.
Silence filled the escape pod. Nobody said a word, though the look that Glenn gave her spoke volumes. She wondered what High Command and the Admiralty would say.
Time would only tell.
Brynna Gaspra entered the medical bay of the Gormanth. Medical personnel and droids worked to help heal those who had suffered blaster or other grievous wounds. To the far right of the room was a doorway that led into an adjacent room that contained two bacta tanks. A sole occupant floated in the left-most tank, a breathing apparatus secured snugly to her mouth and nose. It was Kalith.
Entering the smaller room, the officer monitoring the occupant's vitals nodded to Brynna.
"Leave us," she said, staring at Kalith in the tank. The officer did so without a word. Reaching for the control pad, Brynna pressed the main button and the door whisked shut. She walked over to the control panel and pressed a few buttons. The bacta in the tank began to drain, and the glass casing began to lower as well. Kalith steadied herself, taking hold of the straps that were suspended from the ceiling above to keep her balance.
As the last of the bacta trickled away, Brynna retrieved and tossed her sister a towel. Kalith caught it and slung it over her shoulder, then removed the mask.
"How are you feeling?" Brynna asked.
Kalith ran a hand across her left side. There were no traces of scars, and it appeared as if she hadn't taken a partial blast.
"Almost like new," she said, wiping away the bacta and moisture with the towel. "Nothing a day in the gym can't cure."
"You're lucky," Brynna mused after a moment.
"And you're luckier," Kalith said with a partial grin. "If it wasn't for my team, you and part of the crew would still be in New Republic custody." She walked over to a partition several feet away. Slinging the towel over the bar, she began to change into a fresh set of clothing.
"Touche," Brynna said. "Though I have to wonder — what are the odds of you rescuing me?"
"I don't doubt that it was deliberate," Kalith said. "As for who planned the mission — that's above my pay grade. I was just following orders."
"Aren't we all," Brynna murmured to herself.
Kalith emerged from behind the partition when she was finished, black attire fitting her muscular form comfortably.
"Good as new," she said. "I suppose I should get back to my station." She moved to make her way past Brynna, but was stopped by Brynna's arm.
"Not yet," she said. Kalith gave Brynna a surprised look. "Before you go, I'd like to invite you to dinner tonight. Eighteen-hundred hours. My office."
Kalith was taken off-guard a bit.
"A formal event?" she asked.
"No," Brynna said with a smile. "As sisters. And, little sister, you're going to tell me everything you know about this Moff Gideon."
[Two Days Later — Toseng Base — Renegade Wing Headquarters]
Captain Andrew "Dobber" Dobson sat behind the desk in his small office. Data pads lay stacked neatly in two piles. Across the desk, Katlyn "Starfire" Thornwood and Roy "Lock" Callahan held a datapads of their own, running through maneuvers and tactical information from the simulators. The communicator chimed once.
"Yes?" Dobson asked.
"Priority call for you, Captain. From Captain Supriya."
Andrew exchanged glances with his two comrades before telling the operator to put the call through. The blue holographic image of Supriya materialized into place.
"Captain Supriya," he said. "This is a surprise. What can I do for you?"
"I wish I could call under better circumstances, Captain," she said. "Are you alone?" she asked.
"I have two squadmates with me," he replied. "But I trust them. What's this about?"
"It would be best that they leave, given the sensitive nature of this information," she said.
"Give us five minutes," he said to Lock and Starfire. Exchanging glances, they nodded and left the room. "Go ahead," Andrew said as he turned his attention back to Supriya.
"Two days ago," Supriya began, "a New Republic correctional transport was attacked. The crew was overwhelmed and the prisoners escaped. I was part of a quick response team to intercept and apprehend them. We were unsuccessful."
"I see," Andrew said carefully. "And this is important because...?"
"One of the prisoners was Captain Gaspra."
Andrew froze for a moment, managing a slow "Oh?". He began gripping the datapad tightly in both his hands.
"I'm sorry, Captain," Supriya said. "I tried, and failed, to stop her. I thought you should be informed, given the personal nature of this information."
"I see," he said finally. "Thank you, Captain Supriya. I appreciate you telling me this." He flicked the hologram off, and her blue-clad image washed away. He sat there for a few minutes taking in this information. Then, with more force and pressure than he'd ever used in his life, the datapad Andrew held snapped apart into broken pieces. He did so without even flinching.
"Dobbs," said Lock as they re-entered the room a few minutes later. "Is everything—," he trailed off.
"Oh my!" Starfire exclaimed, looking at the broken data pad pieces in his hands.
"-okay?" Lock finished.
"No," Andrew said finally, staring blankly past both of them. "No I'm not."
Supriya exited the parked speeder, a small duffle bag slung over her shoulder, and strode briskly up the steps towards the small house ahead of her. Pressing the button, the door whooshed open.
"Micah," she called, setting the duffel bag on the floor. "I'm home."
She was met with silence.
"Micah?" she called once more, moving further into the house. There was no response. "Micah?" As she entered the kitchen, she opened the refrigerator unit. It was mostly empty, save for a few bottles of condiments, a handful of fruits and vegetables, and two bottles of cold Corellian Ale. She had no desire to go shopping for groceries after the last two days she had had, but knew she'd have to do so. Then again, Micah would happily do such errands for her. Grabbing a bottle of ale and closing the door, she twisted the cover off. As it hissed, she noticed the holo puck in the middle of the kitchen table. Pulling a chair out, she activated it and took a swig from the bottle as she sat down. The blue-clad image of Micah appeared.
"Hi Supriya," he began. "If you're watching this, then I can assume that you've made it safely home. You'll no doubt have noticed that I'm not there." She took another swig from the bottle, cupping it on the table in front of her with both hands when she finished. "I want you to know that I have a tremendous amount of respect for you and what you do. But when you didn't show up to our date night the other night, I could only assume that your duty once again took precedence.
I don't know the full story, but the secrecy and broken commitments have finally taken their toll. I think we need some time apart for you to sort things out. Find out where your priorities are. I wish that things could be different. I still love you, but that love comes with a certain level of commitment, too.
I'm staying at my cousin's in Quinus Major. When you get things sorted out, you can find me there. I hope you take care of yourself, and that we can meet again under happier circumstances."
With that, the hologram faded. She realized that her recent decisions had finally cost her everything. It was some time before Supriya moved. When she did, it was to numbly get the second ale from the fridge.