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Amongst Stars: Torrid Squadron


BenduKundalini's Avatar


BenduKundalini
04.16.2014 , 10:06 PM | #31
Quote: Originally Posted by Syart View Post
Replying to subscribe because I need to know what's going on and what will happen next
Gotta love that

Starting page 2, this one is amazing.

Osetto, your elite pilots have the honor of having a plot master!

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Osetto
05.11.2014 , 02:46 AM | #32
Episode Three: New Assignments

Chapter One

Two ships sped across the golden plains, side by side, hugging the ground. Like white daggers, they cut through the air, rustling the tall grass beneath their hulls. Maintaining their formation, the pair of starfighters were unwavering in their flight, rigid in their vectors and altitudes.

“Alright,” Erin’s voice rang out, cool and authoritative. “We’re coming up on two targets. Just stay low until we can get around them. Circle back and hit them hard.”

“I’m not so sure about this,” Jerel shot back, oddly calm despite his reservations.

“Look, I didn’t want you as my wingman, but I wasn’t given much of a choice,” Erin bluntly stated. “If you’re more comfortable getting shot at, go ahead and make a distraction. I’ll take them out myself.”

“I don’t fancy throwing myself into the line of fire,” Jerel admitted, still calm.

“Then stop complaining,” Erin chided. “There they are, on the horizon.”

Ahead of the white ships, two starfighters zoomed toward them on a direct path of interception. Like shadows given form, the opposing vessels were dark mirrors to those flown by the cyborg and Miraluka. Keeping low, the black starfighters seemed to be utilizing an almost identical strategy.

“Alright, recalibrate shields, double-front,” Erin called out. “We’ll slip under them, flip around, and strike their flanks.”

“How do I do that?” Jerel asked, almost muttering.

“What?” Erin balked. Before either could offer another word, a series of fiery bolts left the black vessels’ cannons, skimming just over the white vessels’ cockpits. Erin and Jerel urged their ships forward, Jerel doing so with considerably less grace.

As each pair of starfighters matched the other’s altitude, it soon became clear that neither would be maneuvering around the other. The two sides exchanged fire, a litany of energetic bolts zooming past each other, eager to send their target tumbling to the ground in a vibrant shower of sparks and shattered metals. As Erin readied another volley, his vessel shook, a series of warnings sounding off in his ear. Puzzling over the fact that he hadn’t seen a direct hit, his readout soon told him the blow came from behind.

“Jerel? You did not just do that!” Erin barked.

“I’m sorry, I’m not familiar with these controls,” Jerel confessed, not a hint of urgency or worry in his voice.

Distracted, the cyborg did nothing to dodge the oncoming swarm of laser fire from the black vessels. His shields shimmered and crackled before fizzling out. Soon, the bolts had ripped his hull asunder.

“Damn it!” Erin cursed as he shot up from the couch, gripping his headset and tossing it to the ground in front of him. Jerel remain seated upon the cushion adjacent to his, eyeless gaze affixed to the controller in his hands rather than the viewscreen stretching across the far wall. The ergonomic piece of plastic featured a number of buttons and sticks, all of which the Miraluka fumbled over. Still looking down, Jerel only heard the auditory cue of his ship exploding.

There was a smattering of cheers on the other side of the rec room, where two of the other pilots of Torrid Squadron found themselves on a similar couch, clutching similar controllers, watching a similar viewscreen, but with decidedly different emotions.

Rising above and beyond the surrounding clamor was the large Nautolan’s even larger laugh. “No need to get upset, Erin. I mean, it only means we’re the better pilots is all.”

Even as she attempted to restrain herself, the Selkath by Zal’s side released a low chortle, her six fingers still wrapped around the plastic controller. “It’s just a game, Erin. Nothing to get worked up over.”

“You weren’t the ones who got shot in the back!” Erin combatted. “I literally would have done better had I gone in solo.”

“I’m sorry, I’ve never played one of these things before,” Jerel muttered, sliding off the headset, maneuvering it around the goggles that pressed against his brow.

“We offered to let you do the tutorial first,” Zal called out, casting his large, black eyes toward the still-fuming Human. “You declined, so I think you’re the one to blame here.”

“Like hell I am!” Erin shot back. “I’m sorry I thought a pilot might be able to pick up a program design to approximate flight for children.”

“The game is technically rated for teenagers,” Chanta offered, inaudible to the distant pair.

“The button map on this thing feels awkward,” Jerel admitted. “Honestly, I think I might have done better if it was more complicated.”

“Would have done better if you had a set of eyes,” Erin muttered.

“I saw the screen perfectly, it was the controls that were the problem,” Jerel replied, somewhat terse.

“Oh, I know exactly what the problem was,” Erin haughtily countered.

“Seriously? Are you this upset over losing at a game? Do you really need to prove you’re the best that badly?” Chanta offered, this time loud enough to make sure her words reached their recipient.

Erin gritted his teeth. “I don’t need my name at the bottom of the rankings. There are crewmen rated higher than me. It’s embarrassing.”

“And this thing you’re doing right now, you don’t think that’s embarrassing?” Chanta offered, a sardonic bite accompanying her voice’s usual grit.

The cyborg paused, panning his gaze about the small, but still sizable, chamber. The smooth, white walls that encased them were lined with seats and methods to pass the time. Between the two viewscreens, a small assortment of linked systems and terminals housing the now ceased videogame. Another wall featured holobanks with a wide variety of digital books, and datapads with which to access them. Another housed a number of tables and board games, home to nightly bouts of Dajarik and Pazaak. And only now did Erin noticed the sideward glances from the ship’s other occupants.

A number of technicians and crewmen occupied the rec room, garbed in the same simple gray jumpsuits that the majority of those stationed aboard the Den wore. And whether they be Human or alien, the cyborg recognized a snicker when he saw one.

Throwing his hands in air and closing his eyes, Erin finally conceded. “Alright. You guys won this one. But don’t expect to stay on the top. We’ll be better next time.”

“We will?” Jerel muttered with an arch of his brow.

“Yes, we will,” Erin firmly declared.

“You could always just let it go,” Chanta bluntly said. The Selkath’s oblong face didn’t allow for a large range of expression, but it was trying its hardest to convey a profound sense of snark. “I mean, this is supposed to be for fun. Remember? Fun? Besides, it’s really not even that competitive. I mean, half the squadron doesn’t even play.”

“If we really wanted to bug him, we could download the galactic rankings,” Zal offered alongside a toothy grin. “Show him how he compares to some kid on Corellia.”

The cyborg offered an indignant pout toward his fellow pilots, on the verge of another outburst, when a chirp sounded off over the room’s speaker.

“Would the pilots of Torrid Squadron please report to Conference Room 1,” a soft voice called out. “Torrid Squadron, you are wanted in Conference Room 1.”

----------

There was a heat in the air. Two figures squared off, surrounded by a ring of their fellows. All eyes fell upon the two combatants as they raised their fists. One a man. One a woman. One a Human. One a Cathar. One a soldier. One a pilot.

Workout attire garbed the two fighters. For the man, a set of tight, form-fitting compression gear. For the woman, a pair of sweatpants and a loose shirt, giving her light-brown fur room to move and breath. Sweat dominated the Human’s brow, whilst the Cathar maintained her fierce countenance without an ounce of exhaustion. She was the smaller of the two, but possessed a tight, sculpted musculature about her. A simultaneously strong and dexterous form.

The man threw out a haggard punch, only for the woman to snatch his fist. Spinning on her heels, the Cathar rolled her opponent over her shoulder, sending him to the flat of his back with a soft thud. Splayed out upon the cushioned mat beneath them, the man opted to remain still as a round of cheers and jeers emanated from the gathered audience.

The Human rolled his head upon the mat before regaining his composure. Looking up, he saw the shadowed silhouette of the Cathar standing over him, offering her hand. In one swift motion, she picked her opponent up from the mat with an impressed smile.

“That was a nice try,” Varah warmly offered, balancing pride and humility. The gathered audience collapsed in on the pair, offering the defeated man a series of playful nudges and shoves.

“Yeah right,” one of the men spoke up. “Guy got knocked out by a space jockey.”

The majority of the gathered men and women belong to Ship-Sec, the onboard security forces who protected the Den from within. Garbed in the same uniform compression gear as their beaten comrade, they came in a variety of shapes, sizes, and species.

Surrounding the gathered peoples was the ship’s workout room. Expansive, the chamber stretched far and possessed a litany of machinery and gear available to anyone stationed aboard the vessel. In its center, a place reserved for practice bouts. A place now owned by Varah and Loona.

Walking across the blue mats that clashed with the various whites and grays surrounding them, the Rodian pilot placed a sturdy hand upon her squadron mate’s shoulder. And it wasn’t alone. One of the security officers had joined in the revelry, a Human female wearing a hearty smirk.

“Hah! Always fun to see a woman take one of the boys down a notch,” she said, giving Varah’s shoulder an energetic shake.

The man who had just been thrown to the ground furrowed his brow. “Yeah right. Sex had nothing to do with it.”

“Bet that’s the first time you’ve admitted that,” the woman teased. The gathered figures shared a round of laughter.

“Very funny,” the man replied, less enthused than his brethren. “But species was the deciding factor. Only one of us was born with the ability to tear out a Mandalorian’s throat.”

“I consider it more a natural talent than an evolutionary trait,” Varah offered with a knowing smile. The security officer at her side withdrew her hand, releasing another chuckle.

“He keeps making excuses like that and someone’s going to mistake him for an Imp,” the woman joked.

Another round of laughter started, but was mysteriously culled as the men and women noticed an approaching figure. Haron Gregard.

As Torrid Squadron’s executive officer neared the central mats, the gathered security officers began to silently disperse, until only Varah and Loona remained. The Human had replaced his formal attire for more casual garb, a form-fitting t-shirt and cargo pants. An ensemble of muted browns and grays. Though less intimidating than his uniformed personage, the pilot still possessed a less-than-warm aura about him. This much was evidenced by the cold stare he offered his fellow pilots.

“Didn’t we say no more fights without supervision?” Haron asked with the arch of his brow.

“I thought that only pertained to Loona,” Varah admitted.

The Rodian crossed her arms, head slightly dipped. “He never said I couldn’t hit him in the face,” Loona mumbled.

“It pertains to all the pilots,” Haron firmly stated. “We can’t risk you getting injured before jumping into the cockpit. You can’t fly with a busted arm.”

The Cathar cracked a confident smile. “You’d need to find someone capable of busting my arm first.” The XO sharpened his gaze as he focused on the smirking pilot. “What brings you here, anyway?”

“Well, considering none of the other pilots had seen you two for a while, I figured I’d check to see if you were bothering Ship-Sec again,” Haron stated.

“Just to set the record straight, I was only watching,” Loona calmly interjected. The Cathar turned her head just in time to see the Rodian’s flippant shrug.

“There’s a reason for these rules,” Haron continued. “Any injuries sustained here could jeopardize a mission. You need to be at peak performance at all times.”

“This is how I stay at peak performance,” Varah defended. “I need to let off some steam every once in a while. If I don’t, I start to get all jittery. That affects my flying a lot more than a few scrapes and bruises.”

“There are other ways to let off steam,” Haron firmly replied.

The two locked eyes, each narrowing with each passing moment. Finally, Varah gently scratched the fur of her chin. “You’re a fighter, right?”

Haron paused, slightly tilting his head. “How do you mean?”

“You’re skilled in close quarters combat? Given your background, I would assume so,” Varah suggested.

“My background?”

“I mean, everyone knows how important physical conditioning is to Imperials,” Varah mused. “If you defected after the war ended, that means some of your military training had to have taken place over there, right?”

“My ‘military training’ began when I was ten years old,” Haron explained, somewhat softer than before.

“Then how about a match?” Varah suggested. “If you can take me down, I promise, no more unsupervised fights.”

“You want to fight me? Right here? Right now?” Haron asked.

“Don’t see why not,” said Varah. “Everyone knows you and Dunn are the best martial artists on the team. And I didn’t get a chance with Dunn before Loona jabbed him in the mask.”

“Again,” Loona quietly interrupted. “No one said I couldn’t.”

“Is this some matter of pride to you?” Haron asked, gaze solely focused on the Cathar.

“In a manner of speaking, yes,” Varah admitted. “But who knows? Given your reputation, if I beat you, I might not even want to fight anyone else anymore.”

There was a pause as silence dominated the mats.

“Assuming you could beat me,” Haron firmly offered.

The smirk crept back upon the Cathar’s face, but quickly wiped away as a chirp sounded off over the room’s speakers.

“Would the pilots of Torrid Squadron please report to Conference Room 1,” a soft voice called out. “Torrid Squadron, you are wanted in Conference Room 1.”

“Another time,” Haron stated, turning his back on the pilots without a second thought. As she watched her squadron mate depart, the Cathar scrunched her face in disappointment.

“Another time,” Varah muttered, a fierce glint in her eyes.

----------

Conference Room 1. The twelve pilots of Torrid Squadron had been gathered. The compact chamber featured a round table surrounded by more than a dozen seats, a holoterminal resting in its center. Two chairs were already occupied, one by the squadron’s commander, the other by the electronic hologram of an older naval officer.

“Welcome everyone,” Rem called out. The commander had dressed down from her officer’s attire, instead wearing the fatigues the others had taken to wearing aboard the Den, albeit a full set worn to neat perfection. Heavy boots, thick trousers, and a long-sleeve shirt over the form-fitting layer underneath. All colored with various browns and grays. A subdued outfit compare to the usual vibrant flightsuits. “Please, take a seat. Admiral Trevel has some information he'd like to share.”

The eleven other members of Torrid Squadron made their way toward the table. As the plainclothes pilots circled around the table, one found his path interrupted. As Erin pulled back a chair, he felt a sharp pain in his foot. Releasing a hushed expletive, the pilot saw one of the TS-AA units making its way around the table, but not before it had intentionally driven its forward strut into the cyborg. Erin shot the droid a sharp glare as it zipped away, offering a series of jaunty beeps.

Soon, all twelve pilots had taken their place around the conference table. The electronic figure of Admiral Trevel leaned forward in his seat. Transmitting from Coruscant, the superior officer was garbed in the same service uniform that he always wore within the halls of the Senate.

“Now that everyone’s here, we can proceed,” Admiral Trevel’s projection spoke up, restrained in its delivery.

“Is this about a new mission?” Haron asked, puzzled by the abrupt summoning.

“In part. But it also concerns an old one,” Trevel revealed. “I had SIS do some digging into the incident regarding the Wanderer escort. We now know who was responsible.”

There was a heavy silence in the room as the pilots looked to one another. They waited, eagerly, for further explanation, and received it when the holoprojector in the center of the table fired up. Before them, a three-dimensional model of an Imperial formed. An elder Human male. Frail body garbed in naval officer’s attire. Beside him, a series of charts and notes.

“The man before you is Admiral Fiernan of the Imperial Navy,” Trevel detailed. The pilots sharpened their eyes toward the image, studying it. None of them, new or old, recognized the name or face.

“Had we faced him prior to the incident?” Haron asked.

“You hadn’t. At least, not directly,” Trevel replied. “I however, have dealt with the man since before the war ended. We’ve opposed each other on several occasions over the years. We both worked behind the scenes, guiding and maneuvering fleets, but never directly engaging each other’s forces.”

“Those Harrowers seemed pretty damned direct,” Marvus muttered under his breath. The Devaronian leaned back, slightly sinking into his chair.

“Within the past year, the man’s tactics have drastically changed,” Trevel detailed.

“Why might that be?” Haron wondered.

“We have some ideas,” Trevel admitted. “Mostly concerning-”

“Wait,” Marvus interrupted, picking himself back up. “If you two have a past, doesn’t that basically confirm the fact that the incident was a targeted attack?”

“Still not enough of a confirmation for the Senate,” Fen chided in her own stoic way. The Mon Calamari offered a flippant wave of her bulky hand. “Then again, the man could have called us up on the holo to gloat and the Senate still wouldn’t have been satisfied.”

“You mentioned other details?” Haron spoke up, trying to keep the proceedings under control.

“We now believe Admiral Fiernan was not working alone,” Rem took over. The holographic image of the wrinkled Human faded. In its place, a physical specimen of a man. Strong, broad-shouldered, and with an impeccable stance. The figure seemed an Imperial officer, but his skin and eyes seemed distorted by the hologram.

Marvus raised an eyebrow at the display. “Is there something wrong with the projector?”

“I’m afraid not,” Rem admitted. “This is Malaf’era’sidoru. A Chiss.”

“But the Imperial Navy doesn’t have any Chiss commanders,” said Haron.

“It’s been a decade since you left,” Seraak stated. “Maybe things have changed since then.”

“Haron’s right,” Rem spoke up. “Even though the Chiss are allied with the Empire, we’ve no records of an alien attaining a rank of command within their Navy. From what we’ve uncovered, this man’s official title is Tactical Advisor and Security Liaison. Likely an attempt to circumvent the Navy’s typical hierarchy.”

“So, the Admiral gets himself a new advisor and decides to take on Torrid Squadron,” Marvus mused.

“And what of the weapon we encountered?” Dunn asked. “The interdiction field.”

“Apparently, the Admiral and his advisor had been taking part in an internal arms race,” Trevel detailed. Different admirals and generals were competing to earn the favor of the Grand Moff by developing super weapons.”

“But now that we know who they are, we can go after them, right?” Zal spoke up. The large Nautolan leaned forward, on the edge of his barely accommodating seat.

There was a beat as the Admiral remained silent. “I’m afraid not.”

“Big surprise,” Marvus grumbled.

“This has nothing to do with authorization,” Trevel replied. “Fiernan didn’t walk away from the conflict unscathed. Not only did some of you manage to escape, you crippled one of his Harrowers. Because of his failure, he lost any support he had gained from the Grand Moff. He was recalled to the heart of Imperial space. We can’t affect him, but he can’t affect us either.”

“What exactly is he doing now?” Haron asked.

“He’s policing domestic space under the command of a Sith Lord,” Rem replied.

“And the advisor?” the XO followed up.

“Still with Fiernan, according to our reports,” Trevel answered.

“Maybe we’ll get lucky and the Sith will kill them for us,” Marvus offered.

“Not an unlikely prospect,” Haron bluntly stated. “But if they’re beyond our reach, where to do we focus our attention now?”

The commander looked to the image projected above the table. The Chiss faded, and was replaced with a galactic map. “There have been some reports of anomalous activity on the borders between Republic and Neutral space…”

----------

Deep in the heart of Imperial territory, sitting patiently amongst the starry void was a Gage-class transport. The gray slab of Imperial engineering drifted amongst the vacuum, secure in its duty as a command center, confident in its position at the rear of a fleet of warships.

Within the bridge stood the vessel’s new master. A figure garbed in dark, all-encompassing robes gazing upon a the three-dimensional image projected by the main holoterminal. Upon it, a tactical appraisal of an ensuing conflict. On one side, the fleet of warships it currently belonged to. On the other, a ragtag assemblage of rebels and insurgents.

Occupying the bridge were the various coordinators and technicians that typically manned the terminals lining the chamber’s extremities. The open area surrounding the holoprojector held only three figures. A Sith Lord. An admiral. A Chiss.

“You may commence your attack, admiral.”
-------------------- The Fan Fiction Index --------------------

Osetto's Avatar


Osetto
05.13.2014 , 02:23 AM | #33
Chapter Two


The pilots of Torrid Squadron watched as the star map zoomed in, until the projection focused on a small string of stars to the galactic east. Data points pointed to each star system, and a bright line cut a swath between them.

“This is the Erical Hyperlane,” Rem said, eyeing the bright band that snaked through the map. “It runs from the core through to Mon Calamari, passing by Erigorm, Manaan, and Saleucami.”

Every pilot in the room focused their gaze on the projection, studying it, committing every single detail to memory. Perhaps the most studious was Lieutenant Dunn. The Kel Dor softly rubbed the base of his antiox mask, staring at the map from beneath his black goggles.

“It appears to run through Hutt space as well,” Dunn spoke up, his stoic voice possessing the usual electronic grit as it passed through his mask.

“The lane only touches the outer fringe of their territory,” Rem clarified.

“Doesn’t matter if it’s the fringe or the heart,” Loona lowly offered. The Rodian leaned back in her chair, arms tightly crossed in front of her chest. “Hutt space is Hutt space.”

The room fell silent, none willing or able to contradict Loona’s assessment.

“Is this where the ‘anomalous activity’ has been taking place?” Haron asked as he eyed the starmap, running his gaze up and down the brightly lit hyperlane. The ex-Imperial’s stance managed to maintain its rigidity, even when seated. He was unwavering, frozen in place for the duration of the proceedings.

The commander offered a quick nod. “Traders have been reporting peculiar readings throughout the route, but the majority have come from those closer to the neutral systems.”

A series of flashing red dots pinged on the map along the hyperlane. One after another appeared until they numbered in the dozens.

“Peculiar readings?” Marvus loudly muttered alongside the tilt of his head. Even when being briefed, the Devaronian managed to keep up his heightened levels of expressiveness. “What exactly does that mean?”

“Cargo freighters have reported being scanned by an unknown source whilst traveling through hyperspace,” Rem explained.

“That’s… uh…” Zal began before trailing off. Despite the Nautolan’s large frame and usually high spirits, there was a readily apparent softness amidst his uncertainty. “Is that weird?”

“You usually need specialized tech to scan an object in hyperspace,” Fen said, utterly methodical in her delivery. There was a pause as the Mon Calamari gathered her thoughts. “But it’s not beyond the realm of possibility, even outside the military.”

Staring at the holoprojector, Jerel seemed more puzzled than his compatriots. He understood the image before him, having no trouble deciphering the electronic image despite his unusual sight. The Miraluka instead took issue with its deeper meaning. “So who do we think’s responsible? Imperials? Pirates?”

“We’re not sure yet,” Rem admitted, trying extra hard not to let those words undermine her position. “Which is why we’re being asked to investigate.”

“Investigate what, exactly?” Erin interjected, brow firmly arched. The haughty cyborg leaned forward as his fellows’ eyes fell to him. “I mean, is it a listening post, a satellite, or what?”

“Too mobile to be a space station,” Fen bluntly stated, calm and methodical as always. “If the readings span the entire hyperlane, you’d need a lot of posts, far too many to keep hidden.”

“A ship then,” Chanta suggested, trying to emulate her roommate’s tone. “Or a small group of ships. Set up. Monitor the lane. Relocate.”

“Seems like an information broker,” Loona spoke up, a sense of secondary knowledge supporting her claim. “Scan cargo, track it, sell that information on the black market.”

“The readings seem concentrated nearest Nar Shaddaa, so it makes sense,” Varah offered. The Rodian and Cathar shared a brief look, one of mutual backing.

Meanwhile, the electronic image of the admiral maintained its studious presence, gently scratching his chin. “We still cannot rule out an Imperial presence,” Trevel softly stated. “Even if criminals are responsible, the Empire could be aiding them.”

“Doesn’t the Empire have better things to do than spy on merchants?” Erin mumbled just loud enough to make sure everyone heard him.

“Many who continue to support the Republic do so on the condition of stable trade,” Seraak calmly offered. “Disrupting the economy in certain sectors can have just as profound an impact as military operations. There is no one way to fight a war. There is definitely no one way to wage a cold one.” Whereas his teammates’ calm may have spoken to their discipline, for the Togruta, it spoke of a deeper understanding. As vibrant as the alien pilot appeared on the outside, he maintained an almost philosophic grace about him.

The Devaronian sharpened his gaze as he eyed the projected image. “There are other trade routes through the Outer Rim, ones that don’t pass that close to Hutt space. What’s so important about…” Marvus trailed off as his eyes shot open. “Oh, don’t tell me we’re doing this to appease the Hutts…”

“No,” Fen bluntly answered. “We’re not.”

The other pilots remained silent as they turned to the Mon Calamari, puzzled by her declaration.

“How do you know, Fen?” Chanta asked.

“Look at the planets along the route,” Fen calmly directed. “Surely, you recognize them.”

The Selkath leaned forward as she stared at the galaxy map. “Well, obviously I know Manaan, but…”

“Manaan. Erigorm. Saleucami,” Fen listed. “All worlds who have been less than pleased with their place in the Republic. There have even been talks of secession lately. Isn’t that right, admiral?”

All eyes fell to the electronic image of Trevel. The elder Human leaned forward in his seat, elbows propped upon the table, fingers interlocked. “The status of the planets along the route is of concern to the Senate, yes… but…”

“So this is just another publicity mission isn’t it?” Marvus sneered.

“I thought you actually enjoyed those,” Seraak offered, genuinely taken aback.

“Not since the last one cost us six pilots,” Marvus mumbled, the fire quickly leaving his voice.

“This mission is just as important as any other you’ve carried out,” Trevel declared. “The Republic cannot afford to endanger any of its peoples or allies. Not Saleucami. Not the Merchants Guild. Not even the Hutts. And if the Empire is truly behind these intrusions, we need to know sooner rather than later. And if this is solely a criminal endeavor, it will provide you a lesser threat as you return to the field.”

“Do not underestimate the underworld, admiral,” Loona spoke up, almost at a harsh whisper. “Pirates can be just as resourceful as any military outfit.”

“I do not plan to misjudge any threat,” Trevel firmly stated.

“I know you don’t, admiral,” Rem declared. “We’ll prepare to move out as soon as possible.”

The electronic image of Trevel offered a quick nod. “Good luck, Commander.”

The hologram of the admiral faded, and the pilots of Torrid Squadron were alone. As many thoughts stewed within the minds of the twelve individuals, none thought to speak. As silence overtook the room, only the commander had the authority to break it.

“Haron and I need to go over some details,” Rem spoke up. “The rest of you, suit up and meet up in the hangar. I want everyone prepped and ready in two hours. Understood?”

A series of nods and ‘ayes’ emanated from the pilots. Whatever reservations they possessed, they could not outweigh their duty. To the commander and to the squadron. One by one, the pilots lifted themselves from their seats and exited the conference room, until only Rem and Haron remained. The commander and her executive officer sat side by side as the rest of the room went unoccupied.

“What are the chances of this being an Imperial operation?” Haron asked.

“That’s what I was going to ask you,” Rem admitted.

Haron scratched his chin as he lowered his gaze, trapped in deep thought. “I’m not sure. This doesn’t seem like a Navy operation. More in line with Intelligence. But that doesn’t exactly match up either. Then again, it would seem the Empire is a much different place since I left.”

“Any thoughts on what we learned about the incident?” Rem wondered. “I know you and the others were pretty set on going after the men responsible.”

“Revenge was nothing more than a petty want,” Haron confessed. “We all knew the chances were slim that we’d ever encounter those responsible again. There are thousands of commanders and thousands more battles throughout the galaxy. We can’t afford to take things personal. There’s no place for rivalry in war. We honor the fallen by pressing forward, not succumbing to the past.”

“Hopefully the others feel that same way,” said Rem.

“They’ll come around,” Haron declared. “They still think the other side won that day, but they didn’t. The Empire may not be exactly as it was a decade years ago, but I know some things will never change. This admiral and his mysterious advisor… they failed their mission, because we refused to give in. And now, they’re suffering the consequences of their failure. Being assigned to a Sith Flight Commander was considered a death sentence back at the academy. The Empire takes care of its own… in all the worst ways.”

Rem cracked a hesitant smile. “I can see why you decided to leave. Command may not always make the right decisions, but at least we can count on them being better than the Sith.”

----------

On the bridge of the Gage-class transport, there was a calm before the storm. Beyond the viewports, beyond the metal slab of the cruiser’s chassis, beyond the fleet of warships, the Imperials’ foes made their valiant last stand.

The Imperial fleet was uniform, rigid in its formation. Five Terminus-class destroyers formed a line in front of the command vessel, cannons primed and ready to unleash their torrent on the ragtag group of vessels before them. On the other side, floating above the atmosphere of a world of rebels and dissidents were its defenders.

The fleet staring down the Imperials was composed of a variety of vessels. Different makes and models, each of them. Disparate shapes and sizes. No sense of uniformity amongst them. Civilian vessels retrofitting for combat. Mercenary cruisers. ‘Procured’ Imperial ships. All traitors to the Empire.

The pilots sought to remove the Empire from their lives, but the Empire would not abide their rebellion.

Standing at the forefront of the bridge overlooking the main holoterminal, the Sith Flight Commander basked in the glow of the battle map. The Human was wrapped in fancifully dark robes, colorful trim inlayed in various patterns but never outshining the overbearing blackness of his attire. A hood covered his head and concealed his wrinkled face. Only by merit of the holoprojection could someone see his sharp and crooked smile. But even with such aid, none would willingly take notice. None dared to lock gazes with their superior. Not even the admiral who stood as his side.

The Sith was ready to proceed with the attack. With a deep bow of his head, Fiernan backed away from the commander, who continued his forward stare, arms folded neatly behind his back. The admiral moved toward the center of the bridge. There, a short series of steps separated them from the bulk of the chamber. A walkway connected the front area with the bridge’s exit, and on either side a plethora of stations and monitors attended by the ship’s dutiful crew. Standing at the top of the steps, Fiernan looked over his subordinates, joined shortly thereafter by his advisor.

The Chiss stood tall as ever, unrelenting in his stance. The advisor’s uniform was still a muddled gray and absent of ranking or designation. The admiral’s however seemed to have been stripped of a few of its merits.

“Everyone, prepare for battle,” Fiernan called out, his voice still carrying the tenor of a commander. “Secure the channels. Contact Strike-1 through 5, have them recycle their batteries but they are not to fire until I give the command. Prep the fighters. I want Squadrons 1 through 10 ready to fly at a moment’s notice.”

The chamber was silent but for the pattering of feet and subtle chattering over headsets. There was no need for ‘ayes’ when the command was absolute.

“We will show those who dare turn their back on the Empire the error of their ways,” the Sith Lord cackled. “Wipe them out. All of them.”

“Of course, my Lord,” Fiernan said, forcing himself to speak.

The Chiss bent his towering frame so than his mouth neared the admiral’s ear. “Might I suggest having the destroyers fire the opening volley?”

“That would only disperse the enemy fleet,” Fiernan quickly muttered.

“Exactly,” Feras replied. “The enemy is unorganized. If they are dispersed, they’ll be less of a burden on our fighters. They can match them ship to ship, but we’d lose to many pilots to the swarm if it remained concentrated.”

“Very well,” Fiernan whispered before clearing his throat. “Have the destroyers prepare the opening volley. After the enemy fleet scatters, we will send out the fighters. They will handle the bulk of the forces while the destroyers spread out and target the largest vessels.”

“What?” the Sith Lord balked, turning away from the holoterminal. The Flight Commander slinked toward his subordinate, casting his darkened gaze upon him. “We cannot allow the enemy to scatter! Not when we’ve the ability to crush them where they stand. Send out the fighters. Have them surround the enemy fleet. Keep them in place while the destroyers tear them to shreds.”

The admiral shivered as he went wide-eyed, bead of sweat forming on his brow. “My Lord, I-”

“We cannot keep them in place with the forces we have,” Feras bluntly stated. “The fighters would be spread too thin and risk being caught in the crossfire. They can handle a ragtag group of dissidents, but the rebels mustn’t believe they are being trapped.”

The Sith Lord immediately turned toward the advisor, casting his hooded visage up at the Chiss. A harsh scowl formed upon his wrinkled lips. “You’d dare to question my orders?”

“No! No, my Lord,” Fiernan intruded, voice almost squeaking. “We’ll carry out the attack as you wish.”

“See that you do,” the Sith rasped. The Flight Commander began to turn back toward the holoterminal, when he noticed the bridge’s doors opening, a lone figure stomping through.

“What is the meaning of this!” a young, petulant voice shouted. All eyes turned to the intruding figure. A Human male, mid-twenties, garbed in dark attire. Peculiarly, the figure appeared to be wearing a black and red flightsuit beset by matching layers of cloth. The man marched toward the front of the bridge, the harshest of glares upon his youthful face. “Why is my starfighter locked down?”

“I told you, you’ve no place out there, apprentice,” the Sith Lord chided. “A Sith belongs here, in the command center.”

“A Sith belongs in the middle of battle!” the apprentice barked. “Just let me out there! I can help crush these rebels.”

“Your help is not needed, apprentice,” the Sith Lord rasped. “The Imperials have their duties, and you have yours. I’ll not hear another word of this nonsense!”

The apprentice release an inarticulate scoff as he stomped off in a huff. Rather than exit the bridge, the flightsuited Sith planted his back against the wall beside the chamber entrance, arms crossed, eyes glued to the floor.

The Sith Lord released a low sigh before reaffirming his gaze on the admiral. “You have your orders. Commence the attack.”

“At once, my Lord,” Fiernan sheepishly said. But before he could signal the attack, his advisor took a step toward the Sith Lord.

“This plan is foolish,” Feras declared, his deep voice even deeper than usual. “You’re wasting pilots’ lives because you’re more interested in execution rather than results. You’re a failure of a commander.”

“You insolent filth,” the Sith Lord rasped. “In every conceivable manner I am your superior, and you would dare insult me?”

The Chiss’ hands tightening into fists. “You are not my superior. You are a deluded fool who cannot… who cannot…”

The advisor found it harder and harder to breath as an invisible force wrapped around his throat, constricting his airway. The Sith Lord slowly raised his clawing hand, staring into the red eyes of his victim. Even as he was choked through the Force, Feras’ stance remained adamant. His knees refused to bend. His hands refused to grasp as his throat. His eyes only slightly wavered as they cast their burning stare into those of his oppressor.

“My Lord, please!” Fiernan pleaded. “He didn’t know what he was saying. He didn’t mean it. It’s his alien brain. It makes him act out at times. He won’t question you again, I promise!”

With a final huff, the Sith Lord released his grip. Feras drew in a heavy breath as he continued to stare down the Flight Commander, until eye contact was broken by Fiernan putting himself between the two men.

“You are no longer needed here,” Fiernan muttered through gritted teeth, unblinking.

The Chiss clenched his fists as his nostrils flared, but eventually he conceded. Walking down the short series of steps, the advisor made his way down the walkway and toward the bridge’s entrance. Just as he was about to exit, he found the curious eyes of the Sith apprentice cast his way. The man possessed an uncouth look about him, disheveled hair atop his head and stubble lining his chin.

“You have a death wish or something?” the apprentice asked. His voice was unsettlingly warm, a venom underlying his pleasantries. Feras paused, but remained silent. “Sith don’t care for having their opinion challenged. Less so by a person like you.”

“I assume that goes for you too, right?” Feras muttered.

“Nah, I really couldn’t care less who you are or where you’re from,” the apprentice offered with a shrug. “When you’re in a cockpit, nothing matters but skill. Not heritage. Not status. Nothing.”

“You fly?”

“Yeah.”

“You any good?”

The apprentice’s lips curled into a smirk. “The best.”

“Then what’s preventing you from flying?”

The smile faded from the apprentice’s face. “You heard my master. He wants me to do what he does.”

“Be an incompetent fool?” Feras muttered.

The apprentice released a quick chuckle. “You are different, aren’t you?”

“Am I?” Feras asked. “I serve the Empire because I value skill. Above all else, strength and knowledge and the power of the individual.”

“It’s a shame we’re both stuck under someone too shortsighted to see our potential, huh?” the apprentice offered with an almost genuine candor.

The Chiss locked eyes with those of the apprentice. “What is your name?”

“Zuren. Zuren Baz.”

“You are that man’s apprentice?” Feras asked. The Sith offered a quick nod. “If I understand the Sith correctly, it is your duty to one day succeed him.”

“That’s what they say,” the apprentice flippantly stated.

“If he were to die, you would assume his command, correct?” Feras pressed. There was a beat as the two men continued to stare into one another’s eyes. “If you were in command, you could fly to your heart’s content. Myself and the admiral could direct the rest of ‘your fleet’.”

The apprentice released a hushed laugh. “You really have assimilated, haven’t you?”

“I will not abide by a pretender who believes himself a commander,” Feras firmly declared. “There’s a way for both of us to achieve what we want.”

Zuren paused, the jovialness fading from his face. The two figures continued to meet their gazes, an overbearing seriousness between the both of them.

“We could wait until he was asleep,” Zuren suggested. “If I could sneak into his room, I might…”

Before the apprentice could finish his thought, he saw the Chiss making his way back toward the front of his bridge. With a steady gait, Feras marched across the walkway and up the short flight of steps. Neither the admiral nor the Sith had time to react before the advisor clutched the back of the Sith Lord’s robes with both hands.

In one swift motion, the Chiss picked up the Flight Commander and hoisted him over his head. As the Sith thrashed about and flailed his limbs, Feras took a series of careful steps toward the steps separating him from the walkway below. With a deep breath, Feras drove his captive straight down, snapping his neck on the edge of the top step.

The Sith Lord tumbled down the flight of stairs. The quick series of thuds were quickly replaced by an all-consuming silence as he lay sprawled upon the walkway, utterly motionless.
-------------------- The Fan Fiction Index --------------------

Osetto's Avatar


Osetto
05.21.2014 , 01:32 AM | #34
Chapter Three

The bridge was deathly silent. None dared to move, to speak, as they cast their wavering eyes upon the stilled Sith Lord. Heads peeked over the various consoles and stations that littered the bridge, each one distant and isolated. Only one man dared to brave the open space, the very man who had delivered the Flight Commander to his fate.

Feras stood tall atop the series of steps overlooking the fallen Lord. There wasn’t a hint of exhaustion or weakness in his stance as his piercing red eyes sharpened. Suddenly, the soft patter of hesitant steps sounded off behind the Chiss.

“Do you have any idea what you’ve done?” Fiernan harshly whispered.

Feras kept his eyes glued to the fallen Sith. “You mean besides getting our fleet back? Yes. I know exactly what I’ve done.”

The admiral quivered, mouth agape as he bounced his gaze between the advisor and the still motionless Flight Commander. “You can’t… you didn’t…”

“I can. I did,” Feras plainly declared.

The elder Human continued whimpering at the stalwart figure’s side, until the sound of another set of footsteps filled the chamber, shooting a deep chill up the admiral’s spine. From across the bridge, the Sith’s apprentice slowly made his way toward the pair. His heavy boots impacted against the hard flooring beneath him, sending out periodic thuds that pounded the senses amidst the consuming silence. With each step, Zuren drew closer, and like a shrinking wave, the Imperials at their various posts ducked and hid as the Sith passed by.

Nearing the midway point of the central walkway, the apprentice reached behind his back, and returned with a black hilt firmly grasped in his hand. With a quick flick of the wrist, the Sith soon found himself basking in the glow of his lightsaber’s red blade. The droning hum of the weapon filled the chamber, the sound of imminent death.

“Oh no…” Fiernan mumbled, slowly backing away. Feras, meanwhile, kept his feet firmly planted as he monitored the Sith’s approach.

Zuren paused at the base of the steps, beside the fallen Sith. He passed his gaze over the three most prominent figures. First the Chiss, then the cowering admiral, then the prone body of his master. The apprentice offered a single chuckle, before burying the tip of his blade into the back of the motionless Flight Commander, piercing his heart.

With that, Zuren returned the lightsaber to his belt and steadily climbed the steps before him. At the top, he was greeted by Feras, who offered the quick, but respectful, dip of his head.

“We await your orders… commander,” Feras calmly said to the Sith.

Zuren cracked a sharp smile, before spinning on his heels to face the rear half of the bridge. “Everyone listen up! As the new acting Flight Commander, I hereby place this operation in the hands of the admiral and his advisor. Any directions they give, you’re to treat like they came from me? Everyone understand?”

There was a moment of silence as the stationed Imperials were still processing the events, but even the tumultuous death of a Sith Lord could not overcome their training and decorum. Almost in unison, each officer snapped a quick salute toward their new commander.

“Good,” Zuren continued. “Whomever among you is in contact with the primary hangar, tell them to prep my fighter. I want it ready and able to fly by the time I make my way down there. Anyone in contact with the other ships, inform them that the fleet is back in capable hands.” The Sith turned to face the Chiss at his side. “Anything else?”

“We shouldn’t delay any further,” Feras calmly advised. “The sooner you make it to the hangar, the sooner we can proceed.”

Zuren offered only the briefest of nods before setting out. The Sith descended the steps with a single leap and rushed across the bridge. In a matter of moment, he was gone, and the Imperials were left alone to their own devices.

Feras turned to see the admiral frozen in place, still struggling to process the preceding events. “The fleet awaits its new orders, admiral.”

----------

“Alright, listen up!”

Rem’s voice reached the ears of each and every pilot of Torrid Squadron without fault. In a neat arrangement they stood in the hangar, encased in trademark red and white flightsuits. The final preparations were being made to their vessels. Technicians and astromechs buzzed about the chamber. The twelve TS-AA units were lifted and placed behind the cockpits of the Gallant fighters. At the opposite ends of the hangar, the normally transparent barriers that separated the occupants from the vacuum of space were instead solid slabs of reinforced metal. Beyond, the tunnel of hyperspace encircled the Den. It was already on route to the staging area.

“Tessa ran a quick calculation on the data we’ve received thus far,” Rem continued, authoritative but not overbearingly so. “We believe there is a pattern to whatever is carrying out the scans along the Erical Hyperlane. The Den will be dropping into realspace outside the field of operation. From there, we will launch and make our ways to where we project the source of the scans will be when we arrive. We don’t know what we’ll be facing. It could be Imperials. It could be pirates. It could be unarmed. It could be hostile. First and foremost, we’re investigating. Only if a clear and present danger presents itself do we carry out offensive maneuvers. Otherwise, Tessa will gather data to send back to the admiral. Understood?”

A series of 'ayes' left the other pilots’ mouths.

“Then let’s move out,” Rem directed, supplying a hearty wave of her arm. “I want everyone in their cockpit and ready to fly as soon as we drop into realspace.”

The pilots hurried across the hangar floor, dodging crates and ordinance as they sought out their respective crafts. Sitting in a neat line, twelve Gallant starfighters lay dormant, wings folded inward, hatches slid forward, cockpits welcoming. A step ladder awaited each pilot at the edge of their vessel’s wing, giving them easy access.

One by one, the members of Torrid squadron reached their starfighter, scurried up the short steps, and walked across the wing before swinging themselves into the cockpit. Like clockwork, the twelve pilots went to work, bringing the various system online and breathing life into the advanced vessels. Buttons were pressed. Switches were flipped. Lights flared and signals pinged.

The hatches began sliding back, sealing each pilot within their vessel. Soon, all twelve were comfortable and cozy in their piece of military splendor. As initial diagnostics were being run, a familiar voice rang out in each cockpit. The one belonging to the mechanical female securely tucked away a few meters behind them.

“Welcome, pilot,” said Tessa through the ships' interior speakers.

Eyeing the main status screen, the pilots watched as one by one, the dark emblems of twelve starfighters soon shined a bright green. Everyone was online. Everyone was linked. Everyone was ready.

“Torrid Squadron, check in,” Rem’s called out over the shared comm.

“Torrid Two, standing by,” Haron began, calm even as his hands hastily dashed over the various instruments before him. The Human checked systems and subsystems, even tapped the medkit strapped to the inner hull beneath his leg.

“Torrid Three, standing by,” Dunn followed, his deep, electronically tinged voice penetrating the senses of his fellow pilots.

“Torrid Four, standing by,” Seraak said, a warmth to his cool demeanor, an eagerness to his enduring calm.

“Torrid Five, standing by,” Fen plainly stated. The Mon Calamari’s eyes darted from screen to screen, from instrument to instrument with a methodical haste.

“Torrid Six, standing by,” Marvus offered, bordering on a shout. Whatever reservations he had about the mission had fled the Devaronian’s mind. With a beaming smile, he basked in the glow of his console.

“Torrid Seven, standing by,” Jerel dutifully said, kicking things off for the new members. The Miraluka passed his eyeless gaze over his instruments. The various screens and readouts had been personally modified by the man’s commander, exhibiting a range of colors more appealing to the alien’s unique vision. Subtle shifts of hues and pixels, but enough to ensure no cue go missed.

“Torrid Eight, standing by,” Erin quickly followed, oozing with the pride of a man out to prove himself. The cyborg monitored and manipulated his ships electronic systems with a blinding speed, lips curling into a smirk.

“Torrid Nine, standing by,” Chanta said, her coarse voice filling the ships’ speakers. Despite the inherent grit, the Selkath had opted for a softer tone, placing decorum over whatever excitement she may have been experiencing.

“Torrid Ten, standing by,” Zal heartily called out, the antithesis to the preceding pilot. Cramped into the cockpit, the large Nautolan wrapped his large hands around the ship’s controls, gloves squeaking as they clenched ever tighter.

“Torrid Eleven, standing by,” Varah quickly offered. The Cathar was direct, and her voice carried its usual fire. The woman was still riding high on the practice bouts from earlier. Her blood was pumping, and yet, nothing was out of sync.

“Torrid Twelve, standing by,” Loona finished things off. The Rodian was just as direct as the preceding pilot, and carried a contrasting ice to her heavily accented words. The twelfth pilot clenched and unclenched her hands time and time again before finally securing them around the vessel’s controls.

In the surrounding hangar, the pilots could see the various technicians and attendants pulling away. The cranes mounted to the ceiling moved along their tracks away from the starfighters. The fuel lines plugged into the back of the ships were disconnected and dragged away. All was clear around the twelve vessels.

In the cockpit of Torrid One, Commander Rem received a communication from the Den’s bridge.

“We’re about to drop into realspace,” said a soft, male voice. “Are you and your squadron ready to move out?”

Rem pressed her finger against the comm. “We’re ready to leave as soon as those hangar doors are open.”

“Understood, Captain.” The voice faded and the comm offered a brief click as the channel shut off.

All that was left to do was wait.

Inside his cockpit, Erin made one final pass over his console. Everything seemed prepped and ready for takeoff, but something was amiss with one of the readouts.

The cyborg offered the sharp arch of his brow to no one in particular. “Hey, Tessa, why does the fuel gauge read 94%? I thought we were topped off on hypermatter.”

“The gauge can be inaccurate after a complete refill,” Tessa plainly explained with her usual mechanical delivery. "It should give an accurate report after launch."

“Uh huh,” Erin muttered, pursing his lips. “Are you sure you’re not just messing with my readouts?”

“Why would I do that?” the droid replied, same monotone voice.

“Oh, I don’t know, maybe because you still haven’t forgiven me for what happened back during the training sequence,” Erin prattled, tapping his fingers against the side of the cockpit. “I mean, I forgave you for dropping me out of the damned sky. I even apologized for what I said. The least you could do is not hold a grudge.”

“I do not hold a grudge,” Tessa bluntly said. There was a pause. “And your apology was an merely attempt to manipulate my programming.”

The cyborg offered a dismissive grumble, returning his hands to the ship’s controls. As he stewed in silence, Erin saw the lights of the hangar begin flashing.

“We’re dropping into realspace,” Rem’s voice sounded off in each of the cockpits. “Run final diagnostics and prepare for launch.”

As the hyperspace tunnel collapsed around the Seeker-class carrier, the pilots of Torrid Squadron hadn’t even felt the shift. Their insight came from the lights and sounds within the hangar. A siren blared, and on the far ends of the hangar, the metallic slabs blocking the ways out began to part. In their place, a transparent magnetic barrier shimmered, maintaining the hangar’s atmosphere as the blast doors finished receding.

A new siren sounded, signaling the ensuing launch.

The hangar floor had been cleared. On each end of the arrangement, the furthest vessel lifted from its strut, hovering in place by way of repulsors. Gently, the crafts urged forward, their frames still constricted. Torrid One turned to the left, Torrid Twelve to the right. Passing through the hangar, the vessels each approached the hangar’s edge, slowly unfurling their wings, adopting their trademark T-shape just before touching the magnetic barrier. The next ships followed soon after, Torrid Two heading left, Torrid Eleven heading right. One by one, the starfighters followed the standardized procedure.

Passing beyond the hangar’s threshold, the first fighters to exit found themselves floating amongst the vacuum of space. Gently drifting amongst the black void, the vessels’ engines shone a bright and angry red. Not a moment later, the starfighters soared ahead, looping back and regrouping ahead of the carrier. The process continued for each craft, until all twelve pilots of Torrid Squadron were out and in formation.

The pilots looked over their consoles. Shields were at maximum capacity. Weapons systems were fully operational. Power was evenly distributed. Hyperdrives were primed and ready. All was in the commander’s hands now.

Rem tapped away at her navicomputer, confirming the coordinates supplied by Tessa, and sending them out to the other members of the squadron. The droid’s voice filled the twelve cockpits.

“Entering hyperspace in three… two… one…”
-------------------- The Fan Fiction Index --------------------

Osetto's Avatar


Osetto
05.25.2014 , 03:54 PM | #35
Chapter Four

Within the swirling blue tunnel of hyperspace, Torrid Squadron traversed the stars faster than the speed of light. The twelve fighters were situated in two column, angled so that none sat directly in front of another. With each passing second, the vessels put millions of kilometers between them and their home base. Whilst the Den sat patiently amongst the void, the squadron thrust themselves forward into the reaches of the Erical Hyperlane.

“We’re approaching our destination,” Rem said over the team comm. “We don’t have an exact location of the target, and the projected area of where it will be stretches several billion kilometers. We’ll be dropping out of hyperspace in pairs, spread out across the projected area, but still within communications range.”

“Once we’re back in realspace, then what?” Zal asked. “I mean, searching that big an area for what might be one vessel?”

“Anything capable of scanning objects in hyperspace should be putting out enough of a signature that Tessa can scan for it,” Rem explained. “Whomever pinpoints its location first will contact the rest of the squadron, and we’ll converge shortly thereafter.”

“What’s to stop this thing from picking up our approach?” Erin asked.

“From the reports, it seems whatever’s performing these scans is choosing its targets very carefully,” Rem stated. “No military vessels traveling the route reported anything unusual, which is why it’s managed to stay in operation this long.”

“That just means it doesn’t need to do a full scan to know what kind of vessel is traveling the hyperlane,” Erin replied. “What’s to stop it from fleeing once it’s noticed a squadron inbound on its position?”

“The kind of tech behind these scans, no matter their source, aren’t tuned for starfighters,” Fen took over, offering a slightly more mechanical answer. “And the Navy sunk a lot of credits into making sure the Gallants are capable of maintaining a low profile. These aren’t stealth ships, but they’re capable of operating under the radar for the most part.”

“But, do we have a plan if the target tries to escape?” Jerel asked, softer in his inquiry than the cyborg.

“So long as Tessa completes one of her scans, that should give us enough information to pass on to the Admiral,” said Rem. “If the target escapes, he’ll have what he needs to mount a secondary operation.”

“But if we do find it, we get to take it down, right?” Varah asked, suitably invested in the answer. None of her fellow pilots could see the Cathar’s hands tightening around her ship’s controls.

“We need to keep as much of it intact as possible,” Rem replied. “The more answers we can get out this thing, the better. We can cripple its systems, but we don’t want to totally destroy it. Especially if its manned.”

“Target weapons and engines, got it,” Zal heartily offered.

“So that’s a no on missiles?” Varah muttered, a touch of defeat in her voice.

“We don’t know how hard of a target we’ll be encountering, so we won’t rule anything out,” Rem replied. “We’re after information, but not at our own expense. If any one of us is in danger, we hit it and we hit it hard. Understood?”

A series of confident ayes filled the shared comm. The commander cracked a warm smile. There was something fulfilling in hearing all eleven of her teammates speak in unison. Catching her attention was a ping from the ship’s navicomputer. The remaining distance to their destination was shrinking fast.

“We’re about to drop into realspace,” Rem said over the team channel. “Any last questions?”

“Do we have an estimate on how long it’ll take to find our target?” Chanta asked.

“A few hours at the most,” Rem plainly answered.

The other pilots released a series of groans and mutterings, but were smart enough not to open the comm as they did do. But even as silence filled the commander’s cockpit, she could tell the reactions of her fellows. No matter the type or amount of missions they embarked upon, none were ever enthused about having to sit around with nothing to do in such confined spaces. Luckily, such expensive vessels could afford the extra cost of cushioned seats.

“Alright. Tessa, engage Bifurcation and ready the comm channels,” Rem directed her droid. The astromech quickly went to work, dividing itself amongst the twelve vessels and establishing a comm link between the pairs that would be searching the stretch of space together.

Rem’s eyes sharpened as the hyperspace tunnel collapsed around her. The stars returned to their usual place upon the black canvas that surrounded her in all directions, and suddenly all was still. Outside her viewports was the starry void, unbroken and uninterrupted except for the single vessel floating at her side.

Each pair of starfighters dropped back into realspace mere seconds apart, and yet found themselves separated by vast distances. Millions of kilometers worth of empty vacuum rest between the six pairs. And despite their vastly different locations, their surroundings were all the same. A black void upon which splayed countless specks of light. No nearby astral bodies. No debris. Nothing more than the errant piece of floating dust amongst the stretch of space that belonged to the Erical Hyperlane.

“I guess we’d better get started,” Rem plainly said, eyeing the various readouts present on her vessel’s dashboard. “Tessa?”

“Beginning radial sweep,” the calm voice of astromech replied. “Estimated time until completion… unknown.”

The commander offered a soft nod. “Haron?”

“Scan in progress,” the executive officer dutifully replied. There was a heavy silence as the two looked over their instruments, monitoring the status of an operation they both knew would take some time.

“Kind of strange, isn’t it?” Rem spoke up. Away from the majority of the squadron, the commander’s tone shifted slightly, becoming somewhat softer as her voice graced only Haron and Tessa. “We spent months sitting around, waiting for our chance to get back in the field. When we finally get the chance, we’re still just sitting around.”

“To be fair, we can do a lot just sitting around,” Haron calmly replied as he refused to lift his gaze from the console in front of him. “Plus, sitting kind comes with the territory.”

“Fair point,” Rem said with an unseen smile. “It’s good to be back in the field regardless. I think some of the others were starting to feel like caged birds. Or worse, like they’d have their wings clipped.”

“I did get the feeling some of the old guard were feeling unneeded or unwanted,” Haron admitted.

“It’s just temporary though, right?” Rem asked, a low flutter in her voice. “I mean, I know we’ve faced setbacks, but we’re all still the same pilots… aren’t we?”

“Perhaps,” Haron answered, noncommittally. “But then again, is that really what we want?”

“How do you mean?”

Finally, the ex-Imperial tore his gaze away from the various readouts that populated the dashboard in front him. Instead, he cast his steady gaze out his side viewport, out into the astral void. “Well, we lost half our squadron. I know it’s no use thinking about what we could have done differently, but don’t we owe it to ourselves, to our teammates, to at least try and be better? The people we were that day lost, no matter what may have happened to those who attacked us. If we truly are the same pilots now as we were then, what’s to stop that from happening again?”

“We aren’t defined by our skills, our capabilities, any more than we’re defined by our ships,” Rem replied, slightly firmer than before. “Who we are as people, that hasn’t changed. We can learn from our mistakes, become better, without changing who we are. We were targeted. That man and his fleet intended to break us. If we throw away what we were before the incident, he’ll have succeeded.”

There was a pause as the comm channel fell silent.

“I have a harder time separating the man from the machine,” Haron admitted. “The person from the pilot. The way I see it, we are different. Torrid Squadron is different.”

“Maybe,” Rem conceded. “But we’re whole.”

Again, another pause overtook the channel.

“I disagree,” Haron bluntly said. Silence followed, as Rem opted to quietly furrow her brow instead of responding. “Again, I do not believe this is a bad thing. We stopped being whole the moment we started operating. Every day you wake up with the intent to fight, you lose a little piece of yourself. Sometimes, it’s a piece you voluntarily shed. Sometimes, it’s a piece stolen from you. We lost a bit of ourselves when Freemont left. We lost a bit of ourselves when Delgo crashed and spent a month in the medbay. Trying to stay whole is impossible. It’s better to hold on to what remains, and do what you can to keep it intact, even if it means you have to change.”

Only after a few long seconds of silence did the ex-Imperial turn away from the viewport, quickly blinking his eyes. The quiet persisted, even as the comm channel remained open.

Haron released a brief sigh. “I’m… I’m sorry. I don’t know what I’m talking about.”

“No, you’re right,” Rem spoke up. The commander’s voice was low, soft, but not resigned. “I guess some part of me associates change with uncertainty. Entropy. But we can change for the better. All of us. It’s our duty to change, to learn, to adapt. Isn’t that right, Tessa?”

As the commander looked up to no one in particular, all she received in response was silence. The droid’s attention was elsewhere, utterly focused on the task of scanning the surrounding space. Rem released a light chuckle as she lowered her face, opting to look out the viewport toward the Gallant fighter floating alongside her.

“Anything on your end yet?” Rem warmly asked.

Haron perked up, returning to the console in front of him. Scanning the electronic readout, it still had yet to yield any results. “Nothing yet.”

“Oh well,” Rem muttered, sinking in her seat slightly. The quiet returned as the pair relaxed, powerless to act amongst the empty vacuum. They were at the mercy of data, either their own or whatever their squadron mates could managed to turn up. But before even a minute could pass, the silence was broken once more.

“You know… you were right as well,” Haron admitted. Rem straightened out in her chair, keeping her mouth closed as she waited for an explanation. “We may have changed since the incident, hell, since joining Torrid Squadron. But underneath it all… underneath all of callouses, all the stress, all the setbacks, we are the same people. Marvus may be a bit more pessimistic, but he’s still the same Devaronian we all know and love. Fen may have lost all confidence in the Senate, but then again, she’d never held them in high regard. So long as we’re alive, so long as we put in the effort to preserve them, our cores remain the same.”

“Well, it’s good I know a thing or two about core maintenance,” Rem joked.

“Just another reason you were the right choice for commander,” Haron warmly offered.

Rem cracked a smile. “You know, I definitely prefer the warm, complimenting Haron.”

“As opposed to…?”

“The stern, serious, morose-“

“How am I stern?” Haron asked, an unfamiliar flutter in his voice.

The commander brought a hand to her mouth as she tried to conceal the chuckle slipping past her lips. “I suppose you’d have a slightly different definition of stern, wouldn’t you?”

“Let me guess, because I’m an ex-Imperial, right?” Haron played along.

“Pretty much, yeah,” Rem teased.

----------

A black and red blur rushed down gray corridor after gray corridor. Within the bowels of the Gage-class transport, Zuren Baz made his way toward the hangar with a supernatural haste, toothy grin stretched across his face. As he passed through each bulkhead door, technicians and security forces stationed aboard the vessel quickly ducked out of the way, but took the time to snap a quick salute as the Sith ran past them.

The halls were a uniform design of angular slabs. There was a rigidity in all facets, the uncompromising zeal of the Empire baked into the ship’s architecture. Pipes ran along the walls, exposed only to remind the surrounding denizens of their purpose. Grated flooring stood over the machines of war, granting keen eyes sight into innards amongst innards.

As the Sith ran, his mind focused on one thing: getting to his starfighter. But that didn’t prevent the Admiral’s words from seeping into his mind. The countless speakers and comms spread through the command ship spread the declarations of its current master.

“This is Admiral Fiernan, speaking on all secure Imperial channels.” The admiral’s words possessed a grandeur wrought only through countless years of experience. His voice stood tall, taller than a man of his physicality had any right to do. “Lord Solatus is dead. But do not be alarmed. His demise came at the hands of his own apprentice. The former Flight Commander intended to sacrifice this fleet, intended to throw away the lives of each and every dedicated Imperial who swore to him their loyalty. But his apprentice, Zuren Baz, a man of strength and character, saw fit to end the traitor’s life before he had the chance to jeopardize this operation. Taking over as Flight Commander of this fleet, Zuren Baz has seen fit to place me in command whilst he leads the charge from his own personal vessel. As the attack squadrons prepare to move out, know that the fleet is back in capable hands. No longer are you beholden to a petty Sith who had turned his back on his brothers and sisters. Now, you serve a Sith willing and able to fight alongside you. And as Flight Commander Baz personally takes the fight to these rebel scum, I will continue to offer my guidance and support. Together, we will lead each and every one of you to victory. No unneeded sacrifice. No unnoticed effort. We are the pride of the Imperial Navy. We serve with dedication and confidence. We bring law and order to the lawless. The fight is upon us. And we will fight. As one.”

Passing through the final bulkhead door, the rushing Sith stopped dead in his tracks within a large chamber. Lining the hangar floor, a dozen starfighter sat in a neat arrangement. Sharp, compact daggers of gray and black metals. Frail things, but dangerous in abundance and in capable hands. But standing out from its fellows, a single starfighter was receiving renewed service as crewmen rushed to get it prepped for flight.

The vessel resembled the standard mass-produced fighters used by the Imperial Navy. Its core was composed of little more than a compact cockpit, the entire front of which was a viewport. On each side, its wings spread like thin sheets, angled and tipped with blaster cannons. Viewed from the front, the vessel resembled the shape of an ‘X’.

But compared to its fellows, the ship was slightly larger, slightly longer, slightly bolder. The matte black and gray materials that composed its chassis possessed the occasional flare in the form of red stripes along its four wings.

As he stood still in the middle of the hangar, casting his sharpened gaze upon his starfighter, Zuren reaffirmed his crooked smirk.
-------------------- The Fan Fiction Index --------------------

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Osetto
05.31.2014 , 12:18 AM | #36
Chapter Five

Within the Imperial hangar, there was a persistent movement. One of efficiency and purpose. And the newly arrived Sith had no desire to go against that status quo. With a bounce in his step he continued his single-minded approach, which did not go unnoticed by the technicians tending the personalized vessel. The bland gathering of Humans in gray jumpsuits quickly stepped away from the starfighter as its master drew near. They each offered a deep bow of their heads in case the Sith’s eyes fell upon them, but his attention was suitably fixed to the simultaneously dark and vibrant vessel.

“Is it ready?” Zuren firmly asked to no one in particular, his eyes glued to the empty cockpit.

The technicians hesitated but for a moment before one took the initiative to speak.

“Yes, my lord,” one dutifully said. “All locks have been disengaged. She’s ready to fly when you are.”

“Excellent,” Zuren mused with an almost lustful curl upon his lips. He was about to board the ship, when something stood out in the corner of his eyes. A stillness amongst the constant movement of the hangar.

On the other side of the chamber, ten starfighters lined the far wall. Interceptors. Mk. VII’s. A step up from the models that made up the bulk of the fleet. But only a single step. The ten silver and black chassis stood neatly in their row, unpowered. In front of them, an equal number of pilots stood in a rough circle, garbed in matching flightsuits but absent their helmets. Unprepared, all of them.

Zuren stalled the boarding of his vessel to sharpen his gaze at the odd display. Without another moment of hesitation, the Sith’s feet propelled him toward the gathering. A still sizable gap separated him from the pilots, but he had no qualms about raising his voice.

“You there! Pilots! Why aren’t you ready to move out?” Zuren called out.

The group immediately snapped to attention, turning to face the approaching Sith. The disciplined faces of ten Humans turned to face their new master, chins held high. Compared to the uncouth Sith, they were clean-cut and proper, all of them. Their postures straightened, affording Zuren the respect his rank and title deserved, but absent was the fear that graced their less hardened fellows.

“My lord!” one of the pilots called out, snapping a quick salute rather than bowing his head. “We’re the command ship’s defense squadron.”

Zuren took his next few steps before stopping with a firm arch of his brow. “How are you supposed to protect the command ship from in here? You’re pilots for Emperor’s sake.”

“Apologies, my lord,” the same pilot offered, unflustered. “Lord Solatus ordered us not to move out unless explicitly instructed to.”

“Well, Solatus isn’t around anymore,” Zuren flippantly said.

“We heard, my lord. And if we’re being honest, me and the boys didn’t fancy being forced to sit around.”

“Now that’s what I want to hear!” Zuren heartily declared. “You’re all with me now. From this point forth, ours is this fleet’s vanguard squadron.”

The clicks of ten pairs of boots snapping together resonated throughout the hangar. The pilots of the newly christened squadron snapped a firm salute to their commander before breaking up. Rushing to a nearby rack, each Imperial retrieved a helmet to complete their black ensemble. Donning their gear, the Humans had become faceless instruments of war, ready to step into their cockpits.

Zuren twirled on his heels and returned to his own starfighter. With a mighty leap, the Sith soared meters into the air before coming down on top of his cockpit’s hatch. With a wave of his hand, he opened the circular lid and dropped inside.

The others did the same, though with suitably less flair. Climbing into their cockpits, the Imperials went to work breathing life into the ten interceptors. As the lead starfighter came online, it released a sharp howl as its systems cycled at the behest of its master.

The Sith interceptor lifted itself from the hangar floor and quickly pushed itself toward the chamber’s magnetic barrier by way of repulsors. Just before passing through, the twin engines behind the vessel glowed a fierce crimson. Floating into the void of space, Zuren urged his craft forward before looping around to hug the top of the command ship’s hull.

One by one, the fleet’s new vanguards slipped into the vacuum of space before following the path set by their commander. The eleven ships skimmed along the surface of the Gage-class transport, stopping just short of brushing against the bridge’s viewports as they passed by.

Inside the bridge, the admiral and his advisor stood before the main holoprojector, the map adapting to the newly fielded ships. The pair stood tall, even if only one was physically capable of doing so. Hands neatly folded behind their backs, the Human and Chiss readied their next command.

----------

Across the galaxy, the pilots of Torrid Squadron continued their search. Having dropped out of hyperspace, the twelve starfighters that had just been crossing millions of kilometers a second now drifted almost motionless amongst the empty blackness. In pairs they sat and waited, praying for the moment Tessa would signal the target’s location.

Shifting in his seat, Zal struggled to find a more comfortable position. His broad shoulders brushed against the side viewports of his cockpit with each overzealous fidget. In the Nautolan’s partnered vessel, Chanta cast her steady gaze forward as the sounds of subtle scuffs and clinks reached her ears.

“You know the comm’s open, right?” the Selkath calmly asked. The first response came in the form of a grunt sounding out over her speakers.

“Sorry,” Zal mumbled. “Almost got it.”

Chanta offered a quick giggle, albeit one possessing her voice’s usual grit. “And what would ‘it’ be, exactly?”

“The right way to sit,” Zal replied.

“One would think that’d be the first thing a pilot figured out,” Chanta said. “You never seemed to have trouble with it before.”

“We were always moving or doing something before,” the Nautolan explained. “Now we’re just waiting. Feels weird. Like, shouldn’t we be at least flying around while Tessa makes her scans?”

“Wouldn’t be much point to it,” Chanta replied. “I mean, with the range of the scans, whatever distance you could cover with the sublight engines would be insignificant.”

“But at least I’d feel like I was doing something, you know? Wish there were some asteroids we could snoop around or something,” Zal admitted. “But there’s absolutely nothing out here.”

“That’s kind of the point of a hyperlane,” Chanta said with a smile. Knowing her voice atypically rough, the Selkath had to take the extra effort not to come off as abrasive, injecting warmth wherever she could. “This route is supposed to be devoid of anything that might interfere with a ship’s hyperdrive. No astral bodies. No gravity wells. Nothing capable of generating a mass shadow.”

“Yeah, I know,” Zal softly admitted. “Still, think flying a few circles around here would interfere with the scan?”

“That doesn’t seem like a question you should be asking me,” Chanta replied.

“Oh, that’s right!” the Nautolan said, perking up at the revelation. Panning his gaze around his cockpit, the pilot hadn’t yet gotten used to communicating with his astromech. The baseline fighters never had more than a simple navicomputer installed, nothing so personal. The idea that there was something, someone, always listening took a while to fully seep into his head. “Tessa, do we have to stay completely still for the scans to work?”

“So long as you stay in the immediate area, any movement should have no effect on my scanning,” Tessa relayed, possessing her usual monotonous calm.

“Hah! Alright then,” said Zal as he wrapped his gloved fists around the starfighter’s controls.

Within the other cockpit, Chanta watched as her partner pulled forward before passing by her front viewport. From there, he continued to run wide laps around the still motionless craft. “You really can’t sit still, can you?”

“Of course I can!” Zal called out as he banked his fighter. “I just like to feel like I’m doing something. You didn’t see me pacing around the room when we were in the rec room, did you?”

“Fair enough,” Chanta replied. “I suppose being motionless in the quiet vacuum of space can be a little unnerving.”

“At least we have each other to talk to.”

The Selkath nodded. “And if we didn’t, we could converse with Tessa… assuming she wasn’t otherwise preoccupied.”

“But I’d say we make a good enough pair, wouldn’t you?” Zal admitted. “Did pretty well in our game earlier today.”

“Well, the teams were a little unbalanced,” Chanta offered with a soft chortle.

“You think Erin’s still sour about losing?”

The Selkath looked up and into the black void beyond her viewport, gently stroking one of the fleshy tendrils that hung her upper lip. “He did say he has a pretty good memory. And even if he was playing that up, he doesn’t seem like the kind of person to forget something like that.”

“Nah,” Zal playfully dismissed. “He’s probably forgotten all about it by now.”

----------

“I’m just asking whether you plan on shooting me in the back this mission.” The haughty voice of the cyborg filled the Miraluka’s cockpit as he cast his eyeless gaze forward, a dulled expression upon his face. Erin’s tone denoted a lack of seriousness, but there was still a hint of bite to his joking. “I mean, you’ve done it once before, so it’s a fair question.”

Dipping his head, Jerel began rubbing the small divots of flesh where his eye sockets ought to have been, releasing an inaudible sigh. “Do I really need to apologize for that again?”

“Oh, I don’t want an apology,” Erin replied, playing coy. “I’d just like a confirmation of whether or not you plan on doing it again.”

“I didn’t plan on doing it the first time,” Jerel admitted.

“Well, that didn’t stop it from happening, did it?” Erin teased.

“By that logic, nothing would stop me from doing it again, either,” Jerel plainly said.

There was a silence between the pair as their ships floated next to one another, motionless amidst the empty void.

“You got me there,” Erin admitted. The cyborg offered a flamboyant shrug, noticed by no one by himself. “I guess there’s really nothing I can do to keep you from shooting me in the back.”

“No, but you’re starting to make me want to do it again,” Jerel mumbled. The Miraluka’s cockpit was filled with the brief cackle sounded off over his speakers.

“See? Now that’s the attitude I want to see from you,” Erin said, dropping whatever antagonism he possessed. “None of this, ‘oh, I don’t know what I’m doing’ or ‘I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes’. If you really are a good pilot, you should start acting like it.”

“Ego has no bearing on how good of a pilot you are,” Jerel calmly replied.

“Nonsense,” Erin countered. “It’s all about your state of mind. Reflexes and training can only do so much. Moving forward, what matter is how you think.”

“I think one can become a better pilot without submitting to narcissism,” Jerel said.

“Hey, it’s worked wonders for me,” Erin plainly admitted.

“Has it now?” Jerel muttered, almost drearily.

“You saw how I performed in the testing phase,” Erin haughtily said. “If the droid hadn’t dropped me out of the sky, I’d have had a perfect run.”

“You fell after the run was complete and the score was already tallied,” Tessa interjected. Her mechanical voice filled each cockpit, though it was slightly softer in the Miraluka’s, having emanated from the cyborg’s unit. “I’m surprised a man with a self-described eidetic memory would forget such a significant detail.”

As the cyborg furrowed his brow, he could hear his partner releasing a restrained snicker. Erin grumbled as he looked around his cockpit, eventually settling his gaze upon his fuel gage.

“I can’t help but notice that the fuel gauge still reads 94%, Tessa,” Erin muttered, a slight bite to his voice. “Now I certainly remember you saying it would give an accurate reading after we launched.”

“We did spend several minutes in hyperspace. There is a chance the journey used 6% of our fuel,” Tessa explained, utterly stoic.

Erin sharpened his gaze at the readout. “Jerel, what’s yours say?”

Sublight drives at 98%. Hypermatter at 90%,” the Miraluka read off.

“Is that so?” Erin loudly said, folding his arms. “Care to explain that, Tessa?”

“Perhaps the reading is an average,” Tessa replied, completely deadpan.

“Perhaps?” Erin balked. “You’re in charge of the damned readouts! How can you not know, unless you’re just messing with me?”

“I could investigate the gauge if you’d like, but it would divert resources from my scanning,” Tessa calmly explained.

“Oh, no, you’re not finding a way out of this,” Erin chided.

“Erin,” Jerel called out, calm and even-tempered. “I think the mission-”

“This will only take a second,” Erin dismissed.

The Miraluka released a heavy sigh, adjusting the goggles affixed to his forehead. Looking up, the pilot slightly scrunched his face, before talking to his own droid. “You’re still scanning though, right?”

“Of course, Lieutenant Wardon,” Tessa clarified. A different Tessa. The same Tessa.

Within the cyborg’s cockpit, the pilot persistently tapped his fingers against the viewport to his side, eyes glued to the console in front of him. After a few seconds of silence, Tessa’s calm voice filled the sealed chamber.

“It would seem that someone may have manipulated the gauge.”

“Oh really?” Erin offered with a caustic sarcasm.

“Yes, and it would also seem someone made manual adjustments to the ship’s dampers. They’re currently reading at 2% below the standard levels,” Tessa explained. “Would you happen to know anything about that?”

The cyborg crossed his arms, constricting his frame. “Well, you wouldn’t let me make the changes I wanted, so I did it myself.”

“And might you have knocked a sensor loose when you were rooting around inside the chassis?” Tessa asked, still completely deadpan.

Erin sat stilled, eyes closed, slowly raising his chin. “That doesn’t sound like something I’d do. Besides, that seems like something you should have caught before we launched.”

“Oh really?” Tessa offered, almost breaking her monotone delivery. The cyborg’s eyes shot open as he sharply raised one of his eyebrows. But before he could speak, the Miraluka’s voice filled his cockpit.

“Erin, I think we’ve got something,” Jerel called out. “Forwarding data.”

A moment later, the other pilot’s readouts shifted. A bright ping signaled the scans had picked something up. A lone vessel, sitting deep within the nothing of the Erical Hyperlane, putting out significant levels of energy.

“I think we found our target.”
-------------------- The Fan Fiction Index --------------------

Osetto's Avatar


Osetto
06.07.2014 , 08:16 PM | #37
Chapter Six

Twelve Gallant fighters sat patiently amongst the void. Regrouped after a quick round of communications, the squadron was ready to descend upon their target.

“Alright,” Rem called out over the team’s unified comm, calm but authoritative. “We don’t know who or what we’re going up against. But the plan hasn’t changed. The moment we arrive, we surround the target. I will attempt to establish communications, whilst the rest of the team does everything they can to block the target’s escape. The second it initiates hostile action, we will defend ourselves. Primary objective is to disable, but do not hesitate to destroy the target should it be deemed necessary. We don’t know its capabilities, or even if it’s alone, so keep your eyes and ears open.”

“Or for one of us, just ears,” Erin whispered to himself, making sure his comm was closed.

“Is everyone ready?” Rem continued. A series of firm ‘ayes’ sounded off. “That’s what I want to hear. Tessa, link everyone’s nav systems and prepare to jump.”

The twelve pilots watched as their dashboards flickered and lit up all on their own. Coordinates and commands were being issued by the droid until every starfighter gave the same exact reading. The hyperdrives fired up in perfect synchronicity. The ships were aligned. All that remained was the final command.

Rem passed her gaze over her console one last time for confirmation. “Let’s do this.”

The stars on the infinite horizon began to stretch, turning from dots to lines as the twelve vessels made the jump to hyperspace. The previous area returned to its usual state of emptiness as the Gallants disappeared, thrusting themselves forward in an instant. The familiar blue tunnel surrounded the twelve starfighters, only this time, when it collapsed, they would not be alone.

----------

Eleven Imperial starfighters sat patiently at the front of the gray fleet, headed by its vibrant leader. Zuren and the rest of the vanguard squadron stared down the motley gathering of rebel and mercenary crafts that refused to budge under the gaze of their oppressors.

“Alright,” Zuren called out over the newly formed team’s comm, brash and full of vigor. “Listen up, because I don’t like having to repeat myself. Our job is to teach these rebel scum the error of their ways. Not only have they turned their backs on the Empire, they had the gall to raise arms against us. Therefore, it falls to us to make an example of them. Strikes-1 through 5 will fire the opening volley. The enemy may be standing their ground now, but the moment they witness the true might of this fleet, they will scatter. After that, we will move in and destroy whomever we can before the other squadrons can steal our fun. Understood?”

A series of ‘yes, my lord’s filled the Flight Commander’s vessel.

“That’s what I want to hear!” Zuren declared. “Let’s do this! And try not to get scrapped by our own warships.”

Within the bridge of the command vessel, Admiral Fiernan sounded the call to begin. In unison, five Terminus-class destroyers aligned their batteries, sending forth a barrage of cannon fire. The countless bolts crossed the gap separating the two forces, and effortlessly tore through the forward vessels of the rebel fleet.

The assorted freighters and starfighters behind their fallen fellows began to fan out. The time for passive resistance had been forced to an end. As the Imperial destroyers prepared their next volley, Zuren urged his craft forward, following by his personal squadron.

----------

There was a droning hum in the cockpits of the twelve Gallants as they simultaneously dropped back into realspace. Then, it was quickly replaced by the familiar silence. Hands firmly secured around their ships’ controls, the pilots of Torrid Squadron would not allow their guard to drop as they prepared to engage their target.

Sensors blared as they picked up the enemy vessel a short distance ahead. But even with their target in their sights, there was a moment of hesitation in each of the pilots.

Rather than floating amongst the vast emptiness of space, the target was surrounded by what appeared to be an assortment of junk and debris. Minor clumps of metal and scrap orbited the vessel, none larger than newly arrived starfighters. The vessel itself was unrecognizable. It’s chassis was atypical, in that that is was utterly simple. Like a brick with engines jutting from its rear, the rectangular vessel was smooth in its faces, rigid in its edges. The freighter-sized ship possessed no distinguishing features. No weapons. No attachments. Not even viewports. A dark gray prism that floated amongst the similarly colored flotsam.

“What kind of ship is that?” Marvus muttered.

“Not sure,” Haron admitted. “I can’t tell if it’s of Imperial make.”

“We’ll find out soon enough,” Rem calmly said. “Everyone, surround the target.”

Without another word the pilots heeded their commander’s order. Urging their vessels forward, the wedge-shaped formation soon deformed before utterly collapsing. The Gallants spread out and formed a ring around the still motionless slab of metal nestled amongst the debris.

“What’s with the junk around it?” Zal wondered as he moved into position. “I thought hyperlanes were supposed to be empty.”

“Could be an attempt to mask its signature,” Fen calmly suggested. “Surround itself with junk, nothing big enough to generate a mass shadow…”

“But enough to keep something surrounded by it from jumping,” Chanta added. “It’s practically cut off its own escape.”

“Who needs to escape when you’re disguised as scrap,” Erin offered.

“Well, if it wants to be mistaken for scrap, we’ll happily oblige it,” Varah said, cracking a sharp smile.

“Hold on,” Rem called out. “It still hasn’t reacted to our presence. Don’t need to escalate things prematurely.”

“Have you been able to contact the vessel?” Dunn calmly spoke up, his electronically tinged his as chilling as ever.

“Not yet,” Rem replied, a touch of concern in her voice. As the commander looked over her ship’s console, the sound of her droid filled the cockpit.

“Commander, I cannot detect any life signs aboard the target vessel,” Tessa explained. “Nor do I detect any systems necessary for habitation.”

“The vessel appears to be unmanned,” Rem called out over the team comm.

“That means we can scrap it right?” Varah asked.

“Wait, there’s something odd about this,” Rem quickly replied.

“It’s likely an automated vessel,” Fen suggested. “Following a set programming.”

“That would explain the ‘peculiar readings’ we got from Admiral Trevel,” Seraak mused. “It was following a pattern, that;s how we were able to pinpoint its location.”

“And if it’s automated, that means it can be predicted… manipulated,” Haron stated. “If we brought a larger ship to its next location, we could capture the vessel completely intact.”

“Or we could let it do its thing, and just monitor the information it sends out,” Seraak suggested.

“We don’t know if it’s delivering its data to one or more sources,” Rem replied. “And if that information puts traders along this route in danger, I don’t think we can risk letting it continue.”

“Well then, I’m getting a lock on its engines just in case,” Varah sounded off.

Rem’s eyes widened. “Wait, don’t-”

Just then, more than a three dozen pings simultaneously flared on the Gallants’ sensors. A multitude of power signatures had appeared out of nowhere, none of them stemming directly from the target vessel.

“Looks like we got trouble,” Marvus muttered, hastily passing his gaze over his console.

“Everybody, move!” Rem shouted.

The pilots broke formation, fanning out from their ring around the target vessel and surrounding debris. As they did, the gentle floating clumps of metal and scrap began to shift and shake. Slabs unfurled into wings. Tubes emitted an orange glow. Cannons emerged from the nondescript forms.

“Drones!” Fen called out, breaking her usual calm, collected tone.

The disguised bundle of scrap began to break their orbit around the motionless freighter, seeking out the nearest target. Outnumbering the Gallants three to one, the swarm of tiny vessels pointed themselves toward whatever fighter they could find and opened fire.

----------

Amidst the calamity of Imperial warships continually firing their canons toward the dispersed rebel fleet, Zuren and his fellow starfighters weaved through the initial layer of scrap and debris, setting their sights on the vessels nimble enough to dodge the destroyers’ volleys.

The Sith zeroed in on his first target in a matter of moment. No time wasted on locking on or checking sensors, Zuren tore into the personal vessel in front of him, unleashing a quick torrent of red laser fire. The precise volley instantly dispersed the vessel in an explosion that quickly snuffed by the vacuum of space.

Pressing forward, the Flight Commander urged his team deeper into the conflict, dodging the litany of cannon fire surrounding them. Along the way, the rest of the vanguard squadron would lash out at approaching vessels, ensuring no one managed to touch their leader.

The rebels were on the defensive. They looked for any opening they could to strike the Imperials, but none revealed themselves. The motley assortment of ships couldn’t hope to overcome the organized might of their foes. As they scattered and spread out, the rest of the fleet’s squadrons had been fielded, and kept the fight contained. Light fighters prevented their enemy’s escape. Destroyers downed the larger vessels one right after another. And Zuren was in the middle of it all, reveling in the conflict.

Back on the bridge of the command vessel, Fiernan and Feras calmly looked over the holomap of the battle before them.

“Zuren is quite the capable pilot,” said Fiernan. “The rebel fleet is on the brink of retreat. We should ready a coordinated strike, make sure none manage to slip away.”

Feras turned his gaze from the map to look out the forward viewport, watching the battle unfold before his own red eyes. They darted from distant vessel to distant vessel, watching explosion after explosion.

“Pull the command vessel forward,” Feras calmly suggested.

The admiral looked to his advisor with a tilt of his head. “Might I ask why?”

“The rebels have no hope of winning,” Feras coldly stated. “With no opening, they have no choice but to flee. Give them an opening, and they will stay just long enough to seal their fate.”

“You would purposely put this ship in danger?” Fiernan asked.

“There is no danger,” Feras calmly dismissed. “We are merely presenting a false opportunity for the enemy. They will attempt to make one final strike, and we will have Zuren flank them. Better they attack us that the fighters.”

The admiral narrowed his gaze as he remained silent. After a few slow breaths, he tensed as he saw the Chiss slowly look over his shoulder. Their eyes met, and the advisor’s won out. Turning back to the holoprojector, Fiernan placed a finger on the comm, ready to issue a command.

----------

The battle was upon Torrid Squadron.

As they darted around the empty stretch of space, they had only their maneuvers to dodge the nipping laser fire of the swarm of irregular, asymmetrical drones.

“Tessa, engage Bifurcation,” Rem commanded, juking her vessel back and forth. “Everyone fan out and deal with the drones. Watch each other’s backs, same pairs as before.”

The erratic movements of the twelve starfighters quickly became more focused. Rather than wildly flying around whilst the unmanned seekers lashed out at them, the squadron split into the same six teams of two that had spent their previous moments searching for this very spot.

Rem and Haron were the first to move to each other’s side, and the others soon followed. Dunn and Seraak kept their cool as they put some distance between themselves and the main target. Fen and Marvus kept a wide gap between them, but never strayed from each other’s sights. Jerel and Erin had already gone on the offensive, firing their cannons at whatever drone they could get in front of them. Chanta and Zal moved in total unison, only the slightest of gaps separating their two vessels. Varah and Loona plunged themselves straight into the fray, skimming just over the original target as their engines flared.

Split up, the pursuing drones did the same. Five to seven unmanned fighters followed their targets, their small size and nimble speed making up for whatever rudimentary programming guided them. The Gallants were some of the most advanced vessels in the Republic fleet, but even they could struggle to outmaneuver such agile foes. But there was more to Torrid Squadron than its technology.

Whether it be side by side or in a line, the pairs moved together, totally in sync with their partner. Just as the drones following them had zeroed in on them, they parted, splitting the pursuers up even further. The drones knew of only one way to attack, and so they did. Trailing behind each Gallant fighter, the unmanned fighters followed the ships’ movements as well as they could, releasing sporadic laser fire whenever their targeting systems deemed it prudent.

The sloppy shots passed over and around the expert pilots. Within no time at all, Torrid Squadron was back in control. They were leading their foes as much as they were being followed. With a trail of drones in their wake, the ships would run themselves in front of their partner, giving the other a clear shot at the pursuers.

Red bolts left the Gallants’ cannons, and instantly ripped the drones apart. The seekers once disguised as scrap metal had found themselves looking the part once more. In a matter of minutes, the automated protectors’ numbers had been cut in half. All that was left was to steadily strike down the rest.

Erin and Jerel made particularly short work of the drones pursuing them, crisscrossing in front of each other to deal with the others’ hunters. As one of the seekers neared his partner, the Miraluka released a single bolt, expertly nailing the automated fighter. The drone exploded in a quick burst of energy and metal sufficient enough to rock the cyborg’s vessel.

“Hey Jerel, you want to let them get a little closer next time?” Eren teased.

“I don’t know Erin, if I did, I might accidentally hit you again,” Jerel jokingly replied.

The pair shared a quick chuckle as they searched for the remaining drones following them. The Miraluka had none on his tail, and the one following Erin had disappeared from behind him. A moment later, the drone made itself known, this time in front of the cyborg’s vessel.

Erin cracked a confident smirk and clinched his fists around the ship’s controls. With a deep breath, he fired a pair of bolts toward the lone seeker. His eyes widened as the drone surged forward with a quick burst of energy, slipping between the two red bolts. The cyborg tried to pull away, but there wasn’t enough time before the unmanned fighter drove itself straight into its target. Erin’s shut his eyes and winced as he felt his vessel shake. But when he opened them, all he saw was his forward shields slightly fizzling and pieces of scrap dispersing around him, the impact having done no damage.

The cyborg pilot breathed a sigh of relief as he wiped his brow, only for a siren to ring out in his cockpit.

“Warning,” Tessa called out, still utterly calm in her monotone deliver. “Foreign object detected on the right wing.”

Erin perked up, only to see a piece of scrap metal embedded in his wing just outside his viewport. As he narrowed his gaze, he saw the piece begin to move, a series of metallic claws and wires emerging from its underside, clinging to the hull of Gallant.

“Damn,” Erin muttered before opening his comm. “Some part of the thing is still functioning and is now trying to chew its way through my wing.”

“Can you shake it off?” Jerel quickly asked.

Erin gave with starfighter a quick twirl. The piece remained, only now a stream of sparks sprouted from its belly.

“Don’t think so,” Erin replied.

“Alright, keep straight and don’t swerve,” Jerel called out.

There was a silence as Erin processed his partner’s words. “Wait, what are you-”

The cyborg’s vessel shook. As he hastily panned his gaze, he could see his shields flare up as a crimson bolt struck them.

“Did you just shoot at me?” Erin shouted.

“Looks like it didn’t make it past the shields. Take them offline and I should be able to hit it,” Jerel calmly suggested.

“I’m not powering down my shields so that you can shoot me!” Erin barked.

“Warning,” Tessa’s voice returned. “Structural integrity of right wing in danger of being compromised.”

Erin palmed his face as he released a low sigh. “Are you sure you can hit it?”

“I’m sure,” Jerel declared.

“Well, you heard him Tessa. Power down shields,” Erin mumbled. The console in front of the cyborg shined an angry red as they displayed the fact that the ship was defenseless. Just as he was about to give the go ahead, a single red bolt collided with the machine digging through his wing. The assemblage of claws and wires was instantly scattered, leaving only a small surface wound on the wing in its place.

“Did I get it?” Jerel called out.

Erin was still speechless, gawking at the sight just outside his viewport.
-------------------- The Fan Fiction Index --------------------