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Defend the Vigilant Finale

Flashpoint


Contributions by: Bulldog, Jalb, Ant, Angel, Krayt, Jasted and Gremlin. Consultation with Talon, FLATTOP, Foo (TRA) and Dragon.

CRS Vigilant Bridge
POV: Captain Terak Quelle

“We’re running out of time, Captain,” Admiral Tolden said nervously, giving voice to the very real feeling of dread the entire crew was feeling.

“I agree, Admiral,” Quelle sighed. I’m out of ideas and tricks, and within the next minute those two Star Destroyers will have closed enough distance to be able to reach our upper hemisphere and start hammering our unshielded hull. We can’t abandon ship because there is nowhere to go except an Imperial holding cell, or just dying while TIEs helplessly pick off the stranded escape pods.

“Captain! The Captains of the Waverunner, Exodus, and Baraha’tok have all gotten together and requested that they be allowed to form up and charge the enemy to give the Vigilant more time to effect repairs and put on some distance from our pursuit.”

Quelle dismissed it outright with a quick shake of his head. “Denied. I will not have them sacrifice themselves on our account.”

“Now just wait a minute there, Captain,” Tolden started. “This idea-”

Quelle cut him off with a sharp wave. “Is not happening. I will not have the crews of those ships consign themselves to death on our account,” he said resolutely as he stared at the Admiral, almost daring him to disagree. Tolden again backed down.

“Comms, tell the three captains to prepare to utilize their full sublight speed at a heading 45 degrees down from the ecliptic plane and 45 degrees to port of our current path. Tell them to put as much distance as they can between us and our pursuit so they can break the mass shadow of that Interdictor to allow them to escape while we’re still pursued. Make sure they stay together so they don’t get individually overwhelmed by any fighter pursuit. The Imperials can’t get us all.”

“Aye aye, Captain,” the comms officer replied as he hunched over his console and began relaying the orders.

He looked to Tolden as he moved his swiveling chair closer to the Admiral to speak relatively privately. “Perhaps we can offer the option for crewmen to use the escape pods if they are so inclined.”

Tolden’s face hardened. “That’s not much of an option, Captain. Even if the pods took the same heading as our picket ships, those ships wouldn’t have enough room for all the crew of this ship. That would leave the remaining pods with the choice of a holding cell if they’re lucky, or the swift, helpless death by a TIE strafing run.”

Quelle felt that the Admiral had identified the wrong option as lucky, but decided not to quibble. “I concur, Admiral. Before I make the announcement, might I inquire which option you would prefer to take yourself? Your operational knowledge of our maneuvers in this arena would be a treasure trove of information that cannot fall into enemy hands...”

Tolden put his finger to his chin as he thought. As he opened his mouth to answer, he was interrupted by a flurry of excited voices from the sensor and comms stations. Both he and Quelle looked at the disruption.

“Captain! The Rehz’nor has just appeared out of hyperspace near the Interdictor and her support ships! New Republic fighters are also dropping out of hyperspace in the same region, but they appear to be disorganized!”

Quelle looked at his sensor readout and confirmed the report, but hope was not the first feeling he felt. His mental math told him that a lone Nebulon B Frigate, even with the added combat capability the fighters of Task Force 2 presented, could not hope to match the Imperial forces arrayed around the Interdictor Cruiser. They too would fall victim to the ambush that had snared the Vigilant. “How unfortunate that they were also drawn into the same trap as us.”

Another sensor officer broke in the moment Quelle had finished his grim thought. “The Regis, Nighthawk, and Insane Endeavor just arrived on the opposite side of the interdictor group. They are deploying fighters!”

“Hope and miracles!” Quelle shouted joyously.

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

Corsair Two
Task Force 3
POV: Gremlin

Gremlin’s comms were all but overwhelmed with the chatter on her group’s frequencies.

“I was yanked out of hyperspace ….”

“ … no idea what’s going on!”

“There’s Corsair Two - where’s Krayt?”

A quick scan of her sensors showed the reason for their abrupt exit from hyperspace: an Interdictor-class Cruiser, gravity wells jutting like obscene hives from its Imperial-grey hull. Farther off were two other Star Destroyers, both pursuing the Vigilant, whose shields were holding despite the pressure from the attacking ships. It was only a matter of time before the defensive perimeter would fail, though, despite the best efforts of the Vigilant’s gunners and the snubfighter pilots fighting off the oncoming Imperial ships.

Between their arrival point around the Interdictor and those support ships and the Imperial pursuit of the Vigilant was a massive furball of multiple TIE variants and the remainder of the Renegade Wing fighters of Rogue, Corsair, and Skull Squadrons. The lower than expected numbers of her friends caused her heart to sink.

Gremlin noticed the Regis and her support ships were engaging an escort carrier and an Acclamator-class assault ship, which must have pounced on them when they were snared by the Interdictor. The small group of fighters from Dolian III were loosely gathered, clearly awaiting orders from their leader … but Krayt had gone. Quite literally, he’d gone.

She took a deep breath and keyed the comm, broadcasting on the channel which covered both the snub fighters and the Rehz’nor. “Corsair Two here. Form up in flights; we’ll head where we’re needed most. I’ll contact HQ to find out where they want us to go.” They would only have seconds before Imp fighters were heading their way - or that Interdictor turned its guns on them.

Vigilant Control, this is Corsair Two - we have the coaxium from the fuel depot. What are your orders?”

“Please hold,” came a panicked response on the comms, to be replaced seconds later by an unfamiliar voice: a woman she didn’t recognise. At least this officer seemed to be aware of their mission.

“Corsair Two, glad you’re here. As you can see, some trouble found us. Our big problem at the moment is that Interdictor. How’s your warhead supply? Wait,” the unknown officer paused while the Vigilant’s sensors scanned the fighter group, “where’s Lieutenant Colonel Durgan?”

Gremlin swallowed. This was the question she’d been dreading. “Uh - h-he’s …...“

At that moment, Krayt’s black X-Wing, still painted in Rogue colors, dropped out of hyperspace behind them.

“Control, this is Gold Leader,” his voice broke through on the comms. “Who started this party without us?”

“Kriff!” In her shock at seeing Krayt reappear, her thumb had slipped off the comm button so she maintained protocol - just. Gremlin swallowed everything she wanted to say and managed a more restrained, “He’s right here, Control. You were asking about our warheads?”

She nudged her A-wing sideways to make space for Krayt at the front of the group and transmitted a request to the rest of the fighters, asking for their combat readiness. As the responses came in, she shunted them to Krayt’s comm but her thoughts were replaying the moment when he had disappeared - simply vanished - and then reappeared again.

“Control ... our warheads are low. We used a lot more ammunition than expected at the fuel depot. We’ve got some light to moderate damage - but at this point I don’t see how we can’t engage. What’s the priority target?” Krayt asked, skimming over the information.

“We don’t have an answer for that Interdictor. If it’s not disabled, destroyed, or forced to flee- the Vigilant will not survive.” came the controller’s grim response.

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

Corsair Five
Task Force 2
POV: Dragon

2nd Lieutenant Kell “Dragon” Arcfire was angry. Long days in the cockpit, you’ll NEVER see that part of a fighter pilot’s life in the holovids. Living incognito as Latis again sounds pretty good in comparison…

Syntax’s voice buzzed over the comms. “We need to pull the teeth off of these ships, pilots. All fighters in Task Force 2 are under my command until further notice. Form up on the dark side of the Regis while we acquire a target.”

Dragon double clicked his mic and rolled his ship into the aft-port quarter of Corsair Leader’s A-Wing, and Junior took up a similar position to starboard. The trio of A-Wings swept under the neck of the Regis and looped around while the two remaining Rogue X-Wings and four Buccaneer B-Wings lumbered into position.

“They kriffing need us out there in the furball!” Junior growled. “Let’s karking crush these Imp schuttas!”

Dragon nodded in agreement. “We’re dogfighters, not cap-ship killers,” he mumbled.

“Can it, pilots,” Syntax replied.

The two Corvettes and their Frigate immediately started hurling sheets of red light at the nearest Acclamator class ship. The return fire was equally ferocious from the other Imperial ships, but the Acclamator clearly knew it was at a disadvantage and rolled away to disengage. The panicked maneuver left an Imperial Escort Carrier woefully exposed, and the New Republic ships exploited the opening and began targeting it in earnest.

“Orders confirmed. Corsair fighters are to engage the fighter screen. Buccaneers and Rogues under command of Major Dobson, close with that Acclamator and take its cannons out! Execute!” Syntax ordered as he rolled his ship hard to port to engage the still disorganized TIE fighter screen.

Dragon and Junior rolled with the sudden maneuver and instantly opened up their throttles to max to close quickly with the TIEs. Dragon flipped a toggle on his yoke and saw his lasers charge quickly. The rapid-fire design gave him a huge amount of energy to shell out in a short amount of time, but in this target-rich environment that meant his shots could be wild and indiscriminate. Three TIE Fighters were caught unawares by his sudden volley and erupted in fireballs.

He saw Junior unleash his ion lasers with even more reckless abandon, scoring a few hits on the remaining fighters, but only managing a few hits on the same fighter in one case. That unlucky TIE was a sitting duck as its electronics were fried and the pilot couldn’t maneuver.

Syntax cleaned up the kill with a fully charged shot from his plast-burst cannons, knifing through the explosion expertly as he charged another bolt and hunted for another target.

“You Beauty!” Junior cheered with a whoop.

“Good kill!” Dragon exulted as he wheeled around for another target.

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

Rogue Leader
Task Force Home Guard
POV: Jalb

Sweat was pooling at the base of Jalb’s spine. It was cold in space, really cold, and keeping the heat in a snub fighter was power intensive so when you’re in the midst of a dogfight power for shields and weapons tends to take precedence. What remains, however, is the heated flight seat and when you’re in a prolonged furball those heat contact points get wet. This was also one of the longest engagements he had taken part in, not so much for the linear time, even Endor had long lulls in the battle that allowed regrouping, but for time in contact. He spared a quick glance from his scopes to the chrono on his HUD.

42 minutes… Kark it! he thought. This is far from ov… Frack!! he berated himself further internally as instinct kicked in. A momentary lapse in concentration allowed the two Ties he was currently evading to pull tight left then swing in right on a high low. He kicked hard and dove left in a spiral evasive as his right thumb flicked power management to max engines. This cut the engagement opportunity window for the low Tie but opened it slightly for the high side fighter. He glanced at the engine reserve. As it hit a quarter he tapped the boost button on his throttle, straightened his fighter then held the button down, slewing left and cutting throttle, inducing a dead drift with the nose of his fighter now directed at the Ties which were now practically lined up. He quickly flicked power back to weapons and hit the first eyeball instinctively with rapid fire. As he flew through the expanding remains of the first victim, the second had been autotargeted. Two quad bursts put it out of the fight as well.

He checked his scope then made a visual scan. He had probably 30 seconds to shore up his shields and rebalance power. “Skip, do what you can with the launcher system, I need those barrage rockets back up” There was a warbled affirmative from his astromech. He flicked his targeting through local friendly contacts. Rogues Two, Five Eight and Twelve: Highball, Jasted, Hellcat and Bulldog… all had adequate hull and were flying pairs, as were Corsair Nine and Twelve. Ant Snacks he chuckled inwardly, glad he still had a sense of humour. He found Stryker’s Y-Gun ugly and pointed his snub back in that direction. The Renegades were holding their own but the Imperial remnants had stacked their numbers against Skull Squadron’s remaining X-Wings. Smart move, take out the easier targets allowing more numbers at the Renegades later. That had to be why Stryker was on that side of the fray, and why Jalb was going to join him.

Jalb switched comms to the Wing frequency, took a long, settling breath, and keyed his mic.

“All callsigns- this is Rogue Lead. Renegade One is in heavy contact with Skull Squadron. I am heading to assist. You appear to have a diamond of squints and eyeballs coming in to support that last half dozen bombers. Corsair, take those bombers, Rogue, that fighter supports not even 3 to 1, finish them!” A half dozen double clicks came back over the channel as each of the pilots acknowledged the orders

The Imperial remnants had taken to a new diamond formation with the increase of their flights from 3 to 5; to counter, Renegade had pushed the New Republic to formally adopt Wing pairs as a counter. Up to and including Endor, a single Rebel/Alliance fighter was more than enough to account for flights of 3. But the Imperial survivors had finally learnt a lesson and had introduced their 5 craft diamonds. Massive frontal firepower, but still absolutely defenceless from the rear and the centre had nowhere to go when engaged. Having said that, the survivors were better pilots than the average conscripts previously thrown into battle since Yavin, barely capable after an accelerated flight course… Just like that twat General Shen'ryu wanted to do… focus Reynolds, focus on the present. Almost on cue, a celebratory whistle from Skip brought him back into the moment. Rocket launcher was back online and he had a full rack, which was fortunate as all of the support U-Wings were out with Task Forces 2 and 3 on the other end of the battlefield. And for what was ahead he was going to need those rockets...

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

Gold Leader
Task Force 3
POV: Krayt

“Do we have any other forces incoming?”

“Unknown,” came the response from the Vigilant. “Something is jamming our long-range communications.”

Krayt sat for a moment thinking. They were in a bad spot - as they were already within the gravity well created by the Interdictor, escape for his group wasn’t an option. He wished for a moment they hadn’t used so many proton torpedoes to detonate the remaining coaxium at the depot.

Wait - the coaxium …. he thought to himself and flipped his comm system to Gremlin’s channel.

“Gremlin - I’ve got an idea,” he radioed over.

“Krayt - what happened? I thought you were ...” her voice trailed off. She still couldn’t quite believe the evidence of her eyes and ears.

“I’ll tell you what happened later, but let’s deal with our most pressing issue first,” Krayt replied.

“Agreed. Yes.” She forced her thoughts to cooperate. “What’s your idea?”

“The coaxium. I think we could use it at least to overload the shields on the Interdictor. It’s going to be tricky - and if any defensive fire touches one of those crates, we might lose the whole flight. We might lose everything.”

She was silent for a second. “I don’t like the odds, but I don’t have a better option. We need to stop that Interdictor.” Gremlin replied, the weight of the decision in her voice.

“We’ll move in together. I’ll need your flight to keep us clear of fighters; the X-Wings are going to be the forward shields protecting Sabre,” Krayt ordered, the plan coming together in his mind.

“Copy,” Gremlin responded, starting to plot the best path towards the Interdictor and sharing it with her colleagues.

Krayt switched over to the Rehz’nor’s channel. “We’ve been asked to deal with the Interdictor. Can you move into position to draw some fire? And be in position to strike when the shields go down?” he asked.

“You’re going to get the shields down on an Interdictor with a handful of shot-up fighters and a few transports?” the Captain of the Rehz’nor, Captain Bill “Owtlaw” Bradley, asked with disbelief clearly evident in his voice.

“Do we have another choice? Either we do it or the Vigilant, and every ship here, is already dead.”

“My conversation with Captain Quelle came to the same conclusion,” Owtlaw responded. “Rehz’nor is moving to engage.”

“Sabre Squadron, this is Gold Lead,” Krayt called out after switching to their internal channel. “How do you feel about flying your first bombing run?”

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

Buccaneer Six
Task Force 2
POV: Rogue

Rogue cursed as he narrowly avoided a turbolaser blast from the Acclamator Class cruiser he and the rest of Buccaneer Flight were charging, with two Rogue X-Wing escorts. “Heavy fire coming in, Three!” He pulled his Y-Wing back on course with all his might, also cursing the sluggish response coming from his stick. As much as I hate this slug, I cannot stand those cross-shaped turbolaser magnets.

“I see it, Six,” Dobber replied as he also rolled his B-Wing to avoid a blast headed in his direction. “We have to close in and start picking off the guns on that ship. Continue to close in and skim below the shields!”

“Gnoizic and I are taking the bottom!” Rev reported as his B-Wing dove slightly. Gnoizic’s B-Wing followed the maneuver expertly.

“I’ll take the starboard topside,” Dobber cut in. “Six, take port. Rogues, follow us in!”

Rogue was momentarily confused by Dobber’s reference to Rogue Squadron and not him. This will take some getting used to. The moment of hesitation nearly cost him his life as a turbolaser blast skimmed the top of his cockpit. Shade, his astromech, wailed in alarm. “I know that was kriffing close!” He glanced down at his damage readout and grimaced at the report showing his topside dual ion cannon turret was completely gone.

“Six, are you ok?” Dobber asked worriedly.

“Yeah Chief, I’m good. Lost my topside guns though,” Rogue replied grimly. “Still in the fight though!” He rolled his ship to line up on the port topside gun emplacements on the Acclamator.

“Ok Two Flight, execute strafing runs!” Dobber ordered as he boosted his B-Wing forward and started hurling red and blue energy at the starboard guns.

Likewise, Rev and Gnoizic also started pumping energy into their targets as they dipped underneath the shields.

Rogue knew he was at a disadvantage without his ion cannons to fire with his lasers like his compatriots in the B-Wings. However, his Y-Wing was still carrying a payload of proton bombs, and he smiled as he adjusted the weapons selector on his flight stick. “Shade, take over bomb control and drop them as fast as possible when we reach the first gun emplacement.” Shade tootled in affirmative as the droid assumed control of the bomb release.

His hand was heavy on the stick as he jinked an incoming blast and hauled the stick back on line for his attack run. His ship chuffed repeatedly as the bombs quickly started being propelled from their racks with the gravity-assisted launch mechanism. The rolling thunder of explosions followed his Y-Wing as it sped along the hull of the target ship. Shade beeped out a sad tone as the droid informed Rogue that the bomb racks were empty. One missile turret remained on his side as his Y-Wing sped away from the stricken Acclamator. “Missed one kriffing turret on my run! Going to wheel around to get it.”

“Don’t worry about it, I’m on line with it now,” Rogue Three replied. “Ready to-” Static. At that moment, Rogue Three was drilled on the nose by a missile from the lone turret, and the resulting fireball collided with the bridge of the ship.

“We lost Rogue Three!” Modox growled as he blasted the last turret on the ship.

“Form up and let’s hunt up another target!” Dobber ordered as he and the other three B-Wings pulled away from the now-weaponless ship. The Nighthawk and Insane Endeavor closed in and started pounding the defenseless ship mercilessly, punching ragged holes into the bridge tower.

Rogue smashed his fist against his cockpit window as he turned to regroup with his team. “Blast it!”

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

Spectre Six
Task Force Home Guard
POV: Angel

Tone told her to hurry up.

“I know, I know!” she said, toggling the switch to warm up her sensor array. The X-wing was coming online slowly, like a lumbering bear awakening from hibernation. It clearly hadn’t flown in a while as some of its systems attempted BIT tests instead of just kicking on. Angel pulled their fuses and bypassed the tests, hoping they were working. Tone would warn her if they weren’t.

Her targeting screen winked out and she growled, slapping it with her hand. The screen buzzed and flicked back on. Bet the connector is loose again. I bet no one checked it since I wrapped some tape around it back on Hoth. The thought of that gave her pause. What were the odds that this X-wing sat here, now?

Luck had always been with her. It had seen her through Endor after she’d passed out. Somehow, her A-wing had flown itself the final couple hundred meters to safety. Somehow, she’d been found in a dead ship (or so they’d told her). Somehow, the very X-wing she’d flown from Hoth was here on the Vigilant.

I’ll make her dance again, Hobbie.

One of the deck crew saw the X-wing hop up on its repulsors and flicked glow sticks in her direction. Follow me, they said. Go that way towards take off. She gave a salute and realized the young crewman was Davees. His eyes widened when he saw her, confusion evident. She simply winked at him.

I don’t understand it either, she thought. Sitting here, in this cockpit, she felt none of the fear. None of the anxiety. No fires chased her. No pain shot through her body. Skitch’s words echoed over and over. “Sometimes, a little change can make any broken thing easier to bear.”

She was broken, this wasn’t going to fix her, but maybe it would make flying easier to bear after all. The moment the X-wing’s landing gear retracted and she felt herself floating, flying, everything clicked. This was where she belonged, not stuck in a hangar when a fight was raging, but out there, spreading her wings like the ash angels of Sullust.

“Let’s do this,” she said to Tone, who beeped excitedly, and clicked her comm. “Vigilant Control, this is X-wing Constellation-Five-One-Five-Delta, requesting clearance to depart.”

There was a moment of hesitation on the comm line, but the frantic voice that came back clearly didn’t give a womprat’s ass who she was. She had a ship.

“X-wing, cleared departure, left. Please join the defense around the Vigilant. Use callsign Spectre Six.”

Angel hoped that Spectre Six was merely the tail end of the line, rather than a hole in the formation.

“Copy, Spectre Six, departing left.”

Tone gave a whistle as she lined up on the left primary exit lane. Beyond the magfield, the battle was raging heavier than ever. A dupe fired some kind of beam weapon at the Vigilant prior to being dismantled by an X-wing on its tail.

What the frak was that?

There wasn’t time to figure it out, not now. She threw the throttle forward and rocketed out into space. Just as zero-G truly took hold, her heart leapt into her throat, and she was there again. Gold Leader rotated and dove into the Death Star and Angel turned to follow.

Only she was also on Hoth, with numb fingers pulling apart Hobbie Klivian’s dash. Wires sputtered and frayed, so she taped them together, getting its targeting computer back online. A warm cup of caf was pushed into her hands and a kind young man with hound-dog eyes smiled at her.

Tone whistled.

Angel’s eyes snapped open and she was in neither place. She was outside the Vigilant and a squint cut across her nose, firing at an X-wing who was in turn firing at a dupe. The thrill filled her instead of fear. She was alive instead of dead.

She was flying again.

Reaching up, her hand found the control to open her s-foils and they sprang apart with a satisfying whirl of machinery. The starfighter hummed beneath her, ready and hungry. Jamming her thumb down to swap power to her engines, she was rewarded with a full blue bar and a roar of power.

Rolling left and jamming rudder, Angel burned after the squint. The Imperial fighter scored a hit on its target, the X-wing’s top-right engine sparking and sputtering.

“This is Spectre Two, I’m hit!”

“Two, this is Spectre Six, cut hard right!”

“Six--? Who--?”

The squint fired again, barely missing its target and the X-wing cut right without another word. Angel let instincts guide her. Gentle pressure on the stick, a little rudder, her thumb flicking power to lasers. Her targeting reticle lit up and she fired.

The squint exploded.

“Tail’s cleared, Two!” she shouted, suddenly filled with an overwhelming feeling of elation and relief. Her eyes welled up but she bit them back. Now wasn’t the time.

She might be broken, but she could still fight after all.

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

Corsair Two
Task Force 3
POV: Gremlin

Gremlin listened intently to the formulation of a plan while making sure her wingmen were forming up on her position.

“Sir, I don’t remember seeing heavy ordinance on the ship’s loadout this morning. Where are we loading up warheads?” Sabre Leader asked, sounding unsure of himself.

“We’re going to use the coaxium as warheads,” Krayt replied, projecting confidence.

“Ahh, I see. I think.” The U-wing pilot’s nervousness was clear. “What do we need to do?”

“First off, I need you all to bunch up. Gold Flight is going to run interference for you. Once we close with the Interdictor, your flight will release your cargo at speed and go evasive. The existing momentum will carry the coaxium containers to the ship and we’ll blow them up. Hopefully, it’ll be enough to bring down the shields,” Krayt instructed.

“Copy that - we’ll follow you in.” Sabre Leader’s response was more enthusiastic now he understood the plan. “Sabres, tighten up on my position!”

“We’ve got a half dozen TIE Fighters on their way in,” Talon called out to the group, his improved sensor unit giving him an edge on detection.

“You’re up, Corsair,” Krayt ordered. “All right, Golds - set your shields to double front; U-wings, stay close. Let’s get moving.” The four X-Wings and six U-Wings pushed their throttles forward, heading towards the capital ship.

Gremlin, recovering from the shock of Krayt’s reappearance, flicked a salute towards him, though she didn’t know if he spotted it. She switched her comms channel to Corsair’s frequency. “C’mon, boys, let’s keep those TIEs busy. One drink on me for each Imp you vape!”

The A-wings leaped ahead, targeting computers already in operation to calculate the best attack vectors as the three Corsair pilots raced towards the oncoming fighters. With well-practiced precision, Gremlin started firing just outside maximum range. The move, while doing little in damage, had the desired impact as the enemy fighters went evasive.

Gremlin picked one and started chasing it down while TP rolled out of formation and pulled into a tight turn that brought his lasers onto an evading TIE Fighter. Two quick blasts and the ship was destroyed.

Talon broke off as well and with one well-aimed shot he tore the wing off an oncoming TIE. The resulting imbalance sent the fighter careening into another eyeball, destroying them both.

“I’ll take two drinks for one shot any day,” Talon called out to Gremlin, a chuckle in his voice.

“You’re running out of opportunities!” Gremlin replied as she finished the first TIE, piled on a quick burst of speed and nailed a second. TP and Talon pulled in behind her as they started scanning for more enemies.

Gremlin used the moment’s rest to look back at the Interdictor and saw the turbolasers beginning to converge onto the incoming attack run. Her focus was broken by Talon’s exclamation.

“Another group of fighters coming in. Looks like Interceptors!” Talon said excitedly over the comms.

“Is that drink offer still in place?” TP asked.

“Yes, it is.” Gremlin’s mock sigh was clearly audible through the commlinks.

“Great, let’s go get them… I mean .. we should be sure to keep them away from the U-Wings, right?” TP asked.

As the Interceptors closed, the three A-Wings dumbfired a set of concussion missiles from just outside of lock-on range. With no warning to tell them a missile was targeting them, the TIE fighters continued on their course. One second there were orange blurs in front of them; the next; the number of interceptors had been reduced by half.

“Their lasers are tough - don’t take them head to head,” Gremlin reminded her flight.

“I’m not going to make that mistake,” TP added grimly.

The Corsair pilots buzzed by the Interceptors at high speed. With no head to head battle, it quickly moved into a full-fledged dogfight. The Renegades had practiced for these situations. Instead of focusing on a single enemy, they moved in patterns that both evaded enemy attacks and drew their pursuers into the line of fire for their allies.

Talon was the first to connect, picking off the Interceptor on TP’s tail. That quickly moved the battle into the Renegade’s favor and TP was able to clear the Interceptor chasing Gremlin a moment later. The last interceptor was picked off by both Gremlin and TP, leading to some banter around who would claim the drink for the kill. As their scopes showed no enemy fighters nearby, their focus went back to the Interdictor - where their colleagues were about to launch their own attack.

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

Buccaneer Seven
Task Force 2
POV: Rev

“We’re going to knock those Gozantis out of action, Buccs!” Dobber’s voice called out over the comm. “Pour on the speed and throw your shields fully forward.”

“What if a fighter takes a run at us, Three?” Rev replied nervously, hesitating to leave his aft open to attack.

“Nobody will touch you,” Modox replied determinedly, tucking the last Rogue X-Wing from their task force right behind them.

“Good enough for me,” Rogue replied, his Y-Wing ramping up to attack speed.

“We take the left one first, then the right. Aim for the bridge,” Dobber ordered.

The Acclamator’s bridge was a smoldering wreck behind them, with both Corvettes continuing to pound the defenseless ship mercilessly. The Regis finished obliterating the escort carrier they had engaged at the start of their engagement and began as tight a turn that the frigate could manage to make its way toward the Interdictor cruiser.

“We should be taking out that Interdictor,” Rogue said, voicing the same feelings that Rev had on the subject.

“Captain Daly wants these two ships completely out of the way so they can’t engage the Regis from behind,” Dobber replied.

“She’s going to take too long to reach the Interdictor,” Rev grumbled.

“Look, Captain,” Dobber replied in an exasperated tone. “We go where ordered. Let’s do this quickly and we can still beat them to the Interdictor.”

Rev grumbled, again champing at the bit of the command structure. “Whatever,” He replied, prepping his composite beam cannon. “Got the meme beam ready to roll!”

“Same,” Gnoizic replied succinctly.

“Ok, Rogue and I will make the first run to draw fire,” Dobber said with more optimism. “Use your beams right in that bridge viewport. Stagger it so Two fires first to drain the shields, and Seven will get the killshot.”

Rev perked up at that order. “Roger, engage!”

“Affirmative,” Gnoizic replied emotionlessly.

Rev chopped his speed and let the rest of his flight gain a lead on him so he could time his attack run correctly. He hazarded a glance at his sensors to confirm that no fighters were attempting to overtake them, as he would be the first ship to suffer. Seeing nothing on his aft scopes, he settled in and focused on his run. He flipped a few switches in the cockpit to add more energy into his composite beam output.

Dobber and Rogue fired a few shots at the Gozanti and just as quickly broke up and away from the ship, drawing fire from all of the turrets. Gnoizic’s composite beam charged up slowly, and the three lasers met a short distance in front of the B-Wing. At the focal point, an overcharged beam sped off toward the unfortunate Gozanti Cruiser. The shields took the brunt of the assault, but toward the end of the attack run, the shields wavered, then ultimately deactivated due to overload.

A lone turbolaser blast took the opportunity to hit Gnoizic’s B-Wing while the craft was unable to maneuver quickly. Seeing the attack coming, the Mandalorian pilot engaged his gyroscopic mechanism, allowing him to roll his ship to avoid the worst of the incoming lance of coherent light. The blast glanced off of the B-Wing, and the strong shields of the rugged craft held firm while the pilot regained maneuver capability and peeled off below the ship, drawing more fire with him.

“You good, Two?” Rogue called out.

“Fine,” Gnoizic responded. “There are two TIE Fighters still attached to the docking clamps.”

“I’m on them,” Modox replied, boosting his X-Wing forward in a sharp engagement angle close to the keel of the Gozanti Cruiser. Turbolasers attempted to track the streaking X-Wing unsuccessfully, leaving Rev completely alone but untargeted.

Rev ignored the rest of the exchange while he focused on lining up his shot. He centered the targeting reticle right on the lit viewport of the bridge. At this distance, he could see the blurry faces of the imperial crewmen at their consoles frantically carrying out their duties. Satisfied with his aim, he thumbed the firing stud on his yoke. His controls instantly locked up and his ship shuddered as the composite beams began to heat up. A low tone built in pitch and volume as the lasers finally materialized. They met a few meters in front of his ship, and then the composite beam lunged forth.

The glass viewport on the bridge melted the moment the heat of the beam reached it, and the atmosphere inside superheated. The conflagration spread throughout the bridge, immolating the crew in a furious flash. The roiling fire spread throughout the ship before any of the safety bulkheads could activate. While the atmosphere in the ship ignited in a chain reaction, the beam bored through the ship, melting bulkhead after bulkhead until it finally ran out of energy. Everybody on the ship was flash-fried at their stations.

Before the beam had started its work, however, one heavy laser cannon got a shot off. The dual blast slammed into Rev’s fully-charged shields. The first drained over half of his shields, and the second overwhelmed them and struck the B-Wing amidships.

Rev’s control panel sparked multiple damage alerts, and he smelled smoke emanating from somewhere in his cockpit.

“I’m hit!” He shouted as he broke off once his maneuverability returned. His ship chugged heavily as it struggled to maintain speed. His yoke vibrated violently in his hands as he strained to pull his craft out of harm’s way.

“Damage report?” Dobber asked.

“My shields are completely fried, Three!” Rev replied frantically. “I’ve also got a lot of vibration in my yoke.”

“Go back to the Regis, Rev!” Rogue shouted worriedly.

“What about that last Gozanti?” Rev asked. “I can still fight!”

“I’ll take your place, Buccaneer Seven,” Modox replied. “Get clear, you can’t do any more good back there.”

Rev gritted his teeth and his neck bulged as he continued to fight for control of his B-Wing. After a herculean effort, he finally nosed his ship around toward the frigate that had delivered him to this hell-hole. “Roger, RTB,” he said dejectedly as his ship rattled heavily around him.

He watched the attack on the remaining Gozanti on his sensors while he visually scanned for any threats headed his way. Seeing very little in the way of fighter threat remaining, he glued his eyes back to the sensors. His visual cameras were fried with the recent damage his ship took, so he couldn’t see exactly what happened aside from four green dots closing with the red dot representing the Gozanti Cruiser. The four green blips seemed to merge with the red dot momentarily. After a second, the red dot disappeared. Three green blips emerged.

“We lost Rogue Four,” Rogue sighed sadly.

“Form up, we’re going to bag that interdictor for him,” Dobber ordered.

Rev bit back a curse at the loss and helplessness he felt, but also breathed a silent prayer that it wasn’t his time to die.

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

Corsair Nine
Task Force Home Guard
POV: Ant

The air was thick with green and red flashes, intermixed with the occasional fireball. An X-Wing exploded off of Anton's A-Wing's port side and a TIE Interceptor marked with green, scaled wings flew by. Anton gritted his teeth, and whirled is A-Wing to pursue. By the Whills, was he tired, and there were more of the TIEs than he could count. The adrenaline had kept him going for a while, but the longer this battle dragged on, the more weariness he was forcing himself to push back.

Vigilant,” Anton yelled into the comms as he diverted power to his engines and slammed the activator for his boost thrusters, “We! Are! Out! Num! Bered!”

“We're working on that, Corsair Nine!” Came a transmission from the bridge.

“You've been saying that since this started, and have yet to pull anything out of your ass!” Anton yelled, finally sighting in on the Interceptor. “SPAST!”

He cursed as the TIE suddenly banked left. Anton followed immediately, and to his horror found himself directly on course with some of the wreckage from the Egress. He banked sharply to his left, and could have sworn he saw the individual pieces of rebar from the chunk of wreckage as he flew past. That was far too close! He was definitely getting tired. He cut all power to his engines and drifted right, and the Interceptor finished it's own breakneck turn and sight in on him.

Anton slammed on the boost again, using what little charge it had left. He had done this just in time, as green lasers raked the spot he had been in fractions of a second earlier. “Corsair Nine!” Came a slightly stuffy sounding voice from the bridge. “You must adhere to rank when speaking to ---”

“I'm gonna adhere my fist to the face of the idiot in command who sent out three full damn strikes at the same time!” Anton yelled, wheeling his A-Wing around again and chasing after the TIE. He sighted in and fired immediately, but the Interceptor pilot was skilled. He whirled his ship and banked down, causing all of Anton's lasers to miss.

“Gaaaaah!” He yelled in frustration, following his target, ignoring the TIE fighter that exploded several yards away as well as the X-Wing that had destroyed it. “Come here, you bastard!”

The TIE weaved in and out of the multicolored chaos of battle surrounding them, Anton doing his best to pursue. He had been gritting his teeth for so long that his jaw muscles hurt.

Then, he had his opportunity. The Interceptor pulled up, something Anton had been watching for. He cut across the path the best way he could, hoping he was in one of the TIE's many blind spots. He had just lined up his shot, his targeting locked on, when a new voice came through.

“Corsair Nine, break off, break off! Break to port!” Stryker’s voice instructed him. “Regroup with Corsair Twelve!”

Anton gritted his teeth, delaying his decision by one seconds before reluctantly breaking off and, after ensuring the TIE had not turned toward him, sped off in the direction he was ordered. If it was whoever was on the bridge, he would have ignored it. Renegade Leader, however, was a leader Anton respected. If he had commanded Anton to break off, there was a good reason for it.

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

Gold Leader
Task Force 3
POV: Krayt

As the Corsair trio fought off the incoming Imperial fighters, the ten Renegade Wing ships had continued their six kilometer run towards the Interdictor. The pilots were close together - much closer than they normally flew, but they knew that one shot could detonate the canisters of coaxium, killing them all. The shield provided an interlocking barrier, preventing anything from getting through to the dangerous cargo behind.

“Keep it together!” Krayt ordered, pushing his throttle faster.

The initial turbolaser fire was wildly inaccurate but as they closed with the capital ship, the subsequent shots honed in. At first it was just a brush or two against their shields, but then it happened: one of the reserve pilots took a turbolaser blast head-on. The flaming remnants of his X-Wing barely missed the coaxium containers flying behind him.

“Evade!” Krayt yelled and the group split apart, opening up the containers to a direct hit but confusing the gunners.

They finished the last klick white-knuckled, hoping they would make it through.

“All right, Sabres, let them go!” Krayt ordered. “Get yourselves out of here - back to the Rehz’nor!”

“You heard him, Sabres; follow me!” Sabre Leader cut his tractor beam, leaving the coaxium containers continuing on their path towards the Interdictor. The remaining U-wings followed suit and pulled out while Krayt and the two remaining X-Wings flew cover.

As the fuel containers closed to within a half kilometer of the Interdictor, the snub fighters pulled into a hard turn, their lasers lighting up the drums of coaxium. The resulting explosion was massive - far bigger than Krayt expected, but it was also unfocused, spread out along the shields. Large gaps appeared, which the Rehz’nor was quick to take advantage of with pinpoint turbolaser accuracy. For the first time, fresh turbolaser bolts raked across the hull of the Interdictor.

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

Bridge of the CRS Vigilant
POV: Captain Terak Quelle

Quelle pulled up the sensor picture on his personal console attached to his chair. The two task forces worth of ships had indeed just appeared out of nowhere, having been pulled out of hyperspace right on top of the artificial mass shadow the Interdictor had created. The Frigates began raining scarlet fire upon the thinly defended Interdictor cruiser and the smaller support craft nearby. The shields on the Interdictor were holding, but an Acclamator and Escort Carrier were quickly overwhelmed. The already thin fighter screen was obliterated by the combined firepower of the two alliance Corvettes and A-Wings of Corsair Squadron. The sudden appearance of roughly two squadrons’ worth of Renegade Wing fighters threw off the targeting of all the Imperial guns, and the new snub fighters immediately began strafing the various turrets and gravity well generators of the top side of the Interdictor underneath the shields as well as strafing the other Imperial ships. Quelle flinched as one of the new X-Wings took a concussion missile at point blank range and was vaporized.

The Escort Carrier was completely unpowered and unresponsive after the hammering it took from the Regis. The Frigate slowly wheeled about and began advancing toward the Interdictor, but it was still too far away to help in that arena of the battle, and it very well looked like it wouldn’t be able to engage that ship in the time the Vigilant had remaining.

The Acclamator’s bridge was a fiery ruin as the Nighthawk and Insane Endeavor continued to pound the defenseless ship to its component atoms. “Why aren’t those corvettes moving onto another target?” Tolden asked, giving voice to Quelle’s mental question. Before they could seek out their answer, movement from the Rehz’nor and her fighters drew his attention to that part of the fight.

The U-Wings of Sabre squadron, screened closely by the X-Wings of Gold Flight, made a wild charge at the Interdictor, which perplexed Quelle. “What are those U-Wings doing?” he asked aloud to nobody in particular. As he continued to watch, he fought back the urge to micromanage the battle in that arena. A turbolaser blast landed home on one of the X-Wings and blasted it apart from nose to stern. The lumbering U-Wings narrowly avoided the wreckage and dragged their payloads with their tractor beams while putting on a sudden burst of speed. In that instant, the tactic had become clear to him. The U-Wings broke off sharply in different directions, but the payload they had stolen continued to streak toward the beleaguered interdictor. They struck varying positions on the shields with brilliant explosions.

“The topside shields on that Interdictor have nearly been taken out of action,” Tolden said approvingly from his position at the back of the bridge. His sour demeanor had changed to a more excited and positive outlook.

“That captain is stuck between a rock and a hard place!” Quelle cheered. “He can’t shift his shields from the keel to the topside because the Regis and her fighters will have unfettered access to that section of the hull with heavier weapons shortly, and the Rehz’nor will have a short window to blast away!”

“One Star Destroyer and their picket ships are breaking off pursuit! New heading is back toward the Interdictor and our frigates.”

Quelle nodded, and looked through his most recent damage reports. “Blast, on paper we’re an even match with that last star destroyer, but we’ve taken too much damage and drained too much energy to take the remaining ship head on!”

Tolden stepped forward. “Captain, if we can force that Interdictor to flee, does the Vigilant have the capability to make the jump to hyperspace?”

Quelle nodded, and turned his attention to his comm. “Engineering, do we have the capability to make a combat jump to hyperspace?”

After a few tense moments, Ensign Timan responded. “Yes Captain, but we’ve only got one jump before we have to do some serious repairs!”

“That’s all I needed to know, Ensign!” Quelle responded. “Nav, get me a jump solution out of here the moment that gravity well goes down. Flight Control, distribute that jump data to the fighters and the rest of the fleet!”

“Aye aye!” Both officers responded in unison from their posts.

“Fleet Comms, get me a channel open to our frigates!”

A warrant officer keyed a few buttons on his console, then looked back to Quelle and nodded.

Rehz’nor and Regis, this is the Vigilant. Focus all firepower on that Interdictor. Once it’s gone, recover your fighter complements and hyper out to the following rally coordinates!”

“Both ships respond affirmatively, Captain!”

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

Gold Lead
Task Force 3
POV: Krayt

“We need to hit the shield generators!” Krayt ordered, leading the three remaining X-wings into the holes in the shield.

FLATTOP followed Krayt closely. Though he’d spent a decent amount of time in an X-Wing cockpit over the past few months, this is the closest he’d ever been to an Imperial capital ship. “What are we doing, boss?” FLATTOP asked, trying not to sound overwhelmed by the size of the task ahead.

“Fire-link your proton torpedoes. We don’t have a lot of them so they are all going to have to count. Turn off your targeting computer and dumbfire them, but you’ll have to pull out fast to avoid the explosions.” Krayt walked them through the process as they raced up the hull towards the shield generators.

“I’ve got the one of the right,” FLATTOP said, his hands clenched on the controls.

“I’ll get the one on the left,” the second Gold X-Wing pilot added.

The X-Wings opened up with their laser cannons and torpedoes as they closed. The hail of laser bolts and corresponding explosions destroyed the right shield generator in the first pass. FLATTOP whooped at their success.

As the three X-Wings pulled out behind the capital ship, Krayt looped around. “If we don’t finish off that second generator now, we may not get another shot at this,” he said. “You two get clear and watch for fighters - give Corsair a hand if they need it.”

“Copy,” FLATTOP responded.

“I’m on your wing,” the other pilot added.

Krayt made another pass, firing off his last proton torpedo. Between the warhead and his lasers, the shields went down for good.

Rehz’nor, shields are down. Now’s your chance!” Krayt radioed to the ship’s captain.

The Rehz’nor moved in, its turbolasers continuing to melt armor on the Interdictor. At the same time, the Interdictor began to maneuver, bringing its turbolasers to bear on the much smaller frigate. The two ships traded fire for the next minute, while the dogfight continued overhead.

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

Corsair Four
Task Force 2
POV: Junior

Junior was sweating profusely. His A-Wing’s climate controls were locked up again, and the heater was going into overdrive. Even if his cockpit wasn’t hotter than a twin-sunswept desert, he’d probably still be sweating like a pig. This engagement wasn’t nearly the furball that Endor was, but the stakes still felt just as high to him as there was absolutely no escape from this fight as long as that Interdictor was still standing.

“We need to close with the Interdictor with the remaining Buccaneers and start hounding that thing,” Syntax ordered.

“Three A-Wings and three bombers against that thing?” Dragon replied dubiously.

Junior hazarded a glance at his sensors and saw the furball in the ‘middle’ of the battlefield was still tipped heavily against their friends. The mixture of Rogues, Corsairs, and Skulls were slowly being whittled down against overwhelming numbers of TIEs. “Sir, request permission to aid our friends in the middle of the battle,” Junior said hopefully.

“Kark YES!” Dragon agreed enthusiastically.

“Denied,” Syntax replied sternly. “What good would it be to help them when this interdictor can keep us trapped here? We’re outgunned in almost every part of the battle except for this one. We’ve got the most even odds we can ask for right here. We’ve got to make the difference right here.”

“Karking Droid,” Junior cursed to himself. “Krinking toaster and his farkled logic circuits!”

“Uh, Four,” Dragon said through a wince. “Maybe turn off your comms next time.”

“I didn’t hear your last, Four,” Syntax replied drolly. “Must have been some subspace interference.”

“I said ‘let’s go where we’re needed’, Lead,” Junior said, grimacing.

“I thought so,” Syntax replied. “We’re going to draw fire across the medial line of the keel of that Interdictor. Buccaneer flight will use that distraction to clean up some gun emplacements. The Regis will be in range shortly to do the heavy lifting.”

“Roger, Lead. I’m on your wing,” Junior said, wrenching his A-Wing into a tight roll to follow his leader into the teeth of yet another enemy.

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

Rogue Five
Task Force Home Guard
POV: Jasted

He could smell RX melting to his rear. The familiar scent of his R2 unit sizzling from a direct hit to the droids dome was all too familiar.

Charbroiled, copilot’s toast.

It wasn’t the first time RX had erupted on Jasted’s six. The Rogue pilot had brought back the astromech’s mangled corpse more than once and those overzealous mechanics kept resuscitating the bastard back into service. It was if the machine just wanted to end its service, permanently, but was not given the option to do so.

“I know you can hear me. Just going to let me do this alone, droid?” There was no response to the pilots allegation with the exception of an uncontrolled spark bursting from inside the dead R2 unit. “Just nap up friend, I’m on it.” he sarcastically spoke to himself.

Relentless emerald spears spewed from a kill obsessed Imperial TIE jockey trailing the T-65’s after-burn. Left to right, the Imp, call sign Vega Three, mimicked every move Jasted churned out.

“This is Five- Twelve, where you at? Got one tight on my ass.”

Bulldog took a moment to spit out a comm response. “I’m in a shit show, Jas! Sorry!” He was tailed by a trio of eyeballs himself.

Son of a bitch. “Lead? Eight, respond for assist? This fracker ain’t quitting!”

The comm was silent to his distress call. They were all duking it out against the odds.

Finelli redirected power to rear shields, then through the fighter into a clockwise barrel roll. His mind was spinning with the ship.

We all got to die. The question is, how you gonna check out? Jasted slammed back on the flight stick and cut acceleration, allowing the interceptor to close in.

-------------

The wolf hunting Jasted followed with a roll of his own. The interceptor’s I.F.F. identified the X-Wing as Rogue Five, an identification that startled the Imperial pilot. He had stumbled across this ship by chance. A rebel scum that was worth some coin on the black market. Vega Three had received information from the Outer Rim several weeks ago in a chain communication inquiring fleet staff throughout the galaxy.

“Yes, the ship’s I.F.F. comes back to the bounty out of Atrivis..” A distorted hologram hovered on the dashboard and intently listened to the imperial pilot who went out of his way to contact him during the skirmish. “I have the target in my sights. Shall I destroy it??”

A low chuckle vented from a bearded face. “Terminate him, Vega Three, and we shall forward the bounty credits to an account of your choosing.”

With a slight nod he acknowledged. “As you wish, Knightmare.” The hologram vanished from the fighter’s H.U.D. and cleared the canopy for the primary weapon crosshairs. The mercenary charged forward with the hunt for this murdering traitor.

The interceptor slowed to the ass end of his prey and laid a salvo into the starboard of Rogue Five, plinking off the T-65’s shields into the red zone.

--------------

Do you want to go on your feet? Jasted ignored the pounding on the fighter’s shield system and continued an inner monologue. The bogie over shot his position and redirected with a loop. Or on my fracking knees... begging!? A half roll to the left, then a violent tug back on the stick, he pointed the snub’s nose cone at Vega Three and shunted aft shields to fore.

--------------

Vega Three completed his own maneuver, placing the interceptor’s quad cannons back on Rogue Five. He could taste the kill and the lucrative imperial bounty sourced out by the mercenary he had spoken with. The vile republic dirtbag was coming right at him.

--------------

I ain’t much for beggin’. E.L.S. adjusted to laser concentration and cannons set to quad fire, Jasted lined up the assailant. The Empire never gave me nothing. So I say, frak this Imp!

--------------

“For the Emperor”. Vega Three laid into the trigger, lighting up the cannons. They screamed with vengeance towards the incoming traitor to the Empire. A green hue illuminated the interior with every primary weapon dispersed .

------------

Jasted juked through the incoming volley, with the occasional ping on his forward shields. A lucky spear grazed the dome of RX, shearing off what was left of the mangled droid’s shell. He waited to initiate the snubs weapon system. Bring your pretty face to my axe.

------------

One and a half clicks out and closing fast. Beads of sweat began to form and drizzle down the Imps forehead and into his eyes. It burned and made it difficult to keep them open. That T-65 was getting too close for comfort. A steady stream of laser fire poured from his ship's battery, missing the target that danced around it’s crosshairs.

-------------

A solid bleep along with a green target box alerted Jasted of a clean shot. He tapped the trigger once and peeled off his current trajectory. Four bolts from Rogue Five charged towards the TIEs center mass.

--------------

Crimson overtook the forward viewport of Vega Three. The ship drifted up in an attempt to out maneuver the incoming ordinance that drove hard into her belly, breaching the hull and vacuuming air out of the cockpit. System failures flooded the ship's onboard computer. Vega Three initiated shutdown of nonessentials aboard the dying snub and it came to a crawl.

-------------

He would be kidding himself if he did not admit that this had become personal. The imperial rat had decimated his R2 unit. The honor of a kill had long faded from Jasted’s integrity after years of space combat with the endless cycle of faceless enemies. This Vega pilot was no more than another vermin being exterminated from the galaxy. Rogue Five drifted one hundred eighty degrees and back towards the helpless humanoid.

-------------

Knightmare’s image illuminated and flickered on a broken holopad. He had answered the distress call from Vega Three. The connection struggled to stay operational.

“Is the target eliminated, Imperial?” questioned the mercenary.

Life support within the vessel proceeded into failure. Vega Three’s breathing became labored as he attempted to answer Knightmare’s inquiry. “The pilot…” he gasped. “He lives.”

“Where is the target located?”

He attempted to answer but was interrupted by a muffled whine from a T-65’s cannon system bellowing in the background. Knightmare’s transmission was cut off in a staticky, gray and white flash.

“Vega Three, what is the target's status?” He paused. “Imperial, what is your status.” The transmission appeared terminated. Knightmare grunted in disapproval in an assumption Jasted survived the dogfight and murdered his contact.

-------------- “Vigilant, this is Rogue Five. Scopes show me clear, engaging additional hostiles.” He felt nothing for the helpless life he had just executed without a thought. Just another soul waiting for him in the afterlife. Game over, man.

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

Corsair Two
Task Force 3
POV: Gremlin

As the shields were dropping on the Interdictor, Talon called out again. “This doesn’t look good. Looks like a mixed squadron incoming. Moving slow. I’m picking up Fighters, Interceptors, and a couple Bombers”

How long can we keep this up? Gremlin thought to herself, but she didn’t let her private concerns show in her voice, hoping to instil confidence in the face of tougher odds. “All right, Corsairs, you’ve done a tremendous job. This is the toughest battle we’ve been in today. Give it all you’ve got and watch each other’s six.”

“Don’t forget us,” FLATTOP called out over the comm system. “We’ve got the shields down now - we’ll help with the fighters.”

“Great to have you!” Gremlin responded. Instead of four to one, it’ll be three to one. That’s better - right?

“I’m here too,” Krayt added, pulling his fighter in with the group. “We’ve got to keep the Rehz’nor free of enemy fighters.”

The six fighters from Renegade Wing headed towards the incoming squadron. As they closed, the bombers set out streaks of orange light towards them.

“Shoot down the missiles,” Gremlin ordered. One by one, the Renegade WIng fighters picked off missiles as they closed.

The three X-Wings made a head to head pass with a group of TIE Fighters, leaving four of them shredded in the first pass. At the same time, Corsair started chasing down the bombers. The nimble A-Wings were easily able to stay on their tails, but the bomber’s thick armor proved resistant to their shots.

One of the bombers had a new weapon that none of them had ever seen before. Instead of the slow, steady hammer of powerful bolts, it fired a nearly endless stream of energy. Before they knew what was happening, the fire had found its mark on Gold Three’s X-wing. The new rotary cannon blew quickly through their shields and detonated the X-Wing’s power core.

“NOOO!” Gremlin yelled, dumbfiring a pair of concussion missions into the bomber that tore through the hull and silenced the cannon forever.

By this time there were a few Interceptors left. By clearing each other’s tails then focusing on key targets, they were able to fend them off. The last two fighters disengaged, running back to the Interdictor at high speed.

During the dogfight, the two capital ships had continued firing on one another. Though the Rehz’nor had the advantage in having shields, the Interdictor had a much larger arsenal of turbolasers. It didn’t take long for the advantage to shift: the larger vessel finally burned away the last of the frigate’s shields. As the last Imperial fighters in their sector fled, the Rehz’nor called out for help.

“Mayday - Mayday - this is the Rehz’nor. We have multiple breaches - disengaging from the fight!”

“Let’s see if we can cut down some weapon emplacements,” Krayt suggested to the remaining fighters from his group.

They flew low, close to the hull, and began strafing the turbolasers. It was tricky business, avoiding the outgoing fire, the explosions, and the random features of the Interdictor’s hull. Without shields and fighter cover, they made short work of the turbolasers, removing the Imperial ship’s ability to finish off the Rehz’nor.

“How’s it going with that Interdictor?” the Vigilant’s flight controller asked, breaking in over their comm system.

“We’re running out of firepower. Is there any way we can get a bomber or two out here?” Krayt replied.

But the controller was already gone, coordinating with another flight group desperately trying to pull a victory out of an impossible situation.

“FLATTOP, do you have any torpedoes left?” Krayt asked.

“Aye, two,” the Corellian responded.

“Well, let’s go put them on a gravity well projector - maybe it’ll be enough to knock it offline,” Krayt suggested, grasping at anything that could knock out the mechanisms.

The two X-wings flew up high then dove towards the hull, Krayt in front to block the small amount of fire still coming from the Interdictor. They pulled out close to the ship as the explosions rocked the Interdictor. A single gravity well was disabled, but the ship still kept the New Republic forces from escaping.

As the X-wings finished their attack run, Krayt scanned the smoking Interdictor. Shield generators were out, one gravity well projector was down, they’d slagged most of the turrets - but it stubbornly refused to drop the remaining gravity well projectors. Even the onslaught of turbolaser blasts from the Rehz’nor had not been enough.

Vigilant’s shields are almost down - we need that Interdictor taken out now!” yelled the female controller, the alarm sirens in the background clearly audible across the comms..

“We’ve got nothing left,” Krayt responded. “The X-Wings are out of torpedoes, the U-Wings are on the Rehz’nor,” he sighed in frustration. One option presented itself, though he didn’t particularly want to take it. “I guess I can go crash into the bridge. Don’t worry, I’ll eject first,” he added dryly.

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

Buccaneer Three
Task Force 2
POV: Dobber

“Let’s line this up right, Six and Two,” Dobber said through a strained voice as he dodged another targeted spread of lasers headed his direction.

“On your left,” Gnoizic reported.

“On your Six,” Rogue replied. “Let’s bag this thing for Rogue Four!”

At that moment, three A-Wings from Corsair Squadron knifed in from the tip of the Interdictor and skimmed the hull while they blasted a few turrets on their high speed pass. They broke off before they reached the engines and drew all of the remaining laserfire in their wake.

“That’s our cue!” Dobber shouted as he rotated his B-Wing sideways and dove toward the Interdictor. Gnoizic did the same on his wing, and Rogue threw his Y-Wing into a weave. The three ships unloaded all of the energy in their laserbanks as they charged forth, having depleted all of their warheads and secondary weapons earlier in this secondary engagement.

The Regis finally closed within firing range and added their broadside to the three snub fighters’ fire, and a new gap in the shields appeared. The Regis shifted focus and targeted one of the gravity well generators and blasted it apart instantly with another broadside blast of turbolasers, heavy laser cannons, and ion cannons.

The Interdictor ignored the A-Wings they had initially been targeting and returned fire toward the Buccaneer trio and Regis. The return fire miraculously missed the three Buccaneer fighters, though a few close calls sliced right through the middle of their formation. The blasts took a heavy toll on the frigate’s shields, and a few broke through and hit the neck plating of the Regis. In order to protect the weak point of the ship’s design, Captain Daly rotated the ship so the frontal wedge was facing the Interdictor Cruiser. It left fewer guns to send toward the target, but it protected the ship from losing all propulsion in the event the neck was broken and hull integrity too weak to keep the engines attached to the rest of the ship.

“This is going to be a brutal fight,” Dobber said grimly as he dipped below another blast and poured shield energy into his lasers to keep firing. His combined laser and ion cannons continued to stitch the hull plating of the interdictor, disabling and then destroying another turret. “Keep pulling the teeth off of this thing, boys!”

“Buccaneers, can you get that secondary power system knocked out of commission?” Captain Daly asked over the comm channel.

“We’ll do it, or we’ll die trying, Regis,” Dobber replied grimly as he shifted his ship to aim at the exposed power system on the keel.

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

Rogue Twelve
Task Force Home Guard
POV: Bulldog

Bulldog clenched his teeth as he slammed his hand into the side of his cockpit window to brace himself as he drift-swapped nose for aft. As the maneuver finished, the g-forces subsided. His hand came back down from the window and gripped his throttle. He smashed his trigger down hard, sending a wide spread of lasers at the TIE that had been peppering his aft shields. Enough connected to turn the TIE into a fireball hurtling directly at him.

Weight wailed.

Bulldog shook his head and blinked hard. His reflexes were extremely delayed, and he shoved the stick forward just in time to avoid crashing into the wreckage. He flexed his hands to relieve the tension that had built up for this extended furball. Without a hand on the stick, the ship rolled lazily to the side.

A blister had started to form on his trigger finger, and another was forming on the pad of this throttle hand. His hands were calloused from years of this type of activity, but he’d never been in a frantic dogfight for this long that required constant maneuvering and situational awareness. He was running on instinct, but his senses were lagging and now it appeared that his body was breaking down as well.

“Watch it, Twelve!” Jasted shouted in warning. “Two from above!”

Bulldog looked up slowly, just in time to see two squints sending a flurry of bolts in his direction. His eyes widened, and for the first time in the fight he’d made a bad tactical decision. He rolled and dove away from the attackers as he panicked, and they settled in on his tail and continued to pump lasers in his direction.

“What are you doing, Twelve?” Jasted cried in surprise, clearly not expecting his friend and veteran pilot to make such an inexperienced maneuver.

“I have no idea,” Bulldog replied slackly as he looked back over his shoulder. He jinked and juked his fighter as best he could, but the green lasers were getting closer to tracking his lagging evasive decisions.

“Twelve, pull up!” Hellcat shouted.

Bulldog looked forward in time to see that he was moments away from colliding with a trio of TIEs that were on a trajectory intersecting his path as they trailed Highball. His brain locked up as it tried like hell to unstick the gears inside his skull.

His ship bucked forward as the continued harassment from his tailing fighters finally snuck a laser bolt through. Smoke started to seep into the cockpit from somewhere under his seat.

Weight warbled an urgent alert.

Bulldog knew he had to pull up or break right to avoid crashing. He knew he should start firing his lasers to try and hit some of Highball’s pursuers. He figured that it would be a good idea to check what was damaged and report that he was hit. He also thought he could drop a flare to disrupt his pursuit. He had to do all of these things simultaneously, and his brain just wasn’t up to the task any longer.

He did the last thing on his mental list while his brain continued to buffer. He triggered a countermeasure flare, and the miniaturized missile meant to seek out and destroy warheads sped away from his ship. It impacted with the viewport of one of the pursuing TIEs, surprising the pilot and forcing him to break off his pursuit.

Weight’s wavering screams reached a fever pitch.

Bulldog didn’t deviate his course, instead checking his damage readout as he worked backward from the list he’d mentally created to be completed all at once; one that he’d be able to complete instantly any other time.

Damage to portside S-Foil gears.

By the time he managed to smash the trigger on his flight stick to fire his lasers, his craft knifed through the three TIEs currently chasing Highball. By the will of the force or luck of the draw, the first TIE just missed clipping his port S-Foil by a millimeter as it continued charging after Bulldog’s squadmate. The other two TIEs panicked at the sight of the oblivious or suicidal X-Wing firing lasers at random and broke in different directions. One of them turned right into the remaining TIE Interceptor on his tail and slammed into it head-on.

Bulldog rolled his ship and pulled off to the right, belatedly completing his mental list.

“Get it together, Twelve!” Jalb shouted.

“You scare me sometimes, man,” Jasted said shakily.

“Me too, man, me too.”

Weight hooted sarcastically in agreement as it set about attempting to fix the damage to the ship from his position in the astromech socket; the socket of an increasingly likely death trap as his pilot continued to degrade with fatigue.

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

Gold Leader
Task Force 3
POV: Krayt

“I’m lining up my run,” Krayt said, sweating slightly.

“Don’t even think about it, Lead!” Gremlin broke into the conversation, heedless of protocol. “Us Corsairs still have a pair of missiles each.”

“All right, let’s go for it - Gold Two and I will cover you,” Krayt replied, relieved at the sudden reprieve from his previous suicide run plan. He and FLATTOP took escort positions on the three A-Wings. As he scanned the Interdictor again, he spotted what he thought was a weak point near the primary power system. He noted it on his targeting computer and sent it over to the rest of the flight.

“There’s your target. Lock it in and let ‘em fly,” Krayt added, hoping this was going to work.

Gremlin, Talon and TP each locked on to the weak point Krayt had identified, then followed the X-Wings on an attack run.

“Hold it ... hold it… hold it… NOW!” Krayt yelled as they rapidly closed.

The six concussion missiles flew towards the Interdictor. Whether by skill, luck, fate or the intervention of the Force, they found their mark. All six missiles exploded, tearing deeper into the hull and setting off a series of secondary explosions across the ship. Seconds later, the gravity well projectors finally went down.

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

CRS Vigilant Bridge
POV: Captain Terak Quelle

Quelle watched as the frigates focused all of their batteries on the Interdictor. The shields started breaking in different areas on the keel as the Regis finally closed in enough to start pounding the surrounded ship. The two Corvettes closed in with the increasingly defenseless Acclamator and started hammering the hull near the bridge with a flurry of turbolaser blasts in an attempt to reach the power core.

The Interdictor attempted to roll to present fresh armor to the renewed New Republic barrage. To counter the maneuver, the Regis fired up her engines and maneuvered to follow the bottom of the Interdictor and continued to pound away at the now unshielded hull. Gravity wells sparked and erupted. The previously damaged Rez’nor chose that moment to re-engage, firing at the topside of the Interdictor that was now facing them in order to keep the Imperial ship bracketed by fire on all sides.

“They have to leave soon or else they’ll lose the ship!” Tolden growled hopefully.

Quelle nodded in agreement. “Sensors, how close is that Star Destroyer that left us alone? Is there a chance they’ll arrive in time to save that Interdictor?”

“Unlikely, sir, but possible.”

“Order their fighters to focus on the Interdictor’s power system. We need that blasted thing gone or destroyed before they can be reinforced by that Star Destroyer!”

Before he had finished speaking it into existence, the fighters stinging the Interdictor’s weapons turrets flitted away and made devastating attack runs on the exposed power system. Simultaneously, a small group of fighters made a surgical missile strike on the bridge.

“Captain Daly made that order before we could relay it, Captain! He told me to tell you, and I quote, ‘don’t tell me how to win a fight!’ end quote.”

Quelle nodded in admiration. He leaned forward and watched the weapons emplacements disappear on the Interdictor and watched the damage estimates start reeling in on his display. “Come on, leave already!”

The Interdictor lurched into pseudo motion for a moment, and then winked off the sensor screen completely.

“Gravity well is gone!”

“Order all forces to leave now! Nav, get us out of here!” Quelle shouted, nervously watching his own shields fail at that instant. His ship started vibrating as hits from the pursuing Star Destroyer started landing on unprotected hull plating again.

For the longest five seconds in the history of Quelle’s military career, he held his breath while he waited to see the stars elongate and welcome his ship into the safety of hyperspace. When it finally happened, he let out his breath and leaned back, finally realizing how slicked with sweat his uniform had become. “That was too close,” he said to nobody in particular.

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

ISD Conviction Bridge
POV: Commodore Tol Barand

“The Vigilant has gone to hyperspace,” Captain Jaevion reported nervously.

Barand’s nostrils flared in frustration, but he tamped down on that emotion quickly. “I see, Captain. How regrettable. And their Frigates?”

“Recovering their fighters and will likely be able to escape before the Judgement can reach them to inflict any damage.”

“Sir! I believe it is possible to pursue the rebels based on the exit vector of the Vigilant!” an officer of the crew in the sensor pit shouted.

Barand shook his head from side to side. “That type of tracking is unreliable, and I won’t have us accidentally extending into a rebel stronghold,” he said sadly. A thought suddenly struck him, and he brought a finger to his mouth as he pondered it briefly. “However… Captain, order the TIE fighters to close with the remaining rebel fighters immediately. I want them to isolate and destroy a snub fighter in a very specific way that should preserve the navicomputer. We can recover that and see where they were going. The timing is critical! We can’t let them see what we’re doing until most of them have left”

Jaevion nodded in admiration at the genius of the idea. “Aye aye Commodore,” he said with a smile. He whirled on his heel and faced the communications pit. “Flight control, order your TIEs to close with the fleeing rebel fighters and have their most accurate pilots disable one without hitting the computer components. Aim for the engines!”

“Colonel Okec acknowledges,” The flight control officer responded.

“The rebel reinforcements have hypered out, Commodore.”

Barand clasped his hands behind his back and he gazed out into the debacle that had just happened. Two Gozanti Cruisers gone, an Acclamator almost unrecognizable, a Raider Corvette heavily damaged, numerous fighters lost, and surely the captain of that blasted Interdictor will be regaling her superiors about the incompetence of my leadership. We need a win, and soon.

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

Corsair Twelve
Task Force Home Guard
POV: Snacks

“All Skull pilots, break contact and escape to hyperspace!” Stryker’s voice boomed over the comms. “Rogue and Corsair, screen Skull Squadron’s evacuation, then extend and jump out yourself.”

“Corsair Twelve, ack,” Snacks responded as he peeled off the TIE’s tail he was chasing and reversed course.

The remaining Skulls didn’t waste time. They all jammed it for open space below the ecliptic plane to avoid the incoming Star Destroyer at full throttle and overcharge boosts, and jumped to hyperspace within 30 seconds.

“Ok Renegades, extend and evac!” Stryker repeated.

“Snacks, I’ll cover you so you can get clear!” Ant’s voice shouted.

“Negative, I’m good, Ant,” Snacks replied, taking a snapshot at a TIE that had flown across his nose, scoring a non-lethal hit on a solar panel. “I’ve got enough room to get out now. See you in a bit!”

“Roger,” Ant replied. “I’m clear now, hypering out!”

Snacks’ sensors showed green dots winking out of existence at a rapid rate. He double checked his computer for the nav data and confirmed his destination was set. His hand was on the throttle lever, ready to punch the button to get out of this furball when his ship rocked with a heavy hit to his aft. He was launched forward, smashing his face against his console due to the ill-fitting restraints he’d been dealing with the entire fight. Alarms started whining and smoke began to fill his cockpit as he woozily looked up. Blood was running freely from the bridge of his nose..

“This is Rogue Two, I’m hit!” Highball screamed in terror.

“Me too,” Snacks replied slackly, looking through the thickening smoke as he attempted to see what his damage report was scrolling across his screen. “Engines knocked out...”

“My engines are out too!” Highball replied. “What do we do?”

“There’s nobody left, Deuce,” Snacks whispered. His voice sounded distant, even more so than Rogue Two’s voice through the comm static.

“What does that mean?” Highball replied frantically.

“We’re dead, man,” Snacks replied woozily, shutting off his alarms with a fit of coughing. He started to drift off to a concussive sleep.

“Do we eject?”

Snacks didn’t respond, having inhaled an unhealthy amount of smoke and carbon monoxide.

“Twelve! They’re coming to get me in a shuttle! Scuttle your ship, Twelve! Twelve?!”

Snacks had passed out completely due to a combination of a concussion and smoke inhalation. He hadn’t felt it when the TIE Reaper grabbed his A-Wing in its tractor beam and started towing him back to the waiting Star Destroyer.

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

Rogue Two
Space
POV: R5-D1

“Squealer, can you monitor Corsair Twelve’s lifesigns with your sensors?”

The R5 astromech replied in a low, sad tone.

“That’s ok, he’s out of your range. That’s not your fault, buddy. Can you remote access his A-Wing to wipe his nav data by chance?”

Another mournful tone.

Highball sighed and punched the center console inside of his drifting X-wing in anger. The passing shadow of the approaching shuttle forced him to recover his presence of mind, and he punched commands to clear his flight data. “Squealer, wipe our nav data, and then your memory.” His R5 unit complied and started the process of running the X-Wing through a factory reset.

By the time the Imperial shuttle arrived, the factory reset of the X-Wing was complete. The pilot pulled his blaster from his holster and stuck it under his chin. “Goodbye, R5,” he said as he clenched his eyes shut and pulled the trigger. The red flash within the cockpit was seen by all of the circling imperial personnel and reported immediately.

The Astromech tootled sadly, and then wiped its own memory completely. Its next memory was the white and black interior of the Imperial Star Destroyer Conviction’s pristine hangar bay. When the Imperial tech roughly plugged into his data port, he was confused as to what was going on and sent many queries as to its purpose and where it was needed for duty.

“This droid is blank!” The tech shouted angrily. “Must have conducted a full factory reset after the ship was disabled.”

“Pull it out and put it back into the droid pool. I’m sure they’ll find a purpose for it. And pull that corpse out of the cockpit!”

“Where do I take it, Lieutenant?”

“Why, toss it down the garbage chute, of course,” the deck officer replied matter-of-factly. “When we leave this system, the Sanitation Protocols will purge the garbage bunkers before our jump to hyperspace.”

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

ISD Conviction Bridge
POV: Commodore Tol Barand

“Sir, the X-Wing’s data was wiped clean with a factory reset by the astromech droid, which then also conducted a factory reset on itself,” Jaevion angrily reported.

Barand nodded and pursed his lips. “I see, and the pilot?”

“That flash that was reported by our TIEs was a self-inflicted blaster shot. He was DOA.”

“An ignoble end befitting a rebel,” Barand said with a smile. “So the X-wing and astromech are worthless to our current purpose. The A-Wing?”

An ensign handed the Captain a datapad and stepped away with a salute. Jaevion briefly examined the contents and smiled brightly. “We got everything we needed. The pilot is unconscious and in sickbay under full guard and both physical and chemical restraints. He had passed out and either hadn’t had the time or knowledge on how to destroy his nav data. We have the destination of the Rebels. Shall we form up and pursue them?”

Barand smiled at both the positive news and the eagerness of his ship’s Captain. “No, Captain, we will not pursue. We now know that this tactic will work on some of the separatist rebel ships, and that will no doubt make all the difference later in our campaign. Captain, I wish to meet with ALL of the TIE pilots on our ship to fine-tune this tactic. We will need to focus on ships without an astromech droid, and also if we can work on our aim to kill the pilots to stop them from manually bleaching their nav data, that would be a plus.”

“Aye aye, Commodore,” Jaevion replied. “Though I suspect the pilots will rankle at the extra marksmanship drills.”

“Order the return of our fighters and recover any escape pods in the system from our downed ships. Renegade Wing will be out of commission for a while while they repair their flagship. Let’s head home to lick our wounds and fight another day. We’ve proven that when we set the rules of engagement, we can win the day!”

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

Rogue Twelve
Backup Rally Point
POV: Bulldog

Bulldog looked over the Vigilant as he coasted his depleted X-Wing back toward the hangar. Rent and blackened hull plates dotted the exterior in all sectors of the ship aside from three quarters of the engine section. Those plates were surprisingly pristine, having clearly taken no warhead or turbolaser hits. Compared to the rest of the ship with smoke emanating from the various holes that weren’t there before the battle, that small sector of the ship still looked brand new. “The young girl looks brutal,” he whispered.

“Yeah,” Jasted replied tiredly. “She definitely took a beating.”

Bulldog was slightly embarrassed that his thought had actually been vocalized over the open comm channel. He shook his head to clear his mind and refocus on the situation inside of his cockpit. Little mistakes like that belied just how mentally exhausted he was after giving in to his combat brain for such a long period of time.

“Rogue Squadron, continue to fly a close patrol route until the rest of the fighters are recovered,” Captain Quelle said over the comms.

“Roger, Vigilant,” Jalb replied. “Ok Rogue Squadron, form up into Vic formation on me.”

Bulldog sighed. “No rest for the weary,” he grunted under his breath. Weight put a green box around Jalb’s X-Wing on his HUD. He pulled back on the stick gently and sidled his craft into place last in line on the right arm of the formation. After a moment, he looked around and realized something was ‘off’. He did a quick visual scan of the fleet, and aside from the damage to the Vigilant, the rest of the support ships were all accounted for and nearly pristine. What am I missing? If anything, his ship was the issue due to the crack in the right-side pane of his transparisteel canopy. It had started as a small crack at the base of the cockpit when he’d gotten strafed during the battle. Now, after the stresses of continued battle and hard maneuvering, the crack had wormed its way up to nearly the top of the support that held that pane of transparisteel in place and had started to spiderweb a bit. That’s not the issue… It’ll hold for now. What is giving me an uneasy feeling?

Jasted noticed it as well. “We’re short a ship here, Lead.”

“Where is Rogue Two?” Hellcat’s confused voice called out.

“Didn’t he hyper in with the rest of us?” Jalb replied in an equally perplexed tone.

“He was in the thick of it when we hypered out,” Bulldog replied. “Maybe he had some damage that required an emergency landing?”

“Control, do you have a landing record for Rogue Two?” Jalb questioned, but the tone in his sound made it clear he knew the answer already.

“Negative, Rogue Leader.”

“We’re missing Snacks!” Ant shouted in alarm on the open channel. “Where is he?!”

“Control, do we have eyes on Corsair Twelve?” Stryker broke in.

“Negative, Renegade Leader,” the flight control officer replied somberly.

“Perhaps they got onto the Frigates?” Ant asked hopefully.

Bulldog frowned as he mentally replayed the layout of the battlefield. The original fighter screen was nowhere near where the surprise reinforcements had entered the fray near the Interdictor. He must know this as well. Clearly in denial.

“Probably, Corsair Nine,” Jalb replied kindly. “We’ll find out when they arrive.”

Ant was apparently placated with that. “Yeah, he’ll be back when the Frigates get here.

“Corsair Nine, you’ve got clearance to land,” Mouse interrupted. “Follow me and the rest of the Skulls home.”

“Home, yeah,” Ant replied in a dull monotone, clearly displaying early symptoms of combat fatigue. Still, his A-Wing fell into formation with one of the X-Wings of Skull Squadron and entered the safety of the magcon field on the Vigilant.

“Switch to a Finger Four,” Jalb said quietly. The four Rogue X-Wings shifted positions into the traditional four ship flight formation and continued on a gentle arc around the battered Vigilant.

Weight warbled an alarm and put 5 white boxes up on his heads-up display, indicating 5 New Republic Starfighters had just appeared in-system. Bulldog got his hopes up that they may be some of their missing pilots, but a quick scan of their transponders killed that hope just as quickly.

“Geez, somebody really humped the bunk,” one of the new arrivals said.

“Stow that garbage, Foo!” Another replied.

“New Republic Starfighters, you are entering Vigilant airspace,” Stryker replied. “Please state your identity and intentions.”

The three A-Wings escorting an X-Wing and B-Wing pulled off from their approach into an oblique flight path to appear less threatening. They continued to survey the damage as they flew, though. “Man, that ship is thrashed,” one of them whistled ominously.

Vigilant, this is Captain Scorer of Green Knights Squadron. We are on a routine patrol,” the leader of the interlopers replied, and the B-Wing wagged it’s S-Foils as the speaker spoke to identify which ship he was flying. “Leading my flight leaders through a patrol while our wing is going through a reorganization,” he continued.

The pilot identified as Foo from his first open comment broke in again. “What in the Sith happened to you guys?”

“Had quite a scrape judging by the damage we’re seeing,” another pilot chimed in.

“You can say that again, Twigs,” Foo agreed.

“Where is the rest of your fleet?” yet another voice called out.

“Clear the air!” Scorer said with authority.

“Green Knights Flight, this is Rear Admiral Tolden. We will not elaborate on our recent actions as you are not cleared for those reports. You will also be required to stay onboard the Vigilant until we can confirm your identities.”

“Forget that!” Foo replied with a snort.

“I am an Admiral, Pilot. You will do as I say or be court martialed!” Tolden replied angrily.

“What are you gonna do, get out and swim to catch me?” Foo replied sarcastically.

“Woah, let’s take this down a notch,” Scorer said diplomatically.

“Admiral, this is Colonel Rambo,” Stryker cut in. “Perhaps we could wave that security requirement and put these guys to work for a bit while we recover our forces. We could use more of a fighter screen while we wait for the rest of the group to arrive.”

“I don’t like it,” Tolden said. “I don’t like it one bit.”

“Use that time to check our identities in the system if you want,” Scorer offered helpfully.

“We need the extra eyes and fresh ships for the time being, Admiral,” Stryker agreed.

After a long pause, Tolden relented. “Ok. Green Knights, you are ordered to fly a close patrol in the event we have any more Imperial surprises.”

“Who does this guy think he is?” Foo said sarcastically.

“Roger, Vigilant,” Scorer replied, ignoring Foo’s comment. “Foo, take Saywah and Twigs up and over. I’ll take Venom underneath. We’ll stagger our loops diagonally to cover more ground.”

“Much obliged, Green Knights,” Stryker said to the interlopers.

Bulldog started to drift mentally, and a sharp alert hoot from Weight brought it to his attention as his ship fell out of formation slightly. He shook his head clear and brought his ship back onto Jasted’s wing. To the untrained eye, it would look just like a slight wobble.

His squadron leader was not an untrained eye. “Twelve, you were one of the alert pilots, weren’t you?” Jalb asked on a private channel.

Bulldog was mortified that his mental lapse had been noticed by his squadron leader. “Yes, Lead,” he replied as energetically as he could manage.

“So you’ve been in that cockpit for the duration of the fight, yeah?”

Bulldog knew where this was going, and his chest felt hollow as he replied. “Yes, sir,” he responded, his voice sounding as if it came from somebody else far away.

“Why don’t you pull on into home base and get out of that cockpit,” Jalb replied.

“Sir, I’m good to go.”

“Make that an order, Rogue Twelve,” Stryker interrupted, utilizing his overall command permissions to listen to private comm channels. “I’ll take your position in the patrol formation.”

“But-”

“No buts, Twelve,” Jalb replied with a little more authority. “Go on in, we’ll be in shortly after for a debrief.”

Bulldog cut his mic and let out a frustrated growl. He raised his fist to punch something, but he couldn’t muster the strength to make a tight fist, nor did he have enough energy to throw it against something. At that moment, he realized just how exhausted he was mentally as well as physically. He took a deep breath and turned his comms back on. “Twelve acknowledges,” he said tiredly, not even trying to put up the facade of competence. Suddenly, a fit of rage overtook him and he did indeed find the strength to make a fist and throw it against something, but again the feeling passed through him quickly and he felt even more depleted.

The Regis and Rez’nor chose that exact instant to arrive. The commwaves lit up immediately as status reports flew back and forth. They both immediately began deploying fighters again, and another 18 Renegade Wing snub fighters filled the space between all of the ships.

“Who are these guys?” Saywah asked.

“These guys are beat up too!” Twigs blurted out over the open comm.

“Colonel,” Venom cut in. “Is this the rest of your task force?”

Before Stryker or anybody else could reply, the comm frequencies lit up as seemingly everybody tried to speak at once.

“Where’s the Egress?” Owtlaw inquired.

“Where is Buccaneer Three Flight?” Dobber asked immediately.

“Rogues Three, Four, Seven, and Ten are gone,” Rogue reported urgently.

Syntax’s voice cut through next. “What is the status of Corsairs Eight, Nine, Eleven, and Twelve?”

“Rogue Two and Corsair Twelve aren’t with you guys?” Hellcat responded.

“All pilots- head back to Vigilant for immediate debrief,” Stryker said with authority and finality. “All questions and answers will be handled then. Clogging up the airwaves right now solves nothing.”

“I couldn’t have said it better myself, Colonel Rambo,” Admiral Tolden’s voice replied. “Let’s regroup and figure out our next move. All pilots land and meet in the main briefing room for debrief”

“Green Knights, You are welcome to touch down on the Vigilant for rest and refueling if needed,” Stryker said to the interlopers.

“Are there any cookies that haven’t been vented to space on that crate?” Scorer replied.

“Again with the cookies,” Foo chortled.

“Actually, Admiral,” Quelle cut in. “The sector containing the briefing room is currently exposed to space.”

“Ah, I see. Then let’s meet in the mess hall.”

“Vented.” That news drew groans from the pilots.

“In that case, Squad leaders debrief your pilots wherever you can, and then we’ll hold an executive meeting in my stateroom to map out our next course of action.”

“Understood, Admiral,” Stryker replied. “Renegades, debriefing in thirty minutes at the SSD.” That order drew tired but enthusiastic cheers from the beleaguered pilots.

“Whatever that move is, it won’t happen any time soon judging from the battle damage and losses we took,” Bulldog murmured sourly.

“Yeah, that’s accurate,” Jasted replied. “We’ll get patched up and reinforced and pay them back in spades.”

Bulldog cursed again when he realized he’d inadvertently said his thoughts out loud over an open channel a second time. He shook his vision clear again and focused on making sure he was making his docking approach properly. It would be a hell of a thing to make it through an ambush like that only to crash at the end of it all because he was too exhausted to land his ship. The fatigue clouding his brain was becoming a serious issue. He turned off his microphone again and pulled it off of his helmet to avoid another mistake. “Weight, if it looks like I’m going to crash, take control of the ship and get us home safely.”

Weight tootled an affirmative reply, and Bulldog felt himself slipping into darkness. If only this was an airspeeder and I could just open a window to let the cold air in. That always keeps me awake on lengthy speeder trips. Wait… Bulldog again almost passed out during his approach. His eyes shot open, and the solution that made the most sense to his extremely exhausted brain was to bash his fist with all of his might against the broken pane of transparisteel in his cockpit canopy. He felt like it gave slightly, but not enough to break the seal with the outside vacuum of space. His hand fell against the buttons along the right side of his cockpit as he slumped with exhaustion and defeat, and his other hand slipped away from his flight stick.

Weight screamed in alarm when the droid realized the ship was drifting into another ship’s path, and seized control of the X-Wing to keep it on target to land safely. It also made sure to disable the controls that the clumsy pilot had inadvertently pushed a moment ago, including the canopy controls and ejection sequence. It made more cautious audible and text inquiries to check on the status of the pilot, but received no response. It made an ominous tone when biometric scan data from his sensor array showed the pilot with a slow but steady heartbeat, indicating that the human was alive but possibly unconscious or strangely silent. A more urgent series of tones also drew no response, both audibly nor on the biometric scans.

“We’ll hammer them back to the Old Republic,” Jalb said with an edge to his voice.

“This is the way,” Gnoizic replied sagely.

“Heard that,” Dobber replied determinedly.

“We’ll make sure they remember, forever, the day they picked a fight with the Renegades!” Flattop declared loudly with conviction.

“Leave no doubt!” Talon shouted with a whoop.

A ragged cheer erupted from all pilots still on the comms. In Bulldog’s cockpit, he was snoozing while his astromech droid made sure they arrived safely back to their damaged mothership, a drool trail already working its way down the right corner of his mouth.

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

ISD Conviction Captain’s Suite
POV: Commodore Tol Barand

...Two Days Later…

“Sir, you have an incoming call from Colonel Trandor.” It was the same young lieutenant as before.

“I’ll take it in my office,” Tol Barand responded. He was looking forward to this.

“Commodore Barand - it’s good to see you again,” Colonel Trandor began. His hologram looked unchanged but there was a faint uncertainty in his tone which was new. Barand sat back, fingers clasped in his lap, and let the man speak. “I, ah, must apologize for our last encounter. Some things have … changed ... that have forced me to reconsider your offer. I would be glad to have you set up your headquarters here on Dolian III.”

“Oh, really? What happened?” Barand’s expressionless face came from many years of experience in the intelligence field. He didn’t know if Trandor knew, or suspected, his involvement in the strikes; he didn’t particularly care. This time, he was in charge.

Trandor cleared his throat, the noise making the hologram flicker. “I’m still trying to determine that. It appears that two of my facilities became known to the New Republic military. I have sufficient defenses to hold off an attack for a while, of course, but I am concerned that my facility has been … compromised. I believe, by combining our forces,” he emphasized the word ‘combining’, “we could create a stronghold powerful enough to withstand any attacks, serving as a bastion of power for the glory of our Empire,” Colonel Trandor finished with a grand gesture.

“It will be as you have said. Expect our imminent arrival.” Tol Barand gave the lower-ranking officer a quick salute, then cut the feed.

’Combining’ our forces, indeed! He’ll soon find out who’s in charge. Commodore Barand leaned back in his happabore-hide chair, inhaling the rich fragrance of the leather polish. Renegade Wing out of commission for a month or two and a new, productive base of operations. The minor inconvenience of returning a damaged Interdictor aside, I think that went well.

He rested his elbows on the armrests and steepled his fingers, contemplating whether now was the time to take on another change. He had a fleet of almost 50 ships. He had a base of operations. His nemesis was out of commission. What was going to stop him now? Besides, Admiral Barand did have a nice ring to it …. ************************************************************************************* Part 1.1<   Part 1.2 <    Part 1.3<    Finale ***********************************************************************************