A CRS Liberty Adventure
By: Rooster, Kallysto, Guardian, and Stryker. Edits and slight adjustments made by Bulldog.
Capital Punishment — Chapter 1
"You know, if I didn't know any better, sonny, I'd say you've been sitting at that table for the past three days now," remarked Lumi "Rooster" Rus'ti, the Liberty's mixologist, as she set him up with another cup of tea. "Barring bathroom breaks, at least."
The addressed pilot, Jeff "Kallysto" Young, the CRS Liberty's Corsair 11, looked up. His eyes were dull, almost glassy, and his expression looked sullen to even the casual observer. "Oh, I've been sleeping enough."
Rooster pulled up a chair, ignoring the frown. "Wassamatter, eh? You got shellshock or something? I don't remember seeing you fly ever since you came back from that... First Flight."
Kallysto looked up, and bit back a snarl. "I haven't. And I'm fine, okay?" He dragged the cup of tea she'd brought up to his mouth and took a big slug out of it. "Gyah!" he exclaimed, spitting out the hot tea. "Burned m'tongue." He covered his mouth with his hand, looking down, more than his mouth burning.
Rooster snapped her fingers. "Mixer! Rocks and nothing for Kally-boy here, who won't tell his mama what's got him so down." A moment later, the Lumi pressed a glass of ice water into the chagrined pilot's hands.
Kallysto sighed, and looked guiltily back up at the Lumi bartender, noting the color of her receptors. "Yeah. All right. I'm not fine."
Roo nodded. "So. What is it?" she asked.
"I think I've been grounded," he began.
A few hours earlier...
Chris "Electro" Schock, Corsair Leader, didn't look up as Kallysto walked into his office. "Sit."
Kallysto did so, perfectly straight, keeping silent. A long, uncomfortable minute passed.
Electro finished making an entry into his datapad, then tossed it on the table, face down. He fixed the pilot with an unblinking gaze. "Young, what did I tell you and the other Corsairs at the briefing?" He asked. "Or rather, what did I tell you?"
"Don't try to impress you," Kallysto answered quietly.
"Exactly. Now, I believe I also reprimanded you during the mission for excessive chatter. And don't think I didn't notice the boom buzzing run you made on that freighter." Electro's voice was colder than the space outside the hull.
"Sir, I..." Kallysto began, but Electro slapped a hand down hard on the duralloy desk.
"No. You do what I tell you. I am your commanding officer, and you accepted that when you signed on with the Alliance. You may be some hotshot holo actor back home, but there is no room in the Alliance for stunt pilots who don't follow orders."
The Corsair CO leaned forward, locking gazes with the thirty-something fresh pilot, daring him to speak again. Kallysto twitched his upper lip, causing his long, thin mustache to jerk, but he remained silent.
"Now, I'm going to ask you a question, and I'd like an honest answer. I called a retreat when the Bantha fodder hit the fan. But you didn't bail." Electro narrowed his eyes, frowning hard. "You turned and tried to take on the Fridge all by your lonesome. With a damaged stabilizer, I might add." He tilted his chin up a fraction of an inch. "Why?"
Kallysto cocked his head to one side. "Because it was there, sir. Because I intended to buy us some time, and maybe I might've gotten lucky and fragged it."
Electro stifled a smirk. If it wasn't such a breach of command protocol, I'd find that funny, he thought. He hid his amusement by turning his head away and shaking it, building up a head of steam again. "Young, you may be able to blow up the big ship in the movies, but in case you hadn't noticed, you didn't even come CLOSE to scrapping the Fridge. And if it wasn't for Green showing up, you might still be out there now!" He leaned even further over the desk, half- standing out of the chair. "A corpsicle," he finished quietly.
"Second question, Pilot," Electro snapped. "What is the purpose of being a wingman?"
Kallysto shrank back in his chair guiltily. "To watch the wing leader's six and make sure he doesn't get turned into spacedust."
"And?" Electro prompted.
"To follow his lead in the absence of commands from the CO or XO," Kallysto responded.
Electro smiled. It wasn't a nice smile. In fact, it looked eerily like Rory's smile, right before the Gundark started a meal. "You were Backlash's wingman. You LEFT him to go play tag with a Fridge. He almost got his chair shot out from under him, because he thought YOU were still behind him."
Kallysto opened his mouth, but Electro bulled on.
"Further: Guardian didn't say much about it, but we bagged his flight recorder telemetry. He gave you an order to come back, and you ignored it. Blatantly ignored an order from the chain of command. That order was from me," Electro emphasized, jamming a thumb into his own chest.
"If you were an ace pilot, I might understand. But you aren't. Flying a combat mission isn't like staging a holo-stunt. Ships don't shoot around you. Their guns are live. And if you make a mistake, you can end up dead. Or worse, someone else could end up dead. Like Guardian almost did."
Kallysto sighed quietly and shut his eyes.
"Don't you look away, soldier. I am talking to you," Electro snapped. Kallysto looked up.
"I ought to drum you out of the Alliance right now. But I know what you've contributed to the cause, and the Alliance is short on manpower, as always," Electro grumbled softly, pushing his hair back out of his eyes. "And you did manage to push the Adamant out of position long enough for Hyl and Guardian to get out and notify the cavalry. That's the only other thing saving your sorry butt."
"I'll figure out what to do with you soon. For now, you're off active duty. I've already reworked the schedules. You're also to be suspended without pay until I meet with Dundee to assess the appropriate fine for losing that fighter, as well." Schock paused to watch Kallysto's expression. It was a study of blankness, but his upper lip had developed a tic, accented by the mustache.
"Anything to say in your defense?"
Kallysto's voice was vacuum-silent. "No, sir."
Roo sighed softly as Kallysto fell silent. "I'm sorry to hear that."
Jeff shrugged in response. "I was wrong. I had something to prove, and I just got it in my head to prove it then."
The Lumi chuckled softly. "I think I understand. Your tea should be cool enough now, by the way."
Kallysto essayed the ghost of a smile. "Thanks."
Capital Punishment — Chapter 2
"Flight Officer Vince 'Stryker' Rambo reporting for duty, sir!"
It seemed not long ago he had said those words. And it hadn't been. His Lieutenant's bars were still new, as well as the position of Corsair Squadron's Executive Officer that came with them.
So was all the paperwork.
Worst thing is, these have to be filled out in triplicate. No wonder Electro signs himself up for patrol so much, Stryker thought.
At least a dozen datapads lay scattered and stacked on the Lounge table. He'd had over twice that number, until Tuttle Dundee had gotten on his case for monopolizing ship resources, and he had to give some up. He'd also learned that trying to use his office for the grueling, awful task meant he couldn't get a drink when he wanted, for fear of losing his place. If I knew I'd have this many hours of paperwork, I might have thought twice about accepting the promotion. I'd rather be flying he thought glumly to himself. It did have the hazard of making him privy to all the curious eyes of the crew and pilots of the Liberty, but he kept handing them 'fuel consumption reports' and 'A-wing re-detailing schedules' until they started avoiding his table like the plague. Especially when he purposefully scattered the datapads all over the place.
But the position also made him privy to some of the conversations in the Lounge.
The Corsair XO picked up one of the pads and quietly tapped in the access code for the flight roster. Sure enough, Kallysto wasn't listed on it, nor had he been listed on it for nearly a week. Stryker frowned and called up Electro's notes file. Under Kallysto's name was the single entry:
Removed from active flight roster pending craft availability and assessment of punitive fines.
Now that's cryptic, he thought. Well, a good XO gets a second opinion if one is needed. He put down the pad and approached the grounded pilot.
"Well, it's true we don't have any spare A-wings available. We lost a lot of craft last week. And it's not fair to the new guys if we ship them and their A-wings over, only to take their wings away," he reassured Kallysto. He jerked a thumb at the table full of pads. "Besides, I'm not flying much these days either, and I got out of there with my craft intact." He grinned. "How 'bout a friendly sim run?"
Kallysto looked up semi-depressedly, and shrugged. "What, you versus me? You'd wipe the cosmos with my tailfins." It was well known that the Corsair XO was a hot pilot in almost any craft; he'd recently shattered the record in mineracing, attracting enough notice to earn him the coveted XO spot left vacant once Jim "Raven" Lee had taken over Buccaneer squadron.
"Actually, nah, I was thinking of testing out one of the new Ops missions I've been designing in the trainer, in my copious spare time. You'd be flying my wing. A-wings, of course. The AI's not great, though." He looked at Rooster. "Could use a couple of live pilots flying the other side."
Rooster's receptors turned green in surprise. "I'd love to. What're we flying?"
"Y-wings. You and," He paused, looking around the nearly-empty Lounge. He spotted a couple of deck officers, and then his eyes settled on another pilot. "Parody!" he called out as Michael "Parody" Miller, Corsair 7, strolled through the door of the Lounge. "Just in time. Meet us in the sim room in five minutes."
"What? I just got off sprint duty," he said tiredly. Behind Kallysto, Stryker pointed at the Corsair pilot and made a silent lifting motion, which Parody translated to mean: He needs a pick-me-up. Help?
A mask of confusion changed to understanding after a moment.
"No worries. You'll be flying a Y-wing; one of those beefed up pirate models," Stryker told him.
Parody grinned. "That I could deal with." He made no secret of his aspirations to join Buccaneer and fly a Y-wing some day.
"Right. I'll go set up the sim programming and meet you in there," Stryker told them, and motioned for the door. "Oh, and watch where you step in there. The techs have been refitting some of the pods for the new Tau version simtech software from Alliance Technology. It's supposed to upgrade the graphics engines, as well as having the new data on the Imp fighter upgrades. They're having trouble adapting the chaff patch software, though. And the beam weapons they gave the TIEs are absolutely nasty."
Stryker's voice cut over the electronically simulated whine of the A-wing's engines. "Appreciate you taking point, Kallysto, but you're getting a little bit far out in front. Traveling at top speed also hampers your ability to take evasive action."
Kallysto sighed and scratched the side of his cheek under the rim of his helmet as he cut back on the throttle. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all, he thought sullenly. "Sorry. Just getting a good lead out in front of the freighter," he radioed back. "The best defense..."
Stryker's voice crackled back at him. "...is a good offense. Yes, I know. But nothing has shown up on the screens yet."
"They will," Kallysto warned, eyes traversing between the forward sensors and the IFF display for the first hint of an incoming blip.
A staticky laugh responded. "Sure. But you only know that because this is a sim. For all you know, I could have something drop in behind the freighter we're protecting," Stryker responded. "Turn to heading two-one-zero, on my mark."
Kallysto paused, waiting. "Mark."
Pixelated streak lines lit up Rooster's screen as her simulator cut in. Her receptors shifted reflexively under her helmet as she grabbed the controls.
"Roo, I mark two A-wings covering our objective. Cut speed to 50 MGLT and arm torpedoes," Parody's voice came over her comm. "They're on the far side of the freighter. You should be able to get a torp lock on the lead A-wing well before they get into firing range."
"You know, that was pretty sneaky," Kallysto lamented at Stryker as the two blue blips showed up on his front radar screen. If Stryker hadn't gotten him to turn when he did, he would have been another full klick and a half out from the freighter. "I would have preferred not to have known they were going to come in on our six."
He could imagine Stryker's grin. "I'm your wingleader; I just called the end of a sweep turn, that's all. If some other winglead doesn't call it, that's their problem, not mine. These pirates have a tracer on the nav buoy, you see," he reasoned back. "And by the way, while we've been talking, those Y-wings have been getting a torpedo lock on you."
Kallysto looked down, seeing the rapidly flashing indicator, and jammed his stick down and to the left. "Evasive," he radioed. While the A-wings weren't great at taking missile hits, they were best at avoiding them. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Stryker's A-wing continuing on course. What's he doing?
Rooster smiled as her targeting scope went red. "I have a lock. Firing." Twin blue comets streaked out from below her cockpit, promising death for the inbound A-wing, even as its partner turned away from Parody's attempt at a torpedo lock.
Surprisingly, the A-wing kept on coming. Rooster's smile turned to an uneasy frown. Was Stryker asleep at the stick?
She was even more surprised when her proton torpedoes exploded a hundred meters in front of the nose of her ship. Several of her controls went dark, and the line on the bottom of her screen informed her that her flight controls and guns were out. The A-wing banked right and sped by.
"Kallysto, your Y-wing changed his mind and is concentrating on the freighter. Take 'im. I've got this one," Stryker's voice ordered. Kallysto broke out of his evasive pattern and throttled up, heading for Parody's Y-wing. "Copy that."
Stryker dropped into the kill spot behind Rooster's Y-wing. His voice came over the inter-sim comm. "Bang. Yer dead. But that was a bit of a dirty trick I pulled, so stay in your chair. I'll have you come right back with the second flight."
Rooster frowned at her comm. "What did you do, anyway? Was that a cheat or something?" She didn't recall Stryker being much of a slicer.
"Nope. If you stay on course when someone's trying to get a lock on you with torpedoes, then fire when they do, the torpedoes will collide and explode in front of the firing ship, when you're in a faster ship."
"Oh. Well, I'll have to remember that trick," she responded as her screens went black.
"Only really works in the sims. Evasive is by far the better choice," he replied with a crackle, then the channel went silent.
Meanwhile, Parody was having a tough time keeping Kallysto off his six; the A-wing pilot was flying far too close for his own good. His guns were dry from recharging his shields, and even with all aft shields, he wasn't going to take much more of a pounding. To make matters worse, Roo had gone off the scopes, and that meant Stryker would be here any second. The freighter was well on its way ahead of him, too. All in all, this wasn't one of the harder sims for the Rebel side.
Parody switched to intra-sim. "Stryker, this isn't going to challenge anyone but a green pilot," he growled as he put his Y-wing into another tight turn. Kallysto stayed with him, a lucky blaster bolt taking another little bit off his shields.
"Patience," Roo's voice came back at him. "I'm coming with the cavalry."
With a blur of pseudomotion, a Corvette bearing the markings of the Jordellian pirates dropped out of hyperspace, directly in the path of the freighter.
Kallysto looked at the reading on Parody's Y-wing, noting hull damage, then eyed the Corvette starting a slow, ponderous turn to come about at the freighter. "Breaking off. We've got to slow that Vette down."
"Negative, Corsair 11. Stay with your mark," Stryker advised, but Kallysto's A-wing was already going by. Stryker shook his head, calmly dropping into the spot behind Parody's limping Y-wing that Kallysto had vacated.
"Stryker to Parody. Ready for some lessons on missile lock avoidance?"
Kallysto took his A-wing on a wide arc, keeping his stick angled up and to the left as he took the scenic route past the Corvette. The gunners couldn't quite keep up, but they didn't make it a cruise, either. Checking behind his shoulder, he cut the engines as he passed behind the port rear quadrant of the ship, jamming his stick to the right and up. His shields took a few glancing hits in the process, but when he fired up his engines again and made an altitude correction, he was neatly in the engine wash of the CRV, in the dead spot between the guns' arc of fire. With engines at one third throttle, he could hang out and paste the CRV all day. It was an unpublished starfighter's trick. One that only worked if there wasn't any sort of fighter escort to take out an easy target.
"Kallysto, what's your status?" Stryker's voice asked over the radio, the interference from the engine wash making him hard to make out. "The freighter has changed course, and is heading for the alternate hyperspace point, but I don't see you."
Kallysto grinned, keeping one hand on the firing trigger while fiddling with the radio gain controls. "I'm on the Vette's six, collecting engine metal samples."
"Break off and cover the freighter. It's getting a bit too far out, and I'm teaching our Y-wing pilot a thing or two about missile avoidance."
Kallysto nodded. "Will do. The ship's almost history, though." Leastways he thought he'd plugged at least a hundred shots into it, for his guns were at minimum charge at this point from the sustained firing. Surely the shields would drop soon?
Rooster's screen came alive suddenly, and after a brief moment of disorientation, she realized that her controls were now configured for a Delta-class DX-9 transport, armed with ion cannons, no less. Even better, the freighter was right in front of her. The mission readout read:
You have 30 marines in your cargo bay. Disable the FRT and dock with it. The marines will do the rest. -S
Roo grinned as she checked her scopes; the two A-wings were quite a ways off, one dancing with Parody's Y-wing, and the other busy concentrating on the CRV. As the Y-wing exploded in a flash of pixelated orange, another pair of Y-wings hypered in behind her transport.
"All right. Easy pickins," Parody's much-cheerier voice came over her comm.
Kallysto sighed as he noted the new enemy arrivals. He did a quick mental calculation, noting that if he didn't splash the CRV, it would still be able to catch the freighter before it could hyper out. At the same time, if he didn't get that transport before it disabled the freighter and docked, the mission would be lost.
He looked back down at his laser indicator, and growled. The power was not recycling fast enough to scrap the Corvette quickly enough for him to finish it first before rocketing out to stop the transport, which was dangerously close to firing range of the freighter to disable it and begin boarding operations.
"Kally, they're about to disable our freighter and I'm too far away to assist," Stryker's voice nudged.
"Roger," he replied. Had his ship been armed with missiles, he'd have dumped half of them into the Corvette to finish the job and then use the rest to force the transport to break off, but as it was all he had were his depleted cannons. "Moving to assist," he said aloud as he broke out of the blindspot he'd been inhabiting. He immediately jinked now that he was able to be targeted again by the simulated ship, but once the first blast missed he flashed his engines and burned hard for the freighter's location.
As he flew in, he dumped all of his shield recharge into his lasers so he could keep up the speed he'd need to reach the transport before it could take their freighter down. He once again cursed as he absentmindedly tried to swap the weapons-system toggle to pull up the missiles his ship didn't have. While he'd normally still be able to paint a lock on something to spook it, the buggy nature of the sim apparently had that functionality disabled.
"You don't want to run into us, Kally," Parody warned as his Y-wing and the AI wingman turned to face the oncoming A-wing.
As the distance ticked down rapidly, Kallysto triggered a few warning bursts into the direction of both wishbones, and jinked around their return fire, though a few blasts splashed across his diminishing shields, finishing the job he'd started when he'd swapped his ELS. Thankfully, they were all past each other without any other bolts landing and causing damage.
"Roo, he's coming!"
Before the transport could even begin what amounted to an evasive turn, Kallysto pounced. He unloaded his lasers into it from max range and held the trigger down, pumping scarlet bolt after scarlet bolt into the ship's shields.
"He's all over me!" Roo called out.
Kallysto grinned as the only option available to her was exactly what she did, trying to dive the sluggish stormtrooper transport hard out of his line of fire. Unfortunately for Rooster, it was exactly what he'd planned to happen. He adjusted his fire to keep tracking the lumbering DX-9, and was rewarded with his next round of shots hitting the hull on the two topside engine mounts. As they began to spark, he was close enough to zero in on the boxy aft end of transport. He pumped his last bit of laser energy into the transport, and was rewarded with the entire thing exploding in a pixelated fashion, both sparking engines pinwheeling off in different directions.
"Blast it!" Parody's voice shouted.
To punctuate his curse, lasers began filling the area around Kallysto's ship. One tagged the front area of his wedge, drawing an alarm klaxon into existence in the simulated cockpit.
Kallysto expertly turned into the attack, and found a Y-wing lumbering around to take a run at the freighter. "Oh no you don't," he grunted as he tightened his turn to put himself right behind the wishbone. He mashed down the trigger and unloaded a series of single-blasts into the ship. It didn't react at first, indicating it was the AI pilot as opposed to Parody.
"Keep soaking, AI buddy..." Parody trailed off.
Kallysto knew Parody was working his way back around onto his aft, so he had to finish this AI quickly. His vision narrowed as he waited for the first motion of the Y-wing to know which type of evasion the AI was going to take. He noticed a quick twitch in the nacelles, and then knew it was going to fake a climb and then roll into a dive. He nosed over to ensure he could rake the ship to death quickly before he could get ambushed by Parody.
Just then the area around his cockpit took on a blue tint as ion cannon bolts filled the area around his ship. A few landed home on the topside of his wedge-shaped craft, and instantly systems began shutting down as they were disabled.
"How in the hell did you get back around so quickly!"
"Wouldn't you like—No!"
Kally pulled hard on the controls to climb into the attack, and he sluggishly nosed himself around just in time to see the AI Y-wing he'd been stitching evade right into Parody's rapidly approaching ship. Both ships collided and exploded instantly, sending four R200 ion jet engine nacelles spinning off in different directions.
"They call that 'Pilot Error', Parody," Kallysto quipped, sighing with relief.
A string of curses filled the airwaves from Parody, mingled in with hearty laughs from Stryker and Rooster.
"Ok, Kally," Stryker called out after his laughter petered out. "Let's bag that 'vette and finish the mission."
Kallysto examined the damage log on his ship, and noted that his shield system and laser system would be down for two minutes each while the repairs were simulated. He sighed heavily. "Well, you'll have to do it. My gun system got zapped." He toggled the damage control simulator to prioritize the lasers over the shields. I'll need guns before shields I think...
"That's ok," Stryker replied. "I'll be there— Bloah!"
"We're baaaaaack," Rooster called out eerily.
"Gotta love the sims!" Parody cheered.
"Son of a Hutt!" Stryker called out. "The next wave jumped in right on top of me!"
"You designed this mission," Rooster crowed. "Did you forget how many waves you included?"
Kallysto hauled back on the controls and looked at Stryker's A-wing dancing away from the two new Y-wings harassing him. They were alternating their laser and ion cannon fire, making it harder for Stryker to evade due to the differences in speed of the two weapons systems. Both pilots appeared to be approaching the engagement carefully, keeping the lone A-wing boxed in with an unending stream of fire.
"Give me another 90 seconds and I'll be able to help!"
Just then, another alert chirped in his cockpit. Looking down at his Combat Multiview Display, he saw that the freighter's shields were starting to drop rapidly. He hauled back again and saw that the CRV he'd left for dead had managed to haul itself back into the path of the freighter and was now beginning to maul it mercilessly. The hull integrity reading was so hilariously low that Kallysto slammed his fist into the controls for not staying and killing it before moving to engage the others earlier. "Lead, the corvette is going to take out the freighter!"
"Little busy," Stryker grunted in reply. "Figure it out on your own!"
"Should I get out and punch it with my fists?!"
"I'm sure you'll know what to do."
Kallysto examined the facts of the situation as fast as his pilot-mind could. Stryker was defensive, and likely wouldn't be able to come help in time even if he could disengage. Kallysto's own ship was still sans weaponry for another sixty seconds, and the freighter's shields were about to drop down to 20% with the next salvo from the enemy corvette. Another follow up blast would take them down completely, and then it was only a matter of two or three more salvos before the freighter was scrapped completely and the mission lost.
"Sithspawn!" Rooster cursed as her fighter winked off the radar. "How did you manage that!"
"Don't worry, Roo," Parody replied with a strained voice. "I'll get him!"
Kallysto saw that Stryker was slowly turning the tables on Parody, but it was taking time. He looked back at the damage readout and silently cursed. There was no way he'd get his weapons back in time to wax the corvette before it could destroy their freighter. There was absolutely no way Kallysto could see to win in this situation...
Kallysto smiled. He put all power into his engines and his weaponless craft lurched forward with a boost of speed. The heavily damaged corvette grew larger in his forward screen as he zeroed in on the small simulated bridge opening. "I'll handle this..."
The bridge grew larger still as two dual turbolaser blasts shot above and below his speedy craft. It loomed larger and larger, filling up more and more of the screen until he slammed his A-wing directly into the enemy CRV. It caused enough damage to destroy the ship. His screen flashed off for a moment, and then it filled with a map view of the battle.
"That's... one way... to do it," Stryker said haltingly.
Moments later, Stryker turned the tables on Parody's Y-wing and destroyed it.
Kallysto cheered as the green Mission Success text flashed across the screen. The canopy popped open, and he levered himself out of the sim pod. He accepted congratulations from Parody and Rooster, but Stryker was standing at the doorway, regarding him with a concerned look.
Kallysto shrugged at his XO. "What? We won."
Stryker shook his head. "But you died."
"My guns were down," Kallysto snorted. "What should I have done? Should I have hit it with harsh language?" he asked sarcastically.
Stryker turned on his heel and walked out. "You could have just flown around it and drawn fire," his rapidly diminishing voice called out from down the hallway.
Capital Punishment — Chapter 3
Rooster's trademark receptors stood on end, a mix of brilliant colors. "Ya know," she began, "I still think I have an awful lot to learn about flying. I'm not all that skillful. I really want to join Corsair, but I'm afraid I'll be a really awful pilot and wind up hindering missions. I've been practicing in the sims for a long time now. I just can't seem to get the knack of it," she sighed heavily as she walked behind the long counter of the Lounge.
Kallysto sat on one of the bar stools, and rested his chin in his hand. Rooster instinctively set him up for a good drink, and slid it over to him. Her receptors slowly turned a warm shade of red, the Lumi color for affection. "So, tell me some more about your life as a movie star! I think it's fascinating!" she exclaimed. She sat down and beamed at him.
Kallysto raised a skeptical eyebrow at his Lumi friend. He took a long drink from his glass and set the glass down.
"There is a reason for the impeccable sense of style and humor I have, and a reason why I joined the Alliance at such a late age. For a long time, I had my day in the sun. I used to grace the holovid scene, you see," he began.
"Adarlon, in the Minos sector, is a sleepy little backwater galaxy out on the Rim. The Empire and the Alliance don't have much of a presence out there, which is probably why the Alliance sometimes uses the area as a hiding place. There's nothing out there. There's no strategic value, and the industry is pretty lousy."
"However, where there are bored people, there is entertainment. My father founded and ran a holographic studio. I learned to act almost as quick as I learned how to walk, and after awhile I went from dramas and comedy to action films." He grinned. "Ever heard of 'Janno Swyfte, Stellar Adventurer'? Well, that's me."
He shrugged. "In the movies, the hero always wins in the end. Sometimes it's touch-and-go. I've done some pretty death defying stunts." He clenched his fingers; he heard the faint whine of servos in his left arm. "Most were generally with lots of explosions, enemy troops being flung willy-nilly about, with edge-of-your seat thrills every minute." He demonstrated the explosions with an outflinging of his hands. "Up against impossible odds, alone."
"Sometimes the hero ends up going out in a blaze of glory; but as always, the evil overlord's ship gets blown to smithereens. If the hero is lucky, he walks away from it. The formula's pretty straightforward. But the fans loved it." Jeff's eyes shone as he remembered days long gone.
"Media is an important part of the culture. People look up to the charismatic ones. I used to be one of them, you know."
Roo knew a cue when she heard one. "What happened?"
Jeff shook his head. "We got a little bit anti-Empire. Started featuring baddies that looked awfully similar to them. Stole shots of real Imp cruisers and ships, and used some clever CG to make it look like we were blasting them to smithereens. Of course, everyone in Minos sector knew there was only one Imp ISD up there. But you show them the truth about the Empire, thinly disguised as fiction, and they believe it."
He grinned faintly. "It was all Drun Cairnwick's idea. He was the Alliance liaison in the sector; one of those stodgy Senator types. 'If you can't beat them with weapons, beat them from within,' was what he charged us. And by the Maker, we made the people start thinking of the Empire as something less than benevolent dictators."
"Until the day they shut us down." He looked away. "We were also one of the beta test sites for the Spearhead retrofits into the RZ-1 we know today; a little paint, a few modifications, and they're disguised as movie craft. I got to fly quite a few in my day."
Young shook his head. "But, the Empire caught Cairnwick, then disbanded the studio crew, and the Alliance barely got most of our operation out of there in one piece. And that's what brings me here to you. A pilot more than a fighter. With something to prove, something to show everyone; because once you get that taste of glory, it's something you can't live without. You know?"
Rooster listened intently to everything Kallysto told her. One of the remarkable things about Lumis is their ability to recall every single word someone tells them. And she didn't want to forget a word of what Kallysto said to her. Her response was a nod.
Kallysto stopped talking long enough to take another long drink from his glass. While Rooster seemed to be interested in his story, to him she had that look on her face of someone who had never heard of him before. "Well, sorry to bore ya to death," he remarked lamely. "I need to hit the shower and clean up. Thanks for listening. See ya later." He was off before she could reply.
Rooster took his empty glass and dunked it in the tub. "Mixer," she said to her astromech buddy, "Did you notice how many times Kallysto said, 'blaze of glory'?" A long, low whistle was his only reply.
"Yeah I know. I'm worried too. It almost seems like he wants to go out in a 'blaze of glory'. I'm afraid he just might do it soon."
Mixer whistled and beeped at the Lumi goodnaturedly. "I am not dunking the glass too much." She looked down and found she was still washing Kallysto's glass. "Well what if I am dunking it too many times? At least it'll be clean!" she replied. Mixer winked at her and glided into the galley as Guardian entered the Lounge.
"Hey, Roo! What's up?" he asked, taking a seat in front of her. Rooster smiled at her very close friend, and finally set the glass down on a drying rack.
She set a hot cup of Ithorian Green Tea in front of Guardian. "Here."
Roo took a long sip from her iced Full Throttle and leaned closer to Guardian. The changing color of her receptors was not lost on him. "What's the matter, Roo? Your receptors are going pale and flat."
"Adam, I'm really, really worried about Kallysto," she began. "He was just in here, and we talked for a long time. He was telling me about his career before he came here, and you would not believe how many times he said, 'and the hero goes out in a blaze of glory'. I mean, he said it so often that I'm beginning to think that is what he expects to happen!" As the highly caffeinated drink flowed into her system, she picked up speed as she talked.
"He was telling how he would fly his holovid ships, and 'the evil overlord would get blown to smithereens, while the charismatic hero would go out in a blaze of glory'! Do you think he would actually try to go out in a blaze of glory? Do you think he would try to become the hero and end up getting killed on a mission? Adam, we have to do something! He's been grounded already and he hasn't been here that long! He ignored Electro's orders and now he can't fly for a while. I can't stand to think of him getting hurt or killed or worse, getting kicked out of the Alliance! He is my friend just like you are and I don't want to lose any more friends!" she said, almost without stopping to take a breath.
Guardian took advantage of the pause in Roo's dramatic explanation. "Whoa! Slow down there! First of all, I doubt he will get kicked out. Secondly, he did ignore orders from his CO and that is cause to get grounded. But I really don't think he has any intention of 'going out in a blaze of glory.'" Burns said.
Rooster looked into Guardian's eyes and replied, "You didn't see his face when he said it."
Guardian looked intently into the Lumi's soul. He sensed worry there, feeling perhaps he should take her more seriously. "You want me to go talk to him?" he asked, knowing the answer already.
"Yes! Here! Take him this drink! I think he went to his quarters. I'll be on duty here the rest of the night," she said as she shoved a covered mug at him. "Karideph Honey Tea. His favorite."
Guardian smiled warmly at Rooster's insistence. Just like her to be so concerned about a fellow Libertine, he thought. "I'm going, I'm going!" he replied as she reached to give him a shove out the door, and left.
Capital Punishment — Chapter 4
Mon Calamari Cruisers were originally designed as pleasure craft. The odd-shaped vessels bulged with ovid blisters of transparisteel, giving an awe-inspiring view of the passing cosmos to those fortunate enough to be onboard.
Once the Calamari had declared an open alliance with the Rebellion (a courageous and foolhardy move, but one desperately treasured by the Rebels), the cruisers were refitted to be the backbone of the Rebel Fleet. The huge viewports were most often replaced or retrofitted with armor plating or weapons emplacements, turning the touring boats into battleships.
Some of the viewports had been left, however. For whatever reason, be it skippers' choice, or lack of anything to place in it, one of the larger bubbles dotting the Liberty's surface just portside of the bridge had been kept intact. During battle, it was sealed off from the rest of the ship to be used as a communications relay point, but when the Liberty wasn't in the thick of it, the crew was able to move freely through the chamber to watch the stars pass, forgetting for a brief time the immense conflict they were embroiled in.
It was precisely where Guardian suspected he'd find Kallysto. And, as always, Young didn't disappoint.
The younger man strode up softly behind the Corsair pilot. Kallysto leaned on a handrail, looking out into the starscape. Guardian stopped over his friend's shoulder and waited, not wishing to interrupt Kallysto's reverie.
After a moment Jeff turned, shooting an icy glare at Guardian. "Can I help you?"
Adam shrugged and stepped up to the handrail, holding out the drink Roo had given him. "Nah. The question should be, can I help you?"
Kallysto snorted. "I doubt it, Guardian." He turned back to the observation window, ignoring the offered cup. "However, I do need to congratulate you. Raven chose well."
Guardian grinned. "We'll see. His choice was based more on the fact that I've got more combat time in a Y-wing than any other craft. Here take this, would you? Or Roo will have my head."
"Fine. On Rooster's insistence," Kallysto growled, taking the covered mug, but not bothering with the contents.
"She's worried. Something about your love for the phrase 'blaze of glory' has got her all wound up," Guardian informed him gently.
"Oh, come on. She doesn't really think I'm going to kamikaze myself into the nearest Destroyer, does she?" he asked, a hint of incredulity in his voice.
"You tell me," Guardian replied, matter-of-factly.
Kallysto turned to face Guardian. "Okay. She's worried. Nothing's going to happen to me, Adam," he said.
"Maybe not. But she doesn't know that."
"So what do you want me to do?" Kallysto asked, holding both hands up.
"I think you need a little break. Maybe a side flight to clear your head. Get in your flight suit and meet me on the deck in seven minutes. That's an order, Jeff," Guardian told him, without hesitation.
"So, you mind telling me what this is all about? I've been grounded, remember?" Kallysto asked, looking worriedly about the flight deck, trying not to be seen.
Guardian shook his head again, pulling on his flight helmet. The charcoal-gray helm was decorated with the Buccaneer sigil on one side: a yellow Alliance cross with crossed cutlasses in front of it. On the opposite half he wore a gold shield emblazoned with a blue Alliance cross. It had been Defender Squadron's emblem, Kallysto knew, before the group had been blasted apart.
"Don't ask. Follow," Guardian said, striding past his friend. "We're going for a ride." He gestured at the white helmet, Corsair's skull and crossbones, opposite a blue chess unicorn, in Kallysto's hands. "And put that on."
"In what?" Kallysto implored, reluctantly tugging his own helmet on. "I can't fly!"
"Who said you're going to do any flying?" Guardian retorted, grinning. He led the Corsair pilot towards one of Buccaneer Squadron's reserve Y-wing fighters. "I need a back-seater for this one."
"Easy." Guardian reached the cockpit ladder for the Y-wing as flight techs scrambled to run a final prep on the fighter, lowering the R2 unit into its socket. "We do a lot of long-range recon on the Liberty, and for that, most of the Y's we have are the one-seater 'Longprobe' models. It's got a more dedicated sensor package and communications filter, most of which is stationed behind the pilot's seat. However, the run-of-the-mill Y-wings have two posts—a pilot, and a weapons officer who controls the turret ion cannon above the cockpit. I'm surprised you haven't been told about it."
Kallysto shook his head. "Never needed to know. Speed's my thing."
"Yeah. Get in," Guardian cajoled, stepping aside and sweeping his arm. Kallysto paused, running his tongue over suddenly dry lips.
"Get in," Guardian reiterated. "I cleared it with Flight Control. We're good to go. You're just hitchhiking, so you're not going to violate Electro's mandate."
After a moment, Kallysto hopped up the ladder.
Stryker entered the Lounge, frowning. Not usually a good sign. Without so much as a wave to his Corsair pilots on break, he beelined to the bar.
Rooster grinned as she saw him approach, but the grin faded and her receptors turned pale as he drew close enough for her to read his expression. "What's up?" she asked softly.
"I can't find Kallysto." Stryker collapsed into a seat. "Anywhere. I checked his quarters, the Look Deck, the Theater, everywhere. Nobody's seen him, either."
"Oh, he's probably off with Adam," Roo responded. "I sent Guardian to check up on him. He left about half hour ago. Kally was here and acting really weird, so I asked Big Brother to see if he could find out what's what."
Stryker grinned in spite of himself at the use of Guardian's unofficial nickname. "Adam's looking after him, huh?"
"Yeah. He should be okay. Can I get you an Ion Sucker, boss?" Roo queried, her receptors brightening.
"Sure, Roo. Wait a minute... I was just on the flight deck! I checked the schedule—Adam took a Y-wing out on a 'Lurp' flight to the Rim fifteen minutes ago."
"A lurp?" Roo asked, confused.
"Acronym—Long Range Recon Patrol. Hold on." Stryker pulled his comlink from his belt and keyed it active. "Corsair XO to Flight Ops."
"Ops here," came the static-ridden reply.
"Can I get a check on a flight plan?" Stryker asked.
"Sure, Lieutenant. Who are you checking in on?" Flight replied.
"Guardian. Lieutenant Burns," he said.
"Give me a minute... yes, here it is. Lieutenant Burns took a standard Y-wing out on a long range survey patrol. It wasn't scheduled, but it is within acceptable standards for current patrol parameters," the Flight officer informed him.
"Did he take anyone with him?" Vince asked.
"It's not noted here, but he did take a two-seater," came the response.
"Thanks. Corsair XO out." As Stryker flipped off the com, the frown returned.
"What's up now?" Roo asked, biting her lip.
"Adam went out on recon, but didn't take a Longprobe. Jeff has got to be with him. Adam knows he's supposed to use the better sensors for those look-see flights."
"What are you going to do?" she asked.
"A few more fighters can't hurt. Knowing Adam, he's going to try to cheer Jeff up, and we're close enough to Adarlon— Jeff's homeworld— to make that an option." Stryker turned in his seat, straining to look around the Lounge. "Mynock! Parody!" he called, spotting his pilots. "How'd you like to have a little overtime?"