Just Another Day in the Life
[CRS Vigilant -- T-minus 12 hours]
Mogazz Murg stood in the private briefing room aboard the CRS Vigilant. Only Captain Quelle and the other senior captains of the task force had joined him, each seated around the table. The one exception, of course, was Lieutenant Colonel Chris 'Jalb_k' Reynolds, OC of Rogue Squadron.
The holographic projector in the middle of the table lit the darkened room. Tufts of smoke whirled around as those who had death sticks puffed away at them, the orange ends glowing brilliantly before dying.
Emitting from the projector lay the image of an Imperial XQ5 platform. Docked near the station was an Imperial Mark-II class Star Destroyer, a Victory-class Star Destroyer, and numerous other craft and transports of varying sizes and designs.
"Are we sure about the intel?" asked Captain Quelle.
"It's reliable," said Murg, grasping the back of the chair in front of him.
"Are there any other major ships in the area?" asked Captain Bill "Owtlaw" Bradley of the Frigate Rehz'nor.
"That is more troublesome to determine," said Murg with a heavy sigh. "With so much Imperial and civilian traffic in and out of the area, it's difficult to catalogue each ship. And with Barand's forces constantly on the move…."
"It's suicide," said Captain Daly of the Regis. "There's no way that our squadrons can acquire the target and make it out safely, even with our support."
"We simply don't have the firepower, Major," said Commander Taggott of the Katarn's Claw. "I say we ask Admiral Vodani for proper support, and mount a full-scale assault."
"No," insisted Murg. "Most of the Sovereignty Task Force is otherwise engaged, and time is not on our side. The more people we involve, the more we risk having intel get out. Nobody outside of this room must know what we are planning. If we are going to act, we have to act now."
"What is the operation window?" asked Quelle.
"Estimates at best are twelve hours until the target has completed its repairs and resupply," said Murg. "Every minute we waste here arguing is a minute lost." He looked around to his peers and their weary faces. "But we won't get another chance like this. Not by a long shot."
Captain Quelle sighed and leaned back at an angle in his chair, rubbing his mouth with thought.
"There may be another way," he said after a minute. All eyes in the room turned to look at him. "But we'll need--"
Just then, a clattering sound followed by some chirps came from the vent in the ceiling. Lieutenant Colonel Reynolds leapt from his seat and climbed up on the briefing table. Using his hands, he pulled at the grate until it opened. As the lid swung back and forth, he reached inside until he was able to grab ahold of something. After some effort and much noise, his hand emerged from the vent, producing a BD-model droid.
"What in the blazes is that?..." asked Daly.
"How much has that droid heard?" said Bradley with concern.
The BD-model droid squirmed and chirped in the Lieutenant Colonel's hands.
"I think we've been compromised," said Captain Dey of the Black Hawk.
"No," said Reynolds as he stepped down from the table. "We haven't. I know this mischievous little droid." Everyone in the room looked at him. He, in turn, looked back hopefully at them. "And our mission may have gotten a whole lot easier. Bring up the inventory of Imperial ships in the area. We have a mission to plan."
[CRS Vigilant -- T-minus 11 hours]
"Come on, Talon," called Gremlin as she ran across the hangar deck of the Vigilant. "We don't have much time."
"I'm hurrying as fast as I can," said Talon, half-hopping, half-running behind her, struggling to put his boot on and zip up his flight suit. Major Chris "Animal" Stephen sprinted past him, as did several other pilots from Spectre and Buccaneer Squadrons. Squads of troopers were also making a mad dash for one of the three U-wing's attached to Spectre Squadron.
As Talon finally got his uniform to fit securely, he slapped on his fighter helmet and broke at full speed for his X-wing.
"Any idea what the mission is?" he asked over the comm to Gremlin as he plunked himself down in his X-wing's seat and began his pre-flight check-up.
"No idea," she said. "We'll be briefed in-flight I think."
"That you will," came Animal's voice over their radio frequency. "Okay flight, launch as soon as you're ready. We don't have much time."
[Mission Target -- T-minus 10.5 hours]
Lieutenant Wessex and her team surged forward into the docking tube of the Imperial transport as the side door of the first U-wing slid open. As they rounded the corner of the claustrophobic hallway, Imperial stormtroopers opened fire on her team. Their initial volley of shots missed, giving the New Republic commandos enough time to try and take what cover they could or find their targets. Blue rings of stun beams lanced out towards the white-clad stormtroopers, causing them to fall where they stood.
"A-team, move up," she said, motioning forward. "B-team, dispose of the troopers."
The small team of commandos raced forward towards their next target. They easily dispatched any stormtroopers that were in their path before quickly overtaking the bridge.
"Hyl," she said into her communicator, "Wessex. Target is secured. Inform the flight team."
"Copy, Lieutenant," said Hyl.
[Mission Target -- T-minus 9 hours]
As various types of starfighters took off from or landed on the main hangar bay deck of the Vigilant, Katlyn Thornwood walked down the shuttle ramp, duffle bag strung over her shoulder, ready for her first assignment. The familiar smells of chrome, durasteel, and oil immediately overwhelmed her olfactory senses, reminding her of her home aboard parents' shipping company platform.
To her, the main deck of the Vigilant looked like an organized mess. Flight and repair crews worked away on their crafts while other personnel briskly walked to and fro, retrieving parts or carrying reports to their superior officers. A supply cart zipped past her, beeping twice to watch out. It forced her to stop where she was momentarily before continuing.
To her right was an X-wing with most of its panels and compartments open. Two mechanics arguing with one another as to what step should be done next, or which parts needed to be replaced. She had half a mind to drop her belongings where she was and head to them to offer her technical assistance, and would have had the deck supervisor not stopped her.
"Second Lieutenant Thornwood?" asked the middle-aged man in khaki pants with a blue shirt and navy blue vest. He also wore the signature ovular helmet that many New Republic personnel wore.
"Reporting for du--," she began before she was cut off.
"Follow me, please," said the supervisor. "Quickly now, girl. You can't keep the Lieutenant Colonel waiting."
Miffed at the brusque behaviour of the supervisor, she maintained her outward composure and quickly fell in behind him at a brisk pace. They had made it half-way across the deck when she saw and heard an argument breaking out between the pilot, his astromech, and some of the flight crew servicing the X-wing.
"What do you mean the shield generator is on the fritz again?" barked the pilot from the top of the X-wing. "It was just repaired two days ago. I need it functioning now!"
"Here he is," said the deck supervisor as they stopped. "Be sure to introduce yourself," he said before jogging off to take care of another matter.
Katlyn stood where she was, continuing to listen to the argument.
"I don't care if the service technicians said everything checks out. The shield generator is broken. I need shields to fly!"
The pilot's astromech gave a series of chirps and whistles from where it was in its socket.
"Don't you start!" he said, pointing at the droid.
"Problems with your shield generator?" she cut in as she took a few steps nearer the X-wing. He twisted to look at her, revealing a brown-haired, square-jawed handsome face.
"You could say that," he said, taking in the latest addition to the Vigilant. The astromech gave another series of whoops and beeps, and Reynolds turned around to face him. "One more quip out of you, and I'll be sending you down to maintenance for a memory wipe."
"What exactly is the problem?" she asked.
Reynolds explained how the shield generator wasn't consistently maintaining a charge when he was flying, thus posing a risk.
"That's the problem?" she asked, dropping her duffel bag and making her way under the X-wing. Grabbing the metallic ladder, she began climbing to the top of the X-wing. "It's an easy fix," she said as she reached the top. "May I?"
"Be my guest," he said, standing up and carefully moving aside.
Deftly making her way to the shield generator on the top mid-section of the X-wing, she began to fiddle with the release hatch of one of the power cells. Pulling it out of its socket with some effort, she began inspecting the component and its housing. As she ran her hand near the copper connection bands, she was given a gentle static shock.
"Yeow!" she exclaimed, shaking her hand. "There's your problem," she said, looking at Reynolds. Reynolds gave her a puzzled look. "It's not the shield generator itself so much as the build-up of charge with the energy canister. Have your techs run a static discharge procedure to clear the buildup of electrons, then restart the generator sequence. With any luck, your shields won't fail."
Reynolds' head tilted slightly to the left. His astromech turned its dome to the two technicians below and gave a quick chirp, then turned to face Reynolds again and gave a few low and high-pitched hoots.
"Yeah," he said, looking at the droid with a nod. "She is good."
Setting the power cell back in its housing, she carefully made her way back to Reynolds and stuck out her hand.
"Second Lieutenant Katlyn Thornwood, reporting for duty."
"Lieutenant Colonel Reynolds," he said, sticking out a hand to shake hers. As they shook, she felt some grease exchange between their palms. "Sorry," he said with a quick chuckle.
"Thank you," she said with a smirk, "and don't worry about it. It wouldn't be a ship without getting some grease or oil on you sooner or later."
They climbed down the ladder and circled around the X-wing to retrieve her bag. He handed her a clean towelette to wipe her hands.
"Normally I'd be happy to give you the tour and save myself some paperwork," he said, "but as you can see we're rather busy. I read your profile from the Academy," he continued folding his arms together. "Pilots here don't get placed into Rogue Squadron when they arrive. We're all crusty veterans, but we earnt our crust." He gave here a pointed look "Sure you don't want to start in Spectre or Corsair? Lots of great pilots there who'd make you feel at home."
"I can appreciate the protocols you have in place," she said, "but I've already served with my training squadron at Chandrila, and excelled during my time with Orange Squadron. I'm sure you're also aware of my multiple commendations, not to mention my flying history."
Reynolds gave a sigh.
"If you had served with Typhoon Squadron, I might be more convinced. Commendations, medals, and fancy flying in race tournaments or stunt shows... while it looks impressive, it's no substitute for experience. Rogue Squadron gets the hardest assignments, there's a reason we don't accept 'fresh meat' and I'd hate to lose a promising pilot before they've learnt their real potential."
Without missing a beat she gave her response. "Sir," she said confidently, meeting his eyes. "I was born to fly. The New Republic needs pilots to end this war. I think Rogue will suit me just fine."
Reynolds shook his head and placed his hands on his hips. "Well," he said after a moment, waiving a hand in the air, "while I commend your enthusiasm if it were up to me you'd be starting elsewhere, unfortunately I can't countermand your orders. May as well get you settled then. Hey Jasted!" he called as a male pilot with brown hair walked by. The pilot turned to face him. "This is Second Lieutenant Thornwood, the new Rogue Two. Get her a rack."
Thornwood, K. read the plaque outside of the door that led to her quarters.
"Here we are," said Nick "Jasted" Finelli from behind her. "I'll give you a few minutes to unpack."
The door hissed open, and Katlyn stepped inside of her new home. Being the only female pilot in the undermanned squadron, she quickly realized, meant that she got the room to herself. Which, after years of sharing rooms with her siblings, was a small creature comfort for her. At the very least she didn't have to worry about surprise pillow fight attacks that she would have to fend off.
As the door closed behind her, Jasted waiting patiently outside, she took in the room. The room was so … white. So sterile. So … neat.
A bunk was placed on either side of the room, neatly arranged with perfectly placed blankets and pillows. What she assumed was her bunk had a neatly-folded flight suit, a pair of black boots and black gloves, and a brand-new helmet that was the now familiar New Republic flight helmet. Gold New Republic insignias placed on either side of the helmet framed in white, with a gold-on-white strip running down the center of the helmet, the rest of which was sky blue.
It didn't take her long to change or put her belongings away. The flight suit was tailored to her dimensions and fit perfectly. Her boots were stiff and yet to be broken in, but had padding so comfortable that she felt she was walking on clouds. Pulling her snug gloves on, she reached for her duffel bag, tossed it into the closet, and picked up her helmet. It was just then that she caught sight of herself in the small mirror on the wall. She looked just the way that she wanted to. Neat. Orderly. Perfect.
"If you don't mind my saying so," said Jasted as she exited the room, her helmet tucked under her arm, "you look like you were born for that flight suit."
She tried to stifle her excitement, but a small smile crept along the corners of her mouth.
"Thank you, sir," she said.
"We'll get you set up with the rest of your flight gear later," said Jasted as he gestured for them to keep moving down the hall. "In the meantime, I want to test your skill with some of the other Renegade Wing pilots in the simulation room."
[Mission Target -- T-minus 8.5 hours -- Simulation Room]
"I keep telling you, man," said Andy "Bulldog" Clark as he stood outside of one of the simulation pods, "they need to update the software in these pods."
"It's not gonna happen," countered Roy "Lock" Callahan from the seat inside his. "No way will they do updates for barrage rockets and seeker mines anytime soon. Besides, it would mess with the results for the historic missions."
Bulldog was about to make up some excuse for his counter-counter argument when he heard the doors hiss open. In walked Jasted, and what could have passed for an angel in pilot's clothing.
"Hello," he said aloud. "Who do we have here?"
"Must be the new pilot," said Lock, twisting to get a look. "I heard she's straight out of the academy or something."
She looked to be in her early to mid-twenties, dressed in brand new pilot regalia. The flight suit hinted at her athletic form, while her wavy-red hair was tied up in a bun with the exception of a portion that extended part-way down the right side of her face.
"And jumping straight into Rogue Squadron? She must be one hell of a pilot. Best go introduce myself."
Lock shook his head in disbelief and amusement. "Don't say anything stupid," he called to Bulldog.
Bulldog pivoted to face Lock and gave him a wink. "Hey," he said, shrugging his shoulders and raising his arms, "it's me." Pivoting around again he made his way over to Jasted and the new arrival.
He didn't, of course, see Lock motioning to the other pilots in the room to turn their attention to Bulldog.
"Good morning, First Lieutenant Finelli," said Bulldog with a toothy smile. "And who do we have here?"
Jasted stopped giving instructions to the female pilot and turned his attention.
"Hey Bulldog. I'd like to introduce you to Katlyn Thornwood. She's the--"
"The new recruit? So I've heard." He turned his attention towards her. "You must be pretty brave to want to join Rogue Squadron straight out of the Academy."
Katlyn didn't immediately respond, instead taking a few seconds to eye Bulldog over and size him up.
"Bravado is one thing," she said when she was done. "I more or less see myself as talented and skilled enough to be a part of Rogue Squadron."
Bulldog shot Jasted a quick wink, who in turn just rolled his eyes in response, and motioned towards one of the empty simulation pods.
"Why don't we get started then? See how talented you really are? If you'll excuse us First Lieutenant…." Bulldog and Thornwood began to walk towards the nearest pod that was empty.
"Took me a lot of hard work to gain entry into Rogue. Worked my way up through the ranks before they finally accepted me. Then I turned out to be so good I was promoted and moved to be the XO of Bucc so I stopped making the rest of the Rogues look bad." Thornwood said nothing as she entered the simulation pod, strapping herself in. "I hear they have an older setup at the Academy. Not as fancy as one of these new babies," he continued, patting the metal of the pod a few times. "Sure I can't show you how to use this type of hardware?"
Thornwood looked up to see his suggestive glance, a smug smile on his face.
"To you I may be a Second Lieutenant, Captain Clark," she said. "But I assure you, I know my way around how to use a stick in a cockpit." It was then that he saw her eyebrow raise in amusement. "Are you sure you know how to use both of yours?" she quipped.
The pilots who happened to be nearby and listening to their conversation began hooting and laughing at this last comment. Bulldog's face blushed a slight red before he tried to recover himself, and shot them dirty looks.
"Alright, hotshot," he said, folding his arms. "Let's see what you're really made of."
He awoke in darkness, a sharp pain in his chest. His throat felt dry, and he could feel the all-too familiar sting of tears forming in his eyes.
He'd dreamed of her again. It was the same dream he'd been having since his baptism as the newest member of Rogue Squadron. Her voice played over and over in his mind.
I have wonderful news to tell you, she had said.
He remembered every detail. Her face. Her eyes. Her final words. Jalb and the other Rogues trying to pull him out of the Vigilant's Lounge as he yelled in pain and horror at what had happened.
Two small blue eyes, the only source of light in the room, stared at him from someplace near the ceiling vent. BD-B2 gave a low whistle.
"Bee-Two," he said hoarsely, wiping the tears from his eyes. "What are you?..."
The eyes jumped down from the ceiling and onto some nearby furniture. The little droid gave a quick two-note chirp as he reached the panel near the door. White light flooded the room, temporarily blinding him.
"Ahh!" he said, shutting his eyes, waiting for them to adjust to the light in the room. Instead of giving a tittering laugh, the droid remained silent. As mischievous as BD-B2 was known to be, he hadn't played any games or tricks on Andrew since Dia had left them. Instead, the little droid gave a hoot to indicate the time.
"Well … shit," he said, rubbing his eyes. He wouldn't have enough time to get to the mess hall to eat something before his patrol shift. And he'd secretly eaten through half of his ration container stored in his X-wing for crash-landing survival due to being late all the other times for shifts or missions.
As his vision cleared, he turned to look at the table adjacent to his bunk. A small box labeled ‘Dia "Summer" Tann' rested there. Sitting up and throwing his blanket off, he sighed and rubbed his eyes. After a few seconds, he stood up to walk to the open closet where his flight suit hung. He hurried to put it on, ignoring the stench of sweat, followed by his flight boots. Reaching for his helmet, he grabbed it and turned to leave.
But his feet wouldn't move. He looked down at his flight helmet, and turned it over. Along its ridges were scores of symbols indicating all the pilots and ships he'd taken down since joining the Rebel Alliance those years ago. Since he'd met her. He'd gladly trade all those in for just another minute with her.
"Bee-Two," he said after several seconds. He turned back to stare at the box. The droid hopped down and made his way towards Andrew, then intuitively clamored up his flight suit until he was resting partly on his back, partly on his shoulder. It wasn't the first time they had done this.
Andrew opened the box with his right hand, revealing all that remained of her belongings. A few personal items and trinkets were neatly placed in the box. There, too, was the expensive perfume Gremlin had procured for him before their shore leave together a few months back. Next to it, the protective case that concealed the wedding proposal ring with its ruby-red stone and gleaming gold band. Next to that, the holo puck of her last message to him.
And on top of everything else lay her wooden Twi'lek kalikori.
He reached in to remove it. Holding it up out of the box, it made a gentle clacking noise as the pieces moved and connected with one another rhythmically.
"Play the message," he said quietly.
Bee-Two hesitated for a moment. Andrew glanced at the droid.
"Please," he croaked, his throat dry.
Giving what must have been a quiet sigh, B2 began to play the message. The half-foot blue image of Dia appeared on the tabletop. B2's antennae drooped at the sight of her.
"Andrew," came her all-too familiar voice. Her eyes and face positioned slightly upward to look at him. "I know that scheduling has prevented us from spending time together this last little while." Andrew felt his hand clench the kalikori tighter. He heard the rest of her words, but his mind was numb to them. "... but I still want you to know," she continued, "My answer is.…"
"Stop," he said. The image froze in place, fresh tears forming once more in his eyes and making their way down his cheeks.
With all his might, he threw his helmet across the room, giving a curse or two in the process. It bounced off the wall, skidding to a stop after it lost momentum.
Clutching the kalikori, he sank to his knees. Bee-Two cut off the image of Dia and hopped down from his perch, walking around slowly to face Andrew.
Tears blinded him as he met the droid's eyes. "Why?" was the only thing he could croak out between sobs. "Why, Bee-Two?"
Bee-Two gave a low hoot, and gently placed a foot on Andrew's knee. Andrew reached out to place a gloved hand on B2's foot. They sat like that, consoling one another, until he realized he couldn't be late for another patrol flight. Moving to stand up, he gently placed the kalikori in its box and closed the lid. Retrieving his helmet, he left his quarters with BD-B2 in tow.
"About time you showed up," grumbled Jalb as Andrew made his way to his X-wing. The flight technicians were finishing their inspection and fueling of the craft. "You do realize that if you're late one more time, I'll have to put you on tug duty, right?"
Andrew managed to mumble a quick apology as he began inspecting his craft, as per the usual routine. His astromech, Io, hooted and whistled at him as he was lowered down into the X-wing.
"And as for you my little friend," he heard Jalb say from behind him, "are you ready for your mission?"
Mission? Andrew thought. What mission? He turned to see BD-B2 give a titter and nod to Reynolds before climbing up onto Reynolds' shoulder. The droid never did that with anyone else. Something was definitely off.
"What are you?--" he began to ask.
"I wouldn't worry about it, Major. Bee-Two here has … volunteered, shall we say, his services for a very important mission. Isn't that right, Bee-Two?"
B2 gave an enthusiastic chirp.
Andrew eyed Reynolds coolly, placing a hand and foot on the run and guide bar of the metal ladder that led up to the X-wing's cockpit. He pointed a finger at Jalb.
"I want that droid back in one piece," he said firmly but perhaps a bit too tersely. Jalb cleared his throat. "Sir," Andrew finished, more mildly.
"Don't worry," Jalb said. "He won't get a scratch."
Andrew continued up the ladder and plopped himself down into his seat. He flick a few switches to begin checking his systems.
"By the way," Jalb said, "there's a meeting with the other Rogues after your patrol is over. I expect you to be there on time, otherwise--"
"Otherwise you'll give me tug duty," Andrew finished flatly, looking down at him. With that, the canopy closed around him. As the engines whirred to life, Andrew reached for a canteen in one of the compartments of the cockpit, unscrewed the cap, and took a few sips. The water was warm, but it would have to suffice. Placing it back in the compartment, he wiped his lips and began taking off, following the directions of the flight crew member below waving the red and green pylons at him.
He exited the hangar and fell into a standard patrol formation around the Vigilant and its supporting ships, though he paid little mind to anything else.
[T-minus 5 hours until mission]
"I don't believe it," sighed Flight Officer Teondu "Trip" Van Tibl from where he sat at the table. Tossing his cards on the table in front of him, he watched as the small pile of credits was dragged away.
"You'd better believe it," said 1st Lieutenant Kell "Dragon" Arcfire as he began shuffling the deck of cards again. "If her card playing is anything like her flying, she's got most of us beat."
"I suppose that would be the case," said First Lieutenant Sigured "Battledog" Stormhand, "given her recent transfer into Rogue Squadron."
Katlyn remained silent, not breaking her poker face. She was, however, rather amused at the reactions of those around her.
"Beginners luck," said Bulldog as he pulled up a chair to the table, a drink in hand. "Deal me in."
Dragon gave a smirk and winked at Katlyn.
"You sure you want to do that, Bulldog?" he asked. "She thumped you pretty soundly in the simulator room."
"Like I said," Bulldog said flatly, staring directly at Katlyn. "Beginners luck. She won't beat me at sabacc, though."
Gremlin shot Bulldog an amused look. Second Lieutenant Rosk "Silence" Vikeron raised an eyebrow.
"Oh really?" Gremlin said. "You do realize that sabacc is purely a game of chance, right?"
"It can be," said Bulldog. "But I've had lady luck on my side with sabacc lately. No way she'll let me down now."
Dragon began distributing the cards. The players picked them up and began arranging them in their hands.
"Bets start at ten credits," Dragon said as he finished doling out the cards. The card players added to the pile. "I'll raise to twenty," he said after looking at his hand.
"I fold," said a disheartened Trip as he threw his cards down on the table.
"I see your twenty," said Bulldog after the first turn, "and raise you … thirty," he said, confidently tossing credit chits into the pile on the middle of the table. The game continued on for a few more rounds, the players adding more to the pot while adding or subtracting cards.
Katlyn's eyes, however, focused solely on Bulldog.
"I raise … fifty," she said, tossing a credit chit into the pile.
Bulldog gave a slight chuckle and matched her bet.
"I fold," said Silence.
"Same," said Gremlin. "Too rich for my hand."
"I'm out," said Dragon, tossing his cards down.
It was down to Katlyn and Bulldog. She continued to eye him coolly.
"Read them and weep," Bulldog said as he laid his five cards down. "Twenty-three points even. A Pure Sabacc. I believe this is mine," he said.
"Impressive," Katlyn replied in a relaxed tone as Bulldog made to scoop up the pile of credits. She reached out her free hand to stop him from dragging the credits away. "But," she said, revealing her cards, "I believe this hand trumps yours."
She saw Bulldog look at the new cards splayed on the table. His mouth dropped open.
In front of Katlyn lay an Idiot's Array.
"And I believe," she said, scooping up the credits, "that these are mine." A small but highly amused smile appeared on Katlyn's face as she broke her poker face.
"But I," Bulldog said, "... you … how?"
"I've been from one side of the galaxy to the other. Played my fair share of sabacc games. Looks like lady luck is on my side today," Katlyn said as she began neatly arranging the credits into small piles. "That's twice today I beat you, Bulldog." She stopped piling the credits together and leaned forward. "Would you like to try to go for a best out of five?"
The rest of the pilots began laughing. Bulldog's face momentarily turned a slight shade of red.
"If you'll excuse me," he said, picking up his mug. "I, uh, have some important paperwork to make somebody else do."
The laughter continued as Bulldog walked out of the Lounge. Dragon, Trip, and Battledog excused themselves, leaving Gremlin and Silence sitting at the table across from Katlyn.
"You've been here but a few hours," Gremlin said to her, "and you're acting like you have the run of the place. What do you think of her, Si?"
Looking at Katlyn, Silence quickly sized her up.
"She's new. Unknown. But," Silence said as she began collecting the cards, "I could grow to like her. In time. Maybe even trust her."
"Oh, just ignore the Second Lieutenant," Gremlin said. "She's just being overprotective. I, on the other hand, think it's great to have another woman on board who knows what she's doing."
Katlyn gave the red-skinned purple-haired Zeltron a small laugh.
"Thank you," she said, "but I have a lot of experience with people. I've seen as much as anyone would want to in a lifetime. Know how to handle myself in some situations, and usually get out of scrapes in others," she said as she pocketed her winnings. "Well, most of the time."
"Sounds to me," Gremlin said, "like you're a well-traveled person. What squadron did you transfer from?"
"Orange Squadron," said Katlyn as she pocketed the last of her winnings. "As of today, I'm the new Rogue Two."
Silence stopped collecting cards and glanced at both Katlyn and Gremlin. Gremlin, in turn, bit her lip.
"What?" Katlyn asked, curious at their reactions.
"It's a bit of a long story," Gremlin said after a moment. "But the Rogues lost a lot of good people a few weeks back."
"And had their name smeared across the galaxy to boot," cut in Silence. "New Republic politicians have been doing damage control since then with mixed results."
"I've heard about some of that," Katlyn said, "but the Holo Net took down most of the original transmissions. What happened, exactly?"
"The long and short of everything," Gremlin said, trying to be polite, "is that the Rogues were set up. Some of them were captured and … well, murdered is the more optimal word for it. See that man sitting in the corner holo chess table?" Gremlin said, glancing over her shoulder.
Katlyn glanced over her right shoulder and saw a thirty-something male pilot in his flight suit, slouched with a closed fist pressed against his cheek, playing holo chess by himself against the AI. It looked like he was losing -- badly, at that.
"That's Major Dobson. Callsign is ‘Dobber'," Gremlin continued. "He was the only one who survived and made it into Rogue Squadron out of the entire lot."
"Tough break," Katlyn said. Although she'd only been in the New Republic navy for a few months, she'd lost her share of friends. Not to mention her civilian friends while flying in aerobatic performances. It hurt every time, but she'd found ways to deal with it and move on.
"It's a hard thing to lose your friends," Gremlin said.
"And harder still to lose someone you care about more than anything," Silence continued.
"And I take it," Katlyn said as the realization dawned on her, "whoever occupied Rogue Two before me … well, they were more than friends, weren't they?"
"She was," Gremlin finished. "But out of respect for the Major, that's not our story to tell. It's his, when he's ready."
Katlyn glanced over Gremlin's shoulder once more. Even if she didn't know the man, he was soon to be her wingmate. She felt sympathetic for him. She was about to ask Gremlin something else when a voice came over the intercom.
"Attention, attention. All Rogue Squadron pilots report to Briefing Room One immediately."
Gremlin and Silence exchanged glances.
"A mission already?" Gremlin said. "Good luck!"
The Major shuffled past them, heading towards the exit.
"Which way to the, ah--" Katlyn began as she got up.
"Just follow the Major," Gremlin said. "It's not that far, and you shouldn't get lost."
"Just make sure you don't look like you're stalking him," Silence said abruptly. "Just … you know … walk casually. Like a normal person."
Katlyn cocked her head with a puzzled look. Gremlin shot Silence an exasperated look.
"Ignore the Lieutenant," Gremlin said. "Just follow the Major. And I'll want to hear about your flight as soon as you get back!" Gremlin called as Katlyn began to follow Major Dobson out of the room.
Jalb was waiting for them at the entryway to the briefing room.
"Dobber," he said, hands on his hips. "Good to see you on time."
"Uh-huh," mumbled Dobber before entering the room.
"Thornwood," Jalb said crisply as she approached him.
"Sir," she said, stopping and saluting.
"At ease," he said, returning her salute. "We're not so … formal, in some instances like this."
"Right, sir. Sorry, sir," Katlyn said.
Jalb paused briefly, then asked her, "Are you really sure you're up for this? Because once you step through those doors, there's no turning back."
"Sir," said Katlyn, meeting his eyes, "I know the circumstances around my being here are … unique. But I wouldn't be here if I didn't want to make a difference."
Reynolds crossed his arms across his chest.
"Wanting to make a difference and having bravado are one thing. But it can also get a person killed." He met her squarely in the eyes. "There's no shame in sitting this one out and waiting for the next mission."
"Lieutenant-Colonel," she said firmly, taking a step forward. She looked up to meet his challenge. "I was born to fly."
"There really is no stopping you from doing this, is there?" he asked.
"No," she said, full confidence in her voice. "I can do this."
A smile came across Reynolds' face.
"Good," he said, then thumbed in towards the briefing room. "Let's get started."
[T-minus 4.5 hours until mission]
Dobber sat half-attentive, half-slouched in his seat. Everyone else from Rogue Squadron was there, including the new female pilot he had seen in the Lounge earlier. Captain Quelle was present, as were a few security officers. Oddly enough, the squadron leaders from every squadron on the Vigilant were present as well.
The door hissed shut behind Reynolds as he entered, who then pressed the console next to it to lock the door.
"Good afternoon, everyone," said Captain Quelle. "First, I'd like to acknowledge the newest member of Rogue Squadron. Welcome aboard, Second Lieutenant Katlyn Thornwood. I hope you understand that a more formal introduction will have to wait until our mission is concluded."
Dobber glanced over and saw Katlyn nod her head in understanding.
The lights in the room dimmed, and the holo projector sprung to life. The familiar grid pattern came up, and the layout of the current ships in the task force winked to life, as did nearby moons and planets.
"We've been presented with an opportunity that is too good to pass up. One that can deal a significant blow to Barand's forces, as well as help the New Republic end the war more quickly," said Quelle.
Dobber began to lose interest in the briefing and gave a quiet yawn, covering his mouth.
The briefing panel changed to show a nebulous area. The circular patterned symbol of a shield gate appeared, as did numerous icons for other ships in the area.
"Based on our intel, we anticipate that the shield gate will be protected by…"
His mind turned to the night on the beach, the fireworks and the cool breeze coming in off the water.
"...the shield gate also has its own defence system…"
Her warm body pressed against his, her head nestled against his chest and shoulder.
"... the Vigilant, Regis, and Waverunner," continued Quelle as the ships changed position and slid across the screen, "will engage the shield gate directly to draw fire away from our fighters…"
His mind turned to the private moment they shared in the cave during the dive with the dolphins.
"... will position themselves to maintain a defensive perimeter…"
Stupid Gungan, Dobber thought callously, ruining the moment.
"... Buccaneer Squadron will be responsible for supporting our frigates…"
The grid map looked entirely different by now. He had seen but hadn't fully absorbed the changes in icons that had taken place.
"Spectre and half of Corsair Squadron," Quelle continued, "will provide support…"
He thought of their night inside the apartment, she tipsy with wine and full of chocolate. Her warm mouth and body pressing against his. He yearned for that moment, even if it was a memory now.
"I would also like to emphasize," said Quelle. But Dobber only half-heard the rest, his attention phasing in and out with other memories of his time together with Dia. "As for Rogue Squadron...."
His chest felt tight again. His throat was dry.
"Given her history, skill, and experience, Captain Supriya and part of her Jade Group," Quelle droned on.
What I wouldn't give to not be here right now, Dobber thought privately.
"... make a run for the shield gate…"
Gripping the arm of the chair rest, he clenched it, feeling the stress build throughout his body.
Not here. Not anywhere.
"... a short micro jump to your destination..."
The screen shifted once more to show an Imperial supply depot and repair station. An Imperial Star Destroyer was nestled next to it, as were a handful of other ships, civilian and Imperial.
"This is the supply and repair depot in Sector 20 of the system. And this Star Destroyer you see," Quelle said slowly, "is the Monarch."
The name of the Star Destroyer caught Dobber's attention. That's Captain Gaspra's ship! Unclenching his hands, he sat up and paid more attention, the red light from the Star Destroyer's image spilling across his face.
"Command has given the task of capturing the Monarch and its crew. If successful, we'll effectively accomplish two goals: removing one of Barand's most dangerous lieutenants from his command, and capture a Star Destroyer for Project Starhawk."
Murmurs arose from the pilots. Someone from his right raised their hand.
"Pardon me for asking, sir," said Lock, "but what good will a half squadron of Rogues and a small task force do against that?"
"As you know, after our last engagement with Barand's forces," Quelle continued, "the Monarch suffered damage and the loss of almost half of its TIE complement. While we anticipate that some of these repairs have been completed, the warship is waiting to receive new replacements for the fighters lost.
We've dispatched a strike team, which will rendezvous with a special operative, to infiltrate the Monarch and disable its critical systems. Should they be unsuccessful, it will be up to the Rogues and Jade Group to do what damage they can before we arrive.
Your starfighters are being specially equipped and modified for this mission. SLAM engines, proton and ion torpedoes, and mag pulses for Rogue Squadron. Quick-lock and cluster missiles for Corsair. Jade Squadron will be equipped with a variety of tools to offer support as needed, but I must emphasize the critical importance of protecting the U-wings and Y-wings, as well as Captain Supriya's modified corvette, the Emerald Crown. They'll be critical for a successful mission. Any questions?"
No one said a thing.
"This is a high priority and classified mission," Quelle said sternly. "Tell no one. Squadron leaders, you will brief your pilots en route once they deploy. Launch time is under the next four standard hours. Dismissed."
The holograms disappeared and the lights came back up in the room. The pilots moved out of their seats and shuffled towards the exit. Jalb was having a quick conversation with Syntax, the droid leader of Corsair Squadron. Each nodded their heads in agreement, then Syntax walked off towards the doorway.
"Major," Reynolds said as Dobber approached the doorway, falling in step with him as they exited they room. "I trust you understand the importance of this mission?"
"I do," he said. He hadn't felt this awake about a mission in weeks.
"Can I trust you to do nothing short of your best?"
"Sir," Dobber said, meeting his face, "right now, I feel like I could take down that Star Destroyer myself."
"That's the spirit," said Jalb, giving him a slap on the back. "There's one more thing," he said as they continued forward. "Second Lieutenant Thornwood … she's your responsibility during this mission."
"My," sputtered Dobber, "but she just…"
"No arguing," said Jalb, pointing a finger at him. "I need you focused, and despite her surprisingly stellar record, I need you watching her back. This is her first mission with us."
Dobber glanced back to see Thornwood trailing behind them, just out of earshot.
"Let me guess," Dobber said with a hint of sarcasm, "if I don't, I'm on tug duty."
"No," said Jalb firmly. "If you don't, and anything happens to her, I will personally kick your ass and recommend you be assigned to the most frigid planet in the middle of nowhere that I can find."
"Is Hoth an option?" Dobber quipped. "I served on Hoth. It doesn't get much more--"
"Hoth is not an option," Jalb said tersely. "You know what? Scratch that. I'm going to assign you to Dantooine. No, wait. Crait. Yes, hard labour on Crait. I love this idea already."
Dobber gave a sigh. He knew when he couldn't win. And against Jalb, that seemed to be most of the time anyway.
"Alright," he said. "But I need you covering my back."
"Oh, that won't be a problem. Since you've joined Rogue, my kill count has been growing exponentially due to your stupidity."
"Seriously though," Jalb said, stopping him. "I need you. The real you out there. Don't settle for less than your very best."
"Rogue's honor," Dobber said as he glanced at Thornwood, who was growing closer to them. He looked at Jalb again and shrugged. "If that still counts for anything these days."
"It does, despite the media campaign," Jalb said. "Now, get to the hangar and prep your ship."
With that, Jalb left. It was only a few seconds later before Katlyn caught up with him.
"Major Dobson," she said, "I'm --"
"Second Lieutenant Thornwood," replied Dobber. "I know," he said, perhaps a bit too sharply. "How long have you been flying?"
"A few months, sir," she answered.
"A few months?" he asked, a bit bewildered. "How'd you make it to Rogue?"
"Personal commendations and recommendations from my former superior officers. I've been flying personally and professionally since I was old enough to pilot a starship or racecraft."
"A racer and a starfighter are two completely separate things," he said as they continued to walk.
"But the skills, more or less, are the same. Precision, situational awareness--"
"Aerobatics is different from combat," he countered.
"Only if you treat them differently," she said, beginning to walk again. "If you synthesize each talent, it can prove useful."
"Possibly," he said. "But fancy flying is no replacement if you and your wingman don't work together. Which I hope you do."
"Can I ask you a question?"
"No reason not to," he said flatly.
"Are you this much of an asshole to everyone?"
He stopped, shocked. Not so much at the question, but at the truth behind it. Secretly, he knew he was not behaving as he should. Dia would never have tolerated this behaviour from him. Ever.
"No," he said after a moment. She stopped, turning to face him. "No, I'm not. I'm … I'm sorry. I've…."
"Look," she said, waving her hand, "I'm sorry you lost someone important to you. I've lost people I care about, too."
Dobber bit his lip, trying his best to keep his emotions in check.
"But there's one thing you need to know about me," she said, taking her pilot helmet and pressing it firmly against his chest. "I was born to fly. And not you or anyone else will tell me otherwise. I can hold my own -- can you?"
Dobber took a moment to consider his reply.
"I can," he said, finally. "And seeing as how I outrank you," he said, forcefully moving the helmet away from his chest, "you're going to stick to me like glue while we're out there. Understood?"
There was a pause before her next words broke the momentary tension between them. "Yes, sir," she bit coldly at him before turning to walk away.
As Dobber watched her go, he was certain of one thing: push Katlyn hard enough, and she could be just as fierce as Dia was.
[T-minus 1 hour until mission launch]
Lieutenant Wessex peered out of the main viewport window of the captured transport. The last-minute rendezvous to fetch their small metallic companion had almost thrown them off schedule, but it wasn't anything that a few quick hyperjumps couldn't fix. Wessex watched as the shield gate loomed closer, the BD unit watching in equal amazement on the back of a chair near her.
"Showtime," she whispered quietly to herself, ready to hold her breath.
"Transport Two-Three-One-Nine," came a voice over the comm. "Transmit your code clearance and destination."
"Copy, Control," said one of the New Republic troopers piloting the freighter. "Destination is Sector 20 Outpost. Transmitting clearance code now."
As the signal was sent out, the shield gate loomed closer. A trail of ships were both entering and exiting from the gaping rectangular hole into the maw that lay ahead. She'd heard that shield gates were rather larger; this one was enormous.
I wonder where they got the credits to build this thing, she thought privately.
"Transport Two-Three-One-Nine," came the voice again over the radio. "We require verbal confirmation of the clearance code."
Everyone in the cockpit exchanged nervous glances.
"Is there a problem, Control? The code should check out."
"Transport," drawled the voice once more, "please confirm your clearance code or you will not be permitted entry through the shield gate."
The trooper at the main console pressed the communication button once more.
"Clearance code is Sigma-Delta-Oh-Six-Seven-Theta," he said.
There was a momentary pause over the radio. Then a terse voice.
"Transport Two-Three-One-Nine, change course for Docking Bay One, and prepare for immediate inspection and boarding."
Everyone's eyes widened at this news. Wessex saw a pair of TIE Fighters break formation and began heading towards them.
"Sithspit, what now?" Wessex asked.
The first trooper spun around to look at her, bewildered. The second fumbled for a small device in the bag nestled between the pilot seats. His eyes widening, he slammed his open palm against the communications button.
"Uh, negative Control," he said.
Wessex wondered if this would indeed be how she met her end as the TIE Fighters grew closer. She also swore she saw some of the main turbolaser batteries rotating to face them.
"Hold a moment. Clearance code confirmation is … Sigma-Delta-Oh-Six-One-Theta," he said.
Several seconds passed where nothing was said. Suddenly, the TIE Fighters broke off and away from the transport.
"Clearance code confirmed," came the voice over the channel.
Everyone in the cockpit, including BD-B2, gave a sigh of relief.
"Is everything alright, Transport?" came the voice again.
"Uh, everything's fine, Control," said the co-pilot nervously. "My partner here just can't seem to remember the right numbers sometimes. Easily confuses ones with sevens." There was a brief pause before the co-pilot spoke again with a nervous laugh. "Co-workers … am I right?"
Wessex could have shot both of them right then and there.
"I hear you, Transport," said the control tower voice again. "Safe travels."
The transport pressed on, increasing its speed just enough to match the rest heading towards the opening.
Fifteen minutes later, they had made their way through the nebula, making sure to follow the beacons and other transports carefully. After that, it was only a short micro jump until they arrived at Sector 20.
"Here we go," said Wessex as they exited hyperspace. The Star Destroyer and station loomed ahead of them. Their flight path changed so that they made their way carefully towards the main hangar of the Star Destroyer.
"Star Destroyer Monarch," said the co-pilot. "This is Transport Two-Three-One-Nine. Requesting clearance for landing."
"Copy, transport," came the voice over the console. "Proceed heading two-mark-seven-one. Our tractor beams will guide you in."
It wasn't long before they were being guided in by the two dishes at the edge of the main hangar bay.
"Be ready for anything," Wessex said to the pilots. She then turned to B2. "Showtime, my little friend."
BD-B2 gave a quick chirp, then hopped down from the chair and scurried after Wessex. She arrived in the main cargo bay where her comrades were waiting, all dressed in Imperial Stormtrooper and Imperial Officer regalia. Some of the deck plates were scattered along the floor, revealing compartments below.
In these compartments lay crates and gear that they had brought with them: repeating blasters, explosives, thermal detonators, and an E-web cannon that they'd been gifted for the mission. In the event that they couldn't complete the mission, they would at least be able to give the Imperials something to think about. Hopefully.
"Better cover those up," she said, and the troopers did. "Alright, everyone remember the plan?"
Those in front of her nodded.
"No sudden moves, stay calm. And protect Bee-Two at all costs. Bee-Two," she said, looking down at him. The little droid looked up at her. "Be careful, and make sure you upload that virus through a safe console."
The droid chirped an affirmative.
She felt the ship shake as it landed on the deck of the main hangar.
"Okay," she said, slipping on her stormtrooper helmet. The hydraulics of the main ramp activated as it began its descent. "It's showtime."
"Scramble!" came the voice over the shipwide intercoms as the klaxons wailed. "Scramble!"
Pilots from every squadron ran down the lengthy hallway towards the locker areas where their gear was stored, hurrying to get ready and make their way to their individual starfighters.
"Anyone know what this is about?" called Second Lieutenant Jack "Frosty" McCauley.
"No idea," said Silence as she slipped on her helmet.
"Must be important if we're all being scrambled," said Dragon, zipping up his flight suit.
"Scramble!" continued the voice over the intercom. "Scramble!"
The pilots trickled out of the locker rooms in pairs of two or three, each dashing down the flight deck towards their craft. The maintenance crews were waiting for them, giving them the rundown of any modifications and important information they needed to know.
Rogue Squadron was the first to launch as they'd been ready for some time. The remaining pilots were given immediate clearance for launch and guided out as quickly as possible by the flight crews.
Once each squadron was out, a quick roll call was given and they took up a defensive formation around the Vigilant. Each received a set of hyperspace coordinates from the cruiser.
"All ships, this is Captain Quelle. Squadron leaders, you are cleared to brief your pilots once we make the jump to hyperspace. Prepare to make the jump to hyperspace on my mark."
Katlyn flicked some of her console buttons, ensuring everything was in good working order one last time. Hound, her astromech, sat in his port, ready to assist at any moment. Letting out a cool breath, she placed her left hand on her hyperdrive mechanism.
"Mark," said Captain Quelle.
Ships around her began to speed ahead, and as she pulled back on her lever, the stars turned to blue-white streaks, and her craft surged forward with the rest.
[Shield Gate -- Imperial Sector]
Commander Nar Paedron watched the steady stream of ships line up and move towards the shield gate from the main control tower. He was probably one of the few Imperial Officers competent enough to have not only earned his rank and position, but been good enough to keep it. It wasn't that he wasn't ambitious -- he was only as ambitious as he needed and wanted to be. If anything, he was content where he was.
True, he was thankful that Tol Barand had considered -- no, trusted -- him with the honor of running the brand new and very expensive shield gate to help regulate trade in the system. To him, it was a symbol of order and stability. Of safety, and prosperity not just for the Imperial forces, but the ordinary citizens of the star system as well. Most importantly, it offered them a form of protection against the burgeoning New Republic.
Of course, that line of thinking came to a crashing halt as he saw the first Corellian-class corvette screech out of hyperspace, followed by a Nebulon-B frigate, a Mon Calamari cruiser, several squadrons of New Republic fighters, then the rest of the task force.
"Uh, sir?!" said one of the officers near him.
Well … sithspit, he cursed to himself quietly. He watched as a modified corvette and supporting craft emerged from hyperspace adjacent to the main attack force.
"Scramble all TIE Fighters," he barked. "Have those on patrol intercept any New Republic craft that come nearby. Activate all turbolaser cannons, and have them fire at will." The control tower lit up as officers and work crews scurried to their duties and relayed messages to other station sections. "And for goodness sake, close the damn shield gate!"
POV -- Captain Quelle
Quelle sat in the main bridge chair, observing the area with intense scrutiny. The comms officer opened up a frequency to hail all ships in the area.
"Civilian ships, this is Captain Terak Quelle of the New Republic cruiser Vigilant. You are advised to clear the area and move to a safe distance. Repeat, you must move to a safe distance away from the combat zone. You will not be warned again." He turned and motioned for the comms officer to switch channels.
It was at that moment that Jade Group exited hyperspace and began making their way towards the shield gate.
"All fighters, this is Vigilant Actual. Engage as per your orders." Quelle watched as the X-wings from Rogue Squadron dove past the main viewport. "And may the Force be with you."
POV -- Katlyn
"Alright, Rogues!" barked Reynolds. "Shields double-front, full power to engines. Let's move!"
Twisting her flight stick, she curved her X-wing across the bow of the Mon Calamari cruiser and dove downwards towards the shield gate, accelerating at full throttle. The Corsairs were slightly faster, and managed to inch their way ahead of them. Behind her were the rest of the Rogues, not to mention half of Jade Group.
A hail of turbolaser fire rose towards them, pairs of TIE Fighters screaming around the edge of the fire, trying to box them in and pick them off.
Civilian craft of all classes and designations scrambled to either get through the shield gate, or pull up and out of the way of the oncoming craft.
"We're too tight!" Reynolds spat. "Loosen up or we'll get slaughtered!"
The starfighters did their best to loosen up, but it wasn't easy. One of the Corsair A-wings was hit, and its right engine began to spew black smoke. The pilot was barely able to break off with a twist and roll away to safety.
As she slid around a heavy freighter, the lead Y-wing ahead of her exploded into a ball of fire, while her starfighter was also tagged by a main turbolaser battery shot. She let out a cry of surprise as her shields melted away. It was as she tried to evade and send more energy to her shields that she saw the second shot head straight towards her. Suddenly, Rogue Three boosted ahead of her and absorbed the blast.
"Two, break left, now!" yelled Dobson.
As she did, he broke right, each missing the third turbolaser blast that surely would have killed either one of them.
"Shield gates gonna close, boss!" called Thanatos. "We gonna make it?"
"Boost!" roared Reynolds as scarlet lasers from the corvette lance by them. "Go! Go! Go!"
The starfighters surged forward as fast as their engines would allow them to go. A few pilots gave screams or roars of encouragement or fear. Two starfighters nearby exploded, showering a rain of fire and debris, but there was no time to check to see if they were New Republic or Imperial.
Katlyn saw that the clamps holding the shield at bay were almost retracted. Rolling her X-wing right, she barely avoided a TIE Fighter that was screaming right at her, lasers blazing. This was going to be close.
POV -- Captain Supriya
"Ma'am," said one of the corvette's pilots. "The shield gate!"
"I see it! Divert all power to engines!" she yelled, hands clasping the backs of the pilots' seats. "GO!" The starfighters and U-wings ahead of her were doing their best to avoid the oncoming craft and turbolaser fire. It was much more difficult to maneuver the corvette at full speed around civilian freighters that were scrambling to get out of the way.
As the corvette rocketed downwards, its laser cannons firing at any Imperial in their path, she saw two of her own fighters go up in balls of fire.
Karabast! she cursed inwardly.
The ship rocked as it scraped a nearby heavy freighter, which jolted her sideways. Turbolaser fire slammed into the forward shields, washing them in green.
It was then that she saw the shield gate arms fully retract.
"Ma'am!?" said one of the pilots in alarm.
She made a final promise to herself: If she and her crew made it through the shield gate alive, she would never risk their lives like this again, regardless of whichever admiral or bureaucrat ordered her to, or whatever personal vendetta she harbored.
"It's now or never!" she called as the shield gate began to close, and she prayed that this wouldn't be the end. "Hold on!"
It was all over within a few seconds.
POV -- Commander Paedron
Paedron's heart sank as he watched the modified corvette just make it through the shield gate. He saw the two pursuing TIE Fighters slam into the shield gate, exploding into tiny balls of fire spreading across the blue shield like water, while a third clipped its wing on the shield gate in a desperate attempt to pull up. It, too, skidded across the surface until it crashed into the side wall.
Looking above him, the tactical display was a horrendous mess of civilian, New Republic, and Imperial ships vying for space and tactical superiority.
He let out a sigh as scarlet last fire and proton torpedoes slammed against the gate's own shielding unit, looking for weak spots or trying to concentrate fire to expose the shield generators. He knew he could hold out for a little while, but not forever.
"Lieutenant," he said slowly, realizing the news he had to report. "Get me Captain Gaspra."
POV -- Supriya
Supriya let out a sigh of relief.
It's a miracle, she thought to herself. I'm never doing that again.
"Get me a damage report," she said, turning to one of the senior officers behind her, who was still gripping one of the support rails from the ceiling. "And patch me through to Rogue Leader," she finished, huffing out another sigh. "We have a battle to coordinate."
POV - Lieutenant Wessex
Wessex watched from the deck of the Star Destroyer's hangar as the work crews unloaded the shipment crates from the transport they had snuck in on. The hangar was a bustle of activity. TIE pilots worked with their mechanical crews or were walking across the hangar, while squads of Imperial stormtroopers marched about the area or remained on guard. The whole situation unnerved her.
As another cargo trolley made its way down the ramp, she made out BD-B2 poking his head out of the door frame. She did a quick check to make sure the coast was clear, then nodded at B2. She watched as he took a few quick steps then leapt down to the floor below. Thankfully the noise wasn't overly loud, and he scurried as fast as he could to take cover near one of the ship's landing legs so he wouldn't immediately be seen.
As B2 waited for the right moment to move, an Imperial officer walked down the ramp and made his way towards her.
"Half the cargo is unloaded already," said Bently as calmly as he could, cautious of those nearby. "We won't have much more time."
"We'll make it," she said. The sight of an Imperial security droid carrying a heavy container down the ramp in both its arms unnerved her more, however. "I hope."
Without trying to arouse too much suspicion, she turned ninety degrees to get a better view of the nearest outlet a droid could plug into. She saw it, part-way across the hangar -- but it was exposed. Not only would B2 need something to stand on to insert the virus program, he'd need someone to hide him.
Son of a moof-milker, she cursed internally. She looked for another outlet or terminal, but the only other one she saw was manned by an Imperial officer. No way she could access that. She pressed a finger to her helmet and radioed one of her crewmates on the freighter.
"TK-9611, what is the status of the cargo transfer?" she asked.
"Cargo transfer is a little more than halfway done," came the reply.
"Have you noticed anything strange with the lift ferries?"
"I beg your pardon?" he asked after a moment.
"I thought I saw one lose power momentarily on the way up. You should check it out."
"What?" he asked. "Why?"
"We wouldn't want it to suddenly lose power and delay us or make a mess … would we?" she said as casually with as much emphasis as she dared give.
"Oh! Yes. I see your point. I will look into that."
Wessex lowered her finger and checked once more. B2 had been able to get a little bit closer, hiding now behind several cubic containers, but a patrol of stormtroopers with what looked like a deck officer, not to mention an Imperial R5 droid, were preventing him from making his next dash.
"I don't like this," her Bently said to her quietly.
She was about to respond when shouts came from inside the cargo door. A cart began careening down the ramp, a lone cargo crate on board. Somehow, the cart had enough momentum to send the crate crashing to the floor. The lid jolted off the container … and out rolled several concussion missiles.
"Oh," said Bently, clenching his teeth as they rolled across the deck floor and clattered to a halt, "I really don't like this."
"Do something about it," she hissed.
"Why me?" he asked.
"Because since you're wearing that uniform," she said, "you look the part of a ranking officer."
"Deck officer!" Bently called after a moment, moving quickly to flag the approaching one down. "Deck officer!"
"What's going on?" he asked as his troupe had stopped to check out the commotion.
"Faulty cargo lift, sir! Concussion missiles spilled out of their container!"
"You six, R5, with me," he said, motioning to the stormtroopers as he moved towards the mess. As the troupe moved past her with Bently, she briskly began to walk over towards the outlet. When she got there, she holstered her blaster and waived for B2 to come over to her. As he did, she stood directly in front of the console, placing her hands behind her back.
"Hop up," she said to B2 as he reached her. "Quickly!"
The little droid did as she commanded.
"Be quick," she said as he plugged into the port. It began to make whirring and clicking noises. B2 also gave a low two-note hoot. "I don't think we have much time."
POV -- Commander Paedron
"What do you mean you can send a transmission to Captain Gaspra?" asked Paedron sternly to his comms officer.
Two TIE Fighters chased an A-wing past the control tower, its frame rattling from the speed and ferocity of the three fighters.
"The New Republic ships are jamming our transmissions, sir," came the reply. "We can communicate ship-to-ship, but not long range."
Paedron gritted his teeth as the barrage of scarlet fire continued from the New Republic capital ships. He just so happened to notice that several of the turbolaser towers on the far side of the ring began to go up in flames, like birthday candles on a cake, one by one as the heavy cannons found their marks.
"Shields down to sixty-four percent!" shouted one of the officers from her station.
At this rate, it wouldn't be long before the shields were down completely.
"Get me Captain Vathros and Scurn," ordered Paedron. "I want us to coordinate our defense."
POV -- Captain Quelle
Quelle watched the unfolding battle as the two Nebulon-B frigates and Buccaneer Squadron pushed further ahead to engage their targets. Most of the civilian ships had managed to get to a safe distance, but there were still a few stragglers that the pilots had to be careful about.
"TIE Bombers and escorts, approaching from vector two-seven," called a tactical officer.
"Have Spectre Three and Four intercept them. Move Skull Seven and Eight to defense point one-four."
"Second strike team, coming in vector three-eight! Proton torpedoes incoming!"
"Activate missile and point-defense systems. Shoot them down on the way in. Have Skull One and Four take care of any that get through!"
Quelle watched as the remaining fighters danced and darted about, exchanging fire. The frigates were dishing out as much damage as they were taking.
We're sure in the middle of it now, he thought as he heard the pilots of Buccaneer announce their bombing runs through the remaining chatter and calls for help.
"Bucc Two, Fox three and four…."
"Bucc Three, Fox four and five...."
"Break off! Break off!"
"He's on me tight, I can't shake him!"
Quelle turned to the comms officer.
"Have the Baraha'tok and the Nighthawk move up to support the fighters and frigates." Turbolaser fire continued to pound away at the Vigilant, but it had lessened once some of those main turrets on the shield gate had been destroyed.
There was no turning back now.
POV -- Wessex
Wessex watched as the last of the concussion missiles was loaded back into the crate. The docking arms above them were moving a pair of TIE Interceptors towards the repair section of the hangar.
"Bee-Two, how much longer," she muttered. The droid gave a few quick beeps. "What do you mean you need a few more minutes?"
The droid tittered again.
"Any louder and they'll hear you!" she hissed.
"There now," she heard the deck officer faintly say from across the hangar. "Thankfully these weren't armed. Now, let's get things back on schedule. We wouldn't want any more --"
Suddenly, the clamps around one of the Interceptors let go. The starfighter dropped to the deck like a stone. Shouts and screams arose throughout the hangar.
"Was that?--" Wessex began.
B2 gave a quick chirp.
The broken fighter certainly caught the attention of everyone in the hangar. Sparks and smoke began to arise from segments of its body. A fire suppression crew scrambled to take care of it before it grew out of control, or worse.
While she was hopeful that it would buy her the time she needed, the deck officer walking back towards her, giving commands into his personal communicator with the R5 unit in tow, was sure to cause problems.
"We're going to have company real fast," she said quietly to B2.
The droid gave a quick buzz. He still needed more time.
Son of a mudscupper, she thought. Her hand was forced.
Reaching up, Wessex activated her helmet comm so that every disguised New Republic trooper in her team could hear her.
"Trooper," said the deck officer as he reached her. "This R5 unit needs to activate the full ventilation system. Step aside."
"Um … I can do that for you … sir," she said.
The deck officer frowned.
"You're not part of this detachment, trooper. Shouldn't you be back with your crew?"
Wessex hesitated for a moment. "I should, sir," she said. "But I'm sure you have enough on your plate with the, ah, accidents. Honestly, I don't mind."
The deck officer's face grew stern.
"Step aside," he said slowly.
"Sir," she protested, "I can easily--"
"Step aside," he said coldly, "or I'll have you thrown in the brig."
"Honestly, sir," she continued, "I really don't mi--"
He grabbed hold of her right arm and tried to pull her away. She did her best to hold her position, but he was slightly stronger.
It was the sight of BD-B2 that must have surprised him the most. He looked at the droid, and the droid looked back up at him.
"What the?--" he began.
Wessex grabbed hold of B2 with one hand, and reached for her blaster with the other. Twisting slightly, she had hoped to stun the deck officer. Instead, a scarlet blaster bolt exited the barrel, catching him in the shoulder and dropping him to the ground in a cry of surprise and pain.
The shot rang throughout the hangar. The R5 unit began blaring in alarm and surprise, and wheeled off away from her. Wessex saw a squad of stormtroopers begin running towards her direction, blasters raised. And behind them, she could just make out a stormtrooper running down the ramp of the transport with a rapid fire blaster in hand. He pivoted to face them, and sent a stream of shots towards her location. Thankfully, they all hit their targets, and the oncoming stormtroopers dropped into heaps on the ground.
Pivoting around, the disguised New Republic trooper began opening fire on other bewildered stormtroopers and crew members while more New Republic troops in stormtrooper and Imperial uniforms rushed down the ramp with the cargo crates on the lifts, pushing them together to set up a barrier.
"Cover is blown!" shouted Hartley over the comm. "Give them hell!"
The Imperial troops began to return blaster fire. One of the New Republic troopers fell, hit by a laser blast, and another was wounded as he struggled to reach another location for cover. Others began to throw grenades and thermal detonators at the clusters of Imperials, either causing them to scramble or wreak further havoc.
And from behind her, a blast bolt to the control panel caused BD-B2 to connect with her before being launched off to the side, skittering to a halt a few feet away on the floor. The jolt was enough to move her a foot or two from where she had been so that the deck officer's blaster shot just missed her. She twisted once more and shot him then and there. Wasting no time as he hit the deck, dead, she scrambled for B2.
"Bee-Two!" she said, noticing the charred and mangled right foot. "Are you alright? Did you get the virus uploaded?" she asked, kneeling down.
The droid gave a moan, then tittered his response. He hadn't, but only needed a minute more.
More shouts and blaster fire began to erupt throughout the hangar. She saw Borsk and Lanthir had rolled the E-web cannon down the ramp, setting it up as best they could behind a pile of containers on the deck.
Bently made his way over to her, firing shots to take down any Imperials that were in his path or posed a risk.
"What's the status?" he asked, kneeling down.
"Virus is almost uploaded," she said, peeling off her helmet to see better. "But he needs another minute." Wessex looked around, and saw the console about thirty feet from her. "That communications and control console should do the trick."
"Too exposed," Bently said.
"It's our only option," she said, meeting his eyes and lifting her blaster. "Otherwise this mission is a bust. Cover me!"
With that, she picked up B2 and began to make a mad dash for the control console, shooting at the Imperial officer trying to hide behind it. A few other stormtroopers tried to shoot at her from various positions, but they were dispatched or distracted by suppressing fire from Bently.
When she reached the console, she had to drag the dead Imperial officer out of the way.
"Here you go," she said as she set B2 on the panel plating. Just then, she noticed one of the large doors open on the other side of the hangar. Two fresh squads of stormtroopers poured into the hangar, blasters firing as they moved to engage and find cover. "Sithspit, make it quick! We don't have much time."
[ISD Monarch -- Bridge]
POV -- Gaspra
Captain Gaspra stood near the tactical console on the bridge of her Star Destroyer. She was in the middle of reading through a supply chain report and discussing options with her second-in-command when a lieutenant walked up to her location briskly.
"Captain," he said urgently.
"What is it, lieutenant?" she asked, not looking away from the report.
"Commotion in the hangar, ma'am!"
She looked up, a puzzled look on her face.
"What do you mean?"
"TIE Interceptor fell from the transport clamps, ma'am. Fighter was damaged."
"Well now," sighed her second in command. "That will put us off schedule for about half an hour, won't it?"
Gaspra sighed. She had hoped to be underway on time. Luckily, this wasn't an unsolvable problem -- though the loss of a very expensive TIE Interceptor was costly during these times.
"There's also a firefight in the hangar, ma'am," said the lieutenant without missing a beat.
She blinked once. Then twice.
"What?" she asked in awe.
"We suspect the freighter that docked earlier had New Republic spies on it. They're currently engaged in a firefight with the security squads, but they're holding their own."
Gaspra turned to her second-in-command.
"Send more squads to reinforce the hangar. Activate an assault walker if you have to."
A klaxon began to wail on the bridge. Long-range sensors had picked up something. Glancing back to the tactical display, Gaspra saw seven X-wings and five A-wings emerge from hyperspace -- followed by a modified corvette, and a squadron's worth of mixed fighters and support craft. The IFFs read Rogue and Corsair Squadrons, and Jade Group. The name of the corvette read Emerald Crown.
"Shields up!" she called to the bridge crew. "Activate turbolaser batteries, and have the depot scramble its TIE squadrons." Turning to her second-in-command, she continued with orders. "Scramble all available TIE pilots, and launch as soon as they are able. And order our current fighters in the air to maintain a strict defense. I don't want any ships getting in or outside of our perimeter."
"Ma'am!" he said, moving to the communications console.
Gaspra knew there would only be one captain in the whole of the New Republic navy who would seek to challenge her. And she would not be easy prey.
"Helm," she said as she marched to the front of the bridge. "Open a channel to the New Republic corvette."
POV -- Katlyn
Katlyn swallowed and felt a knot form in her stomach. She'd flown in engagements involving Imperial Star Destroyers before. But they were older models of the Imperial naval line. This one looked newer. And deadlier.
"The Destroyer's shields are still up, boss," said Lock over the radio.
"I see that, Nine. Not ideal, but we'll make do. Lock S-foils in attack position," came Jalb's voice over her headset. Reaching up to flick a button, her S-foils separated to give her ship its unique x-shape pattern. The other X-wings around her did the same. "Corsairs, you are free to engage."
Katlyn watched as the A-wings sped off to meet the first wave of oncoming defense TIEs.
"Rogue Three," called Jalb. "Care to take point?"
"Boss," replied Dobber, "I'd love to."
"That's what I like to hear," Jalb said enthusiastically. "Accelerate to attack speed!"
With that, the X-wings surged forward while the remaining fighters stayed behind to protect the corvette and U-wings.
"Rogue Two, on my wing," she heard Dobber say. She moved to stay in formation with him.
And with that, the battle had begun.
POV -- Captain Supriya
The all-too familiar sight of Captain Gaspra appeared on the communication hologram display in front of her, cold eyes staring intently.
"Captain Supriya," said Gaspra as the X-wings, A-wings, TIE Fighters and Interceptors raced after one another in the distance. "To what do I owe this pleasure?"
"Oh, I was just in the neighbourhood, Captain," Supriya replied. "Thought I'd drop by and say hello."
Balls of fire sparked off in the distance as starfighters began exploding.
"I don't know how you snuck your strike team onto my ship, or how you managed to get through the shield gate, but mark my words: you won't win this day. You're vastly outnumbered. Surrender now, and I'll spare the lives of you and your pilots."
A smirk spread across Supriya's face.
"You said something similar the first time we met," she said. "And I know your word is about as good as your intentions. I don't believe you. Consider this payback for robbing me of my ship and crew members."
"I never figured you for the vengeful type, Supriya, but very well," Gaspra said. Supriya saw Gaspra turn her head to address her crew, a smile on her face. "Helm, move us into position to assault the fighters and Emerald Crown. I want them blown out of the sky." A few seconds later her smile changed to a look of concern. "What do you mean that the engines won't respond?"
"Captain Gaspra," Supriya said. Gaspra turned to look back at her. "If you're having engine trouble, you might want to try rebooting your engine system. I'm sure you can guess what will start happening after that."
Supriya wished that she could have the look of Gaspra's surprise and alarm as a photo in her office. This moment would have to suffice.
"Good luck," she said with a wink, and closed the comm channel.
POV -- Katlyn
"Watch yourself, Jalb," Katlyn heard Dobber say, "two at six high."
"Rogue Two, Rogue Three, pull in," Jalb said as he banked his X-wing to the right.
"On it," Katlyn said as she wove her X-wing to the left. She glanced over to see Dobber slide in next to her.
The two TIE Fighters continued their chase of Jalb, curving to match his trajectory. It was the perfect setup for the two X-wings to take their shots. With a few quick bursts of their lasers, the TIE Fighters exploded into balls of gas and debris. It was his third, and her second of the battle.
"You're clear, lead," Dobber said.
"Thanks," Jalb replied. "Clear out those squints at point oh-five."
"On it," Dobber replied. "Two, with me."
"Copy," she said.
Maneuvering their fighters to come to a new heading, she saw three TIE Interceptors flying in a loose formation towards a duo of Corsair A-wings who were chasing a pair of TIE Fighters back towards the Monarch. If they were quick, those three squints would be easy pickings.
"You take the right, I'll take the left. We'll bracket the lead one. Nothing fancy," Dobber said.
Adrenaline and the excitement of the battle coursed through her veins, just like many missions and acrobatic performances before that.
"Negative," she said, "they're mine."
Pushing more power to her engines, she boosted and rolled in front of Dobber, who gave a cry of surprise at this unexpected maneuver. With a swift cut to the right and three quick trigger squeezes, she dispatched all of the three pursuing squints.
"Ha ha!" she cried, "Splash three!"
"That was reckless, Two," Dobber said as she cut her throttle and matched speed to get back in formation with him.
"It worked, didn't it?" she asked, throwing him a quick glance and a wink.
Before he could respond, Captain Supriya's voice came over the radio.
"Pilots, be advised: three Gozantis have exited hyperspace behind us. We're also detecting TIEs launching from the Monarch."
"Copy that, Captain," said Jalb. "Corsair Leader, pull your A-wings back to point six-five. The Rogues will meet you there."
"Roger, Rogue Leader," buzzed Syntax's robotic voice.
POV -- Paedron
Commander Paedron shielded his face as sparks flew from one of the consoles near him.
"Hull integrity down to thirty-four percent," called someone from behind him.
"Sir," said another, "shield generator is gone, as are most of the surface cannons."
Dammit, he thought as the battle raged on outside the main viewport window. Waves of red laser fire continued to chew away at the station's hull. The Imperial forces had managed to do some damage to the New Republic forces, but it wasn't enough. It won't be long now at this rate, he thought.
POV -- Captain Gaspra
The bridge crew scrambled to keep the ship functioning as best as they could. With the engines down, other systems were going offline or not responding one by one. They had managed to launch a few flights of TIEs amidst the chaos, but follow-up waves were quickly taken care of by the A-wings from Corsair Squadron with their multi-lock missiles as they launched.
"Report," she said sternly as she made her way over to one of the main operating consoles in the pit.
"Engines are still offline," said the officer manning the console. "Turbolaser cannons one, five, and eight are malfunctioning, as are half of the surface and ion cannons. Missile launchers are down. One shield generator is inactive … but the other one is still functioning."
For now, she thought. It was clever of the New Republic to use her own virus against her. If she could buy enough time, however, she might be able to rid herself of the problem entirely.
"How long would it take to wipe the entire system of our ship?" she asked.
"We'd have to do a manual override and shutdown," called her second-in-command. "We'd lose every system for several minutes at the very least, but we should be able to do a cold start and bring the main systems online one at a time. Bypass a few steps to make things faster."
"Won't that also cause the magfield in the hangar to cease operating?" asked the officer next to her.
"It will," said her second-in-command, "and it will decompress the entire hangar. Anything not bolted down will be sucked out into space until we get main power back on. That will take up to twenty minutes, though."
A fitting way to purge my ship of its rats, she thought.
"Do it," Gaspra said without missing a beat. "Then have engineering reboot our systems as soon as possible."
"And our forces in the hangar?" he asked.
"Acceptable losses," she replied.
[ISD Monarch -- hangar]
POV -- Wessex
Wessex held on to BD-B2 as tightly as she could, trying to make her way back to the ship. Blaster fire showered around her, and most of her squad was scattered, wounded, or killed. Their E-web cannon had also been taken out by a few well-placed shots, as had Borsk and Lanthir.
"We can't keep this up!" yelled Bently as he moved forward to help a downed trooper. She noticed that he'd acquired a utility belt from a fallen stormtrooper and wrapped it around his waist. "We have to go!"
The AT-ST coming to life and being lowered from its docking station convinced her of that fact.
"Fall back," she yelled as loudly as she could. "Get back to the ship!"
Laser fire continued to track her and the others as they made their way back to the ramp of the freighter. A klaxon began to wail in the hanger -- though it didn't sound like any klaxon she had heard before.
The blaster fire suddenly stopped. And she saw the scores of Imperial stormtroopers and officers retreating to the exits as fast as they could.
"Where are they going?" she said as the blast doors began to close. Those who hadn't made it through began pounding furiously on the plating, trying the control panel, or scrambling for somewhere else to go.
"Dunno," replied Bently as she met up with him. The sound of the AT-ST connecting with the deck plating and taking its first steps forward gave her pause. "But I don't wanna find out!"
Turning back to the transport, she doubled her speed and leapt over a pock-marked container that had borne the brunt of blaster fire. B2 gave a cry of alarm as laser blasts pounded the deck plating mere feet behind her.
"Come on!" yelled Shiro in his officer's uniform as he waved them back onto the transport. The engines had already begun to power up, and the shield system had been activated. Blaster shots from the AT-STs secondary side cannon began pounding away at it. She saw Shiro duck inside the transport further as Bently began to run up the ramp.
Then the lights went out.
What now? Wessex thought as she continued running towards the transport. She had just put her foot on the bottom of the ramp when she felt herself being tugged backwards. Those ahead of her scrambled to hold on to something lest they be sucked out of their ship.
"No!" cried Bently as he grabbed onto a ceiling pipe and watched her get sucked away. B2 gave a blaring cry of surprise. Her body slammed into the E-web cannon, which toppled over. Pain surged throughout her body.
She was about to continue her trajectory towards the hangar exit when she felt something wrap around her leg. She felt the rope tighten around her leg.
"I got you!" Bently yelled as he had one hand on the ceiling pipe, and another on the grappling line from his tool belt.
As she dangled there, she happened to catch a glance of the AT-ST toppling over and hitting the deck plating, then begin to get sucked towards the exit with everything else that wasn't bolted down. She heard the screams of Imperial officers and troopers as they were dragged across the deck plating, desperately trying to find something to hold on to. A few were lucky; most weren't. She hated the sight and the screams. Nobody deserved to be sucked into the cold void of space.
She looked back to the transport as she felt herself being reeled in. It, too, began to drag towards the hangar exit, though the engines were helping slow that process down somewhat.
As soon as she was mostly within the loading bay of the freighter, the ramp began to close. When it had, she hit the deck plating with a thud and lay there.
"Lieutenant?" asked Bently as he moved to check on her and remove the rope from around her leg. "Are you alright?"
"Yeah," she said, gasping for air. "I just … need a moment…. Let's not do that again."
POV -- Jalb_k
Jalb cut his throttle to half and twisted his stick to put his X-wing into a drift. As the body of the craft rotated one-hundred-and-eighty degrees, he came face-to-face with the TIE Fighter chasing him. Boosting forward, he gave the trigger a quick squeeze. Scarlet bolts connected with the fighter, and he flew through the blossom of orange fire as the ship exploded.
"Nice shot … showoff," buzzed Syntax over the comm.
"Hey," said Jalb with a grin. "Just a key tactical maneuver."
He brought his X-wing about to face the Star Destroyer and station once more. Suddenly, he saw the laser blasts stop and the lights go out on the Destroyer.
"Well that's new," he said.
"By the Force," said Jasted. "Look!"
Sure enough, a wave of containers, equipment, personnel, and an AT-ST came spilling out of the Star Destroyer's hangar. Moments later, the commandeered freighter exited the hangar and began plowing through the debris.
"I see it, Five," Jalb said. "Looks like our friends made it…."
The sight of a corvette and two Imperial Light Cruisers screeching out of hyperspace in front of the Star Destroyer disrupted his line of thinking.
"They won't if those cruisers have anything to say about it," Thanatos pointed out.
Fighters and bombers had begun to launch from the cruisers. The first batch began peeling off to head towards the freighter.
"They won't last long against those TIEs," said Dobber as the light cruisers took up a staggered v-shape defense in front of the Star Destroyer.
"Or those turbolasers," said Lock. "Lazy Buccs are never around when you need them."
Jalb reset his shields to double-front and began recharging his laser system.
"Then let's make sure we cause enough of a distraction to see them to safety," Jalb said. "Rogue Five, take your flight and hit the cruiser on the left. Everyone else, hit the cruiser on the right. Corsair Squad, you know what to do."
POV -- Captain Supriya
Supriya took in the status of the battle from the tactical station on the Emerald Crown. She watched as the Rogues and Corsairs pushed forward to engage the new forces that had arrived.
Looking at her position, the last of the gozanti cruiser icons disappeared from the board. It had cost her dearly, however. Her Y-wings were destroyed, as were some of the X-wings and A-wings. The TIE Fighters had proven more skilled than the typical run-of-the-mill TIE pilots, and the cruisers had not made her job easier. Aside from the U-wings, only five other fighters remained. She weighed the option of sending them in to support the Renegades versus keeping them back for support.
"Ma'am?" the tactical officer asked from across the table. "Your orders?"
She said nothing, focusing on the status of the freighter and the moving starfighter icons. It had taken some damage, but still looked like it could make it past the cruisers. The Rogues had their hands full, but they were starting to whittle away at the cruisers.
"Have our remaining Jade fighters take up defensive positions. We'll need them in case of any other surprises. The Renegades can handle themselves."
"Yes ma'am," said the tactical officer as he contacted Jade One to give the new orders.
Commander Paedron braced himself as a proton torpedo slammed into the hull section near the control tower.
"Hull down to nineteen percent! Hull breaches in sectors two, five, seven … and thirteen! Captain Vathros's ship has been destroyed!"
That's it, he thought. There was no way that he would win now.
"Give the evacuation signal," he said. More sparks began raining from a console in the corner. Thick tendrils of smoke and flame rose from various points on the station's hull and around the ring. "We're surrendering."
His remaining crew that had not been injured looked at him with shock.
"Would you rather die, or live to see tomorrow?" he asked, looking around at them. They in turn looked at one another, then at him. "Open a hailing frequency to the Vigilant."
After a few seconds the comms officer opened up a channel.
"Commander Paedron to New Republic ship Vigilant. Cease fire! I wish to parlay with your captain to discuss terms of our surrender."
POV -- Katlyn
Hound, her astromech, warbled about the TIE Bomber behind her. The missile lock alarm blared in her cockpit as she crossed over the bow of the Star Destroyer.
"I see him," she said, glancing over her shoulder. "Hold on!"
She sent her X-wing into a corkscrew, releasing a flare to counter the missile. She quickly checked her targeting computer to see if it hit. It didn't. The alarm system blared again, indicating a second missile had been fired at her. Hound warbled once more.
"No, no, no," she said, boosting away and gritting her teeth. "I can handle it."
She fired a flare once more. This time, it hit its target.
One down, she thought.
She put her craft into a drift to come about and face the bomber while watching the second missile overshoot her.
"Rogue Two, break off!" came Dobber's voice.
"Negative, I have him," she said, releasing a third flare. She didn't check to see if it hit. Squeezing the trigger, she sent several shots towards the bomber. They connected, but it didn't explode. She squeezed the trigger again. And again. The shots kept connecting but the bomber kept absorbing the damage.
Green laser fire from the bomber connected with her forward shields. Hound gave an alarmed cry but she ignored it. The greater threat was the bomber. Holding down the trigger, a stream of scarlet lasers poured forth towards the bomber.
She saw Rogue Three approach from behind the bomber, dumbfiring a torpedo into it. It exploded into a brilliant flash, and his X-wing careened through the debris. Suddenly, several scarlet bolts shot forth from his X-wing towards hers, and her eyes widened in surprise -- only they didn't connect with her. They had connected with whatever was behind her. Checking over her shoulder, she saw a cloud of fire dissipate. It had been the second missile.
"You okay, Two?" Dobber asked.
"Yeah," she said. "Thanks."
"Don't do that again," he said.
Before she could reply, Jalb interrupted over the comm.
"Cut the chatter, you two."
"Boss, look!" came Lock's voice.
As Katlyn formed back up with Dobber, she saw the lights on the Star Destroyer had come back on.
"That's not good," Jalb said, narrowly avoiding some laser fire from the left-most cruiser.
"We should hit their targeting array before they're fully back online," Katlyn said.
"Negative, Two," Jalb said. "You and Three get out of there."
As Dobber began to peel away, she did the unthinkable. She dove towards the Star Destroyer.
"Two, what are you doing?!" Dobber called.
"I can get it," she said.
"Your shields!" he said.
"I can make it!" she declared.
She saw some of the smaller cannons begin to come back to life. They rotated to face her. Shifting all her remaining shield power forward, she pressed her attack. Switching over to her warheads, she shot a dual pair of torpedoes at the targeting array, plus sent a volley of lasers to soften it up as well. While the lasers hit their mark, the torpedoes didn't. They were absorbed by the Star Destroyer's shielding as it sprung back to life.
Green fire began to lance its way towards her direction.
"Two, get out of there!!" Jalb yelled.
As she pulled away, two shots connected with her. The first one stripped her shields, while the second impacted directly with her craft.
"I'm hit!" she said as alarms went off in her cockpit. She tried to twist away and avoid the streams of fire coming towards her, but the ship didn't respond. "Control system is not responding! Shield system offline!"
"Hang on, Two," Dobber said. A furious storm of green laser fire surrounded her. "Six, can you?--"
"On it!" said Thanatos.
This is it, she thought as another blast rocked her craft. Of all the scrapes she'd gotten herself into, it was this reckless choice that would finally get her killed. She shut her eyes, waiting for her craft to explode.
Except it didn't.
She opened her eyes and saw Rogue Three pull up next to her, his upper port engine trailing smoke.
"Thanks for that mag pulse, Six," Dobber said. "That's two you owe me, Katlyn" he finished, looking at her and holding up his gloved fingers in a v-shape. "You alright?"
"Yeah," she said with a nervous nod.
"Good. Patch yourself up," he said. "I'll cover you. Io, see what you can do about that engine."
"Cruisers are down," said Jasted over the radio.
"Copy, Rogue Five," said Jalb. "Transport is safe. All fighters, pull back and rendezvous at point nine-five."
A string of affirmatives ran across the comm channel.
As she checked her damage control systems, Hound was steadily working away at repairing her flight controls. It would only be another minute, but it was a minute she was very thankful for.
POV -- Gaspra
The bridge crew breathed a sigh of relief as the life support systems came back on. Fresh air began filtering through the ventilation system.
"Report," Gaspra said.
"Life support is functioning. Shields at fifty-percent. Primary weapon systems are coming back online."
"Almost, ma'am," said the officer in the pit crew below. "Just another few minutes and we'll be able to maneuver."
"Good," she said, walking over to the tactical console. The icons for the reinforcements had disappeared. A waste of good resources and lives, to be sure, but it had bought her several precious minutes. "Have the remaining TIEs in the air hold here and maintain a defensive perimeter. Launch our remaining TIE squadrons. If the New Republic fighters press their attack, make sure nothing gets through."
[Tactical Room -- Emerald Crown]
POV -- Captain Supriya
Supriya watched as the vitals on the Star Destroyer began to increase. The face of Rogue Leader in his cockpit was on the holo display in front of her.
"We've done what damage we can, Captain," he said. "But we've barely been able to scratch that Star Destroyer. If we're going to do something, we need to do it now."
"I agree, Lieutenant Colonel," Supriya said. "However, with the shields up and weapons systems back online, I can't risk the U-wings."
"Which I wholeheartedly and respectfully understand. But if we are to achieve our mission objective, I'm going to need your remaining fighters to join with ours. It's all or nothing at this point."
Supriya gave a small sigh.
"Very well. What do you need?"
"The Rogues and I can handle the Star Destroyer. Have Jade Squadron join up with the Corsairs to take care of the fighters. If things get real messy, we may even need your support."
"We won't last long against that Star Destroyer if the shields are still up," she said.
"That didn't stop us at Endor, did it?" he countered.
"Fair point," she said after a moment. "Supriya out."
As the image of Reynolds faded, new red icons appeared on the board. The Monarch was launching the last of its TIE squadrons, which were taking up a defensive position around the Star Destroyer and station. They were still outnumbered just over two-to-one at this point.
This was not going to be easy.
"Ma'am," said a crew member as he entered the room. "Priority message from the Vigilant."
POV -- Gasrpa
"Engines back online, ma'am," said the helm officer from his station. Gaspra watched from the tactical display as the last of the X-wings slid back into formation with the remaining New Republic craft. TIE Fighters, Interceptors, and Bombers maintained a strict defensive formation.
"Excellent," she said. "Bring us about to face the New Republic craft."
As the mighty warship began to shift its position, she walked up to the main viewport to personally observe the battlefield ahead of her. The Emerald Crown slid into view, its remaining support fighters small dots on the horizon. A pair of TIE Interceptors slowly made their way past the viewport.
She thought back to the first time she had faced off against Supriya and Renegade Wing. She had had the advantage then, and only let victory slip through her fingers because of small miscalculations with the positioning of her ships. Later encounters saw her have more success, though she had yet to have a complete victory against them. Today, that was about to change.
"Open a channel to the Emerald Crown," she said.
The familiar image of Captain Supriya came up on the holo projector.
"Give up, Captain," said Gaspra. "Your forces are reduced, and you are outnumbered. Your mission to sabotage and destroy my ship has failed. Do the honourable thing and surrender."
"You speak to me of honour, captain?" Supriya asked. "When you have shown none before? I think not."
"You have few choices here, Captain," Gaspra said. "You can retreat, surrender, or die."
Supriya crossed her arms, her face stern.
"There's always a better choice," Supriya said. She turned to her left and gave the command to send the remaining forces in.
How typical, thought Gaspra. Noble, but naive.
"Very well then. Tactical," she said, "send in the first two waves of TIEs to engage the New Republic fighters. Have all forward turbolaser batteries target the Emerald Crown. Helm," she continued, "push forward."
The Star Destroyer began to move towards the small attacking force. TIE Fighters and Interceptors began to clash with the oncoming wave of New Republic fighters.
"Last chance, Captain," Gaspra said. "Stand down."
"To you?" Supriya replied. "Never."
"Tactical, are we in range?" Gaspa asked.
"Open fire," she said, turning back to face the viewport.
"We can't, ma'am," said one of the crew members from a targeting station. "Main batteries aren't responding."
"Missile launchers?" she asked.
"Half are offline. The rest are powering down."
Gaspra turned back to see Supriya smiling.
"Having some more trouble, Captain?" she asked sarcastically.
"A temporary setback," said Gaspra. "Tactical, have Epsilon Squadron engage the
corvette with Theta providing cov--"
"Ma'am!" called a voice from tactical. "Sensors detect new craft entering the system."
"There's one thing you should know by now, Captain Gaspra," said Supriya smugly.
Gaspra saw what she thought was a lone X-wing entering above the Emerald Crown. Then another. And another. Then other fighter craft began to pour in behind them, followed by corvettes, frigates, and the hulking shape of the Vigilant." Gaspra's mouth dropped open.
"Never," said Supriya, "underestimate me or Renegade Wing."
With that, the Emerald Crown began to surge forward, leading the way for the rest of the craft.
"Helm," she barked as Supriya's image melted away. "Get us out of here!"
The Star Destroyer began to rotate once more, this time away from the oncoming forces. With any luck, she'd be able to retreat further into the system, maybe even to a nebula where the New Republic forces wouldn't dare track her.
POV -- Jalb
"Ion torpedoes away!" said First Lieutenant Michael "Mustang" Lee Chun To as he and Lock fired several warheads at the Star Destroyer. They connected, dropping the shields significantly. Blue and scarlet lasers from Buccaneer's B-wings and Y-wings washed across the remaining shielding.
As the shields dropped, Jalb dove and fired several torpedoes at the targeting array. As he pulled up, it exploded into a heaping mess of twisted and charred durasteel.
"That should make things easier," he said. With the primary turbolaser cannons unable to get a solid lock on any starfighters, it made attacking the Star Destroyer much easier. And with the targeting array gone, the Imperials would be hard pressed to make most of their shots count.
"Shields are down, Three," Jalb said. "Would you care to do the honors of knocking down their back door?"
"Boss," Dobber said enthusiastically, "it would be my honor."
"That's the spirit," Jalb said. "Two, form up with me. Let's give Three some cover."
"Right with you!" said Katlyn.
POV -- Dobber
Dobber curved his X-wing around the bridge of the Star Destroyer, giving himself enough distance to make his attack run. Activating his targeting computer, the module slid in front of his head and turned downwards. Its red-and-yellow targeting grid springing to life, he selected the trash compactor component of the Star Destroyer. As the numbers ran down on his approach, the targeting arrows gave a clear indication that he had a solid lock.
He sent four torpedoes straight for the trash compactor doors. They exploded on contact, leaving a gaping hole big enough for the U-wings to do their job.
"Positive impact!" he yelled as his targeting computer flipped up and retreated behind him once more. He continued making evasive maneuvers to avoid the Star Destroyer and its lasers, but there was little chance for them to connect. "You're up, Six," he finished.
"Copy, Three," said Thanatos. "Mag pulses away."
As the mag pulses connected with the Star Destroyer, its remaining laser fire stopped in those sections. The U-wings began their approach, escorted in by the newly arrived A-wings of the second Corsair flight. It wasn't long before the first U-wing offloaded its troops, and the second began doing the same.
POV -- Captain Gaspra
"How long until we can make the jump to hyperspace?" Gaspra asked. Fire and smoke began to rise from the forward section of the hull. A hull breach was opening up near the targeting array, which had been destroyed minutes earlier.
"Almost there, ma'am," said the helmsman. "But it's going to be close."
"Recall our TIE squadrons," she said. "Collect as many as you can before we make the jump."
Once more, she had been thwarted. Once more, she would live to fight another day. And once more, she would have to face the wrath of Tol Barand.
"Hull breach in the trash compactor area," said another officer. "New Republic troops are boarding the ship. Currently engaged with a stormtrooper team on one of the lower decks."
Gaspra knew if they made it to the bridge it would be all for naught.
"Send reinforcements to slow them down. I don't want a single trooper on my bridge.
Two more minutes passed while she waited for an update.
"Helm!" she called. "Status!"
"We're ready, Captain," said the officer.
The engines began to power up, getting ready to send the ship to a new location. Gaspra looked hopefully out of the viewport window. The Emerald Crown had moved to cut her off, flanked by two more corvettes and a frigate. It mattered little. They would be out of the area in seconds.
That's when the whirring noise filled the room. The engines had powered down.
"Engine system is down," called the helmsman.
"Re-activate them!" said Gaspra.
"We can't ma'am," he replied. "They're offline."
Instinct kicking in, Gaspra turned and began running towards the blast shield doors at the back of the bridge. The few stormtroopers on the bridge joined her. Unholstering her blaster, she pointed it at the door, waiting for it to open. The stormtroopers raised their blasters, ready to fire at whoever came through the door first.
As the horizontal blast doors opened up, two small, round objects clattered through the opening and rolled towards them. Electrical impulses made contact with anyone nearby. She sank to her knees, while some of the troopers fell to the floor as they were closer.
Part of her body numb, she tried to raise the blaster once more, but as the bridge flooded with New Republic commandos and troopers, she was hit with a stun ring before she could act. Toppling over, her world went black.
[CRS Vigilant -- One Hour Later]
POV -- Dobber
The X-wings from Rogue Squadron touched down on the deck of the Vigilant. As the engines powered down, the flight crews began attending to the maintenance of the craft, while medical teams searched for anyone who would need first aid. As Andrew climbed down the ladder, he was met by his service crew. Jalb was pushing his way towards him.
"Have to say, Dobber," Jalb said, clapping him on the back, "that was some solid piloting out there."
He noticed Katlyn walking around the nose cone of his X-wing.
"You did good," Jalb finished. "Now if you'll excuse me a moment," he said, turning to look at Rogue Two. "Thornwood, a word please."
As Dobber peeled off his helmet, Lieutenant Wessex approached him, still in most of her stormtrooper regalia. She held a damaged BD-B2 in her hands.
"Bee-Dee!" Dobber exclaimed. "What happened?!"
"We, ah, had a little run in during the mission. But this little droid really came through in the end," Wessex said.
B2 gave a little hoot.
Dobber dropped his helmet and grabbed onto the little droid as Wessex handed him over. He looked at the charred and mangled foot, curled up against his body. He wouldn't be walking anytime soon. Jalb's stern voice continued in the background.
"Reckless," he was heard saying.
Dobber hugged the little droid, who was taken by surprise at this gesture.
"Irresponsible…" continued Jalb.
"No more missions for you," Dobber said. His eyes began to well up with tears at the thought of what would have happened had the droid perished, databanks and all. "Ever."
B2 gave a low hoot as Dobber let go, and gazed up at his adoptive owner.
".... my office, thirty minutes!" finished Jalb.
Katlyn stood there, not saying a word, head slightly bowed in embarrassment.
Jalb returned to speak with Dobber and Wessex.
"There's our hero of the hour," Jalb said, looking at B2. "You look a little worse for wear," he continued. "But nothing the mechanic team can't patch you up for."
B2 gave a pleasant hoot.
"And," Jalb continued, "I'll be sure to put in a good word for you. See if I can get you a medal for bravery."
The little droid gave several chirps of excitement.
As the flight crew lowered Io from her module in the X-wing, Dobber noticed a transport nearby offloading Imperial prisoners. They were being escorted by a small number of New Republic troopers. At the front was one woman who he couldn't mistake, even in his dreams.
He felt Jalb's hand on his shoulder.
"She'd be proud of both of you today," he said somberly after a moment.
Something inside of him snapped.
"Yeah," Dobber said, wiping tears away with a gloved hand. "She would."
He watched as the party made their way slowly across the hangar deck.
"Lieutenant," he said, handing back B2 to Wessex. "Could you hold him for a minute?"
Without waiting for a response, he dropped the little droid into her hands and began walking towards the party. It wasn't until he had removed his gloves, letting them drop to the deck, and picked up his pace that he heard Jalb's voice.
"Major," he called. "Major!"
Dobber picked up his pace, his boots thumping louder against the deck plating. He heard heavy boot steps behind him.
Dobber increased his speed to a jog. He rolled up his sleeves while he increased his speed.
"Don't do it!" Jalb yelled, his boots pounding on the deck plating. "Security! Stop him!"
Two troopers moved to intercept him, but Dobber barrelled into them with his shoulders, using the full force of his body and momentum to knock them down. A third officer tried to physically stop him, but Dobber grappled with the trooper and threw him to the side. He was within a few feet of Gaspra now, who had turned to look at her oncoming attacker.
Meeting her cold eyes, he lunged towards her. Gasrpa tried to raise her arms to shield herself, but her cuffed hands could only do so much.
They collapsed to the deck in a heap, Dobber screaming with anger.
"You -- karking -- bitch!" he shouted as he pounded her with his fists as hard as he could. "You killed them!" he snarled, smashing his right fist into her chin. "You -- killed -- her!" he spat as his fist connected with her nose. Blood began to pour forth from it seconds later. He watched Gaspra try to shield herself once more. Her eyes met his. He could have sworn he saw glee in them. Raising his fist once more, he made to strike a damaging blow.
The only reason he couldn't finish was because Jalb and two other security officers tackled him, forcing him off of Gaspra.
"No!" he yelled as Jalb and the security officers forced him to the ground. "Let me go!" he shouted as Gaspra began crawling away, blood dripping down her face. "She deserves this!"
"Revenge won't solve anything, mate," Jalb said. "Stand down!"
"Yes it will," Dobber choked, tears running down his cheeks as someone forced him firmly to the cold, metallic deck plating. He tried to force himself up, but the three men on top of him held him firmly down. "It has to," he sobbed as his arms were twisted behind his back. He felt a pair of cuffs slide around his wrists.
And all through the pain, Gaspra smiled a devilish grin at him.
"It has to."
POV -- Katlyn
In the distance, many of the pilots of Renegade Wing watched the scene unfold. Some were in shock and disbelief. They watched as a medical team attended to the Imperial Officer that had been shot, and as a security team led Major Dobson away.
"I don't believe it," Talon said as he, Gremlin, and Silence stood next to Katlyn.
"Neither do I," said Gremlin, equally in shock. She would never have thought the Major was capable of snapping like that.
"It's still within the realm of possibility," said Silence. Talon and Gremlin turned and shot her a furrowed look that said ‘shut up'.
"What?" she said with a shrug.
"They should have let him finish her," said Second Lieutenant Marshal "FLATTOP" Westfolder as he walked by them, helmet in hand. "Any intel we get out of her isn't worth it."
An hour later, Katlyn found herself in the Lounge with a good number of the pilots from Renegade Wing. There was much raucous laughter and noise as the pilots celebrated their victory over Captain Gaspra and her forces. Bulldog was borderline red-faced from laughter and possibly one too many drinks. Katlyn was still nursing her single drink, the mug remaining half full.
"Attention!" called someone from the bar, clanging a spoon against a metal mug. "Attention!" It was Gremlin. For a Zeltron, she was looking perhaps a bit red-faced herself. Then again, it was a bit difficult to tell from this distance.
The room fell silent.
"It's been brought to my attention, partly through bragging by most of you, but chiefly through some handy calculations by our wonderful Syntax," she said motioning to the droid on the other side of the room. "You know what? Syntax! Get over here!"
Oh yeah, Katlyn thought. She's drunk.
Syntax walked over to where Gremlin was standing, and she wrapped her arm around the droid's shoulders.
"Tell me again, Syntax," Gremlin said cheerily with a small hiccup. "Who scored the most kills again?"
"There were several pilots who had a high number of kills in the engagement," he began. "Lieutenant Arcfire had seven, Major Marco and Lieutenant Colonel Durgan had eleven respectively."
Cheers and applause arose throughout the room. Gremlin waved for them to be quiet.
"Are there any others?" Gremlin asked.
"Our newest member," Syntax continued, "Second Lieutenant Thornwood tallied thirteen kills herself."
"Thirteen!" called Gremlin as a few people applauded or hooted. "Did you hear that? Thir-teen!"
"However," Syntax tried to continue, "my own tally far exceeded…"
"Oh, switch off you spoilsport," Gremlin cut in.
Syntax twisted his head sharply to look at Gremlin.
"Stop ruining the moment," hissed Gremlin loudly as she took her arm from around Syntax and gave him a tiny shove.
The droid shook his head, and walked away from her. Katlyn was fairly certain she heard the phrase ‘droidest mudskupper' come from him.
"Thirteen kills for the new girl!" Gremlin said, raising her mug. "A toast for the new girl, who I am sure will be not just one of my best new friends, but your new friend too!"
A round of cheer and applause filled the room, and nearby pilots clapped Katlyn on the back. She'd had her fair share of experiences in various bars and establishments in every corner of the galaxy, but she privately savored the moment and took a swig from her mug.
"Thank you," she said, acknowledging the others. "Thank you."
"Hey," said Bulldog from across the table. Katlyn looked at him. "You did pretty good today. If I hadn't drank so much, I would totally challenge you to a drinking contest."
A small smile spread across Katlyn's face. She remembered many times where similar challenges were given to her.
"Is that so?" she asked.
"Yeah," hiccoughed Bulldog. "At this rate, I think it's pretty much the only thing I can beat you at. I could probably drink you under the table."
Katlyn leaned forward, a quick-witted retort ready.
"Really?" she asked. "If I won and you started drinking under the table, would I have to provide you with a special drinking bowl?" she asked innocently.
"Why would you do that?" he asked after a moment.
"Don't you understand?" she asked, leaning forward. "The ship may have a Battledog, and you may go by Bulldog, but you'd be so drunk you'd have to lap your alcohol out of a bowl. You'd have to change your callsign to Lapdog."
The entire table, Bulldog included, broke into a raucous fit of laughter.
"Three cheers for the new girl!" someone shouted. "Quick of trigger and quick of wit!"
"To the new girl!" rose a chorus amongst the room as people took swigs from their drinks.
"Second Lieutenant Thornwood," came a voice over the intercom. "Please report to Lieutenant Colonel Reynolds' office immediately."
"Uh oh!" came voices from around the room. "Looks like someone is in for it!"
"Hey!" called someone else. "When isn't someone in it with the Lieutenant Colonel?"
More laughter filled the room as Katlyn got up to leave.
Five minutes later, the slight buzz in her head beginning to wear off slightly, Katlyn stood outside of her commander's office. She let out a quick breath, then pressed the button to enter the room. The doors opened to reveal Jalb sitting behind his desk.
"Thornwood," Jalb said flatly, not looking up. "Enter."
She walked into the room, waiting for her next set of instructions. She couldn't help but notice the piles of datapads on his desk.
"Sit," he said, again not looking up. When she did sit, he put down the data pad and met her eyes.
His glare felt like looking into a cold statue that was about to shoot laser beams at you.
"So," he said after a moment, folding his hands together. "How was your first day?"
She paused for a moment, at a loss for words.
"It went, ah, mostly well, I think, sir," she said after a moment.
"Really?" he asked. "Why?"
"Well," she said after a moment, "it was a smooth transition into the squad. And an eventful mission that was met with success."
"It was," he said. "How many pilots can claim to be almost a triple ace on the first day in their new unit?"
"Probably not many," she said after a moment.
"You're right," Jalb said, his stern demeanor unwavering. He picked up a data pad and started reading through it. "Your record says that you graduated from the top of your class. Near-perfect scores and service record with your squadron. Highly recommended by your superiors. You did more in your brief stint at the academy and with Orange Squadron than most do in a year. Hell, even some of the awards you received can take some pilots their entire career to collect."
Katlyn remained silent, unsure of what to say next.
"What the hell was that out there today?" Jalb asked. "Do you think you'd be alive after the stunts you pulled?"
"I," Katlyn began. His stare bore into her eyes. "No," she said quietly after a moment. "No I wouldn't."
"Major Dobson saved your karking ass three times today. Three!" he said, firmly pounding a fist on his desk. "And two of those times he nearly sacrificed himself in doing so. The pilot I saw out there, while she did demonstrate skill and talent, was not representative of the pilot that was written in this report to me."
She felt like she was being scolded again by her mother back home for her past behaviour. Her cheeks turned an embarrassed shade of red.
"Why did you do it?" he asked.
Katlyn paused for a moment, considering her response. She looked down, then looked up again.
"I wanted to prove myself," she said finally. "Prove that I could be as good as anyone else in the squad. You know, make a difference."
"Getting yourself killed on your first mission by being careless and reckless is not how Rogue Squadron members, let alone Renegade Wing members, act," Jalb said. "What you need to understand is that on this ship, regardless of our background and differences, we're like a family. We work together, help one another, but never compromise what we stand for to put ourselves before others."
"I'm sorry, sir," Katlyn said after a moment, absorbing the weight of his words. "I was careless and reckless. It won't happen again."
"It better not," Jalb said, leaning forward. "Because if it does, I'll have you transferred out of here so fast you won't know what hit you. Is that clear?"
"Yes, sir," she said without missing a beat.
Katlyn rose to leave.
"One more thing," Jalb said before she reached the door. She turned to face him.
"You owe Major Dobson an apology," he said. "You'll find him in the brig. I'll let the officer on duty know you'll be stopping by."
"Oh," she said, "I don't think he'd want to see me right now. Not after what happened in the--"
"I think he will," Jalb said, interrupting her. "Get going."
With that, she left.
When she arrived at the brig, the first thing she noticed were several cells full of Imperial officers. Most were standing or sitting on the floor, or using one of the few beds bolted into the walls. One contained the Imperial Captain that the Major had shot earlier. Bandages were wrapped around her legs and shoulder. Katlyn felt unnerved as she walked by that cell, as if she were being watched by a predator. She found Major Dobson in the farthest cell in the room. He was laying down on one of the beds, an arm resting over his eyes and a leg raised so that his foot was on the bedding.
"Hi," she said after a moment.
He slowly moved his arm. She could tell, even through the red magfield, that his eyes were red from crying.
"Hi," he choked out with a sniff. "What can I do for you?"
Katlyn paused, trying to find the right words.
"Not that I can do much right now," he said, waving a hand around the cell.
"I, uh," she began. "I came to talk to you for a minute. About earlier."
She watched the Major slowly rise from his bunk and shuffled barefoot over to the mag field. His flight suit was tied together at his waist, exposing his t-shirt.
"Okay," he said, leaning against the wall and crossing his arms. "I guess I can spare you a minute."
"I, ah," she began, thumbing her hands into her pockets, "I wanted to apologize for earlier. I wasn't quite myself while flying."
"You don't say," he quipped with a touch of sarcasm. It annoyed her, though only slightly.
"And," she continued, "I also wanted to thank you for saving my life earlier. I wouldn't be here if you hadn't put your life on the line for me."
"You're welcome … I guess," he said after a moment.
"You … guess?" she asked, raising an eyebrow.
"The Lieutenant Colonel," he said, moving away from the wall and walking around, "gave me specific orders to look after you during the mission. You owe your thanks more to him than to me."
A tinge of anger began to stir in Katlyn.
"Is that so?" she asked.
"Yeah," he said, turning back around to face her. "Not that I don't look out for my squad mates, mind you. But I went to extra lengths to make sure you didn't get killed. And yet you still decided to pull a few fast ones. Are you always going to do that? Or are you just a natural showoff?"
Her cheeks began to glow a slight tinge of red.
"You know what?" she said, biting her lip. "If you're going to insult me, my coming down here was a mistake."
She turned to march towards the entrance, and made it maybe three or four steps before he spoke again.
"Katlyn," he called, with the slightest hint of urgency in his voice. "Wait." She stopped. "Please," he said. She backtracked a few seconds later towards the cell, and turned to face him again. He was waiting close to the field again.
"I owe you an apology," he said after a moment. "That was rude of me … and you don't deserve that. Not now, or any time."
"Who are you?" she asked after a few seconds, slightly bewildered. "I can't get a beat on you. One minute you seem like a decent person, then next you're an arrogant piece of--"
"I know," he said, stopping her from saying the next word. "I know. I'm sorry. It's just … I … I'm going through a lot right now. I don't feel like myself sometimes. You have to believe me … this isn't me."
She continued to watch his explanation, wringing his hands as he spoke.
"It's complicated," he continued, "but the best way that I can explain it right now is that I lost someone very, very special to me. And her murderer is in one of these other cells," he continued, waving at the wall. "I just know it! I don't know which one, but I know she's here. I know!"
Tears started streaming down his face as he blinked, and he began speaking with bitterly hot anger.
"And it's tearing me up inside," he said, slamming a fist into the magfield, causing it to sizzle. "It's tearing me up that I can't do anything about it. I can't bring her back. I can't wipe that transmission from the Holonet. I almost lost her droid today on a mission I didn't even know he was part of. And for the first time in my entire life, I've been thrown in a brig. And I don't know what's going to happen next."
Through her anger, she felt the smallest bit of pity for this man whom she'd only met hours ago. Her anger began to subside gradually.
"I'm sorry," she said quietly after a moment, "for your loss."
"If you knew me better," he said, wiping away the tears, "outside of what you saw today, or if you were to ask anyone else I've served with, they'd say you'd probably never meet a more honest and caring person in the whole galaxy. I know … I know I seem like an ass, but that's not really me. It's really not. I'm … I'm sorry."
"I'd like to meet that person someday," she said after a moment. "The real you."
"Gotta get outta here first," he said with a laugh and a snort.
She gave a small chuckle.
"Yeah," she said. "You do."
"What do I call you?" he asked, wiping his eyes again.
"Your callsign," he said. "What's your callsign?"
"Starfire," she said after a moment. "I'm called Starfire."
"It's a nice one," he said with a weak smile. "Sure as hell better than mine."
"Now that," she said, pointing a finger at him with a smirk, "is something we can both agree on."
Captain Supriya entered the brig of the Vigilant as a pilot with red hair was exiting it. She had one final matter of business to take care of before her meeting with Captain Quelle and the other superior officers of the task force. The security officers, noticing her rank, didn't seem to mind that she was there. It didn't take her long to find the cell that Gaspra was in.
"Well, well," said Gaspra as she got up from her bunk. She took hold of the ice pack that had been provided to her and placed it gingerly against the side of her head as she made her way slowly towards the barrier, the sting of the thrashing still fresh. Blood was caked on the collar of her uniform, and distinct bruises covered her face where the Major had hit her. "To what do I owe this pleasure, Captain?"
"I see that they've found a suitable cell for you," Supriya said. "Though it looks far more comfortable than any I'd have you put in."
"I admit, it is more lavish than a typical Imperial cell," Gaspra said with a chuckle. "But then again, you New Republic types are always a little soft, aren't you?"
Supriya gave Gaspra a flat glare.
"Not one for humor, eh?" Gaspra said. "Alright, I'll ask again: to what do I owe this pleasure? Have you come to offer me a plea bargain? Information as to the whereabouts of Barand and composition of his remaining forces in exchange for, what, a reduced sentence? Or the ability to walk out of here a free man … well, woman?"
"Hardly," Supriya said. "That's not up to me."
"Then what is it?" Gaspra asked, waving her ice pack around. "Have you come to gloat about finally beating me? Using my own device against me? I have to say, that was quite ingenious."
"It was a team effort," Supriya said, crossing her arms. "But to be honest, I came to look at the dishonest Captain -- at the woman -- who stole my ship from me, and ended up killing some of my crew. And my squadron."
"Is that all?" Gaspra asked.
"Gloating won't make me feel better," Supriya said. "And it won't bring them back. But I can damn well appreciate the satisfaction of justice being served, and that good always triumphs over evil."
Gaspra let out a laugh and turned to pace back to her bunk.
"Really?" she said as she sat down. "I can appreciate that sentiment. Though if you are to speak of justice, you should listen to the Major's story. He's two cells down and has a very interesting story to tell. Not to mention a very curious visitor who left not but a few minutes ago."
Supriya felt a sick knot form in her stomach. Something didn't feel right.
"You should also know, Captain, that order always prevails over chaos. The New Republic will have a reckoning one of these days."
"Our fight to restore freedom and democracy to the galaxy won't be in vain," Supriya said. "We'll end Imperial tyranny and restore the Republic to what it needs to be."
"Maybe," Gaspra said. "But the galaxy is more fractured now than at any point in history. That's the thing about peace: it's always so fragile."
Gaspra moved to lay down on the bunk.
"Thank you for the visit, Captain. I've so enjoyed this chat of ours. And learning so much more about you."
[The next day]
POV -- Katlyn
Katlyn retrieved her helmet from her locker. Several other pilots, Rogues included, were getting ready for either patrol or some other assignment. She held it in both her hands, staring at the color scheme and design. The gold insignia on either side of the helmet framed in white, with a gold-on-white strip running down the center of the helmet, the rest of which was blue.
"You'll have to do something about that someday," Gremlin said as she pulled on her boots.
"Your helmet," she said, motioning to it. "Don't get me wrong, it is a nice helmet. But it looks god-awful with that Rogue Squadron flight suit of yours."
Katlyn stared at it for a moment. It represented what she joined for. What she was fighting for. But maybe Gremlin did have a point.
"When the time's right," Gremlin said, "you'll know what to do with it."
Some of the pilots moved past her. Tucking the helmet underneath her arm, she trailed them and made her way towards her X-wing.
"Good morning, Lieutenant," said Jalb briskly as he moved in beside her. She hadn't heard him coming.
"Hello, sir," she said.
"Ready for today's assignment?" he asked.
"What exactly is it, if I might ask?"
"You'll be briefed in flight with the others," he said. Then, "But I think you might enjoy it."
"That so?" she asked.
"And if not, it's not too late to transfer out you know," he said with a wink.
"Not on your life," she said, looking up at him.
"I trust the conversation with the Major went well yesterday?" he asked.
"It did," she said casually.
"What exactly will happen with the Major?" she asked after a moment. Reynolds stopped, as did she.
"As I'm part of the legal proceedings, I'm not at liberty to say," he said. "He will need to answer for his actions."
"I, uh, heard part of his story," she said after a moment. "He needs a lot of help, doesn't he?"
"He does," Jalb said with a sigh. "But we'll also see to it that the Major gets the help he needs. He is family, after all. Now, better get aboard."
Both pilots made their way towards their own craft.
"Oh, Lieutenant," Jalb called. "Remember, by the book today."
"I suppose that means cutting out all funny business entirely?" she called back. She was sure that she saw him grin as he cut towards his X-wing.
Hound was being loaded into his astromech outlet as she made the climb up the ladder into her cockpit. The tech crews informed her that everything was in working order, and were finishing fueling her craft.
As she plopped herself down into her seat, her left foot hit something metallic.
"Ow!" she said.
A series of beeps came from below. She looked down to see a BD droid by her feet.
"Hey!" she said. "What are you doing here?"
The droid gave a series of quick whistles and chirps.
"Ah, so you're the Major's little friend, aren't you?" she asked. "Should you really be in here? It isn't really regulation."
The droid gave another series of chirps and whistles.
"No," Katlyn said. "I don't suppose it's fun not having a friend around, is it?" she said. "And I don't really have a whole lot of friends here either.
BD-B2 gave a hoot.
"Okay," she said, flicking the switch to close the canopy. "I'll let you come this time, for the Major's sake. But if things get dicey, you need to stay put, okay?"
The droid nodded at her.
Running a quick systems check, she powered up her engines. The craft sprung to life. Looking over, she saw the empty X-wing of Rogue Three, its canopy open. Somehow, it just didn't feel right that he wasn't with them.
Refocusing her attention, following the instructions by the ground crew, she lifted off and made her way towards the hangar magfield with the other Rogues. Once outside, they quickly formed up into a v-shape and headed out away from the fleet. Ahead of them, the members of Jade Squadron were on patrol, slowly making their way throughout the ships in defensive pairs. Several A-wings from Corsair fell into formation with the Rogues.
"All flights report in," said Jalb.
"Rogue Eleven, ready to roll," said Mustang.
"Rogue Nine, all systems green," said Lock.
"Rogue Six," said Thanatos, "good to go."
"Rogue Five, looking alive," chimed in Jasted.
"Starfire here," said Katlyn, checking her instruments one last time, "standing by."
"What's the mission today, boss?" Lock asked as the digital nav buoy was activated and the coordinates were uploaded to their computers from the Vigilant.
"Our mission today will take us all the way to Onderon," said Jalb. "An Imperial convoy is reported to be in the area carrying shipments of Baradium."
"That's all?" Jasted broke in.
"The convoy is being protected by two Strike Cruisers and a mixed squadron of Gunboats and TIE Advanced," finished Reynolds.
"Ah, that's more like it!" said Thanatos enthusiastically.
"Sure wish Three could be with us for this one," said Lock after a moment. "He always manages to aggro all the brights. Makes for some easy pickings, like shooting Jawas in a sandcrawler."
Laughs from the others trickled over her comm system.
"Are all the missions we fly as exciting as yesterday?" she asked.
"Two," said Thanatos, "what you should know is this: anything that happens in Renegade Wing on any given day is just another day in the life of the pilots around here."
BD-B2 climbed up onto her lap, stretching his head to peer outside in wonder. She gave the droid a quick pat on the head, then moved her hand to the throttle. Slowing her throttle so the craft came to a stop with the others.
"Coordinates are set," Jalb said. "Jumping to hyperspace in three … two … one … mark."
Starfire reached and pulled back on her hyperspace lever. The stars stretched into their familiar blue-white streaks before their craft were enveloped in the swirling blue tunnel of hyperspace as they raced once more to make the galaxy a better place.