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ENDOR

 

Part 1 - The Brewing Storm


Endor +14 Days

CRS Vigilant Wing Commander's Office

Lieutenant Colonel Chris "Jalb_k" Reynolds slumped in his chair with a heavy sigh. His desk held a datapad with a roster of pilots and support personnel a kilometer long, and it was his job to go through and interview all of them in the coming days. He absentmindedly swiped his finger up the datapad screen, sending the list scrolling wildly down the display at a breakneck pace without end. A knock at his door shook him from his sudden exhaustion. He straightened up in his chair and pulled at his uniform shirt and got some of the wrinkles out. "Enter," he grunted.

The door creaked loudly as it opened, revealing Commander Bill "Jedi" Morrison, the acting-wing XO. He paused as the door opened fully and stared at the hinges responsible for the offensively loud noise. "Guess it's not much better in this bucket of bolts the higher you go up in rank," he mumbled as he walked into the room slamming the door as quickly as possible to limit the length of the abrasive noise. The screech reverberated through the small room, proving that this strategy was just as useless as opening it slowly.

"Hey Bill," Jalb winced, continuing, "Yeah, it's on the to-do list for maintenance here. I'm sure you can understand that a squeaky hinge is extremely low on the totem pole for all of the maintenance teams as they continue to be shuttled over to the Sovereignty to finish the refits on the flagship. Have a seat."

"Understand, sure," Jedi grumbled, sliding slowly into the decommissioned pilot's couch from an old Y-wing. "Accept? Absolutely not. These types of repairs should have been completed long before the ship even left drydock. The quality of workmanship is slipping across the Alliance-er... New Republic. We're a prototype ship to boot! We need to be running checks and rechecks with our own crews!"

"Bill, it's only been a few weeks since Endor. You know most of the rank and file have probably been imbibing much more than they normally would," Jalb said with a smile.

Jedi grimaced. "It's not like the Empire laid down and surrendered, and this rust pile wasn't even at Endor. There is no reason something like this should still be an issue. The entire Alliance, I mean Republic, is going soft I tell you."

Jalb chuckled. "Soon you'll be telling them to get off your lawn if you keep acting this grumpy."

Jedi smiled. "Ah, but it DOES get the job done, doesn't it?" His face sobered slightly. "Speaking of the job, where is this new Chief of Staff? He's supposed to be here for the debriefs, right? Do we even know who it is yet?"

As if on cue, another knock came at the door.

"Enter", Jalb said as he and Jedi stood slowly from their chairs, looking briefly at each other with an expression of uncertain expectation.

The door opened slowly with yet another offensively loud protest, causing both men to shudder slightly. A suction-fingered hand pushed it open slowly, revealing the unique squid-like appearance of the long-time enemy species of the Mon Calamari.

A Quarren in the Alliance? Jalb hid the surprise from his face as best he could. And a major to boot!

"Lieutenant Colonel, Commander," the Quarren said to both of the pilots in perfect basic as he strode into the room. Looking back slightly, he gestured toward the door.

"Yes, we were both just discussing the hinge on the door. Maintenance is aware of the issue." Jalb said sympathetically. "We agree it is unfortunate, but it is also very low on the level of importance considering the rest of the work that needs to be done to get this task force combat ready."

"We are going to be conducting the pilot interviews in this office. That sound is completely unacceptable, and we cannot conduct the debriefings of the individuals with the doors wide open. That would prove to be a security breach and that is also unacceptable." The Quarren Major revealed a comlink in his sleeve and brought it to his tentacled maw. "This is Major Moggaz Murg. I need a maintenance person in Lieutenant Colonel Reynolds' quarters now. Not in 5 minutes. Now. Bring copious amounts of metallic lubricants. Pull a deck officer from the bridge if you have to." He put the comlink away and eyed both men simultaneously. "Now, while we wait for that to get handled, introductions are in order." He gestured to himself, "I am Moggaz Murg, and as you can see by my rank bars, I am a Major. I am the chief of staff for Vice Admiral Arithen Vodani, and well versed in many different skills and specialties. I think my prior experience in a cockpit as well as my intelligence background will lend themselves nicely to the task at hand today."

Jalb reached a hand across his desk and shook Murg's elongated fingers crisply. "I am Lieutenant Colonel Chris Reynolds, acting head of the Vigilant fighter wing. Future wing, that is," he said as he released the handshake and gestured to his companion, "and this is Commander Bill Morrison, my acting Executive Officer for the wing."

"Acting?" Murg looked perplexed, which was obviously a sensation he was uncomfortable with. He looked down at his datapad and shuffled through some files. He looked back up at the two men and resumed the conversation. "Ahh, yes, I see that your actual XO, Alrick Durgan, callsign Krayt, is dealing with another flu after fighting the Grunge Fever he contracted a few days before Endor... conducting pilot training at the time?" He paused briefly and Jalb nodded once. "He should be back up to speed shortly I would think then." Murg nodded and shook Jedi's hand. "Let's be seated and discuss our task before maintenance arrives, which should be within the next standard minute."

Jedi took his seat and snorted. "Major, I have been after the maintenance team for the last 24 hours for a laundry list of tasks that need to be completed. Each time I've been told they are working in order of priority. I don't think they will get this hinge fixed today."

Murg fixed a steely gaze on Jedi. "It will get done because I was the one that asked this time." He paused for a moment, before continuing. "Our task for today will be debriefing all of the pilots from the Battle of Endor that might be stationed with us, as well as interviewing some new transfers. Ultimately, we'll be putting together four squadrons of fighters up front with more to come later. We'll want to take everything into account to make the new squadrons as cohesive as possible, so previous wingmen and squadrons should be held together as best as possible."

Jalb nodded. "Yes, Bill and I had planned to more or less keep the squadrons as intact as possible from previous postings. We have quite a few "leftovers" that need to be slotted into Rogue, Buccaneer, Corsair, and Spectre Squadrons."

Murg nodded sagely. "Yes, as I understand the situation, Rogue will be a recommissioned elite squadron taking on the bulk of the Corona Squadron pilots minus a few that moved elsewhere and requested the name stay with them," he paused and his voice lowered to a slightly mocking tone "- for luck." He closed his eyes and shook his head slightly and continued. " Buccaneer Squad is the new name for the remnants of Blue Squadron, and Corsair is essentially just a rename for the Yellow Squadron- all of which were stationed aboard the Liberty, yes? With Spectre Squadron being a completely new unit?"

Before either human could answer, a weak knock came at the open door. All three men gazed upon the obviously nervous Warrant Officer in the doorway holding an oil can. "Uh, sirs? I was told to be here with a can of lubricant."

Murg gestured toward the door. "Yes, Warrant Officer, the door hinge is in dire need of lubrication. Please use as much as necessary to eliminate that awful racket as quickly as possible. We have serious work to do here." He fixed his gaze back to the pilots. "Vice Admiral Vodani has also asked me to let you know that there will be a need for a training squadron with the task force down the road, so you will need to take that into account when coming up with your duty rosters. Down the road, there will be more personnel and squadrons to take into account as well, but they will not be staffed starting out despite the craft being deployed shortly. This is the second time this process has been undertaken if I'm not mistaken? Let's make this the last time."

Jalb felt a pang of anger mixed with sadness at the reminder of the rushed preparations the remainder of the Liberty fighter wing had undergone immediately after Endor. Pilots slapped together without regard for previous posts, too many of the veterans recovering from wounds being unavailable immediately, green pilots thrust into active duty too soon... It was a mess that ended in a predictable disaster. Of course, none of it was his choosing, but his marching orders were handed down from higher up the chain and he followed those orders, to the detriment of the fighter wing. He'd even taken a demotion in rank without objection from the previous failure, despite it not being his show to run. Hence, they were here again doing the same thing. The upshot of it this time is that the process doesn't seem to be rushed, and the command group actually seemed interested in being methodical in the approach this time. He swallowed all of his feelings and replied with a dispassionate "Yes sir."

The young warrant officer set about his task, obviously trying to make himself as inconspicuous as possible despite it being painfully clear he had little idea how to work the lubrication device. There was a lot of knocking and clunking as the officer tinkered with the oil can.

"For the love of-," Jedi growled, quickly rising again from his chair and yanked the lubricant from the warrant officer's hands. "You see this button? That activates the spray from this nozzle here. The lubricant will spray from there, so don't point it at your face. Or do, I don't care. Just get this hinge fixed!" He thrusted the oil can back into the warrant officer's chest. "Don't they teach you officers anything anymore?"

"Sir, yes sir!" The Warrant Officer said, setting about his task properly. In moments, he had eliminated the offending squeak. He bowed his head as he exited the room, closing the door with a refreshing silence.

Murg continued without missing a beat. "Are there any questions on the task at hand?" He looked to both men expectantly. When no question was presented, he continued. "Very well. Let's call... Flight Officer Clark into the room first."

"Shouldn't we start with squad leaders and their executive officers first, to get input on who they would like, why, and where?" Jedi asked.

"No, I want a comprehensive picture in a chronological order of events from Endor to get a clearer picture of things," Murg replied. He put his hands up in a conciliatory gesture. "I know, I know, it's unorthodox. This is just how I want things done."

Jalb tapped a quick message and shot it off to the flight officer the Major had requested. An affirmative reply chirped back almost immediately. "He'll be here momentarily."

Murg nodded. "What experience have you had so far with the man?"

Jalb shook his head a little as he tried to recall the pilot. We were always flying by the seat of our pants, and it doesn't leave a lot of time to get to know people very well if they aren't in the same squadron as you. "Uh, been with the Alliance about a year on the Liberty, capable pilot, minor disciplinary infractions related to drinking and brawling that kept his rank at Flight Officer, but nothing so serious to warrant being removed from active duty."

Murg waved a dismissive hand. "I know the contents of his files, Colonel. They also say he's got a fair mind for tactical analysis, and skills as a combat medic. Joined immediately after Hoth, previous flight experience, decent hand at the stick. What do you think of him, Colonel?

Jalb paused and pursed his lips. "He's dependable in the cockpit. No remaining family so he doesn't take random leaves of absence. I don't know, I've only interacted with him in passing or during briefings. I was his CO in Yellow Squadron for a VERY short time, being pulled back almost immediately to lead Corona Squadron and the rest of the wing with the sudden leave of absence by Colonel Rambo. You'd have better luck getting a solid analysis of the man from his previous squad leader or XO, which is why I was under the impression that we would start with previous leadership."

"A fair impression to be under, but you can see why I wished to do things this way," Murgreplied.

"Just what are you inferring, Major?" Jedi growled from his sidebar position in the exchange.

A knock at the door interrupted the increasingly contentious conversation. "Enter," Jalb said loudly.

The door opened silently and the subject of their conversation entered and stood at attention and held a salute. "Flight Officer Clark, reporting as requested!" he shouted crisply.

Jalb stood and returned the salute, then motioned toward the open chair in the middle of the room. "Have a seat Flight Officer. You know the Commander and myself, and this is Major Murg. We are doing a routine debriefing of the pilots at Endor and afterward."

The pilot nodded cautiously as he sat. "Of course, sirs. Whatever you need," he replied.

The Quarren leaned forward. "Flight Officer Andy Clark, callsign Bulldog. Previously Yellow 6 from the Liberty at the Battle of Endor. I would like to hear more about the events leading up to the battle and your interpretation of those events. This will help us gain an overall view of where people will fit in the Sovereignty Taskforce going forward. Can you recall the events of the first briefing you received aboard the Liberty?"

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Endor -1.5 days

CRS Liberty Briefing Amphitheater

POV: Bulldog

Flight Officer Andy 'Bulldog' Clark eased himself into what a year of service aboard the Mon Calamari Cruiser Liberty had proven to be his chair in the pilot ready room. The cushion had the familiar ridge down the center that many lowbrow pilots called the "ass groove", and it gave perfectly in the right places to make him very comfortable as he waited for the briefing to begin.

The chair made the overall muggy briefing room slightly more bearable. It took the greater part of the year of his posting to get used to the more humid and warm environment of the Liberty that the largely Mon Calamari crew preferred. Thankfully our individual bunks have climate controls that hold this humidity at bay, but these large briefings can get brutal real quick.

Pilots all around him joked around in an effort to mask the very heavy dread in the air. 2nd Lieutenant Josh "Hellcat" McKinney reached forward to the pilot seated in front of him and tapped him on the left shoulder while leaning the rest of his body to the right. 1st Lieutenant Joel "Darklighter" Phelps reacted against the grain and looked over his right shoulder, ruining the joke in the process. He let out a smirk and shook his head with a silent giggle. Hellcat groaned in response.

"Hey Dog," a familiar voice said from behind Bulldog.

"Wingy," Bulldog grunted with a nod to his wingman, Flight Officer Joseph "Icestorm" McCormick.

"How much time do we have before this kicks off?" Icestorm asked, looking around the room as he sat half-in-half-out of the seat next to Bulldog. "I left my chrono in my bunk apparently."

Bulldog glanced at his chrono, seeing 18:58. Rather than speak, he held up his wrist so his wingman could take a look at the time.

"Stang. Not enough time to hit the fresher," Icestorm swore. "Guess I'll have to wait."

"Boys," 2nd Lieutenant John "Knight" Vorwald said with a nod as he flopped into the chair to Bulldog's left. "This should be kicking off soon, neh?"

"Hey," Bulldog and Icestorm said in unison. "Yeah," they answered again in unison, eliciting a strange look from Knight.

"You two deserve each other, you know that?" he said with a snort.

The telltale sound of the doors closing and the lights dimming let everyone know it was time to begin. 2nd Lieutenant Nick "Jasted" Finelli and 1st Lieutenant Johnathan "Condor" Rees abruptly ended their sidebar and hurriedly found their seats and stood at attention in front of them. The rest of the pilots and support staff of Renegade Wing currently in the room quickly followed suit.

"Attention! Commodore on Deck!" recently promoted Colonel Chris "Jalb_k" Reynolds' voice boomed across the room.

"Please be seated," Commodore Ra'kaat said with a wave of his hand as he walked to the briefing room lectern. As he composed himself, he gave one steely look around the room. "Ladies and Gentlemen," he said with a low growl, "I don't have any easy way to sugarcoat this, so I'm just going to speak as plainly as possible."

Bulldog found himself leaning forward in his chair. He's been serious before, but I can't remember it being THIS serious. The thought put him on edge as he felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.

"This is the big one," Ra'Kaat continued. "Within the next standard days or so, time yet to be determined, the Liberty task force and the rest of the Alliance fleet will be embarking on the final mission many of us have been waiting for." He paused, seemingly taking the time to look every person in the room straight in the eyes. "As some of you may know or have noticed on your own, we are already underway to the rendezvous point for the rest of the fleet. The Liberty will be one of the last ships to arrive in-system. As such, our turnaround will be too short to deploy any sort of fighter screen unless there is an immediate threat. If none exists, the Liberty will form up with the rest of the fleet and immediately make the jump to our final target."

Ra'kaat again took what seemed like an eternity to speak again. Before he did so, he pushed a few keys on his datapad. The display lit up and began forming a familiar but at the same time, different, image.

A collective gasp erupted from the room, coupled with a healthy amount of cursing.

"Quiet," the mechanical voice of Yellow Squadron's CO, Commander 9-LOM "Syntax" boomed across the room, aided by his vocal speaker volume controls. The pilots and support personnel quickly cut off their impromptu sidebars.

Ra'Kaat motioned for quiet, sending a curt nod to the droid. As the room grew quiet, he continued. "I'm sure all of you are aware of what is on the screen. This is indeed a second Death Star. Incomplete, as you can tell by the exposed girders in the lower hemisphere. What isn't completely known, even with the considerably thorough data we've been given by our Bothan spy network, is how complete this station is. What has been made very clear, however, is that the primary weapon is not yet operational.

"Small mercies," Knight mumbled quietly under his breath.

"This is great news for us. We now have a location and technical readout on the station. This gives us just the target we need to strike a fatal blow to the Galactic Empire."

A hand rose in the middle of the room. Ra'Kaat nodded and gestured for the pilot to speak.

Commander Bill "Jedi" Morrison stood. "Commodore, do we know the location of the nearest Imperial Fleet?" the acting Corona Squadron XO asked.

"A good question, Commander," Ra'kaat replied. "Some of you have no doubt noticed that a flight element of Corona Squadron is not in this meeting. Other elements from different ships have spread out in a wide net in an attempt to locate the primary Imperial fleet. Our shipmates had the honor of finding the bulk of the Imperial fleet in the Hudalla system. Their report shows that the nearest battle-ready fleet that could pose a threat to our mounting flotilla would be 2 standard hours away. Given even the most skilled response time, that flotilla would still take 3 hours to reach us if they get word the moment we appear in-system. This is plenty of time for us to carry out our objectives and destroy the minor defense fleet already in place."

2nd Lt. Nick "Jasted" Finelli's hand shot up and he spoke immediately. "What is the rendezvous plan for the scouting element to return to the Liberty, Commodore?"

"Were there any casualties?" 2nd Lt. Gabriel "Wolfman" Leventhal blurted out, quickly blushing as he realized he spoke out of turn.

Ra'kaat nodded and raised his hands, looking at Wolfman first. "Unfortunately Lieutenant, there was one. Corona 3 was shot down by the TIE pursuit before the scouting flight could escape." He paused for a moment and bowed his head. After the somber pause, he raised his head to look at Jasted and resumed. "We will make a short stop en route to the main rendezvous to pick up the remainder of the scouting element. Please hold any further questions until the end."

"Admiral Akbar has already briefed the wing leaders and other ship captains of the fleet that are already together. Since the Liberty was deployed farther away on a distraction and scouting mission meant to draw forces away from our intended target, we have only been given a very broad picture to work with to avoid chances of detection or betrayal in the event of capture. As such, the Liberty and her fighter wings will be deployed in a support and rear-guard capacity."

The ready-room immediately erupted into a cacophony of unhappy groans and curses. Syntax again stepped forward, but was stopped by Ra'Kaat with a wave.

"Those of you that know me, which I hope is almost all of you by now, know that I like this as much as you all do. Unfortunately, since we were not able to make it to the official briefing, we will not have enough intel to know exactly what is necessary to take this thing down. You know as well as I do how damaging even a good-intentioned person can be to a precisely planned attack. If we were to deviate one iota, we could unknowingly ruin the Alliance's best chance at crippling the Empire's hold on the galaxy. We cannot allow this to fail, and we certainly cannot unwittingly be the reason it does.

"The fact that we likely won't be deploying a fighter screen when we arrive at the rendezvous means that our pilots will be fresh and fully fueled. This will make us a prime choice to take on any unexpected challenges. Ladies and Gentlemen, I fully expect that we will be a bigger part of the battle than we are currently expecting. I would ask that Colonel Reynolds finishes this briefing for me as I return to the bridge to monitor any incoming intel. May the Force be with us all." He nodded once more to the entire room and motioned to Jalb to take the podium as he walked toward the exit.

Corona Leader took to the podium, visibly unaffected by the news that was just dropped on the rank and file. "As the Commodore said, we are currently underway to the rendezvous. Until I know otherwise, Corona and Yellow Squadrons will be flying CAP for this mission, and Blue Squadron will fly heavy assault rearguard. I'm telling you this now so you can get some sim time in between now and the mission. Squadron leaders and XO's will remain in this room, along with a few other personnel. The rest of you will have roughly 10 hours until we arrive in system and have another briefing after we've had a chance to get more detailed intel from Command. I strongly suggest you get some sack time, and also finish as many personal affairs that you haven't completed yet. Off-ship communications are restricted for obvious reasons, so any messages that need to go out to loved ones will be stored and blasted out at the next moment we are in a position with open comms." Jalb paused, seeming to look each pilot in the eye before he breathed in sharply and continued. "This is the big one, ladies and gentlemen. The general briefing is concluded. We will meet back here in 10 hours. Dismissed."

Bulldog rose to his feet and did a half-hearted salute. "Well, stang." He grumbled to himself as he followed the line of pilots exiting the ready room as the smaller group of commanders stayed behind.

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Endor +14 Days

CRS Vigilant Wing Commander's Office

"Commander Andrew Dobson, callsign Dobber, previous leader of Blue Squadron at the Battle of Endor," Major Murg started before pausing. After shaking off a thought to himself, he continued. "My name is Major Murg. Myself, Lieutenant Colonel Reynolds, and Commander Morrison are going back through the prelude to and the actual battle itself in this little meeting."

Lt. Colonel Reynolds hurriedly interjected "This is purely a debriefing with no disciplinary action attached to it. We are attempting to see where people will fit best going forward in the Sovereignty Taskforce. This has absolutely nothing to do with anything else. At all. Ever."

Murg shifted slightly in his chair, but said nothing. He tapped a few things into his datapad with his long suctioned fingers.

"Yes sir," Dobber replied coolly, nodding to Jedi in the other chair. The acting executive officer gave a curt nod back, crossing his arms in the process and shifting gruffly in his seat.

Murg seemed to pick up on that gesture as well. "Commander Dobson, am I mistaken or is there some sort of awkward feel in the air here?"

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CRS Liberty Briefing Amphitheater

POV: Dobber

Commander Andrew "Dobber" Dobson took notice that a number of pilots from Corona and Yellow Squadrons were nodding in agreement as they left the briefing room with the general dismissal. The pilots in attendance from Blue Squadron, on the other hand, exchanged nervous and concerned looks with one another as they too exited the amphitheater.

The blue-skinned female Twi'lek pilot sitting to Dobber's right, Captain Dia "Summer" Tann, leaned in towards him and placed a hand over her mouth as if to rub her nose. She spoke quietly but audibly enough for Dobson to hear. "Not that I am trying to overstep my rank here as your XO, Commander, or question orders - but this is a bad idea."

"Hush now," Dobber replied quietly without turning to face her, "Let me handle this." Out of his peripheral vision he obliquely noticed Tann shift back into her seat and refocus her attention on the briefing display. I can't say I'm entirely thrilled about this, he thought as he saw the holograms melt away. Blue Squadron has always played a versatile role, not heavy mop-up. The lights slowly came back on in the room until it was bright again as the last few non-command personnel left the room. He sat forward in his seat to face Wing Commander Reynolds with a concerned look on his face. This is not going to be fun.

"Commander," said Reynolds as he came closer to Dobber, "if I didn't know you any better, I'd say you aren't happy about something."

Not fun at all. "Permission to speak freely, sir?" asked Dobber.

"Granted."

Taking a deep breath, he began. "With all due respect, Colonel, I'm not entirely sure that this is the right fit for Blue Squadron for this type of mission. We don't even have the full briefing from Admiral Ackbar as to what to expect."

Reynolds sighed and sat in a seat close to him, then leaned forward. "I can appreciate your concern, Commander, but these are our orders. As the briefing detailed, in hopes of being successful the primary attack force is to be spearheaded by the best squadrons the Alliance has. This means that the rest of the squadrons available must be flexible enough to not only support them, but protect the fleet as well."

"I think it's a fitting role for Blue Squadron," interjected Commander Bill "Jedi" Morrison, Corona's acting XO, as he leaned back in his seat. "Especially given the ... history of your squadron."

Dobber saw Dia shift uncomfortably in her seat through the corner of his vision, her lekku slightly twitching in annoyance. He braced, knowing what was coming next. Oh boy, here we go...

"And what is that supposed to mean, exactly?" she asked sternly, trying to keep her voice measured. She fixed her steely gaze upon Jedi.

Dobber used the heel of his boot to gently tap Tann's boot. Come on, Dia, this isn't the time to get into yet another argument with Morrison, especially all of the superior officers.

"It means," said Morrison, folding his arms across his chest, "exactly what it means, Captain. Blue Squadron has been part of the Alliance from the beginning. Same as Red, Gold, Green, and Phoenix Squadrons, to name a few. But," he said, raising a hand," Blue hasn't exactly had the best record for staying intact, even at the best of times." Individual fingers began to rise from his hand as if he was counting. "High casualty rates, multiple fighter craft lost due to pilots ejecting, fighters damaged due to the... unique actions of some of your pilots - it is a cause for concern."

Dobber could see that Tann was about to deliver a fiery rebuttal when Chief Mechanic Ramirez piped up from where he was standing. "The Commander has a point, Captain. Keeping your fighter craft serviceable, even with the modest resources we can muster, is difficult. Your pilots have a history of abusing their ships. There has been more than one mission where we've had to launch fighters that need replacement parts and we can't get them. Some of the ground crew think of your pilots, as the saying on my home planet is, 'loco'. It isn't healthy."

Feeling his cheeks turning red from embarrassment, Dobber looked down towards the deck plating. While the squadron had earned the respect of the crew and the odd commendation from the higher ups from time to time, it was not always easy to maintain that. But to punish the child for the sins of the father... Some of those things he mentioned were from before my time! Dobber paused that train of thought and recalled the last few missions Blue Squadron had undertaken. Of the last four missions, two were Imperial ambushes within a three week period that had not reflected well on the squadron.

Rafi's right though, he thought. Our missions at Nadiri Prime and Shandra, while successful, are overshadowed by the fiasco at Golam III, and the near disaster during the mission to the Wex Nebula. Half of the supply convoy at Golam III was destroyed. Supplies which the Alliance desperately needed. Five fighter craft were destroyed, with the loss of three pilots at the Wex Nebula. Not to mention several security fighters and a transport carrying a priceless heirloom of a prominent diplomatic house. The chief diplomat's shuttle was nearly destroyed had it not been for the actions of Tann and First Lieutenant Ten Numb. It's not easy fending off a Victory-class Star Destroyer, two Strike-Class Medium Cruisers with their fighter complements, plus Gunboats from Rau Squadron. We were outnumbered almost four-to-one. He sighed, slumping back in his seat.

Dobber sighed and composed himself. "I will not deny the mixed history of the squadron, or the actions of some members past or present. I have taken the necessary actions to keep my - our - pilots in line and reprimanded those responsible. However, Blue has always acted as a multi-purpose squadron with flexibility in fighter craft to suit the needs of the mission." He looked back to Reynolds again, then at the other squadron leaders across from him and let out a short breath. "I just feel that if we flew as a mixed group made up of X-wings and A-wings, we'd stand a better chance of supporting the fleet than with outdated Y-wings from the Clone Wars."

Tann nodded in agreement. "We don't exactly have ion torpedoes on board, either," she continued. "Sure, the Y-wings have ion cannons. But if you want us to take out heavy ships while targeting vital systems like shield generators and targeting sensors, I'd feel more comfortable in something that has more speed than a pregnant Bantha carrying twins."

Commander 9-Lom "Syntax", the leader of Yellow Squadron, piped up with what appeared to be an approximation of a sympathetic tilt to his head. "Choosing which fighter type you fly isn't a luxury we have, Captain. And no one is doubting your ability as a leader, Commander Dobson. But this mission is bigger than all of us, even if we don't have all the details yet. We have enough fighter support with Corona and Yellow flying X-wings and A-wings. We'll need Blue to be the heavy-hitters in case we run into any Imperial capital ships."

All fair points, thought Dobber, as he shifted uneasily in his chair.

"The good news," Reynolds continued without missing a beat, "is that you won't be flying Y-wings. I've received orders from Command that Blue Squadron will be re-equipped with a few new B-wings. They're scheduled to arrive within the next few hours. We'll be making a short stop in the Bo'kar system to pick up the patrol flight from Corona Squadron, plus ferry the B-wings from the freighter Radiant Light."

Dobber and Tann both perked up at that news, as did seemingly all of the other members in attendance.

Jalb continued. "I want a few of your Blue pilots to oversee the escort of the B-wings onboard. Corona and Yellow patrol flights will provide a wider defense perimeter in case any Imperials or pirates jump into the system. In exchange for the B-wings, the fighters you typically fly will be reassigned to other squadrons who need them for defense at Mon Cala. I trust you and your squadron will live up to my expectations, won't they, Commander?" he finished, looking squarely at Dobber.

There was a brief pause before he replied with a confident, "Yes, sir. We'll do our part." He noticed Tann's sharp-toothed smile and knew she was in agreement with his thoughts.

"Good. Our ETA to the Bo'Kar system is just over two hours. Anticipated exchange time for the fighters will be at least another hour. Then it's another seven to the main fleet. In the meantime," he said standing up from his seat, "I want you all to go through your squadron duty rosters. Make sure that each of your pilots has time for patrol flights, as well as time in the simulators. Don't forget to schedule in some downtime, too. And Rafi," he said, tossing a data pad to the chief mechanic, "forward any mechanical issues with the fighters to the appropriate Requisition Officer immediately. Or directly to me if you need to. I want our fighters in tip-top shape."

"You got it, senor," Rafi said, "and I'll be sure to send you the bill for overtime. Or the bar tab once this is over. Whichever one is mucho grande."

A grin spread across Reynold's face and barked out a small laugh replying, "In your dreams, Rafi."

Dobber watched as Jalb surveyed everyone in the room one last time. "We all have our parts to play. Let each of us do what is required to bring peace and freedom back to the galaxy. Dismissed," he finished, saluting. Everyone present returned the salute before heading towards the door.

As each of the officers and senior staff went their separate ways, Dobber took a right and continued down the hallway, Tann moving at the same pace beside him. "Well, I have to admit. Getting new B-wings is a pleasant surprise," he said turning his head to face her. "That wasn't as bad as I thought it would be."

"A pleasant surprise indeed," she said looking at him. "We've been upgraded to moving at the speed of a pregnant female Bantha with only one child."

A small smile spread across Dobber's face. "Have I ever told you how much I love your optimism?"

"Regularly. Though I'd still prefer something faster to fly."

"Well, would you prefer they have given us some Z-95s? Those were popular in the early days of the Rebellion. I'm sure there are still some kicking around for training purposes."

Tann quickly stepped behind Dobson to make way for other crew members carrying boxes and other materials coming down the opposite side of the hallway before stepping back beside him. "Those deathtraps?" she scoffed. "I'd rather take my chances in a T-wing. Or a Skipray."

A few minutes later they reached his small office. As the door whooshed open it revealed a desk with a small computer console and several data pads scattered across it. There was also a node for a hologram projector on the edge of the right side.

"I have to thank you," said Dobber as he moved behind his desk and sat down in his chair, "for not pushing the issue too much back in the briefing room. I know you and Morrison don't always get along. Please, sit."

Tann moved one of the chairs out from in front of the desk and squeezed into the seat. "Not that I am looking to cause trouble, but I really can't afford any more reprimands. So," she said, shifting forward and resting her arms on the edge of the desk, "what's next?"

"Well," Dobber started as he picked up one of the data pads, "I need you to make some revisions to the duty roster." He passed it to Tann, who started scrolling through the assignments. "Mine will remain mostly as is, given my long list of responsibilities. Schedule time in the simulators for each of the flights. I want only B-wing related missions so that the crew gets used to the controls again. Inform them they'll be practicing with a variety of difficulty settings, too. Time should be two hours per flight group starting at 2100 hours. I'll take the first group and begin selecting missions as soon as we're done here. Send me the scores of the others when they are done with their sessions."

"Noted," she said, continuing to thumb through the information on the data pad. "Shouldn't be too difficult to shift things around. I'll let the Deck Officers know as well. What about downtime?"

"That will be trickier, but doable. The Cantina is fair game to unwind, but make sure they limit their alcohol consumption. No alcoholic beverages within the last few hours before the mission starts. All squad members should also take time to rest in their quarters and try to get some sleep if they can. We can't have anyone be overtired."

"You're all heart, boss. Okay. What else?"

"All pilots should report to the main hangar two hours before mission launch. I want them to go over all the diagnostics with the flight crews on the new B-wings. Work out any kinks and mechanical issues while getting reacquainted with the real controls and procedures. We'll also have one final meeting before we all launch."

"It's a busy schedule," she said looking up at him, "but I'll make it work. Will send an updated version to you within the hour - sooner if I get it done."

"Thank you. I'll notify Ten Numb as well that you'll be sending out a revised schedule. That will be all. Keep me posted."

They both stood up, moving conscientiously towards the door. Tann turned to face him as he moved next to her. Taking a quick, almost anxious breath, she spoke again. "One final question, sir. If I may ask freely and candidly, of course."

"Go ahead," he replied, noting that she had shifted both of her hands on the data pad and placed it against her stomach.

"How in the Force did you manage to send me that bouquet of Millaflowers last week?"

Cheeks turning a hot red, Dobber blushed at being caught off guard by the question. "Well," he began, "I called in a favor or two. They were also very expensive - not that price matters, mind you." He felt his heartbeat increasing rapidly and also realized that his speech was quickening. "Those were also to be sent anonymously. Not that I didn't want you to know they were from me. I mean, of course I wanted you to know. I just didn't want the others to know. But I, uh, I remembered that you mentioned them once, and I think you said they were your favourite and -" she cut him off, reaching up and placing a finger on his lips. He stopped talking, surprised at the move. Refocusing his attention on her face, he watched as it changed to one with a loving smile.

"That," she said, removing her finger slowly, "was very sweet of you. I love them. The aroma also helps me relax before going to sleep each night."

"Well," Dobber replied, a sheepish grin spreading across his face, "I'm glad you like them. A lovely lady deserves a lovely gift."

She placed her free hand on his arm. He didn't let his face betray the fact that he was fairly certain his heart had leapt into his throat. "You are too sweet sometimes. Even if you are my boss when on duty."

Dobber cleared his throat. "Speaking of which, you'd better get going with that revised duty roster, Captain. Dismissed." He gave her a quick salute which she returned, followed by a quick wink before she left, the doors hissing open then closing behind her.

Relationships between crewmembers were not uncommon, but if anyone else had known there was one between a squadron leader and his female XO, it would lead to a lot of questions and raised eyebrows. Especially from Colonel Reynolds. Although their schedules seldomly aligned, they did manage to find time alone together on occasion. They also had a clear understanding that there were to be no public displays of affection, and that they couldn't let their emotions compromise the safety of each other or their squadron members - especially since they were the two senior officers in the squadron. So far, it seems to be working.

Walking over to the holo projector, he pressed a few buttons and the image of a Sullustan face appeared. "Ten Numb?" He began, "I have an update for you. Dia will be sending you a revised duty roster to prepare for our next mission. You'll also be interested to know that we'll be getting some new toys."

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

Endor +14 Days

CRS Vigilant Wing Commander's Office

"A Zeltron?" Jalb asked. "I'm not overly familiar with the species specifics besides the skin color."

Jedi shifted in his seat. "I am. They have the red skin, and if they get irritated they get darker red. It's actually kind of comical sometimes."

"They also have some very strong pheromones that can be very... persuasive to some species," Murg added. "Quarrens are immune so far as I know."

"Like a Jedi mind trick?" Jalb asked nervously, thinking back to his interactions in the past few weeks with the only Zeltron he'd worked with closely, probing to see if he did anything he wouldn't normally have done or said.

A knock at the door stopped the conversation. They all rose and faced the door.

"Enter," Jalb said loudly.

The door opened slowly as a female Zeltron gently pushed it open and stepped crisply into the room, shutting the door behind her. She turned and stood at attention.

Murg spoke first. "I hear they call you Gremlin. Is that a name in jest?"

Gremlin looked surprised, unprepared for that question. "Not that I'm aware of, Sir?"

Murg waved his hand. "Unimportant, Flight Officer. I understand you took a demotion in rank when you joined Blade Squadron. Was this by choice?"

Gremlin's skin deepened its shade of red, letting all of the other occupants of the room know the answer before she spoke. "No, sirs. It was required when I was reassigned from Red Squadron."

"You got reassigned and busted down in rank?" Jedi asked in shock. "Did you screw up somewhere recently?"

Gremlin again darkened. "No sirs, not to my knowledge."

"It's not unheard of for this type of thing happening," Murg broke in. "Especially in situations of great upheaval in organization. Blade Squadron needed a capable pilot and it looks like the ranks in the squadron were extremely low to the point that she would have outranked some of the leadership. I agree with her assessment that it was not her fault."

"Fair enough," Jalb nodded. "Well, Flight Officer Gemilan, what did you think of the Blades?"

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Endor -1.5 Days

CRS Defiance Hangar Bay

POV: Gremlin

As the B-wings landed in their hangar bay - some smoothly, some less so - Wing Commander Adon Fox was a worried man. Blade Squadron was not yet operational, though he knew that would end soon, but were the cadets really ready for the demands of battle? He knew the answer. He also knew that, despite the concerns of his training officers and his own assessment as Squadron CO, the B-wings of Blade Squadron would be needed in the upcoming fight.

Even if it meant that many of them would not return.

Fox clambered down from his craft, realising from the raised voices that his XO, Lieutenant Braylen Stramm, was already taking Cadet Gina Moonsong to task for her performance during the exercise. As he intervened, saving the young woman from yet another disciplinary citation, Fox knew that the time she would have spent on punishment would be better served by preparing for the day to come. This was one of the hardest parts of leadership: knowing what they were likely to face tomorrow, but still maintaining a facade of confidence.

He looked around the young pilots and the two training officers attached to the squadron - Stramm and the newest transfer, a Zeltron pilot from Red Squadron, still wearing her orange X-wing flight suit - then raised his voice to ensure everyone could hear.

"I've just received our orders from Admiral Ackbar. Tomorrow's the big show. The fleet moves on Endor."

Gremlin kept her expression impassive as Wing Commander Fox outlined Blade Squadron's part in tomorrow's battle. The cadets would, unsurprisingly, be in the rearguard while the van would attack - wait, another Death Star? That was news! The Zeltron's thoughts flashed to her comrades - her former comrades - in Red Squadron. Only a few remained as Reds: the team had been split up, its members scattered throughout the Rebel fleet to play their individual roles in this epic confrontation. Commander Wedge Antilles was now Red Leader and she had been assigned to - for some reason - Blade Squadron. Who flew B-wings. Kriffing B-wings!

"Why me? Why Blade Squadron? I'm an X-wing pilot, not a bomber!" she had protested when the orders had come through, but Lieutenant Roy 'Lock' Callahan had given her that patented Corellian smile which annoyed her so much.

"The cadets of Blade Squadron need to develop their situational awareness, Lieutenant. B-wings work together to integrate their attack vectors. Combined, they can take down capital ships - but only if they're able to work as a team. Wing Commander Fox asked for an experienced combat pilot to help support him with this - and you're it. Get your kit together, Gremlin. The Blades are expecting you ASAP."

There had just been time for one last drink at the onboard cantina - "All the old Reds together!" Angel had declared, laughing at the thought of them being 'old' - before Gremlin had boarded a shuttle to her new posting. At least she was still wearing her familiar orange X-wing flight suit; there simply wasn't enough time to draw the appropriate red B-wing coverall from stores, she insisted, and the officers in charge of her new squadron had more to worry about than adhering to the dress code. The scuttlebutt spoke of a looming battle, possibly the biggest ever, maybe even the one which could bring an end to Imperial rule. But Gremlin had other things to worry about than gossip.

Most of the cadets of Blade Squadron were greener than a Hutt's belly and the stronger pilots like Moonsong, Blade 3, were too inclined to act first, communicate later. Gremlin had her work cut out to translate her own experience into the kind of training the cadets needed. She had been with Blade Squadron for almost a week when Fox made his announcement in the bustling hangar bay. Surely she wouldn't stay with them for the battle? She was more effective in a snubfighter than a bomber!

A buzz of excitement broke out as the cadets were dismissed. "Endor! Where's that? And why are we on rearguard, not attacking the capital ships, sir?" Cadet Ruano Demenal, Blade 10, asked Gremlin in an undertone. A multi-limbed Xexto, he had been a student before joining the Rebellion and still seemed painfully young.

Because you're barely trained and Command will want its best fighters in the vanguard, she thought, but said: "Because that's our orders. Admiral Ackbar will have his reasons, I'm sure." She gave him a gentle punch on one of his bony shoulders. "Get some rest, cadet. You flew well today, but we'll be up against Imp fighters tomorrow and the squad will need everyone at their best."

Fox had disappeared, no doubt heading for some last-minute briefing, so Gemi approached his XO, Lieutenant Braylen Stramm, Blade Two. "Sir?" She drew herself up to attention and saluted, having discovered that the former Imperial pilot responded better to formality than her usual, more relaxed approach.

"Yes, Flight Officer?"

The reduction in rank still niggled, though she understood why it was necessary for the duration of her time in the training squadron. She'd rationalised that titles didn't matter if the Empire was defeated; what did matter, though, was fighting alongside her old comrades for this vital battle.

"When will I be leaving to return to Red Squadron, sir?" Gremlin was nothing if not direct. Most Zeltrons were. What they couldn't get by asking, they could often acquire by using her species' other ... attributes.

Stramm, however, seemed to be immune to her pheromones. "Returning? To Red? You're needed here, Flight Officer." He closed the distance between them, dropping his voice in case any of the youngsters were nearby. "These cadets need someone with experience as a flight leader. Even though we're in the rearguard, tomorrow's going to be tough. I know you don't like B-wings," he gave a meaningful glare at her defiantly orange flight suit, "but Commander Antilles isn't likely to put in a transfer request at this late stage, so you'll be staying as Blade 9. Dismissed - and make sure you're wearing proper uniform tomorrow!"

Which, of course, guaranteed she'd show up in orange. Once a Rebel ....

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

Endor +14 Days

CRS Vigilant Wing Commander's Office

"Who's next in the chute?" Jedi asked wearily.

"Hopefully somebody with a less contentious history with the both of you than Commander Dobson or the attitude of Flight Officer Gemilan," Murg said with a hint of sarcasm coming through his translator.

Jalb chuckled. "Let's see... perhaps one of the survivors of the post Endor campaign, unless you have any objections that is, Major?"

Jedi nodded in agreement. "Yes, Callahan if I'm not mistaken. I'm definitely interested in his point of view regarding the difficult conditions a lot of our pilots faced under less than helpful leadership" Jedi stumbled over his words, and quickly added "I wasn't referring to you, Reynolds."

Murg nodded thoughtfully, and then punched something into his datapad. "Actually, gentleman, I would like to call in somebody from Gray Squadron if that's all right?"

Jalb rubbed his temples in frustration. "Fine, sure, whatever you say, Major."

Jedi opened his mouth to argue, but a knock at the door stopped his objection.

"Enter," Jalb said.

A pilot in a gray flight suit entered and stood at attention with a salute. "Lieutenant Chesney reporting as ordered, sirs!"

Jalb returned the salute and waved the new arrival to the open chair. "Welcome, El-Tee. As I'm sure you're aware, we're doing some after-action reporting on the battle."

The Quarren broke in. "Lieutenant Rick 'Mystic' Chesney, formerly of Gray Squadron at Endor. You flew a B-Wing, correct?"

"Aye, sir," Mystic responded carefully. "Solid ship. Sleek profile from the 12 and 6 o'clock approaches."

Jedi nodded, receiving part of his answer about the B-wing, albeit from a different pilot than he intended to ask.

"What was the mood like with the fleet before the battle?" Murg asked quickly.

"Sir?"

"How was the morale of your squadron, Lieutenant?"

Mystic looked confused. "Fine?"

Jedi leaned forward to intervene, but was silenced with a hand from Major Murg. "What I'm asking, Lieutenant, is how was your squad adjusting to their home aboard the Defiance after they were nearly wiped out at Vrogas Vas and no longer based there."

"Damn," Jalb mumbled under his breath. "Cold blooded."

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Endor -1.5 Days

CRS Defiance Pilot's Lounge

POV: Mystic

"So, as I was saying," 1st. Lieutenant Diego "Arachnoid" Sommariva said, jarring Mystic out of his reverie. "As I was saying, my girlfriend has this helmet in one hand and a stylus in the other, and she's just staring at me like she has no idea what's going on."

Mystic giggled under his breath. He'd heard this one many times before from his longtime wingman. That still doesn't make the punchline any less offensive, yet funny.

"So what did she say?" Captain Charbel "Solo" Tengroth asked, sitting on the edge of his seat.

Arachnoid kept laughing as he tried to deliver his punchline. Every time he took a deep breath to get his words out, he let loose with a belly laugh. This process continued on and on, frustrating his now captive audience.

"Out with it already, Arach!" 2nd Lieutenant Jonas "Groznik" Mamlof impatiently shouted, slamming his fist on the table to emphasize his frustration.

"Ok ok ok," Arachnoid said, out of breath. "So she says 'what the hell is all this?' and I said 'so you wanted to feel special, right? You've got a helmet and a coloring tool now. Draw me something nice' ."

Mystic chuckled again, but the rest of the room was conspicuously silent.

"Why would that make her feel special?" Flight Officer Michael "Parody" Miller asked, completely perplexed.

"Oof," Mystic said, feeling the gut punch that his wingman surely was feeling now that nobody was laughing at his oldest joke.

"Special... helmet?" Arachnoid asked hopefully, trying to help the audience make the connection.

"Oh! 'Special' like she's riding the short skiff to school!" Groznik shouted, finally understanding the punchline. He started laughing, as did the others as they made the correct connection.

"Dios Mio!" Arachnoid said, joining in with the laughter. "Took you lot long enough, neh?"

Ed "Impulse" Wong walked into the lounge, gauged the room, and asked "Arachnoid's helmet joke?"

Mystic smiled as he nodded the affirmative.

Impulse shook his head sadly. "That's not even the best helmet joke around."

Arachnoid looked wounded. "Oh yeah, Cap? What's yours?"

Impulse immediately looked sheepish. "Nah, I don't think I will."

"Come on, Cap," Parody begged.

"You can't leave us hanging," Groznik agreed, egging the reluctant pilot on.

Impulse took a deep breath and relented. "Well, you know I'm a firm believer in helmet wear during intimate time, right? Helps me feel safe and responsible. Doesn't do much to help avoid the Hesken Fever, but it sure protects me from Stokhli stun spray to the face!" He looked around expectantly for laughs, but his face began to fall when it was clear the joke hadn't landed as intended.

"Woof," Mystic said with a wince as the joke landed flat on its face.

"You guys have no sense of humor," Impulse grumbled, walking back out of the lounge.

"Gray Squadron Pilots!" Major Horton Salm's voice shouted from down the hall. "Fall out for simulator training! And don't forget your kriffing helmets!"

The assembled pilots shot out of their chairs and hustled out the door, breathless with laughter.

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

Endor +14 Days

CRS Vigilant Wing Commander's Office

"You'll have to understand, Major," Jalb started, "that I have no prior knowledge of this pilot before the day I received this roster on my datapad."

Murg chuckled, putting his hand to his chest. "I'm afraid I may have come on too strong earlier, Lieutenant Colonel. Not every conversation is a test with me, I swear on my hatchery. I pride myself on having very deep contacts in many areas, but even my reach has limits. This pilot, until 24 days ago, was nowhere near my radar when I was trying to assemble this roster of personnel in the previous months."

Jalb's jaw dropped. Jedi's face was also showing genuine shock, but he was able to recover first and break the silence. "You have been putting together a roster for this specific task force since before Endor?"

Murg nodded. "I know what most of the rank and file think about the New Republic leadership group. I share many sentiments with those mostly negative assessments, you know. But there are still a few in high places that know a good idea when they see one, and I am sure to swim through their ocean currents often. I also heard whispers of this prototype as well as the Sovereignty prototype refits, and I wanted to be ready to put forth the best plan to ensure my path to reaching this group when it did indeed form."

"Perhaps, Major, we got off on the wrong foot?" Jedi said haltingly.

Murg smiled. "Indeed. We ARE on the same side, gentlemen," he said as he looked down at his datapad. "Next one in the door should be Flight Officer Anton Whitemont, recently of Green Squadron at Endor."

"Never heard of him," Jedi scoffed. Jalb shushed him with a curt wave.

Without missing a beat, Murg continued his assessment. "Under the radar recruit, ended up on the board because there just isn't a Green Squadron anymore after Endor and Fondor."

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Endor -1.5 Days

A-Wing Green 8

POV: Ant

"How did we get stuck pulling patrol while the rest of the fleet is on downtime?" Flight Officer Glenn Adeek groaned over the comms.

"Because we're the low men on the totem pole, Green 7." Flight Officer Anton Whitemont replied, smiling as he checked his sensors for the millionth time. "Not that it helps with all this system traffic," he continued. "The only way we'd find an interloper is if they rammed their proton torpedoes up our exhaust ports."

"That's what she said!" Glenn responded through hiccups of laughter.

"That one was just for you." Anton grinned.

"But really, I think it's because we don't have cool names," Glenn returned to his original point. "All the best pilots have cool callsigns."

"Oh yeah?"

"Yeah, and we don't have families."

"Mhmm."

"Command always takes family time into account."

"Right."

"Family. Fam-uh-ly. Famly. Fam---"

As the two A-wings made what seemed to be their millionth slow circle around the massing fleet of starships and Glenn's voice droned on and on, Anton found himself daydreaming.

***

"But it's dangerous!" Olya screamed as she yanked helplessly on Anton's hand.

"Mom, I know!" Anton said softly, attempting to pull away all the while.

"Then why are you going! You know I support the rebellion!" Olya sobbed, tears streaming down her face.

"You should listen to her," Mikhail, his older brother, said from near the kitchen, his attention divided between the scene before him and the food he had been cooking.

"You should listen to yourselves!" Anton finally burst.

"W---what?" Olya hiccuped.

"What the hell does that mean?" Mikhail asked, his tone accusatory, his attention torn from the pan.

Anton had had enough. This was the eighth argument in half as many days about his decision. He couldn't take it anymore. So many people whispered about supporting the rebellion, but did absolutely nothing beyond that.

"You all talk about how bad the Empire is, how the Rebellion has the right idea, but have either of you actually done anything!?!" He bellowed.

Olya was still hiccuping uncontrollably, her nose running in tandem with her eyes now. Mikhail stood frozen over the stove where he had been cooking. Black smoke began to billow and the smell of burnt wheat filled the home. He shook his head, quickly moving the pan off of the burner and onto a cooling rack before turning back to Anton.

"You've done nothing! You bitch and moan, but when the opportunity presents itself, you go and hide!" Anton continued yelling. "The Rebellion needs pilots, and I'm a damn good one!"

"You ARE!" His mother finally spoke up with another loud hiccup. "That's why I don't want you wasting your life! You could have a good job here! You could raise a family in peace! Do---"

"Peace!?! Mom, how long do you think that kind of 'peace' will last?" Anton asked. His voice was still angry, but he managed to lower it. A mother's tears always had that effect. "What, am I just gonna be safely flying for transport companies while the Empire continues its oppression on any free planet it can find? No, no... I'm done with this!"

"But... But you could die!" Mikhail was red in the face, but his tone was silent, almost a whisper.

"Yeah, but I'd die knowing I tried to make a damn difference." Anton stated firmly. He had managed to lower his voice. "I'd rather go out that way than waste away guarding shipments for some Imperial officer, dying in my bed full of regret knowing I worked for some scumbag war criminal."

"But honey..." Olya began.

***

Anton's sensor board chirped and reality came rushing back.. That all seemed decades ago now, even though it had been a fraction of that time since he had left home... Anton rapped his knuckles against his helmet twice to bring his focus back and looked around as a new GR-75 Medium Transport reverted to realspace off of his starboard side. IFF identified it as Luminous, a friendly. Anton switched to the general hailing frequency.

"Incoming Medium Transport, this is A-Wing Green Five. Please identify yourself and your cargo," Anton said as he turned his A-Wing in a long loop towards the new arrival.

"It really does get weirder the more you say it." Glenn had continued, completely oblivious to the new arrival. "Fam-ee-ly. Fam-uh-lee. Fam--"

Anton snarled then switched to his private channel with his wingman. "Would you shut up for a second? A damn exogorth could sneak up on you, I swear."

"Jeez, fine..." Glenn replied indignantly. "What the sith is an exogorth?"

With a roll of his eyes, Anton chinned back to the general hailing frequency and caught the tail end of the Luminous' comms officer's reply to his original hail. "Please say again, Transport. I encountered a... um... comms disruption."

"Understood, Green Five." the communication officer said with an annoyed tone. "We are Medium Transport Luminous, arriving as ordered by General Madine with warhead munitions for distribution to the fleet."

Anton examined his logs, scrolling down until he saw the ship in question and tapped the name. Right on time, he thought. "Roger that, Luminous. Continue on in while I pass by for inspection." He nudged his stick over to initiate an intercept course before the transport could reach the fleet. Better safe than sorry, he thought.

"Wilco, Green Five. Luminous out."

"So what callsign would you give me, Five?" Glenn asked, still completely unaware of the new arrival. "Maybe something with family in mind so command can be sure to give me more downtime? Oh hey, when did that transport show up?"

"I... what?" Anton shook his head in confusion.

"Do you even listen to me when I talk?" Glenn asked, indignantly.

"I drift in and out." Anton responded through gritted teeth. He wanted to bash his skull through the transparisteel canopy of his A-Wing. "Famzee, I swear that I will crash my ship into the transport- eject- float through the black- rip your choobies off and ram them down your throat if I have to listen to you droning on. Pay attention, you moof-milker! I love you dude, you're pretty much a brother to me, but for love of the Whills, friggin' pay attention. It took you forever to realize a transport had arrived."

"Hey, I like that! Famzee. Perfect!" Green 7's jubilant voice hooted. "I like that a lot! I've been giving this one a lot of thought, for you of course. You're small, but decently strong for your size. How about Ant?"

Anton smiled. "Ant, huh? Lazy, but fair enough, coming from a laserbrain like you. Now, can we please, please, focus on the inspection?"

"Oh, you're an ANGRY Ant, aren't you? You have the lead, Ant," Famz laughed.

"I appreciate that, Famzee," Anton replied with a laugh as he closed with the Luminous.

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

Endor +14 days

CRS Vigilant Wing Commander's Office

Jalb was flagging. His energy was seemingly boundless when it came to a cockpit, but doing deskwork always ran through his fuel reserves faster than usual. The 2 men and the Quarren had gone straight through lunch, nibbling on nutrient bars of varying ingredients specially designed for each species, and continued throughout the afternoon.

"These bars are absolutely terrible," Jedi griped as he forced himself to take another nibble.

Murg nodded in agreement. "Must be clone-wars era stocks liberated from a long forgotten supply cache."

"Something you'll have to see-to before we're under way?" Jedi asked hopefully?

Murg gave the Quarren equivalent of a smile, curling his face tentacles outward. "Perhaps there is something that could be done from my end, yes."

It had been the first thing they really agreed upon since the process started, and it made Jalb perk up a bit with a wave of optimism. Seizing on the good mood of the day, he made a suggestion. "Perhaps after this last one we can adjourn so we can eat something remotely approaching a meal today."

The other two individuals nodded in agreement.

"Righto then. This last pilot will be the last one we do for the evening. We'll start fresh tomorrow morning."

Jedi sat forward in his chair, a devilish grin on his lips. "Speaking of, where might the young Master Reynolds be?"

"Late," Jalb grunted angrily. "Again."

"While we wait, in the interest of being productive with our time, perhaps you could tell me about the debriefing of the Corona scouting element?" Murg asked.

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Endor -1 Day

CRS Liberty Flight Deck

POV: Jalb

Jalb waited impatiently as the X-wings of Corona Squadron's scouting flight arrived. Other activity was happening elsewhere in the hangar, as the new B-Wings for Blue Squadron were being ferried in while the older Y-Wings of Blue Squadron were being ferried out. The process was moving quicker than originally thought, which pleased him slightly. Not enough to turn his mood from the dark place it was at since Ra'kaat informed him that the scouts were inbound minus one ship.

"What is taking them so long?" Jedi grumbled impatiently from beside him.

Jalb waved a hand toward the activity on the other end of the hangar. "Lots of traffic in and out at the moment. You know flight control has their hands full," he replied.

Jedi frowned. "You'd think a returning scouting group with possibly important intel too sensitive for radio broadcast would have higher priority on the flight lanes."

"Maybe," Jalb shrugged. "But it's also important to make sure one-third of our fighter strength has ships to fight in."

"Gentlemen," Ra'kaat greeted as he strode toward them. "Any moment now?"

Jalb and Jedi straightened up and saluted. "Sir, yes sir. They are in sight now," Jedi replied, pointing to the four X-Wings visible through the magcon barrier.

Hurried footsteps drew the attention of the 3 beings. They turned to see a very sickly looking Commander Alrick "Krayt" Durgan running their way. "I'm here!"

Jalb held up his hands. "Hold UP! I thought I ordered you to stay in sick-bay to deal with that case of Grunge Fever you got a few days ago!"

Krayt stopped in his tracks a safe distance away from the other officers and struggled to catch his breath. "Sir... Yes Sir," he huffed heavily, a fair amount of sweat beading on his brow. "I came as fast as I could, sirs."

"Commander," Ra'kaat said in his gravelly voice. "You are ill, and you need to recover. Also, it would be great if we didn't have to disinfect more than one part of my ship while you do so to protect the rest of the crew," he admonished.

Krayt frowned. "Yes, sir, I understand. I just thought it was important that I start resuming my duties as soon as possible."

Jalb made a cool-down gesture to his wing XO. "Alrick, buddy, Bill's got the job covered until you are better, and definitely until you aren't contagious." He did not approach his friend to maintain a safe social distance, but he smiled and continued. "I think I can speak for all of us when I say we appreciate your enthusiasm, but I need you at 100% for what's coming. If you push yourself now, you're going to exacerbate your recovery."

"Indeed, Colonel Reynolds is correct," Ra'kaat chimed in. "You are a valuable member of this staff, but we need you resting to recover. Please return to sick-bay and do not leave until the Medical Staff deem you healthy enough to resume normal duties."

Krayt opened his mouth to protest, but Ra'kaat cut him off with a curt wave. "That's an order, Commander. Please return to sick-bay now."

Krayt sullenly nodded. "Yes, sirs. Sorry for interrupting."

"Nothing to be sorry about my friend," Jedi replied with a kind smile. "Go get better as soon as possible so we can get you back in a cockpit. Rest heavy now, because that return may be sooner than we think."

Krayt walked slowly back the way he came. The deck hands working nearby saw him approach and gave him a wide berth.

"Men and women like that are the reason we're going to win this war," Ra'kaat mused.

"Yes sir," Jalb replied with pride. The rest of his thoughts on the matter were cut short with the whine of four X-wings landing nearby. He started tapping his feet impatiently as he waited for the pilots to set their crafts down to rest on the deck and descend the ladders attached to their craft by ground crew. While waiting for his scouts to assemble on the deck, he examined the ships visually from a distance. These things look bloody beat to hell!

"Ayyyyy dios mio," Rafi groaned loudly from nearby the X-wings, his assessment confirming Jalb's visual examination from a distance. "Micrometeorites chewed through here, laser burns there, slight melting on that S-Foil..."

The four pilots whispered an apparent apology to the chief mechanic as they passed him. Each apology had the opposite effect, throwing the mechanic into apoplectic fits as he looked at their craft. They strode forward to the command staff and stopped on the yellow line indicating the active area of the hangar and crisply saluted Jalb, Ra'kaat, and Jedi.

Jalb and his companions returned the salute. "Look guys," he started, "time is short so we're going to debrief here so you can all get sack time immediately after this. Commodore?"

"What do you have to report regarding the Imperial Activity in the Hudalla system?" Ra'kaat asked.

Jalb grimaced at the Commodore's first question. Business first.

The pilot known as The Contessa spoke for the pilots. "The Imp fleet is there. Largest flotilla I've ever seen assembled. They must think something is up to be massing that many ships in one area."

"Aside from Corona Three, were there any other casualties?" Ra'kaat asked somberly. "Is anybody else wounded?"

The four pilots nodded negative. Jalb was glad that Ra'kaat made sure to ask about the well-being of his pilots immediately after getting the information he needed.

"Very well, good work, pilots," Ra'kaat said. "It's never easy losing a colleague and friend, but Flight Officer Smikes did not die in vain. I've got to return to the bridge at this point to relay the Imperial fleet status to Alliance Command." He nodded to Jalb. "Colonel Reynolds, please take it from here and notify me of anything else you deem important." He saluted the group, then spun on his heel and strode purposefully toward the turbolifts.

"Yes sir," Jalb said to the retreating Commodore. He turned his attention to his pilots. "Ok guys, quick and dirty version- what happened out there?"

Again The Contessa spoke first. "We positioned ourselves within the asteroid ring around Hudalla Prime, with what we thought was perfect concealment. Somehow, they found us and sent in a pack of TIEs to flush us out. We went loud and jammed it for the extraction point. Smikes bought it at that point, drawing fire away from us.

Jedi cleared his throat. "Was there a chance that you were betrayed?"

Jalb winced at the clearly pointed question. Days ago, before General Rieekan left the Liberty, he had raised concerns to Jalb and the Commodore about Flight Officer Kyrell's love interest that happened to be an Imperial TIE pilot, and the visit he reportedly made to their homeworld and their subsequent meeting. Everybody knows he's asking about Thane. Definitely not the most delicate way to broach the subject, Bill. He set his jaw and prepared to intervene, unsure how to really defuse this subject.

"With due respect, Commander," Kendy interrupted, "but I saw a TIE that I'm sure was Ciena Ree shielding Thane's X-wing from fire. Intentionally. I watched the TIE reposition multiple times to block other TIEs from engaging and firing. That's not an opinion, that's a fact."

Jedi pushed on unperturbed. "How do we know that this Ree girl was even there, and it wasn't just some TIE pilot with orders to make sure at least one of you escaped?"

Thane had been silent thus far, his face screwed in a mix of sadness for his lost squadmate and anguish for some other reason. He unclenched his jaw and spoke. "Sir, I'm sure it was Ciena. She broadcast out in the open on their approach and warned us that we were spotted."

"More of us may have been vaped had that warning not been broadcast," The Contessa agreed. "We thought it was a random patrol passing nearby. We had no clue we'd been discovered at that point. They could have pounced before any of us had a chance to power back up." The other pilots nodded in agreement.

Jalb loosened up a bit, satisfied the situation had been defused. He opened his mouth to speak, but Jedi beat him to the punch once again, setting off a bomb that rocked the assembly.

"And how do we know somebody didn't send a coded message of some sort to tip the Imps off to your location?"

Each pilot erupted in protest at once, but Yendor was the loudest. "Commander, I've been with Thane since Hoth. We shared a snowspeeder together. He's the one that told our pilots that the walker armor was weakest at the ankle joints that led to more walkers being downed!" Yendor was working toward a frenzy at this point. "There is nobody I would trust more with my life at this point. For you to insinuate that he's a spy or dimed on us is to spit in the face of everything I've seen from this man!"

"She warned us of the attack ahead of time by broadcasting in the clear!" The Contessa spat.

"I saw what I saw, and Ree shielded Thane from attack!" Kendy shouted in agreement.

Jalb had had enough. "Ok ok OK! ENOUGH!" He shouted, waving everybody off with his hands. He fixed a steely glare on Jedi. "Commander, I'd say that if the rest of his flight element is vouching for Flight Officer Kyrell, then he's probably ok. Our ranks are filled with Imperial defectors that have acquitted themselves admirably." He then turned to look at the pilots. "And you all- The Commander is a shrewd and intuitive man. You have to understand that we didn't survive this long by not looking at every angle of a situation. His distrust is a very valuable survival mechanism within the Rebellion." Everybody was silent. He continued. "Now, unless there is any other pressing information, you pilots need to report to your racks to get sack time immediately. Dismissed."

"It's still the Ciena we knew from the academy, Thane," Kendy whispered soothingly to her wingman, walking alongside him.

"We all saw what she did for you, man. She's a keeper," Yendor agreed, falling into place on Thane's other side, patting Thane on the back gently.

The Contessa watched them go, then nodded to both Jedi and Jalb before following along. She stopped, turned around, and addressed the two leaders. "Nobody sent any messages, coded or in the open, before we were discovered. The only broadcast in the clear on our end was between Thane and somebody named Nash after we were already going evasive, who apparently is an Alderaanian TIE pilot that Thane can't believe is still working for the empire after what the first Death Star did to his planet. We weren't betrayed, sirs."

Jalb nodded and smiled kindly. "Thank you, Lieutenant. Go get some rack time." He watched her as she sped up to catch up to her friends. Tight bonds like that are the reason the Rebellion has made it this far.

Jedi stepped closer to him as the scouting element of Corona Squadron walked away. "I just had to make sure..."

Jalb clapped his companion on the back. "I know it, Bill. You just gotta work on your delivery sometimes." He looked to the chief mechanic, still examining the battle damage the X-Wings had taken. "Rafi! Do whatever you have to do to get these ships ready to fly as soon as possible!"

A string of loud curses in another language filled the hangar, drawing a chuckle from both Jedi and Jalb as they walked off the deck.

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

Endor +14 Days

CRS Vigilant Iggy's Shipboard Cantina 2

"How'd the meeting go, Boss?" Summer questioned as she sat across the table from Dobber in the Vigilant's take on what was evidently a Mos Eisley Cantina. It was very similar to the version onboard the Liberty, but then again it was run by the same droid so that made sense.

"Meh," he grumbled slightly. "Just going through a lengthy debrief of all the pilots at Endor. I got the feeling I was being interviewed for my job, though, so that's nice," he spat bitterly, waiting for the server droid to bring the alcoholic concoction he ordered.

Summer smiled sympathetically. "Well, they'll have to know that they won't have a Blue Squadron without our CO. The rest of the gang will walk for sure." She stopped speaking as the server droid delivered his drink and asked her for her order. "Water, please," she said cheerfully.

Dobber inhaled and winced as if he'd been wounded. "That's just the thing. There is no Blue Squadron anymore."

Summer's eyes flashed with rage, but she expertly tamped it down before replying. "What do you mean? Are we being reassigned?"

Dobber took a long pull from his drink before replying. "In a way, yes." He fiddled with his straw to avoid making eye contact with his companion. "Huh, at least this straw isn't pink..."

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Endor -1 Days

CRS Liberty Iggy's Shipboard Cantina

POV: Dobber

The doors hissed open as Dobber casually entered the ship's Cantina. Crew members from numerous departments and worlds filled several of the tables scattered throughout the room. A few games of holo chess and sabacc were in session at the corner tables. As he made his way towards the bar he noticed 1st Lieutenant Marc "Prowler" Desrosiers and Captain Michael "Mighty" Tolle, two off-duty pilots from Blue Squadron, and a third from Yellow - Flight Officer Myke "Wolf" Krenn - were playing darts in the designated area adjacent to the ship's jukebox. He thought he recognized the music being played was from one of the albums of Figrin D'an and the Modal Nodes. Their music was quite popular in the Cantina at times.

"Hello, Commander," Prowler said. "Fancy joining us for a game?"

"Would that I could, First Lieutenant," he replied, "but I'm only here for a few minutes. Another time."

"No problem, Commander," replied the pilot as he tossed a dart at the board without looking. The dart hit the center of the board.

"Bullseye!" exclaimed Krenn, being a good sport for a pilot that just lost a bet. "Well, looks like you cleaned me out fair and square."

I'd sure like to know how he plays so well, thought Dobber as he reached the bar. And how he's managed to amass a small fortune by placing bets with other crew members on who think they can outdo him at darts. There was more than one occasion in which a crew member lost most or all of their week's pay playing either darts or sabacc. Thankfully, nothing really ever got out of hand or required intervention from the senior staff. Yet.

As he reached the bar, he took the empty seat next to a Mon Calamari male.

"Commander Dobson," said the Mon Calamari without glancing sideways, "To what do I owe the pleasure of your company this evening?"

"Hello, Pezdah," replied Dobber. "Just here for a quick drink before I head back to quarters." The Cantina's server droid, an IG-88 model nicknamed 'Iggy', approached where the two were sitting.

"Good evening, sir," came the droid's robotic voice. "What would you prefer?"

"Hey, Iggy. Nothing alcoholic for now. I'll take a Corellian Punch, extra ice."

"Living dangerously I see," the droid said mockingly. "Right away, sir," replied the droid as it turned to move towards the drink station.

"Ah, Corellian Punch," began Pezdah as he set his drink down. "That reminds me of the time I was working a job on Ord Mantell. One of my best business ventures, in fact."

Dobber turned slightly in his seat and raised an eyebrow at the Mon Calamari. "An honest business venture for once, I hope?"

The Mon Calamari chuckled and placed a webbed hand on Dobber's shoulder. "My friend, my line of work is always done honestly! I can honestly say that I always find the right goods, for the right person, for an honest wage. It reminds me of the time I was transporting goods to Coruscant. It was a difficult job," he continued.

Here we go, thought Dobber.

"I was nearly betrayed by my first mate and several crew members..."

"Uh huh."

"Then there was the matter of Imperial security!"

"You don't say?"

"Ten Imperial Star Destroyers, plus security checkpoints and scanners at multiple points once the cargo was offloaded. Probe droids everywhere."

Iggy returned with Dobber's drink, a sweet smelling bright yellow concoction in a small glass. The droid reached one of its gangly metallic arms below the counter and, to Dobber's horror, produced a small pink umbrella which it placed into his drink.

Dobber watched as the droid's red eye components swiveled with the rest of its head to stare at him. Oh, no, thought Dobber as he stared at the drink then the droid. The droid slammed its right arm down on the countertop and pointed its left at his face.

"Enjoy your drink, you Sithspitting meatbag!"

Dobber hastily plucked the umbrella out of the drink and crumpled it in his palm as the droid walked away to serve other patrons at the other end of the bar.

"That droid," continued Pezdah, removing his arm from Dobson, "is more temperamental than a Wookiee whose lost a holochess tournament. Or my Trandoshian business partner on a bad day." He downed the rest of his drink, slamming his glass on the table. "Onderon Brandy! There is no finer drink to enjoy in the galaxy. Now where was I?"

"You were about to tell me yet again about your mission to Coruscant. I believe you said you were up against twelve Star Destroyers before you landed."

Pezdah chuckled. "Twelve is such a modest number! In truth," he said as a hiccup escaped his mouth, "... it was twenty. Twenty! Plus Imperial Probe Droids everywhere once we landed."

Dobber took a long drink from his glass and placed it down on the counter. "What exactly were you smuggling to Coruscant again?"

A smile, or what Dobber thought was a smile, spread across the Mon Cal's face. It was hard to tell sometimes as it more or less could be interpreted as a Mon Calamari leaving their mouth open.

"It was crates of baked goods. Something called, let's see ... 'Moon Pies'. Yes, that was them. Quite a delicacy in the right social circles. There were even little frosted spaceships drawn neatly on the outside. Very expensive, but very profitable. And," he finished, "quite delicious."

Dobber took a sip from his drink again. "Now Pezdah," he said with a smirk crossing his face, "You didn't eat some of your respectable business venture, did you?"

Pezdah paused for a moment before swirling the ice around in his glass. "There may have been a small crate damaged during transportation. Or two. All within acceptable overhead losses, I assure you."

"But of course," said Dobber as he took another sip of his drink.

"You know, Commander ... I always ensure my business is well run. No, not well run. Very well run." It was evident that the alcohol was taking its effect on him. That, or he'd consumed more before Dobson had arrived. "I'm not known as 'Don Calamari' for nothing. I am THE Don Calamari. Best smuggler that ever sailed the seven systems. My business," he hiccupped, "is better than none."

"And I'm sure you have your reasons for supporting the Alliance," Dobber said. He began to finish his drink.

Pezdah's face soured. "The Empire is bad for business. The Alliance is good for business." The Calamari hiccupped again. "Especially," he continued, lowering his voice, "if one wants to, say ... have a bouquet of Millaflowers delivered to a special someone on board."

Dobber coughed slightly as he finished the last of his drink. Placing the empty cup down he looked the Mon Calamari squarely in the eyes. "How do you know about that?" he said quietly.

The Mon Calamari leaned in closer. "I may know a guy who knows a guy," he replied quietly.

"And you're the guy who smuggled them on board, then?"

"On board, above board, under the table ... it's all the same to the Don." This time he gave a small burp and covered his mouth. That didn't prevent the stench of partly digested alcohol with a hint of seafood from souring the air momentarily.

Dobber paused for a moment, making sure no one else near them was listening. "I would appreciate it," he said, "if you kept that information to yourself. Please."

"Oh, I will, Commander. Your secret is safe with me." The Mon Calamari looked at his empty glass once more. "You know," he said after a moment, "my drink seems to have run dry. It would be a real shame if -".

Dobber cut him off. "Yes, it would be a real shame if I didn't repay you for all the valuable work you've done for the Alliance lately. Have Iggy put your next drink on my tab."

The Mon Calamari opened his mouth, again suggesting a smile. "Commander," he said, sitting up straight and speaking a bit more audibly, "you're a stand-up guy. How generous," he hiccupped, "how generous of you." He waved his right arm in the air in front of him. "A blessing from Don Calamari. Much obliged, Commander."

Dobber was about to say something else when a commotion erupted from the other end of the bar. He turned to see Iggy holding one of the human servers in his metallic claws. The server was holding a tray of drinks. Most had toppled over creating a mess that was dripping from the tray, but he could make out one that still had liquid in it. Pink liquid. This won't end well.

The droid continued with a string of insults. "Those drinks need ice," continued the droid in a shrill, metallic voice. "They need their tiny umbrellas! This type of poor service will not be tolerated further you insignificant human piece of sithspawn sh-".

The officer sitting closest to the commotion leapt from his seat and ran over to where Iggy and the server were. Moving quickly he flicked a switch on the back of Iggy's torso. The red lights flickered momentarily before the droid collapsed into a heap on the bar counter. Luckily it had released the server simultaneously so as to not injure him.

That droid needs a serious personality reprogramming. Dobber turned to face the Mon Calamari. "A pleasure, as always, Pezdah. If you'll excuse me, I'll be off."

"Of course, Commander. I hope we can do business again soon," he boomed loudly.

His heart sinking a little bit, Dobber headed for the doorway. He's going to spill the beans at this rate. When he entered the hallway, he heard the small communicator on his side chirp. Fingering for it, he raised it to his mouth. "Go ahead."

Dia's voice came through the communicator's small speaker. "Commander, it's Dia. There's a few business details I wanted to bring to your attention."

"I'm currently off duty for the next little while, Captain. Can't you take care of it?" Continuing to walk down the bustling corridor, Dobber couldn't help but wonder why she was reaching out to him. Hopefully everything is fine with the training program results. The B-wings had been transferred successfully, slightly ahead of schedule at that. It would still be too early to get any maintenance reports from Rafi, so.....

Dia continued speaking through the communicator. "Given the nature of the business, sir, I think this is something you should attend to. Personally."

Emphasizing the words 'you' and 'personally' wasn't something she normally did. "Very well then," Dobber said. "I'll be at my quarters in a few minutes. Meet me there." He thumbed the comm off. Whatever it is, it had better be worth losing this rack-time before my duty clock starts again in a few hours.

He continued wracking his brain while absentmindedly winding his way through the halls of the Liberty to reach his quarters. When he arrived a few minutes later he could hear relaxing music faintly playing on the other side of the door. That's odd, I don't remember leaving any music playing when I left for the briefing... Rubbing his increasingly tired eyes and hopeful for a solid but refreshing nap, he inserted his code cylinder into the node next to his door. The doors whooshed open. Removing the cylinder and placing it back in his flight suit, he entered the room. While the music increased slightly in volume, something metallic chirped and leapt from a corner near the door and landed on his back. His heart racing, he immediately began trying to reach and brush it away as the doors closed behind him. Bloody hell! he mentally shouted as he tried to reach for the creature.

The metallic creature continued chirping and whistling as it scrambled up onto his left shoulder, moving deftly to avoid being swatted and maintain its footing on his torso. It finally came to rest after several more seconds on his right arm at the crook of his elbow. Finally seeing the creature in full view, he raised his left hand and pointed at its two optical nodes. "Bee-Dee-Bee-Two," he said sternly after a moment, "one of these days I'm going to take you down to maintenance and have you reprogrammed if you don't stop ambushing me."

The BD model droid bounced up and down and gave a trill whistle before giving what he could only believe was a snickering laugh for a droid.

"He's just happy to see you," said Dia from across the room. "It's his way of saying he likes you."

Focusing his attention on her, he saw she was sprawled comfortably across the small couch in his quarters. She was sitting partly upright with an elbow resting on one of the arms, her head resting on a closed fist. She held a datapad in her free hand. Her legs were bent to the side at an angle, revealing her blue-skinned bare feet. He also noticed that her blue flight suit was unzipped and tied comfortably around her waist, revealing her slightly lean and muscular - though still rather attractive - upper body. HELLO!

"Heya, stranger," she said, giving a quick smile. "Long time no see."

The droid hopped down onto the floor and scurried over to join her on the opposite arm of the couch.

"Dia," said Dobber as he relaxed a bit, his heart rate returning to normal. "I didn't expect to see you this soon. How did you get in here?" Not that I'm complaining...

Pressing a button on the datapad the music stopped. She got up in one fluid motion leaving the datapad on the couch and began walking slowly towards him, her feet making soft pattering sounds as she moved across the floor. "It was quite simple, really. I just had Bee-Dee splice the door when no one else was around."

"Which is something that is rather risky. And highly illegal," Dobber told her earnestly.

"Relax," she drawled out soothingly, wrapping her arms around his waist and pulling him a few steps further into the room. "The quartermaster owed me a small favour. I simply said I had some reports that you wanted delivered to your quarters as you were off duty, and he let me in. No questions asked."

"That's good to know," said Dobber with a small sigh of relief. Getting caught is not exactly high on my list of things I want to experience. He placed his hands on the sides of her waist. "So, is this about official business, or is this a business casual event?"

"Well," she continued, "you did give me a few different tasks earlier, one of which was to revise the duty roster. Ten Numb also owed me a few small favours. I called them in and may just have arranged the schedule so that our off-duty time overlapped. Also, as working professionals, I wanted to officially thank you. This," she said pulling her body closer until it was against his, "is my way of officially thanking you for those flowers earlier." She stood up slightly on her toes and kissed him on the cheek.

From across the room, BD-B2 scurried a few feet closer using the wall panels to maintain his footing and gave two enthusiastically low but distinct whistles.

"And this," she said removing his hands from her waist and giving him a slight push backwards, "is for officially making a girl feel extra special."

The push was just enough to make him lose his footing as he stumbled into the edge of his bunk. His balance being upset, he found himself sitting near the edge, extending an arm backwards to prevent himself from falling further. That didn't, however, stop Dia from straddling him and giving him several long, passionate kisses. His eyes closed and feeling lost in the moment, he thought he heard Bee-Two scurry closer. He definitely heard the droid give a long, low three-note 'woo' sound. "Dia," he managed to get out between one of her deep and pleasurable kisses.

"Mmm?" she said, kissing him again.

Using her arms, he gently but firmly moved her back from him. "Hold on."

"What is it?" she said with a slight pout on her face, breathing heavily.

Looking her in the face Dobber caught his breath. "First of all," he said as he quickly glanced over to the droid, "I am definitely taking him down to maintenance for reprogramming later." BD-B2 made a sound of disgust, his head shifting back slightly. "Secondly," he continued, turning back to face her, "isn't this a bit ... fast?" He watched as she raised one of her eyebrows, possibly beginning to question his thinking. Or was it annoyance?

"Are you saying," she said with a hint of a flat tone in her voice, "That you don't want to spend time with me?"

"Yes," he began. "I mean, no!"

Dia's eyes narrowed in a half-annoyed, half-angered look.

Great way to put your foot in your mouth, dummy. "What I mean," he said choosing his words carefully, "is, yes, I do want to spend time with you. And no, I don't want you to leave."

"Well then," she said faintly, resting her arms on his shoulders so that they extended past them, "you'd better start proving it."

Not wanting to make matters worse, he kissed her once. Then twice. On the third kiss Dia gently broke away and placed her forehead against his.

"That's more like it," she said with a small giggle.

She was just about to kiss him again when he managed to wrestle a finger up and press it gently against her lips, stopping her. He knew he was treading on thin ice, but also knew that Dia was acting somewhat out of character. Over the past few months they had been able to share some romantic moments together on occasion, but nothing this passionate. While I appreciate the enthusiasm and vigorous effort, this is really too much too soon.

"I don't mean to be a buzzkill," he said carefully, "but can we talk about this?"

"What's there to talk about?" she asked innocently, pulling her head and torso back slightly. "You like me. I really like you. Don't you ever want to enjoy life and live a little?" She leaned forward again, this time kissing his neck. Again, he caught her by the arms and gently pushed her away. She gave out an exasperated sigh. "What is the problem?"

And the ice is getting thinner. Gotta be careful. "Look," he said with a slight pause. "I also really like you, Dia. A lot. And don't get me wrong, this feels really nice." They looked at each other, and he could tell she was studying his words carefully and intently, analyzing each word and inflection. "But it just doesn't feel right for right now."

The awkward pause between the two of them felt like an eternity. Bee-Dee-Bee-Two watched both of them intently, his head slowly moving from one person back to the other as if to wonder what would happen next. The silence was broken by Dia's next sentence. There was nothing mistaking the disappointment and pain in it.

"I, uh ... I understand." She shifted her weight off him and stood up. "I'm sorry for bothering you, Commander." Turning her back to him she began to undo her flight suit at the waist and quickly put her arms into the sleeves before stepping towards and bending to hastily retrieve her flight boots along the side of the wall. "Come on, Bee-Dee," she said to the little droid. "We're going." The little droid took one last look at each of them before hopping onto her right shoulder.

Well, you've certainly outdone yourself this time, you idiot. "Dia," he said standing up, "wait."

"Enjoy your sack-time, sir," she said as she turned to leave. She didn't bother making eye contact with him.

As she moved towards the door, he took two steps towards her and gently grabbed her by the wrist just firmly enough that he could maintain a connection, but not firmly enough that she couldn't break free. Bee-Dee swiveled his head towards Dobber and began to emit what could only be described as a growl. "Please," he said intently, trying to ignore the droid. "Don't go." Dia stood where she was, neither moving nor trying to break free. "Talk to me. What's going on?"

What felt like an eternity, though was more likely only several seconds, passed, leaving a deafening silence in the room save for the growls the droid was continuing to make. At last Dia spoke to the droid. "Down boy."

The droid stopped its growl. Dia turned around slowly, her head at an angle towards the floor. BD-B2 shifted to stay balanced on her body. As she turned, Dobber let go of her wrist. Then he saw her face. She looked hurt, and if he wasn't mistaken the beginning of tears as well.

"I, uh," she began, her voice cracking. She looked at him, her eyes moist and beginning to turn a slight colour of red. She tried to mouth the rest but couldn't until she tried to clear her throat. "I ... I don't want to die."

A few moments of silence passed while he absorbed what she had just said. So that's what this is about, he thought. Finally, he cut through the awkward silence between them. "Oh, Dia. Why didn't you tell me?"

Using her sleeve she wiped her eyes. "I feel like such a fool," she said. "I just wanted to be happy with you. In case anything happens tomorrow."

Taking another step forward, he took both of her hands gently and raised them slightly. "Truth be told," he began, "I'm scared too." And it was true. Anything could happen tomorrow, just like on any other mission. Too many Alliance pilots had lost their lives these last few years to turbolaser fire from platforms or Star Destroyers, or from a variant of TIE Fighter that had managed to get behind them. In truth, it was a pilot's worst nightmare. He looked at her once more and gave her hands a gentle squeeze. "But there is no one I want to be more scared with about this than you."

She continued to look at him, her expression unchanging.

"I understand if you still want to leave," he continued, "but I'd really like you to stay. I mean, I've only had an unrelenting slog of responsibilities today, what with the briefing and getting everyone up to speed in the simulators. Not to mention escorting the B-wings safely aboard and dealing with the usual from Iggy and The Don in the Cantina.

Then I get what can only be this incredibly beautiful girl calling me over my communicator - you might know her - who asks to meet me in my quarters. Something about last-minute details, I think. Turns out she really likes me and for some reason she just can't keep her hands off me despite how tired and in need of sleep I am. She's also acting a bit out of character, though it must be because I also happen to be her amazingly handsome superior officer. The jury is still out on how it all ends, but I'm holding out for a final verdict of 'not guilty'. I'm really hoping the whole case won't be thrown out by the judge."

A small laugh came out of her mouth, and what may have been a slight smile appeared as well.

"So," he continued, "will you stay? Please?"

"Okay," she said at last, nodding. "I'll stay."

They spent the next twenty minutes lying together in an embrace in his bunk, sharing the space and pillow as best they could. BD-B2 had powered down and connected himself into a power terminal to recharge. Eyes feeling heavy from exhaustion, he could faintly tell that she was beginning to nod off as well.

"Make me a promise," she murmured drowsily.

"Name it," he replied with a slight yawn.

"Promise me you'll have my back tomorrow. In case anything happens."

"Only," he said, trying to fight off another yawn, "if you promise to have my back tomorrow, too."

"Deal."

Kissing her one final time, he took a last look at the chronometer by the door. They had a little over two hours to rest before needing to return to duty, and a few more before needing to report to the hanger for pre-flight check-ups.

They fell asleep in each other's embrace.

They were still in that position when Wing Commander Reynolds entered the room later.

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

Endor +14 Days

CRS Vigilant Wing Commander's Office

Junior burst into his father's office, shouting "I'm here! Sorry!" He bent over with his hands on his thighs as he caught his breath, heaving heavily.

Jalb shot out of his chair and stood up as tall as he could muster. "Stand before me at attention, Flight Officer!"

Junior drank in another large draught of air and stood at attention and held a salute. "Yes sir!"

"Perhaps, Flight Officer Reynolds," Jalb started sternly, fixing what he hoped was his darkest 'death gaze' upon his son before continuing, "you could enlighten the three of us as to why you were late to this meeting?"

Junior gulped visibly. "Sirs, I got lost, Sir!"

Jedi snickered audibly from his seat off to the side. Jalb shot him a harsh look, ceasing the XO's mirth just as quickly as it had started.

After what seemed like an eternity, Murg stood and faced the tardy youth and returned the salute. "At ease, Flight Officer. Have a seat," he said as he gestured to the empty chair in the room. He looked at Jalb out of the corner of his vision to gauge his reaction to the interruption in discipline. It was clear that Jalb didn't like it one bit as his nostrils flared, but he did not object through his clenched jaw.

"In this wing, Flight Officer, we pride ourselves on our punctuality. If you're not 5 minutes early, you're late. Remember that," Jalb said icily as he took his own seat behind his desk.

"Yes sir," Junior said with an almost imperceptible edge of sarcasm.

Jalb slammed his fist on his desk. "That's it, Flight Officer, you've earned yourself tug duty for a week starting tomorrow!"

Junior took umbrage immediately, slapping his hand to his forehead. "I left home to join you and this is what I get?!"

"You forget your place, Flight Officer Reynolds. Make that two weeks!" Jalb paused, his blood pressure spiking. "Would you like to go for three?"

Jedi coughed loudly to break up the family quarrel. "Let's... maybe just get this started?"

Both Reynolds men shot him a venomous glance, but they remained silent.

Murg nodded in agreement. "Yes, I don't think three weeks of tug duty will be necessary, Lieutenant Colonel." He shifted his gaze to the rebellious youth. "Flight Officer Reynolds, please recount for us how you spent the night before the battle."

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Endor -1 Day

CRS Liberty Pilot's Quarters

POV: Junior

Flight Officer Kyle "Junior" Reynolds sat on his bunk aboard the CRS Liberty, unable to sleep despite an hour of trying. Not for the first time in the last few hours after the big briefing, he again thought he'd made a terrible mistake. I'm restless, can't sleep, can't read, can't even watch this holotape in my left breast pocket. I think joining the Rebellion to reunite with my father might have been a bad idea with a new Death Star now lurking in my near future. He absentmindedly put his hand on the tape in his pocket, debating internally whether he wanted to watch it again or not. I left my mother and my home for this?

Here he was, wide awake when he should be resting the night before the biggest sortie of his life. But every time I close my eyes I see my home from the small viewport of the transport ship as I leave. The image of his planet slowly disappearing into the blue nothingness of hyperspace still gave him pangs of regret.

After another eternity, he sighed heavily and heaved himself from his bunk and headed out of the door. It closed noiselessly behind him as he wandered aimlessly down the hallways of his new ship. Maybe I'll wander down to the Cantina to see if a shot or two will calm my nerves. Or hell, maybe it'll knock me out.

He strolled into the bar and was surprised to find it not nearly as empty as he'd have expected the night before a big mission. After surveying the crowd of his fellow pilots that he didn't know very well just yet, he zeroed in on the bartender. Who the Sith has an assassin droid as a bartender? He walked up to the bar and sat on an empty stool and waved the server droid over. "Hit me with a double Tsiraki, stiff. Thanks Iggy." Surely that will do the trick to shut my eyes.

Iggy put the ordered drink on the bar and deftly pulled the credit chit into his internal register with a magnet. Junior spun around so his back was to the bar and surveyed the room more closely. To his left was an older-looking Mon Calamari male that was now reduced to mumbling and slurring to himself, repeating the words ``Don Calamari". A very annoyed Trandoshian sat near him, clearly over dealing with the mumbling mafioso.

A commotion to his right drew his attention that way. The IG-88 unit appeared to be malfunctioning, but also stable at the same time as it went on a tirade about the pink scarf another bar patron had worn. Eccentric beings in this here Rebellion, eh? Let's just hope it doesn't go full haywire and stab somebody with a broken bottle. That'd be a helluva story for dad to tell mum. 'Sorry, dear, our son was stabbed by a fruity KillDroid and not blown to smithereens by a Tie-Tard in an eyeball.'

Junior chuckled at the thought of that story filtering back home to the lads. The lads would have a good laugh at that one. Suddenly he frowned, a very dark chill washing over him. I very well may never have a tap one and a trap off with the lads back home ever again. If this Death Star becomes fully operational there might not even be a home to go back to...

He downed his drink in a swift gulp and threw another credit chit on the bar. "Iggy, another."

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

Endor +14 Days

CRS Vigilant Sick Bay

Jalb strode quietly into the brand new medical wing of the Vigilant like a man on a mission. He looked around, and found his friend and smiled. Before he approached, he nodded to the 2-1B droid.

"Lieutenant Colonel Reynolds," The pleasant voice of the medical droid whispered. "Are you in need of medical attention?"

The human shook his head negative. "No, I'm fine as far as I can tell, Cutter. I was wondering if Commander Durgan was allowed to have a visitor?"

"Of course, sir," The 2-1B droid ironically named ‘Cutter' replied. Cutter took on a pleasant female persona, which was counter to her very active role in surgery or other medical affairs. A compartment in Cutter's chest opened up, revealing a tightly packed set of medical PPE. "If you would, please wear this gown, mask, and gloves. Before you leave you will need to submit to a scan to make sure you are not spreading anything to the rest of the ship."

Jalb nodded dubiously, ripping open the packaging and donning the provided personal protection equipment. "Are you saying he's still contagious? I thought this was just a minor flu case this time."

Cutter paused, dimming its photoreceptors slightly as if it were rolling its eyes. "Sir, this is just basic outbreak precautions. Every scan we've done in the last few days indicates the patient is no longer contagious, but there is always a chance the scans are wrong."

Jalb held up his hands in mock surrender. "Hey, you're the doc, doc," he said as he turned and walked to the bed Krayt was lounging in. The pilot saw him approaching and made a move to stand up, but Jalb was quick to point and say "As you were, Commander."

Krayt leaned back into his reclined bed warily. "To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit, El Tee Cee?"

"You look good, mate," Jalb said cheerily. "Definitely better than that sweaty mess a few days before Endor, that's a fact."

"Yeah, I feel pretty good. If I was allowed to be out of here, I'd be out of here. But that blasted droid won't let me leave for another day or so," Krayt grumbled sullenly.

Jalb smiled sympathetically. "I know what you mean, man. I'd be climbing up the walls at this point. Probably try to shoot my way out of here too," he chuckled.

"There are no blasters allowed in sick bay for a reason, Lieutenant Colonel," Cutter said in a sing-song tone from its position across the room, eliciting a healthy chuckle from both pilots.

Jalb sobered slightly and sucked in a breath sharply. "Anyway."

"Yeah," Krayt replied.

"So look, there's going to be a change going forward while you get your footing back. Bill's going to continue on as the executive officer of the wing." He held up a hand to stop any protests from Krayt and continued. "This is in no way related to your performance or any other demerit of any kind. As a matter of fact..." He fumbled through the layers of PPE and pulled something out of his pocket and tossed it to the lounging pilot.

Krayt caught the datapad deftly and turned it over in his hands to read the screen. "Wait, you mean he's coming back?"

Jalb smiled and leaned in close to whisper. "So here's the deal going forward, Alrick. Stryker is coming back to take over the Wing, and I'll be back at Rogue as the CO there. Bill is still number 2 for wing business, you're still going to be the Rogue XO if you're willing. I expect you'll do even better with the slightly smaller scope in responsibilities."

"YES SIR!" Krayt replied enthusiastically.

Jalb nodded, grinning at the aura of happiness the pilot was radiating. "That's good to hear, Number 2."

Krayt groaned and brought a hand to his forehead. "I had hoped that joke would be more Bill's purview at this point if I'm being honest now that he's handling the day to day for the entire wing, sir."

Jalb shook his head. "Yeah but I'm about to officially not be in charge of the wing, so you're MY number 2."

Krayt sighed loudly, but the beaming grin hadn't left his face since he'd been given the datapad with the secret news. "Fair's fair I guess."

Jalb stood with an exaggerated stretch and groan. "Good. Now, make sure you do something about your appearance when you return to duty. I can't have my new XO looking like a scruffy nerf herder. Oh," he paused, looking back with a grin, "not that I'm complaining since it ended up saving your life, but the next time you break quarantine orders and find yourself in a cockpit AMA, I'm going to make sure you do some serious tuggie duty shortly after."

"Wilco, Lieutenant Colonel."

"See you," Jalb finger-saluted over his shoulder as he walked to the door. He carefully removed the PPE he'd been wearing and put them gingerly into the disposal unit. He made one step toward the door when a strong metal hand gripped his shoulder.

"Sir, you need to strip those clothes off this instant," Cutter said sternly.

"Excuse me? You mentioned routine scans earlier, which I admittedly forgot just now," Jalb said confused. "Do these scans require me to be in the buff?"

"Indeed, sir, your colorful slang besides the point" the droid replied. "However, you also reached into your pocket with your gloved hand. You could have contaminated that uniform, and there is no way to be sure until it is disinfected thoroughly."

"You can't be serious, Cutter," Jalb groaned. Suddenly his plan to quickly promote his long-time friend before the official reorganizational meeting had backfired.

"I don't have a humor setting, Lieutenant Colonel. I could wake Major Banarj if you'd prefer to have him examine you?"

Jalb sighed and set his jaw. "Righto, no need to wake the Major," he grunted as he removed his shirt and pants quickly, careful to avoid unnecessary contact with his face as he removed the top over his head. He pulled his skivvies to his ankles as the door opened with a WHOOSH!

"Lieutenant Colonel Reynolds," Murg droned as he entered the room staring intently at his datapad. "I apologize for tracking you, but I had one more question about the general brief---" The Quarren paused as he looked up and saw the naked wing commander protecting his dignity with his hands.

"Do you think it could wait one minute, Major?" Jalb asked, utterly mortified. "Kind of have an in the nuddy situation here." vvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvv

Endor -.5 Days

CRS Liberty Briefing Amphitheater

POV: Jalb

Jalb breathed in deep to compose himself in an anteroom of the amphitheater, and then entered the briefing room that held the entire fighter wing and support personnel.

"Officer on DECK!"

Jalb strode purposefully to the podium and looked at the assembled pilots and support personnel. "Please, be seated." He waited a moment again for complete silence. Looking back up and taking the time to seemingly look every person in the eyes, he continued. "Ok, I'm going to make this brief because time is short. The Commodore is not here currently as he is still communicating with the rest of Alliance Command now that we've made our rendezvous with the fleet. His representative for this briefing is Liberty XO, Commander Yol Huhd," he said as he gestured to the female Mon Calamari bridge officer, "and she's been with the Liberty since the beginning. Also present is 1st. Lieutenant Koernig, which many of you recognize as our head of ship security. He tells me that nobody breached security by accident last night, so that's good news." He pointed to Jedi in the corner of the room and continued. "You all know Commander Morrison, who is still acting as my wing XO as well as the XO for Corona Squadron while Commander Durgan continues to recover from his illness. He will, unfortunately, not be fit to fly with us today."

There were some sad mumbles coming from the Corona pilots at the news of their XO's flight status.

"Lastly," he gestured to the Zabrak female to his left, "This is Lieutenant Veva. She is the flight control section leader for today. Each squadron will work through their usual squadron controllers, but Ms. Veva will have overall control of the order relays. I wanted to make sure you knew who she was since she's relatively new to the position. We have every confidence in her abilities."

The Zabrak Lieutenant nodded her horned head and gave a brief wave to the assembled group of pilots.

Jalb composed himself, then continued with the briefing. "The fleet is forming up to make the jump to our final destination. The Liberty is taking up position toward the front of the fleet as we speak." He paused, and then a grin formed on his lips. "We're the tip of the spear, ladies and gentlemen."

This elicited a loud rapping of knuckles knocking the chair arms.

"We're not launching a fighter screen now, as per what we were told at the earlier briefing. That's good news, because we'll be fresh when we arrive in the Endor system of the Moddell Sector in the Outer Rim, and won't have to make the trip to the target in our cockpits."

A hand rose. Jalb nodded to the pilot. "Captain Tolle."

"Will we be making the main assault on the station?" Mighty asked hopefully.

Jalb grimaced. Right to it then. "You all know that I would love nothing more than to be the first ship into the breach, but that's not what we're being asked to do at this moment. The orders we were given at the previous briefing have, unfortunately, not been changed. Corona and Yellow Squadrons will fly combat air patrol and be the quick reaction force for any unexpected resistance, and Blue Squadron will be used in a rearguard and reserve heavy strike capacity." Loud sounds of unhappiness ensued.

Another hand rose. Jalb nodded for them to ask their question.

"Will there be a shield system we have to disable?" Kid asked.

"Excellent question, Lieutenant Marco. A few days ago, a small strike team left the fleet in a stolen Imperial Lambda Class shuttle. Their mission, which is already underway, is to land on the forest moon of Endor and take out the shield station on the moon. The mission is being led by General Solo, Commander Skywalker, and Princess Organa. Alliance command has every confidence in the team to have the shields down shortly before we arrive in-system."

"Colonel Sir," Mighty interrupted. "What do we do if the strike team fails or is late?"

Jalb nodded in agreement. "Yes, another good question. Blue Squadron, under Commander Dobson, will be initially slotted in a rearguard capacity near the Liberty. This will keep them in reserve and hopefully in a position to make a quick bombing run at the shield generators if that contingency arises." He looked to Dobber and the rest of his Blue pilots. "You all MUST be ready to stop whatever you are doing if you are ordered to make that run without delay. If that order comes through to you from your flight controller, myself, Commodore Ra'kaat, or Lieutenant Veva, you go immediately. That shield is a top priority target. If you are heavily engaged with enemy fighters, make the open frequency call 'Charlie Foxtrot'. This callout will let all Renegade Wing pilots know that you are heavily engaged and need immediate aid to get to your attack run on the shield genny. Do NOT, I repeat, DO NOT use it if you are not ordered to make that run and are just heavily engaged. Yellow and Corona Squadron pilots are to drop whatever they are doing and rush to your assistance, hanging their sixes in the air while they do so." He pursed his lips and let the severity of that situation sink in. Yellow and Corona pilots will certainly die disengaging their engagements abruptly in order to render aid to Blues under a Charlie Foxtrot emergency. They cannot make that call lightly.

Dobber looked at his pilots around the room, and then back to Jalb and nodded. "Understood, Colonel."

"Ok, let's go through this from the beginning." He turned on the holo display and it showed the Endor system. Hitting "play", the Death Star, still incomplete, appeared. Nearby, the rebel fleet entered the system and approached the Death Star slowly. The ships spread out to cordon off any escape route from the station. A faint shield outline was surrounding the station, emanating from a point on the Endor moon.

"The fleet will enter the system and deploy into a blockade. Red, Gold, Green, and Gray squadrons will make an immediate sprint for the Death Star." He pointed to the Liberty near the front of the fleet. "Yellow and Corona Squads will launch and take up defensive positions near the Liberty between the ship and the Death Star to intercept any fighters launched from the station. Blue Squadron will launch and immediately deploy high and to the rear of the Liberty. Other squadrons will deploy to different sectors on similar missions of intercept and destroy."

The simulation continued until the Death Star was surrounded by the Rebel fleet. The faint shield outline disappeared, and the fighter squadrons slotted to make the assault flew into the incomplete Death Star and made an assault on the main reactor. "Once the shield is down, Red and Gold squadrons will enter the superstructure, find the main reactor, and destroy it. Gray and Green squadrons will escort them to entry, and then they will take up a position with the fleet to intercept any fleeing Imperials. The strike by Red and Gold should cause a chain reaction that destroys the station from within. Those pilots will be racing an explosion of their own doing out of the Death Star. I don't envy that part of their assignment."

The simulation continued, showing fleeing ships from the death star, and small fighter models intercepting and destroying them. "Again, fightercraft will intercept fleeing ships and destroy them. When the order comes from Admiral Ackbar, the fleet will pull back to a safe distance while the station goes boom." He stopped the simulation and looked back to the pilots. "Are there any other questions?"

A hand rose. "Flight Officer Krenn?"

Wolf rose up in his seat to speak. "Sir, what do we do if there is an Imperial fleet or group of ships there when we arrive or arrive shortly after we arrive?"

"A reasonable response force will be assembled from our fleet to meet the threat," Jalb said confidently. "That could mean us, so be ready to go chasing a big silhouette for your kill totals, ladies and gentlemen."

Another hand shot up. Jalb nodded to the pilot.

"Are we sure there aren't any Imperial reinforcements in the area?" Animal asked. "How solid is all of this intel?"

Jalb frowned slightly. "Nothing is ever sure in combat, Lieutenant. We are fairly certain the scouts from Corona Squadron located the bulk of their main fleet in the Hudalla system, and they would be hours away at top speed." He looked around at the rest of the personnel assembled. "And I've been told many Bothans died to get us the plans to the new station." He bowed his head momentarily. He raised his gaze again. "Any other questions? No? We will be on ready-alert status shortly, with calls to your ships coming in a few hours. Get any last minute personal business done now. May the force be with us all. Dismissed."

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

Endor +15 Days

CRS Vigilant Wing Commander's Office

Jalb rubbed the sleep from his eyes and took a deep whiff of the caf in front of him. "Hmm, this stuff doesn't seem half bad," he murmured to nobody in particular. He confirmed his initial assessment with a cautionary sip. "Nutty, aromatic... mmmmm."

"Yeah, well the stuff the lower ranks get out of the mess is utterly worthless," Jedi grumbled. "It's missing the main ingredient, caffeine. The personnel I've seen drinking it seem to get more tired almost immediately after consumption, like it's bizarro-caf."

Major Murg shook gently with half-closed eyes and his face tentacles shook in an approximation of a Quarren giggle. "Is this something we will need to change in your opinion, Lieutenant Colonel?"

Jalb sighed. "Yeah, probably. Can't have my pilots drinking subpar caf. They'll avoid it and probably be drowsier on duty. It'll lead to mistakes we probably don't want to deal with."

Murg nodded sagely. "Very well, I will get this situation fixed before we are underway."

Jedi perked up. "Just like that?"

"Just like that, Commander," Murg replied matter-of-factly.

A knock at the door interrupted their conversation. "Enter," Jalb said loudly.

The door opened purposefully without a sound and the pilot stepped in and stood at attention, throwing up a salute in one fluid motion.

Jalb stood and saluted the pilot in return. "At ease, Lieutenant. Have a seat," he said, gesturing toward the open chair in the middle of the room. "You know myself and the Commander, but this other individual is Major Moggaz Murg, Chief of Staff for Vice Admiral Vodani of the Sovereignty Taskforce."

"Major," Jasted said with a nod to the new individual.

"2nd Lieutenant Nick Finelli, callsign Jasted, previously Corona 11. As you know, we are in the process of reorganizing the taskforce and trying to find a place for all of the pilots and personnel within the new Sovereignty Taskforce," Murg said calmly. He paused a moment before continuing. "To accomplish that goal, we are doing an in-depth debrief of the pilots that fought at Endor. I wanted to ask you about your feelings and the events leading up to your deployment in-system."

Jasted prepared to answer, but was interrupted by Murg with a hand while he looked at his datapad intently. "Actually, Lieutenant, I have another question first- why do I see a request originating from you desiring the location of a specific storm trooper. That information will certainly take weeks to filter through the proper intelligence channels, and even then the information may be deemed too sensitive for your security clearance. Who is this person to you?"

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Battle of Endor

CRS Liberty Flight Deck

POV: Jasted

"Pilots, final checks of your snub fighters are to be completed within the hour. We jump at 1100". The Liberty's Deck Officer scanned the hanger floor from his post. He paused over the commlink as he observed the boys from Corona Squadron jog towards their respective T-65's. They were some smug, cocky bastards but it came with their profession. Unease filled his belly. This could be the last time he would see some of them in the halls of the MC80 Star Cruiser. A similar attack against an Imperial super weapon wiped out the majority of Red and Gold Squadron a few years back. "Frack um' up, Corona!" He could not help himself.

Cheers echoed through the monstrous construct as Corona Squadron responded to the Deck Officer's unprofessional proclamation over the speaker system.

2nd Lieutenant Nick "Jasted" Finelli paced alongside Colonel Chris "Jalb_K" Reynolds as they closed the gap to their respective X-wings. "What do you think, Colonel? These bureaucrats get it right or are we getting smoked on this one?"

Colonel Reynolds laid a quick slap to Finelli's right shoulder throwing off the Lieutenant's running gate. "They never do, that's why we are here. To clean up their mess." Reynolds would usually drop his military etiquette around his pilots in Corona. It made him approachable, even if he was a Colonel. It was a different Reynolds from his firm tone in a briefing involving the entire wing.

"Think I got a chance to promote to General, boss?"

Reynolds choked before breaking into laughter. "You heard about that already? Nothing stays secret for long around here." He shook his head in discontent. "They were slapping General promotions on any farmer or shady smuggler that walked into the Admiral's briefing room, earlier. Sad to say, you missed your shot."

Finelli trusted Reynolds. He could disclose anything to him and knew it would not go further than their ears. "Mothma's losing her shit. The pressure is finally getting to her."

"She has planned strikes like this before. Corona has not hit anything this big. It's the size of a fracking moon". They slowed to a walk as they approached Corona Eight, and her pilot, Commander Bill "Jedi" Morrison. He had just transferred back into Corona several days prior, as the squadron needed an Executive Officer with his experience. He had flown with the squadron years ago with Reynolds.

"Right, I'm sure she hasn't struck anything this size either, hiding behind her desk." Finelli adjusted his thigh rig as his blaster had shifted in the run. He threw Morrison a sloppy salute. "You going to buy us drinks after the shit show is over? You got that high credit executive pay."

Morrison looked up from his data pad. "The Colonel, here, needed an extra hand in keeping some of you fools in check. Getting you drunk wouldn't help the cause." He raised a closed, right fist and slightly shook it at Finelli. "But if I buy you guys enough booze you'll just pass out and it will be really easy to deal with you then."

Colonel Reynolds approached his Executive Officer and put his right hand out.

Morrison closed in and layed a wookie sized smack directly into the exposed palm and squeezed. "Looking good, Chris".

Reynolds returned in kind as he braced his friend's mitt and tightened down. It was a competition of stupidity and strength as they both attempted to outdo the other. "What's wrong, Bill? The Alliance got you pushing too many pencils?" He could see Morrison starting to fade.

Morrison began to wince as the pain crept in. "Alright, Alright!" He loosened up and pulled Reynolds in, placing his forehead upon the Colonels'. He stared right in his eyes and declared, "We got this. This is good intel." He released the handshake and struck his superior officer with an open hand strike to the chest as he stepped back. "We got this!"

Reynolds rubbed his sternum then laid a closed punch into Morrison's left shoulder. "Always, got this. The Corona boys and girls are hungry!"

Indeed, they were a crude group. That is why Corona Squadron worked. They were serious when it was time to focus. It was similar to a toggle switch they could turn on and off at their discretion. Their time outside the cockpit, outside this floating tomb they called the Liberty, was how they decompressed. It helped them forget some of the horrible things they had done for the rebel cause as well as honor their brothers they had lost in the darkness.

Finelli laid his hands on the shoulder of each commander. "I'll leave you brass types alone so you can properly plan our demise. I, unfortunately, have to run to the far side of this tub. I don't get these premium Colonel docking stalls." He placed one quick jab into Morrison's rib cage and proceeded off. "Don't get me killed!"

"Carry on, Lieutenant" replied Morrison. He watched Finelli weave away through the crowd and disappear. "Lieutenants Kinney and Phelps checked in. Their fighters are combat ready. Lieutenant Marco is finalizing his inspection as we speak."

"What about the rest of them?" Reynolds asked with concern.

"Rafi has his team out correcting mechanical malfunctions on the rest. He claims his boys were tied up on four of our T-65's that got banged up in the Hudalla System."

"Unacceptable! This is what gets my pilots killed." Reynolds marched towards his ship with Morrison on his hip, taking notes. "I want some asses to chew, Bill. Double their efforts and I want you to triple check these monkey-lizards mashing my ships together."

"Aye, aye, Colonel." Bill could feel the frustration radiating from his friend and knew not to poke fun. "I'll get Hawkyard on it too!" He immediately accessed his intercom to relay the Wing Commander's orders.

Reynolds paused on the starboard of Corona One and placed his hands on his hips as he admired each crevice. This was arguably the best-maintained X-Wing on the Liberty. The Colonel would not tolerate anything else but perfection. Without a doubt, this ship was ready to fight.

"They are stepping up their efforts, Colonel." Morrison gently placed a hand on his friend's shoulder to bolster his words. "I'll personally supervise and crush some heads."

"You are my vessel of wrath, Bill. Get it done!"

"Aye aye, sir!" Morrison saluted his superior, spun around on his heels and barreled down on his first victim in the wheel of incompetence.

***

The Liberty's hanger was manic. You had to watch where you were going or you could be run over by a passing transport or decapitated by an overworked volunteer operating a dilapidated forklift. For as long Corona Squadron had been assigned to the Liberty, you would think it was the first time they had ever prepared for battle. Fuel teams sped around the deck frantically feeding each X-wing, A-wing and newly delivered B-Wing to their brim. Droids littered the floor, conducting their programmed duties. Pilots from Corona, Blue, and Yellow Squadrons proceeded with their final preparations as they awaited the largest rebel strike in this tour of duty.

Chief Ramirez's mechanics were pounding away each request for service. They held their breath while they worked in hopes not to attract the attention of the wing commander's madman. The bellow of Morrison's booming voice could be heard throughout the hanger, berating each victim he gravitated to. He was fixated on his own personal mission to devour the slackers under Chief Ramirez.

Finelli passed X-wing after X-Wing until he came across an empty stall, usually occupied by Corona Three and flown by Flight Officer Smikes. He had flown with Smikes on several operations and he appeared to be a competent pilot. However, on the ground? On the ground, he was considered a brown nosing, snake. Finelli disliked the guy and made it a point not to fraternize with him except in the emptiness of space. You could not trust him in conversation. He would unload any private interaction onto his commander's just to see if it would forward his career. It had proven, for him, to work as he had first choice on many a coveted mission. Although, the mission that was bestowed upon him this last time ended his career in the Rebel Alliance. Don't like him, but no one deserves to die like that. Scared, cold, alone. Finelli shook off the thought and pushed on to his fighter, Corona Eleven.

1st Lieutenant Tony "Kid" Marco paced around Corona Six, checking off each box on his preflight log. His astromech was in tow, contently beeping as it followed it's owner about the X-wing's hull. The faded, black paint job had seen it's time in the darkness. It's innards held together with whatever adhesive the Rebel Alliance could muster up to keep her flight worthy. If the Empire doesn't kill me, the Alliance will with this half assed, rig job.

Marco looked up from his data pad and observed, what he believed to be, a pilot sporting a black flight suit charging towards him. Beads of sweat crawled down his forehead and into his eyes as he squinted to get a better look of which one of his squadron mates approached. The hanger felt hotter than usual. A horn blared over the P.A. to alert her pilots time was of the essence.

Jasted slowed as he closed in on Lieutenant Marco. Winded from the jaunt, he spat "How's she looking, Kid?"

"Just as bad as that piece of garbage you've been stuck in." He extended his right hand high as Finelli jumped up and tagged it. "Apparently this is the best Rafi can do."

"Got to save credits for all those new promotions.

"Yeah, you heard that wampa crap too? Throw some of that highfalutin General pay down here with the rest of the grunts so we don't disintegrate in space."

"Frack em', Kid."

Marco sighed, "I'm sure they are doing this pro bono, man."

With content, Finelli stared at the T-65 slotted next to Corona Six and zoned out for a moment. Check it out. You are the ultimate badass. State of the badass wing. He slightly smirked and grabbed each collar of his flight suit as he continued his daydream. They do not want to frak with me. State of the badass squadron. She was a rough looking snub. Her paint was peeling from her s-foils. Burn marks seared a trail from the cockpit to the tip of her nose cone. The Liberty kept asking more and more from her as the galactic conflict pushed on. Hey, Liberty. Don't worry. Me and my squad of ultimate badasses will protect you.

Finelli cleared his head and brought the conversation back to Marco. "We keep bringing them back. That's the problem".

"Yes we do, and we will keep doing so until this war is over with." Kid proceeded to strike the side of his ship with pride.

"I heard Morrison ripped into Commander Dobson earlier." Finelli was under the impression this was the intent of keeping the squadron commanders after the briefing. The scuttlebutt among pilots was that Star Fighter Command is discontent with Blue Squadron's fighter attrition. "You know how he gets when he is tired of hearing about the same problems, blunt and stern." Fiinelli crossed his arms in an attempt to mimic the Commander and with a gruff voice growled, "Fix it or I'll fix you, Dobson!"

"They did fix it. Blue Squadron was reassigned B-Wings." Kid grumbled under his breath and shook his head as he checked over his X-wing's thrusters. "Corona brings them back. Blue breaks them. I'll never get how that works."

Both pilots fell silent. The wing executive officer could be heard firmly lambasting another mechanic approximately one hundred yards away. "Hydrospanner?!" The sound of tools clanging on the flight deck broke up his rant. "I'll get you a hydrospanner, jam it straight up your worthless ass and work you like a hand puppet! Then I'll personally help keep you on schedule, shit bird!"

The eruption of laughter and discontent exploded about the bay in response to Morrison's threat.

"Not a good day to be a wrench jockey." Marco laughed as he pointed out a bad weld on Corona Six's lower Fusial Thrust Engine. His astromech moved in to correct the weak point.

"I feel no remorse. This was a long time coming", replied Finelli. His astromech, R2-RX, chirped as it approached him, informing they did not have much time for inspection of Corona Eleven. "Need to hit the grind. The droid is getting pushy."

Kid grunted in response. He had the same problem with his R2 unit.

The Lieutenant and R2-RX circled the craft. He dictated as the droid logged each word. They inspected the black X-wing's intimate areas and noted any unsatisfactory observations on her titanium alloy body. Mechanically, Corona Eleven was sound in comparison to other T-65's in the wing. She was just an eyesore, which gave her a unique personality. The hull was scared but each imperfection had a tale of combat. She and R2-RX kept the Lieutenant safe and he did the same. He took great pride in every operation he could complete and bring her home.

Finelli climbed up and into the cockpit and took a seat. He looked about the cabin area and initiated system checks of Corona Eleven. Each switch toggled, every button pushed showed the ship was healthy and ready to engage the Imperial Navy. A full payload of proton torpedoes complimented the Krumpx MG7 Launcher, ready to be thrown with the squeeze of a trigger on the flight stick. The shield generator was operating flawlessly as well as the charging of the fighter's primary weapon, four Taim and Bak KK9 Laser Cannons. The onboard computer showed the four Icon Thrusters idling well, softly humming. He yelled down to Marco. "She's built like a tank, Kid. E.L.S. is looking good."

"Copy that. I'll notify Morrison we are a go." Kid took a second to think about his notification and immediately changed his mind. "I'll notify Colonel Reynolds we are a go." He keyed up the commlink and relayed Corona Six and Eleven had a clean bill of health.

***

The Colonel responded without haste, "Received", and proceeded to converse with Yellow Squadron Commander 9-LOM "Syntax", an ex-bounty hunter with inherent programming flaws. This machine had much experience with the Rebel Alliance, seeing air and ground engagements dating back to the Battle of Hoth.

"Colonel Christopher Reynolds", Syntax's synthesized words were monotone, sharp and to the point. "Your directive to counter Commander William Morrison's personality in the Liberty's briefing room appeared successful. I believe I have motivated Commander Dobson through chosen words and positive reinforcement."

"You did well, LOM. Pretty good for a former protocol droid." Reynolds was distracted as he spoke. He scrolled through his data pad, which contained the wing's orders. A conversation with 9-LOM was routinely repetitive and dry and he would find himself conducting other duties, as a one on one discussion would drag on with the bug like machine.

"Thank you, Colonel. I will proceed with your directive until advised not to." Syntax, without missing a beat, changed subjects. "Yellow Squadron's Kuat RZ-1 A-Wing Interceptors are in good repair. All pilots are accounted for and awaiting my orders." The LOM unit awaited a response and eerily glared at the unsuspecting human for roughly a minute.

The Colonel shifted his eyes left and stuttered when he finally realized the droid was awaiting a reply. "Yes, very good, Commander. Any other pertinent information?"

Syntax's body twitched, then froze while it's data processors searched for the Colonel's inquiry. Satisfied with a thorough scan and a second body spasm the Commander replied, "I believe, Colonel Reynolds, I have disclosed all information to you."

"Excellent." He sighed in relief. "Go motivate your squadron, Commander".

Syntax saluted his superior. "I will do so and await further directives, Colonel." The LOM unit stomped off to implement the new instructions just given.

Reynolds took a moment to breathe. He closed his eyes in meditation. Syntax had fried his brain again with shotgun questions and answers. Bill is working on final repairs for our boys and LOM has his A-wings at the ready. Dobber's B-Wings are cherry and his pilots appear reinvigorated. He opened his eyes. Time to get the boys ready for war.

He dug into his left leg cargo pocket and removed a metal flask. The contents of the flask was a nasty blend that doubled as an intoxicant and a lighter fluid. Reynolds unscrewed the lid and took a swig. He allowed it to burn through his body before he dumped the rest of the container inside a steel drum positioned to the side of his T-65, which he used to discard refuse. He repositioned the drum to his liking then climbed the ladder that led into Corona One. He stood on the cockpit seat and placed one foot on the frame where the ladder secured.

He removed a lighter hidden in his black jumpsuit. Morrison had given it to him after he had confiscated it as contraband from a pilot's bunk earlier in the month. Reynolds flicked his wrist, producing a flame from the shiny object in his right hand. He inhaled deeply and raised his left hand, clenching it tightly and with all the might he could muster let out an unforgiving roar that put the fear in all the unsuspecting souls about the ship. He dropped the lighter from top the T-65 and into the steel drum below immediately igniting and creating a controlled explosion. It placed an exclamation point on the Colonel's war cry. The entire hanger fell silent.

"Can you dig it?!" He did not expect an answer. It was an attempt to get an approximate temperament of his men. The deck remained silent. It could be they were in disbelief from the explosion then the words from his mouth.

"The Force," he started, "I have never prayed to you before. I have no tongue for it." He looked to the eyes of some of the pilots that watched him in awe. He was loud, but clear. "No one, not even the Force, will remember if you were good pilots or bad. Why we flew, and why we died." He lowered his left arm and knelt his head for a moment of silence. This was more solemn than he initially wished to achieve with his internal pre-game but he was going with it. "All that matters is that today we, the few, fight against many."

He looked up and acknowledged the crowd that formed around him. "The Force, if valor pleases you, grant me one request." The memory of 2nd Lieutenant Smikes death was still fresh in his mind and the others in the wing. "Grant me revenge!"

The hanger bay exploded in cheers and repetitive chanting of "Jalb Kay!". They wanted their time in the darkness to crush their enemies.

Reynolds yelled out to close his quick declaration, "and if you do not, to Mustafar with you!" He looked down to Morrison who stood below his X-Wing, nodding in approval. Morrison tossed a helmet up to the wing commander who snagged it out of the air with his right hand then placed it on his head.

This was their time to put their names and in the history books and to forge the future of the galaxy. "Immortality!" Reynolds pointed to his wing mates. "Take it! It's yours!" He was on a roll, quoting any hero he had read or seen speak that he could remember. With final exhale, he boomed with everything he had left, "Mount up!"

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

Endor +15 Days

CRS Vigilant Wing Commander's Office

Murg looked at his datapad. "Perhaps now would be the time to call Lieutenant Callahan in for his interview?"

Jedi looked at Jalb, who was not giving off a negative vibe to the suggestion. "Sounds good to me," he replied.

Murg typed a message into his datapad and it chirped quietly as the message shot off into the wireless datastream to its recipient. He swiped his fingers a few more times and pulled up the pilot's record. His eyes grew wide with surprise. "Lieuenant Callahan has quite a combat record, gentlemen."

Jalb nodded. "We're well aware, Major. We've been considering him for Rogue membership."

"And what is the consensus?" Murg questioned.

"We think it's solid, but we wanted to see how he did with Corsair Squadron for a spell before making that decision," Jedi replied. "It's looking promising, but we're still keeping an eye on things to see how he fits in with others that aren't from his original posting with Red Squadron pre-Endor."

Murg nodded in thought. "A prudent decision to wait and see, though it would seem that he's done well and performed admirably under stress in battle. You would think he deserves a promotion with this combat record."

Jalb sighed, obviously becoming annoyed again. "Yes, Major, that is also already under consideration, which you would have known had you asked us first rather than assuming we're sitting on our thumbs over here..."

A knock at the door interrupted the contentious conversation.

"Enter," Jalb said as he rose from his seat.

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Endor -.5 Days

CRS Home One Hangar Bay

POV: Lock

At thirty minutes before launch the hangar deck was bustling with activity. Mechanics and pilots and deck officers hustled from one side to another doing their pre-flight checks and duties, droids (primarily astromechs) dodging around and under them.

Coming off the turbolift, it felt like entering a whole new atmosphere in which the air was ionized and could summon crackles of electricity at any time. It was nearly overbearing but Roy "Lock" Callahan took it in stride; he'd felt it before, before so many battles though this one was looking like it wasn't your run of the mill hit-and-run, he had to admit.

That said, he didn't like the plan. It wasn't a bad plan, objectively, but he disliked the loss of control he suddenly had. It wasn't the Reds on the ground, it was Solo's team. Lock didn't even have a command any more and the Reds had been divided up amongst the newly re-formed Red, Gold and Blade Squadrons. It didn't sit well with Lock, not after having flown and fought and bled for them for nearly four damn years--they should be together. Sadly, he didn't give the orders and whomever had clearly had other plans. Plans that involved killing the Emperor.

The kind that even Lock knew to best shut up about.

As he weaved between people he caught sight of the back of a bright red set of hair. Immediately recognizing Paul "Rogue" Sweet, Lock made his way over and noticed that he wasn't alone. A smile grew on the pilot's lips.

"You all came to strap me in, how sweet," Lock said as he approached.

"In your dreams," replied Conall "Shadow" McKenna. He, alongside Rogue and Rev, were still a part of Wedge's reformed Red Squadron.

Lock smirked, "How'd you know?"

Mitch "Rev" Ri'chaard cut in with a snort, "We're just here to hear if you have any news on Gremlin."

"I haven't spoken to her, we've been ordered to keep comm-silence, remember?" he reminded the others. He was worried about her, too. One thing was for them to get divided among Red and Gold, but at least they were still on Home One. Lock didn't even remember what ship Blade Squadron was launching from. She had come a long way since he'd met her as a troublemaker on Rainworld, but to him she would always be that girl. "She'll be fine. Do you realize how many heavy rockets one of those carries? That payload could knock the breath out of a Star Destroyer. She'll be fine."

There was a moment of silence, the six pilots looked at each other.

"She'll be fine," Lock repeated, more for himself than anyone else. "She can take care of herself. What you all need to do right now is concentrate on yourself and your wingmates and getting out alive on the other side of this. If all goes according to plan, this should be a cake walk, but if it doesn't..."

"Things never go according to plan," Jeni "Angel" Courtner interjected with a grimace.

"Exactly, if they don't... take care of yourself, yeah?" Lock looked at each and every one of them. He raised his fist towards Rogue, who answered with a bump. "Right, Reds. And Golds, I guess. Time for pre-flight checks. Good luck out there. May the force be with you."

Everyone answered in turn and after a few more goodbyes the pilots split--Rev, Rogue and Shadow towards Red's side of the hangar and Lock, Angel and the mandalorian Kyle "Gnoizic" Mandal to the other, where their fighters, recently painted in gold awaited them.

Angel broke off first, heading towards her A-Wing, she'd be flying in First flight, which was composed of the Millenium Falcon and three A-Wings. "Take care of yourselves, boys," she said and disappeared into the crowded hangar. Lock turned to the stoic mandalorian.

"Just me and you, Gnoiz," he said.

At first Lock was sure that the mandalorian would remain stoically silent but after a moment he spoke up, "Try not to die."

Lock snorted, "Ain't that sweet, Gnoiz. Back at you."

This time Gnoizic did as predicted and veered off without a word, heading towards his Y-Wing fighter, not too far was Lock's own X-Wing--he was never going to get used to the gold stripe. It looked so much better in Red, he thought to himself as he watched one of the deck chiefs organize his techs. They were finished fueling the fighter and detaching the various hoses while Lock's R2 unit, Fate, was being loaded into the fighter's astromech port. R2-F8 was a nearly all black unit with white details, very Imperial in appearance, just like the day he stole him off an Imp resupply freighter, three years ago.

"Ever heard of the Alderaanian excavating rat-lizard?"

Lock turned to where the voice came from, a brow arched, "Uh, no?"

The speaker was a male from Duros. It was difficult for the average human to tell the species apart, but Lock had met enough of them in the Rebellion to start distinguishing the minor details. This particular Duros he'd met before, on more than one occasion--Major Dajhe "Dodge" Looreq, Gold's XO and Lock's wingmate for this engagement, Gold Five. Lock gave the alien a quick, half-assed salute, knowing that Dodge wasn't too much of a stickler for formalities.

Dodge had been flying with the Rebellion as long as Lock had and had plenty of battles under his belt. Lock could sympathize with the duros, as he'd been the original commander of Gold Squadron, which had recently victoriously been decimated during a desperate attack on an Interdictor which was keeping a convoy of refugees from escaping the Gabora System, which was suffering the pain of its own civil war. They were calling Dodge "the Hero of Gabora" because of a maneuver he'd pulled that had helped a large part of the convoy, and what was left of Gold Squadron, get away.

"They're--or, rather, they were--interesting creatures, Lieutenant," the blue-gray skinned male continued, veering his deep red eyes from Lock to the starfighter. "Each ratlizard was no larger than one of your fingers and they had a small horn on the tip of its nose, hard as diamond they say. They were drawn towards granite and other hard stones and bore holes into with their little horn, excavating deep tunnels in which to lay its eggs and rear its young."

"Oh, so cool," Lock answered, confused as to why the duros was telling him all of this. "I guess?"

Dodge smiled patiently, "It fed on insects, and because of its natural habitat in the high desert, it had few predators, none of which could follow it into its lair... except one. The blue-striped hornet. One on one, the hornet would succumb to the rat lizard, but the hornets rarely travelled alone... it flew in packs of ten or more and, working together, it was able to kill the ratlizard and usurp its home for themselves. Most blue-striped hornets were born and raised on the meat from the ratlizard and its young."

"That's, ah, gruesome," Lock answered but finally started to see his point. "So you're saying that we're blue-striped hornets and if we work together we can overcome any obstacle?"

"No," Dodge gave his wingmate a toothy grin. "Actually, I'm saying the Emperor is a kriffing ratlizard! Let's go kill him!" The duros pilot exploded into laughter, clapping the corellian's shoulder multiple times as he tried to get himself back under control.

Lock snorted but returned the smile with a half-grin, "That's something I can get behind."

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

Endor +15 Days

CRS Vigilant Hallways

Anton wasn't sure where he was going. He'd eaten breakfast with the early breakfast shift and had a strange day with no orders. Granted, his last few weeks have also been full of down-time, but that was generally granted to pilots and personnel for the day or two after a pivotal battle when there was no threat of further aggression, with normal duty returning afterward.

What was starting to eat at him was the fact that he really had no duty to do because he didn't belong anywhere. He'd received a message to report to this task force for debriefing. With that task done the day before, he still didn't know what he was going to be doing with himself. Every chirp from his datapad was met with a fast check to see if it was his orders, but they never came. The few surviving squadmates he had from Endor and Fondor were not here being debriefed as well as far as he could tell. He truly was, despite all of the personnel buzzing around him with tasks and orders, completely alone.

As he wandered the halls, he ran into two pilots in flight gear leaving the hangar. He nodded out of polite protocol, and they returned the gesture in kind. He felt awkward as he accidentally maintained eye contact with one of them for longer than intended. The other pilot's stride faltered as they passed, but it didn't look like there would be any words passed between them, and Ant picked up his pace a little bit just to avoid that from happening.

"Hey, pilot," the older pilot said from behind Ant. "Are you lost?"

Ant grimaced as he stopped walking, making sure to clear his facial expression before turning around. "No, not lost. I just don't have anything to do," he replied honestly.

"You... What?" The younger pilot replied. "Nothing to do? I've always got something to do."

"That's because you got 3 weeks of tug duty for being late to a meeting."

"Look, guys, I got orders to come here for a debriefing. Did that, and now I'm awaiting assignment," Anton explained.

The other pilots looked at each other, then back at Anton, and then back at each other again. "Well," the older one said, "you are welcome to hang with us if you wish. We just finished our patrol shift. My name's Wolf," he said as he held out his hand. "This here is Junior. Don't mess with him, he's the son of the wing CO," he said with a mocking smile as he tousled the youth's hair.

Junior slapped Wolf's hand away. "Quit, dude. You know i hate that!"

Wolf snickered. "What are you gonna do about it, babyface?"

"Just might tell my old man," Junior said with a sly grin, which shut Wolf up with a horrified look on his face.

Ant couldn't help but smile at the ease and familiarity these two displayed with each other. "All right, boys, what's there to do in this tub?"

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Battle of Endor

Green 5

POV: Ant

It was weird to hear the silence over the comms. Famz was almost always in a smart-ass mood. Even during the chaos of the Battle at Rendezvous Point Delta-Three, he still managed to find a way to crack some jokes. Now though, as the mass of rebel ships around Green Squadron was making preparations for the jump, there was dead silence on the squadron channel. Even Commander Arvel Crynyd was uncharacteristically quiet. It was downright eerie.

Anton always enjoyed Glenn's jokes before battle. It helped to relieve just enough tension. But now... Nothing... And Anton hated every second of the silence, and he felt a dull ache in his stomach. It seemed to have truly sunk in to every single pilot here at this final point that this was truly do or die for the Alliance. If they failed here... Well, Anton didn't even want to think about it.

"Final check before jump orders," Commander Crynyd's voice came over the comms. "All wings report in."

"Green Two, standing by," came L'ulo L'ampar's voice over the comms.

"Green Three, standing by."

"Green Four, standing by."

"Green Five, standing by." Anton transmitted, then gave a loud exhale as the rest of his squadron kept the check in going.

Soon after "Green Twelve, standing by," over the comms, Commander Cyrnyd's voice came through.

"All wings, make sure your coordinates are set properly. Be ready to jump to hyperspace on Admiral Ackbar's command."

Anton fiddled with his cockpit settings, checking them for what seemed to be the fiftieth time. Everything was in order. He turned and looked at the gathered mass of fighters. He watched as several Y-Wings of Grey Squadron re-positioned themselves slightly into a more organized formation. He had always wondered what it would be like to fly one of those older and slower, yet incredibly reliable workhorses. Eventually, his eyes strayed to the mass of X-Wings, A-Wings, and Y-Wings that made up Red Squadron. He wondered if she was among them. Anton removed his glove to look at what he had wrapped around his arm a few inches above his wrist. A dark brown piece of leather was connected to a circular ivory pendant. The pendant bore a beautiful carving of a tree with several intricate branches coming off of the trunk. As he looked at it, his mind began to wander in the pre-jump silence that seemed to hang in the air.

***

The music could barely be registered over the throngs of people and the noise they were making. In all fairness, it was a time for celebration. While the Alliance was still having it's fair share of struggles, the fact that the Death Star had been destroyed, and that the majority of Rebel troops had managed to evacuate from Hoth was cause for celebration.

This had been the subject of the conversation Anton had just finished with several pilots from Gold Squadron. As they left, two holding a third, overly drunken comrade, he couldn't help but laugh.

"Hey Alar, get me another please." Anton said, putting down an empty mug of ale.

"Comin' up!" Alar responded, sweeping the mug away and busying himself with one of the taps.

"Better be careful with that, Greenie." A voice to Anton's left said. "Don't you A-Wing boys need to keep your reactions sharp?"

Anton turned in the direction of the voice to find a woman in an orange, X-Wing flight suit sitting on the stool directly to his left. Her red hair cascaded down past her shoulders.

"I'm not flying tomorrow." Anton shrugged as another glass of ale was put in front of him. "May as well celebrate."

"Same. I'll drink to that." The female pilot said, reaching her glass out. It was filled with some sort of reddish liquid with a vegetable sticking out of it. Anton clinked glasses with her and they both took a sip. She was very pretty, with sharp, fox-like features and a slightly pointed nose.

"Anton Whitemont." Anton introduced himself as he took the seat next to her. "You an X-Wing pilot?"

"Brilliant deduction." She said with a playful laugh after another sip of her drink. "But yeah. Red squadron. Jessie Barham."

"Red, huh? You fly at Yavin?" Anton asked.

"Nah, I was somewhere else," she responded, rotating the glass on the counter. "I was skirmishing with TIE fighters several systems away. We won at Yavin, of course, but it was rough, from what I hear." Her expression turned thoughtful as her hazel eyes fixated on her glass. "I don't know if I'm upset about missing out on that, or lucky that I wasn't there..."

"We weren't there either..." Anton muttered. "None of us... Kinda wonder if anything would have changed if we were, you know?"

"We can't know." She frowned at her glass. "And it won't do good to dwell on it, honestly."

"Hell no it won't, even if whatever it was went well." Anton agreed. "I mean, my guys were at Delta-Three."

"Oh yeah, I heard about that." Jessie nodded thoughtfully.

"Shit would have gone south real fast if the Millennium Falcon hadn't shown up. That's my thing to avoid dwelling on." Anton stated, taking a gulp of his beer. "Life's pretty damn cheap these days..."

"Isn't it though?" Jessie looked up at him, tilting her head. "We gotta indulge when and where we can right about now." With that, she picked up her glass and downed her entire drink.

"You gonna leave a girl hanging?" She smiled coquettishly, pointing at his beer.

Anton didn't need any more motivation. He threw back his drink and emptied the beer. He almost failed at the end, but managed to empty the glass. He put it down, blinking his eyes very quickly.

Jessie let out a laugh. "That's what I'm talking about! You down for another?"

"Of course!" Anton said, following up with a loud burp which caused Jessie to laugh again. "Hey Alar!"

And so the time went by, with Anton and Jessie consistently trying to keep up with and outdo each other through drinks of varying taste, size, and strength. As the night whittled away, Anton eventually found himself in Jessie's cabin. He and the X-Wing pilot were laying in her bed having worked up a slight sweat, their clothes strewn all around the floor of the cabin.

"I hear talk of a final push coming up soon." Jessie muttered as she rested against Anton's chest.

"Hopefully THE final push." Anton answered, lightly squeezing his fingers against Jessie's shoulder, his arm around her back.

"You know, I had to fight my family tooth and nail. They didn't want me to go." Jessie said. "I wasn't about to just sit around, though."

"Sounds familiar," Anton gave a bitter sort of laugh. "My mom and brother thought the Empire was bad, but didn't do a damn thing."

"At least they thought that." Jessie frowned, looking up at Anton. "My folks aren't direct supporters of the Empire, but thought the 'stability' they brought was a good thing... As if that somehow excuses all the genocide..."

"Yeah, things get REAL stable when you slaughter anyone who even slightly speaks out..." Anton laughed bitterly.

"Right?" Jessie agreed. "They said some shit about me starting a family and just ignoring everything."

"That also sounds familiar." Anton grunted.

"You think people like us will ever be able to settle down after this?" Jessie asked somewhat suddenly, sitting up and letting the bedsheets fall to her hips.

"I've wondered that myself." Anton said, putting his hands behind his head.. "I honestly have no idea. I feel like it's different for us..."

"Different how? And from who?" Jessie asked quizzically, tilting her head to the side.

"Well, I mean..." Anton looked up at the ceiling in thought. The guys and girls on the ground can take a blaster shot to the arm or leg and still be alright. But for us..."

"In space, there's much less of a margin for error." Jessie finished his thought.

"Yup." He nodded, his eyes going back to Jessie. "On the ground, injuries usually outnumber KIAs."

"You'd have to be super lucky to get your ship damaged and still be able to come back out there." Jessie said, jerking her thumb at the window that opened into the deep expanse of space.

"I honestly don't know how you come back from that." Anton said, sitting up to face Jessie. "How do you go on knowing you lived through that? The margin for error is just... razor thin."

"Well..." Jessie said, putting her hands behind her neck, moving her red hair out of the way. "I've got something to give you then."

"I think we've given each other something already, haven't we?" Anton laughed.

"Hilarious." Jessie answered flatly, but smiled nevertheless. She undid the leather string around her neck that held the tree pendant, the only thing she hadn't taken off and looked at it for several seconds. Then she held it out to him.

"What?" Anton blinked, surprised. "I can't take that, that's yours."

"Come here." She smiled, leaning forward and putting her arms around Anton's neck. She clipped the leather string together then leaned back. "Looks good on you." She smiled softly. "Just something to remember me by. Don't lose it, huh?" She lightly tapped Anton's cheek with her hand.

"If we're doing that," Anton said, leaning over in the bed and picking up his leather wrist strap with the pewter coin woven into it. He glanced at the flame emblem carved into the pewter before holding it out to Jessie. "Take that, then."

"Gladly!" She smiled, gingerly picking it out of Anton's hand and wrapping it around her wrist. She turned her arm back and forth, glancing at it. "Fair trade." She looked at it for a few seconds before looking at Anton with a rather mournful smile. "Do you think we'll find each other after all this?"

"Not sure." Anton answered with a sad, half smile of his own. "First we gotta get through whatever this is gonna be."

***

"Alright boys," Commander Crynyd's voice came through the comms, yanking Anton out of his reverie. "We're about to launch. Final preparations, now."

Anton gave one last glance at the pendant before putting his long flight glove back on, covering it back up. The ache in his stomach quickly intensified then disappeared, only to be followed by a completely empty feeling. This was it. Time to focus.

"You know the plan, boys." Crynyd's voice said. "Watch your approaches and keep your head on a swivel. Leave nothing to chance."

Anton had no idea how he had heard that last order. The blood was rushing to his ears and pulsing so incredibly loudly.

"May the Force be with us." Crynyd's voice said.

Anton's heart was pounding with such intensity that he felt it might just burst out of his chest. What followed was 20 seconds of absolutely agonizing silence before a new voice came over the comms.

"All craft, prepare to jump into hyperspace on my mark!" Admiral Ackbar's deep, gruff voice was unmistakable.

Anton looked over at Green 7. Famz met his gaze and nodded at him. Anton returned the gesture.

Here we go, he thought, his teeth gritted as his hands found their proper positions. Do or die.

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

Endor +15 Days

CRS Sovereignty Air Space

Lock pulled his A-wing around as he continued toward the next patrol sector, noting that Rev mirrored his maneuver in his B-Wing.

"I really dislike mixed craft flight elements," Lock grumbled.

"Why, because you can't really open up the throttle on that eggshell?" Rev replied sarcastically. "Since when are you an A-Wing guy anyway? You were X-Wing all the way before Endor."

Lock smirked. "Yeah Yeah, and you were an X-Wing guy too if I'm not mistaken, old man. Now here you are flying that rotating cross with ease."

"I've got to say, pipsqueak," Rev started, "The amount of firepower these babies pack is growing on me."

"The amount of pure unadulterated speed these babies pack is growing on me," Lock replied with a laugh. "Still though, I wouldn't mind being back in an X-Wing."

"Heard that," Rev replied.

"Might even put in a request to join Rogue Squadron," Lock said unprovoked.

Rev snorted, "What? And leave the rest of us behind?"

"Oh come on, Rev. I think you and I know it's a shoe-in that we'll all be accepted into the wing and will still be together."

"Yeah," Rev replied wistfully, "but it won't be the same if we're all split up like we were at Endor."

"Q-F-T, oh-ancient-one."

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Battle of Endor

Gold Six

POV: Lock

"Gold Six, away," Lock said as his X-Wing pulled out of the hangar, one of the last to do so in Gold Squadron. "Moving into formation."

"Copy, Six," Dodge's voice crackled back over the comm. "As soon as Gold Leader is out we'll form up on the General."

Lock pulled gently on his flight stick, guiding his X-Wing over towards Dodge. Ranger , Gold Seven, and his wingmate, a Nautolan everyone called Bubbles, were already in formation. Not too far, the Squadron's three A-Wings, including Angel as Gold Three, swept past in their own formation, waiting for the Millenium Falcon to launch, so they could form up with General Calrissian. Who flew a freighter that was falling to pieces in a starfighter squadron? Lando had balls, Lock had to give him that much.

"Alright, ladies and gentlemen, it's showtime," Dodge said after a few minutes. The Falcon had appeared on Lock's sensors only a moment beforehand, indicating it had launched. "Gold Squadron, fall into formation with Gold Leader."

The four X-Wing and four nearby Y-Wings seemed to move in unison, pulling upwards to follow the Falcon in a long loop around the Alliance's Fleet. Before long, Red Squadron had joined them. As they flew Lock could spot a few of the fighters he recognized--Shadow, Rev and Rogue had survived enough engagements in their respective X-Wings to have earned a few battle scars.

They passed over the Defiance and more squadrons fell into formation--Lock recognized a few from Gray and Green Squadrons, though before he could get a good look the Falcon shifted it's flight path, swinging under the frigate Redemption and flying past Home One before charting a course through and past the fleet, clearly heading towards their hyperspace point.

"Admiral," Lando Calrissian's voice cut into the silence of Lock's cockpit. "We're in position. All fighters accounted for."

"Proceed with the countdown," Admiral Ackbar replied, his voice even more gruff over the comm than in person. Immediately a countdown initiated on one of Lock's screens, thanks to Fate. "All groups assume attack coordinates."

In his chest Lock felt a mixture of excitement and dread. His heart was beating so fast that at any moment it would burst from his chest and berate him for being crazy enough to have chosen being a fighter pilot as a profession. He could've quit whenever he wanted... but here he was, jumping into the frying pan again and participating in another Life-or-Death battle. A regular person might have pulled on their flight stick and gotten the hell out of there, but Lock wasn't a regular person. A grin grew on his lips--frak it, if he died he died and if he lived he lived. The fight would go on, with or without him, and at the end of the day that's what counted. The will to never give up.

"All craft!" announced Ackbar. "Prepare to jump to hyperspace on my mark!"

Lock reached over to his control panel and flicked the lid over the hyperspace control. Finger hovering over the button, he awaited Ackbar's mark.

The countdown dropped to zero.

"Mark!"

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