Word Count: 4233
Tired eyes stared at the glowing application on the datapad. Head propped up on a pillow against the head of the bunk, those eyes stared at the name at the top: Flight Cadet Shyon Anandes.
For some reason, Shyon still felt compelled to send these applications. Mostly for her part in what happened on Toseng. She'd already been a rebel longer than most of the cadets on the Regis. Hell, she'd managed to run missions, communications, and spied on imperials all while attending university.
That had been years ago.
Shyon also had —at one point— a decent career in politics before getting wrapped back into the Rebellion. It was something she should be getting back to instead of signing on with the New Republic as a pilot. Something she couldn't quite explain made her sign up to be a pilot rather than go back to politics. Her current answer was that it was more clear cut than politics. Also assassination wasn't as real a possibility as a pilot. Sudden death still was, but you went into it knowing that.
She returned her focus to the application and held the datapad up to the ceiling of her bunk. With a deep breath to center herself. In the moment of calm she'd given herself, Shyon hit 'send'.
With a relieved sigh, Shyon put the datapad away and let her tired eyes rest. It was out of her hands now.
— The next day —
Standing in front of her locker, Shyon gathered her hair into a ponytail. It brought a smile to her face as she noticed how long her hair had become. Another sign of healing. After the explosion that took everything from Shyon, she was physically healing.
Burnt hair, regrown. It reminded Shyon of the scar tissue from the other places on her body that were scorched by the devastation of the bombing. She let the pony tail go and gently ran a finger along the scarring on her cheek. There was a tingling feeling she still got. As if there was some kind of electricity. Her brain still expecting the burn to hurt. There was no pain. Not any longer. Just the roughness of the scar tissue.
For a moment, possibly for the first time, nothing hurt. Not the burns, not the loss. She felt normal. Normal for someone training to be a star fighter pilot would be, but it was a normal she hadn't felt in months.
A slap on the back snapped Shyon out of her introspection. "Hurry up Anandes! Happy won't let you get away with your flight suit half on like that."
Startled, Shyon jumped and looked to see another cadet, another woman, a Bothan that had joined around the same time as Shyon had. They weren't in the same flight, but they had become friends.
Shyon frowned, "I'm nearly ready Se'ah." Se'ah wasn't entirely wrong though. Shyon looked down at her undershirt visible from the half-zipped flight-suit, and the life-support box still at her feet. Nearly was a relative term.
In a quick motion Shyon pulled the zipper and closed up the flight-suit and put her feet through the lower loops of the ejection straps. From her locker, she quickly picked up and shoved her helmet over her ponytail and horns. With the chin strap dangling, she bent over, grabbed the life support box and started to hustle out of the locker room and towards the flight deck.
— Briefing Room, Frigate Regis —
Shyon tried her best to slip into the briefing room without Happy noticing. This never worked for anyone in the training squadron, but an attempt had to be made.
"We'll be in... Welcome to the briefing Cadet Anandes. This is exactly how we blew up two Death Stars: rolling into mission briefings whenever we wanted. The Empire was disorganized whenever we didn't show up to an ambush on time." Captain Maddic "Happy" Chread droned on sarcastically about ways the Rebellion beat the Empire until Shyon found a seat.
"I suppose we can return to the briefing?" Happy said, staring at Shyon. She gave a little nod, and Happy sighed. "There are a couple of particularly large asteroids that we've scouted. Perfect for a live exercise."
The Captain touched a panel on the holo table and it flashed to a lumpy, glowing, representation of an asteroid. "I've had a team of engineers place beacons and some large targets on this asteroid. With the beacons, you'll be able to pick it out easily enough from all of the other asteroids out there. We'll run live strafing runs against these targets, you and your wingmate."
He pressed another button and a pair of holographic X-wings swooped into view and ran a simulated path along the surface of the asteroid. "This is a great place to run these ground attacks. No one around accidentally for collateral damage. The asteroid is particularly flat, no need to worry about hills or canyon walls."
Another cadet raised a hand. Happy nodded in their direction and immediately realized who was asking the question. To his credit, Happy didn't groan out loud.
Shyon could see it was Retsni Mova. A skinny human from somewhere in the mid-rim. He was a decent pilot, but tended to miss the obvious in things like conversations or briefings. It had led to some amusing moments during training. "Yes, Retshi?"
"Are we getting proton bombs for this?"
Happy blinked and unconsciously pressed a finger at the horn near his temple. "I did say strafing run, cadet. Blasters only. Any other questions cadet?"
Retsni seemed to take the question seriously, and looked thoughtful for a moment. As brightly as he could, "No, sir. That's all I have."
The Captain tilted his head, "Honest, I'll give you that."
Shyon, along with a few other cadets, snickered. Just a little. It was hard not to laugh sometimes at the deadpan exchanges Happy would have with cadet Retsni.
"Anyway." Happy turned off the holo table. "I'll assign pairs for the runs once we're at the staging beacon. Get to your ships. I want everyone star-side in ten. Dismissed!"
— Space. Uninhabited System, two jumps from REDACTED—
Holding patterns were possibly the easiest thing that Shyon had learned as a new pilot. Going straight and then a lazy turn every handful of kilometers. The hard part was staying in formation. That and patience. Since each run was only a pair at a time, and each pair repeated their runs until the Captain was happy with their performance. The irony of Happy's callsign was not lost on Shyon.
It was down to the last flight of cadets. Shyon was fairly certain Happy was leaving her for last for being late. There was the desire to ask her R2 unit to fly the holding pattern for her. Happy had wanted to make sure the cadets had as much time behind the stick. To make sure of this, he had made a standing order to the astromechs not to fly for the cadets.
"Raider Three and Seven; you're up. Come to point two eight. You should see your targets. Three, you're lead on this run. This is a simultaneous run."
There was a laugh over the open channel, "Okay Seven, let's get moving!"
Shyon rolled her eyes. Raider Three, who'd gotten the callsign 'Bluff', was the kind of person that Shyon found insufferable. He was a hotshot and knew it.
"Falling in on your wing Bluff." Shyon affirmed as she took up position left abreast of Bluff.
It was only a training run, but after so much waiting, even this made Shyon feel excited. As they flew into place, Shyon prepared her fighter for the strafing run. Switched to single fire for rapid shots. The intent was that it would be easier to land a lot of shots, as well as be able to see where the shots were landing as they performed the run.
"Set s-foils to attack position Seven." Bluff ordered. Shyon toggled the switch for the s-foils. The familiar whine of servos as the wings split open always made Shyon smile, even if she did have to listen to Bluff.
"In position, Three." Shyon confirmed.
"Ready to start our run, Lead. Give the word."
"Proceed. XO and I are in position to observe."
"Throttle up Seven and keep up."
Shyon grumbled as she picked up speed. Up close, the asteroid felt more massive than while they'd waited. Bluff dove suddenly and Shyon shoved the stick forward to follow. Bluff had chosen a steep angle. If she'd had chosen the run, they would have come in at a shallow angle. It was Bluff's choice though. Shyon could just follow his orders.
The plus side that Shyon could see as she eyed the target, was that they'd be able to spend more time firing on the target than if they'd come in shallower. Though, depending on timing, it could be interesting pulling out of the dive.
A little blip announced the target beacon was in targeting range. Shyon took a moment to acquire the target beacon. The rangefinder displayed quickly changing numbers. They were closer than it had seemed. To make sure she wouldn't be firing directly next to Bluff — and give herself some wiggle room to adjust her own fire — yawed left to open up their formation.
A moment before the rangefinder turned green for in-range, Bluff opened fire without announcement. Shyon grimaced and squeezed the trigger a heartbeat behind him.
Shots started to land just short of the targets. Both pilots adjusted their aim. The two sets of fire separated from one another for a moment and then realigned.
While the asteroid's 'ground' got closer and closer, they still had plenty of room to pull up from their dive. Without any return fire, it was simple for her home in to pummel the target. Shyon started to worry that she'd need to shift power to her blasters.
Bluff made sure that wasn't a problem. "Running out of room."
"What? Say again?" Shyon could eyeball the distance without instruments and tell there was still plenty of space.
"We're really close. We need to break."
"Wait. Bluff we still have..." Shyon started, but Bluff had already acted.
Bluff rolled to port and pulled up. This might have been fine if Bluff had remembered that Shyon and a lot of blaster fire occupied that particular lane of space.
Not expecting the sudden deviation, Shyon kept her squeeze on the trigger long enough for Bluff to stumble into her fire. Shyon swore over the open channel as shots ripped into Bluff's fighter instead of flaring off the shields. Vividly she could see each bolt that hit. One fried Bluff's astromech. Another hit one of the top engines which flared out. More scorched the rear fuselage, and punched at least one hole in an s-foil.
It may be a training exercise, but Bluff should have had at least some kind of shield up. Unless he'd shunted shield power to overcharge his blasters. Idiot, Shyon thought to herself.
"Dammit all!" Raider lead bellowed over the open channel. "Bluff, what the hell are you thinking?!"
"Rhetorical Bluff. Only thing I want to hear from you right now is that your ship can get back to the Regis."
There was a pause. Shyon could see as she followed behind her wingmate's X-wing and could tell one of the engines had died.
"One engine out and not responding to restart. R2 is gone, no chance of damage control. Rear shield emitter is out as well. Power seems to be unreliable along the rear port side." A hollow sounding Bluff continued to list other minor damage that included the port landing gear and s-foils actuation were dead.
Happy cleared his throat over the open channel, "Declaring this an emergency. Frigate Regis, we have had an incident. Raider Three has lost power to an engine and to other maneuvering systems. Raider Three unable to land safely. Clear the hangar for a rough landing."
The level of calm and annoyance surprised Shyon. She felt her cheeks burn. It had started as embarrassment and shame. She just fired on her wing-mate. Had caused serious damage to his fighter. As she kept alongside Bluff's fighter, the shame started to fade. In its place was anger. Bluff's actions were sloppy. He put himself into danger. How could Bluff ever hope to be strong enough to fight an enemy as ruthless as the Empire? He lacked resolve.
Shyon didn't try to raise Bluff. In fairness, Bluff was largely focused on keeping his X-wing flying in a straight line. As they finally neared the Regis, Happy's voice again filled the channel.
"All Raiders, line up for landing. Raiders Three and Seven, holding pattern until you are given word that the deck is cleared."
While they waited, anger flared. Shyon banked it into a low fury. When they were finally given the word to land, Shyon kept close to Bluff's fighter. Landing struts started to unfurl on both ships as they closed with the hangar.
Bluff's voice filled the open channel. "Dammit, what are we doing about the missing landing gear?"
The lack of one third of his landing gear wasn't the worst thing. It would be rough, but doable. The lack of repulsors was worse. Without them, the ship wouldn't be able to hover over the deck. As soon as it passed through the hangar's magnetic containment field, it would drop like a rock to the deck.
There was chatter between flight control, Bluff, and Happy. There was various ideas passed around. Disagreements started on how best to proceed. Shyon was frustrated, angry, and tired. She throttled up and got her starboard s-foil under Bluff's damaged side. With a soft 'clunk' the two wings connected.
"What are you doing?!"
"Going to be your missing repulsor and landing gear. Throttle up ten percent on my mark. Okay?"
There was a long pause before a very sullen Bluff responded. "Copy Seven."
Shyon let herself have a smug smile. "Mark."
As one, the two X-wings moved forward. They neared the hangar and Shyon braced herself. As they passed through the mag-field, Bluff's fighter sagged. Shyon fought her controls to keep both ships stable. Deckhands waved them into a spot in the open of the hangar bay.
One stood in front of them and began to wave batons for them to set their ships down. Shyon started first and saw Bluff's fighter twist as he lagged behind by a moment. Shyon adjusted her descent and Bluff's fighter leveled back off.
They set down. With Shyon's wing under Bluff's, there was a distinct jolt when the two ships met the deck. Shyon could feel that her ship was not quite level. A quick look out towards Bluff's X-wing showed that his was sitting at a more of an odd angle than hers.
Then she felt her anger flare again. It made her smash the controls to pop the canopy open. She unbuckled herself as quickly as she could and vaulted out of the ship. This was a poor decision, but her anger was giving her bad advice. Her legs buckled. She tried to roll to absorb the bad landing, but the roll part of her plan never materialized. She landed hard on her shoulder instead. A startled deckhand who had been wheeling over the gantry ladder for her, went to help her but Shyon pushed him away. As she rose, she felt pains in her legs and side. Shyon's anger was satisfied that nothing was really broken and made her turn towards where Bluff was climbing down from his fighter.
Despite the intense desire to limp and avoid some of the pain in her legs, Shyon stormed to her wing-mate. He looked at her and froze as she came up to him. With both hands, Shyon grabbed Bluff's flightsuit by whatever loose material she could and shook the poor pilot. "You shouldn't be here!"
She shook the helpless Bluff again, "You don't have the resolve or the skill to do what's needed to fight the Empire!"
Bluff did not like the frank assessment of his piloting. As far as he was concerned, this was not his fault. "The hell do you know about anything Shyon?! Maybe you should pay attention to your wing-mate instead of shooting him up!"
Shyon pulled him right up to her, nose touching nose. "I watched my sister blow herself up. Blew up someone very dear to me. Nearly blew me up as well." She twisted her head to show what she could of her scarred neck. "She was conditioned into becoming a suicide bomber because some people loved the power the Empire gave them more than other beings lives."
Bluff shrank a little bit at that. Shyon took the moment to strike. "If you hesitate? If you blindly trust? If you believe you are a hotshot? If you can't push your limits even in training?! You are going to get yourself, and probably everyone else around you, killed."
Shyon took a deep breath, and changed her tone. As coldly as she could, she gave her final judgment of Bluff. "The Rebellion needs better than you to keep the Empire down."
A hand landed on Shyon's shoulder before she could decide on whether Bluff needed a good fist to the face. "That's the New Republic now, Firebrand."
Happy. Shyon dropped Bluff and spun about in a salute. "Captain Chread!" Bluff staggered back a couple of steps and sullenly came to attention as well.
"We technically haven't been the Rebellion since Endor." He looked past Shyon to Bluff behind her. "She's not wrong. That was a rookie move, which is strange because that's the kind of habit you should have broken in basic flight school." Happy turned around. Shyon finally noticed the rest of the training squadron had been landing and some had gathered around.
"In fact." Happy started to raise his voice, "This is the third emergency that I've had to call! I ought to wash every one of you out!" Happy rounded on the other cadets and left Shyon and Bluff frozen in place.
Shyon slowly turned her head back to Bluff and gave him one last scowl before walking for the nearest exit not in view of Happy.
— That night; In her Bunk; Frigate Regis —
Something hit Shyon in the face. While it felt soft, it moved fast. It woke her in a sudden panic.
"Oh good, you're awake." Shyon heard a voice from the bunk above her. She assumed it was her bunkmate Se'ah. Shyon also assumed Se'ah had a death wish. With Se'ah's pillow in her grip, Shyon rolled over to go back to sleep.
Undaunted by Shyon's silence, Se'ah leaned further out of her bunk. "How do you like it?"
The question bothered Shyon. "Like what? Sleep? It was great until a moment ago."
"No, your callsign! Firebrand! You were dubbed by Happy himself." Se'ah sounded as though she'd just met some famous musician or actor.
It didn't dawn on Shyon that that is what happened. In the moment she really thought the captain had just been roasting her for taking Bluff down a peg.
"Yeah! It's all anyone could talk about when the captain wasn't yelling at us." Se'ah face popped into view. She had a huge smile and bright eyes. In the dark, and upside down, the Bothan's looked sort of terrifying.
Shyon thought about this for a moment. Firebrand had a lot of connotations. Mostly with people who would wade into situations with fanatical beliefs. It made her think about the words she chose to slice at Bluff.
The Rebellion had always pulled in idealists, zealots, firebrands. You needed to be. To believe in the cause. The alternative was the slow crushing weight of the Empire and its methodology of 'order'. A structure of absolute power of an Emperor, an ocean of bureaucracy, and scraps of power to be fought over by moffs, admirals, generals, and spooks. Wasn't that the point to stand against it? To stay silent marked you as a disposable resource to keep those in power satisfied. You had no future in that system unless you were already far up it.
Or up the Emperor's ass. Shyon thought, then amended: disintegrated ass.
Before what happened on Toseng, that passion was definitely fueled by idealism. Once she got into politics, she was applying that idealism into something other than subversion. After the explosion? After the assassination, and the corruption of her sister?
Now? Now it was clear to Shyon just what the early Rebellion believers meant. The Empire would do whatever it could to hang on to its power, even if that meant ruining the galaxy even more.
— A week before graduation; Briefing Room; Frigate Regis —
This wasn't right. If the Captain wanted to meet with you personally in the briefing room then something was wrong. Shyon wasn't sure what it could be. Since getting dubbed Firebrand she hadn't been paired with Bluff. This seemed to be to everyone's benefit to everyone but the poor souls who did get paired with him.
In the meantime, Shyon had continued to improve as a pilot. Now she felt self conscious about her convictions of what being a New Republic pilot meant while the Empire still has so much power.
As she arrived at the door, she felt how much tension she was holding on to. Her jaw clenched and the muscles around her horns hurt. Shyon afforded herself a moment to center herself with a deep breath. It helped for a moment, and she noticed as she hit the button to open the door her jaw was clenched again.
Inside, Shyon was surprised to see two other pilots in orange and gray jumpsuits with Happy. Instinctively, Shyon came to attention as the door slid shut just behind her. Both pilots looked at her. The one with the cybernetic eye had a faint smile on his face. The other looked at her with a fair bit of hostility.
"This her?" The pilot with a cybernetic eye asked.
Happy nodded, "Yes it is. Firebrand, at ease."
Shyon dropped the salute, but ease wasn't possible.
"Cadet Anades, I'd like you to meet Captain John 'Knight' Vorwald and Second Lieutenant Malcom 'Freak' MacCurrich. Corsair Seven and Corsair Six respectively."
When she was still in politics, Shyon would have tried to be ten steps ahead of the situation. No one would be a mystery to her. This had especially been true setting up and working connections, events, and meetings. If there was something she didn't know about someone at a charity event, it would be Shyon's mission to take time to find out something about them.
Even in her short time as a pilot, Shyon seemed to have lost a lot of her old social skills. Shyon merely stood blankly in front of the three pilots.
"I hear you were on the ground at Toseng?" The other Corsair pilot, Freak asked.
"You could say that. I was at the epicenter. I was with... I was Rori Brebor's assistant. Someone brainwashed my estranged sister to be a living bomb." Shyon said plainly as tears welled in her eyes.
Freak and Knight's eyes flick towards each other. They had flown and fought over the capital city of Toseng. They knew what that epicenter was. The explosion that had broken the tense truce between the Empire and the New Republic while both had been trying to court Toseng towards their side.
Freak visibly relaxed. Apparently she'd said something right. Given that this was about where she was during the first battle, it wasn't as simple as animosity to an unfamiliar pilot. There was so much speculation during the two battles at Toseng that even on the Regis, Shyon had heard a number of conspiracies about moles in the New Republic forces.
For a moment Shyon wondered just how pervasive this uncertainty and paranoia was. That space in her brain cleared in a cold wash. That wasn't important right now. Shyon felt a wave of anxiety that made her horns tingle. "Is this about what I think it is?"
Knight laughed, "You're not wrong, Happy. She definitely doesn't act like a politician anymore." He looked at Shyon again. "I'm pretty sure it is what you think it is."
The other Corsair produced a datapad and handed it to her. Shyon took the datapad and barely had to glance to see it was the application she'd sent weeks earlier. She had figured at the time that it would be a long shot to get accepted into Corsair. It wasn't the kind of squadron where green pilots ended up. Not when they were often supporting Rogue squadron.
She'd been accepted.
"Really," Freak said.
"Truthfully, CO almost rejected the applications until he heard about your callsign." Knight added.
"That really so bad?" Knight asked.
"Why would Corsair want a zealot green pilot?"
Knight frowned, "Are we playing a game?"
"No. Curious is all." Shyon suddenly remembered and added, "Sir."
Knight looked through Shyon for a moment. "How honest do you want Firebrand?"
She saw the other pilot, Freak, shake his head slightly at Knight's candidness.
"Completely if you're able, Sir."
"Right. Well as far as 'zealot' goes, I think you're still on an even keel. I've known the type you're talking about when I first joined the Rebellion. Some of them were certainly dangerous. There's a reason Alliance command cut off groups who took things too far. You need conviction, but can't lose sight that you're trying to help people." Knight explained.
"Let's not forget that since Endor we've been hurting for pilots." Freak added.
"Can't forget that." Knight nodded. "Really you're the right amount of pilot, believer, and survivor for a billet with Corsair."
Shyon stood there, mouth agape.
"There is one thing."
"Oh, don't worry, it's not a request." Knight laughed. "We're currently at strength." Knight pointed to the datapad. "Details are in there, but our CO seems to want to keep us overstrength."
Shyon couldn't help but feel like Knight said this as though he'd just worked something out. Less of a notice to Shyon, but a declaration to everyone in the room.
"Ready to pack your bags, Firebrand?" Freak smiled.
Shyon realized that maybe that was part of it. The pilots in front of her all had been survivors. They all knew what the Empire was capable of. These were things that she shared with them. It was something she realized she didn't share with all of the recruits. Maybe this was what she was looking for.