Animal's Tale

The night he had returned from the Imperial Academy she seemed troubled and distant. His mother had never told him what she did for the Empire, but Chris knew it had something to do with Intelligence. He never pressed her for more information, figuring he would know when the time was right. He had always wanted to follow in his father's footsteps and become a fighter pilot.

"Chris, I have some disturbing news," she finally said.

"Is it about dad? Is he dead?" Chris questioned, swallowing the lump in his throat.

"No son, your father is fine. This is another matter, something much more serious."

Chris tried to think of something that would be more important to either of them, but nothing came to mind.

"What can possibly be more important than family?" Chris asked.

"I know you don't know what I do, but I have come into possession of information that I want to share with you." She handed him a disk and continued, "You will find on this disk disturbing news about the Empire as you know it. It will shed light on secrets they do not want you to know, it will help you understand the truth."

Chris took the disk and looked at it. On the surface the disk was common. This disk, with the label Minx, held the information he needed to know to understand what was troubling his mother.

"The truth? What do you mean by that, am I living a lie?"

"What I mean is everything they have told you, everything you see and hear is not as it seems. Please watch, then you will begin to understand what I am talking about."

She uncovered a portable holo player on the table and Chris inserted the disk.

A reporter appeared on the screen. A mobile holo cam floated around his position taking in the scene while he spoke. Destruction lay all around, smoking buildings, humanoid bodies lay on the ground dead, and in the distance Imperial walkers could be seen. AT-AT's were firing on retreating troops, and gunning down unarmed civilians in cold blood. The camera began to zoom in on an AT-ST that had a squad of men trapped. They lay down their weapons and held their hands up. The hatch opened to reveal the commander. Barking orders, the new prisoners dropped first one knee, then to the second. Hands on their heads now, the commander gave another order and the walker shot them... all of them.

Chris's jaw was agape with astonishment. No sound could escape his mouth, as the silence began to become uncomfortable. "This can't possibly be true, it must be a forgery. I donít see any troopers. Where are the...."

His mother cut him off, pointing to the display. "Watch!"

The camera returned to the speaker and he was continuing his broadcast. A shadow suddenly loomed over him, as a huge mechanical leg became visible. The reporter turned to look over his shoulder as he realized he was doomed. He began to shake, his legs frozen in fear. The large leg rose into the air and crashed back to earth, killing the man and ending the transmission.


Chris sat dejected. He was speechless. So many questions he wanted answered, but all he could do was sit there and shake his head.

His mother sat by his side and put a hand on his shoulder, "I can understand your pain. I would not ask you this now if I had any other choice, but you have seen what I had to show you. Now I must ask you to make a decision. I will be leaving here, fleeing Coruscant to freedom. You are welcome to come with me." She paused, a tear forming under her eye, "I would like you to join me, but you must do so on your own. I have scheduled a rendezvous with a Rebellion emissary, they would be happy to have a pilot of your skill in their ranks."

Chris had heard of the Rebellion. Everything he had seen about them was traitorous and without honor. Their hit and fade tactics caught many an Imperial convoy by surprise. But they were no match for the might of the Empire. How could he possibly just leave the life he has known for so long, and defect? Traitorous thoughts bombarded his mind as the conflict within him came to a crescendo. He trusted his mother; she had raised him well while his father was away saving the universe.

"Son," she interrupted his thoughts, "I apologize for pushing you in this time of confusion but you must make a choice soon." She handed him a datapad and an ID chip. "Use these to board the passenger ship Dazzler, their I will make contact with you. You have less then 24 hours. I must go now. I hope I will see you later."

Chris stuttered his speech. "I-I-I don't know what to do. I need more time to make this important of a decision."

"Your heart will lead you son, as will my love. Make whatever choice you feel is best for you." With that she was gone.

Chris sat, confused. This was far from what he expected, and certainly not in his career plans. He needed time to sort things out, and a drink to help him on his way.

***

Chris awoke from his dream on the passenger ship Dazzler. Faced with the most important decision of his short life, sleep had eluded him. His decision had ultimately come to a choice between two people. His father, the well known and respected Imperial test pilot. A man who he barely knew, yet wanted so much to become. Then there was his mother. The woman who had been with him throughout his life, providing guidance and encouragement. He had faith in her honesty, and he would yet again trust her to lead him down the proper path.

Being off of Coruscant made him feel a little more secure, but he wasn't safe yet. The identification his mother had provided for him had worked perfectly, barely a second glance was given by the agent who received his boarding pass.


Chris began to feel uncomfortable, like he was being watched. Glancing around the room he was uncertain if he was under observation. The lounge area wasnít full but there were plenty of people talking and drinking. Several odd looking aliens sat at the bar, drinking some colorful liquid. There were a couple of humans engaged in a heated discussion at a table close by and another table with a lone figure pondering what lay at the bottom of his drink. Chris noticed he wasnít paying much attention and he had an idea.

Chris was hardly an adept thief, but he was far from naive. Self-preservation was a powerful force, and if someone else could help, with or without their knowledge, then so be it.


Sitting, looking out the window, Chris pulled his fake identification and the data cylinder his mother had given him from under his shirt. Before Chris could talk himself out of it he set himself in motion.

Chris walked towards the bar, making sure to pass by the lone figure at the table. The man was staring into his drink when Chris stumbled over the chair sitting next to him, knocking his pack and its contents over the floor. The man sitting at the table rose from his chair, pulling back his hood, revealing a bald, tattooed head.

The man rose to help him up, apologizing for being careless. "I am sorry sir, are you all right?"

"Oh my goodness," Chris played it cool, "I am so sorry, I didnít mean to be so clumsy. Here let me help you clean this up."

The older man pulled his hood back, revealing a bald, tattooed head. "It's quite all right my friend, I am sorry to have been in your way."

"It is I who should be sorry," Chris pressed. "I should pay more attention to where I am going. For your troubles I would like you to have my window seat. Looking out into the vastness of space makes my head dizzy. I do not want it to go to waste."

The man considered Chris's offer. He was cautious, but saw no harm in sitting by the window.


"That would be splendid, you should have my seat." The cleric reached into his pocket as Chris tightened up. He kept searching as Chris tried to make a run for it.

The mans features changed to that of confusion, and then he focused his eyes on Chris, pointed and began to shout, "Security, Security, arrest this man!"

Chris was just about to the door of the lounge when a leg from someone sitting at the bar extended, tripping him. Chris hit the floor skidding while the contents of his pack spilled out of his coat across the floor. Chris felt himself being lifted off the ground and he was thrown hard up against a bulkhead. Looking at his attacker all he could see was his own reflection off of a curious silver mask. "Going somewhere friend?" the female voice said.

Chrisís shoulders dropped. There was no where to run now. His fate was sealed.


The stranger retrieved the datapad and ID that fell on the floor and showed them to the old man, "do these belong to you good sir?"

"Yes, those are my things, he stole them from me," the man replied.

"Take it then, and be on your way. This scoundrel will pay for his crimes." Chris was turned around to face the wall, his hands locked together with binders.

"How long did you think you could run from us?" the woman rubbed it in. At least his fate wasn't in question any longer, he would be tried for treason, and put to death.

Dejected, Chris let himself be led through the inner hallways of the civilian passenger ship, not paying attention to where he was going. He was surprised when he was thrown into a room and onto a bed. He heard the door close behind him and the stranger stood before him.

"We meet again young man." The woman removed her disguise. "How dare you steal and get caught!" she said with a slight smirk.


Chris mood lightened as death seemed a little more distant. "I would hug you, but I'm a little tied up right now. Thanks for the rescue, Mom."

She unlocked the bracers as they embraced. "Call me Minx, and you're welcome."

***

She wasted no time, producing two sets of security uniforms, complete with ID's.

"Youíve been busy havenít you?" Chris asked.

"This was the easy part. We still need to get out of here."

"So whatís the plan?"

"This may be a passenger liner, but it has a full complement of fighters and a shuttle. We are going to sabotage the fighters and take the shuttle, and we need to hurry. We are behind schedule."

"Nothing like a little pressure to get the blood pumpiní. Lets go, Iím starting to get antsy," Chris said, his resolve renewed.


The pair walked calmly outside. Dressed as security, they found it easy to walk freely through the ship. They received nods, smiles and even looks of distrust. A pair of patrolling guards was not an uncommon sight. Minx led them through the ship towards the hangar. He just hoped she could get them out of this.

They wove their way through the civilian deck of the passenger liner until they reached a turbo lift marked authorized personnel only. Using the counterfeit badges Minx had provided, the door opened and they were on their way to the hangar.

Exiting the turbolift they were directly in front of a security station. Chris tensed up, preparing for a fight. Minx placed a reassuring hand on his arm as she walked forward to present her identification. He followed suit.

The guard seated looked them over and accepted the ID badges. Scanning them through his terminal he looked at the display screen and back at the pair a few times before relaxing and returning them. "You are clear, proceed to your designated patrol route."

"Yes sir," the two said in unison, as they gave a salute.

Chris stayed tense until they were out of sight. "That went over well."

"It seemed a little too easy. As paranoid as I am I can see nothing wrong. Letís get going."


Walking down the corridor, there wasnít much activity. A few droids walking around, going through their daily routine. Minx took them on a snaking route towards what Chris could only assume was the hangar. A couple of pilots passed them, talking about their recent sim battle he could only guess. Chris thought it interesting that they carried weapons. A quick salute and they were on their way.

They turned another corner and were in front of a security door. Minx looked shocked. "This door isnít supposed to be here," she said, sounding confused. Taking her ID she swiped it through the security lock. The red light only blinked.


Someone behind them cleared his throat "Ahem..."

Turning around they were trapped by the two pilots that had passed them, they had blasters pointed at them as Chris put his hands up in submission.

"Can we help you with something officers?" the pilot said.

Minx replied, with her hands still at her sides, "We are just on a routine patrol, had a report of unusual activity down here, they sent us to check it out."

"Only thing unusual down here are you two, mind coming with me?"

"I would mind actually," Minx responded matter of factly. "We were ordered to patrol this area, now if you donít mind I think we are going through this door. Steve, your ID badge please, mine doesnít seem to be working."

Chris knew that she was talking to him. With the last name Stephen you got used to responding to it as your first name.

"Do not move a muscle Steve, both of you get your hands up. NOW!"

With a glare from Minx she complied and the pair was caught by a couple of hotshot pilots. This was beginning to be a very interesting day.

The lead pilot grabbed the two ID badges from their prisoners. "Let check these two ladies with central."


Their captors led them into the pilotís lounge where three other pilots sat playing cards. Turning their heads they saw the two captives and forgot about their game for the moment.

"What's goin on Sal?"

"These two guards were poking around, looking suspicious. Gonna call it in."

"Why you always gotta be a jerk? There's no need to bully people around. You're just a pain in the ass sometimes."

"Hey Bones, you been around here a long time, you ever see these two before?" Sal said.

The dealer looked up from his cards. He had a pale face, looking almost skeleton like, his eyes studying them for a moment. "Nah, never seen em. Don't mean they's doin' anything wrong thou," he replied reluctantly, and returned to his card game.

Sal headed to the terminal on the far wall as his buddy held the two prisoners at gunpoint.

The man with the gun, in familiar surroundings, seemed to relax a bit. Chris edged closer, waiting for a time to strike. Sal was at the comm station, apparently talking with the authorities. He nodded a few times, as the grip on his blaster became tighter.

He was finished with the security check. "Seems as thou these two arenít cleared for that corridor. They have never heard of you either, and they enter in ALL the new employees. What do you ladies think of that?"


"You are right of course. We are from Imperial Intelligence. Sent here by your company to check for security leaks. Our mission has not succeeded, but your security performance is adequate."

"Thatís a likely excuse," Sal said with a chuckle. "What do you take me for, a fool? You hear that Bones, they say theyíre from Imperial Intelligence."

The room erupted in laughter.

"RED ALERT!"

Sirens wailed all around as the laughter was drowned out. Minx was first to react, drawing a hidden blaster from somewhere, and killing the guard closest to her. Chris was right behind her, stepping around the drawn blaster and planting an elbow in his captorís gut. Relieving him of his blaster Chris fired at the sabbacc game.

The card game was over as the players overturned the table to take cover. Chris dove behind a lounge chair as Minx laid down cover fire. Firing a few stray shots around the chair he thought of what to do. Minx was pinned down in the corner two, with three defenders the odds needed to be evened out.

Chris backed away from the lounge and began to shoot the ceiling above the entrenched pilots. Minx, seeing an opening began to shred the table they were using as cover and soon they could see the pilots holding their hands.

"We surrender, please donít shoot!"

Switching his weapon to stun Chris stepped up to survey the situation. Minx off to the side approached cautiously as two pilots stood. The third was buried below a small pile of the ceiling. Chris fired at both of their prisoners, stunning them.

Minx searched the pilots and returned with a smile on her face.

"You OK? What's wrong, they donít show you how to kill in the Academy?" she said, dripping with sarcasm.


"Yeah, I'm OK. There just isn't any way to prepare you for the real thing, that's all. Never had to kill a man before."

"Looks like I have some good news, and bad news."

"Bad news first," said Chris.

"We are way behind schedule, those warning sirens mean our escorts are here. We were supposed to be launched by now."

"And the good news?"

"These pilots here, Bones and Sal were the escort pilots, looks like we have ourselves a pair of interceptors."

"That is good news, we should be able to break out of here with those without much of a problem. Lets get suited up."

***

They had no problem, once suited in TIE pilot flight gear, making their way into the hangar. The main entrance opened into a small landing platform for the Lambda class shuttle and the TIE interceptors flanking it.

The pair crawled into their pilot's seats and strapped themselves in. Skipping the preflight check, they quickly hooked themselves in.

Looking through his viewport Chris saw the many TIE fighters the hangar held. To either side of the main hangar were rows upon rows of TIE fighters. Because of this careful packing, the TIE fighters were slow taking off. Switching on his com the channel was alive with chatter.

Engaging the repulsorlifts he lift off from the landing pad. "Echo Two, this is Echo One, ready for departure."

"Echo One, this is Two, ready for departure," was Minxís response.

Minx had suggested that he lead the flight, seeing as he as trained for just such a task, much more so then her. It was as good a time as any to test his mettle in combat.

"Roger that, heading out," Chris answered.

Chris accelerated forward. Cutting forward thrust, he turned to port and began to strafe the parked TIE fighters. Minx, following suit, did the same. Chris lost count of how many craft he destroyed, as each craft explosion caused a chain reaction. Chris could feel the heat of the explosions and thought, Itís time to go. "Letís get out of here before we get caught."


Echo Two fell in next to him as explosions rocked the hangar of the passenger liner, covering their escape.

***

Outside the Liner three Rebel X-wings patrolled the rendezvous point. Six Imperial TIE fighters streaked towards them, unaware that their ship was virtually gutted.

"Chris, I am sending the coded message now."

"Roger that, you've got one minute till contact."

"Chris, change comm frequency to battle status."

"Echo Two, Echo Leader," Chris liked the sound of that, "Comm check."

"Echo Leader, Echo Two. Comm check, comm check."

"How much battle training do you have in the interceptor?" Chris inquired.

"I have no battle experience, I am familiar with its operation but I have no idea of military tactics or strategies."

"All right, once we are engaged with the fighters I want you to head for the cruiser. I'll be alright without a wingman."

"I donít think that is a good idea, I might not know tactics but I should be able to cover you as a wingman."


"I do not want you to perform the duties of a wingman. I doubt you will be able to follow me and stay on my wing and if I have to look for you and cover you I will lose perspective. It will be a danger for both of us. Please, for both our sake, head for the Cruiser."

"Copy that Lead, I'll head for the Cruiser at first opportunity," Minx said reluctantly.

The darkness of space was alive with red and green lasers as the TIE fighters engaged the X-wings. The Rebel fighters were, if not skilled, highly organized. Eleven T/F's were soon reduced to eight, as they were almost close enough to engage.


"Echo One, receiving tactical data from the Cruiser, sending it your way now."

Activating the data sent from the Cruiser, comm traffic came alive with new voices.

"Nice shot Smitty."

"I can't shake em, get this guy off my tail."

"On my way Two," said another voice.


They were close to the fray now. Individual ships could be made out, engaged in a dance of death. The X-wings were holding their own, but the unorganized TIE fighters were proving more of a menace then expected.

Chris counted seven TIEs left. It was time to see how good of a pilot he really was.

Chris dropped behind a pair of unsuspecting TIEs. The wingman should have noticed the threat, or should he? He was in an interceptor after all.

The time of reckoning had arrived. In a split second Chris had to decide between a life on the run, or a life in the Empire.

"Red Two, break high right!" Chris exclaimed, making his decision.

The Rebel pilot, hearing the mysterious voice reacted on instinct, pulling back and to the right. His maneuver took him out of Chris's sights and cleared him for a shot. The TIEs easily followed the X-wingís maneuver, unaware of their impending doom.

Chris squeezed his firing trigger. His quad shot clipped the lead TIE, removing the port stabilizer. Without its solar panel it was out of control, banking hard right and into the path of its wingman. All the TIE could do to escape a collision was to dive. With a clear shot Minxís dual linked lasers tracked her prey.

With a minor correction in aim, Minx pulled the trigger. Leading the TIE a little too much, she was relieved when it dropped right into line. It was destroyed in a small fireball that quickly faded into nothing.

"Red flight, this is Red Leader, remaining TIEs heading home. Form up on me for escort duty."

The replying confirmations made Chris smile. The Rebellion was outmatched in every way by the Empire, except one. Passion. These pilots weren't the mercenaries he had heard stories about, and they were far from the pirates they would like them to be.

"Echo flight falling into escort, thanks for the welcome boys," Chris thanked them.

"New contact, Victory Star Destroyer entering system, itís on the opposite side of the Cruiser!" Red Leaderís voice boomed.

A collective sigh of relief could be heard over the comm channel. Being on the other side of the Cruiser gave them considerable protection. The Independence was more then a match for a Victory class Star Destroyer in ship
to ship combat. Now it was up to the fighters.

The Star Destroyer wasted little time as it launched wave after wave of fighters and bombers until 12 of each were released.

"That is not a full complement of fighters, it must be holding some in reserve," Minx said.

No sooner had she said it than the VSD made a micro jump. The tactic puts unnecessary stress on the hull of capital ships, and in this instance showed the importance of their mission. It stopped directly in the path of the Independence. Somehow this meeting had been leaked to the Empire, and now a VSD stood between the CRS Independence and hyperspace.

Out of the hangar came another squadron, this one made entirely of interceptors. 12 total, which formed two groups of six, and sped towards their target.


"Echo Two, make a run for the Cruiser. I will form up with Red flight and cover your escape."

"No, I can stay and fight," Minx replied.

"Mom, I can't order you to go, but they aren't here for me. It's you they want. You have knowledge that will greatly aid the Rebellion, and only you and Rebel leaders know how important it is. They sent the Independence, it must be important. My place is here, you know that. Please. Go."

"I'll see you aboard, son."

As Red flight formed up for the oncoming threat, the two interceptors split up. One stayed with the Rebel fighters, the other averted all power to engines, hoping to reach the safety of the Cruiser ahead of the enemy.

By now the strike force on the other side of the Independence was engaged with Rebel fighters. The bombers posed a serious threat to the Calamari Cruiser Independence and had drawn out the reserve Rebel fighters. The bombers were doomed however, and tactically were sacrificed to keep the Rebel fighters from aiding in the rescue. Chris couldn't believe the blatant disregard of life. How had it been hidden from him for so long?

"Echo flight, continue on course we'll cover you."

"Roger Red Leader, Echo flight heading for hangar."

"Fleeing Imperial traitors. This is Scorpion, Alpha Flight Leader. I seem to remember a brash cadet saying that he was better then me. Seems as though he has lost his edge since he put on a dress. What happened to the wimp I knew in boot camp who took all of his due punishment like a man? But now you run, in the shadow of a woman. Run, little pansy, run. You watch as I carve up your new-found friends. You are a pathetic excuse for a pilot."

Chris could no longer control the anger. He wanted badly to teach this monster a lesson. Before he knew it he had turned his craft around and was heading for the lead interceptor.

"Echo One, I don't know what you're doing, but you're going to get yourself killed."

"As soon as I land I will be questioned and hassled by Rebel security. Better that Iím out here, making a difference while I can. I can be of help out here Captain, I promise I won't let you or the Rebel Alliance down."

"All right, I can't make you go. But you better not make me regret this decision. Lock on a target and fire when in range."

"Captain, those interceptors will easily evade your torpedoes. I have an idea, but we're low on time to talk about it," Chris said. "Can you remotely detonate your torpedoes?"

"Well sure, but we still need something to shoot at. Unless you want us to dumb fire them, which is yet a bigger long shot."

"Use me as a target Captain, and I will guide those torpedoes home. Just be sure and detonate as close to as many of them as you can."

"Out of the question, you don't even have shields. If you are too close to the blast you'll join them!"

Chris accelerated to maximum speed. "Captain trust me, I can do this, and it will be the last thing they expect."

Time was getting short now; the squints would be on them soon. Chris got his answer in the form of his threat display. "Locking on to you now, Echo One. I hope you are right about this."

If he was wrong, this was going to be the shortest defection in history.

This stunt put his lone interceptor between the approaching TIEs and the X-wings. They were already gunning for him; there was no need to put him at more risk. Chris looked at his threat display. Red Leader held the torpedo lock.

"Fire one, Captain."

Green lasers filled his view screen as the interceptors came within range.

"Fire two," Chris grunted under the strain of his maneuvers.

At these speeds Chris had no prayer of aiming his lasers at anyone, but that was a good thing, because they were having a hard time hitting him.

The other members of Red Flight added their torpedoes to the battle making a total of six. That should keep them somewhat occupied. Chris headed for the biggest clump of the enemy. Using high-speed evasive maneuvers, he flew past as their fire narrowly missed his fighter.


"Detonate one," came from the Captain.

Chris could see the torpedo detonate from the reflection in his viewport. They would not be fooled again so easily. Thinking they would break off their attack Chris picked a direction, up, and pulled back on the stick. The interceptor objected to the high strain turn but held together as Chris settled on a trajectory.

Turning had allowed the torpedo to gain a little ground, but the distance was actually increased as the torpedo couldn't stay with the sharp angled turns of its target. Relentlessly tracking its target, it once again began to gain ground.

Heading back to the furball, a pair of squints tried to persuade him to reconsider. Chris slowly rolled left and snap rolled back into their path, and split their formation down the middle. "Detonate two, Captain."

Sparks flew inside the cockpit, as Chris's interceptor was a little closer to the second torpedoís explosion. Damage report indicated engine performance down to 80% and the right solar panel had been hit. A visual check confirmed a shrapnel hole, the size of his forearm, in the starboard side wing rendering a laser cannon inoperative.

"I'm hit, minor damage to the starboard wing. Nothing major," Chris reported.

Checking his six for what seemed like the hundredth time Chris re-entered the battle. The X-wings and TIE fighters were engaged in a tug of war, each gaining an advantage and then losing it. Chris thought of the holo his mother had shown him, the needless death. The merciless killing of innocent people. These pilots would not be able to continue on that course.

Chris banked behind a TIE on the tail of an X-wing. The fighter was doing everything it could to shake the Imp, but he was good. Chris linked his fire and waited for a clear shot. The X-wing turned over starting a split S dive. The fighter on his tail fired the same time as Chris. The X-wing's shields failed as its belly and left wing were scarred. The TIE fighter was not as lucky as Chris shot the wings right off, making the cockpit implode.

Chris banked to the right, checking his instruments and looked up to see himself face to face with Scorpion. A heartbeat passed as each pilot stared and fired at the other. Had the lasers been set below the cockpit like that of the TIE fighter, each pilot would be dead. But the profile of the other ship made the shots go wide.

Instinct took over as each pilot pulled up and out of the inevitable collision. The solution to Chris's problem presented itself. To beat the perfect pilot, you must do the unexpected. Scorpion had an answer to every scripted maneuver. Instead of pulling up and out Chris pushed forward on his stick. The turn was slower, but it wouldn't put him in front of his enemyís guns.

Instead Chris found himself behind one of the X-wings. He had his hands full; a pair of interceptors were tracking him unhindered.

Chris forgot about his problems for a moment as the Rebel X-wing, the pilot sent to protect him, was in dire straits. Chris gained on them as they felt comfortable enough to match the X-wing's speed.

The interceptors broke through the shields of the X-wing, their concentrated fire ripping the aft section of the engine apart. The X-wing lost all power and went dead in space, but the squints were not satisfied.

They moved in for the kill as Chris rolled his craft to orient his guns and fired a quad blast at the center of the pair. Being in close formation each TIE was struck square in its cockpit. One of the craft lost all power while the other was not so lucky. The laser blast went straight through the center of the craft, killing the pilot and destroying the ship.


"Nice shot Echo One, I owe you one."

Chris veered off to avoid the collision with the newly formed space debris. His peripheral vision caught sight of an interceptor, Scorpion's fighter, swooping for the kill. Chris could see the pilot smirking in his chair as he moved in for the sure kill.

Four red lasers impaled the interceptor, causing it to explode in a brilliant ball of fire. The X-wing flew threw the debris as Chris thanked him. "Thanks Red Leader, nice kill."

The remaining interceptors put up a valiant fight, but the shielded X-wings dispensed with them in short order. Forming up on the crippled X-wing, they headed for the Independence.

"This is Red flight, returning to hangar with all hands accounted for."

"Echo One, you are instructed to head to the ship. There has been an accident."

Chris's heart sank in his chest. He was sure he knew the answer, but he had to ask, "What do you mean?"

"Echo Two has crashed in the hangar, you better hurry," was the reply.

***

Chris was virtually out of the cockpit of his interceptor before it had touched down on the flight deck. He could see the charred remains of his motherís craft coated in thick light blue foam.

A man stopped Chris short of the wreckage. He was smaller then Chris, but had no trouble holding him back. "You can't go up there, I'm sorry sir. There is nothing you can do."

Chris saw the sympathy in the man's eyes, as he grew weak. Great sadness and despair washed over him as the realization that his mother was gone set in. This was her dream, to join the Rebellion and make a difference.

Nothing mattered now, not how it happened, not why it happened, only that it did, and there was no way to change that now.

Chris gathered his senses and stood upright again. "Clear that outta here, you have a crippled X-wing on its way in. He's gonna need some help."

"Right away sir. You just go with the doctor and the lieutenant and they will take care of you."

Chris hadn't even noticed they had walked up behind him. It made no difference how long they had been there.

It was time to begin yet another journey.

***

After what seemed like weeks of questions, interrogations, interviews, and tests, Chris entered the lounge. It was busier then most Chris had seen, he saw several alien races he could identify, Sullustans, Bothans and even a Wookiee. He approached the bar as two men approached him.

"You must be the interceptor pilot. I'm Dead-Eye, and this is Maniac." Chris exchanged handshakes, anxious to be drowning his sorrows in a drink alone, but not enough to be less than friendly. "I am happy to meet you."

"You look like hell partner," Maniac observed. "Mind if I buy you a drink for saving our asses out there?"

Chris forced a smile, realizing that he actually didn't want to be alone, he just didn't know anyone. "That would be great, they probably won't take Imp credits anyway," he said lightly.

That brought a chuckle from the pair as they escorted him to the bar.

The bartender, an odd looking protocol droid, quickly came over to the three.

"What can I get you Captain?"

"We- I would like a shot of whiskey, and a beer."

The droid nodded with acknowledgement. "And you Lieutenant?"

Maniac clapped Chris on the back. "My friend and I would like a shot of the strongest stuff you got, followed by the most bitter beer in the house."

"Yes sir right away." The droid nodded again, then stared inquisitively at Chris and nodded again.

"That was odd," Maniac said. "Anyway, you are a heck of a pilot son, where did you get that crazy idea with the torpedo?"

"To be honest I have no idea, I was just trying to even the odds a little," Chris replied.

"You were an animal out there, you got half a kill for each in the torpedo blasts," Dead-Eye said. "Plus three of your own. That makes five kills, youíre an ace already."

With that the drinks arrived. Maniac stood up, used the bar stool as a step and climbed onto the bar. The bartender droid complained, "Sir, do you mind?" but by then it was too late.

"Ladies and Gentlemen. We are gathered here today to, well, to drink of course." That brought a laugh to the crowd. "I would like to propose a toast. To the newest addition to the piloting ranks of the Rebellion, and he is already an ace." Chris could here a few "wows" and "oh's" from the gathered patrons. "Chris 'Animal' Stephen is a fine fighter pilot and saved my ass as well as Pale-Face. Letís show him how real pilots get drunk." With that Maniac brought up his shot glass in a toast.

Chris gave Maniac a shy but appreciative nod as they toasted and downed the drinks. It felt as though he had swallowed liquid sand and then breathed out fire. He couldn't stop coughing as Dead-Eye comforted him by smacking him on the back. "Easy there lad, you might want to start slow, plenty of time to kill yourself later."

Chris's thoughts returned to that of his lost mother as he turned to find his other drink to chase away the fire in his mouth. In front of him was a frozen red drink in a bowled glass. "Hey, bartender! I didn't order this!"

The droid looked over at him, noticing his drink and looking as curious as a droid could be, came over mumbling "How did that happen, I'm sorry sir I'll get your....."

"No wait!" Chris said, hold his hand out to stop the droid from taking the drink. "What is the name of this drink?"

"Why sir, that is a Strawberry Daiquiri," the droid said, regaining some of its pride.

Chris stared at the drink. The significance was lost on anyone but him. This was his motherís favorite drink. A flood of emotions that Chris had successfully blocked out rushed back and overwhelmed him.

"Animal are you alright?" Maniac asked, shaking Chris back to reality.

Chris's eyes darted around the room. He could see no one out of place, as pilots enjoyed their relaxation in the lounge. Looking towards the door he saw a hooded figure round the corner out of sight.

"I'm OK, just thought I saw someone I knew," Chris answered. "I'll just drink this daiquiri, it's my motherís favorite drink. She used to make these for me when a shipment of fresh strawberries came into the market. Brings back lots of memories."

Maniac took a sip of an amber colored liquid in front of him and smiled, "Your past is behind you now Chris," he said, getting philosophical. "It's time to make history."