Paladin sat at the bar in the Liberty, glancing around the lounge. The door slid open, and a young man in a new uniform stepped into the room. In his hand he held a bottle of some swirling red liquid. Looking at the man's face, Paladin could have sworn that he knew the man. Standing to greet him, Paladin noticed the two swords and a blaster sheathed at the man's waste. The young man strode over to him.
"Paladin?" The man's voice was tentative.
"Elessar? Is that you?" Paladin finally remembered the man's face, yet the personality did not match. His "little bro" had always been a little cocky, and the man before him was withdrawn and quiet. "I thought you had died."
"Elessar is dead. I am Valkyrie now."
Paladin saw the depth in the man's eyes, and knew what horrors he had gone through. Both had fought in the same disastrous battle as they fled their homeworld. "Where have you been? I haven't heard from you for a while. I ..." he faltered, as he thought of the battle.
"I'm alive, big bro."
"Many places. It started at Lomabia, and ends with the death of Elessar and the birth of Valkyrie..."
"Okay, pilots," began the briefing officer, "since we attacked the Imperials, we believe that an act of reciprocity is imminent."
"C'mon, Commander! We can take them, can't we?" Jason "Elessar" Fujita called out. A chorus of cheers came from the other pilots. Elessar looked to Paladin, his older friend, and grinned. He was probably the most confident person in the entire group--in fact, he was probably too confident.
"Alright, let's all settle down." The speaker continued. "Okay, since you spoke out first, and you seem so eager, you have been assigned the position of Vermilion Leader, Elessar. This will get you in the cockpit the fastest. You will have a flight of our Z-96 Knights. Remember, though these are improved Z-95s, they are not superior in all areas."
"Yessir." Elessar said with a grin. "And our mission?"
"Your objective is to safe-guard the transports containing our evacuating citizens. Make sure they get to the clear area, so that they can jump out."
"What?" Elessar was indignant. "You're assigning me a mothball mission? I need combat!"
"Look, someone has to guard the transports, and since you're so eager to fly, I'm giving the job to you and the rest of your flight."
"We need all of our trained warriors for the diversionary force. The first set of transports leaves in fifteen minutes, Jason. Get yourself and your flight prepped. Good luck."
Jason stood and saluted along with the other three members of his flight. All of them were younger than him, probably having just started their combat training. He stalked out of the door and towards his room. The others followed until they too left for their rooms.
When Jason reached his room, he realized the lights were on by the soft buzz from the lighting fixtures within. He cautiously opened the door and looked in. His green eyes scanned the area, and everything seemed to be in place. He slowly stepped into his room.
Just as he took the first step, he saw a shadow move in the corner of his eye. He spun, his warrior senses honed to a fine edge. The shadow pounced at him. He leaned back, and as the shape hit him, he rolled backwards and pinned it. Looking up, he saw the most beautiful face he ever knew.
Before him was Katrina, his only love. He saw her beautiful brown hair, and her deep brown eyes. Those eyes which were like pools of knowledge, yet with a type of playfulness. Her smile showed her shining white teeth, and she playfully kissed him.
Grinning, she leaned back. "Hey, Jason. I finally changed my transport number. I'm leaving on the last ship. That's more time for us to spend together." She grinned again.
This brought a smile to Jason's face, and he gazed at her face for a long time. Finally, a look of concern passed over her face, and in a worried tone she asked, "Did you get that mission you wanted? I really don't want you to go with the diversionary force, Jason. I'm afraid you won't come back to me."
Jason sighed, "No, I didn't. I'm with Vermilion flight. I have been assigned the duty of escorting the transports out."
"I guess I won't have to worry about being well defended."
Jason glanced at his timepiece. "Oh! Gotta go, Katz. I won't be able to land after each group of five transports, so I'll see you at the resettlement."
"Okay." She kissed him again. "Good luck."
Jason grabbed his flight gear and dashed out to the flight deck.
Sitting in the cockpit of his Z-96 Knight, Jason glanced at the picture of Katrina which was fastened to the canopy of his fighter. Smiling at his memories, he turned his attention to his initial launch check up. Finishing the check, he turned to his com unit.
"Vermilion Leader. All systems go."
"Roger, Vermilion." The flight officer's voice came through his speaker. "Happy hunting. Keep those transports alive."
"Roger Hunter's Nest. Vermilion Leader requesting permission to launch."
"Green light, go for it."
Elessar engaged the repulsorlifts on his Knight and hovered out of the hangar. Once he was clear along with the rest of his flight, he punched his engines and sped out toward the blackness of space.
"Vermilion Leader to Vermilion flight. All ships report in."
"Vermilion Two here." The other's voice came in over the com.
"Vermilion Three here. I regret to report a slight malfunction in my fighter's maneuvering jets. I must have missed it in the pre-flight check."
Jason sighed. "Newbies," he thought. They seemed to complain about the strangest things.
"Orders, sir? Shall I return to base?"
"Negative, Vermilion Three. Stay in formation. I doubt we'll encounter anything on this mission anyway."
"Vermilion Four reporting."
"Alright. We're all here. Set Nav computer to Nav one and engage the autopilot." He sighed as he thought of the mission ahead of him and of all the excitement he was missing as a member of the escort flight. "Get ready for some sleep, boys." He added as an afterthought.
The mission went smoothly for the first four groups. As Jason was returning, a report came in that a single Star Destroyer, a Frigate, and two Corvettes had jumped in system. The diversionary flight had been launched, though the danger of the Imperial fleet catching the last set of transports was very slim.
As he rendezvoused with the last set of transports, the comm traffic from the diversionary flight picked up--they had neared the enemy fleet. Jason heard Paladin passing orders to his wing. After a short while, Jason saw flashes of light fly back and forth between the two forces.
Finally, Jason met up with the last set of transports. Moving into escort position, he switched to his Nav computer and studied the map before him. Calculating the distance, he realized that he would pass close enough to the battle that he would be able to skirmish with the enemy's TIE squadrons.
Moving along the escape path, Jason finally came close enough to the battle that he could engage the enemy.
"Alright, Vermilion Flight. Vermilion Two and Four, break off of escort and follow me. Vermilion Three, stay with the transports. We'll meet you at the jump point."
"Roger, Vermilion Leader. Do you think that's a good idea?"
"We might as well help them out, right?"
"I guess so Vermilion Leader."
The three Knights turned and flew towards the distant battle.
"Okay, Vermilion Attack, we're approaching the battle. The tactic is hit and run. Engage as many as you can, but don't get yourself swarmed. Remember, we still have to get out alive."
The two pilots acknowledged.
"Accelerate to attack speed and let's get them!"
The three Z-96s accelerated and angled towards the nearest flight of TIEs. The TIE fighters, realizing the new threat, turned to engage the Knights.
"Vermilion Two, break right. Vermilion Four, break left. Engage them in single combat. I'll take the remaining two."
The two other Knights broke off, taking a TIE each with them. Jason continued to close on the remaining two TIEs. Switching his two sets of triple lasers to fire-linked, he targeted the nearest TIE and fired a blast of six lasers at it. The fighter broke out of formation, breaking left to dodge the blasts. Unfortunately, the TIE behind him was not so lucky. Not realizing that he would be hit, his fighter's port solar panel was ripped off by the lasers. The remains of his fighter spun out into space.
Turning to the other fighter, Jason maneuvered his fighter so that it was behind the TIE. However, the TIE's superior maneuverability allowed it to pull away from the slower Knight. Pulling as tight an immelman as possible, Jason looped around and tried to come up on the TIE from the opposite direction. Punching off a deflection shot, he smiled as his target exploded.
"Yes! That's another scratch on the board!" Jason called.
Turning to his tactical display, he realized that Vermilion Four was still engaged with his target.
"Vermilion Leader, what the hell are you doing?" Paladin's voice screamed over the intercom.
"Just getting a few kills of my own," replied Elessar, in his own cocky way.
"Get back to those transports! Your job is to defend them!"
Glancing at his tactical again, Jason saw the transports were almost to the jump point. He also saw Vermilion Four was deeply engaged with three TIEs, and that Vermilion Two was moving to assist.
"They're out in the open, big brother. C'mon!"
"Get back there, Vermilion Leader."
"They're f--" Just as he was about to finish his sentence, he saw three large shapes drop out of hyperspace right next to the transports. The Imperial Star Destroyer and two Corvettes immediately turned on the lone Knight and its transport wards.
"Damn!" Jason cursed. "Vermilion Flight, form up! We've got to get back to those transports."
Kicking in all of his fighter's boost, Jason lanced toward the group of transports. Glancing back, he saw Vermilion Two moving to comply, while Vermilion Three was still engaged in battle.
"Vermilion Leader to diversionary flight. We've got new bogies on screen. One Star Destroyer and two Corvettes just jumped in right on top of the transports!" He was panicked. He had to get back. Katrina was counting on him.
"Let's go, let's go!" Jason thought to his fighter. He urged it on with every drop of his will, but it still seemed that he was going too slow. He watched as the Star Destroyer launched its wing of TIE Fighters and Interceptors, which instantly engaged the lone Vermilion Three.
"Vermilion Leader, this is Paladin. I'm on my way."
As Jason raced towards the transports, he cursed himself for his cockiness. By now, Vermilion Three had been destroyed, and Vermilion Four had lost his shields.
"Help me! Someone help me! Oh God!" Jason heard his voice pleading over the com. "Ah, Hell!" Jason winced as he saw a flash behind him and a green blip winked off of his radar.
Having dispensed with Vermilion Three, the TIEs all turned to engage the remaining two Knights, while the capital ships pounded the transports. In a matter of seconds, two were gone. All around Jason, TIEs swarmed by, their green lasers impacting against his shields and shorting out his ship's internal systems. He fired back continuously, often hitting the enemy, but he didn't count kills. All he could think about was making it to the transports.
Distantly, he heard Vermilion Two's death scream. All of the TIEs were focused on him. He didn't deviate one bit. Though he know he wouldn't make it, he had to try. The lasers had made swiss cheese of his shields. Already, some of them were piercing his hull and damaging his fighter.
Angling his fighter up a little, Jason fired off his only four proton torpedoes towards the nearest corvette. Another two transports disappeared in flashes of fire. He knew Katrina was on the last transport. She had to be.
He turned the com on. "Jump already, Jump!" He cried to the transport. Still, it continued its slow lumbering movement. He glanced at his tactical. Some of the TIEs had broken off and were engaging the diversionary force, holding them back. The warriors of Lomabia were now flanked. They flew with all of their greatest skill and courage, yet still they fell.
Jason turned back to the transport. All around him TIEs and laser fire danced. He could now see the transport being rocked by continuous laser fire. He watched the armor peel off in sheets. The TIEs surrounding him all launched their missiles at him, as he watched a laser bolt trace in towards the final transport. The missiles were closing, as was the laser. He made one last plea.
"God, please, jump. Jump, damn it, jump!" he yelled at the transport. Finally, the laser pierced the transport, and the engine went up in a ball of fire.
Jason screamed. "Katrina!!" He was in a rage of insanity. He turned towards the Star Destroyer.
Faintly, he heard Paladin's voice over the intercom. "Get the hell out of there, Elessar! Turn back!"
The missiles closed. Under his breath, Jason whispered, "Alright, you damn bastards. It's you and me. You're all mine!" Jason felt a strange feeling swelling up within him. The galaxy opened up before him. There was a flash of light as the missiles detonated. Elessar was no more.
Jason awoke from sleep to darkness. He groaned. "Where the hell am I?" He glanced around and tried to get his bearings. "If I'm dead, and this is heaven; it's not what I thought it would be."
He heard a beep. Glancing down, he realized that he was still in the cockpit of his Knight. There was no feeling of weightlessness, so he couldn't be in space. He popped the canopy. Glancing around, he realized that no vacuum had sucked him up.
Around him, he heard the chirps of birds and the sounds of a forest. Finally his vision came to him, and he realized that he was surrounded by a dense forest.
Climbing out of his fighter, he turned and glanced at his fighter. Surprisingly, for a crash landing, his fighter wasn't in that bad of condition. With a few minor repairs, Jason could get the fighter on-line again.
After a few hours of repair, his fighter was in an operational status. It wasn't quite at top-notch, but it would fly. Climbing into his fighter, Jason lifted off and got a view of the world from a bird's eye view.
In the distance, he saw a pillar of smoke twisting upwards from an amorphous cloud. Realizing that this was most likely a center of population or industry, he flew towards it.
A few hours later, he landed in the middle of the polluted town. The people passing by glanced at Jason and his fighter, but continued on with their own business. Standing in a dark alley, he saw three dark figures lurking.
Turning towards a bar he had seen earlier, he started to walk towards it. As he entered it, all of its occupants turned and looked towards the figure in the doorway, with a sheathed broadsword strapped to his back.
Jason stepped in and walked towards the bartender. His eyes darted back and forth. As he reached the counter, he opened his mouth to speak, but shut it quickly. He sat there and reprimanded himself mentally. "Where's my confidence? Where's that strange cockiness I used to have?" Finally he remembered failing to defend the transports. He remembered Katrina, whose picture was still in his cockpit. A tear came to his eye.
"Hey! Bub! You gonna order or what?" The bartender asked impatiently.
Without looking up, Jason ordered the strongest drink in the house. The bartender turned to pour the drink, and as he did, Jason gathered his confidence. When the bartender turned around, he placed a fiery red drink in front of Jason. Jason picked up the glass and looked deeply into the drink.
The swirling red of the beverage seemed to hypnotize him for a moment. Finally, he looked up and asked, "What's it called?"
"It's a suicide," the bartender said with some emotion. "It's for whenever you want to get away from something...and it looks like you need that now."
Sighing, Jason whispered an acknowledgment. The bartender turned around and pulled a bottle from the wall. "Here. Take this. You look like you've been through something horrible." He started to turn away.
"Wait." The bartender turned back. "What planet am I on?" The man next to Jason looked at him intently and moved to another seat.
"You're on Mortem, planet of suffering. Anyone who needs to get away comes here. There's no law whatsoever."
Jason nodded his thanks and downed the entire Suicide in one gulp. The bartender looked away. A warm feeling flooded Jason, and the burning of the alcohol seemed to soothe him. Again, he was lost in the swirling red. He managed to whisper, "Good stuff," before passing out on the floor.
Jason awoke on the doorstep to the bar. The door was closed. Wrapped in his arms was the bottle of Suicide the bartender had given him. He was still in a daze, but managed to crawl over to his Knight. Placing the bottle carefully in the cockpit, he turned and glanced around. He heard a scream.
"Kat?" In the dark alley he saw the dark figures attacking a female figure. His vision blurred, and again he saw the beautiful face of his beloved Katrina.
He shook his head. The image of Katrina was replaced by that of a woman wearing dirty gray rags. Drawing his Lomabian sword, Jason rushed the figures. The blade hummed in his hand. Just as he neared the group, they all turned and attacked him with sticks.
Surprised by the sudden change, and still dazed by the suicide, Jason reacted slowly to the attack, and barely parried each of the attacks. Finally moving to the offensive, he swung his sword one-handed, and decapitated one of his attackers. Twirling around, he was caught in the back by a club. The blast shot through his spine, and he dropped to the ground. He was hit again and again. Finally, he was unable to stand.
The two remaining figures picked up his limp body and dragged him into a dark tunnel. When light finally came, Jason found himself in a great hall, which was filled with glowing candles and shimmering pictures. Before him sat a well built man with swords hanging from each side of his waist.
The man stood and strode over to Jason. "What's you name, son?" he asked in a nice tone.
"Who are you?" retorted Jason, too angry to reply.
The man laughed. "Okay, you can let him go." Jason stood up, and the guards turned and left to stand by the entrance. "You only need to know me as Black Wolf."
"Very well, then I am Ele...no. I am no longer Elessar. I have no identity at the moment." Just then, another cloaked figure walked in, holding a box of items. Emptying it on the floor, Jason realized that they were the items from his Knight.
Among them were his family emblem, his extra clothes, his family heirloom, and the picture of Katrina. Wolf scanned the objects. The another figure through Jason's Lomabian sword at Wolf's feet. The blood streaked across the stone floor.
"A warrior, huh?"
"I was a warrior...and a guardian...but now I am nothing. I have lost it all."
"You mean the girl in the picture?"
"Yes. I should have been there. I should have stayed to protect her, but I didn't."
"A failed protector?" Wolf spoke the words softly. "Then I shall call you 'Valkyrie' so that you will never again forget you mission."
Jason looked up and smiled. At the same time, Wolf stooped and picked up the family heirloom. It was a long sword version of the Lomabian Broad Sword. Unsheathing it, Wolf activated the sword, and the slight hum of the vibro blade filled the quiet room. Looking at the emblem on the hilt, Wolf glanced down at the short sword on his waist. He unattached it, and handed both weapons to Jason. "Seeing as how the symbols match, I'm guessing this is also yours."
Jason handled to two blades. A matched pair. "I cannot fight two handed, I fear. Perhaps you should keep them."
"No. I have pity. I know what it is like to lose a loved one. We will teach you to fight, and then send you on your way. You must, however, forever keep the name 'Valkyrie.'"
Jason agreed. The training began immediately. For two months he trained with Wolf, learning the style. By the time he left the planet, he was the best sword fighter on the planet.
Now, glancing towards the Nav computer in his Knight, Jason inputted the coordinates given to him by Wolf in exchange for his Lomabian Broad Sword. Bidding the planet Mortem good-bye, he engaged his hyperdrive and leaped through space.
Coming out of hyperspace, he saw before him a Mon Calamari Cruiser. He had reached the Rebellion.
Retribution was coming...