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Defend the Vigilant Arc 1.3

Left Behind


Contributions by: Bulldog, Ant, Jalb, Jasted, and Angel

CRS Vigilant RWSS Quarters
POV: Angel

The light of distant stars should have been enough. When Lt. Jeni "Angel" Courtner was younger, she'd look up at night and see their twinkling brilliance through the ash clouds. They would softly call, like a nearly forgotten song, tugging her outward. As long as there were stars she hadn't seen, she'd wander the dark road of space.

Now those stars felt cold, distant, and no longer called to her. Her bed was warm and comfortable and she found she preferred it to anything else. There were no questions, no smiling, eager people who thought she was more than what she was. Most of all, there were no cockpits, no starfighters, nothing that would shock her back to that place.

One of the Vigilant's frigates slid silently by, flanked by two X-wings on patrol. The little starfighters darted towards the Vigilant, their closed S-foils bared to her window like a bird of prey spreading its wings.

All fighters follow me.

She shut her eyes as Gold Leader's voice echoed in her mind, just to prove her wrong. Even here, in her warm, secure, soft bed, Endor came back. Groaning, she rolled away from the window and covered her head with her covers.

Sleep nearly claimed her again when her alarm went off, alerting her that it was a new day and her shift was coming up. Snaking an arm out from beneath the covers, she scrounged for the device, hoping to silence it or failing that, smash it into oblivion. Fingertips found purchase on something small and smooth, like duraplast, so she slapped it with her hand.

The windscreen across from her turned on, with a feminine voice loudly proclaiming (in garbled Mon Cal-toned Basic) 'that bastard better run or he'll be fishing for his manhood with a spear!'

A loud thump and crash was quickly followed by a curse and a gasp. Pulling the covers from her face, Angel desperately searched for the remote to turn the vidscreen off but only managed to turn the channel, this time to something with louder explosions.

"What's going on, are we hit?" 2nd Lieutenant Namieh "Tattoo" Calyse said from the floor, her sheets twisted around her legs and waist. The Mirialan woman's hair was tangled and she had one hand trying to wipe the sleep from her eyes. Angel finally found the power button and hit it.

"Sorry," she said. "I meant to smash my alarm, not the remote."

"Your alarm is there," Tattoo said, pointing to the foot of Angel's bunk, where the little shithead device was still beeping. For a moment, she wondered if she could kick it to death, but settled on just tossing off her covers and leaning down to tackle the problem. Silence finally settled onto their quarters, save the little white noise generator which sounded a lot like soft rain on a window.

Tattoo untangled herself from her covers and yawned, then tossed the sheets back on her bunk. "What time is it?"

"0500," Angel said.

"Oh good, then I have an hour to sleep yet."

"Lucky duck."

Angel gave her roommate a smile and put her face in her hands and her bare feet on the cold floor. Her elbow rested on her thigh, where one of her scars sat, rigid and ugly. With a sigh, she dropped her hands and stood up. It was time to face the day.

As she pulled a clean jumpsuit from her locker and padded towards their shared refresher with Uflek and Indeli, Angel felt Tattoo's eyes on her. Pausing, she looked back over her shoulder and found those blue eyes watching her. Tattoo had been the one to see her at her worst. The Mirialan had pulled her out of that fighter and saved her life.

"Have a good day," Tattoo said, almost in a whisper.

"I'll try." She almost added thanks to you but figured she'd played that out by now. They'd been bunked together for a little while and the first night had been awkward. The second almost followed suit until Angel found it unbearable and just hugged her. The thank you had been almost too hard to say, but she'd said it, and probably got the SAR pilot's shoulder a bit wet too.

The walk to the hangar felt like it took a million years instead of just a few minutes. On the way, she ducked into the ready room and grabbed a caf and one of those little pastries someone kept leaving there. The caf and food did wonders for her disposition and by the time she'd entered the brightly lit hangar bay, she felt ready to take on the day.

If only someone hadn't taken their A-wing through a metal grinder. Or whatever the hells did that. She didn't even grab up the datapad from the service dock. Instead, she walked towards it like a villager returning only to find their home a smoking ruin.

"What happened?" she said aloud, to no one in particular. The port-side gunpod shredded. The weapon itself would have to be pulled and dismantled... probably for parts. The hull could be patched and she could just run some new connector ports, so maybe it wasn't as bad as she thought. That thought lasted as long as it took for her to crane her neck slightly to the right and see the port side engine.

Slowly, very slowly, she picked up the datapad from its service dock and powered it on. The A-wing's tail number was registered to Corsair 12, a Flight Officer with the last name 'Bofa.' Glancing from the datapad back to the A-wing, she sighed.

"Well, Flight Officer Bofa, let's see exactly what you did to my girl."

Two hours later she was covered in grease, coolant, and something she was pretty sure shouldn't haven't been sloshing around inside a laser battery. Her fingers were bruised and bleeding and while she should have been wearing gloves, it was damned hard to get into the places she needed to with them. Reaching in up to her elbow, she felt for the cylinder-shaped component, twisted hard, fumbled, twisted again, fumbled a second time and jammed her pinky against a piece of hull that normally wasn't twisted inside the ship.

"Son of a gundark! Sithspit! Krif! Karfin' frak!"

The throbbing in her hand died down as she heard something warbling at her. Frowning, she slid herself slowly out from under the starfighter, cradling her savaged hand against her chest. What she found confused her.

A dirty white astromech was standing there, its dome turning slightly side to side, and it was chittering softly at her. She had worked with a lot of droids on Sullust, and on Hoth she'd been one of the X-wing maintenance techs, so she'd gotten used to the R2 units as well. While she didn't understand it fluently, she got the gist.

"Do I need help? Look around, we all need help." Angel found herself smiling at her own words. "Some of us more than others, I guess."

The droid tottered back and forth on his two tracks and made another series of confusing woops and warbles. Angel was able to catch some of it.

"You're an astromech, not a maintenance droid, uh ..." She leaned close and read his operating number. "R2-T1."

R2-T1 made a few more exasperated beeps and rolled over the A-wing's laser cannon. One of its side bays opened to reveal a laser cutter. Before Angel could stop him, he'd cut the line she'd been trying to uncouple for half an hour. She froze, expecting it to spark, or blow up. When it didn't, she sighed.

The droid made a low, amused sound.

"What do you mean you knew the power was off?"

This time, R2-T1's message was much more matter of fact. Angel put her hands on her hips and had to admit, she was impressed. He'd scanned the line internally, routed the schematics of the A-wing through his memory banks and picked the best course to remove the line.

Angel froze. She'd understood all of that.

The little droid made a happy, cooing sound, like she'd just come around to something. It was strange, but the R2 unit's approval made her feel good. Happy. She'd achieved something simple. Simple is good.

"Okay, R2-T1. Let's see if we can get this ship serviceable again. But you need a name. I can't say 'R2-T1' all day. Let's call you ... hrm." She thought about it. The droid made an interested and rather unique tone she'd never heard from an R2 unit before. It sounded almost like an accent, or a name.

"Let's call you, Tone."

Tone warbled happily and Angel grinned at him. Seeing the little droid enthusiastic about something as simple as a name warmed her and she found herself feeling lighter. The day wasn't nearly as dreary as it had been a moment ago. That was, until she looked back at the A-wing and all the work ahead of her.

A low whistle from behind her made Angel turn. Standing with her hands on her hips, looking over at the damaged starfighter was a young woman wearing the uniform of a support pilot, probably a tug driver. The helmet in her hand and sweat matting her brown hair suggested she'd gotten off flying not long ago.

"Would ya look at that? Didn't think Snacks could bust up a pretty thing like that so easily."

Angel put a hand on Tone as the little droid warbled a question.

"I agree," she told the droid. Then, addressing the young woman, she added, "Snacks?"

"Oh yeah," the tug pilot said, waving a hand towards the A-wing. "That's what they call him, on account of the last name. Bofa. Get it? Like the snack?"

Angel didn't and it must have shown on her face because the tug pilot's grin turned into a smirk.

"Why, Lieutenant, ya never had a bofa treat?"

"Nope," Angel admitted, shrugging. "Is it good?"

"Is it good?" the woman cried, stifling a snort of laughter. "Oh, by the Force girl, we gotta rectify this. When do you get off?"

"Six hours," Angel said.

The tug pilot offered a hand. "They call me Skitch. My real name is a bit of a mouthful."

Angel hesitated for a moment but then took the offered hand. Her own was covered in grease and oil and Force-knew-what-else, but Skitch didn't seem to mind.

"They call me Angel. My real name is boring."

A look flashed across the tug pilot's face, but Angel couldn't read it. The grip of hands lasted only a moment longer, with Skitch offering a soft squeeze before letting it drop.

"Well, I sure am pleased to meet you, Angel. I'll tell Snacks he's got the best A-wing tech on the Vigilant lookin' after his ship."

Angel snorted and shook her head. "I don't know about that, but you tell him it'll be offline for a while."

"I will," Skitch said and winked before stepping past her on the way out of the hangar. Angel felt a hand touch her shoulder as the woman passed. Skitch offered another lopsided grin.

"Don't forget, I'm gonna treat you to some bofa."

"I'll look forward to it," Angel said and found that she really meant it. With a wave, Skitch hurried out of sight. Placing a hand on Tone's dome, Angel found herself smiling. Tone made an amused beep.

"You said it. C'mon, Tone, let's get this lovely lady looking like a real starfighter again."

*****************

CRS Vigilant Alert Pilot Bunk Room
POV: Bulldog

1st Lieutenant Andy "Bulldog" Clark was bored. He was also annoyed and angry, leading to anything but a focused mind. He sat in the alert pilots' bunk room and fidgeted profusely as he frequently swiped through his datapad, checking various crashball league scores to check his fantasy team matchup. He was currently beating Wolf's team in their weekly matchup for the semi-finals, but a late surge from the Coruscanti Crashers was threatening his hold on the lead.

The score updated, and Bulldog smashed his hand into a pillow. "Stang!" he shouted loudly, jarring a snoozing Jasted awake.

"Wha?" 1st Lieutenant Nick "Jasted" Finelli blearily barked, jumping out of the bunk and grasping his helmet. "We goin' live?"

The third occupant in the room, Flight Officer Quenton "Snacks" Bofa, piped up. "No, Bulldog is just lamenting the fact that his fantasy team just lost the lead in THE league."

Jasted threw his helmet aside in anger. "By the Force, Dog, you almost made me pee my pants!" He picked the helmet back up and set it gingerly back on the bunk before walking over to the attached refresher station and closing the door behind him. "It's just a kriffing game!"

Bulldog waved him away angrily. He looked to the third alert pilot on shift with them. "You be quiet, Snacks. The Voidwalkers have a last second possession that will get me some more points."

Snacks snickered. "Wolf's gonna win your matchup with that last score. You jinxed it by staying up to watch the earlier games all night long."

"Shut it, Zoomie," Bulldog snapped, throwing a crumpled up wad of paper at the lone A-Wing pilot.

"I heard you used to be a 'Zoomie' too," Snacks snorted as he dodged the incoming paper warhead. "Heard your aim and reflexes used to be better too!"

The door to the bunk room opened slightly as a tug pilot nicknamed Skitch poked her head through. After scanning the room to make sure nobody was sleeping, she let out a loud cackle as she danced her way into the room. "That last score for sure is going to knock you out of the playoffs!"

Bulldog glowered at the new arrival. "Don't you have a tug to pilot?!"

Skitch cackled even more as she continued her victory dance. "We're on light duty with so much of the taskforce split off," she said with a grin. "You're gonna lose," she chortled in a sarcastic singsong voice.

"Ain't never gon' be champion now," Snacks sang. He repeated the line as he bobbed his head back and forth to a silent beat.

"Ain't never gon' be champion now!" Skitch joined in, stooping down over Snacks' shoulder and bobbing her head with the beat as they continued to sing the jab.

"Ain't never gon' be champion now," Jasted's muffled voice called from the still closed refresher.

"What are you even doing in here, Skitch?" Bulldog growled, looking for another projectile to hurl. He grasped his helmet and cocked his arm back to unleash the new projectile menacingly.

The tormenting chant died down as Jasted flushed the refresher. He opened the door and made a loud "pheeeeeeeeew" while he waved his hand in an attempt to fan the fumes from his recent trip to the can into the bunk space. "Do NOT go in there!"

Skitch retched, being closest to the fresher and the first to experience the rotten stench. She covered her nose and retreated toward the hallway. "What crawled inside of you and died?!"

Jasted chuckled with his arms crossed as he basked in the smell. "Greetings from the INTERIOR!"

Bulldog and Snacks dove for their temporary bunks and grabbed a pillow to smother their noses in. "My, what a wonderful smell you've discovered!" Snacks shouted.

"I can taste it!" Bulldog wailed helplessly, attempting to wrap a blanket around his head for extra filtration.

Skitch reached the hallway and let out a gasp as she made a show of gulping down fresh air. After a moment she turned to face the three pilots and pinched her nose shut with one hand, pointing at Snacks with her free hand. "Angel wanted me to tell you that your A-Wing is still thrashed and that she's taking it off the line while she locks down the necessary parts," her nasally voice reported.

Snacks waved his hands in the air helplessly. "Great, just great. Any other wonderful news?" His pillow fell from his face with the gesture, and he frantically gasped for air as he quickly tried to replace his face covering.

"She said to use the spare while she fixes the issue, so it's a bit more of a jog for you if you need to scramble," Skitch shouted in reply as she retreated from the doorway. "We're fueling it up as we speak!"

"Make sure you adjust the restraints and all personalization other settings before take-off, Rook," Jasted cautioned sincerely. "I had to fly a loaner once and forgot to do that. Was a bumpy ride."

Snacks mimed putting a blaster to the side of his head and pulling the trigger, his other hand mimicking his brain matter blowing out the other side as he dramatically put his head down on his desk. "Not only do I not get picked for any of the interesting missions, but now I also have to use a different A-Wing and I've also got to sit in this tiny room that smells like a dianoga died while choking on a jawa?" He whined. "Can this day get any worse?"

Jasted cocked an eyebrow. "You know, they served some type of beans for dinner in the mess hall..."

As if on cue, Bulldog strained audibly and was rewarded with a lengthy frrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrpppppt for his effort. "Embrace the pain!" he shouted with malicious glee.

The other two pilots groaned in despair as they searched for a bottle of air freshener. It had been suspiciously misplaced, drawing a multitude of muffled curses while Bulldog cackled with malicious glee.

One of the custodial staff chose that moment to walk into the room. The Rodian looked at the three pilots and froze, wondering why the three pilots were staring back at him. After a long moment, the green-skinned alien cautiously sniffed the air and shrugged as he went about his business emptying trash receptacles. He hummed cheerily as he went.

*********************

CRS Vigilant Hangar Deck
POV: Angel

Tone confirmed that the laser cannon was completely unsalvageable. The whole assembly was dumped unceremoniously on the deck and Angel had it half-apart before she reluctantly agreed. Whatever Snacks had done to this thing, it was a complete write-off. Power assembly was smashed, focusing lenses were little more than shards littering the casing, and just how he'd managed to smash the tubing hard enough to literally shred them, Angel didn't know.

"I'll get a new one sent up from storage. I think we can pull one off a junked Dash-1A, what do you think?"

Tone warbled, unsure, but Angel winked at him.

"Don't worry, it'll work. Old and worn, we can fix. Smashed? Nope. Can you go put the order in for me while I prep the housing?"

Twenty minutes later, she had the hull plating around the cannon servo motor stripped top and bottom. She'd been able to repair that at least. Now she had to run the new connections through the body to the central flight computer in the cockpit. That was the easy work, as nanofilament wire-riggers had already threaded them up to the right bulkheads. It was just a matter of pulling out the instrument panel and opening up the casing.

Easy. She could do this. Just as soon as she found literally anyone else to do it.

Pushing herself off the deck, she scanned the hangar for a tech she could use. Any one of them could strip a control panel and connect the wiring. It'd be good practice for them, especially if they hadn't seen the rat's nest and chaos that an A-wing's innards were. She was helping further their career.

It was a very easy lie to hang onto, but one that began to fall apart as she noticed all the other techs were remarkably busy. The recent action had left a great deal of work for the deck crew. They were stressed to capacity as it was, but still ... this was important, right? They would learn something valuable.

"Hey, Lev!" she called out to a young Sullustan running by, hydrospanner in each hand. The tech stopped and turned towards her, layered cheeks quivering. He looked frantic, big, dark eyes pools of liquid worry.

"Did I mess something up?" he said, trying to catch his breath. "I swear I did everything right, Lieutenant!"

"No, no. It's ... do you have a minute? I'd like to show you how to connect a new laser cannon to the central flight computer of an A-wing."

For a moment the Sullustan just stood there, his eyes slowly blinking. He held up his two hydrospanners like he was giving a double-thumbs-up to anyone he faced. His white jumpsuit was literally covered in servo grease that Angel recognized as belonging to the B-wing gyroscopic ring. Glancing past him, she saw four of the heavy starfighters in various states of repair.

Lev shifted his gaze from her back to the B-wings, obviously torn. Angel knew whatever he was doing over there was far more important. Getting those big birds flying again was priority, she'd read the missive, but this wouldn't take long. He'd be back in no time.

"Lieutenant I-I'm sorry but I was told I had to finish the gyro adjustments. I'm behind already! After though, after I'm... well then I have to do my self-evaluation with my supervisor. After that though! I'm really sorry. Sorry!"

Angel could order him to do it, she knew it. Her lieutenant rank held sway over his enlisted crewman, but then she'd be butting heads with the lead tech Chief. That would be messy, and for what? An hour-long lesson he didn't really need anyway? So she could save herself the trouble?

Her cheeks burned with shame and she waved him on, feeling drained and pathetic. "No, you're right. Go on. What you're doing is way more important. Thanks, Lev."

After he'd hurried off, Angel turned back to the damaged starfighter, hands tightened into fists. She could do this. Just climb up there and pull the panel off and open the housing. This was ridiculous that she was even afraid of it. What kind of tech was she if she couldn't even sit in a cockpit? A useless one.

I made this decision, now it's time to make good on it.

She despised even looking at the wedge-shaped fighter anymore. It filled her with dread and cold terror. Every curve reminded her of a collapsing tunnel. Every sharp edge a girder through her body. Every little sound it made was a cacophony of explosions and twisting metal. But this job was the only way to stay near them. She'd barely spoken to Grem, or Lock, or any of her former Reds. She didn't want to remind them, or really herself, of what she'd been too cowardly to do. Yet she needed to be here, to see them.

The admission made her take a step up onto the hull and remembering Gremlin's arms around her, the warmth of her embrace let her crawl to the cockpit. Her hand rested on the canopy rail and a spike of cold fear shot up her arm to her heart. Her chest tightened as she lowered a foot onto the seat and then the floor. Her hands were shaking so badly she had to grip the seat's ejection harness.

From below, Tone whistled a soothing sound, encouraging and comforting. She looked back and the little droid was standing there, watching, waiting. He was with her, even if she couldn't ask for anyone else. The droid didn't know, or maybe he did and didn't care. Somehow, it was easier to bear knowing a droid was back there, ready to help.

She got as far as pulling the pins on the panel and popping off its face before it became too much, even with Tone whistling a sweet song to her. The cockpit was too tight, too confining, too full of collapsing sanity. She pushed herself free of it and slid to the ground as fast as she could, sucking in breath after breath. Tone gently nudged her and she sat down, hugging the droid's cylindrical body. Her heart rate slowed after a few moments, the tears bitten back.

Patting her companion's domed head, she whispered a thank you and stood. "I need a drink," she whispered. "Let me know when that cannon comes in."

Tone warbled a gentle affirmative as Angel stood and made her way out of the hangar bay. Her shift was over soon anyway, but she'd make up the hours later. Later, things would be better.

***********

CRS Vigilant Observation Lounge
POV: Ant

The small rubber ball made a dull *thunk* as Anton bounced it off of the reinforced glass window of the lounge he currently found himself in. He was draped sideways across a chair, facing the massive bay window that opened into a grand expanse of starry space.

Sit tight and await orders, he thought, grimacing to himself. The Sith good is this reassignment if they're not even gonna utilize me. It was six weeks since the Battle of Endor, and three since he was reassigned to Corsair Squadron of Renegade Wing, and had yet to see any action. It's not like missions aren't being run. Shoot, they are running three concurrently right now, and I still wasn't one of the three squadrons-worth of pilots selected.

He threw the ball particularly hard, causing it to bounce off of the glass with increased speed and land back into his hand with a meaty *thunk*. He gripped the ball tightly, squeezing perhaps a bit too hard.

Not like I have to prove myself again or anything. I took down plenty of Imps, and the damn shield generator on the Empire's flagship Super Star Destroyer! He lightly tossed the ball up and let it drop back into his hand, examined it, then resumed bouncing it against the glass. It wasn't that he wanted to fight, necessarily, he just wanted something, anything, to break the monotony. Even a simple escort mission would be welcome at this point.

As the ball came back from the latest bounce, a hand flew in front of his vision and caught it.

"I can hear you thinking from across the ship, Ant," 2nd Lieutenant Jessie "Mouse" Ramsey said as she suddenly appeared. Ant had met the red-headed X-Wing pilot some time before the Battle of Endor, and they had started something of a relationship since then. Anton had to admit that he was rather delighted when he learned that she had been assigned to the same MC-80 that he was.

"Hey Jess," Anton said, his voice a bit more bright than he expected.

"You alright?" Jessie asked, cocking her head to the side. She was dressed in black pants that clung semi-tightly to her legs in a visually pleasing fashion. She wore a white tank top with the pewter coin Anton had given her around her neck, the flame emblem on it clearly visible.

"Eh, yeah," Anton grunted.

"Real convincing," she said sarcastically, playfully narrowing her green eyes. She sat herself down in a nearby seat, attempting to twirl the ball on her finger. It barely made one or two full rotations before falling and being caught by her other hand.

"I just hate sitting still, ya know?" Anton said. "I don't necessarily want an Imperial fleet to come out of nowhere and attack or anything. I just don't like this 'hurry up and wait' thing."

"Welcome to any sort of military," Jessie replied with a shrug, now trying to balance the ball on the tip of her index finger. " You'll get to do something eventually. I'm stuck here defending the ship. Only way I'll get to do anything is if an Imperial fleet does arrive."

"At least you're assigned," Anton answered, watching the ball stay balanced for an impressive few seconds before it fell and Jessie caught it with her other hand. "That would be enough for me. At least I'd have a specific task assigned."

"That's fair," Jessie nodded. She tossed the ball underhand back to Anton, who caught it.

"This obviously isn't over yet, not by a long shot," Anton said. "You got any plans for what you're gonna do when we're done."

"Already looking to the future, huh?" Jessie gave a half-cocked smile. "Well, I'd probably do the standard thing: settle down, start a family."

"Well, yeah. But I mean besides that," Anton prompted.

"Help people affected by the war. War scars aren't only physical," Jessie said, leaning back in her chair.

"It's admirable but... it's a big galaxy," Anton pointed out.

"There are a lot of people," Jessie admitted, causing Anton to give her a curious look. "Just means the sooner this all ends, the faster I can get started." She paused to take a long look out the window before adding, "how about you?"

"No idea," Anton said. "Maybe stay in the New Republic fleet, maybe strike out on my own. I honestly just have to sit back and think about it. Plenty of options, honestly. Probably plenty of new ones will open up after people are sure the Empire is completely gone."

"Well..." Jessie said, standing up. She joined her hands together and stretched in a way that accentuated her athletic body and made Anton fight back a grunt of enjoyment. "I need to get going. Skull's having a meeting." She winked at Anton then walked towards the door of the lounge.

"'Bout what?" Anton asked, craning his head over his shoulder and watching the sway of her hips as she walked away.

"Who knows..." She shrugged as she walked away, not looking back. "About the importance of not being bored, maybe? If there's anything concrete that we can talk about, I'll let you know." She paused as she reached the doorway, then turned to look at Anton. "Skull might have a small get-together later tonight, though. You wanna be my plus one?"

"I'm down," Anton smiled.

"See ya, Ant." Jessie winked and with a wave, disappeared down the hallway.

Anton was left thinking about what Jessie had said. He was finding out more and more about her every day, and every new thing he learned, made him even more curious about her. She was different. Helping people was something she wanted to do, and not just in the interim. She'd be cleaning up after the effects of this war after having fought in it. With this realization, Anton began to feel rather selfish in his own thoughts about what he would do when the war was finally over.

Great... Now I feel like a bit of a jerk... Anton frowned, mulling over the thought before resuming his bouncing of the ball against the glass.

**********

CRS Vigilant Simmons' Shock Deck
POV: Angel

Iggy placed the shot glass on the bar and filled it, then added a dash of Corellian Whiskey before sliding it forward. Angel caught it with a weary smile.

"Thank you, Iggy. You're an officer and a gentleman."

"I am a droid with no rank."

Angel smiled again before picking up the drink and throwing it back. The liquid was smooth at first, but then it bit hard. It burned a line down her throat, into her very core. The fire within spread, tickling the fading wounds on her stomach, chest and back. Once, that bothered her, but feeling them was somehow comforting now. It told her she was on the right path.

Leaving it all behind was the right move.

A hand slapped down a small package next to her empty glass. The face of a young woman followed it, staring at her with a ridiculously large grin. Her eyes were bright green, Angel noticed.

"Heya, remember me? Skitch? I told you I'd introduce bofa to you, so." She unwrapped the foil to display a pile of crunchy seeds. "Tada! I give you, bofa! Try one."

As if to prove they were not poisonous, Skitch plucked one seed from the foil and popped it into her mouth. It made a very satisfying crunch when she bit down and Angel found herself staring at Skitch's lips as she closed them. They pressed together, pursed as she groaned in pleasure. The sound made Angel shift and suddenly the burn in her chest fluttered up to her neck and cheeks.

"Seriously, girl, try one before I rescind my offer. I promise you every person in this lounge will steal them."

"That's right!" one of the new Buccaneer pilots yelled from behind them. "She literally threatened death on me!"

"Literally, death." Skitch said. Angel found herself watching as Skitch smiled, dimples adorning each cheek. "C'mon, girl, you've had enough whiskey to kill a Star Destroyer. You're as red as an Imperial Guard!"

"Lieutenant Courtner has had just one drink. She is capable of four and a half before impairment," Iggy said, unhelpfully.

"I'm going, I'm going," Angel said before anyone could say another word and reached for the seeds. Taking one between her fingertips, she rolled it between them, feeling the crusty, yet soft texture. Placing it between her lips, she tasted sugar and something else, like a smoky syrup she used to have on Sullust. The crunch of the seed was as divine as it had sounded and it was actually warm inside.

"Mm, oh frak that's amazing," Angel said, quickly taking up a second.

"Right? Bofa. Eat it, my treat to you." Skitch winked and leaned close enough that Angel could smell the scent of mellon on her, covering up the slightest hint of the hangar deck. No matter how much you scrubbed, that hangar deck smell never left. It was like oil and ozone, infused and personified. In contrast, the mellon was delightful.

"Thanks," Angel said, and meant it. "This was really nice of you."

Skitch nudged her shoulder with a fist. "Don't mention it. You looked like you needed a little bofa in your life."

"I did."

Skitch winked and turned to go, but then stopped and leaned back. Her easy smile and laughing eyes turned a little somber. Her hand lay gently on Angel's shoulder.

"Sometimes, a little change can make any broken thing easier to bear."

With a squeeze of her shoulder, Skitch left. She waved to other members of the tug crew in one corner, shouting that she had a fantasy league to check on. Angel followed her with her eyes as she disappeared through the lounge doors, tossing another bofa seed into her mouth.

"Well that was interesting," the Buccaneer pilot said as he eased himself into the area Skitch had vacated. Angel frowned and leaned away, eyeing him warily.

"What was?"

"Skitch. Being nice. Did you drug her?"

"I don't think so."

"Hrm." The B-Wing pilot rubbed his chin and then shrugged. "Oh well. You gonna need any help with those bofa seeds?"

*******************

CRS Vigilant Alert Pilot Bunk Room
POV: Bulldog

"So is there a reason why we weren't chosen for any of the other missions that jumped off?" Snacks asked his two equally bored companions. The atmosphere of the room was still heavy with the musty air from the two Rogue pilots' flatulence.

Jasted shrugged as he lay on his back on the bottom alert-room bunk. "Just wasn't our turn in the rotation I suppose."

Bulldog grunted. "You know what I think," he bit out quietly.

Jasted sat up slowly. "Here we go again," he said in a disinterested tone.

Snacks perked up. "What do you mean?"

Jasted looked at Bulldog, waiting patiently for him to respond. Seeing a reply not forthcoming, "Bulldog is convinced some or all of the C-Staff have it in for him," he said with a grin.

Snacks nodded sagely. "So he's paranoid?"

"I'm right here you know," Bulldog snapped.

"Ok then, explain your theory to the new guy," Jasted replied flippantly. "The CStaff can't have it that bad for you if they approved your transfer into Rogue Squadron."

Bulldog sat up and motioned for Snacks to lean closer. "It all started right after Endor," he whispered quietly, looking around conspiratorially, pointing at various areas of the room as if to indicate there were hidden cameras and listening devices..

Snacks leaned in closer to hear the tale better.

"We had this up-jumped General that had no idea what he was doing. We didn't get along whatsoever," Bulldog continued quietly.

"You urinated on his door and barfed into his quarters!" Jasted giggled.

"Yeah? Doesn't mean he should have transferred me though. I just got drunk to unwind after that nasty furball at Endor."

Snacks was enthralled with the story that took place just before his placement with the wing. "What happened next?"

Jasted motioned him closer. The young pilot leaned in closer, an expectantly eager expression on his face, his mouth slightly ajar.

Bulldog whirled around faster than a man of his bulk should be able to move. He placed his rear end inches away from Snacks' face and unleashed another flatulence-bomb at point blank range.

Snacks cried out in surprise and anger, toppling out of his chair onto the deck while he swiped at the air in front of his face.

"HA!" Jasted guffawed as he held out his hand toward Bulldog.

Bulldog slapped Jasted's hand and pumped his fist. "Thanks for the assist!"

Snacks kicked Bulldog's backside from the floor. "I hate you guys!"

"Gotta learn the ropes sometime, rookie," Jasted laughed.

"I wish I could get out of this room!" Snacks lamented as he picked himself up slowly. He ignored the outstretched hand from Bulldog, instead crab-walking away awkwardly to put distance between him and the two laughing Rogues.

The intercom kicked on and an alarm went off, freezing the three pilots. They waited a moment to see what type of alert it was. The alarm cut off momentarily as a voice cut into the channel to the room. "Alert pilots get to your fighters and launch immediately!"

The three men grabbed their helmets and zipped up their flight suits as they barreled out of the room and sprinted the short distance toward the hangar where their starfighters were armed and ready. In the hallway, the general alarm was still wailing, echoing off the deck in all directions.

**********************

CRS Vigilant Renegade Wing Officer's Lounge
POV: Jalb

"Oh you are frickin' killing me!" 1st Lieutenant Josh "Hellcat" Kinney exclaimed as he pushed away from the table after laying down his 23 point Pure Sabacc. The previously smug expression had quickly turned to disgust as Stryker lay down a 2 of Staves, a 3 of Flasks and The Idiot, an unbeatable hand.

"An Idiot's Array! How in the name of the deity of your choice did you pull that off Boss?" Lieutenant Colonel Chris "Jalb_k" Reynolds asked incredulously. "It's hard enough trying to gauge you through that visor but... pull your sleeves back Vince," he finished with a chuckle.

Colonel Vince "Stryker" Rambo openly laughed and held out his hands and waved them about like some sort of Kendamar Casino croupier. "Gentlemen, please, nothing up here or here" he pulled his sleeves up, "and nothing up here!" he declared as he rapped his knuckles on the side of his helmet, which drew a guffaw from the newly minted Rogue Two. 2nd Lieutenant Sival "Highball" Jandi was an accomplished pilot and a nice enough guy, but he wasn't quite a Rogue. The Wing, and Squadron commanders had no say in the matter though, just another of General Thram Shen'ryu's political machinations and a further dig at Rogue One... LT COL Reynolds and the General did not get on.

The three Rogues were enjoying the brief respite and much needed downtime and had happily accepted the Wing CO's invitation to his office for a 'quiet game of cards and some light refreshments'.

"It's all luck, really," Stryker said with an innocence that belied the truth.

Hellcat raised an eyebrow. "Pshaaw! Whatever, let's get dealing and give me a chance to get my credits back... What?" Hellcat said looking at the strange expression on Jalb's face. He and Jalb were long time friends, erstwhile pranking enemies, and had spent a lot of time fighting together. Hellcat knew that look usually meant trouble.

"Shhh!"

"What?!?"

"Shuddup!" Jalb had heard and felt a change in the ship's tempo as well as the shield generators spooling. Then they all heard the muffled crackling of energy impacts.

"Impstars!" Stryker shouted as he forced back his chair with a metallic screech. At that moment, the klaxon sounded and the voice of the Vigilant's Flight Control Officer, Lt. Ru'kaart, boomed over the tannoy.

"Alert pilots get to your fighters and launch immediately!" there was a slight pause "All pilots to your fighters! I say again, all pilots to your fighters! We have multiple hostiles inbound!"

Stryker, Hellcat, and Jalb were already at the office door before Highball even finished processing the situation. He was still sitting at the table holding his cards in his hand while he looked up in pure confusion at the three veteran pilots.

"Two! Let's go!" Jalb yelled at the tardy pilot. "Gear up, buckle up, and boost it or this thing will be over before you get there!" He waited until Highball was out the door and followed him to the Ready Room at a run. As he was heading to his locker his wrist buzzed and he glanced down to see a confirmatory text from Skip. His astromech had already got itself situated in the socket of his X-Wing and commenced preflight. He'd had his flight suit on with the arms tied around his waist so he shrugged into the top of it as he crossed the last few metres to his locker, popped it open, grabbed his box kit and magcon and threw it on. He then grabbed his helmet and put that on, slammed the door of his locker shut and started at a run for the flight deck, through the 'service entrance', all the while trying to hook and secure the leg and waist belts for his PPE. For as few as there were aboard at the moment the hangar was a madhouse with support and maintenance staff hooking and unhooking fuel lines, loading ordinance and giving pilots last minute updates on the worthiness of the space frame they'd just buckled into. A cursory glance over his X-wing as he ran up to it was all he spared, knowing Skip would have run full diagnostics and flagged any issues. He climbed the ladder and vaulted into the cockpit, adrenaline spiking and sweat already forming on his top lip. This isn't supposed to be happening! Not now, not yet, not here... what are we heading into?

To answer his mental question slightly, just outside the magcon field he saw a jinking A-Wing being hounded by four TIE Fighters, which were closely trailed by two Rogue X-Wings spitting red light, which in turn had another pair of TIEs chasing them.

**********************

CRS Vigilant Hangar
POV: Jasted

Many Bothans died to bring us these stogies.

Jasted couldn't help but desire the cigar tucked into his upper right pocket located on his flight suit. The stale, yet slightly sweet, taste would have to wait. A lone ImpStar had materialized from hyperspace and put a damper on what was supposed to be a cush assignment, which was well deserved after the Endor conflict.

These savory death sticks are worth more than that sad intelligence those dog-faced sorry excuse for half-priced spies conjured up . It's as if they mashed it all together before DII day.

Bitterness did cloud his loyalty. It was hard to let go his frustration with the spy network and the decisions put forward by the Rebellion on striking that battle station. It was unforgivable, sending thousands of rebels to their inevitable doom on information that was fed to them by the Imps. That was, at least, what was briefed by General Skywalker after the attack.

There's another unreliable name. The guy is an alleged hero of Endor, but no one observed him doing a damned thing during the fight.

Jasted sprinted with his new squadron mate towards the Vigilant's hangar. The new MC80B's intruder sirens were blaring obnoxiously loud, much louder than the Liberty's. Although deafening, it gave the two Rogues an extra sense of urgency and they picked up in their steps.

Bulldog glanced behind his right shoulder and observed Snacks falling behind. "Pick it up, man!" he said through a steady panting.

"Don't wait for me!"

"Move it, Snackpack!" Harassed Jasted. "You should be smoking us on the sprint. We are a couple of antiques."

"Sir, yes Sir!" Snacks replied, winded.

The three entered a shiny new hangar deck. The Rogue's astromechs fired up their respective X-Wings prior to the pilots arrival. Their sweet purr grew louder as they approached.

Bulldog extended his arm towards Jasted with a closed fist which was bumped firmly by his wingman's knuckles. "Lock s-foils, attack position!."

"Killin' Imps on another mission!" Jasted responded quickly with their new pre battle slogan.

Snacks attempted to jump in but was quickly struck down.

"Get in your A-Wing, dude!" Scolded Bulldog while pushing the rookie in the direction of the fighter. "She's not even running."

Jasted shook his head at the Corsair as he climbed up into the cockpit of Rogue Five and took a seat. "RX, systems look good. We are making a hasty exit."

"Alert Fighters, Control. You are clear for departure."

"Copy that, Control." Jasted initiated take off procedures. Rogue Five shimmied for a moment as its landing gear levitated from the deck.

The astromech acknowledged the pilot and confirmed takeoff was good to go.

The pair of Rogue T-65's and a Corsair A-Wing were released from the Vigilant's innards and set an immediate course to a wedge shaped destroyer identified as the Conviction. The CRV's Exodus and Egress had a jump start on snubs and were eager for a capital ship scrap. The Conviction immediately purged an interceptor compliment in response to the corvettes charging to their position.

"Alert Fighters, Egress- inbound interceptors. Acknowledge?" Captain Breya of the CRV Exodus called out.

Bulldog had the squint group lined up in Rogue Twelve's crosshairs. "On it, Exodus. Slow your approach."

"Rogue Twelve, we have already moved into range of primary target Conviction and have engaged." The dozen interceptors were still in the process of completing their release from the ImpStar's belly.

"Vigilant, Egress. We are opening up turbo lasers." Crimson burst from the Egress. She rolled through incoming fire from the Conviction, laying waste to a half dozen helpless squints. "Splash six, Rogue group!"

Getting cocky, Egress. Jasted acquired a new target as the trio was now in range of the Conviction. "CRV's, we will provide a fighter screen. Focus on primary."

"Negative, Rogue Five. We will clear out these TIE's exiting the hangar." Turrets redirected and began a steady pounding of helpless snubs exiting the Conviction.

"BD, Snacks, increase ELS to engines." Jasted frustration with the Egress was evident in his tone.

"On it, Five." BD set a course into a pile of fresh meat exiting the Conviction.

"Vigilant Control to defensive screen, scanners are picking up something entering real space. Stay alert."

"Five, you see anything?" Bulldog asked as he shuffled through his fighter's I.F.F.

Jasted cycled through targets until he came to a discouraging sight: an Imperial Star Destroyer dubbed Judgement and an Interdictor Cruiser labeled the Prohibitor. "It's getting busy out here, Vigilant. Where are our reinforcements?" The two new targets had hyped in on top of their location and proceeded to berate the Egress. More ships winked into existence nearby; a Raider-II Class Corvette, Quasar-Fire Class Carrier, two Gozanti Cruisers, and an Acclamator Class Cruiser. They also poured heavy fire into the direction of the Egress.

"Vigilant, we are talking heavy..." The communication from the Egress went silent as her shields had given up and the hull took a critical hit to the bridge. The follow-up salvos completely obliterated the stricken Corellian Corvette, sending fire and debris rocketing out in all directions.

"Vigilant to CRV Exodus, rendezvous on our position. Get out of there! Fighter screen, provide them cover."

"Egress is toast. Snacks, BD, let's provide a diversion for the Exodus," Jasted ordered.

"I doubt we can provide that much aggro to get them clear," Snacks replied nervously.

*********

CRS Vigilant Hangar
POV: Angel

Tone warbled happily as Angel slid out from beneath the A-wing's port-side and tapped her knuckles lightly on the brand new laser cannon assembly.

"Yep, that oughta do it, buddy. Let's fire her up and check that we didn't miss a connection somewhere."

Angel wiped her grease-covered hands on her coveralls as Tone plugged himself into the diagnostic cart. The cart, connected by wires and hoses to the A-wing's central computer, was able to run any system and spit out the code to Angel's datapad. It was useful for diagnosing troublesome glitches and also kept her out of the cockpit. Win-win.

Wish we'd had these back on Hoth, she thought, remembering how damn cold those X-wings had been. Datapads often froze up and adapting the snub fighters hadn't been easy either. That had been her first job in the Alliance, and it brought back some fond memories. Hobbie Klivian's fighter had been the first thing she'd repaired. Then, Rogue Group had been like giants to her, but the pilot's hound-dog eyes, boyish grin, and easy manner had made him one of her favorites. He'd never failed to say hello to her, and even shared some contraband whiskey when he'd smuggled it out of the pilots' secret still.

On so many missions he'd complained his energy converter system would stick, not allowing him to transfer power when he needed it. When she managed to repair it, she'd been so excited for him to fly the fighter again and try it out. He'd never gotten the chance in the end. She'd watched from the flight deck, like so many other ground crewmen, as her pilot died defending them. If only she'd worked on his snowspeeder instead, maybe he'd come home. Maybe she would have saved him.

Hobbie's X-wing had been the first one she'd ever flown, transporting it off Hoth during the evacuation. It hurt jumping it to hyperspace and it hurt worse seeing it turned over to someone new. Seeing his name erased from the fuselage was like erasing him for the galaxy's memory. It wasn't right. Serial number Constellation-Five-One-Five-Delta was sent away, used by someone else like it had no more history than what was listed in its flight logs.

Tone whistled absently to her and she blinked, then glanced down at her datapad. "Sorry, go ahead. Fire her up."

The A-wing powered on, its engine whirring to life. She fiddled with the programming and smiled as the little starfighter's cannon swiveled up and down, its targeting system searching. The power matrix was full, ready to use.

"We did it," she told her astromech companion with a grin. The A-wing had almost been written off but there it was, running, ready to fight again. They'd saved it, and maybe, hopefully, her work would let its pilot come home again.

Tone suddenly shifted its dome away, emitting a warning note just before klaxons began to wail. Startled, Angel nearly dropped her datapad as Lt Ru'Kaart, the Flight Control Officer, spoke over the announcement system.

"Alert pilots get to your fighters and launch immediately!" And then, a moment later, as if he'd forgotten or noticed something. "All pilots to your fighters! I say again, all pilots to your fighters! We have multiple hostiles inbound!"

The hangar exploded into motion. Angel tossed the datapad on the cart and quickly unplugged all the cabling, sealing the connections and pulling the pins on various safety features. Then she ran to where Spectre Squadron was emerging to do the same with their various craft.

Ladders were pushed into place, pilots' belts and helmets were helped with, astromechs plugged into place, pins pulled from engines and laser systems. Thumbs up, ready to go. A salute to a pilot as they began to taxi.

Spectre wasn't supposed to fight except as a last resort. They were reserves, yet she watched the entire group of them rising up on repulsors and taxiing towards the magcon field. What remained of Rogue, Corsair, and Buccaneer were already rising up, darting into the black. Her eyes shifted to the starfield outside and felt her blood drain. Skull Squadron's fleet defense X-Wings followed soon after.

There were so many out there. This was an ambush. The Vigilant was exposed, vulnerable, alone. Her frigates were gone! Her fighter squadrons were gone!

Tone whistled and she rushed back to where he stood near the A-wing they'd patched up. No one had come to claim it. In fact, there were many unclaimed fighters just waiting for pilots, pilots that simply were not here.

"Kriff..." she said, disbelief and fear raging. "Tone, we need to do something! Um... tell me where Corsair is right now? Can we reach them? Send a long wave holo?"

The mournful tone reminded her that they were split up. Some had gone to destroy the fuel depot, another had gone to a TIE factory. Would they all return? Why weren't they back yet? Was it something she missed?

No time for that now. No time for second-guessing. What could she do right now?

Her eyes fell on the A-wing she'd just repaired. It sat there, canopy open, waiting. It was ready to fight, ready to help, and all it needed was a pilot. Glancing down, she saw the wings on her coveralls, remembered earning them.

"All fighters follow me!"

The memory clenched at her heart. She'd followed him right into the heart of the beast. She'd gone without fear. The whole battle raged inside of her head. A chaotic dogfight and she'd loved it. The danger, the enthusiasm, the hunt? It had been her life. It had given her life.

Yet that yawning cockpit made her guts to turn to ice. She began to shiver, sweat breaking out on her forehead and neck. Breathing began laboriously.

"Ma'am, you should help them! You're better than any of those Imps! You gotta help!"

It was one of the young deck crew, the one who'd said she was a hero. He looked at her with such adoration that her heart broke. She wasn't who he, who any of them thought. Just like that little girl on Thyferra, who said she'd wanted to grow up to be like her.

Her eyes felt dry from holding them open, staring out into the dogfight that grew with every passing moment. She could help, she needed to help. All she needed to do was climb into that cockpit and let the rest fade away. Oblivion waited for her if she wanted it. To die a hero wasn't a bad death, especially for a coward.

More memories flashed. Gremlin's hands, warm and secure, telling her she was going to live. To fight. Lock's tight embrace, his bravery, his love for coming back for her. She was betraying them, now, in this moment if she did nothing.

"You!" she said, cracking through the ice in her system and pointing to the young man. "Get me a damn vest and helmet!"

The boy grinned and rushed off as she removed her tech belt and tossed it on the cart. She'd have to go without the A-wing's usual spats, which helped keep the pilots' pants from tangling in the tight confines. Her hand touched the hull, then climbed up, one foot and then the other. A vest was handed to her, a B-wing's but that was okay. Her helmet was an A-wing's at least.

The young crewman, Davees, clicked her gear into place and helped with her helmet. When he stepped back, he saluted her, full of pride. She smiled and clapped his shoulder. "Go, help Spectre get in the air."

"Yes, ma'am!"

He went, but kept looking over his shoulder. Angel waited until he'd gone out of sight before she climbed to the cockpit. The shivers began as she swung one leg in. A thousand times she'd climbed into one of these yet it felt foreign, unfamiliar. Before she could stop herself, she dropped into the seat and pulled the straps over her shoulders.

Her fingers danced, muscle memory getting the fighter online. By reflex she reached up to slide the canopy closed... and stopped. Her arm froze up, fingers going slack, unable to find purchase. Feeling a terror rising in her she couldn't control, she slapped at the canopy rail, desperate to find the hand old that would let her pull it closed.

Finally, there it was and she used her knuckles to push it into place. It sealed with a hiss and suddenly, it went quiet. Deafeningly, claustrophobically, quiet. The system notes before her blurred and became unreadable. Tears clouded her vision as she fumbled to try and find the comm system. Where was it? Left side? No, it was on the right? Kriff! She slammed her hand down into her thigh, trying to ward off the growing panic inside.

She whipped around, intending to look for the system back on her left side and her elbow slammed the stick into her gut. Suddenly she was hurtling through the exploding Death Star again, a piece of durasteel exploding through her chest.

Mom, help me, she damn near prayed. She'd never met her mother. Didn't even know what she looked like, but as she'd been dying, she'd heard her anyway. It seemed fitting, now, to ask for help again.

Silence answered.

"No!" she screamed, unable to find what to do next. And just like that she couldn't breathe, her chest feeling like there was a metal girder shoved through it. It hurt, her leg hurt, everything hurt. The shaking began, growing so bad she felt like she was convulsing.

Air, she needed air. Right now. Right frakking now! Reaching up, she unsealed the canopy and threw it open. In moments, she was out of the cockpit and running. Tone called out to her, begging her to look at him. She tripped, fell to her knees, rose again and collided with a late-arriving Spectre pilot. She shoved him away and ran again, but caught the edge of an electrical box and spun into a wall. Her back exploded with pain and she slid to the ground, covering her face with her hands.

She'd failed. She was a coward. A broken thing. When everyone needed her most, she simply couldn't do it. Who was she kidding? Tomorrow, if there was a tomorrow, she would resign. Go home, wherever that was.

Tone's beeping forced her to open her eyes, expecting him to be there next to her, but he wasn't. He was nearly ten meters away, tilting back and forth on his two legs, beneath an X-wing. Her eyes stared at him, uncomprehending.

"Sometimes, a little change can make any broken thing easier to bear."

Skitch's soft words whispered in her ear from a mile away and made the whole universe shut up. The battle outside quietly raged, but there was suddenly a tiny kernel of peace inside. She would later not recall walking to the X-wing, nor what made her look at the number etched under its wing.

Constellation-Five-One-Five-Delta.

She looked down at Tone, who in turn trundled over to an astromech lift. With a shaking hand, she touched the cool metal of the fighter's fuselage. Instantly, the shaking ended. Warmth spread through her, melting the ice, yet never became the feared, scorching fire.

She closed her eyes and breathed again.

*********

Space between CRS Vigilant and Imperial Remnant Taskforce
POV: Bulldog

Bulldog was sweating profusely. His eyes were darting all over the place as his combat brain took over and processed his sensory information faster than his rational brain could do on its best day. Rather than fight it, he learned early on in his career to give in to the frenetic but methodic ballet his head and eyes went through while flying through a furball.

Glance high starboard. TIE angling for a shot on Jasted.

"Five, break hard up and starboard," Bulldog called out. Jasted complied, and the TIE overshot, allowing Jasted to weave back in behind his would-be attacker.

Glance to port. Interceptor moving for a strafing run on Jalb.

"Lead, Squint moving in from your rear port arc- thirty low."

"Two- get him," Jalb's voice calmly called out.

"Roger, Lead," Rogue Two replied, with high levels of stress evident in his voice as his ship whipped into a steep diving turn to acquire his assigned target.

Glance back over his right shoulder. Two Bombers moving in for a lock. To confirm his thoughts, Weight warbled a missile lock warning, starting with a clipped chirping but picking up in frequency and volume as the locks were working from yellow to red. He chopped his throttle, stomped on his rudder, and yanked hard to port on his flight stick to reverse course quickly. His X-Wing slewed into a drift as he swapped nose for stern in the span of a few meters. His body was slammed into his pilot couch while his inertial compensator belatedly tried to account for the extra g-force he was experiencing.

The TIE Bombers were clearly not prepared for such a maneuver, as the both hesitated for a split second. They hung suspended in space on the same path while they tried to process what they'd just seen.

Weight warbled as the lock chirps became a solid tone, indicating both bombers were free to fire warheads that would now impact him right in the nose.

The hesitation was all Bulldog needed to seal their fate. A quick quad burst to the lead Bomber had all four shots connecting with the dual-central pods. Two hit the pilot and incinerated him in his chair. The other two bolts hit the ordinance pod and caused all of the concussion missiles to explode in their magazines, leading to a larger than usual explosion. The port solar wing slammed lengthwise across the transparisteel viewport of the second bomber right as he decided to fire a missile. It struck the still-stuck wing and blew up on impact. The bomber split in half, with the manned section of the hull pinwheeling off into oblivion.

"I'm going to punch a hole in the fighter screen of that ISD," Stryker said calmly. "A follow up strike would be advised. Rogue Twelve, you're my wing. Chop chop."

Bulldog double clicked his mic and looked at his sensor board. Weight highlighted Stryker's "Ugly" fighter on his hud with a white box and green highlight. The "Y-Gun" was one of the oddest slapdash snub jobs he'd ever seen. But that thing sure does pack a wallop. Three ships' worth of warheads can do some damage! He did one more quick scan of his surroundings as he maneuvered into a tight turn to tuck himself into Renegade Leader's aft, positioning himself slightly starboard. "Twelve on station, Renegade Lead."

"Buccaneer Flight Three, form up and wait for Renegade Leader's signal to start your run on the Conviction," Jalb ordered.

"Roger, Rogue Leader," Buccaneer Nine replied. "Three Flight, form up on me at position two-oh-three. Stay away from that Raider's firing lane!"

"Ok Rogue Twelve, cut throttle a bit. I'm going to scatter that fighter screen and peel off low to starboard. Clean up any trailers. Textbook feint and backstab," Stryker ordered.

"Roger, Renegade Lead," Bulldog replied, complying with the order to chop his throttle down. He swapped energy from his engines to his lasers to charge them and watched Stryker's fighter leap out in front of him. The fighter screen of TIEs noticed his approach and reformed to accept him with open arms. What is he doing... That's suicide!

"Time for a little 'Death Blossom' I'd say," Stryker said calmly, seemingly oblivious to the teeth he was flying straight into.

"Colonel, you're going straight into their killbox!" Bulldog shouted out in alarm.

"Patience, Lieutenant," Stryker replied steadily, almost condescendingly.

"Sir, with all due resp-"

"Relax, Twelve," Stryker replied in a murmur, switches audibly being flipped also carrying over the comm along with a strange multi-toned lock sound. "Never know what hit 'em."

Weight warbled in surprise, mirroring the absolute awe that Bulldog was feeling as he watched 8 advanced concussion missiles spring forth from Stryker's ship, each flying true toward a different TIE fighter. Before any of them could react, 8 miniature novas erupted in the TIE formation. Three of the remaining TIEs wheeled off in panic, but one followed Stryker as he pulled off after the launch.

"Splash 8!" Stryker cheered. "Twelve, Dex tells me I have a trailer. Kindly wipe him off my six."

"Roger," Bulldog replied and he ruddered to the right to track the persistent TIE. He lined up a shot on the target-shaped solar panel and squeezed the trigger. Three scarlet lasers of his quad burst rang true, boring through the quadanium solar panel and drilling deep into the ball cockpit. The pilot was immolated as his instruments superheated and exploded around him. Weight confirmed the kill and removed it from his HUD as the wreckage smoked and tailed off without a destination. "Scratch your trailer, Colonel."

"Thank you kindly, Twelve," Stryker replied. "I'm off for bigger game, rejoin your group."

"Buccaneers, hit that opening! Skim beneath the shields of that ISD and hit the targeting system as well as the shield towers!" Jalb ordered.

"Roger, Rogue Leader," the defacto leader of the four Buccaneers replied. "Starting our attack run now. Ten, on me for the left tower after the targeting system. Eleven and Twelve on the right tower after the targeting system. We go in together in an even line so the guns have less of a chance to hit the trailers! Execute!"

Bulldog did a quick scan of his surroundings and sensors and saw that he was clear for the moment. "Lead, Twelve. I'll follow them in and dump my torps into the bridge."

Jalb waited a few seconds to reply as he spiraled around a flight of TIEs that took a run at him and his wingman from an oblique angle. "Roger Twelve, but return to the squad immediately after."

"Acknowledged," Bulldog replied as he rolled into a position trailing the four B-Wings of Buccaneer Squadron as they boosted forward to close the distance quickly with the ISD Conviction to reduce the amount of time the gunners had to adjust to their approach. Bulldog matched their speed by dumping all energy into his engines and watched his boost begin to charge. He converted his existing laser energy into his shields to overcharge them as well to hopefully survive an errant turbolaser blast.

"We're under the shields, firing on the targeting system now!" Buccaneer Nine reported through gritted teeth.

Bulldog saw the stream of scarlet lasers impacting the targeting system, chipping away at the armor and melting components within. His targeting computer showed the component's integrity in a freefall from 100 down to 0 in less than fifteen seconds. It erupted in a shower of shrapnel and flames that rebounded around against the hull and the inner layer of the shields.

"Wooooooooo!" one of the Buccaneers cheered.

"Targeting System destroyed, Rogue Leader. Breaking by pairs to hit the shield towers now," Buccaneer Nine reported.

Bulldog boosted forward to catch up with the B-Wings, dodging around the now wild turbolaser blasts attempting to track him. Clearly that targeting system is a big deal on these ships. He slipped under the shields and strafed the turrets on his way forward. He looked up just in time to see the B-Wings reach the base of the bridge tower and pull up in a steep climb. As they followed the tower upward, a large durasteel panel just below the bridge opened to reveal a hidden battery of turbolasers, heavy laser cannons, and two concussion missile launchers. The location of the weapon battery was hidden from the charging B-Wings due to the sharp angle of their attack as they hugged the hull during their climb toward the shield towers. "Buccaneers break off!"

Before the B-wings could acknowledge, they flew right in front of the new weaponry and were vaporized as all weapons fired at once. Even the hearty B-Wing didn't stand a chance against heavy armament at point blank range. The wreckage continued upward with the momentum of their flight and ricocheted off the inner shields, clanging around until the ISD decided to lower its shields later on.

"Buccaneer flight, report!" Jalb shouted.

"They're gone, Lead! There was a hidden weapons emplacement right below the bridge on that ISD!" Bulldog shouted as he broke off his attack and threw his X-Wing into a wild weave to avoid tracking fire, boosting his engines into an overcharged state to put as much distance between him and the Star Destroyer as quickly as possible. This is almost as fast as my old A-Wing, he thought as he was slammed back into his pilot couch..

"Sithspawn!" Jalb cursed. "This complicates things."

********

Space between the two taskforces
POV: Ant

"Another swarm of TIEs just launched from the Interdictor!" Came a transmission from the Vigilant.

"Hey Vigilant!" Anton yelled angrily as he pulled a hard right and drifted alongside his home ship for several seconds. A pair of TIE interceptors flew past behind him, not expecting the maneuver. "Who the Sith was assigned to monitor the damn Empire?"

"Just focus, Corsair Nine!" Came the flight controller's transmission.

"He is focusing!" Snacks yelled back. "You are the ones that haven't been!"

Anton watched as Snacks spun out from a dive, turning his lasers onto an unfortunate TIE. The light raked across the back of the starship, and the TIE went up in flames as several chains of explosions separated it into pieces. "Good kill, Twelve!"

"You Corsairs always complain?" Asked the voice belonging to Skull 7, as a trio of X-Wings came flying past from Anton's starboard side.

"Only when some idiot in command doesn't do their job," Anton responded, gritting his teeth. He pulled his A-Wing in a tight 180-degree arc, leveling with one of the TIE interceptors he had been running from earlier. He diverted all power to his forward shields, then opened fire. He caught the unsuspecting pilot off-guard. The offending Imperial only had time to fire off several blasts that Anton's shields absorbed before Ant's laserfire ripped through the cockpit, shattering it. The Interceptor was consumed in a short-lived fireball.

"He's got a point you know," Came Jessie's voice as Anton watched Skull 11 spin to avoid incoming fire. She fired off a few shots at her attacker, which impacted across the wing, separating it and sending the starfighter careening off into space for several seconds before it was engulfed in flames.

"The Sith do you mean?" Came Skull 7's reply.

"How exactly do two freaking Star Destroyers just sneak up on us?" Jessie asked.

"Just.... just focus on the fighters!" Came a flustered reply from flight control.

"No shit! What does he think we've been doing!?!" Anton transmitted across the broad frequency. If he survived this, he'd probably get a talking to. There was no time to focus on that, as a trio of TIE Bombers appeared, heading towards the Vigilant and escorted by a cluster of TIE fighters.

"Vigilant, we need a plan!" Snacks yelled. "We can't hold against these numbers much longer!" Anton watched as Snacks' A-Wing shifted strangely as he came around from a turn.

"You alright, Snacks?" Anton transmitted, dodging around a pair of Skull squadron X-Wings.

"These blasted restraints..." Snacks muttered before his voice came through clearly, "I'm fine. What are we gonna do about those bombers?"

"What bombers?" Came Skull Seven's reply.

"Are you blind!?!" Anton yelled.

"All of you, shut up!" Yelled Skull Squadron's commander. "Corsair 9 and 12, you're closest to us. Flank around, hit the TIE's on the sides. Skull 2 and 4, above and below, you're on the fighters. Skull 3, 7, and 11, divert all power to forward shields and head directly at them, focus only on the bombers. I want everyone else to pick off the stragglers."

"Roger that," Came a chorus of replies.

"'Bout time we had some leadership," Anton grunted, pulling his A-Wing around as per Skull Leader's orders.

The New Republic ships all followed their given orders, setting up rather efficiently given the current circumstances.

"GO!" Skull Leader bellowed.

Anton was already sighted in, and opened fire, launching a missile as part of his opening volley. His lasers impacted the armor of one of the TIEs, but his missile was more effective. It connected with the wing joint of one of the TIEs, sending it bouncing off one of the bombers and tumbling out of formation, bits of metal flying off in all directions. He grunted in celebration, when a flash of red glanced off of his front left shield. It had come from Skull 12.

"Skull Twelve!?! What-?" He looked past to see the Skull X-Wing slightly off course.

"No, no nononononono!" Skull 12's voice came through. Anton watched in horror as several uncontrolled laser blasts flew in all directions and the X-Wing collided directly with one of the TIE fighters. Both ships went up in flames for fractions of a second before exploding.

"NO!" Anton yelled. There was no time to mourn. He watched as the rest of Skull Commander's plan was executed. It seemed to work out fine until the end, when two of the TIEs opened fire on the same X-Wing, sending rockets as well as lasers forward. Skull 7 was atomized, but he had managed to severely damage one of the bombers before he died. Skull 3 and 11 managed to expertly take down the stricken bomber and one other before breaking off their attack. The TIEs supporting also broke off, chasing after the X-Wings. The remaining bomber sped past.

Anton wheeled his A-Wing around and sighted in on the bomber. He diverted all power to his weapons and angrily pulled the trigger, sending a barrage of lasers at the bomber. It took longer than he would have liked, but eventually, the bomber's engine caught fire, followed by the remainder of the craft. It pointlessly drifted past the Vigilant as a glowing fireball, the pilot inside dead as pieces of the craft slowly broke away, floating off into space.

"Pull up, pull up!" Yelled Skull Leader, pulling Anton's attention towards the comms.

"I can't, they're---AAAARGH!" Came a yell from another Skull Squadron pilot.

"Vigilant! We're getting torn up out here, what is the plan!?!" Anton roared.

In response to his question, the Vigilant, Baraha'tok, Waverunner, and Exodus all executed a sharp turn and presented their afts to the two Star Destroyers that were closing in. Their engines flared to life as they all accelerated in the other direction. The two Star Destroyers responded by putting on their own burst of speed as they attempted to close in for the kill, firing exploratory turbolaser blasts at maximum distance. The green laser blasts were scoring a small but steady amount of hits on the shields of the fleeing Mon Cal cruiser while the smaller ships maneuvered into the mass shadow of their mothership to avoid taking damage.

"We're running?!" Snacks asked.

"There's nowhere to go," Ant replied, referring to the still powered up Interdictor Cruiser pinning them all in place in this system. "Running at sublight is their only option."

"What do we do then?"

"All fighters, continue to engage the TIEs!" Stryker's voice boomed over the general frequency. "Copy, Renegade Leader," Skull Leader replied to the wing commander's order.

Ant looked at his sensors and surveyed the battle, spotting a threat headed his way. "I see a pair of TIEs coming at me," he reported. "How about we run an under split, Twelve?"

Snacks' A-Wing pulled up alongside him and waggled slightly. "Can't believe I didn't adjust these things before I took off! Yeah, Nine, go play bait and I'll clean it up!"

Ant double-clicked his mic and goosed his throttle forward while Snacks dove his A-Wing out of sight. He nodded grimly, hoping whatever was going on with his wingman's ship wouldn't end up getting him killed while he drew the attention of both TIE Fighters and showed them his tail on purpose.

"Well, here's all that action you asked for, Corsair Nine," Mouse said ironically.

Anton snorted and rolled his eyes. "Yeah, I'm gonna need you to remind me to be careful what I wish for next time."

"Noted."

**********************

CRS Vigilant Bridge
POV: Captain Terak Quelle

The Vigilant was running out of necessity rather than cowardice. The combined might of two Imperial Class Star Destroyers outclassed their ship despite the extra shield and weaponry augmentations. The ship had a decent enough lead on distance, but the constant barrage of verdant turbolaser fire from both pursuing capital ships was forcing the Vigilant to constantly reinforce their aft shields with energy that could sorely be put to use in the engines to give them enough speed to get out of range.

Captain Terak Quelle knew his fleet was stuck between a rock and a hard place. The amount of time it would take to spool up the engines to open up enough of a lead to get out of range of the Imperial heavy weaponry would take far longer than it would take said weaponry to chew through his shields and destroy his engines. Even at their current rate, his shields would fail eventually from the onslaught being brought down upon them. "Strip our forward shields and shunt that energy to our aft generators!"

"Aye aye, Captain!"

Rear Admiral Peter Tolden stood by, clearly distressed at their current situation. The order to strip their forward shields forced his nervous tongue into action. "Captain, won't that make the bridge vulnerable to starfighter attack?"

Quelle grimaced at the sound of his nervous superior's voice. The few weeks they had spent together had been contentious at best, and he had quickly learned the commander of this fleet was timid and would do everything to avoid a fight, no matter how easily said fight could be won. "Admiral, we cannot maintain the rear shields without the energy from the forward generators. This allows us to keep the ship alive long enough for a miracle to happen."

Tolden blanched at the comment. "We're banking on miracles and hope?"

Quelle's mouth hung open in the Mon Cal equivalent of a smile. "Rebellions are built on hope, Admiral."

Tolden clearly didn't understand the significance of the quote nor the original person that had said it. "I think it prudent that we come up with a better plan than hoping for a miracle, Captain."

Quelle shook his head sadly, but disguised it well enough to look like he caught a sudden chill. He looked back to his sailors doing their jobs and felt even more derision for the being that was their superior that was currently cowering from the task at hand when he should be a shining example of courage and bravery. No matter, I will be that example then. "Fleet Comms, get the Exodus and Baraha'tok to get out from under us and speed up to our eleven and one oclock's respectively. Make sure they get to a distance out of range of those Star Destroyers, and order them to blast any TIE that tries to knock on our front door. Flight Control, order Spectre Squadron to take up a position toward our forward keel to keep us between them and the Star Destroyers, with the intention that they will be the first to respond to any fighters slipping through our guns. We're going to outlast these fools until we get the break we need!"

The officers on the deck cheered, and worked harder than ever to keep their ship alive.

"Spectre Lead acknowledges, Captain," Lieutenant Ru'kaart responded from his control panel. "They are disengaging and moving to form up at the ordered position. Skull Squadron has reported a few losses, and I've just been told we lost the entire third flight of Buccaneer Squadron," Ru'kaart added urgently. "Our fighter screen without Spectre is down to 17 fighters, up against three times that number!"

Quelle sagged with sadness at the losses as they were reported. Along with the obliteration of the Egress on the outset of the ambush, today was costing a heavy toll. Still, he had to put on the facade of serenity to give the men and women on the bridge a sense that everything would work out just fine. "Sensors, keep an eye on that Interdictor and the mass shadow it's generating. If there is a moment we get clear of it, let me know immediately. Navigation, I want you to continually plot an emergency jump to our backup rendezvous, ready the moment we hear that we're clear."

Both officers acknowledged the order audibly and focused intently on their stations.

"Guns, keep returning fire, but make any approaching fighters a priority to discourage them from trying to hit our unprotected bow," Quelle ordered, pausing after that last order to think if there was anything else he was forgetting.

"Exodus and Baraha'tok are now in position, Captain. Both Commanders Breya and L'toth understand their orders," the warrant officer at the fleet communications station reported. "Fire from the pursuing ships is not able to reach them at their current position. They have matched our speed."

"Very well, Guerin," Quelle replied, still thinking through their current stalemate. "Long Range Comms, are extrasolar communications still being jammed?"

The stressed out ensign nodded, clearly upset at the helpless feeling she was dealing with now that her one job was impossible to complete.

Quelle noticed the beginnings of panic on his junior officer's face. "Ensign Augin, continue to monitor the situation and let me know the moment the comms open up. We need to call for backup," he purred soothingly. "Our friends are out there ready to pounce, but I need you focused on sending out that message the moment you can."

The female Zabrak ensign took a deep, calming breath. After composing herself, she nodded with a tight smile. "Aye aye, Captain."

"How long exactly can we keep this up?" Tolden asked quietly, clearly having composed himself enough to learn from his previous error and kept his reservations between the two of them as to not dishearten the crew.

Quelle acknowledged the question by glancing over his shoulder at the Admiral. "Engineering, how long can I expect my ship to maintain this speed while also keeping our aft shields intact?"

After a long moment that dragged on for eternity, the chief engineer responded over the comm speaker in his chair. "I'd say we have about 1 minute before we have to get real creative with our reactor output, Captain."

It was not the news Quelle wanted to hear. For all of the hoopla surrounding this shiny new ship, she certainly didn't seem as durable as we were promised. He sagged back into his seat slightly as if punched in the gut. "Do whatever you have to do to keep those shields up without taking power away from the engines!"

"Engineering acknowledges, Captain."

Tolden had been patched into the report on his personal comlink, and he visibly quailed. "Captain..."

Quelle turned his chair to face the Admiral. "Sir, if you'll remember, I voiced my disagreement with your decision to allow our taskforce to be split apart to undertake three separate simultaneous missions. You ignored my now proven points, and this is the fruit your actions have born. You will now stand quietly by while I figure out a way to extricate our forces from the trap you've drifted us into."

Tolden was steaming, but he couldn't exactly replace the captain of the ship in the middle of a running light fight, especially since he hadn't taken much time to interact with the mostly alien crew and had no idea who he'd use to replace Quelle. He was stuck with the Captain he had, for better or worse. He clenched his jaw and nodded once as he stepped backward. "These were the orders we were given, Captain."

"And I'm sure you can tell the sailors of this task force that you were just following orders when they're dead!"

"Sir! The Raider has doubled its speed and is attempting to flank us! They are firing at maximum range!"

"Brace for impact!" Quelle shouted, gripping the armrests of his chair. The Vigilant shuddered under the opening salvo from the Imperial Corvette as it tore into the unshielded hull plating in the frontal half of the ship. After the shuddering ceased, he regained his voice. "Damage report!"

"Nothing serious, Captain. Some empty sections have been breached, but the emergency bulkheads have sealed. We got lucky!"

"Guns! Blow that bastard out of my sky!"

"Captain! Our forward batteries are unpowered. Engineering needed the extra power to keep our aft shields functioning!"

Quelle cursed inwardly. He knew it made sense for that to happen, but he certainly wished that had been reported to him when the decision was made. However, he maintained an outward sense of calm.

"Captain! Commander Pootala is moving the Waverunner between us and the Corvette. He apologizes for not seeing the attack sooner, but he was occupied keeping his ship moving in and out of the shadow of our keel to take shots at our pursuit."

Quelle nodded. "Excellent. Order the Baraha'tok to angle in to aid the Waverunner in dealing with that overzealous Raider!" The ship rocked with another salvo from the Raider, and some smoke started seeping in from one of the air ducts.

"Hull breaches on decks 15, 2, 18, and 20 through 28!"

Quelle frowned as the Raider launched another salvo, and helplessly watched as it connected with more unprotected sections of his hull. Alarms started wailing as the smoke from the vent went from a trickle to a stream. An instrument panel in the far corner of the room exploded, sending an unfortunate warrant officer smoldering to the ground. Other crew members rushed to put out the fire and render aid to the downed crewman.

"Their aim has gotten better! The next one will be right on top of the bridge, Captain!"

"What are our options, Captain?" Tolden asked nervously from his place at the back of the bridge.

"Incoming!"

Quelle whipped his head back to the viewscreen and watched the green wall of ordinance headed his direction. He clenched his body in preparation for the salvo incinerating his bridge, but his training and sheer nerve forced him to keep his eyes fixated on the screen. Before the blasts could reach his unprotected ship, the bulk of the Waverunner rose up to interpose itself between the Vigilant and the incoming light. The fresh shields on the Mon Calamari M30C frigate held, and it's return salvo combined with the warhead spread of the Baraha'tok caved in the Raider's shields. Before it could react, a follow up turbolaser salvo from the Exodus slammed into the unprotected bridge and fractured it in half from base to the top. The stricken Raider rolled away and broke off the attack.

The crew broke out in cheers at the sight, but a shudder brought them back to reality.

"What was that?" Tolden asked out loud.

"Captain! Engineering reports that shields will fail in the next 30 seconds!"

"Hellfish's Curse!" Quelle spat in frustration as he frantically thought of a solution.

"There is a squadron of Bombers coming about from the opposite flank!" The sensor officer shouted nervously.

Quelle cursed inwardly again. The Exodus and the Waverunner are out of position to help deal with that Raider! "Flight Control! Order Spectre to intercept!"

"Aye Aye Captain!" Ru'kaart responded, and quietly relayed the orders to Spectre Leader.

"Torpedoes launched!"

The Exodus attempted to slide back over and started firing wildly through the projected path of the incoming warheads. For every two that were picked off by the laser screen, one slipped through and continued toward them.

"Another Bomber group coming in from above!"

Quelle didn't take his eyes off the incoming salvo. "Order the Waverunner and Baraha'tok to move to intercept the new squadron!" He continued to watch the blue wave of warheads still approaching his ship. Spectre Squadron took some shots at the incoming warheads as they raced to intercept the TIE Bomber squadron that had launched them to prevent more warheads from being deployed. This Imperial Commander is good. Got us distracted with three almost simultaneous attacks from different directions. Though, had Commander Breya not moved on her own accord to attack the Raider, they'd have been in position to intercept the first bomber squadron and we'd have Spectre available for the second. I'm all for command autonomy, but sometimes we need to wait for orders. I'll address it later... if there is a later.

"Impact in ten seconds!"

"BRACE!" Quelle shouted, gripping his seat tightly. The Vigilant rippled with eruptions all along her port side. "Damage report?"

"Heavy damage along the port side. Multiple sections vented, but minimal casualties reported thus far!" The Engineering Watch-Stander reported from his damage control console.

"Spectre has engaged the first squadron and broken their formation! The second squadron didn't get a shot off before the Baraha'tok's missile launchers busted them up."

Quelle looked at his sensors and noticed one lone red marker dangerously close to the ship. "Sensors, why isn't that TIE Bomber being blown out of my sky!"

Before the sensor operator and the flight controller could relay orders, the ship rocked violently to the side.

"What in the Sith was that?!" Tolden shouted.

The red dot winked out of existence shortly thereafter, a blue dot swooping through that sensor space seconds later indicating a Spectre X-Wing had cleaned up the interloper.

"That TIE Bomber was equipped with a new weapon, Captain. It was some sort of high energy beam cannon. It bored through multiple sections of hull. No casualties have been reported!"

"I want all recordings of that weapon stored on the secure server so we can get it to New Republic Command," Tolden ordered.

"Aye aye, Admiral."

"No serious structural or system damage has been reported from that last attack!"

"Spectre Leader apologizes for letting that TIE Bomber slip through, Captain," Ru'kaart broke in. "He says it won't happen again."

"Thank the ancestors," Quelle blew out in relief. "Tell our pickets and Spectre Squadron to keep their eyes peeled for any other threats to our flanks. And I trust we won't be distracted from our sensors again in the future."

The officer at the sensor station slumped his shoulders.

"It's not a condemnation, just learn from it," Quelle said to reassure his junior grade lieutenant. "You're our eyes out here. We need you to see the threats to give us enough time to deal with them before they get in close enough to draw blood."

"Engineering reports our aft shields are about to fail!"

"Captain!" Ru'kaart shouted from his flight coordination station. "Roll the ship! We can focus shield power on the side of the ship facing the Star Destroyers, extending our shield durability!"

Quelle thought for a moment as he regarded the dark-skinned human officer that had made the suggestion. "It may just work, Lieutenant!" He punched the button on his chair's comm device. "Engineering, can you focus the shields on just one quarter of the aft of the ship and keep moving that focus with the ship?"

The Vigilant shuddered again as they waited for a response. "Chief Runa? Blast, where is that Sluissi wunderkind!"

"Uh, Runa's been evacuated to medbay. Took the full brunt of an internal explosion in Engineering, Captain," a very nervous voice responded finally.

"Who am I speaking with?" Quelle responded.

"Ensign Breelk Timan, Captain."

"Timan?" Yarkoran, relatively new to the crew. If he's in charge, we're hurting worse than I thought. "Yarkoran's are known for their ingenuity, correct?" Quelle responded, hoping to instill more confidence into the very junior crew member.

Another long pause. "Uh, yes Captain."

"Good, I fully expect you to keep those shields powered, and we'll modulate the angle from here," Quelle replied.

"Understood Captain."

"Your crew is up to the task. You'll keep us alive, Ensign."

"Yes SIR!" Timan replied with much more confidence.

"We're trusting our lives with a Yak Face?" Tolden mumbled audibly under his breath.

Quelle narrowed his eyes and stared daggers at his obviously biased commanding officer. Tolden pretended not to notice, clearly embarrassed that his musing had been out loud rather than silent. Quelle shook his head, making it clear that he was disgusted. "Helm, begin to roll us. Shields, begin modulating the shield coverage to keep the shields on the section facing the two Star Destroyers."

"Helm is starting to roll to starboard."

Quelle monitored the shield coverage on the console attached to his chair. He frowned almost instantly as he noticed the shields lagging behind with the movement, leaving their hull open to attack. The ship rocked as a salvo slammed into the unprotected aft half of the ship.

"Engine Three took a hit there! It's damaged and being taken offline to prevent an overload!"

"Ensign, can you modulate the shields properly or do I need to relieve you?" Quelle bit out.

The flustered Ensign was a flurry of activity above his shoulders, but his hands were frozen in place. "I. ah... I..."

"I can do it, Captain!" Ru'kaart shouted from his console.

"Ru'kaart! Take over that console and get those shields moving with our ship!"

"Aye Captain!" Ru'kaart shot to his feet and bounded over to the shield console. The flustered Ensign got up and hung his head in shame. Ru'kaart's hands were a blur of motion. "Shields in place, and I'll keep them rotating with the ship."

"Keep it moving, Lieutenant," Quelle said with an approving nod. He looked to the crewman that had previously frozen. "Ensign Antle, there is no shame in not being able to do something you've never been asked to do before. Please watch the Lieutenant work so you can learn the strategy for future engagements."

"Yes, Captain," the Ensign replied, seemingly reinvigorated as he moved back over to watch Ru'kaart work with great focus.

"Captain! We're not able to keep our top speed any longer with one less engine. Our pursuit will overtake us shortly at this rate," the sensor officer reported.

"How soon are we talking?" Quelle replied with a grimace.

"Three minutes or less, Captain."

Quelle sighed. "Hope and miracles..."

******

Space
POV: Bulldog

Bulldog was flagging. He'd downed four TIE variants confirmed, and suspected he had grievously wounded another two despite not being able to stick around to confirm the kills due to the frantic nature of the furball he'd been embroiled in for the past 15 minutes. His combat brain was fastly becoming overworked, and his reflexes were getting slower. His peripheral vision was narrowing, and he was seeing less and less of his surroundings. TIEs that he used to see before they had a chance to angle in for a passing shot were now able to send lasers into the space around him before he was able to see the threat and react.

Weight squealed a shrill warning, and a red, urgently-flashing arrow appeared on the right side of Bulldog's HUD. His X-Wing shuddered as laser bolts slammed into his shields. Without thinking rationally, his combat brain forced him to roll and climb into the attack to reduce the amount of time his attacker would have on target despite the screaming reservations coming from the self-preservation side of his mind urging him to break away from the threat and run. His shield panel sparked and went dead in a puff of smoke, and the right transparisteel pane of his canopy developed a small crack at the base.

"Where did this guy come from?!" He bit out as he flew underneath the TIE. He shunted laser energy into his shields to shore them up and hauled back on the stick to attempt to turn the tables on his attacker. As if looking in a distorted reflection on a rippling surface of water, he saw his attacker doing the same thing. It was clear neither of them earned the opportunity for a glancing shot as they passed within meters of each other and attempted again to re-engage.

"Twelve, you've got a TIE coming in from above!" Jasted shouted in warning.

"I can't engage him, Five!"

"Continue your current engagement, Rogue Twelve," Stryker said calmly. "I've got your new bogey."

Bulldog couldn't chop his throttle down to force his current target to overshoot because it would make him too stationary for the new attacker boring in on him, and thus him and his TIE dancing partner again passed within meters of each other as they continued their flat scissors. Time was on the TIEs side, however, as the Renegade Wing pilots were still roughly outnumbered three to one in this engagement.

"I've got a lock," Stryker said calmly. "Missile away!"

"Rogue Twelve, I'm bringing a tail right in front of you," Ant's strained voice said. "I've got a window to take out the guy you're chasing!"

Bulldog's brain became momentarily overwhelmed again while he attempted to simultaneously locate Ant and his tail, Stryker's missile tracking his still unseen attacker, as well as remain in a neutral position with the TIE he was in a scissoring deadlock with.

"Splash your bogey, Twelve!" Stryker declared triumphantly. The miniature explosion reduced the amount of bandwidth clogging Bulldog's brain and snapped him back to some semblance of reality.

"Rogue Twelve?!" Ant shouted again urgently.

"Roger," Bulldog replied, making sure his power system was maxed toward his lasers to charge them back up. He saw Ant's A-Wing scything in from above. His craft unleashed a torrent of laserfire down on Bulldog's target, and the TIE had no chance to react. The bolts bored into the top of the ball cockpit, making a window where, had there been one, the pilot may have seen the attack coming and made an evasive maneuver. Right behind the A-Wing was a TIE trying to get a solid shot on the speeding wedge-shaped craft. Too focused on your target, buddy. Bulldog angled his nose up slightly. As Ant dove down below his field of vision, Bulldog squeezed the trigger and unleashed a hail of dual-shot bolts from his lasers. The TIE flew right through them, and exploded as its momentum carried out of sight the same direction Ant had gone. "You're clear, Ant."

"Thanks, Dog," he replied with a smile evident in his voice.

Bulldog took a moment to scan his surroundings and sensors, jinking enough to not be a stationary target. Once he saw he was clear, he looked at the full sensor picture and frowned. The Interdictor Cruiser was following the path the Vigilant had taken, flanked by two Gozanti Class Cruisers, a Quasar-Fire escort carrier, and an Acclamator Class Assault Ship. There was also a squadron of TIE Fighters holding station nearby, clearly a deterrent for any rebel fighters trying to strafe the Interdictor.

On the other end of the battlefield, the Vigilant and her picket ships were engaged in a running light fight with two Imperial Star Destroyers and their pickets. It looked like a stalemate, but the Vigilant was taking hits that it couldn't absorb forever. Flitting amongst the Imperial pursuit force was another couple of squadrons-worth of TIEs, but they weren't doing anything aggressive that he could tell aside from maneuvering to confuse New Republic sensors.

Despite all of those forces being in those arenas of the battle, the few Rogues, Corsairs, and Skulls were still outnumbered by a factor of about three to one in the middle of the battlefield. The originally long odds were falling, but not quick enough for Bulldog to relax. Despite the relatively open space in his current area, he knew he had to pull back in to re-engage with the furball. Unfortunately, his hands would not comply this time. He had frozen, and his hands were locked in place.

"Get back in the fight, Twelve!" Jalb's voice called.

Bulldog began hyperventilating. He couldn't get his wind to reply to his leader. His mouth went dry, and his palms went clammy. Weight hooted in alarm.

"Twelve, are you wounded?" Jalb called out again.

Finally the dam broke, and Bulldog was able to regain his normal breathing. His hands unlocked, allowing him to maneuver again. "I'm good, Lead," he replied huskily.

"Good to hear, Twelve. Come about to four-oh point ten to regroup. We need to stick together out here," Jalb replied.

Bulldog hauled back on the stick and throttled back up to max speed. "Roger, Rogue Leader." His hands began to shake violently, but he got it to stop through sheer force of will. A TIE Bomber flight was angling in on a lone Skull Squadron X-Wing. Not today, you Imp Sithspawn.

******

ISD Conviction Bridge
POV: Commodore Tol Barand

Commodore Tol Barand was the picture of stoic Imperial implacability. The previous captain was a nervous wreck and it filtered down to the crew. Appearances are almost everything after all... He stood upright, with hands clasped behind his back as he gazed steadily out of the viewport at the unfolding pursuit.

"We're 90 seconds away from overtaking the ship and being able to reach the unprotected forward half of the Vigilant with our turbolasers," Captain Jaevion reported calmly, mirroring his superior's attitude and pose as best he could.

Barand nodded and smiled as he surveyed the heavy damage his forces had inflicted on their quarry, and was awed by the fact that it was still chugging along and proving a difficult target. "I hate to give any type of credit to the separatists, but those Mon Calamari Cruisers sure have a durable design," he said aloud to nobody in particular.

Jaevion said nothing, but could not hide his shocked expression.

Barand chuckled. "Relax, I was just appreciating how much damage that ship has taken."

"Aye aye, Commodore," Jaevion replied. He shook his head, and continued his status report. The Prohibitor is still generating the mass shadow to keep all craft trapped here. Per your orders, the Gozanti Cruisers Twilight IV and Centurion Pidgeon are pacing it. Acclamator Cruiser Blackout is also holding station and continuing to jam extrasolar communications. Their two squadrons of fighters are holding firm to screen any attempts by the original rebel fighters on the Prohibitor. Fleet Carrier Rebel's End is also staying nearby to avoid any undue risk to the rebel fighters"

"Excellent, Captain. Make sure we keep a fighter screen around our detachment to close in for the kill and also discourage their original fighter screen from sneaking up on us, and keep our support ships nearby. I suspect their smaller ships are going to either make a break for it in a different direction or, if we're lucky, they'll turn and attempt to charge us so we can destroy them quickly. If their support ships try to break off with a new vector, order the Judgement to pursue with the rest of our support ships. No ships or fighters are to close with our quarry until ordered to do so. Those support ships and that squadron of snub fighters hugging the keel of that cruiser are still dangerous."

Jaevion nodded, and relayed the maneuvering orders to the communications pit.

"How many of our fighters are currently engaged with their original fighter screen?"

Jaevion paused while he waited for the report from his flight control officers.

"About 35 are still engaged with 17 rebel fighters," the Lieutenant in the sensor pit reported loudly.

Barand smiled, feeling the elation of the coming satisfactory conclusion of his machinations. The three-pronged plan I put in motion to eliminate the Vigilant and Renegade Wing is finally bearing fruit. 'Misplacing' that intelligence implicating that traitorous fool Captain Jerryk Pash took 1/3 of the Renegade Wing forces off the board as well as sent the adequate punishment the way of that soft-hearted weakling. I only wish there was some way for him to know it was me who sunk him. Had he only followed his orders and executed Operation Cinder in his sector... No, he was still too soft. Even if he had carried out his duty, I would have still been forced to deal with him. Pity to lose those TIE facilities though.

The faked bacta convoy set up by our own Captain Del pulled another third of this rabble away. I almost pity the fools when they realize the convoy is empty and then return here to find their flagship in ruins and friends floating in vacuum. Almost. The fact that they were too dense to stretch themselves this thin proves that they deserve to be destroyed by my hand.

Lastly, the Doilan III fuel depot strike should hopefully hobble the fleet resources under that meddlesome upstart Ecressys and bring him to heel. If I can get Colonel Trandor to defect to my banner, it will be a huge boost to our resources. Let's hope they put up enough of a fight to destroy the element of Renegade Wing after the wing was able to sneak in and destroy that fuel depot with our intentionally leaked intelligence. Trandor should hopefully have a change of heart after that...

Finally, here we are hammering the Vigilant and the rest of the rebel scum. Trapped by the Prohibitor we have on loan and being harried by the combined might of two fully staffed Imperial Star Destroyers... I love it when a plan comes together so perfectly.

He clapped his hands once loudly, startling many of the officers on the bridge. "This ends shortly. In the name of our late Emperor, let's make them pay for Endor!"

The bridge crew cheered loudly, and many pumped their fists in the air. "In the name of the Emperor!" ************************************************************************************* Part 1.1<   Part 1.2 <    Part 1.3   >Finale ***********************************************************************************