Tales from the Training Squadron
Total War: Part 1
Captain Retzel "Beast" Ugget sat in her small executive office onboard the FRG Regis and sighed. Her paperwork on the latest training performances was complete, and she found herself with nothing else pressing to finish. She'd shipped off her notes to her boss, Captain Maddic "Happy" Chread, and then re-organized the trainee rankings in her personal personnel file once more to account for the latest training data. Many were getting close to being ready for graduation to be assimilated into active squadrons of Renegade Wing, so she now had to figure out not only if they were capable and ready, but also which craft and mission profile they excelled at so they would stay alive longer by being placed in the proper squadron.
Two of the trainees had shown a proclivity for B-wing piloting, which was getting to be even more of a rarity these days with incoming pilots all being more familiar with the old stick and throttle controls available in most commercially available sim modules. The only pilots that seemed to be more at home with the ungainly craft's control scheme were Imperial defectors, as the yoke control of the TIE line of starfighters was very similar to the controls for a B-wing as well as the U-wing.
The Bothan, Se'ah "Shifty" Maey'Lees was particularly adept at finding and utilizing vulnerabilities to her advantage. While outside of the cockpit this led to some uncomfortable discussions about decorum and explaining the hard-line of conduct the rookie could not cross despite her hard-earned street skills, in the cockpit it meant she was sharp and alert. Certainly Cpt. Brej of Rapier or Lt. Col. Stephen of Buccaneer would be happy to have such a pilot, though the former squadron would require Shifty to move into a Y-wing, which was a craft she was less adept at piloting than the cruciform B-wing.
The Wookiee also seemed to be at home in the cockpit of a B-wing starfighter, but this was mainly due to her size and being too cramped in many of the other airframes. Her hyper-aggressive nature led to some unfortunate mishaps during maneuvers, but the daring nature of her decisions often led to surprising results in her favor. Wungiannidaaakk, mercifully called "Mother" for speakers of basic, would be a fine addition to Buccaneer Squadron once she graduated her training regimen with Raider. Though, the extra room of a U-wing cockpit and similar control scheme to a B-wing meant that there was a possibility that Sabre Squadron could house the uniquely aggressive pilot, especially in either their Mainstay or Mayhem flights that would accentuate her strengths.
The other trainee that seemed to scream for a Y or B-wing craft was the Dresselian male called Proonefaak. His callsign was "Ugly", and he earned every bit of it due to his scarred appearance that already made his species' wrinkly visage quite unpleasant to most species in the galaxy. His penchant for evasive maneuvers put him into a more maneuverable craft like an X or A-wing, but he also managed to take quite a bit of fire during these exercises due to his lone-wolf nature getting himself into trouble. He seemed to do better in a sturdier craft that could take a pounding, especially in instances where a few more bits of armor could absorb hits while he magically managed to enact miracle repairs within his cockpit to coax more life out of his craft than Beast thought possible from a pilot's couch. She figured either Buccaneer or Rapier would be a good fit for the man when he managed to finish his training to her satisfaction, though Spectre and their venerable X-wings might also be a decent fit. He had a tendency to be a loner, though, so most of his future training would be focused on teamwork and learning to rely on his allies to accomplish a mission.
The other six trainees currently undergoing training with Raider were fairly nondescript and didn't betray any tendencies that put them into one lane or the other with regard to an active duty assignment, though the young Rodian male seemed completely out of place in a cockpit. Harket "Geek" Morten earned every bit of the derisive callsign he'd been given due to his lack of situational awareness for himself because he was wholly focused on the big picture. He'd often be caught suggesting tactical formations and maneuvers for everybody else at the expense of his own wellbeing. More often than not, he'd crash into a wingman in the opening moments of an engagement because he'd be calling upon his almost encyclopedic memory of martial strategy to organize the battle. If he survived the initial inattention, it generally caught up with him in the thick of a sim engagement when he again would lose focus on himself and call out suggestions for his wingmen to execute during their own struggles. Out of all of the trainees that had come to them, he was the only one that had any sort of active duty record and thus had his own astromech already, so likely if he ever managed to shake his penchant for getting himself killed while looking at grand strategy, they'd shuffle him into a craft that carried an astromech so the pair could continue working together.
Beast sighed as she finished updating her recommendation files and turned her datapad off. Her thoughts drifted off to other issues that necessitated an intervention, and then she remembered the errand she'd sent the other training officer on. Earlier she'd sent 1st Lt. Rokara "Tails" Dene up to the hangar to make sure the maintenance issues on the two damaged X-wings were addressed properly, as the last time issues like this had arisen repairs took an inordinate amount of time to be completed. The crews complained that the latest shipment of parts had all been taken to the Vigilant due to the priority hierarchy, which was an unfortunately common occurrence due to the penchant of seemingly all of the Renegade Wing pilots to get their ships shot out from under them.
She keyed her commlink. "Lieutenant?"
"Captain?" Tails responded quickly.
"Any update on the repairs of those two training X-wings?"
The sigh that began Tails' reply was enough of an answer for Beast. "No, Captain. It looks like those two ships are out of commission for the foreseeable future according to the deck chief."
Beast rubbed her temples in frustration. "Very well. Ensure that the two B-wings are flight capable in the event they are needed."
"You think we'll have to use them for real?" Tails asked, the pitch of her voice belying both nerves as well as a bit of hope.
Beast smiled at the optimism Tails displayed. Out of the three training officers, Tails was always the most prone to a sunny disposition. While Happy was the heavy hand and negative outlook, Tails was the light touch that thought the glass was always half-full. Beast fell somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, which was why she seemed to be the go-between as she could communicate on both levels as needed to even out the officer she was speaking to. She could hit Happy with a slightly less dour report to show him that progress was being made, and she could deliver the bad news to Tails in a way that made the hopelessly positive Gran understand that improvements were still needed.
"I hope we don't need them, Lieutenant," Beast replied. "You know the Honcho likes planning ahead for a worst case scenario. Always." Referring to Happy as 'the Honcho' was common amongst the Raiders as well as the Regis command staff, so Beast didn't need to clarify further who she was talking about.
"I thought this was a secure area, Cap?"
Beast waved toward her viewpanel, even though Tails wasn't in her office to see the gesture. She'd always been a hand-talker, which helped her explain maneuvers to fresh recruits. "Well, as you can probably see if you look out any of the multitude of viewports, most of the taskforce just left. It's just us, the Rehz'nor, Waverunner, and Baraha'tok still here defending the outpost down below. If something stumbles into the system, we might be needed to fly for real, and the trainees will need to be properly outfitted in ships that are functional. We can't tuck and run and hang the personnel on the ground out to dry."
"Roger that, Captain," Tails replied more subdued. "I'll go check and report back as soon as I find out. Out."
Beast set her comlink down and sighed. She really hoped it wouldn't come to putting the trainees out there for real just yet, as many of them still needed much more experience before she'd graduate them to active duty. She had her almost sterling track record of graduate survival rates to keep, after all...
The whirling blue tunnel of hyperspace faded as individual stars slowly reappeared. The transition always put 2nd Lt. Rhones "Mesh" Orden into a sort of trance, because that change from realspace to hyperspace was the most magical part of the journey to him as a child. Hearing the tales from the passing freighter crews, the mythical sightings they'd reported like the beautiful angels or the malevolent starweirds. Purrgils, Exogorths, and even the rumored Summa-verminoth piqued his interest so much that he joined a freighter crew the moment he was of age.
Unfortunately for him, the sightings those old salty freighter crewers had regaled him with appeared to be nonexistent on his runs. The only part that remained mystical to him was the transition between realms, and it always put him into a trance.
A warbling alert from his astromech jarred him back to reality, along with a grinding system proximity alarm.
His eyes snapped open, and then widened. Before him was the green-tinged hull of the FRG Rehz'nor, filling the entire space of the forward transparisteel panel of his Y-wing's cockpit. He wrenched his stick to the side and pulled hard back on the throttle.
A similar cacophony of curses echoed his own as the rest of the Rapiers came to the same startling reality.
"Can I plot a jump or what?" 1st Lt. Gabon "Pops" Lucarr guffawed as a flourish to his brag.
Rage welled up within Mesh as he leveled out his craft in open space. "E chu ta ta an do padda, mames!" Pops laughed louder in response to the exotic string of curses.
"Eight, from now on I want you to double check Nine's course plots so we don't appear right on top of a ship unless we intend to do so," Captain Xun "Sunny" Brej, the leader of Rapier Squadron, cut in. The hint of a smile carried across the mirthful tone of her voice.
"Roger, Captain," 2nd Lt. 9-D0 "Goose" replied through the all-business voice of his language processor. Within the cockpit, the droid pilot communicated with the squadron with canned phrases that his human companion and wingman had coded for him. The voice was a buzzing tenor that was common amongst speaking droids, which sounded extra grainy due to the comm system of the older craft the squadron used. The system still had bugs that needed to be worked out, but it was still better than the honking beeps he generally used to communicate when outside of the cockpit.
Mesh continued to rage as he slapped the side of his cockpit. "Esehigi! I'm going to gut you like a ghest!"
"Oh calm down, you big baby!" Pops replied, still laughing raucously.
"Shove it up your exhaust port!" Mesh replied as he brought his craft around onto Pops' tail and painted it with a missile lock. "Hadwa yatuka, kung!"
"Hey, what are you doing, Ten?" Pops cried out as he jinked his Y-wing in response to shake the surprising aggressive action of his wingman. More laughter from the other Rapiers filled the airwaves.
"Speak basic!" 1st Lt. Komnay "Butcher" Malloc, Rapier Squadron's executive officer, interrupted. "If you're going to insult the man, at least do it in a language he understands."
"Shukking son of a growzer!" Mesh exclaimed, but then laughed as he realized he once again mixed languages with his insult. Being a talented polyglot turned out to be a blessing and a curse, as he often mixed languages when he became excited. Thankfully it hadn't interfered with actual combat interactions yet, but it apparently was only a matter of time until the pucker-factor went up to eleven in the heat of battle and he started mixing languages.
"Lurdo," he added, finally calm enough to see the humor of the situation. He pulled off of his attack position on Pops' ship and returned to formation.
"Still not basic," Butcher chided, "but welcome back to the formation."
"Now that the excitement for the day is over," Sunny interrupted, "but with Nine and Ten's permission, can we please return to the ship so we can get out of these sweaty flight suits and grab a meal and well-deserved rack time?"
Butcher shook her bleach-white shoulder length hair and absentmindedly rubbed the vestigial bumps on her forehead, a mannerism which she hadn't managed to shake no matter how hard she tried. It made her look annoyed more often than she actually was, but as the executive officer of Rapier Squadron, that wasn't necessarily a bad thing. She cradled her helmet against her body with her right arm as she checked on the status of all of her pilots as they stumbled toward the exit.
Aside from the surprise close-arrival due to Pops' extremely precise hyperspace course plot, the arrival and landing went off without a hitch. They were all ready to be free of their cockpits and the hangar, as their latest long-range strike had kept them trapped in their cockpits for just over twenty-four hours. Now, they hadn't been awake that entire time, but you never truly got restful sleep in the pilot's couch, though the Y-wing had more room than most to accommodate a slightly reclined position for snoozes during lengthy travel times.
Still, they were all to a man looking forward to being free to grab a hot meal, get out of their now grody flight suits, and grab some sleep where they could lay down fully. While the cockpit air scrubbers did their best to keep the air clean, it never did get to 100 percent efficiency so the funk of accumulated sweat always carried through the air after a while. That first burst of fresh air from the hangar always refreshed the weary pilot just enough to help them immediately evacuate the cockpit and hit the showers.
"No debriefing today," Sunny said tiredly at the door of the hangar, exhaling in an exaggerated fashion on the last syllable. The declaration was met with an exhausted cheer from the pilots. All of the pilots began to trudge out of the hangar with their last bit of gusto when the alarm system blared loudly across the ship.
Butcher tensed, recognizing the tone to be of the all-hands-on-deck nature. Suddenly, Captain Bradley's voice carried over all speakers of the ship. "Imperial Ships have entered the system and are orienting on an attack vector. We are moving to intercept. All hands, condition red. Battle Stations!"
Sunny called her over with a wave, her earlier fatigue now seemingly gone. She held her comlink up to her ear and nodded, cupping it with her other hand to shield it from the sudden increase in ambient volume from the deck hands rushing about. She cast her head about in various directions to minimize the sound interference, sending her black ponytail casting about in the air.
Butcher walked over and arched an eyebrow. All around her, the Rehz'nor deck techs scrambled around and began rapidly refueling and re-arming spent munitions on their fighters. "What's up, Lead?"
Sunny held up a finger, nodding as she continued to listen to the one-sided conversation. After another moment, she responded with a curt "Affirmative, Captain," and then angrily put her commlink back into her chest pocket. Pursing her lips, she finally focused on Butcher's face, her glower turning from angry to sad. Even the prominent scar across her pronounced brow ridges that gave her her nickname for the happy appearance it gave her didn't interfere with her conveyance of sadness this time. "We're going back out there to engage the enemy."
Butcher shrugged, and began to put her helmet back on. A strong hand from Sunny on her bicep stopped her. She looked deeply into her leader's blue eyes, searching the mottled green skin of Sunny's face for an explanation for her apprehension. "What is it?"
"We're facing long odds here, Komnay," Sunny replied, sighing sadly. "They're going to have to launch the training squadron too."
Butcher's eyes widened with surprise. "The rookies? They'll get torn to shreds!"
Sunny nodded once in solemn agreement. "Not much of a choice. Can't cut and run, can't take them on our own and defend the remainder of the group at the same time."
Butcher shook her head. "It can't be that bad that we can't handle it ourselves. Just what are we facing out there?"
Sunny pursed her lips as she held up her fingers, pulling each one into a fist as she tallied the various opponents that had just jumped in. "Three Imperial Support Ships—Dreadnought class, a Raider, an Arquitens, and roughly three squadrons worth of fighters." She paused to ensure that her message was fully received, and then shuffled off toward the new pilots in her flight. "Three, Four, c'mere real quick!"
Butcher smiled as her fatigue suddenly vanished. It wasn't a thin, close-lipped grin of pleasure, but a sharp-toothed smile of a predator about to be set loose. She spun crisply on her heel and strode to where her wingman, the recent Rodian transfer, and clapped his thin frame roughly on the shoulder. "Hope you're ready for more, Stixx. More Imperial ducks on the water!"
Pops had to suck down a stim packet as he stood off to the side of his Y-wing, if only to be doing something with his hands while he felt so helpless without a specific job to do at this very moment. All around him and the other Rapier Squadron pilots, the Rehz'nor's hangar crew were completing a complicated dance of removing damaged parts while also reloading the expended ordnance from their last sortie. Torpedoes and Proton Bombs needed to be replenished in all twelve magazines after they leveled their target facility halfway across the galaxy hours earlier.
He had to hand it to them. The swabbies definitely had a way about them that managed to thrive amongst the chaos. Though, his prior experience with deck crews was also generally whatever the spaceport had to offer when his freighter arrived in system to either drop off or pick up cargo, and the farther rimward he went, the less skilled the workers were. The Rebels—now New Republic—seemed to attract the best and most motivated personnel he'd ever seen in one place.
Many of his squadmates appeared to be on the edge of exhaustion, which worried him slightly. He wasn't nearly as tired, even though he'd just popped a stim to avoid being idle. Truth be told, he had enjoyed the last sortie for the extra solitary time he was able to spend in his cockpit. It reminded him of his happier times before joining the Rebellion as a long-haul freighter captain. Before the Empire had decided to charter him to transport slaves. The frequent long-strike sorties that took him away for long periods of time was right up his alley, which made Rapier the ideal billet for a man of his solitary preferences.
2nd Lt. Oran "Duck" Zapal seemed particularly incensed about the whole situation as he stood next to his companion, the white-chassis-with-orange trim ferry droid turned pilot, Goose. "If it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all!"
"Same shab, different system." Pops smiled at the use of the common gripe he'd heard variations of all across the galaxy. He chuckled as he turned his attention back to his own ship, nodding in approval as the loose sensor dome he'd noted at the beginning of the last sortie was actually being addressed. It actually shocked him that the techs devoted time to the repair during such an urgent situation, but he wasn't going to stop them in the middle of something he'd logged a complaint about.
A loud whistle cut across the hangar, drawing all eyes to Sunny as she stood at the top of her cockpit ladder. "Let's move it, people! Skids up in ninety seconds!"
"Move it, old man," Mesh said snidely as he passed nearby and strode toward his own ship. "Or do you need your repulsor-couch?"
Pops snorted in good cheer at the ageist jibe before pointing a finger at the ancient Ugnaught that flew Rapier Two, Flt. O. Gram "Gramps" Drisko. "I'm not even the oldest pilot in this raggedy outfit, kid! Bet you won't say that to his face!"
Mesh looked at Gramps, then back to Pops and shrugged. "Haven't quite mastered Ugnese yet. Too many grunts and squeals for my liking."
"He speaks basic just fine. I dare you," Pops goaded loudly as he turned his back to his wingman and began to ascend his own ladder.
"Will you two give it a rest and get your ships ready to fly?" Butcher called out angrily from her cockpit, gesturing toward the two confused-looking pilots standing near their craft with uncertainty. "You're setting a bad example for the new guys." She looked back at the two newer pilots who had yet to move. "Are you two flogs waiting for a hand-delivered invitation, or are we going to blast some Imps?!" The two pilots snapped back to reality at the harsh address, and rapidly ascended their ladders.
"Yeah, be professional, Decrep," Mesh quipped as he threw on his helmet and flopped down onto his pilot's couch. The insult was a shortened version of 'decrepit', another favorite ageist insult of the younger human.
"I'll show you professional, you whippersnapper," Pops grunted as he levered his creaking body onto his own couch and flipped the toggle to close the canopy. Outside, the tech crews began to evacuate the area around the Y-wings, indicating that their intricate dance was done and the time to kill was once again upon the Rapiers.
"Pull up a map of the battle on my screen, Lex," Geek said aloud the moment his X-wing cleared the magcon field of the FRG Regis. He spared one quick glance in all directions to make sure there was nothing ready to surprise him
R4-LX, nicknamed Lexicon, and shortened even more to Lex, complied with the request immediately despite eliciting a warning tremolo.
Geek hooted in mild frustration at the admonishing tone his astromech had addressed him with, but once the tactical map was uploaded to his Combat Multiview Display all of his frustration melted away as he began mentally downloading data. He began cataloging enemy formations, distances, headings, and numbers. Once that task was handled, he did the same for the allied forces. This drew a frown from him, as he knew on flimsiplast that it wasn't a fair fight. While the Baraha'tok could likely take on the Raider-Class Corvette one on one due to the Dornean Gunship's concussion missile launchers, that ship would be needed to help target the Imperial fighter attack. The two Nebulon-B Frigates and the MC30c would likely be an even match for the three Rendili StarDrive Dreadnoughts, the Arquitens-class Cruiser had enough extra punch with their warhead launchers to tip the scales in the Imperials' favor. By his quick mental calculation, that was roughly 60 guns and probably 8 missile batteries for the Imperials against 82 guns and 12 warhead batteries for his forces, but the armor on those Dreadnought-class heavy cruisers could withstand more damage than the weak point along the neck of the NR Frigates. And he couldn't ignore the damage that a full warhead spread from a squadron of TIE Bombers could do to a ship...
Speaking of the fighters, while generally it was decent odds in favor of the New Republic to be outnumbered 24-36, the fact that Rapier Squadron likely had heavy fatigue from their latest run and Raider Squadron being made up of three-quarters recruits, the snub battle looked like it may turn ugly. If they couldn't get those bombers quickly, it spelled doom for the New Republic ships. 96 Proton Torpedoes could reduce Geek's entire force to atoms.
Geek frowned as the map updated. The Dreadnoughts appeared to be hanging back slightly, or the Cruiser and Raider weren't paying attention and steaming ahead at full speed with a squadron of TIE Fighters and TIE Bombers in tow. The last 12 TIE Fighters appeared to be hanging around the three older ships, so perhaps it was intentional? He couldn't understand why they would put their forces in a position to be destroyed in detail, but then again the odds just tipped back in their favor if only they could...
He keyed his comm. "Lead, Suggest Rapier enacts Attack Pattern Delta on the cruiser, and Raider hides behind the MC30c on its engagement approach to mask our signatures. When we close in, we jump out and ambush the Dupes while the Gunship harrasses the escort fighters." Attack Pattern Delta had been made famous by Luke Skywalker and Rogue Squadron at Hoth, and using a capital ship to mask a fighter presence was something a long-lost military commander had done to resounding success. There was no doubt that his squadron leader would congratulate him for the sound tactical advice.
"Pay attention to your own assignment, Two!" Happy snapped in reply. "Let the adults make the plans."
Geek was incensed at the summary dismissal. His tactical read of the current situation was valid and accurate. His suggestions would lead to the best possible outcome for the New Republic forces.
Just then, a shrill alert warbled from Lex. Geek reluctantly tore his eyes away from his screen just in time to see the aft of Raider 3 directly in his flightpath. He squealed in shock, an even shriller noise than Lex's warning and the proximity alarm of the ship. Out of reflex, he shoved his stick forward, though it was more of him moving to curl into a ball rather than an intentional maneuver. Still, it had the desired effect. The alarms ceased, and Geek opened his large black eyes to see open space in front of his craft. Relief flooded through him, though the cold sweat he'd been feeling since they'd launched had now turned into a hot sweat, and it was pouring buckets down his spine.
"Get back in formation, Two!" Beast ordered over the comm.
"Pay attention, Geek!" Tails snapped.
"Ok Raiders, here's the play," Happy cut in. "Form Bantha Formation by numbers on my six."
Geek was angry, as Bantha Formation was essentially the same exact thing as Attack Pattern Delta. The fact that the Captain chose to use the older name for it rather than his terminology nibbled away at him.
Happy continued. "We're going to fly behind the Mon Cal Frigate on our approach to hide our numbers."
Geek's antennae twitched angrily under his helmet.
"Then we're going to execute Gamma Attack Pattern to ambush the Bombers," Happy concluded. "Execute!"
Geek found, with Lex's help in the form of a white box around Happy's ship, where he needed to be. He deftly maneuvered into his assigned slot and intently followed his squadron leader's ship, staring at the quad 4L4 fusial thrust engines to guide where his nose should be. Behind him, Raider 3 formed up, and then 4 and so on down the line until all twelve snubfighters were in a tight line behind the Waverunner as it made its approach into battle slightly ahead of the rest of the ships. This distressed Geek slightly, but then he remembered that the MC30c model had two forward mounted proton torpedo launchers and it would likely be using them to hammer the Imperial Corvette analog into submission.
"Execute Gamma Attack Pattern by flight! Push through the eyeballs and hammer the dupes!"
Geek followed Happy's ship as he throttled up and pulled to the left of the frigate they'd been tailgating. He gulped nervously as it was now time for them to engage. He glanced back down at his screen and his eyes widened. "Captain, Rapier isn't engaging with us!"
"I know," Happy replied grimly, his annoyance carrying crystal clear through the tone of his voice.
"Focus on yourself, Deuce!" Beast chided.
Apparently Geek's report about Rapier sent ripples of nerves up and down the ragged battle spread line of Raider's trainees, and almost immediately other nervous fighters began breaking and pulling off.
"Get back in line!" Happy growled, but it was too late. The TIE fighters fell upon them all with a hail of verdant light.
Geek and Lex screamed in unison as he mashed the firing stud down to return fire.
"Okay Rapiers, here's the play," Sunny started, her voice cutting through the chaotic comms the trainee pilots of Raider were spilling out into the open air. "They're leaving their heavies in the back to protect them. We're going to jump on top of them and take them out."
A cheer resounded through the squadron channel, though it was more raggedy than enthusiastic due to the fatigue levels of the pilots. Performance efficiency ratings would likely be only 80% if Goose's calculations were correct. The upgraded ferry droid couldn't exactly look down upon the organics of the squadron, as he felt a bit of resistance in his right arm extremity that was delaying his maneuvers. Granted, it was only a nanosecond delay, but it took an entire percentage point off of his own calculated combat efficiency.
Sunny continued. "Nine, how about you plot us a nice jump that puts us just to the side of their formation so we can strafe all three of the slow bastards in sequence?"
Pops' trademark grin was evident in his reply. "Another close shave, yes ma'am!"
Though Captain Brej hadn't explicitly said so, Goose primed his astrogation programming to check the plot of Rapier Nine as he'd been ordered to do so before. A good pilot was always prepared. Just to make sure he was ready, he plotted two options himself while he waited.
"Course plotted," Pops replied cheerily after a few seconds.
Goose was increasingly impressed with the aged human's ability to plot courses, both the speed and accuracy. Still, he checked and double checked the course that had been sent to the squadron, crunching the numbers through multiple permutations and calculating error bars.
"It checks out as putting us within 2 klicks of the left-most Imperial ship," Goose's own astromech 'said' in binary.
"I'm aware, and have rechecked the coordinates three times to confirm their accuracy," Goose replied in kind. "I can, after all, calculate such things with 0.04% more speed than the typical astromech."
"Show off," Goose's astromech retorted, and then sighed electronically. "Perhaps I should switch off for the remainder of this flight?"
Goose ignored the flippant response from his astromech, instead activating his vocabulator. He hated communicating this way, as speaking any sort of language vocally was such a waste of time. However, since he was in a squadron of organics, most of which didn't understand a lick of binary, he had to suffer through it. He opened a private channel to his flight leader. "Captain, the coordinates check out."
"Thank you, Eight," Sunny replied over the private channel, before swapping to the main channel. "Ok, let's see if Nine can manage to kill us this time. Form up on me. Engage hyperdrives on my mark!"
Goose flexed his limbs at each joint, and once again noticed the grinding with his right arm extremity. Had this Imperial force not stumbled upon them, he'd likely be in a nice warm oil bath right now. He'd just have to do his job now so he could hasten his rendezvous with the wonderful oil.
Shifty was sweating profusely. The controls of the B-wing were somewhat alien to her, even though she'd shown a proclivity to them during training sorties. More than once during the fight she'd rotated her ship rather than maneuvered in the direction she'd intended. Thankfully her luck had held out thus far and it hadn't been a death sentence.
She'd lost track of her flight leader almost immediately when the firing started, but she'd managed to steel her nerves enough to stay on target when Happy had ordered them to push through the incoming fire to hit the TIE Bombers. She'd even managed to destroy one of the TIE fighters in the head-to-head pass, though her shields had taken a pounding in the process.
The weak shields of the B-wing were a concern, but the hefty armor was a welcome comfort to the rookie pilot. She had looped around to avoid a pair of pursuing TIEs, and was rewarded by a massive eruption of missile launches from the nearby Dornean Gunship that shied her pursuit away.
Unfortunately, the Raider trainees hadn't been able to hit the TIE Bombers in force. While two had been destroyed thanks to Happy and Beast pushing through distractive fire from the TIE escorts, ten of the bombers managed to launch their powerful payloads unmolested.
While some of the torpedoes had been picked off by the point defenses of the New Republic ships, enough landed on the Rehz'nor and Waverunner to knock their shields down and deliver a dangerous level of hull trauma to the two ships. Both immediately turned and began limping away from the engagement.
Shifty found herself squarely on the tail of a TIE Bomber as it began to level out into an attack vector on the Regis. She triggered a burst, but it went wide. The mixture of red laser bolts and blue ion blasts were close enough for the Imperial to see, however, and he jinked away and triggered a reverse-dive-roll to keep himself more or less on target while also causing her to overshoot.
Growling in anger, she lined up another lumbering bomber and triggered another blast. This time, her mis-managing her flight controls caused the blast to go wide once again. Strangely, the target did a similar evasive maneuver, breaking away from the fire and reverse-dive-rolling to return to the attack run.
Suddenly the lightbulb clicked on in Shifty's mind. "Lead, Ten. These fat-boys all break away from fire and then reverse-dive-roll to maintain their attack runs."
"Are you sure?" Happy asked, grunting with exertion from some maneuver. "That was standard Imperial procedure a decade ago. Surely they changed it up!"
"Splash one!" Tails exulted. "Confirmed, Lead. It did exactly as Ten said it would!"
"You heard the ladies!" Happy roared. "Make 'em pay for following standard Imperial attack doctrine!"
The squadron comm channel filled with exultations of kills or curses for missed shots, but the joy and anger were short-lived as requests for help resumed. The TIE Fighters had found the Raiders again, and were making them pay for pouncing upon the TIE Bombers. Fear had once again taken hold of most of the rookie pilots.
Just as Shifty lined up on another target, the shield alarm wailed in her cockpit. Her forward viewport was filled with green light, and her ship shuddered violently with a massive hit, smacking her head against the wall. Trusting her reflexes while blinking tears from her eyes, she rolled into the attack and saw she'd strayed too close to the Imperial corvette, and their guns were trained on her now shieldless ship.
However, before the Raider Corvette could line up a deadly follow-up salvo to finish Shifty off, an X-wing flitted between the two, oblivious to the new danger while it attempted to slip away from pursuing TIEs. The follow up blast intended to kill off a B-wing instead hit the hapless X-wing, overwhelming its shields and melting its armor shortly thereafter. Where a fully functional snubfighter had been seconds before, there was now smoking wreckage hurtling off in the same direction of travel.
Shifty finished evading to gain distance from the larger ship, jinking wildly to avoid suffering the same fate. She cycled through her allies on her sensors and noticed that one of her flight must have been the ship that had taken the blast intended for her. "Twelve's gone!"
Suddenly, eight missile trails erupted from the Baraha'tok, creating an angry squiggle in space that looked like a mass of tentacles from a rathtar on the hunt. Shifty chuckled at the visual reference, as it wasn't quite far off. Each missile tracked its own target, and suddenly the remaining TIE Bombers erupted into small puffs of shrapnel save for one that appeared crippled as it began trailing sparks, smoke, and flame.
"That's it for the dupes!" Happy called out. "Form up by pairs and mop up the rest of these fighters!"
"What about those other ships farther off?" Mother's translation software asked, her interrogative wuffing and howling coming across as a muted underscore.
"Focus on here first, Eleven," Tails chided. "Form up on my wing. You too, Ten. We need to do something about that corvette!"
Ugly frowned as he sent his ship into a defensive spiral. The two TIEs on his tail were persistent, but his evasion skills were still up to the task until his flight leader could swing back around and take care of them. A near miss sent a shiver down his spine, though, and he executed another random pattern of sideslips and jukes. The supporting fire from the gunners of the Dornean Gunship attempted to pick off his pursuit, but it all missed. The TIEs continued to bore in on his tail. "Blast it, Five, where are you?"
"A little busy, Six," Beast replied tersely.
Ugly managed to catch a glimpse of his flight leader, and saw that she too had a pair of TIEs harassing her. Farther off, Seven and Eight were in similar trouble. As unfortunate as it was for his flight to seemingly be the main target of the remaining fighter screen, it worked to their advantage as it freed up Tails, Shifty, and Mother to make an unopposed run on the Raider-class corvette that had killed Twelve moments earlier.
Suddenly, Raider Seven broke away from his wingman. Instead of split up, the two TIE Fighters that had been harassing the pair continued to bore in on Raider Eight, who was now being boxed in by two fighters as opposed to one, and had only one set of shields to absorb hits rather than two when the pair flew together in mutual support.
"Seven, where are you going?"
The trainee's voice was quavering with fear. "Zone's too hot!"
"Get back to your wingman!" Beast growled.
But it was too late. In the few seconds since the overwhelmed trainee had pulled off, his wingman was vaped by the pursuit. Raider Eight's S-foils pinwheeled off in all directions as a direct hit to the aft caused the entire fuselage to erupt outward.
"Blast it, Lead!" Beast roared. "I told you these kids weren't ready for this!"
"No choice, Five," Happy responded flatly.
The two TIEs that had vaped Raider Eight reacquired Seven and began to hammer the panicked pilot's shields mercilessly. The pilot lost all manner of composure and began openly crying out for help.
A wave of disgust washed over Ugly, mixed in with a good amount of embarrassment. Part of it was utter mortification for the other pilot that was debasing himself in such a way, completely unbecoming of a warrior in the field. Through all of his years fighting back on Dressel, he'd never witnessed one of his own people facing death bring shame upon their family and friends in such a manner.
However, he wasn't supposed to be a heartless lone wolf any longer, either. In the past, his sapper unit operated under a general plan, but each agent was an authority unto himself to figure out how best to accomplish their goal. That was the extent of his reliance upon others, making sure he did his part and hoping they did theirs so the entire operation succeeded. Very rarely did they work in pairs on the same goal, and it was awkward when they did. He shook his head and forced himself to think in terms of we, rather than I. He quickly calculated a path to provide aid, but the pursuit behind him seemed determined as ever to blast him out of the sky before he could get there. "Hang on, Seven, I'm coming." He triggered a new series of evasions to keep the TIEs on his tail guessing, but each maneuver brought him closer to the panicking X-wing and his two attackers.
Part of his evasion brought him once again near the Baraha'tok, but this time the gunners managed to kill one of his pursuers and put enough fire in front of the other to cause it to shy away. With his tail finally clear, Ugly was able to focus on the task at hand. "Seven, break right!"
Raider Seven pulled up, completely ignoring the request. Sparks began to trail the ship as it absorbed another hit.
Ugly grunted in frustration, but he adjusted his vector to acquire the targets. The delay was a deadly one, however, as in the intervening seconds another dual blast of green energy slammed into the unshielded cockpit of Raider Seven, immolating the pilot completely. The stricken ship carried off into open space out of control, still trailing flames and sparks in its wake.
Ugly mashed down the trigger, catching his ally's killer in a deadly quartet of scarlet light as the Imperial appeared to be admiring his kill. It was the last mistake he'd ever make, as the four laser bolts were joined by four more that touched off the explosive blast that ended the Imperial's life.
There was no joy in the kill, just another Imperial life ended by his hand in a long line of dead enemies. He turned his ship on its axis and acquired the other TIE that had helped kill Raider Seven, and began maneuvering in for a killing shot. His ship bucked with a hit, but he focused on his target and flew through whatever had been shooting at him.
"Six, watch yourself!"
"I've almost got him," Ugly murmured in response, focusing on anticipating his target's next move rather than checking his six. His ship shuddered once again, and his astromech let loose a scream.
"That last bomber is lining you up, Six!" Beast warned. "Break off!"
Ugly tuned his flight leader out as he sharpened his turn to get the proper lead on his target. He gently depressed the trigger. Two rapid-fire quad bursts leapt forth from his wingtip Taim & Bak KX9's. Just as he'd intended, the rapid burst slammed into the port solar panel of the TIE and destroyed it completely. The target pinwheeled off into open space with no control. He watched it tumbling off, mesmerized at the unfortunate sight while also pleased that the Imperial within would have a miserable flight until he suffocated.
A shrill wail from his astromech brought him back to his cockpit. Looking down at his console, a flashing image of a smoking TIE Bomber had him dead to rights with its rotary cannon. The first few bolts were headed straight for him, and it was too late to avoid them. He didn't shy away from death, however. His experience and previous training allowed him to keep his dignity intact, to meet death with eyes wide open.
Just then, a miracle happened. The first few powerful bolts slammed into his ship and sapped his shields. The next few landed on his unprotected nose, drilling the area where the sensor computer, repulsorlift generator, and flight computers were located. However, the rest of the bolts were intercepted by Beast, executing a hard Eimalgan Turn to insert her fresh ship into the line of fire. All of the Bomber's remaining laser bolts slammed into her ship while she returned fire as fast as her lasers would cycle. For her efforts, the TIE Bomber erupted into a cloud of shrapnel, which she barely avoided with a laggy corkscrew. Her engines were sputtering, seemingly flaming out and back on at random.
Ugly shook himself back to reality, realizing that his wingman and flight leader had just nearly sacrificed her life for his. The fact that she was more experienced and more useful in space than he apparently hadn't made a lick of difference to her. It was as if she'd acted on pure instinct to shield him from his inattention.
He recovered from his temporary stupor to report in. "Five's hit!"
"I'm all right," Beast responded with a sigh. "But I think this ship's had it."
He opened up a private channel. "Why did you do that?"
A grin carried across Beast's reply. "To teach you an important lesson."
Ugly was dumbfounded. Not only had she risked her life for his, an unproven rookie, but she'd done it just to teach him a valuable lesson. As he looked around the area to ensure no enemies were looking to take advantage of Beast's damaged ship, he noticed a similar lesson being taught by their squadron leader. An X-wing appeared to be flying too straight for too long, and it had attracted the attention of another TIE Fighter looking for an easy kill.
Happy's angry voice interrupted. "Watch yourself, Two!"
"I can't see him!"
"For the love of..." Happy roared as his ship kicked over into a tight Segnor's Loop, putting himself in the line of fire in a similar way that Beast had just done for Ugly. His ship shuddered mightily from the hits it incurred, but the TIE was skewered by Happy's return fire. The ball cockpit exploded, sending the two solar panels flying off in opposite directions.
"Lot of lessons being learned today," Ugly muttered as he began recharging his shields and looking into repairing the damaged systems he'd incurred.
The tide was turning, but it was still slow going. The casualties were mounting for the Raiders, but the enemy fighter screen was down to about 8 functional TIEs remaining. They were attempting to form up near the Arquitens-class Cruiser that was just now entering engagement range, adding it's forward batteries to the fire being pumped out by the pesky Raider-class Corvette in their midst.
However, just as Mother had noted the Imperial corvette's presence, it suddenly evaporated under the combined might of the heavy turbolasers and concussion missiles of the Baraha'tok and the 24 cannons of the Regis as they moved forward in formation. As the two ships passed astride the now flaming wreck, their gunnery crews continued to pound the bigger parts of the wreck to ensure maximum kills.
Mother whuffed in approval. She strafed a particularly large piece as well and grinned as she vaporized viewports, causing small gouts of air to escape, pulling helpless gray-uniformed bodies into the vacuum.
"Eleven, Ten," Tails called out. "Form up on me, you two are going to make an attack run at the enemy cruiser."
"About time," Mother's translation software relayed mechanically. She oriented herself to find Tails' X-wing and maneuvered to reach her port S-foil.
"Roger, Nine," Shifty responded, similarly forming up on the starboard wingtip.
"What about those fighters?" Mother asked.
"I'll do my best to draw them off, but it looks like Six and Two are inbound as well. They'll help me with the fighters."
"Acknowledged," Ugly replied.
"Stop looking outward, Two, and focus on getting yourself into position!" Tails chided. "Lead already gave you a second chance, don't waste it."
Mother had no idea what Tails was talking about, but she didn't care. Up ahead, the Regis and Baraha'tok began exchanging ranging shots with the enemy cruiser. The two ships outgunned the thing fairly handily, but if they decided to focus fire one of them down they could inflict enough damage to make the attack costly for both sides.
"Fly between the two ships, go low, and then launch your entire payloads," Tails ordered as she climbed away from them.
"The TIEs are coming right at us, Nine," Shifty reported nervously.
Mother saw the eight remaining TIE Fighters formed up below the cruiser, and the growled angrily as they lunged forward to attack the two Raider B-wings. "They are coming. Twenty seconds to firing range."
"Stay on target," Tails responded calmly.
"Lieutenant, they'll blast us to bits!" Shifty complained nervously. Her ship juddered, but she must have dug deep to find the nerve to stay on target.
"They'll have something else to worry about in the next ten seconds."
Mother frowned as she tried to figure out what her flight leader meant, but the mystery didn't last long as the time quickly passed. Just before the TIEs could open fire, Tails' X-wing scythed down upon them, firing wildly in a textbook Darklighter Spiral. Instantly the Imperial cohesion melted as they all broke apart to avoid the surprise attack. Leaving a large hole for Shifty and Mother to launch.
The targeting computer began locking, chirping more and more often until it turned into a solid keening wail. Mother altered the firing control to dual-launch her torpedoes and let them fly as fast as her warhead launcher could cycle them, altering her approach slightly to have their homing vectors slightly different to avoid them being destroyed en masse with one turbolaser blast. Once her magazine was dry, she broke to a different plane to avoid getting her fish destroyed by the cruiser's gunners as they targeted her ship.
Above, the two allied ships began pumping fire into the Cruiser as they managed to keep it bracketed between them. The shields were holding, but that wouldn't last long under the withering fire.
"Eleven, you've picked two up! Watch it!" Shifty warned. "I don't have a shot!"
Mother smiled. She rolled her awkward ship erratically, but she wasn't attempting to really break contact. She was just trying to survive long enough to fly through the maelstrom of red and green fire being exchanged by the larger ships, reasoning that her armor would survive longer than the flimsy TIE armor that Seinar Fleet Systems used. A near miss from behind lit her face up as the dual blast passed by on both sides of her cockpit, a lucky miss borne of her rotating randomly around her cockpit. If the enemy were more experienced, they'd have known to target the cockpit rather than the body of the cruciform ship as that was where the axis of rotation was located.
Unfortunately, they wouldn't get the chance to learn that detail. Mother howled with delight as she pulled back on her control yoke grips to begin her sudden climb. As her ship nosed up, the red and green blasts going back and forth filled her viewport. She tensed up as she approached the wall of light, and just hoped that she didn't take too many hits in the wrong places to disable the rugged fighter, otherwise they likely wouldn't let her enjoy the wonderful leg room of this craft type ever again. She closed her eyes as she pushed the yoke forward to go full throttle, roaring all the way. There was nothing comprehensible for her translator to relay to the others.
"Where are you going?!"
Her ship shuddered violently for what seemed like forever to her, but eventually it died down. A weak alarm was sounding in the background, but the cockpit wasn't filling with smoke and Mother didn't hear any short circuits or sparking wires crackling off. She slowly opened her eyes, and saw that her damage indicator on the screen said her port and starboard wingtip cannons were gone, along with about a meter of S-Foil on each wing. Thankfully, she was still left with one ion cannon and one laser cannon on the main blade part of her ship, so she wasn't completely combat ineffective.
"Eleven?" Shifty cried out. "Eleven are you all right?!"
Mother wuffed quietly as the full extent of the foolhardy maneuver finally hit her. Her translator merely replied with a simple: "Yes".
"The hell was that?!" Geek squealed in shock.
"What, that wasn't in one of your combat manuals?" Shifty retorted sarcastically.
"Enough, Raiders," Happy interrupted. "Form up on the dark side of the Regis. We're still on the clock!"
As Mother yanked her groaning ship through her turn, she watched the Imperial Cruiser erupt, sending large sections of hull in all directions. Raider Leader was forming up with Three, Four, and Five to make emergency landings due to their stricken ships. Mother thought briefly about joining in the damaged procession, but she knew there were still roughly a half-dozen TIE Fighters in the area and she was still hungry for blood.
Tails' astromech chirruped an alert, drawing her attention to her console. "Private channel? Why?"
Her droid responded with a sarcastic tone, but rather than put any of that into text on her screen, it opened the channel automatically. "Nine, I'm taking my ship in. So is Five. You're in charge."
Tails felt her heart seize in her chest. While she was used to training the pilots, for some reason leading in combat felt like an alien concept. One which she was sorely unqualified for. "Are you sure about this, Lead?"
Happy's voice took on a tired edge. "Five and I trust you to handle the last few fighters, Nine."
"Besides, our ships are falling apart out here. We'll take Three and Four in," Beast added. "Just keep the rest of our pilots near the frigates for fire support and those TIEs won't be an issue."
Tails was shocked to hear Captain Ugget's voice on the line as well, though she should have known that Happy would have made it a "command staff" channel for all three of them to utilize without the recruits overhearing them. "Well, perhaps they'll surrender?"
Happy snorted in response. "Wouldn't hold my breath, kid."
Tails rankled at being addressed by that moniker, even though she was the youngest of the three trainers. It felt to her as though she were being lumped in with the trainees in the eyes of Captain Chread. Perhaps it wasn't far off the mark with how he felt about her. She was about to respond with a scathing retort, but bit her tongue.
Beast saved Tails from her rising temper by interrupting. "You're welcome to try, Lieutenant. Just don't think anybody still fighting for that side is going to surrender at this point in the war."
"Thank you, Captains," Tails replied evenly. "I'll ask them nicely. Out."
"That's the spirit," Beast responded sarcastically.
Tails smirked, once again thankful that Beast was a reasonable superior officer and knew how to speak properly to the lower ranks. She shook the anger from Happy's dismissive attitude and rolled her neck. "R5, open up a comm channel to those remaining Imperial fighters."
The droid made a grinding noise, but after a few seconds it tootled with a positive trill to indicate the line was successfully opened.
"Imperial pilots, this is Lieutenant Dene of the New Republic. We are willing to discuss terms for your surrender."
The reply was as immediate as it was vicious. "Get bent, rebel scum!"
Tails avoided the bait, opting not to rise to the level of emotion the Imperial was attempting to elicit. "There's an easy way to do this, and a hard way. Let's not make this difficult, eh?"
"Come out from the coverage of those frigates and claim our fighters, then."
Tails killed the line. "Hard way, then."