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First Command- Part 2
By: Hyp, Guardian, Paladin, Raven, Groznik, Arakyd, Animal, and Slicer

Part Five -- The Swordsman

The colors of hyperspace swirled around outside the viewport. Peace, I thought. The only place untouched by the Empire, and never to be touched by it as well. One day, the Empire will be gone, and the galaxy will become as peaceful as hyperspace. But no peace for me, not yet. Trained to be a "protector" of a people forced to flee their own planet, I was now taking a new calling. I was joining the Rebel Alliance as a starfighter pilot. One day, the Empire will pay... one day...

"Reversion to realspace in five minutes," called the pilot of the Lambda-class shuttle, breaking me out of my reverie. "All passengers, please strap in."

I began to work at the harness on my seat, while the others aboard did the same. I looked around myself at the passengers around the shuttle. A few appeared to be pilots, and several looked like general ratings for the Liberty, all ready to fight, and possibly give their lives for the freedom of the galaxy. Some of them looked green, new to the fight, but as determined as even the most seasoned of pilots. One or two, by the look in their eyes, I knew had gone through much more than I could possibly hope to understand.

I had passed the time with several of the passengers and found that two were also transferring to the Liberty as new pilots of Buccaneer. One fellow, who went by the callsign Greywolf, wore medic pips on his collar. It never hurt to have some medicos in a squadron. The other was an auburn haired female named Aradia that was quite striking in appearance, but unfortunately did not have much to say.

By the time we were all strapped in, the pilot spoke again, "Reversion to realspace in five... four... three... two... reverting to realspace, now."

The colors of hyperspace immediately turned to starlines, then to dots of light as the shuttle reverted back to realspace. What I saw in front of the shuttle was an awe-inspiring sight: the Mon Calamari Cruiser Liberty almost filled the viewport, lit up by the light of a nearby binary star system. A perfect graft between organic aesthetics and military might. On Lomabi, we never really had a true capship of this class, settling instead for fighters and ground-based weapons for defense.

The Liberty was home of the legendary Rogue Squadron, as well as her sister squadrons, Corsair and Buccaneer. The pilots among them were some of the best the Alliance had to offer. Maybe this is the place where I will be able to stay and call home for the rest of my fighting days.

The shuttle slowly entered the landing bay. When it touched down, I unstrapped and stretched to ease my muscles. I got up and reached for my small bag of the memories from home, not much, but all I really needed. I slung my sword on my shoulder, which got me more than a few strange looks from my fellow passengers.

When all of us stepped off the shuttle ramp, we were greeted by the quartermaster of the Liberty. He seemed all spit and polish, and from the way he was ordering around the tech crews, he made an Imperial drill sergeant look downright fatherly. He first directed the new Corsairs to a Lieutenant called Stryker, the new executive officer of Corsair. Then he turned to the three of us.

"Flight Officers Rollins, Emerson, and Hasegawa..." he called. We three were joining Buccaneer, and directed us to a records droid of some kind called Erratic.

Erratic sure was a depressing droid, always complaining of something. Instead of taking us to the squad office, he led us to someplace totally unpronounceable in Calamari but simply called the "Lounge" in Basic.

As we followed him through the corridors of the Liberty, I noticed that it was not like any ship I'd ever been on before. There seemed to be a limitless number of twists and turns, nothing ran in a straight line. How anyone avoided getting lost in a ship like this was beyond me. To make navigation even worse, the lights were so dim, I almost ran into the walls a couple of times before my vision finally adjusted.

The Lounge, which turned out to be a bar and gaming area, was even darker than the rest of the ship. It was a wonder how anyone could find the place comforting. I scanned the room and tried to follow the droid and the other pilots in the darkness. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye I saw something dark move across the ceiling. I felt more than saw it moving to my left and coming towards me. I dropped into a forward roll and came up with my sword in my hands. Drawing the weapon from its scabbard activated it and I could feel the slight vibration of it in my hands. I wound up standing in a fighting crouch in front of a table where sat a Captain in an orange flight suit, my sword in a two handed grip. The droid and other two pilots were standing nearby and all were looking at me like I'd just lost my mind — they did not seem sure whether to laugh or call security. I looked around and could see nothing of whatever it was that had caused me to jump. I couldn't shake an image of large curved claws, and I had the feeling that I was being laughed at by more than my shuttle companions.

"Saw that, did you?" the Captain at the table said. "That Rory is a sneaky one. You're very perceptive, Flight Officer..." he glanced at a datapad the droid handed him and took a sip from a very large glass of amber liquid. "Flight Officer Hasegawa. Paladin they call you, huh? Very fitting."

This was how we met our new Commanding Officer, Captain Jim "Raven" Lee, who was a most interesting and colorful individual.

Settling in was harder than I'd thought it would have been. I'm still not used to the dark on board. The simulation scenarios that our Executive Officer, Guardian, had us flying were extremely hard. The shadow that had stalked me in the Lounge that first day was the Rogue squadron talisman or mascot; a very ferocious creature called a Gundark.

About a month later a fellow Lomabian transferred into the squadron, and I had someone to practice my blade skills with. Valkyrie was nearly as good as myself in the traditional fighting style, and he had picked up some very interesting two-hand techniques in his travels since the Empire overran our homeworld.

All in all this proves to be a very interesting group of pilots I've fallen in with.


Part Six -- The Femme Fatale

The B-wing fighter bounced mightily under a barrage of fire coming from behind. The scanners blinked, knocked off line. A mechanical whimper sounded behind the cockpit, followed by the spine-tingling crunching of a concussion missile pummeling a thruster control jet into slag.

"Get me those scanners back, right now!" Tonto was working at 72% efficiency today after a particularly heated exchange with a power generator last night. Should've left him in maintenance, and taken a stock astromech. Loyalty wins out again. Even though I'd sliced enough of the systems of a B-wing to carry the "consciousness" of my favored astromech into battle, even that extremely efficient mechanical brain needed a rest now and then.

"Shields have priority, Aradia, but if you wish..." Tonto's vox decoder gave away a hint of disappointment.

"Never mind...keep at it."

I shunted all power to the engines, trying to get a boost out of the lumbering craft, then slapped the left control panel to stop that annoying alarm from ringing in my ears. I already knew I was in deep trouble. Didn't need to be deafened at the same time. The TIE Advanced behind me was locking in for yet another missile strike, and I slammed the ship hard to port, in an attempt to circle around.

"Shields back online, Aradia," Tonto sounded a little more hopeful, but he was not entirely convincing. I transferred all laser power into the shields for a short burst, and flicked the toggle to aft position. The T/A was stalking like a vornskyr, not giving an inch of breathing room. I got tone from his missile lock, and repeated a vulgar trademark slogan appropriate to the situation.

"Way too close for me to pull out of this one," I muttered, reaching for the eject lever. But I was too late, as my B-wing disintegrated around me.

I was nearly blinded by the lights of the training center as I opened the cockpit of the darkened simulator. I took a moment to adjust my eyes, only to see the solemn figure of Captain Jim "Raven" Lee leaning against the control panel, datapad in hand. He did not look pleased.

"Logic would dictate that one should eject in that situation." No, Raven was not at all pleased.

"Yes, sir. I thought I could pull it out, though and waited too long." I removed the bulky flight helmet, shaking back my hair. I really should've bailed out way before that last hit.

"This isn't some video game, Slicer. You can't just put in another credit and start again once you lose a ship. These things go on record. You'd better start taking these simulations a little more seriously. And since you've somehow managed to find a way to slice your astromech's consciousness into the circuits of your B-wing, you should be even better than this."

I was at a loss for a suitable retort and I could feel my face redden, knowing he had hit the mark right on target. I managed to mutter a "Yes, sir", as he removed his hard gaze from me to his datapad. At least he gave me credit for my hack-job that allowed Tonto to join me in the cockpit of the non-astromech compatible frame of the B-wing.

"Your past scores indicate that you're a fair pilot. Your current simulation scores really aren't all that bad, either, ignoring what I've seen from you over the past three sessions. Would it be wise of me to assume that you're simply adjusting to your new home on the Liberty?" Raven looked down to me again, with a hint of a smile on his face. I couldn't decide if he was offering me an excuse out of an awkward situation, or simply testing me. I chose the latter. Raven didn't strike me as the kind of commander who let his pilots off the hook with lame excuses.

"No, sir. I've had little difficulty adjusting. The crew has been quite accommodating."

Raven crossed his arms, and raised his eyebrows. "So I've heard."

I wondered just what he meant by that remark. Our CO was one I had not figured out yet. He spent all his time drinking in the Lounge but never seemed to get tanked. He was never around unless, like now, you screwed up and then it turned out that he was standing front row center. And for someone who was never seemingly around, he seemed to know everything about what was going on in the squadron.

"Then what's the problem, Emerson?" he asked pointedly.

I shifted uncomfortably under his even gaze. I've never been one to break a sweat when cornered, but Raven could look at you like he saw right through you. When I had first arrived upon the CRS Liberty, I had expected the leader of Buccaneer Squadron to be a typical hard-assed military type, or a desk bound pencil pusher. They're usually one or the other. Raven was certainly anything but. I honestly didn't even know if the man had a desk. If he did, it was more likely to be filled with scotch bottles than paperwork.

We were interrupted by my squadmate, Flight Officer Brendan "Phrisco" Cohoe, emerging from the adjacent room. So Phrisco was the one flying that bright against me. I had to match his wide grin, for he certainly earned one.

"Well done, Phrisco," Raven acknowledged. "But I'd advise you to take a look at your film clip before the next round — frames 471 through 755 particularly. You'll be flying a Y-wing on the cooperative mission later this week."

"Thanks, sir," Phrisco removed his gloves and helmet, reaching over to shake my hand. "Nice sim, Slicer. You really gave me a good chase. Catch me at the Lounge later, and I'll treat you to a drink." He stepped out of the path of the swinging recovery arm, as Tonto was freed from his chamber.

"Thanks, Phrisco, but you deserve the freebies. I'm the one that got slagged, remember?" Phrisco threw me another boyish grin as he headed towards the film room.

"How do you think you'll fare on the cooperative mission, Slicer?" Raven hadn't finished making the roster for that upcoming simulation, and it was doubtful that he would even let me in on the action.

"I wouldn't be at all surprised if you assigned me to fly the transport, after that dismal showing." No need in showing false pride.

"You'll be lucky if I let you fly it, period." Raven looked down towards the deck plates, pensive, then back to me again. "I won't say that your sim was a total loss, because you showed some good maneuvers. But, listen, there is a lot more at stake here on the Liberty than meets the eye. Rumor in the Fleet has it that the rebuilt Buccaneer Squadron won't last past its first mission. Brass is betting that if it doesn't implode from internal shifts, it'll get blasted from the outside. Whether your problem is overconfidence, or lack of it, is something you'll have to settle for yourself. If you need help, ask. But I don't need any more head cases in the squadron than I've already got." He looked away for a moment, gritting his teeth. "I don't want you to 'think' you can pull it out. Either know you can or eject. Get your scores up. It could mean the lives of your squadmates someday. Oh, and your billet here on the Liberty is depending on it."

He left me standing there, unsure of which of the ten emotions I was feeling should be primary. As the training center door whizzed open, he turned back towards me. "Oh, and when you're done practicing, come down for a drink and a few hands of Sabacc. I have to win some cash back from Mike." Good, I thought. No hard feelings. But his invitation to Sabacc was a definite dig, considering that my horrid performance in the last sim was still better than my last game of cards. Mixer must be crabbing about Raven's tab again. I managed a smile in his direction, which he returned three-fold before exiting.

"Guess he told you," Tonto chirped a mild rebuke as we strolled towards the turbolift.

"Hush, Tonto, else you'll find yourself crunching numbers up in Accounting." At least I had one more sim scheduled tomorrow morning, giving me a chance at redemption. The roster for practice sessions was filled, so there was little chance of my getting any more rounds in before that. Checking my wrist-chrono, I noticed there was still some time to get over to the gym and then catch some snooze.

The scheduled physical training program was the brainchild of Buccaneer's Executive Officer, Adam "Guardian" Burns. His dedication to the physical well being of the pilots went far beyond flying missions. He believed that a healthy mind was impossible without sound physical health, and incorporated this theory into the program. I had always thought I was in decent physical shape, but I would still wake up nearly every morning with some new ache or pain attributed to Guardian's workouts. He claimed this would go away in a few short weeks, apparently with the help of massive infusions of Ithorian Green Tea. I noticed, however, that Raven never seemed to join us for the exertions.

Exiting the turbo-lift, I was quite surprised to find the gym nearly deserted. I checked my chrono again, to ensure that I was not late. No, actually I was early. "Where is everyone?" I asked, to empty air.

"My sensors pick up several life forms in the adjacent area," volunteered Tonto. Approaching the next room, I heard the telltale signs of one of Paladin's workout. The clanging of steel weapons rang throughout the center. I poked my head in, finding several of my squadmates watching Paladin and Valkyrie in a mock battle. I had spent several of my workout periods just watching these two, for the skill involved simply amazed me. Whenever Valkyrie closed in on Paladin with a flourishing flurry of swings, Paladian would parry them repeatedly. And vice-versa. These two would go at it for hours, each looking to best the other. I often failed to complete my own workout, due to watching them.

I managed to swap some sim time with Greywolf and cut short my workout. After a better showing in the sim that Phrisco had waxed me on, I felt better. I was approaching my quarters when Groznik stuck his furry head out of his room, located next door to mine. "Slicer, where you been the last few days? I haven't seen you at the Lounge..." his translator decoded. I showed him the flight helmet in my hands, smiling.

"Tell me Groz, how do you handle helmet hair?"

He grinned, and I had to stare at those pointy canines. "Yeah, I just came back from the sims myself," he howled softly. "They've really got Bucc going through the paces. Not to spoil anything, but Raven rigged a few surprises up in the sims while I was there."

I raised an eyebrow, contemplating this. "Surprises? I'm surprised when I survive the thing, period."

Groz whuffed a throaty laugh. "Raven's mantra is 'tough missions make tough pilots.' " Raven had that base covered, for sure. I retired to my quarters, with the Wookiees' words still echoing in my mind.

"Tonto, wake me up in six hours time. I don't want to be late." I pulled off my boots, and settled back onto the uncomfortable bunk, not even bothering to remove the flight suit. Trying to drift off to sleep, I couldn't help but think about the words Raven had spoken to me earlier. I had heard of the fate of the previous Buccaneer Squadron, and definitely shared my COs concern about the squad being decimated a second time. I certainly didn't have enough information to determine whether that prior disaster was the result of poor training or simply sheer bad luck. If the former Buccs were in the same program that I was struggling through, it couldn't have been because they were unprepared. The fight against the Adamant had cost the Buccaneer dearly.

The Adamant. Kendall. Just the name out loud was enough to give me shivers. I knew not only the name but the man it belonged to. When I was briefed on the First Flight mission, I made a quick search of the datanet and verified my suspicions. What in the world would make the Empire choose him as the commander of the Adamant?

When I escaped the slave ship Chupacabra, I took some solace in the knowledge that the Empire would surely demote Captain Kendall to deck officer, or worse. When I had heard that he was at the helm of an Imperial Frigate, I had nearly choked on my juri juice. Kendall was the same man who had murdered half a dozen helpless slaves before my eyes, savoring the sheer power of the act. The same man who summoned me to his quarters, as he had done to countless other female slaves, insisting upon total submission. I had spent nearly a month in the infirmary and a year in the brig after that visit--his stormtroopers had to physically take me from the room, for I nearly murdered him with my bare hands. I believe he still bore a scar from that visit.

I never got the six hours of sleep I desperately needed, between dwelling on Raven's words, trying to isolate the probable causes of my recent lack of success, and thinking about Kendall. Tonto was little help to me, for his recorded flight data contained nothing but proof of some seriously stupid maneuvers, making me all the more miserable. Arriving back at the training center, the others present were politely oblivious to my foul mood. Several members of Buccaneer Squadron were present, taking their turns, and being evaluated by Guardian, our XO.

As Tonto was being fed into his socket, I was approached by Guardian, who regarded me with a concerned gaze. "Everything okay, Slicer? You look a little tense. You should really cut back on those stim drinks." Oh, but a stim drink would've hit the spot all right.

"Just having a little problem with scoring, that's all," I said.

Guardian looked around at the other pilots preparing for their sims, then nodded, lowering his voice. "So I've noticed. Anything I can do to help?" I gave him my most stunning smile, for I was hoping he'd ask.

"You could volunteer to be my wingman for the sim..."

Guardian responded with a quiet laugh, shaking his head. "Sorry, but you have to stick with the AI guys for this one." Knowing I'd have a useless artificial wingman didn't help my mood one damn bit.

"Can I be a little blunt, concerning your scoring?" Guardian pulled a datapad out of his flight suit pocket, calling up the relevant information. "Seems your scores were just fine until three recorded sessions ago, and that would put it, oh..." he paused for a moment, thinking back. "About 7 days ago. Wasn't that about the same time you came down ill? If I recall, you had to leave the Lounge on rather short notice that evening. But you were quite fine the next day."

I thought back... that was the night was when Raven and Electro offered the new recruits the story of the Alliance versus the Adamant on Corsair's first flight.

"Is that right?" he asked again. In the short time I had known him, Adam had struck me as abnormally observant. Making that connection was just too creepy for words.

"Uh, yes. That would be about right," I offered, avoiding his eyes.

He knew by my awkward silence that he was getting closer, so he pushed once more, quite gently. "I took the liberty of checking your records that evening. It appears that you have met the commander of the Adamant before."

I turned then, to meet his eyes. "Yes, we have met."

Guardian sighed, and nodded, offering me a courteous hand up into the simulator cockpit. "Maybe one day you'll tell me what happened. But until then remember this: You were lucky to escape him with your life. The last Bucc 8 was not so fortunate."

Guardian leaned over the cockpit, his voice a harsh whisper. "We're gonna go get him, Aradia. The best revenge you could ever exact upon him requires that you be here with us." He looked at me, his eyes a stony glare. "So do your job and kill some Imps." Guardian jumped down from the sim cockpit, and slapped the side of the simulator, smiling once again. "Light 'em up, Bucc 8."

I sat in the darkened cockpit for several moments, stunned into silence, preparing for battle. Tonto was chirping some silly fast food jingle in MIDI, ready to mix it up. Primary diagnostics put him at 89.4 % --a marked improvement from yesterday. Suddenly the cockpit lit up with starlines, marking the start of the exercise. Raven's reassuring voice filled my headset.

"Okay, Bucc 8, you've got a cover mission coming your way. There's a frigate out there that needs fragging, and you're to cover the Y-wing group assigned to the job with your B-wing. There are quite a few gunboats patrolling the area, along with the usual TIE squads. Good luck."

The star lines were replaced with an iconized map of the battle area. I counted three initial GUNs, and the frigate. I assumed that the frigate would be spitting the fighters out at me. My stomach churned a little, remembering Guardian's words. Just do your job, cover the others. That's all. Cake, right? Keep the TIEs off their sixes. Toss a few missiles here and there, give the Ys a hand. Draw fire from the frigate. What made me most nervous was knowing that instead of the usual stellar lineup of Buccaneers in the Y group, I would be stuck with the AI pilots. I had to keep an even keener eye on these auto-pilot ships, because they weren't particularly well suited to defending themselves.

The star lines faded into spots as the sim engaged. Powering up lasers, I drained power into shields, glad that the B-wings had a healthy rack on them. The Y squadron set up their formations as we approached the frigate. Light them up indeed, I thought...


Part Seven -- Setting Up Shop
Guardian and Raven

The B-wing dodged and weaved against the dark backdrop, trying to evade the jade blasts emanating from the pair of TIE Interceptors behind it. The B's maneuvers slowed as it took more and more hits; then the cockpit exploded, sending the pilot and the command couch sailing into the blackness of space. An instant later, the B-wing blossomed into an orange fireball.

The image froze on the wall screen, and Guardian sighed. "Well," he muttered, "she ejected this time." He took a minute to enter Slicer's score into a small datapad, then tossed the pad and the stylus on his desk and killed the screen with the remote. "God, I gotta get some sleep."

Sleep had been high on Adam's list of priorities for the last few days, but downtime had been scarce. Between trying to train and assimilate a squadron of relatively new pilots into the Alliance Navy and being kidnapped by pirates and hauled halfway across the sector to save a friend's life, he'd been relatively busy. And aside from some painkillers he hadn't been able to do anything for his black eye, which was slowly fading but still managed to remind him of the consequences of rash action in the face of overwhelming odds rather sharply.

And still he didn't have any time. One of the new pilots, Dan "Whisper" Crowley, had turned up positive in the physical for a small allergic reaction to Wookiee fur. They'd managed to get him started on immunizations for it, and, in time, they'd kill it, but by some sadistic twist of fate Whisper was assigned a sim pod that Groznik had just used in the training area. It hadn't been pretty--the young pilot had immediately broken into a painful-looking red rash and had a sneezing fit. He'd been moved into medical for 24 hours, and Guardian had promised to come check on him.

He grabbed a pile of datapads from the corner of his desk--requisition forms for necessities for the squadron; ordinance, training simulation programs, spare Y-wing parts, and a host of new R2 units. Things that needed a commanding officer's signature. Guardian doubted he'd get it. A gut feeling, really, but still...

The chime to his office sounded, and Adam straightened in his chair. "Come in!" he called, smoothing out the front of his jumpsuit. The door slid to the side, and Flight Officer Rafael "Hyl" Costa Guerra, Corsair 6, entered, datacard in hand. "Hey, Hyl," Guardian said smiling, "what's up?"

"Not much. I can't stay long. Corsair's got a full-squad sim in a few minutes, but I thought I'd run this up to you. Just came through on the Intel boards." Hyl had been training under the watchful eye of Liberty Intelligence chief C'our Denran. His memory capabilities sharpened by experience in human physiology, as well as his love for history, had made him a natural for Intel work and he often helped Denran out. Hyl tossed the datacard to Guardian, turned, and strode out, waving over his shoulder.

Guardian snatched the datacard deftly out of the air, waited for the door to close, and then popped it into the nearest data reader. His face tightened into a scowl as he scanned the readout. "Interesting..."

Guardian ducked into the Liberty's lounge and, without looking up from the datapad in front of him, crossed to the end of the bar. One man sat there alone, Buccaneer's CO, Jim "Raven" Lee. Guardian slid into the stool next to Raven and waited for his superior to notice him.

After a moment Raven looked up from the shot glass in front of him. He turned, noticed Adam, groaned, and finished his drink. "Am I interrupting something?" Guardian asked, a slight edge in his voice.

"Nothing that can't wait. What's up?"

"I need your signature on these. Standard stuff," Guardian said, handing the majority of the datapads to Raven. "Replenishment reqs, a new motivator for Slicer's Y-wing, a few of the new training programs, uniforms, nothing unusual." Raven glanced over the readouts and scribbled his signature on the pads using a data stylus. "Is that all?"

"No. Have you heard about Whisper?"

"Yeah, he's in sickbay with Wookiee-tosis, isn't he?" Raven turned back to the bar and motioned for Mixer to refill his glass.

"Yeah. Doc Banarj says he'll be out in less than a day, but I'm sure a visit from his CO would cheer him up. I left a note in your office about it, but I don't think a living creature has been in there since you took over the squad."

Raven smiled. "I was down there at 1400 hours, Lieutenant. His condition is improving and the prognosis is excellent. Cutter has started him on desensitizing injections and he should be Wookiee-proof by this time tomorrow."

Guardian was unimpressed. "Since you know your way around med-lab so well, when are you going to be taking your physical eval? I ordered them for the entire squadron. That includes you."

Raven turned fully back to Guardian. "Is that what this is about?"

"No, but it came up. Raven, Medical doesn't have an updated record of you. This is not something to kid around about. We almost lost Chris because of the same reason."

"I'm fine."

"I know that, you know that, but they have to know..."

"No. And that's final, Lieutenant." Raven got a pained look in his eyes, one that Guardian had seen a lot and was starting to worry him more than Raven's drinking. "Look Adam, if I have a problem, I'm handling it. I know you're concerned about my drinking, but it does not affect my performance so just drop it."

Guardian opened his mouth as if to speak, then thought better of it. There was something going on with his CO. Raven had taken the regular psych and physical checkups regularly while he was in Rogue. Then he had disappeared for a couple of months, and when he came back to the Liberty and took up the position of Corsair XO he'd stopped taking them. He'd tried to find out why, and also why Ra'kaat was looking the other way on this breach of ship's protocol. He got nowhere on either item. But it had something to do with Raven's disappearance and no one was talking about what happened. But there were rumors... well, that mystery would have to wait until another time. Guardian had something else on his mind and he flipped open his last datapad.

"What's that?" Raven asked, annoyed.

Guardian drifted his gaze up and around the Lounge. Groznik was the only other pilot at the bar, but he was down at the other end of the bar, watching what passed for fish in the huge aquarium... he should be all right. He handed the datapad to Raven. "Intel just got this. The Adamant's resurfaced."

Raven snorted and tossed the pad on the bartop. "Yeah, and? We're under orders not to go after the Adamant."

"We can nail this guy, Jim," Adam implored. "After the First Flight fiasco, the Adamant had to limp to Sluis Van. It got there just ahead of the raid staged by Green Squadron, and ran at the first sign of Outlaw's group. It disappeared for three weeks, and you know that the convoy Corsair tagged last week was carrying a replacement hyperdrive for the Adamant. Now, it ducks out of hiding, awaiting fighter resupply, at a civilian station. It's just sitting there!"

"No, Guardian, we can't."

"What's stopping us?"

"A direct order from the High Command, that's what."

"Since when have you been concerned with what the brass says? We can run it as a Black Op, nobody has to--"

"No!" Raven hissed. "I'm skating on thin ice as it is, Adam. A lot of the uppity-ups want to see Buccaneer go straight down the tubes, and I'm not going to let that happen. Do you understand? Under no circumstances are you to take any action to engage the Adamant. Is that clear?"

Guardian nodded, stood, saluted, turned on his heel and left, fuming. Raven watched his XO's back as he stormed out of the Lounge. "From little spores do mighty dragons grow," he muttered and smiled. Then he returned to his drink.


Part Eight -- The Plan
Guardian and Slicer

The chrono on Guardian's wrist shrilly sounded, awakening him from his thoughts. He eyed the digital readout, noticing the stiffness in his arm as he reached a hand up to rub his tired eyes. It surprised him that remnants of his war injury still hung with him, although lately only in times of severe exhaustion. He had been sitting here in his quarters aboard the CRS Liberty for nearly 12 hours, and his eyes were beginning to burn from pouring over what seemed like an infinite loop of archival data downloaded from the Alliance data library. But, his duty as XO of the reformed Buccaneer Squadron was now calling him back into reality. Time to check on the troops.

He carefully removed the data card from the terminal slot, and keyed in his command sequence to access the network log. He scanned the listing, checking for evidence of his long session. None. Good, the slicer sequence had worked properly. His search had yielded few results, however.

His legs sighed in relief as he threaded his way through the busy corridors of the massive cruiser towards the simulator room. He had been spending far too much time behind a data station lately, and was not proud of breaking his own orders regarding physical training. The door to the sim room slid open, and the techs looked up from their places behind the control panels. He regarded them with a polite nod, dismissing them back to their duties. Reading the schedule board, he found no Buccaneers present. He rolled his eyes, and exited the room quickly, knowing just where he could find his pilots.

Rooster welcomed him warmly to the busy Lounge, and it cheered him somewhat to see her friendly face. She was engaged in a lively conversation with Andy 'Predator' Furlan, Rogue 10, and Rafael 'Hyl' Costa Guerra, Corsair 6. Guardian was reluctant to ruin their evening with his sour mood despite their insistence that he join them. Besides, he had found who he was looking for. Arakyd sat at a far table, with the giant Wookiee Groznik towering next to him.

"There you are Guardian," Ryan "Arakyd" McClure offered his XO a seat next to him. "I've been trying to catch up with you off duty for two days now." He sounded a little annoyed, but Guardian guessed that it was not from his XO's lack of visibility.

"I've been working on squadron business." Better leave it at that. No need to delve into unnecessary details, lest he arouse suspicion. Groznik shifted his large form in his small chair, clearly uncomfortable, yet attempting to look casual.

Arakyd lowered his voice, making it difficult to hear him in the boisterous room. "We've got some business with you, as well. You've been holding out on us, Adam."

Guardian eyed him curiously, straining his senses to detect Ryan's meaning. "I'm not sure I like the sound of that. What, exactly, have I been holding?"

Groznik ruffed out two synthesized syllables. "The Adamant."

Guardian leaned back against his chair, just as Rooster appeared with a steaming cup of tea. "This one's on me, Guardian. Maybe plugging you full of free drinks will get you to come around here more often."

Guardian gave her his best charming smile. "Wild Banthas couldn't keep me away from you for very long, Roo. But running a squadron is a busy job." His eyes found the form of Raven sitting at the full Sabacc table at the opposite side of the room. "Running it single-handedly is even busier." The tension faded momentarily as Rooster laughed, and offered her condolences.

When Rooster left them again, Ryan leveled his eyes at the senior officer. "We know that Alliance Intelligence has a lead on the Adamant, and we'd like to know why nothing is being done." So that was what they were up to. Guardian sighed out loud, clearly pissed.

"You don't have clearance to be sifting through classified intelligence reports, Kyd. Neither do you, Groz," said Guardian as he turned his head to face the Wookiee. Groznik showed him a set of pointy teeth as he grinned back at Adam.

"We don't need Alliance reports," Groznik gruffed another laugh. "All I need to do is come to the Lounge. How could you and Raven miss seeing a 2 and a half meter high Wookiee sitting at the bar, during your argument a few days ago?"

Adam had seen him, but didn't think Wookiees could hear that well. He sighed, setting his cup down on the table. "How much did you hear?"

"Enough for us to know that Raven is content with letting the Adamant slip away from us again," Arakyd looked down towards the table. "I lost a lot of friends during that mission, Adam. My squadron was destroyed around me." The Imps had cornered the Rebels like a womp rat in a trap that day. "Groznik came to me, knowing how badly I wanted to even the score against the Adamant. We both want to right a few wrongs."

Adam could see painful words unsaid by Arakyd, knowing full well his anger. "I've gone as far as I can go with the subject, aside from pestering Admiral Ra'kaat. Regardless, Raven has already informed me that High Command has spoken on the subject. Our orders are to leave the Adamant alone."

"You're telling us old news, Guardian," muttered Groznik.

"Yeah," added Kyd. "Why don't you enlighten us with what you came up with while you've been hiding out. My guess is you've got something cooking in your quarters that certainly ain't Green Tea."

Guardian sighed again, looking again towards the Sabacc table that Buccaneer Leader called home. He couldn't understand how his CO could be so oblivious to the obvious. "We are under orders not to engage the Adamant. However," he added, almost casually, "I don't recall anyone ordering us to leave the commander of the Adamant alone." Groznik raised a furry brow, as Kyd looked on with interest.

"Then you have been holding out on us. What do you have planned?" Groz turned a knob on his translating unit, turning the volume down a notch.

"More importantly," Kyd added, "How can we help?"

Guardian smiled solemnly then looked around the crowded room casually. "Do you understand the possible repercussions of any action we take?"

"Guardian, why the hell are we doing all this extra training, if we aren't allowed to use what we've learned?"

"That's not the point."

Groznik nodded, offering his take on the situation. "Kyd, he means we could be in deep pudu, whether we succeed, or not."

"I'm willing to take the risk," Kyd sat back in his chair, eyeing the crowd. "It'd be worth it, in the long run." Groznik roared an agreement. "What's your plan?"

"Simple. We lure Kendall away from the Adamant."

Arakyd rolled his eyes. "Oh sure, simple. What's your bait?'

Guardian grinned mischievously, and finished off his tea in a single gulp. "This isn't the place to talk about it. Besides, the 'bait' must be consulted first."

The Engineering Deck was blissfully quiet, which was a welcome relief to Guardian's tired mind as the three exited the turbolift. Guardian punched a code into the access panel of the technicians' lab, and the door opened. They were met with the sight of Slicer and Michael "Parody" Miller, Corsair 7, leaning over a partially disassembled astromech droid. Aradia welcomed them with a smile. Arakyd moved in to get a better look.

"What happened to Tonto?" Arakyd asked, surveying the R2 unit's innards over Parody's shoulder. Parody was probing at some frayed circuitry with his finger, and just watching him flirt with disaster made Kyd a bit nervous.

Slicer pushed back her auburn hair, and scowled. "He had a run-in with a faulty power socket a few days ago, and has been glitchy ever since. I can't seem to isolate the ionized grid. Parody's arrived to save the day for me."

"What do you expect from stolen equipment?" Parody grinned, taking the testing clips from her hands. "At least the little motormouth is quiet for a change."

Groznik growled in agreement.

"Ninety percent of Alliance property is stolen equipment, you know," offered Arakyd, as Guardian pulled on Slicer's sleeve, leading her away from the group.

"How would you like a little action away from the simulators?" Guardian stopped towards the rear of the tech lab, looking inside the corner office to make sure he wasn't being overheard. Again.

Slicer's eyes lit up at the thought of a new challenge. "Something more exciting than freighter patrols, I hope." Flying escort was one of the more tedious, yet firmly necessary jobs of any Alliance pilot.

Guardian smiled ruefully. "Definitely. I've come up with some ideas regarding our mutual Imperial friend." He noticed she flinched slightly. "I was hoping you'd be able to lend us a hand."

Crossing her arms, Slicer nodded. "What's Tactical got planned?" Guardian clenched his teeth, then forced himself to relax again.

"Nothing. High Command wants the Adamant left alone. So we're going after Commander Kendall himself."

"So Raven wants Ra'kaat to boot him out of command by pulling a black op? It's a glorious way to go out, I must give him that."

Adam looked down to the deck plates, then towards the three pilots still tinkering with the astromech. "Raven doesn't know about it. This is my project." He met her eyes again. "What I'm asking you is, if you think dusting Kendall is worth your commission aboard the Liberty."

Aradia stared at him for a long moment, pondering the thought. "It would certainly boost morale around here."

"Naturally, but that doesn't answer my question."

"Who else is involved?"

"Just us four. None of this goes any further than the two of us, Groz, and Kyd."

She nodded, considering this. "What's your plan?"

He tilted his head, regarding her with his best are-you-serious expression. "Now, you really can't expect me to tell you that without giving me some sort of commitment."

She grinned, enjoying the game. "You want me to commit without reading the fine print first?"

"Hey, don't you trust your XO?" he said, returning her grin.

"Oh sure, play the guilt card. Count me in." Then, as an afterthought, she added: "For the good of the Alliance, of course."

"I intend to lure Kendall away from the Adamant. Then we kill him."

"Count me in twice. How, may I ask, do you intend to lure him off his cozy frigate?"

Guardian smiled, and lowered his voice to a whisper. "I'm lookin' at the bait."

Slicer let off a single "Ha!" so loud that all three pilots, and Tonto, looked over in surprise at the two huddled in the corner. She lowered her voice to match his. "What makes you think he'd want to come after me? We didn't, ah, hit it off too well at our last little private session.

"He won't know it's you. What will bring him out is the information he'll think you're going to broker for him."

"What are we supposed to be selling him?"

"The identity of Targeter."

To be concluded...