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A Long Day

"Bucc 7 to Strike Control, we are in system, and have visual."

"Roger that, Bucc 7. Proceed to target," replied the CRS Liberty Control Center tech.

Pushing down upon the stick, Robert "Paladin" Hasegawa coaxed his Y-Wing into a steep dive. The three similar ships behind him followed his descent down towards the lush jungle planet of Hyr'achant.

Flying in formation behind him, Jonathan "Valkyrie" Hu fine-tuned his rear scanners, keeping his senses open for any unfriendlies. Corsair Squadron had already sent in two A-wings for additional recon, but that was no excuse for inattention. The Y-wing simply wasn't fast enough for a planetary mission to suit his tastes. His front sensors picked up the two A-wings buzzing in from the target area.

"All clear, Buccs. There's a few guns spitting from the ground, but Rogue has already taken care of any air resistance." The Rogue pilots were probably already back home on the Liberty, lining up for chow. Kallysto waved the wings of his Awing in a classic greeting maneuver, as his wingperson, Rooster, Corsair's eighth pilot, chuckled an additive.

"And there wasn't much of a fight, from what I gather."

Valkyrie, Bucc 9, was not entirely convinced of that statement. Adam "Guardian" Burns, Buccaneer Leader, had assured his pilots that this was a simple mosquito run on a backwater system. This sort of mission was designed simply as an annoyance to the Imperial industrial machine, disabling a small repulsor coil facility. The fact that there were no ships in the air coming after them was unusual, and made him uneasy. He voiced his concern to Dave "Hyp" Barnett, the Bucc 5 pilot, and was met with a hearty agreement.

"Yeah, I don't like it much either. Way too quiet."

"Hit and fade, very basic, guys." John "Fireball" Dagen, Bucc 12, chimed in with some words of reassurance, as his targeting computer counted down the distance. "You're all just jealous that Rogue had all the fun."

Paladin grinned as he gave Liberty Control their status. "Six clicks and counting. Computer has verified target." He switched back to his squadron frequency. "Here we go guys--switch over to torpedoes." He adjusted his targeting scopes as his squadmates confirmed his request.

Fireball strained his eyes to see the industrial complex sprawled out in the distance. Their objective was to bomb the main reactor core, effectively shutting down operations. This sort of facility wasn't large enough to justify the expense of a planetary shield, leaving it virtually unguarded for the Alliance mission. Intelligence had revealed that the only planetary defender, a Interdictor cruiser, abandoned it's post to briefly join the rest of the Imperial fleet. High Command wanted to capitalize on a rare opportunity.

Valkyrie took a minute to check the landscape below them. The thick forests surrounding the complex appeared teeming with lifeforms. He caught sight of a large toothy biped, looking up thru the trees at him. He was glad to be well above the ground.

"I have tone. Fire at will, fellas," Paladin said, as the torpedoes shot from the tubes. He heard the near-simultaneous whoosh of the other's missiles, and watched the trailing fire as the ordnance propelled towards its target.

Hyp turned off his targeting computer, settling back in his harness as he waited for the bombs to ignite the building. It was always a joy for him to see the results of a well-planned mission. "Detonation in five, four, three, two...."

He was suddenly thrown back in his seat by a particularly violent concussion, and he noted a strange blue wave emitting from the blast zone. It was the last thing he saw before his ship hit the ground.

Guardian leaned in towards the homing scope, eyes straining to pick up the four dots which had disappeared from the screen. He quickly turned towards the tech, then to Aradia "Slicer" Emerson, Buccaneer XO.

"What the....where did they go?"

The tech flicked a switch, and turned a dial, re-tuning the scanner frequencies. "I'm picking up a ionic disturbance... coming directly from the blast area. "

"What the heck does that mean? Where did my pilots go!? Pick 'em up again!" Guardian turned towards the comm officer, who was straining to listen in his headset as the CO bellowed. "Hail, them, sergeant."

"Already hailing, sir. I get no response. I'll try the other bands." Guardian looked again towards the scanner board, still seeing no sign of the Y-wings. Slicer leaned over the techs shoulder, gazing at the empty screen.

"Ionic disturbance? Did it knock out their communications? Or can our scanners not penetrate it?"

"Hard to tell, sir..uh, I mean, ma'am." The tech was frantically tuning his systems, in a vain attempt to penetrate the ionic cloud.

"Easy," came a new voice. Guardian and Slicer turned, looking at the new arrival. Rafael "Hyl" Costa Guerra doubled as a pilot in Corsair and as one of the Liberty's Intelligence officers. "Proton attack on a repulsor coil of the make they're manufacturing could cause an ionic burst cloud of, say, four times the magnitude of anything we've got on the Liberty. It probably ionized every system on the Y-wings, and kicked out a few on the As as well. It should disperse in a few minutes, they usually do."

"Where were you five minutes ago? There are two Corsairs out there, try to pick them up."

"No other ships are reported in system at this time," replied the comm tech.

Guardian stood up to his imposing full height, looking around the bridge for Corsair Leader. He found him at an adjoining comm station, issuing orders over the headset. "Electro--where are your Corsairs?"

Electro pulled off his headset, tossing it back onto the comm counter.

"Not sure. We lost scanner and radio contact same time you did. I just got off the horn with High Command, and they want to wait and see if the disturbance clears up, before we send additional recon."

Paladin cursed mightily, throwing back the straps on his harness. As soon as the bombs had hit the reactor, a massive blue wave had strewn outward, cutting all power to his systems. Even the astromech. He had managed to glide the dead ship evenly down through the thin trees, and he was sure he'd feel the effects of that bumpy ride for several days to come. Heaving up the cockpit canopy, he sat up, and looked around at his new home.

"Bucc 7 to Strike Control...." He received no response.

"Bucc 7 to Bucc Squadron..."

He reached into the pocket of his flightsuit, pulling out his personal comlink, but with the same lack of results. He hoped that the failure was due to a mechanical nature, and not due to pilot loss. He didn't even want to think that.

He yanked off his flight helmet, and ran a hand thru his sweat-soaked hair. He wasn't about to just sit here and wait for search and rescue, or to be eaten by the local wildlife. The Imperials would be coming soon enough with search parties. Paladin reached behind him, removing a long sheathed object, and a small carry bag from the backseat of the fighter. Stepping up onto the narrow nose of the Y-wing, he turned back, and was horrified at what he saw.

The forest behind him was decimated. His crash landing had left a distinct lengthy swath thru the trees behind him. Camouflaging the ship from ground forces would be pointless, for even a blind stormtrooper with a concussion could have picked up his trail. He hopped off the ship, landing on the forest floor agily. His first concern was finding his squadmates. Paladin quickly changed out of his jumpsuit and into his Lomabian fighter uniform, an outfit much more suited for the combat he was likely to face. It sported many more deadly surprises than the jumpsuit he was putting back into his bag. It never hurt to come prepared, he thought to himself, and as he was about to find out, that was a good thing.

Valkyrie slammed the underside panel of his ship closed, dismayed. Whatever that shockwave was, all his circuitry was unresponsive, and this ship wasn't going to be flying again anytime soon. Even his R2 unit sat silent in its socket. All communication was down, but at least he could see Hyp in the distance, climbing around his ship in investigation. He checked the power level in his blaster, then picked his way thru the underbrush towards Buccaneer 5.

"What the hell was that all about?" Hyp sat down on a nearby rock, checking the pockets of his flightsuit for his comlink.

"I've never seen anything like that myself. Whatever we hit, I don't think it was the power reactor. Any sign of Fireball or Paladin?" Valk hadn't seen the other two ships go down. He was too busy fighting for control of his own ship.

"Fireball isn't far east of us. I saw him skim a few trees, but then I lost sight of him. There is a field over there somewhere." Hyp sighed, and stood up. "We'd better try to reach him before the Imps send out a search party for us."

"If there are any Imps left, you mean. Maybe the shockwave covered our forced landings."

"You can bet that if they get a shuttle up, they'll have no trouble finding us." He grinned, pointing back. "We left a helluva calling card."

Valk eyed the decimated forest grimly. "Let's hope that they're too busy cleaning up the mess we made back there."

Paladin eyed the giant tree warily, glancing up at its great height. It was perhaps the largest tree he had ever seen, and it would serve his purpose nicely. He scampered up the steep earthy mound nearby, and reached up towards the lowest branch. Just out of reach. He jumped up, skimming the limb with his fingers, and tried again. Grasping the branch with both hands, he pulled himself upwards, hugging the tree base. Within a matter of minutes, he stood precariously high above the forest.

From his perch, he could see similar mown paths like the one he had made with his Y-wing. Great, he thought grimly. We'll be picked up for sure if we don't get these ships moving. He pulled a set of miniature macroscanners from his shoulder pocket, leveling them onto the track marks until he could make out the form of a Y wing. It looked relatively intact.

Suddenly, a sharp snap of branches caught his attention. He quickly grabbed at the base of the tree, bracing himself for a fall. But his branch was sturdy, far too thick to even bend under his weight. He looked down, towards the cause of the disturbance.

No sooner had Fireball hit the ground when he heard something rustle in the bushes in front of him. He quickly ducked back behind his fighter, blaster drawn, thinking that any minute now, he would see men in white suits running at him, and not because he needed a tooth pulled. Not that they wouldn't do that anyway, he reflected, gripping his blaster even tighter as he heard the sounds coming closer.

He almost fired when the figures stepped out of the brush, but stopped himself when he noticed that they were wearing orange flight suits, not white armor.

"Valkyrie, Hyp," he called, "over here." He waved at them and they came over in a light jog. "Where's Paladin?" he asked when they reached the fighter.

"I'm not sure," said Hyp, "the last I saw of him was as he skimmed the trees in that direction, I think."

"Well then, we had better get to finding him. He could be injured for all we know." Valkyrie's voice displayed a hint of the worry he felt for his good friend.

"Okay then, let's go." said Hyp. "Valkyrie and I will go look for Paladin. Fireball, I think you should hold the fort for now, and see if you can get anything to work on that fighter. You were at the rear of the formation, so the fact that you most likely caught the least of the blast means that your radio should be the best candidate for repair. That okay?"

"Yeah, okay, I'll wait here..." called Fireball after them as they were again swallowed by the forest. "Always get stuck repairing the fighters..." he muttered as he began taking off the access panel to the Y-wings comm system.

Paladin quickly descended the branches to the earth below, dropping quietly down to the forest floor. Not quiet enough. He was only starting to flick the lock on the sword when the attack came, so fast and powerful that he found himself take a short trip though the air which quickly ended in him hitting the ground hard, and sending his half drawn sword about a meter away. But that sword could have been on the other side of the planet for all the time he had. His attacker, a giant of a toothy hair-beast, towered a meter over his height.

As it was about to smash its club of a paw into him again, Paladin quickly rolled towards the general direction of the fallen sword. When he came up however, it was not a sword in his hand, but a knife produced from his boot. He let it fly, just as the creature turned towards him. The knife lodged itself into the shoulder of the beast, producing a cry of surprise and anger. It tensed for a quick strike, but it was too late, for Paladin, sword now in hand, had initiated an attack which started with a high leap, ended in a kneeling positing, and left the beast with a thin line going right through it. After a look of surprise formed on its face, the severed body crashed to the ground.

While cleaning his blade, Paladin looked up. "You guys could have helped you know."

"Nah, you looked like you were having too much fun for us to disturb you." said Valkyrie, emerging from the adjacent woods with a grin on his face, "Anyway, I knew you could handle it."

"A good laser blast would have been a lot faster," said Hyp, pointing at the blaster in a quick release holster on Paladin's belt. Then, taking a look at the cooling carcass on the ground, he felt his stomach turn. "..and a lot less messy."

"Well everyone has his own methods of killing. Don't you think so, Valk?"

"I guess..." said Valkyrie, suddenly remembering one of the reasons why he had changed fighting styles to the much cleaner two-handed method.

"Okay, mission accomplished, Paladin found. We had better get back to Fireball," said Hyp. With that, he turned and headed back into the forest, followed by Valkyrie and Paladin.

"Unit 5, split your forces, and direct your search within 3 clicks east of the garrison. Unit Seven, within 3 clicks west. The ships can't be far."

The Imperial commander smartly saluted his troops. The white-armored stormtroopers turned on a dime, marching in unison out of the dishevled headquarters. What the troopers lacked in intelligence, they made up for in readiness. He had already dispatched four other units in search of the Rebel scum who dared attack his station. Commander Havel marched back to the command deck of the garrison HQ. He turned towards his communications officer.

"What word on our network, Sergeant?"

"Imperial Network still not responding." Havel turned quickly to the Lieutenant who has just joined them. "Report, Lieutenant."

"The ionic cloud dispersed from the Rebel attack originated from a reaction in the main residual batteries. The atmosphere should be stabalized shortly. Power is down in all levels, but should be partially online within a matter of minutes. The main repulsor assembly station is 92 percent destroyed."

Havel cursed, biting back a nasty comment pertaining to Imperial Naval Command. The orders to move the Interdictor 'Annubis' towards the Core was apparently not well-concieved. Leaving them virtually undefended for even a short period of time was playing hell with any future promotion he was to ever receive. His hopes for transfer went up with the repulsor factory. His only recourse was to catch the sabuteurs.

"Effieciency at 22% and rising." Hmm..that wasn't good. But at least the little A-wing was operational. Rooster turned the snubfighter towards the coordinates of the CRS Liberty.

Rooster tried the comm again, and was met with a rustle of static. A good sign. "Hey, Kallysto, how's things over there?"

She was met with silence, so she turned around in the cramped confines of the small fighter, to see her squadmate. He was a click or so behind her, but seemed operational. Perhaps his radio was not online yet. She waggled the wings of the fighter, and was met with a similar response. All was well.

"Corsair 8 to Strike Control."

She was met with the releived voice of the comm sergeant. "Good to hear you, Eight. What is your.." She heard the rustle of the comm, and then the urgent voice of Electro. "Rooster, sit-rep! What happened?"

"Massive concussion wave struck when the torpedoes hit home. I'm not sure what we hit, but it was certainly a pretty picture. Kallysto is right with me..I don't think his comm is up yet. Any words from Buccaneer Squadron?"

Guardian's tired voice came over the comm. "Negative. We have no sign of them."

"I'll head back to the blast site to see if..."

"Negative, Corsair 8." Corsair Leader checked the stat report on the console in front of him. "You've got zero shields, and no scanners. Kallysto only has basic flight control and throttle. Bring him in."

Rooster scowled, not liking the idea of leaving her friends behind, but continued her escort towards the Liberty.

Fireball grinned as the comm unit in the ships cockpit sputtered to life. He worked the squelch and volume, trying furiously to tune in Strike Control's frequency. The LED freq display blinked and went out. He cursed, and adjusted the jury-rigged blaster powerpack on the dash of his cockpit. All he had needed was an intial jolt of power, to get things rolling again. Unfortunately, the pack would never start a Y-wing without a deafening explosion, but a comm connection was all he needed. The connection met again, and the lights came back on. He switched the small dial over to multi-frequency, to cover the range of Rebel bands.

"Bucc 12 to Strike Control....Bucc 12 to Corsair 8.."

Hyp, walking in lead, suddenly stopped short, causing Valkyrie to crash into him. He raised a hand up, signalling for silence. Paladin muttered an ancient Lombodian curse, as he saw the stormtrooper unit descending the trench towards the direction of his ship. The three pilots quickly ducked behind a covering boulder.

"Man, I feel like a big orange womprat, sitting out here in this flight suit," Valkyrie muttered.

Hyp mirrored his sentiments. "If they've found your ship, Paladin, you can bet there are others not too far behind them..."

"We read you, Bucc 12. Give us a sit-rep." A relieved Guardian sat back at the comm board, and gave a hopeful smile to his XO.

"Sit-rep, Bucc 12." No response.

"Well, at least we know he's operational. Slicer, get on the horn, and have the Compassion warmed up. Have them keep a holding position in system, " Slicer pulled out her personal comlink, dialing the deck frequency.

Electro chimed in from the adjoining comm station. "I've just committed three Corsairs for the Compassion's escort. "

"Copy, Electro. As soon as we get exact coordinates, relay them immediately," he instructed the traffic control officer.

"Yes, sir."

"Bucc 12 to Corsair 8.."

"Got ya, Fireball!" It was difficult for Roo to hide her relief in hearing her friend's voice. "Good to hear from you."

"Rooster! I'm getting no reply from the Liberty..."

"I'll run relay, Fireball. They're hailing you with no response."

"Copy. I probably don't have enough power to make the range. We need some help down here, ASAP. All Buccs are down, repeat, All Buccs are down, but are okay." Rooster switched the freq, relaying his message.

"What is your postion, Fireball...they need coordinates before they'll send in the shuttle,"

Pause. "No can do, Roo. I can't access the nav computer. These ships are deader than ..."

Roo waited, anxious for one of John's witty analogies. She became more nervous as the seconds ticked away. "Fireball, are you still with me?"

The breathless response: "Oh, man......" Then silence.

Rooster looked towards Kallysto, who was maintaining his silent flight back to the command ship. He'll be allright, she reasoned. He's nearly home. She turned her A-wing back towards planetside.

Fireball laughed with glee as the Y-wing came slowly back to life under his controls. Whatever the ionic anamoly, it was clearing. The laserpack powering his comm unit had begun smoking heavily from overload when the Ywing came back under power, and he had only managed an appropriate swear before being cut off from Rooster. After blistering his fingers on the hot energy pack, he disassembled his rigged unit, and went to work re-wiring the main connections. His initial diagnostics showed a slight recharge in the power systems, and a quick mental analysis informed him that he just might fly this wallowing pig off-planet after all. He seached his pockets for his personal commlink, hoping he'd be batting 2 for 2 today.

"Bucc 12 to Swordmen..."

Kallysto looked disgusted as the cockpit hatch raised on his A-wing. "I know, I know, next time I'll listen when you tell me I need better EMP shielding on this crate," he growled, looking up, expecting to see the tech smirking. What he saw instead was a frown. " What?"

"Where's your wingperson?" the tech asked.

Kallysto looked behind the tail of his craft, noting the empty landing space beyond. "She was right behind me!" He keyed the comlink in his fighter. "Corsair 11 to...ah, Ringiss, it's still dead." He looked back to the tech. "Got a comlink?" The crafter was already holding out the small device.

Jeff snatched it up. "Corsair 11 to Strike Control. Home safe, but unless you have 'er in a holding pattern, I think Eight has gone back. Eleven Out."

He tossed the comlink back to the tech, and sat back down in the pilot's chair. "How soon can you have me back up and running?"

His A-wing answered for him. The lights on the instrument panel winked out completely. "Grah.."

Fireball's voice came out of Paladin's pocket louder than a banshee on a rampage. He fumbled quickly for the comm, in a vain attempt to quiet it. Too late. Their hiding place had been noticed. Three stormtroopers were headed up the deep trench towards them.

"Well, the comms work again," Hyp said dryly, checking the charge on his blaster. He fired once, dropping a stormie cold in his tracks. He grinned, aiming for the second one.

Paladin finally found the errant comm. "Nice timing, Fireball. We've got company over here..." The entire unit of troopers were rushing up the woody hill towards them. Hyp and Valkyrie were making easy work of picking them off, from their lucky vantage point on the higher ground, but the sheer numbers of the adjoining unit would quickly overpower them.

"Where the hell are you? The ships are up, and help is on the way," John hoped that first part was true. He quickly dialed back the Liberty frequencies. "Bucc 12 to anyone, we are under fire. I repeat, we are under fire from ground forces. My coordinates are...."

Paladin dialed in the freq to his astromech. "R2-whatever, fire up the ship. Repeat, fire up the..." Before he had finished repeating his command, he saw the landing beacons on his ship light up. He grinned.

Valkyrie was suddenly hit by a bolt of inspiration. "Hey, uh, Paladin..how does your R2 unit do on the gunnery ranges?" He was quickly pulling his own comlink out, directing his unit to warm up all systems. It was going to be a fun run out of this debacle.

"Fireball, where are...oh, OK, I see your tracks.." Rooster strained her eyes, buzzing past the crash site, looking for Imperial troopers. "Your site looks all clear to me - wait, no there's about 15 troopers coming up on your six. ETA about 2 minutes."

"Copy, Rooster. My systems are nearly up to liftoff. Find the others..they're pinned down somewhere in the forest behind me."

"Roger." She flicked the power config on her lasers to full, and dropped down directly above the trees, strafing the unit on their way to Fireball, sending them running for cover.

In a matter of seconds, she saw the ensuing firefight laid out before her. Paladin had rushed into the fray, sword drawn, when his blaster had finally drained its powerpack. Only a hint of his suit was apparent under the blood of Imperials.

Hyp had managed to procure a dead trooper's blaster rifle, and was making good use of it, while Valkyrie kept several Imperials from damaging Paladin's Y-wing. Hyp let out a distinctive rebel yell as the A-wing buzzed overhead.

"I've got them, Fireball. Three pilots knee-deep body parts."

Fireball snickered. "Yep, that's them. I'm lifting off right now. Low on firepower and shields, but I'm airborne. Keep them covered while I do a short recon for additional troops."

"Copy, Fireball. Corsair 8 to Strike Control, I have visual of our boys. Twelve is active, Five, Seven, and Nine are grounded, but ships are prepped and ready." As Rooster reported to the Liberty, she swung the A-wing around back towards the battle. The remaining ground forces were quickly scattered under the barrage of her laser cannons, leaving them scrambling to find suitable cover. Paladin scaled the side of his Y-wing, jumping into the cockpit.

Electro's voice responded to Rooster's report. "Thanks for the good news, Corsair 5. Backup is on the way, and we are bringing the Compassion home. When the remaining Corsairs show up, break from the scene, and report me to the bridge, immediately."

Rooster winced, not at all liking the tone in Electro's voice.

Fireball awoke her from the dreading thoughts. "Bad news, folks... AT-ST's working their way in. I suggest we leave this party, ASAP."

Valkyrie chimed his answer, out of breath from the run to his craft. "Roger that, and gladly, Bucc 12. You strapped in, Hyp?"

Hyp answered, winded from the long run. "I'll strap in when I'm off the ground. Let's go." He was answered by laser blasts rocking the back of his ship. He pushed the thruster forward, while gently pulling the stick back, lifting the heavy bomber up from the forest with the crack and snap of lumber.

"The skies are clear," Rooster reported, as she maintained a protective pattern around her friend's escape coordinates.

Upon reaching the outer atmosphere, the weary pilots were greeted by three more A-wings. They were also just in time to see the Imperial Interdictor Annubis move into offense position near the Liberty. Hyp sighed, heavily annoyed. His comm crackled to life with the chatter of his shipmates scrambling their fighters in defense of the Liberty.

"This long day just got a whole lot longer..."