The pain was intense; every breath caused another surge of the crippling fire to rush through his body. The black void that kept on taking hold of him released him from his torture and each time he hoped not to return, but he did. He lay there in the middle of a jungle next to a burnt out A-Wing for an eternity, his life rolling through his mind. The problems he had in the past seemed insignificant, as did his accomplishments as he lay there waiting to enter the void forever. Through his pain he heard voices coming closer. He tried to open his eyes to see who was approaching but dried blood had sealed them together. They voices were very near now, two men speaking through microphones and from the small hissing noise they must have been cutting through the foliage with vibroknifes. When they were almost on top of him he heard the hiss pass over his head and they stopped moving, "Thereís the Rebel, blast him and letís get home!" With that he heard a click then a loud noise before he entered the black for one last timeÖ.
Several Hours Earlier
The Rebel briefing room was the same as the other five that lay onboard the CRS Liberty. A holo-projector lay at the front of the spherical chamber and several chairs were set in rows of five. Several of these chairs were occupied by eight young men looking rather sick and tired of waiting. A door at the front slid open and new Corsair Commanding Officer Bob "Blindman" Lin entered closely followed by Corsairís Exec, Jeffrey "Kallysto" Young. As the two entered the holo-projector fired up a shot of a planet in the outer rim.
"Greetings Corsairs, as you all know I am your new CO. Iím sure youíre all eager to find out what your next mission will be, especially as it will be my first as your lead." Several people grunted in agreement and Captain Lin continued.
"The mission is, as usual, recon. However there is a big difference-- we arenít checking out a spot in space but a planet. The planet Travis to be precise; we believe the Empire is using the planet to construct fighters to be used on a new operation our Bothan spies have uncovered. The spies tell us it has been code-named the Vengeance Campaign. That is all the information they have on the project but they believe an A-Wing sweep of the area will reveal more. We do not suspect any capital ships to be in the vicinity so it should be a straightforward hop-in-get-the-pics-hop-out job. Any questions?" No one responded, so Blindman continued. "Good. We launch in ten. Dismissed."
The pilots left the room and headed in the general direction of the hangar bay. Flight Officer Gabriel "Wolfman" Leventhal and Flight Officer Alastair "Rancor" Harper walked along together.
"Hey Ranc, you think weíre gonna hold this together when we only have nine men?"
"Yeah, of course-- itís recon. What could go wrong?" He replied with a grin.
The two pilots entered the Libertyís hangar bay, the busiest area of the home of the galaxyís most famous squadron-- Rogue. The place was a mess of people going about their business: Sergeant Mike Hawkyard was inside an engine adapting the new Rogue Leaderís X-Wing to suit his personal taste; Lieutenant Lumi Ruísti, known to all as Rooster, was busy checking the supplies that Commander Rambo had ordered with Sergeant Major Dundee; Lieutenant Kevin Koernig was scanning all incoming visitors (mainly trainees hoping to qualify for Corsair) to the Liberty for weapons. Sparks flew as techs worked on the new A-Wings that had been ordered for Rogue and Commander Bill "Jedi" Morrison was talking to Captain Lin about the mission. Overall it was quite a bit busier than usual but that could be blamed on the change of command and all the commotion that had resulted. Rancor moved over to his A-Wing and began the standard checks to make sure the Renegade Wing Support Squadron (as they had now been re-named from the previous CLSS) had done their job. Once the safety checks were completed he warmed up his engines and flicked on the repulsor lifts. He heard his CO begin the standard comm checks as he finalised his fighterís systems.
"This is Corsair Leader, all Corsairs please report in and acknowledge prepped for flight."
"Corsair 2 standing by," replied Talyn.
"Corsair 3 ready for your orders sir," snapped Mauler, the runoff of his Imperial days.
"This is 5 Iím readyÖ. now," Porky muttered still finishing sorting out his nav comp.
"Corsair 6 ready," shouted Hyl.
"7 here-- letís do this!" Knight said enthusiastically.
Corsair 8 liked to do things a bit differently; showing how he got his call sign. Wolfman screamed "Arrrrooo!!"
"10 ready," Wolf answered.
"To all who stand ready to oppose the darkness," Kallysto chanted, speaking from one of his favoured plays, "I tell thee, the time is now!"
Rancor repeated his usual line of "This is Corsair 12 ready to rock and roll."
"OK, Corsairs, on my count. 3, 2, 1... LAUNCH!!!"
The A-Wings throttled up and shot out of the Liberty. Their comms were filled with the officials on the bridge telling them to slow down, all of Roosterís official papers flew everywhere, an R2 unit toppled over onto its side and a hydrospanner fell onto Mikeís head.
"Damn Corsairs should have a speed supressor fitted," he muttered as he rubbed his skull.
The counter inside Rancorís A-Wing counted down. A message flashed up on his screen. "Yeah Dazz, weíre gonna ID a planet today." Another message flashed up. "I dunno when weíll be back; you might have to miss Bolts and Brass today." Another set of writing appeared. "Well if your uncle is on it then you should have recorded it. I donít care if heís the first microwave on the holonet." Rancor had adapted his A-Wing several weeks ago allowing his R2 unit to come along; Hyl had shown him how. Although he left the body of the unit in his quarters he took the processor out and attached to a small outlet within the cockpit. Not only did it enhance recon capabilities it also gave him someone to talk to. Dazzler had been with him ever since Rancorís teacher Ouvir had died; Dazz had been Ouvirís droid.
A warning chime sounded. Rancor flicked the hyperspace lever and the blue mists turned to star lines and then he was back in real space with a huge red planet in front of him with a set of smaller moons orbiting it. As the A-Wings closed in on the planet Dazzler flashed a message saying 4 TIEs were inbound. Rancor quickly keyed his comm. "Lead, Twelve. Breakfast, three-four-point-nine." Blindman relayed the message and told Corsairs 2, 5 and 7 to engage and the others to stay on target. The TIEs were taken out quickly. Rancorís sensor package started blinking; it had picked up an Imperial stockyard on the planet surface.
"OK weíre nearly there people. Thatís what we need but letís skim past the planet surface to see if we missed anything," Blindman ordered.
The A-Wings glided through into atmosphere feeling hardly any effects and prepared for a swift fly by. Suddenly something went wrong, very wrong. Voices starting screaming in reports in absolute terror.
"Iím reporting heavy fire here."
"Mayday! Iím hit."
"Does anybody copy? Iím taking heavy flak!"
"All Corsairs pull up -- letís get outta here."
"Too many lasersÖcanít see."
"There must be hundreds of ground turrets, I, IÖ"
"Shields outÖ..damage reÖÖ. ields, lasers, warh Ö..."
The A-Wings had flown straight into dozens of Imperial ground turrets and the green fire was smashing at them all. They all started to pull up and left the atmosphere.
"All Corsairs report in -- damage report."
The pilots all reported in and after 11 had finished there was silenceÖ
"Corsair 12, report in."
"12 are you there?"
"I donít see him, BlindmanÖ"
"Rancor! Report damn itÖoh, noÖ Man down. This is Corsair CO reporting man down preparing to re-enter orbit to check for craft."
Kallysto keyed the Corsair command channel. "Negative! We canít afford to lose a commander -- if anyone goes down there they will not return."
Blindman could be heard taking a few deep breaths and then replied. "Roger that, letís go home -- weíve got what we came for. But this isnít the end of the matter."
As the A-Wing spun out of control Rancor could just make out the surface through all the laser fire. He quickly grabbed Dazzlerís microchip and pressed the eject switch. Just as he rocketed out of the fighter, it slammed into the ground and the explosion sent his body hurtling through the air and smashing into a tree, then he fell into the foliage below.
An Imperial Cell Several Hours Later
In the middle of the gunmetal-grey room was an operating table held up by repulsor lifts. On it lay the naked body of Alastair "Rancor" Harper, unconscious, battered, blistered and bled. An Imperial officer stood above the body contemplating what to do about it, around him were several Stormtroopers. After several minutes the Imp nodded his head and said-
"No. We wonít let him die. I believe he is a member of Corsair Squadron attached with the famed Rogue Ė giving command the bait for Renegade Wing is too tempting. Take him to the medical room and put him in the bacta."
The bacta felt good, like a cool breeze on a warm day. Rancor let himself dream in there for several days. After awhile he began to piece things together he remembered up to the crash but after that it was a mess of dreams and reality. However he assumed he had been captured and that there was no hope of a free life again. When he felt his strength increase he opened his eyes and looked at his body. His blood turned cold, where once his right arm had been there was nothing but a mess of flesh inside a container attached to his body. He had felt an incredible pain in his arm earlier but there was so much pain from everywhere he hardly noticed. At least the Imps thought to preserve the nerves --presumably a new arm would be used as a bargaining tool later when the interrogation began. As he looked outside he saw a man suddenly notice Rancor was awake. The observer ran up and pressed something on the side of the container, Rancor felt a prick on his neck then blackness.
Meanwhile At The CRS Liberty
"Sir, with all due respect, during your time as CO of Corsair you never lost a man! You donít know what itís like. All I ask is for a small lease to go and perform a search of the area -- it would help with the information gathering on Vengeance."
Captain Bob Lin was in the private office of Commander Vince "Stryker" Rambo. Stryker pressed a button on his datapad. "Youíre in luck. It has been revelealed that Task Force Vengeance is being sent to stop Alliance support being gathered in the Airam Tradersí sector. Since the Imperial stockyard is the closest link to the operation I have orders to organise a strike on the base and escort in a crew of SpecForce marines who will conduct a full search of the area."
Stryker handed other the datapad to the delighted pilot and they started discussing preparations for the assaultÖ
The MC-80 Liberty entered real space five klicks from Travis and immeaditly launched its fighters. Most of Captain Adam "Guardian" Burnsí Buccaneer Squadron entered a defensive pattern around the Liberty. Buccís B-wings pressed on, however, allowing Corsair and Rogueís A-wings the point position as Rogueís X-wings encircled the slow, unwieldy Bs. The A-Wings reached the atmosphere first and they immeaditly started launching their ordinance. As each bomb hit the ground a massive sheet of flame torched the surrounding area and several small explosions could be seen within the fire.
"Thatís the gun emplacements down; Buccaneer, itís your turn."
The B-Wings fired several ion blasts at the complexís main building; only a few were needed to disable any weapons. Once that was done a pair of strike transports launched from the Liberty and proceeded to the planet. Just as the craft finished docking with the stockyard a new ship entered the system.
"Victory Class Star Destroyer Interregator has entered the system," reported the Liberty.
Stryker quickly barked out orders and Bucc went to engage the VSD with their advanced proton torpedoes. Corsair followed in close escort and Rogue awaited any fighters that would launch form the VSD.
"Rebel fighters cease your assault now and no harm will come of you, continue on your vector and we will be forced to destroy you."
Several T/Is and T/Bs launched as the Imp finished his speech and Rogue moved to engage. The Imps were slaughtered. Only one torp hit the Liberty and it was easily soaked up by her shields. Just as the VSD blew a message came from the transport saying they had taken the base and there was minimal resistance. The marine commanderís opinion was that the Imps had finished using the plant and only a handful of crew remained. Stryker acknowledged the marine and told Corsair they were free to land on the planet.
The Corsairs headed straight for the data banks with Rafeal "Hyl" Costa Guerra leading the way. With his adept knowledge for computer hacking and security detail he would undoubtedly be the best man for the job. As soon as Hyl was seated and typing away the rest of the Corsairs began to search the area. The computer was not so easy to enter as was first expected, but after several hours and endless slices the words "access granted" shone into the weary eyes of Flight Officer Costa Guerra. Swiftly Hyl downloaded all files into a disc and reported to Captain Lin and they headed home.
Back Aboard The Liberty Soon After
Hyl was busy tapping away at the keyboard while the other Corsairs were in sim practice. Blindman had allowed Hyl to miss it this once given the urgency of the search. After quite a while of working his way around the complex Imperial network he found the log files of the stockyard. They had indeed found Rancor and taken him off planet, but where? Slicing codes was one of Hylís favourite past times but the one to give access to the commanderís personal files was giving him a headache.
Eventually he was able to slice in but could only view low-level data. This showed things such as arrival of transports and what supplies they carried but nothing on prisoners. The only transport that left soon after Corsairís recon was on high security. Hyl tried to gain access to the information on the ship but it only led to a request for more codes -- and more slicing. Eventually Hyl hacked through and saw the destination of the transport. Hyl calmly activated his comm and contacted Blindman in the sim room, "Sir I think there may be a slight problem with the rescue."
Aboard The Super Star Destroyer Vengeance
The Imperial torture room reminded Rancor of a bar he often went to on Tatooine, there were blood stains all over the wall and also on the "tools" that decorated the walls. Rancor was strapped into a electrode chair, with a truth analyzer attached to his skull. The same Imperial officer from earlier was sat in a chair behind a desk opposite him. By the door Ranc could see someone watching, but his injuries and the darkness near the opening concealed whom.
"Have a nice swim, Rebel?" The officer behind the desk began. "Good. Letís begin. Should the analyser tell me at any point you are lying you shall feel 100 volts surge through your body -- and then weíll fix you up and continue ourÖinterview."
Rancor laughed at the comment. "Nice to see you guys have upgraded your torture stuff since I was last here, but donít I get an Admiral to ask me the questions, or is that just for secret service agents?"
The man in the shadows stepped out into the light. "Oh yes you do. Anyone who is associated with Rogue squadron is associated with my future career as an Imperial. Especially you; I havenít forgotten who you are."
Rancor stared at the man, he was wearing a white Admiralís uniform. The man was looking worse for wear getting on to about fifty, rather obese and sporting a large cut above his left eye and thinning hair. Rancor had seen him before -- years ago back when he was in the... Rancor remembered the man and a grin appeared on his face. "Ahh, yeah, hello Senn, howís that scar? Nice to see youíve moved up from the ranks since I last saw you."
Senn laughed and asked, "Howís the arm? Looks like Iíve got my revenge."
The young officer behind the desk looked shocked. "Admiral you did not inform me you knew the prisoner, it would have greatly advanced the investigation if you..."
The Admiral silenced him with a wave of his hand. "Looks like you to have moved up in the world, if that is possible in the Rebellion. Last time we met you were nothing but a puppet for the leaders of your so-called Alliance; now you are a puppet with an expensive ship that youíve blown up. Lieutenant continue your interrogation and make sure you inform me when the prisoner breaks, it may be awhile." The Admiral left without waiting for the Lieutenant to salute.
The Lieutenant pressed a button on his desk and a whining noise could be heard. Rancor moved his head round and saw he was facing directly into the needle of an interrogation droid.
"Now we can do this the easy way or the hard way; either way is fine by meÖ"
Rancor scoffed at the lines. "Are you guys given a script back in the academy? ĎCause you all say the same stuff."
The officer tried not to look flustered and continued. "Tell me the location of the CRS Liberty and youíll have a new arm. Donít and die."
"Have you seen my blaster -- yísee itís very rare andÖ"
"Silence, if you continue like that Iím afraid I shall have to set my droid on you."
"Yeah, whatever, but also I had these magazines in the back of my A-Wing -- Playalien itís called. This month is a special Twiílek edition and well I donít want any of your Stormies taking it as it cost me several games of sabacc with Mike, and Iím sure you donít want them with it either as it could cause a distraction so why donít we justÖ"
"Right. I tried to talk sense with you, now you leave me no alternative."
The officer flicked a switch under the desk and the droid moved in on the pilot.
Several Hours Later In The Private Quarters Of Admiral Senn
"What do you mean he did not talk? Youíre incompetent! What range was the interrogation droid on?"
"Maximum sir, maximum interrogation. Normally when itís on that they would tell what they got for their birthday when they were two years oldÖbut he just sat there grinning!"
"Looks like he isnít in a talkative mood. I suppose we are forced into this situation. Every time I look in the mirror Iíve dreamed what I would do if I ever saw him again. Now I have him Iíve been ordered to make him talk orÖ it is out of my hands, prepare a Corellian Corvette. Youíre to be in charge of transporting him to Lusankya!"
Meanwhile, Aboard The CRS Liberty
"Iím afraid Iím going to change the tag on Rancor from captured to captured presumed dead. If the Empire hasnít attacked us yet then he didnít blab and that would mean theyíll have killed him." Blindman was speaking out to the other Corsairs. "This is war and although we have been lucky enough not to lose many, we must not think ourselves invincible, this was bound to happen one day."
The Corsairs looked sullen at the loss of their comrade and decided to go to the lounge and drink in his name. While they were there a message appeared on Hylís datapad; the Intel manís face changed from wonder, to shock, to a grin.
"Guys! Can the mourning, I think we may well have a mission to do."
A Briefing Room Aboard The CRS Liberty
The room was a lot larger than the one used by Corsair earlier and all pilots aboard the Liberty were seated within it. At the front stood the Commanding Officers of the three squadrons and on the stand was Commander Bill "Jedi" Morrison. Jedi began his briefing,
"Gentlemen, this operation will be slightly different to the others you will have encountered mainly because a friend of ours is who we are rescuing. Originally Command did not wish us to bother with rescuing just the one pilot but thanks to Admiral Raíkattís persistence on our behalf we have been granted allowance for the mission to take part. We received the following information as a result of Hylís request to our spy network to be informed of any change in Rancorís situation. A Corellian Corvette holding Rancor prisoner as well as several pieces of important data on the SSD Vengeance is doing a set of hyperspace jumps towards Coruscant. One of these jumps ends in the Gourtain sector. That is where our attack will take place. Buccaneer will disable the Blockade Runner while Corsair provides escort. The only difference to this mission is that once the ship has been disabled Rogue will enter in a transport and dock with the Corvette. The reason behind this is we have not been granted the use of Renegadeís marines and since Rogue has had commando training they should be able to do just as good a job as the marines anyway. Once Rogue has finished and has hypered the rest of you get out of there. Good luck and may the force be with you."
Aboard The Corellian Corevette Wembley
Two Imperial Stormtroopers were talking about their prisoner whom was within a cell behind them.
"So why donít they just kill him? Thatís what they normally do with pilots."
"Yeah but heís not just a pilot, apparently he used to work for the Alliance SS, and not just the people who stay in bases light years from anywhere hacking the holonet. Apparently he was working in the field, but not the normal division, it was one unknown to the Alliance leaders for the forces sake!"
"So how come you know about it?"
"One of his missions was to take documents from an Imperial garrison. He was captured by Admiral Senn, who was then a captain, and tortured by him. He escaped from his cell, broke into the officerís quarters, captured Senn and dragged him out of the base to give him twice as much torture as heíd given him, then he escaped. At least thatís what I heard."
"UmmÖthink we could swap shifts with five and nine?"
"Hah! Come on, buckle up. Weíre coming out of hyperspace," the Stormtrooper opened a small grill attached to the door of the cell. "Hey you weíre coming out of hyperspace. Put on your safety belt."
Rancor lay in the cold, dark cell thinking of what he would do when he reached wherever he was going. A Stormie told him to buckle up but he didnít bother. Rancor realized these hyperspace jumps were a good opportunity (and probably his last) to make an escape. Only problem was they werenít even going in the cell -- not even passing him food. Rancor felt the rush as they entered real space. There wasnít going to be an opportunity to escape, unless he makes itÖ
Suddenly Rancor started screaming in pain, grasping at what was left of his right arm and saying something had ripped.
"Please help meÖahhh!!"
Rancor quickly grabbed a vein that had been disconnected from his body when he had his nerves saved and ripped it off. He pulled at a tooth, opening a present heíd never used during his time with Special Services. He popped one of two capsules heíd concealed there and blood started pouring out of it. The second one he kept clenched in his fist.
"Help me the laser stitching wasnít strong enoughÖahh!"
The stormtrooper looked through the grill. "Great, now whatíve ya done?"
The stormie called back up and a minute later the door flashed open; Rancor blinked at the sudden light and saw 5 barrels pointing at him.
"Come on then, weíll take you to the sick bay." Rancor was pulled up and they began to escort him when alarm klaxons went off and battle stations were called.
"Looks like your Rebel friends have showed up." A soft click was heard within the Stormtroopers helmet. "Sir, this is four. I have the prisoner here on approach to the med room, should I return him to his cell? Yes, Sir, he looks bad, thereís a lot of blood. Acknowledged." Another low click could be heard, then the stormtrooper looked at the others and said, "Weíre to continue escorting the prisoner to the med bay."
Rancor was laughing in his mind as he casually opened his fist and dropped the capsule. As soon as he let go he went into action, he jumped clear and spun around, dropping into a roll. A laser shot over him and then an explosion ripped up behind him. Rancor smiled knowing the crew would think the explosion was from the attacking ships; he grabbed a blaster and headed for the bridge knowing that someone there would know the whereabouts of his belongings. The corridors were deserted, everyone was busy following orders either controlling guns or managing fires. Suddenly just before Rancor entered the bridge everything went dark. "Looks like my saviours have disabled this thing."
Rancor manually opened the door to the bridge and as soon as he entered he looked around for someone he had seen before. He recognized the Lieutenant who had performed the interrogation, but no one had noticed him yet, they were to busy trying to restore power. Rancor began cutting down all the officers as soon as they reached for their blaster. The Lieutenant reached for his but Rancor shot it out of his hand and aimed his blaster at the Imps head. The young officer shouted for his comrades to surrender, cursing how his first job as captain on a ship had gone so wrong. Rancor laughed at his cowardice. "Now I believe you have several belongings of mine- a blaster, a droidís microchip and I do believe you may have something I lost some time ago. My Special Forces watch that was taken in my previous encounter with Admiral Senn?"
The Lieutenant lost it; he was tired, scared and not ready for command "Yes Ė itís all in the container there. Please take them and go just donít kill me, do what you want with the rest but donít kill me, Iíll tell you whatever you want to knowÖ"
Rancor smiled as he retrieved his belongings and swiftly downloaded the shipsí log onto Dazzlerís chip, flicked his special blaster onto single barrel and shot the Lieutenant straight in the head. "Heíll wake up in a few hours -- but right now heíll think heís dead," he said to the other startled officers. Rancor could hear laser fire in the background then suddenly a quick series of micro-shell explosions echoed throughout the corvette. "Vids?" Rancor was familiar with the distinct sounds of the gyrojet mini-rifle and that the unique weapon was also carried by one Lt. Commander Michael "Vidster" Videlka, XO of Rogue Squadron. Rancor ran through the corridors to investigate and just as he turned the corner he saw a laser headed straight for him, he quickly ducked and aimed his blaster at his assailant. "Kid? Damn it, you nearly blasted me!"
"Oh, sorry Rancor. Glad to see you had things taken into your own hands," replied Captain Tony "Kid" Marco.
"Excellent. Thatís one mission objective -- now we need the ships data," Stryker shouted.
Rancor smiled and said it was already taken care of. "Good. Letís head home."
Aboard The CRS Libertyís Lounge Several Days Later
The lounge was crammed as always but today there was actually a reason for the festivities. Rancor had returned from the med room with a new arm, courtesy of David "Greywolf" Rollins, the Libertyís resident prosthetic specialist. He was busy testing it out on any punter who would take him on in an arm wrestle. Greywolf had told him that the arm was strong enough to punch a hole in Durasteel, and Rancor sure enjoyed proving it although Mixer wasnít so happy about the hole that had appeared in his table. The penalty for the damage had been drinks on Rancorís tab, which Mixer was readily running up.
Head of Liberty Security Lieutenant Kevin Koernig entered and headed for Rancor.
"Hey Kevin, have a drink on me!" Rancor said smiling as soon as he noticed him.
"Thanks, Rancor, but thatís not why Iím here. Looking over the logs you took from the Corvette it says you are a former SS agent. Yet your pilot biography makes no mention of this. I spoke with my contacts in the SS and they said that whenever they tried to bring up files with your name they kept on getting a message saying classified to code red. Whatís the deal?"
Everyone looked at Rancor. They had seen him perform exceptionally well in the training gym but they all just put it down to his bringing up.
"OK, OK, you got me. When I left the Alliance it says on my bio that I just messed about, doing deals, smuggling, bounty hunting that sorta thing -- but itís not true. Soon after I left I was approached by a high ranking General, whoís name must remain classified. He asked me to join a classified outfit that basically did the real hard stuff for the SS. Stuff the Alliance doesnít like to talk about; mainly it was blowing up bases and sneaking in to places to gather information. We had no direct contact with the Alliance, we all lived at Coruscant as thatís where most our missions took place. Usually we worked alone but every now and again we worked in small teams. We were told of our missions through data bursts that were sent to us from the guys in charge. A special watch we were issued received these. Thatís about it; eventually they disbanded our unit on Coruscant, thinking it was getting too hot."
Everyone was shocked at the revelation of a part of Rancor they had never seen, and a part of the Alliance they had only heard whispers of.
Wolfman just smiled and said, "Rancor, I think youíve had a drink too many." Everyone laughed and the party carried on into the nightÖ