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The Mynock’s Last Stand

by Ice, Flash and Gremlin

2 Months, 2 Weeks ABY

Ugly Mynock: A Necessary Task

He had ignored it long enough. Waiting any longer wouldn’t make things easier. Captain Traek Mii’sui, officer in command of the Carrack-class cruiser Ugly Mynock, heaved a sigh which fluttered the beard-hairs around his long, aristocratic muzzle. Lifting one clawed hand, he tapped his datapad and regarded the queue of written messages with distaste. Despite all the technological advances of his time, there was just no way to overcome the tedious reality of a full inbox.

Grimly, he began to read.

INTERNAL MESSAGING SYSTEM: UGLY MYNOCK

To: Captain Traek Mii’sui

From: Dr. Crondon

Subject: Last warning

Captain,

I realise this is the least of your worries right now, but your mandatory physical is overdue. Very overdue. Please find the time to report to Sickbay as soon as possible so I can keep Fleet Medical out of your hair - and mine.

Yours, Crondon

Mii’sui huffed a laugh. Since the good doctor was Ithorian, any reference to his hair was purely a rhetorical device. He was willing to bet he’d get a few more days yet before Crondon followed through on his threat to alert Fleet medics. The Bothan tapped a claw against the datapad and read the next message:

To: All crew

From: Petty Officer Sima Valenti

WARNING: starboard side shower compartments off limits

Be warned - do NOT use any shower compartments on the starboard side of the ship. Thanks to a malfunction, the warm water is now superheated and engineering can’t spare the time to sort it yet. Fortunately Lieutenant Sensei’s reactions saved him from being scalded. All cubicles are designated out of order, so don’t ignore the signs - they’re in place for a reason! Valenti out.

Mii’sui checked the date of the message - it was from the previous day. Kriff, even the internal messaging system was messed up! With a snarl (and giving silent thanks that the captain’s quarters were on the port side of the ship), he tapped the next message.

To: Captain Traek Mii’sui

From: Lieutenant Mallara, Chief Engineer

Subject: CONFIDENTIAL

Captain, our situation is becoming critical. Main problems include:

- Failing hyper-drive

- Superstructure damage to drive casings

- Failing hydrogen vents

- Reduced drive efficiency

- Failing life support

Any one of these would be challenging. Together, the ship is in dire straits. We can make one, possibly two hyper-jumps at most, but even then we may suffer catastrophic damage. I’ve said this before, Captain, but it’s critical now - the Mynock is rapidly approaching the end of her life. We need to find a new ship or we’ll all blow up when she does.

Lt. Mallara

Captain Mii’sui sat forwards, resting his arms on his desk. The malfunctioning message system should have prioritised this report, but it had not; fortunately it had only been submitted an hour previously. The Chief Engineer’s recent messages had indicated escalating levels of alarm but this one was the most pointed yet. Engineering had been all hands on deck, round the clock, for over a week; no sooner did they get on top of one issue than another emerged.

“Sir? You wanted to be informed of any further issues. We’re having problems with the communications system now.” Commander Natisa Byrel, the Mynock’s first officer, broke the quiet of his private quarters; her voice was distorted and crackling. “Hopefully it’ll hold up till Red Squadron and the Rancors return.”

Mii’sui rolled his eyes. Comms was the only system that had been functioning at almost full capacity … up to now. “I’m on my way.” With luck, the verbal message should reach Byrel but Mii’sui hadn’t reached his rank by relying on luck alone.

The Bothan stood, rising to his full height, and took a few seconds to calm himself. Appearing in front of the crew with his fur rippling in agitation would not help the situation. It would be true to say that the Ugly Mynock had not been Traek Mii’sui’s favorite command: she lived up to her ‘ugly’ name and had never quite fulfilled her potential. Much like her mynock namesake, she had the parasitic inclination to drain him of all optimism with monotonous regularity. Right now it felt as if she was fighting her own campaign of attrition against their cause in general and himself in particular.

However, it was also fair to say that, in many ways, she’d served the Rebel Alliance well. She’d seen several victories and been in the right place at the right time on more than one occasion, but he knew the end of the Ugly Mynock’s serviceable life was imminent. Red Squadron had already been sent on several search missions seeking a new base of operations: planet, moon or space station, right now anything would be welcome news. If their latest mission didn’t yield a result, maybe the Red Rancors - the group of Special Forces Marines based aboard the Mynock - would report success. They had been tasked with investigating an abandoned space station and orbital shipyard that could provide a solution to their current dilemma.

Traek ground his teeth. If things didn’t start going right soon, the Mynock and all aboard her might end up as space debris - he couldn’t let that happen!

Tugging his uniform straight, he set off for the bridge and the latest round of challenges.

Red Squadron: Reporting In

”Red Six, anything to report?” Captain Meg “Flash” Avern’s voice was already flattened by the built-in comms in her Mandalorian helmet, which exacerbated the lack of enthusiasm in her tone. Red Squadron had deployed several times now as part of their attempts to find a new operational base, but the situation was proving challenging and even the most optimistic of commanders - which Flash wasn’t - would have been wilting now.

”Negative, Lead.” Lieutenant Roy “Lock” Callahan also sounded tired. “Place was crawling with Imps. Sensei got singed in the attack, but we made it out.”

As the X-wings joined the formation, bringing them up to 12 craft once more, Avern could see scorch marks decorating the Xexto’s upper port S-foil. The pilot - a former philosophy professor turned Rebel - had more lives than limbs, it seemed. “Glad you’re all back and in one piece - mostly. Set these hyperspace coordinates,” she transmitted them quickly, “and let’s return to the Mynock.”

Smoothly, the Rebel craft accelerated and made the jump into hyperspace, giving Avern time with her thoughts - which was not always a welcome opportunity.

She was all too aware of the challenges they faced. Imperial forces had stepped up their own operations to find and eliminate the Rebel insurgents who were popping up in pockets throughout the galaxy. Suddenly there seemed to be twice as many stormtroopers on the ground and Imperial starships, with their complements of fighters and bombers, were appearing everywhere. Rebel forces were under pressure. Several of their bases had been destroyed; there had been talk about Imperial spies, but most of the Rebel leaders were of the opinion that it was sheer weight of numbers that was the problem. The Empire could call on far more resources than the Rebels.

Avern pushed her thoughts away from that topic. Captain Mii’sui was under the same pressure as every other Rebel commanding officer: the forces aboard the Ugly Mynock needed a place for them to hole up between raiding missions, whether celebrating or licking their wounds. From choice, it would be a sympathetic planet or better still an uninhibited moon or space station, but beggars couldn’t be choosers and any option would be acceptable.

Red Squadron had borne the brunt of the search; they had flown several sorties in search of a potential location but so far, with no success. Avern hoped the Red Rancors would have had better luck with their mission. As the stars elongated into streaks and the squadron reverted to realspace, she toggled her comms and tried not to feel relief that the Mynock was still there. She was all too aware of the issues surrounding the ship.

“Red One to Ugly Mynock, we’re coming in.”

“Red One, this is Ugly Mynock; you are cleared to approach. Note we had a minor problem with the shield control earlier, so approach to the cargo hold should be made from the stern and pilots should maneuver across once they are within the confines of the bay.” The temporary patch held; the comm link was as clear as it had been on the day it was installed. For now, at least.

Captain Mii’sui heaved a sigh as he watched the returning X-wings through the bridge’s forward view port. Earlier a pressure valve had failed: the resulting explosion, although relatively small, had sent shrapnel spraying across the cargo hold which acted as a hangar for the squadron. The debris was still being cleared, along with the remains of the technician who had been attempting to repair it at the time. Just another problem to add to the list ... and yet another casualty.

“We could do with some good news, Captain Avern,” Captain Mii’sui suggested over the comm.

“Sorry, sir - nothing.” Flash sounded as disheartened as Traek felt.

Mii’sui stood before the large forward window, paws clasped behind his back, the image of Bothan military rigour. The grim line of his mouth spoke volumes in the silence that filled the bridge. Finally, he growled to his comms officer, “Ensign Tills, is there anything from the Rancors yet?”

“No, sir, nothing,” the young Mon Calamari replied, his head hanging despondently, but he continued to scan all frequencies in the hope that something would crackle through. There had been no word from the Rancors since they’d reported their safe arrival aboard the unnamed space station. No news was almost worse than bad news: at least, once a report came through, those aboard the Mynock would be able to act. For now, all they could do was wait.

Red Rancors: A New Surprise

Lieutenant Mitch “Rev” Ri’chard was an experienced Special Forces marine, one of the reasons why he had been chosen to lead this operation. Had he been asked before this mission began, he would have said that very little could faze him, which was just as well. Discovering that the supposedly abandoned shipyard actually held an MC80a cruiser and a Nebulon-B frigate was an unexpected surprise; fortunately, both were dark and powered down. Discovering that the supposedly unoccupied space station was in fact garrisoned by a squad of Imperial stormtroopers - well, that was something of an occupational hazard in the Rebellion. And discovering that the stormtroopers were holding a group of hostages to ensure their home planets remained loyal to the Empire was unexpected, but not outside Imperial operating procedures.

What he did not expect, however, was the scene that greeted the Marines when they broke into the large room where the hostages were being held.

”What d’you mean, they’re all children?” Rev hissed into his commlink. He and Faeshard were outside the door, protecting the Rancors who had gained entry to the hostages. Time was of the essence: the station’s garrison, however small, would soon be alerted to their presence.

”They’re kids! No adults among them. Oldest says he’s 14, youngest is five or so. Seventeen kids in total - they were brought here around a month ago.” Marine Kyle Mandal, known as Gnoizic, wasn’t much older than the teenagers in captivity but in his Mandalorian armour he looked menacing. One of the little girls was already in tears, even though the older children were reassuring her that he was there to help them.

Rev breathed a silent prayer to Y’shua. There was no other option than to rescue them - they couldn’t leave the children in Imperial hands. “Get ‘em out here, into the corridor, but count ‘em as you go to make sure we’ve got them all. We need to make it back to the shuttle for exfil.”

The retreat to the hangar bay where they’d left their shuttle was one of the Rancors’ more challenging engagements. The Imperial garrison knew the space station well and the Rebels had to fight their way out of several close encounters while keeping the former hostages safe. The oldest child, a teenager called Gavrin, became separated from the group when he lagged behind to snatch a blaster from the hands of a dead stormtrooper. Fortunately, Rev noticed he was missing but in those few seconds, three plastoid-clad troops started to target the terrified lad. Rev and Gnoizic dispatched two of the attackers while Gavrin brought down the third with a lucky shot as the stormtrooper turned to return fire. The marines didn’t waste any time praising him for his foolhardy actions but simply grabbed his arms and hustled him back to the group.

”Stay here and don’t move!” the young Mandalorian growled, the anger in his voice making Gavrin shrink back.

The Imps had realised that the Rebel invaders were trying to make their way back to their stolen Lambda-class shuttle, the Time. As they neared the hangar where the shuttle was being defended by its pilot, Nick, the stormtroopers also converged on the area. Rev and Gnoizic continued to pour on covering fire as fellow marines Feral, Faeshard, and Rybs moved the child hostages towards the hangar. If it had only been Alliance personnel, everyone involved would have taken their chances but the hostages were a special case.

Finding a safe spot outside the hangar’s blast doors, Faeshard signalled for the others to wait while she checked in with the pilot, Nick. As she ran towards the shuttle’s hatch, however, Rev saw one of the Imperials lob two rocket-propelled grenades after her. He shouted a warning but it was too late: moments later the Time exploded and air began to rush out into space through the damaged hull plates. The screams of the children were drowned out by the rumble of the blast doors slamming into place and the atmosphere began to equalise.

Rev looked over to the sealed section and sent a private thought of acknowledgement for Faeshard and Nick before turning back to Gnoizic. “Get me the Mynock - now.” Hopefully the cruiser would be able to retrieve them - but they still hadn’t found a suitable location for a new base. At the moment, though, that wasn’t their main problem. Rev ejected an empty gas cartridge and clipped in a fresh one as Gnoizic reported that the Mynock was on the line. Taking a second to unleash a barrage of shots at the nearest group of stormtroopers, Rev started his report.

Ugly Mynock: Unexpected Report

The uneasy quiet on the bridge of the Mynock was abruptly broken by the sound of static. Mitch Ri’chard’s voice could barely be heard, but enough of his report could be understood for everyone to hear that the Rancors were pinned down. Their only means of escape, the Time, had been destroyed along with its pilot and one of their marines, Faeshard, and they had an additional, unexpected problem ... a group of hostages, predominantly children! If they attempted to fight their way out, a good number of the youngsters - if not all of them - would almost certainly be killed in the attempt. Imperial forces regularly showed contempt for life, all species and ages; the Rebels were fighting a campaign to change that and they were not about to risk any more lives than they had to - especially not children!

The report of hostages was not news that Captain Mii’sui wanted to hear, but he silently approved of the Rancors’ decision to rescue them, despite the fact that the Marines had no means of extricating themselves, thanks to the destruction of their shuttle. The addendum that the hostages were children was of minor import at the time; it was only later that the complexity of catering to such diverse little creatures would impact his sphere of concern. The captain mentally blocked any creeping reservations at the fringes of his mind and depressed the comm button, speaking with firm authority.

“Captain Avern, Commander Byrel, Lieutenant Commander Seras and Lieutenant Mallara to the Command Room, please.”

Scant minutes later, Mii’sui paced around the oval table at which his command team was sitting.

“The situation is this: the Rancors are pinned down with no means of transport and a number of hostages. We’ve not yet established precisely how many, but I understand they are predominantly children.” He paused to allow his fellow officers to digest this latest information: scuttlebutt around the ship would almost certainly have kept them abreast of the Rancor’s situation, possibly even that they had encountered hostages, but that they were children was new information. “I would like us to attempt to rescue them,” he added.

As he’d expected but not assumed - hence this brief meeting before proceeding - there were nods of agreement from all four, along with murmurs of, “Of course!” and “When do we leave?”

Mii’sui nodded. “I fully expected your agreement, but we should all be aware that the outcome is likely to be far from successful. The Mynock is already at the point of failing.” He met the chief engineer’s gaze as he acknowledged the report he’d received less than an hour before; the Wookiee gave a nod in return, with a mournful howl that needed no translation.

Mii’sui picked up the narrative again. “With luck, we’ll manage to retrieve the Rancors and their hostages, but Imperial forces are already on the spot and know the location of our people. With the cover of Red Squadron we might manage to vacate the vicinity, we might even manage to get away relatively intact, but whether we would survive a jump through hyperspace is the key question. The Mynock’s systems are fragile at best.”

“Sir, I know the feelings of the crew would be behind any attempt. There’s not much hope for the Mynock and we might as well go out in a blaze of glory as end up space dust when she finally dies,” Commander Byrel said with a shrug.

Captain Mii’sui acknowledged his first officer’s observations with the curt nod of his head. That had been his own reading of the crew’s current metal state, but it was always reassuring to hear its affirmation.

Mii’sui turned to face Meg ’Flash’ Avern. “Captain Avern and her pilots have the best chance of survival if they leave now and find somewhere to await the opportunity to join up with another faction of the Alliance.” It was important for everyone to be aware of the facts: they were rebels, fighting for the future of their children and their children’s children, not just themselves. The X-wing squadron could, justifiably, leave the dying Mynock, join up with another section of the Alliance and continue to fight for a lot longer.

“Like that’s going to happen,” Meg growled. “We’re all fighting on the same side - we’re in this, too.”

Captain Mii’sui seemed to grow several inches as he squared his shoulders and nodded to his senior officers. “Good, then we are in agreement. We will jump in 45 minutes. Please return to your stations and Captain Avern, prepare your pilots.”

He turned to his chief engineer. “Lieutenant Mallara, do your best to keep us together. Lieutenant Commander Seras, I want your advice on our approach and your presence on the bridge at all times. You have 15 minutes to see to your own needs and then report back to me here, please.” The Bothan looked to each officer in turn. “I’m going to take this opportunity to thank you all for your service to me and the Ugly Mynock. It has been an honor working with each of you. May the Force be with us.”

Ugly Mynock: Fifteen Minutes Later

Maintenance Chief Biba ‘Tails’ Rar saved the last of his messages to the databurst that would be broadcast should the Ugly Mynock not succeed in this mission. Everyone had been given 15 minutes to tie up their affairs before the Mynock jumped into combat to rescue the Rancors, who had taken cover in a defensible position to await rescue. The Mynock needed constant attention so the crew couldn’t leave any positions unattended; each of the duty shifts had been given 15 minutes to see that their affairs were in order before the ship embarked upon her last mission. The question at the back of everyone’s mind was simple: was this also their last mission or would there be a miracle and they would survive to fight another day?

Flash had attended a short meeting with Captain Mii’sui and the tactical officer, Lieutenant Commander Anton Seras and between them, they had come up with a plan - such as it was. Because Red Squadron had the best chance of survival, with the pilots secure inside their X-wings, it was decided that they would go to hyperspace under their own power. If the Ugly Mynock encountered problems, the X-wings would be clear of any subsequent explosions and ‘Plan B’ would be executed - a backup rescue attempt by Red Squadron alone. Not ideal, but there was a slim chance of limited success.

Red Squadron had been briefed; they too had attended to any outstanding affairs and had gradually filtered back into the makeshift ready room for the final few minutes before action stations and launch. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

There was always a strange atmosphere during the last minutes before an offensive, the ‘lull before the storm’, as Racyne ‘Ice’ Vel Aath, Red 12, had once heard it called. The pre-battle banter in the ready room had begun to pall, a cross between exaggerated promises of just how triumphant the squadron would be, and intense exchanges of emotional leave-takings. She left the room on the pretense of getting a spiced Pantoran tea; not entirely a lie, she did get the tea, but instead of returning to the group she made her way down to the cargo hold that served as a hangar.

Her R2 unit, FrostBite, warbled a greeting to her as she approached the X-wing. “I just thought I would check that rattle,” she told him as she scrambled up onto the closed S-foils and removed a panel covering the offending area.

Back in the ready room, Lock had been watching the young Pantoran from the corner of his eye and when she slipped out he’d excused himself and followed. He wasn’t entirely sure why, but he was her XO, so he should keep an eye on her - shouldn’t he? At least, he tried to tell himself that but if he was going to be honest, it was something quite different which made him leave though it wasn’t something he would admit to anyone … maybe not even himself. If he had to explain it, though, she’d held a fascination for him, ever since the night they’d danced in the hangar and then there was the flightsuit incident. It was difficult enough to keep his mind on things when all too often during a briefing he found himself drowning in the liquid gold of her gaze, but when she and Gremlin had turned up in those near-transparent flightsuits…..

He stopped mid-step and cocked his head, watching her as she tinkered with her X-wing. She was humming to herself, the soft sound intermittently broken by the sound of metal hitting metal or a grunt as she struggled with her hydro-spanner, and he wondered what the frell she could be doing at this late hour before a mission. He cleared his throat.

Racyne looked up, then twisted round to see the source of the noise. “Oh! It’s you, sir.”

“Precisely what are you doing, pilot?”

“Well, I just remembered I’d heard a rattle as we returned from our last search mission. I thought I’d see if I could secure it, whatever it was, before we go out again,” she explained as she sat up and turned to face him.

Lock smiled. “Would you like a hand?” he asked, and without waiting for a reply joined her on the wing. “Show me,” he demanded as he stretched his length along the S-foil and peered into the access panel.

Racyne joined him, propping herself on her elbows. “I think it’s that,” she said, poking an engine part to make it rock.

Lock reached in and prodded a couple of parts. “Well, that one is supposed to waggle about, but this isn’t.” He pushed at something she couldn’t have put a name to, then pulled his hand back. “Do you have a…?” He spotted the hydro-spanner and grabbed it.

Racyne watched as he tried to tighten a bolt. “Kriff, it’s too big - can’t get it between the heat exchanger and the thermostat. Can you find the small extension head, please?” he asked, without taking his eyes off the problem engine part.

She pushed herself backwards towards the leading edge of the S-foils and slid off, landing gracefully on the pitted, stained deck-plates. An engineer’s trolley of tools had been left under the body of the X-wing and she started to rifle around in it. She had a fairly good idea of what she was looking for, but it just didn’t seem to be there.

“It’s the long thin one with the wiggly universal joint thing on the end, isn’t it?” she asked, describing what she meant with her hands.

“That’s the one. It should have a slot on the other end,” Lock’s muffled voice replied. But when there was no sign of either Ice or the tool extension, he pushed himself backwards, spun round on his stomach and dropped his head over the edge of the S-foil to see what the holdup was.

The sound of humming drifted up to his ears while his eyes beheld the enticing view of a neat rear end rocking from side to side. He couldn’t quite see what the top half was doing, but there was a lot of rattling accompanying the humming.

“Ooo! GOT IT!” she shouted as she stood up quickly and spun round, to be confronted by an upside-down head, peering over the edge of the S-foil. There was a sharp intake of breath from both parties as they froze for a moment.

In the pause after the gasp, Ice was aware of several seductive odours: the tang of thrust engines, barely cooled from their earlier sortie; the fragrance from her mug of Pantoran spiced tea, lying forgotten on the deck; the scent, slightly musky, of the man she faced. Her heartbeat sounded loud in her own ears.

Lock lay perfectly still; she looked very strange, upside down. He watched the pulse in her throat as it beat beneath the pale blue skin. He could feel her breath on his chin and then her lips met his. They felt soft and pressed gently against his own. In spite of his better judgment, he kissed her back.

Almost of its own volition, one blue hand lifted and gently cupped his upside-down face. The day-old stubble felt rough against her palm, but there was something rather nice about that. And she’d thought about this before, many times, her and the XO …..

Racyne drew back, slightly horrified at what she’d initiated. The bulkhead door leading to the hangar gave a soft hiss as it slid open and the sound of chatter and over-enthusiastic laughter poured into the black hole of silence that had suddenly formed between them. Racyne glanced towards the oncoming bunch of pilots and engineers, but when she turned back, Lock’s head was gone.

“Meet me here later, after it’s all over,” hissed Lock's voice in a loud whisper from behind her. Racyne spun round, but he was already walking away. She looked at the hydrospanner extension in her hand and frowned.

“Can I help you with that?” a familiar voice asked.

Racyne turned back swiftly and looked up at the tall Twi’lek maintenance chief, Tails. “Well, I was trying to stop that rattle I told you about earlier,” she explained, regaining her composure rather more quickly than she’d have expected after such an intense encounter with Lock.

“Ahhh, yes - let me see what I can do.” Tails gently took the tool from her hand and climbed up onto the X-wing. “I can see the problem.” There were several grunts, a ratcheting noise and the sound of a panel being replaced before Tails reappeared and slid down to the ground. “That should do it.” He smiled, revealing pointed teeth, and stepped around her to return the hydrospanner and extension tool to the trolley. “Now, was there anything else I could help you with?” he asked with a suggestive grin as one of his brain-tails twitched.

Racyne cocked her head. “For the time being, I think that will do it - thank you.” She grinned back and spun on her heels; with a deliberately provocative sway of her hips that Gemi would have been proud of, she slowly walked away, lifting a hand to waggle her fingers as she reached the door and disappeared through it.

Tails considered following for a moment, but he was called to assist one of the other engineers. He sighed wistfully as he turned, just in time to save a life. “Sensei, HALT!” he bellowed, stopping the Xexto from stepping into the blast from an X-wing’s Incom engines as they fired up ready for flight.

The philosophy professor turned pilot stopped abruptly, four of his six arms windmilling as he staggered backwards. He was saved from falling by his wingmate, the young Zeltron flight officer, Gremlin, who grabbed one of his hands and held him upright. She threw the maintenance chief a wave of thanks, which was echoed by Sensei. Tails shook his head. He’d need to have a word with the Reds about flight deck safety - assuming they made it back alive. And assuming there was a flight deck for them to return to, of course. ~~~~~~~~~~

A few minutes later the last of the X-wings lifted, hovering momentarily before it accelerated out of the cargo door of the makeshift hangar. “Red 12, clear,” Ice confirmed as she pushed the thrust lever forward and eased the stick to the left to fall into formation with the rest of the squadron.

Captain Mii’sui watched as the seconds ticked away towards the jump into hyperspace. Everyone was at their stations. The tension was palpable. If all went well, the Mynock would emerge near the space station to save the Rancors and their former hostages. If it didn’t … well, at least their ending was likely to be swift and explosive.

“Jump in ten, nine, eight …….. three, two, one.” The sound of the engines whined up to a tangible pitch, the stars seemed to shimmer and then elongate to form streams of light.

Captain Meg ‘Flash’ Avern counted down the seconds on the secured comm for her squadron of X-wings. The soft clicks and burbles of astromechs were just discernible to the trained ear as 12 X-wings disappeared a fraction of a second after the Ugly Mynock. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Red Rancors: Hiding Place

With their original avenue of escape removed, Rev and the two remaining Rancors needed a place to keep the hostages safe while they awaited rescue. Feral was dead, victim of a sniper that Rybs had taken down with a crack shot of his own. Now he was guarding the hostages while Rev and Gnoizic tried to work out how they were all going to stay alive until they could be rescued.

”What about that MC80a in the shipyard?” Gnoizic asked, utilising the heads-up display in his Mando helmet to assess possible locations. “It’s closer than the Nebulon-B and if we go this way,” he sent his suggested route to Rev’s datapad, “we should be able to avoid the Imps. I think they’re learning to keep their distance,” he added in a dry tone.

”Probably just as well - I’m running low on ammo.” Rev glanced around at the little group of hostages, huddled together in a protective bunch, and winced internally. How many would survive the dash through the corridors of the space station, into the shipyard and onto the Mon Calamari-designed ship? And yet, the Rancors had no other choice. Their orders were to find a defensive position and await rescue. The MC80a offered greater survivability than their current spot.

Fortunately, the older children stepped up to help organise the younger ones. Seeking to make amends for his earlier foolishness, Gavrin divided the youngsters into smaller groups, each led by one of the teenagers. The Rancors provided cover as the children raced through the corridors, evading most of the stormtroopers and sheltering where necessary while the marines dealt with any resistance.

The MC80a, when they reached it, was dark and forbidding. There was no security beyond the usual locks and alerts on the boarding platform, but given that it was a civilian ship and not military, Rev concluded that the Empire probably hadn’t given it much thought. Above its main airlock, its name was printed in Aurebesh and Basic: Morning Star.

Gnoizic was able to break through the security measures so the rest of the squad and the young hostages could move onto the ship. He did his best to reinstate the security again but knew that it wouldn’t survive a detailed check so the marines moved throughout the nearby corridors, setting traps and alerts, before rejoining the hostages to seek out a safer, more defensible position. Once in place, all they could do was wait. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Ugly Mynock: Rescuers or Rescued?

“Out of hyperspace in three….two…..one.” As Ensign “Chatter” Tills counted down the transition from hyperspace to arrival, stars became pinpoints of light and there was an audible sigh of relief when everyone on the bridge realized they had made it. The Mynock had survived the jump.

“Red Squadron, report!” Tills demanded just as the X-wings streamed into view through the forward viewport.

“Red Squadron, all present and correct,” Flash’s voice crackled through the comms.

”Ensign, try to raise the Red Rancors. Ask Lieutenant Ri’chard for his position.” Mii’sui hoped the Rancors were somewhere close to an external point - once he knew, he could orient the Mynock towards it and extract the marines, along with their hostages.

Down in Engineering, Lieutenant Mallara growled as she adjusted the hydrogen vent control. This was not good - they were venting far too fast! The engine noise hitched up several notches as she growled in Shyriiwook at Storm, her deputy, to get down and check out the noise.

Momentarily the engine noise dropped and everything felt normal. The Wookiee was not taken in; this engine had never run smoothly, not since she stepped aboard and mentally registered the continuous high-pitched whine whose source had never been identified.

Wait. There was no whine!

Storm had taken four crewmen along with them, knowing that as soon as they had sorted the fuel feed and adjusted the thrusters, the hydrogen vents and air scrubbers would almost certainly need adjusting too. What they really needed was replacing, but since they didn’t have replacements they would have to make do with what they had - which was predominantly extensive knowledge of the Mynock’s wreck of an engine. So they would nurse everything along as best they could.

One of the crewmen, a young Rodian, halted, her head cocked in a listening attitude. Before she could say anything, the Ugly Mynock stuttered, then juddered and shook as the superstructure of the engine casing buckled, causing an explosion that took out the main drive along with the thrusters, hydrogen vents and a total of 10 crewmen - including Storm.

Mallara growled a Wookiee expletive as she picked himself up off the floor. Bulkheads had slammed into place, maintaining atmosphere within as much of engineering as possible, but the rash of red warning lights across her consoles told their own story.

“Report, Lieutenant Mallara!” Captain Mii’sui’s voice barked through the engine room comm system.

The chief engineer did a quick assessment of the situation and growled to the Bothan that the hyperdrive, thrusters and 10 crew members had just been fried. The Ugly Mynock was dead in the water.

On the bridge, Traek Mii’sui wanted to throw his hand up, shout “End program!” and stop the sim, plunging everything around him into pitch blackness for a moment before the door opened and a technician walked in to declare he’d lost the game. It wasn’t going to happen. This was, unfortunately, real.

“Lieutenant Mallara, do we have any propulsion at all?” Mii’sui asked urgently.

The Wookiee growled that she could get something online, but it would take time.

“As fast as you can, Lieutenant.” Captain Mii’sui flipped a switch to bring secure comms to Red Squadron online. “Mii’sui to Red One, come in.”

“Red One here. What happened? You have a –crshhhhhhhhh- great hole where your engine should be.” Static and the failing communication system drowned any expletive Captain Avern may have used.

“Hyperdrive is gone.” Mii’sui snorted. “At the moment we have a marker and a datapad that work, Captain,” he said with heavy irony, “but hopefully we will have some means of propulsion shortly,” he added in a more serious tone. “In the meantime, we’re relying on your pilots for protection.”

Outside the Ugly Mynock, Red Squadron circled the dying ship like electrons round a nucleus. Inside every X-wing, pilots and astromechs were watching for incoming Imperials. Soft clicks and warbles from the R2 droids could be heard as they searched for the enemy in their own way. Neither had long to wait.

The Mynock’s Last Stand

The Imperial Space Station was very cleverly placed alongside the abandoned shipyard. If one hadn’t known better, one might have made the spurious assumption that the station itself was just another resident of the junkyard. Captain Mii’sui stood motionless on the bridge of the Ugly Mynock, his gaze focused intently on the shipyard. Any second now their presence would be noticed.

Slowly, yet with an air of determination, one of the apparently abandoned ships broke away from its berth in the yard. The Nebulon-B frigate started to rotate, pointing its bow towards the Mynock..

“Lieutenant Mallara, now would be a good time to tell me we have power,” Mii’sui growled over the comm.

The chief engineer replied with a fierce growl, stating that basic propulsion was almost repaired.

As if teasing the elderly cruiser, the frigate stopped and held its position between the space station and the Ugly Mynock. Mii’sui glowered, then ground his teeth. “All stations - prepare for incoming fire!” he barked as tiny black dots emerged from the frigate and the shipyard like Kubindi antz.

Two full wings of TIEs streamed towards the stricken ship. Reds Six and Nine broke away to meet them while Eight and Five circled in opposite directions, seeking to draw them away from the Mynock. The rest of Red Squadron stayed close to the cruiser; at the moment it was still the best hope for rescuing the Rancors and the hostages.

Down in what remained of Engineering, every hand was applied to the near-impossible task of getting the Mynock moving. The hyperdrive was gone, damaged beyond hope of repair, which was just as well as its dying gesture had taken with it the engineers most familiar with its foibles. Petty Officer Biba “Tails” Rar was seconded from the flight deck to the engineering station on the bridge for the duration of the emergency. His scans and surveys demonstrated that the propulsion engine had escaped serious damage when the hyperdrive exploded. If they could repair the generators, they would at least be mobile. Chief Engineer Mallara growled orders, directing her crew from one side of the remaining propulsion engine to the other as they battled to get the generators working again.

Captain Traek Mii’sui watched the battle between the hugely outnumbered X-wings of Red Squadron and the Imperial TIEs through the forward view screen. The X-wings were more maneuverable and their skilful pilots were doing an excellent job of protecting the Mynock, but that would all be to no avail if they didn’t find a means to get the kriff out of there, preferable with the Rancors and their hostages. Mii’sui’s eyes were constantly drawn to the shipyard. If they could just exchange the Ugly Mynock for, say, that MC80a Mon Calamari cruiser …..

Just like constructing the final section of a puzzle, a daring plot formed in the Bothan captain’s mind. “Byrel, keep me appraised. Seras, with me,” he ordered as he led the way to the Command Room.

“What if we head right into the shipyard, take over that MC80a?” he blurted to the Tactical Officer once they had some privacy.

Lieutenant Commander Anton Seras pursed his lips and let out a low whistle. “Daring, probably impossible…” He heaved a sigh. “But if we could get away with it, we might have a chance. If … IF the MC80a is space ready and hasn’t been stripped of its engines, or anything like that.”

Ensign Tills interrupted their discussion via comms. “Apologies, Captain, but I’ve managed to raise the Rancors. Just three of the squad have survived, but they’re aboard the MC80a - as are the hostages, sir.”

Mii’sui and Seras stared at each other. “I think our luck may be changing! Tills, tell the Rancors we need a status report on the ship - spaceworthiness, fuel levels, readiness for flight - but don’t do anything that may alert the Imps to their presence.” The Captain seemed renewed. There was still hope.

The information was quickly forthcoming from the Rancors and a plan was hatched, even as the Mynock came under fire from the attacking TIEs. Captain Mii’sui announced the plan to the crew over the secure internal comms, then he briefed Captain Avern and trusted her skilled pilots to manage their part in the operation. Much of its success depended on the ability of Red Squadron to keep the TIEs busy for the next half an hour or so.

Engineering finally managed to get the propulsion engine and generator partially working, which gave the Mynock a limited drive - and, unfortunately, meant that the irritating whine returned. As the damage to the ship was so obvious, Mii’sui decided a game of lame duck might be worth a try. If they could fool the Imperials into thinking they were drifting, damaged and relatively helpless, they might manage to get past the Nebulon-B frigate and closer to the MC80a Morning Star before the Imperial forces realised anything was amiss, as long as the Reds could keep them sufficiently distracted in the meantime.

Avern and her squadron did a sterling job at keeping the TIEs at bay, but even so the odd fighter managed to break through the cordon and fire a few well-aimed lasers or explosives at the ‘drifting’ Carrack cruiser. The Ugly Mynock’s gun crews did their best to return fire, but the extensive damage to the ship’s systems meant their targeting computers were not at full functionality. Their celebrations whenever they destroyed an Imperial fighter or bomber were all the sweeter as a result.

One of the TIE interceptors managed a glancing blow at Red 11, taking out the HUD for a few seconds. It distracted the pilot just long enough for the TIE to fire at the recently-repaired generator. The impact caused a short-circuit in one of the arrays on which the Wookiee chief engineer was working. Lieutenant Mallara was flung across the passageway and impaled on part of the damaged thrust engine superstructure, fatally injuring her.

By the time the Ugly Mynock finally made it to the vicinity of the shipyard, the remaining crew in engineering had done everything they could. The generator had finally given up the ghost and with just a handful of engineering staff left, there was no hope of reviving it. Just as Tails was reporting this news to Captain Mii’sui on the bridge, there was a soft, muffled explosion from deep inside the propulsion engine and the high-pitched whine stuttered and stopped. Unfortunately, so did the engines. Once again, the ship was little more than flotsam.

“What’s the damage assessment? Someone get Mallara on the comm - I need to talk to her!” shouted Mii’sui.

Ensign Tills looked up from his console and shook his bulbous head. “Captain, Mallara’s dead - as are most of the others. That last explosion knocked out the entire engineering section.”

“Well, get me the surviving senior engineer, then!”

Tills’ fingers danced on his controls for a moment before he looked back up at the Bothan and pointed to where Tails was standing. “The petty officer’s all that’s left, sir.”

Mii’sui turned around and addressed the petty officer. “Can you give me any ideas on how to fix the damage?”

The Twi’lek checked his screens then looked up, shaking his head. “There’s too much damage to fix, sir. The Mynock’s had it for good, this time.”

Mii’sui turned to look out of the main viewport. The Ugly Mynock was just within striking range of the MC80a cruiser. It was a bit of a stretch but with luck, something that surely they were now due, they could make the transfer. He turned back and promoted Petty Officer Biba ‘Tails’ Rar to Lieutenant, putting him in charge of Engineering and thereby giving him the responsibility of getting the engines of the Morning Star up and running as soon as they boarded her.

With an ache in his heart, the captain issued the order to abandon ship. All the crew evacuated to escape pods, which were launched towards the Morning Star. Captain Mii’sui, accompanied by First Officer Byrel, Lieutenant Commander Seras, “Chatter” Tills and Alexa “Black Hole” Marn, as well as the newly-promoted Lieutenant Rar, boarded the shuttle Rimward Liberty. Piloted by Flight Officer Jack “Frosty” McCauley, the Liberty eased out of the Mynock’s hangar for the last time. It was all or nothing now, this was the most dangerous part of the plan: they were all in the hands of Captain Avern and the pilots of Red Squadron.

It was too much to hope that the mass migration of escape pods from the dead Carrack cruiser would have gone unnoticed by the TIE fighters. Even if they hadn’t surmised precisely what was going on, the escape pods would register as having life signs aboard and were therefore perfect for what the Imperials would call “target practice”.

Like buzz beetles attracted to Rontos, the Imperials honed in on the escape pods and inevitably several were picked off when they strayed away from the main clump. Red Squadron responded with daredevil tactics and relentless determination. Red and green laser blasts probed, crossed and sparked all around the helpless pods, protecting them as they honed in on the huge Mon Calamari cruiser and shepherding them to their eventual destination aboard the Morning Star.

The Rimward Liberty was not as helpless as the escape pods; Frosty steered her unerringly towards the hangar bay of the Morning Star, where one of the Rancors operated the control panel to open the blast doors. Once safely inside the magcon field, the bridge crew spilled from the shuttle and set about bringing the Morning Star to life. Tails headed to the engine room, taking a handful of crewmen with him. The huge cruiser responded favorably and in short time the engines were spooling into life, the bridge controls responding willingly to their new masters. There was one glaring inadequacy: the cruiser had no weapons. Red Squadron would have to protect the ship and all those on board.

The first signs of movement from the Morning Star made the Nebulon-B frigate realise that it had been duped. Swiftly it turned to add its firepower to the TIE fighters and prevent the theft of the prized Mon Calamari cruiser. Red Ten and Red Six broke away from escorting the escape pods to engage the Imperial frigate.

For a second time in an hour, either luck or the Force seemed to smile on the Rebels. As if dismissing the two X-wings as insignificant irritations, the frigate never attempted to defend itself when they set about attacking it. Neither did the TIE interceptors pursue them. Gulls and Raven coordinated their runs, aiming for the weakest spot of the Nebulon-B’s design, the midsection connecting spar. Firing proton torpedoes in dual formation, the two X-wings spiralled round each other in a double helix, separating only to perform mirrored loops and come back together to repeat the performance. The narrow spar split and divided, venting the inner atmosphere and spilling crew and equipment into the vacuum of space.

”Excellent work, Reds!” Flash congratulated her pilots. “Let’s get the last of the escape pods on board. Almost there!” She vaped another TIE as she spoke, barely registering the effort in her voice.

One Final Blow

Captain Traek Mii’sui breathed a sigh of relief when he was informed that the last of the escape pods was safely onboard. “Ensign Marn, get us out ….” The order froze in the Captain’s throat as a huge Star Destroyer materialised ahead of them, emerging from hyperspace dangerously close to the space station and shipyard.

A blanket of silence fell on the bridge as everyone present gazed through the forward view port. Weapons bristled from every section of the huge wedge-shaped vessel. It wasn’t called a Star Destroyer without cause and right now there was only a puny, unarmed Mon Calamari cruiser in its sights.

In response to the appearance of the Star Destroyer Battle of New Plympto, Red Squadron threw themselves into a vicious attack to buy the Morning Star time to escape. At first it looked as though the Imperials were going to pick them off as two pilots - Hacker and Swish - died due to extensive fire from the starship, but Avern let the remaining pilots through a series of maneuvers to start pounding away at the enemy vessel.

Captain Mii’sui’s eyes narrowed and the Bothan killer instinct rose to the surface. They hadn’t come this far just to add to the space debris! The Morning Star may not have weapons, but within tractor reach was a ship that had more explosive potential than was needed to tackle anything the Imperial Fleet could present, except maybe a Death Star.

“Get a tractor beam on the Mynock and lay a course directly at that Star Destroyer,” he growled. “Ensign Marn, do you think we could gather enough speed to slingshot the Mynock?”

It took a few seconds for the question to register and just half that time for the ensign to comprehend exactly what her captain was proposing. A slow, almost feral, smile grew on Alexa’s face. “I think I could manage that, sir,” she said, concentrating on the control board in front of her.

Over a secure comm, Captain Mii’sui quickly appraised Captain Avern of the course of action he had set in motion. In response, Red Squadron withdrew slightly to lend support to the Morning Star and her burden.

It looked as if the Mon Calamari cruiser was set on a suicide course as she headed straight towards the Star Destroyer, gathering speed all the time. Seemingly reluctant, the much smaller Carrack cruiser Ugly Mynock trailed behind it. Just as the Morning Star approached the point of no return and irretrievable self-destruction seemed inevitable, she heeled sideways, sending the crew staggering as the inertial compensators struggled to deal with the sudden change in direction. The Mynock whiplashed ahead of her and at the last moment Ensign Marn released the tractor beam, hurling the dying ship towards the Star Destroyer.

In one final, glorious act the Ugly Mynock flew straight and true towards the Imperial Star Destroyer Battle of New Plympto. Just before the moment of impact the Plympto started to turn, but it was too late. As if realising this was her finest hour, the Ugly Mynock twisted and dipped her nose, burying it deep into the engineering section of the Star Destroyer. The impact was sufficient to cause the Mynock to implode, igniting the last remaining fuel in her drive and setting off a reaction that reached every key system in the Star Destroyer. The Battle of New Plympto appeared to pulse momentarily before lighting up from inside. A series of explosions ricocheted through its length before she split apart like a ripe fruit, sending chunks of debris hurtling into the space station and shipyard, setting off further explosions.

A cheer broke the silence on the bridge of the Morning Star and echoes of it spewed through the commlinks from the remaining pilots of Red Squadron. Captain Mii’sui actually smiled - or at least, gave the Bothan equivalent of a smile.

But the Rebels were still not safe. Many TIE pilots who had survived the battle were now seeking refuge in the shipyard, though some continued to take the fight to the X-wings. One of the TIEs hit Zillo’s canopy, causing the oxygen inside to flash-burn and boil the pilot alive. Sensei quickly dispatched the Imperial who had killed Zillo as the remaining Reds set out to seek vengeance but Flash called them back, her voice hoarse from directing the fight.

“Red Squadron, do not pursue, repeat - do NOT pursue. Form up on me. We’ll return to the Morning Star and settle into our new home.” For however long we have her, she thought to herself as she set course for the MonCal cruiser, grimly aware of the gaps in their formation: the friendships severed, the lives lost.

Once the remaining pilots of Red Squadron were safely aboard, the vast external doors were shut and the Morning Star pulled away from the shipyard at sublight speed while preparations were made for the first jump to hyperspace. Down in the bowels of the cruiser, Lieutenant Biba “Tails” Rar smoothed his hand affectionately over the shiny superstructure of the brand new, almost silent hyperdrive. He paused and breathed on a dull spot, then rubbed it clean with his sleeve.

Captain Traek Mii’sui strolled around the bridge, peering over the shoulder of one or other of his bridge crew to look at the readouts on the data boards. It was comforting to see no red lights, just a soothing wash of green with the occasional blink of amber.

In the shared areas, friendly banter filled the passageways as pilots, Rancors and crew bid for quarters and explored what facilities were available. The hostages laid claim to the huge dining area - hide and seek was easier with lots of furniture. The pilots of Red Squadron found a room to act as their lounge, first drinking a toast to their fallen comrades, then re-living the battle as the warm glow of alcohol spread through their bodies.

Sensei stretched his six limbs, three of them holding glasses containing Whyren’s Reserve from Lock’s private stock. “I have decided,” the Xexto said in his gentle, buzzing voice, “that I do not wish to end like Zillo. When we reach the fleet, I will resign my commission and leave the Rebellion. I am too old for this life now.”

“Aww, Sensei!” Gremlin looked disappointed. “I’ll miss you - you’re a great flight leader! What’ll you do? Go back to teaching philosophy?”

“No.” Sensei looked meditative. “I have decided I will buy a farm somewhere peaceful. I will grow plants and live with the seasons - and, yes, I will think on what I have learned in my time with the Rebellion, so philosophy will still be a part of my life. But I will remain a Rebel, albeit not a fighting one, and you, my friends, will always be welcome to visit me.” He raised all three glasses to his comrades.

Lock and Ice joined in the toasts to Sensei’s good health, but they were all too aware of each other’s proximity. When Ice left, saying she needed to visit the refresher, Lock waited a minute before slipping away too. He made his way to the hangar where the Red Squadron X-wings, battered and scored, were drawn up in ragged lines. She was lying on the S-foils of her craft, her head propped on her hand, lilac hair contrasting with her smooth blue skin.

Lock stopped and folded his arms. “Precisely what are you doing, pilot?” But there was a smile in his voice to go with the glint in his eyes.

”I’m obeying orders, sir,” she answered in a pert tone, sliding forward so she was peering over the edge of the S-foil. “You did say I should meet you at our X-wings when it was all over. And it is - for now.”

”For now,” he agreed, taking a step closer. And another. And a third, until they were close enough.

On the bridge, the final tests had been completed. Engineering was confident the hyperdrive would work well. The codes and coordinate maps from the Ugly Mynock had been transferred across to the Morning Star’s computers and all that was now required was to give the order. Mii’sui sat down in the Captain’s chair, rubbing his paws across the unfamiliar contours of the armrests.

“Lay in the coordinates for the staging area and prepare to jump, Ensign Marn,” he ordered.

“Laid in and ready to jump, sir.”

”On my mark - three … two … one …. mark!”

The stars stretched to infinity and the Morning Star was gone.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Epilogue: What Now?

The communication arrived several hours later. Avern watched as the holoprojector sprang to life before her, the blue outline of an all-too-familiar Bothan taking shape. The lieutenant next to her saluted casually whereas she just stood before the holoimage. Avern gave a curt nod, her hair rumpled, her Mandalorian helmet tucked under one arm. “General.”

“Captain Avern,” General Nole replied. “Lieutenant Callahan, always good to see you,” he added, nodding to the man. “I was pleased to receive your reports about the escape from the shipyard, though I am sorry to hear about the destruction of the Ugly Mynock.”

“It wasn’t holding up much anyway, General, as I’m sure you’re aware.”

“In any event, good job on rescuing those hostages and securing a new base of operations. I’m sure the Morning Star will serve you, and the Rebellion, well.”

Avern nodded but did not smile at the compliment. “Thank you, but it’s really the Red Rancors who deserve the credit. Speaking of them, I’d like to make a suggestion.”

“You’ve always been forthright in the past, Captain, no reason to stop now.”

Now Avern smiled. “They could use some new personnel, sir. They’re down to just three at the moment, that’s not even half-strength, but they’re an effective unit that still has a lot to offer.”

Nole’s expression changed for a moment before he returned to his trademark form. “I’m afraid that’s not going to happen … at least not in the way you mean.”

“And what does that mean, exactly, General?” asked Lock, who had remained silent throughout the exchange.

“The Red Rancors are being disbanded,” said Nole as he looked to Lock before turning back to Avern. “As for Red Squadron, I’m afraid there’s going to be some changes as well.”

“Excuse me?” asked Avern in disbelief. Was she being booted from her role already?

“Red Squadron is being re-tasked to another command and the remaining Rancors will be joining you. It’s up to you, Captain Avern, to merge pilots and Marines into an effective fighting force.” He stood up as straight as the holoprojector could make him and placed his paws behind his back. “Captain, Lieutenant, welcome to Special Operations Command.”

END