Tales from the Training Squadron
Total War: Part 2
The starlines shrank to individual pinpoints of light again, indicating the Rapier Squadron microjump had ended. The three massive Imperial Dreadnoughts were a mere 4 kilometers away from their arrival point, and lined up nicely abreast for the Y-wings to pounce.
"You'd think these three heavies would turn it around, don't you think?" Duck asked aloud over the comm channel.
Gramps grunted. "On flmisi, they're still stronger than us."
"Not if we have anything to say about it," Sunny replied. "Form up by flights. We're striking these in sequence. Flight One launch everything at the far ship. Flight Two, middle ship. Flight Three, closest. Launch, alter your approach, and we all strafe and bomb them in order closest to farthest. Form up on your flight leaders and execute!"
Gramps nodded in response to the order of battle. He kicked his Y-wing over into a lazy roll to bleed off speed and put himself into proper attack position on Sunny's starboard nacelle. He began locking onto the farthest imperial ship.
"What about those fighters?" Mesh asked nervously.
Gramps found the squadron of fighters on his sensors and smiled. They had opted to move forward to screen the three Imperial Dreadnoughts from attack from the main New Republic force, which was standard Imperial doctrine. They were just now adjusting their vector to swing around to hit the Rapiers that had jumped nearly on top of them, but their advanced positioning put them about 6 km out. He didn't have the time to run the calculation, but he thought the Rapiers would make it in and out without the fighters interfering.
"Go in full throttle," Butcher replied. "Pop your ICT when they close in."
"Easy for you to say, you're not last in line," Rapier Twelve complained.
Gramps' targeting computer locked onto his target finally. He triggered his torpedoes, firing them as fast as the launcher on his aged fighter could cycle. Checking visually to ensure no friendly warheads were nearby, he altered his approach vector after launching his last torpedo to focus on the closest ship. "I feel bad for these guys," he said.
"They're Imperials," Butcher responded coldly. "They asked for it."
"Thought they were safe, then twelve of the angriest Y-wing jockeys in the galaxy dropped in on top of them and started ramming torpedoes into them," Gramps continued.
"Minor adjustment to the order of battle," Sunny cut in. "First flight drops our bombs on the closest ship, Second still bombs the middle, and Third hits the far ship. Just didn't want this first ship to get all our care packages. Aim for the point just in front of the engine section. Armor is weakest there."
"That comm-array may as well be a bullseye," Butcher chimed in.
A series of acknowledgements and dark laughter filled the comms in response to Sunny's order and Butcher's remark. Gramps nodded at the sage change of plans, as he knew in his heart of hearts that most of the squadron would have dropped their proton bombs on the first and second ships, and run out before the final Dreadnought. The result would have been a completely blown apart dreadnought, a heavily damaged one, and then a nearly pristine ship that would have required repeated strafing runs under fire to finish off.
"Flight One, follow me in," Sunny called out.
Gramps watched her Y-wing roll over in a lazy loop, and then began spitting out dual laser blasts from her chin cannon. Nodding in approval, he rolled after her and did the same. Three and Four moved to follow, but Rapier Four was too slow to adjust her positioning. Her ship was skewered from nose to stern by a point-blank fusillade from the nearside batteries of the closest cruiser. "We've lost Four!"
First flight started dropping their bombs, hitting the fresh hull plates on the top of the ship just in front of the engine section. Each bomb bored deeper into the superstructure until the ship was nearly sheared in half by the repeated shelling from their flight's ships.
Gramps triggered the bomb release just as soon as his targeting computer gave him a green arrow indicating he was above the target. His magazine ran dry almost instantly, as the bomb bay was much faster to cycle and launch than his forward wearhead launcher system. His ship was buffeted by the explosions happening beneath his Y-wing due to the bombs of his flight, but he couldn't pull up and away just yet. He oriented his ship toward the second ship as Sunny had, and began stitching the forward nose area of the second Dreadnought.
While Sunny hadn't vocalized the order or explained the maneuver, Gramps knew this was a standard evasive attack to avoid presenting a predictable target to the gunnery crews attempting to burn them out of the sky. Unfortunately, Rapier Three either didn't see the change in vector or chose to just continue straight on behind his R/D-77 Assault Shield, but it was a mistake. The darkside quad light-turbolaser batteries of the first ship picked up on his vector and blasted his unprotected aft mercilessly. His engine nacelles were sheered off at the connection point, and his unguided cockpit section rammed into the second cruiser where Second Flight's bombs soon began landing.
Sunny cursed angrily over the comms. "Vary up those attack vectors, people!"
Gramps grimaced. Rapiers Three and Four were newer pilots, but they weren't fresh-faced recruits either. What had been an unspoken order based on pragmatic experience for the Rapiers apparently hadn't been ingrained deeply enough into them, and they were dead for it. He felt guilty that he hadn't ensured that they knew what they should do, but then again they had executed their previous mission without any issue and therefore gave him no inkling that they weren't prepared for this type of strike.
Gramps shook his guilt almost as soon as it had arrived. The recently deceased pilots outranked him as 2nd Lieutenants after all, having graduated from some fancy OCS flight school. The young whippersnapper hotshots should have known better.
He followed Sunny as she barrel-rolled to port and began stitching the last ship in line with her lasers. A few of the gun emplacements exploded outward as she pumped them full of energy. He added his fire to hers, hitting other emplacements to pull the teeth out of the last ship in line and minimize the threat to the others following behind. A blast from the ship he'd just strafed traveled close enough to his cockpit that everything looked like it was illuminated by a green sun just outside his window. His R5 unit wailed.
"That was a close one, Two!" Duck called out from his ship farther back in the attack line.
Before Gramps could recover his nerve and muster up some sort of witty reply, the comm channel filled with an anguished death cry, followed by another scream of shock that ended with static. "The hell was that?"
"Those fighters got here faster than expected!" Pops replied. "Eleven and Twelve are gone!"
"Popping ICT!" Mesh added, the rhythmic whumph of the supercharged dual ion blasts carrying over the comm with his voice.
Thinking quickly, Gramps kicked his Y-wing into a sudden nose-for-stern swapping drift. His inertial dampener groaned as it attempted to mitigate the g-forces inflicted upon the elderly Ugnaught, but it wasn't quite successful. His vision grayed at the edges, but mostly remained clear. All around him, the return fire from the undamaged side of the final Dreadnought attempted to bracket him in, but his sudden stop and change of orientation threw them off. Shaking off the effects of the turn quickly, he oriented his gun sights on the newly arrived TIE Fighters and mashed down his trigger.
Nearby, Butcher had also thrown her craft into a similar orientation swap and added her covering fire to his. Between the two of them, they vaped three of the attackers and forced the rest of the TIEs to break off, allowing Nine and Ten to finish their runs and drop their bombs on the final ship.
"Quick thinking, Deuce," Butcher breathed as she pulled her ship around again to form up with the rest of the Rapiers.
"You too, ma'am," Gramps replied, his gut tightening as he pulled another sharp orientation swap to follow his XO.
Duck was pleasantly surprised by the results of their impromptu strike, though the losses of four pilots off-set his joy. He couldn't dwell upon the squadron's success thus far nor the despair of the pilot losses just yet, however, as one of the ships was still offering sporadic return fire, and there were still nine TIEs compared to the eight Rapier Y-wings still in the sky.
"Form up on my position," Sunny ordered.
Duck reluctantly tore his eyes away from the two nearly blown in half Imperial ships and found his squadron leader, hauling his ship on its axis to move into position. "Those ships are finished," he mused aloud.
"Last one's still standing," Sunny countered. "Time to finish it off. I want Two, Five, and Six on me to finish that last ship off. Seven, take Eight, Nine, and Ten and screen the fighters."
Duck gulped loudly. He hoped it wasn't loud enough to carry over the comm. He wasn't nervous to take on the TIEs, he was fine with that. He just wasn't accustomed to leading anybody save for Goose following him around. "Uhmmm, what about Nine?"
Pops apparently agreed with Duck's reminder of the rank pecking order. "Yeah, what about Nine?"
Sunny laughed at Duck's nervous reply and Pops' indignant tone. "Consider it a 'command potential' test, Seven. And Nine, deal with it. The kid's got more fighter-to-fighter experience under his belt. "
Pops grumbled, but the affable human didn't argue. Instead, he responded with a genuinely pleasant, "As ordered, Lead. Seven, what's the play?"
Duck shook his nerves quickly, buoyed by the confidence his squadron leader was displaying in his experience and abilities. "Ok, screen, let's go right at them. Status on your ICT charges?"
"Ready," Goose responded quickly in his buzzing synthesized voice.
"I just popped mine to keep the fighters off of me," Mesh replied. "Should be ready again in 30 seconds though."
"Same," Pops added.
"Here's the play, then," Duck said, working out the tactical map in his mind. "We go at them, me and Eight first to draw fire. We pop our ICTs to scatter them, and Nine and Ten pounce on a straggler together. We form up on the dark side of that first cruiser that we blasted in half and Nine and Ten take the lead, and me and Eight pounce on a straggler."
"Adequate," Goose ground out. His vocoder lacked emphasis and enthusiasm programming, so everything sounded monotonous, giving an air of bored disinterest to all of his verbal communication.
"Sounds good to me too," Pops replied, barely holding back a laugh. "Any plan that doesn't have me going in first is always a winner in my book."
"We just went last and lost our two flight-mates," Mesh reminded Pops, but added his own dark laugh to Pops'.
Duck shrugged at the dark humor the two Third-Flight pilots were displaying, but he assumed morale was high so he shook it off. "Ok, Eight, let's go right at the suckers!"
The four Y-wings formed up, and two boosted forward to gain distance while the other two followed at a slower pace. To the Imperials, it would look like a disorganized charge and make them more likely to pounce on the two loners to attempt destruction in detail.
Duck grinned. As expected, the remaining nine TIEs formed up and planned to meet their charge, attempting a large box and one formation. He recognized it immediately, and planned to wait until the last minute to hit them in one corner to nullify their attempt at fire superiority. "Eight, as soon as they start to fire, jink toward the bottom-right TIE. We make sure that one is slagged in the head to head, then pop the ICT and break high."
"Acknowledged," Goose responded.
Duck grinned as he gripped his controls tighter. The timing would be important, as breaking too soon would tip off their vector and the Imperials would be able to adjust with plenty of time to slag their ships. Breaking too late would mean they would eat too much incoming fire and get slagged before they could adjust their vectors. "Eight, got an optimal break time in mind?"
"9.8 seconds," Goose replied matter-of-factly.
"You call it then."
Duck rolled his neck and shook his shoulders, bleeding off the tension that had built up from their first mission as well as the stress from this sudden sortie. He absentmindedly gave his beard a gentle tug.
Duck relaxed, closing his eyes momentarily to calm himself.
Duck's green eyes opened, his vision clearer than before. He knew what he was going to do next, and knew he could repel whatever the Imperials threw his way after the initial head to head charge.
Duck pushed his stick forward and ruddered to the right, ducking under the wall of green light from the TIEs. Their tracking adjusted, but the timing had been perfect, down to the millisecond. In return, he and Goose unloaded their cannons into their luckless target, chosen at random by Duck when he'd set up his plan of attack. As they passed underneath the rest of the TIEs, both pilots triggered their automatic ion cannons, sending heavy dual-powered ionic blasts towards the TIEs. A few were caught unawares and disabled, easy pickings for the follow up wave of Pops and Mesh.
A few, however, managed to avoid the surprise maneuver and began maneuvering for a firing solution on the slower New Republic ships. Two were following Duck tightly, spewing fire in his wake, while one was firing upon Goose as he pinwheeled his ship to keep the ICT on target.
Duck smiled grimly as he did the same, attempting to keep his two attackers in the topside firing arc of his defensive weapon, but the TIEs on his tail were smart enough to reorient and stay in his lower-astern arc. His smile suddenly faded as he realized he wasn't going to shake these two with his ion cannon, and it would run out of energy soon.
Thinking quickly, he noticed the first target of the Rapiers. Their attacks had nearly broken the ship in half just ahead of the engine section, and the power was completely dead in the ship. It looked, though, that his Y-wing would be able to shoot the gap in the hull. He put himself into a defensive spiral, attempting to alter his rotation to catch the TIEs unawares by the change, but they deftly avoided his change in tactics. Sighing, his gut tightened as he oriented his nose toward the stricken Dreadnought.
"What are you doing, Seven?" Pops cried out.
"Trust me," Duck replied calmly as he rolled his craft on its port nacelle. The fire around his ship began to home in as he stopped evading to ensure the accuracy of his maneuver. The pursuit seemed intent on hitting him before he could apparently kill himself, as they began flinging verdant light wildly around his fighter.
"Ten, move to point aught-nine mark twelve to pick off Seven's pursuit. Nine, move to point eight-seven mark aught to get mine," Goose ordered.
Pops barked out an involuntary laugh. "Taking orders from all the junior ranks today, am I?"
"Permission to order you around later, Nine?" Mesh chimed in.
"Denied," Pops replied. "Matter of fact, I have some laundry that needs doing, Ten."
Duck's vision tunneled as he focused on ensuring a clean flight through the damaged hull of the Dreadnought, and his hearing likewise tuned out the banter of the two Rapiers. All other distractions were minimized, including the few hits his shields took from his pursuit. The shield alarm whined as they began to rapidly drain due to his straight flightpath. Absentmindedly, he shunted his shield energy completely aft, shoring up his defenses to ensure he wouldn't get burned down before he could pull off the damn-fool maneuver he had planned.
The gap rapidly approached, small gouts of flame still bleeding out of broken bulkheads gave it a sort of flaming halo for Duck to aim for. Without them, he'd have very little idea of the dimensions of the gap and likely wouldn't have thought to attempt such a risky stunt. His shield alarm began whining again, and his ship shuddered as he took on more fire as the TIEs zeroed in on his vector.
Duck lined up the gap, making one last feather-light adjustment at the last moment. He closed his eyes, trusting completely that he was going to clear the gap cleanly.
"Holy shavit! He made it!" Pops crowed a second later. "Seven, one of those eyeballs followed you through! I got the other!"
Duck opened his eyes quickly and refocused on his surroundings. The fact that one of the TIEs had followed him through the small gap meant the pilot was as skilled as he was crazy. He kicked his craft into a defensive spiral to avoid the incoming fire, and wrenched his head around to get a bearing on the last TIE in the sky. "I can't see him!"
"He's below you, Seven," Goose replied.
"Come about and we'll pick him off, Seven," Mesh added.
Duck pursed his lips. "No, this ends now," he said grimly to nobody in particular. The glimmer of a memory leapt forth from the darkness, from his time collaborating with Blue Squadron in his early Alliance days, when the veteran Andrew "Dobber" Dobson had shown him a few maneuvers to share with the training squadron he and Goose were working with. The maneuver he remembered would be harsh on his body, but he knew he could do it.
His ship shuddered with another hit, and his shield alarm blared loudly.
"Seven, come about! Your shields are gone!" Pops ordered, finally attempting to assert his rank to get the wayward pilot back to safety.
"He doesn't even know he's dead already," Duck replied with a grin, and then forced the air out of his chest. He executed a textbook kick-turn, swapping nose for stern suddenly. His vision took on a red tinge, but the fact that he'd forced the breath out of his chest beforehand meant that he'd clenched everything just right to avoid redding out completely. The shocked Imperial hung in his sights, not reacting in time to the sudden maneuver.
Duck squeezed the trigger, taking in a deep exhale as his chin-mounted IX4 laser cannons unloaded a pair of scarlet bolts into the TIE, slagging the transparisteel panes of the cockpit instantly and immolating the pilot inside. The ship continued onward, flying off into oblivion without a living being at the controls.
"What in the sith was that maneuver?!"
Duck chuckled, finally breathing a sigh of relief now that he was out of danger. "Just a little something a friend taught me." He began recharging his shields, unsure what the rest of the squadron's status was with their target. "Let's form up and help with that big ship now that the fighters are all gone."
"It's already taken care of," Butcher replied, a hard edge to her voice.
Duck knew something was wrong based on the tone of his executive officer's voice. "What's wrong?"
"We lost Six," Goose answered dispassionately.
"Form up," Sunny growled.
Duck's chest fell as his elation was once again sapped by a friendly casualty. He pulled his ship around to rejoin the surviving Rapiers. They'd started with twelve living, breathing beings, survived a long range strike without casualties, and now they'd lost five pilots in their second fight in the past 24 hours. He didn't want to see how many of them survived another Imperial strike within the next day.
Sunny was tired, but she was also angry. At the Imperials for continuing the fight, for this group stumbling upon their current location, but mostly at herself for losing five pilots. She attempted to run through every decision she'd made, looking for ways she had karked up and ended up getting her pilots killed.
"Lead, it looks like the only active enemy IFFs still active are six eyeballs near the Regis," Butcher called out, interrupting Sunny's mental beatdown of herself.
"Well then, let's reach out and beg them not to surrender so I can kill them," Sunny replied flippantly, anger taking over her mouth. "Nine, plot a course to drop us right on top of those slimy mudscuffers."
Butcher opened up a private channel. "Lead, it looks like you're the ranking officer in the field. Captains Chread and Ugget appear to have been forced to land due to damage. While I harbor no love for Imperial scum, we should probably lead by example here. The trainees only have five ships still flying, we only have seven. Let's try to give everybody a break this time."
Sunny sighed. She knew if Butcher was the one preaching mercy that she was completely off the reservation with rage. Knowing that, she forced herself to calm down by exuding calming pheromones to flood her cockpit. The trick worked, even though she was able to resist her own Falleen biological devices if she chose. She lowered her own defenses against it so they would have the desired effect.
Finally breathing calmly, she opened a general frequency. "This is Captain Brej of the New Republic. Any Imperial forces still in the system are ordered to power down their ships and await further orders."
"Get bent, rebel scum!"
"That's what he said when I suggested it," Tails of Raider Squadron chimed in grimly, betraying her presence on the channel.
Sunny began laughing darkly on the open line. "Well, then. I assume that you are all willing to suffocate in your cockpits, then?"
There was no response, which was enough for Sunny to know she had them in the palm of her hand. She smirked. Pheromones be damned, I still got it! She opened up the line again. "Based on your silence I assume that means you don't wish to die an ignoble death like that. So let's start over. We are willing to accept your surrender. Choose your next words carefully, however, as I still have seven pilots that just waxed your ride home that are still hungry for Imperial scalps..."
"Stay and suffocate, or surrender and survive. Make your choice."
Ugly listened to the exchange between Rapier Leader and the remaining Imperials disinterestedly as he continued to work on repairs within his cockpit. Despite the intervention from his executive training officer on his behalf, he'd still taken enough damage that required his attention. It wasn't quite enough to knock his ship out of the fray, but he was still elbow-deep into some control panels stripping wires and making new connections.
"We ... accept your terms when you put it that way," the haughty Imperial replied after a long pause. "Please tell us what you want us to do."
"Raider Nine, form up and keep an eye on them while we make our way back," Rapier Leader ordered.
"Roger, Captain," Tails replied. "Imperials, power down your ships and form up at these coordinates. Await further orders." She typed up the coordinates, which would put the six remaining TIE fighters near the hangar, under the full complement of guns the Regis had to offer if they decided to change their minds and get hostile.
Ugly was still connecting wires, attempting to bring his targeting computer back online. His sensors were still shot, as were the ELS conversion circuits. As it currently stood, he was stuck with visual scanning only, and he only had a few shots left in his laser banks until he could get these circuits bypassed.
"Ok Raiders, let's form up and keep an eye on these guys. Any of them moves without permission, vape them," Tails ordered, trying too hard to put an edge to her voice despite her confidence levels being low.
Ugly nodded, halting his repair work to get his ship into position. He ended up about half a km behind the group of TIEs, and then killed his throttle and resumed working. He gripped two wires, and then withdrew his hand quickly as they sparked, sending a jolt of energy through his arm. Pulling his tingling fingers back, he saw teal beads of blood forming on the fingers where he'd made contact and accidentally completed the circuit. Absent-mindedly, he brought the bleeding digits to his mouth and sucked on them reflexively. He bent over to look at the wires to see if he'd grabbed the wrong ones.
Tails' frantic exclamation broke the silence. "OH FORCE NO!"
Ugly looked up just in time to see all six TIE Fighters fire up their throttles to the max and boost forward, hurling themselves directly into the Regis' hangar at full speed.
Happy stood near the exit of the hangar, the weight of battle flagging him. It had been ages since he'd been in a live-fire situation. He was kicking himself for not staying in fighting trim, refusing to give his advanced age as an excuse for his battle fatigue. He prided himself on his physical and mental prowess, being able to outfly and outguess the younger generations of pilots.
When it was life or death, he'd survived when many of his recruits had not, and that was adding to the malaise threatening to overtake his body. Still, through his direct intervention he'd managed to keep Geek alive, and Beast likewise had nearly sacrificed herself to keep Ugly alive. It wasn't through lack of effort that they'd still lost recruits, but the fact that many had still perished hurt him deeply.
Beast sidled over, patting him on the shoulder. "How are you, Captain?"
Happy gave her a curt nod, then motioned to where Raiders Three and Four were standing near their own heavily damaged ships. "We kept these two alive, plus the ones still out there flying. That counts for something," he grumbled, more trying to convince himself rather than his subordinate.
Beast nodded. "It wasn't through lack of training and effort, Cap. They weren't ready yet, but it wasn't our choice to throw them out of the nest this early. It hurts, but you can't let it paralyze you."
Happy heard the helpful words, but he couldn't quite accept them just yet. He knew that Beast's track record of recruit survival rates was something she prided herself upon, and therefore their deaths weighed heavily upon her heart as well. He just couldn't bring himself, in this moment, to accept them completely. He began rubbing his lower back, which had suddenly made itself a priority with a dull, radiating pain. "I suppose, you're—"
Alarm klaxons blared, interrupting their conversation. Before either of the pilots could figure out what was going on, the screaming of Twin Ion Engines grew louder. Just outside the magcon field, six TIE Fighters were charging toward them.
Happy's eyes widened. He attempted to shout for everyone to hit the deck, but the alarm klaxons and rising scream of the approaching TIE engines drowned his voice out. He took a step forward, but the vice-like grip of Beast clamped down on his arm. He attempted to shake her off, but the Abenedo overpowered him and threw him out of the hangar, diving on top of him in the process. The concussive wave of a massive explosion shoved their prone bodies forward another few meters as the sound deafened them.
The roaring explosive sound was quickly converted to rending metal, and then air began whooshing over their bodies as the magcon field was destroyed and the atmosphere began venting out into space. The pitch of the wind continued to rise from a dull roar to a sharp whistle.
Happy felt his body begin to be pulled back, but the emergency bulkhead slammed shut, separating them from the carnage in the hangar bay.
He shook Beast off of him and grunted as he struggled his feet, slamming a hand on the sealed door. "What the fark just happened?!"
Beast shook her head slowly, rubbing her ears to assuage the pain from the sudden cacophony they'd just endured. She remained silent even though she thought she had a pretty good idea about what had just taken place. She just couldn't fathom the fact that six Imperial captives just decided to kamikaze themselves into the hangar, and the amount of carnage it had caused.
Happy looked back at her with wild eyes, clearly having seen the same thing she had before the doors closed and saved them from being spaced. "Why in the farking galaxy would they do that?!"
Ugly sat by himself in the bar onboard the frigate Rehz'nor, nursing the highest proof spirit the bartender had on hand. At the moment of ordering, there seemed to be some confusion as the barman didn't want to shovel the ship mechanic's moonshine off on a paying customer, but Ugly had made it clear that quality was not important so long as it packed a wallop.
So he found himself in a corner booth, alone, while the surviving Rapiers and Raider trainees nursed drinks in varying degrees of shock. With the massive damage that had taken place in the Regis' hangar, it would be quite some time until the Raiders could return back to their home ship and resume their training properly. On top of that, their OC and Executive Officer were both stranded on the frigate because their ships were caught and destroyed by the surprising last-ditch strike by the Imperial pilots.
Raiders Three and Four, having survived the fight and landed, were not so lucky. Their bodies were among the multitude recovered by the rescue crews from the Waverunner and Rehz'nor as quickly as possible. Unfortunately for the two beings and the rest of the hangar crew, if they hadn't been killed in the blast, they suffered an even worse fate when the magcon field generator failed and they were sucked out into open space. While the two pilots would have survived being spaced during combat, upon landing the both of them had taken off their helmets and chest gear the moment they had clambered out of their cockpits.
Ugly could have been one of those post-fighting casualties, as his ship was damaged enough that he could have retired with One, Three, Four, and Five. But he didn't. He'd decided to enact his own repairs in his cockpit to stay in the sky and continue fighting. His species' curiosity toward technology and penchant for taking apart and fixing things had saved his life once again.
Ugly shrugged as he went over it all in his head again. He felt responsibility for not being prepared for the maneuver, and felt stupid for not seeing it coming, but he understood the actions of a beast backed into a corner. Not every war in the galaxy was fought in a civilized manner. The war with the Imperials on Dressel was nothing short of brutal, with both sides waging as close to total war as possible. It wasn't unheard of for an entire tribe to be discovered by the Imperials and wiped out, and on the flipside, even Dresselian children old enough to hold a weapon had been known to kill an Imperial trooper. There was no such thing as a noncombatant, a trainee, or an untouchable target during the fighting on Dressel.
Total War was a way of life for his people. His time away fighting a more or less civilized fight on the galactic scale had softened his senses, plain and simple. He should have seen the kamikaze charge coming parsecs away and vaped the fighters the moment they powered down. Of course, he would have been thrown in the brig and tried in front of a war crimes tribunal if he had been more proactive, so it came back to where it started. He shrugged. He had joined a group and been ordered to fight with both hands tied behind his back most of the time.
It had been different when he'd first joined up, with Orrimaarko and Lokmarcha. Their covert operations had a wide range of leeway with which they completed their missions. The nascent Rebel command group just pointed at a target and then looked away from the methods used so they could have plausible deniability if there were any sort of blowback. But after Endor, he'd felt the call of flight once again and decided to join the Starfighter Corps. The combat was apparently more ... gentlemanly, he supposed. And now, when faced with a force showing the same desperation the Rebels had used during their struggle against the Empire, the current New Republic personnel seemed to be experiencing distress.
The surviving Rapiers sans their squadron leader and executive officer were off having their own get together to mourn their dead. The Raiders appeared to be less cohesive, dealing with their grief individually aside from Shifty and Mother, who seemed to have formed a bond during the last sortie as the only two pilots flying a B-wing during the fight. Geek seemed to be tapping away furiously with his suctioned fingers on his datapad, sipping what appeared to be a piping-hot mug of caf.
Tails, however, held what smelled like some unfamiliar type of herbal tea in her hands. She seemed to stare out into the vast nothingness, a slack-jawed expression on her face. The steam from her cup had long vanished, meaning it had been held for quite some time and lost its heat.
Ugly pursed his lips. He didn't feel any sort of responsibility to check on the wellbeing of the training officer, as it was her job to be checking in on the trainees under her care. But at the same time, as he'd experienced when joining the larger fight in the galaxy, total war wasn't a concept many beings were familiar with and certainly weren't comfortable with. And considering that the whole thing had happened while she was more or less the ranking officer in the area, she was feeling the full weight of guilt on her shoulders. And as far as Ugly was concerned, that wasn't fair. He slowly rose to his feet and silently padded over to her location by the viewport.
He stood a respectful distance away but still in her peripheral cone of vision, and waited to be acknowledged. After a few beats with no sign that Tails knew he was there, he cleared his throat. "May I sit, Lieutenant?"
Tails' three eyes refocused, and she recoiled slightly in shock at somebody being near her while she'd been parsecs away. She sipped her tea, and immediately made a face when she'd realized it had gone stone cold in her hands. Worry flitted across her face as she began to wonder just how long she'd been zoned out. She quickly recovered some semblance of a pleasant expression with a tight smile, and nodded and waved toward the open seat at her table. "Please."
Ugly sat, and regarded the weak facade Tails was putting forth. After a while, he decided to be blunt, which was an unfortunate trait of his species. "You weren't prepared for the Imperials to pull what they did."
Pain flashed across Tails' face as the Gran's pink skin tightened and her three blue eyes widened. Her lone remaining antenna, its partner long gone due to a mishap in her youth, twitched and her nostrils flared. Her mouth opened and closed wordlessly, but she couldn't quite summon the words to respond to the declaration.
"It's not your fault," Ugly followed up quickly, realizing that his blunt nature had once again been detrimental to intrapersonal relations. "Unless you grew up fighting for your life the moment you were born, identifying 'Total War' is a hard-earned skill. You couldn't have anticipated that the Imperials would throw their lives away on a fool-run like that. You have to either be or have seen how the cornered Selldu reacts to be prepared for something like that."
Tails finally found the strength to push air into her lungs. "I should have," she wheezed out. "All those deck personnel ... the mechanics ... Three and Four ... It's my fault."
Ugly shook his head, and then downed the rest of his drink. The high-proof-low-age spirit burned the entire way down, drawing a wince and hiss. "It's their fault," he said, waving toward the viewport and the space beyond, but inferring the Imperials as the culprit. "Nobody held a gun to their head and forced them to throttle up and go kamikaze. They chose it. In their minds, trading their six lives for triple that in deck personnel and untold amounts of credits-worth of damage to a ship was a good trade. They probably weren't wrong in their calculations either if we're being totally honest."
"But I wasn't in a position to stop it!"
Ugly shrugged. "Neither was I. I had my head down while I was repairing something in my cockpit," he said as he waved toward the bartender for another drink, and pointed at Tails to order her a fresh hot drink. Then he began pointing toward all of the beings in attendance. "It's their fault as well for not stopping it, then. Mine too, for not stopping it. And the gunners of the frigate that should have seen it and stopped it. And even the Rapiers, who could have hypered in sooner and stopped it, considering their penchant for accurate microjumps. Lots of people to spread the blame to, Lieutenant."
Tails' distress softened, but only by a degree. Her face was still troubled. "But, I still wasn't ready. I'm supposed to be ready for that, and to train you lot to be ready for that."
Ugly received both drinks from the server and nodded his thanks, handing over the piping hot mug of tea to his training officer while he took a sip of his own. After the burning died down again, he turned his entire body to face Tails. "Look, where I came from, we shot first and asked questions later. Unfortunately, that's not the way it goes out here, and while normally a surrender like this doesn't end in tragedy, this time it did. If we'd shot first and asked questions later after the Captain had negotiated the surrender, we'd be in the brig facing charges." He leaned back and took another drink. "But, we'd have been right in the case to do so as we know the result. My experiences here make me wonder, though, if there were Imperials on Dressel that would have surrendered and possibly gone on to defect or do great good in the galaxy based on the stories of defectors that I've encountered ... But I can't, and don't, dwell on it because at the time it was them or the total extinction of my race. The choice was clear, then. It's ... murkier ... out here."
Tails nodded sagely. "You really can't know, can you?"
Ugly shook his head. "No. And when your back is against the wall, you shoot first and ask questions later. We don't have our backs against the wall any longer, and I think most of the military is losing that edge that would have prepared us for what happened yesterday. But there's still no way of knowing—of telling—the future in the moment if you need to blast first or wait and see."
"We need a Jedi," Tails sighed wistfully.
Ugly shook his head. "No, we just need to have all of our guns pointed at the enemy at all times, and make every fight bloodier for them than it is us so they lose their will and ability to fight. We can't wage a Total War any longer, but we can get right up to that line and straddle it. And should."
Tails took a cautious sip of her herbal tea and shook her head. "I don't know if I can take it that far."
"You have to," Ugly replied grimly. "It's the only way any of us," he said, pointing at the remaining recruits before continuing, "will make it out of this war alive. If your goal is to get us trained up properly enough to make it out alive, you need to find that hard edge deep inside yourself and bring it out so the others can learn from it. Both Captains Chread and Ugget have it, though they too stop short of fully conveying it for whatever reasons."
Tails opened her mouth to argue, but it closed just as quickly as the words died in her throat. Eventually, after another sip of her hot tea, she spoke. "I don't know that I like it."
Ugly sighed. "You fought for Halcyon for a few years, and your combat record was more or less spotless," he said, holding up a hand to stop her from speaking. "Yes, I looked up the records that were available for you and the Captains, as well as the other recruits. I never trust anybody I don't know, so it's a habit of mine to educate myself before I fully buy-in on anybody."
He stopped to gather his thoughts, as he'd used more words in the past conversation than he had his entire time with the training squadron. He was getting tired of flapping his gums. He took another drink, finishing it with one large gulp, and rose to his feet as he hissed with the burning of the spirit. "Bottom line, Loot, I read up on you three, and the other recruits, and I bought in. It's time you find that old killer within you and buy-in to what the reality of war is now. Train us to fight as close to a total war as we can without breaking the laws, and you'll prepare all of us to survive to see the peace we're fighting for."
Tails regarded the Dresselian trainee as he walked away, a slight stumble to his gait indicating he'd imbibed more than he'd thought. It was probably why his tongue was so loose now compared to the rest of his time with the 39th New Republic Training Squadron. She digested the words he'd thrown at her, and her earlier reservations and objections to his read on the state of the galaxy, she was seeing more and more sense in his words.
She appreciated his notion that this whole situation wasn't her fault, there was one glaring fault with that logic. She had personally chosen the coordinates where she'd ordered the Imperials to power down. While she thought it pragmatic to put them so close to the ship to be under the full complement of weaponry, it had reduced their reaction time to stop exactly the sort of thing that had happened. In the future, she wouldn't be so cautious and rely less on a capital ship's guns, and more on herself and her pilots to keep things under control and ensure Imperials went away peacefully rather than what happened yesterday.
Of course, situations like yesterday wouldn't be likely to happen again even though the smallest percentage of a percent chance existed they could. They were a training unit, not a frontline squadron. Their job was to train and prepare pilots, not go out and actually wage war. On the other hand, technically her job was to wage war by a degree of separation, in that the pilots she trained and graduated would go on to fight the battles and her training would dictate how well they executed that task. And if she was being honest with herself, being attached to Renegade Wing and stationed on one of their taskforce ships, the chances were higher that the Raiders might be called upon again to go into the line of fire. She needed them to be ready next time.
While she wouldn't condone bombing unarmed Imperial population centers, she did think there was merit to being even more aggressive with their simulation exercises. A million ideas raced through her head for simulation ideas that she could program for training, focusing less on endurance and adherence to tactical excellence and more on bold maneuvers and aggressive strikes. Doing as Rapier had done today, knocking out the enemy's ability to run before finishing off the fighters and then forcing the Imperials to know the true nature of desperation, and then being prepared for them to do some foolish gambit to make their lives costly.
Of course, training would need to wait until the hangar of the Regis was repaired and the Raiders could return home. And new recruits would need to be assigned to them from Command. And new ships to replace the losses today. According to the fleet database, Rapier had already received orders for three replacements to join them and replenish some of their losses today: Flight Officers Phattokz "Sparky" Twia, Nunien "Nosey" Fith, and Additz "Plug" Nolodo. Unfortunately, only one new recruit for Raider was included in that database currently: Vorsk "Turbo" Lo'daan. It was probably for the better that there was only one right away, though, as she wanted more time to think up rigorous training exercises to stop something like today from ever happening again.
She raised her mug to the retreating trainee's back. "Total War," she echoed to herself as she took another sip, and then began tapping away on her datapad to outline her new training regimen suggestions.