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Star Wars

Cinder to Ash


A Renegade Wing Rebirth

Chapter XIII

[ Nine Days after the Battle of Endor ]

[ Flight Field; M-Base ]

"You're late," Syntax remarked as Lock arrived. After a heart beat he added, "Again."

Aviator sunglasses hid the fact that he had barely gotten, at most, three hours of sleep--being on a dry base was the worse thing in the Galaxy. Lock had seen way too much in his time to fall asleep without some sort of aid. He longed for that dreamless drug or alcohol induced rest, not this waking up drenched in sweat nightmare after nightmare natural sleep that all the doctors he'd ever met recommended. It had been good, at least, to see his old wingmates and to hear the news about Angel.

"It wasn't my fault, Lead," Lock answered. "You see, there was this little old lady who needed help--"

"I've heard enough, Six," Syntax informed him. "Come over here. Everyone. You, too, Two.”

It took a moment but soon enough eleven pilots, veterans and cadets, were huddled around Syntax, "I realize this is a lot to ask, but I am going to have to rely on you to lead your cadets through this mission. It's not fair on you and it's not fair for you, but I have faith in all of you." He looked from Knight to Wolf and finally to Lock. "Six, you will lead Flight Two, your priority is the U-Wing. Seven, Ten, you'll lead Flights Three and Four, your job will be to hunt TIEs. Kill them before they can kill the Blues. One Flight, lead by me, will do our best to escort the bombers in. Copy?"

"Copy," "Copy that," "Copy."

"Good. We take off in ten," and with that Syntax sent them off.

As he walked towards his A-Wing, Lock pulled a can of stim juice out of his jacket and took a long drink from it. By the time he reached the trio of starfighters that comprised Flight Two he could feel energy surging through his body, creating life when all there was was a will to sleep.

"Look who decided to show," Dragon said as he saw Lock approach. "I was just telling Junior here that he was going to go give you a kiss to wake you up, like Prince Charming."

"I ain't afraid to hit a Flight Officer, mate," Junior answered back with a cocky grin. Both knew that they were joking from what Lock could tell and he decided to not intervene unless he had to. "Even one as ugly as you!"

"Calm down, guys, save it for the Imps," Lock said as he reached his A-Wing and grabbed a datapad.

Lucky for him, one of the mechanics had already started things for him and had the starfighter's engines warming up. As he went through the list, Dragon and Junior kept up the banter, having finished their own a while ago. They were calm because they were both combat veterans--Junior had even fought in the very A-Wing he was flying at Endor. Why he was a Cadet eluded Lock--he'd heard rumors about how it was linked to General Shen'ryu.

In any case, at the moment it didn't matter, but it did comfort Lock. He'd really lucked out, considering he was grouped with two combat veterans and not two rookie cadets like Knight and Wolf were.

"Yellow Squadron! In your cockpits!" called out Syntax, taking his vocal processor to the limit as he raised and spun his right index finger.

Lock turned to Junior and Dragon, "Alright, boys, it's showtime."

***

[ Bulldog’s Y-Wing ]

Bulldog fumbled with the controls of his Y-Wing as he attempted to lift off with the rest of Blue Squadron, causing his port engine nacelle to dip perilously close to the hard deck as he took off. He’d technically qualified on the antique when he’d taken his simulated examination at the time he’d joined the rebellion, but he was quickly finding that theory and reality were yet again wildly divergent. Perhaps he’d write a book covering all of the times that axiom had been proven true when the war was over.

“The blasted simulator automated half of this shab!” He cursed as he quickly recovered control of his craft and leveled out. His new astromech was wailing in apparent fear.

“Figure it out, Twelve,” Mighty’s voice chided over the comms.

Bulldog bit out another string of curses silently before chinning his mic back on. “On it, Major,” he said in a more measured voice.

“Set a better example for the noobs, BD,” Animal chimed in.

“I’ve never flown one of these in real life!” Bulldog replied, exasperated.

“What?” Blue Eleven replied in shock.

“You heard me, rook,” Bulldog replied as he began to get a feel for the ancient wishbone. With one hand on the throttle and the other on the stick, he pushed the former forward while pulling back on the latter. His ship nosed up slowly as it gained velocity equally slowly. “How does anybody still fly these slugs?”

“Permission to find a new wingman?” Blue Eleven requested earnestly.

“Denied,” Dobber replied sternly.

“I’m more qualified than this joker to fly this craft!” Blue Eleven persisted.

“Play with the crummy hand you’ve been dealt like the rest of us, Eleven,” Rev chimed in grimly.

R2-W8 continued to hoot in a low tremolo, his pitch rising as Bulldog continued to throttle up the Y-Wing he had been assigned. He looked down as he tried to find the landing gear toggle, trying to retract it to find a way to improve his ship’s already terrible atmospheric-flight profile.

“Will you shut the Sith up you karking mynock?!” Bulldog snapped as he continued to examine the alien cockpit for the toggle he was looking for. He flipped a switch he thought was correct, but R2-W8 squealed an alert. The main console display showed that he had armed his proton bombs and they would begin dropping on an automated delay in 5 seconds. “Dank Ferrik!” He cursed as he fumbled to flip the switch back to its original position. The droid, however, continued hooting in earnest. Bulldog finally found the landing gear switch and flipped it triumphantly. “HA!”

“Now what is so urgent?” Bulldog grumbled to his incessantly whining droid while he familiarized himself with the important components of his new ship. Knowing where the ELS controls were could be the difference between life and death in a furball. He had never flown with an astromech before, so he had no idea what the droid was attempting to communicate to him. “Use your words, you kriffing bucket of bolts!”

The display screen lit up with large, flashing letters.

Bulldog squinted to examine them, noting that the atmosphere was thinning and fading to black out of the corner of his field of vision. “L...O...O...Look… Up… Huh?”

The droid’s pitch rose to an ear splitting scream.

Bulldog looked up and saw that he was a split second away from flying right up the tailpipe of a cross-shaped B-Wing. “HOLY!” He shouted as he simultaneously pushed his stick down, pulled back on the throttle, and jammed his foot down on the rudder. Being in space at this point, his Y-Wing responded much more quickly to his control. His ship slowed, dove and rolled. Just as he’d intended, his right engine nacelle came within 2 meters of the left and bottom S-Foils of the B-Wing.

“What in the name of the force are you doing, Twelve?!” Summer shouted angrily as she pulled her ship off out of reflex, causing the other Blue Squadron fighters to adjust in a ripple effect as they all compensated for Bulldog’s blunder and Summer’s evasion.

Bulldog recovered quickly and leveled out, but he was sweating and breathing heavily and he’d only been off the ground for 60 seconds. His astromech was still firing off what he assumed was a string of binary curses, and it seemed like it wasn’t keen to slow down any time soon. “Not bad for my first time, eh Droid?” His nerves were all over the place, making him a little twitchier than he usually was before a sortie. The attempt at wry humor was his main line defense against being overwhelmed into inaction by said nerves.

“Permission to pick a new wingman now, Blue Leader,” Blue Eleven said again urgently.

“Never going to happen, Eleven,” Dobber said quietly. “Get back into formation, Twelve.”

“I’m gonna die,” Blue Eleven responded dejectedly.

Bulldog shook the sweat out of his eyes and took a few more quick, shallow breaths to calm his nerves. The laughing from Animal and assorted cursing from other pilots slowly died down, as did the hooting from his astromech droid. “I picked the wrong week to quit drinking,” he said quietly. His droid made a defeated, mournful wail.

***

[ Jalb_k’s X-Wing ]

The pre-mission jitters, the dry mouth and ‘garnants in the guts’ feeling, it all just slipped away as his helmet went on and the canopy snapped and sealed. Repulsors were spooled, all systems in the green and the X-Wing was ready to fly. A line of text from Skip, his astromech, scrolled green across his snub’s primary display - Tower cleared squadron for launch.

“Thanks Skip, pass on launch sequence to the Squadron… and execute in 3, 2, 1.” He leant forward against his restraints and flicked the landing gear toggle on the bottom right of his front panel and as he felt the bobble of repulsors take the weight of the fighter he goosed his throttle and rolled forward. He made note of Highball’s position at his 8 o’clock, turned and looked over his left shoulder for visual confirmation and received a thumbs up from the cadet on his wing… Good enough he thought. He checked the other 6 X-Wings of the squadron had formed up behind them in the same layout and keyed his mic.

“Rogue, this is Lead, by pairs, 5 second separation” he paused to allow the acknowledgements from each of his senior pilots, all of whom had a cadet on their wing then continued “Two, on me… punch it!” and on that pushed his throttle to the stops, felt lift start to buoy his spaceframe as speed increased which cancelled out repulsors and he pulled back a touch on his flight stick. He knew they could hover and rotate for launch on repulsor, but using the long pad available reminded him of growing up on Macquarie and learning how to fly atmospheric in flitters… it made him nostalgic and happy, which was a good way to start any mission.

The X-Wings of Jalb and Highball leapt into the sky where they settled into a straight run to orbit at 50% throttle allowing the remaining pairs to form up with them over the next 15 seconds. Jalb_k settled into a flight rhythm, constantly watching scopes and systems with frequent head check and visual confirmation. The Regis was on scope before they even left atmosphere proper and was also the first glint he picked up visually and, as they approached, he started putting eyes on the rest of the Wing’s fighter craft. He brought his Rogues into formation with Corsair and Buccaneer… He ground his teeth and mentally corrected, Yellow and Blue Squadrons and keyed his mic to the local fleet channel.

“Destrier Group this is Destrier Lead” he said using the code name they’d come up with in planning since ‘The General’ didn’t want any references to Renegade or the original Wing’s squadrons. Tactical considerations my arse he thought even with IFF off our elint signatures are well known.

“Yellow and Blue, status?”

Syntax responded immediately, “Yellow is on station, we are 12 loaded for escort and fighter suppression, ready for task,” Jalb acknowledged with a double click and Dobber was immediately on comm.

“Blue is on station, 12 loaded for bantha and ready to go” Blue’s OC said enthusiastically.

“Lead acknowledges. Regis, this is Destrier.” Jalb continued.

“Destrier, this is Regis Actual, go ahead” Captain Daly replied.

“Roger, Destrier is on station, configured for task and mission ready.”

“Regis copies, confirm nav sync conducted, all craft prepare for hyperspace… Destrier One?”

“With pleasure Regis, Destrier Group prepare for hyperspace on my mark…”

***

[ Bridge of FRG Regis ]

"I believe, Destrier Leader,” he sneered “that as commanding officer of this mission this is my particular honor," General Shen'ryu said, interrupting Jalb just before he could give the order to go to hyperspace.

The bothan stood on the bridge of the Nebulon-B frigate Regis, looking through the view port at the thirty-three starfighters arrayed below him in formation. A swell of pride grew within his chest and a gleeful little smile grew upon his face. This is what he was made for, for the art of war, not babysitting cadets on a backwater world like Mukani.

Behind him, Captain Daly cleared his throat, as if informing the General of what he already knew perfectly well. They were all ready and waiting on him.

"All New Republic forces, this is General Shen'ryu," he said, speaking into his comm link as Captain Daly turned away and rolled his eyes. "Remember this day, for it will be the first in many glorious battles to come. Prepare for hyperspace on my mark. Three... two... one... Engage!"

Thirty three starfighters and a frigate disappeared into hyperspace.

***

Chapter XIV

[ Bridge of ISD Conviction; Nabrisk System ]

There was complete silence on the bridge of the Conviction. Minutes passed on an invisible, unknown counter, it’s seconds ticked away by the incessant pacing of the Captain.

Oshi felt like it had been an eternity since they’d detected the beacons and news of Gamma’s destruction had arrived, portents of an imminent rebel attack, but in reality only a few hours had passed. Preparations had been made and now all that was left was to await the arrival of the beast, in whatever form it may come.

Captain Barand had given her the option to be relieved but Oshi had declined, though she supposed that she was grateful that she even had the opportunity. At least she was alive. What else did she have to go back to? Her quarters? No, Oshi lived, and as she lived she would do her duty. She would see to it that she found those that took Zing away from her and see justice done for stealing something so precious. Raising her eyes, dark and strained from the strain of the past few days, Oshi looked upon Barand.

A blinking light broke her train of thought and she immediately checked it. Adrenaline surged through her body in an instant, “Sir! Enemy detected at Oh-Nine- Delta!”

“Helm! Bring us about,” Tol Barand’s voice soared above the sudden cacophony of noise that had erupted with her announcement. “They’re attacking through the Delta Gap. What are we looking at?”

Frell glanced at her panels, “Looks like… a frigate and a squadron of X-Wings!”

“That’s it?” asked Barand with a sneer. “Launch Alpha and Beta Squadrons, now!”

She had to agree, it was a very small force to attack a Star Destroyer with. But they were in the Delta Gap, just as the Captain had predicted, drawing them in--just as Barand had predicted. The tactics of an amatuer, he’d concluded, before moving on to what he considered more logical attacks. She had to admit, there was a certain amount of irony.

“Sir, Alpha and Beta are away. Ten kilometers until they engage.”

“Helm, slow and steady. We want them to think it’s working.”

***

[ Jalb’s X-Wing ]

The mesmeric swirl of hyperspace snapped off as Corona Squadron and the Regis reverted to realspace. Jalb quickly verified systems and sensors and was immediately concerned. He and Krayt had presumed there would be small craft or a minor transport hub in the vicinity of this location, something that would need the protection of the ISD, but there was nothing… He mentally scolded himself for not confirming with Syntax, and for believing that Shen’ryu had at least an idea.

“Regis, Corona,” Jalb used squadron designation as Yellow and Blue, therefore ‘the group’ had not yet reassembled “Where’s the bait?” he asked on the command channel. General Shen’ryu’s annoyed tone came through clearly in the response.

“Obviously we’re the bait Corona… do you see anything else in this sector?”

“Exactly my point Regis… Corona out.” Reynolds cut the transmission on Command and continued to monitor the Fleet TacComm while checking sensors and very quickly targeting information started scrolling across his display. His earpiece crackled.

“Corona Lead this is Regis Flight.”

“Go ahead Flight.”

”Turn bearing One-Eight-Nine Gamma for contacts”

“Roger, One-Eight-Nine Gamma” Jalb switched to Squadron internal “Corona this is lead, bandits at One-Eight-Nine Gamma. 4 x 2 echelon front…” he remembered half his squadron were rookies “Five and Six, take left, Three and Four follow them, Seven and Ten, lead right, Two and I will follow. Acknowledge'' a chorus of affirmation followed. “Three and Four, maintain vertical separation on your lead pair. 50% throttle, bring them to us… we’re the bait, we need to get that ISD moving here a whole lot faster…”

“Lead, Five… Since when do Imps care about their fighter pilots?” Jasted asked.

“Copy Five, since never, but our Commandant is of the opinion that the Enemy has changed… we have our orders, we will follow them. 30 seconds… Lock S-Foils in attack position.” Jalb felt the satisfying thunk of his ‘wings’ locking into the business setting vibrate through his seat. “Remember your training, stay with your wing and may the force be with us.”

The lead ties were either rookies or nervous as they started firing well out of range resulting in them wasting laser charge and giving the leading 4 craft of Krayt, Jasted, Kid and Nexus the easy decision for initial targets. 3 of the four targeted Ties were outright destroyed and Highball finished the fourth that Nexus had winged. With a third of their squadron gone in the first seconds of the engagement the lead squadron of Ties broke high and low, immediately evasive while the following squadron separated horizontally to try and flank the New Republic fighters. The lead pairs with three experienced Rogues tracked the split second squadron by second nature, with Nexus on Krayt’s wing and Jalb with Highball the right edge was secure. Fyri and Boots however started tracking the remnants of the first squadron vertically. Jalb chided himself for leaving a wing pair of rookies but then they were amongst the following squadron and his focus went to the Imperials trying to kill him. The four pilots on the right accounted for a further three ties in the first pass, bringing the numbers in their vicinity to parity, the left flank however were in trouble as the pairs had isolated themselves… Jalb keyed his mic.

***

[ Kid’s X-Wing ]

"Keep together Corona, don't get separated!"

With his leader's orders ringing in his ears, Kid flew with all the experience he had earned. The opposition was intense, more than double their number of TIEs, but he and Jasted were clearly superior pilots and they quickly regained the advantage and thinned the herd of combatants in their vicinity

"Four, no! We lost Boots!" Fyri's voice sounded panicked, Kid looked to see the smouldering remains of an X-Wing drifting through space. Who is Boots? Was he one of the cadets? I don't even remember his name.

There was little time to dwell on it, as the TIEs refused to give way. Kid keyed his comm, "Stay focused, Three! You're isolated, try to come around to… point 3 mark 5!"

Swearing under his breath Kid slapped the lever controlling his shields, focusing them forward as he, and Jasted alongside him, headed straight for the bundle of TIEs that were trying to overwhelm Fyri. Both of them got their shots in and although it was not enough to score a kill it caused the Imps to scatter, giving Fyri the chance to rejoin.

He risked a glance at the Star Destroyer, it's looming form still no less menacing to him then when he'd first faced up against one. It was stubbornly still, guarding the ring station. "He's not taking the bait lead."

"Patience," Jalb admonished him over the Comms. "Just keep working those TIEs!"

Watching Fyri corkscrew and dive to track a TIE he dived in after her. Her lasers impacted on the fighters right wing, which started to glow as the metal became super heated. With a flick of the finger he too unloaded hot light onto the craft, his overcharged lasers ripping the TIE from central pod all the way along to it's wing.

"Hey! That was my kill!"

"We can discuss it later three, just keep your focus up." Again he turned to look at the Star Destroyer, willing it to move. A flash of green caught his attention again and he felt his body compress as the X-Wing screamed around to get away from the gaggle of TIEs that had found him.

We can't do this forever.

***

[ Bridge of ISD Conviction ]

“Two new squadrons have hypered into the System. They’re breaching the asteroid field through Beta Gap!” Oshi announced, raising her voice over the general buzz of the bridge amidst the battle.

From what she could tell, it wasn’t going as well as could’ve been hoped for--the X-Wings of, the now identified, Corona Squadron were putting up a good fight, so the presence of two new units composed of interceptors and bombers was not a good sign… which is why Oshi felt so confused when Captain Barand turned to her with a wicked grin on his face.

“I can’t believe it!” he said, approaching her position to read the sensor and comm readouts himself. “Such a simple tactic. Whomever planned this raid is a fool. It’s obvious that that frigate and those X-Wings were trying to lure us out.” Which explained why the Conviction had remained at half impulse throughout the engagement. Barand had not wanted to get too far away from the Repairyard and the Confession.

“Lieutenant Frell,” Barand said to her. “It’s time. Activate the signal. Order Beta Squadron to turn and engage our new arrivals. Launch Episilon and have Omega prepared to join them at a moments notice.”

“Yes, sir!”

“Good. Helm! Turn us about! We won’t play these Rebel’s games. They’re playing on our field now, and we control the map!”

***

Chapter XV

[ Bulldog’s Y-Wing ]

The swirling blue tunnel of hyperspace was a hypnotizing thing to behold when you could sit there and admire it. Unfortunately, this was not one of those jumps. Bulldog had spent the trip checking and re-checking his instruments to make sure he knew where everything was that he would need in the action to come. ELS, warhead selector, countermeasures, boost… He was mildly confident that he wouldn’t fumble too much during his attack runs.

Weight chirped an alert, and a countdown clock appeared on the main monitor.

As the timer ticked down to zero, Bulldog and the rest of Blue and Yellow Squadron’s craft reverted to realspace. He took the time to do a slow visual examination of the system, noting

the shipyard location, dense asteroid field, sandy planet, and dual moons. Farther off, just barely visible, was the target: ISD Conviction.

“All wings report in,” Dobber ordered.

“Blue Two standing by,” Summer replied first.

Bulldog tuned them out while he continued to scan his surroundings. He checked and re-checked his sensors to see what was going on at the other end of the battlefield. So far the target was exactly where it should be and had reacted as the plan had intended. His friends in Corona Squadron were in a very heavy furball with TIE forces, but still handling their business. The Regis had dragged the star destroyer along the desired path as well. Everything had unfolded according to plan so far, which made him uneasy. Plans never survive contact with the enemy. So why was this one still looking good? When is the other shoe going to drop?

“You there Twelve?”

“Yeah! Blue Twelve, two engines green,” Bulldog replied.

“Stop drifting!” Summer snapped sternly.

“Ok Blues, tighten up on me,” Dobber said. “After we form up, comm silence until we’re discovered. Attack Pattern Delta, execute.”

Bulldog winced. The straight-line attack formation would help mask their presence during their approach and hide their numbers as best they could hope, but it would also put him at the very end of the line. If there were any ambushing forces in the vicinity, he’d be the first one to find out for better or worse. He put his Y-Wing into a very lazy roll up and over the group, giving up straight line velocity for height momentarily while the rest of the bomber group got into line. “Droid, focus our sensors to cover our aft one-eighty.”

R2-W8 bleeted sarcastically in reply.

The A-Wings of Yellow Squadron made a similar maneuver, but they split into three groups of four. One flight formed up in front of the lone U-Wing that had joined them for this hop. The other eight fighters split to form a group of two behind, two above, two below, and two to the opposite side of the Blue Squadron line. All formations were tight in together to reduce their sensor signature in hopes to avoid detection as long as possible.

All of this still left Bulldog as the rear man in line. He began to sweat, and he found himself craning his neck in both directions to check his aft often despite no alert coming from his rear-focused astromech.

Ping Hoot! Hoot! R2-W8 began a low whistle, rising in pitch while it made various declarations in binary.

Bulldog’s eyes were drawn to his main sensor monitor to see what had his astromech suddenly so agitated. A new sensor contact was staring him in the face. The other shoe had certainly dropped from fifty stories up and landed right on his head. His heart felt dense enough to form its own singularity within his cockpit. “That computes,” he chuckled morbidly.

A Victory Star Destroyer had just hypered in directly behind him and the rest of Blue and Yellow Squadrons.

***

[ Lock’s A-Wing ]

"What the--! Where did that VicStar come out of?" asked Wolf over the comms.

Well, kriff that plan, Lock thought to himself as he maneuvered his A-Wing, already pulling away from the rest of the Squadron, followed by Junior and Dragon. Until Syntax told him otherwise, he had his orders. The trio formed up with Tattoo's U-Wing.

"Blue and Yellow Squadrons," Syntax's voice came through the comms, calm as could be. "Change of plans. That VicStar is in our exit route--Blue, take it out of the picture."

"Copy that, Yellow Leader," Confirmed Dobber. "Blue Squadron on me."

"Three Flight, Four Flight. We have incoming fighters from the Conviction--we need you to slow them down before they reach Blue Squadron," Syntax continued. "Two Flight, get that U-Wing to that frigate and then get back here as fast as you can."

"Copy that," Lock answered. "Mercy Two, let's get moving before they notice us."

"Lead the way, Six," Tattoo answered.

Lock pushed his throttle forward, being careful not to get too far ahead of the U-Wing, which was considerably slower than the nimble dogfighter. It wasn't a problem because at these speeds they would reach their objective in the next few minutes.

"Empire Two, Bothans Zero," Junior said over the comms.

"What does that kriffin' mean?" asked Dragon.

"Nothing," Junior snorted. "But I guess it means that that's twice the Bothans have led us into a trap."

"Stow it, Four," Lock ordered. This wasn't the time for this. "Four, stay with the U-Wing. Five, you're with me. We're going to scout ahead."

Pushing his throttle to full, Lock's A-Wing surged forward.

"I-I don't know if I can do this!" a voice came through the comms.

"Eight, stay in formation," Lock heard Knight respond. Damn, one of the Cadets. It was to be expected, but even so... "Eight!"

"No! Oh frack this!"

"Yellow Eight this is Yellow Leader..."

"I'm going after him!"

"... return to formation, that's an order..."

"No, Nine, let him go!" Knight warned, he'd seen situations like this before. "Stay close to me!"

Eight cut through again, "They're l-locking o-on..."

"Evasive maneuvers, Eight, get out of there!"

Dragon's voice cut through it all, "Picking up some bogies, Six."

Lock's eyes were on his sensor board and flicked through a few settings. "Confirmed, Five. Frak! Looks like a flight of dupes."

"You're kidding me! I hate these bastards--we have to get them before they can get into range of Mercy Two," Dragon answered, predicting exactly what Lock was about to say.

"Copy that, Five," Lock said with a smirk. "Two for you, two for me. Four, be ready to catch some torps if we screw it up."

"Copy that, preparing to cover your asses," Junior answered.

"Odds are mine," Lock said, selecting his targets as Beta 1 and 3.

"I'm on evens," Dragon confirmed.

Due to how little time there had been between the two missions, Lock's A-Wing was still outfitted with a sensor jammer and a reflect hull, as well as a full load of barrage rockets, which meant that up until he was a click and a half a way they would think that there was a single A-Wing approaching. He knew that Dragon's interceptor was equipped with quick lock missiles and seeker mines, which meant that the two pilots were about to approach this situation very differently.

As soon as Lock passed the fifteen hundred meter range he initiated his target jammer and engaged his boost, closing 500 meters in the space of a couple of seconds. He was on Beta 1 like a hungry monster, letting loose with his cannons and his rockets at once. The Bomber pilot was surprised and tried to dive downwards--Lock was able to track it and destroy it.

By that time a missile fired from Dragon's A-Wing streaked past Lock and slammed into the the second Bomber, which had been trying to fire on Dragon. It pulled away now, crippled as it's attacker flew by at top speed. Lock made sure to pull away as well, knowing what was about to happen to that bomber. A blinking light detached itself from the interceptor. It hung in space for a moment before zipping after the wounded bomber, colliding with it and destroying it in the process.

"Take that, bastards!" Dragon said with a victorious laugh.

"Two more to go!" Lock reminded his wingmate. The Corellian pushed his boost again, launching him forward towards the station and, for a moment, away from the TIE Bombers. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Dragon doing this as well. The both simultaneously cut his engines causing the A-Wings to drift. They turned as they did so, reengaging the boost once they were angled behind the Bombers again.

Being at less than a kilometer, Lock began firing lasers and the last of his rockets. The bomber tried to get away but the Republic pilot initiated his jammer again, keeping his prey blind as he finished him off.

Dragon wasn't so lucky with Beta Four. Approaching from behind, he fired a quick lock missile after his objective but before the weapon could reach the Bomber, the TIE boosted and fired it's counter measures. It was clear that this particular Imp was a cut above the rest.

"He's locking on to me," Tattoo warned over the comm.

"Moving to intercept," announced Junior.

"I got this," Dragon countered, a touch of anger in his tone. Lock could see him firing at the Bomber, who was expertly swaying and weaving his way to his target. Something seemed to come over Dragon and Lock heard him inhale and exhale deeply. Another quick lock missile was fired and this time it hit its mark, sending the bomber spiraling.

Just as Dragon was about to finish him off Junior fired off a few lasers at the Bomber; no more than five bolts made contact with the dupe before it split down the middle and exploded, destroying it which meant that, at least officially, the kill counted for Junior.

“Eat blaster bolts, Imp!” Junior taunted the exploding TIE pilot.

"What?! An assist?" Dragon started cursing.

"Mercy Two, you're clear," Lock said, doing his best not to chuckle too loudly.

"Good job, Two Flight," Tattoo replied. "Making our approach... now..."

***

[ Hangar of FRG Confession ]

The noise and heat was immense; hangars are usually built for incoming craft to make a cautious controlled landing not for invading craft slamming on full reverse thrusters as they open up their laser cannons at the main doorway. Loose parts, crates and debris were scattered by Tattoo's U-Wings engines and the few stormtroopers who had run into the hangar were vaporised by laser cannons built for peeling apart armour. It was a landing right on the edge of control but Tattoo didn't have the luxury of taking it easy, with the TIEs around the Confession doing their best to take her ship apart. A solid clang echoed around the deck as Republic marines poured out of the U-Wing and waiting for the all clear Tattoo started getting ready to turn her ship and break clear of the hangar. But out of the corner of her eye she saw a Twi'lek sprint towards the marines, her arms held up high as she shouted at them.

Vyla knew her window to escape was small and so had wasted no time getting out of the parts locker she had been hiding in, moving to her newly arrived allies. "When the wind rises, the hawkbat soars!" She shouted desperately at the first marine pointing a gun at her.

"And the wookie watches whilst his brother snores," the marine shouted the Alliance codephrase back, unable to keep his face straight at the bizarre situation. "You're our spy then?"

She lowered her arms and nodded, "You have no idea how glad I am to see you."

He pointed to the U-Wing, "You've done your part, get out of here before she leaves."

Spook hesitated but laser fire soon poured into the open hangar, the newly arrived stormtroopers firing from round the corner of the hangar entrance. The marine grabbed her by the shoulder and yanked her towards the U-Wing, his shouts inaudible above the noise. With his encouragement she ran the short distance for what felt like an eternity, feeling the heat of one laser bolt pass within millimeters of her head tail.

As soon as the spy had thrown herself onto the deck of the U-Wing Tattoo gunned the engines, sending the craft scorching back out of the Confession’s hangar bay. With a twist on the throttle she boosted the craft's powerful engines, putting as much distance as possible from her and the frigate.

"Mercy Two is clear!"

***

[ Jalb’s X-Wing ]

Jalb heard Skip warble and glanced down to see confirmation of Blue and Yellow arriving in system. He looked back up and gave the juking, jinking TIE in front of him a little lead, holding the pressure under his index finger but not squeezing, he rolled slightly left while continuing to yaw to right bringing all four of his Taim & Bak KX8 Laser Cannon to bear. He watched intently, making only minor corrections then counted to himself ‘One thousand, two thousand, three thousand, 4” and on four he squeezed his trigger and held for two fully charged quad bursts. The TIE jinked high right, straight into the first quad burst which hit the leading edge of the right wing which pushed the TIE's vector left and exposed the rear which the second overcharged burst hit flush, slagging the armour and detonating the ion engine underneath… the ball shaped cockpit vapourised.

“Woah! Good kill Lead!” Highball exclaimed.

“Thanks Two, good cover” Jalb replied quickly checking his scopes “How’s our six?” noting they were clear but making sure Highball was on it.

“The last two that had any chance of getting at us broke contact a second before the last splash.” Jalb spent the time Two was talking doing a full sensor and targeting check. ‘They’re turning and running… wait, the ISD?’ he keyed TacComm.

“Flight, Corona Lead, confirm ISD is disengaging?”

“Corona, Flight, confirmed. Target is going about…” there was a pause in which Jalb heard sensor alarms over the channel “Corona, new contact, Victory Class…” Skip whistled in alarm noting the new contact as well “bearing One-Seven-Seven Echo!”

“Corona copies, out.” He keyed Squadron internal. “Corona, this is Lead, fighter screen is breaking contact and falling back with cover. Do not follow, engage immediate threats only…” he took another quick look at targeting and sensors “We need to get that ISD re-engaged, break by pairs and dumbfire a single torpedo each, Two and I are currently clear, Seven and Ten will follow… Three, you will stay with Five and Six, acknowledge.” Six sets of double clicks. “Two, with me, lead out.”

Jalb and Highball turned 180 degrees and headed towards the retreating ISD. They built engine charge, then hit boost and unleashed a single torpedo each at max speed to impart extra energy on the launch, then they both initiated drift and accelerated back towards the remainder of the squadron. The Command and Squadron channels activated with the same voice.

“Corona, what are you doing? You’re not out there to carry on with acrobatics! Prepare for micro jump!”

“Negative Regis, we still have hostiles in loc. We are also following orders and ‘baiting’ the ISD…”

“Shut up Reynolds and listen to me! Corona will prepare for micro jump now! If you lose 2 or 3 more breaking away it’s acceptable losses, Regis out!” Jalb was stunned, and infuriated.

“Lead?” Krayt’s voice questioned over the comm.

“Standby…” Jalb responded as his fingers danced over the targeting console. He rapidly assigned the closest targets to each of the seven remaining fighters of Corona. “Targeting solutions sent, full charge to engines, get your target evasive then boost towards the Regis and prep for jump… 30 seconds, go!”

The remaining empire fighters were caught off guard by the sudden, aggressive change in tactics. Two of the nine remaining were destroyed within seconds and a further pair were rendered inoperable. The other five, two pairs and a single broke contact and tracked away at boost speed at three different vectors in the direction of their capital ship. The fighters of Corona turned as one and boosted in the opposite direction opening up a 3000m gap in moments. Jalb activated the Squadron channel.

“Cut boost in 3, 2, 1… prepare for jump.” He quickly switched to TacCom. “Corona on station, prepared for jump.”

“Flight copies, on your mark Corona.”

Jalb keyed both Squadron and TacComm. “Copy Regis, Corona, on my mark… 3, 2… Punch it!” Star lines extended.

***

Chapter XVI

[ Corridors within FRG Confession ]

The air in the corridors of the frigate rose to unbearable temperatures as the constant crossfire of blaster bolts burned through the air, shrieking past as they sought out their victim. Most missed their mark, but once in a while one would impact on a white chest piece or in a rebel's back, eliciting another scream... but those weren't the ones you would remember later. Those would be the groans of marines and stormtroopers, mortally wounded, lying bleeding on the floors, moaning for relief, calling out to their loved ones in regret.

"Kriff this, sarge!" Shock called out to Beko, the Nautolan sharp shooter. The Devaronian's voiced disgust in the situation was loud enough to drown out the sound of blaster fire.

Beko turned to him, "Shut your mouth and shoot, marine!" She barked at him.

The large Devaronian grunted angrily and held up his heavy repeater and began to lay down some suppressive fire, forcing the stormtroopers to take cover while Beko got back in position and prepared a shot. Shock stopped firing and took cover just at the stormtroopers counterattacked--Beko was ready, though, and managed to snipe two before they even realized what was happening. The rest took cover.

"Push!" Beko called out and four marines ran between Beko and Shock's position and tried to find new cover. Just as they did a turret descended from the ceiling and began firing in all directions. "Fall back! FALL BACK!"

She stood up with every intent of running to the men under the turret but Shock's enormous arms wrapped around her and pulled her back into cover with him. She watched helplessly as four more men were cut down. They'd already lost at least half of the marines they had arrived with. Even Beko understood things were looking dire.

"Let me go!" she ripped herself from the Devaronian's grasp. "Sithspit!" She grabbed her commlink, "Niner, this is Alpha Two, we're being overrun!"

"...all ba… I ss.. ag.. fall b… my loc!" she heard through heavy interference and blaster fire.

"Copy that," Beko answered and looked at her surviving marines. "Come on, let's go."

***

[ Bulldog’s Y-Wing ]

“Form up by flight!” Dobber shouted.

“Three Flight, on me!” Mighty called out on the Three-Flight comm channel.

Bulldog saw a white box on his heads-up display indicating where Mighty’s B-Wing was located. Whispering a hasty thanks to his droid for the assist, he hauled back on the stick to get into his assigned position. He tucked himself into Blue Eleven’s port aft quarter and awaited orders. While he waited, he visually scanned their surroundings and saw nothing had changed aside from that VSD turning to the side to offer a full broadside of their guns at the group of New Republic starfighters. “We’re going to run right into the teeth of that thing at this angle,” he muttered angrily.

“Fighters deploying,” Animal reported anxiously.

“I see them,” Summer replied. “Confirmed, fighters incoming!”

“We’ve got to plow through them and get that Vic!” Dobber ordered. “Go in full throttle by flight!”

Mighty must have seen the same thing Bulldog had with the positioning of the VSD. “Three Flight, angle out to starboard. We’re going to execute a right hook and hit this thing from the rear.”

“Won’t that leave us a little alone out there, Major?” Blue Ten asked nervously.

“Stick together, keep your heads, and we’ll be fine. Execute right hook!”

Bulldog feathered his stick to the right to follow his flight leader. His region of space was relatively clear, so he watched the engagement unfolding on his sensor screen. First and Second flight bored straight in, both lasers and ion cannons blazing away as they reached maximum engagement range with the recently deployed TIE fighters. Their targets exploded or tumbled out of control in large numbers, but they didn’t escape without casualties either. After the two lines passed, Blue Squadron continued toward the Victory-Class Star Destroyer, and the TIEs quickly wheeled around to pursue.

“I’m hi-aaaaarrrghghh!” Static.

Another death scream pierced the comm waves.

“Six and Eight are gone!” Rev reported with a strained voice.

“I can’t shake him!”

“Yellow Squadron, where is our cover!” Dobber cursed.

“Break off Blue Three!”

“She’s gonna blow!” Blue Three shouted as her Y-Wing broke apart around her.

“We can’t take on these odds, Lead!”

“Kark it all! Blast it Yellow, where are you?!” Summer yelled.

“Break off Blues, we need to regroup!” Dobber called out.

“We going to join them?” Blue Ten asked after Mighty made no sign of changing course.

“No, we’re off their scopes. We’ve got a free run. Let’s make it count!” Mighty said confidently.

“I don’t like it, Major,” Blue Eleven said with a clear tremble coming across with his voice.

“Shut up, Eleven,” Bulldog snapped. “Focus on your run,” he said, then took his own advice and pumped his laser energy into his shields and put his hand over the arming switch for his proton bombs. He knew where it was because he’d accidentally toggled it during takeoff and almost bombed his own base. That location was seared into his memory. “This is Twelve, in position and ready to start my run!”

“Break by twos, Me and Ten go to port, Twelve and Eleven go starboard,” Mighty ordered.

“My scanners show a group of fighters are going to hit you before you make your run Two Flight,” Animal called out from across the battlefield.

Bulldog shook his head clear. He and the rest of Three Flight had clearly been fixated on their target, and it would be the final mistake they’d ever make. There was no way they could pull off without those TIE fighters shredding their sixes, and they would certainly get smashed between the hammer and anvil if they continued their run. His heart sunk again for the second time in the last 5 minutes, but this time he was sure it would be his last. That grim realization was just the motivation he needed to focus even more on surviving long enough to drop his payload of proton bombs underneath the shields to do the maximum amount of damage possible.

“We’ve got to get out of here!” Blue Eleven shouted.

“Stay on target!” Mighty ordered sternly.

“Loosen up!” Blue Eleven persisted as his ship drifted out of formation.

“Stay on target!”

“I’m not gonna die!” Blue Eleven shouted in a panicked voice as he completely pulled off from his attack run and started running in the other direction.

“Get back here Eleven!” Mighty yelled.

Bulldog looked at the incoming fighters and knew they would strafe him just before he could slip under the shields of the target and start dropping bombs. Unfortunately, the only answer he had was to hope they missed him long enough for him to drop his payload before they got him. Lances of turbolaser fire started passing through the space all around him. “This is going to be close,” he said aloud. His astromech tootled nervously in agreement.

“Watch those turbolasers, boys. Get under the shields as soon as you can and start dropping your payloads,” Mighty ordered calmly.

Bulldog jinked around a tight grouping of turbolaser blasts and cursed at the lost distance he would have covered had he been able to fly in a straight line. The fighters would surely catch him out in the open long enough now to blast his fighter apart. “Nine, I’m probably not going to get under the shields before those fighters get here. I’ll try to draw some fire for you and Ten.”

“Sorry we’re late!”

Right before Bulldog was about to break his attack run and charge the oncoming TIE fighters, a trio of A-Wings charged through the enemy formation with their cannons blazing a fiery path of destruction. The rest of the TIEs broke apart to evade the new threat. Unfortunately for Blue Eleven, two of the TIEs evaded in his direction and quickly caught up with the fleeing Y-Wing. They tore him apart with two sets of burst fire in one pass, shearing off both engine nacelles with their powerful lasers.

“Great timing, Yellows!” Mighty cheered.

“Yellow Two, Three, break and pursue!” Syntax ordered. “I will stay nearby to make sure these Blues make their runs unmolested.”

“On my wing, Three.”

“Roger, Gremlin.”

Bulldog didn’t recognize their voices as pilots he’d flown with before being transferred, but was thankful nonetheless at their sudden assistance. “Much obliged, Yellow Leader,” he said with a grin, relief flooding through him. He immediately cursed as he threw his craft into a wobbling spiral to avoid the fire from the Victory-Class Star Destroyer’s aft guns that seemed to only be targeting him.

Further ahead, Mighty and Blue Ten started their runs. The B-Wing and Y-Wing started dropping bombs underneath the shields as rapidly as they could. Mighty’s B-Wing took a heavy laser blast head on, but the sturdy ship’s shields held firm. When his first bomb magazine was empty, he initiated his gyro mechanism and the 2nd magazine began dropping bombs as well. Each proton bomb impacted along the hull and started deforming and destroying hull plating. At the end of his run, he pulled off into a boost-assisted sprint and made a bee-line for the reformed Blue Squadron ships.

Blue Ten’s Y-Wing was not so lucky. After dropping about 5 of his bombs, he took a direct blast in the area where his engine nacelles connected to the rest of the ship, shearing off his right engine completely. Both the newly freed engine and the rest of the ship skidded across the hull until crashing into a turbolaser battery, taking the gun out along with the rest of the stricken craft.

Bulldog took that lesson to heart and made sure he wasn’t lined up directly on a weapons platform. As soon as he was above the engines of the target, he dipped underneath the shields and flipped the toggle. His bombs started dropping in rapid succession. His astromech warbled an alert and put a red box on his hud centered around a turbolaser battery in front of him. As he looked at it, he saw it start to adjust its aim and track his position. “Holy SITH!” He shouted as he jammed his foot down hard on his right rudder to slew his craft to the side and out of the line of fire.

A split second after the hasty maneuver, the dual turbolaser loosed two emerald bolts of coherent light where his ship had just been. He adjusted his path to go back over the battery and dropped his last bomb right on top of it. “Bombing run complete!” A straight line of blackened hull plates dotted the hull along the path he’d taken aside from his little swerve in course to avoid being blasted, punctuated by the smoldering wreck of the turret he’d bombed last.

“Regroup, Twelve!” Dobber ordered. “Your run didn’t do enough to knock it out of commission!”

“Of course it wasn’t enough,” Bulldog snapped back as he maxed his throttle and boosted away from the capital ship as it spat laserfire all around him. “Proton bombs are stupid!”

“You guys took down quite a few of their topside turrets at least,” Summer chirped in happily.

“Good news is the shields are down!” Animal reported. “Those bombs must have hit something important!”

“We were nowhere near the shield generators. Maybe we hit some important power lines?” Mighty replied confusedly.

“Then let’s wheel around and take out the rest of their guns!” Dobber ordered. “Let’s roll!”

“Shab!” Bulldog spat, hauling back hard on the stick to face the capital ship again. R2-W8 howled in fear as the Victory-Class Star Destroyer began throwing more fire in his direction as he settled into his attack vector. “I see it, ya bucket of bolts! Charge the lasers to max with some shield energy when we get close enough so I can use the rotary cannon for full effect!”

R2-W8 hooted in confusion.

“I know it’s suicide to lower our shields, but we need the punch!”

The droid again tootled an interrogative.

“No, I have no idea what I’m doing, just do it!” Bulldog jinked to avoid fire, and then mashed down the trigger after he lined up his first turret. The rotary cannon took a second to spool up, but after that second it started hurling overpowered scarlet bolts of energy at a rapid rate. His first target erupted in a cloud of shrapnel, and he pulled hard on the stick to bring his nose in line with the next target, blowing that quad ion cannon emplacement apart as well.

Off to the other side of the star destroyer, the rest of Blue Squadron fell upon the other gun emplacements with deadly accuracy. They all popped like balloons as they were hit in force, erupting into shards of jagged durasteel and electrical components.

“Fighters coming back around!”

“Break by element and engage!” Dobber ordered.

“Twelve, you’ve picked two up, watch it!” Mighty shouted.

Bulldog craned his neck around to locate the two TIEs working their way into a firing solution. He slammed his throttle forward and shunted his ELS into his engines. He also transferred all of his laser energy into his shields to shore them back up, just as his ship rocked with the first impacts of an overcharged burst cannon blast. He jammed the stick full forward to throw his lumbering Y-Wing into a steep dive right behind the VSD in hopes of using the ship’s bulk as a temporary shield. The two TIEs popped over the edge and continued to fire wildly in his direction. “I can’t shake these guys!”

“Boost out of there, Twelve!” Animal shouted. “Me and Seven will try to pick them off at position six-oh-four relative to the VSD!”

Bulldog’s astromech hooted triumphantly. Taking a moment to glance at his sensors, he saw a whole mess of new friendly sensor contacts right on top of their position. “Where did THEY come from?”

***

[ Kid’s X-Wing ]

In a matter of seconds the canopy of the X-Wing went from black to blue to black again. Kid steeled himself as the Regis and Corona Squadron were suddenly the opposite side of the VSD, ready to catch the large lumbering ship unawares.

"Fire missiles into that bridge connection, Corona! Don't wait for the target lock, just eyeball it!"

Kid didn't need any further encouragement from his leader, with some skill he flicked the little X-Wing towards the VSD bridge and gunned the engines. Looking left he saw Fyri again, just off his S-Foil.

"Follow my lead three!"

Fyri didn't call back, simply double clicking the comms to let him know she had heard.

"Wait for it….wait for it...missiles away!"

A thunderstorm of missiles flew towards the shieldless capital ship as it erupted into a deadly light show to try and destroy the incoming missiles. One, two, three explosions showed their success but the odds were against them. Each missile hit the reinforced durasteel bridge, as it first started to glow red and then white before crumpling completely, debris scattering everywhere. Tony saw a missile pass through an open gap and further inside, a moment later a fireball spilled outwards punching through the bridge viewport and into the vacuum of space.

Cheers erupted on the comm board, Kid could even hear Fyri's long string of happy curses above the din.

Wait, those aren't celebratory!

Fyri was diving towards the stricken VSD, three TIE fighters on her tail. Kid gave chase, routing power into his engines. But the eyeballs had the head start and he watched Fyri's shields glow blue white as they started to fail. With all the piloting skill that had seen her selected for Corona she executed a neat drift, her X-Wing now a silhouette against the stricken VSD. She shot forwards again, her lasers glowing red hot as her shots impacted the leftmost TIE, obliterating it neatly. Kids lasers caught the center TIE, dissolving it's engine's in light.

The one remaining TIE chose revenge and it's green laser fire erupted with a scream, the high energy beams slamming into the rear components of Fyri's X-Wing as she flew past. Like a vibroblade through silk the X-Wing was sliced neatly, everything from astromech back floating away from the stricken cockpit and nose section as fuel, coolant and other liquids leaked into the cold vacuum of space.

"Kid!" Tony screamed, his eyes locked onto the shattered craft. He could see multiple breaches along the cockpit line where shrapnel had punctured the cockpit. "Mercy two, where are you?! I need SAR now!"

Chapter XVII

[ Bridge of ISD Conviction ]

Captain Barand wasn't the only one who stood with their jaws open in shock as they watched as the Y-Wings and X-Wings tore the old VicStar apart. It was a shame to see the Demise meet such an end after nearly two decades in service. "Sir, we have dozens of escape pods putting out a distress signal."

"Copy that, Lieutenant," Barand said, snapping out of his shock. The anger was visible on his face. "Helm! I want us on top of that Frigate! It's going nowhere without my permission! Comms! Divert the escape pods to the station, they have more than enough room to accommodate them."

"Yes, sir!" she answered and she brought up the holographic keyboard and began to relay the message to the drifting Imperial survivors.

Oshi felt sick to her stomach. Were these the same Rebels that had murdered Zing? They had to be--she couldn't believe they were getting away with it again! "Sons of..." she muttered under her breath.

"Comms! Get me a line to Commander Feing on the Confession," Barand ordered.

"Yes, sir, right away!" Oshi answered and brought up another display and dialed the XO's commlink. "Connection established sir!"

"On my way," Barand said, making his way over at a brisk pace.

"It's audio only, sir," she let the Captain know as he approached.

Barand nodded, "Commander Feing. Report."

"We've pushed the commandos away from the engine room and the bridge and cut them off from the hangar," Feing's voice was hard to hear above the blaster fire and yelling in the background. "We should have things cleared up in the next few minutes, sir."

"Very well, Commander. We will be in position right above within five minutes, rest assured that the Confession is going nowhere."

"Yes, sir." .

***

[ Tattoo’s U-Wing ]

"I already have you in sight, give us cover!" The U-Wing rocketed towards Fyri's bleeding craft, Tattoo feeling the familiar rush of knowing what was to come. With the practiced calm of a professional she wordlessly swung out of the pilot seat, allowing Digger to take over as they had done so many times in the past.

The equipment locker was already open, one of the sets of masks and harnesses missing. Tattoo threw hers on and looked over to the spy they had picked up; Spook was checking the seal on hers as it clung tightly to her face with her lekku flowing free behind her.

"I can't babysit you out there," Tattoo started to warn but Spook ignored her as they both attached harness ropes to clips on the ceiling. "I've gone zero g loads of times. I can't do the doctor stuff but I can use the welder and cutters to bust the pilot out of there."

Tattoo nodded and together they reached up and detached a stretcher from the ceiling, equipment bundled on top. There was a flash of green and they felt the U-Wing swing to one side, the familiar low roar of Kid's X-Wing close behind as it gave chase and cover to the SAR team.

The green light above the side door started to flash red and everyone felt the pressure change. Suddenly the solid bulkhead gave way and open space greeted them.

"Three, two, one, jump!"

Tattoo was impressed by the way Spook leapt without hesitation; the familiar pull of artificial gravity dissolving into nothingness as they stepped off the U-Wing. They arrived upon Fyri's cockpit shortly, peering through the transparisteel they could see she was unconscious and slumped forward. Spook pulled the laser cutter out of a bag but Tattoo shook her head.

"It'll take too long. We need to get the canopy open, fast." She grabbed a pry bar and started to work it between the canopy and chassis of the craft. It refused to give way, the hydraulic hinges keeping it in place. Spook moved to the shattered rear of the X-Wing and reached inside, finding the hydraulic valve she started to pump it manually.

Heavy green laser fire scorched nearby but Tattoo refused to acknowledge it. Either she would successfully extract the pilot or she would die here, there was no other choice. With a hiss the canopy started to give way, the hydro fluid moving slowly through the system as Spook worked. Tattoo didn't need the encouragement, slamming the pry bar into place and wrenching the cockpit open.

A bubble of red fluid, ruby like in its beauty, brushed against Tattoo's visor. The surface tension broke and she used her sleeve to smear the visor clean of blood. Fyri was in a bad way, she had lost a lot. A piece of shrapnel had pierced clean through her upper thigh and kept her pinned inside the ship. For a moment Tattoo was back in Endor, extracting that small, ragdoll-like A-Wing pilot with a similar injury. Angel survived, this kid can too.

Spook extracted the cutter from the equipment bag and they made short work of the metal shard, shearing it clean through. Fyri floated with them, like a deflated balloon, as they strapped her to the stretcher and pulled on their harness ropes to bring them back into the U-Wing. Familiar gravity bought their boots back to the floor of the U-Wing and the door slammed shut.

“Get us to the Regis now!”

***

[ Corridors of FRG Confession ]

Shocks and Beko were the only two to survive the retreat back to Major Gospar.

The Chagrian was sitting against a bulkhead, one hand blasting away down an opposing corridor and the other on his side, holding his guts inside of himself. Judging by the pool of blood on the floor, it wouldn't matter if he left them in or out--he was a goner. Apart from him, two other marines had made it out.

"Where's the Lieutenant?" Beko asked as they rejoined the group. One of the marines pointed at a nearby cadaver. It looked like the poor guy had taken a blaster bolt to the face. She turned to the Major, "I take it your attempt to take the bridge didn't go so well." .

Coughing, the blue skinned alien replied, "As well as your attempt to take engineering."

Beko couldn't help but snort. She looked to the commband on her arm, nothing. She knew they were being jammed on subspace, but she asked anyway.

“Does anyone have Comms?" She knew the answers would all be negative. She knew they had one option left, but it was probably too late by now. She looked at the Major “Golf Foxtrot?”

He nodded weakly. She keyed a preset on her comm, which switched transmission to an archaic RF signal, a code of dots and dashes, which sent a repeat of two characters.

“Alright, marines! We hold this room!"

[Jalb’s X-Wing]

Skip warbled and played the RF signal from the frequency Jalb had told his Astromech to keep passively monitoring: dah dah dit - dit dit dah dit, dah dah dit - dit dit dah dit. Golf-Foxtrot, Golf-Foxtrot, but it wasn’t just the two letters, the actual code itself conveyed meaning, something from his youth, the baseline of a song… Under Pressure. The Marines needed extraction.

“Mercy Two, this is Corona Lead, Exfil! I say again Exfil!” he barked into his mic as he broke the attack he was on to give Highball room to engage.

“Corona, this is Mercy Two, negative. We have Pri One cas onboard, enroute to Regis.”

“Corona Lead, roger, out” Frack!

[ Corridors of FRG Confession ]

They knew it was pointless, she knew it was pointless. All of them were going to die here. Surrender might have been an option, if they hadn't killed the Emperor a little over a week ago. Imps had long memories, and if being a prisoner was bad before, Beko could only imagine the kind of sweet torture awaited them if these vengeful xenophobes got their hands on them.

The fighting was brutal, the worst she had ever been in. Major Gospar fought until the very end, when their position was finally overrun. He finally gave up on his guts, letting them seep out of the open wound on his abdomen as he reached out to grab a grenade. Stormtroopers got wind of his intentions and delivered a hailstorm of blasterfire into the chagrian, blasting him in the neck, chest, and face until the blue skin was overcooked.

When it finally came down to hand to hand combat was when they really lost any chance. Shock was huge and could hold back a riot if he had to, but against trained stormtroopers in battle armor there was only so much one could do. He managed to bash in a few helmets and used his combat knife to slice into a few others but finally he was shot and overwhelmed. It took over half a dozen troopers to finally hold him down and bind him. Beko only wished she could've put up as much of a fight. She was a sniper, not a hand to hand master. Shoot and hide--that was her thing. Shame burned within her as she watched Shocks wrestle his half dozen captors when it had only taken two to fight her into submission, and one of those had only approached afterwards to bind her. The first had knocked her knife out of her hands, though in the long run she would only have made a bigger fool of herself. The other two marines were ingloriously cut down by blasterfire.

Once they subdued Shocks, they put him on his knees next to Beko.

"Easy, Sarge, I'll get us outta here," he whispered to her.

"Shut up," she whispered back, angered that he would think that she needed his help. Worst thing was that she probably did. Staring down at the floor, she heard the boots approach before she saw them. They were sleek, polished, so much that she caught her reflection in them before a stormtrooper grabbed ahold of her tendrails and yanked on them, painfully forcing her to look up at the man. His blonde hair, his severe looks, everything was so unabashedly Imperial.

"The communications device," the man said without even looking away from her. He stretched out an arm and a stormtrooper placed a rebel commlink into his hands. There was still blood on it. The Imperial either didn't seem to mind or didn't care because he began using it.

"To all Rebel Forces. This is Commander Feing of the Imperial Navy. Your attempt to capture this frigate was a failure, much like your miserable little lives have been. If you wish to remain alive and perhaps earn a slim chance at redeeming it, surrender now and submit to the Imperial Authority. Resist... and you will die, much like your marines."

Feing took the blaster pistol from his belt and pressed the barrel against Shock's forehead. There was a pause and then he pulled the trigger, holding the commlink near the blaster, so it would be heard. Then he moved onto Beko and pressed the blaster against her forehead. He stared into her eyes. She stared back, no fear, no resignation but, oddly, determination. He moved the commlink towards his barrel, closer to Beko…

“Xray Zulu! Xray Zu…” she was cut off as he squeezed the trigger.

"You brought this upon yourself," he said to her corpse, not one hint of apology in his voice.”Feing out.”

***

[ Bridge of FRG Regis ]

They heard the screamed code before the second blaster shot rang over the commlink, then finally... "Feing out."

The Bothan general's fur perked up, aggressively standing on point as Shen'ryu bared his teeth. How dare this foolish Imperial even attempt to defy him? To mock him openly in front of his soldiers? There would be hell to pay! He gripped the edge of the holo table in the command center of the Regis, growling.

Captain Daly watched. He knew the Zulu code, Reynolds will know the code, Shen’ryu should know it, but will he react appropriately? Cautiously he asked, "General?"

Shen'ryu snapped around so fast that Daly's first officer flinched, dropping his datapad. Daly stared straight ahead.

"Open a channel to the Wing," the General ordered. He waited for a confirmation before speaking again, "Colonel, have the Wing prepare to move in formation to cover the Regis. We will dock and I will personally make Feing pay for what he's done."

"Sir," Daly interrupted. "That's suicide--that Star Destroyer is sitting right on top of that frigate."

"Captain, if you are too much of a coward to carry out this simple maneuver, then I will have you relieved of Command." He turned his attention back to the commlink, "Colonel, you have your orders."

***

Chapter XVIII

[ Jalb’s X-Wing ]

“Xray Zulu! Xray Zu” - crack - “Feing out” Frack!! Dank frelling farrick!! Jalb wanted to punch something, he wanted to punch everything! He found an eyeball meandering away from a close pass with his wingman, trailing sparks and frozen fluids, obviously out of the fight, but he made sure it was… Kark it! What am I doing? Then the comm crackled. He listened incredulously until he heard "Colonel, you have your orders." The frack I do! He quickly made an IFF adjustment.

“Skip, push that out…” he keyed his mic on the general fleet channel once more “All craft, this is Renegade One. Form up by squadron, you know your roles… I want that Frigate slagged!”

***

[ Bulldog’s Y-Wing ]

“This is insubordination to the highest order,” Shen’ryu howled over the general comm channel. “You will land fighters on that frigate and retake the ship!”

Bulldog chinned his mic to the open frequency. “I’m on it, Renegade Leader,” Bulldog said with a grin, making sure to emphasize the old name for the wing in his own personal act of defiance. He barrel-rolled his Y-Wing and let out a whoop at the sudden shift in the wing’s power structure.

“I will have you all court-martialed for this!” Shen’ryu pressed on, angrier at being ignored.

“Twelve, this is Nine. I’m your wing,” Mighty replied proudly, also clearly eschewing the old command structure as he maneuvered his fighter into Bulldog’s four o’clock.

“Renegade Wing rides again!” Animal cheered as he maneuvered his B-Wing to Bulldog’s eight o’clock.

“Blue Two, Blue Four, tighten up on me,” Dobber ordered. “We’ll go in first and soften ‘em up!”

“We’ll be right behind you, Blue Leader,” Summer cheered.

“Blue, watch that ISD, stagger your attack runs with mutual support.” Jalb cautioned.

“And the TIEs?” Blue Four said nervously.

10 of Yellow Squadron’s A-Wings formed up in a wedge in front of the two Blue Squadron trios. “Yellow Squadron will clear the way,” Syntax said.

“Two Flight, let’s pave the road!” Lock whooped.

“Three Flight, full boost!” Knight reported.

Wolf waggled his A-Wing. “Four Flight, close it up. We’re going in full throttle,” he said with conviction.

“Rogues, follow them in and take targets of opportunity,” Jalb said with a smile evident in his voice. “Two, Eight, on me.”

“Rogue Six,” Kid chimed in. “I’ve got Five and Seven locked and loaded.”

The remainder of Renegade Wing’s fighters formed up for the first time in a long time. The sight of it on Bulldog’s sensor screen gave him an electric chill. He was amped up, and feeling like they could take on the entire Empire by themselves. Despite the hairy situation they were all embroiled in, they were back under Jalb’s control, and it made him feel like they were all invincible. The feeling was quickly dashed as the first death cry reached his ears after Yellow Squadron’s A-Wings burst forth and plowed through the teeth of the Imperial fighter screen with their laser cannons blazing.

“We lost Twelve!” Wolf shouted. “I’ve got three TIEs on my tail!”

“Coming around, Ten!” Gremlin replied. “Hold tight!”

“Break by flights and pursue!” Syntax ordered.

After the initial head to head, multiple duels broke out amongst the A-Wings and the TIEs in the fighter screen. The headlong charge of Yellow Squadron accomplished its mission, though, and the path was cleared for Blue Squadron’s lumbering bombers to slip past unharassed.

“Five, Six, and Seven, help Yellow Squadron with these TIEs!” Jalb ordered. “Two, Eight, follow the Blues!”

“Roger, Renegade Leader,” came the simultaneous replies from Kid, Krayt, and Jasted as three X-Wings broke off of their attack run and jumped into the furball, picking off multiple TIEs from the tails of a few A-Wings.

“Two, Four,” Dobber’s voice broke in. “Let’s charge in first to draw some of that Star Destroyer’s fire! Five, Seven, Nine, and Twelve- you guys go blast that Frigate!”

“Roger, Blue Leader,” they all replied in unison.

Bulldog watched as Dobber, Summer, and their last recruit altered their courses slightly to move closer to the Star Destroyer, drawing heavy fire as they approached. Summer and Dobber’s B-Wings shrugged off a hit each from the heavy cannons, but Blue Four’s Y-Wing disintegrated under the combined might of two turbolaser batteries. He didn’t have a chance to scream. Bulldog hoped it was fast enough that he didn’t feel any pain.

“They drew the fire, let’s slip in and break that thing apart!” Animal said determinedly. “Twelve, hang back a bit and let us bust this thing up. Pop your torps into any power fluxes you see!”

“Roger, Five,” Bulldog replied as he chopped his throttle down. The other bombers sped ahead. The three B-Wings activated their gyros and started pounding the target with Goliath Missiles. The shields held initially under the overwhelming assault, but eventually they began to break apart, allowing numerous missiles to break through and start tearing apart the hull plating and laser batteries. The return fire from the frigate was ferocious at first, but after the rockets broke through the shields, it was less effective. Rev, Animal, and Mighty’s B-Wings shrugged off the fire easily as they finished their runs, and blasted away at the exposed bridge with their lasers as they flew past the neck of the target.

“Shields are down!” Rev reported.

“Bridge is gone too!” Mighty cheered.

Bulldog lost himself for a moment, and in that moment the three Rogue X-Wings caught up with and passed him as they made their runs. Jalb and his two recruits charged in and let all of their rockets loose. The spread of warheads bored larger holes into the increasingly defenseless frigate. Bulldog pumped his fist in elation at the added damage, and then remembered he was supposed to be participating in the attack.

Return fire from the frigate was almost nonexistent at this point, but a few coordinated blasts forced the Rogue flight to break off high. As they did so, a tight grouping of shots slammed into Rogue Eight’s fighter, overwhelming his shields and shattering the ship from nose to stern. His S-Foils pinwheeled off in different directions while the attached engines continued to fire their last bit of fuel. When the fuel was expended, the engines went dark and the wings continued to fly off on their last trajectory.

“We lost Eight!” Nexu shouted.

“Watch that Impstar! It’s almost right on top of the target!” Jalb cautioned.

“Finish the target, Twelve!” Dobber ordered.

Bulldog gathered his wits and slammed his throttle down. His Y-Wing lurched forward, slamming him into his seat. Through his speed-blurred vision, he saw multiple weak points had formed all over the hull of the almost destroyed frigate. Blue geysers of electrical sparks and flames speckled the hull of the target, giving him multiple bullseyes to hit on his run. He was out of proton bombs, but still had a full magazine of proton torpedoes to unleash. What he didn’t have was time to target each one before he got too close to the target.

R2-W8 warbled in alarm, quickly followed by turbolaser fire passing by their Y-Wing on all sides.

“Right, no straight lines,” Bulldog huffed, shocked that he was still alive after making a rookie mistake like that. He threw his lumbering bomber into a seemingly random series of jinks and rolls to confuse the targeting fire from the star destroyer that had closed in to almost point-blank range in an attempt to shield the stricken frigate. While he juked around, he swapped his firing control to torpedoes and started eyeballing the firing solution as he charged in. He didn’t have time to get an actual lock due to the covering fire the Imperial Star Destroyer was throwing in his direction, so he had no way to ensure an accurate killing blow.

After what seemed like an eternity, he had spent his magazine of warheads. The first three missed, having been pulled off course by his wild maneuvers, but the next two landed close enough to exposed power fluxes that they caused large pieces of the surrounding hull on the main body to be propelled away from the ship in a cloud of fire and shrapnel.

“He got it!” Mighty shouted triumphantly.

“Negative,” Dobber replied. “Looks like it’s just surface damage.”

Bulldog frowned as he continued to look at the target while maneuvering evasively. Despite the massive visual damage the two torpedoes had produced, the frigate was still more or less in one piece. The next two warheads missed, leaving only one remaining torpedo still barrelling in. He gritted his teeth as he watched the painfully slow progress of his last offensive weapon blundered on aimlessly. “Get there! Get there!” He said aloud to nobody in particular.

“Watch yourself, Twelve!” Rev shouted. “You’re getting too close!”

At that instant, his last torpedo drilled the neck of the frigate where a power flux was visible. The ensuing eruption snapped the frigate in two, separating the engines from the bulk of the ship.

“That got it!” Animal cheered. “Good kill, Twelve!”

“We gotta make sure that payload gets destroyed,” Jalb said, raining on the celebration.

“Anybody got any warheads left?”

“I’ll finish the job,” Bulldog said, a cold calm flowing through him as he realized what he needed to do. The hangar was still facing him despite the lazy tumble of that half of the ship. He aimed his nose directly at it and started unloading his laser and ion cannons into the unshielded opening. He held down the trigger and roared as he barreled straight in, ignoring the turbolaser fire from the star destroyer that was tracking in on his ship. He released the trigger after a moment to allow his laser energy to recharge, making sure to flip his ELS selector to max out his laser energy for added punch.

“Everybody, draw fire to keep Blue Twelve covered!” Jalb shouted as his X-Wing swooped in and started trying to draw fire. B-Wings, X-Wings, and A-Wings followed suit, attempting to confuse the targeting computers on the Imperial ship.

It worked. A few near misses and glancing blows drained the shields of the Renegade Wing fighters, but nobody was killed or seriously damaged.

Bulldog took advantage of the reprieve and refocused his efforts on the vital task at hand. His laserbank indicators were burning bright red, indicating a full overcharge ready to be unleashed. He was close enough now that he could see individual crates lining the far wall of the frigate’s hangar bay and more dotting the floor in various locations. He lined up his shot, and spooled up his rotary cannons. After the longest two seconds of his life up to this point, they started spitting overcharged coherent light into the hangar bay. He ruddered his craft to track the stream of fire from left to right, hitting every crate he could see. They exploded violently when struck, causing the rest of the ship to erupt from the inside out.

“Pull out, Twelve!” Animal shouted.

Unfortunately, Bulldog had fixated on his target so heavily that he had lost all kinds of situational awareness regarding his proximity to the target. His astromech wailed, bringing him back to reality that he wouldn’t be able to avoid the coming conflagration he’d caused. His hands locked up and a feeling of vertigo completely numbed his senses, starting like butterflies in his stomach and radiating out to the tips of his fingers and toes. His vision tunneled as his Y-Wing charged into the exploding hangar bay. His sense of hearing diminished, as if he was hearing things exploding from a seashell held up to his ear. He felt his back end pucker up and his glutes clenched together tight enough to turn a lump of coal into a diamond. There was no pulling out of this attack run for him.

While his brain locked up, his training and reflexes took over. Time slowed down, and he could see the individual panels on the back wall of the hangar bay start to blast apart. A gap formed, but it didn’t look like it would be large enough to admit the wide profile of his wishbone-shaped fighter. More deep fissures appeared in the floor as the crates that had been sitting out in the open had cratered the area around them. However, as he gently touched the rudder to avoid a derelict shuttle in the hangar bay, the roof of the hangar bay appeared to jump away from the rest of the ship. He slowly inched closer to his death while the newly formed gap grew. He thought he could see the black of open space through the gap, but the constant eruption of new explosions clouded the other side of the opening.

He ruddered the other direction to avoid what appeared to be a piece of heavy lifting machinery that was flung in his previous path from a new explosion below the deck plates. The slightest delay caused by the maneuver allowed the gap from the now severed upper decks of the frigate and the hangar bay level grew yet again as another large explosion rocked the ship from somewhere deep in the interior. Bulldog felt his arms gently pull back on the stick. It felt as if he were a puppet, and some other being was in control of his limbs while he was just along for the ride. The gap continued to grow, possibly large enough to admit his Y-Wing through with millimeters to spare on both the top and bottom. He had no other option at this point, and the other being in control of his limbs seemed to concur as it made no more deviations from the course it had laid out for them both.

Bulldog wrenched his eyes closed and let go of the stick with all but one fingertip. His left hand did the same with the throttle lever. He braced for impact.

Through all of the shrapnel and geysers of flame, a scorched Y-Wing rocketed out of the tiniest gap in the ship. Immediately afterward, large sections of hull flew outward in all directions, with two massive chunks colliding with the nearby star destroyer, wreaking havoc with their shields and ventral hull.

“Now THAT’S a kill!” Mighty whooped.

“Bulldog?! Are you alright?”

Kill confirmed appeared on Bulldog’s heads-up display in blood-red lettering; a celebratory message from his astromech. It released what Bulldog thought might be a series of relieved exhales in binary.

Bulldog gasped and began hyperventilating. He had been involuntarily holding his breath the entire run.

“Blue Twelve? Are you still with us?” Dobber’s voice called out.

***

[ Kid’s X-Wing ]

Another TIE burst into flames but it didn’t make Kid feel any better. They seemed endless, wave after wave, chasing after Mercy Two. It was so close now to the Regis and its precious bacta tanks. Green flash, red fire, screaming TIE. One after another he moved between them, a ferocious guardian angel protecting the fading Fyri. It wasn’t going to go like Endor, this time she was going to survive and he was going to buy her a drink after. They’d laugh and cheer and try to not think too hard about how close it had been.

“You’ll regret that,” Shen’ryu warned over open comms.

The Regis winked out of existence, escaping to hyperspace, and Kid felt the universe shatter. Mercy two came across the comms, “What the frak! We have injured, where have they gone?!”

“Get back to Mukani, Mercy two,” Jalb sounded both furious and exhausted. “She’ll make it.”

She’s gonna make it. I know she’s gonna make it. Kid followed the U-Wing into hyperspace, unable to let Fyri go there alone.

Somebody was going to pay. He knew that much was true. Somebody was going to pay.

***

[ Lock’s A-Wing ]

"Blue Twelve!" Dobber repeated, louder.

"Ah!" Bulldog's voice came over the comms. "I'm here... I'm alive!"

"Then get your butt moving--the Regis just left without us!"

And wasn't that the truth. In part, Lock found it difficult to believe, but then again they were talking about General Shen'ryu, and when it came to him Lock could believe almost anything. It wasn't as if he had the luxury right now to debate it--he had a squint on his tail.

Pulling hard on his stick, Lock forced the A-Wing into a tight loop but his assailant pursued him relentlessly.

"Could use... a little... help!" he managed to say.

"On my way," Dragon answered. "Engaging,"

Red bolts now accompanied the green ones flying past him--luckily most struck their target, bagging Dragon another kill and Lock another chance at getting killed. Just to be safe he brought his fight around and into formation with Dragon. "Thanks, Five. Where you at, Four?"

"Dancing... dancing... care to... join?"

"Don't mind if I do," Lock answered and flew off in Junior's direction once he had a target. Dragon followed close by. A few moments later they had cleared Junior and were heading back towards the thickest part of the dogfight.

"Alright, Renegades," Jalb's voice came over the comm. "Let's get out of here. Yellow Squadron, punch a hole. Blue, follow them. Rogue, we're covering the rear."

"You heard him," Syntax's voice followed up.

"Copy that," Lock answered.

"Whoa!" Gremlin's voice came through the comms. "Watch out for that VSD, looks like some of the crew stayed behind to mind the guns!"

"Kriff! One of those turbolasers are still operational, ey? Of course, it singed my tail!" Armpit replied after a narrow miss. From his cockpit Lock had seen it; an enormous green bolt has grazed his starboard engine. From here, the corellian could see some sparks coming from it.

"We've got a flight of Fighters coming in from three o'clock," Wolf announced.

"Two Flight, they’re yours. Everyone else, get to the hyperspace point," Syntax ordered.

"Copy, Lead," Lock answered. "Two Flight, on me."

The three A-Wings broke off from the rest to face the oncoming TIE Fighters. There was only three, an easy match for the three experienced pilots, even if one was technically still a Cadet. Within minutes they had each scored one more kill and were returning to the rest of the Squadron. They could see that Blue was just about to reach their hyperspace point with Rogue coming in close behind, TIEs on their heels.

"Renegades, Punch It !" Jalb ordered.

For many years that had been Lock's call and a part of him refused to leave the battle field until everyone else had. "Follow your orders," he reminded himself. "You're no longer Red Leader."

Blue was first to go. They waited until Bulldog, in his damaged Y-Wing made the jump before going themselves. Then it was Yellow Squadron's turn. Flights One, Three, and Four hypered out together, since Two was still returning from its little mop up. Sadly, it meant they got a perfect view of how, when spooling the hyperdrive, the enormous damaged engines on Armpit's A-Wing exploded, just as everyone else disappeared.

"No! Oh kriff me! Frakking Armpit, what the KRAFF!" Junior yelled. From the sound of it he was hitting everything he could in his cockpit. Dangerous!

"Get it together, Four!" Lock barked at him. "Fall into formation! Hyperspace on my mark! Three... two... one.... mark!"

***

[ Bridge of the ISD Conviction ]

"What about that hyperdrive, Lieutenant?" Barand shouted. He was fuming as he watched through the viewport how the final X-Wings jumped to hyperspace. "I want to follow these traitors back to their base and punish them for having dared to ever cross my path!"

"Engineering reports that hyperdrive is still offline," she answered, turning towards him. "They report that they're going to need at least twelve hours to get it back online..."

"Twelve hours!" he turned to her. "Twelve kriffing hours...!" He stared at her as if he were about to say something else but managed to get himself under control. He breathed in and out, "Move the Conviction into position to dock with the shipyard. I want double patrols at all times until I say otherwise. I will be in my office, inform me when you have good news."

"Yes, sir," Oshi answered and watched him walk off towards his ready room and office.

They had... won? Was it a draw? Oshi wasn't sure. She was glad that she was still alive, but a sick feeling remained. Zing was gone. He was never coming back. All she could do was honor his sacrifice and continue to fight for the cause he died for. Or at least that's what Oshi was going to tell herself.

It was the only way to keep going.

***

Chapter XIX

[ Tattoo’s U-Wing; Mukani System ]

Mercy Two slammed out of hyperspace and before anyone on the Regis could respond it screamed into the hangar bay. Beside it, Kid’s X-Wing landed, Tony throwing himself out of the cockpit and sprinting towards where Tattoo was running Fyri on a stretcher to the medical wing. It had taken an hour in hyperspace and in that time Fyri had gotten weaker. Catching up on her Kid looked down, her face was ghostly pale and her cheeks looked sallow.

“I...I don’t want….Tony…”

“Hold on Kid, alright? You’re nearly there. Just hold on.”

Her grip on his hand was weakening and he felt rage fill him. “I just...I wanted...fear me...see how they like it.” She was struggling to breathe now, her hands shaking. “Become a god….I don’t want….don’t let me die...I don’t want…..”

They burst into the medical room, a flurry of activity as doctors and nurses swarmed over her. Tony was separated, as they worked. The bacta tank was ready, the warm blue glow welcoming. But suddenly everything came to a stop and he felt the room go cold.

“Time is...15:32.” They stepped back except one nurse, who gently pulled the sheet over Fyri’s head.

“What are you people doing?!” Tony didn’t recognise the scream of fury as his own. He barged past where they all stood, limp and useless. Dragging Fyri from the stretcher he tried to pull her up, towards the bacta tank opening. She felt so heavy, how could such a small woman feel so heavy? She was so small. Just a kid really.

His boot slipped in the blood and he fell forwards heavily, Fyri still limp in his arms. He struggled for purchase to stand and was suddenly face to face with Fyri. “Why won’t you help me?! PICK HER UP!”

But it was no use. When he looked at her, even he knew. She was gone.

They stayed on the floor a while, he hugged her tightly, before a gentle hand slowly uncurled his arms.

“She’s just a kid.”

***

[ Jalb’s X-Wing ]

Starlines shrank. The blue corruscation was gone and the globe of Mukani hung in space in front of him and between he and Mukani sat the Regis. Jalb dropped his head and took several shuddering breaths. His astromech warbled inquisitively and Jalb glanced at the screen.

‘Are you operational? Yellow trying to contact’ He looked at his comm panel and noticed the flashing indicators… he also felt the wetness on his cheeks, he hadn’t even realised there were tears. He took another long breath and opened the frequency.

“I say again, Destrier Lead, this Yellow Lead.”

“Destrier copies, stand by…” he looked at his sensors and brought up friendly targeting. 12 missing craft and only one confirmed SAR recovery, a full third of their force. The deep melancholy he was feeling soon turned to frustration and boiled over into unbridled fury.

“Seven, take the remainder of the Wing dirtside, get the hotwash over and done with and brief me when I get down.“

“Acknowledged Lead…” Krayt responded. He keyed a private channel to Jalb. “Where are you going Boss?”

“I’ll be debriefing with ‘The General’,” he responded with venom.

“Is that a good idea?”

“Probably not, but my inaction has just killed a dozen kids… no more.”

“This isn’t on you, this isn’t on any of us Chris,” Krayt replied placatingly.

“I was complacent and complicit… I allowed this to happen… Lead out.” He closed the private channel and opened Squadron. “Five, you’re with me, track for short finals on Regis starboard hanger.”

***

[ Bridge of FRG Regis ]

General Thram Shen’ryu was fuming. How could my brilliant plan have failed! The commandos… and those Fighter jocks. If they had done their jobs they would be back here with the Confession under my control. He heard a muted conversation behind him and he was mentioned. He turned to see Captain Daly straightening from giving his ear to one of the ensigns.

“Sir, flight deck reports Corona Lead has embarked and requested to have a word with you.”

“Absolutely Captain, send that incompetent peacock up to the bridge now!” Shen’ryu growled.

“Ahh, may I offer my Ready Room for this conversation Sir?” Gideon Daly offered politely.

“You may not!” the General all but spat. “I want every being here to witness what happens to incompetence in this ‘New’ Republic!”

“As you say, Sir,” Daly said with a nod and backed away.

In the several minutes Jalb had had since talking to Krayt, landing and entering the lift to the Bridge he’d calmed down somewhat. He knew what he had to say was going to fall on mostly deaf ears but he had to say it. He wouldn’t sugar coat it, and when Shenr’yu tries to take it higher, which he will, he’ll happily comply with the investigation, as would his senior officers. The lift pinged arrival and Jalb, with Jasted on his left, stepped out and came to attention.

“Permission to enter the Bridge Captain?” Jalb asked, eyes on Captain Daly. Gideon opened his mouth to respond but was cut off by an enraged Shen’ryu.

“You can’t help yourself, can you Reynolds!?! First you sabotage the mission then openly disrespect me!” Jalb was taken aback at the attack and looked from his verbal assailant back to the Captain of the Regis, who appeared as perplexed, and back at Shen’ryu.

“This is MY bridge! Whilst I am onboard and in command it is me to whom you address your request! Just another of your insubordinate actions and indication of your incompetence! I will see you at Courts Martial…” Just then the lift pinged again and a haggard looking Captain Tony ‘Kid’ Marco stepped out. His hands and forearms were covered in drying blood, as was the front of his flightsuit. He took a moment looking around to get his bearings then caught sight of General Shen’ryu and leapt forward.

“You bastard!” he half snarled, half sobbed. “She’s dead, all of them, they’re dead because of you!” Jalb turned and sidestepped in front of Kid and held him back, barely, with his hands on his shoulders.

“Captain Marco,” Jalb said, looking into Tony’s eyes… “Tony!” Kid stopped resisting and focused back on his CO, immediately sagging. “Not now mate, not now” Jalb turned his head to Jasted and beckoned him over. “Tony, go with Nick, get back on Mukani, leave this with me… Copy?”

Kid got himself together and stood straighter, eyeing the General over Jalb’s shoulder with murderous intent, but he relented and put his eyes back on Jalb. “Make him pay Boss, don’t let him get away with this… Boss?” Jalb nodded slowly.

“I’ve got this, now go.” Both pilots nodded and about faced. Jalb watched them until they entered the lift and the doors shut. He turned to face Shen'ryu who was standing there with a look of triumph on his face.

“A perfect example of poor leadership!” He crowed, which had near every person on the bridge look at him with disbelief. They knew what they’d seen and the poor leadership was not coming from the human. “Insubordinate incompetence breeds insubordinate incompetence!” Reynolds took a couple of paces towards the Bothan and stopped, hands behind his back properly at ease and stood, grinding his teeth. “Something to say Reynolds?”

“Not for this forum, no… Sir. Perhaps if we move this discussion off the Bridge?”

“Oh no Reynolds, you’re not going to dodge this public humiliation! You failed! You, and your pilots, incompetents! Had you trained those cadets better they’d be with us now, and I’d have the Confession in my control!”

“How dare you!” Chris snarled, feeling the colour of rage suffuse his face.

“How Dare I? Don’t even think to shirk this! You have undermined me from the start, you disobeyed direct orders, sabotaged the mission with your insubordination and got your pilots killed.”

Jalb’s rage turned to cool fury. “And what of the Marines, Sir?” He asked calmly.

“Had they been better soldiers they would have won the day, regardless, but your U-Wing was too slow to get them onboard and gave the Imperials ample time to prepare a defence and had you followed my orders and boarded that ship, you may have saved the remainder.”

Jalb looked at him in astonishment. “What!?! You heard that code Zulu as well as I did, Sir. There were no survivors. Your plan... “ Jalb tried explaining, but Shenr’yu interrupted him.

“My plan was perfect! Had you all followed orders it would have been a fait accompli, but you had to be your arrogant self, and your arrogance got a lot of people killed.” Jalb stared daggers at Shen'ryu and balled his fists by his sides. The General took note and gave Jalb a dismissive look up and down.

What, Reynolds? Are you about to offer violence again? You were lucky we were interrupted last time, besides I can’t see you wanting to belittle yourself in front of all these people. Be my guest but you won’t, for the same reason you wouldn’t follow my orders… You, and all your pilots, you’re cowards and crave…”

Jalb didn’t let him finish; he took two big steps, ending left foot forward in a half lunge, he dropped his right shoulder… then unleashed a mighty uppercut; the impact would have been heard on Mukani! As his fist connected he drove up, straightening his right leg which lifted the Bothan General a full half metre off the ground. The General’s eyes were glazed before he started the downward journey, which was fortunately slowed by an ensign who was in the right place at the right time, and lowered the semi conscious Shen'ryu to the ground.

Jalb stood over him and roared. “Get up!” but there was no response.

Looking around, he spotted a water bottle at a sensor station and strode over and grabbed it. He turned back to the out of it commander and poured water over his face and head. There was a cough and a splutter from the deck… “Wha.. what the?!?”

“I said get up! Get up so this time I can properly knock your fracking head clear off your shoulders!” Jalb menacingly stood over him, fists clenched in anticipation.

Everyone on the bridge was still in shock, arguably as stunned as the General was by the ferocity of the punch. No one had moved, until Shen’ryu bleated, “You all saw that! He attacked me… Guards! Guards!”

Two Marines came forward with their hands on their side arms, they looked apologetically at Jalb as they reached for him. Jalb stepped back from the General with his hands up.

“You brought this upon yourself,” Jalb said with cool resignation.

Shen'ryu brought himself to a sitting position and whined from the floor, “Take him away! Take him to the Brig!! Get him off my Bridge! I’ll have you executed… Executed for treason!”

The noise died off as Jalb walked towards the lift, and incarceration, with his Marine escorts.

***

...to be continued.... *************************************************************************************