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The Past Ahead: Part 2
By: Jalb, Hellcat, Krayt, and Alli

-Chapter 3, Diversions-

Things had changed little on the Liberty following the withdrawal of the last Star Destroyer 36 hours previously. A convoy of freighters and transports had just hypered into the area with much-needed technical repair teams, equipment, parts and the requisite ubiquitous Tugs. Soon the local space was filled with transiting Tugs, moving parts and equipment from cargo holds to the hull and hangar of the Windstorm.

The Liberty had kept its position relative to the Windstorm while it carried out repairs, providing defensive support and augmented standing patrols of starfighters prowling the sector. For most of the Liberty's pilots, life resumed its normal routine; for a few, things had occurred which would leave them changed forever, the war with the Empire stamping its irrevocable brand on them, or burning it in just that little bit deeper.

After 24 hours in bacta, and a further 24 in sick bay recovering from his recovery, Krayt was eager to get back to his social life. Visitors in sick bay, as appreciated as they are, just don't make up for the interaction of the Lounge, his current destination. On his arrival he quickly spotted his accomplices in the development of Masquerade Squadron sitting around their usual table and strode over to be met by a chorus of greetings. After the usual post punch out ribbing, the pilot's way of expressing his pleasure at seeing a colleague alive and well and, at the same time, understating their relief that it wasn't them, the group soon settled into their usual banter. After a few minutes Jalb spoke up.

"Gents, I have to let you know, now that Krayt's back with us, that Stryker..." Just then Jalb's commlink beeped.

"Lieutenant Reynolds, this is Colonel Rambo. Since you're all together, yourself and your cohorts may join me in my office now. Stryker out."

"Well, that just about covers it," Jalb said as he looked up with a rueful grin. "Dontcha just hate that Force thing?" he added with a chuckle. The other three pilots looked at him with openly expectant expressions. "Hey, I don't know what it's about, but I'm sure we're about to find out." He shot a conciliatory smile at everyone as he stood. "Shall we?"


Ten minutes later Condor, Hellcat, Jalb, and Krayt were sitting in a mismatched array of chairs that had been hastily dragged into the CO's office. With Guardian and Blindman sitting in the background, Stryker leant forward, placed his elbows on the desk, rested his chin on his thumbs and steepled his fingers in front of his mouth.

"Gentlemen," he started.

"A funny thing happened on my revision to realspace the other day, and I was hoping you could shed some light on it. I came back to a battle zone, and as I cycled through my targets I noticed a B-wing squadron designated Masquerade. Obviously this piqued my interest, even more so when I watched as each docked with, then entered the Darei. How does a diminutive Corellian Transport house a squadron of B-wings? I am most perplexed." With that he leaned back into his seat and folded his arms. "Who is going to help out their bewildered CO's?" Stryker asked pleasantly as he looked each in the eye one by one. He watched as the four traded looks and argued like truculent adolescents.

"No, it was your idea."

"Not me, you tell them."

Stryker hid his amusement at the fact that these four supposedly mature, unquestionably intelligent, pilots could behave like such juveniles. He stood slowly and once again leaned forward, knuckles on his desktop, adopting a somewhat sterner facade. He raised his voice slightly. "Now, people!" then dropped back to conversational tones just as quickly. "Any idea on exactly when you were going to let the rest of us in on your little project?"

He again swept the group with his look, and attempted eye contact. Each gaze he met turned into the top of a head or downcast eyes as feet shuffled. His eyes came to rest on Jalb, at the end of the line. Jalb sat up a bit straighter and met his gaze after a brief glance at his fellow pilots showed them studiously ignoring the proceedings. "Well, Lieutenant Reynolds? Would you care to enlighten us or shall I put you all down for Tug duty?"

Jalb cringed at the thought of driving a tug, took a subconscious swallow and spoke up. "Erm, Sir. Well..." he started to the accompaniment of 3 relieved sighs. "We were planning to put the concept to the Command Staff after your return, having just completed successful tests. We wanted to give the Wing an Operational asset, not just another notional 'would if we could'. We circumvented a few regs in doing so, and we certainly weren't expecting to use them so soon but, such are the fortunes of war, I guess..." he trailed off with a shrug.

Stryker clamped his jaw shut and looked down at his desk to keep the quartet in front of him from seeing his amusement. Circumvented a few regs, he thought to himself. Ha. Took a Death Star to them is more like it. He sought the calm of the Force as he pulled himself together and resumed his seat. As he sat he leaned back, crossed his legs and assumed a pose of relaxed interest.

"Hmm, a few regs. Let's start at the start shall we?" he said as he motioned Jalb to continue.


[ISD Destructor]

Captain Jerna was not a happy man. With his task force all but destroyed and his own vessel needing urgent repairs, he had an important decision to make: go back and explain his failure to his superiors, which would cost him his command—and probably his life, or desert Imperial service with his ship. Jerna was a hard taskmaster with very little of the compassionate side of human nature hindering him, but he felt that enough of the crew respected him—or at least his position—to stay on with him and keep the starship operational.

As he stalked the bridge, there was a sudden surge of gravity, followed by a brief moment of weightlessness, then a return to a one-g constant. All this happened in the space of a foot step, and Jerna found himself lying on the deck, his body failing to compensate for the abrupt gravitic changes. He surged to his feet. "Engineering! That's three times in the last half-hour! I want gravity stabilised."

"Sir! I thought it prudent not to have all the available technicians working on the one system when so many others require attention. To fix the grav stabs I'm going to have to take techs from the hyp—" the engineering officer was cut off.

"I don't care what you think prudent, Lieutenant. I want gravity stabilised 5 minutes ago—now do it!"

The engineering officer felt unfairly chastened but carried out his orders, evidenced by his unenthusiastic confirmation of the order. Then Jerna came to a decision. "Helm, plot a course to the Granor System."

The helmsman looked up with a questioning expression. "But sir, Granor is further removed from Imperial Center than we are now."

Jerna rolled his eyes upwards and voiced a rhetorical question loud enough to be heard by all. "Is every officer now free to second guess my orders?" He fixed his helmsman with a cold glare.

"S—Sir, aye, Granor it is, Sir!" the helmsman stuttered, aware how close to the precipice he skirted, and quickly started the computations for the jump.

During the time in hyperspace, Captain Jerna formulated his thoughts. He brought his most trusted officers and one senior non-commissioned officer into the loop to help plan and execute his concepts. They rightly surmised that the craft desperately required parts and equipment if it was to become fully operational in the near future, and figured that they would be able to find what they needed in the Orja system—but it wouldn't be cheap.

This was not a great problem as even a partially functioning Star Destroyer was enough to garner a satisfactory discount; turbolaser batteries seemed to have that effect on less well-equipped merchants. They spent the rest of the time discussing actions in support of Jerna's plan while he worked on his strategies to remain out of the hands of the Empire, and, if possible, gain revenge on the Alliance in general and the CRS Liberty and her fighter wing in particular.


[CRS Liberty]

Three hours later Stryker felt he knew more about this Masquerade Squadron than did the four in front of him, and with what he knew, he was well pleased. The spontaneous unveiling of the Squadron had been successful, as well as discreet. Even many of the Alliance personnel still didn't realise the subterfuge that had been used. As he dismissed them his final words were, "Alright, I've plenty of work to do now, thanks to you four, therefore, I feel it appropriate that you help me with it. From here, disappear, and reappear in the hangar bay. I want you to brief Sergeant Vornac and his technical staff on these little toys of yours, and then help them service them. After that report to the ready room, I've a feeling I need to give you all a special assignment."

He gave them a vaguely evil grin and mumbled, "Dismissed, get outta here!" He lowered his head into his hands and started massaging his temples. Pleased, yet not at all looking forward to having to reverse brief Admiral Ra'kaat he turned to face the CO's sitting behind him and shook his head.

Blindman directed his gaze in the direction of Stryker and grinned openly. "So what do you want us to do with them boss?" he asked.

Stryker sighed deeply "Do me a favour, keep the four of them busy for a while, idle hands and all. Here's what I intend..."


[ISD Destructor, Granor System]

On reversion to real space in the Granor system, Captain Jerna called all his crew together in the main hangar bay. Those that couldn't fit were watching the proceedings on holoprojectors on the various mess decks throughout the ship. Jerna stood on the balcony overlooking the hangar with a discreetly placed voice amplifier attached to his uniform collar and began to speak.

"Gentlemen. Troopers, sailors, officers, I have a burden to share, one that some of you may have no wish to help with. As you by now know, we are not going back to Imperial Center, nor will it be likely that we go back for some time. The inspired tactical withdrawal that we accomplished in the face of certain destruction has been a huge victory for us; the mauling we gave the Rebels will have them hiding and licking their wounds for weeks."

A roar of approval from the assembled mass met this and Jerna had to raise his hands briefly to bring the tumult down.

"However I am under no illusions as to how our victory will be viewed by Sector Command, and it is with this in mind that I have committed to the following. We will repair and resupply the Destructor from our own pockets."

An indignant murmur started to ripple throughout the crowd.

"But! This will be a small price to pay for our freedom. All costs incurred by each individual will be repaid as funds become available." He paused for effect. "I intend to strengthen our position through attacks on Rebel convoys, bases and worlds."

Once more a cheer.

"And ... And once strong enough, we will hunt down the Liberty and present it and its crew to the Emperor himself!"

The roar was deafening. Jerna allowed it to go on for a moment more then raised his hands again. "As I said previously there are probably a few among you who wish to leave for Imperial Center immediately. Be it for personal, moral, or family reasons. Rest assured, you may leave. At the completion of this parade, you will have one hour to gather your personal effects, make your goodbyes and board the shuttles, which will be prepped and ready to launch on your return."

A few relieved sighs, the issuers of which received more than a few looks of disgust.

"Gentlemen, do not look upon our actions as defective or traitorous. We are merely embarking on a period of freelance work which will further our cause in the name of the Emperor," to which he added sotto voice, "eventually." He raised his hands once more and issued orders. "Company! Atten...tion! To your duties, fall ... out!"

Cpt. Jerna stood and watched the three shuttles through the viewport as they moved from underneath the hull of the massive ship. "Only three! Better than I had hoped for. The arrangements for their departure have been finalised?" he asked of the figure standing next to him.

Warrant Officer Jahvid Trusck, Company Sergeant Major of the Destructor's assault forces, arched an eyebrow and let a sardonic grin play across his lips. "Sir. They have been instructed to hold in-system until the Destructor jumps. They will, if they are smart, monitor us and trace our path with the hope of letting System Command know where we have gone."

He turned to look at his CO. "But, active or passive, as soon as those shuttles sense hyperdrive displacement, ours or theirs, they will carry out a massive irreversible existence deficient and scatter those aboard throughout this system, thanks to a few well placed charges."

Jerna smiled coldly. "Good, well done CSM. Helm, are we ready to make the jump to Orja?" He received a response in the affirmative. "Very well, engage!"

He smiled as he watched three scarlet buds begin to blossom in the moments between the time his drive units displaced space around them and then actually powered them through that displacement.


[CRS Liberty]

Upon completing the first of their assigned tasks, a somewhat disheveled, grubby, and greasy group made their way, albeit wearily, to the ready room to find out what Stryker had planned for them. As they entered the room it was obvious to them that no one was there to meet them, then Jalb noticed the insistent chiming of a data pad at a nearby desk.

He walked over, picked it up and activated the log, reading aloud as he did so. "Good, you should all be there," Stryker's orders scrolled across the screen. "Set up for a briefing, I'm sure you'd prefer it there than make your way back. Holoprojector plus seating for five. You will be joined directly. Carry on."

The pad went blank 15 seconds after they had all had a gander.

"How does he do that?" Hellcat asked rhetorically. As if on cue, Alli stormed in, and if her stride didn't send messages, the look on her face certainly did. Hellcat looked at Condor, raised his eyebrows and rolled his eyes and, never one to miss a chance, was quick off the mark. "Aww, what's wrong Alli? Pika gone E-V without a leave of absence?"

The jibe resulted in fire and ice from a single glance. "Don't start Josh, I am not in the mood!" She flung herself into one of the seats and looked up at the four pilots looking down at her. "What?" She said heatedly. "Fine ... I just spent the last hour with Commander Morrison lecturing me on ways to stay out of trouble on the Lib and, believe it or not, the names used most as 'stay away from' were you guys. And now I'm supposed to be on task with you? What is going on?"

Just as Alli voiced her question, it was unexpectedly answered. "I can help you with that, Flight Officer Ralter."

Jalb shouted "Attention on deck" as he snapped off a precision salute at the CO, quickly followed by the other 4 pilots jumping to the position of attention.

Stryker sketched a brief wave in return and, moving to the holoprojector, allowed them to stay that way for the briefest of moments longer than was his custom. He smiled to himself as if laughing at an inside joke. Finally, he looked up. "Alright, at ease people."

The five pilots took their ease in the available seats and looked up expectantly at Stryker. Without preamble, Stryker started. "Alli, you will be making a run to Amina to pick up some warheads, a couple of passengers, and on to Rani III to pick up some replacement pilots. We expect this to be a straightforward run. However, due to the course you will be flying, we thought it prudent to supply you with an escort, as well as manning for your Dorsal and Ventral guns."

Jalb looked at Krayt and raised a quizzical eyebrow, both wondering the same. As Krayt raised his hand to get Stryker's attention, the lights dimmed and the holoprojector focused an image of Amina rotating lazily in the air above it.

Stryker looked straight at Krayt and, putting on his 'briefing voice', began to lecture. "Amina has been sympathetic to Alliance leanings for some time and is willing to help with the repair and resupply operation we have going on here now. However, there is a catch. They wish to send one of their leading diplomats back with the supplies. As they are still under de facto Imperial rule, it is risky sending emissaries to openly meet with Alliance officials."

He looked at Alli. "You will be playing mule. Jalb and Krayt will fly escort while Condor and Hellcat will accompany you and man the Darei's guns if needed."

He turned and indicated a smaller sphere rotating in the air next to the planet. "You will rendezvous on this, the third moon, where you will meet three Lambda-class shuttles carrying warheads and the diplomat. From there you will proceed to Rani III to pick up our REO pilots, and then you will return here. There will be no stops to test out new ideas or bugfix... toys en-route," he added with a grin.

"Detailed notes on your waypoints and objectives have been uploaded to your datapads. Study them well. If there are no further questions ... You leave in 10 hours. I would suggest you spend eight of them in bed. Good evening all." Without further pause, strode from the room.

The remainder spent the next half-hour going over the notes on their datapads and locking in preflight timings and lodging flight plans. At the completion of the administration, Jalb stood and yawned. "I don't know about you all, but I'm heading to bed. G'night and see ya's in the morning."

The others looked at each other and Hellcat shrugged. "Been a long day, think I'll turn in as well." With murmured assent and agreement, the rest decided it was time to call it quits and set off for their cabins as well.


[ISD Destructor, Orja System]

"Sir, I have a bad feeling about this," the Engineering officer called. The Destructor had just started vibrating, a minimal disturbance but a serious symptom from an, as yet, unknown cause.

"Status report," Jerna commanded. "What in Sith is going on?" The vibration increased perceptibly.

The helmsman looked up. "Sir, hyperspace corridor displacement field losing cohesion."

"Sir!" the Engineering officer called. "It's being caused by a sub-harmonic imperfection in the hyperdrive's synchronization, and it's getting worse. If we don't shut down in 20 seconds our corridor is going to collapse in on us, nobody will find much..." he trailed off.

"Helm!" Jerna called, "how long to realspace in Orja?"

"25 seconds, sir."

Jerna made some quick calculations in his head as he watched the beautiful yet eerie glow of the hyperspace tunnel contracting.

"Sir, displacement field failure in 10 seconds!"

The captain wiped his hand over his face as he contemplated the time going to be spent at sublight to reach the center of the system. "Exit hyperspace now Helm; Engineering, I want answers!"

"Sir, emphasis was placed on the repair of the gravity stabilisers as requested, this left me two crews short and we were unable to do a full diagnostic after the repairs made to the hyperdrives before our last jump."

Jerna turned to see the Engineering officer on his feet, correctly at attention. "Relax, Lieutenant, I am not so insecure as not to realise my own mistakes. Very well, run your diagnostics and let me know how much time and what you require for repairs." He turned back to the helm. "Current location? Any contacts?" he asked.

The sensor operator spoke up. "Sir, we are currently 1.2 million kilometres away from the Orja primary, however I believe we have lucked out, sir," the sensor operator added with a smile over his shoulder. "I have a Rebel convoy 10 klicks away at mark 4.6."

Jerna made his way over to look over the operator's shoulder. "Good, very good..."

"Wait, sir, new contacts, 18 craft, snubs... not Rebel! IFF interrogation reports no signal. Pirates, sir?"

"Where are they?" Jerna queried.

"They've come out between us and the convoy, about five klicks. Eight of the bandits are turning on us, sir— they are going for acquisition."

"Sir, shall I launch the alert flight?" Flight Ops asked with his finger over the launch button.

"No..." Jerna murmured thoughtfully. "Helm, all stop. Comm, get me a channel!"

"Open, sir. Go ahead."

"Pirate forces, this is Captain Jerna of the Independent Star Destroyer Destructor. Belay your attack run on this vessel or I will be compelled to defend her. I have more than enough fighters on board to destroy your pitiful force. We are here by sheer coincidence and will do no more than observe," he calmly stated.

There was a tense moment of silence.

"Acknowledged Destructor. I note you have no head speed and have not launched, I will take this as an act of good faith. Maintain your distance or we will destroy you." With that the approaching craft looped 180 degrees and joined with the rest of their assault group.

It was over in a matter of minutes. The ten freighters were unescorted and defenseless, sheer folly on behalf of the Alliance command, and they were soon disabled and dead in space after the brief onslaught of blue and scarlet fire which coruscated over the shields, then hull plating of the stricken vessels.

"Sir, new contacts, capital ships and transports. Ten transports, heading for the convoy; a corvette and a frigate also."

"Sir, we are being hailed by the frigate. I also just intercepted coded transmissions between the fighter group and the frigate ... I can't give you details yet, sir," the communications officer reported.

"Very well, put them through. This is Captain Jerna of the Independent Star Destroyer Destructor, how may I help you?"

"Ahh, Captain, how good of you to respond. This is Admiral Vorkin, and I see you have met my Vanguard. I must thank you for allowing my men to continue with their mission..."

"My pleasure. As I told your Commander earlier, I am merely here by chance and not looking to dispense the Emperor's justice." Jerna replied.

"Mhmm, so he told me, Captain. Please, I am intrigued to hear how it is that you are in this sector, bearing Imperial markings and obvious battle scarring yet claiming you are the ... Independent ... Star Destroyer Destructor?"

Jerna smiled inwardly. "A short and barbaric story Admiral, but unfortunately, one I'd care not to broadcast."

"Of course, Captain. A wise decision, and one I respect. However, I must hear of this barbarism. Please, allow me the honour of hosting you here aboard my flagship, the Barlan. Of course an Honour Guard, as is befitting your rank, is quite acceptable."

"Thank you sir, it is I that am honoured. If you will allow me time to brief my Officers?" Jerna responded.

"Certainly Captain. In three hours, then. I look forward to your company. Vorkin out." And with that the connection was terminated.

Warrant Officer Jahvid Trusck was vehement in his opposition to his captain's plans. "Sir, respectfully, this is folly. I suggest a full squad of troopers and at least a flight of Interceptors. Four troopers and 2 Interceptors does not demand the respect you are due!"

Jerna smiled condescendingly. "Trusck, any other man and I would have them shot for such impertinence, however, since I would trust you with my life before any other ... Detail a full squad, with you as Guard Commander, but I will not relent on ship escort. All that we have shows damage of some sort, the two I am taking are the best presented of a poor show. I will not allow that weakness to be exposed."

Trusck nodded and saluted his CO. "By your leave then Sir, I shall prepare the guard." At Jerna's nod he turned on his heel and strode off.


[Frigate Barlan]

Admiral Vorkin turned to his second in command. "Are briefings complete and assault crews ready?"

"Aye, sir, all is prepared."

Vorkin allowed himself a small chuckle. "Good ... Good!" He drew the second word out.


[Imperial Shuttle]

Jerna launched in his shuttle soon after the appointed time with his Interceptors flanking him port and starboard. He had briefly questioned Vorkin's second-in-command an hour ago about the disposition of the pirate fleet, which had spread out and now flew in echelon with the Destructor.

"The Admiral has ordered the fleet into a protective escort formation, he also offers the use of our technicians and parts to help repair your ship. He is sure you will reach an accommodating agreement over dinner."

Jerna had been mollified by the answer and accepted the offer, although it galled him to have them know how vulnerable his ship really was. They passed a small convoy of transports heading towards the Destructor as they made way to the Barlan. As his shuttle came within 1500 meters of the frigate, alarms and caution lights started flaring.

"Sir, the Barlan has powered weapons..."

The Interceptors on either side were suddenly speared through by bright lances of golden light and just as quickly exploded in short-lived incandescent bursts.

The shuttle pilot turned to Jerna. "They have us in a tractor beam and are requesting communications, sir."

Jerna fumed. "Open a channel ... What is the meaning of this outrage? I will destroy this entire ragtag assortment of powered flotsam you have gathered here. Release my craft this instant!"

"Now, Captain, you are a reasonable man. Surely you can see you are in no position to make demands of anyone. I'm afraid you have upset me with your foolish ranting but I will explain anyway," Vorkin calmly stated. "Even now my troops are taking control of your ship, you even passed them on the way." He chuckled. "So, Jerna, you no longer have a ship to captain and I find your arrogance tiresome. Please let your companions know this is merely a business thing, nothing against them. Goodbye."


[FRG Barlan]

Vorkin gave a nod to his subordinate at the comm station, and then another nod to his weapons officer. The two junior officers nodded their silent understanding and went about their tasks with a rapid series of commands tapped into their consoles.

The connection was severed and moments later the frigate's flank weapons opened up once more. After the short but intense volley of fire, nothing remained of the hapless shuttle apart from an expanding cloud of gas and debris, both mechanical and human.

Vorkin smiled with satisfaction as he looked out the viewport at his fleet's new flagship.


-Chapter 4, Easy Pickings-

Jalb yawned and squirmed in his seat, again, trying to get comfortable, again, and decided he was going to talk to Dundee on his return, again. What a milk run, he thought to himself. He opened up a channel to the other two craft, again. "I spy with my little eye something beginning with ... S."

A chorus came back at him, "Star! Shut up Jalb!"

Jalb laughed and slapped his thigh, again. That was about the 15th time he'd done that in the last five hours, and they were still biting. The round trip from Amina, Rani III and back to the Gandor system had taken nearly 12 hours, and the last five had really dragged on.

"Hey guys," Jalb transmitted, "you know how we were going to all apply for Rogue together?"

"Erm, yeah," Krayt replied, "just on that, Hellcat, you wanna help me out here?"

"Why me? It was your idea Krayt, you went first," Hellcat responded.

"What!?! Went first? What are you on about? Krayt?"

"Look, listen Chris. You were having trouble getting the last few req's and I got impatient, I couldn't wait ... Hellcat and I applied a few days ago."

"You what?!?! Of all the low down, sneaky, underhanded ... aww, you buggers! I thought I was going to be first!" He chuckled at the sounds of indignant outrage coming from Krayt and Hellcat.

Krayt barked out a laugh. "I was about to tell you that I submitted mine yesterday, but I guess the point is moot now."

"Here I was feeling guilty and wondering how I was going to tell you ... ha!"

"At least we've all applied, well, except for Tweety here. When you putting yours in, Condor?" Hellcat asked.

"In my own good time, my furred friend, in my own good time," came Condor's ambiguous reply.


Admiral Ra'kaat began going over the new orders for the Liberty. Things had not been going well in the past week for the Alliance forces. An unaffiliated pirate fleet had begun raiding Alliance bases and convoys, and it had caused enough concern that the Liberty had been assigned to stop it immediately. Using available resources, the Liberty's intelligence operatives had been able to identify the make-up of the fleet and after discounting a new acquisition, were able to identify its commander.

He looked up at the assembled group of CO's and XO's assigned to the Liberty, cleared his voice and began. "Admiral Vorkin and his motley assortment of ships has become more than a thorn in the Alliance's heel. Since he has seized the Destructor, he has been carrying out premeditated hostilities with any Alliance vessel, convoy, or planet he strays near. With a fleet consisting of an ISD, three Frigates, a Dreadnaught, and several Corvettes, he poses a real threat to most Alliance forces in the area."

He took a deep breath and gestured tiredly. "There seems very little method to his attacks, and it is only the convoys that he takes anything from, but we must find out his motivations and reasons behind the otherwise senseless destruction of innocent beings. Our new orders are to stop his activity as soon as possible. We will be heading towards his latest assault, and hopefully get ahead of him enough to destroy the fleet. It is too early for tactical analysis to see any pattern yet, but I'm sure it is there. We must approach this cautiously, so, I want a double of routine patrols and extra long range reconnaissance starting ASAP."

Blindman lent over and tapped a few orders into Kallysto's datapad and smiled at his second's aggrieved expression.

"I shall leave the details to the Wing and Squadron Commanders. I want accurate analysis of Vorkin's movements, predictions for his next moves, and an insight into his modus-operandi." He looked down at the datapad in front of him for the first time since starting the brief. "I also understand that our resupply and reinforcement mission went well, Colonel Rambo? I take it our guest has been safely transferred to the meeting with Mon Mothma."

A quick nod of affirmation from the fighter wing's CO.

"Good, unless there is anything else, we all have work to do. I want deployment statistics to me by 18 hundred and battle prep complete no later than 20 hundred." He looked out for any questions. "That's it then gentlemen, let's get to it."

With the conclusion of the meeting, the assembled command staff went to brief their squadrons on the new orders, and to set the rigorous flying schedule into motion.


The Liberty had entered into a geosynchronous orbit of the planet Turan VI and was standing by at alert status. Further tactical analysis had revealed a tenuous pattern to the pirate raiders deprivations, and if the Liberty's Operations staff was correct, the Turan system should be seeing Vorkin's fleet at some stage in the near future.

Sitting on the bridge, Admiral Ra'Kaat was going through a debrief datapad from the Corsairs' latest mission. The quiet of the command deck was broken by a staccato alarm, quickly muted and replaced by the sensor op's voice.

"Sir, new contacts! Two medium capital ships," a pause, "a frigate and a corvette."

Ra'kaat swung his command chair around towards the Operations bay. "Alright, give me a location; are they a threat?"

"No, sir. They're on the far side of the planet and well out of normal sensor range. We are safe where we are."

Ra'Kaat swiveled one of his eyes back towards the sensor operator in a look that the human crew of the Liberty had come to interpret as questioning.

"I anticipated this and deployed long range sensor probes, sir. I logged it, I just didn't get a chance to report it yet. Sir."

Ra'kaat's voice rumbled. "Hmph, a wise precaution Ensign, however, ensure you report all your unscheduled deployments quickly! You'll send an old being like me to the dark water hearing sensor alerts like that."

He turned slightly in his chair. "Lt. V'tikan, launch Buccaneer and Corsair! Order them to stay in the atmosphere on the run towards the ships; the electrical disturbance will keep them off sensors. Also, launch Rogue, but keep them back here for the moment. I don't want any surprises."


After a very short briefing, the pilots of Renegade Wing entered their fighters and launched. The A-wings, B-wings, and Y-wings headed down into the atmosphere, while Rogue began patrols around the Liberty. As they neared the starships, Guardian smiled to himself. Even though they were in sensor shadow, they were receiving relayed readings from the probes through the Liberty. They didn't even have their shields up yet, which meant they could do some serious damage if they were quick enough.

Guardian keyed his comm. "Corsair Lead, they're still showing no shields. We'll make this first hit a knock-out blow..."

"I hear you, Bucc Lead," Blindman replied, and then swapped over to the wing channel. "Corsair, this is Lead, break off by pairs and stick with your heavy. We have to protect these slowpokes today," Blindman added with a grin evident in the tone of his voice.


"Hey, who you callin' slow ... sir?" Hellcat interjected as he smirked, looking around the formation to see if he could find his friends amidst their shifting number.

"Don't worry, Boss, Jalb and I will look after this big ugly," Krayt responded as the two A-wings belonging to him and Jalb rolled, slowed and inverted themselves in a show of pure teamwork and control.

Hellcat took a double-double take as he watched the canopies of his mates' eggshells come to within metres on either side of the dome of his B-Wing.

"Hiya Kitty, watch the Birdy!" Jalb grinned through the transparisteel above him and, gripping his yoke between his knees, nonchalantly snapped off a couple of holos of Hellcat's stunned expression.

"Ha, ha, very funny Chris."

"Five and Six, this is Lead. Stop your showboating and pull away. Five, you are with me. Six, form on Kallysto's wing. In other words, nice try you two, but you know the new assignments, stick with them."

Guardian's voice came over the comm. "Thanks for the company Corsair, but I think this will be a walk in the park. Buccaneer, primary target acquisition of my telemetry, two barrels each, fire when ready."

The 15 ships came out of the sensor shadow of the planet's heliopause, and the five Buccaneers instantly had lock tones pinging away. The frigate obviously thought it was plenty safe and still hadn't brought its shields online by the time the two Y-wings and three B-wings had solid tone. The comm relayed a chorus of confirmation as the bombers launched two heavy rockets each, giving them a 50% hit/miss ratio which was still enough to take out the pirate ship. As their payloads streaked towards the frigate, the Renegade pilots pulled back and off target to avoid the chance of turret fire intended for them taking out their warheads.

"Six, this is Lead. Do you think you can handle that 'vette?"

"Ha! Give me a challenge, sir!" Hellcat heeled his ungainly looking cruciform ship over and cycled through his target display to bring up the corvette on his Combat Multiview Display. He checked his sensors and noted the reassuring presence of Knight and Condor sitting at angels 2 on his 6, the warbling tone of lock also caught his attention. "Woah, where'd they come from? Knight ... I've picked up a bogey!"

"Roger, Buccaneer Six," the crisp accent of Condor in pilot mode came through. "We have them. 3 Uglies just launched from your target, TIE-Whys. Ugh, they are ugly. Knight, bandits are ours, tally ho!"

Hellcat smiled as he was buffeted slightly by the missiles streaking past his cockpit, closely followed by the craft that had fired them. He reacquired his primary as the warning tone cut off— the incoming pirate craft having gone evasive, trying desperately to get away from the two Corsairs. He squeezed off a single heavy rocket when he had a good tone and cycled through his targets again. He watched the frigate take its hits. It doesn't stand a chance!

Seven out of the ten warheads impacted, making it through the poorly prepared defenses of the normally deadly ship, vaporising armour and shutting down systems remorselessly. A single shuttle burst from the frigate's hangar as it incandesced briefly before leaving a shattered hull.

"Looks like they knew what was coming," Blindman opined. "Kally, Krayt cut 'em out and herd 'em in. Guardian?"

"Right you are, Blindman. Mynock, you have one minute. I want that shuttle dead in space."

"With pleasure, sir." Mynock set off in pursuit of the shuttle trying to jink and weave away from the two A-wings harrying it and eating away at its shields. Three linked ion blasts and it was done.

"One order of fried shuttle, as requested, sir," Mynock reported.

Hellcat watched one of the hapless slapdash pirate fighters turned to vapour under the sights of an A-wing. Almost immediately, another erupted into a ball of flames.

Condor's laugh cut in. "Well, that was a poor design," he quipped.

"Yeah, the worst of both worlds," Knight replied. "Y-wing nacelles on a dupe pod, fish in a barrel!"

"Ha! I concur. Hellcat, you are secure. You may continue your assault."

"Oh, may I? Thank you, Tweety." Hellcat chuckled as he watched his rocket impact with the 'vette. Its shields flickered, then died, and armour flaked like paper from the high-yield warhead's detonation. Hellcat diverted power to his engines and insolently swung past the damaged ship, pushing over and into the corvette's stern blind spot, about one klick out. He redistributed power, matched speed and sent lances of blue light into the ship ahead.

"Buccaneer Lead, this is Six, mission accomplished. All too easy," he added in a sotto voice.

"Roger Six, well done. Liberty, this is Buccaneer Lead. We have two here for subjugation and interrogation, our job here is done."

"Copy Buccaneer, this is Flight Ops, return to base. Corsair, maintain cover and escort for our assault craft, they should be with you in two minutes."


Jalb watched as Hellcat and the rest of Buccaneer Squadron flew back to the CRS Liberty, slightly jealous that they'd likely be out of their cockpits and into a steaming shower before he could get there.

"Ops, this is Corsair Lead, A-firm, wilco, out." Blindman keyed a squadron channel. "OK boys, we're babysitting the ground pounders. And Jalb?"

Jalb's eyes widened. "Sir?"

"Get your feet off the dash!"

Jalb's egg yawed slightly as he hastily dropped his feet and slid his butt back into the couch. He had a quick look over at his CO and he was buggered if he could see anything. Boss must have had his visor tuned again, the sneak, he thought to himself with a rueful chuckle.

Just minutes later a pair of assault transports came out of the shadow of the planet, one heading for the shuttle, the other for the corvette. As the assault shuttle neared the corvette, Blindman manoeuvred his A-wing over in front of corvette, cycled through its components on his CMD and locked a pair of advanced missiles onto the bridge.

"Corvette Ferkawe, this is Corsair Leader, if you give the boarding party any trouble, I will decompress your bridge and you may share the fate of the Barlan."

"Corsair Leader, this is Captain Teldin, I offer unconditional surrender. My crew and myself will not interfere. We can see the numbers are unfavourable and there is wisdom in living to fight another day, just the sides may change."

"A wise decision, Captain. Assault Group Viagra, you are clear to commence docking operations."

The assault transport docked with the corvette and within 30 minutes had completely secured the corvette and downloaded the memory core. After that, a repair team was sent in to de-ionize the equipment, and the corvette would be turned over to the Alliance and added to its growing fleet. Once the corvette had been repaired, a skeleton crew was temporarily assigned and it hypered out heading for the closest Alliance repair yard for a full refit and commissioning into the Alliance fleet.

After Corsair was ordered to return to the Liberty, the four friends met in the lounge, as had become their custom after operational deployments. After they were all seated with a drink close to hand the conversation quickly turned to the last engagement. Try as they might, they couldn't outdo each other with stories of spectacular skill this time; the battle had just been too short. Krayt soon got bored and followed suit when Jalb sat back to listen with an amused grin as Condor stirred Hellcat up.

"Ha! Your dreamin' Kitty. Those Uglies would have fried you if Knight and I had not've been there. In fact, I dare say we'd be having this conversation in sick bay about now, but I'd be saying I told you so!"

Hellcat looked indignant, flustered and then, looking at Krayt and Jalb, pleading.

Jalb laughed out loud. "Sorry Josh, I can't follow his logic either, but I think he has a point."

Krayt leaned down and pulled a deck of cards from a leg pocket, then sat up and started shuffling them flamboyantly. As was his goal, he soon had the attention of his three wingmates. He shuffled for a moment longer then placed his elbows on the table and leaned forward conspiratorially. "Sabbac?"


The next morning, Jalb awoke to find his pockets empty and a message indicating a briefing at 0800, which he was required to attend. He quickly changed into his uniform and headed towards the briefing room. As he arrived, he scanned the room, noting that with the exception of Admiral Ra'Kaat, Blindman, and Guardian, he was the only non-Rogue in the room. Just then, Krayt and Hellcat walked in, and Stryker motioned them to take a seat with the other Rogues.

As soon as the rest of the Rogues had arrived, Stryker lit up a holographic map of a small planet and began. "With the information we managed to download from the corvette, we have been able to locate the pirates' main base."

The holographic depiction slowed and the view zoomed in on a small island-like continent, well away from the main inhabited continents. It continued to zoom until it was displaying a small town, or large facility on the coast.

"We have received a recent intelligence report from the planet Garvin 8, including a blueprint of the complex they are currently using," he stated as he indicated towards the hologram. "It has been decided that we need to strike as soon as possible. Due to the speed in which this mission needs to be accomplished, it has been decided that Rogue Squadron will be the basis of the assault team."

He looked up to gauge the reaction of those present in the room. He didn't need to tell them why; they all knew that the Liberty was the closest to the Garvin system by about 3 light years. "This will be a ground assault. No X-wings. We will be inserted by Flight Officer Ralter in the Darei." He held up his hand to forestall any argument. "I know a YT-1300 isn't the norm, but I want something that's going to have a bit more atmospheric stability than a transport and more defensive options, and I think both the ship and pilot are up to the task. Your datapads have a more specific mission briefing in them, it has identified the areas that we suspect contain supplies, but we will need to make sure. Lieutenant Kinney, that will be your job. We are leaving in 16 hours—till then, get your gear together, and go over the mission briefing."

He motioned for Animal, Krayt, Hellcat and Jalb to join him while the rest of those present made their way out the door. "Animal, take these guys to the quartermaster and get them their gear. Jalb, I've had your personal weapon and your 'black' bag moved over from Corsair so it's there waiting for you. Alright, I'll leave you gentlemen to your preps, final team briefings one hour before launch. Carry on."

Animal grinned at Stryker. "Yes, sir!"

The quartet watched as the Admiral and trio of COs left the conference room and Animal turned to the three junior pilots. "Come on, we're going to go see the Rogue QM," he said with an evil gleam in his eyes.

To be concluded...