The Past Ahead: Part 1
By: Jalb, Hellcat, Krayt, and Alli
-Chapter 1, Masquerade-
1st Lt. Chris "Jalb_k" Reynolds, Corsair Five, responded to the command over his commset. "Roger Corsair Lead, wilco." He keyed a new frequency and transmitted. "Krayt, Condor, you're on my wings, inverted V, I have the lead. We're babysitting this sucker home."
"Roger that, I have your wing," came the reply from his wingman, 2nd Lt. Alrick "Krayt" Durgan.
The three A-wings leveled out just above the captured freighter. It had been a standard strike mission, no real threats, no losses, and overall made for a very good day. Going over the manifest for the captured freighter they were escorting, Jalb noticed that among other things this freighter was carrying a large number of sensor probes. Thinking back, he seemed to remember an idea someone had had for them.
"Krayt, wasn't that you that was working on the plans for the decoys?
Krayt responded to the query with "Yup, good ones too, why do you ask?"
"Have a closer look at the manifest of this bucket ... Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" The Macquarian pilot finished in his distinctive brogue.
"Hey guys," 1st Lt. Jonathan "Condor" Rees, the other wingman, piped up. "Remember who's floating on the left over here. If you have a mutual-thinking thing going on, let me in. I need to think too you know," he finished earnestly.
Jalb and Krayt cracked up at the latter remark. "Sorry Condor, we forget how rarely you think," and once again broke out laughing.
Condor slowly realised the faux pas he had made and was a little miffed with himself. He came back on the comm to steal their mirth. "Ha ha, very funny chaps. Just remember who's flying slightly behind your fins with twelve darts in the launcher," and had a chuckle of his own.
Krayt woke to the sound of his alarm going off. He got up and looked over his schedule for the day. Oh great, four hours on sprint team, then two hours in the sims, and then I have that weapons training.
Just then his comm lit up and Jalb's voice came on. "Hey Krayt, I managed to get one of those probes, bring the plans when we go on team— we can start then."
Fifteen minutes later Krayt found himself in the Ready Room with the rest of this shift's sprint team. Looking around, he walked over to where Jalb was sitting with his purloined sensor probe, already in the process of tearing it apart. "Hey, you got a license to dismantle that?" Krayt grinned at Jalb.
"Hehe, who needs a license when you have my enthusiasm?" Jalb smiled back.
Condor and 2nd Lt. Josh "Hellcat" Kinney, the B-wing pilot from Buccaneer, were the other two Renegades on shift. They strolled over to the space on the deck where Krayt and Jalb had plasfilm, sensor pieces, and some other small parts from who-knew-where spread out on the deck.
Hellcat elbowed Condor in the ribs as they came to a stop over the working pair. "See, I told you Con, they're making a new A-wing in-flight refreshment dispenser."
Krayt looked up from his datapad. "Well, actually, we are working with something special right now."
"Yeah," said Condor, "a Buccaneer auto-dumbfire selector," as he glanced at Hellcat from the corner of his eyes, a grin forming on his lips. The effort Hellcat put into studiously ignoring Condor was not lost on Jalb, who had to duck his head to hide his smirk.
Krayt continued. "Hey Hellcat, I seem to remember something about you having some slicing skills, was that correct?"
Hellcat looked blankly at the newest Corsair pilot, shook his head, and asked, "How did you find out about that?"
Given the piece of machinery that Krayt and Jalb were working on, Hellcat could only imagine what in the world they were up to. Hellcat and Condor both looked quizzically at the two pilots on the floor. "Well?" said Condor. "What gives? Is this what we were thinking about while we were escorting that freighter?"
"Well, I had this idea. We get some of the old IFF broadcasters off some junked fighters—I am sure there are enough of them around—and then slice in a program that makes a targeting computer think this is a fighter. Throw in a couple of other odds and ends, and you have yourself another squadron to throw into the battle," Krayt replied. "I was going to try setting up some old droids for it, but these are much better—they already have intrinsic propulsion and shields, we only need to do a little tweak to make the EM signature register as a full size snub."
Looking over the mechanisms one more time Hellcat spoke up, "And I suppose you boys want me to slice in a program to make it do that, huh?"
Jalb took up the commentary. "We need you to slice the code to masquerade them... " A light went on in Jalb's head at that moment. "Good, one Masquerade Squadron! Sorry, I'm diverging, and, we need to slice in my EW Wingman code, get them talking to each other."
Hellcat asked, "What kind of fighter do you want me to make these puppies look like? Squints, dupes, eyeballs," he giggled to himself. "Or how about a miniature CRV? Marauder class perhaps?"
Krayt frowned as Jalb said, "Have a look around Hellcat, ya dolt! We're the Alliance, let's stick to our usual rides," he added with a grin.
A few shifts later, their project began to take shape. Krayt and Jalb worked on the mechanical parts, and Hellcat and Condor spent their time slicing the appropriate code. Once all the components had been installed along with the programming, all of the systems were thoroughly tested, and after all the bugs had been worked out, it looked like they were ready to go.
As the four technicians were working on the new toy, Flight Officer Alli Ralter, the new Renegade Wing transport pilot, poked her head into the room and noticed something was going on. Stepping quietly into the Ready Room, she spoke up loudly, spooking Hellcat out of his boots. "What are you guys doing?"
Annoyed that she spooked him, Hellcat nonetheless turned around with a smile on his face and said, "Nothing that a nosey peep like you should be interested in."
She gave Hellcat a glare, which he nonchalantly ignored, to her disgust. Sticking out her tongue Alli said, "Fine, be that way," and turned around, rolling her eyes and walking off.
Jalb watched the view as Alli sauntered out, thinking to himself that the other Renegade Wing pilots didn't look that good from behind. Alli must have sensed his eyes on her because she stopped at the door, turned and looked him in the eye, and with a smirk said, "Anything I can do for you, Lieutenant?"
Jalb snapped out of his reverie and replied, "Don't go anywhere just yet Alli. Guys, we're going to take some leave." He then turned back to Alli. "How would you like an escort on your next trip?"
Several days later, three A-wings and a Corellian transport lifted off from the Liberty's flight deck with Jalb, Krayt, and Condor manning the snub fighters and Hellcat with Alli in the transport. They were ready to go test out their prototype. They planned their hyperspace jump to go through an unoccupied system, where they would drop Masquerade Leader out to do a flight test.
Upon coming into the system, Alli opened up the external cargo compartment, and Hellcat brought the probe online. "This is Masquerade Lead, we have target acquisition, commencing primary rocket ignition and locking on."
Krayt cycled through his target HUD and found the green dot designated Masquerade One. The computer worked for a couple of seconds, and then classified it as a Slayn and Korpil A/SF-01 B-wing starfighter. Krayt called his wingman on the comm. "Jalb, it looks like we are good to go."
Hellcat decided to have a little fun with this remote controlled prototype and sent it whizzing by the A-wings at high speed with mere millimeters to spare. With a chuckle he watched his three wingmates take some rapid evasive manoeuvres while loud cursing flooded the communications link, then guided the toy back to the transport and checked for any damage.
Once they had returned to the Liberty, the group spent the next couple of days pulling favours and Sabacc debts to get the other eleven sensor probes that they needed. "Yeah, this is fine," Krayt said one day, "but I've been thinking ,,, they're too dumb, they won't react. We could actually improve on these by one addition to the leader—putting an R2 brain into it."
Jalb looked up at Krayt with his eyes narrowed as he thought it through. "Good, yeah Krayt, and that R2 brain can run the whole unit from a tactical interface with one of our ships."
Krayt was on a roll after that agreement. "Actually, we should put one in all of them, that way they can make evasive manoeuvres and the like when they get locked up."
Jalb looked into the eager eyes of his wingman. "Where are we gonna get twelve R2 brains?"
Krayt replied undaunted, "Don't know, maybe we could get some old R5's?"
Hellcat, who had been quietly working alongside the pair, groaned. "I don't think we'd want to put in for extra favours from Tuttle to get those."
Krayt eyed Hellcat and pushed on. "Or the leader could just have all of them go evasive."
"Too unnatural," Jalb said. "For my mind we could use four brains, four flights of three, that's believable."
Hellcat reckoned that was a good idea until Krayt came up with, "Three brains, three flights of four, standard configuration, even less problems," and sat back with a self-satisfied expression.
"OK, good idea. Any more?" Jalb asked.
"Well," Krayt responded, "we could also set them up to each record the battle from a different brain, get lots of sensor data to work with?"
Hellcat grinned. "I love working with you guys, always something new!"
After a week of harried scrounging, begging, borrowing, and stealing, the intrepid quartet had their Masquerade Squadron ready to go online. Hellcat had sliced in his code, and they made copies of the original codes on the Leader. Once all that had been completed, they were ready to do the full squadron test. Once again the three A-wings, lone B-wing and the transport lifted off from the Liberty's flight deck.
"Here we go," mumbled Krayt, "our first full squadron test."
Upon arrival in the test system, they deployed Masquerade Squadron for the first time. This time, Krayt had a control set up in his A-wing, another little addition that they had installed. He punched in the coordinates and sent the signal that switched the sensors into attack mode as Alli took the transport Darei forward to act as the target for this exercise. Krayt then designated the transport as the squadron objective, sat back and watched as their creations turned and began a textbook run on a capital ship.
"Masquerade, this is Lead, acquisition off my signal. Arm rockets and begin ignition sequence, attack on my command," came the synthesised voice of the electronics warfare package that Jalb had designed upon arriving at the Liberty. The twelve sensor/ships spread into an attack formation, three flights of four ships, two up with one in depth for cover and extra punch, as doctrine required.
Two seconds later, Alli came on the comm. "Guys, I think this is working, and I'm more than a bit scared. Those things aren't live, are they?" She said this loud enough to be heard above the bleeping of the missile lock indicator.
"Don't worry Alli," Hellcat replied. "Even if they were, I'd protect you."
"I am SO reassured," Alli's voice came back, dripping with sarcasm. "Jalb, can we leave him at home next time?"
Krayt looked out the transparisteel of his canopy and saw the double-take Jalb made at his commlink when that sweetly purred request came through. Krayt chuckled to himself as he prepared for the first run of evasion tests and lock drills they were going to put their new squadron through.
It had been one week since the first positive test of Masquerade Squadron, and the infamous four were pretty happy with what they had achieved. So, after some final tweaks, they had put them in storage aboard the Darei.
Life had returned pretty much to normal, or as normal as it got aboard the Liberty on Fighter Wing decks. Corsair was returning from another uneventful reconnaissance mission and the Rogues were heading out to stage an attack on the facility that Blindman's squadron had just reconnoitred. With the roundabout route and layovers they were using, it was going to be a good 24 hours before they returned to the Liberty. As was becoming practice for the newer pilots of Corsair, after hitting the 'fresher, they made their way to the bar, where Krayt, Condor, and Jalb met up with Hellcat and Alli.
Lieutenant Colonel Bob "Blindman" Lin, Corsair Leader, sat in the Lounge and sensed the famous five again. Jalb, Krayt, Condor, Hellcat and Alli? What are those five up to, he thought to himself. There are some strange interactions there. They fight like family, yet they all have a dedication to purpose and each other that is very strong ... but what is that purpose?
He sat back and contemplated this little conclave as Alli stepped up and behind Jalb. As he looked over his right shoulder, she moved with fluid speed and was around his left side and stepping away with his beer before he even knew it. The remaining three laughed at the forlorn look on Chris's face as he watched another crystallised beer float past the nearest viewport.
"Ha ha, laugh it up laser brains," Jalb said a little testily. "You know I love my beer, but beer ain't free and I'm not earning a fortune here."
"Don't worry," said Krayt. "I'm sure we'll be able to cover your bar tab if you run out of credits in the next few days." The others laughed and agreed in unison. With that, Jalb was duly mollified and heading to the bar for a new beer.
"Yo Alli, your beer buddy seems to be heading back to the bar for another round. Gonna do anything about that?" Hellcat commented as he sipped on his Screwdriver.
Alli looked at Hellcat with an openly bland expression. "Provided he remembers to get me something this time, he will be able to drink this one in peace. If not, well..." she finished with an evil grin.
Condor and Krayt looked at each other with barely muffled chuckles. It was so obvious to them, but the other three just couldn't see what was happening. Hellcat was a little interested in Alli, but he was being too smooth about it. Alli was more than a little interested in Jalb, and was playing up to get his attention. Meanwhile Jalb had his head so deep in whatever he was working on at the time that he just didn't have a clue.
Jalb returned to his seat just as the Wing's four newest pilots arrived in the Lounge. Jalb snorted. "F-N-G's," he snorting, using the veteran pilot's slang for Farking New Guys. "Look at the way they're strutting about. You realize that we're gonna have our hands full keeping them alive the first time they see combat."
Hellcat sniggered. "Don't laugh mate."
Jalb looked at the bomber pilot. "Two of them are going to Bucc!"
"They what?!" Hellcat spluttered, looking thoroughly discomfited. "They're fresh out of flight school, how'd they get this posting?"
"In fact," Jalb looked to be thoroughly enjoying himself, "I wouldn't be surprised to see one of them on your wing, Josh. A decorated combat veteran such as yourself; just the man they need to teach eager young kids the ropes."
Condor couldn't help it, and the final indignant look on Hellcat's face set him off into gales of laughter. Krayt looked towards Condor with a tolerant expression on his face. "Not to worry Con, you've got one in your flight too, as do Knight, Jalb and I."
Jalb growled, "Yeah! As long as we get them in the sims first and give them a touch of ego deflation, they'll be fine."
-Chapter 2, The Price of Victory-
[On the ISD Destructor]
Captain Jerna walked up onto the bridge of his Star Destroyer. "Helm, prepare to enter hyperspace on my mark." He had just received his orders to capture the Rebel Alliance Cruiser Windstorm— there was a growing need for intelligence on Rebel operations and capture of alliance starships was one of the easiest ways.
For this mission he had been assigned a task force including the Nebulon-B Frigate Fire's Breath, the Interdictor Typhoon, and another Imperial Star Destroyer by the name of Vindicator. He was sure this fleet was more than a match for a single Mon Calamari Cruiser. The one thing that bothered him was the lack of concurrent intelligence information— they knew when it was going to be passing through, but they didn't know if it had any support vessels with it. Even though they had over 14 squadrons of fighters versus the likely three of the Cruiser, and they had enough firepower to take it down quickly, something still could go wrong if a couple of support ships showed up. With all these things, he had a bad feeling about this mission, he could almost sense the impending doom for his force. But what he felt didn't matter, orders were orders. "Helm, enter hyperspace in twenty seconds."
[Near the Gandor system...]
The Imperial task force came out of hyperspace just hours before the Windstorm would be going through, with plenty of time to prepare for its arrival. With the two star destroyers in front, the frigate to one side, and the interdictor to the rear, the fleet was ready for the arrival of the Alliance ship.
[Aboard the CRS Windstorm...]
Captain Pilkar of the CRS Windstorm looked out of the bridge's main viewport at the beauty of hyperspace travel. While he was watching the space around him, he was almost pulled from his chair as the Mon Cal Cruiser was wrenched from hyperspace by an unpredicted gravity well, and that usually meant an Interdictor cruiser.
Looking at the sensor readout, he began issuing orders. "Launch all fighters, bring up the shields, all weapons fire at will." The cruiser had come out less than three kilometers from the Star Destroyers, and there was very little chance of getting all of the fighters launched before the first assault wave hit them. "Helm, plot us a course right between those Star Destroyers, we are going to hit that Interdictor."
The Windstorm's Flight Control Officer started issuing orders for Phoenix, Jade, and Wildcard Squadrons to launch, manually assigning target objectives as he went.
A flight each of TIE fighters, bombers, and interceptors launched from the bays of the three larger capital ships. Oh no, the Rebel captain thought. They're going all out, three squadrons of each, 118 craft. I hope they've got nothing in reserve!
As Imperial fighters kept pouring out of the hangar bays of the enemy capital ships, the Windstorm started launching fighters and bombers as it turned on its axis towards the ISD's.
"Helm, give us full thrust towards the Star Destroyers, and have Wildcard target the one on the left. We are going right between them," Pillar said, remembering Admiral Ackbar's tactics. As the distance closed rapidly between the two forces the enemy bombers started launching warheads at the Windstorm, but the big Calamarian vessel continued on its course.
Before Jade had a chance to engage the TIE Bombers, the ugly double-hulled craft had already started firing a salvo of torpedoes. "Thank god they just have protorps," one of the bridge officers mumbled. Windstorm's advanced missile launchers on her wings started firing at a rapid rate, with the impact of each missile able to take out clusters of the tightly grouped torpedoes. However, a disturbing number did get through the protective screen.
"Sir, shield power down 60%, all weapon systems are nominal, tactical reports 30 kills to forward batteries." Captain Pilkar nodded, thinking to himself, From 200 to sixty in less than two minutes. If we don't get help, we are dead.
Wildcard's Y-wings were making assault runs on the ISD Vindicator. No sooner had they started to dumbfire their loads of heavy rockets at the great triangular starship than massed squadrons of interceptors attacked them.
"Jade, this is Wildcard Lead, we have a squint problem here!"
"Windstorm Control, this is Jade Leader, the big guys have 12 heavies inbound each! Sorry we can't do more at the moment."
"Sir, the Vindicator took out most of the incoming rockets, but shields are down to twenty percent."
As Jade Squadron entered the fray, Phoenix went about mopping up the dupes that the Windstorm's guns had failed to take out, as well as their TIE fighter escorts. "Captain Pilkar, this is Flight Control. Sir, we are beginning to take losses, Wildcard is down three ships, Jade is down two—no two more just ejected ... the numbers are starting to look a lot less in our favor sir."
Pilkar looked down at his FCO and was about to respond before the officer quickly amended his previous report. "Well, more so than usual sir."
"Captain, five seconds until turbolaser range," the sensor operator said.
"All gunners open up as soon as we are within range," came Pilkar's next order. "Helm, prepare to do a 90 degree roll to port on my mark."
[The bridge of the Destructor]
"Sir, they're coming right at us!"
"Helm full starboard turn—get us out of the way. Signal the Vindicator to do the same," ordered Jerna. As the ISDs began to take evasive action, the frigate Fire's Breath came up to attack position and commenced hangar operations, launching its squadrons of bombers and interceptors.
[The bridge of the Windstar]
With the two Impstars turning away, fewer weapons were hitting the cruiser. "OK helm, roll, now!" ordered Captain Pilkar. By rolling, the cruiser lessened the firepower available to it, but was able to slice through the narrow space between the two Destroyers.
"Sir, new contacts, full squadrons of squints and dupes launching from the Frigate," the FCO called out.
"Sir, Weapons reports that the anti-warhead missile launchers are depleted."
"Phoenix, get on those new fighters, keep them away from the Windstorm," the FCO ordered. Phoenix Squadron turned to comply, but could not reach the incoming bombers before they fired torpedoes. Suddenly they had no time to worry about that as they were engulfed by a wave of interceptors and fighters.
"Sir, we are taking torpedo hits, shields down to 50% and dropping!"
Just then, the sensor operator spoke up. "Sir, I have a new contact, it's ... It's the Liberty!"
[On board the Liberty's bridge]
Out of nowhere the sensor operator on board the Liberty yelled out, "Sir! Gravity well, we've been pulled out of hyperspace. Imperial task force dead ahead."
"Ring the alarms, all pilots up NOW!" came Admiral Ra'Kaat's order as he quickly glanced over the situation.
Jalb, Krayt, Condor, Alli and Hellcat were discussing what possible uses they were going to have for Masquerade Squadron, when all of a sudden they were pulled from their seats and the attack alarm came over the Liberty speakers. Jalb looked at the other pilots. "Guys, let's get to our fighters. Alli, stand by."
One minute later, with the frigate's fighters leaving the Windstorm to their capital ships and closing on the Liberty quickly, Corsair and Buccaneer launched from the bay.
The voice of the Liberty Flight Control Officer, Pashk "Silk" V'tikan, came over their comms. "OK, Corsair hit the bombers, Buccs, start with the interceptors— use your ions, they have slightly longer range. As soon as the bombers are gone, Corsair— take the rest of the interceptors, Bucc, take the Interdictor."
"Does this guy think we're amateurs?" Hellcat said snippily after hearing Silk's ... suggestion about using ion cannons first.
"He's just trying to be helpful, Six," Guardian replied tersely.
At the same time, Admiral Ra'Kaat began issuing his orders. "Helm, move us to weapons range with that frigate, we want to disable it and continue moving towards the Star Destroyers. And signal the Windstorm to begin its withdrawal, we will get rid of the Interdictor."
The Corsairs each locked up on a fighter, firing a missile each. The missiles began to impact just as the bombers began launching their torpedoes. The next second, the twelve bombers had been reduced to two.
[On board the Windstorm]
"Windstorm, begin to withdraw from the combat area, we'll get rid of the Interdictor," radioed the communications officer on board the Liberty.
"Inform the Liberty, will do. Helm, head for the nearest exit point," the exhausted Captain Pilkar ordered.
Blindman took charge as soon as they were clear and the immediate bomber threat was dispatched. "All right Corsairs, form up by flights, opportunity targets, you are weapons free. Good hunting gentlemen!" With that three assault groups of four peeled off and split into twos. Jalb toggled a private channel to 1st Lt. John "Knight" Vorwald, Corsair Seven. "Watch the new kid, mate. He's a bit tender for my liking."
Knight gave a reply of affirmation, and then they were into the thick of it. Krayt was quickly amongst the kills, bagging two interceptors on his first pass and a wayward dupe as he looped back to the forward edge of the battle area.
"You're on fire, Krayt!" Jalb called. "I'm on your wing, go get 'em!" he said with a chuckle as he let his young wingman do all the talking, occasionally issuing statements of crimson lasers to keep interlopers off Krayt's back. Krayt was onto his seventh kill when Knight's voice came over the comm.
"A tad outnumbered over here, could you help me out?" he calmly asked.
Jalb quickly checked his sensors and saw the problem. "Krayt?" he queried.
"Go skip, I'm looking good."
With that Jalb peeled off to help Knight with his little added extras. Jalb heard the desperate plea from Eight, then heard Krayt answer, "Hang on Rook, I'm on him." Jalb also saw the intricate weave the four interceptors were performing. The rookie was gonna be toast, and Krayt didn't see the net closing around him. He desperately keyed his commlink as he saw Eight's A-wing turn into a spreading ball of fiery gas.
Krayt finally noticed the rest of what was going on and a cold chill swept through Jalb. He saw the four interceptors at equidistant points, around him, forming a crucifix with him in the center. Jalb set ELS to 0/0 and headed for his mate but the squints started peppering Krayt's egg way before he was in range. He watched in horror as armor started to vaporize. "Krayt, eject, eject, eject!"
He could hear a garbled transmission: "Sys ... rue, ect ... line, ant ... old..." from Krayt as the snubfighter's engines detonated, sending the forward half of his craft spinning lazily into space.
"KRAYT! Nooooooooooo!" A cold rage suffused Jalb as he calmly keyed his comm. "Knight, with me. Let's finish these bastards!"
Knight didn't get a word in. He counted himself more than adequate in a melee, but the one time he'd met Jalb in the sim, he was glad that he wasn't flying like this. Corsair Five seemed to be flying with the Dark Side's own luck, a man possessed. Knight watched enthralled as the four interceptors fell waste to the twin scarlet lances issuing from Jalb's A-wing. Jalb brought his fighter through the expanding debris cloud of the last squint and headed back towards the main focus of the fight.
"C'mon Knight, you playing or what?"
"If I'm gonna live through this one, I'm gonna do it here," Knight said to himself as he formed on Jalb's wing.
As the Windstorm got the Liberty's message, the captain began issuing new orders. "Helm bring us to 32 mark 4; full speed, get away from these Destroyers"
"Sir, shield strength down to five percent ... no sir, our shields are out." Pilkar watched his screen as the two Star Destroyers began pounding his cruiser with their ions. Within seconds, the cruiser was dead in space.
Lights flickered on the Windstorm's bridge. "Status report!" ordered Pilkar."
"Sir, all systems are out, propulsion, defensive systems, everything sir."
Just at that time, the Liberty entered range with the frigate. Out-gunned but resolute, the frigate's captain was determined to stop the larger ship. The gunners on the Liberty began pounding the frigate, and with precision hits began putting holes in the smaller ship's shields. Seeing a no win situation the captain on board the frigate ordered for a ramming course on the Liberty.
The captain of the Fire's Breath gnashed his teeth. "We will not be captured!"
When the holes began to get larger, the Liberty opened up with its ions, and had the ship disabled before the shields were all out. Nearing the giant cruiser, the bridge officer on board the Imperial frigate shouted to the captain, "Sir our shields are failing. We'll be disabled within the next few seconds."
Suddenly the lights went dead and all power on board went out. The captain's hopes died as his ship began losing systems. Before he could do anything to stop it, he was a sitting duck and the Liberty was moving past him to engage two slightly damaged Star Destroyers.
"Damn those Rebels!" the captain muttered to himself. "All hands, prepare to be boarded, Security, take your positions."
The Liberty entered range with the Vindicator first and turbolaser fire streamed between the two ships. Fortunately for the Liberty, the Vindicator was flying in a direct line and had to manoeuvre to begin firing on the Liberty. If we can just hold on a little longer, thought Ra'Kaat.
The Buccaneers had managed to disable a couple of fighters on the way through the line, and then they turned their attention towards the Interdictor. The voice of Lieutenant Colonel Adam "Guardian" Burns, Buccaneer Leader, came over the comm: "All right Buccs, listen up, link rockets and dumbfire them at the Interdictor. Valkyrie, once you've loosed your loads, take Hellcat, Rancor and Viper and go give them a hand with the Vindicator, we will be along shortly."
Hellcat did a quick cycle through his HUD as he went to acquire his new objective, when a familiar callsign caught his eye. "Hmm, Phoenix Three?" He scanned his sensors to pick up the green dot's position, and muttered to himself, "Boy, are you in a world of hurt!"
Suddenly his memory kicked in, and his eyes widened. He keyed his comm. "Hang on Dack, this is Buccaneer Six coming to the rescue!" But he was too late. Hellcat watched as Joe Dack's fighter disintegrated, and felt a growing anger begin inside him. "OK you Imperial trash, you asked for it." He left his formation and swung around onto the Imps that had just destroyed his last link with the past. At extreme range he opened up with ion cannons and watched with glee as the blue nimbus of power draining light flickered about first one, then two, three, and finally four squints. "Right, now you're in for it!" he said to himself as he flew through their inert formation, still cruising off at the same velocity and trajectory they were on.
He turned in to chase and switched to guns, painting the trailing fighter with lock. "Buccaneer Six! Check fire, check fire!" Guardian's voice roared over the comm. "Leave them Josh, there's a better way. Get the ISD!"
Hellcat suddenly realised what he was about to do and shivered with dread at the callousness of his intended action. He swung his B-wing around towards the Vindicator, set his rockets for dual fire, and flew the length of the Vindicator. He was just shy of two tenths of a kilometer from the bridge when he keyed the Imperial frequency and broadcasted in clear: "I've had just about enough of you damn Imps to last a lifetime, here's a goodbye present from me to you."
He then pulled the trigger, launching his rockets into the bridge of the ISD, and pulled up out of range of the explosion. As the ISD disintegrated he keyed a private channel on his commlink "Alli, Gemini is go, do it now!"
The rest of the bomber squadron had unloaded their missiles on the Interdictor, and the rocket salvo struck with enough force to severely damage the ship. Its shields were out completely, some weaponry was damaged, but the gravity well generators were still online. Bucc Leader keyed his comm, "All right, begin strafing runs, let's save our rockets for that last Star Destroyer."
They switched over to lasers and ions. Flying along the length of the Interdictor, the Buccaneer lasers vaporised armor and their ions began disabling systems. Then a frantic voice came over the system: "This is Vampire! My shields are out, ejecting, malfunction in the ejection system, oh no, I am going to cra—" and his comm broke down into static.
Guardian watched in shock as the new pilot crashed into the bridge of the Interdictor, causing catastrophic damage throughout the ship. The gravity wells went offline and the ship began to fall apart.
Given the brief leeway of breathing room, Admiral Ra'Kaat ordered for the SAR craft to launch and pick up pilots. "Salvatore, we've been given a narrow margin of time to get out there and pick up some of the pilots. Launch and bring our boys home will you?"
"Roger that, powering up thrusters now." After speaking, Lieutenant Rafael "Hyl" Costa Guerra saw Alli's ship come to life and wondered if she had been assigned as part of the SAR effort. Just then Alli's ship shot out of the hangar and away from the ship. "Wonder what she's doing?" Hyl asked himself.
As soon as Alli had cleared the Liberty's hangar bay, she slowed down and began launching Masquerade Squadron. Once all twelve were out, she input the waypoints and assigned the Destructor as the target. The fake ships activated, and to the surprise of Silk and everyone else, a new voice came over the comm. "Control, this is Masquerade Leader, we are beginning our rocket run on the remaining Star Destroyer."
[On the bridge of the Destructor]
"Sir, this is sensors, we have a new contact. Another B-wing squadron just launched from the Liberty. Twelve new B-wings, sir! Moving into attack position on our ship! Sir, another new contact, it's Rogue Squadron!"
The captain checked his screen, and just as he did, the Vindicator took two rockets to the bridge. Noting the range, the sensor officer said, "Captain, if we are not out of here in ten seconds, we are dead."
Nearly losing his self-control, the Destructor's commanding officer shouted out orders. "All craft protect the Destructor, repeat all craft protect the Destructor." Just then, the dot that designated the Interdictor winked off from his screen, enabling the Destructor to engage its hyperdrive. It leapt away in a blind jump from the battle, leaving a damaged, but victorious Rebel force behind them.
A wide-beam transmission was issued by the Liberty's FCO on the Imperial frequency. "All Imperial forces, your capital ships are gone. Power down now and you will be dealt with fairly, if you wish to continue to fight, please note a squadron of X-wings designated Rogue has just arrived. The choice is yours."
Jalb guided his A-wing into the hangar and executed a perfect touchdown and power off. He popped the lid on his egg and sat there staring at the flight stick between his legs. "Three down—two FNG's and they had to take Krayt with them." The cold anger that had suffused him before had departed and he was overwhelmed with a deep sense of loss. "I didn't know you long, Krayt, but you were the best mate a bloke could have," he said to the void as a tear rolled down his cheek.
His commanding officer walked by just as Jalb slid down the nose of his fighter, and Blindman couldn't help but notice the sorrow emanating from him. "What's up Jalb? You did well out there," Blindman said as Jalb fell into step beside him.
Jalb didn't even bother lifting his head as his CO spoke to him. "Krayt's gone," he mumbled. Blindman suddenly realized what it was he felt out there earlier. The sense of one of his pilots, shocked and wounded, then the onslaught of power emanating like a dark cloud from the center of the melee. The Dark Side, fueled by Jalb's anger at the perceived death of his friend. No wonder he was flying so well. He grabbed the young officer and Force-probed him from head to foot, much to Jalb's surprise. But there was nothing left, maybe a latent touch of attunement, but nothing dark. "Right lieutenant, pull yourself together now! You obviously paid no attention to your commlink after Krayt ejected."
Jalb looked up, stunned.
"That's right," Blindman continued, "you would have heard he was on the Salvatore and being shipped to where he is now, sick bay."
Jalb stammered his apologies, threw a quick salute, and bolted for the sick bay to check on his friend.
As transports loaded with repair crews entered the hangar of the Windstorm, another group of transports was carrying a commando team to capture the Imperial frigate that the Liberty had disabled.
At the same time Hellcat was pulling into a final landing approach with the Liberty. However, the only thing that came to his mind was the death of his old friend that he worked with while in Phoenix Squadron. "Guess they're all gone now," he sighed.
After touching down onto the hangar bay's floor with a soft "thump," Hellcat's canopy opened up as he took off his gloves and threw them into his helmet. Jumping out of his fighter, Hellcat started to walk out of the hangar bay until he heard Guardian call for him. "Hellcat, I need to see you for a moment."
A slow and poor salute, "You wanted to see me sir?"
"You were not ordered to disengage your attack on the Star Destroyers. Any reason why I shouldn't write you up?"
"Sorry boss, I guess I let my feelings from the past get in the way of my current objective." The young pilot trailed off as he looked down at the floor. "He was the only link to my past that I wished I could have saved out there." Hellcat slowly started to raise his head until his eyes came to meet with his CO's and he stared with a blank look on his face.
Looking into the emptiness that his pilot's eyes were showing, Guardian decided to let it slide this time. "We can't let our past get in the way of the present lieutenant. You did finish off one of those ISD's, so I'm just going to give you a warning. But if you would like a pity party to compare history notes, come see me. Dismissed, pilot."
Saluting, Hellcat continued to walk out the hangar bay but was again stopped by Guardian's voice. "By the way, there's someone that wants to see you in sick bay." With a bit of hope flowing through him Hellcat rushed off to sick bay.
While looking for his long time friend, Hellcat passed by a bacta tank where he saw Krayt being treated for internal injuries from shrapnel that he suffered when he had to eject from his fighter. Finally, Hellcat saw what he was looking for.
"Dack, you're alive! But how did ... you ejected?"
"Hey, good to see you old buddy. Yeah, funny thing happened. At the last moment before my fighter got toasted my hand flinched and pulled on the chicken switch." As Dack finished his sentence the two pilots shook hands and started to catch up on old times.
[An hour later]
"Well it was good to see you again old friend," Hellcat said as he saw his old comrade board one of the transports returning to the now-repaired Windstorm.
"Same to you buddy, say next time you guys plan on flying through a sector of space we're patrolling, give me a holler will you? Except let's hope we don't meet under the same circumstances that we did today shall we?" Dack managed a chuckle though he was still in some pain.
"No problem, just wish the others were here to enjoy the reunion ceremony such as we had."
"Yeah, I know what you mean, but we can't always look back into the past Josh. Sometimes you just have to let go and move on."
Taking his friend's words into consideration, Hellcat stepped back as the loading door of the transport shut followed by the whine of the engines being powered up. Soon the transport was out of the hangar and flying towards the Windstorm. Turning away, Hellcat was on his way to the Lounge where a big celebration and description of the battle in words were taking place.
[In the Lounge 30 minutes later]
"Hey guys, I'm going to split for a while," Hellcat commented as he got up from the table and walked out of the Lounge before any of the pilots he was sitting with could get out a word.
"Wonder what's up with Wonderboy," asked Condor as he finished off his drink.
Arriving on the Observation Deck, Hellcat slouched against the wall and slowly slid down until he was sitting on the floor. Taking out a picture of his old squadron, he again remembered back to the days he served on board the Windstorm, and the unfortunate day that the Windstorm engaged three Star Destroyers and an Interdictor. His buddies were dying left and right until reinforcements came into the area to help repel the massive Imperial task force. There were only three pilots that survived out of the 32 stationed to the ship at the time; one was himself, another was Dack, and the last one was reported to have gone AWOL after undergoing severe psyche treatments.
Snapping back into the present, Hellcat pulled out his lighter and lit the picture on fire, throwing it into a nearby garbage chute. He was a bit startled when he heard a sniffle up ahead and saw Alli looking out one of the viewports then dip her head. Getting up from the floor, Hellcat walked over to her. "Something wrong Alli?"
She looked up at Hellcat, eyes full of tears. Alli muttered, "No, nothing," and turned away, but obviously something was chewing her inside. Pushing it a little, Hellcat asked her again and this time she told him the problem. After telling Hellcat the story of the death of her brother, they both were quiet.
The stillness was broken when Hellcat spoke up. "This war has left a mark on all of us, the deaths of friends, family, and everyone else. We try to put that behind us but something always comes along to bring the past back. As a friend once told me, we can't always look back into the past, sometimes you just have to let go and move on." Looking at his depressed friend, Hellcat decided to try and cheer her up by saying, "so should we head to the Lounge so you can do your job of getting rid of Jalb's beers?"
It did the trick as a smile came across her face, and she pushed on the taller man's shoulders a bit. The quietness settled in again, and both pilots looked back out of the viewport towards the stars one last time before turning back towards the Lounge.