The Dark Silence

It was a quiet day on board the CRS Liberty. Most of the personnel were relaxing and making the most of this most rare of occasions when the Liberty’s pilots were not needed. Some had gone on R&R to nearby systems, while the rest were in their quarters or at the Lounge. On this occasion, Lieutenant Commander Mike "Vidster" Videlka, Captain Tony "Kid" Marco, Lieutenant Jeff "Spectre" Mitchell, Flight Officer Jonathan "Condor" Rees, and Flight Officer Alastair "Rancor" Harper were relaxing in the Lounge discussing the strange calm.

"I’ve got no idea," Vidster admitted. "Stryker wouldn’t tell me a thing, even when I asked him if something was up."

"I don’t like it," Rancor replied. "When command goes hush-hush that means something is up."

"Lets hope the Empire isn’t up to anything then," Kid added.

Just then, Captain Bob "Blindman" Lin and Lieutenant Jeff "Kallysto" Young entered the lounge in flight gear, fresh off a combat patrol. They looked calm with little sign of worry on their faces – apparently, Corsair Squadron’s commanding and executive officers didn’t know what was going on either.

"Well, that’s us done for today," Blindman said. "Condor, you and Spectre are out next on patrol." Directing his remarks to the younger of the two pilots, "This’ll be Spectre’s first mission with Corsair, so take good care of him -- not that he’ll need it," he added with a grin.

"Yes sir," Condor replied, and they both turned to leave for the flight deck.

As they reached the door, Rogue Leader came in.

Without preamble, he announced, "We’ve gotten word that the Empire is planning some sort of offensive to strip the Liberty of its fighter defenses, as a precursor to an attack on the Liberty itself. Over your next few missions, be especially cautious, as the Liberty’s pilots may be targeted specifically. As a precaution," he paused and looked at the pilots around the table, "Rancor will accompany you on this patrol. Vids, we’re gonna have to rework the duty rosters to increase the number of patrols we put out. We are not expecting a move yet, but don’t discount the possibility."

Rancor dived out of his seat and joined them. "Let’s go guys, if we run into trouble I’ll protect you," he remarked with his usual irreverent smirk.

The three Corsair pilots travelled down the dimly lit corridors of the cruiser and within minutes they were on the flight deck. After gearing up they went to the briefing officer.

"This is a simple combat patrol through an asteroid cluster in Alliance held space. If you encounter enemy forces, engage and destroy before they get a chance to hyper out and report our position. If you locate anything bigger than a combat squad then withdraw immediately and report back to the Liberty. Follow your flight path through the field and return when finished to report and for debriefing."

Moments later they were in their ships and making their final checks.

"Lets hope we’re ready for this offensive, when it comes," Condor said.

"Quit worrying, we’ll be fine," Rancor replied.

Their repulsors powered up and the three A-wings lifted with ease off the deck. They then glided out of the hangar bay and once clear, their engines flared up and the group sped off away from the Liberty. The A-wings slowed to a crawl as their navigational computers calculated coordinates for the jump to hyperspace. Seconds later they were travelling across the galaxy at the speed of light.

An hour later they were already in the asteroid belt and partway through their patrol.

"It looks clear to me," Spectre remarked.

"Almost too quiet…" Rancor replied with a tone of unease.

"Well, that’s what we want, isn’t it?" Condor added. His wingmen both silently agreed.

Fifteen minutes later there was still no sign of any Imperial presence.

"Looks like we’re clear," Rancor said as they emerged from the asteroid field, only moments from their last waypoint and the journey home. Unnoticed, as they proceeded out of the asteroids, a lone TIE Advanced crept out from behind the asteroid from which he had been hiding. Its engines kicked in as it flew towards the unsuspecting Corsairs at top speed with its decoy beam on. The first sign of the unseen enemy was when Rancor’s missile warning indicator flashed wildly. This snapped the bored pilots back to a state of alertness.

"I’m locked, going evasive!" Rancor screamed to his surprised wingmen.

"He’s right behind us," Condor replied after a quick look at his sensors. "Rancor, look-"

Before he had the chance to finish, the advanced missile had been skillfully fired from two klicks straight into the back of Corsair Twelve. His A-wing creaked under the impact and spun off course, narrowly missing Spectre’s. His shields held, but not by much. Whoever this pilot is, Condor thought, he’s good, perhaps one of their best.

As Rancor struggled to regain control of his craft, Condor and Spectre turned to engage the Imperial pilot. After a head-on pass, the TIE had lost 60% of its shields while both remaining A-wings were relatively unscathed. The two Corsairs throttled down and swung onto its tail, but had trouble keeping a target lock due to the TIE’s swerving and twisting. Then out of nowhere, a volley of dual laser fire smashed into the TIE, splitting it end to end.

"Woohoo, don’t mess with me," came the familiar voice of Rancor.

"Nice work Ranc," Condor replied. "Now let’s get out of here, I don’t like the fact that he sneaked up to us, it smells like a trap."

"I’m with you," Rancor added.

"Yeah, let’s go," said Spectre.

No sooner had they spoken that an Interdictor accompanied by an entire squad of gunboats hypered past them to stop just six klicks from their present position.

"This just keeps getting better," Condor said, his stomach churning. "We’re in trouble." At this point he had a very bad feeling about the whole mission and he had doubts that any of them would get back alive. It was unlike any of his other missions where he was protecting someone else. Sure, he took enemy fire, and was a target from time to time, but he had never been in the situation where he was the primary target. It was very rare for the Empire to have Alliance fighters as its target. Normally the cruisers were its main concern. It worried him that they would go to this much trouble to take down the Liberty. Was it more of a threat to the Empire than he or any of the others had realised?

"This is Corsair Twelve to Liberty," Rancor transmitted. "We are under heavy attack. There is an Interdictor preventing our escape, we need reinforcements."

"This is the Liberty," came the reply. "Hang in there guys, Rogue is on the way. They will attempt to force the Interdictor to withdraw or destroy it. You’re lucky, they were dispatched just after you left to provide general backup in case of trouble. Their ETA is five minutes, good luck Corsair."

"Right," said Spectre. "Let’s take down some of those GUNs so we have a bit of room to breathe."

Amid a flurry of missile locks and laser fire, the small group of Corsairs punched their way into the fighters. They quickly swung onto the tail of the lead craft, and Condor engaged it while his wingmen covered him. The laser fire dropped the gunboat’s shields and armor, forcing the Imperial to veer back towards his command ship. Only seconds from the docking bay and safety, a dual salvo of missiles collided into the GUN’s cockpit blowing it apart.

"I’ve got one, cover me," Spectre radioed.

"Watch it, you’ve picked one up," Rancor replied. The gunboat pursuing Spectre was soon discouraged and disengaged when Rancor showered his shields with laser fire.

"You’re clear," Rancor reported. Spectre’s target lasted seconds against the superior maneuverability of Spectre’s A-wing, unable to evade his relentless attack.

"Ha ha, that’s two down," said Condor. "We’re getting there."

The Imperial pilots, now worried, gained a new lease on life as they saw three TIE interceptors launch from out of the Interdictor’s hangar bay.

"It just got even worse," informed Spectre. "We had better take those squints out first or they’re gonna cause us real problems."

"Roger," replied Condor, "we’re back in formation."

The interceptors closed to two klicks and just as the Corsairs prepared to engage, they saw the welcome sight of two X-wings hypering in on the far side of the Interdictor.

"This is Vidster, what would you guys do without us? Don’t worry, that Interdictor will be out your way in no time." As the Rogue pilots prepared for their attack run, the interceptors changed course to head directly for the new arrivals. "Looks like we’ve got their attention, will you guys keep them busy while we take down this Interdictor?"

"No problem," replied Rancor, "these guys are toast." Each A-wing targeted an interceptor and began to lock a missile on the now distant TIEs. The Imperial pilots must have been too intent on stopping Vidster and Kid to evade, because as the interceptors bore down on the X-wings, they didn’t juke and all three missiles hit their intended targets dead on. Seconds later there were three less interceptors and only small amounts of debris to show they ever existed.

As the three Corsairs turned to engage the remaining gunboats, a volley of torpedoes flew from the X-wings into the undefended Interdictor. Meanwhile, three further gunboats fell to the superior skills of the Corsair pilots as strafing runs from the two X-wings crippled the Interdictor’s shields. The Interdictor showed no sign of withdrawing, however, which made all five pilots wonder if perhaps the Empire had even more to send against them.

The gunboats changed tactics, and targeting the nearest A-wing, attempted to overwhelm Rancor. He threw his craft into a wild roll, distracting the Imperials as his wingmen took them off his back. As yet more gunboats fell to the Corsair pilots, the Interdictor’s shields buckled and its hull began to crack.

"We’re almost done here," said Kid, "are you guys OK?"

"Almost got them all," replied Spectre, "then we’ll be over to help".

The reason why the Interdictor had not withdrawn was then revealed to them all. The sinister shape of an Imperial Star Destroyer loomed over them as it decelerated from hyperspace to stop a mere twelve klicks away from them. It immediately launched a large force of fighters, consisting of a squadron of interceptors and led by a group of four TIE Advanceds. The Rebel pilots decided that now was the time to leave.

"Concentrate all fire on the Interdictor," Vidster ordered," we have to leave... NOW!" The new arrivals were still too far away to hinder them, but if they got in range, the Alliance pilots wouldn’t stand much of a chance. The few remaining gunboats did little to stop them in their attack runs on the Interdictor.

Against the solid attacks of five fighters it was not long before the Interdictor looked like it was starting to break up. Only then did it begin withdrawing. It turned towards the incoming Star Destroyer and began to head for its hyperspace point, but it was too late, far too late. As the Imperial reinforcements just began to get in range of the Alliance pilots, the combined firepower of the five Rebel fighters tore through the Interdictor. As its hull broke into tiny fragments, the gravity field holding them in real space swiftly disappeared. The fighters then prepared to escape into hyperspace , but the Imperial fighters were nearly upon them.

"Let’s get the hell out of here!" Rancor said.

"All fighters withdraw," Vidster ordered.

The two Rogues were the furthest away and escaped with little trouble. The Corsair pilots were not as fortunate, however. Condor took a risk and hoped the Imperials couldn’t reach him in time. As his craft slowed to make the jump, the lead interceptor bore down on him with lasers blasting. Condor had the sense to distribute all his shields to the rear. The few seconds before the jump seemed like hours and he thought it would never actually happen. His shields were pummelled by the repeating impact of the interceptor’s lasers. He survived the first pass with only 20% shields remaining. As the second pass began and his shields were finally depleted, his ship suddenly accelerated and jumped to hyperspace and safety.

Rancor tried a similar approach, as he was a little further away from the group of TIE Advanceds. As his craft came almost to a halt, he received the familiar warning of a missile lock. The wait as his navcomputer spit out a solution seemed like forever, as the lock became solid. A second after the launch warning, Rancor’s A-wing finally began to jump. As it quickly accelerated, the missile came up behind it at an even greater speed. Just when it almost reached the point of impact, Rancor’s A-wing reached the exact speed as the missile and for a moment they flew in tandem. After a brief pause the starfighter continued to accelerate and pulled away quickly from the missile, leaving it far behind.

Spectre was the last to escape into hyperspace, and he had the most difficult time. While Condor and Rancor had distracted some of the fighters, three other interceptors were on Spectre’s tail. He weaved away from them, but couldn’t quite shake them long enough to make the long straight run into hyperspace. Laser shots flew past his aft, and occasionally one would hit him.

His shields wouldn’t last forever, and once the others had escaped he had to move fast to avoid being pinned down further by the others. While being pursued, he slammed his craft in reverse, causing the interceptors to fly past him. He activated his hyperdrive and hoped he would jump before they could turn back around to finish him off. Just as the fighters had turned around and achieved a laser lock, Spectre’s A-wing bolted forward and disappeared.

Back at the Liberty, Stryker and Blindman congratulated them on their recent mission.

"You did well to last against so many enemy fighters," Stryker said.

"Yeah, my guys know what they’re doing," Blindman replied jokingly.

"Your victory has also seriously hindered their campaign," Stryker added. "Thanks to the destruction of the Interdictor, they will not be able to stop the Liberty from escaping assuming they do still attack it. They also failed to deny us of some of our fighter defense, as well as losing some of their own fighters in the process."

"Yep, we sure showed them not to mess with the Rogues and Corsairs," Vidster replied. "Even when the odds are against us we show that a fight against the Liberty is a fight lost."