First Command- Part 3
By: Hyp, Guardian, Paladin, Raven, Groznik, Arakyd, Animal, and Slicer
Part Nine -- The Briefing
"This is Matian Kendall, commander of the Imperial Frigate Adamant. Graduated top of his class from the Imperial Naval Academy branch on Coruscant. Served aboard the Victory-class Star Destroyer Butcher for six months before he was promoted to security officer aboard an Imperial slave ship working the Kessel Run. He managed to lay blame on the slave uprising on the ship's captain and to work his way up the chain of command. He recently landed the Adamant's CO job."
"Intel's PsyOps readout on him looks like a textbook Imperial megalomaniac. Power hungry, ruthless, double-dealing, shrewd, and totally evil. Not a nice guy. If we catch him, we don't deal with him. We simply ice him. Believe me, he deserves it. The list of atrocities on his sheet runs as long as Groz's arm."
"This is Freeman Station. It's similar in layout to several stations in the Cron Drift. I've been there several times and made up a 3D layout so you'd better study it. Freeman is a low-key civilian installation on the trade route between the Core Worlds and the Corporate Sector. There's a lot of civilian freighter traffic that passes through, so a four-ship Y-wing group shouldn't draw too much attention, especially after Tonto tweaks our IFF codes. Freeman Station is also home to this," Guardian passed out several advertising holopics. "This is Max Quentil's Cantina. Max owes me a few favors, and I've been in touch with him. He's willing to lend us a hand, as long as his head isn't on the executioner's block. I've done my best to assure him, but I can't be all that sure of his safety. If push comes to shove, he's to be considered unreliable."
"Now, this is the plan. Hyl in Corsair has helped us with some contacts that have dropped some mis-information into the right Imperial ears. Using the codename 'Judas', I've arranged a meeting in the Cantina between Kendall and an exotic dancer that he thinks will put him in contact with someone who will sell him information that the Emperor will reward him dearly for. Slicer's going to play the part of Judas since she's the only one of us who can recognize Kendall in person."
Slicer snorted. "This just keeps getting better and better. Dancer in a strip joint, right?"
"No, no," Guardian replied. "The dancers in Max's place wear body paint, or did the last time I was in there. Look, we have to keep Kendall off-balance, thinking he's in control. You're his only hope of getting the identity of Targeter. He'll be so hungry to get his hands on that info that he will hardly notice you, and he certainly won't be staring at your face. And just as well too, since he probably doesn't harbor a lot of warm feelings for you."
"Groz, you're going to be our way out. I want you near the door, making small talk with patrons. Your cover is that you're a bouncer. Try to be as inconspicuous as possible... well, as inconspicuous as a Wookiee can be. We're going to need to dye your fur, too, just in case the ISB has anything on you and Kendall's done his homework."
The translator turned the Wookiee's low howl into, "Only if it washes out."
"Of course. Kyd, you're mobile. We're going to get you a holdout and you're going to play a waiter. Move around, shmooze, serve drinks, but keep your eyes on the table where Slicer will be meeting with Kendall after her number on stage."
Slicer nearly choked on her juri juice, "I'm sorry, did you say dance number? On stage?"
Ignoring her protests, Guardian continued briefing his co-conspirators. "I'm going to pose as the actual seller. I'll pick up Kendall at the landing bay and tail him to the Cantina, arriving just after him. Slicer will validate that we've got the real Kendall and I'll join them at a table. We'll negotiate a little, make it look like we're trying to squeeze him. He'll get huffy no doubt, and then we'll agree to whatever he wants. We'll leave the Cantina, get him alone to give him the info, and cap him. Then, we pack up and go home. Simple."
"What happens if something goes wrong?" Kyd asked.
"Groz clears the door. Kyd, you put some shots up into the ceiling, down anybody who pulls a gun. I'll do the same, and we sprint for it. We're supposed to have an in, courtesy of Max, with a spaceport controller. We'll get clearance and jump before anybody cracks wise. If we're separated, get to the Y's and get back to the Liberty. Any more questions?"
"Yes, Lieutenant Burns. What do you wish me to do?" Guardian turned towards the squat astromech stationed nearby.
"Tonto, you're leading the motor pool. We're going to give you the warm-up codes, so you can prep the Y's for launch at any time. And especially after that last astromech incident, I wouldn't trust any other droid with our ships. At least, none of the generics. Oh, and you're also the only one with all the Intel data. Any other questions?"
No one said a word.
"Alright, then. Pack up. I've got the four of us scheduled for an extended training flight. We're scheduled to leave at 0630."
The conspirators left the empty machine shop on board the Liberty. From a nearby vent there was a quiet thunk and what sounded like nails dragging across a chalkboard.
Part Ten -- The Trap
Timing is going to be everything, Slicer thought to herself. Max Quentil's Cantina was in full swing, with a Bith jive band playing their large brains out on a small stage in one corner. She writhed and turned through her number on a floating glass stage. Her dance was about over. As she cartwheeled into a series of back flips she saw the joint was packed. There were a dozen waiters working the floor (including an immaculately dressed Ryan "Arakyd" McClure, a white towel neatly draped over his arm.)
The band hit the final riff for her finale and she scissored through the air and landed on the last beat of the tune. The lights came up and she slipped off stage amidst the applause and the tossed credits of the patrons. She checked the chrono over the bar. Guardian had set the meeting to happen in five minutes, and knowing Kendall, he would be punctual. She decided not to change, the body make-up and wig she was wearing would be her best disguise anyway, and her appearance was guaranteed to distract the Imperial Officer.
She slipped into the reserved booth and a waiter sped past, placing a glass on the edge of the table. Sipping the drink, she again thought about how crucial the timing of this would be. She'd have to keep Kendall interested long enough for Adam to make an appropriate entrance, and then keep him off balance while he bargained for the information he thought they had to sell. It wasn't going to be easy; but then, she hadn't expected it to be.
Arakyd swept by her table again. Her glass disappeared, replaced by a similar, but full, chalice. She wondered what Ryan had served her this time--he seemed to like subjecting her to various forms of nonalcoholic stimulants. Guardian had made it very clear that they couldn't risk having anyone tipsy in the least. Their lives depended on it.
She heard a loud woofing sound from the door. Looking up, she saw Groznik laughing it up with a mixed group of humans and aliens. The Wookiee seemed to be having a good time. At least someone was going to enjoy this.
Not that capping Kendall would be a chore. It was just...
There he was.
Slicer's gaze locked on the man clothed in a nondescript outfit, still vaguely military-cut. Still, there was no mistaking the swagger in his step, the gleam in his eyes. Slicer's blood took a sudden drop in temperature, and she finished of the rest of her stim drink in a single gulp.
Kendall took a slow look around the Cantina, and Slicer watched a small smile settle on his face. Then he stepped into the crowd and disappeared from her sight. She waited, knowing he'd show up. After a minute, the serpent she saw in her nightmares slid into the booth across from her.
"Is this seat available?" Kendall asked with a leer. At least that was according to plan. Kendall had a weakness for beautiful women, and Slicer intended to use that weakness against him.
"For you it is," she answered in a husky voice, very unlike her own. Guardian had sprayed her vocal cords with a drug that took her voice down to a lower register. It had made her gag during the application, but it was much longer lasting than inhaling a heavy gas like sulfur hexafluoride to lower one's voice. All part of her disguise, and it would wear off in a day or so. Kendall smiled at her but kept an eye on the crowd around them. She saw the scar she'd left him from their earlier encounter, on the left side of his neck. He turned back to her and grinned again.
"So, when do we begin? Once this business is over perhaps we could have a quiet dinner together?"
Slicer tried to look interested. "As soon as you've convinced me that you are who you claim to be then I'll put you in touch with the person who has the information you want. The galaxy is a dangerous place, and you can't be too careful." She picked up her glass and waved it at a waiter to indicate she wanted another drink. This was also the signal to Arakyd that Kendall had taken the bait.
With a condescending look, the commander of the Adamant pulled a small packet from his tunic and slid it across the table to Slicer. She glanced through his Imperial ID and nodded. "Everything appears in order. You know this is strictly a cash and carry deal. No letters of credit, no Imperial promises. Just cash."
"Of course, my dear. I understand completely. The money is available once I'm satisfied that the information is genuine. The Empire will pay handsomely for this information."
Guardian appeared and slid into the booth next to Slicer. "Sorry I'm late," he said. Slicer indicated the credentials Kendall had provided her and nodded. "Always pleased to meet a staunch defender of the Empire," he said. "What say we go take a look at the money and then we can do some business."
The Imperial studied Guardian a moment. "If you actually can provide me with the identity of the Rebel agent known as Targeter, you will be amply rewarded. If on the other hand you are wasting my time, things will not go so well for you and our lovely young friend here."
Slicer cut into the conversation, "Whoa, look I'm just setting up the meet for a percentage. I'm not taking sides in this thing at all."
"Nevertheless, we shall all remain in each other's company until our business is concluded." With that Kendall produced a small pocket blaster and leveled it across the table. "Enough chit-chat. Let us indeed go look at the money and then hope your information is worth what I'm willing to pay for it."
Guardian and Slicer stood up and Kendall put the gun in his pocket, but kept it trained on the two in front of him. "Nice and easy, let's make for the door."
As they approached the door, a waiter hurried up to them. "Excuse me! You haven't paid your tab!" He waved a datapad at them and held it out to Guardian. The waiter stepped up to the three and slid back the towel that was draped over his arm revealing a Merr-Sonn Model 44 blaster. Arakyd then jammed the barrel of the weapon into Kendall's ribs. Slicer quietly retrieved Kendall's gun.
Kendall seemed about to speak when the hulking figure of a Wookiee loomed over the group. Still playing the part of the waiter, Arakyd raised his voice and spoke to the bouncer, "These people refuse to pay their bill. Eighty-six them!"
"What's going on?" Kendall demanded through clenched teeth as they were herded to the door.
"More than you know," Slicer replied. "You're not a popular man in some parts of the galaxy."
Kendall chuckled. "Do you seriously think that you can get away with whatever you're planning?"
Guardian ignored him and they reached the side door of the Cantina. Groznik punched in the code and the door slid open on what should have been an empty corridor. Immediately Slicer was grabbed and pulled outside; men in white armor poured through the portal, weapons already drawn. The music died as the band dove for cover. Arakyd thought about just shooting Kendall then and there, but not only would he die, but his friends would be cut down as well. It was over in a matter of seconds.
"I've had ISB agents watching this station ever since 'Judas' contacted me," Kendall sneered. "I don't know who you are, or what you planned, but I assure you, I will find out."
Kendall turned to one of his officers near Groznik. "Captain, take these traitors to the station detention area. Leave four of your best stormtroopers guarding them, the local constabulary is not reliable. Then have the rest of your men rejoin me at my shuttle. Once the Adamant has arrived and our supplies loaded, the prisoners shall be transferred onboard and questioned. All but the female, I'll question her personally." The man saluted then started out the door. Groznik, Aradia, Guardian, and Arakyd were hustled off to detention.
Part Eleven -- Turnabout
The detention block was small, and all four Rebels were thrown into the same cell. Guardian lowered his eyes to the floor; he couldn't bring himself to look at the friends he'd led into this mess. He wanted to say something, anything. But there wasn't anything left. It looked like they were going to die.
Groznik roared in his native tongue, as he'd been relieved of his translator. He began pounding on the door. Kyd looked carefully around the cell, shrugged and collapsed into the wall cot on one side of the cell. Slicer moved to the back of the cell, her arms folded in front of her. Groznik stopped his pounding after a pair of moments, then sank to the floor near the door.
"Sorry, guys," Guardian choked. "It's my fault. I shouldn't have even thought about asking you all here."
"We're here because we wanted to kill Kendall, Adam," Slicer answered. "We knew this might happen. It's nobody's fault. Kendall's just a paranoid bastard, and he got lucky."
Guardian shook his head. "It was a bad idea from the beginning. I..."
Muffled cries came from the other side of the door. Guardian stopped, turning toward the sounds. There were no blaster shots as far as he could tell. Groz's head tilted; he heard something. The big Wookiee lumbered to his feet, a happy cry echoing from his throat. "Groz," Adam asked. "What is it?"
Groznik's answer came out to fast for Adam to translate, but suddenly the Wookiee stepped back away from the door. Guardian and Arakyd both moved towards the back of the room shielding Slicer. A shower of sparks ate through the control panel, then the door slid open and Max Quentil, a dusty-gray colored Ortolan, stepped in. "Anybody home?" The humanoid pachyderm sang.
"Max, what the hell are you doing here?" Guardian said, bouncing up off the bed and going to his friend. The alien retreated back into the control room while the ex-prisoners moved out of the cell.
"Helping to save your sorry hide, Adam," Max answered. Guardian looked up.
In the detention area there were five bodies. Four stormtroopers, their white armor splashed red in places and the Captain that had ambushed them so neatly as they tried to leave the Cantina. There were no apparent wounds on the man but he was very dead. "Max? You did this?"
"No way," the Ortolan retorted as though insulted. "As soon as you were snatched I was hauled out of bed by your friends. I led them here and before I knew what was happening they'd done this.
Two figures dressed entirely in black slipped into the room, one from the main access way and the other from a door leading to another cell block. "Outer corridor is clear," one of them said, his voice muffled by the black cloth covering his entire face. Both men wore hand blasters on their hips but one held a meter-long broadsword, the other a pair of thinner blades, one longer than the other. Both swords gleamed blood red. Slicer had seen swords of this type before and called out, "Paladin! That has gotta be you!" Turning to the figure that had not spoken yet she said, "And a week's pay says that is Valkyrie."
"You'd win," said Paladin as he pulled off his hood. "We don't have much time... I suggest we leave." He gave Slicer a long look. "Nice outfit," he added.
"Would it sound too ungrateful if I asked how you came to be here?" Guardian asked.
"Raven sent Valkyrie and I as your backup. He thought you might need some help if things went wrong and it appears he was right. We were watching the Cantina and saw what happened as you were leaving. We thought Max here might have set you up, so we had a talk with him and he agreed to help us get you out. He created a bit of a disturbance back at the Cantina to draw off the local security force, leaving just the Imperials here guarding you. After that, well..." he shrugged and nodded at the carnage strewn across the floor.
"Raven sent you? How in the name of the Force did Raven know what we were..." Guardian decided that this question would have to wait. "Max, thanks I..."
"Listen, Adam, we're even. You saved my son's life; I saved yours. No more favors."
"I just wanted to say thanks. We're out of here, and as far as anyone knows we don't know you. Go." The pair shook hands quickly, and the alien disappeared into the bowels of the station.
"Now, for the rest of you," Guardian turned and addressed the group. "Odds are that the Adamant has not arrived yet."
"The frigate's in-system, Lieutenant," Valkyrie interrupted. "We passed her on the way in."
"Then that's where he's heading. If we launch quick enough, we might catch him in transit."
Valkyrie and Paladin nodded. "Raven said to do whatever you wanted once we joined up. It's your call."
"Wait a minute," Arakyd interjected. "Are you sure we should just..."
"Look, he's an easier target in a shuttle than in the Adamant. I'm going after him. You're welcome to come if you want." Guardian turned and started heading toward the door, pausing only long enough to scoop up a blaster carbine from the corpse of a stormtrooper.
A look passed between the assembled pilots. After a moment, Arakyd said what they all needed to hear. "Let's finish this."
"There he is." Guardian's voice came in clear and calm over Slicer's comm. The six Rebel Y-wings regrouped above the station and headed out toward the Nebulon-B Escort Frigate Adamant. The lumbering Imperial craft stood out against the black backdrop of space like a Wookiee in a Jawa village. "One shuttle, five klicks. Distance to frigate: twenty clicks."
"Guardian, this is Slicer. I've got two flights of gunboats at eight kilometers and closing. Repeat: six 'boats, inbound."
"Copy. Element up: Slicer and Arakyd, Groznik and Paladin, Valkyrie and I. If we get into a furball, don't leave your wingman. Let's dice the guns, get Kendall, and get the hell out."
A chorus of "copy" answered him, and Slicer juiced up her shields. "Tonto, how's that motivator holding out?"
"Ninety percent efficiency, Aradia," the astromech answered. "Are we going to engage the frigate?"
"No. We're only going after the shuttle, partner. Calm down."
The six Y-wings flew in complete silence, then Tonto's warning broke the monotony. "Aradia, we're being targeted by a missile signature."
"Thanks, Tonto. Slicer to Guardian, they're lookin' at us funny."
"Copy, Eight. Shake and bake, everybody. If you fight clear, get Kendall. Break on my mark... three...two... one... mark!"
The six Y-wings split out of formation in three two-ship elements, a practiced maneuver. The gunboats wavered for a moment, choosing their targets; in that instant the Ys cut back and dove straight into the heart of the gunboat formation, splitting the Imperials up.
Groznik's battle yell sounded through the comm as he swung his craft out to follow one of the gunboats. The Wookiee began pumping laser fire into the gun's rear arc. The Imperial pilot was good, however; he started a break right and threw his ship into a roll, then pulled off to port instead. Groz lost him as Paladin cut in front of him, trying to follow the Imperial fighter. Groz howled as he maneuvered his own fighter into an evasive pattern to avoid Paladin's ship.
In the cut through the gunboats Guardian and Valkyrie had been separated. Adam was currently trying to track his wingman down, and eventually found the young pilot having a severe problem: two of the GUNs had ganged up on him and were hounding him mercilessly.
"I need a hand here!" Valkyrie's voice came over the comm. Despite his situation he sounded calm. "Get these guys off of me, will you?"
"I'm on 'em," Guardian whispered. He flipped the cap up on his flight stick and dropped in behind the enemy craft. A twitch of his left hand, then he lined up one of the guns in his sights. A twitch of one finger and two blue torpedoes were spit out of the front of his craft, just under his cockpit. The torps struck the gun between the engines, loosening their destructive energies on the gun's central power core. The Imperial fighter fragmented, then blossomed into an orange fireball. Guardian threw his control stick to the right to avoid slamming into a massive piece of wreckage, switched back to lasers, and dropped in on the tail of the other gunboat.
Paladin's Y-wing was stitching black holes in the armor of another gunboat. He'd managed to punch through the Imperial's shields, and his shots were scattering around the fuselage of the enemy craft. One of the double blasts got lucky and split the cockpit open, cutting the pilot loose to vacuum. What a way to go, Paladin thought. "Two down," he said into the pickup.
"Make that three," Arakyd answered, as another gunboat died under the power of his lasers.
"Arakyd, Slicer, break off and continue pursuit," Guardian ordered. "The rest of us will mop these guys up."
"Copy, Two," Slicer answered. "Already on my way." She dumped her reserve laser energy into her shields, then reset her recharge rates to dump all power into the engines. She was going to catch this guy.
"Aradia, whoa, slow down!" Ryan squawked as her Y-wing accelerated away. "Don't get so far..."
"Six more gunboats entering the area!" Tonto chirped. "Range: one kilometer!"
"Where are they?" Slicer yelled back, looking around. "Where..."
There was a huge explosion underneath her. Two of her cockpit panels exploded in a shower of sparks. "Mayday, mayday, I'm in trouble!"
"Hang on, Slicer," Valkyrie replied. "On our way."
"Damage report!" Guardian yelled.
Slicer threw her stick in a wild pattern, trying desperately to avoid her unseen attackers. She stretched her neck to the side, trying to read the craft situation monitor. "Screen's gone... Tonto! I need a sitrep!"
"Aradia, the motivator blew. We can't go to hyperspace. Weapons all on-line, ejector is out... We're also losing life support."
Slicer took a deep breath, then relayed the information out over the com. "Leave me, I'm done for."
Adam, don't leave me... was the only thing Guardian heard. "Not again..." he whispered. Then he snapped. An inhuman scream tore loose from his throat and he dove into the midst of the six gunboats around Slicer and Arakyd. He flamed one in the first second, spearing it with another pair of torpedoes fired almost point blank; another he began hounding with his lasers.
In the midst of his attack, he managed to spit out another order. "Arakyd, take Valkyrie. You're lead now, get everyone out of here. Running withdrawal, by the numbers."
"Guardian, we're not leaving you and Slicer."
"That is an order. This isn't a democracy. Take as many of them out as you can, but I want you out of here before the Adamant reaches us. Is that clear?"
"Guardian!" Paladin's frantic voice echoed over the commlink. "The Adamant is launching fighters! Looks like their entire complement is heading this way!"
For Arakyd this situation had an eerie feeling of déjà vu. "Damn, the Intel reports have the Adamant waiting to be resupplied with fighters at Orway!"
"They must have got them early." Groznik checked his CMD. "We're cut off!" growled Groznik. "There's no way out. Just like First Flight..."
"Six more ships, emerging from hyperspace!" Valkyrie shouted.
Guardian suddenly felt very weary and wondered just exactly where he'd lost control of this situation.
Part Twelve -- Finale
The odds were 9 to 4 in favor of the Imps when Valkyrie announced that six more ships were emerging from hyperspace. The Adamant had cut off their retreat and was now launching fighters.
Guardian looked at his CMD and radar screens but could not pick up the new ships. "Valkyrie, where are they?" he shouted. He dumb-fired a torpedo into each of a pair of GUNs that were attacking Slicer.
"They've entered the system on the other side of the Adamant. They're..."
Valkyrie was cut off as the command circuit came to life. "Buccaneer Leader to Buccaneer 2, we are making an attack run on the Adamant, what is your situation?" Raven's voice sounded as casual as if he were ordering a drink in the Lounge.
Guardian knew his group was being pressed hard by the GUN's. Slicer couldn't jump out and had taken damage. Missiles littered the space as the Rebel Y-wings were forced into evasive maneuvers. The GUN's came in fast, or as fast as the lumbering starfighters could, but then again a gunboat against a Y-wing is a pretty fair fight, except for the payload.
"You're a sight for sore eyes Jim!" came Guardian's exhausted reply. "Think you can give us a hand with these GUN's?"
"Help is coming. Keep them tied up until we can unload on the Adamant. Looks like they've launched everything they have towards you, which makes them a sitting duck. Hold tight for now."
Guardian could hear Buccaneer Leader issue orders to his flight group, "Hyp you're with me. Greywolf, you and Whisper come to oh-one-five and set up your attack run. Phrisco and Animal, take your B-wings straight in and get off as many torps as you can before you have to break off."
Commander Kendall sat in the cockpit of his shuttle examining the current situation. A new strike force of 2 B-wing and 4 Y-wing starfighters had just exited hyperspace and was on an intercept course with the Adamant. The Adamant'sfighter screen had headed off to reinforce the GUNs that he'd had the foresight to have on hand when he set up this rendezvous. Spies were notoriously untrustworthy after all.
He picked up his commlink. "Frigate Adamant, this is Commander Kendall, clearance code Nu-Epsilon-Alpha-Tango-Omega, begin retreat to exit point zulu. Recall your fighters and have them interdict the new Rebel force."
But he could see that the Adamant's fighters could not be recalled in time to stop the imminent attack by the Rebel newcomers. And with the armor and shield strength of the B-wings, the frigate was in real trouble. He turned to his shuttle pilot, "Captain, plot a course to our nearest starbase. You may make the jump when ready."
On board the Adamant the gravity of the situation was not lost on the senior officers on the bridge. "Concentrate all fire on the B-wings! Bring us around to three-three-four!"
The navigator on station reported, "Sir, helm is responding but she's sluggish. Port side engines are still undergoing repairs."
"Shields at 75%," called the Tac-Ops officer. "Engineering reports that's the best they can do."
"Torpedoes incoming! Four, no six torpedoes... the B-wings are breaking off."
"Two Y-wings at two-seven-eight! They're launching!"
"Combat! How long till our fighters can engage the Rebels?"
"Valkyrie," called Paladin. "You've got one on your tail, break hard right. Bring him into my sights... just a bit more, I've got tone - firing." Two blue streaks of death sped towards the unsuspecting GUN. The first torp overpowered the shields, while the second pierced the engine and exploded. "Scratch one!" reported Paladin.
Guardian could now see the yellow dots on his screen that indicated that Raven's group was firing on the Adamant. But his Y-wings were sorely pressed to make headway against the GUNs. "I don't know what help Raven was talking about but we could sure use it now."
Just then a flight of A-wings broke formation and dove through the beleaguered Y-wings, peppering the GUNs with missiles. "Corsair Leader to Buccaneer 2, how can we assist you?" Four ships from Corsair had joined the battle.
Guardian took this as his chance to make a run on Kendall's shuttle. He briefed Corsair Leader on Slicer's condition and was assured that Corsair would cover her and call in for a SAR pickup. Flipping through his CMD, he found the Imp shuttle and dumped everything he had to his engines as he sped off after Kendall.
"More torpedoes incoming!" called the Tac-Ops officer on the bridge of the Adamant. Their shields were down to 10% and most of their systems had been damaged.
"We have fires in the aft sections," came a report.
The senior officer watched the tactical display as the B-wings ducked in under their turbo laser barrage and began launching salvos of proton torpedoes. He punched a button on his armrest and a klaxon began to wail. "Abandon ship, repeat abandon ship!"
Brilliant blue streaks of proton energy darted around the hail of green laser fire the frigate was pouring out. A single torpedo caught the frigate's boom near the engine nacelle. Escape pods began to explode away from the capital ship as the turbo lasers fell silent. The boom took a direct hit and the hull cracked, flames and debris flying into space as the explosive decompression sucked out everything it could. The fires onboard continued unabated as the automatic systems shut down. Finally, the dead hulk listed heavily on its starboard side. It exploded in a brilliant ball of fire, which drowned out the enthusiastic yelps of Raven's Buccaneers. The decimated carcass of the frigate Adamant floated freely, reduced to mere space debris.
Guardian willed his ship to fly faster. The shuttle was still out of range and was moving into clear space, away from the battle. "Just a minute longer," he muttered. His target sight popped yellow but the shuttle began to pick up speed. They were making the jump to hyperspace. He pulled the trigger and fired his last two fish at the back of the retreating shuttle, but it winked out before the torpedoes could close the distance. "Damn!"
The GUNs were also in retreat now, harassed every step of the way by Buccaneer and Corsair fighters. As the last of the Imperials hypered out, a friendly voice was heard on the comm. "This is Alliance shuttle Compassion entering system on one-seven-oh. Acknowledge."
"Roo," called Guardian. "Glad you could make it. Buccaneer 8 needs a lift. Please begin recovery at once."
"Roger Buccaneer 2, proceeding with recovery operation." The Liberty's Search and Rescue team went into action, picking up Slicer and Tonto from their damaged fighter.
Much later Raven, Guardian, Slicer, Arakyd, and Groznik were sitting at one of the tables in the Liberty Lounge. Mixer rolled up to the table weighted down under a heavy tray of drinks.
"Look Adam, High Command didn't want Buccaneer going after the Adamant, period. The squadron was still recovering from First Flight and if it took any more casualties at the hands of Kendall, morale would have dropped and the squadron's detractors would have had a field day. So we were ordered not to seek and engage the Adamant."
"But you knew somehow that I was going after Kendall. And you didn't stop me." Guardian was dying to know what Raven's involvement in all this was.
"You bet I didn't stop you," Raven said loudly. "I knew you'd go after Kendall. I was counting on it. I wanted the Adamant and I wanted her badly. I'm not the forgiving type in case you haven't noticed. But I couldn't go after her directly. When you took your group out I figured you were going after Kendall. I fudged the records and changed your recon flight to a supply mission. An Alliance commander is always authorized to seek out supplies and materials from whatever source he can. The official account shows that while picking up much needed medical supplies on Freeman Station, your group was attacked by unknown Imperial forces. The rest of Buccaneer just happened to be close by on training maneuvers and came to your assistance, supported by elements of Corsair squadron, led by Corsair Leader himself. All done strictly by the book."
Arakyd laughed, "I think you might have wrinkled a page or two in that book."
Ignoring him, Raven continued. "But your group all wanted Kendall for personal reasons. That can, and did, cloud your judgment. And no offense, but you have a better head for starfighter tactics than for planning a ground mission. So I sent Paladin and Valkyrie in as your backup team." Raven downed his drink and poured himself another shot. "Their Lomabian warrior training made them naturals for it."
Slicer spoke up. "How did you know what we were planning?" she asked.
"It's hard to keep secrets on a starship," was all Raven would say.
Guardian laughed. "And here I was expecting a court-martial for exercising very poor judgment."
"Not at all. In fact I was thinking some promotions might be in order." Raven started at Guardian for several seconds. "Have you ever thought of commanding a squadron?" he asked.
Slicer let out a cheer and clapped Guardian on the back.
Raven turned his gaze on her. "Oh, and Lieutenant Emerson... about being out of uniform..."
Turning as red as the juri juice she was drinking, she slunk down in her chair as the Wookiee and the others laughed and hooted.
"...and you never told me you could dance."