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The Past Ahead: Part 3
By: Jalb, Hellcat, Krayt, and Alli

-Chapter 5, Hammer Time-

Hellcat, Jalb, and Krayt looked at each other questioningly. Krayt just shrugged and followed Animal out the door. They followed him down to the Rogue Squadron Armory and the fun started.

The Quartermaster was waiting. "All right, thanks Animal. Your gear is on the Darei. I told the guys not to stow it so you can check it before you go." He turned his gaze onto the remaining three. "Reynolds, sit! Houseman, Kinney, in here!"

What followed was an hour of boredom for Jalb and a whirlwind of measurements, fittings and instructions for Hellcat and Krayt. Black suit, body armour, harness, helmet, comms equipment, and finally, weapon.

Hellcat was somewhat bewildered by it all. "Hang on QM. I'm only along for the ride, doing a little slicing, I don't need all this," he said as they neared the end of the weapon familiarisation protocols.

"This time, Hellcat, this time," the Quartermaster replied ambiguously.

Hellcat looked at Krayt, who returned his look with an arched eyebrow. His shoulders started to rise. "No, don't shrug man. That's been your answer to everything lately," he added with a wry grin.

"OK, you two, here's your bags. Stow everything after a final check, but your weapons, they stay by your sides until you return them."

They packed their 'black' bags under the watchful eye of the Quartermaster, slung their weapons and followed him back to the front of the armoury. They noticed he was also carrying a 'black' bag and a weapon that was slightly different to the one they were carrying.

They got to the front and Jalb looked up from his datapad, and a grin split his face. He stood up and stepped over to the armoury officer. "Thanks mate, been a while since I've seen this baby." He went over the weapon then cracked the case and inspected power relays, resonators, and amplifiers with a practiced ease that was almost instinctive, even though it had been several months since he'd used it.

The Quartermaster stood by with an almost paternal look on his face as he watched Jalb. "I understand you modified that yourself, Reynolds," he said. "I can understand the wind down in power and the narrowing of the beam, but the nano repeater has me stumped. What was wrong with the market version?"

"It all ties in, QM," Jalb answered, noticing the blank looks on Krayt and Hellcat's faces. "I'll explain. I designed this specifically for stealth and Stormtroopers. I wound down the power, which cuts the blast to a spit, effectively silencing it. Obviously this reduces the power of the beam so I narrowed it to focus what was available, which still wasn't enough to significantly damage Imperial armour, hence the repeater. Conventional weapons have a recharge lag, and a cyclic rate of bolts per second. Because of reduced energy loading, I can fire much quicker and I need a cyclic rate in nanoseconds to maintain accuracy. I have it programmed for three shot bursts, and they have to group within millimetres of each other. The first hits and weakens the armour, the second hits and is able to burn through the weakened spot, then the third meets flesh. I don't need to tell you that dialed-down power is still enough to maim, even if I don't make the head shot, and it's more than effective against unarmoured targets."

"Ha, effective! That's one mean piece of work you have there, Mister, and I'm sure that the armourer will want to have a closer look at it when you get back."

"Not a problem," Jalb responded as he lay his weapon down and unzipped his bag. He went through quick equipment checks with speed that comes from familiarity and, satisfied all his personal equipment was secure and operational, zipped it up and stood. "Well boys, you happy?" he asked rhetorically.

Hellcat looked back and forth between Jalb and the Quartermaster with a confused look on his face. Krayt, however, had a serene expression.

"Let's go and store this on the Darei, find a quiet briefing room, some kaf, and have a look at our tasks. See ya later QM, have a good one," Jalb added with a small wave.

"Same to you. Good luck, Rogues."

Six feet stopped dead in their tracks and three heads turned to look back at the quartermaster. His expression changed from jovial to embarrassed guilt and then to an affected nonchalance so quickly that they hardly noticed the intermediary stage. "Sorry, gents, force of habit. I don't often farewell non-Rogues from here. Good luck all the same." With that he turned quickly and strode away.

"OK, let's go. I refuse to be drawn into another three-way look," Hellcat said as he marched off towards the hangar. Krayt and Jalb looked at one another and Krayt shrugged before they followed.


The three men sat huddled close together in the Lounge as Jalb gestured with his hands as he spoke. "I was kinda expecting a more formal brief by teams, but that's obviously not going to happen until tomorrow. No matter, I've had time to go through the whole operation—I guess I can give you a heads up before you start studying it yourself."

Jalb went on to explain Hellcat's primary tasking. He was responsible for Intel and had been assigned the job of developing and slicing a code into the base's main computer that would supply them with updated information on personnel in the facility, and effectively make them—the assault team—invisible. After that he was to fly co-pilot with Alli and maintain communication with the troops on the ground. He finished with the preliminaries, then sat back and sighed. "Well guys, this is going to bring back memories. They've opted for a straight-up assault—three major buildings and three small assault groups. Krayt, you will be going in with the CO and Wolfman. I'll be with Rainman and Animal, while Vids, Kid and Mustang make up the third. You get to sit back and watch our butts, Kitty."

Krayt looked up and gave Hellcat a wink. "Here's how it's going to run—should be by the numbers and dead easy. You can see by the blueprints that the only building with rooms is the main admin facility here," he said, indicating the central building.

"Fortunately, it's the smallest, but the four rooms means it will be the hardest to clear. I guess that's why I'm on it," Jalb said with a grin. "The other two are basically warehouses, full of equipment and stuff that is likely to make loud noises and lots of sparks when the right things are left about—like thermal detonators." He let go a chuckle. "Krayt, you're going to have the easy part on your team. You're what we refer to as the 'door kicker,' except your kick will be supplied by one of these." He held up a small hollow rectangle of thin plastic film with two wires coiling off it. "Door charge—purpose design. Goes straight over the lock and fires inward when you apply power to the leads. It also goes off with a lot of noise and light. Any one within 50 metres and not expecting it will be incapacitated for five to ten seconds. After you fire the door, Stryker and Wolfman will be straight through and eliminating targets. Keep your head down, pal. Let them handle the take. You follow in and mop up. You will have 60 seconds to neutralise any opposition and place charges. If everything has gone to plan we should be out of there in 90 and the place blowing at h-plus-three minutes. Things will be different on my side—we will have to go in and do some damn quick CRC. Sorry—combat room clearance. At least we only have to grab the core and blow the computer."

Jalb paused, searching their faces for any sort of confusion or trepidation. Seeing none, he pressed on. "All in all it's pretty straight forward. I can understand the need to bring in some more manpower, and I think I can guess why it's us," he said grinning at his two friends, but a frown replaced it quickly. "But I'm concerned that they aren't taking enough time to get some rehearsals in and make sure everyone has the plan set in their mind. We haven't worked with the Rogues like this before, and I'm pretty sure it's been some months since the boys were out on one of these," he shrugged and shivered at the same time. "I don't know, just the same pre-mission jitters I always got, I guess—let's me know I'm alive. Don't ever let anyone tell you fear is a bad thing, keep it tight with you and don't let it out and it'll sure as heck keep you alive."

He looked into the eyes of both his mates, then wiped a hand over his face. "Sorry guys, I kinda thought I was finished with this up close and personal stuff. I've never enjoyed it, but a job's a job I guess, and if you're gonna do it, be the best at it, eh?" Jalb looked at the other pilots. "I don't know about you guys, but I am heading to the sack. Try getting some sleep yourselves, it will be a rough day tomorrow."


The next morning, the pilots who were going on the mission were all assembled an hour before launch as directed the evening before. Each assault group split up to discuss exactly how things were going to go, finalize timings and synchronize watches. Stryker was more than a little surprised at Krayt's understanding of the mission and the requirements of him and asked him what experience he had that he hadn't let Command know about previously.

Krayt thought about putting one over on the Rogue CO, but came to his senses. "Less than you think, sir. Jalb explained it to me last night." He gave a cheery grin, "but I'm a quick study and not a bad shot when it comes down to it."

Once everyone understood all parts of the mission, they boarded the Darei and Alli expertly lifted them off from the Liberty's hangar deck, and set a course to Garvin VIII. While enroute, Animal, Mustang, and Hellcat went over the code Hellcat was going to interrogate the facility's computer with.

Animal looked intently at the screen for a few moments then lent back and looked at Hellcat. "An elegant piece of work my friend—simple, stealthy, and perfect for the job. By the time they realise they've been sliced, well ... they won't! We should have left a smoking ruin behind us by then." Mustang nodded in agreement with Animal's assessment.

After a brief hyperspace trip the Darei came out a short distance from the planet, just outside range of the pirate base's early warning and defense systems. Hellcat initiated his short burst of 'static', as his code was camouflaged in white noise and the receiver on the pirate facility would suck it straight in. If it worked correctly, the enemy transceiver would fail to recognise the transmission and shunt it to the computer for decoding, and by then it would be too late.

He monitored his program, then made a fist in front of him and shook it at the screen in victory. "Yesss!" Hellcat grinned and looked at Stryker. "Ok Boss, it's in. You have a clear path in. All sensors and visual-audio snooping equipment is now on a rotation of the last five minutes before we appeared, stuck in a loop that they'll never break free of. Unless they have a technician manning the maintenance station down there—" He referred to a screen that just scrolled a paragraph beside him, "—which they haven't. Well, it's that easy. We are invisible and target information has been uploaded."

Stryker looked at Hellcat. "Good, that should keep them off us for now. Alli, take us in."

Alli dipped the nose of her YT-1300 at the planet below and punched her sublight thrusters, which the inertial dampening system on the ship nearly failed to attenuate.

Stryker grabbed at the bulkhead and steadied himself, threw a quick glance at Alli then turned and went to the main bay. "Alright men, Alli's not taking her time here. We have two minutes to H-hour. Final checks and in debus position in sixty. Go!"

Everyone got all their gear ready, fitted and comfortable, then took a final quick look at the blueprints Hellcat had just finished pulling up. The men of Rogue and the two Corsairs went through their check drills quickly and competently, then formed up at the head of the exit ramp. Two files of four and one center rear, the first three on either side would peel off to the left and right while the last three—who had the shortest distance to target—would head straight in.

Krayt, third man on the left, turned and looked over his right shoulder at Jalb. He was tense and, Jalb sensed, more than a little scared. "Don't sweat it, bud," Jalb reached forward and squeezed Krayt's right elbow, "a walk in the park, just wait until it's over and the adrenaline wears off."

He gave him a quick wink and glanced at his chrono to cover the nervousness he was feeling. The last few seconds before action were always the worst, trying to cover the plan in minute detail in your head, going through the 'what ifs' and worst cases. He hefted his modified Blastech and checked the charge again. He looked up at the back of Kid's head and waited for H-hour.

He didn't have long to wait.


Alli came in low and fast out of the pre-dawn haze. She watched the horizon as Hellcat called off the distance to their target.

"Two klicks ... one-five ... one klick ... okay, Alli, 600 to roll. Groundspeed is good, 400 ... 200 ... 100..."

At the 100 mark, Alli cut thrusters and let momentum carry them. At 20 out she kicked in repulsors and pulled the nose up, then let the transport drop quickly to the ground. At the same time, Hellcat triggered the ramp. As soon as the Darei touched ground, so did the first of the assaulter's feet.

As Jalb ran towards his target he noted the lock on the left of the door and hit the wall on the right, Rainman behind him and Animal was in front, slapped the charge on and hugged the wall on the left. All three were about a meter away from the door. Jalb triggered his comlink, sending two clicks. Five seconds later he heard two more and a further two just after; all teams were in position and set. Animal held up three fingers, then two.

On one they turned their backs and closed their eyes. A concussion wave slapped them lightly, followed by the karumph of the charge nanoseconds later.

Jalb keyed his mic. "Gogogo, they know we're here!" He yelled as he started moving. He spun and swept into the room with his left arm extended supporting the front stock of his carbine, the weapon pointing naturally with the swing of his shoulders. He squeezed the trigger and three dull bursts of light flashed into the face of the dazed guard in front of him, and pink mist appeared behind his head. Jalb had covered his arc and pinned the second guard before the first had hit the floor. Rainman was at his back covering the way they had come in, and Animal hit the next door running, calling "Room Clear" as he went through, echoed by Jalb and Rainman. Animal had the door open and Rainman went through firing at the person in his sights. As he went, Jalb pushed in right on his heels and swept the opposite side of the room.



"Clear! Animal, with me—RM, take the storeroom! Move!"

The last two rooms of the building were the storeroom and the communications room, where the computer was installed. The three had been over the routine before. Once again Animal was at the door, but this was going to be no easy kick. He pulled another small charge and placed it over the locked handle of the reinforced door. He and Jalb took up positions on opposite sides of the door and Animal gave the count.

Jalb was into the room and firing in his arc before the debris had settled. He accounted for the guard and the armed technician before Animal made it through the door. Unfortunately Jalb's speed worked against him.

Animal was unused to working with a veteran ground fighter and struggled to keep up. He saw the bolt of crimson light go past the open doorway and take Jalb between the shoulder blades. His gut churned.

"Man down, man down!!" he called as he rolled around the door frame and leveled his blaster.


With most of the base's support staff in the Admin building and the fleet away, entrance into the storehouses proved to be a simple matter. With entry gained the same way as the other assault teams and guards dispensed with, it was merely a matter of a quick running circuit to ensure no surprises remained. Both teams were in the middle of clearing their respective buildings when they heard the casualty call on the open frequency.

"This is One—stay on task, extend timers by 90 seconds. Extraction as planned," Stryker ordered over the same frequency.

He hoped that would give them enough time to make the pickup if needed.


Animal had a sight picture of the guard who had just fired. He saw the rifle coming to bear on him and he squeezed off a shot at the center of the mass he could see. The bolt caught the guard directly in the chest, and a spray of blood erupted from his back before the wound cauterized. His arms dropped to his sides and his shoulders slumped and he looked down at the smoking hole in his chest, a quizzical expression blossomed on his face and he keeled over face first onto the floor at Animal's feet.

Rainman burst into the room and took a quick look. "OK, we're secure. Animal, start on the core. I'll check Jalb." He took three paces and dropped by the Corsair's side. He noticed a few rag ends of what looked like Ion burst on shields and then Jalb convulsed and rolled over onto his back, breathing deeply, his eyes wild. "Woah, Jalb, settle down, man," Rainman soothed.

Jalb took a double take, gulped a lungful of air, and swore. "Man I hate that!" he said finally. He noticed Animal staring at him with his jaw on the ground.

"But ... I saw you ... right in the back ... you're not dead?" Animal stammered.

"Macquarian disruptor armour," Jalb said by way of answer. "Expensive, and not fun to have triggered, but a bacta spray to fix the burns I'm going to be wearing is a small price to pay not to end up like him," he said pointing to the guard at Animal's feet. He slowly got to his own feet with Rainman's help while Animal pulled out the core stuffer and relayed information back to Hellcat on the ship.

Rainman continued to support Jalb as he reported over the open freq. "One, this is Five. Sitrep, over."

"This is One, send."

"One casualty, walking, Pri three only. Target secure, secondary tasks commenced, over."

"Roger Five, out to you, Two, this is One, over."

"Two!" Vidster responded.

"This is One. This callsign is moving to affect perimeter security on Team 3's target. Complete your primary task and hook up with us there, over."

"Wilco, give us 15 seconds and we'll be there. Two out."

Animal looked up from where he was working, sweat beaded his top lip and he had a grim look on his face. "Man, they must have triggered their security protocols, the core's been encrypted and we're locked out. How long have I got?" he asked.

Rainman checked his watch. "About two minutes to get on board if we want to reach safe distance before this whole place goes up!"

"I guess we do this the old fashioned way, then!" Animal pulled a large vibro-blade from a sheath on his back and cut straight into the console in front of him. Sparks flew and terminals died as he continued to carve through the exposed panels. He finally put his blade away and inspected the unit he had exposed. About two metres long, one deep and fifty centimeters thick with large, severed conduits at either end, he had opened up the computer to physically access the core itself.

"Grab an end," he looked at his chrono, "quickly!"


Hellcat watched the sensor screen in front of him. Most of the blaster fire had already stopped, but he heard some every now and then. So far the mission had gone almost as planned, no real casualties among the Renegades, but there were some minor injuries. He heard a beep from behind him. As he turned around, he noticed that the planetary sensors had picked up a ship moving into orbit. He quickly brought up the specs on the ship. The results of the specs put a ball of lead in his stomach. "One, this is Minder. A frigate just came into the system."

"Roger that, we are pulling out now. Keep me informed of the situation."

Hellcat watched the screen carefully. If any other capital ships entered the system, their escape would be extremely difficult. From the entrance to the freighter, he heard the first team returning, followed by the second and third a few seconds later. As soon as everyone was aboard, Alli shut the access door and lifted off.

Stryker checked his chrono. "Ok, thirty seconds till detonation. What are our friends up to?"

"Sir, they just launched some fighters—profile looks like squints. Sir, they are heading directly for us."

Stryker took a quick look around, just to visualise the people going through his mind. "I want Animal to take over the sensors—Hellcat, you get in the dorsal turret, I have the ventral one. Vidster, you can have the warhead launcher. The rest of you sit tight and hold on."

Alli brought them on a course out of the planet's atmosphere as a series of large explosions went off behind them.

Everyone took their positions as Animal read off the distance to the fighters. As they closed in, Alli brought the freighter out of the atmosphere and began running to escape the planet's mass shadow. Checking the computer, their course out of there was just about complete. Just as the computer beeped signifying the course was ready, the first lasers splashed over the rear shields. Bringing the freighter around to their exit vector, Alli saw one big problem—the frigate was in the way.

Hellcat watched as the first interceptor came into range. Opening up the turret, he began firing into the formation. His first couple missed, but then one of his blasts caught one of the squints in the port wing, melting it and throwing the interceptor off course and into another one. The other two interceptors began firing at the Darei. Their green lasers splashed across the shields, dropping the strength a little.

Stryker began firing at another group of interceptors as they came within range. His first shots pierced the durasteel canopy of one of the interceptors, and the second one clipped a wingtip. That formation split up quickly, and Stryker's third shot took one of the engines off from another interceptor.

Animal grinned as he saw how quickly the interceptors were disappearing from his screen. His smile faded as he picked up another flight of squints, and a flight of dupes. "More contacts! Squints and Dupes this time!"

Alli winced as her ship took another couple of laser blasts to the rear shields. Those last couple of hits brought the shields down below 20%, not a good thing when they still had to go through a broadside from a frigate. Checking her sensors, the original interceptors had been destroyed by the combination of the turrets and the warhead launcher. She began feeding energy back into her shields. With her shield strength back up and no fighters flying around, she began to feel a bit more secure, until the warhead lock warning came on.

Vidster looked at the combat display in front of him and quickly tagged the closest threat. Fortunate that they were head-on, he had a good solid tone from the warhead launcher's acquisition in no time and released an advanced missile at each of the two closest dupes. He cycled through the threat display to bring up the next pair and fired again. "That will keep them off us, if it doesn't frag 'em," he chuckled to Alli. "Keep on towards them," he said to the pilot, and then keyed the intra-ship comm. "Stry, Cat, 4 dupes trying to outrun missiles coming up—fish in a barrel time."

"OK, I see them," came Hellcat's reply.

Stryker, too, answered in the affirmative and the two soon opened up with the quad lasers on the dorsal and ventral surfaces of the YT-1300. The slow moving TIE Bombers, intent on evading the advanced missiles launched by Vidster, were caught in no man's land and were whittled away to fine space dust by Stryker and Hellcat's intense, accurate fire, and the secondary impact of advanced missiles on their targets.

The four squints that had launched behind the dupes were now inbound on firing runs, but the Rogues on board weren't going to let them get a chance to strike. Vidster's first missile caught the leader head on and his second caused another one to break off and evade. Stryker and Hellcat each locked up on one and nailed them at range, before they had a chance to return fire. Animal breathed a sigh of relief as the last fighter was dispatched, though the feeling didn't last long as they came within range of the frigate's guns.

The shuddering impact of heavy turbo laser fire echoed through the ship. In the cockpit Alli ignored Vidster and calmly went through her options as the shields went through 5%.

"Alli!!!" Vids yelled.

She reached up and flipped two breakers. The shields jumped back up to 55%, but just as soon started dropping rapidly again, "Hang on!" she shouted as she goosed the last of the forward cannon's power to the engines and punched up the thrust on sublight. Flying in the classic box manoeuver of a snubnose attack, she threw the old freighter around like a toy. The occasional beam struck, but nowhere near the amount and intensity of the previous attacks. She started to evade vertically to the frigate, knowing that they would be exposed to the fewest batteries on the upper hull of the battleship below them. Suddenly there was no sound but that of the freighter's engines growling to get them out of danger.

"OK, we must be clear of the guns ... at one-point-two klicks ... wait a minute..."

Over the comm came a small amount of static and then a voice broke through. There was a large jolt as the inertial compensators failed to react to a sudden deceleration. "We have you in our tractor beam—your engines are not strong enough to escape. Power down your systems and prepare to be boarded!"

Alli glanced over at Vidster with a questioning look in her eyes.

"Bring the engine power off slowly—be ready to punch it when I say so." Vidster cycled through the systems on the Frigate. "Maybe, just maybe this one hasn't received the shield upgrade yet..." Finding the tractor beam generators he locked on and fired off a pair of missiles. "Punch it, Alli!"

Alli threw the YT-1300's engines to full thrust just as the advanced missiles impacted on the tractor beam generators. The engines on the ship whined for a moment before taking on their deep thrum as the tractor beam was cut off at the source. The sudden acceleration was enough to throw everyone back into their seats as the Darei sped away from the frigate.

By the time the frigate opened up with its turbolasers again the transport was well out of range. Alli chanced a quick grin at Vidster. "Hyperspace in 4, 3, 2..." She pushed the hyperdrive actuation levers forward and space erupted into starlines before taking on the eerie blue nimbus of hyperspace.


-Chapter 6, Arrivals-

During the hyperspace transit, the team went through their post battle debrief. Although a successful completion, Stryker was adamant that CQB, or close-quarters battle drills, get a thorough working out in the next training program, and with very good reason. All had been watching or helping Jalb out of his body armour, and had seen first hand the blistered skin peeling away with his undershirt. Shrugging it off as better than a hole where his heart should be, the squad could see the pain in his eyes until he produced a bacta spray from his ubiquitous med pack and had Krayt give him a liberal coating. It had highlighted Stryker's insistence that the skills the Rogues had were not a gift of the Force and required practice to remain effective.

Once the debrief was over, the passengers spent their time repairing the minor problems created by the fighting withdrawal. Apart from surface damage, they had the Darei all but 100% operational by the time they exited the last leg of their roundabout withdrawal route.

Light crested off the hull in a glistening halo as the Liberty eclipsed a nearby star. The sight of this proud ship always gave Alli a feeling of awe, and regret. Having only been posted in as a temporary assignment, she had soon come to regard the Liberty as home, and her application to remain had been gratefully accepted by the support squadron. The pilots of the flying squadrons here were different, and had accepted her as one of their own, and although the friendship of four of them—three in particular with her now—had gone a long way toward assuaging the grief of her brother's death, she still wished he was around to share her feelings and thoughts. She knew he would be proud of her and what she'd done with the Darei.

Stryker joined Alli and Hellcat in the cockpit as they approached on their final heading. Hellcat was running a bored eye over the sensors when he noticed a new green blip, and a message that a modified Dreadnaught had just arrived. "Hello, what's this?" He asked no-one in particular as he cycled through the CMD to bring up the new arrival. He acquired the craft and within seconds the IFF had tagged it as a Modified Strike Cruiser Waverunner II. Both Alli and Hellcat looked over their shoulders at Stryker.

An enigmatic grin and a shrug of the shoulders. "Ah, the burdens of command," he said jovially as he turned and headed back towards the main cabin.

As soon as the Darei landed, Stryker told the assembled pilots that they were to be in the conference room in two hours. Jalb, Hellcat, and Krayt followed the other Rogues down to the armory to store their gear and then headed to their quarters.

Meanwhile, the purloined computer core was taken away and sliced by the Lib's techs.

Two hours later the pilots of Renegade Wing assembled in the main conference area, with another section taken up by a group of pilots wearing the gray berets of the Waverunner's fighter squadron.

The low murmur from the assembled crowd died as Admiral Ra'kaat took his place at the lectern. He rolled his large, gelatinous eyes over the combined squadrons and started. "Ladies and gentlemen. Soon we shall settle an old debt, and, the Force be with us, take possession of an Imperial Star Destroyer to bolster the Alliance fleet."

The low murmur started again as crew of all types looked to each other for answers. Ra'kaat held up his hands to call for silence. "Twelve hours from now, we will transmit a coded message through a recently discovered commsat which appears to be the source of much of the information Vorkin and his pirate fleet have been acting on. This message will draw Vorkin to our position like mynocks to a leaking conduit. He will not leave!"

The next hour was taken up by an intense and detailed briefing, with the captains of both starships and the fighter wing CO's detailing each unit's involvement. The assembly split up with everyone being given two hours of free time before battle prep and compulsory rest prior to mission alert status. The ships would be going on full alert from the time the spiked message was sent.

Krayt and Jalb walked into the Lounge and up to Hellcat, who was talking animatedly with his CO. "But Sir, why do I have to play nursemaid again?"

Guardian held up his hand, intentionally cutting the young pilot off. "Josh, enough! From what I've seen this guy won't need nursemaiding, but his app hasn't been cleared yet. In order to take him out with us, and let's face it, we need all the pilots we can get. I have to assign him as a flight second, and he's yours."

Hellcat took a deep breath and got control of himself. "OK, Boss, you're the man."

At that moment a slightly lost looking young pilot edged his way into the Lounge.

"Hey! Mick!" Jalb yelled out to the blonde haired, blue eyed newcomer. At 6'1" Jalb was one of the tallest humans aboard the ship, but the new guy was nearly level with him. He strode over and, with a wide grin, shook Jalb's, then Krayt and Hellcat's hands. He recognised the fourth in the group and faltered, before regaining his composure and snapping off a crisp salute.

Guardian raised an eyebrow and looked at Jalb. "Teach him that, did you? Relax, Mr. Tolle, we're not that formal here in the Lounge. Hellcat, meet your flight second."

Hellcat glanced over at Mighty with a perplexed expression. "He's the pilot that's flying with me?"

Guardian grinned. "Yep, do you have a problem with that?"

"Not any more, sir."

"Thought so. Well, gents, love to stay and chat with you, but unfortunately command has its responsibilities." He looked at Hellcat and Michael 'Mighty' Tolle. "Don't overdo it tonight you two. You're going to need all your faculties tomorrow."

The four pilots braced up in respect to Buccaneer's CO, who rolled his eyes and waved over his shoulder.

"Well," said Jalb, rubbing his hands together. "My first shout, grab a table boys and I'll bring the drinks. Mick, you get ready to talk," he added with an evil grin. He strode over to the bar while the other three scanned for an empty table.

Jalb met them at the table shortly after they sat with his hands full. He passed around drinks and sat with an expectant look directed at the Buccaneer reinforcement. Krayt and Hellcat both took long swallows of their beverages, then they too sat back and stared intently at Mighty.

The young pilot coloured slightly and stared back. "What, what'd I do?"

"Give us the story!" replied Hellcat. "We picked you up two days ago, brand new to the Alliance, yet you're coming out with us on a combat sortie, and you're not even on the Renegade roster yet. What strings have you been pulling, my mercenary friend?"

Mighty looked at Hellcat with a bemused grin on his face. "Honestly, I haven't been pulling any strings, I guess they're just testing my skills out."

"Hmm. That isn't something they normally do. I wonder what they're up to," came Jalb's reply.

Krayt checked his chrono and looked around. "I will leave figuring that out to the rest of you, I think it is time to hit the sack."

Hellcat looked at the other pilots. "I think he is right this time. I will see you guys tomorrow morning."

After some short farewells Jalb turned once more to the new Buccaneer. "Well, Mighty me boy, you've obviously got something in your background to make the C-staff have faith, and I can't argue with that. You'll do fine out there tomorrow, just don't get carried away with Hellcat's exuberance. I'm sure Guardian would have mentioned it. Just fly natural and cover your tasks, you've got the Corsairs to watch your six," he added with a big grin.

The young pilot grinned back, affected by the older Corsair's cheerful demeanour.

Jalb took a last swallow from his glass, licked his lips and placed the empty on the table. "Please excuse me mate. It's been a long day and I can see another tomorrow, so I think I'll be hitting the sack shortly myself. Couple of details to chase up on this morning's Op first. Hate to leave you on your own..."

"No problems Jalb. I was just about to go myself. Have a good night and I'll see you tomorrow."

Jalb gave him another little grin and a wave and headed out the door.

Mighty turned from watching Jalb go and focused his gaze out the viewport near his chair, a study of intense thought.


Admiral Vorkin smashed his leather gauntleted fist down on the console in front of him. "How dare they! They shall pay dearly for this. I want information ... Now!" He glared at his second-in-command.

"Sir, as I said, early reports were sketchy, however the Dicer has just returned and I can now give you what you want. This time yesterday morning, a Corellian Light Freighter blasted away from Garvin 8, leaving our operations and supplies there completely destroyed. From the scan the Dicer was able to make when attempting to capture the YT-1300, we have deduced that a small commando raiding party was the tool used for the attack, and under orders from the Alliance."

Vorkin looked intently at the officer briefing him. "How do you know this? Tell me where they are. I shall crush them..."

"Sir! The ship was positively identified as the Darei, currently assigned to the CRS Liberty. We believe the infamous Rogue Squadron to be the perpetrators of the attack. I can also offer you their exact location." The pirate stood there with a smug smile on his face.

"Well?" Vorkin roared.

"Sir, your pardon. Our sliced commsat network relayed a message to us 15 minutes ago. The Liberty is dead in space in the Versch system. They have requested aid for repairs and are vulnerable for the next twelve hours. We have more than ample time to prepare..."

Vorkin cut his second off. "Prepare?! We have no time for elaborate preparations. This is a once-off chance. Have all ships begin battle preparations immediately. We shall hunt this day and be victorious!"


That morning, the pilots of Renegade Wing found themselves back in the main conference room. Admiral Ra'kaat began the briefing in his normal gravelly voice, not touched by the pre action jitters most in the room were feeling. "This briefing will be a quick update on the current status of our mission. We have recently received new information on the pirate fleet. Lieutenant Commander Dentran, will you please elaborate for us."

The Liberty's Chief Intelligence Officer took the podium as Admiral Ra'kaat returned to his seat. "Intel has managed to decode the memory core that was retrieved from the pirate base. At the time the core was disconnected the majority of its fleet was within two hours of our current location and preparing to make way to an obscure outpost past the outer rim. We sent out the message an hour ago, so we expect them to arrive within the next six hours. Their force currently consists of the ISD, a pair of Frigates, a Dreadnaught, and three Corvettes. If our psychological profile is accurate, after our bold incursion into his home turf, we expect Vorkin will jump on the opportunity to take the Liberty. However, we must not underestimate him. We have previously noted that he rarely commits his fleet in entirety unless assured of victory, instead opting to bring a Frigate, his Dreadnaught, and two Corvettes in late as a cut-off, suppressive fire support element. Or he sends in a reconnaissance-in-force, which he backs up with his main battle group. We believe he may do the latter, therefore timing and the adherence to our plan will be crucial. Even with our backup we will be out gunned on a cap ship level and snub fighters are going to have the balance of our victory riding on their pilots," he concluded with a confident look over the assembly.

"Colonel Rambo?" With that the Cathar returned to his seat and Stryker took the podium.

"Right, people, you've just heard it. This will not be a stroll in the park. Furthermore, we have just received a priority transmission. The Windstorm has been detained by a minor hyperdrive fault and we can no longer be assured of her attendance, although her fighter compliment will be on time. This makes our tasks doubly important. Fortunately we believe Vorkin has a serious shortage of fighters, so the Force may well be with us. For the next 12 hours, we are on Status Four—all pilots will be in full flight gear and on standby in squadron ready rooms. This concludes this briefing, and may the Force be with us all."

The pilots of Renegade Wing and Grey Squadron quickly filed out of the room and headed out to gather their gear. Within ten minutes, the ready rooms were full of anxious pilots, Corsairs doubly so, sharing their facilities with the Grey berets from the Waverunner II. The tension was palpable with all these high tech warriors just waiting for the signal to get to their fighters.


On the bridge, all heads turned towards Operations as the sensors started chiming.

"Three ships have just exited hyperspace, sir! A Dreadnaught and two Corvettes, currently eight klicks out."

Silk looked expectantly at Captain Trevin Evert, who gave a curt nod. Silk hit the launch klaxon and added voice over.

"Corsair and Buccaneer, launch now! All pilots to their fighters! I say again, Buccaneer and Corsair, launch now! Rogue and Gray, standby!"

Jalb's chair hit the deck with a crash as he forced it back to stand up. "Cripes, that was bloody quick! Away we go!" Krayt downed his last bit of coffee and ran to catch up with Jalb.

Hearing the alert, Hellcat jumped up out of surprise, slapped Mighty on his back and made a dash for the hangar with Mighty trailing shortly behind.

The hangar deck became a hive of activity as repulsors wound up and ships came online. Technicians, fighter crews, and pilots were scrambling about within the vast space of the giant Mon Cal's hangar bay as Hellcat and Mighty ran towards their fighters.

"Mighty, welcome to the big leagues, boy!" Hellcat yelled out with a sly grin appearing on his face, even though he and his new partner were about to embark on a path likely to result in a vicious battle.

As the first fighters started to exit, the deck officer decided not to worry about logging any dangerous practices this morning. One out of five had actually waited to reach the magcon's clearance before punching sublight. He knew he may well have the whole Wing up on disciplinary infringements by the time he'd finished. He watched another A-wing cut the distance short and speed away. If the Corsair CO was doing it, who was he to log it, he thought ruefully.

Scrambling up the ladder to his fighter, Hellcat turned his head towards his new wingmate and made a silent prayer that the rookie make it back in one piece. Giving thumbs up towards Mighty's direction for a sign of good luck while strapping in and firing up the systems on board the bulky but powerful B-wing. "Mighty, let's rock. This is Six ... I'm gone," Hellcat concluded with a sudden push of his yoke, sending his B-wing fighter racing out of the hangar bay while also causing a couple technicians to hit the deck so as not to have their heads cut off.

Having to play catch up to his maniacal wingmate, Mighty threw his engines into full and forgot that he was flying a B-wing as he quickly corrected his flight exit only just missing a nearby Rogue X-wing.

The deck officer spun at the sound of repulsors whining and watched as a B-wing lined up on the exit lanes and wound out his antigrav until he was out the mag con; instantaneously a second nearly took the nose of Rogue Two. He didn't have time to note the heavies' number before he had to jump for safety himself. He looked back to see a grinning A-wing pilot shrugging an apology before he crossed the containment field and kicked his sublight in.

Krayt powered up the repulsors and kicked them forward as Jalb engaged the sublight and took off. Krayt thought about it for a second, and decided against it. He returned a salute to the deck officer and engaged the sublight as soon as he was clear of the ship.

"Ahhh, a perfect exit pattern if I do say so myself," Hellcat said with a chuckle while looking for his CO's fighter to form up on.

"Task One, this is FCO. Target assignments are uploading now, Corsair, we have 12 bandits inbound as we speak. Clear them and give Buccaneer a run at those cap ships."

"Roger Control, this is Corsair Lead, form up by elements and take those uglies." The mass of A-wings split into five groups of two and effected vertical and horizontal separation.

"Go get 'em boys," Hellcat commented and then asked no one in particular, "Man why can't we have some of that fun?"

"Stow it, Six," was all Guardian said as Buccaneer's orders were coming in.

"Lead, this is Kallysto, I have them on my screen. Y-wing fuselage and squint wings. They're shielded."

"Lead, this is Knight, they've just gone to flight separation and are targeting our heavies."

"OK, gents, maintain element separation, but attack by flights. Don't let them get a shot off!"

All ten A-wings set their Engine/Laser/Shield settings to 0/0 and shot towards the incoming threat at top speed, rapidly closing the distance. As they got to within three klicks they started getting tone and wound their ELS back up to dog fighting levels. Once they had crossed the 2.5 mark, target designation began coming in and at two clicks a spread of concussion missiles shot out from the Corsairs' formation. Though the approaching fighters may have looked terrible, for some reason their maneuverability almost matched that of an A-wing as they all began evading the incoming warheads. All of them but two, who kicked the engines up to high gear as the Corsairs began mixing it up with the rest of the squadron.

"Kally, this is Five!" Jalb transmitted as the craft in front of him detonated. "Your six is clear! Two have got through and are making a run on the Buccs."

"Alright, get 'em Five, I'll tidy up here."

Jalb targeted the ugly furthest from the fray and noted the distances involved. "Buccaneer Lead, this is Corsair Five. You have two inbound; sorry, I can't reach 'em..."

Guardian's voice came through the com. "That's a copy, we can handle these two, just make sure no more come our way."

Hellcat was surprised by his CO's response and his mouth started to water with anticipation of adding two more fighters to his kill score.

"Six, give your wingman the lead and take those two out."

Hellcat felt his jaw hit the floor of his cockpit as he heard the last order, but complied and dropped his engine power a little to give Mighty the lead. "OK, Mighty, you've got lead, let's take 'em out."

Guardian's voice spoke again, easy and level. "The rest of you slow down and give them some room."

Michael Tolle, defacto Buccaneer Five, felt sweat bead on the palms of his hands and instinctively wiped them on his upper thighs even though he was wearing gloves. He cycled through the targets and picked up the incoming Uglies. "Roger that, Hellcat. Take the one on the left—I've got the right," he ordered with a slight tremor to his voice, pulling the nose of his craft to bear upon the left fighter while Hellcat linked his cannons and ions in preparation to give this enemy pilot a heart attack.

As the two B-wings made their top speed towards the targets, Hellcat noticed Mighty's craft making flinching movements and radioed in on a private channel before they were about to engage. "Mighty, calm down bud. It's a cake walk in these babies," he added with a pat to his B-wing's console.

Just then they broke 2.3 klicks, and Hellcat armed his ion cannons. Mighty watched as the numbers rolled down; he linked his laser and ion cannons and waited for target indication. Soon, the uglies broke 1.9 klicks and all hell broke loose as ions left the B-wings that Hellcat and Mighty were flying, making contact with the enemy craft, sending them into a frenzy of evasive maneuvers. Breaking formation, Hellcat and Mighty pursued their targets, bringing their targets' shields down to 0%. The two uglies were fated to end, both having been disabled by the accurate Buccaneer fire, their momentum carried them at speed on an intersecting path. The pirates, trying to fill the same portion of space at the same time, failed to appreciate the proof of abstract physics they had just demonstrated.


[On the Liberty's bridge]

"Admiral, sir! Coded Holonet transmission from the Dreadnaught. Realtime message can only mean one thing, and they don't look like they're leaving, so he's coming here."


At first the uglies that were flying against the Corsairs were holding their own, but after only a minute their numbers began to decline rapidly. As each element began to finish off their targets they exited the main fray to make more room for everyone else, the first pair to leave were Jalb and Krayt, followed closely behind by Blindman and Talyn. As the last few uglies were finished off the Buccaneers came into range with the capital ships.

"Five and Six, take the 'vette on the left; Three and Four, you have the right. Seven and Ten, with me on the Dreadnaught," came Guardian's voice over the comm.

The last ugly met its demise and Blindman spoke up over the comm. "Alright Corsairs, start strafing runs on the capital ships and draw their fire. If you get hit, pull out and recharge, we don't need any dead heroes. Pair up with your counterparts in Buccaneer. All extras on the Dread."

"Hey there Bucc Six, this is Corsair Five, heard you need a babysitter."

Hellcat grinned out to the right seeing Jalb's A-wing pull along-side his B-wing.

"Not a babysitter ... just a decoy," Hellcat said followed by a chuckle.

"Glad to be of service. Let us go get their attention then. Krayt pull up nice and close, we're going in hot."

The two A-wings rocketed away from the B-wings as they kicked their sublights up to full. At 1.7 klicks they started an intricate weave of rolls and jinks that kept the laser turrets busy but scoreless as they fired bolt after bolt at the small craft.

Snapping back to reality, Hellcat went through his systems making sure his shields and lasers were fully charged as he lined up in formation with Mighty. He found his place quickly, and then evened out his recharge rates once again.

Seeing his wingman pull into formation, Mighty took it as a cue to throw in an attack order. "Hellcat, spread formation, when you're within range feel free to engage ... quick strike so one rocket apiece from the both of us."

"Roger that Mighty, pulling away now and gaining target acquisition."

The gunners, so intent on the dodging A-wings, failed to respond to the threat of the incoming B-wings. As they came within three klicks, Hellcat and Mighty fired off one rocket apiece. The first rocket impacted on the shields, overloading them and causing some armour damage. The second followed right behind and tore through the corvette's bridge. In seconds the engines went up in a ball of flame. The second corvette suffered a similar fate, but was separated in two from the combined assault of Mynock and Rancor's heavy rockets.

"Ain't nothing better in the world, than dodging capship debris ... wouldn't ya say Mighty?" Hellcat laughed over the comm while spiraling through the CRVs fireball.

"Corsair, form up on me, this Dread won't be active for long," came Blindman's order.

"All Buccaneers, this is Lead, concentrate ion fire on the Dreadnaught, we have its shields down!"


[On the Liberty's bridge]

"Sir, I have spacial displacement" Just then the sensor alarm went off again before being muted by the operator. "They're here, sir! And it's the rest of the fleet!"


Chapter 7, Ambush-

"Good, Engineering." Admiral Ra'kaat nodded, an expression he'd picked up from years around humans. "Commence reactivation of propulsion. I want this ship online in a hurry. Flight, launch the remaining fighters. Comms, coded burst to the Windstorm, get their fighters here now, and tell the Waverunner to begin generating gravity wells. Captain Evert, take us in..."


In moments, Rogue and Gray squadrons had launched and were streaking towards the new arrivals.

Silk's voice came over the commset. "Buccaneer and Corsair, take the frigate to the left, Rogue, take your escort and get the frigate on the right. Force be with you..."


[The bridge of the Destructor]

"Admiral Vorkin, sir!" The pirate's second in command came over to the Admiral, who was shaking with rage. "I believe we should turn about and get out here in a hurry!"

"You what?! These ... riff-raff have destroyed three of my ships, and countless fighters! Do you think I am going to let them get away with it?"

"I wouldn't suggest you do, but we have done a full sweep of our opposition. There is a fourth Squadron, another of A-Wings, and their IFF has been muted."

"So, what threat does another couple of A-wings pose to us? No, continue the assault. We will take the Liberty!"

Just then the sensor operator turned and yelled up out of his pit. "Liberty is coming on-line, they've fixed it!"

"Bah, we still have time! Launch fighters—all craft attack the Liberty!"


As the new arrivals launched their fighters, Blindman was giving out orders. He was preparing to order his pilots to form back up to face the new formation of uglies when the voice of Silk broke over the comm to order them to face them.

Grumbling under his breath about the loss of reaction time caused by the interruption, Blindman keyed his comm. "Corsair, Break up by elements, we have two squads of interceptors launching from the nearest frigate. Cover each other well, we might be up here alone for a while."


[The bridge of the Destructor]

"Sir, there is a new mass source in the system, it is expanding rapidly!" the pirate sensor operator yelled.

Vorkin's heart seized slightly. "Where?"

"Another Mon Cal Cruiser and a Strike Cruiser of some sort have come out from behind the planet. One of them is generating an interdiction field. We can't escape!"

Vorkin's second turned on him and snarled. "It's a trap you old fool! I warned you—" There was a flash, and a burst of sound.

Vorkin replaced the blaster in his holster and stared impassionately at his subordinate's body. "Nobody calls me a fool. Launch all fighters!"

Another two squadrons of TIE Fighters and two TIE bombers launched from the ISD. A single squadron of uglies came from the other frigate.


[On the Liberty's bridge]

"This is Sensors, logging friendly arrival. Two squadrons of snubs and ... the Windy has joined the Waverunner. I believe the cavalry has arrived."

"Wildcard, this is Liberty Flight Control. If you would be so kind as to remove that corvette, then concentrate your attack on the Destructor," Silk spoke into his comm station. "Gray Squadron, take out those bombers then concentrate on the other fighters, Phoenix, give them a hand."

A chorus of affirmatives came over as the fighters moved to engagement range. The battle outside raged with the Alliance fighters carving a path through the pirate forces.


[The bridge of the Destructor]

"Sir, the Quasar! It's gone!"

"What?!" Vorkin roared.

"More Alliance forces have come in behind us. Our fighters are outnumbered!"

Vorkin's face reddened and he spoke through clenched teeth. "I will not be thwarted. The Liberty will be mine. Flanking speed, get me within range!"


As the Corsairs engaged the first squadron of TIEs it became apparent that these pilots had received little in the area of real training, especially when eight of them went down in the first head-to-head pass. The second squadron went down just as quickly, losing seven on the first pass. Things got much easier for the Corsairs after they had cut more than half the interceptors out of the fight.

"Buccaneer, you are clear to start on that frigate," Blindman reported, "we'll just finish off the dregs. One Flight, stay here and finish off these Interceptors—Kallysto, take the rest of the Corsairs and go after those TIE fighters."

As Gray closed with the enemy dupes, they locked on with their missiles. The dupes were not nearly as manoeuvrable as the uglies were and their numbers were also decimated as Gray squadron chalked up two squads' worth of kills.

With the pirates suffering the same fate across the engagement zone, their capital ships were soon left with nothing in the way of fighter cover. Rogue and Buccaneer, having clear runs on their respective frigates and heavy rockets to spare, locked up their targets and started single firing at critical elements. Both the frigates started to lose shields and pulled back into the protective cover of the ISD, stopping any chance of the fighters decoying their guns, and managing to take out more than a few of the incoming warheads. But weights of numbers were against them.

Within minutes of the attack beginning, the frigate under assault from Buccaneer lost propulsion control and drifted out from under the Destructor's covering fire and into a hail of ion blasts from the massed heavy fighters. Meanwhile Rogue's target took far too many hits for it to remain effective in the attack—let alone its own defense—and it crumpled further until a final salvo got through to its engine nacelle, detonating it and sending the forward "fin" spinning into space.


[On the Liberty's bridge]

Captain Evert approached Admiral Ra'Kaat. "We have a problem, sir—a minor one but a problem all the same. Engineering has systems online but cannot initiate cold start. They are tracing the fault now, but we remain a sitting duck."


[The bridge of the Destructor]

"Sir, that's the last of them. The Dicer has just detonated and our fighters are running in all directions. Orders?"

Vorkin looked at his operations officer, then out the viewport at the Liberty. "Status, them and us!"

"The Liberty has systems online, however they still don't have propulsion. We have taken several hits from small craft fire and heavy rockets aft, but shields remain at 50% and climbing. Options: turn and run until we are clear of the gravity well or stay and fight. The Rebels appear to be out of warheads and the fighters presently pose a minor threat."

"Very well, continue present course. Have Gunnery stand by for opportunity targets."


Once the Rogues had dispatched their frigate, they joined the fray with the fighters. The addition of the famed group to the furball quickly brought an end to the snubfighter contest.

Once the fighters had been cleared, Stryker came on the comm. "OK, listen up. We are going to begin strafing runs on the Impstar: take out gun turrets, tractors and any other visible targets. One squad at a time, the rest provide interference."

As the Alliance forces assembled and began their strafing runs, it soon became clear that things were not going to be easy. Though the losses on the Alliance side only numbered ten currently, the lack of warheads made it hard to do any real damage. A few gun turrets were damaged, but the shields stubbornly held out.

After the third run by the Rogues, one of the shield generators gave out, and the subsequent run by Phoenix squadron took out the other one.


[On the Destructor]

"Sir, our turbolasers are still having a hard time tracking the fighters, there are just too many of them."

"We are closing within extreme turbolaser range of the Liberty now, shall we open fire?"

A sudden shake threw the standing officers from their feet, Vorkin's voice rose above the chaos. "Status Report—what did we lose?"

"Sir that was one of our shield generators, we have routed everything through the other one, we can keep 50%."

The second detonation drained the color from the damage control officer's face.

"Sir, we just lost our shields, do you still wish to engage the Liberty?"

The sensor operator spoke up. "Sir, another squadron just launched from the Liberty. It looks like B-wings, and we have no fighter cover!"

"Star Destroyer Destructor, this Is Captain Evert of the Alliance Cruiser Liberty. You will power down now, or else be destroyed. Cease all hostilities and take weapons offline. You have 15 seconds to comply."

Seconds ticked by with no response to the ultimatum from Vorkin. The subordinates refused to look at him for fear of any reprisal being sent their way.

Over the open comm a now semi-familiar voice came on. "Sorry about the delay, Masquerade Squad will finish the big one for you. With your permission, Liberty."

The Destructor's officers looked at Vorkin. He looked at his hands and then up through the viewport. A manic look ran across his features. "Ramming speed! Initiate self-destruct for proximity-impact! Abandon ship!"


[On the Liberty's bridge]

"What is it they are doing? Are they powering down?" Admiral Ra'Kaat asked his sensor operator.

"Liberty, this is Rogue Leader, ISD is jettisoning escape pods—manned pods!"

"Sir, they've shunted power to engines and are on a ramming course—if we don't move out of the way now, we are done. We have one minute till probable impact!"

"Waverunner, power down the wells! All craft, get out of here. The Destructor has set for collision and self destruction, the engines are going critical as we speak, all craft move out now!"

Silk began relaying the order to the various squadrons as quickly as he could.


"Hellcat, Krayt, with me!" Jalb called as the rest of the fighters in the area made jumps into hyperspace. "We don't have much time, just follow my lead!"

He rolled his A-wing and set a direct course for the bridge of the massive triangular ship. He realised the only way to stop a definite collision was to take out the bridge, and hopefully throw the course off with ion interference. He explained as much to the others as he engaged the target. The combined fire from all three ships sent armour and transparisteel into melting globs of debris as the bridge violently decompressed.


The ISD started to yaw slightly and collision was averted; however the danger from detonation remained. Just then, the Liberty's engines came back online. The helmsman threw it to reverse thrust, and Captain Evert came on the Liberty's comm.

"All hands, brace for impact!"

Though the Liberty was escaping the collision, it wasn't fast enough to escape the resulting explosion when Star Destroyer's engines detonated. The initial debris cloud from the explosion expanded like a bubble from the Destructor. It rolled across the Liberty, taking her shields offline and exposing her hull to more shrapnel from secondary explosions.

Everyone who was not braced into position was thrown around the ship like rag dolls as the resulting impacts took out most of her systems. As the debris cloud passed, the Liberty was left dead in space, rolling on her axis, still headed aft on the course the helm had laid in before the Destructor laid waste with its parting shot.


"WOOO! What a rush!" Jalb yelled as he brought his little fighter back under control. The debris cloud had forced the three fighters into an critical series of evasive maneuvers until they had been able to make a short in-system jump, away from the destructive force that had nearly overwhelmed their shields, and then their ships. Unlike the Liberty, they were able to survive because of their relatively small size, easily dodging the larger pieces of the once-Imperial Star Destroyer.

"You guys still with me?" Jalb asked the ether, noticing his sensors were off line.

"Hoo boy! Copy that Jalb! That was one heck of a ride!" came Hellcat's reply.

"Six here. Thanks for that Jalb—I never did like roller coasters. Anyone give me a sensor feed, I'm offline."

"Copy Krayt, my sensors are down too. Josh, you're our knight in shining armour. Get us home."

"Roger that Corsair Five, once again a Bucc comes to the rescue!"

Krayt and Jalb both groaned, knowing that this was going to haunt them. They made the short jump back to the scene of the engagement and all mirth died. The Liberty was a floating hulk, no registration on the CMD whatsoever.

Hellcat let out a disbelieving whistle at the sight.

"Damn!" whispered Jalb.


The concussion and violent pitching of the ship died down, and Captain Evert looked around the darkened bridge. He slapped a communicator tab and got nothing, even the hiss of white noise was absent. "I have a bad feeling about this," he said to himself as he unstrapped. Even the ever-present sound of the atmosphere recycler had been silenced. He started calling out to his bridge staff, trying to see whom he could by the starlight coming through the viewports as they answered his queries.

"Negative, sensors down!"

"Comms, offline!"

"I've got a wiped board, sir; engineering is gone!"

They all heard it. The familiar whoosh of air being pumped and sucked from the deck, the sound that was present in every part of the ship. Evert felt a huge weight lift. Life support was always first to come back up when power was restored.

"Sir, I have auxiliary power now. Re-configuring ... helm, comm. That's all I can give you for the moment, sir."

"That's fine. Helm, stop this roll and get us stable enough for fighter recovery ops. Launch all transports and shuttles to search for our pilots. Comm, transmit to Windstorm and Waverunner our status and a request for assistance. Also get them to see if there is anything left of the two capships we disabled. And engineering..."


"I really hate zero G. When you can, please!"

The engineering officer hid a smirk as he responded in the affirmative.


Two days! In two days the trio that thought they had single handedly saved the Liberty had been chewed out by all three fighter squadron COs, Rogue's XO, and finally Captain Evert. Disobeyance of orders, reckless endangerment and—included for Jalb—illegal orders and conduct unbecoming. They were now on their way to the main holotheater. All three had been ordered to attend in full dress uniform, and the scuttlebutt had it that they were going to front the Admiral. That and the fact that the whole of Renegade Wing and the Liberty crew had been ordered to attend did not bode well for the three friends.

"Preliminary proceedings!" stated Jalb. "This is where they will read out the charges and the Admiral will decide if he will hear them. They're going to make an example of us and throw the book. Man, it's entirely my fault. I'm sorry I got you guys into this."

"You are joking, aren't you Jalb? I hold you totally irresponsible!" said Hellcat with a grin. "If I didn't want to do it, I wouldn't have. Don't go playing the martyr on us—it only makes Krayt and I feel bad."

"Yeah, what he said," added Krayt. "We three have been pushing the edge since we got here, it was bound to happen sooner or later. It's just surprising we didn't get Condor tied up with us," he finished with a chuckle.

As they approached the entrance to the theatre, they saw Vidster waiting, his arms folded and a look of impatience upon his face. "Come on you three, as if you're not in enough trouble already! When the door opens, Captain Evert will call for you. I will respond and march you in, halt you, and salute for you. Captain Evert will read out the charges and the Admiral will set a date for your court martials, got it?" He said this all so matter of factly that they had little time to get over the impact of his statement before the doors swung in.

"March in the accused!"

"Sir! Defaulters ... quick march!"

On the long walk down the centre aisle, they couldn't help but notice how many people had packed into the theatre. Nor could they miss the looks of pity and forced cheerful thumbs up that their wingmates gave them.

"Defaulters ... halt!"

The three came to a dead stop three paces back from the slightly elevated stage where Admiral Ra'kaat sat at a large ornate table. He looked up from a pad he was studying and eyed the three pilots. "On what charges are these men brought before me?" he intoned formally.

Captain Evert stood with a data pad and commenced to read. "Sir, 2nd Lieutenants Alrick Durgan and Josh Kinney, and 1st Lieutenant Chris Reynolds are charged with: Disobeying a Lawful Command, in that they ignored a command to leave the battle area and their command ship, the CRS Liberty in the vicinity of the Versch system. Reckless Endangerment, in that they attacked the ISD Destructor, which was on a collision course with their command ship, the CRS Liberty, and had also had its engines set to detonate."

Evert paused to take in another long pull of air. "In doing so they were able to cause a course change and averted definite impact. This in turn allowed the Liberty to survive the detonation of the Destructor's engines. It is still under investigation how they managed to survive themselves."

He looked up with an arched eyebrow as he read this last. "Furthermore, 1st Lieutenant Reynolds is charged with Issuing an Illegal Order, in that he ordered 2nd Lieutenants Durgan and Kinney to form on him in the attack on the Destructor. Finally, 1st Lieutenant Reynolds is also charged with Conduct Unbecoming, in that he, as senior officer of the three, set the example of disobeyance. He then issued an illegal order and recklessly endangered all three craft and pilots, resulting in the course change that averted collision and saved the Liberty from certain destruction." He closed the pad and sat down.

Admiral Ra'kat looked for a moment at Captain Evert then at each of the fighter squadron COs. He looked down at the pad on his desk and read for what seemed like an eternity. He finally looked up and towards the three CO's again. "Colonel Rambo, what do your squadron commanders say about these pilots?"

"Sir, both have been more than happy with the performance of the men in their squadrons. Their reporting has, up till now, been exemplary, and the three have been the highest scoring non-Rogue pilots in the simulators. They are clearly dedicated, but idealistic and too eager to put their lives on the line. It should also be noted that all three have made submissions for transfer out of their respective squadrons."

Ra'Kaat rolled his eyes heavenwards and stood. "Well then, after discussing this matter with the other COs, I am left with no choice. We cannot have flagrant disregard for command from Buccaneer or Corsair pilots, nor can we have pilots following illegal orders. Therefore, effective immediately, 2nd Lieutenants Kinney and Durgan are promoted to the rank of 1st Lieutenant."

Two sets of jaws hit the ground and Jalb turned to look at them, stunned to his boots.

"Secondly, you are hereby given notice of posting. Transfer to Rogue Squadron and flight status in that squadron, once again, effective immediately." Admiral Ra'Kaat had to raise his voice to be heard above the growing din from the crowd.

"Welcome aboard, Rogues Seven, Eight, and Nine!"

The End