Phantoms of Times Past
There had been a newcomer aboard the CRS Liberty that day, but Mike "Wolf" Kern had been too busy in the simulators to go to the hangar with the rest of Renegade Wing, he'd meet him or her in time.
He'd just finished a simulation of an attack against the Liberty, which eluded him once again, when the simulator's officer-on-deck called his name. Immediately, Wolf walked over to the young lieutenant and accepted the comlink thrust in his face.
"This is Flight Officer Kern," he stated into the comm. First there was slight static over the frequency, but then a familiar voice shot through. "Wolf, my office. Now." He knew it to be Renegade Wing's leader, Vince "Stryker" Rambo. Cursing softly under his breath, Wolf exited the sim-room and headed for Rogue Leader's office.
The corridor that led to Stryker's desk was long, dark, seemingly endless tunnel where a pilot could contemplate what he'd done wrong. Wolf felt this was done on purpose. He reached his superior's door and rang the buzzer.
Sliding slowly open, the door revealed a brightly lit office with a few sparsely placed holos of past battles: wins and losses, memories and nightmares. Smiling as he noticed Stryker's still of his X-Wing's amazing 7:36 mineracing time, Wolf turned to the commander himself.
He was seated behind his largish desk, looking dead serious. Catching the mood, Wolf sat down in the chair provided and cleared his throat. "Yes sir? You called me?" Stryker put down the lightpen he'd been inspecting and sat up.
"Yes," he began slowly. "There is a matter concerning a new recruit brought on board the Liberty." Stryker flipped through some disks and handed one to Wolf, who slid it into his holopad. A hologram and personal bio shot up. Wolf knew this person. His eyes grew wide and a brief, but quickly suppressed, smile shot up.
"You two know each other," Stryker continued. "Don't try and tell me you don't because I won't buy it. I've done some digging these past few days, with some help from Hyl, and found that his bio is accurate. Here," Stryker said and threw him another disk. "Tell me what this means."
Wolf popped in the new disk and a full-fledged report came up. Wolf narrowed his eyes. "How did you get this?" he asked, an edge in his voice. Stryker smiled evilly. "Alliance Intelligence reports dating back to pre-Yavin. These came directly from General Rieekan's personal files…"
Stryker leaned forward and plucked the datapad from Wolf's grasp. He began to read a portion of the document. "… reports of a new battlestation… not much time… please get these directly to Commander Rieekan. The codename of this project is 'Death Star', say Phantom Five, he'll know what it means…" Stryker looked up. "Then the communications went dead. This was the message beamed to the Tantive IV just prior to its abduction over Tatooine. Hyl found a portion of this message in Mav's X-wing computer. I have reason to believe you were a part of this 'Phantom Five'. Who are you?"
The last question caught Wolf completely off-guard. "Sir?" he asked. Stryker sighed. "I believe you haven't told me the whole truth, your bio is completely wrong…" Wolf cleared his throat. "No sir, not completely."
"You're not from Corellia are you?" Stryker asked, a frown appearing on his face. Wolf shook his head. "I'm not eighteen either. Okay, I'll come clean. Truth is, I was born on Nepal… way deep in the Core Systems…"
"Hold it a minute," Stryker interrupted. "How do I know that I'm even calling you by the right name? I mean, is Mike Kern your real name? Or is it false, like everything else?" Wolf smiled a little. "No, that's true and so is the part about my sister and Jana and Hoth… just…" he trailed off.
"Just what?" Stryker urged. Wolf looked down. "My name is Mike Kern… I'm twenty-three years old… I was born on a planet called Nepal, way deep in the Core Systems where the Empire started. They killed my sister, and that's the truth."
Stryker rubbed his forehead. "What do you know about Jay "Mav" Kern?" Wolf inhaled deeply and closed his eyes. "Half-brother, or something like that. I never knew where we were related." Stryker grunted. "That's not what I asked, what do you know about the Phantom Five?"
Wolf shrugged. "I don't know sir. I've heard stories…" Stryker held up his hands. "I've heard stories too, and what I've heard is that they were dead. They disappeared following Hoth's Evacuation."
Smiling, Wolf sighed and looked back up at his commanding officer. "No, not dead, not yet. At least not all of them." Stryker raised an eyebrow. "So you know of them?"
"Of course I know of them, one of them was me," Wolf confessed, his grin becoming broader. Stryker dropped his lightpen, it's metallic surface making a "clang" on the plasteel desk. Rogue Leader rubbed his eyes and massaged his temples.
"I thought as much, but I was hoping you wouldn't tell me that it was true." Wolf looked at him, his dark eyes looking for meaning in his commander's motions. "Sir?" he asked. Instead of answering his question, Stryker clicked his desk's comlink. "Send him in," he said.
The door to the office opened and suddenly Wolf was confronted with a ghost of his past, or rather: a Phantom of his past. Jay "Mav" Kern walked through the threshold, his red eyes showing their old lust for blood. Wolf shuddered as they directed his thinking towards Jay's kill tally "X"-marks on the side of the unmarked X-wing he had flown during those dark days.
But for just a moment, Wolf allowed himself to smile. A smile that came with sharing almost ten years fighting, suffering, defeating and beating the odds with the younger man. Mav returned the smile quickly but then it vanished, swallowed by his hate.
Stryker ushered him and offered him a seat, but Mav stayed standing; his hands interlaced behind his back. "Commander," Mav nodded. "One," he directed towards Wolf. Corsair Ten smiled to himself, hearing this old code-name. Stryker must have missed it.
"It seems you two have a very… interesting history together. Not only are you half-brothers but-" Mav stopped him. "We prefer not to think of it that way, sir," Mav said unemotionally. Stryker cleared his throat. "But you were both members of a… a rather rogue Alliance group." Stryker seemed to be having a hard time with this. Wolf wasn't sure why.
Mav's red eyes shone and he smiled. "We did take care of a few Impstars, sir."
Stryker sighed. "That you did… that recording we pulled from your X-wing, we matched the voice to your own speech pattern, Wolf."
Looking down at his folded hands, Wolf let out a long breath he hadn't known that he'd been holding. "Afraid so, Commander. We managed to get that away just before the ISD Invincible jumped on us outside of Despayre. You should have seen those poor people on that planet sir… the Death Star… what it could do…"
"What it did," Mav said coldly. Wolf closed his eyes, picturing the shards of Alderaan; shards they had seen too many times. Stryker nodded. "You say people on 'that' planet… Despayre was a prison colony was it not?"
Mav shook his head, and folded his arms. "Not to the extent Alliance Intel says it was. There were inhabitants… but they were prisoners in their own homes. They murdered innocents… Ryla-" Mav stopped, he couldn't bear to bring the memory of the girl they'd been unable to save.
It was the single event that broke him. Wolf had seen it in his eyes. From then on Mav had gotten progressively darker in nature, tallying all his kills. He scared the rest of them. Wolf decided that Mav even scared himself sometimes.
"I see," Stryker noted. Wolf leaned towards Rogue Leader. "Are we in some sort of trouble, Commander?"
Renegade Wing's senior officer looked up at him and massaged the bridge of his nose. "You will not believe what kind of hay-day Alliance Intel is gonna have with this."
Wolf smiled slyly. "Then do what worked for us for many years, sir."
Stryker eyed him suspiciously. Something in Wolf's tone of voice worried him. "Don't tell them… just let us disappear."
He dropped his sight to his desk. "I see why you got the name and rep you did… you vanish like ghosts in the night… like Phantoms." Mav and Wolf looked at each other with faint smiles playing at the corners of their lips. Stryker sighed. "I don't like this… I don't like it one bit."
They stood in the cavernous hangar of the CRS Liberty, together like the comrades in arms that they were… like brothers in arms. Forever their bond will remain unbroken. It was the way it was meant to be. Destined since they began their great journey, since the beginning of time, they would carry the fire of silent heroes in their hearts.
Mike "Wolf" Kern and Jay "Mav" Kern stood together at the nose of Mav's unmarked X-wing. The ship had never been painted with squadron color-stripes, never with any kind of distinguishing marks.
At first it was because they received the first X-wings delivered by Incom, after flying cover for its transport. Then it was the result of an Imperial force attacking the station and they had no time to prep the "Headhunters with four cannons."
For years the Five had tried to come up with a design to paint on their starfighters, but eventually they gave it up knowing they would never find another detail as unique as they already were. The only squadron paint job the Five ever did to their X-wings was a large "P" with a smaller "5" fitted just below the "P"'s loop. The Phantom Five symbol sat nostalgically below and slightly aft of the cockpit, nestled ominously behind Mav's kills.
"I can't believe we left Nepal almost ten years ago," Wolf remembered. Mav merely nodded, his eyes unblinking as he stared with discontent at the nearly two hundred "X"'s. "Not enough," he muttered.
Mav moved up his boarding ladder and moved onto his upper-right S-foil. There he sat, staring at his friend as Wolf moved up the ladder to join him. Then, just as Wolf was dropping down next to him, Mav produced a small hand-held computer console.
He smiled to Wolf as he tapped a button and on the small screen appeared a holo. The small movie played out and Wolf smiled too. The recording was of the five of them shivering together on Hoth, trying in vain to finish a game of sabacc. They wore only the bottoms of their flightsuits and were sitting the coldest room of the underground base, typical Phantom craziness.
The five tiny figures turned towards the camera and waved, laughing hysterically and making rude gestures. They seemed so happy, Wolf said remembering. It was the day before they were split up during the evacuation. The day before Wolf's life seemed to tear apart.
Mav suddenly shut the recording off and closed his eyes. "I wish I knew where they were." Mav's statement was met by a nod of Wolf's head. "JD, Vega, Fox… stang man, we had the time of our lives." Mav turned stare at him, his expression serious.
"I'm afraid of something Wolf… I never thought I would but I am… it scares me every day and every night. It haunts my dreams and it cramps my mind…" Mav trailed off, not able to figure out what else to say. He looked around, then just stared directly ahead, not focusing on anything… just staring. "Well…what? What are you scared of?"
"I think I like this… no, love this Wolf."
Wolf frowned. "Love what? What's going on?"
Mav never stopped staring, it was as if a bad memory just kept creeping up on him. "The fighting, I love running around the galaxy vaping Imps and all… the adventure we had… I miss it, I loved those days the most."
Wolf caught on and began to wonder if he too had the same feelings. Mav continued, "I'm not sure I want this war to end. I mean, what will we do then? I can't fight a war with words, there won't be a place for me, for us, anymore."
He was right. If the war ever ended and the Alliance won, there would be no place left for them. The Empire would be no more, and there would be no place else to go. Fighting a losing battle, a hopeless cause, was all they were good at. It scared Wolf to think of it all, especially of it all ending.
What would they do then? They say a true warrior dies with the last bullet of the last war. The two Phantoms decided they wanted to be that warrior, remembered as heroes. In that memory they would fly together forever in the hearts of those who remembered.
Ten years ago, they started out on their grand adventure. They endured pain, suffering and torment the entire way. Through skill, quick reactions and mostly luck, they survived. At the time neither of them had any idea just how much it all meant, not until now.
Not until Wolf sat on top of Mav's X-wing, with the power of a Phantom ship underneath him, did he realize it. The days they believed to be the darkest of days, those were the days they would hold forever and remember.
"Mav," Wolf began. Mav kept staring, but Wolf knew he was listening. "Whatever happens, one of us has to remember. When there are only four of us we must remember. When there are only three, we must remember. When there are only two, we must remember. And when there is only one of us left, the memory must not die with him."
Mav nodded, his stoic pose broken. "We have lived and we will die, but the memory will remain; in the hearts and souls of every freedom loving creature in this universe. That is where the spirit of the Phantom Five will lie. That is where the we will fly again."